Submitted February 1999
Summary: Lois and Clark are under siege at work when Perry goes on an extended vacation and Morgan Edge, the Planet's L.A.Bureau chief, takes charge of the newsroom. Are his bad decisions the product of incompetence or is something more sinister involved?
An IRC Round Robin by Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Mackteach <email@example.com>; Eraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; chrispat <firstname.lastname@example.org>; zoomway <email@example.com>
"Perry?" Lois cracked the door of their editor's office, and peeked inside. Clark hovered behind her, his attention divided between the music inside and keeping an eye on the elevator doors.
Perry stopped humming 'Jailhouse Rock' and waved them both inside. "Come on in kids…"
"Perry, we wanted to talk to you…"
"I wanted to talk to you before Morgan…"
Perry and Lois both trailed to a halt. "You go first, honey," Perry offered.
Lois stepped inside and pulled Clark in with her. She shifted silently, then cleared her throat.
"We, ah, well, Clark and I wanted to tell you something." She glanced up at Clark, asking silently for strength. He smiled, and placed his hand on the small of her back. The simple touch warmed her, and she surged forward. "And I don't want you to think that I'm asking for any favors, because it's not like it's a life-threatening illness or anything, people do this all the time, and, well…"
Perry frowned. "Life-threatening?"
Clark shook his head and grinned. "Perry, Lois is…"
"Pregnant?" Perry's brow creased, then his whole expression lightened. "Why, that's wonderful, honey!" He chuckled. "You almost had me going there." He reached forward and hugged her. "That's just great."
"Thanks, Perry." Clark drew Lois back into his own arms and held her there like a precious vase.
Lois frowned quickly. "And I don't want you treating me like I'm going to break at any moment! I'm pregnant, not sick!"
Perry hid a grin. "Now, Lois, you know I can't promise you…"
"No desk jobs!"
Perry held up his hands in surrender. "No desk jobs! But you'll have to take it up with your new editor."
Clark felt Lois stiffen in his arms. "New editor?" they chimed.
Perry nodded, smiling more than he had in years. "I'm going away for a few weeks with Alice. Graceland, Vegas, and Cozumel."
"With Alice? That's great, Chief."
"So who's stuck with your job, Perry?"
Perry paused. "Well, Lois, I know you did a great job the last time you took over for me, but you told me you really didn't want to tackle it again."
"That's putting it mildly, Chief."
Lois shot Clark a glare before returning her attention to Perry. "So who's the new editor-in-chief?"
Morgan Edge pushed open the door and struck a pose against the doorframe. "You can call me boss-man, if you like." He grinned ingratiatingly.
An hour later, Morgan wore the same grin as Perry finished introducing him to the 'little people'. "Ralph. Read some of your work. Real gems in the rough."
Perry shot him a side-long glance as Ralph grinned happily and pumped Edge's hand enthusiastically. "Thanks Mr. Edge! I gotta get back to my next one." Ralph waved and ducked back into his cubicle.
Morgan leaned over to Perry, his smile never slacking. "What's he working on?"
"The dog show at the MetroDome."
Perry regarded Edge through narrowed eyes. "You've met everyone. You've had several weeks now to 'get the feel of the place.' Do you have any questions on their duties or yours?"
"Only Lane and Kent."
Perry smiled. "My star reporters. You give them the white glove treatment." Perry let an edge of warning creep into his voice.
"Oh, I intend to." Edge let his smile widen.
"But they don't want any special treatment, not with the baby on the way."
Edge turned his attention to the couple engrossed in conversation on the other side of the newsroom and his smile deepened. "They'll get only the best from me, Perry." His hands met and his palms rubbed together. "Only the best."
Perry eyed Edge as he went back to his office. "See that it is, Morgan. Remember, only the best for The Daily Planet."
Morgan Edge smiled brightly at Perry. "As if it were my own."
Perry nodded curtly and went into his office, closing the door behind him. Sitting down at his desk, he reached for the phone and pushed the button on the preset number. Leaning back in his chair while the number was dialed, he looked up at the ceiling, whistling "Viva Las Vegas."
As the phone picked up on the other end, he smiled widely. "Hi, Alice, honey." He listened for a moment, feeling Alice's excitement about their upcoming travel plans.
"Yeah, I know, darlin' … I'm just as excited … going to Graceland …" His smile wavered for just a moment. "Well, yes, of course I meant spending time with *you,* Alice. It's just that …" He breathed a sigh of relief as Alice's teasing laughter came through the receiver. Chuckling, he teased her back. "Y'know, Alice … we never did finish that game of 'Pin the Cape on Elvis' … Alice! I never thought I'd live to hear *you* say that!"
They chuckled over the phone for a few more minutes, Perry enjoying the closeness that they had recently re-discovered. He looked out the window and caught Clark leaning close to Lois, his hand on her shoulder. As he watched, he saw Lois look up at Clark with such an expression of love that he vowed right then and there he would give Alice special attention on their trip. Heck, he'd even give up going on the Memphis Elvis tour if it meant that Alice would look at him the way that Lois looked at Clark.
A question from Alice recaptured his attention and he sat forward in his chair. His smile faded as he answered her in complete seriousness.
"I'm sure, Alice. The Planet can get along without me for a few weeks. Morgan Edge comes with good credentials and there's Lois and Clark here as well. Oh, by the way, those two kids have some great news. Lois is pregnant." His smile returned. "Didn't I say they'd make a great team?"
He laughed at Alice's response. "Well, how was *I* to know that they'd click just as well on a personal level?"
Perry checked his watch. "Well, darlin', if we want to leave for Graceland when we're supposed to, I'd better get this edition out … Right … I'll talk to you later tonight … Uh huh …" Perry was just about to hang up when Alice's comment caught his attention. "What was that?" He groaned, a wide smile on his face. "Now, Alice. You know what the sight of you in white lace does to me …"
He leaned back and chuckled, spending a few more minutes on the phone with her.
Across the newsroom Lois sighed as she watched Perry in his office. She couldn't be more pleased about how well things were going between him and Alice. They had been surrogate parents for her from the day she joined the Planet and she had to admit the possiblity that they might get back together thrilled her considerably more than her own parents reconciliation. Sam and Ellen were a much more volatile combination even under the best of circumstances. But despite that fact she she still felt uneasy.
She shuddered briefly as she watched Morgan Edge oil his way over from the Financial section of the newsroom to the Sports desk.
"What's the matter honey?"
"Lo-is. I know that look."
"Nothing, really. It's just … as happy as I am about Perry and Alice getting back together, I've got a bad feeling about …" Lois's voice faded away and she stared again at Edge.
"About Morgan Edge?" Clark asked. Lois nodded. "I know. He bothers me too, but I can't put my finger on why. Has anybody in the L.A. Bureau been able to fill you in on him?"
"Not really. They've given me the usual glowing reports, you know the drill. Hell of a guy, salt of the earth, blah, blah blah."
"Yeah, they probably had a party as soon as he left the building. Anyway, we can worry about that later. Right now I need to get over to Star Labs."
"Don't you mean we need to go over to Star Labs? I think what Dr. Klein has to say concerns me too."
"Lois, honey, I know you're still upset that I … er, I mean, Superman recovered that Kryptonite you tossed in Hobbs Bay and took it to the Lab, but I'm sure he had a good reason —"
Lois's eyes flashed a little. "Yes I'm sure Superman *thought* he had a good reason for taking that Kryptonite to Star Labs, but I *think* that if he'd had the common sense God gave gravel he would have left it there! Or dumped it in a volcano or tossed it into space or —"
Clark sighed. "Maybe we'd better both go see Dr. Klein."
Lois reached up and patted Clark on the cheek. "I knew you'd see it my way, sweetheart. We'll do it on our lunch hour, okay?"
