By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted October 1999
Summary: What if Superman was unable to get out of Luthor's kryptonite cage? Lois has to deal with a missing Clark, a comatose Superman and other governmental entanglements in this well-written story.
Authors note: The following story was originally posted to Zoomway's boards and I have to thank all those kind folks who offered their support and suggestions which, after I incorporated them, have made this a better story. A special thank you goes out to Pam Jernigan for a suggestion that took an idea that was rather self-limiting to one that seemed to explode with posibilities and caused what was supposed to be a moderate little three part posting into the long form story you see here. I don't generally write long form because I don't have the patience to stay with a story that long, but once again the encouragement offered by my board buddies kept me at it. Those familiar with the series should recognize the opening of the story as the end of season one's House of Luthor. As always all character's are trademarked and copyrighted to their respective owners. All and any feedback whether positive or negative is welcome and encouraged.
Lois Lane stood out in front of the Lex Corp. Tower, her wedding dress was torn and stained from the frenetic activity of the past hour. She stared in horror as the body of Lex Luthor was loaded into the coroner's van to be whisked away to the morgue. She started to shake. Where was Clark? She needed Clark right here, right now. Perry tightened his arm around her shoulders.
"Are you all right, honey?" His southern drawl became more pronounced when he was being solicitous.
"I can't believe it! How could I have been so blind?"
"Now, honey, don't go blaming yourself. He fooled all of us for a long time."
"Not Clark! He tried to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. He never liked Lex."
"That may be true, Lois, but I think Clark had some added incentive to dislike Lex."
There was a hint of amusement in Perry's voice which caused Lois to smile briefly. She then turned in Perry's embrace to face him.
"Perry, where's Clark? He should be here. If I know Clark, he was the spearhead of this whole investigation. He knew something was wrong with the way the Planet was yanked out from under us. I even remember our last argu - er, conversation." Perry had to duck to avoid her flailing arms. "He said, 'Lois, you're an investigative reporter, investigate!' But would I listen? No, I just chalked it up to Clark's sour grapes jealousy."
Lois led Perry over to a nearby bus bench. She shook her head in disgust. "I can't believe I almost married that egotistical, lying creep Lex."
"It's a darn good thing we got there in time Lois."
"Oh, I had already said no by the time you and Henderson's storm troopers came bursting in."
"Yeah." She grabbed Perry's arm. "Did you know that Clark told me he loved me?" Lois was still coming to grips with that revelation.
Perry chuckled. "So he finally got up the courage to tell you, huh?"
"Lois, honey, everyone except you knew that Clark has had a thing for you since almost the day he arrived. Great shades of Elvis, Lois, that boy'd walk on water for you, or drown trying."
A sad smile split Lois' face. "I guess I sort of knew too, but I was afraid to let myself think of him that way. That's why I pushed him away when he told me. I've been hurt too many times in the past to trust myself, or anyone else when it came to the big L." She made an L with her thumb and forefinger. "But it was realizing that maybe what I felt for Clark could be the real thing that made me call off the ceremony." Lois grimaced. "My timing could've been better, like, by about two weeks."
"Yeah, honey," Perry slapped his knee, "it could have been." Perry suddenly shifted to a more serious tone. "If you don't mind my asking, did you love Lex?"
Lois was silent for a few moments. gathering her thoughts. It wasn't the first time that question had crossed her mind. It wasn't even the first time she'd been asked it. Clark had asked her also. At the time she had still been conflicted over her feelings for Superman, so she had brushed the topic aside with a noncommittal answer. She tucked a stray strand of silky dark hair behind her ear as she looked up at Perry, the man who was the closest thing to a real father she'd ever had.
"No, I don't think I loved Lex. He was charming, handsome, and powerful, and he desired me. That was pretty heady stuff. After Superman rejected me, I was hurt and feeling alone. I guess I felt, if I couldn't have the man I wanted, I'd settle for the man who wanted me." Lois shrugged.
"But, Lois, if you didn't love Lex, why go to him? Why not Clark, or someone else?" Perry had taken her hand into his.
Lois sighed. "Why did I know you were going to ask that?" She favored Perry with half a smile. "Mind you, it took me a while to finally realize this, but, I think it's because I didn't love him that I said I'd marry him." She giggled at the look of bafflement on Perry's face. She touched his hand gently. "Perry, I have only fallen in love with someone, I mean really felt like I was in love, a couple of times. Both times it ended badly. I was used and betrayed, so I decided not to put myself into that position again, not to let myself fall in love, again. That way I couldn't be hurt. I guess, subconsciously, I thought that if I didn't love Lex, he could never hurt me. Not really."
"Oh, honey, I'm not even going to pretend I understand your logic on that one. I'm just glad that this part is over and now we can concentrate on getting the Planet back on her feet, somehow." Perry gave Lois' chin a tweak. "What about you Lois? I hear you've become quite the hot-shot producer over there at LNN. Even with Luthor gone, it's still a great job."
Lois sighed again. "It's kind of fun. You know, fast-paced, always on the go." Lois smiled again. "But it's not really me." she punched Perry playfully in the arm. "Tell you what, if you find a way to get the Planet going again, I'll be the first in line to sign back up."
Perry shook his head. "I bet you would, but I think you'll have to be second in line because I don't think Clark ever really left."
Lois' face clouded up at the mention of Clark's name. She felt guilty over the way she had treated him. Telling him he was just acting petulant because she told him she didn't feel the same way for him as he did for her. The problem was, she did, and she needed to see him. She needed him to hold her and tell her that things were going to work out. She never felt more safe than when she was with Clark, not even when she was with Superman.
"Oh, Perry, where is Clark? I thought he'd be here, you know, to be in on the big bust. I didn't think he'd want to miss out on Lex getting his just desserts." She bit down on her lip. "I really need to talk to him."
"I know you do, honey, but none of us has seen him since early yesterday. He told us he had to meet with someone and that he'd hook back up with us later at his place to compare notes, but he never showed."
"Perry!" Lois clutched his arm and a tear snuck out of the corner of her eye and slid unnoticed down her cheek. "You don't think that maybe Lex did something to him, do you? He wouldn't hurt Clark, would he?"
"Now, Lois, Clark's a bright guy, and he knows how to take care of himself. I sure he wouldn't do anything foolish." He patted her hand in a fatherly gesture. "It's more likely that he's just shut himself away somewhere. I know he had no more desire to see you marry Lex than any of the rest of us. He probably went home to wait this out with his folks. I'm sure once he finds out that we nailed Luthor he'll be back in a heartbeat."
That made sense Lois thought. She remembered how violently Clark reacted when she asked him to come to her wedding the other day. When she suggested that, instead of Lex, it was now her that he hated. Clark had surprised her because for as angry as he was one second, the next he was soft and emotional as he remarked that he could never hate her. It made sense that he was just holed up somewhere until the whole unpleasant situation was over. Yeah, that had to be it she thought. Lois clenched her fists and sent out a silent prayer: *please* let Clark be all right.
Suddenly a shadow came between her and the sun that had been shining in her face. She looked up to see Inspector Henderson standing over them. His suit was wrinkled, and he looked tired.
"Henderson, shouldn't you be off catching some of Luthor's henchmen or something?"
"Nice to see you too, Lois. I see you're looking particularly fetching today."
Lois looked down at the stained and ripped dress she was wearing. She also knew that her mascara was badly smeared, and her eyes were probably still red and a bit puffy from crying earlier. She glared at Henderson but he had already turned his attention away from her.
"Mr. White, I wonder if you could come with me for a few minutes?"
Lois jumped in first. "Why, what do you want Perry to come with you?"
"Gee, I never even saw your lips move, Perry." Henderson smirked. Lois snorted.
"Sure thing, Inspector." Perry rose, then turned to Lois. "You going to be all right alone for awhile, Lois?"
She smiled. "Yeah, Perry, I'll be fine. I'm going to sit here for a few minutes, then I'll head home," she gave herself a quick once over, "to get out of this dress. Then I think I'm going to take a nice hot bath, for about a week."
Perry laughed as he leaned over to give her a hug. "Take care, honey, I'll talk to you soon." He left with Henderson.
Lois watched them walk away, back toward the Lex Tower. Henderson was talking and was quite animated, gesturing with both hands. Just before they reached the main entrance Lois saw Perry put his hand on Henderson's arm and stopped the police inspector. Perry looked like he'd been hit between the eyes with a two by four. Henderson jerked his thumb toward the doorway and the two of them entered.
The whole scene had seemed very interesting to Lois. She was getting that itch in the back of her neck that told her that something was going on here, something big. Of course, if something big was coming down, Lois Lane needed to be there to report on it. She almost smiled at the illogic of that statement. She was a reporter without a paper, but a reporter none the less. That nice hot bath would have to wait. She got up and hurried after the two men.
She managed to catch sight of Perry's jacket just before it disappeared around the corner. They were headed toward Lex's private wing of Lex Tower. Lois knew the layout of the wing fairly well so she was able to keep back out of sight without losing them.
It wasn't long before the duo came upon a massive steel door, which Lois knew led down to Lex's personal wind cellar. The door had been forced open by the police and had an X of yellow police tape crisscrossing the frame. Lois had once asked Lex why such a secure door, which he kept locked at all times, for just a wine cellar. Lex had smiled and tossed off a casual remark about valuable items kept there and that one can't be too careful these days. Lois assumed he meant the rare, expensive wines that she knew he collected were down there and shrugged it off as not very important.
Lois maneuvered herself around the police tape, as had Henderson and Perry a minute before her, and crept quietly down the stairs. She'd been down here once with Lex and knew it was a couple flights to the cellar floor. She also knew it was hard to see the majority of the room until you were almost to the bottom.
She could see Henderson and Perry a few feet from the base of the stairs. They were talking and gesturing toward something off to their left. Lois couldn't hear what they were saying, but Perry was visibly upset. He kept shaking his head, and … was that a tear Lois saw in the corner of his eye? She silently descended a bit farther down the stairs until she could see what they were pointing at. It was a cage of some kind, and it glowed a sickly green color.
The glow was oddly familiar to Lois but she could only see the top half of the cage so she snuck a little farther down the stairs. She could now hear Henderson as he seemed to be explaining things to Perry.
"That's the way we found him. We have no idea how long he's been here. Obviously none of the normal autopsy methods are going to work in this case. Heck, we probably wouldn't even have thought of checking down here if it wasn't for Luthor's assistant, Mrs. Cox. "
Henderson's words confused Lois so she turned her attention to the cage and it's occupants. A couple of lab coated police officers were fussing over a sheet covered body. Her view blocked until one of the officers moved slightly. What she saw then nearly stopped her heart.
The body lying on the floor of the cage was not quite completely covered by the sheet, but there was no mistaking the blue tunic sleeve, nor the red boots which protruded from under the edge of the sheet. If those weren't enough, a large hunk of familiar red cape trailed off to one side.
No! She cried out, but no sound had escaped from her mouth. Her hands clenched into fists as she saw the two policemen wrestling with an ominous black body bag. She knew that could only mean!
"No!" Tears erupted from her eyes as she ran down the remainder of the stairs toward the terrible tableau in front of her.
The commotion caused Perry to turn around. When he saw who it was he looked stricken. He grabbed Lois as she tried to rush past him.
"Lois, honey, no!" He crushed her to his chest trying to use his body to shield her from the shattering sight. She struggled in his grip.
"Perry, let go! I've got to see him!"
"No, darling, you don't want to go there. It's too late, Lois. It's too late." Perry tried to stroke her hair in a comforting fashion but Lois continued to struggle.
"We don't know that! I've got to see him!"
Perry held her arms tightly and thrust her out in front of him where he could look her in the eyes. Her tears, and the anguish on her face nearly caused Perry to lose it, but he took a deep breath and put a bit of 'steel' into his voice.
"Now, Lois, listen to me! The police doctors have examined him and it's too late. He's gone Lois." He pulled her back and her tightly to his chest as her legs got rubbery and she began to sob uncontrollably. Tears began to flow from his own eyes, his voice now barely a whisper. "He's gone."
Lois sat on her couch staring straight ahead, twisting Perry's handkerchief in her hands as tears rolled unnoticed down her cheeks. Perry had brought her home a couple hours ago but she hadn't moved from this spot since he'd left. He had apologized profusely for leaving her but he had to meet back up with Henderson and the local politicos. They had to decide how and when to break the news of Superman's death to the world. Lois had told Perry to go ahead, she promised she wouldn't leak the news to anyone and that she'd be all right alone.
Alone, that's how she felt. Her heart and mind ached over the loss of Superman, but it was her worry for Clark which was causing the painful chill in her soul. She had just reconciled herself with the notion that Clark Kent was someone special to her, someone who loved her, and she in turn, finally realized that she loved him. She needed him here, now, to hold her and stroke her hair. To tell her everything was going to be all right. But it wasn't all right, it never would be all right again. Superman was dead, and Clark was missing, so she had just sat there crying, feeling scared, alone, and angry at herself for giving in to those emotions for so long. Of course, that just added tears of frustration to the ones which already found themselves dampening her face and dress.
Lois knew she should have called the Kents to see if Clark was there but she couldn't. She was afraid that he wouldn't be there and that would just be one more piece of evidence pointing toward the possibility that Lex had done something to Clark. She desperately wanted to believe that Clark was with his folks and once he found out that Lex was dead and that the wedding never happened he'd come back. She didn't think she could handle it if something had happened to Clark too. Losing Superman and Clark both would just be too much to bear.
She was suddenly startled by the ringing of the phone. Lois stared uncomprehendingly at it for a few moments as if she didn't know what it was. On the second ring, recognition came crashing in on her and only one thought pushed it's way to the forefront of her mind. She jumped up and got it before the third ring.
"Clark?" She asked suddenly out of breath.
"No, Miss Lane, this is Dr. Nan Smith at Star Labs. I'm the person who has been put in temporary charge of Superman's body."
"Oh." The hand around Lois' heart gave another squeeze. "What can I do for you doctor?"
"It's my understanding that you and your partner, Mr. Kent, are close to Superman, and lacking any known family to contact, I was hoping you two could help me."
"Well, " Lois bit down on her lip. "My partner is-was actually closer to Superman than I was, but he's … unavailable at the present time." Lois took a deep breath, wiped at her tears with the back of her hand, and tried her best to put her professional attitude back in place. "How might I help you?"
"You see, " the doctor seemed hesitant, "that is, I don't want to get into this over the phone, but I need as much information on Superman as I can get. Could you possibly come down to Star Labs?"
Lois' mind was racing. What kind of information did this doctor want, and why? All sorts of horrible scenarios flashed through Lois' mind. She nearly gagged at the prospect of seeing Superman laid out on some cold metal table, with technicians and doctors trying to dissect him like some twisted high school biology experiment. Lois suddenly felt unsupported anger creep into her tone as she responded to the waiting doctor.
"I don't see what possible good it would do for me to come down there. I don't know anything that can help you." Lois was ready to hang up but the urgency in Dr. Smith's voice made her hold on.
"Miss Lane, I do need your help! I think Superman's still alive!"
As it was after normal business hours when Dr. Smith had called, they agreed to meet back at Star Labs in one hour. This gave Lois time to grab a quick shower and throw on a simple beige skirt and jacket over a simple white blouse. Her erstwhile wedding dress now lay in tatters in the dumpster behind her apartment complex. Lois pulled into the parking lot of Star Labs and took a couple moments to compose herself. She checked her minimal makeup in the rear view mirror and wiped at a stray droplet in the corner of her eye. It had been a terrible day, but if she was to be of any help to Superman she had to suck it up and be a professional again. She could do this: she was Lois Lane.
She pushed the mirror back into position just as Dr. Smith drove up. They met on the walk in front of the large double doors which was the entrance to Star Labs.
"Thank you so much for coming, Miss Lane."
The doctor used her ID to get them in and led Lois through the doors and down one hallway after another deeper into the complex than Lois had ever been before. Lois took a couple deep breaths as she focused on her surroundings. She made mental notes of their route, just in case she should have to come back this way, say late at night.
"Miss Lane, I'm very anxious for you to help me. You see we don't have a lot of time, and I'll be leaving Star Labs soon."
The doctor's nervous ramblings broke Lois' concentration. "What?" Lois turned to look at the woman.
"That's right, Miss Lane. Bernard Klein will be coming in to replace me in a few weeks. I just have to get away, I'm moving back to the Midwest."
"Why?" Lois was surprised. Metropolis was her idea of heaven on earth. "This is the greatest city in America, why would you want to leave?"
"Actually, it's for my daughter, Tara." Dr. Smith shook her head sadly. "I want to get her away from the crowd she's hanging with. They aren't really bad kids but they are kind of strange. Mostly musicians and such. I know children have to go through their own period of self discovery, but she's already shaved off most of her hair, and what little she has left is a bright fluorescent green. I don't know, I guess I'd just like to get her around some more normal kids before she runs out of body parts that aren't pierced." Dr. Smith knew she had been rambling, but she was nervous and a bit unsure. This situation was the most intimidating she had ever been in and she wasn't sure she was up to it. She was counting heavily on this pretty young woman next to her to come up with the miracle answer, like she and her partner had done so many times over the last year.
