By ML Thompson <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: In this alternate beginning to Lois and Clark, our heroes jump in without checking the water level. Will the resulting ripples drown them both?
CONTENT WARNING: This story is set in a setting of civil war. Readers should be aware that it contains scenes and depictions of struggle and some elements of violence which some may find disturbing.
This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that the characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit. In this story, I use portions from the various episodes of Lois and Clark. Sometime I might use these portions in context and sometimes I might use them out of context. The portions taken from the series might include, but are not limited to, using actual words, phrases and/or sentences, paraphrasing, twisting sentences around to change the meaning, using larger segments and simply alluding to an idea. I sometimes have the same characters say or think a particular line, idea and/or segment and sometimes I give those lines, ideas and/or segments to someone else.
Furthermore, I recognize that putting the above disclaimer on this story does not justify any breaches of copyright and/or breaches of trademark which might be contained herein. I rely on two things to keep from being sued. First, the mercy of WB and any and all other holders of rights to the series, the individual episodes and/or the characters. Second, I rely on the fact that I am not deriving any profit from either the writing or the posting of this story.
I would like to thank all those who answered my questions about pregnancy, Wonder Woman and wakes for the dead on Zoomway's message boards. Your answers were very helpful. And my continuous gratitude goes out to Gerry Anklewicz for her Beta reading skills. And to Carol Malo for, as usual, challenging me to do better, I'd like to express my appreciation. Also, I'd like to thank Wendy Richards for her contributions to this story.
*"You've got that right.
Tell me about it.
Oh ya. Oh ya. Oh ya."*
(This has been 'A Canadian Moment', brought to you by the Royal Canadian Air Farce.<g>.)
Two things you need to keep in mind while reading this story. First, this story takes place in the mid to late 1980s. Second, Lois and Clark are a lot younger in this story than they were in the series.
He laid his arm across the back of the couch while allowing his fingers to play gently with her hair. Knowing from years of experience that this was the moment to make his move, he leaned in, claiming her mouth. He was rewarded by her hand making its way to his face. His free hand wandered absently down her side, coming to rest against her chest.
When she began to pull away, he moved further down as if touching her there had been an accident. He also intensified his efforts on her mouth, promoting the impression that kissing her was his main goal. It wasn't. However, he'd been with enough women to know how to get a woman into bed — and that was his objective here. Tonight was the night. She had been acting coy long enough.
His hand continued its seemingly aimless wandering down her body. He moved it over to her stomach as he shifted positions. He let it sit there for a moment before slipping it under the bottom of her sweater.
Lois immediately pulled back.
"Cherie?" asked Claude as if completely confused by her sudden withdrawal — although in truth he'd expected it.
"I just think it's getting late. Maybe we should call it a night," Lois said.
Claude let out a breath. "How long are you planning to make me wait?" he asked.
"I'm just not ready," she informed him.
He got up off the couch, turning his back to her.
"Claude, please don't be mad," Lois begged.
He turned towards her. "I'm not mad. I'm just starting to wonder what's going on here. I mean, we've been dating for almost two months. Are you just using me?"
"What am I supposed to think, Lois?" Claude asked. "You came to work for the Planet almost six months ago. And you made sure everyone knew that they were looking at the soon to be greatest reporter who had ever walked the Earth. Even when we're on a date — you're working. Asking questions. Probing for trade secrets. It's almost as if you consider me your own private tutor.
"Now, I wouldn't mind that except it almost seems as if that's all I am. Every night it's the same thing. 'I'm just not ready, Claude.' Are you ever going to be ready? Or are you just an information junkie and I'm your dealer?"
Lois looked down.
"That's what I thought," Claude said sadly, heading for the door. "Maybe we should just forget the whole thing."
"No!" exclaimed Lois, jumping up. "That's not how I think of you. And…" Her voice trembled slightly. "…I don't want to lose you."
He turned back towards her and gently stroked her cheek. "You're just not ready for an adult relationship," he informed her. "And I'm not willing to wait 'til you are. So why don't we just recognize that this wasn't meant to be?"
Claude was rewarded by a look of near panic on Lois' face. This was his expertise. During the past couple of months, he'd listened carefully and asked the right questions, just to get to this moment. And all that asking and listening had paid off — he knew her weakness. Although she said very little about her family, he'd managed to discern that she was estranged from them and was starved for love and affection. So he had doted on her, letting her believe that not only did he love her, but that he was the only one who did — possibly the only one who ever would. And tonight, he was going to use that information to claim the prize.
"Lois, I love you," Claude continued softly. "I don't know why you can't believe that? I've done everything I can to reassure you. I know you don't have a lot of experience being loved — even by your own family. But you are letting it push us apart. I need to know that you love me, too."
"I do love you, Claude," she said, stepping up closer in order to kiss him.
He allowed the kiss before backing away. "Maybe we should start seeing other people," he suggested. Having made his pitch, he gave her a sad smile before heading for the door.
"Spend the night," Lois said as his hand landed on the doorknob.
With his back to her, Claude smiled. He turned slowly towards her, hiding his expression of triumph. All his careful planning was about to pay off. "Are you sure?" he asked softly, as if he really cared.
"I'm sure, Claude. Spend the night," Lois reiterated.
EIGHT WEEKS LATER
Clark pulled on his work gloves and headed over to the crates they were expected to load today. He had been living in Paramador for the past several months and had to admit it was beginning to feel like home. He liked living in these third world countries because there tended to be an easy acceptance of the supernatural. As a result, his inability to keep from intervening when human life was at stake was often attributed to the work of angels or other supernatural beings. That suited Clark just fine.
Paramador was a small country in South America. Although small, it was strategically placed. As a result, it had been alternately courted and bullied by the two greatest superpowers the world had ever seen — the United States and the Soviet Union. In recent years, internal problems had caused the breakdown of the Soviet Union, but the remnants of the cold war were still very evident in Paramador.
Clark had to admit Paramador wasn't perfect. There was a lot of violence and corruption. The government kept its people in line by using secret police and death squads at the first sign of dissatisfaction. Still, none of that had managed to change Clark's view that people were basically good. Even if their government was corrupt, Clark found the people amazing. They were poor and often illiterate, but Clark found them witty and generous and, in many cases, having a wisdom that only comes from living a hard life.
"Where's Roberto?" asked Clark in Spanish as he moved a crate. He found that after the past few months of working at the docks, it was no longer difficult making lifting the crates seem like hard work.
"Haven't you heard?" asked Homberto.
"Heard what?" Clark asked, setting down the crate and looking at Homberto.
"Roberto was killed last night."
An expression of pain crossed Clark's face. "He had a wife and two kids," he said softly. "What are they going to do now?"
"How did he die?"
"A car accident. Apparently his brake line broke."
"But that doesn't make sense. That car was his baby. It may have been old, but he always kept it in perfect condition."
Homberto looked around, making sure they were alone before saying, "There is a rumor that it might not have been an accident."
"What do you mean?"
"Look, I have a wife and kids too. Besides, I don't know anything."
"I won't say anything," Clark assured him.
Homberto studied Clark for a moment before nodding. "Okay, but you didn't hear this from me."
Homberto let out a short breath and glanced nervously around again before speaking. "Roberto told me the other day that there was something suspicious happening here on the docks."
"Did he say what?"
Homberto shook his head. "No. He just said that he was planning to look into it."
"Is anyone following up on this?"
"I doubt it."
"You really are new here, aren't you?"
"I guess I am," Clark chuckled.
"The docks are controlled by Emilio Chavez."
"The Minister of State?"
"The same. He's second only to the President. In fact, with his business interests, which he refused to give up when he took office, some people consider him the most powerful person in Paramador — more powerful than even the President."
Clark raised his eyebrows.
"What does this have to do with Roberto?" Clark asked.
"Like I said, Chavez is a powerful man," Homberto responded. "They say even the President is afraid of him. If there is something suspicious happening down here on the docks, he probably knows about it. And if Roberto stumbled across something…" He shrugged.
"What about the police? Aren't they looking into it?"
"The police are smart enough to know that you don't look for trouble with Chavez."
Clark thought about that for a moment. He was upset about Roberto's death. If he did die trying to uncover something, Clark was determined to find out what it was. "I think I'll look into it," Clark said.
"Stay away from this," Homberto warned. "Your American passport won't protect you from Chavez."
Clark smiled. "I'll be fine," he assured Homberto.
"Perry, I've got an idea for a story," said Lois, coming into Perry's office.
Perry looked up from the paper he was studying. He had to hand it to this young woman. She was in here about once a week with an idea for a story. He had never known an inexperienced reporter who was more determined to break into the big time. Even when he shot down most of her ideas or assigned them to people with more experience, she kept trying. He had to admit he admired this little spitfire for her drive. Even so, he frowned.
"I thought I assigned you a story," he growled.
"Looking into the city council's decision to install additional traffic lights? That isn't a story."
"I'm not sure those people who have been in accidents as a result of not having lights would agree."
"You know what I mean. Just hear me out, okay?"
Perry let out a short breath. He already knew he would listen to her proposal. He might knock down most of her ideas, but he didn't want her to stop coming up with them. He gestured her to a chair.
"Okay. I got a tip that arms are being sold by a company in Metropolis to Paramador. Anyway, I checked it out and it's true."
"That doesn't mean there's a story there. Lots of companies in Metropolis sell arms to other countries. As long as they have the appropriate approvals…"
"I know that. So I checked it out. They do have authorization to sell arms to Paramador…"
"Then there's no story."
"But they have the permission to sell the arms to the government, not private individuals or other groups."
"What? Are you saying that you have found out that they're selling them to someone other than the government?"
"Not exactly. But there is something fishy going on."
"How do you know that?"
"In the past, payment for arms sent to the Paramadorian government have been recorded in the public records of the company. And they still are. But the information I've received indicates that there are more than three times as many arms going to Paramador than the payments indicate."
"Couldn't they be accepting credit for the over shipments?" Perry asked.
Lois shook her head. "I checked out that possibility. The company doesn't normally sell arms on credit to unstable governments in third world countries like Paramador. There's too much danger of a coup — and if that happens, the new government always refuses to honor the debt. So it's just too big a risk. Besides, the government of Paramador doesn't seem to have financial problems. If they were purchasing the arms, they could afford to pay for them."
