By Carolyn B. Schnall <email@example.com>
Submitted January 1999
Summary: In a follow-up to the author's earlier story, "Psychic," this time Lois and Clark are needed to assist Judith when things turn a little dangerous, as it seems some Kryptonite is still unaccounted for …
Lois, Clark, Perry and Jimmy all belong to DC Comics, Dec. 3rd Productions, TNT, etc. All the others are mine. No infringement on their rights is intended.
Thanks to all my previously mentioned mentors and also to Zoom, Wendy, Anne P.P., Chris, Margaret B., Erin K., Joyce, Jackie, Margaret N., Sharon, Karen, Crystal, Charlotte, Debra, Paula, Carole, Linda, Christy, MKnight, Kathy, Lauren and quite a few others.
I started to write this sequel even before the first story was edited. Then I got really stuck in the middle of this story and wrote an nfic instead. There has been a great deal of wonderful encouragement and positive feedback from the FoLCS. So I persevered and the second half of this story took shape in directions I never expected.
Some people know that Judith is based on myself. She bears a resemblance to me but is far more admirable than I.
There was a sell-out crowd gathering at the enormous Metropolis University Auditorium. It was the annual Performing Arts Concert and the proud families of the student participants accounted for most of the attendance. Some major stars were known to have been discovered at these concerts, hence the critics and news media, as well as established performers and producers, all gathered in anticipation of a breakout singer, dancer or musician.
Lois and Clark were patiently threading their way to their seats. They held hands and Lois, slightly in front, glanced back frequently at Clark. He could hardly believe they had just gotten past the latest hurdles to their being together by making up and declaring their love for each other at Smiley's Institute for Love and Devotion. Clark felt buoyantly happy to be here with her and had a smile of love and reassurance at the ready whenever Lois looked his way.
When they had returned from their weekend wherein Clark, as Superman, had prevented the storm that was to launch Smiley's Noah's Ark, there had been an e-mail message waiting from Judith Stone. Just a fortnight before, she had helped Clark by exposing a plot to kill Superman and had assisted him in getting back together with Lois. Judy started her message by teasing Clark about utilizing the services of psychic Star Brown, who, Judy had pointed out, had never figured out his secret identity and who had to conjure up a spirit to read the Aramaic text he'd found when, in fact, Judy could have read it herself. Clark had shaken his head in continuing amazement at Judy's abilities to figure all that out without being told any of it. The message had gone on to invite Clark and Lois to the concert at Met. U. Although Judith was a staffer on campus, she had been asked to replace the originally scheduled student singer, who had tonsillitis. The chairperson of the music department, knowing Judith was a professional opera singer, and that she had performed all three pieces recently in recital, had asked Judith to fill in as there was no other student ready to step in on such short notice.
Judith's parents were in New York and her brother was invited but uncertain if he could attend. So Judith had two tickets set aside for Lois and Clark, one for her brother and one for Dr. Ross at S.T.A.R. Labs, whom she had been dating.
The student musicians on stage were all practicing their parts simultaneously in a raucous cacophony of sound. Clark looked for Dr. Ross in the crowd but didn't see him. Soon Clark and Lois were at their seats, with two empty ones next to them, about ten rows from the stage and almost in the center. While Lois and Clark chatted about the people they recognized in the crowd and read their programs, a tall, good looking fellow arrived at one of the empty seats. He was dark haired and had brown eyes and a tan. He was wearing a suit and tie and put on his glasses to read his ticket. It struck Clark that the man bore a resemblance to himself. Then he realized that this man was most likely Judith's brother.
Clark stood up and, with his right hand out, ready to shake, he asked,
The man looked startled for a moment, then recouped his composure.
"Yes," he said, still sounding surprised.
"Clark Kent." Clark introduced himself as David took his hand. "And this is Lois Lane."
David reached over the seats to take her hand as well, as he nodded formally. It struck Clark that David was somewhat more tentative in company than Judith but more studied in his courtly manners. Though less openly friendly than his younger sister, David still reminded Clark of himself. According to Judith, David took a scholarly interest in a wide variety of subjects and was known as a genuine wit on the internet. He also had a reputation for being a darned nice guy.
As they settled into their seats, another man arrived. He was slightly shorter than David or Clark but was also dark haired with brown eyes. Clark stood up to greet him.
"Dr. Ross," he said, shaking hands.
"Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane," Ross responded, shaking hands across David.
"Have you met Judy's brother, David, Jeremy Ross," Clark introduced them and they shook hands as well.
"My sister told me I would be meeting you," David told Ross.
"Well, I was looking forward to it. Isn't this exciting?" Ross asked.
"Yes, but has any of you heard Judy sing before this?" David queried.
"No, this will be a first for all of us, I think," Lois answered.
"I think you will like her voice," David said. Clark noted the faith and pride the man had in his sister. It made Judy's observation to Clark about how proud his parents were of him fall into place. When Judy had visited the Smallville farm, she seemed right at home, even though she was a city girl. It was Jonathan's and Martha's easy, warm welcome that she had responded to and commented on. Judy had recognized the familial fondness as similar to that which she had in her own family.
"I'm sure we will all enjoy her performance," Clark agreed.
The concertmaster took center stage. She bowed to the audience and then turned, signaling to the woodwind instrumentalists to begin the tuning process. The various orchestra sections each took their turn at tuning their instruments. In a few more moments the tuning ceased and the musicians fell silent. The crowd began to quiet down. The lights were dimmed. Expectation was high.
The conductor made her way to the podium, walking amongst the student musicians as they got to their feet, and she bowed to the audience. After the initial applause died down and the orchestra was seated again, she welcomed the crowd to Metropolis University's annual performing arts concert. There was more enthusiastic applause.
"I now have the pleasure to introduce our first soloist," she continued. "She has kindly agreed on short notice to take the place of Michelle Grandy, our graduating singing student who is undergoing a tonsillectomy as we speak. We are very fortunate to have a member of our staff here, to sing Mozart's "Exsultate Jubilate", Ms. Judith Stone."
