By IRC Round Robin
Written November 22, 1997, Submitted April 21, 1998
Summary: A mysterious assassin is in Metropolis, but who is the target? One hint — it's not Lois for once!
An IRC Round-Robin by ChrisM^ <email@example.com>; CKDor & Dor2 <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Ckgroupie <NKWolke@t-line.de>; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Zoomway <email@example.com>
Whenever Lois recalled the string of incidents that she would later refer to as "The Perils of Clark Kent," she would always remember how quietly it had all started. She and Clark were spending the weekend in Smallville at his childhood home, helping his parents with some spring cleaning. They'd both been very busy in the weeks just prior to that, and having the chance to do something besides chase criminals and dodge bullets had a real appeal. Clark and his father, Jonathan, were spending most of their time outdoors repairing damage from Kansas' winter storms and getting things ready for the new growing season. Martha and Lois, on the other hand, were having a ball inside the old farmhouse cleaning out cabinets and going through closets. Much to Lois' delight, they'd uncovered more than just dust bunnies. She was getting some wonderful glimpses into Clark's past.
Sunday afternoon the two women found themselves up in the attic. They knew it wouldn't be possible to really do a thorough cleaning in the time remaining for the younger couple's visit, but Martha said she would appreciate whatever help Lois could give her. Lois didn't mind at all. It was great fun to open a box and find old Halloween costumes that Martha had made for Clark when he was a little "trick-or-treater" or to peek into a trunk and find clothes that a much smaller Clark had once played in. Almost every garment held some special memory for Martha and she had a great time sharing stories about her "boy" with her daughter-in-law.
Soon they were giggling over what they were finding, and their laughter reached a pair of "super" ears. Clark looked up from what he and his dad were doing in order to focus on the house for a moment.
"What is it, son?"
"Oh, no." Clark turned back to his father. "They're going through my old stuff, Dad, and Mom is showing Lois the costume I wore in the second-grade Thanksgiving play."
Jonathan couldn't help chuckling a bit. "They get like that, Clark. We just have to put up with it."
The men returned to their chores, while up in the attic Lois had found a box of old letters Clark had saved. Some of them had a distinctive female look about them. What's this, she wondered?
Martha chuckled when she noticed the letter in Lois hands. Lois looked at the letters slightly yellowed by age. She wrinkled her nose a little at the trace of perfume she could still smell emanating from the box. She look at Martha. "Lana?"
"No." Martha shook her head. "Sylvia."
"Oh, Clark never told me about her … " Her voice trailed off for a moment, then added, "He didn't mention having that many girlfriends."
"He didn't have many. He dated Lana casually for about a year, and you've met Rachel Harris — he took her to the prom. Sylvia," she chuckled at the memory, "used to write him these long letters. I don't think it ever really occurred to him she had crush on him."
"But it's obvious! Perfume on a letter. You don't need supersenses to pick up the smell after all this time."
"No, you don't, " Martha smiled, placing a reassuring hand on the younger woman's arm, "but Clark is assaulted by all kinds of smells all the time. He probably just never realized the significance."
"Well, what was all this about then?" Lois asked, waving the bundle of letters in the air.
Martha chuckled again. "Well, you know Clark. He helped her a lot. She came from a broken home and had problems in school. He tutored her for a while and in general was just his friendly self. They kept corresponding for a while when he was in college. I'm sure he won't mind if you read those letters. You'll notice that a number of them are in French. She really improved with Clark's help, to the point she was able to write him letters in French. He thought he was continuing to help her. She, on the other hand … "
Lois had relaxed once more. " … saw more in Clark just being … Clark. What became of her?"
"Well, we're not sure. She was a year younger than Clark. They kept corresponding till she graduated. She then went to France for a year, probably in an effort to be able to impress him more. Eventually, though, she must have realized that Clark didn't return her feelings. We heard that she cut short her time overseas, then went to college in another state. Since both her parents moved, too, we lost track of her."
Lois placed the letters back into the box. "Well, I think it's almost dinner time. I'm sure we'll have two hungry guys to feed. Do you think the roast is done yet?"
"My, more than done if we don't hurry!" Martha exclaimed, glancing at her watch.
Out in the field, the two men were putting the finishing touch on a fence they were mending. As the women were descending the stairs from the attic, Clark cocked his head slightly, then grinned. "Chow's on."
During the lively conversation at dinner, Lois totally forgot about the letters.
The next day they returned to Metropolis and business as usual for them. As soon as they left the elevator on Monday morning, they heard Perry's excited voice telling them to come into his office ASAP and from that moment on they hadn't had a minute's rest.
By Wednesday, Lois was thinking longingly of the quiet evenings together in Smallville. Clark was out again doing his second job and saving the day as Superman. She was going over the notes for their latest assignment when the doorbell rang.
Lois sighed. Who was it now? She really didn't want to see *anyone* right now except her husband. When she opened the door there was a strange woman standing in front of her.
"Hi, my name is Sylvia Campbell. I'm here to see Clark Kent."
Lois eyebrows went up. Why was that name so familiar? "I'm sorry, he's not here right now, Ms. Campbell. I'm Lois Lane, his wife."
