By Chris Mulder (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: While Clark is away on vacation in Smallville, Lois investigates a securities fraud, which results in her being held hostage by the man responsible. He's armed with kryptonite and threatening to kill both Lois and Superman. If Superman can't save her, what will Clark be able to do?
A story in 7 parts based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and on the ABC-TV show, "Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman." The idea for this story has been floating around in my head for some time, but I could never seem to get around to writing it down. Reading the great fanfic submitted by all the talented writers in this group gave me the push I needed to start hitting the keys. Thanks, guys. Comments are welcome. *Asterisks* around a word denotes emphasis. This story takes place at least a year after the Luthor fiasco. Lois and Clark have been growing steadily more comfortable in their relationship with each other. Maysons and Scardinos do not exist in my little corner of the universe.
Clark Kent, one of the Daily Planet's star reporters, had been on vacation for almost a week now. He had spent most of that time on his parent's farm near Smallville, Kansas. It had been a great week: plenty of hard work, tempered by time off for relaxing with his folks or old school friends, and lots of his mom's good home cooking. He and his father, Jonathan, had managed to accomplish a lot in the short time that Clark had been home. Fences were mended, out-buildings were repaired, machinery was serviced. Of course, this was all made possible because Clark discretely used his Superman capabilities. They didn't want to make the neighbors talk by having too much done in too short a time, so Clark was careful not to do a lot of work in any one place on any given day. It was a good-sized farm so they had no neighbors close enough to see everything that they did anyway, but caution about protecting the secret of Clark's powers was second nature to them by now.
It was the fall of the year — the harvest was in and the farm was beginning to settle in for the winter. The days were shorter and perceptibly cooler and the nights were what Martha called "one-quilt-nights." None of this kept Clark from doing whatever he wanted, whether it was swimming in the farm pond, or sitting outside at night to watch the stars. He loved doing that, but the city lights of Metropolis where he lived and worked, blotted out all but the brightest stars. Sometimes he would put on "the suit" and just fly up into the night sky and float there on his back, watching the stars.
His life in Metropolis was a far cry from the one he had known growing up in Kansas. The pace was so different. His job as a reporter on "The Greatest Newspaper in the World," his friends (Lois, Perry, Jimmy, to just name three), daily life in general and the time he spent as Superman all combined to make Clark a very busy fellow indeed. It had been nice to spend this week back home. Besides being his mom and dad, his parents were also good friends and good companions. They understood him as no one else did (although he hoped that would change someday if Lois and he got together). As he had grown and visited friends' houses he had found that not everyone had such a wonderful rapport with their parents. This had surprised and saddened him, and it had also made him realize how lucky he was.
The three of them had had some great times together this past week, and he'd had lots of time to talk with both of his parents about all that was going on in his life. So much had happened recently that he sometimes wondered if he'd ever get it all sorted out. But the thing that was upper most in his mind was the growing relationship between Lois and himself. He thought she was beginning to really appreciate the Clark part of him, maybe even as much as she did the Superman part of him. Clark longed to tell Lois the truth about his "super" alter-ego, but he didn't think that the time was right yet. Right now they were definitely best friends and partners and he didn't want to jeopardize that relationship. He hoped that it wouldn't be too much longer before he could share everything with her. In the meantime, he was looking forward to being with her tomorrow.
He had patrolled Metropolis as Superman several times during the past week, making sure to go at different times of the day, staying for different lengths of time, and leaving /approaching Metropolis from different directions. It wouldn't do for anyone to connect Clark Kent with Superman, so-o-o, if Clark Kent was on vacation, then Superman couldn't be. He had talked with Lois then, once or twice, but only briefly, answering her questions at the scene of some trouble or other that he had helped out with. And when he'd flown night patrols he'd always checked her place to be sure she was OK before heading back to Smallville for the rest of the night.
She'd been very busy while he was away. Following up on a tip from one of her myriad sources, she had managed to come across and expose a scandal involving one of Metropolis' major brokerage houses. The articles she had written had revealed the whole sordid mess. Several top executives and a few minor ones had been arrested. The honest ones were left with the unenviable, if not impossible task of trying to put the pieces back together. Lois had been as thorough as usual in ferreting out all the many dark sides of this nasty little conspiracy to defraud John Q. Public, and Clark had been generous with his praise when he had called to congratulate her. She was pleased that he had called, but she hadn't had much time to talk as she was on her way to a press conference. They'd had a couple of other short phone conversations, too, just to say goodnight, but she'd sounded so tired that he hadn't wanted to keep her long. So most of what he knew he'd gotten by reading her articles in the copies of the Planet that he picked up each night while he was in Metropolis. Sitting at his parent's kitchen table and looking at the latest edition, he was so proud of her and could hardly wait to hear all this from her point of view. She'd revel in telling him all about how she'd tricked this one into telling her so and so, or that one into slipping her certain evidence. He'd be appropriately impressed and only tease her a little bit. Maybe they could go out to dinner on his first night back — they could celebrate her success. She'd be thinking Kerth Award for sure after this! And she deserved to he admitted to himself. I'll take her to that little place that she likes, the one with the fancy chocolate desserts. I'll call her tonight, and if she says yes, I'll make a reservation.
The only fly in the ointment that he could see as he turned back to the paper, was that Clement Whitehurst, the CEO of Whitehurst Securities, and the one who seemed to be responsible for the majority of the mess had somehow gotten wind of the impending exposure and skipped out. Inspector Henderson had law enforcement agencies of several states watching for him. They didn't think that Whitehurst had been able to take much of the stolen money with him, so they figured that he couldn't have gotten far. He was very intelligent, however, and a ruthless businessman, and they weren't about to underestimate him. I bet Henderson is having anyone watched whom Whitehurst might even *possibly* try to contact, Clark told himself. He knew Henderson was a good cop and would be as thorough in the search as was humanly possible, but so far there was no sign of Whitehurst. They were fairly certain that he couldn't have gotten on a train, bus or plane, or rented a car. Numerous car thefts had been reported, but it would take time to track all those down — if that were even possible. He could be in one of those cars right now, headed for who knew where. All they could do was follow up leads, get the descriptions of the stolen cars out and know that they would get him eventually.
Clark put the paper aside, "They still haven't caught Whitehurst, Mom."
Martha turned around from the pie that she was making for dinner to look at her son.
"I'm sure they will, dear. How far could he get?"
"I don't know, I'd have thought they would have had him by now, but he seems to have slipped away."
"He's probably in another state — or maybe even Canada. After all, you've searched Metropolis, too, haven't you?"
"Sure, every time I've been there since the story broke, but I couldn't find him either. He could have been anywhere — it's a big city, and (unlike Lois) he wouldn't be trying to attract my attention."
Martha chuckled as she turned back to her pie, "That's certainly true."
Clark put the paper into the recycling bin and went over to stand behind his mother and look over her shoulder. He'd always loved watching and "helping" her when he was little. They'd had many happy times in this room during his growing up years. She'd always been there when he'd gotten home from school, waiting with a snack and a ready ear. She'd listened to his happy chatter as well as his problems. It hadn't been easy growing up as he'd had to; always suppressing his abilities, always holding back. From his current perspective as an adult, he'd come to realize just how hard it must have been for his parents, too, worrying about him and wondering how to cope when his "talents" had begun to manifest themselves. They couldn't talk to anyone about what they were going through. After all, there's no support group for Parents of Orphaned Alien Space Babies. They'd had to do it all on their own. And as far as he was concerned, they'd done a great job. He felt so grateful to them for everything.
Just then Martha looked up and smiled at him — that special smile that she saved just for him, so full of impish delight at life. Clark smiled back at her, and leaned over and hugged her.
"That looks great, Mom."
Clark released her and straightened up.
"I think I'll go see what Dad is up to. He said something about getting a stump out of the field behind the barn. I don't want him doing that alone."
"OK, see you later."
She watched him from the kitchen window. So tall now, and such a good person. She and Jonathan felt so blessed. Whenever she thought about how Clark had come to them she felt a little shiver. All that way from Krypton, in such a tiny spaceship, to land in that field at just the moment when she and Jonathan had happened to come along! It seemed like a story, a crazy story, that if you read it in a book somewhere, you'd probably toss it aside as too far-fetched. Yet Clark was here, he'd survived that long journey, and they'd found each other, and now he belonged to them and they belonged to him. They had such a special family. The only thing lacking was someone for Clark to spend the rest of his life with. She wanted him to have a wonderful relationship with someone, the way she and Jonathan had each other. As she finished her pie and put it in the oven to bake, she thought about Lois Lane and the effect that young woman had on Clark. And for perhaps the thousandth time wondered why Lois couldn't see how much Clark loved her. She liked Lois and hoped that someday things would work out for those two.
Down by the barn Clark had found his Dad indeed about to start on the stump. They worked on it together, finishing up about an hour before supper. Then they went into the barn to tend to the stock and get things ready for the night. They both loved this time of day. Just as Clark and his mom had shared special times in the kitchen, Clark and his dad had shared special times in the barn. Over many years, through many conversations and by example, Jonathan had taught his son important lessons about what it meant to be a man. And Jonathan was very proud of how "his boy" had turned out. So they accomplished these familiar evening chores, each one thinking that this was Clark's last night home for a while and how much they were going to miss this little ritual.
Martha was waiting for them on the porch. The sun was just about down now, and the air was getting very chilly. Jonathan had his hands deep into his coat pockets as he listened to what Clark was saying. She heard them both laugh just before they reached the porch. Clark must have been telling his dad a joke. She'd make Jonathan tell her later. She cleared her throat loudly enough to make them both stop in their tracks. They looked up at her.
"What do you think you're doing? Dawdling along out here like this? You know I don't like it when you're late for supper!" They could hear the laughter in her voice, but scurried up the steps to wash their hands anyway, willing to go along with this familiar game.
It was a meal worth hurrying to, because Martha had gone all out for Clark's last night at home: a roast, potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, rolls, baked apples and then the pies — cherry *and* pumpkin. There was much laughter around the table that night as they enjoyed the feast and each other's company. When supper was over, Clark insisted on doing the dishes while his parents went into the living room. Jonathan turned on the TV to catch up on the news and Martha sat down with a couple of old photo albums. Several pictures had fallen out of each and she wanted to put them back in the right spots before they got lost or damaged. By now it was about six-thirty and Clark was thinking about calling Lois, he wondered if she were home yet. Give it another 30 minutes, he thought, so he went to his room to start putting his things in order for tomorrow. The flight from Wichita to Metropolis left at 12:30 p.m. and arrived at 3:15 with one stop on the way. Since he was going via Superman Airways, he had to time his arrival to coincide with the regular airlines. This would give him a little extra time at home tomorrow.
