By LabRat <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2007
Summary: Little sisters can be a monumental pain. Even so, Lois Lane isn't about to let some two-bit local hood kidnap hers! And a certain two-bit hood might just come to regret making the mistake of picking up the wrong sister…especially when Superman gets a hold of him.
Author's Note: I owe thanks to CC and Erin for their quick and thorough beta reading. CC, who read through an early draft and gave me so many wonderful suggestions — two of which are detailed at the end of the story — that it provided the spark which suddenly brought this one alive for me. And who took time out from an insanely busy real life to beta the final draft. And to Erin, who picked up on a slew of typos — I'm ashamed at how many there were <blush> — and laughed in all the right places. The second is very important in a beta. ;) You guys are the best!
The woman in the red wool coat sat down abruptly on the sidewalk, ignoring the dampness and the dirt and the faint, first flurries of snow swirling in the air around her — and burst into sudden, uncontrollable tears.
"Here, now," the uniformed man standing over her said, not ungently. "No need to take it so hard, is there? No one got hurt."
"I..k-know…b-but…it's j-just…just the —"
"— shock, I know," the traffic cop finished for her matter-of-factly as she broke down again and the words were lost.
She snuffled, drawing the back of her hand across her nose. "I'm okay. Really. I am…okay. I'll be just…fuh..fine. I'm not usually like…this…" she added mournfully. "I'm really not. I'm *never* like this…it's just —"
"The shock. Yes, Ms Lane. I understand," the cop said again, nodding sagely as he continued to write in his notebook. The repetition made his tone less sympathetic than it had been previously, more automatic and by rote. Quite obviously, dealing with hysterical women at the scene of road traffic accidents was an everyday occurrence he took in his stride.
She nodded and began to sob harder.
The cop, about to say something else, turned instead as a sudden gust of wind set the gently falling snow to whirling momentarily around them.
"Lucy?" The spandex-clad hero ignored the greeting from the cop, his usually distant demeanour strangely not in evidence as he crouched down beside the woman sitting miserably on the sidewalk. For a moment relief shone bright on the handsome features and then it vanished behind the bland mask of the superhero. "Lucy, are you all right?"
She jerked up her head from where it had been buried in her hands and looked startled for a moment at his familiarity. "You…you know who I am?"
"I know your —"
Then her face showed sudden understanding and she blurted before he could finish, "Oh…yeah…you rescued Lois a few times. Right." She nodded belated answer to his question. "I'm just…just…f-fhu…" She dissolved into tears again.
Looking nonplussed, the superhero rose to his feet. "Is she?" he asked the cop. "Okay?"
"Oh, sure, just a little shaken up. It wasn't that bad."
Superman nodded. He glanced down at the sobbing woman and then back. "Are you through? Can she go home?"
The cop nodded. "Sure, you can take her home. I managed to get a statement from her before she greyed out on me and, between you and me — " He glanced across his shoulder. " — it's looking like the other guy came out red." He moved his hand to attract attention to it and for the first time Superman saw the breathalyser unit he was holding. "Pretty much looks like we know where the blame goes on this one. Guy jumped a stop light."
"Thank you, Officer," Superman said. He hesitated, then seemed compelled to add, "She's the sister of a good friend of mine."
"Uh-huh," the cop said, noncommittal as he carefully replaced the cap on his pen, snapped his notebook to a close, and made both vanish into the depths of his coat pocket. He smiled and walked off towards his colleague, who was marking out tire tracks on the road.
Superman sighed as he looked after the retreating officer and then bent down to touch the woman softly on one shoulder. "Come on, Lucy, let's get you on home. I'll call Lois."
Lucy's eyes widened as his hand gently cupped her arm and drew her to her feet. "Oh…oh…" She looked up at him and then at the mangled fenders of the two vehicles which lay locked together like rampant, battling bulls in the centre of the road. Alarm flickered in the dark eyes that were the mirror of her sister's. "I totalled her Jeep. Oh my god — she'll kill me!"
"It's not totalled," he soothed her, taking a look over his shoulder himself and pleased to note that he wasn't telling her a lie. "It looks a lot worse than it is. Really."
"Oh no!" Lucy wasn't listening. She twisted, trying to see over her shoulder. "And I've ruined her best winter coat too! She didn't even know I was wearing it! Oh, I am so dead!" she moaned.
Superman cleared his throat. He suspected Lucy was probably right on that one as he glanced down and took in the soggy, mud-streaked rump of the coat. "Never mind that now," he said blandly. "I'm going to take you home. Is that okay?"
"Okay?" Lucy stopped trying to peer over her shoulder at the damage to her purloined coat and looked back at him. Her eyes widened a touch. "Oh…oh! Uh…yeah…yeah, I guess…that would okay."
Superman nodded and carefully lifted her into his arms. "Hold on tight," he cautioned before he lifted off slowly, so as not to startle her. This wasn't Lois. Who had, he sometimes realised when called upon to transport other women this way, as now with her sister, always been so completely unfazed in his arms, so high above the ground, that it had often amazed him since that he'd never stopped before to wonder about her calm. It certainly hadn't been his experience that it was a universal response.
Lucy, as it turned out, wasn't so bad as a passenger. She didn't try to strangle him. Although she wasn't much of a conversationalist either as she buried her face in his shoulder and didn't lift her head until they reached their destination.
Gaining access to the apartment was easy. Lois had left the living room window unlatched as usual. Superman contained a small smile at that.
He set Lucy down on the floor, helped her take off her ruined coat, and then guided her to sit on the sofa. He left her there while he entered the kitchen and a few seconds later returned to press a steaming mug of coffee into her trembling hands. She took it absently, with a murmured thank you.
"Stay right there; I'll go call your sister."
It took a few moments for the phone to be picked up at the other end and for a moment he thought that Lois had put it on the machine. But then she was there, her response terse and agitated. Irritated at the interruption.
"Lois? It's — uh…no…it's Superman," he said, trying not to sound startled and a little shaken by her instant misidentification. He'd have to watch that. He cleared his throat and roughened his voice, trying not to make it too obvious. "I'm here at your apartment with — no…uh…no…Lois…um…Lois?…no…nothing missing…or damaged…no, not that either. Lois," he interrupted firmly, "I'm here with Lucy. She's not hurt. No, she's fine. No…Lois…uh, no…uh…Lois? Lois, we don't need to know her blood-type. No, nor her allergies! She was just in a small fenderbender and — um, well, yes, the Jeep."
There was a small pause. Then, Superman winced and removed the receiver to a safe distance from his ear for a second or two. Catching a wide-eyed Lucy watching, he flashed her the widest, brightest 'Never fear, Superman is here' smile he could muster, before clearing his throat noisily and turning his back on her as he cautiously brought the receiver back to his ear. Not that it was necessary to get that close. Even without superhearing he could have made out every word being shrieked down the line. From the next city, probably. Behind him, Lucy began to snuffle in earnest.
"Um…Lois, I think Lucy needs you right now," he interrupted his partner's stream of acid consciousness as it poured itself into his ear. "She's a little shaken up. I'll stay with her till you arrive, okay?"
He put down the receiver gingerly, as though it was a poisonous snake that might decide to strike and before Lois could pack another three hours worth of invective on Lucy's faults in edgeways in the two seconds it took to hang up. He glanced over at the woman sitting glumly on the sofa. "She's on her way."
Lucy nodded, staring into the depths of her coffee cup. "She was mad. Wasn't she?"
"Uh…" He scratched a finger at his temple. "No, not really. I mean…" He paused. "I've heard her madder," he finished lamely.
Lucy sighed and then hitched a small sob into the back of her throat.
Superman cocked his head and then glanced towards the window. A look of consternation spread on his handsome features. "Oh oh. Look, I'm going to have to go. Trouble. Lois should be here soon. You'll be okay till she gets here?"
Lucy nodded. "Sure. Please, go. I'm sorry —"
"That's okay." He smiled at her. "I'm just glad you weren't hurt."
"Thank — !" Lucy cut off the words as she found herself alone. She sighed again, huddling miserably around the warmth cupped in her hands. "Thank you," she whispered to the empty apartment.
Lois shrugged her way into her coat, grumbling under her breath. She grabbed at a pen, scribbled furiously on her notepad for a few seconds, paused with a frown, added another couple of lines, hesitated, crossed them out violently enough that the pen tore through the paper in several places, replaced them with a couple of sentences that were more succinct, tossed down the pen, and then headed for the stairs out of the Bullpen.
Jabbing insistently at the elevator call button, her mind whirled fretfully over the story she'd been in the middle of composing when Superman had called. Why had Lucy chosen now to get herself in the middle of trouble? Perry was waiting for that copy and deadline was only a few hours away! Why couldn't she just have kept herself in check for a couple more hours? Till six maybe. After six would have been good. Was that too much to ask? A sister that was considerate enough to —
The elevator doors opened abruptly and she hustled forward with a distracted frown — directly into the path of the tall, dark-haired man exiting.
"Where the hell have you been?" she demanded irritably, stepping back sharply to avoid crashing into him as the tack of her ire changed abruptly onto a new track with his appearance.
Her partner flashed her one of his trademark irrepressible grins and held up a paper bag that showed faint grease stains on its side. "Thought a couple of Danish might help stave off the hunger pangs till lunch. Where you going?" he added, looking her over curiously.
"Superman called me. Lucy's got herself into trouble again — no, not serious," she interrupted his murmur of concern, "just…" She sighed and glanced balefully at her desk. "I'm never going to make deadline and —"
"Huh? What are you doing?" she protested as Clark took hold of her elbow and handed her firmly into the elevator cage. She tried to wrench free of the unwarranted and unwelcome grasp and found to her faint surprise that it was stronger than it looked.
"Go," he repeated gently as he let her loose. "I'll pick up the slack here till you get back. We're partners, aren't we?" he added as she looked doubtful.
He'd thought doubtful was bad. But the light of patronising solicitude that overtook it was worse.
"You know," she said as she reached to smooth the lapels of his jacket. "I'm not sure you're ready to fly solo, Clark."
He cringed as she smiled at him, moving in close to invade his space, every inch of her, every soothing lilt in her voice telegraphing her concern that he might be over-reaching himself here, might not be up to the task, conveying her desire to protect him from himself, to look out for him before he did something dumb. Like any good mentor should.
"This is a big story. It's not the local dog show roundup." She paused to consider, biting at her lower lip. "Maybe I should, you know, stick around, finish the story first. It's not as though it's urgent I leave now. Lucy's fine, Superman said so and —"
She halted all at once, her hands stilling. The faux concern for his career dissolved into a soft awe that lit up her face all at once from within as she obviously realised something which eluded him. Clark studied her, bewildered by the sudden change, as her expression shifted once more through a bewildering array of emotions in the space of an instant as the rapidity of the thoughts cascading through her brain suddenly caught up with her. Usually, he loved watching that process play across her expressive face and sparkle in the lustre of her eyes, fascinated and enchanted by it in equal measure. Now though, he was too confused to appreciate it as he tried to figure out where she was headed next and cut her off at the pass before she went careering over the horizon before he could catch up.
