By Tank Wilson <email@example.com> and Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September 2002
Summary: In this Tank and Wendy challenge, Lois and Clark go undercover to investigate a white slavery ring operating from Metropolis. What could possibly go wrong?
Tank: Well, as the gentle readers have seen over the years, whenever I have had the opportunity to start one of these little exercises I've had to wrack my brains to try and come up with a scenario that might just give Wendy enough of a challenge to cause her to pause, at least for a moment. Alas, no matter what I've come up with, Wendy never has to pause more than a couple of seconds before she whips out some clever, impressive resolution to my challenge. Considering all she has put me through over the years (kids! marriage to Lex! and even… arrgh, pregnancy!) one would think that I would come back as evil as possible. Not this time. I decided to play to her strength and give her an easy one. She gets to give Clark a few moments of angst and rescue Lois in the nick of time. What could be better? I just hope she keeps my beneficence in mind the next time she gets an idea for one of these.
Wendy: Tank's beneficence?! The man gets more delusional every day! <g> Well, you can make up your own minds as to whether the scenario he created for my enjoyment and edification this time was simple or not. Personally, I think not! Still, it was most certainly an enjoyable exercise, even if my hair did stand on end when I first read it! As for Tank's competitiveness in the nature of our challenges, I've provided him with the nicest of options — as he says, kids, pregnancy and so on <g> — and what does he give me in return? Lois almost getting… Well, I'll say no more on that score. You'll have to read for yourselves!
As with our previous collaborations, there are both US and UK spellings in this story. This is because Tank is in the US and Wendy in the UK; each writes in their own 'language' and, since the story is written in two separate halves, it is appropriate to leave each author's spelling as it is.
We would like to thank our GE, Tricia, for her speedy and very helpful editing.
All rights in the characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
"No way, Lois, it's much too dangerous! I can't let you do it."
"You can't *let* me do it?" Lois Lane's voice held more than a hint of danger itself. "Let me refresh your memory on a few things, *Mr. Kent*. We may be partners, best friends, and an acknowledged dating couple, *BUT* you are not now, nor have you ever been, my keeper. I'm a big girl and I can take care of myself. I make my own decisions about what I can or can't do, and what I will or won't do."
Clark sighed and ran his hand through his hair in agitation. "I know that, Lois. Believe me, I know just how capable you are." Clark waved his hand aimlessly in the air trying to find a proper gesture. "But this is downright foolhardy."
Lois' eyes flashed as she became more animated. "It is not that dangerous. I've got it all worked out and it could be a great story."
Clark grabbed one of Lois' flailing arms. "There you go again. The story, the story, it's always about the story. Well, I just happen to think your safety is more important than a mere story."
"You know, Clark, I did just fine before you…"
"Excuse me, boys and girls, if I may have a word?" Perry's drawl cut through the partners' argument. "After all, it is my office!"
The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet looked at his best reporting team. He'd known that times like this would happen once Lois and Clark got serious in their personal lives. Clark had always had a protective streak when it came to Lois but since they'd started dating it had gotten even more obvious.
"Now, since *I'm* the one who is going to make the final decision on this issue, let's review the facts, shall we?" Perry laced his fingers behind his head as he leaned back in his chair. "I agree with Lois that this is potentially a great story. White slavery has always been looked at as something from the movies or cheesy detective novels, but not something that actually happens in the real world. To be able to infiltrate and expose an actual ring operating out of Metropolis would be quite a headline."
Lois gave Clark a smug smile of triumph. "But, I agree with Clark," Perry continued. "It could be very dangerous. Before I consider sending one or more of my reporters into the situation I have to have some assurances." Perry nodded toward Lois. "You said you had it all worked out?"
Lois frowned for a moment before answering. "Well, not everything, but I'm sure things will fall into place quickly."
Lois glared at Clark. "Just shut up and listen, Clark." Lois turned to address Perry directly. "Bobby told me he heard that young women were disappearing and that a white slavery ring might be responsible. It seems that most of the young women were last seen at the Ace O' Clubs bar down in Suicide Slum."
Lois began to pace the office as she explained her 'plan'. "I figure that Clark and I can go undercover down there. He can dress up like a dock worker, or sailor, or something, like he did when he barged into my story on the Toasters." She flashed Clark an annoyed look. "I will be just another patron hanging out, keeping my eyes and ears open to see what I can see, or hear. I can have a signal for Clark if I'm being bothered by some drunk who might be interfering with my investigation."
"I like the fact that Clark will be there to back you up, Lois," Perry said. "But how will that help you find out anything that could break open the story? I don't think the people who are doing this would be sloppy enough to let you overhear anything that could lead you to them?"
Lois lowered her head for a moment and played with her hands. "Well, this is where it gets a little dicey."
"I knew it," Clark chimed in from the opposite corner.
