By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: October 2005
Summary: This story picks up where "Curiosity Killed The Reporter" left off. Our new couple, still fresh from admitting that more exists between them than either had been willing to admit, discover an asteroid is apparently plunging towards the Earth. Will the world, Superman or their new love survive this challenge?
This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm borrowing these characters for a little fun and not for any profit. For complete disclaimer, go to: http://www.thompsonlawoffice.ca/Disclaimer.htm. Special thanks to the writers of All Shook Up. I use a number of scenes from that episode in this story. But trust me, my plan is to take this story in a different direction. I also use a scene or two from Honeymoon In Metropolis.
I would like to dedicate this to those of you who let me know you wanted a sequel to Curiosity Killed The Reporter — without whom I would not have directed my mind to the idea of coming up with an asteroid story that was different than previous asteroid stories. I hope I have succeeded.
As always, I'd like to thank my Beta readers, Carol and Gerry, for their assistance with this story. Also, thanks to Shira for her input and her inspiration for the final section of the epilogue. And my thanks to Tricia Walpole for editing this story for the archives. Finally, thanks to all those who answered questions for me on the message boards.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, the chapter names are all the names of movies. Don't ask me why. It was an impulse decision <g>.
This story is a sequel to Curiosity Killed The Reporter which can be found here: http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories/2005/curiosi.txt. It is not necessary to read Curiosity Killed The Reporter to enjoy this story. All you really need to know about that story can be found in the following clips.
PREVIOUSLY FROM CURIOSITY KILLED THE REPORTER (SPOILER):
Which came first, Lois didn't know: the sharp pain in the back of her leg or the sound of a gun being fired. She stumbled slightly, searching desperately for something to grab onto to keep herself from collapsing. Her leg betrayed her, crumpling beneath her. She reached out to grab onto the cast-iron railing that ran along the edge of the water, trying to pull herself back to her feet. Just a few more steps and she'd be at the front doors of the Lexor. She couldn't give up now. Calling on every ounce of strength she still possessed, she continued pushing forward. The footsteps behind her slowed, telling her that they had caught up to her.
Having no choice, she turned to face her attackers. Maybe she could still find a way to stall until another chance to escape presented itself. As she turned, her eyes first landed on the gun no more than a foot away from her chest. She felt as if she were in a dream as her eyes followed the trail upwards from gun to hand to arm to shoulder before meeting the grey eyes of the man before her. And in that instant something passed between them, some unspoken understanding of murderer and victim.
She felt a sharp pain in her chest. Her hand came off the railing and she lost her balance, tumbling over the railing and plunging into the river.
Clark stood on the rooftop of the Daily Planet, staring off into the distance. Dead. Lois was dead. Henderson believed it. Perry obviously believed it. Everyone believed it. And in spite of his bravado to Perry, Clark himself had to admit that he believed it. All the evidence pointed in that direction. Still, how could she be dead? She'd always been the epitome of what it meant to be alive. So animated. So driven. So full of energy. So… so alive.
He silently cursed the universe. He cursed the forces of nature that had directed his small spacecraft through the enormity of space to land on this small, blue planet. Better to have died in the darkness of space than to live only to know this type of pain. He cursed his powers — powers which had betrayed him when he'd needed them most. What good were these powers if he were unable to save the one he'd loved most in the world? What was the point of any of it?
A shaky breath escaped his lips. How was he to go on if she were dead? How would he be able to get up in the morning and do the million little things that had to be done every day knowing what he had lost? Without her, it would mean nothing. A future which had been alive with possibilities, now looked more like a nightmare.
Suddenly all the strength left Clark's legs and he collapsed onto his knees. Burying his head in his hands, he finally allowed himself to weep.
What made Madam Benoit the most exclusive madam in Metropolis was not only the quality of her girls, but her extraordinary discretion. Never did she give away her clients — not to anyone for any reason. About ten years previously, she'd gone so far as to do a short stint in jail rather than give up her client list. It had solidified her reputation especially among men to whom discretion was important — like politicians. But Superman wasn't exactly anyone. He had an advantage — and if any time was the time to collect, it was now.
"Superman," Madam Benoit said, breezily sweeping open the balcony doors to allow Superman to enter. "So good to see you again. Have you finally decided to take me up on my offer?" She swept up beside the superhero, slipping her arm through his as she led him into the grand sitting room. Although her English and diction were perfect, she retained just the slightest hint of the French accent of her youth, giving her a slightly exotic air.
Clark smiled, ignoring the startled look of the young woman watching the two of them. Right now he had other things on his mind beside his reputation. He was only thankful Madam Benoit remembered her promise. It had been given shortly after Superman had first arrived on the scene. He had stopped an overly-brutal customer from abusing one of Madam Benoit's favorite girls. He'd flown her back to this luxurious apartment only to be embarrassed so badly his face had nearly matched the color of his cape when she'd promised him any girl of his choosing whenever he wanted her — free of charge. He'd been even more embarrassed when, as a result of his reaction, she had guessed at his lack of… experience. Madam Benoit was not someone who missed much. She read people as well as anyone Clark had ever known. Still, once she'd realized he couldn't be tempted by the promise of sexual favors, she'd gone on to tell him that if he ever needed anything from her, he need only to ask.
Clark looked around, concentrating all his efforts on using his x-ray vision to find a way out. He suddenly saw one. If only they could get through the blockage of the cave in, the tunnel branched out and one branch headed back to the surface.
He heard shouts echo through the mine. There was no choice. He had to try.
Clark set Lois down before rushing towards the cave-in, moving rocks out of the way as fast as his body would allow. He was relieved to realize that he was able to move them easier and faster than anticipated.
Once he cleared a path for them to crawl through, he turned back to Lois. He stopped only when he saw the stunned look on her face.
"Okay, now that I definitely didn't remember," she said.
She met his gaze, seeming to search his eyes for something. She finally broke eye contact. "Clark, is this a date?" she asked.
"What?" asked Clark. "Lois, coming over here for supper was your idea. If it's just two friends sharing a meal or if it's something more… I think that's pretty much your call. You know how I feel about you. And if friendship is all you can offer, then I'll be happy with that. But…" He gathered his courage before continuing. "I love you. And after almost losing you, I'm not prepared to pretend I don't. I won't be left with those kinds of regrets again — regrets about things I'd never told you, things you never knew. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you and I…" His voice trailed off. "Now if it makes you uncomfortable, I'll never say those words to you again. And we can pretend I never said them in the first place. But I won't take them back. I can't."
She let out a short breath when the truth hit her. She was falling in love. That was what she'd been trying to fight when she'd first made reservations at the Lexor — before then even. That was what her heart had been trying to tell her when she'd had amnesia. Without the memories which made her so reluctant to admit what was happening between her and Clark, her feelings for Clark had been able to penetrate all the barriers her past experiences had erected around her heart. She gave her head a slight shake, a small smile pulling at one corner of her mouth as she finally let go of her heart, giving it permission to take her in the direction it seemed determined to go.
"I just got a call from the Lexor. They felt really bad about someone breaking into my room while I was staying there."
"And they offered me the suite again this weekend — for free."
"Lois, please tell me you're not going to spend another weekend relaxing. 'Cause I'm not sure I can take another week like this past week."
"No, silly. We're going to spend the entire weekend relaxing."
"As in you and me?"
Lois nodded again.
"In the honeymoon suite?"
Lois finally laughed, linking her arm through his. "Well, only if you think you can put up with me for an entire weekend, Mr. Kent."
Clark smiled. He was suddenly certain that nothing, except perhaps for an asteroid destroying the entire planet, could spoil his good mood. But what was the chance of that?
CHAPTER 1: BY DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT
"I love the morning. Anything is possible in the morning," said Clark, his arm around Lois as they headed towards the Daily Planet early on Monday morning.
"Mmm," murmured Lois, snuggling in closer as they made their way through the streets of the city. "I'm actually starting to appreciate the weekends more myself — at least weekends we both have off."
He smiled down at her. She was right. This past weekend had been… remarkable. Incredible. Beyond his wildest dreams. To be able to hold her, to touch her, to really be himself with her, to kiss her whenever he wanted… He wasn't sure the weekend could have been any more perfect. The only problem was that he wasn't entirely sure how he was going to get any work done today with the images of this past weekend so fresh in his mind.
As they crossed the street towards the Daily Planet, she suddenly straightened, as if preparing to shift from 'girlfriend' into 'partner' mode. He smiled. Only Lois… He wasn't sure he'd ever known someone who could so completely focus on something to the exclusion of everything else. She was obviously in the process of relegating the events of this weekend to a safe corner of her mind so that she could concentrate on work. Not that he had a problem with that. He loved being her partner almost as much as he loved his new status as her… boyfriend? They really hadn't defined their relationship. Although, to tell the truth, he'd really felt no need to.
The ring from Moishe Weissman had stayed firmly in his pocket all weekend. He had wanted on several occasions to bring up the subject of marriage, but the timing had never felt quite right. Still, there was no rush. He was content for now simply to bathe in the fresh flush of falling in love. She hadn't said it yet, but given the way their relationship had taken several giant leaps forward during the course of the weekend, he was fairly certain she was falling in love with him as well. He wasn't sure he could feel any more complete if she were currently wearing his ring on her finger.
"Still, I hope you're right and that anything is possible in the mornings," said Lois, still refusing to release her grip from around his waist, making it clear that she was also having difficulty setting aside the weekend. "Because as of right now, we don't even have the tiniest fragment of something that, with a lot of work, might resemble a page one story for the next edition."
"Come on, Lois. We had a great story on Friday," Clark said as they neared their usual coffee stand. "Several great stories, in fact. Hi, Devon," he said to the man at the coffee stand as Lois slipped out of his embrace. "We'll take the usual."
Clark felt her absence immediately, as if someone had suddenly cut off one of his appendages. It was going to be a long day waiting until he could hold Lois again. Still, Perry would not likely take kindly to his top reporting team being draped all over each other in the newsroom. And, even Clark had to admit, he was having problems thinking clearly with Lois' body tucked against his.
"You know Perry," Lois responded. "You're only as good as today." She pulled some money out of her wallet, handing it to Devon. "It's on me," she said.
"Short nonfat milk, decaf, no foam, no sugar, no whip," said Devon, handing Lois her coffee.
Devon picked up a second cup, handing it to Clark. "Grande latte, full caf, whole milk, three sugars."
"Thank you," said Clark, glancing at Lois before looking down at his coffee with a smug grin.
"Still on that health kick, I see," said Lois, shooting Clark a dirty look that conveyed her irritation over his body's ability to eat anything he wanted without being affected by the calories.
"Life is short, Lois. Order what you want."
"Life is long, Clark. And you are what you eat." She ran her eyes down his body. "Most of us anyway." Her tone was one of annoyance. Still, she bumped his shoulder playfully before heading away. He grinned, shared a look with Devon and headed after his partner.
Suddenly, a strange darkness fell over the city.
"What's going on?" asked Clark.
"A solar eclipse?"
"But they always announce them."
Using his enhanced vision to see in the dark, Clark spotted a red sports car speed around the corner, heading straight for them at full speed. The sudden darkness had obviously caught the driver off guard. Clark instinctively jumped in front of the car, his hands on the hood as he braked the car so that it stopped harmlessly near the curb. At that instant, the darkness receded. Realizing he was going to be spotted standing with his hands on the hood of what had been a fast moving car only moments before, Clark threw himself backwards into a pile of garbage.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed, rushing over to him. "Are you all right?" She began frantically helping him to his feet, checking him over before a suddenly sheepish expression crossed her face. "Oh. Right," she finally said.
He grinned. She had obviously, for just a moment, forgotten who he was.
Her embarrassment only lasted for a second, however. "Typical," she said, turning Clark's attention to the direction in which she was looking. The driver of the car had gotten out of his vehicle and instead of rushing to see if Clark was okay, he was checking to see if there was any damage to his car.
"It's all right, Lois."
"Well, only because you're you. I'm going to give him a piece of my mind. He could have…"
"It's okay, Lois," Clark said again, this time grabbing her arm to keep her from going over to give the driver of the car a tongue lashing he would likely never forget. "I really don't want to draw attention to myself."
She stopped, looking up at him as understanding sank in. After a moment, she nodded.
"So what happened?" Clark asked, looking up into the sky.
"The sun just blocked out. But why?"
"Yeah…" Suddenly the expression on Lois' face changed. Clark knew the look immediately. "It'll make an even better story. Come on," she said, grabbing his arm to drag him towards the Daily Planet. "This could be our lucky day."
Lois Lane knew furious. She understood every nuance and variation of the emotion. She'd perfected the stance that accompanied it and had learned how to shoot it across the room with just a look. Yes, fury was an emotion with which she was intimately acquainted. And no one had perfected it the way she had. And yet right now, furious didn't even begin to do her emotions justice.
Forbid her! How dare he! "Superman doesn't have a partner, Lois," she muttered sarcastically. "Fine! Well then, maybe Lois Lane doesn't have a boyfriend!" She hadn't said that to him, of course. But maybe she should have.
No. She couldn't do that to him. She wouldn't have been able to handle seeing that wounded puppy-dog look she knew would settle on his face. The look he'd given her when she'd sent him back to the Daily Planet alone had been bad enough. 'If you don't leave right now, Clark Kent, I won't be held accountable for my actions!' His hands had plunged deep into his pockets and the light in his eyes had dimmed reminding her very much of a little boy who had just received the gift he most wanted for Christmas only to have it break the first time he played with it. And damn him anyway for making her feel like the Grinch who stole Christmas. She was in the right here. He had no right — she stomped her foot for emphasis — to make her feel guilty about this.
"Hurry up, Lola. The company doesn't pay you to stand around all night painting your nails."
The man's voice from the doorway snapped Lois into action. She quickly pulled the light grey coveralls with the small patch saying 'EPRAD Cleaning Service' over her clothes. One size fits all. Please! She rolled up the cuffs and sleeves. Pulling her hair back into a ponytail and putting on a pair of wire rim glasses, she looked in the mirror. Satisfied that anyone who'd seen her at the press conference this afternoon wouldn't recognize her now, she headed out of the lockers.
The press conference. That was where things had started to go so terribly wrong. She and Clark had gone to EPRAD, The Extra- Planetary Research and Development Agency, to find out what had happened to the sun this morning. An impromptu press conference had been set up so that a Professor Daitch was able to address all the press who had also found their way to the EPRAD Space Center.
An asteroid, which Professor Daitch had called Nightfall, had apparently traveled between the Earth and the sun, blocking out the sun for a short period of time. The asteroid was seventeen miles across and traveling at a speed of thirty-thousand miles an hour. Throughout the press conference, Lois had kept her eyes on the professor. He had seemed… nervous somehow. As a result, she'd left the conference absolutely convinced that he was holding something back.
As she'd been on the phone after the conference ended, telling Perry about her suspicions, Professor Daitch had cornered Clark for a very serious discussion, confirming her suspicions that something more was happening with the asteroid. Clark had come clean afterwards — telling her that Professor Daitch wanted to speak to Superman this evening.
Okay, so maybe he had been right that Superman couldn't very well show up with Lois Lane, Daily Planet reporter, on his arm. And after the events of last week, it wasn't as if she didn't understand the dangers of being associated too closely with Superman. Now, if he'd simply said that, discussed the issue with her… She could be reasonable, after all. She could have even suggested a solution. He could have simply set her down somewhere where she could have overheard the conversation without being seen. She might even have agreed that they both had to agree to go to print before confidential information was released. But instead…
Forbid her! How dare he! Who did he think he was? Her lord and master? Was this what she could expect of him now that she'd begun dating him? It was almost as if he simply saw her as a hood ornament — nice on the front of a car, but of no worth, other than decoration. They were partners — or had been until she'd lowered her defenses and allowed them to become something more. Yet without even consulting her, he'd simply told her that she was not invited to this meeting.
Hell would freeze over before she allowed Lois Lane to become a hood ornament! Now was the time for them to establish the ground rules of this very unusual relationship. And that started tonight. Fortunately for her, she had sources too. Louie really did know guys who knew guys — at least in the cleaning business. Thanks to him, Clark was going to learn that he wasn't the one calling the shots in this relationship. Lois Lane did not take orders from any man — not even one who could bench press cars! The sooner he understood that, the better.
Clark took a few calming flights around the world, keeping his pace slow. Professor Daitch had asked to speak to Superman this evening. Since he hadn't given an exact time for this meeting, he probably should consider heading over there.
After his fight with Lois, he'd gone back to the Daily Planet. He knew Lois was mad — okay, maybe that was an understatement. She was furious. But he'd thought that if he just gave her a little time to think about it… What was he thinking? This was Lois. She had a gift for being able to stay mad. But what could he do? Superman worked alone. She had to accept that sometimes he would have to leave her behind. After all, she was far more likely to get hurt than he was. And they had to guard against people connecting her any more closely to Superman than they already did. Surely she could see that after the events of the past week. Still, maybe he shouldn't have left her at EPRAD this afternoon. But she'd been so determined to have him go.
The problem was that she had not put in an appearance at the Daily Planet since he'd left her. He'd covered for her with Perry. He'd even written up the story of the asteroid under their shared byline. He gave a small snort. It was ironic that the first time one of them covered for the other since Lois had found out about Superman, it would be he covering for her.
He was in the right. He knew that. But that didn't make it any easier for him to fight with her. After the closeness they had shared this past weekend, there was an emptiness inside him, a Lois-shaped hole. She was a part of him now. Fighting with her before had always been… well, at times it was almost fun. She'd get mad. He'd find it amusing. And realizing he was not affected by her temper, she'd get past it and forgive him for whatever unintentional faux-pas he had committed. The problem was that he couldn't find anything amusing about fighting with Lois now.
Still, there wasn't time to worry about Lois at the moment. Professor Daitch had seemed insistent that he needed to talk to Superman. And Lois was certainly right about one thing. If that was the case, then they hadn't been told the whole story about the asteroid.
Turning in mid-air, he headed back towards Metropolis, and his meeting with Professor Daitch at EPRAD.
Slipping away from the attentive eye of her supervisor had been easy enough. Lois briefly wondered if the cleaning company knew about the man's drinking problem. Still, it gave her, after a short time, unlimited access to the facilities at EPRAD. And that was a good thing, too. After all, she didn't know the exact time Superman was expected. Clark had conveniently forgotten to mention that.
Still, since she knew Superman was Clark, she suspected he'd come after he filed their story for the morning edition. And given a story this big, and the fact that they had only found out about the asteroid this afternoon, she suspected Perry would push back the filing deadline. Clark would be writing the lead story since she hadn't gone back to the Planet following the press conference. But there would undoubtedly be a lot of extras. Probably a sidebar by Cat — something silly like 'where were you when the lights went out?' Or scientific articles about asteroids. And when Perry extended a deadline, he usually chose to push it back to nine p.m. Clark would likely show up at EPRAD sometime shortly thereafter.
As a result, shortly before nine, she got into position in the observatory. Avoiding detection by Professor Daitch was simple enough. However, he was not the only one present.
"So you understand what you need to say?" asked a man in a military uniform sporting general's stars on his shoulders.
"I understand," Professor Daitch responded.
"I can't stress how important it is that you get him to agree to this," said an older man with a full head of white hair, wearing a suit and tie.
"I understand," Professor Daitch repeated, this time sounding slightly annoyed.
"It is a matter of national security," said the general.
"Look! I understand. But that doesn't mean I have to like it," Daitch said.
"Just remember what's at stake," said the white-haired man, a new steel in his voice. "Especially for you."
Lois caught a look of… was that fear on Daitch's face?
"Anyway, we should be going. Once you explain the situation to Superman, tell him what we need him to do," said the general.
Daitch nodded and then, as the two other men left the room, he turned towards his telescopes and monitors, as if checking to make sure everything was set up correctly. He seemed nervous. And with every additional minute that he had to wait for Superman, he seemed to get increasingly so. Soon Lois was almost feeling the man's anxiety.
Lois held back a gasp as she watched Superman float majestically into the observatory. It was the first time she'd seen Superman like this since she'd found out the identity of the man behind the suit. And she had to admit, he seemed even more impressive to her now.
Daitch was so lost in thought, that he seemed to miss the superhero's arrival, only looking up in shock when Superman began to speak.
"You've been looking for me, Professor?"
"Superman," Professor Daitch gasped.
"Mind if I take a look?" Superman began walking up the steps towards the largest telescope.
"I thought you had enhanced visual abilities."
"I do. But I also have my limits, too."
Limits. For some reason, it had been a long time since Lois had thought of Superman having limits. But he was right. He must have limits. She wondered how much he actually knew about his powers. After all, given how little he knew about his origins, he likely didn't know much about the extent of his powers either. Trial and error. Walking into a building only to have it blow up around him — thereby teaching him he couldn't be hurt by explosions. Catching a Cruise Missile — thereby discovering he couldn't be hurt by cruise missiles. Storming into a nuclear power plant — thereby realizing he couldn't be hurt by radiation. Facing down a man with a green crystal — thereby determining he could be killed by kryptonite. Trial and error. Lois shivered as the implications of that really sank in for the first time.
"Fascinating what kind of surprises the universe can turn up, isn't it?" said Superman, snapping Lois out of her thoughts.
"Hmm," Daitch responded uncommittedly. "Nightfall is approximately seventeen miles across. Traveling at close to thirty thousand miles an hour."
"You told Kent and the other reporters that much at the news conference. Why am I here?"
Lois found herself unexpectedly amused. She wondered how strange it must be to refer to himself in the third person. She quickly pushed her amusement aside. Clark's question was the big one — and she was pleased that Clark was getting straight to the point. What did they need Superman for?
"If my calculations are correct," Daitch said as he walked over to a computer monitor. He punched in a few numbers, pulling something up on the screen that Lois couldn't see. Still, he and Superman stood in front of the monitor, looking at the picture, as Daitch continued, "in a little more than four days, it's going to hit the Earth." He let out a breath. "The sky, literally, is falling."
Lois' breath caught in her throat and she felt a definite jump in her pulse rate as images of all the asteroid movies she'd seen flashed through her mind. Only this was no movie.
"What kind of damage could this cause?" Superman asked.
Lois unconsciously nodded as Superman asked the question she wanted to know. Maybe this wasn't as bad as it seemed at first glance.
"Superman, it could knock the Earth off its axis. It could throw us out of our current solar orbit. See this one is larger than the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The crater it creates will throw enough dust into the air to start a new Ice Age."
"We're not alone," Superman said, startling Lois. He must have realized she was there. Still, she wouldn't have expected him to betray her presence to Daitch. She was just about to stand up, hurt and disappointment rising in her chest when Superman continued speaking. "You might as well come out, gentlemen. I know you're there."
Gentlemen? What? Who? She was stunned when the general and the white haired man she'd seen talking to Daitch earlier emerged through a door. They must have been hanging around just outside the door, eavesdropping as they waited for Superman to talk to Daitch. Suddenly, something felt very strange about the whole situation. Why were they eavesdropping — unless they weren't sure they could trust Daitch to say what they wanted him to say?
"My apologies, Superman," said the general. "But we felt you should hear the news from Professor Daitch before being introduced."
Lois gave her head a slight shake, not entirely sure she believed the explanation.
"I'm General Robert Zeitlin…" the general continued, stepping forward to shake Superman's hand. "This is Secretary John Cosgrove." He gestured to the man beside him.
"You can't keep this a secret."
Lois gave her head a sharp nod. This was information the public had the right to know. She was glad the reporter in Superman understood that.
"I think it would be better if we keep the public in the dark about…" began Daitch.
"I can guarantee that it will get out," said Superman. "A secret this big doesn't stay buried for long. And if it doesn't come from the proper authorities, it will create a panic."
"The President will tell the people," said Cosgrove immediately, "but he needs to avoid the very panic you mentioned. Put simply, he needs to get you on board before he makes an announcement. The country needs your help, Superman. So does the world."
"But you're asking me to fly a million miles into space to stop a piece of rock the size of Metropolis."
Lois' heart came to an abrupt halt. She'd always thought of Superman as capable of anything. But he wasn't saying: 'Just a second,' before disappearing to simply take care of the problem. That in itself told Lois that stopping the asteroid was not something he was certain he could accomplish. But then, that made sense, given her previous thoughts about Clark's knowledge of his powers.
"You're our only hope, Superman."
Lois felt a flash of anger. How dare they lay this type of responsibility on Superman's shoulders? Maybe he was the world's only hope. But he didn't need the extra pressure of hearing them say it.
"What exactly is it you want me to do?" Superman asked.
"The EPRAD science team has carefully studied the situation and they've pin-pointed the asteroid's structural weak point. If you hit it at maximum speed, they believe that you'll achieve a fifty megaton explosive force."
"What about using tactical nuclear weapons?"
Lois nodded, approving of Superman's question. Surely there were other options. They simply needed to find them. The world shouldn't be expecting Superman to save them from all their woes.
"We're concerned about the risk of nuclear fallout," said the general. When Superman nodded thoughtfully, the general continued. "I guess my first question would be whether you can survive flying in a vacuum. Or would flying in outer space tear you apart?"
Lois' eyes narrowed. Although it made sense to her that these men would need to know Superman's vulnerabilities in order to determine if he could accomplish this task, she still didn't like hearing the questions asked. If there was anything out there, besides kryptonite, that could hurt Superman, she didn't want anyone to know about it unless absolutely necessary.
"That's not a problem. When I made my first appearance, I flew the space shuttle into orbit without any difficulties."
"Right," said the general. "What about breathing? Is that a problem?"
"I can hold my breath for twenty minutes."
"Would you die if you had to hold your breath longer than that?"
Superman shrugged. "I really don't know. I've never had to hold it longer than twenty minutes. I do know that after twenty minutes, I get… lightheaded. I suspect I'd lose consciousness. What would happen if I still didn't get air… I just don't know."
"Then I guess we'll need to provide you with some breathing apparatus," said the general, making a mental note. "How long will it take you to get there?"
"I suspect it will take me a few hours."
"Okay, then all we need is your okay, and we can get our scientists to work on ironing out the details. They will need your assistance of course, Superman. Finding out as much as possible about your limitations will significantly increase your chances of success."
Superman nodded slowly. "I guess we're about to find out what my limits really are."
Lois felt a knot form in her stomach. She waited as Superman made arrangements to meet with the science team, but her mind was only half following the conversation. 'We're about to find out what my limits really are.' As a result of her distraction, she missed Superman's departure. When she finally realized he had left, she immediately began to sneak out of the observatory.
She stepped out the doors to EPRAD, into the back alley. She took a deep breath, her fear for Clark practically outweighing her fear for the entire world. Was this one of the downsides to loving Clark? When he was just 'Superman', she worried about him. But now she felt downright terrified.
A sudden rush of wind directed her attention to the man suddenly in front of her. In the suit, standing at his full height, a stern look on his face, arms firmly folded across his chest, he cut an imposing figure. Still, she instantly set her chin, refusing to be intimidated, as her eyes met his.
Like swords clashing in midair. That was how Clark would afterwards describe the moment his eyes met Lois'. He'd faced down criminals, confronted acts of nature, dealt with thousands of fans, everyone wanting a piece of him. But all it took was one small woman, her eyes flashing, to make his legs tremble. Had anyone been watching, he suspected they would be amused by the sight. In the battle of wills, Superman had nothing on Lois Lane.
He'd known Lois was there almost from the moment he'd first landed in the observatory. But it had been too late for him to do anything about it, having already been spotted by Professor Daitch. In fact, he'd been so caught up in listening to Lois' reactions to what Professor Daitch was telling him that he'd almost missed the presence of two other men in the observatory.
Still, maybe it was just as well that Lois had overheard his conversation. It saved him from having to repeat everything to her. Although, to tell the truth, he would probably have played down the danger to himself were he telling the tale. At least, given her outfit, he now knew how Lois had spent the afternoon — becoming the newest employee of EPRAD's cleaning service. His eyes left hers to drift involuntarily down her body as a small smile suddenly began to pull at one corner of his mouth. How was it she could look so incredible in a sloppy pair of overalls?
"What?" she demanded.
"Huh? Oh. Uhh… You're… adorable."
She broke eye contact, obviously trying to remain mad. But, same as he, she seemed to be having problems doing so.
He let out a breath. "Would you like a lift home, Ms. Lane?"
She met his eyes again, holding them for a long moment before nodding almost shyly. "By the way, the name is Lola Dane."
He grinned. Stepping forward, he easily picked her up in his arms, suddenly fighting images from the past weekend. He should be angry with her for using privileged information to get the inside scoop on the asteroid story. But for a reason he didn't quite understand, he just couldn't rustle up those emotions when her body was snuggled up against his.
Lois used the time as she slipped into a sweatshirt and jeans to think about everything she had learned while staking out the observatory. She had to admit that her fight earlier with Clark suddenly didn't seem all that important — not in the face of world-wide destruction and the risk to Superman should he try to stop it. If they lived past the next four days… well, then there might be something for them to work through, but for the time being…
She opened the door to her room and walked into the living room. Clark, now in his regular clothes, had obviously been pacing but he came to a stop when he heard her. She headed straight for him and without words, slipped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his neck. He pulled her close.
They stood silently like that for a long time, neither having the will or the inclination to release their grip. And Lois understood immediately that this was what she'd been looking for all her life — that safe place where she could feel completely and totally loved. A tear escaped from the corner of her eye. It was ironic that she should have found him just as the world was going to be destroyed.
"I'll stop the asteroid, Lois," Clark said as if he reading her mind. He tightened his arms ever so slightly around her, as if determined to protect her personally from the giant piece of space rock currently hurling itself towards them.
"If you can."
He pulled back, cupping her face between his two large hands and staring intently into her eyes. "I'll stop it, Lois," he repeated.
She nodded, unwilling to let him see exactly how much that idea terrified her. He had to help. She knew that. He wouldn't be Superman… Actually, he wouldn't be Clark if he didn't at least try.
"So what happens now?" she asked.
"I'm meeting with the EPRAD scientists at six o'clock tomorrow morning." His arms gathered her close once again.
Her arms left his waist so that her hands could run up his chest and around his neck to pull his mouth down to hers. He surrendered willingly, meeting her kiss with the same sense of love and desperation she knew she was conveying. Her hands fisted themselves in his hair as she pulled her body tighter against his. He responded in kind. One hand slipping down her back and over the curve of her buttocks as the other buried itself in her hair, both hands pulling her closer, as if seeking to make them one person.
It was with difficulty that Lois pulled away, nuzzling his neck as she forced her desires to surrender to her will.
"So what are you going to do?" asked Lois, finally breaking contact between them
Clark shrugged. "What do you mean? I'm going to fly into space and destroy the asteroid."
Lois immediately met his gaze. "Are you crazy, Clark? Have you thought about this? They expect you to fly a million miles into space and then, when you've finally exhausted yourself with the long flight, plow at full speed into an asteroid, hoping that you can hit the… what was it now? …structural weak point. And if you do manage to do it, they think you will achieve a thirty megaton…"
"Don't edit me, Clark. A fifty megaton explosion, causing a hunk of space rock the size of Metropolis to explode into dust. And they expect you to do that with no protection. No oxygen — well, except for a couple of air tanks, I suppose. I'm not sure who is more insane! Them for suggesting it. Or you for planning to do it."
"What do you want me to do, Lois? Just sit around here, twiddling my thumbs waiting for the world to be destroyed?"
"No. Of course not. I know you can't do that. I just think there has to be a better way."
"If the EPRAD scientists couldn't come up with a better way, what makes you think we can?"
"I heard your doubts, Clark. I was there. I know you think this is a suicide mission. Do you really want to die so badly?"
"I knew it was a mistake letting you be there."
"Letting me?" she gasped in disbelief. "Clark, if I recall correctly, you forbade me to be there! And by the way, don't think I've forgotten about that!"
"Lois, what's your point?"
"I just think there has to be another way."
"And how do you know that?"
"If the scientists at EPRAD…"
"You said that before. But what makes you think we can even trust the scientists at EPRAD?"
"Excuse me? Why would they lie about something like this? If they are wrong, if they give me bad advice about how to destroy the asteroid, the world will be destroyed."
"It's just something I heard before you arrived. Secretary Cosgrove told Professor Daitch that if he didn't convince you to go into space to destroy the asteroid, he was in danger."
"Of course he's in danger. After all, there's an asteroid heading towards Earth. An asteroid that's large enough to destroy all life on the planet."
"No, Clark. It sounded more personal than that to me."
"You're reaching for straws, Lois. I think you're a little too close to be objective here."
"Don't dismiss me, Clark! I've been working with you for months now. You used to trust my gut instincts. Is this new attitude because you don't like being challenged as Superman? Or is this what I can expect if I date you?"
His expression softened, as if brought back to reality by her use of the word 'if.' "Lois…" He reached for her.
She instantly stepped away. "Don't."
He let out a breath as his hand dropped impotently to his side. "Okay, let's say you're right. Let's say that there is more going on here than they are telling us. It still doesn't matter."
"How can you say that?"
"Because a huge rock is going to hit the Earth in less than four days. And I still am the best chance this world has."
"That gives us four days."
Clark shook his head. "I'm meeting with EPRAD scientists at six a.m. tomorrow morning. An announcement will be made about the asteroid at nine. And I expect they will want me to leave shortly afterwards — both to destroy the asteroid as far from Earth as possible and to keep public panic to a minimum. There's no more time. I just want to spend the night holding you."
Once again, he reached for her. Once again, she avoided him. "Quit dismissing me. I won't be treated like an imbecile. We might not have much time. But we do have some. And if you expect me to just give up, I…" Lois' voice was cut off by a sob. Instantly, she felt Clark's arms around her. She cried quietly into his shoulder for a moment before pulling away again. This time, she didn't try to talk. She simply walked over to where she'd tossed her jacket on the back of a chair. Picking it up, she headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" asked Clark.
"You just told me we don't have much time. That means we certainly don't have time to stand around here, debating the issue." She stopped at her door, looking back at him. "Coming?"
"Fine!" she said, stepping out the door and slamming it behind her.
CHAPTER 2: FOOLS RUSH IN
Clark watched her head out of the building, torn. He hated this distance between them, and there was a part of him that was tempted to follow her, as he always had. But he knew in his gut the EPRAD scientists were right. Destroying the asteroid was the only way to save Earth. And he was the only one who could do it. Lois was grasping at straws. Going with her would only encourage her. Maybe if he didn't go, she'd give up quickly, return to her apartment and then… well, at least they could spend a few hours of quality time together before he had to leave. Besides, there were a few things he needed to do before tomorrow morning. And now was as good a time as any to get them done.
He had no illusions. Lois had called this a suicide mission. And although Clark didn't exactly see it as a suicide mission, he was acutely aware of the risk. He might not know the limits of his powers, but smashing into the asteroid at full speed… At the very least, he suspected he would be knocked unconscious. And if that happened, there was a very real chance he would not make it back to Earth. No. He figured he had about a fifty-fifty chance of survival.
And that meant… He spun into the Superman suit and headed into the sky. He wanted a chance to say goodbye… uhh… to see his parents.
It was a surreal experience — heading through an unwitting Metropolis, knowing four days from now everything could be gone, knowing she was one of the few people on the planet who had any idea any of this was happening. The darkness in the newsroom bore witness to the world's ignorance. No people scrambling around, trying to get more facts. As far as her colleagues were concerned, the paper was put to bed and all was right with the world.
Clark really should be helping her. She could hardly believe he'd simply refused to come. He really could be a mutton-headed dolt at times. It just wasn't like Clark to give up. Her mind flashed back to the heat-wave Metropolis had experienced only a few months previously. He'd done the same thing then — giving up instead of fighting like mad to save Superman. Still, there was no time to worry about this pattern of behavior in Clark right now. She had to find another solution to this current crisis — then she could take the time to beat some sense into that thick skull of his.
She slowly made her way to her desk, wondering where to start. The scientists at Star Labs had undoubtedly left for the night. The chances that she could contact anyone at Lex Labs was practically non-existent. She suddenly wondered why she had even left her apartment. Maybe Clark was right. Maybe there simply wasn't enough time to come up with another way for him to deal with the asteroid — if there even was another way. She could be spending whatever time they had left with Clark.
No! She wasn't going to think like that. There was something more going on. Something they were missing. She felt it in her gut. She knew Clark thought she was reacting emotionally, but she knew she was right. And maybe somewhere in the city was a scientist who could help her. If there was, she simply had to find him or her.
She sat down at her desk, switched on her lamp and pulled out her phone book. She dialed the number for Star Labs as she began searching for a pen.
"Star Labs," came the woman's voice on the other end of the line.
"Umm, yes. This is Lois Lane of the Daily Planet. And I'm looking for an astrophysicist."
"Well, you called the right place," came the slightly sarcastic response.
Lois ignored the tone of the woman's voice. "Is there anyone there that I can speak to?"
"Could you tell me what it's concerning?"
"Are you saying that there is more than one astrophysicist there at this time of night?" asked Lois, tossing the woman's sarcastic tone back at her.
"Just a second please."
Lois wasn't entirely sure the woman hadn't hung up on her. Still, there wasn't much she could do but hope she was on hold. As she waited, she juggled the phone on her shoulder as she began flipping through the phone messages lying on her desk. She stopped when one message in particular caught her attention. It was from Lex. 'Lex Luthor wants you to stop by whenever you get the chance. Apparently he has information about the Nightfall Asteroid and he wants to discuss it with you.'
"Hello," came a man's voice on the other end of the phone. "To whom am I speaking?"
"Oh, umm… my name is Lois Lane. I'm a reporter with the Daily Planet. And you are?"
"The chief of security: Derek Tyler. I understand you are wanting to speak to one of our scientists."
"Yes. Particularly one who has knowledge of astronomy. I need some information about the Nightfall Asteroid for a story I'm working on."
"Surely you must be aware of the time. All of our scientists have left for the night. Now I can put you back in touch with our receptionist. She can have someone call you when they come in tomorrow morn…"
"I don't have time for that," interrupted Lois. "Surely you can get hold of someone who can help me."
"Come on. This is important. I can't tell you how important this is." She hesitated for a second. "The fate of the world is in the balance."
"Ms. Lane, I'm quite sure that not having a quote from a scientist for your story doesn't qualify as having the fate of the world hanging in the balance."
"No. You don't understand. I need…" Her voice trailed off, not entirely sure how to make the urgency of the situation clear without giving out classified information. By tomorrow, the world would know that the asteroid was heading to Earth. But it would be irresponsible of her to release that information now, before the President and the experts had a chance to announce it in such a way as to avoid panic.
"Good night, Ms. Lane," came the amused voice from the other end of the line before the phone line went dead.
Clark floated silently above the old farm house as he observed his parents go through the familiar routine of getting ready for bed. He watched his mother begin turning off the lights on the main floor while his father made sure the doors were locked. When he was a child, there had been no need to lock the doors at night. But one of the misfortunes of the modern age was that crime was no longer a stranger, even in rural Kansas.
It was an hour earlier here than it was in Metropolis. Still, it was a little past his parents' regular bedtime. He wondered what had kept them up later than normal.
He was glad, however, that they were still awake. Not that he wouldn't wake them up tonight, but he was pleased he didn't have to. There was always something comforting just watching the quiet activity of his home. It took him back to a time when his biggest worry was whether Lana Lang would agree to go to the Corn Festival Dance with him. He was so lost in memory that he almost missed his parents heading together towards the stairs.
His mother's giggle when his father came up behind her and grabbed her brought Clark back to the present. His mother turned in his father's arms to kiss him.
Clark's head suddenly snapped up as he realized he'd better move fast — before things between his parents got out of control. That too was a familiar memory. After all, as a teenager with super hearing, he was aware that this was a common activity for his parents. Unlike other children, he wasn't able to pretend his parents had only had sex often enough for him to be conceived — and in his case, that wouldn't have even been once.
He quickly darted down to the door of the farmhouse and knocked. He could simply have gone through a window and been standing in the living room. But he figured it might be wise to give them a moment to compose themselves.
"Who could that be, Jonathan?" Clark heard his mother say.
"Why don't we just ignore them? Maybe they'll go away."
"Jonathan!" his mother rebuked. However, the rebuke lost some of its punch when followed by a very feminine giggle. Clark could swear he even heard his mother slap his father's hand and whisper, "Don't."
"Come on, Martha. It's not as if…"
"What if it's Wayne? He's been having problems with his generator all week. You know that."
Clark was relieved when he heard his father sigh, finally admitting defeat. Still, Clark had more than a little color in his cheeks when his father unlocked the door to find him standing outside.
"Martha, it's only Clark," Jonathan called back over his shoulder. "Why don't you get him a piece of that apple pie you made today and a glass of milk? I'll stick a movie he likes in the VCR and we can sneak upstairs while he's watching it to…"
"Jonathan!" Martha interrupted with a laugh. "Don't mind him," she said to Clark as he stepped into the house. "He's just feeling a little frisky tonight." With that, Martha slapped her husband's butt and headed into the kitchen.
"Mo-m," Clark groaned. Okay so maybe they weren't exactly celibate these days. But did they have to be quite so obvious about it? There was only so much a guy — even a super powered one — could stand to know about his parents' love life.
"Come in, Clark," said Jonathan with a laugh at Clark's obvious discomfort. "So what brings you by this evening?"
"Not that you're not welcome here anytime." Martha's voice came from the kitchen.
"I know that, mom," Clark called back, coming further into the living room. "I assume you two know about the asteroid."
"Yeah. It's fascinating, son, to think that a rock that big could get so close to Earth without anyone spotting it before now."
Clark and his father were just getting settled on the couch when Martha reentered the room carrying a small tray containing three pieces of apple pie and three glasses of milk.
"Thanks, mom," said Clark, taking an offered piece of pie and watching his mother set his milk on a coaster on the coffee table in front of him. "So what's the problem?"
He smiled. His mother always knew when he was troubled. She had since he was young. It was both comforting and, at times, bothersome — especially when he had been trying to hide the emergence of a new power when he was a kid. He let out a breath, knowing he had to tell them about tomorrow's mission, yet downplay the dangers in an effort to keep them from overreacting the way Lois had.
"We're standing precisely five hundred meters below Metropolis street level," Luthor explained as he led Lois down a sterile looking hall. "Surrounded by sixteen-inch reinforced concrete walls. Originally designed to withstand a nuclear attack."
"A bunker?" Lois was getting more confused by the minute. She'd come here because the message Lex had left for her claimed he had information about the asteroid. And since Lex Labs had hundreds of scientists on payroll, not to mention Lex's funding of at least half of the scientists in Metropolis, she'd wondered if one of them could come up with something useful. But when she arrived, the only thing he would say was that he had to show her something. And then she found herself being brought down here.
"Well, I prefer to think of it as an ark," Luthor responded. "I assume you know… about the asteroid."
"Everyone knows about the asteroid," Lois responded, unwilling to give away the clandestine information she had obtained just in case Lex didn't know about it.
"I'm not speaking of its existence."
Lois' eyebrows rose. "Then what are you talking about, Lex?"
"I'm talking about the fact that the asteroid is on a collision course with Earth."
"What are you talking about?" Lois said. If Lex was fishing for information, if he had heard a rumor or something, she wasn't about to give him confirmation.
"It's not public knowledge yet. But I know you, Lois. If anyone has a gift for uncovering information that isn't public knowledge, it's you."
"If it isn't public knowledge, how do you know about it?"
"I take care to ensure that I'm well informed about anything of significance that is happening. And this is significant, don't you think? Anyway, in case you didn't know, the scientists at EPRAD are saying that when the asteroid hits the Earth, it will likely destroy all life here."
"So why are you telling me this?"
"I wanted to show you this place." He walked over to a mounted sketch of the facility in which they were standing. "We've got room here for two hundred people, supplies to last three years, tools and implements for farming and manufacture for when we reemerge."
"So if the world dies, you live?" She felt vaguely sick. Less than an hour before, she'd been arguing with a man who was the exact opposite — willing to give his life that the world might live. How could the two men in her life be such complete opposites? And why was it that she'd never noticed that before?
"The survival of the species doesn't depend on the survival of all of its members," Luthor continued, oblivious to her thoughts. "In fact, were the dinosaurs possessed of a somewhat larger brain, they too might have survived their fate. Fortunately for us, they didn't. But now, the chance is ours."
She felt a moment of admiration. He could almost make this flagrant attempt to save his own ass seem… almost honorable. She watched as he moved over to a fresh bouquet of flowers, picked up a pair of scissors and cut one for her. Why was it that she suddenly suspected he would have fresh flowers in this place during the entire time he was forced to live there?
"Did you want me to write about this?" she asked, trying to figure out why she was being shown all of this.
"No. No. I seek no publicity. In fact, considering the circumstances, I think advertising the existence of a place like this might be somewhat cruel."
She bit her tongue on the immediate thought that it might also have millions scrambling to get into this 'ark' of his. Or, should the asteroid strike, notify people that food and supplies could be found down there. "So why am I here?"
He looked as if he had been waiting for the question. However, instead of answering, he led her further down the hall, opened a door and gestured her inside.
"This is my apartment," she gasped when she saw the furniture, the pictures, every single detail of her apartment recreated in the midst of this sterile environment.
"Well, at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. I hope you like it."
"Of course I like it. I decorated it." She sunk down onto 'her' couch, suddenly feeling slightly violated. To her knowledge, Lex had only been in her apartment once — and that was only for a matter of minutes. And yet somehow, he'd managed to have her apartment recreated down to the smallest detail. She pushed her revulsion aside to concentrate on what she needed to know. "But I'm a little confused."
"I'm offering you a chance, Lois, to become a passenger on this ark. To be my special guest on mankind's next great adventure."
"Lex, why me?" She suddenly felt a little suspicious — although she wasn't entirely sure what she thought Lex was guilty of.
"Because I care. And because I must admit that three years will be a long time without… companionship."
The color drained out of Lois' face and she refused to meet his eyes. She wasn't under any illusion about what he meant by 'companionship.' Essentially, he was asking her to sell herself to him in exchange for her life, to become his… paramour.
"May I send someone to pack your personal belongings?"
Clark! Thoughts of him instantly sprang to mind. Even if she was mad at him at the moment… furious actually… there was no way she'd leave him behind. For a moment, she was tempted to ask Lex if she could bring Clark with her. Clark would never come. She knew that. Even if he were unable to stop the asteroid, he'd be out there, trying to save whatever lives he could. And she would never leave him behind. Still, she almost burst out laughing at the mere thought of Lex's response to such a request. 'Certainly you can bring Kent. I never object to my paramours bringing their boyfriends along.'
"What's so funny?" he asked, obviously realizing that she was fighting back laughter.
"Nothing. It's just… well, I can't stay here."
"Surely you'd not allow a meaningless affair with someone like Kent to cause you to sacrifice your own life?"
"It's not meaningless. And how did you know that I'm involved with Clark?" Lois was suddenly on her feet as the question, and its possible implications, penetrated her brain.
"You haven't exactly been… discreet."
Lois felt the old insecurity surface — the fear of losing her status as one of the most driven, dedicated reporters in the world; finding herself the laughing stock of the press corps; a sex kitten, like Cat, that no one would ever take seriously again. She quickly forced those feelings aside. "Have you been spying on me?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I just don't want you to throw your life way on account of someone like Kent. And that's exactly what you'll be doing if you turn down my offer because of a temporary infatuation with that giblet."
"Giblet? Giblet? Clark is the most remarkable man I've ever met! I'm lucky he's even interested in me! And how dare you…" Anger cut off her words. Okay, so maybe Clark was a mutton-headed dolt at times, but… he was her mutton-headed dolt. And furthermore, she was the only one who had the right to insult him like that!
"Come on, Lois. I know you. You aren't the type to settle for a house in the suburbs and the two point four kids that go along with it. Living from paycheque to paycheque. Having Kent trying to support you while you stay home to raise the kids. Never quite making ends meet. You were meant for greatness. All Kent has to offer is a life filled with the mundane. Besides, is Kent so selfish that he'd prevent you from saving your own life? If he really cared about you, he'd tell you that I'm offering you a chance to live."
Lois shot him a look that could freeze water. "I'm leaving now," she announced before, without a backward glance, leaving the room and heading towards the elevators. She only hoped Lex would let her leave as it suddenly occurred to her that no one, not even Clark, knew she was there. Her heart pounded painfully as every second seemed to take forever. She needed to get out. Whether he knew it or not, Clark needed her help — and she wasn't going to be able to get it for him if she was trapped in this dungeon.
As she pushed the button for the elevator, she heard Lex approach her from behind. She was certain her blood pressure rose yet again. She stared intently at the elevator doors, silently willing them to open.
"If you change your mind," she heard Lex say, "the offer will remain open. But ask yourself this, Lois: are you really so determined to die with your lover?"
The elevator doors opened, allowing her to step inside. Once inside, she turned, watching with relief as Lex made no move to stop the elevator doors from closing. She raised her face, breathing hard, as she silently watched the numbers as the elevator took her back to the surface. She could only hope he didn't have men at the surface waiting to take her back into that prison.
"That's a tough one, son," said Jonathan when Clark had finished filling them in on the Nightfall asteroid and EPRAD's request of him.
