By Michael Ring (Mr RSTEELE@aol.com)
Summary: Lois knows the secret, and Clark has proposed, but she doesn't have time to sit back and enjoy the turn of events. That very night a plot hatched by Lex Luthor is set in motion. His loyal underling, Asabi, kidnaps Superman using kryptonite: the ransom is the release of Luthor from prison. A continuation of the episode "And the Answer Is…"
Author's Note: This story has been rolling around in my head for a while. I changed it accordingly as certain events took place in the show. The original villain was to be Nigel, but of course you know how that went. I decided to play around with the presumed season ending that never aired. If the producers continue with Lois' sentence (and I hope they do) this story will of course be moot, but you can enjoy it while awaiting the true outcome. It was typed mainly to the "Forrest Gump" film score, which sets a wonderful mood. Enjoy. This isn't my first attempt at writing, but it is the first time I've done fanfiction. The standard copyright statements apply. Superman and other characters are trademarks of their respective owners, etc. I'd love to hear opinions, but please be kind.
What Has Happened Before (from the end of "And The Answer Is"):
The flash of lighting was the only warning before a deluge came down from the heavens. It NEVER rains in Metropolis, Clark Kent thought to himself as it began pouring. Someone must be out to get me. "Come on. Give me a BREAK!" he exclaimed out loud.
Lois giggled, "Do you want to go in?"
Clark looked down at her magnificent smile and a look of seriousness washed over his face. "If the earth opened up at my feet, I wouldn't move until I said this." Slowly Clark kneeled down and reached into his jacket pocket. The nervousness he had felt moments before, vanished as he looked deep into the eyes of the woman he loved. A small box appeared in his strong hand, though he opened it with a care that rivaled a mother and her newborn.
"Lois…" Clark began. An expression of total amazement filled Lois as she realized what was occurring. Time ceased to exist at that moment and the only thing in their world was one another. The box opened to reveal a diamond ring. "Will you marry me?" he completed.
"Clark," Lois said with a wide smile…
The dark skinned gentleman was prepared. He placed the small box on the floor carefully. The plan was ready to be put into motion. Everything was in place. His employer would be very pleased. The man frowned, reminded of the past. Soon things will be set right .
The park was now deserted. Evening had come and the rain continued to fall. Lois Lane couldn't have cared less. She was boiling with excitement. Clark's proposal was not something that she had expected, but not an unpleasant concept. First though, something had to come out into the open. Lois couldn't resist any longer. "Who is asking? You?" Lois reached to Clark's wet cheek and removed the glasses that seemed to change the reporter's entire appearance. "Or Superman?"
Clark's face didn't change. Shock, puzzlement, even a mildly surprised reaction would have pleased Lois. She felt she deserved SOME reward for figuring it out. Hell, it had taken long enough. She had spent the better part of the morning trying to decide to either wait for him to reveal it or to confront him and demonstrate that she knew. He hadn't really tried to hide it from her recently. She had looked back at all the clues he had dropped and even attempted to say yesterday morning. She had wondered what he would say if she told him she knew. Now that she had voiced her discovery, the response didn't meet her expectations.
"I am asking for your hand in marriage. I am Clark Kent and always will be," he spoke in a calm voice. He stood up and said, "I think it's time we got out of the rain." Quickly, before Lois to protest, he reached over and picked her up into his arms.
"You've uncovered the truth, but I want you to understand everything leading to it." Clark whispered as they rose into the air. Clark's large chest protected Lois from the elements as they flew threw the storm. It was Lois that expressed shock. She hadn't expected denial, but a casual attitude seemed rather anti-climatic.
"Aren't you concerned about flying without changing first?" Lois asked, thinking that it was a safe enough question. She decided to let Clark explain in his own way and if he wanted to get out of the rain, she could wait, but not long. Patience was never her strong suit.
Clark shrugged, "People rarely look straight up in pouring rain at night and it's thick enough for our features to be substantially blurred if they do. We're here." They landed on Clark's balcony and entered his apartment. Lois sat on his couch and not very subtly laid the glasses still in her hand down onto the coffee table. She looked up with wide open eyes expectantly.
"I get the hint, Lois," Clark said smiling as he threw a towel at her. He walked over and sat beside her. Picking up the glasses and putting them on, "It feels comforting with them on my face," he explained. He sighed and began to speak, "I was going to tell you. I think you know that…
"Have you ever had a secret so big, it never occurred to you to share it? I've realized that as we've grown closer, this relationship couldn't go further until you knew the truth. The problem is that once the secret's out, you can't turn back time. The hardest part of being Superman is lying to everyone I care about. No, I take it back. Lying to YOU. I couldn't be Superman and have people react to me as a normal person. You certainly didn't. It's not something I'm proud of, but it was a necessary evil, until now. I hope I can make you comprehend that."
"In a weird way, I DO, Clark. I…," Lois stopped. Clark had gotten a distant look and wasn't paying attention to her. A look of anger crossed her face, then one of embarrassed realization. "Someone's in trouble, aren't they?"
"A warehouse fire… Oh, Lois, I am SO sorry. I'll stay if you…"
"Don't say it, Clark, go. I understand. I have some things to think about. GO!"
He reached over to her and kissed her deeply. They looked at each other in the eyes and Lois pushed him up. Very reluctantly, he stood up and strode over to the middle of the room. In a blur a second long, he had changed into the blue, red, and yellow costume.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he whispered, hesitantly going to the balcony. He looked back and spoke, "I love you, Lois Lane." With that, he was gone.
Lois leaned back into the couch and began to take in everything that had happened in just a few days. Her life had certainly changed when Clark and Superman stepped into it. Soon, she drifted to sleep and was oblivious to the universe.
The police precinct was a test in controlled chaos. It never slept, never rested, and never, ever got organized. But somehow the wheels of justice kept moving and criminals were punished for their crimes on a daily basis. The city was not held hostage every day though. In the precious moments of peace, the officers of the law were forced to do the one unthinkable deed that terrified them most. Paperwork.
