By Tank Wilson <TankW1@aol.com>
Submitted July 2000
Summary: In the third installment of the author's "Future" series, Clark and Lois deal with a powerful enemy, a couple of old flames, and the emotional aftermath of their divorce.
Author's notes: Well here it finally is, the big finish to the 'Future Series'. I hope you folks who waited for it will find it satisfying. I have to thank the gentle readers from Zoom's boards who kept after me to write and eventually finish this monster. I never intended for it to become this mini novel that it has, but sometimes the characters just take over and don't let you go where you intended. It's out of my hands now and into yours. All characters are trademarked and copyrighted to their respective owners. All comments, good, bad, or indifferent, are encouraged and welcome at TankW1@aol.com
Lois Lane stepped off the elevator as it opened up to the newsroom floor. Last week had been a hard week, wrapping up her latest story, and she was looking forward to a little less stressful week.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, let's give it up for the Daily Planet's number one reporter, Lois Lane." Perry was holding up a copy of that morning's edition with the banner headline: 'High School Baby Selling Ring Exposed!'.
"I'm proud of you, Lois, it was a terrific story." Perry put his arm around Lois, but couldn't help but frown as he noticed the applause she inspired was of the light, polite variety.
"Thanks, Chief," Lois smiled for Perry.
The lack of warmth in her reception was not lost on Lois. It had been over three months since the most locally newsworthy divorce since Chuck and Di. She knew everyone blamed her for the divorce, and that everyone, including her, missed Clark. It didn't matter to her. She had gotten used to the whispered innuendoes, the 'behind your back' accusing stares. Even the wild, unfounded speculations that the local tabloids had fed off for so long didn't get to her.
She and Clark had agreed to say nothing to anyone as to the reasons behind the divorce. All they would say publicly was that they had grown apart, and that they no longer shared a common vision of their future together. That hadn't helped, and speculation about Lois' unfaithfulness ran the gamut from movie stars, to Superman, even to Jimmy. Lois had casually let slip some comments that might help explain the break up to those they knew, but it didn't seem to help. It was more fun for them to play their guessing games. She didn't care; none of them were really her friends anyway.
Perry stared down at his favorite reporter as she worked at booting up her computer for the day. His heart went out to her. He was terribly saddened by the break up of Clark and Lois. He would have thought that if anyone had a chance to make a marriage work these days, it would have been those two. They had seemed so perfect for each other. It was like they had been destined to be together. He sighed as he turned to go back into his office, nearly running into Jimmy as he did so.
"Whoa, Chief, we almost had a nasty collision there." Jimmy noticed the paper Perry was holding. "Hey, that was quite a story, eh, Chief. Imagine passing herself off as a substitute phys ed. teacher for three weeks to find the trail." Jimmy shook his head in amazement. "Wow, how does she do it?"
"She's smart, and she's dedicated." Perry gave Jimmy a stern look. "Unlike a certain young research assistant."
"Hey, I'm dedicated." Jimmy then lowered his voice, making sure no one would overhear. "I just can't get over her and CK splitting up. It just seems unnatural somehow."
"Well, Jimmy, if love was enough, there would be a lot fewer divorces in this world." Perry's eyes unfocused a bit as his own memories came into play. "I loved Alice very much, but that didn't stop us from getting a divorce."
"Yeah, but you just spent so much time at the Planet, she felt left out." Jimmy snuck a glance toward Lois, who was now busy checking her emails. "Lois and Clark worked at the same place, doing the same thing. They were partners."
"Yes — yes they were, and darn good ones too." Perry shook his head. "No, I think their problem was more domestic."
Jimmy seemed confused. "I don't understand."
"Little ones, bambinos," Perry looked skyward as it was clear that Jimmy still wasn't with him. "Children. I got the impression from comments that Lois has been letting slip that Clark wants them and she doesn't."
Jimmy looked over and just nodded his head. Suddenly, as if remembering something, he turned back to Perry. "Say, isn't CK due back from his assignment with the foreign bureau this week?"
Perry nodded. "Tomorrow, he is due back tomorrow."
"It will be good to see him again."
"Yes it will. I just hope that he will be glad to be back." Perry started for his office, Jimmy trailing behind. "It's one thing to have one of my best reporters take some needed personal time. Time away from it all so he can regain his perspective. It would be another thing entirely if I found myself having to fill that spot again." Perry opened his door. "I don't think the Planet would be that lucky again."
Lois opened her email and began scrolling through the entries. Most of them she deleted without opening after reading the header. One particular note caught her eye. It was from Clark. She quickly opened the message and began to read it:
"Lois, I'll be getting back into Metropolis this evening. As promised, I'll have Superman pick Lucy up, out in California. I'm glad she has decided to come stay with you now that she's through with school and moving back to Metropolis. They should get to your place sometime in the later evening. I know he'll try not to make it too late.
How are things at the Planet? I've seen some of your latest headlines, even over here. I'm impressed, though I really shouldn't have expected any less from Lois Lane. How are Perry and Jimmy? I hope they have been able to deal with the divorce now that they've had some time to get used to it. Are you still getting heat from the staff? Since I told Superman that you now know how to cook, I'm certain that he and Lucy will expect some sort of special dinner when they get there. Looking forward to seeing everyone again. Take care, Clark.
Lois was amused by Clark's careful wording in his email, but then they both knew that their email wasn't secure. Management had the ability to check it whenever they wanted, but Lois had learned they seldom did. The justification, beyond typical abuse, was that if a reporter was missing it could provide clues to what they were working on and where they might be. Lois was just cynical enough to think that it occasionally provided some bored executive with his jollies for the day.
Lois was looking forward to seeing Lucy again. They had conversed a few times and seemed to connect, if not as sisters, then as possible friends. Lois was glad Lucy had agreed to come live with her now that she was moving back to Metropolis. Not only would it help Lucy expense-wise until she found a job, but it would give Lois that one person she could be herself around. Someone she could really talk to about stuff that was bothering her.
Jimmy had been trying to be a friend to her, but he was still a little skittish around her. He was always afraid of saying the wrong thing. Perry had been pretty great. He was so much like the Perry she had known and loved that she found it easy to slip into her old ways with him. This, though, had, on a couple of occasions, caused some minor problems when she found herself referring to incidents that didn't happen on this world. Again she had to be constantly on her guard with these people, lest she betray herself in some manner. That was another reason why she was glad that Lucy was coming back.
Lois had to admit to herself that she was also looking forward to seeing Clark again. Right after the divorce, Clark had taken a leave of absence and had gone home to Smallville. He felt the mindless physical labor would do him some good. She also knew that he and his folks would use the time to come to grips with the loss of their Lois. She'd never heard from him during that time, which had lasted nearly a month.
He'd come back to work looking a little less haunted but he still acted politely professional around her. Perry was not happy that he had lost his number one reporting team, but he knew that it wouldn't be fair to either one to continue to partner them. The three of them had had a long discussion in Perry's office. It was decided that Lane and Kent would now be Lane, and Kent, two top reporters who happened to work at the same paper. Perry was just thankful that neither one felt like they had to quit. Perry did elicit a promise from the two of them that if something really big came up that they would work together on it. It would be Perry's call, but he promised he wouldn't abuse it. Clark and Lois had agreed.
After about a week of separate stories, Perry had noticed that Clark still wasn't really comfortable at work, and decided to do something about it. Just the day before, Perry had received a fax from the foreign bureau. Due to a pregnancy and two major illnesses, they were woefully understaffed, and wondered if Perry could spare someone for a couple months. Lois had known about the fax because she had run into Jimmy, literally, while he was bringing it to Perry. The next day, Perry had called Clark into his office and asked him to take the assignment.
Lois watched Clark while he was in Perry's office. She could tell by his body language that he was hesitant to take the position. Lois assumed he was worried about his Superman responsibilities if he was overseas. What ever it was that Perry said to him must have finally convinced him because Clark was booked on a flight to Paris the next day.
It was the typical situation again. As long as they weren't physically together they seemed to get along quite well. Clark and Lois had exchanged several emails during the time he was abroad. He had managed to help her out on the several small problems that would arise while trying to contact some of Lois' sources. Clark had given Lois the low down on Bobby Bigmouth and his peculiar fee structure for information, as well as some of her other sources. Clark had helped her also with some insight, and places to check out on some of her stories. When she offered him shared byline for his input he declined. He said it would be better if the public got used to seeing their names as single bylines under stories.
Besides the emails, Clark and Lois had spoken a few times on the phone. Those conversations were less business and more friendly in nature. Clark mostly asking how it was going in her new place. Lois had rented an apartment in Clark's old building. It was similar to Clark's old place in layout, except hers had two bedrooms. She had purposely looked for a place with two bedrooms in hopes of convincing Lucy to come stay with her when she moved back, which she had.
There had been one, somewhat awkward, situation that had come up. Clark had flown back to Metropolis every night to do a patrol. He didn't want his absence to impact on the city any more than it had to. It just so happened that on one of those occasions a certain plucky reporter found herself in a somewhat precarious situation. During a surveillance of a contractor and some of his crew, who were suspected of taking bribes, Lois followed them to a high rise construction site.
The fact that they had chosen to have their meet on the unfinished 23rd floor didn't deter Lois from following them up there to try and get the hard evidence she needed for her story.
As fortune would have it, Lois had gotten an earful and was anxious to find out more, when her foot struck a bucket of rivets left sitting near the girder she was hiding behind. The noise of the bucket tipping over and the rivets spilling out quickly brought her to the attention of her surveillance subjects. Needless to say they didn't appreciate her presence there, and, in typical Lois Lane fashion, she found herself being tossed over the edge of the building.
Luckily her instinctive screams brought her to Superman's attention and he caught her before she became human graffiti on the sidewalk below. After making sure she was all right, Superman flew up and apprehended the men. With the attempted murder charge, and Lois' testimony of what she'd overheard, they were put away for a long time and Lois had another page one story.
Her meeting there with Superman had been a little less cordial. Lois could tell that Clark had been concerned for her as he stood and lectured her on taking such dangerous risks, but it didn't matter. She wasn't used to someone telling her what she should or shouldn't do, even if it was for her own good. She had responded with a diatribe of her own about who did he think he was, believing he had some right to make decisions for her.
Lois still remembered the hurt and anger in his eyes when she informed him that if his Lois was comfortable with him making decisions for her that was just fine, but she was not his wife, and she intended to make her own decisions, for herself. He had flown off without another word. Lois realized she had hurt him, and she had apologized in several emails, but she stood by her decree that he wasn't responsible for her actions. She very much appreciated the save, and always would, but if he wasn't there sometime, that was her problem, not his. The next time they spoke on the phone it was never mentioned.
Lois shut down her email and turned her attention to the stack of paper memos and phone messages that occupied the corner of her desk. She had only gotten about halfway through them when a shadow fell across her line of vision. Fearing the worst, Lois heaved a deep sigh before she turned to see who it was. Unfortunately, her silent prayers weren't answered. It was Ralph.
"What can I do for you, Ralph?" Even though it was morning, Lois' voice had an air of weariness to it.
Ralph smirked as he placed his hand on the back of her chair. "I was just thinking…"
"That would be a first." Lois hadn't been at this Planet long but she'd been there long enough to get a line on the staff irritant.
Ralph continued as if she hadn't spoken. "… it's been a few months since you and Kent untied the knot, so to speak, and I was wondering if you had considered partnering up with someone else?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "You?"
Ralph tried to affect an air of competence. "Yeah, why not me?"
Lois thought about what she should say, for all of two seconds. She stood,faced Ralph, and looked him in the eye. "Ralph, I would not partner with you if I were blind and without arms and legs. I would rather stick my head in a gas oven and strike a match than partner with you."
Ralph opened his mouth as if to speak but Lois continued on before he could say anything. "Why, you ask? Let me tell you why. It's because I find you the most obnoxious man I've ever met, and the most consistently annoying person on the planet!"
Ralph looked confused. "Don't you mean at the Planet?"
"No, not at the Planet, Ralph, I mean *on* the planet."
Ralph nodded to himself, mulling over Lois' words. "Does that mean you'll think about it and get back to me?"
"Aarrggh!" Lois stalked off to the sanctuary of the ladies room.
Lois took one last look at her preparations in the kitchen. She wasn't sure when Lucy and Clark would be arriving so she set up a quick stir fry. Something that would only take a few minutes once they got there. That, along with the garden salad and some fresh fruit slices, should be enough to satisfy everyone. Lois also had coffee brewing, the tea pot was on low, and a nice bottle of wine was chilling in the fridge.
Lois quickly stepped into the bathroom to check herself out one last time. She had to smile at her nervousness. She was acting like a teenager on her first big date. She was looking forward to seeing both Lucy and Clark again, but it wasn't like it was some big occasion. Well, then again, maybe it was.
She used her fingers to arrange her hair again. She had ditched the curls and was growing it out some, but it was still pretty short, and it was still very red. For some reason the color had grown on her, so she decided to keep it. Another check on the little bit of make up that she had used, and smoothing of the imaginary wrinkles from her blouse and slacks. With a satisfied nod she left the room and went back to pacing about the apartment.
It was nearly nine o' clock before Lois was startled by a knock at her door. She had resorted to channel surfing the television and had ended up on a silly nighttime game show where an unctuous host asked silly questions for ridiculous sums of money. Lois figured if she had been on the show, she would have been able to retire and live well the rest of her life.
She answered the door by the second knock. Lois was surprised by what she saw. Lucy, stood there grinning, while a loaded down Clark brought up the rear, but it wasn't a Lucy she immediately recognized.
"Lucy, what have you done to your hair!"
Lucy's smile got bigger as Lois took in the new look Lucy sported. Her normal shoulder length style had been trimmed up a bit, to a chin length bob. Not too different from the way Lois herself used to wear her own hair. That wasn't the surprising part. The surprising part was the color. Lucy's own, once dark brown tresses, were now the same brilliant shade of red that Lois herself sported.
"I thought, if we were going to play at being sisters, I might as well look the part."
Lois couldn't help but giggle as she enfolded her 'sister' in a hug and then made room for Clark to come in. Lois was still grinning as she pointed in the direction of the room that would be Lucy's so he could take her things in there. When he returned Lois favored Clark with a raised brow.
"Did you know about this?"
Clark just smiled and shook his head. "Not until I arrived to pick her up." He nodded toward Lucy. "You have to admit, it's quite a striking change."
Lois again looked toward Lucy. "Yes, yes it is, but then we Lane gals have always been unpredictable." Lois grinned and with a wave of her arm directed Lucy and Clark to the living room. "Relax for a bit, I'll have dinner ready in just a few minutes."
True to her word, within a few minutes everyone was seated around the table passing plates and bowls of food back and forth to each other. Lois received compliments on her repast, accepting the praise with a blush and a smile. After the obligatory small talk about the food and how nice the apartment looked was out of the way, the trio settled in for a comfortable dinner and some conversation.
"Sorry we were a bit late." Lucy said between mouthfuls of salad. "We stopped in Smallville and Clark showed me the memorial he erected to Lois' memory."
Lois froze momentarily, then swallowed to allow her the time to speak. "Really — is it nice?"
"It's really quite beautiful." Lucy waved her fork around as she spoke. "It's in a place called Rocky Cove. There's a spot where a natural spring bubbles up between the rocks and forms a small waterfall into a pond. There are waterlilies of several different colors there too. Right next to the waterfall is a simple stone monument with Lois' name on it and the phrase: 'she was loved'. I thought it was beautiful."
Lucy wiped at the corner of her eye with the back of her hand before any tear could form.
Lois looked over at Clark, who at the moment was studying his food very intently. "Sounds nice, I'd like to see it sometime."
Clark looked up. "Ah, okay, I'll take you out there sometime."
Lois frowned. "Aren't you worried that someone will come across it and wonder about it?"
Clark shook his head. "No, Rocky Cove is right at the edge of my folks property and ever since the fish were frozen out of the pond several years ago no one goes up there anymore." Clark seemed to hesitate before continuing. "I know my folks would like to meet you."
Lois didn't know how to respond to that statement. She knew that Clark was very close to his adoptive parents, and, just from things said by him and others, that they loved him very much. She also knew that they had loved Lois very much also, so she felt a little uncomfortable that they would want to meet her. She wasn't sure what to make of that. Did they want to 'check out' this person who dared to impersonate their daughter-in-law, find her wanting in some way?
Lois shook that thought off. Everything she had heard about the Kents went counter to that kind of an attitude. Perhaps they just wanted to meet her, since they also had to be in on the deception for the rest of the world.
Lois decided to change the subject. "So, Clark, how was Paris?"
The rest of the meal passed in pleasant chit-chat as the three of them took turns filling in the others on the day to day activities that had occupied each of them over the last couple of months. The discussions were polite and civilized, with occasional bursts of animated points of emphasis, or congenial laughter. All in all, quite a familial-like domestic scene. This lasted through the meal, right up to the time Clark began to get ready to leave.
"Well, I guess it's time that I get going." Clark slowly edged toward the door. "I'm sure you two still have stuff to do before Lucy is settled." Clark took Lois' hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Thank you for the meal, it was terrific."
Lois smiled. "Thanks, but you've already said that." Her grin got larger. "And thank you for bringing my *sister* here. It sure made things a lot easier for her… and me."
Clark hesitated at the door. It was clear he had more to say but was unsure how to begin. "Ah, Lois, I want you to have this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a check. Lois was confused. "It's half the money from the sale of the brownstone."
Lois took a step back, shaking her head. "No, I don't want that. It was your home, not mine. I'm getting along just fine."
Clark took a step forward. "Half the money would go to Lois. It's the way it works in New Troy."
Lois shook her head. "No, half the money would have gone to your ex-wife." Lois began to pace. "Clark, I was never your wife. I'm not entitled to any of that money. The divorce and all that was just a charade for public consumption. You can't allow yourself to get caught up in masquerade. We have to occasionally pretend in public, but can't you at least acknowledge that I'm a different person from your Lois in private?"
"Lois, I do know you are a different person, really I do. But I want you to have this."
"Clark, I don't need your charity."
Clark's face darkened. "It's not charity. Can't you just accept this as a gift from a friend?"
Lois felt her face heat up. "A friend!" She snatched the check from his hand, glanced at it, and threw it back at him. "I don't have too many friends that would want to gift me with that kind of money. Actually, I have darn few friends who will give me the time of day, let alone a large sum of cash."
Clark angrily picked the check up off the floor. "Look, Lois, I just… "
Their argument was suddenly interrupted by a loud piercing whistle. Startled, they both looked over toward the source of the disruption. Lucy stood, fists planted on her hips, glaring at the two of them. She raised one arm and with a stern gesture pointed to the table.
Chagrined, they both meekly complied. Lucy joined them. Clark and Lois had managed to sit at opposite ends of the table so Lucy plunked herself down in the middle. She glared at each of them in turn, then folded her hands in front of her.
"Okay, let's discuss this rationally." The look on Lucy's face was so serious that it was almost comical. "First, Clark, why did you sell the place on Hyperion? I thought you and Lois thought it was perfect."
Clark fiddled with the check in his hands for a few moments; he seemed to be deciding if he was going to answer. "It's too big for one person, and I… it just had… " He stared helplessly at the two of them.
Lois felt a stab of sympathetic pain watching Clark fumble with his feelings. She could guess that the brownstone held a lot of memories that were too painful for him to continue to confront alone. It made sense, logically, to break ties with those ghosts if he was ever going to forge a new life for himself. Lois had to admit that from a purely selfish angle she hoped that he would be able to finally bury the past and move on, because she would very much like to be a part of his future. She really wanted him as her friend. She couldn't explain the little flip-flops her heart did every time she saw him, or the way his smile would cause a warm glow to spread throughout her body. She knew she would never be able to replace his beloved wife in his heart, but until he was able to put the past in the past, he would have trouble even calling her a friend. Lois was jerked out of her reverie by the sound of Lucy's voice.
"So, Lois, you are, for all intents and purposes to the outside world, my sister Lois Lane, and ex-wife of Clark Kent. As such you are entitled to half the joint assets, why do you fight this?"
Lois looked at Lucy and frowned. "While it's true that most people think I'm this world's Lois Lane, I'm really not. I know it will take a while to do so, but I do want to take this life I've had to assume and mold it over time until it really is mine. To be able to do that I need those people who do know who I am to help me by not reinforcing the role I'm forced to play, but let me be who I am when we're alone." Lois leaned back and sighed. "Also, I'm not a charity case. I make good money; I don't want Clark, or anyone else, thinking they should give me something because of who I remind them of, or because they think they are doing me a favor. Believe me, if I need some help, I'll ask for it."
Clark ran his hands through his hair. "Lois, it's not charity."
"Then what is it? It's definitely not something that is due me."
"Call it a gift, or call it support, call it what ever you want. I just want to help."
Lois had shredded the paper napkin that had sat in front of her. "Why? It's not because we are good friends." Clark wouldn't look at her. "Maybe it's because you feel responsible for me in some way?"
Clark's head snapped up. His mouth drew down in a tight line. "Well, you are here because of me."
Lois slapped her hand down on the table. "I knew it!" She quickly softened her tone. "Look, you most likely saved my life by bringing me here, and for that I thank you. You have also been very generous in allowing me to be who I am, which is Lois Lane, even though that causes you great difficulty and pain. For that I can't begin to express my gratitude. But for all the wonderful, and generous, actions, and all the thanks that I owe you, none of that gives you the right to run my life in any way." Lois had to fight back the threatened tears.
"Lois, I'm not trying to run your life."
Clark and Lois stopped and looked to Lucy in surprise. Lucy grinned, she wished she had a whistle. It was late, and it was time to move this forward.
"I've reached a decision." Lucy had to laugh as she saw Clark's bemused expression and Lois' raised eyebrow. "This discussion will have to be addressed some other time. Tonight, we will settle the dispersal of the townhouse sale money."
Lucy got up and stood behind Lois. "Now Lois here, even though she signed legal papers giving her the right to half that sale money, wants to be her own person and not be forced to accept what she sees as a hand out." Lucy held up her hand to forestall any comment from Clark as she strolled over to his chair. "Clark here, is a chronic do-gooder. Even if he didn't feel you had a right to this money he'd want to give it to you. That's just the way he is put together." Lucy made it a point to give Clark a long look up and down, and then winked.
"Lucy!" Lois said, scandalized.
Lucy strolled back over to her chair in the middle. "The way I see it, Clark needs to respect Lois' feelings in this matter. In her need to feel that she is in control of her own life, but," Lucy kept both Clark and Lois from interrupting by forging ahead quickly. "Lois must also realize, that in the necessary impersonation of my sister, others will expect her to have split this money with Clark." Lucy sat in her chair with a smug smile. "I propose a compromise."
Lucy calmly poured herself another glass of wine. Lois was getting more impatient by the second. After Lucy took a slow drink and watched the colorful liquid as she swirled it in her glass, Lois lost it.
"Lucy! I'm going to smack you one."
Clark laughed as Lucy put down her glass. "Okay, here it is. Lois, you don't take all the money, just enough to make some splashy purchase to show the world that you came into some money. Something to let all your 'friends' think you got your share. The rest can be donated to a charity in your name. That way all the legal paperwork will stand up to scrutiny, and you both can keep your personal ethics in the matter."
Lois frowned. "Okay, I see the logic of a showy bauble for our *friends*, as you called them, to see." Lois' hands began to flutter about. "So I get some nice extra perk out of this, but what does Clark get, if the rest of the money is donated to charity?"
Lucy shrugged. "Well, how about letting the charity be, The Superman Foundation?"
Clark smiled. "It works for me. Lois?"
Lois smiled back. "It's perfect. Lucy, you are brilliant." Lois shook her head. "You continue to amaze me."
Lucy flashed both of them a toothy grin. "It's like I told you. I plan to be a politician."
Lois began to pace about the room again. "I know just what I'm going to get." She saw both Lucy and Clark look her way expectantly. "A new car. I really hate that jeep."
If jaws literally could drop to the floor, Clark and Lucy's would have bounced twice before snapping shut. Lois hated the jeep! If nothing else spoke to the fact that the woman in front of them was not the Lois they had known and loved, this would do it. Clark started to laugh while Lucy just stared.
Lois was muttering as much to herself now as to her guests. "I've had my eye on a cute little red Porsche over at Morrie's Auto."
Clark stood and gathered Lois in his arms for a brotherly hug. He was still chuckling. "It sounds great, Lois. We'll get this squared away this week. I'll see you at the Planet tomorrow." He released Lois and went over and gave Lucy a peck on the cheek. "Thanks, Lucy, you've become quite the woman, haven't you?"
Lucy answered him with a big smile. "Good night, Clark."
"Good night, Lucy… Lois." Clark was still shaking his head as he closed the door behind him.
The Lane women just stared at each other, smiles gradually getting wider until they both broke out laughing. They embraced in a fierce hug.
Their smiles quickly disappeared as they turned and saw the mess that was the apartment's small kitchen. They exchanged sighs, and shrugs, as they turned to the task at hand.
Clark got off the elevator and stepped into the Daily Planet newsroom for the first time in nearly two months. It felt good to be back. He was immediately surrounded by colleagues and co- workers welcoming him back, and asking questions about his time across the pond. Jimmy bounced around like a lost puppy who had just found his master. Perry even came out of his office to shake his hand and welcome him home. Amidst all the furor and clamor of the crowd, one person was conspicuously absent. Clark craned his neck to see over the tops of people toward Lois' desk. She was not in yet. Finally breaking away from the handshakes and back slaps, Clark made his way to his own desk.
He had no sooner booted up his computer and was beginning to tackle the daunting task of clearing out his email and other messages when the ding of the elevator interrupted his concentration. Lois stepped out. Clark couldn't help but feel a little tug at the heart as he saw her check her bag. She looked stunning. Clark had to admit that, even though he still wasn't too fond of her hair color, she sure knew how to dress to set if off to its best advantage.
He also noticed the indifferent reception she got from the rest of the staff. There were still several people milling near the elevator, not having left from when he had arrived. As soon as Lois stepped onto the floor they all began to drift off, without so much as a good morning or a hello. Pangs of guilt hit Clark as he watched her studiously ignore them in turn. This was his fault. He knew everyone blamed Lois for the break up, but he couldn't figure out why. He had gotten a lot of compassionate commiseration from their friends and colleagues while Lois had just gotten a cold shoulder, and it seemed that things hadn't changed much.
Clark knew he could have helped by visibly being a better friend to Lois, and trying to show everyone that there was no enmity between them. But he hadn't, he had been too caught up in his own grief to think of anyone but himself. If there was one thing that Clark had learned from this terrible ordeal, it was that he could be quite selfish when he wanted to be. Well that was going to stop right now. He stood and headed for the break area.
Lois looked up from her just recently seated spot at her desk to see the smiling face of Clark. He was holding out a cup of coffee for her. Lois returned the smile as she accepted the cup.
"Good morning to you, and thanks, I really need this." She took a quick gulp and closed her eyes as she savored the hot liquid coursing down her throat.
Perry White stared out his office window at the little scene being played out at Lois' desk. It did his heart good to see them conversing again in what was obviously a friendly manner. Perry had never really understood why they had divorced. Oh, he knew the reasons that Lois had let out, but he was half convinced that was just for public consumption, it had to go deeper than that. He couldn't think of two people meant to be together more than Lois and Clark were, but who was he to understand the twisted ways of love? His own experiences hardly made him a candidate for a lovelorn column. No, he didn't understand it, but he was glad to see them talking and smiling together again. If he was honest with himself, there was a little self-interest involved here also. It would be nice to be able to have his top reporting team back together again. Taking nothing away from each of them as individual reporters, it just seemed that the two of them together were stronger than either one of them separately.
"So, Lois, got any hot stories on the burner?" Clark sat on the corner of her desk.
Lois shook her head. "No, nothing to speak of. I have to be at city hall in a couple of hours for the mayor's speech." Lois affected a yawn. "I'm sure that will be exciting." Lois took another gulp of her coffee. "Actually, after last week, I could use something a little less hectic."
Clark gave her a look of mock confusion. "Could this be Mad Dog Lane, tireless crusading reporter? The woman who never met a potential award winning story she didn't want?"
Lois shook her head as she gave him a crooked smile. "Well, this tireless crusader of a reporter is tired." Her grin got wider. "Besides, I've have some car shopping to do this week."
Their laughter was interrupted by the sound of the elevator arriving on their floor. Everyone's attention turned to the doors as they slid open to reveal a single female passenger. She stepped out onto the newsroom floor and began to look about her as if seeking someone in particular. She was a striking woman of slightly above average height. Her hair was a dark blonde with reddish highlights. She wore it in a simple side-parted style that flowed over her shoulders to about shoulder blade length. She was dressed simply in a casual slacks and blouse outfit, which showed off her trim, athletic figure quite well. Her deep cerulean blue eyes seemed to sparkle when they came to rest on the object of her search.
Clark's eyes lit up as he hastened to meet his former high school sweetheart while she hurried down the ramp toward him. They met halfway and he enfolded her in a warm embrace. She countered with a quick kiss to his cheek. With his arm around her shoulder, Clark lead his childhood friend down to where Lois was now standing. She had watched the overtly friendly exchange with a raised brow.
"Lois, I'd like you to meet an old friend from Smallville, Lana Lang." Clark said grinning. "Lana, this is my, er… this is Lois Lane." Clark's smile had disappeared.
Lana pumped Lois' hand in what seemed to be genuine friendliness. "Oh, Lois, I'm so glad to finally meet you. Martha has told me so much about you." Lana gave Clark a playful elbow in the ribs. "I've been out of touch for so long. When this opportunity arose I couldn't wait to meet the woman who was finally able to trap the artful dodger here."
Lois bit her lip and gave Clark a sideways look. Clark coughed and wrung his hands a bit. Lana, looking confused, kept shifting her attention back and forth between Clark and Lois and back again. Obviously something was wrong, and she was waiting for someone to tell her what it was.
Clark licked his lips before speaking. "Well, Lana, you see… ah, Lois and I aren't married anymore." Clark kept his head moving, so as not to look either Lana, or Lois, directly in the eyes.
Lana's hand flew to her mouth in an expression of surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know."
Lois gave Lana what she hoped would pass for an understanding smile. "It's all right, these things happen, right?" Lois quickly changed the subject. "So, you're an old high school friend of Clark's?"
Lana, grateful for the change, seized Lois' lead. "Yes, well actually, we grew up together. My mother ran the local grocery when I was young. My father was a professor of archeology at Kansas State and was often away on digs. The Kents were my mother's closest friends, so I saw quite a lot of Clark while growing up." Lana made a dismissing motion with her hand. "We grew up good friends and then dated quite a lot in high school, but then I'm sure you've heard all about this many times before."
Lois paused for a moment, not knowing how to answer. She had no idea how much of Clark's childhood he had shared with Lois. "Oh well, you know how it is. I have trouble keeping track of all Clark's past girl friends."
Lana gave Lois a questioning look. "Really? Except for taking Rachel Harris to the Senior Prom while I was off with my father in Egypt, I don't remember Clark ever dating anyone else."
Clark coughed to draw the attention back to him. "Ah, so, Lana, what brings you to Metropolis?"
Lana suddenly got very animated. She grabbed Clark's arm. "Oh, Clark, it's so exciting. You know that after graduation I joined my father in the field of archeology. Mother had passed and there was nothing back in Smallville for me anyway." She touched Clark on the chest. "Especially since you had gone off to wander the world."
"You said that you have been out of touch for a while?" Lois interjected.
Lana nodded. "Yes, for the last five years father and I have been in a remote section of Siberia at a dig site. My only connection with the real world has been the occasional letter from Martha." She turned to Clark. "That's how I knew you'd settled in Metropolis, and about your marriage. I hadn't heard about the divorce." Lana didn't let either Clark or Lois offer some uncomfortable response. "Anyway, this dig could very well prove to be one of the most important discoveries in the history of ancient civilizations. I'm here with a traveling exhibit of many of the incredible artifacts that we've unearthed."
Lana became more animated as she continued. "Clark, you won't believe what daddy and I have uncovered. We are going to set the scientific community on it's ear." Lana leaned in, forcing both Clark and Lois to lean in to hear her fierce whisper. "We think that it's likely that some of the things we've uncovered are extra terrestrial in origin."
"What makes you think that?" Lois asked while she wondered why it seemed to bother her that this 'old friend' was so hands on with Clark.
"Oh, you'll have to see it to understand what I'm saying." Lana's smile got brighter. "That's why I stopped by this morning." Lana grabbed Clark's hand. "We are just about finished setting up the exhibit over at the Metropolis Museum, and I wanted to invite the two of you over for an advanced, personal, tour."
Clark nodded his head in consideration. "Sounds interesting. What do you say, Lois?"
"Well, as attractive as that offer is, Lana, I have work to do. I have a thrilling mayoral speech to cover in a little while." Lois gave Lana a small smile to show that she was disappointed, and surprisingly, she was. "I see no reason why you shouldn't go though, Clark. You've got nothing pending, and it will give you a chance to catch up on old times." Lois gave Clark a wink. "Besides maybe there is a story in this exhibit for you. I'm sure Perry would appreciate that."
Clark only hesitated for a moment, then he gave Lois a smile. "Yeah, I think I will, that's a great idea, Lois."
"Well okay then, let's go Clarkie." Lana grabbed hold of Clark's arm and began dragging him up the ramp.
"Clarkie?" Lois watched mystified, as the beautiful woman from Clark's past dragged him, unresisting, toward the elevator.
Lois didn't turn away from the sight of Lana and Clark entering the elevator as she heard Perry come up behind her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Perry's arm and hand pointing at the elevator and the fast disappearing pair.
"Lois, who, and what, was that all about?"
Not turning toward Perry, Lois just shook her head slowly. "I'm not really sure, Chief. I'm not really sure."
Clark and Lana strolled through the cavernous halls of the Metropolis Museum of Fine Arts and Antiquities. There were very few visitors at this time of the morning, so their walk was leisurely and undisturbed. Lana had slipped her arm through Clark's at some point and from an observer's viewpoint they seemed like a perfect couple just taking in the sights and enjoying each other's company.
Lana made a point of looking around to make sure they were virtually alone. "I heard about the appearance of Superman." She laughed at Clark's sheepish look. "I may have been out of touch, but I'd have had to have been on another planet to not have seen or heard about some of the things you've done over the last few years." Lana sidled a little closer to Clark. "I thought you were going to keep those powers a secret?"
Clark didn't look at Lana at first. "Yeah, well, I wanted to be able to help people, and I wanted to stay in Metropolis. I was tired of moving around all the time. Leaving anytime I thought someone was getting too close, or might suspect something." He sighed. "I thought that this would be the best way to be able to openly help people and still keep my personal life private."
Lana nodded. "I've seen pictures of you, and you do look different, but of course I recognized you. I'm surprised that others who have come to know you haven't been able to penetrate the disguise."
Clark turned toward Lana. "Lois finally figured it out before we got married, but you have to realize, you had the added advantage of knowing about my powers before Superman came onto the scene. So when a man who could fly was introduced to the world, you knew of an obvious candidate for who it might be." Clark let his hand clasp hers. "It seems to be more about expectation. I've created this stiff, formal persona to present to the world at large, and I try not to get too close to people. The world has created its own image of who Superman is supposed to be, they don't expect to see a mild mannered reporter when they look at the Man of Steel."
"I suppose Lois got close to both Clark and Superman, and was able to penetrate the minor cosmetic differences?"
"It took her a while, but yes, she did. I was never able to hide how I felt about her, whether I was Clark or in my Superman disguise." Clark let go a sardonic chuckle. "It was pretty confusing for a while. Lois was crazy about Superman right from the start, but a farm boy from Kansas didn't exactly light her candles."
Lana frowned. "So, why didn't you tell her you were Superman?"
Clark stopped their stroll. "You know that the powers aren't who I am. I wanted her to want Clark, not the flashy suit and the incredible powers." A smile reached Clark's lips. "It was a roller coaster ride for a time there, but eventually we became best friends and somewhere along the way Lois realized that Clark wasn't such a bad catch after all."
They began to stroll toward the back of the museum. "I'm sorry, Clark."
"For not being the one to be there for you. For not being mature enough to understand what it was you needed when you confided your secret to me." Lana shook her head. "I admit I freaked a bit. What you were, and what you could do, scared me. I forgot for a time the wonderful guy I grew up with, my own best friend." Lana leaned her head on Clark's shoulder. "I don't regret the life path I've chosen, but I often wonder what might have been if I had had the guts to stay and not run off to a different college. I've missed you, Clark."
Lana looked expectantly at Clark as he hesitated with his response. "I missed you terribly also, at first, but I guess I understood your reaction. It made me that much more careful. I didn't feel that I could show the real me to anyone, and that I was destined to be alone."
"Do you still love her?"
Clark shook his head in sad amusement. Leave it to Lana to get right to the heart of the matter. What could he tell her? He still loved Lois so much it hurt, but that the woman she met was not his Lois, but really a duplicate Lois from another dimension? No, that probably wouldn't be a good idea. He trusted Lana enough to not reveal his identity to anyone. In fact, when he became Superman he never gave it a second thought that she knew about his powers and would probably know that this new phenomenon flitting about the skies of Metropolis would be him. No, he had no problem with her knowing that secret, but this other, that was another matter. Besides it was Lois' secret also, and he had no right to compromise her in that manner.
He thought carefully before he answered. "We're still good friends."
Lana was unsatisfied by Clark's answer. She sensed that there was more behind it, but also realized that that was all she was going to get, at least for now. They were quickly approaching the area designated for her exhibit. The area was presently roped off since it wasn't quite ready for the public. The museum employee stationed there recognized Lana, and didn't challenge her right to enter as she and Clark breezed past him.
Lana grew more animated as she began to show Clark the incredible collection of artifacts that had been brought from the Lang dig site for display. Clark was not very knowledgeable in this field but for the most part the artifacts that Lana was so worked up about looked to be typical examples of the simple stone and bone tools common to most examples of early man. But Lana's enthusiasm was infectious and Clark soon found himself grinning at her child like exuberance.
"As you can see by the examples I've been showing you, we have found many artifacts that would be typical of a pocket of early man from around 5000 to 6000 B.C." She steered him along to the next grouping of artifacts. "But this bunch, while they were found at the same level, and mixed in amongst some of the others, exhibit a totally different level of sophistication."
Clark was astonished by the marked difference between the simple, crude tools displayed at the spot they were previously, and the ones displayed where they were presently standing. These tools showed much more refined shapes and looked not that much different from their modern day counterparts. Several showed a definite usage specialization that was unheard of for a civilization that old. He looked at Lana, his surprise quite evident on his face.
She grinned back. "I know, it's amazing. If I hadn't been there myself I would never have believed it. So far all the initial test dating places everything you see here within a couple hundred years of each other." She tugged him along pointing out other remarkable finds. "Our only conclusion is for a more advanced outside influence to have arrived and impacted this particular society."
Clark shook his head in wonderment. "But were there any societies or civilizations back that far that were that advanced?"
Lana shook her head in the negative. "Not that anyone has discovered so far." Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "That's why it's my opinion that the outside influence could very well have been of an extra-terrestrial nature."
Clark stopped their stroll and faced Lana. "I agree that what we've seen is remarkable, but isn't that a pretty big stretch of an assumption based on a few refined tools and such?"
A sly smile spread across Lana's face as she crooked her finger and indicated Clark should follow her to the one isolated glass case at the end of the exhibit. "This is why I think we have E.T. influences here. So far it has resisted our attempts to date it, but it was found nested in with the other artifacts that we've uncovered."
Lana stepped aside so Clark could get a good look at the artifact in the case. He sucked his breath in as he got a good look at whatever it was. There was no telling its function just from looking at it. It was basically rectangular in shape but without any sharp edges. It was obviously made of some sort of metal, but didn't reflect the light the way one would expect from a metal object. For that reason it was hard to get a handle on the coloring. It seemed to shift and change color in a fluid sort of way from a gun metal gray to an almost pitch black and back again. The only other features on the artifact were a series of three indentations on the top at one end, and, below them, markings that could only be writing of some sort.
Clark walked around the display, lowering his glasses as he did so. His special vision powers availed him nothing here. He was pretty certain the thing wasn't composed of any lead, yet it still blocked any inspection of its interior workings or structure. The markings made him uncomfortable. It nagged at him, like a deja vu feeling, like he had seen something like them before. Suddenly it hit him. He grabbed Lana's hand and led her over to a bench near the far wall.
"Lana, how much have you read, or heard, about my origins?"
Lana was taken aback, and confused by his question. She took a few moments to focus. "I'm sure I read somewhere that you actually are from some other planet, someplace called, Krypon?"
"Krypton, yes that's correct. I didn't know it myself until a few years ago, when Lois and I uncovered the space ship that had sent me to earth."
Lana frowned as she dug into her memory. "Wasn't there some trouble with a group of your people a little while back?"
"Yes, thankfully that's all behind me now, and this is not the time to get into the story." Clark took a breath. "While I was with them I was exposed to their written language. I can't really read it but I do recognize the basic forms of the symbols." Clark grabbed Lana's hands. "I can't be positive, but I'm pretty sure that those symbols on that artifact are Kryptonian."
"Whoa!" Lana had to take a breath and calm herself. "If that's true, it will prove my theory of extra-terrestrial influences." It was evident that Lana was thinking hard. "Wait, there's no doubt in my mind that these artifacts, including our Kryptonian doodad, all date from the same time period. I know from the things I've heard and read that the Kryptonians that were here were quite advanced. Still, is it possible that they had space flight capability seven to ten thousand years ago?"
Clark leaned back till his back was against the wall. "I think it's possible." Clark took a moment to gather himself. "When I was brought to the Kryptonian palace ship to receive instructions to be a proper ruler as Lord Kal El, I…"
"Lord Kal El?" Lana's tone betrayed her confusion.
"Yes, you see I'm some last in his line noble meant to rule over the Kryptonians, and if I couldn't unite them under my rule civil war would break out because Lord Nor had designs on the…" Clark stopped himself. "Never mind that now. What I want to say is, during my instruction, I was given a crash course in Kryptonian history. It seems that the level of civilization that Krypton enjoyed before it was destroyed was actually their second rise to preeminence on the planet. Over ten thousand years ago, as we mark time, a fierce and passionate race evolved from the earliest forms of their ancestors. They reached an amazing height of technological advancement, but their wisdom hadn't kept pace. They were a people ruled by their emotions and their passions." Clark shook his head sadly. "They quarreled and bickered amongst themselves and with the incredible technology came equally incredible advances in weapons and the ability to make war."
