By Irene Dutch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted August 2000
Summary: In this rewrite of the episode "Individual Responsibility," Superman confesses his "real feelings" to Lois — in front of the bad guys! Can Clark salvage the situation? Or will Lois forever be targeted as "Superman's girl"?
On one level, I always liked the episode 'Individual Responsibility' as it has a lot of humour in it. On another level, though, it irritated me. If, as Dr. Friskin hypothesised, Clark's innermost feelings were being released by his having been exposed to red Kryptonite, then why did he ignore Lois? And why didn't he express his feelings to her? I wouldn't be a FoLC if I didn't try to rewrite the episode to address these issues.
Many thanks to my beta-readers, Wendy Richards and Laurie, for their extremely helpful constructive criticism. As always, it was much appreciated.
Many thanks, also, to the wonderful readers on Zoom's message boards for their encouragement and constructive criticism.
All standard disclaimers apply.
*The street outside the Daily Planet - 7:45 a.m.*
It was a beautiful, sunny day, but Lois barely noticed. She felt very tense and awkward as she walked by Clark's side, sipping her coffee and not speaking to him. She sighed. Had it come to this - that they couldn't even be friendly? It wasn't like he had made any type of protest when Daniel Scardino had asked her out. What right did Clark have to be upset after the fact?
Lois glanced at him surreptitiously to discover that he was pointedly looking away from her. She could see that the little muscle in his cheek was twitching - the muscle that always jumped and danced whenever he felt deeply about something.
"So, how was your ice cream date with Agent Scardino?" Clark asked, awkwardly.
Not a subject that Lois wanted to tackle with Clark! She pointedly looked off into the distance. "Now, there's my favourite sight in the whole world - the truck that delivers our payroll cheques."
"Okay, if you don't want to talk about it, I understand."
Lois sighed. "It was… okay. I had chocolate; he ordered Rocky Road."
"And you talked about…?"
"Things… lots of things. And at least he stuck around long enough to have a conversation, unlike some people I know who are always running off!"
"Lois, I do not always run off…" His words were interrupted by the Payroll Guard's shouts.
Three armed, masked men attacked the guard as he unloaded a large box of cheques from his van. A car idled next to the van, its windows tinted an ominous black.
Clark blurted out, "I'll call the cops!" as he dashed away.
"Unbelievable!" Lois shook her head as he disappeared around yet another corner. Why did Clark always have to be the one to call the cops? Why couldn't he hang around and watch and let her be the one to make the phone call. Lois thought about it for a split-second. Nah! It was more fun being right on top of the action. But watching the action unfold and taking mental notes for her story didn't mean there was nothing she could do. She raised her voice and yelled for help as loud as she could.
To her relief, Superman swooped down beside her to land in a flurry of blue, red and yellow. She sighed in relief as she turned to him with a pleased smile.
He glanced at her cup of coffee, smiled and said, "Don't worry, Lois, they'll be in jail before you can say 'cappuccino'."
She grinned in appreciation of his light-hearted comment as he launched himself back into the air and put on a short burst of speed to land in front of the criminals.
"I'm afraid you'll have to take a rain check on those cheques, boys," she heard him say as he folded his arms across his chest in his trademark Superman pose.
"Really? What if we don't want to?" one of the burglars asked brazenly.
As Lois watched, Superman's body language changed completely. One second, he was standing tall and proud - authoritative - the next, he looked as if he had relaxed completely - almost like someone had cut invisible strings holding him up.
"Oh… maybe nothing. I mean, they'll just have to reissue them, so… what do I care?" Superman sighed lugubriously.
Lois couldn't believe her ears.
Superman didn't even bother looking up when the criminals loaded themselves into their getaway vehicle and took off. He did look up when Lois ran up to him, though.
"Superman, you let them get away!" she exclaimed accusingly as she looked at him in disbelief.
He had a strange look on his face as he gazed deep into her eyes. He didn't react but instead just stared at her blankly.
"Did you hear what I said? Superman?"
"You let them get away!"
"Lois, I…" He paused, shaking his head.
"You're so beautiful, Lois," he blurted out to her shock and disbelief.
Superman smiled at her guilelessly. "Yes. You must know I've loved you from the first moment I saw you."
"What?" she gasped.
"You must have known… I'm not very good at hiding my feelings…" He cupped her cheek gently in his large hand. "I love you."
Lois didn't know what to say. She didn't know what she felt in the face of this surprising declaration. "But, but," she sputtered, sounding like an outboard motor. "But the bad guys…"
"You think I should stop them?"
Lois nodded dumbly, too shocked to say anything.
Superman lightly ran his fingers through her hair, tucking an errant strand back behind her ear. A grin spread over his face, and his eyes lit up. "For a fair lady - anything!" He disappeared in a great whoosh of sound only to reappear a moment later supporting the weight of the getaway vehicle. He casually ripped the doors off the car, pulled the three criminals from the front seat and, with one man in one hand, and the two other men hanging limply from his other hand, strolled over to talk to Lois once more.
"So, what do you think?" he asked, proudly displaying the dangling men as if they were some strange sort of fish he had caught.
"Um, yes, well, very nice, Superman," Lois said, not knowing what else she could say.
"That was a good idea you had." He beamed at her, happily. It made him look mentally unbalanced. It also made her feel very uncomfortable.
Superman smiled at her affectionately. "You know, catching them. That was a good idea. I wouldn't have bothered if you hadn't suggested it. It gets a little frustrating catching the same criminals over and over again. I have to tell you that you're absolutely brilliant. You've got the best mind of anyone I know. And the best body, too. And your face - you have the face of an angel!"
Lois looked up at him helplessly. "Um, well, thank you, I think. I, uh, I only wanted to help."
"You're welcome." He put the three men down, pointed a finger at them and sternly said, "Stay!"
Their masks still hid their faces, but Lois had the definite feeling that the men were quite intimidated by this strange, new, almost aggressively casual Superman. They looked at each other, looked back at Superman, and nodded in unison.
Superman turned back to Lois and eyed her appreciatively. He took a step towards her and then another. She regarded him nervously.
"Lois, I love you so much, and I have something important to tell you… It's something I've been wanting to share with you for a long time…" He paused, shook his head and looked confused. As she watched, a look of panic spread over his face. "I better go," he blurted, taking to the air before she had a chance to respond.
"But, but," Lois sputtered once more.
He didn't turn back.
Lois regarded the scene in front of her. The armoured truck was blocking traffic, and bits and pieces of the getaway car were scattered across the street. People milled around in a panic. Police cars were rapidly approaching, and there were three thieves standing in front of her, eyeing her speculatively. She looked back in the sky to see if she could still see Superman, but he was gone, leaving an unusual amount of chaos in his wake.
*Daily Planet - 8 a.m.*
The elevator doors opened, and Lois and Clark emerged. It had been an uncharacteristically quiet ride up to the newsroom. Lois wasn't saying anything - too happy about her knight in shining armour's declaration, Clark thought bitterly, and Clark certainly didn't want to say a word. All sorts of bold statements were just waiting to leap carelessly out of his mouth if he were to open it. 'I love you' being one; 'I am Superman' another.
He just couldn't understand what was going on inside his head. What had he been thinking? How could he have said those things? How could he have told her that he loved her? Oh, it was true. He did love Lois Lane, but he certainly didn't want to encourage her to reciprocate those feelings when he was in his other persona. No, he wanted her to fall in love with Clark Kent, would-be normal guy. He snuck a sideways peek at the love of his life only to discover that she didn't look happy at all. She looked very, very worried.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Lois opened her mouth, shook her head and closed it again. She looked puzzled. Who was she thinking about, Clark wondered, Superman or…
"You thinking about your date with Sardine-face again?" Clark was shocked by the vitriol dripping from his own words, but he couldn't seem to restrain himself. His emotions were running away with him, and he didn't know how to stop.
"What?" Lois exclaimed.
"I don't like him, Lois," Clark blurted out. "There's something fishy about him. He's not right for you. You deserve better."
"Like who? Someone who ducks out of conversations when they get a little bit scary? Someone who wouldn't know what a commitment is if one were to hit them in the face?"
"Are you making a crack about me?" Clark asked angrily. Rage mixed with despair filled his whole being.
"Hey, if the shoe fits…"
"Well, it doesn't fit, Lois. It doesn't fit because I'm nuts about you. I think you're the most wonderful person I've ever met, and I'd be thrilled to make an exclusive commitment to you. But you can't say the same, can you? You're too busy playing the field with Mr. 'Call me Daniel' and Superman, aren't you? You're too busy to see the man standing right in front of you!"
Lois fell into her chair and stared up into Clark's face. She'd turned pale at the start of his soliloquy and shook her head as she listened. "That's not fair, Clark…"
"You know what, Lois? I don't feel like being fair today. I'm tired of always being the one who's fair. Why don't you try being fair for a change? It might be an interesting change of pace!"
Too late, he noted the sheen of tears in her eyes.