Inspector Henderson was very cross. It was quite childish really, all the chocolate doughnuts had been eaten. He was stuck with the graveyard beat, doing paperwork, and HIS doughnuts were gone! He wanted to sulk. That was it. The work load stacked high on his desk and he would be relieved soon to pass the buck to some unsuspecting rookie. Superman didn't stop all crime in the city, but he certainly made Henderson's job easier. At the moment, Henderson could use a little petty theft. The rain had stopped and criminals seemed to have a dislike for being wet. He sent a prayer for a small robbery and determined which position was best for pouting. Comfort was important to achieve maximum effect. Settling in his chair, he started practicing expressions when Sikes walked in.
"Inspector, here you go," quipped the young officer as he tossed a small bag on the cluttered desk. "Picked you up some more of your favorites."
Henderson's mouth dropped open. The young punk had just ruined a perfect rotten mood. "Um, thanks. What's that?"
"Oh, almost forgot, this arrived a couple of minutes ago. It had your name on it. There isn't a name on the sender," the rookie remarked as he left the package and departed the room.
All false self pity vanished from Henderson as he began to examine the contents inside. He swallowed the lump in his throat as he chided himself for asking for work. It was no longer a slow night and the prospect of home was becoming a distant memory .
Darkness and pain were the only two things in Clark's existence. He gradually awoke to coherent thought. Why can't I see anything? Oh, my eyes are closed. Let's try to open them. Ow, bad idea. What sledgehammer hit my head? Try again dammit! I have to see where I am. Maybe I should take my time. Success! I STILL can't see much. Frustrated, Clark tried to move, another less than brilliant idea. A shock jolt of agony ran through his body. The shackles he was chained to gave him a start. Now what are those doing there? The fogginess clearing in his head slowly gave way to memories. A warehouse fire, a call for help, leaving Lois, his arrival, then… nothing. No, not nothing—pain and darkness. The pain he recognized. Kryptonite. It was here in the room. Shadows soon took shape as his eyes adjusted to the faint light.
It definitely was not the warehouse he had flown into to assist with the fire. Visions of old movies ran through his head. Yes, an old-fashioned dungeon was the best description of the room he was imprisoned within. He was even chained to the wall, for Pete's sake. Someone was in need of serious help and at the moment it seemed to be him. Clark grimaced. The pain was endurable. The kryptonite must be at a distance. He attempted to draw upon his heat vision, but he could feel the radiation coming from the portion of his home planet. His migraine worsened from the concentration it took to keep his eyes focused. The kryptonite was close enough to prevent escape, but not to kill, yet. How long had he been unconscious? There were no windows in the room and with the radiation hindering his unique abilities, there was only one choice open to him. Wait. Not an appealing option, Clark began looking for another.
The elevator door opened to the Planet news room. Lois walked out with an alert, brave face. A small yawn betrayed her, but no one seemed to notice. The news room bustled with activity. People moved from desk to desk, chatting and assisting one another in reporting the events of the day. The news stops for no one, Lois thought. She went to her desk and sat wearily in her chair. A quick glance confirmed that Clark was indeed, not there. She stared at the blank screen recalling the events of the past few hours. She had awaken on his couch early that morning and discovered Clark had not returned. She had waited until it was time for work and left. She had traveled back to her house and changed, hoping Clark would be at the Planet and safe.
"Hey, Lois! The Chief is looking for you and C.K. Where have you been?" Jimmy Olsen asked, shaking Lois out of her trance.
"Um, Jimmy. Clark wasn't feeling well this morning. He, um, decided it'd be best to stay home today. He didn't want to spread anything around." She had contrived this excuse on the way to the Planet. Hrmph. It was better than overdue tapes. Now, Lois, don't be bitter, she told herself.
"I hope he feels better soon. We just got a rumor, someone has kidnapped Superman."
"What?! Who?! How?!" Lois' face gave her away. A horrifying feeling crept up into her soul. It was only with a will of steel that Superman, Clark, would have been proud of, that she held back tears.
"You forgot 'When'," Perry White said from behind Lois shoulder. "I wanted you and Clark to get on it right away. Superman was last seen two days ago giving the police his statement regarding the Kent's kidnapping. We received a tip that a video arrived about thirty minutes ago at the police department, with a note. The video had a shot with bad lighting of Superman chained to some wall. He looked out of it. The police don't have a clue on how they did it and they are extremely tight-lipped about what's on the note. They aren't even releasing the fact that he's been kidnapped. Insurance rates would skyrocket. I called a lifetime of favors just to get that. I want you and Clark to get on it pronto."
"I'll… We'll get started right away," Lois blew out in a quick breath, standing and walking to the elevator. I already KNEW the 'When', Lois thought keeping her calm facade as she departed the building. She barely made it to the Jeep before sobbing. It took only a few minutes, but she felt much better. If she was going to help Clark, again, she'd better shape up. Twice in one week she was saving Clark's life and loved ones. I hope this doesn't become a habit, Clark, it's supposed to be your job to save me!
A large, well-furnished room was occupied with lavish Asian rugs, intricately designed wallpaper, and an antique oak desk. A powerful, authoritative figure relaxed behind the desk. Perhaps, it was not the man that imposed such respect among his underlings, but the position itself. He had inherited the lofty status from his retired father. Intergang was the most profitable underworld organization on the globe. Life was very good to Bill Church, Jr. The luxurious life suited him and he had quickly grown accustomed to it. News had arrived that could possibly upset that comfort and Bill was pulling his resource to make sure that did not happen.
"Are you positive that they've got him?"
"We believe so, sir. He hasn't been seen in two days, which normally isn't strange, but with the ransom they're asking, why bluff when it could easily be called?"
"Excellent. Make sure that ransom does NOT get paid. This is perfection. Superman dies and he can stew in prison for eternity for all I care."
"Yes, sir. We'll use our influence in the Mayor's office to stop the exchange if they decide to cave."
The crime lord laughed aloud and smiled. There wasn't a chance he would allow that particular man out of captivity. He was too dangerous to the organization and could not be trusted as an ally. Yes, things would work out perfectly. Superman would perish, and the former crime boss of Metropolis would rot until he died a miserable old man.