Lana placed her hand on Clark's arm. "They destroyed themselves." It wasn't a question.
Clark nodded his head. "Yes, they bombed themselves nearly back to a stone age existence. Luckily histories survived and they were able to learn something from their mistakes. They became a people who valued logic and pragmatism over emotions."
Lana giggled. "You make them sound like Mr. Spock."
Clark smiled. "Not quite that bad." Clark paused, looking like someone who had just discovered something that had always eluded him. "You know, I think the isolation of the New Kryptonians led to a schism of sorts. Between those who tried to hold to the formal, structured society they had left, and those who wanted to embrace the passionate side of their ancestors." Clark chuckled weakly. "Luckily, with the help of the U.S. Army, the logical faction won out — I think."
"So what you have been trying to say in such a round about way is…"
"That it's quite possible that Krypton had space flight capability way back then."
Lana gave Clark a crooked half smile. "Well, Clarkie, it looks like you weren't the first Kryptonian on good ol' mother earth after all."
Lois tossed her bag and her jacket on the chair next to the door as she entered the apartment. She threw herself into the comforting arms of the double recliner and let out an exasperated sigh. She had wanted a less stressful week, but she was beginning to think that it was more stressful when she didn't have a story than when she was following some difficult lead. She dragged her hand through her hair as she tried to calm down after the frustration of a nothing week. The mayor's speech had garnered Lois exactly three and a half column inches. The rest of the week had been spent tracing one dead end lead after another. There was just nothing of interest happening in this town at the moment, and it was driving Lois crazy.
The only saving grace for the week so far, had been the car. The corners of Lois' mouth turned up in spite of themselves at the thought of her new little red sports car. She and Clark had come to an agreement over the money received from the sale of the brownstone on Hyperion. Following Lucy's advice, Lois had taken some of the money and bought the car as a splashy statement for public consumption. It didn't hurt that Lois had always wanted a Porsche of her own.
Having grown up in a situation where her mother had to manage her money to the penny, Lois had always seen such material extravagances as a sign of having made it. Lois had never been one to need, or even want, overly expensive clothes and jewels and such, but a nice sports car, that was another matter entirely. Lois had focused on that as her material gauge of success. She had actually put down a deposit on a hot little number before she had gone to the Congo on the gun running story. She shook her head as she wondered idly how long they held it for her before they sold it to someone else.
"Hey, sis, who's this Lana Lang babe?"
"What?" Lois turned her head to see Lucy entering the room from her bedroom.
Lucy tossed the folded over copy of the Daily Planet she had been carrying onto the coffee table in front of Lois. "Her," Lucy indicated by pointing to the article that was most prominent on the page the paper was folded to.
Lois glanced at the story title. 'Lang Exhibit Uncovers Controversy; Superman confirms artifact could be Kryptonian' it read. Clark had fallen into a nice little story when his high school girlfriend had come calling. It wasn't exactly banner headline material, but in a slow news week it gave the Planet an exclusive on the only decent story to reach print this week.
Lois looked back up at Lucy. "Some former high school sweetheart of Clark's from Smallville. She's an archeologist now. Apparently she and her father have an exhibit of their recent discoveries being displayed at the Met Museum."
A sly smile crept onto Lucy's face as she studied the feigned indifference Lois tried to project. "You don't like her do you?"
Lois frowned at Lucy. "I hardly know her. I only met her once, and saw her a couple of other times when she came into the Planet to haul Clark off somewhere." Lois shrugged her shoulders. "She's all right, I guess… if you like that type."
Lucy was biting her lip to keep from laughing. "And what type would that be?"
"You know, tall, good looking, long blonde hair and a great figure."
"Oh, that type."
Giggling, Lucy came over and sat in the other half of the oversized chair. She leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling as she regained her composure.
Without turning to look at Lois, she spoke. "So, what are you going to do about it?"
Lois, a confused look on her face, turned to stare at Lucy. "Do about what?"
"The competition. It looks like you have a fight on your hands."
Lois rolled her eyes. "I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about, nor do I think I want to know."
"You mean you're not going to fight for what you want? That doesn't sound like Lois Lane to me." Lucy covered her mouth to stifle another giggle.
"Lucy, don't you have some want ads to check or something?" Lois began to feign interest in other parts of the paper.
Lucy let her demeanor get more serious. "Listen, you may be fooling everyone else, including Clark. You may even be fooling yourself, but you *ain't* fooling me." Lucy shifted her position on the chair so she could better face Lois. "I've seen the way you look at Clark, when you think no one else can see you." Lucy shook her head in amusement. "Lois, you've got it bad for the guy."
Lois snorted in a rather unladylike way. "Listen, *little sister*, I know as well as anyone what a terrific guy Clark is. I'm not galactically stupid. I'd welcome a chance to get to know him better, but I think even you can see that that will never be." Lois paused for a sigh. "He is never going to be able to get past that ghost image he overlays every time he sees me. He is never going to be able to just accept me for me."
Now it was Lucy's turn to snort. "Not if you don't make an effort he won't." Lucy stood up and stood over Lois. "I loved my sister dearly, and I miss her a lot, but there comes a time when you have to accept what's past is past, and move on with your life, even Clark."
Lois looked up and captured Lucy's gaze with her own. "I really hope he can, but if he ever is able to move on with his life, it's much more likely that he'll be able to do it with someone like Lana, rather than a person who constantly reminds him of what he has lost."
Lucy shook her head in denial. "You know, Lois, the more I get to know you the more I am aware that you are a different person. As much as I enjoy playing your sister, I know that you aren't. Sure, you look like my Lois, and have several of the same mannerisms, but for every aspect that I find that is similar, I come across two that aren't." Lucy's hands were starting to join in the conversation. "Look, I know you aren't my sister, but I do consider myself a friend, and as your friend I'm telling you, you have to make Clark see those differences too. If you can make Clark see you for who you are, he can't help but like you. I like you, and even if I haven't had too good a track record picking men, I've always picked excellent gal pals."
Lois allowed herself a sad chuckle. "I appreciate your vote of confidence, and I do consider you my best friend here. But I'm afraid that Clark and I are just not meant to be." Lois stood, stretched, and headed toward the kitchen. "Besides, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Who knows, my Prince Charming could come through that door at any moment."
Both women were startled by a firm knock on the door. Lois stared at the door, holding her breath, almost afraid to move.
Lucy gave Lois a befuddled look. "How did you do that?"
Lois snapped out of her trance and gave Lucy a dismissive gesture as she walked over to the door. She peeked through the peephole, turned and shrugged at Lucy, and reached for the doorknob.
She opened the door to reveal a tall, good looking fellow. His unruly mop of dark hair framed a face that seemed quick to smile. Upon seeing Lois in front of him, the fellow broke out in a dazzling display of teeth.
"Hello, Lois, it's good to see you again."
Salvador Dark leaned back in his plush leather chair as he contemplated his recent piece of good fortune. A copy of the Daily Planet lay on his polished teak desk top. A slow smile spread across his face as he muttered to himself.
"That which was lost, has now finally been found." His smile got bigger as he pressed a special button on his office intercom.
The president and CEO of Dark Enterprises, a moderately successful import-export business, was a handsome man. His features had a definite Mediterranean cast to them and he wore his coal black hair slicked back. His fit body was always impeccably dressed, and his hygienic habits bordered on the obsessive.
A door, not easily apparent to a casual guest in the office, opened behind the well-stocked bar at the far end of the room. A silent, dour looking man entered and glided noiselessly across the heavy carpet to stand in front of the massive antique desk.
Dark reached out and swiveled the newspaper around so it was facing his guest. His finger pointed to a picture prominently centered in the middle of the story.
"I need that."
The silent man nodded once, reached down, scooped up the paper and left the way he had come.
Once his guest had left, Salvador Dark once again leaned back in his expensive chair. He steepled his hands in front of his face as a calculating smile spread across his lips.
"Soon now, Kal El, very soon."
Clark Kent tossed the copy of the Daily Planet onto the bed in his hotel room. He knew he was going to have to find a new apartment soon, but things had been pretty hectic this week and he just hadn't had a chance to look. There would be time for that soon enough.
Seeing Lana again had been pleasant, and it had nabbed him a pretty good story. They had seen each other every day this week, reminiscing over old times and visiting the museum exhibit. Lana had wanted to go out to dinner tonight also, but Clark had begged off. He needed a little time alone to unwind, and he had been neglecting his Superman responsibilities lately, so he planned a lengthy patrol a little later.
The distraction Lana had provided had been good for him. He enjoyed being with her. He found that when they were together he was able to just appreciate her company and not obsess about the terrible turn his life had taken. She somehow made him feel like they were teenagers again back in Smallville. Back when they were dating and things were a whole lot simpler, and happier.
The last three months had been difficult. He'd gone home, and with the support of his folks, just let it all go. At first he had been stoic, and internalized everything as he quietly threw himself into various, mindless farm chores. The house, the barn, and all of the outbuildings now sported new gleaming coats of paint. Most of the farm machinery had been stripped down, thoroughly cleaned, and reassembled. It was at the point where Clark was about to hand weed the entire back forty that Martha had stopped him.
She pointed out that it wasn't healthy to keep his feelings bottled up. There was no reason to hide what he was going through from anybody there. If he couldn't allow his grief to have its reign, he would never be able to finally put it in its proper place and move on with his life. Martha didn't play fair with Clark as she would continually bring up that Lois wouldn't want him to obsess over her death, but rather move on with his life and remember their love and the good times they'd had. Clark finally realized she was right and knew that he had to find a way to release all that bottled up emotion before it tore him apart from the inside out.
He'd flown off to a spot in the arctic he'd been to once before. The time he'd thought he'd lost Lois to Lex he'd gone there to express his hurt and frustration. Once there, he'd let all of his grief and guilt, his anger and feelings of impotency wash over him. In the quiet, cold stillness it all came rushing out. For two days he raged against the gods as he cursed, and abused the silent landscape; till finally, exhausted, he fell to his knees sobbing as his heart slowly tore itself apart.
The emotional purge had been cathartic, but it was a soul weary Clark Kent who finally came home to begin the healing process in familiar surrounds and the embrace of his loving parents.
He knew that maybe he'd gone back to work at the Planet a little too early, but he felt that he had to get on with it. It was time to recapture what was left of his life. There were other people who counted on Clark Kent, and a world still needed its Superman. Perry had been great, giving Clark the space and time he needed. He was also smart enough to know that Clark wasn't quite ready yet.
Clark had felt uncomfortable those first days back. It seemed that people were always staring, yet avoided any actual contact with him. Jimmy had tried, but he always seemed to say something that embarrassed him and would quickly excuse himself and be gone before Clark could assure him it was all right. Most of their other friends would just mumble some semi-coherent condolences and slip away.
Of course, the fact that Lois had finally begun to establish herself there and was always around just complicated things. It tore at him to see the way that their so-called friends and co- workers treated her, and he constantly berated himself for his continued inability to deal with his problems, and be a friend to her. He was not a stupid man, he knew very well that she was not his lost wife, she was her own person. But his heart seemed to refuse the logic, and insisted on reacting to her in ways that he considered inappropriate. So it went for a few days until Perry, acknowledging that Clark still wasn't ready, called him into his office and offered to send him overseas to the Paris office.
Clark, thinking of his too-often neglected Superman duties, had tried to refuse the offer. Perry being ignorant of the Superman problem, but wiser when it came to the needs of one of his best reporters, and friend, had informed Clark that it wasn't a request. Clark had been on a plane to Paris the next morning.
It really hadn't caused him all that much difficulty when it came to Superman's activities. He could be in Metropolis within minutes for his patrols, and he had the same basic news sources to keep him informed of any global problems which might require his services. No, it had worked out just fine.
Paris was a beautiful city and he frequently found himself taking long, late night walks around the city of lights. His duties at the Paris bureau were hardly taxing and in reality it was more like an overseas vacation than a job. Though by the time his stint there was up Clark was anxious to get back. He had missed everyone a great deal. It had been good to see all the familiar faces once again.
He'd kept in touch with Lois, and Jimmy electronically. In that way he'd been able to keep up with the happenings at the Planet. Lois wouldn't say much about it, but Jimmy informed Clark about the attitude toward Lois by the staffers at the Planet. Clark felt bad about that, and thought that he should have been there to help her out, but he also admitted that he hadn't been much good to her in that regard so far.
There wasn't much he could do from Paris, other than try to keep in touch, and keep tabs on how Lois was doing. He had to admit, as a reporter she managed to get back into a groove rather quickly, and had broken several page one stories. He'd been able to provide her with much needed information about Lois' network of contacts, most specifically Bobby Bigmouth. She had been generous in her offers to share bylines on those stories where his being able to provide her with leads and methods of getting information panned out for her. He, of course, had declined for a couple of reasons. He was just trying to give her back those resources that had belonged to Lois Lane, and with a tinge of remorse he figured it would be better if the news reading public got used to seeing bylines by them individually, instead of together.
While the email exchanges had been nice, the phone calls had been more pleasant. He enjoyed hearing her voice, and even though she sounded just like his own Lois, without the physical reinforcement he was able to more easily accept her as her own person. Their conversations had been light, and fluffy. They focused mostly on day to day activities as each, in turn, told the other how their day was going. She would tell him about the trials of moving in to her new apartment and the acquisition of some basic furniture, her talks with Lucy, and her excitement over the prospect of Lucy moving in with her. Clark would counter with filling her in on his duties at the Paris bureau and descriptions of the sights he would go out and see.
Things had gone along fine until that day, the day he'd been forced to save her after she'd been thrown off a building under construction. He had been very frightened by the incident. He still hated the fact that he couldn't be everywhere and save everyone, but he'd gotten so he could deal with it. This, though, had scared him very much. The thought of Lois running around, putting herself in danger to get the big story when he had to split his time between Paris and Metropolis, that he might not be there to bail her out, really pushed one of his buttons.
He knew it was a mistake the moment he started, but his fears over-rode his common sense and he launched into one of his lectures on how she should be more careful, and not put herself in that kind of danger when she knew he might not be there to help. He could tell that she wasn't taking his words well by the expression on her face, so he wasn't surprised when the Lane temper flared and she gave him a piece of her own mind on the subject.
He should have realized that she was used to doing all of her investigating alone, and that she wouldn't appreciate his 'suggestions' as to how she should be conducting her inquiries. He knew it was the heat of the moment and that she hadn't meant to hurt him with the things that she said, but it *had* hurt. It had been another knifelike reminder that his Lois was gone. That no matter how he felt about the small angry redhead shouting at him, or the fact that he didn't understand why he felt the way he did, the past could not be changed, and he had lost something that couldn't be replaced. He'd flown quickly away.
From several of her next emails, he could tell that she had realized that she had hurt him, and was trying to apologize for it. It was funny almost, because even though she greatly regretted saying those things that had wounded him, she wouldn't back down from her stance of independence. It took him some time thinking over her reaction before he realized just how scared she was too. She was placing a great deal of importance on this issue of independence because she was afraid of losing herself. All the trappings that made up the life of the Lois Lane of this world threatened to drown her, to submerge who she was and remold her into the person whose identity she'd had to assume. She needed to assert her own personality into that life so that she could become comfortable with who she had become, and so that others would, at some level, realize this was a new Lois and come to accept that.
Even though Clark had understood her reasoning, and sympathized with her situation, he was still hurt by what amounted to her rejection of him and so he never acknowledged her apologies nor discussed what had happened. Luckily, Lois must have sensed his reluctance to discuss the subject and allowed it to drop. Neither ever brought it up again.
Shortly, things had resumed their normal course, and they continued to exchange emails and occasional phone conversations. As the time got closer to the end of his assignment in Paris, he got more and more anxious to come home to Metropolis. He really did miss all of his friends, and, he had to admit, he missed Lois too. Not the memories she seemed to invoke in him, but the person he was allowing himself to realize that she was. A person he was beginning to come to know, and like.
Suddenly, the ringing of the phone snapped him back to the present. He crossed the room in three strides and picked up the receiver.
"Oh, hi, Lana, what's up?" Clark asked. "What, the play? Tomorrow night?" Clark frowned as he ran through a mental checklist on what he had planned. "It looks like I've got nothing planned, unless Perry manages to find something for me. Sounds like fun."
Clark found himself grinning as he heard the enthusiasm in Lana's voice. He planted himself down on the edge of the bed. His patrol was going to have to wait for a while yet. They spent the next half an hour on idle conversation and more pleasant reminisces.
After finally being able to beg off, claiming a need for sleep because of an early start in the morning, Clark was finally able to loosen his tie in preparation for the spin change into the work suit for his other job. He was stopped just before the spin by the ringing of the phone, again. He briefly considered not answering it, but then dismissed that notion. With a sigh and a wry smile he reached again for the bedside distraction.
Lois stood dumbstruck, holding the door open as she stared at the pleasant looking fellow smiling back at her from her front stoop. A hundred thoughts flashed through her mind all at once, and not one of them was any help to her in this situation.
"Uh… hi," she finally managed to stammer. "Just a second." She closed the door in his face.
Lois quickly ran to Lucy and grabbed her arm. "Who is that?"
Lucy, equally in the dark, shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't been around much in the last few years you know." Noting the look of escalating panic on Lois' face, Lucy steered Lois toward her bedroom. "I have an idea, go in the bedroom and listen for a few moments. I'll see if I can get you some information."
Lois allowed herself to be led towards her room. She was confused, but she didn't know what else to do, so she went along with it. Lucy made a shushing motion with her finger and lips then turned back to the door. She paused just long enough to take a deep breath before she flung the door open again to reveal a very confused looking fellow.
"Hi, sorry about that, Lois had to take care of some *personal* business, if you know what I mean." Lucy gave the guy a wink. "Come in." She stepped aside so he could enter. "I'm Lois' sister, Lucy." She cocked a brow at him. "And you are?"
He stepped inside as Lucy closed the door behind him. He smiled as he replied. "Hi, Lucy, I'm Daniel Scardino, an old friend of Lois'."
"Really, how old; I don't remember Lois ever mentioning you?"
Scardino's face fell somewhat as he followed Lucy over to the living room and sat on the couch. "Well, maybe not that old. We dated for a while, before she and Kent were married." The smile he gave Lucy was a little unsure as she just nodded her head in response.
Lois had been listening at the door of her bedroom. She had a name, Daniel Scardino, and the fact that Lois and he had dated some before the marriage. But when had they dated? Did Clark know him? She raced over to the phone on her nightstand. She silently prayed that Clark knew who he was, and that he was still in. She knew he generally went out on a Superman patrol every night that he was able to. So, he could be out flying around the city, or he could be out with Lana again. A frown crossed her face at that thought.
As she heard the second ring she began to get worried, but thankfully he picked up on the third. "Hello, Clark, this is Lois, I'm in a little bind here and I need some information." Lois didn't pause for a breath but just forged ahead. "A man just dropped by, says his name is Daniel Scardino… Clark? Clark, are you still there?"
Lois' brows knitted in confusion as she hung up the phone. She was totally confused by what had happened. Were they cut off? Her thoughts were interrupted by a firm knock at the door. Lois hustled out of the room.
"You two stay seated, I'll get it." Lois said as she breezed through the living room to the front door.
She pulled it open and was surprised to see Clark standing there. He was dressed in his suit pants and white shirt, but without the tie. He had a somewhat grim look on his face.
"Clark, er, it's good to see you, come on in." Lois shot her eyes heavenward in a silent thank you as she stepped back and allowed him to enter.
"Hi, Lois, I was just in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd drop in and see how you and Lucy were doing." Clark made a show of seeming to just realize that they had company. "Agent Scardino, what brings the DEA to Metropolis this time?"
"DEA?" Lois muttered to herself as she scurried over to find a spot next to Lucy on the love seat.
Scardino watched Clark with poorly veiled annoyance as Clark strolled over and sat on the other end of the couch from him. "Kent," Scardino pursed his lips as if biting back some other reply. "I thought you and Lois didn't play house anymore?"
Clark gave Dan a cold smile. "We're not married, if that's what you mean." Clark paused for a bit of dramatic effect. "But we are still very good friends." Clark leaned back. "So, what is the government's hotshot agent doing in Metropolis now?"
Dan Scardino took his time before answering. This was not the scenario he had intended. He glanced at Clark, then over to Lois, who gave him a weak smile. Something was not right with this situation. Kent was the same irritating grump he remembered, but Lois seemed too passive. Almost as if she didn't know what she was supposed to do. Scardino had wanted to talk to Lois alone but, Lucy aside, it was a sure bet now that Kent would never leave as long as he was there.
"Okay, presently I'm on loan to ATF. It seems that some big time weapons sale is going down soon, and all the intel they have says it's going to go down in Metropolis. We're not talking Saturday night specials here either. We are talking some serious ordinance. The kind used to start revolutions."
Lois' attention perked up but she let Clark take the lead. "So why are you involved? Last I heard you were DEA, or FDA, or some such thing."
Scardino scrubbed his hand through his hair. "Apparently the guy they think is behind it is an old friend of mine. A particularly nasty character named Salvador Dark."
"Of Dark Enterprises?" Lois chimed in.
Clark looked over at Lois questioningly as Dan answered her. "Yes, do you know of him?"
Lois looked uncomfortable. "Ah, well, I think I read about him somewhere. Don't the authorities think he's involved in all sorts of illegal activities?"
Dan snorted. "That's an understatement. It's been rumored that if there is money to be made in some illegal trade, Dark has had a hand in it at sometime or other. But he's real good, they've never been able to pin anything definite on him. The man's made of Teflon." Dan sighed. "I think I got the closest to nailing him. I busted up a Colombian drug ring a couple of years ago that he was alleged to be behind. At the last minute he was able to get away." Dan looked directly at Lois. "ATF thinks that my previous experience with him, and my knowledge of Metropolis, will help."
Clark was about to interject but Lois beat him to it. "So, why come see me?"
Now it was Dan's turn to look embarrassed. "Well, we've been able to trace Dark to Metropolis, but the trail has gone cold. I know you have some excellent sources in this town and I was wondering if I couldn't persuade you to use some of those sources to help me out. It could be a hell of a story for you if we nab this guy."
Lois could tell that there was something that Dan wasn't saying. "And…?"
He stared at his shoe for a moment before answering. "And, I wanted to see you again."
Clark's frown grew more stern. "Oh, and I don't suppose that Lois' friendship with Superman would have any bearing on your request for help?"
Dan shook his head. "Actually, Big Blue would probably muck things up. He's great for stopping asteroids, or the flashy rescue of a sinking ocean liner, but this investigation will need stealth and finesse." Dan clucked his tongue. "No offense, I know he's a friend of yours, but Superman's about as subtle as a dump truck."
Lois had to put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Clark stood, ready to lash out with a rejoinder of his own, when suddenly he stopped and cocked his head to one side. Both Lois and Lucy now knew what that look meant. Clark had heard something that required his attention as Superman. Dan didn't know this, and sat there waiting for Clark's remark.
Clark's attention snapped back to the room. He looked at Lois and Lucy, then Scardino. "Ah, I just remembered, I have to… pick up my lottery ticket before tonight's drawing. Don't want to be late, it's up to 30 million tonight." Clark moved toward the door. "I'll see you tomorrow at the Planet, Lois." Clark gave Dan one last disapproving look. "Scardino," was all he said, then he was out the door.
Scardino just stared after him in astonishment. "My god, he's still doing it, isn't he."
Lois looked puzzled. "Doing what?"
"Still running off whenever the conversation gets a little uncomfortable." Dan shook his head in wonderment. "How do, or should I say did, you ever manage to put up with it?"
Lois frowned at Dan. "Well, Daniel, I don't think that that is really…" She was stopped by the too familiar sound of a pager going off.
Dan pulled the offending little device out of his pocket and checked the readout. "This is important, can I use your phone?"
Lois nodded as she pointed to the wall phone hanging in the kitchen. Dan hurried over to it as she watched. She turned to Lucy but Lucy just shrugged. Lois tried to hear, but whatever Dan said, it was said softly, and quickly. He hung up and came back over to stand in front of the two women.
"I've got to go. It was nice meeting you, Lucy." He gave her a nice smile. "It was really nice seeing you again, Lois, and by the way, I like the hair." The smile increased in wattage. "If it's okay with you, I'd like to drop by the Planet tomorrow and really discuss this thing with you." He ran his hand through his unruly locks. "I really could use your help on this, and it *would* make a hell of a story."
Lois stood and walked him to the door. "Sure, that would be fine. Let's talk about it tomorrow."
Lois slowly closed the door behind Dan then came back over and dropped back down into the couch. Her mind was spinning.
Lucy could see that something was on Lois' mind. "Okay, give, what's got you all bunched up over this?"
Lois shook her head. "It's nothing, really. It's just weird."
Lucy shook her head. "Oh, I don't know, I thought he was kind of cute."
Lois' head snapped up. "What? Oh, not Dan. It's just weird that he is looking for Salvador Dark, and he wants my help." Lois saw Lucy give her that look that said 'and'. "On my world I was investigating a gun running ring when I was captured and put in that African prison to rot."
"That must have been awful." Lucy scratched her chin. "It is a little coincidental, but weird?"
Lois looked Lucy in the eyes. "The man I was sure was behind it was Salvador Dark."
It was late and the lights were muted. Salvador Dark slid out from beneath the covers and padded barefoot over to the bar at the far end of the room. His nakedness could barely be seen in the low level light. Deep shadows hid the corners of the room, as the blaze of the lights of Metropolis at night tried to peak around the heavy drapes curtaining the large glass doors which lead to the patio of this particular penthouse hotel room.
"Would you like a drink, my dear?" His voice was all charm with just a hint of amusement in it, as if he was the only one who knew the joke.
His equally naked partner was sitting up in the bed, a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. She stared at Dark, oblivious to the ash falling onto her ample breasts. "Sure Mr. D, that would be great, scotch rocks."
A slow smile spread across his lips as he bent to the task of preparing her drink. He didn't know her name, it was better that way. The exercise she had provided had been invigorating, if somewhat pedestrian. After so many centuries nearly all things became a bore. Still one must keep in practice. Perhaps someday he would find someone who could excite him, someone he could show things to that were only dreamed of in the realm of fantasy and nightmare. He glided over and handed her her glass.
"Thanks Mr. D."
Dark ambled back to the bar and reached behind it. He pulled out a small bag, walked over to the dining table, and set it down in front of him as he sat. He made sure that her angle was partially blocked by his body as he made a great show of taking the device out of the bag.
The device that Dark set on the table was box-like. Like a long thin rectangular bar. About two by six inches, and about three inches high. Dark snapped his fingers once and the lighting level rose by 25 per cent. The box didn't seem to reflect the light and to look at it caused the eye to unfocus. You weren't actually able to nail down a color for the box, as the surface seemed to almost swirl, causing colors to merge and mix. One moment it looked a smoky gray, the next you'd swear it was black. There were a few strange symbols etched into the top of the box-like device, something like an input jack on each end, and a single depression under the symbols.
She had risen to come over and satisfy her curiosity, as he'd known she would. Her dark hair hung loosely down over her shoulders. She brushed an errant strand out of her face. She still held her drink in one hand.
"What you got there, Mr. D.?" Her voice was still husky from the evening's workout.
"A little something that my R & D boys worked up." He gave her a sly smile as he pulled something else out of the bag. "It stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain directly."
Dark very deliberately took the smooth silver disc and pressed it to his forehead. The trailing wire ended in a plug of some sort which he inserted into one end of the device. He then closed his eyes and, rocking back in forth to some imagined rhythm, began to hum softly to himself.
She had seen enough. "Hey, hey, Mr. D." She shyly touched his arm. "Can I give that a try?"
Dark's smile showed teeth. "Of course my dear, how rude of me." He directed her to the adjacent seat. "We'll do it together."
He took another disc and plug wire set up from the bag. He reached over and pressed the silver disc onto her forehead. She was amazed that it just stayed in place, with no tape or adhesive or nothing. He then plugged the other end into the input jack on the other end of the device.
She closed her eyes, but soon found herself frowning. "I don't feel nothing yet."
"Just keep your eyes closed, you will any second now."
Dark reached over and pressed his finger down hard on the indentation in the top of the box. Suddenly both bodies went rigid. Dark's face took on the expression of a man becoming intoxicated on some heavenly nirvana. The woman, on the other hand, her face was frozen in a rictus of horror as she seemed to physically shrink before one's eyes. Within a few minutes it was over.
Dark expelled a deep breath that he'd been holding. He carefully pulled the electrode from his forehead, unplugged it from the end of the device, and put it back into the small, black, leather bag. He reached over and did the same to the husk that was once a woman, and carefully put that electrode in the bag also. Next the device was placed in the bag and then the bag was sealed in some manner that was not apparent to the naked eye. Dark rose and, walking back over to the bar, placed the bag in its special niche. He picked up his cell phone, which lay nearby on the smooth-polished top of the bar. Without looking at it, he punched in a series of numbers then set the phone back down.
Dark wandered over to the bed and sat on its edge. A moment later his silent, dour assistant entered the room. Dark merely leaned back against the headboard of the king-sized bed. He turned his attention to the silent man.
"Did you get it?" The single nod was all the answer he needed. Dark pointed at the remains of the former professional woman. "Get rid of that."
The dour faced man walked over and carefully folded over the desiccated husk and tucked it under his arm. Dark watched with an amused smile on his face.
"First thing in the morning," Dark said to the man as he stopped at the doorway. "Call our man at the Daily Planet. Tell him to keep a special eye on Kent and Lane. The time will soon be at hand." Dark turned away in an obvious gesture of dismissal. He heard the soft close of the door.
She had been a tasty little morsel and he did feel invigorated by his theft of her life force, but it also was worrisome. The life forces of the average earth denizen didn't seem to last as long as they once did. Where, centuries ago, one charge from one of the inhabitants could last nearly a normal lifespan, now it seemed that he had to recharge every few years. It was becoming more dangerous to easily find and dispose of a healthy specimen that wouldn't be missed, or wouldn't raise any problems with the local authorities.
But soon things were going to be different. He now had the means to bring to his special table the life force he so badly needed. The one he deserved as a just payback for the existence he'd been exiled to. Very soon he would dine on this so called 'Superman', drink deep of his extraordinary energies and reclaim the Kryptonian birthright that had been denied him by his long exile on this filthy mud ball.
Lois was just deleting the last of her junk email when a steaming cup of coffee and a chocolate iced donut was set down in front of her. She looked up and saw Clark, with that 'little boy done good' smile of his. She answered his smile in kind.
She took a grateful gulp of the hot brew. "Thanks for this," she hoisted the cup in a salute, "and thanks for coming by last night." She took a bite of the donut. "So, who is this Agent Daniel Scardino?"
Clark looked a bit guilty. "Well, I'm not the right guy to ask about him."
Lois chuckled. "Clark, you are the only guy I can ask about him."
Clark shrugged and gave Lois the brief history of Agent, 'please call me Daniel' Scardino and how his life entangled with Lois' and Clark's for a short time. It was obvious to Lois that Clark did not like Scardino. It was also obvious that it was because he was jealous of the attention Lois had given him at a time when they were trying to start their relationship, but were having it complicated by his dual identity.
Clark frowned as he saw Lois trying to refrain from giggling. "What?" he said grumpily.
"Oh, Clark, Lois' actions were so transparent. She was using this guy to try and force you to make a commitment." Lois chuckled. "Unfortunately she didn't know why you weren't able to stay and finish those conversations." Lois' look changed to a questioning one. "So, why didn't you tell her the truth then? It might have saved you a lot of pain, and grief."
Clark stared at his shoes before he answered. "Well… it was complicated."
Lois just shook her head. "I'm sure it was."
Clark stared at Lois suspiciously. He wasn't sure that the tone of her voice matched her words. He was just about to ask her exactly what she meant by her remark when he was interrupted by the ding of the elevator signaling its arrival on the floor.
"Speak of the devil." Clark sighed.
Agent Daniel Scardino stepped off the elevator and quickly scampered down the ramp to the newsroom floor. His megawatt smile was aimed at Lois as he approached Clark and Lois.
"Hi, Lois, you look terrific." Dan turned to Clark like someone fulfilling a distasteful duty. "Hello, Kent, so did you win mega bucks last night?"
"What?" Clark responded, confused by the question.
"Your lottery ticket? The one you just had to run out and get?"
It took Clark a moment to remember. "Oh — ah, no I didn't get a winner." He glared at Dan. "And it seems like my luck hasn't gotten any better this morning, either. If you two will excuse me." Clark turned and went over to his own desk.
Scardino shook his head then looked at Lois. "I still don't see what it was you ever saw in that guy, Lois."
"Shut up Dan, and let's get down to business." Lois turned to her desk and grabbed a scrap of paper that had some notes scribbled on it. "Okay, I talked to Bobby Bigmouth." Lois ignored Dan's bemused look. "And he's willing to tell us what he knows, but it's going to cost you."
Dan looked resigned. "How much?"
"Dinner, at Chez Franco."
Dan brightened. "For you and me?"
Lois stared heavenward and shook her head. "No, stupid, for Bobby, that's his fee." Lois got up from her chair and grabbed his jacket sleeve. "Come on, we need to hurry, there is one more thing I want to check on before we meet Bobby."
Clark was puzzled as his gaze followed Scardino and Lois up the ramp and into the elevator. Why did it bother him so much that Scardino was back, and that he was working with Lois? It wasn't like it was before. This was not his Lois that Scardino was drooling over now. She was a big girl, she could take care of herself. He'd told her what he knew about the arrogant jerk. She could make up her own mind. She was probably just using him to get another big story. Sure, that was it.
"Hey, Kent, old buddy, I see someone is making time with the ex, eh."
Clark looked up and barely suppressed the groan that wanted to escape at the sight of Ralph hovering over him. Clark was not someone prone to anger, but this morning was not going very well for him at all. If there was anyone who bugged him more than Scardino, it was probably Ralph.
Clark sighed. "What is it you want, Ralph?"
"Well, I was wondering, since Lois hasn't made up her mind about teaming up with me, that maybe I should give you a shot. I mean, you snooze, you lose — right? Whaddaya say, buddy?"
Clark seriously considered punching Ralph but thought better of it, though he wasn't sure why. "Ralph, I have no desire to partner with anyone right now, or anytime in the future. So it would be best if… "
Clark's head whipped around as he focused on the voice that had called him. Coming out of the stairwell was Lana. She was in an obvious hurry and was a bit out of breath. She rushed down the ramp and grabbed Clark by the arm. She was breathing hard and was having a time catching her breath.
"Whoa, Lana, slow down. What's the matter? Why didn't you take the elevator?"
She took one, last, deep breath and launched into her spiel. "Couldn't wait, I had to get here. It's terrible, you won't believe what's happened!"
"Lana, calm down. Tell me what happened." Clark was holding her by her shoulders.
"Oh, Clark, the museum was broken into last night. The exhibit was vandalized."
"That's terrible. Was anyone hurt? Was anything ruined, or destroyed?"
Lana shook her head. "No, no, the night watchman was found unconscious but he's going to be all right, and everything was left pretty much alone, except… "
"The artifact, Clark, they took the Kryptonian artifact. It's been stolen!"
Clark grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and he and Lana started up the ramp toward the elevator. He hadn't gotten more than a few steps when he was stopped by that irritating, nasally voice.
"So, Kent, you going to call in your good buddy, Big Blue? Impress the new squeeze with your impressive connections?" Ralph came a couple of steps closer but stopped when he saw the look on Clark's face. "Hey, how 'bout you let me come along? Let me see how an award winning journalist handles a story." Ralph's tone took on a definite pout. "Might be nice if some of the rest of us had some idea how to get hold of Supes if we should ever need to, you know."
Clark just shook his head, ignored Ralph, turned back to Lana, and they continued on their way. Ralph frowned at the couple as they entered the elevator and he watched the door close. But he didn't speak until he was sure that they had gone.
"Someday, Kent, I'm going to find out how you always get the scoops, and how it is you can produce Superman whenever you need to — someday."
"Shaddap, Ralph," an anonymous voice advised from somewhere deep in the bullpen. Ralph just glared in the general direction and stomped back to his desk.
Clark and Lana arrived at the museum quickly as they took a direct air route. Lana spent a moment trying to comb the tangles out of her hair with her fingers as Clark spun back into his street clothes. Having never flown with Clark before, Lana was a bit out of breath, but it wasn't from the exertion. A shy smile crept onto her face as she followed Clark through the museum's front doors.
Inspector Henderson was still there directing his forensic team as to the best places to look for prints. He looked up when he saw Clark and Lana approach.
"Geez, Kent, are you or Lois always the first ones at the scene of a crime?"
Clark smiled at the police inspector, who over the years had become a good friend to Lois and Clark. "You know me, Inspector. I have a reputation to protect." Clark chuckled. "Besides, I've already written a story about this exhibit. Ms. Lang and I are old friends."
"Of course you are." Henderson just shook his head. "Well not much I can tell you. Someone, and we're pretty sure it was one guy, came in last night, knocked out the guard, disabled the security cameras, and took the Kryptonian thingie. He did little peripheral damage, and was gone by the time the police responded to the silent alarms." Henderson turned away and began to point out some other places for his men to dust for prints.
Clark lowered his glasses to the end of his nose and did a thorough visual sweep of the exhibit area. He saw nothing unusual. He then tried to use his enhanced olfactory senses to see if there were any odors that shouldn't be there. Time, and the number of policemen on the scene pretty much eliminated any chances of detecting anything, even if it had been there.
"I'm sorry, Lana, I can't detect anything that the police have missed. Their guess will be as good as mine." He saw the crestfallen look on Lana's face. "Tell you what, let's go back to the Planet and I'll boot up my computer and see what we can find out about any possible shady dealers in ancient artifacts."
Lana put her hand on his chest and stared up at his face. "Do you think that because this was believed to be something Kryptonian, that it might have something to do with Superman?"
Clark paused, thinking it over. "I guess we shouldn't rule that out. Let's go back… " Clark suddenly stopped and cocked his head to one side.
Lana looked at him with confusion. "What's wrong?"
Clark lowered his head close to hers and spoke in an urgent whisper. "I've got to go. There's a four alarm blaze down at the docks."
"How do you know that?" Lana asked, obviously not really accustomed to Clark's abilities and how they allowed him to operate.
"I heard the fire alarms, and now I've tuned into the Fire Department's dispatcher." He gave her hand a squeeze. "I've got to go. I'll give you a call later, at your hotel."
Lana watched in wonderment as Clark began to tug at his tie as he turned and quickly left the premises. She was a bit overwhelmed by the little scene that had just played out, but then she grinned. So that's what it must have been like for Lois. She wondered how many times Clark had had to run off to save something at a most inopportune time. Lana found herself laughing silently. No wonder it took them so long to get together. She composed herself and turned her attention back to the police as they finished up their tasks.
Superman flew quickly toward the docks, scanning ahead as he approached the scene of the blaze. Several warehouses were engulfed in flames as the Metropolis Fire Department's gallant men scurried about trying to do their best to contain, and then put out the fire. From his overhead vantage point, Superman was able to spot three distinct fires, or hot spots. He was also able to see why the firemen were having so much trouble containing the fires.
The central, and largest, warehouse contained several barrels of fuel oil which continued to ignite and send a new ball of flame shooting off in a different direction. Pouring water on them just spread any of the loose fuel around before it could put it out. Superman was also afraid to just blow on the flames, in case that would also cause the stuff to spread before it froze.
Superman landed quickly and approached the fire chief in charge. He filled him in on what he had discovered and they discussed their time options.
The first order of business was to contain the blaze, so that the whole waterfront didn't go up. Toward that end, the firemen were drenching the neighboring buildings.
Superman, going faster than the eye could see, swept down between the buildings that were burning and those that were whole and cleared away anything that might catch and burn, or carry flame from one place to the other. A narrow firebreak having now been cleared, Superman then turned his attention to the wet buildings not yet burning. With several exhalations of his super breath he caused the water being hosed onto those buildings to freeze into a protective sheathing over the walls facing the flames. No one thought that this would last for any length of time, but they hoped it would buy them enough of a break to come up with a solution to their problem.
Since it was no longer a matter of trying to save the buildings currently burning, their thoughts turned to putting out the fires any way they could. After another quick conversation with the fire chief, a plan was agreed on.
Flying swiftly to a nearby construction site, Superman landed next to a large front-end loader. After detaching the huge bucket used to move earth, he took to the air again. Finding a deserted stretch of beach was relatively easy and Superman, with his makeshift shovel, scooped up a large load of beach sand.
Flying rapidly back to the scene of the fire, he deposited his load of sand on the conflagration. Repeating his actions with the giant shovel, scooping up beach sand and depositing it on the blaze, several times while working his way from the edges into the middle of the fire, Superman was able to finally put the blaze to rest.
Once the fire was out, Superman then used his special shovel to remove as much sand as he could from the ruins of the buildings and return it to the beach he had borrowed it from. Obviously he wouldn't be able to return all the sand to the beach, nor would he be able to clear the area totally of the sand used to put out the fire, but he wanted to clean up his mess as best he could.
All the time that Superman had been performing his heroics with the fire and his makeshift shovel, he was being watched. A figure hidden in the shadows of another building had been keeping close watch on his progress. In his hands he held a strangely familiar looking box. It was metallic in composition, but it reflected the light oddly, and it would defy a beholder the ability to say, for certain, what color it was.
As Superman was hovering over the fire scene holding his last shovel full of sand to go back to the beach, the concealed personage placed his thumbs into two of the three depressions on the top of the box and pointed it toward Superman.
As Superman began to move away from the scene, a strange sensation came over him. Suddenly it was like his mind detached from his body. He could still think, and he could still feel everything, but he no longer had any conscious control over his anatomy. His hands, acting seemingly on their own accord, released their hold on the huge bucket, and let it fall toward the milling crowd of firemen below.
Superman watched in a horror-induced slow motion as the giant sand filled bucket, weighing thousands of pounds, made its descent. His mind screamed to do something, to say something, but no words came from his mouth, nor would his muscles react to his efforts.