She tipped her head to look up at him, her eyes still caught on some distant thought he couldn't share. "Superman…" she breathed.
Clark almost choked the word out loud. He cleared his throat nervously, glancing around the bustling Bullpen. Had anyone heard… "Uh, Lois…I'm not — " he began, hoping to tough it out. How had she figured it out? What he had said? Done? Had he forgotten to change properly? Could she actually feel the Suit beneath the jacket? Was he still wearing the boots? His mind gibbered over the possibilities as he remained frozen in place, panic beginning to scrabble at the back of his skull like a caged rodent desperate to escape. How had she — ?
Lois's hands bunched abruptly into fists, startling him. Fingers clenched in his lapels, the distant adoration on her face suddenly tightening into an intensity that confused him even more, she looked up into his bemused expression. "Clark," she said in a taut whisper, "do you realise that Superman is waiting for me. In. My. Apartment? Right. Now."
"Oh," he said, fighting the mix of emotions that raced through him. Relief, shame, guilt. "Uh…"
But he was saved from having to form a response. Lois wasn't listening.
"Oh my…" she breathed and then, straightening sharply to let him loose, slid her hand in what he assumed she thought was a encouraging pat against his chest, her expression taking on a new, sly calculation.
"Yes! Absolutely! You…you go ahead, write up the story, Clark. I mean, what was I thinking?" She began backing up towards the elevator, her hands motioning a charade of apology. "I can't stay; I have to go, I really…*really* have to go see —"
"Lucy." Clark nodded solicitous agreement, going along with the flow now, his confusion of the last few moments giving way to rising amusement now at this quick turnaround.
"Huh?" She registered her own confusion now. "Who?"
Clark stared at her. "Lucy," he enunciated slowly. "Your sister? She had an accident? She's waiting at your apartment?
"Oh! Lucy! *That* Lucy. Right! Of course. Yes. I should go see…Lucy. Right away."
Clark shook his head. "So…you're happy with my taking the story?" he pressed.
"Of course! Why wouldn't I be? I've done most of the work anyway; how badly could you mess it up?" She frowned as she backed into the elevator. "You'll do just fine. Just…stick to my notes. They're over there, on my desk. Just don't get…creative…" she advised. She hit the lobby button and gave him a forced brilliant smile. "I'll call in, check how you're doing. Okay?"
The doors began to close between them. She pointed a last, stern finger at him. "Don't screw up my story, Kent, you hear, or I'll —"
Clark shook his head, chuckling, as the doors cut her off in mid-threat. Then, sticking his hands in his pockets and whistling softly under his breath, he ambled over to the coffee station. Pouring himself a jolt of the thick, dark, steaming brew, he reviewed the morning's events and decided that, on balance, so far Superman had got off lightly and it was turning out a pretty good day.
Coming down the steps into the Bullpen, he stirred absently at his mug and remembered the spasm of fear that had sparked through him as he'd over-flown the traffic wreck and spotted the dark-haired woman in the familiar red coat sitting on the sidewalk, as he'd heard the cop call her, Ms. Lane. Just for a moment there…
He shook off the familiar feeling of mingled relief and dismay — the aftershock of panic — as he sat down at his partner's desk and began to review the half-written story glowing on her monitor screen. Everything was okay, he reassured himself. Lois was fine…Lucy was fine too. Even the emergency that had taken him away from Lucy had turned out to be a simple mugging without casualties, the perpetrator already safely delivered to the Twentieth Precinct, protesting all the way.
His intended victim, streetwise and weary of it, had brushed off the incident as 'just one more nail in the coffin of Monday morning, man'. Metropolis was quiet. No sirens, no screams, no problems. He had a story to write and he might even impress his partner with his ability to produce results under fire.
Yup, the whole day was turning out just fine.
Frowning a little at the faint undertone to that that almost seemed desperately over-anxious to believe it somehow, as though his subconscious knew something he didn't, Clark glanced up and planted a wide smile on his face.
"Hey, mornin', Jimmy!" He held up the paper bag. "Want a Danish?"
The coffee was growing cold, the mug rapidly losing its comforting heat. It had already achieved its task though. Lucy was starting to feel much better. She swiped a hand across the last of the tears leaking down her cheeks, then firmly put the mug on the side table and rose to her feet.
"Oh no…" she murmured as she saw the large, damp and muddy stain she'd left on the sofa cushions. Helplessly, she brushed at it with an ineffectual hand before giving up. It was too much. A girl could only be expected to cope with so many disasters in any one day. Lois was going to kill her anyway. One more reason wasn't going to make much difference. Quickly, she turned the cushion over, hiding the evidence. Maybe Lois would never notice.
Yeah. Right. Her sister, the bloodhound. She'd probably have a magnifying glass out as soon as she came within five feet of the sofa.
Lucy sighed heavily and then slouched despondently towards the bedroom to change. Deciding she might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, she pulled out another of Lois's coats from the wardrobe, and those new jeans she'd bought last weekend, and teamed it up with the sweater from Lord and Taylor that Lois had proudly blown half her paycheck on last month. Well, she'd never worn it. A whole month, just lying there, unworn. How could she expect Lucy not to borrow it if she waited a whole month to wear it after buying it? It wasn't natural. It was just begging to have it borrowed. Like putting a 'Lucy — take this!' sticker on it.
Changing out of her sodden clothing into ones that were clean and warm made her feel heaps better. Pausing on her way across the living room, she studied her reflection in the mirror by the front door and brushed a casual hand through her hair. She didn't look half-bad, considering.
Then she frowned. She'd had a really hard day. What with the fenderbender and all. She really didn't feel up to sitting still for another one of Lois's lectures about responsibility and mature, adult behaviour on top of that. The accident hadn't been her fault. Not even remotely. She'd been blindsided by an idiot drunk. Who could have avoided that little surprise? But she knew none of that would cut any ice with her sister. It was always 'Lucy's fault', wasn't it? Lois could blame everything from the Tigers losing the home game to unseasonal monsoons on her. No doubt, she'd come up with something like she should never have borrowed the Jeep without asking first. Or a winter coat, come to that. Then they'd never have been damaged. It was a *kind* of bizarre logic, Lucy guessed. But it wasn't one she tended to subscribe to. If you stuck to that reasoning, you'd never do anything, just in case it ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not that that would help her out with Lois. No, Lois would twist it somehow to bring it all down on her. She just knew it.
Well, not today, sis! She just wasn't in the mood. What she was in the mood for was a cappuccino and raspberry croissant at Mario's. Just the ticket for a day as awful as this one had turned out to be.
Mind made up, she nodded firmly at her reflection, buttoned up the coat and headed for the front door. Throwing it open, she was brought up short, stepping back sharply with a gasp of surprise as she found herself almost barrelling into the two, somewhat sinister-looking men standing in front of it. One of them looked almost as surprised as she did, his hand still raised in mid-air where he'd been about to knock.
There was a small moment of silence as they appraised each other, getting over their mutual startlement, before the smaller of the two said, in a dry, gravely voice that seemed to Lucy to be full of menace, "Ms. Lane?"
Lucy's response died in her throat as they began to advance purposefully on her. She backed up instinctively. Suddenly, she had the distinct impression that the safest answer to that question should have been 'no'.
They ignored her, the taller slamming the door shut behind him with one meaty hand as they stepped into the apartment, following her retreat like rabid wolves readying themselves to pounce.
Lois finished tangling with the locks on her apartment door and eased it open an inch or two before inserting herself into the narrow gap between it and the doorframe, her face alight with anticipation and anxious excitement as she scanned the apartment ahead of her.
The glow of expectation dimmed slightly as her tentative call was met by silence. She eased her way into the apartment proper, looking around the empty living room.
It only took her a few seconds to realise that there was no superhero waiting in her apartment.
The disappointment was crushing in her chest. But he had said he would wait. When he'd called her. On the phone, he'd said —
Her mouth went round with a silent 'ohhhhhh' as her thoughts stumbled to a halt.
When Superman had called.
On the phone.
From here in her apartment.
She stared, rapt-eyed, at the holy instrument in question, sitting there innocuously on her side table looking so innocent and…normal…and instantly a kaleidoscope of warring thoughts collided in her head. The reporter in her seized on the fact that Superman apparently did mundane, everyday things like use the phone to communicate. No telepathy? No secret sonic watch signal? No yellow 'S' beam blocking out the night sky? This bore investigation, further looking into. What else did the Man of Steel do just like ordinary men…
As her mind considered all the possibilities of that little notion, the reporter was drowned out by the dizzy hero-worshipping romantic, and for a moment her brain's higher functions short-circuited into a dreamy, misty-eyed wandering through the landscape of her fantasies…
…her mind suddenly assaulted by the quick mental image of the superhero standing there…there!…right there on that spot on the carpet…holding the receiving to one perfectly formed ear, the sweetness of his breath cascading over the mouthpiece…
…until she caught sight of herself in the mirror opposite and was brought up short. Was that really her standing there with that cow-eyed expression of simpering banality? Urgh. She grimaced and switched to a scowl as she reminded herself of why she was there. Well, why she was there now that any chance of grabbing some one-to-one time with Superman had bombed.
"Lucy!" She punctuated the yelling of her delinquent sister's name by slamming the apartment door behind her. The sharp click of her heels as she stormed through the living room were a staccato counterpoint to her fury.
"Lucy Amelia Lane!" The yell had decibels in it that probably caused pigeons to launch themselves into a flurry of startled flight from ledges of buildings in a five block area surrounding the apartment. Laced with three parts exasperation to five parts threats of unspecified but myriad and bloody violence.
Growling under her breath, Lois waited for a response and then threw her purse onto the sofa. Then her eyes narrowed as she took another glance at the spot where it had landed. Was that cushion in the middle of the sofa slightly darker in colour than the ones on either side? Suspicious, she pushed her purse to one side and flipped the cushion over. There was a pause and then she straightened.
"Oh, you are so dead," she promised her absent sibling as she grouched towards the bathroom. "Lucy! You in there? You've got to come out sometime, you know! You can't hide forever! Do you know how much it costs to dryclean damask?!"
She listened carefully, then tried the door handle, before opening the door without any real hope as it turned easily in her hand. Not to her great surprise, the room was empty.
Irritation growing now, growling several choice imprecations under her breath, she marched for the spare bedroom and threw open the door.
There was a moment of silence as her eyes processed exactly what she was seeing, tossed across the bed like so much garbage.
Her shriek of horror tore through the apartment.
