By Charlotte Fisler aka Daydreamer80 <Cdfisler@AOL.COM>
Submitted: July, 2000
Summary: Superman is captured by one of his and Lois's old nemeses, and it is only with the help of Lois Lane that he escapes.
(Note: <*text*> indicates thought, *text* indicates emphasis)
On a quiet residential street in one of the richer suburbs of Metropolis, a storage van started off slowly so as not to attract attention. The driver was particularly cautious as he drove past the opulent townhouse of wealthy builder Jack Marshall. To his relief no one from the house came to the door and flagged him down. Apparently those inside hadn't noticed when he and his five accomplices grabbed their quarry as he exited the house, then carried him to the van parked halfway down the block and threw him inside like a sack of potatoes before slamming the side door shut.
The other five men sat on the metal floor in the back of the van surrounding their prisoner. The van's opaque sides concealed them from view as they secured him. To their relief, although unconscious, his breathing was steady and his heartbeat regular; *she* wouldn't be pleased if they delivered him dead. Leaving the manicured lawns and well kept exteriors of the houses in that part of the city, the van proceeded quickly to a poorer section of town, the driver confident that he'd gotten away undetected.
He never saw the silver Jeep Cherokee that had been parked in the shadows across from the townhouse and had no idea he'd been followed. The driver of the Jeep, an investigative reporter, had plenty of experience in covert tracking and knew just how far back to stay to remain undetected. <*What if they drop him out of a false bottom like Luthor's attorney that time,*> the woman thought panicking. <*Don't panic, Lois. You've got to stay calm. It's just another investigation. But that's Clark in there,*> her anguished mind screamed.
Fifteen minutes later the van turned up a residential street located in a run-down part of Metropolis. Many of the homes sported 'For Sale' signs and weren't occupied. The van pulled up in front of a house in the middle of the third block and six men got out. Four of the men opened the van's side door, pulled out a still unconscious Superman and carried him into the house.
After they closed the door behind them, Lois Lane quickly parked the Jeep and ran toward the house into which the love of her life had been carried. <*They must have Kryptonite. Nothing else would've allowed Superman to be overcome so easily. But what do they want with him? I got to get him out of there!*> And Lois knew no matter what Clark did and no matter the cost to her, she would always love him, always need him, and always be there for him.
Earlier that same Friday, Clark Kent sat at his desk in the Daily Planet newsroom feeling absolutely wretched. He glanced over at his partner and the *love of his life*, Lois Lane. She appeared to the casual observer to be engrossed in a story she was writing, but Clark knew how untrue that was. For one thing, in spite of their recent problems, he and Lois still worked together so he was well aware that today had proven surprisingly uneventful on the news front. <*Lane and Kent, the hottest team in town.*> He wondered if even that would still be true after tonight.
How had everything gone so horribly wrong? Three weeks ago, he'd been on top of the world. In front of the fountain in Centennial Park, Lois Lane had asked *him* to marry her and he had joyfully agreed. They'd planned a trip to Smallville that weekend to tell his folks about the impending nuptials. On returning to Metropolis, they would let their friends at the newspaper and Lois's family in on the happy news. Two days later it all fell apart. A week after that, Lois returned the engagement ring.
Clark had arrived at work late that day, blissfully unaware that his world was about to come crashing down around him. He'd spent most of the previous night in Argentina helping out at a major earthquake and he had a story ready for the afternoon edition of the Daily Planet. Lois was not at her desk.
"Jimmy, where's Lois?"
Giving Clark a curious look, Jimmy asked, "CK, are you and Lois okay?"
"Sure, Jimmy. Why do you ask?"
"Lois seems out of sorts. She's been yelling at everyone, even Perry, the way she did before you started working here. When I asked where you were she told me she wasn't your keeper so how would she know. She left about an hour later saying she had a lead to follow up on."
<*Oh. Oh. That doesn't sound good,*> a wary Clark thought.
"Clark, get in here." Perry White too asked if things were okay between Lois and Clark. "I thought you two were … you know . .. a team. Well more than a team, if you know what I mean." When Clark confessed he hadn't seen his partner since early the night before, Perry gave him a piercing stare but decided not to pursue the subject. Clark would find out soon enough. <*Please not like Norcross and Judd,*> Perry thought.
Getting down to business he dictated, "Clark, get yourself over to City Hall. Rumor has it the DA's office is about to come down with some indictments in the Housing Department bribery scandal. Lois is there. She headed over to interview that new hotshot District Attorney they hired not too long ago."
Clark sighed. <*If only that had been the problem.*> It hadn't been he knew. He and Lois had not yet shared their findings on the scandal with Perry. Only the night before, the break in the case had come. They'd uncovered the actual perpetrators along with the proof that would exonerate the Housing Department head, John Travers, and his staff. The reporters had intended to take the proof to DA Michael Clemmons today in exchange for a Daily Planet exclusive, but Superman had been delayed.
When Clark arrived at City Hall, Lois was sitting with a group of reporters in a briefing room awaiting the arrival of Clemmons and Travers. Clark joined Lois, but her greeting was surprisingly businesslike. She whispered to him that her hand had been forced by the DA's ill-advised action in calling for the press conference early this morning. She'd had to force her way into a meeting of the two men to present her and her partner's evidence to "that stubborn idiot of a DA."
After a frustrating verbal battle she'd finally been able to convince Clemmons of the evidence's authenticity. "He actually told *me*, a well-known investigative reporter, that women should stay out of things they know nothing about," Lois concluded in a harsh whisper. She'd been too late to stop the press conference, so she'd suggested that Travers and Clemmons hold the conference and use it to clear the matter up once and for all. "Unfortunately, there's no chance for a Planet exclusive."
Shrugging, Clark pointed out, "Things turn out that way sometimes." There was no time for further conversation because both men entered the room and the press conference began. Travers categorically denied involvement in the bribery scandal by anyone in his office and told those in the room that evidence had been uncovered pinpointing those responsible. The DA smiled broadly, stating his office was gratified at the unexpected turn of events. He would, he said ponderously, bring the true criminals to justice. Neither man would answer questions about the source of the new evidence, Clemmons only assuring his audience that warrants were being served even as they spoke and arrests were imminent.
In spite of Clemmons's words, everyone in the audience knew that the new DA had egg on his face. He'd been much too vocal in his condemnation of Travers's Office and the rumors that he was going to nail the Housing Authority had become widespread. And when Clemmons gazed covertly at Lois Lane, Clark could see that she'd made another enemy. That her quick wits had actually saved Clemmons's skin did nothing to endear her to the ambitious DA.
After the press conference, Lois was cold and withdrawn, saying little as she drove the Jeep back to the newspaper. She walked to her desk without a word to anyone and began to write up the story. When she LANed the story to Perry without even asking her partner to look it over, Clark was sure there was something wrong.
"What is it Lois?" her concerned partner asked softly.
She responded loudly, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "I suppose you have no idea?" Heads all around the newsroom turned toward the Daily Planet's star reporting team.
"Not a clue."
With a look of utter disbelief on her face, Lois thrust a copy of an advertising insert from the previous afternoon's edition of the Metropolis Star at Clark, then headed toward the newsroom's coffeepot.
Now Clark was certain he was in deep trouble. He always got them both coffee and brought her cup to Lois's desk. When he dragged his eyes away from Lois's fleeing back and glanced down at the advertisement, his stomach plunged. Oh no! How could he have forgotten about that!