"Oh, jeez, Lois," he blurted out interrupting her, his anger melting away to nothing in the face of her distress. "I'm sorry. You're right. I'm not being fair. Forget I said anything. Just, um, put it out of your mind," he said, feeling a rush of blind panic sweep through his system. What was with him, today? First, he blurted out how he felt about her, both as Superman and as himself, and then he castigated her viciously. Now, he found himself blinking away his own tears as he realised how badly he had hurt Lois. "I should, um, go and… uh, I should go to the police station and find out about those guys. I'll be back in a bit…" He turned on his heel and dashed ignominiously for the exit. He had to run away from this. It was too intense for him.
"But Clark, we have to talk…" he heard as he scurried through the door to the stairs.
He half-flew up the stairs till he reached the roof. Stifling a sob, he spun into his suit and leapt up into the refuge of the sky.
*The same time - Metropolis Police Station, 73rd precinct*
"It'd go easier for you if you talked to us now," Inspector Henderson told Gene Newtrich.
Newtrich had an uncharacteristically firm look on his soft, pudgy face. "Not without my lawyer," he said.
Inspector Henderson gave up. He had asked this question a couple of times, and the answer stayed the same. It looked like it would continue to stay the same. He pushed himself up from the table and locked Newtrich in the holding cage in the corner of the interview room. Perhaps he'd have better luck with the other two.
*2,000 feet above Metropolis - 8:25 a.m.*
High above the streets of Metropolis, Clark flew aimlessly back and forth. Somehow, he always seemed to end up back where he had started, hovering over the Daily Planet building and checking on Lois. She was working doggedly at her desk, not taking any breaks. To the average observer, she'd look completely normal and unaffected by the day's events, but Clark wasn't an average observer. He could tell that her muscles were so tight they were on the verge of going into spasm. He could tell that her blood pressure was up, higher than normal. He watched as, from time to time when no one was looking, she wiped the odd tear away from her eyes. Every time that she did, he winced, another pang of guilt stabbing him in the chest.
*The same time - Intergang headquarters*
"No, Dad, I don't know what's in poi, but it's okay to eat it… What? Yes, I haven't forgotten about Operation Nirvana… Okay… Okay. Don't hula too hard. Aloha." Bill Church, Junior, hung up the phone and agitatedly puffed on a cigar. The red Kryptonite hadn't worked. Superman had come through in the end and stopped his men from stealing the Daily Planet's payroll cheques. It looked like they'd have to come up with another plan to deal with the superhero.
His intercom buzzed.
"Mr. Kaprinsky's here to see you, Mr. Church," his secretary announced.
Newtrich's lawyer? Here? Why, he wondered. "Send him in."
Much later, after the fawning lawyer had left, Bill lit a fresh cigar. He inhaled luxuriously as he contemplated the information that Kaprinsky had brought him. Okay, the red Kryptonite hadn't been an unqualified success, but it had certainly garnered some interesting information for Intergang. So Superman had a babe. Bill looked at a picture of Lois Lane. Yep, she certainly was attractive. Hmmm, this situation had the potential to kill two birds with one stone. With the right plan, he'd be able to control the Daily Planet, and more importantly, he'd be able to control Superman.
He leaned back in his chair and aimed the remote control at his VCR. He wanted to watch the video once more that he had purchased from the oh-so-handy tourist. He found Superman's body language absolutely fascinating. From what he could see, and from what Kaprinsky had passed on to him from Newtrich, the red Kryptonite made Superman extremely susceptible to suggestion while freeing him from any and all inhibitions. It would have worked just fine if a certain Lois Lane hadn't been in the vicinity to open her big mouth. Interesting. Very interesting.
What would happen if Lois Lane were taken out of the mix? Could he do it without Superman flying to the rescue? Maybe, he thought, assessing all the risks inherent in the plan. His men would have to be armed with a small chunk of the Red Kryptonite in case the Superhero showed up. He'd chisel a piece off the main chunk, himself. And he needed someone expendable to take all the risks. Hmmm, someone expendable - whom did he know who was expendable?
"Sandra!" Bill Church, Jr. bellowed.
"Yes, boss." His pretty blonde assistant stuck her head in the door.
"Get Scooter Haynes on the phone. Tell him I want Newtrich released on bail as soon as possible.
*The Daily Planet - 9 a.m.*
Clark hovered in the air above the Daily Planet building once more. He felt normal again, he thought. He reviewed the rescues he had done in the hour. Yes, he was back to normal now. Maybe. He had wanted to talk philosophy with the gang members he had caught raiding their rivals' clubhouse, but had managed to resist. He'd nearly blubbered like a baby when he'd reunited the lost child with her mother, but again, he hadn't; he'd controlled himself. And on his last rescue, he hadn't been tempted at all to embrace the inner child of the mugger who had stolen the old lady's purse. Surely all that meant that he had control of his emotions once more. Maybe. He hoped. It had to. He'd been away from work for a long time, and eventually he was going to have to go back - if he wanted to keep his job, that is.
He flew down to the roof, carefully surveyed his surroundings and spun into his street clothes once more. Crossing his fingers, he headed down the stairs to the newsroom.
Clark managed to slink, shamefaced, to his desk without attracting any attention. Lois was away from her own desk, he noticed with relief. With any luck, he could bury himself in his work before she came back.
But he didn't manage to lose himself in his work. Instead, he was lost in thought, still striving to figure out exactly what the heck had happened, and how he could have been so foolish. It was true that he was frustrated over Agent Scarface's interest in Lois, but that was no excuse for Superman telling her that he loved her. Clark blanched as he realised suddenly to his shock and dismay that not only had Superman told Lois that he loved her, but he'd done it in front of three criminals. If she got hurt… If anyone tried to get at Superman through her… He'd be responsible. It would be his fault.
Clark surveyed the newsroom, frantically trying to locate Lois. She had to be here… What if she'd gone out? He needed to know where she was so he could protect her. To his relief, he spotted her at the coffee machine, replenishing her cup. He glanced back down as she turned to head back to her desk.
"C.K., here are the photos you need for the Quine project."
Clark looked up with a jolt to see Jimmy standing in front of him, holding out a folder. "Huh? Oh. Sorry. I was just wondering why Superman nearly let those crooks get away."
"Was that wild or what? I mean, what was he thinking?"
"I don't know. I — He just didn't seem to… care if they got away or not."
Jimmy grinned and glanced in Lois's direction. "He might not have cared about them," he said, "but we know who he does care about."
Clark groaned. "Does everyone know what he said?"
Jimmy nodded. "No. Lois told Perry, and I happened to, uh, overhear, but he won't say anything to anyone, and I won't either. Too bad Superman said all that in front of those robbers, though. Not very smart."
Clark groaned once more. Even Jimmy knew how dumb he'd been. He glanced away from his friend to see a deliveryman exiting the elevators carrying a huge, overdone arrangement of tulips. The man made a beeline towards Lois who was now back at her desk.
Clark got up and strode over, vigilant, worried that this might not be what it seemed. He relaxed a little as he surreptitiously x-rayed the bouquet and the man's clothing and didn't discover anything more untoward than the fact that the man wore black satin boxers under his uniform. Clark winced a little upon discovering that piece of information that he'd rather not know, but bravely continued on, arriving at Lois's desk as she signed for the flowers.
"Don't tell me, Agent Scarecrow's on a stakeout in a florist's shop."
"Jealousy is so unbecoming, don't you think?" Lois didn't look up at him. Instead she focused on the colourful bouquet. Clark couldn't help but notice colour flooding into her cheeks.
"I wouldn't exactly call it jealousy."
Lois looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Okay, I guess I would call it jealousy, but… maybe we could discuss it Saturday night? Say… over dinner and after a show?"
Lois looked back down at her flowers. "Clark… I have plans Saturday night," she said, softly.
Clark glanced at the flowers, then back to Lois. He felt tears prick his eyes. "Lois, I know I sometimes seem to dart away just when things start to get serious, but now I feel like you're the one who's backing off."
Lois half turned away from him. "Oh, look, a note… 'Dear Lois. Sorry, but I need to reschedule lunch; I have to go out of town. Should be back by Saturday. Can't wait. Yours in tulips, Dan.'"
"Maybe subconsciously Dan the dud has finally realized he's no good for you and is avoiding you."
"Was that a joke?"
"Kind of. But seriously, maybe you and I are both a little afraid of the same thing … of being completely intimate."
"Thank you, Dr. Freud. You didn't seem too scared a few hours ago. No, your words completely contradicted your actions, and now I don't know what to think, Clark. I mean, if you're not scared to commit to me, why the heck do you always run away from me?"
"I don't always run away from you," Clark protested.
"Ha! You run faster than a cheetah when things get too hot for you. And then you have the nerve to lecture me when every move you've made has only been designed to confuse me." Lois looked down at the flowers once again. "You hurt me, Clark," she said, quietly. "You've never deliberately hurt me before."
"I know," Clark answered, softly. "I'm sorry. I… I am jealous!" he blurted out. "I do have strong feelings for you, and when I see you with someone who looks like he's a refugee from Hawaii 5-O, it drives me crazy."
Lois's eyes looked suspiciously moist. "So, why didn't you say anything before? Why didn't you kick up a fuss when he asked me out? Why have you been shutting me out?"