"…and then Stacey said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if Greg could fly like Superman?', and the next thing we knew, we were all at the top of the Embassy Tower and…CK? Hey, CK, you listening?"
Jimmy frowned as he watched what could only be termed alarm flitter across his friend's face.
"Hey, you okay?"
"Uh…yes. Sorry, Jimmy…" Clark laid a quick, apologetic hand to Jimmy's shoulder. "Got to run!"
"Uh…right. But — " Jimmy faltered as Clark rushed for the stairwell without a backward glance. His face fell. He stood for a moment, stymied, before his roving glance fell on Carl from Travel. He brightened. "Hey! Carl! You gotta hear about the crazy night I had last night. Wait till I tell you —"
Clark blurred up the stairs, onto the roof, and burst into the overcast Metropolis sky in a fraction of a second. The brief flash of winter sun had faded to a gloom of grey heavy-laden clouds, lending the sky a new, ominous tint. But he barely had time to reconsider this reflection of his own change of mood from the bright optimism of earlier to the drumbeat of terror striking at his heart. In another instant, he had barrelled through Lois's open window and had all but screeched to a halt in the living room of her apartment.
He turned sharply as she emerged from the bedroom, his anxious gaze searching her for injuries, his eyes scanning the room for villains…
…who didn't appear to be present.
"Look at this! Look at it!" Lois ranted as she stalked towards him, her normally hesitant, worshipping manner with him absent, caught as she was in the grip of unholy rage. "Oh, I am going to kill her when I find her! I'm going to carve out her heart with a spoon!"
Clark looked at the sodden coat she was thrusting at him and then closed his eyes tightly for a moment as he took a moment to let his heart-rate slow and get used to the fact that she was safe. Opening them again, he folded his arms across his chest and gazed at her with a wry twist on his lips.
"I heard you scream. I thought you were in trouble."
"Trouble? You haven't seen trouble — wait till I get hold of that sister of mine. Then you'll see trouble!"
Clark sighed. "I'm sure it's not as bad as it looks," he offered, perhaps a little unwisely. "It'll clean up just fine. You know you should blot not —"
"Clean up? Clean?! *Up*?!" Lois rounded on him. "Superman, this is pure, 100% afghan lambswo —"
He saw it happen as clearly as though someone had stuck a pin in her. The moment she heard his name issue from her lips and the reality of who it was standing in front of her as she berated him caught up with her brain.
Superman. Was there in her apartment. And she was ranting at him about…a coat. And her sister. Like some lunatic.
The run of her thoughts might as well have been printed on her face like tickertype, for all they were hidden from him. In the wake of this realisation, her rage popped as her eyes snapped wide, collapsing like a stuck balloon into the deference that was her more habitual way with him.
His interpretation of her expression gained weight as she stopped talking, glanced sharply down at the offending coat in her hands, and promptly whipped it behind her back, before making what he was certain she thought was a discreet attempt to toss it to the chair behind her. Twin spots of colour splodged her cheeks. All the while her eyes hadn't left his face and…oh oh…that certain, dreamy look was starting to cloud them over.
"Hi," she breathed at him, throwing him the hugest smile in her — admittedly vast and totally engaging — repertoire.
Oh, that was good. Very superhero. Confident. Assured. Authoritative. Not awkward at all. Why did five minutes spent in her presence make him feel like he was back in high school? Why did that smile have him gibbering like a senseless idiot? He made a living out of communication, of using just the right words to convey just the right meaning. How could he be reduced to suddenly using American English as a second language — or even a second language, twentieth removed — whenever she gave him that adoring look?
He could resist any other alluring female on the planet with ease. He had women trying their wiles on him every day, when he wore the Suit. Throwing themselves shamelessly at him, their body language, their double entendres, the sultry flash of their eyes that hid nothing of their intentions or promises from him, enough to make him blush.
But none of them — not the most beautiful of them, not the most sensuous, nor the most determined — aroused him like this woman did. None of them battered at him, reduced his defences to smoking rubble, had him disorientated and weak at the knees like Lois Lane. And that was just by occupying the same room. She didn't even have to try. He sighed. There was always something so honest about Lois's passions. Even her hero worship, even the mindless devotion, was guileless and without artifice. And that innocence was impossibly appealing.
Her smile faltered for a moment, as something fleeting wove its way across her face, and then settled into a slightly startled expression. Something in that look gave him pause and he watched her warily, suddenly aware he'd made some kind of mistake back there. A big mistake. Huge. The sunshine smile abruptly returned, gained a few thousand more mega-watts, and he felt his knees buckle in response. He'd only said, 'hi' he thought in panic. Surely 'hi' was safe! What could he possibly have done that had sparked —
"So…you thought I was in trouble and you just ran — flew — right on over?" Lois looked enormously pleased with herself all at once. "Do you do that often? Listen out for me, I mean?"
He'd been right. Huge mistake.
Disappointment flooded her features.
"I mean…uh, yes…I guess…"
Darn. Delight. Expectation. Was she drifting closer? Her eyes were suddenly molten, deep, dark pools a man could fall into and drown in, as they gazed upon him with…
…uh, what was the right answer here?
He straightened his shoulders, self-consciously drawing himself up and putting authoritative inches on her. He cleared his throat. "I mean, I listen out for trouble…anyone in trouble, not just — uh oh — " He cocked his head to one side abruptly. "Mugging! Got to go. See? Trouble! Always…you're…uh, *it's* trouble — " He drew in a breath, aware he was beginning to babble and Lois was looking more confused by the minute. "Yup. Definitely trouble," he muttered under his breath as he spun on his heel and darted out of the window, before she could say anything that might cause him to stay. He was aware that his breathing was shallow, his heart was thundering against his ribs.
They should require a license to operate. Or at least some kind of Federal warning. Like cigarettes or alcohol. This smile can be hazard to your libido. These eyes can shred your heart.
The only thing which stopped him from acting on the lure of that smile, no matter how seriously it buckled his knees, or caused his heart to soar in flight higher than anything even a super-powered hero could reach, was that he knew it wasn't aimed at him.
It was awarded to a doppelganger. A reflection. A golem. A fake that wasn't him. And if Lois knew who was behind the flashy suit and super powers, she'd never look at him that way again. Would never aim that smile at him or those hopeful eyes that tore his heart apart. She wanted the superhero. Not the man who hid behind him.
So, instead, he ran. Before he could make the mistake of letting himself believe that maybe, some small part, of that smile could ever be for him. Before he fooled himself into thinking that, maybe, if he told her who he was, she'd understand, forgive him the lies, the deception, the humiliation he knew she'd feel at having been fooled, at having the reporter's instincts she so valued, so believed in as all-powerful, so easily conned. She never would. Forgive him. He knew that. Telling her would destroy any hope he had of becoming more than a friend to her. Or even of just being her partner and friend. She'd never want to see him, or speak to him, again.
He cast a glance back behind him, to where the window of her apartment was already fading in the distance. Yes. When in doubt, Superman, run for the hills. Some hero, he chastised himself.
To his great surprise, bare seconds after leaving the den of dark temptation, otherwise known as 1058 Carter Avenue, he actually did hear something that sounded like trouble, so he wasn't totally lying. But the 'mugging' turned out to be just some college kids engaged in horseplay in the park. Briefly, he debated returning to Lois's apartment, but the distinct impression that he'd only just extricated himself from a dangerous situation back there, coupled with the fact that she wasn't in danger — if you discounted the risk of an apoplectic fit before she found a drycleaner — eased his conscience. He'd no wish to get in the middle of her impending confrontation with Lucy. That could get messy real quick. And he didn't truly think that Lucy was in any real danger from her sister. Mostly.
Lois had been about as angry as it was possible to get, though.
In an attempt to soothe his conscience, which was rapidly convincing itself he was a coward, he kept one ear out for any bloodcurdling screams from the direction of Lois's neighbourhood as he made his way back to the Planet.
Everything had remained calm, surprisingly. Lois's little blip aside, the rest of the day lived up to its earlier promise and gave Superman a quiet time.
The same couldn't be said for Clark Kent. Whose editor-in-chief was impatient for the next big scoop from his new and best-paid writing partnership. Or overpaid, as Perry put it. A harried Lois had briefly called in to report that she had spent far too much time arguing with the mechanic at the garage the Jeep had been towed to and was fully intent on spending even more if the stupid man didn't see sense and halve his bill shortly. In between times, she'd been taking a break from arguing with the manager of the body shop and his staff to argue on the phone with her insurance company, it seemed. None of whom were giving her any satisfaction. So she was unlikely to get back to the Planet before deadline.
She had phoned back several times since — almost on the beat of every hour — ostensibly to update him by telling him exactly the same thing. She wasn't getting anywhere, she was going round in circles, she was about to drive a stake through the heart of her mechanic… Her true intent, however, was somewhat telegraphed by her oh-so-casual wondering, just as she was about to hang up, as to how her (their) story was going. Her bright cheerful assurances that followed that she was sure it would all turn out just fine, belied her rather too obvious true feelings of the opposite belief.
As he put down the phone on the latest 'pep-talk', Clark tried not to be too depressed at the lack of trust in his abilities to wrap it up. Lois just wasn't used to working with a partner. He knew that. It was hard for her to give up control of a story, especially when it was important to her. She'd been the sole guardian of getting the news to the city for too long for it to sit easily with her that she shared that responsibility now. It was nothing personal. At least he hoped it wasn't. Although, from comments Lois had made after Perry had announced his decision to partner them, he had the dark suspicion she'd found her way into Personnel's computer files and that what she'd discovered in his resume hadn't exactly impressed her.
Knob-tailed Geckos. What on earth had possessed him? Granted, his unique circumstances had made it difficult to build up a resume that accurately reflected his talents as a reporter. In an attempt to hide that part of himself from the world that it would be most fascinated in, he'd often subconsciously tried to downplay all of himself, accepting posts in far distant places, lesser assignments, inferior positions. He could see now, looking back on that time, how he'd shied away from establishing himself, from being recognised, even for something that was normal, wary and over-cautious.
He shook his head. Well, that was in the past. And he had a future to look to. He might not have impressed his partner with his previous work, but he could do all he could now to make her see him for the reporter he was. A reporter just as skilled as she was. A match for her.
In every way?
He frowned as the insidious little smoke-drift of a notion wrapped itself around the run of his thoughts. Then sighed. No use putting the cart before the horse, he told himself. Rome wasn't built in a day. And even though Superman could probably have completed *that* task in that timeframe, had he been present when that vast, spectacular city was being planned, sneaking his way into Lois Lane's heart was going to be a much tougher proposition and a challenge to test the powers of even a superhero. In that quest, unique abilities or no, he was as weak and helpless against the forces of feminine charm as any man.
He sighed again and got back to work. Putting thoughts and plans of conquest aside for another day.
