By Amy Lauters <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Uploaded January 2001
Summary: A tragic turn of events reveals a conspiracy that strikes at the heart of what Lois knew to be true about her life. A sequel to the author's "Night Terrors."
*Note: This is a sequel to Night Terrors, but can be read independently. Standard disclaimers apply.
Lois Lane watched the secondhand on her kitchen wall clock make its way slowly around the clock face. When it hit the twelve, she sighed, watching yet another minute disappear, lost forever to time. One minute, added to the last 17 minutes she'd been waiting for her husband, made it at least 18 minutes since he'd run out the door promising a quick rescue and Italian take out upon his return.
She couldn't shake her nagging feeling that something was wrong.
'Well,' she thought. 'Watching the clock will get me nowhere.' Briskly, she got up and headed for the sink, grabbed a dishcloth and started busily wiping down the stove, the counters, the front of the cabinets and the table.
The shrill ring of the phone grabbed her heart and made it stop. Racing to the phone, she picked up the receiver and breathlessly asked, "Hello?"
"Honey, it's me." Clark's voice came over the line.
"Clark, what's wrong?" Lois asked, instinctively knowing it was bad. "Why aren't you home yet?"
Slowly, he answered, "I just rescued your mother from a four-car crash. I didn't think I should leave her."
Lois dropped her dishcloth. "Where are you?"
"I'm on my way," she said, then hung up the phone, grabbed her purse and marched out the door.
Clark Kent rubbed his eyes under his glasses. For every rescue he made that saved a life, it seemed there was always one where he was too late, he thought. He hoped Ellen would be all right.
He hated just calling Lois instead of going to get her, but he really didn't see a choice. Someone had to stay with his mother-in-law, and he was already there. As Superman, he had explained to the nurses who his charge was, and told them he'd get Clark Kent to the hospital right away. Clark was nearby, he'd said. When Clark had made his appearance just seconds later, the staff were ready for him, paperwork in hand. He'd filled it out as best he could, and called Lois and Sam.
Maybe it was cowardice, he thought, that kept him from flying to Lois. He still felt a chill when he thought of Ellen's torn, bloody flesh, the fractured skull, the broken arm. He'd known the minute he saw her that Ellen would need immediate medical attention if she was to survive. Clark had x-rayed Ellen's neck and spine to see if she could be moved, then sped her to the hospital, his cape wrapped around her head to stem the flow of blood.
More chilling, he thought, was the fact that had been plainly obvious to him: Ellen had been drinking. And she had most likely caused the crash.
The sound of Lois badgering staff at the nurses' station broke Clark from his reverie.
"What do you mean, you can't tell me?" Lois' voice, made strident with fear and anger, rose above the murmured hospital noises. "I'm her daughter. I have a right to know!"
"Mrs. Lane is in surgery," the head nurse, a statuesque blond named Barbara, said soothingly. "We don't have any information to give you."
Clark stepped forward and caught Lois' arm, giving her a reassuring squeeze. "Come on, honey, I'll fill you in," he told his wife. "Thank you," he added, directing his thanks to Barbara.
Barbara smiled. "You're welcome. As soon as we know anything, we'll let you know."
Clark led Lois into the waiting room, then pulled her to him for a reassuring hug. He dropped a kiss on her hair, then stepped back and lifted her chin. Her eyes told him. Lois knew something was desperately wrong.
"It's bad, isn't it?" she whispered. "You would have flown to get me, if it was minor."
Clark sighed deeply, then led her to a brown, battered seat. He knelt in front of her. "Yes, it's bad." He stopped, and clearing his throat, carefully went on. "When I got there, her car was at the heart of the crash. I heard bystanders say she'd been weaving erratically before speeding through a red light, causing a chain reaction crash. I didn't know it was Ellen until I had moved some of the other cars out of the way. Very few others involved were injured, Lois. We can be grateful for that. But I saw a skull fracture, a broken arm, and a number of cuts on your mother. I got her here as fast as I could."
Tears standing in her eyes, she raised a hand to his cheek. "I know." The other hand furiously wiped her eyes dry. "She was drinking, wasn't she?"
Clark hesitated before answering. "I think so, Lois."
"Lois? Clark?" Sam Lane stormed in. "What's wrong? What's happened to Ellen?"
Right behind Sam, a battle-worn woman in scrubs walked into the room. "Ellen Lane?" she asked. Three pairs of eyes went to the doctor. "I see."
"I'm her husband."
More softly, "Her son-in-law."
"I'm Dr. Waters," she smiled tiredly. "Ellen is in critical condition. If not for Superman's quick intervention, she'd be dead of the skull fracture. We've tried to repair most of the damage to her head; we sutured her cuts where necessary and put a cast on her left arm." She paused, then gently continued. "Even so, I'm sorry, but she may not survive. The damage to her brain has been extensive. Even if she lives …"
Sam finished her sentence. "She may not be our Ellen anymore." Suddenly gaunt, Sam sat abruptly down.
Dr. Waters continued. "I'm sorry there's no better news I can give you. She's in intensive care."
"Thank you, doctor," Clark said softly.
Dr. Waters nodded, then gently said, "The police have asked for a blood alcohol level. I think it's important you know."
Sam sat as if turned to stone. Lois covered her mouth. Only Clark could speak. "Again, thank you, doctor." Waters nodded again and left. For a moment, there was silence.
Lois broke it with a mumbled, "Why?" Gathering strength, she began to raise her voice. "Why would she start drinking again?" Lois rounded on her father. "Did you have something to do with this?"
Sam choked, then started to speak, his voice cracking. "Princess, I don't know. I've been working a lot lately; we've had a great infusion of money from a think tank. Your mother and I haven't spent as much time together lately as we had been." He inhaled deeply. "I hope to God I'm not the reason."
Clark broke in. "But you're afraid you are." He put a calming hand on Lois' shoulder. "Sam, I noticed you called Ellen your wife. Not your ex, but your wife."
With weary eyes, Sam looked at his son-in-law. "She's always been my wife. A piece of paper might have legally dissolved our marriage, but in my heart, she's always been — " He broke down, tears falling down withered cheeks, as Lois hurried to put her arms around her father.
As she rocked him, tears filled her own eyes. Since she'd married Clark, Lois had come to realize the importance of maintaining family ties. With her father in her arms, she couldn't help but remember years of fights and silences, widening gulfs and burned bridges. But Lois remembered, too, the days he'd called her princess, and the times he'd helped her. She remembered the time he'd saved Clark's life, and fresh tears spilled as she realized her mother had helped then, too. And now? Now her mother wouldn't know how much she'd mattered.
Looking up, she met Clark's tender eyes. 'Please,' she begged silently. 'Please help me.'
Stepping toward them, he put his arms around them both, wishing he could fly the pain away.
An hour later, Lois sat next to her mother's bedside. She had five minutes to look at the woman who bore her, who raised her, who — despite a tendency to meddle — loved her. And who, Lois could now admit, she loved, too. 'It's too late,' Lois thought despairingly. 'It's too late for me to tell her.'
As if he were in the room, she could hear Clark's voice in her head. 'It's never too late,' she could hear him say. 'It's the moments …'
Lois leaned forward, and carefully took her Ellen's good hand in her own. Quietly, she started to talk. "Mother," she started. Then stopped. When she started again, her voice was no more than a squeak. "Mom, I love you. I've always loved you. Sometimes, I've been disappointed in you. Sometimes, I've been angry with you. I wanted you to approve of me, my choices, so much! It never seemed I was good enough. I wasn't good enough to keep you from drinking; I wasn't good enough to keep you and Daddy together. I tried so hard, Mom.
"And now all I can think about is how, somehow, I failed you. I don't know what happened to start you drinking again. I'm ashamed I didn't even know you'd started. I haven't even talked to you in weeks. I've been so busy." Lois choked, the tears streaming down her face. "And that's no excuse. Why didn't you call me, Mother? Why didn't you tell me things had gotten so bad? I could have helped. I could have tried. And now, now I'm afraid it's too late." She stopped, and stared at the clock on the wall. Just one minute left, Lois thought.
Her voice hardened. "But I can do this much, Mother. I can tell you that I love you. I've always loved you. And I will find out what happened to you. And I will try to set it right, somehow." Lois raised a hand to her mother's cheek, carefully avoiding the bandage on the right side of her face and head. "I love you, Mom," she whispered.
And then Lois left the room, her face set. She went straight to her husband, and one look at her had Clark on his feet. "Come on, partner," Lois told him. "We've got investigating to do."
Clark smiled. "Let's go."
Just outside the hospital doors, Lois stopped short. "Did anybody call Lucy?"
Clark took her hand. "Sam called her. She can't get away until later this evening; Superman plans to go pick her up to save her the fare from California."
Lois smiled thinly. "That's nice of Superman."
"It's the least he can do," Clark said. As they headed toward the Jeep, he asked, "How are you holding up?"
"Better not to ask, not now, not with Mother — " Lois stopped, and hardened her voice again. "I'll be fine, just as soon as we figure out what's been going so wrong in my mother's life that she'd start drinking again."
Clark's voice was quiet. "Are you sure you want to do that?"
Angrily, she turned on him. "I promised her, Clark. It's little enough, after virtually ignoring her for the past year. She's my mother, and I let her down. Well, not now. We're going to find out what got her drinking again, and we're going to fix it."
He pulled her toward him, cradling her in his arms. "You've got it, honey. Tell me what you need."
Lois clung to him for a moment, then pulled away. "We need to start with a look at her activities over the last few weeks. And my father's. He'll probably help us with that. And I want to know what her BAC was. And what she was drinking. I want to know how that crash happened." Her eyes narrowed. "I want to know everything."
"Her blood alcohol concentration? Everything? Tall order," Clark commented as he took her keys and unlocked the passenger door for her.
"Don't think I don't know what you're doing, Kent," Lois warned him. "You don't want me driving right now."
"Sue me," Clark said as he held the door. She hesitated a minute, then got in. "I love you, I want you to be safe. Driving's not a good idea when you're this upset."
"You're probably right," Lois said reluctantly. "Why do you have to make so much sense?"
"Must be a Kryptonian thing," he said as he got in the driver's seat and started the car. "Planet, or home?"
"Planet," Lois decided. "We can enlist Jimmy and fill Perry in."
As he drove, Clark started thinking aloud. "There's no story in this, so Perry's not going to want us to devote Planet resources to it."
"We can do a piece on alcoholism, on drinking and driving, something like that," Lois said determinedly. "We can convince him there's a story here somewhere."
"Why don't we just tell him the truth?" Clark asked.
"He'll try to make me take time off," she complained.
"Maybe," Clark said slowly. "Maybe not. Maybe he'll offer you the chance to look into this. He knows you, Lois. He'll know you need to investigate this, for your own peace of mind. He might as well give you the help you need; not giving it to you won't stop you."
"Got that right," Lois said.
Even though the hour was close to 10 p.m., the newsroom still hummed with quieter night activity, and Perry, as usual, walked through its center.
"Lois, Clark, what're you doing here?" he asked in surprise as the pair got off the elevator and headed toward his office.
"Can we talk in your office for a minute?" Lois asked.
This is serious, Perry thought. "Sure, honey, let's have a seat." As they seated themselves, Perry closed the door. "What's up?"
"Perry, my mother's in the hospital," Lois said, as calmly as she could manage. "She was in a car accident, and the doctors don't think she'll make it. If she does — " She couldn't continue.
"Ellen will likely be a vegetable, Perry," Clark picked up from there. "But there are some odd circumstances surrounding the crash that Lois wants to investigate."
Grateful for helping her get back on an even keel, Lois squeezed Clark's hand. "She was drinking, Perry. She apparently instigated the crash. But she's been on the wagon for years, now, and I don't know why she'd be drinking, let alone driving. One thing she never did, even when she was drinking all those years when I was growing up, was drink and drive. She was a nurse. She knew how dangerous that would be. I can't imagine her doing this now."
Suddenly restless, Lois got up and paced. "I don't know if there's a story in this or not, Perry. All I know is I've got to have some answers."
Perry thought for a minute. "I think you should take some time off."
"Perry!" Lois flashed Clark an I-told-you-so glance.
"Now, let me finish!" Perry said gruffly. "Take some time off from your other regular duties, and devote yourself to this. If there's a story, it's ours. If there's not, well, we'll just treat this as dead-end investigation. Both of you can work on this, but if something major comes up, one of you will have to step up to the plate. Sound fair?"
"More than fair, Chief," Clark said.
"Thank you, Perry," Lois added softly. She stopped pacing, and gave Perry a hug. "You don't know how much this means to me."
"I have a good idea," Perry said. "Take your time. And don't worry about the story. If there is one, great. If not?" He shrugged. "You two are the best reporting team I've ever seen. You've pulled in our top stories, won three Kerths between you. If I can't cut you some time for a personal investigation once in your career here, then I'm not doing you justice. But keep it between us, OK?"
Lois frowned. "What about Jimmy?"
"Let me make myself clear, Lois," Perry said. "You've got your own time to work on, and Clark's. I can't devote Jimmy's, too. Now, if he wants to help you, on his own time, well, I can't stop him."
"Thanks, Perry," Clark said. "We'll manage." He looked at his watch. "Honey, it's time to pick up Lucy."
"Oh, OK," Lois said, a little flustered.
"Her plane lands soon," Clark explained to Perry.
"No problem, son," Perry opened his office door and walked the pair to the elevator. "Take care, Lois. Let me know when there's word about your mother."
"I will," Lois said.
As Clark got back behind the wheel of the Jeep, he asked, "Where to, honey? I'll drop you off, then go get Lucy."
Thoughtfully, Lois said, "I think I want to go back to the hospital."
"There's not much you can do there, honey," Clark pointed out gently. "Your mother can only have visitors five minutes in every hour. Your dad is there with her. Lucy will be there soon."
"I know, I just feel like I should be there, Clark," she said. "Besides, I might be able to find out more about the crash."
"I've been thinking about that," Clark said. "What do you say to me getting hold of Henderson and investigating the accident itself? That would give you some time to check on your mother's condition, and talk to your father about the last few weeks. It'll give us a place to start."
Lois thought that over. "OK. You'll probably get more out of Henderson, anyway." Slowly, Lois said, "I'm not sure I'm up to this, Clark."
Without taking his eyes off the road, Clark laid a hand on his wife's thigh. "I know it's hard, sweetheart. If you don't want to do this, you know I'll understand. So would your mother."
"It's just so frustrating," Lois twisted her wedding ring around her finger as she spoke. "I can't imagine my life without her, Clark. And I feel so helpless."
"Lois, you are anything but helpless," Clark reassured her. "I know how you feel. You feel like you can't do enough to help." He pulled into the hospital lot and took the first empty space. Turning to Lois, he stopped the fidgety ring twisting by capturing her hands in his own, raising the ringed finger to his mouth for a kiss. "Let me give you some advice I got from someone I consider to be a very wise woman. She told me, more than once, that whatever I can do to help, helps. Whatever I can do, it's enough. And now, I'm telling you the same thing."