And she began the applause as Judy made her way on stage in a mauve lace floor-length gown with a full skirt. Clark thought she looked like an old fashioned doll in the fancy outfit. She bowed in acknowledgement of the greeting ovation and then with great poise nodded to the conductor.
As the familiar introduction to the piece was heard, Judy's eyes scanned the crowd. She saw her brother, who signaled to her and her smile deepened into a grin as she appeared to have spotted Jeremy, Lois, and Clark. In the next moment, her clear, high soprano voice was heard echoing through the great hall. It was a sweet, operatic, and strangely deep, dead-on-pitch sound. The music seemed to show off her full, rich timbre. Clark glanced delightedly at his companions to see if they thought her voice was a beautiful as he did. David smiled appreciatively, Jeremy looked happily stunned and Lois, a singer herself, looked surprised and pleased. Judith was radiant as she sang.
As she enunciated the Latin, she also looked jubilant for the first section and spiritual for the middle section, which showed off her breath control. For the Alleluja, the famous final section, she showed off the elaborate but elegant trills and runs. Just after she powered the high note at the end, she grinned. Suddenly the music was over and the crowd was on its feet, cheering while Judy and the conductor and then the whole orchestra took their bows in turn.
Judy left the stage, followed by the conductor, and then came back for another bow. The next time she came out, she was joined by a flutist. The second piece, Ravel's "Sheherazade" had a sensuous quality and Judy's French turned out to be perfect. Clark thought the combination of her voice with the timbre of the flute was enchanting. Although the piece was not as well known as the Mozart, it was very well received.
After the bows, Judy came back to the stage for her third and final piece. It was Handel's "O Had I Jubal's Lyre", in English, with many ornamental runs designed to show off the voice. Judy proved expert at rendering the showy scales and received another standing ovation.
The concert proceeded with a dance presentation, wherein several styles of dance were showcased and for which the audience went wild. During the intermission, Lois mentioned that except for Judy, the performers were generally just a hair off being really professional and David quipped that it was more like a tress. They all laughed appreciatively at his witty remark. After the intermission, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was performed. Clark, struck by the stateliness of the Beethoven, especially the second movement, listened with his arms wrapped around Lois, her head leaning on his. The concert finale was a chorus and orchestra presentation of the Tchaikovsky "1812 Overture", complete with a miniature cannon, which, despite all efforts, never quite went off when it was supposed to.
At the very end of the program, all the participants were brought back for their bows. As Clark, Lois, Jeremy and David got to their feet with the rest of the audience, David stopped applauding and muttered to himself, "Where's Judy?"
Clark heard him through the uproar with his superhearing and he scanned the stage. No Judy.
Jeremy was straining to see where she could be and the conductor was looking into the wings for her. Still no Judy.
By this time, Lois had also noticed and, putting a hand on Clark's arm, she turned him towards her.
"Isn't it odd that Judy's the only one who hasn't returned for her bow?"
"Yes and it looks like the conductor is expecting her," Clark answered.
David made a move toward the aisle, pushing Jeremy slightly. They both looked concerned. Unfortunately, the aisles were becoming a traffic jam of doting parents with cameras and bouquets, all heading for the stage.
Clark tried to use his x-ray vision to spot Judy in the wings but the structure contained some lead and he didn't have a clear view. Clark took charge, suggesting that Jeremy and David get backstage as fast as possible and telling them that he and Lois would alert the supervising faculty. After they parted company, Clark sent Lois to find out who was in charge and used superspeed to escape unnoticed out of the hall. Seconds later, he was backstage himself, looking and listening for Judy, battling all the furor on stage. He was not at all prepared for what he found.
In a dark, quiet, deserted and sequestered corridor, Clark heard a moan and then saw a faint movement. In a microsecond he was at the source. It was Judy.
She had been beaten. Her dainty lace dress had been ripped nearly off. Her elaborate hairdo had been destroyed. Her jewelry was either missing or broken around her. And she was bloodied everywhere, especially around one eye. It occurred to Clark that it had taken a powerful person or one in a powerful rage to have done this.
Clark took one of her hands in his and realized she was in shock and nearly unconscious. He used his heat vision to warm her and then he x-rayed her. A great many bones were broken.
He could hear that Lois, David and Jeremy were still a great way off. He yanked a nearby door off its hinges. Gently holding her by the shoulder, he let his aura surround her so that he could lift her onto the door he was using in the absence of a backboard. He used his heat vision to cauterize some of the cuts and scrapes. Judy stirred and her face contorted with pain.
"Judy," he called to her softly. "Judy, it's Clark."
"Cla … " she tried to say through a split lip.
"Don't try to talk. Help is on the way."
"Foster," she said so softly only his superhearing helped him catch the name.
Clark could feel a rare anger rising in his throat. Foster, a former science professor, had been willing to risk the life of Superman in order to make his reputation as the discoverer of a new form of kryptonite as part of his research. Judy had helped Clark immensely. She had revealed her own secret that she was psychic to Clark but kept Clark's secret to herself. Judy became an honorary sister to him and Lois was becoming friendly with her as the only female peer with whom Lois could share Clark's secret. Now Judy was close to death and Foster was to blame.
Clark heard David and Jeremy approaching fast now. Clark called out to them. They came at a run, calling Judy's name, David in the lead. His shock and then Jeremy's at the sight of Judy all bloody and pale mirrored Clark's own. A few moments later, Lois arrived with security, horrified at Judy's state. Clark quickly told them to fan out and look for Foster. As he led them down a hall, Lois caught his eye intensely. He came back a moment later as Superman. He grabbed some nearby wire and strapped Judy down. Then he picked up the board upon which Judy lay and flew her to the emergency room at Metropolis General Hospital.
After dropping her off, and telling the doctors where all the broken bones were, Superman returned to the scene and offered to fly David to the hospital. Lois quickly suggested that David should go along and that she would drive Jeremy there and that Clark would stay and help look for Foster. Superman nodded at her and Lois quickly steered Jeremy out, while David, with some trepidation, took Superman up on his offer.