By the time he'd typed up Lois's notes — a task which took considerably less time than deciphering her notes to begin with, even hampered as he was by his partner's constant interruptions — and produced a story Perry declared himself pleased with, it was well into early evening.
As he exited the lobby and took a restorative breath of the cool, fresh night air, Clark wondered how the tail end of Lois's day had been. On the heels of wondering came the idea that maybe there was more he could do for her than put together her story and cover for her at work while she took some personal time. She'd been fraught earlier, angry, frustrated. Even if she'd calmed down — and this was unlikely; he had seen Lois hold onto her rage for weeks at a time. It seemed to be something of a special talent — she could probably do with cheering up some.
Who better to do that than her new partner?
<Who better? How about almost anyone?> a snide voice inside him contested. <You're her partner at the Planet, that's all. She has friends, doesn't she? Why would she need you?>
Did she have friends? He wasn't sure. Didn't know. He hadn't seen any evidence that Lois Lane had much of a life beyond work at all. He hadn't heard her talking about friends. But, then, until just recently, she hadn't talked much about family either. And then, there had been her father. And all that submerged pain that she hadn't quite been able to hide. She'd been so vulnerable. Fragile-seeming. He'd wanted so much just to reach out and hold her close, tell her it was okay. That whatever lay between her father and her, it could be resolved. That whatever had caused that pain that harboured in her eyes and caused a corresponding ache in his own heart every time he caught a glimpse of it, it could be healed.
<She didn't ask you to, though, did she? She didn't want you to. She didn't turn to you for comfort. It didn't even occur to her to ask.>
Okay, he conceded reluctantly, so maybe he wasn't the first candidate she might think about, the first person she'd run to if she was in trouble or hurt or just plain tired and grouchy…
His steps had slowed, faltering with the run of his thoughts and as his mood took a slide downwards.
Much as he might dream about fulfilling that role in her life.
<And, of course, this has nothing at all to do with trying to prove it's not only Superman she can turn to when she needs someone…>
Clark frowned at the voice in his head.
Well…maybe a little.
Sometimes, he felt like the invisible man. Like an actor drowned in his spotlight. The blazing glory of red and blue that dazzled Lois's eyes and made her blind to everything — and everyone — else around her. Part of him couldn't quite blame her. Superman was unique and — he had to admit — incredible. Something no one on the planet had ever seen. A man who could fly. Who could bend steel bars in his hands. Bullets bounced off his chest. He could put out a forest fire with his breath or start a campfire with a glance.
He was handy with a corkscrew too, he thought with a wry, self-deprecating twist of his lips. The problem was, when he was in the Suit, he found it hard to think of himself as anything else but him. Clark Kent. Smallville kid. Son of Martha and Jonathan. He didn't think of himself as special. As god-like. What he could do was special. But that wasn't what made him him. That wasn't what made him Clark Kent. Beneath the Suit, he was nothing but an ordinary man.
Somehow, he just had to persuade Lois of that.
But how could he? When he was eclipsed by the shadow of the hero. A shadow that stretched too long and too deep for him to escape.
It was Superman whom Lois turned to in times of trouble. Superman she called out for when danger threatened. If Superman turned up at her door with a pizza and movie she'd swoon with ecstasy. He grimaced at the trite, romance-novel thought, but knew it to be true. More and more, Lois acted less like a reporter, more like a star-struck groupie when he appeared on the scene.
But for him…
…well, he wasn't so sure of his welcome.
Still. He had felt that he'd gotten a little closer to her these past few weeks, broken down a few of the barriers she wore like armour. Or…okay, maybe broken down was a little optimistic. But, definitely, dented them. And they'd shared an evening or two in each others' apartments already. Even before Perry had decided to make them partners. So him turning up with pizza wouldn't be new. Or even especially strange.
Evenings with takeout, the snide voice pointed out. As they poured over notes and ideas, worked their way to another headline. Evenings that had been surprisingly comfortable, easy and companionable. Fun. Away from the office, even caught up in the exuberant hunt for a story, her competitive spirit firmly in evidence, Lois had been less…armored. Less prickly.
Sure, that had been work. And this would be different. The first time he'd visited without the excuse of work, and not in the Suit.
Yes. Actually, this would be *entirely* different, he realised. No work, just two…friends…enjoying a relaxing evening, chilling out…more like a d —
He shied away from the D-word. <Don't go there, Kent.>
Did she even think of him as a friend?
He ducked away from that thought, too. One he was disinclined to examine too closely. He was her friend, he told himself firmly. That was all that counted. And, yes, he felt he knew her well enough now, had grown close enough to her, to be able to drop in with takeout once in a while.
What harm could it do? He'd go get some pizza, rent out a movie. Go check she was doing okay. That she hadn't killed anyone yet. That's what friends were for. Weren't they?
It had been a good day. Superman had been given a quiet time of it. There had been no major disasters. Lucy had survived what could have been a nasty accident, unscathed. Even Lois had refrained from getting herself caught in some deathtrap, just for once.
That last surely had to be an omen that his evening would turn out just as disaster-free.
Yeah. Pizza and a movie. A quiet night in with his partner…and friend? Almost friend, honesty made him amend. Soon-to-be friend, the more hopeful part of him countered.
What could it hurt?
Lois glared at him when she opened the door to his exuberant knock. Or, more accurately, almost ripped it from its hinges.
"Two thousand, three hundred and sixty-eight dollars!" she informed him, almost snarling the words.
Clark lifted a brow, then glanced down at the grease-stained box in his hands. "Well, I'd intended it as my treat, but…isn't that pretty expensive for a half-share in a pizza?"
Lois gave him a sour look as she ushered him inside the apartment. "The Jeep. Two thousand, three hundred and sixty-eight dollars. And ninety three cents," she added judiciously. Clark had the distinct impression that if this was a hanging offence, those extra cents had just added a few hard twists on the rope. "Can you believe it took me all day to work out? I almost threw my keys in the gutter and decided to go back to riding the bus. I got the run around for hours on the phone to the insurers and…that mechanic — " her voice dropped to an abrupt growl, " — was a serious defective…you know there's something fishy going on at that body shop, Clark, I'm sure of it. They're screwing over their customers. We should do a story."
"Ah," he said. It seemed the safest comment. Suitably bland, and not likely to stoke the fires of her righteous rage against all things mechanical, those who worked with all things mechanical, those who charged for the work, those who got in cars while under the influence of performance debilitating drugs, those who had caused the problem in the first place by borrowing said mechanical things without permission and, generally, just for the heck of it and why the hell not, the world at large. He'd have added an 'ouch?', except that he was worried it might just be pouring gasoline on the small, thankfully so-far contained, nuclear explosion she seemed to be harbouring in her chest.
It seemed to have been a good choice as Lois made an indeterminate sound that could have meant anything — agreement, annoyance, objection, a death-threat — and turned for the kitchen. He was getting quite good at Lois-speak these days, but that one defeated him entirely. Deciding that ignoring it was the best policy, he juggled the pizza box into one hand and followed her into the apartment, closing the door at his back.
As he headed in her wake for the kitchen, he was abruptly assaulted by a thick, cloying stench that hung in the air. New perfume? he wondered, with a grimace. It seemed heavier than anything she usually used. It was also teasingly familiar, he'd smelled it before…that sickly-sweet floral stench…and, now that he thought about it, it smelled less like expensive scent and more like strong cleaning fluid…but he couldn't place it, and before he could hunt down the elusive memory that was attached to it other considerations drew his attention. He immediately let the small puzzle go as he glanced surreptitiously around the apartment. He looked abashed as he caught Lois's sardonic look fixed on him from across the room and on the other side of the kitchen counter.
"I didn't slit her throat and stuff her into the closet, if that's what you're thinking."
Clark started, caught. Actually, he had been wondering where Lucy was. But he'd also been tentatively checking out the rest of the apartment for any sign of Luthor — and feeling ridiculously relieved to find they were alone. Just as she'd opened the door, all of his fears about this being a good idea had come flooding back and for the first time it had occurred to him that perhaps Luthor might be the 'friend' she'd turn to now for comfort after a trying day. Had they gotten that close? Was she still…seeing…him? Was he interrupting a tete-a-tete here? Maybe this had been the biggest mistake he'd made all day. The realisation that he might just be about to make an idiot of himself — and in front of a gloating Luthor too — had sunk his heart into his stomach abruptly and tensed his shoulders.
Since he'd rescued her, since Superman had…failed…her, Lex had been a sore subject between them. One they no longer broached. One that Lois refused to confide in him about. It was none of his business, she'd declared angrily, last time the subject had raised its ugly head, and he'd had to miserably conclude that from her perspective it really wasn't. It was between her…and Luthor…and Superman. And, sometimes, in the small hours, when sleep had become impossible and his restless thoughts bombarded him with images that were ugly and clenched his fists in the sweat-sodden sheets, he wondered pitifully if her infatuation with the superhero wasn't something he should be encouraging, no matter that it clenched an arrow of anguish into his heart whenever she looked at him that way when he wore the cape. If it saved her from…from dat…no. No, she wasn't dating Luthor. He couldn't — wouldn't — call it that. Falling for Luthor…yes, that was it. If it stopped her from —
"Clark? Are you okay?"
He jumped as he felt her hand, cool upon his arm. She was still watching him, quizzical and concerned all at once. He shook off the darkening run of his thoughts and stored them away for another time. For another time when the darkness of his mood would blend into the emerging grey of dawn and when he would wonder…was it right? Could it ever be right if it saved her from Luthor?
Grey dawn thoughts for another day.
"Uh, no, I — so where is she?"
"Why would I know? I'm only the one who pays her rent and feeds her. And, despite having no memory of that being part of the deal, clothe her, apparently. I'm not her secretary. I don't organise her social diary. She'd left before I arrived. Hasn't come back."
"She's still out?" Clark glanced at his watch as he put the boxes on the counter. "Well, do you think she's okay? Should we go look for her? It's getting pretty dark out and —"
He stopped. Lois was staring at him with a hint of amusement on her face. "You're an only child, aren't you? I can tell." She shook her head. "Lucy will come back with her tail between her legs sooner or later. She's probably out with her friends, having them commiserate with her over having to live with that witch of a sister she has."
"You're sure?" Clark said doubtfully. "Because —"
"I'm sure, Clark. Won't be the first time she's called me a witch."
"No, I meant — " Clark caught her look and stopped. "Oh. Right."
"I know what you meant. And, yes, I'm sure there's no reason to send out the bloodhounds just yet. Lucy can take care of herself."
Clark remained dubious. As he recalled, that was what Lois was forever telling Superman — and it rarely seemed to stop her needing rescuing on an almost daily basis.
"She isn't twelve, Clark. She got the vote — and the ID card to get into bars — a time back. I refuse to worry about her until she's been missing four days and I get a ransom note. Apart from which, I'm starving. Did you make sure they put anchovies on that pizza?" she said, pushing up the lid and peering inside almost wistfully.