Hurrying after Lois, he propelled her toward the conference room and shut the door so they could have some privacy. "Lois, I'm sorry. It was arranged almost a year ago."
"Cancel it," she demanded.
"I can't. Not this late; it's less than two weeks away. Lois," he cajoled, "they really need the money and, with Lex in jail, there's no one else." When she didn't unbend, didn't even respond, he tried again. "I'm really, really sorry. I forgot all about it," he admitted.
"You forgot about it!" Lois was incredulous. "It means that little to you; I mean that little to you."
<*Great,*> he thought. <*Not only was she angry; now she seemed more upset that he had forgotten than about the event itself.*>
"Clark, we're engaged."
"Lois, it's for the Coates Orphanage this year."
Lois almost relented. The orphanage was a favorite charity of the two of them. Then she found herself wondering if he really had forgotten. She thought about the two years of lies and deceptions on his part and all her distrust of the motives of the opposite sex came rushing back in. "I don't care if it's to save your parents' farm. You're Superman. Surely you can find another way to raise money for charity."
Even as she said that she knew his options were limited. He'd been scrupulously honest about not using his powers for monetary gain, even for the benefit of worthwhile causes. Lois had been particularly gratified when Superman ultimately turned down Murray Brown's offer to be his agent. At first entertaining Brown's proposal, Superman quickly learned that the expenses involved would eat away too much of the money that should go to the charities — much to Lois Lane's relief. <*Superman shouldn't be sold like merchandise,*> Lois had thought even then. Ironically, that had been two years ago during the first charity auction, an auction that seemed about to become an annual event and was the cause of the current rift.
Lois herself had eagerly participated in the first two auctions before she gave up her Superman fantasy and allowed herself to fall in love with her partner and best friend Clark Kent. In the end, however, her fantasy love and the real one had turned out to be one and the same and therein lay the problem.
'Superman Auction' (The advertisement screamed.)
*This is your chance, Ladies. Which one of you will be the Lucky Woman? Spend an evening of magic with the one and only Superman. Have your purses open as you bid on a date with Metropolis's own Superman.*
*The fortunate winner will be flown — Flown — to a romantic candlelit dinner at Maxims, Treated to dancing at the Stardust Bowl, and, last but certainly not least, Taken on a truly magical flight into the night sky.*
*Remember, Ladies, all proceeds go to charity. So bid generously and bid high. YOU could be the happy winner.*
Realizing he wasn't making any progress and seeing the combined eyes of the entire newsroom turned toward the conference room, Clark suggested they talk after work at her apartment. "We can discuss this whole thing calmly and rationally."
Lois was anything but calm and rational that night. Before Clark was able to get a word in edgewise, she was off and running. She reminded him of how he pretended to be two different people, of his stupid excuses for running off, of his refusal to tell her he was Superman, of how she had to figure it out for herself, and of how he even asked her to marry him before she knew he was Superman. "Although I did know — but you didn't know I knew and that's the whole point, isn't it?"
Clark was at a loss as to how to respond to this Lois, a Lois he hadn't seen in more than a year.
"You stole my story, Clark."
"What story, Lois?"
"The Superman story."
"Lois, I'm Superman."
"What's that got to do with it? You sent me on a wild goose chase into the sewers of Metropolis and filed the story yourself."
Clark was speechless. She was being completely irrational.
When he said nothing, she nodded as if she'd made her point and continued, "You horned in on my story when I went undercover at the Metro Club and blew my cover."
Clark knew she had a point this time and tried to apologize. "Lois, I'm sorry. I just didn't want you to get hurt."
"Then why did you slap my backside and toss me into a trash bin full of old vegetables?"
"I … I … " He had done that out of spite, he knew, to get a little back for all the times she'd hurt him that first year, sometimes without meaning to and sometimes deliberately. How could he tell her that? Lois Lane never apologized, never admitted being wrong, and apparently never forgot it when she herself was hurt. <*Like you didn't know that, Kent.*>
Almost as if she heard Clark's thoughts, Lois kept on. She'd never been able to trust any man. Her own father had an affair with Mrs. Belconte when she was still a child. Then there had been Paul Bender in college. He dropped her for Linda King and the story Linda stole from her, Lois. When she brought up Claude, Clark exploded.
"Lois, I'm not Claude," he shouted, silencing her. "I'm not Paul Bender or any of your other boyfriends and I'm certainly not your father. If you can't see that then I guess you're right — you can't trust me. And I can't trust you either, Lois, to be there for me when I need you, to understand why I have to do the things I do, and to love me." He walked out of her apartment, slamming the door shut behind him, and it looked like out of her life.
Now it was three weeks later. The auction had taken place a week ago. Lois had refused to cover it. "Let the society editor do it," she told Perry. "I'm a senior investigative reporter." At Perry's insistence, she attended the auction but didn't bid.
It turned out to be a surprisingly subdued affair. Oh it was a financial success, so much so that the Committee had already approached Superman about the following year's auction. Clark wasn't even sure anymore why he was refusing to commit himself. <*It's not as if I have anything better to do with my time,*> he thought bitterly.
The bidding had been brisk and the resulting winning bid of $100,000 was more than he and Lex together had commanded that first time. The girl, nineteen-year-old Tiffany Marshall, was the daughter of a self-made man. Her father, a prominent real estate tycoon, purportedly had ties to Bill Church Sr. at one time but, if he had, those ties had been broken long before both Churches went to prison. Jack Marshall had married a wealthy socialite and was now a respected businessman whose goal seemed to be to become a member of Metropolis's upper crust. Tiffany, his oldest child and only daughter, was a quiet, well-bred young lady, pretty but certainly no beauty. Clark had warmed to her after meeting her at the auction and was almost looking forward to his 'date' this evening.
That is — he would have if he and Lois were still together. God, how he missed her. He missed his best friend. He missed his journalistic partner. Sure they saw each other every day at work but for all the good that did him, he might as well be living on Krypton. He fell in love the first time he saw Lois Lane and he still loved her. He always would.
That first week after their fight, everyone, probably including Lois, expected Clark to make the first move toward reconciliation, but somehow he just couldn't. His Mom and Dad tried to tell him he was making a big mistake, but he wouldn't listen to them. Lois Lane would have to apologize this time, he told them. He had been the one who was hurt and he could be just as stubborn as Lois was. His parents just shook their heads.
After their son left, Jon turned to his wife and asked, "How long do you figure it'll be before he apologizes to Lois — two weeks?"
"One week at the outside, Jon. You know our boy loves that girl. There's no way he's gonna stay mad for any length of time, no matter who's right or wrong."
"Yeah, she's more important to him than his pride, that's for sure. And he's responsible for this. He should have cancelled that date auction months ago." He sighed, then admitted, "Still, she overreacted a bit in my opinion. The date seems pretty trivial, don't you think?"
"Maybe, but we really don't know how important it is to Lois. What we do know is that she's a heck of a lot more stubborn than Clark could ever be."
"Yes, that could be a problem. Martha, one thing I am certain about is that Lois loves Clark. I just hope love is enough."
The following week, Clark tried to approach Lois, to tell her he was sorry for the things he said. But at work she was barely civil to him, adopting a strictly business attitude, and, at home, she refused to answer his phone calls and messages, while Superman's taps at her now locked window went unanswered. <*It's no use.*> On Monday, Clark decided, he would tender his resignation from the Daily Planet and build himself that 'lair' to live in somewhere, anywhere where he didn't have to see Lois Lane every day.