David was smart enough not to squirm during the flight. He was too preoccupied with his worry about Judy. Clark wanted to know if David was psychic like Judy but this wasn't the time to ask. He dropped David off at the emergency room and flew back to Met. U. to help in the search for Foster.
After two hours of fruitless searching by campus security and Superman, the search was called off. Frustrated, Clark returned to the hospital where David, Lois, and Jeremy were all waiting for news about Judy. When Clark came in, he saw David at a pay phone, talking, according to Clark's superhearing, to their parents in New York, telling them that Judy was in surgery.
"Any word on Foster?" Lois asked Clark as soon as she saw him.
"No, there was no sign of him," Clark responded grimly.
"Even with Superman helping?" Jeremy asked incredulously.
"Even with Superman helping," Clark repeated, making it a statement, sardonic in his own ears.
As David was returning from the phone, a woman in green surgical scrubs approached the waiting group.
"Family of Judy Stone?" she asked. She was tired and there were perspiration stains on the scrubs.
"Yes," said David. "I'm her brother. How is she?"
"I'm Dr. Grayson. Your sister is out of surgery but she's still in critical condition. She had at least ten broken bones and multiple cuts requiring stitches. But she's strong. She was in pretty good physical condition before this happened so I think she's going to be okay. She told me she had a really excellent physical just a few weeks ago."
"She told you?" David asked.
"Yes. That's the next good news. She's awake. You can see her but just for a few minutes."
After David thanked her, the group moved swiftly to the Intensive Care Unit. They were informed that they could only visit for a few moments each. David went in first, followed by Jem. As they entered her room, the door swung wide and Clark glimpsed Judy on the bed. She was a petite person but now she looked positively tiny. She was bandaged all over including over one eye.
"Judy," David called to her softly. "It's me, David."
"David," she whispered gratefully. She grabbed his hand with her left, nearly uninjured, hand and started to cry. David comforted her, telling her it was all going to be all right.
Judy glanced around after a moment, seeing Jeremy and wincing.
"Oh, Jem," she got out. "Please go away. I don't want you to see me like this."
Jeremy took David's place by her side and taking her hand, he said,
"I'm not leaving you just yet and I don't care what you look like."
Clark had been listening in. He felt good that the young man was coming through for Judy. Clark had introduced them, so he was glad that "Jem" had earned his nickname. He quickly told Lois what had been said. Jem came out of the room, looking slightly wan. Clark slipped into the room and Lois stood by the door, holding it slightly ajar so she could hear what went on.
"Superman wasn't able to find Foster," Clark told her.
"He should stay away from Foster. We don't know if he has more of that stuff he was working on."
Her one good eye gave him a steely gray gaze that he recognized from the first day they met.
"I can't promise that. Foster can't get away with what he just did."
"I'll heal," she said urgently. "Send the police, not y … Not Superman."
She seemed to grow a shade paler with the effort of saying that and her unbandaged eye closed tensely with pain. She squeezed Clark's hand.
"I think we'd all better leave now," Clark announced, squeezing her hand back gently. David left the room, with Clark right behind him. Lois darted in.
"Help convince him, please," Judy appealed to Lois.
"I'll try," Lois managed to answer, moving forward to lay her hand on Judy's. Lois placed her other hand on the side of Judy's face. "I promise to try."
Judy mouthed a "thank you". Lois exited with a solemn wave at Judy as she closed the door.
As David and Jeremy moved into the hall, Lois and Clark exchanged another look. As they caught up to the two men, Clark ventured a suggestion.
"I think the best thing we can do now is to go home and get some rest. Maybe we can work out a schedule to visit Judy in shifts tomorrow."
"Visiting hours begin at noon," David informed them. They proceeded to work out a schedule. Then Jeremy and David decided to share a cab to get home and to David's hotel. Lois and Clark headed for Lois' Jeep.
Clark was in a dark mood but he could feel that Lois was worried about him. She glanced his way frequently as she drove. After a few minutes, she took a stab at keeping her promise to Judy.
"You know, Judy is right. The guy is crazy. He already hates you and has a form of kryptonite that's even worse than the usual, horrible stuff."
He couldn't respond. A deep, dangerous anger had been ignited in him. He couldn't even discuss it. He was too well brought up to express such a hateful reaction and too angry to ignore it. Lois tried again.
"Clark, that kryptonite sample Foster's got could probably kill you so fast, no one could help you."
"Yeah," he said, only half listening.
"Yeah," she repeated. "Can't you let the police handle this?"
Clark looked at her. How could he explain how he felt? And he was
learning all the time that keeping things from Lois didn't work very well.
"I know that you and Judy are trying to protect me and there's logic to what you're saying. It's just that this guy can't be allowed to get away with what he's done to Judy."
"I agree with you," Lois said. "But you didn't see how bad you looked in Judy's office after you collapsed."
"Lois, you know I wouldn't want to repeat that experience. It was one of the worst exposures I've ever had except for the very first time in
Smallville and when Le … "
Clark didn't want to bring up how Lex Luthor had imprisoned him in a kryptonite cell and nearly killed him on Lex' and Lois' wedding day. Clark glanced at Lois, worried he'd already said too much and triggered an unhappy memory for her. Lois was watching the road.
"And on the day I almost married Lex. It was because of your exposure that you could not prevent Lex' death. That hideous act against you backfired against him."
Clark, admiring her courage, softly said, "Yes."
"Oh, Clark, I wasn't there for you any of those times. I had no idea what was going on for the first two times and that last time, I was so angry with you, I couldn't see straight."
"But I remember you had clearer vision after Judy spoke to you."
"Yes, I owe her, too," Lois agreed.
They were silent for the rest of the trip. Lois drove to her own apartment and Clark walked her to her door. He kissed her chastely goodnight and declined to come in. Clark was back to being preoccupied.
"Goodnight," Lois called after him as he retraced his steps down the hall.