Finally, as if released from some kind of invisible straightjacket, Superman felt himself again. Without taking time to think, he launched himself after the falling scoop and caught it just a couple of feet above the scattering crowd. Superman found an empty spot to set the bucket down. It was a shaken Superman who went over to the chief to make sure everyone was all right.
When asked what had happened, Superman, not wanting to alarm anyone, merely told the chief that he'd lost his grip and the bucket slipped. He apologized to everyone, then, quickly, before he could be seized by that strange feeling again, he grabbed the bucket and shot off toward the beach.
The hidden man emerged from the shadows just enough for one to be able to see his satisfied nod, and a smile spread slowly across his handsome face. He then turned back into the shadows and was quickly gone.
With a downshifted roar of the engine, and the squealing of tires, Lois pulled her little sports car into a too small parking place on a busy downtown Metropolis street. She turned the key and the high-powered engine ceased its growl.
Dan Scardino shook his head in wonderment. "I can't get over the changes in you since you dumped Kent, Lois. It's almost like you are a different person." Dan ignored Lois' warning frown. "How in the world did you ever afford this car?"
Lois glared at Dan. "I robbed a bank. Now shut up and concentrate on the matter at hand. Why did you have me bring us here?"
"Okay, I give. I'll be good." Dan tried unsuccessfully to wipe the smile off his face. "Bobby couldn't give us anything concrete, but from his comments it does seem likely that Dark is in town, and definitely behind something big." Dan indicated, with a wave of his hand, a building half a block up the street. "Dark has his business front located in the 510 building there. I thought we might want to stroll over and see if the old man is in."
"Let me get this straight. You want to walk into the lair of your enemy just to see if he's in. And if he is in, you will undoubtedly tip him off that you are in town for reasons which I'm sure he'll be able to guess." Lois sighed in disgust. "How come you're not dead?"
Dan chuckled. "That's why you are here, my dear. You can go in there under the pretense of interviewing him for some reason, and you can find out not only if he's here, but why he claims to be here."
Lois frowned at her insane temporary partner. "And just why would I be wanting to interview this man? Has he been in the news lately? Has he done anything high profile that might warrant my interest?" She watched Dan beginning to frown. "Or should I just walk in and say, 'Excuse me, Mr. Dark, rumor has it that you are an ex-drug smuggler who has lately turned to gun running. Would you care to comment on that?' Really."
"Well, I can't think of everything."
"Let me know when you think of anything." Lois snorted. "Really, Dan, it's one thing to be aware of the rumors and have heard the speculations by the police and other agencies, but I have to have some reason, some incident, to be starting an investigation of him." Lois shook her head. "Believe it or not, Dan, my editor won't really appreciate my stirring up a lot of potential legal hassles on just your say so."
Dan looked deflated. "Well you told me yourself that you knew he was into all kinds of nasty stuff."
"Yes, Dan," Lois hesitated for a moment. "I've had reasons in the past to doubt the legitimacy of our Mr. Dark, but it's nothing I can really act on. I have to be sure that… Lucy!"
"What?" A confused Dan turned to look in the direction that Lois was staring.
Sure enough, coming out of the 510 building was a smartly dressed Lucy Lane. She did a quick check of the traffic as she scooted across the street, apparently heading for the bus stop about two hundred feet from where Lois and Dan were parked. Lois gave her horn a quick toot.
Lucy looked in their direction and smiled. "Lois," she said as she hastened to the side of the car.
Lois had gotten out of the car. "Lucy, what in heaven's name are you doing here?"
Lucy glanced at Lois, then at Dan who by now had also gotten out of the vehicle. "You are looking at the new receptionist for Dark Enterprises, Inc." Lucy had a big smile on her face. "I realize it's not exactly city hall yet, but I do need to find some work while I plan my attack on city government."
Lois grabbed Lucy's arm. "Are you crazy?" Lois asked in a fierce whisper. "You were there last night. You know this is the guy that we suspect is behind some big arms deal."
"I know; that's why this is so perfect." Lucy seemed to visibly puff up. "Not only will I have a paying job, which pays pretty well by the way, but I'll be able to keep my eyes and ears open for anything that might help you two on this investigation."
Dan stepped in closer to the two women, shaking his head. "No, it's way too dangerous. You don't know this guy like I do." Dan, suddenly remembering why they were there, continued, "Any chance; did you notice if Dark himself was there?"
Lucy was about to answer Scardino when Lois interrupted. "As much as I hate to agree with James Bond Jr. here, it is too dangerous." Lois leaned in closer. "Remember what I told you last night."
"What did you tell her last night?" Dan was immediately silenced by the looks on the faces of the sisters.
"Believe me, Lois, I know it could be dangerous. I'm not stupid, I don't plan to throw myself in front of the raging bull while wearing red just to see if he'll charge — unlike some people I know. I just want to help," she looked to Dan, "and no, Mr. Dark wasn't there."
Lois grabbed Lucy's arm and directed her around the back of the car and into the passenger seat. She then hurried back to her side of the Porsche.
"We'll discuss this at home." She fired up the powerful engine.
"Hey, what about me?" Dan said plaintively.
Lois stuck her head out the window. "What about you?"
Dan was completely intimidated by look on Lois' face. "Um, right, I'll catch up with you later and we can form our plan of attack."
"Yeah, later," Lois pulled her head back inside the car. In two quick maneuvers she was out of the parking spot and speeding down the street.
Dan found himself shouting after the retreating taillights. "That's fine, don't worry about me. I'll find my own ride. No problem at all."
Dan savagely stuck his hands in his pocket and slowly walked over to the nearby bus stop.
Clark found Lana waiting in the lobby of his hotel, when he finally came back. He had been shaken by his experience at the fire, but he didn't want Lana to know. He summoned up a smile as he approached her spot on the couch. She returned the smile once she spied Clark and got up to meet him. She gave Clark a hug, then turned to walk alongside him, leaving her one arm firmly encircling his waist.
"So, how was it?" Lana leaned her head against his shoulder.
"What?" Clark was caught off guard by her question. His mind was still focused on what had happened.
"The fire, that's what you said it was, wasn't it?" They entered the elevator together.
"It was pretty bad. Luckily no one was hurt, but three buildings were total losses. It was a serious piece of arson." Clark sighed. "It was all I could do to keep the whole block from going up in flames."
They exited the elevator and headed toward Clark's room. Lana looked at his face. "Do you think that it was some kind of insurance fraud, or maybe revenge against someone?"
"Hard to say, it didn't look like it. The buildings were owned by three different firms with nothing in common." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "It looks like arson for arson's sake, at least that's the way I wrote up the story for the paper." He paused at his door. "Why would people do something like that?"
Lana chuckled softly. "Still holding on to your concept that people are basically good?"
Clark opened the door, allowing Lana to precede him into the room. "Believe me, as Superman I've seen more than my share of the evil that folks can do, but if I didn't believe in the inherent goodness of people what would be the point of what I do?" Clark tossed his jacket over the back of a chair. "Look, I need a shower. It will only take me a couple minutes, literally. Do you want to go get something to eat?"
Lana sat at the edge of the large queen-sized bed. "That would be nice."
True to his word, Clark was out of the shower in two minutes, and dressed in another thirty seconds. He'd chosen a casual slacks and shirt combination, which complimented the simple skirt and blouse that Lana wore. Together they left the room in search of food.
After discussing possibilities on the elevator ride down to the lobby, they agreed on the small Italian bistro that served as the main restaurant for the hotel. The food was appetizing, and plentiful; and they were able to find a quiet booth in the far corner for undisturbed conversation.
They spent the next two hours enjoying their pasta, some wine, small talk, and each other's company. Clark asked Lana how the police investigation was going. She had to reply that they really had no leads to go on, so things didn't look too good. The best they could do at this point was to alert the various authorities and agencies to be on the lookout for the artifact. It was a fairly unique item, so Henderson had had its picture circulated and had put a watch on any known, local fences who might be inclined to handle something that hot.
Clark could tell that Lana was greatly disappointed with the loss of the artifact, but she surprised him with her pragmatic attitude toward the whole affair. At least its existence had been well documented, so the importance of its discovery wasn't lost. Also, Superman himself had publicly stated that it was possibly of Kryptonian origin which, along with the differences between her other artifacts, lent credence to her extra-terrestrial influence theory.
After discussing possible plans of action regarding the theft, and subsequently disregarding them as futile without a lead of some sort to go on, the topic of conversation was changed to Clark. Lana got him to tell her about the fire, and what it was like for him to deal with such a terrible thing. Clark gave her a fairly comprehensive run down of his battle with the blaze, leaving out just the part where he suffered that inexplicable loss of control of himself.
He would probably have retreated into a distracted state of obsessing about the incident had not Lana pushed him for more Superman stories. She'd been out of touch with the mainstream world for so long that she had missed out on nearly all but the most globally significant feats he'd performed. She was like a schoolgirl being exposed to some wondrous new world for the first time. Holding his hand as he spoke, she giggled in all the right spots and gasped at all the danger and horror this gentle man had encountered.
Finally the actions of the wait and bus staff told them that the restaurant was getting ready to close. It was suggested that if they wished to stay they could move over to the bar, but Lana and Clark opted to leave. Quickly settling the bill, the two of them wandered back into the lobby and to the elevator.
Once back in the room, Clark strode over to the window and checked the darkness outside. Satisfied, he turned back to Lana. "Would you like me to fly you back to your hotel?"
The thought of flying again in Clark's arms was very tempting but Lana had other plans for the night. "If it's all right with you, I'd rather stay."
Clark, assuming that Lana didn't want the conversation started at dinner to end yet, led her to the room's one overstuffed chair. He sat on the edge of the bed. "Okay, it's still fairly early yet, what would you like to talk about? I've still got plenty of Superman stories. Did I mention that Luthor once cloned me?"
Lana got out of the chair and came over and sat next to Clark on the bed. "No, I meant I want to stay the night…with you."
It was two very tightlipped Lane women who stormed into their shared apartment. Once both women had dropped their bags and jackets, Lois rounded on Lucy.
"Okay, first thing Monday morning you are going to go into that office and tell them that you quit." Lois began to pace.
"I'll do no such thing."
Lois stopped and glared at the younger woman. "Oh yes you will, you are not going to be putting yourself in that kind of danger for me, I forbid it!"
Lois stopped dead in her tracks. She knew she'd just stepped over the line. She could see Lucy's expression darken and her eyes flashed in anger. Lois knew she shouldn't have said what she had, but it was out and it was too late to take it back. Besides the sentiment was still valid. She didn't want Lucy putting herself in jeopardy just to help her out in an investigation. It was stupid enough when she did it herself.
Lucy controlled her voice with great difficulty. "You forbid it?" Lucy had to swallow some rage and take a deep breath before being able to continue. "Time for some ground rules in this relationship." Lucy began to pace. "First, I am an adult. I make my own decisions. I accept, or reject other people's advice as I see fit."
She began to use her hands to count off her points. "Next, while I won't throw the fact that you really aren't my sister in your face, you need to know that I never allowed Lois to dictate terms to me either. She often disapproved of things I'd do or people I saw, but that didn't stop me from seeing them." If Lucy was honest with herself, the opposite was probably true. "And last, in the short time I've known you I've become very fond of you. You are potentially my best friend, and I actually think of you in terms of a surrogate, or adoptive sister." Lucy was calmer now. "It's almost like you and Lois were twins, so while you aren't my Lois, you are my *other* sister, similar, yet different too." Lucy paused for another breath. "So, if I have a chance to help out my *sister*, I have to take that chance. Can't you see that?"
Lois slowly allowed herself to sit on the couch. She had remained silent throughout Lucy's tirade. What had she done to deserve this friend, this *sister*. It took a considerable effort on Lois' part to hold back the threatening tears. She was very touched by Lucy's gesture, but Lucy had no idea what she was getting herself into.
Lois grabbed Lucy's hands and pulled her down next to her. "You're right, you are a grown woman and I had no right to assume I could tell you what to do." A small smile stole its way onto Lois' face. "You might have noticed that that is something I myself am pretty vehement about." Lois sighed as she saw Lucy's answering smile. "It's just that, if this world's version of Salvador Dark is anything like my world's was, he is an incredibly evil and dangerous man. I barely got close to him, and I found myself tossed in a foreign prison to rot for the rest of my life. If it were not for the Clark of my world, I'm sure I would have died there."
Lucy patted Lois' hand. "I'm not naive, I realize the kind of man you and Scardino are messing with here."
"Yes, but I don't think you know how special *you* are to me. You are about the only real friend I have on this world and I cherish the bond we are building. If anything should happen to you because of me, I don't know if I could take it." A single tear finally did escape from the corner of Lois' eye. "I've only just gained a sister, I don't want to risk losing her."
Lucy took several moments to study the redheaded woman who had so quickly managed to become so important to her. "Tell you what. I promise I won't do anything but keep my ears open while going about my assigned duties. At least not without telling you first."
Lois was a bit mistrustful. "Well…if you promise to just be the receptionist, and not do anything that would draw any unwanted attention, I guess it would be all right." Lois bit her lip. "And it would be nice to know if and when Dark was actually in the office."
Lucy clapped her hands together once. "Good, now that that's settled, tell me about Dan."
"Come on, what's he like? Are you going to sleep with him? He is kind of cute, don't you think?"
Lois rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Dan's an irritant. If it wasn't for the possibility of a big story I'd ask him to fade away."
"Really?" Lucy had a big smile on her face.
"Yes, really. He's cocky and much too full of himself. I'm sure he finds himself much more amusing than I do." Lois shook her head. "Frankly, I don't know what Lois ever saw in him."
Lucy giggled. "I think you had to be there." Lucy grinned. "So, you're saying you are definitely not interested?"
"Can I have him?"
"Never mind, I don't care much for his taste in shirts anyway." Lucy's playful mood quickly sobered. "It's still Clark isn't it? No matter what you say. No matter what you think Clark's feelings are on the subject. Your heart's telling you that Clark is the one, isn't it?"
Lois was all set to deny Lucy's accusations, but suddenly she couldn't. "Yes," her voice was soft and Lucy could barely hear her, "it's Clark. It doesn't make any difference that I know nothing can ever come of it, I can't seem to help myself. I can't explain it rationally but whenever I'm around him I feel like that's the place I was meant to be." Lois sighed as her voice gained strength now that she was no longer denying her feelings. "Oh, I'm well aware of how handsome Clark is, and that body, well that's one rock hard formation I'd like the chance to climb all over. But really, it goes much deeper than that. There is just a certain rightness about Clark that is downright scary."
Lucy's response was firm but respectful. "What about the so called ghost feelings thingy Clark keeps harping on? That any feelings you have toward him are actually meant for your intended soul mate, the Clark Kent of the other world?
"Yeah, I know all about that theory, your sister explained some of it to me. How she had feelings for the Clark of my world, and he for her, but in reality they were just substitutes for the ones that they were meant to be with." Lois stared at the floor for a moment before turning back to Lucy. "The thing is, I never really knew the Clark Kent of my world. After he rescued me from that horrible prison we were thrust into that war with the New Kryptonians. He was killed before we had any chance to get to know each other."
Lois stood and paced about the small living room. "On the other hand, even though he was hurting terribly from the loss of his own, beloved Lois, your Clark saved my life by bringing me over to this world. He knew that it would make his own existence a living hell, but he did it anyway. He put my needs above his own. And even though he may deny it, he has been a friend to me in what I know have been untenable circumstances for him." Lois flopped back down onto the couch. "I'm not afraid to admit it to myself, or you, Lucy; but I've fallen in love with Clark." Lois stared at her hands as she wrung them. "I just hope that Lana can bring him some of the happiness that he's lost, because I know that I never can."
Salvador Dark set the phone back into its cradle and stared thoughtfully at the far wall. This was an unexpected complication. The timing was unfortunate, but that couldn't be helped. His plans would have to be postponed while he took care of this latest problem. He pressed the special button on his intercom.
Within seconds, his stoic personal assistant entered noiselessly. Without a word he stood in front of Dark's desk waiting to be acknowledged. Dark finally let his gaze shift to his aide.
"Have my jet made ready. I have to leave for Singapore within the hour." Dark looked disgusted but never lost his temper. "There are some problems with distribution that I have to deal with personally." Dark began to shuffle some papers into his calfskin briefcase. "When are the arms due in?"
"They should be safely warehoused by Thursday."
Dark nodded. "That's good. I'm afraid we are going to have to postpone my little meet with Superman, but that will give us time to work out a couple of back up plans." Dark snapped his briefcase shut. "Contact our man at the Daily Planet and tell him to wait, but be ready. If he comes across anything more that we can use give him a way to contact you." Dark rose from his chair and noticed the look on the face of his assistant. "I know that look, what is it?"
"Maybe nothing sir, but a new receptionist was just hired for the office at the 510 building."
Dark raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"Her name is Lucy Lane, sir."
"Lane, as in Lois Lane?"
"Yes, sir, it is apparently her younger sister."
"Hmmm, the sister of Lois Lane, who just happens to be a very good friend of Superman's. The same Lois Lane who manages to get herself rescued by our boy scout of steel on a fairly regular basis." Dark chuckled. It was an evil sound. "It seems we might just have gained a little extra leverage." Dark licked his lips. "And if she should prove to be of little use, there are always other uses for healthy young women, eh, my friend?"
Dark headed for the door with his assistant close behind.
Jimmy Olsen scurried about the newsroom floor, checking all of the reporters' desks for any last minute requests for research or photo developing, and dropping off anything he might have for them. It was Saturday and he wanted to make sure everything Perry could blame him for was handled before he left. He had a hot date with the new gal, Angie, down in personals. If fact, he'd met her when he'd gone down there to, maybe, put one of his own ads in the Sunday edition. They'd talked for a bit, and in a surprise move, he'd had the courage to ask her out. She was really cute so he was thrilled when she said yes.
Jimmy stopped at Clark's desk to drop off the data he'd researched for him. It wasn't much, he hadn't been able to find anything current as to robberies of ancient artifacts, museum pieces, or valuable collectibles. The latest such event was a burglary of a Faberge egg from a private collection, and that had been nine months ago. Superman had captured the bad guy and returned the egg to its owner in that instance. He was disappointed that he couldn't find more for CK, but he knew Clark would understand, sometimes you came up dry.
At Lois' desk it was a different story. Lois didn't like it when research came up empty. It wasn't like he didn't have anything, but the slim folder he set on her desk told the awful truth. His background check on Salvador Dark revealed nothing unusual except an inability to nail down a definite birth date and place. It happened sometimes, records are lost due to certain natural disasters, or fires. If Lois was looking into this guy it was because she suspected him of some sort of dirty dealings, but his public record indicated nothing more than a moderately successful business man. Jimmy had tried to get beyond the public record and tap into some of the official databases like the FBI or ATF, but he came up against firewalls he couldn't get through. That, in and of itself, made Jimmy suspicious of the guy, but try as he might he couldn't get any privileged information on the guy. Oh well, Jimmy thought as he moved on, that was probably why she was dealing with that jerk Scardino again.
Jimmy was surprised to see Ralph at his desk. Ralph barely showed up when he was supposed to, let alone came in on a weekend. Ralph was talking to a tall, sour looking fellow. He looked like someone you wouldn't want to cross. Jimmy wondered if it was some source of Ralph's and that's why he was in. Jimmy couldn't hear what they were saying but the tall dude was doing most of the talking and Ralph mostly just nodded. Once Ralph noticed Jimmy looking at them, he grabbed the guy's sleeve and led him into the conference room. Jimmy shook his head and continued his tasks.
Jimmy was up getting a cup of coffee in the break area when he noticed Ralph and his 'friend' come out of the conference room. No more words were spoken. The tall scary guy just headed for the elevator while Ralph, with a satisfied half smile on his face, watched him go.
"Hey, Jimmy," he felt a tug on his sleeve. "You're a good friend of both Clark and Lois, aren't you?"
"Huh, what?" Jimmy glanced over to see Brad, the new guy in sports, standing next to him. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."
Brad gave Jimmy a conspiratorial look. "So, tell me, really, what's the scoop with those two? Did Lois really step out with the Big Blue? Or was Clark stepping out with that hot blonde he's been squiring around lately, before the break up?" Brad leaned in and lowered his voice. "Come on, you can tell me. Everybody here thinks it was Lois, they have some sort of sainthood conferred on Kent. Me, I think he just got tired of her infatuation with Supes and decided to do a little flying of his own, if you catch my drift."
Jimmy was about to fire back a caustic reply when he suddenly held back. Brad was the biggest gossip in the place since Cat. Jimmy didn't know the whole truth, but he thought Perry's explanation about children made sense. And Clark was back and he and Lois seemed to be getting along all right. Maybe he could do something to help squash some of the vile rumors and resentment toward Lois that had been so prevalent up to this point.
Jimmy was still curious as to what Ralph and that other guy were talking about, but while he'd been distracted by Brad, Ralph had left. Shrugging Jimmy turned his attention back to Brad.
Jimmy put his arm around Brad's shoulder and leaned real close. "You've got to keep this to yourself, but let me tell you what Perry told me…"
Lois was sitting at the kitchen table reading the Saturday morning edition of the Daily Planet. She was still in her pajamas as she scanned the front pages, knowing that her name was conspicuously absent from any of the stories there. She was a bit frustrated with how this thing with Scardino was going. It looked like one of those stories where you had to sit around forever before something broke. She hated those because half the time they broke and were either gone, or were common knowledge before you could get anything into print.
She didn't know what to think of this Scardino character. He was woefully short of any hard leads, and Bobby wasn't able to give them more than a confirmation that the word in the streets was that something was about to come down, and that Dark was in town. They still had no time or place. She was also still very uncomfortable with Lucy working for Dark, even if it was indirectly. The only consolation for Lois was that, if this was Dark's legitimate front business, he probably spent little time there. If this Salvador Dark was similar to the one Lois had tried to track down in her world, he was not someone you wanted to cross, and from what Scardino said about him, he was one nasty man.
Her musings were suddenly interrupted by a firm knock at the door. Lois groaned inwardly as she guessed it must be Scardino. She figured that he wasn't too happy with being left behind the other day, but what could she do? Her car only had room for two. He would just have to get over it if he wanted to continue to work with her on this Dark matter, not that they had managed to get much productive work done yet.
She gave no thought to what she was wearing as she approached the front door. She was covered up, and if Agent Scardino wasn't impressed by her with no make-up, sleep tangled hair, and her comfortable flannel jammies, that was his problem. With those thoughts firmly in mind, she was unprepared for what greeted her when she opened the door.
"Clark!" All of a sudden she was very conscious of how she looked. Her hand quickly went to her head trying to smooth down the hair that her pillow had mangled during sleep.
"Sorry to come over unannounced — er, can I come in?"
"Oh, ah, sure, sorry." She stepped back so that he could enter. "I'm not exactly too presentable right now, I just got up and I was reading the paper. I haven't taken the time to shower, and get dressed yet. You know how it is on a day off, you spend half your day lounging around in your pajamas. Never get yourself put together before noon."
Clark smiled, some things were the same. "It's all right, you look fine. I'm the one who needs to apologize for just dropping over without calling first."
Lois noticed that Clark had studiously avoided direct eye contact with her. At first she thought it was because of the way she looked, but then he'd seen a Lois Lane in every possible form of dress and undress already. No, the more she looked at him the more it seemed like he was uncomfortable, or nervous.
"So, what does bring you by this morning?" Lois asked as she continued to try and finger comb her hair.
"Well, I was just thinking that we are both waiting for something to break in our individual stories, so it might not be a bad time to go, unless of course you don't want to, or you and Dan have something planned. We could always go some other time. I mean it's not like it won't be there another day."
Lois put her hand on his arm. "Clark, what are you talking about?"
Clark blushed. "Sorry, I was just wondering if you wanted to accompany me to Smallville. You did say you wanted to see the memorial sometime?" Clark took a breath and started to say something else but stopped himself.
Lois noticed. "Yes, I would like to see it, but you were going to say something else?"
Clark sucked on his lip for a moment before answering. "Well… my parents really want to meet you."
Lois was struck dumb by that revelation. Clark had mentioned that before, but Lois still couldn't figure why would they want to meet her. Her mind whirled as it suddenly seemed to get warmer in the room. Did they feel they needed to see who this impostor was who thought she could pretend to be their daughter-in-law? Why would Clark want them to meet her, or was he ambivalent about it? He seemed to be more at ease around her lately. Well, except, maybe for today. So maybe this Smallville thing was uncomfortable for him too, but then why ask her to come at all? Of course, she had said she'd like to see the memorial, and knowing Clark, he would honor that request no matter how he felt about it. Lois was trying to get her racing thoughts in some sort order when Lucy burst into the room.
"Hey, hi Clark." Lucy bounced over and gave Clark a hug. "So, what's up?"
Lois snapped out of her daze and focused on Lucy. "Clark came over to invite me to Smallville, to see the memorial — and — meet his parents."
"Cool," Lucy grabbed Clark's arms. "Can I go too? I've always wanted to meet your folks. All the times Lois used to describe them, and tell me how great, and normal they were, just made me want to meet them." Lucy slid over and elbowed Lois in the arm. "Lois used to rave on about Jonathan and Martha and what it would have been like to have grown up with parents that actually loved you."
Lois frowned. "My mother loved me."
Lucy snorted. "That's right, you didn't have to grow up in the Webster's definition of 'dysfunctional family'."
Clark finally entered the conversation. "Now, Lucy, you are welcome to come along, but you know that your parents loved you and Lois, they just allowed their own problems to interfere with their home life."
Lucy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, whatever, but thanks." Lucy turned back to Lois. "Speaking of parents, we got a postcard from Mom yesterday. She is really enjoying it down in Florida with Aunt Mary. She says she is staying sober, and is thinking of staying down there." Lucy paused as if trying to remember more. "Oh, yeah, she says she misses us, and plans to visit soon." Lucy snapped her fingers in front of a distracted Lois. "Hello, earth to Lois, come in Lois."
Lois, startled by the noise, looked at Lucy. "What? Oh, that's great, really great." She then turned to Clark. "I'm going to need a few minutes to pull myself together." Lois quickly regained her equilibrium, and grinned at the two of them. "In the meantime, do you two think you can keep yourselves occupied?"
"Sure, no problem," Lucy sent an evil grin Clark's way. "I'll just have Clark fix me a fabulous breakfast."
"Lucy!" Lois said, scandalized by her sister's actions.
Clark laughed. "That's okay, Lois, I'll just take it as a challenge considering what you probably have in the house to eat."
"You forget, Farmboy, I know how to cook." Lois wagged a finger at Clark.
He held up his hands in as if in surrender. "Touche."
Giving the two of them a dismissive gesture with her hand, and shaking her head all the while, Lois turned and headed into her bedroom.
"So, what's for breakfast?" Lucy giggled as she grabbed Clark's hand and dragged him into the kitchen.
Salvador Dark leaned back in the plushly upholstered seat, and gazed out the window of the private Lear jet. He had a drink in one hand and the other lay comfortably on the thickly padded armrest. Even though he could personally afford it, Dark Enterprises didn't own a corporate jet. That would go against the moderate sized operation that he had carefully crafted for public display. No, this was a leased jet. Dark Enterprises was just one of several smaller corporations which had a time share lease on this jet. It was the latest model, and came with the pilot and an attendant. Any food or drink was charged extra, but there were some things that Dark didn't do without.
He had been lucky that no one else had already reserved the plane since his was such a last minute situation. As soon as one of the corporations knew of a need for the plane, they would check the schedule and put in their reservation for its use. The leasing fees were based on some sort of mileage scale and each lessee was billed on a previous quarterly basis. Dark didn't worry about such things, he had people to do that. But he was aware of the need not to draw too much attention to himself by flaunting excesses. That was a hard lesson he had learned back in revolutionary France. He had barely escaped with his head attached, let alone his fortune. From that time onward he'd made sure to be more careful. He lived the good life, but never to the extremes which would put him into the spotlight.
Unlike Lex Luthor, whose ego forced him to be the center of attention, and subsequently proved to be his downfall, Dark didn't care if anyone else knew of his accomplishments or not. The fact that he knew was enough. Besides, most of what he did nowadays was just for the excitement value. The pursuit of a taste of the forbidden fruit, so to speak. One reason Dark had never been caught by the authorities was because he never stayed in any one circle too long. For the last several years, he'd been playing in different aspects of illegal activities because they offered the most challenge, and the greatest fun. And since he was inherently an amoral man anyway, if fit nicely into his psychological profile.
He allowed a smile to slowly spread across his face. It wasn't the kind of smile that, if you saw it, you would smile in return. You would be more likely to turn and look over your shoulder before hurrying from his presence. Dark knew that things would soon be coming to a rapid climax. The arms sale was locked and loaded, just ready for all the principals, and the arms, to arrive at the same place at the same time. The beauty of that was that no one but Dark, and his assistant, knew where and when that was until the last possible moment. That was one of the beauties of modern instant communications. He offered his drink up in salute to the technical marvels of the modern age. While earth technology was not yet up to Kryptonian standards, even from his time, it was still pretty impressive.
A quick glance at his watch confirmed what he already knew to be true. His assistant would have contacted his man at the Daily Planet, and by the time Dark got back to Metropolis, in a couple days, he would be ready to set his trap. The only consideration he had was whether to wait till after the arms sale to spring it, or before. While the inherent advantages of having Superman out of the way before the big deal went down were many, Dark didn't want to have to rush his vengeance to get it done in time. It might be fun to torture his brother Kryptonian, before taking his power, and his life. Just like in the old days, back on Krypton. Before he was caught and sentenced to permanent exile in space.
A deep, throaty chuckle rumbled forth as Dark again blessed his good fortune. He had been shot into space, in a random direction that just happened to put him into the path of some form of space anomaly, which shuttled his small craft thousands of light years into the vicinity of this solar system, and a planet supporting life. He realized that the odds of such a thing happening were astronomical against him. But then life was a gamble, his greatest long shot had paid off, and now was the time to collect.
Even as he was being sentenced to what was thought to be an eternal living death, he'd managed to smuggle onto his craft two very important devices. Devices which had allowed him, and his bloody sect, to flourish for a time on Krypton. They had also helped him in his conquest of the local, ancient, manlike natives. He unconsciously looked over at his small, black leather case, which never strayed far from his person. It now held both the precious devices he brought with him from Krypton, where for a long, long time it only held the one. It was nice of that Lang expedition to have found it for him again.
When he had arrived on Earth, he had soon gained super powers as his body assimilated and stored the energy from the bright yellow sun. The pathetic natives feared and were in awe of him. He easily became their god. As their god it was easy to gather sacrifices to satisfy his hungers. His normal Kryptonian lifespan was extended, just as it had done on Krypton. With the device to transfer basic life energies from other living beings to him, he was virtually immortal.
Being on earth, without the presence of other Kryptonians, had one major draw back. As the years rolled on, and he fed on the life energies of more and more native terrans, he found his powers fading. His body was adapting to the new energies he fed it and in doing so, lost the ability to process the solar energy as a Kryptonian. After a few centuries of dining on terrans he found himself no more than an ordinary, healthy man. The powers that his Kryptonian heritage had originally granted him were now gone. He had thought they were gone forever. That was, until Superman arrived on the scene.
Once Superman had been revealed as an alien, and then as a Kryptonian, Dark began to plan. He knew that if he could trap Superman, and drain him of his superior life force, he would once again have the powers that had been denied him for so long. Dark also knew that, as an ordinary-powered man, he would have to use cunning and stealth instead of power to find a way to trap the Man of Steel.
Unfortunately, kryptonite wasn't the answer for Dark, since even though he'd lost his powers over the years, kryptonite radiations were still deadly to him also. Besides, he needed a fit, and healthy, Superman to dine on. So he planted a man at the Daily Planet, since that seemed to be the best way to keep tabs on him, and sat back to wait for his opportunity.
His opportunity finally came in the form of the Lang exhibit. The artifact that they had uncovered, that had caused such a stir, was exactly what he needed. The device that he had lost back in antiquity, which he had now recovered, would be the means to be able to control Superman and lead him to his doom, and Dark's rebirth.
Dark smiled again as all of this scrolled through his brain. Life was good, and it had just gotten a lot better.
With an arm around the waist of each woman, Clark took his time on the flight to Smallville. While both of them had flown with him before, neither had much experience with it, so he didn't fly too fast, or make any sudden sharp moves. He didn't want to frighten them in any way so, a trip that, alone, he could accomplish in about two minutes, took nearly an hour.
Lois and Lucy both seemed to be enjoying the trip. With Clark's arms firmly around their waists, they felt secure enough to use their hands and arms to point out things and gesticulate while talking to each other across Clark's broad chest. Clark, while not able to point, did manage to alert them to any interesting or significant landmark, or point of interest.
There was one time when Clark had left them sitting on the top of the St. Louis Arch while he untangled a multi-car pile up on the interstate. He returned minutes later, but both women were quite chilled from the winds by the time he came back. A quick flash of low-power heat vision, and they were again on their way.
It had been agreed before they left that they would hit the Kent farm first, make the introductions, then Clark and Lois would go check out the memorial. Lucy had insisted that the two of them go there without her. She said she wanted some time to talk to Clark's folks, alone, when he wasn't there. Clark had been suspicious of that, but had agreed to her request.
After a careful scan of the area with his 'vision gizmo' the trio landed in the front yard of the venerable, white-washed farmhouse. Having been forewarned to expect them, Martha and Jonathan were on the porch, waiting, when they touched down. Martha ran out and gave her son a big hug, as Jonathan clapped him on the shoulder.
Martha then turned toward her guests. "I'm so happy to finally get a chance to meet you, both of you."
"It's a pleasure to meet you too, Mrs. Kent." Lois answered shyly.
"Landsakes, we don't stand on any formalities here. I'm Martha, and that's Jonathan." She pointed over her shoulder to where Jonathan stood smiling. "I have to warn you two." Martha leaned in and spoke in a mock conspiratorial tone. "Jonathan is partial to redheads. I was a sort of strawberry blonde myself in my younger days."
Jonathan blushed while they all had a good laugh at his expense. As they headed for the house, Clark stopped and put his hand on Lois so that she stopped also.
"Mom, Lois and I are going to go over to the memorial first, then we'll come back here. I assume we'll be back before mealtime." Clark gave Lucy a calculating look. "Besides, Lucy here, decided she'd like to have a talk with you folks — alone, without me around."
"Really?" Martha gave Lucy a raised brow look, at which she just smiled. "Then we'd better get to it. I'll see you two for dinner." Martha placed her hand on Lois' arm. "Oh, and Lois, I'm looking forward to talking with you also."
As the others watched, Clark, still in his Superman suit, placed his arm around Lois waist and they lifted off. Soon they were out of sight. Martha turned back to Lucy as the three of them headed toward the house.
"Now what is this about wanting to talk with us, alone?"
Clark and Lois landed at the edge of a wooded section of land. The cultivated farmland was several hundred yards behind them and in front was a stand of poplars, and ash. The floor of the hardwood, mini forest was an assortment of tiny wild flowers and grass. The purple and white petals of the little blooms stood out in contrast to the green of the grass in sun dappled spotlights shining through the upper branches of the trees.
Clark spun back into his jeans and pullover shirt, then he and Lois entered the partially shaded refuge. They hadn't walked far when they came upon a clearing. Lois' sharply indrawn breath caused Clark to smile.
"Oh, Clark, it's beautiful."
Within the small clearing was a deep blue pond upon which floated an assortment of water lilies; red, white, pink, and violet. At the far end of the pond was an outcropping of rock. Large rocks and boulders were arranged in a haphazard manner to form a miniature mountain, no more than twelve to fifteen feet high, curving about a third of the way around the small body of water. Near the top, center, of this junior mount was a tiny pool formed by a natural spring, which bubbled forth with an energetic gusto. The tiny pool overflowed it's shallow confines to flow down the rocky face in a tumbling waterfall to the larger pond below. The sun's rays caused the flowing water to sparkle with occasional rainbow-like highlights.
"Welcome to Rocky Cove."
They walked around the edge of the pond until they were as close to the 'rocky cove' part as they could get, without getting wet. Just to the left of the waterfall was a stone that at first glance looked to be part of the general group of boulders, but upon closer inspection was seen to be something different. It rested in what could only be described as a niche in the surrounding rock face. And the surface facing the pond was smooth and flat, with a definite polish to it. Lois could see the writing on the stone face. In a simple print-like script it read; 'Lois Lane' and under that ' She Was Loved'.
Lois swiped away a tear with the back of her hand and looked at Clark. His face was composed; sad, yet calm. "How much of this was natural, and how much did you do?" She let her arm sweep to encompass the wonder before her.
Clark lowered his gaze to her then back to the scene before them. "Most of this has been here as long as I can remember. Dad and I would occasionally fish in the pond until that one particularly harsh winter froze the pond solid, killing off what fish that were left. Lana and I swam here a couple times, but there were much better swimming holes closer to town." Clark paused as if remembering. "I only carved the niche for the stone memorial that I shaped, and added a few more water lilies for some extra color."
"How did you carve the words, heat vision?" She watched as he stuck his thumb up and stroked the nail. "Oh," was all she said.
They both stood there in silence for a few moments until Lois cleared her throat. "Clark, would you mind if… "
"I left you alone for a while?" He smiled.
"Yeah, I'd appreciate a little time alone — here — with her." Lois felt self-conscious but Clark's smile put her at ease.
"I understand. I'll be back in a while." Clark spun back into the suit.
"Thanks." She smiled as he just nodded and soared straight up, and was soon out of sight.
Once Clark was out of sight Lois made her way as close to the memorial stone as she could. She sat down, cross-legged, on the soft grass at the edge of the pond and stared at the stone, her hands clasped tightly together. She didn't move or say anything for a few minutes, she just stared. After a couple of deep breaths she addressed the marker.
"You knew this would happen, didn't you, Lois? You knew that I wouldn't be able to resist, and that I'd fall under his spell." She took another deep breath. "You knew that I'd find him the sweetest, most caring individual I'd ever met, that even with the horror of what he's had to endure, his nobility and desire to help people would still shine through. You knew that…I'd fall in love with him."
Lois plucked some grass from in front of her and rolled it between her fingers. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to be the friend to him that I promised you I'd be, or that he has needed during this time. I guess my being a Lois Lane is just too painful for him to be around. He's gotten better, and more accepting of me as me, but when I remember the haunted looks on his face every time he saw me those first few weeks, I'm amazed he was ever able to stand to be around me. I want to be around him, be there for him in whatever capacity he needs if he'll let me, and if that is only as a friend, so be it. I will accept that. I owe him, and you, so much."
Lois tossed the mangled blades of grass into the pond and watched them float for a few seconds. "I can't thank you enough for the wonderful life you've left for me. Perry is terrific, he reminds me so much of my own lost Perry. He has, unknowingly, provided me with the anchor I needed to get through the early days of assuming your life. Jimmy's a good guy, and we're getting along pretty well now. I think I really had the poor kid confused by my attitude in the beginning, but it took me a little while to separate him from the James Olsen of my world. The weasel who betrayed us all."
A small smile pulled on Lois lips. "I *really* have to thank you for your wonderful sister, Lucy. Even knowing that I'm not you, she has been my life preserver in the sea of confusion that this new life has tossed me into. I know the two of you hadn't seen a lot of each other for the last couple of years, but I know you'd be so proud of her. She's turned out to be one outstanding young woman. Did you know she plans to be mayor of Metropolis some day? I know I wouldn't bet against her chances."
Lois sighed, and bit her lip as a few tears started to fall. "As you probably know, Clark and I got a divorce. I'm sorry to have destroyed your marriage, but I could see no other way. It was causing Clark so much pain to try and pretend to be a loving husband to me. People were beginning to notice that all was not right with the 'perfect partners both in and out of print'. Of course people blamed me, nobody was going to think Clark would've done anything to bust up a marriage he had so obviously desired and cherished. It doesn't matter, I can take it. The opinions of small-minded people don't bother me, as long as the few friends I have believe in me, that's all that matters."
Lois shifted her position so that she was looking out over the pond somewhat, but could still see the stone memorial. "Clark took some time off then, and I think that, coupled with the trip to France Perry forced on him, did him some good. I know thoughts of you are never far from the forefront of his mind, but he is able to react, and interact with people much more normally and naturally now. Only those who know him well can still see the tell tale signs of his pain." More tears began to slide down Lois' cheeks. "I understand why you wanted me to try and be a friend to him, and even why you gave me your 'blessing'. You knew what kind of giving person Clark is, and especially in light of all the pain and horror he has to see as Superman, how much he needs someone just to be there for him. I know that you thought that I might be able to take on that role. Be the one who he can come home to and unburden himself to, and just be able to be comforted by the knowledge that he is loved."
Lois was crying fully now, as she plucked a large pebble from the ground in front of her and angrily tossed it to the center of the pond. "As much as I'd love to be that person, I'm afraid it's not going to happen. I don't think that Clark can ever allow himself to see me in such a light without feeling that he is betraying you in some way. Perhaps his only chance to regain some measure of happiness is with someone totally different. Maybe, Lana can make him live in the present again. He seems to be enjoying her company of late, and they do have a romantic history, of sorts, together. If she's the one, I'm happy for him, really. He's been hurt so bad."
Lois wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "I'll grant you, I've lost a lot, but I have also gained a lot. I've been given a second chance at life. Clark deserves no less. Whatever, or whoever it takes to give him that chance, I'm willing to do whatever I can to help. Even if it means stepping aside so that he can choose someone else." A soft laugh erupted from Lois. "You know, I've never thought of this before, but I guess that's love. Putting the other person's happiness above your own. It's true, I admit it, even to myself, I'm in love with Clark. But it looks like, in order to make him happy, I have to smile as he goes off with someone else."
Lois could hear the sound of Superman landing some distance away. "Gotta go, Lois, thanks for listening. Maybe we'll be able to do this again sometime."
As Martha, Lucy and Jonathan entered the house, Martha led Lucy into the kitchen. She indicated that Lucy should sit at the table.
"Well, Lucy, I know Jonathan has some chores that he has to take care of, but would I do for whatever it is that you wished to talk to us about?"
Lucy smiled. "Sure, that would be fine." Lucy nodded at Jonathan as he excused himself and went out the back door toward the barn.