Sylvia Campbell's gaze was cold. "So I heard," she said shortly.
Lois suddenly remembered where she had heard the name before. Sylvia was Clark's long-lost school friend. And boy, was she good-looking.
"Maybe *I* can help you?" she asked.
"No, I don't think so," Sylvia answered. "I would prefer to talk to Clark *privately*."
The air was thick with tension for a few moments as Lois and Sylvia eyed each other carefully. Then suddenly Sylvia broke into a warm smile.
"I'm sorry, Lois — I can call you Lois, can't I? I must be suffering from jet lag and I'm a little cranky. I don't get to Metropolis very often. You must think it's incredibly odd for a strange woman to be demanding to see your husband. But you see, Clark and I are old friends from Smallville and I'm just in from the coast. You might have seen me on television, " Sylvia added coyly, but Lois still waited unresponsively, her hand on the doorknob. The woman continued with a slight toss of her head. "I'm in that new soup ad campaign, you know. I'm only going to be here for a short while and I wanted to see Clark and reminisce about the good old days. May I come in?"
Still a little wary, Lois nodded and showed Sylvia into the living room.
"Won't you sit down, Ms. Campbell … "
"Of course, Sylvia. How long exactly are you going to be in town?" Lois asked. "I know Clark would love to see you, but things are a little hectic right now and I want to make sure that *we'll* be able to see you." Lois mentally kicked herself, she was babbling again and she only did that when she was nervous. Despite her somewhat rude entrance Sylvia seemed perfectly charming and normal, but still something about her left Lois feeling a little uneasy.
Lois had no misgivings in the sense of fearing a rival, at least not a romantic one. But there was the awkwardness of trying to fit into conversations about the 'good old days' when Lois was not a part of them.
"So," Sylvia said after an uncomfortable pause, "what does Clark do now? I mean I'm not sure how much we'd even have in common these days."
Lois smiled to herself, realizing that type of awkwardness worked both ways. Sylvia was out of the loop as far as Clark's current life was concerned. "He works at the Daily Planet. Well, we both do, we're — "
"You sound surprised."
"I guess I am. Clark always seemed so idealistic. I thought maybe he'd be in legal aid or a crusading missionary, or a doctor at a free clinic, or — "
"Or an investigative journalist who changes the world one paragraph at a time."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make journalism sound unworthy, it's just — "
Lois laughed. "It's okay. When I first met Clark, what with his sartorial tribute to dock foremen everywhere, his rumpled hair and less than cutting edge eye wear, I thought he was cajoling Perry into running a Greenpeace ad."
Sylvia laughed too. "That at least sounds more like Clark, the Clark I remember anyway. Has he changed much?"
Lois smiled, finding it hard to hide her affection for the hack from Nowheresville. "Maybe a little on the outside. After I agreed to go out with him, he got new glasses, a haircut and discovered GQ hidden under the Farmer's Almanac somewhere. But inside, he'll always be Kansas."
"That's good to hear," Sylvia sighed. "Since you two are married, I guess he got over that shy thing."
Lois thought a moment. "Clark never seemed shy around me … until I called his bluff, and then you'd think he was a member of Apron Strings Anonymous." They both laughed, and then Lois heard the familiar 'whoosh-thud' in the other room.
Lois decided to distract Sylvia. "While we're waiting for Clark to get back, could I offer you some tea, or coffee?"
"It is a little chilly out this evening. Some hot tea would be lovely, thank you, Lois."
"Okay," Lois said, with a smile as she headed for the kitchen.
Because she was listening for it, she heard another slight "whoosh" and knew her Clark had taken the hint. Unless she was much mistaken, he'd soon be at the front door, looking very surprised to see their guest. Sure enough, before the kettle had started to boil, Lois heard her husband's voice.
"Lois! I'm home!"
She moved back into the living room in time to watch him appear to notice Sylvia for the first time.
"Hello, I see we have company." Clark seemed to do a double take. "Sylvia? Is that you?"
"Yes, Clark, it's little ol' me. How are you?" She stood up and walked forward, extending her hand to her old friend, a broad smile on her face.
"I'm fine," Clark responded, obviously a little uncomfortable with this situation. Lois had seen this from him before when he'd tried to explain why Lana Lang would want to come to his and Lois' wedding.
She came to his rescue … sort of. She walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek, then said, "It's always nice when one of Clark's old girlfriends stops by for a visit. Isn't it, honey?"
"Lo-is!" Clark exclaimed in a pleading undertone.
She winked at him, then turned to Sylvia. "I'm just kidding, Sylvia. We're delighted you're here. You two sit down and get reacquainted, and I'll bring the tea." Lois squeezed Clark's hand before releasing it, and felt him respond. She knew he'd have something to say to her later about her teasing, but that would be a fun way to end the evening.