"Goodnight, Lois," he answered, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
As Clark left Lois' building, he raced to the alley at superspeed and instants later launched skyward as Superman. He turned toward Met. U. and entering the building faster than the guard's eye could take in, flew to Judy's office. Using superspeed to find her password, he booted Judy's computer. Upon gaining access, he located several maps of the campus, including the extensive tunnel system from building to building. Normally he would have gotten such information from campus security. However, his impatience had driven him to this other solution.
After scanning the maps and committing them to supermemory, he carefully booted Judy's computer down and launched back out onto the campus.
His previous visits to the campus, when Judy had first brought Dr. Foster to his attention, had familiarized Superman with the windowless new science facility. He began there, finding and inspecting Foster's lab. Foster had been fired, so there was not much left there to inspect. It was already cleaned out. But Foster's ally, Dr. Robert Weston was still on the faculty. Superman had no trouble finding Weston's lab since he and Judy had been there before. He took another crack at the safe. As had been the case before, the contents of the safe failed to reveal anything helpful.
He checked the desk to no avail. Judy had mentioned Weston might be fired soon, just like Foster. If proceedings had actually begun to accomplish that, perhaps Weston had already removed the most incriminating evidence, or it had been confiscated. If that were the case, he could be looking in all the wrong places for Foster and the kryptonite sample. Frustrated, Superman left the building and returned to Judy's office. He found the home and campus addresses and phone numbers of Dr. Plotkin, the chairman of the committee that had first reviewed Foster's research. Then Superman flew to the hospital to see Judy, landing on the roof and taking the stairs down to ICU.
The nurse on duty heard his footsteps as he came down the hall and, apparently not expecting any doctors at that late hour, had on her "rules" face before she saw who was visiting.
"Oh, Superman!" she gushed, blushing slightly.
"Hi, nurse," he greeted. "I have to see Judy Stone."
"You're not supposed to be here now," she managed to say but her tone had softened considerably.
"Yes, I know, but it's very important. Crucial, in fact, if I'm to find the person responsible for her having been beaten. I promise, I will be in there for less than five minutes and I won't upset her."
He made eye contact earnestly and the nurse, totally charmed, waved him in but glanced pointedly at her watch to let him know she'd be timing him.
Superman quietly entered Judy's room. Judy appeared to be asleep. Between pain medication, shock and exhaustion, he wasn't sure he could get her awake enough to tell him what he needed to know. He gently sat on the bed and took her hand in his. It was cold to the touch. He checked her heartbeat and it was reassuringly strong. Using his heat vision to warm her seemed to improve her overall condition. There was a strained look on the part of her face that was unbandaged.
"Judy … Judy, it's your big brother," he said softly.
"David?" she whispered. She struggled to open her uninjured eye.
"No, it's Superman," he whispered back, feeling slightly sheepish for having momentarily confused her.
"Oh, Cla … Superman." She got her eye open this time, only to wince as the pain began to erupt in her battered body.
"I'm sorry to disturb you and I won't stay long. I looked in the lab building but Foster's left no trace. I have to ask you about Weston's status."
Judy blinked, trying to concentrate.
"We sent letters to the Executive Faculty Committee about both Foster and Weston. Foster's case was clear-cut thanks to Jem's lab report and you. But Weston … "
"Did the committee begin dismissal proceedings against Weston?"
"I don't know. Dr. Plotkin was supposed to pursue it with the EFC after the letters went out. He didn't get back to me and I was given leave to go to rehearsals for the last couple of days this week, so I wasn't in the office much … Oh … "
Superman thought she was remembering the concert.
"You sang beautifully," he said with assurance. She didn't respond right away.
"We're not sure yet if my vocal cords were damaged when he hit me in the neck." She said it quietly but Superman knew she was worried that her singing career was now going to be over.
"I'm sure you'll be fine," he said, hoping he sounded convincing. "I'm going to contact Dr. Plotkin next."
She nodded. Superman tried to change the subject slightly.
"I'm sure Lois is going to want to write this story for the Daily Planet."
"Tell her I'll give her … and, uh, Clark, an exclusive interview," Judy responded, trying to smile.
"I'll pass that along. I've got to fly now."
"Please … " urgency again infusing her slightly fuzzy voice. "Be super careful."
"I promise, I will."
They smiled at each other and then Superman left.
"Goodnight, Superman," the night nurse called girlishly after him.
"G'night nurse," he responded in his most Supermanish tones as he left ICU under her approving eye.
It was too late to disturb Plotkin. However, Superman thought Lois might still be awake.
As he floated up to her window, he could see that she was working on her laptop computer. As he tapped on her window, she glanced up and looked relieved to see him.
"What's happened?" she asked as he entered.
"Judy confirmed that I need to talk to Dr. Plotkin about the faculty status of Dr. Weston. Weston could be helping Foster. Judy also said she'd give us an exclusive interview."
"Well, that's very nice of her," Lois responded. "We can report about the assault. But the problem is, we kept Foster out of the paper when you and Judy were investigating him. I'm not sure how much I can write now."
"I think we shouldn't print anything about Foster, especially not until I've found him. Even then, I know it will be newsworthy but I would rather that the morphed kryptonite stay a secret. The assault could be newsworthy by itself."
"I think you should pursue this as Clark Kent as much as possible. If Foster knows Superman is after him, he'll try lure you into a trap."
"But I have access to more information and cooperation as Superman. And, Foster may already know Superman is involved, since he was there tonight, looking for him."
Lois didn't say anything for a long moment. She was looking at him with a thoughtful expression. Clark made a conscious effort to relax his Superman stance. It had become a habit with him and was like second nature. He remembered how Lois had complained shortly after she had figured out his secret identity, that it was easier to talk to Clark than to Superman. His Superman manner was a consciously stiff, studied and distancing facade. He found that it helped him get down to details quickly when dealing with emergency workers. Various police, firefighters, and ambulance personnel had, in interview with Clark Kent, expressed how grateful they were for his speedy ability to assess disastrous situations. His reputation for not grand standing, for prompt departures and for a humble, no-nonsense approach helped him to do a better job.