Another option had not presented itself yet. Clark had made a degree of progress though. Strange, he thought, that a raging fire should turn up so soon after a thunderstorm. It was definitely arson and definitely a lure to trap me. Clark looked around the room for the hundredth time. The building was with no doubt old. Everything looked eroded and dusty. Well, not everything. The shackles confining him to the wall were brand new. There wasn't a chance of picking the locks, even if he had the knowledge. I depend on my powers too much. If I ever, when ever I get out of this mess, I'm drafting Jimmy to tutor me. You know, if this room were in better condition it would remind me of the only other dungeon I've been in. That one had kryptonite as well…
Clark's train of thought was interrupted by the thick wooden door that creaked open. The glare of light shining through the cracked door blinded him for a moment. The door was shut again and the bright light was replaced by a dull glow. The source came from a small lamp a man held with a large pistol in his other hand.
"I know these things normally hold no fear to you, Superman, but rest assured, on this particular day it can be fatal."
"I understand," Clark spoke with as much authority as he could muster. It still sounded pathetic. The kryptonite was taking a toll on his body. "Who are you?" he asked stalling for time. There was something about this man that struck a cord of familiarity. He had seen him somewhere before.
"A friend of your enemy. That is all you have need to know."
A name popped into Clark's head. Recognition dawned within the reaches of his mind. "Asabi."
He smiled pleasantly, "I'm pleased that you remember our short acquaintance."
Of course. Luthor. The man had terrorized the city for years before proof was found of his huge crime syndicate. Asabi had been a servant of Luthor's when Clark had moved to the city. Rumor had come down the pipe hinting that Asabi had left the employ of Luthor and returned to his homeland of India. What sick scheme has Lex come up with? What purpose could kidnapping possibly serve? Well, kill me. That's a given. Why not do that already? Torture? Let's test the waters a bit.
"So I'm a hostage?"
"Yes, for a short time. After that, who knows, I might release you," chuckled Asabi. He smiled, and left the room having tormented his captive enough.
Clark seriously doubted that. Luthor hated Superman with every fiber of his being. He had missed the chance to kill me twice. He won't let it go again. I'm going to have to escape. Waiting was no longer an option at all.
Bobby Bigmouth was hungry. The aroma of Mexican cuisine filled the room. Enchiladas, chimichangas, and fajitas were being prepared a few feet away from him. People were eating lunch in the main dining room. Chips and salsa were being snacked upon while the meal was being prepared. Bobby picked up one of the room's many delights and began chewing. It was heaven, no, utopia. Life was very good. Then a half crazed reporter flew into the room yelling…
"I want everything you have on the kidnapping of Superman."
"I don't normally work for free, Lois."
"Listen," Lois said grabbing Bobby's shirt, "You tell me what you know and I'll make sure you're fed so many exotic foods your taste buds will never recover."
"Okay, okay. Calm down. I've heard that the ransom is the release of a prisoner from the state pen. I don't know who, just that he's someone big."
"Someone big… What have you got on the fire last night?"
"Fire? There wasn't a fire last night."
Lois became puzzled. Clark had said there was a fire. "Did anything out of the ordinary happen in the," which way had he gone, "east side of town? By the docks. It was a warehouse."
"I hadn't heard, but I'll see what I can do. By the way, where's that partner of yours?"
"He's at home with the flu. In fact, I'm heading over there to check up on him. Give me a call over there, okay?"
Bobby stared at the figure of Lois Lane marching out of the restaurant. He knew she could be stubborn, demanding, and impatient, but he pitied the person who could install this much anger into the journalist's spirit. Bobby looked down at the half-eaten burrito in his hand. He had lost his appetite.
"You can't be serious! You don't think they'll carry out the threat?"
"Calm down, Inspector Henderson. All the Assistant Mayor is saying is that the city does not deal with kidnappers, no matter who is the victim."
Henderson looked haggard. The past few hours had taken it's toll on the inspector's health. Most of the morning had been spent trying to find confirmation that Superman, was indeed captive. He had not been heard of and there not many known channels of communication to the man. Henderson had been summoned to the Mayor's Office to update the city leaders on the situation. The main opposition to carrying out the ransom had come from the newly appointed Assistant Mayor, Richard Howard. Howard had been obstinate in his position of non- negotiation.
"After everything that man has done for the city, you're not going to do ANYTHING to help him?"
The Mayor spoke up, "I'm fully aware of what Superman has done for this community and for this planet in general. We are continuing to look into alternatives."
"The deadline is rapidly approaching, sir. I recommend we let Luthor go, with the understanding he's to be followed. Electronic surveillance, a tail, the works. He'd lead us back to Superman and we could grab the kidnappers and Luthor both."
"I must remind the Inspector that Luthor has proven to be a very devious man. He fooled all of us for years. I highly doubt if he was released, he would be caught again," Howard sneered from the corner of the room.
"Well it's a hell of a lot better than sitting and waiting for Superman to die!"
"We still have some time left. I'll make my decision shortly. That will be all gentlemen," the Mayor said quietly.
The roomed cleared out as the Mayor was left alone to review his choices. Howard walked down the hall to his office. Locking the door behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief. He believed no one had suspected anything. His arguments were sound, if biased. He smiled and picked up the phone. "Sir? I think it will swing our way. Yes sir. The Mayor will play it safe and do nothing. No, sir. He hasn't made a firm decision. Yes, sir. I'll keep you informed."
Howard placed the receiver back in the cradle. His confidence was seeping away like water running through a creek. Working for Intergang had many rewards for success, but failure could lead to disastrous consequences. He fumbled around in his pocket for the key to his desk. The third drawer held a very fine Vodka, perfect for calming nerves.