Lois shook her head starting to remember some of her own rebellious acts as a youth but quickly pushed those thoughts aside. She had to focus, she had to do whatever she could to save Superman.
Suddenly they were confronted by an imposing set of double doors which required Dr. Smith to use a special card swiped through a high tech card reader and a thumb print to enter. Upon passing through the doors there was no mistaking that they were in a medical facility. The antiseptic smells, the overly bright, overly clean white walls. The gleaming stainless steel equipment everywhere. Lois often wondered how people ever got better in hospitals. Everything was always so institutional and impersonal that she had always felt better once she had left and gotten back to familiar surroundings. She mentally shrugged. Maybe that was the point, people wanted to get out so bad that they healed faster so they could. Her tangential thoughts were interrupted by the fact that Dr. Smith had stopped.
Lois' heart twisted in her chest as her eyes took in the scene in front of her. Superman lay on some sort of padded table directly in front of her. She could see no movement in his chest or in his face. He had several flat metal discs, electrodes if memory served her correctly, taped to various parts of his body, and they were all connected to banks of machines behind him. Tears began to roll down Lois' cheeks as she noticed all of the machines showed flat line graphs. Lois took another step forward and laid her hand on his bare chest, the shirt having been removed.
"Oh, Superman." Lois' voice cracked a little, then she suddenly drew in a sharp breath, and turned to look at the doctor.
Dr. Smith nodded seemingly pleased with Lois. "So, you've noticed it too."
Lois' voice faltered a bit before she got it under control. "His body is still warm." Lois reached back and grabbed the doctor's arm. "His body is still warm! That means he's still alive!" Lois' tears flowed more freely but they were no longer tears of heartache but of budding joy.
Doctor Smith grabbed Lois by the shoulders. "Calm down, Miss Lane. Yes, his body is still warm and that is one reason why I hold out hope for his still being alive. His body temperature is only a couple degrees off the human standard 98.6 but then we don't really know what normal is for Superman." Doctor Smith released Lois and began to pace. "Unfortunately, we can't detect any signs of respiration yet and for that reason several of my colleagues think that I'm just being foolishly hopeful and that Superman is indeed dead. They feel that I'm holding up important research that they are actually anxious to get on with."
Lois felt an icy chill slither up her spine at the doctor's words. "What do you mean: important research?"
"Think about it, Miss Lane," Dr. Smith stopped her pacing and faced Lois. "Superman is a confessed alien, a being from another planet. In the absence of an actual family of any kind, in death he becomes a ward of the government and, well, I don't think I have to draw you any pictures as to what biological researchers would like to do."
No, she didn't have to draw Lois any pictures. All the horrible dissection scenarios slammed back into her brain and the euphoria she had felt so recently was pushed aside by the horror and fear which gripped her being now. She grabbed at Dr. Smith, missed her arm but caught her coat sleeve.
"They wouldn't! This is Superman, surely you can stop this; make them realize that he's alive."
"I'm trying, Miss Lane. So far they are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt simply because he is Superman, and has done so much for the city, but my time is going to be short. If I can't prove to their satisfaction that Superman is actually in a deep coma and not dead within say, 72 hours, they'll overrule me and begin to implement their own agenda. That is, if the police department let's them."
Lois' head snapped about at that last bit. "What?"
"Superman is a potential murder victim. SOP on murder victims is an autopsy to determine the cause of death."
Lois' horrific visions of Superman being dissected in a gleaming chrome amphitheater filled with a bunch of white-coated scientists shifted to his being butchered on the steel tables of the police morgue by an indifferent coroner. She tasted the salt of her own blood as she bit open the corner of her lip. Then just as suddenly her mood shifted again as she looked back at Dr. Smith, who had resumed her pacing.
"I feel foolish, doctor. I don't know why we are getting all worried about this. This is Superman. No one is going to be able to cut him up for science, or evidence. He's, well, he's super."
"I think that's what the police thought when they turned him over to us."
Lois watched somewhat perplexed as Dr. Smith went over the side table near Superman's bed, for lack of a better word. Dr. Smith picked up an empty hypodermic needle, and as Lois watched with growing trepidation, swabbed down his arm with alcohol, inserted the needle, and drew off a vial of blood. Lois stood dumbstruck as Dr. Smith labeled and placed the blood in some sort of refrigerator. The doctor then turned to the mute former reporter.
"Superman's no longer super."
Lois could only stare at Dr. Smith, then Superman, Then Dr. Smith again. She couldn't speak but her mind was on fast forward. He was vulnerable, all the horrible mad scientist scenarios she'd thought she had banished came flooding back instantly. What little professional veneer she'd been holding on to threatened to crumble to nothing. She finally found her voice and directed what turned out to be barely a hoarse whisper toward the doctor, but turned her gaze back to Superman.
"What do we do?"
"Well, this is were I hope you can help me." Dr. Smith came over and led Lois to a chair at a table nearby. She sat across from Lois and clenched and unclenched her hands. "Our files on Superman aren't very comprehensive. I hear Lex Luthor," Dr. Smith saw Lois flinch at the mention of that name, but let it pass without comment, "had an extensive file, but we can't access it. The police have allowed us to try, but we can't break the security. Pretty much all we have is what you and Mr. Kent have written over this past year." Dr. Smith took a deep breath and laid her hand on Lois'. "I was hoping you could offer us some added clues to help in our assessment and possible treatment options for Superman's conditions."
Lois' mood plummeted even further. Oh no, she thought. This doctor was counting on her to provide she could use to save Superman's life, and she didn't know anything! Oh, Clark, where are you? Lois was sure that Clark would know what was needed here.
Lois took a deep breath herself and addressed the expectant medico. "I'm Sorry, Dr. Smith, but I really don't know much. My partner was closer to Superman than I was, but he's …" Lois hesitated for a couple of Heartbeats, "missing."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I was under the impression you were Superman's girlfriend."
"No," Lois smiled sadly. "I know there are people who have thought that, but apparently Superman never did." Lois scrunched her face up in thought. "There is one thing. During that unnatural heat wave we had a while back Superman was nearly driven out of town because many thought that he was bringing the heat down on us by the use of his powers. It turned out to be a leak in Luthor's new nuclear power plant …" Lois' mind suddenly realized that, given what she knew now, Lex probably knew about that too. She shook her head to clear those thoughts and get back to the matter at hand. "Anyway, I heard several people, including my partner, say that it was thought that Superman's powers were somehow solar based but nobody seemed to know for sure." Lois took a moment to tuck an errant strand of hair behind one ear. "In fact, talking with Superman just before he was to leave, I tried to convince to stay. I told him that what they were saying couldn't be true, but he decided to leave for Metropolis' sake because he didn't seem to know for sure one way or the other himself."
"I was aware of the solar theories and planned to set up some sort of solar lamps to bath his body in artificial sunlight to see if that had any effect." Dr. Smith had to smile as she saw Lois point toward the skylights in the ceiling. "Oh yeah, I guess we could try actual sunlight too." Lois nodded but the doctor had reached over to grab a file off the corner of the table. "Miss Lane, what do you know about this green substance that the cage was said to be made out of?" Lois hesitated, Dr. Smith looked up from the file and met Lois' eyes. "Miss Lane?"
Lois was conflicted. When she had written the original story about Trask and his notion that a green meteorite could kill Superman, she had dismissed it as a twisted delusion of a very sick man. It was supposed to have been a piece of Superman's home planet, Krypton, so she had named it kryptonite. Well actually Clark had named it kryptonite, she still liked kryptonium. Still, there had never been any indication that it could actually hurt Superman since he'd never shown up. She and Clark had to battle Trask and his crazy commandos themselves. Clark had nearly gotten killed during that time because Trask was convinced Clark knew how to contact Superman. Lois remembered how scared she had been when she thought Trask was going to shoot Clark. Luckily Sheriff Rachel whoever, shot Trask first.
Lois silently admonished herself. Why didn't she see it then. In retrospect, Lois had to admit that perhaps that was the first time she had shown her true feelings for Clark. God, all the time that they, well, she wasted, all because Lois Lane wasn't going to let anyone get close enough to hurt her again.
Thoughts of Clark caused her heart to ache, but Lois had to force herself back to the problem at hand. Apparently either Trask had been correct or someone had found some other substance to hurt Superman, and if there was something out there that could actually hurt the Man of Steel, should she be spreading the tale? Now it was Lois' turn to meet the eyes of the expectant doctor. This woman was doing everything in her power to save Superman, she needed all the help she could get. It would be moot if there was some substance, some kryptonite out there that could hurt Superman if he didn't survive this encounter. Lois decided to trust this woman, she really had little choice.
"Dr. Smith, let me tell you a story," and Lois proceeded to fill the good doctor in on all the details of Trask, and her and Clark's adventures in Smallville.
Lois had no sooner finished her story when her beeper went off. She grabbed it out of her purse impatiently and frowned at the number it showed. Her unspoken question was answered by the doctor pointing to a phone sitting on a small stand at the far side of the room. She dialed the unfamiliar number quickly and waited. It was picked up in three rings, and the voice on the other end was well known to her even if the number was not.
"Perry? Where are you?"
Lois could tell Perry was excited because his southern drawl was more pronounced than normal. His booming baritone came through loud and clear.
"Lois, honey, I'm glad I found you. I'm in Franklin Stern's office. He's decided to fund the rebirth of the Daily Planet. Isn't that great news, darlin'!"
Lois truly smiled for the first time in over 24 hours. "That's terrific, Perry."
"Well, there is one little catch. Mr. Stern wants to make sure that the paper has the best chance to survive, so the deal hinges on my being able to reassemble what I consider the key people to the paper's success. One of those people is you, Lois." Perry brushed right through any answer Lois was ready to give. "Now I know you've got a good job over there at LNN, and we couldn't possibly pay you what you are getting there, but I was hoping you meant it this morning when you said you would come back if I got the old girl up and running again. So what do you say, Lois, will you come back?"
Lois had to stifle a giggle, Perry sounded so anxious, as if there could be any other answer. "Perry, take it easy, breathe. Of course I'll come back. I couldn't let the Daily Planet reappear without it's best reporter could I?"
"Oh, honey, you don't know how happy I am to hear you say that." Perry hesitated for a few moments. "Ah, you haven't by any chance heard from Clark yet have you?"
Lois momentary happiness over the good news was instantly shattered. She still had no idea where Clark was and all the worry for him she had managed to set aside temporarily while she concentrated on the Superman crises pushed it's way back into the forefront of her mind. She found she had to swallow once before she could answer.
"No." Her hand began to cramp from squeezing the phone so tightly.
"Well, I'm sure we'll hear from him soon. I left a message on his machine, and if it turns out he's been out of town, once he sees a newscast about Lex he'll be on his way back." It seemed as if Perry was almost reluctant to continue. "Ah, Lois, honey, everyone I can reach tonight is going to meet in front of the Planet building tomorrow at 10:00. It would mean a lot to everyone if they knew you were on board."
Lois sighed. "Sure, Perry, I'll be there."
"And, Lois, don't worry too much about Clark. Heck, I'll bet he's on his way back from Smallville even as we speak."
"Yeah, Chief, you're probably right." Lois' voice didn't sound anymore convincing than Perry's did.
Lois slowly hung up the phone, keeping her back to Dr. Smith as she did so. She bit down hard on her already damaged lip, letting the pain become a focus for her concentration. She couldn't afford to fall apart now. There was too much riding on her, and a few others, over the next couple days. She angrily brushed away a lone tear that had escaped, then turned and faced Dr. Smith.
"Well, doctor," Lois glanced at her watch. "it's not quite midnight yet. Is there anything I can help you with here?"
Lois awoke to a gentle shaking of her shoulder. She found herself slumped over her arms which were resting on the table top. Her eyes were still gummed partially shut from sleep so she couldn't see too well yet.
Lois sat up and stared into the kind face of Dr. Smith. The woman looked a bit disheveled, and dark circles were just beginning to appear under her eyes, but Lois guessed she had reserves of energy she hadn't even tapped yet. Lois ran her fingers through the tangle of her dark tresses, and an idle thought about needing a haircut passed quickly through her mind as her one finger was momentarily trapped in the silky strands. The events of the last few hours quickly reordered themselves in her consciousness. She and the doctor had begun setting up several machines which Lois had no clue as to their purpose and had connected Superman to them via more electrodes and metal clips. They had even wheeled in an x-ray machine just to see what they could see. That hadn't been very productive. Even with his flesh now seemingly rendered vulnerable, his molecular structure was still very dense and the best they were able to get was some fuzzy dark blotches where a person's lungs were supposed to be, but there was no way of telling if they were working or not. Lois had eventually gone over to the table to 'just rest her eyes' for a moment. The next thing she knew Dr. Smith was shaking her awake.
"Miss Lane, I'm afraid you'll have to leave now. It won't be long before the normal staff starts to come in, and I don't think it would be a good idea for them to see you here. Not yet anyway."
Lois had to agree with her assessment. This was supposed to be a big secret and everyone was still pretty skittish about things. It wouldn't do Dr. Smith any good to advertise the fact that she had brought a known reporter in on this, no matter who it was. Of course, it's not like the doctor was trying to hide anything either. Security cameras would have picked up their entrance into Star Labs but there was no sense rubbing anyone's nose in her being here.
"Are you going to be all right, doctor? Will you be able to …"
The doctor put her hand on Lois' shoulder and stopped her before she could enter into a babble mode.
"I'll be fine, Miss Lane. And don't worry, I'll be able to hold off the ghouls for a few days at least. I think I'll get some engineers to rig up some kind of mirrored delivery system to get as much sunlight flooding down on Superman as we can." Dr. Smith shrugged her shoulders. "It can't hurt, and it's as good a lead as any that we have. You go home and get ready for that meeting you have with your friend Perry White. I'll let you know of any change in Superman's condition. Besides," the Doctor's voice dropped to a more conspiratorial tone, "we may need that paper of yours soon."
Lois was still tired so she didn't pick up on the doctor's meaning. "How so?"
"If I can't find some way to prove that Superman is still alive, or show some sign of his improvement fairly soon, we might have to turn to public opinion to keep the researchers away from him."
Lois clenched her fists. "You know, of course, that if the authorities haven't yet decided to release the information on Superman by then, I would be violating the law by doing so, or at least would face some serious trouble if I did." Lois saw the look on Dr. Smith's face. "Yeah, right, like that would matter." Lois got up and headed for the door, with Dr. Smith close behind. Lois stopped with her hand poised on the door handle. "You will be sure to call me if there is any change, no matter how seemingly insignificant?" Lois was appeased by the sincere nod she got in response and they continued their way out into the corridor.
The sun felt good shining down on her face as Lois stood outside the Daily Planet building. She had already exchanged hugs with Jimmy and Jack, who had arrived before her, and they all were waiting for Perry. Lois had been filled in on some of the things that had been done by the young duo to ferret out the information which led to Lex's down fall. Lois was appalled, but no longer surprised when she was told of how Lex had manipulated the board into selling him the Planet, and how Jack was set up as the fall guy for the explosion that had crippled the paper and been Lex's excuse to shut it down. They had told her that Clark and Perry had investigated and found that Lex had gotten quite an insurance bonanza for the paper's supposed destruction. Lois remembered Clark mentioning the insurance when she last saw him. She had asked Lex, but he just fed her a story about it being too little to rebuild with, and she had believed him.
She would have been much more angry with herself over that had not the thoughts of Clark caused her fears and worry to reassert themselves. She winced as she bit down again on her poor chewed on lower lip. Where was Clark? The longer it was without him showing up the more her fears kept trying to tell he wasn't coming back, and that was something she wasn't going to allow. He had to come back. His friends needed him. She needed him!
"Jimmy, tell me, what exactly did Clark say the last time you talked to him?" Lois saw Jimmy glance down at his arm where Lois was squeezing it. She let go.
"Like I told you before, he just phoned us with some of the information of the insurance scam and told us he had to meet with someone. He said he'd meet us back at his place later."
Any further questions Lois may have had were postponed by the arrival of Perry White. He was in a good mood, laughing and giving Lois a hug and the two young men hearty handshakes. Even with all the horror over Superman's possible demise and Clark being missing, the loss of the Planet was the hardest thing for Perry White to deal with. Now that he had been literally given his life back, he was going to enjoy it, at least for a little while.
He escorted his surrogate children into the building and gave them a tour of the clean-up work and repairs that had already started. He outlined the plans for modernization that Mr. Stern had wanted and extolled the virtues of a new and even better Daily Planet. They ended up back in the newsroom, which, even though it hadn't been damaged a lot, was a bustle of activity. New computer systems were being placed on every desk and new furniture was being added here and there where ever some designer decided it was needed. Jack and Jimmy had begged off at this point and left to gather their belongings and find someplace that they could call home. That left Lois to be escorted into Perry's office, which not surprisingly, was left unchanged.
"Perry, I thought you said you invited everyone important to the future success of the Planet down here today?"
