By Carolyn B. Schnall <email@example.com>
Submitted August 1998
Summary: A mysterious stranger, with her own secret to hide, visits the Daily Planet with susprising news for Clark … and Superman.
(All recognizable characters used below belong to Warner Brothers and/or DC Comics, December 3rd Productions, ABC and TNT and the situations in which they are placed are meant only to complement the work of the original owners. Everything else is mine.)
Thanks to Debby, Laurie, Louette, Zoom, Neil, Rita and all my other mentors for their encouragement.
I always think whether Lois "knows" or not is crucial to understanding any fanfic story. This is set after Lois has shut Clark out of her life at the end of Season Three, Episode 4, "When Irish Eyes are Killing" and just before "Just Say Noah" (In other words, Lois knows who Clark is.)
I was working on this idea off the end of WIEAK before remembering that Star Brown makes an appearance in JSN. Oh, well. I hope this will not matter.
Clark did not, as a rule, notice every person who entered the Daily Planet newsroom. Today, however, his attention was riveted on the petite but shapely young woman in a red business suit marching down the ramp, in search of someone. Her look of determination set off her intelligent gray eyes and her full red lips. Her confident air was offset by her young-looking features. Her quick movements and rapid pace set her long dark hair flying behind her.
At the bottom of the ramp she stopped and stared directly at him. This, he hoped, was due to her awareness that he'd been watching her.
She advanced toward him with what appeared to be caution, and he could tell that her heart and breathing were racing. Her vital signs may have betrayed her anxiety to *him,* but her demeanor made her seem outwardly calm and focused. She passed Lois sitting at her desk, garnering Lois' glance. As Lois watched, the young woman arrived in front of Clark's desk and looked into his eyes for a long moment.
"May I help you, Ms …?" Clark asked.
"Yes … Mr. Kent?"
"Yes, I'm Clark Kent."
She glanced around while he made a move to get her a chair. She noticed Lois paying attention to them and asked "Could we go somewhere private?"
Clark stopped in mid-chair offer.
"Sure," and he gestured toward the conference room.
She moved swiftly toward it and opened the door herself even though Clark tried to open it for her. He caught the door as she stepped inside quickly and sat down.
"What can I do for you?" he asked as he closed the glass door behind him.
"You had better sit, too!" she said seriously.
Clark could feel a tingle of anticipation as he sat down across from her at the conference table. If she was a source, he thought, what she had to say could be big news.
She took a deep breath and began.
"I'm Judith Stone."
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Stone." He offered his hand and she shook it with more strength than he expected from a woman her size. "And what can I do … "
"I know you are Superman," she stated.
He fought the instinct to show the surprise he felt. He was caught off guard. Before panic could set in, he tried to sound convincing.
"No … you're mistaken." Clark thought he had quashed all doubts with his mother's hologram performance after the Top Copy incident.
"Sorry, I'm not. I am, however, psychic."
Clark stared at her, wondering how he had missed the fact that she might be a lunatic. In a split second he knew he had missed nothing except that he certainly had not expected her statement. He tried to figure out what to say next. She waited patiently for the news to sink in.
"I do apologize for dropping that on you like a kryptonite bomb, but I had to tell you."
Clark stifled a gasp. She also knew, it seemed, of the effects of kryptonite, which, except for its initial discovery and apparent disappearance, had largely been kept out of the news.
"How? Why?" he asked cautiously. He wasn't quite ready to own up yet.
"I cannot explain 'how', since I was born with psychic ability. The 'why' part is easier. It's because you're in danger."
Clark swallowed hard. He could see through the glass walls that Lois was approaching the conference room. Star Brown, Lois' psychic neighbor, came to mind. Star was entrepreneurial and gifted but ditsy. Judith Stone appeared to be highly intelligent and had a no-nonsense attitude that was hard to overlook. Clark could not decide whether or not to let Lois in on this interview. Just last night, she had asked him to leave her apartment because he had broken her heart. He'd been depressed ever since and had barely managed to say "good morning" to her. Now, he was also confused and …very anxious.
"What kind of danger?" he finally asked.
"There may be a plot to kill you. I *had* to inform you. You've saved everyone's lives so many times. I may not be a super hero, but this is something I can do to help *you*."
"I can let Superman know what you are trying to do for him … " Clark got out. Lois was just outside the door now, her eyes fixed on him, seeing his discomfort.
"For you, sir." Judith's expression of respect and her quietly determined tone of voice won her some points with Clark. Judith went on without moving her head but with a slight gesture toward the door and Lois.
"I'm also sorry Ms. Lane was so upset last night and that you are so down today. This wasn't the best timing but what I had to tell you couldn't wait."
Lois opened the door now, as Clark took in Judith's last sentence. How could Judith know about last night?
"What's going on, partner?" Lois asked, not without a slight dig in her tone.
"Ms. Lane?" Judith rose to face her.
"Yes, and you are?" Lois asked, almost as a challenge.
"She's a new source of mine, " Clark put in quickly.
Judith, not missing a beat, went with his apparent decision not to tell Lois yet about the conversation that they had been having.
"Judith Stone. It's nice to meet you, Ms. Lane. You write such good stories. Succinct and to-the-point."
"Thanks," Lois said, always trying to be polite when being complimented on her reporting. "And what do you do?"
"I am an academic administrator at Metropolis University. For the last eight years, I ran the graduate school. Now I'm the Chief Policies Officer on the Dean's staff
Clark gave Judith more credibility points. Long term educators and policy people were usually stable, reliable and conscientious. Less likely to be loco, he hoped.
"Big story at MU?" Lois wondered.
"Not yet," Clark answered, wishing he could get Lois to leave. "I just wanted to arrange a tour of the facilities in the science labs to see if any geniuses are about to graduate."
Judith again picked up the hint.
"Here's my card. Call or e-mail me when you can come by for that tour. ASAP"
The last part was for his ears only as she pressed her business card into his hand, while making steely gray eye contact.
"Can I have one?" Lois asked.
"Certainly," Judith said smoothly, fishing another card out of her briefcase, and handing it to Lois.
"Bye now." After which Judith turned and left. Clark found himself watching her stride out.
She walked with poise but looked around the place as she did so. She turned and gave him a significant look across the big room before she boarded the next elevator.
Lois had been watching him watch Judith.
"Anything I should know?" Lois eyed him, a slightly suspicious look on her face.
Clark felt the instinct not to tell Lois anything. Only a few days ago, he had broken up with her out of fear for her safety when she'd been injured while tagging along with Superman. This, of course, hadn't stopped her from being kidnapped by her old Irish friend, Patrick. Only yesterday, Clark, as Superman, had managed to turn up just in time to prevent Patrick from ceremoniously sacrificing Lois to the ancient Celtic gods.
Last night, Clark had come to Lois, asking to be let back into her life. Still very hurt by what she took as his rejection, she had rejected him back. Being "news partners" was all the interaction she would allow now.
"Nothing newsworthy yet," he answered.
Lois eyes flickered. Clark could practically hear her mind asking "newsworthy for publication or newsworthy about Superman … but secret?" Instead, she asked
"Why did you look so surprised when you sat down with her?"