Clark grinned, pulling the box away from her and moving across the room to set it down on the coffee table as he sat on one of the sofas. "Anchovies *and* pineapple."
Lois made a small sound of pleasure that sent a ripple coursing down through his spine and tightened the breath in his chest. While he was recovering, she joined him, taking the opposite sofa and putting down plates and cutlery. She set out two glasses and smiled up at him as he opened the wine.
"This is…okay," she said. She stretched out and pilfered a string of cheese as he heaped a slice of the pizza onto a plate. "What movie did you rent?"
He handed over the boxes silently and watched her check the labels. "I heard you mention to Sandra, while you were in the copy room, that you wanted to see the latest Kevin Costner movie."
"Oh," she said.
Lois put the boxes to one side of the table, took up her fork and speared a chunk of pineapple. "Did I what?"
"Want to see it?"
"Sure." Her agreement was too casual. She seemed to realise it because she looked up at him and then sighed. "Okay, so I just said that because Sandra was enthusing over him again. It seemed the quickest way out of the room really."
"Oh," Clark said, deflated. "So…"
"I mean I don't *know* I won't like it," Lois added quickly. "You know, I might…really…like it."
"Anyway…" She fell back on safe ground. "…this is nice."
And, actually, it was. It was nice. They ate in a silence that was more comfortable than he'd imagined it would be. Clark would have initiated some conversation, except for the fact that he remained fascinated by the little sounds of pleasure which Lois continued to emit as she ate. He was sure that she was completely unaware of how sexual her responses were, which only charmed him all the more. There was something so completely innocent about her sexuality, something natural and uncontrived that was endearing.
After they'd finished eating, they settled more comfortably onto the sofas, talking of nothing and everything as they sipped the sweet white wine he'd brought with him. The video stayed on the table, forgotten, as they enjoyed the easy intimacy of the evening, until gradually the conversation died and was replaced by a warm and comfortable silence, each of them retreating into their own thoughts for a time.
The cosy interlude was broken, eventually, as Lois seemed to come to some decision. She scootched herself forward until she was sitting on the edge of the sofa. Clark watched her, a little concerned now. Her color seemed a little high, her expression wary and not a little uneasy and her posture was tense, determined, as though she was steeling herself to broach something she wasn't sure she wanted to. She quite obviously didn't look up at him, busying herself with tracing the rim of her glass with an all-too-casual finger as she said, "Clark? I…I need to ask you something."
Alerted by her tone, Clark frowned and leaned forward slightly, giving her his full attention as he set his glass down on the table. "Sure."
"I know you and Superman are…somehow…in touch." For a moment, she seemed distracted, a frown puckering her brow as she glanced up at him. "I haven't quite figured that out yet, but I will," she promised him. Or was it a threat? Clark blinked and then reached for his glass again, nervously fortifying himself with more wine.
"Anyway, you seem to know more about him than anyone. I just need to know — " She pulled in a small breath before finishing in a rush, " — is he avoiding me?"
Clark choked on the gulp of wine he'd just taken. "What?"
"Well, you know, I've noticed — just lately — he always gets this look on his face whenever I'm around. Like he's hearing something, you know? And then he just…takes off and —"
"Lois, I'm sure he's just dealing with some emergency or something. It's probably not personal."
"Yes, but that's just the thing. Like today. He flew off today. But I checked and there were no Superman sightings today. No emergencies, no bank robberies, no muggings…nothing. I think —"
"You don't think he has a life like everyone else?" Clark said, a little snippily. It stung — more than he could have imagined it would — that she thought of the superhero the same way everyone else seemed to. Like he was some kind of toy avenger, who went back into his box until the next crime or tragedy spurred him into action. Like a robot, who went into power down when he wasn't needed. It grated. He knew he was being unfair — after all, he didn't run around in skintight spandex because he was a fashion victim. He wanted the disguise to work — needed it to work. Without it, without people being so blinded by the superhero that they failed to even suspect there was more than flexing muscles and a man who could fly beneath the Suit, he would never be able to help them the way he'd always wanted to. It was unfair to expect Lois to look any deeper than the rest of the world. Hypocritical to want her — just her alone — to see the whole of him, the entirety of who he was, his duel identity, and need the rest of the planet to be fooled. Greedy to want that. Ridiculous to need it.
And yet…and yet he did. With all his heart he wanted more from her. Wanted her to see more clearly into his heart, delve deeply beneath the red and blue. And, somehow, he felt disappointed by her failure to do it. The one thing he had never factored in, had never even conceived the possibility of, was that Lois Lane, ace reporter, and the woman he loved, would fall head over heels for the superhero in blue. And be blinded by that infatuation.
Her eyes were wide now, taken aback by his tone, and he sighed, adding more quietly, "I think he probably has other things to do besides emergencies, Lois. Personal things. Day to day things. It doesn't mean —"
"You mean…maybe he has a family? Friends?" Lois's face had taken on a dangerous expression, Clark noted with alarm, her eyes losing focus as she took hold of the tidbit of information he'd been dumb enough to present her with and began to run with it. He could see it taking root in her mind, something she'd never considered before that now seemed so obvious to her. Something that she would worry away at until she discovered the truth of. He knew that look.
He stifled a groan.
"Anyway, right now he's in Siberia," he filled in, somewhat desperately.
"Siberia? Is that where his…family…lives?" She sat bolt upright, a startled and non-too-comfortable expression on her face now. "Does he have…Clark, is he married? Is that what you're trying to tell me? He is, isn't he? Oh my god, he's married! He's got some fat, red-cheeked reindeer-herding wife and a whole brood of fat, red-cheeked, reindeer-eating kids tucked away out there on the Tundra…or the plains…or the plateau…or wherever the heck it is…hasn't he? Oh, how I could I have been so stupid! How could I —"
"Helping out at a train wreck!" Clark blurted, feeling himself flush hot as her mortified babble washed over him in searing waves.
"What?" Lois fixed the frown on him, jolted abruptly out of her self-recrimination. Her eyes narrowed. "What train wreck? I didn't hear anything on the news. And I've been listening to LNN all afternoon, when I could, trying to figure out where he went flying off to."
Clark tried for a casual shrug as he studiously took up another slice of the pizza. It tasted too rich and thick in his mouth and he struggled to swallow it awkwardly down as he said, "Well, you know what the TV news is like, Lois. If they don't have pictures, it doesn't exist. And where the wreck is, it's pretty hard to get to. Snowbound. I don't think any reporters or cameras are in there yet. That's why Superman's over there. He can fly in, of course, and —"
"So, if they're not reporting it, how did Superman hear about it?" Lois was leaning forward on the sofa now, the personal considerations that were wrapped around the superhero jettisoned as this mystery hooked her. Clark would have cheered inwardly that his ruse had had the desired result and diverted her from some embarrassing assumptions. Except that he found he'd fallen into a hole just as deep and difficult to dig his way out of. This second pit didn't have spikes at the bottom or a man-eating tiger, ready to pounce, but it was deep nonetheless.
"Uh…well, you know…" He found himself tugging absently at his earlobe. "Hearing! I mean, he has good…super…hearing, doesn't he? I guess he must heard…something. Anyway," he drove on determinedly as she looked doubtful. "That's where he went. To help. So, you see? It's nothing to do with you. With not wanting to…I mean, I'm sure he wants to…" He fizzled out and stared at her helplessly before going for more pizza. There was a moment's silence. "He's not married, Lois," he added after a moment, voice soft. He lifted his head and met her gaze head on. "I'm sure about that." Then, straightening before she could answer, he focused on something that had been subconsciously bothering him since he'd entered the apartment, a small annoyance he was prepared to exaggerate if it got him — them — off this subject once and for all. Before he expired of embarrassment.
He glanced around and figured he'd spotted the culprit. A small glass bowl on a side table, that looked a likely host.
"Lois…do you think we can move the potpourri to another room? It's…kind of overpowering, killing my appetite and —"
"What potpourri?" Lois said absently, as she morosely pulled a long strand of left-behind cheese from the pizza box. She looked up at him questioningly as she popped it into her mouth. "I don't have any potpourri. What are you talking about?"
And just as she said it, the memory burst in on him like a sudden flash of lightning. He remembered exactly what that stench was…and where he'd last smelled it. Three months ago. Senator Jackson had been in Metropolis on business, his fourteen-year-old daughter had come along for a sightseeing cum shopping trip. On their second day in town, Superman had happened to be flying overhead when a kidnapping attempt was made on Kimberley Jackson as, in typical teen fashion, she ravaged her way through her tenth mall — and Daddy's credit cards. He'd disabled the kidnap gang, delivered them to the nearest precinct with the promise of witness statements to come, then returned the shaken but mercifully unharmed girl to her father.
And all around that day, in the air, clinging to the Suit, thick as molasses in his throat and nose there had been that smell…
That's what he'd been smelling since he'd stepped into the apartment. Chloroform.
He realised that he had risen to his feet with the run of his thoughts. "Lois…"
"What? Clark, are you okay? You've gone pale. Do you feel sick? You shouldn't have eaten all those anchovies —"
He tuned her out. Searching the area by the door, where the smell had been strongest, focusing all of his enhanced vision on it, he caught a glitter among the carpet tufts. Swiftly, he moved across the room.
He bent down and carefully picked up the earring from the carpet. He recognised it instantly as one of the pair that Lucy had been wearing earlier that morning. A small circle of diamonds with a garnet centre. He'd noticed them especially because he'd recognised them as a pair that Lois often wore and which he particularly liked seeing on her. He felt his stomach twist, his heart contract, with a nausea that had nothing to do with the pizza. Closing his fist around the small bauble, he straightened to his feet and turned, grim-faced, to his confused partner.
"I think Lucy might be in trouble."
"This is ridiculous," Lois grumbled — and not for the first time — as Clark pushed the doorbell on apartment 304. "I'm telling you, Clark, Lucy is probably on her way home, right this very minute."
"What about the earring?"
"What does that prove? So she dropped an earring."
"And the smell —"
She gave him a glowering glance. "I keep telling you, *I* didn't smell anything. Well…maybe earlier, there might have been, just a hint of…something…floral…" She stopped as she saw him lift a brow that seemed to be smugly in agreement and scowled. "Which means exactly nothing. Maybe my coat and my sofa weren't the only things she ruined today. Maybe she was using cleaning fluid on the carpet."
Clark gave her a sceptical look. "Lucy? Cleaning? Aren't you always complaining she never picks up after her?"
Lois huffed and folded her arms.
"She didn't clean the sofa cushions when she stained them," Clark pointed out as he gave up on the obviously empty apartment and moved on.
Lois grunted an unladylike rebuttal of his argument and then slouched towards the first of the doors that lay arrayed before them. Clark followed doggedly.