He smiled. "I did."
Lois frowned at him. "Surely, that would include more than just us?"
Perry took Lois' hand and led her over to the ugly plaid couch which still occupied the one corner of his office. "Lois, this paper is going to have an edition hit the streets in four days or my name isn't Perry White. Of course, they'll be a lot more people showing up later this afternoon but first I wanted to share the good fortune with those special people. The ones who never really gave up on the paper. Who wanted to see her back on the streets again."
Lois frowned at Perry. "How can you include me then? I ran off to be a television producer right away. I don't know how you can even let me back into your office?"
"Lois, honey, don't you fret about that. If you hadn't had all that wedding hoopla going on at the time I'm confident that you would have been right in the trenches with Clark, Jimmy, Jack, and I digging up the reasons behind the Planet's unnatural fall. Heck, you probably would have beat us all to the punch and broke everything yourself."
"Really, Chief, I can't see how …"
"Tut, Tut," Perry had placed his finger on her lips, "no self-recriminations now, besides, you honestly don't think that I'd put the Planet back in production without her best reporter do you?"
Lois gave him a sad smile. "So, how many people do you have coming back?"
"Nearly everyone. I don't know the specifics of the printing plant but I know that all the supervisors are coming back on board and I trust them to fill any slots they need to with competent help. Similarly, sales and circulation are also in the hands of people I have trusted over the years so I could concentrate on the newsroom staff." He paused to give Lois a chance to interject something but she seemed content allow him to complete his answer without interruption. "We have everyone previously on staff coming back except, Joe in sports, Cice in fashion, and Cat."
Lois was surprised that she seemed disappointed that Cat was gone. She also noticed that Perry had neglected to mention Clark's name. Suddenly a thought came to Lois. Maybe he didn't mention Clark because he already knew he was coming back. Maybe Perry had heard from Clark! Before Lois could vocalize her hopes, Perry's grim expression and next words dashed those hopes.
"Lois, you haven't by any chance heard from Clark yet, have you?"
The brief, bright flash of hope that had flared moments ago crashed into Lois' heart as a hard lump of ice. "No." was all she could say.
"Oh, well, it has been less than a day. I'm sure he'll show up." Perry knew Lois didn't believe his upbeat prediction any more than she did. It was looking more and more as if Clark was in trouble somewhere, or worse. Perry knew he had to change the subject fast. He could see that Lois was teetering on a very fine edge. "Great shades of Elvis, girl, where have you been all last night? I called your place six or seven times before I finally paged you!"
Lois was startled by the abrupt change of subject but took heart in the fact that she would be able to share what she hoped to be good news with Perry. She proceeded to tell Perry about the phone call from Dr. Smith and everything that they had done and discussed through the course of the evening. She had gotten up off the couch during her discourse and was pacing and waving her hands about in front of Perry who just sat back and took in the show.
"So you see, Perry, Superman is still alive. And we have to be prepared to do what ever we have to to save him."
"Well, Lois, I admit that it's great that a Star Labs doctor believes he's still alive but we have to tread carefully here, honey. We deal in facts, and I just hope your doctor friend can give us some solid encouraging information before I have to buck any official gag policy over this."
Lois came over and place her hand on her mentor's chest. "But you will, right?"
Perry sighed. "Yes, Lois, if it comes down to that, I will."
"You can see why more than ever it's absolutely imperative that we find Clark." Lois began to pace again. "Nobody knows Superman better than Clark, they're good friends. He could have the information that the doctor would need to help heal Superman." Lois stopped and addressed Perry directly as if he knew the answer. "Even if he doesn't actually know about Superman, he has to know that something has happened by now." Lois let her anger begin to leak through to mask the fear and hurt she was feeling. "He has to know that his friends will be worried, that they need him," softer, "that I need him." She resumed her pacing. "Damn it, Kent, where are you! I swear, if Lex hasn't already killed you, I just might …"
She stopped suddenly as the horror of what she had voiced hit her like a physical blow. The anger fled before the onslaught of despair and terror. This couldn't happen to her. She couldn't lose Clark now, not before …
Tears rushed forth as the brittle facade that Lois had been holding on to for so long shattered. Perry quickly got up and pulled Lois to him, cradling her head against his chest. He could feel her body shaking as the fears she'd been denying were expressed physically in her crying. He could only hold her as tears began to form at the corners of his eyes also. It nearly broke his heart to see the woman he loved like a daughter suffer like this. He could barely hear what she was saying between the sobs, but it sounded like 'he doesn't know, I never told him'. It didn't take a mind reader to know what she was talking about. He just held her a little a little tighter and whispered empty words of comfort into the air.
Lois lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. She was very tired and her body was sore from crying, but her mind wouldn't give her the peace needed to fall asleep. After she had cried herself into hiccups while in Perry's arms he had taken her home and stayed longer than he should have to make sure she was all right. He had known he had to get back and meet with the others who were going to make his dream of the Planet's rebirth a reality, but he was reluctant to leave her after her break down. Lois literally had to throw Perry out to get him back to his meetings.
Lois at first had tried to do some domestic chores, the dishes, the laundry, a little cleaning, but she couldn't concentrate on any of that and had given up quickly. She then made a call to the insurance company that Jimmy told her Clark and Perry had traced to Luthor's Daily Planet claim. They had been reluctant to divulge any information but she wasn't the top investigative reporter in Metropolis for nothing. Some good acting and veiled threats secured her the information that Clark had uncovered. Lex had indeed, reaped quite a windfall form the destruction of the Planet, just as Clark had tried to tell her, but unfortunately it gave her no leads as to where Clark was. She had then broken down and called the Kents out in Smallville but they weren't home and she felt too self-conscious to leave any message. It wasn't very late but since she'd had so little sleep and had worn herself out emotionally, she thought she might as well try to get some sleep.
Lois found herself just lying there letting the events of the last day play back in her mind in the vain hope of finding some reason for the horrible things that had happened to her. In little more than 24 hours she had gone from almost being married to Mr. Wrong to possibly losing the only two Mr. Rights she would probably ever meet. The god in tights that regularly saves the day lies in a coma so deep that no one was sure he was still alive, and the really nice guy she thought she was falling in love with was missing and could very well be … she couldn't even let herself think that.
Lois wondered what was going to happen when word got out on Superman's situation. Luckily, the whole Luthor scandal was still taking up most of the front page headlines but it was only a matter of time. Between the police, the mayor, a select group of Star Lab scientists, and a few nosy reporter types, there were way too many people who knew. News this big was bound to get out soon. Lois was also honest enough to admit that it probably was going to be her that let it out first, not for a story, but to save a life. If Lois felt she had to go public, to get public opinion to save Superman from the researchers, she knew she wouldn't hesitate to do so.
Lois angrily tossed the covers aside and got up. It was no use, she wasn't going to be able to fall asleep till she fell down from exhaustion. She dressed in jeans and a casual shirt top, grabbed a jacket which she threw over her arm, and headed out the door. Within two minutes she had her jeep out into the sparse traffic heading toward Clinton street.
She pulled up in front of Clark's apartment. There were no lights coming from any of the windows. She quickly checked under the mat, in the hanging plant, and above the door jam. Darn it, there was no key. She looked back over her shoulder to make sure the street was still empty as she pulled out her lock picks, which had been a present from a former source. She was inside within 30 seconds. She prayed silently that she'd get the chance to tell Clark that he needed better locks.
After draping her jacket over the back of a kitchen chair, and turning on a couple lights, she gave the apartment a quick scan. She didn't know what she would be able to see from the top of his living room steps but she needed a moment to formulate a plan of action. She was first drawn to his answering machine. She immediately noticed there were five messages on it. She rewound the tape and played the messages.
"Clark, honey, it's Mom. We've just seen on the news about Luthor. Poor Lois, she must be devastated. Give us a call as soon as you can. Love you, honey, bye."
Lois shook her head. That was so like Martha, to be concerned over how Lois was feeling even though she had thrown her son over to marry the city— perhaps the country's—biggest crook. It also told her that Clark hadn't been at his folks. Lois fast forwarded past Perry's call and two of her own to the other message, crossing her fingers as she did so in hopes that it would contain a lead as to Clark's whereabouts.
"Clark, it's Mom again. Am a little worried we haven't heard from you yet. There's been nothing on the news to indicate that you've been tied up helping with some disaster somewhere. Please call us, day or night. Oh, and give Lois our love and sympathies, bye."
Lois wiped away a single tear she'd let escape when she heard Martha's last line, but confusion quickly became the prevailing emotion. That and more fear. She didn't understand the reference to Clark's being tied up helping with some disaster. It didn't sound like Martha was referring to his just being on hand to report on something. It seemed to imply that Clark would have been more directly involved in the rescue action itself. Of course, Clark wasn't the type who could be at the site of some tragedy and not do what ever he could. Still …
Lois found herself in his bedroom area and began to go through his drawers. She blushed at the passing thought of how it would look if he walked in right now, but he didn't. She frowned when she saw the argyle socks she'd gotten him for his last birthday, in the bottom of his sock drawer, still in their original wrapper. They did look a little out of place amongst the three pair of plain black dress socks and the countless white athletic tube socks that crowded the drawer. It only took a few minutes to realize there was nothing but clothing in his dresser.
She drifted over to his computer and booted it up. After what seemed like much too long a time to an impatient Lois, the main menu screen came up. There were still a few items that hadn't been filed yet that Lois was able to access. Mostly notes on the insurance scam that Luthor had pulled. Everything else was filed away under passwords that Lois didn't know. She tried guessing for awhile but gave up soon after. Who knows what passwords a farm boy who has traveled the world might use. Heck, they might not even be in English. Darn him for being so organized.
Lois was beginning to get frustrated. Where was Clark, why couldn't she find out what had happened to him? Lois was not used to feeling this helpless. She'd had leads and stories dry up on her, she'd had her fair share of brick walls to run into but this was different, this was Clark. She couldn't afford to fail. With each passing hour she became more and more convinced that something awful had happened to him and that he needed her. She knew for a certainty that she needed him.
She wandered over to his closet and began to rummage through the things on the shelf and the floor. Nothing! There was nothing but his stupid clothes and some boxes of old junk! While she was moving some boxes on the floor around she dislodged some of his shirts on their hangers and they came raining down on her head. She let go with an inarticulate scream and threw them against the sidewall of the closet. She immediately felt guilty so she tried to gather them up to put them back. One of the hangers was caught on something so she gave it a hefty tug.
"What the …"
Lois stood dumbfounded as a panel in the back of the closet slid open to reveal a hidden compartment. The shirts fell from suddenly nerveless fingers as her eyes took in the contents of the secret compartment. She reached over and took one off its hanger. There was no doubt about it, this was one of Superman's suits. She'd felt the cheap costume imitations before as had she felt the real thing on many occasions. This was definitely one of the real things. She hadn't really thought about it before, but it made sense that Superman would have more than one suit, but what were they doing in Clark's apartment?
She backed out of the closet and was still holding onto the suit when she tripped over a fold in the carpet and found herself sitting on the floor. It was a testament to how shocked Lois was that the fall didn't even rate a response from her. She just stared at the super suit which she held in her hands.
It took a few moments for her brain to engage and finally try to piece together the momentous piece of information she had just uncovered. As she saw it there were only two options, the first being that Clark was holding Superman's suits for him. Maybe he laundered them or something. That was the most logical answer and if Clark were standing here next to her to tell her that, she'd most likely believe it. But Clark wasn't here, he was missing, and Lois had heard a strange message from his mother on the answering machine about helping out during disasters. Could it be true? Could her farm boy partner really be Superman?
All the lame excuses Clark would use to leave at the most inopportune times came flooding back to Lois. Very often after Clark left, Superman would show up somewhere to stop a robber, or put out a big fire. Then Clark would come back saying he ran into Superman and he'd have the story just as nice as you please. Lois' anger flared forth. That rat, she thought. No wonder he always seemed to get so many inside scoops on Superman's activities. It's easy to get a Superman story if you are Superman. If, you, are, Superman?
"Oh god, no," Lois whispered into the S shield of the suit. If Clark *were* Superman, that meant that he wasn't actually missing. Instead, he was lying on a padded table at Star Labs, hooked up to several machines whose only purpose was to find out if he were still alive! Tears began to flood down Lois' cheeks once again as she clutched the super suit to her chest like it was some sort of life line.
So wrapped up in her latest bout of grief and fear for the man she thought she loved, she almost didn't hear the activity outside the apartment's front door. Still holding the suit tight to her, she turned her gaze toward the door.
Martha and Jonathan had approached the front door of Clark's apartment and upon seeing the lights on both gave a huge sigh of relief. It appeared that their concern that they hadn't heard from their boy was going to be groundless, but once they got close to the door they could hear someone inside. Someone who seemed to be throwing things around. Then they heard a loud thump, like something falling to the floor. This was followed soon after by the sounds of weeping. Martha gave Jonathan a look and a shrug as she reached for the door handle.
Neither Jonathan nor Martha were sure what to expect when they opened the door, but they did know that the sight that greeted them would not have been it.
Sitting on the floor in front of Clark's closet was Lois. Tears were streaming down her face and she was holding tightly to one of Clark's super suits. Lois looked up at them and in a voice on the edge of hysteria asked.
"Is it true?" She held the suit out toward them so they could be sure to see what it was. "Is it *true*?"
Jonathan just stood dumbstruck, Martha took in the scene in one quick glance and knew something was very wrong. She could see that the secret compartment in Clark's closet was open. Clark obviously wasn't here and Lois was in great distress. Martha hurried down to the sobbing woman.
"My god, Lois, what's wrong?"
Martha tried to take the suit out of Lois' hands but gave up immediately when she realized that Lois had it in a death grip, so she signaled Jonathan to come over and help her get Lois over to the couch. Once they had her there Martha grabbed a tissue off the end table and wiped at Lois' soaked cheeks. Lois finally raised her eyes to meet those of the older woman.
"Is it true?" she asked in a fierce whisper.
"Is what true, honey?"
Lois jumped up from the coach and pointed the clutched super suit at the two elder Kents. "Don't patronize me here! You have no idea what's happened." Since all she seemed to be getting from them were blank stares she pushed on. "Okay, " Lois sniffed, took a deep breath, and fought to regain enough control to get through the next few minutes, "let me ask you this. Can you tell me where Clark is?"
Martha snuck a quick look at Jonathan and saw that he was going to leave this up to her. Thanks a lot, she thought to herself. Martha wasn't sure what Lois knew or what she thought she knew but Martha was sure that she was going to have to tread carefully until she found out.
"No, dear, we were hoping to catch him at home."
Lois wiped ineffectually at her face with the back of one hand. "Okay." She took another deep breath to steady herself. "Have you heard from him in say, the last 36 hours?"
Martha looked over at Jonathan again but he just shrugged. "No, Lois, we haven't, but that's not that unusual. He's probably just tracking down some story or something."
Lois was beginning to regain a small measure of her composure. It was a thin excuse, Lois knew that the Kents would be aware of the Planet's previous destruction and that Clark wasn't even employed at present. She was more certain than ever now and she dreaded what she was going to have to do next. If Clark was indeed Superman, then what she had to say was going to hurt these two very dear people very much. It had to be done, she had to know for sure. Lois carefully set the super suit down on a nearby chair and went over and knelt in front of Martha, taking one of her hands into her own.
Martha could tell that a critical moment was about to happen so she reached up with her free hand and guided Jonathan down next to her on the couch. It tore at Martha to see Lois so distraught. Even though she'd only met Lois a couple times, she had seen the qualities in her that Clark had come to love and value so much. Martha, in her own way, already considered Lois like a daughter and hoped that she and Clark could get past this latest Luthor horror and be together the way she knew they were meant to be. Martha gave Jonathan's hand a squeeze and turned her attention fully toward Lois.
Lois seemed to hesitate, as if gathering courage. "Martha, Jonathan, I'm sure you've seen the news reports about what happened with Lex." Lois barely acknowledged the Kents' nods before continuing. "Needless to say I'm not, nor was I ever married to Lex Luthor." Lois almost smiled at Martha's look of relief. It was nice to know they cared enough about her to be glad she hadn't made that mistake. "That's not important though, what *is* important is what wasn't reported in the news media. You see after Lex's body had been taken away, the police in their searches came across something." Lois' voice faltered for a moment but she took another shuddering deep breath and continued. "Down in the basement of Lex Tower, in Lex's private wine cellar, they found a Kryptonite cage." Lois faltered again as she recognized the fear that began to show on the faces of the Kents. Lois gave Martha's hand a squeeze. "Inside that cage, they found … Superman."
Until that precise moment Lois had held onto the slimmest of hopes that she had been wrong, but one look at the stricken expression on Jonathan's face and Martha's collapse into her husbands arms, destroyed that hope. Tears flowed again from Lois' eyes as she watched two of the kindest people she'd ever known hurt so. She couldn't stand to see them suffer, she had to give them that tiniest shred of hope that she still held on to. She grabbed onto the arms of both of them to make them notice her again.