Lois seemed to notice that he had relaxed.
"How do you keep it all straight?" she asked with awe in her voice.
"I don't always, but I'm getting better at it all the time."
"I didn't make it easy, did I?"
"No, but then you couldn't have known."
Lois rose from her seat on the couch and walked up to him. She looked up into his eyes with concern in hers. She tentatively put her arms around his waist. He put his around her shoulders. She laid her head on the "S" shield on his chest and he rested his chin on her head.
"Judy may lose her voice." He said it quietly and Lois began to cry.
Clark's heart swelled. All the conflicting emotions of the last few hours came into sharper focus. He was angry, frustrated, and protective but he was also worried, saddened, and regretful. Lastly, he was proud of Judy and of Lois. Lois' compassion was sometimes buried beneath her habitually competitive and suspicious work attitude. It made her a good reporter. But he had seen the compassion surface many times before and, like now, he was moved by the display.
He lifted her chin so he could look into her eyes.
"What for?" She sniffled.
"For helping so much. For being on my team. For understanding what it is that I have to do."
"Oh Clark!" She was moved by his words.
"I love you, Lois," he said softly, as he bent his head to press his lips on hers. The kiss was filled with promise that they would get through this together and have happier, more fulfilling times in each other's company. He proceeded to kiss away her tears, and the passion that he felt for her was taking him over. She was ardently returning the feeling, but in the back of his mind was an even more urgent need.
"Please tell Perry that I'll be at Met. U. tomorrow. Maybe you can meet me there later in the morning?"
Lois nodded, blinking back the tears and gathering her wits. He embraced her once again. Then he stepped back in a courtly, Supermanish move, moving the cape out of his way, out of habit.
"See you tomorrow," he said, almost as a question and she nodded again before he mounted the windowsill and flew away.
The next morning, Clark was at Met. U., bright and early, waiting for Dr. Plotkin at his office. Plotkin recognized him instantly.
"Good morning, young man, er, Mr. Kent," Plotkin greeted, shaking Clark's hand.
"Good morning, sir," Clark replied. "Have you heard about the attack on Judith Stone last night at the concert?"
"Yes, I did," Plotkin responded, looking sober and concerned. "Awful thing."
"Sir, I came here to ask you about the faculty status of Dr. Weston."
"Are you asking as a reporter or as a friend of Ms. Stone's?" Plotkin was eyeing Clark in a guarded manner.
"As Judith's friend, at the moment," Clark answered truthfully and with sincerity.
"And as a friend of Superman's, as well? I understand that he's looking for Dr. Foster, who has been implicated," Plotkin attempted to
verify. Clark nodded. Plotkin continued.
"It's confidential information, you understand. I can't discuss it with you, even if a member of the faculty were about to be ousted."
Plotkin was looking Clark in the eye and Clark understood at once that Plotkin had just told him what he wanted to know without breaking the University's rules on confidentiality. But just to verify that he had surmised correctly, Clark said, "Yes, sir, I understand that you couldn't discuss a case of dismissal like that with anyone outside the administration. Thank you for your time."
"You're welcome, young man, and I hope you and your friend find who … what you're looking for." It was Plotkin's turn to sound sincere. Clark solemnly nodded in acknowledgement.
Clark left Plotkin's office and headed towards Judy's. Lois was waiting there for him.
"Plotkin couldn't discuss such a confidential matter with me but I'm sure from what he did say that he was trying to tell me that Weston is about to be fired," Clark told her.
"I think we need to talk to him before that happens," Lois asserted.
"Lois, I don't think he's going to be very cooperative with us."
"Yes, but maybe we can find some clues." And she was off and running, with Clark bringing up the rear, as usual. Once outside the building, however, she followed his lead to the lab building.
Clark brought Lois to Weston's lab and, unlike when he'd last seen it the night before, it was in a state of great disarray. Half packed cartons were on all the research benches and two young people in jeans and t-shirts were filling them methodically.
"Is Dr. Weston here?" Lois asked of the packer standing closest to her. The young woman gestured towards the inner office. Clark passed Lois to enter the office first. Weston was there, going through files and listening to someone on the phone.
He was absorbed in what he was doing and didn't notice Lois and Clark in the doorway. Clark used his superhearing and thought that the person talking to Weston on the phone was Foster. Clark mouthed the name to Lois just before Weston looked up at them. He was startled and scared.
"I've got to go. There are people here now," and he slammed the phone down, trying to summon up a smile.
"Dr. Weston?" Lois asked.
"Yes, and you are … ?"
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet and friends of Judith Stone."
"Ah … yes, yes … And what can I do for you?" he asked trying to look pleased but suddenly sweating profusely as he turned papers over on his desk.
Clark let Lois see him lower his glasses down his nose. Lois charged ahead.
"We have some questions we'd like to ask you."
Clark found that x-ray vision was more useful when papers were right side up but he was able to read enough to know that the overturned documents were related to Foster's research proposal.
"I'm in the middle of a dispute with the University. I can't discuss anything with you."
"Are you sure, Professor?" Lois challenged. "Judith Stone was the recipient of a brutal beating and if you can shed any light on it … "
"I'm appalled at what happened to Ms. Stone," he said with dignity.
"But Professor … " Clark had touched Lois' arm. He could tell she was throwing herself into the subject matter.
"Do you know where Dr. Foster is?" Clark asked Weston.
"N … no … I don't … " Weston stuttered, perspiring. Clark could tell that Weston's heart rate was racing. "He was fired some time ago, and I … I think you two had better leave now."
Clark looked at Weston with an expression that intimidated him. Lois grabbed Clark's arm. He was immovable.
"Clark!" she nearly hissed. He finally allowed himself to be propelled out of the office, through the lab and back out into the hall.
"He knows," Clark said through clenched teeth.
"Yeah, and he's not going to tell us," Lois responded. "You and I will have to find him on our own."