"The government is rich by keeping the people poor," Perry murmured in response. "Still, that doesn't prove…"
"So I snuck into the company's head office," Lois interrupted. "And I found this," she said, handing Perry a document. She gave him a moment to briefly peruse it before continuing. "Like I said, the company doesn't normally sell arms on credit. But this isn't a normal situation. In this case, the NIA is guaranteeing the remaining payments. And…" She leaned over and pointed to a spot on the documents. "If I'm reading that correctly, the additional arms are probably not going to the government. At least, why would the government be dealing through a private company? Even if it is owned by Emilio Chavez?"
Perry scratched his chin. She was right. The whole thing did seem awfully suspicious. Why were these arms being sent to Chavez's company instead of directly to the government? And why was the American government guaranteeing payment? "Did you look into government authorizations for this?" he asked. "After all, spending that much money would need congressional approval or an executive order from the office of the President. Now, grant it, guaranteeing the loan isn't exactly spending money, but… Is there anything in the public records?"
"There's nothing, Perry," Lois responded immediately. "Although it could be an issue of national security, I guess."
"So what are you suggesting?" he asked.
"Okay," said Lois, her excitement increasing at the realization that Perry hadn't shot down her story. "I just received word from my source. He might have someone in Paramador willing to talk to me."
"So give him a call," suggested Perry.
Lois shook her head. "He told me this guy would only talk to me in person. He's afraid that the phones might be monitored."
"How reliable is your source?" Perry asked.
Lois opened her mouth to tell him that her source was rock solid — above reproach — but then stopped. Her source was Bud Collins — a clerk for the NIA. She'd met him at a party thrown by a mutual friend when she was studying journalism at collage. He was definitely older than her, but they had hit it off — spending most of the party in casual conversation with each other. She hadn't seen him again until he'd contacted her a couple of weeks ago with this tip. The reason he'd given was that she was the only reporter he knew and that he felt that someone should be looking into this situation. But could she really trust that he wasn't working his own agenda and using her to do it?
"Actually, this is the first time I've got information from this source," she admitted. "He seems solid, but…" She shrugged.
Perry smiled. He knew how tempting it must have been to deify her source. Yet, she had admitted she really couldn't vouch for him. It showed a real maturity. He once again congratulated himself for recognizing this young woman had real potential when she interviewed with him. Still, it would require a trip to Paramador to follow up on this. He couldn't justify sending a rookie reporter to Paramador.
"It sounds like you might be on to something," Perry said slowly.
"Great! Then when do I go to…"
"Hold your horses," Perry interrupted. "I said you might be on to something. But I can't justify sending you to Paramador."
"Sorry, Lois, you just don't have the experience to follow up on this. I'm going to assign another reporter to look into it."
"But it's my story," Lois objected.
Perry studied her. He couldn't send her down to Paramador by herself. She just didn't have the experience, but he had to admit she had done some good work on this story. "I'll tell you what," conceded Perry. "I can't justify you taking this yourself. But what I will do is send you down with a partner."
"I don't need…"
"It's either that or I just send another reporter."
Lois let out a short breath. She really wanted to get the story herself, but at least Perry wasn't cutting her out. She nodded.
"Okay, then tell Claude to come in here. I want you to fill him in on this."
"I'm going with Claude?" asked Lois. Well, if she had to have a partner, she was glad to know it was someone she could trust.
Perry studied her for a moment. "May I give you a little bit of personal advice?" he asked. When she nodded, he continued, "Be careful with Claude. That boy's got a few skins under his belt. You could get yourself seriously hurt."
Lois smiled. "Don't worry, Perry," she assured him, not wanting to confirm his suspicions, but wanting to reassure him. "I know how to take care of myself." Perry obviously just didn't understand. Claude loved her. His past was irrelevant. He loved her and she had been waiting all her life to have someone really love her. Until Claude, she hadn't believed someone ever would.
It was dark when Clark looked carefully around to be sure no one would see him before floating over the fence into the police impound lot. Sticking to the shadows, he made his way amongst the various vehicles.
Clark drew in a sharp breath when he finally spotted Roberto's car. It was barely recognizable as a car. Making certain he was still alone and using a piece of scrap material to avoid leaving fingerprints, he reached under the car, turned it on its side and found the brake line. Running his eyes down the rubber hose, he looked for where the line had broken. It didn't take long. Studying the cut, he discovered that it was clean — not frayed as one would expect if this were an accident. This wasn't the case of a broken brake line. This was deliberate.
Suddenly, Clark set the car back down and crouched behind it. There was someone in the yard. He watched as the security guard did his rounds and left. Letting out a breath of relief, he tipped the car back up, pulled a polaroid camera out of his pocket and took a number of pictures. He considered taking the brake line, but decided against it. After all, if Homberto was wrong and the police were checking this out, they would need the brake line as evidence.
Okay, so how was he to find out whether the police were investigating? Well, surely there had to be some records for this car. He used his x-ray vision to look into the adjoining building. It was filled with filing cabinets. Since everyone had left for the day, the building was devoid of people. Making his way over, he tried the door and was surprised when it opened.
The filing system appeared to be by date so it didn't take Clark long to find the documentation on Roberto's car. A quick glance at the documents revealed that the police were ruling this an accident. Clark quickly spotted a photocopy machine. When he turned it on, it sounded incredibly loud in the silent building. He nervously tapped his foot as the machine took its time warming up. When the sound changed, indicating that the machine was ready, Clark photocopied the report. He was just about to leave when he heard voices.
"I'm sure I heard something," said a big man in a security uniform.
The two men entered the room. They turned on the light and looked around. "I don't see anything, Joaquin," the second man said.
The first man took another look around before nodding. "I guess you're right," said Joaquin. "Come on. Let's get back to our card game." With that, he turned out the light and the two men left.
Clark floated back down to the floor. That had been close. He waited until he was sure it was safe before returning the original report to the file cabinet. Sticking his pictures of the car and the report in the inside pocket of his jacket, he quickly snuck out of the room. He wasn't sure what to do now. It was fairly obvious Roberto Perez was not the victim of a simple car accident. But it was equally obvious that the police were accomplices — at least after the fact. So who should he take this to?
"Are you sure no one else knows what he found out, Pablo?" asked Emilio Chavez of the bulky, dark man in front of him — the chief of his own personal secret police.
"If they do, they aren't following up. I think Roberto's 'accident' reminded them who is in charge here."
"And are you sure that he didn't have anything that could incriminate us?" Chavez continued.
"The men searched his house when the police took his wife to the station to identify his body. He didn't have nothing."
"Very good. Keep an eye on the other dock workers though. I want to know of any suspicious behavior."
"Yes sir," replied the henchman before making his way to the door.
Chavez turned to his other guest — an attractive woman obviously of Asian heritage. "Well, Ms. Tart. I guess you can tell your boss that things are under control," said Chavez.
"I assume you won't mind if I hang around for a few more days," Sweet Tart responded coolly.
"Of course not," replied Chavez, although her presence did bother him. After all, it meant she still wasn't satisfied the operation was again secure. He would have to keep a close eye on Ms. Tart. And the best way to do that was… "Do you need accommodations?" he asked. "Because I can certainly make those…"
"I can manage," said Tart, rising and heading for the door.
Clark made a quick flight to the west coast of the States in order to find an open bank before returning to Paramador to make the required visit to the Perez family. It was always hard to know what to say in this type of situation that might impart some comfort. Roberto Perez had been the sole support of a wife and two children — Dario, aged thirteen and Maria, aged seven. Clark knew the family. He had eaten supper with them on a few occasions. Although poor, they were always willing to share.
The death of Roberto would probably mean Dario would have to drop out of school to support the family. Roberto had insisted his son get an education — even though it was financially draining. Working at the docks brought in no more than fifty American dollars a month. Things were much cheaper in Paramador; still, it was not a lot of money upon which to live. Without that income, it was entirely conceivable that the family could starve. Clark was well aware of that simple, and horrible, fact.
As well as making sure Roberto's death had meaning, Clark wasn't about to let his family starve or have his son quit school in order to support the family — not when Roberto had struggled so hard to give his son an education. Most children in Paramador quit going to school after six years. Roberto often told Clark how determined he was to have his son graduate from high school.
Clark knocked on the door of the very modest home. An older woman answered the door. "Is Lidia here?" asked Clark.
The obviously grief-stricken woman nodded and gestured Clark in. "Are you Roberto's mother?" Clark asked.
The woman nodded.
"I'm very sorry about your loss," Clark said softly, taking one of her hands in both of his.
"Thank you," said the woman. "How did you know Roberto?"
"We worked together," Clark informed her.
She nodded. "He was a good boy," his mother told Clark.
"Yes, he was," Clark confirmed.
She searched Clark's eyes before saying, "So are you. Come. Lidia is in here." With that she withdrew her hand from his and led the way to an adjoining room.
Lidia got up when Clark entered. He made his way over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm so sorry, Lidia," Clark said.
Lidia gave him a sad smile, gesturing him to a seat before taking one herself. "It's so hard to believe he's gone. I keep expecting someone to wake me up and tell me I'm dreaming. But I guess that's not going to happen." She wiped away a tear that had slipped down her cheek. "Can I get you something?" she suddenly asked, rising as if she would serve him.
Clark rose. "No. I'm fine. Please, just sit. I just stopped by to give my condolences and…" Clark fished in his pocket before removing an envelope. "The men at the docks took up a collection," Clark fibbed. He knew the men at the docks barely had enough to support their own families. Instead, he had emptied his own savings account, but he didn't want her to feel indebted to him. "We want you to have this. We all agree that Dario should stay in school."
Lidia took a quick look in the envelope before bursting into tears. "Thank you," she said between sobs.
Clark smiled. Her reaction was certainly reward enough for him. Of course, she had to show Roberto's mother who also needed to thank him. This was followed by thank yous from the kids. By the time they were prepared to let it go, Clark was thoroughly embarrassed.
"I also wanted to ask you if the police have been here," said Clark, when they had finally finished expressing their gratitude.
"Of course. They were the ones who told me about the accident. Why?"
