By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: July 2001
Summary: Part 2 of a story set in an alternate universe — one which we have not visited previously. And although many things are bound to be very different, one or two things will always be a matter of destiny.
This is the second part of 'A Matter of Destiny.' You need to read part one first or this part of the story won't make any sense.
No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that the characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit.
Lois sat staring absently into the mirror. She had no idea how long she'd been here. Days had no real meaning. They were a never ending succession that ran together, one after another, in an uninterrupted stream. She didn't eat. She hadn't slept. But she did find that if she stared at her reflection long enough, the image blurred and she was staring into empty holes where her eyes had previously been.
She knew she should be searching for a new identity — for a child who would have been approximately her age had it survived infancy. She should be ordering a birth certificate for that child, which Lois could then use to start a new life by taking that child's identity. But so far, she'd made no efforts in that regard.
The reason she'd done nothing was simple enough. The agony in her heart was almost unendurable. She kept waiting for the pain to abate, but it seemed only to grow worse with each passing day. She felt as if she were falling into a dark, bottomless pit. She kept waiting to hit bottom, but even that seemed unattainable. Every day, the darkness only crowded closer — black, all consuming darkness.
It was her own fault, of course. She'd broken all her own rules. She had allowed herself to hope, to dream. She had let someone get close to her. She had even allowed herself to fall in love. The emptiness that consumed her now was her just penance.
Her hand came up and absently ran over her lips as she got lost in memories of Clark kissing her. That had been a defining moment in her life. For the first time in years, her heart had reached out to another human being. She snorted. If, of course, she was a human being.
Creature. That was how Trask had referred to her. The man who had tried to rape her had used a different term. He'd called her a freak. Although she intellectually rejected both terms, they seeped into her subconscious — slowly, but steadily, eroding the way she thought about herself. Until that kiss. Her chin trembled and a tear slowly found a path over her cheek, but Lois didn't even notice. Kissing Clark had let her almost believe that she was a woman. A human woman.
The only times she had truly felt human were when she was with Clark. When they'd danced, she'd felt like a woman. When he'd kissed her, she'd responded to him as a woman. When she was with him she could almost let herself believe that she was a part of the human race. Since she'd left home, she'd been drowning in a sea of isolation and loneliness. She'd never let anyone get too close. She knew people saw her as cold. But it wasn't that she didn't want to be close to people. It was an act of self-preservation — guarding against the inevitable pain that would come when she once again had to sever all ties and start over.
Always living in fear, always staying in shadows had eaten away at Lois over the years. Until Borneo she had stayed out of the spotlight, staying among the lost people of the world, in dread of what would happen if she were found. She had always hated starting over. She hated trying to make a new life for herself without being able to refer to anything she'd done in the past. That always made getting a job tough. This time it was going to be worse. This time she had a job she loved. And she couldn't risk another job in the newspaper business. It would be too easy to track her if she did that.
She'd known it was only a matter of time before they caught up to her again. They always did. Sometimes it was because someone noticed something unusual about her — like the time she'd been staying at a hostel and had been caught floating in her sleep. Other times, she had no idea how they'd managed to track her down. And she'd disappear only to find a new identity and start a new life.
Kissing Clark had been a mistake — a dangerous mistake. She had always known she couldn't have him. Yet still she'd kissed him. She was now paying for that single moment of weakness. Until she'd understood what most people took for granted in life, she hadn't realized just how much she was missing. Now that she knew, she didn't think she could go on. She didn't think she had one more fresh start left in her. What was the point of living without friendship, without love, without even the hope of finding either?
She was used to losing things — jobs, acquaintances, possessions. She could leave behind most things without much more than a momentary feeling of regret. But this time was different. This time she'd lost her dream job and, even more importantly, she'd lost Clark — whom she instinctively knew was the only great love she'd have in life. She'd had everything only to lose it all. A thorn had embedded itself deep in her heart only to fester more with each passing day. The infection it caused continued to spread, quickly poisoning her will to live.
Over the years, Lois had learned to live without hope, without any dreams for the future. This time was different. This time she'd finally and disastrously allowed herself to aspire for something more. She'd never let herself forget that a life with Clark was impossible, but she'd allowed herself to think she might be allowed some happiness. Maybe she could have a job she loved and even a friend or two. That had been the biggest mistake. To hope only to have it snatched away was agonizing torture. The anguish was unbearable.
This wasn't living. She hadn't had much of a life since her father had published that article. But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was knowing that she never would.
The darkness began to push in again — smothering her — and she continued to fall, crying out in vain against the black, hopelessness that condemned her more with each passing moment. It was as if she was being consumed in quicksand. The harder she struggled to regain the surface, the quicker she sunk.
Suddenly, the answer was clear. She blinked and could once again see her image. There was only one possible solution. Her Kryptonian parents had obviously made a mistake in sending her to Earth. She should have died with the rest of her race. Well, that was one mistake she could correct. Her Earth father kept the kryptonite here. It was in a lead lined box, of course, and although she didn't know exactly where it was, it had to be here somewhere. She had never needed it as much as she did at this moment.
Perry glanced out the window of his office into the newsroom and frowned. Clark was sitting at his desk, staring intently at his computer screen. There was nothing unusual about that except that toasters were flying across the screen.
Perry's hand went to the door of his office. His first instinct was to yell out the office door in an effort to bring Clark back to reality. Then he stopped. Clark had been getting distracted more and more often during the past couple of weeks — ever since he'd come into work to find out that Jessica had handed in her resignation. Perry thought back to that moment.
"Kent! My office now!" Perry yelled into the newsroom when Clark stepped off the elevator.
A scruffy looking Clark Kent made his way to Perry's office. Perry blinked a couple of times. Clark always took great care to look presentable. Yet today, he'd obviously not bothered to shave. Although his suit was one Perry had seen on him many times in the past, as were the shirt and tie, there was something about the way Clark was wearing them today that made him seem untidy. There were dark lines under Clark's eyes, indicating a definite lack of sleep and the eyes themselves had lost their twinkle. There was only one explanation that Perry could think of for this change in Clark.
"I take it you know something about this," Perry said, holding up an open envelope.
Clark glanced at the envelope and shook his head. "What is it, Chief?" he asked.
"Jessica's resignation," Perry said.
"What?" gasped Clark.
Then, in a very un-Clark like gesture, Clark tore the envelope out of Perry's hands. A second later, Clark's eyes were tearing over the contents of the letter. Perry watched all the color drain from Clark's face as he read. When he'd finished, he looked at Perry.
"When?" Clark asked.
"It was on my desk when I came in this morning," Perry replied. "Do you really mean you don't know anything about this?"
"No. I…" Clark said, before his voice trailed off.
"Judging by your appearance, I'd say you know a lot more than you're telling me."
Clark looked at his boss. "Well, we did have a long talk last night. It didn't go as well as it could have, but… I mean, I never thought… Oh, God," Clark finally gasped as the full implications of Lois' resignation set in. She'd changed names, jobs and even whole identities before. Still, he hadn't expected this. He stumbled back slightly. Quickly glancing for something to steady himself, he saw a chair and collapsed into it.
Perry let out a breath. He'd figured out some time ago that Clark had fallen in love. Until this moment, he'd thought the emotion was mutual. He took a seat on the corner of his desk.
"She's probably at her apartment, son. Why don't you go see if she'll reconsider?" Perry asked.
Clark looked at Perry. He knew there wasn't much chance that she was still in Metropolis. If he knew Jessica, she wouldn't have handed in her resignation until she was ready to leave. And from what he'd learned last night, by now she was probably in another part of the world, living under another name. Still… He nodded and rose to his feet before heading for the door.
Later that day, Clark returned to the Planet looking even more defeated than he had before — if that were possible. He told Perry that Jessica had already left. Perry was stunned. How had she managed to get out of Metropolis so quickly? After all, from Clark's earlier comments, it seemed he and Jessica had only had their fight last night. Besides, only the day before Jessica had been all fired up about investigating the accident at Lex Labs.
That had reminded Perry. He asked Clark if they had found anything that justified continuing the investigation into the accident. Clark told him that they hadn't. When Perry closed down the investigation as a result, Clark simply nodded. That scared Perry. Clark hadn't even tried to put up a fight. Jessica might be a lot louder when she wanted something, but Clark seldom gave up when he believed he was on to a story.
He looked out into the newsroom again. Clark was once again typing. He let out a sigh of relief. Maybe time would work its magic. The loss of Jessica Miller left a hole in the newsroom and not only by her absence. He hoped Clark would snap out of it soon.
He turned when he heard his computer beep. He walked over to the computer and saw that Clark had finally sent his story. A movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. He looked up to see Clark grab his jacket and head out of the newsroom. Perry briefly considered stopping him. After all, a reporter's story wasn't finished until Perry signed off on it. Then he decided to let Clark go. Maybe Clark would snap out of it after a good night's sleep. He doubted it, but he could always hope.
Luthor was pouring himself a glass of champagne when Nigel entered his office.
"Are we celebrating, sir?" asked Nigel.
Luthor smiled and proceeded to pour a second glass.
"Yes, Nigel. We are," said Luthor, handing Nigel a glass. "When Ms. Lane disappeared, I was afraid I'd pushed too hard. But since then, Kent has backed off the story."
"How do you know that, sir?" asked Nigel.
"I just got a call from Mayson Drake. She went down to the Planet today and talked to Kent. He gave her the file back."
"Why do you think Mr. Kent backed off?"
"I don't know, Nigel. At first I thought he was heartbroken about Ms. Lane's departure, but Mayson told me that Lane was the one who set her and Kent up in the first place. No. It seems he just decided to kill the story — or should I say kill the gabbles. It was nonsense after all," Luthor said, amusing himself with a word play using Stanley Gables' name.
"Very droll, sir," responded Nigel, although he didn't find it particularly amusing. But then he often didn't appreciate Luthor's sense of humor.
"Apparently, Mayson also made arrangements to go to a ball game with Kent tomorrow. So now it seems that we have a woman in place to keep an eye on Kent." Luthor took a sip of his champaign. "And," Luthor continued, raising his glass as if giving a toast, "as the coup d'etat, Sandra Wojick has set up an interview with Time Magazine. She assures me that this reporter can be trusted. Now the world will have my version of my past and Kent won't have anything else to look for."
Clark wandered into his apartment and threw his jacket in the general direction of the couch. He missed. He sighed, staring at the jacket for a moment. He knew he should go over and pick it up, but he really couldn't be bothered. Besides, in the time since Lois had left, he hadn't done much housekeeping. His apartment was quickly becoming something of a disaster zone. He just didn't have the energy to do anything about it. He shrugged. Did it really matter anyway?
He still couldn't believe that she hadn't even said goodbye. He would have backed off. He could live without their being involved romantically. He wasn't completely insensitive. Her leaving only proved one thing — just how little she cared about him. If she couldn't even be bothered saying good-bye, had they really had anything worthwhile in the first place? Still… he could hardly believe how much he missed his best friend.
Another thing he was having problems with was that he'd ever thought Jessica was his basherteh. She obviously wasn't if she could just walk out of his life without so much as a backward glance. He had been a fool to think that soulmates existed. He knew better now. There was no perfect woman out there waiting for him. He'd been taken in twice now; he wouldn't make that mistake again. Still… he could hardly believe how much he missed her face.
He'd gone to her place after finding out that she'd handed in her resignation, but she was already gone. The landlord had taken Clark to her apartment. There were still a lot of her things there. The landlord had been about to throw them out so Clark had packed them into his jeep and brought them here. He assured himself that he just thought throwing them out was a waste. He'd take them to the shelter — when he got a round to it.
He thought briefly about his meeting with Mayson today. She'd invited him to a baseball game. Clark really wasn't interested, but she'd seemed so hopeful that he'd finally agreed just to get her to quit talking. His solution to the immediate crisis, however, had left him dreading tomorrow night. He loved baseball. It was the idea of spending quality time with any woman but Lois that left him feeling cold.
He pushed that thought out of his mind. Lois' leaving was probably for the best. He really didn't need a woman in his life with so much baggage. They would never be able to make love anyway and in spite of his comments to Lois when she'd told him, it did matter to him. Not that it would have prevented him from wanting her in his life. Still… Maybe she had done the right thing. After all, he would never be able to get involved with another woman if she were in his life — in any capacity.
He thought again about Mayson. She really wasn't so bad. Attractive, smart and crazy about him really wasn't such a bad combination, was it? And spending tomorrow evening with her had to be better than sitting at home thinking about Lois. Besides, he loved baseball. Maybe it was time for him to put Lois behind him and get on with his life.
Clark ran a hand across his face. He hadn't shaved since Lois had left. It was just another thing that he couldn't be bothered with. His beard was getting to the stage where it itched horribly. He briefly considered shaving but then decided not to be bothered. It would keep until later. He walked into his room, pulled his tie from around his neck and threw himself backwards onto his bed to stare absently at the ceiling.
He didn't have as much as a picture of her. Not that he needed one. All he had to do was close his eyes to look into hers. Her face, her body, her voice, were ingrained into his psyche. He growled in frustration. He wasn't going to think about her anymore. She was gone. She didn't love him. There was nothing he could do about either of those very simple and very painful facts. He would push her out of his mind if it was the last thing he ever did.
He got up and wandered around his apartment until he finally found himself at the doorway to his spare room. He switched on the light, but didn't enter. This was the only room in his apartment that didn't look like a hurricane had swept through it. It was the room in which Clark had put Lois' things. His breathing became heavy as he struggled to force back the weight of his emotions. He steadied himself against the doorframe. He was in trouble and he knew it. He needed help to figure out what to do now.
He knew who he wanted to talk to. The problem was that after his big fight with his parents about Cat, he had consistently refused to discuss his love life with them. At first, it was because, although he knew they would love him no matter what, he also knew they didn't approve of his relationship with Cat. After that, he was very aware that they wouldn't have approved of his lifestyle.
Then, once he gave up his playboy activities, there really hadn't been much to say. Besides, by then it was a subject which they had come to understand was off limits. As a result he had never mentioned Lois. Of course, until now there really hadn't been much to tell them — except perhaps that he'd fallen in love with a woman who wanted nothing to do with him. And that would just make him feel like a fool. But he was hurting terribly. He needed them now.
Martha was just putting supper on the table when the phone rang. She set down the water jug and made her way to the phone, wiping her hands on her apron as she went.
"Hello," she said, picking up the phone.
"Mom," came the strangled sound of a man's voice from the other end of the line.
"Clark," gasped Martha, the sound of his voice telling her that something was dreadfully wrong.
Jonathan emerged from the washroom where he had been getting cleaned up for dinner when he heard his wife say their only child's name. He hustled over to another phone and picked it up.
"Hi, son," he said into it.
"Dad," came a relieved sounding voice.
"What's wrong, son?" Jonathan responded, the tone of Clark's voice, even with just that single word told Jonathan the same thing that Martha had already picked up on.
Clark didn't respond immediately. Instead, Jonathan and Martha could hear his labored breathing. Since Martha was holding the cordless phone, she entered the kitchen, where Jonathan was sitting at the table, and took a seat next to him. She reached out to him and he responded by taking her hand.
"It's okay," said Martha. "Take your time."
Clark was silent for a moment more. "Do you think our past sins come back to haunt us?" he finally asked in a subdued voice.
"What's wrong?" Martha asked.
"I met someone," Clark whispered.
"That's great, son," replied Jonathan, struggling to try to understand why meeting someone was making Clark so clearly miserable.
"Are you talking about Jessica Miller?" asked Martha.
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line before Clark whispered, "How did you know?"
"I still read you articles every day, Clark. You really didn't think your old mom has forgotten how to read between the lines, did you?" Martha said with a smile.
Jonathan looked at his wife with appreciation. Her intuition never ceased to amaze him.
"Do you think everyone knows?" asked Clark.
Martha smiled. "It's only obvious to someone who burped you, changed your diapers, brought you into the world," Martha responded, in an obvious effort to lighten the mood. It worked.
"Mom," Clark groaned, in a voice that sounded much more normal.
"I've noticed that she hasn't written anything for a couple of weeks," Martha continued. "What happened?"
"She's gone," Clark said simply.
Martha and Jonathan waited for a moment for him to continue, but he didn't. Martha looked at her husband and was struck once again by the similarity between father and son. If Jonathan was amazed by her intuition, it was only because years of living with him had perfected it in her. She had to drag every detail out of him too.
"Do you mean that she left the Daily Planet or that she left you?" Martha inquired. Although she suspected she already knew the answer, she saw the question as a way to get Clark to elaborate.
"Both," Clark replied. "I don't…" His voice broke. "This just hurts so badly," he finally whispered.
"Do you love her, son?" asked Jonathan.
"Yes," came Clark's strangled reply.
"You know, Clark," she said, "sometimes people leave because they want to be alone. Other times they leave because they want to know if anyone will follow."
"But I don't know where she's gone," responded Clark. "How can I…"
"You don't have any idea?" asked Jonathan. "You know, Clark, when your mother and I were dating, she left me."
"I didn't leave you, Jonathan," Martha objected. "I just went to university for a year."
"You left me," Jonathan insisted. "I knew you were never coming back, and you wouldn't have either if I hadn't come to get you. You got involved with that Ivy league guy."
"You were being ridiculous then and you're being ridiculous now," Martha said. "Just because I wanted to see what else the world had to offer didn't mean I'd forgotten about you. I dated Spenser a few times. It wasn't serious. I was always coming back to you. Although, I must admit that when the year ended and you showed up in that old truck of yours, I was sort of swept off my feet." She smiled and for a moment was caught up in the past. "I can still remember seeing you standing there in that suit you'd dug out of somewhere. You looked so uncomfortable in it. And that look in your eyes…" Martha smiled.
Clark actually smiled. It was so good to hear his parents teasing each other.
"Anyway, Clark," said Jonathan, "if you really love her, go after her."
"But I don't know where she's gone," Clark said again.
"You're sure?" asked Martha. "You must know something," she prompted.
Clark thought about that for a moment. He probably knew more about Lois than anyone had since her parents. And there had to be some advantage to being an award winning investigative reporter. If anyone could find her… "Thanks," he said, with new confidence in his voice. "I've got to go."
"Keep us informed?" Martha asked.
"I will, Mom," Clark promised.
Martha squeezed Jonathan's hand. "We're looking forward to meeting her," Martha said, before everyone said their goodbyes and hung up.
"Do you think he's going to be okay?" asked Jonathan.
"That depends," said Martha.
"Whether she left because she wanted to be alone or if she left to find out if Clark would follow. Given Clark's past, she probably does need to know that."
Perry got up from behind his desk and stretched. It was after midnight. The morning edition had been put to bed some time ago. The newsroom was quiet. Perry just wanted to finish up some paperwork before going home himself. He looked into the newsroom when he heard the 'ding' of the elevator. He saw Clark enter.
Perry started for the door of his office almost immediately — this might be a good time to have a serious talk with Clark — but then he hesitated. There was a determined look on Clark's face. The listlessness he'd seen in his reporter since Jessica left wasn't there. He walked back to his desk. He'd watch for a while to see what Clark was up to.
Clark went directly to his desk and switched on the light sitting atop it. He then turned on his computer. He removed his jacket as he waited for the computer to warm up. He had already looked through the things he'd removed from Lois' apartment and had gone to see her former landlord again. Now he was here — to see what Daily Planet resources could tell him.
He took a seat at his desk and thought about the problem. Where could Jessica… Umm, Lois, be? What did he know about her that might allow him to find her? Maybe she really did leave to get away from him. That would certainly be her choice. But at the very least, he wanted to say goodbye. She owed him that much.
Lois Lane. She said that her parents were Samuel and Ellen Lane. Her father was a doctor. Clark grabbed the phone book and looked up 'physicians.' There were two Dr. Lanes. But only one of them had the initial 'S'. From what Lois had told him, he doubted she would have gone to her parents. Still… He picked up the phone, punched in star sixty-nine — just in case Dr. Lane had call display — and then dialed the number. When an answering machine picked up, he hung up. What type of message could he leave, after all?
He thought for a moment before turning to the white pages in the phone book. There were a number of S. Lane's in the phone book, but only one doctor. Clark was surprised to see that the number there was different from the one in the yellow pages. It seemed the good doctor had provided his home phone number.
He looked at the clock. It really was too late to call. Still, he found himself picking up the phone. Something inside told him that he'd waited too long to find her already. He couldn't waste anymore time. Still, he had to be careful. He punched in star sixty-nine before dialing the number and then listened as the phone rang.
"'Ello," came a man's sleepy voice over the phone.
"Dr. Lane," said Clark, "I'm sorry to wake you. It's just…" He hesitated. He couldn't just come out and tell Dr. Lane what was going on. After all, if Lois hadn't gone to her family — and Clark would be surprised if she had — Clark could be jeopardizing Lois' safety by telling her father anything. Suddenly, Clark had an inspiration. "Well, I'm looking for your daughter."
"Lucy lives in California," responded the doctor.
"I mean, Lois," Clark said.
There was a moment of silence before a now suspicious sounding voice asked, "Who did you say you were?"
"My name's Clark… umm, Miller," responded Clark. He figured that name would tell Lois who was looking for her if she contacted her father. At the same time, the name couldn't be tracked to him.
"Why are you looking for Lois?"
"Well… I knew Lois back in high school. Before my family moved us to Philadelphia. Anyway, I'm in town. I know it's been a long time, I just thought… Well, I sort of wondered… Could you tell me where I might find her?"
"I'm afraid I can't help you," said a sad voice. "I haven't heard from her in years."
"Oh," said Clark. "I'm sorry. If you do hear from her, could you tell her I called?"
"Sure," responded Sam Lane.
Clark stared at the phone for a long time. If Dr. Lane did know where Lois was, he wasn't likely to tell a stranger over the phone. However, he would likely tell Lois about this man who had called. If that happened, Lois would know he was trying to get in touch with her. There wasn't much more he could do on that front.
So what now? The article! The article Dr. Lane had written about Lois. Where was it published again? UFO… UFO… UFO what? UFO Today. Right. He could remember thinking how close it sounded to USA Today. He headed for the archives, hoping they had such an obscure publication.
Clark was amazed to find what he was looking for. He walked back to his desk already deeply engrossed in the article. It was well written, giving the information in scientific lingo as well as providing explanations that made the information understandable for the non-scientific reader. Normally, such an article would be discarded by Clark after the first couple of paragraphs as pure fiction. But knowing that it was true…
He devoured the article not only once, but twice. It gave details about Lois that she hadn't provided during their conversation. The second time through, a line caught his attention. 'In my lab I conducted a number of tests on…' His lab. Hadn't Lois said something about his lab. What was it now? A cabin, but where was it? It was somewhere isolated. Minnesota. He snorted. Minnesota was a pretty big piece of real estate to search. But she had said something else. Suddenly it came back to him. Northern Minnesota. North shore of Lake Superior. Near a little place called… What was the name? He racked his brain for a moment, but it wouldn't come back. Maybe if he looked at some maps and saw the name, he'd remember.
