By emilystarr1 <email@example.com>
Submitted December 2000
Summary: In this *alternate* alternate universe story, Lois Lane gets more than she bargained for on her first assignment since returning from the Congo jungle.
<—> denotes thoughts
Lois Lane stepped out of the yellow Metropolis taxicab shakily, trying desperately to steady her legs. She grinned slightly, remembering that she had never once happened to be lucky enough to get in a Metropolitan cab that had a capable driver. Lois thanked the driver absentmindedly, paying him with what tip she could afford and barely noticing the squeal of the tires as the car sped off. Lois turned slowly, drinking in the sights of Metropolis around her. The massive skyscrapers that made up the better part of the city swallowed her view, and people around her walked at paces so brisk she could barely make out facial features. Every so often a lone seagull would fly between a building, letting loose an indignant cry before once again disappearing into the urban jungle.
Lois grimaced as the word 'jungle' leaped forward into her consciousness. She did not want to think about jungles, or anything to do with them. She wanted to think about the city — *her * city. Once again her lips softened into a smile at the thought of everything that lay ahead of her. Once again, she would have her own apartment, complete with a warm bed and shower. Of course, she probably wouldn't be able to get the same apartment she'd once lived in; she probably wouldn't even be able to reclaim most of her old possessions. Lois only hoped her parents, or maybe Perry, had had the presence of mind to keep her Kerth awards. After all, Lois thought, those were essential to her personality, and what her life had been all about. They had been her biggest accomplishment, and she couldn't imagine her parents throwing them out or giving them away …
Lois snapped out of her reverie as she realized she was standing in front of a very familiar entrance. Butterflies erupted through her stomach in a sudden assault even as she grinned. She tucked a stray strand of shoulder-length brown hair behind her ear as she looked up, soft brown eyes caressing each and every angle and curve of the greyish building. Tears flooded Lois's eyes as her heart leapt, trying to dance. It had been so shamefully out of practice at being happy for so long. Lois had been through so much, and now -
Well, really, she should have gone to her parents first. But Lois didn't feel up to seeing them right away, no matter how much it might hurt them. This was what she had missed, and what she'd yearned after for so long. Lois took the next step, a serious look on her face as she stepped through the door. Not knowing what came next, she'd gone to the once place in the world where she always felt her feet were on the ground.
She'd gone to the Daily Planet. She'd gone home.
For — how long now? She guessed it was about five years — Lois had been held prisoner in the Congo jungle. While interviewing a potential source for the story she was researching there, she had been captured and taken away.
Those years had been the true test of Lois's resiliency, what had really stretched her to the limit and given her the confidence that, yes, she could handle absolutely anything that life threw her way. She didn't know the language, and her captors had not understood her. All of her pleas and arguments had fallen on deaf ears, and any hope for escape was dashed with the large rifles held at the side of each guard patrolling the jail. During frantic planning sessions, Lois realized that any escape would most likely mean death. All those in power here shot first and thought later. She wore the same dirty shirt and jeans for five years, and was recognisable as a captive. If any of the guards saw her free, she would be shot immediately.
It was, she reflected time upon desperate time, hopeless.
She became friends with a man who occupied a cell across from her. He had an acceptable grasp of the English language, enough so that he and Lois understood each other. They would talk late into the night, on the times when they felt the crushing weight of depression lift slightly.
One night, Damien spoke up in a very serious tone. "Lois?"
She had looked up, shaken out of her tired, sad stupor. "Yeah? You okay?"
He'd chuckled. "Lois, do you have any idea what's happening tomorrow?"
"No." And she didn't care.
"They're taking me — away."
"Away?" Shifting to the left a little, she could see him better — see the dejected slump of his body and the way his hair hung unchecked in his eyes.
"They're going to kill me, Lois. I've heard them talking." He hung his head.
"Kill you?" She yelled, outraged. "You can't let them do that, you haven't done anything, it's completely unethical, it's-"
"Lois," he interrupted quietly.
"It's unfair," she finished, tears pooling that she turned her head to hide from him. She would not let herself cry around him in his worst hour.
He laughed wryly. "Lois, we've been here for years. 'Fair' doesn't exist anymore. But I don't want you to worry about me. Whatever way you want to look at it, all I know is I'm getting out. But I want you to do something for me."
"Anything." Lois averted her eyes, not able to meet Damien's level gaze. She wanted to deny the fact that he would be killed, wanted to give him — and herself — false reassurances. But she realized, as much as she wanted to, it wouldn't be fair to him. Still, she couldn't look him in the face while acknowledging the fact that he would die in less than twelve hours.
"I want you to write my family, tell them what happened." They'd told each other all about their homes and family, so many times the facts were ingrained in both of their minds.
"Damien, you know as well as I do that any mail we try to send is just swallowed up by those -"
"I mean when you get home," he clarified in a stronger voice.
"Oh, Damien, I'll keep it in mind, but I've pretty much given up hope, here."
"Lois, listen to me. You're getting out tomorrow. This is what you're going to do."
He had proceeded to outline the plan that ultimately saved her life. While three of the guards watched over the execution, Lois would watch for the one guard who would be left to watch over the prisoners. Lois would ask to be taken to the bathroom, and the second her cage was opened she would strike, knocking him out with a few well-placed kicks and locking him in the jail she had previously occupied. Hopefully, Damien said with a sad grin, it would go off without a hitch. They were counting on the fact that the majority of guards would have enough of a morbid interest to watch the killing.
They were. Three accompanied Damien outside while Lois looked on with wet eyes. She attempted a wavering smile as he threw one last look her way before disappearing outside. The moment he was out of sight, Lois's tears broke free in a rebellious torrent. It *wasn't* fair! Damien had done nothing to deserve this. He was a victim of fate, just like she was.
Lois was soon forced to dry her tears, however. The lone guard forced to watch over the jail was walking by, slowly pacing and staring fixedly out a window that overlooked the front courtyard. Lois swallowed a sob and controlled herself. She forced out her shaky voice, determined, once and for all, to escape. As Damien had said, any way you looked at it, she would be getting out.
The guard stopped and stared.
"Bathroom?" Lois asked, and then repeated herself while pointing to the public toilet not ten yards away. "Bathroom?"
The guard looked up to where she was pointing, then leered for a moment before stepping forward. He withdrew keys from his belt, and Lois licked her lips, trying not to show her desperation.
He opened the door of her cell; and almost instantaneously was on the floor, moaning in pain and gripping his abdomen. Lois smiled in satisfaction, and reflected that she could actually thank that scumbag Claude for something — her interest in Tae Kwon Do. Lois leaned over and gathered the squirming man's hair in her hands, and lifted his head only to dash it into the floor repeatedly. A moment later, he went limp and Lois knew he was out cold. Lois, with a pang of self-disgust, wished he was dead. Then she shook herself out of the hatred threatening to swallow her and grabbed his feet, dragging him into the cell.
Lois smiled as she wrenched the keys from his weakening grip and then stepped out, taking a deep breath that tasted of precious freedom. Then she locked the door with a slight vindictive bang, and locked it, satisfied with the small click she heard. Lois dashed away, knowing that even though she hadn't heard the gunshot didn't mean it hadn't happened. She'd been distracted, to say the least. Fresh tears almost blinded her as she stumbled towards the light of day leaking under one of the doors of the building. Nevertheless, she kept on, aware of the fact that the guards could storm in at any moment. Lois, in a moment of panic, thrashed her head from side to side in order to clear the salty water from her eyes and chaos from her mind. In an instant she saw one of the other prisoners, a woman. The woman's eyes were frantic, realizing that someone had escaped. The frightened brown orbs flashed from the keys gripped in Lois's hand to Lois's eyes. Lois stopped breathing — could feel her heart stop beating. She knew she didn't have time for anything, much less freeing everyone locked up in this hellhole. Lois turned, eyes frantically locked on the door, and mind locked from the crime she was about to commit.
Lois took exactly three and a half steps before she gasped for breath and turned suddenly. She ran for the nearest door and shoved a key into it. The key wouldn't turn, and Lois blew a frenzied breath out the side of her mouth as she tried five other keys. She repeated this performance six times, willing her hands not to shake as to save time. She worried about what she was doing. After all, just because she had been jailed unfairly didn't mean these people had been. Perhaps she was freeing killers and rapists. But Lois felt she couldn't take the chance, and resolutely continued until each cage had been opened — except the one holding her former captor.
Lois freed the desperate-looking woman last, and grabbed her hand. Everyone else had already run out the door, and Lois was terrified the guards had seen and were waiting for her on the other side. She gulped and began running at full speed, dragging the woman along with her. Lois exploded out the door, not looking back as she headed for a fence that surrounded the enclosure. As she reached the fence, Lois heard an angry shout not far behind her. Lois flung the woman trailing behind her against the wall, stooping quickly to grab the woman's legs and boost her up and over the side of the fence. As Lois finally saw the woman's legs disappear, she let herself reach up and grab at the edge of the fence, quickly and painfully jerking herself up and over. Lois's breath of relief caught in her throat as she felt a burning pain sear her arm. She looked down incredulously, eyes not comprehending the trail of red slowly drizzling past her elbow. Lois had shaken her head, realized the danger afresh, and focused on running, ignoring her arm as best she could.
By some miracle, if Lois still believed in miracles, she had escaped.
She never found out what happened to the other prisoners, or who they had been. Lois did not want to ever know. Strong as she was, she felt she could not handle the knowledge. And now, after months of waiting for her visa to come through and for America to rescue her, she was finally home and at the door of the Daily Planet. Lois gulped down a sob, amazed at how far she had come — farther than she had ever dared to hope. She had literally just flown in, was sore and exhausted, but nonetheless she had to do certain things. And in her heart, the first thing was to waltz straight into Perry White's office and give him a bear hug, letting him know that he was like a father to her. < No more hiding emotions for you, Lane, > Lois vowed with a small smile. < Those days are over. >
Some of the confidence that Lois had used to possess surfaced in her step as she quickly closed the distance between the Daily Planet's entrance and Perry's office. Lois was dimly aware of people turning in their desks to stare at her and whisper frantically to anyone nearby. Was this ,,, ?
It was, and Lois wasn't going to waste one more minute. She was back.
Lois stormed into Perry's office, flinging the door open dramatically and waiting for the stunned reaction she was hoping for.
Perry White had been having a rather bad time of it. His best reporter since Lois had disappeared was now going to be missing in action for Lord knew how long, Jimmy wasn't around anymore to pick up his morning coffee, and all the reporters in the newsroom were so distracted Perry wondered if he would just have to shut down the Planet for a few days, until things cooled down a bit. But this was surely the story of the year, if not the century ,,, It was impossible to think of shutting down at this crucial time.
"Damn!" Perry yelled, banging his desk with a clenched fist, becoming all the more furious upon realizing he had actually hurt himself.