"Oh, Clark," Lois whispered. "You know I hate it when you throw my own words back in my face."
"I do," he smiled gently and gathered her up for a hug. "But you're so right, sometimes, you just need to hear it again."
Lois buried her head in his shoulder and cried.
A subdued Clark Kent left his wife in the company of her father, and explaining he needed to go back to the Planet to tie up some loose ends, he left. In the dark alley next to the hospital, he spun-changed into the Suit and took to the air, heading to California and Lucy Lane.
On the way, he flew over Kansas, and remembered suddenly that he hadn't called his folks about Ellen. With a whoosh and a thud, Clark stopped on his parents' front porch. Inside the house, he could hear the low hum of the television set and the clank of beaters against the sides of a glass bowl. As he walked in the front door, his mother hurried out to meet him, beaters in hand.
"Clark!" Martha Kent exclaimed. "What brings you out here at -" She checked her watch. "10 p.m., Kansas time?"
"I wasn't sure you'd still be up, but I had to stop. I'm on my way to California to get Lucy," Clark explained.
"Oh, your father's in bed, but I had a dozen cakes to finish before tomorrow's church bake sale and I'm on the last one. What's wrong? Why are you getting Lucy?" Martha asked.
"I can't stay long, Mom, but I need to let you know that Ellen was in an accident tonight. She's in intensive care with a skull fracture and the doctors don't know if she'll make it," Clark ran a hand through his hair, then remembered he was in the Suit. Carefully, he slicked it back again. "Lois is holding up OK; she's channeling her frustration into investigating the accident and how it happened, but Sam's a mess. I thought you'd want to know."
"Oh, honey," Martha set down the beaters in the bowl and put them both on a side table as she reached for her son. "How bad is it?" she asked as she hugged him.
He squeezed his mother briefly, then stepped back. "I got her to the hospital in time to save her life, momentarily. Even if she lives, though, Mom, they say she's had enough brain damage that she might be a vegetable. They really don't know, yet."
"Do you want us to come out?" Martha asked.
"I think Lois would like that, if you guys can take time from the farm," Clark replied. "I know I could use the support."
"We'll have to finish some things up here, tomorrow, but we should be able to come out for a few days, anyway. Since we sold off the cattle, it's really just a matter of crop tending, and we laid the corn by last week," Martha thought aloud. "If we can get Wayne to keep on eye on things, we should be free by tomorrow night. Can you come and get us about five, our time? I'll fix dinner when I get to your place."
Clark protested weakly, "You don't have to do that."
"We're family, honey, and we'll do what we can," she admonished him. "And you'll let us."
"Yes, ma'am," Clark said quietly. He hugged his mother again. "I've got to get going. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Goodnight, Clark," Martha said, as her son stepped out the door and took flight.
On his way to California, Clark took some time to rethink the accident. He tried to remember every detail. He remembered hearing the squeal of tires and the crash of metal, then swooping onto the scene. He remembered the twist in his gut when he saw the destruction, and how the bottom dropped out of his chest when he realized the twisted silver metal at the core of the accident was his mother-in-law's car. He remembered the acrid, tangy smell of blood seeping into upholstery and onto pavement. He remembered, over all, the scent of rich bourbon whiskey.
Clark slowed as he neared Lucy's apartment window, and floated to hover in front of it. Inside, he saw Lucy grab a duffel bag and turn off a light as she came to the window. She gestured for him to move to a balcony on the other side of the apartment, then climbed out on the balcony, where Clark scooped her up and started the trip back to Metropolis.
They made the trip in silence, but as they neared the hospital, Lucy suddenly spoke.
"Thank you for trying to save my mother, Superman," she said.
Surprised, Clark looked down at her. "You're welcome. I'm sorry I couldn't get there to prevent the accident."
"You couldn't have," Lucy said. "How could you have known that would happen?" She hesitated. "But I appreciate your getting her to the hospital as fast as you could. Dad said it might have saved her life."
"I hope so, Miss Lane," Clark adopted the formal tones of his alter ego.
Lucy closed her eyes. "Me too."
Clark set her down at the deserted hospital entrance. "Goodnight, Miss Lane," he said, drifting away.
Lucy looked at him. "Goodnight, Clark," she said softly.
Clark stopped short. "Miss Lane?" he questioned.
"It's OK, Clark, I've known for some time. I haven't told anyone, and I won't. But I wanted to let you know you don't have to pretend with me," Lucy said.
No use pretending, Clark thought. She's my sister-in-law, and a Lane. "But how did -"
"I figure it out?" Lucy sighed. "I know my sister, and I know she fell hard for Superman, and then with you. And then, somehow, Superman wasn't even in the picture anymore. It was just too sudden. All I had to do then was take a good look at the two of you."
Clark smiled ruefully. "Well, I know I don't have to tell you to keep this under your hat. Give me a minute, and I'll walk you inside." He ducked into the same dark, deserted alley he'd used before, changed, and was back in front of Lucy in seconds. "Shall we?" He offered his arm.
Lucy smiled up at him. "Thanks, big brother."
Lois greeted her sister with a hug. "Hey, Luce," she said.
"Hey, yourself," Lucy said, releasing Lois and drawing back to look her in the eye. "How's mom?"
"Still hanging in there," Lois responded with more than a trace of concern. "Dr. Waters came by a little bit ago and told us the next 24 hours will be crucial."
"Where's Dad?" Lucy looked around the battered waiting room.
"He went to get some coffee," Lois said. "He's not dealing with this well."
Lucy raised an eyebrow. "Really? Somehow, that surprises me."
"Lucy, he's really tried to make an effort the last few years," Lois gently chided her sister. "He and Mother, well, they've been seeing each other again."
Lucy shrugged. "Well, good for them, I guess. I hope he treats her better this time around."
"So do I," Lois said softly. "And I hope he gets the chance."
"We all do, honey," Clark chimed in, putting an arm around her shoulders. Clearing his throat, he added, "Lucy and I have something to tell you, Lois."
Lois whirled around to look at him. "You and Lucy have something — well? What is it?"
"Let's just say I figured out he has a second job — and you did find your 'super' guy," Lucy said, her eye on the nurses' station.
"You told her?" Lois hissed.
"No, she figured it out," Clark said reasonably. "I didn't think there was any point to denying it."
"You didn't think, period," Lois railed.
"Lois, you know I can be trusted," Lucy said quietly. "Don't you?"
Lois looked at her sister for one long moment, then sighed. "Of course I do, Luce. You were the only one I trusted for such a long time. Of course I trust you. I just — it's just — well -"
"-it's dangerous," Lucy finished. "I know. But don't worry."
"Lucy!" Sam exclaimed as he walked into the room. He carried two steaming Styrofoam cups to a nearby table, then enveloped his youngest daughter in a hug. "I'm so glad you're here."
"Again with the surprises," Lucy said as she gingerly returned her father's embrace.
Sam ignored the snide comment. "It's good to see you, kitten."
"I wish I could say the same, under better circumstances," Lucy said. "You've looked better." Looking at Sam, Lucy suddenly remembered her father was more than sixty years old. And tonight, he wore every year — and then some — on his face. She pulled him back into a hug. "She'll be all right, Daddy," she whispered.
"Thanks, kitten," Sam buried his face in his daughter's dark hair, then straightened up. "Well," he said heartily. "Together again. For the first time in a long time."
"Except for mother," Lucy said. "What can you tell me, Daddy?"
Sam sat down, and Clark, Lucy and Lois took seats nearby. "From what I can tell, her skull was fractured and the brain damaged in areas that affect motor skills and speech. It's not as bad as the doctors first feared, but she's still critical." He looked directly at Lois. "Her blood alcohol concentration was .2."
"That's twice the legal limit!" Lois jumped up.
"Yeah." Sam rubbed a hand over his face.
"Superman told me he smelled bourbon at the scene," Clark said. Lucy gave him the ghost of a smile.
"Bourbon?" Sam asked. "But Ellen doesn't drink bourbon."
"No," Lois said thoughtfully. "When we were teens, she drank vodka. Drowned it in orange juice, but that was her drink of choice."
Lucy leaned forward. "But, after you left the house, Lois, she drank whatever she could get her hands on. Whiskey, brandy — I never knew what I'd find her with when I got home from school. She was always passed out, with some bottle in her hand." She massaged her temples. "It wasn't always vodka."
"If she started drinking again, would she have picked up where she left off? Or relied on an old favorite?" Clark asked. "I think that's a question we need to find an answer to."
"We also need to know why she started drinking again," Lois said. She turned to Sam. "Daddy, I need to talk to you about the last few weeks. I need you to remember something, anything, that can help us figure that out."
"He's not going to be much help to you in the shape he's in," Lucy pointed out. "And you're not going to make much sense of what he's saying, either, in the shape you're in, Lois." Lucy stood up. "Both of you go home, get some sleep. I'll stay here with Mom."
"We can't leave you here by yourself," Sam protested.
"Of course you can," Lucy said. "Look, I'm here. Take advantage of that. I'm still on California time. Take advantage of that, too. You guys go, catch some sleep, and, Daddy, you come relieve me in the morning."
Lois sighed. "Daddy, she's right. You'll be no good to us if you don't get some rest."
Weary, he looked from one daughter to the other. "I know when I'm beaten," Sam mumbled.
Clark jumped in. "Why don't you come home with us? We'll put you up in our spare room, and that way, we can all get an early start in the morning."
"Fine," Sam said. "Lucy, are you sure?"
"I'm sure, Daddy," she replied. "When is her next visitation?"
Sam checked his watch. "In twenty minutes."
"All right." Lucy grabbed her duffel bag and started making herself comfortable on one of the stained brown sofas. "See you guys in the morning."
"Lucy, if you need anything, holler, OK?" Clark asked.
"I will," she said with a twinkle.
Exhausted, Lois climbed up the stairs to bed the minute she walked in the townhouse door. Clark took only a few minutes to show Sam the guest room and make sure it was tidy. Still, by the time Clark stepped through his own bedroom door, his wife was sound asleep. Quietly, he slipped out of his own clothes and into bed, wrapping one arm around his wife.
But sleep eluded him. Clark thought about the pieces of the emerging puzzle. Bourbon — but vodka was Ellen's drink of choice? Even in the days when she drank steadily, Ellen hadn't driven drunk — that Lois knew of, Clark reminded himself.
So what would inspire a recovering alcoholic — with years of sobriety — to not only start drinking again, but to start drinking a different kind of alcohol and add driving to the list of hazardous activities? Deep within Clark, a bell started to ring. Lois' recent run-in with a pair of scientists who had the means to control dreams had helped to remind him not to take things at face value. Granted, face value, as he often told Lois, was face value. But too many unlikely coincidences too often lead to some sort of criminal activity, Clark thought.
If it hadn't been for the fact that he and Lois had seen to it that Drs. Mortenson and Soppeland had been taken into custody for their activities, Clark might have suspected the pair of having a hand in Ellen's accident. Mortenson and Soppeland had specialized in controlling people's behavior through their dreams, and they had done it well. But they hadn't done their homework; Soppeland assumed Clark would force Lois to seek psychiatric care after her nightmares, not realizing the pair's history with criminals and their deep, loving bond would result in investigation, not therapy. At least, Clark added silently, not immediately.
So, he thought. Step one: check on the whereabouts of Drs. Mortenson and Soppeland. Step two: check on Ellen's activities over the last several weeks, starting by interviewing Sam. Step three: Superman needed to take a look at Ellen's apartment and the crushed remains of her car for signs of any physical evidence that might help him make sense of this…
Too many questions begged for investigation. Maybe, Clark thought, as he drifted off to sleep, they would find some answers.
A nurse showed Lucy her mother's bed in the Intensive Care Unit, and left her alone. Five minutes, Lucy thought.
Ellen looked tiny and battered, surrounded by the hulking medical equipment that monitored her vital signs and helped her breathe. Her head, swathed in bandages, seemed much larger than the rest of her body. Carefully, Lucy seated herself next to the bed, and reached for her mother's undamaged right hand, taking it in one of her own.
"I'm here, Mom," she said simply. "I'm here."
Lucy looked at the clock. Four minutes. How can one put a lifetime of love and conflicted feelings, hurt and anger, into words? She wondered whether Ellen could even hear and understand her.
She remembered, the year Lois left the house, coming home to find her mother passed out in the living room. Ellen had gone through what looked like a bottle of vodka and a gallon of orange juice, then collapsed on the couch. Lucy woke her, as best as she could, and half-dragged Ellen to the master bedroom. Lucy cleaned her up, tucked her in, and made her own dinner.
Lucy had been 16. And after that first afternoon, coming home to find Ellen passed out on the couch became commonplace.
"Mom, I just don't know what to say," Lucy whispered. "You've hurt me — you've hurt us all — more than I can ever tell you. But you're still my mother, and I love you."
Tears started rolling down Lucy's face. "Sometimes, I resented Lois for leaving me with you. She did it because she had to; I know that. She even tried to make up for it later by taking me as her roommate the minute I became old enough.
"But it wasn't Lois I really resented, Mother, it was you. For making me grow up too soon. For making me deal with a drunk when I should have been out with my friends."
She looked at the clock. One minute.
"I've learned a lot since then, Mom," Lucy continued quietly. "And one of the things I've learned is that I can't let the past control me. I can't let the anger, the hurt, the resentment and the pain rule me. I have to let it go."
The nurse came to the door, beckoning Lucy to leave. Lucy let go of her mother's hand, and stood up. Softly, she added, "I'm letting it go, Mom. I forgive you. And I forgive myself for resenting you." Lucy turned to the door, then turned back. "I love you."
Quickly, Lucy left the room. She didn't notice the tear that escaped from the bandages to land on a bruised cheek.
At 7 a.m., Sam got up, showered, and prepared to leave the townhouse. He was reaching for the phone to call a taxi when Clark came down the stairs.
"Good morning, Sam," Clark said. "Need a ride to the hospital?"
"Ah, yes, Clark, that would be nice," Sam cleared his throat. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Clark smiled easily. "You didn't. I normally get up around now. Lois is still sleeping, though." Actually, Clark had heard his father-in-law stirring and got himself ready at superspeed. "I left her a note, and I'll come right back after leaving you at the hospital."
"She was tired," Sam said.
"She was," Clark agreed. "Shall we?"
In the Jeep, Clark glanced over at Sam. Though gaunt, Sam looked a little better than he had the day before. "How are you doing, Sam?" Clark asked.
"Well, I'm beating myself up for not noticing Ellen's return to drinking. I'm worried about whether she'll survive this. The doctor in me says now that she's survived this long, it's likely she'll live, but I'm worried about how. And I wonder what I could have done differently, the last few weeks." Sam eyed his son-in-law. "Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Sam, I just wanted to know how you're holding up," Clark said. "I know you love Ellen. You share two children with her, and you have a history. This can't be easy."