Clark quickly returned the magazine to the archives. He didn't want anyone to accidently come across it and wonder why he was looking at it. He then returned to his computer and called up maps on the internet. He found the little place she had mentioned. It was called Lutsen. At least, he thought that was it. He printed out a copy of the map — as well as a number of other road maps between Metropolis and Lutsen.
He stared at them for a moment. She had commented that she went there whenever she was found, in order to come up with a new identity. It was a long shot thinking she'd still be there — given the length of time it had been since she'd left Metropolis. After all, with her abilities, she could certainly come up with a new cover quickly.
Still… It was the only shot he had. Besides, even if she wasn't there, maybe she'd left something behind that would tell him where she'd gone or how to find her. He spotted Perry. He made his way to his boss' office, knocked and entered.
"What is it, son?" asked Perry.
"I need some time off," Clark said.
Perry thought about Clark's request, trying to decide if time off was really what Clark needed. Then he noticed the maps Clark was still holding.
"When you find her, tell her… Tell her she still has a job," Perry said. "Good reporters like her are hard to find."
Clark smiled. "I'll tell her."
"It's about time you got your butt in gear. Bring her back, Clark," Perry instructed.
"I'm sure as hell going to try," Clark responded. "And thanks, Chief," Clark said, before heading for the elevator. When it took too long coming, he headed for the stairs.
Perry nodded as he watched Clark leave. It was good to see Clark finally take some action. He only hoped this turned out the way Clark obviously wanted it to.
Dr. Sam Lane was unable to get back to sleep. That phone call had raised a lot of still unresolved issues inside him. He looked at the woman sleeping next to him with a feeling of contempt, even though he knew it wasn't her fault. Quietly, he pushed the covers back and crawled out of bed. He made his way to the door.
"Everything all right, hon?" came the woman's sleepy voice.
"Fine. Go back to sleep," Sam replied, before exiting the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Sam went to the kitchen and fixed himself a drink before walking to the window and staring absently out it. It had been about ten years now since he'd made that fateful decision to publish an article about his daughter. He'd done everything he could think of to atone for his sin. However, it hadn't been enough.
His daughter had disappeared. His wife, blaming him entirely, had divorced him — taking their youngest daughter with her. It amazed him how heart-broken Ellen had actually been after Lois' disappearance. He had always thought she resented Lois, but the woman had completely come apart when Lois had vanished.
Since his wife had left, Sam had gone through an endless succession of mistresses. There seemed to be no end to the young women who were willing to share his bed in hopes of snagging a doctor. The one in there now was not much older than Lois would be. He smiled sadly. His arrogance in publishing that article had cost him, not only his eldest daughter, but also the only woman he'd ever truly loved.
He knew most people considered Ellen a difficult woman. And in many ways, they were right. But she was also the most passionate and exciting woman Sam had ever known. There was hardly a day that went by when Dr. Sam Lane didn't miss every member of his family.
Clark tapped his hands impatiently on the steering wheel. He'd been sitting here now for a couple of hours. The whole time, the police continued to claim it would only be a few more minutes before they had the road ahead cleared. Apparently a truck had overturned and they had had to close the road to get it moved out of the way. Clark would have found another route if he'd known how long it was going to take.
After leaving the Daily Planet, Clark had immediately headed out of Metropolis, not even going back to his place to get a change of clothes. He'd driven through the night and had been making good time until this. Now it was mid-afternoon the next day. He was tired and cranky and kept thinking that he had to hurry — that somehow time was running out. Yet here he was sitting waiting.
Mayson ran up the steps to Clark's apartment. She was running behind. She knew he wouldn't want to miss the start of the ball game. After all, tickets to this game had been hard to come by. She pounded on the door and waited. After a moment, she knocked again. Still, no one came. She glanced around. His jeep wasn't parked out front. Where could he be?
The sun was setting by the time Clark pulled his jeep into a resort just outside Lutsen. He got out of the car and looked at the sunset through the trees. Suddenly, he flashed back to the day Lois had told him that she was falling in love with him. He could clearly remember looking out across Hobbs Bay as she cried in his arms — watching the sun set. The pain he'd felt for her then he understood now.
He swallowed hard as he thought about her carrying this burden alone for so many years. To feel everything he was feeling, but to know that she was incapable of physical intimacy, had to be devastating. It really was no wonder she was constantly sending him mixed messages. And it was no wonder she'd run away.
Suddenly, a new pain invaded Clark's thoughts. She was in trouble now. He didn't know how he knew that, but he did. He could feel it in his heart. He quickly made his way into the lodge.
The log structure was beautifully done. There was of course the obligatory moose head on the wall, but the furniture around could only be described as antique, giving the occupant the feeling that he had just walked into the past. The fall day was nippy, but the chill of the night air was cut by the fire roaring in the fireplace.
Clark quickly removed his apartment key from his key ring before walking up to the counter.
"Can I help you?" asked a casually dressed man, who slipped behind the counter as Clark approached.
"I'm looking for the cabin of a Dr. Sam Lane," Clark said. Being from a small town himself, he suspected that they were all much the same — that everyone knew everybody else's business. That meant if the Lane cabin was in this area, one of the locals would know where it was. All he had to do was find that person and then convince that person to tell him.
"Dr. Lane?" the man asked.
"Sean," the man behind the counter yelled, "ever heard of a cabin owned by Dr. Sam Lane?"
"Who wants to know?" the man, obviously Sean, asked, joining Clark by the counter.
Clark glanced over at the man. He was wearing a bush shirt and jeans. Clark suddenly realized just how much he looked like a tourist in his dress shirt and pants — although he figured he was quite a sight, having been on the road since midnight.
"My name's Stanley Davidson," said Clark. "Since Sam is thinking of selling the cabin, he suggested I come up here and check it out." He figured calling Dr. Lane by his first name would make it seem as if they were friends. He reached into his pocket and removed his apartment key. He laid it on the counter. "I have the key, if you don't believe me."
"If he gave you the key, why is it that you don't know where the cabin is?" Sean asked.
"He wrote down the instructions, but I seem to have misplaced the piece of paper." When they still hesitated, Clark played his last card. "Look, it's obvious you guys don't believe me. If I could just use a phone, I'll give Sam a call myself. He can give me the directions."
"That's not necessary," said Sean, before proceeding to give Clark the information he needed.
Clark cautiously maneuvered his jeep up the overgrown dirt road. Given the condition of the road and the darkness of the night, Clark had to drive carefully. His slow movements contrasted sharply with the feeling deep inside that Lois was in trouble — that he needed to get there now.
He put his foot on the gas to speed up and then abruptly hit the brake when he suddenly emerged around a corner to find that the road in front of him had disappeared. When Clark looked again, he realized that the road continued twenty feet away. Between the two portions of the road was a large hole where the road had obviously washed out. He took a moment to get his breathing under control.
He switched the jeep into four wheel drive and cautiously moved himself into the hole. The vehicle kicked up large amounts of dirt, but a few moments later, he was emerging from the hole onto the road on the other side. He had never been so glad he had a jeep.
He took the following unfamiliar turns cautiously. The road was in really rough shape. It had obviously not been used much in a long time. Every turn was made in fear that he'd get around the corner to find that the road had again disappeared. After five or ten more miles of tense driving, the forest cleared and Clark saw a cabin.
His heart sank. The lights were out. It was still early. If she was here, surely she'd have a light on. This place was secluded enough that she wouldn't have to worry about someone seeing. And the wires running to the cabin informed Clark that there was electricity here. He hesitated. If this cabin wasn't being used, the electricity might not be working. So there was still a chance she was here.
He got out of the car and made his way to the cabin. He was just about to knock on the door when he realized it was ajar. He pushed on the door and it slowly creaked open.
"Jess," he said into the cabin. There was no response.
The light from the moon allowed Clark to see a little bit in the cabin. Clark tried the light switch but, as he expected, nothing happened. He glanced around the room and noticed a lantern. He made his way over. A box of matches was sitting beside it. He took a minute to light the lantern.
Light flooded into the room, giving Clark his first real look at the interior of the cabin. It was a mess. There had been a rug on the floor which had been pulled up. Every drawer and closet had been opened and items were scattered throughout the cabin — as if someone had been looking for something specific. He cautiously stepped between the various items.
It was then that he heard a sound behind him. He spun around and saw a doorway leading into another room. He made his way to what was obviously a bedroom. Stepping inside, he looked around for a moment before he spotted the source of the noise. His heart clenched in his chest at the sight before him.
In 1952, due to concerns about a potential threat to national security, the United States Air Force, in a program which was called Project Blue Book, began investigating UFO reports. This task was assigned to Bureau 39.
Although officially the Air Force had gotten out of the UFO business in 1969 due to a lack of evidence that there was any threat to national security, Bureau 39 had continued to operate unofficially into the early eighties. At that point, the Air Force shut down the bureau completely. The men from Bureau 39 were reassigned elsewhere. However, a small group of hardcore fanatics had refused to abandon the search.
The military had clamped down when they discovered the group was continuing to operate. And gradually, one by one, they had all dropped off. All, that is, except Jason Trask. He continued the work on his own time and often late into the night. He was determined that if it was the only accomplishment in his life, he'd save the world from one alien, namely, Lois Lane.
Until Brad had found this latest lead on Lois Lane, it had been almost two years since Trask had had anything to follow up on. This time she had disappeared longer than she ever had before. He was almost beginning to think she'd finally managed to disappear for good.
Trask took a look over at Brad and smiled. Brad hadn't been part of Bureau 39, but he was as dedicated to the mission of saving the world from alien invasion as any soldier Trask had ever known.
Brad followed Trask around for more than six months, begging to get involved. At first, Trask had been concerned that he was a military plant assigned to keep an eye on his activities, but Brad had proven himself again and again. So Trask had taken to grooming Brad to continue this mission in the event that for some reason Trask failed. Now that they were once again hot on the trail, Trask decided to share everything with his young protege.
As Trask placed a lockbox on the desk, he could see the interest in Brad's eyes. He inserted the key in the lock and turned it. He waited for a moment before lifting the lid. Brad's eyes widened when he saw the two rocks inside. Both had an eery glow to them.
"What are they?" asked Brad.
"They're kryptonite. This is the only thing that can kill Lois Lane."
"Why are they different colors?"
"We don't know. The smaller one, we stole from Dr. Lane — the one who raised the creature. It's the one he referred to in his article. The larger one we found when we searched the area around a cabin Lane owned in northern Minnesota.
"We aren't sure if there is any difference between the two rocks," continued Trask. "Our scientist said they have the same properties, so I assume they'll have the same effect."
"Why are you telling me?"
"If anything happens to me, I want to be sure someone will continue the job."
"You can count on me, sir," Brad assured his hero while lighting up a cigarette.
Trask coughed and brushed the air in an effort to get the smoke to leave him alone. "You really should give up that filthy habit," he informed Brad.
Clark quickly made his way over to the huddled form curled up in the corner of the room. She was almost completely still — not even looking up when he entered the room as if still oblivious to his presence.
"Jess," he whispered softly, kneeling down beside her and gently brushing the hair off her face. Her eyes came up to his face, but Clark wasn't certain she recognized him. Her gaze was clouded over as if she was in a drug induced stupor
"Can't… right," she whispered, her voice dry and cracked.
"What?" asked Clark. "Jess, please. Tell me what's wrong."
She didn't answer him. Instead, she mumbled the same phrase again. It almost sounded to Clark as if she'd said, "Can't even die right."
He didn't understand. He pushed her words to the back of his mind — he'd worry about them later. There was a more immediate concern. He needed to know how to help her.
The article he'd read said only one thing could hurt this woman. Was it possible she'd been exposed to this kryptonite substance? Was it possible that there was some here? Was that what was affecting Lois this way?
"Look at me, Jess," he demanded. His words were accompanied by a slight shaking of her shoulders.
She seemed to revive slightly. She looked into his eyes and he saw her expression clear for a moment. "Clark," she whispered, before throwing her arms around his neck.
He gathered her in his arms and held her close, rocking her gently back and forth. "Is there kryptonite here?" he asked.
He felt her shake her head slightly. "No. Needed kryptonite but couldn't find," she whispered.
"Oh, God," Clark breathed as the implications of everything she was telling him began to sink in. The words created a pit in Clark's stomach that would have rivaled the city of Metropolis in size. She had looked for kryptonite. She was probably responsible for the shape the cabin was in. Suddenly, her comment about not being able to die right made sense. She must want to die. He wasn't about to let that happen. He couldn't. At least there wasn't kryptonite here. But that left him with no idea about what was wrong with her.
"Tell me how to help you?" he begged. "Let me get a doctor, or something?"
She made a noise that Clark understood immediately, especially since it was accompanied by the woman in his arms suddenly becoming stiff with fear.
"Okay, okay," Clark assured her. "No doctors."
She relaxed in his arms.
"Let me help you. Tell me what to do," Clark said.
"Don't let go," Lois finally managed to say, tightening her grip around his neck.
Clark immediately pulled her over so that she was sitting in his lap. He shifted position so that his back was now against the wall. "I won't," he promised into her hair. He kissed her hair before saying again, "I won't." He heard her whimper slightly in response.
Clark held her, comforted only by her movement against him with each breath she took. Then he'd hold his own breath until he'd feel the next one. He considered breaking his promise and going into Lutsen to get a doctor. However, he doubted a doctor would have any idea what to do for her — even if he told the doctor everything he knew. And that would be dangerous for Lois.
He supposed he could try calling Lois' father, but after reading Dr. Lane's article, it was obvious that the only thing he thought could hurt Lois was kryptonite. Lois had said there was no kryptonite here, and he believed her. So it was unlikely her father would have any idea what he should do. Besides, calling Dr. Lane could put Lois in even more danger. Even a phone call which was blocked with star sixty-nine could be traced. For all Clark knew, Dr. Lane might have contracted Trask following his last phone call. And Clark wouldn't even know that the call had been traced until it was too late.
And for a reason Clark couldn't quite fathom, he believed that Lois would die should he release her long enough for him to drive them to town — as if he were what was currently keeping Lois alive. It made no sense to the logical part of his brain, but it resonated in his heart. She had begged him to hold her. It was the only instruction she had given him. So he struggled — a battle between his mind and his heart.
For the first time in years, Clark prayed. He prayed with a fervor he hadn't known he possessed. He prayed that she would live. He prayed that he was making the right decision in keeping her here.
She wanted to die. That was clear enough from her comments. He couldn't let that happen. He would have to get to the bottom of it. Otherwise, she'd just try again. He pushed that thought to the back of his mind. There would be plenty of time to deal with that — if she lived.
Clark soon noticed that Lois' breathing, although still weak, became more regular. As that realization set in, Clark began to relax convinced that staying here, with her in his arms, was the right thing to do. He would only take her to town if she didn't continue to get stronger.
After a time, he picked her up and carried her to the bed. When he laid her down and tried to move away, Lois' arms tightened around his neck. He looked down at her closed eyes for a moment before crawling onto the bed beside her. He pulled her into his arms and felt her once again relax. He tried closing his own eyes, but couldn't sleep.
Instead, he lay there with her in his arms, stroking her hair and whispering endearments into her ear. Although she didn't respond verbally, Clark felt as if she was responding to him on a subconscious level. He whispered his hopes and dreams. He spoke of the wonderful life they'd have and of them growing old together. He told her that he loved her and even made promises. It felt to Clark as if she got stronger with each promise. And as he spoke, Clark realized, almost to his own surprise, that he meant every word. When he looked at the future these days, she was always there.
He looked down at the woman sleeping in his arms and shook his head in absolute wonderment. How was it possible that one little brunette could send him into an emotional whirlwind? Since he'd met her, he'd been taken to both highs and lows of which he had never believed himself capable. She could, with no more than a look, send his heart soaring or plummeting. He leaned over and planted a soft kiss on her hair.
Since her father's article had made it clear that the sun provided her with her energy, when the darkness began to abate, Clark picked Lois up in his arms and carried her outside. He was amazed by how light she seemed in his arms considering the density of her molecular structure. He settled the two of them into a swing on the front step of the cabin, keeping her in his arms, thus providing her with both his presence and the sun in an effort to ensure that she had both sources of strength.
In spite of his own exhaustion, Clark was still too wired to sleep. He was sure he would collapse as soon as he knew Lois would be okay. Right now he lived from breath to breath.
He was beginning to have problems following any thought through to its logical conclusion as he watched the sun rise. He'd been up for almost forty-eight hours now and was surviving solely on adrenalin. Only two things were clear to him. The first was that their breaths were connected. He had no doubt, as he brought his breathing in sync with hers, that her last breath would also be his. The other was that she was his basherteh. This fact had never been more clear to him than it was now. All his efforts to deny that since she'd left Metropolis faded to nothing. He finally understood in his heart that he could live without ever consummating their relationship. What he couldn't live without was her. If she survived, he'd do whatever he had to do to make her understand that.
Clark had a lot of regrets in his life. He regretted ever having gotten involved in a sexual relationship with Cat. He regretted each and every women he'd hurt in the aftermath of that affair. He refused to regret what he could have had with Lois by focusing on what he couldn't have.
Her breathing seemed to become stronger the higher the sun rose in the sky. As she improved, Clark's anxiety began to abate and as it did, the adrenalin began to drain from his body. When the sun passed the midway point between the horizon and its zenith, Clark's eyes finally drifted closed.
Lois first thought was how warm she felt. She didn't even try to open her eyes. For the first time since she'd left Metropolis, she felt whole. She snuggled up tighter against what she instinctively knew was the source of that comfort. As she did, she realized that it was moving. She reached up a blind hand and laid it on the surface she was leaning against and felt a regular back and forth movement. It took her a moment to realize that she was touching a man's chest.
She forced open her caked eyes and strained to look up. When she saw Clark's bearded face and closed eyes, she relaxed, letting her eyes once again drift shut. Whether her eyes were closed for a moment or an hour or more, she'd never know. But when she again opened them, she felt stronger.
"Clark," her parched voice said, cracking on his name.
Clark was instantly awake. He looked down into her open eyes and felt a tremor ripple though his body. Without his realizing it, tears began slipping down his cheeks. She was alive. The feelings of relief were overwhelming.
"Jessica," he whispered.
Unlike Clark, Lois noticed the tears on Clark's cheeks. She reached up and ran her fingers gently down the path some of the tears had taken.
Clark shifted slightly and then winced in pain.
"Are you okay?" Lois asked, her voice a little stronger.
Clark almost laughed at the irony of her question. When he'd been awake, he'd been able to change positions, but when he'd fallen asleep with Lois curled up on his lap, his legs had fallen asleep.
"My legs are asleep," he said.
Lois required Clark's help to have enough strength to move off him. When they finally got her settled on the swing beside him, Lois spoke. "Sorry," she said, shivering slightly from the loss of contact with him.
Pins and needles shot through his legs and it took him a moment before he was able to rise off the swing. He moved to sit on the handrail across from her before speaking.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
She nodded slowly, not looking at him.
"What happened?" he continued. "Do you have any idea how much you scared me?"
"Could I have some water?" she asked.
"Of course!" Clark exclaimed, horrified that he'd been so insensitive to her needs.
Lois drank the water slowly before insisting that she needed a bath. Clark tried to get her to wait until she was stronger, but when Lois insisted that she couldn't stand feeling this grubby a moment longer, he gave in. It took Clark some time to heat enough water from the well for her to bathe — during which time he insisted on having her rest. It did briefly occur to her that she could heat the water a lot faster if she used her heat vision, but it just seemed like to much of an effort even to suggest it. Once she finally got her wish, she sat in the soothing water until it turned cold. Not that the cold particularly bothered her.
When she took too long, Clark finally came to check on her. She was too exhausted to answer him through the door. It was not so much an exhaustion of the body, but of the soul. When he entered in response to her failure to respond, she only had the strength to be mildly embarrassed. He wrapped her in a towel and helped her from the tub. She noted in the back of her mind that he seemed to avoid looking at her. She was grateful for his attempt to respect her privacy.
After he finally got her into bed, he gave her a light kiss on the forehead. He went to her suitcases and dug through them until he found her a pair of sweats and a sweat shirt. He laid them on the bed, for when she felt up to getting dressed. Then she watched as he rummaged through the dresser. He removed some of her father's clothes and took them into the other room. As she was drifting off to sleep, she could hear him in the washroom.
Clark cleaned himself up before bringing some small measure of order to the bathroom. He also took some time to tidy up the cabin — although there were some repairs needed that he didn't want to attempt with Lois sleeping. He also brought in firewood. He had to keep moving or risk again seeing Lois' naked body in his mind. He had tried not to look. He really had, but it had been impossible not to get the odd glimpse. He knew it wasn't right for him to be thinking about it. She was sick. Still…
He ate the half sandwich he'd left in the car after his trip up here yesterday. She didn't have any food here, and although she had told him she didn't need to eat, he did. Besides, he suspected that food was as comforting for a Kryptonian as it was for someone from Earth. He still had a bag of pretzels which he decided to save until they could eat them together. He would go into Lutsen for food either later today — when she was awake — or tomorrow.
He was still at a complete loss about what could have made Lois so miserable that she would no longer want to live. She was the one, after all, who had left. He knew he was going to have to deal with it eventually so that he could help her. He doubted it would be a particularly pleasant discussion. But only if they talked could he help her to find a way to fix it.
When he finally managed to exhaust himself completely, he went back into the bedroom. Lois was still sound asleep. He looked back at the couch in the main part of the cabin. It looked incredibly uncomfortable. After only a moments hesitation, he went over and crawled onto the bed next to Lois, being careful to lie on the covers. He was sound asleep in a matter of minutes.
Lois slept until the sun was beginning to set. This time when she woke, she was feeling almost normal, but as normalcy returned, the shame set in. She really wasn't sure how to tell Clark what had happened. She hardly understood it herself. When she'd realized what she'd given up, what she would never have, the despair had been unbearable. She had torn the cabin apart looking for the kryptonite — her only thought to put an end to the pain. When she hadn't found it, she'd sunk down into the spot where Clark had found her — the will to live gone.
What Lois understood for the first time was that kryptonite wasn't the only way to kill a Kryptonian. Like a human, a Kryptonian could suffer from a sickness of the heart that is as deadly as any substance in existence. Just as the will to live can make an individual survive against all odds, the loss of hope can just as surely make an individual give up and die. She suddenly realized that a broken heart was as capable of killing a Kryptonian as it had always been of killing a human.
