By Nan Smith <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted April 2000
Summary: An alternate version of the episode "Fly Hard." Timing is everything, they say, and if the timing had been just a little different, Lois Lane might have learned a lot more than just what it was like to be a hostage.
I got to thinking. The way things worked out in "Fly Hard" depended a good deal upon the timing of events. What if Cat and George had arrived slightly later than they did, or what if the terrorists had been a few minutes sooner? I decided to change the timing a little and see what happened. Here is the result.
This story first appeared on Zoomway's Fanfic Board under the working title of Fly Hard: The Alternate Version. I've finally thought of a better title, so here it is under its new name. I hope you like it.
As always, the characters and recognizable settings in this story are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions, et cetera, and no copyright infringement is intended. Large parts of the story are adapted from the episode "Fly Hard" and they are hereby credited to the writers of the show. The changes are mine.
Lois Lane couldn't believe it. She had been looking forward to this evening for a week. She'd been ready to leave a good fifteen minutes beforehand so that she and Lex could arrive early at the opera, and then Fate's mischievous hand had lowered the boom. At the very last second she discovered that her source for the headline story, which would appear tomorrow morning in the Daily Planet, had been arrested. It figured. Everything had been going much too smoothly for it to last.
So instead of arriving early, as they had originally planned, she and Lex were riding the elevator to the newsroom of the Planet building so she could make a quick change to her article. So much for her being ready in plenty of time.
The elevator dinged, the doors slid aside and she hurried down the ramp to the Pit with Lex following in her wake.
"Lois, the opera begins in thirty minutes." Lex's voice sounded annoyed.
Well, it wasn't his story. "How was I supposed to know one of my sources would get arrested? I have to rewrite my lead." She headed for her desk through the darkened newsroom and paused in surprise. The light was on in Perry's office and outside the door reposed a pile of items, some of which she had seen sitting about in her editor's office for as long as she had worked here. Moreover, Clark was stationed at his desk, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, scowling over papers that littered its surface. Beside him Jack sat, feet propped on a corner of the desk, apparently engrossed in a hand-held video game.
Lex stopped as well, glancing around in mild surprise at the sight.
"Don't you people have homes?" he inquired.
Clark glanced up. "Evening, Lois," he said, ignoring Luthor.
"Clark, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"Paperwork," Clark said.
"It was supposed to be a movie," Jack added.
"We can still make the late show," Clark said, unperturbed. He surveyed Lois's outfit. "Aren't you a little over-dressed for a night at the office?"
Reminded of her mission, Lois sat down at her desk and turned on her computer.
"We were on our way to Madame Butterfly," Lex said.
"Ten minutes," Lois said. "All I need is ten minutes." She brought up the story and began to type.
She was barely aware of Perry's voice as her editor emerged from his office, followed by Jimmy. She mentally revised her lead-in and rewrote, hurrying to finish. Lex didn't like arriving fashionably late anywhere, she knew, but it wasn't his reputation as a reporter that was on the line, either.
The doors to the elevator slid open.
"What's going on here?" Willie, the Planet's night watchman, stepped out.
"Hey, Willie," Clark said. "It's just us."
The old man glanced around the room, disconcerted. "But, you're not supposed to be here, now."
"Everything's fine, Willie," Perry said. "Don't worry about a thing. Keep up the good work."
Willie bobbed his head. "Yes sir, Mr. White." The watchman turned and shuffled back into the elevator. Lois brought her attention back to the article.
"Anybody want a pizza?" Jack asked. He picked up the phone.
Jimmy had vanished back into Perry's office, but now he reappeared again, carrying a life-size cardboard cutout of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
"Sure," he said. "Fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, olives…"
"Hey," Jack said, "if it goes on a salad, it doesn't go on a pizza." He started to dial.
Perry turned and saw Jimmy's burden. He grinned. "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. This one is definitely a keeper."
"I dunno, Chief." Jimmy turned Elvira around and surveyed the slinky form of the cutout. "She looks kinda scary to me."
"Not to me, son," Perry said. "She's the reason I've seen Godzilla a hundred and sixteen times."
As he spoke, the door to the stairs banged open and Lois glanced up at the sound. Her jaw dropped slightly.
Cat, clasped in the arms of a man whom Lois had never seen before in her life, lurched into the room. The two of them were kissing passionately, and the spectacle seemed to strike the observers dumb simultaneously. It took the engrossed couple several seconds to realize they had an audience and Lois had no doubt of what would have been taking place minutes from now if the room had been untenanted. As it was, they became aware of the other people present suddenly, and the unknown man rather hurriedly released Cat, who quickly smoothed back her hair.
