By Carolyn B. Schnall <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: Lois and Clark find out how advantageous it can be to have a good friend with psychic powers in this fourth installment of the author's "Psychic" series. This story contains a violence warning.
Lois, Clark, Perry and Jimmy all belong to DC Comics, Dec. 3rd Productions, TNT, etc. All the others are mine. No infringement on their rights is intended.
Several FoLCs have expressed their appreciation of a female character like Judy to be a friend to L&C. At the risk of this sounding like a Mary Sue story, I take their positive feedback as inspiration and offer this fourth story in what has become a series. Although it would not hurt to read Parts I, II and III, I tried to make Part IV stand alone. I'm sure FoLCs will let me know if I have succeeded :)
In this story I explore what might have happened if Clark's first encounter with the molecular disrupter had been in prototype form prior to the Wedding Arc.
Big thanks to my big brother Neil and to Dawn for their valuable editing assistance. There is violence in this story.
Judy Stone was at home the evening it all started, being visited by her boyfriend, Jeremy Ross. Jem, as she called him, had brought over a rented movie and a supply of popcorn so that they could sit and cuddle on her sofa. Since Jem's introduction to Judy by Superman, Jem and Judy had been nearly inseparable. Judy's friendship with Lois and Clark had also blossomed and the pair had both come to look upon Judy as a little sister, especially after her psychic abilities had come in handy on several occasions.
While they watched the movie, Judy and Jem kissed frequently. They had been exploring the boundaries of intimacy a great deal lately, and Judy had the impression that Jem wanted to stay with her that night. She had not decided exactly how she felt about that except that she longed for it to happen someday. She was just not certain it had to be this day, or rather, this night.
The movie was a James Bond film starring, among others, an actress who greatly resembled Lois. Judy's thoughts wandered from Lois to Clark and she found herself wondering how they both were, since it had been a couple of weeks since she had been in contact with either of them. Jem's arms around her brought her back to the present. The arms felt good and the kisses were sweet, respectful and promising.
Despite the pleasantness of Jem's presence, about halfway through the film Judy began to feel uneasy. Something in the back of her mind was nagging at her and she could not identify it. It lingered despite the ardent manner Jem was exhibiting, and Judy began to wish she could reach into her own head and yank out the thought as though it were a pesky insect.
A definite headache erupted, fierce and sudden, right over her eyes and she was suddenly very tired. Despite her enjoyment up until that point, she felt as though she could not watch another moment of the film.
"Jem," she ventured while he covered her mouth with another kiss. "Jem!"
"Mmm," he responded, licking her bottom lip and making it difficult for her to continue.
"You have to go home."
"I don't want to go home."
"I know, and I don't want you to go home either, but I've got a really bad headache."
"I can cure that for you," he teased.
"Yes, Dr. Ross, I'm sure you think you can, but I think I'm having a pre-migraine aura. Or a reaction to monosodium glutamate."
"Oh, I forgot about MSG," he said, sobering.
"It's okay, but I think you should go."
Jem looked at her with concern.
"If you're sure?" he queried.
"I promise to call you if I think you can help. Deal?"
"Deal," he answered. He gathered up the tape and his winter jacket, turning to give her a chaste goodnight kiss. "Feel better."
"I'll try," she said, grateful he did not linger, as he walked out and she locked her door behind him. As she turned away from the door, she was knocked to the floor by a swift pain at the base of her neck. "Jem!" she whispered, but he was too far away to hear her.
Clark Kent was finally getting to bed. It had seemed like a really long day to him. It had started in the pre-dawn hours when he had risen to rescue a boatload of partygoers in Japan who had had too much drink but not enough fuel.
By the time he had returned to Metropolis, he was late to work, had missed picking up Lois, who was miffed at his absence, and had annoyed Perry by appearing distracted by Lois in full miff. Then Jimmy had asked for advice several times that day about a girl he was seeing and Clark was surprised at Jimmy's interest in the young woman, a troubled girl he had met while interviewing street people.
More rescues in the afternoon threatened to interfere with his work, and Lois was annoyed that a source they were supposed to meet together would not talk to her alone when Clark could not go with her. He could not reason with Lois at such moments, though he knew that she knew that partnering and dating a superhero had its down side.
Lois had claimed to have laundry to do so they had not eaten dinner together, which was just as well, since he had to rescue a herd of cattle from a raging flood and had about six other minor emergencies along the way.
Finally, Clark had turned in. He dragged himself under the covers and was nearly asleep when there was a pounding on his door. He thought it might be Lois, since this would not be the first time she had come to his place late and demanded entrance. He was not feeling particularly super as he groaned and got up, somehow getting up the stairs and opening the door. "Get down, get down, get down," someone shouted, thrusting an automatic weapon in his face.
Clark debated tiredly whether he should resist and risk showing some Super-strength or playing along as a way of finding out what they wanted. He thought he heard Lois scream and was about to leap to her rescue but in the next moment, it was decided for him. His uninvited guests were carrying Kryptonite.
Lois Lane was ticked. She was tired. She was testy. She was tense. But mostly, she was ticked.
She had waited for Clark that morning for half an hour before she realized that he was not coming to pick her up and that she was going to be late to work. She'd had a flat tire on her Jeep, she'd gotten a lecture from Perry about being late, she'd had to tell Jimmy to leave her alone and not ask her advice six times, had a call from her mother who was complaining about her father and her sister, and the source who was supposed to bring her the information that she would need to write her next Kerth award winning story would not talk to her when her lunkhead partner could not show up for their meeting.
Even though she knew that it was not Clark Kent's fault that he was the strongest man in the world, even though it was not his fault that he was in demand the world over, and even though it was really in some ways her own fault that he was a most admired superhero around the planet, she was more than willing to blame him for the entire day not going as she had hoped. He might be her partner, her best friend and that man she loved, but he had a bloody nerve not being there when she wanted or needed him.
She found a pint of ice cream in the freezer and proceeded to polish it off as dinner before taking a bath and throwing herself in bed. She was lying there for a long time, replaying the events of the day and remembering in particular how she had spoken to Clark in anger that afternoon. And before she could take any of it back, he'd had to fly off again. Typical.
By the time she was relaxed enough to feel drowsy, she wondered if she had locked all her locks because she was hearing a sound that made her think someone else was locking them for her. Or worse yet, unlocking them.
As she sat up, she was violently pushed back onto the bed. "Get down, get down, get down," someone shouted violently while pushing the butt of a weapon in her chin. She shrieked in pain and anger. In the next moment she was wrapped up in her own blankets and was being dragged somewhere. Then she felt a sharp pain in the back of her head and she knew nothing else.
