By Judith Tylke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted May 1999
Summary: In this rewrite of the episodes "Barbarians at the Planet" and "The House of Luthor," Lois enlists the aid of a mysterious accomplice while Clark discovers that his secret may not be as secret as he thinks. Meanwhile, the duo is faced with countless obstacles as they work to uncover the darkest secrets of Metropolis's most well known philanthropist, Lex Luthor.
In cleaning up my hard drive, I found this and another story which I almost threw out since I've read some archived stories with similar plots, but found that I liked some of the phrasing of this one and was too attached to my work to just pitch it.
I had to remind myself as I reread it that this Lois and Clark were softer versions than the two who went through the trial by fire and hurt that each inflicted on the other, both in the wedding story arc and later ones. I found myself changing dialogue then switching it back later so I stopped making changes!
This story was born out of my frustration with the whole Lex/wedding arc; it drove me crazy that Lois never got a clue about Lex's true nature, and that Clark was so blindly stubborn that he would have let her marry him without telling her the truth. I've written alternate stories in a couple of different ways, so I guess I really did have some issues with it! (G). I dusted it off and brushed it up, but the format remains pretty much the same.
Many thanks to my editor Karen Ward, and my alpha reader Dawn, both of whom waded through my abysmal spelling and grammar to offer constructive critiques and edits. Thanks guys, you'll never know how much I really appreciate your help, although after reading the raw version(s) of my work you know just how much I need you!
As always, comments are welcome and really appreciated. You can mail me at email@example.com. Enjoy!
"We have to let Lex kill Clark. I don't see any other way," said Lois without preamble as Superman set her down on a mountainside high above Metropolis.
Superman was at a loss. He didn't have enough information and what little he did have had him frightened for Lois's safety, not his own. He thought back to this afternoon, the last time that he had felt even remotely in control - even then the world had been out of kilter.
He had gone to see Lois at her request at LNN and been very surprised at the job offer she had made him. It had given him hope that she really had missed him - even if it was only as her partner. The crumbs I live on, he'd thought in wry acknowledgement of his vulnerability where Lois was concerned.
Until that moment, he hadn't been sure that he was going to tell her he loved her. Once he'd seen her, he'd known. He was lost without her and felt a sense of desperation, as if this were his last chance.
Lois's reaction had surprised him; her eyes filled with tears as she said, "I do love you, but as a friend." His heart sank and it was with great surprise that he had felt Lois engulf him in a hug.
Hiding her face so she wouldn't be seen speaking, she said in a voice she hoped was low enough that it would not be overheard by those she knew were listening, "We're being watched, and if you're not careful, you'll get us both killed. Play along and, as Superman, come to my place as soon as you can."
Clark had slightly stiffened at her words, but made himself relax. His arms had wrapped automatically around her and, for a second, he allowed himself to hug her fiercely. Her next words both lit and broke his heart. "I do love you, but I don't think you really love me - how can you when you don't trust me?" They were said so softly that, if it weren't for superhearing, he would have missed them. He wasn't sure she'd meant them to be heard.
Lois pulled away from Clark and smiled blearily at him, her eyes willing him to play the role she'd assigned him. "You're my best friend, Clark. I don't want to lose that. I've missed you the last couple of weeks. That's why I offered you a job at LNN with me - I thought we could work together again."
Clark thought quickly as he absorbed her words and it sunk in that they were under scrutiny.
"Lois, you're my best friend too. I guess I was just so scared of losing that friendship that I've pushed you away lately. If you still want me to, I'll come to work with you - as long as we can be partners again. I do love you, but you're right, we are friends."
Lois eyes smiled gratefully at him while trying not to appear relieved. She needed to finish this and get away while she still had her mask in place. Clark had a way of getting past the barriers she erected and she couldn't afford to step out of character - not now.
Standing up, she extended a hand to Clark and solemnly shook his. "It's a deal, partner." Allowing her to pull him to his feet and keeping his face - he hoped - happily neutral, he said, "Deal, partner."
As they prepared to take their leave of each other at the gates to the park, Lois turned as if just remembering something, "Oh, Clark, I still want to check out that source. Do you think Superman could spare me some time tonight?"
"Sure, Lois," Clark replied easily. "I'll see if I can't get a hold of him for you."
Under the guise of looking around at the traffic with a doubtful air - as if deciding which direction to take - Clark scanned the area, watching Lois as she'd returned to the Lex Corp. Towers, which housed LNN. His lips tightened as he watched a very professional tag team follow her all the way back to the building. He also located a van, which had been parked not far from the park. It was fully loaded with some of the most extensive spying equipment Clark had ever seen. And, as Superman, he had seen some very sophisticated technology.
It had taken nearly all of his self-control to appear normal as he walked across the street and headed back toward his apartment. Waiting for a cab at the next corner, he watched carefully and found the team which followed him. Some of the members he recognized as having been part of Lois's tag team, but then they had no reason to suspect that he had seen them before, or had seen them now for that matter. Supervision wasn't something they expected of the reporter they were following.
Clark allowed himself to sink back into the seat of the cab and relax. Lex! It had to be Lex. He decided he would lose the shadow detail before he returned to his apartment - then see what Superman could find out before he went to see Lois.
Lois… Lois knows! How come she doesn't want to kill me? Is she in that much trouble? He couldn't let himself think about her - not now. When he reached a safe enough distance from the rest of the world, say 50,000 feet or so, he'd allow himself to think about what she'd said - but not here. Not when his reactions might be seen.
Lois returned to her apartment a little before six and immediately turned to what had become a nightly routine. Going to the kitchen, she poured herself a glass of wine and carried it and the day's mail, as well as her purse, with her into the bathroom. She set the tub to running and poured in her favorite bath salts. The water was as hot as she could stand it. She was taking a lot of truly scalding showers and baths lately; spending time with Lex made her feel soiled, but she had no choice, and so spent hours in the water after her encounters with him.
After carefully closing the bathroom door behind her - another newly acquired habit - she drew a small pocket radio/miniature cassette recorder out of her purse and set it carefully on the counter. Turning it on, she rotated the dial on the side and watched the tiny LCD display as the numbers first fluctuated and then stabilized. Sighing as she released the breath she hadn't known she was holding, she relaxed for the first time that day.
No new bugs, she thought relievedly. It was a constant nightmarish fear that she carried that even here she wouldn't be safe from Lex's scrutiny. Peeling off her clothes and letting them lie over the cover of the hamper, she climbed into the water, wincing as her skin came into contact with the scalding water. As her body adjusted to the temperature and she felt her muscles and bones relax, she slipped lower into the tub and rested her head against the back rim.
I have to tell Clark everything tonight, she thought with a sigh, a tear running down her cheek as she contemplated the evening ahead. Damn him. How could he have lied to me for all this time? How can he say he loves me when he doesn't trust me? The same way that you could love him without trusting him enough to let him into your life, her internal voice answered with devastating honesty.
She was hurt, and angry with both herself and him. But after nearly two weeks of living with the fear that there was no way to save herself, much less Clark, she was strangely relieved and reassured now that he would know the truth. There was a way out of Lex's tangled web, and together they would find the way - and live to tell about it. We'll have to wait to sort out our relationship till after we've dealt with Lex. Clark loves me, he said so, and he wouldn't lie about that - not now.
A part of her had always known that he loved her, but her own fear of commitment had buried that knowledge - and her own feelings for her partner. Lex's threat to kill Clark had forced her to acknowledge just how deeply she felt. Figuring out that Clark was Superman had explained so much about him, and left her feeling like she had never really known him.
She relaxed in the tub for nearly an hour, letting her mind float into pleasant daydreams of a world without Lex Luthor, before rousing herself enough to climb out of the tub and wrap herself in her robe. Going through to her bedroom, she chose a pair of warm heavy jeans and a t-shirt. Carrying that along with her underwear back into the bathroom, one more newly acquired habit, she dressed. It still rankled that before she realized that she was being watched she had dressed where ever she liked and walked around her apartment stark naked on more than one occasion - providing her watchers with an unwitting peep show. She had felt so violated when she had discovered the extent of Lex's surveillance. Now it was just one more thing to make him pay for - and pay he would.
In the bathroom, she finished putting on her boots and gathered up in a backpack the tapes and tiny tape recorder from her purse. Adding her wallet, she was ensuring she hadn't forgotten anything when she heard a familiar swoosh in her living room. She went through to find him standing by the window.
"Superman! Hi! Your timing is great, I'm just about ready, are you sure you can manage the time for this?" She spoke brightly, babbling on as she felt suddenly nervous. "I really appreciate your helping me like this.
"Hi, Lois, I don't mind at all, you know that I like to help you and Clark whenever I can." He smiled in genuine pleasure at seeing her.
He had hovered over her whereabouts since late this afternoon. High over her building he had located one by one the bugs in her apartment. Noting the placement of each he realized that had the bathroom door been open the peeper would have been afforded a view directly into the room. Sending a beam of laser vision directly into the tiny camera he fried all its processors. He noted with satisfaction the tiny plume of smoke which rose from the device.
He had located similar bugs in both the Lex Corp. Towers and Lois's car. With those and the surveillance teams, Lex was watching her every move. My God, no wonder she's been acting strangely lately. But why didn't she come to me? He wasn't sure exactly which me he meant at the time.
He wasn't surprised to find areas of Lex Corp. Towers which where impervious to his vision. Lex knew that Superman suspected what Lex really was and had obviously taken measures to prevent any super snooping.
It had seemed like hours had passed since he had stationed himself above her building. He spent the time alternately watching out for Lois, except for one peek, to assure himself that she was okay he rationalized, he had not looked insidethe bathroom again. Reliving the last two weeks and the chain of seemingly never-ending disasters which had occurred, he looked for clues to what was going on. All he got was more confused. He was just starting to get impatient when he saw Lois leave the bathroom to gather her clothes.
Waiting another ten minutes he had swooped down to her apartment and flown in the window.
Looking at her standing before him, fresh from her bath and still with a warm flush to her skin, he thought she'd never looked more beautiful. He felt a wave of protective anger wash over him; he would not allow anything to happen to her. He would stop Lex if it killed them both.
Lois had begun to relax under Superman's easy smile but as a grim and angry look passed over his face she shivered. "We should get going," she said and anyone who didn't know her as well as Clark did wouldn't have heard the note of fear in her voice.
As they had flown away from her window Clark felt Lois relax in his arms, "Where do you want to go?" He'd asked, willing to take her wherever she wished.
"Anywhere that's at least fifty miles away from anything remotely connected with Lex. As far as I know that's the farthest range of his army of bugs." She said the words with such disgust that Clark tightened his arms in sympathy. He was unprepared however when Lois, who normally looked around in enjoyment while flying with him, dropped her head onto his shoulder and closed her eyes.
"I don't care where we go, Clark, just take me somewhere where no one can watch me. I'm so tired of being watched." Her tone spoke heavily of emotional exhaustion and Clark was silent for the rest of the trip.
It didn't surprise him to be addressed by his name. He'd known since that afternoon that Lois somehow had figured it out. He wasn't quite ready to deal with the ramifications of that and so had been happy to focus on Lex Luthor.
He carried her to a favorite spot high up on the mountain range which sat behind the city. Setting her down gently, he'd been expecting anything but "We have to let Lex kill Clark…"
"Clark, did you hear me? You hoo! Earth to Clark!" Waving a hand in front of his face, Lois was looking at him anxiously. He's not bugging out on me is he? Lois wondered.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I just don't know what you are talking about." Gesturing to a pair of large flat stones he indicated they should sit. Once Lois was comfortably settled Clark said softly, "Now, please tell me what's going on."
The look in his eyes was almost her undoing. Lois had to blink back tears and take a deep breath to steady herself.
"Lex Luthor has tried to kill Clark at least twice that I know of since last week, but both attempts have failed. The first because I knocked the poisoned drink out of your hand and all over your desk, remember?" She reminded him of an incident which had occurred shortly before the explosion at the Daily Planet. Seeing recognition in his eyes, she continued, "The milk at your place the other day that I poured down the sink?"
He nodded, remembering how strangely she'd behaved, "It was poisoned too?"
She nodded, "I knew you'd had some and l was terrified. I'd been having nightmares about Lex getting rid of you too somehow, and it seemed like my nightmare was coming true." She shuddered then rose and began pacing in front of him. "When you didn't even get sick, I thought maybe I had reached you in time and that you hadn't ingested enough of the stuff to hurt you. Later, when I listened to a conversation between Asabi and Lex, I realized that even a small amount of the poison should have killed you. I started putting two and two together and finally came up with four instead of five."
He flushed slightly at her accusing glare.
"If we don't let Lex think he's finally killed you he'll figure it out too and we may lose all chance of getting out of this."
"Lois, I understand why Lex hates Superman, but why does he hate Clark so much? Except for not really liking him, Clark's never done anything to him. I even saved his life, remember?"
She looked at him for a minute and he found himself having a hard time interpreting the look in her eyes.
"Because of me," she said flatly. "Because he has decided to put me on his mantelpiece and show me off to the world. After, of course, he has changed me to suit his needs. If that involves killing the people I love the most, well, that's a small price to pay. Besides, killing gives Lex a lot of pleasure."
Clark looked at her with dawning horror. She shrugged and continued in the same flat tone.
"I heard Nigel talking to Asabi. Nigel asked him why Lex was so dead set on having me. Asabi told him that Lex had been exposed to a full strength 100% pure dose of that pheromone spray. It seems Miranda was trying to rekindle a flame that had died for Lex long ago. When it didn't make him fall in love with her she walked out and left him vulnerable. I was the unlucky lady who he felt enough attraction to for the pheromone to take affect, and now and for the rest of his life he'll be obsessed with me. They both agreed that Lex was too valuable to kill, at least right now, they still needed him. So they decided that they would help Lex to 'get me' since that might be the only cure for his madness, and if it didn't, they could always kill me. We're not real to these people, Clark. They talk about killing us and manipulating us as if we were just pawns on their chess board - we have no meaning for them."
Clark was appalled. He'd no idea what was really happening with Lois and Lex. He had been jealous of Lex, and had let his jealousy show to Lois. He had been angry with her for not seeing through Lex Luthor the public face to the private villain Clark knew him to be. High above Metropolis, he had admitted to himself that it was at least partly his fault that Lois had not seen through Lex.
Clark had no way of substantiating his suspicions about Lex to Lois and so he had managed only to drive a wedge between them with what Lois perceived as petty jealousy. His pride had prevented him from going to her as Superman. And from telling her you are Superman, his conscience had reminded him.
He knew that if Lois had known that he was Superman - or had he pursued a relationship with her as Superman - she never would have been with Lex. Her feelings for Superman would have insured that. He could also have gone to her as Superman and told her his suspicions about Lex. He had been able to argue with himself at the time that it would have been unfair and manipulative to do so.
He admitted somewhat grimly to himself that in reality it had been his pride that had stopped him. He 'd known that if he did he would never be sure which part of him Lois loved more, and he had desperately wanted, needed to know that Lois saw and loved the man and not just the hero.
He wanted to protect her as much or more than himself, but in the end he'd put her in greater danger than she had ever been in before. A psychotically obsessed Lex Luthor didn't bear thinking about - it scared the hell out of him and Lois had born this alone.
Lois watched the conflicting emotions pass across Clark's face. Part of her wanted to rant and rave at him for pride or protectiveness or any other of the dozen reasons she had come up with for his not telling her who he really was. Her innate honesty had made her admit that her attitude toward Superman and dismissal of Clark as anything but a working partner, along with her derision of his farm boy status, had contributed to the problems that had led them here. She'd winced more than once, had wanted to hide from the world, when she realized some of the retrospectively very embarrassing things she had said.