"Uh…hi, everybody," she stammered. "This is—" She paused, fumbling for a name. Her companion whispered and Cat continued, "Uh, George."
George waved, looking embarrassed.
"What are you doing here?" Lois asked, although she was in no real doubt.
"I was going to show George how we put the paper to bed," Cat said. She turned to George. "Come on. I think the observation deck of the Metropolis Tower is still open…" They started back toward the stairs.
Jimmy, on his way to the storage room with his arms full of junk, glanced sideways at them. "I could have lived without hearing that."
Cat ignored him, hurrying up the ramp with George.
"Hey!" Jack's voice rose in annoyance. "All right, who cut me off?"
Lois found herself staring at a blank computer screen. "I just lost my story!"
The lights flickered suddenly and the elevator dinged. Four men and one woman, carrying what looked like automatic weapons, burst out. The lead man seized Cat and thrust her roughly backwards into George, who promptly fell over. The invaders spread out into the Pit, and the woman let loose a blast of automatic fire into the ceiling.
"What in the Sam Hill is—"
One of the men grabbed Perry, cutting him off. The tall man remaining by the elevator raised his weapon and fired into the ceiling, showering them with debris. Cat cowered back against George, who put an arm around her, looking expressionlessly past her at the leader of the invaders.
"The Daily Planet building is now ours," the terrorist announced. "I suggest you all cooperate and everything will go smoothly." He nodded at Perry. "Let him go. You two…down there." He gestured with the muzzle of his weapon. George helped Cat to her feet, and they obeyed silently.
Lois glanced wildly around. Jimmy was nowhere to be seen. Movement among the invaders drew her attention once more. The woman tossed the leader a small bag. The man unzipped it and removed a black device, which resembled, to Lois's eyes, a cellular phone.
"And, in case any of you feel the need to contact the authorities or your friend, Superman—" He pushed a button. Lights began to blink on the face of the object. "You can tell him I'm holding a small, but dirty nuclear device, and if I catch so much as a glimpse of a red cape, this building, and the gene pool of Metropolis will pay the price."
Lex's arm settled around her shoulder. Lois glanced up at him, then back at the men.
The leader smiled humorlessly. "So relax," he said. "By morning this will all be over, one way or another."
Lois paced back and forth in the limited confines of the conference room of the Daily Planet. She could see the terrorists moving about beyond the window. Their leader and his female sidekick had set up a portable computer on one of the desks and were conferring over it. A beefy guard with an automatic rifle stood guard, just outside.
Clark stood silently by the door, watching everything through the window, his glasses pushed down his nose. It was a habit Lois had noticed before over the months she had known him, and something about his appearance when he did it always gave her a vague sense of deja vu; something tugged at her, the feeling that she was missing something she should be seeing, but it was only Clark, after all. He seemed to sense her watching him, for he casually pushed his glasses into place and turned to meet her eyes.
"I'm far-sighted," he explained.
"Trying to see what they're doing?"
He nodded. "They've got some sort of floor plan there. I can't make it out clearly."
"Mr. Kent's eyes must be exceptional to see even that," Lex's voice said contemptuously.
Clark didn't answer.
Lois glanced at Lex, but saw him looking at Clark with something close to a sneer on his lips, an expression that vanished almost instantly as she saw it.
She looked back at Clark, but her partner had turned and was peering out the door again. She tapped him on the shoulder.
"Clark, what they're doing doesn't matter. It's what they're going to do when they're finished."
"Yeah," Jack said. "We've seen their faces. They aren't going to leave us alive."
"We don't know that," Clark said. "I think the safest thing we can do is wait."
Lois glanced around at the others. Perry was trying to look out the window at the street below. Cat sat in one of the chairs at the conference table, George beside her. Jack and Lex moved restlessly about the room.
Lois said, "We have to try to do something. We can't just sit here and wait for them to kill us."
George spoke up for the first time. "Mr. Kent is right. If we don't provoke them into anything we're more likely to last longer. And the longer we live, the more likely something is to happen that we can use to escape. How about the young man who was in the storeroom? Is it possible he might get away and find help?"
"How did you know about him?" Jack asked, sharply.
"I saw him go into the storeroom just before the men came out of the elevator," George explained simply.
"Then Jimmy might be able to save us!" Lois said.
Perry turned from the window. "Jimmy couldn't save baseball cards, Lois!"
"I know these kind of people," Lex said. "We should consider ourselves dead. In that regard we have nothing to lose. We must take the offensive."