Lois just glared at him. "I hope to get myself taken by these guys. Now before the two of you get all protective of me, hear me out." Lois held up her hand to forestall any outburst from either Clark or Perry. "Since these people are obviously in this for the money, they aren't going to do anything to *damage* the merchandise. This is why it's important for Clark to be there to keep an eye on me." Lois was up and pacing again. "Once he sees that I've been taken he can contact Superman, and Superman can trail me to where ever they take me and bust up the ring once we find out who is behind it, and I have a great story." Lois grinned at the two men in the room.
Perry rubbed his chin while nodding. "Well, at first glance it doesn't seem too bad. One thing though; have you discussed this with Superman?"
Lois blushed. "Not yet. I was hoping Clark would ask him to come by and we could discuss it." Lois walked over and shyly placed her hand on Clark's arm. "You'll ask him for me, won't you?"
Clark sighed and stared at the ceiling. Lois was amazing. They had only just put the problem of Daniel Scardino behind them and had agreed to try to make it as more than just friends. Still, that didn't stop Lois from using whatever influence she had over him when it suited her purposes. She knew she could twist him around her little finger. Wouldn't she be surprised if she knew she was actually trying to cajole the Man of Steel himself, to ask Superman if he would help? As if there was ever any doubt in her mind.
Even though she'd gotten over her infatuation with Superman and had chosen Clark, she was well aware that she was special to Superman. She probably figured she'd have no trouble talking him into helping her out on this story. She knew, and he knew it as well. Of course, that didn't mean he wouldn't go down without at least putting up some sort of fight.
"Lois, even if I asked him to, and Superman did agree to help, you are way too recognizable to be able to get away with this. Especially in a place like the Ace O' Clubs. You'll stick out like a lighthouse beacon."
Lois shook her head. "No, I'll go in disguise. I'll dress trashy, and put a temporary red rinse in my hair. No one will recognize me, because it won't be me."
Now where had he heard that before? Clark thought wryly. "Well, I can't talk for Superman, but I'll ask him to come by your place tonight."
Perry clapped his hands together, reclaiming the attention of his two reporters. "Okay, it's settled then. If Superman is on board, I say it's a go. Now get out of here and get ready to bring me a page one." Perry waved toward the door.
Lois tugged at the tight skirt she was wearing as she pretended to look over the music choices on the ancient jukebox. It was her and Clark's third night at the Ace O' Clubs and she was beginning to wonder if Bobby's information had been wrong. Three nights, and she hadn't seen anything remotely suspicious or threatening. Unless, of course, you counted the numerous drunks who'd tried to pick her up. Most of them she'd been able to handle easily, but there was one time last night that she'd finally had to break down and give Clark the signal.
He was so cute coming to her rescue. He'd played it to the hilt with his 'is this man bothering you, ma'am' routine. It was all she could do to not giggle out loud. She'd always known that Clark was well built and stronger than he looked, but it was fun watching him steer that oversized, bullet-headed drunk out the door with just one hand firmly grasping the fellow's arm.
Lois risked a glance over at where Clark had been sitting. She frowned when she didn't see him sitting there. She glanced around the dingy bar. Where had he gone? Didn't he know that he was her backup? Some commotion from the back of the room captured her attention. She watched as another drunk stumbled out from the back hallway that lead to the less than hygienic restrooms.
Lois shrugged and headed toward the back of the bar, figuring that's where Clark must have gone. She slipped through the doorway from the bar to the back hall. The single naked bulb hanging from the middle of the hall ceiling did little to illuminate the long walk to the back of the building. She approached the men's room door.
"Clark?" she said in a loud whisper.
Lois was suddenly startled by the sound which came from the area of the door leading to the back alley behind the bar. She approached the door warily.
As she stuck her head out the door a grimy hand reached out and yanked her through. Before Lois could cry out, a foul smelling rag was clamped tightly over her nose and mouth. She tried to fight off her captor, but he was strong and her struggles just served to make the drug work that much faster. Within a few moments everything went black.
Clark, as Superman, quickly landed in the shadows behind the Ace O' Clubs and spun into his undercover disguise. Lois was going to be furious. He'd been gone for over a half an hour, but it couldn't be helped. He'd heard the fire alarms go off and tuned into the radio dispatcher as the Metropolis Fire Department raced to the scene of the high rise fire over on the prestigious East Side.
Superman had been required to rescue quite a few people from the upper floors of the luxury apartment tower. The fire department didn't have ladders that went high enough, and several of the lower floors were already burning fiercely. It had only been a short time ago that Clark had finally felt that things were well enough under control to leave the rest of the work in the hands of the capable firefighters.
Clark slipped in the back door and hustled into the main room of the bar. He hoped that Lois hadn't had to deal with another obnoxious drunk on her own. He glanced around quickly and frowned when he didn't immediately see her. He took a deep breath and slowed himself down, even as panic started to nibble at the back of his brain.