Clark sighed again but bent down and brushed her lips with his own. "Well, if we don't finish up this research, we won't get a lunch break."
He went back to his desk and they both got down to work. Lois was typing furiously when she felt, more than heard, someone approaching her desk. She looked up and jumped slightly when she realized Morgan Edge was reading over her shoulder.
"Didn't your mother tell you it was rude to read over someone's shoulder?" she snapped.
He recoiled slightly. "And didn't anyone tell you to treat your superiors with respect?" he shot back.
Lois fumed inwardly, but managed a polite response. "Did you want something, Mr. Edge?"
"Yes, Lois. I was wondering how well you knew Linda King? We worked together in L.A., and I think she mentioned you and Clark in passing."
Lois's blood pressure went up a few notches. Of course he would be chummy with Linda King, and he'd probably gotten an earful from her, too. She spoke through clenched teeth. "Yes, I know Linda. What does that have to do with anything?"
Morgan smiled his oily smile. "Her little production deal with ABC has fallen through and I was thinking of asking her to come back to Metropolis while I'm taking over Perry's job. You know how it is. An editor likes to have people on his staff that he knows and can trust."
Lois bristled. "Does that mean you don't trust the current staff!? You don't even know us!!"
Morgan reached out and patted her shoulder. "Now, now. I'm sure we will all get along fine. You and Clark could use a little more supervision, but some of the current staff is very good. Like Ralph for instance. I'll talk to you more about this tomorrow."
He sauntered off, leaving Lois gasping for breath. "Ralph? Ralph!?? Clark, did you hear that!?"
Clark jumped up and rushed over to Lois. "Honey, take it easy, please. He's just trying to get to you."
Lois threw herself into his arms. "This is going to be hell, Clark." Just then they heard Morgan Edge's voice.
"There will be no more public displays of affection in this newsroom while I am in charge."
As if with one mind, the entire newsroom turned toward Lois and Clark. Not only because the commandment against shows of affection in the office seemed directed solely at them, but because the non-"Y" chromosome in the partnership was known for pyrotechnic expletives.
Ralph peered up from his cubicle, hoping he'd have an "I was there" story to tell his grandchildren … assuming he ever had children … or a wife. He decided on a story he could tell his brother-in-law.
But to everyone's disappointment, Lois smiled and turned to Clark. "I'm ready for lunch!"
"Honey, it's only 10:55, and …" he noted Lois' expression, " …and a Big Mac would be great right now."
They made their way quickly to the elevator, closing off the curious eyes and gaping jaws.
"I know what you're going to say, and I agree completely, but—"
"There's no *but*, Clark, the man is a lunatic!"
Clark sighed. "He's from L.A. I think they consider that a survival skill."
The doors opened onto the lobby.
"Another thing, he might bring Linda King to Metropolis!"
Clark raised his eyebrows as he passed through the revolving door, but couldn't help smiling. "Let's get ready to rumble," he whispered in the privacy of the glass-encased segment.
"On top of that," Lois continued as the reached the curb, "he thinks Ralph is *talented*. As what? An invertebrate with legs?"
"Taxi!" Clark shouted.
"Why aren't we taking the jeep?"
"Because you're in no shape to drive, or at least I'm in no shape to survive it, and I left my wallet at home."
Lois nodded and whistled, "Taxi!"
They entered the Metro Cab, then exited quickly. The cab roared off.
"Honey," Clark soothed. "I know you're upset, but that doesn't exactly give you the right to toss the cabbie's cigar and insult his taste in music."
"I said 'thank you for not smoking' before I threw the cigar out."
"It wasn't lit!"
Lois sighed. "You're right, I'm upset, but … this is even a little over the top for *me*. Don't you think?"
Clark swallowed and looked at his tie as if it had become the most fascinating object in the world. Lois folded her arms.
"Okay, I'll *clarify* that. I haven't acted this over the top since …"
"Linda King was here the last time?"
"Exactly!" Lois said, "but she's not even here, and I'm *completely* secure in my love for you, and your love for me, but … this feels .. different."
Clark placed his hands on her shoulders, "I think it's just too many things going on at once. Information and emotional overload."
Lois sighed and tugged at his lapel. "I guess so. Maybe it's … it's hormones."
Clark smiled, putting his arm around her. "Let's take the bus," he said, and hoped he had *exact* change.
Their audience from the bus was still applauding as the bus roared off. Clark's hands were firmly planted in his pockets as he fought off his blush. Lois hid a satisfied grin.
"No public displays of affection, my foot," she muttered as they walked into the overhang shadowing STAR Labs' front doors.
"He only mentioned the newsroom," Clark offered reluctantly.
Lois snorted and wrapped her arm around Clark's to speed him up. "Which leaves the copy room and the conference room and the elevator and the lobby and the…"
Clark stared down at Lois, a smile growing on his face. "Maybe these hormones aren't so bad after all…"
"Lois, Clark!" Dr. Klein looked up from thumbing trough a stack of reports as they walked into his lab. He glanced around to make sure his lab assistant was gone, then whispered, "Havseensimple?"
Lois looked at him as if he'd been sipping from the wrong flask. "What?"
Clark rolled his eyes as Klein straightened and said in a normal voice, "Have you seen the sample that Clark gave me?"
Lois shook her head. "A little thing like a lead container and a few gunmen didn't leave me much of a chance to examine it in detail."
"Oh, well…" Klein picked up an open gray box on the counter and poured the glowing green contents into a flask next to him. He handed the cylinder to Lois. "It's not lead."
Lois dropped the container and picked up the flask, preparing to hurl it through the nearest window.
Lois stopped in mid-hurl, and spun around with a "What!?" She blinked when she saw Clark standing there pain-less.
Clark looked down at himself. "What?"
Dr. Klein gingerly pried her hand from the flask. "It's not Kryptonite."
"Then why did…"
Klein shrugged. "It's remarkably similar, but it's a chemical solution that's trying to mimic the radioactive effect Kryptonite has on Superman…er…Clark. It's crude, and well …" He gestured at Clark. "It doesn't work."
Lois spun towards Clark. "But they thought it would! And that means that someone is trying to make Kryptonite!" Her eyes widened, horrified. "They're trying to kill you!"
Dr. Klein watched in fascination as Lois went from 0 to lightspeed in 2 seconds. She and Clark were out the door again before he could blink, and the few words that had registered on his brain before they left had something to do with terrorists, backing and Intergang.
The next morning, bolstered by her disappointingly decaffinated coffee, Lois barged into Perry's office, leads and facts in one hand, and her partner right behind her. She and Clark had spent the rest of the previous day hunting down and interviewing half the people who'd known the terrorists from the New Year's party, and she needed Perry's buddy in the Justice Department to get her hands on the tapes of the terrorist's interviews.
Lois stopped dead on the doorstep, her heart splintering into a little pile at her feet, and her skin trying to crawl out to the elevators at light speed.
Morgan Edge sat in Perry's chair, his feet kicked up on Perry's desk, and the most hideous wailing of bagpipes, organs and mutilated cats was emerging from Perry's stereo. The sad excuse for music hit a crescendo, and stilled soon after.
Morgan leaned up and switched off the stereo. "Ah. Don't you love modern music?"
A small sound halfway between a moan of despair and a mad cackle of laughter emerged from Lois' lips and was quickly strangled.
"Was there something I can do for you two?" Morgan asked as Lois and Clark hovered on the edge of his doorway.
Clark cleared his throat. "Wasn't Perry supposed to be here this morning?"
Morgan laughed and stood. "Oh, well, I helped Alice convince him that he needed to help her pack before their flight this afternoon." He grinned. "After all, I'm more than qualified to step into his shoes."
Lois put a hand to her stomach, wondering if the nausea she was feeling was morning sickness or her body's reaction to Morgan Edge.