"Luthor," Clark said, with uncharacteristic emphasis, "he may be holding the lives of thousands of people in his hand. Don't do anything to provoke him."
Lex looked contemptuously at Clark. "Well, now that we know what Mr. Kent is made of, it's obvious we need someone with a cool head and a keen sense of judgement to take charge."
One of Clark's eyebrows went up. "You?"
"I have thousands of employees—"
"Now, just a doggone minute here," Perry interjected. "This is my ship and I'm still the captain."
"Yeah," Jack said. "The Exxon Valdez."
Perry scowled at him.
George said, "Mr. Kent is right. These people are going to be preoccupied with their mission, whatever it is. If we give them no cause to worry about us, we may find an opportunity for one of us to escape and call for help."
"And I suppose you're an expert?" Lex said.
George smiled without humor. "I used to negotiate hostage situations for the Metro SWAT Team."
"Used to?" Lois asked.
He shrugged. "Now I teach criminology at Metropolis City College." He glanced briefly at Lex. "You must admit that gives me some claim to expertise, Mr. Luthor."
Lex simply raised his eyebrows and smiled derisively.
Lois came to a decision. "Lex is right. We need a plan."
"Lois, it's too risky!" Clark protested.
"We're wasting time," Lois said, before she could change her mind. "I'll create a diversion. You hit him with a chair."
Lois pushed Perry into a chair. "Sit down, Chief. You're having a heart attack."
Lois spun to the window and pounded on it with both fists.
"Help! Help us! He's having a heart attack! Quickly! He needs a doctor!"
The guard pushed the door open and pointed his weapon directly into Lois's face.
"Do something!" Lois demanded. "He's going to die and *then* where will you be? On trial for murder, that's where!"
The leader and his female henchman stepped through the door. He pointed his weapon at Perry, and for a split instant Lois thought she'd gotten her boss and friend killed as the gun chattered furiously. When it stopped there was a neat semi-circle of bullet holes around his feet.
For a second no one moved, then the leader smiled. "A nine millimeter automatic. Better than a triple bypass."
Perry nodded, his face ashen.
The leader turned to Lois and looked her straight in the eyes. "No more tests of my patience. Understand?"
Lois glared back defiantly. "I…"
"She understands," Clark said quickly.
Lois shifted her glare to Clark as the three terrorists exited the conference room. The guard shut the door decisively behind them.
"Lois," Perry said, his voice shaking, "if you ever rope me into anything like that again, you'll be writing recipes for the food section!"
Looking at her boss's face Lois felt a tug of remorse, but everything in her rebelled against admitting she was wrong. "There isn't going to be a food section if we don't do something to stop them!"
"Ms. Lane…" George sounded grim. "Unless you want someone to wind up dead, don't try something like that again. These people are playing for keeps."
Lois whirled on the man. "I don't need you to tell me what I should do!"
The man raised an eyebrow. "Mr. White could have been killed. It was a small miracle that he wasn't."
Lois didn't answer. Arguing the matter with Cat's companion would only serve to emphasize the truth of what he'd said. Cheeks burning, she closed her lips tightly together and pretended to watch the activity beyond the window.
George had gotten to his feet. He put a reassuring hand on Cat's shoulder and whispered to her, then stepped quietly to the window next to Clark.
"What's going on, Kent?"
Clark nodded toward the Pit. "A minute ago a couple of them brought some heavy machinery up in the elevator. It looked like something they might use for demolition."
"Where is it now?"
"The leader ordered them to take it down a floor."
"How do you know?" Lois demanded, piqued. "You read lips now, or something?"
"As a matter of fact, I do." Clark turned back to George. "It looks to me like they're planning on knocking down a few walls."
"They're looking for something," George said.
"That'd be my guess."
Lois squinted out into the Pit, but only the backs of the leader and his lieutenant were visible. Their guard had apparently been drafted to help with the machinery. Frustrated, she flounced back toward the table, trying to suppress the feeling of chagrin that her escape attempt had backfired so badly.
Clark and George continued to watch through the door, speaking to each other in low voices.
She flopped into a chair next to Lex. "Superman will save us," she said, finally. "He probably knows what's happening right now and is waiting for his chance."
Lex raised his eyebrows. "I wouldn't count on it, Lois. Even Superman has his limits. A nuclear bomb could be as deadly to him as to the rest of us."
"That won't stop him," Lois said, confidently. "I know it."
Clark glanced at her briefly. Her partner's face was uncharacteristically grim. He might be angry with her for her abortive escape attempt, she thought, or just worried about their situation. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. Clark was something of a lightweight in her opinion. He had earned her grudging respect some months ago when he had paid her back in spades for stealing his story, but she didn't have much confidence in his ability to get them out of the current trap. No, she decided. If they were going to get out of this, and if Superman didn't show up, she was going to have to rely on herself.