But how could she tell Clark that? How could she admit to him what losing him had done to her without making him feel bound to her?
Lois' enhanced hearing picked up the sounds of Clark in the other room. It was amazing, considering how close she'd come to dying, but her powers hadn't been affected at all. As she thought about that, she realized that it made sense to her. What had been killing her was not a sickness of the body, but of the soul. What had brought her back was not the sun, it was the warmth of Clark's body — her connection with humanity.
There was only one way she'd be able to go on. She had to find a way to become part of the human race she'd been avoiding all her life. The question was whether she dared to do so — and at the moment, she didn't have the answer to that question. The risk was great, but so was the potential payoff. But either way, before she could answer that question, there was Clark to face.
If she was going to take that risk, she wished she could take it with Clark. Of course, now that Luthor knew she was running from the military, joining the human race could never include having Clark in her life on anything like a full time basis. Still, it was time for her to admit that she needed help. She needed Clark's help.
When Lois finally had enough nerve to emerge from the bedroom, she found Clark in the kitchen heating some water to make tea. She sank down into a chair at the table and watched him work. He looked slightly comical in his current attire — her father's clothes. On the other hand, to Lois, he had never looked better.
"Are you sure you should be up?" Clark asked. "I could always bring the tea to the bedroom."
"I'm okay," she responded.
Clark looked at her for a moment before nodding and returning to his task of making tea.
"What are you doing here?" Lois finally asked.
He glanced over his shoulder and grinned at her. "You not happy to see me or something?"
She rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean," she responded.
He turned around and leaned back against the counter. "You didn't say goodbye," he finally said. He held eye contact with her for a long moment. Finally, she broke it by looking down.
"I couldn't," she whispered.
Clark came over, sat down at the table and picked up her hand. "What's going on here?" he asked, gesturing around at the state of the cabin. However, Lois knew he was referring to more than the cabin.
When she didn't respond, he continued, "Last night you said something. I think we need to talk about it."
She shifted uncomfortably, withdrawing her hand from his. She still didn't speak.
"Jess, why would you want to die?"
She closed her eyes. She was hoping he hadn't figured it out. She couldn't quite remember what she'd said to him when he'd first arrived. Obviously, she had said more than she intended. Well, now that it was out, she knew she had no choice but to respond.
"I just didn't see the point anymore," she said softly. "I don't know why my parents — my Kryptonian parents — bothered. I mean, it isn't as if I can have a life here. I can't make friends or have a family. I can't even keep a job that I love."
"But then why did you run away? All you had to do was tell me to back off and I would have done it. You could have kept your job, your friends. Come back. I promise we'll work it out."
Lois was stunned. It had never occurred to her to consider what he thought her reasons were for leaving. He believed she'd left because of him — because of what had happened on their last night together. But of course, he knew nothing about what Luthor had said.
"Clark, Lex knows," she said.
"What? What does Luthor know?"
"He knows my name. He knows I'm running from the military. I don't know how much else he might know. Clark, I had to leave."
"How did you find this out?"
"He was waiting for me when I got home that night after we talked. He told me that unless I… well, we actually… stayed away from any story that cast him in a bad light, he would contact the military."
"So that's why you left?" Clark asked. "You didn't leave to get away from me? But I thought…"
Her hand came up to his hairy face. "I never wanted to get away from you," she assured him. "So you can see why I can't go back," she concluded.
Clark let out a slow breath. "But that means we must have been on to something," said Clark, ignoring, for the time being, her objection to coming back. He got up and poured them both a cup of tea.
"Oh, God," said Lois. "I didn't tell you."
"Tell me what?" Clark asked, handing Lois her tea and again taking a seat at the table.
"What Pasco told me," said Lois. "With everything else that had happened, I completely forgot. Have you done any more research?"
Clark shook his head. "I didn't have anything solid, so Perry took me off the story. What did Pasco say?"
Lois proceeded to fill Clark in on everything Andre Pasco had told her.
"All right," said Clark. "We finally have a lead."
"Clark, didn't you hear what I said. There is no we. I can't go back."
"You have to come back," Clark objected. "I have specific instructions from Perry to bring you back. You don't want me to lose my job do you," he added, a note of humor in his voice as he attempted to put her at ease.
"You mean I still have my job?" Lois gasped.
Clark nodded. "Perry told me good reporters like you are hard to find. I think he was just waiting for me to get over feeling sorry for myself so that I'd get off my butt and do something about your leaving."
She smiled. "Is that why the beard? Is it part of your feeling sorry for yourself? I mean, I'm not complaining, but it is a little scruffy."
"Well, I wasn't sure I trusted myself to have a razor at my throat after you left," Clark said with a chuckle. "I'm sorry," he said when her expression darkened at the words. He'd obviously reminded her how close she'd come to dying. Joking about taking his life at a time like this was in very bad taste.
"No," injected Lois. "I just… I'm sorry, Clark. I at least owed you an explanation. I shouldn't have just left like that. I guess I didn't think."
"It's okay. Just come back with me and I'll forget about the whole thing."
"Clark, I can't. You know I can't. I do want to continue to be friends. I think I need that. But I can't come back."
Clark considered the situation for a moment. "You don't know exactly what Luthor knows, right?"
"Well, I was just thinking. As far as Luthor knows you're gone. So he isn't going to do anything with the information he has. There'd be no point."
"How does that help us?"
"He's only going to use the information if he knows you're back and working to bring him down. After all, it's the only hold he has on you."
"So we make sure he doesn't know you're back," said Clark. "At least not until after we've brought him down."
"I don't see…"
"Of course, your name couldn't appear on the story," said Clark, musing out loud. "But once Luthor's in jail, he's going to have too much on his mind to worry about you. And if all he knows is that you're avoiding the military, maybe we can use the time to neutralize that particular threat," continued Clark.
"I haven't figured that out yet," Clark admitted.
"Look, Clark, I appreciate the sentiment, but it won't work."
"Well, for one thing I don't have a place to live in Metropolis."
"You can stay with me."
"Relax, would you. It's an above board offer. Well, at the moment." He grinned when she lightly slapped his arm in response. "Anyway…" he continued, "I have a spare room. You can stay in there. It will help to have you there, anyway. That way we can work together without anyone knowing. We'd tell Perry, of course. But as far as everyone else would be concerned, you wouldn't be at the Planet anymore."
Clark got out of his seat and knelt down in front of her. He took both her hands in his and continued, "Isn't it worth a shot? Jess, what are you going to do if you don't take me up on my offer? I'm not about to let you succeed next time in taking your own life. You mean far too much to me to allow that to happen." He let out a slow breath before continuing, "I have a lot of regrets in my life. I'm not about to allow you to become another one of them."
She studied his eyes for a long time. "Clark…" she began in a voice that told Clark she was about to turn him down. His fingers came up to her lips, cutting her off.
"I miss my best friend something terrible," he informed her, once again taking her hands. "Maybe it won't work, but don't we at least have to take the chance?"
Lois visibly softened. He'd called her his best friend. She wouldn't have believed how much those simple words could mean to her. Still… "It could take a long time to bring Lex down," Lois said.
A slow, mischievous grin spread across Clark's face. "So what you're telling me is that we might be living together for a long time. Now why is it that that prospect doesn't exactly bother me?"
She chuckled. She looked down at their joined hands before nodding. "Okay, I guess it couldn't hurt to try. But you have to realize that we might just be delaying the inevitable."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Clark responded.
Lois hesitated for a second. Was this fair to Clark? Was she just setting them both up for more heartbreak in the future? Then she pushed the thought out of her mind. He understood the risks as well as she did. It was a risk they both had to take.
"So he stood you up?" asked Luthor, a hint of amusement in his voice.
"No," stated Mayson. "He's just really busy these days."
"Doing what?" asked Luthor, suddenly quite concerned.
"Would you quit worrying," exclaimed Mayson. "I went by the Planet. It seems Clark has taken a short vacation. That's all."
Luthor eyed her for a long moment before speaking, "You better make sure that's all it is. After all, you have a lot to lose here too."
It had been a long drive back to Metropolis in Clark's jeep. They had stayed at the cabin for several days, just enjoying each other's company and repairing the damage Lois had done to the cabin during her rampage. It had been kept friendly and casual, but it had been so very essential and so incredibly sweet getting to know each other again — letting old wounds heal.
But during the time they'd spent alone, Lois had also become aware of Clark in a way she had only had hints of before now. He would emerge from the bathroom wearing only a pair of her father's old sweat pants and she'd find herself breaking into a sweat. Her mouth would suddenly be dry and her heart rate would speed up. He'd touch her in passing, the way he had so many times before and she would feel the sparks through her entire body. She only hoped he wasn't aware of the effect he had on her. After all, they were going to be living in the same apartment — at least for a time. It was critical that she not reveal these feelings to Clark. It would only increase his frustration to know the extent of hers.
Lois looked around the familiar apartment as if seeing it for the first time. Clark was almost anal about keeping his apartment presentable. It was the first time she'd ever seen it in such a mess. She glanced over at him, a question in her eyes. He shrugged in response before pushing past her to carry her suitcases into the spare room.
She walked behind him, deep in thought. She leaned against the doorframe as he placed her suitcases on the bed. It was sort of ridiculous, given her strength, to have him carry them, but, on the other hand, it also seemed natural. So when he'd opened the back of the jeep, removed her suitcases and started carrying them inside, she'd let him. After he'd put down the suitcases and walked back to the door of her room — making as if to pass her — she laid a hand on his arm.
Even after he stopped, it took her a moment to meet his eyes. The state of his apartment made her realize once again how badly she'd hurt him. She'd known it, but to see it demonstrated so clearly was still a bit of a shock.
"I'm sorry I hurt you, Clark," she whispered.
He smiled. "Just don't make a habit of it," he responded lightly.
He let out a breath realizing that she was wanting a serious response. "I know you didn't mean to," he said softly. He paused for a moment before saying, "Just promise me two things and I'll forget all about it."
"Promise me that you won't try to kill yourself again."
She looked down.
"I'm not joking, Jess. I need you to promise this."
"I promise," she said without looking up.
"What's the second promise?" Lois asked.
"That you won't just disappear out of my life again."
Lois smiled at that one. "I promise, Clark. Whatever happens, I won't just disappear without talking to you first. I mean, we're friends right? I never should have left last time without saying goodbye."
Clark smiled. "Then, let's just put it behind us and see what we can do to get this all sorted out and then…"
"Then, you and I are going to sit down and have a serious talk about the future."
He placed a finger on her lips. "Later."
She really shouldn't let him continue to think this way, but she had no idea how to stop him. Besides, listening to him almost gave her hope that they could have a future. She diverted her gaze to the floor.
"Good," Clark continued, ignoring the look on her face. They'd worry about their relationship when the time was right. Right now she needed a place where she could feel safe, and if he pressured her for more than she felt able to give, that safe place would vanish. And more than he wanted them to be together, he wanted her to be all right. He'd never known such unqualified love. "Why don't you get unpacked while I see what I can do to make this place a little more presentable?" he suggested, before leaving to tend to his apartment.
Lois watched him go before turning her attention to the room. She walked over to the closet. When she opened it she noticed a number of boxes pilled inside. Taking a quick look in one of the boxes, she gasped. Inside were the things she'd left in her apartment during her hasty departure. She steadied herself against the frame of the closet as she considered the implications of finding her stuff here. It took her a moment before she felt able to unpack.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" asked Nigel.
"Yes, Nigel. I've been thinking about Kent. We seem to have derailed his story about the accident at Lex Labs, but it's only a matter of time before he stumbles across something else."
"I thought you had Ms. Drake in place to keep an eye on him."
"I've been having second thoughts about that. I'm not convinced that Kent is as taken with Mayson as she would have me believe. I had hoped that she'd be able to slowly corrupt him. Given his past with women, I figured he was susceptible to corruption. Now I'm beginning to wonder if the rumors are exaggerated."
"So what would you have me do, sir?"
"I want him kept under surveillance. Unfortunately, being such an accomplished reporter, he'd probably notice any tails. So I want electronic surveillance. Make arrangements to bug his apartment, his car and his workplace."
"Very good, sir."
Lois was frustrated when Clark left for work in the morning. But she agreed with him. The only way she'd be safe was if Luthor didn't know she was here. What that meant was, no matter how irritating it was, she had to stay out of sight. After fuming around the apartment for a few minutes, she pulled out Clark's laptop. If she was stuck here, the best thing she could do was to get working. The sooner they brought down Luthor, the sooner she could try to resume her life.
She turned on Clark's laptop and waited for it to boot up. She tapped her finger on the table beside her as she waited. She could hardly wait for the day there was an instant computer.
As she sat there, she heard some noise at the door. Clark must have forgotten something. A small smile made its way on to her lips. She shook her head slightly. She had to be going crazy if the thought of seeing Clark for another minute could cause her heart to take flight. Suddenly, the smile faded. Her hearing told her that there was more than one person outside Clark's door. She supposed it could have been Clark with Perry, but she didn't think he'd had enough time to get to the Planet and back again.
She hesitated for a moment, listening carefully. That wasn't Clark's heartbeat. Then, given the urgency, she looked through the door. There was a man fiddling with the door while another glanced around nervously. It was a break in.
She heard the computer beep. She glanced at it. It was still not finished booting up. Well, she couldn't be found here and a computer just being booted up would announce her presence. She quickly grabbed the power cord and pulled it out. There wasn't time to shut it down properly. She'd have to worry about damage to the computer later. She glanced at the computer again. It hadn't turned off. The battery! She flipped the computer over to pull out the battery when she heard the lock click. She slammed the computer shut and shoved it under the couch.
Then she looked around the apartment. She needed a place to hide, but without knowing what the men outside were looking for, she didn't know where they'd be looking.
She spotted the drapes on the window. Chances were they wouldn't steal the drapes — would they? She looked around again but couldn't come up with a better idea. She slipped behind the drapes just as the door opened. Realizing that her feet could be seen, she floated up slightly. It was the ultimate risk. After all, if they did choose to move the drapes and found her floating here… She held her breath, looking through the curtains.
The men slipped quietly into the apartment, closing the door behind them.
"You're sure no one saw us?" the man who'd picked the door asked.
"Nah. Everyone who works has already left. Everyone else is still asleep," replied a second man.
"Well, let's not hang around here. Let's get these bugs in place like St. John said and then get out of here."
"I'm for that," said the second man before the two of them directed their attention to planting a number of surveillance devices around Clark's apartment. Lois held her breath when one of the men squatted down beside the couch. If they found the computer there, it would certainly make them suspicious. She let out her breath in relief when instead of looking under the couch he planted a bug under the coffee table. It wasn't much longer before they were finished. Once they were, they left as quickly and quietly as possible.
Lois stayed motionless behind the curtain. Not only had the men installed listening devices, they had also installed two small cameras. She wasn't sure what to do. If she lowered herself back to the floor, she'd be caught on camera. She'd taken a risk floating. Now it seemed as if she was stuck here.
Of course, she couldn't stay here either. After all, when Clark returned, he'd certainly call for her. When he did that, whoever was bugging his apartment — and that was probably Luthor — would know she was still around. She thought about the problem. She could very quickly gather up all the devices, but no matter how quickly she moved, there would be a streak seen by the cameras. Besides, she used her powers so little that she wasn't sure how long it would take her to get up to full speed, and even a moment's hesitation would be fatal.
Okay, so what should she do? Suddenly, she had an idea. It was something she only did for cutting her hair and shaving, but it was the only thing she could think of. She could destroy the devices from where she was using her heat vision. That is if she didn't manage to burn down the entire apartment in the process.
She used her x-ray vision to examine both cameras. All she needed to do was burn one wire in each to disable them. The people watching the devices should think that they had failed. They might wonder about both of them going out at the same time, but there was nothing she could do about that. The way they were positioned she couldn't get out from behind this curtain until both were out of commission.
She swallowed hard. The trickiest part was that she would have to burn small holes in the curtains to get at the devices. She thought about how she was going to burn holes without setting the curtains on fire. Finally she had a plan she hoped would work. She used her freezing breath to freeze the curtain and then directed her heat vision at a chosen spot. She burned the holes quickly. She let out a sigh of relief when the frozen curtains didn't catch on fire. Of course, she figured she'd ruined the curtains. Not only did they now have holes in them, but the freezing process would probably do some damage of its own.
She put thoughts of the curtains out of her mind. She still had to disable the cameras. She hoped her aim was good enough for her to do this. The farthest she'd thrown her heat vision in years was into a mirror immediately in front of her. She looked at the first device. It was on the other side of the room.
She took a deep breath and held it, as she would do if she were taking a picture. She looked at the camera and focused all her energies on it. She silently cursed when she missed. She let out her breath and took another one before trying again. This time she hit the camera casing. The outer casing smoked a bit and soon a small hole appeared. She continued, quickly burning the wire. She then directed her attention to the other camera and did the same.
She paused for a moment, x-raying the cameras to be sure they were no longer working. Once she was satisfied, she quietly floated to the floor and stepped out from behind the curtain. There was still the matter of the other surveillance devices. She thought about them for a moment. The men who'd planted these devices would doubtless be confused if all their equipment quit working.
Okay, so she wouldn't destroy them. She'd merely disable them for the time being. That way they could let them hear the odd thing, giving those listening in the impression that they were still working. Deciding that was her best option, she quickly made her way around the room. She quietly gathered up the various devices and wrapped them in a number of towels. Once she was satisfied that nothing could be heard through her packaging, she returned to the computer.
Clark stuck his head in Perry's office.
"Got a minute?" he asked.
Perry looked up from his papers and smiled. He gestured Clark into his office before speaking.
"You look better. I take it the trip went well."
"It did, Perry. But… Well, I need you to come with me."
Perry crinkled his eyebrows. "Now?"
Perry leaned back in his chair. It was the beginning of the work day. With anyone else he would simply order them out of his office. But this was Clark.
Jimmy stuck his head in the office. "They need you in that budget meeting," Jimmy said.
"You go, Jimmy," Perry responded. "If anyone has a problem with that tell them I'll be back in…" He looked at Clark.
"An hour or so," Clark assured him.
"Me?" asked Jimmy. "But I don't…" His voice trailed off at a look from Perry. "I do as I'm told," said Jimmy, heading out of the office.
"Jimmy!" said Perry, stopping Jimmy in his tracks. When Jimmy turned back to face him, Perry clarified his instructions. "Just take notes," he told Jimmy.
The men who had been in Clark's apartment snuck down into the Daily Planet parking garage. St. John had told them to plant bugs in three places. They had successfully completed the task at Clark's apartment. Next was Kent's jeep. They found the jeep easily enough. They had just inserted a long wire to open the door when…
The men quickly removed the wire and jumped back into the shadows. They watched as two men exited the elevator.
"So what's this all about?" asked Perry as he and Clark made his way to Clark's jeep.
"I'd prefer to wait until I can show you," Clark said.
Perry snorted. He really didn't like being kept in the dark about anything.
"This better be important, son," said Perry.
"It is," Clark replied, unlocking the passenger's door for Perry. It was only a moment more before they were in the jeep and on their way.
"Damn," said one of the men. "Well, let's see what we can do about his work station while we're here."
Perry pried and prodded Clark the entire trip to Clark's apartment, but Clark steadfastly refused to tell him what was so important. It had to have something to do with Jessica, but Perry wasn't able to convince Clark to say as much as one word about Jessica or about his little unscheduled vacation.
Clark opened the door to his apartment and gestured Perry inside. Perry stepped in and looked around before he spotted Jessica. His face broke into a smile.
"Are you a sight for sore eyes," said Perry. "I'm glad you decided to come back. I thought for a while there that I was going to have to fire Clark. All he could do was mope around, thinking about you."
"Perry!" exclaimed Clark.
"Relax, son," said Perry. "I'm just funnin' with ya."
"It's good to see you too, Perry," said Lois, coming over and giving a startled Perry a kiss on the cheek.
Perry noticed Clark tense at this expression of affection on the part of Lois. Seeing that helped Perry figure out very quickly how to respond. He placed an arm around Lois and, walking with her further into the apartment, spoke. "So what do you say we dump junior here and get to know each other better?" he asked.
Lois laughed and glanced over at Clark. He was obviously trying not to let their teasing bother him, but he had the same expression on his face now that he'd had on it the night she'd danced with Lex Luthor. Seeing that, she decided not to torment him.
"Sorry, Perry," said Lois. "But my heart lies elsewhere."
Perry glanced over at Clark before looking back at Lois. "Anyone I know?" he asked.
"Perhaps," said Lois.
Perry laughed. "So would someone mind telling me why I'm here and not in my office," he demanded, returning them to the subject at hand.
"Before we get into that, there's something you should know," said Lois.
"Well, after you left this morning," she began, looking at Clark, "two men broke in here and bugged the apartment."
"What?" exclaimed both Clark and Perry in unison.
Lois nodded. "Don't worry," she said. She walked over and picked up the parcel containing the bugs — she'd tell Clark about the cameras later. She laid the parcel on the kitchen table and raised her finger to her lips before opening the parcel to show them the bugs inside. She then began to rewrap them in the towels, but Perry stopped her.
He opened the towels again before mouthing to Lois, 'Are they active?' When Lois nodded, Perry spoke.
"Well, son," said Perry, "Are you going to make us coffee or do I have to die of thirst?"
"Sorry, Chief," said Clark in response. "It should just take a few minutes."
Perry grumbled slightly before rewrapping the bugs.
"Does one of you want to tell me what this is all about?" he asked.
Lois and Clark looked at each other for a moment, silently communicating, before Lois spoke. "Perry, the reason I left so abruptly was… Well, you know that Clark and I were investigating the accident at Lex Labs. Anyway, I came across some information that strongly suggests that Lex is producing chemicals for chemical warfare."
"You're saying that Lex Luthor is involved in chemical warfare?" Perry asked clearly skeptical. When they nodded, he continued, "We are talking about the same Lex Luthor?"
They nodded again.
"Even if that's true, why would that make you leave?" Perry asked.
Lois glanced over at Clark before continuing. "I left because… Lex came to see me the night before I handed in my resignation. He found out something about me. Please don't ask what. But he threatened to use it unless I backed off the story. He also expected me to find a way to get Clark to back off as well. That's why I left."
"When I get my hands on that…" Perry began, obviously no longer a fan of Lex Luthor. He didn't doubt what Jessica had said about Luthor's threat — and he tended to take threats to his reporters personally. "So what are you going to do?" he asked instead of finishing his threat.
"Well," said Clark, "we're going to find a way to bring Luthor down. But until we do, he can't know that Jessica is back."
Perry nodded slightly. "Just tell me this: what he knows, is it… Well, how much damage can he do to you?"