"So," Martha said, "what's the big secret need to talk with me, alone?"
Lucy took a big breath. "Well, it's not that it's such a secret and all that, it's just that when Clark said he was coming here I asked to come along. I wanted to talk to you about them, and I figured it would be a lot easier if they weren't here."
"Yes, you know, Clark and Lois." Lucy took another breath and plunged ahead. "I know you don't know this Lois at all, but I've had some time with her and I can tell you she is a terrific person. Don't get me wrong, I loved my sister dearly, and I'll never forget her, but we all have to live in the present and I just think that these two could help each other so much and well… what?"
Martha was softly laughing. "I'm sorry, child, but right then you reminded me so much of your sister. When she'd get wound up about something she would barely stop for a breath until she was done." Martha reached over and squeezed Lucy's hand. "I can see a lot of Lois in you, Lucy. You seem to have pulled yourself together pretty well, but tell me, how are you really doing?"
Lucy's smile was a bit sad. "Wow, Lois was right about you." Lucy shook her head as she leaned back in her chair. "Truthfully, I'm doing better than I have any right to be, and I think I owe it all to this Lois. It still hurts when I think about my sister, and what I have lost, but I didn't have time to fixate on that, and wallow in the pain. This Lois needed me, she was a lost soul in need of a friend. It was kind of a new experience for me. To have someone actually *need* my help."
Martha patted Lucy's hand. "From what I've heard, you've been doing a terrific job of it. Clark has been quite impressed by what he's seen, and from what he's told us, I am also."
"Thanks," Lucy's cheeks colored a bit. "But I'd like to know about Clark, how does he feel about her, about this new person who I have no trouble calling sister."
"That's a bit difficult. Perhaps if you told me about this otherworld Lois. What's she like, how you got to be friends, give me some background. Maybe then I can compare that to some of the things Clark has said and see if we can come to any conclusions. I take it you'd like to see them get together."
Lucy smiled and nodded. "Yes, I would."
"Okay, so tell me about Lois."
Lucy spent the next several minutes giving Martha the whole story about how she'd first met Lois at her father's funeral, and the time they'd spent together while dealing with Jefferson Cole, including Lucy's discovery of Clark being Superman. She told Martha of how Lois worried about her when she had been shot, and how she came to value Lucy's friendship in a world where no one was quite who they were supposed to be.
Martha had commented on how tough it must have been for Lois, having to constantly be on guard, not knowing exactly what kind of relationship she had with various people, whether she recognized them or not. Lucy agreed, and pointed out how amazing Lois had been, to be able to function and later even begin to thrive in a life that, at first, wasn't her own. Lucy thought Lois had become fairly comfortable with the composite version of Lois Lane that now existed, even though the divorce had destroyed some of the camaraderie that might once have existed with her co- workers at the Daily Planet.
Lucy kept talking right up to the point of the most recent events with the latest investigation Lois was involved in with Agent Scardino. Lucy had laughed when Martha had wrinkled up her nose at the mention of Scardino's name.
"The bottom line, Martha, is that Lois has fallen in love with Clark." Lucy sighed. "She's convinced that there can never be anything beyond friendship between them because of the specter of my sister which still haunts Clark. I don't think she's even convinced that they can even achieve a strong friendship." Lucy reached out and grabbed Martha's hands. "Oh, Martha, Lois is such a wonderful person, and I hate to see her hurting like this. Is there any chance that Clark will be able to see her for the incredible individual that she is, and give her a chance?" Lucy pulled back again. "Or is he just going to walk zombie-like through the present and continue to live in the past."
Martha studied the young woman for several seconds before answering. "The awful truth, Lucy, is that I don't know." Martha drummed her fingers on the table top. "He's admitted to Jonathan and I that he has been experiencing feelings for her, but he's been trying to convince himself that they are just echoes of the feelings he had for our Lois. He thinks that any deep emotion he might have for this Lois can't be real, because that would be a betrayal of his love for your sister."
Lucy frowned. "Yeah, I've heard that theory too. Lois thinks that if Clark is ever to find some form of happiness in the present again, it will have to be with someone completely different, like Lana."
"Yeah, I'm sure you knew she was in Metropolis with her big deal exhibit." Martha just nodded so Lucy continued. "Well, they've been seeing each other quite a bit, and according to Lois, seem to be more than chummy."
Martha just shook her head back and forth. "Tell you what, Lucy," Martha said as she stood up. "I have to peel some more spuds for dinner, so…"
Martha laughed. "Potatoes?"
"Anyway, you help me peel some more potatoes for dinner, and I'll tell you all about Lana — deal?"
A big smile creased Lucy's face as she stood. "Deal."
Clark approached Lois from behind. He had landed far enough back so that he wouldn't be intruding if she hadn't finished with whatever she had been doing. He made sure that she heard him land, so she would know he was there. As he neared the spot where she was sitting, she levered herself back up to a standing position and turned to face him.
"Hi," she said, a sad smile still on her face.
He could see the redness around her eyes, and the dried tear tracks on her cheeks. "Hi, are you ready to go?"
Lois gave him a long, hard look before she answered. "You know what? My legs are a little cramped from sitting like I did. I think I could use a nice walk to limber them up again."
"Fine, we can…"
"No," she interrupted. "Why don't you stay here for a while. I'm going to head back and you can catch up with me along the way when you're ready."
The corners of Clark's mouth tweaked up just a bit as he looked into Lois' guileless face. "You're sure?" When she nodded he did also. "Thanks."
Clark allowed Lois to get about a hundred yards away before he turned and faced the memorial. He floated over the water of the pond until he was directly in front of the stone. He folded his hands in front of his belt and just stared at the name carved on the memorial for several seconds.
"Hi, honey, it's Clark. I know I haven't been back in a while but things have been pretty hectic back in Metropolis lately. I'm in the middle of a museum theft story with — an old friend. I'm not quite sure what Lois is involved in at the moment, but it involves Scardino so it can't be good."
Clark lowered his gaze for a moment before looking back up at the stone. "I hope you and Lois had a nice talk, she's a pretty special lady herself." He stopped, suddenly choked up, and tears began to steal from the corner of his eyes. "God, I miss you so much. I don't know how I'm supposed to go on without you." Clark sighed. "Everyone says that I need to find a way to move on with my life and try to live in the present, but it's so hard. And it's so confusing."
Clark pulled his legs up under him so that he was floating in a cross- legged sitting position. "I don't think I ever really mentioned Lana Lang to you." For some reason Clark felt the need to clear his throat before he could continue. "She is the old friend whom I'm working the museum theft story with. We grew up together back in Smallville, were good friends for a long time. We even dated some in high school. A lot of folks just assumed we'd get married and raise a bunch of kids right here in Smallville. But that wasn't to be."
Clark paused to collect his thoughts. "You see, I confided my secret to her, and she didn't take it too well. Now, I had always been wary of anyone finding out about my powers. Except for Mom and Dad, I never told anyone about them as they came on while I was growing up, but flying was just too special. I wanted to share the wonder of it with somebody besides my folks, so I told my best friend, Lana. I had expected her to be skeptical, or think I was nuts. I didn't expect her to be afraid of me. From that moment on, our friendship cooled. She kept her distance as we finished out our senior year."
Clark shook his head as he remembered. "She was all hyped to follow in her father's footsteps and become an archeologist, but you know me, I wanted to write, so I had my heart set on journalism. It took us quite some time, pouring over college choices, until we could find one that could satisfy both of us. One where we could each pursue our chosen dreams, yet stay together. After she found out about me, she decided to switch to Kansas State, where her father taught, and we fell out of touch completely. I think that's why I never brought her up to you. After her reaction, I knew I couldn't ever confide in others about my powers. Her fear reinforced my thinking that I would probably have to live my life alone, apart from others, because I would never be able to fit in. I would never be able to be accepted for who I was — until I met you."
Clark ran his hand through his hair. "She came to Metropolis a few days ago, with an exhibit of artifacts that she and her father found on one of their digs. As it turns out one of the artifacts is actually something from ancient Krypton, and it has been stolen. It has turned into quite a story, though we are stalled a bit right now, but she and I have been seeing each other a lot lately. I think you might have liked her. She is still a sweet gal, and we've had fun together, reminiscing, and talking over old times. She's been out of touch for quite a while, so she had very little knowledge of Superman, and his exploits. I spent much of last night regaling her with old Superman, and Lois and Clark stories."
Clark stopped and took a deep breath before continuing. "Something happened last night. Well not exactly, I mean nothing actually happened, but…" Clark paused and took another breath. "What I mean is, Lana asked to stay over, in my hotel room last night. I know she wanted me to make love to her, but I couldn't, it wouldn't have been right. I'm very fond of her, and we've had fun together this past week, but I just don't love her — in that way — the way I loved you… and god help me, Lois."
Clark gasped when he realized he'd said loved. His use of the past tense scared him. He choked back a sob, and clenched his fists.
"I'm so confused by this. You know I don't love you any less, I couldn't, but for some reason, I can't help but have feelings for this other Lois. The woman I brought back to this world is so much like you, yet she isn't. She is a remarkable person in her own right. She has incredible strengths and passions, yet she seems so forgiving of others. She has endured the hardships of nearly four years of imprisonment, which has made her more introspective, but surprisingly not bitter. Her personal life, from what she's said, is nearly a blank slate."
Clark drew in a ragged breath. "I know it's crazy, I know it must be some part of my subconscious mind confusing her with you, but she's *not* you, and I know she's not you!" Clark's voice suddenly got very quiet. "So, if I know she's not you, how is it that whenever I see her, or are around her, I get those feelings? The ones I got the first time I set eyes on you, my love. How is it that I want to brush away her tears, and embrace her and tell her that everything will be all right? How can I feel some of that same completeness, that I could only feel with you, with her?"
Clark held out his arms in a beseeching manner. "This is tearing me apart. How can I have similar feelings for two women and not be betraying one of them? How can my feelings for this other woman be anything less than a betrayal of the love we shared, a love that was so pure and so perfect?" Clark dropped his head, not able to look at the stone. "Yet, if these feelings I'm experiencing for this Lois, aren't merely shadow emotions for someone who is gone, can't it be said that I am betraying her with that denial… and me?"
Clark floated silently above the pond for many minutes. His head bent, tear filled eyes staring unseeing at the water below him. His ragged breath gradually calmed and steadied, as he allowed his levitating body to move toward the shoreline. Once over solid ground he straightened his legs and touched down on the soft grasses.
He used the edge of his cape to wipe the tearstains from his face, then spun into the typical, Clark, jeans and tee shirt. Lifting his head to spy Lois' location on the path toward the farm house, he began to follow at a leisurely pace. Besides, he admitted to himself as the sadly cynical thought came to him, it's not as if this Lois has ever indicated that she wanted anything more than to be his friend. A friendship she needed to help her in her role as this world's Lois Lane. It was her idea to get the divorce, after all… and now she had Scardino. Shaking his head, Clark followed the path that Lois had taken, but was in no hurry to catch up.
Martha stepped out onto the front porch after she had spied Clark and Lois coming up the front walk. "Hey you two, get a move on, it's almost time to eat, and I'm sure you'll want to wash up beforehand."
With a grin on his face, Clark gestured for Lois to precede him as they stepped onto the porch and on into the house. Within minutes all five of them were seated around a table laden down with country home cooking. Aside from the golden, roasted chicken, there were mashed potatoes, corn and peas, and a fresh tossed salad. Bread, warm and fragrant from the oven, sat on a cutting board waiting to be sliced, along with a pan of freshly baked corn bread and a large tub of butter sitting next to it. Lois and Lucy just stared at the table like it was something from another planet. Neither, as they'd grown up, had experienced something like this outside of a major holiday.
"Well don't just sit there looking at it," Martha laughed. "Dig in, before these two," she waved at her 'boys', "have it all eaten."
Lois just looked at Martha like she had said something incomprehensible, while Lucy giggled. Soon the Lane sisters were helping themselves to the delights of 'home cooking'.
"So, Lois, I hear you are working on some big story with that Agent Scardino." Martha commented between mouthfuls of corn bread.
Lois took the time to finish chewing and swallowing, to allow herself to frame an answer. "Well, I don't know how big a story it's going to be. We can't seem to get any real leads. Bobby Bigmouth, my source," Lois added quickly, seeing Jonathan's raised brow at the mention of the name, "he knows that something big is going down soon, but not much else. He can't give us a when or where." She forked in another mouthful of potatoes. "Dan thinks it's going to be a big arms sale but that's about it."
"Oh, Clark, hush up and let Lois tell the story." Martha admonished.
"They suspect this guy, Salvador Dark, who Dan has had a run in with before." Clark got a pensive look on his face as Lois continued her narrative. "That's why ATF, asked for his help. They think his past experience with Dark will give him an edge, but it hasn't worked out so far. We haven't been able to tie Dark to anything, let alone gun running. We aren't even sure that he's in Metropolis."
Lucy quickly swallowed a forkful of corn so she could join the conversation. "Lois, tell them about your connection." Lucy turned to the others. "This is really weird!"
"Lucy." Lois gave her 'sister' a stern look.
"No, really, you should tell them. I thought it was kind of spooky."
"It was nothing, really." Lois glanced up and saw the looks of curiosity on the faces of the elder Kents, and Clark's frown. She knew she was beaten. "Okay, it's probably nothing. Clark knows that something in my dimension doesn't necessarily correspond to this one. There are so many differences that I should never have brought it up. I'm sure it means nothing. Just an odd coincidence, nothing more."
Martha smiled. "So, dear, are you going to actually tell us, or just skate around the issue all day?"
Lois blushed. "Well, just before Clark met me I had been rescued from an African prison by my world's Superman." They all knew the story so they just nodded and Lois continued. "I was following some leads I'd gotten on what I thought was going to be a big story, a gun running story." Lois took an extra breath. "The man my sources told me was behind it was a particularly nasty fellow. A man named Salvador Dark."
"That can't be good."
Clark hadn't calmed down from his initial exclamation. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Lois' gaze spoke volumes but she chose to speak anyway. "Why should I? It was my story." She spoke in even, measured tones, as if explaining to someone of lesser faculties. "You were working on your own story, which I might add, you saw no reason to enlighten me on." Lois shook her head and sighed. "Besides, I'm sure it's just a coincidence. And like I said, Dan and I aren't even sure this Dark character is even in Metropolis."
Before Clark could form a response, Lucy chimed in. "But we'll soon solve that problem. I start work for him on Monday."
"What!" Three Kent voices all exclaimed at once.
"Hey, you guys should try that in harmony next time." Lucy giggled.
Still frustrated by Lois' comments, Clark gave Lucy a serious look. "I don't know about this. It could be pretty dangerous for someone who doesn't know what she's doing." Clark looked over toward Lois. "Didn't you tell her she shouldn't get involved?"
Lois threw up her hands, but Lucy answered. "Oh, Lois did try to *warn* me of the possible danger, but I pointed out to her that I was an adult, and as such, was capable of making decisions for myself. I know you have this need to protect Lane women, and I know that you've had this conversation with my sister in the past, and with Lois here, not to long ago. I guess it was inevitable that we have it also."
Martha laughed. "Oh no, dear, he has that problem with everyone."
Lucy smiled. "Well, anyway, the least you can do is give me credit for enough smarts to know what I'm getting into. I'm not invulnerable, so I doubt I'll be throwing myself in front of a speeding train just to see if I'm more powerful than a locomotive." Lucy stopped for a breath. "I figure that through sheer chance I've been put in an enviable position here. I'm just the danged receptionist, but if by chance I can overhear something that Lois can use in her investigation, great. If not, oh well, I can still use the paycheck for the time being."
"Makes sense to me, son, especially if she can help Lois avoid some extra danger."
"Thank you, Jonathan." Lucy favored the elder Kent with a dazzling smile. He blushed.
Clark frowned, but gave up and didn't say anymore. He turned his attention back to his plate as did everyone else. The rest of the meal was confined to eating and small talk.
Martha asked Lois and Lucy about their apartment and was surprised to find that it was in Clark's old building. They commiserated with each other over the hassles of coordinating several rooms on a budget, and Jonathan's eyes lit up when he heard about Lois' new car. But the real surprise came when Lois asked Martha about some of the cooking details of the delicious meal they were enjoying. Martha was delighted to find out that this Lois could actually cook.
Soon the meal was over, and everyone was so stuffed that they had to beg off on the fresh-baked apple pie. It was decided that they would have it later that afternoon. Martha got up and with an air of command began to get things moving.
"Clark, I think your father would like you to help him out in the barn this afternoon. Wouldn't you Jonathan?" Martha said, all the while staring at Jonathan.
Over thirty years of marriage allowed Jonathan to pick up his cues without hesitation. "That's right, I think I might have bent an axle on the tractor yesterday. I'd appreciate your help in checking it out."
Clark wasn't fooled by his mother's machinations at all. She wanted to talk to Lois, alone. "Sure, dad, I'd be happy to look it over. Heck, maybe there are a few other things we can look over as long as I'm here." Clark smiled at his mother, letting her know he was on to her.
The two men excused themselves, and were soon on their way out to the barn. Lois, quite aware of what had just happened, looked over toward Martha expectantly, as Martha quickly began to gather the leftover food from the table.
"Help me clear away this mess, so we can have some time for a real chat."
Within a very short time the three women, working in concert, had the table cleared, the leftovers put away, and the dishes washed and left on the drying rack. Soon they all found themselves in the living room, seated comfortably. Lois and Lucy had taken spots on the large, inviting couch, while Martha opted for her favorite old wingback chair. They all had steaming cups of tea in front of them. Lucy looked at hers a little askance, but followed the crowd. Lois had always preferred coffee, but often found tea relaxing. Martha had been a tea drinker from way back, and had passed the habit onto her son.
"So, Lois, if it wouldn't be considered prying, tell me a little about yourself."
'Here it comes', thought Lois. She had steeled herself for this once she saw how Martha had gotten Clark out of the way. Time for the third degree. Time to find out about this impostor from another world who dared step into the shoes of a beloved daughter-in-law. Lois found herself rubbing her hands against her slacks as she tried to figure the best way to answer the older woman's request.
Martha noticed Lois' discomfort. "Before we start, though, tell me about the red hair. I assume it is dark brown normally?"
Lois was slightly taken aback by the abrupt subject change. "Well — when Clark first brought me here from my world, I had only recently been released from nearly four years of imprisonment. Yes my hair was dark brown, and it was quite long, nearly to my waist."
"The last time I remember Lois with hair that long she was in junior high." Lucy volunteered. "Suddenly one day she cut it to shoulder length. She never told me why, but the rumor was that she lost a bet to some blonde bimbo of a cheerleader. She liked it, so she never grew it out long after that."
Martha gave Lucy a sidelong glance. "I'm sure it looked lovely, dear, please continue."
Lois smiled at Lucy's blush of embarrassment over her interruption. "Once Clark and I came to an agreement about my substituting for the Lois of this world I made an appointment to get it cut like Lois wore hers." Lois' eyes unfocused a little as she remembered the day. "Once the job had been done, I realized how much I actually looked like Clark's departed Lois. Knowing what a hard time he was having accepting her loss, and how just seeing me, looking like his wife, but knowing I'm not her hurt him, I just couldn't do it." Lois shrugged her shoulders. "So I went back and had the stylist give me a look that was totally different. That way, I thought, Clark would be less inclined to confuse me with his own lost love. Truthfully, I don't think it helped much, but I had to give it a shot." A smile crept onto Lois' face. "After a while I got used to the color, and decided to keep it."
Lois noticed a tear sliding down Martha's cheek. She reached over and took her hand. "What's wrong?"
Martha gave Lois a warm smile. "If I don't ever find out anything else, I've heard enough right there to tell me everything I need to know about you." Martha gave Lois' hand a squeeze. "After coming from the horror of seeing your world destroyed, and facing a frightening, unknown future, you still think of the feelings of others. I think that speaks volumes as to the kind of person you are."
Lois leaned back and couldn't help smiling. Suddenly, all her apprehensions were gone, and she found it easy to open up to this warm, caring woman. It was easy to see how Clark turned out the way he did. So it was that Lois found herself telling Martha her life story and not feeling one bit uncomfortable about it, either.
The undrunk tea was cold, and the sun no longer shone directly in the living room window when Lois finally ended her tale. Martha sat back in her chair with a smile on her face. She looked over at a grinning Lucy and gave her a nod.
"Now, Lois, I want you to know that I appreciate your sharing your self with me." Martha gave her a smile of reassurance. "I also want you to know that I am in no way sitting in judgment of you, or your life, nor do I have any right to do so. I just felt that since you are supposed to be my former daughter-in-law, I would like to know a little about you, and what your plans are."
"Well, Lucy did tell me a little about how you feel about Clark."
Lois stared daggers at Lucy but she just grinned. "I'm afraid that Lucy may have been sticking her nose into someplace that it doesn't belong. I thought I was telling her a confidence."
Martha smiled. "So what she told me is…not true."
"The truth of what, or how, I feel is not what matters. What matters is how Clark feels, and I think I can safely say that…"
The abrupt ringing of the phone interrupted Lois. She sighed as if reprieved while Martha got up to answer the phone. Both Lois, and Lucy, could hear her side of the conversation from the other room.
"Hello — Oh hi, Lana — what? Yes, Clark's here. He's out in the barn with his father. Would you like me to get him for you? — Oh, okay. Can I tell him what it's about? Okay then, dear, I'll be sure to tell him." Martha hung up, and came back into the room with a strange look on her face.
Lois' curiosity was perked. "Is there something wrong?"
Martha's distracted look vanished as she acknowledged Lois' question. "No, nothing's wrong, exactly. That was Lana. She wants Clark to call her when he comes in. She sounded worried about something."
"About what do you think?" Lois asked.
"That's just it, she didn't want to say, she just wanted Clark to call her."
Lois knitted her brows. "I wonder if it's something to do with that museum theft they are working on together."
Martha shrugged as the three women looked at each other for a moment, and finally Lucy spoke up. "I sure hope it only has to do with the theft story."
"What? Why?" Lois looked over at her 'sister'.
"Well, we sure don't want it to be personal, do we?"
Clark and Jonathan came in after a few hours of tinkering with machinery in the barn, so that everyone could have their delayed apple pie and ice cream dessert. Martha had informed Clark as to Lana's call. Not having any idea why she would call, he called her back immediately.
Everyone pretended not to be listening, but all were understandably curious and tried to keep an ear peeled. Clark was a bit self-conscious about the call, he snuck a quick glance at Lois but she appeared to be teasing Jonathan, something about giving Martha the number of the hair color she and Lucy used.
"Hello, Lana, it's Clark. Your earrings? Sure I can check my room. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be able to find them. If you left them there this morning, I'll find them, trust me." Clark looked over his shoulder and noticed everyone was just staring at him. "Ah, Lana, I've got to go now. I'll look for them tonight when I get back, bye."
Clark felt all their eyes on him. He felt his face getting hot. He knew the minute it slipped out that the 'this morning' reference was going to make them all wonder. He felt a little anger rise above his chagrin. Nothing had happened, he didn't owe them any explanation. So why should he feel like he did? Sure, if it was just him and his folks he would explain everything, but with Lois and Lucy there, he rebelled, his stubborn streak kicked in. After all, Lois didn't deem it necessary to fill him in on all her comings and goings with Scardino, did she?
He knew he was being obstinate when he turned to face them, but he couldn't help himself. They all just stood there staring at him. "What! So she forgot her earrings in my hotel room last night. So what?"
Martha came over and patted him on the hand. "Nobody said anything dear, come on, sit down and let's have our dessert."
Once they were all seated, Clark sullenly avoided looking directly at everyone and stared at the table top as he silently ate his pie and ice cream.
Lois had immediately engaged Jonathan in conversation about the rigors of farming as soon as they had sat down at the table. With little additional urging, he managed to monopolize the conversation during dessert. Once the pie had been eaten and compliments were given, Lois announced that they should be getting back. Even though it was the weekend, she still had to figure out a direction for attack on the story, and she should probably try to contact Dan, sometime.
It was a much more subdued trip back to Metropolis. It got gradually darker as they flew east and it seemed to mirror the mood of Clark and his two passengers. Nobody seemed much in the mood to do any talking and if anyone did venture to comment on a landmark, or ask about some feature they flew over, they were inevitably met with short, terse answers. Lucy never opened her mouth at all.
So, in moody silence, they left behind the setting sun and Clark deposited his charges outside their apartment shortly after dark. Both Lois and Lucy thanked Clark for the trip, Lois giving Clark's hand a little squeeze, then turned to the steps to their front door. They heard rather than saw Clark's exit. Within a few moments both women were inside and flopped down on chosen pieces of furniture.
"How could he?" Lucy wailed.
Lois frowned at Lucy. "How could he what?"
"How could Clark sleep with, with — her!" Lucy's arm flailed about, emphasizing her extreme displeasure.
Lois shrugged. "We don't know that he slept with her, and even if he did, why not? He's a big boy. Apparently he likes her, and she him. Of course, if she didn't she'd have to have her head examined." Lois stood and stretched. "Frankly, if she can make him happy, if she can help him forget his pain, even for a little while, then I say more power to them."
"What!" Lucy exclaimed. "You're not angry that this blonde bimbo from his past is coming here and beating your time with the man you profess to love?"
Lois sighed and came over and sat next to Lucy on the love seat. "First of all, she is not a bimbo. Lana is a highly respected archeologist, and an old high school sweetheart of Clark's. And second, no matter what I may think or feel, I have no time with Clark to be beaten. Clark has made it pretty obvious since day one that he could never be anything more than a friend to me. It's just too painful for him, brings back too many memories that are best left buried." Lois turned away from Lucy and leaned back, staring at the ceiling. "Truthfully, if I thought that I could count on him to continue to be a friend to me, I guess I could be satisfied."
"Well, I'm not." Lucy screwed her face up into a fierce frown. "This doesn't make sense. It goes against what Martha told me."
Lois raised a brow and fixed Lucy with her stare. "And that would be?"
Lucy squirmed under Lois' gaze. "Well, you already know that I talked to Martha about you and Clark."
"Yes, and we'll discuss that later — go on."
"Anyway, I mentioned to Martha how worried I was about this Lana Lang person coming out of the past, and if she represented a threat to the two of you." Lois was going to say something but just shook her head and allowed Lucy to continue. "Martha didn't seem to think so. She told me that even though Lana was beautiful and intelligent, she was somewhat shallow and self-absorbed. She tends to become consumed by what *she* is interested in, and is doing, with little regard to whether the other person cares or not. I guess she was like her father that way."
Lucy got up and started to pace. "So, Martha was not surprised that she went off and followed in her father's footsteps. It suited her. Clark and Lana grew up together and became friends almost by default. Clark was necessarily shy and introverted because of his insecurities over being different. Lana just didn't relate to others very well. Oh, she could be charming and was more outgoing than Clark, but whereas Clark genuinely cared about others, Lana rarely made the effort to really get to know someone." Lucy took a breath. "Did you know that she knows about Clark's powers?"
Both Lois' brows shot up. "No, I didn't. But I guess it makes sense that she would." Lois laughed humorlessly. "I can't seeing Clark sleeping with someone without telling them."
"Yeah, well," Lucy continued. "I guess she didn't take it so well, because right after he told her they stopped seeing a lot of each other. Clark never told Martha what actually happened, but their plans to attend the same college suddenly were no more, and the two of them went off to different schools. Clark and Lana lost touch with each other and that was that. Martha said she would occasionally exchange a letter with Lana, but nothing more." Lucy stopped and looked at Lois. "Martha told me that even though Clark and Lana had managed to become good friends over the years, she never saw them as a true couple. They never seemed to have that spark, together."
Lois shook her head. "Well, it looks like she was wrong, doesn't it."
Lois stood, stretched for a moment, then found herself over by the phone. She stared at the instrument for several seconds. Tucked under one corner was a slip of paper. On that slip of paper was Dan Scardino's hotel phone number. She knew she should get in touch with him, schedule a time to get together to talk over what they had and where they were going with this investigation of Dark.
She reached for the handset, but pulled back. Shaking her head, she walked back into the living room. Tomorrow would be soon enough, she figured. Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted by a rhythmic knocking on the front door. Lois gave Lucy a pained look, then turned to answer it.
"Come on in, Dan," Lois said as she opened the door and stepped back to allow him to enter.
He gave her a puzzled look as he entered. "How'd you know it was me?"
"I'm psychic." Lois closed the door behind him. "Or, maybe it was the silly 'shave and a haircut' knock that gave it away.
Dan had the decency to blush but Lois ignored it. "So what brings you over, tonight? Did you find us a couple of hot leads, have a break in the case? Did Dark confess, and turn himself in?"
Dan eyed Lois carefully. "Nothing of any consequence. We found out that the jet that Dark Enterprises timeshares with several other companies was used this morning, but as yet we haven't been able to confirm whether or not Dark was on it."
Lois frowned. "That should be easy enough for the government. A couple of phone calls should get you the flight plan."
Dan shook his head. "We're working on it, but it's the weekend, remember." Dan looked a bit embarrassed, and had to clear his throat. "That's not the main reason I came over."
Dan seemed uncomfortable, he kept glancing back and forth between Lois and Lucy. "Ah — could we go for a walk?"
Immediately Lois' experienced that sinking feeling. She thought she knew where this was going to go, and she wasn't looking forward to it. She saw the puppy dog earnestness in Dan's face and knew that she wouldn't be able to avoid it. Might as well get it over with, she thought. It would be good to get it all out in the open, and establish the ground rules for their working relationship.
"Sure," she said as she reached for a light jacket hanging on the coat rack.
"So, how long should I wait before I call the police to come look for you two?" Lucy asked smirking.
Lois gave her her smirk right back. "Dan here is a highly decorated, government agent. I think I'm in pretty capable hands, don't you?"
"I'll give you three hours." Lucy said with mock sternness.
Lois glanced back over her shoulder as they stepped through the doorway. "Make it two."
Lois and Dan quickly reached the sidewalk and turned toward downtown. If either one of them would have thought to look up at that moment they might have caught sight of a small speck of red and blue high in the night sky. The tiny spot of color stayed motionless for a few moments as it watched the pair walking toward the center of town, then it sped off, too fast for eyes to follow.
They strolled together in a comfortable silence. Lois wasn't about to be the one to start the conversation. This was Dan's party and Lois wasn't going to make it any easier on him then she had to. It wasn't that she was trying to be mean to Dan, or anything like that. It was just that she didn't want to put any words in his mouth for him. Whatever he had to say to her, had to be from his own mind.
Very soon they found themselves at Centennial Park. Dan steered her toward the fountain and indicated that they should sit there at the edge of the fountain's bowl.
"I suppose you're wondering why I asked you here today." Dan tried to lighten the mood with one of his dazzling grins but Lois just looked up at him. "Ah, yeah, right, okay, here goes." Dan took a deep breath. "It's really been great to see you again, Lois." He paused again. "I have never tried to hide how I've felt about you, or that I was disappointed that you choose Kent over me." Dan shook his head. "That one I'll never figure out — but anyway, when I read about your divorce I have to admit that a little devil inside of me was jumping up and down with glee."
Dan shifted his position so that he was more directly facing Lois. "Don't get me wrong. I never wanted you to be unhappy, it's just that I thought that you'd finally had enough of Mr. Lack of Commitment running out on you. I have to say, I was surprised he sat still long enough for the two of you to get married." A thoughtful look suddenly came over Dan. "Now that I think of it, wasn't there some sort of problem with the wedding originally anyway?"
"It's a long story, and it had nothing with Clark, or any commitment problems." Lois didn't offer any more.
Dan frowned. "Right, well when this case came up and gave me a chance to get back to Metropolis I was thrilled. The thought of seeing you again was intoxicating."
Lois raised a brow. "I thought you needed my Metropolis contacts?"
Dan was beginning to get a bit flustered. "That too, but I really wanted to be able to see you again, to be able to see if there would be any — you know."
Lois shook her head. "Any what?"
Dan stood up and paced in front of Lois. "You are purposely making this hard aren't you?" He looked into Lois' face and a slow smile spread across his face. "Okay, flat out, Lois, I'm crazy about you. I have been since the day I met you. Even after you rejected me that first time, I still think about you, all the time." Dan took a deep breath. "What I need to know is, would you consider seeing me again, romantically, that is?"
Lois paused as she saw Dan's expectant look. "No," she said simply.
"No?" Dan grimaced at the quick coldness of her response. "That's it, just no?"
Lois sighed. "Dan, you're a nice guy, a cute guy, but not the guy for me. Whatever I may have felt for you back when we did date, I don't feel any more. I'm a different person now. Times change, things change, people change." She stood and grabbing his hand, gave it a squeeze. "I have no desire to hurt you, but what you want I don't have in me anymore to give. Can you handle just being temporary working partners — and friends?"
Dan's head dropped to his chest for several moments before he raised it back up to look into Lois' face. "It's still Kent, isn't it? You get divorced, but you still love him." Lois opened her mouth to say something but Dan placed his finger over her lips. "No, don't bother to deny it. Whatever hold that man has on you, it's bigger than rational thought…or me."
A somewhat bitter laugh erupted from Dan. "If being your friend is my only option, I accept that. But let me give you a word of advice from someone who's lost a couple of people he cares a great deal about."
He lead her back to the fountain and they both sat. "This thing you have with Kent, either fix it and get back together permanently, or make a completely clean break of it. It is the only way you will ever be satisfied. You can never be happy with a half way, one-sided relationship. Believe me, I know."
Lois didn't answer, and the two of them sat there in companionable silence for several minutes. Finally, Dan stood and turned to Lois, offering her his hand.
"Well I suppose I should be getting you back before Lucy calls the police."
Lois smiled a sad smile as she took his hand, allowing him to help her up. "Yeah, I guess we should."
Without further conversation, the two of them turned, and began to walk in the direction of Lois' apartment.
Jimmy found himself whistling while he was working in the darkroom at the Planet.
His date last night with Angie had been great, and they had agreed to get together tonight for a little pizza and a video. Jimmy was anxious to finish up these particular photos and get back to his apartment, so he could make sure it would be perfect for the casual get together.
Jimmy often came in on Sunday afternoon to finish up work on any outstanding photos he had to do. During the week he was usually too busy, doing research for the reporters, to get much time in the dark room. Once the Sunday edition was on the streets the Daily Planet shifted to a skeleton crew, so it was usually pretty quiet and much less hectic. It gave him the peace he needed to do the photo developing, without all the interruptions associated with a normal day at the Daily Planet.
Suddenly the door to the darkroom was flung open, and the main, overhead light was flipped on. "Hey Jimbo, you in here, buddy?"
Jimmy was shocked, and angry. Even Ralph should have known not to open the door when the red light was shining outside. Now all the work he had just done was ruined. He glared at the incompetent reporter.
"You idiot! Don't you know better than to barge into a darkroom when someone is working?" Jimmy was trying to hold onto his temper.
Ralph grinned stupidly. "Gosh, sorry, I was just wondering, since you were here and I was here, if you'd like to go out and have some lunch together?" Ralph walked up to Jimmy and grabbed his wrist. "Hey, isn't this that special watch you use to call Superman with?"
Jimmy was struck speechless. 'What was Ralph doing here?' he thought. He and Ralph didn't go out to lunch together. Jimmy was under the impression that Ralph disliked Jimmy as much as Jimmy did him. Jimmy's mouth opened and closed a couple times before he was able to get words out.
"No, this is not that Superman watch. I keep that locked away in my desk, and no, I don't want to go out and have lunch with you. I need to get some things done here, and then I have a date. Now I have twice the work to do, because you just ruined all the prints I was just working on. Please leave me alone, go on and have lunch with someone else." Jimmy turned away in disgust and subsequently didn't see Ralph pull the gun from his waistband.
"Oh, Jimbo, I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist. And I think that we should stop at your desk and get that special little watch of yours, also."
"Ralph?" Jimmy just stared in open mouthed incomprehension at the Smith and Weston automatic which rested in Ralph's hand.
The tone of Ralph's voice changed completely as he waved the gun from Jimmy toward the door. If Jimmy hadn't been staring right at him he would never have known it was actually Ralph.
"Come on, kid, I don't have time to screw around here. Let's just get your butt in gear and not try anything stupid on the way out." Jimmy began to open his mouth but Ralph cut him off. "And no questions until we're out of here.
Half an hour later, Jimmy found himself standing in an alley, behind an old warehouse down near the piers. Ralph had ushered Jimmy outside and into a waiting car. The driver had been the sour-faced man that Jimmy had seen Ralph talking to just yesterday. Ralph shoved Jimmy hard, up against the wall of the building.
"My boss has a use for you, but he didn't say you had to be in perfect condition." Ralph threw a vicious right hand into Jimmy's stomach. "You know, of all the sycophantic jerks in that stinking newsroom, I think I hated you the worst." Ralph connected with a left hook to Jimmy's jaw which caused his head to crack back into the wall. "You were nothing more than a glorified gopher, yet you were one of Perry's prized pets."
As Jimmy tried to shake the stars out of his eyes Ralph saw him begin to open his mouth. "Oh no you don't." Ralph landed a savage punch to Jimmy's throat, effectively traumatizing the larynx and stunning the vocal chords. "No fair calling on your super buddy to help you." Ralph shoved Jimmy hard, back against the wall.
Jimmy pushed himself away from the wall as he stumbled forward and launched his own punch in Ralph's direction. Laughter was all he heard as Ralph deftly sidestepped the clumsy assault and countered with a doubled up fist to the back of his neck. Jimmy went down in a heap. Ralph stood over him.
"Come on, get up you little wimp. What's the matter, can't beat goofy old Ralph?" A savage kick to the ribs elicited a moan from Jimmy. "Yeah, good old annoying, obnoxious Ralph. No one would ever take seriously the inept, clumsy, third rate reporter screw up." Another kick to the ribs rolled Jimmy completely over. "No one ever bothered to find out that this goofy guy grew up in Suicide Slum, and had to fight his way out of the meanest part of this city. And do you know how I did that, pretty boy?" The crack of a back hand slap across Jimmy's face echoed off the aging brick walls around them. "I did it by being tougher, and smarter than the rest of them." Ralph glanced up at the tall, dour-faced man who stood off to one side, viewing the carnage. "And by picking the right friends."
Ralph grabbed a double handful of Jimmy's shirt and pulled him to a half-reclining position. He stuck his face right down next to Jimmy's.
"I'm going to have some fun with you, pretty boy. Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to kill you, that's not my call. But I am going to beat you so bad you are going to cry for your momma, and beg me to end it for you."
Jimmy was having some trouble breathing. At least one of his ribs was cracked. An ironic thought passed quickly through his mind. It was too bad Ralph had taken his signal watch, he sure could use it now. Jimmy shook off that defeatist thinking. Hadn't he fought off his own father, the spy, once. Surely he could, at least, get in a few licks of his own against this thug, who used to be Ralph the screwup reporter.
"You, bastard." Jimmy croaked barely above a whisper as, with his last bit of energy, he threw and landed a right cross that actually snapped Ralph's head back a bit.
Ralph just smiled at Jimmy. It was an evil smile, and it sent a shiver down Jimmy's spine. It was the kind of smile you'd see on a vicious predator just before they made the kill. Jimmy was already spent. He just closed his eyes and tried to brace himself against the inevitable.
Ralph proceeded to brutally beat Jimmy until Ralph's breath came in great, ragged gulps. He had literally tired himself out beating up the unprotesting Jimmy Olsen.
Both Jimmy's eyes were swollen shut, his face badly bruised, and at least one tooth had been broken. Along with many bruises to his body, a couple of ribs were broken and he had a possible cracked knee cap. Jimmy lay motionless among the dirt and filth of the alley, the sound of his labored breathing the only indication that he was still alive.
Ralph looked over at the tall, sour-faced fellow and with a nod of his head indicated Jimmy. The two of them stooped over and, each pulling an arm over their shoulders, dragged the unconscious young man back toward the car.
Clark waited till nearly noon before he approached the door to Lana's hotel room. His knock was firmer than he felt. He didn't know why he felt uneasy coming over like this. His plan had been to return her earrings, which he had found, and then maybe over lunch they could discuss the museum theft some more. Come up with some course of action.
The door opened and Lana stood there dressed for work. She had on jeans and a pullover, her hair was pulled back behind her ears and she had a pair of reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. She saw the pair of earrings in his hand.
"Oh, good, you found them!" She deftly plucked them from his hand. "I'm so glad you did, I was beside myself when I discovered them gone. They were a gift from my father. The thought of having lost them put me in a virtual panic. I wasn't sure where… "
"Can I come in?"
Lana blushed and moved back out of the doorway, allowing Clark to enter. He noticed her laptop was on, and several folders were scattered across the bed.
"What are you working on?" Clark inquired indicating the clutter on her bed.
"Oh, just going over some figures on the dig. You know, cost analysis of what we still need over what we will take in from the exhibit. Also, adding in the grants and figuring where best to publish our findings. That sort of thing."
"I'm impressed. I never took you for someone who liked to deal with numbers."
Lana's laugh had an ironic edge to it. "I don't, but someone has to do it and Dad is terrible at it. He can't keep his focus on this stuff long enough to really do the job right." Lana held her hand up. "I know what you are going to say. Why not hire a professional numbers man to do this?"
Clark smiled. "Well, yeah, if you really don't like it."
"Dad tried that once. It was a disaster. As you probably know, our resources vary a great deal over time, and for that reason our budget has to be in a constant state of flux. We have to be able to shift resources to the most needed, and most important, areas quickly. Our accountant only saw things in black and white, he had no idea what we were doing so all his decisions would be based on objective gain verses loss calculations. It was decided that someone who knew what the actual objectives of a particular dig were, should be in charge of where the money would be best spent. As I said, it wasn't Dad's forte, so I got elected."
"I understand, but I'm still impressed." Clark found himself leaning against the wall watching her.
Lana scooped up some of the files and laid them on the nightstand. "I really appreciate your coming over and bringing me my earrings, but it wasn't necessary. A call letting me know you had found them, would have been enough. We could have made some arrangement to meet and exchange them at a time convenient for both of us."
"It was no problem, really." Clark studied Lana for a moment. "Just out of curiosity, how did you know I was at my folks'? It was somewhat a spur of the moment decision to go."
