By Kari Urberg (

Summary: When Lois doesn't show up for work and can't be reached by phone, Clark and Perry go to her apartment … to find the worst sight imaginable.

I wrote this in response to the way certain story-lines have been dealt with (or _not_ dealt with) in the comics lately (The Death of Clark Kent, to be exact). This is my first attempt at fanfic, actually my first attempt at fiction since third grade. I hope you enjoy it. Comments would be greatly appreciated.


Clark smiled as the elevator doors opened. He fingered the box in his pocket, *Today's the day!* Lois wasn't in yet. She had appointments this morning and wouldn't be in until the afternoon. That was just as well. He had prepared carefully for tonight, but he wanted to surprise her, and he didn't think he could keep the secret all day long.

The last few months, since Clark and Lois had been dating, had been pure heaven. They weren't just partners at work anymore, they were partners in life. Tonight was in some ways just a formality, but it would symbolize his commitment to put her first in his life, for the rest of their lives together, and he wanted everything to be perfect. He had agonized over the choice of restaurant, what he would wear, exactly what words he would say. Now everything was ready, all he had to do was wait.

*Easier said than done!* he grimaced to himself as he took a deep breath and walked over to his desk. He sat down and stared at his computer screen. *It's going to be a _very_ long day.* He pulled up a file and began to work.

Lunch time came and went, but Lois had not come in yet. Clark decided she must have taken extra time getting her hair cut this morning. Maybe she decided to get a manicure or something. He knew she liked to pamper herself for special occasions and he smiled to himself as he fantasized about the results. He loved it when she dressed up for him. She knew something was up tonight. She could read him pretty well by now, and she'd been bugging him for clues for several days. "Keep Friday night free," was all he'd told her.

By two o'clock Clark was starting to get worried. Lois would have called him if she'd run across a story this morning. She sometimes lost track of time, but usually not for this long. He began watching the elevators like a hawk, nearly jumping out of his chair every time the doors opened. At three o'clock he called her apartment and got her machine. He left a message for her to call him, then dialed the number of the beauty salon where she'd had her appointment that morning. He was waiting on hold when Perry walked over to his desk. "Clark, have you seen Lois today?"

"I'm just trying to track her down, Chief. She said she'd be in around eleven." A young female voice responded on the other end of the phone line. "Yes, I'm trying to reach Lois Lane. She had a nine o'clock appointment. Is she still there, by any chance?"

"I'm sorry," responded the voice, "Ms. Lane never showed up this morning, and she didn't call to cancel."

Clark felt a knot beginning to form in his stomach as he thanked the woman and hung up. "She didn't show up for her appointment," he told Perry. "I think I'll go and check on her apartment."

"I'll drive you over," said Perry as he ducked into his office to grab his jacket.

Clark fought to stay calm on the short ride to Lois' apartment. *She's okay,* he told himself, *she can take care of herself.* While Perry looked for a place to park he shot an x-ray glance into Lois' garage. Her silver Jeep Cherokee was parked in it's usual spot. *Maybe she took a taxi,* he tried to reassure himself, but his fear was growing. He didn't dare check her apartment the same way. He was too afraid of what he'd see if he did.

Walking down the hallway to the elevator Clark felt like he was pushing his way through water. The elevator had never taken this long to reach the fifth floor. Clark's legs felt like lead as he forced them to move him down the corridor. As they turned the corner his heart stopped. The door marked 503 was ajar. Clark never knew how he made it the rest of the way down the hall. He barely felt Perry's hand on his shoulder, barely heard his "easy now, son," as he pushed open the door and took in the scene inside.

There had clearly been a struggle. Lamps and chairs were overturned, and the vase that held the red and yellow roses he had brought her last week lay broken on the floor The flowers, which were strewn across the carpet, had been trampled and were already beginning to wilt. Clark's eyes fixed on a dark red patch on the rug that made a trail leading to the bedroom. he followed it numbly, somehow certain of what he would find, yet nothing could prepare him for what he saw.

There was no need to check whether she was dead, but he did anyway. He could see that her heart had not beaten for several hours. Her body had been tortured, but her face was untouched, peacefully serene as though she were merely asleep and would wake up and smile at him if he called her. He heard Perry call 911, the police would be there soon. He knew he should do something, anything, but all he could do was stand there, his eyes fixed on her face, as his brain tried to deny what they were telling him.

Suddenly there were other people in the room. He could hear Perry talking to them, but he couldn't focus his mind to hear what they were saying. "You her husband?" That was directed at him.

"No," he choked on the word. *Now I never will be!*

People were moving around, taking pictures, picking things up and putting them in bags. Someone was asking him questions. When did he last see her? What were her plans for today? What story was she working on? He answered them all in a numb voice that didn't seem to belong to him, but his mind kept screaming *NO! This can't be happening! It must be a nightmare. I'll wake up and she'll be in my arms. I'll tell her all about it and she'll laugh that laugh that means she thinks I'm worrying over nothing, then she'll kiss me and make me forget all about it.* But somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that this nightmare would never end.

