By IRC Round Robin
Submitted October 1999
Summary: Another story in the Unintentional Season. Clark faces a super-dilemma when Lois, Dr. Klein and Dr. Friskin are taken hostage at Star Labs and Superman *cannot* come to their rescue.
An IRC Round Robin by Zoomway <firstname.lastname@example.org>; chrispat <email@example.com>); Eraygun <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Melisma <email@example.com>; muffyslay <MPSL27@aol.co>; Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; sharper <email@example.com>
Clark straightened his tie. "A co-ed baby shower," he said to his reflection.
Lois nudged Clark aside with her ever-growing round form and began to brush her hair. "Co-ed baby showers aren't that new, Clark, and besides, it keeps the number of labor pain horror stories to a minimum."
Clark grimaced. "Labor pain horror stories?"
Lois turned and looked at her husband. "You've never had an aunt or someone go on and on about being in labor for days on end with no anaesthetic and her husband not there because he was in a car wreck in Timbuktu on his way to the delivery room and it was touch and go and she saw a tunnel of light…"
"Lois, please. That's *not* funny."
She patted his cheek. "Okay, I made up the Timbuktu part."
Clark wiped a hand nervously across his forehead. "I only sweated *once* before you fell in love with me, and that's because I thought I was causing a heatwave, but since we've been in love …"
"You've gone through a lot of handkerchiefs. I know," she said, and smiled "We'll be okay, Clark. Now, let's go and pick up all that free loot at the baby shower."
Clark nodded as he escorted her to the door. "Have men ever fainted at these things?"
The sound on the TV seemed very loud, but the intense man watching took no notice. Bugs Bunny's eyes grew very large, his ears drooped to his shoulders. "Did ya ever get the feelin' you was bein' watched?" Bugs asked, and the intense man nodded.
"All the time," he said, and went back to his task of wiring the explosives laid out on the table. "But those days are over."
The elevator door at the Daily Planet opened onto a scene of chaos. Perry White took one look and made a beeline for his office where he found Franklin Stern ensconced behind his desk staring into a small glass of brown liquid.
"Ah. There you are Perry. I took refuge in here. Hope you don't mind."
Perry laughed. "Not at all. When those women get going, it's best to stay out of their way. Got any more of that?"
On the newsroom floor, Ellen Lane was fluttering around the table that had been set up on one side of the room.
"I just don't know about this, Senga. In my day we never had men at baby showers… and this color scheme! What happened to pink and blue?"
"Ach, Ellen, dinna fash yersel'. It's going to be great fun, and the wee bairns might get some more interesting gifts than nappies."
Ellen twitched at the tablecloth again. "And two grandchildren! I'm too young for one grandchild!!"
Senga patted her shoulder. "There, there, hen, you'll be fine."
The elevator pinged again and Martha and Jonathan appeared laden down with packages. Senga sighed with relief. Thank goodness the reinforcements had arrived.
Martha smiled and waved at Senga as she and Jonathan hurried down the ramp to the newsroom floor.
"Everything looks wonderful!" she said cheerily. "You did a wonderful job decorating. And I love the color scheme. Don't you agree, Jonathan?"
Jonathan frowned slightly and then shrugged. "Well, it's nice, but I kind of miss pink and blue. Guess I'm just a traditionalist."
Ellen raised one eyebrow and smirked slightly at Senga. "Here, let me take those," she said as she reached for the packages in Martha's arms.
"Thank you, Ellen."
As Martha began helping Senga with the decorations, Jonathan followed Ellen to the conference room where the other gifts were stacked.
"So where's Sam?"
"He'll be here later. He's working on something at the lab," Ellen replied flatly.
"Is there something wrong, Ellen?"
"No. I mean, well, yes, there is."
"Well if you'd like someone to talk it over with I can go get Martha. I'm sure she'd—"
"No! I don't want to talk to Martha. She'll just tell me I'm being silly."
"I'm sure she wouldn't do that. Just let me-" Ellen gave Jonathan an icy stare. "Then why don't you tell *me* what's upsetting you?"
"Well, if you must know, it's this shower."
"The baby shower?"
"Yes!" Ellen replied in a voice laced with exasperation.
"Well, what's wrong with it?"
Ellen looked around carefully, as though afraid someone with Superman's hearing might be within earshot. "It's just that my daughter and your son… They're well-respected citizens of this town. So why aren't more of the beautiful people here? This should be a big occasion…"
Jonathan thought carefully before he replied. Ellen tended to take offense so easily, but he really wanted her to understand what their children were thinking.
"It *is*, Ellen," he said at last. "But even high-profile citizens sometimes want to have a small celebration out of the limelight. I think Lois and Clark are less concerned with making a social statement than with trying to establish their family as their own. So that's why they wanted to have more friends and family here than important dignitaries."
Ellen still seemed unhappy, but less so. After all, her daughter's happiness should be everything to her…
Ellen and Jonathan wandered back into the newsroom. The crowd of shower guests had grown a bit and there were several people holding presents. Jonathan directed them to the conference room while Ellen scouted out Martha.
Martha was standing near the table, talking to Senga. Two small bowls had been placed on the table. One was filled with peanuts and the other was filled with pastel-colored mints. Ellen made her way through the crowd and helped herself to a mint.