"Are you sure that this is the only way to solve the problem?" asked Martha. "I mean, you might have incredible strength, but this seems… just a little drastic. Surely there is another way you can keep the asteroid from destroying the Earth."
"Now you're sounding like Lois," said Clark.
"Lois?" Martha looked over at her husband briefly. "Superman was talking to Lois about this?"
"Oh, right," said Clark. "I haven't had a chance to tell you yet. But… Lois knows."
"Knows what?" asked Jonathan.
"You know… that I'm Superman."
His parents shared another look.
"Don't worry. She won't tell anyone," said Clark, trying to alleviate his parents' fears.
"No, it's not that," said Martha. "It's just… well, we were under the distinct impression when you were here with her a couple months ago that you didn't want her to know."
Clark shrugged. "It wasn't exactly my intention to tell her. But when we were trying to get away from the kidnappers last week, I sort of gave myself away."
"Is this a good thing?" asked Jonathan.
Clark shifted shyly.
"Of course it is, Jonathan," Martha replied. "Can't you tell? Our boy's in love."
"Mom," groaned Clark.
"Are you sure she's not just… wanting to be with Superman?" asked Jonathan. "I mean, from what you've told us, she's been pretty infatuated with Superman since he first appeared on the scene."
"I'm sure, dad. We spent last weekend together and… yeah, mom's right. I'm definitely in love. And I think she might be falling in love with me, too."
"So what does she have to say about all this Nightfall stuff?" asked Martha.
"She seems convinced that there is something… underhanded going on here. But she doesn't have any evidence to back up her claim. She doesn't even have a good reason for her suspicions. I think she is just worried about whether I will survive if I try to destroy Nightfall."
"I'd say that's a legitimate worry," said Jonathan. "I can't say I feel really good about it myself. Do you really think you can do it?"
"I don't think I have a choice — not when the only other option is to let everyone on Earth die. Let's say I don't do this and all life on Earth is destroyed. Even if you don't consider the loss of life, I'm not sure I would want to survive — live on this planet without anyone else. I'm just not sure…"
"Well, this whole thing has made me wonder if it's fair for me to get involved with Lois. Is it fair of me to expect Lois to have to deal with Superman? I've made myself a target. Even if I don't die, can I really take the risk that someone will find out who I am and take out their revenge on Lois? Or is it fair to her to have to watch the man in her life put his life on the line for strangers — never knowing when or if he's going to make it home alive. She deserves someone she can count on — not someone who can be called away at a moment's notice."
"Ahh, well, that's not really a question we can answer, son," said Jonathan.
"But don't you think this is something you should be discussing with Lois?" added Martha. "She's a grown woman. She knows what she can and cannot live with."
Lois was part way back to the surface when she was hit by the stupidity of her sudden fears. She had no idea what had come over her. She'd known Lex for a number of months now. She'd gone out with him several times. He was a well respected businessman. So what exactly had she expected him to do? Had she really expected him to hold her there against her will? Suddenly, the entire idea seemed ridiculous and she found herself laughing.
She'd panicked — although why she wasn't entirely certain. And as a result, she hadn't managed to accomplish what she had come for. So now what did she do? After her call to Star Labs, she knew her best chance of finding a scientist who could help her was Lex — given his connection to Lex Labs. Star Labs and Lex Labs were the two most prominent scientific research facilities on the east coast. And Lex should be able to contact a scientist or two who were familiar with astronomy, someone who could help her save Superman.
She cringed. After the way she'd behaved in the bunker, she wasn't entirely sure he would help. And there was a part of her that was too humiliated to ask. But this was too important to let her ego stand in the way of getting the information she needed.
She stepped out of the elevator and headed over to a chair in the lobby, waiting for Lex to make his way out of the bunker. As foolish as she might feel asking him now, she needed his help. And surely, for the sake of saving both the world and Superman, he would help her — no matter how he might regard her after her unreasonable behavior.
Lois' head snapped up at the sound of Lex's voice saying her name. She hadn't heard the elevator doors opening.
"I hadn't expected you to be here waiting for me," he said. "I thought I'd spooked you somehow."
"It wasn't you, Lex," she responded, although even now she felt a weird crawling sensation on the back of her neck. "I just… I guess I'm a little more stressed out about this whole asteroid thing than I like to think I am."
"Anyway, the reason I waited was… well, the truth is Lex, I need your help."
She pushed away the unsettling feeling his resulting smile provoked in her. Why hadn't she noticed before the number of underlying meanings that seemed to exist behind his smile?
He took her arm, helping her to rise from her chair. "So what can I do to help?"
Clark made his way through the skies of Metropolis doing his regular patrol. But the city seemed at peace this evening — the calm before the storm. The same couldn't be said for him. Telling his parents about his upcoming mission had not managed to alleviate his personal fears. Not that he had told them of his fears, any more than he had told Lois. Still, both seemed to sense that he had serious concerns about ability to survive his task.
What he didn't understand was why he had these fears. After all, he'd been in potentially deadly situations before. Trask with the kryptonite. Stopping his first missile. Walking into a nuclear power plant to shut it off. Each of these situations had called for him to test his powers. So what was it about this situation that was causing so much fear?
'You've got more to live for now.' The little voice in the back of his mind was right. Lois. For the first time in his life, he was seeing a home, a place where he belonged, a future. The idea of losing all that when he'd just found it… The truth was that for the first time in his life, living mattered.
He sighed, changing directions so that soon he was flying high above Lois' apartment. He quickly x-rayed the building. When he didn't spot her inside, he headed towards the Daily Planet. He needed her tonight. He wanted, even if just for a few hours, to forget about tomorrow and what that might bring and get lost in her arms. He let out a breath when his search of the Daily Planet also turned up nothing. Where could she be?
Lois leaned back in her chair, raised her face to the ceiling and let out a primal scream. "Don't give me that crap again, Dr. Samba! There has to be another way."
"I don't know what you want me to say," Samba responded. "Since Mr. Luthor contacted me with your request, I've been studying the information he got from EPRAD. And they are right. There is no other way to stop the asteroid."
"What about having Superman fly out to the asteroid and plant explosives — you know, like the movie Armageddon?"
"Ooo, the one with Bruce Willis? I loved that movie."
"Dr. Samba, please. Just answer the question. Could it work?"
"The only explosive that would be powerful enough would have to be atomic."
"So… Superman flies some sort of atomic devise to…"
"But as I said before, that would be unwise."
"And how is that?" Lois asked. She knew the answer. He had explained the whole thing to her several times already. But there had to be a way for Superman to accomplish this task without such a risk to his life. Maybe if she heard him explain it to her again, she'd see the way around it.
"The risk of nuclear fallout would be unacceptable."
"How is that possible? The asteroid is still… what? A million miles away? Surely…"
"We have no way to know for sure how radiation will react in space. If particles from the asteroid do make it to Earth, we have no way to know how much damage could be done from such radiation. Superman can achieve the explosion necessary without taking that risk."
"All right. Let's assume the worst-case scenario if an atomic bomb was used. What are we talking about here?"
"The total annihilation of all life on Earth, slowly, painfully, from radiation poisoning."
Lois closed her eyes and dropped her chin onto her chest. Maybe Clark was right. Maybe she had just been hoping for another way to save the Earth. Maybe she was emotionally too close to this issue. "And Superman?" she asked without opening her eyes. "What are his chances of surviving this mission?"
"Well, they say he is invulnerable. So I imagine he'll be just fine."
Was that what everyone was thinking? Was it possible that in the few months since Superman's first appearance, people had simply come to accept that he could do anything? Were they taking unacceptable risks with Superman's life rather than even considering other solutions? Or was she just too personally involved here? After all, Dr. Samba worked for Lex Labs. He had no reason to support the claims made by EPRAD about the lack of any other means of stopping Nightfall.
"Well, thanks anyway, Dr. Samba," Lois said rising to her feet and heading for the door. It was time for her to go home — maybe Clark would be waiting for her there. She certainly hoped so.
"Was Dr. Samba helpful?"
Lois blinked when she saw the man standing in the doorway. "I thought you'd gone home, Lex. How long have you been there?"
"Not long. I had an all night meeting. I just thought I'd stop by to see if I could be of any further assistance."
Lois gave him a sad smile. "No. I think I found out what I needed to know."
"Can I get someone to give you a ride home?"
Lois shook her head. "I'm going to stop by the Planet before going home. I've got a couple things to clear up there before covering EPRAD's announcement about the asteroid tomorrow morning."
"Then I'll get someone to take you to the Planet. Is there anyway you might have reconsidered my offer of a place on the ark — given what you know now?"
She tilted her head to the side, studying him intently for a moment. There was something… She shook the disturbing feeling from her mind. Lex had been more than helpful with her investigation tonight. There was no point in telling him, once again, how much his previous offer still troubled her. "Thanks anyway, Lex. But I think I'll take my chances on the outside. Hey, I haven't given up on Superman yet," she said, trying to lighten the mood.
He let out a breath. "Well, then let me get you that ride."
After a quick stop to rescue a cat from a tree, Clark landed on the balcony of his apartment, spun out of the Superman suit and stepped inside. He'd been unable to find Lois anywhere. Not that that meant anything. After all, she was Lois. And that meant she could be anywhere — literally. Still, he really could have used some time with her.
Sighing, he made his way to his bedroom, took a pad of paper and a pen from the nightstand beside his bed. Making his way to the kitchen, he sat down at the table and began to write.
'This is the last will and testament of me, Clark Kent…'
Lois was more anxious than she could say to wrap up things at the Daily Planet and head home. She hoped Clark had decided to wait for her there. She supposed if he hadn't, she could go to his place. After all, she wanted more than anything to let him know that she understood. Dating Superman might be difficult. If she'd learned anything in the past twenty-four hours, it was that. Still, she'd never actually considered before this past week that he could be hurt or killed. That was why she was so terrified of having him fly into space on a mission which could very well result in his death.
She found it slightly ironic, given the number of times she'd fantasized about having a relationship with the Man of Steel, that it should be Superman with whom she should now fear getting involved — not Clark. Not only did she understand that, should he survive this mission, there would undoubtedly be many times when she would have to wait and worry about whether he would survive a rescue or would die at the hands of some force beyond her ability to control. She also understood that there would be many times, like today, although that was not a good example since he had not needed to leave her behind when meeting with the EPRAD officials, when he would take off at a moment's notice to do what only he could do. It would require sacrifice and unconditional love. Was Lois Lane capable of such unselfish love?
Still, it was not fair of her to let him know how scared she was about this mission. She could no more cease to be Lois Lane, with everything that entailed, than she could ask him to quit being Superman. He needed her love and support, not her fears, to be the last thing on his mind as he flew out into space. Her mission to find another way to deal with Nightfall might have failed, but that didn't mean there was nothing she could do. Her entire mind now focused on what needed to be done — and telling Clark that she loved him was on the very top of that list. As for the rest… Well, she would just have to take that one step at a time.
She didn't wait for the chauffeur to open the door to the limo. The instant the car pulled to a stop in front of the Daily Planet, she opened the door and stepped out. She needed to leave a note for Perry to let him know she wouldn't be in before the press conference tomorrow morning — a press conference EPRAD hadn't even announced yet. Then she planned to head home as quickly as possible.
"Do you wish me to wait for you, miss?" asked the driver. "Mr. Luthor told me to put myself at your disposal for as long as you need me."
She was about to tell him she could find her own way home when she suddenly decided differently. Calling a cab and waiting for it to arrive would take time — time she… they didn't have. Ironic that Lex was the one making it easier for her to spend the short amount of time she had left with Clark. Given Lex's comments earlier, she had no doubt that Lex felt about Clark much the way that Clark felt about Lex. No love loss there. "Wait for me. I'll only be a few minutes."
Clark finally put down his pen and picked up the paper. Leaning back in his chair, he read through it one last time before crinkling up the paper. He couldn't do it. After many attempts, he'd finally realized that there was simply no way he could say goodbye to Lois. Even though he was a writer, no words could adequately express his feelings for her, his hopes for their future. And even if he could, would it be fair to tell Lois about those hopes and dreams when they could never be? Maybe there were some things better left unsaid.
Tossing his final attempt to write a letter to Lois in the direction of the garbage can, he used a little super breath to ensure it reached its destination. Rising to his feet, he picked up his will. He stared at it for a long moment. It would be easy for Lois or his parents to find it if he left it on the table. On the other hand, there was always the possibility that someone else would find it if he left it in such a public place. Still, what were the chances that someone would break into his place between now and the time that he returned from destroying the asteroid — assuming he did?
No. He really didn't want to take that chance. He stuck his will in a plastic bag before sticking it in his fridge. Someone breaking and entering probably wouldn't raid his fridge. At least he hoped not. On the other hand, Lois would probably end up in his apartment at some point if he didn't return. And if she did, she'd end up looking for a cream soda at some point — always assuming she still wanted anything to do with him. Or his mother would undoubtedly clean out his fridge. Either way, one of them would find his will.
Satisfied with his decision, he spun back into his suit and headed towards Lois' apartment. Even if she wasn't home yet, she likely would be soon. And he really wanted to see her one last time before he had to leave. He needed to know at the very least that she didn't hate him for doing this.
"Ms Lane, you're still here?"
Lois stopped when she heard the older security guard at the front counter address her. "Yeah, Willie. I'm still around. I just had a couple of things to finish up before heading home. Why?"
"Well, about five minutes ago, some scientist over at Star Labs called."
"What?" asked Lois, instantly changing directions to head towards Willie. He wasn't much of a security guard and Lois had to wonder why Perry had recommended him for the job. But he was always friendly. And it wasn't as if most people were looking to break into the Daily Planet these days. The computers and other equipment were too old to be of much value. "Did he leave a message?"
"Yeah. I got it here somewhere." Willie began rustling through papers on his desk before he found what he was looking for.
Lois practically ripped the paper out of his hands. It was from someone named Dr. Bernard Klein. "Heard you needed to talk to a scientist about Nightfall. Said he might be able to help you," Lois read. Without asking for permission, she grabbed Willie's phone and punched in the number on the message.
Only a minute later, Lois was on her way out of the Daily Planet, all thoughts of going home wiped from her mind. Dr. Klein had apparently been working late at the lab. And although astronomy was not his specialty, he had been fascinated by Nightfall's appearance yesterday morning. So with no more than a passing glance at the time, she headed back to the limo Lex had put at her disposal.
"So they told you it was headed for Earth?" asked Dr. Klein.
Lois nodded. "I even confirmed that with a scientist from Lex Labs."
"Oh, nothing. Nothing. I wonder where I went wrong in my calculations," he mumbled.
"Oh, nothing. So what's their solution?"
"They want Superman to go into space and, flying into the asteroid at full speed, pulverize it."
"What?" asked Lois.
"Dr. Klein, is that really all you have to say? Because I really don't have time to play games here."
"Well, I'm no expert, but… Well, just give me a few minutes to make some calculations."
Superman's mind was distracted as he stood, allowing the scientists at EPRAD to do… well, whatever they were doing. Instead, he was concentrating on the crowd of reporters and television cameras that had gathered outside EPRAD, looking for one reporter in particular. But try as he might, he couldn't see her. He couldn't hear her heartbeat. He couldn't smell her shampoo.
"This will be your communications link to Ground Control," said one of the men, placing some sort of headset on him. "We'll be able to hear everything you say and we'll be able to uplink our response through the satellite."
"Sound check, Superman," said a voice on the other end of Superman's ear-piece.
"Testing, testing," Superman obediently replied as he continued to search the crowd.
"Now we're assuming you'll be out there longer than the twenty minutes you say you can hold your breath. This should provide you with enough oxygen for your trip." The man helped attach the small oxygen tanks to Superman's chest.
"Thank you," Superman replied, still not taking his eyes off the crowd. Surely she wasn't so angry with him that she would fail to come, at least stand in the crowd, wish him luck, let him know by her expression that she didn't hate him. She would come. He just had to wait.
"It's time, Superman."
The words brought Superman's attention back to the man speaking. "I just need…" His voice trailed off. He just needed to look into Lois' eyes. He just needed to see her love and trust in him one more time. But there wasn't time. He gave a small nod, turning his mind to what needed to be accomplished.
Superman turned towards the woman's voice to see a good-looking woman with strawberry blonde hair.
"Linda King. LNN," the woman said, pushing her way through the police barrier.
The action brought a small smile to Superman's face. In some obscure way, she sort of reminded him of Lois — determined, pushy, uncompromising. His smile faded and a darkness settled on his face when he recalled the estrangement between him and Lois. Was she really so angry with him that she couldn't even be bothered coming to see him off?
"The world's watching, Superman," Linda King continued. "Do you have any last minute words for us?" She thrust a microphone in his face.
"I'll do my best," Superman responded before looking around one last time, hoping to spot Lois.
"Come on. Come on. Come on." Lois mumbled the entire time the taxi pushed its way through the crowded streets of Metropolis. What was it about people that induced them to clog up the streets in the event of an emergency? Didn't they know how important it was for her to make it to EPRAD before Superman took off?
After her conversation with Dr. Klein, she'd tried calling EPRAD. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone was too busy to come to the phone. But Dr. Klein's plan, even though he'd prefaced everything he said with, 'of course, I'm no expert,' made sense to Lois. Dr. Klein had even worked out the details. Instead of trying to destroy the asteroid — and risk both Superman's life and the possibility of some of the larger pieces still being a threat to Earth — Dr. Klein seemed certain that Superman could push the asteroid off its present course. A simple nudge — at least a simple nudge for Superman — was all that would be required to change the asteroid's trajectory, sending it harmlessly past the Earth.
She had no idea why the experts at EPRAD hadn't thought of the idea themselves. Of course, they seemed to think Superman could do anything — so why would they even be considering other options. But she had all the specs from Dr. Klein. It had taken them the remainder of the night, but he was as certain as someone who was not an expert in astronomy could possibly be about his figures. Now all Lois needed to do was to get the plans to Clark. He could confirm Klein's figures with the EPRAD scientists — save the Earth and not risk his life. Her only problem was getting there in time.
CHAPTER 3: PRIMAL FEAR
The taxi inched slowly forward. Taking a look outside the cab, Lois realized she was only a couple of blocks from EPRAD. Grabbing some money from her wallet, she tossed it to the cabby and crawled quickly out of the cab. "I'll walk from here," she said, taking off at a run towards her destination.
When she'd heard Linda King's question on the radio in the cab, she had instantly fumed. Linda King. A miserable part of her past had picked the worst possible time to rear its ugly head. She hadn't even realized Linda King was back in Metropolis — let alone taken a job at LNN. Typical. Linda had always been the television type — all flash and no substance. Still, it must be a new job or Lois would surely have heard she was working at LNN, spotted her at news conferences or seen her on television before now. How could Superman give her a quote? He probably didn't realize exactly how much of a scum-sucker Linda actually was. Clark really could be a little naive at times.
Still, now was not the time to be worrying about Linda King. There were more important issues — including getting her information to Clark.
She spotted a crowd of reporters up ahead and rushed towards it. Pushing her way to the front of the crowd, she looked around, desperately searching for that tell-tale red and blue. "Where's Superman?" she demanded when she didn't see him.
"You're too late, Lois."
Lois bristled, turning around slowly even as she realized who was addressing her. Her eyes narrowed the instant they landed on Linda King.
"He just took off. Too bad you didn't get a quote for the Daily Planet. I'd say you've just been scooped."
Lois rolled her eyes and bit her tongue. After all, getting the scoop, for the first time in her life, was not Lois' biggest concern. Besides, the quote Superman had given Linda King had gone out over the airwaves — so it wasn't exactly a scoop. It was more accurately a sound bite. Instead, Lois directed her attention to the sky, trying to see if she could spot Superman. Wait a minute? What about yelling for him? Given Superman's hearing, he still might hear her even if she couldn't see him.
"Superman!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. "I need to talk to you!" She wondered why the idea to yell for him hadn't come to her sooner. It was just so hard to think of Clark as Superman. And so now, as a result of her stupidity, when she really needed him to hear her, she was too late.
"Give it up, Lois," scoffed a voice behind her. "Face it. You missed him."
Lois turned and scowled at Linda before walking towards EPRAD. Maybe there was still a way to get word to Superman. After all, surely EPRAD officials had some way to keep in touch with Superman during his mission.
"Professor Daitch," Lois called when she saw a familiar face conferring with a bunch of others at the doors of the building. When he looked up, she hurried towards him. "Professor Daitch, do you have some way of contacting Superman?" she asked. "I really have to speak to him. It's important."
"Give it up, Lois," Linda said again from behind.
Lois scowled. Did that woman have no shame? When Professor Daitch began to turn away, seeming to hope that the two women quickly approaching would keep each other occupied long enough for him to make his escape, Lois grabbed his arm. "Please, Professor Daitch. It's urgent."
"Do you really expect Superman to come back just because you were too late to get a quote, Lois?"
Lois' muscles tensed but she kept her hand and eyes focused on Professor Daitch.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Lane," Daitch finally said, as if realizing that she wasn't going away until she got an answer. "We really have no way to contact Superman until this is over."
Lois released his arm, allowing him to hustle towards the building. She really was too late. She turned her attention from Daitch, looking up into the sky. "Be careful up there, big guy," she whispered.
"Oh, now isn't that touching," Linda King said.
Lois finally spun on her. "Okay, what is it with you?"
"I heard about you and Superman. Every reporter at the Star says that you think Superman is your personal property. Well, I'm here to tell you that those days are over."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Maybe the only reason Superman's been giving you the majority of the Superman quotes is because he's only been on Earth for such a short period of time — so he's swept off his feet by a moderately pretty face. Well, those days are over, Lois. From now on, you're going to have to fight for your Superman… time."
"Is that all you think about? The scoop?"
"Isn't that all you think about? Or are you trying to tell me there's something of a… personal nature going on between you and Superman."
"No, of course not," Lois snapped back, suddenly fumbling for words. "I just had something I wanted to tell him before he left — that's all."
"What's that, Lois?"
Lois bristled. Linda was better than she had remembered. "I just… wanted to wish him luck."
Suddenly, Linda's look changed. "No. Really. What was so important?"
"Nothing," said Lois, quickly turning and walking away.
"Is there something else going on here, Lois?" Linda called after her. "What do you have?"
Lois ignored her as she stepped into the street to hail a cab. She really was getting sloppy. She should have simply let Linda think she was trying to get a quote for her story. As it was, she'd had to correct Linda. And the last thing either Lois or Clark needed was to have Linda King digging into her relationship with Superman.
Still, even that thought didn't stay with her long. She was simply too concerned about Superman. There was nothing to do now but to wait and hope that Superman could survive a close encounter with an asteroid. And if he couldn't… Lois would have no one to blame but herself. She'd been too late to help Superman. How had she let that happen?
She gave a small snort. The irony was that not only had her research failed, but she'd also missed what might very well have been her last opportunity to spend time with Clark, to tell him she loved him, to make sure he knew she understood why he had to go. Instead, he'd left believing she was angry with him. If he returned, she was never going to get angry with him again.
The entire newsroom crowded around the various television sets in the Daily Planet, much like they were doing all around the world, as the time for Superman to arrive at the asteroid approached. The sound of keyboards clicking, heels on linoleum floors and voices fell silent as everyone seemed to hold their collective breaths, waiting for the moment of truth — the moment where the Earth would either live or die.
"Several hours ago, Superman said his final goodbyes to the crowd."
Lois tried to hold back the nausea that rose in her stomach when Linda King's face appeared on the screen. Right now she was the best source for information about Superman. And to find out what was happening with Superman, Lois would even put up with that whinny voice.
"He was described as calm but determined," Linda continued. "His last words were, and I'm quoting now, 'I'll do my best.' He took off. And this time, the entire world was watching.
"I'm being told that we have a live transmission from Superman," Linda continued, listening to the small devise in her ear. "We'll take that live feed from Mission Control."
"I can see it now. In fact, it's hard to see anything else. It's immense."
Lois instantly recognized the deep voice Clark always used when in his Superman suit. For a moment, she was distracted, as she had been several times since she'd found out about the connection between the two men, by the way she could have so easily been fooled by his disguise. Then it suddenly hit her. They were talking to Superman — something Professor Daitch had told her was impossible. She rushed for a phone. She had to tell him what she'd learned. She had to prevent him from…
"Roger, Superman, we copy you on the ground. Do you have stress point acquisition and visual?"
She pulled out a phone book and flipped it open.
"Yes, I do," Superman responded.
"Lois, aren't you watching?" asked Perry.
She ignored the question as she located the number for EPRAD and began dialing.
"Stand by for a final briefing procedure," said the man from Mission control over the television.
"Come on. Come on," Lois mumbled into the phone.
"I know what I have to do," Superman responded. "Well, here I go."
Lifting her head as she listened to the phone ring, she watched the television.
"Impact in five, four, three, two…"
Silence. The whole newsroom, the whole world, held its breath waiting for word on what had transpired. Somewhere in the back of her mind it registered that there was a voice, either real or recorded, speaking on the other end of the phone line as Lois slowly hung up the phone.
"This is EPRAD Control. Come in, Superman." There was a long pause. "Superman, this is EPRAD control. Do you read?" After another moment came the words Lois was dreading. "We have lost transmission with Superman."
Everyone, as if of one accord seemed to turn and look at her. "Well, his microphone went out. He's fine. He has to be." She looked back at the television screen, her thoughts in complete and utter turmoil.
"We have word from EPRAD," Linda King said, her hand at her ear as she listened for the latest update. "They say the asteroid has been completely destroyed. Superman did it. The mission is being declared a total success."
"I'd have thought they'd need more time to analyze the debris," said Perry.
"And besides, how can it be a total success if they don't know what happened to Superman?" Jimmy added.
Lois said nothing. She couldn't. She stood in complete stunned silence, staring at the television screen as everyone began talking almost at once as excitement over their near death experience began to permeate their minds.
"Okay, people. We still have a newspaper to get out here," barked Perry, sending people scurrying back to work. "Lois, I need you to…"
"Not now, Perry," said Lois, grabbing her coat and heading towards the elevators. She had to find out what had happened to Clark. The rest of it was meaningless if he hadn't survived.
"Sorry," Lois said sheepishly as she slipped into her coveralls, glad now that she hadn't informed the cleaning company about their supervisor's drinking problem because obviously he hadn't realized that she'd done virtually no work the previous night and had slipped out early. With her undercover disguise still intact, she hoped to use EPRAD resources to see if they had any idea what had happened to Superman. Maybe they had been able to track Superman's descent back to Earth. Maybe they had some idea of where he might have landed, or, if he was still out there, where he might be expected to land.
If only she could find some lead, some possible place to search, she would be there to take him home. After all, it seemed obvious that now that the threat to Earth had ended, people seemed too interested in their own close encounter with death to care about Superman's fate. Her trip over to EPRAD had proven that. Revelers had already begun to appear in the streets. She doubted the city would be getting much sleep tonight as the citizens of Metropolis took to the streets to celebrate their good fortune.
Having finished dressing, she began pushing the cart with the cleaning supplies down the hall — towards the observatory. Although the observatory was not on her list of places to clean, she figured that was her best bet for getting information on Superman.
She was just nearing the doorway to the observatory when she heard voices coming from inside. She cautiously made her way towards the partially open door and snuck a peak inside. She could see Professor Daitch. Pushing the door further open, she discovered the man to whom he was speaking was Secretary Cosgrove.
"Is there any reason to believe anyone is questioning the story about the asteroid?" asked Cosgrove.
"Lois Lane. A reporter from the Daily Planet. She was wanting to speak to Superman after he left this morning. I managed to get rid of her by telling her we had no way to contact Superman. But I got the distinct impression she knew something. And if she didn't, that idiot at Mission Control went and broadcasted that communication with Superman to the whole world."
"Don't worry. We'll handle Ms. Lane. Anything else?"
Daitch shook his head.
"Good. Then we need you to make a second announcement tomorrow."
"We need you to tell the world that there is still a piece of that asteroid heading towards Earth. If Superman is still alive, we need to flush him out."
"But we already announced…"
Lois gasped and then jumped away from the door when Daitch looked in her direction.
"What was that?" Cosgrove asked.
"I don't know. No one should be around tonight. I gave everyone the night off."
Lois darted down the hall, ducking into a nearby office. She got the door closed and locked just in time to hear someone in the hall outside. She quickly looked around the darkened room. Spotting a window, she headed towards it just as she heard someone try to turn the doorhandle.
"I saw someone go in here."
Lois turned her attention to the window. She managed to get it open just as she heard the jingle of keys coming from outside.
Lois held her breath as light appeared around the hinges of the door to the cupboard she had managed to crawl into. When she'd heard the jingle of keys and realized she didn't have time to escape through the window, she'd chosen this as her hiding place. Her knees were almost touching her chin in the confined space. Still, hopefully with the open window to distract them, they wouldn't bother checking cupboards in which no rational person would ever consider hiding.
Still, she automatically closed her eyes as she heard footsteps and voices enter the room. She tried to listen, but for some reason their sound was blotted out by the echo of what she'd discovered while standing outside the door to the observatory.
Her instincts had been right once again. From the sounds of it, the entire thing had been an elaborate set-up. There had to be an asteroid — otherwise how could they have blotted out the sun? But whether it had even been a threat to Earth was entirely up for debate at this point. The entire incident had been orchestrated to get rid of Superman. That was the only way she could find to interpret the comment about flushing Superman out with an announcement about a further threat to Earth. They wanted to know if their plan had succeeded — if Superman was truly dead. What other interpretation could there possibly be?
But who would do such a thing? Daitch was obviously in on it. And Secretary Cosgrove. General Zeitlin was likely involved, too. But there had to be more behind this than just a three person conspiracy. After all, what motive could any of these three have on their own for wanting Superman dead? So how were they all connected — other than that they all had high-level jobs in the government, of course? Was this some sort of government conspiracy then? And if so, how far up the chain of command did it go? Did it reach into the highest levels of government? Who could she trust? Or could she trust anyone anymore?
She wondered if this was how Woodward and Bernstein felt when they had first begun to wonder how far up the chain of command the Watergate conspiracy went. At least Woodward had Bernstein, and right now Lois' partner was MIA. And where was her 'Deep Throat?' She was suddenly aware that she had never felt more alone.
She'd let Clark go. Why hadn't she forced the issue, made him see that she knew something was wrong? Why had she just stormed out on him instead of insisting that he go with her to find the answers they needed? If she had, he would have known that pushing the asteroid off its trajectory was all that was required of him. And the conspirator's plans would have been thwarted before they even got off the ground — so to speak. That must have been the reason why Daitch had lied to her about being unable to reach Superman after he lifted off from EPRAD this morning. Of course, they would have needed a way to keep in touch with Superman, to follow his progress. How could she have been so gullible?
They also seemed aware that she was snooping around. Not that that was her primary concern. Her primary concern right now was to find Superman before they did — assuming he was alive. And, of course, to find out who was behind this plot against Superman. If only she had some idea where to start…
It suddenly occurred to Lois that her hiding spot was again dark. Cautiously she pushed open the door and uncrinkled herself from her position. Taking a moment to stretch her muscles, she headed for the window. They must have decided she was gone or that they were mistaken about seeing someone come into this room. Either way, now was her chance to escape.
Lois moved the flowerpot and found the hidden key. Slowly, she opened the door to Clark's apartment. For a long time, she stood there, as if simply unable to find the energy to enter through the open door. When she realized what she was doing, she gave her head a brief shake, trying to clear the cobwebs which were clogging up her cognitive abilities, making her unable to process even the most basic of information.
Putting one foot in front of another, she finally found herself standing on the top step leading into Clark's apartment. She wasn't entirely sure what had brought her there. But after she'd finished writing up the asteroid story for tomorrow's edition of the Daily Planet, the idea of going home to her lonely apartment… She simply had been unable to face the prospect. Besides, if they — whoever 'they' was — were planning to 'handle' her, it was probably best if she kept from being found — at least for now. And if Clark made it back to Earth, surely this was where he would come.
In fact, when she had first approached Clark's apartment, her heart had been in her throat with the hope that he would already be there. That hope had been crushed when her taxi had rounded the corner to discover that Clark's apartment was one of the few bathed in darkness. Not that she'd really expected him to be there. Given the length of time it had taken him to get to the asteroid, he wouldn't be expected to return for a couple more hours — and that was assuming everything had gone off without a hitch. Of course, that hadn't stopped her from hoping.
She should have realized that the whole asteroid thing was a trap. She should have prevented Clark from going into space. She had realized something wasn't right. But she had ignored her instincts because there was a part of her that had believed, like he did, that she was just overreacting due to her fear of losing the man she loved.
The man she loved. She slowly made her way down the steps into Clark's apartment, fumbling her way towards his couch to sink down onto it. She'd never even told him how much she loved him. Given the way things had gone the last time she'd thought she was in love, she'd wanted to wait.
It wasn't that she didn't believe Clark loved her. Not really. She'd just… She wasn't entirely sure what the problem was. But in some subconscious part of her mind, she was holding back from him, not wanting to give too much of herself. She was still protecting her heart. And so she'd let him go to his death with so many things left unsaid — thinking there would be lots of time to say those things to him in the future.
Things had not only been left unsaid. There were things, other things, which had been left undone. Her mind flashed back to the previous Friday evening.
The slinky little black dress she had chosen for their dinner alone in the honeymoon suite of the Lexor Hotel had her feeling utterly desirable. His eyes had been telling her all evening that he appreciated her choice of attire. His charcoal suit, his compliment to her little black dress, had made her slightly breathless.
They'd eaten supper and then kissed on the couch for quite a while. She'd managed to dispense with his jacket and tie. Then she'd begun working on the buttons on his shirt until it was hanging open. She'd explored every inch of his massive chest with both hands and mouth until it and the sides of his open shirt were stained with the remnants of her lipstick.
He was slightly more reserved. He always backed off before finding dangerous territory to explore. Finally, after driving them both to the point of utter distraction, Lois silently rose from the couch and held out her hand to him before leading him towards the bedroom.
Still, neither said a word, communicating in ways that went beyond words, as he stood in front of her in the half-light at the doorway to the bedroom. His eyes traveled deliberately down her body, taking in every line, every curve, as if allowing her mere appearance to penetrate every fiber of his being. When his eyes again met hers, she felt an undeniable spark of electricity jump between them.
Her breathing deepened as she observed his eyes. She'd never seen them as dark. Gone was her mild mannered partner and in his place stood a man with depths of passion greater than any she'd ever seen. He had obviously kept that passion well buried until now, but with each passing second, it bubbled ever closer to the surface. His hunger inflamed hers and instinct suddenly took over.
She growled, grabbing onto his open shirt to pull him to her, her lips claiming his sending sparks through every quadrant of her body. He groaned, deep in his throat, a low, guttural sound that she responded to on some primal level. Pushing her up against the doorframe and, holding her in place with his body, his lips left hers to begin running over her throat.
"Oh, god, Clark," she groaned, fisting her hands in his hair in a way she suspected would be painful for an ordinary man as she leaned her head against the doorframe behind her. But even if she had wanted to, she wasn't sure she would have had the power to release her painful grasp as he continued to use lips, tongue and teeth to provoke the most intense feelings she'd ever experienced. At some point during the evening, his powers must have returned for he made no complaint about her continued grip on his hair.
Her right foot left the floor so that she could run it up the back of his leg. His hand slipped down her side to pull her leg further around him.
"Are you sure you want…" He forced out the gasped words.
She pulled his mouth back to hers, cutting off his words. She didn't want to hear them. She didn't want to think. She wanted to feel. And what she did feel… A hoarse growl rose in the back of her throat which she couldn't completely fight back. It spoke of desire. Of want. But more than that, it spoke of need, pure and simple. She needed him.
His hands slipped under her legs, picking her up so that her legs were wrapped around him even as he moved them over so that he could push her against the slightly more comfortable surface of the wall.
Suddenly, his head snapped up.
"What?" she panted.
He looked back at her, anguish clearly written on his face. "I just…"
She closed her eyes. "Your powers… they're back… aren't they?" she asked between gasped breaths.
Given how close they were, she could feel him nod as his hand slipped from between her legs. She instantly felt… almost relieved. She squirmed out of his arms until she could put her trembling legs beneath her, leaning against the wall in the hope that her legs would hold her weight. "What do you hear?" she asked, not meeting his eyes.
He hesitated for a moment more before stepping back, giving her some breathing room. She finally looked up, just in time to see him spin into the Superman suit. At his grin, probably a response to the stunned look she knew must be on her face, she again diverted her gaze.
"Lois?" he asked.
"Just… go." She gathered her courage, meeting his eyes. "We'll talk later," she promised, forcing a reassuring smile onto her face.
Her smile seemed to relax him. He gave a brief nod and a moment later only a gust of wind announced his departure.
Lois snapped back to her present surroundings. Friday night. Had that really only taken place four days ago? It felt like an eternity, another lifetime. A lifetime in which she had thought her time with Clark was unlimited.
The rest of the weekend had been great. Still, never again had she allowed things to get quite so intense. They'd kissed and cuddled, but she had always kept him at arms' length.
Feeling utterly wretched, she rose from the couch and wandered into the kitchen, intent on searching his fridge to raid his never-ending supply of diet cream soda. She gave her head a slight shake. He had kept a supply of her favorite cold beverage since she'd first started coming over to his apartment. Just one more way he'd been telling her how he felt about her. Why hadn't she been listening?
Opening the door to the fridge, her eyes landed on a can of cream soda. As she was reaching for it, she noticed a plastic bag lying on top. Redirecting her hand, she pulled out the bag, noting as she did so, that it contained a document of some sort. When she realized what she was holding, all thoughts of getting a cream soda were instantly banished. She stumbled back, absently seeking a chair at his kitchen table. But she didn't make it to a chair. Instead she sank to the floor, still grasping the ghastly document in her hands.
She had no doubt, given where she'd found it, that he must have written it the previous night. She closed her eyes, doubling over as if in pain, when the implications of the document really set in. He had known this was a suicide mission — and had used his final night to ensure his affairs were in order. "No!" she cried out to the deafening silence around her before dissolving in tears.
She'd been such a fool. She'd had her chance. Her chance to know what it was really like to make love and she'd thrown it away. He'd seemed to understand instinctively and had never again let things get out-of-control himself. But none of that stopped her from needing him now. What if she'd lost him and never had the chance to let him know… to surrender herself completely to another human being… to let herself feel what she had always believed would be forever denied to her?
Was this how Clark had felt when he thought he'd lost her and had never told her how he felt about her? She suddenly understood how the events of the last week had changed him, changed his willingness to be vulnerable, to make it clear that he was in love with her even if she never reciprocated his feelings. She would give anything to relive Friday night when he had returned from his Superman rescue.
"How'd it go?" She'd been unable to look at him when he'd returned some hours later, still dressed in the Superman outfit. The time he'd been away had given her time to think. And she'd realized that she was in over her head. And although it might have felt… good, she still couldn't shake the feeling of relief she'd had when he'd been called away. "Would you like something to drink?"
She rose from the couch, making her way over to the bar and beginning to explore it as if seeing it for the first time.
"No. I'm fine," said Clark.
She could hear the confusion in his voice. She immediately turned towards him, attempting a smile to assuage his fears. Still, she was unable to continue looking at the demigod standing near her.
"What's wrong, Lois?"
She glanced at him again. "Do you mind changing out of that suit?" she finally asked, not meeting his eyes.
There was a moment of silence before she heard the spin she'd seen earlier. When it finally stopped she glanced back at him, letting out an unconscious breath of relief when he was again standing in front of her dressed as Clark — his charcoal trousers and white shirt. His jacket and tie were gone, but unlike when she'd last seen him in his Clark clothes, his shirt was done up.
She finally met his eyes, giving him a soft, unspoken apology — although not understanding exactly the reasons for that apology.
"It's the Superman thing, isn't it?" His tone held no sign of ridicule, although she couldn't miss the sadness in his voice.
"No. Of course not." It never even occurred to her that he was responding to something she had never verbalized, as if he'd somehow read her thoughts.
"Lois." The single word was uttered softly.
She met his eyes. Was that what had spooked her so badly? It wasn't as if she was a virgin, after all. He was the virgin in this relationship, and he hadn't seemed to be having any problems catching on.
So what was it? Was it his sudden change earlier that had reminded her that not only were things getting… intense with Clark, but that she was on the verge of taking Superman to bed? Was that what had caused her to panic? Maybe. Maybe it was a mixture of things. Maybe it was the knowledge that, in the past, crossing that final intimacy threshold was always the beginning of the end of a relationship. Maybe it was the idea that she not only had to worry about pleasing Clark, she had to worry about whether or not she'd be enough to satisfy Superman. Maybe it was her fear of… needing someone. After all, she doubted she'd ever forget the powerful feelings of need she'd experienced earlier. Needing someone could only end one way — in disaster. Maybe if she thought if she could control that aspect of their relationship, she couldn't need him as much. Whatever it was, she no longer knew.
"Listen," said Clark, closing the distance between them. "Why don't we just slow things down a little? I mean, things were moving a little… fast there — even for me."
She crinkled her eyebrows in question.
"Not that I minded," Clark said, a disarming, lopsided grin appearing on his handsome face.
She let out a breath, moisture accumulating in the corners of her eyes. "I'm sorry, Clark."
"I'm not," he responded, surprising her. "Hey, we're here. We have the whole weekend, just to get to know each other. And I got to tell you… holding you, being able to kiss you and touch you…" He sucked in a breath through his teeth, provoking a genuine smile from her. "But I don't want just a weekend. I want… so much more." He gave a small shrug. "So why don't I stay on the couch — that is assuming you still want me to stay here?"
"Of course I do."
"Good. And we can talk, and… I think I even saw a few games around here. We can just get to know each other on a good casual basis — and then take it from there. What do you say?"
She smiled, surprised yet again at how he could see through her fears and put all of them to rest. At the time, she'd felt good. And it had been a remarkable weekend. Lots of talking. Lots of kidding around. Lots of fun. Even lots of kissing and cuddling. And by the end of the weekend, she had begun to think that maybe she might have been ready to take things a little farther. But they'd settled into a comfortable pattern and she didn't have the nerve to let Clark know that she was ready for more.
Oh how she wished now that she hadn't panicked. She loved him. She loved him more completely than she had ever thought she could love. Oh, sure. She'd read the romance novels. There was even part of her that was a hopeless romantic. But although she'd dreamed of finding that one great love that would change everything, she'd never really thought she would.
She picked herself off the floor in the kitchen, placed his will on the table and wandered into the living room. Picking up a pillow from the end of Clark's couch, she hugged it to her chest and sank down onto his couch, her thoughts drifting once again. This time, however, she was in the darkness of space. The loneliness. The fear. The Earth no more than a bluish ball in the distance. No air. No warmth. She shivered. Was he still alive, out there somewhere, fighting desperately to get back to her? Was he dead, drifting among the rubble of the asteroid, his last act one of futility all because she hadn't managed to get to the truth in time? Had he destroyed an asteroid that was of no threat to Earth? Had he died for nothing? She was unable to prevent the sob that rose in the back of her throat as the previous tears threatened to overtake her once again.
What had she done? She'd held back from him when he'd given everything for her, for her world. Even when he'd begged her to stay with him last night, she'd left, determined to find the truth. And had she done so, she could have forgiven herself for leaving him that way. But she'd failed him. When it really counted, she had failed. She'd found the information that could save his life but then had completely forgotten that all she had to do was open the window and yell his name. But then, wasn't that typical? After all, if there was one thing Lois Lane could count on it was not saying to Clark the words he needed to hear. Not even that one phrase he was so desperate to hear. Three little words. 'I love you.' Simple words really. And yet she'd been unable to utter them either. She'd been so afraid of getting hurt, of being disappointed by yet another man that she hadn't even sent him to his probable death with confirmation that she returned his feelings.
Her melancholy thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. Without thinking about how someone might react to her answering Clark's phone, and instead clinging to the hope that Clark might have made it back and be calling for her help, she grabbed the phone, gasping out her greeting even before she had it to her ear.
"Oh, hi, Martha." Her voice dropped perceptibly in disappointment.
"I take it you haven't heard from Clark yet," came Martha's equally subdued response on the other end of the line. Obviously, neither woman was speaking to the one person from whom they wanted to hear.
Lois let out a breath. She hadn't spoken to Clark's parents since she'd found out that Clark was Superman. She hadn't even been sure that Clark had told his parents that she knew. There simply hadn't been time. Martha's question made it clear that he had talked to them. "No. But then, given the length of time it took him to get to the asteroid, I really wouldn't have expected him back yet." She'd been telling herself that since overhearing the comments about Superman at EPRAD — but she couldn't say she really believed it. "But there's something you need to know."
"What?" asked Jonathan, informing Lois that he too was on the line.
"Well, I did find out something. And it's not good news."
"What?" There was a slight tremor in Martha's voice.
"I snuck into EPRAD — hoping they might have some information on Superman's whereabouts."
Lois let out a breath, not entirely sure how much to tell her boyfriend's parents. Did Martha and Jonathan really need to know that Nightfall might not even have been a danger to Earth? Would it be fair to let them know that their son had possibly died for nothing? "I found out that someone involved in this mission had hoped that Superman would die trying to destroy the asteroid."
"Do you think they did something to decrease his chances of survival?" asked Martha.
"I don't know. I suppose they might have, but… I really don't know. Right now I'm just hoping they didn't succeed."
"Did they have any information that might lead you to find out what happened to Clark?" asked Jonathan.
"No. They said something about a plan to try to flush him out if he's alive — so I guess that means they don't know if he's alive or…" Her breath caught in her throat, preventing the final word from escaping. "So I take it if you're calling, it means he hasn't shown up there either?"
"No. But give him time," said Jonathan, although Lois suspected he was talking to both her and his wife. "He's a strong man. And he's got a lot to come back to now."
Lois could feel herself blushing. Obviously, Clark had told his parents more than just that she knew about Superman.
"Do you need us to come there?" asked Martha.
"Uhh…" Lois hesitated. She might not know Martha and Jonathan well. Still, she really could use someone to lean on right now — someone who knew what she knew: that Clark was Superman. "No," she finally said. "If he shows up in Kansas and you're not there… No. It's probably best if you stay there for now."
"You'll let us know if you hear from him?" asked Martha.
"Yes. You'll do the same?"
There was a long moment of tense silence, as if no one knew quite what to say but were still not willing to let go of the other people important to the life of the man they all loved before they finally said their goodbyes and hung up the phone.
A good-looking teenager with grimy hands and wearing a ratty over-sized coat slipped into the abandoned alley and leaned against the wall of a building before reaching into his pocket to remove a wallet. Opening it, he quickly pulled out the cash before tossing the wallet towards an overflowing garbage bin. He smiled. Almost fifty dollars. This partying thing sure was good for picking up a little wayward cash. The drunken fool he'd stolen that wallet from would never even know what happened to it. Besides, Jack had a better use for the money — namely, buying food for himself and his little brother, Danny.
He was just about to slip back in amongst the revelers when something in the sky caught his attention. A large ball of fire was speeding through the sky in his direction. He crouched, covering his head just as it crashed into the alley, shaking the ground beneath his feet.
Slowly rising, he inched his way closer to the fire rising from the hole in the ground. Raising a hand to protect his face from the heat, he spotted a bright blue suit and red cape amidst the flames. Superman! He stood transfixed for a moment before suddenly snapping into action. Tearing the coat off his back, he began trying to beat out the flames burning up Superman's suit and cape while trying not to think about what might be happening to the man inside the suit. Sweat was soon dripping from his nose and chin as he hit the flames again and again.
When the flames finally died, he saw the now naked man lying in the hole. Cautiously, he laid his coat aside and approached the still form, unsure if he was alive or dead. The burn marks, scratches and blood he could see on the man's body were not as bad as he would have expected given the fireball the man had been only moments before. On the other hand, they were worse than what he would have expected to see on Superman. For a moment, he wondered if he could somehow have been mistaken about the man's identity. Still, were he not Superman, could he possibly have survived that crash to Earth and fire as well as it seemed he had? Not to mention the flying through the sky thing. Of course, he'd only seen the fireball at the last moment, so he supposed the man could have fallen off the roof of one of the adjoining buildings.
"Hey, you," Jack said. "Are you okay, man?"
When there was no response, Jack crawled further into the hole.
"Hey, are you alive?" he asked, touching the man's shoulder. He instantly jumped back, his hand burned by the heat still on the man's skin.
"What's going on in there?"
Jack glanced at the body he thought belonged to Superman one last time before crawling out of the hole. "Nothing, man," he said to a drunk standing in the entrance to the alley. He quickly made his way towards the drunk, leading him out of the alley and back into the party — lifting his wallet as he did so.
It was a couple of minutes before he was able to shake his new buddy and make his way back into the alley. He was unsure what to expect as he approached the hole. What was he to do if Superman was dead? On the other hand, if he was alive… maybe there was a reward in this somewhere. He'd have to play it by ear.