" I didn't expect such a quick response to my inquiry with Metropolis U."
Clark reflected that he certainly had not expected to hear from Metropolis U.
"How come you never told me you had this story in mind?"
"Don't we both have our own leads from time to time?" He was getting annoyed.
"Why in private?" Lois was still not buying, and getting more annoyed herself.
"Ms. Stone deals with confidentiality issues and conflicts of interest in her work. I think she was just following her usual routine of being cautious."
Clark figured that he had gotten pretty close to the truth on that last answer.
"So, she just happened to be in the neighborhood?" Lois eyes narrowed as she asked this.
"Yeah … the lawyers she was seeing on University business are down the street."
Clark had remembered that there *were* lawyers' offices a few doors down from the Daily Planet building. He hated lying to Lois, after being so sure a few weeks ago, knowing that she "knew", that he would never have to lie to her again.
"Okay, flyboy, you got yourself out of that one." Then she turned toward the door.
Clark couldn't help but resent that 'flyboy' crack, an update on the usual 'farmboy' moniker, but not for public consumption. He pressed his lips together and exhaled through his nose. Well, maybe he deserved it. Lack of trust was going to undermine all the things he had striven for for so long.
Perry's timing, for once, was perfect. As he entered the conference room he said, "Lois, honey, you have to go right now to cover the mayor's press conference. Fred took sick and you are the only other one around who's familiar with the mayor's policies."
"Okay, Perry," Lois answered. Even Perry looked surprised that she hadn't argued with him. She walked out of the conference room to her desk, picked up her bag and left for the press conference, the air behind her chilling noticeably. Even Jimmy Olsen's shoulders hunched against the cold as Lois walked past him.
Perry turned to Clark, who felt he had to forestall an Elvis story he could tell was on the tip of Perry's tongue.
"Chief, I have some leads I want to follow up on. I'll see you later."
Clark left Perry standing there, shaking his head. Walking back to his desk, Clark superspeed e-mailed Judith. Only a few minutes later, as though she had flown back to her office and was waiting for his message, Judith responded that he could come by any time that afternoon. Clark walked to the storage room, which had a window. He was in red, yellow, and blue and out the window instantly.
As Superman, he flew over to the campus, dropping down on the deserted, tree-landscaped, rear of the science building, which strangely enough, had no windows. He walked around to the front as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter. Judith's office was located in the main administration building, just across the quad. As he walked through the grassy area, busy with students, he reflected on the situation. The implications, if it were true, of a plot against Superman's life, or rather, his own life, had made him, on top of his deteriorating relationship with Lois, apprehensive.
If Judith was crazy, lying, or pulling a stunt on him, he would have to find a way to deal with her. If she was telling the truth, she might genuinely believe in something that only had the appearance of a threat but was not actually a threat. Or … she was the real thing … and so was the threat.
Clark entered the building, checking in with the guard, who phoned Judith. Upon her request, the guard gave Clark directions to Judith's office, the room number of which was on the card she had given him. Her office turned out to be one of several in the older part of the building which boasted wood paneled walls, carpeted floors and big mahogany desks.
Her door was open. She was practically dwarfed behind the large desk and the king sized computer monitor on it. As he came in, before he could say anything, she moved swiftly past him to shut the door.
"Ms. Stone … " he began.
"Please, call me Judith or even Judy," she said as she sat down in one of the two chairs facing her desk and gestured him to the other.
"Judith … " he said, deciding on the more formal version, and trying to choose his words carefully, he settled into the chair.
"You still doubt my abilities," she stated, letting him off the hook.
"It's just that your thinking I'm Superman is … "
"Correct" she affirmed. "But I would never call you "flyboy"."
Could she have bugged Lois' apartment and the Daily Planet conference room? Not likely, he thought. Then how could she really know all she did?
"And you landed behind the Science Building. Good choice." she continued.
Could she have seen him? Had spies? Neither seemed likely but she just knew too much for her to be dismissed as a phony.
"Listen," she said, "I was nervous when I came to the Daily Planet. It was because I knew I was about to meet you and I was feeling awed and excited," Judith said. "It was a dream come true!"
She was letting her enthusiasm bubble up now and she smiled, lighting up her features. Then she went on.
"Of course, it didn't go as well as I hoped because I was going to tell you then and there what the plot is. It's just as well you came here, Mr. Kent, because now I can show you some things."
"You might as well call me Clark. What things?" Clark asked, playing along.
Judith got up and went to her computer. She quickly summoned up a file and motioned him to take her place in the desk chair to look at the screen. As he did so, he saw instantly that it was a rather ordinary looking research proposal. Then he saw what she had seen. There was an indication that an unnamed 'substance' was to be put through a battery of tests to see what effect it might have on an unnamed 'subject'. Both the subject and the substance names were referred to in what appeared to be a code.
"I think it is pretty clear to anyone clued in that you … that Superman is the subject and that the substance is a form of kryptonite," Judith said after a moment.
"Whose research proposal is this?" Clark asked.
"Dr. Bradley Foster, an adjunct associate research professor in chemistry."
"Yes, and so far, I am the only one other than Dr. Foster and the department chairman who has seen the proposal. The chairman is this sweet old guy who is about to retire and does not seem to have noticed how suspicious this looks. Fortunately, I'm clued in."
He glanced up at her reading over his shoulder. He could hear her heart pounding again. She looked at him as though she had come to a decision. She reached around him and pressed the print command buttons.
"I could lose my job for giving you this, or even showing it to you but you … and *he* … *each* have a good reputation. I had to tell you about it. If, by some chance, this project is awarded University funding, who knows what could happen."
As the printer nearby produced copies of the proposal, Clark got up and returned to his original chair. Judith sat down at her desk and replaced the proposal on her screen with her electronic schedule. Clark was trying to figure out what was next when Judith again helped him.
"The committee which decides whether or not to award donor money to this proposal will meet tomorrow. I am supposed to forward the proposal to the committee membership via e-mail tonight. Then the entire committee of five more people will also know all about it. I need to know what you want to do."
Clark realized that she was letting him decide the fate of the proposal.
"If it were to somehow get lost … "
"I could lose it." she answered.
"But you would jeopardize your job, right?"
"Well … it would be embarrassing but not fatal. However, if we let it go to the committee, we might find out if there are other faculty members in on it. That might be useful."
Clark was not sure if he could trust her or not. He needed more time, more clues, and more information. Letting more people see the proposal was risky. But suppose there was someone on the committee who would champion the proposal. The plot might involve more researchers than was presently evident. Who had the 'substance' now and where was it being kept? If it was encased in lead, he would never find it on his own.
"Yes, you are right, we don't know where it is," she said before he said anything.
He jumped slightly. He was still not used to how she seemed to read his mind time and time again.
"When does the committee meet?" he finally asked.
"Tomorrow evening, 6 p.m., here in the conference room down the hall."
Clark was now leaning toward working with her, letting his suspicions take a back seat and placing his trust in her.
"What do *you* think?" he asked earnestly.
She eyed him for a moment, suddenly aware that the man she was sure was Superman was asking *her* advice. She gave it.