She was also deeply hurt that he had not trusted her. She had kept Superman's secrets before. Did he really think she wouldn't have kept this one? But they didn't have time - if Lex won, there would be no future for either of them, together or apart.
"Clark, " she called his attention back to her gently, "We don't have time for guilt or anger or any of that. I can't stay gone long and there is still a lot you don't know that you need to. We'll have to work out us later." She sighed and the love and hurt in her eyes made Clark ache. "We have to stop Lex first; otherwise, no matter how much we love each other there won't be an us."
Clark stood and stepped close to her. He hugged her, then pulled away to rest his forehead against hers. "I do love you, and we will have a future together," he whispered.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him in return. "I love you too," she answered just as softly, "and I mean you - Clark - not just Superman."
He buried his face in her hair and held her tightly. She did understand how important it was that he be accepted as Clark. He hadn't known it was possible to love someone as much as he loved the woman in his arms and he swore that he would never hurt her again or let her be hurt by anyone. For the first time in his life Clark felt himself capable of killing, he would kill to protect her, or give up his own life, if that's what it took to keep her safe.
They stayed together like that, giving and receiving comfort from their closeness for several minutes before Lois raised her head and released her hold on him stepping back to look up into his face.
"Tell me the rest of it, and we'll figure out what to do." Clark spoke reassuringly. "Start from the beginning."
Lois drew a deep breath and thought back to the night that this had begun, for her at least. She had been out with Lex at lunchtime and had then gone to an interview with a local councilman that she was writing a piece on. Going directly home from there, it had been very late when she had finished the interview, she had settled in to enjoy a much anticipated evening at home.
It was while she was cleaning out her purse that she had found the tiny bug at the bottom of the bag. She recognized the little black button from a series she and Clark had done on corporate spying. It was a very sophisticated piece of equipment. She had been confused, nothing she had been working on warranted having her bugged and her mind seethed with supposition and anger. Someone had bugged her!
After wrapping the bug in a plastic bag, she dropped it in an antique snuffbox that she knew to be made at least in part by lead. She placed a phone call, phrasing her words carefully - she didn't know if there were other bugs in her apartment, and didn't want to alert whoever might be listening that she had found one of them. The man she had called promised to call back with the information she needed. She had dressed to go out while she waited for the return call. When it came, she left to go to the address she'd received from the second phone call.
Paranoia is your friend, she reminded herself grimly as she realized that she was being followed. It wasn't hard to lose the tail once she reached the twisting and turning streets which lined one of the poorer areas of town. Pulling sharply in behind an old house, she had watched for a few minutes to insure that they didn't locate her again.
Driving to the house of an old friend, she parked her jeep in the garage and arranged to borrow Maggie's car. Maggie had once been on the streets and had helped Lois to bust a particularly vile pimp who'd been beating up the working girls in the area. Maggie and the other girls had, at Lois's suggestion, bought this old house and started their own business. They had been of help to Lois more than once since then.
It was nearly an hour drive to reach the large wood frame house set well back from the road. When she rang the bell, Lois noted the video camera which was part of the security system. When a disembodied voice had asked for her name and a look at her credentials she complied, holding her ID up to the camera she said, "I was told you would be expecting me."
There was no response but the door sprung open electronically. As she stepped through the doorway, the same voice instructed her to proceed down the hallway to a stairwell which accessed the basement. Once there the same voice, without electronic enhancement this time, called out to her from a doorway on the left of the large room she found herself in.
She entered the room and found herself in an electronic wonderland. The central area was taken up by a large horseshoe shaped table covered with computers, scanners and other devices which she did not immediately recognize.
It looks like something out of Star Trek, she thought bemusedly. Manny said this guy was plugged in to the technological world, but it looks as if he runs the technoworld. She was startled by a voice which addressed her from the corner behind her.
"Sorry, I didn't greet you at the door Ms. Lane. My leg is bothering me and I didn't want to go up the stairs; I'm not normally that rude."
The voice was cultured and deep, faintly accented and it belonged to a large man with the dark skinned finely chiseled features of the Middle East. He stood from his chair and extended a hand to her, as she shook it she noted the cane with which he stood.
"No problem," she assured him.
"You can call me David." His dark eyes twinkled at her. "Manny has told me that you are quite adept at keeping secrets and since I'm a fan of your writing, I've made an exception to my normal 'no visitors' rule."
"You don't have to worry, David. I was never here," she smiled in return.
"Well then, as one ghost to another, how can I help you?" he asked getting down to business.
She handed him the bug she'd found. "I put it in a lead box so that it couldn't transmit anything, but it's still live. You may want to turn it off, if you can."
"Thank you for your concern, but believe me when I say that no one, not even Superman can hear what happens here. I once spent some time in the spying business. You'd be amazed at how paranoid that makes one."
She laughed and watched in fascination as he proceeded to drop the bug into a machine, then wheel the table on which it sat into place so that sitting at the center of the area formed he need only spin in his chair to access any of the controls.
He glanced up, caught the look on her face and laughed somewhat self-consciously. "Pretty cool, yes? I couldn't resist when I built this place. I'd fantasized about a setup like this since I was a kid so I figured why not?"
Lois was dying to ask him why he'd retired but she said instead, "I'm not sure which I envy most - the control center or the fact that you know how to use it all."
He grinned at her, pleased that she appreciated his toys. "Let's figure out who is trying to listen in on you, shall we?"
It took some time; David made adjustments to dials and readouts as he attempted to triangulate where the tiny transmitter was sending its signal. The shielding of the house would prevent the signal from reaching its destination, David had explained genially, but it would be possible to pinpoint the signal destination within a few feet. Lois had expressed surprise at the accuracy and he'd grinned again, a dark genie surrounded by his tools of magic. "Don't get me started," was all he'd say.
When some minutes later he looked up at Lois with a speculative eye, she felt her stomach clench, this was not going to be good.
"What have you done to incur the interest of Lex Luthor?"
"Lex?" She was stunned and stammered her answer in a tone that told David more than her words did. "Lex and I are just friends. We go out to lunch or dinner, sometimes a show, but it's nothing serious. Why would he bug me?"
"You do realize that you are 'friends' with one of our nations darkest criminal figures."
"What are you talking about?" Lois was totally confused - nothing made sense.
So David proceeded to tell her everything that he knew, and could prove if needed, he emphasized, about Lex Luthor. By the time he was finished, Lois was white and shaking. How could she have spent time with Lex and not felt something wrong with him in spite of his charm?
"Don't waste your time feeling badly about not seeing through him, my dear," he finished kindly. "Part of what makes Lex Luthor so dangerous is his ability to blend utterly into his cover, a rich, charming, gentleman who uses his wealth in philanthropic ways. You are not the first, and unless we can figure out why he's after you and stop him, you will not be the last to be taken in."
"We?" she asked in surprise.
"Well, you have as much help as I can give you from inside this room. But let me assure you, my dear, that is a not inconsiderable offer."
"Why are you offering to help me? If you can prove everything you told me you should be able to stop Lex on your own."
"Because I don't want the attention. My retirement was not entirely my choice and I can't afford my whereabouts to be widely known. There is no danger but there are some people who would not approve of my toys and I'd rather they didn't find me. You provide me with the perfect cover, as a journalist, you can claim that you came by the information during your investigation and ascribe the more arcane parts to an anonymous unnamed source. You're perfect. Besides," his smile hardened into something that made Lois profoundly glad that he was on her side. There was a very dangerous man living in the congenial techno wizard exterior. "Lex Luthor once crossed my path, and, as easily as swatting a fly, he destroyed someone I cared for. You, Ms. Lane, are a Godsend. You've no idea how much it would mean to me to be allowed to help you."
Lois agreed, thanking him for wanting to help whatever his motivations. David proceeded to show her how to use two new gadgets that he pulled out of a cabinet. The first, the miniature tape recorder/radio, was also a scanner which would detect any further bugging devices, audio as well as video, he had assured her. The second was a secure encrypted cell phone, no bigger than her palm, which was preset to call a special number. David claimed not even the President's line to Moscow was more secure than this phone.
They set a time to meet the following day. David said he would have more information for her by then and that, even if she found her apartment or office bugged, she should act normally.
"You'll have to be very careful, you know. If Lex suspects that you are on to him, he may act rashly," he warned her in parting. "Are you sure you want to go against him?" The determination he saw in her pleased him and he nodded in affirmation, "You'll do, lady, you'll do."
When Lois returned home, she set about finding any other 'visitors' Lex might have planted in her apartment. Putting the head phones on, she played with the settings on the tape player. Hoping that it would appear that she was trying to dial in a suitable radio signal she wandered from room to room, ostensibly changing into her nightclothes and tidying up as she wandered.
What she found scared and angered her; each room was bugged - with the exception of the bathroom. She noted with disgust the placement of the camera which monitored her bedroom - it afforded a view of everything that happened when the bathroom door was open. Two for the price of one, she thought with a shudder, feeling violated.
She went to bed that night and huddled under the covers, wondering if the camera could pick up her shaking or hear the near silent tears which rolled down her cheeks and soaked her pillow.
She managed to go to work that morning and appear normal. A quick scan of the office area revealed no bugs, but with all the people who came and went from the newsroom, especially on a busy newsday, Lex could have just paid for someone to watch her instead.
She found herself looking forward to telling Clark. She needed to tell him all about it, even if it meant eating crow and admitting he had been right about Lex. But Clark was out of the office when she had arrived at work and somehow through the day they missed seeing each other as Perry sent them on separate stories. Lois found that it was time to leave for her meeting with David and she still hadn't seen Clark.
Shrugging off her feelings of disappointment, she went to meet with David. She checked her car and found nothing there the day before. After last night however Lois was taking no chances and she scanned the jeep again before getting in. Still clean, she breathed with a sigh of relief.
She drove to a local restaurant, nodding to the proprietor who was an old friend, and who had provided her with a place to hide out more than once. Correctly interpreting her signal, he wordlessly raised the top of the counter and motioned her through. Escorting her to a door which gave access to the kitchen he asked only, "How far behind you are they?
"I'm not even sure they're there, but it's a good bet and safer is better."
"I'll let you know." He nodded and returned to his station.
After leaving via the back door she walked a couple of blocks and hailed a cab.
David, she noted without surprise, appeared to have slept in his clothes. And probably in his chair, she thought with some amusement. He didn't notice her tiny smile at his appearance and was very excited to tell her what magic he had wroth.
She listened as he babbled on about how he adapted the bug to passively pick-up signals from its original transmission site and feed them directly into his computer, and how he had recorded several hours already onto tape cassettes which would play on the machine he had given her the night before. "This stuff is dynamite, Lois. We only get snatches of some of the conversations, the range is more limited than in the original and if I try to boost it they will detect what we're doing, but what I am hearing…" He shook his head, "WOW!"
"Lex Luthor has really got an obsession where you are concerned. It's got his Lieutenants very upset. He went ballistic when he discovered you'd dropped out of surveillance. He ranted for several minutes and then told Asabi to put another team on you today. You took precautions, did you not?" He asked with a raised brow.
Lois nodded and told him about the bugs in the apartment and her suspicion that the spy in the office was one of flesh and blood. "I left all the bugs in place, and from what you've told me, it's a good thing I did."
David rose from his consoles and crossed to a cabinet at the back of the room. Taking out a small lipstick sized metal tube he handed it to her and told her that from now on they should use the cell phone to communicate. Explaining that no bug could pick up any sounds from the room in which the device was activated, he told her somewhat humorously that he had programmed this one to transmit the sound of running water, so the bathroom was perfect. "Once you're in the bathroom with the door closed and this on, no one will be able to hear our conversations. They'll just think that you're taking a shower."
She grimly accepted the tube and placed it in her purse along with the tapes he handed her. "I tried to edit out the dead air. There's a lot of it because we have to wait for people to come in range. The good news is this is an ear directly into the inner sanctum. They have no reason to think anyone can hear them and they speak quite freely," he told her. "It may take a few days to piece enough information together to do you any good. Can you hang on that long?"
"As long as I have to." She would not be beaten by Lex Luthor.
"There's something else you should know; there are two men around you that Lex is itching to get rid of. The first is your partner Clark Kent; the other is Superman. What you do about it is up to you - I can't make that call. It's up to you how much you tell them and I'll trust your judgment on telling either of them of my involvement. I've labeled the tape in red and the conversation between Asabi and a guy by the name of Nigel talking about Lex's obsession with you is on that one as well. Do you know who Nigel is?" The intentness of his gaze made her wonder at the importance but she answered willingly enough.
"I think the name is Nigel St. John. I've only met him once, but I didn't like him. Why?"
"His voice sounds familiar, I can't place it and I was hoping that his name might ring a cord that the voice didn't." He shook his head, dismissing it as unimportant for the time being; he would remember eventually. "You had better go. Unless something urgent comes up, I'll expect you to call tomorrow night. If I need to contact you I'll call your beeper and you can call me back when it's safe."
She thanked him again for all his help but he brushed away her words and reminded her solemnly to be careful. "You've attracted the attention of the human equivalent of the white shark and he knows the water better than you."
"I'll be all right. I'll do whatever I have to do to protect the people I care about." She was deeply disturbed by the news that both Clark and Superman had been targeted. Superman could take care of himself, but Clark was defenseless. She badly needed to hear what was on the tape so she could decide what to do. "I'll call you tomorrow," she said.
The look in her eye made David wonder if Lex Luthor really knew what kind of woman he was tangling with. I wouldn't get between her and someone she loved; she might go down but she'd take out the threat on the way - or die trying. This last thought had been a reminder of another woman with similar fire, and it was with sadness that he bid Lois farewell.
She listened to the tapes in the cab on the way back into the city and what she heard chilled her blood and terrified her beyond measure. She found the tape with the red label and listened to it first. The first voice she made out was Lex's as he entered the room. There was the sound of keys being tapped on a keyboard in the background and they hesitated before resuming their soft clicking as Lex began to rant.
Lex was enraged that the bug which had been slipped into her purse had suddenly stopped transmitting. "It was supposed to fill in the gaps in her activity. How am I supposed to know what she's doing when she slips away from her apartment or the office? She is mine, damn it, and I will know everything about what she does. After all," his voice softened to a chillingly caressing tone, "how can I steer her clear of any bad influences if I don't know about them?"
He carried on that way for several minutes before instructing Asabi to put a surveillance team on Lois. He especially wanted to know if Lois saw Clark outside of the office. He didn't entirely believe Lois when she said they were just friends - it was something about the way she talked about him, he mused. "No matter, my beloved Lois can not possibly prefer that backward farm hand to me. But he might give the wrong idea about me to Lois and I can't have that, can I?"
The sounds of Asabi and Lex conferring drifted away and the tape went quiet for a moment. Suddenly the voices of Nigel and Lex could be heard discussing a green glowing rock that someone had finally located for them. This rock would insure that Lex could rid himself of Superman, the only rival, as Lex saw it, to his affections and a thorn in his side where his business operations were concerned.
Lois's heart sank as she realized they were speaking of kryptonite. So much for going to Superman for help; I can't ask him to do anything that will get him killed. And kryptonite, she knew, was the only thing so far discovered that would kill Superman. Maybe I should go to Clark for help in protecting Superman, she thought whimsically. She missed Clark, and she badly needed to share with him what was going on. But she didn't dare let on just how much having him around meant to her.