"Did they suggest that it might not have been an accident?"
"No. Why? Who would want to kill my Roberto?"
"I was hoping you might be able to tell me."
"Roberto didn't have any enemies," said Roberto's mother. She then looked at her daughter-in-law who was considering the question thoughtfully. "What is it, Lidia?" she finally asked.
"It's just… Well, Roberto brought some papers home the other day. He seemed nervous about something. And then this morning, when the police took us down to the station to…" She shook her head slightly.
"What happened?" Clark asked.
"When we got back, it was obvious that someone had searched the place."
"Did they get the papers?" asked Clark.
"I don't know," Lidia admitted before getting up, moving the rug on the floor and pulling up a floorboard. A moment later she was withdrawing a number of papers. "You think he might have been killed for these?" she asked, handing the papers to Clark.
"I really don't know. But I promise you, if he was I'll do everything I can to find out. Do you know where he got these?"
Lidia shook her head. "He probably didn't want me to know. You know Roberto. He was always trying to protect me."
Clark smiled. "He loved you, Lidia," he told her. Lidia's wobbly smile told him that she already knew that.
"I don't like this, Claude," said Lois.
"What's not to like?" asked Claude. "Why shouldn't we share a room?"
"We agreed to keep our relationship out of the newsroom. If we only have one room on our expense account…"
Claude kissed her hand. "Don't you think people already have their suspicions?" he asked.
"There's a big difference between suspecting and knowing. And if our expense account only shows one room…"
"Okay, okay," interrupted Claude. "Why don't we get adjoining rooms?" suggested Claude.
"Thank you for understanding, Claude."
"Don't worry about it, cherie. The boys in accounting at the Daily Planet won't have a clue that we only slept in one of them," Claude assured her.
At the far end of the counter in the Grand Hotel, Sweet Tart perked up at the mention of the Daily Planet. What were they doing here?
Once they were gone, she pulled out a cell phone. She placed a long distance phone call. The phone only rang a couple of time before a man picked up.
"Trevanian?" asked Sweet Tart.
"So what have you found?" Trevanian demanded.
"I think we may have a problem. There are a couple of reporters down here from the Daily Planet."
"Do they know anything?"
"I don't know. But what else could be big enough to justify the Planet sending people to Paramador?"
"True. Find out if they know anything. If they do, you know what to do."
Sweet Tart smiled. "Why must violence always be the answer?" she asked in mock seriousness.
Trevanian chuckled in response. He knew that violence was her favorite way to deal with any problem. She seemed to enjoy the adrenaline rush.
Clark waited until he arrived back at his apartment before looking at the papers Lidia Perez had given him. As he sipped a cup of tea, he studied the documents with growing disbelief. He could hardly believe what Roberto had managed to dig up. It was no wonder Emilio Chavez had wanted him dead.
It seemed arms were being purchased, not by the government of Paramador, but by Chavez himself — although there was no indication in the documents as to why Chavez needed such heavy artillery. However, instead of paying for them with cash, he was sending heroin back for sale in America. From the documents, Clark was able to discern that the value of the drugs greatly exceeded the value of the guns — which indicated that someone in America was getting very rich off this particular transaction.
Clark had no idea what to do now. He remembered Homberto's comments that even the police knew not to buy trouble with Chavez. If Chavez were really as powerful as Homberto claimed, there was probably no point in taking the information to the local authorities. He stuck all the papers, along with the proof regarding Roberto's car, back in the inside pocket of his jacket. Until he decided what to do with the information, it was probably best if he kept it on his person. After all, since no one could hurt him, it was safer with him than anywhere else. And Clark would find a way to bring this to light. Roberto had risked — and lost — his life because he felt this was simply too important to ignore. Clark was determined to ensure his death was not in vain.
"We shouldn't have made love last night, Claude," Lois said quietly to Claude as they sat in the back of the cab the next morning. Although they had already established that the cabby didn't speak English, she whispered out of habit.
"Relax, cherie," responded Claude. "Once without protection isn't going to make any difference. Neither of us are HIV positive. So there's no danger."
"What about pregnancy or other diseases?" Lois responded.
Claude laughed. "You worry too much. Besides, wasn't it so much better without a condom? I don't understand why you won't go on the pill. If you don't want to get pregnant then I think it's up to you to take precautions. I forgot to bring protection, but I don't know why it's my responsibility, anyway."
Lois let out a short breath. "Claude…
"We're here," Claude interrupted, digging into his wallet to find some money to pay the cabby.
Clark was still thinking about his dilemma while piling crates on the docks. He was brought back to his surroundings by the sound of a woman trying to talk to Homberto in broken Spanish. As the conversation progressed, both people raised their voices, as if by speaking louder, they could somehow make the other person understand.
Clark glanced in the direction of the voices and saw a man and woman talking to Homberto. Figuring they could use some help, Clark made his way over to the group.
"Can I help?" Clark asked Homberto in Spanish.
"My friend," Homberto replied in relief. "I think they want to know about Roberto. I tried to tell them that he's dead, but they don't understand."
Clark was instantly suspicious. Why would Americans be here looking for Roberto? And from their accents, it was fairly obvious they were Americans. Clark could only think of one reason. He turned towards the Americans.
"I'm Clark Kent. Is there something I can do for you?" Clark asked in English, looking directly at the man and woman for the first time.
"Finally," breathed the woman in relief. "We are trying to find Roberto Perez. He's the relative of a friend of ours in Metropolis, and while we're in Paramador on our vacation, we promised to look him up. But neither of us speak Spanish very well and so…" The woman gestured helplessly.
Clark had only caught the first word. The rest of the words had no real meaning as he stared into the woman's eyes for the first time. Afterwards, he couldn't say exactly what it was about her eyes that captivated him. All he knew for sure was that she touched something in him.
"Are you all right?" the woman asked, looking at him oddly.
Her question finally managed to penetrate Clark's mind. He quickly diverted his eyes, realizing that he had been staring. "Umm… yeah," he said. "I guess… It's just been a long time since I've heard English. I guess… What did you want again?"
The woman let out a short breath. "I said, we're in Paramador on vacation and a friend from Metropolis told us to give Roberto Perez a call while we're here. We understood that he works at the docks."
"Umm… yeah, he did," Clark replied. He knew he wasn't being very helpful, but he still seemed to be having some problems making his brain work. Maybe it had just been a long time since he'd been in the presence of a woman who had the money to spend on perfumed shampoo and soap, but she smelled incredible. It was a little bit intoxicating — oh, heck, it was incredibly intoxicating. He reminded himself to be careful. After all, it was quite a coincidence she should be here from America asking about Roberto right now. Surely if she was working for Chavez, she would already know Roberto was dead. No. She probably was just in town on… They… Clark looked at the man with her and felt his skin bristle. They were probably just in town on vacation as she had said.
"What do you mean, 'he did'? Doesn't he work here anymore?" the woman asked.
"I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this," said Clark. "But Roberto was killed a couple of nights ago in a car accident."
"What?" gasped the woman.
"There is a vigil for him tonight at the bar on the corner of Rio de la Loza and San Antonio if you're interested," Clark said softly.
"Actually, we'd like to pay a visit to his family," said the man.
Clark regarded the man for a moment, trying to get the woman out of his mind long enough to think about this objectively.
"I could give you their address," Clark finally said. After all, that was information Chavez would have anyway. No. The more he thought about their questions, the less likely it was that these people were working for Chavez. They probably were tourists, just as they had said. And he seemed to recall Roberto mentioning a cousin he had in America. What was his name? Bud… Bud something. He couldn't remember a last name.
"We'd appreciate that," said the man, moving towards the woman in what Clark immediately recognized as a possessive gesture. He was obviously notifying Clark that the woman belonged to him. Clark glanced at the woman. She seemed uncomfortable with the man's unspoken signal. No. The man might think she belonged to him, but Clark doubted this woman could belong to anyone. He took a quick look at her left hand and, for some reason, was relieved to see it bore no rings.
Clark forced his mind back to the current request. He gave the couple the address and watched as they left. As they disappeared from view, Clark was brought back to reality by Homberto's hand on his shoulder.
"She is a beautiful woman, isn't she?" asked Homberto.
"Who?" asked Clark.
Homberto roared with laughter before walking away.
"I wasn't that obvious," Clark muttered, looking back at the spot where he had last seen the woman. It suddenly occurred to him he didn't even know her name. And beyond that, he found himself wondering where his head was. He didn't think he'd told them anything of any significance. But… He shook his head. What had he been thinking? He snorted. He'd been thinking how amazing that woman was.
Claude and Lois grabbed a cab and made their way to the address Kent had given them. As they did, Lois made notes about what they had learned so far. Claude shook his head.
"Kent didn't tell us anything that was important enough to write down," he scoffed.
"I like to write down everything," Lois said in her own defense.
"You liked him, didn't you?" Claude had definitely noticed the way Kent had reacted to Lois, but had been unable to read Lois' reaction to him.
"Who?" Lois asked innocently.
"Clark Kent," Claude said.
"He seemed okay," Lois replied dismissively, obviously having no intention of discussing the man on the docks with Claude. "Anyway, what exactly do you make of Perez's death?"
Claude shrugged. "I would guess that someone realized that he knew what was going on and that he was about to expose it. On the other hand, it could have just been an accident."
Before Lois could respond, the cab pulled to a stop. Claude handed the cabby some money. They got out, making their way in silence to the front door.
"Where did you take them?" Tart asked the cabby.
"Where someone goes is their business, senorita," responded the cabby.
Tart produced an American ten dollar bill. In a country where fifty American dollars was a monthly income for a dock worker, ten dollars was a lot of money. The cabby took the money and gave her the address.
As Lois noticed the relative poverty around her while stepping up to the front door of what purported to be the Perez home, she was struck with how fortunate she was to be an American. She wondered briefly what type of social security net was available in Paramador — probably there was none. That meant the death of the breadwinner would be a tremendous blow to this family — not only from an emotional standpoint, but for simple survival.
They knocked on the door and an older woman answered.
"Mrs. Perez?" Lois asked.
The woman simply continued to look at them.
"Do you speak English?" Lois asked.