"I … I don't know," Clark stuttered. He opened his mouth to continue when he caught sight of Perry talking a mile a minute on his phone and gesturing at the two of them with his free hand. Clark jerked his head towards his boss and said hesitantly, "Maybe we should talk about this later. It looks like Perry needs us."
Lois put her very large bouquet of flowers down. "Yeah, we can postpone this, Clark, but don't think it's over. I want some answers out of you."
As they entered Perry's office, he hung up the phone and turned to face them.
"What's up, Chief?" Clark asked, trying to focus all his attention on Perry, yet still very aware of Lois standing beside him.
"This is right out of the blue. No warning. Mr. Stern's got an offer and he's thinking about selling The Planet to Multiworld Communications."
"NO! He can't sell it to Intergang!" Lois exclaimed.
"Now, Lois, we've never had any proof that Intergang runs Multiworld Communications."
"Everybody on the street knows it! Bill Church ran Intergang, and now that he's retired, his son does!"
"Whoa whoa whoa. Put a brake on that wagon. I know you've been working on that story since November, but you're talking about Bill, Jr. I've known him since he was old enough to throw up on me!"
"Oh, that means he's innocent," Lois retorted, sarcastically.
"Billy used to caddy for me and his Dad, and the only thing he took over from Bill, Sr. is Costmart Stores. And he's doubled the stock. Now he's one of the biggest philanthropists in the country.
"And certainly the biggest fake."
"Chief!" Clark interrupted. "What did Mr. Stern say he was going to do about the offer?"
"Well, between the printers' strike and the delivery drivers' sick-out," Perry drawled, "he was this close to selling, but I talked him out of it…"
"Great!" Lois exclaimed.
"… at least for seventy-two hours. Then we're goners. Unless… we can prove to Mr. Stern, and me, that Bill Church, Jr. is behind Intergang."
Lois looked at Clark helplessly before turning to her boss once more. "Seventy-two hours?"
"It'll take us that long just to contact all our sources," Clark pointed out, quickly.
"Hey, you want to swim with the billionaires, you gotta swim fast. Now, get cracking. Meet me at McGinty's at noon, and you can bring me up to speed on what you got so far."
"Chief, it's nine fifteen in the morning," Clark said. "How much do you expect us to dig up in just a couple of hours?"
"Am I still in charge here?" Perry asked, bluntly. "When I say noon, I mean, noon! Now move!"
Clark and Lois headed out the door without any further ado, leaving their boss tearing his hair out behind them.
Lois and Clark emerged from the elevator into the underground parking lot.
"We're really going to have to hustle to try and find everybody by noon," Lois said. "I already phoned Bobby, but we still have quite a few sources to track down."
"If it helps keep us from being sold to Multiworld Communications, I'm all for it."
"What, you don't want to be writing stories about 'My Stepmother Was An Alien Go-Go Dancer'?" Lois asked with a smile.
Clark grinned back. As he looked into her eyes, however, his grin faded. "Lois, I'm sorry about earlier. I don't know what got into me."
"I don't know what got into you either, Clark," Lois replied. "We have to talk, but we don't have time now. I guess we'll catch the bad guys, blah, blah, blah, and then we can talk."
A black van screeched around a support beam and squealed to a halt in front of them. The sliding door opened to reveal three men in black hoods, all pointing guns at the two reporters.
As their hands slowly went up into the air, Clark murmured to Lois, "Or the other way around."
"Huh?" she whispered.
"You said 'catch the bad guys.' Unfortunately, it's happening the other way around."
One of the three men stepped forward away from the van. He made a surreptitious gesture at one of the other men who, unnoticed by Lois and Clark, opened a box to reveal a red, glowing crystal. "Ms. Lane, you're invited to be our guest." He half-turned to Clark. "And you, whoever you are, it looks like you'll be sharing some quality time with Ms. Lane."
"Sounds good to me," Clark drawled.
"Huh?" Lois turned to Clark in time to see a goofy grin spread over his face. How did Clark make his current stance with hands in the air look so casual and relaxed?
"Hey, Lois, you know we were just saying that we needed to find time to talk. This looks like a golden opportunity to me."
The leader motioned them over to the van.
"Lucky I was with you," Clark said as he followed Lois to the vehicle. The three men moved out of their way, keeping them covered with their guns. "I'd sure hate to miss out on us getting to spend time alone. You know how I feel about you."
"Clark," Lois muttered from between tightly clenched teeth as her hands were cuffed behind her back. "Do you really think this is the time or place for this discussion?"
"No time like the present," Clark replied, beaming at her, not even seeming to notice that his own hands were being cuffed. "Think of it as an opportunity to spend quality time together."
"Clark, what are you on? We're being kidnapped. We're not talking Club Med here."
"I don't know, Lois. When I'm with you, I feel as though…"
"Would the two of you please shut up?" the leader of the three men exclaimed. "You're really beginning to irritate me." He moved in front of Lois and gently placed a cloth bag over her head. "Don't worry. There are lots of air holes in this. It's not comfortable, but you won't suffocate."
The last thing Lois saw as the bag covered her eyes was her partner winking rakishly at her, goofy grin still in place.
*Sidewalk in front of the Daily Planet - 9:45 a.m.*
Perry emerged from the front door of the Planet. He'd decided to head out a little early, look for some of his sources. One thing that Lois and Clark sometimes forgot, he still had sources. After all, he'd been a newshound in this city for a long time. It wasn't time to put Perry White out to pasture!
He waited for the stoplight to change when he heard a voice shout his name. Turning on his heel, he spied a shiny black limousine idling by the curb. The rear window was half-open, and there was a familiar face peering out at him. The rear door opened, and Church gestured to him to get in.
"Nice of you to save me the trouble of coming up to see you, Perry."
"Billy! How the heck are you, son?"
"Just fine, Perry," Church drawled. "How about you? How's Alice?" He slid over on the seat leaving lots of room for Perry to enter.
"We're just fine, thanks, Billy," Perry said as he clambered into the limo. "What can I do for you?"
Church's large chauffeur slid onto the seat opposite Perry.
"Well… since you asked, you can tell Mr. Stern that he should sell The Daily Planet to Multiworld Communications.
"Why would I do that, son?"
"Oh, I don't know, Perry. Perhaps because you're missing a couple of reporters, and I'm the one who has them."
"Intergang. I run it. Now do the pieces fit?"
"Like horns on a June bug. You're behind Multiworld Communication's offer to buy the Planet?"
"Of course," Church drawled, sounding very amused. "Not only did I take over Dad's legit business, but I took over Intergang, too - kind of a two for one deal. Unfortunately, you made Mr. Stern hesitate on our bid, so… I thought this might help to tip the scales. Now, don't be upset, Perry. If he sells, you still have a job. I want you to stay on."
"The only paper you're about to become publisher of is the Maximum Security Monthly."
"Perry, look, I'm making you an offer. I want you to be part of the Intergang family. You and Alice will be taken care of for life. We've got a great medical program and a terrific retirement plan."
"You're serious, aren't you?" Perry asked, indignantly.
"And just what would give you the fool idea that I'd go along with this little plot of yours?"
"So indignant! Bravissimo. I'd expect nothing less from the crusading Perry White. How soon we forget, however? Do the names 'Lois Lane' and 'Clark Kent' ring any bells?"
"What have you done to them?"
The beefy chauffeur shifted, uncomfortably, but Church put up his hand, calming him down.
"You better calm down. Watch that blood pressure. You don't have access to our medical program just yet." Church chuckled deep in his throat. "Don't you fret about your crack team of reporters. They're just fine. They're enjoying some quality time together. Now then, Perry, I know this is a lot to absorb. Think it over. We'll talk some more. Then we'll see." Church's very large chauffeur opened the rear door and pointedly waited for Perry to step out.
As he did, he admonished Church, fervently, "I'd be phoning my attorney if I were you! You'll be in jail longer than a cat with nine lives!"
Church just waved dismissively as his limo pulled away from the curb. Perry stood and watched it go. What was he going to do? "Superman, where are you when I need you?" he muttered. Perry thought for a minute. How were they going to find him? Normally Clark or Lois contacted Superman. He ran for the elevator and rode it back up to the newsroom. The doors sprang open, Perry jumped out, opened his mouth and bellowed one word. "JIMMY!"
*Intergang Headquarters - 10:15 a.m.*
Lois stumbled as she was shoved through the doorway of the underground chamber. Clark entered more gracefully. While one man stood guard with his gun, another man uncuffed their hands. Before they could take their hoods off, the two men left, locking the door behind them.
They pulled the black cloth off their faces and looked around the room. Eyes wide, Lois looked anywhere but at her partner. Clark woozily watched her as she surveyed the room. Seeing heavy drapes lining one wall, she stalked over and pulled them open only to discover that there was no window, and that the opening only led to a solid rock wall.
With the exception of the lack of a view, the room was actually very tastefully decorated. The furniture looked comfortable as well as quite expensive.
"This looks nice," Clark said, a tone of surprise in his voice.
Lois sniffed audibly, walked over to the door and started examining the lock.