Sylvia stayed for about an hour, chatting with Clark about the old days in Smallville and catching up on the news of former classmates. Since Lois couldn't contribute much to the conversation, she was at liberty to observe Sylvia, and she had to admit that she didn't like what she saw. The woman seemed friendly enough, but there was something about her that Lois couldn't quite put her finger on. Something Lois just didn't trust. She decided that she ought to run a background check on her the next day, and then was ashamed of herself for thinking such a thing. Just because the woman had had a crush on Clark 'way back when' was no reason for Clark's wife to go into full investigator mode as soon as said old girlfriend shows up on the doorstep. Besides, Lois reasoned, the woman would be leaving Metropolis soon and that would be the end of that. So Lois sat and listened and tried not to yawn over yet another "Do you remember when … ?" story.
It wasn't until much later in the evening, when she was about to fall asleep in her husband's arms, that it occurred to her what she hadn't liked about Sylvia and why it might be a good idea to run that background check after all. She'd been wearing the exact same perfume as had been on the letters in the attic. Was this woman after her husband? Over my dead body, Lois decided.
The next day Lois again decided that she had been overreacting to Sylvia. After all, lots of women were attracted to Clark, and if Sylvia was carrying a torch for him what harm could that really do? But as she left the brownstone on Hyperion, the feeling of uneasiness returned. She decided not to mention her feelings to Clark. Walking down the outside stairs, she smiled at Clark who was taking advantage of a rare opportunity and sitting in the driver's seat of their Jeep.
"Come on, honey," Clark called out. "We're going to miss the staff meeting. You know how the chief gets when we're — " Clark's comments were interrupted by a loud BANG!
"Clark!" Lois hurried for the Jeep. All she could see was smoke pouring into the front seat.
Clark exited the vehicle in a blur as Superman and was at Lois' side in an instant. "It's okay, honey," he whispered. "It was the airbag exploding."
"What? It shouldn't produce that kind of smoke."
"I know. It's not exactly standard issue." He opened the door and pulled the smoke into his lungs. He was about to expel it when Lois put her fingers over his lips.
He nodded and started to pick Lois up.
"No, that's okay, Clark. I can walk to the Planet."
Clark, still holding his breath, shook his head.
"I'm *fine* Clark. Besides, the airbag attacked you, not me."
Clark put his hands on his hips. Lois did the same. It was a standoff on Hyperion Street.
"Clark, the neighbors are coming out to see what's going on. How good is this going to look?"
Clark saw faces peering curiously from windows and people making their way down the steps. He shook his head and flew off.
Lois faced her neighbors. "Don't miss the matinee!" she called, and began walking to the Planet.
It wasn't a terribly long walk but somehow with the song 'Sylvia's Mother' stuck in her head, it seemed an eternity.
Klein shook his head. "It's toxic, but not at a lethal level, Superman." He noticed that the superhero seemed a bit edgy. "Something wrong, Superman?"
Clark finally sighed in exasperation. "Have you ever been in a relationship where the 'relation' part is good, but the 'ship' is sinking?
Clark shook his head. "Never mind, Dr. Klein. Could you fax a readout on that gas's composition to Lois Lane at the Planet?"
"No problem, Superman."
"Thanks," Clark said and flew back to the Planet, managing to step out from under the canopy in time to escort Lois in.
"The gas would have made you sick, but it wasn't lethal."
"You think someone is after me, then, Clark?"
"Well, Lois, you do the driving most of the time … maybe they thought it would be you behind the wheel this morning."
She groaned a bit as they walked through the revolving door and into the Daily Planet lobby. "Not again!"
Clark smiled. "Or, they could be after both of us this time. We were running a bit late this morning."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?" she asked in exasperation. "Why does this always have to happen to us?"
Clark shrugged and gestured for her to enter the elevator ahead of him. "Well, we could just quit our jobs, sell the house, and fly off to a deserted island somewhere."
"Don't tempt me," she replied with a rather sad smile. "With our luck, though, the place would probably have exploding coconuts or something hanging from all the trees."
The elevator doors opened and the other people in the car with Lois and Clark exited onto their floor. Once they were alone, Clark took his wife into his arms. "Lois," he told her, "we'll figure this out."
Clark was a little worried by her uncharacteristically dismal attitude. He leaned forward and kissed her, then teased her by saying, "Besides, exploding coconuts or not, I'd rather be in trouble with you than anywhere else I can think of."
She couldn't help but smile at that. Hugging him a little tighter, she kissed him back. "Thanks, Clark." The elevator slowed to a stop and Clark started to pull away. Lois grabbed him again and kissed him once more. "Just promise me that we actually get around to checking out that deserted island one of these days."
He chuckled. "You got it!"
They put Jimmy onto running checks into the whereabouts of their past enemies, and in all the confusion Lois forgot all about running a background check on Ms. Sylvia Campbell. Jimmy came back with a list of the usual suspects, but there was one surprise on his list.
"Baby Rage is out of prison?!" Lois and Clark said in unison when Jimmy began his rundown.
"Yep, he sure is," Jimmy replied as he shook his head in disbelief.
"But, how? The last I heard he was serving 8 to 20," Clark said.
"Apparently his gang was involved in more than just providing muscle for Intergang. He had some info about its drug operation so the DA's office cut him a deal and he got an early release."
"Any idea where he might be right now?" Lois asked with concern.
"Not yet but I can keep checking."
"You do that, Jimmy," Clark said quickly.