Using his enhanced hearing and vision powers Clark slowly and deliberately did a complete scan of the bar. Lois wasn't there. His breath coming a little quicker, Clark allowed his vision to extend beyond the walls of the building into the surrounding neighborhood. No Lois.
Clark abandoned all pretense of calm and rushed out the front door and took immediately to the air, spinning into his costume in mid-flight. He was fortunate that no one was outside the front of the bar at the time of his departure, but at that moment he didn't really care.
Clark began a frantic search from the sky, letting his x- ray vision peek into all the nearby buildings and vehicles on the roads, as he zig-zagged around Suicide Slum. His panic rose as each object of his scrutiny failed to turn up Lois.
Clark was sick. Apparently, Lois' plan had worked. She had been taken, but neither Clark nor Superman had been there to fulfill their part. He had failed her.
It was a dejected, heart-sick Clark Kent/Superman who, several hours later, sat in his apartment in the dark, wondering what he was going to do. Metropolis was a very big city and as much as he flew around looking for any clues as to where she could be, there was just too much area to cover in too little time. She could be anywhere by now.
He dropped his head into his hands as tears began to slip down his cheeks.
Lois was slapped awake by a thin man who yelled at her in a language she didn't understand. She was able to focus her eyes enough to realize that she was in the back of a large van or truck. Once the fellow knew she was awake she was dragged by the arm out of the van and pushed rudely in the direction he indicated with his weapon.
She could see that she and several other young women were in a large warehouse-like building. Behind her were several other armed men, all standing next to various vehicles, one she assumed was the van she had arrived in. Other men with rifles were herding her and the other women toward a simple doorway in a wall on the far side of the building. Once she was through the door she saw they were in a long, narrow corridor with several doors along the opposite wall which she assumed led to other rooms.
Lois was shoved into one of those many cell-like rooms which lined the corridor. She was greeted by a large, scary woman with a definite, unfriendly demeanor.
"Strip." It wasn't a request.
Lois calculated her chances against the woman, and didn't like the odds she came up with. Over six foot tall, and looking like she just came off the professional wrestling tour, Lois didn't feel that her Tae Kwon Do kicks would have much effect given the excess amount of additional padding that the woman carried. Also, the armed guard by the door factored into her decision to comply with the request.
It took Lois only a few moments to undress and soon she was standing, only in her slip, in front of the female godzilla.
"That, too." An overly large, pudgy finger pointed to her black slip. "All the way, toots." The gargantuan that walked like a woman threw something at Lois. She caught it instinctively. "Put that on."
Lois grimaced as she pulled the long tunic-like shift over her head and let it slid onto her shoulders. It was a drab brown in color, little more than a sack with a hole for one's head. And it was filthy. Lois had to suppress a shudder as thoughts of who, and how many others before her had worn that garment.
The enormous woman approached Lois, a large pair of shears in her hand. "Kneel down." She gave Lois a perfunctory push on her shoulder.
Lois shook off her grubby paw and stepped back. "Why?"
A grin, revealing several missing teeth, split the woman's face. "Because, toots, it's time for your haircut."
Lois glared at the woman. "Oh, don't be ridiculous. What is this, some pathetic attempt to instill a psychological dominance? You prove how weak and helpless we are and how strong and in control you are by dressing us in rags and chopping off our hair?" Lois plucked at the 'dress' she wore and tugged on her artificially-colored locks. "You expect to break our spirit by stripping away our identities and individuality?"
The woman barked out a guttural laugh once Lois had finished her tirade. She answered Lois with one word. "Lice."
Lois slowly went to her knees and meekly submitted to the shearing. She took a deep breath and stared straight ahead as handful after handful of her silken tresses were scissored off close to her scalp and thrown to the floor in front of her. Lois bit her lip; she refused to let them see her cry. It was only hair. It would grow back, eventually. And, before this was all over, she would have her revenge.
The crude haircut didn't take long, and soon Lois was shoved back out into the corridor where she joined several other young woman who'd been similarly garbed and shorn. It was time for the armed guards to take over.
It was all they'd said, but there was no need for any clarification. The barrels of their rifles acted as more than adequate pointers. In the last several minutes Lois had contemplated and rejected the idea of yelling for Superman more than once. Except for the bad haircuts, they hadn't done anything to harm her, or any of the other women. She needed to follow the trail further. So far, she'd only had contact with the hired help; low-level drones who merely carried out the orders of someone else. That someone else was the person she was after.
She bit her lip again as the thought of the unpleasant journey that lay ahead of her, but she'd come this far, she was going to see this through. She'd endured discomfort and difficult conditions in the pursuit of a story before, and she could do it again. Besides, if things ever got really dangerous she could always call for her ace in the hole… Superman. She just hoped that Clark, whereever he'd gotten off to, had been able to contact the Man of Steel and he was on the case.