"He can destroy my life, Perry," Lois said.
Perry was impressed by her honesty and her integrity. She had left rather than compromise the story and she was prepared to admit just how badly Luthor could hurt her. Yet here she was. Making the decision to stay and fight took a lot of courage.
"Okay," said Perry. "I'm assigning both you and Clark to look into this full time. I assume you'll be working out of Clark's apartment."
"Yes," said Lois.
"You both have my full support. If there's anything you need, just ask. Also, Jessica, I'm not officially putting you back on payroll — so that no one will know you're back. But when you two break the story… Well, let's just say you'll be receiving back pay — back to the day you left."
"Perry…" Lois began.
Perry raised his hand to silence her. "In the meantime," he continued, "if you need any money, just let me know."
"Thanks, Perry," Lois responded.
"Also," Perry said, "I assume you think Luthor's behind the bugs."
"I do," Lois responded. "But they didn't mention Lex. They said something about someone named St. John. Any idea who they're talking about?"
Clark and Perry both shook their heads, unfamiliar with the name.
"Then I suggest you assume that other places are bugged and that the apartment is under surveillance," said Perry. "So if we need to discuss the story, we'll do it here. Now, unless there's anything else, I suggest we give a performance for the benefit of our audience." When nobody objected, Perry once again unwrapped the bugs and he and Clark had a conversation that had nothing to do with the investigation before leaving.
Clark settled into the chair at his office. As was his habit, he switched on his computer and reviewed his phone messages while waiting for it to boot up. He flipped through them casually until he came across one from Inspector Henderson. The last time he'd spoken to Henderson, the cop had hung up on him. He studied the message for a moment before picking up the phone and dialing. The message was about three days old.
"Henderson here," answered a gruff voice on the other end of the line.
"Inspector, it's Clark Kent. You were trying to get a hold of me," Clark said.
"Right," said Henderson. "I got to thinking after our last conversation. I know I was a bit defensive, but I got to thinking about what you said. I want to clarify that with you. You said you got the file from the District Attorney, correct?"
"Yes. I got the file from Mayson Drake. She was the attorney assigned to deal with the case against Stanley Gables."
"And that there were no autopsy notes, no pictures and no witness statements?"
"Well, there were a couple of witness statements. But they were just from the emergency workers who cleaned up the bodies. There were no statements from anyone who worked at Lex Labs. Nothing from Gables' supervisor. Nothing like that."
There was a moment of silence. "Well, I can tell you that I probably interviewed thirty people. Their statements were in the file when I sent it to the D.A. I also had pictures. But what really got me suspicious was the lack of any autopsy reports. So I got to wondering what had happened to the autopsy notes. I couldn't remember even seeing any reports from the coroner. And it had certainly been long enough. After all, it was a few months between the accident at Lex Labs and the death of Gables. Anyway, I called the doctor who did the autopsies and asked about it. He told me that he'd done the reports and sent them over. But I never got them. Do you know what's going on here, Kent?" Henderson asked in conclusion.
"Not for sure, Henderson. I have the feeling that someone has been tampering with the file. I'm still not sure who or why. Do you still have any of the documents or did you send them all to the D.A.? I'd like to look into it," Clark responded. He didn't want to mention Luthor at this point. He knew Henderson wasn't likely to believe him.
Henderson hesitated. "I have my notes. And I have the negatives from the pictures. I'll make you a copy, but I intend to hold onto the originals. Even if Gables is dead, I think we might have an obstruction of justice case. I just don't have any idea where to even start looking. Or, since it could be linked to the station, who I can even trust. I'll give you a copy as long as you keep me in the loop."
"Will do, Inspector. But it would be helpful if you could let me know if you come across anything else," responded Clark.
"Fine," Henderson responded. "Do you want me to have someone drop this stuff off for you."
"The fewer people who know, the better. I'll drop by later and get it if you don't mind."
Clark had just hung up when the phone rang.
"Clark Kent here," Clark said, quickly grabbing the phone again.
"Mr. Kent, my name's Frank MacKenzie. You probably don't remember but…"
"Of course, I remember," Clark said. Frank was the emergency worker who had spoken to him after the accident at Lex Labs.
The man coughed before saying, "Could we meet somewhere?"
"Certainly," said Clark. He hadn't expected to hear from this man again. Given who he was, he could definitely have some important information for Clark. "When?" asked Clark.
The man responded by giving Clark a time and a place. When Clark tried to find out more specifically what this was about, the man refused, saying that he didn't trust the phones.
Clark thought about what Frank had said about the phones as he hung up. He was horrified that he hadn't thought about that possibility before calling Henderson. He quickly dissembled the phone and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't find anything.
Lois decided to start her computer search by finding out all she could about mustard gas. Could mustard gas really have done the damage at Lex Labs like Pasco claimed? And if Lex was behind it, what exactly was the plan?
As soon as she was on line, she typed 'chemical warfare' into her search engine. She was amazed at how much information she found. In ancient times, fires were lit so that the smoke would choke the other side, but gas itself was used in war for the first time by the British during World War One. The race was soon on to see who could develop the most deadly gas and the most efficient delivery devices. In 1917, the German's won the race with the use of mustard gas.
It became the most effective chemical weapon of World War One for a number of reasons. It was difficult to detect. It penetrated most of the early gas masks and was easy to deliver. In many cases, people survived exposure — at least initially. It took almost twelve hours to take effect. It attacked the moist areas of the body — eyes, respiratory tract, scrotum, armpits, etc. The eyes would water uncontrollably. There would be difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. The skin would blister. In the most extreme cases of exposure, the victims died. Even those who didn't, often suffered the effects for years to come.
She came across a poem by Wilfred Owen written during the first World War that caught her attention. Part of it read:
*'Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.*
*'If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in.
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs…'*
Lois broke off reading and took a moment to compose herself. The idea that someone in Metropolis was profiting off this substance made her sick to her stomach. When she finally managed to steady herself, she continued her research.
Soon she had managed to turn up more facts. She found out that mustard gas was produced by many countries after the first world war — including the United States. However, it didn't appear that the States had ever used this particular chemical compound in warfare. Although they had certainly manufactured and stockpiled enough of the substance between the first and second world wars. Other countries, however, had used it in warfare. For example, both Iran and Iraq used it during their war. It was also believed that Sadam Hussein had used it on Kurds in his own country. Evidence even suggested that U.S. service men were exposed to this insidious substance during the Gulf War.
By the time Lois had finished reading, she felt seriously ill. How could people do this to each other? If this was being produced by Lex Labs, it had to be stopped.
It seemed that there was some hope, however. The United States government had, within the last few years begun destroying all of its stockpiles. According to the information Lois had, disposing of these dangerous chemicals was a lucrative business for the companies who got the contracts.
There was one thing that confused Lois. The people at Lex Labs had died instantly. However, if Lois recalled correctly, the skin had blistered and eyes had been affected. But she hadn't found anything in her research that talked about the eyes of the victims actually bleeding.
Lois leaned back in her chair. Maybe Pasco was wrong. Maybe this wasn't mustard gas. Suddenly, she was struck with a horrifying thought. What if Gables was creating an even more deadly form of mustard gas? And if he was, what were Lex's plans for it?
If her hunch was right and Lex was creating an improved — or was that the right word — form of mustard gas, was it any wonder that he had blackmailed her to get her and Clark off the story? She was disgusted with herself. Lex could very well be responsible for or planning to kill hundreds or even thousands of people, and she'd almost let him get away with it. She might not know much about what the future might hold for her, but she did know that, whatever else happened, she was going to get to the bottom of this story.
Suddenly a question seemed to find its way into Lois' mind. If Lex had blackmailed her, who else might he have gotten to? She flashed back to the first time she'd gone to Casey's after work with the Planet crew. Before Clark had left with that woman, he'd talked to Ralph. The idea seemed to float around on the edge of her mind as she struggled to get a grip on it. Why had she thought of that right now?
It was something about the way Ralph had seemed uncomfortable that had stayed with her. What had Clark asked? Did it have something to do with Lex? It was a long shot, but…
Suddenly what had been playing on the outskirts of her mind came into focus. Clark had asked about a rumor that Lex Corp had coerced the takeover of a company. Was it possible that Ralph Cooke was being blackmailed or in some other way controlled by Lex Luthor?
She pulled out a pad of paper and tried to think of all the ways Lex might try to control someone. She finally managed to come up with three. One was to blackmail them — as he'd done with her. A second was to threaten them. A third was to bribe them. Of the three, the third way would be the easiest to check out. It was also the one way that would make the person a co-conspirator as opposed to a victim. So she decided to start with that.
Having lived the way she had, Lois had learned a lot of different things over the years — one of which she was finding very useful right now. She had worked for a time as a computer hacker. As a result, she was able to hack into a number of databanks. She soon discovered that Ralph had had a huge debt until a few months ago. Then all his debts were paid off and his finances went from desperate to healthy. The money had come from a company Lois had never heard of. It was called R.T.W. Inc.
Clark sat down at the coffee shop and looked around. He didn't see Frank, but he carefully scanned faces as he thought about the bugging of his apartment. Was it possible that Luthor was having him followed too? He didn't see any faces that looked familiar, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. He'd have to keep his eyes open.
Just then the door opened and in walked Frank MacKenzie. He seemed to have a cold — at least his nose was red, as if he'd been blowing it a lot, and his eyes seemed puffy. Clark rose from his chair as Frank approached. The two men shook hands before taking seats at the table. Frank waited until the waitress took his order — coffee, just as Clark was having — before speaking.
"I'll probably get in trouble for meeting with you. We're under strict orders not to say anything," began Frank. "But we're getting a little desperate."
"Who's we?" asked Clark.
"All of us. All of us who were involved in hauling the dead out of Lex Labs after the accident," said Frank. "We've talked about it. We know that going to the press will probably get us all fired, but we figure better fired than dead, right?"
"I don't understand," said Clark.
Frank dissolved in a fit of coughing. When he finally recovered, he spoke again. "All of us have started getting sick. Everyone who was involved in that operation."
"And you think it's because of the accident at Lex Labs?" gasped Clark.
Frank nodded. "It's the only operation all of us were involved with. And then there's this," he said, before proceeding to pull up his sleeve. His arms had a number of blisters on it.
"But how is that possible? You were all completely covered in full protective garb."
"That's what our superiors said. They claim that we're all just suffering psychosomatic symptoms, but…" Frank gestured to his arm, "does that look psychosomatic to you."
Clark wasn't sure what to make of Frank's comments. He knew that the mind was able to produced symptoms.
"Why would your superiors be so reluctant to accept your complaints?" asked Clark.
Frank snorted. "Do you think anyone would be willing to do what we do if they knew that the gas that killed those men could get through the suits?"
Clark had to agree with that. The whole idea was horrifying — especially if the gas got into the wrong hands. And if Luthor was in charge, it was definitely in the wrong hands.
After promising Frank that he'd do what he could, he went to see Henderson. He filled Henderson in on what Frank had told him. He was tempted to also tell him about what Pasco had said, but Lois had told him how scared Pasco was. Instead, he told Henderson that they had reason to believe it was mustard gas that had killed the men in Lex Labs.
"Who exactly are you working with on this?" asked Henderson.
"What do you mean?" Clark stuttered in response.
Henderson looked at Clark speculatively. "I just meant, has White assigned you a partner?"
Henderson knew instantly that there was something Clark wasn't telling him, but there wasn't much he could do about it for now. He gave Clark a copy of the information he still had about the investigation.
"What's the name of the coroner responsible for the autopsies of the people who died?" asked Clark.
"His name's Dr. Joseph Pritchard," Henderson informed him.
Clark nodded. "I think I'll have a talk with him next," said Clark.
"Good luck," Henderson responded. Then to Clark's look, he continued, "I've tried talking to the guy. He's about as helpful as a snowball would be at putting out a forest fire."
"Why's he being such a problem?" Clark asked.
Henderson shrugged. "I have no idea, but if I never have to work with the guy again it will be one day too soon."
"Is this how he normally operates?"
"I have no idea. I've never had the pleasure…" He emphasized the word. "…before now."
"There's some news, sir," said Nigel.
"From the surveillance devices?" asked Luthor.
Nigel nodded. He put the tape recorder he was carrying on the desk and hit 'play.' Kent's voice came clearly over the line.
'Inspector, it's Clark Kent. You were trying to get a hold of me… Yes. I got the file from Mayson Drake. She was the attorney assigned to deal with the case against Stanley Gables… Well, there were a couple of witness statements. But they were just from the emergency workers who cleaned up the bodies. There were no statements from anyone who worked at Lex Labs. Nothing from Gables' supervisor. Nothing like that.'
Luthor flicked the recorder off. "Why are we only hearing one side of the conversation?" Luthor demanded.
"My men weren't able to get a bug in the phone. There were too many people around. We were, however, able to get one under his desk."
Luthor glared at Nigel for a moment.
"I'm going to try sending my men back tonight. It should be quieter in there then," he continued.
Luthor snorted, before turning the recorder back on.
'Not for sure, Henderson,' Clark's voice continued. 'I have the feeling that someone has been tampering with the file. I'm still not sure who or why. Do you still have any of the documents or did you send them all to the D.A.? I'd like to look into it…Will do, Inspector. But it would be helpful if you could let me know if you come across anything else… The fewer people who know, the better. I'll drop by later and get it if you don't mind.'
When Clark said goodbye, Luthor reached over and was about to turn the recorder off when he heard the phone ring again. He paused and listened to the second, much shorter, conversation.
'Clark Kent here… Of course, I remember… Certainly. When? Okay, but would you mind telling me what this is all about? Fine. I'll see you then.'
"What was that all about?" asked Luthor.
"I don't know, sir. But from the first conversation, it seems that Mr. Kent has figured out that there are problems with the file Mayson Drake gave him. And he appears to be back working on the story about the accident at Lex Labs," said Nigel.
"Tell Mrs. Cox to get Mayson over here," demanded Luthor.
"Certainly, sir," Nigel replied, turning and leaving the room.
Brad's camera clicked again. From the empty apartment across the street, he had a great view of the front entrance of Lex Towers. Trask thought he'd be able to recognize St. John if he saw him, so Brad's task was to get pictures of everyone who entered or exited the building — everyone, both men and women. After all, if St. John was still working for Luthor and he was looking for information about Lois Lane, she might be here too. So Brad took pictures of everyone.
Clark took the steps to his apartment two at a time. He could hardly believe how much he liked the idea of coming home to Lois. In one hand was a bag and in the other was a large pizza box. He balanced the bag on the box as he fumbled with the key. Before he could unlock the door, it mysteriously opened. He didn't see Lois, but still he pushed the door and it swung open. He entered, closing the door behind him, before yelling, "Hi, honey. I'm home."
Lois stepped into view, a smile making its way across her face. "You enjoyed saying that, didn't you," she said.
"More than you can possibly believe," he responded. "Maybe you should consider a career change."
"What type of career change did you have in mind?" Lois asked.
"Well, you could stay home, make me my supper and bring me my slippers every night," he said with a grin.
"In your dreams, Kent," Lois responded.
He smiled before handing her the pizza and heading past her for the kitchen. She followed.
She set down the pizza. "What's in the bag?" she asked.
He smiled and pulled out a video. She took it and looked at the cover.
"Lethal Weapon Three," she said.
Clark shrugged. "I don't know why. I mean, I've seen parts one and two, but for some reason I've never gotten around to watching part three. I hope you don't mind."
Lois shook her head. "I guess it's okay. After all, you get your car chases and special effects and I get Mel Gibson."
"Umm…" said Clark, reaching towards her to take the video back. "Maybe that wasn't such a good choice."
Lois laughed, holding the video out of his reach. "Too late," she said. "So what else have you got there?"
Clark pulled out the next item — a wig and a pair of sun glasses.
"What are those for?" asked Lois.
"In case for some reason you need to go outside," he explained.
She smiled and pulled the wig on over her head. "You like blondes or something?" she asked.
He laughed. "And I thought you'd want to see this," he said, his tone much more subdued. He pulled a magazine out of the bag and handed it to her.
She met his eyes for a moment before looking down at the magazine. On the front cover of Time was Lex Luthor, smiling like a Cheshire cat. The title under the picture read, 'Rags to Riches: A True American Success Story.'
She threw the magazine on the table and looked up at Clark in disgust. "Does it give any real information?" she asked.
Clark shook his head. "It's nothing but a puff piece," he said.
"Figures," she responded. "Tell me you didn't save the worst for last," she said.
Clark smiled. "Of course not," he said, pulling out the remaining item from the bag.
Lois moaned. It was a Double Fudge Crunch bar.
"Now, if you don't want it, I could always…" Clark's words were cut off by Lois grabbing the bar from his hand. Clark laughed in response.
While eating their pizza, they shared with each other what they'd discovered during the day. He filled her in on his meeting with Henderson and Frank MacKenzie and she told him her suspicions about Ralph. He also told her about his meeting with the coroner.
"I could hardly believe how unhelpful he was," Clark said. "Every question I asked, he responded by saying that he couldn't give me that information. That it was confidential."
"Couldn't Henderson get that information?" asked Lois.
Clark shook his head. "He's been giving Henderson the same run around."
"What if he got a call from someone he couldn't ignore?" Lois said after a moment's reflection.
"Lana's boyfriend. Steven Brockovich. He's on the city council. The man couldn't very well ignore Steve, could he?"
"Good idea," Clark responded. "I'll give him a call in the morning."
"You know," said Lois, "I've been thinking…"
"Oh, oh," said Clark, earning himself a slap on the arm. He grinned in response.
"Well, the information I found about mustard gas doesn't quite jive with what happened at Lex Labs."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, mustard gas takes some time before symptoms are seen. The people at Lex Labs died immediately. Also, I couldn't find anything that suggests that people bleed from the eyes or mouth. The eyes and mouth are affected, but not to that extent."
"So you think Pasco was wrong?" Clark asked.
Lois shook her head. "I was just thinking that maybe Lex had Gables working on some sort of advanced formula of mustard gas."
Clark considered that for a moment. "Tell me something. Would someone who's eyes were puffy, had burn type marks on their arms, and who were coughing… Would that sound like someone affected by mustard gas?"
"Well, I met with Frank MacKenzie today. You know, the emergency worker who gave me the story after the accident at Lex Labs." When Lois nodded, Clark continued, "Those are the symptoms the emergency workers are suffering."
"Didn't they have some sort of protective wear?" Lois asked in horror.
Clark nodded. "Yeah, they did. That's what seems so weird."
Lois was suddenly frantically searching for a document from the papers she'd printed off the computer. In a moment she found what she was looking for.
"The reason," she began, handing Clark the document she'd found, "that mustard gas was considered the most deadly gas in World War One… Or, one of the reasons, anyway… was that it could penetrate clothing and most gas masks of the time. If this in an advanced version of mustard gas, maybe it penetrates the masks and clothing of this time."
Clark let out a breath. "I hate to admit it, but it does make sense."
"And the reason the emergency workers didn't die immediately," continued Lois, now on a roll, "was that they didn't get the same level of exposure as the rest. You know, because of the suits."
Clark nodded slightly. It was all just theory at the moment, but it was at least a working theory.
Lois looked at Clark for a long moment. "By the way, did you find any bugs at the office?"
Clark shook his head. "I checked the phone. It was clean."
Lois narrowed her eyes. "That doesn't make any sense to me, Clark. Why would they plant bugs here and not at the office? After all, it's more likely that you'd be doing work there than here."
"Unless it isn't Luthor behind the bugs at all," said Clark.
"What are you saying, Clark?" Lois asked with a chuckle. "That it's a jealous ex-girlfriend wanting to know who you're seeing?"
"No, of course not. I just meant…" Clark paused. "Maybe I should check my work area more thoroughly tomorrow."
"If you do find anything, you might be smart to leave them and just conduct any sensitive conversations where they can't overhear."
Clark looked at her for a moment. "Speaking of which, where are the bugs they planted here?"
Lois got up and brought over her parcel.
"What do you say we let them listen in when we watch the video? We'd have to be very careful not to say anything, but it might make whoever is listening in think that the devices are operating."
Lois nodded. It probably would seem odd if Clark was here all evening without making any noise at all. Still, they were both going to have to be very careful.
Clark went over and unwrapped the bugs. He then walked over to the television and turned it on. He inserted the video and he and Lois settled themselves on opposite ends of the couch.
"Do you want a blanket?" Clark mouthed.
Lois looked at him oddly and he silently repeated his words. She nodded, but when he started to get up, she gestured him back down and went to fetch them a couple of blankets. When she returned he'd turned off all the lights. She handed him his blanket and settled back on the couch with her own.
Clark put his feet up on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch to watch the movie. He glanced over at Lois and noticed that she was curled up on the far end of the couch, with her legs under her and her blanket wrapped around her. He sighed. What he wouldn't give to have her curled up next to him.
He turned his attention to the movie. As he watched the dog biscuit eating Sargent Riggs, played by Mel Gibson, Clark found himself wondering what exactly it was that women seemed to find so irresistible about the actor. Unable to figure it out, he turned his attention to the plot and was, for a time, engrossed in the movie. It had just the right mixture of excitement and humor to keep Clark captivated.
That ended when Riggs and Lorna Cole ended up back at her place. At first, Lorna tended to a wound Riggs had recently obtained in their efforts to stop the bad guys. The competition between them to prove who had taken more risks in their careers on the police force reached new heights as they began comparing their respective scars. Clark's mind was suddenly occupied with thoughts of the woman beside him. He swallowed hard as he watched the actors began removing clothing to show each other their scars. It wasn't long before scars weren't the only things they were interested in.
Clark didn't dare look at the woman beside him, although she was suddenly occupying his mind completely. The urge to reach out and take her in his arms was almost irresistible. At the same time, he didn't have the nerve. He really had no idea how she'd react. Even if they couldn't make love, all at once Clark was painfully aware that there was a great deal they could still do together.
Half of him desperately wanted to force the issue, but in some strange way he was almost relieved that he couldn't. This pull she had on his heart was terrifying because there were still so many question marks in their relationship. If Luthor found out about Lois' presence and called the military, she might suddenly disappear from his life. Even if that didn't happen, she might well decide to maintain her previous position that they couldn't get involved. And, when it came right down to it, he didn't really know if she returned his feelings.
She had told him, the day after their first kiss, that she was falling in love with him. But since then, she'd never repeated the sentiment. He'd said it to her on a few occasions. She didn't seem to mind; on the other hand she never said it back. He knew she was fond of him, but beyond that… He really didn't know. What if she really didn't share his feelings?