It was at this most inopportune moment that some reporter — about to become a very * ill fated* reporter — chose to barge into his office with an unholy bang of the door. Perry jerked his head up. The fire in his eyes was soon quenched, however, by the shock overtaking him. Perry closed his eyes a moment, shook his head, looked up again. He swallowed painfully, sure he was hallucinating but feeling compelled to make sure, all the same.
"Lois?" He spoke tentatively, that one word summing up a hundred questions and sleepless nights. The woman standing in front of him suddenly lunged forward, arms open and eyes overflowing. Stunned, Perry held her a moment, then pulled his head back, staring into her eyes.
"Lois? What the hell happened?"
Perry listened patiently, sitting across from Lois in his fat plush armchair, amazed at the sight of her and of all that she had gone through.
"Great shades of Elvis," he chuckled when she'd finished. "If that story doesn't beat everything we've ever printed." Perry caught the look Lois threw him and hastily added, "Oh, I didn't mean you had to write it up. This can be kept completely confidential."
Lois relaxed back into her chair, obviously relieved. "Good. Let's do that."
Perry took a long look at her face, scrutinizing. "Lois, honey, you all right?"
She smiled sadly. "Yeah, I actually am, Chief." Lois grinned, liking the way his nickname sounded on her lips once again. "Now," she continued briskly, jumping up and pacing around the office, "I assume I've still got my old job?" She glanced at him, and he nodded. "Good. So, I want my first assignment as soon as possible, but I think the first order of business is to announce my triumphant return." Lois grinned. "I could hear people whispering as I marched towards your office."
Perry cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. "Actually, Lois, this might not be a good time. The Planet has had a couple of bombshells lately, and this might really put everybody over the edge. Would you mind working undercover for a few days?"
Lois frowned, thinking this over. She didn't like the thought, but -
"Sure, Chief. I guess I wouldn't mind that for a little while."
"It won't last past Friday," the editor reassured her, getting up and squeezing her shoulder. "We'll make an official statement on Monday, how does that sound?"
"Good," Lois replied, smiling.
"Good," he repeated, giving her a small half-smile. "Now, you go home and rest a bit. Just be as subtle as you're able when you leave, okay?"
Lois smiled at the little jab Perry had given her, but a concerned look soon overtook her face. "Chief, what 'bombshells' have hit the Planet?"
Lois could have sworn Perry's cheeks coloured a bit at her question.
"Chief?" She questioned curiously.
"Here," he said briefly, all the warmth having left his voice. Perry grabbed an edition of the paper and tossed it towards her carelessly. Lois caught it in mid-air. "There's only been one, and this should explain."
Lois, smelling a great story, even if it did harm the Planet in some way, eagerly unfolded the paper, her eyes falling on the front-page story, the headline screaming out at her.
< "DAILY PLANET REPORTER EXPOSED AS SUPERMAN!" >
Underneath this, the article began:
< "Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent has admitted the secret he has kept safe since arriving in our city. Upon painstaking questioning by government officials, Kent has admitted to being the alien who has been watching over Metropolis and the world for four years now. Some officials are claiming that Kent is dangerous to the well being of Earth. Mr. Kent is being held pending further investigation ,,, " >
"An alien!" Lois gasped. "Perry, are you sure ,,, ?" Lois's voice trailed off as her eyes finally found the colour photo's accompanying the paragraph. Two pictures were placed side by side — one of a gallant looking man with slicked back black hair and steadfast eyes. The other was of an ordinary looking man with soft hair falling over his forehead in a soft curl and glasses hiding kind brown eyes. The first picture was by far the more impressive one; but it was the second that made Lois give another sharp gasp.
As she stared at the man's countenance and examined those eyes, Lois could feel her heart rate accelerate and her hands begin to shake. Suddenly she couldn't keep her grip strong and dropped the paper back onto Perry's desk, causing the older man to look up in mild alarm.
"Are you all right, Lois?"
Lois barely heard him; she stared off into space, seeing only *him*. What was it about this Kent person that struck her as so important? Why did she feel as if — as if -
"I *know* him," she whispered amazedly, closing her eyes and seeing Clark Kent in more detail than an old newspaper file photo could have possibly shown.
"What'd you say, Lois?"
Lois jerked back to reality, swiftly taking a breath and making an excuse. She decided to keep it simple.
"I just had an overwhelming sense of deja vu, that's all," Lois replied vaguely.
"Oh. Well, you better get home now," Perry replied, reaching onto his coat rack to bring down a dusty old hat. "You borrow my hat and raincoat, and no one will even suspect. Well," he conceded with a grin, "Maybe a little after that entrance you pulled."
Lois smiled distractedly. "Thanks. Oh, and Chief, if you don't mind, I'd like to have that story," she added, pointing to the paper on his desk.
"Well, Lois," he faltered. "Are you sure you're ready for it?"
Lois laughed. "Chief, I am so ready it's not even funny. I want to work again, as soon as possible."
Perry smiled. "Well, then, I guess I'm assigning this to the best reporter I've got."
Lois grinned, pleased with the praise, and placed Perry's hat on her head, ready to leave. Just as she was about to open the door, she stopped with her hand on the doorknob and turned.
"By the way, Perry, do you know if my parents kept my Kerth awards?"
"No, they didn't." Perry grinned sheepishly and moved over to his desk, reaching into a deep bottom drawer. He pulled out a clear bluish statue shaped like a teardrop.
"I did," he continued, handing the award over to its rightful owner. "The rest are at my house — I'll bring them for you Monday."
Lois shoved it quickly into one of the jacket's deep pockets and strode towards Perry, throwing her arms around him for the second time. "Thank you, Perry. For everything. You -" Lois faltered slightly before going on, "You've meant so much to me ,,, you've been like a father to me. So, thank you!" She finished simply and with a laugh, starting to pull away before Perry tightened his grip on her ever so slightly.
"It was my pleasure, Lois. My absolute pleasure." He reiterated, stepping back quickly. "Now," he continued in a gruffer tone. "You go home and rest up before tackling this new story, you hear me?"
Lois mock saluted before disappearing out the door. Perry walked over and flopped into his chair with a dangerous speed, almost knocking himself right back out of it. He tipped back and put his feet on the desk, relaxing his head against his outstretched arms. He cast an almost angry look at the paper lying inoffensively on his desk, then glanced at the door and chuckled.
"I'll be damned," he said.
Lois had to tolerate more shocked reactions when she showed up at her parents' home — but she didn't mind.
"Lois?" Ellen Lane whispered disbelievingly. Her husband just stared open mouthed at the petite brunette in the doorway.
Lois nodded almost shyly. "Yes ,,, it's me." Lois held open her arms, and her mother rushed into them, sobbing. Sam Lane stood shakily, knocking over the worktable at which he had been sitting and upsetting all the electronic equipment he had been fiddling with. He came and wrapped his arms around both women, his shocked expression suddenly dissolving into a huge grin. The three stood there a long while, rocking back and forth, before Ellen shook her head amazedly and ushered Lois into the living room and onto the couch. They all squeezed together as Lois told the story of the past five years she had been gone. Each time she spoke of it, it seemed the memories dimmed slightly, erasing a miniscule amount of the pain they caused. Lois winced, however, when she thought of this. One wound was still festering, and she wasn't sure when she would gather the courage to heal it once and for all — She still hadn't written to Damien's family.
"So," Lois finished up, "If it's all right with you, I need to stay here for a while, until I can get an apartment. It shouldn't be long before I get my first paycheck from Perry, and then I just have to find an apartment. I'll be set in no time, you'll see." Lois smiled as Ellen spoke in a seemingly alarmed tone.
"Honey, if you need to borrow any money, your father and I can give it to you, no problem." Ellen had meant to convey that she and Sam were there to help for anything, that they would be willing to do anything she needed of them. It didn't quite come out the way she had intended, however.
Lois laughed softly at the implications of the statement, though she knew her parents would be thrilled to have her home. "Anxious to get rid of me, Mom?"
Ellen looked shocked for a moment, then laughed as realization dawned. "Oh, Lois, you *know* that wasn't what I meant!" she chided gently, tears pooling. She reached over to gather Lois in another strong embrace. "I'm so happy you're okay."
"I know, Mom," Lois replied quietly, her heart swelling with the sense of love and family that surrounded her. Ever since she had been a little girl, she had felt this sense of connection with these people. Sam and Ellen had been married for years, and they were still best friends. Lois knew that someday, if she ever got married, that she would do her best to model her own marriage on that of her parents. They had built a strong foundation for her through the years. Oh, sure, they fought often, what with Ellen's occasional nitpicking and Sam's relentless obsession with robotics, but somehow they got past their differences and loved each other with such a fierceness Lois sometimes couldn't believe. Lois had worried that her disappearance had somehow weakened the bond between them, strained their relationship to the breaking point. From the picture of them sitting together on the couch, Sam's arm casually slung over Ellen's shoulder, lightly squeezing, Lois deduced that it was very likely it had just brought them closer together.
When she and Damien had been locked up together, many times he had quoted to her from the Bible. While Lois discarded much of Christian teachings and much of what was in the Bible, one phrase Damien had told her had stuck in her mind and now resurfaced, perfect for the moment.
"Sorrow may endure for a night," Lois quoted with a hushed gladness in her tired voice, "But joy cometh in the morning."
Ellen looked at her a moment, for the first time noticing the subtle changes in her oldest daughter. "Yes, it's certainly a joyful morning," she responded with a quick squeeze to Lois's hand. "But I just remembered something. We have to call Lucy and tell her the news!"
Ellen jumped up to get the cordless phone, and Sam looked over at his daughter and grinned. "You're certainly a sight for sore eyes, sweetheart."
Lois smiled, though the mention of eyes brought back the haunting picture of Clark Kent. "So are you, Dad."
It was Sunday evening before Perry finally responded to her email asking for information on Clark Kent. Lois had not yet even gone searching for an apartment; she felt too comfortable staying at her parents'. Lois grimaced slightly as she sat down at her computer with a steaming cup of tea she had just finished heating in the microwave. The fact was, she mused, taking a cautious sip, that she *would* have to find her own place soon. It was the separation anxiety she had felt at nineteen when she had first left home all over again. Lois booted up the computer standing under a gorgeous hanging plant, reflecting that she'd like a plant at her new place, wherever it may be. < Of course, > she thought, <Then I would actually have to *water* it >.
She smiled, and sat down to log onto her email account. Not that she was expecting much — just some information that she'd called Perry about and asked him to send when he got the time. Lois took a sharp breath of excitement when she saw that, indeed, the information was waiting for her in her inbox. In one more minute, she would know more about Clark Kent ,,, and perhaps have a clue as to why she was so fascinated by him.
Two hours later Lois was finally finished reading. Perry had sent the anticipated official Planet biography, including many personal bits and pieces observed by Chief himself. Clark Kent — a man who worked hard, never missed a deadline, was kind to everyone he came into contact with, helpful to a fault, whose Kansas parents had died when he was ten years old. And Superman, who for four years had been patrolling Metropolis, a kind but firm man who held impossible ideals and yet managed to keep to them.