Lois was just as miserable as Clark was, but she'd had years of practice at concealing her real feelings. Her colleagues at the newspaper, her friends, and even her family believed that she was once again the dedicated reporter with little interest in a relationship outside of the office. They were sorry for Clark but thought he should have known better than to try to get close to 'Mad Dog Lane'. Lois Lane worked alone and that was the way she liked it.
Perry White knew better and he tried to get Lois to open up to him. But even as he tried to once more be the father to her that he had been this past year, he found Lois closed off emotionally the way she'd been those years before she met Clark Kent. After Clark left work that Friday evening — everyone else except Perry had already left — Lois was still sitting at her console typing away. <*Norcross and Judd all over again,*> Perry thought sadly as he got his coat and headed out.
After Perry got into the elevator and left the newsroom, Lois turned off her computer and followed. Driving home, her thoughts turned to the Superman auction the previous week. Superman appeared unaffected by the proceedings — unemotional and uninvolved — but Lois knew him well enough now to see the hurt he was concealing. He hated this as much as she did — hated being sold like some child's toy to be played with for one evening then tossed aside and eventually discarded.
<*Oh, Clark. What have I done to us?*> Because of her anger, fueled by jealousy at the thought of her Clark on a date, even a public date, with another woman, she wouldn't be there to comfort him tonight after the date was over. <*But I do understand, Clark, and I love you,*> she thought. During the auction, she'd ached to take him into her arms right there in front of everyone and kiss away his sorrow, but she didn't dare. His secret had to be kept or he would have no private life at all.
And Lois, understanding the burden that loving Superman would be, wondered if she was strong enough to carry it. <*Maybe, it's better that we break it off now before it's too late for either of us,*> she thought, her heart filling with despair. Trying to be resolute, she'd distanced herself even further from her partner over the past week.
Lois sat inside her Jeep Cherokee in the shadows of some trees across the street from the home of Tiffany Marshall, Superman's date for the evening. She watched the front entrance, her presence concealed from the casual observer. She couldn't believe she actually followed Clark and his date from place to place earlier. She'd been part of the press hoard — she couldn't give the name of legitimate reporters to those tabloid sensationalists — which constantly dogged the steps of the couple throughout dinner and dancing. Fortunately the almost continuous flash of camera bulbs made it easy for her to watch them closely without being detected by Superman.
Lois almost cried when she watched Superman share the chocolate cake with his date, feeding both of them from a single fork. Tiffany's father supplied the dessert, a special concoction prepared by his personal chef, and one his daughter loved. Lois would have hated Clark for repeating that intimacy from their first date if she hadn't known he tried hard to refuse to eat anything.
In the aftermath of the auction itself, Jack Marshall insisted that both participants partake of the entire repast. "You do eat, don't you Superman?" he asked.
"I don't need to, but I like to," Clark admitted.
It wouldn't be a truly romantic dinner if Tiffany and Superman didn't enjoy the meal and the dessert together and, after all, romance was what he'd bought his child with his contribution, Jack Marshall pointed out. With the Charity Committee members urging him on, Superman reluctantly agreed to the demand. But the proviso added yet another rift in Lois's mind to her rapidly deteriorating relationship with Clark Kent.
When Superman finally flew off into the night with his date, Lois fully intended to drive back to her apartment, but instead found herself parked across from the Marshall's ostentatious townhouse. She watched as the Man of Steel flew through the downstairs window with his date in his arms. Still unable to leave, she waited across from the house for Clark to come out. She was confident of her ability to remain undetected by most people but Clark was a different story.
Maybe he wouldn't notice her. She hoped so. How could she explain? "I'm on stake out. There are rumors that the people in this neighborhood have been hit by a series of burglaries."
"Oh really, Lois. And why haven't there been any police reports?"
"Clark, you know how reluctant the wealthy are to contact the police." Yeah, right, he'd really believe that. But somehow she couldn't leave. While Clark was still inside, Lois noticed a van pull up and park a short distance down the street from the house. Lois watched as six men got out of the van, walked stealthily toward the townhouse, and hid in the bushes outside.
Clark had no idea why he'd been feeling sick all evening. He hadn't even felt very much like flying. Maybe he was more normal then he thought; perhaps his turbulent emotions were causing the unfamiliar queasiness. <*Finally — the feeling seems to be dissipating,*> he thought as the maid escorted him to the door.
As he closed the door behind him and prepared to fly back to his apartment, his mind concentrated on his problem with Lois. He'd made up his mind as he sat across the dinner table from Tiffany Marshall that there would be no more Superman Auctions. He just couldn't hurt Lois like that anymore. He only hoped it wasn't too late for them. Would she trust him again? He had to see her; they could work this out. He loved her; surely she still cared for him.
Suddenly, six men jumped out of the bushes and surrounded Superman. <*Only six? Who do they think I am?*> They threw a metallic net over Clark, then all six lunged at him. He tried to break their hold on him and discovered to his astonishment that his normal super strength was barely enough to rip a hole in the net. As Clark struggled to get free, one of the thugs hit him over the head with a sledgehammer. <*What's going on? The net's not green like it would be if it were made of Kryptonite,*> he wondered as he lost consciousness.
"Get him in the van. He won't be out long. We need to get him to the house fast. She said the effects of the small amount of Kryptonite he ingested eating that chocolate dessert should last until tomorrow but who knows if she's right. It may not be enough to keep him from regaining his strength before long."
"You wasn't supposed to hit him, Joe. She's gonna be mad."
"Yeah. Well she'll be a lot madder if he gets away before she finishes with him. Come on, let's go." They carried Clark to the van, threw him bodily through the open side door, and drove off with Lois Lane following in her jeep.
After Clark was taken inside, Lois walked around the exterior of the place. Even for this section of Metropolis, the house seemed unusually neglected. It desperately needed a new roof and paint was peeling off the eaves. The shrubbery surrounding the house was overgrown, providing numerous opportunities for concealment of unwanted intruders. Looking into the windows on the ground floor, Lois saw that the interior of the house was no better kept than the exterior. The furniture, what there was of it, was cheap. The kitchen table had one bent leg and only two chairs. The living room furniture's upholstery was badly worn. A few of the rooms were completely empty and all of them could do with a fresh coat of paint.
Afraid Superman's captives would hide him in the basement or another secluded part of the house, Lois was almost relieved to observe him lying on the floor in the living room. The net was gone but… <*They have him tied up like some kind of Christmas package,*> she reflected. <*He doesn't appear to have regained consciousness yet.*> Lois crept up to the room's patio door and hid herself behind one side of the open drapes. <*They must be pretty sure there's no one around to be so careless. In this area, I guess even thieves wouldn't bother with this place.*>
The entrance of a woman into the room interrupted her musings. <*Arianna Carlin. What's she doing out of prison?*> Not the meticulously dressed woman Lois remembered, but acting in a manner decidedly Arianna Carlin, Arianna walked over to Clark and looked down on him. "Why is he still sleeping?"
"We figured we needed a bit more insurance so I hit him."
"With a sledgehammer, lady. He's Superman."
Angry, Arianna retorted, "You fools. I told you not to harm him. I want the merchandise undamaged when my buyer gets here." Her words sent a cold chill down Lois's spine. "Besides I have my own insurance," she informed them. She retrieved a small lead-lined box from the fireplace mantel, then walked back to where Superman lay. Opening the box she took out a small piece of green rock, telling her cohorts, "This is the last piece of Kryptonite, but it should be sufficient to keep him incapacitated until my buyer is able to claim him." She placed the tiny crystal on the floor just out of Superman's reach.
