By C. Malo <Ccmalo@aol.com>
Submitted July 1999
Summary: An elderly woman comes to the Daily Planet to deliver a warning to Lois and Clark. But who is she and how does she know so much about them?
This is a revised version of a story I posted on the fanfic listserv back in February. I wrote it because I wanted to see if I could write a *short* story. It takes place early in S1, just before The Green, Green Glow of Home. Feedback is always very welcome.
note: words between * * denote emphasis
The old woman stepped out of the hazy shadows of Metropolis Park, walking as briskly as her ninety year old body would permit toward the traffic lights at the intersection on the southeast corner. The slowness of age had led her to a new appreciation of the order and safety provided by the stoplights which, in her youth, she had mostly ignored. Jaywalking was a sport for those more adept at dodging oncoming traffic than she now was. And there was such a lot of traffic, even at this early time of day, just before sunrise. More traffic than she remembered, she thought, as she glowered at a passing taxi which ran the light just as she stepped into the crosswalk. Muttering to herself, she retreated a few paces to avoid being hit. She had forgotten that crossing the road was a survival skill in Metropolis.
Minutes later, she reached her destination and paused for a second to stare up at the large globe crowning the front entrance of the imposing concrete building which loomed before her. As she did, she felt her heart rate increase, an erratic flutter betraying her nervousness at what she was about to do. Taking a deep breath, she pushed through the revolving door, then stood quietly, letting her gaze roam around the front lobby before she walked over to the elevator that would take her to the newsroom of the Daily Planet.
Moments later, standing at the top of the steps which lead to the newsroom floor, she stopped to survey her surroundings, to get her bearings in this place where she was a stranger and yet where she felt so at home. The room was both vast and cluttered, a labyrinth of desks dotted with computer monitors and the random litter of the idiosyncratic personalities which make a newspaper great. A huge, ceiling-high window dominated the east wall of the room, letting in a suggestion of the approaching sunrise. For a few seconds the old woman was overwhelmed by nostalgia and a longing for the intensity of her youth when her passions had been so easily aroused and her energy so quickly galvanized. She shook her head and smiled inwardly, amused by the tricks of time.
At that early hour in the morning only a few people were working in the newsroom. This did not surprise her. The night staff had always been a skeleton staff; at least it had been since the Planet had stopped publishing two editions a day. In the centre of the maze of desks, a neatly, yet casually, dressed man, not much more than twenty, appeared to be discussing the merits of some photographs with a balding man badly in need of a shave and a more sensible diet. The old woman smiled as she observed them, imagining how the younger man was defending his favorite among those pictures spread out on the desk.
As if aware that she was watching them, the young man looked up and caught sight of her, smiling politely as he walked over to the stairs where she was standing. "Hi. What can we do for you?" His voice was gentle, as though he were speaking to a child.
Narrowing her eyes, the old woman flashed him a sharp look of disapproval before speaking in a tone that let him know she expected to be taken seriously. "I'm looking for Lois Lane and Clark Kent." She knew, of course, the two reporters were not part of the night staff, but she had wanted to see the Planet first, before they came. To remember.
The young man smiled at her again and spoke patiently. "They're probably still sleeping. They'll be in about 8:00 o'clock, so you've got about three hours to wait. Why don't you go home and come back later? Here, you can leave a message for them." Gently taking her arm, he escorted her toward their desks and, with a quick glance at the randomly layered paper on Lois's desk, he turned to Clark's. "Uh, maybe, you'd have a better chance leaving the note on Clark's desk." He picked up a pencil and paper and handed it to her.
She reached out to take them and then stopped. "Thank you, but I'll come back later." She turned to leave.
"What's your name?" he called after her. "I'll tell them you were here."
The woman was quiet for a moment before answering. Then she smiled at him and said in a pleased voice, "Althea Fitzgerald."
"Okay, Mrs. Fitzgerald, I'll tell them you were looking for them."
Out on the street, Althea Fitzgerald wondered how she was going to kill the three hours before Lois and Clark got to the newsroom. She knew she had better take it easy; her energy was now a precious resource, to be expended carefully. She was in pretty good shape, but now the qualifier, "for a woman her age" was usually added whenever anyone applied that description to her.
With a start she realized she had no money. Why hadn't she thought about that? She'd flung herself on this mission quickly without thinking much about the details. These days she was becoming so forgetful. Looking around the streets for inspiration, she began to lose her nerve. How am I going to do this, she thought. You have to do this. If you fail, then everything is lost.
Turning back, she reentered the Planet and threw herself on the mercy of the neatly dressed young man, who introduced himself as Jimmy Olsen. Five minutes later, she had managed to convince him to let her rest on the sofa in Perry White's office. One minute later, she was fast asleep.
Jimmy Olsen spotted Clark Kent as he stepped out of the elevator. He was a little early and, for that, Jimmy, who had agreed to work the night shift for a couple of weeks (a learning experience, son, was what Perry had said), was grateful. That meant he wouldn't have to wait around for the two reporters. For some reason, he felt a sense of obligation to the old woman who was now fast asleep on Mr. White's comfortable leather sofa.
"C.K., there's someone here to see you and Lois." Jimmy nodded in the direction of the editor-in-chief's office. "She's been here since about 5 this morning."
Clark looked over at Perry's office. The blinds on the large window overlooking the newsroom were open and as far as Clark could tell, without resorting to x-ray vision, the office was empty. "Doesn't look like anyone's there now, Jimmy."
"She's out like a light on the chief's couch." Jimmy grinned as the two men walked toward the office. "She's pretty old, but don't let her appearance fool you. You wouldn't believe how stubborn she is. I don't know what she wants, but you're probably gonna do it for her." He tapped on the door and then turned the knob.