Judy was lying in her bed, alone, cold, and in the intense grip of a headache like none she had ever before experienced. She felt ill and she could not navigate out of the bedroom to get any medication. She debated calling Jem and yet she felt it was wrong to take advantage of his medical skills only to send him home again. She could not focus on the phone well enough to dial his number anyway and she was in the hope that the pain would pass. MSG was never like this.
She found herself in a strangely dazed state. It was as though she were running a high fever and yet she felt certain this was not the case. She thought she was dreaming, but doubted she could really be dozing with such a pounding headache. Images marched across her subconscious with regularity. They were like nightmares except that they had the distinct stamp of premonition. She had experienced such dementia before, since, as a psychic, she was often victim to what simply came to her. She thought she saw Lois being bundled out of her apartment in an unconscious state. Yet, this time it was different from all other times. Except for one image. And that image was of Clark Kent, aka Superman, in the grip of a Kryptonite-induced pain state.
She tried to warm up, pulling a blanket partially over her, huddling against the fabric, while in her mind's eye she was seeing her friend reduced to a weak and trembling, dying shadow of himself.
Clark had felt the pain of Kryptonite many times before, but there was something different about this time. He was not sure whether it was because he'd been so tired already when he was exposed, or because he had been feeling down about how Lois had acted toward him, or because he was feeling very exposed in just his sleep shorts while in the custody of these nasty guys.
It had been a gang of at least four men, foul smelling, foul breathed and in the habit of using foul language. If that were not enough, they treated him very roughly and called him annoying names. They did not seem to know why he was so weak, but some inner instinct spurred them to be bullies in the presence of his lack of resistance. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was relieved to realize that they did not know he was Superman. They knew only that he was Clark Kent, that he was Superman's friend, and that he was not putting up any kind of a fight.
In a few short minutes they had managed to abuse him enough that, due to the Kryptonite, he was bleeding in several places. They had stuffed him in the back of a van where he never saw the driver, and after a short ride they had pulled him out again. The cold of the Metropolis night was seeping into his battered body and the bleak alleyway they had dragged him into seemed, at that moment, like the most forbidding and desolate spot on the planet.
"Stand him up there, over by the wall," he heard one say. It was the same voice that had ordered him to get down when they had snatched him from his apartment. He also noted with some detachment that they had not stopped to rob him.
He was dragged backward, hurting his bare feet along the way on broken bottle parts. When the two men who held each of his arms proceeded to the wall, he made an effort to stand up straight and look in the eyes of each of the three men in the alley with him.
They spat on him and wrenched his wrists back, his attention then riveted on the odd-looking weapon trained on his chest. He had never seen it before and it seemed obvious from its unusual size and shape that it was not an ordinary gun. As the man wielding it got closer, Clark realized with some trepidation that the Kryptonite was inside.
"This is a prototype of a new weapon developed to destroy your pal Superman but we also know it can harm humans and we are going to prove that by testing it on you. You can do us a big favor by calling for Superman right now."
Clark remained defiantly close-mouthed and wondered for the umpteenth time why some people hated Superman so much. He also wished he knew what could have happened to Lois, since he was sure he had heard her scream just prior to being taken captive.
"Okay, Pretty Boy, you don't want to call your friend. It doesn't matter. If you survive the test, give him a message. The message is simple. This gun's for you!" The man laughed a loud, raucous guffaw at his own wit and then brought the weapon up sharply. But the man had more to say.
"Superman will call a news conference and announce that he will no longer liberate prisoners from countries where he has no authority, like Atlantica. He has to tell the world that he was wrong to do that in the past and that he will discontinue his interference from now on."
Clark had only a moment to reflect that he might have been wrong to free only one prisoner at a time for the last several weeks. He had rotated his efforts, since he could not condone the inhuman treatment that he knew had been going on for years in these places. Perhaps he should have freed whole prisons full of people but he could only protect one life at a time without creating an international incident. Clark once again tried to stand as straight as he could. He had done what he thought was right.
One of the men yanked at the boxers Clark had been wearing and Clark heard the fabric tear. He managed not to look down but he could clearly feel ever so slightly colder as the ripped boxers hit the ground. If he had not been so intent on bearing anything they subjected him to, he would have been mad as hell at that last gratuitous act.
The man aimed and shot Clark in the chest. Clark felt astonished at the searing pain, a combination of the Kryptonite and an energy beam that he felt on a molecular level. This technology was truly advanced. In seconds, he was in a greater agony than he could ever remember. He screamed and screamed. Then he collapsed.
Screaming. Screaming from torture. Screaming from unrelenting cruelty. Judy woke to Clark's screams in her dreams. In total panic, she launched herself from the bed and hurriedly removed her sleep sweats. She was dizzy and her head was pounding forcefully but her friend, her 'big brother', the world's superhero needed her help. Somehow she knew only that she had to find him, that he was not far away, that he needed help and needed it now.
The screams. She could not help but think of the victims of torture who needed amnesty from the authorities in certain countries. It was said that you could tell what kind of torture was in progress by the quality of the screams in the prisons. Many hundreds of human beings were treated inhumanely for years and presumed dead by their own families. Judy knew that Superman had been concerned about this very problem and that he had embarked on a personal crusade to do something about it. Clark had discussed it with her when he saw by chance that she was a contributor to the cause to rescue people from the horror. Superman, he felt, had to tread carefully so as not to place people in even greater danger as retaliation against his exploits. By the time of their discussion, he had already rescued dozens of people. Yet it had not made the news. He had made his own decision to keep it quiet. Now Judy felt certain there was a connection here that she could not dismiss.
In a near tizzy, she managed to get dressed. She grabbed a sweater and a coat, knowing it was very cold on this late March evening. Concentrating hard on what she thought she might need, she assembled cash and credit cards in a clip, house keys, a flashlight and at the last moment, a thermal blanket from her linen closet. She somehow knew that Clark was going to need her to think of everything. As she left her apartment, she found herself mentally imaging a route that would take her just a few blocks away. She had rarely used her psychic abilities to find someone. She had known just where Superman was, a few months ago, when he had set out to avenge her having been severely beaten. On that occasion, he had been the first to find her and render her aid. Then, she had known where to send her brother and her boyfriend and Clark's girlfriend to rescue him. Now, it was Judy's turn again to find and help him.
Clark was barely conscious. It was bone-chillingly cold and he was in a great deal of pain. The Kryptonite was mercifully gone but its effect on him had barely diminished. He could not focus and he drifted in and out of clarity. He was not sure but he thought he saw some people near him. When he tried to talk, to summon them to help him, he could only whisper. The next thing he knew, he was alone again. He thought of his friend Judy, whose apartment was only a few blocks away, if his sense of direction was correct. He concentrated on her for a few minutes, hoping her psychic abilities were operating. She was, perhaps, his only hope. After a few minutes, his concentration slipped because his brain was too fogged with pain and cold.