To anyone else on Earth, the tiny rock was just a pretty green gemstone, but to Superman it was deadly, so the sudden pain engendered by the nearness of even that small piece was sufficient to wake Clark. He groaned.
"So, Superman, you're finally awake."
"Arianna?" Clark sounded weak and confused.
Arianna taunted, "Yes, it's me, Superman. I pulled a few strings to get out of the prison you sent me to. Lex's crooked lawyer, Sheldon Bender, stole all the money Lex left me after Lois Lane caused his death and you let him die. It's all your fault and you're going to pay for it." It wasn't Superman's fault of course, but Bender was dead and Arianna had to blame someone.
"But Lex is alive and in prison. Gretchen Kelly brought him back to life."
"The incompetent fool. That man in prison is not my Lex. He doesn't even have hair!" she screamed. In a soft, almost rational tone, she continued, "Lex is dead and his money's gone, but I'm getting it all back with interest. You're my goods, Superman. Intergang is paying me five million dollars to deliver you to them."
"How?" Clark gasped.
Arianna knew what her prisoner was referring to, so she said, "Traces of Kryptonite in the dessert. I got the Kryptonite I needed for it from Diana Stride. You remember her, don't you, Superman? She told me where the Kryptonite lipstick was hidden and made contact with Intergang for me."
Clark remembered her all right and he wondered if Diana had convinced Arianna of his secret identity, but to his relief she said, "The fool, she thinks I'm gonna spring her. Why should I? I have what I want from her and she's so dumb, she actually believes Clark Kent is Superman — you — ridiculous. Anyway I have no intention of sharing *my* money. She can rot in prison for all I care.
Good thing Diana already confided that the stuff didn't kill you immediately when she tried to assassinate you, that you managed to fly away, and it wasn't until the next day that you collapsed. I had Intergang grind the whole lipstick into pieces fine enough to be hidden in the dessert's icing. I had to assure Intergang that you'd ingest sufficient Kryptonite during dinner to weaken you so you could be captured and tied up for delivery before they'd part with this tiny piece of additional insurance."
Superman didn't need to ask what she meant. What little progress his physiology had made in getting back to normal after dinner had disappeared. <*I was only fooling myself thinking that I was better when I left the Marshalls' townhouse,*> he admitted ruefully. What was worse, rather than just feeling queasy as he had earlier, now he was in pain. He realized he would have a hard time moving even if he weren't trussed up like a turkey before roasting.
Arianna laughed — a bitter, evil sound that made even the six hardened men who were watching shudder inwardly — as she held the small crystal close to Superman's face. Superman almost screamed out from the pain, but he controlled himself. Arianna wasn't fooled — she knew even that small a piece would kill him — but he hoped the rest of the gang might be. "Now, since you wasted so much time, Joe, we have to hurry our preparations along. First we need to get rid of those traces of Kryptonite in Superman's stomach."
"Why do we hafta do that?" Joe asked.
"Because Intergang wants Superman alive, you idiot."
"Who knows? To study him — to dissect him maybe." As Arianna said those words she glanced at Superman to see the effect her words were having on him, but to her annoyance he didn't even flinch. "It doesn't matter. We have to remove the Kryptonite particles before they pass into his bloodstream and kill him." Going over to the wall, she retrieved a small bag which contained the equipment she'd need to pump out Superman's stomach: stomach tubing, activated charcoal to absorb the Kryptonite, an irrigating syringe, a gallon of distilled water, a mouth gag and a glass.
First she mixed activated charcoal with a glass of cold water. With five of the six men holding Superman immobile, she forced him to drink the horrible tasting mixture, meanwhile sending the sixth man into the kitchen to warm the rest of the water. Arianna could have introduced the charcoal mixture later via the Gastric Lavage, but she took great delight in administering it orally. Superman made a face at the unpleasant taste, but Arianna warned him not to resist unless he wanted to die of Kryptonite poisoning.
"I'll die anyway when you turn me over to Intergang."
"You don't know that," Arianna pointed out.
<*True,*> Clark thought. He had no choice but to go along with Arianna's plan.
Lois had been watching closely. She wanted to stop them from treating Clark, but she knew that once the Kryptonite entered his bloodstream, ridding him of the poison would require more drastic measures, like entering a nuclear reactor to burn out the Kryptonite, and she wasn't sure he could survive that again. Plus the sooner it was out of Superman's system, the sooner its effects on his Super powers would dissipate. She too had no choice but to let Arianna continue for the time being.
After Clark swallowed the unpleasant tasting mixture, Arianna made the men take him over to the couch and place him on his side with his head hanging down. To the complaints of the six thugs when she told them to release some of his bonds so he could be stretched out, she pointed out that she still had the other chunk of Kryptonite. "Even completely untied, he won't be a problem," she assured them.
She opened Superman's mouth using the gag and, lifting his chin, passed the tube over his tongue, down his esophagus and into his stomach. She aspirated immediately to remove as much of his stomach's contents as possible, using the irrigating syringe. A greenish liquid was extracted, which Arianna ordered to be disposed of. She had no intention of leaving evidence for the police to find later.
Next she introduced warm water via the tube, then repeated the Gastric Lavage process of introduction and withdrawal of warm water several times until the extract was clear with no traces of the green of Kryptonite. Satisfied that all the poison had been removed from Superman's stomach she removed the tubes, then made Clark drink a final glass of charcoal suspended in water. "Just in case," she told him gleefully. Then she had him tied up again and shoved on to the floor.
Now finished and ready to leave to meet the Intergang representative, Arianna couldn't resist bragging some more. "You see, Superman, some of my regular readers remain loyal. It was easy to persuade Jack Marshall that a date with you would convince his daughter that there are better fish in the sea then that do- good environmental lawyer she thinks she's in love with. When he never shows up again, Jack will think the plan worked.
I insisted, too, that a romantic dinner would put the icing on the cake so to speak. The icing of course, which I supplied, contained Kryptonite unbeknownst to Jack Marshall. 'You need to make sure they eat it together,' I instructed. 'After all, that's the way to any man's heart, even a Super one.'" Forgetting that she wanted her 'goods' delivered undamaged, Arianna screamed, "As if you're any kind of man, you freak," as she gave him a vicious kick in the groin. Superman just groaned again, but Lois was hard- pressed not to burst in and slug Arianna Carlin. Now she understood the phrase 'wanting to scratch her eyes out.'
"Well, enough of that. I'll soon be rid of you, Superman, and I'll be richer than I ever thought possible when I was writing that stupid column. As for you, you'll be dead or worse. Intergang has ways of handling those who disappoint it. I couldn't care less what they do with you once they have you. I'll get Lois Lane, too, and make her pay for driving my Lex to his death."
Upon hearing her threat, Superman struggled against the bonds holding him but he was too weak to break them. Arianna headed toward the front door pointing. "You four come with me to meet the buyer. You two stay behind and guard my merchandise."
"Wait a minute," Joe protested. "How come you're gonna take four of *my* guys with you? What do you need them for when Chuckie and I are supposed to guard Superman?"
"Don't be an idiot. That's what the Kryptonite is for. Intergang is paying me to turn the captured alien over to their buyer. If he thinks we need six men to guard Superman, he may balk.
But Joe wasn't convinced. "My boys ain't goin' with you without my say so, and I ain't sure that little piece of Kryptonite is enough."