"Where are the guests of honor?" she asked, practically shouting to be heard above the loud, peanut-munching guests. "They should be here by now! My Lois was always a bit on the late side, but to be late to her own baby shower… !"
"They should be here any minute," Martha assured the frazzled Ellen. "Here, have a peanut."
Just then, the elevator pinged, and everyone looked expectantly at the doors as they opened.
Ellen wrinkled her nose at both the peanut and Jimmy Olsen. "No thanks," she stated sourly, and started to pace the floor in small circles.
Jimmy scurried by Ellen with a quick smile for the long-suffering Martha. He paused, backed up two steps and grabbed a handful of peanuts, scattering a few across the tablecloth, then disappeared into the conference room.
Ellen paused in her pacing to flick the peanuts to the floor and dust the salt from the tablecloth. Where was her daughter?
He swiped the last of the wire clippings from his workbench, leaving the entire surface bare and empty. It had not been this clean since the day he'd set it up. He caressed the insignia impressed along the edge of the bench. He'd etched it in himself, little Superman-shields and the double L of LexLabs crossing the S's out.
Dismissing his past from his mind, he holstered the laser cutting torch and re-adjusted the bulk of dynamite and wires under his jacket. He had a date with STAR Labs… and Superman.
As they pulled up to the front entrance of STAR Labs, Clark laid his hand on his tie, his head cocked to one side. Lois glanced over, then sighed. "What now?"
"It could be nothing…" Clark paused, intent. "No." He sighed. "Shots fired … IloveyouI'llbebackforthepartyIpromise." His last sentence was accompanied by a whisper of a kiss on her cheek, and the slam of the car door in his backwash.
Lois sighed and eased out of the jeep. "One wacky scientist and one therapist to go, please," she muttered to herself. "And can I have a side order of husband delivered?"
Lois entered Dr. Klein's laboratory area, but it was deserted. "Fine," she sighed. "Ask to see me, and then not be here."
She continued down the adjacent hallway. Klein and Ruth Friskin were supposed to be here. Lois stopped. Maybe the two of them found a quiet lab to … "No," she cautioned herself. "Don't think about that on an empty stomach."
Lois heard a scuffling sound just up the hallway. She cleared her throat loudly just in case, and entered. Doctors Klein and Friskin were standing side by side. A man in a long duster coat stood near a large vault at the back of the room. Klein seemed to be moving his eyes frantically towards the man and then to the door that Lois had just entered.
By the third time Klein completed the circuit, Lois, who was no stranger to subtle gestures, began to back up. "I can see you're busy, so I'll come back —"
"Later?" the man asked as he stepped forward. "Ask her to stay, Dr. Friskin."
Friskin sighed. "You'd better stay, Lois."
"Or?" Lois asked, her voice challenging.
The man opened his coat. Sticks of what appeared to be dynamite were taped together and wired to a control device that encircled his body. "Or I'll change the zip code for STAR Labs."
Perry found Jimmy sitting alone in the semi-darkness of the conference room. "You get lost, son?"
"Oh … uh, no, Chief … I, it's just that … is it possible to have a midlife crisis before you turn twenty-five?"
Perry laughed. "What?" he asked, and pulled up a chair next to Jimmy.
Jimmy shrugged. "I know it sounds dumb, Chief, but … it's like everyone is moving on except me."
"Jimmy, if this is about a raise—"
"No! It's not even about my job, really. It's just that this baby shower made me think. CK was just a little older than me when he *knew* Lois was the one for him. He told me he just … knew."
Perry nodded. He was slowly catching on. "And you're feeling like it won't happen for you?"
"Exactly! I mean I've dated some great girls," he said. "And made some big mistakes like Clarissa … but I never got that feeling CK talked about. I even started taking vitamins, but…"
"Jimmy," Perry chuckled softly. "When it happens, you won't need vitamins to feel it."
The conference room light flared on, and Jimmy and Perry blinked in the sudden brightness. "What in the name of Elvis—?" Perry began, raising his arm against the glare.
Ellen looked around, frowning. "You didn't… didn't send Lois off on some… assignment or something, did you?"
Perry started to respond impatiently, but Ellen's nervously bitten lips showed him the worry inside her irritating exterior, and he toned down his response.
"No. We have enough trouble trying to get those two to a party as it is without me making it harder."
Jimmy laughed. "Like that surprise birthday party Lois kept trying to throw for Clark. Man, I'll never forget the look on their faces when you turned on the light and yelled, 'Surprise!'"
Perry hid a smile at the memory of catching his top reporters rolling on the floor, kissing and trying to tear each other's clothes off. Even funnier was the look on their faces when they realized their living room was full of their co-workers. But he didn't think sharing that memory would calm Ellen down.
"They probably got caught in traffic," he finally said. "I'm sure they'll be here soon."
"Have you tried their house? Maybe something came up and they haven't left yet."
Jimmy's suggestion earned him an impatient glare as Ellen told him, "There's no answer." She frowned suddenly. "But I could try Lois' cell phone." She reached across the conference table with a muttered, "Excuse me," and punched in the number.
In the jeep, the cell phone buzzed insistently, but there was no one to hear it.
Lois rolled her eyes and sighed. Another nutcase. "Okay. What do you want?"