"I didn't, really. After I couldn't reach you at your hotel, or at the Planet, that was the next logical place." Lana gave Clark a sideways look. "Is there a problem with me calling you there?"
Clark could almost swear that there was a touch of hurt in Lana's voice. "No, not at all," he was quick to reassure her. "I was just wondering."
"Oh, well, as I said, thanks for bringing them over right away, but it really wasn't necessary."
Clark found himself wondering what to do with his hands. "Well, I thought that we could get some lunch and discuss the museum theft some more. Maybe come up with an angle, some plan of attack to follow, in hopes of turning it up."
Lana stared hard at Clark for several moments. "Do you think that would be a good idea?"
Clark was confused. "What do you mean?"
"Well Inspector Henderson told us that he didn't have any leads yet, but if he did find out something he would let us know." She stood and wandered over to the window. "That wouldn't give us much to talk about at lunch, would it? It would then become a social occasion, and I'm not sure that we should be together on a purely social basis." She turned away from him and stared out the window. "You made it perfectly clear the other night how you feel about me."
Clark groaned inwardly. "Lana, please don't do this. We are old friends. Why can't friends go out and have lunch together? Why can't they go out and have a few laughs now and then?" Clark ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Lana, just because I couldn't…you know, doesn't mean I'm not your friend, that I'm not still very fond of you."
"Crap, Clark, you can't even say it. Am I so unattractive that you can't imagine making love to me? I know you are not a virgin anymore, you couldn't possibly be, I've met Lois. What's the big problem with two people, who you claim are fond of each other, sharing a special moment? What's so wrong about enjoying an intimate experience with a close friend? Clark, I wasn't asking you to marry me!"
"Give me a break here, Lana. I haven't been divorced that long. I'm sorry if I led you on, or hurt you in anyway, but I just couldn't — give you what you wanted." He dropped his head. "Not now, not yet."
Lana walked back over to him and placed her hand on his chest. "Clark, you act like a widower, not like someone who's gone through a divorce. You and Lois decided that life apart was preferable to life together. You have to move on." Lana turned back and sat on the bed, looking up at Clark. "Oh, I get it now. How could I have been so stupid." Lana used the cliched hand to the forehead gesture. "The divorce wasn't your idea, was it? You are still in love with her. That's why you can't move on. You're still carrying a torch for your dear, sweet Lois." She stood again and looked him in the eye. "I dare you to deny that you still love her."
Clark turned away. "It doesn't matter what I do or don't feel for Lois. What's done is done, she has moved on with her life."
Lana placed her hand on Clark's chest again. "And so should you, Clark." She snuggled up tight to his chest. "I want you to know that all the problems we had as kids are in the past. I've had time to realize what a mistake I made when I ran away." She slid her hand up alongside his face.
"Lana, I… "
Suddenly Clark got that faraway look in his eye. Lana looked puzzled as Clark's hearing honed in on a news report of a cruise liner in trouble in the Mid-Atlantic. An explosion in the boiler room had caused some structural damage and the ship was taking on water. Air and Sea rescue was on the way, but their ETA was hours away yet. Clark grabbed Lana's hands in his.
"Lana, I'm sorry, I've got to go. There's some trouble — a ship." Clark began to back up closer to the door. "I'm sorry, we'll have lunch another time." He found himself in the hallway and called to her through the open door. "I'll call you tomorrow, sorry."
By the time Lana made it to the hallway, Clark was already gone. She slowly closed the door as she sadly shook her head. Clark was a sad, mixed up man, and it did hurt her to see him in such pain. A sardonic smile crossed her lips as she thought of how she had treated him in high school. She had been such an idiot.
Lana, wasn't sure what it was that had caused the split between Clark and Lois, but it was obvious to her that it still caused Clark a great deal of pain. She sat on the bed and as she absent- mindedly began to log off her laptop, she vowed to find out what had happened to Clark's perfect marriage. And if that meant a confrontation with Ms. Lois Lane, then so be it.
Monday morning found both Clark and Lois at their desks, shuffling papers and pouring through their respective emails. Both had found the research that Jimmy had left, and both were disappointed by the paucity of information. Clark was philosophical about it as he hadn't really expected Jimmy to come up with much. It had been a shot in the dark. On the other hand, Lois wasn't so complacent.
"Jimmy!" she called out when she saw how little he had on Dark. "Clark, have you seen Jimmy?" She got up and walked over to Clark's desk. "Look at this file."
"No, I haven't, what's up?" Clark quickly scanned the information provided. "It seems your Mr. Dark is either an upstanding businessman or he covers his tracks very well."
"I'll say he covers his tracks well." Lois suddenly became thoughtful as she sat on the corner of Clark's desk. "You don't suppose that I'm letting my own experiences color my perceptions here? That maybe the Salvador Dark of this world really is what he appears to be?"
Clark leaned back in his chair, staring into her worried face. "As much as I'm not a fan of Dan Scardino, I doubt if he would be after this guy if he didn't have good reason to suspect him." Clark snapped his chair back to the upright position. "Why don't you call Bobby Bigmouth again and see if anything new has surfaced in his circles?"
"That's a good idea."
Lois stood up and crossed over to her own desk. A quick, frustrating phone call later, an unhappy Lois was staring at the slim file on her desk, wondering if there was something she was missing. She clicked out of her email and made ready to begin her own search for information on the enigmatic Mr. Dark.
Clark chewed on his lip as he stared over at Lois while she concentrated on her screen. "Ah — Lois," he saw that he had her attention as she looked up from her screen over to him, "about the other night, I wanted you to know…"
Perry White chose that moment to stick his head out of his office. "Clark, Lois, in my office."
Clark sighed. "Later," was all he wound up saying as he stood.
The two exchanged puzzled glances as they made their way to their editor's office. Neither seemed in any hurry to get there, but within moments both were seated in chairs in front of the chief's desk. Perry quickly scanned a couple of incoming stories before he turned his attention to his top two reporters.
"Okay, I need at least one of you two to tell me that your stories are hot and nearly ready to hit the stands."
Clark and Lois looked at each other, then back at Perry. He groaned when he saw the embarrassed looks on their faces. It was his worst nightmare, they both had come up dry. Perry shook his head, this didn't happen when they were together, he thought uncharitably.
"Well, Chief," Clark began. "The police don't have any leads, and I haven't been able to track any possibles through research and digging. I even asked Superman to check over the crime scene, but he couldn't come up with anything in the way of clues either."
"Wonderful, how about you, Lois, are your leads as frigid as Clark's?" Perry asked, turning his attention to Lois.
Lois had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. She knew Perry wasn't happy. "Not quite, I know something big is going to go down, and Scardino is sure that this Dark character is behind it. But we don't know where, or when. I can't get any sort of lead on this guy, beyond Agent Scardino's assertion that Dark is a bad guy, and ATF thinks it's a big arms sale." Lois shrugged. "Jimmy wasn't able to turn up anything unusual about the guy, except that his birth records were lost."
"By the way, has anyone seen Jimmy yet today?" Perry asked, his voice a mixture of concern and irritation.
Perry leaned back in his chair and stared at his two reporters for several moments. "Okay, normally I'd kill both stories for lack of any progress, and no indication of any forthcoming — but I won't." Perry saw the looks on their faces go from disappointment to relief. It was time to burst the bubble again. "But I can't have my two best reporters sitting around twiddling their thumbs hoping for something to break, so I'm going to assign each of you another piece to work on."
"Now don't get your britches in an uproar. I said you can continue to work on your stories, I just plan to give you a little something to keep you from getting bored while you're waiting for those critical callbacks, and appointments which will give you the leads you need to track down your main stories." Perry's sarcasm wasn't lost on the pair.
Perry shuffled some papers on his desk. Finding what he wanted, he handed each of them a single sheet. "Now, Lois, I want you to come up with at least eight column inches on the new bonding bill that just passed the city council. Debra's out with the flu, and I'm sure you could do this in your sleep." Lois grimaced but held her peace as Perry turned his attention to Clark. "Clark, first I want you to know that I appreciate the write up of that Superman cruise ship rescue you came in with this morning."
Lois shot Clark a dirty look as Clark looked away from her. "Thanks, Chief."
"But now I want you to do an op-ed piece on that proposed new mini-mall. You know, the one that would require ripping up about a third of Centennial Park."
Perry shifted his attention back to a stack of papers on his desk. Upon noticing that Clark and Lois were still there he made a shooing motion with one hand.
Clark and Lois quickly got up and left Perry's office and headed back to their own desks. Both sat down dejectedly and stared at their new assignment sheets. Clark looked around the newsroom very thoroughly, then turned to Lois with a frown on his face.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I'm worried, it's not like Jimmy to not come in without calling in first." Clark stood. "I think I might just drop by his place to make sure he's all right."
Before Clark could make ready to leave, Ralph oozed up next to him. He had one of his smarmy grins of his face. The kind he used when he thought he was giving you some privileged information.
"I overheard you wondering about Olsen." Ralph looked around like he was in some bad spy movie. "I tell you I'm not surprised he didn't come in today."
Lois had left her desk and come over to where Clark and Ralph stood. "What are you talking about, Ralph? What do you know?"
"I was in over the weekend — doing some research on one of my many stories, and I heard him telling some of the guys about the hot date he had for the weekend." Ralph smirked. "Jimbo, is probably shacked up with his weekend cutie somewhere, and has forgotten all about the outside world." Ralph gave Lois a wink. "When the lovin' is going good, a fellow looses all track of time, trust me, I know." Ralph strolled away, his attempt at whistling painful to hear.
Lois looked at Clark. "I don't know him that well, is it possible?"
Clark's brows were knit tightly. "I know Jimmy would like to fancy himself a ladies' man, but the truth is, he strikes out more often than not." Clark shrugged. "I don't know, I guess it could be true, but still, Jimmy's not normally that irresponsible."
"Well, I guess we can give him the benefit of the doubt here. At least for one day. It might be kind of — embarrassing to pop in on him if he is, you know. Suppose we just wait, for a while, and see if he turns up?" Lois headed back toward her desk. "I suppose you could take a quick look when you are out — er, running your errands tonight."
Clark nodded. "Yeah, I could, from a distance, so he'd never know I was even in the area."
The two reporters planted themselves at their respective desks and began to work on the stories Perry had assigned them. All thoughts of explaining the other night to Lois fled from Clark's mind as he alternated between concentrating on the story and a nagging itch in regard to his tardy friend.
As she approached her front steps, Lois noticed they were occupied. Sitting patiently on her stoop was the ever-present Daniel Scardino. He looked like he hadn't slept much. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair didn't look like it had seen a comb in a while. But then, Lois thought, it never did.
"Agent Scardino," Lois said in a neutral voice.
"Please, call me Daniel." He gave her a grin. "I took a chance that you might get home at a reasonable hour."
"That was risky, I don't normally get home this early, but I haven't had much luck tracking our dubious Mr. Dark's background and I finished up my other assignment early." Lois shrugged. "So here I am." Lois glanced up at the door, and the darkened windows. "I take it Lucy's not back yet."
"No, at least she hasn't come by since I've been here."
"I'm not even going to ask how long that's been, but as long as you are here, you might as well come in." Lois trudged up to the front door, allowing Dan to trail behind her.
No sooner had the pair gotten inside and seated in the living room than the door opened and in walked a smartly dressed Lucy. She looked every inch the professional in the beige and gold suit, matching mid-heeled shoes, and just the right touch of make-up.
"Lucy, you look great," Lois said over Dan's whistle.
Lucy gave them a hesitant smile. "Thanks, I hope you don't mind, Lois, I borrowed this outfit from your closet. I don't have much yet."
Lois smiled. "That's fine." Actually, it wasn't really hers anyway. It was one of the outfits that had belonged to Lucy's sister. Lois didn't wear a lot of that Lois' old clothes anymore. Their tastes weren't exactly the same. "We'll have to go through the closet and find you some more stuff. I've got a few older outfits that I don't really need anymore that you are welcome to, if you wish."
Lucy knew precisely what Lois was talking about. "Thanks, that would be great." Lucy hurried over and plopped herself down next to Lois. Her eagerness was apparent. "I do have some news for you two."
Lois gave Lucy a stern look. "You didn't do anything foolish, now did you?"
Lucy waved off Lois' concern. "Of course not, I was the perfect receptionist. I sat up at the front desk being the perfect window dressing as I answered about a dozen calls and greeted walk in appointments." She grinned at the smile on Lois' face. "But I did keep my ears open, and I overheard that Dark is indeed out of the country at the moment, but they expect him back tomorrow."
"That's great," Dan said. "We were able to see the filed flight plan, which did list Dark as a passenger, but the return time had been left open-ended." Dan stood up and paced. "Okay, I'll stake out the airport tomorrow and watch for his arrival. When he comes in I'll tail him to wherever he goes. I'm assuming it will be to his apartment, or hotel room, whichever he keeps in Metropolis." He stopped in front of Lucy. "I doubt he'll actually come into that office, but if he does can you get word to Lois without putting yourself in any danger?"
Lucy sighed. "Of course. It's not like I'm under a 24 hour watch. Most of my time is spent alphabetizing files, filling in schedule boards, and reminding people of their appointments. Which isn't too tough since from what I can see there are only three people who work there." Lucy thought for a moment. "But there are five offices, I assume one is for Mr. Dark's use."
"The other would be for his personal assistant." Dan added. "You probably won't see much of either of them."
Lois who had been sitting quietly for a time finally piped in. "So, while you are out doing your secret agent tailing of the suspect, I'm supposed to — what?"
Dan looked over toward Lois. "I will call you every couple hours to let you know my status. I will call you immediately when Dark arrives, and I will let you know if he gives me the slip. If Lucy calls you, don't call me, just let me know the next time I call you." Dan chewed his lip as he started to pace again. "If I should miss two call ins in a row, call out the calvary, because that means I'm in trouble."
"Okay," Lois said. "It sounds like we have a plan here." She stood and guided Dan back to the couch. "So, maybe you can give me a little help." Dan gave her a questioning look, so she continued. "I can't get any real information on this guy." Lois got up and grabbed the slim file she had brought home with her and dropped it in Sacrdino's lap. "Look at this. There's nothing there. I don't even know when and where this guy was born!"
Lois slid in next to Dan as he quickly flipped through the sparse information in the file. "Couldn't you get me some of the background stuff you people have on Dark? Something I can use to work up a decent profile for the story, should we ever figure out what it is."
"I don't know, Lois, that stuff is all pretty highly classified." Dan frowned. "We are sure it's going to be an arms deal, can't you just say that an unnamed government source provided you with the lead?"
It was Lois' turn to frown. "You know, without some sort of background, this story is just going to read as a busted arms deal with two-dimensional players. I need to make Dark a flesh and blood, three-dimensional person for my readers. If he truly is this terrible bad guy you paint him to be, give me access to the paint cans so I can work in the same colors as you are."
Dan's frown got more pronounced as he stared at the floor, up at Lois, and back to the floor. He dragged his hand through his unruly locks a few times also. Lois knew he was wavering. It was time to fight dirty.
She placed her hand on his knee. "Tell you what, it's early yet. Why don't you go home, clean up a bit? You look like an unmade bed." Dan shot her a mock-hurt look, but Lois ignored it. "Gather what you think I could use, and meet me at Figlio's for dinner, my treat."
"I don't know, I really shouldn't." Dan's voice lacked conviction.
Lois knew she had him. "Come on, I promise we won't even have to talk shop during dinner."
Dan brightened. "Well, okay, I'll meet you there at nine."
"Fine, that will be just perfect." Lois cooed, as she escorted him rather abruptly to the door. "See you at nine then, bye, Dan."
Lois closed the door on the somewhat shell-shocked agent. She came back into the room to see Lucy grinning at her. "What?"
"Oh, you are evil, do you know that?"
Lois grinned back. "Not evil, just pragmatic. You do what's necessary to get the story." Lois stalked toward her room. "Great, now I have to figure out what to wear."
The elevator in the Metropolis Marriott opened up onto the fifth floor, allowing Clark to exit. He had called Lana earlier and convinced her to go out to dinner with him. He'd said that he wanted to make it up to her for having to run out on her the other day. She had been only a little reluctant, and had accepted his invitation with only a modest amount of prodding. He hoped her mood had held.
As Superman he'd just completed a quick patrol around the city. He'd checked Jimmy's apartment and was disturbed by it's apparent emptiness. There was no indication that anyone had been there recently. The bed had been unmade, but he figured that was probably par for the course. There was nothing really out of the ordinary, just no Jimmy, and no sign of anyone having been there in some time. His car wasn't there so that probably meant that he had driven to wherever he had gone. Clark had flown around the neighborhood just to see what he could see but that effort yielded nothing. He was worried and resolved to call Inspector Henderson in the morning if Jimmy didn't show up for work.
His mind was still on Jimmy when he knocked on Lana's door, and so it took him a couple of moments to realize that Lana had opened the door and was standing in front of him. When his mind finally snapped back to the present reality he was stunned speechless. Lana looked spectacular. She was wearing a deep burgundy, off-the-shoulder gown. It was simply cut, but hugged her body's curves like a lover's caress. Her hair had been brushed to the point of shining like gold as it flowed loosely across her shoulders and down her back. She needed very little make-up and she smelled terrific.
He took a deep breath to get himself centered. "Wow, Lana, you look great!"
She smiled coyly at him. "Why thank you, kind sir." She placed a hand on his chest. "You don't look bad yourself, you know."
Clark returned her smile. He was wearing his old standby charcoal suit, with a gray shirt and a wildly patterned tie. He held out his arm to her. "Shall we go?"
She slipped her arm through his. "Absolutely."
The cab ride to the restaurant was pleasant. Lana brushed off Clark's attempts at apologizing for the other day. She told him that there was no reason to be sorry, and that if anyone should apologize it should be her for overreacting. Clark, of course, told her there was no reason to apologize. So, finally, once they got their mutual apologetic guilt out of the way, the rest of the ride was passed in friendly small talk.
As Clark helped Lana out of the cab she looked up at the neon script over the restaurant's main doors. "Oh, Figlio's, I've heard of this restaurant. It's supposed to be a really nice place." Lana looked up at Clark. "Won't we need a reservation?"
"Most nights that would be true, but for some reason they never seem to be busy on a Monday. Lois and I never had any trouble getting in on a Monday night."
"Oh," Lana suddenly felt wary.
"It's all right." Clark placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her toward the door. "Come on, I'm sure you'll love the food."
Once the two of them entered the place, Clark got quite a surprise. The restaurant was a study in controlled chaos. Waiters scurried about, darting in and out between tables as they saw to the comfort and needs of their patrons. Every table was occupied by parties of twos and fours, with even a couple of situations where tables had been pushed together to accommodate even larger groups. Clark was astonished, he'd never seen it like this on a Monday night in all the time he'd been in Metropolis. He approached the maitre dais.
"Carlo, what is up here tonight?" Clark asked of the impeccably dressed gentleman behind the marble podium.
He directed a weary smile at Clark. "Ah, Mr. Kent, as you can see we are at capacity tonight." He sighed as he checked over his book. "I'm booked solid through the entire evening. It seems there's a convention just up the street."
Clark, clearly embarrassed, glanced down at Lana and was relieved to see her smiling. In fact, it looked like she was biting her lip to keep from laughing. "Lana, I'm sorry, believe me, I never would have brought you here if I'd known something like this would happen."
"Of course you wouldn't." Lana glanced down at her expensive gown. "But we *are* all dressed up, with no place to go, so what would you suggest we do?" Her smile showed that there were no recriminations on her part.
Clark whipped his head around to locate the person who'd called his name. The voice was very familiar, but it couldn't be. It could!
"Lois?" Clark's surprise was evident in his voice as he watched the petite bundle of energy approach him.
She looked amazing. Her backless gown was black as midnight, with a long slit up the one side allowing a glimpse of Lois' long, perfect leg. A simple double strand of pearls adorned her breasts, and matching single pearl earrings decorated her lobes. The fiery highlights of her hair seemed to blaze under the sparkling light of the crystal chandeliers. Clark found himself swallowing a couple times before she reached them.
"Well, I didn't expect to see you two here." Lois smiled at them as she said it.
"I guess you won't be seeing us long." Clark said as he rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. "It appears they are all booked up."
Lana took a step closer to Lois. "Clark says that you two used to come here a lot, and it was never like this on a Monday night."
Lois shot a quick glance at Clark. "Ah, yes, that's true. We never used to have any trouble getting in here, did we Clark? I was lucky, I think we got the last available table when we came in."
"So, Lois, you're not here alone?" Lana cooed.
Lois gave Lana a searching look, trying to gage if there was anything hidden in her question. "No, I'm here with Dan. He and I are working on a story together."
"Isn't that interesting," Lana said in feigned interest. "Clark and I are still working on a story together also." Lana looked over at Clark, "Though I'm afraid we don't have any — what do you call them, leads?"
"I'm sorry to hear that." Lois replied, feeling just a bit strange talking to Lana about news stories. "Agent Scardino and I have gotten some things to follow up on, but it's still a lot of leg work and waiting for things to break."
"Sounds exciting," Lana gushed just a bit too much. "You know, Lois, if you could ever spare the time it would be nice to get your take on our little theft. Kind of a fresh perspective, as it were." Lana grabbed Clark's arm. "Don't you agree, Clark?"
Clark just stood there looking a little shell-shocked. "Ah, sure, I guess. But Lois is a very busy woman. We should let her get back to her date."
Clark wasn't sure what Lana was up to. This whole act she was laying out wasn't like her at all. Clark began to edge back toward the front entrance, trying to coax Lana along with him. She resisted.
Lois watched the interplay as she bit her lip. She knew that she was going to be sorry for saying this, but she was curious about Lana's motives. "Ah, would you two like to join Dan and I? There's plenty of room at our table."
Clark put out his hand in a waving off gesture. "No, no, we wouldn't think of…"
"That is so nice of you, Lois." Lana interrupted. "If you're sure you don't mind, we'd love to."
Lana began pulling Clark toward the restaurant's main room. Clark sighed and allowed himself to be led as he looked at Lois. She merely shrugged, then hurried to catch up with Lana.
When they reached the table, Dan's eyes locked onto Lana and he nearly knocked the table over as he hurried to rise as she stood in front of him. Lois rolled her eyes.
"Lana, this coordinated fellow is Daniel Scardino." Lois' gestured in Dan's general direction. "Dan, the woman your eyes are boring a hole through is Lana Lang, an old friend of Clark's." Lois smirked. "Oh, and I think you know Clark."
Dan shot a frown toward Clark. "Kent," Dan quickly shifted his attention to Lana. "Ms. Lang, a pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, please call me Lana." Lana favored Dan with a dazzling smile. "I hope you will allow me to call you Daniel."
"Ah, sure, please do."
The four of them sat down as Lana smiled toward Dan. "So, Daniel, Lois tells me you are some sort of secret agent?"
Dan laughed as both Clark and Lois found themselves staring at the ceiling. "No, I'm a government agent. I work for the DEA, but at the moment I'm on loan to ATF. There is nothing secret about me."
Lana wrinkled her brow. "DEA, ATF?"
"Drug Enforcement Agency, and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which is part of the Treasury department." Dan sat up straighter in his chair. "So, what brings you to Metropolis?"
"Well, I'm an archeologist, and Daddy and I have an exhibition currently showing at the museum."
Clark was puzzled by Lana's behavior. She never acted like this. It was like she was playing the part of a schoolgirl acting the flirt. Clark picked up his water glass, which, along with some menus, had been brought to their table.
Lois picked up her napkin and placing it against her lips she whispered, knowing only Clark would be able to hear her, "When did Lana acquire a southern accent?" Lois grinned behind her napkin as she watched Clark nearly choke and spit out his water.
Lois had had enough, she needed some air. "Excuse me, would you folks, I have to go powder my nose as they used to say in the movies."
Lana shifted her smile to Lois. "Would you like me to come along, Lois?"
"That's all right Lana, I've been able to go all by myself for several years now, but thanks for asking." Lois nodded toward Dan and Clark as she got up and left the table.
Lois had no sooner left the table and entered the alcove leading to the restrooms when she turned back and began waving to try and attract Clark's attention. Luckily both Lana and Dan had their backs at least partially to her while Clark was nearly facing her.
"Come on, Clark," Lois whispered under her breath. "Look at me."
Clark head shot up and quickly met Lois' gaze. She waved for him to join her. Clark was puzzled by her actions and his expression was noticed by Lana.
"What is it Clark?" Lana turned around but Lois had ducked behind a large potted fern. "What do you see?"
Clark was startled out of his confusion by Lana's voice. "What? Oh nothing, I just realized that I too, ah, need to excuse myself."
"Well don't expect me to offer to accompany you." Dan joked. Lana laughed and put her hand on his arm.
Clark sort of smiled at Dan as he got up and headed for Lois' last known position. He arrived, but didn't see her right away. Her hiss drew his attention as she stepped out from a doorway near the back entrance of the restaurant.
"Lois, what are you doing? What do you want?"
"Did you get a chance to check on Jimmy?" She asked.
Clark glanced back the way he'd come before he answered. "Yeah, but I didn't find anything. There was no one home, and it appears that there hasn't been anyone there for some time." Clark sighed. "There was no sign of forced entry or any indication of any trouble, and his car was gone. Maybe Ralph was right for once, and Jimmy has just gone off to be with his latest infatuation."
Lois chewed on her fingernail as she paced in a very tight little circle. "Have you checked the Planet garage for his car?"
Clark suddenly looked stricken. "I never thought of that."
Lois patted his arm. "That's okay, that's why you have me — er, as a, ah, friend — and sometime partner."
"Okay, I'll duck out quickly and check. I'll try to be back as soon as possible."
Lois grabbed his arm before he could slip away. "No, I've got a better idea. I'm going with you. I need to know what you find out, and I have just come into possession of some information I need to look at," Lois rolled her eyes toward the main room, "in a little less public place."
"I don't know, Lois, do you think we really should just leave them?"
Lois gave Clark a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Don't worry about it, I'm sure they'll be fine. Just follow my lead."
Lois came back to the table, Clark a few steps behind her. "Gosh, Dan, Lana, I'm really sorry but I was just paged and they need both Clark and I back at the Planet."
"Now!" Dan exclaimed. Lana just gave Lois a searching look.
Lois ignored his outburst. "Yeah, possibly something big in the works. Sorry we have to rush off." Lois reached over and stroked Dan's cheek with her finger. "Dan, would you be a dear and make sure Lana gets back to her hotel all right?" She reached down and grabbed her bag and a plain folder that sat next to it. "Come on, Clark, we'd best get going."
"Sorry," was all Clark was able to say before Lois had him heading for the exit.
Lana and Dan just stared at the retreating couple till they were out of sight. Dan's jaw finally closed slowly as he turned to Lana who was just staring after Clark and Lois with a strange look on her face.
"Well there's no sense in wasting a good dinner opportunity. " Dan gave Lana his toothy smile. "Would you consent to having dinner with me, Ms. Lang?"
Lana turned to Dan, a serious expression on her face, and all hint of her 'southern accent' now gone. "Dan, you and I need to talk."
Lois pulled her little sports car into the garage under the Daily Planet. Within moments she and Clark were out of the car and scanning the area, concentrating their search to the non-reserved portions of the parking garage.
Clark, having a slight advantage, quickly located the vehicle in question. "Lois, over here." He walked swiftly, Lois following behind.
"Is this it?" Lois asked once they were beside the older model Mustang.
"Yes," Clark said as he performed a super quick, thorough examination of the car. "No one's touched this except Jimmy in a long time. Not too much dust so it can't have been here too long."
"Well, Ralph said he saw Jimmy here over the weekend, so I imagine it's been here since then." Lois headed for the elevator. "Let's go on up."
The ride up was quick and as soon as they got off they headed for Lois' desk. "Do you think we're making too much of this?" Lois looked up at Clark's worried face. "I mean it has only been one day. He might have gone off with this girl in her car."
"I don't know; maybe." Clark didn't sound convinced.
"Great Shades of Elvis, what are you two doing here?" Perry came out of his office and strolled down the ramp toward Clark and Lois.
"Not much, Chief, Clark and I were a little worried about Jimmy."
"I have to say that I am too. It's not like the boy to just not come in without letting anybody know." Perry's tone said he was more worried than his words.
"I asked Superman to take a quick check of his place, and it doesn't look like anyone has been there for a day or two, but there were no signs of anything unusual." Clark added.
"Hmmmm," Perry said rubbing his chin. "I called his place a couple of hours ago and there was no answer either."
Lois placed her hand on Perry's arm. "Clark and I found Jimmy's car still in the parking garage downstairs, but Ralph told us he saw Jimmy here this weekend."
"Ralph! He was in on a weekend?" Perry seemed astonished.
Lois laughed before continuing. "Yeah, but he said he overheard Jimmy talking about a hot date for the weekend. Maybe Jimmy's still out…getting lucky?"
Perry raised his brow at Lois. "Jimmy?" He shook his head. "Well all I have to say is, if that's true, she better dang well be worth it, because he's in for a world of hurt when he gets back." Perry stalked back up to his office.
Lois gave Clark a crooked smile. "I'm not sure, but I almost rather hope he is in trouble."
"Oh he's in trouble all right," Clark continued. "One way or the other."
Shaking her head in amusement, Lois went back to her desk and opened the file she'd brought with her. She started pouring through its contents. A couple of minutes later she let escape a wordless exclamation.
Clark's head popped up from his own desk. "What is it?"
"Come look at this." Lois waved him over. "Nothing before 1984, but since then our Mr. Dark has drawn quite a bit of attention from the authorities."
Clark looked over Lois' shoulder as she paged through the numerous sheets of paper. Agents' reports and official file documents detailing various suspected illegal operations. Everything from drugs, to arms, to wholesale smuggling and money laundering. Clark was impressed by the amount of information that was in the file.
Clark reached over Lois' shoulder to flip over a couple sheets. "This is quite a list of felonies here. I see your friend skipped around a lot. Never stayed too long in any one place or dealt with any particular activity for more than a year or two before moving on to something else."
"Yeah, but he's never been connected with hard evidence," Lois pointed out. "It's all suspected dealings, associating with known criminals and the like. I've only found two times when an agent's report indicated some hard documentation, but both times the evidence and the agent disappeared." Lois leaned back. "Well I know one thing for sure now." Clark raised his brow in question so Lois answered. "He's definitely one of the bad guys."
Clark flipped through a few more pages in the plain gray file jacket. "Most of this stuff is classified reports and such, how did you get hold of them?" Lois just grinned at Clark. "Oh, I see, Dan."
Of course, Dan, Clark thought. After all, she was seeing the guy on more than just business. It was only natural that Scardino would want to share his information with her. Clark tried to mentally shrug it off, since it was none of his business, but he didn't really succeed.
Lois' grin turned to a frown. "I'm not sure what you think I did to get this file, but I'm pretty sure that I'm insulted."
Clark shook his head. "Lois, what you do with your life is no business of mine. I'm sure you and Dan have your own… working relationship, and you don't have to explain anything to me."
"Well, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black."
"Listen, Clark, I don't *have* to explain anything to you, but maybe I need to. You seem to have gotten the impression that Dan and I… what is it?"
Lois had been stopped by the look. Clark had tilted his head and was obviously listening to something she couldn't hear. She saw, as soon as his eyes focused back on her, that their night was over and Superman's was just going to begin.
"Bank alarm, I've got to go." He reached for his tie as he sprinted for the stairwell leading to the roof.
Lois fell back into her chair after Clark disappeared from sight. "Swell."
Figuring she could just as easily go through this stuff at home as she could here, she stuffed everything back into the plain gray file, grabbed her bag and headed for the elevator. As she waited for the elevator doors to grant her access she stared toward the stairwell Clark had recently exited from.
"Be careful, Clark."
The elevator bell dinged, and the doors parted, but before Lois could enter Perry again poked his head out of the office door.
"Oh, Lois, could you step into my office for a second."
Lois entered Perry's office and sat in the chair he indicated. "What's up, Perry? Why are you still here?"
"Where else would I be, got a morning edition to put to bed. Last minute changes, you know how that stuff goes. Besides, I've really got no place else to be." Perry didn't allow Lois time to comment on the state of affairs between him and Alice. That wasn't why he'd called her in. "How about yourself, honey, how are you doing?"
"Well, Clark and I came to check on Jimmy's car, then I had some new information to go over and… "
Perry laughed. "No, honey, I mean how are *you* doing?"
"I noticed that Clark bolted out of here in an awful hurry, did he remember a video that had to be returned?"
"Look, Lois, I see the way you look at him. And I see the way he looks at you. There's no way you can tell me that you two got divorced because you don't see eye to eye on whether or not to have kids, because it's very obvious that you two still love each other."
"Perry, I don't think you understand."
"Oh, I think I do. I saw the pain in Clark's eyes back before the divorce. I knew that there were problems that were tearing you two apart, and I'm pretty sure I know what those problems were, and still are." Perry leaned back and studied Lois for several moments as she squirmed in the chair. "I saw the occasional spats you two had over the years, but everyone has them. But it was obvious things had come to a head right after your vacation. You came back with that new hairdo, and both of you were acting much more careful around each other. I can only assume that some final incident had forced things to come to a head. I don't know if your new attitude was a last attempt to patch things up by trying something different, or if it was a statement of independence. I just know that it seemed to be the beginning of the end."
Perry idly played with a pencil on his desk. "The reason Alice and I aren't together anymore is not because we don't love each other, we do, very much. But there comes a time when the wife needs to know that she is more important than your job. Unfortunately, I was never able to convince her of that. I could continue to tell her how much I loved her, but my actions kept saying something different, till finally she decided she needed to find another way." Perry sighed. "You can rationalize all you want, Lois, about babies, and differing visions of your futures, but the bottom line is: a wife gets tired of playing second fiddle to the husband's job."
Lois was beginning to feel uneasy. She wasn't quite sure where Perry was going, but it made her uncomfortable to listen to it. "Perry, now I'm the one who doesn't understand. Clark and I are both reporters, we worked together."
Perry waved off her protest. "I'm not talking about your jobs at the Planet. I'm talking about all the times he's had to run out on you at a moment's notice. I'll bet it was hard, never being able to be sure he would be at something you planned, or the frustration and embarrassment you went through whenever he would have to leave in the middle of some special event." Perry gauged his next comment carefully. "I don't mean to step over the line here, but do you know if you and Clark can even have kids, let alone have the time to raise them?"
While Perry had been talking, Lois had been remembering some of her conversations with Clark's Lois. She'd told her how hard it had been sometimes, dealing with Clark being needed at the most inopportune times. Leaving her to deal with the consequences of his hasty departures. At first, it was the pain of not knowing why he wouldn't or couldn't commit to her. Why he was always running out on her. Later it was the irritation and frustration of never being able to complete a special night out, or making up excuses to friends and family when he would need to leave inexplicably in the middle of a function. Lois could see how it could be hard to deal with. That being married to someone who also belonged to the world could cause those problems, but she had also been told, that it was worth it. The sacrifices were far outweighed by the depth and passion of the love the two had for each other… suddenly Lois felt a chill run down her spine.
"Perry — you know?" Her voice was soft and wary.
"Oh, course I know." Perry chuckled. "I love all my staff dearly, but the honest truth is, aside from Clark and yourself, most of them couldn't describe what the guy sitting next to them on the subway was wearing an hour later. People today look but they don't really see. Lois, I'm an old school reporter. I'm a student of human nature and I got most of my knowledge through observation." Perry folded his hands in front of him. "I'll admit that I thought Clark a bit of an odd duck at first, but he was good, so I let some of the peculiar actions slide. But I kept my eye on him, and certain patterns became apparent. Patterns that only made sense if Clark were Superman. Great Shades of Elvis, Lois, you were his partner. You saw him every day. I'm sure all this became obvious to you fairly early too."
"Ah, yeah, but — well you know." Lois blushed.
"Of course, that's why I kept the secret too. No need to worry the man with needless concern. I can guess only too well what a mess his life would be if word got out that Clark Kent was Superman. I could see that he valued his personal life, and I felt I had to respect that."
"I'm sure Clark would appreciate that fact, Perry, but why are you telling me this now?"
Perry reached across the desk and took Lois' hands in his. "Because I want you to give him another chance."
"Lois, I can only imagine how hard it is to be with someone you have to share with the whole world, and I know it's none of my business, but, dammit, you two belong together. You need each other." Perry paused to take a breath. "Lois, I knew you before you ever met Clark. You've always been like a daughter to me. I ached for you every time I saw things go bad for you, and I would see you add another layer to that shell you built around yourself. I can't tell you how happy it made me, when Clark got past your defenses and the two of you became a team in more ways than one." Perry gave Lois' hands a squeeze. "Now don't get me wrong, individually, each of you are terrific people and top notch reporters, but together, it was magic. It's like you needed each other to truly be complete."
Lois felt the tears begin to slide down her cheek. What was she to do? Perry was so perceptive, yet didn't have the information needed to really understand the situation. He didn't know that the woman he considered, like a daughter to him, was gone, replaced by an imperfect duplicate just trying to make her way in a world that was strange to her. He saw the emotion that existed between her and Clark, but had misinterpreted Clark's pain of loss, for pain of separation. He didn't know that the 'magic' that had existed between his beloved team could never be again, because one of the crucial parts was missing.
Perry studied Lois' face as he noted the tears and her silence. "I apologize, Lois, for sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, and for offering advice that wasn't asked for. It's just that both of you are very special to me, and I hate to see the two of you in such pain over this." Perry frowned. "I know I may not be making a whole lot of sense here but I… "
"Perry," Lois interrupted as she tightened her grip on the older man's hands. "I need you to keep another secret."
The sun was warm on his face as he looked out over the city teeming with people scurrying about their day, performing the routine tasks which defined their short, mundane existence. How he envied them at times. Of course, this was not one of those times.
He stepped in from the balcony and briefly watched the hotel staff as they packed his bags. He gave them instructions on where to take them, and after a moderately generous tip, enough to insure his wishes but not enough to be memorable, sent them on their way. Things were coming together nicely. The problem over here had been taken care of, and arrangements were in the works for Hong Kong to be his next destination after the events in Metropolis reached their inevitable conclusion.
It had been an interesting and informative phone call he'd received from his assistant a short time ago. It appeared that their Daily Planet mole, Ralph, had acted on some initiative of his own. While the abduction of Superman's friend, Olsen, hadn't been part of the original plan, Dark was flexible. He was sure they could find a use for the young man, and Ralph.
A slight, feral smile twitched the corners of Dark's mouth. It would be easy enough to just use his recently recovered property to force Kal El to come to him and submit to the life energy transfer, but where was the fun in that? The one constant in a life that spanned centuries was boredom. As time passed it took bigger stakes, more daring risks, and more exotic entertainments to produce a response, to feel some level of satisfaction. No, Dark had decided that he would get some kicks before he took the life of this world's vaunted Superman. He would punish Kal El first, cause the man great pain and anguish. Not only could this be a sort of secondhand vengeance against the planet that had exiled him, but sometimes cruelty was it's own reward.
Dark moved over to the phone on the nightstand. "Hello, this is Mr. Dark, could you have my car brought around? I'll be leaving for the airport, momentarily."
Lois sat at the table sipping strong coffee in an effort to clear her fuzzy, sleep-starved brain. She hadn't slept well. The talk with Perry had disturbed her. She had tossed and turned all night replaying it over and over in her mind. She wasn't sure that she had done the right thing, but she also wasn't sure how else she could have handled it. She was so focused on her own thoughts, Lois didn't notice that Lucy had joined her.
"Hey, sis, you don't look so wide awake this morning." Lucy gave Lois a worried look. "Please tell me you didn't have to spend half the night fending off the advances of one horny government agent?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "No, I didn't. Actually Clark and I left quite early to head over to the Daily Planet to check on Jimmy's car."
Lucy just stared uncomprehendingly at Lois for several moments. "I thought you went to dinner with Dan? And what's the big deal about Jimmy's car?"
Lois just shook her head. "I did go the dinner with Dan, but shortly after we arrived I ran into Clark and Lana and invited them over to our table."
"Good move." Lucy nodded in approval. "No romantic hanky panky can go on in a mixed couple date." Lucy smiled. "Then you and Clark dumped your dates and went off together. I love it."
"Lucy," Lois said exasperatedly. "It wasn't like that. If you let me finish, I'll fill you in." Lucy stayed quiet, so Lois continued. "Jimmy didn't come into work yesterday. He didn't call, nothing. That worried both Clark and Perry. So, last night I knew that Clark was going to check up on Jimmy when he did his Superman thing. When I happened to run into Clark and Lana at the restaurant I managed to get Clark away from the table long enough to find out what he found out."
"Basically nothing. Jimmy wasn't home, no sign that anyone had been there for a while, and his car was gone." Lois took another sip of her coffee. "Since Jimmy had been seen over the weekend at the Planet, I suggested we check the Planet's parking garage."
"And we found his car there."
"I hope you didn't use that excuse to ditch your dates."
"Lucy, we didn't ditch our…I guess we did. Anyway, no, I claimed I got paged, and they needed both Clark and I down at the Planet."
"Didn't Lana or Dan ask how the Planet knew Clark was with you?"
"They didn't ask, do you want to hear this or not?" Lois replied a little crossly.
"Anyway, Clark and I went to the Planet, and, as I said, we found Jimmy's car there. We had heard that Jimmy was telling some of the guys that he had a big date for the weekend, so it's possible that he has just gone off with this girl, but Clark's not convinced."
"Doesn't sound right to me either. Jimmy just didn't strike me as the type to do that." Lucy noticed Lois' questioning look. She smiled. "Jimmy and I dated a couple of times a few years ago. I suppose he could have changed quite a bit, but that doesn't seem like his style. He was very sweet. A little too needy for me, but sweet."
"So, you think he's in some sort of trouble too?"
Lucy shook her head. "I didn't say that. There are a lot of things, all quite innocent and stupid, that Jimmy could have gotten involved in. For all you know he could have been kidnapped by some frat boys."
Lois didn't deign to answer that as she took the opportunity to sip some more coffee. She thought it might finally be beginning to work. "Anyway, Clark plans to call Inspector Henderson today if Jimmy doesn't show up for work."
Lucy shrugged. "That's probably a good idea, but I can't imagine your tracking down Jimmy's car took very long. You look like you've been up half the night."