"It's not," Sam said. "I know I've made mistakes, Clark. I alienated my wife by cheating on her. I still don't know why I did that. I alienated my daughters and left them with an alcoholic mother." He stopped abruptly. "I usually don't waste time worrying about past mistakes. But now Ellen's lying on what may be her deathbed, and I should have been able to prevent it. It's making me question myself. It's making me wonder what I could have done differently."
"What could you have done, Sam?" Clark questioned cautiously.
"I could have been around more for her. I could have stopped letting my work be my life. I could have showed her how much I love her. I could have listened to her." Out of energy, Sam stopped, then slowly went on. "How many times did I just ignore what Ellen had to say, just because I couldn't handle her nagging any more? How many times did I just pretend she wasn't talking? The least I can do is admit it. I didn't see she had a problem because I didn't want to see it."
Clark pulled into the hospital lot. "Maybe what you need to do is focus on what you can do for her now. You're a doctor, Sam, and a good one. Be there for your wife."
Sam looked at his son-in-law. "Lois is lucky to have you, son." Quickly, he got out of the Jeep. "I'll send Lucy out."
Minutes later, Lucy, eyes rimmed red and trimmed with dark circles, took the spot Sam left. She looked at Clark. "Just find me a bed, bro," Lucy said, then shut her eyes.
A quiet ride home later, Clark carried Lucy up to the other guestroom and laid her down. Thinking hard, he went to his own room to find his wife putting on her makeup at the adjoining bathroom sink. Clark watched her for a moment, then wrapped his arms around her from behind, bending to press his lips to her neck.
"Hi, sweetheart," he murmured.
Lois turned around to put her arms around his neck. "Hi, yourself. Did you get Daddy to the hospital OK?"
"Yes, and Lucy's already asleep in the other guestroom," Clark said. "I didn't get a chance to tell you last night, but you should know my folks are coming tonight. They want to help."
"Oh, Clark, that's sweet," Lois said, pressing herself closer to him. "I feel better just knowing they're coming to lend their support."
Clark held her for a long moment, then scooped Lois up and carried her to their bed, laid her down, and joined her there. She turned to put her head in the curve of his broad shoulder, and his arms tightened around her. Lois sighed.
"I needed this," she said.
"I know," he replied.
"I'm sorry," Lois whispered.
Surprised, Clark put a hand under her chin and tilted her face up. "For what?"
"For being so nasty to you last night when you told me Lucy had figured out the secret," Lois explained. "I've just got so much on my mind right now: Mother, the investigation. It was just one more thing. I'm sorry, honey."
"It's all right, Lois, I knew that," Clark said. "If it helps, I think I know where we should start."
Lois raised herself up to look at him, her palm placed flat against his chest. "You've been thinking?"
"Well, it seemed like the thing to do." At the soft punch Lois gave him in the shoulder, Clark grinned. "I think we should check on the whereabouts of our dream controllers. Something just isn't right about this whole accident, and I want to check that out first."
"Are you suggesting someone is controlling my mother?" Lois asked.
"Not necessarily. But too much doesn't add up." Clark settled Lois against his chest. "Here's what I was thinking. First, we check to see where Soppeland and Mortenson happen to be in the legal system right now. Second, we try to map out your mother's activities over the last several weeks. Third, Superman checks Ellen's house and car for any possible physical evidence."
"Sounds like a good place to start," Lois said. "Let's get going."
"Now?" Clark started trailing his lips down her neck.
"Well, I suppose it could wait for, mmmmm, an hour," Lois gasped as his hands started to follow his lips. "Or so."
"Maybe a little relaxation therapy?" Clark asked hopefully.
"Definitely in order," she agreed, and turned her lips to his.
Lois agreed with Clark's reasoning; although Mortenson and Soppeland were but the last in a series of criminals who'd tried to tamper with their lives in some way, their involvement was the most recent. At her agreement, Clark flew off to check Ellen's crushed car for physical evidence, and Lois headed for the office.
As Lois stepped off the elevator and into the waiting offices of the Daily Planet, some of the tension balled up between her shoulder blades eased. The hour she'd spent with Clark, before they split up to work the investigation, had helped immensely. But the route she took to the Planet this morning had passed by the intersection where her mother had had her crash, and Lois realized all over again that her mother lay in hospital bed, in critical condition, and that all obvious signs suggested that Ellen had started drinking again.
Just being in the office gave Lois a sense of purpose. So her relationship with her mother hadn't been as close as it could have been, Lois reasoned. Ellen had always been there, in the background. Since she'd stopped drinking, Ellen had been a force to reckon with that Lois knew she could count on in a pinch. Lois still felt guilty she hadn't been the same force for her mother in the last few weeks. But that didn't matter right now, Lois thought. What mattered now was that she could help her mother by finding out what happened.
Lois marched to her desk, pulled out her phone book and started dialing. By the time Clark showed up at the office, about an hour later, Lois had some of the answers she sought.
"Hey, sweetheart," Lois rose to greet her husband. "Guess what I found out?"
Clark kissed her. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," he said suggestively.
They pulled the door shut behind them as they went into the conference room. "OK," Lois started. "First of all, Mortenson and Soppeland were judged flight risks, which we knew, and they're still cooling their heels in the Metropolis City Jail, waiting for their trials to start. Since their arrests, several young co-eds have come forward to implicate them both for sexual harassment, and the DA tells me we might find more charges filed against them as that investigation progresses. Anyway, they've been in jail for six weeks now, and I doubt they had anything to do with my mother's accident."
"Wow," Clark said. "Sounds like a good follow-up."
"Yeah, it should make Perry happy, and it won't take me long to write up," Lois said. "What did you find out?"
"First of all, Ellen's car sustained some serious damage in the accident. Being at the center of a four-car crash, there's a lot of body damage. I took a look inside, and I found the remains of a crushed bottle of bourbon, and I found this." Clark pulled out a small gadget in a plastic bag. "It was attached to her accelerator."
"To her accelerator?" Lois looked at the black plastic object. "Why her accelerator?"
"I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd say it controlled her accelerator, somehow." Clark handed her the bag. "I think we should take it to Dr. Klein, see what it really does."
Lois sat abruptly down. "Someone probably _was_ controlling her accelerator. Why, Clark?"
"Who knows, honey?" Clark sat next to her. "But at least it means your mother was not driving, and she can't be held responsible for the accident." He hesitated. "We should turn this over to the police, Lois."
"I'm not going to stop my investigation," Lois warned him. "Correction. Our investigation. But I think you're right. I don't want Mother held responsible for something she didn't do. Let's take this to Dr. Klein, find out what it's for, then turn it over."
"How about, we tell the police we turned it over to Dr. Klein to find out what it was for?" Clark countered. "They'll need to get on this if they want to investigate further."
"I hate it when you're right," Lois muttered, "but that's only because it happens so frequently." She heaved a sigh. "Since it's my mother's life we're talking about, here, I'll agree."
"Let's call the police, then head to Dr. Klein's. Then we can go to your mother's house and see what we can uncover about her activities during the last few weeks," Clark suggested.
"Sounds good." Lois stood, then leaned over to brush a kiss on his cheek. "Thanks, partner."
Lois shuddered some as she and Clark stepped into the foyer of her mother's house.
"I feel a little like I'm sneaking in after being out all night," she whispered.
Clark raised an eyebrow. "All night, Lois?" he asked.
"So I got an early start on stakeout duty. That's how I found out the lunch lady was having an affair with the principal in the school kitchen after hours," Lois replied matter-of-factly.
"Oh, of course." Clark swept his hand before him in an "after-you" gesture.
As Lois started rummaging around her mother's living room, looking for anything that might help the investigation, Clark headed upstairs to conduct his own search. "Henderson sure seemed interested in that black plastic gadget we found," he called to her.
"Yeah," Lois spoke quietly. She knew he could hear her. "Dr. Klein promised to let him know right away when he figured out what it was, too."." Lois looked over her mother's antique rolltop desk, then pulled the roller part up, sliding it into place to reveal the almost-empty desktop. "Hello," she whistled.
"What?" Instantly, Clark appeared by her side.
"Mother's day planner …and a bunch of letters. Looks like recent post marks." Lois picked them up and started thumbing through them. "Not your typical bills, either. Take a look." She handed them to Clark and started paging through her mother's day planner.
"All postmarked Boston; no return address," Clark riffled the envelopes in his hands at superspeed, reading the postmarks. "She started getting these about six months ago."
"Six months ago." Lois paged back through her mother's planner. "Got a date?"
"March 9," Clark said.
"March 9, Mother had lunch with some friends," Lois said slowly. "She'd had regular lunches, assorted other activities, in the weeks before that." Lois turned the page to the following week. "Then, it looks like she cancelled some engagements. See the crosses through these items? And then, nothing." She flipped through a few more. "Wait. About two months ago, she started putting AA meetings back on the calendar."
"Alcoholics Anonymous?" Clark asked.
"Yeah." Lois looked quickly through the rest of the book. "Not much else listed here. You know, Clark, she'd stopped going to AA meetings regularly a couple of years ago. Mother just didn't believe she needed them any more. Life was finally good for her, Clark." Lois blinked back unexpected tears. "She had friends. She was sober. Sure, she meddled in my life and Lucy's life, but I think that made her happy, too."
"Ellen loves you both," Clark said quietly, putting an arm around his wife. "Sometimes I think her meddling is just a way she shows how much she does care about you and your sister."
"Clark, that's it," Lois straightened. "She stopped meddling."
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't seen Mother, up until the last few days, for weeks; I've barely talked to her on the phone. I chalked that up to my being busy, but, Clark, Mother usually makes the calls. Mother meddles." Lois looked at the letters, still in Clark's other hand. "Mother wants to be part of our lives."
"And she hasn't made the calls, she hasn't meddled, she hasn't been a real part of our lives in at least a few weeks," Clark picked up the thought. He looked at his wife for a long moment. "Something about these letters — or whoever sent them — affected your mother in such a way that she wanted to cut off all contact with her family, and felt it necessary to start attending AA meetings again."
"And where was I?" Lois collapsed on Ellen's couch. "I was too busy with my life to find out what was going on with her."
"You can't blame yourself for that, Lois," Clark reasoned. "Her methods of being part of our lives leave a little to be desired."
"She's my mother, Clark," Lois said. "I should have been there for her."
"You couldn't have known," Clark answered, sitting next to her. "Ellen didn't make it easy for you to find out what's going on."
"No, and with Daddy not there for her, either — " Lois broke off the thought. "Daddy." She turned to face Clark. "Daddy said he got an infusion of money from a think tank, money that kept him in his lab. Clark, do you think there could be a connection?"
"Possibly." Clark looked at the letters. "I hate to read someone else's private mail, but there doesn't seem to be much choice here, does there?"
"Not if we want to know what happened to Mother."
In the conference room at the Daily Planet, Clark picked up the first letter and began to read it out loud.
*"I know you don't want to rock the boat.
It might be hard to explain.
She wouldn't understand."*
"What does that mean?" Lois fumed. "Who wouldn't understand? What boat? What's to explain?"
"Lois, let's read them all before we panic," Clark said soothingly. He picked up the plain white typing paper that had lain in the envelope. "No date, no address, no greeting. Just three lines typed in the middle of the page. On paper anybody could buy at their nearest office supply store."
"Well, obviously, these aren't your usual garden variety letters," Lois gestured toward the stack on the Planet's conference room table. For privacy, they'd drawn the shades facing the newsroom.
"Apparently not. Ready for the next one?" At Lois's nod, Clark continued down the pile. They had agreed to read them in order of appearance.
*"It's not wise to ignore me, Ellen.
All your high class friends would love to know this."
"Don't you think you owe me?"
"I might have to get more persistent, Ellen.
You know what I want."*
Clark frowned. "It sounds as if she was being blackmailed."
Lois got up, opened the conference room door and yelled, "Jimmy!"
Jimmy screeched to a halt in front of the door. "What's up, guys?"
"Jimmy, could you get into my mother's bank records?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess, Lois," Jimmy said cautiously. "What bank, and what am I looking for?"
"It's First Bank of Metropolis, and you're looking for any regular patterns of withdrawals or deposits over the last six months," Lois said.
"I'm on it as soon as I get this copy to the Chief," Jimmy said, taking off for Perry's office.
"Lois, you know we weren't supposed to use Jimmy," Clark mentioned.
Lois shrugged. "So I'll make it up to him later. This is important."
Clark just shook his head. "Ready for more?"
"I suppose," Lois said reluctantly. "It's hard to hear this stuff aimed at my own mother."
Suddenly Clark cocked his head in the familiar "listening" position.
"What?" Lois asked.
"Sounds like an explosion."
"Go," she said. "I'll take care of — " A whoosh as Clark headed for the conference room window had her holding down the stack of letters. "-reading these." Lois settled in to read.
*"You're in hot water now, Ellen.
Was it as hot then?"
"How can you stand to live with yourself?
You're so pathetic."
"I wish I could see your face now, Ellen.
I love watching you squirm."
"I'm watching you now."
"I wish you knew who I am.
It would make it more delicious."*
As the minutes faded into hours, Lois read until her eyes were sore. She came up for air only as Clark came back in through the window, more than two hours later.
"Hi," Lois said, rubbing her eyes. Clark leaned in to kiss her. When they broke apart, she asked, "What happened?"
"There was an explosion at the city dump; it took awhile to get the blaze under control. The fire marshal seems to think it might have been a case of spontaneous combustion, but it's under investigation." Clark settled in next to her again. "I decided to head home and take a shower before I came back. I didn't feel like wearing 'Eau de Garbage' this afternoon."
"Thank you," Lois said gravely, then giggled. "I wonder how we'd explain that?"
"Yeah, especially since Clark Kent has been sitting in this room for all that time," Clark raised a hand to her face. "It's been a while since you've smiled like that."
"I know." Lois turned her lips into his palm. "Thank you for making me smile. Thank you for all the help and support. I feel stronger with you."
Clark looked at her lovingly. "You and I together -"
"-are stronger than me alone," Lois finished for him. She kissed him again, just as Jimmy opened the door.
"Hey, guys, sorry to interrupt." Jimmy bounced into the room and handed Lois a stack of paper. "Your mother's bank records. Seems pretty standard, Lois; I didn't notice any particular pattern. She gets a healthy alimony check from your dad every month, but that's about all I saw as being a regular thing. Maybe you can spot something different."
"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois said, then started looking through the stack.
"You're welcome, Lois," Jimmy said as he turned to leave. "Oh!" He turned back. "I hope your mother is OK, Lois."
"Thank you, Jimmy; I appreciate your concern," Lois smiled at him.
As Jimmy shut the door, she handed the stack to Clark. "What do you see?"
Clark riffled through the paper at superspeed, then set the stack aside. "Jimmy's right, Lois. There are no unusual patterns of money leaving your mother's account."
