By Jana L. Officer <4EverLnC@journalist.com>
Submitted: January 2002
Summary: Lois and Clark find their first assignment together after Clark has broken up with her to be very awkward.
I would like to thank Amy, my wonderful little sis, for getting me hooked on the best TV show ever! I would also like to say thanks to all the great fanfic writers out there. Reading all your great LnC stuff is what made me finally write one myself!
This story is set just after 'Contact'. Feedback is very welcome to 4EverLnC@journalist.com
Lois yawned as she reached for her alarm clock. She shut it off and winced at the dull pain in her head signaling a bad headache. As she stretched, she tried to remember what had kept her up most of the night and then left her with this headache. When she sat up in bed, her eyes came to rest on the picture of her and Clark. Then it all rushed back. The pain of realizing that Clark was breaking up with her, the silence she was left in when he flew away, and the pain in her heart that she didn't think could ever be fixed.
"I should have known," Lois said aloud, to no one in particular. She never let her guard down, not around anyone. But she had let Clark into her heart, and this is what it had cost her. She felt so blind-sided. Last night she had been ready to pour her heart out and then agree to marry him; instead it had gone sour.
At first, she considered not going to the Planet. If she stayed home, Perry would understand; after all, she had gotten pretty roughed up yesterday. "No!" Lois said with surprising force. Then, as if giving herself a pep talk, she added, "There was a Lois Lane at the Daily Planet long before there was ever a Lois and Clark." She sighed deeply and felt tears filling her eyes, but quickly and angrily brushed them away. She could be miserable later; right now she going to work.
Elsewhere in Metropolis Clark Kent was pacing, just as he had been doing since he got back from Lois' last night. It had been a quiet night, with no cries for help and he hadn't felt like sleeping, so instead he simply paced. He hated himself for what he had done to Lois the night before, hated the thought of going through life without her to love, but he still felt he had done the right thing. Someone had to consider Lois' well being.
He walked to the sink and filled a nearby glass with water. As he drank, he tried to sort out the thoughts running through his mind. On a normal day, Clark didn't drop things, or, if he did, he caught them before they hit the floor. But today he was distracted and his reflexes were slow. He dropped the glass and it shattered as it hit the ground. He quickly picked up the broken pieces and thought to himself that it was appropriate for how he felt today. He might as well be the shattered pieces on the ground. He quickly tossed the remnants of the glass in the garbage before saying aloud, "Hopefully, I won't have to catch anyone today." With that, Clark laughed without humor and headed out the door.
When Clark arrived at the Daily Planet's city room, he quickly scanned the faces of people just getting to work, but did not see Lois. He had hoped to see her and be able to know that she was OK. He carefully pushed that to the back of his mind. She was resilient, after all, and he had a feeling that she would do better without him than he would without her. Lost in thought, he sank to his chair.
"Kent, get in here!" came a gruff command.
"Uh oh," Clark said under his breath. If Perry was using last names, he wasn't in a good mood. He strode hastily to the editor's office, and almost ran into Jimmy, who was exiting. "What's up?" Clark asked, as he paused just before the office door.
Jimmy shrugged and said, "I think he's on thin ice with Alice and he's taking it out on anyone he sees fit. Good luck." With that, Jimmy bounded away from Perry's door.
"Chief?" Clark asked cautiously as he opened the door. "Everything OK?"
"No," grumbled Perry, but he didn't elaborate, and Clark knew better than to press him. "There's something funny going on at Metropolis University. A chemistry professor, Dr. Roger Jaquish, disappeared a couple of weeks ago. He was well liked and responsible. He has a wife and kids. Everybody who knows the guy swears he would never just take off."
Clark shifted and wondered where this was leading. The disappearance of an adult was not exactly considered newsworthy by itself. Before Clark could finish wondering what the story was, Perry continued, "Three days ago another professor, Dr. Anne Moore, the head of the chemistry department, disappeared. Also, they noticed that there is some stuff missing from the chemistry department. My gut's telling me these incidents are all related."
"I've arranged for the two of you to work undercover. You'll both be working as aids in the chemistry department. Lois was in a few minutes ago. I told her to go straight to MU, so you head over there too. Keep your pager handy." Perry's phone rang then and he dismissed Clark with a wave of his hand before answering it.