"If there's nothing I can do for you?" he asked the two of them, shaking his head 'no' for them, and pushing them out the door. "I really need about fifteen more minutes of meditation before the staff meeting."
Lois looked Clark in the eye as the door clicked shut behind them. "Staff meeting?" They both gulped in horror.
As Lois and Clark left the room, Edge's phone rang.
"Morgan Edge speaking," he answered glibly. His face fell a little as he heard the voice on the other end of the phone. "Oh, it's you. Well, I really can't talk right now. I'm a little busy… Meet you?! I can't just leave in the middle of the day. I've got appointments. I've got a newspaper to ru-"
Edge grew pale as he listened to the voice's tirade. "All right, I'll meet you," he said wearily. "I'll be outside in ten minutes."
Picking up his tailored jacket he stormed out of Perry's office and right into Jimmy.
"Sorry about that, Mr. Edge. But since I've got your attention, I'd like you to take a look at some of the research I've been doing on this story Perry assigned to me a few days ago. It's about that chemical warehouse burglary …"
"Look, kid, I don't have time for that now. I've got an important appointment," Edge replied hurriedly. "I'm sure it will be fine."
"You've got an appointment? But what about the staff meeting?"
"It's rescheduled!" Edge yelled as he sprinted up the ramp and into the elevator.
"What was that all about?" Lois asked as she and Clark joined Jimmy in front the editor's office.
Jimmy shrugged. "Beats me, but it sure looks like someone knows how to yank the 'smiling cobra's' chain."
"The 'smiling *what*?" Clark asked.
"The 'smiling cobra'. Phil in Sports decided Edge needed a nickname so he came up with that one."
"Well, Phil might be right on target," Clark replied.
"I don't know. It seems to me it's kind of insulting to cobras."
"I wonder where he's going in such a hurry," Lois mused. "C'mon, Clark." She pulled him over to the window, where they were just in time to see Edge climb into a limo waiting at the curb. Lois tugged on Clark's sleeve, pulling him down so she could whisper in his ear. "Get that license number."
Clark nodded and lowered his glasses. After a moment he pushed them back up his nose. "Got it," he whispered to Lois.
Lois grinned. "Okay! Let's call that guy you know at the DMV." They headed toward Clark's desk, but before they got there, Edge was back, looking thin-lipped and pale.
"All right, everyone," he yelled. "Staff meeting now!"
Lois and Clark rolled their eyes at each other, but followed the rest of the staff into the conference room. Edge waited until everyone was settled before he dropped his bomb.
"I've decided to make a few changes is assignments for the moment." He singled out Lois with a barely diguised sneer. "It seems one of our colleagues here has an announncement of a personal nature to make." He gestured. "Lois? Don't you and Clark have something you want to tell your colleagues?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other. This wasn't the way they had wanted to tell their friends and co-workers their good news. Clark bristled and rose to his feet.
"If Lois and I have something to tell, we will pick our own time."
Edge smirked. "All right, I won't spoil the surprise, but as of now, Lois is reassigned to the society page."
Lois gasped. "What? You can't do this. I'm an investigative reporter!"
Edge smiled. "Yes. I know. Well, now you will be investigating the Ladies Overseas Aid Auxliary. They have a tea scheduled for 3PM. You will be there."
Lois jumped to her feet. "No way! I'll sue you for discrimination! You won't get away with this."
Edge looked at her pityingly. "Oh my. You mentioned the 'sue word'. I could suspend you for that, but I won't. You be a good little reporter and do your assignment, and I'll forget you said that."
Lois let out a growl and started to launch herself accross the table at Edge, but Clark grabbed her arm. "Don't, honey. Perry will be back in a few weeks. Then you can take care of this snake."
Lois subsided, muttering angrily, and Edge turned his attention to Clark.
"Now, Kent," Edge said, consulting a folder. "It seems an inspired teaming with you and Mr. Munch, and so…"
Clark shook his head, obviously confused. "Who?"
Ralph rose from his chair. "The "ch" is pronounced like a "k"," he offered helpfully.
Clark set his head at that mountain-goat-ready-to-butt-heads angle. "Now, wait a minute—"
Edge feigned innocence. "Is there a problem, Kent? It says here your wife teamed you with Mr. Munch. Now if you're insinuating that your wife showed poor judgment by the teaming, and," he sighed, "there is evidence that she was wholly unprepared for the job of editor—"
Clark rose from his chair, slapping his palm loudly on the table. He leaned menacingly towards Edge. "This isn't about my wife, or Ralph, or *anything* else. This is about splitting up my partnership with Lois."
Edge, despite leaning backward, remained relatively calm. "You'll have time after work to .. well.. be with your wife."
"She's my *partner*, Edge, and she's the best reporter at this paper, but you put her on the society column?"
Lois smiled and looked down at her folded hands. She loved Clark in District Attorney mode.
"I'm in charge here, Kent, and as you reassured your wife, it's only for a few weeks. Besides," Edge added, "you and Mr. Munch may find a chemistry Perry hadn't bothered to explore."
"Amonia and chlorine," Lois muttered.
Edge rose from his chair. "Consider this something of a newspaper boot camp. It's the way to separate the men from the boys."
Lois crossed her legs. "Straddling a balance beam is quicker."
Edge flushed. "In the name of political correctness, I should have said 'separating the men from the gi.. the adults from the chil..' uh, you have your reassigments," he said, and exited.
Ralph patted Clark on the back. "We're back in harness, Kent! We had this energy thing going the last time, I could.." Ralph noticed the head-butting position again. "So," he sighed loudly. "I'll be looking through some lead sheets, partn.. Kent."
Ralph slunk out.
He sighed. "Yeah?"
"Can I kill him yet?"
Clark laughed tiredly and put his arms around her. "No, honey. Superman isn't supposed to kill an editor from hell."
Lois sighed. "I suppose. What about our Kryptonite story?"
Clark shrugged. "We keep working on it." He grinned as he nuzzled her hair. "Don't tell me a simple 'smiling cobra' is going to keep Mad Dog Lane away from a story."
Lois growled. "Not snakes, nor Ladies Aid nor dark of night…"
Clark purred into her hair. "I love you when you're tenacious." He brought her lips to meet his, unmindful of the presence of the two staff members standing by the conference room window, blocking them from Morgan Edge's sight.
Clark's head jerked up suddenly, distracting Ralph from his monologue on the merits of the American Kennel Club versus the British Kennel Club system.
"What's up, Kent?"
"I ah…" He glanced at the clock. Lois was still at the Ladies Auxiliary Tea. "…just remembered…" His gaze fell upon the pin-up calendar on Ralph's desk. "…that I needed to put air in the tires." He backed up, fingers already playing with his tie. "I promised Lois. I'll be right back."
"Man," Ralph pontificated to thin air. "That boy is whipped!"
Lois stirred her decaffeinated, overly-sugared, under-lemoned too hot tea and pondered the wisdom of boiling Edge in British tea until his toenails dissolved. The older women surrounding her spoke of grandchildren and pets and projects, and accepted her bland smiles as proof of her undivided attention.
Her toe danced at the end of her bouncing foot underneath the table, and when finally her beeper buzzed, she made excuses at a speed Superman would have been proud of and fled for the phone.
"What is it, Jimmy?"
"Well, Edge said not to, but I had to tell you. Superman's been shot."
"He's alive and he's at STAR Labs. That's all I know. Ralph's on his way over, but…"
"I know. Thanks, Jimmy."
Lois hurried to Klein's lab, her heart pounding. It was all part of loving Clark Kent *and* Superman, but this part, the fear, never got easier. She had to compose herself.
Ralph had beaten her there, and was questioning Klein, who was stalling.
"I never said he was *shot*," Klein insisted. "He's unconscious and has some type of hole .. well.. puncture… more of a 'gash' really." Lois passed Ralph as he alternately scribbled and erased.