The body had not moved since Jack had left. Jack quickly reentered the hole, crawling down to where the man was lying. Suddenly, he had to know if he really was looking at Superman. He looked around him for something, anything that might confirm the man's identity. Spotting something half buried in the rubble created by the crash landing, he reached over, pulling out a piece of fabric and turned it over. He swallowed hard when he realized what he was holding. "Wow," he breathed.
Most of it had burned away in the fire, but there was no mistaking what remained of Superman's crest.
Jack rocked back on his heels, watching the still unconscious man as his mind evaluated the situation. After a time, he came up with a plan.
The long, black limo made its way slowly though the noisy crowds littering the streets of Suicide Slum, pulling to a stop in front of a deserted alley. The driver's door opened and a tall, elegant man in a chauffeur's uniform and cap emerged, making his way immediately to open the door for his employer.
"So exactly why did you call me?" the employer asked Jack.
Jack shrugged. "Word on the streets is that you know Superman. And I thought…"
"Well, I thought you might be willing to pay a reward for finding him."
After a look and a nod from his employer, the chauffeur removed his wallet, took out a sum of money and handed it to Jack who immediately began counting it.
"So where is the great man?"
Jack stuck the money in his inside coat pocket and began leading them further down the alley to the hole in the pavement.
"Superman," Jack responded, pointing to the man in the hole.
"What makes you think that's Superman?"
"I saw him land in a ball of fire." He pointed to the burn marks on his coat. "And I found this." Reaching into his pocket, he removed the remnants of the Superman crest.
After looking the symbol over, the employer handed it to the chauffeur who also examined it.
"Get him in the car, Fred."
The chauffeur nodded before making his way into the hole to get the unconscious man.
CHAPTER 4: RISKY BUSINESS
Lois wandered absently around Clark's darkened apartment dressed in one of Clark's oversized sweatshirts, a pair of leggings she had left at Clark's apartment after an all-night stake out and some of Clark's socks which she was using as slippers. The sweatshirt hadn't been washed, at least according to her sense of smell, since the last time Clark had worn it. It was for that exact reason she'd chosen it. She'd heard once that when a dog's owner took the dog to a kennel, he or she was supposed to take an old t-shirt, something that had been worn by the owner and not washed. The theory was that the dog would be comforted by both the smell of the owner and the knowledge that if the owner had left the shirt behind, he or she would be back to get it again. She buried her face in the collar of Clark's sweatshirt, hoping if the theory was correct, it would bring Clark back to her. It was a stupid thought. She knew that. Still, she clung to the shirt as if it were her only hope of getting Clark back alive.
For a reason she couldn't name, she turned off the lights. The television softly playing in the background and the occasional blast of fireworks in the sky outside were the only sources of light in the apartment. The parties to celebrate the destruction of the asteroid were obviously in full swing. Lois wasn't exactly watching the news anymore. With nothing new to report, they seemed to be replaying the same footage over and over again. They had experts who weren't really experts theorizing about where Superman was. Others were talking about the danger asteroids pose to the planet and the types of things that could be done to prevent a disaster in the future. But the only new information seemed to be when the television cameras told about another party taking place in Metropolis or around the world. Even Linda King, correspondent in Metropolis, was starting to look bored with her coverage. Still, Lois couldn't quite bring herself to turn the television off. After all, it was possible, however unlikely, that they might receive word about Superman.
She'd been keeping a close eye on the clock. By her calculations, it would be more than an hour before she would expect Clark to return. She knew that. She'd known that when Martha and Jonathan had called. Still, she couldn't help hoping with each passing minute that he would get back before the time passed for the return trip.
She sank down onto the couch, hugging her legs. In her mind, she tried to reach out to Clark, attempting to connect with him on some level. She thought about the cold of space, hoping to see what he was seeing. It was a crazy thought. She'd never been one to believe in anything she couldn't touch and taste and smell. And she'd certainly never believed in telepathic abilities. But right now it was the only thing she could think to do.
After a moment, her eyes snapped open. She'd been unable to connect with Clark, but she abruptly felt a searing heat — almost as if she was surrounded by fire. She quickly glanced around, expecting to see the apartment in flames. It took a moment before she was satisfied that she could see no fire and smell no smoke. Although she no longer felt the heat of the flames licking at her body, she still felt unbearably hot. Stripping out of her socks and leggings, she kept the sweatshirt on, wearing it like a short dress.
Once she felt slightly cooler, she silently cursed herself for the crazy notion that she could somehow connect to Clark on a telepathic level. It had been a stupid idea. And stupid ideas were not going to get Clark back to her. She needed a plan.
Rising from the couch, she suddenly had another idea. Dr. Klein. He'd been very helpful at coming up with an alternative to Superman destroying the asteroid. That told Lois two things. First, even if he wasn't an expert in astronomy, he was a very smart, very gifted scientist. And second, and most importantly, she knew without a doubt that he was not involved in the conspiracy to kill Superman.
She grabbed the phonebook and quickly sought out the number for Star Labs. She had to admit, she didn't know much about science. But if Dr. Klein could somehow calculate where Superman might land on Earth, it would be a huge advantage. Not that he would necessarily still be in his lab. After all, like her, he had been up all of the previous night. And although she'd managed to get a couple of hours of sleep this afternoon, she was still exhausted. Not that she could sleep now, not with Clark still missing. Dr. Klein, however, was not likely to have that problem. Still, it couldn't hurt to try.
As she waited for the phone to ring, it suddenly occurred to her that if Dr. Klein could calculate where Superman might land, the scientists at EPRAD, especially Professor Daitch, could as well. They might already be a dozen steps ahead of her. And if they got their hands on Superman first… She shuddered. Still, from the conversation she'd overheard at EPRAD earlier, it hadn't sounded as if they thought they could figure out where Superman might land. Maybe that meant… What? She wasn't entirely certain.
"Can I speak to Dr. Klein please?"
"Just a moment, ma'am."
"Dr. Klein here." The voice that eventually came on the other end of the line sounded distracted.
"Dr. Klein. It's Lois Lane."
"Lois Lane? I've been wondering why Superman didn't use my idea to have him simply nudge the asteroid to disrupt its trajectory. Did the scientists at EPRAD, for some reason, discount my theory? Because, as I said before, this is not my area of expertise. But I was certain I had…"
"Actually, Dr. Klein. There's a lot to tell you. And… I need your help again. Can I come by?"
"Certainly," Dr. Klein responded. "I mean, if there was an error in my calculations, then I'm most anxious to…"
"I'll be there right away, Doctor," Lois interrupted.
Jack panted as together, he and Fred struggled to get Superman out of the limo and began half dragging, half carrying him towards the entrance to the upscale apartment building in the heart of one of the richest sections of Metropolis. The blanket from the limo, which had been wrapped around the Man of Steel when he'd been placed in the limo, was precariously close to falling off. Still, there wasn't much Jack could do about that at the moment — not without the risk of dropping Superman.
Jack had suggested that they might want to take him to a hospital since he was still unconscious, but he was not the one making the decision. And it really was no concern of his, after all. When Fred had been unable to move Superman by himself, Jack had been 'employed' to assist. And so he just did as he was told.
If the doorman was surprised by the sight of an unconscious man wrapped in a blanket being transported into the building, he did nothing to show it, allowing Fred and Jack to move him inside without interference. Jack was left with the distinct impression that the doorman was probably well-paid to look the other way when such things happened. He wondered for a moment what one had to do to get a job like that.
The elevator doors slid open and Fred and Jack moved Superman inside just as the blanket slipped from Superman's body.
"It's okay," said Fred. "My employer owns the building. The bottom floors are rented out to various businesses, but their leases specify that all employees must be out of the building by seven. So we're not likely to meet any other people during the remainder of our trip. I only hope they have a room ready when we finally get there. I don't particularly fancy having to move him again."
Jack nodded. He'd wondered why he and Fred had been left with the task of transporting Superman while the other member of their party had simply rushed into the building as soon as the car had come to a stop. Now he knew — to get a room ready for Superman. Still, even if lugging an unconscious Superman into the building was much like moving a steel pillar, a buck was a buck. And he had to admit, this job was more financially rewarding than most.
On the second to top floor, the elevator came to a stop. The doors slid open and…
…a dozen beautiful, scantily-dressed, giggling young women were standing before them.
Jack felt as if he were in heaven as the women approached, each nearly scrambling over the others in an attempt to simply touch the man with his limp arm around Jack's shoulder, and in the process managing to brush up against Jack, sending his seventeen year old hormones into overdrive. He'd never been in a place like this before. He'd never seen women like this before. Beautiful. Sexy. Yep. If there was a heaven, this was it.
He had to admit that seeing the inside of this apartment, the most famous whorehouse in Metropolis, and being brushed up against by these girls was almost worth more to him than the money he'd been paid to bring Superman there.
"Girls, girls, girls," said an older woman, the one who had come to the alley where Jack had found Superman. She clapped her hands a few times. "Come on, girls. Back to your rooms. You all know better than that. Give the poor man his privacy."
To Jack's disappointment, the young women instantly backed off. The older woman stepped forward, picked up the blanket and slipped it again around Superman's body. "This way, gentlemen," said Madam Benoit, leading Jack and Fred down the hall to an open door. "Just place him on the bed. We'll take it from there."
The room was like nothing Jack had ever seen. There was a bar along one wall, together with a small fridge. As well as the huge canopy bed, which was the most prominent piece of furniture, the room was large enough to accommodate a couch and a couple of comfortable chairs. He noticed a raised Jacuzzi in the corner of the room, the sides of which were covered with pillows and piles of towels and at least a dozen different types of lotions.
A door on the far side of the room stood open, revealing the entranceway to a private washroom. Jack had never seen a bedroom with its own washroom before except for a motel room, of course. Even the red silk sheets he could see on the bed where the comforter had been turned back were of interest to the young man. In a life filled with simply trying to survive, there had been little time for girls. He quickly directed his mind to his task, moving Superman's body over so that he and Fred could get it settled on the bed. Only then did he notice the mirrors above the bed. His eyebrows rose.
"Thank you, gentlemen," said the older woman's voice from the doorway as Fred pulled the comforter up over Superman's body. Almost instantly, a young woman rushed over and checked Superman's neck for a pulse.
Jack backed towards the doorway and watched the most heavenly creature he had ever seen tend to Superman. She appeared to be no more than five years his senior. When she pushed her long, blonde hair over her shoulder as she worked, Jack could see the long line of her ivory colored neck. He swallowed hard.
"So?" asked Madam Benoit.
"His pulse is strong, but he definitely has a fever," said the young woman. "I've checked the cuts and bruises on his body, but none of those seem serious. I could treat them. But other than that…" She sighed. "I don't see any obvious head trauma to explain why he's still unconscious. I suppose it's possible that he picked up some infection in space. I don't know. Maybe antibiotics would help. But this really is beyond me."
"That's fine, Cindy. Thanks for your help. I'll take it from here."
"What are you going to do?" asked Cindy.
"I'll call my personal physician to come look at him."
"Why not just take him to the hospital?"
"Taking him to the hospital would inform the public that Superman is vulnerable. For what reason, I don't know. But I don't think he would want that made public knowledge. No. This situation requires discretion."
Cindy nodded before turning to leave the room.
"Excuse me," said Jack, following her out of the room. "You're a…" He fumbled over the word.
"Prostitute?" she asked, an amused tone in her voice. "Yes."
"Well, then why did Madam Benoit ask you to check on Superman?"
She smiled. "Prostitution is just a part time job for me. I'm actually a first year medical student. And before I got this job to pay for my education, I worked part time for an ambulance service. I wasn't doing any first hand medical work — but I did pick up emergency training. As a result, I end up taking care of most of the first aid around here. But this…" She gestured back to Superman. "…is a little… actually it's a long way beyond me." She turned and headed down the hall.
"Wait," said Jack, moving quickly to catch up to her.
She stopped and turned towards him.
"Umm… well… I was sort of wondering… I mean, I have a bit of money and…"
She smiled again. "Keep your money," she said. "Trust me on this. You couldn't afford me."
"But if I could get the money?"
"Where you going to get a thousand dollars?" She gave her head a slight shake, coming back over to where he was standing. Raising her hand, she placed it on his cheek. He was unable to move, unable to do anything except allow his jaw to drop open when she leaned in and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. "And even if you could come up with the money, you'd still need to take a bath before I'd even consider accepting."
With that, she turned and headed down the hall leaving Jack staring after her. Subconsciously, his hand came up to cover the spot on his cheek where she'd kissed him — not entirely sure he'd ever wash that spot again.
Madam Benoit saying his name brought Jack out of his stupor. He turned to face the older woman.
"I would like to thank you for all your assistance tonight," she said.
"Hey, no prob."
"I trust you know how important it is to keep tonight's activities to yourself."
"You keep that promise, and there might be something further in this for you."
Lois paced impatiently in the small waiting room in the lobby of Star Labs. She couldn't help wonder if coming there had been a mistake. What if Clark called to ask for her help and she wasn't there? Still, if there was one thing about which she was absolutely certain, it was that Dr. Klein was not in on any conspiracy to kill Superman. And without the help of a scientist with some understanding of astronomy, she didn't have a chance of defeating the conspiracy.
Lois spun around to see that Dr. Klein had entered the room.
"So what happened to our plan to have Superman push the asteroid off course? Was there some reason that the scientists at EPRAD rejected it? As I told you, I'm really not an expert in astronomy. But I thought our idea had merit. I'm so glad that…"
"Dr. Klein, I was too late to get our plan to Superman. He was gone by the time I got to EPRAD."
"Then why didn't they contact Superman to get the new plan to him. Surely you…"
"They told me they had no way to contract Superman."
"But on the news, just before Superman crashed into the asteroid…"
"I know, Dr. Klein. Please, if you'd just give me a moment, I'd like to run a theory by you."
"When I first came to see you and told you that the asteroid was going to hit Earth, you sort of… I don't know, seemed skeptical or something."
"I was just surprised. When we first learned about the asteroid, I ran the calculations. I must have miscalculated or something because I had plotted its trajectory and thought that it was going to miss the Earth. A bullet burn. But still, no contact."
"A bullet burn?"
"A near miss. By my calculations, Nightfall was expected to pass the Earth by about eighty thousand miles."
"And you call that a bullet burn?"
"I know that distance might seem vast, but in astronomical terms it's not that much. Consider that the sun is about ninety-three million miles from the Earth. And the moon about two hundred forty thousand miles from the Earth. Eighty thousand miles is nothing."
"There have been a lot of close shaves like that in recent years," Dr. Klein went on to explain. "In 1991, an asteroid passed us by about one hundred thousand miles. Earlier this year, there was another asteroid that came almost as close as Nightfall. The only reason Nightfall seemed to catch the public's attention was because it caused a solar eclipse. Well, that and the fact that it was headed directly for Earth. Many scientists think that the next major collision between Earth and an asteroid is long overdue. If it hadn't been for Superman…"
"Your calculations showed that the asteroid was going to miss the Earth?" Lois asked, ignoring the rest of the information she had been given.
"Like I said, Ms. Lane…"
"Call me Lois."
"Lois. Like I said, I must have miscalculated."
"Could you run those numbers again?"
Lois chewed on her lower lip for a minute as she considered whether or not to trust the doctor. He was the very definition of the absentminded professor. But it seemed quite obvious that he was not involved in the conspiracy. "Just humor me, Dr. Klein. I have reason to believe you might not have made a mistake."
"But the scientists at EPRAD…"
"Might have had other objectives in mind."
He looked at her for a minute. "What objectives?"
"Superman," she said, instantly taking in the stunned look on his face. She let out a breath, finally deciding to tell him anything. After all, he could be a far more valuable asset if he knew everything she suspected. And for a reason she couldn't quite name, she trusted this scientist. "Could we talk somewhere more private?" she asked. Even though they were currently alone in the waiting room, she could see security cameras watching their every move. If someone got those tapes and had lip readers… She'd rather not risk that.
She gave her head a slight shake. She was getting paranoid. Still… She looked around again. Better to be paranoid than risk Superman's life — assuming… "This really needs to be discussed somewhere more private," she repeated.
Madam Charlotte Benoit stood just inside the door watching every action taken by the woman who for years now had been her personal physician. Dr. Gretchen Kelly had been discreet about the work she had done in the past, still this was huge — and undoubtedly worth a lot to more than one unscrupulous person. Superman was as helpless as a newborn baby. Charlotte was not so naive as to think that everyone would be happy that Superman had returned. She knew quite well that the man had made a lot of enemies since he'd arrived in Metropolis a few months ago. She'd heard the ranting and raving of some of those enemies herself or had it reported to her by her girls.
Discretion had always been the watch-word for Charlotte's business. It was why she was considered the most exclusive Madam in Metropolis. It was also why she was privy to so many of men's darkest thoughts. As a result, she had no doubt that many people wanted Superman dead. And wouldn't now be the ideal time to do that?
As a result, even though she trusted her personal physician, she wasn't about to leave her alone with the Man of Steel.
"I'm afraid I can't find anything wrong with him that would explain why he hasn't woken up," said Dr. Kelly, rising from where she was conducting her examination. "I need to run some tests."
Dr. Kelly nodded. "To do that, I need to take him to the hospital."
"I'm afraid I can't allow that."
"Well, we could take him to my clinic. It would take me a few hours to get things set up, but it would be more private than taking him to the hospital."
"That might be feasible. But what can you do for him at your clinic that you can't do for him here?"
"I need to take some blood — to check it for drugs or infections."
"Couldn't you do that here?"
"Certainly. But if I don't find anything, he will need an EEG or an ultrasound to find out the nature of the problem. Maybe even an MRI or a CAT scan. The lab on the floor down from my clinic has all the necessary equipment."
Charlotte Benoit bit her lower lip and considered Dr. Kelly's suggestion. "How about you take the blood for now? If it doesn't reveal the problem, then we'll consider the alternatives."
Dr. Kelly nodded before turning back to her task.
It wasn't much longer before Dr. Kelly had said goodbye, heading out to run the tests on Superman's blood. The fact that she had been able to penetrate the man's skin was proof enough that the infamous Superman invulnerability was lacking. Charlotte wished she knew who to contact, someone whom Superman would trust to help her make these decisions. After all, all the discretion in the world wasn't going to be much good if it cost Superman his life?
Dr. Gretchen Kelly waited until she was settled safely in her car with the doors closed before removing her cellular phone from her pocket and flipping it open.
"I need to speak to Lex Luthor," she said when Lex's personal assistant answered the phone. "Well, as soon as he is available, tell him to call Gretchen Kelly. I've got some information he's going to be very, very interested in hearing."
Lois sat in Clark's darkened apartment, listening to the party taking place on the street outside. Dr. Klein was going to run the numbers again — to determine if the asteroid was going to bypass Earth before Superman had gone into space to destroy it.
Her mind flashed back to that first conversation she'd overheard at EPRAD. Knowing what she knew now, she was convinced that the Secretary and the General had been pressuring Professor Daitch. How, she wasn't entirely certain. Still, if she could convince Daitch to talk, it would be a huge step forward in figuring out who was behind the conspiracy. And if she had proof from Dr. Klein that the Nightfall asteroid was not on a collision course with Earth, she would certainly have the leverage she needed to challenge his story.
She should also find out everything she could about Secretary Cosgrove and General… Oh what was his name again? Zach? Zimack? Zeitlin! General Zeitlin!
Of course, that still didn't solve the immediate problem — finding Clark. According to Dr. Klein, there were simply too many variables to determine where Superman might come back to Earth. Speed. Angle of entry. And a whole bunch of other factors about which Dr. Klein had gone into in excruciating detail, but which Lois had only been partially following. After all, what did a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rain forest and thereby causing a tornado in the Philippines have to do with anything?
When she'd first explained the entire story to Dr. Klein, he'd been skeptical. However, as time went on, he seemed to decide it was the only theory that really made sense. It had been a relief to Lois to know that although she might be paranoid, she was also likely right. As Dr. Klein had explained it, the more he thought about it, the crazier it seemed to him that EPRAD would want Superman to smash into the asteroid. After all, by destroying the asteroid it was entirely possible that some sizable chunks would survive, making it through Earth's atmosphere and thereby doing some major damage. By the end, he too seemed convinced that this had to have been a trap for Superman. And he had promised Lois that he would help in any way he could.
One thing Dr. Klein had said that Lois hadn't been able to get out of her mind was that he suspected Superman's trip back to Earth should take less time than his trip to the asteroid due to the role gravity would play in his descent. But if that were the case, then Clark should have been back on Earth for some time now.
Rising from the couch, she began wandering around the apartment, trying not to think about why he had not yet returned. As she did, she touched everything her eyes landed on, every trinket, every picture, subconsciously seeking a connection with the man she loved. Her hand ran over his suit jacket which he had left draped over the back of the couch. It was the one he'd worn during their first night at the Lexor. A small, but almost painful smile, creased her lips. She loved this jacket. She loved seeing him wear it.
Her hand stopped when she felt something in one of the pockets. Curious, she reached inside, her breath catching in her throat when she pulled out a small velvet box. A jeweler's box. She held the box protectively as she made her way around the couch to once again take a seat. She stared at the box for a long time, her mind telling her that this might very well not be as it appeared.
Still, her mind suddenly flashed back to the previous Friday and the long conversation that had taken place between Clark and Moishe Weissman, one of the most prominent diamond dealers in Metropolis. Still, it couldn't be. It was too soon. He wouldn't have actually…
Taking a deep breath, she opened the box, oblivious to the idea that she really had no right to do this. A tremor of pain rippled through her body and clouded her eyes when she observed the most beautiful, princess cut, diamond ring she thought she had ever seen. Something seemed to twinkle inside the stone. Holding it up to the light, she could just make out the faint trace of Superman's 's'. It must have been one of the diamonds Superman had mined from northern Canada the previous week. When Clark had told her he wanted more than just a weekend, he'd been serious. She'd known that. But until this moment, she hadn't realized exactly how serious. She turned the ring over in her hands, noticing for the first time that there was engraving inside the band. 'I have loved you from the beginning.' Her breath caught in her throat.
So how come he hadn't proposed? Had the weekend changed his mind? No. She knew instinctively that wasn't the reason. He was undoubtedly waiting for the right moment, afraid that he would scare her off. And if she were brutally honest with herself, he probably would have. Besides, he must have needed to be sure of her feelings — feelings that she'd been unable to voice to him.
She hugged herself. Where was he? He had to come back now. He just had to. She looked at the phone, wordlessly praying that he would call, let her know that he'd arrived back on Earth. "Ring!" she demanded of the silent phone.
She jumped. "I should have done that sooner," she said, staring in disbelief at the now ringing phone before it suddenly occurred to her that she was supposed to answer it.
"May I speak to Clark Kent, please?"
By the woman's voice, Lois would guess that the woman was older and well-educated. There was the slightest hint of a French accent in her speech. Still, it was a voice Lois didn't know. "No, I'm afraid he isn't here at the moment."
"Do you know when he will be returning?"
Lois chewed on her lower lip. If she said he'd be back shortly and then he wasn't… "No." Best to keep it simple.
"I see." There was a long pause. "Well, when he comes back, would you have him call me?"
"And you are?"
"Charlotte Benoit? As in Madam Benoit? As in 'the' Madam Benoit?" With each repetition of the question, the tone of Lois voice seemed to rise half an octave in disbelief. "What do you want Clark for?"
There was a further pause. "Might I ask to whom I am speaking?"
"Uhh… I wouldn't have expected you to be at Mr. Kent's apartment."
"Why?" Lois found herself more curious than annoyed at the implication that she shouldn't be there.
"No reason, Ms. Lane. Anyway, would you ask Mr. Kent to call me when he gets home? Tell him it's important."
"Wait," said Lois, suddenly having the feeling that this really was important. "He might not be back for a few days. Is there something I can do for you?"
Lois could hear the woman clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth.
"I really can't tell you over the phone," said Madam Benoit. "Could you come by my apartment? I assume you know where it is."
Lois hesitated, torn. What if she left the apartment and Clark called, looking for her? What if he found his way back here and needed her help?
"It has to do with Superman," Madam Benoit added, obviously sensing Lois' hesitation.
"I'll be right there."
As she hung up the phone, Lois found herself wondering about Clark's relationship with Madam Benoit. She'd wondered about it during their investigation the previous week. But now… How exactly did Clark know the woman?
"Lex! It's about time you called back."
"What is it you wanted to speak to me about, Gretchen?"
"If you're going to speak to me with that tone, maybe I won't tell you."
"Fine. Then don't. You're the one who wanted to talk to me."
Dr. Kelly hesitated. She'd been Lex's personal physician longer than she'd been the personal physician of Madam Benoit. And she'd been in love with him for most of that time. She'd heard him rail against Superman more than once since the Man of Steel had appeared on the scene. She'd thought giving him this information would finally make Lex love her, too. So why was she fighting with him?
"It's about Superman, Lex. I've got some news I think you're going to want to hear."
It never even occurred to her to wonder about the ethics of breaching patient-doctor privilege. Such considerations were for mere mortals. And she was about to become a goddess at the side of her god — Lex Luthor.
Lois had to admit she was intrigued, in spite of herself, as she entered the elevator leading up to Madam Benoit's penthouse suite. She'd heard stories about this woman for years and she'd always been curious about how one became the most famous madam in Metropolis. In other circumstances, she'd have been anxious to learn this woman's story. But at the moment, she needed to find out any information this woman might have about Superman and then get back to Clark's in case he turned up there.
The elevator doors slid open on the top floor of the apartment building to reveal what appeared to be some sort of elaborate entrance way. Above her head, she could see a glass ceiling which provided a beautiful view of the stars. She stood, staring up, wondering if Clark was somewhere out there.
An older woman saying her name brought Lois' focus back to her surroundings. The woman approaching through the only door in the room was dressed in a colorful, flamboyant night robe, which was only fitting given the time.
"Please, the name is Lois."
"Thank you so much for coming, Lois," Charlotte Benoit said, extending Lois a hand.
"So what information do you have for me about Superman?"
A small smile tugged at one corner of Charlotte's mouth for a moment before disappearing. "Would you please come in?"
Letting out a breath, Lois followed Charlotte through the door and into an elaborate living room. When Charlotte gestured her to a seat, she sat down on the luxurious sofa. How many men had had sex on this sofa? She quickly pushed the stray thought out of her mind even as she took in the rest of the room. Two of the walls were made up of ceiling to floor glass, providing a magnificent view of the lights of the city. Thick, rich chocolate colored curtains were drawn to the side — although why someone would need curtains this high up, Lois wasn't exactly certain. Maybe the curtains were just for decoration. She could see sliding doors along one of the glass walls, leading out onto a balcony.
One of the other walls, made entirely of marble, had intricately carved reliefs, subtle, but clearly in the style of the Renaissance since the people portrayed seemed a mix of both clothed and naked images. In the middle of the wall, emerging seamlessly from the marble, was a fireplace in which a fire was currently burning.
The final wall had two doors — the one through which Lois had come and another which was more of an arched entranceway then a door, leading to a hallway which Lois could not see beyond. This wall was decorated with beautiful paintings, as was what Lois could see of the hallway. Very eclectic in taste. Landscapes. Portraits. Still lifes. Abstracts. Although it was obvious to Lois that all of them were originals, none were by artists whom Lois instantly recognized, as if the lady of the manor was more interested in talent than commercial or recognition value. There was a mixture of watercolors, oils, encaustics and prints. Yet somehow they all fit in with the feeling of the room. Sexily classic was probably how Lois would describe it.
Still, in spite of her desire to probe further, she directed her mind to the purpose of her visit.
"So what do you know about Superman?"
"Would you care for some tea, Lois?" asked Charlotte in return, gesturing to a young woman who, as if by magic, appeared in the entrance way to the room carrying a silver tray containing a teapot together with cups and saucers.
"What I'd care for is the information you said you had for me."
Charlotte gestured for the woman to set the tray on the coffee table before sending her away. Then she began pouring tea as the woman exited the room. After a moment, Charlotte looked towards the exit way as if to be sure the woman was gone before speaking.
"I always find that after an especially taxing night, a cup of tea helps me relax."
"Madam Benoit…" Lois' voice showed her increasing frustration.
"It's Charlotte. And, Lois, when you are about to impart sensitive information to someone, do you not first attempt to find out as much as possible about that person? To find out if that person is trustworthy?" Charlotte asked. "Surely as a reporter that dilemma has confronted you on occasion."
"When it comes to Superman, I can be trusted."
"But you are a reporter? Is there not an inherent conflict between your profession and your… personal relationship with the Man of Steel? After all, any information about Superman would surely be newsworthy."
"I believe there is a difference between what the public needs to know and what they don't."
"And who makes that distinction? You?"
"When it comes to what I write, me."
Charlotte nodded slowly before pouring the tea.
Lois let out a breath. Obviously, Charlotte Benoit was not about to be rushed. And although part of Lois was tempted to simply dismiss this woman's claim to have information about Superman and leave to go back to Clark's apartment, she couldn't. This woman had access to high level information — of that Lois was certain. If someone was trying to kill Superman, what this woman knew might be critical to finding out about any conspiracy to do so. She might just have found her 'Deep Throat.' And given Madam Benoit's reputation for refusing to release information, Lois had no doubt that the woman would not be rushed into any disclosure.
Charlotte smiled, handing Lois a cup of tea.
"Look, I've gone to jail rather than reveal a source," said Lois.
Charlotte studied Lois for a moment before looking back at her tea without responding. She stirred her tea daintily, lost in thought.
"Look," said Lois, trying to fight back her growing impatience, "I promise that anything you tell me…"
"Why did you become a reporter, Lois?"
Charlotte did not respond, as if understanding that Lois' response was one of surprise rather than a genuine request for Charlotte to repeat the question. Instead, she took a sip of tea as she waited for Lois to speak.
"Well, I could say that it was to bring the truth to the American public," Lois finally responded.
"But… I guess it was a mixture of things. Rebellion against my father who wanted me to be a doctor. The realization that I had a gift for finding out things that people wanted to keep hidden. A need to push open all those doors that were closed to me. And I like the adventure, seeing things come together and the fact that it isn't a nine-to-five job. I guess too, I like the feeling of satisfaction I get when I've managed to expose corruption and then force people to make changes. I like to think that the work I do makes this world a better place."
"Then let me ask you this: when scientists were of the opinion that Superman was causing the heat wave, you reported it even though it made Superman the object of disdain."
"That wasn't my decision. Clark…" Her voice trailed off when for the first time, she made the connection between that decision and Superman. '…the public has a right to know. If it wasn't Superman, we wouldn't even be thinking twice about it.' Superman himself had said that.
"Are you saying that was Clark Kent's decision?" asked Charlotte, bringing Lois out of her thoughts.
"Umm… yeah. His and Perry's. In that case, they felt the public had a right to know."
"Even though it could hurt Superman." Charlotte Benoit rose to her feet. "Well, thank you for coming, Mademoiselle Lane," she said, as if about to show Lois the way to the door. "It has been enlightening talking to you."
Lois jumped up, grabbing Charlotte's arm. The formal use of her name told Lois that she was being dismissed. "Please, Madam Benoit, if you know something about Superman, you have to tell me."
Charlotte narrowed her eyes and studied Lois for a long moment, as if evaluating the request for what Lois suspected might very well be the last time.
"I have reason to believe his life might be in danger. Did you find out something that would tell me who might want him dead?" Lois continued, knowing the truth was the only way to get this woman to open up. "I promise, I would never do anything to hurt him."
Charlotte searched Lois' eyes. Knowing what Charlotte must be searching for, Lois allowed all her current fear for Clark to show in her expression. After a moment, Charlotte rose to her feet.
"Follow me," she said.
Lois let out a breath, feeling the crushing weight of defeat. Madam Benoit knew something about Superman and Lois had failed to convince her to provide her with the necessary information, information which could very well save Superman's life — well, unless, of course, he was already… She never allowed herself to complete that thought.
CHAPTER 5: PATH TO PARADISE
"So what did you want me to come here for, Gretchen?" asked Luthor looking casually around the upscale clinic in downtown Metropolis. "I thought you had Superman."
"Well, I don't have him here exactly. But I will."
"What does that mean?"
"Superman has suffered some sort of trauma and is currently unconscious."
"And he's vulnerable," he added. "You told me on the phone, he's vulnerable."
"He is. So I took some blood, ostensibly to run some tests on it in an effort to determine what has rendered him unconscious."
"So where is he?"
"Patience, Lex, patience. He's currently at Madam Benoit's."
Lex's eyebrows shot up. "That can't be good for his reputation. Anyway, if he's at Madam Benoit's, what are we doing here?"
"Madam Benoit is being very protective. Anyway, I've got a plan that will guarantee that Madam Benoit will agree to have him moved here."
"And how's that?"
"I call her, tell her Superman's blood came back clean. As a result, he requires an EEG and other tests — tests that can only be run here or at a hospital. She'll have no choice, but to agree to have him brought here. More discreet than a hospital. And then you can be here waiting for him, my love." She walked closer to Luthor, running her hands down his chest and tilting her chin up as if expecting a kiss. "So do you like my plan?"
Luthor smiled. "What would I do without you, my dear?"
"You'll never have to find out, Lex." She closed her eyes, expecting a kiss. She was surprised when she felt him move away from her.
Opening her eyes, she realized he was picking up the phone. He turned back to face her. "Call her."
"I can't yet, Lex."
"Do you mind telling me why?"
"When I left, I told her it would take me a couple of hours to do the blood tests and get a bed set up. But…" She approached him slowly, sexily sauntering across the room. "…can't you think of a way to amuse yourself for a couple of hours?"
"I never allow pleasure to distract me from business, my dear. First, Superman. Then we'll discuss your proposition."
Lois was confused. When Charlotte had first suggested that Lois follow her, Lois had thought that she'd failed to get her sincerity through to the woman. But instead of leading her back to the elevators, she'd taken Lois down the hallway the young woman had magically appeared through earlier. For a moment, Lois had a weird sense of deja vu. She'd come for information, the same as she'd done with Lex, and once again instead of being told something, she was being taken somewhere — she knew not where.
Charlotte led her to a back staircase and down it to a floor below. "This is where the girls' rooms are," Charlotte proceeded to explain as she led Lois through the hallway. "Well, some of them. Others have their own apartments in other parts of the building. We also have some rooms down here for entertaining guests. We only have a few guest rooms because most of the time, our customers prefer to meet their dates elsewhere. Or want to rent one of our more private apartments here in the building. The place I am taking you is one of the guest rooms."
Charlotte didn't answer. Instead, she opened the door to a room and stood aside, allowing Lois to enter.
Lois gasped when she saw the unconscious man on the bed. Her blood began pounding painfully through her veins as she moved on trembling legs towards the unconscious man. It couldn't be — could it?
"He's alive," Charlotte quickly assured her.
Still, not entirely certain who she was looking at, she continued towards the bed. She took a seat on the side, stretching out a hand to brush the hair off his face. "Clark." The word was whispered softly, so softly that she knew it would be indecipherable to the woman standing by the door. Her hand slowly traced its way across his face, down to follow the line of his jaw and across the tendons of his neck. She knew that face, that jaw, that neck. Her hand continued down to the magnificence of his chest. She knew his chest. She'd spent a long time Friday evening acquainting herself with every line and muscle of this particular chest. Never again would a pair of glasses fool her. She would know the man she loved anywhere. Her hand stopped on a dark bluish bruise on his left pectoral muscle. A number of cuts and scrapes and even a small burn on his upper arm were clearly visible.
"He's vulnerable?" she asked over her shoulder.
"We have no idea why," said Charlotte, maintaining her position by the door.
"How did he end up here?"
"A street kid called me. I brought him here, assuming he would not want to be taken to the hospital. Then I called my personal physician who came here to examine him. She was unable to answer the question of why he's vulnerable or why he's not awake. She did take some blood back to her lab for testing, however. So hopefully we'll know more soon."
"Your personal physician?"
"Dr. Gretchen Kelly. I've known her for years. Don't worry. She's very discreet."
"Who else knows he's here?"
"Just my girls, my chauffeur and the doorman. And, of course, you. None of them will say anything about Superman being…"
"He's not Superman," Lois said.
"He's not Superman," Lois repeated, turning for the first time since she'd seen Clark to look at the other woman. "I don't know who this is, but it's not Superman. I've seen Superman up close on many occasions and I can assure you this is not him."
A look of confusion appeared to cross Charlotte's face before the same unshakable expression she'd maintained since Lois had arrived replaced it. "Of course. You must be correct. You would certainly know if this were Superman. We must have made a mistake. I will be sure to communicate the error of our information to everyone involved."
Lois looked back at the man lying on the bed, torn. She knew she had to walk out. After all, he was safer not having anyone know that Superman was vulnerable. And the only way to do that was to pretend that she had no particular interest here even though the mere thought of leaving him like this was breaking her heart. But in this case, he was safer in the care of the woman standing behind her. After all, if Lois had learned anything during her discussion with Madam Benoit, it was that she had a soft spot for the man lying in this bed. She had to admit she found that somewhat… unsettling. At the same time, there was an advantage to her fondness for Superman. If there was even a chance that he was Superman, Madam Benoit would ensure he received the best care possible. Besides, Lois could always stake out the apartment building to make sure no one who might be a threat to him entered. Still, leaving him… She forced herself to her feet.
"However," Charlotte said, turning Lois' attention back to the older woman, "I really could use your help — even though he's not Superman."
"What do you mean?" asked Lois.
"I don't have anyone to sit with him through the night. Would you consider…"
"Yes." Lois knew she'd sounded too eager, but she'd been unable to stop herself when she'd realized what Charlotte was about to propose.
"Thank you," said Charlotte, backing out the door. "There's a phone by the bed. I'll be down to check on you in a little while. But if in the mean time, you have need of anything, please feel free to call. You need only pick it up and press one" With those words, she backed out the door and closed it leaving Lois alone with Superman.
Lois didn't allow herself to worry too deeply about Charlotte's reaction to her 'revelation' that this was not Superman. Charlotte, quite obviously, was no fool. And Lois suspected Charlotte knew Lois was lying about the identity of the man in the bed. Still, she was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, she turned her attention back to Clark.
"Clark," she whispered again, this time leaning over and brushing a kiss across his forehead. Tears of relief and worry slipped from her eyes, falling harmlessly onto his chest. He was alive. For now, that would have to be enough. And he wouldn't die. She simply wouldn't allow it. He was here now, with her, and whatever it took, she was determined to get him back. "Clark, please. Come back to me."
The darkness began to recede, leaving Clark conscious of someone softly crying. "Clark, please. Come back to me." He tried to push himself towards the sound of the voice, but seemed unable to find the source. After what felt like forever, struggling to find his way out of… wherever he was trapped, the darkness claimed him once again. How much time passed, he had no idea. But when he again became aware, the sound of her plea still echoed inside his head. He forced open his eyes.
He felt completely disoriented. The room in which he found himself was completely unfamiliar. He shifted position slightly, feeling a pressure against his chest. Looking down, he saw a scruff of brown hair and realized a woman was sitting in a chair by his bed, her head resting against him.
He reached down, lightly brushing the hair off the woman's face in order to see her better. The woman — Clark couldn't help but notice how incredibly beautiful she was — instantly sat up, looking as if he had woken her up. "I didn't mean to wake…"
He never got a chance to finish his thoughts since she jumped up and began planting kisses over his face, his eyelids, his forehead.
"Thank god," she gasped when she finally seemed to gain some semblance of control. "I thought I'd lost you."
Before he could respond, his mouth was claimed for a much more pleasant activity. Still… He pulled back.
"If this is about the way I acted before you left…" she began, as if confused by his withdrawal.
"It's not that this isn't very pleasant," he interrupted. "But…"
"You're confused about why I wasn't there to see you off."
"You're upset about our fight the night before you left."
"I'm sorry, Clark. I just…"
"I'm just wondering who you are," he finally managed to get out. "In fact…" He hesitated for a moment, as if not entirely certain he should say his next words. "…would you happen to know who I am?"
Lois stared at her partner in stunned disbelief. It wasn't possible. It just wasn't. After all, only a week ago she'd been asking the exact same questions. The odds they would both suffer amnesia in such a short period of time had to be astronomical.
"Do you trust me?" she asked. There might not be time to tell him everything. But there were a couple of things, above all others, that she had to ensure. She could only hope that some part of him, the same part of her that had instinctively trusted him, trusted her.
He studied her for a long moment and she held her breath, hoping the answer was yes. It wasn't until he finally nodded that she started breathing again.
"Okay, your name is Clark Kent. But no matter what, you can't tell anyone that unless I say it's okay."
"Do you mind telling me why?"
"It's… complicated. But trust me, this is for both of our protection. Why don't we say your name is…" She stumbled as she tried to think of a name.
"John?" she asked in disbelief. Considering where they were currently hiding out, the name was… tactless somehow.
"You know. Short for Jonathan."
"Oh! Umm… Why don't we go with Jonathan then?"
"Won't I need a last name?"
"Yeah, I guess. What about…"
"Black," she responded. "Jonathan Black." She didn't want Charlotte to make the connection with Perry White — although she suspected Charlotte was humoring her with her claim this man wasn't Superman. Still, it was best to keep up the pretense as well as possible. And whatever else happened, she couldn't let anyone make a connection between him and Clark Kent.
"Jonathan Black," he said slowly, as if trying the name on for size. Then he turned his attention to her. "And you are…?"
"Well, Lois Lane, do you think I could get a glass of water? I'm really thirsty."
"Oh, right," Lois said, recalling the same feeling herself. She rose from the side of the bed, making her way to the bar to pour him a glass of water. She had to brace herself against the counter as the relief she felt over the fact that Clark was alive and awake began to sink in. At this point, a little amnesia was the least of their problems. Even if he never got his memory back, she would find a way to get him to fall in love with her all over again.
Once she handed Clark his water, she picked up the phone. She needed to let Madam Benoit know that Clark… uhh… Jonathan Black had finally woken up.
She briefly considered calling Clark's folks, but quickly dismissed the idea. She knew they'd be worried sick, but the one thing Lois couldn't risk was having a long distance phone call to the Kents show up on Madam Benoit's bill during the time the man they suspected was Superman had been staying there. She could call collect or bill it to her own number. On the other hand, she wasn't entirely sure if such calls showed up on the bill of the phone where the call was being placed — albeit, without charge. No. She hated to leave them wondering where Clark was, but she simply couldn't risk calling them.
"As I told you, he's awake and apparently suffering no ill effects from his ordeal."
"Still, he should come in and get checked out," said Gretchen Kelly in frustration. "He needs to find out the reason he remained unconscious for so long. It could be an indication of a bigger problem."
"I think that's going to have to be up to him. For now, he needs his rest," said Madam Benoit. "Thank you so much for your assistance, Doctor. Please send me the bill. Oh, and we were apparently mistaken. He is not Superman. His name is Jonathan Black."
"What?" gasped Gretchen.
"Good night, Doctor," said Madam Benoit. "Again, thanks for all your assistance."
Gretchen stared in disbelief at the phone long after Madam Benoit had hung up.
"So he's not Superman."
Gretchen spun around to where Lex Luthor was hanging up the extension on which he'd been listening in.
"He is, Lex. I swear. She's lying."
Lex narrowed his eyes and regarded her coolly before nodding. "That makes sense. If he did wake up and discovered he's vulnerable, he would not want anyone to know that he's Superman. Still… it's obvious that your plan has failed. There is no way he's going to be coming here now."
Picking up a glass sitting on the table in front of him, he flung it into the wall, causing it to shatter. Gretchen flinched from the sound.
"Maybe you could get him at Madam Benoit's," she said, trying to appease Lex and not lose her advantage.
"And let one of the most connected women in the city realize…" His voice trailed off and a small smile crossed his face. "There may yet be a way." He picked up the phone and placed a call.
A knock at the door brought Lois out of a light sleep. She sat up in the large chair she'd pushed next to Clark's bed and stretched her cramped limbs.
"Come in," she said softly, taking a look at the man in the bed to ensure she hadn't woken him.
When no one entered, she rose from the chair and, running a hand through her hair, made her way to the door. She opened it and smiled.
"May I come in?" asked Madam Benoit softly.
"It's your place," said Lois, opening the door further to allow Madam Benoit to enter. "Besides, anyone bearing gifts is always welcome," she added, gesturing to the tray the other woman was holding.
"I always find a little ice cream in the middle of the night goes a long way to sooth the nerves." She walked over to the small coffee table and placed her tray on it. "How is he doing?" she asked, gesturing towards the bed.
"He's asleep again. But he seems to be doing okay."
"Well, I just spoke to Dr. Kelly. Apparently, she ran the tests on his blood."
"What did she find?" asked Lois nervously. After all, such tests could confirm that the man in the bed was Superman.
"Nothing. No drugs or alcohol. No sign of any infections. She wanted him to come in to do some more tests, but I told her that would have to be up to Mr. Black. So how about you? How are you doing?
Lois opened her mouth to say that since this had nothing to do with her, of course she was fine, but didn't quite have the energy. "I'm a little tired myself."
"Well, enjoy the ice cream." Charlotte made as if to leave the room.
"Why don't you join me?" asked Lois. "He's dead to the world — so I don't think he'll mind if you eat his ice cream."
Charlotte nodded, glancing over at Clark, before closing the door and making her way to a chair. Lois took a seat on the couch.
"I brought both rocky road and chocolate," said Charlotte. "I like both. So the choice is yours."
Lois picked up the bowl of chocolate ice cream and a spoon. She took a bite and moaned. "This is great ice cream."
"I've learned over the years that there are two things you never cut costs on: wine and ice cream," Charlotte replied, picking up the other bowl.
Lois chuckled. "Do you mind if I ask a question?"
Charlotte gestured for her to continue.
"How does one become the most exclusive Madam in Metropolis?"
Charlotte studied her for a moment. "Who's asking? My friend, Lois, or the reporter, Mademoiselle Lane?"
"Does it make a difference?"
"Well, one thing that is critical to becoming the most exclusive Madam in Metropolis is that one does not speak to the press."
Lois grinned. She had to admit, she really liked this woman. "I won't print anything you tell me. After all, how would I explain…" She gestured around her. "…this."
"You're not particularly keen on letting all of Metropolis know you spent the night in a brothel with a strange man?"
"You could say that."
Charlotte nodded. "Very well." She seemed to retreat for a moment into the past. "Well, I didn't start out planning to be a Madam. I doubt any young girl does. I grew up in a very strict Catholic home in Northern Quebec. The youngest of seven children. My parents took the rules about birth control seriously," she added with a chuckle. "My mother was English, although she never spoke it at home, and my father was Quebecois. He worked in the mines. We never had a lot, but it was enough."
"So how did you come to be here?"
"When I was fourteen, I met a young man. Marty. He drifted into town on his motorcycle. He was so dashing with his long, blond hair and his black leather jacket. He was unlike anyone I'd ever met. I was swept completely off my feet."
"How old was he?"
"Uhh… he was probably twenty. I know. Not exactly politically correct. He was, as you've probably guessed, my first lover. My parents forbid me to see him. I defied them. I was in love, after all. And no one is as stubborn as a young woman in love. When he decided to move on, I insisted he take me. Of course, in my fourteen year old mind, we were going to run away, get married and live happily ever after. Although, to be fair, he made no such promises."
"I take it this love affair doesn't have a happy ending."
"Not exactly. After about a year, he tired of me. When he moved on the next time, he left me behind. And so, at the age of fifteen, I found myself alone in Metropolis, living on the street, barely able to speak English and… pregnant."
"Surely you could have called your parents."
"I could have. But as I said, my parents were very strict. Showing up at home, a fallen woman in their eyes, would have been bad enough. But pregnant… No. That would not have gone over well at all. I didn't believe I'd be welcome back in their home."
"So what did you do?"
"Well, this was long before Roe v. Wade so abortion wasn't exactly legal. But I managed to scrape together enough money to go see a man who gave abortions. I was told he was a doctor, but I have my doubts. My intention was to get rid of the child and then call my parents. If they didn't know about the child, I thought they just might be willing to take me back.
"The arrangement was that I was to go to the backroom in an abandoned building in Suicide Slum at a predetermined time. I didn't know anyone in Metropolis, so I went alone. I'm not sure I'd ever been as scared. The entire place was dark and grimy." She let out a breath. "Come to think of it, so was the doctor, and I use that term loosely. He used a coat hanger to terminate my pregnancy."
"When it was over, I was bleeding — badly. I'd never seen so much blood. The doctor told me I just needed to rest. Then he packed up his things, took my money and left. It didn't take me long to realize I was in serious trouble. I was in the backroom of an abandoned warehouse, hemorrhaging, and nobody knew I was there. I managed to pick myself up off the table and make it into the street before passing out.
"I must have been found by someone and taken to the hospital because that's where I woke up. Of course, it was obvious to the doctors what had happened, and since abortion was illegal, I ended up in jail. When I was released, I got a job working at a truck stop as a waitress. I was determined to get my life back on track. After my abortion, I was told I'd never be able to have children. I thought God was punishing me for my sins. So I started attending church in an effort to appease an obviously angry God."
"Why didn't you call your parents then?"