At Metropolis U, Lois was lost. She stood at a campus map muttering to herself. "Whoever designed this place should have his head examined!" She turned when she heard a distinctive throat clearing behind her. She sighed quietly. "Hi, Clark."
"Hi, Lois." Clark searched his brain trying to put together a sentence or two. Amazing that only twenty-four hours earlier, conversing with Lois had been easy, enjoyable. This was excruciating. "Um, how are you? I mean… Uh, hmm…"
"Oh," Lois broke in, "how am I? Since last night, you mean? Oh great, thanks." Sarcasm was dripping from every word. She paused; there was so much that was going through her mind, but she steeled herself for the job ahead. "I have to go do my job now and be professional. Have a nice day!"
With that she turned on her heel and stalked off. She felt hot tears again filling her eyes, threatening to fall. "He's not worth it!" she fiercely told herself. The thing was, she knew if there was one guy who was really worth crying over, it was Clark Kent. But regardless of their currently in shambles personal relationship, she did mean what she told him about being professional. If there was one thing Lois knew, one thing she could always fall back on, it was work. Throwing herself into her work had gotten her through some tough times before; apparently it would be no different this time.
Clark considered following Lois as he watched her walk away, but thought better of it. Instead, he consulted the campus map and headed toward his destination, basic chemistry. He would worry about Lois later.
Lois felt relief as she sat down for dinner: cream soda and fried rice, with Choco-Chocolate Monster Chip ice cream for dessert. The day had been grueling. Endless questions she couldn't answer, a campus that was impossible to navigate, the challenge to be alert enough to function as both an aid and a reporter at once. It was enough to overwhelm just about anyone. Plus the ever present sadness that had hovered nearby for the past twenty-four hours, always threatening to engulf her. She needed to talk to someone, needed to hear a sympathetic voice. She picked up the phone and began dialing, then quickly hung up. She had been dialing Clark.
Lois bit her lip. Clark was the person she trusted most in the world, and the realization that she didn't feel she could turn to him right now stung. "And, he's part of the problem," she said aloud, staring vacantly into her apartment.
The phone rang and Lois jumped a mile. She took a deep breath to recover before she picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Lois!" Perry's gruff, but comfortingly familiar voice jumped out at her through the phone line. "How'd it go today?"
Lois considered unloading her frustrations on Perry, but thought better of it. "OK. I think Dr. Yates knows something, but he's a hard one to crack." She did her best to clear her head and only think of what she had learned about the story. "I am sure that the events are all related. Everyone on campus that I've talked to, staff and students alike, agree on that point. But who and why… That's going to be more difficult."
"That's what I thought. Good! That's what Clark thinks too. Have you compared notes?"
"Well… No. Not exactly. We didn't really see much of each other. It was a busy day."
Perry wasn't an easy person to fool. "Lois, honey?"
"Yeah, Chief?" Lois tried to keep the weariness out of her voice.
"You sound, well… Is everything OK?"
"I'm fine Chief, don't worry!" Lois put as much conviction into that sentence as she could muster. If she could convince Perry that she was OK, maybe she would believe it herself.
Perry paused a moment before answering, "OK, then, Lois. Get some sleep. You must be exhausted."
'You have no idea!' Lois thought to herself. To Perry she said only, "Yes, sir. 'Night."
Still too wound up to go to bed, Lois ran herself a bath instead. The long soak definitely helped her relax. Afterward she changed into her favorite pajamas, then went back to the bathroom, her hair still dripping, to brush her teeth. She finished just as someone knocked at her front door.
"Oh perfect!" Lois muttered sarcastically. The last thing she wanted to do was make conversation with anyone. She turned to leave and promptly slipped and fell on her backside. "Argh! What a day!" She gathered her dignity and gingerly made her way to the front door.
Clark nervously stood on the other side of Lois' door, trying to decide what he should say to her. He had been able to ascertain this morning that she was very hurt and angry. He also knew that he was probably the last person she would want to see right now. His mind kept telling him, screaming at him really, that coming here was a mistake. But his heart had won out tonight. He needed to see her, needed to be able to convince himself that she was fine. He had no idea how she would react to seeing him, but felt sheltered by the fact that if she didn't seem too happy about his visit, he could always explain it away under the pretense of their undercover job.