The woman shook her head and gestured them inside before calling for someone. When a boy showed up, she spoke briefly to him in Spanish before the boy turned to their visitors.
"My grandmother say you American?" the boy asked in English.
Lois breathed a sigh of relief. She was really going to have to work on her Spanish when she got back to Metropolis. Her reading was flawless; it was actually speaking and understanding that was causing her problems. If only people wouldn't talk so fast…
"Yes, we are," said Lois. "Are you Roberto's son?"
"Is this your mother?"
"No, senorita. This my grandmother."
"We were hoping to talk to your mother."
The boy translated the request to the older woman, who studied the people at the door for a moment more. Lois watched her curiously while she seemed to try to decide whether their request was to be granted. Finally, she spoke to the boy, who immediately nodded and left. When he came back, there was a younger woman with him.
"This my mother," the boy informed them.
"Mrs. Perez," Claude said in his most charming voice, taking the woman's hand in his own and raising it to his lips. Lois recognized the voice. It was the one he used when he was trying to charm her into something. "I am very pleased to meet you."
To Lois' fascination, his comment and action provoked a stream of Spanish from the older woman followed by the younger woman's withdrawal of her hand. From what Lois could discern, the older woman was suspicious of Claude. Still, they were gestured inside. It wasn't until they were seated that they again spoke, the boy acting as an interpreter.
"We were sorry to hear about your husband," Lois said.
Lidia nodded in response to their condolences.
"I believe you have a relative in America," Lois said. "Her husband suggested that we look Roberto Perez up if we were in Paramador."
"Cousin married American. She dies couple years ago," Lidia informed them through Dario. "Her husband has important job in America."
Lois nodded although personally she didn't think working for the NIA was an extremely important job — especially given the fact that Bud was merely a clerk. However, she had no intention of disillusioning the woman before her. And Bud Collins was the one who had put her on to this story in the first place.
"Yes, he does. He seemed to think your husband might have some information for us."
The woman didn't respond immediately. Instead she studied Claude.
"Do you know what he might have wanted to talk to us about?" Lois finally asked.
As Lois' last question was interpreted, Lidia's attention returned to Lois. She seemed to consider the question for a moment more, as if trying to reach some sort of decision. Lois moved closer to the edge of her chair as she watched. The woman knew something. Lois was sure of that. The question was whether the woman would tell them.
"I does not know," Lidia finally responded.
"Mrs. Perez," Lois immediately responded, "please. Claude and I work for a newspaper called the Daily Planet. It's one of the most respected newspapers in the world. Bud contacted me because he believed that your husband had some important information for me. I think that information might have been the reason your husband was killed. I'd like to make sure that he didn't die in vain." When Lidia still didn't answer, Lois continued. "If your husband thought this information was important enough to contact Bud, don't you think he'd want you to tell us?"
Lidia glanced over at her mother-in-law. Lois followed her gaze. She tried unsuccessfully to read whatever unspoken communication that was taking place between the two women.
"My mother know nothing," Dario finally interpreted her mother's words.
Lois looked over at the older woman again. When she noticed the woman looking at Claude, she had a sudden idea.
"Claude, would you mind waiting outside?" she asked. When Claude looked as if he was about to object, she gave him a look of warning. She was almost surprised when Claude nodded and rose to his feet. She waited until Claude was out of the house before turning back to Lidia.
"Please," she said. "This is really important.
Lidia looked again at her mother-in-law. This time the older woman nodded. When she did, Lois redirected her attention to Lidia. Still, it was quite some time before Lidia continued. Dario translated when she had finished. "Mother really don't know. But you could try talking to Clark Kent. He here yesterday and took documents Father brought home."
"Do you know what was in the documents?" she asked.
Lidia shook her head before speaking. "You ask Clark," Dario translated. "He a good man. He do right thing. He give us fifteen hundred American dollars. He say it from men at docks. But no such collection. He gave it us from him. Now, me can to stay in school. He a good man."
Lois nodded. "Well, thank you for your time, Mrs. Perez," she said, rising.
Dario led Lois back to the door. As she was about to leave, the older woman took Lois' arm and led her a little ways away. She whispered intently to her in Spanish. Lois looked at Dario when the woman had finished.
Dario said, "She warning you to be careful of your young man. She says he has dark heart." When Lois just looked confused, Dario took the liberty to explain. "My grandmother has gift of looking into people's hearts. She say you can to talk my mother because she say you have good heart — you just little scared."
"Of life," Dario explained. "But she say your young man has dark heart."
Lois smiled. "He's just a little hard to get to know," Lois said in defense of Claude.
The older woman responded immediately in Spanish without waiting for Dario to interpret the last statement. Dario smiled.
"What did she say?" asked Lois.
"She say that she knew you not willing to see. You want to believe he love you."
This conversation was suddenly hitting a little too close to home. There was something about the woman's last comment that completely unnerved Lois. She tried to slough it off and smile, but she knew her smile was somewhat wobbly. She said good-bye and quickly made her way to the door.
When she stepped outside, Lois withdrew her wallet, handing twenty dollars to Dario.
"What this?" asked Dario.
"You acted as our translator," said Lois. "This is your fee."
"This too much," said Dario, holding the bill up for Lois to take back.
Lois shook her head, refusing to take the money. "In America, that would be what I'd expect to pay for the job you did."
Dario looked at the money in contemplation before saying, "Gracias."
"Gracias," responded Lois.
"That was too much money to give the kid," Claude said when she finally reached him.
Lois didn't respond, but after the woman's comments about Claude, his remark bothered her — she couldn't exactly say why.
"So what did you find out?" Claude asked as they walked away.
Lois had managed to fill Claude in on the information she'd received from Lidia by the time they arrived back at the Grand Hotel. They returned to their room to discuss strategy.
"I've been thinking about this Clark Kent," said Claude once they were inside.
"You think we should talk to him?" Lois asked.
Claude was silent for a moment. "I'm not sure the direct approach is the best way."
"Think about it, Lois. He shows up after Roberto's death and gets the documents that Roberto had gathered together. From talking to him, it seems that he's an American. How do we know he isn't involved?"
Lois thought about that. "Well, surely he wouldn't have given Lidia Perez money if he were involved in her husband's death."
"That's exactly what makes me the most suspicious of him."
"Fifteen hundred dollars is a small fortune in Paramador. How would a man who probably makes forty dollars a month working on the docks come up with that kind of money? If he had that, why work?"
"Maybe he just likes working."
"And if he had fifteen hundred dollars to just give away, that must mean that he has a lot more money. No. If he has that much spare money, he must be in on this. The money was probably a payoff — something to divert attention away from his involvement."
Lois let out a breath before nodding. He was probably right. "So, what do you suggest?"
"Well, he seemed smitten with you," he said.
She looked at him in disbelief. "What are you suggesting?"
"I'm suggesting that we do whatever is necessary to get the story. From what we have learned so far, I'd say this could be a huge story. I'm suggesting that we use all our assets."
"Is that what I am to you? An asset?" Lois demanded, her anger rising in direct proportion to the pain his suggestion was causing.
"Of course not, cherie. All I'm saying is that given his obvious attraction to you, we may have a way to get whatever information he has."
"You're not suggesting that I sleep with this guy to find out what he knows?" The question was only asked in partial seriousness — taking his suggestion to the extreme in an effort to make a point.
"Not unless you have to."
"Unless I have to!" Lois gasped, unable to believe that not only hadn't he flinched at her bizarre suggestion, but actually regarded it as an option. "Look, Claude, I will not sleep with some guy just to get a story."
"You have to give up this Victorian attitude of yours if you want to win the Pulitzer. Do you think I'd think twice about sleeping with a woman to get a story? Besides, you might not have to sleep with him. You may be able to get the information out of him just by flirting with him."
"I won't do it," objected Lois.
"Then you will never be a great reporter."
"I refuse to believe…"
"Grow up, Lois. You're an attractive woman. Learn to take advantage of that fact. Otherwise you will never be more than just another one of hundreds of mediocre reporters."
Lois just stared at him. She could hardly believe Claude would suggest this. He was supposed to love her. Surely if that were true, he would never suggest she sleep with some guy just to get a story. And what did he mean, he wouldn't think twice about sleeping with another woman to get a story? She involuntarily shivered.
"I won't sleep with him," Lois reiterated. "But if you want me to flirt, I'll flirt," she said before turning and storming from the room, not wanting Claude to see the tears in her eyes.
Claude smiled when he heard the door to his room slam shut. He was confident he'd made his point. He wanted this story. His years of experience working as a reporter told him this was big. He was sure she'd be able to get whatever information Kent had. After all, Clark Kent had looked like a deer in the headlights the instant he'd looked at Lois. If anyone could get the information from him, she could. Besides, he didn't believe she'd go the distance and actually sleep with Kent — and putting her in a position where she was willing to sleep with someone else might make it easier if she learned that he was currently working on getting a new correspondent at LNN, Linda King, into bed — after all, he could always use the excuse that he wanted to know what stories LNN was pursuing.
Claude liked having Lois Lane as his girlfriend. She was ambitious and he hoped to be able to make mileage on her ambition without exerting the energy required to be a top reporter. It was certainly working in this case and he suspected it would in the future, too. However, Claude had a weakness for the chase. And now that he had Lois Lane, he had to see what other territory he could conquer.
Lois sat in the dark in the back of the cab as it made its way to the corner of Rio de la Loza and San Antonio where Kent had told them a vigil for Roberto was being held. Since she didn't know Kent's address, this was her best bet for finding him after hours. Even if he wasn't there, someone would probably know where he was.
Claude hadn't come with her. He had insisted that Kent was more likely to open up if he wasn't around. Personally, Lois was glad Claude wouldn't be there, critiquing her performance.
She had spent the past few hours thinking about her discussion with Claude. She knew there was no way she could sleep with a man just to get a story. That wasn't even a consideration. After all, the only man she'd ever been with was Claude. However, the very fact that Claude would suggest such a thing told her without a doubt that she had misjudged him. He didn't love her. He couldn't if he could even suggest something like that. It was amazing how once that realization finally sunk in so many of the things that had happened over the past few months suddenly looked so different.