"I have." Lois pursed her lips together. "Clark got called away, some sort of bank alarm I think he said, so I decided to head on home. Before I could leave, Perry called me into his office." Lois wrapped her arms around her as she began to shake a bit, remembering.
Lucy reached over and placed her hand on Lois' arm. "Hey, what's wrong? You look pretty rattled."
Lois took a deep breath. "It seems that Perry wanted to know how I was doing. He'd noticed the differences and problems that Clark and I were having just before the divorce. And he sees the pain that Clark is going through now. He thinks that he knows the reason why Clark and I split up, and he was asking me if there was any chance that we could work it out and get back together."
"Whoa!" Lucy exclaimed. "Talk about your unlikely advice to the lovelorn sources."
"No, you don't understand." Lois sighed. "Perry thinks that we got divorced because I could no longer deal with sharing Clark with the rest of the world."
"Perry knows that Clark is Superman."
Lucy looked stunned. "I wouldn't have thought that Clark would've told Perry. Look how long he kept it from my sister."
"He didn't tell Perry. The chief figured it out some time ago, but has kept it to himself."
"That's kind of cool." Lois' frown quickly took the smile off Lucy's face. "Okay, I know that look. What else is wrong?"
Lois wrung her hands out in front of her. "Well, I can't really explain how it happened. I mean you'd have to have been there. It was really an uncomfortable situation. Perry was coming up with all these suppositions, and virtually begging me to give Clark another chance. He just didn't understand what the real problem was. He was just so…"
Lois stopped abruptly and blushed at Lucy's raised brow. "Sorry, the bottom line is, I couldn't take it. I couldn't let him continue to think that Lois would leave her husband because she couldn't deal with his being Superman, so I told him."
Lucy gave her sister a wary look. "Told him what?"
Lucy gasped. "You didn't!" Lucy took one look at Lois' face. "You did. How did he take it?"
Lois shook her head back and forth. "Not very well. Surprisingly I didn't have to try and do a lot of convincing. Apparently he'd grown used to weird things happening to Lois and Clark, what with clones, amnesia, and the odd maniacal villain or two." Lois stopped to shallow a small sob. "He really loved your sister, you know. He always thought of Lois as the daughter he never had. As hard as it was for me to tell him that his surrogate daughter was gone, it was harder for him to hear it." Lois wiped at her cheek with the back of her hand. "I don't think he really heard much that I said after that. Once I'd finished talking he just quietly thanked me for telling him and got up and left the building. He never said another word."
Lucy blew out a big breath. "What now? Are you going to tell Clark?"
Lois bit her bottom lip. "I don't think so. I don't see any reason to worry Clark about this, at least not right now. Perry kept his knowledge of Clark being Superman to himself all this time. I'm pretty certain that he won't say anything to Clark about this either." Lois stared into her cup of rapidly cooling coffee. "I just hope Perry can someday forgive me for being the one who told him."
Lana knew it was early, in fact she seldom got up this early when not out in the field, but she hadn't slept well. She had things on her mind. She also knew that even with the time differential, the Kents would have been up for hours by now, so she dialed their number without any fear that she'd be disturbing them.
Lana could hear the sounds of cackling chickens in the background. Martha must be out in the coop, feeding the chickens. Lana smiled as she pictured Martha tossing feed with one hand, and holding the portable phone to her ear with the other.
"Hello, Martha, it's Lana."
"Hello, dear. What can I do for you? Nothing's wrong, I hope."
"No, not really. Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk to you."
Lois sat back at her desk and breathed a soft sigh of relief. As soon as she'd come in this morning Perry had called her into his office. She had entered feeling a bit uneasy. 'What was this going to be about?' she had thought. Had he decided he couldn't deal with having an impostor take over from his favorite reporter? It was the first time in quite a while that she had felt nervous. It was like being called into the principal's office to be punished for something that wasn't her fault.
Of course, she had gotten herself all worked up over nothing. Perry had merely inquired as to how her story was going. His eyes were a bit bloodshot, like he hadn't slept much, but his demeanor was like they had never had the conversation the night before. She had told him that it was possible that she could get some information to move on today. She filled Perry in on the information Dan had given her, and the fact that Dark was arriving back in Metropolis today. He had nodded, and told her to be careful. 'If this Dark character is as nasty as Scardino thinks,' he'd said, 'it could get dangerous.' So she should tread carefully, and deliver an award winning story.
Clark wasn't in yet, but then LNN was broadcasting the latest reports on an oil spill in Puget Sound, so Lois knew were he probably was. After a quick check of her email, Lois opened the plain gray folder Dan had given her and began to outline a possible structure and direction for her story. The fact that there was no information on Dark prior to '84, and Jimmy hadn't been able to find any birth records, bothered her. It wasn't like it was really relevant to the current story, it was just an itch in the back of her mind that she wanted to scratch.
The ringing of the phone barely intruded on her consciousness as she continued to jot down notes. She reached over and picked up the receiver. "Lois Lane."
"Lois, it's Dan. Just wanted you to know that Dark has landed and I'm ready to follow him as he leaves here."
"Great, are you going to keep me informed as to were he goes?"
"Of course, I'll call you every couple of hours. At that time I'll fill you in on where he's been and where he may be going, if anywhere. Even if he stays put, I'll call just to hear your lovely, lilting voice."
"Okay, sounds good, Dan. Thanks." Lois hung up the phone, then stopped and looked at the device. "My what?"
The ding that announced the elevator's arrival diverted Lois attention. Clark stepped off, instantly noticing Lois, gave her a slight nod and quickly came down to her desk. As he stood over her he smelled of soap and after shave. He'd obviously just taken a shower before he came. She imagined working with an oil spill probably hadn't been pleasant.
"Hi," she said as she placed her hand on his. "How was it?"
He shrugged. "Not too bad, I'll tell you about it later. Has Jimmy come in yet?"
Lois felt instantly ashamed. She hadn't once thought about their missing friend since she'd arrived. "I don't know. I know I haven't seen him."
Clark frowned. "I'm going to ask Perry if he's heard anything."
Clark left Lois staring after him as he briskly strode up the ramp toward the Chief's office. Upon entering he noticed Perry had just hung up the phone and had a strange look on his face.
"What's up, Chief?"
Perry looked up, noticing Clark for the first time. "It's the darndest thing. Ralph just quit."
"Yeah, said he had a better job offer."
"Ralph?" Clark shook his head in wonderment. "Who'd give Ralph a better job offer? I still haven't been able to figure out why you hired him."
Perry snorted. "That wasn't my call. Pressure came down from the top, favor to some board member or something." Perry shrugged. "I just figured if I could keep Ralph from causing too much trouble I'd have a friend on the board for those times when I needed something that was really important." Perry shuffled some papers on his desk. "So, what can I do for you, Clark?"
Clark noticed Perry looked a little harried, a little tired. He guessed that maybe it was his worry over Jimmy. "Has Jimmy come in yet today, or have you heard from him, at all?"
The careworn look on Perry's face deepened. "No, I haven't. Darn that kid. Where is he?"
Clark nodded, taking on Perry's worry. "I don't know, but I don't like it. I'm going to call Inspector Henderson. See if there is anything he can do."
"Good, keep me informed." Perry turned his attention back to the stacks of paper on his desk.
Lois watched Clark leave Perry's office and make his way over to his own desk. He quickly picked up the phone and spent the next few minutes in an animated conversation. She couldn't make out most of what was said, but she heard Jimmy's name mentioned, so she was able to guess at the content of the call. Once Clark hung up, he didn't look any too happy, or relieved. She went over and sat on the corner of his desk.
"I assume that was Henderson you called?"
Clark looked up at Lois sitting at the edge of his desk. For a brief moment a flash of familiar memory struck him. How many times had Lois, his Lois, sat at the edge of his desk while they discussed some story idea, or just made conversation. Of course, most of those conversations ended in a kiss, and the two of them going off to slay the dragons of the world together. A sigh escaped from Clark as he realized that that was not going to happen this time, or probably ever again.
"Yes, I called Henderson. Even though it hasn't been the requisite 48 hours yet, he said he would spread the word, unofficially, and have his patrolmen keep an eye out for anything unusual. Especially in Jimmy's neighborhood."
Lois patted Clark's hand in sympathy. "I guess that's all we can do for now."
Clark frowned at the phone. "I guess." He suddenly brightened a bit. "Hey, Perry just got a call. Ralph quit."
Clark smiled. "Yeah, Ralph."
Lois shook her head from side to side. "Well, what do you know. I guess there really is a god after all."
Lucy set aside the stack of papers she had just sorted for one of her bosses when the front door opened. In walked two impeccably dressed men. The one in the rear was a scary looking dude. His face looked like he had just swallowed a basket full of particularly sour lemons. He was tall and lean, but looked like he could handle himself in just about any circumstance. The leading man was the other fellow's opposite number in every way. Only of average height, but that's all that was average about him. He was darkly handsome, with a definite Mediterranean look to him. He exuded power and charisma. He was one of those people who you just looked at and knew they commanded a lot of respect and possessed a full share of personal magnetism.
"Good morning, Mr. Dark." Lucy had known immediately who it was.
He favored her with a charming smile. "Good morning, Ms. Lane. I hope you've enjoyed you employ here so far."
Lucy returned his smile. A little shiver slid down her spine. "I can't complain." Lucy knew this was the bad guy, but she couldn't help appreciating how good he looked and how well he carried himself.
Dark stopped momentarily at her desk. "I will be in conference the whole time I'm here, so I'd appreciate it if you would make sure we are not disturbed."
"Certainly, Mr. Dark." Lucy couldn't stop herself from watching him from behind as the two men entered the largest office.
After the door closed behind them, Lucy quickly turned and grabbed the phone. She had to call Lois, tell her that Dark had actually come into the office. Just as she was about to dial, Jeff, the most junior member of the three member management team, came over and sat himself down on the corner of her desk.
"Hey, Lucy, how's it going? I see you met the big man."
Lucy groaned inwardly. Jeff had been coming on to her ever since she had started. Nothing overt, nothing that could be classed as sexual harassment. Just 'being friendly', which drove Lucy crazy. He was a nice enough guy, but Lucy wasn't interested. Even so, she knew that it would be some time before she could get rid of him. With a sigh, Lucy set the receiver back onto its cradle.
For the first hour, Dark went over actual business with the office manager. He didn't come in very often, but when he did he was interested in how things were running. He liked to see his legitimate business doing just as well as his illegitimate ones.
After dismissing his office manager, Dark pressed a button on his desktop and suddenly music began to emanate from hidden speakers in the walls. To anyone within hearing distance it seemed like simple easy listening music. The kind that is often pumped into modern offices under the guise of soothing background.
This easy listening music was anything but, buried subtly into the mix of the songs was a stream of white noise. This white noise was specifically designed to interfere with any attempt at electronic surveillance. Dark had no reason to suspect that anyone could overhear any conversations, but one of the reasons he'd never been caught was because he always played it safe.
"Okay, I've decided how we can use Olsen to soften up Kal El, make him suffer a little, yet we will still hold the upper hand." Dark paced as he talked. "I want you to get in touch with Ralph and have him meet us at the 5th street warehouse later. I want him there." Dark smiled a shark-like grin, cold and evil. "After all this is his party too."
Lucy sighed a big sigh of relief when Jeff finally left her desk and she was free to call Lois. She picked up the phone and dialed quickly before anyone else could bother her. The phone rang only twice before it was picked up.
"Lois, this is Lucy, you'll never guess who came into the office about an hour ago."
"Really? Does anyone know you're calling me?"
Lucy shook her head, then realized that Lois couldn't see that. "No, this is the first chance I've had to call. He just went into his office, told me he didn't want to be disturbed, and had my boss in there for nearly an hour." Lucy stifled a giggle. "You know, his assistant is kind of a scary guy, but Mr. Dark is awfully handsome."
"Lucy!" Lois expelled a large sigh that even Lucy could hear. "Remember, this man is one nasty customer. From the information Dan has shown me, human life is not something he values very highly."
"I'll be careful." Lucy was quiet for a second. "Say, did Jimmy come in?"
"No, Clark called Inspector Henderson and he is going to have the local patrolmen keep an eye out. No one seems to know where he could be. Clark has been talking with some of the people who were in over the weekend, to see if he could locate anyone who talked to Jimmy, maybe find out who this hot date was supposed to be, but he hasn't had any luck yet."
Lucy frowned. "That's too bad, I really hope nothing bad has happened. "
"You and me both." Lois sighed audibly again. "Well, you'd better hang up before you get caught on the phone."
Lucy laughed. "It's not exactly a crime you know, but I'd better get back to it." Lucy was just about to hang up. "Wait, I just remembered I needed to tell you not to expect me back tonight till late."
"I met a cute guy on the bus. We're going to meet for drinks after work." This time Lucy did giggle. "Who knows, if things go real well, I may not be home at all tonight."
"Oops, gotta go, Lois, bye." Lucy hung up just as Dark and his assistant came out of the office.
Dark passed by her desk toward the door but the assistant stopped. "I hope that wasn't a personal call, Miss Lane."
Lucy repressed a shudder as she looked up into his emotionless face. "That's Ms. Lane, and I guess you could say it was. I had to call my sister to let her know that I wouldn't be home after work tonight." Lucy used bluster to hide her nervousness. "She worries if she doesn't know where I am. You know how older siblings are." Lucy wasn't sure but she thought the movement of his mouth was supposed to be a smile.
"Of course, you should let your sister know your plans. That's very responsible of you Miss, er, Ms. Lane." He turned to go, stopped and glanced back at her. "Have a pleasant evening." He then turned and followed his employer out the door.
Lucy was suddenly overcome with a desire to take a shower. Something about that man just made you feel dirty just talking to him. Not in the sleazy, slimeball sense, but more of a sense of vileness, or just downright evil. She shuddered again, then turned her attention to the new stack of work that Jeff had so graciously left behind after his 'friendly chat'.
Lois leaned back in her chair, she was having trouble concentrating on her story. She was concerned for Lucy and hoped that she wasn't taking any risky chances. True, it was just an innocent phone call, but it was becoming more clear that Salvador Dark was not someone you wanted to cross in any way. Oh god, she thought, what if Dark monitors all his phones, or worse, tapes all calls? She had just about decided to go look for Clark when the ringing of her phone startled her.
"Lois Lane," she said after putting the receiver to her ear.
"Lois, it's Dan, I followed Dark to his office. Then, after about an hour or so, he and his buddy left and are now at the Regency. Did Lucy call?"
"Yeah, she said that Dark came in, told her he did not want to be disturbed, and spent all the time locked up in his office. From what you said it sounds like he must have left there right after she called."
"Did, she say anything else? Did she maybe overhear anything?"
"Do you mean, did she listen at any doors for some juicy information that might get her killed?" Lois' concern changed to irritation as her voice gained a frosty edge to it. "No, she didn't mention anything."
"Sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I just thought if she'd heard something as they passed by, you know." Lois could hear his sigh at the other end of the phone. "Anyway, it looks like he might be staying put for a while. I'm going to turn this surveillance over to another agent for a time. Then I'll come back later tonight." Lois heard a pause, as if Dan were thinking over what he was going to say next. "Would you like to come along? I'm sure, being a veteran of stakeouts yourself, you realize how boring they can be if you have no one to talk to."
Lois could think of several things she'd rather do than sit in a car with Dan Scardino half the night, like scrubbing floors or painting her ceiling, but it was her story too. Dan did sound a bit pathetic and she found herself feeling a little sorry for him.
"Okay, you can come by and pick me up. I hope you have a comfortable vehicle, I don't think my Porsche is exactly the right car for a stake out."
"Got it covered," his voice was definitely more animated now that she had agreed. "I'll pick you up around eight, and Lois, thanks."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Don't mention it. Bye Dan."
Lois spent the next half an hour trying to come up with a reason to back out of the stakeout, but her sense of responsibility to her story kept getting in the way. True, she didn't really need to be there. Dan would fill her in on anything interesting or suspicious that might happen. Still she'd already told him she would go, so she figured she was stuck. Of course, the floors could use a good scrubbing.
Lois noticed Clark was back at his desk so she rolled her chair over next to it. "Any luck?" she asked.
Clark shook his head. "No, I can't find anyone who was here over the weekend that actually talked to Jimmy. Several people saw him but no one talked to him, nor did they remember seeing him talk to someone else."
Lois placed her hand on Clark's arm. "I guess we'll have to wait and see if Henderson turns up anything."
Clark looked Lois in the eyes. "Yeah, but by then it could be too late."
Clark made an effort to shake off his feelings of foreboding over Jimmy. There was no sense in dwelling on it right now, besides, there was something else he needed to ask Lois about.
"Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Perry?"
Lois' defensive radar was instantly alert. "What do you mean?"
Clark frowned, and clenched his hands. "I don't know exactly. I know he's concerned about Jimmy, but it seems like it's more than that. He doesn't look like he slept at all last night, and he's a lot more subdued than normal." Clark ran his hand through his hair. "Maybe I'm reading more into it. Maybe it is just worry over Jimmy."
Lois' first thought was panic. Clark was sharp. He'd seen how Perry was internalizing his grief over his knowledge of Lois' death and being the compassionate person that he was, was concerned for his boss. It would be just like Clark to notice those things.
"Ah, I think I heard that he got some bad news yesterday."
Clark nodded. "Really? Did you hear what it was?"
Lois' mind was racing. "Um, I think it was something to do with the loss of an old family friend."
Clark pursed his lips into a tight line, then his features relaxed into an expression of concern. "That's too bad. Maybe I should go offer my condolences." Clark started to get up.
"No!" Lois grabbed Clark's sleeve. At his look of bewilderment Lois quickly added, "I mean, it would probably be better if we didn't remind him of it. I'm sure he's trying to put it behind him, no sense bringing back painful memories."
"I guess." Clark slowly sat back down, not entirely convinced as he looked at Lois' weak smile.
"So what are your plans for the evening?" Lois asked, desperate to change the subject.
Clark suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Well, I plan to meet with Lana tonight."
Clark stumbled a bit with his words. "Yeah, we are going to take one last shot at trying to figure who might have taken the artifact, or how we might go about finding out that information. The police still have no clues." Clark again ran his hand through his hair. "How about you?"
Now it was Lois' turn to feel uncomfortable. "Well Dan's coming over to pick me up for a late stakeout of our prime suspect, Mr. Salvador Dark."
"Oh," was all Clark said.
Before either of them could continue, they were interrupted by a cute young woman who seemed ill at ease. "Excuse me, are you Clark Kent?" she asked directing her comment toward Clark.
"Yes, I am." He indicated the extra chair at the other side of his desk with his hand. "How can I help you?"
She blushed a bit as she sat. "My name is Angie Monetti. I work down in personals. I heard you were asking people about Jimmy Olsen?"
Clark nodded. "Yes, do you know something?"
She nervously played with her nails. "Well Jimmy and I went out Saturday night…"
"So, you're the hot date that he supposedly had." Lois blurted out.
Both Clark and Angie shot Lois a disapproving look. Lois blushed and shut up as Angie continued. "Anyway, we had a real good time so we decided to get together again Sunday night. Nothing special, Jimmy had some things to finish up here, then he was going to pick me up and we were going to just stay in with a video and some popcorn. You know, real casual."
"Go on," Clark encouraged.
"Well, he never showed up." She looked at both Clark and Lois, her eyes pleading that they understand. "I was sort of upset, thinking he stood me up, so I didn't bother coming over here yesterday to find out what happened." Angie stared at her lap for a moment. "Then I heard you were asking after him, so I came over to talk to you. Has something happened to Jimmy?"
Lois bit her lip as Clark reached over and squeezed Angie's hand. "We hope not. We have just been concerned because Jimmy hasn't shown up for work the last two days, and no one has heard from him." Clark patted her hand. "Thank you for coming and telling me this, Angie. It might be a big help."
Angie stood, she had a worried look on her face. "We only had the one date, but Jimmy really seems like a nice guy. Would you let me know if you find out anything?"
"Sure, don't worry, I'm positive we'll know something soon." Clark helped her out of her seat.
After Angie had gone Lois looked over at Clark. "Well, what do you think about that?"
Clark frowned. "I don't like it one bit." Clark reached for his phone. "I'm going to call Henderson."
Lois stared at her closet for several minutes before abandoning it in favor of her dresser. A quick rummage through it produced a dark blue turtleneck and a pair of dark blue jeans. She figured that the stakeout wasn't going to be formal, so she might as well be comfortable. She strolled out into the kitchen to finish the sandwich she had left, half eaten, sitting on the table. She glanced at the wall clock which read 7:32.
Stuffing the last of her sandwich in her mouth and washing it down with what was left of her lukewarm glass of milk, Lois then went over to the couch and, grabbing the remote, flipped on LNN news. The television had hardly had time to glow when there was a knock at her front door. Frowning slightly, Lois flipped off the TV and got up to answer it.
It was early yet for it to be Dan, but then, he might have decided to come by early for some reason. Lois' frown got more pronounced as she thought of some of the possible reasons. She opened the door and was surprised by who greeted her there.
"Clark! Lana?" She stepped back. "Come in. I have to say that I'm surprised to see you two."
Lana bustled into the room with Clark trailing behind. "Oh, Lois, this is my fault. Clark told me you were going out with Dan tonight, but I insisted we come over and see if we could catch you before you left."
Lois waved her hand in the direction of her living room. "I'm not going out with Dan, it's work." The trio found places to sit.
"Good," replied Lana. "So I hope you won't mind if we impose for a short time." Lana glanced around the room. "Where is Dan?"
"He's not here yet." Lois leaned forward to address Lana. "So, what is it I can do for you?"
Lana gave Clark a smile before turning back to Lois. "You remember at the restaurant when I said I would really like you to give us your take on the museum theft. Clark and I just can't seem to get anywhere on it, and the police have pretty much written it off."
Lois looked over at the resigned look on Clark's face. She knew this wasn't his idea. "So, what do you have?"
Clark cleared his throat before speaking. "Well, not much really. Neither I, nor the police, were able to find any physical evidence at the scene. There's been no activity in stolen ancient artifacts that I've been able to discover, and the few fences that might handle something like this have been under careful scrutiny, which has revealed nothing. Unless someone tries to sell it, I don't think we have any chance to find out who took it."
Lois bit on her fingernail as she stared at the floor for a few moments. "You've been treating this like the theft of valuable ancient artifacts, right?" They both nodded. "Was anything else taken?" They both shook their heads. "So, for what other reason might this particular piece be a target? What made it unique?"
Clark scratched his cheek. "I know where you are going with this, Lois. Yes, we are pretty sure it's a Kryptonian artifact, but that in itself could make it more valuable."
"Especially to another Kryptonian," Lois added.
"Lois, I'm the only Kryptonian around, and I guarantee you, I didn't take it."
"You are sure you are the only Kryptonian? Not too long ago this place was crawling with them. You are sure none of them decided to stay? Maybe they recognized what the artifact was and had to have it?"
"Zara assured me that all her people were accounted for when they left. No one got left behind."
Lois stood up and started to pace. "If you say so." Her tone said she wasn't convinced. "If not a renegade Kryptonian, then how about the other Kryptonian connection, Superman. Maybe one of your enemies took it thinking that it might provide them with some knowledge or leverage to use against you."
"Maybe, but that's quite a reach."
"Do you have any better ideas?"
A firm rap on the front door interrupted Clark. Lois went over and opened it. She immediately stepped back to allow Dan to enter.
"Come on in, Dan, join the party.
"Hi, Lois," he suddenly saw Clark and frowned, "Kent?" He then saw Lana and his frown disappeared. "Lana," he said, the smile on his face reflected in his voice.
Lana got up and came over to Scardino. "Hello, Dan, I hope you don't mind, but Clark and I came over to get some help on our story from Lois."
Dan looked over at Lois who just raised her brows and nodded once. "Oh, that's okay."
Lana placed her hand on Dan's arm. "So I hear you and Lois have some sort of work to do?"
Dan shrugged. "Well we have our suspect under surveillance. Lois and I were just going to go and stake out his place, see if he goes anywhere incriminating."
Lana leaned in close. "Oooh, sounds exciting." Lana bit her finger in a little girl pose. "Can I go along?"
Dan looked helplessly at Lois. Lois just shrugged.
Clark had gotten up and made a move toward Lana. "Lana, I don't think…"
Lois placed her arm on Clark's to stop him. "I want to hear this." Lois said under her breath so that only Clark could hear. He stared at her but didn't say anything.
Dan, ignoring Clark, turned his attention back to Lana. "Well, it's not really all that exciting. The most likely scenario is that Dark will just stay put and we'll spend half the night watching a building. Nothing will happen." Dan looked into Lana's eyes and found himself clenching his fists nervously. "It's just nice to have someone there to talk with, and help pass the time."
"I can do that. I'm an educated, well-read individual. I'm sure I could hold up my end of any conversation." Lana was playing with the buttons on Dan's shirt.
Dan was a bit perplexed. "Why would you want to go?"
Lana laughed. "Oh, I don't know. It just sounds so cloak and dagger to me. Come on, it would be something I could tell my grandkids."
Dan spread his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Well, I don't care, if Lois doesn't. It might get a bit crowded with all of us in the car."
Lana smiled. "Well, I think it would be better with just me and you. I think it would be beneficial if Clark stayed here, with Lois, and they could brainstorm some more on the theft of my artifact. Lois is very insightful on those kinds of things, don't you think?" Clark made a move toward Lana but Lois gave his arm a hard squeeze. "You said yourself that most likely nothing would happen. If anything does happen, you could give Lois a call, and I'm sure she and Clark could meet us anywhere in a jiffy." Lana gave Clark a knowing look. "If not, then Lois' time wouldn't be wasted, she could be helping Clark solve our mystery theft." Lana traced her finger down Dan's chest. "So, what do you say?"
Dan stared at Lana for several seconds until suddenly his look of confusion cleared and was replaced with one of understanding. It was as if the proverbial lightbulb went on over his head. He nodded at Lana. With a sheepish grin he turned to Lois.
"What do you say, Lois. I guess it's really up to you."
Lois quickly grabbed Dan and Lana by the arms and led them to the front door. "I say it sounds like a plan to me. I wouldn't think of depriving Lana of a chance to spend a thrilling evening on an all night stakeout. You two go ahead, have fun. You have my phone numbers if you need to reach me." Lois reached over and opened the door. "If you don't call, we'll talk tomorrow, okay? Bye."
The door closed behind the bums' rushed couple. Lois turned back toward the living room with a satisfied smile on her face. She noticed the shell-shocked look on Clark's face. She couldn't help but laugh.
He shook his head from side to side. "Can you tell me what just happened here?"
"Later," Lois said as she went to the phone. "I've decided that I'm still hungry. Would you care to join me for some take out?"
Clark watched as Lois deftly dialed the number of her favorite local sezuwan delivery. After completing her call, she came back over to where Clark was standing. Clark favored her with a calculating look.
"Lois, you do realize that you left the phone off the hook."
Lois threw a quick glance over her shoulder. "So I did." She sat on the couch and patted the cushion next to her. "Sit, it's time we talked."
Dan pulled out into traffic and headed in the general direction of downtown. "Dark is staying at the Regency. I've got a man watching the place now. We will be relieving him."
Dan stared at Lana's profile for several seconds. He had to admit she was a very beautiful woman. What was it about Kent, he wondered, that attracted such lovely, vivacious women. He let the silence pervade for a few minutes.
"So, you think that this will make Clark and Lois jealous?"
Lana turned and looked at Dan in irritation. "Is that what you think this is about? Trying to make Clark and Lois jealous?"
"Well, yeah," Dan responded defensively. "Isn't that why you were asking me how I felt about Lois, and how I thought Lois felt about me, back at the restaurant the other night?"
Lana leaned her head back against the headrest and sighed. "Look, G-man, let's review what we told each other the other night. I told you that I really liked Clark, and that I was a fool to have walked away from him earlier in my life." Lana's eyes glinted in the passing headlights of other vehicles as they passed. "But, I also told you that I realized that Clark still loves Lois, and as long as that's true, I have no hope of being more than an old flame, and current friend to him." Lana crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Your turn."
Dan hesitated, trying to organize his thoughts. "Well, I told you how I had asked Lois to take a walk with me the other night, and that I told her that I was interested in her romantically." Dan stopped but was spurred on by the look on Lana's face. "And, that she told me that she wasn't interested in me that way. That the most I could expect was to be her friend. It was almost like she'd totally forgotten our previous time together. Like it had happened to someone else. She didn't come out and say it, but I believe she still carries a torch for Clark, though I can't imagine why."
Lana nodded. "Okay, now, what do we have here? Clark still loves Lois, and Lois still loves Clark."
"But they got a divorce!" Dan wailed. "Doesn't that mean something. Doesn't that mean that it should be possible for two other people to enter their lives and supply the love they seem determined to deny each other, for what ever reason?"
"No, it doesn't. It just means that they've made a mistake, and need some help to correct it." Lana turned and stared out the front windshield. "I don't know why they split up, but one thing is certain. They belong together. They need each other, they deserve each other." Lana's voice got very soft. "And I'm going to do what I can to put them back together."
Lana sighed. "Because he's still the best friend I ever had."
Dan shook his head. "I still don't get it. Then why the act, tonight? Why play up to me?"
"Simple, I wanted to put the two of them together, alone. Maybe, they could just talk, and realize that they still have feelings for each other. Our presence just complicates things for them. Clark probably thinks that Lois has strong feelings for you."
"And does Lois think that Clark has those kind of feelings for you?"
"She probably did at first. Especially since I tried to foster that impression. Who knows, maybe she still does, but I'm pretty sure Lois knew what I was doing tonight. That I was trying to get them alone together. I just hope she can take the initiative and get Clark to open up about how he feels."
Dan snorted. "We're sitting here so sure of ourselves. Thinking we both know how each of them feels, but the fact remains, they did get a divorce. Maybe we don't know so much after all."
Lana remained silent for a couple of extra heartbeats before turning back to Dan. "I called Clark's mother yesterday. She's a wonderful person, kind of like a second mother to me. We've kept in loose touch over the years so we have a pretty solid relationship." Lana let escape a bitter laugh. "Even so, I don't think she ever thought I was right for her son." Lana took an extra breath. "Anyway, I called her and tried to get her opinion on the situation. What she thought of the divorce, and her take on how Clark and Lois feel about each other now." Lana chuckled. "Oh, she was guarded as we talked, like she knew something that she wasn't willing to tell, but she did let some things slip, probably on purpose." Lana leaned back in the car seat again. "Did you know that Clark and Lois were in Smallville together last weekend?"
Dan was getting flustered. "What? Why would they do that?"
Lana smiled sadly at Dan. "Don't know for sure, but it does tell me something."
The two fell silent while Dan pulled the car over to the curb opposite the Regency Hotel in downtown Metropolis. Dan quickly got out and talked to someone in a green sedan parked a couple spaces ahead. Dan gave the sedan a pat on the roof and the car pulled out and drove away. Dan returned and got back into the driver's seat.
"There's been no activity at all so far."
Lana sat silent for another couple of minutes. "Tell me Dan, do you want to marry Lois?"
Dan was obviously startled by the question. "No — ah, well not right now. Maybe later, but my work is, well, you know."
Lana nodded, mostly to herself. "I thought as much. I really like Clark, and would love to be in a hot and heavy relationship with him, but I'm not ready for the town home and the white picket fence either."
"And you think they are?"
"Oh, I know Clark is. That's been his dream for as long as I've known him." Lana shook her head, causing her hair to cover part of her face. "I'm not so sure about Lois, maybe that's where the problem lies." Lana used her hands to brush the hair out of her face. "Tell me, Dan, do you find me attractive?"
Another curve ball question that had Dan baffled. "Of course; you are a beautiful woman."
"So why haven't you tried to kiss me?" She cocked her brow at him.
A lopsided grin suddenly appeared on Dan's face. He placed his finger under her chin and lifted it as he leaned toward her. She arched her back as she rose to meet him halfway. It wasn't a lovers' kiss, but it did have passion and a fair amount of desire behind it. Both were out of breath when they broke.
"Wow," was all Dan could say as his smile got wider.
Lana's lips curved into a slight smile of her own. "Did you know that I had asked Clark to make love to me, but he wouldn't? Did you know that he couldn't even kiss me properly?" Lana ran her finger along Dan's jaw line. "What does that tell you about Clark?"
"That he's an idiot?"
Lana giggled. "No, I think it says that he's still in love with someone else."
Lana slid over closer to Dan on the seat. "Shall we see what it says about you?"
Without even really knowing what the battle had been, Dan knew that he'd lost. But then, surrender had never been this pleasant before. He leaned closer as their lips met once again in a kiss of passion, and excitement.
Clark slowly walked over and purposely sat in a chair, opposite the couch that Lois had sat in. He too had wanted to get some things out in the open, so to speak, with Lois, but now he was a bit hesitant to actually say what he wanted to say. He wanted Lois to know that he hadn't slept with Lana, and that he and Lana didn't have anything serious going on between them. Lana was just an old friend, but he didn't know how to go about saying it. On the one hand, it really wasn't any of Lois' business. What Clark did or didn't do with Lana, really was no concern of Lois'.
Clark shook that thought off. He was conflicted as to how he should actually tell her, but he wanted Lois to know exactly what his relationship with Lana was. Of course, the one thing that he continually tried to ignore, if he was being honest with himself, was that Lois didn't care one way or the other.
'Let's face it', Clark thought to himself, even if what he felt every time he saw Lois wasn't just emotional echoes, even if it was the real thing, she was not his former love, and she had no interest in him beyond establishing a companionable friendship. He knew who she really was, and she needed him, and Lucy, to be her friends, so she would have a support foundation while she regained the semblance of a real life. If she wanted or needed romance, she had Dan for that.
Clark had to force himself not to grimace at the thought of Dan Scardino. There was just something about that guy, his smug attitude, and the bad jokes, that got under Clark's skin. A little voice in the back of his mind asked if maybe some of his feelings toward Dan weren't due to the fact that Dan had been a rival for Lois' affections at a particularly confusing time in their relationship. Clark rejected the tiny voice's query. He was sure that he wouldn't like the guy even if they'd never had the past that they had. Still, Clark would have to learn to deal with his feelings. If Dan helped make Lois happy, then he should be happy for the both of them.
Clark had been busy staring at the floor while all these thoughts had been going through his mind, so he was startled when Lois cleared her throat and jarred him out of his musings.
"Well, since Lana obviously wanted us to be alone so we could talk about some things, I suppose we should."
"Oh, come on, Clark, don't tell me you bought into all that gushy, schoolgirl flirting she used on Dan?"
Clark didn't know what to do with his hands. "Well, I just thought, maybe she actually thought a stakeout would be exciting."
Lois raised her eyebrow. "Uh huh." She made a short, waving gesture with her right hand. "Doesn't matter, we do need to get some things squared away between us. I'll go first." Lois bit her lip briefly before looking up into Clark's face. "I was pretty insulted and even a bit hurt by your implication as to how I might have gotten the confidential files from Dan." Lois sighed. "Oh, I admit that I led him on a bit in order to convince him that he should give them to me, but we had already established some working ground rules before that. All I promised him was a dinner out on the town. Though I suppose he was hoping for more than that." Lois allowed herself a small grin. "Of course, he didn't even get that, since you and Lana arrived, and we soon ditched our dates to check on Jimmy's car."
"We didn't ditch our…oh, I guess we did." Clark looked embarrassed.
"Anyway, I just wanted you to know that." Lois affected a mock stern posture. "Just what kind of girl do you think I am anyway?"
Clark took her tone a little more seriously than she intended it. "I think you are a beautiful, bright, vivacious woman who, as an adult, is fully capable of making her own choices without having to clear them with her…friend."
"I appreciate that sentiment, and it's one that I embrace when it comes to you also. I just didn't want you thinking that Dan and I were — well, you know. Please give me a little more credit than that." Lois exhaled a loud breath. "I mean he's cute enough, I guess, and he seems like a nice enough guy. It's just that anytime I see him I think that he's in the wrong line of business. He should be racing around a ring on a unicycle, wearing a big red nose, honking a funny looking horn."
Clark couldn't help but smile at the picture that sprang into his mind. Somehow it seemed to suit Dan. Clark couldn't help but feel a little relieved to know that Lois and Dan weren't seeing each other romantically. Actually, if he thought about it, it only made sense. Lois had to expend most of her energies on trying to rebuild a career, and a life. A career she had been away from for years due to her imprisonment, and a life that wasn't even her own. Outside of finding a few friends she could confide in, she had no time for relationships. Especially not with some goofball federal agent she didn't even really know. He just hoped that one day she would find someone who could help her fill out the rest of her life. Being secure in your career, and having good friends was all well and good, but being in love with someone who loved you just as much in return, gave a whole new meaning to the term 'quality of life'.
Clark's hand found it's way into his hair again. "I guess it's my turn," he said.
Lois studied Clark as he kept repeating the nervous gesture of running his hands through his hair. Oh no, she thought, he's really anxious. He probably doesn't know how to tell me that he's fallen in love with Lana. Lois bit her lip as she watched the play of emotion on Clark's face. Was that why Lana had arranged for them to be alone together? So Clark would be compelled to tell Lois to butt out? That Clark was now spoken for? She had to remind herself that if Lana could make Clark happy, if Lana could ease the ache in Clark's soul, then she, Lois, had to be happy for him. Her feelings didn't matter in this case. Clark had suffered so much, only his peace of mind mattered.
"Even though you probably don't care one way or the other, I want you to know just exactly what my relationship with Lana is." Clark paused for another breath.
Lois found herself clenching her fists. This is it, she thought. This is where he tells me that he's found succor in the arms of his old friend.
"Lana and I go way back. We grew up together. Played together as kids. It just sort of flowed naturally that we would start dating and become a couple." This time his hand found itself adjusting his glasses. "Everyone thought that we would go on together and eventually get married, but I guess you know how that turned out. Lana couldn't handle the alien thing and we drifted apart." Clark leaned back and sighed. "I will admit that seeing Lana again has been nice. It brought back a lot of pleasant memories. She is also a different person than she was before, more mature, more understanding. The fact that I'm an alien, that I'm Superman, doesn't bother her anymore."
Of course not, thought Lois cynically. Why would she mind being involved with the idol of millions? Lana has what most of the eligible females on the planet would give anything for, a relationship with Superhunk. And she has the added advantage of knowing the real man; the kind, generous man of compassion who can steal your heart with his smile. No, she didn't suppose it would bother Lana much.
Clark frowned as he stared off to the side, not meeting Lois' eyes. "I know you and Lucy overheard the phone call I had with Lana when we were at the folks'. I know what it probably sounded like, and I'm not going to lie to you, she did spend the night, but she and I — what I mean is that we…" Clark took in a deep breath.
Lois shook her head sadly. "Just say it, Clark"
Clark looked up and met Lois' eyes. "Lois, we didn't sleep together. Well, we did *sleep* together, but we didn't make love." The hand went to his hair again. "Lana wanted to, she asked if I would, but I didn't." He stared back at the floor for several seconds. "I couldn't."
A chill ran up Lois' spine. She hadn't let herself think it, but she had been afraid of this reaction more than his falling for Lana. Her voice was soft as if her mouth was suddenly quite dry. "Can I ask why?"
Clark just shook his head slowly from side to side. "I just couldn't. It wouldn't have been right. I don't feel for her like I do, did, for Lois. I know that it's stupid but I can't make love to a woman just for physical pleasure. I have to have strong feelings for that person." He met Lois' eyes again, with a look that pleaded for understanding. "Lana and I just don't share those kinds of feelings."
"It's not stupid." Lois replied, a tear slipping from the corner of her eye.
It was Lois' greatest fear come true. Clark was never going to get over his lost wife. He was never going to let himself heal to the point where he could find love and comfort in the arms of another woman. He was going to walk through the rest of his life denying himself the chance of obtaining a measure of happiness and peace of mind. In the back of her mind there had always been a sliver of hope that maybe someday he could see her in that light. That she could be the one to help him back to wholeness, and in doing so, give herself something she feared would never be hers on this world. Another tear slid down Lois' cheek, but she wasn't sure if it was for Clark, or her.
"Ow!" Clark winced as he suddenly jumped up and shook his head. He looked like he was in pain.
"What is it?" Lois quickly glanced around for some obvious source of Clark's discomfort.
Still wincing a bit, Clark's expression changed from one of irritation to what looked like hope. "It's Jimmy's signal watch!" He said excitedly.
"His what?" Lois was baffled.
"Jimmy has a watch that Star Labs made." Clark explained. "It was designed to be able to signal me by emitting a high pitched frequency that only I can hear." Clark spun into Superman. "I've got to go."
"Take me with you." Without waiting for an answer Lois threw herself into Clark's arms.
The ride was quite an experience. Clark flew as fast as he dared with Lois in his arms. While his aura protected her for the most part, Lois had to scrunch her chin into her chest to keep from having her head snapped back by the momentum. Also, she was surprised that her hair wasn't torn out by the roots from the force of the wind.
Within seconds they landed in a particularly dark part of Suicide Slum. There was very little sign of human activity. Both sides of the street were lined with empty tenements which looked like a strong wind could blow them down. Clark set Lois down under the only street light that still worked for several blocks.
"Stay here till I find out what the situation is." He sped off, disappearing into the alley just a half a block ahead.
Lois waited, listening hard for any sounds of struggle or action. She heard no voices coming from the mouth of the alley. After a few moments, Lois decided she had waited long enough. She quickly, and quietly, closed the distance to the front of the alley and peered in.
It was hard to see in the darkness, but she could barely make out Clark's figure, about forty feet ahead, bending over something lying amongst the filth of the alley. She quickly crossed the intervening space and was brought up short by what she saw.
Clark seemed to be bent over what looked, for all the world, like a mummified corpse. It was definitely human, but the desiccated remains were like something that had been dug up after having been buried for a long time. Her sharply indrawn breath caused Clark to look up at her. Lois was just able to see in the reflected moonlight, tears streaming down his cheeks. Lois got scared.
"Clark, what is it? What's wrong?"
Clark held the wrist of the withered corpse. Encircling that gray, leathery wrist was a shiny, gold-plated, modern wrist watch. Lois bit down hard on her lip, as the realization of what that watch meant washed over her.