It had been probably the worst three weeks of Lois' life. She and twenty other young woman had been herded onto a rusting tramp steamer and had been forced into the storage hold like so many cattle. It had been unbearably hot and wet. The conditions had been crowded and lacking in any creature comforts including sanitation. Soon the smells and the lack of proper sanitary conditions made many of the women sick. One young gal, who'd been somewhat frail to start with, had died in Lois' arms.
Of course, to Lois' great distress, the hold was also overrun with rats. Very large, aggressive rats. It had gotten so bad that Lois had to organize the women into sleeping in shifts. When some would sleep, others would stay awake and use whatever they could find to fight off the bolder of the rats.
Lois knew that what she'd had to endure was very different from how popular fiction had painted the experience of white slavery. The idea of beautiful women being kidnapped and then sold to disgustingly wealthy desert chieftains to become pampered concubines in their harems was patently ridiculous. Before tackling this story, Lois had managed to track down a couple of women who had suffered through the experience and had survived, escaped, and lived to tell about their ordeal.
Both had pointed out that the 'reality' was something quite different. Generally, women kidnapped and sold into slavery found themselves in positions of household menials and workers. Those were the lucky ones. The ones who weren't as fortunate wound up in low level, back street brothels. Continued survival was predicated on focusing oneself on the single task of pleasing those who had power over you. It was not a pleasant life.
Again, there had been many times on board the ship that Lois had considered calling out for Superman, but she had steeled her resolve and had managed to cope. She had to know who was behind this horrendous treatment of innocent women, and that person had to pay.
Lois was being escorted toward a small building in one corner of the compound the women had found themselves in after being taken off the ship hours earlier. She had no idea where she was, but it was hot, and the only land she had seen was quite arid, almost desert-like.
Lois was dripping wet, a condition she was grateful for. After being brought to the compound the women had been instructed to huddle together in the center of tiled square of some sort. There they had been 'hosed down' by a grinning guard holding a rubber hose as his partner had operated an old fashioned manual pump. It was the closest thing to a shower that they were likely to experience for some time.
Lois was pushed through the open door of the small earth and wood building and the door was closed behind her. She heard the sound of a locking bolt being slid into place. She turned to examine the room. It was small, with the only decoration being a vase, holding a few sickly flowers, sitting on a small table in one corner. A desk sat near the center of the room, a large fabric covered chair, turned back to her, behind it and a simpler wooden chair in front of it. The chair behind the desk swiveled to expose the person sitting in it.
Lois gasped. "Bill Church Jr.!"
Bill Church nodded in acknowledgement. "Nice to see you too, Lois. You're looking lovely as ever." Bill Jr. smirked. "Nice haircut, by the way."
Lois glared at the smug jerk. "Yeah, well, I try to be a trend setter. So you're the vile bas…"
"Ah, ah, ah." Bill Jr. shook his finger at Lois. "No name calling, please."
"So you're behind this atrocity?" Her glare became like fire as she remembered what she'd gone through to find out who was behind this.
"Well, I have to admit that I've had some help, but, yes this is basically, my idea." Bill Jr. gave Lois a mock smile.
Lois' glare turned to a frown. "How did you know I was part of your *haul*?"
Church just shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid one of your shipmates recognized you and sold you out… for an apple."
Lois knew she was probably quite far away from Metropolis at the moment, but it wouldn't hurt to give it a try anyway. It was time to call on Superman. If he could hear her, things would be rectified very soon. If he couldn't, she'd have to figure another way out of this mess. She took a deep breath in preparation for the scream of her life, but something stopped her.
The look on Bill Jr.'s face caused her to pause. A small smile twisted his lips, but mostly it was his look of… anticipation that made her hesitate. It was if she was following an expected course.
His brow rose in answer to her puzzled look. "What, no call for the man in blue to come swooping in to rescue you?" Bill Jr. shrugged. "We aren't in Metropolis, or even in the United States, but what the heck, he might hear you if you yelled loud enough."
Lois studied Church carefully. "Obviously you want me to… which is why I won't."
Lois suddenly noticed something that she'd missed the first time she'd glanced around the room when she came in. On one corner of the desk was a small metal box. The box was a dull gray in color, kind of a lead gray. Bill Jr. noticed the direction of Lois' gaze and smiled.
"Ah, I see you've hit upon my little *insurance* plan." Bill Jr. walked out from behind the desk. "Lois, unfortunately, when I discovered you were here I knew that I'd lost a sale. I know only too well that you would never submit to the life that most of these girls will have to face. You would make life miserable for the person who bought you, at least until he was forced to kill you."
"Why should you care?!" Lois spat back.
"Well, he'd blame me, and demand his money back. Can't have unsatisfied customers, you know." Bill Jr.'s tone was condescending.
"That would be a real shame." Lois' voice was hardly sympathetic.
"Yes, well I always believe in making the most out of any situation I find myself in. If I can't profit one way, perhaps I can profit another?"
"I don't understand."