She missed part of the conversation Nigel and Asabi were having about Lex's obsession with her. She rewound the tape to catch the beginning of the conversation. What she heard further depressed her. If Lex was under the influence of the pheromone compound, then Lois knew from first hand experience how strongly obsessed it could make you. She had been exposed to a diluted form, Lex had received a full strength solution, which meant that it would not be wearing off. There was no telling how far something so potent would push an already psychotic man. The thoughts Lois was having chilled her blood a lifetime of running from Lex?
Unaware of the cab driver watching her in the rear view mirror her face had spoken the horror of her thoughts, "Lady," he said kindly when she stopped at his window to pay the fare, "you should stop listening to them books on tape, if they're gonna upset ya like that."
Giving the man a smile, Lois tipped him generously and said she would consider it. Retrieving her car from the restaurant, she spoke briefly with the proprietor. Yes, she had been followed, but they had given up on her return almost an hour before. "They stuck a bug on your car, I took it off and left it in the parking space. When you leave it will take them awhile to realize that the car ain't still parked there." He had told her gruffly. Thanking him, she slipped him a fifty and departed.
The next morning, she was nowhere close to a solution. She had been at work for nearly an hour before she saw Clark and even then she hadn't known what, if anything, to tell him. If he became a nuisance to Lex, Clark's life was forfeit, and it had been nightmares of Clark dying by various methods which had haunted her sleep.
That night she and Lex had a long-standing date, and she was loath to go but could find no way of getting out of it without arousing suspicion. When he asked her to marry him, she was stunned and didn't know what to say. Her evident confusion had been misinterpreted by Lex as girlish nerves. He was very gracious about giving her time before requiring an answer.
It was the next morning that the news of Lex's takeover of the Planet was announced. Lois was stunned and struggled to keep her true feelings off of her face. When Clark began talking about not trusting Lex she had been nearly paralyzed with fear. She had no choice but to defend Lex to Clark and pray that he would shut up. She wound up blurting out Lex's marriage proposal, and was more wounded than she thought possible by the look of hurt in Clark's eyes at the news.
Tartly she told him to mind his own business and secretly wished she could share all of what was going on. She walked away and spent the morning avoiding Clark's accusing glare as Lex made change after change to the paper. It was nearly lunch when her beeper went off and she made an excuse to go out. Calling David from the back of a cab chosen at random from a stand, she was horrified to hear him tell her that Lex had arranged for Clark to be poisoned when he next took lunch from the office caterer. Lex made it appear as if the caterer who normally serviced their floor had won a trip to Florida, and replaced her with someone loyal to him. "He called it just one more lunch box surprise. He's got something else up his sleeve but I don't know what yet." She thanked David and instructed the cab driver to return her to the Daily Planet, surprised at how normal she sounded.
She hurried back to the newsroom only to find Clark out. She was about to ask where he was when she spotted him coming down the ramp and heading for his desk, a soda, sandwich and some chips balanced in his hands. Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears as Lois deliberately brushed against the soda aiming it for the sandwich and chips which Clark was arranging on his desk. She noted with satisfaction that the lunch was ruined - although she apologized profusely to Clark. She offered to buy him lunch to makeup for ruining his but he waved her off with a slightly disgusted look on his face.
I did it this time, but how can I stop Lex from killing Clark? she wondered as she returned to her desk.
Then the Planet exploded and Lois was once again left feeling helpless. David provided the evidence she needed to put Lex behind bars, but without the Planet, Lois had no forum to release the information. Lex reached deeply into the halls of Justice and there was no one that Lois would trust with this.
She also had to prove Lex's involvement in the explosion and the downfall of the Planet. He had destroyed the lives of the people she worked with and the only way to restore what was taken was by proving it was taken. Since Lex had done it all just to get to Lois, she felt responsible for what had happened and was determined to fix everything. Jack's arrest for the bombing only strengthened her resolve. She knew Lex was the culprit, but couldn't prove it yet, she told herself as she watched Jack being led away in handcuffs.
She knew Clark would not drop the issue, especially with Jack in jail, and when David called to tell her that a second attempt on his life had been ordered, she had seriously debated telling him the truth. But when she realized that he would not die from the poison he had ingested, and why, she needed more time. She was stunned - it took a gallon of double fudge chocachocolate chip and a sleepless night before she knew that she had to talk to Clark - the fact that Clark was Superman changed everything and nothing.
Her relationship to him was in question on more levels than she was ready to look at, but the threat to his life still existed and now that threat encompassed Superman's identity, and his ability to live a remotely normal life. Lois recognized it as a primary motive for a secret identity. It was something that she had often wondered about; did Superman have friends and family - people to go to when he needed help or reassurance?
She certainly had never expected the answer to that question to be what it was. She wondered if some of the conversations they had about Superman had been Clark looking for reassurance that Superman couldn't ask for himself.
She wanted Clark to work with her at LNN, hoping to have an opportunity to let Clark know what was happening. It would also provide a ready-made excuse for them to spend time together that Lex couldn't question. She suspected that his agreement to her suggestion that she offer Clark a job at the studio was in the nature of 'holding your enemies close'. And she wondered if he realized that there was more danger in her than in Clark right now. Hating him, she endured his kiss on her cheek and went to call Clark, wishing she could take another shower; dealing with Lex made her feel grubby and soiled.
"When you told me this afternoon that you loved me, I'm sure that Lex was listening and I doubt that the 'let's be friends and partners only speech' will stop him from trying to kill you again. The only solution I can think of is to let him think he's succeeded. You'll then be at least free to keep an eye on Lex because, despite David's best efforts, he hasn't been able to discover what Lex is planning to do with the kryptonite. Once we've gotten it away from Lex, you can take him to the police, and Clark can come out of hiding." She finished and sighed deeply - she was exhausted.
She'd spoken for nearly an hour solid. Clark asked few questions, recognizing her need to tell it all. He marveled at her ability to tell a story; she made everything which had not fit fall into place. It explained so much that had confused him.
The knowledge that Lois had tried to protect him both as Clark and as Superman humbled him in a way he'd never felt. He had lied to her in order to protect his secret and, even knowing that, she had tried to protect him at great personal risk. He was under no illusions about Lex Luthor or the things he was capable of… Don't go there now - you can't help Lois if you go there, he warned himself as he felt his anger at Lex rise.
During the course of her storytelling, Lois resumed pacing, but as she reached the end of her tale, she'd begun to run out of energy and sank to the stone next to where he'd settled to listen. He looked at her now, spent emotionally as well as physically, and came to a decision which would suffice for the night at least. Reaching out and taking her hand, he stood and pulled her gently to her feet, picking up the backpack with his other hand.
"The first thing we're going to do is get you somewhere that Lex would never look to find you. You need to get a good night's sleep. You're out on your feet and you know it." He'd held a finger up warningly when she opened her mouth to protest. "You know I'm right. Besides, we have to do some planning and you're not in any shape for that right now. We can talk in the morning before we go back to Metropolis, and we'll work out what you can tell Lex about where you've gone." He brushed a knuckle down her cheek softly, "You've been trying to take care of me all this time - it's my turn now."
The love in his eyes and the concern in his voice warmed her. "Clark, I've got to go back." She tried to protest, but stopped when she found herself swept up into his arms again.
She simply rested her head on his shoulder and gave in to the need to rest and let someone else be in charge for awhile. She was asleep before they crossed the New Troy State line.
He took her to the most healing place he knew - his parents' farm. Going directly to his old bedroom, he deposited her on the bed and covered her with his old quilt. Looking down at her, his eyes filled with a sheen of tears which he blinked away as he bent to kiss her gently on her forehead, "I love you, Lois. I'll protect you, I promise."
He spun into some old clothes he'd left there for sudden visits, and took the backpack with him. He would start with the most recent tapes that Lois had not yet listened to. He went downstairs and headed to the kitchen where he could hear his father making a late night snack.
Clark came awake suddenly - something was wrong. He turned in mid-air where he had been floating in his sleep. Lois was tossing and turning in her sleep, mumbling unintelligibly. Sinking down to the bed, Clark gathered her in his arms and whispered soothing words until she quieted and slipped into deep sleep again.
He'd returned to his bedroom after listening to the tapes they had made him feel even more protective about Lois and even more apprehensive about what Lex would do next. Lois had been sleeping peacefully then, and he had been content to lie in the air and gaze at her before falling asleep himself.
He allowed himself to drop off to sleep again, finding as much comfort as he gave from the body snuggled against his and the head on his chest.
Lois came awake slowly reveling in the feeling of refreshment and relaxation she felt. It seemed like months since she'd woken feeling anything but dread for the day ahead. She'd woken when Clark had gotten up out of bed. Protesting the loss of warmth she asked sleepily where he was going, it was still dark outside.
"I'm just going to help Dad with the morning chores," he told her soothingly as he bent down to give her a gentle kiss. "Go back to sleep. You don't have to get up yet."
Smiling she'd snuggled back under the covers and drifted back to sleep. The sun was up now and the smell of coffee was in the air. She heard the porch door open and close and the murmur of voices, Clark and Jonathan as they walked across the yard.
Getting up, she found the sweat suit Clark had left draped over the end of the bed for her. In the bathroom she found fresh towels, a new toothbrush, soap and deodorant had all been laid out for her. There was a note from Clark telling her to help herself to whatever else she needed and to come down for breakfast when she was ready signed "love, CK". She stared at the note for a minute, a smile curving her lips, then she shook her head and started the shower.
When she went downstairs, she found Martha alone in the kitchen sitting at the table drinking coffee and making out a shopping list.
"Good morning, dear," Martha greeted her warmly when she looked up to see Lois in the doorway. Rising she gave Lois a hug and a kiss and steered her toward a chair, "Sit down, honey, and I'll get you some coffee."
She overrode Lois's protestation that she didn't need to be waited on with, "Nonsense, it's no trouble at all. Have this and then I'll warm up some breakfast for you. There's plenty left and I promised Clark I'd make sure you ate."
"He told you, didn't he? About Lex?"
"Yes, he did." Putting the cup of coffee on the table and settling down in her chair again, she reached across the table to hold Lois's hand comfortingly. "I'm so sorry, honey, that you've had to go through all that alone. You're not alone anymore. I want you to know that. You got us and you've got Clark. You know he would die rather than let you be hurt."
Lois blinked back tears. She wasn't used to this kind of unconditional support and it touched her deeply. She drew a breath and smiled at Martha. "Thank you, Martha. You've no idea how much that means to me. It'll be a relief just to be able to talk about Lex, and Clark." She shook her head and murmured softly, "There have been times I felt like I would burst if I didn't talk to someone, but there was no one I could talk to."
"I've waited for nearly thirty years to be able to talk to someone about my boy, Lois. I'm so glad it's you."
Lois felt her eyes tear again and she grinned blearily at Martha who was also holding back tears, "If you don't stop we're both going to be crying in our coffee."
Laughing, they sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before Martha spoke again. "Clark feels awfully guilty, Lois. He thinks that it's his fault that things went this far with Lex."
"In a way it is," Lois sighed reflectively, "but not in the way that Clark thinks."
"In what way then?"
"I went out with Lex originally because I was flattered that a rich, influential man would ask me out. I probably wouldn't have kept going out with him, but since I didn't love him he seemed safe to go out with, and the alternative was sitting at home wondering if I'd gone crazy."
"I'm sorry, honey, you lost me."
Lois looked down at her coffee for a moment, searching for the right words to articulate what she felt. "I wanted all my life to feel that 'struck by lightning' kind of love. I found that in spades with Superman, but I also found that, as much as I hated to admit it to myself, I was attracted to Clark too. I fought tooth and nail against loving him, you know? I didn't want a relationship with anyone I worked with in the first place. And in the second, I knew that if I let him get close enough, he'd knock down my walls and I'd never be able to get them back up. I thought I could drive him away, but it didn't matter what I said or did to him - he kept coming back. I didn't realize just how deeply I loved Clark until I heard Lex threaten his life. When I thought about someone harming him, I knew that I couldn't run away from it anymore."
She laughed ironically, "I'd waited for so long to feel that special connection to someone - I thought I'd found it with two men at the same time. I figured there was something wrong with me, Martha - that I'd lost my mind. I also figured that going out with someone I did not care about was better then going out with someone I did. I guess it doesn't make much sense, but I was afraid. Being hurt or hurting them, I'm not sure which scared me more. Anyway, going out with Lex kept my mind off of my feelings and gave me a social life that didn't center around either of the two men I was attracted to."
"Of course, if I'd known about the pheromone or who Lex really is I'd never have gone near him." She shrugged, "It's in the past, Martha, and Clark not telling me about who he really is - that's in the past too. There's nothing either of us can do to change it. If we are going to keep Lex from killing us both we can't concentrate on the past."
Martha looked at her warmly, her eyes twinkling, "Clark said that you'd said something like that, but he's afraid that there's still an explosion coming once you get some decent sleep."
"You'd be amazed how much introspection you can do when there's no one to talk to. And how little energy living in terror leaves you." She laughed, "But if Clark is expecting fireworks maybe I should give him some. I'd hate to disappoint him."
"I don't think he could take anymore guilt, honey." Martha turned suddenly serious.
"That's not the kind of fireworks I meant, Martha." Lois smiled with a wicked chuckle.
"In that case, my dear, explode away!" Martha laughed along with her.
Clark entered the kitchen to the sound of their laughter, he grinned at them and said, "You two look like you're having a good time."
They started guiltily at the sound of his voice and his brow rose quizzically, "What are you two up to anyway?"
"Plotting your downfall," Lois grinned at him cheekily.
That sent Martha back into laughter, and the look on Clark's face set Lois off again. He shook his head wonderingly, "My own mother plotting against me."
Martha shook her head and rose, "You have no idea," she laughed and winked at Lois. "I've got to get to town to do the shopping, Clark. Is your father ready?"
"Sure, Mom. He's in the barn getting the parts for that new carburetor." Clark had poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down next to Lois at the table.
"Good. Lois, I'll see you later. I'll have to tell you all the embarrassing things I can remember about Clark's childhood." She winked at Lois again, then gathered up her purse and with a final, "We'll be back in a couple hours. Bye," she left.
"What have you done to my mother?" Clark asked in mock dismay. "I leave you two alone for an hour and she's ready to tell you all my secrets."
"It's a girl thing," Lois laughed, blushing slightly.
Clark smiled at her, happy to see her laughing again. They needed to plan what to do about Lex and he hated to see the smile leave her face when he reached over, touched her hand and said, "We've got to talk, Lois. I listened to the tapes last night and I heard some things we need to talk about."
She paled, but she turned her hand up in his and held his tightly, her eyes never leaving his face. "More bad news?" she hazarded by the look in his eyes.
"I found out what Lex is doing with the kryptonite, Lois. He's having a special cage built for Superman - he plans to capture me and keep me caged until I die."
Lois went white and Clark rushed on - she needed to hear it all, and one shock was better than a series of them. "When he sees you tonight, he plans to force an answer from you about marrying him. If you don't give him the answer that he wants, Asabi and Nigel have planned to kidnap you. They figure they can drug you and implant commands to be nice to Lex. Once Lex has you, they expect him to revert to form. If he doesn't, they have his execution planned."
"And mine not long after, I'll bet," Lois said grimly.
"I'm not taking you anywhere near Metropolis until Lex and his friends are in jail." Or dead, he added grimly to himself.
"Clark, if I drop out of sight, Lex will move heaven and earth to find me, and a lot of people I care about would get hurt in the process. I have to go back."
"Lois, if these guys get their hands on you…" He shook his head and she saw the fear in his eyes. "Lois, I'm afraid that you'll get hurt."