Two different people, identities, until five days ago when Clark Kent had been exposed as an alien from outer space. He was now being held captive by scientists at STAR Labs, right here in Metropolis. After a two year investigation headed by one Agent Jason Trask, Clark Kent had been unmasked in a showdown between Clark and the Agent in the middle of the Daily Planet's newsroom. Trask had bounded into the Planet and shot Clark Kent point blank in the chest. There had been no blood, or wounds, and Clark had admitted then and there to being Superman. He had also agreed to be subjected to some testing, on the condition it be done here in Metropolis. Apparently Trask had taken over STAR Labs while awaiting any penalty he might receive for aiming a firearm at what was, essentially, a civilian. Lois had a feeling that since Clark had turned out to be Superman, Trask's superiors would be lenient. She sighed as she reached the last paragraph of Perry's email.
"Lois," Perry's report finished, "It was the damnedest thing how Kent pulled the wool over all our eyes. A change in suits and a pair of glasses — that was all that separated Kent from Superman. I still can't get over the fact the I didn't see it." Lois wondered about that herself. A pair of glasses? How could anyone not see?
Lois leaned back in her chair with a great yawn — all the reading had tired her considerably. She felt groggy and content as a cat curled up before a sunbeam. It seemed like so long since she had been in a happy place; had waited for it so long; and now, here she was, safe and warm in her parent's home.
Lois wondered what Clark Kent was doing while she was happily sipping her tea.
He couldn't breathe. Trask had created a very effective prison for the unsuspecting Kryptonian — the walls were laced with the poisonous green substance from his home planet that Luthor had dubbed Kryptonium when he found it.
The poison was diluted, just enough so it made him vulnerable to piercing needles and probes — not enough to kill him. But now Clark could feel his throat begin to constrict involuntarily every time he breathed in the toxic fumes.
Clark had frantically wracked his brain for any possible escape, but his efforts had been fruitless thus far. He was just so used to being super — every solution involved abilities he could no longer rely on.
If only he had known what he was getting into when he agreed to come to STAR Labs! But, no, that wasn't fair — he had known, and in a moment of despair, had not cared. His secret was out, which meant any chances for a private life were gone. And Lana had left him just a few weeks previously. She couldn't handle his juggling two identities. She had cried and apologized, and Clark had completely understood. After all, hadn't he been asking her to understand the choices he felt he had no control over? She had stuck it out for almost four years with him, but the pressure had gotten to her at last.
One night he had come to their apartment after helping the Metropolis Firefighters put out a blaze at the General Hospital. Clark had been amazed to see a beautiful table set with fancy plates he'd never seen and candles galore. But the candles had almost all burnt themselves out; and there was a note and engagement ring lying on one of the empty plates. The next day Lana had moved out her things, keeping them in storage until she could find a place of her own back in Kansas.
So everything had been falling apart. Clark had thought that he had nothing to lose.
And by the time he'd snapped out of it, he was in this sterile, deadly room sweating and nauseous. And now Trask was talking about more and more tests, and making it obvious with his sneers and barely concealed hints that he thought the world would be a safer, better place without Clark Kent. Dr. Klein, his only friend at the Labs, had done nothing to get Clark released. Clark, who except for Lana had kept to himself since coming to Metropolis, had no power, no allies, and no optimism.
It was hopeless.
Monday morning Lois walked into the Daily Planet building for the second time in five years. Lois supposed that every time she made the trek it would become less unbelievable, less miraculous, and easier to do. But for now, she relished the anticipation she felt. At least this time, she noted wryly, she was clean and in a nice suit. She and her mother had gone shopping. Lois grinned wickedly at the recollection. Lois and Ellen Lane had come a long way as mother and daughter, but they would never agree on clothing. Most of the conversation had been peppered with,
"Mother, that's absolutely hideous."
"Lois, honey, you're not *really* going to wear that, are you?"
Of course, the two women had laughed at themselves, which, Lois reflected, showed they had made progress. They had agreed on this one suit, however — a flattering burgundy number that was businesslike with sharp angles but sexy enough to please Lois's sensibilities. Lois strode confidently through the Planet towards Perry's office, sensing the turning heads along her path. This time there was no mistake. A beaten looking woman in torn sneakers and a gray frayed T-shirt and jeans *could* have been Lois Lane, but this capable woman in burgundy could be mistaken for no other.
Lois smiled, again with the irrepressible feeling that she was "back" - of coming home. She reached Perry's door and rapped smartly; Perry walked out and put an arm around her shoulder before raising his voice.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've got something of an announcement to make." He smiled down into Lois's face. "I'd like to reintroduce you to one of the finest reporters this newsroom has ever been graced with — Lois Lane is back!"
A cheer erupted through the room and unbidden tears flooded through Lois's eyes. She was just so — so grateful.
"Thanks everyone," she called out. "You'll see I haven't changed a bit." She paused. "I see that didn't warrant a cheer."
Laughter rippled around her, and the moment was over. People got back to work quickly, and Lois came to the unwelcome realization that her life had an impact on no one here — except Perry and maybe Jimmy.
"Perry!" Lois exclaimed, alarmed. "Where's Jimmy?"
"He's in Portugal, doing some last minute photography for me."
Perry grinned. "Jimmy's worked his way up since you've been gone. He's almost like a son to me." In that moment, Lois felt a flash of jealousy. So Jimmy had been filling her place? But then she laughed and let it go. She didn't really care. She was just so glad to be home, and working. Speaking of which -
"When can I begin my work on the Kent story? I'm really excited to get started. If at all possible, I want to get down to STAR Labs and interview the captors — uh, doctors." Lois grinned sheepishly, and Perry smiled understandingly.
"Today, if you're absolutely positive you're ready?"
"Okay, I can call ahead and arrange something for you. They're, understandably, being very exclusive about the press. But one of the men there, he's an especial friend of Superman — Kent — Oh, Judas Priest, a friend of *Clark's* — so I'm pretty sure I can pull some strings with him."
"Thanks, Chief. I'm already on my way." Lois began stepping quickly, anxious to finally see Clark Kent face to face, and was mildly surprised to hear Perry calling her.
"It's good to have you back." He grinned. "Now you get on this story, yesterday!"
"No problems here," Lois muttered to herself. It was time to reclaim all that had been lost to her. Lois grinned to herself. How dramatic could she get?
Lois entered the imposing doors of STAR Labs after fighting her way through the disorienting mob of media and protestors crowded outside the building. < Looks like I'm not the only one who isn't happy about the way this guy is being held, > Lois observed. Soon a nervous looking man in a white jacket met her, fiddling with a pen in his front breast pocket with one hand and rubbing the top of his sparsely-covered head with the other. He looked up and caught sight of her, which somehow seemed to make him even more flustered. He dropped his pen, retrieved it, and stuck it back in the pocket. He then stepped forward and extended his right hand — the hand that had been rubbing the top of his head. Lois hesitated, and he quickly switched hands while fumbling for, Lois soon discovered, a handkerchief
"Miss Lane," he introduced himself. "I'm Dr. Klein."
"Nice to meet you," Lois replied, glad he'd switched hands. "I'm here about Clark Kent?"
"Ah, yes, Superman. Right this way, Miss Lane."
The guy wasn't winning any points. First of all, she hated being called "miss", and secondly she felt an odd, strong resentment at Dr. Klein referring to Clark Kent as "Superman." Lois wanted to correct him, but deemed it best to keep her mouth shut and get as much information as possible.
"So, Dr. Klein," she began instead. "How did all this start?"
"Well," he began with a relish, obviously enjoying this strange story. "It all started four years ago. A rocket ship was in dire trouble, having been tampered with, though no one knew it until it was actually in space. While in space the engines malfunctioned and the ship was doomed — or so we all thought. Then, out of nowhere, a man in a blue bodysuit and red cape shows up, and *flies the ship back home*. It was truly astounding — a man who could fly! A year or so later Agent Trask began tailing Superman, believing that he might have a more sinister reason for coming to Earth than just to help us. Then, not long ago, Clark Kent broke off his engagement to a woman named Lana Lang," at this Lois felt something much more violent than resentment, "and Trask accused Clark and Superman of being one and the same. Naturally, no onebelieved him. But," Klein continued, "a few days later Trask tore into the Daily Planet, shouting accusations. He flew around like a wild man, eventually pulling a gun and shooting Clark! But Clark came out of this without a scratch, and acknowledged Trask's accusations as being true. Even I hadn't suspected, and I was Superman's attending physician. But Clark admitted to it." He spoke in a rather awed manner, and Lois had to hide a grin. Somehow, she wasn't very surprised. "After that, Mr. Kent was brought here by Agent Trask ,,, Clark agreed to being held on the condition that they stayed in Metropolis. These were the best facilities available, and ,,, ."
As Dr. Klein had continued his monologue, he and Lois had been striding down a long white corridor, passing many unmarked doors as they walked. They came to the last one in the hall, and Dr. Klein reached out to open it. "This is where they're keeping Superman." A shadow crossed over Klein's face. "I certainly don't agree with these living quarters for him, but my orders are coming from a very powerful place." He grimaced apologetically. "I hope you'll understand. He did agree to come here, though," Klein reiterated as an explanation. "It took all my power just to get you in here for an interview."
Lois nodded her appreciation distractedly, intent on seeing Clark Kent in the flesh for the first time. She hoped this moment would bring some kind of illumination to the fascination he held for her.
Everything seemed suddenly to go into slow motion for Lois. She sensed rather than saw Dr. Klein slowly open the door and walk into the sterile-smelling room. Lois followed him, feeling almost as if she was walking waist deep in water -
And the sensation was gone. She was standing in a white room half-filled with a huge control panel and three workers sitting at it. On the other side of the huge machine was a room behind glass. In that room, against the wall, sat a dejected-looking figure, knees pulled up to chest and head on his arms. At the sound of the door closing with a whoosh he jerked his head up and looked straight at Dr. Klein.
"Dr. Klein!" He yelled in a hoarse, tired voice, like one who had been previously yelling for hours. "Dr. Klein, get me out of here, please!"
Lois's heart constricted at the pain in Clark's voice. How long had he been kept here? Five days? It must have been longer, to have that kind of desperation ,,,
"Lois?" The tone in his voice had changed, now one of amazement and curiosity.
Lois heart skipped a beat. "What?"
Dr. Klein looked from one to the other inquisitively. "Do you two know each other?"
"No," Lois began, looking deeply into the stranger's eyes through the glass partition between them. "At least, I've never met him ,,, "
Clark looked down. "I know you from stories Perry has told me." He glanced up quickly. "That's all."
"Oh," Dr. Klein responded with some relief. The strange moment passed.
"So," Lois asked. "He can hear everything that goes on?"
"Yes." Clark responded grimly. "I can hear everything. Well," he continued with an angry look at the doctor, "Everything you can hear."
Lois questioned Klein with a look. Once again, Clark jumped in to answer.