As the younger man headed back to his desk, Lois turned to Clark. "Sounds like we may have a prime suspect."
"Lois, we don't know that for certain. Maybe he's turned over a new leaf."
"Clark — "
"All right, it's unlikely. But it still could be someone else. This wasn't exactly his style. He was an arsonist, remember."
"Maybe he picked up some new skills in prison," Lois replied grimly.
Clark sighed. "It's possible, honey, but let's not worry about that now. We've got work to do."
Putting thoughts of Baby Rage behind them, they went back to work on their current story. It wasn't until Clark had gotten an anonymous tip halfway through the morning, and had rushed off to meet this new, unknown source, that Lois had a moment to remember her resolve of the night before.
Clark should have been back more than an hour ago. She glanced at her watch nervously. She just didn't trust Sylvia. She couldn't shake the feeling that there was something more to her visit than catching up on old times. Neither checking into The Planet's database nor placing a discreet call for information with the police department brought up anything to confirm her suspicions. She tried to ignore the nagging feeling of unease that increased with every minute that passed. Just as she was debating whether she should wait by the phone or take off in search of Clark, the phone rang.
"This is Officer Simmons of the Metropolis PD. Are you Mrs. Kent?" the voice at the other end of the line asked when she picked up the receiver.
"Yes." It was odd, she thought, that she was being addressed as Mrs. Kent since she was fairly sure she had called there earlier as Lois Lane. "Did you come up with some additional information after all?" she asked.
"I beg your pardon?" the police officer asked. "Your husband has been in an accident, ma'am. He's at Metropolis General Hospital now."
*Kryptonite!* The alarms went off in Lois' head. If Clark was in the hospital, there had to be foul play involved. With an effort, Lois fought down the panic rising within her. Drawing upon her reporter's resources, she paused a moment while she considered the information. Clark had been in an accident and was at the hospital now. That didn't mean that he had been hurt. He could even have taken somebody else there for all she knew.
Taking a deep breath, she asked, "What happened … ? And … " She paused, remembering that she had to be careful with her choice of words here. "Has he been injured seriously?"
"He was in a car accident, Mrs. Kent. Apparently his brakes failed. He couldn't stop at the light and drove into two other cars. In answer to your second question, no, he's not injured seriously. Actually, it's a miracle. He seems fine. He even helped to get the others from the cars. The doctors are checking him out now. He's probably still in shock."
Lois felt a bit "in shock" herself as she dazedly tried to listen to the officer's words. That didn't sound like her Clark … letting other people be injured that way. What could have happened? Had he heard or seen something which made him suspect that the perpetrator of these acts of sabotage was close at hand? Maybe even watching him?
She could imagine his helpless frustration at that moment: not wanting others to be hurt, and yet not wanting to do anything to reveal his secret identity, which in turn might put the people he loved in further jeopardy. Poor Clark!
No matter what had happened, however, she knew with absolute certainty that he would have tried as hard as he could to minimize the seriousness of the accident. She remembered him telling her about dragging his foot along the pavement and helping to stop her car the time that The Prankster had sprayed the street with some slippery chemical. He might have done that again, or maybe, if he really was afraid he was being monitored, he might have pressed back against the seat, using his strength to counter the car's forward momentum.
Whatever he'd done, it hadn't been enough to completely avoid the accident, and some other people had gotten hurt. Which meant that her "invulnerable" guy was hurting quite a bit at the moment. She needed to get to him … now.
"Okay, I'll be there as soon as possible."
Another accident! If this kept up, Clark might find it difficult to explain how he was able to continually escape injury. Grabbing her purse and coat and LANing a note to Perry, she set off to catch a cab to the hospital. She had almost reached the elevator doors when her phone rang yet again.
Turning on her heel, she rushed back to her desk to pick it up, only to find Sylvia at the other end. She had been with friends all morning, she said. Could Lois and Clark meet her for lunch? So much for her theory that Sylvia might be involved in the accident, Lois thought. She seemed to have a solid alibi. Yet she chose not reveal anything about the accidents to the woman, just saying that she and Clark were working on an urgent story and wouldn't be able to meet with her.
Hanging up the phone, she headed for the elevators a second time. This time she made it out of the newsroom and onto the street, where she was lucky to find a taxi almost immediately.
When she arrived at the hospital, Lois checked with the admissions office and then went to find Clark. He was sitting on a chair outside the emergency room, his clothes disheveled and smoldered in places, with his head lowered and his eyes staring on at ground.
"Clark!" Lois cried as she covered the distance between them with something akin to superspeed. "Are you all right?"
Clark pulled Lois into a close embrace. "I'm fine, honey. Let's get out of here." Then he whispered, "We need to *talk*." Lois nodded in agreement and they hurried towards the exit.
They made their way to the hospital parking lot and once they were certain they were alone Lois began her interrogation. "I got the call from the police, they said the brakes failed. Is that right?"
"Apparently, honey. The Jeep was almost totaled. I'm sorry. I used my powers to minimize the damage to the other cars, but I couldn't save ours without completely giving myself away. "
"Clark, that doesn't matter. Are you all right?"