She hurried into the secluded room where her husband lay on an examination table. He was very still, and only a dimmed lamp illuminated his face.
"Clark," Lois whispered, her voice strained.
Clark cautiously opened one eye a mere slit, and then sighed with relief. "Thank, God, I thought it was Ralph."
Lois' knees suddenly went weak.
"Honey!" Clark said, and helped steady her.
"I'm okay," she said and took a deep breath. "My adrenalin ran out."
He hugged her close. "I'm sorry, Lois," he soothed. "I'm okay, but I had no way of getting to you. The pain is going away, but my powers are coming back *real* slow."
Lois pulled back, "Is it the synthetic Kryptonite?"
"I'm afraid so, Lois," Klein said, coming in and closing the door behind him. Lois and Clark looked up at him, concerned over the location of Mr. Munch.
Klein smiled reassuringly. "He's gone back to the Planet. He has an interesting theory that Superman was attacked by a vampire."
"Great," Clark sighed. "And my byline will be right next to his."
"I wouldn't count on it, Clark," Klein shrugged. "He said it's his exclusive if you couldn't be bothered to show up."
"Dr. Klein," Lois said soberly. "The synthetic?"
Klein folded his arms. "It's *very* serious, Lois. What I could retrieve of the trace elements in the wound area … had it hit Clark in the heart—"
"I would have died."
Klein nodded. "But," he added with as much enthusiasm as he could muster under the circumstances, "being a synthetic gives us a chance to combat it."
"But isn't that like making a "bullet" vaccine? I mean if he is hit in a vital area—"
"The synthetic has a leading range. It dampens the aura instantly *before* the bullet impacts."
"Well, I can try and create a biological field for Superman."
Clark half smiled. "A synthetic aura to fight the synthetic Kryptonite."
"But what about *until* then, Dr. Klein?"
Klein shook his head. "Until then he's vulnerable. He could die."
Lois started to ask a question but stopped when she saw Clark turn his head and listen.
"A call for help."
"Clark, you *can't* go!"
Clark just looked at her.
"I know, I know. You have to." She touched the symbol on his chest gently. "But what about your strength?"
"I'm all right. Not quite up to full power, but I can manage." He kissed her quickly, smiled at her murmured "be careful", and with a ==whoosh== was out the door before she could say another word.
Lois and Dr. Klein stared after him with identical expressions of concern.
"Oooh…Clark…" Lois moaned. "Right, oh… there!"
Clark gently dug his fingers into the knots in Lois' back as she slowly drooped forward to rest her forehead against the elevator door. "You are so tense, Lois, it's no wonder your back is hurting."
Lois sighed. "Is it any wonder I'm tense? Morgan's playing tyrant in the newsroom, and there's half a dozen gunmen in Metropolis with green bullets ready to…" She trailed off as her voice caught in her throat.
Clark wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his embrace. "Shh." He rocked her back and forth. "They're horrible shots, honey. And half the time, the bullets are just painted lead."
"It's the other half I'm worried about." Lois sighed. "Besides," she growled, "Morgan isn't exactly making my job any easier. And I'm going to find out why."
Clark rested his forehead on her shoulder. "Lois, maybe you should take the time he's giving you to relax a little."
"Relax?" Lois turned to him, straightening. "Don't you even start, Clark." Her voice dropped to a syrupy imitation of Morgan's tenor. "Lois, dahling, don't you think a nap would be good for the little nipper?"
Clark held up his hands in supplication. "I didn't mean it that way, Lois…"
Lois quelled him with a glance. "He wanted me out of the newsroom yesterday because it was the only way he could keep me from talking to Stern."
"Well, there is that…"
"And he's mixed up in these attempts on your life, and I'm going to prove it!"
"We don't know that for sure, Lois…"
"He's as dirty as a sewer rat, Clark!"
Clark grinned. "Now, don't you think that might be a little insulting to rats?"
Lois stared at him for a moment, then slowly grinned.
"Lois, any dirt you're going to find on Morgan Edge won't be in the newsroom, so why not let him think you're…ah…napping… and maybe you could help me…"
"Ditch Ralph and look for clues?" Lois' shoulders relaxed minutely and she leaned forward, a gleam in her eye.
Clark leaned toward her. "Something like that." He pressed a swift kiss on her lips.
The ding of the elevator broke their kiss, and after a swift moment of rearrangement of clothing, the doors slid open on a properly decorous couple.
The newsroom staff, used to quite a different display, attempted not to stare as Lois Lane at her most cheerful and gracious strolled toward Morgan's door. All but a few of them missed the look of trepidation that passed swiftly over Clark Kent's face.
"Honey, I don't think it's a good idea to go in there right now," Clark said in a voice tinged with concern.
"Oh, come on, Clark, there's nothing to be worried about. I'm perfectly calm and all we're going to do is *talk* to Edge. What's the harm in that?"
Clark shrugged. "It's just that …"
Their conversation was interrupted when Edge abruptly opened his office door. "Just the two people I wanted to see," he said with a reptilian grin.
"Why, isn't that a coincidence?" Lois replied, matching his toothy grin with one of her own. "We were just on our way to talk to you."
Edge held up his hands "Now, Lois, I know you've been upset about my temporarily reassigning you to the society beat. And while I don't think my decision was incorrect, I am willing to concede that there may be better ways to use your talents, and Clark's, for that matter, here at the Planet."
"Looks like Mr. Stern finally got that letter from Constance Hunter," Lois mumbled to Clark.
"What was that, Lois?" Edge asked.
"Oh, nothing important."
Edge shrugged. "Now where was I?"
"You were about to tell us how our talents could be better utlized," Clark replied flatly.
"Right. Exactly. So starting today, Kent, you are no longer working with Munch, and Lois, you are off the society beat."
Lois grinned. "I guess Lane and Kent are back in business."
"Not quite," Edge said with a sly grin. "Lois, you'll be working with Ralph…"
"What!? But, but …" Lois sputtered.
"But who will I be working with?" Clark asked.
A tall willowy blonde appeared in the office doorway behind Morgan. "Good to see you again, Clark. Oh, and hi, Lois."
"Linda!" Lois hissed.
Linda King smirked at Lois and raised her eyebrow. "Yes, it's me. Happy to see you too," she remarked sarcastically. "I heard you managed to land poor Clark here. Congratulations. I think."
Lois glared at her and turned to Edge. "What's *she* doing here?"
"Why, Lois, I thought you would be happy that Clark will be teamed up with such a talented writer. I had to pull a lot of strings to get Linda this temporary assignment." He brushed his moustache with a finger. "Now, you all come on into the office and I'll give you your assignments."
Ten minutes later, Lois stormed out of the office. Clark followed more slowly since Linda had attached herself to his arm.
"This is going to be fun, Clark," she purred. "I've missed you."
Clark shook her off and headed toward Lois' desk. "Um, wait here. I need to talk to Lois."
He found Lois pounding furiously on her computer, muttering to herself.
"Lois? Honey? What are you writing?"
Clark raised his eyes heavenwards and sighed. "Now, honey, let's not be too hasty here. It's only for a couple of weeks. We can handle this." He reached out and captured her hands with his, pulling her up and into his arms. "We can handle anything as long as we have each other."
Lois wrapped her arms around him and snuggled into his familiar embrace. After a moment, she lifted her head. "Okay, I'll give it a try, but if that woman makes a pass at you, I won't be responsible for anything that happens." She raised her face for a kiss. " Go on. I'll be okay."
Clark reluctantly released Lois and went back to Linda, who promptly grabbed his arm again.
"Come on partner," she said, pitching her voice loud enough for Lois to hear. "Let's go get that interview."