He felt Perry's hands on his shoulders, heard his voice saying "Come on, son. There's nothing more we can do here," as Lois' body was being carefully placed in a large bag. As the zipper closed over her face something seemed to snap inside him. Suddenly tears began to flow from his eyes as he ran out of the apartment and took off into the air. Landing in a little room in a big farmhouse in Kansas, he buried his face in his pillow and wept.

By the time his parents got home, Clark had wept himself out and was lying on the bed staring miserably at the ceiling. Martha could tell something felt wrong as soon as she entered the house She put down her packages and rushed up to Clark's room, stopping abruptly as she saw his face. She couldn't remember ever seeing him look so pale. His eyes were bloodshot and puffy and she could see the traces of tears on his cheeks. "Clark! Lois didn't turn you down, did she?"

"She's dead," he whispered hoarsely. Speaking the words seemed to make it real for him and he felt his own heart dying too, along with his hopes, dreams and plans for the future, all of which had centered around Lois. He buried his face in his hands and wept again. Martha put her arms around him and cried too, while Jonathan looked sadly on from the doorway.

When Clark woke up in his parents' house the next morning he wondered if there was any point in getting out of bed. He heard his mother softly open the door and opened his eyes to see her peeking around the door frame. When she saw he was awake, she came in and sat on the edge of the bed. Jonathan followed.

"Clark, are you okay?"

"No, Mom, I don't think I'll ever be okay again."

"What happened?"

"She was murdered," he said in a dead voice, "and I wasn't there to save her. I didn't even know she was in danger!"

"Clark, this isn't your fault. Do you know who did it?"

"The police are checking on it, I guess, that's their job."

"Son, don't you think you should look into it yourself?" asked his father.

"Why? It won't make any difference. It won't bring her back. I didn't save her, and nothing I can do will ever bring her back."

"Maybe, son, but you can find whoever did this and bring him to justice. You'll never have any peace until you do."

"I can't do it, Dad. I can't do it alone."

"Yes, you can. You just put one foot in front of the other. Where did you find her?"

Clark closed his eyes against the vision that swam before them. "Her apartment," he answered.

"Was there anything strange there, anything out of the ordinary?"

Clark forced himself to concentrate, to push away his horror and grief and really look at the picture his perfect memory conjured up. "Her hands."

"What about her hands?"

"They were more … damaged then the rest of her body. Her whole body was … except her face … " He couldn't go on.

"Was there anything else?"

" … the blood. There was so much of it, everywhere. But none of the cuts on her body were that deep. It was almost like she was killed somewhere else, then brought back to her apartment, and the blood was spread around for effect."

"Well, that's something to go on. Was there anything else?"

"Just some bits of gray clay soil that someone must have tracked in."

"That's a start. Why don't you get going. You've got a lot of work to do."

Clark got up without a sound and flew out the window.

"Are you sure he's ready, Jonathan?" asked his wife.

"He's got to do something, Martha" he replied.

Clark fingered the box in his pocket, remembering the last time he'd rode in this elevator, a lifetime ago. The ring inside would never be given now, but he couldn't bring himself to return it, or even take it out of his pocket. That would mean he would have to accept that she was never coming back, and that was something he was not yet prepared to do, certainly not before he knew who had done this to her, and why. He clung to the box like a talisman that somehow connected him to her, a symbol of the future that they should have had together.

The doors opened to reveal a newsroom which had become a completely different place since yesterday, because now it was a newsroom without Lois in it. He wasn't just pouring himself a cup of coffee, he was pouring himself a cup of coffee without pouring one for Lois. He wasn't just sitting down at his desk, he was sitting down at his desk without looking over at Lois. He wasn't just working on a story, he was working on a story without Lois.

*Focus, Kent,* he told himself, *you've got to find out who did this to her!* He thought about the stories she had been working on lately, but none of them were particularly dangerous (it had been a slow news week). *Someone with a grudge against her who just got out of prison?* There were certainly plenty of people who might fit that description. *Someone with a grudge against Superman?* he thought with a wrench of guilt.

*Stop it, Kent,* he pulled his mind back into focus. He logged into the police computer to pull up the records of recent escapes and paroles. Scanning the list at super-speed, he stopped short when he saw a name on the list of inmates recently paroled from Metropolis Women's Prison. Quickly he pulled up geological survey records for Metropolis, looking for deposits of gray clay soil. The riverbank, near Hobb's Bay. In a flash and a whirl of papers he was out of the newsroom, into the suit and flying along the river.