"Oh, all right," Arianna retorted. "I'll make sure it's enough." Picking up the sliver of Kryptonite, she lifted the top half of Superman's suit and placed it against his bare chest. Clark screamed from the pain, but Arianna only pulled the shirt down roughly and tucked it firmly into his tights, effectively wedging the poisonous rock in place.
Clark desperately fought to remain conscious as the killer meteorite sapped his strength further while causing him unbearable agony. He definitely did not want them to know that a piece this small would, given sufficient time, kill him.
"There, that should hold him until we get back," Arianna concluded. "We'll be back inside of an hour and I better not see a mark on him when I return."
"What about the guy tied up in the room down the hall?" Joe asked.
"Oh, him. We'll dispose of him when we get back. A kind of added bonus for Jack Marshall." Arianna actually giggled.
As Arianna Carlin and four of the thugs left the house, Lois observed, <*Only two of them. Plan Lane! Don't go off half- cocked and blow it.*> But when she heard a groan escape from Clark's lips, she had to fight to restrain herself from breaking in and attacking Superman's captors right then and there. Going around to a broken window she'd noticed in the rear of the house, she pushed it open and climbed inside. Silently and agonizingly slowly, she made her way back to the room where Clark was being held. Concealed by the rear door of the living room, she stood and listened, waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long.
Clark was still conscious but neither captor seemed to care. "I'm hungry. Go get some burgers, two large orders of fries and two cokes," Joe ordered.
"She ain't gonna like it, Joe."
"She ain't gonna know. She won't be back for an hour. We eat and clean up. You be sure you're back in ten minutes."
After the other man left through the front door, Joe walked over and looked down at Superman. He could see that Superman wouldn't be conscious much longer and he didn't want that. He lifted up the top half of the Superman costume, pulled out the Kryptonite, and set it on the floor nearby. The relief was so great it almost caused Clark to faint, but Joe, mindful of Arianna's threat, grabbed him before he could topple over and hit his head, then shook him fully awake. Clark's relief was short-lived.
"When we was tossing the net over you, Superman, you kicked me. Now you're gonna pay for that kick. You're about to learn what pain feels like to us humans, alien. I'm gonna burn you good with this lighter." He flicked a small cigarette lighter on. "The burns will be hidden under your suit, so she won't know until after I get paid for my work and get outta here; and with the Kryptonite on the floor but not touching you, I'm gonna see that you remain awake to feel every touch of the flame. That's why I sent Chuckie away. I'm not really hungry and I doubt you will be when I'm through with you."
As Joe brought the lighter close to Clark's vulnerable skin, Clark felt the heat and tried to pull away. "What — no screams yet? Wait until the flame actually touches you, then we'll see if Superman can shout 'help'!" the vengeful leader observed.
<*What's the use of yelling for help? There's no one around. I'm alone. I'll always be alone,*> Clark thought hopelessly.
<*What is it with these people?*> Lois mused as she crept stealthily into the room. <*They either want to kill Clark or torture him. Well Joe's not gonna do either if I have any say in the matter.*> Coming up behind Joe, she tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around to see who was there, she drop kicked him and followed that with a Karate chop to the neck. Joe was down for the count. Hastily she closed the lighter so it wouldn't burn Clark, then, retrieving the small lead-lined box, she placed the Kryptonite safely inside, shut the lid, and slipped it into her pocket.
"Yes, Clark, it's me." Lois was nervous. It had been so long since they had been together. <*Does he still care?*> she wondered. Taking refuge in the only way she knew other than by getting angry, she babbled. "I don't suppose you can break those bonds? No, of course you can't. Otherwise you would've by now. We have to get you free. There are so many knots, Clark. I can't untie them all. It'll take too much time. Should I check the kitchen and try to find a knife, do you think? Will you stay here?" <*Now that's a really silly thing to say, girl. Where's he going tied up like that?*>
"I'm not going anywhere, Lois," Clark confirmed, his voice slow and soft in sharp contrast to her babbling.
"No, I guess you're not." She went into the kitchen and came back in less than a minute with a large butcher knife in hand. "This should do it." She slashed the bonds open and together they pulled the bindings off him. Helping Clark to his feet, she asked anxiously, "Can you walk?"
He nodded shakily and they started down the hall, Lois pulling an unsteady Clark behind her. "We better get you out of here before the other guard gets back. That could be any minute now. He was supposed to be back in ten minutes. That's not very long." Lois was still babbling.
Stopping, Clark said, "Wait, Lois," as he looked intently into her eyes. <*She's so beautiful. Does she still love me, or is she just helping the world's Superman to escape?*> He had to find out now. Nothing was more important than that, not even getting out of the house before Chuckie or Arianna returned. Putting his whole life on the line, Clark lifted her hair and placed his large hand on her neck behind her right ear. Gently, he ran his hand down the edge of her cheek in the familiar caress that he alone used.
Lois closed her eyes, clearly savoring the moment, so Clark bent his head and pressed his lips to hers in a soft kiss. She opened her eyes at the touch of his lips and pulled him into an embrace, returning his kiss with one of her own.
<*She still loves me. I haven't lost her,*> Clark thought as he felt the tensions of the last few weeks leave his body.
After both partners enjoyed a moment to affirm their mutual love, Lois pulled away and said softly, "We really have to go. We'll go out the back door and walk to the front of the house. The jeep's about a block away."
Despite the lingering pain from his recent exposure to Kryptonite, Clark grinned happily. "Lead on, Ms. Lane." Then he remembered something he'd heard Arianna say. "Lois, wait! What about the man they're holding in the back room?"
"Don't worry, we'll get him on the way." She pointed to the knife still tucked into the waistband of her jeans. "I hope they haven't drugged him. I could use a little help with you, big guy."
"Lois, I'm sorry," Clark responded contritely.
"Lighten up, Clark. You're not responsible for your current weakness; Arianna Carlin is. Now get into Superman mode."
After a short but draining walk for Clark, they found the room with the captive in it. The man was awake and straining at his bonds, far fewer than had been used on Superman. He was a tall blond fellow in his twenties. In spite of his ordeal, Lois was relieved to see that he looked fit and fairly strong. "It's okay," Lois assured him. "We're escaping ourselves and we're taking you with us." Just a few swipes of the knife soon freed him.
"Thank you, Miss?"
"Lane, Lois Lane. Come on, we don't have much time."
"The reporter?" He remembered his manners. "Jim Richards," he told her, holding out his hand, determined to be courteous even in these circumstances. He saw that she had a man with her. He was leaning heavily against the wall next to the door and was staring at Jim who wondered what he was thinking. Then Jim noticed the outfit the man was dressed in. "Superman!" he cried out, astonished. "Can you fly us out of here?"
"'Fraid not. A little problem with Kryptonite." Clark had a sheepish grin on his face.
Lois was at first surprised that Clark was willing to mention Kryptonite to a stranger. <*Although,*> she thought, <*nobody seems to know about the dratted rock except the people who shouldn't — criminals. It's like every one of them knows more about Kryptonite than the head of the National Science Council.*> Sighing, she decided Clark probably had concluded that he could trust this man although what he based that decision on she had no idea.
Lois went over to Clark and threw the knife away. "Superman needs our help right now. Can you lend a hand here?" Lois asked Jim, as she placed her shoulder under Clark's right arm. Jim got the idea right away and went over to Superman's left side to add his support. Together they were able to brace Clark sufficiently for the three of them to make their way outside and around to the front of the house.