Lois watched Clark and Linda leave. It was strange how memories minus the emotions came out differently. Three years ago Lois had been so hung up on besting Linda — just *once*, she hadn't paid close enough attention to Clark. Lois had worn a new gown, and Clark had complimented it. She sighed. She had completely ignored the compliment because she was so obsessed with what Linda would wear.
Clark had danced with Linda, but now, in the safe zone memories take with time, Lois remembered Clark had been uncomfortable. He hadn't even known where to place his hand on Linda's back because, with her usual tacky taste, she'd worn a backless dress that had made her scrawny shoulder blades look like opposing "right" and "left" turn arrows.
Lois chuckled softly to herself. Clark had been an innocent, but she just couldn't see it back then.
"Partner!" Ralph said enthusiastically. "This is such an honor." He paused a moment and sprayed breath freshener in his mouth. He leaned close. "So," he said, in what might pass for sexy on Sesame Street, "when do we go cover that case of dog race corruption?"
"I guess we can go now," Lois said airily and grabbed her purse, knowing he was leaning on the strap. With one hard yank, Ralph was sprawled on the floor and Lois was dashing for the elevator.
Jimmy, still laughing from his vantage point on the landing, found himself squelched by the front of his shirt, and dragged into the elevator with Lois.
"Jimmy, I need you to look into Edge's background. Try and find *any* link to Mindy Church," she said, her words spilling over each other in her haste to get everything out before the elevator stopped.
"Well, sure, but—"
"No *buts*, Jimmy. You're the only one Edge hasn't been hounding." The elevator dinged, the door opened, and a disheveled Ralph was standing there—waiting. "Speaking of hounds," Lois said as she exited.
"What?" Ralph asked, rubbing the back of his head.
"The dog races, Ralph. Let's go."
"So, Clark," Linda said as she and her 'partner' moved toward the mayor's office. "Is it my imagination, or have you gotten even more handsome?"
Clark smiled faintly. "I guess being married to Lois brings out the best in me."
Linda, dodging the block, continued, "As far as I could see, Lois still seems a little jealous of me."
Clark shrugged. "She's not jealous, Linda; she's upset by Edge's illogical approach to running the Planet."
That remark stung a bit, but Linda wasn't sure if the wording was intentional or just awkward. "Are you saying I'm not worth Lois being jealous over, and that Edge's choice of *me* was illogical?"
Clark cleared his throat. "Lois knows I love her…period. So, no jealousy. When you think about it," he said, trying to sound casual. "Jealousy's just another word for 'mistrust'."
"Ah," Linda said, the dim light dawning. "And the illogical choice of me?"
Clark opened the door for Linda. "Putting The Daily Planet's best reporter on a 'dog corruption' story is *illogical*. It has nothing to do with you, Linda."
Linda became reflective. "Now that you mention it, it did seem strange that Morgan called me all the way out here like it was some big emergency."
Clark smiled knowingly. "Yep, 'strange' is exactly the word I had in mind."
"That's kinda strange-lookin'."
The goggled, lab coated form hunched over a microscope grunted at the breathy comment.
The green goo oozing out of the small vial and eating into the table bubbled a few more times, and Mindy Church backed away from it, wrinkling her delicate little nose. "Smells kinda strange, too."
Mindy glared at him, the iron in her eyes at odds with the fuzzy, tight, white angora lab coat she wore. It was enough to make the scientist in the corner straighten in discomfort.
He glanced up and his eyes widened dramatically, emphasized by the magnifying headgear he wore. "What did you do?" he exclaimed, horrified.
A sizzling, bubbling, oozing green glob finished eating through the table, and fell to the floor with a wet plop.
Mindy looked up and raised an elegantly arched eyebrow. "I did?" Her tone was flat, unaccented.
He stopped short. "Ah, well, not you … I mean, nothing you do could possibly have any … ah." He glanced down at the hole slowly forming on the floor and sighed. He reached for a small container and sifted white powder onto the mess. The hissing of the dissolving floor stopped.
"Whatcha doing now, Floyd?" Mindy's wheedling tone was back.
Floyd grinned. "I've almost perfected it! I just need the final test."
Mindy sighed and rolled her eyes. "You said that the last six times, Floyd. You haven't managed to even scratch Superman since the day before yesterday."
Floyd waved his hand dismissively. "It's a complex procedure, Mrs. Church. There are many variables, and I think I've isolated the problem I had last time."
Mindy moved to brace her hands against the table, and backed off as the green goo sizzled once more. "This is your last chance, Floyd. I've given you the sample of Kryptonite gas and I've given you the money to develop a synthesis, and I've certainly given you enough time. I want something by tomorrow."
Floyd swallowed. "Well, you see, Mrs. Church, I think I'll need a little more than…"
Mindy smiled and fluttered her eyelashes winningly. "You're such a dear, Floyd."
Jimmy pushed back from his desk and glanced over at Perry's office. Inside, two turbaned women waved sticks of incense over Morgan and sprinkled 'cleansing spring water' over the Elvis relics Perry had left behind. Jimmy idly hoped he wouldn't have to polish the water stains off the Elvis picture.
He looked down at the papers in his hands. "Very strange," he muttered for the second time, and looked around for signs of Lois or Clark. Ralph was reading over his column, his mouth moving as he scanned his computer screen, but neither Lois, Clark, or even Linda was anywhere in evidence.
Jimmy grabbed the cell phone Edge had given him, and made a dash for the elevator. He'd page Lois and Clark and meet them somewhere. He grinned. They were gonna love this.
"Perry? Should I wear the blue or the purple to Wayne Newton tonight?"
Alice walked into the front room of their suite at the Luxor holding the two dresses out in front of her. She stopped when she saw that Perry's back was to her and he didn't seem to have heard her. She lowered the hangers and looked at him, clucking silently and shaking her head. She knew from his body language and stance that he was thinking.
She tossed her dresses onto one of the chairs and walked over to him. Placing a hand gently on his shoulder, she smiled softly and interrupted his musings. "Perry?"
Perry startled and turned toward her. "Huh? Oh, Alice, honey. I'm sorry. I was … thinking."
She smiled knowingly at him. "About the Planet."
Perry answering smile sheepish. "You know me too well, darlin'."
Alice chuckled and linked her arm through his. "Old habits die hard, Perry. The Planet has been a part of your life for so long."
Perry patted her hand and led her away from the window. "And so have you, Alice. So have you."
He looked at her and smiled, the glow of years of memories and togetherness reflected in his gaze.
She brightened and reached up and patted his cheek. "So .. blue or purple?" She gestured behind Perry.
Turning, he contemplated both dresses. With a grin, he turned back to Alice, checking his watch. "We've still got time. Let's buy you something new."
Alice chuckled and fluttered her eyebrows. In her best Priscilla Presley imitation, she teased, "Why, Perry. Are you trying to spoil me?"
Perry nodded. "It's about time I started, Alice, don't you think?"
She nodded and led the way to the door. Stepping into the hallway, she turned and caught Perry taking one last look at the edition of The Daily Planet that had been delivered earlier. She frowned briefly, concerned just as much as he was that the familiar byline of "Lane and Kent" wasn't in print. He straightened and walked to join her, and she pushed her concerns to the back of her mind and smiled brightly at him.
They walked arm in arm to the elevator.
"I thought Jimmy would be here already," Lois said as she glanced at her watch.
"So did I," Clark replied as he handed her the hot dog with chili, mustard, onions, and pickles he had just purchased. "He sounded like it was pretty urgent. What did you have him researching?"
"The 'smiling cobra' and his connection to Mindy Church," Lois said in between munches.
"Mindy Church? Honey, do you really think she has something to do with this?"
"Of course she does, Clark! Your contacts at the Justice Department confirmed the Intergang connection to those so-called terrorists, right?" Clark nodded. "And there was that mysterious limo Edge got into the other day. It was registered to Costmart, remember! Another Intergang connection."