"There is a green rock that a friend found at my home, which was eventually seized by a government agent. It takes away all my powers, makes me sick." He gestured around, and Lois noticed for the first time a fine film of sweat coating his face. "That's how they're keeping me in here. It's lined with a diluted solution containing that rock." He looked like he wanted to spit at someone, but was too polite. There was no desperation in his eyes now — only anger, a burning rage that would ache in him until he finally escaped, Lois knew.
She looked up at Dr. Klein. "Could I have a moment alone with him?" The workers in the room looked up nervously. Klein fidgeted.
The lab technician broke in. "You can't speak with him. He has no visitors."
Lois shot him a look. "Oh, really? Funny, because my editor at the Daily Planet said I'd be able to see him ,,, Of course, I can just write about how one of the world's most beloved heroes is being kept prisoner and mistreated ,,, Unless we could come to some sort of agreement."
The tech swallowed, obviously torn between his orders and his fear of the situation being written up in the world's most widely read paper. Lois took his silence as permission and headed for the door that separated her from Clark's room.
"Miss Lane, wait," Dr. Klein put his hand on the door.
"What's the problem, Doctor?"
"Well, uh, we've never really left him alone, and -"
"But he's vulnerable? He can't break through the glass?"
"Well," Klein hesitated. "You see, Miss Lane, he's been rendered essentially, well, *human*. Though he's no longer super, he is still an incredibly strong man, and I wouldn't be keen on leaving you alone with him ,,, " He trailed off slowly as he saw Lois grin wryly and pat him on the arm.
"I think I can handle myself."
It had taken considerable persuading, but Lois was finally alone with Clark. She had insisted on being allowed into the room where he was kept, and sat beside him against the wall. Quite close to him, Lois noted with some discomfort. She felt a blush begin to creep up her cheeks and decided she'd better get to questioning him.
"Uh, Mr. Kent," she began hesitatingly, not sure what to call him. He grinned slightly.
"Oh, please, call me Clark," he answered dryly, giving Lois the distinct impression he was making fun of her. She didn't appreciate it.
"Well, if you don't want any actual human interaction I'll be glad to leave," she shot at him, jumping nimbly to her feet. He quickly reached up and gently grabbed her hand, a haunted look entering into his eyes once more.
"No — no! I'm sorry, I want you to stay — it's just that this whole situation seems so ridiculous ,,, "
Lois softened, and sat back down beside him — just a tiny bit closer this time. "Don't worry, I know how you feel."
He looked at her.
"Well, kind of," she conceded, smiling. "I had been kept prisoner five years before finally escaping and returning to Metropolis."
He looked at her incredulously. "Are you trying to identify with me to get me to open up?"
"Amazingly, no." Lois smiled. "It's all too true."
Clark looked uncomfortable. "I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry," she replied, all too aware of the body slumped next to hers. "I got out — you're still here."
He stared. "I've been here five days, Lois. That's nothing compared with -"
She waved his comment away. "Doesn't matter. No matter how long they keep you, you're still there."
"I guess," he replied uneasily.
"It's true." Lois paused. "How did you know my name? Was it really because Perry talked about me?"
"Yes ,,, " Though he replied in the affirmative, there was hesitation in Clark's voice.
"What?" Lois asked curiously.
"It's just that I feel I've met you before," he replied slowly.
"Really?" Lois gasped. "I feel the same way," she continued, turning towards him. "Ever since I first saw a picture of you, I felt like I knew you."
"Really?" Clark smiled. "Do you have any idea why?"
"No." Lois shook her head, frustrated. "Do you?"
Clark blushed slightly. "It sounds crazy."
Lois motioned around them. "Any crazier than this?"
He grinned. "I guess not."
"So, tell me!"
Clark sighed. "Just before I decided to become Superman, I had a dream, and you were in it."
"Wait a minute. *Decided* to become Superman? Weren't you born ,,, uh ,,, that way?"
He smiled ruefully. "Yes. But after I came to Metropolis, my fiancee ,,, *ex*-fiancee now ,,, Lana convinced me to hide my powers to be normal. She was like my father — afraid the government would want to dissect me like a frog." Clark laughed bitterly, and Lois felt her stomach turn at the prospect. Surely that couldn't be the end result of this captivity ,,, Lois shook the rose-colored notion out of her head. *Of course* it could. Men had stooped to lower levels for lesser gain in the past.
Lois looked at him compassionately, deciding for now to not think of what the end may hold for Clark. She would find a solution later.
"So what made you decide to become Superman?"
He stared at her strangely. "You really don't know?"
"No," she replied, confused.
"You ,,, you came to me, in this dream I told you about …" He looked out into nothingness. "Not long after Lana tried to convince me to stop being …uh, super …You came to me in this dream and told me I must use my powers for the good of mankind, and you . . ..you showed me pictures of the suit. The next day I went home and found the fabric among my mother's belongings, along with the "S" that was supposed to be on my chest …" He trailed off, looked deeply into Lois's eyes. "I know I sound crazy, but are you *sure* you don't remember?"
Lois laughed. "I'm absolutely one hundred percent certain."
Clark smiled contritely. "Sorry. It's just that it was so real to me …"
She patted him on the knee. "No problem, Clark. It's strange that I felt I knew you, though …" They smiled at each other, an electric current flowing between them. Suddenly, they both looked up with a start as a short, powerful looking man strode into the room, banging the door behind him. Lois was shocked at the change in Clark's face - he was abruptly the animal again, bristling, ready to meet a potential predator.
"Trask." Even Clark's voice was a primal, instinctive guttural growl.
"Time's up, kids," the man announced unpleasantly, opening the door to Clark's cage and walking briskly towards Lois. He shoved his face close to hers and extended his hand. "Miss Lane, it would be much appreciated if you would leave now."
Lois threw a frightened glance Clark's way. "Why?" She demanded, intent on not showing this Trask person one iota of her fear.
He grinned unpleasantly at Clark. "Test time."
Clark refused to look up. "They'll just be taking blood, Lois," he said dully. "You can go. In fact," he continued in a stronger, angrier voice, "You should." He locked eyes with Trask now, challenging him to what, Lois couldn't tell. She kneeled down again beside Clark.
"Are you sure, Clark?"
He wouldn't look at her. "Yes."
Impulsively, she reached down and wrapped her arms around him. Just as quickly, she pulled away and exited the room, refusing to look back. She couldn't think about the horrors Clark was facing right now — she just had to concentrate on how to set him free.
"Chief?" Lois rapped warily on the door to Perry's office. He was looking over that day's paper, and according to the quality of the Planet Perry could be in either a very good or very foul mood.
"What is it, Lois?" he asked distractedly.
"It's Clark," she burst out. "Oh, Perry, we have to help him. How can we get him out of there?"
"Well, honey," Perry faltered. "The thing is, Lois, I'm so shaken up by this whole damn mess — I'm not sure what to think of this whole thing anymore. After all, I don't know what Clark's intention was in hiding his identity … and there's talk of him being dangerous . . .."
"Dangerous!" Lois exploded. "How can you even think that when you've known him for years? I've barely known him for five minutes and I know he's one of the gentlest, kindest, most compassionate . . .." Lois trailed off as a blush crept up her face. "Well, I know he couldn't hurt a fly. And they're hurting him, Chief — slowly poisoning him with some rock they think is from his home planet. He looks terrible, and he's sick …and — and we have to get him out of there." Lois felt tears spring unbidden into her eyes.
"He went willingly, Lois," Perry informed her gently.
"Well, he didn't know what he was getting into," she shot back sourly. "He's not there willingly now."
Lois watched Perry out of the corner of her eye as he paced a moment and then leaned his arms heavily on his desk. After a moment, he looked up.
"Okay, Lois, how do we help him?"
Lois smiled and sailed in eagerly. "Well, I was thinking — maybe there's an antidote to this rock, only no one's found it. Or maybe the person who discovered the rock *has* the antidote, but is sitting on it."
Perry looked at her seriously. "Good thinking."
Lois smiled, pleased. "Now all I have to do is find out who found the rock," she supposed, starting to exit the office. Perry stopped her with a motion of his hand.
"You'll have to start at the next step, Lois. Clark's best friend found the rock at Clark's childhood home in Smallville. Trask got a hold of it after taking Clark to STAR Labs — searched his apartment."
Lois looked at him curiously. Clark hadn't mentioned a best friend.
"Who is it?"
Perry chuckled. "Only the third richest man in the world." He drew a business card out of his top desk drawer. "Here's his address. Lex Luthor. Just tell the guards that Perry White sent you and they'll send you right up."
Lois stood before the double doors of LexCorp with a feeling of foreboding. Something here just didn't feel right — she couldn't put her finger on it. It certainly wasn't the weather affecting her mood; Metropolis was having a beautiful autumn, with bluer than blue skies and just the right hint of frost in the air. Lois took a deep breath, the air slipping down her throat like a cool sip of water.
In a moment, however, Lois's good mood was gone and she was being ushered to the top floor of the LexCorp building. A guard had been sent by Lex Luthor himself to accompany her to his offices.
"How did he know I was coming?" Lois asked as they stepped into an elevator.
"Perry White phoned him, Miss Lane." The guard responded droopily, obviously bored out of his mind at the menial task before him. Lois bristled slightly, but stayed silent on the long trek up.
The doors soon slid open and Lois stepped out, unescorted. The guard simply stood, letting the elevator doors shut in front of him.
Lois walked cautiously, her footsteps silenced in the thick midnight carpet smothering the floor.
< Stop it, Lane! > Lois commanded herself, grimacing at her own dark imagery. But she couldn't really help it; though the sun was shining brightly outside, here the curtains were drawn and there were no lights save a few dim, modern looking lamps.
All around her was a huge expanse of dark room — and at the far side from Lois was a huge dormer window, before which a tall, erect man stood. His position didn't suggest a stiffness, Lois thought, but merely good upbringing, perhaps a bit indicative of some snobbery.
But then he turned with a friendly smile and Lois relaxed. He was a handsome man, she noted, there was no doubt about that; but there was something smug in his smile Lois didn't altogether like. In fact, Lois wasn't too thrilled that Clark's fate might somehow rest in the hands of this man.
"Ms. Lane," he greeted her cordially, stepping forward to shake her hand. He had a good, firm handshake, and his eye contact was very steady.
< Almost disconcerting, > Lois observed with a small shiver. But he had won a few points in Lois's book — he hadn't called her "miss".
"Mr. Luthor," Lois smiled, unwilling to show any of her reservations in her face. "It's good to meet you."
"Likewise," he nodded, gesturing her towards a large overstuffed armchair in the corner of the room. Lois sat, watching him almost exactly mimic her moves as he took his own seat.
"Now, Ms. Lane," he began.
"Oh, you can call me Lois," she interrupted him.
"All right, Lois," he smiled. "And you may call me Lex."
"Thank you," she replied, wondering if he thought he was bestowing an honour on her. "Now, what were you saying?"
He looked at her blankly a moment, then threw his head back with a smile. "Ah, yes. Mr. White said you wanted to ask me some questions about Clark?"
