By Crystal Wimmer <JCWimmer@aol.com>
Submitted: April 2001
Summary: A continuation of the author's "Full Circle." Lois gets closer to her and Clark's investigation about missing children than she would have thought, leading to the reappearance of an old enemy. And all of this while looking after their baby, CJ!
This story follows my Full Circle continuity … so if you have no clue where this baby (CJ) came from or why he's still there, you'll have to go read that one <bg>. My apologies for the extensive A-plot. This reads more like an episode than one of my usual stories… I think I'm out of practice at WAFF.
Much thanks goes to Anne Ciotola, for her endless patience. I think it's been over two years since I wrote anything L&C, and yet she never stopped asking, never gave up on me. That's what friends are all about. Love ya, Anne :)
At the request of the Archive, I would like to forewarn you now that this story contains a WHAM which may be distressing to some people … it is no more distressing than what you find in Smart Kids or many other episodes, but present all the same. You have been warned.
Lois sighed as she carried CJ off the elevator and into the Daily Planet City Room. Once more, she cursed a baby's need to eat every few hours during growth spurts, and her lack of sleep the night before. Still, she wouldn't call-off work for anything less than an emergency. While she was tired and achy, this certainly couldn't be considered emergent.
She negotiated her way through friends and co-workers, then breathed another relieved sigh as she closed the door behind her in the conference room. They were certainly well meaning, but the other reporters required more energy than she had at the moment. Placing CJ on a chair, and blocking a potential fall with one leg, she reached for the telephone and dialed.
A familiar voice answered her. "Hello?"
"Hi Martha," she smiled into the phone, relieved all over again. "I need help."
She heard her mother-in-law's giggle at her admission. Lois Lane still had a hard time admitting she needed help, and it gave her family some humor when she did so. "What is it, Honey? You sound exhausted!"
"I am exhausted," Lois admitted. "CJ's growing again. He was up four times last night for food. I swear that can't be normal. Then, when I went by the sitter's this morning, she's had the worst case of food poisoning that I've ever seen. Her husband is taking her to the hospital, and I know she'll be out of commission for at least a couple of days. On top of that, I think I hurt my back when I ran yesterday, and CJ refuses to let me put him down for more than a minute, so I know that I'll never get anything done today!"
"Sounds like you *could* use some help," Martha offered, a smile evident in her voice. "I take it my son's not available?"
"The UN is meeting this week to re-establish the Turkish boarder regulations, so Clark needed to cover it. Besides, Superman is always helpful for keeping negotiations within reason."
"That he is. So, do we need to fly, or can you wait for us to drive out?" Martha inquired.
"I'll call Clark," Lois put in quickly. "He carries the pager now, and I'm sure he will have time for a quick trip to get you here. I hate for you to spend so much money on tickets."
Martha laughed lightly. "Well, Dear, the farm's had a really good year so it wouldn't be much of a problem. Isn't that a wonderful change?"
"Absolutely," Lois agreed. "Be on the lookout for him in a couple of hours, unless I call and tell you otherwise."
"We'll do that," Martha promised. "See you soon. We love you!"
"You too Martha," Lois said softly. "And thanks."
Lois held the telephone for a moment, even after Martha had hung up her end, then she finally laid the receiver back in it's place. She shifted uncomfortably as CJ leaned heavily against her leg, causing her back to hurt. She reached down and lifted the baby into her arms, unable to resist a smile when he nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck and relaxed his body.
"Now you want to sleep," she grumbled, cradling his growing body. At seven months, he was only a little larger than an average baby was. Dr. Klein assured them that he was growing normally, and was just a big boy. Of course, he'd reminded them, he might be a bit older than seven months. They had just placed his birthday at the end of May as a matter of necessity.
CJ had been delivered to their home five months ago, although they had no clue who had made the "delivery". At the time, he'd appeared to be about eight weeks old, according to Dr. Klein's examination.
They'd been terrified to tell Dr. Klein about their secret. In fact, it had been the heart of several heated arguments between Lois and Clark. Still, Clark had finally relented that someone would have to provide the baby with medical care. If CJ was indeed their child, which Dr. Klein had confirmed, then an average pediatrician wasn't the best choice.
When all was said and done, it had been the right choice. Bernard Klein had actually laughed when they'd told him their "secret". "Of course you are," he'd said with a smile towards Clark. "And if you weren't, I'd be worried because Superman clearly has the hots for your wife. You see…" he'd added with a glance at Lois, "I really am brighter than people give me credit for."
Dr. Klein had become invaluable to them over the last few months. He'd assisted them with forging a birth certificate and other necessary birth documents, and promised them that he'd always keep their secret. In addition, he was constantly reassuring them that CJ was indeed normal as he grew, and healthy.
"And heavy," Lois sighed as she shifted her son in her arms, the pain in her lower back breaking into her memories. She moved over to the corner of the room and reached into his diaper bag for a blanket. Deftly spreading the blanket with one hand, she made a nest for her son and laid him on the floor. The baby squirmed a bit, but finally managed to get his thumb in his mouth and settle to sleep. "Now I know why God makes you so cute when you sleep," she murmured as she smoothed a second blanket over him. "It's so we can put up with the rest."
Lois finished settling her son, then hefted the diaper bag off her shoulder. She grimaced as she did so, realizing that its weight was probably as responsible for her aching back as CJ was. It was such a matter of habit though, that she hadn't even remembered she had it with her until she'd needed something from it. She rolled her shoulders a bit, then walked back to the telephone to page her husband.
"How's the story going?" Perry inquired, leaning over Lois' shoulder to read her monitor.
Lois jumped, startled, and barely held back a few choice words. Only the fact that it was her editor-in-chief speaking to her kept her from tearing into him. As it was, the jump caused her back to ache once more. "Slowly," she finally replied. "Even Bobby hasn't been able to get anything on the street. Either I'm losing my sources, or this is bigger than we'd originally thought."
"With you and Clark, it usually is," Perry agreed, pulling a chair from a nearby vacant desk and seating himself. "I have to tell you though. When you brought this to me, I thought you were as crazy as Elvis singing a rap song. Although even he could have pulled that off," Perry said distractedly. "In fact…"
"The idea isn't that crazy," Lois reminded him, effectively cutting off an Elvis story that she was sure she didn't want to hear. "We've done at least a dozen stories on child- disappearances in the last few years. Not everything is as obvious as Harold Kripstley taking executive's kids, or Constance making those obscene ransom demands. Some kids just disappear and no one knows why."
"I think motherhood is coloring your objectivity," Perry smiled, glancing back at the conference room where he knew his godchild slept.
"I won't deny that," Lois said as she followed his gaze. "But that doesn't mean there isn't a story to be found. Over two hundred kids have disappeared in the last nine months, and that's in Metropolis alone. No notes, no reason, and no connection between the circumstances that the police can discern. Even Superman hasn't been able to track it down. There's no ransom demands, no unexplained adoptions popping up, and thankfully no bodies found. The kids are just gone."
"In a city this large, there's probably that many divorced parents grabbing their kids when they don't get court decisions they like. Then there are the runaways, and the accidents, and everything else. I don't think it's one big conspiracy."
"Too many," Lois murmured, then pulled her attention away from her son and back to her editor. "Way too many, and too young, to be runaways. The ones I'm tracking are aged five and younger. I really think there may be a black market scheme going on, or some real sicko out there."
"Lois, you just said that there were no unexplained adoptions!" Perry reasoned. "So who are they selling the kids to?"
"Well, it would make sense that it wouldn't be here," she said in exasperation. "I mean, they'd risk the chance of the baby being identified. Keep in mind too, that children change so rapidly in that period of time, they might *not* be identified if they weren't found in three to five months. Most of these kids were taken in crowded places, and no one saw a thing. There are just too many similarities for this to be unrelated."
Perry nodded as he stood. "I'm just saying that you've been on this for three months, and we still don't have any more than we started with."
"I have the other stories done as well," she said defensively. "We exposed the Mayor's extortion scheme, and that money laundering ring out of at Metropoland. I haven't been *just* following this."
"I know that too," Perry admitted. "I'm just saying that if you don't get something more concrete in the next few days, we should probably pursue other stories. You're the best I have, you and Clark. I don't want you buried in paperwork when there are Kerths to be won."
Lois sighed, realizing that she'd have to come up with something solid in a hurry if she didn't want to be taken off the story altogether. "I'll get something," she told him in her most confident voice. "I know I will."
Perry nodded, deciding that arguing was not the best way to go with Lois. He'd given her a warning, so when he had to use his executive power to pull her from the story, she wouldn't be surprised. She'd be angry, and she'd fight him every step of the way, but that was part of what made her such a great reporter. She was as tenacious as they came, and he loved her for it. The problem was he really didn't think there was a story there.
Superman placed the last piece of luggage on the couch and turned to his parents to see if there was anything else they needed. "I think the refrigerator is stocked," he offered, and I left cab fare on the table. I think Lois can get a ride home from the Planet, so you can take the Jeep. It has the car- seat, anyway."
"We'll be fine," Martha assured her son. "And you don't have to pay for the cab."
"I want to," he insisted. "I wish I could take you to the Planet myself, but I've probably been gone longer than I should have been already."
"We understand, Son," Jonathan offered. "Go on and get back. We'll help Lois out here, and you don't have to worry."
Still torn between his duty as a son, and his duty as a superhero, Clark stood by the window. "Tell Lois I'm sorry," he said softly. "This was only supposed to go on a day or two, but it looks like it's going to get ugly. I really should be there to keep the peace."
"She knows," Martha told him as she took his hand. "And so do we."
"Hug CJ for me," he murmured. "I haven't seen him in a week."
"We'll do that," his mother assured him. "Now go!"
"Yes ma'am," he replied, and disappeared out the window.
"He seems upset," Martha commented as she watched the blue dot disappear into the sky. "More than usual."
"Well, he's always had trouble juggling being a reporter, a husband, and a hero. I think fatherhood makes that juggling act even harder. He was always able to explain to Lois why he was gone, but CJ isn't able to understand. Makes it harder." Jonathan hefted the suitcases from the couch and started walking towards the guestroom.