The man closed his trenchcoat and ran his eyes over Lois' rather rotund shape. "None of your business, little mama. Now get over there with Dr. Ruth and keep your mouth shut."
Lois edged over to Ruth and muttered out of the side of her mouth, "You know this guy?"
Ruth whispered back, "Yes. He's one of my patients. He thinks Superman is stalking him."
The man whirled around. "Shut up, I said." He pulled open the coat again and Lois decided she better do as he said… at least for the moment.
Klein had taken advantage of the distraction to edge toward the lab workspace where he surreptitiously pushed a button under the counter. After all the break-ins they had suffered over the course of his acquaintance with Superman, the lab had decided to install a security alarm.
The man turned back to the doctor, who tried to whistle innocently through dry lips. "Okay, Dr. Klein. Where's the kryptonite?"
"Kryptonite?" Dr. Klein's voice cracked a little and he smiled nervously. "What makes you think we have kryptonite here?"
"Cut the crap. I know that STAR Labs has kryptonite. I want it and I want it *now*!"
Lois' heart raced at the mention of the kryptonite and she spoke up despite their captor's earlier admonishments. "Why do you want kryptonite?"
Instead of snarling at her, the man glanced nervously around the room and then up at the ceiling. "I need it for protection," he whispered.
"Have you thought of buying a dog?"
The man glared at Lois. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
Lois bit back her initial response of "a taco short of a combo plate" and shook her head.
"Don't lie to me! I can tell in your eyes that's what you really think!"
"Calm down, Mr. Musgrove," Ruth said soothingly as she placed herself between Lois and the clearly distraught man. "This is one of the little problems we talked about in our last session, remember? You were going to work on anger management."
"That's not the only 'little problem' he needs to work on," Lois muttered.
His mission accomplished, Clark flew back to STAR Labs. Landing in a nearby alley, he spun back into his street clothes, but as he rounded the corner he was shocked to see that the building was surrounded by the Metropolis Police Department's Special Crimes Unit, commanded by Captain Maggie Sawyer.
"Maggie, what's going on here?" Clark yelled from behind the MPD's barricades.
Sawyer motioned to her officers to let Clark through. "Kent, am I glad to see you. We've got a hostage situation here and we've been looking for you."
"Why? Do you need me to contact Superman?" Clark said as he loosened his tie slightly.
Maggie shook her head slowly. "No, it's about Lois."
"Good lord, is she still in the building!?"
"It's worse than that. She's one of the hostages."
"Oh no," Clark groaned. "Not *again*!" He scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand. "What *is* it with Lois and lunatics? You'd think I'd be used to this by now…" Okay, one Superman coming up, he thought.
He stalked off toward the SCU van, where ostensibly he would use their cell phone. But once out of sight of Captain Sawyer and the other policemen he spun into the suit, took off into the air, and swooshed back down in front of STAR Labs as his alter-ego.
"Clark told me you have a hostage situation, Captain," he began, eager to get to his wife's side.
"Um, yes, we do, Superman," she said. "But I'm afraid he left to get you before I could tell him that we really *can't* involve you."
He looked at her, alarmed yet quizzical.
"There's a phone in the lab and we've been able to briefly talk with Klein. It seems that this nutcase thinks that you're stalking him, and we're afraid that if he sees you, he'll go ballistic."
"But I can't just stand around and do *nothing*," Superman protested. "Lois and Clark are my two closest friends… they've helped me countless times - and Lois has saved my life more than once. Isn't there some way that I could help, even if I stay out of sight?"
Maggie shook her head. "The lunatic is wired with explosives and is near the kryptonite vault."
"Hi, Mrs. White," Jimmy said a bit distractedly as Perry's wife entered. "I guess I'll grab a snack," he said as he went toward the door.
Ellen, seeing Alice and Perry eyeing each other warmly, smiled. "That sounds like a good idea," she said and exited with Jimmy.
Alice laughed. "Was it something I said?"
Perry hugged her. "No, darlin'. I think we looked a little too lovey-dovey, and they wanted to give us some privacy."
"I see," she said coquettishly. "We've become the senior versions of Lois and Clark?"
"Well," Perry blushed. "I don't think my heart could take that much romantic exertion."
Alice nodded. "Maybe that's why they're not here yet. They got … sidetracked."
"Maybe," Perry agreed and kissed her cheek.
Alice glanced through the glass. "Does Jimmy seem a little down to you, honey?"
"Ah, it seems our young Mr. Olsen believes the world of love-everlasting has passed him by."
Alice turned and faced Perry. "What?"
He shrugged. "Every man reaches a point where he gets the itch."
Perry laughed. "That itch is *always* there. I'm talking about the nesting itch."
"Marriage? Oh, but he's so young."
Perry embraced her. "We were younger."
"So he has someone who doesn't feel the same way about 'nesting'?"
"No, that's the problem. He has an *empty* nest."
"Poor boy," Alice said, but Jimmy had vanished from view. "I don't think I've ever seen a wedding cake with just a groom on it."
Perry began to laugh just as Jimmy blurred back into view and started charging back to the conference room.
"Well, it at least gives him a lot of energy," Alice observed.
Jimmy burst through the door. "Chief! Hostages at STAR Labs," he said, and caught his breath. "Lois is there!"