"Yes. Are you two …" she paused. "Best friends?"
Lex smiled at her terminology. "You could say that, yes. We've grown quite close over the past few years. Both of us losing our parents, you know," he offered by way of explanation. He seemed to sense she was having trouble accepting the fact. "We met when Perry White sent Clark to interview me, and we …bonded."
"So you know of his current situation?"
Suddenly Luthor's face lost its smug smile. A frown replaced it as a shadow crossed over Lex. "Yes. I know."
"Do you now why I'm here, Mr ,,, Lex?"
"No, I'm afraid not," he replied, smiling right into Lois's eyes.
Lois cleared her throat, but met his glance defiantly. "I want to get Clark out of there."
The amused smile was back. "You want to, as I understand it, bust him out?"
Lois sneered. "Essentially."
"It wouldn't be an easy task," he speculated idly. "Jason Trask, I've learned, is a man to be reckoned with."
Lois's ears perked up. "Trask? Can you tell me anything about him?"
"He's a kook," Lex answered bluntly. "The man believes that any minute now hostile aliens will sweep down upon us and take over the world. He's perfectly ridiculous," Lex finished with a small flourish of the cigar he had just unearthed from a desk drawer.
"Although we know that there are aliens."
"Clark Kent wouldn't hurt a fly," Luthor answered brusquely, the amazed look Lois had thrown him going completely unnoticed. Hadn't those been her exact words just two hours ago?
Lois brushed her amazement away for the moment. "I know. Perry told me that you were the one to find the green rock they're using to keep Clark immobile," Lois offered.
"Yes." Luthor's face was expressionless.
"Did you find anything else? Something that could be used as an antidote?" Lois searched his face for any clue; but he gave none.
"No, I'm sorry to say I didn't." In a veiled gesture, Luthor craftily reached under his desk and, Lois supposed, pushed a button. A moment later the intercom on his desk crackled to life.
"Mr. Luthor? Your three o'clock is here."
Luthor bent down to respond. "Thank you, Alicia. Tell him I'll be there in a moment."
The suave man turned to Lois with an apologetic grin. "Lois, I'm so sorry to cut this interview short, but I'm sure you understand …"
Lois stood and offered her hand. She was only mildly surprised when he bent to kiss it. "Of course," she replied smoothly.
He led her towards the elevators. "I would trust you to see yourself out …"
"But I'm a reporter." She finished for him.
He feigned surprise. "You know me so well, Ms. Lane."
It was a quiet ride down.
Clark was amazed at his luck. The day before, the beautiful Lois Lane had somehow got through to visit with him, and today Lex had obviously pulled some important strings to see him. Clark was still seated in his preferred corner; but instead of sitting beside him as Lois had done, Luthor settled cross-legged in front of him, a sorrowful look on his face.
"Clark, what on Earth happened? How did we get into this mess?"
Clark smiled. "I don't know," he replied slowly, stretching his arms over his head.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"Lex," Clark began firmly. "I have told you a hundred times you have *nothing* to be sorry for. *Someone* would have found the Kryptonium eventually — it just happened to be you."
"No one else would have been poking around there," Luthor responded. "If I wasn't so nosy about your past, this never would have happened. They wouldn't be able to hold you."
"Lex, it's just the way things happened." Clark tried earnestly to ease his friends' troubled conscience. "Honestly, I don't want you to worry about it. You've been such a good friend to me — and there's no one but myself to blame for the situation I'm in," he finished glumly.
"Why ever did you agree to go with Trask when he'd just shot at you?" Luthor asked suddenly in an irritated tone.
Clark responded in like, rare temper flaring up. "Because — because - I don't know why I did it! I think I had just — just given up. But then I realized that people needed me, no matter how I was feeling, and -"
"And by that time you were locked up tighter than Lenin's corpse." Lex finished absently. Clark threw him a bewildered look that went unnoticed.
"Anyway," Clark continued. "I'm here now. I just have to find a way out."
"Yes, well, no use in talking about that," Luthor said in a quiet voice. He leaned in closer to Clark. "Just trust me."
Clark smiled, puzzled. "I do, Lex. You've always been there for me when I needed you. But -"
Lex touched a fingertip to his nose. "I'll see you soon, Clark." He asserted, then quickly left. Clark smiled, wondering what Lex could be up to now. Maybe there was hope after all.
Lois entered the apartment quietly, hoping her parents weren't home. She needed time to think.
Lois was in luck. All the lights were off, and a short note explaining that the Lanes were shopping for a big welcome-home dinner was pasted onto the fridge with a strawberry-shaped magnet. Lois smiled as warm memories from her childhood rushed back to her. Both parents had been busy, but there had been many special dinners they cooked together for various "occasions". Lois was looking forward to the dinner, but first -
Lois booted up her parent's computer and searched up Luthor's name. There were many hits, but none with any valuable information — mostly giddy fan sites by women who intended to snatch the richest eligible bachelor out there. Lois grimaced, remembering the good looks and debonair manner of Lex Luthor. Could he be for real? It was too perfect …and that smile of his suggested something dark underneath the surface of thick curly hair and handsome face. There was just something not quite right about him …Lois mused, leaning back in her chair. Funny how he and Clark could be friends. Lois sat up straight, plunking her feet on the floor, with the thought of Clark.
< Clark, > Lois's face softened with a dreamy smile. It was a nice name. <A nice *man*. >
She still didn't know exactly what had drawn her to him, but now she allowed her mind free rein and thought of only him the entire two hours before her parents got home. When she heard the click of her father's keys in the door, Lois jumped slightly in her chair. Had she been daydreaming all that time?
She had; and furthermore, she couldn't wait until the next day when she would once again visit Clark. But first, she had some phone calls to make.
It was dark and wet. The dirty cement floor and metal bars surrounding her felt like a coffin. Lois lay there a moment, disoriented. What was going on? Where was she?
Her stomach dropped sickeningly as she realized she was back in the prison that had held her for five years. What had happened? She had thought she was in Metropolis…had it all been a dream?
A creaky hinge brought her attention to the cell across from her. < Damien! > she thought excitedly, seeing familiar dark features of a man as he was being led down the dark hall. But, no, the prisoner being led away wasn't Damien — it was Clark Kent being led outside. Lois felt one painful beat of her heart as she realized Clark was being led to his death. Lois gathered all the breath she could and screamed.
Lois woke struggling with the comforter tangled around her. Suddenly a light flooded her room and Lois saw her mother silhouetted in the doorway.
"Lois, honey, are you all right? I was getting some warm milk and I heard you cry out -"
"Oh, Mom!" Lois exclaimed, holding out her arms as if she was six years old all over again. Ellen Lane rushed over to the bed and sat, holding Lois close and smoothing her hair.
Lois merely nodded.
Ellen sighed. "Honey, your father and I were talking tonight — maybe you shouldn't start looking for an apartment just yet. After all you've been through, you just shouldn't be alone for a while. And we'd be so happy if you stayed with us…"
Lois thought a moment, debating with herself. "All right, Mom. I think I will stay for a bit. Thanks," she whispered. Lois snuggled closer into her mother's embrace and stayed there until she finally fell back asleep.
The next day Lois headed to STAR Labs first thing.
"Lois? What are you doing here?" Clark asked, looking pleased.
Lois grinned. She had some good news for him. "Oh, nothing. Just thought I'd stop by."
Her eyes sparkled. Clark looked up at her in suspicious scrutiny. "Sit down. And tell me whatever it is. There's something you're not telling me," he insisted.
She grinned. "Okay. It's just this. I've talked to a friend of mine, Judge Hanover. She's really great, and has agreed to take on your trial."
"My trial?" Clark asked, confused.
"Yeah." Lois looked a little shamefaced. "I made some phone calls last night. The way they're treating you just isn't right, Clark! As if you don't know that already …" she trailed off. "Well, anyway, I talked to my dad's former lawyer, Constance Hunter, and she's agreed to take your case — she's really good. She's never lost a case, but she only takes on the ones worthy of her time. And see, I was thinking, you're an official citizen here, right? And you haven't committed any actual crime — I don't think they could get you for fraud — And anyway, doing these tests on you, it's just not acceptable anyway …So you're suing Trask. Hopefully we can get this testing stopped altogether, but Judge Hanover might not have that kind of power — but it will at least be delayed, maybe…" Lois stopped to take a breath, and Clark laughed.
"Lois, that's great news! Thank you so much for doing that for me." He smiled warmly, unsettling Lois. She liked him, and she daydreamed about him, but Lois wasn't sure she could handle the reality of his sharing her feelings.
"It was no problem," she replied with a tight smile. "This is going to be a great story, and I'll be on the frontlines for the whole thing."
Clark smiled at her, but a trifle absently this time. He looked away, and Lois felt a grim satisfaction. < Good, > she thought. < Let him distance himself. > But for all her satisfaction, she felt a mild panic arise at the thought that she had discouraged him. She wanted to bring back the happy atmosphere of a moment ago.
"So," she started more cheerfully as she sat chummily beside him on the floor. "I got some pictures of you from the Planet last night."
"Really?" he replied, seeming disinterested.
"Yup," Lois replied, grinning wickedly to herself. "Mostly of you as Superman. That was quite the costume."
"I especially liked the little red underwear on the outside." A shocked look passed over Clark's face, and Lois giggled. "Tell me again just what inspired you to create it?"
Clark looked at her incredulously. "I told you, I had a dream with you in it, and you told me …"
"Well," Lois interrupted him. "I don't see why I didn't tell you to just leave the cape alone. It obstructs the view horribly."
Lois went off into peals of laughter at Clark's face. "It's true!"
Clark couldn't help but laugh, and they both laughed together for a while, a slightly hysterical laughter that melted away some of the tension. It ended with them leaning against each other, gasping for breath.
"Sorry, Clark," Lois finally spoke up. "I just couldn't resist. I mean, I just kept thinking, 'whatever possessed him?'"
"Thanks a lot," Clark replied wryly.
"You're welcome," she answered contentedly, leaning a bit more heavily on his shoulder. Abruptly Lois realized what she was doing and straightened, not daring to look at Clark. She didn't want him to think …
< But why not, Lois? > she demanded of herself. < Why can't you just let yourself like the guy? >
Because, she answered, of Claude and all the others in the string of federal disaster relationships she'd had. Not one relationship of hers had ever been successful, and in each one she'd been hurt terribly. After Claude, she had put her foot down. No more romance for Lois Lane! She vowed she would never fall for another guy — and even if she did, she wouldn't be stupid enough to actually get into a relationship with him.
But Clark Kent was swiftly and easily breaking her old rules. She could feel herself relax every time she was with him, and she wanted, badly, to be with him, she realized. She wanted to be friends with him …but she also wanted more. Lois was amazed at the small amount of time it had taken for her feelings to develop …and then she remembered the feeling of familiarity that had washed over her when she had first seen his picture. And the fact that Clark had had that dream of his … Lois didn't believe in love at first sight, or soul mates or anything silly like that — but these new circumstances in her life were certainly making her think. Plus, Lois wondered at her own ability to accept him so readily. He was an *alien*, something she hadn't even believed existed ten days ago — save for in the imaginations of some tabloid reporters — and it didn't even bother her, or awe her in any way. He was just Clark, in her mind. She felt like she'd known him forever. And that made Lois think that maybe she should give this a shot, after all.