Bill Church leaned back and sat on the edge of the desk. "Lois, did you know that there is a world wide bounty of one billion, that's with a 'b', dollars on Superman's head?" Bill Jr. shrugged. "If I can't get my money by selling you, perhaps I can make the big score by using you as bait?"
Lois shook her head slowly. "I'll never help you."
Bill Jr. spread his hands wide. "Well, of course you won't; at least not without inducement."
Lois took a deep breath. "What sort of inducement? Are you going to torture me? Show what a big tough macho guy you are by getting a perverse pleasure out of beating up a helpless woman?"
Bill Church chuckled. "I'd hardly call you a helpless woman, Lois, and as attractive as the thought of beating the snot out of you may be, I really don't have the time." Bill Jr. smiled a barracuda smile at Lois. "You will yell for Superman… or I will kill you."
Lois shrugged. "Kill me."
Bill Church Jr. shook his head, sadly, and called for the guard outside the door.
Lois soon found herself being dragged back out to the middle of the compound. There was a large post stuck firmly into the ground. It was about six feet high and a good foot and a half thick. It was covered by several, old reddish- brown stains. Lois' hands were pulled behind her back and lashed together on the other side of the pole. She watched as four men with rifles lined up several paces away in front of her. Bill Jr. walked up and Lois noticed he had the small metal box in one hand. He patted Lois on the cheek.
"I think you recognize the situation. You still have time to reconsider. I'll be listening for those famous words; 'Help Superman' ."
Lois bit her lip and shook her head. Bill Jr. shrugged again and walked off. Another fellow stepped up and tied a cloth blindfold over Lois' eyes. A quiet sob escaped from her lips. This was it; she was finally going to die. Once again she had put herself in the line of fire for a story, but this time there would be no miraculous rescue. No Superman swooping in to save the day. Her life, when measured against that of the Man of Steel, was nothing. She took in another deep breath, she would be brave. She'd never let that scum see her break down.
She couldn't keep her thoughts from straying to Clark. She wondered what he was doing, what he was thinking happened to her. It wasn't fair. They'd finally just acknowledged how important they were to each other. Now she'd gone and gotten herself killed.
"I'm sorry, Clark," she whispered to the dry, hot wind blowing in her face.
It really was ironic. Lois Lane had spent so much time holding men at bay, and denying her feelings, that now she was going to miss out on the best thing that had ever happened to her. Clark Kent had taken his time to work his magic, but it had worked. He'd become her partner, then her friend, and now…
"I love you, Clark."
Flinching and trying to shut her mind to the pain to come, Lois forced herself to think happy thoughts of Clark and waited for the lethal bullets to hit her. The sound of firing echoed all around her…
… but nothing happened.
She was still standing. Nothing struck her. The pain she'd been expecting didn't come.
They couldn't have missed! What was going on?
"Aw, poor Ms Lane," Bill Church's sarcastic voice came from somewhere to her right. "Were you all ready to die for your friend Superman? It can happen as easily as that, you know. I give the order, and unless you call for him, you *will* die. That was a trial run, just in case you thought that I was going soft. The guns were loaded with blanks. Next time -" and now his voice was a smooth whisper. "- unless you scream at the top of your voice, the Daily Planet will be getting you back in a body-bag."
Lois spat in the general direction of Church's voice. "Go to hell. I'd rather die than see you hurt Superman!"
Even though Clark would be devastated when he heard? she couldn't help asking herself. She knew how much he loved her. She'd remembered, every day on board that stinking tramp steamer, how hard he'd argued to try to persuade her not to go ahead with this investigation. He was probably already in pieces, imagining all kinds of horrible things happening to her. He'd have torn the Ace O' Clubs apart, she knew, and probably most of the surrounding area, looking for her. She wouldn't be surprised if he was already searching Morocco piece by piece.
Didn't she owe it to him to try to get home alive?
But that was hopeless; she knew that. Even if she did call Superman, there was no way that Church would let her get out of here alive. What, and have her get back to civilisation and tell everyone what he had his dirty little hands in? And since he had Kryptonite, there was no way that Superman was going to get her out alive.
No; calling Superman would only ensure both their deaths. Better that she die alone than Superman be killed in some futile attempt at rescuing her.
And anyway, in some ways she deserved exactly what she had coming to her. She'd been reckless about her own safety for too long; she'd always known that one day her luck would turn. And she'd relied on Superman too much, too; Clark was quite right to tell her, as he did frequently, that she was being even more careless because she simply assumed that he would always save her.
This time, she'd been downright stupid. She'd got into this investigation without a proper backup system arranged — why hadn't she and Clark carried pagers? And then she'd blithely assumed that there was no need to call for help — they wouldn't want to 'damage the merchandise', after all, she'd arrogantly decided. Well, one woman had *died* because Lois Lane thought she could handle this all alone!
And now, she'd finally reached the end of the road. There was no turning back now. There was no happy ending for her and Clark. She wouldn't get to marry him and live happily ever after with him, disproving her mother's theory that there was no such thing as a lasting relationship.