"I don't like to see him this upset," Martha said as she reached for her cosmetics case. "He may just have to let the world take care of itself for a few months, until CJ is a little older and Lois catches up."
"Won't happen," Jonathan smiled, taking the case from his wife and placing it on the dresser. "He has to keep this world safe for his son, and that isn't negotiable."
"It's too much," Martha grumbled.
"It always has been," Jonathan reminded her. "But he manages. Always has."
With a nod, Martha joined her husband as he walked back to the living room. She walked over to the table and retrieved the money Clark had left for them. "How about we go get our grandson, and then we pick up some Chinese food on the way back?"
"Sounds good to me," Jonathan agreed, giving his wife a quick peck on the cheek. "I happen to know that Lois loves spicy pork."
Cathy Albright carefully bucked her daughter into a shopping cart at the Metropolis Cost-mart. She only needed a few things, and she was hoping to get them and get home before the baby awakened. Amelia could have quite a temper when she wanted to, and there was nothing worse than shopping with a screaming baby.
She walked through the aisles, grabbing diapers, wipes, and formula as she did so. She was cautious, keeping one hand on the cart at all times so that it didn't get away from her, propelled on it's own by her swift walking. She grabbed the toilet paper as she passed by, and groaned as an entire stack of the fluffy rolls came tumbling down. With a muttered curse, she resigned herself to a few moments of cleanup.
Within thirty seconds, she had the rolls stacked back where they belonged. She gave them one last look before turning back to her cart, mentally cataloging what else she would need to get on her way out.
Her scream was heard throughout the store. Amelia was gone.
"I don't know how much you can get out of her," Chief Henderson said softly. "She held up pretty well for the first couple of hours, but she's about done."
"The store was searched?" Lois asked as she jotted notes in a spiral notebook.
"Of course it was!" the Chief said with a growl. "A complete lock down within two minutes of the abduction. Every employee searched, no one was allowed out until we were done. We went through bathrooms, storerooms, and dressing rooms. Hell, we even went through the trashcans and bins in household. That baby was just plain gone!"
"No one saw anything?"
"No one," he confirmed. "And we questioned every man, woman, and child that left the store. No one saw a thing. No babies were crying, no one was moving quickly or carrying anything suspicious. You'd be amazed how cooperative citizens are when they realize a baby has been taken, but it didn't help. She was just gone."
Lois nodded her understanding, and tried to ignore the dread that filled her. How many times had she shopped with CJ? How many times had she turned her back, trusting those around her to leave him be? Just this morning, she'd left him sleeping yards away from her desk, behind a closed door. When he'd whimpered, it had been Jimmy who'd brought him to her, complaining that screaming children shouldn't be allowed in the newsroom. He'd complained, but he'd smiled as well, and she'd trusted him. How many times had she trusted people?
Cathy was cowered in the chair of an interrogation room. Her husband sat beside her, one hand on her shoulder to offer comfort. It wasn't working. A steady stream of tears flowed down her face, and his.
"Mr. and Mrs. Albright?" Lois began. "I'm Lois Lane, from the Daily Planet. I've been working with the police to try to find missing children, and I'd like to ask you a few questions for the paper."
"You'll put this in the paper?" Cathy whimpered. "With a picture? Someone might see the picture, you know. They might find her. Someone has to have seen my Melly…" her voice trailed off into sobs.
"Yes, it will be in the paper, and on the news. We'll do everything we can to help you find her. I promise."
"We'll do what we can," Evan Albright said softly. "She's our only child, our only responsibility. We just want her back."
"I'd settle for knowing she's okay," Cathy sobbed. "I just have to know she's okay."
Evan took his wife into his arms, offering support. "She's all we have," he whispered. "We can't have any more children. If we don't find her…"
"We'll do all we can to help," Lois asserted. "*I'll* do all I can, and I have some pretty powerful friends, too. If she's… where she can be found… then we'll find her." Lois mentally corrected herself. She'd almost said "alive". It wouldn't help anyone to begin assuming the worst. She only wished that she could believe the baby was okay. She wasn't sure how anyone could steal a child without waking it, get it out of a busy store, and never be seen as suspicious.
"What do you need to know?" Evan asked.
Nearly a mile beneath Metropolis, the woman smiled as she secured a fresh diaper on the still-sleeping Amelia. "Female, seven to eight weeks and in good health," she told her assistant. "Blond hair, straight, and blue eyes."
"Got it," the man said. "Is she prepped?"
"Almost," the woman said. Carefully, she filled a syringe with a medication of her own design, and slid it into a vein in the baby's leg. She injected the medication slowly, then removed the needle and rubbed the site with an alcohol swab. "Prepped," she announced.
"Do you want to put her in the chamber, or should I?"
Looking at her assistant, the woman smiled once more. "I'll do it. Chamber three-o-four," she announced. "Be sure you put it in the computer."
"Consider it done," he said softly.
The woman lifted the baby into her arms and carried her a short distance down the hallway. Entering a large room, she opened what appeared to be a filing cabinet built into the wall. The drawer slid open, revealing a metallic sleeping chamber. Frosty air puffed out of the cabinet, even as she slid the baby inside.
She arranged the baby comfortably on her side and made sure that the controls for the chamber were set, then slid the door closed. Carefully, she adjusted a few more dials, then she turned away from the cabinet. "Sleep well, little girl," she said softly. "In a couple of years, you'll get another mommy, and I'll be very rich."
Lois rubbed her eyes, the strain of staring at her computer monitor finally overwhelming her need to solve the case. It was the same story this time: baby gone, no clues, parents falling apart. She tried not to think how easily it could be her.
Truthfully, she harbored the secret fear that she might be on the receiving end of whatever was going on. She'd looked over every missing-baby report, every photo, and every situation that might have resulted in CJ showing up five months ago. None of the photographs matched, and of course there was the DNA match that Dr. Klein had made with Clark, but she still couldn't let her reporter's instincts rest. CJ had come from somewhere, and she always worried that "somewhere" would catch up with them and take him away.
Finally deciding that she wasn't going to get any further tonight, Lois closed the file she had been staring at and logged off the Planet computer system. She winced as she stood, the stiff muscles in her back protesting at how long she'd been sitting there. Stretching carefully, she reached for her coat and headed for the elevator.
If she'd had her choice, she would have walked home. The cool evening air and gentle moistness drifting in on the breeze from the river were both refreshing and relaxing. Still, Clark would ream her out if she walked after dark.
She stayed in the well-lit areas in the front of the Planet while she waited to spot a passing cab. She could have called one, she supposed, but it was normally faster to just wait. This area of Metropolis was rarely quiet, and as safe as any other area, so she decided to just flag down a cab when one came into sight.
Her plan worked well, for as soon as she was looking a cab came into view. Within ten minutes she was being dropped off in front of the townhouse, paying the driver and leaving him with a healthy tip as well.
The climb up the stairs aggravated her back, and she found herself both frustrated and angry that a little discomfort was finding it's way into her mind so often. She was Lois Lane. Reporter. Mother. She had no use for minor aches and pains in her life. With a final dismissing shrug, she resolved to ignore the discomfort. She didn't have time for it.
"It's about time you got home," Martha smiled as Lois walked in the door. "CJ just went down. You just missed him."
"I'm sure I'll see him tonight," Lois replied with a wry grin. "He hasn't slept through the night in the last two weeks."
Martha hugged her daughter-in-law gently, cognizant of how Lois tensed when she did so. "Everything okay?"
"Fine," Lois assured her, mentally renewing her promise to ignore the nagging back pain. "It's just been a long day. I'm wound up so tight that I feel like I'm going to explode."
"Any word on the baby?" Martha asked softly. She and Jonathan had picked up CJ just as Chief Henderson had called Lois. She'd worried about the tiny child all day, just as she would have worried about her own grandchild under similar circumstances.
"No," Lois said. "She just disappeared."
Martha shook her head sadly. "That poor child," she murmured.
Lois shook her head, clearing it somewhat. "I can't think about it anymore," she said softly. "Not tonight."
"I don't blame you," Martha agreed. "Did you have dinner?"
"I picked up a sandwich," Lois replied, finally setting down her briefcase and laptop by the edge of the couch. "But that was early."
"Let me get you some fruit or something then," Martha offered.
"That would be great."
"Jonathan had a lie down with CJ," Martha said as she opened the refrigerator and took out several items. "He won't admit it, but traveling always takes it out of him, even when it's traveling with Clark. He was half asleep before we started dinner."
"Getting old," Lois joked, knowing that nothing could be further from the truth.
"We all are," Martha laughed cheerfully. She selected a few pieces of fruit, and went about peeling, pitting, and slicing them as she spoke. "Even you," she said pointedly. "You're walking like an old lady today."
"I am not," Lois defended. "I'm just a little stiff from spending countless nights in a chair, rocking CJ."
"Whatever you say," Martha grinned, handing Lois a plate with the prepared fruit, and a glass of milk.
"Thanks," Lois said gratefully. "You sure you don't want to move in?"
Martha laughed at that. "Not yet," she answered. "Just be sure to keep making the offer until I take you up on it."
"You've got it," Lois agreed.
Kim Lange shifted her bag on her shoulder as she walked through the park. She hated this place, always feeling that horrible sense of loss as she did at no other time. She used to bring Sarah here, her mind reminded her. She used to push the stroller and smile at the people who walked their dogs. She used to laugh at the antics of the children as they threw their Frisbees and tossed their baseballs. She used to.
Metropolis Park was a gathering place for every mother and child for miles around. She used to be at home here, but that was no longer the case. Since Sarah had disappeared … been taken … she wasn't at home anywhere. Still, this was the shortest walk between home and work, so she crossed the park every single day despite the pain.
Pain was no stranger. She'd lost her daughter, and then she'd lost her husband. He had shot himself, unable to deal with the loss of his child, leaving her alone and desperate. She'd lost the house first, the life insurance not paying due to the suicide, and then she'd lost her car. Only her job remained, so she found a small studio apartment in downtown Metropolis and she walked to work every day. It wasn't much, this Spartan existence, but it was all she had.