He shifted uncomfortably on the sofa. He finally worked up the nerve to just glance at the woman on the far end of the couch, wondering if the movie had taken her thoughts in the same direction his had taken. Suddenly, he smiled. Whereas he had quit watching the movie because he'd been thinking about her, she hadn't been watching the movie for an entirely different reason. She was sound asleep.
Clark got up and wrapped the surveillance devices back up again before going over and turning off the movie. Lois was still asleep. For a moment he was tempted to pick her up and carry her to bed, but he wasn't sure he trusted himself to do that. So instead, he leaned over and gently touched her face.
"Jess," he said.
She slowly opened her eyes. She blinked a couple of times, obviously trying to wake up. "Huh?" she asked.
"It's time to go to bed," he said softly, before picking up and folding the blankets.
She rose to her feet and began making her way to her bedroom. "Night," she said sleepily over her shoulder before walking into her room and closing the door.
"Night," Clark responded, before putting the blankets back in the closet and heading for his own room.
"It's been a long time, Sam," said Ellen Lane, taking a seat at the restaurant table for a late supper. She'd forgotten how late supper often turned out to be when you were eating with a doctor.
"Too long," said Sam, taking a chair across from her.
"So what's this about? Are you wanting me to agree to lower your spousal support payments so that your latest mistress has more of your money to spend?"
Sam dropped his head. It was amazing how easily they could fall into the same old patterns.
"Actually," said Sam, without having the nerve to look her in the eyes, "I was wanting to apologize."
"What?" gasped Ellen.
"I was wrong. I know I should have told you this a long time ago, but I never should have published that article. I know it cost us our daughter. If I could I'd do things differently…"
Ellen looked at him in silence for a long time. Whatever she'd been expecting when he'd invited her out to dinner, it hadn't been this. He usually asked her out to dinner when he wanted to break bad news. He still hadn't learned that just being in a public place wouldn't stop her from making a scene. This was completely unexpected. He had always adamantly refused to accept responsibility for his part in Lois' disappearance.
Suddenly, Ellen felt ashamed. She knew she had contributed to the problem. After all, it had been her, when Lois had been found that first time, who had insisted that they had to contact Colonel Trask. At the time she had still believed in the government of the United States. And if they thought it was important to talk to Lois, she had believed that they should be allowed to do so. The years had made her much more skeptical.
"It wasn't all your fault," she finally admitted.
Sam looked up then and met her eyes. They held eye contact for a long moment before Ellen broke it.
"Well, that was different," said Ellen.
Sam chuckled slightly.
"So where do we go from here?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well… I was just sort of wondering… I mean, Lois isn't the only member of my family that I miss."
"What are you saying, Sam?"
"Well… Would you consider… I mean, this sounds crazy. After all, we were married, but… Well, would you consider dating me?"
Ellen studied him carefully. He really did appear to be serious. "Okay," she finally said, somewhat shyly.
Sam's face broke into a huge smile. "So, why don't we start tonight? What are you going to order?"
Trask looked at picture after picture — discarding them on the table one by one after he had done so. Suddenly he stopped and looked up at Brad. He smiled.
"This is St. John," he informed the young man, waving the picture.
"So what do we do now?" asked Brad.
Trask thought for a moment. If St. John had formerly been with MI-6, he undoubtedly had some training. He would not break easily. They needed more people to do this than just him and Brad. He decided that before making a decision, he'd look through the rest of the pictures. If Lois Lane's picture was among them, maybe they could skip the middle man all together.
Once he had determined that Lois Lane's picture was not among those Brad had taken during his surveillance, he carefully pilled all the pictures up while he considered the problem. He was a Colonel in the United States Air Force. That had to be worth something. He had men under his command. Although they were not involved in his pursuit of the alien, he could surely come up with another explanation for why St. John had to be detained and questioned.
After a moment of pondering the problem, he smiled. The solution was amazingly simple. MI-6 was looking for St. John. He could use that as their reason for detaining him. And, of course, before returning him to MI-6, St. John would have to be… debriefed. And Trask was just the man to do it.
Once he had the information he wanted, he could arrange for St. John to escape, or, even better, to have a little accident. After all, Trask didn't particularly want his superiors getting wind of this little unauthorized operation.
Jimmy smiled when he came over to Clark's desk to find Clark on his hands and knees under it.
"Lose something, C.K.?" Jimmy asked.
Clark quickly pulled himself from under the desk, bumping his head in the process. He silently cursed and then, looking up at Jimmy, raised a finger to his lips.
"Yeah, my pen," Clark said, for the benefit of the surveillance device he'd found under the desk.
He sat down at his desk and looked around at it. He stared at the phone for a minute before picking it up. He opened it and found that there was a bug inside. Jimmy looked over his shoulder and gasped. Clark turned towards the young man, a finger once again raised to his lips. He quickly put the phone back together and made his way to Perry's office — Jimmy trailing close behind.
"What is it, Clark?" asked Perry.
Clark raised a finger to his lips and gestured for Perry to follow. The three men made their way to the stairs. Once they were inside the stairwell, Clark spoke.
"My work area and phone have been bugged, Perry," Clark said. "I looked in the phone yesterday and it wasn't. So I'd assume they did it last night."
Perry nodded. It made sense. "So someone must know you're back on the story," he commented.
"What story?" asked Jimmy.
"I think we have to assume that your office is bugged too. I don't want to disturb the bugs, it will let them know that we're on to them," said Clark.
"Who's on to you?" asked Jimmy.
"On the other hand," continued Clark, "I need a safe place to work."
Perry thought about the problem for a moment. "Jimmy, it seems to me that you are always going to that spy store."
"You mean, 'Spys R Us?' Yeah, why?" asked Jimmy.
"I want you to go down there and find something that can be used to check for surveillance devices — if they have something like that." He looked straight into Jimmy's eyes before saying, "And if it's expensive, rent don't buy — unless there's no other choice."
"But, Chief, if we remove the devices…" began Clark.
"I don't intend to remove all the devices. I just want to give you one room that's bug free. I was thinking the conference room. But be careful to use your desk for unrelated or unimportant phone calls. That way they'll have something to listen to at the end of the day."
The color drained from Mayson's face as she listened to the recording of Clark's side of the phone conversation with Henderson.
"It seems you might have a problem," Luthor said. "He knows something was wrong with the file you gave him."
"I can tell that for myself," Mayson shot back.
"Since you're the one who could go down for this, it's your responsibility to take care of it," Luthor continued.
"I'm not the only one that could go down," Mayson responded.
Luthor's eyes flashed and he approached Mayson quickly. "Don't ever threaten me," he hissed. "I could make being arrested seem like a walk in the park." Then he backed off. "Fortunately for you, I have a plan."
"What's the plan?"
Luthor proceeded to fill her in. Mayson smiled. It just might work.
Jimmy didn't find any surveillance devices in the conference room, but he did locate a couple in the Chief's office. Perry grumbled and fumed for quite a while, but when he finally calmed down, he decided to leave them where they were. Now that he was aware of them, he could operate around them.
Clark got himself settled in the conference room and picked up the phone. It was only a few minutes before he had Councilman Steven Brockovich on the line. They exchanged the usual pleasantries and talked about Lana for a couple of minutes before Clark got down to business.
"I'll give him a call," Steve said when Clark told him about the problems he was having with the coroner.
"Thanks, Steve," Clark said in response. "There's something else I'd like you to look into."
"Well, I have reason to believe that the city's emergency workers — the one who were involved in the accident at Lex Labs — are starting to experience some of the same symptoms as the people who died."
"What?" exclaimed Steve. "Why hasn't city counsel been told about this?"
"I have no idea, except that I understand that their supervisor is dismissing their concerns."
"Thanks for the heads up, Clark. I'll get my staff on that right away."
Picking Nigel up wasn't nearly as difficult as Trask had feared. When Trask's men approached Nigel, showed their military identification and 'requested' that he accompany them, Nigel had come without resistance. However, it was probably the prudent course of action since there had been one of him and seven of Trask's men.
Trask informed his men that this was being done as a favor to British intelligence and, so far, no one questioned the legitimacy of the assignment. Still, Trask was concerned that news of this would leak to his superiors who would know there had been no such request. That meant he had to get the information quickly. If he thought torture would work, he'd use that, but he had another idea. MI-6 seemed to want St. John back just a little too much. Given that, he had an idea.
He entered the room where Nigel was being held. He stood on the far side and looked at the man seated at the table. After a moment Nigel looked up.
"Don't I know you?" asked Nigel, obviously struggling to remember how he knew the man.
"Yes, Mr. St. John, you do," Trask responded. "You're still working for Luthor, I see."
"Yes, but… Trask! Colonel Jason Trask," said Nigel.
"Correct," Trask responded.
"Why am I here?" St. John asked.
"Well, Mr. St. John," Trask began, opening a file as he walked over to take a seat on the corner of the table beside Nigel, "it seems that you aren't exactly in America legally."
"What concern could that be to the military?" asked Nigel. "If this is about my immigration status, shouldn't immigration be talking to me?"
"Normally," said Trask. He laid down the file and looked directly at Nigel before continuing. "But it has come to our attention that MI-6 is looking for you." He saw Nigel flinch and instantly knew that his hunch was right. Whatever the reasons were that MI-6 was looking for him, it was obvious St. John was as anxious to avoid them as they were to catch up with him.
"They approached my government and I was ordered to bring you in," Trask continued.
"Look," said Nigel, "I want a lawyer. I know my rights. You have to go through a deportation hearing before…"
Trask smiled. "Actually, that's not exactly true. These type of… shall we say covert exchanges take place all the time between America and its allies — sometimes even between America and its enemies. It's all done nice and quietly and no one ever hears about them."
Nigel's face seemed to lose all its color.
"However," continued Trask, "I'm willing to arrange a little… shall we say escape for you. For old times' sake. That is if you can do me one little favor."
"What do you want?" Nigel said, trying to hide his desperation.
Trask smiled. "Why were you looking into Lois Lane's background?"
"What?" gasped Nigel.
"You tell me all about that and I'll find a way to let you walk right out of here," said Trask.
Had Nigel not been so concerned about being turned over to MI-6, he might well have been suspicious of Trask's promise. As it was, it seemed like a gift — and Nigel stepped right into it.
"A new reporter showed up at the Daily Planet named Jessica Miller. My employer…" He hesitated. If he could tell his interrogator what he wanted to know without betraying Luthor, he would. After all, Luthor could be as dangerous as MI-6. "My employer dated her once and wanted to know more about her. It wasn't anything more than that."
Trask smiled. He had what he needed. He got up and headed for the door.
"Wait a minute," said Nigel. "What about your promise to release me?"
"I lied," said Trask.
He exited the room, prepared to implement his plan for Nigel to have a little accident, when some men approached.
"Mr. Trask," said the first one, pulling out some identification, "I'm with Immigration and Naturalization. We understand that you have a Nigel St. John here."
"What?" gasped Trask. He hadn't expected them to get wind of this — at least not so soon.
"We have a warrant to take him into custody," the man concluded, handing Trask a paper.
"I'm afraid I don't take orders from Immigration and Naturalization," said Trask.
"We also have orders from your immediate superior," the man continued, handing Trask a second paper.
Trask looked at the paper and swallowed hard. Obviously, one of his men had told Brigadier General Newcombe what he was up to and once again, Newcombe was trying to interfere.
"By the way, I think General Newcombe would like to have a word with you," the man concluded with a grin.
Trask was fuming as he watched the men take St. John away. If St. John said anything about their little discussion, it could compromise this mission. Of course, Trask always had his insurance policy, but… Maybe he should make himself scarce around here until he'd completed his mission. After all, he could almost taste the victory now.
Clark was just hanging up the phone when Eduardo Romero knocked at the conference room door.
"Got a minute?" he asked Clark, sticking his head inside.
"Sure, Eduardo," said Clark, gesturing the man into the room.
Eduardo was a small man who spoke English with a slight Spanish accent. Clark respected the man. He was a good reporter. He was married with a family that he adored — and there was part of Clark that had always envied him. Eduardo tended to avoid office gossip and never allowed himself to get caught up in office politics. He did his job and then went home to his wife and family.
Eduardo closed the door of the conference room and took a seat at the table across from Clark. He studied his hands.
"What's wrong, Eduardo?" Clark asked when he didn't speak.
Eduardo studied his fingernails another minute before saying. "I came across a rumor about who might have been behind the fires on the south side last year," he began.
"That's great," said Clark. "What's the problem?"
"Well, I was just starting to investigate it when… I need your word that this won't go beyond this room. If anyone knows I talked to you, my family could be in danger."
"You have my word," said Clark immediately.
Eduardo studied the man in front of him for a moment before nodding. "The rumor I heard was that Lex Luthor was behind the fires — that he hired people to have them set in order to decrease land values on the south side. I know it sounds outrageous, and I can't prove a thing, but when I started asking questions… Well, I received this." With those words, Eduardo handed Clark an envelope.
Clark opened the envelope and removed its contents. The first things he saw were two pictures — of two little girls, obviously taken with a telephoto lense. "Yours?" he asked, gesturing to the girls in the pictures. When Eduardo nodded, Clark looked at the final piece of paper. It was a typed note. It read, 'If you care about your family, quit asking questions about the fires.' It was, of course, unsigned.
"It's Luthor," Clark said.
"I don't know that for sure. After all, think about it. It's hard to believe that Lex Luthor could be involved in something like that. It might be that I was on to something, but just not what I thought I was on to. I don't dare go to the police. But I don't want whoever is behind this to get away with it. I just thought… Well, you don't have a family. Maybe you could, you know, look into it."
Clark studied the man for a moment. "I think we should tell Perry," he said.
"The more people who know…"
"You're not the first person Luthor has threatened," Clark said. He didn't want to tell who else had been threatened, but he did want Eduardo to know who the enemy was. Being certain of who was behind it might make it easier for Eduardo to protect his family.
"Who?" Eduardo asked.
"Sorry," Clark said, shaking his head.
"Does Perry know about the other person?" asked Eduardo, understanding why Clark wouldn't feel free to give him the name of someone else who was being threatened. After all, if situations were reversed, Eduardo would expect Clark to do the same for him.
"Okay, then let's bring Perry in," said Eduardo.
Perry ranted and raved when Clark brought him up to date. Clark waited for him to quiet down before saying, "I think Luthor might have got to someone else too."
"What?" gasped Perry. "You mean another of my reporters is being threatened?"
"Well, no," said Clark before proceeding to fill them in on Lois' theory about Ralph.
Brad entered the Daily Planet newsroom and looked around. He'd seen a picture of Lois Lane. It was, however, from when the creature was arrested when it was fifteen. It could have changed a great deal in the years since then. It could have gained weight — although people from its past who had been questioned had indicated that it was thin. Still, two years had passed since the last sighting. It could be blond or brunette or a red head. However, he knew it was going by the name Jessica Miller.
"It's about time you made it," came a gruff voice behind Brad who immediately spun around.
"I'm sorry," he stuttered, not knowing who the man approaching him was or what he wanted.
"Well, come with me," said Perry.
Brad stood still for a moment before deciding to follow. He had hoped to come in, take a look around, spot the creature and then get out of here. He could follow it after it left. Although he would have to be very careful, given its eyesight and hearing. After all, if the creature did realize he was following it, he would undoubtedly be killed.
However, he'd been discovered. At least it hadn't been by the alien, so he might still survive the experience. Brad accompanied the man into an office. He took a seat in a chair across from the man's desk.
"Well, as I'm sure you're aware, Guthrie, I've received orders from upstairs to hire you. So I guess that means you're working here. But I'm warning you, if you think you don't have to pull your weight just because your dad sits on the Daily Planet's board, you're in for a surprise. I don't care if they fire me, I won't have someone working here who doesn't pull his weight. Do I make myself understood?"
"Yes, sir," mumbled Brad. He had obviously been mistaken for someone else. Maybe that was a good thing. The person who was supposed to get this job had obviously not shown up. Working here would certainly allow him access to the information he needed about Lois Lane. "Umm… What exactly is the job? Will I be a reporter?" he asked, pulling out his pack of cigarettes.
Perry snorted. "Your job will be whatever I say it is. Gofer is probably as good a description as any. And put those things away," snarled Perry pointing to Simon's cigarettes. "There's no smoking here."
Brad nodded. He wouldn't need the job long — just long enough to get the information about Lane. He could hardly believe his good luck. Trask was going to be pleased.
"Now, get out of here," said Perry. "Go down to personnel. They're on the first floor. They'll have a number of papers for you to sign."
"Yes, sir," Brad responded. As he left Perry's office, Brad looked once again around the newsroom, but didn't see anyone he thought could be Lois Lane.
Perry watched his newest employee head for the elevator. He really hated it when board members used his newsroom as their own personal dumping ground for unemployed family members. When Mr. Guthrie's son hadn't shown up on time, Perry had almost let himself hope he had changed his mind. Then he'd spotted that young man and known he couldn't possibly be lucky enough to get out of another patronage appointment.
Luthor leaned back in his chair. "I don't see what the problem is," he said into the phone. "I would think the accident at Lex Labs should be enough of a demonstration for you." There was a long pause. "My price is the same. However, if you wait 'til tomorrow to decide, the price will go up by ten percent… Fine. I'll have it ready for delivery next week."
Perry glanced into the newsroom. Noticing Ralph busy at his desk, Perry carefully considered how he should handle that particular situation. It wasn't as if he had proof that Ralph was in Luthor's employ. Until he did, he really didn't want to tip his hand. As he considered what to do, he recalled a saying his father had. 'If you're going to call someone a liar, first lock all the doors.' Until he had 'locked all the doors' in the particular case, he'd just find a way to keep Ralph away from anything to do with Luthor.
Of course, once he had found a way to prove that Ralph Cooke had sold out, Cooke would be handed his walking papers so fast it would make his head spin.
Clark looked up from the papers he was studying when Mayson Drake walked into the conference room. He cringed inwardly. He hadn't gotten back to her after standing her up. It had just slipped his mind. But he did owe her an explanation.
"Hi, Mayson," said Clark. "I've been meaning to call you — to explain about the ball game."
"I'm not mad, Clark. But if you didn't want to go out with me, you should have just told me in the first place."
"It wasn't that. I had sort of a family emergency. I had to go away for a few days. I left in such a hurry, that I didn't even think about calling you. I'm sorry," said Clark.
Mayson lowered herself into a chair at the table. "That's really all it was?"
"I'm glad. I mean… I hope you got everything sorted out with your family," she said.
Clark nodded again.
"Well, that's not exactly the reason I'm here," said Mayson. "I was putting the Gables file away the other day when I noticed… Clark, did you keep anything from the file?"
"Well, there seems to be a lot of things missing. I hadn't started preparing for the case when Gables died, so they might never have been there. But I just wondered if you had taken anything."
"No," Clark said. It had briefly crossed his mind that Mayson could be involved in this cover-up. He was glad to know that wasn't the case. After all, she certainly wouldn't be drawing his attention to defects in the file if she was involved.
Mayson rose to her feet. "I guess I should go then." She hesitated before speaking again. "Clark, it almost seems as if someone wanted to make sure I couldn't convict Gables. The problem is that I don't know who I can trust. I don't know if it's something the Daily Planet would be interested in following up on, but if it is, please, give me a call."
Clark was deep in thought as he watched her leave. She had resources available to her that weren't available to him. It was worth considering her offer. He'd discuss it with Lois when he got home.
He was brought out of his musings by a ringing phone.
"Kent here," said Clark, picking up the phone.
"Hi, Clark," came Steve Brockovich's voice over the line.
"Steve," Clark responded, "I didn't expect to hear from you so soon."
"Well, I just wanted to tell you that for some reason the coroner isn't any more willing to give me the information. Also, I talked to one of the doctors treating the emergency workers. He says he has no idea what could be causing this. He says it looks like it is some sort of chemical poisoning, but he doesn't know what it is. Without that, he can't do much. Do you have any ideas that I could pass on to him."
"Perhaps. Ask him if it could be mustard gas," suggested Clark.
Lois was working hard on trying to find out who was behind R.T.W Inc., and getting nowhere. It was frustrating. The president of the company was a man who didn't exist. She hadn't even been able to figure out what R.T.W. stood for. However, that didn't mean she hadn't found something. This company, that had no obvious enterprise, had received a very large infusion of cash about two years ago. The money had been disbursed in varying amounts at various times since then. However, it was hard to say where that money had gone. No names were given — only numbers.
Suddenly, Lois had an idea. She had found out about Ralph by starting with Ralph's records and tracing them back to R.T.W. Inc. That meant all she had to do was find the people who had received the money and make the connection back.
So who else might she need to check out? Stanley Gables. It took her a while to locate and download Stanley Gables' records for the past two years. When she had, she compared the withdrawals from R.T.W. Inc. with Gables records. Bingo. There was a deposit in Gables' account, in six figures, shortly after the company was first incorporated. It corresponded to an identical withdrawal from R.T.W. Inc's records.
So, if R.T.W. was connected with Luthor, then Gables was working for Luthor before he came to work for Lex Labs. Doing what? She rustled through the files Clark had brought home — the ones Jimmy had dug up before her disappearance. Gables was working for Disposals Inc. Disposals Inc. did what? Suddenly, Lois gasped. Disposals Inc. was a company that disposed of dangerous chemicals. Mustard gas?
Lois got back on the computer. She had to find out if mustard gas was one of the chemicals being disposed of by Disposals Inc. She let out a long slow breath when she discovered that Disposals Inc. had, by far, the largest civilian contract for disposing of mustard gas for the U.S. Military. What if it hadn't been disposed of?
Great theory. But how did they go about proving it now that Gables was dead? She snorted. That was probably the reason he was killed. Of course, she couldn't prove that. In fact, she couldn't even proved that he was killed. His death had been written up as a suicide.
She directed her attention back to the bank records for R.T.W. Inc. So, who else was the money going to? Immediately following the incorporation of the company, close to a billion dollars was deposited. The first withdrawal appeared to be to Gables. Shortly afterwards was another withdrawal. One was in the millions.
Suddenly, everything fell into place in Lois' mind. No one knew where Luthor's money had come from. What if he had made a deal with Gables? The mustard gas Disposals Inc. was to destroy could have been turned over to Luthor in exchange for which Gables would be given a portion of the profits. Then Luthor could have sold the gas and used the money to purchase Lex Labs. He could now be investing in both legitimate businesses and, to increase his profits, continuing to work on improving mustard gas for sale to… Well, to whoever.
Another great theory. The problem was that she couldn't prove it. She couldn't even prove that Luthor was the one behind R.T.W. Inc. She growled in frustration. Luthor had covered his tracks well.
She needed a break. She glanced up at the clock. Clark would be home soon. She smiled. Clark would be coming home to her. She had to admit that she really liked the sound of that.