"It's been almost two hours," Cat murmured, after a glance at her watch. "What on earth are they doing?"
Clark hadn't stirred from his post by the door. He was watching the movement of the band's leader, glasses shoved down his nose once more, Lois noted. For herself, she couldn't see much. After another glance at the terrorist leaning over his portable computer, she went to the coffee station to get herself a glass of water. It was after eleven and she had been up since five. Now that the adrenaline rush had died down, she was beginning to feel tired.
"I wonder if they'll let us go to the bathroom," Jack said.
Suddenly aware of discomfort, Lois set the cup down. She shifted around indecisively for a moment, then spoke.
"I have to go," she said.
Jack looked up from his video game. "Okay. See you tomorrow."
Lois glanced at him in annoyance. "No, I mean I have to *go*"
Jack raised his eyebrows. "All of a sudden?"
"No! Just since you mentioned it, thank you very much!"
"They have to provide for basic human needs," Lex said.
"I don't think anyone told *them* that!"
Perry jerked his head in the direction of the newsroom. "I think you should tell Miss Congeniality out there that you need to use the ladies' room."
"Or," Lex said, "you can hold it, indefinitely."
Lois turned without a word and hurried to the window beside Clark. She hammered on the glass. After a second, the female invader yanked open the door. "What?"
"I have to go to the bathroom," Lois explained.
"Too bad." The woman started to close the door.
"You can't treat us like this!" Lois protested.
The leader walked over. "I thought I told you not to make trouble."
Lois glared at him. "Evidently my bladder didn't hear you."
The leader looked at her for a moment, as if trying to ascertain if it was a trick, then gestured abruptly. "Take her. I'll watch them."
The woman seized Lois by the arm and pushed her roughly across the Pit toward the Ladies' room.
She was drying her hands when the yells of alarm and fury reached her ears, followed almost immediately by the sound of a gunshot. Dropping the paper towel, she hurried to the door.
The fire sprinklers were in action, and Lex was getting painfully to his feet, aided by Clark. With one hand he clutched his shoulder, and from under his fingers a red stain was spreading across the cloth of his jacket.
Lois hurried to the two men. "Are you all right, Lex?"
He glanced reassuringly at her. "It's nothing. I'm fine."
The leader was glowering at the three of them, gun pointed directly at Lex's face.
"No more chances," he said.
A short time later, they discovered what he meant. Lois found herself sitting in a straight-backed chair, cuffed to Clark. Lex had been fastened to Cat, Perry to George, and Jack to a chair. The leader stood before them, supervising the new arrangement. When the woman, whom he had called Remy, finished, he smiled mirthlessly.
"We are now on the buddy system," he announced. "If one of you is missing or tries anything heroic, Remy gets to do things her way and your buddy dies. She wants you all dead, anyway." He gave them that humorless smile again. "I hope that's clear enough for everyone to understand. Don't give me any more trouble, or else."
Clark twisted around, trying to see the others; he was facing the windows to the newsroom. Lois protested. "Clark, you're pulling!"
"Sorry." Her partner straightened up and she watched the terrorists depart. Remy shut the door behind them.
For several long moments no one said anything. Then Cat lifted the wrist which had been chained to Lex's.
"I was planning on wearing handcuffs this evening," she remarked, "but not this way."
Jack reached into a pocket with his free hand and, as Lois watched, the boy produced a paper clip. Slowly, one-handed, he straightened it and inserted it into the lock on the cuffs. Perry had seen him, too, Lois noted, but he said nothing.
"What are they doing?" she asked, finally.
Her partner answered her. "It looks like they're trying to rescue their blueprints. Everything's pretty wet."
"What happened, anyway?" she asked.
"The sprinklers suddenly came on for no reason," Cat said. "Lex tried to escape, and the leader guy shot him."
George had also seen what Jack was doing, Lois noticed, but he made no comment either. The ex-cop must be getting worried about their prospects for escape.
"You know," Lois said, trying to look on the bright side, "this is going to make an incredible story, Clark. I mean, how many journalists have this kind of opportunity? To be in the belly of the beast—part of the event, not just a casual observer? Just like those guys in the Baghdad Hotel!"
Jack had undone the lock, she saw. The boy quietly opened the handcuff and slipped free. One finger to his lips, crouched low so as not to be seen by the occupied terrorists, he crept to the door.