At 7:00 (Kansas time) he tried Lois' home number and got her answering machine. When he tried again at 7:30 he had better luck.
"Hello?" She sounded breathless, must have just gotten in.
"Clark? Hi, how are you?"
"Fine. You sound out of breath."
"Yeah, I just got in. There was a late press conference at City Hall, then I had to stop by the store on the way home. How are your folks?"
"They're fine." Clark could see his mom waving from the living room. "They said to tell you 'Hi' from them, too. Listen, I won't keep you, but I was hoping that you'd let me take you out tomorrow night after I get back to Metropolis. We could celebrate your next Kerth Award, and catch up on what each other's been doing. I was thinking of "Angelina's." What do you say?"
"Oooh, Clark, I *love* that place! That sounds great. What time?"
"I'll try to get a reservation for 7:30, or would 8:00 be better?"
"Eight, I think. I'll look forward to it, thanks, Clark."
"You're welcome. Uh, Lois?"
"I'm really looking forward to seeing you. I've missed you … partner."
"I've missed you, too."
There was a pause, as they both tried to think of something to say, both maybe wishing that the other would say more …
"Well, Lois, I guess I better let you go, so you can put your groceries away. I'll see you tomorrow, though."
"Yeah, see you tomorrow. And, thanks for calling. Bye."
Clark hung up the phone and smiled to himself. She had sounded so genuinely delighted to hear his voice. This sounded like real progress. He picked up the phone, got the number for Angelina's from directory assistance and made the reservation.
In Metropolis, Lois was putting her groceries away while her dinner heated in the microwave. She was anticipating with pleasure her date with Clark tomorrow. Unknowingly mimicking Clark's reaction, she smiled to herself as she thought about his 'I've missed you' … And she admitted to herself that she really had missed him while he'd been gone, both personally and professionally. She missed asking his advice (even if she didn't always take it), she missed his smile, and being able to bounce ideas off of him. She didn't miss his teasing, though, well not much anyway. She also hadn't realized how much he helped her until he was gone this whole week. She had been so tired each night that all she'd been able to do was eat a microwave dinner and fall into bed. She thought about Clark some more while she ate. He had such a nice smile and he was so kind to her. He was also very intelligent, thoughtful and dependable. He wasn't as dashing as Superman, or as charismatic as Lex Luthor, but in his own quiet way he had managed to make himself indispensable to her. So, she *was* looking forward to seeing him again. She was especially looking forward to telling him all about how she managed to get that secretary to tell her all those juicy tidbits about Whitehurst's number two man …
Back at the Kent farm, Clark had helped his mom with the rest of the photographs, and then watched some TV with his dad. They'd talked about the news, farm prices and the silly name that had been given to Smallville's newest resident, born just yesterday. About eight-thirty Clark looked over at the clock and decided he'd better take a spin over Metropolis. He hadn't been there at all today. It wouldn't do to let the criminal element think that he wasn't on the job. He changed into the suit, kissed his parents goodnight (since they'd be asleep when he got home) and flew off toward Metropolis. He had planned to patrol for a couple of hours and then go back to the farm. He was looking forward to one more night of star gazing, Kansas-style, but things didn't go as planned. He checked on Lois, Jimmy and Perry, of course, and then flew over some neighborhoods that had been plagued by drug- and gang-related violence in the past. His unannounced visits had gone a long way toward stopping that craziness, and he didn't want things to slip back to the way they had been. He foiled a couple of robberies, got a heart attack victim to the hospital, and then helped clear a big mess on the freeway. There were at least a dozen cars involved, scattered all over the road making it impossible for rescuers to get to everyone. Clark was very busy moving cars, helping to open vehicles up to free trapped victims, putting out small fires, and even carrying an ambulance to the hospital in order to get a seriously injured woman there as quickly as possible. She'd needed constant medical attention, so he couldn't have just picked her up and taken her to the hospital. The EMT's were afraid that she'd die in his arms on the way to the hospital, but they were also afraid that the 20 minute ambulance ride would kill her. Having Superman fly the ambulance there was the best solution. It was a ride that none of the EMT's would ever forget! By now it was almost two (Metropolis time) and Clark was beginning to think of home, but he flew over Lois' neighborhood one more time. Using his x-ray vision he could see that she was safely tucked up in bed with the teddy bear that he had won for her at the Smallville Corn Festival. As he hovered there, he heard sirens and gun shots off in the distance, "What now?" he thought as he headed toward the sounds.
It turned out to be a high-speed chase between a couple of heavily armed criminals and several of Metropolis' finest in police cruisers and on motorcycles. The criminals were shooting at anything that moved, which fortunately, at this hour was nothing much, but this shouldn't continue. Clark swooped down and stopped their car. He motioned for the policemen to stay back because the criminals were firing every weapon they had at him and the bullets were ricocheting all over the place. He disarmed and subdued them and then called to the officers. They were very grateful for his help as always. He recognized several of them and stayed to talk briefly while the arrest proceedings were going on. He asked one officer how his son was doing since Clark had seen the boy at the hospital during his weekly visit to the children's ward. He was glad to hear that the child was back home now and doing fine. Clark then said good-bye and took off, hoping to head for home, but fate was going to intervene once again. For when he had risen to about 1500 feet, he saw a tell-tale orange glow off on the horizon, near the harbor — uh oh!
The closer that Clark got to the scene of the fire, the worse it looked. In this place where the railroads and the harbor met, fuels, chemicals, cars, wood, foodstuffs and almost anything else that you could think of were received, stored and shipped. Storage space was always at a premium and so things were often stacked on pallets just a forklift apart. As Clark hovered directly over the fire, he could see that things were quickly getting out of hand. He wished he had seen this sooner. The fire now covered a large area and the combination of burning materials made for a real ecologist's nightmare. By the sound of the sirens it would only be a couple more minutes before help could arrive, but maybe he should try cooling things a bit with his super breath until then. He was trying to decide which part of the fire to tackle first when he heard the cries for help. The fire had broken out so quickly that it had trapped about a dozen workers. Flames were leaping haphazardly from one stack to the next and the smoke was so thick and black that it was no wonder that they hadn't been able to get away in time. Clark could see that a couple of them were trying to scale the fence behind them, but the smoke was blowing that way, and they just fell back to the ground choking. Clark hesitated for a split second, trying to decide what to do first. The flames were getting higher and stronger, but those men would never last until rescuers could reach them. He had no choice but to try and save them.
Clark was on the ground almost at the moment that he'd decided what to do. He picked up two men, one in each arm, and told a third to hold onto his shoulders. He could have carried more, but he was worried about someone loosing their grip and falling. Up they went. As he deposited the first three victims beyond the fire, he could hear by the sirens that the fire trucks and ambulances were almost there. He went back for the next group of men. They were all having problems breathing and the heat was getting intense, but there was no panic. He picked up three more, promised to return, and flew off. Clark dropped off the second group just as the rescue vehicles pulled up. He took off again. This time when he landed he saw that they were all lying on the ground. He scooped up two, took them to safety, and came back for two more. He could barely hear any heartbeat as he lay the latest two down for the EMT's to work on.
"How many more?" one of them asked.
"Two," he shouted as he took off again.
The smoke was so thick now, that a human couldn't have seen through it and the fire was so close that one would have to shout to be heard over the roar of the flames. The last two men looked completely lifeless. He grabbed them as quickly as he could and headed back to the place where the EMT's were waiting to help them. He could hear no heartbeat at all. He felt helpless as he lay them down. The entire rescue had taken less than two minutes, but he didn't think he could have done it faster. He couldn't fly at top speed while carrying people and especially not if people were hanging onto him. A quick look with his x-ray vision told him that their lungs were nearly coated with an oily-looking substance, which had probably been inhaled with the smoke. He told the EMT's what he had seen, and they looked horrified. One of them relayed the information to the doctors on standby at the hospital. The first workers that Clark had saved were on their way to the hospital, and the doctors needed to know what they were up against. The EMT's were still working frantically on the last two men, but with dwindling hope of success. Clark was about to ask if there was anything that he could do to help, when the fire chief approached him.
"Superman! We need you over here!"
Clark was soon so busy helping to fight the fires that time seemed to stand still. He couldn't tell how long he'd been doing this; it might have been a few minutes or forever. He moved nearby propane tanks and a tanker truck filled with gasoline and cooled them to prevent explosions which would have added to the fire. He carried hoses closer to the fire than the firefighters could safely go, but it wasn't making much of a dent on these fires. There was a wind blowing in from the river and pieces of burning debris were carrying the flames to other parts of the yard. The firefighters were forced to continually regroup as the fires changed direction and force. Trying to find a way to get more water on the problem, Clark flew straight up and looked around. He spotted a gondola car sitting on a nearby siding. He went over and picked it up, carried it to the Hobbs River and used it to scoop up water. He then poured the water over the hottest part of the fire. It helped, but this fire was not going to give up easily and was in fact threatening nearby buildings now. On one end of the yard were the office buildings, and to the right of those were the maintenance sheds and warehouses for things that couldn't be kept outside. The wind was blowing that way, and some of the roofs were beginning to smoke. Pouring a gondola car full of water on them would probably damaged the buildings as much as the fire. Since the firefighters were mostly working at the other end of the yard, he didn't think that they were aware of this new threat. He spotted the fire chief and told him about what he had seen and then turned to go back to the river for another load of water. He could hear the chief ordering some firefighters to head to the other end of the yard. This would deplete the manpower at this end, but it couldn't be helped. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the treatment area. There was one sheet-shrouded body on the ground already, and another body was being covered with a second sheet. Clark froze for a few seconds. Then he forced himself to return to what he'd been doing. His heart ached for those men and their families, but there were many others in jeopardy right now that he needed to help. The firefighters below were putting their lives on the line and they were counting on him.
Again and again Clark flew to the river, bringing back huge amounts of water to pour over the fires. At first it seemed like nothing they were doing was making a difference, but ever so slowly they began to detect a change in the intensity of the blaze. Finally, the fire chief signaled to Clark to stop. They wanted to use just foam in a final smothering effort. Clark returned the gondola car to the spot where he had found it, then went back to the scene of the fire. The foam was working; the last of the flames sputtered and went out. It would be too hot in there for a while for anyone to try and find out what had happened. But there would be plenty of cleanup work to keep the HAZ-MAT guys busy for weeks. The buildings had been mostly saved although a couple of them had suffered some pretty severe damage. The intense heat had blown some of the windows in and there would certainly be water damage to the contents. The loss was staggering, but it would have been many times worse if the fire had occurred during the dayshift when hundreds of people would have been there.