"Lois, I'm Superman, I'm invulnerable. A little car accident won't hurt me."
"Maybe not physically, but I know that look you're wearing. You're obsessing again. What is it? What's the matter?" she asked. "There's more to this, isn't there?"
"Well … "
"Clark," Lois said, in her 'the sofa can be a bed' tone.
"Okay," he relented. "It looks like … preliminarily now … that the damage to the brakes was deliberate."
Lois sighed. "You know, Clark, just once I'd like to hear that a fried squirrel was found in the master cylinder or something."
"Lois, you're … what did Dr. Friskin call it?"
"Distancing, and I am *not* distancing, Clark. I know you're going to say someone is gunning for me for the millionth time and then I'll counter by saying that you can't be everywhere … "
"Lois, I think *I'm* the one they're gunning for."
Lois shook her head and dropped her hands noisily to her hips. "Okay, then the bad guys are after Superman for the millionth time."
Clark stepped closer. "Not Superman … *me*."
(CLOSEUP on Dean's concerned look; CUT TO Teri's stunned response — COMMERCIAL and MIDNETWORK ID:
"Lois and Clark will be right back … Here on IRC."
"Well … " Lois said, after a long pause. "At least we know now that it's not me they're after."
Clark nodded. "And another thing, the phone call was phony, too."
"Yep. When I got there, there was no sign of anyone. It was all an excuse to get me into the car again. They must have tampered with the brakes while I was in the abandoned building looking for my 'source.'"
"Why didn't you hear them, then?"
"Lois! Down near the docks, with all the cranes going, and everything else clanking or banging down there, I had to tune some stuff out or end up with a splitting headache."
She smiled, remembering another time when he'd tried to get her to stop talking so he could superhear. "Okay, honey, I'm sorry."
By now, they had reached the curb outside the hospital and were looking around for a taxi. Lois put her arm through Clark's. "I guess the first thing we need to do is get you a change of clothes and then see if we can find out who's after you."
"It's so weird," he replied, "having someone after me instead of after Superman." His face took on an arrested look. "You don't suppose it could be Baron Sunday again, do you?"
"I hope not." They flagged down a cab and climbed in. "It probably isn't, Clark. No one's heard or seen anything of him for months. We'll check on it, though." As the cab pulled out, headed towards their apartment, she added, "At least we can rule out your old girlfriend."
Clark looked surprised. "Sylvia? What made you mention her?"
"She has … I don't know … something about her that I don't like." She took note of Clark's expression. "I know what you're thinking, Clark, and it's not jealousy, I swear. But it doesn't matter anyway, because she has an alibi for this morning."
"An alibi, Lois? I think *you're* obsessing."
Entering their apartment, they noticed that their answering machine was blinking insistently. Lois listened to it while Clark went to change his clothes. He was back down the stairs by the time the message ended.
"The office," she said flatly, walking towards him and letting herself be drawn into an embrace as he opened her arms for her. "Perry wants us to report back in as soon as possible. Clark, I think we should really book that island … "
He smiled, nodding at her. "I'll go. If Perry really needs to see both of us, I'll call you. No use to sit in a cab for an hour in this kind of traffic."
"Clark, please don't … You've just been in the second freak accident today."
"Well, they say that flying is still the safest way to travel. Besides," he grinned, "Superman Airways always keeps their equipment in perfect condition and under constant surveillance. No chance to tamper with anything."
"Oh, really?" Lois replied with a flirtatious smile, "well, remind me to run an equipment check later on then."
Clark's grin got even wider. "Count on it!"
Lois hugged him tighter and kissed him, giving him a preview of just how thorough that "check" would be.
Eventually the kiss ended, leaving Clark looking down at his lovely wife's face, and regretting the fact that they were about to separated again. "And you can remind me to tell Perry that his timing could be better."
That opening gave Lois all the encouragement she might have needed. "Okay, but I'm going with you. I've done enough waiting and worrying for one day."
Knowing that he probably wasn't going to win this discussion didn't keep Clark from trying. "Lois, that won't be necessary. I'll be back in no time at all." Seeing the determined look on her face, however, he knew better than to protest further. He shrugged his shoulders in mock surrender, then gave her a smile. "All right, all right. But first things first: Do you want to fix something to eat or should I?"
As if on cue, Lois felt her stomach grumble, but chose to ignore it. She wanted to get the formalities at the office over with as soon as possible. "Don't worry about it. We can grab a sandwich at the Planet. Let's just get there and get things settled so that we can return to the case at hand."
Clark relented, and spinning into the suit, picked her up in his arms and headed out the back window and towards The Planet.
They had barely entered the newsroom when Clark suddenly got that faraway look in his eyes that told Lois she would need to hurry if she wanted to at least get a goodbye kiss from her husband before he took off to the rescue. As it was, he quickly brushed his lips against hers, whispering something about a fire at the dockside, and had disappeared back into the elevator within seconds. Lois sighed then squared her shoulders and marched towards Perry's office.
Once she had closed the door behind her, Perry looked up from the computer printout he had been studying. "You're late."
It wasn't a question. "I'm sorry, Chief. We — "
Perry nodded, indicating a chair across from his desk. "Well, I'm glad you made it. Sit down. What kept you?"