"Lois?" Clark interrupted her thought process. "Are you okay?"
< Sure, Clark. I'm just in love with you, that's all. >
Lois started at this sudden impossible answer that sprang into her mind. Was she in love with Clark Kent?
Lois stared for a moment into Clark's fine, gentle face, open mouthed and slightly wide-eyed as she thought hard. He blinked innocently, and in that moment Lois knew the answer to her question.
But then the moment was gone and Lois was worried for her sanity. What was going on with her?
"Lois -" Clark began hesitatingly, but was cut off by another abrupt entrance by Jason Trask.
"Miss Lane, you're here again?" he inquired ungraciously. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave." He smiled at Clark. "We have some preparations to make on Mr. Kent."
"What preparations?" Lois asked, as Clark looked stone-faced at his captor. Lois realized another reason she felt so strongly for Clark - she completely identified with him in a way she never had with anyone else before. She'd always felt slightly alone, and her five years of imprisonment … it seemed her whole life had been in sync with Clark's when she thought about it. But that was ridiculous — they'd had completely different experiences, and -
Lois snapped back to attention as she realized Trask was answering her question.
"We're preparing to do some real testing — find out just what makes Mr. Kent here tick. It could be the greatest scientific information man has ever attained." He smiled at Clark dangerously, and Lois felt a tremor go through her body.
"Oh, the Kryptonium we have for him will allow us to operate."
"You're going to dissect me like a frog," Clark said quietly, a grim-looking smile on his face that Lois understood. He almost looked satisfied — his father's prophecy would come true.
"You can't do that!" Lois asserted, panicked.
"I can and I will, Miss Lane. Now, I really must ask you to go."
"When are you going to do it?" Lois asked in desperation as she was being taken from the room by a burly lab technician.
"Today is the preparation; tomorrow we operate," he answered. "Now …" He turned to Clark with an evil grin, and Lois managed to yell one more thing to Clark.
"Don't worry, Clark! I'll get you out of this!"
Lois didn't get to see his reaction. As soon as the guard let his grip on her arm loosen, she broke into a run, absorbed with getting to Judge Hanover's quarters as soon as possible. Lois was desperate, and she had to act fast. Who knew what Trask would be capable of doing to Clark?
< Killing him, for one thing, > Lois realized. Trask obviously felt the world would be a better place without Clark Kent in it. Trask was intent on making his fantasy a reality. And Lois couldn't let that happen. She couldn't lose Clark after finally finding him.
Lois was so engrossed with her thoughts and task at hand, she didn't notice the man in black tailing her every move.
"Mr. Luthor?" The man entered Lex's office cautiously. One could never be sure of just what mood the temperamental man would be in.
"Yes, come in." Lex gestured welcomingly, and the man in black took a seat. "So, you now have a grasp on her general routine?"
"Well, sir, it's been rather erratic — but she's almost always going to one of three places — her home, the Daily Planet, or STAR Labs. Today she went to the courthouse."
"Has the surveillance device been installed?"
"Yes; and it's working perfectly. I overheard Ms. Lane tell her parents that she was leaving early in the morning for STAR Labs."
"So likely that would be the best opportunity to intercept her?"
A slow smile spread its fingers across Luthor's face. "Excellent. I thank you," Lex paused as he reached into his desk drawer for a large packet, which he handed over to his guest. "There — the whole sum, and I assume you know the procedure."
"We've never met," the man answered solemnly, and then gave a salute as he headed to the elevator.
As the sun came up over the skyscrapers of Metropolis, Lois left her parent's apartment intent on stopping Trask. The night before, she had gotten to Judge Hanover, who had promised to bump the case up to this week, if at all possible. She had also promised to call Trask personally to put an official halt on any testing he could attempt on Clark. Though Lois trusted the woman implicitly, she didn't trust Trask any farther than she could throw him. Lois felt compelled to watch over Clark to make sure nothing happened to him despite Judge Hanover's commands. The night before she had written out the whole story and sent it to Perry along with a warning to not print it until she gave the word. If Hanover couldn't stop Trask perhaps public opinion would have some clout.
Lois was merely two blocks away from STAR Labs when a hand exploded out of a nearby alleyway and yanked her back with it. Lois had no time to scream, only to whirl and give a sprawling, ill-placed kick. She saw through the darkness of the alley that her assailant was doubled over in pain, so she hadn't been unsuccessful after all. Lois turned to run, but then the familiar voice of Lex Luthor choked out her name.
"Lex?" Lois said oddly.
"Yes." He attempted a sick smile. "I shall know from now on to not try to secretly find you." He grimaced as a pain gripped his stomach.
"Oh, Lex, I'm so sorry," Lois floundered. "If I had known …but you just grabbed me so suddenly, there was no way I could have known …"
Lex held up a restraining hand, almost his own man once more. "No apologies, Lois …at least, not from you. I'm sorry I took you by surprise like that. But I couldn't risk contacting you in any way. It had to be like this," he explained.
"What? Why?" Lois asked, confused.
"Because I have no doubt that Trask has spies everywhere. And if I can put a bug in your parents' apartment, I'm sure he already has."
"You put a bug in my apartment?" Lois inquired dangerously, fury sweeping through her.
Lex actually had the consideration to look ashamed. "Yes; but it was just to find out your schedule, so I could find you alone."
"That doesn't make it any better."
"I know, Lois, and I am sorry. But the information I have could save Clark's life, and I couldn't risk Trask getting hold of it," he defended, looking shrewdly around.
"What information?" Lois could feel her heartbeat speed up.
"In Smallville, at Clark's old home, I didn't find just the rocks." Lex leaned in furtively to whisper in Lois's ear. "I found a spaceship. Among its wreck there may be clues to an antidote, I'm not sure. I never explored it completely. I should have thought. When I saw the negative effect those rocks had on Clark, I should have destroyed them immediately. But Clark wanted to keep them close, to avoid as situation just like this." Lex looked troubled, but then pulled himself together with a clandestine grin. "In any case, my private jet is waiting for us — I felt a trip to Smallville was in order. I supposed you would want to come, and that's why …" He gestured, indicating the whole situation of the past five minutes.
"Well — well — What about Clark? I can't just leave him at STAR Labs …Trask …"
"No need to worry. I have some very reliable sources who say that Judge Hanover has quelled Trask quite effectively — for a time. I really think it is in Clark's best interest for us to go to Smallville and uncover all we can," he insisted.
"All right," Lois conceded reluctantly. There was still something she didn't quite like about this guy, but if it was for Clark …
"Let's go," she said.
It was a two-hour long flight to Smallville. Lois dreaded the time, but was pleasantly surprised when Luthor appeared from the cockpit and handed her a phone.
"Here," he said. "Clark wants to talk to you." Lex winked. "I have friends in high places — if you could call them friends."
So she got to spend a pleasant hour and a half on the phone with Clark while Luthor listened to a symphony on his headphones.
"Lois?" Clark asked uncertainly at one point. "What was it like for you?"
"Oh, not so great," she replied. "It was dirty, and dark, and emotionally tiring. The worst part was making friends, though …"
"A guy named Damien," she confirmed. "He died. He's the one who formulated my escape plan, and made it possible for me to carry it out. He was the distraction," Lois concluded sadly. "I'm supposed to write a letter to his family, explaining what happened. I still haven't done it."
"You shouldn't feel bad," Clark said softly, reading her emotional state. "It's a hard letter to write, and he would probably prefer that you spent time on it rather than just make a sloppy note of the events."
Lois smiled, and swallowed, hoping Clark didn't realize how near to tears she was. "You're probably right."
There was a moment of silence, which Lois broke.
"You know, Clark, we don't really know anything about each other."
He chuckled. "Funny. It seems like I've known you all my life."
Lois froze, but then forced herself to plunge in headfirst. "Me, too, Clark," she whispered, barely able to squeeze the words out of her throat. Fear threatened to choke her, but Lois's resolve to be with Clark turned out to be stronger. She smiled. "Maybe I had a dream of my own."
"I can never tell you how much what you're doing means to me."
Lois grinned. "It's nothing." There was a pause, and Lois looked up to see Luthor signalling her. "Clark, I've got to go. I think we're here."
"Okay, good luck!"
"You, too," Lois smiled, strangely disappointed. What, had she been waiting for him to profess undying love?
< Maybe. > She acknowledged with a self-disgusted grimace as she hung up the phone. Maybe that was exactly what she wanted.
Lex and Lois explored the farm together, slipping through patches of slick mud and tripping to avoid assorted piles of -
Lois cursed. She'd tripped again, barely catching her balance and narrowly avoiding a face full of cow droppings.
Lex looked amused a moment, then his face turned serious as he pointed to a spot about twenty yards away. "That's it," he said. "That's where I found the spaceship and the rocks."
"How did you find it?" Lois inquired incredulously. "Were you digging for oil or something?"
Luthor gave a rare laugh. "No. I had just finished closing the deal to buy this place for Clark — so he could have this connection to his parents. It had been storming here, just like today, and mud was just surrounding me. Clark was supposed to meet me at the farm, but he had been delayed — as I later found out, Superman had heard cries for help at a nearby farm. A young boy had been trapped beneath a tractor and had to be flown to Metropolis General Hospital. Anyway, I was locked out, and walking around, when I literally stumbled on the ship. I left it here to ensure it would be put in Clark's hands. I thought it would have some kind of meaning for him." Lex spoke with real sadness in his voice, and with it she felt her heart go out to him. Luthor had been the downfall of his own best friend — it had to be difficult to deal with.
"So, did you know Clark was — different — or…?"
"Yes," Luthor answered. "He had told me some time before. I caught him flying up to get a cat out of a tree." He grinned over the remembrance.
"So, should we — dig?" Lois suggested. She felt a look of repulsion cross her face as she contemplated the prospect of digging through the muck surrounding them.
Lex grinned. "No. I'm pretty sure I found everything out here that was to be found. I wanted to have a quick look to make sure nothing new had resurfaced — it looks like nothing has. I think anything there is to find will be in the spaceship."
"And where is that?"
"Under the barn."
"So we'll be getting out the shovels after all," Lois replied with a resigned air.
"No. There's a hidden trap door we can very easily open up," Lex answered, eyes twinkling. "Come on."
They waded back to the barn in a companionable silence Lois never would have expected to share with Lex Luthor. She was realizing with some surprise that she actually liked the guy.