Clark threw himself down on the couch, spreading himself out on it into a lounging position. He leaned forward to take the lid off a serving dish on the coffee table in front of him. "Hey, appetizers!" he exclaimed, happily. He popped one into his mouth and chewed it with gusto. "Oh, man, that was good. You should try one."
Lois glared at him as she continued to explore the room. "I'm so glad that you're making the best of this, Clark," she snapped.
The sarcasm went right over Clark's head. He ate another appetizer and then beamed at her. "I could get used to this. This is the life!"
Lois marched over to look down in disgust at her partner. "Clark! In case you haven't noticed, we're being held prisoner. We can't just stroll outside whenever we want."
Clark chuckled, not intimidated in the slightest. "It's nothing new to me. I've been a prisoner for a couple of years now."
"You captured my heart the first day I met you." He quickly pulled Lois onto his lap. "Wanna neck?"
"What?" Lois jumped to her feet. "I most certainly do not want to neck! Clark! We've been kidnapped, and you're acting like this is a good thing. What's going on?"
Clark looked surprised at her words. His forehead wrinkled a bit as he thought hard. A puzzled look came over his face. "I, uh, honestly don't know."
"Don't know? Well, who do I call who does know?"
"Lois, it's difficult to explain. It's like I suddenly got my priorities straight. You know, I took stock of my life."
"You took stock of your life? You got your priorities straight? How straight can they be, Clark? We've been kidnapped, The Planet is about to be sold, and you're coming on to me!"
Clark helplessly looked up at Lois. "I don't know what's going on. All I know is that I have these feelings … these moods … It's as if all this stuff that I've been cramming deep inside of me has just decided that it has to come out."
"Get over it. Your timing stinks!" Lois snarled only to flinch when she saw Clark's eyes become suspiciously moist at her words.
"I'm sorry," he said, hunching over and wrapping his arms around himself. "I don't know what's got into me."
"No, Clark," Lois said with a sigh, her anger dissipating in the face of Clark's obvious distress. "I'm sorry. There's obviously something going on with you, and I'm not being very sympathetic. Tell me. Have you ever had these mood swings before?"
Lois sat down beside her friend and gently placed a hand on his arm. "And now, for no particular reason, you feel kind of down? Kind of like, what's the point of everything?"
"I don't know why I'm overreacting, Lois, but there is a reason that I'm down," Clark confessed, sadly.
"What?" Her arm encircled his shoulders as he stared at the ground.
Clark looked up at her, his eyes glistening, more solemn than she had ever seen him. "I've been feeling horrible ever since …"
"Ever since what?" she prompted, softly.
Anger spread over Clark's face, the sudden change in expression making her recoil from him.
"Ever since Stupid Agent Man turned up! What do you see in him anyway, Lois? He's a jerk. He's an idiot! He's …"
Unheard by either reporter, the door opened and two men came into the room. One immediately stood in position beside the door, his gun drawn and at the ready.
"He's attentive!" Lois retorted, her own temper flaring. "He's with me when he says he's going to be, unlike someone else that I could name.
"Oh, that is so not fair! I'm attentive…"
Both Lois and Clark looked up in shock at this intrusion into their argument.
"YOU!" Lois exclaimed.
"Oh, so dramatic, Ms. Lane," Bill Church, Jr. drawled as he strolled towards them. "So boring. I had the same overblown reaction from your boss."
"You talked to Perry? What did he say?" Clark jumped to his feet. Church's bodyguard tensed, his eyes never leaving Clark.
"Sit, sit, sit. You don't want to make Tony nervous, do you?"
Clark looked from the gun in Tony's hand to Lois and back again. He slowly sank back onto the couch beside her.
"That's better," Church said, smoothly. "In answer to your question, Perry's currently considering the job offer I made him - the same one that I'm going to make to both of you." He pulled out a cigar, carefully trimmed it and lit it before putting his cigar trimmer back into his pocket.
"And that is?" Lois prompted, her nostrils twitching at the acrid odour of the cigar.
"I want you to continue to work for me after Stern sells me The Planet."
"Work for Intergang? And all we'd have to do is what? Give up our pride, our integrity? Just throw away the public trust we've earned over the past few years of hard work? To 'back off' on our responsibility to give the American people the truth?" Lois glared at the other man.
"No deal," she said, bluntly.
"No?" Church smiled patronisingly. "How about you?" he asked, looking at Clark.
"I stand with my partner. No deal."
"Oh, now, let's not be hasty. Give it some thought over dinner. I'll be back later. We'll talk." Church strolled to the door. He turned and addressed them once more. "Oh, by the way, Mr. Kent, where did you buy that tie? I wouldn't mind carrying something like that in Costmart. Dad always went for low costs, but I want to attract a more upscale consumer.
Thrown off balance, Clark looked down at the colourful paisley pattern on his chest and said, "Uh, it was a gift from Lois."
Church turned to Lois and regarded her patiently.
She glared back. "As if I'd tell."
"Hmmm, too bad."
The door closed behind Church and his guard. Lois and Clark could hear the sound of a key turning in the lock, closing them in once more.
*Daily Planet - 4 p.m.*
"JIMMY!" Perry White bellowed for the tenth time that day.
The young photographer dashed into his boss's office and skidded to a halt in front of the desk.
"Chief, no sign of Superman anywhere. I've checked all the news stations, the wire service and the radio. I even tried going out on the roof and yelling for help as loud as I could. Nada. Zippo. Nothing."
"Where in tarnation is he?" Perry asked.
"I don't know, Chief. One thing, though - Bobby Big Mouth called…"
"What in Sam Hill is a Bobby Big Mouth?"
"He's one of Lois's sources, a totally connected dude."
"Humph, in my day, sources had different, more dignified names. I would never have talked to someone with a name like that. They had names like…"
"Sore Throat?" Jimmy interrupted, grinning.
Perry shifted in his chair. "Oh, never mind all that. What did this Bobby Big Mouth have to say?"
"He left a message that he got more info on the leader of the trio that tried to steal our cheques. Gene Newtrich. He's a soil engineer."
"Soil Engineer and part time thief. What the heck would make a soil engineer decide to steal payroll cheques?"
"We got a work address," Jimmy said, holding the message for Lois in the air.
"Let's jump on this now."
"I'm right with you, Chief."
*Intergang Headquarters - 6 p.m.*
"One thing you have to admit," Clark tentatively broke the awkward silence, "is that Church has a fantastic chef."
Lois nodded, but didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," he said, softly.
She glanced at him, nodded once more, but still didn't say anything.
"Lois, please, you have to talk to me. You're really worrying me."
"I don't know what to say, Clark."
"Tell me what you're thinking. Tell me how you feel."
Lois pushed her plate away and stood up from the table. She began to pace from one end of the small room to the other. Clark's eyes followed her, never straying from her face.
"I'm thinking that all the men in my life are crazy. I'm thinking that I have three men chasing me, and it's not all that it's cracked up to be. I'm feeling confused. Very, very confused. I'm feeling totally conflicted. I'm thinking that I'm trapped in a prison with a man who's been acting very weird lately, but it doesn't matter because we're only going to die anyway…"
"Lois, we're not going to die," Clark interrupted.
"How do you know, Clark? You can't guarantee that. You don't have a magic wand that you can wave to make everything all better. You don't have all the answers. No one does."
"Lois, trust me. We're not going to die."
"Fine. We're not going to die. Great. Now what do I do? Three men. Three men after me all wanting me to make a choice. There's Dan who's very interesting, not bad-looking, fun, attentive," she glared at Clark on the last word as if daring him to say something. He didn't. She sighed and continued, "but somehow, lacking… something. And then there's Superman - only the strongest man in the world. Only the man that millions of women dream of…"
Clark blushed. Lois didn't notice.
"… only the man that I dreamed of for over a year, only the man that I'm coming to realise that I don't really know, and then there's you."
"How do you see me?" he asked softly.
"You totally confuse me. You're my best friend and my partner. You're kind and gentle and sensitive, and I don't scare you off. I can't say that about too many people. It's definitely an asset," she said with a half smile. "I love being with you, Clark. You're a wonderful man."
"So what's the problem?" He leaned forward onto his elbows and regarded her solemnly.
"You confuse me. You push to get close to me, and then when I let you, you push me away. We take two steps forward, things are great, and then you jump back one and a half steps or more." She shrugged. "Like I said, you confuse me."
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"You're always sorry," she replied, sadly. "But, Clark, sometimes 'sorry' just isn't good enough."
Clark stood up and moved to stand in front of her. He was about to respond when they heard the sound of a key turning in the lock. The door opened and Church came in, accompanied by his statuesque blonde assistant and his bodyguard. The assistant didn't say anything, but, with an appreciative look at Clark, moved to the table and cleared the dishes onto a cart before wheeling them out. Clark was oblivious to the woman's flirtatious glances, but Lois saw them. Her eyes narrowed, but she didn't say anything.
"Good evening. Did you enjoy your dinner?"
"You do run a first class prison here," Lois said, sarcastically.
Church pulled a cigar from his pocket, trimmed it and lit it. "Don't think of it as a prison. I'd like you to think of it as your future corporate headquarters."
"We'll never join up with Intergang," Lois replied, firmly.