She thought about the comments made by Perry. He was right. So was the woman who had warned her that Claude had a dark heart. Even the first time they'd made love looked different somehow — almost as if he had been pressuring her to sleep with him instead of a sincere need to know that she loved him.
Lois felt like such a fool. She was so anxious to be loved she had refused to see what had been in front of her eyes all along.
That didn't stop her from grieving for the death of a dream. There might not have been anything substantial behind the dream, but that didn't make the dream less real. She had finally felt as if she wasn't alone in the world. That made the feeling of isolation that much worse now. She didn't think she'd ever felt quite this lost before.
Clark Kent. She dragged her mind back to the subject at hand. What she needed to do was to find out where he had put the documents Lidia had given him. If they still existed, they were probably at his house or apartment. So once she knew where he lived, she could excuse herself and go to search his place. She could do that.
Her mind drifted back to her encounter with Kent on the docks this morning. Claude was right about one thing — Kent had seemed completely off balance the moment their eyes met. And although she would never admit this to Claude, especially now, she had felt something, too. His hair might have needed a trim and his clothing might have been sloppy, but there was something about his eyes… She quickly shook the thought off. After Claude's comments, she was not about to think about Kent that way.
Sweet Tart was pleased to see the reporter she had discovered was Lois Lane leave the Grand Hotel alone. It was obvious from their trip to Perez's residence this afternoon that the reporters were indeed here to look into the shipment of arms to Paramador. If not, it was certainly an amazing coincidence that they were down at the docks and talking to the family of the man who Chavez had had killed.
When Tart saw Lane leave the hotel alone, she realized that now was her chance to get rid of one of them. She was certainly willing to deal with both reporters together — they were only reporters after all. However, dealing with them separately was certainly going to be easier. She would make Ms. Lane's untimely death look like a mugging. As for the other one… Well, Paramador was a dangerous place. Maybe she'd make it look as if he'd run into some problems with Paramador's secret police. Tart climbed into her rental car and followed the cab.
When the cab arrived across the street from the bar, Tart quickly parked and got out of her car. There was only one place Lane could be going — the bar. She was pleased when Lois Lane delayed getting out of the cab. It allowed Tart to get into position, in the shadows of an alley near the bar. Lane would have to walk past it. As long as no one else decided to go into the bar at the same time, dragging her into the alley and killing her should not be difficult. She pulled a knife with a six inch blade from its sheath as she prepared for the encounter.
"Is this the place?" asked the cabby in English when Lois didn't get out.
"Is this the corner of Rio de la Loza and San Antonio?" Lois asked in response.
"Then this is the place," said Lois.
There was a moment of silence. The cabby turned around and looked at Lois when she still didn't get out. "Are you sure this is where you want to go? Or maybe I could take you somewhere else?"
Lois looked at him before shaking her head. She was not looking forward to talking to Kent — not after Claude's suggestion. Had she been left to her own devices, she would probably have decided that flirting with Kent was the way to go. However, given Claude's comments, the whole thing had taken on a sleazier feeling. She took a deep breath before reaching into her purse and pulling out the money to pay the cabby.
She got out of the car and watched the cabby drive off before starting across the street to enter the bar.
Lois never saw who grabbed her from behind. She instinctively began to struggle, but the feel of cold steel at her neck ended all movement instantly.
"Back up slowly," came a woman's voice.
Lois did as instructed and soon she was in the shadows of the alley.
"What do you want?" Lois asked. She had to get this person talking. From this position, there was no possibility of escape. She needed to stay alive long enough for the woman to relax her grip and then… she'd make a move.
"You really should learn not to stick your nose in where it doesn't belong," the woman responded.
"Look, I'm sure we can work something out here. I have money," said Lois, moving her hand down to her purse. As she did, the knife slipped off her neck. Lois reacted immediately, spinning around and out of the woman's grasp. However, the attacker's reactions were quicker than Lois had anticipated. The knife caught Lois along her jaw line. The adrenalin was pumping through Lois' system to such an extent that Lois hardly noticed the pain. Her foot came up and landed hard into the attacker's stomach. When the attacker fell back, Lois turned to make a dash for the door of the bar.
Lois' move obviously caught the woman off guard, but it only took a moment for her attacker to regain her footing. Lois' hand had just landed on the door when she felt an arm wrapped around her neck from behind. Lois clawed at the arm as it cut off her oxygen. It was only a moment before the darkness descended on Lois' mind.
Trevanian was pacing nervously as he waited to hear from Sweet Tart. He usually took these things in stride. After all he was the deputy director of the NIA — the National Intelligence Agency. So he had been through a lot of tense situations. However, this one was different — this time he was on the line personally.
He wondered exactly how he was going to cover his butt if the NIA's involvement in shipping arms to Chavez — especially when the arms were being paid for by drug shipments — ever came out. How was it that people could be so short sighted? The important thing here was to ensure the loyalty of the Paramador government — no matter who might be in charge of it. And this transaction ensured exactly that.
It had become obvious to Trevanian that Chavez was maneuvering himself into position to take over the government in some sort of coup. When Chavez had made overtures to the Russians for arms, Trevanian had stepped in. A communist take over in Paramador was unacceptable. When he'd approached his superiors to support Chavez, they had refused to see the big picture, too — talking about Russia now being America's friend and other such nonsense. So he'd come up with the plan of buying arms with drug money. And it had worked beautifully. His government would have a friend in the country of Paramador, no matter who won the power struggle. Officially, the U.S. was supporting the current government, and unofficially… Trevanian smiled. Besides, his enterprise was bringing a lot of extra money into the NIA coffers — money which could be used for other covert NIA operations, money that would be available to them without worrying about that pesky little detail known as congressional approval.
His smile faded as he thought about his current concern. Two Daily Planet reporters were looking into the situation in Paramador. He wondered again if his butt was covered if it ever came out what he had been doing.
Tart pulled her unconscious victim back into the shadows before looking around for her knife. It only took her a moment to find it. Leaving Lane on the ground, she grabbed the knife and turned to finish the job. That was when she saw him. Like a phantom out of the night, he crossed the street faster than she would have believed possible.
She turned towards him immediately. It seemed she was going to have to kill more than one person here. If it hadn't been for Lane's almost successful effort to get away, this would not have been necessary. Not that Tart had any problem killing someone else. It was just frustrating to realize that she could already be on her way to take care of the other reporter.
She dove at the man approaching, but somehow he sidestepped her. It only took her a moment to regain her footing. She spun around. The man was still standing there, facing her. He had adopted a somewhat defensive stance, although it was obvious he didn't have much combat training. She smiled slightly. She lunged forward again, but then pulled herself up short in order to direct a foot into the man's stomach. She gave a cry of pain and collapsed to the ground when her foot connected with its target.
Realizing that his attacker was no longer a threat, Clark quickly made his way over to the person who was lying on the ground.
"Senorita?" Clark asked. When she didn't respond, he listened carefully and was relieved to hear a pulse. He felt movement behind him and turned, expecting to see the woman attacking again. When he saw her limping away, he briefly considered going after her. However, concern for the woman lying unconscious on the ground stopped him.
He quickly x-rayed the woman, looking for broken bones. When he found none, he slowly rolled her over. She groaned briefly before coughing herself to consciousness.
Clark pulled in a sharp breath when he recognized her. It was the woman who'd been on the docks this morning. He moved to support her as she attempted to sit up. When she tried to stand, he stopped her.
"Give yourself a moment," Clark said. "You've been out for a couple of minutes. And that cut on your face has bled quite a bit."
"Cut?" asked Lois, her hand instinctively going to her face and finding the exact spot of her injury. She pulled her hand away and looked at the blood on it. Clark pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. Taking it, she placed it over the cut to stop the bleeding. She let out a short breath. "I've got to…" she said, struggling to rise. When she stumbled backwards, Clark reached out and steadied her. "I feel a little dizzy," she confessed.
"Do you want to…"
"Where's the woman?" Lois interrupted, remembering what had happened.
"She's gone. I'm sorry. I would have stopped her, but…" He shrugged.
It took Lois some time to get her bearings. She hadn't realized she was hurt until he'd mentioned her being cut. On the other hand, as soon as he had, her hand had gone to the exact spot. Her injuries were suddenly forgotten when Lois realized who she was talking to. "You're Clark Kent," she said. "The man I met down on the docks."
"That's right. Do you want me to take you to a hospital?" When Lois shook her head, he continued, "Well, my place is only a couple of blocks away if you want me to see what I can do about that cut."
"Umm…" Lois was about to decline but then caught herself. Finding out where he lived was her main objective here, after all. For all she knew, he was in on it with the woman, but if they hadn't killed her yet, they probably didn't intend to for the time being. Maybe if she went along with his suggestion, she would find out more about this story. All they knew at the moment was that their source had died and Clark Kent had some documents from that source — documents that might help them get the story. "That would be great," she finally said.
"Can you walk or would you prefer I carry you?" he asked hesitantly.
"I'll walk," Lois responded immediately as the instructions Claude had given her came back. There was no way she intended to let Clark Kent carry her. Suddenly, she shivered.
"Here," said Clark, immediately taking off his jacket and helping her slip it on before coming around to the front to help her do it up.
Lois watched him curiously. It was hard to believe Claude's theory about this man while watching the care with which he was attending her. Still, he must be involved. Why else would he have gotten the papers from the Perez family? Unless the papers he had received had nothing to do with the tip Lois had gotten from Bud. She supposed that was a possibility.
She stuck her free hand in the pocket of the jacket. The action caused the jacket to move against her. It was then that she felt it. There were obviously papers in the inside pocket, but surely he wouldn't be so careless as to keep the papers on him? Would he? Wasn't that another sign that the papers were not connected to the story. For a reason she couldn't quite name, she almost hoped they were wrong about Clark Kent's involvement in this story. She staggered slightly — still reeling from the after effects of the attack.
"Can I help?" Clark asked, offering Lois his arm.
Lois forced her mind to concentrate on his question. Help. "Umm… Thanks," she said, slipping her arm around his. She really was feeling dizzy. The support of his arm would definitely help.
They slowly walked the short distance to his apartment. Once there, Clark helped her settle on the couch before informing her that he didn't have any first aid supplies. He made his way back to the door telling her to make herself comfortable — that he'd be back in a few minutes.