Something in her boss's and mentor-friend's voice told Lois that for once it would be wise not to argue. "We were … delayed."
"Umm-hmm." Perry gave her a look over the top of the long printout he continued to study. "Where's Clark?"
"Oh, he'll be right back. He just — "
"He's not off on another supposed source's call, is he?"
The printout was down and Perry's eyes caught hers. She could clearly see concern in them now. And what had he said? '*Supposed* source' … ? Had she slipped?
Lois tried to keep her voice even, not giving away the emotions racing within her. "No, no source. He just … " What? Cheese of the month … ? Returning a video tape … ? Seeing the look Perry gave her, she finished lamely. " … forgot something."
"Are you sure? — Never mind, of course you'd be concerned about his well-being, too. He's your husband."
"Chief … ?"
"Well, who wouldn't be? Lois," he said sternly but with sympathy in his eyes, "you were 'delayed' because you were picking up your husband after his escape from a second accident … pardon … assault attempt in one morning. I want you kids out of town. Tonight."
Lois' mind was racing. She knew she'd been upset earlier when she had received the message that Clark was in the hospital. Just before leaving, she had left a note where she could be reached. But nobody at The Planet should have known about the earlier "accident" this morning, and even she and Clark had no proof thus far that the failing brakes had been more than just an accident, despite their suspicions. How could Perry possibly know?
"Oh, it was nothing, Chief. Nothing really. You know we've been involved in a number of cases recently. I'm sure it's just some coincidence … or at least nothing serious. And Clark … he's just checking to see if his special magazine order came in downstairs." Oh my God! She was babbling again. Magazine order? Even Clark couldn't have come up with one worse then that. Better not wait to see if Perry would pick up on it. "But I don't understand, Chief," she added quickly, trying to keep her thoughts in order. "Clark has been in an … okay, actually two accidents … but how … ?"
Now that he had gotten her to admit the incidences, Perry allowed himself a slight smile. "How do I know even though you didn't come to me right away as you should have? Well, I may be pushing papers most of the time these days, but an old newshound can still pick up a scent now and then, and put two and two together. And it really wasn't difficult in this case. You two arrived here late this morning and had Jimmy check into the whereabouts of your past enemies." He paused, holding up the long computer printout again. "Quite an impressive list, I might add. And Clark was called away to meet a source who, I assume, never showed and ends up in the hospital after his brakes mysteriously failed. Yes, Jimmy told me after he heard about Clark's accident and the call from the hospital. While you were gone, we received a fax and one phone call. The fax from Star Labs was to inform Ms. Lane of the exact composition of a toxic gas sampled by Superman after an airbag exploded in the Kents' car this morning; the phone call was from the police laboratory to report that examination of the car wreckage indicated that Mr. Kent's brakes had been tampered with."
When Perry was finished, he looked at her from over steepled fingers. Lois had to admit she was impressed, although once broken down, the chain of events must have been obvious, especially to one as experienced as her boss. It was hard to hide anything from him.
But she didn't want to be grounded. She smiled at him a little sheepishly. "You got it figured out pretty well, Chief. But it's really nothing that bad. We've been in tight spots before. No reason to send us out of town. We'll have this solved in no time at all." I'm babbling again, she thought.
"I know you have. But this time it looks like it's Clark they're after. It was *he* who was called away to that source this morning. I know he's a big — "
"Boy scout." Lois finished for him, now smiling a little. "I think I see your point. Maybe … " A plan was beginning to form in Lois' mind. "Maybe I could use this to plant a false trail."
Perry shot her a glance. He should have known that Lois wouldn't give in to this so easily. "Lois … "
"I know. I'll be careful. I just thought … "
She quickly began to outline her impromptu plan. She'd fix Jimmy up with some of Clark's clothes and ask him to get into a cab and visit several travel agents, making sure he was *seen*. The police would follow him unobtrusively and keep him safe. It was a long shot, one that might not turn up anything. But it was something that could be done while she and Clark were getting out of town and to safety, and that …
"Clark won't like at all," Perry said.
"Yeah." Lois shrugged. "I won't tell him. Not for now at least."
"That's probably better. Well, if you're to make it there tonight, you'd better start making arrangements."
"Where *is* 'there' anyway? And what … ?"
"Well, I have a friend whose old classmate has a cousin who owns a lovely little fishing cabin at the northern lakes … "
When Clark returned half an hour later, he found Lois back at her desk, checking train schedules on the computer screen in front of her. Bending over her from behind, he gently kissed her neck, then indicating the screen, asked, "Someone going somewhere?"
Lois halfway turned to look at him, her voice rather grim. "Yes. Us. Perry is sending us to some godforsaken hideaway." Although she had agreed to the plan, she still didn't like being away from where the action was.
"Why's that? New story?"
"No. He heard about your 'accidents'. And since Baby Rage is apparently missing he wants us to get out of danger. We won't be able to do a thing from there. The place doesn't even have a phone."
"What place are you talking about, Lois?"