He thought fleetingly of Lois, and the anxiety for her safety in his present state was almost unbearable. He could not slow the beating of his heart and he could barely breath. He thought about how ironic it was that he should end his glorious career here, alone in this alley, to die such an ignominious death, unable to protect the love of his life, unable to achieve that normal life that he had always wanted. He was sure Lois had been victimized somehow and he could do nothing to rescue her. He loathed himself at that moment. His only positive thoughts were of his parents and how they supported him. He thought of his friends at the Daily Planet and elsewhere, like Judy. He thought again of Lois. It began to snow.
Lois awoke to an ache that was the mother of all pains in the neck. It took her a few moments to figure out where she was and how she had gotten here. She was tied to a chair and her legs were bound to the legs of the chair. She was still, thankfully, in her nightgown.
Unfortunately, she was not wearing anything else. Wriggling to try to free herself only succeeded in hiking up the nightgown. The view from the front would be interesting, especially if her captors were male, she thought ruefully.
The room was dark, chilly and damp and smelled as if something had died in the corner. From the echo, it was a large room and she could not turn her head enough to see what was behind her. She was fairly certain she was alone, though. She tried to free her wrists from behind the chair but only managed to make the bonds tighter. She had an itchy nose and a headache. She also had to go to the bathroom.
The only thing that could make this worse would be if Superman were otherwise occupied because she was sure all she had to do was yell for him and he would swoop in and scoop her up. Then she would have Clark to argue with as to who got the scoop on her captors.
Just as she was about to scream for Clark, her own personal superhero, a man came in, back-lit in the doorway, and so she could not see his face. He expressed an apology in what sounded like a South American accent of some sort. She could not quite place it and she could barely hear him. He was smoking a cigarette and the smoke was choking her.
"Could you not smoke in here," she complained characteristically.
He did not answer her, but the way he cocked his head as he seemed to study her lap, made Lois almost sorry she had drawn attention to herself. She also realized that she was in the wedge of light from the hallway beyond the door. A full frontal view was probably entertaining the man.
When the man spoke again, Lois tried hard to follow what he was saying, as she noticed the blanket she had been wrapped in from her bed on the floor nearby. What she remembered after he stopped talking was that she was the insurance for a plan to stop Superman from stealing their South American prisoners. He had no right to spirit away their citizens and he had to be stopped. If their first plan didn't work, the man was sure that the second plan, involving her, would work very well. He did not enlighten her as to what Plan A was nor did he tell her what her role in this drama was. She had enough imagination to fill in the gaps.
When he was done talking, he flicked the still lit cigarette at her lap. She wriggled and shrieked as she tried to get it to roll off before her nightgown caught fire. The man laughed at her gyrations. The cigarette fell harmlessly to the floor, but she could feel her cheeks burn. She counted herself lucky that he did not crouch down for a better view.
Judy anxiously made her way down the silent street, newly gathering snow making the journey suddenly slippery. She was not really dressed for this weather despite the small care she had given to her attire. It was really late in the season for weather of this kind, but one could not always predict these things. She finally gave in and wrapped the blanket she was carrying around her own shoulders, which helped a great deal. She studied every doorway, and grate, spending precious moments at a vacant lot that was piled high with garbage but did not apparently also contain Clark. She glanced up at the rapidly falling flurries and could not help wondering at the pretty white flakes that could spell death for her friend. She drove herself onward.
On the next block, the old row-house type buildings were built very close together, but on the block after that, there were several alley ways and the tingling she felt at the back of her neck told her that Clark was near here. With some trepidation for her own safety, she stole down one alley and then the next, using her flashlight to search through all the refuse she found. She also found a homeless man who protested her presence by throwing something foul smelling at her. As she turned to avoid contact with the flying object, she slipped and fell in the snow, but was up on her feet in a second and out of the alley posthaste.
She paused at the entrance to the next alley, wavering slightly in her mission. In the next moment she had consulted her psychic instincts and once again the unmistakable conviction that Clark was here became evident. She tried to catch her breath and then stood very still, attempting to rest. The street was very quiet, the snow muffling all the usual noises, and there was no traffic. She peered down the alley at hand, using her flashlight beam to study it, loathe to enter lest it bring another nasty encounter. She saw an object in the corner near the wall but it seemed to be snow covered garbage. As she started to move the light away, she thought she glimpsed something familiar. She trained the light on something very small amongst whatever was on the ground and then she spotted them. Kittens!
She walked slowly down the alley toward the kitten ears peeking up from behind a barrier. The little felines were mewling piteously and showed their faces as she got closer. She was surprised, realizing how early a litter the little guys were from. There were two of them, black with white markings, and Judy guessed they were about three weeks old, cute and very thin. Amused almost to a nervous giggle, she bent down and started to speak softly to them, trying to decide how she was going to rescue the kittens and continue to search for Clark. As she crouched lower, she got a closer look at what the kittens had been cuddling up to. She nearly dropped the flashlight as she suddenly recognized what she had mistaken for trash. In a fetal position, shivering and blanketed in snowflakes, was Clark. And to add to her shock, she realized he was completely naked.
Judy nearly fell over, and she heard her exclamation of dismay echo on the bare brick around her. Then, shaking off the effects of being so stunned at the condition in which she found him, she quickly brushed the snow off his skin and spread the blanket, warmed by her own shoulders, over his torso. She called his name but he was mainly unresponsive, groaning slightly but not in answer to her, it seemed.
She spent a few moments looking for his glasses but abandoned the idea in the next instant, due to all the snow. She had not expected to find him in quite such a dire condition, but now she was torn. He was not going to able to stand up and walk, and calling for an ambulance did not seem viable. He was not in the Super-suit and since there were no glasses, protecting his identity would be much more difficult. She did not want to leave him and this was one moment when she wished she had a cell phone, as her brother had been urging her to acquire. Finally, she decided that carrying Clark home was the only option. She knew from a class she had taken in school, that she could carry a person heavier than herself in a fireman's carry. Sticking the flashlight in her pocket, she pulled Clark's arm so that he was now sitting up. She wrapped the blanket around him as much as she could, using a hair-clip from another pocket to hold it closed at his chest. She was trying not to stare at his anatomy below the waist but a sudden movement caught her eye. The kittens had taken up residence in Clark's hands and he was holding one in each hand with a firm, yet gentle grip. 'Okay,' she thought, 'he'll carry the kittens and I'll carry him'.