The door swung open and Clark's rehearsed greeting died on his lips. Lois was standing in front of him in flannel pj's, her short hair dripping wet, her chin defiantly raised, and all he could think of was how beautiful and full of life she was. The intense fire in her eyes was still there, albeit a shadowed fire. Her eyes were also questioning and, realizing that, Clark found his voice.
"Lois. Hi. Listen, I came by to see what you learned today."
"Oh," was Lois' quiet, maybe even disappointed answer. "You can come in," she added, almost as an afterthought.
"Thanks." Clark followed Lois into the apartment, but did not sit on the couch, as she did. Instead he began pacing, just as he had the previous night.
Lois eyed Clark warily, before realizing he expected her to go first. "I don't think Dr. Yates is very trustworthy." She paused, not really sure how to explain her thought, but wanting Clark to understand all the same. "There's just something about the guy that bugs me. He's nervous and on edge whenever I try to get him to talk about anything that isn't directly related to his classes."
"I'm not surprised," Clark said. "I've talked to several students and most of them see to think he's involved somehow, but nobody could really put it into words. He just rubs them the wrong way."
Lois, who had been on edge since seeing Clark, relaxed and began concentrating on the day's developments. Thank goodness for this assignment. "That's interesting. I'll have to really work on him tomorrow. You find out anything else today?"
"You mean besides the fact that hydrogen and oxygen form water?" Clark chuckled, "Not really. I thought tomorrow I could stop by and talk to Dr. Klein. Whatever is going on apparently has a great deal to do with the scientific community, so maybe he will know something."
Lois nodded approvingly, but wasn't about to tell him that she had been thinking the same thing. The two sat in silence for a few excruciatingly uncomfortable moments before Lois spoke. "Clark, I need to get to bed; it's been a long day." She stood and walked toward the door. In reality, as hurt and upset as she was, she still was happy to see Clark. She knew, however, that they both needed to keep this conversation in the safe area, professional. The longer they talked, the more likely they were to veer off course. Maybe he could afford that, but she couldn't.
Clark accepted her dismissal easily. "Yeah, it's late." He paused before adding quietly, "Good night Lois." He held her gaze for a few seconds, then he was gone, quickly, before his resolve weakened. She had seemed to be more or less her usual self, and for that he was relieved.
'So this is how it's going to be,' Lois thought to herself as she closed the door. She and Clark tiptoeing around each other, always on edge. Either that or sniping at one another constantly. She sighed and headed to bed.
The next day, Clark visited Dr. Klein at STAR labs. He found the scientist stirring a steaming concoction. Dr. Klein was mumbling to himself, something about formulas. Clark cleared his throat, causing the scientist to look up in surprise.
"Clark, hi. I'm just working on something new here. I suppose it can wait. What do you need?"
"Actually Dr. Klein, I just wanted to talk to you about the disappearances over at MU."
The scientist went back to work over the mixture, but nodded. "I thought you might. That's all anyone here is talking about."
Clark mulled through the questions he had before deciding to start with the biggest one. "Dr. Klein, do you know how the two professors were connected? Of course they both work in chemistry at the university, but that's all we have to go on so far."
At Clark's question, Klein looked up from his work and quickly scanned the room. Seeing no one else around, he answered, but in a lowered voice. "Those two, and another professor, I think his name was Yates, were testing some stuff for the government. I don't know all the details, but some of it was pretty dangerous stuff."
"Chemical warfare maybe?"
"Possibly, but I doubt it. More likely it was unrecognizable compounds that the government has come across."
"Dr. Klein, why wasn't STAR Labs doing the testing?"
At this, the scientist bristled. "We *are* busy you know."
Clark felt frustrated. He understood that Dr. Klein was probably just overworked, but right now he needed some answers and a testy scientist wouldn't be much help. He spoke carefully, with no trace of annoyance when he answered. "I know you are Dr. Klein. I just mean that this seems like the sort of thing they would have the STAR Labs people working on."
Dr. Klein eyed him contritely. "Sorry Clark. I'm just upset. I work long hours, I'm underpaid…" Remembering that this probably wasn't something the reporter needed to hear about, he moved on. "When we get really busy, we usually kick extra work to MU. The professors there love working on the occasional government experiment."
"I see," said Clark as the situation dawned on him, "so it did start with STAR Labs."
"That's why it's such a big deal here. Who knows, if we hadn't been so busy, I could be one of the missing people."