Kim saw a little boy run in front of her, grab his basketball, and smile as he ran back to his mother. *Keep him close,* she thought to herself. *How quickly they can be gone.* Her Sarah would be almost that big now, she imagined. Sarah had been only two when she'd disappeared, and that had been twenty-six months ago. Yes, Sarah would have been in preschool by now. Her father would play catch with her, and she'd dance around the house in a tutu, just as Kim had done when she was that age.
She was so engrossed in her imaginings and memories that she almost tripped over the little towheaded girl that toddled out in front of her. Kim recognized the hair first, a profusion of curls that could not be tamed. When the toddler looked up at her, she stopped in her tracks, knowing she must be insane.
"Mommy?" her daughter asked.
"Sarah!" Kim exclaimed. "My Sarah!" Without another thought, Kim grabbed the clinging child up into her arms. "My baby, my baby," she cried, over and over.
"Ma'am, put my child down," said a stern voice.
Through tears, Kim saw the woman come towards her. She did the only thing she could do… she ran. Oblivious to the screaming around her, completely blind to the traffic both pedestrian and motor, Kim ran with her baby in her arms. She felt only her daughter's arms around her neck, saw only the blond curls that wisped into her face, and heard only Sarah's delighted laugh.
Then, the world went black.
Lois sighed deeply as her back began to ache to the point that it couldn't be ignored. Slowing her jog to a walk, she waited for the throb to ease. Gradually, she felt the feeling return to her left leg, a pins and needles awareness that told her she'd been overdoing it. She waited, her breath returning, for the same to occur in her right leg.
It took longer, almost five minutes, but eventually she was able to feel the ground beneath her feet. The throb in her back receded to its normal nag, and she came to the conclusion that she was going to have to see a doctor if it didn't improve. Maybe she'd strained it, she wondered. Perhaps she'd pulled a muscle or dislocated something. In any case, it wasn't getting better, so she was going to have to make time to be seen.
Lois was grateful she was on her return leg of the run, only a block from the townhouse. She would be home in only a few minutes. She took the time to cool down, wiping sweat from her face with the bottom of her T-shirt as she approached the steps.
She was barely through the front door when Martha called her name. "Honey, you just got an urgent call from the police," Martha said, her voice shaking. "It's Chief Henderson, and you have to call him back immediately."
"What is it?" Lois inquired anxiously.
"I don't know," Martha replied. "But he says it has to do with the case you've been working on. He said it was about the missing children."
"I don't understand," Lois said carefully. "Is it her baby, or not?"
"You're not the only one that doesn't understand," the Chief said ruefully. "It's impossible for that child to be hers," he began. "She's two years too young, she has a birth certificate that's completely legal, hospital records from birth and a couple of illnesses, and her parents are vehement that she was adopted legally only a few weeks ago."
"So she is adopted," Lois insisted. "That means it's possible that the baby is Kim Lange's?"
"As I said," Henderson reminded her. "Her baby would be over four years old by now. There's no way that girl in there is over four."
"Okay, so she's just gone nuts," Lois concluded. "She's lost her husband, her baby, and now she's imagined that this kid is hers." Lois looked back at her notes. "So, why did you call me?"
"Because," he said wearily, "That doesn't fit either."
"What do you mean?"
Henderson gestured to a chair and then seated himself across from Lois. "The baby looks exactly like Sarah Lange," he explained. "Right down to a birth mark on her right leg. The blood type matches the mother, and the kid calls Mrs. Lange 'Mommy'. That's just too much of a coincidence for me."
"Agreed," Lois said. "But you said that this baby has paperwork and everything. Birth certificate and all?"
"Yes," Henderson said, wearily rubbing his unshaven face. He'd been called in at nine that morning after being on a stakeout with a new cop until after four. He was too old for this, but the budget didn't run into overtime, and someone had to train the rookies. "Here's the bottom line: I can't send the kid home with Lange because I can't prove it's hers, and I can't send it home with the Capwells because I can't prove it's theirs."
"Capwells?" Lois said, her head snapping up from her notebook. "As in Crighton Capwell?"
"The same," Henderson said wearily. "So you can imagine why this is such a mess."
"A mess," she agreed. "And a hell of a story! Crighton Capwell is one of the wealthiest men in Metropolis. He has the money and the resources to fake any paperwork he wants, regardless of its credibility."
"He does," Henderson agreed. "And he has the lawyers to push us to the wall if we don't give him back his new daughter."
"But if we can prove that she's not his…"
"We can't," he said briefly. "And, I don't know that I'd want to. He can give that girl anything from golden strollers to fur blankets. I've seen him with her," Henderson continued. "He cares about the kid, and it's mutual. And, he's got power."
"He's got senators in his pocket," Lois agreed. "I ran into that when the mayor started embezzling funds. Capwell made my investigation very difficult."
"He makes everything difficult," the police chief complained. "But he's never been found to be on the wrong side of the law. We've suspected, but never confirmed anything. It tends to work that way with the rich and famous."
"What about Kim Lange?" Lois asked. "What if this is her baby?"
"It's impossible," he claimed. "Too young."
"Maybe it's a clone?" Lois wondered aloud.
"You've got to be kidding?" the chief said with a grin.
Lois shrugged her shoulders and couldn't suppress a grin. "I've seen stranger things," she said offhandedly.
"Whatever it is, this isn't a situation that we're going to manage to win," he said. "I'm tired of my department coming off as the enemy when we're doing more than is humanly possible to keep this city safe."
"Why did you call me?" Lois asked again. "You know I'm going to write what I can, or at least what Perry will approve. Even if it's speculation, and we state it that way, Capwell is too powerful a figure to let this slide. It's bound to make it harder on the department if he knows he's being questioned."
"I know," Henderson sighed. "But I also know that we aren't going to get this done on our own. We've lost too many kids, and I'm sick of trying to tread water with half a staff. The Planet has connections with Superman, and he's the only chance we have to get those kids back."
"How many?" Lois asked quietly.
"Metropolis has lost four-hundred and eleven children in the last five years," he said softly. "Clearly they aren't always connected, but this is too big to be a coincidence."
"My God," she whispered.
"This is the file on Edith Capwell," he said firmly as he handed her a small file folder. "Copies of everything from her birth certificate to her adoption papers. If you can find any holes in it, let me know immediately. I know you have sources that I don't. I think you already have a copy of Sarah Lange's file?" Lois nodded, so he went on. "Don't go getting yourself killed. If you see anything suspicious, call in the cavalry or go to Superman."
"You're going to have to put me on payroll," Lois joked as she stood, holding the folder tightly.
"Not likely," he grinned in return. "I barely have the budget to pay the cops I've got, and there aren't nearly enough of them. Besides, I couldn't match your salary."
"Probably not," she smiled. "I'll see what I can come up with."
Lois couldn't help but shudder as she walked down the corridor of the hospital. She was startled by a familiar rustling behind her, and turned quickly enough to bump into her husband.
"Hey, Beautiful!" he smiled, planting a quick kiss on her forehead. "Perry said you'd be down here."
"You're back!" she smiled, hugging him briefly. "How'd everything go?"
"The usual," he grinned. "Superman saved the day."
"Always does," she agreed. "You must be tired. What are you doing here?"
"Keeping my wife out of trouble," he said with only a trace of sarcasm. "Perry said you had a lead on the child- disappearances?"
"Possibly," she replied. She filled him in briefly on the discussion she'd had that morning with Chief Henderson. "So now," she concluded, "I'm going to interview Kim Lange. I'm hoping it's more productive than my interview with Crighton Capwell was."
Clark winced. Capwell reminded him all too much of Lex Luthor… a man who believed he was above the law because he could afford to be. "I guess I'd be a little defensive if someone came after CJ claiming to be his father, or grabbed him away from you in the park," he said softly, trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt. "We can't decide he's guilty just because he's rich."
"And we can't decide he's not for the same reason," she replied.
Coming to the door of the private room, Lois showed her press ID. "This is my partner," she explained to the security guard, gesturing to Clark. "Chief Henderson said I'd be admitted."
The young guard checked his clipboard against her ID, then returned it. "Five minutes," he told her firmly.
"Thanks," she replied.
Entering the room, Clark was stunned by the sterility of it. Kim Lange was restrained in the bed, her face turned away towards the window. "Mrs. Lange?" he asked softly.
"Did you bring me my daughter?" she asked, her voice in monotone, not bothering to look at him.
"Mrs. Lange, we're from the Daily Planet," Lois said softly, moving around so that she was between the bed and the window. "We want to ask you some questions about Sarah."
"I held her," Kim smiled, her eyes tearing. "I held her this morning. I know they think I'm crazy, but I know my daughter."
"Mrs. Lange, wouldn't your daughter be almost four years old by now?" Clark asked, moving slightly closer to the bed. He could hear the woman's heartbeat, slow and steady. She wasn't behaving as erratically and had none of the physical characteristics he had come to recognize in either a criminal or a crazy person.
"She should be," the woman admitted. "I don't know why she's not. But it's her," she insisted, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze. "I held my daughter this morning. A mother knows her own child."
"Mrs. Lange, when was your daughter taken?" Lois asked gently.
"We were at Metropoland," she said softly. "Sarah loved to go on the carousel. You know, the one with the horses?"
"I know," Lois replied.
"I buckled her on, and we started to go around. My purse got caught in the stirrup, so I looked away to get it untangled. When I looked back up, she was gone."
"Did anyone see anything?" Lois asked, knowing the answer.
"My husband was on the other side of the carousel," she explained. "He didn't see a thing. No one else did, either. They locked up the park and everything, but it's such a big place that it was impossible to find her." Kim looked up through tear filled eyes. "At least she didn't cry out. If she'd been hurt, she would have cried out, don't you think?"
"I'm sure she would have," Clark answered, unable to bear the pain in the woman's voice, still so fresh even after two years.
"But, she's okay," Kim smiled. "I saw her this morning. She's fine. She's beautiful and healthy, and she knew me," Kim insisted. "She called me 'Mommy'. She recognized me, even after all this time."