"Great shades of Elvis! Can't that woman stay out of trouble for one day!?"
Perry stuck his head out of the door. "Okay, everyone, " he bellowed. "Breaking story! I want everyone available down at STAR Labs… pronto!" He turned on Jimmy. "Where the Sam Hill is Clark?"
Jimmy paled. "Um. I don't know, Chief."
"Well, get down there and find out!"
Lois eyed the agitated man pacing back and forth in front of Dr. Klein. She started to speak but doubled up when a cramping sensation started in her back and spread to her swollen abdomen.
Ruth put her arm around Lois and spoke up. "You have to let Ms. Lane go. Can't you see she's pregnant… and I think she might be going into labor."
The man stopped pacing and sweat popped out on his forehead. "No! Not now!" He turned to Klein and brandished the detonator. "Get that kryptonite! Now!"
The phone rang at that moment and Klein grabbed it. After listening for a moment, he hit the button putting the call on speaker phone. "It's for you, Musgrove."
"What do you want?" Musgrove snarled into the phone. "I told you not to bother me. I'm not playing around in here!" His voice became low and menacing as he turned to look at Dr. Klein, Lois and Dr. Friskin. "I guess you don't care what happens to my *guests*."
"I've got a deal for you," Maggie Sawyer replied evenly. "But if you're not interested—"
"A deal? What kind of a deal?! This better not be some kind of a trick-"
"It's a swap."
"Whatta you mean, a swap?"
"A hostage swap."
"You're offering yourself for one of the hostages, Captain Sawyer?"
"No," a male voice interrupted. "I'm offering to take my wife's place."
"Shut up, you!" Musgrove glared at Lois and when he turned back to the phone, Klein moved closer to Lois and Dr. Friskin.
"Please, Dr. Klein," Lois whispered. "You can't let Clark do this. You have to stop him-"
"I said, be quiet!" Musgrove snarled over his shoulder. "So, *Clark*, you want to trade places with the little woman. How noble. So how do I know this isn't some kind of a trick and you won't have Superman waiting to grab me?"
"It's no trick," Clark replied. "You let her go, I'll take her place. No Superman. You have my word on that."
"Let me think about it. I'll call you back in ten minutes."
The line went dead and Maggie Sawyer turned to Clark. "I hope you know what the hell you're doing, Kent."
"So do I, Maggie. So do I."
Jimmy parked his convertible as close to STAR Labs as he could considering all the police vehicles, media vans, and people blocking the road. Looking frantically around, he spotted Clark and Captain Sawyer talking next to a telephone in a van.
"CK!" he called. "What's going on? Where's Lois?"
Clark raked his hands through his hair. "That… *man* in there has her and Doctor Klein and Ruth Friskin — we just offered for me to go in there and take her place."
"What? CK, are you nuts? That guy is a looney tune. How do you know that he won't just add you to his little group in there?"
"Jimmy, I gotta. That's my wife in there, and my kids, you know?" Clark said in a resigned tone of voice.
They argued for a minute, Jimmy offering himself as backup and Clark saying that he could handle it alone and that he didn't want to risk Jimmy's safety. Maggie Sawyer just stood off to one side, watching and smiling in spite of the gravity of the situation at this show of male ego.
Finally the telephone rang. "OK," Musgrove said, the tension obvious in his voice. "Mr. Kent can come in. Nobody else. I see *anybody* besides him, or if somebody tries to come in with him, or *any* thing, this lab is a hole in the ground, you hear?"
Sawyer stepped forward. "Kent, I can't tell you what to do, but if this were the regular PD, they wouldn't let you go in there."
Clark took a deep breath. "Maggie, even the whole Metropolis PD couldn't keep me out of there."
Maggie lifted an eyebrow. "I almost believe it."
Clark squared his shoulders and walked through the SCU barricade.
"Over here," Musgrove commanded when Clark entered the lab, but stayed near the vault.
Clark stepped forward. "Okay, I'm here. Now let my wife go."
"First take off your jacket. I want to check for weapons."
Clark shook his head but complied. "Satisfied?"
"Now the shirt."
"Oh, god," Lois whispered.
"The cops might have you wired."
"I'm *not* wired."
"The shirt, Kent!" Musgrove shouted, his voice near hysteria.
Clark raised his hands. "Okay, okay, just calm down," Clark said softly and loosened his tie. "Just let Lois leave."
Musgrove's shoulders were rising and falling heavily with each breath. "First the shirt."
Clark quickly unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. Lois sighed with relief. The suit was not there.
Friskin's eyes widened reflexively. "Wow," she whispered.
"Now let Lois go."
Musgrove began to pace a short path in front of the vault. "It can't be that simple. They must have something planned. Maybe rush the building as soon as your wife leaves. That's it, isn't it?"
"There is *no* plan," Clark said and began to move forward, but stopped when Musgrove's thumb twitched near the detonator.
"I think I want you and your wife to stay." Musgrove nodded as he spoke. "Yes, I like that better. Now they know I won't play their games."
"Wait a minute!" Clark protested, and began to move forward again, but Klein grabbed his arm.
"No, Clark," he said, and then whispered, "I have an idea."
Clark bent over and picked up his shirt. Ruth sighed with disappointment as he put it back on.