"There may be something about this kryptonite that makes it worth studying beyond the fact that it's classified and not available for study in academia. The project is doomed even if it is funded because you … Superman is not volunteering to be the guinea pig. That's why I was so worried. There may be more sinister forces at work here to gain control over Superman. This kind of thing is almost unheard of in the University setting. I also think that the committee members, who are supposed to keep things confidential, will have to see the proposal in order for us to get the information we need. We'll also have to prevent the proposal from going to the Research Board for final approval."
"Do you know the committee members?"
"Actually, I know all but one of them. I don't know everyone because I'm new to this part of administration. Of course, it's the one I don't know that worries me the most."
"And if you're psychic … ?" he suddenly wondered what she didn't know.
"I can't explain why I don't know everything, but I have learned to use whatever my abilities allow me."
This sounded like familiar territory to one who also had unusual abilities.
"Can I attend the meeting?" he asked.
"No, but if you're nearby …" she sighed, then got explicit about the breach in confidentiality she was proposing. "You can monitor the meeting from outside, using superhearing and supersight."
He decided to acknowledge nothing yet. Instead, he asked, "Suppose the proposal is simply rejected?"
"Then we will have to find other avenues. The whereabouts of the 'substance' could be mentioned during the meeting. Or maybe someone on the committee will ask about it. I don't think it will just go away, nor would you really want that kind of inconclusive resolution. The kryptonite will then become harder to find."
She suddenly inhaled with realization.
"Dr. Foster is supposed to be available to answer questions by the committee! I don't know him but that means he'll be *there*!"
She looked apologetic, realizing that she hadn't mentioned it earlier and it was important.
Clark realized that it was easy to forget to mention something that seemed obvious. Also, he was *not* psychic, his problems with Lois coming to mind again. He shook the thought away, as the door of the office opened. In walked a large man in a lab coat, talking to Judith even before he had cleared the threshold.
"Judith, is everything ready for tomorrow's meeting?"
Judith rose to her feet, looking surprised.
"Yes, Dr. Plotkin, if you mean the *evening* meeting?"
She looked significantly at Clark so he would realize they were discussing the very same Committee meeting.
"Yes, the evening meeting." Dr. Plotkin suddenly saw Clark sitting there. Turning to leave, he threw over his shoulder "Good, thanks, Judith. Excuse me, young man," and he was gone.
"Sir … " Clark, who had started to get up, looked back at Judith inquiringly.
"Chairman of the Committee," she explained to Clark. He came to a decision.
"Okay, suppose I come by here before the meeting?"
"If you and I have dinner here on campus, I can fill you in on anything new. If we go to the faculty dining room, I might be able to point out Committee members to you. Then you could walk back here with me and hang around without anyone getting suspicious. We can find a good vantage point for you, too."
Clark gave it one more moment of thought.
"Okay, I'll come back here and pick you up tomorrow at 5 or earlier, if I can get away." Clark looked into her eyes. He had just about admitted his secret identity.
"Good," she said, offering to shake his hand.
He took her hand and immediately felt her excitement again. But her hand was also warm. Her left hand was steady as she gave him the proposal printout. As he left, he had second, third and fourth thoughts about Judith and the whole affair. It was a deeply ingrained habit to maintain concealment. And his depression over Lois deepened.
The next day proved no warmer as far as interacting with Lois was concerned. When Clark first passed her desk, she was on the phone. For the rest of the morning, she seemed always unavailable for any conversation. He could not even ask if she wanted some coffee.
The day crawled along for him in this manner except for a brief e-mail message from Judith confirming the meeting, dinner, and that the faculty dining room was serving an Italian menu that evening. Clark acknowledged the message, trying not to sound too austere. If she was really trying to help him, which was the way it felt at the moment, he should be grateful and let it show. Her intuition about him, while seemingly uncanny, could have come from some bizarre chain of links that might have started with Diana Stride's public assertion that Clark was Superman, and taken on a life of its own He had spent part of the night, during Superman patrols and rescues, and also during the time when he should have been sleeping, going over all the angles. Instinct was sometimes the strongest indicator. Judith was undoubtedly excited and attracted by her interaction with him. She had also seemed to be as straightforward and businesslike as he could hope for. Deception, or the appearance of deceptive behavior, did not seem evident.
He worried, however, that his preoccupation with Lois was making it harder for him to think clearly about anything else, especially this. His secret identity sometimes seemed to be a curse, reminding him of how Lois had been so hurt when she had figured out the truth. He had managed to hurt her again by declaring himself a jinx to her and by deciding unilaterally that they couldn't make a go of life together. He had also hurt himself. Now they were both suffering, because she wouldn't, or couldn't, forgive his error and accept his apology. How far he felt from that infallible fellow, Superman, that Lois had idolized before she 'knew'. That was the problem. All her dreams had been shattered and his along with them.
Clark sighed as he left his desk at 4:45 p.m., glancing at Lois' empty desk chair, and took the storage window exit to return to Metropolis U. in the same manner as he had the day before.
Judith was standing behind her desk when Clark came in. She glanced up at him, flashing him a big perfect-teeth smile and throwing him a warm hello. As he made an effort to return the greeting she paused in her efforts to clear her desk and motioned him to one of the chairs.
"Any luck on researching Dr. Foster?" she asked, dropping pens and pads in drawers. She scooped up a small calculator and some paper clips in quick succession.
Clark was starting to get used to her asking about things of which she could have no direct knowledge of. Or was she just bright and intuitive? After all, it was logical to expect a reporter to do background checks.
"No, there wasn't much to be found but I'm not finished looking," he sighed.
"The Faculty Affairs computer was down most of the day, so I didn't have much luck, either."
On her way to a file cabinet in the corner, she passed near his right shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she said, giving him a gentle, comforting pat. "All this must be hard on you."
Wishing Lois had been the one passing out solace, Clark sighed again and nodded his agreement. Judith seemed to have some qualities in common with Martha Kent. The mixture of a strong personality when coupled with a generous warmth towards others was very compelling. Clark noticed that he was beginning to feel very much at ease with Judith because of it. He also realized with regret that he wasn't expressing much appreciation. He shook himself and sat up straighter in the chair, trying to override the depression nipping at his optimism.
Moments later, Judith was finished and they were soon walking across campus to the cafeteria building. On an upper floor was the faculty dining room where Judith and Clark each chose a pasta dish from the menu. Judith had pointed out the sights on campus and some of the more distinguished faculty in the dining room. Dr. Plotkin was there, as Clark saw for himself. Judith looked around but did not see any other Committee members.
As they ate, Clark found himself scrutinizing Judith as though his x-ray vision could help him see into her heart and mind. All he found out was that she was wearing a tailored, somewhat expensive black wool slacks suit and a red and white patterned blouse. But she came to his aid, once again. She spoke in an extremely quiet tone and Clark realized he was probably the only one who could hear her. Considering the conversation, this was a good thing.
"In answer to the question uppermost in your mind at the moment, I've always been psychic. I found out when I was ten years old why I had to keep it a secret. I scared some classmates when I made the mistake of revealing what I knew about them and I paid the price for it by getting severely beaten up. I learned quickly after that to keep my mouth shut. It was a good thing too, because my abilities grew after that by leaps and bounds."