The door to Clark's apartment swung open. Empty of any living occupants, Lois sighed deeply and entered. Clark's home was well kept for a male bachelor. It had the usual knickknacks that reminded one of home. Football trophies, pictures of family, and various awards given to him over the years. Everything was dusted and shined. Lois walked slowly around, absorbing it all and attempting to understand the life of one Clark Kent. She had the foresight to grab an extra key before departing that morning. She really didn't know why she had wanted to return here. Maybe it made her feel closer to Clark or would give her a clue to where he was being kept captive. Her attention was drawn to a photograph of her and Clark together. Her thoughts returned to last night. It seemed as if years had passed in only a few hours. Clark had proposed to her. At the time, she wasn't sure what she had felt. Now she just wanted Clark to be here with her, safe. If he didn't come back to her…
She sat on the couch, lost in thought. The couch was comfortable without being too soft. She looked at the picture in her hand and stared down. As her feet propped up onto the coffee table, they collided with something. Lois looked down noticing Clark's glasses and the box that held the engagement ring. She picked up the glasses and just stared through the remarkably thin lens. Strong prescription, my eye, she thought. These glasses stood as a symbol for what Clark wanted out of life. Normality. To be like everyone else. She understood that and why he would be hesitant to share his abnormality. She smiled and lifted the second abject on the table. The ring was breath-taking. Tempted, she took it out and tried it on. The fit was marvelous. It felt liked it belonged on her finger. She was admiring the cut when the phone rang. Startled, she reached out and grabbed the receiver.
"Lois? It's Bobby. I found out that someone DID report a fire last night, but when the fire fighters arrived on the scene, there wasn't any evidence of one. They just chalked it up to a prank call and left."
"What's the exact address of the warehouse they went to?"
"Um, let's see. 806 NW Gavernie Court. It's over by the wharf."
"Thanks, Bobby. You'll never go hungry again."
She hung up and immediately called the Planet. "Jimmy?"
"Lois! How's C.K. holding up? He feeling better?"
"I think he might be at that. Listen, I need you to do some digging. I want everything you've got on an address. Past, present owners, everything. Got it?"
"Yep. Research is my life. Shoot."
She relayed the address Bobby had given her and was trying to say good-bye, when Jimmy asked, "Are you close to finding Superman?"
"I think so. Clark's out chasing down some leads right now. We'll find him, Jimmy." Lois muttered under her breath, "We've got to."
Lois finished with Jimmy and decided to investigate the so called false alarm herself. She didn't know how much time she had left.
Clark's situation had improved. Instead of a large aching throbbing in his head, he felt numb, light-headed. The swelling must have gone down from the rough handling given to me when I was caught, Clark thought. He had attempted to decipher Luthor's hidden agenda. He could see he was being used for something. Bait? To catch what? Ransom? For money? Luthor had tons of it. Regardless of attending Luthor's Will, Clark had suspected Luthor had a nest egg somewhere. He wouldn't be the third richest man in the world any longer, but Clark felt confident that Luthor would be comfortable if he ever got out of jail…
Jail! Impossible. The whole idea seemed ludicrous. Kidnap me to escape from prison? It had a laughable sense of irony to it. The theory seemed sound enough, but what could he possibly do about it?
The shackles held him tight. He could break them easily if he had his strength, though Clark had never been able to find the kryptonite. The room wasn't huge, but was large enough to house various equipment, all of it very outdated and old. Much of it looked rusted and worn. The dust thickly covered everything. Well perhaps not everything. Clark had attempt to see outside his confinement hundreds of times in the past few hours. He was unable to see anything past the dull light of a single, small bulb on the other side of the room. He decided to change strategies. He moved his head very slowly around the room so as to not bring back the huge migraine that quick movements caused. A limited x-ray scan detected what had eluded him. The kryptonite was in a wooden crate approximately 20 feet away. It was a modest size and easily emitting enough radiation to make him violently ill. Strange that he couldn't see inside the room… Slowly, Clark's mind started to formulate a plan…
Several floors above Superman's head, Asabi waited, anticipating a phone call. The Mayor's office had been given a number which would be bounced through several countries and satellites. The call would be short enough to be untraceable. The city would either meet the demands and release Luthor or the consequences would be severe. Asabi had left Metropolis a year ago to oversee some of Luthor's international interests. Luthor had prepared for the day he might be caught and arrested. When Asabi had learned the master's arrangement for faking his death had been activated, Asabi had been on the other side of the world. He then proceeded to hide what funds he could from Bender's greedy laundering. This task prevented him from assisting the good Dr. Gretchen Kelly in reviving Lex from his coma. Asabi had been informed of Luthor's triumphant return to the living and his subsequent capture much too late to assist. It was a month before he could contact Luthor and inform him of the hidden reserves of funds. Lex reveled at defeating those who had caused his mighty fall from grace. Luthor's mind was still sharp. He was able to devise a stratagem that would free him from prison and destroy his hated foe in the process. The kryptonite had been fairly easy to come by. Luthor never placed all his bets on one plan. Before his injury, Luthor had split the kryptonite he had stolen from the mercenaries he had double- crossed. Half of the precious element had been used to cover and bond with the cage Luthor had used half to trap Superman the first time and the other was safely hidden. Lex had wrongly assumed that it had been confiscated when he could not find it, unaware that Asabi had it removed from its storage. Nigel had been too flippant and unconcerned with Luthor's frozen predicament.
The tools for Lex's escape ready, Asabi and Lex began to act. Communicating through Luthor's lawyers had been the most difficult element of the plan. Lex had a distrust of them after the fiasco with Bender, but Asabi had been in Luthor's employ for many years and had developed a code to relay between the team working on Luthor's appeal. Not that Lex had any intention of waiting for the legal process. All of the past few months had been heading to this one moment and that moment was almost upon them. Asabi smiled at these thoughts and willed the phone to ring. Whether it was pure luck or some divine intervention of fate, ring it did.
"Are you the person I should be talking to?"
"I am. Are you prepared to exchange?"
"Yes. This city has been saved too often by Superman not to attempt to save him."
"Excellent. The time and the place of the exchange has been sent to the same Inspector that received the original package. Do not attempt to call this number again."
Asabi placed the phone in the cradle. A wicked smile rose on his face. Soon Luthor would be free and the rebuilding of an empire would resume. Of course the police would try some foolishness, but that had been prepared for. The final phase was to begin. He had an urge to gloat. He lifted the pistol off the table and went to visit his prisoner.
The wooden door creaked upon opening once again. Superman still hung from the wall, defeated.