It took them less than ten minutes to get to the barn. Once there Lex made a beeline for one dusty corner and swiftly knelt, opening the promised trapdoor. Lois reluctantly walked over, suddenly unsure that she wanted to see whatever it was Lex was about to pull out. Lois shook off the feeling impatiently, however; after all, what they found here could potentially save Clark! With a new eagerness, Lois peered over Luthor's shoulder and gasped at the sight that met her eyes. It was an honest to goodness spaceship, complete with little metal flaps for wings. Lois recognised the "S" symbol on the front of the craft from a picture she had seen of Clark in his costume. Luthor reached down and wrenched back the top of the ship, exposing it for Lois to see. Nothing much in there, she noticed, but a glowing globe-like object on the hull of the ship grabbed her attention.
"What's this?" she asked, leaning forward tentatively to touch it.
"I don't know," Luthor responded, frowning. "I never noticed it before."
Suddenly, as Lex took it in his hands, the globe exploded with light and both of the two explorers jumped back in temporary horror. Lex gave a strangled yelp as he dropped the globe before realizing -
"It's just a hologram," he confirmed with considerable relief.
Lois smiled, and then focused her attention on what was happening before her. A man in a white costume was speaking, addressing a "Kal-El."
"Kal-El?" She asked. "Is that Clark?"
"I would assume so." Luthor smiled at the monologue taking place. "Luke," he deadpanned, "I am your father."
Lois allowed herself a small smile, and turned back to the vision just as it disappeared and the globe became dull and unlit.
"Is this what I think it is?"
"It certainly seems to be Clark's father, explaining why he was sent to Earth," Luthor answered.
"Well, will this help us?"
"No ,,, But it will probably prove invaluable to Clark once we get him out of there. For now we'll just have to trust your friend to free Clark. Come on — it looks like there's nothing else here. We better go talk to your judge friend. Don't touch the globe again — it may only show its messages once."
"But then how can we bring it to Metropolis?" Lois returned, reaching forward impulsively to grab it. She waited, but nothing happened. "See?" she smiled. "I guess it goes on its own schedule."
"All right, Lois. Let's go," he ordered, holding his hand out for the globe. Lois handed it over to him and watched him place it in the pocket of his trench coat before starting off to where the jet was waiting for them.
Clark was sitting gloomily in a corner of his room when the vision came. Light and sound hit him with such force that he snapped his head back and banged it against the wall. He saw a stately looking white haired man in white clothes, with — with a symbol on his breast identical to the S on Clark's own suit!
Clark sat at attention through the whole event, mesmerized. So this was his father? And the woman, Lara, his mother. His *real* parents. No, Clark corrected himself quickly. His real parents were Martha and Jonathan Kent, the loving souls who had taken in an abandoned baby that had fallen from the sky and loved him unconditionally for the ten years they had enjoyed together.
The vision disappeared all too soon, and Clark leaned back, spent of the little energy he had and amazed at what had just transpired. A voice from beyond had spoken to him — but why? As encouragement, or a preparation for his death?
An ominous click invaded Clark's consciousness as the door to his holding room opened. Clark glanced up to see one of the guards holding the door open. He was scowling and brandishing a pair of green glowing handcuffs.
"Come on, Kent," he said gruffly. "You're wanted in Klein's office."
Clark entered Dr. Klein's office reluctantly. His worries evaporated, however, when he saw both Lex and Lois in the office.
"Hi, Clark," Lois said quietly. "We talked to Judge Hanover."
"Thank you," Clark responded, stumbling slightly on the words. He felt confused. Dizziness and fatigue were taking over his body. He wondered briefly if it was the absence of the great amounts of green poison he had been subjected to almost constantly for the last week doing it to him — perhaps he was recharging?
"Yes, well," Luthor jumped in. "Don't thank us. She told us she had no power over Trask's dealing, and we would have to go to a higher court."
Lois grimaced. "I thought Trask was going to be here. Since he's the one ordering the testing …" Lois trailed off as Trask himself strode confidently into the room.
"Yes, and I'd like to get some of it done today," Trask responded. "So let's get this over with."
Lois resented the tone Trask was using — a tone that trumpeted loud and clear that Clark was *his* for the taking, and nothing would change that.
Lois's voice rang clearly through the room. "You have to let Clark go. He did nothing deserve this kind of treatment."
Trask interrupted angrily. "He is an alien, and we are treating him as such. He is not a US citizen; he's from outer space. He could be dangerous — there are probably millions of his kind ready to wage war against the Earth. This one is probably here to soften us up, let our guard down before the attack."
"Ridiculous," Luthor asserted with a patronizing smile. "Anyone with half a brain can see Clark has done nothing but good since his arrival to Metropolis. He's made the city, and the world, better by his mere presence. He doesn't deserve the horrendous treatment you've inflicted on him."
"Well, unfortunately for you," Trask responded, "there's nothing you can do to stop me. I agreed to wait a day, but tomorrow the operation will go ahead as scheduled."
"How do you know Clark will survive an operation?" Lex asked.
"I don't." Trask smiled. "Now, if you'll excuse me…"
He left. The guard who had escorted Clark to the office now turned him around and led him back to the chamber. Lois tried to sound encouraging.
"Don't worry, Clark! We'll get you out of this!" Lois turned to Dr. Klein. "Thank you for your help, doctor. Come on, Lex." She grabbed his hand and led him out of the building, noting the large window Dr. Klein had in his office.
"Lois, where are we going?" Lex asked.
"Two blocks down," she answered, barely whispering. "There's a payphone there I want to use."
It took them less than a minute to reach their destination; Lois rummaged in her purse for some coins. She dropped them in and dialled the number with a steady hand.
"Hello? Perry? It's time. And I want this sent to the Associated Press. I want everyone to know what they've been doing to him. Yes, I got the pictures. Okay. Okay. Great. Thanks, Chief." She hung up and faced Luthor, who had one eyebrow raised.
Lois smiled wickedly and showed him the pen she had been holding the whole time they had been at STAR Labs. "Jimmy gave this to Perry. Jimmy loves this secret spy stuff." Lois felt a pang, realizing how much she missed Jimmy. She couldn't wait for him to get back from Portugal. "Anyway, I think I got some great shots. I definitely got Trask and the guard standing with Clark in the green handcuffs."
"Excellent," Luthor breathed. "Next step?"
"The Daily Planet." Lois answered. "And then we'll head to this park I know to discuss Plan B."
An hour later Lex and Lois had dropped her film with Perry and settled down on a bench in an open park — they would see anyone coming for quite a distance. Hopefully no one would be able to hear them.
"So, the evening edition of the Planet will be carrying the story on the first page — I get the feeling the mass of protesters in front of STAR Labs will at least triple." Lois bit into a cheeseburger she had bought.
Lex finished chewing on his fries. "And then what?"
Lois swallowed. "Then, Plan B. I noticed Dr. Klein's office has a large window — large enough for Clark and me to climb out of."
Luthor frowned. "Well, that's all fine and good, Lois, but how do you propose getting him into the office unnoticed?"
Lois had a faraway look in her eyes, but soon snapped to attention. "We need a distraction. That's where you come in. We need someone to call in something big — I was thinking a bomb threat. Everyone will be forced to leave the building."
Luthor smiled. "I have a friend on the Metropolis Bomb Squad who owes me a favour. Consider it done."
"Good. And I'll need one of your bullet-proof cars …"
"I'll give you my limo. Only the best."
"Thank you. We'll time it so that I arrive at STAR Labs just as the order to clear out comes. I'll stick with Clark, and we'll run for Klein's office and get out the window. Make sure your limo is on the right side of the building. Hopefully we'll escape unseen."
"So you're hoping the distraction of the protesters and bomb threat will be enough to let you leave undetected?"
"Exactly. Oh, and one other thing — try to have the guard watching over Clark get the call. Hopefully he'll run for Trask or Dr. Klein."
"And I'll call Dr. Klein beforehand and ask him to meet me outside concerning Clark's case. That will get him out of his office."
"Good. Thanks, Lex. I don't think I could do this without you."
"Otherwise you would." Lex smiled wryly as Lois laughed uncomfortably.
"Yeah. I have trust issues. But if Clark can trust you, I can. And I feel better having help than doing it alone."
"Don't worry, Lois. You can trust me." They smiled at each other over their cheeseburgers. "We'll bust Clark out without a hitch."
Lois woke five minutes before her alarm went off the next morning — five to six. She was to arrive at STAR Labs at 9:01 exactly. Two minutes later the bomb squad would call, alerting everyone at the Labs to the bomb and telling them to evacuate. Lois jumped out of bed, wide awake, and hurried quietly to the shower. The hot water stung her skin, but it felt good. It was wonderful to be able to shower again, to be clean and have access to hot water. Lois took a long time, just enjoying the moment with one part of her brain and visualising the day's events with another. < Think positive, Lane, > she instructed herself, anxiety rising in her throat. She didn't know how she would kill the time until she had to leave for STAR Labs.
Lois finished up her shower and headed to the kitchen to make herself coffee. Luckily, she hadn't woken her parents. But that left her alone with her thoughts, wondering and worrying over how everything would go. Finally she couldn't take it anymore, and jumped up to throw her now cold coffee in the sink. She was surprised to note that over an hour had gone by and she only had an hour and a half before arriving at STAR Labs.
Lois bent her wrist to look at her watch. 8:59. Time to go in. Lois fought her way through the crowd in front of the building. A mob about ten times larger than in the last few days was angrily mulling around, and Lois smiled. It was a bigger group than she'd anticipated, and from the sounds of it they were outraged that their hero was being held against his will.
It took Lois a little longer than she'd hoped to enter STAR Labs, but she figured she had enough time. She strode quickly down the hall, passing Dr. Klein's office just three doors down from where Clark was being held. She wanted to peek in and see if he was still there, but the door was closed. Lois paled. She hoped the door wasn't locked -
It wasn't. Lois breathed a huge sigh of relief as she entered the control room. The guard from the day before looked at her sharply.
"Dr. Klein said I could see him again," Lois said quickly, not wanting to arise suspicion. She had made sure to call the doctor the night before to get permission to see Clark. She could only hope Klein had called it in to this guy. Lois held her breath as he picked up the phone, presumably to check her story.
"Hey, Harry, you got a Lois Lane on your visitor's registration for today?" The guard's face was sour. "Yeah, thanks." He turned to Lois. "You can go in."
Lois began to breathe properly again when the guard punched a button on the control panel and motioned her in. Lois walked slowly towards the door that let her in, holding her purse by its bulk and letting the strap dangle. Hidden by the large triangle of metal that was the side of the control panel, Lois opened the door and casually dropped her purse, making sure her purse strap was between the wall and door. Hopefully the guard wouldn't notice that there was no click of a locking door.
It didn't matter; just as the door was closing the phone connected to the control panel rang. Lois nearly jumped but managed to act normal as she walked over to Clark and quickly leaned down to whisper in his ear.
"Clark, listen carefully. In a moment that guard is going to leave this room. When he does, you follow me. No questions," she ordered fiercely as she heard a loud curse on the other side of the glass. She looked up in time to see the guard hurry out of the room. She grabbed Clark's hand. "Now!"