She leaned over and whispered to Lois, "You know, Bernie's not bad for an egghead, but I've never seen a better chest than your Clark's."
Lois chuckled and then gasped as the cramping sensation returned.
Clark and Klein both rushed to her side, and even Musgrove looked concerned. "Please, lady, this is not the time for that."
Lois glared at him. "Tell that to my babies, you moron, and just what do you want that kryptonite for anyway?"
Musgrove backed off a bit. For all that she looked like a beach ball about to explode, something in her voice gave him pause. His voice shook a bit as he explained. "It's to protect me from Superman. He's out to get me."
Clark's jaw dropped and Lois snorted. "Superman is out to get you?!? What gave you that hairbrained idea?"
"You just think he's a do-gooder." Musgrove's voice rose with a hint of hysteria. "He's not—he's—" He broke off, casting a fearful glance out the window and visibly throttling himself back. "He could be listening," he finished in a whisper.
Lois' gaze slid toward Clark, and he could nearly hear her saying 'a taco short of a combo.' Her expression turned to a frown again, and she clutched her abdomen.
Clark dropped to his knees beside her, his hand on her baby-swollen belly. "Lois?"
His questioning gaze swiftly rose to hers as he felt the relaxed muscles. Her head turned away from Musgrove, she gave her husband a wink. He closed his eyes, relief washing hotly through his body.
"Dr. Klein?" Clark asked. "How is she?"
Clark's hand tightened on the scientist's arm, cutting off his protest, and the younger man dipped his head to breathe, "She's distracting him. What's your plan?"
Musgrove cut across Clark's words, his voice sharp. "What's that? There *is* a plan, isn't there?" He looked toward the police barricade. "They're going to rush me, aren't they? Or…" His eyes widened fearfully. "Maybe Superman is hiding outside and he's going to fry me with his heat vision!" He plastered himself against the wall, his thumb twitching dangerously close to the detonator button.
"NO!" Clark and Dr. Klein said in unison. "There is no *plan*" Clark said again as he stood up slowly and raised his hands in a non-threatening fashion. "You misunderstood me. I was … I was asking him what he planned to do if Lois really was in labor. Isn't that right, Dr. Klein?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, that's right. That's all we were talking about."
Musgrove relaxed a little and moved his thumb away from the detonator. "Well, we won't have to worry about her if you give me the kryptonite. I'll just take it and be on my way. So hand it over, Doc!"
"I can't," Dr. Klein said flatly.
"What do you mean, you can't! Do you think I'm joking!" Musgrove yelled and waved the detonator high above his head.
"No! I know you're serious, it's just I can't open the vault."
"Why not? Don't you have the combination?"
"No it's not that. I know the combination, but the vault is also on a time release lock and once closed it can't be opened again for at least twelve hours."
"What! You'd better not be lying to me," Musgrove said menacingly.
"I'm not lying. You can examine the timing mechanism for yourself, it's on the front of the vault."
Musgrove nodded and after a few moments moved to the huge door of the vault. "All right, I'll take a look. But no funny business!"
As Musgrove turned his back, Dr. Klein took the opportunity to whisper in a voice only Clark could hear. "We've got to get him talking about why he wants the kryptonite and why he hates Superman. It may be our only chance."
Musgrove turned on them, his hearing sharper than they could have thought. "Hm… how do I know that you won't go back on your word while my back is turned?" he mused aloud. "Okay, Dr. Ruth," he barked. "On your feet, next to me. Maybe the blue, so-called Boy Scout won't come after me if you're beside me…"
Suddenly fearful for herself, Ruth looked over at Bernie. He gave her a little nod, and she thought she knew what he would want her to do. She got up carefully and joined Musgrove by the vault door.
"Mr. Musgrove… Phil…" she started, trying to sound as calm and quiet as she wasn't feeling.
"Phillip. It's more… sounds better," he corrected her in a little-boy tone that was totally at odds with the weapon in his hand.
"Phillip… It sounds like you're af… have issues with Superman." She knew that he didn't like to admit that he was afraid at all, but that was clearly what he was feeling right now. "Can you tell me why? I know you've had problems talking about this before, but if I knew what you're thinking…"
"Superman…" He looked fearfully around. "Superman wrecked my life, you know. It's his fault — he wrecked my life, and now he's out to finish me off."
Back at the Planet, Martha and Jonathan, Perry and Alice, and Ellen were gathered in the conference room, away from the guests. Senga's calming brogue could be heard soothing the restless crowd.
Ellen's voice filled the small room with her sharp sudden commentary.
"I told that daughter of mine to choose a nice settled career like teaching or nursing or, or *law*. But did she listen? Noooo… she *had* to go off to journalism school, and look where it's got her and my grandchildren… In another hostage situation… Again."
Perry growled and was about to turn on her when Alice slid her hand into his and laced her fingers with his.
"Ellen, I think you're failing to take into account Lois' penchant for getting into trouble. Didn't you tell me once that she'd first been taken hostage in grade school?" Alice said in a calm, low voice.
Ellen stamped her foot and glared at the woman who had interrupted her tirade. "That still counts. She was on the yearbook staff, and the bomber held them in the darkroom for two hours!"