With enormous difficulty, she maneuvered him over her left shoulder and she slowly stood up, taking his weight on her frame with a small gasp at how heavy he was. She staggered slightly at her first step but in a few moments gained balance and momentum. With a slight hunching of her shoulders, she shifted him slightly to a better position, and glanced down and as far back as she could to verify he still held the kittens. Then, with determination, she made her way out of the alley and up the street.
She found she could think of nothing else but putting one foot in front of the other. She was breathing heavily and she was anxious about how slippery the concrete was. She hoped that her body heat and the blanket were warming Clark, who had remained incoherent since she had found him. He seemed to warm her, at least. She prayed he would not drop a kitten because she would not be able to pick it up without putting him down again. Dropping him, she thought, was simply not an option. It was going to be a long six blocks.
Lois struggled with her bonds with force and energy. She pulled and pushed, wriggled and writhed, struggled and stormed against the cords at her wrists and ankles until the skin under them was raw and bleeding. She wanted to avoid falling on the floor but the chair was an old one and the various creaks caused by her movements foretold its inevitable demise. Finally, one of the legs gave way and she was down, severely injuring her shoulder as it came into contact with the concrete floor of her prison. She didn't let this stop her for more than a few moments. One ankle was now free, so she rolled to her knees and maneuvered until she could kick the other chair leg. A few blows were enough to free the other ankle. She got to her feet but her wrists were still attached to the chair, which now awkwardly hung from her arms behind her.
She made a circuit of the large room, hurting her feet several times on sharp bits of refuse, but did not find a door except for the one she had already seen. She could not reach the knob to that door no matter how much she tried. She had to get rid of the chair but she was already worried that the noise she was making would bring attention to her activities. Finally, seeing no other option, she tried to break the chair against a wall. She hurt herself, aggravated her shoulder injury and then the noise brought her jailer to the room.
He didn't say anything but when he was finished with her, she was awkwardly still attached to the chair. However, this time, the chair was lying backward on the floor, her arms still bound to it and pinned under the chair back, her back pressing against the chair and her arms cruelly. Her legs were now attached to the chair's back legs in such a way that her legs were splayed and a great deal of her bare anatomy was now exposed. The man didn't gloat or touch her private parts but he had succeeded in humiliating her and seemed satisfied. And now, she was also gagged.
Judy concentrated on keeping her knees from buckling under the weight of her barely conscious burden. As far as she could tell, Clark still held onto the kittens, his hands firmly retaining the two little furry charges in his gentle grip. The kittens were quiet but Clark's labored breathing was audible even though his face was somewhere near her own rear end. She walked along, very tired but maintaining a steady rhythm, as she avoided slipping and falling on the snowy street. She was glad she had not seen any other people on the street so there were no witnesses. However, there had also been no taxicabs to hail. Perhaps that was just as well, since the driver would be a witness.
She was heartened when she reached her own block but as she approached her apartment building, her heart sank at the sight of the eight steps comprising the stoop leading to the two locked doors. She had just about managed to carry him on level ground. Stairs were going to be another matter entirely.
Putting Clark down to negotiate the locks and doors was not an option. It was cold and she was near exhaustion and she was sure she would not be able to lift him again. Dragging him along was also not to be considered. When it came down to it, she held his legs firmly with her left arm and laboriously dragged herself and him up the stoop steps with her right hand on the wrought iron banister. With each step, she fought to maintain her balance. Finally, after what seemed like the longest eight steps of her life, she found herself in front of the first locked door.
She was grateful the keys were in her right pocket and somehow she was able to get the lock and door open and herself with him through it. She worried that his arm would be caught on the outside, perhaps jostling one of the little cats loose, but a slight shift as the outer door closed prevented this. It was slightly warmer in the vestibule. She repeated the procedure on the inner door and in the next moment they were in the lobby. A few more steps brought her to the elevator and she was glad, for once, that she did not live in a doorman building. She prayed she would not run into any nosy neighbors. Carrying a naked man into her apartment would certainly raise questions she felt unequal to answer.
Too slow for her taste, the poky elevator finally arrived and she stepped into it, glad no one else was in it. As she rode to her floor, she felt Clark stir, the warmth of the building having an effect on him. Finally, she reached her own floor and made it down the hall to her door. With a sigh, she clicked open the two locks there, and entered, turning to lock the locks again. She was careful not to let down her guard just yet. With a last effort, she crossed the floor to the hall, her bedroom, and to her own bed. Gently, so as not to jar him unduly, she slid Clark off her shoulder, taking care that he ended up on the bed and not the floor. He was silent again as his stressed body hit the warm comfort. The little kittens curled up again near his hands and Judy collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Perry White, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet, the great metropolitan newspaper, sat with his feet up on the desk, blue pencil in his right hand, a deep frown on his face. He had been struggling to make sense of the latest story turned in by one of his junior reporters and idly wondered if the new guy was still on probation. White was not sure how the kid had gotten hired but he had a clear idea of how he would be fired.
"Jimmy," he yelled, not even looking up to see if the young man named Jimmy Olsen would respond to his summons. White never seemed to run out of tasks for the young research assistant who was on the verge of becoming a fine photojournalist and perhaps even a fine reporter some day as well. Right now, he was the best gofer White had ever had, except for this very moment when he didn't show up.
Perry was about to swing his feet down to get up and look for Olsen when the young man finally walked in, holding a letter in his hands as though it were about to succumb to spontaneous combustion.
"What is it, son?" Perry asked, reading the dread in Jimmy's facial expression.
"You better read it, Chief," Jimmy responded, proffering the paper as if he could not wait to unburden himself of it.
The Chief, influenced by Olsen's care, gingerly took the letter and read it through. Lois and Clark had been kidnapped and the ransom was equal to the worth of the entire newspaper, if Superman did not cease his prisoner rescue activities. Jimmy watched as Perry dropped back into his chair, dropping the letter to the floor. "Great Shades of Elvis!"
Judy had been resting on the floor at the foot of the bed and even dozed for a few moments, waking as she flopped sideways and came into contact with two male feet. She scrambled to her own feet and turned to look at Clark lying on her bed, with his feet dangling down. He was shivering and the blanket was not covering enough of him to be of much use. In a few quick movements, Judy located a quilt and threw it over him, careful not to stare at his private parts in the process but managing to glimpse them all the same. She felt her cheeks burn but was distracted a moment later by the high pitched meows of the two kittens protesting in alarm at suddenly being plunged into darkness.
After a few moments trying to remember where everything was, she managed to locate the lid of a paper box, a bag of sand from under her sink, plastic bowls, and a can of tuna fish. She added milk and water to the collection and finished off with a soft, ancient towel bathmat. Proceeding to move a chair and shift a small table, she emptied a corner of the bedroom and set up the bathmat as a bed for the kittens. She showed the kittens where the box lid with the sand was, opened the tuna can and was gratified that the kittens hungrily ate and heartily drank. To her amazement, they each used the facilities and curled up for a nap in the corner.