Church looked at Clark to get his reaction.
Standing behind Lois, Clark put his hands on her shoulders. "I stand with my partner," he said, simply.
"Perhaps you don't fully grasp the situation. If you work for me, you get rich beyond your wildest dreams. If, on the other hand, you continue to cling to your misguided morality, you die. At Harvard Business School, we'd call that a no-brainer."
There was a knock on the door interrupting them. Gene Newtrich entered the room. "Can I speak to you in private, Mr. Church?"
"Anything you have to say you can say in front of these two," Church drawled. "They're either going to be part of our team, or they'll soon be playing for the angels."
Newtrich shrugged. "There's no sign of Superman. I've been watching the news and listening to the radio. No one's seen him anywhere."
"Good," Church said as he puffed on his cigar. "I'm not too worried, though. If he shows up, we've still got the red Kryptonite."
Lois was quick to jump on that statement. "Red Kryptonite? What are you talking about?"
"We discovered it by accident, but we're very pleased with its effect on Superman. Evidently, it makes him very susceptible to suggestion. You should know, Ms. Lane. You were there. Why, you even made the suggestion that he catch my men. I'd guess that he wouldn't have done that if you hadn't put the thought into his head. It also seems to make his inhibitions disappear. Why, you'd know that, too. It seems his feelings for you are one of the things he's been inhibited about."
"Is that why you kidnapped Lois?" Clark asked, his brow furrowed into worry lines. "You figure that he's crazy about her, and he'd do anything to keep her safe?"
"Exactly, Mr. Kent," Church replied, smugly. "Ms. Lane here is our ace in the hole. If, by some wild coincidence, Superman were to show up here, we have two weapons - the red Kryptonite, and his fears for Ms. Lane's safety. Pretty nifty, wouldn't you say?" Church beamed happily at the two reporters. "And, if we manage to continue to expose Superman to the red Kryptonite, my scientists tell me that eventually his condition could become permanent."
"Permanent?" Lois's eyes met Clark's. He looked as upset as she felt.
*Gene Newtrich's Office - 9 p.m.*
Perry and Jimmy moved down the empty hallway till they found a door, which read 'Gene Newtrich Engineering, State Licensed Land Surveyor.'
"This is the place," Jimmy said.
Perry rattled the doorknob with no luck.
"Jimmy, look at this!" Perry exclaimed pointing at a five-digit keypad beside the door. He shook his head. "There must be over a zillion possible combinations to that lock."
Jimmy grinned. "Watch and learn." He pulled a little electronic gizmo out of his pocket and attached it to the side of the keypad.
As Perry watched in amazement, one by one the numbers on the keypad lit up until the lock clicked open. It had only taken about thirty seconds. He looked at Jimmy in awe and asked, "Where the heck did you get that?"
"Spies 'R Us, of course."
The two men silently pushed open the door and entered, carefully closing the door behind them.
Newtrich's office was small and well organized. File cabinets lined the walls, and a large drafting table stood in the centre of the office. Perry started opening drawers, digging around in the files. After a moment's hesitation, Jimmy joined in.
"What exactly are we looking for, Chief?"
"I have no idea, but hopefully we'll know when we find it."
They searched in silence for a moment before Jimmy spoke up. "Chief, I can't help worrying about Lois and CK - you know, wondering what they're going through."
"I know, Jimmy, but let's try to stay focused on the problem at hand. That's the best way to help them."
"Okay, but I still don't see why a soil engineer would be involved in a plot to steal cheques?"
Perry sighed in frustration. "That's the $64,000 question." As he spoke, he started spreading out some rolled up blueprints on the drafting table. "Newtrich has to be tied into some larger organization," he muttered.
Over at Newtrich's desk, Jimmy slid open a drawer to discover a glowing red stone inside. "Whoa! Chief, look at this!" he exclaimed as he held it up. "What do you think it is? A ruby? I've never seen one this size before!"
"Never mind that! Look at this. These are the plans for the substructure of Costmart."
"And that means?" Jimmy prompted as he replaced the stone in the drawer.
Perry grinned triumphantly. "That means that Newtrich worked for Costmart, and Costmart is run by Bill Church, Jr., which means Newtrich is probably part of Intergang."
Jimmy opened his mouth to ask a question, only to shut it once more when he heard someone approaching the office. "What are we going to do?" he whispered to Perry.
"Get caught in the act, I guess."
Jimmy shot Perry a look of absolute panic at his words.
Perry laughed, quietly. "Just joshing you, son," he murmured. Blueprint in hand, he grabbed Jimmy and pulled him into a dark corner behind the door. The office door opened, and a janitor entered. As the janitor moved further into the office, Jimmy and Perry slipped out from behind the door and made their escape.
*Intergang Headquarters - 10 p.m.*
Watching Lois pace in confined quarters was like watching a panther pad back and forth in a cage, Clark reflected. She'd checked into everything that wasn't bolted down, opening drawers and dumping their contents out to be examined. She hadn't bothered putting anything away with the result that the room looked like it had been stirred with a giant mixing spoon. That was Lois.
She hadn't found anything even remotely useful. Clark hadn't either when he had judiciously searched the room with his x-ray vision. He didn't see any possible way out of this situation that wasn't completely dependant on his superpowers.
She wasn't talking to him, once again. Dealing with Church seemed to have pushed her off balance, and when Lois was off balance and unsure of herself, look out! Initially, he had followed her around, putting things away after she'd finished examining them, but had quickly desisted after receiving a poisonous glare from her. Now he sat slumped on the comfortable sofa, his feet propped up on the coffee table, and watched her prowl. He was too tired to do anything more.
Physically, Clark felt fine. His powers, as far as he could tell, were all intact. He had x-rayed the room, zoomed in on the sound of Lois's heartbeat for a moment and had surreptitiously reheated her coffee. And when he had excused himself to use the washroom, he had lingered a second to float himself up to touch the ceiling. Also, as a matter of course, he had zapped all the bugs and miniature video cameras that had the two of them under surveillance. So, no problem with his powers.
No, he was exhausted emotionally. This was totally unlike any other kind of Kryptonite exposure he had previously suffered. He shuddered as he remembered the waves of pain and nausea that normally accompanied Kryptonite. If he had to be exposed to any kind of Kryptonite, he had to admit, he vastly preferred this red variety.
But the red Kryptonite came with its own set of problems. When they got out of here, Superman was still going to have to deal with the underworld knowing that Lois Lane was very, very important to him. He'd set her up to be a target, and he didn't have any clue as to how to salvage the situation.
Even worse, Lois must now think that Clark Kent was completely and totally emotionally unstable. He'd be lucky if she'd still want to work with him after all this. And he might as well forget about ever dating her again.
If, and it was a huge 'if', but if she ever decided to forgive Clark and date him, how would he ever be able to tell her the truth? 'Hey, Lois! You know how you keep having all these close calls 'cause all of Metropolis's assorted thugs think you're dating Superman? Guess what? You are'. Oh, yeah, that would go over really well!
Clark got gloomier and gloomier as he brooded upon their current predicament. He stopped watching Lois as his thoughts turned inwards. For this reason, it was an incredible shock to his system when she turned to him and wailed, "Clark, this is all my fault!"
She threw herself down on the couch beside him. "This is all my fault! I drive men crazy. I don't know how I do it, because it's purely unconscious on my part, but I do it anyway. That's the only explanation for this whole stupid situation. I'm just… There's something about me… I don't even know what to call it, but I attract men like magnets! If I could stop, I would. Then Superman wouldn't feel the way that he does, and when he got exposed to the red Kryptonite and it affected him the way that it did, he wouldn't have had any feelings about me to blurt out. It's all my fault!"
"Lois, it's not your fault," Clark assured her as he gently brushed the hair back from her face.
"How do you know, Clark?" Lois retorted. "You're a man. You're susceptible. You probably wouldn't feel about me the way that you do if I didn't have some weird pheromone thing going on! The crazy way that you've been acting recently - it's my fault, too!"
"Lois, that's silly," Clark said, smiling tenderly at her.
"Is it, Clark? It has to be magnetism or pheromones or something. There's no other reason for you to like me the way that you do."
"Let's face it, Clark. I'm opinionated and stubborn. I'm overly focused on work and persistent to the point of being really annoying. What is there to like?"
"How about the fact that you're passionate about your work, and you have a great sense of humour, and you're brilliant, and you've got a streak of compassion and sensitivity inside that you try to hide, but can't? What about all that, Lois? How about the way you bring out the best in me when you're around? What about the fact that I find you to be the most exciting woman in the world, and I can't imagine ever feeling this way about any other woman? Ever!" Clark grinned at her. "Oh, yeah, and it doesn't hurt that you're absolutely gorgeous. I'd still have the same feelings for you if you weren't, but you are. You're beautiful, Lois - inside and out."
"Oh, Clark," Lois said, softly as tears filled her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm no good at relationships. You were right before. I am afraid of intimacy. I mean, look at how I've acted. I've been so mean to you. We had a great date, and then I slammed the door in your face."
"We got past that, Lois."
"I know. And then we kissed. Oh, boy, did we kiss! I was so happy."