Alice laughed. "And didn't she get the interview and the position on the school paper her freshman year in high school?" She shook her head. "Lois always gets into trouble, but she always ends up on top. Always."
"Exactly- it's part and parcel of journalism — you're a reporter, you get nabbed by the psycho of the week!"
Alice's calm voice cut through her tirade. "I hardly think that the, ah, psycho of the week checks people's references. I'm not a journalist." She nodded to Jonathan and Martha. "Neither are they. We've all been held hostage or kidnapped for one reason or another." She cocked her head to the side. "I think you're jealous."
"Jealous!" Ellen sputtered. "Why … I … Jeal — What?"
Jonathan settled back against a table behind his wife as she spoke up. "Jealous of being held hostage?"
Alice shook her head. "Not the psycho bit. Her freedom. She's got it all, and she's happy, even with all the crazies running around."
"I am *not* jealous of my daughter!"
Alice leaned forward. "I think you are, Ellen. As long as I've known you, you've been living vicariously through Lois, and as long as she's never had more than you, you've been happy, because then you couldn't look too critically at your own life. But now she's got it all — a job she loves, a husband she loves, and now the two kids. She's in heaven, and you're jealous. She has everything she — and you — ever wanted and that you never really had.
"Ellen, you don't have to be jealous. Lois is from a different generation. She's had opportunities, doors open that we never even dreamed of." Alice pressed Perry's hand to her cheek. "When I met Perry, I had the choice of a career or a family. I chose my family and never looked back. You had the same choice, and now you resent Lois because she doesn't have to make it."
Ellen shook, her fists clenched. "I do *not* resent my daughter. I had a career *and* a family!"
Martha sighed and shared a glance with Alice. "But you weren't happy, were you?"
"Phillip, killing Superman won't make you happy." Ruth kept her hands at her sides and concentrated on making her voice as soothing as possible.
Musgrove turned back to her, his voice as small as a child's. "But I don't want to kill him. I don't want to kill anyone, Ruth. I just want to keep him away from me!" He picked up a heavy instrument from the bench and caressed it. "I'll get the kryptonite and Superman will have to stay far, far away from me, and I'll never have to see him again and I can go on with my life."
He turned back to Ruth, shoving the business end of a cross between a drill and microwave beneath her chin. "I really don't want to hurt anyone. If they'll all just back off, than I can get my kryptonite and go home. If they…" He swallowed and blinked, suddenly realizing what he had in his hand. "If they don't leave me alone, I really don't want to die at his hands." He gestured wildly with the drill thing. "Or eyes or heat vision or whatever perverted thing he thinks of to kill me."
"We're out of time," Klein whispered as Musgrove ranted. "He's completely tuned out."
Clark squeezed Lois' hand. "What do we do?"
Klein swallowed. "I think you know, Clark."
Clark closed his eyes and nodded. "Make sure Lois is protected."
Musgrove stopped his raving. "What are you plotting?" he asked, and swung Friskin around to face them.
Klein rose slowly. "Just that the time lock should be accessible now. I can get you the kryptonite."
Musgrove visibly relaxed. He released Friskin. "That's more like it. Open the vault."
"One condition," Klein said. "If you won't release Ms. Lane, then at least let me put a lead apron on her. Kryptonite is only known to harm Superman, but radiation of any kind can be toxic to the unborn."
Everyone held their breath as Musgrove debated the logic with what little sanity he had left. "Okay, it's a deal, but *no* tricks."
"No tricks," Klein assured him as he walked to the back shelf. He unfolded the apron and knelt next to Lois. "I'm sorry, Clark," he whispered as he spread the apron over Lois.
"I'll be okay assuming he gets out quick when he has the kryptonite."
"Clark…" Lois started to protest.
Clark covered her lips with his fingertips. "I'll be okay."
Klein walked to the vault and began spinning the combination.
"Ow!" Lois wailed. All eyes turned to her. "I … don't think … the babies will wait!"
Clark slid his hand under the lead apron, feeling for Lois' abdomen. The muscles were tight and rigid. His eyes widened. "Honey?"
Dr. Klein abandoned the combination dial and started toward her. Musgrove spun back to face him. "Huh-uh, Doc. Get the safe open."
The scientist straightened, stiff and dignified. "Her babies are more important than your obsession," he announced.
Phillip Musgrove watched in astonishment as his hostage ignored him and walked over to the woman lying on the floor. It occurred to him that Klein wouldn't pay attention even if he put his thumb back on the detonator. A sense of helplessness overwhelmed him, and he turned to the one person he could count on to listen.
"I can't open the safe, Phillip—or help Lois with her babies," she added.
"But you—you have to make him listen to me," he pleaded.
"I'm only doing what you suggested, Dr. Ruth."
"What?! Phillip, what on earth are you talking about?"
"You told me I shouldn't be a victim … that I should start taking charge of my life!"
Dr. Friskin grimaced. "Phillip, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I suggested that."
"But- but, you're my doctor. You've got to help me. You've got to make them understand!"
As Musgrove continued to complain, Ruth glanced in the direction of Lois and the others. Lois turned her head slightly and gave Ruth a quick wink. Reassured that Lois was all right, Ruth quickly turned back to Musgrove.