"Then what can this person want from her? Other than to drive her crazy." Lois put her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. "These letters are downright scary. They allude to some kind of event she wouldn't want known, but they also rip at her worth as a person. It's almost like someone is stalking her."
Clark picked up the letters, now carefully opened and spread out in a stack, and riffled through them, too. "I see what you mean." He set the stack down and looked at it. "I guess my question is who wants to see your mother driven to drink again? Who wants to ruin her self-esteem? And why?"
"I don't know," Lois sighed. "I wish I could talk to Mother."
A knock at the door got their attention before it opened. Perry stood on the other side. "Ah, Lois, honey, your dad's on the phone. Your mother's conscious."
"Conscious?" Lois jumped up.
"He says you might want to come see her. But, Lois, Ellen can't talk. Sam seemed to think she recognized him, but I'm not sure how much of that is wishful thinking, honey." Perry looked at the paper blizzard on the conference room table. "If you want, you can leave this. There's nothing scheduled in here until tomorrow morning, and I can keep people out of here."
Clark spoke up. "Thanks, Perry, but we'll collect all this before we go. It won't take long."
"Suit yourself." Perry left the conference room.
Clark shut the door, and blurred for a moment. When he came to a stop, all the papers were stacked, bound and in his closed briefcase. "Let's go, sweetheart," he held a hand out to Lois.
Even though Clark flew them to the hospital, they didn't get there fast enough. Sam met them at the nurses' station in the Intensive Care Unit to tell them Ellen had just lost consciousness again.
"They tell me she could do this for days," Sam said quietly. "The fact that she regained consciousness at all, and doesn't seem to be in a coma, is a good sign, princess."
Lois sighed. "I really wish we could talk to her. We've got more questions than we have answers at this point — although we've found some indication that she wasn't responsible for the accident."
Sam looked startled. "Really?" he asked hopefully.
"Let's go sit down, Sam." Clark gestured to the same, familiar, battered waiting room. They clustered together in the same set of chairs as they'd used the day before. Lois spotted her father's briefcase lying on an end table, a big, blue medical book lying on top of it. She picked it up.
"Advances in Neurology?" Lois questioned.
Sam shrugged. "Let's just say I got some good advice this morning." He met Clark's eyes. "And I'm following up on it. Did you know that, for all its delicacy, the brain can actually sustain a lot of damage before a patient can no longer live? There are some doctors who speculate Abraham Lincoln might not have died of his gunshot wound to the head if his attending physician hadn't poked his finger into the wound several times."
"Really?" Lois flipped through a few pages.
"It all depends on how much blunt trauma the brain actually sustained, at what force," Sam's voice took on a professorial tone. "There's a reason our skulls are so thick. It's to protect the brain from serious injury from blunt force trauma. It's hard to tell what kind of damage a brain injury will do. Doctors make their best guess based on the area of the brain affected, but a lot of healing lies with the patient. The speed at which your mother got here after the injury, and the quick work by her surgeons, helped to minimize the damage." He stopped.
"But we still don't know how she'll be ultimately affected, do we, Sam?" Clark asked with worried eyes.
"Ultimately, no, we're not sure," Sam said. "But I intend to stay here and help with whatever I can."
"Won't that make the guys at your think tank — what were their names? — upset with you?" Lois asked diffidently, still paging through the book. Clark looked at her sharply.
Sam didn't notice. "MorphCorp could care less, as long as I deliver their product on time — and that's no problem. I finished it about a week ago. I called your mother to celebrate." He laid his head in his hands, rubbing his face vigorously before looking up. "She wouldn't go out with me. Said I'd ignored her for weeks! 'How can you expect me to jump on your say so?'" he mimicked Ellen's most strident tone.
"Daddy, we've discovered some things that might have made Mother react that way," Lois said, laying the book back down on the briefcase and taking her father's hand.
Clark continued. "Someone was sending Ellen threatening letters, starting about six months ago. We cross-checked the letters against her day planner, and found she started to cancel engagements after she got the first one. She added AA meetings about two months ago, and she's deliberately cut herself off from family since."
Sam looked at Clark thoughtfully. "Six months ago?"
"Daddy, when did MorphCorp start funding your research?" Lois looked intently at her father.
"Well, I don't know the date offhand; you know I'm not good at keeping track of details, princess," Sam mused. "It wasn't all that long ago."
"Think, Daddy," Lois urged. "Did you write it down somewhere?"
"I might have." Sam eyed his briefcase. "Let's check my day planner." He set the book aside, picked up the case and opened it. Taking out his calendar, Sam raised an eyebrow. "Date?"
"Check March 9," Clark said quietly.
Sam paged through the book until he found the date. "I had a lunch meeting with the bigwigs from MorphCorp that day. I almost missed it, if I recall correctly, because I was pretty deeply into my own project. But it was shortly after that we got the money for their product."
"What product?" Lois asked.
"It's a gadget that interrupts normal brain rhythms to interject other, preset patterns. Actually, I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it might even help your mother!" Sam jumped up. "It's supposed to stimulate the brain in various areas to help jumpstart them. MorphCorp told us they planned to use it to enhance responses of soldiers in the field. You know, military applications. But if it could be used otherwise -"
"Daddy," Lois interrupted Sam's line of thought. "Why you?"
"Oh!" Sam sat back down. "They said my work with cyberkinetics made me a good choice. It all runs via computer."
Lois and Clark looked at each other for a long moment.
As Clark held the door for Lois at the offices of MorphCorp, he whispered, "Five bucks says there's a connection between this company and the person who's tormenting your mother."
"No bet." Lois smiled up at him. "And if I were to bet, it might be for something a little more — substantial."
A quick phone call from Sam had landed them a meeting with the Projects Director of MorphCorp, Geoffrey Franz. As Lois and Clark were shown into his office, Geoffrey rose from behind his desk and circled it to greet them.
"You must be Ms. Lane," he said, shaking her hand warmly. "And Mr. Kent." Geoffrey met Clark's grip. "I must say, I was surprised to learn Sam knew such august company, let alone that his daughter was the great Lois Lane."
"We Lanes are just full of surprises," Lois said a bit dryly.
Geoffrey didn't appear to notice the sarcasm. "Of course, Sam's working on an important project for us, so I couldn't refuse his request that I meet with the two of you. But I have to admit, if you'd called on your own, I would have wanted to meet you. I've followed your work with great interest." Geoffrey gestured to a nearby sofa and pair of armchairs. "The benefits of a corner office. Won't you sit down?"
As they arranged themselves, Lois got to the point. "Mr. Franz —"
"Geoffrey, please, Ms. Lane," he interrupted.
"Geoffrey," she continued. "My father told us about his project — a device that can interrupt human brain patterns? But he couldn't tell us what MorphCorp intended to use it for. Can you help us out? And please, it's Lois."
"Thank you, Lois," Geoffrey said. "MorphCorp is a research and development company. We make money from such devices by selling the patents to other companies, who, in turn, further develop and manufacture the products. We focus on the front end, often at the behest of a client."
Clark frowned. "It sounds like you accept outsourcing projects from other companies."
"Just so," Geoffrey agreed. "Sometimes our own scientists or affiliates come up with the ideas; sometimes companies have an idea but don't have time to develop it. We step in to further develop the idea, if it can be done, often more cheaply than if these companies had their own research and development departments."
"Can you tell us who came up with the idea for the gadget my father is working on?" Lois asked.
"I'm afraid that's confidential, Lois," Geoffrey said with a smile. "One of the reasons we stay in business is because we don't divulge business secrets from client to client."
"Geoffrey, it may be a matter of life and death — my mother's," Lois explained. "Any chance you could break the rules, just once? It's not for publication."
"I'm afraid not, Lois," Geoffrey replied firmly. "It's to no one's benefit if we go out of business."
Clark stood suddenly. "Thank you for your time, Geoffrey." Taken aback, but covering quickly, Lois stood, too.
"Yes, thank you, Geoffrey," Lois said. "We appreciate your time."
"Not at all," Geoffrey rose to escort them out. The trio walked out to the front lobby, where Geoffrey shook hands again. "Please, come back any time, Lois, Clark." With a nod, he left.
Clark tucked a hand under Lois' elbow. "Shall we, honey?" he asked.
"Certainly." Lois raised an eyebrow at the move, but followed him outside, where Clark walked them around the corner, out of sight of the office windows, then quickly propelled them upwards.
"What's going on, Clark?" Lois asked.
"Shh, let me listen," Clark said, tightening his grip. Clark heard Geoffrey pick up the phone, dial, and start talking without preamble.
"They just left," Geoffrey said.
"Did you tell them anything?" A husky, deep voice asked.
"Just what you told me to — the information they could find out from anybody."
"They've gotten close," the voice continued.
"I didn't expect them to get this close so fast," Geoffrey said.
The voice rumbled into a low, menacing laugh. "Fool. You will see to it that they do not find out who commissioned that device."
"How am I supposed to do that, short of stonewalling them here?" Geoffrey asked.
"You're an intelligent man, you'll think of something," the voice said. "Or you'll die."
At the click and buzz of the dial tone, Geoffrey shuddered. High above, Clark did, too.
"What? What?" Lois asked.
Clark set them down on a nearby rooftop, and spun into the suit. "When you asked Geoffrey who commissioned your father's gadget, his pulse and temperature skyrocketed. I took a chance that he might reveal himself if we left."
"So you got us out of the office to listen in on something?"
"He called another man — at least, the voice sounded male. The voice warned Geoffrey to keep us from finding out who commissioned the device, or die." Clark paced. "It sounded like he knew we'd be looking."
"Maybe we should do a little quiet breaking and entering tonight," Lois suggested. "Lucy plans to be at the hospital; Daddy plans to be at his own apartment tonight. No one will know."
Clark grinned. "It's been awhile since we committed a felony." He walked over and scooped her up. "But it looks like that's the only way we'll find out who's behind this."
"Refresh my memory, Clark," Lois remarked as the two of them silently penetrated the outer offices of MorphCorp. "Why didn't you x-ray the room earlier today?"
"I did, honey," Clark said. "No secret rooms, no hidden safes. We left too quickly to look for more, but that paid off, didn't it?"
She patted his hand absently. "Yes, dear, you did good." Lois grinned at him wickedly. "But you always do."
Clark pulled her into a quick hug. "At least now we know for a fact there's something more going on. We don't just suspect it."
Lois relaxed into his arms for a moment, then pulled away. "And that means we've got to find out who and why, Clark. My mother deserves to know why she's been put through this. And I need to know why, too." She pulled out her lock picks to work on the inner office door. "I need to find out, Clark," she whispered, as the door popped open with a click.
"You've still got it." Clark slipped inside with her quietly. He x-rayed the room again, taking care this time to look for other evidence and cameras. He had disabled two video cameras on the way in with quick bursts of heat vision. As Clark surveyed the room, he found one more. Quickly, he used heat vision to sever the input cable. "Lois, we've got to find the security room and erase the tapes."
"Later, Clark," Lois answered impatiently, from where she was rummaging in Franz's desk. "Can you check his computer?"
"Move over a little," Clark said, as he seated himself in the office chair and booted up the machine. Using a penlight, Lois continued to search through the lower drawers on the desk while Clark quietly tried several password combinations at superspeed. Frustrated, he stopped. "The problem is, it could be anything."
Lois picked up a book from underneath a file in the bottom drawer of Franz's desk. "Dream Watchers?" She opened the front cover. "Clark, this is the same book Mike Soppeland gave me."
"What?" Clark looked over her shoulder. "The exact same book?"
"No, I still have that one in my desk at work." Lois started paging through Franz's copy. It fell open at one, well-worn spot. Frowning, she read aloud, "'And from ancient times, it was believed the god Morpheus controlled all dreams.'"
"Morpheus?" Clark questioned.
"Try it," Lois urged.
Clark typed in "Morpheus," and the machine allowed him access. Once inside, Clark found a standard Windows operating system. He conducted a search, using "Sam Lane." Sam's project was located in a folder labeled "Current research projects." Clark opened up the file directly, and scanned through the documents.
"Here we go," Clark said intently. "Project proposal."
He double-clicked on the file, then was stymied again. "The file you have chosen is password-protected …"
Lois closed her eyes against the frustration. "Try Morpheus again," she suggested. He typed it in.
"Nada," Clark said, staring at the screen.
"Can we copy it?" Lois asked.
"Yes, but the copy will also be password protected."
"So what?" Lois asked. "We'll take it to Jimmy."
"Uh, Lois," Clark said. "Did you happen to bring a disk?"
"Of course I did." She pulled it out from under her black turtleneck.
"Of course you did," Clark echoed, then put the disk in the drive to copy. As he did so, Lois put the book back in the bottom drawer and started to look through the bookshelves in the corner. She paused.
"Clark, here's another copy," Lois said.
Clark looked up. "Another copy of what?"
"Dream Watchers." Lois pulled it off the shelf and paged through it. "It looks like the same edition."
Finished copying the files he needed, Clark popped the disk out of the drive and powered down the machine before joining Lois at the bookshelf. "That's a strong coincidence, don't you think?" he asked as he peered over her shoulder.
"Downright creepy," Lois agreed. "And why would anyone want two copies of what looks like a standard academic work?" She handed the book to Clark. "Look, this one is in pristine condition, while the other, hidden in the desk, is so worn out it falls open."
Clark shrugged. "That's not so unusual. I have several books I've read to pieces. Usually, if they're that good, I pick up new copies when I get the chance." Suddenly, Clark's head went up. "Someone's coming."
Quickly, he put the book back, grabbed Lois, and floated up to the ceiling, pinning Lois between himself and the ceiling tile. Their black clothing blended into the shadows on the ceiling as Franz quietly entered the room and crossed to his desk. Reaching into the bottom desk drawer, Franz picked up his copy of "Dream Watchers" and left as quietly as he came in.
Lois looked at Clark. In a barely audible whisper, she said, "Let's follow him."
Clark nodded his agreement. He floated them down, then disappeared for a moment. When he materialized again, seconds later, he held a hand out to her. "I glanced at the security tapes. We don't appear on them. Hopefully, they'll just think the cameras malfunctioned."
"Details-oriented." Lois grinned. "I knew you'd come in handy."
He kissed her on the nose. "Let's go follow Franz."
To remain as inconspicuous as possible, Clark remained in his black outfit as he and Lois took flight to follow Franz, who drove a late model black Mercedes. From high above, he watched as Franz took a circuitous route that finally ended at a deserted park on the outskirts of Metropolis. Franz' car joined two others in the parking lot, and Franz himself stepped out of his car, dragging a dark robe behind him.
"What's going on?" Lois stage-whispered.
"It looks like he's meeting someone," Clark spoke quietly. "He just put on a robe, pulled out the book, and it looks like a candle. Yep, it's a candle; he just lit it. Now he's walking to the top of a small hill in the center of the park, and there are about five other people there. All of them are wearing robe and carrying lit candles. Only Franz has a book."