"I'm sorry to hear you were beaten, it's difficult having special gifts." he said, feeling a kinship with her. He owed her sympathy at the very least and probably a lot more than that. She responded by pausing in her eating to gaze into his eyes. She smiled slightly in acknowledgment. She went on.
"I have terrific parents. I'm sure I'm spoiled by having them because I also learned as I grew up that not only wasn't everyone psychic, but that other people's parents could be all manner of terrible influences for their kids."
Clark nodded, thinking about how badly Lois was affected by her parents, whose divorce, personal problems and continued quarreling made Lois unsure and insecure.
"My parents are both college professors and they immediately put me in a new school for gifted children. No one else knew that it wasn't just because I'm musical that I was there.
"Musical?" Clark asked between bites of pasta.
"I'm a singer now but then I studied the violin," she answered.
Clark again thought of Lois, singing her wonderfully appropriate, for him at least, rendition of "I've Got a Crush On You" at the Metro's nightclub a couple of years before. He also thought about his own parents and how lucky he was to have them. So many things about Judith reverberated with things in his life.
"The next question you were going to ask me is, how did I figure it out about you."
Clark's eyebrows rose. He shook his head, thinking to himself that he had to stop being surprised.
"It wasn't?" Now it was Judith's turn to be surprised.
"No … it *was* actually, it's just that … I … I'm still finding it strange …" He swallowed hard and reached for his water glass.
"Oh!" Judith looked enormously relieved. "I would find it very strange myself, if it turned out that I was wrong about any of this. Embarrassed, too."
"Well, its true that I have been taken for … you know who … before."
"And you had a great deal to protect," Judith added knowingly. "I am speaking to you this quietly because I am protecting a cover, or *two*, myself."
"So … how did you come to your conclusion?" He tried to look encouraging, not anxious, which is what he felt.
"Promise you won't laugh?" she inquired.
"Uh … okay, I promise," he responded, wide-eyed.
She looked down at her pasta, embarrassed and also amused, probably at herself.
"Well, I was in the pool here on campus. Brand new. Beautiful. Yellow and blue everything. Tiles, kick boards, lane barriers, … you name it."
Clark smiled a little at the reference to yellow and blue. Judith smiled too.
"There was a fellow in the swimming lane next to mine who, for some reason, build or looks or a combination, reminded me of Superman, who I saw preventing a car wreck last year."
She paused, smiling again, beginning to blush. Clark just kept smiling slightly.
"It turns out that I know the guy. He's Ramiro Martinez, one of Met U's star athletes. Well, anyway, he's real fast and at first I was amused, or rather, *encouraged* to find that for brief periods, I was able to keep pace with him in the water. I had just been thinking about how swimming moves can sometimes emulate the flying movements Superman made. I was wearing my goggles so I could see clearly and I was studying how Ramiro was moving in the water, … and how Ramiro looked underwater, in action … and Ramiro was wearing this very brief, very tight blue swim suit with a *red* waistband … "
Clark was, for some reason, blushing with her now.
"So I got out of the pool and sat in the sauna where someone was reading the Daily Planet. *You* had a front page story that day about the dock strike. Then I went into the steam room, just letting the heat permeate, and … it came to me!" She was now quite pink in the face.
"Is that how all your psychic revelations come to you?" Clark asked, amused.
Judith was now smiling ear-to-ear, embarrassed and shaking her head at him.
"I promised not to laugh but I didn't promise not to tease you," Clark got out.
Judith laughed and Clark followed suit.
"I guess I deserved that," she said. "And, no, that is not how it usually happens."
"I'm glad to hear that," Clark said, still chuckling.
"That was last week," Judith said, trying to get serious again. "So when two days ago that research proposal was submitted, I knew I had to tell you about it. I usually can't leave campus in the middle of the day, but Met U has business with a lawyer on the next block from the Planet, so I decided that I should try to see you then."
Clark was once again surprised. Had he just guessed correctly about the lawyer?
"Can you plant an idea in someone's mind?" he asked suddenly.
Judith looked puzzled, then matter-of-fact.
"No, unless you count telling someone something to make them think along certain lines. Anyone can do that. Why?"
"Never mind," he said quickly. Judith gave a shrug. If she again knew what he was thinking, she had decided not to comment on it further.
They were soon walking back to the administration building.
"I thought of something that might help us in this situation." Judith said along the way. Clark turned toward her with an expression of openness on his face.
"Staff people don't usually speak at these committee meetings except to report information. I don't have a vote and I'm not supposed to express an opinion."
Clark nodded his understanding.
"If the Committee looks like they will grant the funding, I might be able to suggest a postponement of the decision in favor of more information. I could make up something about the proposal being too brief or … not submitted in time or … "
"Or because Dr. Foster is only an adjunct faculty member," Clark suggested.
"Or a combination of all three, " Judith concluded with enthusiasm.
"Couldn't you get fired?" Clark worried.
"Maybe, but it would probably just get me admonished, since I'm new. Or perhaps, a certain Man of Steel could put in a good word for me if necessary."
Her admiration was showing through and Clark found himself smiling back. Her attitude reminded him of how Lois used to look at Superman.
They were soon back in her office. Judith grabbed a notepad and a tape recorder, as well as a file folder from her desk. She then led Clark to the conference room around the corner. As members of the Committee entered the room, Judith greeted the ones she knew while standing with Clark in the hall.
"I have to go in there now. Find a place where you can monitor the proceedings."
"Okay," Clark said, his mood subdued.
"By the way," Judith added before rushing off, "that may be Dr. Foster." She nodded in the direction of a bench a few paces down the hall before entering the conference room. Clark glanced over at the bench occupant. He was a middle-aged, average-looking nerdy-type fellow in glasses, with thinning hair and a slight paunch. He seemed nervous and ill-at-ease but not devious. Clark settled down on another bench and took out his notebook. It was going to be an interesting evening.
The Committee meeting began with routine business. Dr Plotkin introduced Judith as the new Chief Policies Officer, she met Dr Robert Weston who was the Committee member she didn't know, and the minutes of the previous meeting were approved. The session progressed with old business, in this case, several research proposals that had been submitted chronologically prior to Dr. Foster's, and whose authors had been interviewed at the previous Committee meeting. Apparently, the final decisions on these proposals had been postponed in order to verify that the funding was available, having been mismanaged by the previous Chief Policies Officer.
During this time, Clark x-rayed all around and monitored the meeting with superhearing. Foster had glanced at Clark a couple of times but did not speak to him.
Finally, Dr. Foster's proposal was up for review. The Committee had been fairly passive during the previous discussions. Most of the prior proposals had been funded, the terms of which varied from proposal to proposal. Judith was duly instructed to inform the researchers of these decisions. Two proposals were rejected, one for being too brief, the other for being submitted after the deadline. Clark caught Judith smiling to herself. Precedence was now set for using these excuses for delaying funding for Foster.