"Clark, you will protect me. I can't hide, you know that." She looked at him fondly, love shining from her eyes, "Thank you for worrying about me, Clark, but I can't run away from this. If I try, it will haunt me forever and I don't want Lex in my life that long."
Clark drew a deep breath and nodded resignedly, "Okay. How do we get Lex out of our lives?"
"I think the first thing we should do is call David and see what he's got now. Lex is going to be ballistic that I didn't go home last night. Once we know what he's up to, we'll be able to plan. I hope that David has had an opportunity to gather the evidence against Lex and the explosion at the Planet. Rising, she wrapped her arms around Clark and hugged him to her, "Cheer up, Kent," she commanded. "We're not beaten yet."
Clark pulled her down into his lap and buried his face in her neck. "I know. It just scares me when I think about that sociopath and his buddies and what they're capable of."
Pulling his head back where she could see his face, she smiled and said, "I'll keep you out of the cage and you keep the psychos from getting me. Deal?" in a husky voice that told Clark she wasn't just talking about Lex.
"Deal," he murmured against her lips as he pulled her closer and kissed her, tentatively at first but with growing hunger as she responded to him.
They were lost in each other, each kiss getting deeper and deeper as they both relaxed into each other. An annoying sound impinged on her consciousness and Lois moaned in protest as Clark raised his head. "I think that's your beeper." His voice was thick and his eyes glowed with desire.
Lois wasn't in much better shape - her hair ruffled and tangled from Clark's hands and her lips swollen from kissing. "Probably David," she agreed as she reluctantly stood and crossed to the counter where her backpack lay.
Taking out the beeper, she checked the message and nodded, resetting the machine. "It's David. I hope it's good news - we could use some."
Clark came up behind her and hugged her from behind resting his chin on her shoulder as she dialed the cell phone.
She knew from his tone that it was not good news.
"Lois, I been wondering where you got to. Our friends have been looking for you and they are not pleased."
"I knew they wouldn't be, but I had some things to take care of. David, I need to see you. I want you to meet a friend of mine - he needs to see what we've gathered."
"My dear, I leave that entirely to your discretion, but are you sure you should be traveling in your condition?"
"I'm feeling much better," she correctly deciphered his oblique reference. "I finally threw off that pesky bug. I'll be arriving by a unique transport since my car's out of commission. You can expect me in about an hour, okay?"
"Certainly, my dear. I'm looking forward to meeting your friend."
Replacing the phone, Lois turned in Clark's arms. Wrapping hers around his waist, she rested her head on his chest.
"David is expecting us in an hour. Much as I appreciate the loan of the sweat suit, I'll need to change. You don't suppose you could sneak into my apartment and get me some clothes, could you?" She looked up at him wistfully, her chin on his chest. The look in her eye reminded Clark of the look she got when she tried to wheedle him into picking up chocolate for her.
He laughed and kissed her quickly. "I'll do better than that," he promised. "Just let me run upstairs and we'll leave."
Lois washed out the cups they'd used and checked her backpack to make sure that she had everything she needed. Clark handed her clothes neatly folded in a plastic bag and she put it in the backpack.
He'd caught a sad look on her face as he entered the kitchen and he asked her what was wrong.
"I was just thinking about my apartment. I'm not sure that even when the bugs are removed I'll feel comfortable there again," she admitted sadly. "I really liked that apartment, but lately it's been a cage."
"Then, when this is over, we'll find you a new place. You may have to go back, but you won't be alone, and it won't be for long," he pledged with a smile and a hug.
Returning the hug, Lois felt her mood lighten. Clark could always make her feel better when she was down, it was one of the things she had missed the most about him. Giving him a radiant smile, she said, "Okay, partner, let's go. The sooner we get rid of Lex, the better off we'll be."
Clark couldn't resist kissing her again. When she smiled like that he felt slightly drunk and had from the first. He thought she always would make him feel that way, then he stopped thinking altogether.
They flew to a rooftop near Lois's building. Setting her down, he promised to be right back and before she blinked he returned with two overflowing cases.
"Your place has been pretty thoroughly tossed. I don't think that you should go back there." His voice was gentle but his face was grim. "I fried the camera in the bed room yesterday and it's been replaced. I fried it again and tried to make it look like nothing was missing by spreading stuff around. I was moving fast enough that I'm sure they didn't know I was there."
"Where do we go from here?" Lois looked up at him worriedly.
"First we go to my place. If it's been bugged, and it may well be, then we'll check into a hotel after we see David."
"He'll be watching hotels, motels and anywhere else he thinks I might show up."
"Not in Paris."
"I hadn't thought of that," Lois agreed with a smile.
They flew quickly toward Clark's loft. Hovering high over the building, Clark scanned his apartment. It too had been tossed; although, the search had not been as thorough or as destructive as the one at Lois's. He noted with relief that the secret compartment in the back of the closet had not been found; his secret was still his for the moment anyway. There were no bugs in his apartment but he noted the three thugs sitting in a parked car outside of his buildings.
Flying quickly onto the balcony, he set Lois down and motioned for her to remain there. Moving through the apartment at superspeed, he gathered enough clothes for a few days, returning to Lois and swooping her up, he had them away before she had a chance to shiver in the cold morning air.
Arriving at David's Clark spun into regular clothes after setting Lois down behind some trees. "Wow!" had been all she had managed. He had grinned at her, happy to impress her, and she grinned back - the little boy delight in his eyes was infectious.
"Come on, flyboy," she laughed walking toward the house.
"Flyboy?" he teased falling back into their familiar rhythm. He had missed this as much as any other part of spending time with her and it was good to be together like this again.
"You preferred farmboy?" she threw saucily over her shoulder.
"Actually I'd prefer…" Just then David's voice came through the speakers. Lois reflected with a sigh that she may never know the end to that intriguing statement.
"Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, please, come in. Lois, I believe you can show Mr. Kent how to find me. Feel free to leave your cases in the hall, they will be quite safe I assure you."
Lois walked into the control room and turned quickly; she wanted to see the look on Clark's face when he saw the console. She was not disappointed. His eyes lit with delight and the little boy smile which always got to her curved his lips.
Introducing him to David, Lois was hard pressed to hide her grin at his reaction to the technogenie. "I bet you can play some awesome games on that setup," Clark said as he shook David's hand.
The two men shared an entirely male smile as David replied, "When we get a chance, I'll show you a really wicked pyramid game. It took me nearly three weeks to get off of the second level."
"Hey, guys, can you leave the male bonding till later?" Lois asked with a raised brow.
David turned serious and gestured them to chairs before settling into his chair at the console.
"Lex has lost it, Lois. When you didn't come back last night, he went over to your place and trashed it, looking for clues as to where you'd gone. The fact that you left with Superman only enraged him further. Asabi ended up sedating him early this morning. He hasn't woken up yet but he could any time. He's also looking for you, Clark. He's convinced that you know where Lois is."
Lois and Clark looked at each other and he reached out a hand to hold hers tightly.
David looked at them solemnly with a hint of sadness in his eyes. Looking at the young couple, he was reminded of his youth and all that he had given up. "I don't think that it's safe for either of you to show your faces at the moment. Lex has both your places staked out and he's watching the houses of your friends. Asabi and Nigel have about reached their tolerance limit with Lex's behavior, but crazed or not he still holds the only set of keys to the kingdom. Asabi and Nigel both run separate areas of Lex's criminal empire. There's also a Mrs. Cox, who appears to do whatever Lex wants in either arena. She also acts as chauffeur and, ah … other … ah things as Lex needs her to."
"I've met her. I didn't like her." Lois said, ignoring the last part of what he said - she didn't want to know.
"From what I've been able to find out about her, she's one tough customer. She's rumored to work for Lex in exchange for the opportunity to kill - an opportunity that she has availed herself of quite frequently, if my source can be believed."
"Oh, I'd believe him," Lois said with a shudder. "I do."
"Have you made any progress on hard evidence that Lex was involved in the bombing of the Daily Planet?" Clark queried, wanting to get off the subject of death.
"We've had a stroke of luck there. Your goading the other day paid off, Lois."
"You goaded Lex?!" Clark was appalled, "Lois, are you crazy?"
"I didn't exactly goad him, " Lois protested, throwing David a 'Thanks a lot' glare. "I just asked him about the insurance settlement on the Daily Planet. I said I was thinking of doing a series of stories on the death of an institution. I told him it was a final tribute to the Planet."
"And then when he tried to talk her out of it, she told him she would go to work for the Star if that's what she had to do to get the story written. Cool as you please, she told him that she hated to leave her job at LNN, but that she knew the Star would hire her and she started to walk out." At Lois's look of surprise at the wealth of detail he had about the incident, David smiled and added, "Asabi was eavesdropping on Lex while I was eavesdropping on him. I had a front row seat for your performance, Ms. Lane, and may I say you were magnificent. She's really good when she gets going, isn't she? Full of fire and courage?" David asked Clark with a twinkle of sympathy for him. She must lead him a merry dance, and I'll bet he went through hell getting this far with her. But I'll also bet that he'd say it was worth the price.
"She scares the hell out of me on a regular basis." Clark shook his head, "I've lost years off my life - you've no idea."
"You must be extremely proud of her."
"Yeah, she's pretty terrific," Clark grinned at the blush his words had caused.
"Are you both finished talking about me like I'm some kind of horse?" She rolled her eyes and pretended to be cross.
Clark grinned and steered the conversation back on track, "What exactly did you get on Lex and the Planet, David?"
"Only Lex explaining to Nigel exactly how he had hidden each step of his takeover and destruction of the Daily Planet. How he had made it look like Jack had placed the bomb, that the insurance was insufficient - it was very substantial; Lex profited greatly from his scheme. Nigel had been angry, questioning how Lex would handle it if Lois exposed him and Lex couldn't wait to share every detail of his plan. By the time Lex was done, Nigel thought it was even a good idea to have Lois do a series. If they fed her the right information, they could make it look like anyone they choose was behind the Planet's downfall. Any report by a well-known and trusted journalist like Lois Lane would be sure to be believed. If, after they were married, any questions were raised, it wouldn't matter since Lex already has the money from the settlement and he would by then also have Lois."
"Well, that's it then. All we have to do is get the tape of Lex's confession and the other evidence you've collected against him to someone we can trust. Maybe Detective Henderson - he's a straight-up guy. He should know who else we can trust in the police department. Once this stuff is public, whomever Lex has bought over at the Justice Department won't be able to cover the details up. Lex will be prosecuted," Clark said in some relief. There was no way he was going to let Lex near Lois - not after what David had told them.
"I'm afraid that won't be enough." Davis sighed regretfully, he felt sympathy for Clark's desire to have Lois well away from Lex. "Even if we get Lex arrested, I don't think we have enough on Asabi and Nigel to keep them in jail, and I'm not sure the local authorities could keep someone of Nigel's background in custody for very long. With them loose, the threat to Lois may not be severe, but Superman would still be at risk."
Lois had fixated on one thing that David said, "You remembered where you knew Nigel from." She said it as a statement in a tone of voice that also said that she knew she wouldn't like the answer.
David looked at Lois and nodded. "I'm afraid that Nigel St. John, as he is calling himself now, was once a member of the same exclusive brotherhood that I belonged to; albeit, we were on the opposite sides." David looked at Clark and then glanced back to Lois, "I don't know how much Lois has told you about my past…"
"Nothing. All she said was that she got your name from a reliable source - that you had a background in communications technology and because of that you have been a great help to her." Clark glanced from one to the other inquiringly.
"It wasn't my story to tell," Lois shrugged. "Even if I knew the whole story, I wouldn't tell anyone."
David smiled appreciatively at Lois, "I knew I could trust your discretion. Manny was right about you, Lois. You are a dying breed. A reporter with an honor code and a conscience. He also had some very complimentary comments about you, Clark." David didn't say that Manny's exact words were, "He'll end-up getting the girl in the end. I never thought I'd meet the guy who could rein in that Lane, but this guy's got the moxie to do it. And he'll do it straight up and honest too; the guy's got principles."
"You make it sound like the plague," David had been amused.
"Naw, he's a good Joe. It's just… ain't he never heard the all's fair in love thing? With Lois Lane, he's gonna need all the help he can get! She's a tough broad to deal with."
Bringing his attention back to the present, David cleared his throat and addressed Clark, "Before I retired, I was a member of Israeli intelligence. I was also working for the US government, but since the imperatives of both dovetailed nicely in the areas I worked in, it never created a conflict. I was in Iran under deep cover when I met Nigel St. John; he wasn't using that name, of course, but I've no doubt it was him. This was in the early-eighties - the country was falling apart and the Ayatollah was just beginning his takeover of the government. Nigel was helping that effort. I have good reason to believe that he is responsible for the deaths of an entire chain of informants and their families, some of them very high up in the government and one highly placed member of the Shaw's inner circle. His entire family down to the housemaids were executed - about thirty people in that one household."
Looking up, he encountered the appalled gazes of his spellbound audience. Shrugging, he said quietly, "The British Government denied all responsibility for Nigel's actions. They claimed that he had gone rouge some months before and that they were still trying to assess the damage from his defection. They also claimed not to know who Nigel had defected too, but they speculated that he had been a free agent for some time, probably acting independently. And maybe he was, but he also may have already been working for the organization that Lex runs. We don't know how long he has been an operator, but I would suspect that Lex's actions have always been criminal."
"Since Iran was falling apart under civil war, hundreds were killed daily. Nigel didn't show up again for several years afterward and there was no evidence that he was still working. It was assumed that he had been killed or had gone to ground so deeply he would not be found. At any rate, the search was eventually closed."
"Would the British Government still be interested in him after all these years?" Clark asked, he had a glimmer of an idea.
"Certainly. Defection is not something that they forget. But I don't think contacting the British would help - they would be unlikely to offer assistance."
"I'm not going to contact them, at least not yet. I was thinking more in terms of having Superman kidnap him and deposit him on their doorstep. As long as they wouldn't let him go again."
"Very unlikely, but it might not be that easy getting to him. He'd have to be picked-up away from the others. And he stay's pretty close to home."
"Clark, Superman can't go near Nigel, what if he's got kryptonite on him?" Lois turned a worried gaze to him.
"Superman can stay back far enough to scan him. If it looks like he's got kryptonite on him, then we'll deal with it. Lois, it's what Lex tried to do to you. Isolate you from all of the people who provide you with support, and leave you with no one to go to but him. If we get rid of Nigel, and the others that Lex depends on, then he'll be the one who's isolated. Since he's halfway to being out of it all the time anyway," he shrugged, "this could well drive him over the edge, and we'll have an opportunity to put him away."
"There is only one problem in your plan as I see it." David spoke pensively. "I'm sure you would agree that most people are not very observant, wouldn't you, Clark?"
Clark nodded, bewildered by the apparent change of subject. He glanced at Lois to find her staring at David with an odd look on her face.
"I was trained to be an observer of people and to recognize them based on their bone structure since mannerisms and external looks could be changed. I was trained to look beyond the camouflage." David glanced at Lois and Clark to see if they knew where this was heading. Satisfied by the arrested look on Lois's face and the careful blankness of Clark's, he continued, "I met Superman once, it was during the incident when I received this injury." He gestured to his leg. "And I would not have gotten out alive if he hadn't carried me out. Central Africa is a very dangerous place to be stranded with a leg wound, especially if you were on the side that got food and medicine to the rebels."
Clark stared at David - he remembered the incident. It had happened just after Superman had appeared. It had been a Red Cross/UN joint humanitarian effort. A convoy of trucks bearing relief supplies had tried to reach tribes which had been decimated by the local dictator and his loyal army. Supplies which had entered the country via the central trade centers had been confiscated by the government and distributed to the army and their families. The tribes which had been intended to receive the supplies were starving, and dying by the hundreds each week of the diseases caused by cramped crowded conditions in the few areas of safety left to them.