"Sarah would be much older…" Lois began.
"I know that!" Kim yelled. "Don't you think I know that? But, she's my daughter. I don't know how that woman got her, or where they've kept her, but she's mine!"
"You'll need to leave now," the security guard stated firmly.
Lois turned around quickly. She hadn't heard the door open, she'd been so involved with Mrs. Lange. She saw a nurse coming around the guard with a syringe in her hand. Clark walked to her and guided her to the door with a gentle hand in the small of her back, even as the nurse medicated the screaming woman.
"She's mine," Lois heard Kim whimper as the medication took effect. "I'm not crazy. I know my baby. Someone took my baby… my… they…" Her voice trailed off as she drifted into a drugged sleep.
In the corridor, Lois turned to her husband. "I believe her," she said firmly.
"She believes herself," Clark agreed. "She's not lying. It was in her eyes, her expression. She believes every word she's saying."
"So now what do we do?" Lois questioned.
"We find out where her baby's been for the last two years," Clark answered.
"Let's start with the birth certificate," Lois suggested as she stepped into the hospital elevator, followed closely by her husband. "We find out where she was born, and who delivered her, and go from there."
"Let's do it," he agreed.
It was easier said than done. Metropolis General Hospital was a large place, and the signature on the birth certificate was unusually worn for being only two years old. Still, after much bargaining and arguing, they finally managed to find Dr. Justin Lemord, Obstetrician.
"You expect me to remember every baby I deliver?" the doctor asked incredulously. "I delivered two-hundred babies in this hospital last year alone! The HMO's don't make any allowances for social calls. I do my procedures. I deliver the babies, and that's the end of it. Look up the baby's pediatrician if you want to know about her."
"Dr. Lemord," Clark interrupted. "I realize that you see a great number of patients, but it would really help us if you could take just a minute to check your records."
The man sighed, then reached for his file cabinet. "What was the mother's name?" he asked brusquely.
"Cindy Shaw," Lois supplied. "No father is listed."
"Shaw… Shaw…" The physician mumbled as he flipped through files. "Shaw. Amie. Shaw, Beverly. Shaw, Catherine." His eyes came up to meet Clark's. "Shaw, Darlene. I don't have a Cindy Shaw."
"Could her record have been misplaced?" Clark asked.
The doctor slid the filing cabinet closed, then reached for his computer. He punched in the name, glanced at the screen a moment, then typed some more. "I don't have a Cindy Shaw anywhere in my records," he clarified. Then, looking over at Lois, he added, "My records are absolute. If I didn't document it, I didn't do it."
Clark looked over at Lois, his eyebrows raised.
"Can you get us a list of the other obstetricians that were working at that time," Lois requested. "Perhaps you were covering someone else's patient, or…"
"Ms. Lane," the doctor interrupted. "You aren't listening. This computer houses every record of every patient seen in this hospital. It's a pain in the butt, but it's necessary for dealing with the HMOs. If the patient isn't in this computer, she wasn't seen at any time in this hospital. Not by me, and not by anyone."
Lois sat at her desk, chewing on the end of her pencil. The day had been confusing, although productive in it's own way. They had followed every lead possible to track down a physician or other professional that had been involved with the Capwell baby's adoption. The records were thorough, listing each illness, each immunization, and each injury since the baby's birth. None of the pediatricians listed in the record had ever heard of either the baby, or the baby's mother, Cindy Shaw.
Lois's back had finally gotten the better of her, and Clark was running down the last couple of hospital visits that the child had attended. As these were performed by the Capwell's private physician, they had every reason to feel that they were on the level. Lois, on the other hand, was busy trying to find out anything possible on the Morningside Orphanage. The organization had only been in existence for the last two years, and it specialized in the adoption of children under the age of five.
So far, the only thing that Lois had found that qualified as "suspicious", was that the orphanage had shown a significant monetary loss every fiscal year. It was as though the organization existed as a tax-break for a larger business, and yet it seemed to be independently financed. It didn't make any sense. If it were independently financed, it would have gone into bankruptcy.
Lois wrote down a few notes on the company, then e-mailed them to Jimmy for further research. It was easier than tracking him down. That done, she made a couple of quick calls to the orphanage, only to find herself held off by a telephone bureaucracy that was more annoying than really frustrating. Still, she had no desire to play phone-tag with the director of the orphanage, so she hung up the phone and reached for her purse.
She left a quick note on Clark's computer that she would be back as soon as she had some questions answered, and then took a cab to the Morningside Orphanage's main office, down near the waterfront.
It was a small and unassuming building, and there wasn't a child in sight. Lois waited impatiently to see the director, who was miraculously there even though the secretary had told her twice on the telephone that he was not. After a frustrating wait, Lois found herself escorted into a large office with expensive furniture and a distinguished looking man behind an antique desk.
"Mr. Oliver?" Lois asked, stepping forward with her hand extended.
"Ms. Lane," the man said smoothly. "I understand we've had some difficulty connecting this afternoon. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience."
"That's quite all right," Lois smiled, knowing full well that he was glossing over his earlier rudeness. She took the seat he indicated, placing her purse on the floor beside the chair. "I just have a few questions to ask you about the Capwell adoption."
"All of our adoptions are both private and confidential," the man informed her pleasantly. "I'm sorry that I won't be able to help you."
"Mr. Oliver," Lois continued. "Your adoption agency is suspected of illegal operations. It would look very unfavorable to the police department if you choose not to cooperate." There were some advantages, Lois thought, to having the backing of Chief Henderson. If he hadn't sanctioned this one particular part of the investigation, then dear Mr. Oliver didn't need to know that.
"Our agency has done nothing illegal," the man said quickly. "All of our adoptions are well documented. The health and welfare of the children we provide is unquestionable. The paperwork for each adoption is in order, from the release by the birth parent or parents to the final acceptance by the adoptive family. There is nothing questionable in our agency."
Lois noted that the man was just a little too fervent, and sweating just a little too much. She decided to press her advantage. "Your children have medical records that cannot be verified," she told the man. "If Metropolis General Hospital has no record of their birth's, I'm not sure how you can have documentation of it."
The agency director stood, towering above Lois' seated form. "Your accusations are groundless," he told her firmly. "I'll have to ask you to leave, now."
Lois sighed as she stood. She was really too tired for this trip to have accomplished so little. The fatigue made her reckless, and she made a decision. "I wonder if Superman will agree that the accusations are groundless?" she offered. "He doesn't approve of agencies that steal children and sell them to the highest bidder."
Lois turned to leave the room. She never felt the blow that knocked her unconscious.
It was late. Too late. Lois should have been back hours ago. Clark shifted nervously as he glanced at the note Lois had left him.
Gone to Morningside to rattle some cages. Wish me luck. Me.
He had been back in the newsroom for over an hour, and she still hadn't checked in. The clock told him that it was after five, and the recording at the Morningside Orphanage office said that their hours ended at four-thirty. Lois should have been back by now.
Clark took another look around the office. Everyone had gone home from this area, leaving only the night crew and Perry in his office. He wouldn't have to worry about anyone noticing he was gone. He walked to the elevator, still considering what he should do. Running to Lois' rescue would be sure to anger her if she wasn't in trouble, and yet he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that she was.
Working with Lois over the last five years had taught him three things. Number one, it had taught him that it was possible for two people to completely compliment one another. He and Lois were opposites, in their outlook and their writing, and it was the blend of those opposing forces that made their work so good. Number two, Lois' independence would not be reigned in by his caution. She was good at what she did because she was reckless. She might listen to him when he cautioned her, but she would do what she needed to get her story, especially if it was a story that was close to her heart. And, number three, Clark had learned that if there was trouble to be found, Lois would find it. She attracted danger like a magnet, despite all her efforts to change. If he was worried, it was most likely for a very good reason. Lois was probably in trouble.
Decision made, Clark entered the elevator and pressed the button for the roof, rather than the first floor. He exited to the roof, executed a quick spin, and left the roof as Superman. If he was overreacting, then Lois would just have to deal with it.
Lois awoke to a headache that was pervasive and acute. If she didn't have a concussion, she'd be very, very surprised. As bad as her head hurt, she could still feel the nagging pain in her lower back. Some days she just couldn't win.
She shifted herself on the ground, only to discover that her hands and feet were both bound. It figured. They always tied her up, whoever "they" happened to be at the time. She thought back to how her day had begun, and the verbal sparring she had done to bring her to this point. Clark was going to kill her.
She rolled as far as she could towards her back, taking the pressure from her chest. The new position made her head ache even more. Yes, definitely a concussion. Her vision was blurred, and her stomach queasy.
Listening carefully, she could hear the edge of an argument. The words weren't all clear, but their point came through.
"…do with her."
"… thought about that… kill her."
"Do you know what the police would do?"
"Doesn't … matter… money."
"Endanger … babies."
It became too much effort to pay attention to the holes in the conversation. Lois closed her eyes, moved to wet her lips, and realized belatedly that she had something across her face. Probably duct tape, she reasoned. They always used something that was painful to remove, and the silver tape around her wrists was definitely duct tape. She spared a panicked thought that she hoped she didn't become ill. Throwing up with her mouth taped would be a problem.
Finally, Lois closed her eyes again. She was far too tired to worry about illness. Her head hurt too badly for her to think about her husband. One thought tried to penetrate her mind — CJ would miss her — but it didn't have the strength. In a swirl of darkness, consciousness fled and Lois was no longer in pain.
"We'll have to go low-profile," Mr. Oliver said simply. "No more abductions, and no more adoptions."
"You kidnapped a reporter!" the woman next to him shrieked. "Do you have any clue at all what that will do to us?"
"We'll have to slow operations," he reasoned.
"Slow them? You imbecile! If you kill her, you'll have the police all over us. If you let her live, she'll put us in jail for the rest of our lives."
"We can store her," he said with a smile. "No one will find her."
"For how long? Besides, adults don't have enough regenerative capability for the formula to work. The process would kill her."
"Do you have a better idea?" he asked.
"Yes," she said pointedly. "Don't kidnap her in the first place, you moron!"