"So, who should we ask next?"
Lois looked at him askance. As though he'd just suggested they elope. "Are you nuts, Kent? You expect me to know who these people are?"
"Lois, they're your neighbours —"
"Doesn't mean I have to compile their life histories and keep tabs on their movements, Clark. Or, god forbid, *talk* to them."
He rolled his eyes and pushed the bell on the first door to hand, as she watched him sourly.
He didn't really expect them to catch a break as they canvassed Lois's neighbours in the hope someone had seen something that would put them on the trail of Lucy's abductors. And, despite what Lois had to say about it, he was sure there *were* abductors. Persuading Lois of that fact though, was proving as simple as getting her to confess to the possibility that she might not make the Kerth award shortlist this year.
He couldn't blame her, he supposed. Without the benefit of superpowers she just wasn't seeing the big picture and it was difficult for him to provide the evidence he knew was there when it was invisible to her senses. But he knew he was right. Lucy was in a lot of trouble, wherever she was, and the frustration at not being able to get Lois on board to the urgency of the situation, coupled with the need to find some clue as to where Lucy was and who had abducted her — and why, most of all why — was grating on his nerves.
But, the gods were with them it seemed, as they caught a lucky break about twenty minutes later. In the form of the irate son of Mrs. Wilkins in No. 407, who was trying to mend the buckled front wheel of his bicycle. He hadn't gotten a clear look at any of the passengers in the silver Mercedes that had screeched out of the parking bay right in front of him as he'd cycled home after work. So he couldn't confirm that Lucy had been in it. But he had gotten a clear look at the driver, who hadn't so much as looked around, thank you very much, as the car's fender had knocked Simon into the gutter, and so was able to give them a pretty thorough description.
Listening to it, Lois had instantly paled. Clark had thanked Simon and put a gently reassuring hand upon her arm as they'd walked away. She hadn't pulled away. In fact, she'd seemed to lean into him for support. Now, as they headed back to her apartment, she looked up at him in dismay.
Clark nodded. The description was too clear to have been anyone else.
Which meant that his hunch had been bang on target. Lucy was in trouble. A whole lot of trouble.
Cleaver Morgenson was hired muscle for a small-time, penny ante local businessman cum hood called 'Happy' Harmon. Harmon had a small string of used car dealerships scattered throughout the city, but the word on the street was that they were only a sideline as far as Happy was concerned. His main income came from using them as a front for a slew of car-related criminal activity, from cars stolen to order, to chop shops, to insurance scams and smuggling of drugs and other sundries through ostensibly legal imports of vehicle parts. Harmon's business had taken a downturn lately though. Thanks to a series of exclusive investigative reports exposing his shady dealings.
With the byline Lois and Clark.
Harmon had brushed off the allegations, shifting and twisting like an eel in deep water, and so far the police had yet to nail him. But their investigations were obviously worrying him if he'd gone to these lengths. The second kidnapper was likely to be Pins Carver, Cleaver and Pins rarely worked one without the other. Pins had even more of an unsavoury reputation than Cleaver did and word on the street was that they indulged in an unhealthy competitive spirit as to who could be the most creatively violent. Although it was said that Pins somewhat lagged behind his associate when it came to brains, there was little to choose between them when it came to being vicious on Happy's behalf and at his behest.
"Pins might be stupid, Clark, but Cleaver isn't. He was meant to be seen. Happy wanted us to know who took Lucy."
He nodded agreement with this assessment, but a thought nagged at him. "Lois, who knew Lucy was staying with you this week?"
She shrugged. "No one. Who would need to? Besides…" she paused, looking thoughtful all at once, catching the thought from him in that way she had that always thrilled him, before continuing more slowly, "…Lucy wasn't supposed to be back this weekend. She'd planned to stay with friends near the university, but one of them got sick, so she came home instead…"
She looked up at Clark, dismay written all over her face and he nodded grimly. "Then it's possible Cleaver took Lucy thinking she was you. Or, maybe, she was the target all along. Either way —"
"— this is bait."
"Yeah. So he'll probably keep Lucy unhurt until he gets what he wants," Clark said. "Me. Or, since he's got the wrong leverage…us." He paused, then stopped her with a cautious hand on her arm. "Lois, maybe we should just call for Superman," he suggested as she looked a question at him over her shoulder. "He could help us search much faster than —"
She looked at him askance. "He's at that train crash in…Siberia. Mongolia. Wherever. Remember? You think he's going to hear us from there?"
Clark grimaced. Hoist by his own petard. Again. He was really going to have to start thinking about those excuses he came up with before he blurted them out. He sighed.
"Well, maybe…I don't know; he might be able to —"
She propped to a halt. "Are you serious? Siberia, Clark! I know Superman has good hearing but that's ridiculous!"
"But, maybe —"
She sighed. "Look, I'll prove it!" And, before he could protest, as he sensed disaster looming large in the air, she tensed her shoulders, tipped back her head and yelled "Help! Help, Superman!" using the highest decibels she could muster.
There was a moment of silence. It stretched. Then, Lois turned back to him, spread her arms wide in a 'told you so' gesture and shrugged. "See?"
Clark stared at her, nonplussed and open-mouthed.
"What?" she said.
"I…I guess you were right," he finally said lamely.
"Of course I'm right. Half a world away is half a world away, Clark. Even Superman has his limits. You know," she said, hooking her arm through his to tug him along with her as she set off again for the stairs, "you expect too much of him, Clark, you really do. He can't always be there when we need him. Others need him, too. It's…well, it's kind of selfish, expecting him to be at your beck and call…"
Clark swallowed his response. Something about pots and kettles had floated to the forefront of his mind and the irony of this lecture wasn't escaping him, but he knew he was on to a loser before he started. She had that tone in her voice now. The one that said she knew better than he did and anything he said to the contrary was just him being churlish. He stifled a sigh.
"Besides," Lois continued grimly, moving on since she'd made her point and apparently oblivious to his chagrin, "this is my sister, not Superman's." She stopped on the first step up and turned to him. Clark's heart turned over. In the pale gleam of the lights in the apartment block's foyer, her face was wan and strained. But her eyes glimmered with determination. "I'm not saying Lucy's less important, you know that. But Superman's got all those people to save. He needs to do that. I need to do this. Lucy…" Her voice tremored. He watched her try for control, then give up. She shook her head violently. "Lucy's my problem," she said softly and then she turned away, her arms folding themselves around her upper body as though to hold in the strength of her emotions, lest they burst loose and overwhelm her.
Clark stretched out a hand to her shoulder. "It'll be okay. We'll find her. I won't let anyone hurt her."
She nodded and then moved on up the stairs with a quick stride, leaving him to follow. But it was a weak agreement. He didn't think he was supposed to catch the quick swipe of her hand against her cheek as she ducked her head and increased her pace to a purposeful lope. And there was a pang in his heart that she didn't trust him to keep that promise. That she had no faith in him to rescue her sister. Superman would have had her trust and faith implicitly. But he had no powers and Lois saw only the mild-mannered persona of her reporter partner. A man hardly known for his courage.
He wanted to prove her wrong. He wanted her to see the man he was.
But he knew he never could.
He wanted it to be him she turned to when she was in trouble or danger. The one she ran to when she needed comfort.
But he knew she never would.
"Harman's Happy Deals. Make me a deal, we'll both be happy! Happy's the name, Happy's — !" Harold Harman's singsong voice faltered as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line and his wide smile flickered off like a burned out lightbulb. He blinked in surprise and then swung the leather chair he'd been reclining in around and up, sitting up straight in one sharp movement.
"Ms…Lane. This is…surprising," he acknowledged. His eyes narrowed on the two men standing on the plush, crimson carpet on the other side of the bleached wood desk. "I was informed that you were currently enjoying my hospitality, Ms. Lane. Perhaps," he suggested, a low croon in his voice as he stared at his minions, "they didn't search you well enough. Perhaps they didn't take your cellphone from you. Or tied you tightly enough before they left. Tell me you're calling from where they left you, Ms Lane."
He listened. "I see." His gaze hardened. Cleaver Morganson was looking a little waxen now. "Your sister. One moment please, Ms. Lane."
Harold reached out and hit the mute button on the phone console, then raised a brow at the two men.
"I am," he said, "not happy. I am, in fact, at this moment, most unhappy. It is not making me happy to be speaking to Ms. Lois Lane right now. Capiche?"
Pins Carver looked back at him blankly. "Lois Lane? Ain't she supposed to be in the factory? How'd she get a phone? That phone at the factory's been busted for months."
There was a pause as both his boss and his associate gave him twin baleful looks.
"Pins," said Harold. "Stop talking. You talking deepens my unhappiness."
Cleaver opened his mouth. Harold lifted a sharp hand. "Please…just think about how you can make me happy again while I speak to the woman you failed to get for me."
His eyes glittered, the dark rage in them belying the child's lilt of his voice as he released the mute button. "Ms Lane…I believe we have something to discuss."
"You got the bones of that?" Lois asked as she put down the phone.
Clark nodded. Actually, he'd gotten all of that, easily listening in to both sides of the conversation. But there'd been enough in what Lois alone had said to make it feasible that he'd work out the important details of what had been said, enabling him to agree without giving himself away. And he'd heard something else, too. Something in the background noise of the conversation, just as it ended, which would have been beyond Lois's hearing range.
"We were right." Lois looked up at him soberly. "They took Lucy by mistake. He wants us to meet him at his dealership on Cooper and Tenth. Says he'll exchange Lucy there. He swears he doesn't want to hurt anyone — Lucy or us. He just wants to 'get our attention', talk 'things over in a civilised manner'."
"Needless to say, we won't be meeting at his dealership," Clark suggested.
She shook her head. "He won't be holding Lucy there; it's way too public," she confirmed his own thoughts on Happy's little plan. "So…we use that he's waiting for us to show up there as a diversion, while we figure out where he *is* holding her and turn up there instead."
"I like your thinking, Kemo Sabe."
"Well, I *am* the brains in this partnership, Tonto." Lois leaned forward to boot up her laptop and then threw him a sharp grin to let him know she wasn't serious.
Well…not entirely serious, he thought with an inward chuckle. Lois did seem to be getting used to the idea of having him as her partner…and perhaps a little more than that, out of office hours. The whole friendship thing was off to a tentative start, but it seemed to be growing on her. But her ego wasn't on the skids just yet.
He moved a little closer, the better to see the screen. Thinking about that last snippet he'd caught, just before Lois had put down the phone.
That's what one of the men in the office had said. The one Happy had called Pins. <Ain't she supposed to be at the factory.> And Happy had reiterated it just as the conversation with Lois ended. <Get back to the factory,> he'd said. <Make sure the girl's secure.>
As far as Clark knew from their investigation, Harmon's Happy Deals only had one factory registered to its name. Over on Lexington and Sixth, on the east side of the city.