The second he was gone, she removed the handkerchief from her face to discover that the bleeding had stopped. She set the handkerchief on the coffee table before unzipping the jacket, reaching into the inside pocket and withdrawing the papers located there. As she studied them, she gasped. It was obvious they were exactly what they were looking for. More than that, they were a gold mine. Chavez wasn't only having weapons shipped to his personal company, but he was using drugs to purchase them. These documents proved that. And given the NIA's guarantee of payment, they must be involved in this up to their earlobes. This was the type of story that toppled governments and impeached presidents! This was Pulitzer prize winning material!
She also noticed a report about Roberto Perez's accident and a number of pictures of what appeared to be a mangled car. She wasn't entirely certain what the pictures proved, but she folded them in with the papers and stuck them in her purse as well. She'd figure it all out later.
Okay, so now all she had to do was get out of here and… Suddenly, she thought about the woman who'd attacked her. The woman knew what Lois was looking into — that was fairly obvious. What if they knew about Claude, too? And although after his comments today, she didn't like Claude much at the moment, she didn't want to see him dead — unless, of course, she had the privilege of doing it with her own two hands. She quickly got up, stumbling slightly from the sudden movement. When she had steadied herself, she made her way to the phone and dialed the Grand Hotel. She let out a relieved breath when Claude answered his phone.
"Claude," she said.
"Did you get the information?" Claude immediately asked.
She felt an immediate pain in her chest — that really was all he cared about. "Yes. I got the information. But I was attacked tonight. They seemed to know what we're investigating. You need to get out of the hotel now."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, I'm sure," Lois responded impatiently.
"Okay, I'll go to the Regency and get us a room there."
"Two rooms," she corrected.
"Cherie, get serious. If there is someone after us, we should be together."
"I want my own room, Claude. And don't register in our names."
"Then how will you find yours? If you're coming right back, I'll wait for you in the lobby."
She paused. The last thing she wanted right now was to talk to Claude. Besides, there was no way they could get this into the morning paper anyway. "No. I don't know how long it will take me to get back. Besides, they might consider our going to another hotel and if you're sitting in the lobby…"
"Then how will you find your room?"
"Umm… Book me one under the name…" She hesitated. Suddenly, she couldn't think of a single name not associated with her family or the Daily Planet. "…Lois Kent."
"Lois Kent?" asked Claude and Lois could just imagine his eyebrows going up.
"It's just a name, Claude." Just then Lois heard someone at the door. "Gotta go," she said immediately hanging up the phone. She quickly made her way back to the couch and had just got seated when the door opened.
"Sorry that took so long," said Clark. "I had problems finding antiseptic."
"No problem," said Lois. "Besides, it didn't seem that long." She had hoped to be gone before he got back. Well, as long as he didn't realize what she'd done, she should be able to get out of here as soon as… What was the reason he'd invited her to his apartment? Right. Her face. She reached up again and flinched slightly as she touched her jaw line. Well, she'd let him help her with that and then she'd get out of here. Just a few more minutes and she'd be home free. She just had to keep her cool until then. After all, she could no longer deny that he must be involved in this conspiracy.
Clark set down the bag with his purchases and headed into the washroom. Lois glanced at the washroom door. When she heard the water beginning to run, she quickly reached over and grabbed the bag to look inside. There were first aid supplies and… She moaned. There were two Double Fudge Crunch Bars. Oh, yeah. She really could like this guy. She shook her head. What was she thinking? This guy was involved with smuggling drugs into the States.
"Are you okay?" asked Clark from the washroom.
"Umm…" said Lois, somewhat embarrassed. "I just saw the chocolate bars. I looked at the hotel this afternoon and they'd never heard of Double Fudge Crunch Bars. And this is interesting. The writing on the wrapper isn't even in Spanish. Strange."
In the washroom, Clark choked. He hadn't even considered that they might not have Double Fudge Crunch Bars in Paramador. When he hadn't been able to find antiseptic in Paramador, he'd taken a quick trip to a drug store in the States. While he'd been there, he'd spotted the chocolate bars and thought… He wasn't usually that careless. "Umm… I guess you just have to know where to shop," he said. "Help yourself. I thought the energy in the chocolate might be good for you."
"You know the way to a woman's heart, don't you?" she responded. He could hear her remove one of the bars from the bag and rip open the wrapper.
'I hope so,' thought Clark. He quickly rebuked himself. She needed his help. That was the only reason this woman was in his apartment. And after this morning, he was fairly certain she was involved with someone else.
Still, he seemed completely incapable of stopping these unfamiliar feelings. All she had to do was look at him and his heart seemed to take flight. If he wasn't very careful here, he was going to wind up making a complete and utter fool of himself.
Taking a deep breath, he picked up the basin of water, grabbed a towel and wash cloth and headed back into the living room.
"Would you mind if I looked in a mirror?" she asked, when he'd set down the basin.
"I'll get you one, umm…" Suddenly, he stopped and turned towards her. "I don't even know your name."
"Lois Lane," she informed him.
"Lois Lane," he said slowly, as if trying on for size. "Yeah, that works," he finally said.
She gave an almost involuntary sounding chuckle. "I'm glad you approve."
"No. It's not that," Clark rushed to explain. "I had just wondered… I mean I've been thinking…" Suddenly he fell into an awkward silence before her amused expression. He had been thinking about her since their meeting — trying to figure out her name, among other things. "Umm… anyway…" said Clark. He offered her his hand. "It's nice to finally meet you, Ms. Lane," he said.
She gave a surprised-sounding chuckle and reached out to take his hand. The moment her hand was wrapped in his, her laughter died. Lois pulled her hand back quickly. Clark bit his lip. She obviously realized just how attracted he was to her. And given the fact that she didn't know him and was alone with him in his apartment, he was going to have to be careful or he was going to spook her completely.
"The mirror?" she asked, refusing to make eye contact.
"Oh, right," said Clark, heading for the washroom. There was a mirror on the wall that she could use.
When he came back, Lois looked at what was obviously a wall mirror. She shook her head. "I could have come into the washroom," she informed him.
Clark shrugged, trying to slough off another obvious mistake. "It was no problem." He held the mirror so that she could look into it. She pulled in a sharp breath. There was a gash three inches long along her jaw line.
Clark immediately sat down beside her on the couch. "It's not that bad. It really isn't very deep. I'm sure we can fix it up so that you won't even have a scar," he said reassuringly.
She took a deep breath and nodded.
Knowing there was nothing else he could say that would help her feel better, he decided to take action. He took the wash cloth and gently began to clean out the dirt. As he did, he carefully used his heat vision to help with the healing. By the time he put the antiseptic on the cut, it had already healed enough to keep it from being too painful. He removed the butterfly bandages he had purchased and used them to close a small section that was a bit worse than the rest.
When he was finally finished, he took the wash cloth again and wiped away the dried blood on her face and neck, before handing her the mirror again. He wished he could have done more, but it was going to be difficult enough explaining what he'd already done.
Lois wasn't entirely sure what to make of the situation. His old fashioned country charm when he'd called her 'Ms. Lane' was amusing. His awkwardness and confusion were enchanting. When he's stumbled all over himself regarding her name, she'd immediately picked up the implications. But it wasn't until he'd touched her hand that she felt it for the first time — and it was terrifying. The electricity that seemed to jump between them as if they had just closed the circuit on an electrical outlet was startling. It took every ounce of courage Lois possessed to keep from jumping up and bolting from Kent's apartment right then. How could she be having these feelings for a drug smuggler?
But that was nothing compared to what she'd felt when he'd begun to tend to her wound. She had felt every touch of this man's hands on her face and neck. There almost seemed to be a heat radiating from his hands. She concentrated on his apartment to distract her from how close he was and the unfamiliar sensations his closeness were causing in her. She kept telling herself she was just letting him do this because she didn't want to make him suspicious of her reasons for being here. However, none of these thoughts seemed to stop the way her body was reacting to his touch. She had to swallow hard several times to try to convince her mouth to produce moisture.
Lois didn't look at him as he handed her the mirror. She was afraid he would notice how affected she was by his touch. As she took the mirror, he got up.
"Would you like some coffee?" he asked.
She wasn't about to have coffee with him. He was obviously finished with his first aid work so she now had her excuse to go. She would thank him, but tell him that she really had to leave.
"I'd love some coffee," she heard herself respond. She couldn't help but notice the way he suddenly lit up. Her heart involuntarily skipped a beat.
"Great. I'll be right back," he said, heading for the kitchen.
She watched him go, wondering exactly what she thought she was doing. He was obviously involved with this. Wasn't he? She glanced around his apartment. He didn't seem to have a lot of money. The place was clean, but not fancy. Claude may well have been right in his assessment. After all, if he had enough extra money to give Roberto's wife fifteen hundred dollars, surely he would be living in a nicer place. The money must have come from whomever he worked for — Chavez probably.
She gathered her courage before looking in the mirror. She let out an unexpected breath. The cut didn't look bad at all. She might still have a slight scar, but she was confident it wouldn't be all that noticeable. Even if he was a drug smuggler, he was great at first aid work. And as long as he didn't know what she'd discovered, she should be safe enough.
"What did you do?" she asked loudly so that he could hear her from the kitchen. "This cut doesn't look half bad."
"Well, most of what you saw before was from the blood," Clark responded from the kitchen. "By the way, do you know why someone would want to hurt you?"
Lois let out a breath. "I think it was just a mugging."
"I guess we should call the police."
"No! I mean, I don't want to make a big deal out of this. They won't likely find the woman anyway and I'll be going back to Metropolis soon. So even if they do find her, they'd probably have to let her go since I won't be here to testify. Besides, I don't want to have to spend hours in the police station right now."
"Well, I guess it's your call," came Clark's hesitant response from the kitchen.
Lois glanced in the mirror again. This time she noticed the amount of blood on her shirt. She let out a breath. It really could have been a lot worse if it hadn't been for Kent coming along when he had. Why would he save her life if he had been part of the attempt to kill her? She shook her head and got up. She wasn't going to figure it all out sitting here, so she decided to look around. Maybe something here would let her know who he really was. And suddenly, knowing who this man was was a matter of some concern.