Jimmy's knocking awakened Althea and she sat up with a start, momentarily confused by her surroundings. Where was she? Why was her grandson here? Then she remembered. She swung her legs around so that her feet were touching the floor and then stood up. "Good morning," she said. "Comfortable couch." Not quite fully awake, she stared at the two young men.
"Hi, Mrs. Fitzgerald. This is Clark Kent."
My, he's good looking, Althea thought as she looked at the tall, broad shouldered man in front of her. She shook the reporter's hand and met his dark eyes. As soon as her hand touched his, she felt confident again about what she had to do.
Clark held her small, slender hand in his large one, puzzled for a moment. Somehow, he felt that he knew this woman although he was sure that they had never met. He would have remembered her; there was a vitality in her eyes and a dignity in her bearing that transcended age. "Hello, Mrs. Fitzgerald. Jimmy said you wanted to see me."
Althea's voice was crisp. "Yes, I must talk to you, Mr. Kent, and I need to talk to Lois Lane as well."
"She should be here any minute," Clark said as the door opened. However, it was not his partner who walked in, but his boss, Perry White.
"You all comfortable in here?" Perry drawled, barely looking at them as he tossed the competition's newspapers on his desk. Clark and Jimmy both flushed slightly at the sarcasm in the older man's tone. Then came the order. "Jimmy. Coffee. Now. And a double sprinkled, jelly doughnut."
"Yes, sir." Just short of saluting, the kid backed out of the office.
Althea felt sorry for Jimmy whom she liked; so, with a look of mischief, she fixed her eyes on Perry White and decided to play the old age card, the one that said you can get away with being a little bit rude. "The doughnut's a bad choice, Mr.White." Her voice innocent, she continued, "for people with weight and blood pressure problems."
Amused, Clark watched as Perry White blustered for a second, oozing his disapproval at the thin white haired woman in front of him. Clark could see Perry struggling to retrieve the politeness of his southern breeding and then, finally, triumph. Perry White stood silent. This gave Clark his opportunity. "Uh, Chief, this is Mrs. Fitzgerald. She's been here a couple of hours, waiting to see Lois and me. We'll just go over to the conference room until Lois gets here." As he finished speaking, he took Althea's arm and shepherded her out of Perry's office before the editor had a chance to speak.
Halfway to their destination, Althea halted in front of Clark as she caught sight of Lois Lane. She watched the young woman, the swing of her shoulder length hair telegraphing her confidence, stride to her desk, then dump her purse on the corner beside a straggly plant much in need of water, fertilizer, light, anything that was life giving. Althea sighed as she looked at her, mourning the vitality of her own lost youth. Then she aware of Clark Kent introducing them and ushering them to the Daily Planet cafeteria for some breakfast for which Althea Fitzgerald was grateful. It had been a long time since she'd last eaten.
"Why did you want to see us, Mrs. Fitzgerald?" Lois asked as they placed their trays on a formica topped table in a sunlit corner of the large room. She sat down and took a sip of her coffee with the sensual sigh of a person who has been deprived of caffeine.
Althea took a deep breath before she spoke, knowing that what she was about to say would sound incredible. "I've come to warn you both. There are people who want you dead."
"What?" Lois looked at Althea with surprise followed by skepticism. "Who? How do you know?" Who *was* this woman, she wondered.
"Two people. One of them is a striking red haired woman, about your age. The other is her brother, tall, solidly built. You must be careful of any strangers you encounter today. Beware of anything suspicious."
"Mrs. Fitzgerald, we're constantly meeting strangers." Clark's voice was kind. "It's part of the job."
"I know that. But you must be careful." She looked directly at Clark. "You're too trusting. You can't trust everyone." This was going badly. She kept her gaze on Clark, an appeal in her dark eyes. Then she turned to Lois, touching her arm for a second, and spoke firmly. "Don't let him out of your sight. Don't let him try anything new, and don't leave him alone with any strangers. He's their first target, but if they can't kill him, they'll try to kill you." Her voice was urgent.
Lois was touched by the woman's distress but she didn't, for even a moment, believe her. What Mrs. Fitzgerald was saying sounded like today's horoscope, the one Lois never believed but always read. She wondered how old the woman was. Maybe she was suffering from some form of delusion or dementia and had wandered away from her home. She carried no purse and her clothes appeared very casual, a loose blue tunic, belted with a red sash, over dark pants, almost like pyjamas. She and Clark should try to get her home.
"Who are these people?" Lois was surprised at Clark's tone of voice as he asked the question. He was taking this woman seriously! Well that figured. Still the small town boy, still naive about people in the big city. She wondered how long it would take her to train him properly, to give him a harder edge. They didn't have time for this human interest stuff. She tried to give him a warning glare but he was ignoring her, concentrating on Althea Fitzgerald who seemed to fascinate him.
"They're evil, Clark," Althea spoke impetuously. "They're master criminals intent on controlling the world."
"Terrorists, you mean?"
"That, and more. And they have weapons you've never seen before."
"But why would they want to kill Clark and me? Clark's only been in Metropolis a few months."
"They know the two of you will try to stop them. So they plan to strike first."
"Uh huh." Lois still did not believe any of this. "Any names? Organizations? Places?"
Althea looked at Lois with impatience. God, she was stubborn. "Warn Superman. If they kill you, then they'll kill Superman."
Lois looked startled but it was Clark who said, "I don't think so. Superman's invulnerable."
"No one's invulnerable, Mr. Kent, not even Superman," but as she said this she made up her mind. This wasn't working. Lois didn't take her seriously and Clark didn't take the threat to Superman seriously. Althea sighed; she had to admit that her story was awfully vague but she didn't want to give them more information. Some things should remain unknown. She stood up. "Thanks for breakfast. I'll be going now."
Clark was surprised by her abruptness. He could read the disappointment in the dullness of her eyes; she seemed to have given up. He stood up quickly. "Where can we get in touch with you, Mrs. Fitzgerald?" He, too, had noticed the absence of a purse and, although he had picked up on Lois's skepticism, for some unknown reason he believed Althea.