"Look," he said, pacing now. "I panicked. She was way too close. She knew that the Capwell adoption was flawed, that we'd faked the medical reports. If that adoption is exposed, then every other one is in jeopardy."
"I prefer that risk to what you've done," the woman said. She walked around the room, seated herself in a chair. She could see the corridors of storage units from here. Years of work, study, and research. The operation was perfect. The only problem was the hired help. "We have over two-hundred viable children here," she stated calmly. "At two-hundred-thousand dollars apiece, that's at least forty-million dollars. You have no clue what you've done."
"Why can't we kill her, then store her?" he asked simply. "She's probably working on a dozen stories. There's no way they'll know she got close to us."
"Possibly," she allowed. "But I know her. She's tenacious, and she's married. Her husband is tied-in with Superman, and I don't think he'll buy a disappearance."
"That's right, you did deal with her and her husband, didn't you?" Oliver asked. "Did some jail time for that?"
"Almost three months," she said. "I started this operation the day I got out. Thankfully the criminal justice system makes allowances for grieving widows."
"I suppose it does," he agreed.
"She and her husband have sent me to jail before," the woman went on. "I won't allow it to happen again. If you'd just kept your head about you, she would have been no more than a nuisance. As it is, you've complicated matters ridiculously."
"She's still unconscious," he offered. "That gives us some time to plan."
"That gives me time to plan," she clarified. "You've done quite enough thinking for today."
Superman finally landed at home, rubbing tired hands over his face. He hadn't found a thing at the orphanage, or anywhere else. His last ditch hope was that she had come home.
"Lois?" he called out, nerves making his voice louder than he'd intended.
CJ cried out just as Martha rushed into the bedroom where Clark was standing. "Mom, has she been here?" he asked, his voice just short of frantic.
"No, honey," she answered as she took CJ from Jonathan, who had followed her into the room. "She called around two to let us know that she was going to some orphanage before she came home. She was supposed to be here early."
Clark took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tried to think. He'd checked the orphanage. Nothing had looked out of the ordinary. When Clark's eyes reopened, it was to see CJ fussing and reaching towards him despite Martha's efforts to calm him. He hadn't seen his son in a week, and for just a moment he let his need overwhelm his worry.
"Give him here, mom," he said softly. Taking the boy in his arms, he rocked and soothed him. The baby got quiet in record time, leaving Martha with an amused expression.
"I think he needed that," Martha said softly.
"I think we both did," Clark replied. "Where's your mommy, big guy?" he asked softly. He didn't expect the baby to have any answers, but he was unsure what else to do. His voice remained soft, his body swaying slightly to keep CJ quiet. "Mom, I've checked everywhere. I haven't found any trace of her. No one saw anything, anywhere. I even called Perry to see if he'd sent her on anything, as well as Chief Henderson. They don't have any clue, either."
"You'll find her, son," Jonathan said gently. "You always do."
"I always have," Clark corrected. "What if one of these times…"
"Don't even think it," Martha said firmly. "You know Lois. She's gotten herself into something, and she's probably sitting there waiting for you to figure it out and get her home."
Clark rubbed CJ's back, kissed him on the head, then handed his sleepy form to his mother. "Thanks, mom," he smiled. "I'm going to keep looking."
"You do that," she agreed, kissing him lightly on the cheek even as she took her grandson into her arms. "Stop worrying, and go save the world."
"I'd be happy just saving Lois," he admitted, his smile forced.
"You do that, too," his father told him. "We'll hold down the fort until you get back.
It didn't take Superman long to make it to the orphanage. As before, it was locked down. He used a little extra strength on the door, not enough to break it down, but enough to pop it open. He checked the area thoroughly, finally using his vision to get into the corners.
It was so small that he almost missed it. He recalled Lois' insistence that a small purse was perfectly acceptable when you had a baby. Instead of sticking her personal things in the diaper bag, as he would have done, she carried the bag, the briefcase, and a small black purse. The same purse that was sitting beneath the chair in a locked office.
Clark didn't bother with finesse, but instead it took out the door completely. He picked up Lois' small purse, checked inside for ID, just to be certain, and then began searching in earnest. If her purse was here, chances were good that she was around there somewhere.
The lead piping in the foundation made his search difficult. He felt as though he was looking through a fence, with the metal lines crisscrossing his vision. Still, he was persistent. Lois was missing, and finding her was worth any difficulty.
After several frantic moments of searching, he located an area that was less densely crossed with the lead pipes. He didn't bother with looking for a door, but went directly through the floor. He found himself in a basement. The foundational supports were lighter because they were further away then those in the floor itself. Eventually, he located a loose area in the carpeting, and lifted it to find a lead-reinforced trap door.
Clark was more than worried. Anyone who went through the expense of lining their basement with lead had something to hide, and that didn't bode well for his wife. He lifted the heavy trap door, and descended quietly into the sub-basement.
He was silent as he walked through a long corridor. There were doors in the walls that resembled filing cabinets. Momentarily, he wondered if he'd wandered into the largest filing area of Metropolis. He closed his eyes, focused his mind, and concentrated.
There was a light hum of machinery in the background, most likely an air filtration system of some sort, or a refrigeration unit. Beyond that sound were voices, faint and indistinct. He held his breath, concentrated more, and finally found what he sought. Distinctive in its rhythm, Lois' heartbeat was strong and steady. He could pick it out of a crowd easily, from it's resting rate of sixty beats per minute, to it's slight whoosh of a murmur, a leftover from when she had contracted Mono years before.
The physicians had assured her that her heart was as strong as ever, despite the slight enlargement of one valve. The murmur was innocent, and more distinctive than Clark had ever heard. It was a moving whistle, overplayed with the thump that he had learned to listen for. There was no doubt in his mind. Clark had found his wife.
The heartbeat was on the other side of the voices, so he had to move quietly. Red and blue was rather obvious, so he didn't have any possibility of blending into the gray walls.
He finally saw the people that were talking, an older man and a younger woman with a neat business suit and blond hair. He couldn't see her face, but there was something familiar about her voice. Discarding the thought, he focused on the man, who was looking more than a little guilty. The woman was clearly reprimanding him, and from the look on his face the man didn't appreciate it.
The way that the man was facing, Clark didn't have the opportunity to slip by them. He had to content himself with waiting, trying to obtain at least some information from their discussion. Lois' heartbeat soothed him, reassured him. As long as she was fine, he couldn't care less how long this took.
"It was unprofessional and risky," the woman was saying.
"I did the best I could," the man replied. "She wasn't leaving, and she threatened to have Superman checking on us. I knew you wouldn't want that kind of a risk."
"I've dealt with Superman in the past," she informed him. "He has his weak points. One of them happens to be this woman, you imbecile! When you take Lois Lane, you might as well send an engraved invitation to the Man of Steel."
"So we drop her someplace," he reasoned.
"And have her report all of this, including her abduction, first hand? You are insane!"
"Of course not. I'm talking about dropping her before she wakes up. I hit her pretty hard. I'm sure she's still out."
"It doesn't matter," the woman told him. "None of it matters. We'll just have to begin transport of the children immediately. We can't be anywhere in the area when Superman starts looking for that obnoxious reporter."
"Are the cells transportable?"
"Of course, you moron. You think I would invest this much of my life into something that I couldn't take with me? The units can be moved in a moving van. Their batteries will keep them operational until we get to another electrical source."
"I didn't know they had batteries. That's cool."
"Metropolis has at least fifteen power-outages a year," the woman said, her voice condescending. "Of course they have battery backup. Otherwise, every one of those little gold mines would die the first time a car hit a light pole."
"You really thought this out," he said in admiration.
"Of course I did. I spent six months in a mental facility with nothing more to do than think, and plan. I would have been better off in prison. At least guards don't require you to analyze every moment of your life. Anyway, if I had to have those memories of Dr. Heller in my head, at least I put them to use. The man did nothing but ramble for hours on end. He was the one that came up with the suspension formula. Couldn't make a living from it, though. Went into plastics just for the money. That's half the reason I killed him. Still, money is a better motivation than revenge."
"They thought you were messed up from that husband of yours, didn't they? That's why they put you in that mental hospital."
"It was only six months," she said calmly. "Six horrible, excruciating months."
Clark listened, watched. He'd learned over the last few years not to rush in when criminals were explaining their motives. Most of this would be admissible in court, and Superman had a great deal of credibility as a witness. He could still hear Lois' heartbeat, steady and strong. If he felt like ripping the man's arms off for hitting her, then he would just have to control himself. Still, something about the conversation struck him as familiar. Doctor Heller? It sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. Then, Clark sucked in a startled breath as the blond woman turned around.
Arianna Carlin, Lex Luthor's first wife.
He had to get Lois out of there. That was Clark's primary thought. He could still see this woman's merciless glare as she'd walked out of a hotel suite, leaving a Kryptonite bullet in his chest, and the weapon in Lois' unconscious hand.
He vaguely remembered hearing that she'd been found unfit to stand trial and placed in a mental institution, but that had been around the same time that Gretchen Kelly had brought back Lex Luthor, and Clark had been understandably preoccupied. He hadn't bothered to go back and check to see when they planned to release her.
There was no possibility of getting past them without being seen. He considered the direct approach, an attack, and discarded it. While it might be expedient, he had the feeling that he didn't know the half of what was going on here. He couldn't leave Lois here, though. Finally, he settled on a distraction, hoping he could get to Lois that way. If he failed, he could always take them out directly and try to put the pieces together later.
He looked around for several moments, the continuing discussion a distant blur to his intent mind. Finally, he focused his vision on a desk in the far back corner. Using a fine beam of his heat-vision, he set a neat pile of papers ablaze.
The reaction from Carlin was all he could have hoped for. She turned her back on him, saw the flaming desk, and screamed for all she was worth. While she and her minion worked to put out the flames, slamming books down on the desk and scattering burning debris everywhere, Clark flew quickly through the room, not even leaving a blue streak in his wake.