"This is weird, Clark," Lois said. "What else?"
Continuing to speak quietly, Clark said, "They're gathering in a circle, and Franz just opened the book. He's reading that same passage you found, Lois. All the robe guys are raising their candles — Oh, wait." Clark floated them even higher, against a dark part of the sky. "They're all looking up."
"Do you think they saw us?" Lois asked anxiously.
"We're pretty small from down there; I kind of doubt it. But you never know," Clark said. "That's why I moved us."
"Can you still see them?" Lois asked.
"Yeah, they're chanting. 'Morpheus lives' 'Come to us' 'Morpheus lives' 'Come to us.' It's pretty repetitious. Now they're lowering their candles, and they've tamped them out on the ground. One just stepped forward, and he's speaking." Clark listened for a moment. "I think it's the same voice I heard on the telephone with Franz."
Excitedly, Lois asked, "Can we get lower, so we can identify him?"
"Did you bring a camera?" Clark asked. "It's not likely we'll know who this is."
"Of course," she said, reaching into a side pocket on her jacket and pulling out a small camera.
"Will that work?" Clark eyed it doubtfully. "It's awfully dark."
"I loaded it with 1600 speed film before we left," Lois said. "We should be able to get a fairly clear picture."
Clark nodded. "Hold on." He sped them to the ground, just behind a shelter, near the hill where the meeting was taking place.
Lois used the camera and zoomed in as closely as possible on the leader's face, while Clark listened intently to his speech.
"My brethren, tonight I come to you bearing the wishes of Morpheus," his low, raspy voice sent chills down Clark's spine. "We have not yet succeeded in isolating the Chosen One. Our earlier attempt to control her failed. We now want to drive her family members from her, but that attempt seems also to be failing." He stopped, then fixed each member of the circle with a steely, green-eyed stare. "We must not fail. Morpheus desires this woman to be by his side. To fail means certain death."
"What more must we do?" Franz spoke from deep within the recesses of his hooded robe. "We have planted doubt."
"There must be more doubt," the leader spoke harshly. "There must be a wedge driven between the Chosen One and all of her friends and family. None must be surprised when she decides to leave this realm forever to dwell with Morpheus."
Another group member spoke in a light, feminine voice. "We faced no difficulty in isolating her before she married. What force is this that keeps her safe?"
Cool, English tones answered. "None could have foreseen the love she bears for her husband. We have spent years waiting for this plan to come to fruition. I fear we have but one option left."
Dispassionately, the leader nodded. "We must kill her husband."
"I agree," Franz said. "Without him, she will be lost, and ready to accept Morpheus."
"What say you, Brethren?" the leader asked.
Solemnly, each said, "Aye."
"Then let it be so. We will kill her husband." The leader stopped, then pointed at a robed figure who had remained quiet, face hidden. "And you shall take up the task."
"Let it be so." The figure moved, pushing its hood back off its face to reveal the face of Beverly Cox.
Without preamble, Clark lifted Lois up and away from the site.
"Clark, what are you doing?" She squirmed a little, but not enough so he would accidentally drop her. "I was getting pictures."
"And I was learning about a plot to isolate you from all your family and friends so you can join the God of Dreams in another realm — and that they've decided to have Luthor's Mrs. Cox kill me to do it," Clark said grimly.
Lois stopped and looked at him in astonishment. "What?"
"This group of people has been working for years to isolate you from friends and family so you can be ready for Morpheus," he told her. "It sounded like Mike Soppeland's dream control plan might have been orchestrated by them, too."
"Clark, listen to me. What you're saying is unreasonable. Why me? And when did Mrs. Cox come back? How long has she been part of this group? And how come these people believe in a nonexistent god to the extent that they're willing to drive my parents apart, drive my mother to drink, and kill you — all just to isolate me?"
"I don't know," Clark slowed as they approached the townhouse, "but we're going to find out." He scanned the house. "My parents are here," he said with some surprise. "I forgot, I was going to pick them up tonight."
"They must have decided just to fly in when they couldn't get in touch with you," Lois surmised. "I'm glad I gave Martha that extra key."
"Mmmmm, she brought apple pie," Clark sighed. "Let's go in. Maybe they can see an angle we can't."
"And I think we've got to get on the phone and find out where Mrs. Cox has been for the last four years," Lois added. "Clark, how long do you suppose she's been in on this plot?"
"I don't know." Clark looked in every direction and floated them down to the back patio. "But it seems logical she might have had something to do with Luthor's plans back then. I mean, he cut you off from everything and everyone you knew and loved." Soberly, he pulled her close for a minute. "I wonder if she had a hand in it?"
Lois put her arms around him and squeezed, resting her head against his chest. "Hmmmm. Clark, let's think about it tomorrow. I want to call the hospital, greet your parents, and snuggle up to my husband."
His grim expression softened. "Sounds good to me."
The peaceful night Lois had envisioned for herself and Clark failed to materialize, as so often happened. Clark was called away to deal with a wildfire in Colorado, and although he protested the idea of leaving her, she insisted he go.
"There are people who need your help — some of whom may die if you don't," Lois said. "Go. Martha and Jonathan are here, and I know you'll be back as soon as you can."
Clark kissed her, hard, then stepped back. "Be safe, Lois," he said, as he spun into the suit and leapt into the sky.
"You, too," she whispered back into the quiet of the night, before slipping into the house to the warm scent of apple pie and the company of her in-laws. So much had happened, so quickly, Lois thought. She lingered in the kitchen doorway, quietly watching Martha cut pie, her back to Lois. As Martha turned, she jumped, startled.
"Lois!" Martha exclaimed. "I didn't hear you come in."
Lois smiled wanly. "I guess I'm feeling a little quiet tonight. How are you and Jonathan?"
Martha hurried over and gave Lois a warm hug. "We're fine. When we couldn't get hold of Clark, we just came up on our own. I hope that's all right?"
"You know it is, Martha," Lois said, resting in Martha's arms for a minute to breathe in the spicy scents of cinnamon and cloves that would always mean Kansas, comfort food, and the kindest woman Lois had ever known. "Thank you for coming."
Martha pulled back and looked Lois in the eye. "We're family, too, honey, and we'll be there to support you. I'm glad we could come." She led Lois to the kitchen table. "Sit down, have some pie." Martha seated Lois, then went to the opposite counter, eased out a piece of warm apple pie, placed it on a plate and walked back to set it in front of Lois. "Want some tea?"
"I'd love some."
Moving around the Lane-Kent kitchen as if it were her own, Martha filled the kettle with water and set it on the heat, then took down a ceramic tea pot. She filled a mesh ball with loose chamomile tea leaves, then set it in the pot to wait for the kettle.
Lois watched her, basking in the comfort of her mother-in-law's care. "I wish I felt like this around my mother," she said wistfully.
"Like what, honey?" Martha asked.
"Safe. Cared for. Protected." Then, softer than the rest, so soft Martha almost didn't hear it, Lois added, "Loved."
"Oh, Lois," Martha said gently, filling the pot with hot water from the kettle. "You know your mother loves you."
"I guess I do." Lois paused. "It's just that she has such a hard time showing it in any positive way. She nags, and whines, and drags me on shopping trips I really don't want to go on. I could never picture her here in my kitchen, making me tea."
Martha got two cups and set them, along with the teapot, on the table next to the sugar. "Some women have a hard time demonstrating their love. Some men do, too."
Lois reached out and poured herself a cup. "Clark showed me that what I interpret as nagging, my mother interprets as demonstrating her love. What I interpret as incessant whining, she interprets as a way to get attention. I don't know if she thinks she'd get it, otherwise." Lois sipped her tea. "I feel so guilty … I just didn't notice something was wrong. And now, it might be too late."
Martha poured a cup of tea for herself. "Did you and Clark find out anything?"
Lois set the cup back down. "We found what appears to be a conspiracy to drive me from my family."
"We found a group of people who worship the God of Dreams, Morpheus, and they plan to make me his bride. It sounded like they've been planning it for years." Lois shook her head in bewilderment. "I have no idea why — but Lex's former assistant, Mrs. Cox, was there, and she's been told to kill Clark. We have some evidence that a project my father was working on is designed to control brain activity, the person who commissioned that project is part of the same group. We found nasty letters written to my mother over the last few months, letters that apparently drove her to cut off contact with her family and maybe, start drinking again. We also found evidence my mother wasn't driving the car, but it was being controlled by someone else."
"Heavens," Martha said. "What do you plan to do about it?"
"Clark and I have to talk about that, yet, but I have a computer disk and film that need to go to Jimmy. We have pictures of the group's leader, and we have files from MorphCorp that should tell us who commissioned my father's project," Lois said. "I should call Jimmy right now."
"What could he do?"
"He can develop this film. It's black and white, 1600 speed, for night work. The Planet's sports photographers use it for night games." Lois pulled out the camera and the disk from where they were still tucked in a pocket, and turned them over in her hands. "The files on the disk are password-protected, but we hope Jimmy can crack them. We should then have Jimmy cross-reference the pictures we develop against any known criminal databases we have."
Martha got up, grabbed the cordless phone off of the kitchen wall, and handed it to Lois. "Then let's get started."
Smiling wryly, Lois dialed.
For the second night in a row, Lucy sat up in the Intensive Care Unit with her mother. Doctors now held a shred of hope that Ellen might recover from her head trauma. The explanation didn't make much sense to Lucy, but it appeared Ellen might not have been hurt as badly as they first suspected.
Sam had gotten in on the act, bringing the doctors a high-tech gadget that he claimed would stimulate brain activity in some way. Because it was experimental, they were waiting for permission from some federal agency to try it, if it became necessary. Lucy thought perhaps it wouldn't be necessary. Ellen had begun to fight.
Lucy wasn't sure when it had happened, exactly. It might have been some time after the talks Lucy and Lois had with their mother, but the minute Ellen regained consciousness for that sparse amount of time, Lucy had an overwhelming sense of relief. Her mother, she was sure, wasn't going to die.
Just before Lucy had come to the hospital, Clark had taken her aside to tell her about what they'd found, and what they intended to do that evening. Lucy hoped they'd gotten results.
"Lucy?" Nurse Barbara asked with a smile. "You can have your five minutes, now."
"Thanks, Barbara," Lucy smiled back tiredly, then got up and walked into Ellen's room. She seated herself at her mother's bedside, then began her hourly, one-sided conversation.
"Well, Mom, it seems Lois has found some evidence that you weren't in control of the car," Lucy started. "It's a relief for all of us, but I imagine mostly for you. It just didn't feel right to us, Mom. Even when you drank every day, you never drove. I think it was that that got Lois going. And you know Lois, Mom. When she gets her mind set on something, there's no stopping her.
"Lois and Clark planned to do some more investigating tonight. They think they might be able to find the person responsible for all of this, and I sure hope they do."
Ellen's eyelids flickered. Lucy leaned forward. "Are you awake, Mom?"
Ellen's lashes fluttered again, then, with noticeable effort, her eyes opened.
"Lu …" Ellen moaned.
"I'm here, Mom," Lucy crooned, reaching for the nurse call button. She pressed it. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired?" Lucy asked. Nurse Barbara appeared in the doorway. "Barbara, she's awake. Call my sister, will you?"
"I'll get the doctor, too," Barbara said as she turned away.
"Lois? Lois is on her way, Mom," Lucy said urgently. "Try to stay awake."
Ellen swallowed with difficulty, then shut her eyes tightly and reopened them. "See …"
"See what, Mom?"
"See … fur."
The doctor bustled in to the room, and flashed a light in each of Ellen's eyes. "Mrs. Lane, do you know where you are? Can you talk to me?"
Tears filled Ellen's eyes. "Lu … See … Fur …" She stopped, frustrated. "Tell … Lo …"
"You want me to tell Lois 'See Fur'?" Lucy asked.
Exhausted, Ellen closed her eyes.
"Mrs. Lane? Mrs. Lane?" The doctor checked the monitors. "It looks like she's unconscious again." The tall, blond young man watched Ellen breathe for a moment, then turned to Lucy. "What was all that about?"
"I'm not sure," Lucy replied, looking at her mother. "But maybe my sister will know."
"Your mother's a fighter." He looked at Lucy, as if for the first time. "I'm William Cross."
"Lucy Lane." They shook hands. "And all Lane women are fighters."
"That's good to know," William said. He glanced at the wall clock. "How long have you been in here?"
"Too long; my five minutes are up," Lucy said wistfully.
"Lucy, I've got a break here; want a cup of coffee?" William asked.
Lucy looked into William's deep, blue eyes. They were kind. "I'd love to; just let me tell Barbara where to find me."
"She said, 'See Fur'," Lucy dutifully reported to Lois at breakfast. By unspoken agreement, all the Lanes and Kents gathered for a good breakfast before scattering: Lucy to bed, Sam to the hospital, and Lois and Clark to the Planet.
Clark, who'd got in around 5 a.m., looked up tiredly from his full plate of ham, sausage, eggs, hashbrowns and blueberry muffins. "See Fur?"
"I wonder what that might be," Lois thought aloud. "Lucy, what were you talking to Mother about before she woke up?"
"I was telling her about your investigation," Lucy said. "I said you were looking for the person responsible for all of this."
"Do you suppose she was trying to tell you?" Martha asked, passing around the muffin basket.
"She was kind of monosyllabic," Lucy explained. "I wouldn't know if it was just the first syllable of two different words, or what."
Sam looked thoughtful as he dug into his hashbrowns. "I wonder if she meant 'Siefert'?"
"Siefert? Who's Siefert?" Jonathan asked.
"He's an old acquaintance of mine," Sam said. "I always suspected …" He trailed off, cleared his throat, and started again. "I always suspected he'd had an affair with your mother."
Lois' eyebrows shot up as far as they could go. "Mother?"
"I think he sort of swooped in when it looked like I was getting too careless with her affections," Sam put his fork down. "Princess, it often happens that way. One partner messes up, and the other goes out of his or her way to get some sort of revenge. Ken Siefert always liked your mother; he often told me how lucky I was to have such a beautiful woman."
"You sound unsurprised," Clark said.
"By that point in our marriage, we were in the business of hurting each other." Sam looked away from Clark.
Pensive, Lois asked, "Would this Siefert guy be capable of hurting Mother this way?"
Sam, who had resumed eating, chewed and swallowed while he thought. "I wouldn't have thought so, but I'm not the best judge of character, princess," he said. "You, as well as anyone, should know that."
"I think we should find this guy and talk to him, Clark," Lois said. "Maybe he can shed some light on what happened to Mother."
Clark rubbed a hand over his eyes, then suddenly cocked his head. "I think it's a good idea, Lois. Why don't I run to the Planet and get started, while you get Lucy settled in?"
"You need to leave in the middle of breakfast to get started, son?" Sam raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, I'm finished," Clark assured Sam as he got up.