"You haven't much longer to wait. You shall be captive no longer."
"Luthor's being freed?"
Asabi s eyes widened. "Impressive. Yes, the police and the Mayor have agreed to an exchange."
"Too bad Nigel isn't around to help."
Asabi spat. "The traitor's death was too painless. The man had no sense of loyalty."
Superman chuckled. He had meant to rile the man and had succeeded admirably. Goading his captor may not have been safe, but Clark needed to know how much time he had to attempt his plan. "Luthor has none as well. Those two were made for each other. Be careful not to lose your value to Luthor."
Anger was getting the best of Asabi. He struck Superman with the pistol causing him to cry out in anguish. Asabi could not kill him. Luthor had claimed that honor for himself. Plus, the bargaining chip might still be useful if the plan ran astray. "You shall be joining him in the afterlife very shortly, my friend. Use your final hours to make peace with yourself and your god."
Clark breathed in relief. Asabi would not return for a few hours and he would need every precious second. Chapter 10:
Bill Church, Jr. was not happy. A very jittery Howard had just phoned and told him that they were going to free Luthor. He was going to have to involve Intergang more actively. A button on the floorboard placed behind his desk signaled one of his lieutenants.
"We're going to have to use the backup plan. That bumbling idiot, Howard, wasn't convincing enough. Ah well, at least Luthor will be out of the picture permanently. Get the men ready. He's sure to be followed by the police. Howard informed us of that, but he doesn't know all the details. He's going to be bugged, too. You have the frequency and can follow him just as well as those losers at City Hall. Get on it."
"Yes, sir." The underling didn't salute, but it appeared that he would with little coaxing. Church paid them well for their absolute loyalty. His father's empire rewarded extravagantly and punished just as extravagantly for failure. Howard would be dealt with. Not killed, he was too useful in the mayor's office. Those were difficult to replace. No, his youngest daughter should have an "accident." He'd arrange that after both Luthor and Superman were dead. To be honest, he wasn't sure which of the men frightened him the most. At least with Superman, you knew where you stood.
The Mayor was not happy. It was risky to free a dangerous man like Luthor, even if he was to be on a tight leash. It had taken some persuasion to allow the state to release Luthor, but eventually the decision and the responsibility was upon him. He sat in Inspector Henderson's chair at the police precinct. The Inspector stood besides him looking over the latest message for the hundredth time. Nothing in the letter gave any hint as to it's origin. Henderson gave up trying for the moment and stated, "My men are getting prepared to move. The exchange time isn't for another two hours and the warden is sending Luthor in a unmarked van in a hour."
The Mayor knew this of course, but if it helped Henderson in taking some of the edge off, he wouldn't scold him for it. "I don't want any mistakes."
"No, sir. We have already placed a tracer within Luthor's clothing. We have four teams placed along the route to the drop point and another two hidden near the site itself. The plan is not to release Luthor until we see Superman freed and in our custody."
"Satisfactory. How much has leaked to the press?"
"We've been VERY fortunate in that area. I think the Planet might know something, they've had reporters hanging around all day, but they've always seemed to have a special relationship with Superman. Other than them, nobody has asked anything out of the ordinary and we've played dumb."
"Okay, I'm going back to the office. Keep me informed of developments."
Brilliant colors filled the sky as the sun settled on the horizon. Lois pulled up to the warehouse, not noticing how the beautiful sunset hit the water. She locked her car and looked at the building before her. As Bobby had said, it certainly didn't appear to look like a victim of a devastating fire.
From her angle it looked to be structurally sound and not a hint of ash. No one seemed to be around, so she headed for the side door. A stray alley cat ran past as she rounded the corner. Her heart jumped as the small figure scurried over her feet.
"Dang cats. Go find some unsuspecting rat to give a heart attack to."
The door was locked tight. Lois sighed, "Wish Clark was here, he always gets past these things."
She said it before the weight of the statement hit her. Of course, he had been using his powers to break into buildings for a story, but she relied on his help and his presence. She half- heartedly thought about trying to pick the thing, when a hand grabbed her from behind.
Meanwhile, Clark was putting his plan into action. The kryptonite was still opposing his powers. The wooden box did nothing to stop the harmful rays from reaching him. He couldn't break free until the kryptonite was out of range or had been neutralized. Lead stopped those rays just as it stopped his vision. He speculated that it was lead that prohibited his viewing the outside. An inspection of the room revealed that much of the old machinery was used for soldering in metal working. Lead scrapings were spread all over the floor. The erosion and dust must have layered the walls over the many years of neglect. The box looked to be a new addition to the chamber, probably placed there just for the occasion. He needed that kryptonite to be blocked by the lead and his powerful breath wasn't what it used to be.
Slowly, he drew a deep breath. His lungs struggled against the effort. Clark coughed slightly as he released a small gust. Dirt swirled in every direction. He began to try to sweep the room with a wind capable of covering the room and, more importantly, the box with the lead powder.
Perry paced the news room like a worried father. He looked over by his office door to where Lois and Clark's desks were positioned. His top two reporters were always careful, but he worried regardless. Most of the news staff had headed home for the day, being ignorant of the knowledge Superman was held captive some where in Metropolis. Superman had saved his life on many occasions, once when a bomb was planted in his office. The team he had sent to the police had turned up nothing. The Mayor's office was silent as well. Lois had called about an hour ago with some chore for Jimmy, but he had disappeared a half hour ago with some excuse about having a break in the story. He hoped that kid didn't get himself into trouble.
"JIMMY! You scared me to death!"
"Sorry, Lois, but I came with some news."
"Hold just a second. Pick that lock. I need to get inside this building."
Jimmy complied, knowing it wasn't a smart idea to contradict her is these moods. He swallowed his news for a moment and skillfully unlocked the door.
"Thanks, now wait out here while I look around inside," Lois whispered as she entered the darkened entrance. The fading sunlight broke through a skylight in the ceiling. Lois noticed the place looked abandoned recently. Most of the building appeared stripped of anything of value. She climbed up on top of discarded machinery and found something odd. They seemed to be altered. Welding marks were obvious to the casual inspection and much of remaining equipment looked scorched, as though flames had been rising from the inside. The fire must have been completely staged. Who would go through all this trouble?