"Lois," Clark started, glancing at his watch. "I want you to go back to the hospital and visit Judy. It's our turn according to the schedule. Maybe Judy will remember or sense something useful."
"What are you going to do?"
"Keep up the search," he responded and he sped away in a red and blue blur.
Bearing in mind the map he'd seen, Clark began to search tunnel after tunnel, starting under the lab building.
He found that much of the tunnel system bore lead-based paint, which prevented him from using his x-ray vision. He sped down each subterranean corridor, certain that Foster's phone call to Weston had emanated from an on-campus location. He reflected that the campus security force had been useless and continued on his own.
As he raced along tunnel after empty tunnel, he thought about Judy, tracing back their brief but significant relationship. He recalled how she'd shocked him with the revelation that she knew he was Superman. She had recounted to him how it had come to her in a moment of psychic clarity, while she used the sauna after swimming in the campus swimming pool, all yellow and blue and brand new.
He stopped short. New pool! What had been done about the old pool?
He immediately abandoned his search of the tunnels and headed for the gym building.
As he stepped out onto the running track from the tunnel exit, he saw the glittery new pool building. Its windows caught the late morning sun, in its position at right angles to the older gym edifice. He tried to scan the old building but there was more lead-based paint in the extensive locker rooms on the old pool level. The old pool was located under the floor of the indoor basketball courts. Clark guessed it had been drained dry and that it had been left empty. That is, until Foster had found it useful for his purposes. He guessed further that it was for this reason that he and campus security were unable to find Foster. At superspeed, Clark shot through a door and flashed down to the men's locker room. He moved so fast that towels followed in his wake, to the shouts of young male students trying to get dried off. He found the door that led to the old pool lower level where windows had allowed coaches to follow the progress of competitive swimming. Superman entered the corridor, closing the door behind him. And there, through the heavy glass, he could see Foster's makeshift lab.
Remembering exhortations from Lois and Judy, he ducked quickly out of sight. Then he used his x-ray vision to scan the lab through the wall. There were large aluminum carry cases stacked on one another in the shallow end of the pool. Then the blue-lined pool floor sloped down to the deep end where the lab was set up. Another carry case lay on the floor near the battered old lab bench and stool located near the pool drain. He scanned above his head, and saw two teams of young men playing basketball on the floor above, in the original gymnasium.
A string of lights had been suspended haphazardly from the lane barriers still suspended at the ceiling level. Clark didn't find Foster in there but guessed that the carry-case near the bench probably held the kryptonite sample Foster undoubtedly possessed.
It was not clear how Foster gained entrance into the pool itself with the gym floor permanently covering it. As Clark zipped around a corridor corner, bringing him to the women's locker room side, he saw that the glass in one of the windows had been removed from the side of the pool. Using the window himself, he entered the lab and was about to inspect the lab bench near the carry case, when he heard an exclamation behind him. It was Foster.
Superman crossed his arms in his habitual stance and turned to face Foster. He couldn't remember being so angry in all his life.
"Well, well, if it isn't Spandex Man," Foster sneered.
"Dr. Foster, Judith Stone has identified you as her attacker in a brutal beating. I don't understand why you did it, but I'm going to take you to the police."
"Not so fast, Mr. Robin Red Shorts. Perhaps you will listen to an explanation."
Clark could feel his impatience rise. Normally he'd listen to anyone, if they chose to confess, but Foster didn't seem contrite and Clark sensed that delay here was dangerous.
"Get on with it," he ordered.
Foster had edged toward the bench and appeared to be less and less rational as the moments passed.
"Judith Stone should have butted out and let my research get the funding it deserved."
"Go on," Superman urged, refusing to believe that was the only reason.
"Then she had me fired and she stole the substance sample to give to a researcher at a competing lab. A guy she is dating, no less."
Clark could tell that the man had all the facts twisted. He himself had given the sample to Jeremy Ross via Lois for independent, off-campus testing, before Judy and Jem had ever met. Judy's involvement at that point was to save Clark from exposure to the kryptonite and to be the recipient of Jem's report. She didn't have the authority, all by herself, to get a member of the faculty fired, and she had done her job when it came to the research funding delay. Clark had just been fortunate that her actions were to his advantage.
"And that's why you assaulted her?" Clark couldn't help the incredulous tone in his voice. "She nearly died! You may have caused irreparable damage to her vocal cords. That would be bad enough to do to anyone, but to do it to a singer … "
"Yes, well her singing sounded just like crying to me. I decided to give her something real to cry about."
"Enough," Clark was afraid of what he'd do to Foster with further provocation. "I'm taking you in, now."
"No, I don't think so, Man in Tights." Foster pulled a small box from his lab coat pocket and flipped the lid open, exposing a small piece of glowing green rock.
Superman backed up, but the morphed kryptonite emitted an incredibly strong wave of radiation. He was in instant agony. His knees buckled, his head threatened to explode with the pounding that had erupted, and the searing pain was weakening him exponentially by the second. He tried not to let the groans escape his mouth but he was losing control, comprehension, and consciousness. Every inch of his being was experiencing torture and if he'd had the strength, he would have tried to tear off his own skin and nerves.
He collapsed and blacked out but not before he felt two pairs of arms catch him. Judy? Lois … And he was out.
When he came to, he was lying wrapped in his cape, staring at the underside of the gym floor. Dr. Jeremy Ross was kneeling over him, an extremely worried look on his face.
Clark closed his eyes and swallowed. When he opened his eyes again, he saw David Stone tying up Dr. Foster and the small substance sample box was lying on the carry-case on the floor, closed and also tied up.
"How?" Clark started to ask. It was more like a croak.
"Don't try to talk yet," Jem cautioned.
"It was Judy," David said, anticipating Superman's question. "She had an insight as to where you were and that you were going to need help."
"She said that she'd had a premonition that you would need us to back you up. I didn't want to leave her but she said that Lois and Clark were on their way to visit her and that she'd be okay," Jem informed him.