"Lex!" Cat's voice brought her attention around. Lex had appeared to be resting, his head lolling against the back of the chair and on Cat's shoulder, but now, as she watched, he slumped gradually sideways and collapsed to the floor, half dragging Cat with him.
"Lex! Ohmigod!" Lois struggled to her feet. Clark was forced to stand as well and the two of them hurried to the fallen man. Clark bent over him and pulled open his jacket. The white shirt underneath was drenched with blood.
"The bullet went right through," he said after a quick examination, "but he's bleeding pretty heavily. We've got to get it stopped."
The next moments were a little confused as they followed Clark's terse instructions, and when Lois had the presence of mind to check again, Jack had disappeared.
"I can't believe it." Lois eyed her partner with a feeling close to awe. Clark's "voodoo" mixture appeared to have stopped the bleeding. Lex looked woozily up at them and then down at his shoulder. He and Cat were seated on the floor, and they had braced him against the wall. Clark sat back and wiped both hands on his jeans.
"You'll be okay now," he told Lex. "Just sit still and take it easy."
A jolt shook the conference room and Lois grabbed Clark's shoulder to steady herself, surprised to feel the slabs of hard muscle under her fingers. Clark was such a mild-mannered guy that she tended to forget how strong he was. Of course, she had seen his build once, unhampered by clothing, the time he'd answered the door in nothing but a towel that morning at the Apollo Hotel, but that had been nearly a year ago.
"What was that?" Cat asked.
"An earthquake?" George guessed.
Another jolt. Lois looked over at the terrorist leader, who was speaking furiously into a walkie talkie.
"I don't think so," Clark said. He was looking at the floor, Lois noticed, glasses pushed down his nose again. "They must be using that machinery we saw earlier."
"Why?" Perry asked. "Why come in here and try to destroy the Daily Planet?"
"I don't think they're trying to destroy it, Chief," Clark said. "Remember the blueprints? They're looking for something, like we said before."
Remy and the leader were arguing vigorously. Now he shoved his lieutenant roughly aside and fired four shots into the hapless computer.
"I guess they didn't find it," George said into the silence that followed. "Nice to know our pals out there are so cool under pressure."
The two terrorists argued some more. Clark was staring at them, Lois noted, his glasses lowered slightly. She saw her partner frown. "Dragon—" she heard him say.
"Dragon—what?" she asked.
"They said 'Dragonetti'."
She shook her head. Clark could be strange, sometimes. "How do you know? Oh, that's right. You read lips."
"Yeah." He glanced around suddenly. "Where's Jack?"
"He took off while you were working on Mr. Luthor," George said. "I didn't think it would be smart to make a fuss, considering."
"The boss is headed this way," Cat said. "Let's hope he doesn't notice Jack's missing."
A moment later the door swung open. The head terrorist looked in at them. "The system's locked up. Who can get me online with the computer?"
"I—" Lois began.
"I can help you." Clark cut her off. "What file do you need?"
"That's not your concern. Just get me onto the Metro-Comp data base."
Lois saw her chance. "Metro comp? That's the old system. We updated three years ago. He won't know how to use it. You'll have to take me." She cast a look of triumph at Clark as Remy unlocked her cuff and fastened it to one of the chairs. Honestly! This old-fashioned chivalry of Clark's could really be annoying! Then the worried look on her partner's face made her soften. "Don't worry, Clark. But somebody's got to find out what they're doing here."
"They had me call up the old building plans to the Daily Planet," she was saying to them fifteen minutes later. "They're looking for money."
"I figured that out as soon as Clark said 'Dragonetti'," Perry said. "Dragonetti was a high profile gangster in Metropolis during the Prohibition era. Like a lot of them he came to a violent end, but while he was in power he and a few others like him actually built the Daily Planet building. In those days it was his headquarters, and there was even a speakeasy in the basement, where the cafeteria is now…anyway, the legend has it that his vault is somewhere in the building, with something like thirty million dollars in it."
"Thirty million!" Cat said. "And you never thought about looking for it?"
Perry gave a reluctant grin. "I never really believed it, and besides, who'd think it would still be here?"
"Obviously these guys," Cat said, glumly. "I'd rather we'd found it."
"Yeah," Perry admitted. "Me, too."
"I stole this from them." Lois tossed a wadded up ball of paper to Clark and watched as he unfolded it. "What is it?"
"It's a diagram of these offices," Clark said, slowly. "There it is. Look."
Lois bumped heads with George as they all crowded together to see what Clark was pointing out.