"Lois! I really have news."
"I thought I said stay outside."
"Oh, I thought you'd be interested to know this building is owned by Phoenix Enterprises. Who bought it a few months ago from a defunct Luthor Industries."
"Phoenix? Lex mentioned Phoenix when he came back… Oh my God! It's HIM they're trying to free!"
"Whoa. I hope you're wrong."
"What else did you find out?" Lois asked, now very attentive to what Jimmy had to say.
"Well, they don't seem to DO anything. From what I've been able to track down, they've only bought this building and another. The paper trail is pretty obscure. The company was just formed about two months ago. Remember, I only had about an hour to come up with that, but I felt it was important enough to come down here and tell you. You have a habit of turning off your beeper."
"Okay, okay, you said they own another building. Where?"
"An old townhouse in the historic district. I looked into it's previous owners as well. For the past twenty years some little known sculptor owned it. Real eccentric. Did those huge abstract pieces that mean nothing, but are priced at exorbitant rates. He died five years ago and the house was on the market until Phoenix bought it last month."
"Then that's where I'm going. Go back to the Planet."
"Like hell I will. No way. First off I won't leave you alone, and you might need me to help you get in. Plus, Superman is my friend too. Sorry, Lois, I'm coming."
Lois looked at him for a second. She might indeed need him. Damn. "Okay, come on."
A nondescript van pulled up to the Metropolis Theater of Performing Arts. Streisand had sung here just last week to a sold out crowd. A door opened and Lex Luthor put his foot down on free ground.
"Remember, Luthor, you don't leave our sight until we're positive that Superman has been freed."
"That's not up to me, gentlemen. I'm not responsible for this terrible tragedy. I can only guess on why someone would go through this ordeal to free me."
"Uh, uh. And I just helped Elvis from being discovered by the IRS for avoiding taxes for the past eighteen years."
"Really? Invite him over, we could exchange notes on how to stay dead."
"Get going, but we'll be right behind."
"Of course. Anything to help the law."
The automatic doors swung open as Lex approached. He had always enjoyed coming here for concerts. The Strauss tribute had been exceptionally inspiring last year. He had attended with Lois… All in due time, Lex thought to himself, all in due time…
Lex strolled down the hall as he was about to attend a show, but the six guards following were alert with caution. Nothing seemed out of place. Henderson walked along beside them wondering if he had made the right decision. This was a trap, of course, the trick would be to spring it on the other side. The bug was working fine, he was informed over the wire he wore. The group entered the huge auditorium, seemingly empty. On stage was a large television screen. It sprung to life when they reached the section where middle income families opened mortgages to get seats.
"Hello, Gentlemen. Allow Mr. Luthor to climb onto the stage," said a shadowed image on the screen.
Luthor obliged happily, scrambling up the five foot wall that started the stage floor.
"No further, Luthor!" Henderson cried out as Lex reached the top. The guard all had their weapons trained on Luthor's head and vital organs.
Luthor was just turning to face the inspector, when shots rang out from the darkness. Henderson looked up to see Luthor as surprised as the rest of them. He was dodging bullets frantically, seeking cover where there was none to find. The television was obliterated into pieces. The officers had not waited for approval from Inspector Henderson and proceeded to open fire on the hidden assassins.
The Intergang hit men had missed Luthor on the first volley. They had picked a position up in the lighting rafters for aiming at the seats and the angle of the stage obscured the line of fire. Cursing, they fired rapid bursts of shots at the stage.
The officers were amazed to see they had escaped most of the spray of bullets. Henderson was trying to find Luthor on the stage, but evidently he was flattened on the floor. The men above him were preventing him from hopping up there to grab Lex and he didn't see an alternate path without leaving himself wide open.
The sound of shots firing was echoed around the auditorium as the gun men sent round after round down, but the leader called for a stop. Luthor wasn't to be seen anywhere. They quickly jumped up and crawled along the rafters to the stage ladders and climbed down into the control booth. Luthor wasn't on the stage at all. With no course of action clear, they tried to run.
Henderson and company ran up the stairs to the stage to find Luthor had vanished. Henderson barked to chase the team of hit men. They sprinted across the huge auditorium to the foyer they had entered from.
The Intergang crew had just escaped outside when thirty armed police officers surrounded them.
"Drop your weapons NOW!" Officer Sikes yelled.
Not being totally unreasonable or suicidal, they complied.
Inspector Henderson burst from the theater as the squad was finishing the handcuffing.
"Where's Luthor on the scanner?"
"It looks like he's on the roof."
The SWAT team kicked open the door to the roof with their rifles pointing in the direction of the scanner. They approached cautiously to a ventilation shaft opening. Inspector Henderson foolishly reached down as something flew out at him.
A flock of scared pigeons came up out of the shaft spooking the officers into firing. Dead birds dropped down to the floor and the group came to realize what had happened. Henderson, recovering from his embarrassment looked at the deceased animals finding a small tracer attached to the leg of one.
"We've been had."
In another part of the city, Luthor grasped Asabi s hand with enthusiasm. "Asabi, I think we've earned a vacation. But work comes first and you know what a work-a-holic I tend to be. Lead on to the fallen hero. I'm going to relish killing him."
"Of course, sir. It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back and soon Metropolis will be mine again Chapter 14:
"Cough! COUGH!!" The air was thick with dirt and dust. Clark was inhaling a lot of it, but what wasn't smothering him had begun to screen the kryptonite. His breath was making a difference. His strength ebbed back. His wounds were healing faster. He was becoming whole again. The entire room was filthy, but covered with lead particles. The deadly kryptonite was still having an effect, though. It was annoying him. He strained against the chains binding him. He was tired of being prey to every criminal with a chunk of that rock. The wall began to buckle. He felt a loosening of tension. The stones came flying out as the shackles gave in to the force pulling upon them.
Clark collapsed to the ground breathing heavily. His muscles rebelled against him shaking violently from the strain their master had inflicted upon them. Who was he fooling? The kryptonite was going to take much longer than that to recover from. The blow to the head from Asabi had brought back his headache. He struggled to rise as he heard a sound coming from the door. Panic, then determination overwhelmed him. He wasn't going to make it easy for them. He forced his arms to push him upright. A bright light began to strike the dust floating in the air. Clark couldn't see who was approaching as two pairs of hands lifted up him to his feet.
"Superman, are you all right?" Jimmy asked as he draped Clark's arm over his shoulder.
Superman looked in wonderment as he saw Lois Lane standing right beside him with water in her eyes. She had found him.
Recovering, Clark looked over to the eyes of Lois and stated with deep conviction, "I've never felt better in my life. Lois, there's kryptonite in that wooden crate over in the corner. DON'T get an urge to wipe off the dirt. It's covered with lead."
Lois ran over to grab the box and carefully lifted it with the stone inside shifting from the movement. Jimmy continued to help Superman outside the room and up the stairway leading to the world above. Lois stood behind worrying for Clark's safety, holding kryptonite in hand. They reached the ground floor of the townhouse and then reached the outside. The street was deserted at this time of night and they made it to Lois' Jeep without incident. Jimmy carried Superman to the passenger side and hopped in the back seat of the car.
"Where are we going?" Superman asked.
"Your ho… probably better off at Clark's house. It's the closest to here."
Jimmy remarked from the back, "I hope he made it home by now, from the way you acted Lois, he was at death's door with that flu."
"Flu? Ah, Clark's a big boy. I'm sure he can handle some measly bug," Superman smirked, unable to resist the opportunity. Lois seemed to have covered nicely with an excuse for Clark's absence.
"Watch it, buster, that happens to be the man I'm in love with," Lois replied with a small smile.
Both Superman's and Jimmy's mouths dropped open. Jimmy was not looking at Superman's reaction and missed the expression of joy that covered Clark's face.
Beaming, but with a small amount of control, Clark looked over at Lois. She was driving one handed and patted him on the shoulder softly. Clark looked over at her and was distracted by something on her other hand. He stopped and stared.
"Nice ring," he commented.
Lois looked at her hand and realized she had never removed the engagement ring she had tried on in Clark's apartment. She blushed slightly and then recovered quickly. She decided she didn't mind one bit that it was still on. "Thank you."
Jimmy was befuddled, confused, just a little bit stupefied. "You mean you and Clark? You…"
Lois laughed at Jimmy's reaction and gently said, "Yes, Jimmy, you… and Superman are the first to officially know, so keep it quiet until we get a chance to announce it. Okay?"
Jimmy just nodded slightly and leaned back against the seat. Superman looked back and grinned, "I think they make a great couple."
The car was silent for the remaining voyage and Lois pulled up to Clark's apartment building. She got out and helped Clark from the car. The kryptonite was still having a small effect, but he felt much healthier and stood on his own strength.
"Jimmy," Lois said tossing the keys into the young man's lap. "Take the kryptonite directly to STAR labs for them to dispose of. No back talking. Clark and I will take care of Superman."
Jimmy mumbled in agreement and placed himself behind the wheel and took off. Superman and Lois made it to the door of Clark's apartment and Lois retrieved the key from her purse.
"I thought I might need it this morning, I hope you don't mind."
"Keep it. You should have one."
Lois closed the door behind them and started to head to the phone. She stopped when she heard chuckling from behind her.
"I don't think Jimmy is going to recover from his shock any time soon."
"He'll be fine. How are you doing?"
"I'm improving, just a bit sore. I had better change," he said wiping some of the grime off. "Clark should make an appearance."
"Clark had better write some of the story as well. I wouldn't want to receive all the acclaim." Lois smiled back at him.
"Now that doesn't sound like the Lois I know."
"This is the new and improved Lois. You're filthy. Go take a shower and change."
"Yes, madam," Clark said obeying her command and heading for the bedroom.
Lois called Perry and told him Superman was freed and they would be in shortly to write the story after she and Clark had interviewed Superman. She asked him to call the police and relay the address of the building Superman had been held captive. Perry informed her he would and asked if Superman was okay. Lois ensured him Superman would be fine and back at saving the world soon, probably as soon as he gets out of the shower Lois thought to herself.
Clark walked out cleaned and changed fifteen minutes later.
"Finished?" Lois asked from the couch.
"I took my time getting ready, I'm still a little groggy."
"It'd be a record for anybody else who had been kidnapped and beaten to the point of near death this morning."
"Mm," Clark grunted in agreement as he sat down beside her. "I wanted to talk before we headed to the Planet."
"Okay, that's a good idea," Lois said, "Oh, I've been holding these for you." She reached into her purse and pulled out Clark's glasses.
"Thanks, but I'll put them on in a minute. I want to make sure that this is what you really want. I've waited for this moment for a very long time and I think I'm even having a little difficulty believing it's true."
"What exactly are you asking, Clark?"
"Lois, I asked you last night to spend the rest of your life with me. I did it because I had almost lost you and couldn't imagine the living hell life would become without you in it. The one barrier to that was I had a double life I was keeping from you. I've wanted to tell you, but when it came down to it, something within me always held me back. Last minute doubts, maybe, I don't really know. I do know that you are the smartest, supportive, most beautiful woman I've ever met and I want to ask you that question again. I'M asking, both as Clark Kent and Superman. We're the same and I can't give up either. They're who I am, and from what you've shown me, you're beginning to accept that," Clark said proudly.
"What I am asking is… Lois, will you marry me?"
"Don't you mean us? Oh, never mind, yes. Yes! I'll marry whoever you are."
She reached her hands around his neck and kissed him softly on the lips. It led to a deeper, more passionate embrace and another kiss, and another. She would have been content to stay there for the remainder of the year, but pulled away.
"Clark, we need…"
Clark sighed contentedly, "I know. Let's get to work. I need you to fill me in on the way there. I'll call a cab."
Lois and Clark were holding hands as they stepped out of the elevator and into the Daily Planet News room. The room was busy, but not out of control. Lois remembered how sensitive she had been this morning to everyone's perception of her state of mind, but now she ignored them. They continued to walk down the ramp to their respective desks with a hazy sense of contentment. Reluctantly, they released each other and sat down and began to boot up their computers.