Dr. Plotkin began holding forth about how he had found Foster's proposal intriguing but too sketchy and non-specific. Dr. Weston angrily argued with Dr. Plotkin and accused him of being too picky. Judith's eyes grew wide at Weston's sudden outburst and Clark sat up on the bench. Judith had been correct to be worried about this unknown quantity, like a wild card in the otherwise passive pack.
The rest of the Committee began to grow impatient with Weston's vehemence. He stated several times that Foster should be asked to elucidate the proposal. Plotkin finally cut him off, stating that an interview would not suffice, since the information that was lacking should have been in the proposal. Judith seized the moment.
"Dr. Plotkin, according to the current procedures, Dr. Foster's proposal does not meet the requirements for funding. Since this is my first meeting, I wanted to be sure to bring the proposal to your attention. However, I believe I am mandated to inform you that the proposal is too short and was submitted after the deadline for consideration for funding this quarter, unless you wish to authorize an exception. Also, to my knowledge, Dr. Foster holds only an adjunct appointment and, again, funding his proposal would require an exception to the current regulations, which you would have to justify to the Research Board."
Clark could not help but be impressed with her command of the situation, since she was new to her job. He wondered if she had really made up what she said, but suspected it had some basis in fact. She was obviously skillful at using new knowledge to her advantage and thinking on her feet. She had even managed, in his opinion, to be eloquent, to boot. She had certainly been smooth and confident.
Dr. Plotkin thanked her, swiftly deferred the proposal until the next meeting, and solicited a motion for adjournment due to the late hour. The motion came and was seconded almost instantaneously. In moments, the room emptied. Weston tried to stop Plotkin but the chairman was out the door, having already verified that Judith would produce the appropriate minutes and correspondence.
Weston then marched over to Foster and called him by name, quelling any doubts about his identity. They walked out together while having a heated argument in hushed tones. Just then Plotkin recognized Clark and wished the 'young man' a good evening. Between that and the noise from people leaving, Clark heard only unhelpful phrases from Weston and Foster like "must talk" and "let's get out of here" and Foster's indignant "they *deferred* it!"
Judith came out of the conference room and walked straight over to Clark.
"What's wrong?" she asked, noticing the frustrated look on his face.
"Dr. Plotkin was talking to me just when I needed to hear what Weston and Foster were arguing about."
"Oh, sorry about that. Dr. Plotkin is really a nice man. A bit of an AMP, though."
"An AMP?" Clark was unfamiliar with the term.
"An Absent-Minded Professor," she answered. "I used to call my graduate students AMPITS."
"AMPITS?" Clark was still confused.
"Yes, not to be confused with armpits," she laughed. "Absent-Minded Professors in Training!" She finished brightly.
Clark smiled but shook his head, while Judith led the way back to her office. Clark could hear that someone was behind them as they turned the corner leading to her corridor. Clark glanced back and tried to x-ray through the older, lead-painted walls in this part of the building. He wasn't certain, but thought it was Foster coming their way.
As they entered Judith's office, he signaled to her, pointing out into the corridor. She grew wide-eyed but kept her cool, and upon hearing the footsteps, grabbed Clark and pulled him towards a chair. As he sat down, she scrambled into his lap and threw her arms around his neck. As Foster blustered in, Judith kissed Clark on the lips. For show, he kissed back, but only slightly, wishing it was Lois in his lap.
Foster cleared his throat loudly and actually stamped a foot.
"Ms. Stone!" he said indignantly.
Judith, genuinely blushing, lifted her head, breaking off the kiss.
"Yes, sir," She got out of Clark's lap. "I thought everyone was gone for the day."
"Obviously," Foster said sarcastically.
"Well, it is late," she said. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"I'm Dr. Foster," he said significantly.
"Oh, Dr. Foster. How do you do?" She offered to shake his hand.
"I'm not doing well at all." Ignoring her hand, he went on. "By what authority do you claim my proposal is ineligible for funding?"
Judith didn't answer immediately. She walked deliberately behind her desk and looked at the computer monitor as though consulting the regulations. When she did answer, it was with great dignity and seriousness.
"The decision of the Committee was confidential and you are not supposed to know about it nor the nature of the Committee's deliberations. I am duty bound to ask you who told you because such a breach of confidentiality must be reported to the chairman."
"That's not important," Foster said defensively. "What's wrong with the proposal?"
"I cannot discuss this subject further with you in the presence of a non-Committee member." She gestured toward Clark. Foster barely looked at him.
"Answer my question!" Foster sounded angry now.
"Any further inquiry will have to be made directly to Dr. Plotkin." Her tone had taken on a warning quality.
"You … " Foster was enraged.
"Sir, I will have to ask you to leave." Judith was standing her ground even though Clark knew her heart raced. Clark thought this would be a good time to stand up. He walked to where he could stand almost next to Judith and Foster was now eyeing Clark's large, imposing frame. Foster stomped out, muttering.
After Clark was sure he heard Foster leave the building, he sighed, letting the tension flow out of his limbs. Judith, who had waited patiently while watching Clark listen, also exhaled and then slipped into her desk chair.
"Sorry about the kiss," she said. "I saw that in a movie once. It was useful that it occurred to me tonight."
"It's a good trick. I've used it myself," Clark answered, remembering when he had kissed Lois during the stakeout in the Lexor Hotel honeymoon suite. At the time, when they were about to be discovered with surveillance equipment by a maid, he had been glad he had thought of it too. Of course, any excuse to kiss Lois had had to be seized upon. He had daydreamed about it for months after as a special bonus. Now he wasn't sure he would ever get to kiss Lois again.
"You'll never know how sorry I am that I'm not Lois," Judith said quietly.
Clark looked down at her and saw that she had turned away, softly weeping.
"I'm sorry," he was at a complete loss. "You've been terrific. Please … don't cry."
"I am not crying because you haven't fallen head over heels for me in a day and a half," she got out. "I think you're … wonderful. Even though you've been depressed, I can tell how sweet you are. I have never in my life met someone so strong and yet as gentle and good as you. I know you could never love anyone but Lois. But I can't help feeling that if I knew you loved me, I would *never* treat you the way she has." She sounded angry at the end.
"I probably deserve how she's treating me," he said gently, getting down on one knee to be at eye level with Judith. She turned toward him, shaking her head in disagreement, and he embraced her. He felt that they both could use some comforting, feeling only protective in a brotherly sort of way. He fervently hoped she could sense that as she had sensed everything else so far.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I've been under a lot of stress in the last few months. So many important things in my life ended recently. I didn't mean to unload it on you. I'm so … embarrassed."
"I don't ever want you to be embarrassed with me," he said gently. "You've been great and I should be the one apologizing. Keeping a secret like yours would be challenging enough for anyone. And then you took on my secret on top of that. I'm very grateful."
She pulled away enough to look into his eyes. She was so touched by what he had said that new tears welled up. He held onto her while she shook with sobs. She seemed very small in his arms and he could tell that a big, warm hug was exactly what she needed. He knew from his own experience how lonely life could be for someone as special as she. He wished it would be possible for her to meet her soulmate and … he wished his own soulmate would forgive him his errors.
A while later, she seemed calmer and thanked him. She smiled at him and he at her. He got up and helped her up from her chair. She booted down her computer and picked up her purse and he turned off the lights as they left together. Judith offered him a lift, then blushed at the thought.