Lois wandered into the kitchen and looked in the fridge. There wasn't much that was edible inside. She sighed. She had thought it might be nice to cook something for supper for them. She wished she could go outside.
She wandered back into the living room. Suddenly, she spotted the wig. Maybe… She smiled. She used her x-ray and enhanced vision to look around the apartment. There didn't seem to be any surveillance watching the apartment. She picked up the wig. Well, she had always wanted to find out if blondes had more fun.
The day had been productive — although not in the way Brad had hoped. It seemed that Jessica Miller had worked for the Daily Planet. However, she'd left a few weeks ago. Trask had been upset. But Brad had found out that she had been close to her partner — Clark Kent. So Brad had decided to follow Kent — to see if he would lead them to Lane.
Brad had been trained by military intelligence, so he was no amateur at tailing people. He was confident that he hadn't been spotted as he parked his car across from Kent's apartment. He wasn't sure there was a lot of point sitting out here. He would stay for a while. Trask could plant some surveillance devices here tomorrow. He pulled a cigarette out of his pack and lit it.
Suddenly, his attention was caught by a blond woman making her way to the door of the apartment. His breath caught in his throat. He could be wrong, the picture was old, but he'd swear that woman was Lois Lane. He watched as she glanced at the jeep Kent had driven home. She then made her way to the door of the apartment. Brad watched as Kent opened the door and let her in.
Brad didn't move a muscle for a long time after the door closed. Finally, he pulled out his cell phone. He drove down the street a little ways before placing the call. He wasn't sure how good the creature's hearing actually was.
All Lois could think about when she rounded the corner to Clark's apartment was that he was probably already home. She tried to tell her heart not to think like this, but she was utterly unable to control her excitement. It was hard to believe how much she had missed him. It had only been eight hours since he'd left this morning. This was getting ridiculous.
She bounded up the stairs to his apartment and knocked. Her heart seemed to melt at the smile he gave her when he opened the door.
"You know," said Clark when she stepped inside, "I'm afraid you're going to have to leave. I'm expecting a brunette."
Lois smiled. "I'd heard that blonds have more fun so…" she said, handing him the bag of groceries.
"Is it true?" Clark asked in response, while heading for the kitchen.
"Well, I could always leave the wig on until after dinner. I'll have a better idea then."
Clark laughed. He absolutely loved it when she flirted with him. Not that it necessarily meant anything, but it did give him hope. "Actually," he replied, "I happen to think brunettes are sexier."
"Well, in that case…" Lois said, before pulling the wig off and running a hand through her hair.
They worked together, as they had so many times in the past, to get supper ready. Then they discussed what they had discovered during the day while they ate.
"Well, at least we're getting closer," Clark finally said, as they cleared the table and headed to the kitchen to do up the dishes.
"Yeah, I think we know the basic plan. Now all we need to do is find a way to prove it," Lois said, turning on the water and filling up the sink.
"The coroner's report would be helpful. Unfortunately, I got a call from Steve just as I was leaving. He said the coroner wasn't any more forthcoming with him."
"I wonder," said Lois.
"What?" asked Clark while dipping his hands in the water to begin washing dishes.
"Well, it seems Lex bribed Ralph and Gables. Could he have bribed the coroner too?" Lois asked, picking up a towel to dry.
"I suppose that's possible," conceded Clark.
"Who chose the coroner?"
"I don't know. From talking to Henderson I got the impression that this guy isn't one the police normally use. Or are likely to use again, for that matter."
"So who took the bodies away from Lex Labs? Was it their decision?"
Clark suddenly gave her a look of disbelief. Why hadn't he realized before? "Lex Corp Ambulance Services," he said. They shared a knowing look in response.
"There's something else you should know," said Clark.
"I found bugs in my phone and under my desk. Perry also found some in his office. We decided to leave them. There weren't any in the conference room, so I'm now working out of there. So if you need to contact me during the day, call the conference room."
"You know, I'm sort of offended," said Lois after a brief pause.
"Well, think about it. Gables got a bribe of about six figures for his role in this. Ralph got a bribe. It was a lot less, but a bribe nonetheless. And all I got was blackmailed." When Clark laughed, she continued. "What's wrong with me? Am I the only one who doesn't rate a bribe?"
"Actually, I found out today that another employee at the Planet has been threatened — or at least his family has."
"I promised I wouldn't tell. Perry knows, of course, but… Well, I gave my word."
Lois nodded. "Was Lex behind it?"
"The note didn't say. But apparently this individual had just begun following up on a rumor that Luthor was behind the fires on the south side. So…"
"I could have started that rumor after listening to you tell me about Lex during my first day at the Planet. Did he have anything solid to back it up?"
Clark shook his head.
"Do you think Lex is behind all the crime in Metropolis?" Lois asked.
"Probably not all of it. But for one guy, he sure seems to get around. Jess, I'm thinking about writing a story about the emergency workers. Maybe it will help other people who have information come forward."
Lois looked down.
"Jess, what is it?" Clark asked.
"It's just…" said Lois. "Clark, if you write that story, Lex will know you're back investigating the accident at Lex Labs."
"Well, what if…"
"Well… Clark, he might try to kill you. I mean, he's killed at least one person so far — Gables. And he doesn't seem too concerned about people dying if he's selling mustard gas or working on an advanced form of the substance. And… I just don't think I could stand it if anything happened to you."
"Nothings going to happen to me," Clark assured her.
"I promise," Clark said, laying his hand over hers.
She bit her lower lip. She knew he couldn't promise that. Still, she let herself be comforted by his assurances. "Just promise me you won't do anything stupid," she said.
"You know me," he said with a grin.
"That's what worries me. Unless my memory fails me, you're the one who ran into a burning building to save two little kids," she reminded him.
He chuckled. "Okay, I promise. Nothing stupid. Besides, Jess, he probably already knows."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, why else would he have planted surveillance devices?"
Lois nodded slowly. He was probably right. She looked at him for a moment before deciding they needed a change of topic. "When are you going to shave that beard off, Clark?" she asked.
"You don't like my beard?" asked a hurt sounding Clark, running his hand through the scruffy hair on his face.
"Well, I don't like what it stands for," she clarified.
Clark could understand that. After all, he grew it when Lois left — when he couldn't be bothered shaving. Besides, he really didn't like having a beard.
"I probably should go into the barber soon and get him to take it off," he conceded as he rinsed out the sink.
"Why not do it yourself?" Lois asked, picking the last pot out of the rinse water to dry it.
"All I have is an electric razor. This would kill it," he said, running his hand once again through his beard.
"I worked for a while in a beauty parlor. I could do it for you. Are you sure you don't have a razor somewhere?"
Clark thought for a moment. "Wait a minute," he said, heading into the bathroom. While he was gone, Lois finished tidying up the kitchen.
When he returned, he was carrying a small case. "My mother left this for me when I first moved here," he said, opening the case and fishing around inside. He withdrew a small pair of hair cutting scissors. After a moment more, he pulled out something else. He looked at it for a moment before glancing nervously at Lois.
Lois saw what he was holding and the way he was glancing nervously between her and the object and laughed. "Yes, I know how to use a straight razor," she assured him. "Now, if you only had some shaving cream, we'd be in business."
Without saying a word, Clark went back to the washroom. He returned carrying a can of shaving cream. "Do these things have an expiration date?" he asked, looking at the can.
Lois took the can and sprayed a small amount into her hand. "It looks fine."
"You're really planning to do this?" Clark asked in disbelief.
She simply smiled and pulled a chair out from the table. "Sit," she instructed.
"Where is he?" Luthor demanded.
"I don't know, Lex," Mrs. Cox responded. "I've left messages for him. I've checked his suite and even called all his regular haunts. No one has even seen Nigel since this morning."
"I don't understand," said Brad. "Why don't we just go in there with the kryptonite?"
"Because it'll hear us or see us coming before we ever get close enough to have the kryptonite do any real damage. And it can move fast. I don't know how fast, but from Dr. Lane's article, I suspect it could be long gone before we'd be able to subdue it. We need to find a way or a place where we can get close before letting it know we're on to it. After all, we need to interrogate it before killing it."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"Watch Kent's apartment. When it leaves, find out where it's hiding out. Also, I'm going to contact our scientist — find out if he's come up with a method of delivering the kryptonite that won't require us to get as close."
Lois filled a pan with water and laid it on the table. She quickly changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt before getting a towel from the washroom. She placed it on his shoulder and then moved between his legs to stand in front of him. He was having mixed feelings about letting her anywhere near him with a straight razor. He breathed a sigh of relief when instead of picking up the razor, she picked up the scissors.
"Having second thoughts?" she asked, as she placed a hand under his chin to raise his head before beginning to cut his beard.
"Tell me you've done this before," he responded.
She laughed. "Well, the place I was working… The lady who owned the shop had this thing about making sure her girls knew how to use a straight razor, so she had us practice on balloons."
"And how did you do?"
"I burst the balloon every time," she responded, not looking at his eyes, but instead concentrating on cutting as much of the beard off as she could before taking the razor to him.
"But you have done this on a person," he said.
She shook her head. "No one wants to be shaved with a straight razor these days," she said as more hair fell to the floor.
"What?" exclaimed Clark.
"Would you sit still," Lois complained. "Or I'll end up killing you with the scissors before you even have to worry about the razor."
Clark immediately went still. He closed his eyes and soon was lost in the touch of her hand on his face and neck as she moved his head around to get the angle better for cutting the hair. He didn't think he'd ever been so captivated by a shave before. She was so close that he could feel the warmth of her body. Every touch of her hand felt like a caress. His breathing deepened.
It wasn't long before her hands left him and he could hear the sound of a spray. Her hands returned, this time gently caressing his face with the foam. He had an incredible urge to touch her. His hands came up to where her waist would have been but she had vanished. A moment later, he felt her over his right shoulder. Her arm came around his neck and her left hand held the back of his head against her chest as he felt the first touch of cold steel at his throat. He felt the blade run up his neck as she began to shave the right side of his face. It was only a moment before it disappeared.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?" a soft voice asked, as Lois washed off the blade and raised it back to his face.
He swallowed hard. "No," he whispered, as he felt her soft curves brush against the back of his head and his shoulders while her hand pulled the blade gently over his face. No, this wasn't so bad. In fact, it was probably too good.
In too short a time, her hand left him for good and she moved away. He felt bereft, but that ended when she came back to stand between his legs, in order to shave the left side of his face.
He opened his eyes momentarily and was confronted with the sight of her water splattered t-shirt. He quickly closed his eyes again but couldn't prevent a groan from escaping from the back of his throat at the image of her that was still ingrained on the inside of his eyelids.
Lois looked down at the man before her. She couldn't help but smile at the small noise that seemed to come from him as her hand tilted his head up so that she could continue the shave. He looked so incredibly adorable that it was all she could do not to lean over and kiss him. 'Concentrate, girl,' she told herself firmly, 'or you're going to end up cutting him.' Still, her throat went dry as she continued shaving him. It only got worse when she found his hands were suddenly trailing up the outsides of her legs.
For a moment, Lois was completely at a loss about what to do. She wanted him touching her — in fact, both her heart and her body were begging for his touch. But this wasn't fair to either of them. Her hands faltered on his neck. As if he sensed her discomfort, he immediately lowered his hands back so that they were once again resting on his legs. A moment later, he spoke.
"There's something I forgot to tell you," Clark said softly, still not opening his eyes. He suddenly realized that both of them were getting a little carried away and, sensing her discomfort, decided to try to change the course of their thoughts.
"What's that?" she asked, moving her hand over to the bowl of water to once again rinse the blade.
"Well, Mayson came to see me today."
"Do you really think this is the right time to be telling me this?" she said with a grin, placing the blade back at his throat to emphasize her point.
Clark smiled. "Now you wouldn't be jealous, would you?" he asked.
"Please!" responded Lois. "Why would I be jealous of Mayson? If she thinks she can put up with your antics, she can have you."
Clark snorted. It was obvious that she was teasing him — and it was just as obvious that she was grateful for the change of mood this new conversation had brought about. "Well, it was worth a shot," he said lightly.
"So Mayson came to see you?" Lois prompted.
"Right. Anyway, she asked if I had taken anything from the Gables file. Apparently, she had gone through it as she was closing the case and had realized how bare it was."
"Hadn't she noticed before?"
"She said that she hadn't started preparing for the case yet, so she didn't realize what the file was like. She was concerned about it. She thought it indicated that someone had been tampering with the file and asked for my help in getting to the bottom of it."
"Why would she want your help?"
"The same reason as Henderson. She said she doesn't know who to trust."
"And you're wondering if we should work with her?" Lois asked, although she was fairly confident that was why he'd brought it up.
"I was thinking about it. I'm just not sure… I mean, do you think we can trust her? Not with you being here, of course, but to help nail Luthor."
"I don't see why not," Lois responded. She really wasn't too keen on Clark working with Mayson, but she suspected her reasons had nothing to do with Mayson's trustworthiness. "After all," she continued, "it's fairly obvious that she's crazy about you. And it could be very helpful to have a source inside the D.A.'s office."
"Yeah, but…" started Clark, but then his voice trailed off. He didn't like the idea of working with Mayson. He suspected she would want more than to work together. However, Lois was right. Mayson could be a powerful ally. "I'll give her a call tomorrow," he said instead.
Lois nodded. She looked at his face one last time before laying down the razor and offering him the towel. He wiped off the remainder of the shaving cream while she went to the washroom and found a mirror.
"So?" she asked, holding up the mirror for him to look into it.
"Wow! I'm impressed. Not a single cut," he said with a grin.
"Oh ye of little faith," Lois responded, quickly stepping away from him again. If it hadn't been for his distracting both of them by talking about Mayson near the end… She trembled for a moment, turning her back to him so that he wouldn't notice. It wasn't fair. If she couldn't make love, why didn't her body didn't seem to understand that.
Not being able to make love hadn't really mattered to her before Clark. Now… Now she wasn't sure anything had mattered to her more. It wasn't the sex — well, at least not totally. It was the fact that she could never allow herself to be more than friends with Clark. It wouldn't be fair to him. And it wouldn't be fair to her either. A lifetime of frustration was not an appealing prospect.
"What do you mean, it didn't leave?" demanded Trask.
"Just that, sir," Brad replied. "The creature went in. They spent the evening together and then the lights went out."
"So Kent's actually sleeping with that thing?" Trask asked in disbelief.
"So what should I do now, sir?"
"I'll be out to relieve you in a half hour or so. You need to get some sleep and then head back into the Daily Planet tomorrow. I'll keep an eye on the apartment. We need to find a way to get close to the creature without it knowing."
"What about the scientist, sir? Did you get a chance to talk to him?"
"He's still working on a better delivery system. But we might have to move before whatever he's cooking up is ready. I don't want it escaping this time."
"Yes, sir. I've been meaning to ask you. Well, if I'm going to the Daily Planet tomorrow, should I report to the base first. I do have a job in the Air Force, after all. Won't they think it's odd if I just don't show up?"
"Oh right. I almost forgot. We're both on leave. We have a week to find a way to bring this to an end — once and for all."
"What will you do then, sir?" Brad asked.
"I don't know, Brad," said Trask. "Probably sleep better at night."
Lois turned over for what felt like the hundredth time since she'd crawled into bed. Glancing at the clock on the night stand, she sighed. It was after eleven- thirty and she still wasn't asleep. Her mind just wouldn't stop. Instead, she kept reliving moments of this evening in her mind. The sound coming from the back of Clark's throat when she'd touch his face. The feel of his hands on her legs. The look on his face as she'd stood in front of him.
She lay there for a moment more before reaching over and turning on the light. She sat up on the edge of her bed. There was no way she was going to be able to sleep. Maybe she should get up. Maybe she'd see if Clark was still awake — see if he was having the same problem sleeping as she was. A good game of gin rummy or an old movie on television. Maybe something like that would help put her to sleep.
She stretched out with her hearing to see if Clark was up. Even though she was alone, she instantly turned bright red and quit listening when she realized that Clark was indeed awake. His labored breathing and her name on his lips told her that clearly enough. She tried not to think about what was happening in the room next to hers, but it wasn't long before it was his name on her lips as her breathing became as labored as his had been.
Lois was back on the computer first thing in the morning. It didn't take long before she found the payment from R.T.W. Inc. to the coroner. It was obvious that R.T.W. was behind all of this. The problem was that she had no way of connecting R.T.W. to Luthor. She got up from the computer and ran her hands through her hair in frustration. She needed a shower — some time away from this to clear her mind. Maybe then she'd be able to come at the problem from a new, and more successful, angle.
Clark called Frank MacKenzie, who called his doctor, Dr. Potestio, who in turn, called Clark. Dr. Potestio told Clark that Frank's symptoms did appear to be consistent with exposure to mustard gas. But there was a difference. This gas wasn't responding to any of the usual methods of detoxification. The doctor speculated that unless they found a decontaminant soon, the damage to Frank's eyes and lungs would be irreparable. He had been in contact with the doctors of the other men who were sick and they all agreed on that point. There was definitely a story here — one which needed to be written now, since it might inspire someone to come forward who had some information that might lead to a treatment.
The problem was that although it seemed likely that the emergency workers had somehow been exposed to mustard gas during the accident at Lex Labs, it was impossible to prove the connection. The doctor who had conducted the autopsies was now claiming that his reports had been lost. Henderson had suggested getting the families to agree to have the bodies exhumed, but had been informed that all of them had been cremated to make sure that whatever they had been exposed to did not injure anyone else. However, the doctor could not remember what they had been exposed to.
Still, Clark decided the story about the mysterious symptoms emergency workers were now experiencing and the similarities between their symptoms and what had been observed by the workers who had been killed in the accident at Lex Labs needed to be written. It did not, could not, draw a direct connection and Clark had to be very careful to insist that doctors really didn't know what was going on. However, anyone reading the article would certainly suspect that Lex Labs was responsible.
He also told a little about mustard gas — using Lois' research on the subject. He talked about its use in chemical warfare and the effect it had on those exposed to it. He even included two pictures with the article. One was a picture from World War One of a line of men who had all been blinded by mustard gas. The second picture was from the police file. It was from the accident at Lex Labs. Clark chose one of the pictures that was less graphic, but it still made the point.
Clark also included a detailed interview with Steven Brockovich in which the councilman told of his office's efforts and determination to find out what had really happened and city council's resolve to do everything it could to see that the individuals suffering these dreadful symptoms received the best possible care and treatment.
Once Clark was finished walking his tight rope between what he believed to be true and what he could prove, he sent the story to Perry, who, in turn, sent it to legal. It was sometime later when Perry came back and informed Clark that, with a few minor changes, the Planet could run it.
Perry and Clark discussed the issue and decided that once the story ran, if Luthor was behind this, he would likely try covering his tracks. So it was essential that someone be staking out Lex Labs when the article came out. Since Lois had to stay out of sight, Perry or Jimmy would accompany Clark. They decided to run the story in the morning edition. However, since it would be seen by a large number of Planet employees before then, it was critical that the stakeout begin when the story went to printing. Perry could delay sending the story down until nine o'clock.
Clark was almost relieved about being on an all night stake out with Jimmy or Perry. It was getting more and more difficult to sleep in the room next to Lois at night. When he'd finished his shower this morning and had left the washroom to head for his room, she'd been there — wearing nothing but an oversized t- shirt. If he didn't get some distance soon, he was certain he'd go mad.
Lois wrapped her hair up in a towel. As she'd had her shower, she'd suddenly had an inspiration. When looking for who R.T.W. was paying, she'd found the information by looking at the finances of suspicious characters and making her way back from their accounts to money dispersed by the company. What if she did that with Luthor? She hadn't been able to get behind R.T.W.'s ownership. But she knew it had to be Luthor. So instead of looking at R.T.W., maybe she should be looking at Lex and working her way back to R.T.W.
She sat back down at the computer. It took a couple of hours, but then she found a connection between Lex Corp and R.T.W. It appeared that the amount of money withdrawn from R.T.W. just after it was incorporated was the same amount that was invested in the newly incorporated Lex Corp. That money then went to purchase Star Labs. It might not be solid proof, but if the two weren't connected, it was one hell of a coincidence.
She leaned back in her chair and smiled. She briefly considered giving Clark a call, but then decided it could wait. After all, there was a risk if she called Clark. Someone at the Planet might recognize her voice when she spoke to reception or she could find herself talking into a bugged phone. It was probably best that she wait until he came home.
She looked at R.T.W's financial records again and let out a breath. She had discovered that there were payments to Gables, Ralph and the coroner. But there were a number of other payments. That probably meant there were other people out there on Luthor's payroll.
Maybe Mayson could get a warrant to force the bank to provide additional information that would tell who… Her thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. No. Still… She bent back over the computer and had soon hacked her way into Mayson's bank records. She was probably just being paranoid, but she was the one who had told Clark that Mayson could be trusted. What could it hurt just to take a quick look? What if her determination not to distrust Mayson because of jealousy had made her trust the enemy?
She studied the printout of Mayson's bank account. Most of it was predictable. Biweekly deposits — probably her pay. Suddenly, Lois' heart was in her throat. Starting about six months ago, there was an additional deposit of eight thousand dollars a month going into Mayson's account. It took Lois a moment to get up the nerve to look at R.T.W.'s records. When she did, she felt her heart sink. There were corresponding withdrawals. Mayson was working for Luthor.
She had to contact Clark. If he told Mayson what they were working on, he would be giving information directly to the enemy. And she had told him to do it!
She felt her hands go clammy as she picked up the phone. She placed a call to the conference room. Clark had said it wasn't bugged. She hoped he was right. Still, she would have to be careful about what she said — just in case. Not only could she tip Luthor off to what they'd discovered, but she could also let him know that she was still here. And if that happened… She shivered slightly. Still, it had to be done. Clark had to know who the enemy was. Otherwise, he could easily be set up.
The phone probably rang a dozen times before it was answered. Lois almost hung up when she realized it wasn't Clark. Then she recognized the voice.
"Perry?" she asked.
"Yes. Is that you…"
"Don't say my name?" Lois said, cutting Perry off. "Is Clark there?"
"No, honey. He had to go out. Is there something I can do for you?"
"I need to get a message to him."
"If you tell me, I'll pass it on."
"Not over the phone, Perry."
Perry was silent for a moment before saying, "How about you write a note? Put it in a sealed envelope. I'll send a runner."
"Do you think that's a good idea, Perry? After all…"
"There's a new guy who just started here yesterday. All he'll know is that he's picking up an envelope at a particular address and bringing it to me."
Lois thought for a moment. If the guy had just started at the Planet, he wouldn't know who she was. It was probably the best option. And the letter could be obscure enough that he still wouldn't know anything if he read the letter. And it was certainly safer than using the phone.