Clark landed near the treatment area. Several firefighters were being treated for minor burns or heat prostration. Because of Clark's warning about what the smoke did to people's lungs, though, everyone had been extra careful to keep their breathing apparatus on, so there were no more smoke inhalation problems.
Clark felt as exhausted as the firefighters looked. What had started out as a two-hour patrol sweep of Metropolis had turned into an horrendous ordeal. His outfit was covered in the greasy residue from the smoke—he wondered if it would ever come off, if he'd ever be clean again. He also felt so sad about the two workmen who had died. This happened whenever he failed to save someone. Intellectually he knew that it was impossible for him to save everyone, every time. Emotionally, however, he always felt that he could have done something; acted a little faster, or gotten there a little sooner — something that would have prevented another tragedy.
He was standing in the treatment area and trying to decide what to do next when the fire chief and another man came up to him. For a few moments Clark was unaware of their presence. He was looking at the people being treated and lost in his own thoughts. The chief had worked with Superman previously, of course, but he thought he had never seen this young man look so woebegone before. He had heard of the deaths of the two workmen and thought that Superman was really taking it hard. The chief gently cleared his throat. Clark turned towards the two men and for a brief moment they caught the haunted look in his eyes, then Clark had control of himself once more.
"Yes, Chief Mitchell, can I help with anything else?"
That was just like him, Mitchell thought.
"No, Superman, we just came over to thank you for all that you did tonight. It would have taken hours longer to get this fire under control without your help, and the damage would have been much more extensive. We are very grateful."
"And I want to add my own thanks to his, Superman," the second man said.
"I'm sorry," Mitchell said, "I should have introduced you two. Superman, this is Mr. McMillan, the yard manager."
The two men shook hands.
"Thank you for saving my men. When I heard about the fire, I was sure that they'd never get out alive. There were very toxic and volatile chemicals being stored here, among other things. In another day they would have been on a train and out of here, but … anyway, I can't thank you enough."
"You're welcome," Clark said quietly, "I'm glad I was able to help." He turned away slightly, suddenly wanting to put as much distance between himself and this place as he could.
"Superman, wait …" Clark turned back. McMillan could see that Superman was wanting to leave, but the look that he had seen on Superman's face disturbed him. This young man was hurting. What can I say that will make any difference? McMillan walked forward until he was only about a foot away from Clark. He had to look up to see into Clark's eyes, but once he had Clark's attention his own eyes did not waver. He said with as much earnestness as he could, "You did your best, Superman, that's all any of us can do. You may not feel right now that it was enough, but just remember that if you hadn't gotten here when you did, *all* of those men would have died. We are really, truly grateful to you." He held out his hand to Superman. Clark couldn't speak, his heart was too full, but he took the man's hand and was able to smile slightly at him. The two looked at each other for a moment as Clark fought to regain his composure. Then he said, "Thank you." Clark turned once again to leave, lifting up slowly so as not to knock anyone over with the backwash of his take off. They all watched him as he headed towards the stars. Chief Mitchell went over to McMillan.
"That was a kind thing that you did back there."
"He just reminded me so much of my own son when he's troubled … I couldn't let him go off feeling the way he was …" They stood there for a moment more, then turned back toward the scene of the recent fire — there was still a lot to do Dawn would be here in another hour.
Over in another part of Metropolis a dark clad figure was slowly and carefully making his way out of some of her more noisome alleys and backways. While aware of the noises made by rats, stray cats, and softly snoring drunks, he did not let these deter him. Thirty minutes of cautious navigating had brought him to a different neighborhood and within sight of his goal. He hoped it was true, what he'd heard, that she kept her window open in all kinds of weather, just in case. Lovingly he fingered the object in his breast pocket as he smiled grimly to himself. It was nearly dawn, he'd have to hurry.
When Clark had left the scene of the fire, he'd headed straight up. Once he was at about a thousand feet, he increased his speed until he was just a blur. He was headed towards the sun, hoping to burn away some, at least, of the nasty stuff that was all over his outfit. God knows what this mess is. I can't risk washing this in mom's machine, some of the residue might contaminate their clothes.
It looked as if most of it *was* burning off. When the cloth did not feel greasy anymore, he headed back to earth, flying super fast until even his skin under the cloth felt cleaner. Then he plunged into the Atlantic and proceeded to circumnavigate the globe — underwater. He didn't want to start any tidal waves, so he came up a couple of times for air instead of doing the journey in the twenty minutes that he could hold his breath. Finally, he surfaced off the California coast and headed for Kansas, and home.
The slightest of sounds woke Martha Kent. She looked at the clock — 4:30. Beside her Jonathan slept on. Whatever it had been, it hadn't bothered him. There were no lights on that she could see from her bed. Then she heard the noise again, coming from the kitchen. She got up ever so slowly and peeked around the doorway into the kitchen. The light from the utility pole in the backyard was coming in the kitchen windows and by it she was able to make out her son standing at the kitchen sink. He was clad in T-shirt and jeans and seemed to be working on something in the sink. Now she could hear water sloshing gently in the sink, but that wasn't the noise that had awakened her. Then she heard it again, a sniff. Clark was crying. Oh, dear, she thought. Something bad has happened. She went back to the bedroom for her robe and slippers because the house was chilly. Closing the door behind her, she walked softly into the kitchen.
She gently touched his arm just as he became aware of her presence.
"Hi, Mom," he said quietly.
She looked into his tear-stained face. "Hi, sweetie." She hugged as much of him as she could reach. He smelled of salt water. What's he been up to, she wondered?
"What happened, Clark?"
"I'm sorry that I woke you, I didn't mean to."
He made a valiant effort to stop crying, wiping his face on the shoulders of his T-shirt.
"That's OK." She looked into the sink, and then reached over to turn on the light. With the light on, she could see that he was wearing the oldest jeans and T-shirt that he owned and that he was barefoot. He was trying to clean his Superman outfit.
"Why don't you let me do that?"
"NO," he whispered, but so forcefully, that she was startled into taking a half-step back.
"Sorry, Mom, it's just that there was this fire and the smoke was all oily, or greasy, and it got all over me. I flew to the sun and that got it off, I think, and then a fast re-entry into earth's atmosphere and a long swim got what was left, which wasn't much, I hope, but it's still stained. It hasn't felt greasy since I left the sun, but I'm not sure what all was in that smoke and I don't want to take a chance on you getting sick from it."
He had run all his words together and she had only caught about half of it, but she hadn't the heart to ask him to repeat any of it. He turned back to his task, putting more soap into the water and scrubbing even harder. She looked worriedly at him, his face looked so tired and so grim. There was more to this than he was telling her. And she knew him well enough to know that he was operating on autopilot by now — emotionally and physically worn out, yet not willing to give in. She glanced down at what he was doing and saw that he had managed to scrub a hole into the fabric. Just then he noticed it too, and stopped. A hopeless look came to his face.
"I couldn't save them all. I tried, I really tried, but it wasn't enough."
He was talking so quietly that Martha had to strain to hear him.
"Chief Mitchell and Mr. McMillan were kind about it and tried to make me feel better, and I guess they did, it's just that I wonder if there isn't something else I could have done. I don't know if they had families, or not. If some kids are waiting for their Dads to come home…"
"Clark, honey, I'm sure that you did all you could. Sweetheart, we've talked about this so many times. You can't save *everyone* all the time. You can't even save everyone *some* of the time. All you can do is … try. What you *can* do is more than doing nothing!" She stopped. He was nearly asleep on his feet. "Come on, let's get this cleaned up and get you into bed."
She directed him every step of the way. She had him wring all the water out of the suit, and they double wrapped it in plastic. She assured him that she would let him handle it tomorrow; that she wouldn't touch it — cross her heart. Then he cleaned the sink out by treating it with his laser vision, just in case. After that Martha guided him to his room. She pulled down the blankets so he could crawl into the bed. He was already asleep. She tucked the covers up over his shoulders. She kissed his cheek lightly and then turned to go back to bed herself. Gently easing back into bed, she moved over close to Jonathan and snuggled next to his back. The look on Clark's face had torn at her heart. Everyone thought that the Man of Steel was invulnerable, except his Mom and Dad. They knew his heart could be broken.
He climbed up the fire escape as silently as the dawn he was racing. It was essential to his plan that he was in place before the people who lived in this neighborhood were up and about their usual business. Here we are — fifth floor. The window that he wanted was indeed open. He paused for a moment to let the elation that he was feeling die away. He couldn't afford distractions. Gingerly he stepped from the fire escape onto the minuscule ledge that adorned three sides of the building. All those expensive rock-climbing expeditions would come in handy now, wouldn't they? Some of his colleagues had laughed at his hobby, saying he was too old. Well, he'd like to see them try something like this! No! Don't think about that now! Concentrate! He purposefully slowed his breathing and focused on the task at hand, inching toward that open window. He'd always excelled at focusing on what he'd wanted to attain That's how he'd gotten where he was — or rather where he had been before certain people had ruined it for him.
There was just enough light to help him find hand holds among the bricks, but not quite enough to make him readily visible to any chance passerby. His hand grasped the window frame. He eased inside and stopped, willing himself to stand completely still, waiting for his heart beats to slow so he could listen. No sounds of alarm came from anywhere in the apartment. He had 'acquired' its layout so he was able to make his way surefootedly to the bedroom, even in the pre-dawn dimness. He paused for a moment in the doorway, but all he heard was the even breathing of a single sleeper. He crept over to the bed and looked down at her. She was curled up with a black and white teddy bear. The ribbon around his neck was slightly frayed as if he were handled regularly. The bear's shiny, plastic eyes watched him unconcernedly as he leaned over the bed.
Eight-thirty and still no sign of her! Where in the Sam Hill was the girl? Perry White, chief editor of the "Daily Planet" was standing in the doorway of his office looking for his best reporter. He could usually count on Lois to help open up the place, practically. Now here it was, 8:32, and no Lois, no phone call, no nothing!
"Get Lois on the phone! Pronto!"
"Yes, sir!" As Jimmy dialed the number, he was immensely grateful that *he* hadn't decided to sleep in that morning. Since he was trying very hard to convince Perry that he, James B. Olsen, was a candidate for bigger and better things at the Planet (like maybe his own story to work on) he definitely did *not* want to get on Perry's bad side. He got a busy signal instead the ringing that he expected to hear. He turned to tell Perry that her line was busy and noticed that one of the other lines on his phone was blinking, so he pushed the button.