"Yes, thanks," he said. She looked surprised.
"You don't fly everywhere?" she asked.
"No, not everywhere or all the time," he said. He wanted to be certain she was all right. In any case, in the company of others, he usually tried to give the appearance of leading a normal life.
About twenty minutes later, she dropped him off at the Daily Planet. As he started to get out of her car, he leaned back in and gave her what he hoped was a brotherly peck on the cheek. She squeezed his hand in return and they exchanged smiles again. He got out of the car, shut the door and waved as she put the car in drive. She drove away as Clark turned toward the building and there, looking really stunned and hurt, was Lois.
As it dawned on him how this last little scene might have looked to her, Clark walked slowly up to her and gazed into her eyes. Lois, as usual, beat him to the punch.
"Well, I guess I don't have to ask where you've been."
"Lois … " He started to say something to her but for the second time that evening, found himself at a loss.
"How was the lab tour? Or did she give you a different kind of tour?"
Lois was too upset to realize that her accusatory words were hitting him in his heart and soul like something akin to kryptonite splinters.
"You can't possibly think that I would do anything like what you're suggesting."
Letting his growing anger show was not going to help but he couldn't stop it.
"Well, you were awfully affectionate to that 'source'."
"She's being a very good friend to me," Clark responded, wanting to add "and to you, too".
"I'll just bet. Did she sweep you off your feet or cry on your shoulder as an excuse to take a tour of *you*?"
Clark was beginning to wonder if Lois was psychic as well. If he answered her truthfully, she was not likely to understand the evening's special circumstances or listen to reason.
"Oh, so it was both!" Lois exclaimed when he failed to answer her. She crossed her arms in front of her, which oddly looked like she was imitating Clark as Superman.
"Lois, I would like to tell you all about it but that would mean exposing someone's secret without that person's knowledge or consent."
Clark, knowing that Judith had gone to some trouble to protect him, had to do the same for her, at least until he had a chance to confer with her again.
"Sure, partner, okay, you go right ahead and keep another secret from me. After all, you're so *good* at that."
Lois started to leave, but Clark tried to stop her, stepping in front of her. He wished he could embrace her and kiss away all her fears, but she was just too angry.
"I promise you," he said earnestly, "I will tell you all I can, when I can."
"I'm not holding my breath, because another *two years* is a long time to wait!"
She sidestepped him and left. In utter frustration, Clark launched into the sky, only belatedly glancing about to see if anyone witnessed his careless loss of control, since he was still dressed as Clark. In his heart, he knew that Lois was speaking to him from her too well ingrained streak of insecurity. Reassuring her had been his pleasure in happier times. But at this moment, flying far and fast was all he could think of to do.
He was more than halfway around the world before he began to feel less angry and frustrated. It occurred to him that he was lucky to have such a convenient way to blow off steam. From the moment Lois had figured out his secret, she had resented the fact that he could fly and she couldn't.
Clark was over California when he decided to see if his parents were still awake. As he dropped down onto their porch in Kansas, he immediately regretted the visit. The lights were out in the house indicating that his parents were either asleep or not at home. Just as he was about to take off again, his mother called to him from a second floor bedroom window.
"Clark, are you all right, honey?"
"Hi, Mom. I'm sorry. Go back to sleep."
"Not on your life, " she said.
Moments later she was downstairs so Clark went into the house. His father was a few paces behind her.
"Hello, son," Jonathan said.
"Hi, Dad," Clark knew he sounded depressed. For the umpteenth time he felt lucky to have parents who he could really be himself with, at any hour of the day or night.
Martha organized chamomile tea in no time and they all sat down around the kitchen table.
"Lois is still mad?" Martha guessed.
"Well, actually, she's … *more*mad."
"What happened, son," Jonathan asked groggily.
"Well, there's this other woman … "
"*Other* woman?" Martha was genuinely shocked.
"No … yeah," Clark looked ceilingward, tongue-tied again.
"Just start at the beginning, son," Jonathan advised, propping his chin in his hand.
"Okay, Dad." Clark settled down and told them, in chronological order, all the events of the last two days. His parents both looked worried when he told them about the 'substance'. They listened patiently through his account of the Committee meeting. Somehow it seemed okay to tell them about Judith's psychic powers, even though, in his heart, he knew Judith would tell no one about *his* secret. What he couldn't understand was why he held the truth back from Lois. He articulated this into a question to his parents.
"It's very hard to think straight when you're both so hurt," was Martha's reply.
"Son, you said it yourself. Lois has to know everything before you can have a life together," his father said, having nodded in agreement with Martha's answer.
"Are you sure Judith is … trustworthy?" Martha asked, concerned.
"I am now but I was very cautious at first."
"That was very smart, Clark," his dad put in.
"Judith was … I think, attracted to me, *both* of me, at first. But she risked her job and her reputation trying to help me, knowing my secret and all about Lois, too. She may even be risking her life. Tonight, when she was crying … "
"Crying?" Martha interrupted, surprised.
" Yeah, Mom, she was under a big strain and that guy Foster was very nasty to her. She stood up to him but then … she cried."
His parents exchanged a look Clark caught.
"Mom, Dad, she's … like me. She's had to learn how to keep her psychic abilities to herself because, I can tell you, it can be truly scary when she tells you all about stuff she couldn't possibly know. She's not like the psychic hotline people, either. She took on a big responsibility to help me. She knew right away how important it was to find that kryptonite sample. I get the impression she's had some big disappointments in her life recently. Of course, I've been so preoccupied … I didn't reassure her back. Then she broke down."
"Are you saying she's … ?" Martha didn't know how to finish the question.
"She's a … good, new friend?" asked Jonathan, trying to help.
"Yeah, Dad, or like a … a little sister!" Clark finally got it out, expanding on the protective, brotherly feeling he had felt for her earlier.
"A little sister!" Martha repeated, smiling at the thought.
Jonathan smiled too, but more sleepily.
Clark finished his tea, stood up and gave them each a hug.
"Gotta fly, now," he said sheepishly.
"I'd like to meet Judith sometime," Martha said hopefully.
"Lois might like to have her as a friend, too," Jonathan suggested as he stood behind Martha, who nodded her agreement.
"Yes, Dad. Thanks. Bye Mom. Bye Dad."
He walked out of the house and was up and away in the starlit sky.
Clark had resisted the urge to drop by Lois' apartment because it was late when he returned to Metropolis via Brazil to prevent a mudslide and Siberia where he stopped a runaway train. He had turned down the offered rum and vodka to go home to bed.
Lois was not at her desk when Clark got to the newsroom in the morning. He e-mailed Judith first. Just to be sure, he asked her if he could tell Lois about the research proposal and Judith's abilities. When she answered about twenty minutes later, Judith responded in emphatically strong terms that he should tell Lois everything, and fast, since Lois had already gotten the wrong idea.