Clark jumped up quickly and followed Lois as she lunged for the door, flinging it open and grabbing her purse. She suddenly crouched, pulling Clark with her.
"Stay low," she directed, inching forward as fast as she could. "We go three doors down, and then we're out of here."
Clark merely nodded and concentrated on following Lois. His head whirled and his stomach twisted painfully. Sweat was pouring in a river down his back as his body began to adjust to a poison-free environment.
It took them only a moment to reach Dr. Klein's office. Lois reached up carefully and opened the door, peering inside before entering to make sure it was empty. It was. Lois stood and pulled Clark up, who she noticed was looking a little shaky.
"Sit there," she commanded, pointing to Klein's desk chair. Clark obliged, and watched her go to the window. She stood there a moment, frozen as if in shock.
Her head snapped up, and her face lost its confused look. "It looks like it's painted shut or something — it won't open. But it's not a big deal. Get out of the chair," she walked towards him as he stood. Clark watched immobile as Lois picked up the chair and hurled it at the window. It made an impressive crash, but the glass stayed intact. Lois groaned and tried again. It didn't even make a crack.
"What?" Lois grunted. "This is super window or something?"
Clark came over. "Here, let me try." He picked up the chair easily and hurled it as Lois had done, to no avail.
"Clark," Lois stated nervously, "We're running out of time. We have to get out of here. Come on, we'll have to make a run for the front door."
They turned as one — and simultaneously saw the figure in the doorway with the pistol at its side — Trask.
"I thought I smelled a rat," he said unpleasantly. "So, Superman, you thought you'd get away from me, did you? No such luck," he sneered as he raised his gun to chest level. Clark stared him down unblinkingly.
Lois's mouth was very dry. Once again staring down the barrel of a gun, she waited, tensed, trying to stay in charge of herself and the situation. She felt her heart beating at an unhealthy speed and her chest heaved as she attempted to breathe normally. Lois felt as if shewas shutting down, closing herself off from the horror she felt she had faced too many times. But something brought her back to reality abruptly.
< Clark. >
Lois had to save him, had to make sure that Jason Trask had no chance to hurt him. She knew in Clark's weakened state a bullet could definitely harm him, possibly even kill him, and she wanted to take no risks with that precious life. But she felt she could only watch helplessly as Trask aimed — one false move and Trask would definitely shoot. Lois stood, frozen, racking her brain for what she could possibly do. Suddenly inspiration hit and she craned her neck as if seeing someone in the hall and called, "Dr. Klein! Help!"
Trask whipped his head around almost reflexively and Lois reacted with lightning speed. She hit the floor in a stage fall and rested on her hand and hip as her leg shot out, catching Trask's legs and bringing him down. He fell heavily and as his arm hit the ground his hand opened and the gun slid towards Clark. Lois yelled in her excitement. Trask would be stunned for only a moment.
"Clark! Get the gun!"
Clark darted towards the body sprawled on the ground and grabbed the weapon, then leapt over Trask and out the door. Lois turned to follow him, only to feel a hand clutch her ankle. She turned her head to see Trask getting a firmer grip on her leg. Without thinking, she kicked her other leg backwards to catch Trask on the chin. He howled in pain and his grip loosened. Lois, in the process of kicking, had lost her balance but now she scurried up and out of the room. Clark was waiting at the end of the hall for her. She ran towards him at top speed, urging him on.
"Go, now, Clark! Don't wait for me!" But he did, tensed until she reached his side and then springing forward to the main door of the Labs. Lois grabbed his hand with her left and pulled him towards the automatic door.
"Feeling 'super' yet?" she panted, hoping that if Trask chased them Clark at least would be safe.
"I'm sorry," Clark began to respond, but then the doors were open and they were met by a silence that soon turned into cheers of recognition. The crowd that a moment ago had been thinning because of the bomb threat seemed to be back in full force and thrilled to see Clark. Cries of "Superman!" and "There he is!" met their ears.
Lois impatiently forged her way through the crowd, trying to pull Clark forward as Superman's fans tried to greet or touch him. She was frantically searching the area hoping to see Lex's limo when a new cry sounded.
"It's him! Trask!"
Evidently Perry had included more pictures than Lois had thought. The crowd recognised Clark's captor as he stumbled out of the building yelling for Clark to stop. Clark turned, and Lois felt rather than saw Clark raising the gun he still held in his hands. Lois turned to look at Trask and saw that Trask had already gotten hold of a new gun and was levelling it at Clark with a dangerous look in his eyes.
"It's a Kryptonium bullet, Kent," Trask called out. "I wouldn't move if I were you."
Clark froze, his eyes darting from Trask to the crowd to Lois. He hesitated, unsure of what to do. Everything, for a moment, was completely still.
Then Jason Trask started towards Clark with his gun still raised. There was a yelp in the crowd as a man leapt forward with a revolver in hand. Clark saw what was about to happen and threw himself towards Trask, but it was too late. A shot rang through the air and Trask went down, writhing in pain. Clark knelt at his side a moment before Lois made her way over to him.
"Clark?" Lois's voice had a touch of hysteria to it. Clark looked up at her with a stricken look on his face.
"He's shot. In the shoulder. I think he'll be okay."
"Fine, great," Lois said, pulling at his arm. "But let's get out of here, okay?"
Clark, seeing that some of the technicians from the Labs were holding the gunman, allowed himself to be led by Lois around to the side of the building. A limo was waiting there for them. Lois pulled Clark over to it and threw open the door. Clark climbed in, surprised to see Luthor in the backseat.
"Lex!" he exclaimed as Lois climbed in beside him. "What is going on?"
"It looks like you're flying the coop," Lex answered, amused. He pushed a red intercom button. "Driver, please take us to the LexCorp building."
"Why?" Lois asked curiously.
"You're going to Smallville until Trask is dealt with. As far as I know, no one but Clark knows I bought the farmhouse for him." He cast a questioning look Clark's way.
"That's right — I never told anyone about it."
"But — Trask has been dealt with, Lex," Lois said. "Someone shot him, and surely he'll be taken into custody?"
"I doubt it," Lex replied grimly. "Even if he were, he'd likely be out on the streets in a day. Besides, his orders could be carried out by any number of his lackeys."
"Lois," Clark broke in. "Maybe Lex is right. I should probably hide out until things for me are a little more certain."
"What about me?"
"I think you should hide out, too," Lex answered. "After all, Trask can't be too happy with you right now."
Lois thought of the look on Trask's face when he'd grabbed her ankle. Maybe Lex was right.
"Okay," she said. "Let's go."
"Why are we up here?" Lois yelled a half an hour later, standing on top of the LexCorp building. The wind up there was amazing, and she gripped Clark's arm to keep herself anchored.
"Clark!" Luthor yelled, ignoring Lois. "Do you think you can fly?"
Clark was still pasty and sweating slightly from the effects of the Kryptonium. He shook his head. "In an hour or so I should be able to. I think."
"We don't have the time!" Luthor shouted, then turned a sharp corner. "Follow me!"
Lois and Clark followed him until all three were standing before a huge helicopter. Luthor jumped nimbly inside, fiddling with the controls and speaking with the pilot. Clark sat on the ground suddenly, gently pulling Lois down with him.
"I feel so tired," he explained apologetically.
"That's okay." Lois smiled, shifting to sit more comfortably beside him.
"Lois, I'll never be able to thank you and Lex for what you've done for me," he said while gazing into the sky.
"You don't have to," Lois responded softly.
"Are you okay with all this? Staying with me, the fact that I'm an alien…" Clark laughed.
Lois felt a small stab of fear at the thought of staying with him. But she covered it quickly, trying to wipe it from her mind. This was a chance she wanted to take.
"I am, Clark. Really." She smiled at him.
"It's ready!" They both looked up with a jerk as Luthor bounded down towards them. The helicopter's blades were spinning lightning quick and Lex had to really yell now to be heard. "Clark, you get in while I talk to Lois."
Clark merely nodded as he got up and disappeared into the machine. Before he did so, he gave Luthor a bear hug and whispered "Thank you," in his ear.
"What's going on, Lex?" Lois yelled.
"You're going to Smallville!" he responded. "Everything's all set, you just have to sit back and wait for it to land. Take Clark there and hide out at the farmhouse for a few days. After that, you can contact Perry and tell him what's going on. Until then, though, not a word to anyone!"
"What about my parents?"
"I'll go see them. There's nothing for you to worry about. I'll take care of everything, including Trask."
"How?" Lois shouted curiously.
"Lois, I've done darker dealings than Clark could ever imagine. I didn't get to my station in life by being nice. Trask will be taken care of, and I'll make sure that before he disappears that his orders will go out to leave Clark severely alone. Now, we want you to stay hidden, so you'll be landing somewhere else before heading to Smallville. By the time you land Clark will have his strength back and will be able to fly you out of there and back to the farmhouse!"
Lois climbed up towards the door of the contraption with an uneasy feeling about Trask, but then decided to let it be. Clark's safety had to be ensured, and with Trask around … it just wasn't possible. Lois understood. She plopped herself down into the seat beside Clark and got ready for the long journey ahead.
"Lois!" She turned to stick her head back out the door.
"Here — I'm sure Clark will want this when you land," Lex bellowed, handing Lois the globe.
A wave of gratitude washed over her. "Thank you, Lex. For everything!" she shouted as the helicopter lifted up off of the rooftop.
She didn't hear Lex's reply.
Lois Lane stepped out of the yellow Metropolis taxicab shakily, trying desperately to steady her legs. She grinned slightly, remembering that she had never once happened to be lucky enough to get in a Metropolitan cab that had a capable driver. Lois thanked the driver absentmindedly, paying him with what tip she could afford while Clark Kent climbed out of the back seat. When the cab had sped off, Clark put an arm across Lois's shoulders and bent to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Are you all right?"
She smiled. "Yes. Just, you know, nostalgia, deja vu, all that."
"Are you ready to go in?" Clark asked, gesturing with his head towards the globe that announced the presence of the Daily Planet.
"In a minute," she replied, turning slightly to grab Clark in a tight embrace. "Thank you for helping me write that letter to Damien's parents."
"It was my honour, Lois. Maybe someday we'll be able to visit them."
Lois lost her smile. "No …I don't think I could go back there. Too many bad memories."
Clark squeezed her gently. "I understand."
They stood there a moment, just holding each other, before Lois sighed and spoke. "This past month has been wonderful."
A slow smile crept onto Lois's face. "From Perry's last email, where he told us the gunman was a fan of yours, I get the idea he's going to make us partners. He said the writing on our story 'meshed well' together."
Clark feigned horror. "You mean I'll have to work with Mad Dog Lane? I won't be able to stand it," he continued, dropping a kiss on her mouth.
"Will you be able to handle it all?" Lois asked seriously. "Work, Superman, me…"
Clark looked down at her tenderly. "I'll make it work," he assured her, then broke into a grin. "At least I won't have to wear that horrible costume any more."
"Oh, I don't know," Lois purred suggestively as they began to walk into the building. "I think you should still wear it *sometimes*."