Althea met his eyes steadily, satisfied that he, at least, thought she was telling the truth. "I'm not sure, but I'll be around." She turned and walked away, her posture straight and her step firm.
"Clark, you don't buy what she's saying, do you? *Beware the red haired woman.* I mean, really." Lois rolled her brown eyes in exasperation at her so-called partner.
"Lois, there's something about her." Clark gestured with his right hand, emphasizing the importance he attached to what he was saying.
Lois interrupted. "Well, you're right about that. Her keepers are probably looking for her right now."
"Lois, that's not fair. She's old, not senile."
"I didn't say she was. Anyway, it's blondes, not redheads, that you have to watch out for." Lois was still annoyed at what she felt was his gullibility about Toni Taylor's goals. Why did men always believe that "heart of gold" automatically followed "beautiful blonde"? Not that the mobster's daughter had been that beautiful, Lois thought.
Clark grinned at her. "Don't worry, Ms. Lane, I don't get misled easily."
Lois slid out from her chair. "Yeah, right." Without looking at him, she strode toward the exit. He followed, aware that they were both being watched by Althea Fitzgerald who had not yet left the cafeteria. "I'll catch up with you later, Lois," he said as his partner entered the elevator. Lois raised her eyes heavenward as she noticed where he was headed, then jabbed the button to shut the elevator door while Clark walked over to where Althea was standing.
"Where do you live, Mrs. Fitzgerald? Can I take you home?"
"No, no. I, uh, live uptown." She mentioned a street name and then realized her slip. "Thanks, but it's all right." Althea spoke quickly; there was, after all, no place to take her.
Concerned, Clark looked at her, his voice soft as he spoke. "You've forgotten your purse. Can I lend you money for a cab?" As he was speaking, he pulled a twenty out of his wallet and handed it to her.
Althea smiled at him as she took the money. "Thanks, Clark. I'll pay you back." But as she left him, she knew that she wouldn't.
When she got outside the building, Althea looked at the twenty with curiosity; she'd got so used to not using money that the crisp bill felt odd in her hand. She knew, too, that she was going to need more money than this while she was here. Stuffing it in her pocket, she stood on the curb and raised her hand to hail a cab.
"Where to, lady?" the cabbie asked as Althea slid onto the back seat.
"Nearest pawn shop. On 33rd." Althea couldn't remember its name but she had been there before. She raised her left hand to look at her wedding band, her eyes misting as she thought of her husband, remembering the wonder of their life together and the love and tenderness in his eyes as he had placed the ring on her finger on that day so long ago.
Taking a deep breath to clear her thoughts, she began constructing her plan. She had to assume that Morgana and Wulf were already here. They would recognize her if they saw her so she had decided back in the Daily Planet Cafeteria that she had better try to change her appearance, although for someone her age that might prove difficult. The white hair had to go. Maybe glasses, the tinted kind. That struck her as funny and she choked back a giggle. Different clothes, grey-beige urban camouflage so she could blend into the background and keep an eye on Lois Lane and Clark Kent unrecognized by anyone.
The cab pulled up in front of a seedy storefront with a shabby sign: Rick's — Cash for Goods. Althea got out and a few minutes later she was slipping her cherished wedding band from her finger, and with a shaky hand, sliding it across the counter to the pawn broker. He examined it carefully, then weighed it, and made her an offer which she accepted. She had no choice.
"Clark, here's that research you wanted on the transit project."
Clark looked up at the pretty, young research assistant who had started work at the Planet a couple of days ago. Her flame red hair caught his attention and, as he stared at it, she smiled at him invitingly.
"Anything else I can do for you, Clark?" Her voice was a little less efficient, a little lower, than it had been a moment ago.
"Not right, now. Thanks, Janine." As she walked away, his eyes followed her, speculatively.
Lois glanced across at him. "I know what you're thinking, Clark, and you're wrong. Janine is not an undercover agent for, what was it, oh yeah, a terrorist organization bent on world domination." She exaggerated the last words as she spoke. "She was an intern here last year for a few months and, as it turns out, she's a good friend of Rania's daughter."
"Rania?" Clark was still new enough at the Planet to not yet know all the people who worked for the paper.
"In Accounting. She's the nice woman who is misguided enough to sign your paycheck." Lois paused for a moment to give Clark a penetrating look. "*I* know, it's probably Cat. Now I could buy that. Auburn hair, strange behavior. Not much covered up, though."
Clark grinned at her. "Nice try, Lois." He got up and walked over to sit on the edge of her desk. "Why would these people be after you and me, Lois? She said I was their prime target but I've never covered a story dealing with terrorists. It doesn't make much sense."
"Well, that's because you're right. It doesn't make *any* sense. I don't know why you believe this woman, Clark." She stretched for the phone book on the corner of her desk. "Look, I'll prove it to you." Flipping through the white pages, her finger pointed to a list of about twenty A. Fitzgerald's. "O.K. I'll take the first half and you take the second." She started punching numbers into her phone.
Some time later, they'd come up empty. Answering machines had given them first names, none of which was "Althea" and the others had turned out to be dead ends, too. "Doesn't mean anything, Lois. The phone could be listed under her husband's name. She told me she lived on Hyperion." He quickly scanned the rest of the Fitzgeralds but there were none listed on Hyperion. "Maybe the number's unlisted. Lois, I'm going up there to see if I can find her. Coming?"
She grinned at him. "Don't think so. Somebody's gotta work on a real story." She waved her hand at him dismissively, but couldn't resist adding, "But I'll beware the *redheaded* woman."