"Honey, even if Intergang is involved somehow, it still doesn't mean Mindy had anything to do with this. That car is pretty inconclusive evidence. Anyone could have borrowed it from the Costmart company lot."
"Clark, if Intergang is involved, you can bet Mindy's involved. I can feel it!"
Clark gave Lois a wry smile. "It might just be heartburn, honey."
"Very funny. Just for that remark you have to buy me another hot dog. And see if he has any hot peppers too, please."
Just then Jimmy appeared. "Hi, guys. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"That's okay, Jimmy we were just having a quick snack." Lois replied as Clark waved at Jimmy from the nearby hot dog cart. "What did you find out?" she continued.
"Well, you were right. Morgan does know Mindy Church. They met about three years ago right after he became Bureau Chief in L.A."
"I knew it!" Lois said triumphantly. "Anything else?"
"Well they were both part of a group of investors in Richard Songer's TV production company, you know the one that went belly up after churning out some shows that bombed on ABC," Jimmy responded.
Lois smirked and rolled her eyes. "What didn't bomb on that network?" she said sarcastically. Jimmy nodded in agreement. "So what else is there?"
"That's about all I could come up with before I got a call on my chemical warehouse burglaries," Jimmy said sheepishly.
"Jimmy…" Lois began menacingly.
"Don't worry, Lois. I've got some additional searches running on my computer. They should be done when I get back. If there's anything more out there I'll find it."
"Thanks, Jimmy.I knew we could count on you," Clark interjected as he returned to the park bench where Lois and Jimmy were sitting. He handed Lois a hot dog, soda and french fries. "By the way, how's that story of yours coming along?"
"It's weird, C.K."
"Yeah, it looks like there've been a string of these burglaries up and down the East Coast since Thanksgiving. No money is ever taken. Just the same set of chemicals stolen each time. "
"Someone could be using the stolen chemicals to manufacturer illegal designer drugs," Clark offered. Lois nodded in agreement.
"I came up with that angle, too, C.K., so I checked with one of the chemists down at the police lab. He said that combinining these chemicals wouldn't produce any kind of illegal drug he knew of. Take a look at the list."
Jimmy handed Clark a printout, which he perused as Lois wolfed down her second hot dog, this time with jalapeno peppers.
Jimmy gave her a pained look. "Geez, Lois. Just watching you eat that gives me heartburn."
Clark looked up from his reading. "This sure is a strange combination. I think I'll take this over to STAR Labs. Maybe Dr. Klein can figure out what anyone would want with them." He started to get up, but Lois waved her hand and tried to talk through a mouthful of hot dog.
"Mmmmmph." Clark stopped and waited till she swallowed. "Clark. He's not there, remember? He has a date with Ruth tonight, and he said he was leaving early."
"Oh. That's right. I'll take him the list before work tomorrow." He sat back down. "But something about this list worries me. It sounds sort of familiar."
"It does?" Jimmy asked.
Meanwhile, across town, Morgan Edge and Mindy Church were sitting in an isolated booth in a darkened bar. Edge was staring gloomily into his barely touched drink.
"I don't know if this is going to work, Mrs. Church. I'm having a hell of a time keeping Lois away from Mr. Stern. If she gets to him, I risk losing everything, not just my L.A. job."
Mindy batted her eyelashes, but when she spoke, it was in her no-nonsense voice. "If you don't finish what you started, I'll go to Stern myself. I think he might be very interested in that creative bookkeeping you've been indulging in in L.A."
Edge blanched. "How did you ever find out about that?"
Her voice returned to her normal bimbo-ish tones as she inspected her fingernails. "I have my ways. Now you just go back over to the Planet, and work on getting those two party poopers to quit." Her voice turned hard again. "Or you can forget all about going back to your cushy California job."
Edge gulped his drink, got up, and fled.
Lois yawned. "You know, there's nothing redeeming about coffee when there's no caffeine in it," she said to Clark as Klein perused the list of chemicals.
Clark smiled. "Well, after the baby is born—"
"I'll be nursing, and *still* can't have caffeine."
"This isn't good," Klein said, shaking his head grimly. "The chemicals are being used as 'mimics'."
Lois tried unsuccessfully not to yawn again. "Mimics?"
Klein sighed. "They're being used in combination to create a close approximation of—"
"Kryptonite," Clark said, finishing the sentence. "I *knew* the combination looked familiar."
"Yes," Klein nodded, "but the good news is that now I know the synthetic aura I've been working on will combat the formula."
Clark folded his arms. "Great, Doctor Klein. How does it work?"
Klein produced a plastic bag containing some capsules. "One of these every hour, and—"
Klein shot a reproving glance at Clark. "I'm not a drug company. It's not like I can come up with time-release cold capsules."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Klein," Clark sighed. "It's just been kind of nerve-wracking."
Lois filled a cup from the water cooler and handed it to Clark. "No time like the present," she said cheerfully.
"Oh, that's the other thing," Klein said, and swallowed audibly. "It's not an *orally* administered medication."
Clark, the picture of innocence, frowned. "Then what—" Lois started laughing as Clark's eyes widened with realization. "No. Sorry. No way!"
The elevator doors opened onto the newsroom. Lois, still finding it hard not to smile, stepped out. "Clark," she soothed. "As soon as we bust whoever's behind this, and I *still* think it's Mindy Church, you can go off the medication."
"Eight hours from now I might prefer being shot," Clark answered sourly.
"Well," she said, "Klein did give me a list of possible side-effects. I haven't looked at them yet, but he said with your unique physiology, he couldn't be sure."
"Great," Clark grumbled and took the list. "He's *got* to be kidding!"
"Who's kidding, Clark?" Linda purred, sliding up next to his desk.
Clark hid his face in his hands, then stood suddenly. "My doctor," he announced sourly, and stood. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go take my medication."
Lois half laughed, half sighed as he walked stiffly towards the exit. When he was out of sight, she swiveled back toward Linda. "What do you want, Linda?"
Linda watched her with narrowed eyes. "You aren't jealous of me, are you?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Jealous? No. Annoyed and exasperated as hell that Morgan thinks you make Clark a better partner? Yes." She smiled wryly. "But then, since he also seems to think that Ralph is as good as Clark…"
"Ralph?" Linda seemed stunned. "Ralph Munch?"
Lois cocked her head to the side. "Do you know any other Ralphs at the Planet?"
"He thinks Ralph is…" Linda shook her head slowly. "I mean, Clark's no Superman, but he's a good writer…"
Lois hid her grin and watched the wheels turn in Linda's head.
Linda eyed her sharply. "I'm being set up to sabotage the Planet again, aren't I?"
Lois nodded silently.
"And Morgan wants me and Ralph to break up your partnership."
Lois shushed her, and pointed to the office door.
Linda continued in a hushed, angry voice. "That slimy toad! He thinks I'm just as bad as Ralph! Why, even in L.A., we've heard the horror stories!" She paused, then grinned. "Well, I think I have a few words to say to management."
"You'd do that?"
Linda nodded. "I've got a debt to pay an old friend. Besides," she laughed, "What's he gonna do, fire me?"
"Who's firing who?" Jimmy asked, peeking over the divider.
Linda laughed and patted his cheek. "Morgie's gonna have a little explaining to do once I get done upstairs." She sashayed up the ramp, passing Clark with a wink.
Jimmy mouthed 'Morgie?' to Lois, then did a doubletake as Clark sat down gingerly. "Man, C.K. You're looking a little green around the gills!"
Clark sniffed at his coffee, grimaced, and pushed it away.
"Anyway, Lois, I did a little more digging into the chemical thefts, and the police have only one suspect who could have committed them all."
"Who?" Lois and Clark demanded simultaneously.
The rattling of dishes made Alice open her eyes. Turning over, she looked at the clock, surprised to see that it was already past 7 a.m. Getting out of bed, she put on her robe and walked into the other room. She went over to Perry and absentmindedly pecked him on the cheek before pouring herself a cup of coffee.