"Dragonetti's vault?" Lois said. "But that's…"
"In my office," Perry said. "I've been sitting on thirty million dollars for—" He broke off as the elevator opened and the remaining three male terrorists wrestled the heavy equipment out onto the newsroom floor. As they watched, the men hauled it through the Pit and into Perry's office.
"Oh, no!" Perry jumped to his feet. "Not my Elvis box!" The terrorists were dragging the machine across his office, paying no attention to the damage they caused, and Lois winced involuntarily as Perry's Elvis box met its fate. Her editor covered his face with both hands.
It was at that moment that she saw her partner's expression change. He turned his head toward the windows of the room that overlooked the street in front of the Daily Planet, and carefully lowered his glasses just far enough to look over them. She frowned. Why did Clark do that?
On impulse she went to the windows and looked out. Clark followed, perforce.
It was past one a.m. The air was misty, with early morning fog blurring the yellow light of the street lamps, and for a moment she saw nothing. Then a flicker of motion caught her eye.
There were men down there—men in the gear of SWAT officers. Somehow Clark had known they were there, but how? She had been aware for some time that his hearing was acute, but that acute? It was impossible. Nobody had hearing like that.
Except Superman. The thought popped unbidden into her mind.
She was vaguely proud of herself for concealing her reaction as well as she did when the realization dawned in her brain. Her heart was racing as fast as her thoughts and she felt slightly light-headed, but she continued to look down into the street while she fitted the pieces together hoping to disprove what she had guessed, but only managing to confirm her suspicion.
Clark's mysterious disappearances—always just before the appearance of Superman at some disaster or other. The sprinklers that inexplicably came on in the Pit while she'd been in the ladies' room
Clark had been trying to get them out of this situation without revealing his secret. Lex must have fouled that up somehow with his escape attempt. There had been that time a few weeks ago when he'd stood up to the Superman clone, to protect her—what a chance he'd taken then, if what she thought was true! And there had been the incident around Christmas when he'd shoved her down on the steps of her apartment and insisted someone had been shooting at her. She hadn't believed him, but Sebastian Finn had probably tried to kill her that evening, and Clark had saved her life. He must have caught the bullets, she thought, feeling unnaturally, almost hysterically calm. He *had* had something in his hands after all.
Superman had appeared for the first time in Metropolis just days after Clark had been hired at the Planet, too. He'd flown her back to the office after the Messenger incident and set her down right next to her desk. That made sense. Clark, of course, knew which desk was hers. The clues were everywhere, she thought with a strong sense of chagrin, if only she'd had the sense to look. But why would anyone in his right mind even think of quiet, modest, unassuming Clark Kent as a super hero? That was almost certainly why the disguise worked so well. She had probably prevented him from saving them again when she'd outmaneuvered him a short time ago. He'd tried to volunteer and she'd taken his place. Well, if she'd known then what she knew now, it wouldn't have happened!
Staring down at the activity in the street, as the shock began to wear off slightly, she was first aware of anger and a deep sense of betrayal. How could he not have told her—his partner? This was a secret that could be life-altering! She'd known he had a crush on her; she'd chosen to ignore it, but if she'd known…!
And that brought her up short in dismay.
Why would he do that? He had to know how she would react to him if she knew his secret, and yet he hadn't told her. Which had to mean…
Lois felt a hot flush of embarrassment beginning to creep up her collarbone. How would she feel in his place to have someone fawning over her because she was—oh, say, a beauty queen or movie star or something, and not because she was Lois Lane? She had gushed over Superman because he was a flashy, flawless super hero and ignored the very human man who was her partner, even though they were one and the same. What did that say about her? Nothing good, she thought, with an inner grimace. No wonder he hadn't told her. But he had saved her life numerous times—probably more times than she knew.
The sense of betrayal was still there, but now it was blunted with the unwelcome knowledge that she had been partially responsible. She would have to think about this for awhile. But if the terrorist leader set off that bomb she'd never have the chance. Clark might survive it, but the rest of them wouldn't.
"What are you looking at down there?" Perry asked.
"A SWAT team, I think," Lois said. "Jimmy or Jack must have gotten through. But if they notice—" She inclined her head slightly toward Perry's office where the sound of heavy machinery was making the room vibrate.
"I hate to say this," Cat said, "I mean I'm all for peace and non-violence and all that, but I think we need to do something. If that guy notices, and sets off that thing he's got strapped to him before the police can stop him, we're all going to be in a lot of trouble."
"I guess that's one way of putting it." Lois glanced around. Jack had used a paper clip to unlock the handcuffs and she'd gotten lessons from Jimmy some time back on the esoteric subject of picking locks, on the grounds that it was something a good investigative reporter should know. She hadn't actually had the opportunity to try it yet, but maybe now would be a good time to put the knowledge to use.