Clark gazed at the row of old, limestone townhouses lining each side of Hyperion which was a short cross street between two longer thoroughfares. Most of the dwellings needed some serious renovation, but their facades were graceful and he found the tree lined street appealing. He wondered what it would be like to live here. Maybe he and Lois some day. He dismissed the thought. The house was out of his price range and the lady was out of his reach. With a sigh for his dreams, he briskly mounted the steps of the first house to begin his enquiries. However, an hour of working the street got him no further, although maybe it did. He'd found enough people at home to be almost certain that Althea Fitzgerald had lied about her residence. He headed back to the Planet.
By the time Clark returned to the Planet, Althea Fitzgerald had taken up unobtrusive residence in the lobby of the Daily Planet, comfortably ensconced in one of the large vinyl couches which formed a square in the centre of that space. She had bought a couple of magazines, something she greatly missed, and, under the guise of reading them, was keeping a careful eye on the elevators and on the main entrance. Spotting Clark Kent as he entered the building, she watched his athletic stride as he crossed the lobby, and was pleased when he did not notice her.
She was also keeping an eye out for Morgana and her brother, wondering if they would show up at the Planet to confront Lois and Clark openly or if they would wait until later, when there were few people around. Their mission wouldn't take long, just a matter of finding Clark, then pulling the trigger. And Lois, too, for good measure. Hit and run. After that, they would vanish back to where they'd come from. Clark didn't know about kryptonite yet and so it would be easy to take him by surprise.
Althea was right. Morgana and Wulf had arrived in Metropolis ahead of her, but not by much. Their immediate goal was to find Clark Kent so they had programmed their arrival for Clinton Street. Under the cover of early morning darkness, they had forced entry into his apartment, only to find him gone. This did not surprise them all that much; he was probably out on some early morning mission. They could wait. In fact, they liked the idea of meeting him here, welcoming him home with the surprise of what would be his short life. It would be easier to wait for him here than to chase him all over a town they didn't really know. The transporter device they had used to get to Metropolis had a limited energy supply which they could not afford to deplete tracking Clark Kent, let alone Superman. Too bad the government kept such tight control of these devices. Well, that would change once the family got control.
Nevertheless, Morgana and Wulf were disappointed when Superman had still not shown up a couple of hours later and they realized that he must have gone straight to work from whatever meaningless task he'd been doing. Morgana shook her head dismissively as her brother tried to convince her to storm the Planet. No one knew they had come here and they could wait. It was vitally important that they succeed. If their father and his associates failed to eliminate Superman at their end it wouldn't matter, as long as she and Wulf could do the job here. And if they could do it quietly, so much the better. Secrecy would make it more difficult for anyone trying to unravel what had happened.
Their father had plotted against Superman very carefully, bringing the Association so close to victory. As the years passed, Superman had become increasingly influential, giving others the courage to try to live by his values. Nonviolence, peace, justice. The Association had found it more and more difficult to continue the very profitable global criminal activities in which Morgana and Wulf's family had been secretly involved. Even their respectable corporate efforts had run into difficulties as international law curbed the abuses of their most lucrative business practices. Finally, their father had decided that the whole idea of Superman must die.
Morgana's affair with Jimmy had helped her obtain knowledge of how Superman lived, making him and the people around him more vulnerable, and giving her father the opportunity he needed. He'd mobilized his considerable resources and struck, engaging in a running battle, both with Superman and his supporters, which had lasted for three months now and proven to be more of an equal match than what the family had envisaged. Uncertain of the outcome, Morgana and Wulf had taken matters into their own hands after they'd accidentally discovered one of the new transporter devices in the Governor's office. If they could find Clark Kent before he knew about kryptonite then it would be easy to kill him, to eliminate him for all time. There would be no Superman to interfere in their world. He would be little more than a brief phenomenon that few would remember.
Morgana reclined back on Clark's sofa and reached for the TV control. This place was pretty much of a hovel, she thought, as she looked at the brick walls of the small apartment. Why did he live like this when he could have anything he wanted? What a waste.
Later that afternoon at the Planet, Perry White dropped by Clark Kent's desk. "Clark, that woman who turned up here this morning — her name rang a bell but I couldn't quite put a finger on it. Then it came to me." He beamed at the younger man as though he'd just seen Elvis enter the building. "Althea Fitzgerald was a columnist for the Daily Planet for years. I used to read her when I first got interested in journalism, back before I was Jimmy's age."
"You ever meet her back then, Chief?"
"No." Perry's voice held a note of regret. "She'd retired by the time I came to the Planet so I never had that privilege. Would've liked to, though. She was one hell of a writer." His eyes shifted as he scanned the newsroom floor. "Jimmy!" His bellow rose and hovered in the air, triumphing over the buzz of voices and machines.
Jimmy was there immediately. "Chief?"
"Down to the morgue. Pull up a bio on Althea Fitzgerald and a couple of her columns."
"Hey, that's the lady who was here this morning!" Jimmy's eyes widened, his voice rising in surprise as he spoke.
"So what're you waiting for, son? Hop to it."
"I'll do it, Perry." Clark looked at Lois in surprise. Lois caught his look and stared back at him, shrugging her shoulders. "What? I'd liked to know more about her."
Clark stood up, smiling at Lois as he spoke. "We'll both do it, Perry." He shifted his eyes to Perry. "Uh, it'll take less time that way."
A knowing smile crossed Perry's face. Maybe there was some hope for Kent after all. A little quiet time, alone, might help his cause. Just so long as it wasn't too long; this was the Planet's time.
As Clark held the door to the archives open for Lois, he asked, "So, tell me why you volunteered to do this, Lois."
"What Perry said made me remember my first journalism course at college. One of our assignments was an article written by Althea Fitzgerald, one she won a Pulitzer for. It was pretty amazing." Lois strode toward the desk, flashed a greeting at Mary Devereaux, keeper of the Planet archives, and then proceeded into the dark recess where back editions of the Planet were stored.