Clark hadn't told her about the argument with Lois. He wasn't sure he could ever get used to Judith's revelations. He then remembered a psychic he and Jimmy had visited when Superman was missing after trying to stop an asteroid from destroying the earth. Clark had been suffering from amnesia at the time. That psychic had been sure Superman was close by but Clark had dismissed her words as rantings. Clark hadn't yet remembered that he was Superman. Also, the carnival trappings of the woman's storefront business hadn't inspired confidence. Clark now realized that the woman had been right.
As he read on, he saw that Judith had gone on to write that a former student of hers from the graduate school who held a post-doctoral fellowship in Weston's lab had mentioned that he was concerned about a mysterious box he'd seen in Weston's office safe (not Foster's!) She suggested that they might want to check it out. She further suggested that Lois might want to come along. After several messages back and forth it was decided that at least Judith and Clark would meet at the Science Building late that night.
Clark spent the rest of the day trying to turn out some news stories. There were a couple of human interest pieces he had been saving for when he had no time to research a major article. He also had some follow-up stories to file, one of which involved the dock strike. Later in the day, he e-mailed Judith for information about geniuses at Met U., making their cover story genuine. She referred him to the graduate school associate dean who gave him some good leads. After one or two telephone interviews with students and their mentors, he submitted a couple of different story ideas to Perry for possible future publication.
By mid-afternoon Clark had the distinct impression that Lois was staying away from her desk to avoid running into him. He had had to leave three times for short intervals to be Superman and had missed her every time. He found out near the end of the day that she had told Perry she would work at home for the rest of the day and possibly the next day as well. He would have to go to her. Unfortunately, he would have to meet Judith first. Just as he was leaving, on an impulse, he left a message on Lois' home answering machine, telling her where he was headed and that she should come along if she could.
He stopped off at home for a bite of food, to check his mail, and to change clothes. At the appointed, very late, hour, he met Judith on the darkened campus at the entrance of the windowless laboratory facility. They each surveyed the other and grinned over the fact that they both wore black from head to toe. She could not conceal that she liked it on him a great deal. Black made her pale skin seem paler. He had liked the red she had worn the previous two days.
Clark had often wondered why both he and his mother had decided on the red, yellow and blue of his suit after trying several other combinations. Later, his mother realized that red and yellow seemed right due to the "S" emblem she had been saving for him. The blue just seemed to go well with the other two colors and looked pretty good on him. Besides, black would have made him look like Batman.
There was no guard in the lab building and Judith had managed to secure a key. Even the cleaning crew was finished for the night but Clark was aware that there were some people in the building. He silently gestured to a lab they passed where people's voices could plainly be heard. She nearly silently whispered that graduate students conducted timed experiments, sometimes requiring all night attention. Clark nodded his understanding and they proceeded to an upper floor where Weston's lab was located.
Clark x-rayed as much as he could, encountering, as he often did at S.T.A.R. labs, much equipment that contained lead in the interior design or outer casings. As they reached the door to Weston's lab, both were relieved that the lights were out. Judith mouthed "no key" and Clark showed her that he was using his superstrength to force the door. Judith would have to find a way to report a broken door lock in the morning.
Clark entered first, not needing much light to see, and led the way to Weston's office, an inner room where Judith felt safe enough to use the flashlight she had with her. She passed the light round and found the safe. Clark shook his head to indicate that he could not tell what it held but he was able in a moment to use his superhearing to get the combination lock open. There were only papers inside. Clark flipped through and scanned them, which Judith watched in awe, only to find that they were not about the research proposal.
As he shut the safe door and locked it again, he heard footsteps from down the hall. He was certain that they were those of Dr. Foster, whose step, after the preceding day, was well known to him. Without warning, he grabbed Judith and swung her up to float with him parallel to the ceiling, between two hanging fluorescent ceiling fixtures. Judith fought hard to keep an exclamation from escaping her lips. They were nose to nose, with her on top, and since Judith was caught off-guard, her grip on the flashlight had not been tight and it was starting to obey gravity.
Clark saw the flashlight move and managed to grab it from a foot below them without a sound before it could catch Foster's attention as he entered the room. Judith could barely see him around Clark's big frame but she almost laughed when she saw that Foster was also wearing black and carrying a flashlight. Instead of proceeding to the office, however, Foster went to a lab bench across the room and retrieved a large samplecase style bag. He then left, apparently oblivious to the fact that the lab door had not been locked. When Clark was sure he could hear that Foster was out of the building, he slowly floated himself and Judith to the floor.
"That was exciting," she whispered. He smiled for a moment.
"Another useful trick I know. I wish I knew what he had in the bag. I couldn't x-ray it," Clark whispered back.
Judith cocked her head towards the door in a non-verbal equivalent of "let's get the hell out of here".
They were soon out of the building, having managed to avoid, as they did coming in, all cameras and people. They looked for Foster but he was gone from sight, even from supersight. They walked across the quad towards her office, both of them in a subdued mood.
"Well, that was a waste of time," she said after a couple of minutes.
"Maybe not," Clark said. "At least we know Foster removed something from the lab that he didn't want anyone to know he had."
"Yes, but where to?" she wondered. He had no answer and he was depressed again, realizing that there was no sign of Lois either.
"I would have followed him but leaving you might have placed you in danger."
"Thank you," she said simply.
They entered the administration building together, silently passing the snoozing guard. They proceeded to Judith's office corridor. As they turned into her office, Clark suddenly felt very strange. Before he was even sure it was kryptonite, his knees buckled and down he went, vaguely aware that Judith was very frightened.
This time the pain was extremely intense. He was completely surprised by the suddenness of the blinding, crippling waves of searing, shooting pain. He heard a strangled cry before he realized he had made the startling sound. Judith had grabbed him and held on to him as he fell to the floor. He heard himself moaning as he felt his consciousness slipping away. And then it was gone.
Clark was suddenly aware again of his surroundings. He was lying on the floor of Judith's office and she was crouching next to him, looking extremely upset. He made a move to rise but she put a staying hand on his shoulder. He was surprised to find that he was too weak to resist.
"I found Foster's bag. It was on my desk with a note saying that this was the 'substance'. There was a box propped open in the bag and it held a green rock. Needless to say, I closed the box," Judith told him.
"Thank you," he managed, only a whisper.
"What happened?" Suddenly Lois was on the office threshold.
"He fainted from the effects of kryptonite," Judith answered economically.
Lois was stunned, realizing that Judith 'knew' since Clark was dressed as Clark and not as Superman. Clark tried again to get up and the women assisted by grabbing an arm each. After he was seated in one of the chairs, Lois turned on Judith in fury.
"What's going on here? How did this happen?" Lois was really steamed now.
Judith grabbed her hand and sat her down in the chair next to Clark with a great deal of force. Lois was about to get up again but Judith shot her a killing look.
"Calm down right now," Judith ordered. "Clark needs to recover."
Lois glared at her but kept her seat. Judith then proceeded to explain everything that had happened, including the part where her psychic abilities allowed her to discover that Clark was Superman and all the events of the last three days.
"How did kryptonite end up here?" Lois snapped as soon as she could.
"Foster left it here for me with a note, telling me that it is the 'substance' referred to in his research proposal. I doubt he had any idea that his 'subject ' would actually be coming through that door. He's either incredibly stupid or completely crazy, to have left it here. Anyone could have taken it." Judith's shudder at the thought finally seemed to convince Lois that Judith was not the enemy.