There it was. She tugged on the cuffs, pulling Clark with her, and bent to pick up the little piece of twisted metal. "Sit down, Clark," she commanded. "Let's see if I can do as well as Jack."
"What are you going to do?"
She inserted the paper clip into the lock. "If we try to do something, we'll be a lot more effective with the handcuffs off," she said. "Jimmy showed me how to do this. I hope it works as well for real as it did when I practiced." Feeling around carefully, she identified the inner workings of the lock as Jimmy had showed her, and such were her co-worker's teaching skills that less than a full minute later the lock snapped open and Clark was free.
"There," she said. "You're next, George…what should I call you?"
"George will do." The man smiled at her. "Considering first impressions, I imagine that's as formal as I need to get."
Lois couldn't help the soft laugh that escaped her at the truth of the statement. George had a wry sense of humor that she found likeable. Maybe Cat's taste in men wasn't always so terrible after all. Well, it couldn't be, really. She found Clark attractive, didn't she?
Her work went faster this time. The handcuff popped open and Lois moved from George to Lex and Cat. Lex was paler than he had been, but he smiled grimly at her as she undid the cuffs.
"Good work," he murmured in her ear. Lois smiled sideways at him.
"Thanks. How's your shoulder?"
"I'll live," he said.
Clark's remedy had worked on Lex, she thought suddenly. But had it really been the remedy or an application of Superman's super powers? She hadn't considered that before. And that brought up another thought. Clark…Superman…disliked Lex. Why? Jealousy? Over her? Would Superman, in his guise as Clark, actively dislike a man over something as petty as jealousy? Well, she didn't consider herself a petty reason, but that was something else she needed to think about, maybe even ask Clark once they were out of this. The discovery she had made a short time ago was bringing up a whole slew of other questions that had never occurred to her before.
The cuffs came free. Cat rubbed her chafed wrist, and said with uncharacteristic gratitude, "Thanks."
"Okay, we're out of the cuffs," Perry said. "Anybody got any ideas what we should do now?"
She heard the elevator doors slide open on the words and then a gasp from Clark. She turned.
Jimmy Olsen emerged from the elevator, hands held carefully in sight. And behind him…
"Willie?" Lois whispered.
The old night watchman held his sidearm in one shaking hand, directed straight at Jimmy's back. As they watched, the terrorist leader crossed the Pit and pointed to the room where they had been confined.
Willie escorted Jimmy down the ramp and to the conference room. The leader opened the door and raised his eyebrows in mock surprise at the sight of the prisoners now lined up shoulder to shoulder inside, hands carefully out of sight.
"Since we found what we wanted," he said mockingly, "I thought I should introduce you to the mastermind behind this little operation."
"Willie," Perry said. "It was you? How could you do this to us? I trusted you. I even recommended you for the job."
Willie straightened up slightly. "Would you have recommended me if you'd known I had a prison record?"
Perry stared at him, speechless.
The old man nodded. "I was Pino Dragonetti's partner," he said. "Half of the money in that vault was mine, but he framed me for murder and put me in prison. I just got out ten months ago."
"But…you'll go back to prison for what you've done to us," Clark said, quietly. "Did you think of that?"
"None of you were supposed to be here!" Willie protested. "And you!" He turned to the leader. "You said no guns!"
The leader smiled, and Lois knew all at once what he had in mind.
"I lied," he said. "About a lot of things."
Before Willie could move, the man reached out and deftly removed the .38 from Willie's hand. "Sorry, Pops. This is where we part company."
"But—" Willie stared at him as if he couldn't believe his senses. "But I told you about Dragonetti's vault!"
"And I'll always remember you fondly for it," the other man said. "But we need to make a clean escape, and you're not exactly at your physical peak." He glanced over his shoulder. "Move it out!"
The three men were carrying something Lois couldn't see clearly toward the elevator. The leader looked at Remy, who was standing in the doorway of Perry's office. "Remy, I've begun to come around to your way of thinking about our uninvited guests."
The woman's lips split in a malicious smile.
"Take care of it." The leader reached out to grasp Lois by the wrist. "Except her. We'll take Miss Lane along in case we need insurance."
Lois saw Clark glance furtively at the door to the stairs, then he lifted his glasses. She tensed. Superman was about to go into action.