"I did. They informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was dead to them. I guess they couldn't forgive me for running away with a man." Suddenly, and much to Lois' surprise, Charlotte laughed. "Of course, think about what they'd say if they could see me now. Anyway, I tried to get my life together. But life isn't exactly easy for a fifteen year old girl on her own in Metropolis — especially back then. Added to that was the complication that my English was rudimentary at best.
"So one day… I was crying as I walked back to the hovel I called home. I didn't have enough money to pay the rent and I knew that the landlord was going to throw me out. Anyway, I was followed by a man who I knew from the restaurant — Bruce. He asked me what was wrong and the whole story came pouring out. He told me he could help me out."
"I just bet he did."
Charlotte looked at Lois then. The whole story had been told in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. There was no attempt to illicit sympathy or assign blame. She was simply telling a story. So she looked slightly shocked by the venom she could hear in Lois' voice. Then her expression settled into a smile. "Anyway, you obviously know what's coming next. So there is no need to go into detail. I will say this though, when he left the money on the table, I felt utterly wretched. I almost told him to keep his damn money. But I couldn't. Twenty dollars was a fortune for me — the difference between survival and… well, whatever comes when one can't survive.
"For a long time, he was my only customer. Twenty dollars every couple of weeks. Between that and my job at the restaurant, I was just making ends meet. But then he started getting possessive — as if I was his own personal property. One day when I was talking to another man — just talking — he grabbed me and dragged me off, calling me names that I won't repeat. I was humiliated, angry and even a little scared. So I quit my job and disappeared. I tried to get another job, but no one was looking to hire a fifteen year old girl with poor English. Anyway, after that, prostitution became my profession."
She paused as she thought back. When she continued, her tone was reflective. "No matter what anyone tells you, there is something worse about working the streets than the johns who beat you. And that is the pimps. The pimps claim to offer a girl protection from the johns. But no one offers protection from the pimps. You can't even go to the police because the only thing they're likely to do is throw you in jail for solicitation. It's easier than going after the pimps." She let out a breath. "Even if you do find a police officer who wants to help, the most that's going to happen to a pimp for abusing one of his girls is a short stint in jail. And when he gets out… God help you.
"Anyway, my pimp's name was Randy. When he first saw me on the street, he approached me, offering protection. I told him I didn't need a pimp. I have no proof he was responsible, but that night I encountered a particularly violent john. The next day, I joined Randy's girls. He was worse than any john I've ever encountered. I suffered more bruises, cuts and broken bones at his hands than I did with any of my johns. I didn't dare run — the way I had from Bruce — because I knew he would find me. And if he found me, I knew he would kill me."
"So what happened to him?"
"He was murdered." She met Lois' eyes. "The police investigated, but his murderer has never been found."
Lois cocked her head to the side, taking in the slight twinkle in Charlotte's eyes. She had to admit that she suddenly wondered if Charlotte might have somehow been involved. "That's too bad."
"Isn't it, though," Charlotte responded, a small smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.
"After that, I continued to work nights, but I spent most of the day educating myself. I learned everything I could about…" She let out a breath. "…well, everything really. And I organized the girls who, like me, had Randy as their pimp before his untimely demise. We started looking out for each other. Other pimps tried to move in, but we pooled our money and managed to hire some legitimate muscle. We paid him; he provided protection. But unlike a pimp, we didn't work for him, he worked for us. A few broken bones later, the pimps decided we weren't worth the effort.
"I even started teaching the other girls the things I was learning. As well as business, which was my particular interest, we learned those things that interested men. At first, it was things like football and auto-mechanics. Then it was economics and politics as our clientele began to improve. We learned proper English and manners. We recreated ourselves and became more than just prostitutes. We became suitable companions for men even outside the bedroom. And… well, things just grew from there." She gestured around her.
"These days, though, it's not exactly the street kids you're helping, is it? From what I've heard, your girls all come from good homes."
A smile twitched at the corners of Charlotte's mouth. "You, of all people, should know not always to believe the cover story."
"What are you saying?"
"Every one of my girls was hooking on the streets long before I found her."
"But I heard…"
"What I wanted you to hear. No one wants to listen to some girl's hard-luck story. They don't want to hear tales of abuse and alcoholism, failed relationships or eating out of garbage bins because you can't hustle up enough money for a decent meal. They don't want to be told about soup kitchens that run out of food before the last person has been fed, or shelters without enough beds for people seeking refuge from the cold. That is not what powerful men want to think about when they take my girls out on dates. So I… invent a new identity for each girl. If anyone asks, she tells them her revised history. The girls actually seem to enjoy it. They say it makes them feel glamorous, like actresses playing a role."
"So these are street kids? Like you were?"
Charlotte nodded. "In fact, most of them have stories that make my past look tame by comparison."
"Then where do they learn to be…" Lois' voice trailed off as she struggled to find the right word.
"I teach them. And I insist they get an education. Usually it's just high school at first. But most of them go on to university. Or they start businesses, not to compete with me, of course. Legitimate businesses. In that case, I rent them office space in the building at a reasonable rate to get them started."
Lois shook her head slowly, completely fascinated. "If you ever decide to go public with your story, I'd love to be the one to tell it."
Charlotte nodded. "I'll remember that."
"In the meantime…" Lois shifted uncomfortably, unable to help herself from glancing over at Clark to make sure he was still asleep. "…can I ask you a question?"
"Well, it's kind of… embarrassing."
"You now know all my secrets. In the light of that, what could you possibly ask that would be embarrassing?"
"I doubt I know 'all' your secrets, but… Well… you're sort of an expert in a subject that… No. Just forget it."
"Is this about sex?"
"How did you know?"
Charlotte smiled. "People get a certain expression when they talk about sex. Although, you're… what? Twenty-five?"
"Then I'm sure you must have already worked things out for yourself."
"Not exactly." When Charlotte's eyebrows rose, Lois rushed to continue. "I mean, I have… I mean, I'm not…"
"I understand," Charlotte said, causing Lois to let out a breath of relief.
"It's just… well, what exactly are men looking for… in the bedroom, I mean? I've heard that they want a lady on their arm and a sl… well, you know, in the bedroom. I'm just not sure…" Her voice trailed off and she squirmed again under Charlotte's considering gaze. "Look, why don't we just forget it? It was a stupid idea to begin with."
"What a man is looking for is as varied as are men."
"But surely you can give me a few tips." She couldn't quite prevent herself from checking again to make sure Clark was still sleeping. "Just to make sure that when…" Lois' voice trailed off.
"You're afraid of disappointing someone."
"No! No! I'm just… speaking hypothetically."
"Of course. Well, I'm not sure what to tell you. Over the years, I've learned that what a man wants depends on the man. Some men want an aggressive woman. Some men want to dominate their women. But…" This time she looked over at the man in the bed briefly. "…the type of man you are likely to be interested in is… special. To him, the body is not as important as the heart. The body is only a way to express what the heart feels. He wants your heart. If you give him that, he will be satisfied — regardless of what 'tricks' you may know in the bedroom. On the other hand, if you hold back your heart, if you keep a little part of it, trying to keep yourself safe, he will never be satisfied."
Lois considered the words for a long time before responding. "But I was in a relationship before and I… he… I mean, I gave him my heart and…"
"It wasn't enough?" Charlotte asked when Lois didn't continue.
"That's because the man you loved before wasn't worthy of your love — any more than Marty was worthy of mine. The man you love now is worthy of your love. He wants to please more than he wants to be pleased. Trust yourself. Trust him."
"We are still speaking hypothetically, aren't we?" Lois asked.
"Because nothing could ever happen between me and Superman. You do realize that, don't you?"
"I mean, it would be too dangerous for Superman to be in a relationship with a woman. She'd compromise him."
Lois gave her head a slight shake. "You know, you'd have made a great reporter."
"I'd have made a great anything," Charlotte responded, the twinkle in her eye taking the arrogance out of the statement. Besides, Lois tended to agree with her.
"Now," Charlotte continued, collecting the empty ice cream bowls and rising to her feet, "I think we both need some sleep." She glanced around the room. "Would you be more comfortable if I had a cot brought in here?"
"I'll be fine," Lois said, standing up as well. "Charlotte…" She waited for Charlotte to look at her before continuing. "…do you mind if I ask how exactly you know Superman? And what made you think of calling Clark Kent?"
"Well, a few months ago, Superman rescued one of my girls from… a not so good situation. So I told him anytime he wanted the services of any of my girls, it was complementary. Oh, don't worry. He didn't take me up on my offer," she continued to the look on Lois' face. "But when you were missing, he came by here to see if I could help him with finding out what happened to you — something to do with the party a certain group of politicians had been at the night you went missing. Anyway, he told me that if I found anything I should call Clark Kent — that he could be trusted."
Lois let out a breath of relief. "Thank you," she said slowly, "for everything."
Charlotte smiled, giving a small nod, before turning to leave the room, closing the door behind her. Lois turned and looked at Clark. He was breathing heavily — although it was not quite a snore. A small amount of drool seemed to have accumulated in the corner of his mouth. Lois smiled. He really was adorable.
She glanced at the door again before making a decision. Walking over, she turned out the light. Then she stripped out of her jeans and, using Clark's sweatshirt as a nightshirt, made her way over to the bed and climbed in. She wanted to curl up against him, but she didn't dare. Not only was there the danger of someone walking in, but there was also the fact that Clark didn't have his memory. She didn't want him to panic if he woke up and found her sleeping against him.
Still, she lay next to him, watching him and thinking about what Madam Benoit had said. 'The man you love now is worthy of your love.' Well, she was right about that — although she couldn't believe how close she'd come to missing out on him. 'He wants your heart. Give him that and he will be satisfied.' Could she really be right? Maybe. After all, she was the expert on these matters.
After watching Clark for a long time, she rolled over onto her stomach. Propping herself up on her elbows, she leaned over him, being careful not to touch him, and planted a single soft kiss on his lips. Then, sighing, she moved back to her own side of the bed, put her head on the pillow and turned her back to Clark, closing her eyes and hoping to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Two large, dark, windowless vans pulled to a stop in front of the building containing the most famous brothel in Metropolis. Inside one of the vans, a dozen men buttoned shirts, did up ties and pulled on bullet proof vests.
"All right, listen up, men," said General Zeitlin. "As far as everyone will be concerned, this is a police raid on a whorehouse. Remember to conduct yourself at all times as police officers. And that includes arresting any and all customers you find inside. But your main target is Superman."
"How are we supposed to arrest Superman, sir?" asked one of the men.
"We have intelligence that he is vulnerable."
"And we all know how reliable 'intelligence' is," said one of the men, provoking laughter from the others.
"Besides, given Superman's past dealings with the police, particularly during the heat wave, we don't expect him to give us any problems if he thinks this is a legitimate raid," Zeitlin added. "Any questions?"
"No, sir!" the men said in unison.
"Okay, let's move out," General Zeitlin said, opening the door to the van.
CHAPTER 6: TRUE LIES
Lois felt someone shaking her shoulder before the woman's whispering voice spoke again.
Lois opened her eyes. It took her a moment to remember where she was and to recognize the woman addressing her.
"You've got to go."
"What?" asked Lois, sitting up sleepily in the darkened room. "What time is it?"
"Three thirty. Lois, you have to wake up. There are men coming for him." She gestured behind Lois.
Lois looked around at Clark. "What? Who?"
"They claim to be police — raiding this place."
"How do you know they're not?"
"Trust me. If they were going to raid this place, it wouldn't be on a Tuesday night."
"So what makes you think they're after him?"
"What other reason could there be for this raid? You have to get him out of here."
"Uhh… yeah." Suddenly the seriousness of the situation cleared the cobwebs from Lois' mind. She forced herself out of bed, looking around for her jeans.
"Here," Charlotte said, handing them to her. "I also brought some clothes that should fit him. Please. We have to hurry."
Lois was only half aware of her surroundings as she helped a half-asleep, extremely weak Clark Kent through a maze of hallways. They entered a luxurious room, even more luxurious than the one they had left only moments before — obviously this room belonged to the mistress of the house. She could hear dozens of giggling female voices as they attempted to slow down the search of the police officers — or whoever they were — through the use of some serious flirting. The men's voices indicated that they were not easily deterred from their mission.
"Where are we going?" Lois asked her guide.
"My private elevator," Charlotte responded, pulling back the doors on what appeared to be a closet. "It will take you down to a back entrance onto the street. Fred is out there, ready to take you anywhere you need to go."
"What about you? Will you and your girls be all right?"
Charlotte smiled. "It's been a long time since I have been unable to handle any man. We'll be fine. Now go!"
"Thank you," Lois said, stepping into the elevator, Clark's arm around her shoulder.
"Just take care of Superman."
"Who's Superman?" Clark's voice slurred slightly, informing Lois and Charlotte that he was with them — sort of.
"I told you, he's not Superman," said Lois. "His name is…"
"John Black," said Clark. "Oops. I mean, Jonathan Black." He gave Lois a look as if to ask if he'd gotten that right.
"Of course," Charlotte responded.
Lois smiled to herself. Madam Benoit was no fool. She knew what was going on. But for a reason Lois couldn't quite name, the idea of the older woman knowing who John Black really was didn't particularly bother her.
"Just take care of him," Charlotte said to Lois
"I will," Lois promised as the elevator doors slid shut.
"What the hell is going on here?" asked an over-weight, balding and very incensed man. He looked comical attempting to pull his trousers on as he was dragged out of the room by two 'police officers.' "You're all going to catch hell for this!"
"Walter," said Madam Benoit apologetically as the man was dragged into a large rumpus room on the second to top floor of the building where a half dozen other men, all looking equally disheveled, had also been corralled. "I'm so sorry about this."
"I want to know who is in charge here!" Walter demanded, looking at the officers.
"I am," came a commanding voice behind him.
The man spun around. "And who the hell are you?"
"Detective Sergeant Collin O'Neil. Who are you?"
"I'm Chief of Police Walter Carter!"
The two men holding him, instantly stepped away.
"Who authorized this outrage?" the Chief continued. "Charlotte Benoit is an upstanding member of our community. She donates more to the homeless than any other single person in Metropolis. And she happens to be a personal friend of mine. She doesn't deserve to have men storming in here in the middle of the night carrying guns."
"I didn't realize that…" The man who had identified himself as O'Neil was visibly shaken.
"Who gave you your orders?" The Chief was doing up the belt on his trousers as he spoke.
"He's not here, sir," came a young man's voice as the man himself rushed into the living room, oblivious to the drama taking place.
"Who?" demanded the Chief. "Who were you expecting to find?"
O'Neil gave the young man a withering look. "No one, sir. We obviously had some bad information." He quickly gestured to the other men and, understanding his unspoken signal, they began quickly exiting the room. "We're terribly sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am," he said to Madam Benoit, backing slowly out of the room after his men.
"Wait a minute!" stormed the Chief of Police. "I was talking to you. And I demand to know…" His voice trailed off when the man disappeared through the door.
"I'm so sorry about this, Walter," said Madam Benoit, coming up to take his arm. "Why don't I have Sharon get you a drink to help you settle down? Bourbon, isn't it?" she asked, gesturing to a brunette, the young woman who had been the Chief's companion only minutes before.
"I'm the one who should be apologizing," said the Chief as Sharon moved to get him his drink. "I promise you, I will get to the bottom of this outrage. And whoever is responsible will pay."
"Ladies," said Madam Benoit, gesturing the other young women to take care of their other guests.
Lois was lost in thought as the limo made its way through the city streets. She'd told the driver to take them to her apartment. It seemed the best thing to do under the circumstances. She was still in a slight daze from the way she'd been woken up. Listening to the angry voices of the men coming from nearby — men who were looking for Superman. The blood had pounded through her veins as she'd struggled to get Clark out of there. How had they found out where he was? Obviously, Charlotte hadn't betrayed them — otherwise she would never have provided Lois with the method of escape. But a number of others had known Superman was there. Which one could it have been?
Of course, that assumed the raid was even an attempt to get Superman. After all, couldn't it have been a normal police raid? Her mind drifted back to Charlotte's comment that she knew it wasn't the police — that the police wouldn't raid the place on a Tuesday night. What had that meant? Was it just more likely that the police would raid on the weekend? No. That didn't seem quite right. Charlotte's comment had implied that there was something special about Tuesday nights — something that guaranteed no police raids.
Pushing the question out of her mind for the moment, she glanced over at Clark. He'd made it into the limo, promptly falling back to sleep the second the car pulled away from the curb. As her eyes drifted over his body, her mind flashed back to getting him up a few minutes before.
She had tried to be respectful, but when she threw the covers off the bed in an effort to wake him, she had been so completely caught off guard. If it hadn't been for Charlotte reminding her that they had to hurry, she'd probably still be standing there looking at him. He had to be the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Were Michelangelo looking for models today, Lois knew whom she would recommend.
She could only be grateful that the room had been bathed in darkness. Otherwise, Charlotte might have seen the amount of color in Lois' cheeks as they'd struggled together to get him into his clothes. At first, Charlotte had stepped back, allowing Lois to handle the task alone. Lois suspected Charlotte had done so out of respect for what she deemed to be Lois' position in Superman's life — as if waiting to see if Lois wanted her help. But it had quickly become obvious that Lois couldn't do it alone. Charlotte had offered to help and Lois had readily agreed. After that, things had become much easier. Charlotte had been much more adept than Lois at dressing a man who was only half awake and more than a little groggy.
Superman. It seemed obvious to Lois that Charlotte knew Jonathan Black was Superman. She'd never contradicted Lois' assertions, nothing more.
Should she and Clark be worried? Lois gave her head a slight shake. After everything Charlotte had told her… Lois suddenly sat up straighter. Was that what Charlotte had been doing? It had seemed somewhat strange, given Charlotte's reputation for discretion, that the woman would open up to a complete stranger — a reporter at that. Not that Charlotte had provided information that could hurt anyone else. But she had told Lois her girls came from the streets — not the high society girls her customers believed they were getting. And she'd actually hinted at her involvement in a murder. Had she been giving Lois information that could potentially hurt her specifically to reassure Lois that she could be trusted with the Superman secret?
Given the intellect Charlotte Benoit had displayed while talking to Lois, Lois suspected she knew exactly what she had been doing. And if that were the case, then neither she nor Clark had anything to fear from Madam Benoit. Still, someone had betrayed them — at least that was the only conclusion if Charlotte was correct about the alleged police raid.
Okay, so who could the leak have been? She ran through the list of suspects in her mind. Some street kid had found him and called Charlotte. Charlotte's chauffeur, Fred. The other girls at Charlotte's house. Oh, and the doctor. What was her name again? Kelly. Gretchen Kelly. Maybe if they could figure out the identity of the leak, they could find out the identity of the person behind tonight's raid. On the other hand, how many people had seen Superman being taken to Madam Benoit's? Was finding the leak even a realistic goal?
"We're here, Miss."
Lois looked out the window to see that they had arrived at her apartment building. "Thank you, Fred," Lois said, moving over Clark to open the door closest to the curb. By the time she crawled out, Fred was there.
"Can I give you a hand with him?"
Lois turned back to the car, leaning over to look at the man inside… "Wake up. We're here." When Clark didn't respond, she gave him a slap on the cheek — even though she flinched more than he did when her hand connected.
"Come on. You need to wake up, Cl… Jonathan. We're here."
"Hmph," he said. This time, although he did not open his eyes, he began crawling out of the car.
She and Fred moved quickly to help him to his feet. Lois braced her feet and put his arm around her shoulder. "We'll be fine, Fred. Thank you."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. And please tell everyone thank you from both of us."
"I will, Miss. Goodnight."
He tipped his hat and made his way back to the car. Lois watched him go before turning around and leading Clark towards her apartment building.
By the time she finally managed to get Clark up the stairs to her apartment, she was completely exhausted. Had he always weighed this much? She leaned him against the wall and fished in the pocket of her jacket for her keys. She was just about to put the first key in the lock when she realized it wasn't necessary. The door wasn't completely closed. Taking a deep breath, she cautiously pushed the door further open.
"Omigod," she breathed as she looked into her apartment.
Charlotte chuckled to herself as she thought about the look on the face of the man who had led the raid when he had been confronted by the Police Chief. He really should have done his homework. It was pretty much common knowledge that Walter had 'visited' every Tuesday night since the death of his wife nearly five years ago. And recently he'd developed a soft spot for Sharon — one of Charlotte's girls.
The rest of the 'guests' who had been spending the night were certainly rich — one could not afford an entire night with one of Madam Benoit's girls if he was not rich. But none of them had been high profile, so the 'raid' had been not much more than an inconvenience and maybe an embarrassment for them.
Bob, the doorman, had pressed the emergency buzzer as soon as the 'police officers' had entered the building. The buzzer had immediately done two things. The first was to notify Charlotte that unwelcome guests had entered the building. The second was to lock down the main elevators. The second idea had been Charlotte's own invention. If the police or whoever had to take the stairs because the elevators were shut down, it gave her time to get any truly important guests out before the intruders could make it to the apartments. She'd never been as happy for that extra time as she was tonight.
Still, there was a concern. And in Charlotte's mind, it was a major concern. There was an informant. And if there was one thing Charlotte did not tolerate, it was betrayal. It was grounds for instant expulsion for any of her girls. And although Charlotte did not want to think her girls would do that to her, she also had no doubt that it would be very tempting, given the payout one could expect from the information that Superman was vulnerable and currently staying in one of her rooms. After all, if there was one thing about which Charlotte was certain — those men had not been the police. It had been years since the last raid — not since Walter had become Chief of Police. Still, even in the unlikely event that a police raid had been ordered, there was no way it would take place on a Tuesday night.
She made her way over to her computer and took a seat. Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how she looked at it — there had been times over the years where one of her girls had betrayed her trust. As a result, she'd learned that, although trust was important, being able to confirm that trust, was equally important. And so she'd taken the steps necessary to ensure that loyalty could be checked. She was very careful never to use this resource except in the case of extreme circumstances — which this was. Fortunately for her, the founder of the computer giant, Orange Computers, had once been one of her customers.
She called up a program on her computer and a few moments later was staring at a screen full of numbers. After a few minutes of studying it, she let out a sigh of relief. No phone calls, other than ones she herself had been involved in, had gone out of or come into the apartments tonight. Her girls were innocent.
Still, someone had betrayed them. So who was it? After a moment, she rose from behind her desk. This needed to be handled now. Turning off the computer, she headed out to find another, more traditional means, of dealing with the problem.
Luthor turned and glared at Gretchen the instant he hung up the phone.
"Lex?" she asked somewhat nervously.
"What else have you lied to me about? What exactly are you trying to pull?"
"Lied to… Lex, I didn't lie to you."
"Then do you want to explain why Superman wasn't at Madam Benoit's when the men raided the apartment?" He didn't bother to mention the complaint that although Superman hadn't been there, the Chief of Police had. Not that the information came as a surprise. Luthor was well aware that the Chief spent Tuesday night at Madam Benoit's. He hadn't mentioned it to Cosgrove, however, because he was afraid that it would affect his decision to raid the place in order to apprehend a vulnerable Superman. And since Luthor had no direct control over Zeitlin, he hadn't wanted to pass on information which could cause them to delay the raid.
Not that the raid had been successful. Superman hadn't been there. And now Superman probably knew, if he didn't before, that someone was after him. Luthor rebuked himself. He never should have risked revealing his hand on the basis of information from the woman currently facing him.
"I have no idea why he wasn't there," Gretchen protested. "He was earlier."
"If you were wrong about that, how am I to believe that he's vulnerable?"
"He is, Lex. I swear. What reason would I have to make something like that up?" She moved closer to him, obviously intent on touching him.
He moved back. "Go home, Gretchen," he said before turning around and leaving the room.
"Lex!" she said, pursuing him. She was stopped when a man of Indian descent stepped in her path, making it abundantly clear that she was not going to be allowed to follow. Sighing and looking past him for a moment, she turned, picked up her coat and headed for the door to find her way out while she still could.
"This is… your apartment?"
When Lois pushed open the door of the apartment, Clark had forced himself to stand without leaning against the wall. When she gasped and walked gingerly into the room, he'd made a couple noises which he was fairly certain were indecipherable — but what they meant was 'wait! there might be danger!' But she had ignored him. He wondered if she was always as brave — or stupid depending on the way one looked at it.
Her gasp had informed him that things were not as they should be inside the room. As a result, he'd forced himself to follow, using the wall to brace himself slightly, although not entirely certain he'd be of much use if there was a problem. He'd have to remember to ask her what had happened to him. Had he been sick or injured? And if so, why hadn't he woken up in a hospital?
Lois spun towards him, obviously surprised that he'd followed.
"Yeah, this is my apartment," she confirmed, looking again around the room.
"Little messy, isn't it?" he asked. In point of fact, it was a lot messy. Broken ornaments. Crooked pictures — those that were still on the wall, that was. Clothes everywhere. The contents of a half-filled bottle of ketchup, the only thing she'd had in her fridge, had been smeared on the walls. Overturned furniture. Broken glass seemed scattered throughout the entire room as if plates and cups had been removed from cupboards specifically for the purpose of smashing them into hundreds of pieces.
"I guess you could say that," said Lois, cautiously venturing further inside.
Clark leaned back against the wall. "Should you… we really stay here? Isn't there a danger that… whoever did this is still somewhere around?"
"If they were still here, they would have come out by now."
She glanced over at him, letting her eyes slide down his body. He squirmed slightly, feeling a rise in his blood pressure.
"It's not as if we're much of a threat, after all," she concluded.
"Then couldn't they come back?" he asked. Was she always this foolhardy?
"Why? There's not much more they can do here." She returned to the door, fleetingly touching his chest as she passed him. His hand automatically came up to cover the spot which felt as if it was on fire after the brief contact.
She closed the door. "Well, at least we know what they wanted."
Clark was distracted for a moment as his mind tried to digest the feelings she seemed able to provoke so easily in him. "I'm sorry?" he asked, turning towards her. "What are you…" His voice trailed off when he saw a knife with a blade about eight inches long protruding from the door. He took a couple of steps closer to read the note the knife was holding in place. "Keep your nose out of things that don't concern you." He looked at Lois. "Friends of yours?"
She met his eyes, her face breaking into a smile. He swallowed hard. She was so beautiful when she smiled.
"Are you okay?" she asked, suddenly concerned. She moved closer, raising her hand as if she would touch his face.
When he stepped back, not trusting himself enough to let her touch him again, she looked slightly hurt. Trying to deal with feelings and images he had no context for, and ones which seemed to go completely haywire whenever she touched him, was simply too much for him to process at the moment. Quickly turning away to keep from seeing her look of disappointment, and feeling the way it tugged at his heart, he cleared his throat. "Sorry about the sofa." It seemed as good a thing to say as anything.
She followed his gaze, seeming to realize for the first time that the sofa had been cut up and even the stuffing pulled out to scatter with everything else around the room. "Don't worry about it. I never really liked it anyway. It wasn't very comfortable."
"Then why'd you buy it?"
She shrugged. "It looked pretty in the store. I never even tried it out until I got it home and then… Well, I intended to return it. I just never got around to it."
He couldn't help it. He broke out laughing.
"Well, thanks a lot," she said in mock indignation. "My apartment gets trashed and you laugh about it."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"
"Relax," she jumped in. "I was only teasing."
"So… any idea who would do this — and why?"
She let out a breath, looking around at the room again. "Well, I think I might know why."
"And that would be…?"
She looked back at him. "We've got a lot to talk about. And here doesn't seem like quite the right place. Let's get you somewhere where you can actually sit down. No offence, but you look a little unsteady on your feet. And I'm a little concerned that the place might have been… bugged." She mouthed the last word. "There'd be no way to find them in with…" She gestured at the mess in her apartment. "…everything. Anyway, let's wait until we get somewhere safe. Then we'll talk."
"Shouldn't we call the police or something?"
"Later. After we get some rest. I just don't think I have the energy to deal with it now."
"So where are we going to go? Do I have a place?" He mouthed the last question, just in case there were listening devices installed in the apartment.
"Yes. But I'm not sure that's wise at the moment."
She chewed on her lower lip as she considered alternatives. "I know a place," she finally said, although not looking overly pleased with the prospect. "But there is somewhere we need to go first."
A dozen young women, dressed in their nightgowns, many with robes wrapped around them, gathered together in the rumpus room the 'police officers' had brought the men into a short time before. All of the customers who had been spending the night were gone — having decided they were no longer in the mood. The women yawned and stretched and settled more comfortably on the various couches or curled up in big, comfortable chairs.
"Sorry to have to do this at this hour, but we've got a serious problem," said Madam Benoit, coming into the room.
The girls all forced themselves to sit up properly, even if the number of yawns didn't decrease.
"We had a special guest here this evening. And he had every right to feel safe within these walls. Yet someone must have informed that our guest was here — putting him in grave danger."
"Isn't it possible that there was just some sort of mix up at the pig sty?" asked one of the newer girls.
Madam Benoit cleared her throat disapprovingly.
"Sorry. I mean, the police station. Maybe they got their days wrong. After all, I know we've never been raided, at least since I've been here, but it could happen, couldn't it?"
"It could. But before he left, I asked our Chief of Police to call the station — just to make sure it really was his officers who had been here. He said there is no Detective Sergeant Collin O'Neil working for the Metropolis PD."
"So then who were they?"
"I don't know. But right now that's not our problem. What we need to figure out is who broke our trust," said Madam Benoit. "Now I know that none of you did it," she rushed to continue when they began looking at each other nervously. "But I need to know if any of you accidentally mentioned our special guest to any of the customers you had this evening. I understand it could have been accidental. After all, it's not often we have such distinguished company. And I won't hold your indiscretion against you. But if you did mention it or if your customer could have overheard someone else mention it, I do need to know now."
The girls remained silent. Madam Benoit nodded slowly. She really hadn't expected that any of them would have mentioned it. After all, every one of them were acutely aware of the importance of discretion. And since the phone records proved that the only contact any of them had had outside the house since Superman's arrival was their customers, she was confident none of them had purposely betrayed the secret.
"Okay then," she said. "Anyone have any suggestions about where our leak might have come from?"
"What about Fred? Wouldn't he have been able to contact someone when you went to pick up our special guest?"
"It's possible," conceded Madam Benoit. "But Fred has been with me for a long time — and many of you owe him a lot. I'd be surprised if it's Fred."
"Maybe it's the doctor you called?" suggested one of the other girls.
"Dr. Kelly? Perhaps. She's been very discreet in the past, but… We'll keep her in mind. Anyone else?"
"The doorman? Not likely. After all, he's the one who pushed the button, warning us that we had company."
"Maybe it was the woman you brought in to stay with Superman."
Madam Benoit shook her head. "I don't think so." Not only was she certain that Lois Lane was in love with Superman, but Lois Lane had not placed any calls outside the building during the night. And given that she could not have known Superman was there before she arrived, there was no way she could be responsible — not that Madam Benoit had any intention of imparting all of that information to anyone, not even her girls.
"What about that street kid who helped you bring in Superman?" asked Cindy.
"If that's his name. Anyway, he asked me for a date before he left. When I told him he couldn't afford me, he said something about coming up with the money."
"Where would someone like him come up with the money?" asked Sharon.
"That's what I was thinking," said Cindy.
"And he did want a reward when he called me," said Madam Benoit thoughtfully. "I paid him. But maybe he found someone willing to pay more. Still… I really thought…" Her voice trailed off. "I agree. He's our best suspect so far. Okay, then, anyone else?" When there was no response, she continued. "Then I guess my first order of business is to have a little chat with our friend, Jack."
Clark fingered the pair of glasses uncertainly. Still, he kept them on his face. When they'd gone to the Daily Planet, Lois had rifled through his desk before handing him his glasses. Naturally, he'd put them on, although it seemed strange to him that there was no perceivable difference to his eyesight whether he was wearing the glasses or not.
Getting his glasses seemed to be the main reason they had gone to the Daily Planet. Of course, while there, Lois had insisted on calling his parents. His parents. It had been a strange conversation. They had been worried about him and were glad he was all right. He was even fairly certain they'd told Lois to take care of him when they'd been speaking to her. But to talk to people you didn't know and have them be your parents — it was just… weird. She had also picked up her laptop. After the aforementioned tasks, they climbed into another cab.
"I'm not sure I need these, Lois," he said uncertainly, fingering the glasses as they headed towards their destination — a destination Clark had yet to be told.
"You do, Clark."
"But I don't seem to see any better with them than without them. Unless I've got some weird eye disease that causes my vision to come and go."
"Yes! That's exactly it."
Lois seemed to jump on that explanation awfully quickly. Not to mention the look she'd given the taxi driver, as if worried that he'd heard their discussion. Maybe he normally didn't like people knowing about his 'condition.' Although, to be fair, he couldn't think of any condition that might cause one to need glasses in such a random manner. But then, he still didn't have much of a memory at all, so it was possible it was one of the things he had forgotten.
"We're here," said Lois as the taxi slowed before pulling to a stop by the curb.
Clark looked out the window as Lois reached into her purse, pulling out some money to pay the cabby. He wasn't sure where 'here' was, except to say that he seemed to be in an upscale suburban neighborhood. The house they'd pulled up in front of was nice enough — even if a little rundown. Paint was beginning to peel. The grass was a little bit too long. Just enough to inform any passerby that the owner was not particularly concerned with taking care of the house.
He climbed out of the car, following Lois up the sidewalk to the front door. She looked nervous as she rang the bell. It was now well after five a.m. so Clark suspected she was just nervous about waking up the occupant or occupants of the house.
"How are you doing, Clark?" she asked, turning from the door to look at him.
"Tired. Other than that, I think I'm okay."
She reached over, tousling his hair slightly. "That's better," she said somewhat self-consciously before turning back to the door, ringing the bell a couple more times, appearing to get increasingly agitated as she did so.
"So whose place is this?"
"It belongs to my…" The door to the house suddenly swung open. "Mother!" said Lois.
"Lois?" Ellen Lane blinked a couple of times as if not entirely certain she could believe her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you, too, Mother. Do you think we could do this inside?"
Ellen Lane swayed slightly as she backed into the house allowing Lois and Clark to enter. At first, Clark thought she was still groggy from having been woken up in the middle of the night. And then he got a whiff of her. One could almost get drunk from the aroma coming off her body.
"Celebrating the destruction of the asteroid?" Lois asked sarcastically.
Asteroid? What asteroid? Clark mentally added that to his list of things to ask Lois.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Lane," said Clark offering the older woman his hand.
"We met last week," Ellen informed him, ignoring the hand. "Is he drunk or something?"
Clark's eyebrows shot up at her last question. "No, I've got…"
"Clark and I need a place to stay for a couple of days," said Lois, interrupting Clark's explanation.
"You expect to stay here with him?" asked her mother. "You know I've only got one spare room. Beside, this isn't a good week."
"We'll make do," said Lois, looking around the house as if she had never seen it before. "Besides, I'm not expecting you to entertain us — just give us a place to crash for a few days."
"Well, I'm certainly not condoning you staying here with Mr. Kent. If you want to stay, I suppose I can live with that. But I will not have a man staying here with my daughter."
"Mother! This is an emergency. We need a place to hide out for a few days. That's all."
"What will the neighbors think if they find out you're staying here with a man? And what do you mean by 'hide out?' You've done it again, haven't you? After last week, I would have thought you'd have learned your lesson. But you're in trouble again, aren't you. When are you going to quit that job?"
"Never. It's what I do." Lois let out a breath. "So can we stay here or not? Because, if not, I really should run out and stop the cab driver before he leaves."
When Ellen's critical gaze wandered from Lois to Clark, Clark attempted to look as innocent as possible.
"You're going to do what you want to anyway," said Ellen Lane, turning her attention back to her daughter. "You always have. Why should now be any different?" She turned, heading towards the stairs. "I'm going to bed."
"Good night, Mrs. Lane," Clark called after her. "And thank you."
"Hmph," was Ellen Lane's only response as she disappeared up the stairs, swaying slightly and grasping the banister to keep from falling.
"Well, here it is," said Lois as she led Clark into the spare room. Once Clark was inside, she closed the door. "We can talk in here. My mother has undoubtedly already passed out again." She gave a shrug, as if it didn't matter to her that her mother was a drunk.
The soft tone in voice and his hand on her arm caused her to look at him.
"Are you okay?"
She gave him a sad smile. Even without his memory, he was still probably the most empathetic man she'd ever known. "Not really." His sincerity provoked an honest reaction. "But I'll survive. Right now we have other things to worry about. And I'm sure you have a lot of questions."
He took a seat on the side of the bed. "One or two — or a couple hundred."
"Well, let me start. Maybe I can answer a few of those questions."
She sat down on the bed, pulling herself up so that she could sit cross legged on the bed. He took the opportunity to adjust his position, leaning back against the headboard where he could look at her.
"This used to be my room," she said casually. "Mother redecorated it almost the instant I moved out. But at least I still have a bed. Lucy's room has been converted into a den."
"I take it you don't come here much."
"You take that correctly," she said.
"So where's your dad?"
"Don't worry, Clark. My dad isn't going to show up and throw you out for being alone in a bedroom with his precious daughter."
"I didn't mean…"
"My parents divorced years ago. Dad got his freedom. Mom got everything else. Anyway, we should probably concentrate on other things for now."
He nodded, even though she could tell he still wanted to ask questions. But they didn't have the time, and she didn't have the desire, to get into everything that was wrong with her dysfunctional family.
"Okay, first. You and I are partners, a reporting team at the Daily Planet. On Monday we were told by a Professor Daitch at EPRAD that an asteroid was heading for Earth. It was supposed to arrive in four days."
"That was Monday. What day is it now?"
"Tuesday. Or, I guess it's Wednesday now." She glanced at the window where the sky was starting to get light.
"So that means that this asteroid is going to hit the Earth on Friday?"
"No. Superman destroyed the asteroid."
"Superman? Who's this Superman?"
"He's…" Her voice trailed off. "Just a minute," she suddenly said, rising from the bed and disappearing downstairs for a moment. When she returned, there was a newspaper stuck in her hands. She handed it to Clark, pointing to a color picture on the front. "Superman. He's Metropolis' resident superhero. Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Invulnerable. Has x-ray vision. Is the champion of truth and justice. Does any of this ring a bell?"
He was silent for a long moment before shaking his head. "Sorry, I… Wait a minute. Didn't that woman… what was her name?"
"Yeah. That's her. Didn't she call me Superman?"
In that moment, Lois made a decision she knew she might very well come to regret. Given more time to reflect, she might well have made a different decision. But she didn't have more time. "Clark, Superman is a superstrong, invulnerable alien who flies around rescuing people. Do you really think…" She reached over and pinched his arm.
"Do you really think you're Superman?" She injected as much sarcasm into the question as she could manage, even as she internally flinched recalling all the times she's used the same scornful tone in the past when comparing Clark to Superman.
He rubbed his arm, looking slightly perplexed, as if what she was saying made sense but that something inside him didn't support the truth of her statement. She held her breath. She'd lied to Clark before — many times. But this… Still, in the back of her mind she really believed this was the best course of action. If what she'd learned sneaking into EPRAD on Tuesday evening was correct, sometime today they would be announcing that a piece of the asteroid was still heading for Earth in an effort to get Superman to expose himself. And even though she knew it would be a trap, she wasn't so sure, given what had happened between them the evening before Clark went into space, that Clark would stay hidden if he realized he was Superman.
After all, even if he couldn't fly into space to destroy the remainder of the asteroid — had such an item even existed — he would no doubt think that standing beside officials as they made the announcement would calm public panic. And if she tried to tell him that it didn't exist, he would undoubtedly worry that there was a one in a million chance that it did. And without his powers, he would be a sitting duck for anyone who knew he was vulnerable — and if they had known where he was tonight, one also had to assume they knew he was vulnerable — and wanted him dead. No. She couldn't tell him he was Superman. After almost losing him last night, she just couldn't take the risk.
"I guess it was a silly idea," said Clark much to Lois' guilty relief. "I don't… Wait a minute. If I'm not Superman, why did you insist that I tell… Charlotte that my name was Jonathan Black?"
"Someone is after us, Clark. It seemed the wisest course of action." She hoped he didn't delve too deeply into that explanation. After all, it wouldn't explain why she hadn't given Charlotte a phony name for herself.
"But why would someone be after us?"
Lois let out a breath of relief. She'd dodged that particular bullet — at least for now. "I was getting to that. After Superman went into space to destroy the asteroid, I overheard a conversation and received some information that leads me to suspect that the asteroid wasn't heading for Earth."
"But then why…"
"It was a trick. Someone was trying to kill Superman."
"I don't know. Superman has done nothing but help since he arrived in Metropolis a few months ago. And I haven't got any proof or managed to put all the pieces together yet, but I think, at the very least, Professor Daitch, Secretary Cosgrove and General Zeitlin are involved. I think that was what the message was about that was so tactfully posted on the inside of the door to my apartment."
"Someone is obviously worried that you know too much."
"So what happened to me?" he asked, moving them again into dangerous territory. "How did I lose my memory?"
She took a deep breath. "You were mugged," she said. "At least, that's the closest I can figure out. You went out to cover Metropolis' reaction to Superman destroying the asteroid. Apparently some kid found you in an alley. They took everything."
"So how did I end up at Charlotte Benoit's place?"
"He knew that you were friends with Charlotte, so he gave her a call."
"But… Lois, I got the distinct impression that place was a… brothel. That would make Charlotte a…" His voice trailed off.
"A madam? Yes, Clark. She is."
"So then I…" His voice trailed off as he obviously struggled to understand how he'd become friends with a madam.
However, as she had hoped, he didn't follow through on his thoughts, obviously concerned about the nature relationship and not wanting to discuss it with Lois until he figured it out himself. She only hoped he wouldn't suddenly remember that he'd given Charlotte a phony name. Damn! How had she missed that one? She was usually so much better at lying. Of course, he might think that if he had used her professionally, he hadn't given her his real name. She let out a breath of relief.
"Anyway, I should let you get some sleep," said Lois, getting up off the bed. "We've got a lot of work to do tomorrow. Since you were hurt, you can have the bed. I'll take the couch in the living room. Besides, I don't want my mother to go downstairs in the morning and see a strange man sleeping on the couch. She's likely to forget we came here tonight and end up calling the cops."
"Lois…" Clark rose from the bed himself.
She turned, looking back at him.
"You said we were partners, right?"
"Are we… more than partners?"
CHAPTER 7: LEAVE OF ABSENCE
She swallowed hard, unsure exactly how much she was supposed to tell him about their relationship. "We're… friends." She couldn't quite meet his eyes. She might have decided during his journey in space that she was going to quit holding back. But how did she tell a man that he was in love with her when he didn't remember?
"Are we… more than friends?" He slowly moved closer.
She finally looked up and was instantly lost in the emotions she could see in his eyes. "You tell me," she whispered.
A hint of a smile crossed his face as he stepped closer. His hands came up to cup her cheeks and she felt herself melt into them. Automatically, she leaned closer, touching her tongue lightly to her lips in an effort to moisten them as her mouth went dry. She wanted him to kiss her so badly she could almost taste it. Her eyes drifted closed to allow all of her senses to focus on the feel of his lips, the taste of his mouth when he leaned in, touching his lips to hers. In the distance, she heard a small moan come from the back of her own throat as her hands came up to his chest, grabbing onto his shirt to steady herself against the powerful emotions which were immediately cascading through her entire body. Lips touching lips, gently caressing. She'd believed, only hours before, that she'd never again have the opportunity to feel these emotions.
"I love you," she whispered when the kiss broke and instantly froze. He had no memory of her. He obviously knew that there was something between them, but undoubtedly didn't know the extent of it. So how did she expect him to respond? If he told her he loved her now, it would just be words. After all, he had little or no memory of her. And what if her admission caused him to panic?
He touched his forehead to hers, moving one of his hands down her shoulder and over her back before pulling her closer. "I think I'm glad to hear that," he said softly. "I might not know much… if anything about who I am, but I do know that this…" His thumb traced a light path across her lips. "…is real."
She opened her eyes, looking up into his face. How was it that he always knew the right thing to say? Her heart swelled with love for the man before her. Without thinking about the repercussions, she reached up, burying a hand in the hair on the back of his head so that she could pull his mouth back to hers. This time, she held nothing back, putting everything she was, every hope she had for their future into the kiss.
For a moment, he seemed to hold back, as if surprised by her sudden action, but then, almost as if he couldn't resist, he responded, pulling her closer as his lips sought out hers. Her tongue slipped ever so briefly into his mouth before retreating. His tongue followed hers, as if unable to stand the thought of losing its contact with her.
One kiss led to a second, this one even deeper than the first. Lois' other hand came up to join the first in Clark's hair. She gasped when he swept her into his arms, depositing her gently on the bed before joining her there. At first she found herself thinking that the memory-less Clark was more aggressive than normal Clark. But when she thought back to Friday evening, she realized that wasn't true. He might have been slower to take the initiative on Friday. But once he'd been sure of what she wanted, he'd been the one taking the lead. She had to admit, there was something about this new side to Clark that she liked a lot.
It suddenly occurred to her that this was it. They were about to cross the intimacy threshold. Was she really ready for this? She let out a breath. Hell, yes. She wasn't certain she'd ever been more ready for anything. She loved him and was desperate to show him how much. He might not have most of his memory, but it was more than obvious that he wanted her, too.
Their lips barely parted as they continued to kiss — sometimes with deep probing kisses, sometimes with a series of kisses, but each one expressing their desire for each other. Clark lay beside her, his hand running up the outside of her leg and across her stomach as he leaned over her, propped up on one arm. His lips left hers only to drive her wild as he began trailing kisses over her neck. She felt his hand slip beneath the oversized sweat shirt she was still wearing to run across the bare skin of her stomach. Her muscles contracted automatically at the cold of his hand. When his hand moved away in response, she whimpered, quickly grabbing his hand, placing it back on her stomach as she silently begged him to continue.
The tenderness she could see on his face as his hand settled back on her stomach almost brought tears to her eyes. She ran her hand over his face as she studied every line.
"You are so beautiful," she whispered softly.
"Hey, isn't that my line?" he responded, with a grin.
She smiled back. "And I suppose this…" She moved quickly flipping him over on the bed and reversing their positions. "…is your prerogative, too."
"Not at all. I think I like an aggressive woman."
She laughed. "Well then, what do you think of this?"
He didn't bother responding with words as she began kissing his neck as her hands worked the buttons on his shirt, exploring all the skin she could make available. Instead, he groaned, running his fingers through her hair.
His hiss of her name sent chills down her spine. He pulled her to him, capturing her lips in a kiss of pure passion. Their bodies pressed together, legs tangled, mouths joined.
Lois groaned out loud, breaking contact with his mouth as she gasped for breath. After a moment, she claimed his mouth again. His passion equaled hers as they rolled around on the bed, struggling to get hands under clothing as mouths continued to communicate their desires.
She suddenly wanted nothing between them. She pulled back, sitting up so that she was straddling him, in order to pull her sweatshirt over her head. She grasped the bottom edge of her sweatshirt. She was about to pull the shirt off when she was struck with a thought that caused her to freeze in mid-action. Nothing between them. Nothing, of course, except for her lies.
She jerked slightly, feeling as if she'd suddenly been doused in cold water.
"It's just…" She shook her head. "Nothing," she said, attempting to push the troubling thought out of her mind as she lowered herself once again to find his lips with hers.
'How would you feel if Clark had made love to you without telling you about Superman?' asked an annoying little voice in the back of her mind.
'It's not the same thing,' she argued back.
'How so? Both of you lied about Superman.'
'But he's a man.'
'What the hell does that have to do with anything?'
'No. I want this. He wants this. What's an innocent little lie when you're in love?' She intensified her efforts on his lips.
After another moment, and in almost physical pain, she pulled back, rolling off him as she closed her eyes and allowed her breathing a chance to return to normal.
His tone held no ridicule, only inquiry. She breathed out slowly. "I'm sorry, Clark. It's just…" She hesitated, not entirely sure what to say. After all, she couldn't very well tell him the real reason she'd stopped. "With my mother in a room just down the hall… It just feels too weird."
He nodded slowly.
She rolled towards him. "Can I take a rain cheque?" she asked nervously.
He rolled onto his side facing her, his hand lightly stroking her cheek as he searched her eyes. "We probably both need the sleep anyway," he said giving her a smile. "Besides, it might be best if we waited for my memory to return."
She buried her face against his chest. His arm came around her, holding her gently as he lightly kissed her hair.
"Well, I probably should…" she said, pulling away from him and gesturing to the door behind her.
He nodded, releasing her so that she could rise from the bed. She backed slowly towards the door, stopping only when she was directly in front of it. "Goodnight, Clark." The words, softly spoken, seemed to convey all the emotions she was currently feeling.
"Goodnight, Lois," he responded, the same tenderness in his voice that had been in hers.
Linda King yawned as she sat down at her desk. It had been a long night and she'd been unable to get more than a few hours of sleep. But the asteroid story was big news. Sleep would come later.