Lois picked up the excuse. "He never eats much at breakfast, anyway. I'll see you at the Planet, sweetheart."
Clark kissed her quickly. "I'll leave you the Jeep. The bus should be at the corner any minute."
"Thanks. Be careful," she said quietly.
With a reassuring smile, Clark left.
To make Clark's cover more realistic, Martha started piling dirty plates up to clear the table. "Jonathan, will you help me in the kitchen for a minute?" she asked.
"Oh, sure, Martha." Jonathan stuffed the last bite of blueberry muffin in his mouth and got up, carrying his plate into the kitchen.
Lucy looked around, suddenly amused at what must have happened. "I'm a little tired and punchy, myself, Daddy, so I think I'll turn in." Eyes twinkling, she looked at Lois. "But this breakfast was just super."
"Oh, yes, princess." Sam scooped up a last bite of egg, washed it down with orange juice, then stood up. "Super, indeed. Well, I'll be off to the hospital. I'll let you know how things go."
"I'll get your plates, Daddy, Lucy," Lois said. "And both of you, take care today."
"Oh, I'll just be sleeping, so don't worry about me." Lucy yawned. "Goodnight. Or should I say morning?" With that, she headed up the stairs.
"And, princess, you know I'll be careful." Sam kissed his daughter on the forehead. "You do the same."
At the Planet, Jimmy had photos ready to go.
"I checked these against the Interpol, CIA and MI5 databases — nothing," Jimmy said as he tossed the sheaf of pictures on Lois's desk.
"Do I want to know how you got into all those databases?" Lois asked with a grin.
"Ah, no, and to divert your attention," Jimmy handed Lois another sheaf of papers, "here are copies of the documents on the disk you gave me. Hope they're helpful."
"Jimmy, you're worth your weight in gold," Lois said fervently.
"Just buy me dinner some night, and we're even. Better yet, let me in on the final action here so I can get pics," Jimmy said.
"You're on." Lois spied Clark getting off the elevator. "Let's go show Clark."
Jimmy followed her to Clark's desk, and they set the pictures and documents in front of him.
"Morning, CK!" Jimmy said. "Look what we've got."
Clark sifted the papers in front of him. "Wow." He stopped on one page. "See a familiar name, Lois?"
She looked. "Ken Siefert commissioned Daddy's brain gadget?"
"Let's run these pictures to the hospital." Clark looked at them again. "I have a hunch he'll tell us this is Siefert."
In short order, Lois and Clark found Sam at the hospital, where he was pacing in the waiting room, mumbling to himself. Clark couldn't help grinning at what he heard — snatches of "doctors" and "all the same" and "wouldn't know a good invention if it bit them in the -"
"Hi, Sam," Clark interjected quickly. "Could you take a look at something for us?"
Sam stopped pacing. "I've got nothing better to do," he said grumpily. "Hi, princess."
Stifling a grin of her own, Lois kissed his cheek. "Hi, Daddy," she said. "Trouble?"
"Just the usual," Sam grouched. "I can't get Ellen's doctor to see reason and try out my gadget on your mother."
"Well, technically, it is experimental," Lois reasoned, then, catching her father's disgruntled look, added, "They just don't know the level of your genius."
Sam snorted. "What can I do for you two?"
Lois held out the picture. "Can you identify this man? Is this Siefert?"
Sam glanced at it absently, then bent down for a closer look. "That's Siefert, all right," he said grimly, taking the picture from Lois. "Where did you get this?"
Lois and Clark exchanged looks. "Well," Clark said. "Lois took it while we were investigating the company you're working for, Sam."
Stunned, Sam looked up. "What does MorphCorp have to do with all this?"
"We're not sure the company has anything to do with this," Lois said. "But we got this by following Franz. We've got proof that Siefert commissioned your brain wave thingy."
Sam sat down heavily. "Why?"
"That's the question, isn't it?" Clark sat next to Sam. "Sam, can you think of anything — anything at all — that might tie Siefert to your family, other than the affair you suspect Ellen of having with him?"
"We'd been friends for years, Clark. Years! He always told me how lucky I was to have Ellen, and two beautiful daughters." Sam grew hoarse. "When the girls were very little, and I had to work at the hospital, he'd escort them, and Ellen, to the park, to the zoo."
Clark didn't like the sound of that. "Why, Sam?"
"I sent him," Sam said. "When I was deep in the middle of a project, I'd call him up, and he'd go over to take my place in family plans."
"Why don't I remember any of this?" Lois asked, bewildered.
"You were awfully small, honey. And I think that your mother started getting a sitter for you two and just stepped out with him by herself after awhile," Sam said bitterly.
"And who do you blame for that, Daddy?" Lois said quietly. "If you'd come yourself — if you'd stopped letting work interfere with family — this whole mess might have been avoided."
"Don't you think I know that now, Lois?" Sam tensed. "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and if I had to do it over again, knowing what I do now, I would act differently. But how was I to know then? How?"
"There's no way you could have known," Clark soothed.
Lois looked sharply at Clark. "You're not _defending_ him?" she asked skeptically.
"Lois, it wouldn't be the choice I'd make, but there really wasn't any way your father could know without a doubt the ramifications of his decision at that point," Clark said logically.
"Princess, believe me, if I'd known, I would have done things differently," Sam buried his face in his hands.
Lois looked at her father, who seemed to have aged ten years during the course of the conversation. What do I do? Then she knew. Dropping to her knees, she wrapped her arms around Sam. "It's all right, Daddy," Lois whispered. "You couldn't have known. But you do now. And now, you can do something about it."
Sam lifted his head. "What?"
"You can help us find out why Siefert's been trying to break up our family — for years — and who this Morpheus character is. You can call him up, ask him to dinner or something. Help us, Daddy," Lois implored determinedly.
Clark suddenly tilted his head. "Lois, why don't you work out some of the details with Sam?" he asked. "I'll run back to the Planet and see what else I can dig up on Siefert." After I deal with the hostage situation at the First Bank of Metropolis, he added mentally.
Lois eyed her husband's stance, then quickly replied, "Of course, honey." Lower, she added, "Be careful — remember Mrs. Cox …"
With a nod, Clark ducked out of the room.
"That was nice of Clark," Sam muttered, returning his daughter's hug and straightening up.
Distracted, her thoughts on Mrs. Cox, Lois replied, "Hmmm?"
"Giving us time to talk," Sam spelled it out for his daughter. "It was pretty obvious."
"Was it?" she asked, smiling. "OK, Daddy, let's make a plan."
After dealing with the hostage situation — no casualties, suspects in custody — Clark flew over Metropolis on a quick patrol en route to the Daily Planet. Since Ellen had been injured, Superman had been noticeably absent in the city, a situation Clark wanted to change, especially after Lois' reminder about Mrs. Cox. It wouldn't be good if she put two and two together, and found some Kryptonite to kill him off, Clark thought.
As far as Clark knew, only two methods existed that might kill him off: someone could expose him to Kryptonite, or deprive him of sunlight and take him out. Mrs. Cox, who presumably didn't know Clark was Superman, might try just about anything to fulfill her task of killing Clark.
The problem, Clark thought, will be to catch what she's planning, and make it appear that whatever she tried simply didn't work. Otherwise, she might figure out the secret, and as Luthor's former confederate, might also know where to get Kryptonite.
Clark landed on the roof of the Planet, changed, and headed downstairs.
"Frankly," Lois told her father, "I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner." She handed Sam a microphone and mini-cassette recorder.
"Probably because we only got proof today," Sam said as he taped the microphone securely in place, then looped the recorder into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. "And now, we'll get more when I take Ken to dinner."
"Remember to lead him into the discussion about our family slowly, Daddy," Lois cautioned. "He might be suspicious as to why you want to talk to him now. It's been a while since you two had any serious contact."
"Yeah." Sam straightened his sleeves. "I'm surprised he still lives in the same spot."
"Not Boston, though," Lois said thoughtfully. "The letters Mom was getting were all postmarked Boston."
"One of the many mysteries we need to clear up," Sam said almost cheerfully. "When I talked to him on the phone, he did seem a little surprised to hear from me, but when I told him I'd figured out he was the one who commissioned my current project, he seemed downright eager to see me."
"I bet," Lois laced her tone with sarcasm. "But it got him to see you, didn't it?"
"Yes, it did, princess," Sam said. "I told him I was so grateful, I wanted to take him to dinner. I don't know if he bought it, but I guess we'll see."
"I guess so." Lois stepped back and looked him over. "I can't see a trace of your mike or your recorder; you look good. Now, remember, I'll be listening in, too. I don't think you'll run into serious trouble, but if you do, I'll know it."
"Do you suppose we should wait for Clark to get back before I leave?" Sam asked.
"No, Clark's got his own job to do right now," Lois said. "We can handle this. I'll call him if we need him."
"All right; you're the professional," Sam said. "Let's go."
Clark x-rayed the Planet newsroom before entering it, scanning for Mrs. Cox or any "surprises" she might have left for him. He paid particular attention to his desk and chair, but found nothing unusual, and as he walked in, Perry caught his attention.
"Clark!" Perry called. "I need to see you in my office."
"Coming, Chief," Clark replied. He grabbed a notebook and pen off his desk on the way by and strode into the editor's office. "What's up?"
"Sit down, Clark." Perry gestured to the seats in front of the desk.
Clark raised an eyebrow, but complied. "Something I should worry about, Chief?"
"It's come to my attention that you've been using Jimmy for the work about Ellen's accident," Perry said. "I thought we discussed that?"
"We did, Chief," Clark hesitated, then continued, "but we've uncovered a lot of stuff that points to a big conspiracy — and we definitely know Ellen wasn't in control of that car. We're not even sure she was drinking. And we've got pictures of a group of people, all of whom were plotting to divide Lois from her family."
"And kill you."
Shocked, Clark stuttered. "How did you — ?"
"While you were out, we had to have the bomb squad come in and disarm a device Jimmy conveniently found under your chair — just big enough to kill you," Perry said. "I gathered something was going on, and I shook it out of Jimmy. I thought I told you two to keep me informed of what was going on? Why have you kept me out of the loop? And where's Lois?" Perry glared at Clark. "When my reporters are risking their lives, I at least want to know about it, son."
Clark's mind reeled. He hadn't even heard about the bomb at the Planet. And why hadn't they told Perry anything? "Was anybody hurt, Chief? Is everyone all right?"
"Thanks to Jimmy's sharp eyes, we managed to get everyone out and the bomb squad in before it could go off. It was on a pressure trigger, which means it's a good thing no one sat in your chair before you did, Clark," Perry said. "It's practically par for the course around here, so we had no large scale hysterics. But I still want to know what's going on."
"I'm sorry, Chief," Clark said. "I guess we've just been so caught up in our own worries, we forgot to discuss things with you. Lois is with her father. They're planning to get Sam in touch with an old college friend we think is the key player behind a conspiracy to isolate Lois from her family and kidnap her, make her turn to someone this group calls Morpheus."
Perry's eyes sharpened. "The dream god."
"Yeah." Clark leaned forward. "Apparently, this has been going on for years — the person who's supposed to kill me is Mrs. Cox, Luthor's old assistant."
"Luthor, again?" Perry slapped his hand down on his desk. "Won't that man ever die?"
"Chief, we don't know that anyone affiliated with Luthor is actually responsible for this plot. We hope Sam can find out who's responsible. In fact, Lois should be contacting me any minute now to let me know the plan; I left them at the hospital," Clark said.
"It's fishy, Clark," Perry mused. "From all accounts, Mrs. Cox was a loyal Luthor henchman, er, henchwoman. If she's part of that group, it could mean any number of things. What if she was influencing Luthor when he pursued Lois? What if he's the person behind the Morpheus character?"
"I admit I thought about the Luthor possibility, but I never thought Mrs. Cox might be the influential person there." Clark narrowed his eyes. "Luthor was a scumbag who didn't need any excuses to go after Lois."
"No, but let me show you something, Clark." Perry rose, then walked over to his bookshelf and pulled out an old scrapbook. Flipping through the pages, he found what he was looking for and handed the book to Clark. "Read this."
A 60-point headline shouted, "Cult members meet doom." The date: July 15,1966. Scanning it quickly, Clark felt sick to his stomach.
"METROPOLIS — Police Saturday discovered the four remaining members of the Dream Death Cult hanging in their jail cells, dead of apparent suicides.
"'We find this situation bizarre, but this whole case has been,' Inspector Tom Franklin said. 'At least now, the citizens of Metropolis can believe no more of their children will fall victim to this cult.'
"More than 50 young people had joined the cult over the past two years, according to police records. Each had been brought in by other cult members who had been considered friends, and the group swelled to include many college-aged sons and daughters of prominent Metropolis citizens.
"One former cult member, who declined to be identified, said the group preyed on a fear of failure, and worshipped the Greek god, Morpheus, God of Dreams.
"'The police are doing some dreaming of their own if they think these so-called suicides will end it,' the source said.
"Franklin said the police suspected the now-dead cult members of more than 30 murders and other violent crimes."
Clark looked up. "How much of this is there?"
Perry took the book back. "Well, you could look it up in the morgue, but what you're describing really rang that bell for me. I was covering stories in 'Nam at that point, but this cult made headlines for weeks that summer."
"So, suppose some of the cult members just went underground," Clark said slowly. "Suppose the head of this cult still bosses them around. Suppose Mrs. Cox is part of it … Would Luthor have been likely to be part of this cult? Or know of it?"
"I doubt we'll ever know, Clark." Perry sat down behind his desk. "But maybe this is a piece of the puzzle."
"Thanks, Chief," Clark said, standing up. "I'd better find Lois."
"Clark, you make very sure you take care of yourself and Lois," Perry told him sternly. "I want you both in one piece when you write this one up. And if you decide to go out investigating at night, take Jimmy with you. He takes better pictures."
Clark grinned quickly. "On it, Chief," he said, as he left the office and headed for a certain, well-used bathroom window.
"Ken!" Sam plastered the biggest smile he could manage on his face as he held a hand out to his old friend. "It's great to see you!"
"Sam," Ken Siefert greeted him coolly. "How are you?"
"Well, fine, I guess, considering," Sam let his face sober. "Thanks for agreeing to see me. Hey, Pierre!" Sam called the maitre'd. "Reservations for two, under Lane."
"Oui, monsieur," the maitre'd beckoned. "This way, please." He led the men to a secluded booth in the corner of the restaurant, then left. Over the top of his menu, Sam looked at the man who had a hand in the break up of his family. 'Keep it cool, Lane,' Sam reminded himself.
Out loud, Sam said, "It's been years, Ken."
"Indeed," Siefert's husky voice made the word sound almost profane. "What prompts this meeting?"