"Jimmy? Let me talk to Perry, please."
'Please'? — from Lois Lane? Well, there's a first time for everything.
"Sure Lois, he's was just talking about you."
"Chief, Lois on line 2."
Back in his office, Perry picked up the phone.
"Lois, what do you think you're doing calling in at this hour. You're supposed to be collecting Johnson right now and heading out to Star Labs. Where are you?"
"Perry … I, um … I'm really not feeling very well this morning. I … I think it was something that I ate. You know, I should *never* eat seafood. It always does this to me."
Now Perry had known Lois for over five years and in all that time he had never known her to have any problems with her digestion. She usually was as healthy as a horse. Even when she did get sick, she never liked to admit that she couldn't carry on regardless. In fact, last winter she'd come in with a temperature and Kent had had to carry her home. For her to say that she wasn't feeling well, and for such a lame reason … Something was wrong. He hadn't been chief editor as long as he had without learning a thing or two, like how to recognize warning signals when he heard them. He had a bad feeling about this. Gotta make this sound good, he thought.
"Aw, Lois, I'm sorry to hear that, but you know that I've told you before to lay off that stuff. I know it tastes good, honey, but you always pay for it later."
"I know, Chief, and I'm sorry. You were counting on me to get that interview, but I just can't."
He could hear the beginnings of panic in that last word. Dear God, what is going on? He just hoped that whoever was there with her hadn't heard it. Maybe they hadn't; they didn't know her as well as he did. He had to help her calm down.
"Now listen, Lois, you know that you are more important to me than some interview. You just concentrate on taking care of yourself, and leave *everything else* to me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Perry, I do." Good, she sounded better.
"I'll send *Henderson* along with Johnson to the press conference. He's not as good as you, but we'll manage. You rest, and I'll call you later to see how you're doing."
"Thanks, Perry. Thank you very much."
"You'll be fine soon, I'm sure of it."
He heard the phone click on the other end, and put his own receiver down. He noticed that his heart was thumping rather hard and that his palms were sweaty. He wiped them on his pants' legs.
"Tell Johnson to go on by himself, Lois is sick today."
"Sure, Chief." He looked as if he wanted to say more, but the expression on Perry's face stopped him, and he went to find Johnson.
Perry got up and closed the door to his office. He sat back down in his chair and reached for the phone again. Lois was always taking chances to get her stories. And she hadn't always been careful about whom she'd annoyed in order to get a story. She'd managed to uncover a lot of misdeeds in her years at the Planet. There were probably any number of people who'd like to get even with her. As he thought over in his mind a list of possibles, Perry remembered her voice as she'd said that last word to him. He couldn't recall ever hearing that particular sad, small tone from her before, and he had a sinking feeling that he knew where Inspector Henderson could look for his fugitive, Clement Whitehurst.
Lois wondered what time it was. How long had it been since she had phoned Perry? What was he doing? Had he understood what she was trying to tell him? Of course he had. There's no reporter at the Planet called Henderson. He must have meant that he'd call the police. So, where were they? Relax … relax. Nothing takes longer than waiting. She'd just have to be patient. She was also chilly. Except for when she'd been ordered to make that phone call to Perry, she'd been tied to an armchair in her living room. She was still dressed in the loose shirt and shorts that she liked to sleep in. She hadn't had a chance to turn the heat back up, or make coffee, or go to the bathroom. She hoped the cops got here before that need became urgent. *Where* *were* *they*?? From where she was sitting she couldn't see the clock in the kitchen. They wouldn't have had time to do anything, anyway. Take a deep breath, now, you can do this, Lois.
The room was rather dimly lit because her captor had made sure that the windows were shut and the drapes drawn. She knew the sun was up pretty high by now, because she could see a shaft of sunlight on the floor outside the bathroom. That side of the apartment got the morning sun, and the living room got the afternoon sun. Sunlight would have felt pretty good about now. *What* were they doing?? They'll come. "Keep calm, girl, you have to keep your head," she told herself. "Otherwise, if an opportunity to get away comes along, you may not react in time, or even recognize it." She had faith in her own abilities, but there was only so much that one could do when faced with a man who was possibly crazy, probably heavily armed and certainly dangerous. He had said that he'd kill her and she believed him. But that wasn't going to stop her from trying to think of a way out of this. He didn't look as old as his reported age, which was 51. He looked fit and strong, and very determined. Surely, given enough time, she or someone else would think of something.
At least he had stopped talking to her, for the moment. She watched him as he paced up and down in her living room. The first panic she had felt when she had been jolted awake by a hand pressed over her mouth and a knee holding her down on her bed had somewhat abated. She was still scared, but once she had talked to Perry, she had felt more hopeful. Perry was a canny old newshound. He'd get some help for her. Or Superman would save her. He hadn't been stopping by as often lately, but surely, if he did come by and see her windows closed and her drapes drawn, he'd know something was wrong. Involuntarily she looked over at the windows. These drapes wouldn't stop his x-ray vision for a second. He'd swoop in here and grab this clown and …
"You're wrong, Miss Lane."
His quiet, venomous voice made her jump. She hadn't noticed that he had stopped pacing and had been watching her. He had seen the slight smile that had come to her face when she'd looked at the windows, and had correctly interpreted her expression. She was looking at him now; doubt, fear and hope chasing one another across her face.
"Superman won't save you this time. But I'm counting on him trying because I have a little something for him." As Whitehurst spoke, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out something wrapped in a dark cloth. He held it out dramatically as he slowly unfolded the cloth to reveal a chunk of kryptonite about the size of a 10-year old's fist. It glowed in that poisonous way that always made Lois feel a bit sick to her stomach. Fear was the only thing reflected on her face now. My God, how had he gotten hold of that?
"Yes, I hope he does come, Miss Lane. You see, you took away something of mine that was very precious to me. I intend to return the favor."
"All set, Inspector."
Inspector Henderson broke off his conversation with a plain-clothes policeman and stepped toward the technician who had just spoken.
"Fine, Jenkins, let's see what we can pick up."
Jenkins fiddled with the machine in front of him and suddenly voices from the apartment across the street came out of the speakers.
"You can't *do* this!"
"HA! Of course I can, and I will! He's bound to show up — he always does when you're in trouble. *Everybody* knows that! And when he does, not if, but *when,* he'll head straight for me. I've got it all planned. I've played it over and over in my mind a hundred times. He'll be affected by the kryptonite. It will weaken him. And there'll be nothing you can do, but watch as I knock him around a bit. Then, when he's on his knees, I'll execute him. You can watch him die, in agony, and then I'll kill you."
"No, you can't … he had nothing to do with your exposure, with my articles, he … you can't …"
"You're missing my point Miss Lane. You are responsible for what happened to me. YOU took away everything that I had, everything that I held dear, everything that I'd worked for. Killing Superman is my way of taking everything that you hold dear away from you. Or should I say, almost everything. I understand that you are almost as fond of your writing partner, Mr. Kent, as you are of Superman. But since he's away now, on vacation I hear, I've decided to cut my loses. I have a couple of other people that I also need to 'repay' and then I'll be clean away, spending the money that I have salted away."
He laughed at the surprised look on her face.
"Yes, I managed to hide money here and there over the past couple of years. Because of your interference I can't make any more, and I've lost my position in the eyes of the world, my beautiful home, my priceless collections … but you'll be paying for that soon. You'll be dead, having watched someone you love being slaughtered in front of your eyes, and two others will also be dead, as will *their* loved ones. And all this will be your fault, you interfering, busy-body, reporter b***h!"
"No, please … no…"
Henderson could barely hear Lois' pathetic plea.
"Yes, Miss Lane. I suggest that you spend whatever time you have left on this earth thinking about the fact that if you hadn't poked your nasty reporter nose into what didn't concern you, none of this would be happening now. Yes, you just think about *that.*"
Jenkins stole a look up at Henderson's face. Police officers have to deal with all kinds of horrors when doing their jobs, and Henderson had certainly seen his share. But Jenkins thought that he had rarely seen his superior look so grim. Henderson reached over and picked up the phone. There was lots to do. Have Lois' building evacuated as well as any other building in the line of fire, cordon off the street at both ends, replace the street vendors and passersby with plain clothes policemen and women, bring in sharpshooters and the S.W.A.T. team, and all of it had to be done carefully and unobtrusively. Henderson would do his job to the best of his ability, and hope … Now it begins, he thought.
Jonathan and Martha had eaten their breakfast and completed their morning chores. It was 10 a.m. and they were just sitting down to a mid-morning hot drink. Jonathan was disturbed by what his wife had told him about their son's early morning return. He wished, as he had so many times before, that he could be more of a help to Clark in times like these. It would be easier if Clark didn't *care* so much when such things happened, if he didn't take these things so much to heart. But then, he wouldn't be Clark. They had given their son their own values and beliefs about helping others and trying to make the world a better place, but that acute sensitivity of his was Clark's own. It had been a part of his nature from the time he was small. He had always been quick to recognize when someone needed help or comforting. Jonathan smiled and shook his head as he thought of the many times when Clark had talked or teased or sympathized his dad out of a bad mood.
He looked up and saw Martha watching him. After all these years, they knew each other so well.
"He wouldn't be our son otherwise, Jonathan," she said.
He reached over and took her hand. "I know. I just wish …"
She nodded her head, then set down her tea cup.
"I think I'll just peek in and see how he's doing."
At the door of Clark's room she listened, but didn't hear any movement from inside. She opened the door ever so quietly. She fully expected to see him floating in his sleep, but he wasn't. From the looks of the bedclothes he had been though. The pillow was on the floor where he'd probably dropped it while turning during one of his floating dreams, and the sheet and quilt were twisted all around him. His face was turned away from the door, so she tiptoed across the floor and picked up the pillow. He was curled up on his left side, his left arm pillowing his head. "Clark?" She barely breathed his name, but if he was ready to wake up it would have been enough. There was no response so she knew that he hadn't had his sleep out yet. That meant it was safe to straighten the bed linens and make him more comfortable. She went back to the kitchen and motioned for Jonathan to follow her.
They both knew this routine by now, having done it innumerable times for Clark as he was growing up. It hadn't always been easy for him to recognize his limits, especially after his powers had begun to manifest themselves. The parameters kept changing, and because of this he sometimes played to exhaustion. Many's the time they would realize that things had suddenly gotten quiet, and they'd go looking for him only to find him curled up on the floor somewhere, fast asleep. These exhausted sleeps (and nightmares, too, when he had them) would cause him to float above his bed. As he'd grown, the floating episodes had largely ceased. Until he'd created Superman, that is. Now he knew better what his limits were but he just kept pushing himself to do more; to help one more person, to be the best reporter he could be, to respond to just one more crisis. And each time he wore himself out, the floating would reappear.