Superman closed his eyes once more in awe and relief. Judy had done it again. She'd kept his secret and had sent him help. The two men had come through for Judy and for him, and he was grateful. And he guessed that Jem was beginning to figure out for himself that Judy had a special gift.
Superman was starting to make a recovery and was sitting up by the time Lois arrived. She told David and Jeremy that Clark had gone to fetch campus security but that the police were already waiting outside, summoned by Lois. The two men removed Foster and the substance sample from the pool area to rendezvous with the cavalry assembled on campus.
Lois rushed to Clark's side as the others left and she threw her arms around him.
"Oh Cla … Superman," she corrected herself, in case anyone was still within earshot. "I was so worried. Are you alright?"
"No, but I will be," he responded, hugging her back, glad to be in her arms, feeling terribly weak, sore, and ill, but comforted beyond words by her presence.
They stayed like that for several minutes. Clark's growing concern about how he was going to leave the building finally led him to voice his worries.
"Lois, we have a problem."
"Wha … what problem?" she asked, seeming to come out of a trance. She had apparently shed some tears of relief while she'd held him and her eyes and nose were unusually red.
"I'm too weak to change or to get up and walk out of here on my own. We can't walk out together through either locker room without clearing it first and that would seem suspicious. Superman can't be seen to be in need of help. All hell broke loose that time I was taken to the hospital when Diana Stride poisoned me."
Lois laughed, making an almost hysterical sound.
"I can just see the reaction in the ladies locker room. I'd shout Superman coming through and they'd all throw themselves at you sans towels."
Clark managed, but just barely, a chuckle at this bit of whimsy, but when Lois looked at his face, she sobered quickly.
"I'm sorry," she said as she hugged him again. "I guess I was having a flashback to my idolization days."
"It's okay, Lois," Clark said wanly, while the room appeared to be spinning.
"I've got an idea," she shouted suddenly, nearly knocking him flat. "I'll be right back."
She left before Clark could say anything. She was now displaying her trademark impetuosity. However Clark, on top of still feeling like his insides were made of jelly, also experienced an ache for Lois that was strongly palpable.
When she returned, Clark saw that David and Jem had also returned. She escorted them back into the pool and they all three crouched around Superman where he sat on the floor.
"Here's the plan," she started to say.
"Low-wis," Superman warned.
"It'll be okay, you'll see. Now Jem and David will help you up and all you have to do is put your arms on their shoulders."
"Won't it look like I need lots of help?" Clark's head was still spinning.
"Not if you can do just two things," she answered enthusiastically.
"What two things?" Clark asked, worried that he'd be too heavy for them to carry.
"Stand up straight and congratulate them for helping you find Foster."
"Superman, don't worry," Jem said reassuringly. "We'll hold you up and it will look like we're buddies."
"Yeah, between the two of us, we can keep you steady and it will appear that we just helped you find the guy everyone was looking for," David added.
"So nobody has to know what Foster did to you," Lois pleaded. "I'm sure David and Jeremy won't tell anyone about having to come to your aid once or twice."
"You were there when Judy needed you. I am and continue to be honored to be of some small assistance to you. And I can be as discreet as my sister." David had made the statement with dignity and sincerity.
"You have my word and my gratitude, as well," Jem added, also sincere.
Clark tried to focus on their faces. In his life, he had rarely known people who were as honorable, trustworthy, and loyal as these two men, to whom he already felt indebted. He was so used to not expecting anything in return for his good deeds that he was unaccustomed to accepting favors or experiencing any resulting friendship. But if ever he needed the help of two sturdy and reliable allies, this was the time.
"Okay, yes, thank you, gentlemen," Superman agreed. Gingerly, he began to rise and the two other men, taking their cue, grabbed him and supported him to a standing position. As he swayed slightly, both men tightened their grip. He put his arms on their shoulders and they each put an arm around his back, under the cape.
A comical moment ensued when they realized that they should trade places because Jem was left handed and thought his stronger arm should be used to support Superman. Then David and Jem experimented with where on Superman's back to place their hands for maximum efficiency.
Lois looked worried because Superman had bent his head during this procedure and had turned pale. He rallied but not before a groan escaped his lips. David and Jem exchanged looks behind Superman's shoulders and instantly renewed their efforts.
Very slowly, the three walked in tandem to the open pool window and had surprisingly little difficulty negotiating their exit from the pool into the corridor. Lois followed but had to leave through the ladies locker room.
Jem and David led Superman through the men's section and Superman tried to smile as they encountered some faculty and students there. Jem was laughing it up, expressing in loud tones how he felt like they were the three musketeers and that Superman didn't need to thank them. David interjected that it was really easy to find Foster once they figured out where to look, which was, Clark reflected, the truth.
When they reached the stairwell, away from curious and prying eyes, they all relaxed for a moment.
"Heavy man," Jem commented.
"Didn't that expression go out in the 70's?" David asked.
"Huh? Oh … yeah!" Jem laughed as he figured out David's confusion. "I meant that Superman here, is a very heavy man for his size."
It was David's turn to laugh and to agree. Clark was glad in his heart that the two men were getting along.
"No offense, Superman," Jem added quickly, seeing Superman lift his head.
"None taken and you're right, but we still have a distance to go," Clark cautioned.
The three of them managed to move like one up the stairs, except that by the time they got to the top, Superman was shaking. Clark wondered if Foster had done something to the kryptonite sample to make it even more lethal and debilitating than the sample in Judy's office had been.
The three men paused, catching their breaths, no longer joking. Clark thought it lucky that no students were using the staircase at the time.
Finally, Superman was ready to continue. As Jem, Superman, and David made it out to where the cops and security force were waiting, Lois led the assembled crowd in applause and then joined the group like a late arriving D'Artagnan. She steered them away, as Jem and David and Lois all waved goodbye and started towards Lois' Jeep parked nearby.
"Do you have enough breath to simulate the wake that always follows after one of your takeoffs?" Lois asked Clark.