Trying to curtail his growing excitement, he waited while Lois brought up the list of Happy Deal's holdings and property, biting anxiously at his bottom lip as he resisted the urge to just pull the keyboard from her and go direct to the information they needed. After what seemed an interminable wait, he saw it.
"Wait!" he said, as the factory address began to scroll off the top of the screen and, as she obeyed, pausing in her keyboard tapping, he put a finger to the line of text. "There. It has to be."
She frowned. "Why there?" She indicated a few lines further down the list. "There's a car storage warehouse over on the east side that —"
"No, it's the factory. I'm sure of it. Just…call it a hunch," he said lamely with a shrug as she looked up at him, face dubious. He gave her his most earnest face. "Trust me," he said simply. "I'm right. I know it. Please."
Lois paused, then echoed his own shrug. "Okay…" she said, closing down the laptop decisively. "Hunch." She nodded with determination. "We reporters get those." Then she gave him a glance that seemed to say that he shouldn't get too puffed up on this compliance. "Don't get too smug about it, Kent. Even rookies hit the mother lode now and then. Besides, I'd expect you to be getting hunches now, all these weeks I've been showing you how it's done. *Something* has to have sunk in."
At another time, Clark might have taken exception to the rookie thing, gone toe to toe with her on it, and thoroughly enjoyment the ensuing argument. But this wasn't the time and there were other, more weighty considerations.
All the same, as she grabbed her coat and headed for the door at a rapid clip, he couldn't resist launching a peevish, "Rookie? Hey, I may not be a card-carrying member of the Crimefighting Reporters of Metropolis Club, Lois, or the Dangling-Over-The-Jaws-Of-Death Fellowship, but I had a decent body of work behind me when I started work at the Planet!"
"Oh, puhlease, Kent!" she snorted as he followed her into the corridor. "Knob-tailed Geckos?"
He knew it! He knew it! He fixed her with a stern glance as he pulled the apartment door to a close behind him and followed her sharp pace toward the elevator.
"Lois, you are aware that hacking into your company's personnel files is probably illegal?"
"Well, it's not as though I get Jimmy to hack into all of them!" his partner protested indignantly. "Just the ones I think might be…interesting."
Clark brightened. He pushed his hands into his pockets, glancing at her sideways. "Really? So…what made me so interesting?"
"Don't flatter yourself, Kent. I didn't say you were interesting. Just that your file had the potential to be. But, frankly, after I found the Knob-tailed Geckos…"
Clark rolled his eyes as he hit the elevator button.
The factory was a dark, squat building, set in among a tangled, sprawling collection of dilapidated warehouses and derelict industrial lots. By the time they reached it, in the early hours of the morning, the area was silent and brooding, the black eyes of the warehouse windows the only witness to their sneaking around the side of the building.
As Clark gave the factory a quick scan, he realized that the name was something of a misnomer. There were a couple of areas, right at the back, where some light industrial work obviously went on, but mostly the 'factory' seemed to be a hoarding place for dozens of cartons of motor parts and accessories, all piled in haphazard confusion in deep rows.
He couldn't see Lucy, but there was a partitioned section right at the back of the factory that was closed off to him. Lead-shielding. Clark hid a smile as he followed Lois in her surreptitious glide along the factory's south brick wall. Lucy was in one of those back rooms. He'd guarantee it.
A small side door, unlit and unbolted, provided easy access and they slipped into the wells of darkness beyond without challenge. Lois paused, getting her bearings, as Clark eased the door closed behind them.
Far back in the darkened shadows, towards the rear of the factory, there came a distant clatter.
"Look, why don't you go down that way," he suggested hurriedly to Lois, all but pushing her in the direction he indicated, down an ally to their right, formed by the high-stacked crates. "I'll take this one!"
He started off to his left before she could protest. He listened to her mutters for a moment, before she gave up and took off in the direction he'd suggested. He sighed in relief. Finally! Now, if he could just get a second to himself, he could spin into the Suit, let Superman find Lucy and get them all out of —
Something cold, hard, and suspiciously metallic came to rest against the side of his neck, derailing his thoughts.
"Ya know, somehow, I don' think you're the pizza delivery guy," a coarse voice said from behind him.
"Chi Fong Shu's Express?" Clark said hopefully, slowly lifting his hands high. "Anyone order the Crispy Fried Duck?"
The man behind him grunted. The gun barrel bit a little deeper into his skin. Clark produced a not too unsatisfactory wince in response.
"I think I've got the wrong address," he added wryly.
"Oh, yeah, buddy. You got that right," his assailant agreed. The gun prodded him forward. "Down that way," the voice added directions.
Clark paused for an infinitesimal instant. Technically, he supposed he could disable his assailant with a burst of superspeed, in the blink of an eye. The odds were good Mr. Pizza would never see it coming or put two and two together to wonder how his victim had managed to overcome him without him seeing him. He might even shrug and put it down to someone else coming up behind him and putting out the lights. But then again…he might not. It might nag at him how a seemingly unarmed man, who looked as harmless as Clark did, could overwhelm him so easily. It was the kind of thing some underworld heavies took personally, a matter of professional affront.
Beyond what Mr. Pizza might think of it, he was reasonably sure that they were the only two people in the vicinity right now. At least, he couldn't smell or hear or see anyone else around and the area was clear of any security cameras, as far as he could tell. That was the rub though, wasn't it? As far as he could tell. His powers didn't make him infallible. He was as capable of missing something as the next guy. And who could tell what mechanical eyes might be studying this section of the warehouse right at this moment? He could never be one hundred per cent sure they weren't. Ninety per cent, maybe. Tops.
And it was the ten per cent that burst your complacency and did the damage. Clark liked to err on the side of caution in these matters.
Besides, Mr. Pizza here was likely to take him just where he'd intended going all along. And if he was behind Clark holding a gun on him, it just meant Clark didn't have to go looking for him when he took care of things. He listened intently for a moment. And Lois was on the other side of the warehouse now, as far away from the action as he could get her. Moving someone with a gun and a mean attitude as much in the opposite direction to her as he could get, wasn't a bad deal.
"You got trouble hearing, pal?" Mr. Pizza said. "You want, maybe I should put some air in your ear, help you understand me better?" The muzzle of the gun moved from his neck to the ear in question, bit harder into his skin with the annoyed suggestion.
Holding in a satisfied smile, Clark complied.
Lucy hadn't exactly spent the hours trussed up in the dark room in which she'd been unceremoniously left by her captors idly. You didn't get to be the sister of the best dang reporter at the Planet — or on the planet for that matter — without learning a few tricks of the trade. Finally…though she'd have her tongue torn out before she'd tell Lois — one of her sister's many street-wise safety lectures had actually taken root in Lucy's head and proven to be…who could have guessed it?…useful.
It had taken a lot of time and patience, but by working the sides of her face against her shoulders, Lucy had succeeded in rucking up the blindfold. Working on getting rid of it completely, she stiffened as voices rose beyond the partition of the small backroom she was being held in. She paused, frowning. That voice was…somewhat familiar. The door opened and she tensed. How far had she succeeded in dislodging the cloth around her eyes? Would they notice? Would they punish her if they did?
"Look what I found."
The voice belonged to the smaller of the two morons who had kidnapped her from the apartment. His companion's was deeper, more measured, less prone to excitement.
"Well, well. You know, Mr. Harmon's gonna be *real* happy about this. He might not break our legs after all, Pins."
Lucy settled back against the chair she was bound to. By tilting her head to the right…just so…she could actually pretty much see most of her surroundings beneath the blindfold's edge.
Her heart sank and she groaned out loud as she saw her sister's partner, Clark Kent, standing in front of her. The goon had a gun on him, held low against the base of his spine. Typical, Lucy thought. How typical — and dumb — of her so-called rescuers to get caught in the act. She supposed her sister was around here, too, just waiting to be caught like her dumb, stupid partner.
Lucy sighed. She was going to have to get herself out of this one, wasn't she? Just like always. She'd probably have to rescue her 'rescuers' while she was at it.
Clark was looking around him, a strange, calculating expression on his face, now. Lucy's heart spiked as alarm filled her. Surely, he wasn't going to risk… He had a gun stuck in his spine for pity's sake! He wouldn't be stupid enough to try anything — would he? Would he really be so stupid as to try —
Suddenly — so suddenly that it took her brain a moment or two to process the reality of what she'd just seen — Clark was gone. Lucy jerked, startled, and the blindfold around her eyes was pulled slightly askew, temporarily blinding her again.
Frantically, as a bedlam of sound rose around her, the sounds of struggle, she rubbed the side of her face hard against her shoulder, ignoring the pain, and then sat back up, flinching, as the blindfold was dislodged again, enabling her to view a small portion of her surroundings.
She wasn't quite sure what she would see when she did. The bumps and thuds and groans and curses seemed to indicate that some kind of battle was going on. Although, it was a funny sort of fight because it wasn't lasting very —
Lucy's train of thought became derailed with a stutter as what she saw was the very least thing she would have expected to. Had she been asked to guess the most unlikely thing ever, she never would have —
Clark Kent zipped past her in a blur. At least, she figured it was Clark Kent. The blur was a collection of colors that seemed to match what he'd been wearing as he'd stood in front of her a moment earlier. Confused, Lucy watched him come to a sharp halt behind her captors and her jaw dropped open as he casually bent a metal rod around the two men, aping the ropes that tied her, before they could turn to catch sight of him. His expression was one of deep satisfaction as he stepped back from the two captured criminals, dusting off his hands.
"Superman!" he exclaimed, in tones of relief and surprise.
His surprise was nothing compared to Lucy's.
The two goons were looking equally bewildered. There was a moment's silence. Then the smaller of them said, "Boy, that guy works fast, don't he? Never even seen 'im comin'!"
Clark beamed at them. "Faster than a speeding bullet," he said, pointedly picking up the gun the goon had dropped, and placing it on a nearby cabinet. "I guess he had something else to deal with," he added. "He flew out of here like his cape was on fire. I'll have to thank him later."
"Mr. Harmon ain't gonna be happy," the goon concluded miserably.
"Pins?" his colleague said wearily.
"Shut the hell up!"
Clark ignored the now bickering men and turned towards her, his expression taking on a new note of anxiety. Flustered and still stunned by recent events, Lucy quickly dropped her head. It wouldn't do for him to see, to realise, to know that she knew…
What did she know?
That Clark Kent…was…
She almost laughed aloud at the thought. But… But she had *seen*. She had *seen* him…do what he had done. She had *seen* him take out those two goons in a blur of colour and speed that no mere human could have achieved.
The irony was not lost on Lucy Lane. Clark. *The* Clark. Her sister's partner, Clark. Mild-mannered, Mr. Greenjeans Clark.