To Clark's x-ray vision, the lead-lined bunker stood out like one of his more creative ties. He approached it carefully, wary for alarms. *They're obviously expecting Superman. Maybe this is a job for Clark Kent.*

The entrance did not seem to be guarded, so he cautiously entered the bunker and looked around. Scanning through the walls didn't get him very far, they were lead-lined too, so he began to explore the bunker room by room. Most of the rooms were empty and bare, with no windows in the walls or doors. He wondered what the building was originally designed for. It obviously hadn't been used in many years. There was dust everywhere and cobwebs hung in the corners. He wandered around the bunker for about half an hour, checking every room, until he found a corridor with footprints in the dust. Many sets of a man's footprints going back and forth to the same room. He listened as hard as he could, but could detect no one in the corridor, so he approached the door. Unlike the others, this one was locked. There was no way to tell what was on the other side except that he could hear someone breathing. He took a deep breath and kicked in the door.

A woman was lying on a metal cot which was bolted to the floor, one wrist handcuffed to the frame. Her wrist was red and scraped, as if she had been trying to escape the cuffs. Clark's heart started racing as she looked up at the noise he'd made opening the door. Lois! He hadn't dared to hope that he would actually find her here. Overwhelmed with joy and relief, it took all of the control he had left to keep from floating as he quickly moved to her side. "I knew you'd come for me," she said as he sat down next to her and took her in his arms, burying his face in her hair to hide the tears in his eyes.

"Isn't this a touching picture," said a sarcastic voice from the doorway. Clark turned and saw a bald man dressed in jeans and a gray sweatshirt standing in the corridor. Something about his eyes told Clark that this man was not completely in touch with ordinary reality. "Ah, Mr. Kent, I didn't think you would crash our little party quite this quickly. You should still be wallowing in despair and guilt. What was it that tipped you off?"

"The way you mutilated her hands. The police were unable to take any fingerprints, so they had to identify her by her face alone. When I saw Andrea Mason's name on the list of recent paroles, I remembered that she had had plastic surgery to look exactly like Lois. Once I knew to look for her, it wasn't hard to find this place."

"It appears I underestimated you. A mistake I will not repeat. Nevertheless, I was of course prepared to deal with uninvited guests. The last time we met, I told Lois that I always get what I want. Lois, it seems, has other ideas. It appears that she would rather waste her life with a nobody like you than realize her full potential as a human being by my side. I will not allow that to happen.

"By now you have had a chance to find out what life is like without her. I offer you a choice. There are explosives set in this complex that will destroy the entire bunker in two minutes. Those handcuffs are titanium alloy. All of the doors to the complex are unlocked, but Lois is immobilized here. This is your choice: you can remain here and die with her, or you can leave, knowing that you allowed her to die alone, and this time you will never find her again. You have one and a half minutes. Choose." Lex strode off down the corridor.

"Clark, get out of here now! I don't want you to die too!" Lois plead.

"I'm not leaving without you." Clark didn't hesitate a second. He glanced over the top of his glasses and quickly lasered through the chain linking the handcuffs. Sweeping her into his arms, he tried to ignore her stunned stare as he flew her out of the bunker and came to rest among a group of trees across the river. When he nervously met her eyes, she was looking at him as if she had never seen him before. Her hand shook a bit as she reached up to gently remove his glasses, then brush his hair back away from his face.

"You could have left and then come back as Superman," she whispered.

"No, I couldn't," he replied. "I don't want to hide from you anymore." He shielded her with his body as he heard the explosions beginning and they both turned to watch as the entire complex went up in flames.

"Do you think Lex made it out?" asked Lois.

"I don't see him anywhere, but I can't believe we've seen the last of him. Are you okay?" he asked, stepping back away from her a bit to look her over for injuries.

"He treated me pretty well. In his weird, twisted way I think he actually loves me. But I knew you would come for me. I never doubted it for a second." She moved in to kiss him. "Ouch! What's that?" Lois felt something hard in Clark's pocket, which was jabbing into her hip.

Clark reached into his pocket and took out the box. His eyes began to mist with tears as he told her, "This didn't exactly turn out the way I had expected. I planned last night so carefully. I was going to tell you everything and then offer you this." He dropped to one knee and opened the box, revealing an emerald-cut diamond ring resting on a bed of black velvet. He took her hand. "Yesterday I found out what it would be like to have to live my life without you. I don't ever want to have to go through that again. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Lois, will you marry me?"

Lois stared at the ring, then into his eyes. She was still dazed from everything she had just learned, but she had already made her decision. "Yes, Clark," she whispered taking his hands and pulling him to her. He carefully slipped the ring onto her finger, then took her in his arms. The kiss was long and deep. When they finally separated, Lois lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Clark, can you take me home? I'm so tired. Being dead really takes it out of you," she grinned up at him.

"Actually, your apartment is a crime scene right now, the police have cordoned it off." He pulled her closer, trying to shut out the memory of the last time he'd been there, "but you're welcome to stay with me until it's cleaned up."

"Thanks, Clark, I'd like that."

He lifted her gently, as if he were afraid she would crumble, and they flew up over the city, coming to a soft landing on Clark's balcony. He took her in his arms again, and this time he knew that he would never let her go.