"Martha, Jonathan, he's not dead, he's not dead!"
Martha's tear stained face snapped up to meet with Lois'. She didn't have to say a word. Lois could see the hope and longing mirrored in her expression. Lois could also see that she was silently demanding an explanation.
"He's over at Star Labs, in a deep coma." Lois could see Martha's face fall again.
Jonathan seemed even more agitated than before. He began to shake his head back and forth, muttering just loud enough to be heard.
"I told him to stay hidden, I warned him this would happen." At the confused looks from the ladies he tried to explain himself. "Martha, you know what I always told Clark. That if the government ever found out about him they would lock him away to study him like some specimen in a jar. I was never comfortable with this Superman thing. Now that they've got their hooks into our boy do you really think they'll ever give him back?"
Martha wiped her face with another tissue from the box on the table. She shook her head at her paranoid husband. "Oh, Jonathan, we've been through this. Superman is a hero, the government would never …what is it Lois?"
Lois interrupted Martha with a tap on the shoulder and a pained expression on her face. She knew she had perhaps raised the Kents' hopes a bit higher than she should have. She had to set them straight on the actual situation that faced them all. It was only one doctor, and Lois of course, who believed that Superman was still alive, and he was definitely in danger from lab-coated scientists if they couldn't prove he was still alive and that there was hope for his recovery.
"Ah, well …," Lois licked her lips. "I think I need clarify things a little."
Martha gave Jonathan one of those private looks that came from years of knowing each other. She knew that Lois had more explaining to do, a lot more.
Lois proceeded to fill Martha and Jonathan in on all the things that she'd been through recently, beginning with her belief that Clark had been killed, to the hope building phone call from Dr. Smith, and the discovery of the problems that they faced if they couldn't effect some change in Superman's condition, right up to the present time when she had discovered Clark's secret while trying to find clues as to his whereabouts. They sat up and talked until the small hours of the morning. They each, individually and collectively tried to come up with ways to help out Clark. None of them were willing to contemplate the possibility of having to go on with their lives without him.
Lois periodically broke down, usually when she became so frustrated at her own helplessness. Martha was there to comfort her, and she was also the one to call their fruitless conversations to a halt. She realized that everyone was practically out on their feet so she told the others they would continue this in the morning. When Lois began to gather her bag and jacket in preparation to leaving, Martha stopped her. Martha knew that Lois was dead on her feet so she insisted she stay and went to make up the couch for Lois. Martha and Jonathan would take Clark's bed and they all would be better able to figure out a course of action in the morning. It was three very heavy hearts that surrendered themselves to exhaustion that evening, but they were just all just a little bit encouraged by the fact that they didn't have to face the coming travails alone.
Lois awoke to the smells of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and fresh *coffee*. As she rolled to one side she slammed her face into the back of the couch. Her sleep fogged brain took a few moments to remember where she was. She shrugged off the light blanket Martha had provided her the night before and sat up to see Martha busy in the kitchen and Jonathan working on what could only be described as a good old, down home, country style breakfast.
"Smells wonderful," Lois said as she stood and stretched.
Martha directed a smile at her. "Come and get it while it's still hot."
Lois sat and Jonathan immediately began to ply her with all sorts of morning temptations. She tried to stop him.
"No, that's all right. I'll just have some toast and coffee. I'm not much of a big breakfast person."
"Nonsense," Jonathan retorted as he continued to pile her plate with eggs, bacon, and a couple golden brown pancakes. "You'll need keep up your strength. Besides, I'll bet you haven't had a decent meal in quite a while."
Lois blushed. It was true, she hadn't had more than a couple cold sandwiches from a machine and coffee in the last two days.
"You might as well get used to it, Lois." Martha said grinning. "This is how we eat on the farm and when you visit, that's the way you'll eat too."
Lois was momentarily overcome by the implication of Martha's statement. These two wonderful caring people had already accepted her into their circle, and, dare she hope, their family. Lois felt somewhat embarrassed by the Kents' willingness to include her. Lois' expression tipped Martha off as to Lois' thoughts
"Oh, Lois, of course you'll be visiting, often." Martha's expression suddenly got very serious. "My boy is going to be all right." She emphasized her point with the spatula. "Then the two of you can get over what ever foolishness that's kept you apart. It's been obvious to us since the first time we met you that you and Clark were meant to be together."
Recalling her last few conversations with Clark, Lois had to shake her head. "I'm not so sure Clark thinks so anymore." Seeing Martha's puzzled look Lois continued, "All we did was fight those last couple of days, and before that, when I told him I loved him, he didn't believe me." Lois pursed her lips tight at the memory of that night. "In fact, he said some pretty hurtful things to me that night."
Martha turned off the stove and came over to sit next to Lois. She put her hand on Lois' arm and looked the younger woman in the face.
"Clark has shared with us some of what happened during those times you mention, and I'm sure that he was quite upset over the prospect of you and Luthor, and probably said some things that he normally wouldn't have. He may be Superman, but that doesn't mean he can't be bullheaded sometimes." Martha shot an accusing look at Jonathan, who just looked off to the side. She turned back to Lois. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you tell Clark you didn't love him? That you thought of him only as a friend?"
Lois squirmed under Martha's gaze. "Well yeah, earlier, but when he came over to my place later, I told him I loved him and he said he couldn't believe me and just flew off." Lois dropped her head and stared at her hands.
Martha tilted Lois' chin up so they were again eye to eye. "Who did you tell that you loved him?"
"Why Superman of course. I told him I loved him not because of his flashy powers but because he was good and caring. I told him that I'd love him even if … oh god." Lois looked back and forth between Martha and Jonathan with her hands to her face. Her voice was suddenly softer. "He doesn't really see himself as Superman, he thinks of himself as Clark, doesn't he."
At Martha's nod Lois' memories rushed forth threatening to overwhelm her with past images. No wonder Superman didn't believe her. She had already told the version of him without the apparent powers that she didn't love him and instead asked him to tell the fancy tights version of himself to come see her so she, as it turns out, can profess her love to someone she doesn't really know. Tears began to slowly leak from Lois' eyes as she thought about how much she must have hurt him that evening. Compared to her blundering, his snide comment about a lead robe was nothing. Well, it wasn't nothing, it had hurt, especially coming from someone whom she'd never expect that kind of thing from. Under the circumstances Lois guessed she *might* be able to forgive him that digression.
More memories of times when she had insulted or ignored Clark in favor of Superman intruded on her conscious. In minutes Lois had replayed nearly her entire year long obsession and involvement with Superman and the collateral involvement with Clark. How could she have been so stupid? How could Clark ever have professed to love her that afternoon in the park before her blindness began the series of events that could very well end up ruining her life and … ending his.
Lois jumped up form the chair and ran over to the couch trying to hide her tears from the Kents. The only thing that ran through her mind was that Clark must hate her, because she did.
Martha, sensing the basis for Lois' distress went over and put her arms around the distraught woman. She rocked her gently, soothing her with words she knew she needed to hear.
"Don't fret so, dear, the past is the past. Clark will be all right and he still loves you very much. He always has and he always will."
Lois couldn't believe what an emotional wreck she had become. She knew she was tired but that couldn't explain her bursting into tears, literally at the mention of Clark's name. No, it wasn't fatigue, though god knows that the little bit of sleep she got last night wasn't nearly enough, it was obvious. She was in love with Clark Kent, and the fact that she now knew he was Superman didn't make a bit of difference because her feelings for him went back before she knew he was Superman. Those feelings actually went back before she even knew of them herself. What a dope she had been, she must be … galactically stupid or something.
Lois was able to form a half smile when Martha handed her the tissue and went about the task of *again* drying off her tear streaked face. Suddenly another past memory flashed into her mind. She turned back to the older woman.
"Martha, when I first met Superman, a little girl, Amy Platt, told him she liked his costume. He told her his mother made it for him."
Martha chuckled. "Yes, Lois, I made those Superman costumes. Remind me to tell you the story sometime, of what we went through before we came up with this final version."
"This may sound stupid but," Lois sounded almost shy, "are you and Jonathan from Krypton also?" Lois flushed red after asking her question.
Both Jonathan and Martha got a chuckle out of that one. Martha answered. "Land sakes no, child, we found the little rocket ship that brought Clark here when he was just a baby. One look at that sweet little boy and I knew he was meant for us." Martha got a wistful look on her face.
"So Superman's been here since he was a child?" Lois then hit herself on the head with the palm of her hand. "Well duh, Lois, of course he has been, I've seen your photo albums of Clark growing up. I would think it would have been tough handling a super baby?"
"Well, honey, he didn't really develop any significant powers until he …"
"Hey, you two, I think you'd better see this." While the two women had been talking, Jonathan had turned on the TV and had tuned into a local news outlet.
Lois and Martha turned their attention to the broadcast. A TV reporter was shown next to a young man in the garb of Lex Corp security. the reporter had a microphone in the young man's face.
reporter: And your name is?
guard: Paul reporter: Okay, Paul, just tell the audience what you saw.
guard: Um, sure. Like I said before, I was working the Tower during the wedding. reporter: That would be Lex Tower, the site of the aborted wedding of Lex Luthor and Lois Lane?
guard: That's right. Well me and some of the guys decided to take advantage of all the big shots being in the upper ballroom so we were going to … reporter: Get to the point, Paul.
guard: Right, well anyway, after they carted Mr. L out in the meat wagon I see the police swarming all over the place and suddenly they're pushing everyone out of the building. Telling us we need to evacuate all non-police personnel from the premises. We did that, but I hung around, kind of hiding out, you know. Just to see what was up. reporter: So, tell the audience what you saw Paul.
guard: I saw them bring out another body. This wasn't no regular stiff though. They didn't use the meat wagon and they seemed real secretive about it. reporter: Could you see the body, Paul?
guard: Well, of course they had a sheet over it, but I did see a pair of shiny red boots sticking out from under the sheet. reporter: Did the boots look like these Paul? (reporter holds up a large picture of Superman)
guard: Yeah, Yeah they did. They looked just like that. reporter: There you have it. It's this reporter's opinion that the other body taken out of Lex Tower two days ago is none other than that of the Metropolis Marvel, Superman himself. The reason we haven't seen Superman in the last couple days is simple. Superman is dead. This is Barry Dunning outside of Lex Tower, in downtown Metropolis. Back to you Roger.
"Oh my god," Lois exclaimed. "This is not going to help. Having rumors spread about Superman being dead is definitely not going to help."
"I thought you said you figured you'd have to go public soon anyway Lois?" Martha interjected.
"Yes, to tell people that he was *alive* and not ready to become some lab experiment. Now we have to work to change a public perception before we can have it work for us." Lois began to pace. "What I really need is some good news right now."
As if on cue, the phone rang. They all jumped at the unexpected sound. Lois recovered first, and headed for the phone.
"Before I left to come here I forwarded all my calls to this number so I wouldn't miss something important." Lois explained.
She picked up on the third ring. "Hello, Lois Lane"
"Miss Lane, this is Dr. Smith."
"Yes, Dr. Smith, do you have some news?" The anxiousness was clearly evident in Lois' voice.
"Yes, Miss Lane, can you come over?"
"I can be there in half and hour. What's up."
"Miss Lane, I got a heartbeat!"
Lois waited impatiently in the reception lobby of Star Labs. No non-Star Labs personnel were allowed back into the secured wing without an escort. Lois fidgeted with her bag, which a guard had already checked to make sure she wasn't smuggling in an atomic bomb or deadly nerve gas.
Before she'd left Clark's, Lois had asked Jon and Martha to monitor the radio and TV news programs to see if anyone else was picking up on the guard's story. Lois was glad that they now had the solid evidence they needed to prove Superman was indeed alive. She hadn't realized how low her own spirits had sunk until they'd been buoyed by the news. Now, they not only could hold off those blood-sucking researchers, but they would be able to defuse the Superman's dead rumor before it could cause any real problems.
Dr. Smith finally came into the lobby to collect Lois. They exchanged quick greetings as Lois pinned the ID badge, the front desk guard had given her, to her blouse. Dr. Smith led her through the main doors and down the familiar corridors she remembered from the other night. Dr. Smith looked terrible. She had dark circles under her eyes and a haggard, worn out appearance. Lois doubted if the good doctor had slept much in the last two days. From the look of her clothes, Lois was pretty sure she hadn't been home either. The doctor ran one hand through her hair as they turned the corner.
"I'm glad you came, Miss Lane. I haven't been home since you were here last and I felt you needed to be updated on all the latest developments."
Oh course she needed to update her, Lois thought to herself. A heartbeat! That was extremely wonderful news. Lois couldn't wait to see Superman again. Maybe by now she would even be able to see his magnificent chest rise and fall with each precious breath he took.
They finally reached the proper door and Dr. Smith fumbled a bit with her card but was soon able to gain them entrance to the secure area. Lois' gaze was immediately drawn to the area where she knew Superman rested. There had been some changes since she'd last been here. A large construct of glass and mirrors was suspended over the prone superhero. She could see that it gathered the sunlight coming through the skylights overhead, and seemed to amplify it as the light was directed downward to bathe Superman in a golden glow.
Lois' brow furrowed as she took in the banks of silent machines that Superman was still hooked up to. She had expected there to be some sort of activity showing on the assorted screens and dials now, but there wasn't. She recognized the EKG monitor, which she had helped in calibrating and hooking up. Lois had assumed that, at the least, there should be some noticeable activity there, especially in light of Dr. Smith's call. The steady flat line continued to track across the screen as it had before, mocking her current feelings of guarded hope. She turned to the doctor, her confusion clearly evident.
"I thought you said you got a heartbeat?"
"Oh, I did!" the doctor grabbed Lois' arm and dragged her over toward a table with stacks of printouts on it. "Let's see, where did I put that?" Dr. Smith began to flip through the various piles as a baffled Lois Lane looked on. "Ah, here it is." The doctor exposed a sheet in the middle of a long continuous stream of paper and pointed to something Lois couldn't quite make out. "As you can see by this printout of the EKG record, at approximately 4:26 AM, this morning, we recorded a definite heartbeat. A fairly strong one at that."
Lois looked from the paper, to the doctor, and back to the paper again. She saw the typical flat line trace printed across about half of the page, then a sharp upward spike, then the flat line resumed. Lois noticed that the upward spike was circled in red and had the time 4:26 AM noted under it. Lois stared at the printout for another moment, looked over toward the actual EKG machine seeing that it still showed a flat line tracing across it's screen, then turned to the doctor.
"You mean to say that you've recorded one, and only one heartbeat?"
The doctor blushed. "Well, yes," Dr. Smith's voice became a bit more animated. "But you have to admit that's better than none."
Before Lois could ask her if one heartbeat had any real significance a previously unnoticed assistant informed Dr. Smith of a phone call. Making a quick apology, she followed the assistant over to the phone at the far side of the room.
Lois wandered over to the table that held the finest man she had ever met. She placed her hand along his cheek, noticing that the skin was still soft and supple, and warm to the touch. The rising hope and joy she had experienced earlier went plummeting down to a new low of fear and despair.
"Oh, Clark," she softly moaned.
Suddenly it came crashing in on her, the realization. This wasn't just Superman, hero to the masses, lying unresponsive on the metal table in front of her. It was also Clark Kent, her partner, her best friend, and … the man she now knew she loved. Hot tears again slipped from her eyes. She had to place her hand on the edge of the table or she surely would have fallen over. Why was this happening! She didn't deserve this, and certainly Clark didn't. After coming to the realizations that she had over the last few days, Lois wasn't sure how, or even if, she would be able go on if he didn't recover.
Lois could hear that the doctor was coming back. She hastily wiped at her eyes with both her hands, and then the sleeve of her blouse. She swallowed back some of her grief, then turned to face Dr. Smith. The doctor looked agitated, a frown was firmly in place on her face. Lois was worried by this. She didn't think she could take another blow.
"Problems?" Lois' question was cautious.
Dr. Smith gave Lois a shake of her head. "That was my daughter, Tara, it seemed she and her new friend, Cindy, decided it would be a good idea to shave their heads and get scalp tattoos." Dr. Smith glanced up as if seeking strength from above. "Her's was a butterfly."
"Ah, that's too bad." Lois knew she should be more supportive of this beleaguered lady who, on top of putting her professional reputation on the line to help Superman, had to deal with family problems. She knew she should be, but she couldn't. A wayward daughter's rebellious activities didn't compare when matched against the life of the man who had repeatedly put himself in harm's way for the sake of others … and her. It was Lois' turn to take the doctor's arm and guide her back over to the table that contained the printouts.
"Tell me, doctor, what do we really have here?" Lois' voice was harsh, but she needed to get the doctor refocused on the important matters at hand.
"Well, we have one definite thump of Superman's heart and his body temperature has risen one degree."
Lois grabbed the doctor by the arms and faced her directly. "Tell me, do we have anything we can use here? Is Superman going to get better? Will those ghouls that want a piece of him agree that he is now … alive?"