That Clark was…
She jumped, startled, as Super…Clark…Clark…Man…oh boy…*him*…crouched in front of her.
"It's okay. It's me, Clark. Are you okay?"
Lucy felt herself nodding. Okay? Sure, okay. I'm okay, Clark…Super…Clark.
He seemed a little confused by her silence. But appeared to think she was in shock.
Too true. Shock didn't quite cover it.
Yet, he had —
<Clark??!> her inner self repeated, on a note of rising hysteria, seemingly unable for the moment to get past his name. In her mind's eye, an image of a bespectacled reporter — notebook in hand, S on his chest — was rising…along with a few hiccups and giggles in her chest. Somewhere inside her, a small part of her recognised that she was not in the best frame of mind right then to be considering this revelation and bit down sharply on her sudden urge to laugh herself senseless. It was the shock, she told herself, firmly. And the strain of a not-too-good day. That was all. She could cope. Really, she could.
Did Lois know?
Did Lois know her partner was…
He eased the blindfold off her with gentle hands. Lucy blinked. Maybe it had been a hallucination, brought on by her ordeal. Lucy had heard that kind of thing could happen. Really, it could.
Except the two kidnappers were still there. Still trussed up with metal rope. And Clark was still there. He wasn't wearing red and blue though. If you didn't count that really funky tie with the miniature elephants on it.
"Clark!" Lucy turned her head as Lois ran into view. "Is she okay? What happened? Why'd you just run off like that, Clark? You could have been — Lucy! Are you okay?"
Lucy nodded again. It seemed to be the safest response she could think of right then as her mind continue to gibber over what it had just seen. The impossibility of what she had just seen.
"I think she's just a little shaken up, Lois. She —"
Lucy heard no more as the room spun hazily around her and she blacked out, right into Mr. SuperGreenJean's arms.
She came round in the backseat of a car, to the sound of arguing voices.
"…all I said was, St. Mark's is just two blocks away!"
"And Mercy is right down that alley! All I need to do is make a right-turn up ahead and —"
"An illegal right-turn!" the voice all but yelped. "Against traffic! Lois —"
"I'm fine," Lucy protested indignantly, struggling up to a half-sitting position. "I don't need to go to any hospital. I just want to go home," she whimpered, and then, aware that she was whimpering and that her sister's expression was growing mulish, "SuperClark's right, those goons didn't hurt me, so no reason you should kill me trying to get me to a hospital to find out if they hurt me!"
"SuperClark?" Lois glanced at her partner, then turned around in her seat with a frown to put the back of a hand against Lucy's forehead. "Lucy? You okay? You're not making sense."
"Lois! Watch the road!"
Lois retreated with a roll of her eyes and went back to driving the car. "Geez, Clark, you're such a worrywart. It is possible to do more than one thing at the same time you know!"
Lucy barely heard her sister's tart response. She had caught the panicked look Clark had thrown her. A look that didn't seem too much about Lois's inattention at the wheel. He had that distinct deer-in-the-headlights look.
"Um…sorry. I call him SuperClark because he rescued me just like Superman," she mumbled. "Superman couldn't have done any better," she told Clark. "Really. You were great. Terrific."
He looked a little bewildered — and not really that convinced by this backtracking. But the moment was broken as Lois snorted under her breath. "SuperClark. Are you sure you're not concussed, Lucy?"
"Hah hah. Funny," Clark rejoined.
"Talking of Superman…I still don't see why he couldn't wait around till I got there." Her sister's voice was tinged with chagrin and a hint of annoyance.
Clark was still watching her. Uneasily, she thought. She held his troubled gaze. "I told you," he said distantly to her sister. "He just buzzed in, flew off kind of urgently, just as soon as he tied up Happy's hired help. It was all over in seconds. You'd hardly even have known he was there. Except, you could see the results of where he'd been." There seemed to be some weight in the last of that, as though there was a message in it, just for her. "So, you knew he had been. There, I mean."
There was a momentarily pause, in which Lucy widened her eyes in what she hoped conveyed innocent confusion. Clark broke away from that disingenuous gaze and fixed his attention on Lois again. "I got the impression," he said more firmly, "that there was some other emergency to deal with. But I'm sure he was glad Lucy was okay. He is not deliberately avoiding you, Lois," he added with what seemed heavier emphasis than was strictly necessary to Lucy.
Lois grumbled under her breath, but the road took her attention and she let it slide.
And the moment — that small, sizzling moment where there had almost seemed to be recognition, a meeting of minds, of acknowledgement and acceptance, in the locked gaze she had shared with Clark Kent — seemed to pass.
Lucy studied him surreptitiously all the way to the hospital, all the same.
By the time they got there, she'd figured out two things. Two very interesting things.
First of all, Lois didn't know about Clark.
Second of all, Lois was a lot closer to her new partner than she'd mentioned to her baby sister.
It was in the way she talked, the way she looked at him — mostly when she thought he wouldn't notice. Lucy noticed, though. And she noticed something else. Clark Kent had a serious case of mooning over her sister to match it.
Snuggling back down into the back seat, Lucy closed her eyes, a small grin playing across her lips.
She wasn't going to know what hit her.
Especially, if Lucy hit her with it first.
After all, there had to be some payback for your sister ticking someone off so bad they kidnapped you and ruined your day instead of hers.
This was almost going to be worth the headache currently pounding through her skull, Lucy thought smugly.
The night was fading rapidly into the dawn when Clark deftly pulled the Planet staff car into the kerb outside Lois's apartment building. Lois had been all but asleep on the way out of the hospital and, for once, had given up the driving position with barely a mutter of protest. Lucy had been dozing in the backseat herself — all in all it had been a trying day. And the evening hadn't been much better.
Clark leaned over to open the front passenger door as the two sisters roused slightly with the change in motion as the car ran to a halt. "Why don't you two get upstairs? I'll go park this in the garage and be right up," he offered.
"I'll put on coffee," Lois said. "You deserve that, at least." She paused, giving her partner a thoughtful look. "I really appreciated your help tonight, Clark," she said quietly and then, seeming to suddenly regret the moment of weakness, she pushed her way out of the car and headed for the lobby without another word and before Clark could respond. Nevertheless, Lucy saw him flash a smile as guileless and ecstatic as a child's at her sister's retreating back. It almost provoked an answering smile from her, it was so patently clear that her sister's praise had pleased him. Except that she was too tired to muster it.
She struggled out of the narrow backseat and trudged wearily after her sister, hearing the car pull away from the curb behind her as she did.
She yawned mightily as they stopped outside the apartment door, leaning up against the jamb as Lois struggled to find her keys in her purse.
Watching her sister wade through the door locks, musing on just how much of his heart Clark Kent was wearing on his sleeve these days, she suddenly roused to her earlier purpose and straightened slightly as she viewed Lois through narrowed eyes. She glanced over her shoulder. There was no sign yet of Clark joining them.
"He's quite a guy, isn't he?" she started off her campaign.
Lois looked up from where she was jiggling the apartment keys and frowned, only giving her half her attention. "Huh? Who?"
Lucy looked at her and sighed. Trust Lois. Blind to the point of giving bats a run for their money. How could she work next to a hunk like Clark Kent all day and not recognise the man was to die for?
"Clark. You know…your partner?"
Her sister looked at her askance as she threw open the door, eyes flashing a dark message which Lucy failed to decipher.
"What?" she said, startled by the venom in that glance.
"I just do not believe you, Lucy!" Lois fumed as she stormed ahead into the darkened apartment. "You've just had one of your worst dumb and stupid days yet — and, trust me, that's a tough record to break — and all you can do is ogle my partner?"
Lucy forgot about drop dead gorgeous partners and ambushing Lois into an admission of attraction as her sister's snippy response registered.
"Wait a minute!" she said as she followed Lois in, slapping a hand against the wall switch and flipping on the lights as she did. "Dumb and stupid? Who the hell got you your scoop, Lois?!"
Lois gave her an acid glance. "Don't be ridiculous!"
"*I* did. I heard you tell Clark earlier this would finally let you nail Happy Harman, big time. I broke your story for you! If it wasn't for me —"
"So, what, you're Dan Rather now? It's not like you did it on purpose, Lucy!"
"I didn't do *any* of it on purpose!" Lucy yelled, frustrated now.
She whipped around to see Clark standing in the open doorway, looking startled. Given the look of dismay on his face and his obvious surprise that the mood between herself and her sister had changed so dramatically between the car and the apartment, he had to be an only child. Only someone who'd never had to put up with a sister like Lois could be that bewildered.
Lois ignored Clark's question. Which was fair enough, Lucy considered, since it had to be one of the stupidest he could have come up with. Of course, everything wasn't okay! She was talking to Lois! When had Lois ever let anything be okay?
"That's so typical of you, Lucy!" she stormed instead. "You ruin everything, you total my Jeep —"
"It wasn't totalled, don't exagg —"
"- you get yourself into a mess and expect me to drop everything to bail you out —"
"Hey, those guys were after you, not —"
"— you act like a spoiled, reckless two-year-old and then it's everyone's fault but your own, according to you! Honestly, Lucy, sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to keep you on track. If it wasn't for me you'd be lying dead in some alley somewhere, after one more of your dumb stunts. Well, I've had it! You either stop being so stupid, start being responsible, or —"
Okay, that was it. Lucy had had enough. More than enough. The day had *not* gone well. She'd been rear-ended by a drunk. Abducted, manhandled, trussed up like a Christmas turkey, and the hospital hadn't been a picnic either. She'd spent hours, suffering some pretty invasive treatments as a precaution because of that chloroform and it was all of it Lois's fault. And now she had the gall to call *her* dumb?
"I'm the dumb one?" Lucy stalked for the bedroom and came back with the red coat she'd borrowed — and ruined — earlier that morning. "*I* am?!"
She marched for Clark, who, dumbfounded, had no chance to react before she tugged his glasses from his face. She tossed them to her sister, who caught them reflexively against her chest, mouth dropping open.
"Lucy, what the —"
"I'm not the one dumb enough not to see what's right in front of her face!" Lucy interrupted with a glare before she shook out the coat and whirled it around the shoulders of Clark Kent. Stepping back, she threw Lois a look that was half triumphant, half challenging. "Look familiar? Ring any bells?" she snapped, before she stomped for her bedroom. "Now, who's the dumb one, Lois? Huh?"
Lois's incredulous wail followed her as she slammed the door shut.
I'd like to claim Lucy's helping Lois along with her revelation as my very own, clever idea. But, sadly, this stroke of genius belongs to CC, who came up with it just at the right moment to bring this one alive for me and make it worth finishing. <g> Yay, CC! Hope I did it justice. In fact, CC was a fountain of ideas — she can be credited also with saying "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if Lois yelled 'Help, Superman' right there…" and my Muse pricked up its ears and replied "Definitely would!" <g>