"I don't think so, Dr. Klein," Clark said with a laugh. "You'd have to leave the building first." Klein chuckled and Clark sent him a wave as he headed out the door. This had been a useful stop.
Before heading to the first class he was supposed to be in, Clark managed to catch up with Lois and filled her in on what Dr. Klein had to say. It was a short, strained conversation, after which they both headed in their separate directions.
Clark's day at the school was not very useful and by the time the last class was out, he was frustrated. A tough day was one thing, but, in addition, he hadn't learned anything new. He rounded a corner, lost in thought, and ran into Lois, causing her to drop the file she was carrying. Papers spilled out onto the ground. "Sorry, Lois," he said softly as he bent to help her pick them up.
"It's OK, Clark. It was as much my fault as it was yours." Lois had to laugh to herself. As mad as she was at Clark, she had to admit he was a pretty nice guy. "Listen, why don't I give you a ride home and I can fill you in on what I learned." He nodded in agreement and they headed to where she had parked.
During the drive to Clark's apartment Lois did most of the talking. Her day had apparently been much more fruitful than his. "Dr. Yates broke today," she began. "All I had to do was tell him I knew he had been working with Moore and Jaquish. I guess he's pretty scared. His story agreed with Dr. Klein's. It's an extended project that they have been working on for months now."
"Really?" Clark was surprised to hear this.
"Yes. This was just the latest set they were testing. It was a series, in a way. They were testing what the chemicals do to different living organisms. One of them was highly toxic. A few days after they finished testing, Jaquish disappeared."
"I see," Clark stated thoughtfully. "Did he notice if anyone else was around when they were testing these chemicals?"
Lois shook her head. "No, he doesn't remember. He did say that it was possible. I guess there are usually a couple of lab assistants around."
"Not really, except that if you ask me Yates should have his head examined. Or they all should. All the science professors I've met the last couple of days have been really weird." Lois didn't even pause for a breath, but simply picked up speed. Her speaking was trailing right along with her thoughts and that had never been something that she had been able to put a lid on really. "Yates really seems messed up though. It could be from the recent disappearances, or from personal problems. Whatever. He's clearly an emotional wreck. Probably from stress. Or maybe I'm just projecting my own…" She stopped when she noticed the funny look Clark was giving her. She felt relief though when she realized that Clark's look had stopped her from revealing how upset she was about their current relationship status.
Clark was smiling faintly. "I'll see you later, Lois. Take care."
"Yeah, you too Clark." Clark watched her jeep until it turned the corner, then went inside.
When Lois walked into her apartment, her phone was ringing. It was Dr. Yates. "Ms. Lane, I remembered something. We were alone most of the time we were testing, but toward the end Lou Holst walked in. He's kind of a loner. Brilliant science student. He spends most of his spare time fixing junk cars, trying to make 'em run."
Lois mulled this newest information over. "Dr. Yates, can you think of any reason this Holst character would pull something like this?"
"He's a graduate student. He applied to work on staff this year, but was turned down. From all I've heard he was pretty bitter."
"Bitter, disgruntled… The world's full of people upset about something. That's all the cause he needs. Hey, Dr. Yates, the missing chemicals, as I understand it — that wasn't a break-in. Is it possible this was something internal?"
Yates was quiet for several moments before answering. "I guess it is. I mean I hate to believe that someone from the university would do something like this, but the labs *are* kept pretty secure."
"A watch person is at the door to each lab around the clock. Someone wanting to use the lab must be signed in and out by whoever is on duty. The list is kept on file, just for records."
"Was the list checked?"
"I imagine," replied the professor.
"So then everyone on the list must have seemed legitimate." Lois paused to think. "Dr. Yates, would anyone have questioned Lou Holst's name being on that list?"
"Not likely. He's in one of the labs whenever he's not under a car or in a class. But Ms. Lane, I really don't think he would do this. He may be bitter, but it just doesn't seem like something he would do."
"That's our problem, Dr. Yates; everyone just assumed Holst was trustworthy. Thanks for the info." Lois hung up feeling preoccupied. She debated about calling Clark before deciding to pay Lou Holst a visit by herself.
An hour later, Lois was standing in front of a slightly run down house not far from Metropolis University. One quick call to Jimmy had supplied her with an address for Holst. She knocked quickly and waited as heavy footsteps approached.
The door opened slightly and a man with messy hair and cautious eyes glared out at her. "What do you want?"