She was about to die.
<Clark… I'm so sorry… I love you> she cried silently, while giving Church as belligerent an expression as was possible while blindfolded.
"You have ten seconds, my dear Lois," Church said calmly. And suddenly a damp hand trailed down her cheek and across her jaw. Lois tried to turn her head to bite it, but it was removed just in time.
"You're wasting your time," Lois drawled, deliberately making her tone sound bored.
"I'm not going to call him."
"Fly me to the moon…" Lois began to sing in a purposeful attempt to drown out Church's melodramatic countdown and to show him how little she cared for his games.
"Let me sing among those stars…"
"Let me see what Spring is like…"
"…on Jupiter and Mars."
"In other words, hold my hand…"
<Oh, Clark, I wish you were here to hold my hand right now…>
"In other words, baby, kiss me…" <Clark, I love your kisses…>
'In other words… I love you." <I love you so much, Clark… Goodbye, Clark…>
She was dead.
She had to be dead. It had been three weeks, after all, without a trace of her. And although he'd searched every inch of Metropolis and asked questions at every pier at the port, there was no trace of her. He'd even flown up and down the Atlantic, looking for ships she might be a prisoner on.
Listening for her frantic cries for help…
She hadn't been calling for him. For Superman. That had to mean she was dead, didn't it? Lois *always* yelled for Superman. And she had to know that he'd be looking for her, didn't she?
If she was alive, she'd be yelling for him for all she was worth. Unless they were keeping her gagged… but he couldn't believe that Lois, if she was alive, wouldn't have found a way to get one cry for help out. And if she had, he'd have heard her. He was attuned to her by now to the point where he suspected that he'd hear her calling him from the other side of the world.
He'd even thought that he'd *know* if she was still alive; she was so much a part of him that he could hear her heartbeat from several yards away, after all, so wouldn't he be aware of her if she was still alive somewhere on the planet? Would he know, inside, if she really was dead?
But that was wishful thinking. He had to accept what Perry and Inspector Henderson had been telling him for the past week. He had to accept that Lois was dead, mourn her and move on.
Except he didn't *want* to move on! How could he ever move on? The woman he loved, whom he worshipped and adored with every breath in his body, was dead. How could he even go on living without her?
He'd spent the past three weeks searching almost continually, to the point where he hadn't slept in over two weeks and he knew he was dangerously low on energy. It was almost a week since he'd been anywhere near the Planet, and even then he'd only gone in to use his computer to do some searching. He did speak to Perry at least once a day, checking that no ransom demand or anything like that had been received. But even that was less than a faint hope; he knew very well that if Lois Lane, journalist, was recognised by her captors, they wouldn't mess around. They'd kill her immediately.
Which was probably what had happened… Not that the alternative made Clark feel much better. He knew that if she hadn't been killed, she'd have been sold into slavery as someone's sex toy — in a private house or a brothel somewhere, no doubt. The thought of Lois being at some man's — or more than one man's — mercy somewhere made him feel sick. How could she hope to recover from such an experience?
Though if that was what had happened to her, he'd told himself more than once, at least she'd be alive!
Alive… but in what mental and physical state? She might even have preferred to be dead.
Wearily, Clark dragged himself out onto his balcony, ready to depart for yet another doubtless-futile search for Lois.
Several hours later, Clark was just about to give up and fly home exhausted when a strange, and yet somehow familiar, sound penetrated his consciousness.
Someone was singing. A song he knew well — one which was etched into his heart along with other precious memories of Lois. A woman's voice, huskily singing Fly Me To The Moon.
"…let me sing among the stars…"
He'd know her voice anywhere; of course he would. But why was she singing? And that song, one which was special to the two of them? And… no, the most important thing was *where* was she? And how quickly could he get there to rescue her?
Switching into hyperspeed, he followed the sound of her voice, speeding across the ocean and across half a continent until he finally spotted the open patch of scrubland, in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a desert, where he could tell that her voice was coming from.
And now he could see her… she was tied to a post, blindfolded, singing away loudly. Her hair was… Shaking his head in appalled disbelief, Clark realised that her head had been shaven and her gloriously long, silky tresses were gone. And… oh god… oh no! — four men with guns were facing her, about to…
The instruction came loudly right at that second and, fighting off the fear which threatened to paralyse him, Clark shifted into hyperspeed. He flew past the gunmen, grabbing their weapons and noting with satisfaction that the combination of his speed and the wrenching away from them of the guns forced them all to stumble and fall backwards. It was the work of a second to crumple the guns and drop them into the sand, before he flew back and, grabbing some loose rope lying on the ground, tied up the ringleader… who was none other than Bill Church, he realised without much surprise. A further couple of seconds allowed him to immobilise the guards and gunmen as well.
Then, finally, he was able to go to Lois. He ached to pull her into his arms, but he made himself free her first, knowing that he needed to give her time to recover from the shock of being alive when she'd expected to be dead — killed by a rain of bullets.