The man holding her screamed in what was unmistakably pain and tried to fling his weapon away, but it stuck to his hand. Remy's higher scream blended with his a split second later. Clark dived for the leader, bearing him to the ground and shoving Lois to safety in the same movement. With one hand he tore the bomb free from its harness. Lois was dimly aware of George going past her in a rush, toward Remy. Then men in military garb were charging out of the stairwell, others were coming through the Planet's windows, and from somewhere below she heard a burst of automatic gunfire.
Clark must have known, she realized then. The SWAT team had been about to attack and he had acted at once to get rid of the bomb.
She picked herself up from the floor, conscious of Perry's helping hands. The terrorist leader was curled into in a ball on the ground, sobbing and clutching his hand. Shocked, Lois saw angry, red burns on the palm. Blisters were already rising.
Clark hadn't had the leisure to be careful, she thought abstractedly, even as the members of the SWAT team converged on the man. His entire attention had been focussed on getting his hands on the bomb.
George surrendered Remy to another pair of officers, and Lois could see scorch marks on the woman's hands as well. If she'd needed any more proof, there it was, she thought. She and Clark would have to have a talk…much later, after she'd sorted everything out in her mind.
"What happened?" Lex was saying. He moved forward gingerly and put a hand on her arm.
Lois turned and spoke to a man with the band of a paramedic on his upper sleeve. The medics had appeared magically on the scene now that the action was over. "He's hurt. Please help him." To Lex she said, "I think I was right."
"Superman knew all along. He couldn't show himself, but he helped when he was able. I knew he would." She glanced down at the leader's weapon on the floor. "He must have heated up the guns."
Lex nodded slowly. "I guess he must have." He smiled at her as two of the medics lowered him to a chair and one of them began to examine the gunshot wound in his shoulder. He winced as the man probed at the damage, but resolutely kept his attention on her. "That was some date."
"Yes," she admitted.
"And we even got to spend the night together."
"Yes, I guess we did," she agreed.
"I didn't think you were that kind of girl."
"Oh, I'm just full of surprises," she said, and moved away to let the medics do their work.
Clark was standing a short distance away, watching her, his expression hard to read. He had gotten rid of the bomb, she noticed, for his hands were empty. She approached him slowly, examining his face. How could she not have noticed the resemblance before? The thick, black hair, the brown eyes which were obscured by those horn-rimmed glasses…but the chin was Superman's, and so were so many other things that were obvious, now that she was really seeing her partner clearly for the first time.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. It's been a rough night," she said. "Thank you, Clark."
He didn't answer at once. "You're welcome," he said finally. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'll probably have a bruise or two by tonight." She rubbed the wrist which still showed chafe marks from the handcuffs. "I told you Superman wouldn't let us down." She watched his expression.
He smiled briefly. "I'm sure he always had his eye on us."
"You didn't let us down either, Clark."
A slightly wider smile. "Thank you, Lois."
She shook her head. "You know, it's times like these that I think maybe I should get a regular, boring job, settle down with a guy who sells insurance and have two-point-four kids."
They looked at each other for a second or two. Clark's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline.
"Nah!" they said together. Lois laughed.
"Let me say goodbye to Lex, then you can walk me home, if that's all right."
He looked surprised. "Sure. Lois—"
"Be careful with Luthor. You don't know him like I do."
There it was again. She hesitated, then nodded. "Be right back."
They were lifting Lex onto a stretcher in preparation for transporting him out of the Daily Planet to a waiting ambulance. She bent over him and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Get well, Lex. And thank you."
He smiled at her. "I'll call you tomorrow."
She stood watching as they rolled him into the elevator, thinking. She had learned something tonight—that even she could be deceived by superficial appearances. Lex had never been anything but charming when in her company. But Clark—Superman—didn't like him or trust him. It was time to find out why. And after that—well, she had some thinking to do: when and if to tell Clark she knew his secret, or whether to wait for him to tell her the truth. That last might be the harder choice.
Slowly, she walked back to where her partner waited for her, looking somehow alone among all the persons milling about. He *was* alone she thought, with a perception that she had not possessed before, perhaps more alone than anyone she had ever known.
Well, that was going to change if he would let her change it. It was time to grow up, to get over her hero-worship and take the time to learn more about the man as he really was. She had the feeling that there might be more unexpected things to find out about him, even knowing what she knew now.
Cat and George walked by them, arm in arm. Cat threw her a wink. "See you Monday, Lois," she said. "George and I have some quality time to make up for."
Lois smiled, surprised at the feeling of real friendship for the woman. "So do I, Cat."
She slid her arm through Clark's. "Let's go, partner. Maybe we can stop somewhere for breakfast. I have some questions I need to ask you…"
The sequel to this story is "Strange Relationships"