"Okay, Perry. Make sure it gets to Clark immediately."
"Will do," Perry said.
Trask was ecstatic when he got the call from Brad saying what he'd just been told to do. They would never have a better opportunity than this. Since Trask was still parked in front of Kent's apartment, he moved his car around the corner and got out. He went around to the trunk and removed a small lead lined box from the back. He took a quick look inside. It held the smaller of the two pieces of kryptonite. He once again closed the box and the trunk and crawled back into the car to wait for Brad to arrive.
Clark had finally told Henderson their suspicions about Luthor. Henderson took the news better than Clark expected. He was still skeptical that Lex Luthor could be involved in something like this, but he was open to the idea. He was too much of a cynic to buy Luthor's image.
Clark left Henderson and was heading out for his meeting with Mayson Drake when he glanced at his watch. He was about half an hour early.
He growled in frustration. What was he going to do with a half hour?
Trask handed Brad the box with the kryptonite.
"Now the lead should keep the creature from knowing you have kryptonite. Try to get it to let you inside before opening the box. It's best if no one sees us. Of course, if it insists that you stay at the door, you'll have no choice but to open the box early," Trask instructed.
"Where will you be?"
"I'll come in once you've opened the box. I have reason to believe that the creature might know what I look like. If it sees me before you've exposed it to the kryptonite, it will know that something is up. Now, try to look like a bored delivery boy, would you?" he said, pulling the cigarette from Brad's mouth, throwing it to the ground and crushing it under the heal of his shoe.
Lois looked through the door when she heard someone knock. The young man standing outside was exactly what she would have expected. He looked decidedly bored. She studied him until he knocked a second time. When he did, she opened the door.
"I'm here for a pick up for Mr. White," said the young man.
Lois handed him the envelope and was about to close the door when the young man started to cough. She waited to be sure that he was all right. When he finally got a breath, he spoke.
"Do you think I could get a glass of water?" he asked, before coughing again.
Lois hesitated. This wasn't a good idea — letting this man in here. Then she took pity on him.
"Wait here," she said, before going into the kitchen to get a glass of water. When she had finished filling the glass, she turned around. The young man was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "I said wait…" Her voice suddenly died and she dropped the glass as the sharp, shooting pain hit her. She briefly got a glimpse of a glowing, green rock before passing out.
Clark wandered into the Daily Planet. He had decided that since the Planet was on the way, he might as well come back here and try making a phone call or two before his meeting with Mayson. He wanted to ask the supervisor at Lex Corp Ambulance Service who made the decision about which coroner to take the bodies to after the accident at Lex Labs. Chances were that he wouldn't get a straight answer, but at least he had to ask.
He made his way to the conference room and was just picking up the phone when Perry walked in and closed the door.
"What is it Perry?" Clark asked, putting the phone down.
"I got a call from Jessica earlier."
"What?" gasped Clark. He could hardly believe that Lois would risk a phone call. "What did she want?"
"She wouldn't say. I sent a runner who doesn't know her over to pick up the message. I just thought I'd let you know. I expect the runner back in…" Perry glanced at his watch, "fifteen minutes to half an hour."
"I've got a meeting with Mayson Drake in fifteen minutes."
"I'm sure you can get it afterwards," said Perry.
Clark nodded — surely it could wait until after his meeting with Mayson.
The cold water hitting her face revived Lois instantly. She instinctively tried to move and then groaned in pain. She opened her eyes and realized that her hands and feet were bound. She forced her head up. It took her eyes a moment to focus. She could tell that two men were talking, although she couldn't quite make out what they were saying.
She recognized the younger of the two men first. It was the delivery boy. He had a lit cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. But what… Her eyes opened wider in horror when she realized who the man with him was. Trask. She still saw his face — albeit a younger version — in her dreams. Luthor must have contacted the military.
"Well, you're finally awake," said Trask, coming over, grabbing her hair and forcing her into a chair.
"What do you want with me?" Lois managed to choke out through the pain.
"The same thing I've always wanted. I want to know how many of you there are. I want to know what your plan is. I want names, dates and locations. And this time, you aren't going to avoid me." He glanced back over his shoulder. Lois followed his gaze and once again saw the kryptonite.
"Why would I tell you anything? You're just going to kill me anyway," she gasped.
"Because I can make sure your death is quick," he said, walking around behind her. He pulled out a knife and grabbing her hair to pull her head up, placed the knife at her throat. "Or I can make it slow and painful," he hissed into her ear.
Lois pulled in a breath, but didn't respond. What was the point? He was never going to believe that there was no great plot to invade earth.
Trask dropped her head and made his way around her to stand in front. He didn't want to cut her throat. He needed to find a way to make her talk. There was only one way he knew of. The back of his hand landed hard against her cheek.
Lois hadn't known pain in a long time. The pain of exposure to kryptonite combined with the sudden burst of pain caused by his back handing her was momentarily blinding. She fought back the urge to cry out. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
His next hit came to her stomach, doubling her over in her chair. She must have collapsed then, because the next thing she knew, she was lying on the floor while a series of kicks caught her in the chest, stomach and legs. Each blow was interspersed with questions. Lois didn't respond and soon had quit even listening. What was the point? She didn't have any answers that Trask would believe.
Realizing kicking her wasn't producing results, Trask decided he needed a new approach. He glanced over at Brad and noticed the cigarette in his hand. He grabbed it before tearing open Lois' shirt.
Lois screamed the first couple of times Trask touched the cigarette to the bare skin of her chest before the pain of the torture combined with the pain the kryptonite was producing was overwhelming.
"Clark," the name was no more that a whisper on Lois' lips before the welcomed blackness finally overtook her.
Clark glanced up at the clock for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last fifteen minutes. He was going to be late for his meeting with Mayson, but he kept delaying his departure in hopes that the runner would return with the message from Lois before he left.
He knew it must be important for Lois to risk the phones to try to get a message to him. After all, he didn't think he'd ever known anyone more paranoid than Lois. He understood it. Life had always had her looking over her shoulder. And now that Luthor knew… Well, whatever exactly it was that he knew, Lois had been even more cautious.
He suspected her message meant that she'd found some crucial piece of information against Luthor. He thought for a moment before deciding that it would have to wait until later. If he didn't get going now, he was going to be more than just a little bit late. He would get the message when he returned.
He got up out of his chair in the conference room and grabbed his jacket before heading for the elevators. Suddenly, he gasped. It was almost audible — the sound of Lois yelling his name. The sound was accompanied by a great deal of pain.
"You okay, C.K.?" asked Jimmy, seeing Clark stumble slightly before reaching out to grasp the banister.
Clark shook his head slightly, trying to clear it. He took a moment before looking at Jimmy. The feeling was gone.
"Yeah, Jimmy." He gave a snort. "I don't know what happened."
Henderson shook his head as he hung up the phone. That had to be one of the strangest phone calls he had received during his years with the police force. If it wasn't so unusual, he might have been tempted to ignore it. Instead, he glanced at the clock, making note of the time.
"It's still alive," said Trask, using the toe of his boot to push the creature onto its back. "When it comes to, we're going to have to get a little more creative. It's obviously been trained to withstand a beating. Go out to the car and get the things out of the trunk. I brought a number of things with me that should help us get the creature to talk.
Clark pulled the jeep to the shoulder when he saw a young man exit his apartment. He breathed a sigh of relief. Clark had noticed him at the Daily Planet yesterday. He shook his head. That must be the new guy Perry had hired — and whom he'd sent to pick up Lois' message. Perry was going to be mad when he realized how long this guy had taken just to get to Clark's place.
Now that he knew Lois was okay, Clark decided he really should head over for his appointment with Mayson. He could get Lois' message when he got back to the office. After all, he was now really late. Besides, Lois would think he was crazy. He had seriously overreacted. He pulled the jeep back onto the street and headed off for his meeting.
Clark had just turned the corner when curiosity got the best of him. He had to know what was so important that Lois had insisted on having Perry send a runner and since he was right here… Clark drove around the block, parked and got out of the jeep. He'd call Mayson from his apartment and reschedule his appointment with her. He smiled slightly. Lois might think he was crazy, but it was almost lunch time. And he'd much rather eat with Lois than with Mayson.
There was a deli just down the street from his place so he ran in. He picked up a couple of sandwiches and headed across the street to his apartment. He could hardly believe how much he was looking forward to having lunch with Lois. He chuckled slightly to himself. He really had it bad.
As he approached his apartment, he noticed the runner's car was still sitting where it had been earlier. He shook his head. The new guy must have decided to take a lunch break. One thing was for sure — Perry was going to kill him.
Whistling, Clark took the steps to his apartment two at a time. He shifted the bag from the deli into his left hand to free up his right hand so that he could fish in his pocket for his keys. He fumbled with his keys for a moment before opening the door.
"Hi, honey, I'm home," he said with a grin as he stepped into the apartment and closed the door. All he was aware of was a sharp pain to the back of his head before everything went dark.
Luthor was fuming. Nigel still hadn't showed up and Mrs. Cox hadn't been able to find as much as a sign of him. He hadn't showed up at his place last night. And he hadn't bothered showing up for work this morning. He hadn't even called.
Luthor had redirected a lot of his own resources to finding Nigel. It wasn't so much that he was worried about Nigel. It was that Nigel knew a lot about Luthor's business. He couldn't have him falling into the wrong hands.
Luthor looked up when Mrs. Cox entered. "Well?" he demanded.
"Still nothing, Lex," Cox responded apologetically.
Nigel sat down in his cell. He had been offered a chance to make a phone call, but had declined. He didn't think Luthor would take his incarceration well. Even though his detention was for a deportation hearing, Luthor would likely get nervous. After all, more than anyone else, Nigel knew where all the bodies were buried. All of them! Given that, he wasn't sure he'd live through the night should Luthor find out he was in jail.
However, he had to find someway to get out of being deported. MI-6 would be waiting to pick him up should that happen. He couldn't let them get their hands on him. They would undoubtedly find a way to make him regret his betrayal that would make a prison term look like a day at the beach.
He needed to get creative. He needed an idea.
"Well, look at this. They both seem to be coming to at the same time."
These were the first words that Clark heard as he began to regain consciousness. He tried to move his arms, but they didn't seem to be working. It took him a moment to realize that they were tied behind his back and that he was tied to a chair. He tried to lift his head, but the pain caused him to let his head fall back on his chest.
He took a moment before trying again, this time forcing his eyes open. His first sight was of a middle-aged man standing before him with a look of disgust on his face.
"Are you one of them? Or do you simply choose to defy all rules of nature and decency?"
"What…" Clark pulled in a breath. He really wished the pain in his head would abate — that he could think clearly. "What… are you… talking about?" Clark gasped, closing his eyes again at the pain in his head.
The man didn't answer. Instead he picked up a strange green glowing rock and walked towards Clark. He held the rock directly in front of Clark for a moment. Then, as if trying to prove something, headed away from Clark, still holding the rock. Clark watched him go. It was only then that he noticed Lois. She was lying on the floor — barely conscious. One eye was already swollen shut and there was blood on her face, caking the hair on the left side of her head. Her top had been torn and Clark could see what appeared to be cigarette burns between the folds of her shirt.
"Jessica," Clark gasped.
Clark watched as the man made his way over to Lois, still holding the rock.
"Please, no," Lois gasped as he got closer.
The man gave a smile and backed away. He again came over to Clark.
"So then, you're this creature's lover, are you? Have you no sense of decency?"
"Let her go," Clark gasped. "She's done nothing to you."
"No? It's an advance scout for its alien army. And you, Mr. Kent, are a traitor to the people of Earth."
"You have no evidence of that," said Clark. "She's done nothing to you. She just wants to be left alone."
The man snorted. He set down the rock and walked back to Lois. Grabbing her hair, he pulled her to her feet and pushed her back onto a chair. He moved around so that he was standing behind her. Directing her head to look at Clark, he leaned over and spat into her ear.
"So tell me, how do you really feel about your lover? Is it possible for you to have real feelings?" He nodded towards a younger man who came over to Clark. When a knife was placed at Clark's neck, the older man once again spoke. "Will you tell me what I want to know now?" he asked. "Or don't you care if your lover dies?"
"Don't, Trask," Lois begged through the pain. "He has… nothing to… do with this," said Lois, each phrase punctuated by a gasp for breath.
"He's harboring you," Trask corrected.
"There's nobody," Lois said, tears streaming down her face. "I swear… Please, don't… don't kill Clark. I'd tell you… Don't… Please… I'm last." Suddenly, she had an idea. "The globe," she said. "My father… There was a globe… It proves… I'm alone."
Trask came around in front of her. "I've seen it," he said.
"Then you know…" Lois started.
"It's all part of the plot. Your planet sent that to throw me off the track," he said.
"You're mad," Lois gasped, struggling with all her strength against the ropes holding her.
Trask pulled a gun from inside his jacket. "Maybe, but right now, you will tell me what I want to know, or you'll watch your lover die." He pointed the gun at Clark.
Brad stepped away from Clark to avoid being shot if the bullet went right through Clark. Clark immediately commenced struggling as well.
"This is your last chance," said Trask. "Tell me what I want to know, or watch your lover die." With those words he stepped closer to Clark and cocked the gun.
"No!" screamed Lois, hurling herself as hard as she could towards Trask. The ropes, however, held and she collapsed on the floor. She looked at Clark, knowing it was for the last time. Their eyes met, communicating more of their love than any words possibly could.
"Metropolis P.D.," came a voice behind Trask. "Don't move!"
Trask froze for only a moment before spinning towards the voice. A gun immediately sounded in the apartment and Trask dropped to the floor.
Lois and Clark looked at the man standing in the doorway, gun drawn.
"Henderson," Clark gasped, when he recognized the man standing there. "Well, you certainly took your time."
"You said if you didn't call in half an hour to come. I waited half an hour. How was I supposed to know that you could get yourself into so much trouble so quickly?" Henderson responded, gun still raised as he approached the man lying on the floor. He jabbed him slightly with his foot, but the man didn't move. Cautiously, he bent down and placed his fingers on the man's throat. "He's dead," Henderson announced.
Clark glanced over at Lois. When she had tried to throw herself at Trask, she'd also thrown herself closer to the green rock. As a result, she had passed out. Henderson had obviously not seen the rock. Clark had to get it out of here.
"Do you think…" Clark said, gesturing his head in such a way as to remind Henderson that he was still bound.
"Oh, sorry," said Henderson, coming over and untying Clark first.
"Where did the other man go?" asked Clark.
"Who?" asked Henderson, finally undoing Clark's bonds and moving on to Lois.
"There was a second man here," Clark said, while quickly making his way to the rock. He flinched slightly from the pain in his head, but kept moving. He had to get that rock away from Lois.
"Did he have a gun?"
Clark shook his head, discreetly picking up the green rock. He saw the small metal box sitting nearby and stuck it in there. He had no choice but to let Henderson tend to Lois. He knew that it was absolutely crucial to get this deadly substance as far away from Lois as he could without raising Henderson's suspicions. After all, given Lois' reaction to it, it had to be kryptonite.
Clark slipped the box containing the rock under the edge of his jacket and, turning away from Henderson so that he wouldn't see, darted into his bedroom. "I'm going to check to see if the other man's in here," he said before Henderson could stop him. He quickly made his way to the far side of the room and stuck the closed box in his night stand on the far side of his bed. He hoped that was far enough away until he had a chance to dispose of it. He then grabbed a blanket off his bed and rushed back to the other room.
"Was he there?" asked Henderson, gently supporting Lois as he finished unbinding her hands and feet. While tending to Lois, Henderson kept his eyes open for the other man.
Clark shook his head and came over to Lois.
"Are you okay with her?" Henderson asked. When Clark nodded, Henderson went to see if he could find a second man. He kept his gun drawn as he checked out the second bedroom and the kitchen. He had just gotten to the door of the apartment as a car sped around the corner.
"Jess?" Clark asked softly, gently wrapping the blanket around her. In response, she groaned. He let out a sigh of relief. At least she was still alive. He leaned over and gently kissed her forehead, but didn't dare move her without knowing where she'd been hurt.
Lois' eye was completely swollen over. Clark checked for the source of the blood on the side of her face and noticed a gash beneath her hairline. It had quit bleeding, so Clark gently moved the hair aside and checked the cut. It appeared to be fairly superficial. He had heard somewhere that head wounds tended to bleed a lot.
He carefully moved the edge of her shirt to check out her other injuries. He could see the dark shadow of a bruise running down her left side and a number of cigarette burns. Other than that, she didn't appear to have any serious injuries. He pulled the blanket further around her, once again covering her.
"Jess?" he asked again.
Her eyelids flickered for a moment before she opened them. "Clark," she breathed in relief.
"Where does it hurt?" asked Clark.
Lois gave him a pained smile before saying, "Where doesn't it hurt?"
"Can you sit?"
She closed her eyes for a moment before nodding. With his assistance, she moved into a seated position just in time to hear Henderson calling for back-up. He was also requesting an ambulance. Lois looked at Clark with obvious anxiety in her one open eye.
"Maybe you should get checked out, Jess?" Clark whispered.
"I can't, Clark," she responded, in equally hushed terms.
Clark let out an audible breath, before nodding. "She's okay, Henderson," he called to the cop. "I don't think it's necessary to call an ambulance."
Henderson didn't cancel the request. Instead he hung up the phone and came over.
"Head wounds can be tricky," he said. "I really think you should get checked out."
"But, Henderson…" began Lois.
Henderson held up a hand. "I need an ambulance for him anyway," Henderson said, pointing to Trask. Technically, it wasn't true. He should be calling a coroner. But he didn't want to cancel the call for an ambulance — in case he could convince Jessica to change her mind. "Just think about it while we wait for them to arrive."
Seeing no way to change Henderson's mind, Lois nodded.
"How are you?" she asked Clark.
"Fine. I have a headache from where they hit me on the head to knock me out, but other than that…"
"You should get checked out too, Kent," said Henderson. "If you were hit hard enough to be knocked out, you could have a concussion."
"I'm fine, Henderson," Clark insisted before turning his attention back to Lois.
"Why don't we get you somewhere more comfortable?"
Lois nodded, but when she tried to stand up she couldn't seem to do it. Clark immediately picked her up in his arms. She tried to object that he'd been injured too, but when he still didn't set her down, she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder.
"I do need to ask you some questions," Henderson pointed out, before Clark could carry her to her room.
"Can't she do this later?" asked Clark.
Henderson took a look at the battered woman in Clark's arms and nodded. Clark immediately turned towards Lois' room. Once he arrived at her bed, he shifted her in his arms to free up one of his hands. He pulled down the covers and laid her gently on the bed. He was about to leave when Lois' hand on his arm stopped him. He took a seat beside her on the bed.
They stared into each other's eyes in silence for what seemed like an eternity, before Lois reached up to pull his head down to gently kiss him on the cheek. When the kiss ended and Clark moved back, his eyes held a question. When he was about to voice it, Lois broke eye contact and shook her head. He let out an audible breath.
"Was that Jason Trask?" Clark asked after taking a quick look over his shoulder to be sure Henderson wasn't standing in the doorway.
"How did he find you?"
"I don't know. Lex must have contacted them or something."
"I'm going to get rid of that rock," he whispered. When she nodded, he continued, "What do you want me to tell Henderson?"
"As little as possible?" she asked.
He nodded before heading back into the living room.
"So," said Henderson when he arrived, "do you want to tell me exactly what happened here?"
"Can't we do this later?" Clark asked. "I'd like to get some medical supplies to take care of Jessica's injuries."
"I at least need to know who the dead guy is," he said.
Clark nodded. "His name is Jason Trask. He's in the Air Force, I think."
"Why was he after you and Ms. Miller?"
"He's apparently been… umm, obsessed with Jessica for years." When Henderson looked as if he was about to question him further, Clark continued, "I really don't know the reasons. Listen, you're going to be here 'til the ambulance gets here, right?"
"Could you keep an eye on her? I'll be back in a few minutes." Before Henderson could respond, Clark went to his room and got the rock. He then headed to the closet by the door of his apartment. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that Henderson wasn't looking before taking out his hammer. A moment later, he was gone, although he did hear Henderson as he left the apartment.
"The paramedics will have medical supplies for Ms. Miller. You should get checked out too, Kent. Kent? Kent?"
Clark didn't even look back. There was only one thought on his mind. He had to get rid of the kryptonite. As long as it was here, it was a threat to Lois.
It was late afternoon by the time Henderson finished up at Clark's apartment. Instead of heading back to the station, he made his way to the Air Force base just outside the city. He asked to speak to Jason Trask's commanding officer and was taken to the office of Brigadier General Burton Newcombe. Henderson didn't know if Trask had any family. Surely the General could help him with that — as well as, perhaps, helping him understand what had happened in Kent's apartment earlier.
"General," said Henderson, offering the man his hand.
"Inspector," Newcombe responded, taking Trask's hand and briefly shaking it. He gestured the police officer to a chair before settling back behind his desk. "What is it that I can do for you?"
"You have a Jason Trask under you?" Henderson asked.
"Yes," Newcombe responded cautiously. "Colonel Jason Trask. What about him?"
"Jason Trask was killed today," Henderson responded.
"He was about to kill two reporters for the Daily Planet. A Clark Kent and a Jessica Miller. When I tried to stop him, he turned on me. I had no choice but to kill him."
"Two reporters?" asked Newcombe in disbelief. What on earth had Trask been thinking? Newcombe knew that Trask was still conducting his own little operation to find a Lois Lane. But what did Kent and Miller have to do with it? Unless… "Miller?" he asked. "She's fairly new at the paper isn't she?"
"Do you know something?" asked Henderson.
"Perhaps," said Newcombe. "Listen, let me do a little research. I'll get back to you first thing in the morning."
Henderson narrowed his eyes. He was certainly getting enough people telling him to wait until tomorrow. What was it about this that didn't make sense?
"I was told that Trask had an obsession or something for Miller. Do you know anything about that?"
Newcombe studied Henderson. If Trask had an obsession for anyone, it was Lois Lane. Could it be… "I'll have a better idea tomorrow, Inspector," Newcombe responded.
Trask studied the man for a moment more before nodding. If he didn't get some answers that he believed tomorrow, he was going to have to start forcing the issue. In the meantime, it was getting late in the afternoon, and Trask wasn't going anywhere.
"By the way," said Henderson, "there was another man involved in this too. Would you happen to know who that might be?"
"I really don't. But I'll tell you what. If you can give me until tomorrow, I'll see what I can find out."
"Look, Inspector. I do have some ideas, but I'd really like to check them out before sharing them with you. Don't worry. I'm not going to have the Daily Planet claiming that the Air Force is obstructing justice. I'll talk to you about my suspicions tomorrow." Newcombe didn't want to share his suspicions before he knew something more concrete. After all, Trask had been left alone to pursue his UFO madness because of the problems he could cause for the Air Force. Newcombe had to make sure that, whatever else happened, that other matter didn't get out.