Her next task also required locating items she did not normally use. Some searching turned up a heater, a hot water bottle and a heating pad, all of which she tried to put to good use warming up Clark. Even so, she was sure he could not be comfortable with his legs dangling. Under the quilt, he and the thermal blanket were probably damp from the snow, as were, no doubt, all the bedclothes he was lying upon. He seemed to be in a deep sleep but she knew she had to move him. She rolled him, first to his right and then to his left, reflecting that he might have been "rolled" like a bum in order for him to end up in the condition in which she had found him. She repeated the arduous procedure as many times as it took to change all the bedding and to shift him up on the bed and to cover his feet. That he did not wake up was amazing. She was also again astonished at how heavy he was, concluding that it must have something to do with his Kryptonian physiology.
This revelation got her thinking along new lines. Since she was not really sure what was causing Clark's condition, she tried to remember the effect Kryptonite had had on him in his previous encounter with it in her presence. Although this seemed similar, she also thought it was taking him too long to recover. She noticed a bright red area on his otherwise smooth, bronze chest and felt fairly certain it did not belong there. She was stumped.
Despite her best efforts, she managed to glimpse his all-too- human appearing male equipment several times. She resolved, while she worked, never to mention it to him. She knew from a couple of previous experiences that some men were better off not knowing the extent to which they might have been exposed. Male hospital patients were often not accorded the privacy they should have and she had witnessed such occurrences many times. She was not sure whether it was more difficult to deal with when she knew the patient than when she didn't.
Judy was feeling quite exhausted by the time she was only about halfway through but she only allowed herself a few moments rest before forcing herself to finish. She inwardly debated calling Lois and also Jem or perhaps Dr. Klein. In the end, as she finally finished her task, she sank into the armchair in another corner of the bedroom and was soon lulled to sleep by the hum of the heater.
Lois could do nothing but entertain the thoughts racing through her head. She could not yell for Superman and hope to be heard with her mouth gagged. She knew she needed his help but was embarrassed to ask, considering her extreme anger with him earlier that day. In addition, now, even if she could yell for him, she would think long and hard on how she might be placing him in danger, considering the situation. The irony of the situation struck her with force. In her early infatuation with Superman, Lois completely overlooked Clark at times and was very reliant on Superman to rescue her. She called upon him almost constantly and hadn't a clue as to the emotional effect she was having on him. The more she thought about it the more ashamed she felt of the tizzy fit she had thrown at him. None of it had been his fault. He always managed to put up with her, when he wasn't arguing with her, but he seemed to take most of what she threw at him philosophically. She could only guess at the moral dilemma he must now be finding himself in. She knew how important it had been to him to rescue those unfairly imprisoned people. And she knew how important she was to him. Her anger over what now seemed like nonsensical details troubled her.
Lois tried to calm herself but could not help feeling that she was somehow responsible for some of this. She was worried about Clark. It occurred to her that he might be in physical trouble too. People were always coming up with new ways to try to stop him and the people who had her seemed motivated to follow suit. Oddly enough, Lois found her thoughts straying to the way Clark treated her. He was always stroking her hand or kissing it, or smoothing her back with his fingertips, or clasping her cheek with one of his big, strong hands. She could not remember her father displaying such affection for her mother. It nearly moved her to tears how nice Clark was to her and how physically affectionate he was toward her. She missed him. She made a silent vow to try to overcome the petty part of her nature. Learning to be engaged to him was more important than anything else. She reasoned with herself that she should not cry because she would not be able to reach her eyes and nose to wipe them. It didn't matter. 'Oh Clark,' she thought. She cried anyway.
Judy was awakened by the absence of sound. She glanced around in confusion and then realized that only about twenty minutes had passed since she had sat in the armchair and that she had been awakened by the heater thermostat turning off the heater and the hum it made. She sat up a little straighter and looked at Clark on the bed appearing quite pale but apparently not as cold. He had ceased his shivering and seemed to be sleeping calmly, as were the kittens in the corner, despite all the lights Judy had left blazing.
As she sat in the chair, waiting to be fully awake, she again debated whom she might call to come to Clark's aid. She knew he had been bleeding in several places and worried that the wounds would need tending. Her first thought was of Lois. Judy could not put her finger on exactly why, but thinking about Lois made her feel nervous. Then it came to her: Lois had been abducted! Just in case, Judy reached for the phone and dialed Lois' number. The fact that an answering machine picked up confirmed nothing, but her psychic senses, which usually proved to be fairly correct, screamed that Lois was in danger. Judy involuntarily trembled. Things were worse than she thought. Putting a thousand worried thoughts aside for the moment, Judy again wondered whom she might call. She had Clark's parent's number but was reluctant to call them. They were probably asleep at this hour and all that would do was scare and worry them. She decided to postpone that idea. Calling Lois' mother occurred to her but she did not know where to contact her. Judy remembered that Lois' father was a physician but she did not know where he was living and seemed to recall that he was not in Metropolis. Besides, neither of the elder Lanes knew Judy or about her psychic ability and she was fairly sure they did not know Clark was Superman. No help there.
Again, she thought of calling either Dr. Klein or Jem since they knew more about treating Superman than anyone else. Neither of them knew that Clark was Superman, though they both knew Clark and they both knew Superman. At this moment, he looked more like Clark than Superman but did not really look like either one. How was she going to pull off maintaining Clark's secret identity if he did not look very super?
She did not have the Super-suit and she did not have his glasses. She did not wish to leave him alone to go to his apartment for them. Furthermore, dressing him in the suit seemed beyond her strength.
She knew he slicked back his hair but wasn't quite sure how he did that and she wondered how important it really was. Finding another doctor was also out of the question. Dr. Klein was brilliant but might not notice the lack of slick. Jem, on the other hand, was very sharp and might figure the whole secret out in seconds. He might also not take well to being called back to her apartment in the middle of the night to find Superman, naked, in his girlfriend's bed. She sighed, still completely stumped.
"It would really be grand if you could wake up and tell me what you want me to do," she muttered sarcastically at his insensible form. She paused, staring at him, and hoped he had heard her, immediately regretting the sarcasm. With another deep sigh, a few moments later, she realized that she was still on her own.
Perry White sat at his desk and worked on a statement for possible print in the Daily Planet. It was an announcement from Superman that he would cease his rescue attempts, and that he would admit he was wrong and he would apologize to the entire country of Atlantica.