She flipped through her messages, stopping when she came to one of particular interest. Now that the asteroid was destroyed, the news networks were all scrambling to find out what had happened to Superman. Whichever one broke the story first would get the big ratings. It seemed the board of directors at LNN agreed because in her hand was a memo saying that whoever got the first Superman Returns or Superman Is Dead story would receive a ten thousand dollar bonus. Now that was something worth pursuing.
She leaned back in her chair as her encounter with Lois Lane the previous day flashed through her mind. Lois had known something. In fact, she'd even hinted at a personal relationship of some sort with Superman. Knowing Lois, that may have simply been wishful thinking — like with Paul. Still, the key to getting the Superman scoop might be to follow Lois Lane. She smiled. It was certainly a better plan than most of her colleagues were likely to come up with.
The problem was that she and Lois weren't exactly friends anymore. Linda shook her head. How could Lois have let a little… misunderstanding with a man get in the way of their friendship? Still, maybe it was time to mend a few fences. She picked up the phone, dialing the Daily Planet. When she realized Lois wasn't there, she decided not to leave a message. After all, Lois wasn't going to be exactly thrilled to hear from her. Nor was she likely to give up whatever inside information she had. This required a bit more… creativity.
Picking up her purse and grabbing a cameraman, she headed out of the building. Find Lois Lane. Follow Lois Lane. Find Superman. Simple. And given the fact that she would be on the air long before Lois could go to print, it really didn't matter if Lois wrote up the story later. Linda King would still be the one to break the story. And if she could somehow wrangle an interview with the superhero, she might be able to benefit personally, too. Because there was no way Linda intended to let a specimen like that get away without a fight. And if Lois was involved with him…? Oh well. It wasn't as if they were friends anymore anyway. And as for Lois being competition… Linda thought back to their mutual attraction to Paul so many years ago. Taking a man from Lois Lane was like taking candy from a baby.
"Are you confident this will work, sir?"
Lex Luthor leaned back in his chair, taking a few short puffs on his cigar to get it lit. He blew the smoke out before responding. "I agree, we don't have any Lois Lane's working for LNN, by design, of course."
"Of course, sir. After all, you don't want producers and correspondents inventive enough to uncover your operations."
"Exactly, Nigel. Still, with an added bonus of ten thousand dollars, surely one of them will be able to pick up the Superman trail again. Are the tracking and listening devices installed on all the LNN vehicles?"
"Are they all aware of the bonus involved if they do find him?"
"As you directed, sir."
"Good. And you know what to do if one of them finds something."
"Report back to you?"
"There's one thing I don't understand, sir. Wouldn't it be more efficient, assuming someone does manage to track down a vulnerable Superman, just to let me take care of him?"
"But then the trail would lead back to me. I've worked very hard on this new plan. I'm just being a good… citizen, providing invaluable information to our government."
"Along with a few other things," Nigel responded.
"Along with a few other things," Luthor confirmed.
"Might I ask another question?"
"Are you not upset that Ms. Lane didn't take you up on your offer to spend the next three years with you in the bunker?"
Luthor shrugged. "My initial deception might have failed. The asteroid's appearance did provide a unique opportunity to try to get Lois in a controlled environment for the next three years. Still, there may yet be opportunity for that. If at first you don't succeed, Nigel…?"
"…try, try again?"
Jack was cornered. Having woken up to find Fred in his room, together with two other heavy set men, he'd certainly been at a disadvantage. He didn't know what was going on, but that didn't stop him from trying to make a break for it. And he would have escaped, too, except for one thing. Another man had appeared in the doorway holding his little brother, Danny.
"We mean you no harm, Mr. Jack," said Fred. "But we needed to be sure you'd agree to come."
"Where?" asked Jack suspiciously, his gaze darting back and forth between the men and Danny.
"Madam Benoit wishes to speak to you."
Lois' first conscious thought was one of pain. She covered her eyes with a hand as she rose from the couch. It felt as if someone had pounded a nail through her head. Two days of very little sleep had finally caught up to her.
Coffee. She needed coffee. Forcing herself to her feet, she stumbled towards the kitchen. The rest of the house was silent, telling Lois that it was still very early. She was obviously the first one up. Entering the kitchen, she made her way to the fridge, pulling the coffee out of the freezer.
After getting the coffee maker set up, she began looking through cupboards attempting to find sugar. She normally didn't take sugar in her coffee. But Clark would need some. Besides, she was fairly certain she could use the energy burst that sugar would give her.
She opened one cupboard and immediately felt that familiar ache in her heart. "Mother," she breathed, pulling out an empty brandy bottle. Making her way to the trash can, she opened the lid and placed it inside. The familiar task provoked a sudden flurry of activity. She began searching cupboards, even those which had no hope of containing the sugar. It was a reflex reaction. But once she'd finished, she'd found one more empty bottle, a full bottle and a bottle that was about half full. Acting solely on habit, she undid the cap and poured the contents of the two bottles containing the deadly liquid down the sink before putting all three bottles in the trash can with the first.
She wasn't entirely sure what had possessed her to dispose of her mother's 'supply'. After all, she'd done the same often enough when she was a teenager and it never managed to help.
By the time she had finished dealing with the brandy bottles, the coffee was ready. She poured herself a cup. No longer caring about sugar, let alone looking for cream, she took a seat at the table and took a sip.
As she waited for the caffeine to kick in, her thoughts drifted to Clark. She couldn't quite shake her feelings of guilt over having lied to him. She wasn't entirely sure why. It wasn't as if she'd never lied to him before.
'Things are different now,' said the little voice in the back of her mind.
'The only thing that's different is that he's in danger if he knows,' she responded.
'When you had amnesia, he didn't lie to you.'
'I wasn't in danger.' She hesitated. 'Okay, so maybe I was. But not in the same way.'
'But doesn't he have a right to know he's in danger — and to decide how to deal with it?'
'But what if he does something stupid?'
'So you don't trust him.'
'It's not about trust.'
'Then what is it about?'
'It's about… Leave me alone. You're not even real. Why should I listen to you?'
'But what if he can't forgive you when he figures out you lied to him?'
The last comment silenced her for a minute. 'At least he'll be alive,' she whispered back.
At least he'll be alive. That really was the bottom line. When she was sure he'd be safe, she'd tell him everything. And then… She gave her head a shake, unwilling to think beyond that moment.
The caffeine was beginning to kick in. She would have thought someone else would be up by now. She turned in her chair and glanced at the clock to see the time.
"Omigod!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet, spilling her coffee all over the table when she realized it was almost noon. How had that happened? Perry was going to kill her… them. She rushed for the phone before stopping. Her trip to EPRAD had left her wondering if the plot against Superman was some sort of government conspiracy. Until she knew how high up it went, did she really want to use the phone to call the Daily Planet? After all, couldn't they put traces on the Daily Planet phones? And since they had left her that subtle message last night, she probably should be very careful. After all, she could lead them to Superman — even if Superman himself didn't know she could.
She turned towards the kitchen door. She'd brought a change of clothes with her from her apartment — some of the clothes not destroyed by her uninvited visitors. She was just about to go up to wake Clark when she thought better of it. He could probably use his sleep. She'd check on him and leave him a note to tell him where she'd gone, but then she'd get a message to Perry by less traditional means. Until they had a better grasp on what they were dealing with, it was probably best that they stay away from the newsroom.
Jack's temper, which had been abundantly evident during the trip to Madam Benoit's, ended when he stood in the entranceway to the living room of the woman's apartment. He quit cursing out his captors to look everywhere, trying to see everything. He'd only dreamed of such places.
"Stay behind me," he said over his shoulder to his little brother when Madam Benoit entered the room. The warning was pointless since, like him, a man was holding onto Danny so that he could not escape.
"Is that any way to treat our guests?" asked Madam Benoit before, with a flick of her wrist, sending the men out of the room. "I'm sorry about that," she said, gesturing the two boys towards the chairs as if oblivious to the dirt on their clothes — and the damage they could do to the expensive furniture. "So who is this young man?" she asked, gesturing to Danny.
"He's my brother," Jack interrupted protectively.
"Uhh…" said Madam Benoit, taking a seat and waiting until Jack seemed to decide it was safe for him and Danny to sit."So what's your last name?" she asked.
"I don't got one."
"Don't have one," she corrected. "Well then, Mr. Jack and Master Da…"
"Danny," said Danny before Jack could stop him.
"Master Danny," Madam Benoit said with a smile. "It's so good to meet you." She gestured to a woman who suddenly appeared in the entranceway.
Without thinking, Jack was on his feet as Cindy entered the room carrying a tray containing two large glasses of milk and a huge plate of cookies. In spite of the circumstances, Jack couldn't quite stop himself from swiping at some dirt on his hopelessly stained trousers, her previous comment about him taking a bath running through his mind.
As she set the tray on the coffee table, he couldn't take his eyes off her.
"Please," Madam Benoit said, "help yourself."
Jack snapped back to his surroundings just in time to stop Danny who was diving for the cookies.
"I assure you, Mr. Jack, that accepting the cookies doesn't commit you or your young charge to anything."
"What do you want from me? I thought calling you about Superman yesterday was a good thing. Now I'm sort of wishing I'd gone with my first instinct and called Mr. Luthor if this is the way you treat people who help you."
Madam Benoit's eyebrows rose, as if silently taking into consideration something Jack had said. He internally reviewed his words, wondering which part of it she seemed to find so interesting.
"Won't you please…" She gestured to the chair he'd been sitting on before Cindy had entered the room.
As he was taking his seat again, he missed seeing Danny dart forward to liberate a cookie. He tried to take it from his brother, intending to put it back on the plate, but he was too late to prevent a defiant Danny from shoving the entire cookie in his mouth, looking extremely pleased with himself.
"Won't you join us, Cindy?" asked Madam Benoit causing Jack's heart to jackhammer in his chest.
Still, he tried to keep his guard up. After all, why was Madam Benoit being so nice? What did she want — giving Danny something he couldn't resist and dangling something in front of Jack that he couldn't resist? There had to be something else going on here? After all, this hadn't exactly been an invitation to tea — it had been a summons. That she was being extremely nice didn't change the fact that there were men in the entranceway who Jack had no doubt would stop him should he try to leave.
"So why exactly did you call me instead of calling Mr. Luthor?" she asked.
"I told you," he said guardedly. "I heard you knew Superman."
"What exactly did you hear?"
"That men had to treat your girls right or they'd answer to Superman."
She nodded slowly.
"So what made you think Mr. Luthor might be interested?"
"Why did you bring me here?" Jack asked, interrupting her. "I got things to do, you know. I ain't got time to sit around here having milk and cookies."
"Ahh… A man with a purpose. Well, Mr. Jack, it seems we have a bit of a problem."
"And what's that?" Jack asked cautiously. Now they were getting to it — the reason he was here. He braced himself, trying to prepare himself for whatever was coming next.
"After you helped me bring the man here who we thought was Superman, you told someone else — told them that you brought him here. I want to know who you told."
He opened his mouth to protest his innocence but then closed it when he met her eyes. She might be one of the most proper women he had ever met. But looking into her eyes right now, he knew she was made of steel. He chewed his lower lip for a moment before speaking. "Madam Benoit, I don't know who said I squealed. But I ain't no squealer. I didn't even tell Danny."
Madam Benoit's eyes flicked from Jack to Danny who was consuming his third cookie. He seemed to have stopped in mid-bite at the mention of Superman and was now watching and listening intently.
"Is that true, Master Danny?" asked Madam Benoit.
Danny gulped down the bite of cookie still in his mouth. "You saw Superman?" he asked Jack in obvious awe.
"See?" asked Jack, directing his comment to Madam Benoit.
She seemed to evaluate the situation for a minute before directing a comment to Danny. "No, Master Danny, I'm afraid your brother didn't see Superman. We thought the man was Superman. But it turned out the man we helped was named Jonathan Black." She rose to her feet. "Well, thank you for coming by, Mr. Jack. Maybe I misjudged you."
Jack cocked his head to the side, studying her. It was obvious Madam Benoit was smart, but he was no slouch. He was not fooled by her claim about Superman. He knew what he had seen. And no Jonathan Black flew through the air as a ball of fire and lived to tell about it. Still, it was obvious that Madam Benoit wanted to keep the information private. He'd play along… for now. Besides… He glanced at Cindy…if Madam Benoit had any lingering doubts about his trustworthiness, then Cindy had doubts too. And since someone had obviously talked… He rose slowly to his feet.
"Would you like to take the rest of the cookies?" Madam Benoit asked.
Danny grabbed his glass of milk, gulping it down, before swiping the remaining cookies and stuffing them in his pocket. Once he'd confiscated the cookies, he took a moment to wipe his sleeve across his mouth, removing the evidence of the downed milk. "Thanks," he mumbled around his tongue as it continued to search for cookie crumbs.
Madam Benoit smiled. "I'll have Fred drive you home."
As if he heard her, Fred appeared in the doorway. Jack took one final look around the room before heading for the door. Just as he was about to step through the entrance, he picked up an ornament on a stylish table pushed up against the wall near the door and, being careful not to be seen, stuffed it in his pocket. He could probably get a few bucks for it.
"Did you see that?" asked Cindy when Jack was gone.
"You mean when he stole the ornament?" When Cindy nodded, Charlotte continued. "Yes. I saw."
"Then why didn't you stop him?"
She looked at Cindy. "He was right. He deserved payment for the inconvenience we caused him."
"Then why not just give him some money?"
"He'd never have accepted it," Charlotte said, staring at the place she'd last seen Jack and his little brother. "But it's expensive supporting yourself and your little brother. I figure he needs it more than I do."
"Do you believe him that he didn't tell anyone about Superman?"
Charlotte was slow to respond. "Danny's reaction seemed to support the truth of the statement. But… I'm not sure. I was so sure it must be him."
After a moment, Charlotte turned away, lost in thought. Jack had given her a lot to think about.
She'd asked Cindy to join them because, given Cindy's comments about Jack's proposition, she'd originally thought he might be more likely to open up to Cindy. So she had intended to question him and then come up with a reason to leave the room and let Cindy work her magic on the boy. But if Jack didn't have anything to tell, and Charlotte suspected he didn't, she figured that would be pointless. As a result, she'd changed her mind about using that tactic.
Lex Luthor. She knew Lex Luthor quite well. And she knew he wasn't quite the upstanding citizen people thought him to be. On the other hand, in Charlotte's experience, few people were the upstanding citizens they appeared to be. But what had made Jack consider telling Lex about Superman? She was going to have to keep her ear to the ground regarding that little tidbit.
Her mind drifted to Jack's comment about why he had called her. When Superman had rescued Sharon from a particularly brutal customer shortly after arriving on the scene, Charlotte had made sure it became well known — in hopes that it would keep her girls safer in the future. And it seemed to have worked. There had been fewer incidents since that time. She hoped Superman wouldn't mind her small deception. After all, she supposed it could hurt his reputation. Still if it kept one girl from getting beaten or raped… She pushed her concern out of her mind. Her priority was her girls — not Superman's reputation. Besides, she had other things to worry about.
Danny's reaction to Jack's claim certainly supported the idea that Jack had told no one about Superman. She supposed he still could have told someone else — someone who could pay — without telling his little brother. But that didn't seem likely. Given Jack's comments, Luthor would be the primary suspect if that were the case. Still, she was now having serious doubts about Jack being the leak. But who did that leave?
Lois pulled the brim of the cap she'd stolen from her mother's closet lower, partially obstructing her eyes. She suspected it had belonged to her father. She'd worn the cap primarily to use as a disguise, as she had the oversized coat she'd found. Lois had been surprised. She thought her mother had destroyed everything that had belonged to her father when he left. In fact, she remembered the fire in the back yard. But the clothing served an additional purpose other than acting as a disguise. A light drizzle was coming down, the gloom of the day pretty much reflecting Lois' mood.
Her apartment was trashed. She was lying to Clark at a time when their relationship was new, fragile. Someone was trying to kill Superman. And she was living in her mother's house, which, due to her mother's drinking, was bringing back some not so pleasant memories of her childhood, not to mention Clark's amnesia. She wasn't entirely sure things could get much worse.
Of course, there was one bright spot. Her mind flashed back to when she'd gone to check on Clark earlier. He had been lying on his stomach, blankets in a puddle around the foot of the bed having been kicked off at some point during the night. As a result, she'd been treated to quite a view. Just thinking about it caused a small sheen of perspiration to appear on her forehead. Until Clark, she really hadn't believed she could get so hot and bothered by the sight of a man's body. But throwing the blanket back over top of him without running her hands over the hard muscles of his posterior had taken every ounce of self- control she possessed. If she and Clark didn't make love soon, she was certain she was going to spontaneously combust. She gave her head a slight shake, trying to get her mind on other topics.
She'd considered reporting the damage to her apartment to the police, but had decided to leave it. Until they exposed the conspirators who were trying to kill Superman, she needed to keep a low profile. Besides, for all she knew the police, or at least some members of the police force, were involved in this plot to kill Superman. She supposed she could contact Henderson. But there was probably not much he could do without involving other officers. Besides, if she went back to her apartment, she was just asking for people to find her.
And so she stood across from the Daily Planet in the drizzle, hoping for an idea about how to get a message to Perry without entering the building. She couldn't see anyone watching the building. On the other hand, that wasn't necessarily the only way to keep track of the happenings at the Daily Planet. 'They' could have someone on the inside. Reporters. Janitors. Security. Printing staff. Board members. There were just too many people to trust if she walked through those doors.
Jimmy! She gasped in delight when she saw Jimmy pull the collar of his coat up and dash out into the rain — undoubtedly on a donut run for Perry. Perfect. She left the safety of her corner and followed, being careful to leave some distance between them. She knew where he was probably going — the Crispy Cream around the corner. She just needed to be sure he wasn't being followed before making contact.
"Where's my chocolate sprinkle?"
"Chief, there's something I need to tell you."
"What could be more important than my chocolate sprinkle, Jimmy?" He glanced into the newsroom. "I thought I sent you on a donut run. So why don't I see any donuts?"
"This is important."
"Great Shades of Elvis! Half my newsroom is missing. There's an important announcement about to be made at EPRAD and I don't have a reporter there — what with Lois and Clark both MIA. And now you disappear for fifteen minutes and still return without my chocolate sprinkle. What could possibly be more important?"
"It's about Lois."
"What about her?"
"I need you to come with me."
"Please, chief." Jimmy picked up Perry's coat and handed it to him.
"Hells bells," growled Perry, taking the coat. "All I can say is that this better be important."
Lois stood in the rain across the street from Crispy Cream, watching as Perry and Jimmy entered. Even from her vantage point and through the drizzle, she could tell that Perry was not a happy camper. Through the window, she could see him berating the young man. But, although she sent a silent apology to her young friend, she couldn't go in — not until sure no one had followed them. She had told Jimmy not to tell Perry anything — afraid that someone might have bugged the chief's office, but she was still determined to be cautious.
She watched as Jimmy managed to persuade Perry to take a seat and then went over to order something, obviously hoping some chocolate would calm Perry down. Given the scowl on Perry's face, she couldn't say she blamed Jimmy.
When she was as satisfied as she could be that Perry and Jimmy hadn't been followed, she crossed the street and entered the donut shop.
Clark rolled over and stretched. He couldn't remember when he'd slept as well. Of course, since he couldn't remember anything before yesterday, that didn't mean a lot. Still, he rose, pulled on his jeans and top, wishing he had a change of clothes. After all, how was he to impress Lois if he smelled? He sighed, put on his glasses, and headed towards the door. He paused slightly when it struck him how natural it was for him to put on his glasses. Although when Lois first gave him the glasses, he'd doubted that he needed them, Lois was obviously right. After all, putting them on was almost automatic.
As he approached the door, he noticed a paper tacked to the inside that he hadn't noticed the previous night. When he was close enough, he stopped and read it. It was a note from Lois, telling him that given what he'd been through, she'd decided to let him sleep but that she'd gone to meet with Perry White — their editor at the paper — and would be back later. His heart dropped when he read the last line. 'P.S. Sorry about leaving you alone with my mother.'
Clark threw open the door and ran down the stairs. The noise had come from the main floor. He was sure of it. But what… He came to a screeching halt when he pushed open the door to the room and saw Ellen Lane standing in the middle of the kitchen staring at the broken cup on the floor.
"Are you okay?" asked Clark.
Ellen jumped, spinning towards him. "Who are you?" she gasped, backing up.
"I'm Clark Kent. I came here with your daughter last night. Don't you remember?"
Ellen seemed to remember because her attention suddenly turned to the broken cup. Picking it up off the floor, she began speaking. "So where's my daughter? Still in bed?"
"She spent the night on the couch," Clark said, trying to reassure Ellen that nothing untoward had happened with her daughter — or almost nothing untoward. "She left earlier this morning to meet with our editor — to let him know what was going on."
"She asked that I wait for her here. I hope that's okay."
"Well, you might as well make yourself at home," said Ellen. "I've never been big on breakfast. But if you can find something worth eating at this ungodly hour, help yourself." Throwing the broken cup in the garbage, she poured some of the now cold coffee into a cup and stuck it in the microwave, obviously forgetting all about Clark. As she waited for the coffee to heat, she began searching cupboards. A moment later, she walked back to the garbage can, raising the lid and taking a look inside.
"She's at it again," Ellen muttered before leaving the room.
Clark quickly made his way to the garbage can, extremely curious about the contents. His eyebrows rose when he saw the empty liquor bottles. Ellen thought Lois was responsible. There was obviously a lot of history between these two.
Clark quickly closed the trash can and grabbed a cup from the cupboard when he heard Ellen returning to the room. He turned as she entered, noticing an unopened bottle in her hands.
"You know, this is really good coffee," he said, taking a sip of coffee, hoping his comment would persuade Ellen not to add liquor to hers.
"You really should heat it first," Ellen said in disgust, ignoring what he'd been trying to suggest. The microwave beeped. Ellen removed her coffee and added some of the liquid from the bottle before turning on the small television in the kitchen and taking a seat at the table.
He sighed, sitting down with his cold coffee, lost in thought. Last night it had been obvious to Clark how much her mother's drinking hurt Lois. However, even when confronted by the obvious problem, he had no idea what to do.
"We are inside EPRAD where an important announcement is about to be made."
Clark was distracted from his thoughts by a woman on the television. Hadn't Lois mentioned EPRAD last night?
"Does anyone have any idea what the announcement is about?" asked the anchorman.
"No. But I can tell you that rumors are running rampant. The most common, of course, revolve around the disappearance of Superman. Some think we are about to be told his fate. Still, all of this is speculation. The announcement is scheduled to take place shortly."
Both Ellen and Clark remained riveted to the television as LNN's asteroid coverage continued.
"Great shades of Elvis!" exclaimed Perry when Lois finished filling him in. Realizing he'd been a little loud, Perry glanced nervously around before lowering his voice considerably. "So you're telling me that you think this whole asteroid story was nothing more than a plot to kill Superman?"
"That's exactly what I think."
"Do you have any proof?"
"What does your partner think?"
Lois hesitated for only a moment. "He agrees with me."
"Then where is he?"
"Uhh… meeting with a source." She wasn't about to tell him that when she'd last seen Clark he'd been sawing logs. That would leave too many unanswerable questions. "We decided he'd keep that appointment while I told you what was going on."
"So who do you think is behind it?"
"I don't know. All I know right now is that Secretary Cosgrove, General Zeitlin and Professor Daitch are somehow involved."
"That's some pretty heady company. So why are you telling me this here instead of in my office?"
"Last night my place was trashed. And when I… I mean, when Clark and I snuck into EPRAD yesterday, we overheard a conversation which indicates that they think I… we might know too much."
"Are you certain your apartment wasn't just burgled?"
"I'm sure, Perry. We think we should lie low until we can get the proof we need."
"I agree. But what about the announcement at EPRAD today? Is one of you going to be there to cover it?"
"What announcement?" asked Lois. When Perry finished filling her in on what little he knew about the press conference, she continued. "It might be best if you get someone else to take the conference." She didn't mention her suspicion that EPRAD might be about to claim that a piece of the asteroid was still on a collision course with Earth. After all, the raid at Madam Benoit's last night indicated that whoever was after Superman knew he was vulnerable. And if that were the case, the plan might have changed — or it might not. After all, such an announcement could still lure Superman into the open — wasn't that why she'd lied to Clark in the first place? "I would imagine if someone is trying to find us, the press conference will be the first place they'll look."
"I agree. I'll send Myerson. In the meantime, do you have a safe place to stay?" When Lois nodded, Perry continued. "Then we need some safe way to keep in touch."
"Also, Jimmy, I need you to find everything you can about Cosgrove, Daitch and Zeitlin."
"I also might have someone who can help," said Perry.
"I'll get back to you. Just be ready to meet me at a moment's notice."
Lois decided that while she waited for Jimmy to get her the research into their three main suspects, and for Perry to work out the details of whatever brilliant plan he had for them to keep in touch, she would pay Doctor Klein a visit. She only hoped her mother didn't totally alienate Clark during her absence.
When she arrived at Star Labs, she carefully checked out the area in case 'they' were watching it. She didn't think anyone would have reason to suspect she might turn up there, but one could never be too careful. When she was satisfied it was safe, she made her way into the building, being escorted to Dr. Klein's lab much quicker than she would have expected.
The lab was crowded with people, all watching a small television screen. Making her way through the crowd, she spotted Dr. Klein.
"What's going on?" she asked as she approached.
"Oh, Lois. EPRAD is about to make an announcement about the asteroid," he said before looking back at the screen.
Lois immediately turned her attention to the television, trying not to be sickened when she saw Linda King's image as big as life staring back at her.
Professor Daitch stepped up to the microphone and waited for the crowd in front of him to quiet down before speaking. "I'm afraid to say that after analyzing all the data from Superman's effort to destroy the asteroid, we discovered that although Superman's impact on the asteroid was substantial, it was not, in fact, decisive."
"Are you telling us there's still something out there?" asked Linda King.
"A large portion, about three miles across, remains on an impact course with Earth." He paused, waiting for that to sink in before continuing. "We estimate it will strike the Earth sometime on Friday."
"Is that why we haven't heard from Superman?" asked Linda once again. "Is he working on a return mission?"
Daitch suddenly looked very much like a deer caught in the headlights. He stuttered a couple of times before Secretary Cosgrove stepped forward to take over from the rattled scientist.
"We have not yet heard from Superman," said Cosgrove. "But we expect to soon."
There was a collective gasp from the assembled journalists.
"There is no need to panic," continued Cosgrove quickly. "We are certain we will hear from Superman any time now."
"And what happens if you don't?" asked another reporter.
"We have a number of possibilities in the works. And we are confident that we can handle this latest crisis. Please, we ask that everyone remain calm."
"I've got to do something." Clark immediately rose to his feet.
"What are you going to do?" Ellen asked, looking at him slightly contemptuously.
Clark paused. Ellen was right. What could he do? He didn't know. But somewhere, deep inside, he had the distinct impression that he had to do something.
CHAPTER 8: THIN ICE
If they were trying to create panic, Lois wasn't sure they could have done a better job. They had said they were confident they could handle the latest crisis, but hadn't provided any details — except that they expected to hear from Superman, who many were speculating was dead, any time now. If they were trying to 'smoke out' Superman, they had certainly done a fantastic job. What they didn't know, obviously, was that this plan had one small flaw. Superman didn't know he was Superman.
Of course, there was one other possibility — a possibility Lois really didn't want to think too deeply about. When Superman destroyed the asteroid, he could have accidentally redirected a piece of the asteroid towards the Earth. And if that were the case… She gave her head a slight shake. She considered that possibility highly unlikely, given the conversation she had overheard at EPRAD while Superman was in space.
"So what can I do for you, Ms. Lane?" asked Klein as the press conference ended.
"Can we talk somewhere more private?"
"Certainly. Certainly." Klein immediately led her to his private office. "I assume you're here about what we previously discussed."
"Yes. Although now I'm wondering if you could do me another favor, too."
"Well, I want to know if the piece of the asteroid they say survived the collision with Superman is really on its way to Earth — or is this simply an attempt to get Superman to reveal himself."
Klein cocked his head to the side and studied her. "Do you know something about Superman?"
"No. No. I'm just thinking… well, if the first asteroid announcement was part of a plot to kill Superman, they might be trying to determine if they succeeded or lure him back to give them another shot if he wasn't. Or is it possible that as a result of the collision with Superman a piece headed off course and is now on its way towards the Earth."
"I doubt I'll be able to determine that."
"Well, when I ran the numbers again, I discovered that the figures showed that the original asteroid was on a collision course with the Earth."
"What? You mean we've been wrong all along? That the threat was real?"
"I didn't say that."
"Then what are you saying?"
"Well, I was stymied. I wanted to know why my original calculations didn't show a collision. So I compared both sets of calculations to one another."
"The initial information that went out over the wires about the asteroid was different from the information that came in a couple of hours later. The initial information showed that the asteroid was not on a collision course. But according to the revised information, it was."
"So you're saying…"
"I'm saying that a couple of hours after the asteroid was first spotted, the information changed."
"As if it took someone time to step in and create a crisis that Superman would have to handle."
"So you think that any information you have now may already be altered to make it appear as if the asteroid piece is on its way to Earth."
"If I can get the actual information about the piece of the asteroid from EPRAD, could you run those calculations?"
"Sure. But how will you get that? If this is a plot against Superman, someone pretty high up in EPRAD has to be involved?"
"Leave that to me," said Lois with a grin.
Jack stepped inside the darkened bar and looked around. The Stoke Club was the best place to get information in the entire city. And Lenny Stoke was one of Jack's favorite musicians. Not that Jack was allowed to be there, of course.
He flashed his fake ID at the bouncer and was waved through easily. The regulars who were starting to gather seemed to be congregated around a small television over the bar. Jack made his way over and sat down, ordering a beer when he finally caught the attention of the bartender.
It wasn't that he was a big drinker. In fact, he really didn't like the taste of beer. But it was the cheapest thing he could order — and if he didn't order something, he was going to attract attention.
After his 'visit' with Madam Benoit this morning, he'd been thinking about what had happened. Someone had obviously reported that Superman was at Madam Benoit's the previous night. Madam Benoit had suspected him — which meant Cindy did too. He wasn't sure when he left that he'd managed to clear his name, so he was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
"Hey, what's the word on the incident at Madam Benoit's the other night?" he asked the bartender casually as he took a sip of his beer.
"What incident?" asked the bartender.
"Yeah, I heard about that," said someone else, coming over taking a seat on the stool next to Jack. He looked at the bartender. "Whiskey."
"So what did you hear?" Jack asked while they waited for the bartender to fill the order.
"Just that there was some sort of police raid."
"I thought Madam Benoit had the Chief of Police in her pocket," said the bartender, returning with the other man's drink.
"She does," said a third man, now joining the group. "It weren't the cops."
"Then who was it?" asked the second man.
"Word is that no one knows."
"Someone must know," said Jack. "After all, if it weren't the cops, whoever raided Madam Benoit's must have hired someone."
"I heard a rumor it was the boss," said a fourth man.
"It weren't the boss," said the third man. "He would have had his man hire someone down here to do the job."
"Well, from what I heard the boss was involved somehow."
"Who's the boss?" asked Jack.
The men looked at him and laughed.
"What's so funny?" demanded Jack.
"Well, we'd tell you, but…"
"…then we'd have to kill you."
Laughter broke out once again from everyone except Jack. But this time he didn't notice, being too lost in his own thoughts.
Clark looked at himself in the mirror one final time, shaking his head in disbelief as he studied all the small pieces of toilet paper spotting his face. Who would have thought amnesia would cause a person to forget how to shave? After watching the EPRAD announcement, Clark had asked Ellen if it would be okay for him to take a shower. After all, she was right. There was nothing he could do. It had been a crazy impulse. Although he still had to wear the same clothes, he hoped he would be able to think with a little more clarity if he was clean.
Ellen had dismissed him with a wave of her hand while pouring out her coffee to replace it with straight brandy. Obviously, she'd been knocked off kilter with the announcement about the asteroid. He'd hesitated, wondering what he could say to reassure her, but thought of nothing. After what Lois had told him, he wasn't sure what to make of the announcement. And then there were Lois' comments about the asteroid being an attempt to kill Superman. If Superman knew that, he might simply be unwilling to get involved this time — and who could really blame him. On the other hand, Superman might, in fact, be dead.
As he pulled on his clothes, he heard voices coming from downstairs. He smiled. Lois was home. His mind flashed back to the previous night. Touching her. Kissing her. Pushing her up against the wall. Her legs wrapped around his waist. The skirt on her little black dress pushed dangerously high, revealing the top of her hose and just a hint of her red panties. Wait a minute! What was he thinking? That hadn't happened. So where had that vision come from? He tried to focus, but the harder he concentrated, the further away the image seemed to get.
Letting out a breath of frustration, he turned his mind to getting dressed. If Lois was home, it meant they had some work to do. Besides, if he kept thinking about being with Lois, he was going to need to step back into the shower — this time setting the water temperature to cold.
Lois placed the cell phone on the table. According to Jimmy, it would take a while to trace a call made on a cell phone. So if she used this one, and Perry used one he had also purchased for himself, they would be able to keep in touch — provided they kept all calls short. Of course, there was also a danger that someone might be listening in. So they had decided any calls would only provide a number which would correspond to a list of meeting places Jimmy had also given her. And both Perry and Jimmy had promised to be very careful to ensure they were not followed. She took a moment to stick the list of contact points in her purse before she lost them amongst all the other papers.
Beside the cell phone, she placed a large stack of papers — the fruits of Jimmy's background research on Daitch, Cosgrove and Zeitlin. This should keep her and Clark busy for a while.
She looked up when she heard someone enter the room — and smiled. "What happened to you?" she asked.
Clark's hand came up to his face as he gently pried a small piece of toilet paper from his face. "It seems I've forgotten how to shave."
"You found a razor?"
"Yeah. It was pink — in a bag with a bunch of pink razors. I hope your mother doesn't mind."
"Uhh… well, I picked up some clothes for both of us at a second hand place and some other stuff at a drug store, so… Hopefully we won't need more than a few days worth of supplies before we can go home."
"Speaking of home…" Clark took a seat at the table and waited until Lois joined him before continuing. "…have you called the police about your apartment?"
Lois shook her head. "I decided to leave that for the time being. I think there are more useful things we can be doing right now." She gestured to the papers. "Jimmy dug up everything he could on our three main suspects. Think you're up to a little reading?"
"No problem, but…"
"Well, who's Jimmy?"
"I'm telling you, Clark, I really think he was being threatened somehow."
Clark leaned back in his chair. They'd spent hours going through the information outlining the rise to prominence by three very different men. One was Cosgrove, in the political arena. Another was Zeitlin, in the military. And a third was Daitch, in the scientific community. Daitch was easily the foremost expert in astronomy. It was no wonder he had been promoted to Director of the Extra Planetary Research and Development Agency when Antoinette Baines had died in a suspicious helicopter explosion earlier in the year.
Cosgrove could have political reasons for wanting Superman dead. Zeitlin could have military reasons. But the one they were having the hardest time ascribing a motive to was Daitch. Lois seemed to think he was in some way being threatened. But how? His financial records didn't show any unusual discrepancies.
"What about his family?" asked Lois, sitting up straighter.
"Well, from what Jimmy found, we know he has a wife, three adult children and two grandchildren."
Lois picked up the cell phone. "Then let's see what we can find out about them." She proceeded to place a call to Louie. Louie was the father of her tennis partner in college — and he'd always been a very helpful source. He seemed to know guys who knew guys everywhere. Maybe one of them had information about Daitch's family.
About half an hour later, the phone rang. After a quick conversation during which Clark had been forced to listen to a number of 'reallys!' and a couple 'you've got to be kiddings!' Lois flipped the phone closed and looked at Clark in triumph.
"So?" asked Clark, unable to stand waiting for her to tell him what she'd learned.
"Come on, Clark," Lois said, jumping to her feet. "I think it's time we made a little trip to EPRAD."
Linda was frustrated, to say the least. She'd hired a kid to stake out Lois' apartment building. She herself had taken a trip to the Daily Planet — ostensibly to take Lois Lane out for lunch to mend fences. When she still hadn't been able to locate Lois, she'd looked for her at the EPRAD announcement. But it appeared that Lois had simply disappeared. Of course, to Linda, Lois' disappearance was like a red flag being raised, proving that she knew something about Superman. Whether it was because she was hiding him somewhere, off trying to find him or grieving his death, Linda wasn't sure.
She leaned back in her chair. The studio had begun to empty out as more people finished up their daily work and headed home. Still, Linda stayed. She knew more about Lois Lane than most people. So where would Lois go if she was trying to lie low? Suddenly, a smile crossed her face. She'd hide out somewhere no one would expect her to go.
Leaning over, she grabbed the phone book, rifling through it until she found the number before picking up the phone.
"Hi, Mrs. Lane? I'm an old college friend of Lois' who just came back to town. I'm wondering if you might know where I can find her?"
Charlotte Benoit felt like a kid again. The adrenalin pumped through her body as she kept lookout while Fred picked the lock on the door to the clinic. She hadn't done anything like this in years. She had considered, of course, simply hiring someone to do this job. But the less people who knew what was going on, the better. Besides… She smiled…this made her feel young again.
"We're in," whispered Fred, pushing the door open for Madam Benoit to step through.
Clark was impressed. When Lois had left him some time ago, claiming she had a way to get them into EPRAD, he hadn't expected her to be opening the back door for him while wearing a janitorial uniform. He felt a lopsided grin settle on his face. How could she still look so adorable in a pair of oversized coveralls?
He stepped inside and took a moment to shake the water out of his hair and off his jacket. The drizzle earlier in the day had turned into a full-fledged storm and he was totally soaked. Undoing his jacket, he took off his glasses, drying them on his shirt, before placing them, once again, on his face.
"Get in here," she said, pulling up a sheet which was draped across the cleaning trolley she had brought with her. "I'll push the trolley to Professor Daitch's office. No one ever seems to notice janitorial staff."
"Are you serious?" asked Clark, looking skeptically at the small space she wanted him to fit into.
She glanced at the spot on the bottom of the trolley and then seemed to size him up. "Okay, not one of my better ideas. Maybe this will work better." She quickly slipped out of the oversized coveralls and handed them to him. "One size fits all," she said.
"What I don't understand is why, given the information we have on Professor Daitch, we don't just confront him directly," Clark said as he attempted to slip into the coveralls.
"Because we don't want to give him time to contact anyone after he finds out we're here. Besides, I figure we're better off to do a little… unofficial looking around first — see what we can find."
"You mean breaking and entering and snooping."
She smiled. "Glad to see your memory is improving," she said, giving him a friendly tap on the arm. "So how you doing?" she asked rhetorically since it was quite obvious that he was never going to fit into the 'one size fits all' coveralls.
He let out a frustrated breath, pulling the coveralls off again.
"It probably doesn't matter," said Lois. "After all, we're already inside. We just have to avoid people." She took a couple steps down the empty hallway before turning to look at him. "Coming — or were you just planning to stand there until you get caught?"
Clark rolled his eyes, but still he followed.
It was quickly obvious to him that she'd done this on many occasions in the past. Her footsteps were silent, her movements deft. It almost seemed that she had the ability to see through corners and hear indecipherable sounds, pushing him back into a room or cranny just before security or EPRAD personnel came into view. If he didn't know that Superman was a man, he'd almost be tempted to believe that Lois Lane was Superman in disguise.
After all, it would be a brilliant idea for the Man of Steel to take on a secret identity. It would allow him a normal life, away from media scrutiny and malicious threats. He suspected someone who was so often on the front lines of fighting crime and disasters would need that. Maybe he'd suggest the idea to Lois when they got out of here. After all, if he did have a secret identity, surely they could track him down — assuming he had made it back to Earth. He wondered if anyone had thought of the super hero having a secret identity before.
He felt Lois' hand across his chest, pushing him back against the wall as she carefully glanced into an office before turning back to him.
"Daitch is in there." He read her lips as much as heard her whisper.
Without waiting for a response, she carefully looked around the door again. He waited impatiently when she didn't move for a long time. She startled him when she unexpectedly darted away from the door, pulling him with her into one of the rooms they had previously passed and almost closing the door so that she could continue watching the hallway.
"Okay, he's gone," she said.
Clark quickly followed as Lois headed back to Professor Daitch's office.
"He was looking at a document when I first looked into the office." She walked over to a file cabinet. "He put it in here before leaving." She tried the drawer. "Damn."
"It's locked." Suddenly she turned towards him. "Hey, can't you use your vision thingy to look through the cabinet?"
"You know. X-ray it to see…" Her voice suddenly came to an abrupt halt and she spun away from him. "You know why don't we see what we can find over…"
"…here. There must be something about the asteroid that we can…"
"Lois." Had he misheard her? Was that possible? His mind was suddenly a jumbled mess and she continued to talk. But he had to know. He had to know now! "Lois."
"What are you doing here?"
Both Lois and Clark were caught off guard. Spinning around, Clark saw an older man with white hair standing in the doorway.
Charlotte had just picked up the beautiful leather book up from the desk in the private office when Fred appeared in the doorway.
"Did you find anything?" she asked.
"Well, not what you asked me to find," he said. "There are no test results on Superman's blood."
"Maybe she had them call her when they were done," Charlotte responded. "Maybe the paperwork just hasn't arrived yet."
"Maybe. But then why would this be here?"
Charlotte glanced at the item Fred was holding up for her to see. It was a test tube filled with a dark red liquid. "Superman's blood?"
"So she didn't even send it for testing."
"That's how I would read the situation."
Charlotte nodded, lost in thought as she looked at the book she was holding. Why would Dr. Gretchen Kelly claim that Superman's blood had come back clean of all traces of drugs when she hadn't even bothered to test it? Before she could contemplate the matter, she realized what she was holding — Gretchen Kelly's diary.
She turned to the last page. It was written a few days before. Still… After reading the first few paragraphs, she set the book down.
"What did you find?" asked Fred.
"It seems our Dr. Kelly fancies herself to be in love with one Mr. Lex Luthor."
"Is this significant?"
"I don't know, Fred. But that is the second time I've heard Lex's name today. I wonder…" Her voice trailed off as she became lost in thought.
"If that's all you want here," he began, "we probably should be going." He went to place the test-tube containing Superman's blood back on the counter where he had found it.
"No," said Charlotte. "Bring it with you."
"I just don't feel good about leaving it behind. Besides, if she didn't have it tested, Superman might wish to do so — especially if he doesn't get his memory or his powers back soon."
"Professor Daitch," Lois said, obviously fighting to regain her footing, although Clark couldn't tell if that was because of what she had inadvertently let slip or because of Daitch's unexpected appearance in the doorway.
"You two aren't supposed to be in here," Daitch said, marching over to his phone.
He had just picked it up when Lois spoke. "Before you report us, you might be interested to know that we know your grandson went missing for a day before you made the first asteroid announcement."
Daitch slowly hung up the phone, his eyes darting between Lois and Clark. "I don't know what you think you know, but…"
"We also know that the original stats about Nightfall that were sent out showed that the asteroid was going to miss the Earth," Lois added.
Daitch stumbled around his desk, sinking into his chair. "Please, Ms. Lane, you can't print any of this. They said they'd kill my grandson if I didn't…" His voice trailed off.
"Who's they?" When Daitch didn't respond, Lois continued. "What did they tell you you had to do?" She let out a breath. "Professor, you perpetrated a fraud on the people of the world. Why did these people make you do this?"
"Lois," said Clark softly, "he's afraid for his grandson."
Seeming to gain resolve, Daitch rose from his chair. "I don't know what you think you know, Ms. Lane. But you're wrong. The stats about the asteroid that went out first contained some incorrect data. We corrected them. There's really nothing more to it than that. Now as I said, you aren't supposed to be in here. Are you going to leave under your own power? Or do I have to call security?"
"Professor Daitch," said Clark, "we don't want to cause you any trouble. But isn't there something you can give us? We won't say where we got it."
Daitch looked at Clark for a long moment. Then, without saying a word, he walked over to the file cabinet, unlocked it and withdrew a single sheet of paper. Moving back to his desk, he dropped the paper on top. "Now, are you going to leave or do I have to call security?" he asked, turning his back to them to pick up the phone.
They hesitated for a moment before Lois grabbed the paper and the front of Clark's shirt, dragging him towards the door.
Jack lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling while listening to the steady stream of rain water falling into a number of buckets he'd placed around his hovel. His brother was sound asleep next to him, but Jack couldn't sleep. The events of the day kept going around in his head.
He couldn't help but worry about the warning he'd been given. Not that it had been a warning exactly. They could tell him who the boss was but then they'd have to kill him. What was he getting himself into here? And did he really want to risk telling someone what he'd learned today if it could endanger himself or his little brother?
Still, he couldn't get Madam Benoit's accusations out of his mind either. She'd accused him of being a snitch. And she had done so in front of Cindy. He might be a lot of things, but a snitch wasn't one of them. And he couldn't stand the thought of Cindy thinking he would sell her out.
So what did he do? Did he take a chance and tell Madam Benoit what he'd learned? Or did he forget the conversation at Stokes altogether? He just didn't know.
Lois glanced over at Clark as they rode together in the back of the cab. He'd been almost totally silent since they had left EPRAD. Of course, it wasn't as if they could talk freely since their immediate concerns had been hailing a cab and then stopping by Star Labs with the document they had obtained from Professor Daitch. Not that Lois nor Clark had a clue what the paper said. It was all just a bunch of numbers and letters to them.
Dr. Klein had confirmed that the numbers and letters were about the asteroid piece and promised to have an analysis of the figures ready for them sometime tomorrow. Clark had said nothing — except a brief hello when he'd been introduced to Dr. Klein. But even then, he was not acting like the Clark she knew — the Clark who went out of his way to be friendly to everyone.
Even now, he was just staring morosely out the window, watching the pouring rain fall on a darkened Metropolis. Lois was fairly certain she knew what was on his mind. After all, her slip back at EPRAD hadn't left her mind for even a minute during the past hour or so. Part of her wanted to believe he hadn't noticed. But she knew that was just fanciful thinking. After all, she knew Clark wasn't an idiot. And only an idiot wouldn't notice that she had asked him to x-ray a filing cabinet with his eyes.
She sighed and although she got no reaction whatsoever from Clark, she couldn't help but notice the taxi driver look at her in the rearview mirror. She quickly glanced down at where her hands were folded on her lap.
Lois refused to analysis her feelings, choosing instead to focus on the very good reason she had kept the truth from Clark, marshaling her arguments for the confrontation she knew was coming.
The rain was coming down in sheets by the time the taxi pulled to a stop. Clark opened the car door and stepped out. But instead of rushing for the safety of the house, he stood on the sidewalk, his face turned up towards the heavens allowing the rain to hit his face, his hair, his glasses.
His glasses. He reached up and slowly removed them, staring at them as his competing thoughts struggled for supremacy. He was Superman. When Lois had first suggested he x-ray the cabinets, he'd been confused. When he'd realized what she was suggesting, he'd been startled, followed by stunned. But since then, he'd had a few flashes of memory. He knew these glasses, had memory of wearing them. He could remember spinning from Clark Kent into Superman. He even had glimpses of being above the clouds, watching the Earth while he floated above it. But one memory stood out above the rest: flying, with Lois in his arms, through the window into the Daily Planet.
He knew Lois was silently standing behind him, measuring her every move. But then, every word she'd spoken since that slip had been measured, as if she had no idea how to act around him any more. He couldn't say he blamed her. At the moment, he wasn't sure how to act around her either.
She had straight out lied to him. He had trusted her and she'd lied to him about something as basic as his own identity. How did she expect him to react to that?
He walked slowly towards the house, avoiding the door to look at his reflection in the window. He stuck his glasses in his pocket and reached up, slicking his wet hair back and simply stared. Superman. There was no mistaking what he was seeing. But if he were Superman, why didn't he have his powers? He tried to float, just to be sure, and then let out a breath of frustration when his feet remained firmly rooted to the ground.
His eyes moved off his own reflection to the reflection of the woman he could see standing slightly behind him and found himself staring into the face of a stranger. He wasn't entirely sure how the Clark she knew would react to this revelation. But this Clark was angry — furious, in fact. How could she have done that to him?
He took in her pale color and the look of… was that fear?… in her eyes and his heart involuntarily contracted. He quickly pushed away the feeling, grasping onto the anger as he purposely hardened his heart against her.
"How could you do that to me?" His voice sounded harsh, foreign, even to his own ears as he spun towards her.
"You lied to me! You asked me if I trusted you and when I told you I did, you lied to me about something as fundamental as who I really am!"
"I did what I thought was for the best."
"Best?" he gasped in disbelief. "Last night when I asked you, outright, if I was Superman, you made me feel like a fool for even considering the idea. How was lying to me for the best?" Each word was practically spat out and he saw a spark flash in her eyes in response. Good! It was easier than looking at the incredibly vulnerable look that had been there earlier.
"And if I had told you, if you had known, what would you have done when you heard the announcement that a piece of the asteroid was still heading towards Earth?" she asked.
The trace of anger in her question caused his to flare even hotter. "What could I have done? As you pointed out so subtlely last night, I don't have my powers."