Dr. Smith couldn't meet Lois' gaze. "That's why I wanted you to come down. I'm afraid we may be running out of time." She looked up to meet Lois' pained expression. "My colleagues are beginning to put some heavy pressure on me to show some significant results or step aside and let Superman's body make one last contribution to human knowledge."
Lois nearly gagged at that last statement. "What about the heartbeat?"
"They claim since it was only one, it was probably only an anomalous reading."
"And the temperature increase?"
"They say it's just from the sunlight bathing his body for the last twenty plus hours."
Lois found herself beginning to lose control. Her voice raised as some of the Lane anger began to assert itself. "That's just great! Just what do you propose we do now? Or do you have more *good* news for me?" Lois stormed back and forth in front of the doctor.
"Well I performed an MRI, but all that showed us was there didn't seem to be any internal damage, and I also ran a CAT scan and I want to think I saw some indications of activity but my colleges were quick to point out that we don't have anything to compare those scans too. If these were human scans they would be similar to the ambient activity you might find right after death, so I called you because I don't know what else I can do. It might be time to use your public forum, Miss Lane."
"Haven't you just been telling me that your *evidence* won't hold up against professional scrutiny?"
"Miss Lane," the tone in Dr. Smith's voice caused Lois to stop pacing, "do you believe Superman is still alive?"
Lois shifted her gaze to where Superman was lying, still bathed in the glow of the late morning sun. She closed her eyes, to keep tears from reforming. "I have to." It wasn't said very loud, but it was said with all the conviction she had left in her soul.
"Then take the little I've been able to give you and use your gift for persuasion. Wrap those tiny facts in your passion and convince the public that their hero needs their help. They will want to believe, Miss Lane. Give them something to hang that belief on."
Lois came out of the stairwell of the Daily Planet into the newsroom. The elevators hadn't yet been turned back on. She looked around and saw only a handful of people milling about. She looked and saw Perry right where she knew she would find him. Behind his desk, sorting through some papers. She headed in his direction.
She had called Martha and Jonathan on her cell phone on her way over to the Planet. They informed her that the guard's story had been picked up as the feature piece on nearly every news outlet in the city and even a few national feeds, but there was no more information presented than what they had seen earlier. And luckily, no one else had come forward to corroborate, or add to the LexCorp guard's tale. If this was going to work she needed to get her message out and quash the talk of Superman's death before it grew too much in the telling and retelling for her to be able to fight with words alone. She would have to put everything she had on the line. Her job, her name, her reputation, her credibility; all of it. If she succeeded, and Superman recovered like he had to, it would have been well worth the risk. If she failed, if Clark didn't recover, it wouldn't matter anyway.
She burst into Perry's office, and realized she was out of breath from running up the stairs.
"Great shades of Elvis, Lois, what are you doing here?"
Lois took a deep breath. "Perry, if you absolutely had to, how long before you could get an edition out." Before he could go on about needing this operation, or that machine, Lois pushed on. "I don't care if it is a one page tabloid flyer. How long?"
Perry was confused, but he also recognized that something in Lois' eyes. Now was not the time to question her. Now was the time to give her her head, grab on, and hope you survived the ride.
"Well, honey, I've got one press that is in working order, and enough undamaged paper stock. I guess I could put out a tabloid style sheet, if I had something to print." He eyed Lois carefully.
"Well you'd better get some pressmen in her because I've just come from Star Labs and I've got *the* story that no one else has. Superman's alive!"
Lois couldn't help but get caught up in her own enthusiasm. She grinned as she saw the look of bewilderment on her boss's face.
"Lois, how in tarnation, did you ever …"
"Just trust me Chief. Give me one hour, then get those presses ready to roll. You can read all about it in the first edition of the New Daily Planet."
Lois left Perry's office with Perry furiously dialing his phone. After checking several of the computers, she found one that could still be booted up. As she sat down facing the blank screen, the thought that she could really use Clark's gift for the 'touchy - feely' type story right now. She had always been the one to dig up the facts and expose the corrupt underbelly, while Clark had always had the gift for the human side. If ever there was a time for her to put all her skills and experience to practice, this was it.
A man's life was at stake. A man who had come to mean everything to her … and he didn't even know it yet.
It may have only been a single page, tabloid sized flyer, but it had the Daily Planet masthead and a 60 point headline; SUPERMAN LIVES!, by Lois Lane. It had sold out within an hour of hitting the streets, and minutes after that it had become the hot topic at every water cooler and donut shop in the city.
Lois stepped off the elevator and entered the newsroom. While not adverse to the exercise she got from using the stars, she was glad the elevators were back working because they were faster, and she wanted to be here today! She had a copy of the paper clutched in her hand as she headed toward the desk which she had commandeered as her's. There were several more people wandering around today. Perry had been very busy getting this paper up and running and getting the necessary people on board to make it happen. She was sure he hadn't been home in days. It would be weeks before they would be able to put out what people of Metropolis had come to know as the Daily Planet, but publish they would. Little by little they would climb back to the top of the heap and restake their claim as the finest paper in Metropolis, the country, and the world. It was a tall order, Lois figured it might take as long as a month or even two to get back there. Lois had barely stuck her bag into her desk drawer when Perry stuck his head out his office door.
"Ah, Lois, could I see you in my office." Perry didn't wait to see if Lois was going to comply, he just ducked back into his office to wait for his reporter who he knew would be on her way.
"Yeah, Chief?" Lois stuck her head in the door, and then came in and sat down when Perry crooked his finger and pointed to the couch. She sat with her hands in her lap. She couldn't help feeling a little like she had been sent to the principal's office.
Perry held up a copy of the Planet. "I want to thank you for this."
"That's okay, Chief, I guess I wasn't as …," Lois stopped at the upraised hand of her editor.
"I put this out in spite of the official gag order which was still in effect because the TV stations had already started the feeding frenzy, and more importantly, because it was the right thing to do." Perry set the paper down on the corner of his desk. "That said, how shaky is this story?"
"It's not shaky … not exactly."
"Okay, how shaky is it not, exactly?"
"Well, Dr. Smith, who is a very respected member of Star Labs, is convinced that Superman is not dead but is actually in a very deep coma."
Perry picked the paper back up and pointed to the article with his pencil. "You mention her in here. You say Dr. Smith and others believe Superman is in a deep coma triggered by extended exposure to an unknown radioactive substance." Perry looked up at her. "I didn't have time to question you about some of these things yesterday because it didn't matter to the focus of the story, but is this that Kryptonite stuff that that nut bag Trask was ranting about earlier this year?"
"Not sure," Lois lied.
"Ah huh, and these 'others'?"
Lois stared at her feet. "That would be me."
Perry just nodded. "Anybody else?"
"I don't know, I never asked."
"Judas priest, Lois, perhaps you'd better tell me about these test results that you so glibly refer to but fail to explain in any detail."
"Chief, I stand by what I wrote. Everything I wrote is technically accurate."
"Lois, do I even want to know how *technical* your accuracy is?"
"Perry, don't you think you should drop this gruff editor charade?" Lois' voice had become slightly tinged with anger. "You know as well as I do what is true and what is exaggerated in that article. I never tried to put anything over on you, because I knew I wouldn't be able to. But I also knew that you would have gone with it even if it were a pack of lies, because it was for Superman." Lois placed her hands on the desk and looked her boss, her surrogate father, and her friend in the eyes. "You and I both know that this city owes Superman more than we can ever hope to repay. Heck, it wasn't that long ago that he saved the entire world from a rogue asteroid. No, if we had to publish a slightly biased story to help sway public opinion to help him, we really didn't have any choice, did we?"
Perry leaned back in his chair, as he ran his hand through his thinning hair. "No, Lois, I guess we didn't. But don't let it out that I'm such a softy or I'll lose all control over my staff." He gave her a tired grin.
Lois smiled. "I don't think you ever have to worry about that Chief."
The look on Perry's face suddenly softened as his gaze recaptured Lois'. "Ah sweetie, have you by any chance heard anything from Clark yet?"
His question caught Lois momentarily off guard. "Um, yeah … ah … he called me just yesterday. It happens that you were right and he did go home to Smallville, but he won't be able to come back for a while yet." Perry just gave Lois the raised eyebrow so she rambled on. "Ah … it seems … while helping his father out in the barn … he … fell and hurt his back." Lois gained confidence now that she had her story. "I don't know how bad it is, but Clark said he'd be confined to his bed for quite some time."
"Really, well I called his place just a few minutes before you got here and his mother answered. Apparently she and Jonathan are in Metropolis. Don't you think that's strange for them to be here while Clark is laid up back in Smallville?"
Lois couldn't meet Perry's eyes. "Yeah, that really is strange."
"You know what else, Lois?" Perry didn't wait for a response. "When I asked her, Martha told me she didn't know where Clark was."
Lois shrugged. "Gee, I would never have thought that Martha could be that forgetful." Lois turned and headed out of the office. "Have to go now Perry, lot's to follow up on." She fled the office knowing she didn't fool Perry for a minute but not wanting to face up to that yet.
Perry just shook his head and addressed the picture of Elvis which had been the first item back in place when he moved back into his office. "I wonder if I'll ever know what it is with those two?"
As Lois headed back toward her desk she nearly bumped into Jimmy who was coming from the other direction with a fistful of photos. He steered Lois toward a nearby empty desk.
"Lois, get a load of these." Jimmy spread the photos out across the desk top. "Seems, you've started something. These are photos of the crowd that has gathered in front of Star Labs. They are picketing, and protesting."
From the photos it appeared to be a large crowd made up of people from all walks of life. Lois could read the printing on two of the signs. One just said: 'FREE SUPERMAN', and the other said: 'SUPERMAN'S A HERO, NOT A LAB RAT'. There were folks dressed in everything from jeans and t-shirts to suits and ties. Lois' attention was drawn to one particular shot. It couldn't be, she thought. Right at the front of the crowd, carrying two of the largest signs were two bald-headed young women, both had colorful tattoos on their scalps. One of the tattoos was of a butterfly.
"Lois!" Perry stuck his head out of his office again. "Get over to city hall. The mayor is going to hold a press conference. Seems we've rattled his cage and now he has to make an official statement regarding Superman."
"On it, Chief." Lois quickly grabbed her bag out of the desk drawer and headed up the ramp toward the elevator.
Lois approached the steps of city hall and saw the other news media people milling around. A podium had been set up on the steps. Apparently the powers that be weren't going to let the media types soil the actual halls of government today. Lois pushed her way up toward the front and was in position when the mayor finally stepped up to the podium. He did the standard, make a fool of yourself while testing the microphone bit, gave everyone his silly boyish grin, and pulled his notes out of his pocket.
"I'm going to read a prepared statement, then I will entertain questions from the press." He cleared his throat, then began. "At approximately 3:45 p.m., Sunday the twenty second, during an investigation of alleged criminal improprieties on the part of Lex Luthor, members of the Metropolis police force discovered the body of Superman."
"So he is dead then?" An over anxious member of the fourth estate shouted out. The mayor ignored the question and continued.
"He was discovered in a locked cage in the basement level wine cellar in Lex Tower. The cage was constructed of an, as yet, unidentified material. Superman was released into the custody of Star Labs, where he remains. His condition at this time in undetermined." The mayor set down his notes and scanned his quote hungry audience. "Questions?" He pointed to an elderly woman opposite Lois in the crowd. "Ms. Bartolow."
"Yes, Mr. Mayor, just what do you mean by, his condition is undetermined?"
"Just that, at present the medical scientists at Star Labs have not made a definitive evaluation of Superman's status." The mayor sighed, as his questioner and others demanded a more satisfactory answer. "Okay, okay, the initial prognosis is that Superman is either in a very deep coma or," the mayor hesitated for a moment, "he's dead."
The crowd erupted in a flurry of murmurs and hand waving, each trying to get in the next question. Lois had her hand going furiously, and she saw the mayor look right at her but he passed her over and called on some TV guy behind her.
"Mr. Mayor, what about the police involvement in this? Even if Superman lives, shouldn't there be a charge of at least attempted murder in all of this? There were a lot of muttered agreements passing through the crowd.
"Against who? The fine Metropolis police department has found more than enough evidence to prove that the deed was done by Lex Luthor, and Lex Luthor is dead. There may be some lower level accomplices to be dealt with yet, I don't know about that. It's my understanding that the case will remain open only long enough to file the proper charge, whether attempted or actual murder, then it will be closed."
Lois had had enough. "Mr. Mayor, Lois Lane, Daily Planet."
The mayor frowned. "I thought you worked for LNN now, Miss Lane?"
"Things change, Mr. Mayor." Lois gave him an insincere smile. "Since, Star Labs is not willing to declare Superman dead, and I've been to see him and I know that he is indeed still alive." There were jealous murmurs through the assembled news people. Once again Lois Lane had a privileged position when it came to Superman stories. "And considering all that Superman has done for our city, what is the city going to do to make sure that some overzealous researcher, out to make a name for himself, doesn't try to carve Superman up like some sort of high school lab experiment?" The last had been hard for Lois to say, but she had to say it. She wanted this out in the open, she needed this out in the open.
"I'm glad you asked me that, Miss Lane." The mayor made a show of checking his watch. After he'd done so, so did everyone else. It was 10:37. "The answer is simple, nothing." The crowd again erupted in a confused and slightly hostile babble. The mayor held up his hands for order. "People, people, settle down. Please, settle down." The crowd quieted. "Thank you. I told you the city would do nothing because, quite simply, it's no longer our problem. As of 9:00 a.m. eastern time, Superman has been remanded into the custody of the United States Government. Having said that I would like to go on record as …"
Lois didn't hear anything else. Her body had suddenly gone numb, and she had to clutch onto the person standing next to her to keep from falling. She had to fight her way back to an awareness of her surroundings. In another moment she had regained her equilibrium and allowed her fear to spur her to action. Without conscious thought she found herself sprinting back toward her jeep.
Why hadn't someone called her? Why? That kept going through Lois' fevered brain as she rummaged in her bag till she found her cell phone. Upon seeing the little red battery low light blinking at her she suddenly knew why no one had told her. She quickly spied a pay phone and launched herself into it, picking up the receiver while at that same time fishing her calling card out of her wallet. She dialed her own number and quickly accessed her messages. The voice of a very agitated Dr. Smith came through clearly. She said that something was going on, and that no one would tell her what, but that Lois should get down to Star Labs as soon as possible. Lois thought briefly about calling the Kents, but decided to wait. She could tell them what happened after she'd been to Star Labs and gotten the scoop. Lois didn't want to delay any longer than she already had. As it was, Lois feared that she was already too late.
Twenty minutes later, tires screeching, Lois pulled into the parking lot of Star Labs. She threw herself out of her car door and raced for the front entrance. As she entered she saw the place was a sea of confusion. All manner of personnel were milling about in the lobby. There were heated discussions going on in some corners, others just seemed confused, and even few people were crying. Lois found Dr. Smith slumped against the far wall, her fists opening and closing in frustration. When she saw Lois coming toward her, she made the effort to stand up straight.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Lane, but you're too late." The doctor took a deep breath as if using that time to gain courage. "The feds came in an took Superman over an hour ago. He's gone, Lois, we've lost him."
Lois stormed out of Star Labs. Her anger was just barely holding her tears in check. Why was this happening again? It seemed that every time she had managed to overcome one hurtle, someone always stuck another in front of her. She was really up against it now. She had no idea where the government had taken Clark. She was very afraid that her time was short. She didn't believe that government researchers would wait very long, or even bother to make sure that Clark was actually dead before they gleefully started their experiments. She knew public opinion was all in favor of Superman, but that wouldn't make any difference to the government. All they would do is make an announcement that Superman had officially expired on such and such and then make the appropriate noises of regret and sympathy. They'll probably erect a memorial to him someplace in order to salve their collective conscious. Well, Lois thought, it had better be in Metropolis. No! She wouldn't think like that. She couldn't have come this far, found out so much, both about Clark and herself, and fought so hard just to lose it now? The tears came ever closer to the surface, and probably would have started to flow had she not been disturbed at that moment.
"Miss Lane? Miss Lane!"
Lois turned to see two familiar young women running up the walk waving their hands to get her attention. It was not as if their very appearance wasn't attention getting enough. With the shaved and tattooed heads, and multiple pierced body parts, they could only be Dr. Smith's wayward daughter and her friend. Lois had stopped when she heard them, and in another moment they were next to her.
"Hi, Miss Lane, I'm Tara, Dr. Smith's daughter. I think you've been working with my mom?" Tara pointed to the woman next to her. "This is my friend, Cindy."
Tara was obviously the younger of the two, though their general appearance made it difficult to gauge their actual ages. They were dressed similarly; in torn jeans and T-shirts which bore the names of bands Lois had never heard of. They also both carried jean jackets that were covered with a wild assortment of patches, none of which Lois could see well enough to know what they said.
Lois had smiled at them when they had come up but she didn't have time to stand and chat with these two 'interesting' young ladies, so she tried to give them a friendly wave and slip past them. Tara put her hand on Lois' arm. Lois was about to yank her arm free when the look on Tara's face stopped her.
"Miss Lane, we have information that I think you'll want." Tara, looked over to her friend then back to Lois.