"I can't *make* them listen to you, Phillip. But perhaps, if you were to explain to them why this is so important to you, they would stop and help you," she said soothingly.
"You really think so?"
Ruth nodded. "I think it's just what we need. Now what seems to be your problem with Superman?"
"I told you, he's after me!"
"Yeah, sure, we've heard that before," Lois mumbled in a voice only Clark could hear. "Cut to the chase already."
"Can you be a little more specific, Phillip?"
"Well, it's because of him I can't keep a job here in Metropolis."
Musgrove rolled his eyes. "I told you this before, Dr. Ruth. I was employed at LexLabs, remember?"
"And you know what happened there?"
"Yes. It went into receivership and closed, like the rest of Lex Luthor's holdings, when Superman put him in prison. But that was because of Luthor. That had nothing to do with you-"
"That's what the papers would like you to believe! But I know different!" Musgrove grew more agitated and his thumb moved back to the detonator.
"Just calm down, Phillip. I'm listening to you and I'm sure the others are too. Isn't that right?"
"Huh? Oh. Yes. Please continue, I'm absolutely spellbound," Dr. Klein replied sarcastically.
Musgrove took his thumb off the detonator again and continued in a shaky voice. "I was unemployed for weeks and used up most of my savings. Then I got a job at CostMart working for Bill Church. We all know what happened to that job. Superman put him in jail and I was back on unemployment."
He took a deep breath. "And it didn't end there. My car had been repossessed and I was taking the bus to the unemployment office when that bridge collapsed. Superman saved the bus from going into the river, but I broke my leg and my medical insurance had run out. There went the rest of my savings."
Lois looked at Clark, who had been listening silently to the tale of woe. She reached out and took his hand. "Honey, don't look so sad. It's not your fault," she whispered.
Musgrove's thumb went back to the detonator. "Shut up! I'm not finished!"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay."
Satisfied, Musgrove took his thumb off the detonator again. "Finally, after months of therapy, I was able to get work as a researcher for Morgan Edge at Newstime. Superman again!! Now I'm afraid to get another job until I know Superman won't be coming anywhere near me. The kryptonite should take care of that." He motioned to Klein. "Get it now!"
Clark thought frantically for a way to help this poor man. While it was true that Superman's actions in apprehending various criminals in Metropolis had inadvertently hurt Musgrove, Superman might also be able to *help* him.
"Phillip," he said finally, grasping for anything he could say that might calm the man down, "you've had your share of bad luck… But what if you were able to get a job someplace where you know that Superman isn't going to affect you?"
"Not possible," Musgrove said hopelessly.
"I think it's very possible, Phillip. You said you'd worked at Newstime as a researcher, right?"
"Well, if you could let me call my editor at the Daily Planet …" Clark mentally asked Perry for forgiveness, "I think I heard him say that we might be needing a new researcher there. And if I put a good word in for you, maybe you could have a shot there."
Musgrove looked a little dubious. "But the Daily Planet… Superman hangs out there. Wouldn't he…"
"Wouldn't he… ?" Clark repeated.
"He could…" Musgrove caught his breath on something suspiciously like a sob. "Maybe he could hurt me *directly*!"
"Phillip," Lois said from her position on the floor. "He isn't like that. He'd never—" She broke off, her throat tightening at the look on Clark's face.
"What would it take to make you believe that you'd be safe from Superman?" he asked. Musgrove looked back over his shoulder at the safe, and Clark continued, "The kryptonite? No, Phillip. If Superman was trying to hurt you before by wrecking your life, kryptonite wouldn't have helped. He didn't need to get close to you for you to lose your jobs. Kryptonite wouldn't have helped," he repeated.
Musgrove looked at the safe again, then down at the detonator in his hand. "You're right," he said softly. "I can't protect myself from him, can I?" He rubbed his thumb along the edge of the detonator. "All this was for nothing, wasn't it?"
"Phillip," Ruth said almost sharply, "we're still here. It matters to us."
He looked up, his eyes shimmering with tears. "I don't—" He shook his head. "You're right. The lady and her babies—" He looked down again, and a tear slid down his cheek. "Go on—you can leave. It doesn't matter any more." He gestured toward the door. "Go on. Go on."
Clark didn't hesitate. He picked Lois up effortlessly and looked at Drs. Friskin and Klein. "C'mon," he said.
Lois clutched his shoulder. "Honey," she whispered frantically. "He's going to kill himself when we're outside."
"I know," Clark replied. "Can you walk?"
Lois clung to him for a moment, silent as Clark strode down the halls, followed by Drs. Klein and Friskin. Then, "Yes."
Clark set her down gently outside the door to the reception area. "I love you, you know."
"I know." Lois held his eyes for a moment, then smiled. She grabbed Ruth and Bernie's hands and tugged them outside. "C'mon, I got a story to write."
Clark watched them push through the doors, then turned, tugging on his tie. He paused at the door to Dr. Klein's lab, his hand still on his tie. A muffled sob echoed dimly in the room ahead, and he sighed, dropping his hand. This was not a job for Superman.
Clark stepped through the doorway. "Just me, Phillip."
The man drooped. "Go away. I told you everything. Leave me alone!"
"I can't do that."
"You've got your story, reporterman! Go back to your wife and your life and leave me to mine!"