He'd been in time. If he'd been even a split second later… the thought was chilling.
Almost shaking with relief, he snapped the ropes binding her as if they were made of tissue, and removed the blindfold.
What had happened this time?
Lois had scrunched her eyes shut under the blindfold, trying to shut out the command to fire and doing her best not to *think* about the fact that any second now…
And then nothing happened. There wasn't even the sound of gunfire this time.
Instead, a sound a bit like rushing wind had penetrated her consciousness. And then firm and so *familiar* hands were breaking the bonds which tied her to the stake.
He'd found her! She had no idea how… but he was *there*. And he'd saved her life. In the nick of time… once again.
Oh god… Superman! No, he couldn't be here…
As he ripped the blindfold from her face, she grasped his arm and gasped, "He has Kryptonite! Church… in a box…"
She saw Superman — her beloved, powerful hero, come to her rescue once again — flinch momentarily, before he relaxed before her eyes. "I don't feel anything. He's tied up — do you think you can get it?"
"Sure!" Her muscles were stiff from her long incarceration and being tied to the stake, but she managed to stumble across to where Church lay, trussed up like a turkey, she couldn't help thinking. Superman had done a good job. All Church's henchman were bound and writhing on the ground, and Church himself was cursing and yelling loudly in complaint.
The lead box containing the Kryptonite was easy to drag out of Church's pocket. Once she had it in her hand, Superman asked her to hold it out for him, and she watched in delighted amazement as he soldered the seal with his heat vision. "There," he said when he'd finished. "You can drop it into the ocean on our way back to Metropolis."
"What do we do about these bozos?" Lois asked, longing to get home and back to Clark, but not wanting her captors to get away. They deserved a long and hard punishment for what they'd done to dozens of innocent women.
"Give me five minutes," he told her, sounding very stern and determined. "I'll take them to the nearest police station and explain that the US consul will be in contact very soon to state the charges and arrange extradition. They won't be getting away with anything!"
"And… Superman, there were other women kidnapped with me…" Lois pointed out, knowing that she couldn't possibly feel happy about going home while her fellow captives were still incarcerated, possibly being sold to their final, awful destinations.
"You can come to the US Consul's office with me and explain it all. We'll make sure they're all freed, and our government will get them all brought home again. Is that okay?"
Lois grinned, then allowed herself to give Superman a hug, which he returned much more warmly than usual. But then, she guessed that he'd probably been out day after day, searching for her, over the past three weeks. She knew that he considered her a good friend, and of course he would have been frantic.
She was alive! And she was free — and in a matter of hours she'd be with Clark again.
It felt so good — so *wonderful* — to hold Lois in his arms again! All those long, lonely days and weeks when he'd thought he would never see her again just melted into a distant memory as he focused on the touch, the smell, the *essence* of her.
They'd dealt with the US Consul as quickly as possible, given the nature of bureaucracy; Lois had given a statement, which she'd promised to expand on once back in Metropolis, and she'd informed the Consul of where the women were being held. Thanks largely to his own presence as Superman, Clark was sure, the wheels had been set in motion immediately to free the captives and to investigate the slavery scam from this end.
And, finally, they could be alone. Clark had scooped Lois up into his arms once they'd left the Consul's office, and he'd set a course for a deserted island he knew. Of course he wanted to take her home, but he didn't think he could wait as long as it would take to fly at human-passenger- comfortable speed back to Metropolis before talking to her, telling her how much he loved her and missed her… and kissing her.
Maintaining a stoic, calm fa‡ade in front of the officials had been incredibly difficult, when all he'd been able to think of was how badly he needed to sweep Lois into his arms, to reassure himself by physical contact that she was alive and that she still loved him.
Lois gave him a puzzled look as he landed them on the island, but Clark barely noticed it. Instead, he slid her down his body and, not releasing her, lowered his head to capture her mouth in a hard, desperate and passionate kiss.
Oh, the kiss was just so good… it was amazing. Like someone who'd been wandering in a desert for days on end and was dying of thirst, Lois simply couldn't get enough of it. She wrapped her arms around his neck, opening her mouth under his and kissing him back fiercely.
Kissing him… kissing Superman…
She forced herself to wrench away from him, which wasn't easy when it was the Man of Steel holding her close to him. Breathing heavily, Lois stared at him.
"Superman! What do you think you're…? I mean, you *know* I'm with Clark now! It's sweet that you've missed me, but I just can't kiss you like that!" she gabbled, part of her wondering why on earth she was rejecting Superman like that.
"Lois…!" He stared at her in confusion. "Lois, it's me! I love you — you know that! And I can't tell you how much I've missed you… oh god, I thought you were dead!"
As she continued to stare back at him, he suddenly winced and clapped his hand over his mouth. "Lois… oh god, I didn't tell you, did I?" She frowned as his tone, and even his gesture, looked very familiar all of a sudden. When he continued awkwardly, his words were almost predictable. "Lois, it's me. Clark."