Clark, who had felt decidedly ill for the last few minutes, was trying to rally. He gingerly stood and then was extremely dizzy. Lois stood up, grabbing him, and held on. In a moment, he stood straight up on his own and even though he wouldn't have minded staying there, with Lois holding him, his immediate goal was to get the kryptonite to S.T.A.R. labs for safe keeping. He managed to say so, just as he slipped from Lois' grip back down to the chair.
"Lois, either you or I should take it there, " Judith advised. Lois found herself agreeing with her. It took her only a second to come to a decision.
"My jeep is outside and I trust myself the most, so I'll take it. Will you be okay here, Clark?"
"Yes, Lois," he answered softly. "Judith is a good friend. She'll take very good care of me."
Lois looked as though she could easily have come up with a suitably angry retort but she decided to refrain from using it. She picked up the closed box and headed out the door. Judith caught up with her a few paces down the hall.
"I'll give him a lift home; you might want to meet him there," Judith suggested.
Lois stopped and eyed her for a moment, her facial expression unfathomable.
"Maybe, thanks." she said and started walking again.
"I know what you're thinking." Judith's statement again stopped Lois in her tracks.
Lois whirled to face Judith and couldn't keep the challenge out of her voice.
"Oh yeah? What am I thinking?"
"Lois, even if I had tried, I couldn't have taken him away from you. He loves *you*. *Only* you. He's a … super guy. He's *devastated* that you're not together."
Lois' facial expression changed. Judith's anger came through again.
"Quit acting like a jack … a stubborn mule, and make up with him."
Lois glared at her and wordlessly continued out of the building.
When Judith returned to her office, Clark was not feeling much better. And he had heard the ladies' conversation in the hall.
"Thanks for trying," he said softly, "but she can hold onto anger better than anyone else I've ever met."
"I think Lois feels the same way as you but is damned if she's ever going to admit it. However, I *suggested* to her another way to think about you than she has been. And she *will* think about you."
Judith smiled at him with satisfaction. He understood.
They were silent for a minute or two. Clark now had a new worry. He had only passed out immediately after kryptonite exposure once before, which was the first time he had been exposed. In addition, though green kryptonite was always painful to him, this exposure had been far worse than any other time he could recall, even when Lex Luthor had imprisoned him in a cell made of the stuff. Judith's theory about this kryptonite possibly possessing some unique qualities seemed to have been correct.
Still slightly unsteady, which was worrisome all by itself, he reached for the phone. In a moment, he was talking to Dr. Klein's lab assistant at S.T.A.R. Labs.
"Yes, Dr. Ross, this is Superman," Clark saw Judith's eyebrows rise.
"It's a real pleasure, Superman," Dr. Ross said cordially.
"It's good to talk to you, too. Listen, Dr. Ross, there is a sample of kryptonite on its way to you. Ms. Lois Lane of the Daily Planet is the courier … "
"Ms. Lane?" Ross was surprised.
"Yes, Dr. Ross, Ms. Lane is just doing me a favor. When you get the sample, I would appreciate it if you and Dr. Klein could test it to see if there's any significant difference between it and your other samples."
"Yes, sir, we'll get right on it," Ross practically saluted over the phone.
"Good. Report the results of your tests to Ms. Judith Stone at Metropolis University. She will need the information for a confidential on-campus investigation."**
"Will do, sir," Ross responded.
"Thank you. Goodnight." Clark hung up after Ross returned the salutation.
As Clark put the phone down, an idea occurred to him, making him feel slightly better, at least in spirit.
"When you hear from Dr. Ross," Clark said to Judith, "you two should arrange to meet."
"He could bring the results here and you could pick them up later." She had a teasing tone in her voice, already having sensed what he was up to.
"I could go directly to S.T.A.R. Labs for that as Superman," he deadpanned.
"Yes, I know," she said, smiling.
"Ross is a good guy, " Clark smiled back. "You two just might hit it off."
Judith chuckled, then gave him a doubtful look.
"My parents want to meet you. Could you come to Kansas with me for dinner tomorrow night? Superman express, that is." He was ignoring her dubious expression.
"Yes, I'd love to," Judith said, delighted, her face lighting up. "I even get to see you in the Suit."
"I told them about you," he said, ignoring her last sentence.
"I know," she said. "That's good."
"I told them you were like a little sister."
"That's so nice!" She was impressed and her face reflected even more wattage.
"And I wouldn't introduce just any guy to my little sister."
As she giggled, he felt glad to be able to do something for her.
Judith, true to her word, gave Clark a lift to his apartment. On the way, they discussed the research proposal. They agreed that Judith would tell Dr. Plotkin that Foster had left a possibly dangerous substance unsecured on her desk, exposing her (not to mention Superman) to unnecessary risk. She would tell Plotkin where the substance was and that she was expecting an unbiased analysis from Drs. Klein and Ross. Foster would probably have his faculty privileges revoked, at the very least.
After Judith dropped him off, Clark called his parents to tell them what had occurred. They were happy to hear that Lois had shown up and taken care of the kryptonite. They were especially glad they were going to meet Judith but sad that Lois was still angry.
After Clark hung up, he went to bed, still not quite himself. As he drifted off to sleep, still feeling physically terrible, he realized that Lois had neither called nor stopped by. All his dreams, of which there were many that night, were depressing replays of the evening's events. In each one of them, Lois was walking away from him at the end.
In the Daily Planet newsroom the next morning, Lois was already at her desk when Clark came in. As he approached her, she turned her face toward him.
"Are you okay?" she asked, trying to appear neutral.
"Getting there," he answered truthfully. "Thanks for the help last night."
"It was nothing," she said, feigning disinterest.
Clark thought she seemed nervous. As he continued to his own desk, he passed behind her and glanced at her computer monitor. She was e-mailing Judith! He decided not to mention it, and turned away at slightly under superspeed so she would not see where he had been looking.
At his desk, he checked his own e-mail and was please to find a message from Judith.
"Looking forward to tonight's dinner with your folks," she wrote. "Ross came over this morning. Looked tired, had worked all night, but seemed real nice. Thanks."
"The 'substance'," she went on, "seems to have morphed into another form of the stuff due to gamma rays or some similar radiation. In other words, 'S' man should stay far, far away from it (big surprise)! Ross will keep working on it. Hope you feel better. Foster is out on his er … behind, you'll be happy to know. Weston may be next."
Clark was relieved but made a mental note to keep track of the two men's next career moves. Then he continued to read Judith's message.
"Ms. LL couldn't resist her curiosity and asked me for more details about last night. I told her the genius scoop is yours and that the rest is probably best kept confidential for the sakes of Met U. and you. She agreed. I'm really starting to like her."
Clark was proud of both women and also grateful. Judith had written some more.
"She misses you, too. I suggest you take a trip to the movies tomorrow night. She'll be there. Bye, Big Bro. Love, L'il sis, Judy."
Clark smiled. Things were definitely looking up again.
(Or rather the beginning of a defining Lois and Clark adventure in "Just Say Noah" wherein another psychic is called upon to come to the rescue.)