"Oh, Perry knows a guy who knows a guy who has a cabin up by the northern lakes. He's already set it up." Clark studied her curiously. From the way Lois was grumbling about it, he wondered if Perry had ordered them to leave town or else have their press passes confiscated — a threat dire enough to impress even Lois. Since he was extremely relieved that this would get her out of danger, he decided to go along with it, even though he would have preferred to spend time doing some "Super-sleuthing."
"So, you think we should go?"
Her attention still on the screen, she shrugged. "I hate being stuck there, but I couldn't talk him out of it." A small smile tilted one corner of her mouth. "Remember those bullet-proof vests?"
Clark placed his arms around her from behind. She turned her face towards his and he kissed her again, deeper and more passionately this time. "Well, it doesn't sound that bad to *me.* Just think of that island."
Her face brightened. "Well, when you look at it that way … We're all set to go. Perry wants us out of town tonight."
Looking up the train connections and buying a ticket was an additional coverup for them. They arrived by air hours ahead of schedule just as the sun was setting in a purplish orange glow across the lake.
"My God, look at that view," Clark said as he gazed across the lake.
"It's really something," Lois agreed enthusiastically.
"Maybe I should let someone take potshots at me more often," he joked, but Lois could sense uneasiness under Clark's jovial manner.
"You're still worried, aren't you?" she asked.
Clark nodded. "Yes, the actual attacks are almost minor annoyances but other people could really get hurt. *You* could get hurt. We've got to figure out who's after me and why before that happens."
"Or before one of the acts reveals your secret identity," Lois added.
Clark nodded again wearily. "This is really frustrating. I don't like waiting around for things to happen. I guess I'm not very patient."
"I don't know about that, Clark. I'd say you've got more 'patience' than anyone else on the planet."
Clark looked confused, but only for a moment. Then he laughed and picked her up in his arms. "Well, Mrs. Kent, let's just try my 'patience', shall we?" he asked with a wicked grin before heading for the cabin door.
Back in Metropolis, a door slammed in a high-priced uptown hotel, and hasty steps stomped across the floor. If anyone else had been in the room, they might have thought it prudent to remove themselves to a safer locale. As it was, the room's sole occupant was furiously pacing back and forth, all the while muttering angrily, frustration evident in every gesture, every expression.
"How? How is he doing this? I don't understand it. He should be sick, or dead, or at least damaged so badly that — " The furious pacing stopped for a moment, as the would-be murderer savored a sudden idea. "I've been too careful. If I'm to succeed in getting back at Mr. Clark Kent, I'll have to be bolder." Stalking to the closet and wrenching out a change of clothes, the mysterious assassin worked on the details of the next move. It had to succeed this time … it just *had* to.
A fire burned in the fireplace, bringing some light and cheer to what was otherwise a rather Spartan habitation. The fishing cabin Perry had exiled Lois and Clark to wasn't loaded with creature comforts. As long as they had each other, though, they didn't seem to really notice much of anything else.
Although the temperature was already pleasantly warm during the day, it still got somewhat chilly at night. They had drawn the old, rustic-looking sofa with its haphazard collection of assorted pillows and cushions closer to the fire and were huddled together in blankets for warmth. The fire had burned down fairly low and Clark was idly stirring the coals with the poker.
After preparing dinner from the supplies they'd brought, they made use of the time by becoming acquainted with their surroundings and reacquainted with each other in ways they hadn't had time for during the hectic days since their return from Smallville. Neither of them wanted to break the mood, but they knew if they were to get any further on their private investigation the next day as they had planned, they needed to be awake and rested in the morning. Although the cabin didn't come with a phone, they had brought along their notebook computer and cellular phone. Earlier in the evening, they had called the Planet to announce their safe arrival. Clark was to go back to Metropolis in the morning for some quick and secret investigation
Eventually, Clark sighed and stretched reluctantly. "I guess we better go to bed."
Lois winked at him, turning to bite his earlobe playfully. "Bed doesn't sound bad at all … "
"Lo-is," Clark tried in vain to sound exasperated.
"Well, you're Superman, and I can sleep in a little after you've left for Metropolis."
A smile spreading across his face, he kissed her, wrapped her up in his arms, and zipped into the cabin's bedroom to start on an investigation closer at hand.
For someone with determination and the right skills, all it took were a few carefully worded calls to the Daily Planet, the First Avenue Travel Agency, and the Metropolis' Union Station to ferret out the current whereabouts of Mr. and Mrs. Clark Kent. That same determined person who returned to the hotel room, picked up a few key items and headed off to the mountains was sure that this time nothing could go wrong.
Clark slowly got out of bed in preparation for his trip back to Metropolis. Hovering a few inches off the floor he gazed back at a peacefully sleeping Lois before spinning into his supersuit and launching himself into the pre-dawn sky. As he turned in the direction of the city, Clark's super sense of smell detected acrid smoke and using his telescopic vision he saw a raging forest fire in the neighboring county. His mission to Metropolis temporarily shelved, he headed down to offer his assistance.
Back at the cabin Lois groggily staggered from bed and attempted to start the ancient coffee pot in the cabin. She got out her notebook computer to begin examining the information Jimmy had compiled in hopes of finding some clue to what was happening to Clark. A few minutes later there was a knock at the cabin door. Still groggy, she stumbled to the door and opened it.