"No! You don't. But would the Man of Steel…" There was sarcasm in her voice at the mention of one of his titles. "…really let a little thing like no powers stop him from running off to do something incredibly stupid?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Tell me the truth. If you had known, even if you didn't have your powers, would you be able to stand by, not appear at that press conference, even knowing that panic could result from the public's fear about having an asteroid on a collision course with Earth while Superman was missing."
"So instead you just let the world panic."
"Rather than seeing you standing there, vulnerable, letting someone take a shot at that big, bright target on your chest — yes. The world can go to hell!"
"You can't really mean that." He couldn't remember much about Lois Lane from before the… well, what must have been the asteroid incident. But this didn't sound like her.
"Maybe I do," she responded, crossing her arms across her chest in defiance.
He knew instantly that she didn't mean that, but… "Then why not just talk to me — tell me your concerns. Why not trust me enough to give me the choice?"
"And have you brush me off — the way you did before you took off to destroy that asteroid? Did you listen to me then? No. You just had to fly off and save the world. Oh, and guess what? The world didn't even need saving! Not that you didn't almost manage to get yourself killed, of course!"
Clark wasn't entirely sure how to respond. He felt like he was trying to argue without only half the facts. After all, he couldn't remember the events leading up to his memory loss except… He shivered slightly as a sudden remembrance of cold swept over him. Still… "So you're saying you don't trust me? How can we have a relationship if you don't trust me?"
He watched as she opened her mouth, as if about to respond, before his words really sank in. Then he watched, impotent to do anything about it although his heart began screaming in rebellion, when he saw tears form in her eyes.
Linda King didn't notice the taxi cab pull up in front of Lois' mother's house and two people emerge. By the time she saw them, the man and woman were standing on the path leading up to the house in a heated argument. She couldn't hear the words above the rain pounding on the roof of the van, and was having problems seeing their faces in the darkness — although it was obvious that the two people consisted of a large man and a petite woman.
Her heart leapt. She'd been waiting there since Lois' mother had confirmed that her daughter was staying with her, sitting in the dark van with her cameraman, a short, boring man who spent the entire time flipping through a deck of cards in the dimly lit vehicle. Linda had been expecting Lois, hoping Lois would lead her to Superman. What she hadn't expected was to have Lois bring Superman straight to her. Of course, that was assuming the tall, well-built man was the Man of Steel. She needed to get closer.
"Mark," she said, causing the man next to her to look up from his deck of cards. When he finally did, she pointed towards the house they were watching. "Get your camera ready. It looks like this might be it."
When Mark shouldered his camera and made to get out of the car, she stopped him. "Wait! We want to be sure first."
"Is that Superman with her?"
"I'm not…" Her voice trailed off when the man they were watching turned his head slightly so that she caught a glimpse of his face and his slicked back hair. "Yes! It's him." She quickly reached overhead and turned off the light that would come on the instant they opened the door. "I want to get as close as possible before they know we're here. So don't turn the light on on your camera before I tell you to."
She checked around again, being sure that nothing would give them away when they got out of the vehicle. Finally satisfied, her hand went to the door just as a ringing phone sounded throughout the interior of the van. "Damn!" she said, quickly removing her cell phone and flipping it open. "What?" she demanded. After a moment of listening, she responded. "You don't understand. I found him! You've got to let me…" Her voice trailed off at an interruption on the other end of the line. "Fine!" she finally said, hanging up the phone in disgust as she looked back at the two people standing motionless on the front yard of Ellen Lane's house.
Neither Lois nor Clark said anything for a long moment as the implications of Clark's last question hung in the air between them. Clark was the first one to open his mouth, only to jump and look towards the street when the sound of an engine starting startled him. They both watched distractedly as a vehicle pulled away from the curb, doing a u-turn and heading in the opposite direction. He turned back to Lois when the van disappeared from view, not entirely sure what to say.
"What are you two doing standing out here?"
Ellen Lane's voice coming from the doorway startled him once again. He began turning towards the older woman when Lois suddenly stepped forward, dug his glasses out of his pocket and handed them to him before heading towards the house. Clark looked down at the glasses in his hand, putting them on his face and, giving his head a shake to ruffle his slicked-back hair before following Lois inside.
It was probably just as well they had been interrupted — before either of them said something that couldn't be taken back. Not that he really had any idea what to say. After all, his last question was one he couldn't see a way around. Without trust, how could they have a relationship — even if everything about her made him feel alive?
Luthor smiled as he put the phone back in its cradle. Linda King. Who would have thought the newest reporter for the Luthor News Network would come up with the goods? Now he just needed to sit back and wait. Cosgrove would ensure that Zeitlin dealt with the Superman situation once and for all.
Linda King stormed into her producer's office. "What the hell was that all about?" she asked. "I had him! What did you think you were doing — demanding I get back here immediately?"
"I just think that we can get a better story if we play this smart. After all, why is he hiding out at… oh, what's her name again?"
"Yes. Why is he hiding out at her mother's place? And why wasn't he at the press conference at EPRAD this afternoon?"
"Those are the exact questions I was going to ask him!" She stood in the doorway of the man's office, arms folded over her chest.
"And he could have just flown off. No. We need a better plan. Once we have that in place, you'll go back there and ask your questions — and earn your bonus. Now, would you please sit down so that we can map out our strategy here?"
Linda looked at him for a long moment before letting out a short breath and collapsing into the offered chair. "Fine! What's this brilliant plan of yours?"
CHAPTER 9: ON HOSTILE GROUND
"What were you two doing standing out there in the rain?" Ellen took another sip on what was quite obviously not her first drink of the evening.
"Getting wet, mother," Lois responded, unable to meet Clark's eyes as she placed her purse on the floor, took off her coat and shook the rain out of her hair. She'd never felt so empty, as if there was a gaping hole where her heart had once been. 'How can we have a relationship if you don't trust me?' It wasn't only the words. It was the look in his eyes when he said them — as if they were breaking his heart, but that he truly believed them to be true.
She wasn't sure why she should be surprised. She'd never been very good at relationships. She wasn't entirely sure why she had thought things could be different with Clark. Unlike previous occasions, this time she hadn't even slept with him before the relationship had gone to hell in a handbasket. She wasn't sure if that was a step up or a step down. She gave a small snort.
"What?" asked her mother.
"What was… you know… that? I brought you up better than that."
Lois rolled her eyes. Her mother was complaining about Lois snorting. Well, if her mother wanted her daughter to act as she had been raised, Lois should probably pour herself a glass of whatever her mother was drinking. But Lois simply didn't have the energy to go another round with her mother tonight. All she really wanted was to be alone so she could have a good cry. Then she'd find a way, she didn't know how, to get Clark out of her heart. She gave a sad smile. "Look, I'm tired. I'm soaking wet and I just want to call it a night," said Lois. "I assume you don't mind taking the couch tonight, do you Clark?"
"The couch is fine."
Lois nodded, not meeting Clark's eyes as she headed towards the stairs, desperate to find sanctuary in her childhood room, just as she had so often when her mother and father had been having one of their famous Lane rows.
"Oh, I almost forgot…" began Ellen.
Lois' hand was on the banister. She stopped, dropping her head slightly at the sound of her mother's voice. Was she ever going to be allowed to escape to her room? "What is it, mother?" Lois asked without turning around.
"An old friend of yours called while you two were out," Ellen said.
Lois immediately spun around, almost losing her step as her previous pity party was instantly pushed to the back of her mind. "What?" she demanded. "Who?"
"I don't know. She said the two of you went to college together. She is back in town and couldn't find you."
"What did you tell her? Did you tell her I was here?"
"Mother! Exactly what part of hiding out don't you understand?"
"I don't know what you're getting so upset about. I just…"
"Gave away our hiding place. God, mother, how could you do that?" She reached out, grabbing the drink from her mother's hand. "Is this what makes you…"
"Quit being so melodramatic," Ellen responded, reaching over and grabbing the glass back from Lois, in the process spilling the majority of the drink on the floor. "And don't think I didn't notice your little prank this morning. I'm going to send you a bill for…"
"Mother…" Lois threw her head back, giving a primal scream, before struggling to get control of her emotions.
"Who would think to look for us here?" asked Clark, breaking the tension between mother and daughter.
"Uhh… You said it was a woman?" Lois asked her mother.
"An old college friend of yours."
"Linda King," Lois spat.
"What? Who?" asked Clark.
"I mean, it might not be her. But who else would think of tracking me down here?" She glanced at Clark who was looking confused. "Linda King is a new correspondent for LNN. She and I were friends in college."
"And you think she is the one who is trying to find you?"
"When we ran into each other at EPRAD, she seemed to…" She glanced at her mother, instantly changing what she had been about to say. "I guess it just makes sense to me that she's the one who would track me down here — particularly using that excuse."
"Couldn't it be someone at the Daily Planet trying to get a hold of us?"
"Then why wouldn't they say that was who they were, Clark? And besides, Perry gave me a cell phone to get in touch with us. We've got to get out of here." She began pulling her coat back on.
"Wait, wait, wait, wait," said Clark, reaching out to stop her and in the process, brushing his fingers over her arm.
She shivered, her eyes instantly going to the spot where his touch was sending shockwaves through her body, reminded once again of the involuntary electricity that seemed to exist between them even with an innocent touch. A sharp pain pierced her heart when he snapped his hand away.
"Look, I just think… If Linda King is the one who figured it out, she's with the press, right? And we're not necessarily trying to avoid the press."
"But if she can find us, then anyone can."
"Not necessarily. You said you don't come here often. When was the last time you were here?"
"I don't know. A long time ago. What's your point?"
"I just think we should relax. Play this by ear. If she shows up here, then we reassess the situation. And besides, couldn't it be another college friend? Let's just get a good night's sleep. And then…"
Clark's suggestion was cut off by a knock at the door. Lois and Clark's eyes instantly snapped to one another.
"Relax," said Clark. "We don't know…"
"Police! Open up!"
"What was that you were saying, Clark?" asked Lois, struggling to get her arms back in her coat. Then she reached out and grabbed her mother's arm as the woman took a step towards the door. "Where are you going?"
"It's the police. We can't just ignore them," Ellen Lane said, trying to pull herself away from her daughter's grip. Fortunately, the amount of alcohol in her system kept her from being difficult to stop.
"No! Mother! You still don't get it, do you? Those aren't the police."
"I'll ask for identification."
"Anyone can get identification," said Lois in exasperation.
Clark immediately stepped up, putting himself between Ellen and the door. "We have to get out of here."
"No kidding, Clark," Lois responded, picking up her purse and heading, with her mother in tow, towards the kitchen which led to a back door.
"Wait, Lois," said Clark, causing her to stop. "They're going to be out back as well."
Lois bit her lip. He was right. There was no way these guys would have announced themselves if they didn't have people out back already. So how… "Come on," said Lois excitedly, changing direction to head up the stairs.
"Wait!" said Ellen, still pulling against Lois' grip. "We can't just ignore…"
Ellen Lane's comment was cut off by the sound of gunshots, firing at the locks on the door.
"Come on," said Lois as she and Clark pulled Ellen Lane up the stairway and into the room where Clark had slept the previous night.
"They're firing at the door!" exclaimed Ellen.
"No kidding, mother," said Lois sarcastically.
"But those were real bullets!"
Lois rolled her eyes as she rushed to the window and undid the locks, pushing open the window.
"What are you doing?" asked Clark.
"This was how I used to sneak out as a teenager," said Lois, quickly removing the screen. "We can make our way over onto the neighbor's roof and then climb down the drain pipes. I used to do it all the time when I was younger."
"What?" gasped Ellen.
Ignoring her mother, Lois climbed through the open window. Looking back, she reached out a hand. "Come on, mother."
"Oh, I'm not going…"
"You've got to," said Lois in increasing frustration. "Come on."
The sound of men entering the house echoed through the room. Furniture crashing. Shouts and swearing.
"It's just the police. I'm not running from…"
"It's not the police, mother!"
"We will call the police as soon as we're out of here," said Clark soothingly even as he placed a hand on Ellen's lower back to push her towards the window. "If this is legitimate, we'll turn ourselves in."
Lois knew that Clark was purposely ignoring the look of disbelief Lois shot him in return. She was about to correct him when she realized there wasn't time. They could hear continued shouting coming from downstairs as instructions were barked out to search the house.
"Come on, mom," Lois said, a sense of desperation creeping into her voice as she used, for the first time in years, the more familiar address for her mother. "Please! We have to hurry."
"I can't go out there!" Ellen gasped.
Clark left Ellen to go back to the door, grabbing a chair on the way to wedge under the doorhandle before returning to Ellen, pushing her quickly the remaining distance to the window so that Lois could grab onto her hand.
Ellen dropped her glass as she was physically maneuvered towards the window. "Wait, my drink," she said, trying to break Lois' grip to grab the glass again.
"Mom!" Lois pulled and Clark pushed until the drunken woman was outside on the sloping roof. When the older woman teetered slightly, Lois reached out quickly steadying her. Clark crawled through the window as someone began pounding on the door to the bedroom. "We have to go."
"I can't!" said Ellen, her eyes focused on the ground below them as she swayed unsteadily. "You go on without me. I'll just…" She began to sit down.
"Mother, you're going to get us all killed!" Lois said, grabbing her mother and attempting to pull her towards the place where their roof connected with the adjoining roof. They were all distracted when they heard the sound of men storming into the bedroom behind them.
"Leave me," said Ellen. "I can't…"
Lois looked back at her mother in frustration, about to rebuke her once again, when she noticed the tears in her mother's eyes. She hadn't seen her mother cry in years — not since her father had first walked out on his family.
"Yes, you can, Mrs. Lane," said Clark gently, slipping his arm around her waist to provide some much needed support. "Lead on," he said to Lois
Lois gave Clark a grateful nod before quickly leading them to the edge of the roof. There was a space of about three feet separating the buildings — an easy jump if one were sober. And for the first time, Lois wondered if her mother really was up to this task. A glance back at the bedroom window told her they didn't have time to think up another escape route. With one brief look at Clark, praying he was up to the task of helping her mother, she leapt across the small space, looking back in time to see her mother and Clark attempt the same jump.
She let out a breath of relief when both sets of feet landed solidly on the adjoining roof only to watch in horror as her mother swayed backwards, losing her balance. Lois' mind told her to move, but she seemed powerless to obey as she watched while her mother, as if in slow motion, began to swing her arms in a desperate effort to keep from falling. She gasped in relief when Clark suddenly grabbed the older woman, pulling her down onto the roof.
Lois knew her mother was near hysterics, but there wasn't time to stop now — not while the men with guns were still noisily searching their house. Only seconds remained before one would undoubtedly look out the window of her old room and see them.
As a result, Lois immediately scurried to the edge of the roof — looking over to ensure the 'police officers' weren't there before crawling over the side and using the eaves-trough, a small shack and a car parked close to the house to help herself to the ground. She turned around to watch Clark manoeuver her mother down the same route, talking softly to the obviously terrified woman. Lois let out a breath of relief when both of them were safely on the ground. Still, although they were out of the house, they were still far from safe. They had to put some distance between themselves and the 'police' following them. But how…
"Come on!" said Lois when an idea suddenly struck. Remembering the techniques Jimmy had shown her for boosting a car, she managed to break into the neighbor's car. She was amazed when her mother said nothing as Lois slid the car into drive and took the car onto the road, leading them away from the house filled with men with guns — men who had to be looking for Superman.
Luthor crushed his cigar into an ashtray the second he hung up the phone.
"Is there a problem, sir?"
Luthor turned to see the man standing in the doorway to his office. "Cosgrove has to be the biggest moron in the history of man!"
"Might I inquire as to what happened?"
"That's twice, Nigel. Twice that I've handed him Superman. And twice that Superman has slipped through his fingers." Luthor strode across the room and out onto the balcony, looking out at lights of the city. "Did I ever tell you what that big blue boy scout said to me from this very balcony?"
"I don't think so, sir."
"He floated above it and said, 'If you ever need to find me, all you have to do is look up.'" Luthor's eyes narrowed. "Well, he can't say that now. From the sound of things, he's got no more powers at the moment than Batman — and none of the fancy toys of the Caped Crusader. And I keep tracking him down, I give that information to Secretary Cosgrove, who tells me that he passes it on to Zeitlin. Yet even with all the resources of the military at his disposal, Zeitlin still can't bring him in. And as if that weren't bad enough, now I find out that Lois is the one who is helping him avoid detection."
"Lois Lane, sir?"
"Yes, Nigel. You were right. I should have locked her in the ark when I had the chance. Superman's got the intelligence level of a half-witted dog. Lois is the one who's thwarting my attempts to bring him down."
"So what can I do to help?"
"Put people outside Lois' apartment, at the Daily Planet, at Clark Kent's apartment since she could take Superman there. Also, put a trace on Lois Lane's credit cards. Find her and we find Superman."
Lois threw herself face down on the lumpy bed the instant she stepped into the shabby motel room, glad that at least the bed smelled acceptable. Although, to tell the truth, she wasn't sure she would have been able to move if the bed smelled like yesterday's fish. She felt both physically and emotionally exhausted.
"I called your mother's neighbors," said Clark from the doorway. "Told them where they could pick up the car."
"You didn't say who stole it, did you?" Her voice was muffled by the mattress.
"No," Clark responded. "I just left the car a couple of blocks away from here and called to tell them where they could find it. Once this is over, we can get hold of them — pay for any inconvenience we've caused them."
She gave a small snort into the mattress. How could he sound so much like her Clark — even without his memory?
"So did you get me a room?"
She could hear the door close. She shook her head. "They only had one room left." When he gave no response, she rolled over, leaving her sprawled across the bed, and looked at him. Clark was shuffling nervously just inside the room. "Don't worry, Clark," she said sarcastically, "I'm not going to jump your bones. If for no other reason than that I'm just too tired," she added sadly before forcing herself off the bed. "I'm going to the washroom."
"Look, I didn't mean to imply…"
"Yes you did."
Clark didn't say another word as she disappeared behind the washroom door. When she was alone, she stopped, resting her forehead against the inside of the door. The only good thing she could say about this moment was that they had managed to get her mother on a flight to Chicago to spend a few days with Aunt Edna — her mother's sister. Not that she wasn't still worried about her mother. Never in her life had Lois seen the woman so subdued. She'd barely said more than a dozen words since they had left her house. Still, she should be safe enough staying with her sister.
But as a result of sending her mother away, Lois was now locked alone in a motel room with a man who could barely stand to look at her. A man she loved like she'd never loved anyone before. An involuntary sob rose in the back of her throat which she immediately choked off. She would not lose it when she had to go back out there and face that same man, she pulled herself together. She would not let him know how much his anger at her was breaking her heart. They had to get to the bottom of this threat to his life. And then she was done. She'd tell Perry she needed a different partner. Maybe she'd even take all that holiday time she'd acquired over the years to go away somewhere nice and peaceful to get her bearings back. If worse came to worse, there were always other papers in other cities… A second sob caught her unexpectedly.
"Lois, are you all right?"
Lois quickly straightened up at the sound of Clark's voice on the other side of the door.
"Fine," said Lois, moving over to the sink and turning on the water so that she could splash some on her face. Turning her mind to their story, she hoped she could distract her thoughts. It seemed to work. After a moment, she felt ready… or well, okay to go back out there.
Opening the door, she stepped into the room.
"Are you okay, Lois?" Clark asked.
"Fine," she said sharply, making her way over the bed. Taking a seat on the side, she proceeded to remove her shoes. In the back of her mind she took note of the fact that while she'd been in the washroom, he'd removed his glasses and stuck them in his shirt pocket. It was still hard getting used to seeing him without them — a hybrid Clark-Superman. "I guess we should talk about sleeping arrangements," she said as casually as she could, pushing that last thought to the back of her mind.
"Look, you don't have to pretend you care, Clark. I think you've already made your position perfectly clear. You can't have a relationship with me because I'm not perfect. Fine. I never pretended to be. So just save your…"
She gasped when Clark strode across the room, grabbing her by the arms and pulling her to her feet.
"Obviously I didn't make my position perfectly clear," he said, the guttural sound of his voice sending a shiver through her body. She didn't have time to react when his lips suddenly descended on hers. She wasn't sure what to do. Her pride was telling her to push him away and slap him across the face. Her body was telling her to grab him, flip him onto the bed and have her way with him. Her heart was begging for this to be real. Her mind was questioning what he was saying with this action.
He'd made it painfully obvious, during their fight earlier, that they had no future. She'd got that message loud and clear. So what was he doing — taking advantage of the fact that they were stuck alone in a two-bit motel room to release, at least once, the unbearable sexual tension that existed between them? She was mortified by the thought — as well as aroused. Although she would never admit it aloud, there was a part of her that wanted it as much as he seemed to.
"There's been a hit on Lois Lane's credit card, sir," said Nigel.
Luthor spun around. "Where is she?" he demanded. "And is the boy scout with her?"
"I can't give you an answer to the second question. But the credit card was used to secure a single room at a place called 'Bob's Motel.'"
"A single room?" Luthor asked, his eyebrows going up. "What would Mr. Kent say?"
'What the hell are you doing?' demanded a little voice in the back of Clark's mind as his lips continued to plunder Lois', demanding that she respond. Not that he wasn't enjoying this. God, she tasted so good. But nothing was resolved between them — and in his gut he knew this wasn't going to help. Still, his lips moved against hers, pushing her lips open so that he could slip his tongue inside, desperately needing to be closer to her.
"Clark, don't please," Lois whispered, finally managing to break contact with his mouth.
Instantly, the liberty he'd taken hit him. He started to move back, stopping only when she grabbed onto the front of his shirt, holding him where he stood, his body still lightly pressed against hers. He could tell she was trembling and his heart ached. He stood there, having no idea what he was supposed to do now when she buried her face in his shirt. It took him a moment to realize that she was softly crying against him.
When he moved his arms, intending to gather her to him, she suddenly seemed to find the strength to let him go, stepping out from his embrace. He took a moment to gather his wits before turning to look at her. She was standing quietly with her back to him, staring out the window. He moved closer. She finally looked up, until she was regarding his eyes reflected in the darkened window. He could see traces of tears on her cheeks.
"I just wanted you to live, Clark," she said softly. All the fight had obviously gone out of her. She broke eye contact with him again, staring straight ahead even though Clark was certain she couldn't see anything out the window.
"I know that."
"Do you?" She turned towards him, her eyes suddenly searching out his. "Do you really understand why I did it?"
He broke eye contact.
"That's what I thought," she said, turning back to the window. She sighed.
"No. I do think I understand. You are afraid for me, and don't want me to be Superman because of the danger it…"
"No!" she exclaimed, cutting off his words as she spun to face him. "That's not it, Clark. I'd never try to stop you from being Superman. Never! I'd never ask you to be less than you are. I know you can't do that. It wouldn't be fair of me even to try. Just like I could never stop being a reporter — even though it places me in danger at times. Superman is a part of you. And loving you means loving him and everything he stands for."
"Do you remember anything, Clark? Do you remember the fight we had before you left to destroy the asteroid?" She waited until he shook his head before continuing. "I had a gut feeling something wasn't right. And before we started dating, you used to trust my gut instincts — or at least I think you did. But suddenly you were simply dismissing me, as if you thought that my 'gut instinct' was just a cover for wanting to stop Superman from doing what had to be done. If instead of fighting me, you'd supported me, backed me up, you'd have known that there was a better way to deal with the asteroid."
"What are you talking about?"
"I found out that assuming the asteroid was heading for Earth, you could simply push it off its trajectory, sending it safely past the Earth. If you had come with me, you would have known that. But I ended up getting to EPRAD too late. You were already on your way to destroy the asteroid."
"What does all of that have to do with your lying to me?"
"I was fairly confident that EPRAD was going to make another announcement claiming a piece of the asteroid was heading for Earth. My gut tells me that it's just a ploy to force you into the open. But until Dr. Klein can analyze that paper we took him tonight, I can't prove that. I was afraid if I told you that you were Superman, you would insist on going to that press conference."
"But don't you think that should be my decision?"
She searched his eyes. "And what would your decision have been?" she asked. "And what are you going to do now that you know who you are?"
He looked away.
"That's what I thought," she said, turning back towards the window.
They continued to stand there in silence for a long moment as Clark evaluated her words. He didn't know what he was going to do now. The world was making preparations for a major asteroid strike somewhere on the planet. Even if it wasn't true, could he really stand by when his mere presence might calm the public? The public, after all, didn't need to know that he didn't have his powers.
Of course, he couldn't deny the very real possibility that someone was trying to kill him. He didn't remember hitting the asteroid. But he certainly remembered the two occasions they had been chased by men with guns. And if he did put in an appearance without his powers and someone took a shot at him, killing him, it wouldn't go very far in calming the public's fears. And Klein's analysis should be done tomorrow.
And he couldn't deny that Lois had been right there with him — by his side even though her mere proximity to him put her in danger. When they had dropped off Ellen Lane at the airport, he had suggested she go to Chicago with her mother. She had summarily dismissed the proposition. Although she knew he was furious with her, she had refused to abandon him. Didn't that at least entitle her to the benefit of the doubt?
"What do you want from me?" he asked.
She looked at him in the window, this time the glimmer of hope in her eyes. "I want you to treat me like a full partner. I know there will be times when Superman has to go it alone. But when that happens, I want it to be our decision — not just yours. That's the kind of relationship I want — the kind of partnership I want. And I want you to trust my instincts — the way you did before we started seeing each other."
He nodded slowly. He couldn't remember if he had trusted her instincts, but… Well, he couldn't deny that she had been right about the phone call her mother had received from 'an old college friend' earlier this evening. Still, was that really the issue?
"You still lied to me, Lois. You want me to trust you, to trust your instincts, to trust your opinions, but you didn't trust me enough to tell me the truth. I might not know a lot at the moment, but I do know you can't build a relationship without trust."
She let out a short breath, not turning from where she was staring out the window.
"Still, I guess trust has to start somewhere," Clark said reflectively before making a decision. If he wanted her trust, then maybe it was time to give his. "Given the time, I guess it can't hurt to wait until we get Dr. Klein's results tomorrow on the asteroid to decide whether Superman needs to make an appearance."
Her eyes snapped back to his, meeting his in the darkened window. She obviously understood the significance of his words.
"But the instant we get those results back…"
"They get released to the public — even if it means we lose an exclusive," she promised without waiting for him to finish his condition.
"And if they prove that there is a piece of the asteroid heading towards Earth…"
"We find a way for Superman to make an appearance — even without his powers. But promise me you won't take any unnecessary risks — and we work out a plan we can both agree to."
"Deal," said Clark, feeling better than he had in hours. They still had a lot to work through. But at least now, things between them no longer seemed exactly hopeless. "So I guess we should discuss sleeping arrangement," he said.
She seemed to shift a little uncomfortably. "Clark…"
Her voice trailed off and Clark wondered what had suddenly distracted her when…
"Duck!" she yelled, reaching around, grabbing onto the front of his shirt and pulling him down just as a gunshot shattered the glass in the window.
Lois scurried along the wall to the light switch, bathing the room in darkness as Clark pressed himself against the wall beneath the window.
"How did they find us?" asked Clark.
"I don't know. But unless we think of a way out of here fast, it's not really going to matter."
"What about using the window in the washroom?"
"They'll have that covered." She suddenly pulled in a sharp breath.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I just… I cut my hand on the glass."
"What?" Clark scrambled over to her just as another volley of gunshots tore at the room.
"We've got to think of something, Clark," Lois said in desperation as she held her hand up, trying to remove a fragment of glass in the dim light of the room. "I've got an idea," she suddenly said just as the gunshots started up again, this time coming through the walls and doors as well as the shattered window. "Give me your glasses," she ordered even as she reached across the floor to grab her shoes.
A woman's scream echoed through the air filling General Zeitlin with a sense of optimism. That optimism was short lived when, in the background, he heard his first hint of sirens. Someone must have called the police. They would have to move quick or risk being caught by the civilian authorities.
"Superman! No! No! No! No!" the woman screamed again.
Zeitlin smiled. "Stop the shooting and go in," he directed one of his men. "Move quickly — but carefully. We've got to be out of here by the time the cops arrive."
Captain Adams nodded, giving a series of hand signals that brought the sound of gunfire to an end. A further series of hand signals had a group of men raising automatic machine guns to their shoulders and moving quickly, but cautiously forward. Captain Adams led them to the door. Then gesturing once, twice, three times, he kicked in the door and he and his men rushed the room, stopping only at the sight of a woman bent over the body of a man. Keeping his gun on the couple, he flicked on the light.
"Get her away from him," Adams said when he saw a woman softly crying over a man's body.
"No!" she screamed, struggling against the man's grip when one of the soldiers stepped forward and tried to pull her away from the man on the floor. She wrapped her arms around the prostate man, laying her cheek against his bloodstained shirt.
"Leave her," Adams said. "We don't have time for this."
Forgetting about the woman, he looked back at the man. His eyes were closed and his chest was covered with blood. But most importantly, he wasn't breathing. And there was no mistaking the slicked back hair and face. He raised his hand to the radio on his shoulder and pressed a button. "We've got him, General. He's dead."
CHAPTER 10: CHOICES OF THE HEART
"I have him, Cosgrove," General Zeitlin said into his cell phone as he watched his men toss Superman's body into one of the vans. They were going to have to move fast. The sound of sirens was getting closer. "Only thing is we weren't able to take him alive." He laughed in response to something that was said on the other end of the line. "Yeah, it is a real shame." He was still chuckling as he hung up the phone.
Zeitlin heard the commotion before he saw it. Superman's body had been successfully placed in one of the vans. But they had to hurry. They had to be long gone before the authorities arrived. "What's the hold up?" he asked when he came around the side of the second van to see one of his men trying to get a squirming, screaming and bawling young woman inside.
"She keeps insisting on going with Superman," Captain Adams responded.
"So then put her in with Superman," Zeitlin said, turning away.
"Is that wise, sir? At least let me have her tied up first."
"We don't have time. Besides, look at her. What does she weigh? A hundred and ten pounds soaking wet? Come on. Throw her in the van with Superman if that's where she wants to be. It's not as if she's going to be able to overpower our men. She can't even get away from you."
"No, sir. But we haven't had a lot of luck getting her to go where we want either. She's a slippery little devil."
"So then put her where she wants to go," said Zeitlin.
"Yes, sir," Adams said skeptically. He wasn't sure why, but for some reason, this didn't seem particularly wise to him. "So where are we taking them?"
"The military base?"
Zeitlin nodded. "Our scientists want Superman's body. I'm not sure what's going to happen to her. But Cosgrove thinks he has someone who might be very interested in her. Besides, we can't exactly let her go."
Luthor poured himself a glass of champagne. Once it was full, he walked onto the balcony and raised the glass. "I have to hand it to you, Superman," he said, looking out into the night. "You gave me quite a run for my money. A worthy opponent. But once again, I have proven to be the better adversary."
Lowering the glass to his lips, he took a sip, savoring this moment as he had few others before. This was undoubtedly his finest hour.
Still, he didn't want to do too much celebrating yet. After all, he'd been told by Cosgrove that they also had Lois Lane in custody. As a favor to him, they were going to bring her here. He'd wait until he was with her to really celebrate. His thoughts instantly turned to the double bed he'd had placed in the 'apartment' he'd had decorated for Lois in the ark.
He would have preferred to convince Lois to go into the ark voluntarily. Still, she had proven over the course of the past couple of days that she was too dangerous to let run free.
"No one's looking. You can take a breath," Lois whispered into Clark's ear as she bent over his 'body', pretending to cry. She was relieved when he stole a quick breath. Even if this was her plan, seeing him lying so still was doing horrible things to her heart. The blood on his chest, although she knew it was from the cut on her hand, was also a little hard to bear. Fortunately, they hadn't taken the time to examine his 'wound' too closely. She was a little surprised that the plan had actually worked. She was dealing with military men, after all. The only reason she could think of why they hadn't examined the wound more closely was that they were in a hurry, wanting to be long gone before the police arrived.
Her only real concern had been whether Clark would be able to hold his breath long enough to make the plan work. She knew Superman could hold his breath for at least twenty minutes. Still, he wasn't exactly 'super' at the moment. But his powers must be starting to return because he was doing a great job — almost good enough, in fact, to scare her.
She also had to admit, with no small amount of pride, that she'd put on a great act. Even the tears were real. Not that finding the ability to cry had been all that difficult tonight. The hardest part was struggling enough to force them to keep her with Superman without appearing to be too much of a threat. If it hadn't been for Zeitlin… Now all they had to do was to wait for the right moment to make their escape.
She took a quick look around to see who else was in the van. One man, looking rather distracted, sat in the back with them, his weapon lying almost forgotten on his lap, his eyes focused out the front window to watch where they were going. The other two men in the van were sitting in the front seats. She could see the other van in front of them. This was going to be child's play when they finally made their move.
"What!" exclaimed Luthor. He listened in utter disbelief for a moment more before slamming the phone into its cradle. Picking up his now empty champagne glass from the desk, he turned, hurling it across the room.
Nigel watched it smash into the wall nearby. "Problem, sir?" he asked redundantly.
"He escaped!" Luthor exclaimed.
"But I thought he was dead," Nigel responded, not bothering to ask the identity of 'he.' Only one person could possibly cause his boss to react like this. His face was red. His hands were clenched. And he had just thrown a glass across the room.
"Apparently not. Otherwise escape would be a little difficult. They were played. That idiot, Zeitlin, screwed the pooch yet again. You know, Nigel, I'm starting to think Cosgrove and Zeitlin are idiots. Maybe it's time I took matters into my own hands."
Lois was flying high when they had finally run far enough to be sure they had frustrated any attempt by their pursuers to find them.
"Yes!" she said, punching her fists in the air as she spun around.
Clark chuckled. "It's amazing how a close call like that can really get the adrenaline flowing."
Lois threw her head back and laughed. He was right. They had both been completely exhausted only an hour ago. Now she felt like doing something crazy — like going to a bar with loud, fast music and a dance floor so that she could spin around until she collapsed. Unfortunately, they really didn't have time to do that. This had been the third attempt on Superman's life since he'd come back from outer space. And it had been their closest call yet. In fact, one really didn't get much closer without being dead. The thought brought Lois crashing back to Earth.
"How's your hand?" Clark asked.
"Umm…" With the concern about escaping, the pain of her current injury had been relegated to the back of her mind. Now she looked down at her bloody hand which had been ripped apart by the glass from the window. "It's okay."
He stopped, taking her hand and turning it over in his. "It doesn't look okay," he said. "I really think we should find someone to take a look at it before finding a place to spend the night." Before she could respond that it was too dangerous to go to a hospital, he continued. "How do you think they found us?"
"The only thing I can think of is that somehow they traced the neighbor's car and then… I don't know. Maybe they realized Bob's Motel was the only place we could stay that was in walking distance."
"I don't know," said Clark skeptically.
"We really need to figure it out. Otherwise, they might be able to find us again. Maybe…" Her voice trailed off when she realized that they were again across the street from Bob's Motel. She had no idea how that had happened. Dumb luck, she supposed.
A dozen police cars, lights flashing were sitting outside and a hoard of police officers were prowling the area. "I don't believe it," said Lois suddenly, heading at full steam across the street.
"Wait, Lois. Where are you…" His voice trailed off when he seemed to realize he wasn't going to stop her. Stepping quickly, he headed after her.
Suddenly, she stopped, spinning towards him. Digging into her pocket, she handed him his glasses and then tousled his hair until she seemed to be satisfied before turning back to the police. Clark quickly realized what she was doing. For this encounter, she obviously wanted him to be Clark. Still, given everything that was going on, was it really wise to be trusting the police? After all, they had heard enough during their encounter with Zeitlin's men to know the military were somehow involved. So why was Lois suddenly willing to have contact with the police?
"Lois…" He reached out, grabbing her arm. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Lois smiled. "I'm sure," she said before heading towards the police with determination.
"Took you guys long enough," she said when she finally got close to one plainclothes officer.
"Lane," said the officer, turning towards her. "Now why does this not surprise me?" He looked towards Clark. "Kent," he said in recognition. "Kent! Are you okay?"
Lois looked at Clark, wondering what it was about Clark that had Henderson so concerned. And then she saw it. The blood on his shirt.
"Oh, he's fine," said Lois. "It's not his blood. So how's it going, Inspector Henderson?" Lois added, glancing over at Clark, hoping he'd pick up on the fact that they knew the inspector.
"Inspector," Clark said, following Lois' lead.
"Inspector, the manager just told me…" The young officer running up seemed to hesitate when he saw Lois. Recovering his composure, he handed a clipboard to Henderson. "I was going to say that you weren't going to believe who was registered here. But it seems you've already found her."
"So do you want to tell me what happened here?" asked Henderson, looking down at the room number next to Lois' name on the clipboard. "After all, it seems your room took the majority of the gunshots."
Lois shrugged. "I don't know, Henderson. We were staying with my mother for the night and… well, we just needed a little privacy — you wouldn't believe my mother…" She gave a small shudder. "She's concerned about her daughter's virtue. Afraid that Clark here is going to take advantage of me if you know what I mean."
"Lois," Clark hissed, sounding utterly embarrassed.
"Relax, Clark. Henderson understands about these things. He might be a cop — but that doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't get… the old itch. Anyway, we came here to… well, you know. All of a sudden, these guys just started shooting at Clark." She twirled her hair with a finger as she tilted her head to the side and looked, wide-eyed, at the Inspector. "Do you think my mother sent them?"
"Lane," Henderson cautioned.
"He is not amused," said Lois dramatically, glancing over at Clark. She let out a breath when she realized Clark didn't look amused either. These two were in serious need of a sense of humor. On the other hand, since she and Clark had not solved anything between them, he might just be uncomfortable with her making it appear as if they were intimate. She quickly pushed the depressing thought away. Turning her attention back to the Inspector, she continued much more seriously. "Look, Henderson, I promise we'll tell you everything. But you're going to need to cut us a little slack here. We've got an idea what this might have been about, but…"
"But you're not going to tell me. You know, Lane, I could have you arrested as a material witness."
"But you won't," Lois said, trying to look as cute as possible.
"Give me one good reason not to."
"Because we really need you to trust us," said Clark, stepping forward.
Henderson's gaze shifted between Lois and Clark. "Are you sure about this? If these guys were after you, they are serious."
"We're sure, Bill," said Lois. "We've got to go this alone for a little while longer. And then I promise we'll bring you up to speed. In the meantime, you have to keep our names out of your reports. We have reason to believe this has to do with government corruption. And if our names show up in your report, it could put us in even more danger."
Henderson looked down at his clipboard. "Well, if that's the case, I'd suggest you stop using your credit card."
"Credit card! Of course!" said Lois, suddenly realizing how they must have been found. "So do we have a deal, Henderson?"
Henderson looked at both of them for a long moment before nodding.
"Wait, wait, wait, wait," said Henderson when she was about to turn away. "This is a major incident. People could have been killed — not only you."
"Was anyone hurt?" asked Clark immediately.
"No. But given the number of gunshots that were fired, it's a miracle no one was killed. Even if you aren't going to tell me exactly what happened here, I still have a few questions. Besides…" He pointed to Clark's shirt. "…are you sure you weren't hit?"
"That's just from my hand," said Lois, holding up her hand to show the inspector.
"I want you to have that treated before you leave." Henderson pointed to the ambulance sitting amongst the police cars.
"I'm not going to the hospital." Still, with the adrenaline starting to drain from her body, she suddenly felt a little faint from the loss of blood. She swayed slightly. Henderson reached out, steadying her.
"I'm sure they can treat that here. But you're not leaving until it's taken care of."
"Also, one of the witnesses reported that they heard a woman yelling for Superman. Am I correct in assuming that was you?"
Lois nodded. Yelling for Superman was good. Something she did all the time. She'd go with that.
"Did he come? Is he still alive?"
"He didn't come. As for the other… I don't know." She hated lying to Henderson, especially when she heard the concern behind his question.
"I hope the big guy is okay," Henderson said.
"You and me both." She didn't dare look at Clark. "By the way, be sure to keep whatever bullets you find. We might be able to point you to the guns they came from."
"Thanks for the advice, Lane. I was just about to order they all be thrown away," Henderson responded dryly.
Lois rolled her eyes.
"If you need anything…"
"We'll let you know."
They were just about to turn away, the conversation having obviously come to an end, when Henderson stopped them again. Digging into his pocket, he withdrew a set of keys. Taking one off the ring, he tossed it to Lois. "That's my car," he said, pointing towards a large old style Ford. "Just be sure to bring it back without a scratch on it. And…" He pulled his wallet out of his pocket, withdrawing a number of bills and handing them to Lois. "…since you can't use your credit card at the moment, I figure you might need to borrow a few bucks. Oh, and, Kent, there's a bag with an extra shirt in the trunk of the car. I think you'll look a little less conspicuous if you aren't covered in blood."
Lois' face broke into a grin. "Ooo… I could kiss you, Henderson."
Henderson made a face. "I was trying to be nice, Lane. And now you want to give me Lane germs." He winked at Clark before turning and heading back towards his officers.
"Is he your father?" asked Clark as they headed towards the ambulance.
Lois looked at him in disbelief for a moment before rolling her eyes. "Oy."
Lois shifted in her seat in the darkened car, handing the crust of her first piece of pizza to Clark before opening the box to dig out a second piece. Clark looked down at the crust she'd given him before looking back at her picking a piece of pepperoni off her second piece and popping it in her mouth. Giving his head a small shake, he began eating the crust.
"I don't know why this pizza tastes so good," said Lois around a bite of pizza.
"Well, we've only had a sandwich — and that was hours ago." Clark finished off Lois' crust and pulled another piece of pizza from the box.
"Funny how I didn't notice I was hungry until we left Bob's Motel."
"Yeah, well things have been a little…"
Lois shifted uncomfortably, suddenly feeling tired again. In the wake of their near call with death, things had felt normal between them. But now the adrenaline rush was starting to drain away and it hit Lois again that nothing had really been settled between them. The ball was definitely in his court concerning their personal relationship.
Or was it? She pondered that question for a moment. What Clark had said was true. She hadn't trusted him to treat her opinion with respect, to treat her like a full participant in their relationship. And if there was one thing Lois knew beyond any doubt, it was that she didn't want a relationship in which she wasn't a full partner. She'd seen that with her parents and she wanted no part of it.
Still, when she'd confronted him on her reasons for lying to him, hadn't he addressed her concerns, taking into account her opinions? Maybe, unlike men in her past, he was capable of learning. On the other hand, maybe his response was a mere side effect of his amnesia. She'd really have to wait until his memory returned to know for sure. She sighed. Nothing really had been settled between them. And although she knew that at the very least, she wanted to try to make their relationship work, she had no idea where he stood. She'd been so sure he was telling her it was over between them — until the kiss and his subsequent comments. Now she was just… confused.
"So anyway," continued Clark as if sensing the sudden change of mood, "I've been thinking about how we go about finding out who is behind the attacks on Superman. What do we know so far?"
"Well, we definitely know now that General Zeitlin is involved," Lois responded, glad for the change of subject. While he was deciding their fate, thinking about the story was probably easier than worrying about how he was going to settle things in his mind. "And I suppose we know that Zeitlin is working for the military."
"Right. After all, why would he take us to Fort Truman if he was working outside the military?"
"And we know that Professor Daitch is just an outsider. They've been threatening him."
"So where does that leave Secretary Cosgrove? You said that Cosgrove was involved in the conversation you overheard between Daitch and Zeitlin."
"I'm not sure how he's involved. Unless he's on some sort of civilian oversight committee for the military."
"Right!" said Clark. "When we were going through those documents that… Jimmy?"
"…that Jimmy uncovered for us, I noticed that Cosgrove was involved in some sort of civilian oversight of the military — special projects or something."
"Of course, we have no proof that the military is trying to kill Superman. I mean, we could tell about the attack on us tonight, but…"
"…if we're going to nail them, we need something more concrete. And we need a solid connection to Cosgrove."
Lois nodded slowly, half amazed that they could continue to work so well together, even if their personal relationship was currently in shambles. "You know, Clark. If this is an officially sanctioned military operation, it might be that they aren't doing anything illegal."
"Attempted murder can't be legal."
Lois let out a breath. "It might not be that simple."
"I don't understand."
Lois chewed on her lower lip for a long moment. "I'm not sure how to say this without sounding offensive."
"Just say it, Lois."
"Okay, well, since you aren't exactly… human, they might be trying to justify their actions by saying that this isn't murder. After all, Superman is only an alien."
Clark lurched back as if he'd been struck. "Is that how you see me?"
"No! Of course not! See? This is what I was afraid of. All I'm saying is that that might be their thinking. What we will need to do is to get the public on our side — to force the government into stepping forward to condemn Zeitlin's actions. And I'm sure we can do that — if we can get the proof we need on Zeitlin and Cosgrove."
"Okay, so where do we start?"
"Well, there is one odd loose end that I'd like to follow up on."
"Linda King. I think she's the one who called my mother's place this evening — that led Zeitlin to us in the first place."
"How can you be sure?"
"I can't. It's just… a hunch. I'd like to talk to her — confront her with it and see if it turns anything up."
"Okay, so then we'll do that first thing tomorrow."
"No. I think it would be best for me to meet with her alone. Don't worry, I'll be careful. The day I can't handle Linda King is the day I hang up my press pass. While I do that, why don't you go to Star Labs and see if that report is ready? Oh, and one of us should meet with Perry."
"Or both. If we call Perry first thing and set up a time to meet, then we can both go to our respective assignments and then meet up with Perry together."
"Sounds like a plan," said Lois, finding her words cut off by a yawn. She immediately moved the pizza box over onto Clark's lap and proceeded to crawl over the seat. "Hey, there's a blanket back here," she said, grabbing the blanket and spreading it over her.
She knew that Clark was silently watching her while he finished the remaining pizza. She tried to ignore him, struggling to get comfortable, but try as she might, she couldn't seem to find a place to put her head.
When she heard the car door opening, she sat up, wondering where Clark was going — a little scared that he was going to leave her. She felt confused when he joined her in the back seat.
"Clark?" she asked.
"Come here," he said, reaching out an arm to her.
She hesitated for a minute, not entirely sure what he wanted from her. "Clark?"
"Come here," he said again.
She moved cautiously closer. When she got close enough, he pulled her to him, allowing her to settle in the crook of his arm. Wrapping his arms around her, he picked up her bandaged right hand, playing with the fingers as if to assure himself that the medics had done an adequate job in treating it. In some ways the action was just very typical Clark — needing to assure himself that she was all right. But in others… He could have checked her hand without pulling her this close.
"Does it hurt?"
"It's okay," she said without conviction.
She could feel him nod and waited, tense, expecting him to pull away from her and preparing herself for the pain she knew would come at that moment. When, after a couple of minutes, he still hadn't moved, she relaxed back against him. She wasn't entirely sure what this meant, but she was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was right about one thing. With everything that had happened to them today, and with everything that was likely to happen tomorrow, she needed to feel his arms around her.
"I noticed when we were trying to escape that you seemed…" Lois' voice trailed off as she struggled to find a way to describe what she had seen. "…not exactly super, but… between the ease with which you handled Zeitlin's men…"
"With a little help from you."
She smiled. "…with a little help from me and the length of time you were able to hold your breath… I was just wondering if your powers are coming back."
"Well, I have to admit I feel pretty good now — strong, fast — but I don't know what I used to feel like with my powers so… Although, I will admit I didn't have a lot of difficulty holding my breath. But… let's just say I'm not able to 'leap tall buildings in a single bound' yet. Wasn't that something you said Superman could do?"
Lois nodded. "Any idea what caused you to lose your powers in the first place?"
Clark let out a breath and she could feel him shake his head.
"The only thing I know of that can make you lose your powers is kryptonite," Lois continued.
"It's a green rock from your home planet of Krypton. It sort of acts like… a poison. When you come anywhere near it, it incapacitates you, takes away your powers and, I suspect, with prolonged exposure, could kill you. It's sort of like your Achilles' heel. Do you have any memory at all of coming into contact with something like that?"
"No. But then, couldn't I have lost my powers just by destroying the asteroid?"
"I suppose. Still, it seems as if… I don't know… that maybe something else is going on here. Do you remember anything at all about… well, anything before you woke up at Madam Benoit's?"
"I have… flashes, I guess, of memory. But nothing substantial."
When he shifted uncomfortably, she became incredibly curious. "Clark?"
"Oh, just flying above the clouds, wearing my glasses, spinning into the Superman suit, flying you into the newsroom at the Daily Planet. Things like that."
"Clark, what aren't you telling me?" She turned so that she could look into his face.
He met her eyes for a moment before breaking eye contact. "It's nothing, Lois, just…"
Her eyes opened wide and then understanding sank in as she flashed back to her choice of unmentionables the previous Friday. She quickly turned back around. "Oh."
"I take it that means something to you."
"Care to fill me in?"
She suddenly felt his chest vibrating behind her. She spun around. "Are you laughing at me?"
"Hey, don't blame me. I didn't want to tell you. You're the one who forced it out of me."