Once in Clark's room, Jonathan supported his son's head and shoulders while Martha slipped the pillow back under him. Then they worked together to straighten the bed. Clark slept on through their gentle ministrations, sighing softly in his sleep when they had finished. Martha then adjusted the curtains next to Clark's bed to keep a shaft of sunlight off of his face, and they crept out of the room. Give him another hour, they both thought; he'll be up by then.
It was noon in apartment 519 across the street from Lois' building. But none of the three men in the room felt very hungry. For several hours now they had been listening to the slow, calculated disintegration of Lois Lane. They had heard all the poisonous vindictives that Whitehurst had dripped on her, blaming her for all that had happened so far and all that was going to happen. They heard him refuse to let her turn up the heat, to put some socks on her cold feet, to move around, to get something to eat or to drink. And they had listened in impotent anger as he had made her beg him to let her go to the bathroom. Tears had slid unheeded down Perry White's face as he'd heard Whitehurst make Lois leave the bathroom door open, denying her that basic need, denying her even a veneer of privacy.
They knew that he had looked out the windows several times and was apparently reassured by the activity that he saw on the street. They heard him eat and drink in front of Lois, and rifle her belongings, and tear up a picture of Superman that he found in one of her desk drawers. They could count how many times he had produced the piece of kryptonite and taunted her with it, and how often he had made her cry.
They had also heard how Lois had fought to keep her self-control, how she had turned several of his accusations back on him — to show him how *he* was the one who was the cause of all this, not her. Her arguments were good ones, she was after all a brilliant investigative reporter, an expert at marshaling her facts and laying them out in an orderly and logical fashion. She did it very well, too well, in fact for her tormentor. They knew when she got too close to the truth for Whitehurst's taste, because they had heard him hit her.
Perry's heart had jumped into his throat at that sound. He was ready to burst into her apartment himself, but of course Henderson couldn't allow that. And now it was dragging on to 12:30, and Perry could hear Lois softly crying and it was more than he could bear. He had to do something. He remembered that he had promised Lois that he would call her later in the day. How about if he did that, he asked Henderson. Maybe if she could hear his voice, it might make her feel better. Henderson agreed to it, but he wanted Perry to make the call from the Daily Planet office, in case Whitehurst got suspicious about anything and decided to check on him. So Perry reluctantly agreed to return to the Planet.
"You'll call me if anything new comes up — *anything*?"
Perry dialed Lois' number as soon as he got back to his office. He heard it ring four times and then the answering machine clicked on. Make this good, he thought to himself. Maybe she'll hear it.
"Hi, Lois, it's Perry. Just calling to check on you, like I promised I would. I guess you must be sleeping. I hope you're feeling a little better. I wanted to let you know that Henderson did OK this morning with the interview. He doesn't have your experience, but he's really trying to do a good job for us. I think you'll be pleased when you see what he's managed to accomplish. Well, um … I guess that's all for now. You call me if you need anything, you hear? Bye …"
Perry put the phone down, and cradled his forehead on his palms. He hoped that he'd given Lois a bit of encouragement and Whitehurst no cause for alarm. He felt so heartsick about all this. He thought about listening to one of his Elvis tapes, but he wasn't sure if even that would help. Then he knew what he had to do. He picked up the phone again — he needed to hear Alice's voice.
Via the surveillance equipment, Henderson had listened to the phone ring, and Perry's voice play out of the answering machine. When the connection had been broken, there was silence for a minute. Then Whitehurst said to his victim, "Seems like nobody knows about your little predicament, my dear."
"Clark! You better get going, you're going to be late!"
Martha could see her husband and her son down by the barn. Clark had spent the remaining hours of his visit helping his dad. At lunch time they had all had a long talk about last night. By then Clark had showered and shaved and disposed of the ruined Superman suit. Rested and fed and in the loving company of his folks, he'd been able to talk about his failure to save the two workmen, and everything else that had happened during that very busy night. He was still sad, but trying to come to terms with this problem for which there was no solution. His parents knew from past experience that it would help if he had something to do or something to look forward to. So, Jonathan thought of some stuff that needed immediate attention in the barn, and Martha offered to make some fresh brownies for Clark to take to Lois. He smiled at the mention of Lois, and he felt that the fresh air would help, so he went along with their suggestions.
But now it was getting past time for him to be heading back to Metropolis. He couldn't fly back at top speed when he was carrying things, because the wind would tear them up.
There was a sudden wind storm in the house as Clark rushed in, went to his room for a clean Superman suit, then to the bathroom for a 10-second shower, and back to his room for his backpack. Martha had barely retrieved all the papers that had been sent aloft from his first trip through the room before he was standing before her, washed and brushed and ready to go.
"Bye, honey. Here are the brownies for Lois. You two have a good time tonight."
He took the bag that she held out for him, and leaned down to give her a kiss and a hug.
"Thanks for everything, Mom. I'll see you soon."
Jonathan came up to them, "Do you have everything, son?"
"Sure thing, Dad."
"Well, take care of yourself."
"I will, Dad. It's been a great week."
"For us, too.
Jonathan gave his boy an extra hug before letting him go.
"Bye, Mom, Dad, I love you."
"Bye, honey, we love you, too."
They watched him until he was just a dot in the sky and then turned to go back into the house. They stood for a moment together in the kitchen, and then Martha walked into her husband's arms. She needed a hug. The house was suddenly way too quiet.
Lois jerked awake suddenly. That phone call from Perry had meant so much to her. As long as she knew that help was coming, she felt that she could hang on. She had moaned in what she hoped was a despairing way for Whitehurst's edification. Let him think what he wanted!
But the down side to the little shot of hope was that she's gotten so relaxed that she'd fallen asleep, sitting up in the chair, and now her neck was sore from the funny angle that she'd slept in. She wanted to rub it, but her wrists were still tied to the arms of the chair. She looked around the room. He was still there — by the drapes, watching for the cops, or for Superman? She had had this wonderful dream in which she tricked him into untying her, and then she'd given him a few swift kicks … God! She couldn't even get away from him in her sleep!
"Where is he?!"
Whitehurst whipped around to stand over Lois.
"Why doesn't he come? I thought he visited you often. I was told that that was why you kept your window open all the time. So, where is he?"
"I … I don't know. Maybe he's helping out somewhere else. He could be anywhere, you know."
For a moment she thought he was going to strike her again. His face was just inches from hers as he stared into her eyes. Was he trying to tell if she was lying to him? Slowly he straightened up and walked back over to the window. He peeked around the edge of the curtain again to continue his vigil for Superman. Lois leaned back in the chair, feeling completely limp. At least she knew now what he was watching for. Since he didn't seem to be worried about the cops, maybe that would give Henderson a chance to do something … but, how much longer was this going to go on?
Perry White didn't think he'd ever had this much trouble concentrating on his job. Normally he loved all the hustle and bustle of getting a major, daily, metropolitan newspaper out. It was like breathing to him. Today, however, his mind kept returning to Lois and what she was going through. Please let her be OK.
He looked up and saw Jimmy standing in the doorway. He was shifting from one foot to the other, uncertain of his welcome.
"Come on in, Jimmy."
"Chief, is there anything that I can do? I know something is wrong, but I don't know what. I sure wish I could help … somehow … if I can?"
Perry thought for a moment. He looked into Jimmy's troubled young face.
"No, no, there's nothing to be done right now, Jimmy, but thank you for asking. I'll let you know, though, if I need you."
"OK, Chief. You just yell, I'll be right out here."
"Thank you, son."
Clark stepped off the elevator and into the newsroom. He could see that things were in full swing for the afternoon edition. It was ten minutes to deadline and everyone was scampering. The Daily Planet was one of a handful of big papers that still put out an evening edition because there was such a loyal following for it. Clark took a deep breath, ah-h-h the smell of printer's ink! There was no place in the whole building where one could get completely away from it. Perry maintained that it was the 'perfume of the gods.'
Jimmy spotted Clark standing by Lois' desk.
"Hey, C.K.! How was your vacation?"
"Great, Jimmy, thanks! Where's Lois? Out on some big story?"
"No, she called in sick this morning."
"Lois? Called in sick?"
"Yeah, the chief talked to her … "
"Clark! What are you doing here? You're not due back 'til Monday."
"I know, Chief, but my mom sent some brownies for Lois, and I thought I'd just stop by and see her, and …"
Clark's voice trailed off. Something was wrong. He could feel it. Clark looked around for Jimmy, but he was gone.
Come into my office, son, I need to talk to you about something."
"What are they doing to free her? Why didn't you call me?"
Perry had known that he wouldn't enjoy this, and he wasn't."
"Because there was nothing that you could have done."
"Well, there's something that I can do now. I'm going to try and find Superman."
"No, Clark, you can't! Superman can't know anything about this."
When they had entered the office and closed the door, they had stayed near it instead of sitting down. Now Perry was between Clark and the door, so unless he wanted to knock his boss over, Clark had to stay and listen.
"Whitehurst has a chunk of kryptonite on him. He plans to use it to kill Superman in front of Lois and then kill her. As long as Superman doesn't show up, Henderson has a chance to rescue Lois. If Superman tries to save her, they *both* die."
Clark sat down heavily on the sofa in Perry's office. He felt so helpless. The woman that he loved was being held captive by a very desperate man and there didn't seem to be anything that he could do about it. In his mind he thought of and rejected several ideas in rapid succession. There *had* to be a way!
He looked up as he felt Perry sit on the other end of the sofa.
"We had a date for tonight, at Angelina's. Lois really loves those fancy chocolate desserts that they make."
Clark noticed that he still held the bag of brownies in his hand.
"Mom made these for Lois this morning, so they'd be fresh. She knows how much … Lois loves … brownies …"
Perry watched as Clark's expression changed from rueful helplessness to an excited it-just-might-work look.
"Chief, you said that Henderson had set up his headquarters in the building directly across from Lois', right?"
"That's right, but what … ?"
"No, time to explain, but I have an idea that I think Henderson might be able to use to help Lois. I'll see you later, Chief."
"Clark, what the… "? But he was talking to the air. "Great shades of Elvis, I've never seen that boy move so fast before."
Henderson shook his head for a fifth time.
"No, Clark, I can't let you do it."
"This will work, I know it. He has no reason to suspect that I know anything about it, and I won't give him one when I make the call. If he asks her, Lois can confirm that I have been out of town. He'll let her answer the door just to allay any suspicions. He's been keeping a low profile because he wants to have his revenge and then get away without anyone knowing that he's been here. That's why this will work, because he can't afford *not* to let me in."