The ransom note White had received for the lives of Lois and Clark was really meant for Superman. Unfortunately, a decision had to be made in time for the morning edition but Perry did not know how to contact Superman, short of yelling for help at the top of his lungs. That method worked for Lois but contacting the superhero from the newsroom was usually Kent's department.
The Editor-in-Chief rose from his desk and paced. If he didn't print the statement, his two star reporters might die. But if he printed the statement without Superman's permission, Superman could be embarrassed, angered or hampered in his rescue attempt or all three or worse. Although the friendly Kryptonian was purportedly invulnerable, there had been several newsworthy, nearly successful attempts to kill or injure the kind alien. Perry wished that young man would show up, as he was apt to do.
Instead, another young man walked through his office door. Jimmy was carrying a pile of Superman photos so Perry could choose one to run with the statement. Perry sighed.
"Chief, maybe we should go looking for CK and Lois ourselves."
"Where, Jimmy?" Perry thundered, his patience wearing thin.
"Ah, Chief, I…uh, I think I have to go check my e-mail," Jimmy said hurriedly, dropping the pictures and running.
White threw his red pencil across the room, barely missing his autographed picture of Elvis.
"Great shades… " he muttered.
Judy finally summoned the strength to pick up the wet bedding and put it into her small washer/dryer. She worried about the noise of the dryer disturbing Clark, since it was obvious he needed the rest. But the kitchen was at the opposite end of her apartment from the bedroom and he slept through. Some time later, she brought the dry bedding to the hall linen closet.
Clark began to make strange noises in his sleep. Judy came in from the hall and sat on the edge of the bed. Clark appeared to be having a bad dream. He began to thrash about and Judy tried to grab his shoulders to calm him. She called his name but had to shout because Clark was practically screaming. After a few more moments, he seemed to come awake and left off yelling.
Judy bent over him and tried to say some words of reassurance. Clark lifted his arms and grabbed her. He seemed grateful and his strength seemed to be returning. He hugged her and nuzzled her neck.
Judy was startled by that last move and tried to draw away. She knew in her heart two things: She was definitely attracted to him and he was definitely in love with Lois. She called his name. His eyes were still closed and he looked confused.
"Lois?" he asked tentatively, barely a whisper.
"No, it's Judy," she responded.
"Oh Lois, I'm so glad you're okay. I heard you scream."
Judy was again startled. He was delirious and could not hear her. But he confirmed what her psychic senses had already told her. Lois was in big trouble. Judy made a quick decision. Bad news was going to have to wait.
"Yes, Clark, I'm fine and soon, you will be too."
Lois was in distress now. Her arms had fallen asleep, she was really chilled, she was having trouble breathing after her crying jag and she still had to go to the bathroom. She tried calling through the gag to her captor for relief but he was either ignoring her, could not hear her or had left the building. Lois could not decide which was worse.
She thought of her friend Judy. Lois knew that Clark thought of her as an honorary sister and, despite Lois' initial distrust and jealousy, Judy had proved herself a good friend to Lois. Lois suddenly realized that there was a slim chance that Judy, of all the people Lois knew, was her best chance at rescue. Judy was psychic and had been responsible for Superman's rescue, which had made it possible for Lois herself to go to his aid. In addition, Judy had summoned him to rescue herself and Lois just a few months ago.
'Judy', Lois thought with all her might. She concentrated on repeating her friend's name like a mantra or prayer. 'If only she can 'hear' me,' Lois wished, promising herself that she would adopt the young woman as another sister too, the minute she got home.
Judy had just managed to calm Clark down when she was sure she heard Lois call her name. A few moments later she heard it again! Judy felt herself react in much the same way she had seen Clark respond when his Super-hearing picked up a distress call.
Judy listened with all her might. The voice was from her mind's ear and yet she was sure it was Lois calling to her. Judy was not sure whether to be glad or scared. She knew Lois was in need of help. Now she was afraid she was imagining Lois calling. But moments later, the voice seemed to rise to a whine and then a scream.
Judy reflexively covered her ears, though it was not logical. The voice was coming from the weird psychic nerve center that she often wished she did not possess. It was the same psychic nerve center that had nearly knocked her out as Jem left.
"Stop it already!" Judy heard herself say out loud with force. That was also not logical. She briefly thought about the women in thirteenth-century Scotland who were hung as witches if they were caught talking to themselves. Her head began to pound. "I'm coming!" she shouted out. Clark and the cats protested the interruption of their sleep with some moans.
Judy went to the phone and dialed Dr. Klein's number at S.T.A.R. Labs. His outgoing message dashed her hopes. He was away at a national research meeting and would not be returning for several days. Judy hung up, paused and then began to dial Jem's number. But before completing the call, she hung up again. She was torn. Jem was the man she hoped to build a relationship with, yet she could not take the responsibility of his possibly finding out one of the most vital secrets on the planet. Only Clark should decide who could know about his secret identity. There was a good chance that a man as smart and perceptive as Jem would guess the works. There was also a chance Jem would find out about it eventually and Judy knew it would be hard for him to accept that she did not tell him. She was completely aware that Clark had wrestled with this very problem recently, before Lois knew the secret. It was a maddening choice.
Finally, Judy looked at Clark and observed that he did not seem to be in pain and was sleeping calmly now. If she listened to her brain, she was sure she would find Lois quickly, just as she had found Clark. She decided that in his improved state he would be better off alone rather than risk Jem's involvement. Trying to explain anything to Jem would be just too complicated and would take too long. That decision made, Judy redressed more warmly and mostly in black, feeling a little as though she were emulating a 60's television spy, and left the house. Once again she was on a rescue mission. This time, though, she was very sure she would find Lois.
Jimmy and Perry had started arguing before midnight and had been at it for hours. It had actually started out as a mere discussion. Perry was still wrestling with the decision whether to print the demands in the ransom note or not. He had mentioned his conundrum to the younger man, who had expressed his opinion.
Before they knew it, they began talking to each other, not as boss to employee but as equals. Perry valued Jimmy's opinion and he wanted to hear it. Jimmy found that once he was being listened to, he could not shut up. They had delayed the press deadline and finally decided that they would print neither the demands or the story until they were able to find out where Lois and Clark were.
Judy stalked down one street and then another. There were still no taxis to be had, though the snow was now just a dusting. There were about three inches on the ground, which slowed her progress but she was sure that Lois was being held in a warehouse less than a mile away from Judy's apartment.
She mentally noted how interesting it was that this being her second such sojourn of the night, she was remarkably calmer, more self assured and absolutely confident that she would find Lois. She continued thinking along these lines, calculating a twenty minute walk in each direction, assuming she would not have to carry Lois back as well, which left twenty minutes to actually locate Lois, bringing her back home and to Clark's bedside in an hour. She fervently hoped she had made the right decision not to call Jem to Clark's care.