He came to a stop on the other side of the room, at a doorway that had been left open. Slipping inside, he took himself out of their range of vision once more, and continued the search for his wife. It wasn't difficult. Following the sound of her heartbeat, it's ever-increasing volume, he worked his way through two other rooms, both darkened. He saw more of the filing-cabinet walls along his way, and began to wonder just how large this operation was.
He finally found Lois sprawled on the floor in a small room off the main hallway. His mind absently catalogued once again the fact that this underground facility was huge, but it wasn't a conscious thought.
His mind was filled with the fact that he had found his wife, and that she looked awful. Duct tape secured her wrists and ankles, covered mouth. He wondered where her shoes were. She was lying on her side, too pale for his liking, and unconscious. It took him only a moment to remove the tape, using a combination of strength and desperation. He gently warmed the tape on her face with his vision, melting the adhesive slightly without burning her. He eased the sticky tape away from her mouth, then peeled it carefully from her wrists, then her ankles, trying not to remove her skin as well.
He swept his x-ray vision along her spine, checking her neck and back for injury before he tugged her up into his arms. For just a moment, he held her near him, letting himself be content with the fact that she was alive and with him once again. Until that moment, he hadn't realized just how powerful his fear had been that he might have to live without her, raise their son without her.
Lois regained consciousness slowly. Clark shushed her softly, listening carefully to check on the status of the villains a few rooms beyond. They were still arguing about the fire, who had started it and what had been damaged, so he knew that his distraction had been successful.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly, his lips right by her ear.
"Hurts," she mumbled in return.
"What hurts? Your head?"
"And my back," she answered. "My head is worse, though. He must have hit me."
"That's what he said," Clark agreed, anger in his voice.
Lois relaxed into her husband's arms, relieved. She knew that she should be getting up, escaping, something. At the moment, it just felt good to be held. Clark must have needed it as well, because Superman suit or not, he was holding her affectionately.
"How are we getting out of here?" she finally asked.
"Not sure," he answered truthfully. "If all else fails, there's the way I came in, but I don't think I want to fly that fast while your head is swimming. I haven't checked the back, yet. There may be another exit." He looked around before adding, almost absently, "This place is huge."
"They're involved in the disappearances," Lois said firmly. "I could see it in his eyes. He got so nervous when I was talking to him."
"Yeah, nervous enough to bang you over the head and tie you up," he admonished. "You should know better than to pull something like that when I'm not with you."
"I've been taking care of myself for a lot longer than I've known you," she muttered. "And if you think I'm going to sit behind a desk just because I'm married, then…"
"Shhhh," he said frantically. When she was silent, he listened for Carlin once more. She was still muttering about damaged documents, so he breathed a sigh of relief. "We'll discuss this at home," he told his wife. "If we haven't been able to settle it in five years, then I doubt we'll settle it here. It's not worth them finding us. I need to get you to a doctor."
"Don't be ridiculous," she mumbled, but her heart wasn't in it. She was still nauseous, and her head was really hurting. She probably did have a mild concussion at least. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.
"I need to get you out of here," he repeated again. "I want you to stay here while I check for a way out. There may be another opening, and I'd rather get you out and *then* get the police in here."
"Don't be gone long," she requested.
Reluctantly, Clark moved Lois back to the floor. His arms felt strangely cold as he stood and turned away from her, the certainty and security he had felt moments before were fading. "I love you," he said softly, turning towards the doorway.
"I love you too," she answered. Her head was already resting on the floor, cushioned by her hand.
Clark left the room as silently as he had entered it. He walked away from the room he knew that Arianna was in, using his vision to check for an opening of some sort. The walls contained the same led reinforcement that the basement and floors of the orphanage had, so it was like looking through a maze. He wondered what the underground system of rooms and hallways had been originally designed for, and what purpose the lead had served.
His mind wandering, he left his vision in full x-ray mode as he glanced across the file cabinets. He stopped cold. Inside the box, or whatever it was, was a small child. He x-rayed the other filing cabinets, and came to realize that each was a storage chamber of some sort. The children seemed to be sorted according to size. The children on the left side of the hallway were larger, maybe two or three years old, while the babies on his right were mere infants.
Quickly, Clark counted more than forty children in this area alone. As his mind reflected on the many hallways that had similar chambers, he began to realize just how many children were involved. It was tempting to open one, to see the child inside and reassure him that his vision was indeed functioning correctly. It would have been easy enough to attribute the surreal scene to his imagination. The only thing that prevented his curiosity from taking hold was the fact that the small bodies were not emanating heartbeats.
He could hear neither breathing nor heartbeats, and he had no desire to look upon a tiny corpse, if that was what this was. The place did have the distinctive feel of a mausoleum. If it weren't for the knowledge that at least one child had re- appeared, seemingly unhurt, from this situation, he might have gone completely crazy. The children had to be okay. He set that decision in his mind, and went back to searching for another exit.
He found what he was looking for at the absolute back of the facility. There was a room that opened into stairs, and those stairs led to a doorway. He checked through the door to the other side, saw that it was indeed ground level and accessible, and then went back to get Lois.
She was lying right where he had left her. She raised up slightly when he came back into the room, but she didn't stand. Carefully, he lifted her into his arms and carried her down the hallway towards the exit. It might be alarmed, he reasoned, so he wanted her with him when he took out the door.
As soon as he had her at the door, he was able to kick it open. As he had feared, there were loud alarms that went off around them just as soon as the doorjamb was breached. He didn't bother to heed them as he rushed Lois up and out of the basement, then on into the sky. He was several hundred feet above the building when he stopped to look down at Lois. She was unconscious in his arms.
Without another thought, Clark sped towards the nearest hospital.
"Mild concussion," the physician said blandly. "There's some swelling in her lower back, but that appears to be long-term, as there's no bruising. She was complaining of pain, so I'll order a MRI to be sure."
"Will you need to admit her?" Clark hated to be away from Lois, but he needed to know that she was well cared for.
"Absolutely," the physician responded. "Twenty-four hours is standard for observation following head trauma, especially while she's still nauseous. We won't release her until her condition is stable."
"Thank you," he said simply. "Can I see her now?"
"Of course. She's in the second room to the left, right through that door. Go on back, and I'll be in after I make the arrangements for her admission."
"Thank you," Clark said again, grabbing his sport coat from the waiting room chair, and turning towards the door that led back into the Emergency Room.
He found Lois as the doctor had told him, strapped to a gurney with an IV in one arm. Her eyes were closed, but he had the feeling she was sleeping, rather than unconscious as she had been when he'd brought her in an hour before. The physician had been quick, checking her pupils and immediately sending her to a CAT scan to determine how severe the concussion was.
While she was being examined, she'd spent more time complaining about her back than her head. Clark thought she might have fallen when she'd been knocked out, but he had no way of knowing. The physician had examined that as well, and seemed to think it was less urgent than her neurological condition.
He had waited the time that it took to find out that his wife was okay, but he knew that he had an obligation as well. He had set off alarms removing her from the underground facility, and they had to know that she was gone by now. He needed to get Chief Henderson in there to find out exactly what was going on. Every moment was precious.
"Lois," he said softly.
She opened her eyes, but didn't smile. "Hey," she murmured softly.
"I need to get to the police station," he said simply.
"Go," she told him. "You shouldn't have stayed this long. I'm okay, really."
"I know," he said with a smile. "I love you."
"You too," she said, returning the smile. "Now go."
Lois was talking to the air. Clark was already moving out the door, and looking for a safe place to spin back into his costume.
"Dammit," Clark said in frustration.
Chief Henderson looked over his shoulder, having never before heard Superman utter a curse, whatever the provocation.
"Sorry," he said belatedly. "I knew I would tip them off with the alarm, but I had to get the hostage out of here." He didn't bother to mention that the hostage was his wife. Superman had rescued Lois Lane from enough situations that the Chief hadn't been shocked when Superman had told him how he'd found the facility.
"Understandable," the police Chief replied. He took a few more steps towards the desk, carefully moving a few documents with the end of a pen, so as not to touch them and smear any potential fingerprints. "How long ago was that?"
"Ninety minutes," Clark admitted, albeit reluctantly. The Chief raised his eyebrows, but didn't comment.
"Plenty of time to clear out," he finally murmured. "Looks like they took the computer, too." He gestured to the cords that remained, looking like snakes across the large desk.
"I should have called," Clark muttered to himself. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"You were protecting a hostage," the Chief reasoned. "That's always Law Enforcement's first priority."
"The innocent are the first priority," Superman said firmly. "And there are plenty of innocents in this situation. The bodies are still here."
"You're sure they're children?" he asked.
"Yes. The skeletons are distinctive, although I can't hear a heartbeat from any of them."
"Any idea how to get the drawer's open?"
He shook his head. "I'm afraid to just tear them open. There are controls on the outside, and I don't know if they're locks or if they control something more. I'd like to bring in a specialist, if you don't mind."
The police chief raised an eyebrow in silent query.
"Dr. Klein, from S.T.A.R. Labs," he clarified. "He should be able to tell what kind of containment they're in, if any. This may just be a mausoleum of sorts, but I doubt that. Arianna Carlin was talking about money, and lots of it. You can't sell dead children." Clark had already told him about what he had heard in the facility. It was the reason the Chief had come had come himself, rather than sending a simple uniformed officer.
"Suspension of some sort?" the Chief asked.
"I hope so," Clark said softly. "There are hundreds of children here."
"My god," the Chief said quietly. "So Lane was right. She traced the abductions."
"That's what we're counting on," Superman said firmly. "She had to have been close, or they wouldn't have bothered abducting her."
"True enough. Get Klein over here, and have him see what he can do. In the meantime, I'll post a guard at the hospital, in case they come back for her. I'll put three men here, although I have no clue where I'll find them. I don't have the personnel for this kind of an operation."
"If you need me to stay," Clark began, but the Chief cut him off.
"No, I need you to get Klein over here. We have to find out what's going on with this place, and what to do about it. Either you've just solved one of the biggest mysteries of Metropolis, or I have a hell of a lot of parents to call with some very bad news."
"It's amazing." Dr. Bernard Klein looked at the locking mechanism with something akin to wonder in his voice. "This is clearly a temperature control," he explained. "It's in Celsius, and reading absolute zero. That's probably why you couldn't identify it. Outside the scientific community, the metric system still isn't accepted."
"So they're alive?" Clark couldn't keep the hope out of his voice.
"Most likely," the doctor told him. "Of course, the thaw will probably kill them. The heart and brain can't regenerate after extended periods in this temperature."
"Then why would they…" His voice trailed off. Who knew what went on in the mind of psychotics. The mere fact that she had stolen hundreds of children was testament to the fact that she was mentally deranged. How far could it be from abducting to killing? Still, if she had indeed sentenced the babies to death, then how could she plan to turn a profit? And why would she preserve the corpses so perfectly.
An imagine of little Sarah Lange came into his mind. Perfectly preserved, looking exactly as she had when she had been abducted. It was outrageous, but it would certainly explain the situation. It was a solution that gave him hope, and he desperately needed that at this moment.
"Have you found any controls?" Clark asked. "Anything that could explain this?"
"The police showed me the generators. Each of these chambers is battery charged. Look down here," he gestured to the base of the cabinets. "These are basic Lithium batteries, rechargeable, but they hold more power than you can imagine. Kind of like the batteries on a laptop, only more powerful. They have no memory, and they charge continually. The battery stays with the cell if it's removed from the wall."
"She mentioned a moving van," Clark said bitterly. "They knew we were close."
"Probably," Klein said absently, still looking at the mechanism. He moved the control slightly, changing the balance of the buttons on the front of the chamber. As he tried to adjust them back, there was a loud metallic "pop", and the drawer slid open to reveal a small boy of about two. "Oh my god!"
Clark reached for the child through a haze of fog that formed as the body was exposed to room-temperature air. He moved closer, and looked at frosty cheeks and blue lips. "What do we do?" he asked frantically.
"I don't know!" the doctor exclaimed. "I don't know how I opened it, so I certainly can't close it!"
Clark had nothing more to guide him than instinct. He stepped closer to the boy, then focused his vision in a warm, continuous wave, as he had used when he had frozen Lois years before. It had worked twice before, although she had been cold for a much shorter time. He said a quick prayer that this would work as well.
The child's skin lost it's frosty covering, but the skin was still bluish. As the boy warmed, Clark reached down and pressed on the tiny chest, right between his little nipples. Compressing the chest regularly, about twice a second, he continued his warming gaze.
Gradually, the child's skin became pink, and he took a breath. Then another. Then another. Clark reduced the heat of his gaze, and removed his hand. The child was moving, now, albeit slowly.
"That's amazing," Dr. Klein said softly, lifting the boy from his chamber. "I can't believe he recovered. Of course I'd have to do a complete physical, but I see no reason to think that any other child here would be in any worse condition."
"We can save them?" Clark asked desperately.
"You can," the doctor told him with a smile. "But I would recommend waiting until we have some help, here. I don't mind children, but this many might get a little out-of-hand."
It took hours, but it was worth every moment. Clark tugged each of the drawers open, administered chest compressions as he warmed the child, and time after time he saw life return where it had not existed before.
A few of he children were more stubborn. Thankfully, Superman had heeded Dr. Klein's suggestion to contact the hospital and have an emergency team on hand. More than one child required defibrillation and oxygen, but every single one was brought back from their frozen suspension. Dr. Klein still couldn't explain it, but Superman was too grateful to question.
If there was one disappointment in the procedure, it was that several columns of the chambers were missing. Judging from their size, Clark estimated that twenty children had been moved before he had returned with Chief Henderson. Twenty children were still missing, and it had been Clark's fault.
If he had rushed Lois to the hospital, and then returned immediately with police support, then all of the children might have been saved. In addition, if Carlin had taken the time to return for the chambers, they might have taken her back into custody as well. That was a long shot, as more likely she would have seen the police and not returned, but Clark couldn't ignore the possibility. He had put his concern for Lois over his responsibility to the city, and coming to grips with that decision would not happen in a day or two.
They resuscitated children through the night, and well into the following day. Clark had to make three trips up into the sunlight to recharge himself. While his heat vision didn't drain his power at the same rate as flying, it still managed to do so over time. The trips up into the real world were surreal to Clark. Metropolis looked the same, untouched by the night's events. Garbage trucks were picking up, cars were driving by, and Clark was missing work. The world went on around them, despite the shift it had taken for him.
He made one quick trip to a pay phone so that he could let his parents know what was going on. He reached his mother, who was at the townhouse taking care of CJ. His father was already at the hospital sitting with Lois, so she wouldn't be alone. Martha was excited about the children being found, and soothing when Clark expressed his guilt for not having done more. It didn't help Clark's feelings of guilt, but it was good to know that not everyone hated him for what had happened.
Bringing the children back to life was only the first part of the battle. Each child had to be photographed, receive a physical exam by one of the many pediatricians at Metropolis General that were generously donating their time, and then go through the process of being identified so that they could be returned to their parents.
The records were gone. Along with the missing chambers, Clark regretted the loss of the computer that had been sitting on the desk next to where he'd started the diversionary fire. Clark knew — just knew — that the children's identities had been housed there. As it was, the police were checking every missing child report, every photograph. It wasn't bad for the older children, who looked virtually identical to when they were taken, but for the infants it was more difficult. Despite what every doting mother said, most babies looked very much alike.
Chief Henderson and his staff were relying on the fact that each child had his or her medical records pulled when they were abducted, and both the footprints and basic descriptions could be used in addition to photographs. There were dental records on the older ones, as well. He wanted to take no chances with placing the wrong child with a family, and then having to upset the whole balance when the error was found.
Clark understood the caution, appreciated it, but he was still tired by the time that the last child was placed. They had contacted as many parents as they were certain about, three- hundred and seven children, and another twelve had been placed in foster care pending further investigation. More than eighty children were still unaccounted for, but that was to be expected. There were chambers missing, and some of the abductions had suspected familial considerations, such as divorced parents with custody issues, or documented histories of child neglect and abuse.
Clark was disappointed, of course, but in a city the size of Metropolis, there were many reasons a child could disappear, and eighty was a reasonable number for the three years in question. They were fortunate to find the children they had, and in a relatively uninjured state. They had all been very lucky, no thanks to Superman.
It was nearly midnight when Clark made it home. He had only been able to spend a few minutes with his wife, due to the limited visiting hours on the floor. He'd managed to slip past the nurses and find his way to her room, but she'd been sleeping and he just didn't have the heart to wake her. She had looked as tired as he felt, and sleep would be the best thing for her. He had sat with her for a minute, watching her eyes dart beneath her eyelids, and listening to the reassuring rhythm of her heartbeat. Then, he had headed home.
The townhouse was quiet. He listened carefully for a moment, and found no sound except for three resting heartbeats. Even CJ was sleeping. With a soft sigh, he moved into the upstairs bathroom and stripped out of his suit.
He had managed to recharge himself, but he was nearing the forty-two hour point without sleep. He had no clue what might be going on in Metropolis at the moment, and couldn't find it in him to care. He showered at regular speed, too exhausted to bother with the super variety. The day had been both physically and emotionally draining, and he didn't have anything left.
When Clark stepped from the bathroom, a towel around his waist more from habit than necessity, he was startled by his mother's presence. She stood there, a soft smile on her face, and a sleeping CJ in her arms.
"Something wrong?" he asked softly, not wanting to wake his son.
"I just wanted to be sure you were okay," she answered.
"I'm fine, Mom," he responded.
"You don't sound fine."
"Well, I am."
"Sleeping," he answered, a small sigh slipping from him. He really had wanted to talk to her, to listen to her voice. He needed her tonight.
"I thought so," Martha said with a smile. "Here." She stepped forward and placed his sleeping son in his arms.
Clark's arms automatically surrounded CJ, bringing the warm baby closer to his heart. With a confused expression, he sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled softly as the baby burrowed closer towards him, nuzzling the damp skin of his chest.
"When you were little," Martha began, taking a seat next to him on the bed, "Money was just a little tight. For a few weeks, before the harvest came in, I waited tables at the diner in town. It wasn't that many hours, but it was the late shift. Some nights were hard, with truckers passing through or family arguments running their men out of the house. Those nights, when I got home, your father would be sound asleep. I'd really need to talk, but I didn't dare wake him up when he was working so many hours. He needed every moment of sleep he could get.
"Anyway, on the really bad nights, I'd come into your room and pick you up. You never woke up, but you always seemed to understand that I just needed a few minutes with family. You'd snuggle into my arms, smell so sweet, like all babies do." She looked at her son and smiled. "Spend some time with your son," she advised. "There's nothing better for the spirit than a sleeping baby. He won't be this little for long."
Clark nodded, his eyes suspiciously moist as he looked down at CJ. Martha stood, kissed her boy on his cheek, then did the same for her grandson. "Goodnight," she said softly.
"Night, Mom," Clark told her as he scooted back on the bed and grabbed a blanket to tug over himself and his son.
Clark lay on his back, let CJ snuggle on his chest, and wrapped his arms securely around his son. Within moments, despite the opposite side of the bed being too cold, despite the absence of Lois' familiar heartbeat, Clark slept.
Clark carried CJ in one arm, and a dozen roses in the other. Red roses, symbolizing love. There was no other color he would have brought. While every color was appropriate, yellow for friendship, white for innocence, it was red that overshadowed the rest.
She wasn't sleeping as he opened the door to her room, roses tucked beneath one arm to give him a hand to work with. She was glaring at the television, which was currently silent but displaying an obvious argument by two poorly dressed, overweight women on a talk show. The caption at the bottom of the screen read, "You stole my man!" and Clark couldn't stop his grin.
"Now I know why I work days," Lois grumbled, her face softening as she looked at the gifts Clark had brought her.
"They're pretty bad," he acknowledged, gesturing to the television with his head.
"It's either this or those stupid game shows," she explained. "How they find those idiots, I have no idea. They miss the easiest questions. I got so angry that I had to turn it off, but this is worse."
Clark laid CJ down on Lois' bed so that she could hold him, then put the vase of roses on her bedside table. He had to move the tray of green Jello and beef broth to do so. "Yummy," he commented dryly.