Tara lowered her voice to a loud whisper. "We followed them."
Lois looked at the young woman in confusion. "What?"
"The government fascists," she looked around her. "You know the ones that took Superman."
Lois grabbed the two girls by their arms and dragged them over to her vehicle. They seemed a little stunned by her abrupt actions. Lois looked Tara in the eye.
"You saw the men who took Superman, and you followed them?"
"Yeah, it was awful, Miss Lane. They had a bunch of goons that pushed everyone out of their way as four guys in black carried him out. Jeez, Miss Lane, they carried him out in a bag, in a freakin' bag. Then they just threw him into the back of this black van."
Lois' heart stumbled a couple times as she heard Tara's tale. It didn't look good at all. "You say you followed them? Do you know where they took him?"
"Yeah, we jumped on Cindy's scooter and followed them. It was a good thing they didn't seem to be in any hurry or they could've lost us easy. Cindy's scooter ain't too fast. Of course, all the city streets kept their speed down."
It took all of Lois' control not to grab and shake Tara. "Where! Where did they take him?"
"To an old warehouse down by pier 12. Right across from Jernigan's Pub. We just got back and were going to talk to my mom, see if she could get hold of you." Tara smiled, obviously pleased with herself. "We can show you the way there if you want."
If it had been any normal story Lois would never have thought of bringing these two young women into a potentially dangerous situation like this one. As it was, Lois didn't even think twice.
"Get in the car."
Lois pulled out of the Star Labs parking lot and headed in the general direction of pier 12. Something didn't smell right about this. Why would the government be messing around in an old warehouse? Why not just take Superman to the airport and fly him off to some secret lab in Mulefart, North Dakota or some such place? It didn't make any sense, and Lois Lane hated it when things didn't make sense. She looked over her shoulder, at the ladies in the back.
"Did anyone see you follow them?"
"Nah, I don't think so." It was Cindy who had answered. "Besides, when you look like we do people go out of their way not to see you."
Lois knew she should be concentrating on what she was going to do once she got to the warehouse but something had been nagging at the back of her mind ever since she realized who they were in Jimmy's photo. She respected their right to be who they wanted to be, but it would bug Lois until she found out. She addressed the two ladies again.
"I hope you don't mind my asking." Lois hesitated briefly, then continued on. "You are both attractive women, so … why the shaved heads and the tattoos?"
Tara got excited as she answered. "We are making a statement, Miss Lane. We are protesting society's stereotypical constraints on women. In order to succeed and be taken seriously, you are supposed to dress a certain way, act a certain way, and *look* a certain way. And, we're saying that who we are and what our worth is will not be dictated by our external appearance."
Lois shook her head. "Well, that's a nice sentiment, Tara. Do you feel the same way, Cindy?"
Cindy glanced over at Tara, then shifted her attention back to Lois. "Well, to tell the truth I was really just getting rid of a bad perm."
Tara looked over at her friend in astonishment. "What? It was you who convinced me to shave off my hair!"
Cindy gave her friend a look of disgust. "For crying out loud, Tara, you were sporting a green crew cut."
Lois was almost tempted to giggle until she realized where she was. She was very close to pier 12 and the reality of why she was here came crashing back like the nightmare that you can't wake up from.
"Okay, ladies, I need some direction here."
A somewhat more subdued Tara began pointing out which streets to turn on. After a couple minutes of that, Lois could see the dirty and only semi-functional neon sign that indicated Jernigan's Pub. As they passed by the disreputable dive, both Cindy and Tara pointed to a boarded up old ball bearing warehouse that squatted in filth and garbage across the street from the bar. Lois pulled over to the crumbling curb about a block and a half past the warehouse. As she reached for the handle on her side door, she turned to the gals in the back.
"You two stay here. I'm just going to take a quick look around and see what I'm up against. I have to make sure that Superman's still even there."
Lois didn't like the look that passed between the two young women, but she put it out of her mind as she headed toward the warehouse. She didn't especially like the fact that it was broad daylight, but she had to find out some things before she could plan any further course of action.
She circled around to the back of the old building. Most of the windows had been boarded up but she saw one second level window that had the lower half uncovered. It looked like the board had fallen off. She looked around for a way to get up to the window. Lois began pushing an abandoned dumpster over toward the spot. She took several minutes to get it into position because it made such a racket when it moved that she didn't dare to move it more than a few feet at a time. Once it was in position she added a couple rickety wooden skids to the top of the dumpster. Now all she had to do was get up on it without killing herself.
Lois climbed up onto the shaky construct constantly praying under her breath that it not only not fall apart under her feet, but that she not make her position known to those inside the warehouse. She peered in the window and cursed under her breath because she couldn't see much. It was obvious that there was some sort of activity going on in the warehouse though. She could just barely see some men moving around over to the left and there was some people directly below but see couldn't see them. Lois was concentrating real hard to hear what they were saying when she, and they, were startled by a pounding on the front door.
"Hey, is anybody home in there?"
'Oh no,' Lois thought. 'I told them to stay put!' There was nothing she could do now but watch, listen, and hope that nothing happened to those foolish girls.
"What the …"
Lois saw a tall, raw boned man stride into view. He was evidently the head of whatever operation was going on here. The more Lois saw the less this looked like a government action to her. What ever this was, it definitely wasn't above board. He reached the front door in just a few strides and pulled the door part way open.
"This is private properties, ladies, get out!" He said in a less than polite manner.
Lois couldn't see them but she could hear the girls because they were acting like loud drunks. Lois just shook her head in dismay over their foolhardiness, but a part of her also admired their spirit and willingness to help.
"Hey, man, we need to use your phone. I gotta call my mom to come and get us. We are way too drunk to drive, man."
Lois then heard them laughing, as if laughing at their own joke. Lois saw Cindy push past the man.
"It will only take a second, man." The man suddenly grabbed her by the neck. "Hey, man!"
He shoved her back out the door and Lois could hear the sound of bodies hitting something. Lois hoped neither woman had been hurt. The man slammed the door and said something to one of men that stood next to him. He went over to a window next to the door, looked out, and turned back to his boss and gave him a nod.
Lois watched as he came back over to a spot just under her position. It was apparent now that he was on the phone to someone. Now that she thought about it, he was probably on the phone when the girls came to the door. Lois strained to hear.
"Yes, colonel, I'm back. No it was nothing, just a couple of drunks from across the street wandering over to cause problems. They're gone now. No sir, I'm sure they didn't see anything. Even if they did I doubt if they were in any condition to know what they saw anyway." The man was silent for a few seconds. "No sir, I don't think we were compromised. It soon won't matter much anyway colonel. The boat is scheduled to be here at 0200 hours and then we can get rid of our package, and *it* can be in the hands of those who will know what to do with it." There was an evil chuckle from the man. "No, sir, there will be no slip-ups this time. Trask let himself get emotionally involved, he was a fool. I won't make the same mistake. Thank you, sir, good bye"
Lois heard the phone being hung up. A chill went through her whole body. Trask! It hadn't been too long ago when he had almost killed Clark back in Smallville. He'd been obsessed with the notion that Superman was the front man for some sort of invasion by the rest of the Kryptonians and had to be eliminated. He never understood that Clark was the only survivor of a planet that blew up. Trask had died back in Smallville but apparently his organization hadn't.
Lois had thought that Trask was some kind of rogue who had broken off from his quasi-governmental black ops organization. They must still be in business. They must have been biding their time, and when the opportunity presented itself, they struck.
Lois carefully got down from her perch and checked around her to make sure she hadn't been discovered. She was shaking, as she half stumbled her way back to the car. She glanced at her watch. She had less than 12 hours to figure out a way to break into a guarded warehouse, steal a full grown superhero, who just happened to be in a coma, and get away clean. And even if she did get away, what was she to do with Clark then?
Lois shook off all the extraneous thoughts. She had to concentrate on the priority. She had to get Superman away from these people. If she couldn't pull this off before they loaded their precious cargo on their boat to god knows where, she would have no hope of finding him again. There would be no way for her to track them and Superman … no, Clark would be lost to her forever.
Lois made it back to the car as quickly as she could. She saw that Tara and Cindy were there waiting. They were talking energetically, laughing and waving their arms about. As they noticed Lois they rushed over to her.
"Wasn't that great! "
"Yeah, we really put one over on those goons."
Lois looked first at Tara, then at Cindy. Their enthusiasm quickly died when they noticed the look on her face. Lois fixed the ladies with a scowl that caused their mood to sink even further.
"Are you two crazy! I told you to stay here. You could have ruined everything."
Lois was ready to launch into a full scale Lane rant. Tara looked appropriately cowed but Cindy stopped Lois in mid tirade.
"We didn't though, did we? No, I think we helped you out a lot, Miss Lane. Did you find out if Superman was even there?"
Lois regained her calm. "Not exactly. I know he's there from what I overheard, but I couldn't see him anywhere."
"Well I saw him, I know exactly where they have him, and if you want to get him out of there you are going to need our help." Cindy had just a touch of triumph in her voice.
Lois shook her head, then tucked her hair back behind her ears. "I don't have time for this. This is too dangerous. I only have a few hours to figure out how to break in there and rescue Superman before they ship his body off to who knows where. I won't have time to babysit a couple of thrill-seeking young …"
"Hold it right there!" Cindy interrupted Lois. "You may be reluctant to admit it, Miss Lane, but we can be very helpful here." Tara just nodded her head with a self -satisfied smile on her face. Cindy continued. "Just how did you plan to get him out. The place has at least six guys wandering around that I saw, did you know that?" Cindy didn't let Lois answer. "What were you going to do, call the police and have a big shoot out?"
Lois took a couple deep breaths. She was fuming but she had to regain her control. As much as it irked her, Cindy was right. She was going to need help. She looked at Cindy.
"You're right, I will need help. I won't be able to call the police. These guys are a secret black ops type government group called Bureau 39. If what I've been able to ascertain from my last encounter with them is correct, they are supposed to be an information gathering, and threat identification operation, in regards to UFO's and alien life forms. But sometimes they get a little over zealous and decide to take actions on their own, without the proper authorizations."
"You mean they actually go around chasing after ET's? Why are they after Super … oh right, he's from another planet, isn't he?" Tara blushed as she realized her gaff.
Lois didn't respond to Tara but continued on with her thought. "If they had phony papers that could fool Star Labs enough for them to release Superman into their custody, no matter how hinky this set up looks, those papers would be good enough to stall the police long enough for Superman to disappear forever. No this rescue has to be our own covert operation. We have to get him away from them, and someplace safe. That will give us time to address the other problem."
"The other problem?" It was Tara who asked.
Lois grimaced. "The problem of getting him well again."
"Do you have a plan?" Cindy asked, her voice pitched conspiratorially low.
Lois stared at the two young ladies for a few moments. It was amazing, but in the short time she'd been thrown together with these two she'd come to respect their spirit and determination. They both possessed qualities that one wouldn't expect if you just took in their outward appearance.
Lois paced back and forth a just a second or two, then turned to the ladies. "Get in the car. I think I have the beginnings of an idea, and I definitely will need your help. We'll discuss it on the way back to Star Labs. That is were you left your scooter, right?"
At their nods the three women climbed into Lois' cherokee and she fired it up and sped away in a cloud of flying gravel.
In a short time Lois reached Star Labs and had dropped the two ladies off. They assured Lois that they knew what to do and that they would hold up their end of the plan. Lois hoped so, they would be critical to any chance of pulling this rescue off tonight.
Lois grabbed her cell phone, and began to dial it without even looking. Flustered that the phone didn't work, it took her a moment to realize that she still hadn't replaced the battery. Her phone was still dead. She threw it back into her bag and turned the jeep toward the Daily Planet.
Lois knew she was going to need some help tonight. She was going to need someone she could trust, someone who wouldn't say anything, someone who was afraid of her, besides there was no way she could lift Superman all by herself. Jimmy should fit the bill just perfectly.
In a few minutes Lois had reached the Planet and was getting off the elevators, her eyes peeled for the where abouts of one James Bartholomew Olsen. Staffing was still minimal so it didn't take long to locate him. He was with Jack, talking to some pretty young thing that Lois hadn't seen before. Lois quickly evaluated Jack. His knowledge gained as a petty thief might just come in handy, and Lois knew he was an ardent supporter of Superman. She decided to include Jack, after all, another pair of arms to lift and carry couldn't hurt. She quickly strode over to them and broke up their little soiree'.
"Oh, boys, could I speak to you for a moment." Lois just crooked her finger and headed toward the conference room.
Even though one of the windows was broken, it still afforded them the best place to talk undisturbed and in private. Lois closed the door, and indicated a couple chairs. Both took one look at her face and sat without a word.
"Fellas, I need your help." Lois leaned in close and whispered. "Superman needs your help." She had their undivided attention.
Lois quickly explained the situation, Jimmy looked a little shaken but Jack just frowned deeply. In whispers and low tones they discussed Lois basic plan and how best to implement it. They agreed that Lois should pick them up outside the Planet at twelve thirty, that would give them time to get there and scope out the ' lay of the land' as it were before their female coconspirators put their part of the plan into action.
Lois had just reached the top of the ramp to the elevators when Perry poked his head out of the office. "Lois, where in Graceland have you been all day? I need that piece on the press conference if I'm going to put out another edition by tomorrow."
Lois gave Perry a back hand wave. "Can't stop now, Chief, ah, I'm on a big story, really big"
"That's great, honey, fill me in. What's it about. Is it Superman related?"
"Can't stop to talk, got to get to it. Don't expect me in for a day or two, really big."
"Lois?" Perry shouted after her as she entered the elevator car. "Lois, how's Clark? Have you heard from him again?" He shouted at the closing elevator doors.
All the way back to Clark's place Lois mentally rehearsed what she was going to say to Jon and Martha. She knew they would want to help, after all it is their boy. Lois also knew that she couldn't put them into that danger. If anything happened to either one of them, once he awoke, Clark would never forgive her. No she was going to have to be firm, even hurt their feelings if necessary, to make sure they stayed put. She was going to have to convince them that she needed them there, which she did because Lois didn't dare bring Jimmy and Jack all the way back to Clark's apartment. It might raise some questions that she wasn't prepared to answer.
Lois had spent more time at Clark's than she had originally planned. She first had to fill the Kents in on the situation. They had heard the press conference, and knew that the government had taken custody of Clark. They had tried to call Lois but they never got through. Lois had to sheepishly explain her dead cell phone battery. When Lois filled them in on her belief that it was Bureau 39 that was actually involved, they were quite upset. They knew only too well what that group was capable of.
Then came the arguments back and forth about Lois' plan and Jonathan and Martha's part in it. They couldn't understand why Lois couldn't see how much they needed their help. It was their son after all, they had a right to be there. Lois tried to argue that she already had too many people involved and the plan was already in motion and too late to change things now. Of course they didn't buy any of that and Lois was forced to use their age and physical condition against them. She argued that they wouldn't be able to keep up and they would just endanger not only themselves but the others as well. She could see that this had hurt them and Lois felt terrible using it as a last resort, but this rescue was too important, and she couldn't ruin the outcome by having Clark hate her for allowing his parents to come to harm while rescuing him.
Lois pulled up in front of her apartment. She sagged against the steering wheel, as some of the tension from the non-stop activity of the day so far drained ever so slowly from her. Of course, once her mind was no longer occupied with the actions of 'right now', it slipped into the realm of fear and worry. Would she be able to pull this off? Was she justified in putting other people in danger for this? Was Clark even still alive? The last thought she angrily pushed out of her mind. There was no way she was ever going to let that thought sit in her conscious. He was going to be all right. He had to, there were too many people who still needed Superman, and she needed, desperately needed Clark. There were still too many things that had been left unsaid, and too many things left unresolved. He couldn't die before she had the chance to tell him how she felt, that would be too cruel.
Lois wiped ineffectually at the couple tears that had escaped her notice as she got out of her car. She still had a few things to do yet. She needed to eat something, find her old 'black bag' gear, rent a dark station wagon, and try to get a couple hours sleep before putting the show on the road. No problem, she had lots of time … yeah right.
Lois pulled up in front of the Daily Planet in a dark blue, late model station wagon. When she stopped Jimmy poked his head into the window.
"We'll just be a minute, Lois."
To Lois' utter bafflement, Jimmy and Jack each went to a different end of the car and ducked below Lois' sight. In less than a minute they were up again and both got into the car. Jimmy in front and Jack in the back. They were all dressed similarly in dark jeans, black turtleneck pullovers, and Lois had her hair stuffed up under a knit cap.
"What was that all about?" Lois directed her question at Jimmy.
He shrugged. "I thought it would be better if the plates didn't match the car." He set the license plates that had been on the car on the seat next to him. "Jack and I scored a couple plates from the lot up the street."
"What lot? The only lot of any size up the street in the police lot?" Lois turned form Jimmy to Jack and back again. "You didn't." She shook her head as she pulled away form the curb. "You stole a couple plates from a police car?" There was just a hint of admiration in her voice.