"I was happy, too, Lois," Clark murmured.
"But I was scared to be happy," Lois continued. "Then you started backing away from me, which scared me worse. And because I was scared, I was susceptible. I had my head turned by flattery, and I ended up going out with a man that I don't care for. Oh, I like Dan. He's lots of fun, but he's not half the man that you are."
Clark stared at her, his heart in his mouth. "Do you mean that, Lois? You still have feelings for me?"
"Well, most of the time," she replied, eyeing him wryly. "I can't say I'm too thrilled with how you've been acting today."
Clark sighed. "Me either. I'm sorry. But your going out with Dan upset me."
"Well, your running away upsets me!"
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Like I said to you earlier, Clark, sometimes 'sorry' just doesn't cut it."
"I know. But I'm scared, too."
Lois turned to Clark. She tucked her legs up to sit cross-legged facing him. "What are you scared of, Clark?"
"I… I want to tell you, but I… Oh, Lois, I just can't."
"Why? Is it that bad?"
"I don't know." Clark looked down at his clasped hands.
"Are you married, gay, a criminal on the run, in the Witness Protection Program, ill with a hereditary illness that will turn you into a raving lunatic - not that you needed the help today - or dying?"
A laugh burst out of Clark's throat. "No. Nothing like that."
"Then don't tell me."
"What?" Clark looked at her in amazement. "You're kidding, right? The Great Lois Lane does not put up with things being kept from her."
"You're right. I was kidding. Now you're out of options, Clark Kent. You have no choice but to tell me what you've been hiding. I've just cut you off at the knees." Lois grinned at him. "So spill it, Kent!"
Clark stared at her. She was right. She had sat there and logically taken every other choice away from him. And, by forcing him to tell her, she'd solved the nagging problem as to how he was going to get her out of this prison while trying to hide his alter ego from her. He shook his head. "You're right," he told her.
"I know," she replied, happily. "All right, Clark… give it up."
"Okay," he said, slowly, glancing at her shyly and then looking away again. "I will. Before I do, I want you to know that I've always wanted to tell you this, but I've been so paranoid about hiding this for so long that it's been hard to even think about letting you in on my secret. So I'm going to tell you for a couple of reasons. One, I love you, and I want you to know about this because it wouldn't be fair for us to get even more involved and not let you know. And two, there's a big problem that this secret has caused for both of us, and if anyone can figure out how to solve this problem, it's you. I've been wracking my brain, and I can't figure out a solution."
He glanced at her to see how she was reacting. She was focused on him, obviously listening to and thinking about every word that he said. "I need you to know that I do trust you, and that's not why I didn't tell you right away. It's just that the timing wasn't right to tell you before."
"And it is now?" she asked, quietly.
"Yes. I've been close to telling you for a long time now. But, like any man, there are things that I'm insecure about, and that's held me back. I'm not happy telling you here in this place," he gestured around the room, "but I'm happy to tell you. Sort of." He grimaced. "Actually, when I think about it, happy's the wrong word. Terrified - that's the word. But I do want you to know," he sighed, "even though you'll probably kill me."
"Clark, I've never seen you so nervous," Lois said as she took his hand. She gently squeezed it. "You've said a lot about your secret. I think you'll feel better when you tell me what it is."
Clark nodded and took a deep breath. "I'm Superman."
"Actually, Superman's me. I've always been Clark. I only started being Superman after I moved here to Metropolis. I wanted to help people, but I wanted to have a normal life, and…"
"Hold on just a second, buster! You're him… He's you…"
Clark gazed at her, guiltily. "Uh huh."
"Really?" Lois asked, plaintively.
"Yeah." Clark floated up off the couch to prove it.
"Oh." She didn't say anything more, just looked blankly off into space.
Clark landed on the couch beside her once more. "Uh, Lois, you're not quite reacting the way I figured you would. Could you say something here? You're making me really nervous."
"I'm just thinking…"
"I was just wondering…"
"Yes," he prompted her.
She looked at him with the strangest expression on her face, but didn't say anything.
"I was just wondering how you come up with your excuses. 'Cheese of the Month' Club? Clark? That is so dumb. You need me. You need my help."
"Yes, I do, but aren't you mad?"
"I'm not sure," Lois said with a frown. "Right now, for some reason, all these silly excuses are running through my head making me wonder how the heck I ever believed you for a minute. 'I'll be right back from the place I have to go to that I'll be right back from," she said in a singsong voice. "Clark, that is so lame!"
Clark was taken aback. "I can't believe that the only thing you want to tell me off about is the quality of my excuses."
"Oh, I'm just getting started," Lois replied. "I'm sure I'll work myself up about all sorts of things later, but we have other things on our plates right now."
"We do? I mean, yes, we do."
"Oh!" Lois exclaimed, a shocked look on her face.
"Someone's probably watching us - taping our conversation… Clark…"
"Don't worry, Lois." Clark tapped his glasses and gave her a look fraught with significance.
"Oh, you…" She made a quick gesture with her hands.
"Good thinking. So I guess the big problem is that we need to get out of here, but we don't want Church or his thugs to know who you are in your spare time."
"Lois, you're amazing! I never expected you to react like this. I've thrown you a major curve ball, and you just keep going, concentrating on your game, focusing on the next pitch."
Lois grinned at him, cheekily. "I've warned you about those sports metaphors before, Kent."
"Sorry!" He grinned back, feeling very giddy in his relief. "I guess we better start brainstorming and figure out exactly how we're going to get out of here."
"Yeah, and then we have to figure out how to keep all the criminals in Metropolis off my back."
Clark sighed. "I'm sorry about that."
"It's all right. It wasn't your fault; you'd been exposed to that red Kryptonite stuff. We'll figure it out, but before we do, I just have one question first."
"When Superman, I mean, when you told me that you'd loved me from the first moment that you saw me, did you mean from the first time as Clark or from the first time as Superman? Because I certainly didn't look my best when you saw me as Superman for the first time, and…"
"Lois," Clark interrupted. "I loved you from the first time that I saw you in Perry's office. I've always loved you. I love you more and more each day. Why the heck do you think Superman has such a hard time staying away from you?" He cupped her cheek with his large hand.
"Oh, Clark, you say the sweetest things. I might be a little shell-shocked at the moment, but I do know one thing. I love you, too."
Clark nearly felt faint from the surge of emotion that flooded through him at her words. He closed his eyes briefly to hide his tears of relief. "Thank you, Lois," he said simply, touching his forehead to hers. He pulled back after a moment and said, "You've had your one question. Now, it's my turn."
Lois looked a little worried, but bravely said, "Go ahead."
His eyes locked on her face. "Would it be all right… if I kissed you?"
"Oh, Clark!" She was in his arms faster than he would have thought possible. Their lips met tenderly as he tugged her closer. One long moment later, she pulled back. "Hey! It was Superman who sent me to the Sewage Reclamation Plant!"
Clark took one look at the shocked expression on her face. "Oh, oh!" he exclaimed.
*Daily Planet - 11 p.m.*
"Look at this, Jimmy. This might be something. There are two full basements in these plans." Perry gestured at the spread-out blueprint he'd scooped from Newtrich's office.
"So? They need a lot of room for excess merchandise."
"But look here, son. The loading docks back up to huge doors on the first level basement. But the second level is only reached by one small passenger elevator." Perry's finger traced the path of the elevator.
"Which means they don't use the sub-basement for storage. What do you think is down there?"
Perry smiled, tightly. "I'd guess it's not an Elvis museum.
"So, Chief, you want to take a look at what's in that sub-basement?"
"It looks like it's our only shot." Perry looked at his watch. "But we can't get into the store now. What time do they open?"
"Okay, I'll meet you in Costmart's parking lot tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. sharp. Okay?"
"All right, son. Head home. Get some sleep."
"Will do, Chief. You, too."
*The next morning - Intergang Headquarters - 7:30 a.m.*
Lois and Clark sat up straight and untangled themselves from each other.
"What?" Lois asked, peering blearily at Church. She felt Clark push himself up beside her.
"I barely had the heart to wake you. You looked so peaceful sleeping in each other's arms. Does Superman know that you're sweet on your partner, Ms. Lane?" Church smirked at the two of them. He pulled a cigar out, trimmed it, replaced his cutter in his pocket and lit the cigar.
"It's none of Superman's business who I'm involved with!" Lois retorted, wishing she didn't feel so unbalanced. Why did he have to smoke a filthy, stinky cigar in here? And so early, too. It was really irritating. It was really insensitive. Her eyes narrowed. It was really… interesting, she thought as wheels started to turn in her brain.
"I don't imagine you're here to check into our personal life, Church, so why don't you cut to the chase?" Clark stated firmly.
"Well, Mr. Kent, I'm here to … whoa! What happened here?" Church asked as he turned around to survey the chaos that had formerly been an attractive room.
"We decided to redecorate," Lois said, sarcastically. While Church surveyed the mess, she leaned over to whisper in Clark's ear. "I have a plan. Play along."
Clark looked alarmed, but there wasn't time to explain more.
Church turned back to them. "I came to get your answer to my proposal, Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane."
"If you expect us to ever join Intergang…" Clark started to say.