They stopped abruptly, still concealed by the overgrowth, as a car pulled up. The second thug got out laden with bags of food, the smell of which caused Lois's mouth to water. She'd been too busy spying — <*Yes Lane, admit it, you were spying*> — on Superman's date to eat anything since lunchtime. Fortunately neither of the others appeared to have the same reaction to the aroma. As soon as the man entered the house, Jim whispered urgently, "Which way to this jeep of yours?"
"About a block down that way," Lois told him, pointing. Jim and Lois moved as quickly as they could while almost dragging Superman along between them and they soon reached Lois's jeep. The two of them had to practically push Superman up into the passenger side front seat, no easy feat. Clark was mortified at being so helpless. If he could at least levitate he could take some of the pressure off them, but even that simple power was temporarily beyond him.
Lois noticed his reaction and whispered, "Hush, love. I told you it's not your fault." Grateful for her use of the word 'love', Superman smiled tenderly at Lois Lane. Unfortunately, while the words were inaudible, the expression on the Superhero's face did not go unnoticed by Jim Richards, who gave him a startled look.
<*Oh, great,*> thought Clark. <*I just blew almost a year of distancing Superman from his alleged girlfriend, Lois Lane.*>
In her rear-view mirror, Lois saw the two thugs race out of the house. Flooring the Jeep's accelerator, she drove off, tires screeching as she turned random corners in an attempt to elude pursuit. The Jeep was blocks away before their followers could even start the parked car. Slowing down once it became obvious they'd left the two thugs well behind, Lois headed for central Metropolis to drop Jim off at his apartment near the Metropolis U. campus. He asked if they intended to call the police, but Lois and Superman both felt that it would be a wasted effort. By the time the police could get to the house, Superman told Jim, Arianna Carlin and her thugs, along with any evidence that the house had been recently occupied, would surely be gone. To their question as to why she had him kidnapped, Jim had no answer.
"I guess you're right. There's not much use involving the police," he agreed. "Thanks for saving my life, Superman."
"Thank Lois," Clark responded with a grin. "She's pretty handy to have around."
Turning serious, Clark entreated, "Please don't tell anyone about tonight. It was tough enough protecting her when the papers kept speculating about Superman's girlfriend. If people knew how much I still depend on her, I don't know what would happen."
"I won't," Jim promised as he got out of the jeep. Not one to tell tales, he realized that, if there were indeed a relationship between these two, neither one of them wanted that fact spread around. He certainly wasn't going to be the one to do so, not after Lois Lane had, he knew, just saved his life. The woman who had him kidnapped had no intention of freeing him as she had promised once she was finished with her business.
Lois decided to drive directly to Clark's apartment. "Wait in the jeep. I'll go inside and get you a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, black, preferably."
"Third drawer from the bottom on the left."
She was back in a short time, then drove to a nearby park. The park appeared deserted but Lois drove around cautiously until she came to a secluded area. She parked under some concealing trees while Clark changed out of the suit, then they returned to Clark's apartment. Lois put her arm around Clark's waist, supporting her still weak partner as they walked unhurried into his apartment as if returning from a night out.
"Clark, lie down on the couch and rest. I'll make tea."
"That would be great, Lois."
"And if you don't mind, I'll make myself a sandwich. The smell of that takeout really got to me." She stopped abruptly, wondering if she'd given anything away, but Clark didn't seem to notice.
"Just tea for me, Lois, thank you. I'm not hungry." Actually he was pretty tired from the small amount of walking he'd had to do to get home.
Lois came back into the room about ten minutes later carrying a tray laden with tea and crackers and a huge triple-decker sandwich. "You really are hungry. A person would think you haven't had a thing to eat since lunch," Clark laughed. Lois turned beet red and mumbled something about running around after stories giving one an appetite. Clark knew that was sometimes true but not today. He wondered what she was hiding, but decided not to pursue the subject. Their accord was too new, too fragile, and he had no intention of shattering it. "Lois, I know we need to talk about the date thing and all, but not tonight, okay?"
"Sure," she agreed almost too eagerly. "We need to get your strength back first, although it does bother me that Arianna Carlin got away Scot free and will probably be back again to trouble us further.
In this, however, Lois was wrong. When Arianna Carlin returned with the four thugs and the representative from Intergang, it was to a deserted house, Joe and Chuckie having fled rather than stay and face her wrath. Arianna was livid. "I'll get that alien freak and when I do … "
The man from Intergang only said coldly, "You promised us Superman, delivered wrapped up and controllable with the chunk of Kryptonite I brought. That's why we arranged for your release." Frightened now, Arianna tried to run, but the other four, no dummies they, stopped her and brought her back to him. "Secure her," he ordered.
One man, obviously the new leader of Arianna's former cohorts, gave instructions. "You, get the rope and tie her hands behind her back." The other thug pulled so hard that she screamed but the thug only secured the rope tighter around Arianna's wrists. "Wait," Arianna pleaded. "Don't you want to know how I managed to weaken and capture Superman? Surely that's worth something to Intergang."
Looking around the room, the man from Intergang told her, "I don't see any Superman."
"But I had him. Superman was weakened by the Kryptonite in his food. That's why he was so easily overcome and brought here where a tiny piece of Kryptonite held him captive. You saw that, didn't you?" she asked the new leader.
He, however, decided that there was no future with Arianna Carlin and they'd better distance themselves from her. "Yeah, so *you* said. But maybe you was wrong. Maybe Superman was just playin' possum. You know — pretending to be helpless to find out who you was workin' with. Superman didn't have no trouble gettin' away, and Joe and Chuckie are gone too."
The man from Intergang became angry and apprehensive as well. He didn't know what to believe but he decided the less said to his superiors about Arianna's crazy scheme the better. Further, if Arianna was wrong, the cops could be on their way right now so they'd better get out fast. He'd make sure neither Arianna Carlin nor the others involved in her plot would talk to the cops or to his superiors at Intergang. "You four will be welcomed into the Intergang family," he told the remaining thugs. "Bring her. Intergang has ways of handling those who 'disappoint' it. When we get finished with you, Arianna, you'll wish you were back in that nice cozy prison cell." A cold chill similar to the one Lois had felt earlier went down Arianna's spine.
The four thugs soon learned that working for someone who 'disappointed' Intergang, even if only for a short time, was definitely not good for their health. But for Arianna Carlin, Intergang had other plans. They spirited Arianna out of the US, stripped her of her identity and possessions, and sold her, like the merchandise she had tried to make of Superman, to the Madam of an Intergang connected 'House of Ill Repute' somewhere on the European continent.
She was at first trained and used as one of the 'hostesses' but her personality proved unpleasant to the House's clientele and she was soon relegated to the position of servant to the other girls. She toiled long hours dressing and grooming them and was frequently beaten for being too slow or surly. She spent her one free hour a week writing psychological profiles of the women but no one ever read a word Arianna Carlin wrote. About a year later, Intergang contacted Lex Luthor through Nigel St. John and asked for ransom, but Lex told him he had no money and he really didn't care what happened to her anyway. She disappeared from the 'House of Ill Repute' and no trace of her was ever found again.
Neither Arianna Carlin nor any one of the other four captors troubled Lois or Superman again.
"I sure wish we could've waited around and snatched whatever the Intergang contact was bringing, maybe another larger piece of Kryptonite."