There were a number of unusual artifacts around his apartment. There were also pictures on the wall, but Lois suspected the apartment was furnished when he'd rented it — including the pictures. They were mostly the type you might find in a cheap hotel room.
She spotted a picture that caught her attention. Unlike the other pictures, it was not cheap. It was a hand drawn picture in black and white. There was a farm house in the foreground and fields of wheat or corn or something. But what was so striking about it was the sunset. Although the picture was in black and white, there was something about the way the picture was drawn that told her how brilliant the sunset was — as if the artist saw the place in a spectacular light. She looked at the bottom corner of the drawing. It read, 'Clark Kent'.
When she heard Clark reenter the living room, she glanced over at him before looking back at the picture.
"You drew this?" she asked.
He nodded. "It's where I grew up," he informed her, handing her a cup of coffee. "If you want something in it, I've got an assortment on the coffee table."
She took the cup and turned back towards the picture. "It's striking, Clark," she said softly.
"Thank you. I guess it does capture the way I feel about the farm."
She glanced over at him, digesting that information. Then she made her way to the coffee table and fixed her coffee the way she liked it.
"So where is this farm of yours?"
"It's in a small town in Kansas that you've probably never heard of. It's called Smallville."
She paused — could someone who was from a small town in Kansas really be involved in a drug smuggling operation? Suddenly she had to know. Maybe the best way to do that was to get him talking about himself. "So tell me. What was it like growing up in a small farming town?"
Clark nodded and got a far off look, before giving her a glimpse into life as a child in Smallville, Kansas and the home of Martha and Jonathan Kent. There was a softness on his face and in his voice when he spoke about his home. She listened to the sound of his voice almost more than she took in the actual words. It was so hard while hearing this man talk about his home with such tenderness to believe that he could be mixed up in a plan to smuggle drugs into America. Still, there was no denying that he'd had the incriminating papers on him. If he were legitimate, why hadn't he taken the papers to the police or other authorities?
Still, as he continued to talk, Lois' questioning voice seemed to fall increasingly on deaf ears. There was something so wholesome, so whole about this man. In a way that she didn't understand, there was something about him that called to her.
When he finished, he glanced at her.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Did I upset you?"
It wasn't until then that Lois realized that there were tears slipping silently down her cheeks. She brushed them away embarrassedly.
"No. Of course not. It's just…" She looked away from him. "I guess, I'm just a little bit jealous."
"Life in Metropolis not quite so simple?" he asked.
"Life in the Lane family was not quite so simple," she replied before she could stop herself. She gave a self- depreciating smile. "It's no big deal."
Clark moved a little closer, picking up one of her hands in his. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said softly.
She pulled in an involuntarily jagged breath. With what had happened between her and Claude earlier today, the pain of her home situation had once again been brought to the forefront of her mind. The sincerity of his words pushed her over the edge. Soon more tears were slipping down her cheeks and then, without her remembering the moment or how it had happened, his arms were around her and her cheek was pressed against his chest.
For a moment, she considered pulling away, but when he sighed as if he could actually feel her pain, she accepted the comfort of his embrace. Just for a minute. Just until she regained control. Still, the tears refused to stop. She balled her hands in the front of his shirt and continued to cry.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
She shook her head, trying to get herself under control. She had never allowed herself to break down in front of anyone. Yet here she was, crying in the arms of this stranger — this man who was likely a drug smuggler.
It was quite some time before the tears subsided. When they did, Lois couldn't quite pull away as the embarrassment over breaking down took the place of pain. They continued to sit there in silence for another minute before Clark pulled away. She quickly moved further away, keeping her head bent as she wiped the tears from her face. She stilled when his hand came up under her chin, forcing her to look at him.
"Don't worry about it," he said softly, as if instinctively understanding her embarrassment. "You were nearly killed this evening. I suspect most of this," he continued, running a finger down the tear stain on her cheek to explain what he meant by 'this', "is the result of that. It's normal to break down once the adrenaline drains from your system."
"I suppose," she said, diverting her eyes.
"You know what we should do?" asked Clark.
She looked at him suspiciously as she waited for him to continue. Was he about to capitalize on what he must see as her vulnerability? She held her breath waiting to discover that he was just like every other man she had ever known. After all, she knew very well that Claude would find a way to get her into bed under the pretext of offering her comfort. So she waited for it. She waited to hear those words that she knew would break her heart.
"We should go out somewhere and have a little fun," said Clark.
"What do you mean by fun?" she asked.
"I don't know. Dancing maybe. I mean we've had a pretty heavy hour…"
She glanced at her watch as he continued. He was right. It had been nearly an hour since they had first entered his apartment.
"…so why don't we see what we can do to lighten the mood?"
She let out a breath. He wasn't trying to get her into bed — at least not at the moment. And he was right. Now that she'd had a good cry, she needed something light and fun. "Dancing sounds great," she said, forgetting entirely her reason for being here or this man's possible involvement in some criminal conspiracy. She smiled when he got that same child-on-Christmas-morning look she had seen when she'd first said she'd stay for coffee.
"Umm…" said Clark, suddenly thinking of something. "But what about your… umm… friend? Won't he be worried?"
"Claude?" she asked. "I wouldn't worry about him. I told him I didn't know when I'd be back." It wasn't exactly true, but right now she didn't care whether he was worried or not. Besides, she doubted he would worry — except about whether she'd bring back the story.
"Are you sure you don't want to give him a call? Just in case?"
Lois shook her head. She didn't want to even think about Claude right now — let alone talk to him. Suddenly, she thought of a complication. "My shirt," she said, looking down at her blood-stained shirt.
"Umm… I could take you back to your hotel to get changed. Or you could raid my closet. See if there's something there that might be acceptable."
She smiled. She liked the idea of raiding his closet. He showed her to his room and then left her to explore. When he left, closing the door behind him, she suddenly realized he was certainly not acting as if he had anything to hide. He had given her free reign to search his room, should she so choose. Not exactly the type of behavior she would expect from a person involved in smuggling drugs into the States.
Still, if there was even a possibility… She really should just thank him for his assistance and be on her way. She started again towards the door to his room before again stopping.
Maybe that wasn't her best option. After all, she might be able to get even more information about this drug smuggling operation. Of course, if the bad guys knew what she and Claude were looking for and if he really was one of the bad guys, which she thought he probably was, it was entirely possible that he was working her. Well, if that was the game he was playing… It only took a moment before she was searching his room, looking for any more information. The room revealed nothing.
When she'd finished her search, she paused. There was one thing that made absolutely no sense to her. If Clark Kent were involved in this whole drug smuggling operation, why would he have saved her from someone who was obviously trying to kill her to keep her from exposing the same operation? Unless… She shook her head slightly when she realized what must have happened. This was obviously a question of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. Clark Kent was just a small cog in a big operation. He'd been sent to retrieve the documents from Roberto Perez. At the same time, they obviously hadn't seen fit to tell him that two reporters from the Daily Planet were looking into the situation. And he must never have encountered the woman who'd attacked her before.
Okay, so he didn't know who she was or what she was looking for. That meant she should be safe enough. And maybe, even if he was only a small cog, he could give her more information for the story. After hesitating no more than a moment, she looked in his closet and found a white dress shirt. She refused to question her motivation when she put on the shirt and found a way to make it work. She was only trying to find more information for the story. It was only a moment later before she reemerged from the bedroom.
Sweet Tart hung up her cell phone as the nurses finished setting the cast. She took a steadying breath before using her phone to make another call.
"Trevanian here," said the voice on the other end of the line.
"Trevanian, it's Sweet Tart."
"Is it done? Are they dead?"
"What do you mean no?" Trevanian demanded.
"The woman got away. I sent someone to…" She glanced around, realizing that she wasn't alone. "…deal with the man. He had checked out of the hotel."
"What do you mean you sent someone? Why didn't you take care of it yourself?"
"I broke my foot," she said. "They are just finishing up with it now."
"So you aren't able to talk freely."
"No. I'm not," she confirmed. "But I'll find them and I know what to do."
"Then do it," said Trevanian slamming down the phone.
Tart flinched at the sound of the phone being slammed down. She looked down at the cast on her foot. She briefly wondered how she had managed to break it. The man who'd interfered with her assignment must have been wearing some sort of body armor.
Lois was laughing when she and Clark reentered Clark's apartment some time later. They had come back here after going dancing because the place didn't have a phone. Since phones were considered a luxury in Paramador, Lois had declined Clark's offer to see her back to the hotel and chose, instead, to use the phone at Clark's place to call a cab. Luckily, he saw phones as a necessity and so had one installed in his apartment.
Lois had been surprised when she entered the club. It was unlike any club she'd ever been to before. This place had no cover charge. There were wood planks making up the floor and a band that seemed to change over the course of the evening, new members being added as others left. In fact, it was more like a jam session with amateur neighborhood musicians than a band.
However, once she got passed her initial surprise, she discovered that what they lacked in professionalism, they made up for in enthusiasm. The band was lively; the people were friendly and obviously enjoyed letting go of the anxieties of every day life to embrace its wonder. In such an atmosphere, it didn't take long for Lois' mood to lighten. In fact, she wasn't sure she could ever remember having so much good, clean fun.
Clark seemed to be well-known and well-liked among the patrons. Lois had received a number of jealous looks from the women and numerous requests to dance from the men — some of which she had even accepted. Clark, however, had danced only with her. On a couple of occasions, she had even managed to catch him watching her as if she was the only woman in the room. Unlike Claude, who ogled everything with breasts, she seemed to have Clark's undivided attention. She couldn't remember any man ever making her feel so special.
What had Lois laughing, however, was that near the end of the evening, the 'band' had enlisted Clark to sing. He couldn't carry a tune to save his life — the band seemed to know that when they asked him. It had been a lot of fun seeing how enthusiastically he embraced life. Everyone, including Clark, had dissolved into fits of laughter at his singing. It was some sort of Spanish love song, which he and the band sang to her. However, it had been more fun than romantic.
"Clark, have you ever considered singing professionally?" Lois asked with a laugh as they stepped inside the apartment.
"Maybe I should," Clark replied while seeming to consider the question.