As she marched along, or as close to a march as she could manage in the slippery white accumulation, letting her subconscious be her guide, she tried to prepare herself for what might await her where Lois was being held. Judy was not armed, and except for some self-defense training, was not really capable of doing battle. She knew Lois was more familiar with martial arts, so her first line of defense would be to free Lois to defend both of them.
As Judy approached the building where her psychic senses told her Lois was trapped, she slowed her pace. She pulled out her flashlight and examined a door in the dark of a secluded corner. If there were cameras trained on it, she could not see them. She approached the door and tentatively pulled on the handle as she depressed the latch. To her immense surprise, it was not locked and there was light in the hallway beyond.
She let the door close again and took several deep breaths. She flung the door open again, charged into the lit hall and up the stairs that led to the next floor. She stopped for a moment, listening in vain for a response, and reaching out with her senses for Lois. Judy noted with a small smile of amusement that the rush she felt now was probably that very element of danger that Lois seemed to feed upon in her many escapades.
Judy proceeded to the third floor in the stairwell that was too brightly lit for her nerves. However, no cry of alarm, no mustering of personnel, and no evidence of many souls in the place met her intrusion. She felt very small, suddenly for a moment, her mind strayed to a memory of Clark and his parents in their kitchen in Kansas. She straightened her shoulders, determined to get Lois and get gone.
Judy approached a door at the end of the third floor landing, sure that Lois was on the other side. No one else seemed even to be in the place. Judy opened the door with great care and used her flashlight to see into the dark room beyond it. With a slight gasp, she recognized that there was someone with attractive legs tied to a chair lying backwards on the floor. In seconds, Judy was beside the chair looking into the gagged, scared face of Lois Lane.
Clark felt a nagging at the back of his mind. He was having nightmares and wanted to wake up. He struggled up from the depths of a healing sleep, despite the dreams. He wanted to be awake but his body would not let it happen.
He tried again, endeavoring to sit up, and sure he heard kittens meowing somewhere nearby. This was not his bed or his apartment. He could not figure out what was going on. He could only sense that suddenly, he had the very strong impression that Lois was safe.
He fell back to sleep and continued to dream. The kittens jumped onto the bed, but he did not awaken. Once again, they nestled near him.
Lois tried to talk to Judy despite her gag until Judy shushed her with one quick finger to her own lips. With some strength, Judy lifted the chair Lois was tied to off the floor and set it gently upright. She proceeded to untie Lois' arms and then her legs. Lois flexed her fingers and hands, trying hard to get the circulation working again. Finally, Judy removed the gag .
"Judy," Lois started in a stage whisper. "I… "
"Shhhhh! I'm not sure we're alone!"
Judy effectively shut Lois up and walked a few feet away to retrieve Lois' blanket that had been used to convey her to this location. Wrapping it around Lois' shoulders, Judy remained in motion and propelled her from the dark room to the lit landing, down the stairs and out the door to the street in a matter of moments.
Once in the open air, Judy encouraged Lois to move even more quickly for a couple of blocks. Finally Lois stopped short and tried to catch her breath. Judy glanced down at Lois' feet and realized that she was barefoot. Judy whipped off her gloves and made Lois put them on like half socks.
"Thanks," Lois managed, through her chattering teeth. Judy glanced down the streets looking for a cab, but saw none.
"Lois, I live just under a mile from here. I will hail a cab if I see one, but it looks like we'll have to walk. Can you manage?"
Lois nodded, tried to start a conversation and then could barely talk through her shivering. Judy took the lead.
"Let's keep moving," Judy urged.
Lois responded by walking forward.
"When we get to my house, I will find something warmer for you to put on."
"Clark?" Lois managed to ask.
"He's already there. He was really in a bad way when I found him."
Lois felt hot tears start down her cheeks as Judy urged her to continue walking. They proceeded and were soon within two blocks of Judy's apartment. Judy deliberately did not hail a cab they saw there, since they were almost at her home. In a few more minutes, Judy led Lois into her apartment and had her sit in the living room. Soon, Judy had Lois covered with the same blankets Judy had just dried after rescuing Clark.
Judy left her there to put water for tea in the microwave, and after serving the tea, went into her bedroom to check on Clark. He had turned over onto his side in the bed and was hugging the kittens to his chest. He was still dreaming but as Judy came in, he seemed to awaken. He grabbed Judy's arm.
"Lois!" he said.
"Yes?" Lois answered from the doorway.
Judy shushed her and waved her away. A few minutes later, Judy was able to extricate herself from Clark's grip and return to the living room to face a livid Lois.
"What was that all about?" Lois demanded.
"He's been mistaking me for you for most of the evening. Come on, we have to get you into a warm bath right now!"
"No, I want to talk to him first!"
"Lois, he's borderline delirious but he is improving."
"How can he think you are me? What did you do to confuse him?"
"I don't know but it doesn't matter. You're freezing. Let's see about warming you up. You may have frostbite in your feet."
Lois involuntarily shuddered and Judy grabbed her. In the bathroom, Judy started the bath water and had Lois stay in there, soaking her feet in increasingly warm water while the steam rose. Judy managed to remember that she had newly-purchased sweats in a size too large. She found them in the store bag where she had left them, intending to return them. She figured they would probably fit Lois and brought them to her along with two pairs of socks since she did not have large slippers.
About half an hour later, Lois emerged from the bathroom, feeling warmer and less angry and confused. As she silently made her way to Judy's bedroom, she heard a humming. It was Judy singing to Clark in a low, soft voice. The song was calming him like a lullaby would a child. Judy stood and let Lois change places with her. Very carefully, Lois reclined on top of the blanket covering Clark, careful not to smother the kittens. Judy covered Lois with another blanket and went to the living room to lie on the couch. Everyone slept.
Judy rolled over and, forgetting where she was, nearly fell off the couch. She was exhausted but realized she had to visit the bathroom, so sleep was over. Staggering to the hallway, she passed her bedroom and saw through sleepy eyes that Clark, Lois, and the kittens were all intertwined and sleeping peacefully.
On her way back from the bathroom, Judy noted that it was almost six in the morning. The apartment was chilly but she knew the heat was about to come on. She made her way to the kitchen and was heartened to see the sun emerging from its rosy nest in the east. The snow of the previous night was almost completely gone. With a great sigh of relief and satisfaction, and despite sleep deprivation, Judy cheerfully made breakfast.