"Are you crazy? I don't care about the Kryptonite. I don't care about anything except your safety. Clark, you're not leaving this house until you're fully recovered from that wretched stuff." Tired emotionally and physically from the event-filled day, Lois finally allowed herself to cry.
Clark took her into his arms and sighed. "I have a feeling I won't be myself until sometime tomorrow at the earliest."
"Well," she told him through her tears, "I'm not leaving you alone until you are. I'm staying here tonight."
He never could stand to see her cry, so he gave in. "Okay, finish your sandwich. There's an oversized T-shirt in the bottom drawer of the bedroom dresser that you can put on. I'll sleep on the couch. You take the bed."
But Lois had no intention of allowing Clark to sleep on the sofa. She finished the sandwich and cleared away the food. "I'm going to go get ready for bed now, but first …" She kissed him passionately and murmured, "I love you and I'm sorry for all the mean things I said at my apartment."
"Lois, it's still this millennium," Clark countered alluding to Lois's often avowed promise not to apologize to anyone, particularly Clark Kent, 'not in this millennium'. Clark tried to laugh but, still somewhat weakened from the Kryptonite poisoning, he only wound up with a coughing fit.
Lois stopped his coughing with another kiss, then went to the bathroom to prepare for sleeping over. She couldn't help wishing that they were already married so she could put on that black teddy he'd bought for her the day after she asked him to marry her. <*Stop it, girl. Even if the teddy was here, Clark's in no condition for that — not after Kryptonite.*> She was sorry that they had agreed to wait until after they were married to become lovers, especially since that day kept getting further and further away.
"I'm ready now, Clark, but first I want to make up the couch for you," Lois called from the bathroom door.
"Lois, you don't have to do that."
"Clark, you're not going to be doing any floating tonight. Without your powers you're bound to be uncomfortable on that short couch in a cold room without a blanket. Suppose you caught a cold. You could you know."
Clark wasn't convinced her logic made a great deal of sense but he didn't want anything to go wrong between them now that they were together again so he agreed to her plan. <*How long can it take her to make the living room sofa into a bed,*> he reasoned. "Extra sheets and a blanket are in the closet in the bedroom."
"I can't find them," Lois called, this time from Clark's bedroom.
"They're right there on the top shelf."
"I don't see them there," she lied. "You'll have to come in here and help me find them. Do you need my help?"
"No, I'll be right there." He was tired of being practically carried around like a baby, so he determined to make it to his bedroom unaided. Getting up from the couch, Clark felt dizzy, but that soon passed. He was gratified to find that he could walk unaided, although he was still weak and none of his superpowers had yet returned. Grinning, he entered the bedroom.
Lois was standing next to the bed wearing the oversized T-shirt and little else. Even in that, Clark thought she looked beautiful. Tearing his eyes away from Lois, Clark walked over to the closet but the blanket and linens he kept there were not on the shelf. The grin faded, replaced by puzzlement. "I don't understand it, Lois. I'm sure they were here."
"I have them, Clark, and I'll put them on the couch, but *you* are sleeping in the bed."
"No, you are." This time he was firm.
Smugly she told him, "You'll never get the rest you need on that small couch, but it fits me fine. You're sleeping here and that's final." She patted the bed as she said that, and Clark was reminded of the time they stayed in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel and argued over who would get to sleep in that bed.
He couldn't resist saying, "It's a big bed. How 'bout we share?"
To his astonishment, Lois responded, "Good idea, now get in here." Suiting her actions to her words, Lois crawled into the near side of Clark's bed, pulling the covers up around her. "Clark," she told him, exasperated when he wouldn't move, "we both need sleep and we're not going to get it if we keep arguing about who sleeps where. Besides what could happen with you still suffering from Kryptonite exposure and me tired too?" He couldn't argue with her about that, so he went over to the far side of the bed and crawled under the covers.
"Good night, Clark," Lois told him. When he didn't respond, she repeated, "Clark, good night," and finally, "Good niiight, Clark."
Sourly, he finally responded with, "Good night, Lois."
After giggling uncontrollably for a minute, Lois closed her eyes and soon fell asleep.
Clark, however, was not so fortunate. All his muscles seemed too weak to respond to his dictates with a singular exception. Prompted by the knowledge that he was in bed — in bed — with the woman of his dreams, that muscle promptly rose to attention.
<*Stop it Kent,*> he told his aroused libido. <*Superman does not force himself on a woman who has declared herself not ready for intimacy. You're here to sleep — so sleep.*> He closed his eyes, turning away from Lois, and tried not to listen to the sound of her steady breathing. Gradually his traitorous body gave up the struggle and he fell asleep. As he drifted off, his last thought was <*Good thing my super hearing still hasn't kicked in.*>
Shortly before daybreak, Lois awoke. Still troubled by a dream she had, she reached for Clark. "Clark, where are you?" She sounded disoriented.
Clark immediately woke, sat up and pulled Lois on to his lap. "It's all right Lois. I'm here."
"Clark, I had a terrible dream. You were in the van ahead and they were racing away and I couldn't catch them. Then the man kept hitting you with a sledge hammer and I tried to stop them but all six of them surrounded me and Arianna just laughed and laughed."
"Hush," he soothed, pulling her tight against him. The nearness of Lois, clad only in a T-shirt and panties, soon had the same effect on Clark as earlier. This time Lois was awake and sitting on his lap and she felt his arousal. Clark tried to pull away, but Lois turned passion filled eyes on him and whispered, "I don't wanna wait, Clark. I want you. Make love to me now, please?"
"Lois, are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. You can, can't you? You're not too weak from the Kryptonite, are you?"
"Lois, I may not have any super powers right now, but I'm not too weak for that."
"Good, because I told you I would love you just the same if you were an ordinary man." Lois kissed him to prove her point and before long Clark proved he was indeed a man just like she was a woman.
Morning came, and the sun's rays fell on Clark's face as they had every sunny morning since his parents had noticed its beneficial effect on their unusual child and had moved him to a bedroom where he would receive full advantage from the morning sunshine. Lying in it always felt good, but this time it was heavenly because Lois was sleeping in his arms. Since she didn't seem inclined to wake early, and since it was Saturday when neither of them was scheduled to work, Clark pulled her closer and drifted back to sleep.
A few hours later, Lois awoke, surprised to see by the clock on the dresser that it was almost eleven. She nudged her still sleeping partner.
"Good morning, Lois," he said shyly.
"Good morning, Clark. Hmmm, you look good in the morning." Clark blushed furiously as Lois watched delighted. <*I'm gonna have to make sure that he does that on a regular basis after we're married, maybe just when we're alone, certainly not when he's in the suit. Superman blushing would really set tongues wagging.*> Visions of all the delectable ways she could arrange that soon led to other more erotic thoughts, but Lois pushed them firmly aside. <*Now is not the time for that, girl.*>
"So, how about some breakfast?"
"Good idea, Lois, but I'll fix it." He was well aware of his partner's lack of any culinary skills. "Why don't you shower in the meantime?"
"I hate to put yesterday's clothes back on. Maybe we should just go back to my place right now."
"I have a couple of clean things around that should fit you," Clark pointed out hastily. He didn't want her to leave and he couldn't very well fly her home to get clean clothes. "Go shower while I make us breakfast."
"Are you okay with that? I mean you're still not too weak, are you?"
"Nah. I should be able to get around," he told her getting out of the bed to prove it. <*No dizziness, good!*> He glanced toward the kitchen and was able to see through the bedroom wall, but only for a short time before the power faded.