"Someone messed up my breakfast order," she explained. "I'll do without before I eat Jello for breakfast."
"Don't blame you," he responded. "After we check with the doctor, I'll run over to McDonalds and get you an Egg McMuffin."
"He was by, earlier."
"What did he say?" Clark took the seat next to her bed after placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.
"He's arranging for my discharge," she explained, tugging CJ onto her lap so that she could play with the wiggling baby. He was eager to see his mother, and was kicking and jabbering a mile a minute. No coherent words, Clark noted, but lots of sound.
"Better. I still have a headache, though."
"You aren't going back to the Planet until that's gone," he told her firmly.
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, her voice resigned. "The doctor told me. He's also giving me a muscle relaxant for my back." The last words were spoken quietly.
"How did the MRI go?"
"My back's fine," she mumbled. "Or, it will be. The doctor says it's just a muscle strain."
"From what?" Clark asked. "When you got hit?"
Lois was silent for a moment. "No," she finally admitted. "It's been bothering me for a while."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I don't like to complain," she admitted. "I thought it would go away."
"Is it serious?" He moved to sit next to her on the bed, took her hand in his.
She was silent again, and Clark was beginning to get worried by the time she spoke. "High heels," she grumbled.
"I have a muscle strain from wearing high heels," she said with a grumble. "Carrying CJ makes it worse, because it throws my back out of alignment or something. The doctor wants me to buy some flat shoes and a stroller."
Clark couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "That's it?"
Lois gave him a look that was pure threat, her arms encircling CJ even more tightly. The boy laughed at the game, turned sideways and began to snuggle. Lois couldn't keep the irritation on her face as her son patted her tummy and tried to crawl over her.
"He's worth a change in your fashion sense," Clark told her softly.
"I guess so," she sighed. "But flats make me look frumpy."
"Better than chumpy," Clark said quickly.
Lois had to laugh at that. "How are you?" she asked pointedly, changing the subject. "Did you finally get some sleep last night?"
He shrugged one shoulder, but his expression wasn't convincing. "I caught some shut-eye with CJ. I'm still tired, but I'll live."
"How many babies are home, today? These jerks won't let me have a copy of the Planet. Jimmy brought one by last night, but I was too tired to read it then, and they took it when they brought in my breakfast."
"A few over three-hundred," Clark admitted.
"Not bad for a day's work," Lois said smugly. Clark just shrugged again. Lois reached over, wrapped an arm around his back, and waited.
"There were a lot of chambers gone," he said softly. "If I'd gone back sooner…"
"If she hadn't taken them, they wouldn't have been in any danger in the first place. If you hadn't revived them, the babies would have died. If you hadn't gotten that tape off me, I would have suffocated when I started throwing up from the concussion. 'What ifs' will make you crazy, Clark."
"I know that," he responded. "I know that you are more important than anything, to me and to Superman. You're my first responsibility, even before the city."
"So, why the guilt?" Lois asked, already knowing the answer.
"Because Metropolis doesn't know that Superman is married with a family," he said in frustration. "Even if they did, I don't think they'd care. I guess I'm just tired of having to play God, decide who's saved, who's left, and who's not. It isn't just this time, Lois. I make these decisions every day, and they don't get any easier."
"You do the best you can," she agreed. "You make good decisions, Clark. You have a good heart. You always do for others, and you always have. The city knows that. They aren't blaming you, are they?"
"No," he admitted. "Just me."
"Then stop," she said firmly. "You don't cause any of this, the criminals do. Every time. All you do is the best you can, and it's a hell of a lot better than anything anyone else has to offer."
"Thanks," he said softly, placing a gentle kiss at her temple. "I needed that."
"No problem," she said with a grin. "You'll pay for it."
"The backache," she clarified. "The doctor recommended heat and massage. You'll be spending a lot of time on my lower back. I'll consider it repayment for the kind words."
Clark grinned. "I love your back," he said, reaching down to kiss her gently.
Lois returned the kiss, then sighed. "Mmmm, I love you," she murmured.
"I love you too."
"So, did Lois and Clark get an exclusive on the story?" she asked, returning his mind to business.
"Yeah," he told her. "I called in your story last night, then Superman gave Clark an exclusive interview with the details. I didn't mention the missing chambers, though," he said softly. "I didn't want any parents to be disappointed."
"That's probably smart," Lois agreed.
"Chief Henderson thought so, too."
Lois nodded. "How'd Perry like the story? All Jimmy would say is that he's ticked about me getting conked on the head."
"He was okay with it," Clark said thoughtfully. "I was kind of surprised that he wasn't more excited. I mean, it breaks a huge case, and it justifies all the work you've put into it up until now."
"Yeah, it does." She shifted restlessly, and Clark moved CJ back to his own lap, allowing her a moment to rest. "Clark? Do they have any leads on Arianna Carlin?"
He bounced CJ on his lap, got the boy giggling loudly, and then answered. "No, they don't. No fingerprints, no leads, and no way to track her. If I hadn't seen her, heard her talking about Doctor Heller, then we never would have known who was behind it."
"She left a fortune behind in technology," Lois reasoned. "She might be back for it."
"We're hoping," he agreed. "But I don't plan on holding my breath. Superman searched for her for over two hours, so she's either way outside the city, or she's in one of the leaded-out areas, out by the docks. You know those tunnels, Lois. I could walk them for days and still not get to all of it. But, there's no way to check it from above ground."
"I don't think she'd stay that close, anyway," Lois reasoned. "That was her one mistake. She let the babies be adopted here, in Metropolis. That's how we knew something was up, and how we traced the orphanage. She's probably left the state by now."
Clark thought a moment, then shook his head. "No," he argued. "The only thing she liked better than money, which she's already loaded in if she was able to finance this, was tearing Metropolis apart. She tried it before with the anti-Superman campaigns, and she tried it now from the lowest level possible: destroying families at their base."
"You think she's still got it in for Metropolis?"
"Yeah," he told her. "I do."
"Better the city than us," she finally concluded.
"I suppose," he reluctantly agreed. "But I hate to see anyone taking out their aggression on the innocent."
Lois reached over and laid a hand on CJ's head. "I agree," she said softly. She didn't need to say any more. It was in her eyes, and Clark read them all too clearly.
"He's ours," Clark told her firmly. "I can't tell you how I know it, but I do. He's ours. A part of you and a part of me. I can see it in his eyes, and in his temper. He's the best part of both of us, and I'd believe that even if Dr. Klein hadn't found my DNA in him."
Lois nodded, her eyes moist, but she didn't cry. She'd cried enough in the past over this, and she was finished. Clark was right. CJ was theirs, by love if not by birth. How it all fit together, she had no idea, but they had been raising the boy for the better part of eight months, and he'd only been a few weeks old when they got him. Possession was nine tenths of the law, and they weren't giving that up.
Clark watched the battle on his wife's face, reached out and took her hand, then just held it for a while as their son played between them. "I'll pick up a stroller tonight," he offered. "What kind do you want? One of those that folds real little, or a bigger one?"
"He's almost a year old," she reasoned. "Better get the big one. With my luck I'll wrench my back opening the darned thing."
Clark laughed, then stood. "I need to get back to work. Mom's down in the lobby. She wanted us to have a little time together."
"Smart woman," Lois remarked.
"Yeah, she is," he agreed with a smile. "I'll pass CJ to her, then go finish up some stuff at the Planet. What time are they springing you?"
"By noon," she told him. "Otherwise the HMO will have a fit."
"I'll be back by eleven, then."
"I can't wait to sleep in my own bed," she admitted.
"I can't wait to have you there," he told her, his eyebrows waggling in his best impression of a leer.
"Get out," she laughed. "Go to work. I love you."
"I love you too," he grinned. Then he left the room, CJ held carefully in one powerful arm.
Lois lay in the bed for a long time, just thinking about her men, both big and small. She was going to have to stop this, she decided. Her work wasn't her life anymore. She had to take better care of herself if she planned to raise CJ, if she wanted to enjoy any time at all with her husband. She didn't have to be boring, she decided, but there was a place in every life for practicality, and she'd been stepping over that line for nearly eight months. Mothers had a responsibility to their children, and she wasn't upholding hers. She needed to…
Lois' head jerked up as her door opened and a newspaper was thrown to her bed, landing lightly at her feet. She didn't have to look up to see who had thrown her a copy of this morning's Daily Planet. "Go to work!" she called out again, and smiled when she heard her husband's masculine laughter.
She flipped the paper open, glanced at the headline: "THREE HUNDRED BABIES RETURNED SAFELY TO THEIR HOMES, by Clark Kent and Lois Lane."
She smiled, glancing at the accompanying stories on the front page. Gradually, the smile faded as she looked at the by-line. Lois Lane. She'd kept her name when they married, mostly for professional reasons. Maybe she shouldn't have, she considered. Maybe Lois Kent would be a more careful reporter than Lois Lane. Maybe it was something that she should think about. Maybe she'd been wrong.
With a final sigh, she rolled over on her side and rested her eyes. She had almost three hours until they would get her out of here, and it was as good a time as any to rest. After all, she would spend tonight in her own bed, and she had every intention of being up to the occasion.
Arianna Carlin looked over her right shoulder at the columns of chambers lining the moving van. They hadn't had time to take more before the police had stormed their facility. Only twenty-two babies, the youngest infants, the smallest chambers. It wasn't much, but it was all she had.
Returning her eyes to the road, she changed lanes just as she saw the turnoff for Interstate Sixty-four. The freeway ran coast-to-coast, with any number of cities in between. Any number of places that she could start anew. She had only twenty-two children, but she could steal more. She'd find a city that didn't have Superman protecting it.
First he had killed Lex, then he had imprisoned her. It was too much. He destroyed her successes. She would find a place far from him, far from his influence. She would rebuild her facility, rebuild her fortune. She'd started over before, and she could do it again.
She knew she could.
She just had to get away from Superman…
(Now, ya didn't think I was gonna give a TOTALLY happy ending, did ya? <g>)