"Well, as you might know, Ken, Ellen was injured in a car accident a couple of days ago. The kids did a little investigating, and they don't think she was in control of the vehicle. Along the way, they unearthed some information that shows you were responsible for the infusion of money I just got to create this new gadget I'm working on, and I just want to say, I'm grateful," Sam deliberately glossed over the fine points. He wanted Siefert to have just enough information — enough to whet his appetite for more.
"I never expected you to find out, Sam," Ken said. "I just thought you'd be the best man for the job."
Looking a little like an overeager puppy, Sam pounced on that statement. "Well, after the scandals of recent years, my career has taken a really big hit. It's just, well, I never expected to get it back on track." Breathlessly, Sam paused. "I can't thank you enough."
Siefert let his smile warm a little. "It was nothing, Sam." He sipped from his water glass. "I must say, however, I'm intrigued by how you might have found out it was me."
"Oh, well, you know Lois." Sam smiled indulgently as their server brought a bottle of wine to the table. "There's just no stopping that girl when she gets an idea in her pretty head."
Outside in the Jeep, Lois's jaw dropped. "I'll give him pretty," she muttered, listening closely.
In the restaurant, Siefert raised an eyebrow. "I haven't seen her in some time. I guess I wouldn't know."
"That's right," Sam said. "When was the last time you saw my Lois, anyway?"
"I'd say she was about four the last time I took her, Lucy and Ellen on an outing," Siefert replied. "How is she doing?"
Sam smiled. "She's doing quite well. I'm surprised you haven't heard of her. Lois Lane's name is well known among readers of the Daily Planet."
"Oh, yes," Siefert said. "I guess I never put that together before. I can't believe how much she's grown."
"She's married, too, to a great man. Her partner at the paper. He makes a fine son-in-law, that Clark Kent," Sam rambled on.
In the Jeep, Lois winced. "Get to the point, Daddy," she whispered.
At the table, Siefert poured wine as he asked, "So Lois got a bee in her bonnet, did she?"
"What? Oh, yes." Sam held out his glass. "She got it in her head that Ellen wasn't responsible for the crash. Despite all evidence to the contrary." He shook his head. "That girl of mine, I tell you, she's as stubborn as they come."
"She always was," Siefert said. Casually, he asked, "What made her think Ellen wasn't responsible for the crash?"
"Oh, well, apparently Ellen was drinking bourbon in the car, but she never used to drink bourbon. I think that's what got her started." Sam sipped his wine. "Of course, we know what a lush Ellen used to be. She could drink anything."
"Ellen wasn't always a lush, Sam." Siefert's eyes began to heat a little. "She was a beautiful young woman with an absentee husband."
Sam looked over the top of his glass at Siefert. "I had a career to think about, Ken."
"Yes, you always did tend to put that first, didn't you?" Siefert visibly struggled to keep his temper. "Those poor girls never had their father around, did they?"
"True, but we've made up for it some," Sam replied comfortably. "And of course, you helped give them some kind of father figure."
"If I did, it was because you weren't there, Sam," Siefert said. "It was your own fault when your marriage broke up."
Outside, Lois shuddered. "Keep your cool, Daddy," she whispered.
Inside, Sam appeared to heed his daughter's unheard plea. "Well, it was disappointing," he told Siefert. "But I guess I couldn't expect it to last forever. How was I supposed to live with a drunk?"
"Ellen and the girls deserve every bit of happiness they can get, not this callousness you're displaying now, Sam." Siefert stood. "I'm sorry I even tried to help you. I believe this conversation is over."
Panicking slightly, Sam gestured to Siefert. "No, wait, Ken, please, have a seat. Let me buy you dinner. It's the least I can do."
Siefert remained standing. "You are a pathetic old fool who didn't know what you had, and I'm going to make sure you never have it again."
"What do you mean?"
Coldly, Siefert said, "Goodbye, Sam," before walking out the door.
Lois ducked low, then watched as Siefert got into a gray BMW and sped off. Quickly, she turned a key in her own ignition and followed.
Sam paid the bill, then stepped out, muttering, "Princess, I'm not sure how much that helped us." Instinctively he looked across the street to where the Jeep had been parked. It was no longer there. "Lois, where did you go? Get back here right now!"
He didn't really expect her to listen, but Sam thought he could bet his life that she was following Siefert. He pulled out his cell phone and called Clark.
Two hours later, Lois was grateful she'd filled the Jeep up with gas when she and Sam had left for the Siefert meeting, because Siefert headed out of town, sticking to the highway. As the drive wore on, she began to notice the mileage signs posted on the highway showed their general direction to be toward Boston. For the first time, Lois saw what Clark meant by the Jeep being too conspicuous. Several times, Lois became the only vehicle that remained behind Siefert's BMW. She kept her distance, but couldn't stay too far back without losing him.
She missed Clark.
With Clark's eyes, they wouldn't have to worry about being too conspicuous, because they could stay further back. Heck, skip the Jeep, Lois thought, they could just fly, and Siefert would never know they were there.
Maybe it hadn't been the best idea to follow Siefert, she thought, navigating her way through the moderately heavy expressway traffic between Metropolis and Boston. If she'd waited for Clark, this whole ride might have been a lot easier. However, Lois reminded herself, it also could have been impossible.
On cue, her cell phone rang.
Lois picked it up. "Hello?"
"Lois, where are you?" Clark's voice asked impatiently. "Your dad finally found me and said you took off after Siefert."
"I'm surprised it took him this long," Lois said sarcastically, her eyes never leaving the BMW.
"Well, it wouldn't have, except you know I don't normally carry my cell phone when I'm dressed as Superman. And I had a lot of flying to do tonight. By the time I got to the hospital, finally, Sam was already back from your meeting. So I repeat, where are you?"
"I'm somewhere between Metropolis and Boston, on I-90," Lois said. "The signs say I'm about seventy miles from Boston right now."
"OK, listen. I'm already flying toward you. Do you think Siefert's spotted you?"
"I really don't know, Clark." Lois glanced at her speedometer. "I've been following him for a couple of hours, and out on the highway like this, it's kind of hard to tell. He might just think I'm heading to Boston, too."
"Unlikely," Clark dismissed that idea as he started scanning the highway below him for the Jeep. "If he's so obsessed with you, he probably knows you drive a silver Jeep. Speaking of which, have you ever noticed how common those things are? We've really got to distinguish the top of ours from all the rest if I'm going to find you easily from the air."
"By doing what? Painting a big red cross on the top of it?"
Clark laughed. "There's an idea. Wait, I think I see you. Can you flash your lights?"
"Yep, that's you," Clark said. "Which one is Siefert?"
"He's in a gray BMW two cars ahead of me," Lois said. "Can you make sure that's still him? It's getting really dark and hard to tell."
Clark x-rayed the car. "That's him, all right. What do you want me to do, here?"
Lois thought a second. "Can you keep track of him while I pull off, grab something to eat, and go to the bathroom? I wasn't really prepared for a long car ride when I started this. Plus, we skipped lunch, remember?"
"I can do that. Call me when you're back on the highway, and I can guide you," Clark said. "I love you, sweetheart."
Lois smiled. "I love you, too."
Clark broke the connection and continued to follow Siefert as Lois pulled off at the next exit.
Neither noticed the green sedan that pulled off behind her.
The smell of freshly made, hot french fries beckoned Lois toward the McDonalds off the top of the ramp. She pulled into a spot, then went into the restaurant. After a quick trip to the bathroom, Lois headed for the front counter and, thinking about the hazards of driving and eating at the same time, ordered chicken nuggets, fries, a thick chocolate malt and some chocolate chip cookies.
"Finger food," she sighed happily as she paid for the bag and headed out the door. She opened the Jeep door, got inside, and settled the bag on the seat beside her, opening the nuggets and dumping the fries in the top half of the box. Nibbling a nugget, Lois started the engine, put her seatbelt on, and started backing out of her spot. As she drove forward, Lois felt a familiar — but entirely unwelcome — sensation.
Someone had pressed a gun barrel to her temple.
Up in the sky, Clark started to worry. Thirty minutes had passed since Lois pulled of the highway, seeking food and a pit stop. Surely, she should have gotten back on the freeway by now, Clark thought. He cast an eye back in the direction of her exit for a sign of the Jeep. What the heck?, he thought, as he punched in her cell phone number.
Lois continued to drive at the behest of her captor, taking a country road from her exit north. When her cell phone rang, she glanced in her rear view mirror.
"Answer it," a deep voice told her from the shadowy depths of the back seat. "But make sure you don't give anything away."
Nervously, Lois picked the phone up and said, "Hello?"
"Lois, are you OK? You haven't called me yet!"
If the situation weren't a bit on the dangerous side, Lois would have smiled. "Oh, hi, honey."
"Hi? What's going on?"
"Oh, I'm not sure when I'll be home," she said, improvising.
Clark came to a dead stop in mid-air. "There's someone there with you, isn't there?"
"Yes, go ahead and break out the frozen pizzas for dinner, I'll be a while." Lois glanced in her rear view mirror again, the cold gun barrel still pressed against her temple.
"OK, so that's why you haven't called. Are you still driving?"
"Of course, honey."
"I'm coming back to find you."
"That's a great idea!" Lois tried to inject enthusiasm in her tone. "But what about the others?"
"I'm pretty sure he's heading into Boston, so we can check on any properties he might own there. I'm coming to find you."
"Well, if you're sure pizzas will work," Lois said. Her backseat passenger lurched as Lois drove over a bump, the gun pressing closer to her temple. "I've really got to go now, honey."
"Try to leave the connection open when you set the phone down, so I can hear what's going on," Clark suggested.
"Will do. Love you, honey," Lois said.
"I love you, too," Clark replied. He heard a soft click as she set the phone back down against the passenger seat.
"Very good, Miss Lane," the deep voice drawled. "Take a right at the next road."
"Where are we going?" Lois asked.
"You'll find out soon enough," her captor replied.
From the air, Clark quickly spotted the Jeep heading north on an old country road. He thought briefly about flying down, commandeering the Jeep, and rescuing Lois, but almost as if she were talking in his ear, he realized Lois wouldn't want that. They were minutes from finding answers to the puzzle that had started with Ellen's crash; the person in the Jeep — and its final destination — could provide those clues. Besides, he noted as he x-rayed the Jeep, the person was holding Lois hostage with a gun. The odds of that gun going off if he commandeered the Jeep were a little too slim for Clark's comfort.
Nothing to do, Clark thought. Nothing to do but watch, listen, and wait.
Inside the Jeep, Lois reached for a now-cold nugget, one hand on the steering wheel.
"Watch it!" her captor growled from the back seat.
Lois rolled her eyes. "I happen to be hungry. Why do you think I was at McDonalds in the first place? So I could just smell the french fries? Puh-lease." She picked up the nugget and started nibbling on it. "Want one?"
"Thanks, no," the deep voice responded automatically from the back seat.
"Polite for a kidnapper, aren't you?" Lois goaded.
"Why not? Do feel free to keep eating — and take the next left."
"We're going in circles," Lois commented. "Are you sure you know where we're going? If it's one thing I hate, it's kidnappers getting me lost."
Irritably, her captor said, "Don't you ever quiet down?"
"Nope," Lois said gaily. She checked her rear view mirror. "It's one of my more endearing qualities, you know. I babble. It's really more of a habit than a quality, I suppose, although my husband seems to like it. He calls it my 'Lane babble gene;' I'm not sure why. Although my mother can really start talking when she gets going, too —"
The gun barrel suddenly pressed much more tightly to her temple. "I suggest you eat more and talk less."
"Umm, OK." Lois stuffed another nugget in her mouth, and the pressure on her temple eased. She chewed, swallowed, then hesitantly said, "You know, that gun threat thing? It doesn't really work in this situation."
Amused, the voice said, "Why not?"
"Well, mostly because I'm doing the driving. If you shoot me, we'll be in an accident, and if you don't die, you'll be hurt," Lois pointed out, then ate another nugget.
"Clever, Ms. Lane," he answered. "Of course, I might have some protection against getting hurt."
"True," Lois agreed, then played her hunch. "But somehow I don't think your other friends would like me to be dead, not if they've spent years planning my capture."
"Perhaps I have no friends. Perhaps I simply saw you at the McDonalds and wanted you. Perhaps I'm taking you to a secluded corner of a forest somewhere — a place you'll never be found."
Lois mentally shuddered. "Or, perhaps you're part of the group of people who almost killed my mother, tried to control my dreams and planned for me to hook up with a Greek god."
Silence in the backseat led Lois to believe she'd stunned him. She continued, "The only thing I haven't figured out is why."
"Listening to you go on tonight, I wonder myself," the hooded man said dryly. "You have been busy, haven't you?"
"You could say that," Lois said. "I wonder why I never figured it out. And what's so special about me?"
"You never figured it out because you weren't meant to, my dear," he said. "We've always been in the wings, gently pushing you in the directions we wanted you to go, distancing you from your family, waiting for the moment when, in your loneliness, you would turn to our chosen pawn, a man intended to bring you to Morpheus."
"Always?" Lois asked. "How long has this been going on?"
"Since before you were born," the man said reverently. "The summer your mother waited to give birth to you. Your birth was hailed by us all as a sign that our god's glory would return, for he waited only for his bride."
"You knew my mother when she was pregnant with me?"
"I didn't, no, but another of our number did. It was he who chose her to deliver the bride of Morpheus; he has guided us to this moment, when we now can join you to your intended husband," he explained.
"Siefert," Lois said shortly.
"Yes," the man agreed.
"Listen, buster, I already have a husband, and I don't intend to get rid of him to become the bride of any so-called god," Lois raised her voice coldly. "Who are you?"
"I am called Castor by my brethren," he said. "And your husband is dead."
Shocked by the bluntness of the statement, Lois asked tremulously, "How do you know?"
"My sister Beverly planted a bomb on his chair. It was to go off this afternoon. Your husband is undoubtedly dead," Castor smoothly explained. "She never misses."
Lois thought quickly. She knew Clark wasn't dead; he was, she hoped, monitoring this conversation and her ride from the air. But what made Castor so sure? "I can't believe he'd be dead," she said softly. "He's survived so much."
Castor frowned under his hood. "It's true he has been more resilient than most. But in this case, we received a message from our brother at your newspaper that the plot had succeeded."
A message from someone at the Planet? Lois wondered who that could be, but knew without a doubt now that someone's cover had been blown. Clark was still here, alive. But she couldn't let Castor know that. "What makes you think I'll just up and marry this Morpheus character?"
"Why wouldn't you?" Castor asked. "Your late husband surely taught you the joys of marriage. We had planned for Luthor to show you that, but, of course, he had other ideas. Difficult to control, that man."
Lois's heart stopped. They had been responsible for Luthor's involvement in her life? Icily, she pulled over to the side of the road, and ignoring the gun, turned to Castor. "How dare you all interfere in my life! How dare you manipulate my friends and my family! You have no right! And I will never marry this Morpheus creep." Through the dusky back window, she saw Clark land behind the car. "You can kill me first," she finished.