"Looks like my powers are starting to return, but I probably won't be doing much flying until tomorrow. Maybe we could go to Smallville on Sunday. That is, if you want to?" He was asking her about much more than just a visit and she hastened to reassure him.
"I'd love to. I'll need to return my Jeep later, but until then let's spend today like an ordinary, practically engaged, couple." She gave him a quick passionate kiss filled with promises of more to come and went into the bathroom.
Clark found a suitable T-shirt and a pair of old, but serviceable jeans. His mother left them behind the last time his parents visited.
He'd taken his folks to the opening of the new children's center — no longer just called a playground — and Martha, to set an example she told Clark and his father, joined the kids in trying out all the equipment. Clark watched pleased, particularly when his usually more somber father broke down and joined Clark's mother. Since much of the play involved crawling around in the soft dirt and climbing up and down the playground equipment, their clothes got very dirty.
Clark offered to wash and keep them at his apartment rather than have the filthy jeans and shirts carried all the way back to Kansas. "Who knows, maybe someone else will need a change of clothes someday," he told them, little dreaming who that person would be. "If not, you can get them the next time you're in Metropolis." <*Thanks, Mom,*> he thought, wondering if she hadn't left them deliberately for just such an opportunity. He wouldn't put it past her.
Lois and Clark spent Saturday together. 'Breakfast' or more accurately 'brunch' was eaten in the small outdoor patio behind Clark's apartment so he could continue to get the full effect of the sun's rays. "What about the story, Lois?" Clark was referring to Superman's ordeal the night before.
"The Daily Planet isn't getting this one. The criminal world is not gonna know it can put Kryptonite in Superman's food and it will affect him."
<*Mad Dog Lane,*> he thought, but Superman had always been able to depend on her to keep information that could hurt him out of the newspaper. Now she knew his secret as well and he knew she would never divulge it, never betray him in any way even when she was angry with him. He trusted her completely and he was grateful. And he loved her with all his heart.
After breakfast was over, Clark used the cell phone to let his parents know he planned to bring Lois for a visit the next day. "We should be there about one in the afternoon." Martha and Jonathan could tell by the excitement in their son's voice that the fight over the date auction between him and the woman who held his heart had been resolved favorably.
"We'd love to see you both, dear. I'll plan Sunday dinner for about two. I'll make fried chicken with pan gravy, the way you always like it, and homemade apple pie for dessert."
Clark's mouth started to water at the thought of his mother's chicken. He hoped his powers would return in plenty of time for the trip. Not wanting to chance disappointing them though, he added, "Better plan dinner for about five, that way we can call in case the flight is delayed or even cancelled due to 'technical difficulties'."
Martha knew this was her son's way of letting them know something had affected his powers and she waited for further elaboration. After a moment of silence, she sighed and told him they hoped that Clark and Lois would be able to come even if only for a short visit.
After Martha hung up, she turned to Jonathan who'd been listening in on the portable phone. "I wonder what happened, Jonathan. Clark usually tells us about everything. Do you think it's so bad he can't discuss it over the phone?"
"No Martha, he sounds much too happy. I think our boy has finally found someone else to share with. If I'm right, the visits and the phone calls are going to be much scarcer than in the past."
"Now, Martha," he told her tenderly. "Children grow up and they eventually find another for comfort and love. This is normal and we should be happy for Clark. Just think, you haven't lost a son, you've gained the daughter you've always wanted."
"Oh, Jonathan, do you think so?"
"Yes, I do." At least he hoped that his interpretation was correct. Well they would know on Sunday.
Lois and Clark spent the afternoon at Centennial Park. It was only ten blocks from Clark's apartment, so they walked, enjoying the sights of a city coming out of a long, cold winter. They wanted to maximize Clark's exposure to the healing afternoon sunshine, so they lay on a blanket in full sun for much of the time — near the duck pond, where they watched the aquatic birds at play. Lois was actually enjoying not being interrupted by Clark's super hearing picking up a distress call, but she hoped his powers would soon return.
About four-thirty, Clark suddenly stopped and got a faraway look.
"Do you have to — you know?" She made the flying gesture.
"Not yet. But come, it's time to go. I need to try something."
They walked out of the park and Clark steered them into an alley. He pulled down his glasses and looked around, then grinned. "Yep, X-ray vision and super hearing are both back. Nobody's around, so …" Stepping back from her, he levitated, then took off into the sky. Returning almost instantaneously, he grinned, "Looks like I'm fully functional once again."
"That's wonderful," she started to tell him, when his face got that faraway look again. "Gotta go huh?"
"Yeah, I'm afraid so. Sorry, honey."
"It's okay, I understand."
<*She does understand. She always has.*> Lois Lane shared his need to make the world a better place, to help those in trouble and to protect the weak from those who would exploit them for their own ends. "How about I come over to your apartment when I'm finished?"
"Good, go. I'll walk back to your apartment and get my jeep. I need to drive it back to my place anyway. Love you," she said giving him a quick kiss. "Now hurry."
Superman took off and a few minutes later, Lois walked out of the alley and headed toward Clark's apartment. She drove home, stopping for Chinese — hopefully ordering two combos — and renting a selection of videos on the way.
Lois watched Lethal Weapon videos all evening, changing tapes frequently as her choices just weren't as much fun when she watched alone. Clark had been gone since before five and it was now almost midnight, so she decided to turn off the VCR and go to sleep. <*Think I'll sleep out here,*> she thought, still hoping that Clark would stop by. She unlocked the living room window — a signal that she wanted him to stop by no matter how late it was — just before she fell asleep on the couch.
About two hours later, Clark flew by her window. Seeing her sleeping, he was about to leave when he realized the window was unlocked — for the first time in three weeks. Joyfully, he tapped softly, awakening Lois.
"Hi, can I come in?"
"Please," she invited.
He stepped inside and floated to the floor. "Sorry I'm so late. Every time Superman isn't seen patrolling for a day or so, every petty crook in Metropolis comes out of the woodwork."
"Poor baby. Had a busy night. Come over here and tell me all about it."
Grateful to be able to unburden himself, Clark told her about his evening while she reheated the Chinese food. After Clark's hunger for both food and emotional support had been filled, Lois invited him to stay until daybreak. They made love, slowly savoring the experience, before Lois fell asleep again.
Her happy partner lay in the dark, thinking over the events of the last two days. He had been wrong when he felt so alone Friday night. She had been there for him all along and once again she'd saved Superman's life. He hadn't been truly alone, he realized, since Lois Lane came into his life. She had acknowledged and accepted his alien nature right from the start. Many people would have reacted with fear or even revulsion to a strange being who could swallow bombs without ill effect, lift a space craft into orbit, and fly, but Lois Lane offered him admiration, friendship, and later even love.
<*Admit it, Kent, you did steal her Superman story, even if your reasons were good,*> he thought. Because he'd made her think that he was two different people, he'd been hurt by her avowed preference for the Superhero side of him and had hurt her with that lead-lined robe remark, driving her right into the arms of Lex Luthor.
He did have good reasons for his actions. Lois had hurt him as well, ignoring his Clark side so often in the early days of their relationship. They had been through so much to get to this point, but he knew it was not the end of their problems. Life is a process of self-discovery and he, an alien being who knew little of his origin, had an even more difficult time ahead of him. But with Lois beside him, he could do it. He could do anything. <*I'm not alone anymore!*>
The Engagement series continues in Lois and Clark Engaged, Part 2: Are you Sure? Wherein a few loose ends from this part will be disposed of.