"Lou Holst?" Lois asked, making her voice as sugary as possible.
"Oh, I hope so! My car has been acting up lately," Lois pointed in the general direction of her jeep. "I was told you might be able to fix it for me." She tried to make her expression one of helplessness, a definite reach for her.
She was rewarded with the door swinging open and Lou Holst giving her a sleazy smile. "I can fix just about anything that's wrong with it, babe. Just follow the driveway around to the back — that's where my shop is." Lois cringed, but did as she was told.
Behind the house there was a small building with a couple of old cars parked near it. She pulled up near the other cars and stopped. As she stepped out from the jeep her foot caught and she fell to the ground.
"Be careful, babe," winked Holst who was standing beside the building smoking. "If you fell into that cellar there, no one would find you for, well, for a long time." Lois followed his gaze and saw she had just missed falling onto the cellar door.
It was a miserable forty-five minutes later when she was headed home. She groaned when she saw how late it was and stepped on the gas. She wanted to get home and to bed. All she had learned tonight was that her jeep was fine and Lou Holst was a pig.
The next day when Lois arrived, the campus was abuzz with excitement. She found Clark in a lab, studying a chemistry book. "Hey Lois," he acknowledged without looking up.
"Hi, Clark," she answered quickly. "Do you know what's going on?"
"Oh, yeah. Some grad student was arrested. He was fixing up hot cars and selling them."
"This grad student wouldn't be named Lou Holst would he?"
Now she had Clark's attention. "Yeah, why?" Lois filled Clark in on her conversation with Dr. Yates.
"So now all we need to do is see if his name is on that sheet?"
"Looks that way." Lois felt her senses sharpening, as they always did when a story got hot.
"Look, why don't I go find this sign-in sheet?" Clark asked. "That part seems simple enough." He was up and on his way almost before he finished speaking.
Lois decided that while he was gone, she would work on the other part of the case, the missing professors. "Where would he have hidden them?" she wondered, when suddenly it clicked. Lois grabbed her keys and headed for the door, she was willing to bet that Holst would hide the professors where no one would find them, "For a long time."
She arrived at Lou Holst's place only minutes later and quickly began yanking on the cellar door, trying to get it to open. She gave one final tug and the cellar door came open, sending Lois sprawling. She recovered and headed down the dark, narrow stairs. Squinting, she tried to get her eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they did, she gasped. She was in room that was bare except for two cots. Chained to each cot was a person. Lois grabbed her cell phone and called 9-1-1.
A few minutes later, the property was swarming with police officers and a few paramedics. Lois stood, watching the unfolding events with a feeling of satisfaction. Remembering that she had left Clark at MU, she decided to head back to the campus. She found him back in the room he had left her in only a little bit earlier. He looked at her and his expression registered surprise. Lois realized she was still dirty from having fallen and she self-consciously brushed the dirt off of her clothing.
"Whoa! What's going on? I leave you alone for just a few minutes!" Clark was smiling as he walked up to Lois, but his eyes were questioning. As quickly as possible, Lois explained to him what had happened.
Clark listened intently and then told her his news, "I peeked at the lab sign-in sheet, Lois. Holst was on it."
"Which means he was there. Which means he knew about their testing. And not only were the missing professors in his cellar, but so were a bunch of the missing chemicals. Which means he's in this up to those greasy elbows."
"Which means…" Clark began with a grin.
"Which means we cracked the case!" Lois interrupted happily. "Now all we have to do is write the story!" With a squeal of delight she impulsively threw her arms around Clark in a big hug. Surprised, Clark hugged her back, but then Lois remembered and, embarrassed, promptly dropped her arms and backed away.
"Look, Lois," Clark began hesitantly, "maybe we should talk. I mean really talk."
Lois looked up into the face she knew so well and took her time before answering. "Clark, unless it's about the story, I don't think we have much to talk about for now." His face fell, but she continued, "I'm just not ready. You can't break my heart then expect us to go back immediately to being best friends and hanging out. It doesn't work that way."
Clark was torn, but he knew she was right. Heaving a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair. "How does it work?"
Lois took a deep breath and held his gaze, resisting the urge to take his hand. "I don't know, Clark. I just don't know."
From somewhere not too far away came a call for help. Clark reluctantly broke eye contact. "I'll see you back at the Planet, partner?"
Lois nodded and managed a smile. "See you there partner."