Lois laughed. "Well, just don't quit your day job."
"Well, I guess I should call you a cab," said Clark. He looked at her, as if about to say something, before turning and heading towards the phone.
Lois watched as he picked up the phone. She had been having such a good time. The idea of going back to the hotel and facing Claude was not an appealing prospect. Besides, the noise at the club hadn't allowed for a lot of talking. She pushed aside the idea that getting information for the story might not be her primary motivation as she spoke.
"Clark, I'm not feeling very tired. I mean, if you are…"
"No. I'm not," Clark responded immediately, setting the receiver back down and turning to look at her. "Would you like to stay for a while? I mean, we could have some tea or something."
Lois smiled. "Tea sounds great."
Lois was deep in thought when Clark left for the kitchen. She really had all the information she needed for the story. Maybe it would be best if she simply left now. But for a reason she couldn't quite identify, the idea of leaving here and never seeing this man again was almost more than she could bear.
Lois knew she had an impulsive streak. She tended to jump into the pool without checking the water level first. Still, that reckless tendency had never extended into the realm of interpersonal relationships. She had no problems risking herself physically, but she shied away from risking herself emotionally. After all, it had taken Claude almost two months to get past her barriers. And if anything, that should have made her even more reluctant to get involved with someone else.
She pushed the thought to the back of her mind. She wasn't doing anything, after all. They'd have a cup of tea and talk. Hopefully, that would allow her to ask some of the questions she'd been unable to ask at the club. Then, whether she'd obtained additional information or not, she'd leave — never to see Clark Kent again. She was just being a good reporter.
She couldn't help but smile when Clark re-entered the living room. She watched in silence as he set the tea on the coffee table. After looking at the couch beside her, Clark moved towards a chair.
"Clark," she said. When he stopped to look at her, she patted the couch. He smiled and came over to sit beside her.
She shook her head slightly. Now, why had she done that? She couldn't quite say. She was playing with fire and she was only too aware of that fact. However, in spite of everything, she felt a sudden and unexpected flutter of emotion when she felt the couch beside her depress. She shifted positions, sitting on one leg so that she could watch him as he fixed their tea.
"How's your cheek?" asked Clark.
Lois' hand immediately went to the cut. "I'd completely forgotten about it," she said. "Whatever you did to it seems to have worked. It doesn't even hurt." She ran her hand over it. "It itches a little, though."
"I'm glad it's better. Sorry about the itching, though," said Clark. Their eyes met and the current of electricity was back. He cleared his throat and broke eye contact before asking, "How long are you planning to stay in Paramador?"
She knew immediately what he was asking — was there any possibility of getting to know each other better. She looked down. Even if there wasn't enough information in the documents she had stolen from Clark to allow them to leave Paramador tomorrow, she couldn't see him again. It wasn't even an option. He stood for everything she was against. "We're going back tomorrow," she informed him. It was best if he believed that even if it turned out not to be true. When she left here tonight, it was best that both of them believe they would never see each other again.
Clark pulled in a sharp breath.
Lois glanced over at him. He was staring intently into his tea cup. Reaching over, she placed a hand on his leg. When he looked at her, she spoke. "We still have tonight," she said softly.
He met her eyes and she felt a blush rise in her cheeks. She hadn't meant that exactly the way it sounded, but at the look in his eyes she suddenly wanted it to mean the way it sounded. Her heart began to race at what she seemed to be doing. Her mind was yelling at her to get out now — before she did something she couldn't take back. But her heart…
His eyes left hers, drifting to where her hand still lay resting on his leg. Using a single finger, he silently began tracing an obscure pattern on it.
Lois closed her eyes. She was a little overwhelmed by the direction this seemed to be going. Never before had she known heat as intense as that which she was experiencing now. It seemed that everywhere he touched her sparks traveled from his finger and spread under her skin. How could such a simple touch be so electrically charged?
Clark's hand slipped under hers. Lois felt a sudden fear that he was about to remove it, but that ended when he raised her hand to his lips and slowly kissed the soft skin between her thumb and index finger. Lois drew in a sharp breath.
"I'm sorry," he said, immediately releasing her hand. "I don't know what I was thinking. I just…" As he spoke, he began to get up.
"Clark!" Lois said, cutting him off.
He stood where he had risen. In obvious turmoil, it took him a moment to meet her eyes.
Lois swallowed hard when their eyes met. He looked almost as if he couldn't believe what he'd just done, as if a force more powerful than he was at work, fueling embers slowly simmering just beneath the surface. He scuffed his feet nervously and it suddenly occurred to Lois that he really believed he'd done something wrong. That was hard information for Lois to process — especially given the fact that he was involved in smuggling drugs. She was so used to being the one to have to cool things off, putting out the building fire. But much to her own surprise, she didn't want things to cool off. In fact, she suddenly felt as if she was going to freeze if someone didn't turn up the temperature.
Taking a deep breath, she rose from the couch. He seemed unable to meet her eyes, staring somewhere over her shoulder as if waiting for her wrath. For a long moment, Lois just looked at him. And then, burying a hand in the hair on the back of his head, she pulled him to her, intent on finding out if his kiss was as charged as his touch.
Clark hesitated, staring into her eyes for a moment, searching them as if needing to be sure he understood. Then he let out a short breath as his hands came up to her cheeks. Holding her head between his hands, he leaned back in. The kiss wasn't much more than a soft brushing of their lips across each other. However, it was only a moment more before both moved to continue the kiss. Lois' arms found their way around his neck, even as his pulled her closer.
The charged air created an instantaneous spark at the touch of their lips, igniting the dry tinder. The small spark soon caught and the fire came to life, moving as if it had a mind of his own. Each moment the kiss continued fed the fire. Her hands ran through his hair with increasing desperation, as if she was unable to get close enough, quick enough. Her body, almost as if it was no longer under her control, no longer cared about modesty or propriety as she began to grind against him, communicating all her longing and desire. She whimpered, not understanding this need, but completely consumed by it nonetheless.
The way Clark's hands were running over her back told her that he was as caught up in this wild fire as she was. It was as if he were trying to touch every inch of her back at the same time. One of his hands slipped even lower, pulling her closer as if having even a millimeter separating body from body would be a sin.
At each step, Lois attempted to build a fire line — a line at which the blazing fire would be stopped. To start, she'd told herself not to let the fire burn beyond a kiss. When she felt his hands slip beneath the back of her shirt, the line was breached, pushing her to build a new line — this time to stop it at the removal of clothing.
But then the need to feel skin beneath her fingers became all-consuming. Her hands were soon pulling at the back of his sweater in an attempt to find more skin. Breaking the kiss, she grabbed the back of his sweater, pulling it over his head before once again attacking his mouth as if the time apart had been like throwing gasoline on the already raging fire.
Reaching up, she removed his glasses, tossing them on the coffee table even as the fire increased in heat and intensity. A wild fire. Raging out of control. Burning as hot as a forest fire and moving with the speed of a grass fire. All they knew was each other. All that existed was this moment.
Somehow, although afterwards Lois wouldn't remember exactly how, except for a vague recollection of being carried, they found themselves on his bed, a mass of hands and legs, seeking out each other's bodies, desperate to know each other's secrets. Neither were thinking in terms of words, only feelings, desires and need. Clothing was increasingly tossed to the side as each attempted to find the meaning of life in the other.
Suddenly, Clark pulled back. Panting hard, he stared at the woman beneath him. It took her a moment to gather conscious thought enough to realize what was happening — and in particular, that Clark had stopped.
"Lois, what are we doing?" he asked, almost as if desperately attempting to fight the all-consuming blaze.
"I think we're about to make love," breathed Lois before pulling his mouth back down to hers. It was not a request. It was not a conscious decision. It was simply a statement of fact, said while trying to figure out how to get his mouth back to hers.
"That's what I thought," groaned Clark, allowing her to draw him back into the fire.
"No," Clark panted, breaking their kiss once again. "Wait… We…" Each word was interspersed with a pant — as if the fire was eating all the air around them. "I'm not sure I can do this."
"What?" asked Lois.
"I want you. Oh, god. You have no idea how badly I want you, but… "
"But?" asked Lois, not quite able to believe what seemed to be happening. Was he really trying to stop them? The idea that he could even think logically in the heat of this wild fire was mind-boggling. She was already having problems grasping any idea beyond the next kiss. In point of fact, she didn't want to think about anything beyond the next kiss.
"Are you sure you really want to do this?" he asked.
Lois blinked. For the first time in her life, Lois understood what it was to lose control. And it was incredible. Yet Clark… Although Claude was the only man Lois had ever been with, she'd certainly had enough men try to get her into bed. Never had one offered to stop before. In fact, usually, they pushed things as far as they could, barely caring whether she wanted to continue or not. His offer to stop only managed to feed the flame.
Without answering his question directly, she used the hand that was still buried in his hair to pull him back to her.
"Wait, wait, wait," breathed Clark again, before she could continue the kiss.
Lois released him, feeling somewhat frustrated, and watched as he moved back again. He was forcing her to think — and thinking was just about the last thing she wanted to do right now. Why couldn't he just kiss her and again silence the voices trying to convince her that she shouldn't do this?
"I just…" He closed his eyes and Lois watched his entire body tremble as if he were single-handedly battling an inferno. "You're leaving tomorrow. I want so much more than just one night. I'm not sure I'll survive if we make love and then…" His voice trailed off.
Lois closed her eyes, as it sunk in what he was saying. No matter what rotten things he might be involved in, it was obvious that this man had a heart. Under any other circumstances, she would have been thanking the gods for sending her a guy that wasn't just interested in casual sex. However, these weren't normal circumstances. This wasn't the beginning of something. It couldn't be the beginning of something. Clark was part in the conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the States in exchange for arms. That meant…
That meant she really should stop this now. She closed her eyes even tighter as all the reasons she shouldn't be doing this flooded her mind. In fact, there was only one reason to continue with her current course of action. And that was quite simply that she wanted to be with Clark. She wanted it — desperately. Even if it killed her, which she suspected it would, she wanted to be with Clark. She wanted to be consumed by the flames only he had ever been able to generate.
Pushing all the reasons she shouldn't be doing this to the back of her mind, she opened her eyes. