Summary: Should he tell Lois? He knew he should. They had agreed — no more secrets — and they were soon to be married, after all. But Clark is afraid that the mysterious phone call he received will lead to a trap, and he's worried Lois will be placed in danger if she tags along. An intriguing story in which Lois and Clark investigate a crime against , Perry lays down the law, and Lois takes cooking lessons.
Clark stared at his computer screen. "Why isn't this making sense?" he muttered, hitting a few more keys. He frowned, not noticing Lois stepping off the elevator, trying to balance her briefcase along with two coffee cups. She grinned at the sight of her fiance struggling over his terminal in the nearly empty newsroom. Setting her briefcase down on her chair, she left one of the cups on her desk and carried the other over to Clark.
"Problem?" she inquired, handing him the coffee after uncovering it.
"Yes," Clark answered darkly, accepting the coffee and taking a sip before setting it down. "Does this make sense to you?"
Lois read over his shoulder. "It makes sense, but there's too much information. You're trying to tell two stories at once. Why don't you add a sidebar?"
Clark brightened. "I knew there was a reason I asked you to marry me." He glance around surreptitiously and began to type at superspeed as Lois smiled and shook her head. "Always glad to give Superman advice," she whispered, patting him on the shoulder as she returned to her own desk. Clark ignored her and continued to work.
Lois flipped on her computer and took a sip of coffee. "I called you this morning — I thought we could walk to work together."
Clark finally looked up. "Oh, I'm sorry. I was out early-" he lowered his voice as more people were arriving — "water main break. So I figured I'd come in and get a Monday morning head start."
Lois nodded as Perry White exited his office. "Hey, you two — how's that story on the defective school buses coming?"
"Finishing it up now, chief," Clark replied, hitting "Print" on his computer with a flourish.
"Good," Perry continued, "because I want you to concentrate on General Fordham's arrival this afternoon. He's coming to Metropolis to speak at the Children's Foundation Fundraiser on Wednesday, and he's landing at 2:00 PM at Metropolis Air Force Base. Cover it," he finished, adding, "And an interview wouldn't hurt."
"They're talking about him running in 2000," Clark mused.
"He's the next great thing to happen to this country — I guarantee it. I want you two on this."
"OK, chief," Lois smiled as Perry headed back to his office. She looked over at Clark. "Research?"
The morning stretched into early afternoon and Clark was just about to suggest they get a bite to eat before going to the Base when his phone rang.
"Clark Kent," he answered, watching, amused, as Lois terrorized a hapless research intern.
"Mr. Kent," the voice on the other end of the phone intoned. "I was told you could get a message to Superman."
"Possibly," Clark replied, suppressing a laugh as the intern fled downstairs. "What's the message?"
"Tell Superman to meet me at the top of the Metropolis Theater at 8 PM. He must come alone and not tell anyone."
"Who is this?" Clark demanded, suddenly focusing all his attention on the caller. "What do you want?"
The caller seemed to hesitate and then responded, "Only Superman can help me. Please — he must come." The line went dead.
Clark stared at the phone, puzzled. He looked up as Lois approached and made a quick decision not to tell her about the call. Something about it didn't feel right and she would have insisted on accompanying him.
"Are you ready to go?" she asked, getting her notes together.
"Yes, I was thinking we should-" he broke off, looking off to the side with an expression Lois knew only too well.
"What?" she sighed.
"A five car pile-up," Clark replied, suddenly wishing he had an answering service. "Go on ahead — I'll meet you at the Air Force Base…" He was gone.
"No, you won't," Lois predicted from experience.
Metropolis Air Force Base was becoming a security nightmare. Reporters and news crews were everywhere. Lois and Jimmy had somehow secured a position near the front and had a bird's eye view as the handsome officer exited the plane.
Though he was the same age as Perry, he looked about ten years younger and exuded a charm that promised to serve him well in the political arena. He was followed by Major Beth Jensen, his longtime assistant and advisor. Though she'd had plenty of opportunity for advancement, Jensen had remained steadfastly loyal to Fordham, even forgoing another, more lucrative post in order to stay with him. Jensen stood as tall as the General himself, and was generally felt to be even more imposing.
Fordham stepped up to the microphones and held up a hand for silence. The sun glinted off his right wrist and Jimmy clicked his shutter, muttering in frustration, "Damn! That glare is going to ruin the photo! What is he wearing on his wrist?"
"A POW/MIA bracelet," Lois replied. "Don't you remember? He got behind the effort last year — he made sure everyone on his staff had one, although he made a great show of being the first."
Jimmy shook his head as the General began to speak. "Thank you, Metropolis, for the warm welcome. I'm sure my staff and I will enjoy our stay in this fine city."
"General, Jack Halliday, LNN News," interrupted the well-dressed man behind Lois, who rolled her eyes. "Is this an early campaign stop? What are your plans for 2000?"
"Mr. Halliday, it would be premature to discuss that at this time. After all, it's only fair, we have the candidates of this year who need our support."
"General, Lois Lane, Daily Planet. But it is true that you're throwing your hat in the ring for 2000?"
The General smiled. "Well, Ms. Lane, the turn of the century is right around the corner. The American people are going to need fresh faces and strong minds to guide then through what could be a potentially confusing and even dangerous time."
He waved to the crowd. "Thank you, Metropolis!" He stepped back from the microphone and Major Jensen escorted him to a moving car which sped off.
"Well, that was informative," Lois muttered as they followed the rest of the crowd around the barriers.
Jimmy began to rewind his camera. "I guess there wasn't too much chance for an interview, huh," he agreed. "CK didn't miss much."
Lois filed her story quickly back at the Planet. She got on the phone and began making some calls, eventually securing an appointment for Clark and herself to see General Fordham for twenty minutes the following afternoon. Perry did not emerge from his office, so she took the opportunity to leave before she'd have to make up an excuse for Clark's absence.
She ran into the Man of Steel himself outside the building. "Oh, hello," she grinned, kissing him on the cheek. "Fancy meeting you here."
"I'm sorry," Clark apologized. "I just finished up and heard about the arrival on the radio. How did it go?"
"We've got an interview with General Fordham tomorrow afternoon," Lois replied, tucking her arm into his as they walked, "but now we're finished for the evening."
"Got any ideas?"
Lois looked up at him. "For a man who's capable of as much as you are, you really have a lousy memory. It's Monday. I have my cooking class tonight."
"Oh, right," said Clark, who clearly had hoped she had forgotten. "Lois — about that class…"
"Clark, I've told you. We're going to get married and I want to be able to cook you an edible meal once in a while. Why is that so wrong?" She stopped walking and faced him.
Clark sighed. "Sweetheart, it isn't. It's just — I think you need to accept that while you are a great reporter and a wonderful human being, there are just some things in this world you are simply not cut out to do. And cooking is one of them. There no shame in that!"
Lois looked him in the eye. "I am an intelligent, college-educated women of the 90's and I feel I should be able to boil water. And I will," she finished, determined.
Clark laughed. "You are truly the most stubborn person I know," he said, putting his arms around her. "If you set your mind to it, I bet you could be a gourmet cook."
Now it was Lois' turn to laugh. "Let's not get carried away. Pasta is my goal."
"Go for it," Clark urged, and she grinned and kissed him.
"What are you going to do tonight?" she asked as they resumed walking.
Clark thought of the phone call he'd received. "Nothing," he lied, ignoring the pang of guilt cutting through him. "There's a good game on, so…"
"Typical," Lois teased as they reached her car. "The woman cooks and the man watches sports."
Clark opened his mouth to protest and Lois took the opportunity to plant a kiss on him, right there in the darkening streets of Metropolis, that neither one of them would stop thinking about for the rest of the night.
Clark went home and changed into sweats, briefly considering blowing off the meeting. The whole thing sounded fishy and he had a very bad feeling about it. Plus, he hated lying to Lois. He had sworn to himself after she had discovered the truth about him that he wouldn't lie to her anymore. But, then again, the person had said they needed his help, so, "I guess this is a job for Superman," he muttered, doing his second quick change of the evening as he flew off the terrace into the dusk.
The Metropolis Theater was not one of the tallest buildings in the city — not even close. But it was tall enough so that no one could see the rooftop from the sidewalk below — especially on Mondays when the theater was dark.
Superman landed on the roof. The place looked so deserted he thought perhaps the party he was to meet had changed their mind. "Hello?" he called, turning around and peering into the darkness.
"Hello, Superman," a voice came from behind him. Superman whirled around. Even with his enhanced vision, he could barely make out the outline of a figure stepping in the shadows, wearing a large black hat that completely obscured any facial features. "Good of you to come," the voice whispered. "I do have to say you have always responded well to calls for help."
"What is this all about?" Superman asked, puzzled. "Is there a problem?"
Soft laugher. "No problem at all. It's just — your time is up. You've served the people well. But you are no longer needed."
Superman, confused, looked around in case this was some kind of cosmic joke. There was a box on the ground which he x-rayed but which seemed to be lead-lined. The sick feeling inside him increased and he decided it was time to stop playing games.
"Look," he tried, "I don't know what the problem is. I came here because I was told you needed help, but if that isn't true, I have places I need to be."
He turned, prepared to fly to off when he was answered, "Yes, Superman, you have done a good job. It's a shame it has come to this, actually. But all good things must end, as they say. And now is your time to end."
Superman turned back, wondering what the hell this person was babbling about. The figure picked up the box and opened it, revealing an unwelcome sight — a chunk of kryptonite. Superman felt the familiar pain before he even registered what was going on. "No!" he cried, focusing his heat vision on the box, hoping to get this person, whoever it was, to drop it. His sense of aim was weakened, however, and he missed the box, hitting their wrist instead. There was a howl of pain as heat came into contact with metal and Superman realized he must have hit their watch. It had the desired effect, though — the box dropped. Unfortunately, the kryptonite rolled out and Superman collapsed in a heap. He was vaguely aware of the figure searching vainly for something on the ground in the dark, and then reluctantly giving up.
Superman looked up through the haze of anguish he was in and barely managed to say, "Why? Why are you doing this?"
"I suppose you deserve to know — it's only fair…" but Superman was now unconscious and barely breathing, as his tormentor discovered, examining him. After leaving the kryptonite in place for a few more minutes before returning it to the box, the figure glanced back at the lifeless Superman, walked back over to him, bent down, and very slowly rolled him to the edge of the roof, pushing Superman over the edge. The only sound heard was that of his body hitting the ground.
Looking down, one could just make out Superman lying in the alley below. The dark figure gathered the box and exited via the fire escape on the opposite side of the roof.
It was a lone stray cat who was the sole witness to the miracle that occurred moments later — Superman began to stir. He opened his eyes, stared up at the moonless night and groaned softly to himself. "I could have been watching the game," he muttered, pulling himself into a sitting position against the wall of the theater. He drew his knees up to his chest and rested his pounding head on them. It was nearly an hour before he could gather enough strength to get to his feet.
Lois reapplied the ice to her hand. Her instructor had tried to be kind about the whole thing, but it was clear he thought she was a menace in the kitchen. "He's right," she thought to herself. "Who am I kidding?" Glad she had only scalded herself this time, and not injured anyone else, she tossed the ice into the sink, her wounded hand not nearly as painful as her wounded pride. She was debating calling Clark and confessing her defeat to him, when there was a knock at the door.
What she saw through the peephole made her gasp loudly, and when she threw open the door, she nearly cried. It was Clark, dressed as Superman, but he looked terrible. His face was scratched and bleeding, his suit was ripped in several places and he seemed to have trouble walking as he entered her apartment as quickly as he could manage, shutting the door behind him.
"Clark, my god! Are you all right?" Lois demanded, giving him a once-over and touching his face. "What happened?"
Clark sank down on the couch, wincing painfully as he did, muttering, "I don't even know, really."
He started to tell the story, beginning with the phone call at the Planet. Lois opened her mouth to complain about being left in the dark, but his disheveled appearance and obvious pain stopped her. He told her about the man and the roof, but when he got to the part about the kryptonite, she could not keep silent any longer.
"Clark, you could have been killed!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. Lois was rarely frightened for Clark's safety, but he looked so vulnerable at the moment that she wanted to cling to him forever.
"Lois," Clark pleaded.
"Oh!" Lois pulled away, realizing she was actually hurting him. "I'm sorry! Where does it hurt?"
"Where doesn't it hurt," Clark groaned, shifting position. Lois went to get a damp cloth and began to gently clean the scratches on his face. He reached up and caught her hand. "What happened to you?" he asked, examining the burn.
Lois pulled her hand away. "Small kitchen accident — no comments, please," she replied. "Keep going — what happened next?"
"I don't remember too much after the kryptonite. I got him to drop the box, but that made it worse. I was trying to stay conscious and breathe at the same time and it wasn't easy. He also wasn't making much sense. Lois, he just stood back and watched! He was just waiting for me to stop breathing."
"So, what did you do?" Lois asked, staring at him, the cloth in her hand forgotten.
Clark shrugged. "The only thing I could — I stopped breathing." On her puzzled look, he explained, "I slowed my heart rate and respiration down to where they couldn't be detected. As soon as he was satisfied I was dead, he put the kryptonite away."
Lois looked relieved, as Clark added, "Of course, that was when he pushed me off the roof."
Clark nodded. "Just rolled me right off. A few trash bags broke my fall, but I was out of it for a while, I guess, because when I came to, he was gone."
Lois, horrified, stood up and walked across the room. When she turned around, tears were running down her face. "You should have told me about this! What if something had happened? How would I have known? Clark -"
Clark, ignoring the pain in his side, got up and put his arms around her. "I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair. I just didn't want you in any danger."
Lois pulled away from him. "You need to tell me what's going on. Clark, we're going to be married."
"I know. You're right."
Lois found it impossible to stay mad at him when he agreed with her, and besides, he looked so beat up, she just wanted to take care of him. "Wait — how did you get here?" she suddenly realized.
"I walked," Clark confessed, sitting back down with difficulty. "I was trying to remain inconspicuous, which isn't easy in this getup," he indicated the battered suit he still wore.
"Why didn't you change?" Lois wondered, knowing he always kept his "Clark" clothes close at hand.
Clark sighed patiently. "I don't exactly have any superpowers right now," he reminded her, leaning back on the cushions. "My changing clothes out in the street would definitely not have been inconspicuous." Lois grinned, as he added, "Though I'd love to get out of this suit now."
"Why don't you go take a hot shower," Lois suggested, indicating the bathroom with a wave of her hand. "You might feel better."
"That sounds great," Clark admitted, slowly getting up and heading in that direction.
"There are some clean towels in the closet!" Lois called after him.
He emerged about twenty minutes later dressed in the clothes he had been wearing before he left his apartment. He joined Lois, who was stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Are you hungry?" she wanted to know.
Clark shook his head, exhausted. "I really should get going."
Lois turned to him, surprised. "I thought you'd stay here tonight."
Clark grinned at her. "Any other night I'd consider that offer a gift, but tonight…"
Lois made a face at him. "Very cute. I just meant that you're already here and lying down — and this way I can take care of you."
Clark was too tired to argue. "OK, you win," he sighed, closing his eyes. He opened them a moment later — Lois was too quiet. "What?"
It's just — this psycho guy, whoever he is, thinks Superman is dead now, right?"
"So, sooner or later, he's going to see Superman saving people or whatever and figure out that you're alive."
"Later, I think, rather than sooner," Clark muttered, mourning his current lack of superpowers.
"The thing is," Lois continued, "there's no body. If Superman had died, someone would have discovered his body. That would make international news. This guy is going to be waiting for this."
Clark hadn't considered this, but he saw her point. "Superman's death would be -"
"Devastating," Lois interrupted, raising herself up on her elbow and facing him. "There would be rioting, wars — it would cause worldwide chaos."
"You really think so?" Clark asked. "Worldwide chaos?"
Lois ignored him. "The authorities would want to keep something like that quiet — maybe cover it up. But they couldn't cover up Superman's absence -"
"Especially if two intrepid reporters were to cover the story," Clark finished, getting the idea. "So we write a story on Superman's disappearance and I lie low for a while until we figure out this guy's agenda."
"Exactly," Lois said triumphantly. "What do you think?"
"I think this secret identity thing is going to come in very handy now. But most of all," he reached out and stroked the outline of her face, "most of all, I think you are brilliant." He reached over and kissed her, wincing at the effort. Lois kissed him back, but the pressure of her leaning on him caused him to pull away in pain.
"Clark," Lois said suddenly, "take off your shirt."
"Lois, really, I told you -"
"Clark, I'm not kidding," Lois insisted. "Take it off."
Clark looked at her and then sat up and slowly removed his shirt. Lois could not suppress a gasp. His back was so bruised it hurt her to see it.
She took a deep breath. "Oh, Clark. Can I do anything for you? Maybe some ice…"
She got off the bed, but Clark caught her arm and shook his head, touched by her concern. "No, sweetheart, don't worry. I'm a pretty quick healer. I just need some rest."
Lois nodded reluctantly. "OK." She yawned. "I'm going to brush my teeth — I'll be right back."
By the time she finished getting ready for bed, Clark had climbed under the covers and was sleeping, his breathing quiet and even. Lois carefully joined him, taking care not to do anything which might cause him further pain. But as she reached over to turn out the light, he opened his eyes and stretched out an arm towards her. She rested her head gingerly on it and smiled up at him before they both fell quickly asleep.
Hours later, the alarm woke them both with a start and Clark groaned as Lois rolled over and shut it off. "How are you doing?" she asked tenderly, brushing his hair off his face.
"A little stiff," he replied, stretching carefully. "But better."
He did look better, Lois had to admit. The scratches on his face were just barely noticeable and the bruises on his back had faded considerably. "You do heal fast, Mr. Kent," she marveled. "Do you think you could handle a good morning kiss?"
"Let's live dangerously," Clark decided and she kissed him.
Clark grinned. "I could get used to this."
Lois laughed. "At some point, you'd better!" She climbed out of bed. "Give me a few minutes to shower and dress and then we can stop by your place on the way to work."
"OK, but get a move on," Clark urged. "It's late."
"Yes, but it doesn't take you long to…" she broke off.
"It's going to take me longer this morning," Clark pointed out. "I can't exactly move at 'superspeed'."
"I'll hurry," Lois promised, disappearing into the bathroom.
Clark slowly got up. He actually did feel slightly better. Spying a candle on Lois' dresser, he attempted to light it with his heat vision. Nothing. He tried lifting the bed but succeeded only in re-igniting the pain in his shoulder. His X- ray vision did nothing to penetrate the bedroom wall (although he realized moments later that if it had, he would have had a clear view into Lois' shower. "Serves you right, Kent," he muttered).
Lois was dressed and ready in record time and they sped quickly to Clark's apartment where, for the first time, as Clark showered and changed, Lois began to think about who might be behind the attempt on Clark's life. "Don't you think it's strange," she wondered as Clark picked out a tie, "that this man didn't identify himself to you? I mean, he went through all this trouble to be the man who kills Superman and then he doesn't even tell you who he is?"
"He didn't go through that much trouble," Clark pointed out. "He called me, I came, he had kryptonite, it was over. It was like a military ambush. And I don't really remember what he said," he reminded her as she straightened his tie. "The whole thing is kind of a blur." He grabbed his keys off the table. "Ready?"
Lois didn't move. "He didn't expect you to live to tell tales," she mused. "So maybe he didn't cover his tracks all that well."
Clark raised an eyebrow and she smiled. "Let's call Jimmy and tell him we'll be in a little late."
Lois parked outside the Metropolis Theater. The next performance wasn't until that evening, so the theater was still mostly deserted. They went around back to the fire escape and Lois looked up, contemplating the climb in her high heels.
"I don't suppose you're able to fly yet," she asked hopefully.
"Oh, way to lie low, Lois," Clark shook his head at her. "And no, I can't." He reached up and pulled down the ladder. "Ladies first." Lois hesitantly began to climb. As she stepped onto the roof and looked around, Clark, behind her, was mentally trying to reconstruct the events of the previous evening. "This place sure looks different in the daytime," he mused.
"OK — so where were you?" Lois asked, her reporter instincts kicking in.
Clark crossed to other side of the roof. "Here," he said, measuring the distance between himself and the edge. "And he was there," he continued, pointing to the spot where the mysterious figure had been standing. Lois began to look around and Clark tried to scan the area with his super vision, which unfortunately was not yet in working order.
"Anything?" Lois asked.
"Yeah," Clark muttered, suddenly darting forward and picking something up with his handkerchief. It was a melted piece of metal "- from his wrist," Clark breathed. "I thought it was his watch."
Lois took the handkerchief from him and examined the nondescript lump of metal. "I wonder if Dr. Klein could do anything with this."
"It's worth a try," Clark agreed. A further search of the rooftop turned up nothing and they decided they'd better head to the office. Lois looked down over the edge of the roof and shuddered, thinking of Clark falling off.
As she went to step onto the fire escape, she turned. "I don't suppose now you could -"
"I'm going, I'm going."
By the time they stopped at StarLabs and spoke with Dr. Klein (who was not very encouraging), it was late and parking was difficult in the vicinity of the Daily Planet. They found a space several blocks away and walked briskly through the streets.
It was nearly 11 AM by the time they entered the newsroom and Perry was having a fit. Jimmy glanced at Lois and Clark, shook his head and fled to the safe haven of the darkroom.
"Where in the name of the KING have you two been?! I'd like to hear your plan before your interview with General Fordham! The Elvis Festival is beginning tonight at the Metropolis Cinema and I intend to be there!"
Clark and Lois exchanged glances and Lois replied, "Perry, can we go into your office?"
Perry looked at them and, realizing there was something else going on, nodded, then led the way, shutting the door behind them. He sat down at his desk and said, "Let's have it."
Clark began, "Perry, Superman has disappeared — no one has seen him since last night."
All the way over in the car, Lois and Clark had debated whether to tell Perry the truth — not the whole truth, of course, but at least what had happened to Superman the night before and "his" plan to lay low. Clark hated outright lying to Perry, but Lois had correctly pointed out that telling him their plan would have forced Perry to compromise his journalistic integrity by printing something he knew wasn't true, and neither of them wanted to put him in that position.
Now Perry looked puzzled. "Well, maybe he's off in another part of the world saving someone or something."
Clark looked helplessly at Lois, who shook her head. "No, Perry. We have reason to believe he may have been ambushed last night. We know he's disappeared — and the authorities are covering it up."
Perry frowned and Clark and Lois tensed. Neither one of them was enjoyed lying to Perry — even the little white lies they told to cover Clark's numerous absences gave them pangs of guilt every so often.
"This is quite a story," Perry said slowly. "It could cause serious panic." He looked at them. "But the people have the right to know."
"And sooner rather than later, Lois added. "I think we need to bring LNN in on this too."
Perry sighed. "I really detest giving Jack Halliday a scoop."
"Perry," Lois tried desperately. "People need to know about this as soon as possible."
Perry held up a hand. "But this is Superman and if we can help him in any way, then okay. But I can only spare one of you for this."
Lois and Clark looked stunned. "But Perry, we're a team," Lois protested. "We always work together."
"One of you is going to interview Andrew Fordham if I have to hold the tape recorder for you myself. Lois — you do whatever you have to for Superman. Clark — I want that interview."
"Chief," Clark said quickly, "maybe -"
"You got a problem with this, Kent?" Perry asked.
His two star reporters exchanged glances. "No, sir," Clark answered. He stood up and guided Lois out of the office, closing the door behind them.
"Now what?" Lois demanded.
"I guess it's time to inform the public of Superman's disappearance." Lois nodded glumly and lifted her phone to call LNN. It took a few minutes to convince Jack Halliday of the urgency of the situation — and of Lois' sincerity.
"So, I guess I'm going to owe you for this, Lois?" he inquired warily.
Lois sighed. "Jack — this is for the good of the public — and of Superman. Something's happened to him — I just know it — and it's being covered up. People have to know now."
Jack agreed to look into it and Lois hung up breathlessly. "I think he went for it."
"OK," Clark said, "I'll give Dr. Klein a call — do you want the honor of writing Superman's story?"
"That was my assignment," Lois reminded him wryly. "How are you feeling?" she added softly.
Clark shrugged. "Tired, but otherwise okay, though not especially 'super.'
She smiled sympathetically, and began to type, "SUPERMAN MISSING? AUTHORITIES DENY PROBLEM." while Clark got Dr. Klein on the phone and inquired as to his progress.
"It isn't very much to go on," Dr. Klein warned.
"Please, Dr. Klein. It's very important — to Superman."
Dr. Klein sighed. "I'll do what I can — but it's going to take some time."
Clark hung up in frustration, but his attention was diverted by an "LNN Special Report" which broke in on the TV monitor in the newsroom. Jack Halliday's face appeared on the screen. "Good afternoon," he intoned. "LNN has just been made aware of a breaking story — the disappearance of Superman." He went on to explain how Superman hadn't been seen since he went off on a "mysterious mission" the previous evening and how police and government officials were denying any problem. He promised, "Further bulletins as events warrant," and signed off.
Lois and Clark exchanged glances as the newsroom erupted into chaos. Perry emerged from his office looking none too pleased and it took nearly an hour for everything to even slightly settle down.
Lois finished her story and turned it in, reminding Clark, "We have to interview General Fordham in 45 minutes."
"We?" Clark grinned. "If I remember correctly, half of 'we' was reassigned."
Lois began to protest, when they both noticed Major Beth Jensen emerging from the elevator. Spying the two reporters, she headed towards them. "Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent," she said formally, approaching them. "General Fordham has requested that your interview be held tomorrow afternoon instead of today," making it sound less like a request than an order.
"Tomorrow?" Clark puzzled. "But the fundraiser is tomorrow."
"The fundraiser is at 3:00. General Fordham will see you for twenty minutes beginning at 2 PM. Unfortunately, he must concentrate on this crisis involving Superman today."
Perry had been approaching and nearly fell over when he heard this last remark. "You telling me that the General is postponing his interview because of the Superman situation?" he demanded.
Major Jensen nodded, almost proudly. "The General feels strongly about protecting the people — if Superman isn't around, he will be the one to step in."
"Judas Priest," Perry muttered, seeing his interview fly out the window. "Why is nothing ever simple?"
Unexpectedly, Major Jensen smiled. "Mr. White, in our lines of work, we should know better that to make any plans. Personally, I was headed to the Elvis Film Festival, but that isn't going to happen now."
Perry's eyes lit up and he led Major Jensen toward his office. "You know, I actually met the King…"
Lois watched them go off and shook her head, and then turned to Clark with renewed determination. "OK — I'm going to StarLabs."
"I'll start putting together our notes on General Fordham," Clark reluctantly decided.
He looked tired, and Lois kissed him gently. "I'll call when I know something." She grabbed her briefcase and headed for the elevator.
Clark grabbed Jimmy, who was walking by. "Hey — can you get me a tape of General Fordham's arrival?"
"You could have seen the live show," Jimmy reminded him, then relented. "Yeah — give me a few minutes."
Clark watched the tape Jimmy dug up and spent the rest of the afternoon typing notes into story form. He replayed the tape several times, noting the silver bracelet glinting on the General's wrist and smiling at how Jack Halliday attempted to question Fordham and was rebuffed. "It's only fair, we have the candidates of this year who need our support." He watched, amused, as Lois refused to take no for an answer and questioned him again anyway.
He looked up as Perry and Major Jensen finally emerged. "I really must be going," Major Jensen lamented, glancing at her watch. "General Fordham will be finished with his meeting by now."
Something struck Clark as he watched her pull her sleeve back down. "Major," he wondered, "doesn't everyone on General Fordham's staff wear POW/MIA bracelets?"
Jensen looked startled. "Yes — I left mine in the hotel. You're very observant, Mr. Kent!"
"Occupational hazard," Clark explained, grinning as Perry guided Jensen towards the elevators.
"Uh, Beth, when this Superman situation gets cleared up, maybe you and I could — take in a film? or two?"
It was all Clark could do not to laugh and he was saved by the ringing of the phone. "Clark Kent."
"Hi, it's me." Lois' voice came over the line.
"Dr. Klein had a breakthrough," Lois said excitedly. "The piece of metal was part of a POW/MIA bracelet."
Clark turned to stare at the closing elevator doors. "No way."
"Yes! Although he's having trouble reading the name and I don't know if we can trace it anyway…"
"Lois — Major Jensen just left here — and we were just discussing the fact that she seemed to have 'left her bracelet back at the hotel.'"
"Jensen? Clark do you think it was her? I thought you said it was a man!"
Clark held his pounding head. "I don't know — I can't remember. I guess it could have been her." He sighed. "We're going to need something more than this."
"Dr. Klein's working on it," Lois promised. "Why don't we call it a day and meet at your place? I'll put something together for dinner."
"Lois," Clark protested. "I'm already in a weakened state."
"Oh, very funny, Kent. You're a regular laugh riot today."
Jimmy walked by and handed Clark the evening edition of the Daily Planet bearing Lois' headline and a file photo of Superman.
Clark stood up and put on his jacket and then realized he should check in with Perry before leaving. He knocked on the editor-in-chief's door and entered.
"Uh, chief," he said hesitantly. "I'm going to meet Lois."
Perry looked up grimly from the evening edition. "Not so fast," he warned. "How did she do?"
"Well," Clark said, hesitantly, sitting down, "I think we'll know something tomorrow." He decided not to mention the bracelet angle just yet.
Perry frowned, looking at the headline. "I don't like this at all. It's not like Superman to just drop out of sight.
"We'll figure this out," Clark assured him.
"That's Lois' assignment," Perry reminded him. "How is yours coming along?"
"I'm trying, Chief. Fordham rescheduled. You'd think a man with that much to talk about would be a little more receptive to the media."
Perry did not look pleased. "I want this interview, Clark. The fundraiser is tomorrow."
"I know, Chief." Clark suddenly looked exhausted and despite his annoyance, Perry found himself softening.
"You okay, son?"
Clark smiled wearily. "Yeah. Just — fighting something off, I guess."
"Well, get some rest!" Perry ordered. "I need you in top form for tomorrow."
"Aye, aye, Chief," Clark said, getting up.
"And Clark… let me know what you find out about Superman."
Clark saluted and left.
Clark was positive something was going to happen that evening, but he and Lois watched LNN all night and there was no mention of anything unusual except the story on Superman's disappearance. His parents had called earlier, worried, and he could have kicked himself for forgetting to warn them. He assured them everything was fine, giving them only a brief, watered-down version of the previous evening's events and apologizing profusely for frightening them. Martha insisted on speaking to Lois who backed up Clark's story, promising, "Don't worry — I'm here to look after him."
Clark buried his head in his hands as Lois hung up the phone. "What is wrong with me?" he moaned. "How could I not have called them?"
Lois put her arms around him. "Clark, you've been through a lot in the past 24 hours! When this is all over, we'll go to Smallville and they can see for themselves that you're OK."
She began to rub his shoulders as he leaned back on the couch, exhausted. "That feels great," he murmured.
Lois came around and sat down beside him, pulling his head into her lap. "Do you really think Jensen might be behind this?" she inquired, massaging his temples.
"Who knows," Clark sighed, "but we really need to find out before Perry forges a friendship with her."
Lois laughed. "Who would have thought? Perry and the Major." Clark didn't respond and she continued, "We'll tell him when we have something concrete. What do you think? Clark?" Lois looked down and realized he had finally fallen asleep. She gently extricated herself from the couch and covered him with a blanket.
Shutting off the television, she stood watching him in the ensuing darkness and wondered if she should stay. Clark stirred and moaned and she realized he had been in more pain all day than he had let on. She knelt down next to him and gently stroked his hair, debating the merits of waking him and moving him to the bed, eventually concluding she really didn't want to disturb him. She did decide to take the bed herself, telling herself it was in case he needed her, when the truth was she needed to be near him. She changed into an oversized T- shirt she found in one of his drawers and climbed into his bed, wishing he were lying next to her. The pillows had his scent on them, though, and she fell asleep clutching one in her arms.
Clark stirred fitfully on the couch. In his head, he saw the shadow of someone standing over him. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he knew it was important so he tried harder to listen. The person came closer and he could feel hands touching him and suddenly he was falling, falling… He sat up in a cold sweat, crying out, "No!" and shaking uncontrollably.
"Clark?" Lois was by his side in an instant, her cool hand on his forehead. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Clark, disoriented, muttered, "What did they say?"
"It was a dream," Lois soothed, as Clark swung his feet onto the floor, holding his head. "What was it about?"
Clark shook his head, the images fading. "I don't know — I was up on the roof and someone was talking to me, but I couldn't understand what they were saying. Why can't I remember?"
"You will," Lois promised. "Give it time."
"I don't have time, Lois," Clark snapped, getting up. "This maniac could strike at any time and I need to figure this out!" He looked at her suddenly, puzzled. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Leaving, unless you calm down," his fiancee retorted, raising her eyebrows at him.
"I'm sorry," Clark sighed, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "You really didn't have to stay — I'm okay."
"Yeah, I can tell."
"I just need to figure this out," Clark repeated, obviously still disturbed. "It's like it's right there, but I can't see it!"
"You need to rest," Lois replied, firmly, taking his arm. Clark tried to protest but she reminded him of her promise to his parents, so he obediently followed her inside, this time joining her in bed. She grinned as she settled into his arms. "Still sorry I stayed?"
"I never said I was sorry you stayed. In fact, I'm glad you did."
The mood in Metropolis the next day was anxious. The morning paper had full coverage of Superman's disappearance and speculation on what had happened to him was running rampant. General Fordham had released a statement saying, "The people have nothing to worry about. They are well protected."
Walking to work, Lois hurried to keep up with an agitated Clark, who though he had slept fitfully the rest of the night, seemed to have regained most of his powers. He probably could have even flown, though it would have taken a lot out of him.
As they rounded the corner, Lois turned to ask Clark if he'd given any thought to Jensen's possible motive, when they heard a scream. They looked up and saw an out-of- control car careening down the street. It was on a collision course with an old woman who could not possibly get out of the way in time. Clark had his hand on his tie and was already stepping off the curb when Lois grabbed his arm and hissed, "Clark!"
Clark hesitated briefly and then, crouching behind a nearby dumpster, used his superbreath on the car. It missed the woman by inches and slammed into a fire hydrant, spraying water everywhere. The police were on the scene almost immediately and Clark straightened up and turned to look at Lois. There were no words spoken between them, and she put a comforting arm around him before preceding him through the revolving door into the Daily Planet Building.
The newsroom was abuzz with Superman's continued absence, and Lois and Clark knew they were running out of time. Clark grabbed the tape of the General's arrival off his desk and he and Lois were headed to the tape room when Perry motioned to them from his office. "Can I see you two for a minute?"
Lois glanced nervously at Clark and they headed inside, closing the door behind them. "How is the Superman situation coming along?" Perry asked. "Any news? You heard from him?"
Lois and Clark paused, each hoping the other would speak up first. "No, Perry," Lois finally answered, "he hasn't been seen since -"
"That's not what I asked you." He watched as his two star reporters exchanged glances for what seemed like the millionth time since the previous morning. They looked exhausted, and Perry softened slightly. "He's alive, isn't he. And you know where he is."
Clark sighed. At this point, if Perry had asked outright if he were Superman, he didn't think he could have denied it. "Yes, Perry, he is. And we do." Lois looked at him, her eyes widening as he added, "We're sorry, Perry. We didn't mean to put you in an awkward position."
"Well, you have," Perry snapped, annoyed. He turned his back on them for a moment, and then composed himself and turned back. "Do you two have any idea who's behind this?"
"We've got some idea," Lois replied, "but no concrete proof yet. We're working on something -"
Perry held up his hand. "You've got till the end of the day. Then, if Superman doesn't make an appearance, he'll be making it in tomorrow's headlines!"
Lois and Clark looked horrified. "Perry, we can't -" Lois began.
Perry held up his hand. He spoke calmly, but behind his eyes, there was real anger. "In all my years as a newspaperman, I have never printed anything I knew to be untrue. I do not intend to start now — not even for Superman."
Clark looked so apologetically guilty that Lois was afraid he was going to blurt out the whole truth. "OK — we get it," she said quickly. "I'm sorry, Perry. We didn't mean to put you in a position like this. We just -"
"You just chose to ignore the first tenet of journalism," Perry finished. He paused and added, "In order to help a friend." He looked Clark in the eye and repeated, "Close of business today."
Clark nodded, unable to speak and Lois steered him out of the office, saying, "We understand. Thanks, Perry."
She shut the door behind them as they stepped into the newsroom. "We don't have much time," she fretted. "Let's go watch that tape."
She started to head in the direction of the tape room, but Clark stopped her. "Wait," he said and she could see he was struggling with something. "I don't want you to be a part of this anymore."
"If this backfires on us, it could ruin your career," Clark explained. "I couldn't live with that."
"If this backfires on us, you could be killed!" Lois exclaimed. "I couldn't live with that!" Clark looked miserable again, and she sighed. "Clark, look — when we're married, it's for better or for worse, right? That means we're in this together. I don't care about my career if you're not around! So let's go find out who's responsible for this." She took his hand and started to lead him off to the tape room. He squeezed her hand in response and she grinned up at him.
They froze the picture on Major Jensen exiting the plane behind Fordham. Clark pulled his glasses down and focused in on Jensen's wrist. "I can't see her bracelet," he sighed. "It's there but it's blocked by her sleeve. I can read Fordham's clearly, though — 'Private Kenneth McMillian.' Not that that helps us."
"OK," Lois said, noticing his increasingly dejected state and realizing she needed to step in. "I'm going over to StarLabs to give Dr. Klein a push. Are you sure you can handle interviewing General Fordham on your own?"
Clark, as she'd hoped, took the bait. "What are you saying — that I can't handle an interview like this as well as you?"
"I would never say that," Lois grinned. "I'll see you at the fundraiser at 3:00. Perry's going also — he's Major Jensen's guest." She started out the door, and then turned back to Clark, who was pulling the videotape out of the machine. "Hey," she said softly. He looked up at her. "We're going to figure this out. Together. I promise." He smiled and nodded and she left.
Dr. Klein was slightly more encouraged today. "I think I'm going to have the name on the bracelet for you very soon, Lois."
I hope so, Lois prayed silently. For Clark's sake.
Clark arrived at Metropolis Air Force Base shortly before 2 PM. He was ushered to a chair, where he waited impatiently for nearly 45 minutes before General Fordham emerged with his contingent following. "Mr. Kent, I apologize for this," he said, continuing to walk as Clark jumped up and followed. "This crisis with Superman has taken up nearly all my time — perhaps we could talk this evening — after the fundraiser?"
"I was kind of hoping this could run in tomorrow's edition," Clark protested, matching the General's long strides.
As they exited the building, General Fordham turned and stuck out his hand. Clark took it, noting the bracelet he wore on his right wrist. It read, "Sgt. Adam Brock." As Clark digested this, the General added, "Major Jensen will work out the details with you." Clark looked over at the Major, who nodded.
General Fordham climbed into his jeep and turned to look at Clark. "You understand, Mr. Kent, my first priority must be to the people. It's only fair." He nodded to the driver and they drove off in a cloud of dust. The rest of his entourage went back inside. No one noticed Clark standing stark still, rooted to the ground. He put his hand to his head, trying to stop the pounding as the words echoed in his head, first softly and then louder: "It's only fair… It's only fair… It's only fair…" Where had he heard that before? He thought back desperately. On the tape of Fordham's arrival — Fordham had said it to Jack Halliday. No — before that — where…
<<Why? Why are you doing this?>>
<<I suppose you deserve to know — it's only fair… >>
Clark froze. It was him. His mind raced frantically. Fordham had tried to kill him. Had he worked alone? Obviously, Jensen had given him her bracelet — was she in on it too? He suddenly remembered something else. Perry was Jensen's guest at the fundraiser. Perry. The only other person in Metropolis besides Lois who knew the truth about Superman's disappearance.
The workers outside the Air Force Base were startled by the sudden gust of wind.
Lois looked up as Dr. Klein approached triumphantly. "I've got it," he grinned proudly. He held out a computer printout to Lois. "It wasn't easy either," he added, launching into a scientific description of the metal's elements, but Lois wasn't listening.
"Dr. Klein, are you sure about this?" she demanded, shocked.
Dr. Klein paused, surprised. "Well, yes. Positive."
Lois glanced at her watch and muttered, "They'll be there already…" and flew out the door, crying, "Thanks, Dr. Klein!"
The printout in her hand read, "Private Kenneth McMillian."
Lois drove faster than she'd ever driven in her life, breaking every traffic law on the books. She was on her car phone with Inspector Henderson at the same time explaining the saga, so she figured this was a police emergency.
She arrived at the outdoor arena and double-parked, figuring this was no time to worry about parking violations, either.
Her pass allowed her quick access to the press area where she was surprised and relieved to see Perry White seated. "Perry! I thought you'd be seated closer to Major Jensen," she exclaimed, looking around for her fianc‚.
"With all those dignitaries? No thanks," Perry laughed. "Where's Clark?"
Lois turned to him in horror. "You mean he's not here?" She was fighting back tears and panic as she looked back at the entrance, unsure of what to do next. "I think I'll go see if he's on his way in," she told Perry, heading back.
She was stopped in her tracks by a burly guard. "No one leaves," he intoned.
"I'm just looking for my -" Lois began, but the guard indicated an imposing weapon in his holster.
"No one leaves until the General is finished," he growled as Lois stepped back. She returned to Perry who looked as puzzled as she did.
"Perry," she questioned, "you didn't say anything to Major Jensen about Superman, did you?"
Perry turned and stared at her. "Judas Priest, Lois, I didn't get where I am today by giving out information and revealing sources. What's the matter with you?" Before they could discuss it further, a trumpet fanfare indicated the arrival of General Fordham. Lois reluctantly sat down, trembling, her heart in her throat. Where was Clark?
Andrew Fordham took the stage, waving happily at the cheering spectators. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for joining me," he added, facing the television cameras. Fordham worked the adoring crowd, holding up his hand for silence. "We have a lot of ground to cover," he began. "I know you're all anxious to hear what I have to say regarding the Children's Foundation, but first, I need to make a statement."
He looked up, meeting the eye of every television viewer in Metropolis and took a deep breath. "Two nights ago, a tragedy occurred here in Metropolis — Superman disappeared. The government has been accused of covering this up. The truth is, we've known for some time that sinister forces were at work to try and eliminate Superman. We tried to warn him, to work with him and give him some protection, but he was insistent on performing his duties and protecting the citizens of Metropolis.
"Unfortunately, his heroics may have cost him his life. We have reason to believe Superman was killed in a struggle the other night." He paused, taking in the horrified responses of the onlookers, and Lois thought she would be sick. Perry glanced sideways at her, not sure where Fordham was going with this.
"Where is Kent?" he whispered, but Lois, in despair, could not formulate a coherent response.
Fordham held up his hand to silence the buzzing crowd and continued. "There is no need to panic, or even be concerned. The people of Metropolis will be well protected! I am here to make sure of that, and will continue to see that Superman's work is carried out!" He raised his fist with a flourish and Lois wanted to scream.
Before she could decide what to do, a booming voice cut through the noise of the crowd. "That won't be necessary, General. I think I can take care of that myself!" Hovering over the stunned crowd, Superman glared at the flabbergasted and momentarily speechless General.
Lois burst into tears of utter relief and Perry exclaimed, "Thank Elvis!"
Superman landed on the stage and took the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, I know you've all been wondering about my whereabouts for the last day and I'm sorry about that." He paused briefly and glared again at Fordham, next to him. "The truth is, I was ambushed the other night — by this man!" He grabbed Fordham as the crowd gasped. "General Fordham lured me to a deserted building and tried to kill me."
The General sputtered indignantly. 'That simply isn't true! Obviously, Superman is not well…"
Superman released his hold on the General's neck and took hold of his wrist. "Can you explain then, this burn on your wrist? And how did your POW/MIA bracelet end up on that rooftop?" he demanded. "And why are you now wearing a different one?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Fordham insisted. "This is my bracelet."
"No, it isn't," said a stunned voice behind him. "It's mine." Superman turned, dropping the General wrist as Beth Jensen stepped forward, shaking with anger. "You told me yesterday you'd misplaced yours and it wouldn't look right for you to appear without one, so I gave you mine."
As this truth sank in, the roar of the crowd grew. Fordham panicked and suddenly pulled his gun out. "You idiot," he growled, waving it in the air. "We could have had everything."
People began to grow alarmed, and as Superman urged them to stay calm, Major Jensen's anger got the better of her and she grabbed for Fordham's gun. The sound of the gunshot rang through the air and people began to scream and push. Beth Jensen collapsed in a pool of blood as Superman subdued Fordham. The police rushed the stage and led him away as Superman bent over Major Jensen. "She's still alive," he declared, gathering her into his arms and flying off.
The onlookers were in a state of shock as Inspector Henderson appeared and announced that General Fordham was in custody. The Metropolis Police Department helped everyone leave in an orderly manner.
Perry, in shock, was muttering, "I guess you never really know." He headed off to the hospital to check on Major Jensen.
Lois hung back and was among the last to leave. The arena was nearly deserted by then, and as she descended the stairs, she glanced across the parking lot. Her eyes filled with new tears as she saw Clark waiting for her. She took the rest of the stairs two at a time and rushed across the asphalt as he ran to meet her. She threw herself into his arms, the tears now coursing down her cheeks as she cried, "Oh Clark! I wanted to warn you -"
"I figured it out at the Air Force Base," he replied, stroking her hair as he held her tightly. "I asked Fordham about the interview and he told me he needed to concentrate on Superman. He said, 'It's only fair.'"
Clark stepped back and looked at Lois, putting his hands on her shoulders. "He'd said that earlier, too — at the press conference. It must have stuck in my head when I saw the tape, because I'd heard it before that — on the Theater rooftop, right before I was thrown off of it. It was him, Lois."
Lois nodded, trying to get a word in edgewise. "I know — Dr. Klein restored the name on the bracelet — it was Fordham's. I couldn't reach you to tell you -"
"I'd already left," Clark finished. "I spoke with Dr. Klein and he told me about the printout. I had to hurry to make sure Perry hadn't told Jensen that Superman was still alive. She's going to be all right, by the way."
Lois threw her arms around Clark again. "When I couldn't find you — I've never been so scared," she admitted.
Clark kissed her and then looked into her deep brown eyes. "I love you," he told her and they kissed again in the deserted parking lot.
The following evening, Clark knocked on Lois' door, carrying a bouquet of flowers.
"Come in!" she called
"It smells great in here," he said, entering and removing his jacket, as she stirred a pot on the stove. The table was beautifully set, complete with candles.
"You know," Lois mentioned, giggling as Clark came up behind her and kissed the back of her neck, "you have a key. You don't really need to knock every time you come over here."
"Force of habit," Clark admitted, handing her the flowers.
"Thank you! They're beautiful!" she exclaimed, taking them from him.
"I figured since you were cooking, they were the least I could do."
"So what happened in Washington?" Lois inquired as she put the flowers in a vase.
'Well, I had a long talk with the President and several of his advisers. They are very upset about Fordham. And of course, no one can explain how he got his hands on kryptonite."
"What does Fordham have to say for himself?"
"Very little, on the advice of his attorneys," Clark replied wryly, opening the refrigerator. "By the way, where did you tell Perry I was?"
"I told him you were sick," Lois answered, turning her attention back to the stove. "You looked so awful the other day that he totally accepted it — especially since we got the exclusive interview with Superman. He's also still absorbed by Major Jensen."
Clark nodded, pouring bottled water into the glasses on the table. "General Jensen, now," he reminded her.
"All right," Lois exclaimed, "Have a seat — dinner is served!"
Clark sat down at the table, giving thanks that he also had a stomach of steel. Lois ladled out pasta and sauce for each of them and took the seat opposite Clark. "Well? Eat!" she urged as he hesitated.
Clark took a bite of the pasta and looked up at her in surprise. "Lois, this is very good!" he said, and she could see he meant it. She took a bite of her own and was pleased to see he really was telling the truth.
"It is pretty good, isn't it?" she agreed, grinning.
"I am truly impressed," Clark admitted. "I take back everything I said about you taking that class — you are a marvel."
Lois' smile faded. "Don't be too impressed," she revealed. "You have just experienced the extent of my repertoire. This is absolutely the only thing I can make."
Clark, in the middle of chewing, burst out laughing so hard he nearly choked.
"Be careful," Lois warned as he took a sip of water. "It's not like I can do the Heimlich Maneuver on you or anything."
Clark waved her off, trying to catch his breath.
"What's so funny?" Lois demanded.
"You," Clark answered, still laughing. "Only you could be so discouraged by success. Come here," he added, seriously, holding out his arms. Lois came over and sat down on his lap, still distressed. "Listen to me," Clark said, looking at her. "I love you very much."
"I love you, too."
"Why? Because I can 'leap tall buildings in a single bound?' Because I can bend steel with my hands?"
"No, of course not," Lois sighed. "I love you because you're you."
Clark smiled. "So what you're saying is you love me for who I am — not for what I can do."
"Right." Lois face suddenly brightened. "OK, Kent, I get it."
"Yeah? You catch on pretty quick, Lane."
"Oh, , I think you'll find I'm a quick study," his future wife replied. "And not a bad teacher, either."
The pasta turned out to be even better cold.