"Wait, Clark. We don't have to be so hasty, do we?" Lois purred.
"Well, we don't. I mean we don't owe anybody anything. There's no reason why we can't look out for ourselves, is there?"
"I guess we could think about it," Clark said, slowly.
Lois hid a smirk. Clark really wasn't a very good actor.
She pushed herself up off the couch and moved towards Church. Lightly touching him on the chest, she leaned into him a bit, put the most seductive look possible on her face and cooed, "Could we please have just a couple more hours to think about it? We could talk about it over breakfast. I nearly have him convinced, but," she batted her eyelashes a bit, "I just need a bit more time."
"All right, Ms. Lane. But please don't touch me anymore."
Lois patted his chest once more. "Why not?"
Taking her hands in his, he pushed her away. "To be frank, Ms. Lane, I prefer blondes."
"Oh." In spite of herself, Lois could feel the colour rising in her face. It didn't help that she heard Clark smother a chuckle from his position behind her.
"I'll give you two hours. 9:30 sharp, no later. Trust me when I say that you really want to say 'yes' to my offer."
Church turned on his heel and left the room.
Lois turned back to Clark and grinned triumphantly. He sat with his arms folded across his chest, and sternly regarded her.
"Okay. What was that all about?" he asked.
Lois didn't say anything. Instead she unfolded her hand to reveal Church's cigar trimmer tucked inside.
"Lois! You're brilliant!"
She curtsied. "Why, thank you very much, Mr. Kent."
"Yeah, it's just too bad that you're not blonde! Then you'd be perfect."
"I'm going to get you for that!" Lois shrieked as she threw herself at him.
He surprised her by catching her in mid-air and twirling her around. "You're just lucky that I happen to like brunettes."
"Okay, one brunette."
"Oh, Clark!" She tugged his face to meet hers. They kissed, arms wrapped around each other. Lois pulled away suddenly. "I know what we can do about the 'Superman's in love with Lois Lane' problem!"
"What?" Clark asked, eagerly.
Lois started talking fast, outlining her idea. Clark looked less and less happy as she spoke.
"Lois! I can't do that!"
She grinned at him. "Sure you can, Clark. You're Superman. You can do anything!"
*Costmart Basement - 8:05 a.m.*
Perry and Jimmy stood at the elevator, trying to figure out a way to activate it. There was a black control panel with a key card slot, but no buttons.
Perry looked at Jimmy, his expression sombre. "So, did you happen to bring along your 'Mission Impossible' toolbox?"
Jimmy grinned. "Actually…" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small tube.
"It's really cool. I just squirt this in the lock, being sure to fill the whole thing," Jimmy said, demonstrating. "Then I put this piece of metal in so I have something to hold on to." He looked down at his watch. "We wait fifteen seconds for it to solidify…" He paused, counting the seconds. "And then, ta-da! Instant key." Jimmy twisted the metal handle in the lock, and the elevator doors opened.
"Spies 'R Us?" Perry asked.
"Yep," Jimmy confirmed.
"I'm paying you too much," Perry muttered as he followed Jimmy into the elevator.
*At the same time - Intergang Headquarters*
"I hate waiting," Lois complained.
"Me, too." Clark pushed his glasses down his nose and focused on the door. "Okay, the guard's coming with breakfast. Wow! Smoked salmon, fresh croissants, strawberries. Too bad we can't take it with us."
Lois patted his arm. "You can fly me to Paris later. Croissants sound great!"
He grinned at her but quickly turned back as the guard's key rattled in the lock.
Lois leaned nonchalantly against the wall beside the floor lamp and glanced down quickly at the stripped electric cord. It looked okay. Everything was ready.
The guard entered, carrying a covered tray. "Breakfast time."
"Great!" Clark said, enthusiastically as he rested his hand casually on the light switch on the wall.
The guard placed the tray on the table and turned back to them. "Bon appetit."
Clark hit the switch, plunging the room into total darkness.
"Hey!" the guard exclaimed.
There was a huge flash of light revealing Lois holding the lamp, pointing it at the guard. Clark couldn't be seen; he was moving too fast. It only took a second for him to quickly tie the guard up before Lois flipped the light switch back on.
"Oh, we are a good team!" Lois said, enthusiastically.
"You're not telling me anything that I don't already know," Clark replied, grinning as he efficiently gagged the guard. He stood, grabbed Lois's hand and tugged her to the door. She snagged a croissant on the way.
As they reached the exit, Lois glanced over her shoulder at the trussed-up guard. "Buenos noches, amigo."
Clark pulled her out into the corridor. "Are you going to be all right? I don't like leaving you alone."
"Clark! It's not like you're going to be far away. You just can't be with me when I get caught. Church has to believe that you've gone to find Superman. It wouldn't be a good idea for him to already be here."
"I know. It's just…"
"It's all right, Clark. Go. I'll be fine."
Clark nodded. Then he pulled Lois into his arms and kissed her fiercely before disappearing in a whoosh.
"Wow!" Lois exclaimed as she stood stunned and frozen in his wake. Finally she shook herself and collected her wits. 'Okay, Lane. Time to go and get caught in the act.' She set off down the corridor, not even trying to be quiet.
A couple of minutes later, Lois had managed to locate Church's office by opening every door in the place. Unfortunately, it was empty. Frowning, she closed the door once more and opened the one beside it to see Church in a romantic clinch with his pretty blonde secretary.
"Oooh, Billy," she heard.
"Sandra," he moaned.
Lois flinched. She was the one who was supposed to get caught in the act, not him. "Oops!" she exclaimed, loudly.
The two of them looked up in shock. Church's mouth fell open as he disentangled himself from Sandra. Thankfully, things hadn't progressed too far, and they were both still dressed. "What…" Church managed to say.
Lois smiled brightly at him. "My mistake… Oh, well, I guess I'm going to have to tell you that Clark's gone to find Superman and to call the police so you better not try anything."
Church closed his mouth with an audible snap, and marched over to seize Lois's arm in a tight grip. "Then I guess it's a good thing I've got control of you, Ms. Lane. Tell you what. Let's go into my office and wait for everyone. You can watch me wipe my computer files." He glanced over his shoulder at Sandra. "Call Newtrich. Tell him to bring the red Kryptonite to my office. Then you can come join us. I'll need your help destroying all my data."
He glared at her.
"I mean, yes, Mr. Church," she said, meekly.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and Perry were prowling around the sub-basement. They had managed to locate the room where Lois and Clark had been kept captive. Perry took one look inside at the chaos. The contents of all the drawers were still tossed haphazardly around the room, and the guard lay trussed in the middle of the floor. He was struggling to free himself without success.
Perry turned back to Jimmy and said, "Well, we know that they were here."
"Uh huh. Take one look in that room, and you tell me the name of the only person in the world who could have created that mess!"
Jimmy glanced in, turned to Perry and grinned. "Yep. That's Lois's handiwork all right. So, where are they?"
"If you'll follow me, Mr. White, Jimmy, I'll take you right to them."
Perry and Jimmy turned around to see a very familiar red, blue and yellow outfit. "Superman!"
"Clark managed to get out to find me. Unfortunately, he and Lois got separated. I'm just about to set her free. Care to join me?"
"Absolutely!" Jimmy exclaimed.
With his two friends in tow, Clark strode through the maze of underground corridors to Church's office.
Inside the office, Lois sat demurely on one of the luxurious leather chairs and watched as Church and his secretary scrambled to erase all the data. Newtrich stood to one side, red Kryptonite in hand, his eyes trained on Lois.
Lois was a little worried about the Kryptonite, but Clark had assured her earlier that, now that he knew what was going on, he'd be able to handle it okay.
"There. The computers are wiped clean as a newborn. Now when we have the inevitable 'unpleasant' visits from the authorities, there'll be nothing for them to find about Intergang." Church took a big puff on his cigar. Pursing his lips a bit, he blew a long stream of smoke into the air.
"The police will still arrest you on kidnapping charges," Lois pointed out, helpfully.
"Oh, I don't know, Ms. Lane. I really think that you decided to accept my kind invitation to hide out here in order to be safe from all the riff-raff on the street who want to hurt Superman's girlfriend."
Sandra moved to stand behind Church and rested her hands on his shoulders. "That's what she told me, Mr. Church. I'll testify to that."
"First of all, I'm not his girlfriend," Lois replied, exasperated. "And second, no one will believe a word of that bilge you're spewing."
"I don't really care if they believe me or not. All I want to do is cloud the issue. Oh, I have no doubts that I'll go to jail, but I'm sure that with the right lawyer, I'll be out in no time."
"You're being very philosophical about the whole thing," Lois said.
"I'm a pragmatic man, Ms. Lane. I don't see any point in getting upset," Church replied. "Besides, if that doesn't work, I have an official scapegoat in my employ, don't I, Gene?"
Newtrich jumped. His face fell. "That's right, Mr. Church," he said, stolidly. "I was over-zealous with the instructions you gave me. I was only supposed to warn Ms. Lane about the danger she was in…"
"The danger she continues to be in," Church corrected him.
"Sorry, yes, the danger that she is in, I wasn't supposed to kidnap her for her own protection," Newtrich finished.