Clark could see that Henderson was wavering just a little.
"I'll stay by the door, pull Lois out into hall before he knows what's happening. You can have some men waiting to cover us in case he chases us out of the building. Put a bullet- proof vest on me, if that will make you feel any better."
There was a knock on the door. Henderson and Clark had gone into the back bedroom of the apartment that the police had commandeered for the duration of the 'siege.' Henderson looked at Clark for a moment, asked him to wait, and went to see what was going on. Clark listened in with this super- hearing.
"Whitehurst is starting to get really antsy, Inspector. I'm afraid that if Superman doesn't show up soon, he's liable to just kill Miss Lane and split."
"OK, Jenkins, thanks. Where's Bergman?"
"I think he's in the hallway."
Clark heard Jenkins' footsteps as he returned the living room where the surveillance equipment was set up. Henderson walked out into the hall. Clark turned to look out of the window. This *had* to work. Everything depended on it. If he couldn't save her as Superman, then he'd save her as himself. On the way over here he had gone by his apartment and removed the suit, hanging it in the secret closet. He wished he knew how big a piece of kryptonite Whitehurst had. It didn't matter, though. He was still going to do this. He heard footsteps coming his way and turned to face the door. Henderson came into the room followed by a guy in S.W.A.T. gear who was carrying a bullet-proof vest. Bergman, perhaps?
"All right, we'll try it. But if you try to be a hero I *swear* that I will personally skin you alive."
"It's a deal."
"Now, let's go over the plan."
Whitehurst was pacing again, muttering to himself. Things hadn't gone precisely as planned. Superman should have been here by now. He walked over to the window again and peeked through a tiny crack between the drapes. It would be dusk in another hour. Had someone warned Superman? How could they have? The street looked normal. All day there had been people moving up and down the sidewalks. Different cars were parked along the curb than had been there that morning. It still looked as if nobody knew anything about what was going on in this apartment. Maybe Superman was just somewhere else today. He couldn't wait much longer; he couldn't risk it. Perry White might just decide to pay Miss Lane a visit on his way home from work. Whitehurst wanted a really good head start, and Perry White would be missed too soon for his taste. Maybe he should just kill the b***h now …
The ringing of the phone sounded extraordinarily loud in the silent apartment. He walked over to the answering machine and stood there waiting.
"Hi, Lois, it's me! I'm back! Perry said that you were under the weather, so I guess dinner is off for tonight. I've got a surprise though; Mom made some brownies for you. They always make you feel better. I'll be over in a few minutes to see how you're doing. Maybe I can make dinner for you and we could watch some TV or something. Bye!"
"No, Clark, no!"
"No, please … not Clark, he's got nothing to do with this. Please don't hurt him, he's … I … please."
Whitehurst was still standing by the answering machine, looking down at it with a queer smile on his face. As her voice trailed off he looked over at her.
"You know, Miss Lane, I've never been one to settle for second best. However, today I think I will make an exception."
As he walked down Lois' street, Clark was going over Henderson's instructions in his mind. Get Lois out, and then get out yourself — plain and simple. No heroics allowed. But Clark knew that Lois hadn't eaten all day, that she would be physically and emotionally drained, that she'd be stiff from being tied up for hours and therefore in no condition to run. He wanted to be sure that she got away, so it was up to him to provide a little distraction for Mr. Whitehurst. He was going to keep the b*****d occupied long enough for Lois to get downstairs, so he'd need to do something pretty drastic. The police sharpshooters were still on duty, and changing over to nightscopes. If he could get to the drapes and rip them down, maybe they could get a shot at Whitehurst and disable him so that he could be overpowered. He'd have to work fast, though, since the amount of kryptonite was an unknown factor. Clark wanted to get into the apartment, do what he had to do and get out before he got too weak. As he climbed the steps to the fifth floor, he adjusted the bullet-proof vest that Henderson had insisted that he wear. Too bad this thing isn't lead-lined, thought Clark. At least then it would have afforded some protection from the kryptonite.
He got to Lois' door and knocked in what he hoped was an nonchalant manner.
"Lois, it's me. Are you up?"
Slowly the door opened. In the instant before he stepped through the door his eyes took in her pallor, the slight bruise on her cheek, the bluish tint of her fingernails and lips, the hunted look in her eyes. He thought his heart had been torn from his body. Then, as though he was oblivious to the warning she was trying to convey to him with her eyes, he stepped over the threshold, picked her up in his arms and kissed her while he spun her around so that she was now the one near the hallway. As he set her down he whispered "Run," and gave her a little push. Then he slammed the door shut and turned back to face the interior of the apartment. His x-ray vision had shown him where the enemy was lurking. He tossed the sack of brownies at Whitehurst's head which caused him to duck. That was all that Clark needed. He dove over the sofa near the windows and hiding behind it proceeded to reach up and pull the first pair of drapes and hardware out of the wall. He could feel the kryptonite slowing him down some, but he thought if he could stay far enough away from it, he might be able to do what he needed to and still get out of there.
One set of drapes was down and Clark was headed for the second, listening for Lois' progress with his super hearing. She was at the elevator, good, now for the other drapes. But this window wasn't directly behind the sofa; he'd have to risk exposure to get to it. A chair came flying through the air, making Clark take cover, and then Whitehurst was on him. The kryptonite! The pain! No, No! Clark tried to fight against the weakness that threatened to overwhelm him. He had to get out of there! Desperately he struck at the man who was pinning him down and hitting him. They exchanged a few blows and then Clark managed to land a fairly good right cross, which caused Whitehurst to fall backwards off of Clark's legs. Clark crawled forward the last foot needed to reach the other pair of drapes and pulled them down, tossing them on top of his opponent. He was getting weaker by the moment. He had to get away — now! Clark staggered towards the door and he'd almost made it, but he had underestimated how long it would take Whitehurst to disentangle himself from the draperies. He heard the shot, felt the bullet hit the vest. The force of it propelled him towards the door, knocked the wind out of him and his feet out from under him. He heard Lois scream his name out in the street, and he saw all of the locks on her door rush to meet him. He turned his head and tried to catch himself and failed. He was past feeling anything by the time he hit the floor.
Across the way, Henderson heard the sounds of the struggle and watched the drapes fall away from the windows, one pair at a time.
"Come on," he muttered, "Come on. Get out of there."
"We'll be able to get a shot in there now," said Jenkins excitedly. Then he turned back to his headset. "We have Miss Lane. She's safe, sir."
The shot and Lois' scream were almost simultaneous.
Henderson cursed fluently and long.
Jenkins turned up the volume to his headset, but there were no more sounds from the apartment across the way.
Perry came around the corner and into the bedroom where Lois was resting with a policewoman in attendance. She was crying, had been crying for quite a while. She looked up at the sound of the opening door and with a sob she was in his arms.
The autumn sunset had been brief. There was still some light to walk by if you were outside, but the twilight was going. All over Metropolis lights were coming on as people got home from work. The asphalt in the street below was giving off some heat, but when that was gone, the night would be cool, for the air was already brisk.
Whitehurst paused in his preparations long enough to glance over at the window once again. There were absolutely no lights on in the building across the way. I've been a fool, he thought. They haven't got me yet, though, if I just keep my head I can outsmart the whole lot of them. Lois' apartment was pretty dark, but he'd been moving around in it all day long, and he had no trouble now finding what he wanted; plastic-coated cord attached to something that she used to hang hand-washing up in the bathroom, a bucket, ice cubes and a measuring cup. Taking care not to expose himself to possible snipers, he filled the bucket with water, added the ice cubes, and then pulled out his knife.
Across the way Henderson and Jenkins were part of a group of people who were trying to decipher the sounds coming from Lois' apartment. It was now thirty minutes since the scuffle and there had so far been no way to tell if Clark was alive or dead. Henderson was biting on an already too short fingernail and everyone in the room was keyed to the speakers. They could hear what sounded like something being dragged across the floor, the sounds of footsteps going here and there within the apartment, the sound of a container being filled with water and something that sounded ominously like a switchblade opening. Henderson turned to one of the men standing nearby.
"Tell the sharpshooters; if they get a shot — take it!"
"Perry, I'm going to lose him again, I just know it."
"Now honey, we have to believe that everything will be all right. Clark's a smart guy. He'll think of something, you'll see. And now that he's managed to get those drapes down, the police will have a better chance to get Whitehurst before he can do anything."
"Oh, Perry, I hope so. I don't think I can bear it if … "
Clark awoke to darkness and pain. He tried to remember where he was and what could have happened to him Then he realized that his hands were tightly bound behind him. His ankles were also tied. He was lying on his side on the floor of Lois' living room, he could see that now. Light from the street lamps reflecting off the ceiling was just enough for him to make out a few familiar objects. His glasses, jacket and shirt as well as the bullet-proof vest were all gone. His head throbbed and he could feel that the hair on the left side of his head was wet — blood? His back was sore where the bullet had been stopped by the vest, his face felt bruised from the blows that Whitehurst had given him during their struggle, and he was cold. He couldn't see Whitehurst from his present perspective and his super hearing didn't seem to be functioning according to spec. That meant that Whitehurst must have been near him for quite a while after he'd been knocked out. It felt as if most, maybe all, of his powers had been seriously drained.
But, Lois was safe.
That was what was most important. His valiant lady was safe.
"Wake up, Mr. Kent, time for some fun and games."
Clark felt something prod him in the back, right where he'd been bruised by the bullet. He couldn't suppress a small groan. Every moment that Whitehurst was near him gave the kryptonite time to rob him of more of his strength. The pain was incredible. He could only hope that Whitehurst would assume that he was reacting to his head injury.
"Come, come, Mr. Kent, we mustn't disappoint our audience. Our friends across the way are waiting to hear how you are faring. I'm sure that one of them is Metropolis' answer to Columbo — Inspector *Henderson* himself. I was blind not to catch on before. But then 'Henderson' is a fairly common name. Just think, if his name was something like Rumpelstiltskin, you and I wouldn't be sharing this quality time right now. I would have cut my losses, killed Miss Lane and been on my way before anyone could have saved her."
He reached over and grabbed Clark's shoulder, pulling him onto his back. Clark gasped at the strain that this put on his back, shoulders and arms. His spine was arched impossibly high because his bound hands were underneath him. The nearness of the kryptonite was making Clark dizzy and the throbbing in his head had increased. He moaned.
Whitehurst raised his voice and spoke to the air:
"Did you hear that? Your compatriot is still alive. He's got a nasty head wound which is causing him some discomfort, but for the moment he is still alive. I propose a swap: me for him. Call me any time. But while you are thinking about it, my new friend and I will play a little game I just invented. I call it 'freeze tag.' You'll see why in a minute. Are you listening, Inspector Henderson, I hope so. I think that you will find this most educational. But first, it's not nearly cold enough in here."
Whitehurst moved away from Clark and towards the windows, sliding along the floor on his belly. The relief Clark felt as the kryptonite was carried from him was so great that he nearly fainted. He tried to will some strength back into his body. He forced himself to take two deep breaths, then he rolled onto his side and started to slither towards the bathroom, hoping to take advantage of Whitehurst's momentary distraction. If he could just make it and wedge the door shut somehow … Behind him he heard Whitehurst yell, "Heads up, Henderson," just before he started shooting out both windows. The noise was incredible; the shots and the shattering glass were enough to wake the dead. Clark redoubled his efforts. It was taking too long. He was running out of time. He had nearly made it when he felt a boot stomp on his uppermost leg. The ankle of the lower leg crunched in protest and Clark cried out.
"Oh, no, Mr. Kent. You can't leave now. The fun's just starting."
Across the way, Lois and Perry had joined those sitting in the dark and listening to some truly dreadful sounds. They heard Clark being dragged to the living room. Lois had one fist stuffed against her mouth to keep herself from screaming. With the other hand she had hold of Perry's jacket sleeve. Someone had found her a pair of tennis shoes and a coat to wear over her night clothes. Perry had forced her to eat something, but she still looked very pale. Henderson and Perry both felt that she shouldn't be there, but neither one tried to make her go.
"Inspector Henderson, are you still there? Have you given my offer any further thought? No? Well, Mr. Kent and I will just have to amuse ourselves as best we can until we hear from you. I believe that I promised everyone a game of 'freeze tag.' The 'freeze' part I have already taken care of, now comes the 'tag' part. I should possibly point out that this game involves two teams, one is called 'shirts' and one is called 'skins.' Mr. Kent has graciously consented to be the 'skins' for the first game."
There was a murmur of disbelief throughout the darkened room as people began to have a glimmer of what Whitehurst was up to.
"I have in this bucket some ice water and I have a measuring cup. The object of the game is for me to try and drown Mr. Kent, one cupful of water at a time. He, of course, will try to avoid the water, but his head wound may provide him with something of a handicap. I believe he has a concussion. He seems to be suffering a great deal of discomfort, but he looks like a strong fellow. Still, the game may not last long, my dear Inspector Henderson. And, by the way, if anyone is putting money on the outcome, I'd go with the 'shirts', if I were you."
Clark tried to focus on what Whitehurst was saying, but the kryptonite poisoning was really taking hold. He thoughts were in a jumble, he felt pain in every part of his body. When the first cup of water hit his face he reacted out of instinct, not conscious thought. The iciness of the water made him gasp which allowed the water to go up his nose and in his mouth. He inadvertently inhaled some of it — then he was choking and turning his head back and forth in a futile effort to get away. The flow stopped and left him lying on his side panting and retching and shivering. The cold air coming in through the windows was blowing across his wet skin. He could feel his teeth begin to chatter. If the water didn't get him, hypothermia eventually would.
"How do the you like the game so far, Inspector Henderson?"
Whitehurst pulled Clark over onto to his back again. The second cup of water felt even colder than the first one. Weakened by the kryptonite and all that had gone before, Clark had little strength left to fight off the effects of the water. He wasn't as successful in avoiding the stream this time, and he was left feeling thoroughly weak and wretched. In his present state, he thought, it wouldn't take much more to finish him.
"I hope none of you have any money on Mr. Kent. He has proven to be a less than satisfactory opponent. I don't think that our game will last much lo — "
The ringing of the phone caused Whitehurst to stop his sarcasm. He crawled to where the phone was and picked it up before the answering machine could get it.
"Hello, Inspector Henderson, I presume?"
Clark lay on the floor shivering violently. The kryptonite was far enough away now that that pain had abated somewhat, but the spasms caused by the shivering were almost as uncomfortable. He tried to think of what he could do. Physically there wasn't much. It was taking a lot of his dwindling strength to try and control the shivering. He listened to Whitehurst holding forth over the phone with Henderson. There was a man who liked control; control of money, people, situations and himself. He was cruel and smart — a frightening combination. Clark thought back over what Henderson had told him of the conversations between Whitehurst and Lois. Blame! He didn't want to accept the blame for his own shortcomings. Maybe there was something there that he could use — push the right buttons, make him lose control (even for a moment).
Whitehurst slammed down the phone.
He looked at Clark. Without moving any closer to him, he started talking.
"Your friends are without vision, Mr. Kent, and they don't seem to give a damn about you. I don't think they believe that I will kill you. I think *they* think that I'll keep you alive out of necessity, because I need a hostage. But Mr. Kent, that is not so. I *will* kill you, and I will enjoy doing so. I do hope Miss Lane is listening. I had wanted to kill Superman in front of her, but perhaps listening to your final, gurgling breaths will suffice."
Clark had been marshaling what mental and physical strength he had left. In contrast to Whitehurst's flamboyant tones, Clark's carefully controlled voice was measured and quiet, yet it carried to every anxious listener across the street.
"Why? To prove that you can succeed at something? You certainly failed at everything else, didn't you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, you couldn't run a legitimate business, you had to cheat in order to make it work. You couldn't hide your tracks sufficiently well, and a reporter, *not* a CPA or even an IRS agent, but a *reporter* found out about it and exposed your sorry little peccadilloes.
"Then, to top it all off, you devise this elaborate scheme to make Lois Lane take the blame for the mess that YOU created. And you didn't even carry *that* off!
"I said SHUT UP!"
"She got away, didn't she? You couldn't even kill her. *You're* nothing but a failure!"
Whitehurst was furious.
"Why you — you … I'll show you, I'll kill *you.* You BUG!"
He stood up and walked towards Clark. Clark had to bite his lip to keep from groaning when the kryptonite pain started up again. He watched Whitehurst come closer until he was standing right over him, straddling Clark's legs.
"You insignificant worm. I'll show you who the failure is!"
Clark saw the gun pointing right at him and he turned away. I'm sorry, Mom, Dad, I didn't mean for this to happen. Lois … I love you. He heard the shot and saw the flash, even through his shut eyes. He felt an impact. He couldn't breathe, there was something warm and wet all over his face. Lois …
His last coherent thought was that it hadn't hurt as much as he had thought it would.
Henderson and the others had listened to Clark gasping for breath as the water had been poured on him. Lois had buried her face in Perry's shoulder, and Perry had pounded his clenched fist against the arm of the sofa over and over again.
When Henderson had picked up the phone to call Whitehurst, Lois strained to hear what was being said. She tried to will the two men into coming to some sort of agreement so that Clark would be freed. Whitehurst wanted safe passage to a small airport outside of town and Henderson wasn't about to allow that. It ended in a stalemate. They all thought Clark must be nearly dead by now or at least unconscious, and were stunned to hear his quiet, controlled voice start to goad Whitehurst.
"No, Clark, don't do that," Lois cried out.
Henderson said, "No, this is good. He's thought of something, and it just might work."
He picked up the walkie/talkie and spoke into it, "You may have a chance coming soon. Take it."
Lois listened to Clark's dear voice as he taunted Whitehurst. She heard the threats, heard the gun being cocked. She started to raise up off the sofa.
Several shots went off in quick succession; impossible to tell who had shot first, the sharpshooters or the man across the street.
Perry caught her as she fell.
The S.W.A.T. team was the first to burst through the door. They found the light switches and turned them on, illuminating a gory scene. Near the entrance to the kitchen two men lay on the floor, in a pool of blood. Someone radioed the all-clear to the EMT's. They pulled Whitehurst's body off of Clark. He was still alive! Someone cut the cords that bound his hands and feet. He was having great difficulty breathing, and they gestured to the paramedics to hurry. They pumped air into him and suddenly he was retching and coughing. They turned him on his side and supported him until the paroxysms passed. Whitehurst had been placed on the floor near the windows to give the people treating Clark room to work. Under Henderson's supervision, one of the officers searched the body and found the kryptonite. Henderson ordered the poisonous substance removed and sealed away. He was afraid that Superman would be exposed to the deadly stuff if he came to investigate the shots.
The paramedics working on Clark were greatly encouraged by the response that they were getting from him. He was breathing more easily now, and his color was improving. He began to stir a little.
"Let's get him to the bedroom where it's warmer."
They gently lifted Clark and carried him into Lois' bedroom. They found some cloths to wash off most of the blood, towels to dry him with, and soft blankets to wrap him up in. There had been so much blood, it had not been possible before to tell how serious were his injuries. Now they saw that things didn't look too badly. Someone massaged his arms and legs to bring the circulation back into them and someone else put an oxygen mask on his face. His color got even better and his breathing was almost normal again. They were amazed and relieved at the speed of his recovery.
One of the S.W.A.T. team members had found Clark's shirt, jacket and glasses and carried them into the bedroom.
"How's he doing," he asked looking at the blanket- swathed figure on the bed.
"Really well, considering what he's been through. Of course, he looks pretty strong, so I'm sure that helped him."
"Great, I'll tell the others. We're all pulling for him."
Henderson came into the room after hearing about Clark's progress and making sure that the evidence in the living room was being securely handled. He looked down at Clark.
"Take care of him, guys. I promised him that I would skin him *alive* if he pulled a stunt like this. I'd like to keep that promise."
"Yes, sir." But they grinned at one another.
From a great distance Clark thought he heard Henderson's voice, but that couldn't be right. He couldn't make out anything that Henderson was saying. It sounded kind of like Russian, but …
They all looked at each other. "What did he say?" One of them removed Clark's oxygen mask.
There were other voices as well, but nothing that they were saying made any sense. What were all these Russians doing here, and why couldn't they speak the language properly? As Clark regained full consciousness the words gradually changed from 'pseudo-Russian' to English. Feeling also returned and with it a wonderful sensation of warmth. He could move his arms and legs again. He opened his eyes and looked around. He was in Lois' bedroom, the lights were on, he was wrapped in blankets and lying on her bed. Where before there had been intense pain, there was now only a lingering soreness — - the kryptonite must be out of the apartment, then. The shivers were almost gone too, as the warmth had spread through his muscles and relaxed them. The voices that he had heard before seemed to be mostly coming from the living room. Several pairs of eyes were looking down at him. One pair had a particularly baleful look in them.
"Hi, yourself, you misbegotten son of a Kansas farmer. What did I tell you to do?"
"Well, you should be. If you *ever* pull another stunt like that, you'll be in jail so fast, that — "
"Thanks for saving my life."
Clark got his right arm out of the blankets and put his hand out. Henderson grasped it.
Clark asked the question uppermost in his mind. "Lois, where is she? How is she?"
"She's fine, son. Tired and shaken, but she'll be fine."
Perry came into the room and sat on the bed next to Clark.
"How are you? I wouldn't let Lois come up here, but I promised that I would find out how you are and what hospital they are taking you to."
"I'm not going to the hospital, Chief. I'm feeling much better since I've been able to get warm." (And away from the kryptonite, although he couldn't say that out loud.)
A uniformed policewoman came to the door to call the Inspector back into the other room.
"What do you mean, 'not going to the hospital?' You by golly are too going to the hospital."
"Listen, Chief, I used to get knocked around worse than this playing football. I know that the best thing for me right now is a long, hot shower and my own bed. I'll be sore for a couple of days, but I'll be fine. The cold was the worse part, and now that that's been taken care of, I'm feeling better every minute."
He didn't like lying to Perry, but he couldn't let himself be taken to the hospital.
Perry turned to the EMT's for support.
"Tell this young lunatic that he should go to the hospital."
"Let us take a look at him, we'll talk to the doctors and see what they think, OK?"
Clark submitted to an exam, and except for a concussion (which didn't look serious) and some scrapes and bruises, they could find nothing really wrong with him. They couldn't *make* him go to the hospital, and he remained adamant about wanting to go home. So, in the end, he got his way. Someone handed him his shirt, jacket and glasses; one of the lenses had gotten cracked when he'd fallen against the door. He got dressed, grimacing a bit at the soreness in his shoulders and back and wrists. He caught a look at himself in the mirror and was not surprised that no one had thought to connect him with Superman. His face was bruised and still a little blood- stained, his left cheek was swollen and his hair was a mess.
Less than two hours after he'd entered it, he limped out of Lois' apartment without looking back. The police were still busy gathering evidence and taking notes. He'd have to remember to ask Henderson what had been done with the kryptonite. That was a loose end he couldn't afford to ignore. Clark and Perry took the elevator to the ground floor together. He was asking Perry about Lois again. He wanted so badly to see her, to know that she was really all right. Then the elevator doors opened and she was there! They were in each other's arms in a single heartbeat, murmuring each other's names, touching each other to be sure that the other one was real. Then Clark enveloped Lois in a hug and stood there gently rocking her back and forth. She clung to him. All she could seem to say was his name over and over. Perry hated to interrupt, but he knew they both needed to rest.
"Uh … look, kids, uh … Lois, why don't you come home with me? You can sleep in our spare room and Alice will be happy to look after you. You'll have a place to stay until your apartment is cleaned up. And, Clark, I'll be glad to give you a lift home, son."
Clark felt Lois grip the front of his shirt with her right hand. She held him even more tightly to her.
"No," she whispered, "I want to stay with you … I just got you back… please can't I stay with you?"
He looked down at her, and kissed the top of her head. He placed his left hand over her right one where it was gripping his shirt.
"I think it would be better if Lois stayed with me, Chief. I'll look out for her."
Perry looked at the two of them, and knew that he didn't have the heart to try to separate them. They'd been through enough today.
"Come on, then, we'll duck out the back. I put my car back there before I came upstairs to check on you, Clark. I figured we'd need a private exit. You can talk to the press tomorrow. They'll just have to get what they need from Henderson for tonight. Just be sure that you keep the best stuff for the exclusive article that you'll be writing for the Planet."
That got a chuckle out of Clark, but Lois only smiled — she was beyond being able to appreciate humor, even newspaper humor. They headed for the back of the building, Lois walking in the shelter of Clark's arms and still holding onto his shirt. They sat together in the back seat during the short drive to Clark's apartment, not saying a word. Clark was content to hold his Lois, stroke her hair and feel her soft breath against his neck. Lois was aware of his touch, his nearness, but after all she'd been through today, she was taking no chances — she kept that grip on his shirt. Perry pulled up at 344 Clinton.
"End of the line, folks. Uh, are you *sure* that I can't do anything for you. You know you are both welcome to stay with Alice and me."
"Thanks a lot Chief, but we'll be fine. Goodnight."
"Goodnight you two. Take care of each other."
They turned and went inside, out of the cold.
Clark carried her the last few steps. His strength was slowly returning, but he knew that she had almost reached her limit of endurance. He put her on his bed and tried to gently loosen her fingers away from his shirt. She came to with a start.
"Don't leave me!"
He knelt down beside the bed.
"Lois, I won't leave you, I promise. I'll be close by, sleeping on the sofa. If you need anything, just call me."
"No, I don't want to be alone. Please stay here with me, or let me be with you on the sofa. Please, Clark. It's been such an awful day, and I thought I'd lost you again, or maybe that you … "
"Of course, I'll stay with you … Here, let's get this coat off of you … and the shoes so you can be comfortable. That's good … Here's a tissue … better blow your nose. Now, get under the covers … there you are. I'll be right back. I just want to take a quick shower and get on something dry to sleep in. It won't take long, I promise."
His almost "fatherly" manner had a calming effect on her. He went to take his shower, wondering if she'd be asleep when he got out, but she wasn't. The hot water had eased the soreness in his muscles, and it was really great to be in clean, dry clothes again.
He came back into the bedroom. He had put on his spare pair of glasses and an old, soft T-shirt and sleeping shorts. He turned off the lights, slid into the bed and held out his right arm to her. She moved over until she lay next to him. He put his right arm around her back, while she rested her head in the hollow of his shoulder. He brought his left hand up to stroke her head. They lay like that for a long time their eyes adjusting to the soft, rose-colored light given off by a nearby neon sign. He could feel that she was slowly beginning to relax, and release the tensions of the day. If she could do that, she'd sleep better.
"I thought for a while today that I might never get to hold you again," he said quietly. "I don't think I've ever been so scared in my whole life."
"Me either … or more ashamed."
"You are the smartest and the bravest woman I know. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
"Oh, Clark, I don't think I'm very smart or brave. I couldn't figure out how to get away from him and he made me so scared and then he laughed at me. I felt so humiliated." She shuddered, thinking about the bathroom incident. Clark knew about that, too, and he just held her more tightly. "He kept telling me that I was to blame. And you know me, Clark, it's true that I never even stop to consider the consequences of my stories. I'm so intent on getting there first that I lose sight of everything else. Superman tried once before to get me to think about consequences …"
"Lois, nothing that happened today was your fault. If Whitehurst hadn't broken the law, if he had run a legitimate business instead, there would have been nothing for you to write about. *His* actions started this whole chain of events, not yours."
"I know, Clark, I know that what he was handing me was just a lot of garbage. It wasn't just what he said, but the way that he said it and the way that he kept hounding me with it … that and the fact that I was terrified that Superman would show up at any second, and there were several times there when Whitehurst seemed like he was going to just kill me for the heck of it. I was so tired of being cold and afraid, that there was a point where I started crying and then he was gloating because he thought he had me. I was just crying, though, because I wanted him to shut up, and for a while anyway, he did."
Clark chuckled to himself. That sounded like the Lois that he knew, the one that could always give him a run for his money, the one that kept him on his toes, the one who could entrance and infuriate him at one and the same time. As he lay there holding her and stroking her head he could tell that she was still upset about something, though. He couldn't imagine what it could be. There had been a look on her face that he couldn't interpret when she'd seen him get off the elevator. He was going to ask her about it when she said in a much more subdued tone of voice,
"That's not why I feel ashamed."
He moved his head a bit to try and see her face, but she obstinately kept it buried in his shirt.
"Lois, what … ?"
"I ran away, Clark, and left you there. After you pushed me into the hallway, I should have stayed and tried to help you, but all I did was put my tail between my legs and run (or rather, crawl) for the elevator. I never would have believed that I could be such a coward. Oh, Clark, I feel so guilty for going off and leaving you with that madman. Maybe between the two of us, we might have done *something.* What you must think of me!" She was crying now, softly and rather desperately.
"No, Lois, it's OK …"
"He, he had said that he'd take away something that was dear to me. I was afraid that maybe he had … that maybe you wouldn't feel the same way about me anymore. I … I was afraid that you wouldn't want to have anything to do with me again. I mean, we're supposed to be best friends, partners, and C-Clark that means so much to me and I … and I … if you knew how relieved I was when you got off the elevator, and I saw the look on your face … that you were glad to see me … that you still … "
"Lois, Lois, what are you talking about!? Of course I was glad to see you! I've never been so happy to see anyone in my whole life! Listen! You did just what you were supposed to do, what I wanted you to do. I knew that you couldn't be in very good shape after the day you had had. That's why I did what I did — to try and distract him, to give you some extra time to get away. I didn't plan on getting caught, I can tell you, but when I was caught the only thing that kept me going was knowing that you were safe. I love you more than anything on this earth, Lois."
She lifted her head now to look at his face. There were tears glistening in her eyes. She reached over and took off his glasses. He took them from her and laid them on the bedside table. She lightly touched the bruises on his face. He watched her expression as she took in the scrapes that he had received when he had been dragged across the floor.
"Even more than your own life." She smiled tenderly at him. "My poor Clark, what you went through for me. You don't even look like my Clark right now."
He smiled at her, "I like the way that sounds, 'your Clark.' " He raised his head to kiss her — just the touch of a kiss.
She sighed and laid her head back down on his shoulder again.
"Over the speakers, I could hear what he was doing to you, I've never felt so helpless or so awful in my whole life."
"Don't, Lois, that's over. We are here, now, together. That's all that matters." He hugged her a little tighter. "You have risked your life for mine before, too, remember? I'll certainly never forget it. Try to sleep now. My Mom always says that things look better in the morning."
He felt that she was still a little keyed up.
"This establishment serves breakfast in bed. I personally know the cook, what do you say?"
He heard a very sleepy giggle as she snuggled closer to him, settling herself for the night.
"You really know how to show a girl a good time."
"Well, you know me."
"I certainly do." She yawned, and then smiled, "I love you, Clark."
"I love you, too, Lois."
He kissed the top of her head and then rested his cheek against her hair. He lay like that for a long time, listening to her breathing as it got deeper and longer, feeling her body relax heavily against his, knowing that they were together and that she was safe.
THE END (but not the end of the story)
"You begin by loving and you go on loving and loving teaches you how to love. And the more you love, the more you learn to love."
—St. Francis de Sales