She smiled, finally relaxing enough to snuggle into his arms. When he reached around her, pulling the blanket she'd found around both of them, she closed her eyes. This was exactly what she needed right now — to feel his calm, comforting presence. Obviously, he needed the contact between them, too. She shifted a couple of times until she found a comfortable position against his strong chest. Her last conscious thought as she drifted off to sleep was that he was planting a soft kiss on the top of her head.
Linda King was seriously unhappy as she drove the van back to Ellen Lane's house. Her producer, Vincent Cupello, had kept her in his office all night supposedly mapping out a strategy for interviewing the Man of Steel. And what had he come up with? She was supposed to resume her stakeout and then, when she saw Superman, rush over and get the interview. The man was a complete idiot. After all, that's exactly what she'd been about to do the previous night before he had called her and demanded that she return to the station. Only then, she'd actually managed to see Superman. Who knew if he would show up there again?
She slowed when Ellen Lane's house came into view, watching it carefully as she drove past. Suddenly, she slammed her foot on the brake, bringing the van to a sudden stop directly in front of the house.
"I thought we were supposed to be keeping it under surveillance — not announcing our presence to everyone inside?" said her cameraman.
"The door is open," she said, shifting the van into park and quickly disembarking. "Come on."
The cameraman, Carl, shrugged, picked up his camera and followed as Linda strode up the path towards the front door.
"Get tape of this, Carl," she instructed, pointing to the gunshots around the locks on the door. Once he had done so, she cautiously pushed the door further open. "Hello," she said into the house. "Anyone home?" When she got no answer, she stepped inside. "Get this on tape, too," she said, quickly stepping out of the way so that Carl could film the muddy footprints on the floor and the shambles in the living room. She had no idea what had happened here. But there were certain things that were more than obvious. First, someone had broken into the house, trashing it in the process. Second, this crime had been committed last night — given the muddy footprints on the floor and the fact that it had been raining the previous night. Third, no one was home. Fourth, the house didn't look the way it did when she left the night before.
"What now?" asked Carl.
"I don't know," said Linda. What the hell was going on here? And why had Vincent Cupello really called her back to the station? And how had he even known she had found Superman? And what did all of this have to do with Superman anyway?
Clark watched as Lois drove off, leaving him at the Star Labs' entrance. He had to admit, he really hated the idea of having her talk to Linda King alone. Still, she was right that his priority right now was to get the information about the asteroid. And she had been confident that she could handle Linda King.
They had called Perry, arranged to meet him at a coffee shop near the Daily Planet in an hour. That gave both of them time to see what they could dig up. Hopefully, one of those things would be the asteroid results. Pushing his concern about Lois to the back of his mind, he turned and entered Star Labs.
Linda King gasped when she was grabbed outside LNN headquarters and forced into a nearby alley by a clearly outraged woman. Once they were safely in the darkened alley, the woman released her stepping back slightly so that she could look into her eyes.
"My mother told me you were looking for me," said Lois. "Well, here I am. What do you want?"
Lois cocked her head to the side. "And you had reason to suspect I wasn't?"
Linda let out a breath. "I went by your mother's house this morning. I saw the damage."
"Maybe it was just burglars."
This time it was Linda's turn to study the woman in disbelief.
"Look," said Linda, "why don't we just cut the bullshit? Someone is after you. I want to know why?"
"Why were you?"
Linda rolled her eyes. "I was looking for Superman and I suspected you knew something. Turns out I was right. I saw you and Superman arguing about something outside your mother's house last night."
"If that's true, why didn't I hear it on the news this morning? I would think Superman's return would be big news."
"I was called away before I could get the interview. But then, why didn't I read it in the Daily Planet this morning? After all, you didn't seem to be having a problem talking to him."
Lois stiffened. "Who did you tell that you had found Superman?"
"I didn't tell anyone anything. No one even knew I was staking out your mother's house — except my cameraman."
"Then I guess I need to talk to your cameraman. What's his name?"
"Carl, but…" She reached out grabbing onto Lois' arm to stop her when it became obvious that Lois was about to leave. "Lois, what is going on?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Okay, look. I got the idea that maybe you had the inside track on Superman. Since we were offered a bonus to be the first one to find Superman, I decided to track you down — see what I could get out of you. When you weren't anywhere you were supposed to be yesterday, I got the idea to call your mother. She told me you were staying there so I staked out her house. And then I saw you and Superman on the front lawn, obviously arguing about something. I didn't call anyone. Didn't tell anyone where I was going. Only my cameraman knew — and he was with me the entire time. After all it was just a hunch."
Linda let out a slow breath. "Just as Carl and I were about to get out of the van, I got a call on my cell phone from my producer. He told me to get back to the office immediately — to discuss how to best approach Superman."
"How did he know you had found him?"
"I don't know." She reflected back for a moment before continuing. "In fact, when I got to his office, he knew exactly where I had been. But I swear, neither my cameraman nor I told him." She paused briefly. "So what happened after I left you and Superman arguing on the lawn?"
Lois met her eyes, seriously considering her for a long moment before responding. "Were you staking out my house in a van?" she asked, not answering her question.
"Then that was just before…" Her voice trailed off.
"Look, is someone after you? Or are they after Superman? Or both?"
"What's your producer's name?"
"What can you tell me about him?"
"Not much. I just started here. But, Lois, what's going…" She watched impotently as Lois walked away from her. Linda let out a frustrated breath as she observed Lois' back as the woman disappeared once again onto the street.
Lois was deep in thought as she crawled back into the driver's seat of Henderson's car. Someone at LNN was obviously involved in this. It was the only possible conclusion. They must have had Linda's van bugged. It was the only way her producer could have known where she was and that she had found Superman — assuming, of course, that Linda had been telling the truth. And Lois was inclined to believe her.
So where did she go from here? Vincent Cupello — Linda's producer. But should she confront him directly?
She smiled when a better idea hit her. Lex Luthor. He owned LNN. He would certainly be able to find out what she needed to know about Vincent Cupello. She checked her watch. There was still plenty of time before she had to meet with Perry and Clark. She'd just take a quick stop by Lex's office on the way.
Satisfied with her plan, she started the car and pulled out into the traffic.
CHAPTER 11: AND THE BAND PLAYED ON
Jack shuffled uncomfortably. He still wasn't entirely sure he was doing the right thing. After all, he might be putting his little brother in danger by getting involved in… well, whatever was going on. Not only that, but it was entirely possible Madam Benoit had, by now, figured out that her elephant ornament was missing. Not that he'd got a lot of money for it. Twenty-five bucks. Either Madam Benoit was not as rich as he thought or the pawn shop owner didn't know quality when he saw it.
"Uhh, Mr. Jack," said Madam Benoit, coming into the entranceway. "What can I do for you?"
"I have some information for you."
Madam Benoit's eyebrows rose. After a moment, she gestured him to enter and waited until they were both seated in her living room before speaking. "So what's this information?"
"I did some asking around today — you know to find out what the word on the street was about the raid on your place the other day."
Madam Benoit cocked her head to the side. "And what did you learn?"
"Well, not much. All I can tell you is that it weren't the cops that raided your place. And there's a rumor about someone called 'the boss' being involved."
"Do you know who this boss might be?"
Jack shook his head, rising to his feet.
"Why did you bring me this information?" she asked, causing him to sink back into his chair.
Jack shrugged. "Guess I just thought you might be interested."
"Well, thank you," said Madam Benoit.
Jack was relieved when she didn't probe that line of questioning further. How did he tell her that he wanted to make sure she… or should he say, Cindy, didn't have the wrong idea about him?
"So tell me something else, Mr. Jack. You mentioned the idea the other day that you had considered calling Mr. Luthor when you first found Superman. Do you mind telling me what made you think of him?"
"I don't know. I guess I just heard on the streets that they know each other. It don't seem like they particularly like each other though. So I decided to tell you."
Madam Benoit nodded slowly, digesting the information before slowly rising to her feet. He followed her lead as she led him back to the doorway. She hit a buzzer near the door and a moment later Fred appeared.
"You called for me, Ma'am?"
"Yes, Fred. Could you give our young friend a ride home? And make sure he's well compensated for his efforts." She looked at Jack. "If you hear anything else, will you let me know?"
"Sure," Jack responded. He took one last look in the room, hoping to see Cindy somewhere around. When he didn't see her, he let out a breath and headed into the elevator with Fred.
Charlotte Benoit pursed her fingers, staring absently over the top of them as she thought about the information Jack had given her. She knew, of course, who 'the boss' was. And if the information Jack had obtained was correct, then 'the boss' was after Superman.
Not that the information particularly surprised her. Given Lex's extra-curricular activities, it wasn't surprising that he would want Superman out of the way. And she had no particular fondness for the man. He was cultured and charming, but underneath, Charlotte knew he was one of the most cold-blooded creatures ever to walk the face of the Earth.
The problem was that Charlotte now found herself confronted with an ethical dilemma. Did she pass what she knew on to Lois Lane? Or did she keep her mouth shut? If it was only an issue of passing on what Jack had learned, she'd not have had any problems doing so. That was why she had asked him if he knew who the boss was. If he had, that information would have found its way onto Lois Lane's desk immediately. But Charlotte considered the relationship between prostitute and customer as sacred as the relationship between priest and penitent. Asking her to violate that privilege went against everything she'd ever practiced in her business. The information obtained in the 'confessional' of a prostitute's arms could not be revealed under any circumstances. And were it not for Lex's use of some of her girls, she would not know that he was the boss.
Still, she struggled. It went against everything she knew to be true to allow a man she despised as much as Lex Luthor to try to kill Superman. On the other hand, she knew Lois Lane's reputation. She probably had a solid lead on what was happening by now. And it wasn't as if she was likely to trust… or even personally know Lex Luthor. After all, he had a reputation for avoiding the press. So not knowing Charlotte's information shouldn't put Superman in any immediate danger — Lois would see to that.
After a moment, she rose, the issue settled in her mind. She had nothing to tell Lois Lane that would be of any real help. There was a connection between Dr. Gretchen Kelly and Lex Luthor. And there was someone called 'the boss' who was rumored to be behind the attempt to detain Superman. That was all she could ethically tell Lois. And really, would that information be of any particular help?
Satisfied with her decision, she began making her way into the kitchen. She had just gone through the door when she was struck by a memory that caused her to freeze in her tracks. Six months ago. In the society pages of the paper. There had been a picture of Lex Luthor dancing with Lois Lane at the White Orchid Ball. She placed her hand on the wall, closing her eyes. Now what did she do?
"So nice to see you, my dear," said Luthor, coming over and giving Lois a friendly kiss on the cheek.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable by the gesture, even if it was innocent enough, she found herself moving away from him.
"So to what do I owe this honor?" asked Luthor, gesturing her further into his office so that she could take a seat in one of the chairs at his desk. He himself sat on the edge.
"I'm wondering if you can get some information for me."
"Information?" Luthor asked.
"Yes. I have reason to believe that one of your employees at LNN, Vincent Cupello, is…" She hesitated slightly, wondering exactly how much to tell him.
"Is…?" he asked.
She let out a breath. In order to get his help, she was going to have to tell him something — the only question was what to reveal and what to keep hidden. "I think he's giving information to someone who is trying… who has made a couple of attempts to… intimidate me — get me to back off a story."
"What?" asked Luthor, rising from the side of the desk in outrage. "When I get my hands on him, I'll…"
"No, Lex," Lois cut in, rising to her feet as well. "It's not him I want. I want the people he's giving the information to."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Well, you're his boss. Is there anyway you can… I don't know, do some snooping around, maybe keep an eye on him, get his phone records for me? Things like that."
"Absolutely. Are you sure you're okay, my dear?"
"I'm fine, Lex."
"Will you at least let me provide you with some security?"
"It's not necessary."
"But after last week… Lois, if anything happened to you…"
"I'll be fine, Lex. I wasn't even going to tell you about this…"
"No. I'm glad you did. I'll get you the information you asked for. And… well, will you allow me to provide you with a place to hide out while you continue your work on this story of yours?"
Lois thought about his offer for a moment before responding. She had to admit, sleeping in a car was not exactly comfortable. "A friend of mine is also in danger."
"Well, bring your friend with you."
Lois nodded slowly. "Can I let you know?"
"Certainly," Luthor responded.
"Thank you, Lex." Lois said, heading towards the door.
Luthor watched as Lois left, deep in thought. Just after she disappeared, Nigel materialized in the doorway.
"Why did you let her go, sir?"
"She's our link to Superman. I want her followed. She'll lead us straight to him."
"When she does, do you want me to let you know so that you can contact Cosgrove?"
"No, Nigel. I'm finished with Cosgrove. His people couldn't even tell the difference between alive and dead. I'll take care of Mr. High and Mighty myself."
Clark stepped inside the Crispy Cream Store and looked around. Lois had not yet arrived. As for Perry White… Well, that was a little more complicated. White might have arrived, but… Maybe Clark should have asked Lois what their editor looked like.
Clark looked towards the sound of someone saying his name to see an older man with thinning air waving at him. Beside him was a young man. He'd have to play this by ear, make sure that the man was Perry White, but he was certain he could handle it. He wondered who the young man with him was. Still, considering that Clark didn't know if the young man could be trusted, Clark suspected it might be best if he kept his current condition a secret. He wasn't entirely sure why. Maybe it was just to prevent people from realizing that both he and Superman were incapacitated at the same time. But it did present a problem — mainly figuring out if the man waving at him was Perry White.
He looked around again, hoping Lois had miraculously appeared. She hadn't. Sighing, he planted a smile on his face and made his way towards the stranger, desperately searching his mind for some feeling of recognition.
"Hi," he said somewhat awkwardly as he approached the table. What was taking Lois so long anyway?
"Hell, son, don't just stand there like a lost calf," Perry said, gesturing to a chair.
"Sorry," said Clark, quickly taking a seat.
"I thought she'd be here," Clark responded honestly, looking around the coffee shop once again.
"I take it you two were looking into different things this morning."
"Sir?" asked Perry, an eyebrow going up. "Hell, son, I thought you'd gotten past 'sir' months ago."
"Sorry. I'm just…" Where the hell was Lois? How did he normally refer to this man? Perry? Mr. White? Maybe he'd just avoid referring to him by name at all.
"I understand. Finding out someone was trying to kill Superman has me in something of a fog, too. Speaking of which, what have you got for me?"
"Oh, right," said Clark nervously. He wanted so badly to ask who the young man was with them. But he didn't dare. Still, their editor seemed to trust him. Maybe this was the Jimmy Lois had told him about. "I met with Dr. Klein — from Star Labs," he added when they just looked at him blankly. Okay, so they obviously didn't know who Dr. Klein was. "Apparently he's the one who first mentioned to Lois the possibility that the asteroid might not have been a threat to Earth."
"So what did he say?"
"Last night we… liberated a report from EPRAD that we took to Dr. Klein. He analyzed the numbers… In fact, he got an Elizabeth Boyle from the National Observatory in Bolder Colorado to analyze the numbers as well. She then had their telescopes at the National Observatory redirected so that they could confirm the numbers we sent them."
"Apparently the asteroid piece which EPRAD claims is still heading towards Earth is going to miss it by at least a hundred and fifty thousand kilometers."
"What!" both Perry and the young man with him responded in unison.
"He also said that the piece that they are claiming is heading towards Earth is not as big as they are claiming. Apparently, Superman did a good job of destroying the asteroid — much better than they would have expected."
"Do you have proof of all this?"
Clark reached into his inside jacket pocket and withdrew a number of papers, handing them to the older man. "This is the report Elizabeth Boyle prepared."
"Then we've got them," said the young man.
"Not exactly," said Perry. "We might have quite a story — 'EPRAD Wrong — Asteroid Piece To Miss Earth By Hundred Fifty Thousand Kilometers.'" Perry made quotation marks in the air as he mapped out the imagined headline. "But we still don't know about the first asteroid or the reasons behind the false story being put out by EPRAD."
"Well, Elizabeth Boyle also examined the original asteroid predictions sent out by EPRAD…" He gestured to a paragraph on the third page of the report. "…and, although we can't prove that those numbers are the correct ones, I suspect we can use her report to suggest the possibility of a mistake regarding the danger of the original asteroid, too."
"It will make a great scoop for tomorrow's paper," said Perry. "But I still want the rest of the story."
"Umm…" began Clark, shifting uncomfortably.
"What is it, Clark?" asked Perry.
"It's just… Well, I don't think I can do that."
"I know this will make a great scoop, but I just don't think I can wait until tomorrow before releasing this information to the public. I know it might mean I'll lose my job, sir. But…" His voice trailed off, and he glanced around, wishing Lois were there. He had to make sure that this information was released to the public as soon as possible. Lois had agreed to that. But he wasn't entirely sure how he should handle their boss. If only Lois were here, she'd know how to handle this. Unfortunately… she was still nowhere in sight. "I'm sorry. I'm not prepared to wait before making sure the rest of the world knows there is no danger — no matter what it means to me personally. If you want my resignation…"
Lois glanced in her rearview mirror. It was still there — the silver car that had been following her since she left Lex Towers. She silently cursed herself for not thinking that, given her past relationship with Lex, the people who were after Superman might have had someone staking out Lex Towers.
Still, all was not yet lost. After all, she had no doubt that they would keep their distance until she led them to Superman. All she had to do was to lose them before meeting up with Clark. Simple. Especially for someone named Lois Lane. She just wished she could somehow let Clark know what was holding her up — he had such a tendency to worry. And she knew he'd been less than thrilled about the idea of her meeting with Linda King alone. A smile made its way onto her face when she suddenly spotted just the ticket to lose her tail.
Hitting the gas, she darted ahead of a slower moving mini-van that was just about to pull into a McDonald's drive-thru. She glanced back, smiling when she saw the silver car pull in behind. Could this guy get any more stupid?
Still, she didn't relax until another car pulled in behind the silver car tailing her. Perfect. She glanced around, making sure she had chosen the right drive-thru. Large concrete barriers were erected along one side. On the other side was the building. Perfect. They were all effectively trapped in line.
The car ahead of her moved forward allowing her to pull up to the microphone to place her order.
"Welcome to McDonalds. What can I get you?"
"Nothing. I'm afraid I've forgotten my wallet," Lois responded, glancing in her rearview mirror at the mini-van. One obviously frazzled mother and three unruly kids were in the vehicle. It was really quite amusing. It was also perfect for what Lois currently had in mind. As she watched the mother's head drop onto the steering wheel as the children threw things at each other, it crossed Lois' mind to wonder why there were no television shows that portrayed the desperation a simple housewife must feel raising children. She quickly dismissed the idea as preposterous. People watched television to escape reality, not get an hour-long dose of it every Sunday night. It would never be a hit.
Realizing that the car blocking her entrance had disappeared, she pushed the idle thought aside and put her foot on the gas, squealing the tires and exiting the drive-thru. She glanced in her rearview mirror. She threw her head back, bursting out laughing when the car horn of her tail sounded and she saw the furious and frustrated expression on the faces of the men following her. They were unable to follow, being effectively trapped in line, a mini-van filled with screaming children blocking their exit. A car horn sounding much closer reminded her to continue driving. Sheepishly, although not entirely able to keep the grin off her face, she turned her effort to her driving.
As she turned the car towards the Crispy Cream where she'd promised to meet Clark, she found herself marveling over the fact that her plan had worked. She was pretty sure she'd seen it on a television movie the year before. Stop at Nothing — or something like that. She gave her head a slight shake. She could hardly believe those idiots trailing her had fallen for it. They really needed to watch more television.
"Now hold on a minute there, son…" began Perry once the shock of Clark's comments seemed to sink in.
"I'm serious, Mr. White," Clark responded.
"Mr. White?" asked Perry, informing Clark that he'd slipped in referring to the man as 'Mr. White.'
"He must be serious to be referring to you as Mr. White."
Clark looked up at the sound of the woman's voice and let out a breath of relief when he saw Lois' face and then watched as she slipped into a chair beside him.
"So what did I miss?" she asked.
"Clark here was just threatening to resign," said Perry.
Clark swallowed hard, risking a quick look at Lois. He'd had the impression that working for the Daily Planet was very important to her. How would she look at this action by him?
"Why?" Lois asked, not meeting his glance and keeping her expression carefully schooled.
"Because he wants to release the information he got from Dr. Klein this morning to the public before we can get it on the newsstand — if I understand correctly."
"I take it that the news is good?" asked Lois, looking at Clark for the first time.
Clark nodded. "The piece that broke off the asteroid isn't heading for Earth."
"Then I agree with Clark," said Lois. "This information has to be released to the public now. And if you disagree…" She swallowed hard, her voice catching slightly when she continued. "…then you can accept both our resignations."
A small grin quirked at one corner of Clark's mouth. He understood what it must have cost her to say that. But she was supporting what they had both agreed to the previous night. And he felt a surge of love for the woman sitting next to him. She was truly remarkable.
"Now hold on — both of you," growled Perry. "Don't you think you're jumping the gun here a little?"
"I'm serious, Perry," Lois said, raising a single eyebrow to emphasize the words. "The public needs to know this now. In the car on the way here, they were reporting price gouging on things like water and groceries. They expect that with the continuing failure of Superman to put in an appearance, the public will become more and more terrified. There are already reports of some incidents." She glanced briefly at Clark before directing her eyes back to Perry. "A few people have been seriously injured fighting over food and supplies."
"Is anyone dead?" asked Clark immediately.
"No. Not according to the report I heard." She looked back at Perry. "We have the means to stop it. I don't think this can wait until the paper comes out tomorrow."
"Now would you hold on," said Perry, in exasperation.
"No, you hold on, Perry. I won't be responsible for…"
"Great shades of Elvis. If you'd just let me get a word in edgewise, I've been trying to tell you that I agree. We have to get this information out to the public as soon as possible. We just need make sure the Daily Planet gets the credit. And hold something back for your story — which I intend to see in tomorrow's edition of the Daily Planet."
"What?" Lois and Clark gasped in unison.
"I'm not about to have the Daily Planet raked over the coals if there is large scale rioting tonight — and it comes out that we had the means to prevent it," growled Perry. "So who do you think we should contact at the networks to get this story out to the public?"
"I know just the person," said Lois thoughtfully.
Once Lois outlined her plan to the others at the table, Perry brought up one final matter.
"Oh, I should tell you that since we have reason to believe this is some sort of government conspiracy, I thought it was time to call in the experts. I've set up a meeting for you two this afternoon with my source…" He glanced around suspiciously, as if expecting to see someone listening in on their conversation. "…'the' source." The last words were no more than an intense whisper.
"You don't mean…" began Jimmy.
"Don't even say that name out loud!" Perry warned immediately.
"Who?" asked Clark.
"Hey!" Perry snapped, directing his attention to Clark, causing Clark to fall silent.
Linda King stepped curiously off the elevator in the Daily Planet and looked around. She had no idea why she'd been 'summoned' here by the great Perry White — editor extraordinaire. But no one would possible turn down such a summons.
"You Linda King?"
A young man's voice saying her name caused her to look for the source of the voice. "Yes."
"Come this way," he said, flitting past her and down the stairs into the bullpen.
She followed as he led her to an office on one side and knocked on the doorframe of the open door. Perry White looked up.
"Ms. King?" Perry asked, rising to his feet.
"Yes, sir. Umm… Why did you call me?"
Perry smiled. "Like to get to the point. Fine." He gestured her to a seat, taking a seat on the corner of her desk as he waited for her to comply. "I called you here because I want to do what we used to call a little old-fashioned horse trading. And Lois thought you might be willing to do so."
Linda tilted her head to the side, extremely curious about what might be coming next.
"Before I tell you what I want from you, let me give you an idea of what I'm offering." He removed a document from his desk and handed it to her.
Glancing down, she studied the document for a minute. A great deal of it had been blacked out. There was no way to tell who had written it or where it had come from. There were even entire paragraphs that had been blacked out.
She glanced at Perry before turning her attention back to the document. She started reading casually before suddenly becoming completely captivated as she realized what she was reading. "What is this?" she demanded, looking up.
Perry smiled. "It's a report obtained from… Well, that is something you won't be given until I know we have a deal. And as I'm sure you're aware, without knowing who prepared this report, you have no way to confirm the contents — and therefore can't go to air with it."
Linda was nodding slowly. Perry White's reputation was well deserved. He'd given her the day's number one story — probably even bigger than the 'Where Is Superman?' story. And yet he'd made sure she had no way to confirm it — confirm that the asteroid was not about to strike the Earth. "So what do you want from me for the name of the person who prepared this report?" she asked.
Perry got up from the side of his desk, making his way around to sit down in his chair. Once he'd made himself comfortable, he leaned back and smiled. He obviously knew he had hooked her. She'd do almost anything to get this story.
Clark leaned back in his chair and studied the woman, her head bent over the computer in the Metropolis Public Library, typing up their story for tomorrow's paper. The one thing they had decided to hold back from the information released to the press today was the possibility that the original asteroid had also not been on a collision course with Earth.
"There's one thing I don't understand," said Clark reflectively.
"What's that?" asked Lois, not even looking up from the monitor in front of her.
"Well, while we were driving here, you made it quite clear how much you dislike Linda King. So why did you suggest that Perry contact her with this story. Surely someone else from LNN could be approached with the same offer."
Lois stopped typing, finally looking up. "I don't dislike Linda, Clark."
Clark's eyebrows shot up in disbelief.
"I loath her," Lois corrected.
"Because she was used, Clark — used to find Superman. She was fooled, duped, deceived, tricked…"
"I get the picture, Lois."
"Sorry," Lois responded, looking sheepishly amused. "And it couldn't have happened to a more worthy candidate."
"I still don't understand why all this means that you think Perry should contact her about this."
"It's simple, Clark. After our conversation this morning, the one thing I'm sure of is that Linda is not in on the plot to kill Superman. She was shocked. And trust me, she's not that good an actress. I can't be sure about anyone else at LNN."
A slow smile of appreciation crossed Clark's face. "You really are something."
"I know," Lois responded proudly.
Clark chuckled. "You don't even know the meaning of the word 'humility,' do you?"
"Never had a need to find out its meaning," Lois responded cockily, turning her attention back to the monitor.
Clark felt a soppy smile settle on his face as he leaned back to watch Lois finish the first draft of their story. He knew the smile was soppy, but couldn't seem to change it. She was beautiful, smart and sassy. And for a reason he couldn't quite fathom, she wanted him. The smile suddenly faded of its own volition when the events of the past few days came in destroying his visions of 'happily ever after.' Was something like that even possible for them? Or were there too many insurmountable issues for them to overcome. Two strong, independent personalities — Lois Lane and Superman. A combination like that was bound to create more than a few tumultuous fights. But then why was it so easy to love her?
"Earth to Clark."
"Huh?" asked Clark, blinking and looking at Lois, clearing the haze from his eyes.
"Welcome back," she said. "I was just asking if you wanted to take a look at what I've written before I email it to Perry."
"Oh, yeah. Sure." He rose from his chair to stand behind hers so that he could read over her shoulder. "Here I think you mean…" His voice trailed off when he caught a good whiff of her shampoo. He hadn't realized they made shampoo that smelled that good. Or was it the shampoo? His head unconsciously bent lower so that he could get a whiff of the skin of her neck.
"I mean…?" asked Lois.
"You said you think I mean… What?"
"Oh, right. Here I think you mean…" His voice trailed off again when she lifted her face to glance back at him, causing her shoulder to brush against him.
"Clark!" she rebuked, reaching behind her to give him a swat. "Keep your mind on the story!"
"Right," said Clark, quickly turning back to the story, hoping she didn't notice the bright red stain on his cheeks. "As I was saying, I think you mean 'a source at the National Observatory.' After all, the National Observatory…"
"…can't respond. They aren't a person," Lois said quickly, correcting the passage immediately. "You've told me that before. So what do you think of the rest?"
"Well, I can't remember a lot. But I think it's fantastic."
He made his way back to his chair and sat down.
"Okay, then. I'll send it to Perry."
Clark waited until she had done so before speaking again. "So what is this source Perry was so secretive about?"
Linda made her way back to her desk amidst the constant compliments and congratulations from her colleagues.
'Great story, Linda.'
'How did you land that story?'
The last comment was answered quite simply. "Sources, Bob. Sources are the life-blood of reporting."
She was still having problems believing that Lois was the one behind giving her that scoop. The Daily Planet had been credited, of course. That meant the story had to be prefaced by: 'The Daily Planet has learned…' But even that didn't delude the content, or the interview with Elizabeth Boyle of the National Observatory.
She quickly directed her mind to the price she'd agreed to pay for the story — to find out who was behind the leak into Superman's whereabouts. She wasn't entirely sure what was happening. But she had agreed to the gag order Perry White had insisted on before giving her the asteroid story. And although she might consider screwing Lois over — after all, she was just so easy to betray — she wasn't about to screw Perry White. Given his reputation, he could completely ruin her career. Best to play this on the level, hoping that afterwards she could negotiate a mention in the byline or some follow-up stories arising from this bargain.
On the other hand, given the fact that she had been following Superman, and given the fact that Lois' mother's house had been trashed after Linda had been called away, it seemed logical that this had something to do with a threat of some sort towards Superman. On the other hand, it didn't tell her why Superman hadn't yet made an appearance since the destruction of the asteroid. And even if it was some sort of attack on Superman, there was still the little problem of Superman's invulnerability to overcome. It would make the capture or the killing of the Superhero impossible.
But then maybe there was no connection between her stakeout of Lois' mother's house and the break in later in the evening. Or if there was, it was possible there was no connection to Superman. Maybe someone was simply after Lois Lane.
The more she thought about it, the more sense the last explanation made. Someone, probably one of the hundreds of people she'd annoyed over the years, was trying to kill Lois Lane. That might have explained why Lois had been hiding out at her mother's place. It might also have explained the argument between Lois and Superman the previous night. Maybe he was offering to take her somewhere safe and she was refusing.
She sighed. This was getting her nowhere. What she needed to do was to try to find out why her producer had called her back to the office the other night. So how did she do that? She chewed on her lower lip.
When she saw the man exit his office, jacket in hand, and head for the elevator, she quickly rose from her desk, attempting to look invisible until he disappeared behind the elevator's closing doors. Then she made a dash for the man's office.
A few minutes later, she exited the office in frustration. Nothing. No indication of how he had figured out that Superman had shown up — if he had. Maybe the whole thing was just a coincidence.
She sank back down in her chair at a complete loss about what to do next.
Lois and Clark shared a skeptical look as they emerged from the car in the deserted bottom level of the car park.
Lois and Clark, spotting Perry White waving to them, headed in the direction of their boss, standing in a shadow on the other side of the garage.
"Okay, so why are we meeting here?" Lois asked the instant they were close enough to be heard. "It's freezing."
"Sore Throat is nervous about meeting in public."
"Sore Throat?" Lois asked skeptically, accepting the jacket Clark was putting around her shoulders. "Thanks." Then she looked around their environment. "Of course, if he hangs out in places like this, I guess I can understand why he might be called Sore Throat."
An unexpected sneeze coming from behind a concrete pillar caused all three to spin around. A man stepped out of the shadows just enough to be a shadow to the people in the garage. Taking out a handkerchief, he wiped his nose before speaking.
"My deal was to meet with you, Perry. Bringing them is a violation of our agreement."
"Not exactly," Perry responded. "It's not a violation. It's an… extension of our agreement. This is Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
Sore Throat nodded slowly. "So what's this about, Perry? You know I don't like these daytime meetings."
"I apologize, but it is important. We are wondering if you can tell us about any potential government threats to Superman."
"Are you talking about Bureau 39?"
Lois jumped slightly forward. "I thought Bureau 39 had been dismantled after the death of Jason Trask."
"Public damage control. But in reality, they simply changed names — again. They started out as something called 'The Blue Book Project.' When that became too well known, they became Bureau 39. After Trask's death, they changed their name yet again to the Department of World Security. But most of the men remained the same. Except for Trask obviously. He was replaced by an army general named… Oh, what is his name again? Zeitlin, I think. Yes, Zeitlin. The civilian oversight committee is headed by Secretary Cosgrove.
"But I doubt they are overly involved in any plot to kill Superman at the moment," Sore Throat continued. "After all, their mandate is to protect the Earth from threats from outer space. At the moment, I suspect they are both too wrapped up in saving the Earth from the asteroid. Even working with Superman." Sore Throat chuckled slightly. "Strange bedfellows indeed. But I suppose, as they say, desperate times and all that."
"Can you get us proof of this?" asked Lois eagerly.
Sore Throat regarded her coolly. "Yeah, I can. But are you sure you want it? Zeitlin and Cosgrove are ruthless. They won't give up their 'holy crusade' easily. It could make you a target if you go public."
"To save Superman… Yeah, I want it," Lois responded.
"Then I should have what you need tomorrow."
Madam Benoit stood for a long time, staring at the phone on the end table. Never before had she violated the sacred confessional of prostitute/client privilege. And to tell Lois that Luthor was probably behind the attempts on Superman… She had no proof, of course, but still…
She debated a moment longer before picking up the phone and instructing the person on the other end of the line to connect her to the Daily Planet.
Linda waited impatiently. Surely the woman would take a washroom break or some sort of break soon, leaving the telephone log for LNN unattended. She let out a sigh of relief when the woman left reception. Moving quickly, she made her way to the counter, slipping behind it and rifling through the book for the previous night's entries.
It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. She quickly grabbed a pen and marked the information down. Had her producer called out, it would not have been possible to track the call this way. But someone had called him, just before she had received her baffling phone call to return to LNN instead of approaching Superman for an interview.
Nigel St. John. The name meant nothing to her. Still… She scribbled the name on the piece of paper and left before the woman returned to her post. Making her way to the telephone, she placed a call to the Daily Planet. Hopefully the name meant something to Perry White and this would end her obligation for being given the asteroid story today. After all, she had no other ideas for finding out who or what had happened that caused her producer to call her back to the station just when she had the biggest story of the day within her grasp.
"Chief," said Jimmy, rushing into the room a single square of pink paper grasped in his hand.
Perry held up his hand, causing Jimmy to fall silent when he realized his boss was on the phone.
"Nigel St. John," Perry said. "You're sure about that?" There was a pause. "Okay, well, thank you, Ms. King. That was indeed very helpful. And I think you can consider us even."
He hung up the phone and turned his attention to his young apprentice.
"Was that Linda King?" asked Jimmy.
Perry nodded. "Apparently, Linda King's producer received a call from Nigel St. John just before he called Linda and told her to return to LNN."
"Luthor's right hand man?" asked Jimmy in disbelief. "And I always thought Clark was just jealous because Lois was dating Luthor."
"So did I, Jimmy. But it seems Clark might have been on to something after all. I'm still not sure how all this relates to Zeitlin and Cosgrove — but it would appear that Luthor is somehow tied in."
"Well, that would explain this message too," said Jimmy, holding up the paper in his hand.
"A message from Madam Benoit to Lois."
Perry held out his hand, taking the message and reading it to himself before looking back at Jimmy to read it again out loud. "Don't trust anyone with money until you talk to me." Perry clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth before reaching into his inside pocket and pulling out the cell phone he'd purchased the day before. He dialed a number from memory and listened for a minute before closing the phone in frustration.
"What's wrong?" asked Jimmy.
"I was trying to contact Lois. All I got was some message that the person I was trying to reach is unavailable."
"They must be out of the calling area. Either that or she turned off her phone."
"Blast that girl!" growled Perry.
"Hey, don't worry, Chief. Clark knows who Luthor really is. He won't let Lois trust him."
"I hope you're right, Jimmy."
Lois pulled the car over to the side of the road. "So it is a government conspiracy. The only question left is how high up in the government it goes."
"Well, that and finding the evidence we need to connect… what was it called again?"
"The Department of World Security."
"Right. Finding the evidence we need to connect the Department of World Security with the attempts on Superman's life."
Lois let out a breath. "Well, we might have a lot of the evidence we need when we get the documents from Sore Throat tomorrow."
"True. So what do we do until then?"
"Well, I'm not spending another night in the car."
Lois considered the problem for a long moment before her face lit up. "I know just the place," she said, slipping the car back into drive.
"A friend of mine. Lex Luthor."
"Who is he?"
"He's one of the most powerful businessmen in the city."
"And how do you know him?"
Lois turned her attention from trying to slip into traffic back to Clark. "Jealous?" she asked, a small grin playing at the corners of her mouth, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
"No. Of course not."
"Oh," said Lois, a fake pout appearing in her voice.
"Should I be?"
She shrugged. "Well, we have been dating, on and off, for the past few months."
"What?" Clark asked, everything about his posture suddenly changing. "Are you saying you've been dating both of us?"
"It was only a week ago that we had our first date. And I don't recall you saying you wanted us to be exclusive," she responded lightly. "But say the word…"
His expression suddenly darkened and he looked away.
She silently cursed herself. Right now, her relationship with Clark was… undefined. More so since their fight the other night. In fact, he'd made it pretty clear that he really didn't know if they had a future. Did he think she was trying to force him into making a decision? "Lex is nothing you need to worry about," she said quickly. "I'm in love with you." Those words felt somewhat foreign to her ears, given the fact that she knew that at the moment he wouldn't respond. In fact, although he didn't know it, no words had ever left her lips that took as much courage. Still, just as he hadn't backed away when she couldn't say the words to him, she had no intention of backing away now. "Lex and I never were really much more than friends. Nothing serious on either of our parts. Certainly no threat to you. But I'm sure he'll give us a safe place to stay for the next couple of days."
"Why do you trust him?"
"Well, think about it, Clark. This is a government conspiracy. The attempt on your life at the motel last night was by the military. Lex is about as far from working for the government as a person can be."
Clark nodded. "Makes sense," he responded.
"But…" She studied Clark for a moment. "Listen, it might be best if you go as Superman. After all, Luthor tends to be connected. He might already know that I've been spotted with Superman the last couple of days."
"Can we do that without the suit?" she asked. "Or do we need to sneak back into your apartment to get one?"
Clark thought about this for a moment before responding. "I think I can pull it off without the suit. We'll just tell Mr. Luthor that I'm in disguise."
"Then I guess you don't need these," she responded, reaching over and removing his glasses. "I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to having a shower."
"Not to mention spending the whole night in a comfortable bed," Clark added. "As long as you're sure about this friend of yours."
"Don't worry. We'll be safe with Lex."
"I trust you, Lois," Clark responded. "So if you say he can be trusted, I trust him, too."
CHAPTER 12 — NO WAY OUT
"Incompetents! Why is everyone around me so incompetent? I want both of them fired immediately! All they had to do was follow her. How could they lose her like that?"
"Isn't it possible that Lois Lane will take you up on your offer and bring Superman to you?" Nigel asked, attempting to calm down his infuriated employer.
"Think about it, Nigel. There is no way Superman would ever accept protection from me. In fact, he probably suspects I'm somehow involved. No. We've got to come up with another plan. I will not let this opportunity pass me by." To emphasize his words, Luthor slammed the glass of whiskey he was holding down on the desk, inadvertently causing the glass to break, spilling liquor all over his solid maple desk.
"Don't worry, sir. We'll come up with another plan."
Luthor turned on his subordinate. "And just what plan would that be, Nigel? Lois didn't use her credit card again last night. She is obviously catching on to this idea of lying low. And don't have any doubt that she and that alien are even now trying to figure out who is after them. If that trail leads to Zeitlin and Cosgrove, can we be sure they won't give me up to save their skin?"
"What would you have me do, sir?"
"Find Lois Lane!"
"Yes, sir," Nigel responded, taking the opportunity to make his escape from the room, although not at all certain what he was supposed to do to fulfill his boss' command.
The sound of a ringing phone stopped him. He turned to watch Luthor pick up the phone.
Nigel was just about to turn towards the door once again when Luthor held up his hand, telling Nigel he was being instructed to stay.
"Certainly, my dear. I understand. And yes, I'm more than willing to help." He hung up the phone, looking at it in stunned disbelief for a long moment. "You're not going to believe this, Nigel," Luthor said slowly. "But Lois just called to ask me to give her and Superman a safe place to stay for the next couple of days."
"Could this be a trap, sir?"
"I'm not sure how. But… Well, we'll have to consider that possibility. Maybe he doesn't think I'll try anything in front of Lois. I don't know why he'd agree to this. Still… since Superman always plays by the rules, he's not going to do anything to me — except perhaps to try to get the evidence he needs. I just need to make sure he can't do that. And to that end, I have an idea. Besides, this is just too good to pass up." He smiled. "Well, there's no time to waste. We have a lot to do to get ready for our special guests."
"There's a car coming," said Clark as the two of them leaned against Henderson's car in the underground parking lot where they had met with Sore Throat earlier. They would leave Henderson's car there for now, but would give him a call as to where he could pick it up as soon as they got settled.
"How do you know?"
"I can hear the engine. If it's coming down this far, it must be our ride."
Lois listened intently. "Are you sure? I don't hear anything."
"Of course I'm sure. Can't you hear it, Lois?"
Lois' attention turned to Clark. "Clark, I think your powers are beginning to come back."
"Well, if you can hear a car coming… Can you float or anything else?"
"I don't know."
He closed his eyes and concentrated on going up but nothing happened.
"Clark, you're floating?" gasped Lois.
Clark immediately opened his eyes to discover he was indeed an inch or two off the ground. The instant the realization of what he was doing hit him, he crashed back to the ground.
"Great! Don't worry. The last time you lost your powers your ability to float was something you told me started to come back early — provided you concentrated hard enough. Of course, a full- fledged ability to fly would be nice right now, but…"
"…but at least it proves that my powers should return soon."
"Exactly. Clark, I'm so happy for you. I know how much…" Her voice trailed off at the appearance of a long black limo negotiating the corners of the parking garage. When she'd called Lex, Lois had asked him if he could have them picked up in a limo with dark glass in the windows and driven to whatever location Lex was going to let them use to hide out for the next couple of days. That way anyone who might be watching the buildings wouldn't be able to see them arrive. Lex had graciously agreed.
Lois turned her attention to Clark, checking him over one last time. They had stopped at a used clothing store where they had purchased a very tight black t-shirt and tight black jeans. Clark had complained that they were too tight. But Lois had insisted that they were perfect. If he was going to be pretending to be Superman in disguise, it was best if the disguise did nothing to hide all those muscles. They had also purchased some hair jell and hid his glasses, completing the illusion. After all, she didn't want Lex to connect him to Clark Kent. In his new outfit, he looked as much like Superman as he could without the suit. Besides… she ran her eyes down his body, taking a moment to appreciate the figure he cut in the tight clothes.
"Do I meet with your approval?" he asked in amusement, obviously realizing where her thoughts had taken her.
She cleared her throat, looking away as the limo pulled to a stop beside them.
"My dear," said Luthor, leaning into the limo to help Lois disembark into the private underground garage.
She took Lex's hand, allowing him to assist her in getting out. When he leaned in, however, to give her a kiss on the cheek, she stepped away — not wanting to give Clark anything to worry about. After all, there was nothing to worry about. She'd made her choice. And that choice was Clark.
"I'm glad you decided to take me up on my offer," Luthor said. "Although I am somewhat surprised," he added, directing his final comment at Superman. "I must say, it is an excellent disguise, Superman. I never would have recognized you without the suit."
Lois crinkled her eyes, wondering about Lex's comment. She had thought the disguise was terrible — as far as disguises went. That was the point, after all. So was Lex being sincere, or was he mocking Superman? She simply couldn't tell.
"I appreciate your help, Mr. Luthor," Clark said somewhat awkwardly.
"Think nothing of it," Luthor responded, a grin flashing on his face as he directed Lois and Clark towards an elevator. He waited until they were all safely inside before continuing. "I wasn't sure where else I could take you that you might be safe," he said as he pushed the button on the elevator, taking them further down into the ground.
Suddenly, Lois knew where they were being taken. The bunker. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach. Still, she held her peace, remembering with more than a little embarrassment the way she had panicked the last time she'd been there. Maybe she just had a phobia about being too far underground. After all, Lex had no way of knowing that Superman was currently vulnerable. So there is no way he would try anything with Superman there.
"Here we are," said Luthor as the doors to the elevator slid open.
There was really no choice but to follow. Still, she moved slowly. As if sensing her hesitation, Clark slowed his pace, leaving Luthor ahead of them when he finally stopped.
Luthor waited patiently for them to catch up before opening the door to a room — a room Lois had previously seen.
"Hey, isn't this what your apartment looked like… Or well, before…"
"Yes, it is," said Lois, not feeling especially comfortable at the moment. Lex owned dozens of apartment buildings and even a few hotels. Surely one of those might have a suite they could borrow. But how could she look a gift horse in the mouth?
Taking a deep breath, she stepped passed the two men, entering the room. Suddenly, something felt very wrong about this whole situation. Lois hadn't told Lex that Superman was the 'friend' who would be accompanying her. But Lex hadn't seemed surprised at Superman's appearance with her. He had even commented that Superman's disguise was excellent. But if he wasn't expecting Superman, and he thought that Superman's disguise was excellent… Something didn't add up here. She was just about to turn around to confront Lex about it when she heard Clark speak.
"Lois, I can't go in…" Clark began.
She spun around, only realizing too late that Clark was bent over slightly, holding his stomach, and that Lex was now holding a gun. She yelled, but not soon enough to warn Clark before the butt of the gun plowed into the back of his head, leaving him unconscious on the floor.
"Superman!" she gasped, rushing to his side, dropping to her knees beside him. "Why?" she asked, glancing up into the evil expression on the face of the man she'd thought of as her friend.
"Too many reasons, my dear," said Lex, taking a step back, out of the room and closing the door.
She jumped to her feet, rushing to the door when she heard a key turn in the lock. She threw her shoulder against the door. She yelled out her frustration when the door refused to budge even the slightest amount under the attack. She reached for the doorhandle, noticing for the first time that one was definitely lacking. The door only opened from the outside. She dashed for a window, pushing aside the curtains to see nothing beyond them but a metal wall, the same type of wall that was in the main part of the bunker.
Turning around, she looked back at Clark. A small puddle of blood had accumulated around his head. "Clark," she gasped, rushing back to his side, not knowing if he was alive or dead.
"Is Superman dead, sir?"
Lex turned to look at Nigel. "No, Nigel. But don't worry, he's safely contained." He was making his way back to his office, savoring the moment of his triumph. Nigel had met him in the lobby of Lex Towers when he had changed elevators from the one that went down to the ark to the one that went up to his office.
"In the ark?"
"Yes. It was almost too easy."
"So why didn't you kill him?"
"What's the rush? There is no way out of that room. He's vulnerable. He's unconscious. He's trapped in that room with kryptonite. There's no exposure to the sun. And with every moment they spend in there, they will come to realize even more clearly that there's no way out. Besides, anticipating his death is one of the best parts. I can just sit back and let them await their fate — let Lois realize how helpless her hero is to rescue her now."
Both Nigel and Luthor turned to see the man addressing them.
"Yes, Simon?" asked Nigel.
"I have those receipts you requested."
"Very good." Nigel turned back to Luthor. "Will that be all, sir?"
"Yes, Nigel. Attend to business. Then meet me in my office later. We'll celebrate."
"Very good, sir."
This time Jack needed a drink. He'd taken his life in his hands, taken what he knew to Madam Benoit and Cindy hadn't even been around to hear him tell Madam Benoit what he'd found out, or to see that he'd visited a truck stop to have a shower before going over. In fact, when he'd asked Fred about her on the way out, he'd been informed that she was working.
Working. Humph. He felt a blinding flash of jealousy at the thought of some old man with his hands all over her.
"What'll ya have?"
Jack looked up at the bartender. "Whiskey."
The bartender studied him for a moment before going to get what he'd requested. Jack took some money out of his pocket and slapped it down on the bar. Well, that was it. Never was he going to go out of his way for a woman again. They just weren't worth it.
The bartender set the drink in front of him. Jack picked it up and downed the contents — the way he'd seen others do — only to cough and choke as it burned its way down his throat. He heard laughter, looking up to see a number of the older men at the bar watching, amused by his performance.
"Another," said Jack, defiantly. There was no way they were going to make fun of him — not today.
The man turned back to the bartender. "Hey, you heard the latest, Rick?"
"Well, that depends on what the latest is, doesn't it," Rick responded.
"That…" Rick lowered his voice and glanced around to be sure no one was listening.
Jack directed his attention on his drink, trying to look as invisible as possible.
"Apparently, the boss has Superman," Rick whispered.
Jack intently began listening intently.
"Now don't be spreading that bullshit," said the bartender. "No one can 'have' Superman. He's invulnerable. No one would be able to take him alive." His voice was as low and conspiratorial as Ricks. "Or dead, for that matter," added the bartender.
Jack's mind flashed back to the previous night — Superman covered with cuts and bruises, lying unconscious on the ground. And suddenly the implications of what he'd seen sank in for the first time. A 'police raid' on Madam Benoit's — in spite of her relationship with the Chief of Police. Those men obviously weren't police officers. That must be why she had been so determined to find out who he had told about Superman.
"Hey, I know, okay," Rick continued.
"Yeah? And how do you know?"