"It's Jimmy's watch," Clark said simply as more tears flowed freely down his face.
"Ralph! How could it be Ralph?" Clark stood in front of Perry White's desk, the confused look on his face accurately portraying his complete bafflement.
"Darned if I know. All I can tell you is what Inspector Henderson just told me over the phone." Perry tapped the instrument with his pencil as if to reinforce his words. "He said that the body that Superman brought in last night, the one we all thought was Jimmy, wasn't. Dental records show it was Ralph."
"How did Ralph get Jimmy's watch?" Clark ran his hand through his hair. "Does this mean that Ralph knew something about Jimmy's disappearance?"
"I don't know," Perry shrugged.
The elevator chimed its arrival and Lois stepped off. She needed to find Clark. She figured that both he and Perry would be very upset over Jimmy's death, as was she, but she also had something else on her mind. With a pensive look she scanned the newsroom for him. After seeing that he wasn't at his desk, or the break area, she finally spied him in Perry's office. Lois couldn't quite make out what they were saying, but Clark clearly looked agitated. She hurried over, and stuck her head into the Chief's office.
"Sorry to interrupt," Lois apologized, "but I need to talk to Clark."
"Come in, Lois, you should hear this too." Perry waved her in with one hand.
"What is it?" Lois asked.
Clark turned to her, his voice somewhat excited. "Lois, that body Superman found last night, it wasn't Jimmy."
"It wasn't?" A feeling of relief began to spread through her.
"No," Clark's excitement damped down a bit. "It was Ralph."
Perry then filled Lois in on the phone call he had gotten from the Metropolis police. At first glance, the police thought it might have been a sick prank due to the fact that the body looked like it had been dug up from an old grave or some such thing. But the evidence of some unusual fillings and a cap prompted the coroner to look a little deeper. Normally, dental records would only be used to confirm a suspected identity. Otherwise it would be a needle in a haystack search. But the police had been lucky. The composition of a couple of the fillings wasn't the standard material normally used. A computer search of local dental offices came up with a dentist on the south side of town who frequently used the materials found in the victims mouth. An early morning call to the dentist in question provided access to his records, and a search of his patient list came up with Ralph. An examination of Ralph's records provided the match needed.
Lois looked back and forth between the two men. She could see that they were both pleased that it hadn't been Jimmy found last night, but, as irritating as Ralph could be, neither would have wished him dead. Their conflicted feelings were quite evident on their faces.
"Does this mean that Ralph had something to do with Jimmy's disappearance?" Lois asked. "How did he get Jimmy's watch?"
Perry looked up at Lois with a sad smile. "I don't know, yet, but I do know that this could be a big story. How, and why, does someone die like that? I'm going to ask you two to team up on it."
Clark bit his lip and looked at his shoe. Lois took a deep breath. Both wanted to tell Perry that they were already on stories, but they both knew that since neither had much to show for their efforts to date, Perry wouldn't buy it. After all, Clark still had no clues to go on, and none looked forthcoming. And Lois hadn't heard anything from Dan, so she had to assume his stake out had been uneventful, at least where Dark was concerned. Clark and Lois decided not to say anything, and try to work on this, and their other stories, rather than risk having Perry kill them outright. It was Lois who stood and spoke first.
"Okay, Perry, we'll see what we can come up with." She turned to Clark. "I guess we'd best get at it."
He nodded and followed her out of Perry's office and down to the bullpen. "Do you think that Ralph maybe stumbled onto Jimmy's abduction somehow, and got killed for his efforts? Lois?" Clark shook her shoulder, she had been staring off into space, obviously thinking of something else.
She jerked around at his touch. "What? Did you say something?"
Clark could tell she was worried about something. "Lois, is something wrong?"
She stared at Clark for a moment before answering. "I'm not sure. Lucy never came home last night." Lois saw Clark's look of alarm, so she continued to explain. "When I talked to her last, she said she wasn't going to be home till late because she was planning to meet some guy for drinks after work."
"Do you know who it was?"
"No, she just said it was some cute guy she met on the bus on the way to work yesterday." Lois sighed. "Maybe I'm just being paranoid about it, but what if he is some kind of nut case, or serial rapist or something."
Clark put his arm around Lois' shoulders. "Lucy may not have had the best of luck with guys in the past, but I think we can trust her now to make some better choices, don't you think?"
Lois frowned up at Clark. "How am I supposed to know what to think? I've only known the woman for a few months."
"And in those few months, you two have become very close friends, and I think you know her quite well." Clark steered Lois to her desk. "Besides, all you have to do is call her to see if she's at work, and then you'll know."
Lois gave Clark a weak smile. "Thanks, I'll do that. Her day doesn't start for a few minutes yet. I'll wait about ten minutes than give her a call."
"Good, now what do you think about Ralph?"
Lois was momentarily thrown by the change of subject. "Ralph? What about Ralph?"
Clark smiled at her. "Our story?" Clark chuckled at her blush. "So, what do you think? Did Ralph find out something about Jimmy's disappearance? Or did he just stumble into it, wrong place at the wrong time?"
Lois frowned and chewed on her thumbnail for a time. "What do we know for sure? Ralph was found with Jimmy's watch on his wrist. He was murdered in a most unusual and gruesome manner, and Ralph was the one who told us that he'd seen Jimmy over the weekend, and about Jimmy's, so-called, hot date." Lois looked at Clark with lips pursed tight in thought. "Could Ralph and Jimmy been working together on anything?"
Clark shook his head. "I asked Perry, and he said no. If they were, it was not officially. Besides, I know Jimmy and Ralph didn't get along too well." It was Clark's turn to frown. "Why don't I get us some coffee," Clark glanced at his own watch, "and you can make that call to Lucy while I do?"
"Good idea," she said to his retreating form.
Clark had only been gone a minute or two but when he got back to his and Lois' desks he noticed a definite change in the atmosphere. Lois was sitting, her hand still resting on the phone's receiver, and her face drained of color.
Clark quickly came over, setting the coffee down as he went. "What is it? Lois, what's wrong?"
She slowly turned to him, as if coming out of a bad dream. "I called Dark Enterprises. Lucy's supervisor was upset. It seems that Lucy called in and left a message on their answering service telling them she quit!"
"What? Why would she do that?"
"She wouldn't." Lois frowned, then looked up at Clark, near panic on her face. "Oh my god, Clark, Ralph called in and quit his job here, and now he's dead. Lucy called into her job and quit, you don't think…"
Clark reached over and placed his hands on her shoulders and captured her fear-glazed eyes with his own. "No, I don't. I think it's just a coincidence. I think we have to look to a more logical possibility." His brow furrowed in concern.
Lois picked up on Clark's mood. "You mean that maybe Dark knows she was spying on him for me." Lois' agitation increased. "You don't think he has her, do you? Oh god, if anything happens to her because of me I don't think I could handle it."
"Lois!" Clark's whipcrack voice pulled Lois out of her escalating panic. "Let's think about this. Maybe Lucy just got nervous and decided to quit. We have no reason to believe that Dark suspects her of anything. Even if he knows she was talking to you, there is no way that he would know that you are investigating him, is there?"
"I wouldn't think so." Lois picked up her phone. "I'm going to call home. Maybe she's there, or left me a message." Lois listened as the call switched over to her voice mail. After listening to her lack of messages she hung up. "She's not home, nor did she leave a message." Lois picked up the phone again.
"Who are you calling now?" Clark asked.
"Dan, he was supposed to be watching Dark last night. I want to know if he saw anything."
Again Lois wound up hanging up in frustration. She hadn't gotten any response from his hotel room, his cell phone, and his pager was apparently shut off. Lois was really getting worried. This can't be happening, she thought, not to Lucy. Lois couldn't help but flash back to her years of imprisonment. She had somehow been careless in her investigation of the Salvador Dark of her own world and wound up in a secret African prison for her efforts. She had to shake off the paralyzing aspect of her fear and apprehensions if she was going to find out what happened to Lucy. She was going to have to bring her rational brain back online to figure out what to do next. At least this time she had the advantage of having a partner with a few extra abilities that just might come in handy. Lois grabbed Clark's hand.
"What about Lana? She was with Dan last night. Call her, see if she knows where Dan is."
Clark nodded, and proceeded to call around for Lana. First he called her hotel, and got no answer. Then he called the museum, but she wasn't there either. Lana's cell phone had either been turned off or the batteries were dead because it didn't even ring. Clark's frown got deeper with each failure to reach Lana.
"I can't find her either. Do you suppose they are still together?"
Lois' fingers were drumming on the desktop in an abstracted, nervous manner. "I don't know, but I can tell you I don't like this."
Clark nodded once. "Well, I remember the car that Dan drove last night." Clark blushed at Lois' questioning look. "I peeked as he and Lana left." He pulled his glasses down in way of explanation. "So, I'm going to do a fly by of the city and see if I can spot anything."
Lois nodded in agreement. "Dan said that Dark was at the Regency, you might want to start looking there." Lois sighed. "I'm going to call some of Lucy's favorite hang outs, and see if anyone remembers her being there last night."
Clark raised his brow. "Isn't that kind of a shot in the dark?"
"Yes, but if I don't do something, I'll go nuts. Besides, I think the fact that she dyed her hair will be in my favor this time. How many attractive women do you know with hair this color red?"
Clark shook his head in agreement. "Just two."
Lois favored him with a slight smile as he dashed off for the stairwell, and a quick trip to the roof.
Perry White watched through his office window as Lois slammed the phone down for the third time in as many minutes. She was clearly upset about something. Both she and Clark had been having an agitated conversation a while ago, then Clark had to suddenly leave. Perry assumed it had been on Superman business. Clearly something was going on besides the story he had assigned them.
Thinking of the story, it had been a bit of a gamble for him to assign Ralph's murder to the pair of them. Partnering them up again, especially in light of what he had recently learned. Still it felt right somehow. Perry had been happy to see Clark being able to interact with Lois, this Lois, on a much more congenial basis. He didn't seem to still have that haunted look every time he glanced at her. His speech patterns had become more natural and less forced. It appeared as if he was finally accepting the poor woman for who she was.
It had been a terrible blow to Perry when he'd found out the truth behind the troubles of his favorite reporting team. Lois Lane had been more than a brilliant reporter and coworker, more than a close friend. She had wormed her way into Perry's heart and became the daughter he'd never had. To find out that the woman who was presently occupying Lois Lane's desk wasn't, that she was actually an other dimensional version of his own dear Lois, who apparently had been killed in that other dimension, was quite a shock. For the first time in many, many months he was glad that he and Alice weren't living together anymore. After leaving here that night, Perry had gone home and for the first time since he and Alice split up, he cried.
But Perry White was nothing if not resilient. He'd lived a long and colorful life, often fraught with excitement and danger. He'd lost friends and loved ones before, and he knew that no matter how tough it may be to do so, the sun would come up the next morning and you would have to face the new day.
Perry's heart had immediately gone out to Clark. Knowing how hard Lois' death had been for him to find out about, it had to have been infinitely worse for Clark. Perry had known that Clark had been smitten with Lois the moment he met her. It was plain to all that Clark virtually worshipped the ground she walked on. That is why everyone had such a hard time accepting their divorce, and the ugly rumors had circulated. But now that he knew the truth, the logic of the events he'd seen unfolding over that last few months made perfect sense.
He was reminded of a conversation with his mother many years before. Perry's father had died at an early age, leaving behind a young widow and two small children. Years later, Perry's mother had tried to explain what it had been like. She told him of the intense feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal which immediately surfaced from such a tragedy. Then she explained about the aching grief that she had to suffer while putting on the brave front for her children, and the rest of the world. He remembered her telling him that each day it got infinitesimally better, each day just a tiny bit easier to take. It took time, but time did help ease the continuing pain. It was like having a favorite picture hanging on the wall, she had said. The picture had been there for years and years in the same spot on the wall. While you would never think of getting rid of the picture, there eventually comes a time when you can move that picture to another wall. Perry truly prayed that Clark would be able to get to that point, the point where he could take that picture, and move it to another wall.
Perry saw Lois frantically thumbing through a phone book. Pages were flying by so fast he had no idea how she could even tell where she was in the book and be able to find the number she was looking for. He shook his head.
His heart went out to this woman also. Perry, while devastated by the news she'd told him of his own Lois, and shocked by her revelation as to who she was, was nevertheless appalled by what she'd had been forced to suffer through. She had mentioned briefly her rescue from years of illegal imprisonment, only to be confronted with an invasion of super-powered criminals who wound up stealing her entire world from her.
Her strength of character and resiliency amazed him. Her ability to step into the life of someone else, in a world not her own, was nothing short of amazing. She was very like his own Lois, after all she'd managed to fool him for the months she'd been here. But, now that he knew, he was beginning to see the multitude of tiny differences too. One thing that surprised him was the fact that, once he'd found out the truth, it didn't seem to change things. His feelings and affection for Lois Lane hadn't been diminished by his knowledge that this was a different Lois sitting out in his newsroom abusing her telephone. He may have lost his surrogate daughter, but he still had Lois Lane, and for that he was thankful.
He'd seen enough, it was time to find out what the heck was going on. He stuck his head out the door of his office. "Lois, could you come in here for a minute?"
Lois, looking up from her futile task, tossed aside the phone book and rose from her chair. Within a few moments she was inside Perry's office, staring into the concerned face of her boss.
"Sit down, honey." Perry indicated the chair in front of his desk. "I know neither you nor Clark are complacent about Ralph's death, but I also know that neither of you were good enough friends with him to be this upset about it. " Perry leaned back in his chair. "I've been watching you two for a while here, and prior to Clark's sudden exit, which I assume was for super duties, you two seemed to be having a rather agitated conversation." Perry cocked his head to one side as he fixed Lois with a stare. "And if I'm any judge of situations at all, I'd say you were the one who was the most upset." Perry leaned forward again in his chair. "Care to enlighten your old boss as to what's going on?"
Lois fidgeted in her chair under the unrelenting gaze of her editor. "Well, I'm not sure what is going on exactly." She wrung her hands. "My sister, Lucy, is missing."
Lois wasn't surprised at how easily the appellation, 'my sister' rolled off her tongue. She knew that Lucy wasn't really her sister, and she knew that Perry knew she wasn't her sister, but at some point in her friendship with Lucy Lane, Lois had just presumed the relationship. The best part to Lois was that she was sure that Lucy felt the same way.
To his credit, Perry didn't mention the disparity. "Have you called the police?" Perry asked, his face showing a genuine worry.
Lois shook her head. "No, they wouldn't act yet anyway." Lois sighed. "You see, Lucy told me yesterday that she had met someone and was going out with them, and that I shouldn't expect her home till late. But when she didn't come home at all, I got worried."
Perry pursed his lips in a tight line before commenting. "I don't mean to be indelicate here, but as I remember, Lucy was prone to boyfriend problems before. Could she just have stayed with this fellow overnight?"
Lois clenched her fists. "That's what the police would probably say, and what everyone else is asking also. I don't know what Lucy was like before I met her, but for the woman I know and have become a close friend to, this doesn't sound right." Lois stood and paced a small circle in front of Perry's desk. "There are too many other *coincidences* involved here."
Perry leaned back again and raised a brow. "Such as?"
Lois sat back down, stared at her clenched hands for a moment, then looked up into Perry's face. "Okay, as you know, I've been working with Agent Scardino on this possible illegal arms story. He has reason to suspect Salvador Dark of being behind it. Even though we haven't been able to find anything to point to Dark, I tend to believe Scardino."
"Why is that?" Perry asked.
"Because, on my world, it was my investigation of that world's Salvador Dark that got me thrown in that African prison. Also, Dan has shown me some secret, government files that prove that agencies around the world have suspected this man of many illegal activities, but haven't been able to pin anything on him."
"Okay, I buy your contention that he's one of the bad guys. How does this tie into Lucy?"
"Well a few days ago, Lucy went to work for Dark, she thought that she might be able to help me if she would overhear anything, by chance. You know, keep her eyes and ears open and report back to me with anything unusual."
Perry grabbed his chin and shook his head. "Lord help us from the impetuosity of the Lane women." He fixed Lois with a hard stare. "And you let her do this?"
"Well, I tried to talk her out of it, but she pointed out that she was an adult and not answerable to me for her actions. She also promised that she wouldn't do anything risky. She would just do her normal job, and if by chance she heard or saw something, she would tell me. Otherwise, she was just the receptionist." Lois' agitation was clearly growing as she told the story. "Since she vowed not to put herself in any real danger, I agreed."
"Okay, go on," Perry encouraged.
"Well yesterday, we knew Dark was coming back into town, so Lucy was going to call me if he came into the office where she worked. Dan was already tailing him." Lois stopped to take a deep breath. "Well Lucy called, and she told me that Dark and his assistant immediately went into his office and left notice that they didn't want to be disturbed. That was the last I heard from her."
Perry studied Lois' anxious face for a moment. "Well, it probably wasn't too smart to use the office phone to call you." Perry waited for Lois' nod to confirm that indeed that is what Lucy had done. "Still, there's no real reason to think that she's in any trouble, is there?"
Lois frowned. "Clark felt that way too, so I called her office on the chance that she did just stay over with this guy. They told me that she had phoned in a message that she quit. Her supervisor seemed pretty upset about it." Lois was clearly quite agitated now. "Oh, Perry, if anything happens to her because of me…"
Perry reached across his desk and squeezed her hand. "Now, Lois, I know in our business it's normal to assume a lot of things, mostly bad, but there are still a lot of reasons that could explain Lucy's disappearance." Perry released her hand. "You, say that Agent Scardino has been tailing this Dark character?" Lois nodded. "Well what has he told you about Dark's comings and goings?"
Lois bit her lip. "That's the other problem. Dan and Lana went out last night to stake out Dark's hotel. Now Clark and I can't get hold of either of them."
Perry's head began to swim with all the seemingly inconsistent information. "Lana — Lana Lang — as in Clark's friend, Lana?" Lois nodded. "What in the name of Elvis, and Memphis crooners everywhere, does she have to do with any of this?"
Lois looked a bit embarrassed. "Well, it's a long story, Perry."
"I've got all day."
Lois studied the top of Perry's desk until, by the resigned slump of her shoulders, it was clear that a decision had been made. She met Perry's eyes with her own. "It seems that Lana wanted to get Clark and I alone together last night. She did this by talking Dan into taking her on the stakeout, instead of me."
"Why would she want to do that, isolate you and Clark? I got the impression that she wasn't all that unhappy to hear about the divorce?"
"Yeah, so did I. My first thoughts were that she wanted to give Clark the chance to tell me that he was in love with Lana." A sad smile crept onto Lois face. "But that wasn't the case." Lois sighed. "I not sure how much of this I should be telling you, but the short version is that Lana made the overture to Clark and he declined. He told me that he couldn't make love to a woman that he didn't have strong romantic feelings for. He didn't have those feelings for Lana, he apparently only has those feelings for one person, and we both know who that was."
Perry nodded his head sadly. "Yeah, I guess we do."
"Look Perry, I feel a little awkward telling you things that Clark told me, but you are so much like my own dear Perry, that it just feels natural, somehow, to be able to confide in you. My dad died when I was a child, so I guess I just adopted Perry as my surrogate father. I'm sorry if that makes you uncomfortable."
"That's all right, I understand. Lois was always like the daughter I never had, so I'm hardly uncomfortable with you confiding in me. I hope you know that anything you tell me will be held in the strictest confidence if you want it to be."
Lois nodded. "I know, and I appreciate that. I really don't have many true friends here. I'm glad you are one of them, Perry."
Perry returned her sentiment with a short nod of his own. "So, what about you and Dan, anything there?"
Lois gave Perry a look of total disbelief. "What is it with everyone? Why does everyone think that I would have any interest in Dan?" Lois shook her head in irritation. "Clark had that same impression. I had to set him straight on that. What…?"
Perry had broken out in an amused smile that had caused Lois to stop. "Honey, I think that what Clark, and I, and others are seeing is, first off, Dan's obvious interest in you. Add to that the brief past history between Dan and Lois, well, you can see how it might look."
"Yeah, well Dan seemed to assume something too."
Perry hid his grin behind his hand. "Well I bet you set him straight Though, didn't you."
"I think he understands the parameters of our working relationship now, yes." Lois suddenly got a bit wistful. "Besides, Perry, I think you know where my heart lies."
Perry's previous smile quickly sobered. "Yeah, honey, I do. But don't you think that Clark's concern over you and Dan says something about how he feels for you?"
Lois' sigh seemed to visibly deflate her whole body. "Perry, don't get me wrong. Clark and I have been getting along pretty well lately. I think he is finally able to accept me as a separate person from his lost wife. I'd like to think that we can become pretty good friends, still I'm not about to go fooling myself. I know where Clark's heart is always going to be, and regardless of my feelings, I'm grateful for the friendship he is willing to give."
Perry sat back and studied Lois' face for a few moments. "I wouldn't be too quick to assume what may or may not happen in the future just yet, Lois, it is true what they say about time." He got up and came around to the front of his desk and sat on the corner, right next to Lois. "But now to more immediate concerns. What do we know beyond the fact that Lucy is a no show, and Dan and Lana can't be reached?"
Lois immediately shifted away from her self-absorbed attitude to one of professional investigative journalist, and worried sibling. "Nothing, really, Clark went out to fly around the city to see if he can spot anything." Lois gave a half-hearted wave toward her desk. "He called a few minutes ago to say that the car Dan was using on the stakeout is nowhere near the Regency — Dark's hotel. He planned to continue looking, but without anything to go on, it seems almost pointless."
"And what where you doing when I noticed you abusing the Daily Planet's telephone system?"
Lois grimaced. "I was calling around to some of the places I know that Lucy likes to go, hoping to find out if she had been there last night or not." Lois saw Perry's brow raised in expectation. "I got nothing. No one who might have been there last night remembers Lucy being there."
Perry stood up and walked over to the door of his office. He placed his hand on the doorframe and looked over at Lois. "Well then, I'd say the best place for you is at home. That will be the first place Lucy would show if she can. And it is the best place for someone to leave you a message that they are sure you will get." Perry looked around the newsroom in disgust. "The one thing I've never understood, is why we can't have a voice mail system that doesn't lose half the messages put into it. If I've told the suits upstairs once, I've told them a hundred times; we're a newspaper, our life blood is information, if we have a…"
"Perry!" Lois' bark stopped his tirade. "I think you're right. I will go home and wait and see if there is any word. Thanks."
"You're welcome, darlin'." Perry smiled at her. "Oh, and don't forget to take home your laptop. No sense not trying to get a little work done while you wait."
Lois couldn't help but smile as she shook her head in wonder at the amazing man who was so like her former mentor. As she went back down the ramp to pack up her desk she couldn't help but be glad that Perry knew the truth. Being able to take Perry into her confidence was such a godsend at times like this. If she could just get through this latest crisis, perhaps she just might have a shot at making a life for herself in this world after all.
Of course, her cynical inner voice had to add, that depended on everyone making it out of this mess alive and in one piece. And the way things were going, that didn't look too promising right now.
Clark, as Superman, was becoming frustrated. He hadn't been able to find any trace of Scardino's car anywhere near the Regency, nor around his or Lana's hotel either. A search of the area around Dark Enterprises had proved futile also. He had stopped a couple of times and had tried phoning Lana, but there was still no answer. Checking the front desk of her hotel had just yielded that no one remembered her coming in last night.
After relaying his lack of any success to Lois, Clark decided it was time to change strategies. If he accepted that either Lucy, or Lana and Dan, or all three had been taken by someone; most likely Dark and his associates, then he needed to look in those areas where they might be held. Clark turned and headed for the seedier parts of town. He would focus on Suicide Slum, the docks, and the west side warehouse district, since many of them were abandoned.
He realized that he was playing to a stereotype to assume that the bad guys would hole up and keep their prisoners in a seedy part of town, when they could be just as likely to hold them in the basement of a fancy townhouse or office complex. Still there were logical reasons to check such parts of town first.
Superman had been around long enough for many criminals to have begun to take certain precautions. The most common was some sort of lead shielding to protect their activities from Superman's prying eyes. To obtain the necessary amount of lead sheeting to line a hideout was not only a major logistical endeavor, but was quite costly also. Add to that the fact that, in most parts of town, a lead lined room stuck out by its own uniqueness of Superman's not being able to see into it. In the older, more run down sections of Metropolis, buildings generally had years of lead based paints coating their walls, and much of the plumbing contained lead piping. While this was not a foolproof, hundred per cent, protection from Superman's x-ray vision, it did hamper his ability enough to offer a great deal of concealment without the drawbacks of expense or the illogic of a lead-lined room. That being the case, those parts of town would be next on his list to check out.
Clark knew that, even with trying to narrow his search parameters, his chances of finding anything were not good. He wasn't even sure what to look for. He knew that Lois and Dan were investigating Dark on some sort of arms selling deal, which would suggest a warehouse, but in reality it wouldn't have to be a very big one to store a significant amount of hardware.
The other hard part was, he didn't have the extra advantages in looking for Lucy, Lana, and Dan, that he did when he had to track down someone like Lois. The many times in the past when he'd had to follow some slim lead to find the whereabouts of his wayward wife, he'd been able to focus in on things like her unique scent, and her heartbeat. He didn't have that sort of advantage here.
Clark couldn't keep his mind from wandering and analyzing the slight differences between his wife's unique scent and her heartbeat and that of the other dimensional Lois. They were very similar, he noted to himself, which only made sense, but there were definite differences too. Of course, that only made sense also. The two Loises were very similar but were in fact, different people as well.
Suddenly Clark stopped in midair, a look of puzzled wonder on his face as he finally realized the significance of what he'd been mulling over. He had memorized this current Lois' scent and heartbeat, just as he had his own dear Lois'. As little as a couple of weeks ago, such a revelation might have disturbed him greatly, but now, it didn't. He shook his head as he merely filed the information away in some corner of his brain for more careful consideration later, when he had the time. Now, he had to focus on trying to find three missing individuals, and he knew that time wasn't on his side.
Lois Lane paced about her apartment, alternating between biting on her lip, and gnawing on her thumbnail. It had been hours since she had left the Planet but she just couldn't relax, or concentrate on anything, except worrying about Lucy. She glanced guiltily back at her laptop sitting abandoned, alongside a half eaten sandwich, on the kitchen table.
She had tried to work on the story of Ralph's murder, which is how she thought of it. She had accessed the official police reports but they couldn't shed much light on the case. Due to the state of extreme decomposition of Ralph's body, they had no idea, for sure, what he'd died of. Did the state of the body cover up the cause of death, or was it in fact a result of the cause? The Metropolis police, under Inspector Henderson, were suspicious of the death, but without any corroborating facts to say otherwise, they had to classify the death as unknown, and had turned Ralph's body over to the Center for Disease Control for further study.
She hadn't heard again from Clark, which led her to believe that he hadn't found anything. She didn't know if he would come over and talk to her once he'd finished with his search, or if he'd just call. Whichever way he decided, she was sure he'd let her know, which is why she was sure he was still out looking. At this point Lois was also sure that he probably wouldn't find anything either. It had been an awfully long time without word, and she knew that each passing minute made the prospect of finding anything that much more remote. Lois had just finished letting out a long, slow sigh when the ringing of her phone startled her.
She picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
"This is Lois Lane, who is this?"
"Let's just say that I'm someone who can reunite you with your sister, and your friends."
Lois tried to place the harsh, raspy quality of the caller's voice, but was sure she hadn't heard it before. "You have Lucy? How is she? Let me talk to her." Lois worked at keeping her own voice calm.
"Not so fast, Lane. You are going to do as you are told if…"
Lois interrupted. "I'm not going to do anything unless I get to talk to Lucy. How do I know you have her? How do I know she's all right?" Lois heard a sigh of resignation on the other end of the line.
A new voice came on the phone. "Lois?" Lucy sounded scared.
"Lucy! Are you okay? Has anyone hurt you?"
Lucy stammered a bit at first. "No, no I'm okay. Dan and Lana are here too." There was a pause. "Lois, Jimmy's here too, but he looks in bad shape. It looks like he's been severely beaten."
"Oh god — well don't worry. I'll get you out of this." Lois tried to make herself sound confident.
Lucy was no longer on the line. "Okay, this is what you are going to do. Your apartment is being watched and this phone is bugged. We also have access to some highly sophisticated shot gun microphones. So, no contacting anyone for help, not even the big blue boy scout. If you try, we will know about it and someone here will suffer for it."
"I don't understand? What does Dark want with me?" Lois noticed a hesitation in the breath of her caller.
"My *employer* wishes the pleasure of your company, Miss Lane, that's all you need to know."
Lois bit her lip. She wasn't sure how much to tell this thug in order to find out any information. "You realize that, er, friends will soon know I'm missing too, and be looking for me."
"Do you mean, friends like your ex, Clark Kent, or his good buddy, Superman?" He chuckled at Lois' indrawn breath. "We're counting on it." The mystery caller's voice suddenly took on a flat no nonsense tone. "Listen carefully. You will get in your car and drive to the corner of Swan and Anderson, do you know where that is?"
"Good, you will be met there. Remember, tell no one. You will be watched the whole way. See you soon, Miss Lane."
"I need five minutes to get dressed. I've still got my work clothes on." Lois allowed some sarcasm to creep into her voice. "I need a few minutes to change into my helpless captive outfit."
"Real cute, Lane, you've got five minutes, no more."
"Whatever." Lois hung up on the fellow and rushed over to her desk.
Lois was already dressed in a pair of comfortable casual slacks, and a simple pullover top. She just needed a little time to leave a note for Clark. She knew that if Clark couldn't get a hold of her by phone he'd come over to see what was up. That is if he didn't just come over right away. Lois hurriedly scribbled her note on a piece of stationery and left it pinned under the stapler on the corner of the desk. She didn't want to run the risk of a stray breeze blowing the note onto the floor, or under a chair.
Once the note was done, Lois slipped on a pair of low-heeled loafers, grabbed her small bag, and headed out the door. She was down the front steps and sliding behind the wheel of her little sports car in moments. Just to be contrary, Lois decided to let whoever was watching her apartment know what she thought of them, and flipped them a rude gesture just for good measure.
She hadn't gotten more than four blocks from her place when a large, nondescript, sedan forced her to the side of the road. She stormed out of her car meaning to give some drunken moron of a driver a piece of her mind. She was immediately met with the shiny, chrome barrel of a revolver stuck into her face.
"Please get in the car, Miss Lane."
It wasn't the same voice that was on the phone. "Wait, I can't, you don't understand. I have someplace I have to be." Lois was ready to panic. This was not the time for another old grudge to surface.
"We know of your destination, Miss Lane. The instructions have changed. There is no need to go so far to meet your appointment. We'll be happy to take you there."
Lois saw another smiling thug in the back seat of the sedan. Crap! she thought. The instructions to meet at Swan and Anderson were just another feint. Given just in case she decided to be a smart girl and tell someone where she was going, like she had. Cursing her luck, and the foresight of her captors, Lois climbed into the back seat of the gray automobile. In seconds they were out of the neighborhood entirely, heading for the outskirts of town.
It was very late when Clark finally decided that he'd had enough for the night. His searches of the city had proved fruitless. He was frustrated and angry. It was frustrating knowing that he could have flown over the spot where his friends were being held captive and never known it. It made him angry to feel this helpless, when people were counting on him and he didn't come through. Of course, not everyone would have seen this evening as a waste or a failure. In his time looking over the city, Clark had stopped three muggings, put out a grease fire at a restaurant, and kept a boat from sinking after it had hit a marker buoy; but it still didn't put him any closer to finding his missing friends. With one last glance at the waterfront he sped back toward Lois' apartment.
Since it was so late, Clark hovered over Lois' apartment to check it out before going in. He didn't want to disturb her if she had already gone to sleep. She needed her rest, and his lack of any positive results could wait until the morning. His x-ray vision showed him that she wasn't even home. He was puzzled by that. A quick check of her parking spot showed that her car was gone too. As he swept her entire apartment from high above with his unique vision, he came across the note left on the desk. Lois had left the lights on so it was no problem for him to telescope his vision acuity down and focus on the piece of paper in question.
It read: "Superman, It is 11:38, give or take. I've just received a phone call from Dark's people. They have Lucy, Dan, Lana, and Jimmy. They want me to join their little party. The place is being watched and they have listening devices trained on me. This note was the only way I could warn you. I was told to go to the intersection of Swan and Anderson, that's in the warehouse district on the south side, and I would be met there. I don't think any of us are in immediate danger. It sounds like Dark has plans to use us against you in some way. This is obviously a trap. Please be very careful! — Lois"
Clark was alarmed that Lois would blithely walk into the arms of her enemies, but not surprised. He was also stabbed by a sharp pang of guilt. He had allowed himself to be caught up in Lois' worry over Lucy's disappearance, and his own worry over where Lana was, to the point where he'd completely forgotten that Jimmy was still missing. He was glad that at least Jimmy's whereabouts was known, but it disturbed him that he had allowed Jimmy's plight to slip his mind. It was clear that his recent confusion over his feelings for Lois, and Lana, where clouding his judgment in other matters as well.
The fact that Jimmy was with the rest, in the hands of Salvador Dark, confused things also. Since Ralph had been found with Jimmy's watch, did that mean that Ralph was tied into this somehow also? Clark shook his head, perhaps hoping that it might shake out the cobwebs and allow some clear thinking. Why was Ralph killed instead of Jimmy? A lot of this didn't make sense. Lois thought that there was a trap being set for Superman. That might account for Jimmy and Lois being taken, to be used as bait. But what about Lucy? Was she just bait for Lois? Dan had a past with Dark. Did he just get too close and Lana was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Though it chilled Clark to think so, if this was a trap for Superman, it made no sense to keep Dan and Lana alive. They had no known ties to Superman. And what about Ralph? Where did he fit in, and why was he killed when no one else had been?
Clark knew that he wasn't going to get any answers hanging in the air over Lois' apartment. He used his special vision to scan the neighboring buildings and found what appeared to be the spot that was used for the surveillance of Lois' place. It was in a top floor apartment in a building across the street. There were marks on the floor where it was obvious that equipment had been moved around, along with recent abandoned wrappers and such from a meal or two from a fast food place. It was clear that someone had been there recently, but was now gone.
Clark allowed himself to drift toward the east, in preparation to flying to the meeting place Lois mentioned. It was then that he spotted her car. He quickly flew down to check it out. Her driver's side door was open and her bag was still in the front seat. It was obvious that she had been intercepted and taken. After checking to make sure there were no telltale fingerprints on her car besides her own, he picked up the vehicle and set it back down in her assigned parking spot. He tucked the bag, out of sight, under the seat then flew back to the sight of the abduction.
Suddenly Clark was hit with another sense of confused wonder. How had he known that the only fingerprints on the car belonged to Lois? His mind again fumbled with this new revelation. It wasn't a conscious thing, he just knew that those prints were familiar, and that they were Lois'. Another puzzle piece to file away for consideration when time and the situation allowed.
Unfortunately, there was nothing at the site that was able to provide Clark with any clue as to where Lois had been taken. It looked like he was in for several more hours of blind searching yet this morning. The difference, this time, would be that he would minimize his dependence on his eyes, and focus more attention on his other enhanced senses. If he got within a reasonable distance from her, he was confident he could pinpoint Lois. He was sure he would be able to pick her out of any small crowd, or within any structure he targeted. With one last look around, he stuck his arm straight up and the rest of his body followed.
Lois had been dropped off at an old warehouse on the east side of town, where she was handed over to a tall, somber-looking fellow. He ushered her inside what to all appearances was just another abandoned warehouse. One among many in the area. Back in the twenties and thirties this had been a thriving part of town. Every major company had their warehousing in this four by six block section of Metropolis. In the late forties a highway change caused the area to be less attractive to business and like anything time forgets, most of the businesses went away, leaving behind the shells of what had once been proud, productive establishments.
Once inside, the appearance of the typical, empty, abandoned warehouse changed a little. For one thing, the interior was cleaner than one might expect. Not that it looked like it had been janitorially maintained, but more like there had been enough recent activity to stir up the dust that would normally be settled deeply on the various structures and supports. Also, piled neatly in the center of the large warehouse main floor, were about thirty rectangular, wooden crates, all bearing U.S. military stencils. Well, Lois thought, we now know where the arms are being stored.
She was led up a rickety flight of stairs toward a room that would have served as the office for the warehouse during it's hey day. There was only one small window in the door, which was so dirty it couldn't be seen through. The rest of the office exterior seemed quite typical. Corrugated metal sheeting made up the walls and ceiling. The coloring was a duller gray than Lois would normally associate with aluminum or steel. An idle thought passed through her mind, wondering if it might not be lead, or lead alloyed. Her host opened the single door and indicated with his hand that she should precede him into the office.
It was Lucy who had spoken when she had entered. Lois was glad to see that everyone was there, and apparently alive, but she wasn't encouraged by their restraints. From right to left it was Dan, Lana, Lucy, an empty space, then Jimmy. They all appeared to be sitting on a long metal bench with a high metal back rest. They were restrained by a strap across their laps, and some sort of clamps fastened just above the elbow, holding the arms tight to the high back rest. The scariest part was, all four of them seemed to have some sort of medical style electrodes fastened to their foreheads with the wires leading to a conduit behind the bench. The conduit curved up along the ceiling then down and into a junction box of some sort which was sitting on a plain, heavy, metal table. There were two chairs behind the table.
Lois rushed over to Jimmy. "Oh god, Jimmy, can you hear me? Are you all right?"
Lois could see that Jimmy was definitely not all right. She could see the ugly bruises up and down his torso through the torn shreds of his shirt. His face was still badly swollen in several spots, and his left eye was completely shut. Lois was afraid to touch him, so as not to cause him more pain. He was conscious, but just barely. He seemed to drift in and out. Never really making contact with the real world around him. Aside from the obvious physical wounds he exhibited, Lois was worried that he might also have a concussion.
"Lois, that you?" His words were slurred and had trouble being formed by his puffy lips. "Hurts," was all he said before he drifted off again.
Lois had tears in her eyes when her host grabbed her by the arm and directed her to the spot next to Lucy on the long metal bench. Lois squirmed as he began to fasten the straps around her legs. A raised hand was all the threat Lois needed to settle down and comply like a good little captive. It was apparent that Lois wouldn't be able to do much on her own, so she meekly allowed herself to be strapped in like the others. She did notice that Dan had the makings of a colorful black eye going, which told Lois he hadn't acquiesced quite so willingly.
She glared at the dour-looking fellow after he'd made sure her own electrodes were placed properly. "What did you do to Jimmy? Why beat *him* up?"
The tall, sour-faced man just chuckled. "That wasn't my doing. It seems that Ralph didn't care much for your Mister Olsen."
"Ralph?" Lois was shocked. "Ralph beat up Jimmy?"
"Oh yes, and a fine job he did of it too, I might add. Very professional." His mouth stretched into what Lois guessed was supposed to be a smile. "Of course, kids that grow up like Ralph did learn how to fight at an early age."
Lois was having trouble taking this all in. "Did you kill Ralph?"
He walked over and took Lois' chin between his thumb and forefinger. She tried to pull away but his grip was too tight. "No more questions. You'll get your answers in due course." He pulled his hand away, turned and played with a dial on the wall which caused some elevator style music to increase in volume, and left through the only door.
It was clear to Lois that her erstwhile host had been the voice on the phone. No effort had been made to keep Lois from knowing how they got here, or where they were when they arrived. No effort had been made to hide their faces or even deny who they worked for. All that made it also clear to Lois that none of them were expected to leave here alive. The fact that they still were alive meant that Dark still had use for them…or their deaths.
Lois turned toward Lucy. "What happened to you?"
Lucy still looked and sounded scared, but she seemed to regain a little composure now that Lois was there. "I was getting ready to leave for the day when Mr. Dark's assistant there," Lucy nodded her head toward the door, "came back and asked me to come into his office for a moment." Lucy shook her head in disgust. "I knew something was wrong, I could feel it. Still I didn't want to blow my cover, so I went it. Before I knew it he'd placed a wet rag against my nose and mouth, and I woke up here."
"He knew you called me, didn't he." It wasn't a question.
Lucy nodded. "I suppose so."
Lois leaned forward a bit and turned toward Dan. "How about you? How'd they get the drop on you?"
For some reason both Dan and Lana blushed furiously. "If you must know, Lana and I were discussing — some, things, and I must have allowed my concentration to slip away from watching the hotel because, before I could even react to their presence, a couple of goons stuck guns through the car windows and into our faces."
Lois looked from Dan to Lana, and back. "Uh huh," was all she said.
Lois tested the straps by straining against them and found herself staring about the room. "What's with the bad Muzak? It's been on since I came in."
Dan snorted. "It's been on since we first arrived. My guess is that the music is just a carrier signal for a white noise masking system."
Lois fixed Dan with an irritated glare. "A what?"
"It's the latest in counter audio surveillance," Dan explained. "Unlike soundproofing which will produce a dead zone of silence, a give away in itself. A white noise system uses a carrier signal, like music, to provide a screening action for conversation and voices. Any one listening in can hear music being played but the white noise embedded in the carrier wave acts as a filter for normal voices."
Lois sighed and shook her head. "I suppose it's a top secret government device?"
Dan looked away, then back to Lois. "Well, I think it's supposed to be."
Lois strained at her bonds again. "Darn, I wish Jimmy were conscious. I'd like to know how he got involved in this."
Lucy piped up. "Well from what I could gather, talking to him during his infrequent periods of lucidity, Ralph and that big goon basically kidnapped Jimmy right out of the Daily Planet. They took him to a back alley somewhere, and while sour puss watched with a gun in hand, Ralph proceeded to beat the crap out of Jimmy."
Lois frowned. "I think I'm going to have to rethink Ralph's role in all this. He obviously knew Dark and friends, probably even worked for them. But why kill him then?"
Lana was able to catch Lois' eye. "Maybe they didn't need him anymore?" Lois shrugged as Lana shook her hair out of her face before Continuing, "Lois, does Cla, er, Superman know where we are?"
"No — I did leave him a note telling him of the call I got which brought me here, but I don't know if he'll be able to find us." Lois sighed again. "I'm not sure that I want him to. This whole thing smacks of a great big trap for Superman."