"Mornin'," she mumbled.
Perry put down The Daily Planet and smiled at her. "G'morning yourself, honey."
Alice sipped her coffee and reached for a danish, watching Perry all the while. She had lived too long with him to not recognize the signs. Perry was worried about something. And she knew what that 'something' was. She watched his eyes skim across the front page with the seasoned expertise and skill honed in a lifetime of news reporting.
She sighed silently. It was that dedication and fire that had first drawn her to Perry White so many years ago. It still drew her.
She gently put down the coffee cup. "Perry?"
He looked up. "Yeah, honey?"
"Do you want to call the Planet? Just to see how things are going?"
Alice watched him closely, seeing the momentary leap in his eyes at her offer. But, just as quickly as the look had been there, it was gone, replaced by the tender look that she had come to enjoy these past months.
Perry reached for her hand, holding it gently. "Thanks, Alice. But, this is *our* time together. The Planet can take care of itself. Lois and Clark are there. So's Edge."
Alice continued to look at him intently. "Are you sure?"
Perry smiled and stood up. Moving to her, he squeezed her hand and kissed her softly on the cheek. "I'm sure." Straightening, he cleared his throat. "Now, I'm going to go take a shower. How about afterwards you and I take in some of the more interesting sights around Vegas? I hear the Flying Elvi are in town."
She laughed softly and released his hand, watching him enter the bedroom. As soon as she heard the door to the bathroom click shut, she picked up the phone and dialed a number that she knew by heart. As she waited for the other party to pick up, she looked toward the bedroom door, a look of seriousness on her face. She hadn't been an editor's wife for so many years without picking up a few tricks of the trade.
Her attention was caught by a soft "hello" on the receiver.
"Hello? Mabel? It's Alice … Alice White. How are you, dear? How are the kids? … Good … Say, Mabel … what's the poop you hear at that lobby newsstand of yours?"
Alice listened, mentally taking notes, as Mabel told her everything that was going on in The Daily Planet building.
"OK … Thanks, Mabel … I owe you one …" She listened for a moment before chuckling. "Yes … I know … in fact we're going to go see those Elvi in a little while …"
She heard Perry's baritone singing "Viva Las Vegas" through the doorway. "I've gotta go, Mabel … thanks again."
She hung up the phone, her hand lingering on the receiver for a moment. She knew what was happening. Now she had to decide what she wanted to do.
Alice stood on the balcony, overlooking Las Vegas. Holding her breath, she could almost swear that she heard the ka-ching of the slot machines and the laughter of the people below. She smiled softly, sighing as she took in the ever-present lights.
Perry came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her. Kissing her just below the ear, he murmured softly. "Want to stay longer? I can always change our flight to Cozumel to a later …"
His words faded away as he felt Alice shake her head. Loosening his arms, he let her turn toward him. Her eyes were misty. "Alice? Honey, what is it?"
Alice looked at Perry, her hands fingering the lapels of his jacket. "We're not going to Cozumel, Perry."
Perry frowned. "We're not?"
She blinked twice and answered him with a bright smile. "No, Perry, we're not. We're going back to Metropolis."
Perry's face fell even as his arms dropped to his sides. "I see." He looked over Alice's shoulder, staring off into the distance.
Alice continued to smile as her hand reached up to turn his face back to her. "No, sweetheart. I don't think you do." She took a deep breath before she continued. "Perry Jerome White, I love you. I always have and I always will. Do you know that?"
A small smile appeared on Perry's face. "I wasn't always sure, Alice. There have been times …"
"That's all in the past," she interrupted. She looked at him, her eyes growing soft with memories. "Do you know what made me fall in love with you?"
Perry shook his head and waited for her answer.
"It was your passion, your commitment to truth and justice and honesty. There was a fire in you, Perry. And I wanted to be part of all of that."
Perry's gaze turned wistful. "Honey, what you're talking about is what drove us apart."
"Because I never realized just how much it was a part of you. Until now." She looked back over her shoulder. "This is wonderful and I've enjoyed every minute that I've spent with you." She turned back to him and smiled. "But, it's not you, Perry. And, truth be told, it's not me, either."
"Perry, I'm happiest when you're doing what you need to do. And right now, you *need* to be at The Daily Planet."
They stood there for several silent moments, staring into each other's eyes, recognizing the truth in what Alice had just said.
His small smile widening, Perry dug into his jacket pocket, pulling out a small velvet case. "I was going to wait until Cozumel, but now …"
Alice laughed merrily. "And I wasn't going to say 'Yes' until Graceland."
Perry's eyes widened in surprise before they embraced. "I love you, Alice."
"And I love you, you old hound dog."
Perry kissed her gently before slipping the diamond ring on her finger. "I promise you, Alice. This time we'll have that honeymoon."
Alice smiled. "Graceland. Finally."
They both turned toward the railing, taking in the sights and sounds of Las Vegas.
"So who is this Floyd Newcomb character?" Lois asked as she watched Jimmy's fingers playing rapidly over his keyboard.
"That's Floyd Newtrich, honey."
"Whatever. Who the heck is he and why is he after Superman?"
Jimmy's computer suddenly pinged and the screen began to scroll.
"Looks like we've hit the jackpot," he said with a wink and wolfish grin.
Clark whistled. "Very impressive, Jimmy."
"Would one of you computer mavens mind telling me what just happened?" Lois interjected.
"Jimmy just cracked Interpol's files on the elusive Mr. Newtrich."
"Keep your voice down, honey," Clark said as he cast an anxious glance in the direction of Edge's office.
"Okay, okay, so what did you find?"
"Whoa, this guy has some background. He was employed as a research chemist in LexLabs' Eastern European branch. He left there in 1994."
"That doesn't seem all that unusual."
"Yeah, but he left with the contents of their top secret files."
Clark scanned the screen. "According to this he's been on the run ever since. South America, the Mideast, Africa, you name it. Working for drug runners here, terrorist groups there."
"But what's he got against Superman?" Lois asked.
"That's an easy one to answer," Jimmy replied. "Take a look at this," he continued, pointing at the screen.
"He's related to the Newtrich harpies!"
"Yep, and don't forget big brother Gene," Clark added.
"Sheesh," Lois said as she turned and headed for the elevator.
"Honey, where are you going?"
"I'm going to go back to that hot dog vendor for some fortification. Something tells me it's going to be a long day."
Lois looked at her watch as she reached the elevator doors. She turned back to the newsroom and started to call Clark's name, but just then everyone looked up at the sound of sirens in the street outside.
Everyone ran for the windows to see what was happening except Clark, who ran toward the stairs to the roof. Lois tried to catch up with him, but heard a familiar whoosh before she could reach the first landing.
"Clark," she sighed to herself. "You didn't take your last dose of medicine." She reversed direction and hurried down to street level, starting to panic a little.
She ran into Jimmy in the lobby, and together they joined the stream of curious people heading toward a building halfway down the block that had thick black smoke pouring out of its windows.
As they reached the barricade that the police had set up, they saw Superman carrying an elderly woman out of the building. He set her down on a waiting stretcher and disappeared back into the building.
Several minutes later, he still hadn't reappeared.
Lois ran up to the fire chief and grabbed his arm. "Aren't you going to do something? Superman should have come back out by now."
The fire chief looked down at her anxious face. "I dunno, Miss Lane. Superman's usually the one doing the rescuing."
One of the other firemen came up to report that the fire seemed to be under control. Lois took advantage of the distraction and ran toward the building.
"Hey!" the chief yelled. "You can't go in there. It isn't safe."
"I have to find Superman," she yelled back over her shoulder as she disappeared into the smoke.
A firefighter in full turnout gear ran after Lois, but he was too weighted down to catch her. The moment he reached the entry, the floor collapsed in front of him. He flashed a beam into the smoke-filled building, then faced back towards the police line and shook his head.
Lois had made her way to the accounting office a second before the main flooring gave way.
"Cla..Superman!" she called, her eyes stinging from the smoke. "Superman!"
An unfamiliar voice drifted through the thinning smoke. "He's right here, Ms. Lane."
Lois squinted. "Floyd Newtrich, I presume?"
The man shook his head with admiration as he removed a field-protective mask. "You *are* the best, Ms. Lane. I always thought it was a lot of PR hype."
"Where's Superman?" Lois demanded.
Newtrich pushed a desk out of the way with his foot. Superman, barely breathing, lay on the floor, his wrists cuffed behind him.
Lois rushed to him and knelt at his side. She touched his chest. "Let him go!"
"Oh, not much chance of that, Ms. Lane," Newtrich said with an undertaker's tone of condolence. "Most of my family is in prison thanks to that caped costume."
Lois rose angrily. "Your family is in prison because they bought their own tickets there."
"A technicality," he shrugged.
Lois considered threats, then attack maneuvers, but settled on a show of resignation. She quickly brought tears to her eyes, not that they weren't already on the verge due to the smoke.
"I …I guess that means you're going to kill me too."
"That *is* what the gun is for, Ms. Lane. The gas took care of Superman."
Lois sat on the floor next to her husband and cradled his head in her lap.
"That's very touching," Newtrich said with all due false sincerity.
Lois bent forward and kissed Clark. Newtrich raised a brow. "I wish I'd brought a camera."
Lois glared up at him. "Why? You keep mementos of your murders?"
He shrugged. "No, but the National Whisper would pay a bundle."
"Get away with this," Newtrich finished the sentence. "I was waiting for that one. Oh, and don't forget 'crime doesn't pay'."
"I'm not the only one who knows you're behind this, Newtrich. *That's* why you won't get away with it," Lois said, hoping to stall for time.
"My efforts have been richly compensated, Ms. Lane. I won't be loitering. I'll be high above the city very soon. I have first class accommodations in—"
"Prison," Superman said as he broke the handcuffs. "But I will take you high over the city."
Lois leaned back and sighed. "Don't drop him like the last one, Superman," she said as Newtrich made the fruitless effort to unload his revolver at Superman.
He smiled at Lois. "I'll be right back."
Lois watched Clark =whoosh= away with Newtrich. In an instant he returned, and she leaped into his arms.
"Thanks for the kiss," he whispered. "Now we know the capsule *can* be taken orally."
"More fun that way, too."
Clark straightened his tie as he and Lois entered the city room. Police were everywhere, and Morgan Edge was being led past them as his Miranda rights were being read.
Lois sped to her desk, retrieved some papers, and handed them to the police officer. "This is my dog race corruption story. See that my editor gets to pore over it in the holding tank."
Clark looked confused, but smiled when he saw Perry back behind the desk. Alice was leaning against the plaid chair, the one she'd always hated.
"Alice," Lois said, and gave her a hug. "I didn't expect to see you two back so soon," she added, and smiled at Perry.
"Well," Perry beamed. "You can thank your stars that my fiancee was on the ball. She knew something was up at the Planet and did a little investigating of her own."
Perry picked up a pile of papers from his desk and shook his head. "I can see Edge was giving you two the run around and I'm damned proud it didn't stop you from uncovering the Intergang connection to the plot to assassinate Superman, *and* the fact it was being directed by Edge. I'm just sorry you had to go through that extra aggravation."
"There's nothing to be sorry about, Chief. We're just glad to have you back."
"That's right, Per— 'fiancee'?"
Perry blushed. "I guess you two are the first to know."
"Congratulations," Clark said, his smile so large it pushed his eyes into mere crescents.
"Thanks, Clark," Perry said, and the four seemed to end up in a group hug as Jimmy entered.
Jimmy smiled. "The chief and Alice getting remarried?"
"How in the Sam Hill—"
Jimmy laughed. "Sorry, Chief, it's just you and Alice have been kind of looking like Lois and Clark lately … except for the gray hair and stuff."
Clark laughed and patted Jimmy on the shoulder. "Always had a way with sentiment, Jimbo."
Perry cleared his throat and squared his shoulders. "Anyway, the wedding will take place on February 12th, and I *expect* you all to be there."
"Wouldn't miss it, Perry," Lois said, and put her arm around Clark's waist.
"But for now," Perry added, "back down to business. This story is first rate, kids." . "Perry," Clark said, and then glanced at Lois who smiled and nodded. "We'd like Jimmy's name on this byline, too."
Jimmy's eyes grew large, and a little misty. "For real?"
"Credit where credit is due, Jimmy," Lois said matter-of-factly. "You did most of the investigating while we were stuck with other partners."
"Speaking of which," Clark said, "what happened to Linda King?"
Perry smiled down at the headline mockup. "Seems she ratted out Morgan Edge. She's now the L.A. bureau chief."
"I can live with that," Lois shrugged.
"Not to mention it puts her three thousand miles away," Clark added.
Alice clicked shut the privacy lock to the suite, then turned and leaned against the door.
Perry smiled at her across the room as he filled their glasses with champagne. "You know, we didn't have to come back here, honey."
Alice pushed herself off the door and slipped the full crystal glass from Perry's fingers. "I know." She smiled at him. "But I saw how hard you were trying to just spend time with me, to make me feel special." She touched the rim of her glass to his. "Thank you for that."
They slowly sipped their champagne together, drifting closer to each other until they were just touching. "But the Planet is just as much my family as yours. I couldn't let Edge destroy everything you've worked for in just a few days." She stepped into his arms. "I saw that happen once before, with Luthor."
"Now, Alice …" Perry set down his glass and held her close.
"You worked so hard for the Planet, for so long, and then it all went away…" She sighed. "That's when I really lost you. I just didn't realize it for a while."
"Aww, honey, you know you're as important to me as Priscilla was to Elvis."
Alice smiled up at him and kissed him lightly on the lips. "And I love you, too. That's why I had to bring you back here. The fire in your eyes was back the moment we stepped into the newsroom."
Perry sobered and drew back a bit. "Alice, I do love you."
She shook her head. "I'm not asking you to choose between me and the Planet. We both ended up losers last time. I just want to make sure I've got your attention now and again."
"Honey, you have my full and undivided attention." He drew her back into his arms. "What say we try out the honeymoon suite here in Metropolis before we head for Graceland?"
Alice only laughed delightedly.
Lois relaxed into Clark's arms as they floated under the starry night. "I thought we'd seen the last of the Newtriches a long time ago."
Clark nuzzled her hair. "Me too. Let's just hope the side of the family that isn't behind bars doesn't suddenly develop an urge to join their cousins."
Lois sighed. "I hope so. At least Linda's back in L.A. Permanently."
Clark hmm-ed softly by her ear. "Yep."
"And Edge is safely behind bars."
Clark sighed. "Nope."
"He's out on bail."
Lois groaned. "Tell me I won't ever have to see him ever again."
Clark was silent.
Lois wriggled, and Clark turned her in his arms until they faced each other, the starlight winking in their eyes. "Then tell me something that will make the last few days of hell worthwhile."
"Well, we've proved that not even the most conniving of criminals can come between us, no matter how much Kryptonite they try to make," Clark said. Lois nodded slightly. "But the most important thing for you to know is," he continued, "I love you more every day, every hour I know you."
Lois' breath caught in her throat and she sighed and rested her head on his shoulder, tears glittering in her eyes. "Oh, Clark. You make every hour that much more special just by being here."
He landed lightly, keeping his arms around her. Murmuring softly, he lowered his head toward her. "And I intend to be here for a very long time."
Lois smiled as their lips touched. "Mmmm, I hope so."