"Okay," said Henderson. "Oh, by the way, who should I notify about Trask's death?"
"Trask didn't have any family," Newcombe responded. "As his superior officer, I'll make sure his affairs are taken care of."
Lois rolled over in bed. It was dark. She had slept for hours. She glanced over at the clock. It was just after eleven. She tried to listen to see if Clark was still awake, but her powers had not yet returned.
The ambulance had arrived while Clark was out getting rid of the kryptonite. She'd have to ask him tomorrow where he put it. When she refused to go to the hospital, the paramedics had tended to her injuries. When Clark had returned with medical supplies, he'd been informed by Henderson that they weren't needed.
Lois switched on a light and went to the mirror in her room. She looked at herself. Her eye was still black and blue, but her injuries were obviously healing more quickly than normal — just as her father had always said they would. And she was no longer having difficulty breathing, which indicated that her ribs were healing. She ran her hand over the ribs and found that there was no pain in doing so. The cigarette burns now looked as if they had happened some time ago. She reached up and removed the butterfly bandages under her hairline.
She focused again on her face. Her hair was a mess. She picked up a brush and pulled it through her hair. She let out a small cry when the brush encountered a knot. She had forgotten that it could hurt to brush her hair.
Suddenly, the implications of her current situation sunk in. 'Calm down,' she told herself firmly. 'You might be wrong.' She grabbed her robe and made her way to the kitchen. The house was dark and the door to Clark's room was closed. She glanced briefly at the door before proceeding to her destination.
When she arrived, she opened a drawer and withdrew a paring knife. She held it to the palm of her hand for a moment, taking a deep breath, before giving a small jab. It broke the skin. She was indeed vulnerable.
Of course, given how quickly she was already healing… That meant this had to be done tonight. Her stomach was suddenly doing back flips. Okay, so what should she do now? She ran her tongue around her mouth. It tasted like the inside of a bird cage — not that she'd ever tasted the inside of a bird cage. Well, that answered the question of what to do first. She headed for the washroom.
Brad sat in his room in the barracks, the remaining piece of kryptonite clutched in his hands as tears slipped slowly down his cheeks. He felt such incredible guilt. He had watched his hero die and had done nothing to avenge him. He still didn't know what he could have done without a gun, but he should have done something.
Instead, when he'd seen his hero fall, he'd snuck out of the apartment with his tail between his legs — praying not to be seen. The cop had been too busy worrying about Colonel Trask to notice him and Kent had been looking at the creature. How could Kent give himself to that thing? The idea was disgusting. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of that revolting image.
There was only one thing left to do. He had made a promise to Trask. He would keep that promise if it was the last thing he ever did. But first he'd contact the scientist Trask had said was working on a delivery system for the kryptonite. It was obvious the creature wasn't going to talk. That meant there was only one thing left to do. He had to kill it. Maybe then Colonel Trask could rest in peace.
Lois stood in the open doorway to Clark's room for a long time watching him sleep. She smiled slightly in spite of how nervous she felt. He was so completely adorable. It occurred to her that this was probably the first time she'd ever seen him without his glasses.
Her mind drifted to what she was here to do and for a moment she almost turned and left. She loved Clark and she believed he loved her too, but this… She swallowed hard. She had never really let herself think about making love to Clark — at least not as a real possibility. Now, here she was, about to do it. She wasn't sure if she was excited or just plain terrified. After all, she had only ever kissed Clark once. Other than waking up to find a strange man on top of her when she was fifteen, kissing Clark was the farthest she'd gone with a man.
Finally, working up the courage, she let her robe fall to the floor and approached. She took a deep breath before pulling back the covers and crawling in next to him. She would probably be fleeing from here tomorrow. After all, the military now knew where she was. She might have a day or two before she'd be on the run again.
In fact, she probably should be leaving now. But this was her one chance. She was vulnerable. If she didn't take advantage of that fact now, she would never have a chance for a future with anyone. Oh, how she wished it could be with Clark. At least her first time with a man could be with him. She tried to keep her mind focused on that fact.
She smiled slightly as she looked down at his sleeping face. There was one thing for which she was grateful at this moment — at least this was Clark. She knew he would never hurt her. She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. Just like the fairy tales promised, he woke.
"What?" he asked.
She placed her fingers over his lips, silencing him, before once again leaning over and kissing him as her hands nervously began trailing over his t-shirt clad chest. She deepened the kiss, reminding herself of the reason she was doing this.
Clark's first thought was that he was dreaming. After all, it wasn't as if he hadn't had this dream before. He sat up slightly before wrapping his arms around Lois to flip her over onto the bed under him. It was only then that his mind seemed to register that this was no dream. With that realization, he felt a rush of blood away from his head and for a few minutes was incapable of any rational thought. All he knew was that if he wasn't dreaming, it was a dream come true. The woman he loved was lying under him, responding to his touches and kisses with her own.
However, Clark suddenly became aware that her touches and kisses, unlike his, held something in them other than love and desire. She seemed… desperate was the word that came to mind. What was going on here? What was she doing in his bed in the middle of the night? He pulled back slightly to ask, only to find that her grip on him tightened. Desperate was the word that again invaded his consciousness. This time when he tried to pull back, he succeeded. He looked down into her eyes. She looked determined rather than passionate.
"What… What is going on here?" he gasped, struggling for breath.
"I'm vulnerable, Clark," Lois said, pulling herself up to him and burrowing her face in his neck.
Lois' words didn't even register. At the feeling of her nuzzling his neck, Clark groaned. He pushed her back onto the bed and again found her mouth while his hands began trailing over her sides. Still, something just didn't seem right. This seemed… forced. His mind couldn't seem to put the pieces together.
"Wait, wait, wait," he gasped pulling away from her again while his mind fought against the urgent messages his body was beginning to send him. "Are you saying you want us to make love?"
"I would have thought that was clear enough," she replied, before trying to pull him back down to her.
"Wait," Clark gasped, preventing her from succeeding in pulling him back to her.
"What?" asked Lois, frustrated by all this talk when she just wanted to get on with this. It never even occurred to her to question her feelings about doing this. She was with Clark. She loved him. She had to make love tonight or accept that she would never be able to make love. So, what was holding him up? Why was he insisting on talking?
"I need to hear you say…" his voice trailed off as he struggled to figure out what he needed to know. "Do you love me?" he finally asked. He knew something about this scenario wasn't right, but his blood deprived, still groggy mind, couldn't seem to figure out what. Maybe she didn't love him. Maybe that was what seemed wrong about this.
She responded to his question by swallowing hard and looking down. She had already realized that her time here was limited. She had already accepted that this would probably be the only time she would ever be with Clark. She didn't want to tell him she loved him — it would seem too much as if she was making a promise — a promise she knew she couldn't keep. On the other hand, she wouldn't lie to him — not about something like this.
"I can't promise anything beyond tonight," she said instead of answering his question. She looked up into his eyes before continuing, "But we can have tonight."
Clark closed his eyes, his heart breaking. It wasn't enough. He fought against the yearnings of his body. He was so completely in love with this woman. As a result, he had no doubt that waking up tomorrow after spending the night making love to discover that it didn't mark the beginning of a relationship, would destroy him.
He pulled away from her and raised himself into a seated position. He swung his feet off the bed to sit on the edge. He didn't look at her as he spoke. "I can't," he said, even as his body yelled that he could.
When she reached out and touched his back, he jumped away, as if burned by her touch. She could hardly believe that he was rejecting her, but he was. Lois sat in stunned silence for a moment. It had never occurred to her that Clark might not want to make love with her. Her heart broke.
She had never before offered herself to a man and it had certainly never crossed her mind that if she did, she'd be turned down. But that wasn't the worst part. This was her one chance to make love. If she didn't do this now, there would be no second chance. That meant… She gave a sad sob before making an impulsive decision. If Clark didn't want to make love to her, she had to find someone else. She was instantly out of Clark's bed and on the way to her room.
Clark sat in silence on the edge of his bed, not sure what to do now. He gave his body a moment to calm down. Once that happened, he would go to her room so that they could talk. He knew he needed to tell her why he couldn't do this. But before he had that chance, he heard her heading across the apartment, obviously on her way to the door. He leapt out of bed and headed out of his room.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
Her hand stopped on the doorknob. "To Casey's," she responded, not turning to look at him — afraid that if she looked into his beloved face, she'd be unable to go through with her intended course of action.
"Clark, this is my one chance to… You know. I can't let it pass," she said, a sob in her throat. Before he could respond, she was gone.
Clark stared in disbelief at the door for a moment. What was she talking about? Suddenly, he understood. Being woken up in the way he had been, her comments hadn't sunk in. She had said that she was vulnerable. The significance of that statement had eluded him. He pulled in a sharp breath when it finally sunk in what she had been telling him.
Suddenly, he also understood what she was saying about Casey's and this being her one chance. She was planning to have a one night stand with some stranger. Not that he had any right to complain. He'd had enough of those in his time, but… Oh, God! What had he done?
Perry and Jimmy sat in Perry's car near the loading docks at Lex Labs. Since Clark called this afternoon to say that he couldn't make it, Perry decided to give Jimmy his first stakeout experience. Perry did wonder exactly what could have been so important that Clark would have cancelled. Clark refused to say anything about it over the phone. Still, Perry would certainly demand an explanation tomorrow.
Perry reached over and inserted the tape into the car's tape deck.
"Now, this is music," he said as strains of 'Jailhouse Rock' wafted through the car.
Jimmy would much rather be listening to Pearl Jam, but how could he tell that to his boss?
"Great choice," Jimmy said.
"Do you want another cup of coffee?" Perry asked, picking up the thermos and pouring himself another cup.
"No," Jimmy said.
They sat in silence for about fifteen minutes, listening to one Elvis tune after another.
"Is it always this boring on stakeouts?" asked Jimmy.
Perry laughed. "Well, let me tell you about the time…"
Jimmy took a deep breath. He wasn't sure which was worse: listening to Elvis tunes or hearing Perry stories.
Lois sat at the bar nursing her glass of wine. She knew why she was here, but everything inside her rebelled against what she knew she had to do. She shivered slightly. What she wanted to do was go home — home to Clark. The problem was that he had made it clear that he wasn't interested in sleeping with her. It must be because she was an alien. Trask's comments must have sunk in. She had really believed it didn't matter to him. How could she have misjudged his feelings for her so badly? And if she didn't do this tonight…
Still, part of her had almost felt relieved when Clark had turned her down. What was that all about? She had one chance and a man she adored. What more could she possibly want? Unable to figure out her bizarre reaction, she pushed the thought to the back of her mind and focused on what she had to do now.
She pulled in an involuntary jagged breath. His rejection had brought her here — looking for a one night stand. It was a hard reality to accept — especially since Clark was the only man she'd ever wanted. He was the only man she'd ever kissed. She had never even considered picking up a strange man in a bar. Of course, until tonight that wasn't an option. But even if it had been, she didn't think she was the type who could take something like this lightly.
She suddenly realized that she really wasn't even exactly sure what she was supposed to do now. She had, after all, never tried to pick up a man. However, before that became a serious concern…
"Hey, babe," came an unfamiliar male voice beside her.
Lois felt a man take a seat at the bar. What she really wanted to do right now was to get out of here as fast as possible. Still, she forced a smile onto her face and looked at the man beside her. She studied him for a moment. Okay, so he was sort of cute. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a bright red shirt. He had a chin which Lois would have described as chiseled and eyes that seemed warm. His dark hair was short and curly.
"Hi," she said.
The man smiled. "I'm Daniel Scardino," he informed her. In spite of her black eye as well as a number of cuts and scrapes, Dan found himself very interested in the woman beside him. After all, with a body as great as hers, almost anything else could be forgiven.
"Hi, Daniel," she responded.
"What? Don't I even get to know your name?"
"Jessica," Lois said. "Jessica… Kent." For some reason, she didn't want him to know her real — or quasi real — name and 'Kent' was the first name that came to mind. Of course, she hoped he didn't use it. After all, every time he did, she would be reminded of who she really wanted to be with. And given what she was considering doing with this man…
"Would you let me buy you a drink?" he asked.
"I have one," Lois replied automatically. Then, realizing how that sounded, she continued, "But I'd love to dance."
Dan smiled again. He quickly got up and offered her his hand. Given her injuries, Dan suspected she was here to get away from an abusive husband or boyfriend. He glanced at her left hand, and let out a sigh of relief. There were no rings and no indentations or discoloring that indicated that any were usually there — not that his intentions would have changed if there had been. He led her out to the dance floor and took her in his arms. Maybe if he played his cards right and got really lucky…
Lois pushed down her feelings that she was betraying Clark. Clark didn't want her. This man, Dan… something or other, on the other hand, seemed to. And if she ever wanted to have a real life, she had to do this. Still, she closed her eyes trying to pretend that it was Clark holding her. It worked for a moment, but then she took a breath. This man didn't smell like Clark. She bit her lower lip in an effort to keep herself from bolting from this man's arms.
"Are you okay?" asked Dan. "I mean, we don't have to dance. We could always just talk."
"No, I'm okay," Lois jumped in. She fell silent as she tried to figure out what she was supposed to do now. Suddenly, she remembered the young woman who had tried to pick Clark up in this same bar a few months before. She reached up and placed her hand on the back of Dan's head and pulled his head down so that she could whisper in his ear. "After this dance, what do you say we go back to your place?" she asked, her voice trembling slightly.
Dan pulled back slightly. "Are you sure?" he asked, almost unable to believe what she seemed to be saying.
She didn't look at him as she nodded.
"We can do that," Dan responded, his hand drifting lower down her back.
Her resulting shudder confused Dan. She had just invited herself back to his place to… Well, he figured he knew what she wanted to do. So why did she seem so nervous about it? Suddenly, he realized the problem.
"He hurt you didn't he," Dan said.
"What?" Lois asked, looking up at him.
He removed his hand from hers to gently touch her face next to her black eye. She immediately looked away. She really didn't want to talk about this. Let Dan think whatever he wanted. In fact, she really didn't want him to know anything about her. She also didn't want to know anything about him. She just wanted… What she wanted was Clark. She gave a small snob. In response, Dan pulled her closer. She stiffened in his arms. She couldn't do this. No matter what it did to the rest of her life, this just felt too wrong.
"Are you sure you're okay?" asked Dan again.
"I think this is my dance," said a man's voice behind Dan.
"I don't think so," Dan responded, glancing over his shoulder to see the man behind him.
"Jess," said Clark softly.
Lois let out a small sob when her eyes landed on Clark.
Dan gave his own interpretation to the sound coming from the woman in his arms. He released her and turned around, putting himself between her and the man.
"I think it's time you left," Dan told the man now in front of him.
"Daniel," said Lois.
"I think that's up to the lady," Clark responded, narrowing his eyes at Dan.
Lois watched as the two men eyed each other and was immediately struck by how much they looked like two wild animals, about to fight over the female of their species. She knew if she didn't find a way to get them calmed down, this was going to escalate.
"Daniel, it's okay," said Lois.
"No, it isn't," responded Dan. "I'm not letting him hit you again."
"What?" gasped Clark.
Dan moved into a defensive stance. "I mean it. You have no right to hit a woman. So why don't you just turn around and get out of here before I decide to show you what it feels like to get hit?"
"What?" Clark asked again.
"Daniel, it's okay," said Lois, laying a hand on his arm. "It wasn't him."
"Umm… oh," he responded.
"Do you mind?" Clark asked.
"Do I mind what?" Dan said.
"I'd like to dance with the lady," Clark said, gesturing to Lois.
"Do you want to dance with him?" Dan asked, looking back at Lois.
Lois hesitated. Clark had, after all, made it quite clear that he wasn't interested in her. There was only one reason he could be here — to prevent her from doing what she had told him she was coming here to do. Maybe she couldn't go through with it, but that didn't give him any right to try to stop her.
"I'm not sure she wants to dance with you," Dan said, taking Lois in his arms again.
"I don't really blame her," responded Clark, no longer talking for Dan's benefit. "After all, tonight I made the dumbest decision I've ever made in my entire life."
"Really," said Dan.
"Yeah. In fact, I wouldn't blame her if she never forgave me. The problem is that I am head over heals in love with her."
"Really," said Dan again.
"Really?" asked Lois, pulling herself out of Dan's arms.
Clark's eyes met Lois'. He nodded. It was only one small sob more before she was in Clark's arms. He pulled back only far enough to claim ownership of her mouth.
"I knew I couldn't be that lucky," muttered Dan before skulking off the dance floor.
Lois and Clark didn't hear his comment. Nor did they notice his departure. They were too lost in exploring each other's mouths.
"Wake up, son," said Perry.
"Just fifteen minutes more, Mom," muttered Jimmy.
"Wake up," Perry repeated, grabbing Jimmy's camera and beginning to snap pictures.
"Where's the fire?" Jimmy asked, finally coming awake.
"There's something happening," Perry explained, gesturing towards the back doors of Lex Labs.
Jimmy looked to see a large truck that had pulled up to the doors. The light from inside the building revealed a number of men loading drums into the truck. Just then a woman stepped into view, watching the activity closely. The woman was a dark, attractive woman in a short skirt. Jimmy whistled softly while Perry snapped several pictures in quick succession.
"What do we do now?" asked Jimmy.
"We wait, Jimmy. They're taking those drums somewhere. If Clark's right, those drums are filled with an advanced form of mustard gas. We need to know where they're taking it."
Clark wrapped one of his arms around Lois' waist from behind as they made their way up the stairs to his apartment. His head came down so that he could nibble lightly on her neck.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed, glancing around nervously to make sure no one was watching. She relaxed slightly — if that was the right word — when she noticed the streets were empty.
When he failed to abandon his exploration of her neck, she reached under the flower pot and removed the key. She struggled to get the key in the door, but every time she came close, his lips would find another particularly sensitive spot and she'd have to start over.
Clark noticed the difficulty she was having and made it worse. He wrapped his second arm around her before pulling her hard against him. "You can do it," he encouraged into her ear. Then when she tried, he ran his tongue slowly around the rim of her ear. When she whimpered, he smiled. "Come on, Jess. Open the door. You can do it. I know you can." As soon as the words were spoken, Clark went back to investigating her neck.
"Clark," she said in frustration when she still couldn't manage to fit the key into the lock.
He laughed. Then, without releasing her, he placed one of his hands over hers and, together, they managed to get the door unlocked. They tumbled together into the room, stumbling apart as they did — both laughing. Then their eyes met and the laughter died.
Suddenly, Lois was nervous. As if he sensed the change in her mood, Clark stepped up and gently placed a hand under her chin. He raised her chin to look in her eyes.
"Relax," he said softly. "It's just me."
She gave him a soft smile. She knew it was just him, but she'd never done this before. In fact, the most she'd ever done with a man was kiss — and all of that had been with Clark — and most of that had been done tonight.
"We don't have to do this," said Clark.
"If we don't…" Lois began.
"It won't be the end of the world."
Lois smiled, her hand coming up to his face. "I want to make love to you. It's just… Well, could we take this slowly."
Clark chuckled. "Sure. So," he began, taking her hand and leading her further into the apartment, "do you want to dance? Or maybe we could just watch a little T.V."
"T.V. sounds good," said Lois. She knew she was just making a bid for time, but she was nervous. Dancing would be a little too close to what they would be doing soon.
Clark turned on the televison and took a seat on the couch. When she continued to stand there, he tapped the couch next to him. She took a moment before slowly sitting down beside him. His arm immediately slipped around her, pulling her up to rest against him. She stiffened for a moment before forcing herself to relax. If there was one thing she knew, it was that she trusted the man holding her.
Clark waited until he felt her begin to run her fingers over his arms before speaking. He knew instinctively not to rush her. He had to wait for her to come to him. When she'd left for Casey's and he'd realized what she was planning to do, one of his first thoughts was that he didn't want her first experience to be with someone who would hurt her. He wanted her memories of her first time to be special. But that meant, he had to wait until she was ready.
"You have no idea how many times I've wanted to do this," Clark whispered into her ear.
"Do what?" asked Lois, although she suspected he was going to say something about them making love. She was surprised by his response.
"Snuggle up with you. In front of a television. In front of a fire. It never really mattered. I just wanted so badly to be able to hold you."
She turned in his arms, to look in his eyes. He was obviously being sincere. Unable to help herself, she moved closer so that she could kiss him. He wrapped his arms around her, returning the kiss. Her arms ran slowly up his chest and around his neck. She buried her hands in the hair on the back of his head and deepened the kiss. It wasn't long before the only thing she was aware of was his arms holding her close and the feel of his lips and tongue interacting with hers.
"Umm… Jess," said Clark breathlessly, breaking the kiss.
She opened her eyes in confusion. "What?" she asked, struggling to catch her breath.
He looked down.
She followed his gaze and suddenly realized that they were floating about a foot off the couch. She gasped, quickly bringing them back down. Her powers were back, but did that mean…
"Clark, my face," she said, obvious anxiety in her voice.
"What about it?" asked Clark.
"Is my eye still black and blue?"
Suddenly, Clark understood where she was going with this. "No," he said softly.
She immediately pushed herself off him, got up off the couch and headed for the kitchen. He followed and then watched as she picked up a knife and pressed it against her palm. After a moment, she gave a sob of anguish. He came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and laying his head against the side of hers. She glanced over at him before demonstrating for him what she'd just discovered. She pushed the point of the knife against the palm of her hand. The knife bent under the strain, but didn't break her skin.
He closed his eyes. If only he hadn't turned her away when she'd climbed into his bed earlier… He pulled her closer.
She spun around, breaking his hold on her. Her fears when they returned to his apartment had ruined everything. She had put off the main event too long. If only… "The kryptonite, Clark. Where is it?"
"What? Jess, what are you planning?"
"Where is it?" she demanded again.
"That's crazy! I saw what that stuff did to you. Do you really think I'm going to let you…"
"Where is it, Clark?"
"I destroyed it," said Clark. When she looked at him in disbelief, he continued, "I used my hammer to grind it into powder. It broke up easily. Then I took the powder and sprinkled it from Metropolis Bridge. Jess, it's fish food." At the heartbreaking look that crossed her face, he pulled her into his arms. "It's okay," said Clark softly.
She once again broke out of his hold. Looking him dead in the eyes, she said, "No, Clark. It's not okay!" With those words, she fled for the safety of her room.
Clark stood in shock, watching her go. He cringed slightly when the door to her room slammed.
THE END OF PART TWO
Don't worry. If everything goes as planned, part three (the final part) will be posted next week.