Lucy found herself nodding to Lois' comments. "I think you're right, Lois. I've been here longer than Dan and Lana, and before they were brought in I overheard a couple of the bully boys talking. They were saying something about *the boss* having a sure fire plan to kill Superman."
Lois suddenly felt a cold chill shoot up her spine. She tried to fight off the despair that threatened to overwhelm her. Not again, her mind screamed, she couldn't let Dark win again.
Clark sat on top of the Daily Planet globe, his brilliant scarlet cape billowing out behind him in the breeze. He needed a plan. It was still a few hours till sunrise and the city would be quiet and peaceful for a couple of hours yet. He had to figure out the most efficient search pattern. Again, he would concentrate on the areas that were the most likely places for those avoiding attention from the authorities to hide out. It meant going back over ground he had already covered, but he felt that with Lois now in the picture, his chances of picking up some telltale signs were greatly increased. Of course, once the city began to wake up, and people began to hit the streets and bring the city to life, it would make his task more difficult. The larger the crowd, the greater the chance that Lois' scent or the sound of her heartbeat would be masked by the milling masses. So Clark decided he would save those places with the likelihood of the fewest people till the last. Places like abandoned buildings or condemned properties could wait. The waterfront and Suicide Slum seemed the best places to start.
Clark had debated over whether he should tell anyone about Lois' abduction or not. He didn't want to risk the police or other authorities accidentally blundering into the situation and putting Lois, or the others in further jeopardy. He also didn't want Lois' absence to cause any questions. He had settled on a phone message to Perry, as Clark Kent, explaining that neither he, nor Lois, would be into the office today. They were in the middle of something potentially big, and he, Clark, would fill Perry in on the details later. Clark wasn't entirely comfortable leaving Perry in the dark like that, especially when he had news about Jimmy, but Clark hoped that it would all be over soon and that Perry would forgive him when he and Lois dropped a big story in his lap for the evening edition. Clark mollified his conscience by vowing to tell Perry what was going on by later tonight if he didn't have any luck finding his friends this morning.
Having made his decisions, Clark stood, making ready to begin his Search, when he was suddenly struck by a terrible thought. What if he didn't find them? Or worse, what if he found them and they had all been killed? His stomach twisted as he tried to chase that image from his mind. He'd had to face the death of innocents before, and it was always a terrible ordeal for him, but this time it was different. This time it was his friends…and Lois.
Perhaps it was the fear, the thought that he might lose her too, that crystallized his feelings. Suddenly he was no longer confused. He missed his lost wife terribly, and he always would. But he also knew that he had feelings for this Lois Lane, real feelings, not just some confused echo of emotion for someone else. He knew this Lois was a different person and that she was special in her own right. He also knew with a clarity that he'd not had before, that he needed her in his life. Not too many weeks ago, Clark had thought that he'd be able to carry on his life alone. He'd have his friends, his job, and the satisfaction he got from helping people as Superman; and that would be enough. Suddenly, now, he knew that it wouldn't be. He needed someone to be able to share everything with. Someone who could hold him and tell him things would be all right when he came back soul weary from some disaster that he couldn't prevent. He needed Lois.
The irony in this sudden revelation was, that it appeared that Lois didn't really need him. Certainly she valued their friendship. It may not be the 'best friend' thing that he and his own Lois had shared before becoming a romantic couple, she had Lucy for that. Still it was a growing thing and perhaps, someday, could be something more. While the prospect of trying to win over another Lois Lane may have seemed daunting at first glance, he actually had to admit that it might be a pleasant prospect. Maybe he wouldn't make so many mistakes this time.
Before Clark could let himself get caught up in the fantasy of what might be, reality came crashing in. Lois, along with several other people he cared about were in the hands of a very nasty individual, if what he'd been shown was any true indication. The priority that existed right now, at this moment, was finding them, and rescuing them. Everything else was inconsequential to that task. With one last glance across the city, Clark picked his direction, rose gracefully in the air, and headed for the waterfront.
Lois snapped her head up; she was confused and disoriented. She had dozed off and upon awakening it had taken a few moments to realize where she was. She checked out her companion captives. Jimmy was still out, which worried Lois a great deal. Lucy appeared to have also dozed off. Lana just stared straight ahead, her eyes not seeming to focus on anything. Dan was slumped over as far as his restraints would let him. His gentle snoring told Lois that he too was asleep.
"Lana," Lois hissed.
She didn't want to wake the others, not knowing what they had gone through, but assuming they could use the sleep. Lois watched while Lana turned her head as if in slow motion. Her tear tracks had long since dried on her cheeks, and the redness around her eyes was almost gone. Instead her look spoke of depression and resignation.
"Don't worry," Lois forced herself to smile. "We'll get out of this."
Lana answered with a small smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I know. Clark won't let us down."
Biting her lip, Lois again checked to see if the others were still asleep before she turned back to Lana. "This may seem like a strange place to bring it up, but I'm curious." Lois' voice was only a whisper, but the hesitancy in it came through. "Why did you insist on going with Dan on that stakeout the other night?"
Lana allowed herself a sardonic laugh. "Not the brightest move in hindsight, was it." Lana shook her head before Lois could answer. "Actually, I thought you would have figured it out."
Lois stared at the floor for a second before answering. "Well, I was pretty sure that you wanted us alone together so we could talk." Lana nodded so Lois continued. "But the reason wasn't what I expected."
Lana had a puzzled look on her face. "How so?"
"I figured that you wanted to give Clark the chance to tell me that he'd fallen in love with you."
Lana bent her head so that her hair obscured her face. Her whole body began to gently shake. Lois, at first, couldn't tell if she were crying or laughing. She had to wait until Lana regained control of herself and turned her face back toward Lois. Lois could now tell that Lana had been laughing, but it hadn't been a mirthful laughter.
"If only that had been the case." Lana finally said. "No, I'm not stupid. It didn't take me too long to realize that I was fighting not a losing battle, but a lost one." The deep blue pools that were Lana's eyes caught and held Lois' own brown ones. "Lois, I don't know what went wrong between the two of you, but I can say, for a fact, that Clark is still in love with you."
Lois sighed. There it was, the ghost of this world's true Lois rising up again. So, not only was it obvious to Lois that Clark couldn't let go of the past, but it was obvious to Lana as well. The unfortunate thing was that Lana thought it was her that Clark was still in love with. She wasn't aware of the true nature of things, and Lois surely wasn't going to be the one to tell her. People were just going to have to stay confused about things.
Lois gave Lana another sad smile. "It's not quite that simple, but I did appreciate the chance to talk with him. It did help us clear up a few things."
"Whatever," Lana snorted. "If it were me, once we got out of this mess, I'd run to him as fast as I could and beg him to forgive me for whatever it was that caused the breakup in the first place."
Lois bristled. "So, you are assuming that the breakup was my fault?"
Lana shook her head sadly. "Lois, I've been with Clark. He's still deeply in love with you. I can't think of any reason why he would leave you…unless that is what you wanted. Under those circumstances, knowing Clark, I could see him agreeing to it just to make you happy." Lana cocked an eyebrow at Lois. "Are you saying it wasn't your idea?"
Lois was getting very uncomfortable. Her anger was quickly replaced by a feeling of uneasiness. "Well, I guess you could say the divorce was my idea. But, the break up was just a set of circumstances beyond the control of either of us. Nobody was at fault, or to blame."
"Uh huh," Lana replied as she turned away from Lois.
Both women let the silence return as they found stains on the floor to attract and hold their attention for a while. Several minutes passed before Lana finally broke the uneasy shroud of silence.
"Lois, are we going to die?'
"Yes, Miss Lang, I'm afraid you and your companions are indeed going to die this day, but not just yet."
The ambient light coming through the open doorway caused the owner of that voice to be backlit and his features shadowed somewhat. Lois guessed that it must be mid morning by now. He turned and closed the door. When he faced them again Lois knew immediately who it was: Salvador Dark. He was of average height, with an athletic build which showed through his clothing. He was dressed in casual slacks, a pullover, and a sport coat, yet so impeccable was his dress and manner that he looked like he would be equally at home at the opera, or a ball game.
He was a handsome man, with patrician features and thick, glossy, dark hair brushed back away from his face. He carried himself in a manner consistent with men of wealth and power. There was a certain arrogance there, under the surface, but it was hidden by a natural charisma that seemed to come off Dark in waves. Lois shocked herself by the way she was sizing Dark up. She had to remind herself that this was the bad guy, and if he was anything like the Salvador Dark of her world, he was one nasty bastard capable of nearly anything if it suited his purposes. Of course, it was enough to know that he intended to kill all of them.
The commotion caused by Dark's entrance managed to wake the others. Dan shook his head, trying to bring himself to full wakefulness, then he settled for just glaring at Dark. Lois checked Lucy and found her eyes open as she stared at Dark. She said nothing. She just sat there biting her lower lip. Even Jimmy seemed to be cognizant of the real world at the moment.
Dark favored them all with a wolf like smile. "Ah, excellent, I see you are all awake. Even the unfortunate Mr. Olsen seems to be with us." He set a smallish, black leather bag on the lone table and then leaned against it. "I imagine you all have an idea who I am, since I know who all of you are, but I think formal introductions are in order." His smile got bigger. "On this world, for the last several years I have gone by the name of Salvador Dark. It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Lois repressed a shudder when she realized what he'd said. "On this world? Does that mean you aren't from this world?"
Dark approached Lois and placing his fingertips under her chin, tilted her head up toward him. "Ah, Miss Lane, so lovely, it will be a pity to have to kill you." He dropped her chin and went back to leaning on the table. "But to answer your question, no, I'm not from this world originally. My birth name is Vad Or, and before I was so unjustly exiled, I was a proud citizen of the planet Krypton."
"You're Kryptonian!" Lois couldn't contain her shock.
Dark's smile became sarcastic. "I believe I said that, yes."
"Ever the journalist after her story, eh, Miss Lane. Well all will be revealed in good time, but we should wait until everyone is here so I don't have to repeat myself."
Just at that moment his assistant, the tall sour-faced fellow, poked his head into the room. "He's been spotted heading this way. We figure he'll be in range within a few minutes."
Dark nodded. "Excellent, thank you, I'll be there presently."
Dark busied himself with the black bag that was sitting on the table. He reached in and pulled out a long rectangular box. It had some electrodes, like the ones attached to the captives foreheads, coming out of it. Dark quickly fastened a contact of some sort to the junction box already on the table, then set the whole apparatus aside. He reached in and pulled out another dark colored object. It was hard to say exactly what color it was because the color seemed to swirl in constant motion and change. Lana recognized it immediately.
"That's my artifact!" she blurted out.
Dark lifted his head and smiled at her. "No, Miss Lang, it is my artifact. But I am ever so grateful to you for finding it for me. I despaired of ever seeing this again." He held up the compact device for all to see. "This, my dear, will allow me to rightfully regain my true heritage, and rid me of the only real threat to myself at the same time." He slipped the object into his coat pocket. "I must be going now. I have to meet our final guest." His smiled widened to show teeth. It wasn't a pleasant smile. "But fear not, I shall soon return, and all will be explained to you then." He began to move toward the door, but stopped once he'd reached it. "After all, you wouldn't want to die without knowing why — would you?" His laughter echoed about the room as he slipped out the door, closing it soundly behind him.
Lois found herself tugging at the straps again. She strained against them with all she had, but only succeeded in pulling her shoulder muscle. The straps were just too tight. Her exhortations had caught the attention of Scardino.
"Lois, ease up, you'll just hurt yourself," Dan growled at her.
He ignored her remark. "Believe me I've tested these straps with everything I had, and I couldn't even stretch them a little."
"Okay, so brute force isn't going to work, which means we'll have to think our way out of this mess." Lois chewed on her lower lip for several moments. "Anyone have any ideas?" Lois wasn't encouraged by the silent responses of her fellow captives. "We need to do something. You know who the final guest is going to be, don't you?"
Lana sucked in her breath. "Clark?"
Lois looked quickly at Lana, her expression one of warning. "No, of course not, I think Clark is, er, out of town at the moment." Lois made a show of nodding. "Yes, I'm sure of it. He's out of town, following up a lead for a different story."
Dan made a rude noise. "Typical of Kent, never around when you need him." Dan didn't wait for Lois' angry retort. "So, you think he means Superman, don't you?"
Lois nodded sadly. "Yes, I do."
"If he's Kryptonian, does that mean he's a left over from when those New Kryptonians were here?" It was Lucy who had joined the conversation.
"I don't see how," Dan replied. "My previous run in with Dark occurred well before that little fiasco."
"Yeah," Lois added, "and that file you showed me referenced investigations of Dark back as far as 1984."
Lana's brow had been deeply furrowed in thought while the others spoke. It was with a touch of disbelief in her voice that she finally joined in. "Guys, remember when he told us that the artifact was his? That he had lost it and he thanked me for finding it for him?"
"Yeah?" Lois prompted Lana.
"That artifact was found with other items that have been definitely dated back to at least 5000 years B.C."
Dan stared at Lana. "So how could his device, artifact, whatever, have gotten buried with that other old stuff?"
Lana slowly shook her head, her long red-blonde hair swinging hypnotically back and forth. "Only, one way, it had to have been back there with those other artifacts." She paused and took a deep breath. "And if Dark brought it with him, that means…"
"That he had to have been here 7000 years ago." Lois' voice was quiet in awe and disbelief.
Any further speculation was abruptly cut off when the door was flung open by Dark's assistant. Dark followed him in shortly after. He was carrying the box-like device and his attention was directed back toward the open door. Within seconds another figure entered the room.
"Superman!" The name arose from all five voices.
Lois carefully noted the stiff awkward movements, and the look on his face that seemed an equal mixture of anger and disbelief. There was no fluidity, or the grace that Lois had come to recognize in Clark's motions. From the glare of hatred that Clark was sending and the amused look of triumph on Dark's face, it was obvious to Lois that Clark's movements were being controlled. Once Clark registered the plight of the captives Lois noticed that the anger in his features remained but the disbelief at his predicament was replaced by concern for her and the others. This told Lois that Clark was at least in control of his mind.
Clark was horrified when he was forced into the room and saw all his friends trussed up on the long bench, with the electrodes fastened to their foreheads. He didn't know what any of that meant, but he was sure that it was bad. He continued to fight Dark's control but he was beginning to tire and it didn't look like it was fazing Dark in the least.
Clark had approached this old warehouse district after finishing his search of the south side. He had saved this area for last, since almost no one hung out around this part of town anymore and he didn't have to worry about normal daily activities interfering with his search. He had been about a hundred feet above this particular warehouse when he found himself seized by that peculiar feeling again. Like he'd had at the beach a few days ago. Suddenly it was like he was just watching his body do things. He was no longer in control of his own muscles.
"Go downstairs and wait for our esteemed customers. This shouldn't take too long." Dark's voice was even but full of menace. He noticed a few beads of sweat on Clark's forehead. "I wouldn't bother trying to fight my control, *Superman*, this little device which the lovely Miss Lang was so good to rediscover for me allows me to override your motor functions, by imposing my will over your own." Dark walked over to the single table and leaned against it. "You see, in a straight contest of wills, I could very well lose my control over your body. But this handy little Kryptonian device amplifies my will power significantly and directs it at my chosen subject. Just relax for the moment, Superman, I've some entertainment in store for you shortly."
"If it's me you want, Dark, you have me. Let the others go, I won't resist you," Clark implored his captor.
"But I need these others, as you will soon see." Dark chuckled as he turned his attention to the seated prisoners. "Now, I promised you folks that I'd tell you my story, so now that we are all present I can enlighten you."
The story Dark, or Vad Or, told his 'captive' audience was one that both fascinated and horrified them as he spun his tale. He told of the rise of a bloody cult back on ancient Krypton. A sect that had discovered through technological means a way to extend a person's life span by stealing it from another. Somehow, through the use of this device, a person could literally suck out the life energies of another and transfer them to himself, allowing him to extend his own life span. Vad Or was not a scientist or an engineer, so he never knew the science behind the device, but he thought it probably worked by using the living electrical energies of a person to stabilize and repair the damage to the body that natural aging caused. It worked, and that was all he cared about.
As a young man Vad Or had been seduced by the promise of eternal life and had joined the evil cult. As he grew to manhood, he also rose in the ranks of the sect's hierarchy, until, at the cult's height of power, he was the high priest and most powerful member.
Unfortunately, by this time they were no longer a secret sect, and had begun to draw the attention of the general populous and the authorities. While the idea of virtual immortality may have appealed to many, the price was too high for one to pay in the mind of the average Kryptonian. The cult was declared as nothing more than a band of murderers, their protection under Krypton's freedom of religion was stripped from them, and they all became hunted fugitives.
It hadn't taken long for the authorities, fueled by the public's righteous wrath, to bring to justice the members of the bloody cult. Vad Or, being the figurehead of the sect, was taken and put on trial. It was a spectacle, and a travesty of Kryptonian justice. That he would be found guilty was never in doubt. The proceedings were a mere formality. What the, oh so self- righteous, authorities wanted to get to was the punishment. They needed something splashy and very visual, to act as not only a deterrent to any such group in the future, but to satisfy a revenge hungry people.
It was decided to exile Vad Or into space. He was to be placed in a capsule, in a state of partial suspended animation. Enough to keep his body from needing more than minimal nutrients to sustain it, but not enough to shut down the brain completely. Then the capsule was shot into free space, left to drift endlessly between the stars with the silence of forever as his only companion.
But the fates had other plans. After only a short period of time, his tiny craft happened upon some form of space time anomaly which placed his vessel on a collision course with a small planet, third from it's sun, in a solar system at the far edge of it's galaxy. Once his ship had crash landed, he began to feel the effects that the solar radiation had been having on his body, during the whole trip through the solar system. Within a few weeks, special powers began to manifest themselves, until finally he had gained the powers his Kryptonian heritage granted him while on this planet.
Lois found she couldn't wait any longer to ask her questions. "If you're Kryptonian, and you gained the powers when you arrived, why weren't you king of the world?"
Dark had to laugh. "Why, Miss Lane, what makes you think I wasn't. I'm sure Miss Lang has told at least some of you that this artifact of mine, that she discovered, was lost a very long time ago." Dark paced in front of his prisoners, occasionally looking over at the rigidly held Superman, and smiling. "The few, scattered groupings of neo-humans weren't exactly a solid foundation to build an empire on. I enjoyed being their god for a while, but over time things changed."
"Changed?" Lois was determined to lead the conversation where she wanted it to go. She knew the longer they talked the better the chance to come up with a way out of this mess.
"Yes, Miss Lane, changed," Dark replied. "It seems that being forced to use ordinary humans to sustain and prolong my life had a deleterious effect on my body. The unfortunate consequence is that, to all intents and purposes, I've become human."
Lois was quick to seize on that pertinent piece of information. "You mean, you have no super powers?"
Dark's smile was one of patronizing amusement. "No, Miss Lane, I have no powers…at present," Dark turned his attention toward Clark, "but it's a situation I plan to correct shortly."
Lois' mind had been working furiously as Dark had been talking and pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. The fact that Dark had lived so long had given him an incredible body of knowledge with which to make his fortune, but it had also cautioned him against drawing too much attention to himself. She was sure he had been forced to survive some hard lessons of the past, but that only served to make him more dangerous. It was like he was some techno-vampire, gaining his immortality through the deaths of others. Others like…
"Ralph," she blurted out. "It was you who killed Ralph." Lois was nodding her head. "That's why his body looked like a mummified corpse. You sucked the life right out of him."
Dark gave an acknowledging nod of his head toward Lois. "Very good, Miss Lane, you win the kwepie doll. Now for your final question; how was it done?"
All five of the captives couldn't help but let their eyes roll up and try to peer at the electrodes so securely fastened to their respective foreheads. It was now all too clear as to their purpose, and how Dark planned to kill them. Out of the corner of her eye Lois could see Lucy's shoulders begin to shake as silent tears began to slip from her sister's eyes.
Clark tried again to struggle against Dark's control but couldn't make himself move. "Dark, or Vad Or, or whatever you call yourself, you have me. You can get your powers back by draining me. You don't need to kill the others, let them go!"
"I wouldn't dream of it. They are much too important to the entertainment portion of this program." Dark chuckled. "You seem to be the brightest one here, Miss Lane, perhaps you'd care to enlighten the great Superman as to what is going to happen."
Lois dropped her head and stared at her lap before raising it and meeting Clark's eyes. "He plans to suck the life out of us one by one, as you, helpless to do anything about it, watch it happen."
Clark looked beseechingly at Dark. "But why?" he moaned.
"Because I'm bored, because I know it will destroy you and you are my only means to get some secondhand vengeance against those who put me here. You are so like them. You are so proper, so noble and self righteous. I will enjoy torturing you." The corner of Dark's mouth curved up ever so slightly. "Besides — it's fun."
Lois had been watching Dark closely. His attention hadn't always been focused on Clark, but his right hand had never left the box like device. She guessed that he must need to be in contact with it for the control to work. But how could she, or anyone, break his control, she wondered. They were all trussed up like turkeys ready for the oven, and Clark was completely under his power.
Dark suddenly stood up from his fussing about the table. A particularly insidious look came over his features. "I have a splendid idea. It just came to me." Dark fixed Clark with a predatory grin. "If it would be so horrific for our dear, noble, Superman to have to watch his friends die, just think how much more fun it would be to watch him as he personally killed his friends."
"What?" Lois gasped. "Superman doesn't kill."
Dark turned his malicious smile toward Lois and waved the device in the air. "He does now."
Dark focused his attention back at Clark. He seemed to grind his thumbs tighter into the depressions at the top of the device. Within moments, Clark began to jerkily move toward the prisoners.
"Who to kill first?" Dark mused aloud.
Clark found himself in a near panic state as he fought for control of his body. He could feel his feet touching the floor as he shuffled Frankenstein like toward the bench that held his friends. His arm began to rise up of its own accord as his body stopped in front of Lois. Sweat rolled off his forehead while he stared in horror as his hand reached for Lois' throat. His eyes met hers. She favored him with a sad smile, as a lone tear slid down her cheek.
"It's not your fault. I forgive you."
Clark saw Lois' body tense as she closed her eyes in anticipation of her death at his hands. He watched like a horrified spectator as his hand inexorably inched it's way closer and closer. He could feel the soft, smooth skin of Lois' neck against his fingertips as his hand began to slowly encircle her creamy throat. 'NO!' his mind screamed. He couldn't do this! He wouldn't do this!
Clark threw every ounce of his own willpower against the amplified will of Dark. Sweat poured like a shower from his face and brow. He tasted blood from where he was biting the inside of his mouth, and blood was also running from his nose. His exertions against himself must have caused a rupture to some small surface blood vessels of his brain. A little voice in the back of his mind thought it better to suffer a stroke, than to participate in Dark's evil machinations.
Clark could feel the muscles and tendons in his right arm begin to tear as he slowly began to pull his hand away from around Lois' neck. Her eyes flew open in surprise. Clark didn't dare risk looking back at Dark, but he could feel his presence fighting him. It was like being pressed down by an impossibly heavy weight. He strained against that weight crying out in his agony as he felt his shoulder dislocate itself.
Suddenly Clark was no longer facing Lois, but found himself moving toward Jimmy. Apparently Dark had given up on trying to force Clark to kill Lois and was going to try his luck with one of the others. Clark noticed that Jimmy was watching him with a look of resignation. It was obvious that Jimmy was only partially there. His probable concussion and other injuries kept him from fully realizing the situation. Another couple of steps and he was in front of Jimmy. His shoulder and arm felt like it was being stabbed with red hot daggers as he moved his hand toward Jimmy.
The pain — his mind seized and focused on the pain. He fought Dark's control and began to ever so slightly twist his body away from facing Jimmy. Every move he made that went against Dark's wishes only intensified the pain that his self-damaged body experienced. As the pain intensified, he was better able to block out Dark's commands by embracing the agony and making it work for him.
Once Clark had turned enough to see him, he knew Dark was suffering too. Clearly, there were pain lines etched into Dark's sweat-slicked face, but Dark hadn't survived for thousands of years by being weak-willed and a quitter. Clark saw what appeared to be a look of renewed determination on the evil man's face and Clark felt himself turning back toward Jimmy.
'No!' Clark cried out in his mind. He couldn't lose it now! He'd come so close to breaking Dark's control, but now it seemed to be slipping away from him. Clark nearly gnawed a hole through his lower lip as he tried to redouble his efforts.
Suddenly, he was himself again. The outside control was gone! He was in command of his own body again. He whirled around to see Dark standing with his hands to his eye, cursing in obvious pain. The device lay on the floor a few feet away. A pair of ladies shoes were also nearby. In that instant Clark's own pain threatened to overwhelm him, and his tortured body just wanted to fall to the floor. He knew that was something that he could not do.
Without another moment's hesitation, Clark launched himself at the swiftly recovering Dark. Clark managed to turn his body just in time so it was his left side that struck Dark with the super speed shoulder block. The impact sent Dark sailing into the far wall where he struck with enough force to shake the corrugated wall. Dark slid down to the floor, unconscious.
Lois watched Dark hit the floor with a satisfied look on her face. She had closed her eyes once she had felt Clark's hand touch her throat. She hadn't been able to bear to see the tortured look on his face while he killed her, but then the pressure had vanished and his hand pulled away. She had opened her eyes in surprise to see Clark backing away from her.
She had watched the battle being fought between the two men for control of Clark's body. She saw the blood dripping from his nose and mouth, and saw the muscles in his arm knot and cramp. From his cries of pain she was certain that he had done damage to himself.
She had looked over and saw the concentration on Dark's own face as he had abandoned her as his target and had shifted to Jimmy. She saw how the injured Clark had stymied Dark's attempt, and watched in hopeful wonder as Clark had managed to turn himself away from Jimmy, and towards Dark.
For the first time Lois had felt that it was possible to get out of this mess. Clark, that special, wonderful, *super* man, was going to beat that evil monster. As high as her emotions were riding at that moment, they took an equally deep plunge when she saw Dark regain control and turn Clark back toward Jimmy.
Her mind had raced as she'd tried to imagine something, anything, that could help. She was watching how hard Dark was concentrating on his task when it had suddenly hit her. She had to break his concentration. But how, was the question. He would never react to a sound. A yell, or a scream would be easily ignored. She needed to jar him physically, but how to do that when she was so securely tied. Lois had stomped her foot in frustration.
That had been the inspiration that she had needed. She quickly slipped her shoes from her heel, balancing them on her toes. In rapid succession she flung one, then the other toward Dark. The first had glanced off his shoulder. He had turned toward her, an angry look on his face. That had opened him up to the second shoe which had just managed, toe first, to catch him in the left eye. Cursing in pain, Dark had instinctively dropped the device and had put his hands to his injured eye. Lois quickly turned her head back to Clark in time to see a red and blue blur slam into Dark and send him to the far wall.
Clark leaned over Lois, his right arm hanging limply at his side. With his left he undid her straps and gently pulled the electrode off her forehead. Their eyes met, and suddenly the rest of the world faded into insignificance.
"Hey," said Dan, as his voice snapped the two back to reality. "Better take care of Dark."
Clark turned to see that Salvador Dark was groaning and trying to fight his way back to consciousness. Clark grabbed up the straps that had held Lois in check so recently and attended the rogue Kryptionian. With speed, and a bit of a theatrical flourish, Clark soon had Dark trussed up like an unfortunate calf at a rodeo. By the time he turned back to his captive friends they were all in the process of freeing each other.
Lois must have freed Dan and Lucy, because they were now freeing Lana and Jimmy. Lois was at the table ripping the electrodes from their positions in the junction box, and the connection to the long rectangular device on the table. Lois had also picked up and placed Dark's controller device on the table.
Lois was in the process of locating and slipping on her shoes when the door opened and Dark's dour assistant came into the room.
"What the heck is going on here, our guests will be arriving any…"
His eyes fell on the bound Dark, and the now freed captives. Not waiting for any explanation, he turned and tried to flee through the lone door. He hadn't gotten more than a step when he was tackled from behind by a flying government agent. Scardino had the man pinned to the floor and punched into submission within a few moments. Lana brought over some more straps, which Dan used to tie up Dark's assistant.
Dan turned to Superman as he stood up, placing the assistant's gun in his waistband. "Can you give me an idea of what we have to face down there?" Dan indicated the warehouse below with a wave of his hand.
Clark scanned the area below their feet. "There appears to be three other men who work for Dark. They are all armed with handguns." Clark cocked his head to one side as his hearing picked up a telltale sound. He 'looked' toward the sound. "We also have a dark van pulling up to the main door. There are four people inside it, two muscle types, a small man with a briefcase, and one who is obviously in charge." Everyone could hear the sound of the large warehouse front entrance being opened. "They are pulling in."
Dan gave Superman a quick once over, noticing his limp right arm. "Are you going to be able to do this?"
Clark nodded somberly. "I'll be fine. I do have some other advantages to draw on."
Dan grinned. "I'll bet you do. Okay, this is what we should do." Dan's face was flushed, and animated. "Lana, Lois, you two stay here and watch over our former hosts," he glanced over at Jimmy, who was now fully reclined on the bench, "and Jimmy. Lucy, once Big Blue and I secure the scene downstairs, you find a phone somewhere and call in the calvary." Dan stopped when he noticed Lois giving him the cocked eyebrow and an irritated look. "Come on, Lois, this is what I do."
Lois shrugged. "Okay, what do we use to keep these two in line? You have the only weapon."
Clark reached over and snapped a couple of the legs off one of the two heavy wooden chairs that sat by the lone table. "Will these do?" He said as he handed one to each of the women.
"Let's see." Lois walked purposely over to where Dark was struggling against his straps. With a quick sure movement she clubbed Dark alongside his head. He rolled over, unconscious.
"Lois!" Clark exclaimed.
She gave Dark's assistant a severe look. He did his best to scoot back tight into the corner. "It should do," she said in a calm and emotionless tone. Lana giggled.
Dan looked around with a smile on his face. "Okay, let's do it."
In little more than a half an hour, it was all over. Henderson and his men were on scene escorting the bad guys to awaiting squad cars. Everyone was on the main floor milling around, as the paramedics took the protesting Jimmy toward their EMP van.
Dan and Superman had come down the stairs and had been able to take advantage of the surprise, since everyone was expecting Dark and his assistant. Before any of them could react, Clark had taken out the dark van's tires with a couple of bursts of his heat vision. Two of Dark's men had pulled their guns but had quickly dropped the red hot revolvers to nurse their badly burned hands. Once they had realized they were dealing with Superman, they rest gave up without a fight. Dan had them all lie face down on the concrete of the warehouse floor, while Lucy scurried out and found a phone booth on the corner, across the street.
Once the police had arrived, Dan intercepted Henderson on his beeline toward Superman and began explaining the whole situation. Superman just smiled and nodded at Henderson as Dan lead him away to fill him in on all that transpired there that day.
It wasn't long before everyone was outside. Dark, his cronies, and his customers were all on their way downtown. Dan and Lana had wandered off with Henderson while he made the necessary phone calls to the local military to take care of the hardware in the warehouse. Lucy was talking to Jimmy as the paramedics prepped him for his ride to Met General. Clark and Lois found themselves at the other side of the lot, alone.
"So what happens to Dark now?" Lois found herself being drawn to Clark's soft brown eyes. "I mean he's this several thousand year old kryptonian vampire. Does he just age normally from here, or will he magically turn to dust after a certain time." Lois waved her arms about for emphasis.
Clark shook his head. "I'm sure I don't know. I guess they'll just have to keep him under observation." Clark sighed. "It is a lucky thing that he doesn't have any powers."
Lois released a short bark like laugh. "I think that is the understatement of the day. Perry is going to love this story. It's Kerth material, for certain." Lois couldn't help but notice his wince of pain when she grabbed his hand and bumped against his right arm. "I'm sorry. I could tell you hurt yourself in there when you were straining against Dark. Is it bad?" She bit on her lower lip as her eyes sought his.
"No, not too bad. In fact, it already feels better than it did. With my powers of healing, I should be fine by tomorrow."
Clark turned to face Lois, taking both her hands in his. He just stared into her beautiful face for a few moments. "Lois, I haven't had the chance yet, but I just wanted to thank you for what you did back there. You saved my life, and everyone else's too." Clark shook his head in amused wonder. "I'll never know how you were so accurate, to be able to strike Dark in the eye with your shoe."
Lois grinned. "Well, the truth is, I was aiming for the box." They both shared a laugh over that. Lois cocked her head and favored Clark with a sly little smile. "So go ahead," she said.
She checked over her shoulder and noticed that none of the few remaining people were paying any attention to them. Her smile got wider. "Go ahead and thank me."
Clark's look of confusion changed to one of understanding as a sly smile of his own curved his lips. He released one of Lois' hands and placed his along her cheek. She leaned into it, then rose up on her toes to meet him halfway as he lowered his head to hers.
The kiss was sweet and tender. It caused a sensation of spreading warmth to suffuse through the bodies of both partners. It wasn't a kiss of passion, but it was a kiss that spoke of love, and of promise. It might have continued till who knew when, but Lois had to break in order to breathe.
"Whoa," she murmured breathlessly.
Lois placed her hand on Clark's chest as she took a couple of moments to catch her breath. She was a little unsteady on her feet as well. Lois hadn't had a lot of romantic relationships, but she hadn't grown up in a convent either. Still, she had never known a kiss like that, and she needed another. She looked up into his smiling eyes as her own sly look returned.
"Well that was a pleasant thank you, for saving all the others." She tugged on the fabric of his suit pulling his head down toward her. "I think we are reasonably safe from tabloid reporters here. Superman's reputation will still be safe, so how about some gratitude for *your* life."
Clark didn't reply with words but merely closed the slight distance between them and captured her lips in his again. It was a kiss much like the first one, only this time there was more heat. The sweetness gave way to desire and the tenderness to a passion that surprised each of them.
Clark finally pulled back just a bit. His eyes caught and held hers. "I love you, Lois Lane."
Lois pulled back from Clark as if she were stung. Oh no, her little voice said. She couldn't do this. She couldn't pretend to be his lost wife. As much as she wanted him to love her, as much as she yearned for the kisses they just shared to be real, she knew he was lost in memory.
Clark, completely misinterpreting Lois' hesitation, put his hands on her arms. "Look, Lois, I know that I maybe shouldn't have said that. That to do so was unfair to you." He led her over to some crates, which were stacked against the building and formed a handy bench. "I know that you only see me as a friend. And I know this declaration kind of comes out of the blue, especially since I've spent so much time denying it." He ran his hand through his hair. "I guess I felt that it wasn't possible for me to love anyone else, so I refused to see the truth, even as it slowly overtook me." He paused for another slow breath. "I guess it was the thought that I might lose you too that forced me to see the truth. And that truth is, you are a terrific person, Lois Lane. Someone I really need to get to know better."
"Clark, I…" Her little voice shouted at her to shut up and let the man talk.
Clark continued as if she hadn't spoken. "It's true that I'll never stop loving my lost wife. I know that I'll always hold a place for her in my heart and have the wonderful memories of our time together. But I have to face reality, and I can't ignore that fact that I have acquired deep feelings for this redheaded stranger who has insinuated her way into my heart. I'm not going to ask you to return those feelings, I don't have the right." He stroked her cheek. "But I am going to ask you to give me a chance. Let me try to convince you that we can be more than just friends." Clark stopped and took in another lungful of the late morning air. "I want to wine and dine you. I want us to be partners at the Planet. I want to become your best friend…and I want…more."
He stood and reached down and helped Lois to her feet. "You need to know that I won't force anything. We can take this as slow as you need. I realize what a tremendous adjustment you've had to make coming here, and I'm in awe of what you have accomplished. I just hope that you'll consider what I've said and…Lois, will you have dinner with me?"
Lois had to bite down on her lower lip to keep her mouth from spreading itself into a huge grin. This was too good to be true. She knew she could tell Clark right now that she loved him too, but her tiny voice recommended caution. She wasn't truly sure if Clark was ready to move on with his life just yet. Maybe a slow and steady progress would be the best way to reassure both him and her that it was really she that he wanted. Besides, her little voice interjected, when was the last time she had a gorgeous hunk of super-manhood courting her?
"Yes, Clark, I think I'd like that." She thought she'd like that a lot.
Lucy said her final goodbyes to Jimmy with an added promise to come visit him at the hospital later that night. Just before they closed the doors to their van in preparation to leaving, the paramedics had told Lucy that Jimmy had a lot of healing to do, but, in time, he should fully recover.
Lucy turned back toward the warehouse and the grounds surrounding it. She noticed Lana and Dan leaning against one of the few remaining police units still on scene. Lana appeared to be listening entranced as Dan, animatedly, seemed to be acting out his heroic capture of the arms dealers.
She turned her head and spied Clark and Lois over at the other side of the lot, near the far corner of the building. They were pretty much out of sight of anyone not specifically looking for them, and they were deep in the throes of an emotional kiss. Lucy thought her heart was going to burst with joy as she couldn't keep the huge, silly grin off her face. She watched as they separated a little, spoke a bit, then kissed again. This time Lucy found herself crying.
Lucy tried to wipe at the tears with the back of her hand, when she was startled by the offering of a clean, white handkerchief. As she took the handkerchief and began to wipe at her eyes, she turned to see who had been so generous. She was surprised to see a bespectacled, middle-aged gentleman dressed in rather old fashioned clothing. The suit was a bold pin stripe with a vest and a watch fob chain hanging from the pocket. To top it off, he was wearing a derby style hat. Lucy stared hard at the little man, there was just something about him…
"You're H.G. Wells!"
"Quite, pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Lane." He doffed his hat ever so briefly.
Having heard several things regarding the ubiquitous Mr. Wells from both Lois and Clark recently, Lucy eyed him warily. "You're not here to take one or both of them away are you? Not now!"
"No, no, my dear, nothing like that." He shook his head in time with the waving of his finger. "I just wanted to pop in and see how things were going."
They both watched in silence as Clark and Lois conversed on a bench of crates. Lucy, with a frown of concentration, began to recall some of the things Lois had told her about her conversations with her sister, and the role H.G. Wells had played in their lives. She remembered something about some sort of perfect future, dependent on Lois and Clark.
Lucy turned to address the English gentleman. "Why *are* you here?"
"Don't worry, truly I just wanted to see how Clark and Lois were getting on."
"But this isn't my sister, Lois. You know that." Lucy saw his nod of affirmation. "Doesn't that mess up the future somehow? Isn't there supposed to be something about my sister and Clark being…" Lucy searched her memory, "oh yeah, soul mates?"
Wells sighed, and gave Lucy a slight, sad smile. "Well, yes that is true. Your sister and Clark were indeed soul mates, but you see, so are Clark and this Lois."
"What?" Lucy's face scrunched up with a look of incomprehension. "Are you trying to tell me that my sister and this Lois, because they are other dimensional versions of each other, are actually the same person?"
"Oh no, They are not the same person. This Lois Lane is very much her own individual person…and she's not."
Lucy placed her fists on her hips in a very Lane-like posture. "You're going to have to explain that one to me."
"Perhaps we should sit." Wells led Lucy over to the curb, where the two of them sat. "It was all explained to me by a philosopher-mystic from the 30th century. I'll try my best to explain it to you, but it's all very metaphysical and I'm not quite sure I understood everything he said."
Wells blushed. "Quite — well first, I guess you should know that no matter what she may be called, whether it be the Lady Loisette, or Lulu; no manner when or where she may exist, be it London in the middle ages, or another dimension entirely; spiritually these people are all, from our reference, Lois Lane."
Lucy frowned. "You mean like reincarnation?"
"No, my dear, reincarnation suggests a linear progression." Wells paused to collect his thoughts. "You have to realize that the next plane of existence, the spiritual being, the soul as if were, is not constrained by space or time. It is everywhere and every time simultaneously. The spiritual essence, the soul, of all individuals who in their separate realities are Lois Lane is the same."
Lucy didn't hide her confusion. "Are you saying they all share the same soul?"
"In a sense, but really it's more like they are all part of, or are a particular physical manifestation of, the same spiritual being." He sighed as he saw her continued confusion. "Let me use a crude analogy. Your fingernails and, say, your hair are, to all appearances, quite different. And if one were to see some nail clippings and some strands of hair lying side by side, that individual wouldn't have any notion that they were from the same person, indeed were the same person." Wells stared at his companion and smiled. "Because for all that they look different, if taken down to their most basic level, both the nail clippings and the hair follicles have the special DNA chain that defines who you are. The map or the blueprint of the true person is contained in each of those very different, individual pieces."
Wells took Lucy's hand in his. "So you see, each person throughout time and space that is Lois Lane, or Clark Kent, or Lucy Lane, is a part of something much grander, and in each and every one is that blueprint for the greater spiritual essence, the soul."
"I think I understand what you're saying." Lucy didn't sound too convinced. "But what about this soul mates thing?"
"Ah, that — well, very rarely there are two souls who, for reasons not revealed to mere man, compliment each other. Their spirits define a greater whole than the sum of their two parts." Wells paused again to consider his words. "So whenever people who are aspects of those two spiritual essences should meet, their souls will instantly recognize each other."
"Are you saying that Clark had no choice but to fall in love with Lois?"
Wells chuckled. "Oh my, no, I don't mean that at all. Remember that each physical aspect of any soul is an individual shaped by his or her surroundings and the life experiences they have had along the way. The souls will recognize each other and each person will feel some sort of connection if they are open to their feelings. But that can't guarantee that the two people will find each other desirable." Wells shook his head as he chuckled again. "I'm sure there are many times, and planes of existence, where a Lois and a Clark never got together for a hundred different reasons, including not being able to stand one another." Wells stood up and reached his hand out to help Lucy to her feet also. "No, my dear, being soul mates doesn't guarantee that two people will find each other, but if they do… that is something very special and precious."
Lucy looked over her shoulder at Clark and Lois, still talking together over at the far side of the warehouse. She couldn't keep the tears from beginning to fall again.
"Oh, Mr. Wells, they both have been through so much, and have suffered so much." She turned and looked straight at the dapper little man. "Do you think they have a chance? Do you think they have a shot at happiness, together?"
Wells reached out and patted her hand in a comforting gesture. "My dear Miss Lane, I wouldn't worry too much about that. There may still be a few thorns in their rose garden, but I *have* been to the future, and a truly wonderful place it is too. You might call it a veritable…Utopia."