Judy brought steaming coffee and canned tuna to her patients and all four of them were awake. Clark, who greeted her with shy bashfulness, seemed better, alert, not confused, happy Lois was there, grateful for Judy's rescue. Lois seemed to be uncharacteristically humbled, was blushing from something Clark had just said to her, and was apologetic towards Judy. As the sun came around through the bedroom windows, Clark improved dramatically and visibly and everyone else enjoyed seeing it.
Although Lois wanted to get to work writing up the story of what happened to her, she was too tired to move at first. Clark, for all his improvement, was so enjoying being where he was, cuddling Lois and the kittens, that he did not want to get up.
Finally, Judy got dressed, announcing a plan to get Lois and Clark their own clothes. Lois was adamant that Judy bring her a suit so she could go to work. Judy promised to do her best and left to hail a cab, shaking her head at Lois' stubborn streak.
As Judy shut the door of her apartment, Lois glanced up at Clark and blushed, realizing that they were alone now and in bed together.
"What did they do to you?" she asked tentatively. She tried to establish eye contact with him but he glanced away at her question. He was sitting up and to her looked perfectly gorgeous despite his recent plight and he was stroking the fur of one of the tiny, protesting kittens in the crook of his muscular arm.
"I don't think I can tell you all of it right now."
"Can you tell me part of it?"
Clark sighed and debated with himself how much to tell her. He felt that telling her the whole truth was important but did not feel up to relating the whole tale of his humiliation.
"They had a very dangerous type of gun, Lois. It had a molecular effect on me that I have never experienced before."
"So they really hurt you."
Clark swallowed but nodded. He continued.
"They also had Kryptonite in there." Her eyes got wide.
"They must know you are Superman!"
"No, I don't think they ever figured that out."
"How can you be sure? They might have been gunning for you. They probably wanted to kill you."
Usually, Clark admired her fire and brilliance but at this moment, he wanted her to stop obsessing.
"Lois, please, I was there and I think they just thought I was Clark Kent. I don't have the impression that they concluded anything but that the gun worked on me. Besides, if they had known, they would not have needed to hold you."
"No they didn't. I think they just abandoned me. No one followed us out of the building."
Her agitation caused her to get out of the bed, which Clark had not wanted at all.
"Lois, I think that when Superman did not show up to rescue either me or you, the people behind this just decided they had failed to lure him into their trap and bugged out. Come back to the bed, please."
Lois had started pacing, ignoring his outstretched hand and getting herself more riled up by the second.
"No, suppose they figured it out but didn't let on?"
"I mean they must have figured it out from your clothes."
Clark could feel his exasperation rise.
"Lois, I don't think they figured anything out. I don't think they were that smart."
"Maybe they were and they were so smart, they didn't let you see it."
"Lois, sit down. It's not worth getting worked up."
"What do you mean not worth it? They could be planning the next assault on you."
"Judy could be walking into a trap. I should try to call her. I mean, once they saw the Suit… "
Clark was about to answer her but shook his head and looked toward the nearest window. Lois felt tears spring to her eyes. Clark looked forlorn and she felt guilty. She had promised herself that she would not do this again. She was instantly ashamed for having argued with him.
"I'm sorry, Clark," she said, standing still finally. He did not respond right away. She moved back toward the bed and climbed on over all the blankets, picking up the other kitten along the way so as not to sit on it.
"Clark, it's my fault. I'm sorry. I was just so worried that they would jump to conclusions once they roughed you up. The Kryptonite would compromise your aura. One tear in your shirt and they would see the Suit and… "
His face turned toward her and he put one hand on her arm, stopping her. "Lois, they did not see the Suit. I wasn't wearing it."
"You weren't wearing it?" She was surprised.
"No." He tried to look her in the eye but got only as far as her neck.
"What were you wearing, then?"
Clark sighed again.
"I was ready to go to sleep when they showed up."
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You were wearing pajamas?"
"No, just shorts."
"Just shorts." He swallowed. "Later… they ripped the shorts off."
Lois' eyes got wide again as she caught the words he had barely been able to utter. It was her turn to swallow. She was not sure whether shock or anger dominated in her mind at that moment. It had not been enough for them to hurt him. They had also humiliated him. Then she realized he had been in a worse position even than she.
"I'm sorry, Clark. I was tied to a chair the whole time but at least I had a nightgown though I… "
"All you had was a nightgown?"
He glanced toward the bathroom and he could not stop his x-ray vision from showing him how brief indeed the nightgown hanging there was.
Lois… " He could not speak but handed the kitten across the bed and drew Lois into a close hug.
"I'm sorry I failed you."
"I think I failed you, too."
They embraced in mutual silence, each wishing to heal the other.
Later that morning, after Judy informed her office that she would be taking the day off, Lois and Clark and Judy went to the Daily Planet. On their way, they discussed the events of the previous night. Judy listened to the dozen or so scenarios Lois had come up with in short order. Finally, Judy mentioned that she did not want to be identified as their rescuer in the story, if the two reporters wrote up the story.
Lois looked at Clark, who nodded and they proceeded to work out the story they would give Perry White. In the end, they decided to say that Superman had rescued them but that they would continue to keep Superman's prisoner liberation activities quiet. Judy suspected that as soon as Superman was feeling better, there would be more prisoners freed.
When they arrived at the newsroom, a tired Perry practically broke down with relief to see Clark and Lois walk in, unharmed to all appearances. Jimmy ran over to give them hugs and continued down the line to Judy in the next moment. She hugged him back even though she barely knew him, her giggle sounding tired in her own ears. Jimmy giggled back in high spirits and delighted excitement, then turned to talk to Clark. He and Lois were holding onto one another and seemed united against the onslaught, even though these people were all their friends. Judy looked at them, proud that she had been of real service to them.
She was suddenly and unexpectedly overcome. Eager not to garner notice, she slipped away and decided to go back home. When she hit the street, she made an effort to calm down while she was in public. She told herself that she could cry at home, as usual, in solitude.
Solitude. For most of her adult life, providing herself solitude was a promise she kept to herself. When one cried in solitude, one did not have to explain to anyone. One did not have to navigate through the fears or impatience or selfishness of another when one was feeling supremely sorry for oneself. After existing in the occasionally volatile but mostly affectionate Lois and Clark orbit, Judy was left feeling that her lonesome path was not all it was cracked up to be. She thought about how, on the evening before, she had deliberately pushed away the one person who might really have been able to help her every step of the way, secret identities notwithstanding.
Finally, as she reached the next corner, she went to the pay phone she saw there. Promising herself that she would one day follow her brother's advice and get a cell phone, she ruefully dialed a number.
When the call was answered, she tried to keep the shaking out of her voice, a losing battle against exhaustion and need.
"Jem? I'd like to see you, Jem. As soon as possible. How early can you come over?"