"I think so," he said, though the blood had drained from his face.
"Good. When we get to the Jeep, this is what we're going to do."
She described her plan. When they reached the Jeep, she opened the back door and David began to step inside but actually Jem came around and they pushed Superman onto the floor of the back seat. Clark made a whooshing noise and Jem and David and Lois all looked up as if watching Superman depart. It worked because several bystanders also looked up, hoping to watch Superman fly away. As Jem and David shut the door and started to walk to Jem's S.T.A.R. Labs loaner car, Clark heard Jem say to David, "He was really hurting."
"Yeah, and he put himself through that just to avenge Judy."
Clark let his head droop and his body relax as Lois drove them off campus. He stayed on the floor but Lois glanced back frequently as she drove.
"You look so pale! Isn't there anything I can do to help you?"
Clark was now also battling a mild form of car sickness, but Lois' question jogged a thought.
"Yes, Lois, drive to Lookout Point off the Zoomway and park."
She did as he asked. On the way, after several attempts, he managed to lower the zipper on his Supersuit. As the Jeep slowed to a stop, Clark raised his head enough to see that they had arrived at Lookout Point. He hauled himself off the floor and onto the back seat.
When Lois turned around she was met with a sight she had never seen before, causing her to gasp. It was Superman, sitting in her back seat, without the top half of his suit. His broad, muscular, hairless chest was bare except for the loops of his cape still fastened around his shoulders. Clark could sense that Lois was more excited than he expected at the sight of him like that, even though he felt slightly silly.
"How did you know I dreamed of finding you back there like that?" she giggled girlishly. Clark stuck to business.
"Could you open the sun roof?" he asked weakly.
"Of course." And she was galvanized into action. Lois instantly joined him in the back, expertly opening the sunroof. Clark sighed in relief as the early afternoon rays beat down on him, revitalizing him. The fact that Lois was cuddling up to him also helped enormously.
As the temperature in the Jeep rose, they both nodded off for what seemed like a very long time. However, Clark heard another vehicle pull up. He glanced out and then nudged Lois.
"Lois, cops! Can you distract them while I attempt a change of clothes?"
Lois, though startled, immediately opened the Jeep door and made a show of tumbling out. The cop approaching her stooped to catch her. And Superman changed into his Clark clothes.
He followed Lois out the Jeep door. Lois glanced back at his completely clothed form and Clark could swear she looked disappointed.
"Is there a problem, Officer?" Clark asked, his best boy scout expression firmly planted on his face.
"Oh, no, sir. It's just that … Aren't you Lane and Kent of the Daily Planet?"
"Yes, Officer, that's right, I'm Lane and he's Kent," Lois pointed out.
The officer smiled with a sarcastic sneer. He evidently already knew which was which.
"What seems to the problem?" he asked, eyeing Kent with suspicion.
"Well, we worked real late last night and we were both too tired to drive, so we pulled over. Safety first, right Officer?" Clark added a big smile.
"Uh, yeah." The officer looked skeptical. Clark guessed the man had seen the shirtless state he'd been in and suspected that something else might be going on, having to do with the position of Lois' head and his own lap. Now, all appearances were to the contrary.
"We're about to be late to an interview with the woman who was assaulted at Met. U. last night. Can't miss out on our exclusive, can we?"
Lois demonstrated the sudden hurry Clark's words implied by climbing back into the driver's seat.
"Thanks for stopping, sir," Clark said and stuck his right hand out. The officer automatically shook it. He still looked puzzled as he got back into his patrol car and drove off.
Clark circled the Jeep and got in the front passenger side. Lois was about to start the engine when Clark caught hold of her hand. Kissing it, he said,
"Thank you for taking such good care of me."
Lois blushed in response. "It was easy." She was attempting to be flip but Clark could tell she was proud and glad and slightly abashed.
"Let's go visit Judy," he suggested, gently.
Lois smiled and they were off to Metropolis General Hospital. On the way, Lois voiced concern over how he was feeling and he assured her he was on the mend but it would take a while before he could make a complete recovery.
As they entered the ICU, Jem and David greeted them, explaining that Judy's parents had arrived. David opened the door to Judy's room and Judy saw Lois and Clark waiting to see her. She quickly introduced everyone saying that Lois and Clark were her other new friends besides Jem. The Stones were obviously worried about their daughter but they were very cordial and grateful that Judy had so many people looking out for her. They were close in age to Clark's parents and reminded Clark of Jonathan and Martha in several ways. Warm greetings were exchanged all around. Clark caught Judy staring at him. David and Jem had reported back to her that Superman had found Foster and had suffered another kryptonite exposure. He mouthed to her, "I'm okay. Thank you." And her one unbandaged eye closed in relief.
Soon after, Lois hustled Clark out and dropped him off at home, admonishing him to rest up. He promised her he would, kissing her only briefly. Meeting Judy's and David's parents reminded Clark to call his own folks. They were very upset to hear of his second terrible exposure to the morphed kryptonite but relieved to hear how things had turned out. Clark promised them he would rest that night.
The next morning, when Clark arrived at the Daily Planet, Lois got up from her desk and surged toward him in greeting. He assured her he was feeling better. Lois looked like she would have hovered over him but Perry White beckoned her away to discuss the story Lois had filed on Judy.
As Clark checked his e-mail, he found a message from Jem Ross. The prognosis for Judy's vocal cords and eye were very promising. Jem went on to say that he'd offered to testify against Foster if the "K" became an issue. Dr. Klein had been very impressed by Jem's report and had suggested that Jem be promoted to head his own lab. Jem also wrote that he wanted Clark to pass a "get well and thank you" message to Superman. Clark e-mailed a response, congratulating Jem on the advancement and promising to pass along his message. Clark was again glad that Jem and Judy, as well as David, had all come to his rescue.
As Clark looked up, he caught Lois' eye across the newsroom. The teamwork they had managed during this escapade had been exactly what he had hoped for and needed. He grinned at her with pride and gratitude and love. Things were definitely looking up.