And was confronted by Sylvia, pointing a rather large caliber handgun directly at her.
"What the — ?" Lois exclaimed.
"Where is he?" Sylvia demanded as she forced her way into the cabin still brandishing her weapon at Lois.
"Don't be cute, Lois," Sylvia replied and moved a step closer.
"Why do you want to kill Clark? You were friends."
"Give the lady a kewpie doll. That's *all* we ever were. What magic potion or spell did you have, Lois?"
"I … don't know. I think it was the other way around."
"You know," Sylvia said, her voice rather distant. "I went to therapy. Believe that?"
Lois swallowed. "Hard to believe." She was thankful she wasn't hooked up to a polygraph.
"It's true. There I was, nearly thirty. I had a career. The Campbell soup spokesperson. They don't just *give* that to you, Lois, you have to *earn* it."
Lois nodded. "I get past tomato and mushroom and freeze up."
"Don't worry, Lois, I'm not *that* crazy. I can tell you're humoring me. Not unlike your husband did when we were young."
"Sylvia, Clark is just a sweet man, maybe too sweet sometimes. He saw someone who needed help, and he *helped* you."
"Then why you, Lois? We're back to that."
Lois' mind raced. "It was me, Sylvia, I … tricked him. Took advantage of his sweet nature." Lois noticed Sylvia's expression had calmed slightly. "I told him … I was pregnant."
Sylvia moved in another step. "I'd have settled for getting him with that kind of lie, but you see, he turned me away. Every advance I made, he denied. You'd think he was saving himself for that one special woman," she added sarcastically.
Lois tried to maintain her expression of polite interest, but knew she'd failed when Sylvia's eyes narrowed and her mouth curled into a contemptuous smile. "You don't mean he actually *was*?" She pulled back the hammer. "I guess that was you."
Lois stared at the revolver. "You know why guns were invented?"
Sylvia took aim. "To kill people?"
Lois made a spinning kick and sent the gun across the room, and then high-kicked Sylvia in the jaw. Sylvia fell backward to the floor just as Clark flew in.
Clark smiled at Lois. "Okay, why *were* guns invented?"
Lois retrieved the revolver and set it on the table. "So you don't have to stand in kicking range of your victim."
"Good thing *she* didn't know that," Clark said, as he and Lois stood looking down at the unconscious Sylvia. "Such a waste," he added. "She had so much potential."
Lois kissed Clark's cheek and then fanned her nose. "What have you been up to, Smokey Bear?"
Clark blushed slightly, "I thought I was stopping a forest fire, but it turned out to be a controlled burning of underbrush to prevent it from becoming a fire hazard if the summer is too dry."
Lois just laughed and put her arms around him. "I love you, Clark Kent."
He returned her hug, thankful that she was all right. "Thanks, Lois. I love you, too."
"No matter what happens, Clark, you're always thinking of other people … even people who've tried to hurt you. I love that about you. It took me a while to appreciate it, though, as a strength and not a weakness."
Clark smiled again, and was about to add kissing to the great hugs they were exchanging, when he heard Sylvia beginning to come around. "Guess we'll have to postpone this 'til a little later. Looks like Superman has to make a delivery to the City Jail."
"I guess so," Lois agreed, "but don't forget where we left off."
"I won't," he promised.
"So," Perry said, after reading over the story Lois and Clark had just brought to him, "this woman who used to know Clark in Smallville was trying to kill him because he wouldn't date her?"
"Not just Clark, as it turns out, Chief. Apparently, there are a couple of guys missing in France, too."
"Well, Clark, I'm glad things worked out all right for you two. Guess my idea about the fishing cabin was a good one, huh?" Taking advantage of the fact that Clark was glancing over at Lois and reaching for her hand, Perry winked at his co-conspirator. She smiled briefly to let him know she was grateful to him for keeping their secret.
"It sure was, Chief." Clark squeezed Lois' hand and then looked up at his boss. "Especially since we arranged to have Superman standing by, just in case."
Perry laughed. "Well, it never hurts to have insurance, I guess. By the way, what happened to that Baby Rage character? If he wasn't involved, why did he drop off the face of the earth?"
"Superman did some checking, Chief, and apparently since his old gang was after him, the DA's office arranged to put him in the Witness Protection program. He's out west somewhere," Clark replied.
"Probably having a wonderful time at some vacation spot," Lois added wryly.
"Well, speaking of vacation spots," Perry said with a grin, "no one's using that cabin this weekend, if you two want to … "
Lois and Clark smiled at each other.
"Thanks, Chief, but we've already got plans for the weekend."
"Oh, okay. Well, you just let me know."
They exited Perry's office and began gathering their things in preparation for heading home.
Lois looked at Clark with a perplexed smile. "We have plans for this weekend?"
"Sure we do, remember?"
"No … not really."
He put his arm around her as they headed for the elevators. "I promised you a trip to a deserted island. Now do you remember?"
"Ah, yes. It's beginning to come back to me. And … I remember where we left off back in the cabin, too."
"So do I, Lois. So do I."