Jack piped in. "Actually we stole a plate each off two different police cars. Of course, we choose the unmarked cars so as not to have that official city plate designation give away." Jack leaned back in the seat and placed his hands behind his head. "With two different plates on this car I expect if there are any witnesses, by the time they can give any descriptions to anybody that doesn't lead to a complete dead end we could be on the Riviera, sipping champagne and living large."
Lois snorted. "Where did you learn stuff like this?" Lois saw Jimmy blush. "Oh yeah, I remember, reform school. Bum rap wasn't it?" Lois just shook her head in amazement. She reached into a bag on the floor and brought out a small metal tin. "Here spread this on your face."
"What is it?" Jimmy opened the tin.
"It's burnt cork, rub it all over your face. It will cut down on the reflective glare off your face, and also make it hard to identify you."
Jimmy looked over at Lois and nodded. "Of course."
The two guys did as instructed, then Jimmy held the wheel as Lois did her own face. It didn't take long for them to reach the area of pier 12. Lois eased her way onto Swan Avenue heading north and began to fill the guys in on the locations of the buildings in question.
"Okay, very soon, on our left we'll come upon Jernigan's Pub."
Lois ignored Jack's comment and continued, "About a hundred feet past that on our right will be the old ball bearing warehouse. The front of the building faces south and the docks are obviously on the east side. Now at about five minutes after one, Tara, Cindy, and their friends are going to come out of Jernigan's being very loud and acting obnoxiously drunk. Since the front of Jernigan's is right across the street from the driveway in front of the warehouse, this little party is going to spill into the warehouse's front drive." Lois crossed her fingers on the steering wheel. "I'm counting on our *friends* in the warehouse needing to send out most of their boys to get our revelers to move along. They don't want people around when they move Superman. We'll be in position in the back when our little diversion hits."
"Hey, isn't the back of the warehouse visible from the street, we'd be rather exposed." Jack interrupted Lois again.
"Yes and no. There is still a fairly intact privacy wall that extends beyond the end of the building for about fifteen feet. So we won't be seen while we're back there. There is a useless second story window, but there is also a fairly large steel door in back. I couldn't find any lock on the knob to pick. There didn't seem to be any locking mechanism at all."
Jack offered his expertise again, "Those are usually just secured by a heavy slide bolt from the inside."
Lois nodded. "I figured it was something like that, so I will be exposed somewhat as I sneak around and slip in the front door so I can unlock the door for you guys in the back. Luckily there hasn't been a working street light on Swan in years, and with all the trash lying around I think I could get to where I have to be with out being seen."
They soon reached and passed Jernigan's Pub and then the warehouse. Lois pulled over about a half a block past the warehouse. She wanted to be fairly close so they could be in the car and on their way as fast as possible. As she said, it was quite dark with no street lights and Lois slipped in a silent prayer of thanks for the cloudy skies.
They were soon in position behind the warehouse. They could hear that there was some activity going on inside. Jack scrambled nimbly up on Lois' perch from that afternoon and took a look inside. He jumped back down again with out making a sound. Lois found herself feeling a little jealous at the ease in which he'd done it. He came over and whispered to them.
"I could see six guys total. They appear to be packing stuff up. I'd say they don't plan on hanging around here after tonight."
"That's a safe bet. I'd say …," Lois was interrupted by a loud disturbance out in front. She peeked around the corner of the building. "It appears our diversion has arrived."
They all clustered at the corner and watched as crowd of around fifteen young people danced and laughed across the street and into the front drive of the warehouse. There was singing and shouting and a few bottles being passed around. Generally a pretty irritating din. Lois smiled and thought, "'Nice work, ladies.'
Soon two of the Bureau 39 men came out and tried to hassle the kids into leaving. It didn't work. They just acted more drunk and more stupid. Lois saw Cindy grab one guy and try to dance with him. He shook her off angrily. It was only a few moments more when three more men came out to see what they could do. Lois knew by checking each man that came out that it only left the boss man left inside. It was time to act. She got ready to leave but was stopped by Jimmy's hand on her arm.
"This could be dangerous. Don't you think that I should be the one to go in there?" Jimmy tried to give Lois his best John Wayne look.
"Why, because I'm a woman?" Lois stared Jimmy down hard.
Jack just chuckled. "She's right, dude, you now darn well she could kick your butt six ways from Sunday and not even break a sweat. Of the three of us, if it came to a physical confrontation, she's the best bet we've got."
"Just the fact's, ma'am."
Lois didn't allow Jimmy any more time to think about being noble and macho, she just took off. She covered the distance from the back to the front of the warehouse in seconds. She doubted if anyone more than five feet away would've seen her even if they'd have walked right by. She came to the main customer entrance and gently pushed on the door. Good, the guys who came out hadn't shut it tight. She slipped in and ducked behind some crates off to her left. She took a few moments to orient herself to the interior of the warehouse.
There were stacks of old crates and boxes piled in haphazard bunches all along the outer walls. They would provide excellent cover for most of her movements. What ever supplies and equipment that the Bureau 39 crew had been using was already packed up and in shipping cases in a couple neat piles in the middle of the floor. The 'boss' was seated at a lone table looking through some papers. Unfortunately, on a simple steel gurney next to that table was a black body bag. It was the same kind that the police used in murder cases and it was zipped up tight. Lois felt the cold hand that had grasped her heart give a little squeeze as she recognized the shape within the bag.
"I promise I'll get you out of here, Clark," she said in the barest whisper.
She made note of where the back door was and was a little disheartened by the fact that the gurney was a good 120 to 140 feet from the back door where Jimmy and Jack waited. She made her way around the sides of the warehouse ducking behind one crate to the next. She noticed the boss man look up a couple times in disgust at the continued noise outside. Within a couple minutes Lois had worked her way around to an area directly behind where the boss man was sitting. She looked around her until she found a crate that had been broken and she was able to wrench a board loose from it. She cringed at the noise it made coming off, but apparently the noise outside drowned it out. It was now or never.
Lois rushed out from her hiding place and before the fellow could even turn around to see what the disturbance was, Lois cracked him over the head with her handy board. He slumped over the table and didn't move. She then rushed over to the door. Jack had been right and she threw back the slide bolt and pushed the door open. Jimmy and Jack rushed in and followed her as she rushed back the way she had come. Jimmy took in the form of the slumped over B39 leader and shook his head. The three of them began to guide the gurney toward the door. It wasn't exactly a top quality product and it wobbled beneath the extra weight and mass that Superman had.
"What the …!"
Lois whirled around to see the boss man getting up from the table and heading after them. Lois took a couple steps toward him as she yelled over her shoulder.
"Go, get out of here! If I don't catch up with you in a couple minutes leave without me." Lois was glad that she didn't hear any arguments from them. The only sound was the squeaky wheels on the gurney.
She closed on the boss man and went into her martial arts stance. He gave her a wolf smile and took up his own stance. She knew she had to end this quick because she didn't figure to have the strength or the stamina to keep up with a militarily trained fighter for very long. She went for her best move right away. Lois feinted left, ducked under his first punch, and closed tight, driving her knee hard into his crotch. He went down with a howl of pain like a dog whose tail had been run over. Before Lois could follow up, he caught her with a vicious backhand across her nose which sent her hurtling back into a couple old crates, which splintered when she hit them. She tasted blood in her mouth from where her teeth cut the inside of her cheek and could feel the trickle coming from her nose. A thought flashed through her mind. She hoped he hadn't broken her nose because she didn't know if Clark could put up with a woman that snored. She was surprised to find herself sitting amongst a pile of steel ball bearings. There actually were some ball bearings still in this place.
She looked up in time to see the bureau leader pull his service .45 out of his waistband. He didn't bother to shout halt, or stop, he just aimed his gun at Jimmy and Jack. Lois frantically searched for a way to help.
"Jimmy, look out!" She yelled as she grabbed a handful of ball bearings and flung them in the direction of the gunman.
Lois saw some of the bearings strike him and knock him off balance but she also heard the gun go off. She quickly looked toward the guys but they apparently weren't hit because they didn't slack off in there race for the door. As Lois got to her feet her hand hit upon her trusty old board. She wrapped her hands around it as she launched herself at the boss man. He tried to bring his gun up into play but Lois swung for the fences and connected with a solid thwack. All her frustrations and anger over the last several days was put into that swing and he went down like the Titanic.
Lois paused only long enough to make sure that none of the others were coming back. She smiled as she thought back to what Cindy and Tara had told her earlier. That if they heard anything that sounded like trouble coming from the inside, Lois could rest assure that any Bureau 39 boys that were outside wouldn't make it back inside for a long time. Turning on her heel she headed toward the back door and her companions and their precious cargo.
She caught up with them at the car. The gurney had been tossed aside and Jack and Jimmy were in the process of easing Superman into the back of the wagon.
"Oh, man, they put him in a body bag, what's up with that." Jimmy's voice betrayed the emotions he was feeling.
Lois didn't allow herself to dwell on any of that, they had to get out of there, and fast. For the second time in less than twelve hours Lois sped away from the waterfront in a cloud of gravel and dust.
"Are you guys all right?" She asked somewhat breathlessly.
"We're fine, I could feel the wind of that bullet, but it missed." Jimmy gave Lois a good look for the first time since they got back tot he car. "What about you? Seems you took a couple good hits."
Lois wiped at her nose with the back of her hand. "Just one but I'll be fine. I'm pretty sure my nose isn't broken."
The rest of the ride passed in silence until they got back to the Planet. Lois had pulled into the alley in back but kept the motor running while Jimmy and Jack replaced the license plates. They then had an argument when Lois told them that this was where they parted company. Jimmy argued that she would need their help to get Superman into wherever she planned to take him. Lois argued back that the less they knew about Superman's whereabouts the better. Besides, she told them, she had help waiting where she was going. Jimmy knew he wouldn't win the argument but he felt he had to try.
As she sped off into the early morning darkness Jimmy nudged Jack and told him that he bet it was Clark that was waiting somewhere to help Lois out. If Jack had any thoughts on the matter he kept them to himself as the to young men trudged back to there own waiting vehicle.
Lois pulled up in front of Clark's apartment and threw open her car door. Jonathan and Martha must have been watching out the window because they both came rushing out as soon as she had stopped.
They all reached the back of the vehicle at the same time and were all impatient to get the tailgate open. Martha's gave a strangled cry of anguish when she saw the ominous black body bag, but didn't say anything more. They all reached in to try to ease the cherished package out of the back of the wagon.
"What's this?" Lois exclaimed as she pulled her hand away to examine the sticky wetness that she had felt. "Oh my god. Martha, Jonathan, we have to hurry."
Martha grabbed Lois' shoulder. "Lois, what is it, what's wrong?"
Lois looked up at the Kents, tears beginning to fall. "He's bleeding!"
They hustled the unresponsive body into the apartment and with Jonathan Holding Clark upright, Lois and Martha literally ripped the bag from around his body. They then carried him into Clark's bedroom and laid him down on the bed. He was still dressed in only his blue tights and red shorts. His shirt, cape, and boots were gone, abandoned somewhere along the way. He also had an evil looking wound in his left side, just above his belt.
"Get me some warm, wet towels, quickly. We need to see how bad this is." Martha waved Jonathan in the direction of the bathroom. He retreated as Lois hovered over Martha's shoulder biting her lip.
"Lois, honey, you're in my light …" Martha looked up and got a good look at Lois for the first time since she'd gotten back. "My gosh, Lois, you've been hurt. Why didn't you say something?"
Lois knew she looked worse than she really was. Her nose had stopped bleeding as had the inside of her mouth, but she knew she must look frightful with the dried blood smeared all over her face and neck. She shrugged off any concern by Martha.
"It's nothing. The guy got in a lucky punch. I'll be fine. We have much more important things to worry about."
Jonathan had come back from the bathroom with an armload of wet towels. Martha grabbed one and gave one to Lois. As Martha worked at cleaning up the wound, Lois used her towel to wipe down the rest of Clark's body which she had to admit was getting a little gamy smelling. After she had finished Lois turned her attention back to Martha, with an expectant, apprehensive look in her eyes. Martha stood up and sighed.
"Okay, maybe you'd better fill us in on what happened."
Lois gave Clark one quick worried look, then launched into her tale. She recounted the evenings events including the wild gun shot which hadn't strayed as far from its mark as Lois originally thought. By the time she had brought the two of them up to date they were both frowning, but calm. Once again Lois was in awe of these two incredible people. They were so kind and gentle, yet they had hidden reserves of strength that constantly amazed her. She also never realized till now what a compliment it had been to her when Clark had told her that she reminded him a lot of his mother. No wonder he had turned out so well, Lois didn't know of two other people who could have raised a son that could grow up to be a Superman.
"Well it's obvious where the bullet ended up," Martha began. "The wound doesn't look too serious, and the bullet doesn't appear to be in too deep. Of course, I'm no doctor, but I think that bullet is going to have to come out. In his present condition I don't think we can risk the possibility of infection."
"Doesn't the fact that he bled at all indicate that he's improving? I mean doesn't his heart have to be pumping for him to bleed?" Lois' hopeful tone was belied by the fact that the wound had initially just showed a crusty pool of dried blood around it.
"Lois, gravity will make any punctured bag leak somewhat." Jonathan countered. "I want our boy to get well as much as any one, but we have stay realistic here. There is still the chance that Clark might not recover from this whole terrible ordeal."
"No, there's not," said both women in unison. Martha continued. "Jonathan, they'll be none of that negative talk here. I've told you before that our boy is going to get better. He has no choice." She let her gaze rest on Lois. "He has too much to live for now."
Lois felt a lump form in her throat. She knew what Martha had meant by her bold statement and she felt so honored that she thought that way. Lois pledged right there, if she was granted the chance for a restarted life with Clark, she would never take any single moment together for granted.
"Let's not stand around." Martha declared. "If we are going to get that bullet out we best get started. We will need a firm flat surface to work from. Jonathan, do you remember where Clark kept the extra leaves for the dining table?"
The three of them began their preparations to turn Clark's dining area into an operating room. They found the leaves for the table which extended it to about six feet. Clark's ankles would hang over, but there was no helping that. While Jonathan busied himself with spreading a blanket and sheet over the table top, Lois and Martha started a large pot of water to boil and went through Clark's silverware and utensils to see what they might be able to adapt for use. Settling on several different items they set them in the pot and waited for the water to come to a boil.
Next task was to get Clark up on the table. Seeing as he weighed a lot more than appearances would suggest, it took all three of them to hoist him up onto the table, but they did eventually succeed. After taking the utensils out of the boiling water and laying them carefully on a dry, clean towel they were ready. Or were they?
Martha took Lois by the arm and pointed in the direction of the bathroom. "Don't you think you'd better get yourself cleaned up, Lois, before you start?"
Both Lois and Jonathan looked at Martha like she had grown an extra head. "Me!" Lois managed to croak. "I just figured that you would …"
Martha laid a comforting hand on Lois's shoulder as she guided her. "I would, but my arthritis has been acting up lately and I couldn't be confident that I wouldn't have a spasm or an attack at the wrong moment. No, Lois, this will need the steady hand of youth. Don't worry, you'll be fine." She gave the reluctant Lois a little shove.
As Lois walked zombie-like into the bathroom Jonathan pulled Martha aside. He had a very confused look on his face.
"What arthritis?" he asked. "I never knew you had any trouble with arthritis?"
Martha looked Jonathan in the eye. "I don't. But she can do this, Jonathan." The conviction in her voice strengthened. "She needs to do this." At Jonathan's continued look of bewilderment Martha sighed. "Lois has just realized that she is in love with Clark, her partner and best friend, but she has also just found out that he is that larger than life hero of millions. How do you think Lois is going to feel knowing that she is now partnered with Superman? How is she going to able to feel like an equal when her partner can see through walls, bend steel in his bare hands, well you know?"
"That may be true, but Lois is smart and she'll be able to handle it. Besides, how will this help?"
"Jonathan, Lois has been through an incredible trauma. Not only the ordeal with Clark, but she almost married Lex Luthor, who has turned out to be not what she thought. Her confidence in herself has been shaken, she needs to know that she has value, she needs to get that confidence back." Martha gave Jonathan a knowing smile. "If she is the one responsible for saving the life of the man who routinely saves everyone else, including her, well I think it will go a long way toward getting Lois back to the Lois we know and that Clark fell in love with. What do you think?"
Jonathan gave Martha a hug. "I think you're a pretty smart woman yourself." He looked over toward the bathroom. "You sure she can do it?"
"Without a doubt."
Lois stood staring at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was shaking. She began to mechanically wash up as her mind was a turbulent sea of conflicting emotions. How could Martha do this to her? Could she even do this at all? Clark's life could be riding on what she did with that knife. If she slipped, or made some other mistake, could she, would she be responsible for Clark's death!
Lois toweled off and took a deep breath. 'It was time to make a decision, Lane,' she told her now clean reversed image. 'You can either fall apart like some weak willed, flighty co-ed or you can suck it up and do what you have to do. The man you profess to love lies out there on his own dining table with a bullet in him and he needs you to get it out for him. Considering how many times he's been there for you, both in and out of the tights, can you do any less for him?'