"A guy that I know knows a guy who works for the boss. He said he overheard a conversation between the boss and his right hand man. The boss claimed to have Superman."
"Yeah, right. You know a guy who knows a guy who overheard a conversation," the bartender responded skeptically.
Like puzzle pieces being put together by a computer, the whole thing began to fall into place in Jack's mind. Superman was vulnerable and someone was after him. Suddenly, everything that had happened seemed so much bigger than just his need to clear his reputation in Cindy's eyes. Who would want to harm Superman — especially after he had saved the entire world from being destroyed? And if 'the boss' did have Superman…
Jack put down his second glass of whiskey without drinking it and exited the bar.
A lifetime passed between the moment Lois saw the blood around Clark's head, informing her that he was seriously injured, and the time she was finally able to place a finger on his pulse, confirming he was still alive. Still, realizing there was no time to waste, she turned her attention to tending to his wound as best she could, all the while talking to him, softly begging him to wake up. When he still hadn't come to by the time she'd tied a bandage around his head, Lois was in near panic mode. She had to get them out of there — and get him to a doctor.
But how? She was locked in a room in a bunker far below the ground. She mentally slapped herself on the forehead. Her phone! Reaching into her jacket pocket, she withdrew the small devise, opened it up and dialed Perry's number. Lex had made a serious mistake in not searching her. After a moment, she lowered the devise from her ear and gave it a tap with her hand. Something was wrong. She hung up and then opened the phone again, moving it back to her ear.
"Grrr," she growled, examining the phone more closely.
She let out a breath of relief when she discovered the problem — she must have accidentally turned it off. She could hardly believe she'd done that. Turning the phone back on, she held it back to her ear, listening for a dial tone. She gave it another couple of whacks when she discovered it was silent. Still, she tried to dial out. After all, what did she know about cell phones? Maybe they didn't have dial tones. It only took a minute for her to realize the exercise was pointless. There was no coverage from inside this tomb. She tossed the phone across the room in frustration.
On the other hand… She glanced towards the place on the wall where she had a phone in her apartment. Spotting one in the same place, she carefully laid Clark back down and made her way over, picking it up. It couldn't really be that easy. She gave another growl when she realized it wasn't. There was no dial tone on this phone either.
She glanced back at Clark. Why hadn't he woken up yet? And should she be trying to wake him up? Maybe. Hadn't she heard somewhere that you had to keep people awake when they had head injuries? She wished now she'd paid more attention when her father, excited by something that had happened during the day, would go on and on about some medical treatment he'd given instead of immediately tuning him out. This was the second time in a couple of days Clark had been unconscious. The first time, he'd come to on his own. Hopefully he would again.
Suddenly, her mind flashed back to the moment they had entered the room. 'Lois, I can't go in…' Following Lex's actions, she'd forgotten all about Clark's words. What had he meant? Was there something in here… She began looking around the room, looking for anything that didn't quite fit with her decor. Maybe there was kryptonite in here somewhere. It would certainly explain why Clark hadn't woken up — not that he needed another reason considering the wound Lex had inflicted to the back of his head.
On the other hand, Clark's powers had been on the verge of returning. So maybe…
"Yes!" she exclaimed when she opened the closet in the front room to see a large glowing rock sitting on the top shelf. Rushing it to the washroom, she dropped it into the toilet and proceeded to flush. Then she watched in frustration as the water swirled, never once seeming to make an attempt to take the large rock down with it. Although considering the size of the rock, she wasn't entirely sure why she thought it would. Desperation, maybe?
So now what did she do? As she stood by the toilet, contemplating the problem, she heard a small moan coming from the living room. Maybe she'd done enough already. Maybe the rock was already far enough away from him.
She rushed back to the living room to see Clark, still on the floor, holding his head and struggling to raise himself to a seated position. She darted to his side, dropping to her knees and assisting him in sitting up.
"What happened?" he asked groggily.
Jack was panting by the time he made his way to Madam Benoit's, the effects of his earlier shower a moot point now. When he finally pushed the door open and practically collapsed inside after his hard run, Bob came out from behind his desk to help him.
"I need… to talk… to Madam Benoit… immediately," Jack managed to gasp out, grasping onto Bob's sleeve to keep himself on his feet.
"You're alive," Lois whispered, tears congregating in the corners of her eyes. "When I realized there was kryptonite in here, I thought…" Her voice seemed to trail off, as if she were unable even to verbalize her fears for him.
Clark's hand came up to her cheek and, using his thumb, he gently brushed away the single tear that had escaped her eye. "Kryptonite," he said slowly. "Yeah, I can still feel it."
"You can?" Lois gasped, glancing back at the washroom. The door was open. She started to rise to her feet, determined to find a way to get the kryptonite out of the apartment.
"No," said Clark, grabbing onto her arm to prevent her from leaving.
"Clark, I have to…"
"Where is it, Lois?"
"In the washroom. I tried to flush it down the toilet, but it's too large."
Clark glanced around. "We're in your apartment?"
"No. We're in a room Lex prepared for me in his 'ark' to escape the asteroid," Lois said. "Don't you remember?"
Clark squinted his eyes and appeared to search his mind for a moment before nodding. Then his hand went to his head, as if he were in pain. He groaned slightly as he attempted to rise off the floor. Lois moved quickly to help him move over to her couch.
"I feel like death warmed over," said Clark. "My head's killing me. Maybe you could try closing the door to the washroom."
"Of course," said Lois, rushing over to close the door, annoyed that she hadn't thought of that first. "Is that better?" she asked once the door was closed.
He nodded and then got lost in thought for a moment. "There's something I don't understand."
"Well, we came here because we were looking for a place to lie low for a couple days while we got the evidence we needed on a government operation known as… The Department of World Security."
"But why would I have ever trusted Luthor?"
"Lois, Luthor's dirty. He's been behind almost every dirty scheme in Metropolis. Why on Earth did I ever agree…"
"What are you talking about, Clark?"
"I know you like the guy, Lois. But I swear, he's probably the worst criminal in Metropolis. I can't prove it, but I think he was the one responsible for Antoinette Baines' helicopter accident and the Messenger explosion. He practically admitted to me… Well, to Superman… that he was the one behind those ridiculous attempts to test Superman's powers. And he…"
"Clark, you've got your memory back."
Clark blinked, staring at her blankly for a long moment as he put the pieces together. It only took him a moment to realize she was right. He could remember… everything. Maybe Luthor had done him a service by hitting him in the head. At the thought, his hand came up unconsciously to the back of his head.
"Are you okay? Is there anything I can do?"
"No, I just…" He attempted to rise to his feet before collapsing onto the couch, feeling dizzy. "I think I'm going to be sick."
She rushed into her room before returning with a garbage can. He grabbed the can, heaving into it a couple of times while she soothingly rubbed his back, but nothing came up. When his stomach finally settled a bit, he leaned over, resting his forehead against the edge of the trash can.
"Why don't you let me get you into bed?" When he raised his head to look at her, one eyebrow cocked, she swatted him. "You know what I mean."
He nodded, allowing her to slowly help him to his feet. "Maybe having two closed doors between me and the kryptonite will help, too," he added.
"You can still feel it?"
They moved carefully, every movement seeming to provoke the gag response in Clark. Still, after a time they managed to resettle him in Luthor's version of Lois' bed.
"He really did recreate your apartment," he said when he saw the look on Lois' face at that realization.
"God, Clark. I was such a fool. I'm sorry. I never should have asked you to trust me when I said we could trust Lex."
"Hey, you had no way of knowing this would happen," he responded, his hand coming back up to gently cup her cheek as she sat beside him on the bed. "I could have told you what I knew about Luthor a long time ago."
"I knew you didn't like him, Clark. But I thought… God help me, but I really thought you were just jealous of Lex."
"Just like I discounted what you said about the asteroid because I thought you were just afraid for me. Lois, we both could have done things differently. And I could have told you everything I knew about Lex — as Superman. I know you would have believed him." He paused. "I just need another moment to rest… but we gotta get you out of here." He sank back against the pillow.
She didn't look at him, although the brief raise of her eyebrows on his last statement told him that she had heard. Both of them sat in silence for a long time, lost in their own thoughts.
"Well, we probably should…" Clark began to rise off the bed as he spoke only to stagger when he was finally on his feet.
"Clark, maybe you shouldn't…" Lois began, reaching out to steady him.
"I'm fine, Lois. I just think we should… should…"
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed when he suddenly collapsed onto the bed, his eyes rolling back in his head. "Clark!" She slapped Clark's cheek. She'd heard somewhere that a person with a head wound shouldn't be allowed to sleep. "Clark."
"Come on, Clark. I need you to open your eyes."
He did, allowing her to recommence her breathing.
"What happened?" he asked.
"You passed out."
He groaned again. "Some superhero, huh?"
"Clark," she said softly, brushing a strand of wet hair off his face, a slight tremble in her voice and a look of tenderness in her eyes.
"Just give me one minute and then…"
"Clark, you're not leaving this bed."
"But I'm sure if I just…"
"No." The softness had disappeared from her voice. "I need you to get your energy back. You're no good to me if you can't stand on your own two feet." She got to her feet and walked around the room, opening curtains and drawers, looking for a weapon or anything else that could serve as a way out but found nothing.
"This isn't up for discussion, Clark."
"Isn't that was got us into trouble in the first place — not talking?"
Lois was about to respond, but then stopped. He was right. "What's going to happen to us, Clark?" she finally asked, looking up to meet his eyes.
"We'll be fine, Lois," he attempted to reassure her. "We'll find a way out of this."
"That's not what I meant."
Tension hung in the air for a long moment as they stared into each other's eyes. There was no need to explain Lois' last statement. They both knew what she was talking about.
"Come here," Clark finally said, moving away from her on the bed.
"Do you think that's a good…"
"Come here," he repeated, cutting her off. "Besides, aren't you the one who said I need to rest for a moment?"
Sighing, she crawled onto the bed beside him, allowing him to pull her so that she was resting against his chest.
"Lois, we've both made a lot of mistakes this past week. Both of us. I never should have forbidden you to come with me to EPRAD."
"And I should have talked to you about it instead of ordering you to leave without me."
"And I should have listened when you told me your gut instincts about the asteroid."
"And I should have told you the truth about who you really were." She turned in his arms then so that she was propped up on one arm looking at him. "I'm so sorry."
"See," he said, a lopsided smile appearing on his face, "we both made a lot of mistakes. And I suspect we'll both make a lot more. After all, Lois, this relationship is not going to be easy. It's going to take a lot of compromises and talking to work out the details of you having a relationship with two different men."
"Two different men? Clark, I told you that Lex and I…"
"I'm talking about your relationship with Clark and Superman."
She blinked. "What are you saying, Clark?"
"I'm saying it's going to be hard. I won't always be able to be there for you. I'll have to dart off at a moment's notice — and not only when it's convenient."
"Assuming we even get out of here," Lois muttered.
"We'll get out, Lois. I just need another moment and then… Look, it's not going to be easy being in a relationship with Superman. There will be cancelled dates and times when I simply don't show up. There will be times when you'll be left to worry that I'll be killed. If anyone ever does find out that I'm Superman, it will put you in danger. And that doesn't even begin to cover the problems we're going to have to work through. For example, how are you going to react if I give a quote to someone from another paper and they end up getting the scoop instead of…"
"No, what are you saying about us?" Lois interrupted, for the first time in her life not caring in the least about getting the scoop.
"I'm saying, Ms. Lane, that I love you — with every fiber of my being. And I just need to know if you think you we can work through the problems between us — both now and the ones that will undoubtedly arise in the future because of who I am. It will mean always keeping the lines of communication open, not letting the little things build up and probably a level of honesty that we've never had in any other relationship. But when we get out of here, I certainly want to pursue a relationship with…"
He never had a chance to finish his statement because Lois' lips were suddenly giving his something much more meaningful to do.
Madam Benoit looked up at the imposing tower before her. The highest building in Metropolis. And Lex Luthor, exhibiting his traditional humility, had plastered his name in glowing lights on the top. She lowered her eyes, directing them towards the security personnel at the doors. Mostly young men. That was good. Now if she could only pull off her part of this mission, it would be up to Jack and her girls to handle their parts.
She couldn't help but feel a moment of pride as she flashed back to her conversation with her girls earlier. They were all well aware of the risks. And yet all of them, to a girl, had agreed that they had to do what they could to help Superman. Of course, their first step was to find out where Superman was being held — assuming Jack's information was correct. That was her job. Her toe felt in her stylish shoe, ensuring that the small device was still in place. It was.
Taking a final deep breath, she headed towards the front doors of Lex Towers, briefly wondering if this would be her last night on this planet.
Lois pulled reluctantly back, ending their kissing session. Not that she wanted it to end. Quite the opposite. And not that the kisses had been either wild or out of control — unlike previous sessions between them. Gently touching each other's faces. Allowing their lips to softly explore, feel and taste. Just soft, simple reassurances of their love for one another. Not only was it all that Clark's injuries would allow — it was all either of them dared given the precariousness of their situation.
Still, her hand stayed against his neck, her finger tracing light circles on his skin as she silently looked into his eyes, finding there the reassurance she needed of his love. She wasn't entirely sure what had changed, but in his heart, he had managed to forgive her. Maybe it was the memories of their fight prior to his trip to destroy the asteroid.
"Do you remember your encounter with the asteroid?" she asked, her thoughts having taken her in that direction. Besides, the more details they knew about his encounter with the asteroid, the better prepared they would be for whatever Lex had planned when he returned.
He thought for a moment before nodding. "I can remember flying towards the asteroid. I kept trying to keep my mind on my mission, but the only thing I seemed able to think about was our fight."
Lois nodded slowly. She'd thought about their fight a lot during that time, too.
"At first I was mad at you for not coming to see me off. I thought it meant you didn't care enough to even…" His voice trailed off.
Lois didn't say anything. She was sure there was no need. He already knew why she hadn't been there. But given the fact that he was just remembering, she knew he needed to talk it out.
"Anyway, by the time I got to the asteroid, I had convinced myself that it was for the best."
This caught Lois off guard. "How?"
He gave her a sad smile. "I managed to convince myself that it would be better for you not to be in a relationship with me."
"Why?" Her hand stilled on his neck, her heart pounding nervously as she waited for him to explain himself. She had thought earlier that they'd managed to work things out between them. What if she was wrong?
"'Cause it won't be easy. I wasn't sure it would be fair to you…"
"My choice," she interrupted, the kernels of anger beginning to form in her heart and mind.
"Hey, don't get all prickly on me." His hand came up and he lightly touched the tip of her nose. "I know that. I also know that I can't walk away from us. So whether we try to make a go of this really is in your hands."
She instantly relaxed, the anger bleeding out of her. "I hope you know where I stand on that."
His finger traced its way down her nose and across her lips. She took a moment to kiss the tip of his finger as it passed. He smiled.
"I think I know where you stand," he said softly.
She smiled, then her mind told her there was more to his story. "So what happened when you got to the asteroid?"
"I spoke briefly to EPRAD. They wanted to give me the instructions again, but I just wanted to get on with the job." He hesitated. "Or had you told them about your plan to have me knock the asteroid off course. Should I have…"
"No, Clark. They didn't know. Daitch told me they had no way to contract you. So what happened then? What we were told was that you hit the asteroid and they lost radio contact?"
"Yeah. I took off the oxygen tanks because I was worried about damaging them while I destroyed the asteroid and let them float in space while I…" His voice trailed off as he was struck by another memory. "Damn," he said.
"I just…" He let out a breath. "During my trip to the asteroid, I was very careful with the amount of oxygen I consumed. The way I figured it was that I couldn't use up more than one tank on my trip up otherwise I wasn't going to have enough to get back."
"Anyway, I ran out of air about fifteen minutes before I struck the asteroid. I remember now. That was why I didn't want to wait for them to renew the instructions. I knew I'd need a breath of air shortly."
"So you struck the asteroid while holding your breath?"
Clark nodded. "I wasn't hurt by the collision. But the headset I was wearing was damaged beyond repair. So I tore it off and headed back to my oxygen tanks."
"What happened then?"
"I went to take a breath from the tank and that's when I felt it."
"Kryptonite, Lois. They had laced my second oxygen tank with kryptonite."
"What?" The word was a gasp this time.
"They must have wanted me to get to the asteroid and destroy it — for the sake of public consumption. They probably didn't think I would survive the collision. But just in case I did, they made certain I couldn't make it back. That must be why I lost my powers."
"But if you were exposed to kryptonite, why didn't you die right there? You know, become vulnerable right there and then be torn apart by the vacuum of space."
"I instantly exhaled and then held my breath as I turned and sped back towards the Earth. Maybe that was because I wasn't breathing. Maybe it wasn't until my first breath on Earth that it finally got into my lungs, causing me to lose my powers. Or maybe kryptonite doesn't affect me quite the same in space. Or maybe they did something to it when they turned it into a gas that caused some sort of delayed reaction. I don't know."
"So then how did you get back?"
"I just headed as fast as I could towards the Earth, holding my breath until… I guess I must have passed out and gravity pulled me the rest of the way."
"I suppose the prolonged time without oxygen might have caused you to lose your memory," said Lois thoughtfully. "But one thing this does prove is that they were trying to kill you. How else could kryptonite have found its way into your second air tank?"
Clark actually chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"Well, it's just that I think it's pretty obvious…" He gestured around them. "…that someone wants me dead."
Lois' eyebrows furrowed together. "But how does Lex fit into all this? I thought we'd pretty much proven that the military was responsible."
"Or a certain department of the military. Let's not nail all of them with the same brush." He leaned over, giving her a light kiss.
"I think you're mixing your metaphors there, Mr. Kent. But I get your point." Her hand, which was still resting against his neck reached up and gently played with his hair. "I'm just glad you made it back okay."
"Now all we have to do is figure out a way out of this," Clark added, looking around.
"And figure out how Lex fits into it," Lois said.
Clark smiled. "Only you would still be thinking about the story at a time like this."
"When do I think about anything else?"
His expression turned serious. "I can think of plenty of times over the past few days that the story hasn't been your primary concern," he said softly, leaning in closer. She met him half way in the kiss.
The way he kissed her this time told her he was feeling somewhat better. He rolled onto his side, leaning over her to concentrate on exploring her mouth. And although she was tempted to let him continue, she knew that now that he was feeling better, there were other things to which they needed to attend.
"So…" she said, sneaking out from under him.
"So…" he responded understanding the hint. They were not currently in her apartment. And this wasn't a casual evening at home.
"How do we get out of here?" With the question, she turned her attention, as did he, to their current problem — escape.
Luthor made his way to the door to great his visitor. "Charlotte," he said, leaning in to give her a kiss on the cheek. "This is a pleasant surprise."
He led her to a seat, waiting for her to be settled before taking one himself.
"So to what do I owe this honor?" Lex asked.
"I understand you are holding Superman, Lex. I'm here to tell you to let him go."
Luthor tilted his head to the side. Charlotte was usually known for her tact. The directness of her demand caught him off guard.
"What makes you think I have Superman? From what I hear, no one has seen him since the asteroid incident. Besides, what purpose would it serve for me to hold Superman captive — assuming that was even possible. I'm sure you're aware of his superpowers."
"Let's not play games, Lex. You and I both know how the game is played too well to make it interesting. You have Superman. I want him released. Now!"
Lex raised an eyebrow. "For the sake of argument, let's say I have him. Why would I let him go?"
"Because if you don't, you'll have a new enemy. Me. And I know enough about you to bring you to your knees."
Lex's eyes narrowed. "Madam Benoit, if I didn't know better, I'd suspect an improper relationship between you and the Man of Steel."
"But you do know better, Lex. And you know me well enough to know that I don't make empty threats. I'm prepared to destroy you — whatever it might cost me personally or whatever it might do to my business."
Lex was instantly on his feet, his eye twitching slightly. He knew she was indeed capable of fulfilling her threat. He'd used her girls often enough to compromise his opposition — giving him the leverage he needed to push through laws and regulations that benefited Lex Corp. If she decided to, she could cause him a lot of damage.
"I'll expect Superman to be delivered, in good condition, to my suites within the hour," Charlotte said, rising to her feet and making her way to the door. "And then we can forget this whole entire incident ever happened."
She had just reached the door when Lex was there. She tried to open the door but Lex instantly prevented her. "Whatever makes you think I'm going to let you leave this room alive? No one threatens me. If you know me so well, you should have known that," he hissed into her ear.
He could feel a slight tremble ripple though her body and smiled. If she thought she could come in here and threaten him, she was sadly mistaken. He grabbed her arm painfully, forcing her back to the couch. Once she was seated again, he pressed a buzzer on his desk. Nigel appeared in the doorway.
"It seems that our Madam Benoit here is thinking of finally breaking her silence."
"Sir?" asked Nigel.
"She's planning on spilling all her secrets unless I hand Superman over to her." He rounded the couch, glaring down at the woman. "I can't do that. But I'll tell you what I will do, my dear. I won't bring him to you. But you can join him — both in his location and his fate. I'm sure he and Ms. Lane will enjoy the company." An evil smile creased the corners of his mouth.
"Sir, are you sure that's wise?" asked Nigel. "She undoubtedly told someone she was coming here."
"Good point, Nigel. No doubt she told that chauffeur of hers. Don't worry, we'll take care of him, too." He leaned down, placing his hand on the couch behind Charlotte, his face no more than inches from hers. "No one threatens me. You were foolish to even try."
He smiled at the trace of fear he could see in her eyes although he was impressed with the effort she was making to cover it up.
Lois and Clark had had no luck thinking of a means of escape. Without Superman's powers, the only hope they had, they both agreed, was to wait for Luthor to return and hope a chance presented itself to overpower him.
When noises could be heard coming from outside the door, Lois quickly turned towards him, ensuring that his hair was slicked back in his Superman style. Before he could thank her, she turned away from him, reaching into her coat which was lying across the couch, her hand coming out quickly without anything. Before he could ask her about it, the door swung open. He automatically rose to his feet, stepping in front of Lois, when Luthor was suddenly standing in the doorway. And by his side was Nigel, holding a gun, and…
"Charlotte?" asked Lois, rising to her feet and stepping out from behind Clark. "What…"
"I thought you two might enjoy a guest." Following the words, Luthor gave Charlotte a slight push, causing her to stumble into the room.
"How…" Clark began.
"I'd be worried about our boy's…" He nodded his head towards Clark while keeping his eyes on Lois. "…extracurricular activities. Charlotte here is so fond of him that she actually dared to threaten to expose all my dirty little secrets if I didn't let the blue boy scout go. The queen of discretion herself was willing to break her most sacred rule to save his life. I must admit I'm forced to wonder what her relationship is with the Man of Steel if she's willing to risk everything she's worked for to save him. But she underestimated me, didn't you, my dear?" He directed this question to Charlotte. "And now she's got herself into some serious difficulty."
"Why are you doing this, Lex?" asked Lois, stepping closer, shrugging away from Clark's attempt to hold her back.
"Well, I've told you the reasons for bringing Madam Benoit here. So I assume you want to know why you and Superman are here. As for the Man of Steel…" He looked towards Clark.
"I know why I'm here," Clark interrupted, without waiting for Luthor to respond. "Because I know you for the low-life, scumbag you really are."
Luthor cocked his head to the side. "Temper, temper, temper," Luthor rebuked. "Do you know where you made first mistake?"
"Not telling Lois what a crook you are as soon as I realized it?"
"No. When you first arrived on the scene, you paid me a visit. Do you remember? Of course you do. You told me that you… how did you phrase it now? Something about knowing me for the crook I was and that there was nothing you would like better than to see me dethroned and behind bars like any ordinary criminal." Luthor made a tisking noise with his tongue. "You've never read Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War,' have you? You really should have. If you had you'd have learn that all successful warfare is based on deception. Let me quote: 'Therefore at first be shy as a maiden. When the enemy gives you an opening, be swift as a hare and make him unable to withstand you.'
"Instead," Luthor continued, "you told me up front to expect your attack. So knowing that you were coming after me, I was able to attack first. And hence…" He gestured around him. "As for you, my dear…" He redirected his attention to Lois. "You're beautiful. There's no denying that. But you are just a little too independent for my tastes. When I offered you a chance to stay in the bunker during the asteroid strike, you made the mistake of thinking it was optional."
Lois' eyes narrowed as a stray thought suddenly occurred to her. "But you must have known the asteroid was of no threat to the Earth."
"Very good, my dear. I was wondering if you had figured that out yet. No, making the world think the asteroid a threat was The Department of World Security's idea — as an idea to kill Superman. Of course, when I found out about it, I… provided assistance. For example, I'm sure you noticed the kryptonite I placed in this room. When I heard that the kryptonite Jason Trask got his hands on came from Smallville, Kansas, I sent geologists there. You really didn't think that piece was the only one to hit the Earth, did you?
"Anyway, I was the one who provided the Department of World Security with oxygen-laced kryptonite to put in one of your tanks. I was certain that would be enough to kill you — exposing you to kryptonite while you were in space. But you're tougher than I thought — and you have more dedicated friends." He gestured towards both Madam Benoit and Lois. "Unfortunately, Cosgrove and Zeitlin are idiots. I would track you down, tell them where to find you and they'd still let you get away. And that was with Superman being vulnerable."
"So you were the one who told them to come after us, kill us, when we were at Madam Benoit's, my mother's and Bob's motel?"
"Of course. Those idiots couldn't find their butts with two hands and a flashlight."
"And what about your invitation to me, to spend the next three years in this bunker? If you knew the asteroid wasn't a threat, why?"
"Isn't it obvious, my dear? The asteroid story provided me with the perfect opportunity to try to get you in a controlled environment for the next three years. Too bad you didn't accept my invitation then. You will now."
"You won't get away with this, Lex."
"No? I think I already have. You and Superman are 'hiding out'. Knowing you, I seriously doubt you've told anyone where you were going. Any information you found to date must lead to the Department of World Security — otherwise you never would have come here. So if you two disappear, why would anyone suspect me? In case you haven't heard, I'm one of the most respected businessmen on the eastern seaboard." He turned to Madam Benoit. "Fred is probably the only one who knows where you are. We'll take care of him."
"So what do you plan to do with us?" Lois continued.
"Madam Benoit will die," Luthor said dispassionately. "I'll make her death quick and easy. I'm not a complete cad, after all. Superman will die too, but his death will take a little longer — to make sure he suffers for the millions he's cost me since he first arrived on the scene."
Luthor's smile sent a chill down Lois' spine. "You, my dear, will learn that when you're offered a good thing, not to refuse it. I will break that independent streak in you if it's the last thing I ever do. First, of course, you will watch your hero die, begging me for his life. That's your punishment for rejecting my first offer. Then, being dependent on me for every breath you take, every morsel that crosses your lips… Soon you'll be eating out of my hand." His finger touched under her chin. She snapped her head away. "I love you, my dear," he said, unfazed by her rejection. "In time, you'll come to love me, too. Or at the very least, you'll learn to obey."
"You bastard," growled Clark, darting towards Luthor.
A gunshot echoed through the small room.
CHAPTER 13 — WOMEN OF VALOR
Fred watched from his position in the darkened limo parked across from Lex Towers as a red corvette convertible came to a screeching halt in front of the building and five young women, looking very much like young, scantily-dressed coeds, out for an evening on the town, disembarked the vehicle.
Giggling and acting as if they had already gone well over the legal limit, they were met by a young security officer outside Lex Towers. Fred didn't need to hear the words to know what was going on — although the speakers in the limo were broadcasting the words loud and clear. One of the girls, Roberta, approached the guard, forcing him to reach out to steady her as she lost her footing. A couple of other men stepped out of the building, only to be approached by the other girls. Fred smiled. If Madam Benoit could see them now, she would be proud.
Everything was going as planned. Well, almost everything. When he'd put the tracker in Charlotte's shoe, he had expected that when Charlotte convinced Luthor to take her to Superman, they would be leaving Lex Towers. But when Charlotte had pressed the buzzer he had also given her, the signal that she'd been taken to Superman, she had still been inside the building. Considering that Lex Towers had a hundred and one floors, that still left a lot of ground to cover. It meant the girls would have to be even more creative. Not that they had baulked at the challenge.
"No. He defin… defin… definitely said Lex Towersss." Cindy slurred her words slightly as she argued with the security guard, one arm wrapped around his shoulder to hold herself up, the other playing with his tie. "The party'ss at Lexxx Towers," she repeated. "He told uss… Where'ss the party?"
"Sorry, Miss. There's no party going on here."
Cindy's eyebrows crinkled in confusion as she looked up into the eyes of the older man. He was obviously the one in charge — that made him the primary target. And all the girls had agreed that she was the best seductress. That was why he was her responsibility. And she had no intention of letting everyone down.
"You… you're cute," she said.
"I'm sorry, Miss. You and your friends can't stay here."
She gave him her prettiest pout.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
She released her grip on him, stumbling slightly as she headed over to the steps leading down to the car. "We gotta… gotta go," she said.
"But this one's kinda cute, Cindy," said Maggie of the man she was clinging onto. "Can I bring him with me?" She wrapped her arms around the young man's neck, giving him a kiss that left him breathless.
"Cap, we can't let them drive like this," said the man Maggie had just kissed once he regained his breath.
"Mr. Luthor won't be happy if…"
"Come on, Cap," said another man. "It ain't as if he has to be told."
Cap let out a breath, realizing he was on a verge of a full scale mutiny. "Okay, just get them inside fast — before someone sees them."
"We got a few bottles of alcohol in the kitchen," said one of the men.
"See. I told you this was where the party was," said Cindy, turning around and redirecting her attention to Cap. "You were teasing me, weren't you," she said, giving a smile that finally seemed to melt that all-business exterior. She wrapped her arms around his neck. "You… you really had me go… going there for a minute." Tightening her grip, she pulled him into a kiss. When he responded, his hand making its way over the curve of her buttocks, she knew she'd won. "Whadda ya say we find somewhere more private?" she asked.
"I don't know…"
"Hey, do… do you have one of those rooms with all the cameras?"
"I don't think that's a good…"
"Just the idea of see… seeing everyone when they can't see us. It makes me hot just… just thinking about it."
"Come on," Cap said without another objection, wrapping his arm around her waist as he led her further into the building.
No one, except Fred who was watching from across the street, saw a young man and three young women, all dressed in black, sneak into the building behind the distracted security guards.
Jack, Sharon, June and Rachel huddled together inside the darkened storage room, listening carefully to the single walky- talky they had brought with them. Sharon, as the oldest, and the one with the Chief of Police for a boyfriend, had been elected to lead this part of the mission.
Fred was listening to the conversations taking place inside the building between the security personnel and the girls and passing on relevant information to the storage room crew. They had to stay out of sight until they had somewhere to search. The waiting was murder.
With each moment that passed, Jack found himself getting increasingly restless. He wasn't particularly afraid of dying. Youth never is. He wasn't even worried about Danny. Before he'd left the safety of the limo, Fred had promised him that no matter what happened, Danny would be taken care of.
His thoughts were on Cindy. When Cindy had been voted the best seducer, he'd finally given up his fantasy. Cindy would never be his. Right now she was somewhere in this building, seducing a man twice her age to get the information they needed. And it was obvious by the way Madam Benoit treated her, that she thought Cindy could be the one who would one day could take over the business. No. She wasn't worth it. No woman was. Kissing your cheek one minute. Sleeping with some other guy the next. With that realization, he had finally come to accept that, although his teenage hormones might say otherwise, she wasn't the girl for him. Besides, the three girls with him right now were kinda cute. Maybe one of them…
"Okay, I think we've got something here," came Fred's voice over the radio. "Apparently, there is some sort of bunker five hundred meters below Lex Towers. Luthor, St. John and a woman went down there a few minutes ago."
"How do they know that?" asked Sharon.
"Apparently the elevator to the bunker only comes up as far as the main level. So they switched from Lex's private elevator into the bunker's elevator on the main floor. One of the guards saw them on the televisions."
"So do we know where this elevator is?"
"Just a minute… Okay, it's located near the back of the building, about fifty feet down the hall from the room you're currently in. Cindy has Security's key to the elevator. She'll meet you there in five minutes."
"How is she going to get past Cap?"
Fred's chuckle could be heard over the radio. "She managed to give him a needle containing whatever sleeping potion she cooked up. He should be out for at least an hour."
"So that's what she was working on," said Sharon, obviously impressed. "Okay, Fred, thanks. If we aren't out in twenty minutes, call the police."
"Will do. Take care. And good luck."
"Hey, aren't you supposed to say: break a leg?" With the final comment, Sharon turned off the radio, stuck it in her pocket and looked at her friends. "Time to go."
The first shot was so close Clark could feel its heat as the bullet whizzed past his right ear. The second left a searing pain in his left leg.
Still, he didn't stop. The rage, which had been burning inside him as Luthor talked calmly about his plans for them and which had reached a boiling point when he'd told Lois that, if nothing else, she'd learn to obey, could not be stopped by mere pain. His body connected with Luthor's and together they flew to the ground, rolling around, fists flying as both tried to get the upper hand.
"Run, Lois," Clark yelled as he held onto Luthor with both hands.
Lois grabbed Madam Benoit's hand, trying to get her out of there before going to help Clark, when Nigel St. John stepped between her and the door, his gun leveled directly at her. She froze.
St. John's eyes darted between Lois and the two men on the floor, locked in combat. St. John's two shots at Superman had failed to succeed in their purpose. In spite of the shots, the injury to Superman's head and his lack of superpowers, rage was driving him on, allowing him to hold his own with Luthor. Nigel dared not fire another shot, for fear of hitting his employer. Still, he could ensure that neither Lois nor Charlotte escaped while Luthor regained control of the situation.
Luthor dug his fingers into the injury on Superman's leg, causing Superman to yell out to the heavens as the fight continued. Soon it became obvious that as a result of Superman's weakened state, Luthor was slowly gaining the upper hand. Nigel cocked his gun, turning it fully on Lois Lane who was slowly inching closer.
"I wouldn't if I were you…" said Nigel, as if reading Lois' thoughts as her mind worked to find a way around the barrier in the doorway.
No explanation was needed for the meaning of Nigel's warning. Lois hesitated for a moment before taking another very small step.
"I told you to…" He never got a chance to finish because at that moment…
A large glass vase, Lois suspected it was the one she'd seen in the hallway when last she'd been in the bunker, hit the back of Nigel's head causing his eyes to go wide for a moment before he teetered and collapsed to the ground unconscious.
Lois gasped, her eyes leaving Nigel to look at her saviors — four young women and a young man. Two of the women immediately went to work tying up Nigel's hands while the other three rushed to help Superman.
Luthor was now kneeling over Superman, straddling him, plowing his fists repeatedly into Superman as he vented his fury on an already defeated opponent. Jack and two of the girls attacked, pulling Luthor off Superman and, struggling, managed to immobilize his arms. Still, he continued to fight to get free, exhausting his captors as they attempted to tie his hands and feet.
"I wouldn't if I were you," Lois said, her voice steady.
Luthor's eyes locked on hers before going down to where she was now holding Nigel's gun. Luthor himself was firmly in her line of sight. He instantly quit fighting, seeming to realize continued struggle was pointless.
"So," Madam Benoit asked Luthor from over Lois' shoulder, "how does it feel to know that you were finally brought down by a bunch of women and a child?"
Lois couldn't help it. She burst out laughing at the look of disgust that immediately appeared on Lex's face. He obviously didn't like that thought — not one little bit.
Lois took a seat beside Clark's hospital bed. She smiled as he grumbled at the nurse. Lois never would have suspected it, but it seemed Superman was a horrible patient. Just another thing she wouldn't have expected from Clark.
"Leave her alone," Lois rebuked jokingly.
"I don't know why I have to be here anyway," Clark complained.
"Well, you were shot in the leg."
"Yeah, but…" His voice dropped to a whisper. "…I'm Superman."
Lois smiled. When the police had finally arrived to take Lex and Nigel into custody and had discovered that Superman had been shot in the leg, they had insisted on bringing him to the hospital. He'd objected, maintaining he was fine. Lois was the one who had convinced him to come in. And she'd stayed with him most of the night to make sure that no one took advantage of Superman's weakened state.
Given the fact that he'd fought with Lex as Superman, that Madam Benoit and her girls had known him to be Superman, the only option had been to bring him to the hospital as Superman as well. And he was absolutely hating every minute of being there. 'People are supposed to think of Superman as their hero not a vulnerable victim,' he had complained, but no one was listening. Especially not Lois. The bullet had embedded itself in his leg. It had been possible to remove it using only a local anaesthetic, but it was still more than Lois could handle on her own. And since they didn't know what would happen if they left it in there until after he regained his superpowers… Having the bullet removed had been the only realistic option.
"Well, I thought this might cheer you up a bit," she said, handing him the morning copy of the paper. "Clark and I wrote it up last night," she said, glancing over at the nurse who was still checking his vital signs.
He turned his attention to the articles bearing the bylines of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. One, as expected, was about the asteroid not being a threat to the Earth. But the other… "Perry… Mr. White didn't object to this?" he asked. "I didn't think we… you had enough proof."
"When Lex entered the room, I turned on my tape recorder — you know, the one I always carry in my coat."
"That's what you were doing," Clark responded. "I noticed you reaching into your coat, but didn't know why. I probably should have though."
Lois smiled. "Also, Perry's special source got back to him last night — his evidence backed up our claims against Cosgrove and Zeitlin. Henderson told me that Lex and Nigel have been charged with aggravated assault and three counts of attempted murder. Cosgrove is being charged with attempted murder and public mischief as a result of the asteroid stunt. And Zeitlin is in military custody, facing a court martial."
"So this wasn't a military-sanctioned operation?"
"No. The military have dropped him like a hot potato. Zeitlin's men are also looking at possible charges. Henderson told me that all the guns at the Department of World Security have been seized by the military police and that they are currently asking Henderson to turn over the bullets recovered from Bob's Motel so that they can identify the guns that fired at us.
"Also, the President of the United States appeared at a press conference this morning saying that he has demanded Cosgrove's resignation and promising that the Department of World Security will be closed for good."
"Do you believe him?"
Lois shrugged. "Who knows? But with their key people gone, they will at least need some time to reorganize. And the President obviously realizes that Superman is not someone to be messed with. I expect you will be asked to meet him soon to at least give the illusion that he had nothing to do with Cosgrove or Zeitlin's activities."
"I assume the young women who rescued us work for Madam Benoit. But who was the boy?"
"Oh, right. I almost forgot. His name is Jack. He is the one who called Madam Benoit when you were first found unconscious in the alley. He's a street kid."
"I need to do something to thank him — find him a foster home or something."
"I'm not sure that's necessary. Apparently Madam Benoit has worked out an agreement with him. She will provide him with a suite in her building and the necessities of life and in exchange, Jack and his brother have agreed to return to school. He's also expected to contribute to his expenses by getting a part-time job."
"Maybe I can help with that."
"Not necessary. I spoke to Perry. He has already offered him a job at the Daily Planet."
Clark shook his head slightly. "And this has all been accomplished in just the time since I was admitted to the hospital."
"One might almost think we don't need you."
Lois smiled, leaning a little closer so that the nurse wouldn't overhear her. "Well, I can't speak for the rest of the world, but…" She glanced at the nurse who was just walking into the hallway. She waited until she was sure they were alone before looking back at Clark. "I need you."
He moved closer. "You do?"
She nodded, her eyes leaving his to focus on his mouth. He took the hint, closing the remaining distance between them so that he could seize her lips with his. A small moan unconsciously escaped from the back of her throat.
EPILOGUE: ADDICTED TO LOVE
Clark glanced over his shoulder when he caught sight of Lois emerging from the house carrying something. He turned back to his task, taking a couple more swipes with his paintbrush before glancing over just in time to see her setting up a lawn chair n the front yard. She placed a small portable table next to it and disappeared back into the house.
Confused, he continued his work. A moment or two later, she reappeared, this time holding a frosted glass containing a drink of some sort. He licked his lips. He wasn't sure what was in the glass, but it certainly looked good. He turned back to the wall, determined to use up the paint still on the brush before she handed him the glass. When he had done so, he glanced back, surprised to see that she had lowered herself into the lawn chair and was sipping the drink.
"Excuse me?" he said, turning on the ladder so that he could look at her more fully.
"What?" she asked.
"Well, I'm the one doing all the work."
"And a lovely job you're doing, too," she responded, obviously fighting back a giggle.
"Do you want to tell me exactly what you're doing?"
"Fulfilling every woman's fantasy."
He crinkled his eyebrows in confusion. Sitting in a lawn chair, enjoying a cold drink was every woman's fantasy?
"Watching a cute guy, no shirt, tight jeans, doing work around the house…" She sucked in a breath through her teeth. "…every woman's fantasy."
Clark burst out laughing, having to use a little bit of his super balance to keep from falling off the ladder. Smiling he climbed down, paint brush in hand, and made his way over to where she was sitting. "Well, after I fixed the bullet holes, I realized it really needed to be painted. And then the paint around the door didn't quite match… I guess I did get a little carried away. I just figured that while your mother was gone, we should clean up the damage. Give her something to come home to when she gets out of the Betty Ford Clinic."
"I still can't believe she went there," said Lois. "I can't tell you how many times I wished I could convince her to go."
"Did she tell you what finally made her decide to check herself in?"
"Fleeing from the 'police officers' who were storming the house. She said she realized then, when she could hardly keep her balance on the roof top, that she had a drinking problem. She even apologized for almost getting us killed." Lois gave her head a shake. "I'm just so happy she's doing this, Clark."
He leaned over. "I'm happy too, Lois." His eyebrows suddenly furrowed and he swept his eyes over her body. "But as for this…" He gestured to her comfortable position on the chair. "Do you want to know every man's fantasy?" He held up the paint brush menacingly.
"You wouldn't dare."
And with those words, the battle was on. It wasn't long before both of them were covered in light blue paint, laughing uncontrollably and lying on the ground in exhaustion. Lois had managed to give as good as she got.
Rolling over, she looked down at him. "You know, you kinda look good in blue."
"Yeah, but…" Her eyes traveled down his paint spattered chest. "What do you say we get cleaned up? While you were painting, I got the hot tub in the back yard going. Tall fences. Lots of privacy." Her voice had dropped an octave on the last two phrases and her breathing deepened a fraction.
His eyes flashed. "Sounds like a plan," he responded huskily.
"Mmm," Lois murmured, sinking slowly into the bubbling water. She leaned back and closed her eyes until her ears told her he had exited the house.
She opened her eyes to see him making his way towards the tub, nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist. Her eyes met his before slowly drifting down his body, taking in every detail like a woman dying of thirst might eye a glass of water. She'd been dreaming of this since the day she'd first seen him in a towel. But this was no dream. There was something so sexy about seeing his lower body wrapped in a towel. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth as her entire body responded to the sight.
"Do I meet with your approval?"
Her eyes instantly shot up to meet his as a blush rose in her cheeks. He'd obviously been watching her lascivious exploration. He looked amused, unless one looked closely. His eyes had darkened in a way she'd seen several times since that first Friday night during their weekend at the Lexor — and she instantly knew what it meant. That knowledge eliminated her embarrassment, replacing it with a sense of power — one that she had never before experienced.
"So are you going to stand there all day?" she asked. "Or are you going to drop the towel and get in here?"
A smile made its way across his face at her cheeky question. Reaching to where the towel was joined, he paused dramatically before loosening the ends and allowing it to drop to the floor revealing… his swimming trunks.
"Spoil sport," she pouted.
He chuckled as he climbed into the water to join her. Still standing, his hand slipped below the waistband on his trunks, pulling out the string holding them together. "I'll tell you what. You lose yours. I'll lose mine."
A smile made its way across her face. She stood up, revealing… that Clark wasn't the only one in a swimsuit. She raised an eyebrow. "On the count of three?" she asked, reaching behind her to the clasp on the back of her bikini top.
"One…" Clark began.
"Three…" they said in unison.
"Okay, so who's going first?" asked Clark after a moment when neither moved.
Lois burst out laughing, sinking back down into the water. "So you going to stand there all day? Or are you going to get over here and kiss me?"
That was one request Clark didn't hesitate to fulfill. Quickly pushing his way through the water, he placed a hand on either side of her body, leaning closer, his lips a mere breath away from hers. She didn't move to close the distance even though she could feel the heat of her blood pumping through her veins. After a moment, touching his lips ever so briefly to hers before withdrawing slightly once again. She closed her eyes and groaned, savoring the lingering feel of his lips, but again making no move towards him. Her eyes opened, seeing his face so close and yet so far away. Her eyes left his, drifting down his face to settle on his lips.
"The first kiss was free. The second must be earned."
Her eyes flicked up to his, startled by his words. However, the glint of whimsy she found there instantly sparked her sense of humor. "And just how would you have me earn another kiss, Mr. Kent?" she asked, running a hand slowly down his chest.
He closed his eyes and moaned. Almost as if he were unable to resist, he leaned in, kissing her.
"You're certainly easy," she said with a laugh when the kiss broke.
"Oh, you have no idea how easy."
She chuckled. "Then just kiss me again."
A smile lit up his face. "I thought you'd never ask," he said, leaning in once again.
Her hands came up to cup his face as his lips again landed on hers. But instead of the humor that had accompanied all of their other kisses, the moment their lips touched a sense of longing seemed to engulf both of them. One of Clark's hands left the edge of the tub as he moved closer, dropping to his knees to be on level with her and using the weightlessness of the water to drift between her knees. His hand disappeared under the surface to run up the bare skin of her back in order to pull her closer.
"Clark," she breathed, wrapping her arms around his neck and burying her face against his neck, breathing in his scent as her body came into full contact with his.
"Marry me, Lois," he said, pulling back slightly so that he could look into her eyes.
She instantly broke eye contact.
He watched her for a moment before beginning to move back.
"No!" she gasped, tightening her grip around his neck in an effort to hold him where he was. Still, it took her a moment to meet his eyes. "Clark, I love you. You have to believe that."
"Then what's the problem?"
"I just need time. Can't you give me that?" She searched his eyes imploringly.
All at once, the tension seemed to leave his shoulders.
"Thank you," she whispered, her hand slipping down his arm and hesitating only a fraction of a second before coming up, lightly touching his chest.
"Lois." Her name was no more than a breath on his lips.
Her eyes stayed steady on his. "Make love to me, Clark." She could hardly believe the words had left her mouth. She had only intended to think them. She felt her cheeks darken with color. Still, watching his eyes, she couldn't take the words back. And to tell the truth, she didn't want to.
"Come on," he said, offering her his hand as he rose to his feet.
Clark lay beside Lois, struggling to get his breathing under control. He had dreamed so many times of making love to Lois. But never in his dreams had he fumbled around the way he had when it had actually happened. His guilt deepened when he saw the tears in her eyes.
"Lois, I'm so sor…" His apology was cut off by her fingers gently touching his lips.
"No, Clark. Don't. That was…" An uneven breath momentarily cut off her words. "…perfect."
"You were a virgin," she whispered.
His eyebrows crinkled in confusion.
"I know, you already told me that. And I believed you. Sort of. But then when you started…" She shook her head.
"I don't understand."
"No, I guess you wouldn't." She laughed softly before rolling onto her side so that she could look at him. Her hand came up and rested against his chest as her eyes searched his.
"That was the first time… a guy ever truly made love to me," she said. "I mean, I haven't had a lot of lovers, but… with you…" Her hand traveled slowly over his cheek, as if she was studying every curve and line. "You made me feel… completely cherished. The whole time, you never lost sight of me. I didn't know… it could be like that." Her last comment seemed directed more to herself than him. She closed her eyes. "Yes, Clark, I will marry you."
She opened her eyes again. "I'll marry you."
"So what persuaded you? My lousy love-making?"
She laughed. "I wouldn't exactly call it lousy. Trust me, given that that was your first time, I thought you did… great. It was just at the end that I knew… I think you just need a little… practice," she said. "So will you marry me?"
"Yes, Lois," he responded, moving in for another kiss as the love-making began anew.
Charlotte Benoit settled into a kitchen chair to eat her breakfast. Picking up the morning edition of the Daily Planet, she began flipping through it, stopping when one article in particular caught her eye. It was an engagement announcement. Lois Lane To Wed Clark Kent. Underneath was a picture of the happy couple. Her eyes landed on the image of Lois. She had been so sure that the young woman in that picture was in love with Superman and he with her. But in front of her eyes appeared to be proof that was not the case.
Her eyes drifted to the man beside Lois, a happy, satisfied grin on his face. Clark Kent. She knew the name. He was Lois Lane's partner at the paper. A friend of Superman's too, as she recalled. He was certainly handsome enough. But why…
Her mind flashed back to Lois' comments about Superman not being able to have a relationship. 'She'd compromise him.' Had Lois accepted an offer of marriage from Mr. Kent because she couldn't be with the man she really loved? That was really sad. If anyone deserved to have love in his life, it was Superman.
She was about to flip to the next page when she stopped and looked back at the picture. Why hadn't she noticed it before? If one were to take off Mr. Kent's glasses and change his hair style, he really did look a lot like…
No! She quickly turned the page. Some secrets were better left unknown.