"Well," Castor said lightly. "It looks like you've called my bluff. You know I can't kill you; you belong to my god. Neither, however, can I let you go." He raised the gun — for what purpose, Lois never found out, because Clark suddenly opened Lois's door and hauled her outside. Within seconds Castor had been disarmed and bound, his hood ripped from his head.
"Superman," Castor said dumbly. "Where did you come from?"
"Where I usually come from," Clark said shortly. "You were expecting someone else to rescue Ms Lane?"
"I wasn't expecting anyone to 'rescue' Ms Lane," Castor looked beyond Superman to Lois. "I thought your ties to Ms Lane had been severed by her marriage to Clark Kent."
Inwardly pleased that a group who'd kept such tabs on Lois no longer associated her with Superman, Clark said sternly, "I value all life; surely you knew that."
Slowly, Castor nodded. "We did." He hesitated. "It's unfortunate, however, that you chose to interrupt my quest."
Clark folded his arms across the S-shield on his chest. "In what way?"
Castor's voice held real regret. "Because now we will be forced to neutralize you," he said.
Lois strode forward, her voice strident. "How do you plan to do that?"
"I really hate this," Castor said, shaking his head. "You've done so much for the world. But we can't let you get in the way. When Beverly worked with Mr. Luthor, she came into possession of a green rock that we kept, just in case. If you'll recall, Ms. Lane, you were rather heavily associated with Superman when he first arrived on the scene. We needed a little — insurance."
"Where is it?" Lois spat.
"You don't think I'm that stupid, do you, Ms Lane?"
"Stupid enough to tell us you have Kryptonite, Castor," Lois said sarcastically.
Sorrowfully, Castor hung his head. "They've been taping our conversation, Ms Lane. Tracking us. Even now, they know where I am. Oh, they won't come to get you now; they're not ready. But neither will they come to get me." Wrenching his head, Castor bit down hard on his back tooth. "Even Superman can't stop this …"
Castor collapsed to the ground as a fast-acting poison seeped into his tissues. Caught off-guard, they could only watch as Castor died within seconds.
Shaken, Lois watched as Clark gently picked him up, and laid his body in the back of the Jeep. He straightened Castor's robes, then scanned him from head to foot with x-ray vision.
"Found it," he said quietly, before removing a wire and tracking device from a shirt collar under Castor's robes and disabling them with a quick burst of heat vision.
"They could be here any second," Lois said anxiously.
Clark listened. "All I hear is activity about a mile away — cars starting, snatches of conversation."
"We could go check it out," Lois offered. "See if it's them."
"And leave the Jeep?"
"No …not with Castor in it," Lois thought for a minute.
"I could go by myself —" Clark started.
"Not with Kryptonite around, you don't," Lois interrupted.
"Lois, it's unlikely they'd have that where it would hurt me, yet," Clark reasoned.
"They've been tracking every word we say, and you don't think they'll have the Kryptonite out yet? You know they know you can fly, right?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "I think everybody knows that, Lois."
Stubbornly, Lois glared at him. "You're not going."
He glared back. "If I'm not going, you're not going."
Silence reigned for a minute. Exasperated, Lois threw her hands in the air. "Fine. We'll both go. In the Jeep."
Clark raised an eyebrow. "In the Jeep?"
"They won't be expecting that. I'll tell them I saw the error of my ways, that I'm prepared to be Morpheus' bride. I'll bring them Castor's body. It could work."
"You'll bring them Castor's dead body over mine," Clark muttered.
"I heard that," Lois said. "Come on, Clark. At least if we go together, I can neutralize the Kryptonite. And you can be my back-up. In the Jeep, you won't die because you lost altitude, either."
"Honey, don't you think they'll realize something's out of whack? Especially if they don't see me?"
"No, they'll just figure I didn't want you hurt, and sent you away," Lois said, reasonably. "You can hide in the back seat, under the blanket we keep there for emergencies."
"At least let's call Henderson before we go," Clark argued. "That way, someone can bring in the cavalry if we need it."
"Good idea," Lois said.
Clark just stared before grinning. "You _are_ Lois Lane, aren't you?"
"So I've mellowed, so sue me." Lois grinned back before placing a light kiss on his cheek. "Thank you for rescuing me, Superman."
Clark kept an ear on the activity in the distance as Lois called Henderson and Jimmy. "We promised we'd let Jimmy in on the pics," she reminded Clark.
"How's he supposed to get here?" he asked her. "I'm not leaving you here alone."
Lois quelled him with a look as she started talking to Jimmy. "Jimmy, it's going down outside of Boston. Want to come get pictures?"
"Man, Lois, you know I do," Jimmy said.
"Well, grab the traffic chopper and follow I-90. We're off exit 403 about ten miles north," Lois said. "We've got evidence it's dangerous for Superman to be out here, so that's the best I can do for you."
"Wow," Jimmy's eager voice made Lois wince. "I'll tell Perry and get the pilot. I'm on my way!"
"See you soon." Lois hung up and called Henderson. After explaining the situation, Henderson agreed they needed back up.
"But you know I don't have jurisdiction in Boston, Lois," Henderson said. "I'll call the state boys and try to get there myself."
"Thanks, Henderson," Lois said before disconnecting and turning to Clark. "Satisfied?"
"OK, but how are we going to explain Clark's presence?"
"Clark's not here." Lois marched over to the Jeep and grabbed that blanket. "Superman is, hiding in the back seat, ready to make an appearance if necessary."
Clark eyed the blanket and the back seat suspiciously. "This isn't going to work."
"Trust me. Besides, the cavalry's on its way, isn't it?"
"It'll take a good half-hour for them to get here, even by helicopter," Clark pointed out.
"So I'll keep them talking, I hope." Lois looked up at him pleadingly. "I've got to find these answers, Clark."
Unbending a little, Clark raised a hand to her cheek. "I know you do." He sighed. "It's against my better judgement, but all right. If anyone makes a threatening move, though, I can't guarantee I'll lie still in the back seat."
"You wouldn't be the man I love if you did," Lois conceded, smiling. "But try, OK?"
Clark crawled under the blanket, senses on alert, as Lois shut the door behind him and climbed into the driver's seat. "Where to?" she asked.
"Head north, then take the first right you come to. The sounds are coming from that direction," Clark's muffled voice made Lois grin a little. She pulled out, following Clark's mumbled instructions until she spotted a farmhouse brimming with activity.
"Looks like we've got a welcoming committee," Lois said quietly as she pulled the Jeep into the driveway. A handful of robed people walked forward and stood in a semi-circle. "And there's Siefert's BMW." So he did know I was following him, she sighed inwardly. I must be losing my touch.
Clark remained silent as Lois pulled into the semi-circle of hooded figures and cut the engine. He tensed as she got out of the Jeep and faced the members of a group who had steadily tried to guide her entire life.
Siefert stood at the center. "Welcome, Lois," he said quietly. "Where is our departed brother?"
"He's in the way back." She held out her keys, blessing the Jeep's tinted windows, and two of the robed figures silently took them, opened the back hatch, and tenderly pulled out Castor's body. The pair then took the corpse to the house, and another two cult members took their places in the half-circle.
Siefert intoned, "He served Morpheus. May he rest with good dreams."
"May it be so." A chorus of voices threw the words back. Lois shivered.
Siefert looked at Lois again. "Where is your protector?"
"I sent him away." Lois met Siefert's eyes. "I will not be responsible for his death."
"The Chosen One is wise. May her protector be safe," Siefert said.
"May it be so."
Lois shivered again, hoping that chorus of voices meant Clark would be safe.
Siefert gestured to his followers. "This was not the way we wanted you to find your destiny, Lois."
Her voice edged with sarcasm, Lois replied, "And how would you have preferred me to find out you've been controlling my life? Making me lonely? Trying to kill my mother?"
"All was the will of Morpheus," Siefert said. "We did all to make you happy with him."
"I thought you loved my mother," Lois spat.
Pain filled the green eyes. "I did. But my god called me to perform, and I did what he bade me to do."
"So much for free will." Lois looked around the circle, recognizing a face here and there. "What now?"
"You will become the bride of Morpheus," Siefert intoned.
"May it be so." The voices threw the words back.
"No, may it NOT be so," Lois said. "I don't want this. I never wanted this. And I won't have this. I have a husband —"
"Who is dead."
"— who will remain my true mate until the day I die," Lois finished. "I will not take another husband. All of your plans and schemes are nothing to me. How dare you destroy my family, my life! What gives you the right?"
"Morpheus gives us the right." Siefert's gaze grew steely. "You will comply. Take her."
As two of the hooded figures started for her, Lois began to run down the driveway, back to the road. Suddenly, two helicopters crested over the horizon, placing a spotlight on the scene as state trooper vehicles swarmed into the area with lights and sudden sirens.
Hallelujah, Lois thought as she ran. It's the cavalry.
Knowing the danger of Kryptonite to be minimal with that many witnesses, Superman jumped out of the car and became a blur of motion as he swooped around the cult members, gathering them all into one mass. He picked up the pair chasing Lois and dumped them, unceremoniously, near the rest, before coming to a stop next to her.
"You all right?" he asked.
She nodded, sucking air. "Fine."
As the choppers landed, the pair saw Jimmy swing to the ground, camera in hand, closely followed by Inspector Henderson and — to their great surprise — Sam Lane.
"Daddy!" Lois called. "What are you doing here?"
"Princess!" Sam stumbled as he jogged up to her, caught himself, then caught Lois up in a hug. "I'm so glad you're safe. I had just stopped at the Planet to see if anybody knew where you were when Jimmy told me. I hitched a ride."
Lois hugged him back. "I'm glad you did."
"Superman!" Jimmy jogged over. "I thought you weren't going to be here."
"That was a ruse, Jimmy," Superman said in his best superhero voice. "There was a chance Kryptonite would be involved here, so Lois thought it best not to advertise my presence."
"Good thinking!" Jimmy whipped up his camera and snatched a few shots of Lois and her father, with Superman looking on. "I'm going up to the house now for more pictures," he said, bouncing off.
"Superman," Sam said, "thank you for being here."
"You're welcome, Sam," he nodded to Lois, "Lois, I'll be going now."
"Thank you, Superman," Lois replied demurely, with a twinkle.
"Any time." With a whoosh, Superman left the ground, the trademark sonic boom following. A minute later, Clark rushed up from the road to catch Lois in an embrace. "Honey, are you OK?"
"I'm fine, Clark," Lois snuggled into his shoulder.
"Where did you come from, son?" Sam asked.
"I hitched a ride with one of the state troopers," Clark said, wincing inwardly at the large hole in that story.
Sam raised an eyebrow. "I don't know who you think you're fooling, son. But we won't talk about that here." He gestured to the crowd around them.
Lois looked hard at her father. "What do you mean by that, Daddy?"
Sam gazed at the couple with an all-too-rare expression of parental love. "Let's just say I'm pleased you've married such a super guy."
The police gave them no time to seek better explanations. In the rush of statements and questions, Lois barely had time to think about her father's statement, but in the end, she decided it didn't matter.
In the wee small hours of the morning, after they had given their statements and had been let go, the issue came up again. They had driven nearly the entire way back to Metropolis in the Jeep — Lois sleeping in the passenger seat, Sam in the back, and Clark driving — when Sam spoke up.
"I know I probably startled you, Clark," Sam said quietly. "I just wanted you to know your secret is safe with me."
Clark glanced at Sam in the rear-view mirror. "How did you figure it out?"
Sam snorted. "I can be dense at times, but it was seeing you standing next to Lois in that clearing, the same expression on your face you had a couple of days ago in the hospital. The concern, the caring. It hit me like a ton of bricks." He paused. "Lois has never been one to trust easily. That's my fault — although these guys apparently had a hand in that — and I can see she put her trust in you. And I knew she loved Superman as well as you; that was obvious the Christmas you were so sick. Why I didn't see it then, I don't know."
"We weren't very careful, were we?" Clark said softly.
"You were in love. And Lois couldn't hide that, with you so sick," Sam said.
Silence reigned for a minute, then Clark sighed deeply. "It's good to have it out in the open with family. It's just dangerous for too many people to know."
Sam nodded. "I know that. It won't come from me. But it can be advantageous for me to know, too, you know. I am a doctor, and you'll likely have some special needs at one point or another. You should have someone you trust to help you."
"Thank you, Sam."
"No, thank you, Clark," Sam said. "You've made an old man see the value in his family. And made his princess happy."
The Planet's headline read "Cult comes back: reporters foil plot."
"I love the look of a 60-point headline," Perry mused as he smoothed a spot on the paste-up board. "Jimmy! Get this down to the press room."
"On it, Chief."
"You know, there's still one question unanswered by all this," Martha pointed out to Lois as she set the table.
"I know," Lois answered. "Who's Morpheus?"
"I tend to think it was Siefert, but he's not talking," Clark said as he stepped into the kitchen, still wearing the Suit after a quick patrol. He spun quickly into Clark clothes, and reached for the stack of dishes his mother handed him.
"But it sounds like he was acting on orders from someone else, Clark," Lois said. "It seemed to me he only did what he was ordered to do."
The telephone rang, and Clark answered it. After a few hurried words, he hung up. "It looks like we won't know, now."
"What happened?" Lois asked.
"Siefert and the other cult leaders were just found dead in their cells," Clark said soberly.
Lois sat down abruptly. "No way." She stood back up just as abruptly. "_No way_." She paced around the kitchen. "How could they do that?"
"I don't know." Clark placed a hand on her shoulder, then turned her into his arms.
"William, I'm going back to California in a few days. Mom's doing better, and I have class," Lucy said exasperatedly.
The blue-eyed doctor took her hands in his. "I know, Lucy. And I know long-distance relationships are tough, but —"
"But, nothing." Lucy softened. "I've made a lot of mistakes with men in my past, and I don't intend to make another one. If what we feel for each other is true, then it won't matter where we are. And I need to put myself first. I need to get my life on track before I get involved with someone else."
"Lucy, I feel like I've known you forever. I want to be a part of your life. And if that means waiting for you to know who you are and what you want to do, then I'll wait," William caressed the hands he held. "I'll wait as long as I need to."
Sam held Ellen's hand and talked to her in low, soothing tones.
"Well, the kids solved it, Ellen, and you're safe. You're not responsible for what happened, and we know it."
The eye not covered by bandages shimmered with tears. Too much effort to speak, Ellen thought. Too much effort to move. Help me, Sam.
"We love you, Ellen," Sam said softly. "I love you."
He leaned up and kissed her. Slowly, she responded. "Luh … you."
Sam looked into her eyes and vowed, "I'll be here for you for the rest of your long life, and I'll help you fight, and I'll help you recover, because that's what it meant when I said 'in sickness and health; til death do us part.' A stupid divorce certificate didn't change that for me. And I mean it, Ellen."
Her tears fell. But this time, they were tears of healing.