An old, gruff seasoned editor watched the couple enter and start working. He sat back and laughed. Even trial and misery couldn't stop those two when they got their minds to it. Perry began to whistle as he continued to work on the morning edition for tomorrow. It was late and this baby needed to be put to bed. Jimmy had called about twenty minutes ago with the news that the kryptonite had been taken care of and he didn't want to disturb his best reporters when they were on fire.
A small knock at the door interrupted him. They were both standing there grinning like Cheshire cats. Perry looked up with a face that gave no clue on how proud he was of these two. No reason to let it go to their heads, he thought. "What's up, you two? Superman at a hundred percent?"
"Superman is fine, Chief, we'd like to know what you've heard about Luthor. Have the police had any luck?"
"Nope, that man is as slick as oil. He used a trap door on the floor to drop below and underneath the auditorium. The police have discovered a tunnel that led them around twenty blocks. It reminded them of the secret vault Superman found last year under the Metropolis Museum. That had been blocked off so the police had given up, but this tunnel led them all over the city. They tried that address you sent, but it was completely abandoned."
"Then Luthor's escaped," Clark said eyes narrowing.
"I'm sure Superman will find him," Lois said with confidence.
Clark looked over and smiled at her. She wouldn't allow his mood to come down.
How were you able to find Superman? I'm sure the police were combing the city for him.
Lois looked at Perry and merely stated, "Why, Perry, that's why I'm the best."
The editor smiled at the young woman and was about to say something when Jimmy walked in. "What's a matter, son?"
"Oh, um, nothing," Jimmy said hesitantly looking at Clark and Lois. "Clark, are you feeling better?"
"Oh, I think so. Must have been a twenty-four hour thing. I heard it was going around."
Jimmy nodded and brightened. "I found something about the previous owner of the house where we found Superman."
"The artist?" Lois asked.
"Yeah, he died of lead poisoning."
The three looked at him and then promptly burst into laughter. Even sober irony could be hysterical. Jimmy grinned. "It wasn't from the solder in the work room, but from water pipes. The house was really old and he had never bothered to replace them."
Clark began heading back to his desk to begin typing when Lois coughed lightly with her hand to her mouth. He turned around concerned when he saw her small grin. "Shouldn't we tell him?"
Clark blushed slightly. "I suppose we should. Perry, Lois and I are engaged."
"You're not getting any time off until you finish that story."
They both laughed and Perry stood up and walked over to them. He shook Clark's hand with vigor and gave Lois a hug. "Congratulations you two. I had hoped you'd come around eventually."
Jimmy came over and shook Clark's hand as well. "Congrats!"
"Thanks, Perry, Jimmy. Come on, Clark, let's write our next award winning article."
"You make it sound like a routine occurrence, Lois," Clark teased.
"With the both of us writing, Clark, it will be!" Lois replied slyly.
Above Metropolis in the night air, a private plane flew silently over the clouds heading to the ocean. Asabi piloted it towards the island home his employer owned. He cursed himself the fool. Somehow, Superman had broken free from his bonds and he and Lex had returned to an empty house with the police in the distance. The kryptonite was gone as well.
Lex Luthor stared out the window. Three times, THREE times, Superman had been with in his grasp and escaped. His own escape from imprisonment was a bittersweet victory. Silently, he vowed, there will be another day. Soon…
Henderson entered his living room with relief. He had spent hours explaining to the Mayor and the city council exactly what had happened. The Intergang group had been adamant in their silence, but their various past records hinted what had happened.
The officials had finally allowed him to go home and rest. He sat on his couch and closed his eyes, content. Superman was back saving the world from itself. Luthor had escaped, but Henderson would keep his eyes open. Superman would be on the look-out as well, he assured himself. Fatigue finally overwhelmed him and he succumbed to slumber.
Bill Church, Jr. sat furious at his office. Some of his top operatives were in jail and they had failed to eliminate Luthor. To top it off, Superman was freed. The day had gone to waste. He opened a box on his desk and reached for a cigar. They had a calming effect upon him. He snipped off the end and searched for his lighter. The fine gold etching of his initials shone in the light. Click! Click! Nothing.
Disgusted he threw it to the side of the room and looked for a match. The world seemed to be against him. Ah, matches, he delightedly thought, finding a book in the bottom drawer. Clumsily, he dropped them to the ground. He cursed and reached to get them, when a guard walked in.
In surprise, he jerked his head up and hit the desk yelling in pain, "Damnation!"
The guard, fearing for his life, fled the room.
It was close to midnight when Clark and Lois returned to Clark's apartment. Perry had driven them out as soon as their stories had arrived at his desk. They didn't put up much of a struggle. Clark slumped into a chair in the kitchen, exhausted. His wounds were healing gradually and by morning he should be healthy and whole.
"Do you want me to make some coffee?" Lois asked coming up behind him rubbing his broad shoulders.
He sighed in blissful ease, "Sure, thanks."
Lois went to the cabinet and began preparing the coffee maker. Clark got up and sat on the couch while Lois was roaming around the kitchen. Mr. Coffee began to pour out the hot liquid and Lois found two mugs. She looked over at Clark and found him to be sound asleep. She laughed slightly and brought the cups to the coffee table and sat beside him. The movement stirred Clark and one eyelid opened partially.
"Guess I'm not a very good host tonight."
"Shhhh. You're fine. You haven't slept in two days," Lois remarked and noticed Clark's eyes were closed again.
She smiled and laid back onto his shoulder. He must not have been completely asleep because he reached his arm around her. She took hold of his hand, wrapping his fingers in hers. She laid contentedly next to his warm body. Her eyes became heavy and soon she entered a peaceful slumber.
THE END — FOR NOW
Hoped you enjoyed it. Thanks to Dan, Lisa, and Connie for encouragement and support and Leigh for guidance. (P.S. Believe it not, I wrote this BEFORE seeing "Batman Forever," Bruce's acceptance of both his personas mirroring Clark's to a degree.) — Mike Ring (email@example.com)