It was a different Lois Lane that came out of the bathroom than went in. Her demeanor was calm and her face had a determined and confident look to it. She walked over, bent down and kissed Clark on the forehead and checked the pile of make shift instruments.
"Let's get this show on the road."
It took a lot longer than Lois imagined it would. She actually was thankful that Clark's heart wasn't pumping strongly for there was so much blood as it was. It just pooled up in her way and made it difficult to see. They'd had to bring a couple extra floor lamps over for additional lighting and Jonathan found himself continually wiping Lois' forehead with a dry towel. Lois was taking her time and going very slow because she didn't want to cut anything she didn't absolutely have to. Martha stood to one side and helped keep the wound open, and sponge up the blood as Lois made her way ever so carefully toward the bullet.
It was nearly dawn by the time Lois had triumphantly extracted the bullet and moved aside so Martha could put a clean dressing and bandage over the wound. Lois collapsed in a nearby chair.
"You two were magnificent," Jonathan said, pride evident in his voice. "Especially you, Lois."
"Yes, honey, you did a terrific job. Clark will be so proud," Martha added.
Lois gave both of them a little half smile. "Thanks."
Noticing that the sun had come up they all agreed that Clark would be better sitting on the porch in the direct sunlight, than lying in bed. They arranged the chaise lounge chair that Clark had so that it faced the sun directly. Luckily, Clark's porch extended out to the alley side of his apartment so there was less chance of anyone actually seeing him there. Once they got him situated in the chair and his tights covered by a light blanket, Lois spent a few moments mussing up his hair, and slipped a pair of sunglasses on him.
"There," she said surveying her work, "now if anyone sees him here, they'll just think it's Clark taking a nap in the sun."
"That's good, Lois, for now, but what are we going to do about tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day." Jonathan was not thrilled with his role as the group's pragmatist but someone had to say these things.
"I don't know," Lois answered. "For now, all we can do is wait."
The Kents retired to Clark's bedroom. They were used to getting up early but they were also used to going to bed early. It had been a long day and night for them as well as for Lois. Lois had opted for the couch, where she could lay back and still watch Clark out on the deck. She had assured the Kents that she didn't need to sleep but would get some relaxation in while keeping an eye on Clark. She had bid Jon and Martha good night and had gone over to the front door to make sure it was locked. bolted, and chained. Then she went over to the couch, fluffed up a couple sofa pillows, arranged them to her liking, and promptly fell asleep.
It was with some chagrin that she woke up a few hours later, realizing that she had fallen asleep. She slowly levered herself up off the couch and groggily, with her fingers, tried to rearrange the hair that had decided to plaster itself all along the left side of her face. A perverse thought crossed Lois' mind, she bet Tara and Cindy didn't have this problem in the morning.
After doing what she could with her fingers she snuck a peek at the Kents. They were both still sound asleep. A quick check of the clock on the wall indicated to Lois that they would probably be asleep for a while yet. She had only taken a two and a half hour nap. Still, she felt guilty about that. What if something had happened to Clark? That thought drove her to quickly look up to see him still lying out in the sun, which was much brighter now. Lois set her self the task of cleaning up about the apartment a bit.
After about an hour of straightening up, she checked the front door, and took in the mail that had been there. She thumbed through it, feeling a little voyeuristic, but since it was nothing but bills she didn't feel like she was actually snooping. Lois was just about to check on the Kents again when they both came into the room. They all sat around the table that so recently had been the scene of a desperate drama. Lois was glad that she had seemed successful in her short-lived career as a surgeon but she was more than happy to retire one for one. They sat around discussing things like the Planet's eventual return. Lois inquired after the farm. They even discussed the weather. It seemed that no one wanted to broach the subject of what's next.
It was close to noon when Martha began to rummage through Clark's cupboards looking for something to fix them for lunch. Seeing that there was little beyond the essentials currently on his shelves, she and Jonathan told Lois they were going to go out and do some grocery shopping. Martha stopped as she and Jonathan reached the front door.
"Are you sure you'll be all right here alone, Lois?"
"Yeah, don't worry about it. Take your time, get some fresh air." She picked up the TV Guide. "Maybe I'll check out exactly what it is that passes for television during the day. Besides, I'm not alone." She cast a meaningful glance toward the deck and it's occupant.
Martha smiled in response and she and Jonathan left. Lois flopped back down onto the couch and picked up the remote. She hadn't flipped through more than three stations when she was hit with a particular urge. She shook her head as she got back up from the couch and grabbed the TV guide again. She shot another look over toward Clark's reclined form.
"Sorry, big guy. I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave you to your own devices for a few minutes," she said with a rueful smile. "There are some calls that wait for no man, or Superman, and must be answered." She chuckled as she strolled toward the bathroom.
Lois, true to her word, only took a few minutes but in that short time had managed to fill in the crossword puzzle at the back, in ink. So it was with a slight self-satisfied feeling that she came back into the living room, prepared to deal with the rest of the day. What she wasn't prepared to deal with was the sight that confronted her.
Standing in the middle of the living room was a pale, and very confused Clark Kent/Superman. He was looking down at his current state of half dress and found himself fingering his bandage. He looked up when he heard his name called out.
"Oh, Clark!" Lois dropped the forgotten TV guide and rushed across the intervening space to throw herself into his arms. "Oh, my god, I was so afraid that I might lose you." She began to shower him with tiny, quick kisses about his face and neck as the tears began to flow in earnest from her eyes.
Clark stumbled briefly when Lois first launched herself into his arms but he instinctively wrapped his arms around her to hold her off the floor. It was obvious that he had no idea what was happening or why. His mind was in such a confused state that he couldn't even enjoy the attention Lois was giving him. He finally had to pry her away from him enough for him to look at her.
"Lois?" In his confusion he searched for coherent thoughts but only one name came to mind. "Luthor?"
Lois looked back through the veil of her tears. "He's dead. Jumped off his own penthouse balcony. I saw the whole thing, it was really pretty awful." She resumed kissing him.
Clark forced her back again. "Did you … I mean are you …?"
"No, we're not married. I stopped the wedding just before Perry and Henderson and his men came charging in like the light brigade. Lex got away from the police and since he couldn't escape, and couldn't face the prospect of prison, he jumped." She snuck another quick kiss. "Oh, Clark, you don't know how scared I was . You were in that coma and then those vile researchers wanted to dissect you, and … "
"Lois?" Clark walked over and placed Lois on the couch, sitting down next to her. He plucked at his tights, and fingered his bandage again. He looked up at Lois questioningly. "What happened?"
Lois focused on his playing with the bandage. "Oh that, you were shot while Jimmy, Jack, and I were rescuing you from Bureau 39. Were you aware that they were still operating?"
"What! Lois, what happened?" He seemed to grope for his memory. "The last thing I remember is being trapped in a kryptonite … Lois!" Clark jumped up from the couch with an apprehensive look on his face. He stared into Lois' face as if afraid of the answer to the question that he didn't want to ask. "You called me Clark?" His hand strayed to his face realising the sunglasses that he woke up with were still sitting next to the lounge on the deck. He looked again to Lois for a response.
Lois gave Clark a shrug and a smile. "Yes, Clark, I know the secret. I found out while trying to find out what had happened to you, but we won't discuss that now." She shook her finger at him. "Believe me we *will* discuss it, when you're better." She reached up and drew him back to the couch. "When you're stronger."
Clark looked into her eyes, and again gave thanks to whatever fates originally brought her into his life. "Lois, what did happen?"
Lois took a deep breath, wiped at her eyes with the back of her hands and tried to calm down enough to answer Clark. Her heart was nearly bursting with joy as she tried to collect her thoughts. Clark was alive, and all was right with the world again!
"Well for me, it all started out side of Lex Tower when Henderson came up to Perry and I and asked Perry to accompany him. Of course, I followed them …" And Lois was off and running.
It took Lois over an hour to relay to Clark the events of the last few days. To her credit she didn't embellish her part any, she didn't have to, and she was quick to give credit to those that helped her. Clark found himself astounded by what Lois had put herself through for him. What she must have suffered and the fact that she never gave up on him, left him speechless. It tore at his heart watching her cry as she relived the fear and uncertainty of those horrible hours for his benefit.
Clark placed his hand on Lois' cheek and she turned her head to kiss his palm. He reached for her and folded her into his arms, resting his cheek against her hair. She smiled as she snuggled into his embrace. That's the way Martha and Jonathan found them when they returned to Clark's apartment. This lead to another tearful reunion and another round of stories and explanations.
It was getting late when Lois finally got up and excused herself. She knew Jonathan and Martha would like some time alone with their son, and now that she knew Clark was all right, there would be time for them to discuss the recent past, examine their feelings, and determine a course for the future. She didn't let they protestations sway her, and bidding them all a good night she got up to leave. Clark walked her to the front door, still dressed in his shorts and tights.
"You know you don't have to leave, Lois."
"Yes, I do. You need to spend some time with your folks, and I," she pulled out her shirt and gave it a cursory whiff, "need to take a nice long, hot bath." She gave Clark a wistful smile. "We'll see each other tomorrow. Perry's going to want to know where you've been. I'll be interested to hear this excuse." She chuckled.
He cupped her face in his hand again. "Lois, I owe you my life. Words can't express what I'm feeling right now. I just …"
"Hey, it's all right. I think your still a few life savings ahead on the tote sheet but who's counting. Just make sure I don't have to do anything like that again for a long, long, time." She kissed his hand. "Good night, Clark."
He leaned over and took her face in both his hands and sought out her lips. It was a sweet and gentle kiss, but one filled with hope and promise. "Good night, Lois."
The next day at the Daily Planet had been a hectic one. Perry was so glad to have Clark back that he only half listened to Clark's bad back excuse, which was a good thing because to Lois it didn't make any sense at all. She frowned at the thought of all the lame excuses Clark had used over the past several months and how she let him get away with them. Of course, everyone's mind were focusing on something else that morning: Superman's disappearance.
Headlines everywhere were screaming for the answer to: 'Where's Superman'. No government agency would admit to having taken custody of Superman's body from Star Labs and an anonymous tip to the police turned up exactly what Lois knew it would at the warehouse, nothing. The Bureau 39 boys were experts at covering their tracks if at nothing else.
Lois and Clark had spent the day investigating leads Perry gave them that they knew wouldn't pan out because they knew the truth. So they were grateful when the day finally ended and they would have some time to be alone to talk, and just be together in a quiet setting.
Clark met Lois outside her apartment after returning from the airport and seeing his folks off. They decided to take a stroll through Centennial Park. It was a beautiful night, it was warm with a slight breeze, and the stars shone brilliantly in the night sky. Clark grabbed Lois' hand and they walked in silence for a few minutes just enjoying the company. Finally Lois spoke.
"Have you given any thought to what we're going to tell Jimmy and Jack about Superman's disappearance? They both know I have you supposedly stashed somewhere. And of course there's Tara and Cindy."
"I'm not worried about it. From what you told me about the two young ladies, I don't think they'll tell anybody anything, and Jack and Jimmy are friends who aren't going to say anything either. If Superman doesn't come back soon we'll figure something out then."
Lois stopped and looked into Clark's face. "Do you think your powers will ever come back? How do you feel?"
"I feel okay, still a little weak at times, and I'm not used to getting tired so quickly but other than that I feel okay. A lot like I did back in Smallville when I was first exposed to kryptonite."
"Your powers came back then, shouldn't they now ? It might take a little longer but eventually you'll be back as Superman."
"I don't know, Lois. I was exposed the first time for only a minute or so and it took a full day and a half to get them back. This time it was for several hours. They might come back soon, or maybe much later, or maybe not at all." He ran his finger down across her jaw line. "Would it matter if they didn't?"
Lois was silent for a few moments as they continued their walk. "I don't think so. Yeah it would be nice to be able to fly down to a beach in the Bahamas if we wanted to, or get take out from Shanghai." She gave Clark a crooked little smile. "But really, no it wouldn't matter to me. I'm just happy to have you back, and healthy. What about you? I know now how important it is to you to be able to help people. How are you going to take not being able to fly off and rescue half the world whenever they need it?"
"I don't know. I guess I'll just have to deal with it as it comes and make sure I do what ever I can as a crusading reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."
"That could work, I mean you're almost as good a reporter as I am." Lois grabbed Clark's arm and grinned at him. She saw him just shake his head, then break into that smile that could melt a thousand hearts.
They walked a little farther until they came upon the fountain. Clark indicated they should sit. They sat, and Lois leaned her head on Clark's shoulder. She knew he had some things he wanted to get out in the open, as she did, but she hated to disturb the peaceful bliss she was feeling right now. Clark cleared his throat.
"Lois, the last time few times we spoke it wasn't exactly on the most friendly terms. And there was that night where I visited you as Superman and was pretty hurtful. Well I just … I mean what I want to know is …"
"Am I still in love with Superman?" Lois watched Clark drop his head then nod quickly. "Of course I am." She saw him jerk his head toward her as if he was going to say something. she placed her finger to his lips. "Shhh, don't talk, listen. Superman is you, and don't give me that he's just a disguise baloney. Superman is not about the powers, he's about innate goodness and caring. He's about helping others at the expense of his own well being, and he's the fantasy figure for women everywhere." Clark blushed. "Then there's Clark Kent, the hot shot reporter and my partner. The guy who's kind and gentle yet always ready to tease me out of a bad mood, or be there to support me when I need him. He's the guy who became my best friend because he knew I needed one even more than I did." Lois stroked Clark's cheek with her finger tip. "I guess, at first, I was more in love with Superman because he was so visible, so larger than life. I mean what girl wouldn't dream of being with Superman. Still, when I was walking that last mile toward the altar, and Lex, all I could think about was Clark, and all the things we'd done together, and how much they meant to me. I realized that I was just as much in love with Clark, if not more, than I was with Superman." Lois paused to wipe a stray tear from her eye. "When I saw Superman in that cage my world began to crumble. The upper most thought in my mind was, that I needed Clark, I knew if Clark were there to hold me, and tell me things would be all right, I would survive the desolation I felt at the death of Superman. But Clark didn't show up, not then and not later. When I began to fear for your safety more than for Superman's recovery I knew that it was Clark that I loved the most, but it really didn't click until I discovered your secret while at your apartment. I was devastated by what I found. Another time I might have been angry that you had kept it from me, but then the only thing that ran through my mind was, the reason you weren't there for me, the reason you couldn't hold me and tell me things would turn out all right was because the men I loved were both lying on that cold table in Star Labs fighting for their lives." Lois let herself sigh before continuing. "Suddenly it all made sense. I wasn't crazy to love both the idol of millions and my partner and best friend. No, I was actually in love with Clark Kent, the man, the whole man. From that point on it was no longer a matter of trying to save your life, but mine as well."
Clark was silent for several moments. He felt so many things all at once. Pride, awe, amazement, but most of all love. He didn't know what he'd done to be so fortunate as to have Lois Lane profess love for him, the real him, but he felt blessed that she had.
"Lois, I meant what I said in the park that morning, when I told you that I loved you, that I'd always loved you. I want you, no, I need you to know that no matter what happened during that time, I never stopped loving you. I don't think I ever could."
Lois gazed deeply into the expressive brown eyes of the man whom she had almost lost but knew she would never let go of again.
"You know, Clark, " She traced her finger over his lips. "For putting me through the ordeal I've had to suffer these last few days, thinking I might lose you first to research ghouls, then to idiot government types, being forced to rescue you, and even perform at home surgery to save you." A funny little smile tugged at the corners of Lois' mouth. "I'm going to expect certain compensations."
Clark frowned suspiciously. "Hey, it was no picnic for me either, you know." Clark noted her raised eyebrow. "Okay, so I was unconscious the whole time." He grinned. "Just what sort of compensations are we talking about here?"
Lois tried to look very serious. "I expect to be courted. None of this taking our future as a couple for granted, even if it is a foregone conclusion."
"And is it?" Clark's insecurities had to take one last shot.
"Yes, and don't interrupt." Lois began to use her hands to express herself. "I expect to be wined and dined, taken out to fine restaurants, taken out dancing, and showered with touching and heartfelt gifts. I expect to be treated like a fairy tale princess."
Clark stood up and bowed at the waist. "And is that your royal decree, milady?"
Lois dropped her eyes as a couple tears formed at the corners. She slowly shook her head back and forth, then raised it back up to meet Clark's own loving gaze.
"No," her tears caused her eyes to glisten in the moonlight, "it's my dream."
Clark sat back down and put his arm around Lois' shoulders and with his other hand pointed out a particularly bright star shining in the northern sky.
"Well you know what they say, Lois." Clark grinned at her look of bafflement. "When you wish upon a star, dreams can come true."
Lois reached up with both hands and guided Clark's face down to hers. They shared a kiss that was at once passionate, but also tender and full of hope. When they broke Lois found herself again becoming lost in the expressive brown pools that were Clark's eyes. She smiled through a veil of happy tears.
"I think it already has."