"To do what? Kill yourself? That won't solve your problems. Destroy someone's life work while you're at it?" Clark gestured to the empty lab. "And all for something I did?"
Phillip stared at him, uncomprehending.
"I came back to apologize." Clark spread his hands out. "You see … Superman? He's just a figurehead, someone who can help out. Luthor? Church? Superman may have caught them in the end, but he wasn't responsible."
Musgrove shook his head. "No, it was Superman. Superman destroyed them, destroyed their lives, my life! How could you do anything?"
Clark simply shrugged. "Who do you think became suspicious of Luthor in the first place? Or Church, or even Edge? It's my job, Phillip. They were guilty of committing crimes, and I needed to bring that to light. Superman," Clark paused. "Superman doesn't work for the Daily Planet."
"No! It was him!" Musgrove folded into a sitting position on the floor. "Wasn't it? I can't… not you, not the pregnant lady…"
Clark watched him rock back and forth a few times. "Here, you need to figure out what happened." He offered him his hand and helped him stand again. "Think about it. Don't blame anyone, just… think."
Musgrove nodded dumbly.
"I'll make sure you have all the information, all the articles, and you can make up your own mind, okay?"
Musgrove nodded and handed the detonator to Clark. "Okay." His assent was child-like again, and he let Clark maneuver him out the door to the waiting authorities.
Ellen paced, silent for a change, in the conference room. Her back was tight, her hands clenched.
Martha and Alice sat close together, their eyes only leaving the pacing woman when Perry was called away for Jimmy's phone call.
Ellen stopped dead, bowed her head, and turned toward the door.
"Fifteen minutes … not bad," Martha murmured.
"They're not so far apart, Lois and her mother," Alice commented, then stopped as Perry leaned out of his office.
"Ho-ho! Lois is out, and she and Clark have the exclusive!" he bellowed across the newsroom, waving the phone. He motioned to Alice and Martha, then disappeared again.
The two women were joined by Ellen, and Jonathan materialized from his hiding place near the potato chips. They surged into Perry's office.
"Jimmy, just hand the damned phone to Lois! Whaddya mean, she won't? Where's Clark? Hang that! Where's Superman in all this?" There was a pause. "*There* you are, honey!" Perry's tone softened perceptibly. "Now what in the name of Elvis is going on down there?"
Alice slipped around him and hit the speakerphone button. Lois' voice, a tinny echo of her normal presence, filled the office.
"Some wacko wanted kryptonite because he thought Superman was after him. Clark's still in there, talking to him."
They heard a brief scuffle in the background, and Lois' indignant "Get that blanket away from me!"
They jumped when the phone clattered and was then muffled by a dull thud. Faintly, they heard Jimmy complain, "He's just an EMT, Lois!"
Finally, Jimmy's voice came clearly through the receiver. "Sorry 'bout that, Chief. Clark just came out. They're puttin' the guy in the truck now. Oh, here he is."
"Jimmy!" Perry's bark was too late, as Clark's voice came over the line next.
Martha stepped forward. "Clark? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Mom." They heard his tired smile in his voice. "We're both fine. Listen, can we postpone the shower thing? I don't know if we can handle any more excitement…"
"I can handle the excitement, Clark. Just keep the damn guests away from me!" Lois' acid comment was faint but clear.
"We'll send home the guests, Clark. I'm sure they'll understand." Martha shared a smile with Perry and Alice across the desk.
"You two come back here, though, y'hear?" Perry's voice was gruff through his smile.
"Don't worry, Perry- we've got the story," Lois voice became clearer as she snatched the phone. "But I swear this is my last until the babies come. No more hostage situations until I can move faster than a waddle!"
Alice's eyes darted up to meet Ellen's. The phone clicked, and Ellen blinked, then turned and left without a word.
Lois blinked sleepily at the ceiling. She was far too comfortable, her feet kicked up, her head pillowed against Clark's shoulder. Clark's arm was settled around her, his other hand busy typing up their notes on the day's events. She sighed.
"Almost done," Clark replied to her unspoken question. "Then we can go home."
Lois blinked and peered around the empty bullpen without moving any body part below the neck. "Where … ?"
Clark hit the last few keys with a flourish, then dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Perry and Alice took Mom and Dad to their hotel a few minutes after you dropped off."
"I wasn't asleep! I was…"
"… just resting your eyes, I know."
Lois nestled her head further into Clark's shoulder and let silence enfold them for a brief moment. Then, "Do you think that kryptonite will hurt them?"
Clark shook his head. "I don't know."
Lois sighed again. "I don't want to find out."
Clark pulled her closer, the wheels of the chair protesting. "Maybe they'll just be normal kids."
Lois moved finally, turning her head to face him, sliding her hands to interlace her fingers with his. "They won't be normal. They'll be just as special and wonderful as you are."
Clark slid his hand down her back and lifted her to her feet, floating her just a few inches above the ground. "Or as intelligent and talented as you are?"
Lois wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer as he drifted them towards the open window. "How about as handsome as you?"
"Probably." Clark grinned and rested his forehead on hers.
Lois stole a kiss from him. "What if they're girls?"
"Well…" Clark chuckled as they cleared the window. "Let's just hope they take after you then."
Lois' laughter was stolen by the wind of their departure.