Carefully, Clark pulled out a paper dated 1939. On the front page was a story by Althea Fitzgerald, filed from China, describing the horrors the Chinese were suffering under foreign occupation. Silently, both reporters read the article, Clark standing close to Lois as he read over her shoulder.
"Wow," Lois sighed as she finished reading.
"Yeah, she's some writer," Clark agreed.
"So why is she here now, Clark?" Lois looked at him, her face worried. "Do you think she's reliving her past? Is that why she came? Maybe she really did live on Hyperion once, but now she's in a home and she's wandered away. Clark, she could be in danger."
Clark looked at his partner, touched by the concern he saw in her expression. Every once in a while something happened that got to a part of Lois that was generous and caring, revealing a compassion that contradicted her tough exterior. He had come to know that both realities were part of the complex woman with whom he had fallen in love. Maybe that was why he had fallen in love with her.
He put his hand on her shoulder. "Or she might be telling the truth," he said softly.
Lois searched his eyes, "Clark, why do you believe her?"
"I can't explain it, Lois. There's just something about her. I feel as though I know her." Shrugging his shoulders, he looked at Lois helplessly, as puzzled as she was by this feeling he had. "Come on, let's see if Mary has printed that profile on Althea for us. Maybe it'll tell us where she lives now."
It did. Althea Fitzgerald had moved to a small residence for retired professional women in 1990. Lois and Clark decided to make a trip across town to talk to her. As they walked out of the archives, Clark teased Lois about getting side tracked on a human interest story. Lois denied it.
Sighting the two reporters as they entered the lobby, Althea stiffly arose from her comfortable position in the corner of the couch facing the Planet's front entrance. Then she followed them outside onto the street where they were in the process of hailing a taxi. Just as a Metro cab swerved from the outside lane to pull up to the curb, she noticed that Clark paused, appearing to listen to something off in the distance. He said something to Lois which Althea could not hear and then, tugging at his tie, he walked quickly away. Oh no, Althea thought, they've split up. By this time she was close enough to the cab to hear Lois call the address of her destination through the open window of the vehicle's front door. Then she hopped into the back seat and they were gone.
Althea sighed. She didn't have much money left after her expenses this morning and she figured Lois was safe enough for the time being. Looking across at the welcoming shade of Metropolis Park, Althea crossed the street and wandered to a bench beneath an old oak tree, a spot which gave her a good view of the Daily Planet. Things weren't going well. She was tired and very aware that she was ninety years old. She was feeling just a little bit sorry for herself.
Her mood changed as she felt a light breeze drift across her body and she caught sight of the dark haired young man dressed in red and blue. He stood in front of her, his arms crossed in an attempt to look imposing. "This is a pretty risky thing you've done," he said but his eyes glinted in admiration.
"I had no choice. I had just got back to the Governor's when I saw Morgana and Wulf. Somehow they'd got hold of a transporter. So I followed them." She looked at him defiantly. "It was lucky I was there."
"*Lucky* I got your message with the coordinates." He leaned forward to touch her wrinkled cheek with the palm of his hand. "You could have waited for me, you know."
"*You* know I couldn't. I had no way of knowing if you were alive." Her voice was firm as she struggled with her emotions but then it faltered as she asked the next question. "Is everything all right?"
"I think it just might be. The guardians have got most of the Association but Anthony and Shazar are still out there."
"And everyone is safe?" Her voice was anxious as she asked the question.
"Yeah. Some scrapes and bruises," he smiled reassuringly at her, "but nothing that won't heal."
Her smile was radiant as she heard his news but then she sobered. "So now we have to stop Morgana and Wulf. If they succeed here, it doesn't matter that you've stopped them in our time."
"We'll stop them. The Kents were always an unbeatable team." He grinned at her. "So where are *Lois* and *Clark* right now?"
"Clark's taken off; Superman, I think. And Lois has headed over to 67th and Hamilton." She gave him the complete address. "I haven't seen any sign of Morgana and Wulf at the Planet, but I haven't checked Clinton Street or my old apartment yet."
"I'll do that. You stay here." Then he flashed an impudent grin at her. "Think I'll just make sure Lois Lane is safe first."
She rolled her eyes at him in disapproval. "I think she's just fine. Don't you try anything funny."
"How can I resist?" he laughed. "By the way, nice wig," he said as he shot upward through the leafy canopy of Metropolis Park into the blue, sunlit sky.
Superman spotted Lois just as she was coming out of the Senior Professional Women's Residence, a puzzled look on her face. He swooped down and landed in front of her, his arms crossed, looking at her very carefully as though he were inspecting her, and then he grinned.
Preoccupied with what she had just learned inside, Lois was startled to see the Man of Steel and not a little unnerved by the mischievous look on his face. If she didn't know better she would call it a smirk, like a boy getting away with something. "Superman, what are you doing?"
Her tone caught him off guard. "Uh, nothing. I just wanted to see you."
"Oh… Oh." She was pleased; god, she was thrilled! He had never before sought her out for no good reason other than just wanting to see her. There had always been some reason why he had come — to warn her, or thank her, or get her out of trouble. Never just to *see* her. Maybe he did care for her; after all, he had said she would always be special to him. She looked up at him and smiled dreamily. "That's nice." That's lame, she thought to herself. "Uh, I was just on my way back to the Planet."
He grinned, as though at some private joke. "Want a lift?" Without waiting for her answer, he swept her up in his arms, and shot upwards, flying toward the newspaper.
As they flew, Lois had a chance to look at him a little more closely than she had in awhile. Somehow he seemed different; flying with him seemed different. Maybe it was the blinding glare of the bright summer sun but even the shade of his brown eyes and the angle of his cheekbones seemed different. She felt uneasy, glad when the brief flight was over and they landed on the pavement beneath the globe marking the front entrance to the Planet. Bending over, Superman kissed her cheek, and with a soft spoken "Thank you," he left her standing there, watching him become a distant speck as he soared away. What was that all about, Lois wondered. "Strange day," she muttered.
She was still standing on the curb, when Clark came up behind her. She saw that he had a dark smudge across his right cheek and, as she automatically stepped closer to wipe it away, she noticed he smelled of smoke. "Clark, where've you been? You smell like a barbecue."
"Umm." He stood for a moment without replying, a small blissful smile on his face as he submitted to her ministrations, something that he too seldom received. For a moment their eyes met and neither spoke as her fingers lingered longer than necessary against his face.
"So," Lois dropped her hand to his chest, distracted by her pleasure in touching him. Then she snatched it away and stepped back. Why, she wondered, did she find herself, every once in awhile, lost in him like this. He was not what she wanted. Was he?
"Fire, over on the east side, at 45th and Jefferson. Those old warehouses." In fact, it had been raging out of control until just a couple of minutes ago. Then, seeing that the Metropolis Fire Department no longer needed his help, he'd immediately returned to the Planet to find Lois standing on the curb, staring up into the western sky.
Althea watched from her bench across the road as the two reporters entered the building. She gave a quick chuckle as she realized what had just happened. I guess he couldn't resist seeing the young Lois. I hope he was satisfied, she thought wistfully. And I hope he didn't give anything away. We have to get out of here with no one knowing what's happening. These transporters don't come equipped with a memory erase button.
Ten minutes later, Superman returned to her side.
"Well?" she said dryly.
He grinned at her impudently. "You were amazing. Still are," he added as he noticed her frown. Then he continued, his voice serious now. "I checked out both apartments. You were right. They're at Clinton street, waiting for Clark to return from work. We still have a couple of hours so I thought I'd come back here. We have to get them out of here with as little fuss as possible."
"I think you'd better get out of that costume." He nodded, disappeared behind a clump of dense yews, and reappeared in black trousers and tee shirt. "Good thing men's fashions don't change much," she said.
"I left your note with our transporter coordinates in the same place you left it. If everything's going well back home, then we should have a couple of guardians here this evening. If not…" he stopped speaking and looked at her, his eyes stricken. "If not, then I will have to kill Morgana and Wulf, and you and I can go home." He took her hand in his.
She was quiet for a moment, appalled at what he had said. Her husband had always done everything possible to avoid killing and she had joined him in that struggle. It was one of the most important values that they had fought for all their lives. She bowed her head and said nothing.
Then she stood up and removed the wig to reveal her white hair. She shook it loose. "That feels so much better. I'll try to keep Clark from going home tonight. You go back to Clinton Street and keep an eye on things but be careful!" And with that she headed to the crosswalk that would take her to the Planet.
Lois was the first to spot Althea coming out of the elevator. "Clark," she whispered across to his desk.
Looking up, Clark spotted the woman as she stepped down into the newsroom. Lois had told him what she had found at the Women's Residence, that Althea Fitzgerald no longer lived there and that she had left three years ago to return to her home town in Maine. Clark's features were determined as he got up and walked over to meet the old lady. "Mrs. Fitzgerald," he paused, glancing quickly over the newsroom, "it's pretty noisy here. Why don't we go into the conference room?"
Once inside the conference room, he decided not to say anything. Let her go first and hear what she had to say. Lois, who had followed the two into the conference room, started to speak but Clark put his hand on her forearm and shook his head. Amazingly, Lois picked up on his cue and remained silent, too. As he waited for Althea to speak, Clark looked at her hands resting flat on the dark wooden table as though she were figuring out what she was going to say. Her hands were delicate with the mottled and wrinkled skin of age; he thought they were beautiful. Then he noticed that her wedding band was missing. He was sure she had been wearing one earlier.
Finally Althea broke the silence. She had toyed briefly with the idea of telling them that Morgana and Wulf were at Clark's apartment and then realized that bit of news would send the two reporters to Clinton Street immediately. So she looked directly at Clark, her dark eyes innocent, and she lied. "I've located them. They're at Lois's apartment. I suspect they plan to hold Lois hostage as a way to entrap you, Clark." That last part, at least, was plausible, she thought. Then she added, speaking with authority. "Stay away from there. I'll contact my people and they'll handle it."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Mrs. Fitzgerald. Althea. Your people?" Even Clark had raised his eyebrows at that one.
Althea snapped, "Lois, I may be old but I still have influence and I still have responsibilities."
They were interrupted by Perry White who stood in the conference room doorway, a genial beam suffusing his face. "Ah, Mrs. Fitzgerald." His tone was expansive. "Jimmy told me you were here. Let me apologize for not recognizing you this morning." He walked over to where she was sitting. "I read your work when I was a kid. Inspirational. It's an honor to have you back at the Daily Planet." He extended his hand to shake hers and then put his hand on her shoulder. "Let me give you a tour of the Planet, show you the changes that have been made."
Althea's eyes widened in panic. Oh no! She didn't have the time for this. And what if he started to ask her about her work? What if he began to remember some of it? To ask her about it? "Thank you, Mr. White, but I'm sure that you're much too busy to have time to do that."
"Nonsense." Perry's voice was brusque. He stood behind her chair and began to pull it back so she could get up more easily. "It's my honor and privilege to escort a Pulitzer Prize winner."
Althea found herself rising from her chair. Maybe she could escape from him en route. She paused at the door for a moment to look back at Lois and Clark. "Remember," she said.
"Mrs. Fitzgerald, what happened to your wedding ring?" Clark asked and noticed that she lifted her left hand automatically. Sadness flooded her features, sapping her vitality, and all of a sudden she looked her full ninety years.
"I lost it." She drew herself up and took a deep breath. "Let's go, Perry. Show me how you run a newspaper."
After they had gone, Lois and Clark looked at each other for a moment, both affected by the distress they had felt in the old woman. Lois placed her hand on Clark's arm, somehow seeking comfort from him. "What do you suppose did happen to it, Clark?"
"She still doesn't have a purse and she's wearing different clothes."
"So she pawned the ring?"
"That'd be my guess."
"Oh, Clark!" Her voice was a soft wail. "I don't get what's going on here at all." She met his eyes and then she spoke with more determination. "So, we'd better get going and check on the red haired woman in my apartment and see if we can help Althea Fitzgerald."
As Lois and Clark were on their way to Lois's apartment, Althea was eluding Perry's guided tour of the Daily Planet. After a brief circuit of the newsroom, she told him, regretfully, that she had to be going. It was time to get home so that she could make sure that she took her medication. And of course there was her nap. She thanked him and made good her escape. The regret in her voice as she spoke was genuine; it had been wonderful to see Perry again, a brief gift from whomever was masterminding the universe these days. She had loved Perry, whom she'd come to think of as her spiritual father, and his death had been a time of aching sadness for both her and Clark. Her final thank you to him had been for so much more than that brief tour of the newsroom.
But she had to get back to the park. She did not want to miss the guardians if they came and she figured that Lois and Clark were safely on their way to Lois's; her warning to stay away would prove irresistible to both of them. By that time she hoped that it would be close enough to dinner that the two would decide to have it together. She hoped.
Lois and Clark stood on the pavement outside Lois's apartment building and Lois raised her eyes to the windows of her apartment. "You know, Clark, I almost hope we find them here."
Standing behind her, Clark lowered his glasses and did a quick x-ray scan of her rooms. Nothing. He felt a sense of disappointment seep through him but he said, "Me too, Lois."
A couple of minutes later they were standing at the end of the hall on the fifth floor while Lois rummaged in her purse for her keys. "Okay, Clark, I'll go alone. Althea says it's really you they're after, so you wait here. If they're there, you go for help."
Clark looked at her, astonished. "Oh, that's a great plan."
"You got a better one?"
"Maybe we won't need one. We'll both go." Before she could stop him he snatched the keys from her hand and began walking down the hall.
"Clark, are you crazy?" she hissed at him as he inserted a key into the first of the series of locks on her door. At least, he tried to insert it. Giving him a disgusted look she grabbed the keys from his hand and then, very quietly, inserted the correct key and turned it. Pausing, she squinted her eyes and listened but there was no sound inside. She unlocked the next lock. Still no sound on the other side of the door.
Clark had taken a position leaning against the wall beside her, his arms crossed. "Of course, that the lock hasn't been jimmied is probably a sign that maybe they're not here." He was childishly pleased to see a quick flush redden her cheeks.
"I know that." Then a second later, "Maybe they used the fire escape." Her tone was frosty as she quickly punched in the numbers to release the final lock. Stepping into the room, she looked around and gave a disappointed sigh.
"Yeah, I know," he said, sympathetically squeezing her shoulder. "It would have been so much better to have been met by guys with guns."
"Clark, we have to find her. She's obviously not all there. She's living in some kind of fantasy world, waiting somewhere for her imaginary contacts. We have to make sure she gets home safely."
"Yeah." Clark was beginning to agree with Lois's point of view. "Let's head back to the Planet. She's probably still with Perry. You know how hard he is to escape once he decides to give someone the grand tour."
"Uh, Lois. You go ahead inside. I'll catch up with you later. There's something I want to do." Lois and Clark had just got out of a taxi in front of the Planet.
"What?" Lois's tone held a slight hint of impatience. Clark had developed this habit of suddenly taking off on her, sometimes with the most ridiculous excuse.
He smiled. "I want to make a quick tour of the pawn shops on 33rd. See if I can find a gold ring."
Lois softened. She touched his hand briefly. "Good luck. I'll wait here with Althea for you."
Clark got back to the Planet a little over an hour later, feeling very pleased with himself and also a little puzzled. In his pocket was one gold wedding band. The name on the pawn ticket had been Althea Fitzgerald and the address had been Lois's apartment. The owner of the pawn shop had said that the old woman who pawned the ring had left instructions for him to contact Lois Lane at the end of the thirty day holding period.
As Clark stepped out of the elevator, he looked over to Lois's desk and was only mildly surprised to find that she wasn't there. He was beginning to get used to the idea that she was least likely to be where he thought she would be. Glancing at the items on her desk, he spotted the note with his name on. She was in the park, with Althea, waiting for "the contacts."
Clark got to the park quickly and spotted the two woman sitting together on a bench not too far from the street. It struck him that the two were very similar. The same straight posture, and the same spark in their eyes. Both stubborn, too, he thought with a smile. He flashed them a grin as he got closer. "Ladies, can I take you to dinner?"
Lois smiled back at him. "Yes, you can Mr. Kent."
However, Althea had no intention of leaving the park. "It's such a lovely night. What about take out? We could eat it right here. I love Chinese." She looked at Clark, and her eyes twinkled. "I bet you know some great places."
"As a matter of fact, he does," Lois said.
Clark gave her a slight nod of his head and smiled. "Be right back." And he was, bearing bamboo containers of wonderfully fragrant mixtures of exotic foods. As they ate, both Lois and Clark tried to prod Althea for information but the old woman's responses were elusive and so generic they could apply to just about any woman of her age. By the time they'd finished eating, the two reporters knew no more about her than when they had started.
Lois began piling the containers together. "Here, gimme. I'll take these over to the trash can." As she walked away, Clark watched her, the feelings which he strove so carefully to hide from her now clear in the look of longing in his dark eyes.
Althea noticed it and touched his arm. "She does care for you, you know." Her voice was tender.
Clark smiled ruefully. "Is it that obvious? How I feel, I mean."
The old woman looked at him, the bittersweet memory of how foolish she had been and the pain which she had caused him all those years ago stinging her eyes. She sighed. He'd done some pretty dumb things, too. She met his eyes. "But you do know that you belong together."
Clark felt himself caught by the compassion in her brown eyes and once again that feeling that he knew this woman returned. For a moment he allowed himself to hope that maybe what she said was true. "Yeah." His voice was soft. Then that slight smile again. "But I still haven't figured out how to get her to see that."
Her errand completed, Lois walked back toward the bench to rejoin her two companions. Sitting down, she asked Clark, "See what?"
"This." Changing the subject, Clark reached into his pocket for the ring he had retrieved earlier. He held it between his fingers. "I think this is yours, Mrs. Fitzgerald," he said softly as he handed it to her.
Tears welled in Althea's eyes as the young man who would be her husband for so many years placed the ring in the palm of her hand and then gently closed her fingers around it. "Don't take it off again," he said, his eyes teasing but his voice serious.
There were many things she could have asked him, could have said to him, but she didn't. "Thank you," she whispered as she shakily slipped the gold band on her finger.
As Lois and Clark watched her slide the ring on her finger, three men, dressed alike in dark grey, walked along the path toward the bench. They stopped and one of them respectfully addressed the old woman. "We came as soon as we could. Do you know where they are?"
Astonished, Lois and Clark listened and watched as Althea replied. "Yes, they're at the apartment on Clinton Street. They're waiting for Clark to return there." She took a deep breath, afraid to ask. "And my family?"
The tallest of the three men smiled at her reassuringly. "Everyone's fine. They're waiting for you. We'll take care of Morgana and Wulf and then come back here." Turning, they strode quickly back into the depths of the park.
"Hey," Lois jumped up, prepared to follow them.
Clark was already on his feet. "Clinton Street?"
Althea spoke to them both, sharply and firmly. "They know what they're doing. Stay here with me."
"Lois will stay with you. I'll be back." Clark's voice was decisive as he turned to run along the path the three men had taken, only to find, a moment later, that they had disappeared. "What the??"
Surprised, he stopped for a fraction of a second, then quickly headed for the cover of the dense bushes edging the pathway to make a fast change. A nanosecond later Superman shot upward toward Clinton street and landed on the balcony outside his apartment. Focusing his eyes in a narrow squint, he gave the inside a rapid scan. What he saw surprised him. The "contacts" were already there, handcuffing and disarming two people — a red haired woman and a tall, steroid enhanced man. "Morgana and Wulf," he thought. Clark also noticed another man in the room, dark haired, broad shouldered, and dressed in black, his back to Clark. The contacts seemed to have everything under control.
This didn't look like a job for Superman. As he slipped around to the entrance to his apartment, Clark did a quick change and then entered by the front door. "What's going on here?" he demanded as he stepped down into his living room.
"Ah, Mister Kent," one of the contacts spoke. "Sorry to have let this little situation get out of control but everything's fine now. No need for you to be involved. We're just on our way." They walked toward the front door, the dark haired man keeping to the farthest side of the group, away from Clark as though avoiding him.
"Wait," Clark called out but there was no response as the group walked past him and out the front door. Clark followed but they kept walking until they reached the corner. Then they disappeared, leaving an astonished and open mouthed Clark Kent standing on the deserted sidewalk, trying to figure out what had happened.
Lois muttered to herself as Clark disappeared into the park. It wasn't fair. She hated not being at the scene of the action but, she acknowledged, someone did have to stay here with Althea. Besides, she could pump the woman for information; it was beginning to look like there was a story here after all.
Just as she was asking Althea who "the contacts" worked for she was startled by a quick pulsing glow of light that looked to be coming from a spot around the bend in the path. Roughly where the "contacts" had come from. Lois was aware that Althea was watching the path intently and then she felt her relax as a man, limping slightly, his hair white with advanced age, walked toward them.
Althea turned to Lois. "Good-bye, Lois. It has been so extraordinary to meet you." Then she walked toward the old man.
For some reason, Lois stayed where she was, sensing that she would be interfering in their intimacy, that this was a moment for just the two of them. She watched as they walked toward each other and then take each other's hands. The old man bent his head to touch Althea's forehead and then gently caressed the side of her face with his hand. Lois was too far away to hear what they said.
The old woman searched her husband's face to make sure he was all right, relieved to see that the limp, which he had acquired when a kryptonite bullet had pierced his thigh two days ago, seemed less pronounced. Smiling, she lifted her hand and tenderly traced her fingers along his age-creased cheek. "Clark," she said.
He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "Someday, Lois, when I ask you to stay put, you will," he teased.
"Probably not. Too old to change now."
"Where's Jimmy? I expected him to be with you." His voice was disapproving.
"He was," Lois defended her favorite grandson, "but he's with the guardians. I expect they're all back in our time by now."
"Then let's join them, Lois. Let's go home."
Sitting on her bench, the young Lois Lane watched as the old woman slipped her arm through the old man's and walked with him around the curve in the path into the twilight. She was still sitting there, lost in thought, when Clark joined her a few minutes later.
"Where's Mrs. Fitzgerald?"
"Clark, it was the strangest thing. But I think she's all right. Her husband came for her." She looked at him and he was surprised by the mixture of bewilderment and emotion he saw in her eyes. "Clark, I'm so glad you were able to return her ring to her."
"Me too, Lois, me too." He reached out his hand to her. "Shall we go?"
"Uh huh." Lois stood up, and in an unconscious imitation of the old woman, she slipped her arm through Clark's. "You know, Clark, " she teased, "I think a little part of you fell in love with that woman."
He looked down at her and smiled. "You know, Lois, you might be right."
"So what happened at your apartment?" she asked as they walked together along the asphalt path that twisted through the trees toward the street.
"You know, Lois, I have no idea."