"And if Superman gets here before the police, well, who knows?" Church added. "We have the red Kryptonite. We might be able to salvage something out of this mess."
"Did someone mention my name?"
Lois swivelled around to face the doorway. "Superman! Jimmy! And Perry! What are you two doing here?"
"We came to break you out only to find out you'd done it for yourself," Perry told her.
"Superman. So nice to see you. This little situation is really no concern of yours," Church said, gamely, his eyes flicking to the red Kryptonite in Newtrich's hands.
Clark's stance changed as Lois watched. She swallowed nervously. He looked different. He looked too casual, too relaxed. Was it possible that he wouldn't be able to control himself around that stuff?
"Fight it, Superman. Don't give in," she pleaded, earnestly.
"Give in to what?" Jimmy asked.
"What's going on, honey?" Perry moved to her side and gently squeezed her shoulder.
"All right now, Superman. Time to be on your way," Church said, hopefully.
"Maybe it is… but then again… maybe it's not, Billy."
Lois sighed in relief as he scooped the Kryptonite from Newtrich's hand. She watched as Clark, looking like nothing more than a professional ball player, wound up and made a perfect pitch, drilling the Kryptonite through the solid rock of the wall.
Church's mouth fell open. He shook his head in disbelief. "Well, that was unexpected." A smile spread over his face. "But we still have your girlfriend, Superman."
"Your girlfriend, Lois Lane."
"I wouldn't call her my girlfriend."
"You said that you loved her," Church replied, indignantly.
"Well, sure," Clark drawled. "Wouldn't you? The woman's gorgeous."
Lois watched Perry and Jimmy as they watched Clark. She smothered a smirk at the shocked expressions on their faces.
"You mean you don't love her?"
"Hooboy! I'd like to love her, that's a given. I mean, who wouldn't. She's the most beautiful brunette I've ever seen. But, hey, she wasn't interested. Oh, well, plenty of other fish in the sea. Like you," he addressed a very startled Sandra. "You must be some kind of angelfish, baby. I could learn to love you, doll face."
Sandra's face lit up. She took a step away from Church. "Really?"
"Sandra!" Church protested, futilely.
"All right, Superman!" Jimmy exclaimed.
"Jimmy," Lois snapped, annoyed.
"Sorry, Lois," Jimmy muttered.
"Wow!" Sandra ignored her boss to move forward and tentatively lay her hand on Clark's Spandex-clad arm. "Can I ask you something?"
"I've always wanted to know. Do you have to work out, or are all these muscles natural?"
"All natural. Wanna feel?" Clark flexed his arm for her.
"Oooh," she squealed excitedly as she gingerly squeezed.
"Yeah, we could have a future, baby, if only you weren't going to jail. Maybe I'll come visit you."
Sandra's face fell, and she stepped away from Clark to Lois's relief. Knowing that Clark was pretending was one thing. Actually watching him flirt with another woman was another.
"But before you're locked up," Clark said, with a sloppy grin, "wouldn't it be fun if we could find a pretty redhead? We'd have a blast." He leaned forward to whisper loudly in her ear, "Give me a couple of minutes. I think I can talk Lois into going along. Just think of it. Me with a blonde, a brunette and a redhead."
Church held his head forlornly in his hands. "You mean the red Kryptonite only makes him… horny?" he asked, plaintively.
Lois grinned. "Seems like it!"
"Lois, honey, what the heck is going on?" Perry asked.
She motioned him closer. "I'll tell you later," she whispered. "Don't worry, Perry."
Newtrich inched to the door. Lois moved to stand in front of him. Perry and Jimmy flanked her. "Uh, uh," she said, wagging her index finger in his face. "Nice try, but no cigar."
"You know, Billy…" Clark drawled, eyeing Church speculatively.
"What?" Church asked. "What could you possibly find to say to me at this point in time?" He slumped in his chair, a defeated man.
Clark snagged a chair and sat down beside Church. He patted the other man on the knee. "I just noticed something…"
"You have really gorgeous eyes and nice hair. Not a bad build."
Church's eyes widened.
"Do you wanna feel my muscles, too?"
A burst of hysterical laughter threatened to break free of Lois's throat, but she managed to restrain herself. "Um, Perry," she stammered. "Could you watch Newtrich for me? I'm going to, uh, I'm going to go and, um, find Clark and the police. They should be here pretty soon." She ran out in the hallway, turned a couple of corners to get far enough away, and then collapsed, laughing harder than she'd ever laughed in her life. The look of panic on Church's face… And the shocked disapproval on Perry's and Jimmy's… She'd never forget this moment as long as she lived.
*The Daily Planet - 10 a.m.*
"… I think it was only Church's men who heard me tell Lois that I love her. I had to cover that up somehow. Now, after the way I behaved in that basement, I can pretty well guarantee that Church will do everything in his power to keep me away from red Kryptonite!"
"You mean it was all a ruse?" Perry leaned back in his chair and eyed Superman suspiciously.
"Yes, it was, Mr. White. Clark and Lois figured out what I should do to, uh, defuse the awkward situation that I had inadvertently put Lois in. I can't pretend that I was thrilled with the plan when Clark told me about it, but there wasn't time to come up with anything else." He glanced sideways at Jimmy. "I was a little disconcerted when I saw the two of you there. I knew that I was going to be embarrassed enough by the whole thing; I didn't relish having an even larger audience. At the same time I did know that I could trust the two of you. You would never do anything to hurt Lois."
"Or you, Superman," Perry assured him.
"Thank you, Mr. White."
"So, what you're saying, Superman," Jimmy said, slowly, quickly glancing through the glass to see Lois at her desk, "is that you really do love Lois, but it's dangerous for people to know."
Superman dipped his head in acknowledgement of Jimmy's words.
"You're not going to ask her out, are you?" Jimmy asked, worried. "She and CK seem to be really getting along, and…"
"Jimmy!" Perry interrupted. "I know Superman won't do that. It wouldn't be fair to Lois. She'd be in danger all the time. She'd have criminals chasing her all over the city."
"That's right, Mr. White. I just have to face the fact that there are certain things that I'll never have in my life. I would rather be alone than ever do anything that would hurt her. No, I have to step back and watch from afar. It helps that I like Clark." A smile crept over his face. "I'd be happy if they ended up together."
Perry stood up and extended his hand over his desk to Superman. "Son, I've never respected you more than I do right now."
Superman got up and solemnly shook his hand. "Thank you, Mr. White. And now, if you excuse me, I'm going to go and say goodbye to Lois. It's time for me to leave." He turned and strode from the room, shutting the door carefully behind him.
Perry and Jimmy silently watched him go. He moved to Lois's side, smiled down at her, said a few words, and then was gone.
"Jimmy, that's one great man." Perry's eyes were suspiciously moist.
"I know," Jimmy replied simply.
*Sidewalk outside Newtrich's Office - 5 p.m.*
"It's too bad that the Kryptonite's gone," Clark said. "It's unbelievable how fast Newtrich's sisters cleaned out his office! At least they won't know what it is."
Lois grinned. "It is too bad. Who knows? It might have come in handy! You know, if my boyfriend started hiding things on me again."
"Oh, it would, would it? I'm not eager to see it again. It caused us enough problems."
"You are feeling better, aren't you?" Lois asked Clark briskly.
He grinned at her. "I never felt that bad."
She laughed. "I guess you didn't. Clark, I can't believe how convincing you were."
He chuckled. "Well, mark that down to the red Kryptonite. I honestly didn't think I could pull it off, but wow! That must be what being drunk feels like. It made it really easy to make a fool out of myself."
"I'm sorry we didn't come up with a plan that, um, respected Superman's dignity."
"That's okay, Lois. First of all, when it comes to your safety, I couldn't care less about my dignity. Second, I figure, in some small way, you got even for me sending you crawling around the Sewage Reclamation Plant."
Lois burst into giggles. "There is that!"
Clark waited patiently until Lois calmed down. "So, Lois… are we okay?"
"Yeah, I think so," she replied, thoughtfully. "I feel a lot better now that I know you weren't running away from me."
"It was all so frustrating. Every time I tried to talk with you, it seemed like I'd have to dash off and rescue someone. I'm the strongest man in the world, and everything seemed to be spiralling out of my control."
Lois took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently.
"And then when you were going out with Dan…"
"Shhh." She placed a finger over his lips, hushing him. "I'm not going out with Dan any more. There's only one man in my life now."
Clark pulled her to a stop and turned to face her. "Thank you, Lois. I'm glad. I've given this a lot of thought and I realize that instead of dancing around my feelings for you, I have to deal with them head on and verbalize my emotions. I get tongue-tied sometimes. I'm just going to have to try harder so that you always know how much I love you."
Lois smiled blindly at Clark through a mist of tears. She lifted a shaking hand and pressed her palm against his cheek. "I love you, too, Clark."
Clark pulled Lois into his arms and gently met her lips with his own. He'd never been happier in his life. The most wonderful woman in the world, the woman he loved with his whole heart, loved him, too. The Planet, his second home, wasn't going to be sold, and there was no more red Kryptonite on his horizon.