The convoy had been a last ditch attempt to get relief to the dying and had been heavily guarded by UN troops. It hadn't stopped the army from attacking the convoy. Superman had been returning from putting out a fire in South Africa that would have swept through a large game reserve had Superman not intervened. He picked up the SOS and arrived on the scene seconds later to find a slaughter in progress.
The army had struck at a bottleneck in the road, formed by a range of rolling hills just inside the border. They had never operated this far out from the capitol before and the UN forces, though alert, had been taken by surprise. Moving at superspeed, Clark had disarmed the soldiers and swept them up to deposit them miles away, across a river in territory which belonged to a friendly government who had helped to sponsor the relief effort and who would deal with the troops appropriately.
Even at superspeed, this took a few minutes and the UN forces had taken some heavy hits. More than half the troops were dead and many of the survivors were badly injured. Coordinating with the man in charge of the UN forces, Superman had emptied one of the trucks and had loaded as many of the critically wounded as he dared. Lifting the truck carefully, he had flown it to the closest hospital in the country they had just left. He had returned with a sonic boom to gather the last of the wounded, and among them had been David. Although he had looked quite a bit different at the time and the name had not been David.
"Captain Jennings, I presume?" Clark asked ironically.
"Ah, I see you remember. Superman left soon after getting the surviving relief supplies and UN forces to their destination. I never got a chance to thank him. Allowing someone to harm the man who saved my life would not be a grateful act, would it?"
"How did you figure it out?" Clark asked.
"As I said, I am a trained observer. Besides, I have kept myself amused gathering information from a variety of different sources. Some months ago, a report on a Trask and a Bureau 39 came to my attention. I have wanted to meet you for some time, Clark. The opportunity presented by Lois to repay a debt long owed to Lex Luthor is made all the sweeter by the chance to repay a debt of honor to you."
"Thank you," Clark nodded gravely. He didn't insult David by asking for a promise of discretion, it was a promise he didn't need to extract - he already knew the answer.
An alarm went off on a control panel behind David and he turned and flipped a switch. The sound of Asabi and Nigel's voices could be clearly heard. Nigel dismissed someone who was monitoring the surveillance cameras, and they heard the door close before Asabi spoke.
"He is awake. I left him in the tender mercies of Mrs. Cox. He is coherent again, but I cannot guarantee that he will remain so."
"Ms. Lane has not returned and neither has Mr. Kent nor Superman. If we don't act quickly, Lex will be of no use to us whatsoever. I can't believe we've come to this," Nigel added in disgust, "all because of some damned woman."
"Lex's karma is to battle for the attention of this woman. She is strongly linked to the souls of Kent and Superman. They have fought this battle many times," his voice sounded sad. "I do not think he is destined to win the battle this time around.
"Oh really, Asabi," Nigel was impatient. "We do not have time for your religious philosophizing. Unless we can get the decryption codes for the central computer files, we will lose control of all but the tiny portions of the organization we directly administer. And I am not prepared to do that no matter how fated you seem to feel defeat is. Now are you going to help me or not?"
"Oh, I will help you, but I think it would be wise to make plans for a strategic withdrawal so that we may live to fight another day."
"Point taken. Now, what are we going to do about Lex?"
"First we should find Ms. Lane, there is still a remote hope that we can restore Lex's emotional and mental balance if we have her under control."
"And if we can't find her, or it doesn't work?" Nigel asked rather scornfully.
"We must find her. The mental blocks Lex has had me help to install in his mind are such that I am not sure that we will be able to get past them. In his weakened state of self control, however, I believe that given the proper chemical inducements Lex will respond honestly to anything she asks." Asabi's tone was somewhat grim as he finished, "We need that bothersome woman - we've no choice but to find her."
"Wonderful. I'll take care of that. As soon as she shows her face, I'll pick her up. You stay close to Lex, and try to keep him from anymore foolishness, would you? Any more outbursts like last night, and we won't be able to keep what's going on from the other board members. If we don't get control first, we will have a war as all the sharks smell blood in the water."
They moved out of range of the transmitter, but Clark was able to follow their conversation until the door closed behind them. "They're supposed to meet later. Nigel is going over to Lois's place, but first he's stopping to pick up the drugs that Asabi will need for both Lois and Lex. He didn't mention having any kryptonite, but he didn't seem to be worried about Superman showing up."
"Well, then I think we should be waiting for him when he arrives at my place," Lois said firmly.
"No! I'll be waiting for him - or rather Superman will - and you will be nowhere near there." Clark hoped he sounded definite enough; he wasn't sure she'd let him get away with it.
"And what if he has kryptonite on him? You handle the bad guys and I take care of the kryptonite, remember? Are you backing out on our deal, partner?"
"No, Lois, but…"
David felt quite sorry for the man as he paled and stammered; although, he was greatly enjoying watching the two of them. The Man of Steel brought down by a pint sized tornado. Ah, love. The thought brought a smile to his face and it was with a start the he realized he was being addressed.
"David?" Lois was asking him, "Don't you agree?" She'd continued her onslaught against Clark's determination and David had missed a salient point.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."
Lois rolled her eyes impatiently and repeated what she had said, "Clark shouldn't go by himself. We know it's a trap. We should be able to spring it on Nigel instead. Don't you agree?"
David shook his head, "No, I'm sorry, but Clark is right; Nigel is very dangerous, and if he manages to get his hands on you, he gets control of Lex. But you are also right; Clark should not go alone - that is why I intend to join him."
"No, no one is going with me," Clark protested.
David turned to Lois and asked softly, "Will you agree to stay here if I go with Clark?" His eyes told her to trust that he would let nothing happen to the man she loved.
Her instinct telling her to trust him, she conceded that yes, she would stay here, unless something went wrong, in which case they could expect her with the Cavalry.
David turned to Clark and shrugged, "My friend, you have no choice. If you wish to keep the lady safe, you will have to accept my company."
Clark acquiesced unhappily. He didn't want to appear ungrateful, but he didn't want to endanger anyone else either. "All right," he said with a sigh.
"Don't worry, I am still an asset in a fight. My leg is not as much of a hindrance as I make it appear to be - you do not need to worry about protecting me." David had correctly interpreted Clark's concern and sought to allay it.
"Clark," Lois added softly, "you have to let someone help you sometime." She repeated words he'd said to her and his eyes told her he remembered.
"Okay, Lois, we'll do it your way." Clark stood and pulled her to her feet, giving her a brief hug, before turning back to David, "Shall we go? I'd like to get there ahead of Nigel."
"Let me just get a couple things and I'll be ready." David stood without aid of the cane and made his way with alacrity across the room and out the door.
Lois looked up at Clark and tried not to let him see how worried she was. "I don't have to tell you to come back in one piece, do I?" She kept her voice and gaze steady. "I'm not ready to lose you."
Clark pulled her closer and kissed her gently. "I'll be back, and then we'll take care of Asabi, Lex and Mrs. Cox. And then we need to have a serious talk about our partnership."
"Yeah, well, you have to come back in one piece for that, so don't disappoint me, will you?" She looked up at him and made no attempt this time to hide her worry.
He kissed her again, both pledge and promise. And, for a moment, her fears were forgotten as she responded to his embrace.
Superman and David arrived well in advance of Nigel. Settling down on a rooftop which afforded both a view of the street in front of Lois's building and, for Clark, a view through the wall and directly into her apartment.
They settled in to wait and planned their strategies..Two plans were needed depending on whether Nigel was alone or had brought company. They both agreed that it would be unlikely for him to be alone as once he had Lois he would need help in getting her back to Lex Corp.
A limousine pulled in front of the building, "That's them," Clark declared grimly.
"Can you see them?"
"No, but who else would line their limo with lead? Wait here."
Superman flew quickly to the window of Lois's apartment. Entering he sent a laser beam lancing into a camera, he moved through the apartment frying each camera as he went. Still moving at superspeed he returned to the rooftop.
"Nigel, Mrs. Cox, and a hired thug just went into the building," David reported. Superman swept him up and, before he could blink, David was standing in Lois's apartment.
Moving to the bedroom wall Clark looked through it to the hallway outside. "They just got off of the elevator. All three of them have guns. Mrs. Cox also has two knives, right sleeve and left boot. Nigel's cane is a sword stick, and he has a lead lined box in his jacket pocket." Clark finished his report.
Wordlessly, they moved into position, each assuming their role. Clark hovered on the ceiling above the door - someone would have to be looking straight up to see him. David moved into the kitchen and stationed himself out of sight of the front door.
The sounds of door locks being turned reached them. Clark could hear Nigel cursing the number of locks as he moved his way up the row unlocking each. He smiled inwardly - he would have to remember to tell Lois.
Nigel and the others entered the apartment and closed the door behind them. They stood for a moment surveying the room. "Such poor taste," Nigel sighed in a bored tone, "Ah well, George, look through the bedroom and bath. See if you can find anything that would tell us where Lane has gone. Mrs. Cox, you take the kitchen and the fax machine, I'll take this room and the desk."
They started to move across the apartment, George entered the bedroom and David knocked him out quickly, closing the bedroom door so that the inert form would not be seen.
Once Clark saw that George had been taken care of, he moved at superspeed and disarmed Nigel and Mrs. Cox, taking first Nigel's gun and cane, then moving to Mrs. Cox. After taking her gun and knives, he tied her up with one of several lengths of rope that David had supplied. Superman had just returned to the living room when he felt the familiar, knife sharp, burning pain of kryptonite.
Nigel danced out of the way as Superman lunged at him with a final burst of strength. Holding a sliver of kryptonite several inches in length and at least two inches wide, Nigel smiled coldly down at the superhero. "Ah, Superman, as you can see, I was expecting you," he waved grandly with the green glowing crystal.
Clark had maneuvered himself so that Nigel had his back to the kitchen and bedroom door. Now would be a good time, David! Lying on the floor feeling the pain deep in his bones and his breath shortening, Clark wasn't sure how long he would last.
David came up behind Nigel and clipped him at the back of his head - he dropped to the floor, out cold.
Picking up the sliver of kryptonite, David located the lead box that Nigel had carried. Putting the crystal in the box and dropping it into his pocket, David crossed to Clark and knelt next to him. "Are you all right?" he queried, concern evident in his voice.
"I will be. It takes a few minutes for me to recover." Clark was still feeling short of breath, but the terrible pain in his bones was gone.
"Good. Rest." David moved to Nigel and tied him up expertly.
"First, I suggest the we call Lois and let her know we are all right. She can then send the faxes we prepared. I think delivering Mrs. Cox and the thug to the police first would be best." Standing back and admiring his handiwork David turned to Clark and grinned, "My friend, it is good to be useful again."
Clark stood and gestured to Nigel, "You won't kill him while I'm gone, will you?" He was only half-kidding.
David grinned at Clark unoffended, "The hospitality of the British is somewhat lacking in their penal systems. Especially those of the political prisoners. I would suspect that, as a traitor who sold Her Majesty's secrets, Nigel would warrant very special attention, wouldn't you?" Clark nodded, comprehension dawning in his eyes. "Then we should be remiss if we didn't insure that Nigel was able to fully enjoy the experience, would we not?" His dark eyes twinkled at Clark.
"We would, my friend, we would." Clark laughed. For the first time in days he finally felt like things were going their way.
He called Lois on the secure phone and assured her that they were fine and, not only Nigel, but Mrs. Cox as well had been neutralized. Lois had been happy to hear Clark's voice and relieved that the plan had succeeded better than they had hoped, but Clark could hear a tone in her voice that told him all was not well. He tried to ask her but she overrode what he was saying, claiming to need to go fax the evidence to the police department. Telling him to come back as quickly as he could, she hung up.
Clark handed the phone back to David, who stowed it in one of the numerous capacious pockets that lined the coat. It had fascinated Clark when he'd first seen it. He had been trying to figure out ways to do something similar with his cloak. David asked if all was well with Lois.
"I think so, but something is bothering her. Let's get moving - I'd like to get back."
Lois had changed clothes after Clark and David left. David had offered them the use of his guestroom, and Clark had deposited their bags there before they had left. Opening the first of the two bags Clark had packed for her, she marveled at what he had managed to gather in the… What? she asked herself, the second, maybe two he spent in my place? Jeans, t-shirts, dress pants and matching jacket for work, underclothes, make-up - good lord! He even got my toothbrush and toothpaste! Suddenly she burst out laughing. She laughed so hard that tears ran down her cheeks - all of the stress of the last weeks was released in one giant bout of laughter.
I've got to get a hold of myself, she thought, wiping the tears rom her face. Clark will come back and think I've lost my mind. Standing, she looked down at the open suitcase at her feet and the shoes she wore. Clark had remembered to get everything but shoes and it had been the picture of herself wearing the black pantsuit with the worn out several years old pair of sneakers that she wore that had set her off.
Clark may be Superman but he is still Clark - capable of the sweetest most thoughtful behavior one minute and forgetting that you exist the next. The paroxysm of laughter was partly do to relief. Whatever else had changed, Clark hadn't - not really. It was with a much lighter heart that she changed her clothes.
Exploring the house, she had found the kitchen and raided the fridge for sandwich ingredients. After making a sandwich and pouring a glass of milk, she went back down stairs and settled into David's chair. Since he was so much larger than she, she found she could sit Indian fashion quite comfortably. Curling her legs under her she rested her plate on her lap and set her glass on the floor next to her chair.
She didn't want to think about where her companions had gone or what they were doing. She was determinedly trying not to think about them when she heard the sound of an electronic door swishing open come from the speakers on the console. She was relieved to have something to distract her. Her relief didn't last long.
At first she heard a low sound - a cross between a sigh and a groan, slowly building in intensity it became an all out howl of fury. It went on for several minutes and Lois found that her appetite had left her. Putting her plate on the floor, she wrapped her arms around herself and shivered as the sound died away. She felt slightly guilty when she realized that she was grateful that it was only audio which reached her. It might have been cowardly, but Lois was glad not to carry a picture of Lex's face contorted in rage - as it must have been to accompany that scream. She didn't want to have that haunt her nightmares, as she feared this scream would.
The door opened again and she heard Asabi's voice say soothingly, "Come. You must be exhausted. Let us return you to your bedroom."
"Why are the monitors in Lois's apartment dead? Why was no one watching them when I came in? WHERE IS LOIS LANE? WHY HAVEN'T YOU FOUND HER? MUST I DO EVERYTHING MYSELF?"
Lex was shouting when he finished and Lois found herself holding tightly to the arms of the chair. She had never heard Lex like this before. He was insane and the veneer of suave manners had been stripped away. He was all thwarted emotion, an overgrown spoiled brat, homicidal when sane, who had never been more dangerous.
Asabi was stunned, "I'm sorry, sir. George was here, he must have gone with Nigel. But what has happened to the monitors? They were fine a few minutes ago. I checked them myself. Nigel had arrived at the apartment and I checked for him to insure that the apartment was empty."
"If they had followed my orders, my beloved Lois would be here with me instead of off with that boyscout in tights. But it won't be for long. I shall have my Lois back, and Superman will be eliminated…" Lex continued to babble on in the same vein for several minutes, his commentary becoming a muttering incoherence.
Asabi tried once more to get Lex to return to his room. "Sir, please, sir, let us return…"
No, no, no, no, no! NO! Lex's voice rose to a fever pitch. "Let me go! I've got to plan. I've got to get Lois back. Superman may have turned Lois against me, but I can recreate her."
"Mr. Luthor, please, you know that project is not far enough along to…"
"It is far enough along!" Lex was querulous, a child being denied his toy. "I've already given the order. The first subject will be Lois. There is no need for further testing. If the clone shows the same signs of accelerated cellular decay, we will simply have to have another. We have started several clones growing, if one of them develops problems then we can abort it. The healthiest ones we allow to grow to maturity. We can put all but one in stasis. That shall be my new Lois. Until then," he drew a deep breath, his voice regaining it's normal tones, "we shall have to have the real Lois to study. We shall need voice recordings and video of her mannerisms. The clone must be a perfect copy and for that we will need more than just a genetic template. Besides, it's possible that Lois can be made…compliant…on occasion. At least until a more responsive clone can be provided." His voice took on an ominous coldness.
The phone rang and Lois jumped, she had forgotten where she was. Answering the phone cautiously, she was relieved to hear Clark's voice and was even more relieved that both Nigel and Mrs. Cox had been taken with little trouble. Clark, sensing there was something wrong, asked her what it was, but she found herself unable to put into words the horror show she had been listening to. Telling him to get back quickly, she hung up. She stared at the speakers, fascinated and repelled by what she was overhearing.
In the background could be heard the sounds of keys being punched, a low voiced conversation just below the range of the receiver to pick up clearly, more keying, and another low voiced conversation. Asabi's voice rose in pitch and tone and Lois could make out what sounded like surprise, and then she would have sworn she heard fear.
She moved the chair around and pushed the series of buttons David had shown her, keying in the sequence which would send file after file on Mrs. Cox and Co. to the police. At the same time, a message was being sent to London. David had assured them that, although he would not tell them who he was alerting, the British Government would be happy to receive Nigel Saint John.
Asabi's voice was rising in tone but still unintelligible. Be afraid, be very afraid. After all, I am, she shuddered. Clones, CLONES??!! Oh my god…How can he have a clone…? Her attention was pulled back to the speakers by Asabi's voice, suddenly crystal clear - although, she couldn't say how long he'd been speaking.
"…Sir? Sir? Did you hear me, Mr. Luthor? Mrs. Cox has been delivered to the Metropolis Police Department. Evidence that she is responsible for several executions, there are twenty-three counts in all, was faxed to the police department minutes before Superman delivered her. Sir, there are some incidents which had to have come from our computers - our files, the details are precise."
"Superman brought her to the police department? Superman!" The hatred and loathing in that one word was so intense that it seemed to have a life of its own, echoing long after the sound had died.
"Superman could not have gotten our files. He must have had help."
"Are you saying that we have a traitor in our midst?" Lex sounded intrigued. "Where is Mr. Saint John?"
"There is no word on Mr. Saint John. The limo driver said that he delivered them to the address, and waited as he was instructed. He was still waiting when I contacted him. I had him go up to Ms. Lane's and knock, but he received no response. Attempts to raise Nigel on his cell phone have proved futile."
"So, we have information leaking which could only have come from our records, Mrs. Cox at the Police Department, and Nigel has disappeared. Now what do these events have in common?" Lex's voice took on an almost purring quality for all its coldness.
"I think that Superman has gotten them both. He delivered Mrs. Cox to the police along with George. We can only assume that he took Mr. Saint John as well."
"Or that Nigel has defected and he is the source of the leak."
"Oh, no, sir, he would never do so. He has as much to lose as any of us. Why would he suddenly start working with Superman? You know how much he despises him." Asabi was horrified, and Lois could swear there was again just a note of fear.
"How else did confidential information make it's way to the police?" Lex said in an "AH HA" tone of voice.
"Sir, please, you know that…"
Just then a phone began ringing. Asabi could be heard walking away and answering the phone, though, once again, his voice dropped below her ability to decipher.
He returned and said in a defeated tone, "Sir, I regret to inform you, Nigel has been delivered to MI 5. The message said that Superman delivered him about five minutes ago."
"Superman? SUPERMAN?!!!!" Lex was losing the last vestiges of control. "First he takes my Lois, then Mrs. Cox, now Nigel, what else will this demon spawn take from me? And how did he manage it? He is not smart enough to defeat me, not by himself…" Lex's voice faded away.
"Sir, why are you looking at me like that? Oh, no! NO! Sir, you know I would never betray you. I could not…" Asabi was terrified and as Lois heard the distinctive sound of a gun being cocked, she understood why.
"Asabi, Asabi, what am I going to do with you? Why did you turn on me?"
"But, sir, I did not! I swear I have been nothing but loyal to you - you know I have," Asabi pleaded.
"What I know is that Superman could not have done all this alone. He has to have had help to get both Nigel and Mrs. Cox. It had to have been someone on the inside, someone in the inner circle. Since two of the three members of my inner circle have been Neutralized, and you are the only one remaining… Well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. Do you have any last words?"
"Sir, please, I have done nothing against you. I swear!"
"Then how do you account for the his success? Who has been helping Superman against me?"
"Sir," Asabi began in a careful tone, "has it occurred to you that perhaps Ms. Lane is assisting Superman? She was last seen with him and it is possible that she has chosen him. I have tried to tell you several times of the strength of the bond between them. It is strong. They have spent several lifetimes together, having walked together many times. the attraction for Ms. Lane would be such that…"
"That my beloved Lois betrayed me?"
Something about Lex's tone alerted Lois. He sounded entirely too sane.
"Yes, I suppose it's possible, but you're forgetting one thing…"
The sound of a gun shot rang through the room and even though Lois was expecting it, she still jumped and turned white. Her fingers gripping the arms of her chair.
"MY Lois would never betray me." Lex said it with a self satisfied sneer. "You should never have tried to turn me against Lois, Asabi." The strangled breaths of Asabi could be heard clearly.
"Your obsession with this woman has destroyed you, Luthor, as surely as you have killed me. I curse you fo…
A second gun shot rang out and the stenorus breathing ceased. "Now, where is the maid? There is some trash that needs removing." The door opened and closed and quiet reined.
Lois sat in shock. He had killed Asabi. The person in all the world that she would have said was closest to Lex was Asabi; they had been together for years and Lex had killed him as casually as swatting a fly. She didn't have words to describe what Lex was. She wasn't sure that any language could possibly contain the words to describe that level of madness.
She wanted Clark and David to return. Although she knew that she was safe, she didn't feel it - not now. Somewhere out there were little eggs, dividing and redividing and growing eventually into exact copies of her. She shuddered. They had to stop him!
Clark and David returned, jubilant with their success. All three of the captives had been warmly received by their recipients. Superman was assured in each case, "I know just what to do with him/her."
Mrs. Cox had been defiant until the end. She had fought and kicked against him all the way to the Police Department despite Superman's warnings she wasn't hurting him. He could, however, accidentally drop her if she didn't stop. When she opened her mouth to hurl more invectives at him, he had simply flown faster, forcing her to gasp for breath, but at least she had been quiet. Clark had glimpsed her spiting in the face of a police officer as the squad room door swung shut behind them - he didn't envy the cop, but he was thankful to be rid of her.
George had been resigned. It was his third serious offense and he knew he was looking at serious jail time. When he had awoken to find himself tied up on the floor of Lois's bedroom and facing Superman he had simply shook his head and said, "Knew I shudda left after we blew that building."
Blew the building? The Daily Planet? Superman questioned him, "Are you the one who put the bomb in the Daily Planet?"
"Do you think, if I give you the guy who ordered that bomb, that you could put in a good word for me?" George saw an opportunity to make a deal.
"I think…" Superman said in a commanding voice, unaware that his eyes flashed with anger and impatience. Combined with the rigidly upright, broad shouldered posture he was unconsciously imposing. When he chose to be imposing, he generally scared the hell out of the bad guys. "…that you had better tell me right now what you know. If you do, I promise not to ask them to throw the book at you." No way was Clark going to help this guy get a get out of jail free card, no matter what he thought he knew.
"It was Lex Luthor. He gave me the bomb himself. I couldn't understand why he worked so hard to get the damn place just to blow it up, but he told me that 'your's was not to ask why' or something. He always talked real strange. I didn't understand a lota what he did. But he always had some kinda plan."
"I already know that Luthor planted the bomb. If that's the best you can do, forget it."
"Well then, I guess you don't want to know about them Doc's that Mr. Luthor was talkin' to earlier either, do ya?" George was morose, he could see the sweet deal he'd hoped for fading away.
"Them Doc's that Mr. Luthor set up in that lab upstate." George thought hope might be glimmering again. "He told them this morning that they should get started right away and that they should start with ten 'subjects'. I don't know what he meant by that, but when he got off of the line, he said he would have his Lois one way or another."
"Do you know where this lab is?"
"Naw, I just happened to be in the control room when Mr. Luthor made the call. Will this help me?"
"We'll have to see how cooperative you are with the police," Clark had temporized.
When he delivered George to Inspector Henderson, Superman had requested that the prisoners be kept in protective custody away from the general jail population. "Luthor may have people he can get into the cells. I'd like to ensure that these two actually make it to trial." He hesitated to publicly suggest that there might be corrupt police officers to be guarded against.
Henderson had agreed and promised to post guards - he had carefully stressed the plural - on both of the prisoners. Superman had looked at Henderson and noted an almost imperceptible nod.
"With the evidence that this George character gave us, and what we received from your friends Lane and Kent, we should be able to issue a warrant on Lex Luthor that will stand up to the efforts of his most influential friends to 'assist our enquiries'." Henderson gave a feral grin that was belied by his twinkling eyes. " I can't remember when I've looked forward more to picking up a 'member of society'. Thanks, Superman. I'll let Kent know when we've got Luthor in custody."
"When will you be releasing Jack?"
"Any time now. Do you want me to give him a message?"
"Do you think you could keep an eye on him? I don't want any of the people Luthor has a grudge against unprotected until he's safely in jail. In his current condition, there is no telling what he'll do."
"I don't think your friend is going to be happy to have cops around once he knows he's free. I could arrange for him not to be released until the morning. If anyone asks, it took a while to sort out the paperwork. That okay?"
Smiling, Superman said, "I know I can leave it in your capable hands," and left.
When he had returned to the apartment, he had found a strangely cowed Nigel. He was staring straight ahead of him, pale but unharmed, his lips compressed into a mean thin line.
"What's wrong with Saint-John?" Superman had inquired of David with a raised brow.
David had grinned at him and shrugged, "We talked a little, that is all. At first he wanted to buy his freedom, but once I had reminded him where we first met, and told him how eagerly his former brethren awaited him, he fell strangely silent. Hasn't spoken a word since. Do you think he's counting his sins?" David had asked with a twinkle.
Superman had refrained from smiling. Putting a stern look on his face he turned to Nigel and said in an equally stern voice, "We'll be going now. I'm sure your friends in London are impatient to see you."
Picking up Nigel, he turned to David, "I'll be back in a few minutes. Will you gather up all the bugs? I know they are dead, but I'd rather not leave them here."
The man who answered the address Superman had been given in London greeted Superman warmly and shook his hand before turning to the already pale and suddenly sweating Nigel. He said nothing, however, and had said nothing since Clark had returned from delivering Mrs. Cox and the hapless George.
The Englishman turned to Nigel and said, "So good to see you again, old boy." Observing that there would be no reply, he turned back to Superman, "Can't thank you enough. If we can ever be of service, please don't hesitate. Your friend who contacted us before can do so again if need be."
Shaking Superman's hand again, he escorted Nigel to three men who were waiting to receive him and closed the door.
When he returned to the apartment, he found that David had disposed of all the bugs and relocked the door. Minutes later, they were landing at David's.
Entering the house Clark automatically scanned for Lois. He could hear her heartbeat coming from downstairs, but found he couldn't see through the shielding David had put in place.
Ever since he had spoken to Lois, Clark had been unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong. It was almost as if he sensed her - he knew that she was physically okay, but he could feel that she needed him.
On entering the control room, he found Lois sitting in David's chair, pale and apparently composed, or so he thought until he reached her side and saw the look in her eyes. She seemed unaware of him, staring at something only she could see. Squatting next to the chair, he touched her knee gently and called her name.
Her eyes focused on him without surprise at his presence and without losing their disconnected faraway expression. "Clark, did Lex create that copy of you? That Superman double?"
"Yes, why? What's happened?"
"Lex thinks he's solved the cellular decay problems. He told Asabi just before he killed him."
"Lex killed Asabi?" David asked worriedly. "Not good - they were close. If Lex has killed him, he has lost all control. "
"Is he growing more clones of me?" Clark asked Lois, knowing Asabi's death wasn't what had caused the look in her eyes.
"No. He's growing his own little army of Loises He wants 'compliant copies'. I'm only needed now to ensure that they mimic me closely enough to satisfy him. He started them growing this morning."
"The lab upstate?" David asked Clark with a raised eyebrow.
"And the ten subjects." Clark nodded grimly.
"Do you know where they are?" Lois's gaze sharpened on the two men as she found her internal focus again, a direction for the fear singing through her.
"No, but we will. Lois, we'll stop him and we'll destroy whatever he's doing in his lab. I promise he won't hurt you. I won't let him." Clark willed Lois back from whatever nightmare world her thoughts had taken her to.
They ignored both the sounds which were starting to emanate from the speaker on the console and David, who moved to mute the sound, pulling on a pair of headphones as he did so.
She searched his eyes as her own slowly cleared and she returned completely to the here and now. "We have to, Clark. We have to stop him for good this time."
Her voice was stronger and losing the awful toneless quality that had frightened him so badly. He threaded his fingers through her hair and cupped her jaw in his palm, communicating with his eyes and touch his love and conviction that they would prevail- that Lex would not win.
"Together we can do anything, remember?" he asked her softly. "There is no way he can be stronger than the two of us together - nothing is stronger than that, not even Superman."
Her eyes glistened with tears as she smiled shakily and wrapped her arms around him to hug him fiercely. "I love you, Clark." She whispered, gaining the strength from him that he sent her as warmth replaced the terrible coldness at the center of her.
David interrupted them with a gentle clearing of his throat. "The police have found Asabi's body in the control room. They've searched the penthouse, but there's no sign of Lex. They are looking for more secret hiding places. He's got to still be in the building somewhere."
"That place is a rabbit warren. He could be long gone before anyone finds his exit." Clark stood and pulled Lois to her feet holding tightly to her hand. "If I can break the code on Lex's computer, do you think you could locate the lab?" he asked David.
"We can't do it from here. We would have to be in the control room, but yes. If you can get me in, I can find it."
Clark nodded. "It will mean being seen publicly with us. Will that compromise your 'retirement'?" He was well aware that David's involvement thus far had been sub rosa. He didn't feel he had the right to ask that David expose himself when he had done more than enough already.
"I've reached the conclusion that retirement is not quite challenging enough, and any of my former associates who question my involvement in so worthy a cause must themselves fall under suspicion, no? Besides," he sighed with a twinkle, "you cannot expect me to bow out now. I wish to be 'in on the kill', as you Americans say. Would it not be better, though, if Lois remained here?"
"No!" she said sharply. "We stay together."
"From now until this is over," Clark agreed, "we don't leave each other's sight."
David looked at the couple before him and fancied he could see more than just their hands connecting them - that the energy which joined them was so strong it was almost physical. Nodding he said, "Let's go. We need to move quickly. Lex almost certainly has fail safes on his files. The police could wipe them with a misplaced keystroke."
"Get what you need. We'll meet you at the front door." Clark threw over his shoulder as he moved out of the room, Lois beside him.
They arrived at the penthouse a few minutes later, startling a police officer who was standing on the balcony.
"Where is Inspector Henderson?" Superman asked, his voice deep and authoritative.
"Inside. Is he expecting you?"
"Yes," Lois answered for them, brushing past the man and heading for a section of wall which stood open, her companions on her heels.
As they walked down the short hallway that led to the control room, they could hear excited voices, Henderson's among them.
Reaching the open doorway, they were unsurprised to find crime scene investigators milling around the room as Asabi's body was removed and evidence was collected.
Moving quickly, David reached the side of a man who was pushing buttons on one of the consoles and grabbed his hand away from the keyboard. "If you do any more of that, my friend, you will lose all the information that you seek. Pushing buttons when you don't know what they control is at best foolhardy, and, in this case, may set off booby traps which could kill us all."
"Harding, get outside and see how far the others have gotten on other ways out of this place, and don't touch anything." Henderson was disgusted. He looked at David and gestured at the computer, "You know how to get into this thing without getting us killed?" He didn't know who David was, but if Superman brought him, Henderson was willing to trust him without asking a lot of questions.
"With a little help, yes, I think so."
"There have been some disturbing developments, Henderson…" Lois began telling the detective about the lab and the clones as Clark moved to David's side and began entering passcode combinations at superspeed. "If he has slipped out of the building, it's a good bet that he's headed to the lab," she finished grimly.
"We're in," David announced. His fingers flew over the keyboard. The screen began flickering rapidly as file after file opened at his command.
"How long till you have an address for me?" Superman asked.
"A few minutes at least. There are thousands of files here, some of them encrypted. If I can find the phone bills, there's a chance I can track it down that way, but I need time."
Superman turned to Henderson, "Stay here. Call me if he finds anything. We're going to go assist the searchers."
Henderson's brows rose. "You're taking Lane with you?"
"He knows I'd just follow him if he left me behind."
Superman shrugged as if to say 'See, pointless'.
"Be careful." If Superman isn't going to argue with her, who am I to question? Henderson asked himself as he watched them set off.
As they followed the hallway and it curved back further into the building's center, Clark examined each wall and corner with care.
"There should be an elevator around here somewhere. Lex has a whole underground complex under the building, he showed it to me when the asteroid was heading toward earth. He wanted me to join him and the others he had invited so we could start the human race over again when the dust clouds settled."
"What did you say?" Clark already knew the answer, but the easy banter they shared when in situations like this helped to alleviate stress and was part of what made their working relationship so good.
"Told him I wanted to be at ground zero. I couldn't very well write about the end of the world if I didn't watch it, could I?"
"That's my girl." His smile widened to a grin as he found a panel with metal doors behind it, "I think I found that elevator." Pressing on the catch, he could see beneath the wallpaper. He heard a slight grinding noise as the panel sprung sideways revealing an elevator door.
Examining the control box, he could see where the power supply to the controls had been turned off and sent a laser beam to melt the switch and weld it closed. Pushing the button, he was pleased to hear the elevator begin to rise up the shaft. Turning to Lois, he caught her staring at him with an arrested expression on her face. "Lois? Something wrong?"
"When we get out of this, I am sitting you down and you are going to tell me each and every time you got us through a door I thought I opened myself. I also want to know how many of your 'hunches' were really just supervision, or superhearing."
Reddening slightly under her intent stare, he smiled and shrugged, "It does come in handy."
"Ha! That's what I thought," Lois said disgustedly.
He laughed, "It's only been a few of the electronic ones. You're pretty good with the standard locks."
"Gee, thanks, she said dryly as the door swished open.
"Never let it be said I don't give credit where it's due," he responded absently as he swept the elevator car visually. The top of the car was lead shielded, but the floor of the car was standard metal and he could see the bottom of the shaft hundreds of feet below. "It doesn't look like there are any stops before it reaches the sub-basement."
"Then we only have one floor to choose from - makes it easier."
She started to enter the elevator but was stopped by Clark's arm.
"It occurs to me that Lex might have noticed the elevator going up. He might be waiting for it to come back down again."
"Think he's got it rigged?"
"It's the only way down," she pointed out.
"Not necessarily." Cutting a hole through the bottom of the elevator car he peeled back the flooring and swept Lois up in his arms.
"What if someone starts the car before we reach the bottom?" She asked as they descended down the shaft.
"Then we go back up through the hole." He shrugged moving them faster down the shaft. "This way, at least he won't be expecting us. And if he is waiting for us, we can surprise him."
"Will you be able to see through the doors?"
"I hope so." They were near the bottom of the shaft and Clark slowed their descent so they hovered just above the level of the doors.
"I can see the corridor outside the door, but it's empty," he reported, setting them down on the lip which ran along the wall. Making sure she had her footing, he floated to the doors and pried them open cautiously, keeping his body between the opening and Lois.
When no alarms were raised he stepped out into the hall and looked around. "He's not in any of the rooms closeby." He turned and helped Lois out of the shaft. "How much of this place did he show you?"
"Not much. Just a couple of the common rooms and my apartment."
"Replicated down to the color of the candles on the table." She shivered. "It was spooky."
"Do you remember the way?" He noted the corridors which intersected this one and, by looking through the walls, was able to see the numerous rooms and levels which extended for nearly a mile in front of them. "This place is huge."
Lois moved down the hall trying to remember which way they had turned. "He planned on housing a couple hundred of the best people for several years until they could repopulate the Earth. That takes some room." She turned in the direction that felt right and moved to a door she recognized.
Scanning the door Clark said, "It's a library."
"Then the apartment is down the hall on the right."
"Lex as the father of the human race… now that's scary." Clark commented as they made their way to the door Lois indicated.
"Tell me about it. Do you think clones can have kids?" she asked grimly, her nightmare vision of Lex raising an army of her genetic descendants with his harem of Loises fresh in her mind.
"Not if they're never born." His reply was definite and cheerful, but his thoughts were equally grim as he glimpsed the world her fear had created.
Stopping in front of the door which even from the outside resembled the one in Lois's building, Clark scanned the room. "There's someone in there. I think it's Lex, but he's got his back to me."
"What's he doing?" Her voice unconsciously dropped to a whisper.
"Sleeping on the couch. Stay behind me." Slicing through the locks on the door he pushed the door open soundlessly. Moving fast, he reached the couch and had the man laying on it upright and pinned in a second.
Lois reached them and stood glaring bayfully at Lex. Her glare slowly faded, however, as she met the guileless eyes of a child staring at her out of Lex's body.
"That is not Lex."
"No." Clark scanned the figure in his hands. "It's a clone. Not more than a couple days old. Cellular decay has already set in, though. The metabolic rate is all wrong."
"It's a diversion. Lex is long gone and we've been wasting our time, just like he wanted us to." Lois was disgusted.
"Maybe not. At least we know that the clones aren't stable as Lex thought." Clark looked at the man on the couch and felt a wave of sympathy; he would die because someone had toyed with life to create him and he had asked for none of it. Just like his own clone.
"Do you know where Daddy is? I'm thirsty."
The little boy voice made Lois shudder and move away from the couch.
"We can't leave him here. It's not his fault."
"I know. Can we please hurry? The longer we wait, the closer we get to having something like that who looks like me wandering around."
"Hold on to me and we'll go find something to eat and drink, okay?" Clark asked the childlike clone gently. Receiving an eager nod, Clark wrapped an arm around his waist and held out his other to Lois.
She came to him without looking at the clone and allowed him to wrap his arm around her waist so that she was held at his side. Her arms held tightly to his and he chuckled. "I won't drop you," he promised.
She merely grunted closing her eyes against the rising wind as he flew them quickly back to the elevator shaft and up to the penthouse.
Henderson had at first been pleased to see the man being escorted by Superman. His mood quickly darkened, however when Clark informed him who the childlike Lex was.
"I think you should take him straight to STAR Labs. They are the only ones equipped to deal with something like this. I don't think there's anything that they can do, but at least they can keep him comfortable." He didn't want to refer to the clone's death in front of it.
"Okay. Then what?" Henderson was impatient to have Lex in custody, and felt distinctly like he'd been caught chasing his tail.
Lois looked at him in sympathy. She knew just how he felt. Glancing over at David, she asked, "Found anything?"
"Nearly there. I found the phone number that Lex called this morning. I'm tracking it down through a reverse directory." The technogenie was happily punching buttons on one keyboard while he used his other hand to operate another.
"We should go to the lab. Lex wants what's there and he has no reason to suspect that we know about it. He should think it's the perfect place to hide while we lose his trail. After all, why would we continue looking once we had the clone?"
Clark turned the clone over to a police officer with instructions that the clone was to obey anything someone in that uniform told him to do, and reassurances that the officers would look after him and take him someplace safe.
Turning back to Henderson, he asked, "Will you call the local authorities when we find the lab? They should meet us there. We'll need to close down the facility as well as destroy whatever experiments he's got going now."
Henderson looked at Superman and then at the doorway where he had last seen the copy Lex being lead docily away. "They might not appreciate it if you destroy evidence. I'll give you some lead-time and, as far as I'm concerned, you're only going up there to find Luthor. Don't tell me anymore."
"See, I told you there was a good guy deep down, Henderson." Lois grinned at him, trying to lighten the mood - but the smile didn't reach her eyes.
Henderson regarded her for a moment then said pensively, "Lane, the thought of more than one of you is enough to give me hives."
She grinned at him, the smile reaching her eyes this time making them crinkle, "I'll take that as a compliment."
"You would," he grumbled, but was secretly pleased. Pain in this ass or not, he liked Lane. He hadn't liked the look in her eyes when they had returned from the basement city and he was glad to see her smile.
Clark watched their exchange and hid his amusement. If anyone ever told Lois how many of the men she dealt with had minor crushes on her, she would hotly deny it, and be extremely embarrassed. She never really saw most of them as men, just male people she dealt with. Until recently, he had been among their number and he felt a kinship with them still - while secretly wanting to crow 'she belongs to me' to the world.
David turned away from the consoles and stood up. "I've got the location. It's an old pharmaceutical lab in Freeman County, on Hwy. 19. Lex bought it several years ago and supposedly closed it down, but someone took a phone call there this morning."
"That's it, it has to be." Clark looked at Lois. "Ready?" "Let's go. We'll call you, Henderson."
David smiled at the Detective and shook his hand. "Your computer man should be able to download the files now. I've removed the bugs and traps. You won't forget that I was never here, will you?"
"Since I don't know who you are, how would I remember your being here?" Henderson asked reasonably.
"Exactly!" David laughed as he followed Superman out the door.
It wasn't very long before they were floating in the air above the facility while Clark scanned the buildings.
David surveyed the distance to the ground and swallowed. He had been mildly uncomfortable while they were moving, but managed to ignore it. Simply hanging in the air was something else altogether and he found himself feeling distinctly nervous.
Glancing over at Lois, he asked, "Does the flying ever get to you?"
The sparkle in her eyes and flush on her cheeks answered his question. "I love it. When I was a kid I used to dream about flying a plane, but this is better."
Clark smiled without taking his eyes off the central building. He remembered the night she'd told him that, and how badly he'd wanted to fly her away.
"There's only one wing being used. I see incubators and some of the same equipment I found in the lab that grew my clone. There are only about six people that I see, but there's at least two rooms I can't see into - they've got lead shielding."
"If he's here, I'll bet that's where Lex is hiding." Lois stared down at the building wishing she had Clark's ability to see through the walls.
"His obsession would draw him here like a moth to a flame." David pointed out. "He must have come here. I say we land and check it out." He was developing a devout wish to feel the comfort of hard ground beneath his feet. Although he tried to hide his nervousness, he was uncomfortably aware that Clark couldn't help but feel the increasing tremor in his limbs. He'd never had a phobia like this before and he was grateful that it was not from a situation he would find himself in on a regular basis. Unreasoning fears were not something a man of his profession could afford, there were entirely enough reasonable ones.
He gave a silent sigh of relief as they landed and made their way to the entrance Clark had chosen, promising himself that he would find ground transportation home - regardless of how long it took.
Clark burned through the door locks and, when the door was opened, they found themselves in a featureless institutional corridor.
Motioning them along, Clark moved quickly and surely through the building following the path he'd laid out from above. Entering the room he'd determined to be the main lab, he moved at superspeed, yanking cords from pieces of equipment and tying up the three people he found there.
Moving into the next room, he tied up two more but was unable to locate the sixth. Returning to the first room, he found David asking one of the still shocked scientists where Lex could be found while Lois peered into a tank containing several frozen containers.
"They're labeled as biological samples. Some of them have my name on them." She told him when he reached her side.
"Stand back," he commanded gently. Ensuring that she was behind him, he sent a blast of heat into the tank and watched in satisfaction as the containers bubbled and melted. "I don't think anyone will be using those again."
"We need to get it all - every cell." She turned and made her way determinedly to the man David was questioning. "How many other samples do you have?" she demanded sharply.
"Just what's in the cold storage room." He nodded to a set of metal doors. "We only keep working samples in here."
"What about the clones?" Superman was deliberately intimidating, allowing his eyes to glow red briefly.
"The subjects are in the growth tanks in the next lab, but I don't know where Mr. Luthor is. Honestly, I haven't seen him." The man was terrified but found no sympathy from his captors, who glanced at each other and moved in silent agreement to the door he'd indicated.
Opening the door cautiously, Clark peered into the room. "I found the other worker bee," he told the others before moving to secure this one with them.
He returned to find Lois staring in horror at the procession of steel tanks which filled the room. Suspended deep within the fluid filled six foot tanks was a cloudy mass, barely visible in the soft lighting which illuminated each tank.
David moved wordlessly to the nearest tank and, after examining the buttons on the side for a moment, pushed one. Lois watched, an unreadable expression on her face, as the tank's contents was flushed down a drain at the tanks base.
Moving to the next one, she repeated his actions, ensuring that the tank was emptying before turning to its neighbor.
Clark moved quietly back out of the room unnoticed by Lois. There was only one other place Lex could be hiding and, with any luck, he would have him tied and gagged before Lois had to see him.
Going out of the room and across the hallway, Clark opened the door which led to the room he'd been unable to see into. As soon as he opened the door, he knew he'd found the kryptonite - he felt its unmistakable burning. He was trying to pull the door closed again when he felt strong hands push him from behind. Off balance and weakening rapidly, Clark was propelled further into the room, falling to the floor in front of a cage with green glowing bars.
Curled on his side in agony, he looked up to see Lex's hated visage looming over him.
Lex closed the door with a quiet click. Turning back to Clark, he smiled triumphantly, madness glittering in his eyes. "Superman, so nice of you to come to me and save me the trouble of finding you. And I see you've brought me Lois. So very considerate." Pulling a gun out of his pocket, Lex squatted just out of Clark's reach. "I almost made some kryptonite bullets, but I thought that I would enjoy watching you die slowly in the cage so much more. I'll have to settle for shooting you now, there's no time for a really satisfyingly long death. That's the trouble with society these days - no one takes the time to really enjoy life. " He sighed mournfully. "Ah, well," cheering considerably as he added, "it won't take long for the kryptonite to strip away all of your invulnerability - a plain bullet should do nicely then."
"It's over, Luthor. You can't win. The police are on their way and we've destroyed all the clones. There's no where for you to go and nothing for you to go back to. We got into your files, Lex. Every dirty deal you ever made has just gone public. Your entire network will be scattering and no one will help you." Clark tried to sound strong, but he could feel his breath shorten as the tightness in his chest grew. He hoped that it would be David and not Lois who found them as he played for time.
"I've got money hidden against a rainy day and I will build again." Lex shrugged. "I'll also have Lois and, with the love of a good woman, a man can do anything. Don't you agree?"
"Lois doesn't love you, Luthor. She never has."
"I suppose you think she loves you? Don't fool yourself. Without your powers she would never look twice at you."
"Maybe not, Luthor, but even if I never existed, Lois would still not love you."
Clark watched in fascination as fury blaised across Lex's face, contorting his features as they reddened. Just as quickly, the mask of civility returned, although his color remained high. Like glimpses of his soul, it occurred to Clark, as Lex's next words turned his blood to ice.
"I'll enjoy breaking her spirit. " He smiled, his eyes glowing in anticipation. "Women are like horses, in order to break them to the saddle, one must frequently use a whip as well as the bridle. But once one has properly conditioned the mount, it will come to enjoy being ridden."
"Lois is not a horse." The cold fury Clark felt momentarily overcame the effects of the kryptonite as adrenaline surged through his system. Rising partway to his knees, he flung himself at Lex, but fell gasping as Lex danced away.
Lex looked critically at the man writhing at his feet. Extending one foot, he prodded his victim in the side only to have to move quickly as Clark grabbed for it. "Yes, well, there's still a bit too much life in you yet. Not to worry, it shouldn't take long before your regenerative abilities are completely destroyed. You should bleed to death quite nicely that way."
"Why don't you just shoot me in the head and get it over with?" Clark asked as he pulled himself along the floor away from the cage and further into the room. It was taking all of his remaining energy to move, but Lois was coming - he could feel her, and he had to get Lex to turn so his back was to the door.
"Oh, no, no, you miss the point! Death must be savored. Oh, I admit there is a certain satisfaction to be had from a quick and efficient kill, but, really, there is nothing quite like watching the light just fade from the eyes of your prey." Lex smiled fondly as his gaze unfocused and, for a moment, he stood staring into space. "Death is one of my favorite pastimes. I've studied it in all its forms - from the lowest life forms to the highest and it's really the thinking creatures which die best."
His gaze refocused on Clark and he moved closer, turning in the process. Looking down at him, he frowned crankily. "Superman, please, moving away will only prolong your agony. Much as I would enjoy that, I really don't have the time."
Lois watched in satisfaction as the last of the tanks emptied and turned to find herself alone. Going back to the lab, she called for Superman but was answered by David.
"I thought he was with you." David had finished destroying the samples in the cold room. He was dismayed to find Clark was no longer with Lois.
"He's in trouble, David. I can feel it." Lois could feel a hard knot of panic grow within her as she tuned into Clark in an effort to locate him. She'd been able to sense him before when he'd been in trouble and she was not disappointed now. She could feel how weak he was. It had to be the kryptonite and Lex.
Instinctively, she moved out into the hall and toward the door she knew Clark was behind. Her hand was on the knob before David reached her and she turned on him in fury when he pulled her hand away. "Let me go. Lex is killing him. I've got to get in there."
"We must move cautiously. We don't know what we'll find."
"I know that Clark is dying, and that if I don't get rid of Lex now, he'll kill us both." Lois had never known such desperation or such cold anger. She could feel him dying, feel a tightness in her chest that wasn't her own. At that moment, she was capable of killing Lex with her bare hands if need be. Would kill him before she let him hurt Clark any further.
"I will take care of Luthor. You concentrate on getting Clark away." He'd moved to the door then. Lois thought she would scream - he turned the knob and inched the door open so slowly. The sight of Clark pale and gasping made her hate Lex even more.
"I'm not dying to please you, Lex." Clark could see the door opening slowly behind Lex and forced the words out against the constriction of his throat. Telling himself he could breath later - Lois needed him now - he continued, "You won't win, Lex. Even if you kill me, you won't win."
"Of course I will! Your defiant attitude would normally be entertaining, but you really must face facts. Once I have Lois, Asabi and I will…"
"You killed Asabi, remember, Lex?" Lois spoke from behind him.
Lex hadn't finished turning before David fired a shot, forcing him to drop the gun as he cried out in agony and grabbed his shoulder.
David kicked the gun to the corner of the room as he shoved Lex into the bars of the cage. Lex cried out again as his offended shoulder hit hard and he sank to his knees.
Lois felt a surge of savage satisfaction at Lex's cry of pain, but she spared him no glance as she moved around the men to reach Clark. "Let's get you out of here."
Her eyes were dark with worry and he smiled at her as he tried with her help to stand. But the effect was ruined when his legs failed and he fell against her.
Lois grunted as she staggered under his weight, but managed to get him into the hallway and a few feet away before allowing him to slide down the wall to the floor. "Are we far enough away?" She asked.
"Yes, just give me a few minutes."
His gasping breaths were easing, but he was still deathly white and his skin was feverish where she touched it. She was about to ask him how she could help him when a gunshot rang out from the room they'd exited.
"Stay here, she commanded him as she ran back to the doorway, halting as she took in the tableau before her. It was several moments before she spoke and Clark was becoming worried when finally she said, "Lex is dead. He pulled a knife. David killed him." Her voice was toneless, but as she turned and caught sight of Clark struggling to stand against the wall, it sharpened. "What do you think you're doing?" Reaching his side once more, she wrapped an arm around him, pulling his across her shoulders to help him stand.
"And what exactly happened to 'we don't leave each other's sight till this is over'? I turned around and you'd disappeared on me. Is there some part of the stay together concept that I missed?"
Worry transmuted to anger as she recalled the feeling she'd had that he was dying. Seeing Lex standing over Clark, gun pointed down at him, she spoke without thinking - intent only on turning the gun away. She'd had no control over the surge of satisfaction she'd felt when Lex dropped to the floor. She wondered if that was what had led her to lie to Clark just now. Or maybe, she admitted to herself grimly, it's because he may have done it for me.
Pushing the thought away, she continued, "You do realize you nearly got yourself killed, don't you? That if we had taken a few more minutes to find you he would have shot you? What did you think yo…"
Her words were lost against his mouth as he kissed her. She was breathless when he released her and he smiled tiredly down at her, "We won, Lois. Lex is gone. He can't hurt you anymore. It's over."
He expected her to be pleased and was puzzled by her look of weary acceptance. "You okay?"
Lois smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "I'm just tired. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm going to be fine." He hugged her close, relieved that it was over without Lois having been hurt. David walked out into the hall and met Clark's eyes over Lois's head.
"Are you all right, my friend?"
"Yes, I'm going to be fine. The police are coming. They should be here in a few minutes." His superhearing was returning and he could hear the sirens, although they were still some miles away.
"In that case, I think that I'll be going before the rest of the party arrives. I'd rather not draw anymore attention to myself."
"If you can wait a minute, I'll fly you home. I just need to get out in the sun for awhile. Then I'll be fully recharged."
"No, no, that's quite all right." He had no intention of flying home if he didn't have to. "I'll just borrow one of the cars out front and leave it in Metropolis."
"Thank you, David, for everything you've done." Lois was grim as she looked at him from the shelter of Clark's arms. She owed this man a great deal. Whatever else had happened they would not now be free if it weren't for him.
He nodded gravely at them before allowing a smile to lighten his dark features, "We shall meet again, my friends." With a finger salute, he walked down the hallway turning a corner and disappearing from sight.
"What do you say we go outside and wait for the police in the sunshine?" Lois was looking worriedly up at Clark. His pallor told her that, despite his protestations to the contrary, he was not fully recovered.
"That's a good idea." He smiled wearily as they started toward the exit, "What do you say we take a few days off after we deal with the cops? I think we need a vacation."
Lois chuckled, "Well, since we're both gainfully unemployed, I think that we could arrange it."
"Oh. Yeah, I forgot."
They walked out into the sunshine, Lois soaking up the warmth of the late afternoon rays while Clark gathered strength. They were quiet, each lost in their own thoughts and content to be alive and together.
Clark stood on his patio looking out over the city and listening with half an ear to Lois's side of her conversation with Perry. It was nearly midnight. They had spent the day fielding questions from every local, state or federal authority who could find a reason to be legitimately involved in the investigation of Lex Luthor.
The FBI had closed down and confiscated the cloning lab last night. They had been none too pleased to find all of the tissue samples and clones destroyed, but Superman had pointed out that they had both Luthor's clone and his body for genetic comparison. They also had the files which had been downloaded from Lex's computers, but, mysteriously, the records from the lab's computers were irretrievable.
It had been late when they had arrived back at Clark's. Lois had fallen asleep within minutes of sitting down on the couch. He moved her to the bed, dropping beside her, exhausted from the day and still not fully himself after the kryptonite exposure. He hoped, as he curled next to Lois, draping an arm around her waist to pull her close to him, that they would be able to sleep in, but, as word of Lex's death spread, it was inevitable that they would be in demand.
Men from the CIA came knocking on Clark's door first thing that morning before he and Lois were even awake. When they asked searching questions about who the man who had been seen assisting them was, Lois replied that she didn't know. The man was a friend of Superman who was helping because he owed Superman a debt. Other than that, neither she nor Clark knew who he was or where he could be found.
When they asked Clark why he hadn't been at either the penthouse or the lab with Superman and Lois, he had replied somewhat truthfully that he had been in Kansas yesterday. He'd helped his father pull a carburetor if they wanted to check. Superman had flown him home late last night and he and Lois had been there ever since. The men left dissatisfied, but unable to prove that the reporters were lying.
Superman had gone immediately to David's, but found the house empty save for their cases standing in the hall with a note attached. Even the basement control room was empty with nothing to show that anything had ever been there.
He'd returned to find Lois dressed in his robe, hair dripping, on the phone with Henderson. She was telling him in an irritated tone that, if he wanted to talk to them, he could at least have the decency to wait until they'd dressed and had a cup of coffee, but if he couldn't do that, then give them at least ten minutes, please!
He made a fresh pot of coffee while Lois dressed. The coffee she'd made wasn't really potable - it had the consistency of thick treacle. He'd barely had time for a shower at superspeed before Henderson came knocking at the door with the FBI hot on his heels. They'd played tag with various agencies all day, alternating time on the phone with 'debriefings' as one agent had termed their interview.
They had returned exhausted from their last interview only to find the phone ringing. Lois had been talking with Perry for nearly an hour. Clark had left to respond to a cry for help, returning only to find her still on the phone, but now it seemed that the conversation was finally winding down.
"Okay, Perry. Yes, we'll meet you there at ten. Goodnight." Lois hung up the phone and wandered out to the patio where Clark was standing. "Perry wants us to meet him in front of the Planet in the morning. Franklin Stern wants to meet 'the partnership that brought down Lex Luthor.' Seems he only bought the newspaper to begin with because he hated Lex. Now that his paper gets to cover the exposure of Lex's criminal activities and cover his demise from the inside, Mr. Stern is happier than ever about his new venture. And he thinks we're pretty terrific as well."
"Of course he does. We are terrific." He smiled at her as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, gathering her close against him. He sighed as he felt her body resting against his, her arms going around his waist as she tucked her head under his chin. It felt so good to have the freedom to hold her, and have her hold him in return.
They stood enjoying the first moment of real peace they'd had all day. Lois stirred finally to look up at him. "Do you think David will be alright?" she asked softly.
"He knows better then we do how to avoid the people who are looking for him. His note said not to worry, that he would be in touch when he could."
"You didn't tell me there was a note." Lois was surprised and curious. "What else did it say?"
"There wasn't time this morning. And I think we need to talk about what's in here after you read it." He pulled the note from his pocket and handed it to her.
Lois stepped away from him and stared down at the note in her hands. She still hadn't made up her mind whether or not she would tell Clark about what she had seen in the lab yesterday. She stuck to her story with the police, but keeping it a secret from Clark - that was different. She opened it cautiously, almost afraid to read its contents.
My dear friends,
I've decided that a change of location might be beneficial to my health and so I regret that I am not here to greet you. Lois, please do not think that it was at your behest that I killed Luthor. He was a man of great evil, and I determined from the first that if the opportunity presented itself, I would eliminate his blight from humanity. His obsession would not have decreased with time or incarceration, and he would eventually have made trouble for you both again. The only way to deal with a rabid dog is a bullet through the head. It is quick and humane while protecting society from a potentially deadly threat.
Whatever blood is on my hands is a small price to pay for the knowledge that this rabid dog will never bite anyone again. I only hope you can forgive me, my dear, and that you will not blame yourself.
Do not worry about me, my friends. I will contact you when interest in me has cooled again. Until then, take care of each other, and remember that, once we are gone, love is all which survives.
Remember me kindly,
Lois handed the note back to Clark, meeting his eyes, her own sad.
He crumbled the note in his hand, then held the ball of paper in the flat of his palm and set it on fire with a single burst of heat vision. When it had burned to ashes, he blew them away. "What happened yesterday?" he asked her gently when he was through. "When I realized you weren't still with me, I went looking for you…" She told him everything that happened before they'd reached him, including the way she'd felt his pain, and the anger it had generated within her.
"When I reached the door of the lab, I saw David putting the knife in Lex's hand. All I could feel was relief. I didn't tell you the truth because I was scared, and ashamed. I thought David might have killed him because I wanted him dead so badly." Her voice was low, sinking nearly to a whisper as she finished. She met his gaze unflinchingly, searching his eyes for understanding.
Clark nodded. He understood better than she thought. "When I found out what Lex had been putting you through … I would have killed him before I let him hurt you." He remembered the surge of rage he'd felt to hear Lex describe how he would break Lois. The thought of a whip being used on her soft flesh had brought a wave of hatred that had been frightening in its intensity. He'd never felt such a purely primal emotion before. He would have killed him then … if he'd been able.
He drew a deep breath. "I wanted to kill him, Lois. When he talked about you, about hurting you, I tried to get to him, but I was too weak. I'm not so sure that I wouldn't have killed him then, Lois. I'm not proud of that, but I'm not ashamed of it either. He was trying to destroy us. We had every right to fight back, to defend ourselves and each other." He ran his hands through his hair frustratedly, and shook his head. "We can't blame ourselves because Lex is dead. Even if we aren't sorry that he is, we didn't kill him."
"As for David…" It was something he'd thought about off and on all day, but he'd reached no real conclusion until now. Speaking to Lois brought him the clarity it so often did as he put his thoughts into words…he was true to his nature and his training and he never tried to hide what he was. What he did was wrong no matter how noble his motives, but I won't expose him. I owe him my life and yours."
"That's why I felt responsible, Clark. I told a killer that I wanted a man dead. I felt kind of like the man in the story. You know, the one where the moral is 'be careful what you wish for'. I've said those words before in anger, 'I could kill you or him', but I never really felt it before. I could feel you dying and it felt like I was dying. God, Clark…" She shook her head and, in her eyes, he could see love and fear. "When did you become a part of me?"
He reached out his hand and touched her cheek gently, his eyes full of the love he felt for her. "I think we were always part of each other, Lois. Something in me recognized you the minute I met you - like we'd always been parts of each other."
Her eyes full of tears, she whispered, "I'm afraid of losing myself in you - of loving you so much that I'm not me anymore. I'm just us."
"That's not possible," he replied, his voice husky with emotion. He threaded his fingers through her hair and cradled her cheek in his palm. "I found myself when I found you. Without you Superman wouldn't exist, you kept me from quitting more than once. How could I let you be lost when it would mean losing myself?"
She smiled mistily at him, trying to convey with her eyes the emotions she couldn't find the words for - they filled her so completely. 'I love you' didn't express it well enough, but she said it all the same, pulling him close for a kiss, letting her actions convey what her words couldn't.
The phone began ringing again but it went unnoticed by the couple on the patio. They were fully engrossed in redefining their partnership in new and far more pleasurable ways.