Clark was Superman.
A myriad of images from the past two years shot through her brain as if in a fast-forward collage. Superman in the space shuttle. Clark saving her life after Sebastian Finn almost strangled her. Clark telling her how much he loved her. Superman rejecting her. Superman taking her flying. Herself telling Clark how much she'd longed to be invisible, and how much she loved flying with Superman. Superman writhing in pain from Kryptonite. Herself telling Clark that he was a lot like Superman. Clark kissing her. Herself kissing Superman. Superman staying at her apartment while he was blinded… and herself asking Clark where he'd been all weekend. Herself telling Superman that she was relinquishing any claim she might have had on him because there was someone else who needed her. And she and Clark deciding to take the next step together.
She'd committed herself to him… and he hadn't told her the truth.
"So when were you planning on telling me?" she found herself asking at last, her tone tart.
To his credit, he was looking ashamed of himself, as only Clark could. "Would you believe, I had this crazy idea that I'd ask you to marry me, and then tell you? I know, I know," he got in quickly as she was about to interrupt and tell him just *how* crazy that idea was. "It was stupid. And unfair. And would've given you the impression that I didn't trust you. Believe me, I've been tormenting myself with that these last three weeks!"
Her anger began to melt away as his words, and the pain he'd been feeling, sank in. This was *Clark*, the man she loved more than she'd ever believed it was possible to love anyone, and he'd been hurting. He'd been in mental torment.
He sighed and ran one hand through his hair, turning Superman's smoothly slicked back style into something closer to Clark's normal more rumpled look. "Lois, I've been telling myself for days that my not telling you probably got you killed. You can yell at me and punish me all you like for not telling you the truth before now — it can't possibly be worse than the torment I've gone through over the last weeks." His voice was ragged, his dark eyes full of a deep pain which made her want to take him in his arms and tell him that she forgave him everything.
But she wasn't ready to do that just yet. Instead, grasping his hand, she asked the question which his words had raised. "Why do you think it was your fault?"
"Because I thought that if you'd only known I was Superman, you might've believed that I could do more to help you — you might have tried harder to contact me when you were kidnapped… I don't know," he finished, sounding utterly helpless. "I just thought… well, maybe if you had known things would've been different. I still don't know why you never called to me… if you'd known I was Superman, you might have known how attuned to you I am and you could've believed that I'd hear you."
Oh, no… Lois closed her eyes briefly. That, at least, was all her responsibility. "Clark, no! That's not your fault! I didn't yell because… well, because I was stupid. And selfish. You were right. I put the story above my own safety, and the safety of other people. And I even put it above your feelings for me. I knew how worried you'd be about me. I knew you'd probably think I was dead, and yet I stayed on that boat and never tried to call for Superman even though I knew I was causing you pain, Clark. I guess… well, if I'm hurt over you deceiving me, I got my revenge." She swallowed, feeling a lump beginning to swell in her throat. "If I'd stopped to think… Clark, I never meant to put you through this."
His hand turned in hers, his fingers curling around her palm. "I guess now I know how you felt a few months back, when you thought I was dead. It's not a nice feeling, Lois." He shook his head. "I guess I owe you more apologies than I ever thought. This… it's taught me one heck of a lesson."
Lois tilted her head, meeting his gaze full on. "That life is precious, and that we should treasure every single second, because it may be all we have?" He nodded soberly. "Then I don't think we should waste any more time fighting over this. We both made mistakes — I made mistakes which could've cost us *us*. Can we pretend we've done all the yelling at each other and just get on with being together?"
To her surprise, Clark shook his head slowly. "No. I don't want to pretend that I've yelled at you, Lois, because I don't want to even think of fighting with you. Not when I've only just got you back alive again." Slowly, deliberately, he drew her against him until she was pressed against his solid body, the Spandex of his Suit warm and silky against the horrible sack-like garment she wore.
"Kiss me?" he asked, sounding almost nervous.
Obediently, Lois parted her lips and stretched upwards. "Try and stop me, big guy!" she exclaimed.
As his lips met hers, she wrapped her arms around his neck again, pressing herself even closer to the man she loved. She did love him so very much; whether he was Clark or Superman or some sort of as-yet-unknown mix of the two, that didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were together. By some miracle, he'd found her and saved her life yet again.
This was probably not the last close call she'd have, she knew. But she would still learn lessons from it and mend her ways for the future. Recklessness had its place, but not when she was in love and when another person's happiness depended on her continuing existence — and not when her reckless behaviour put other people's lives at risk, she reminded herself.
Giving herself up to Clark's strong, passionate kisses, Lois vowed to remember that to love and to be loved was a far greater achievement than a front-page story.
Clark. Her hero. Her super guy. Her farmboy and her miracle from another planet who had given her reasons to want to live — he was her future.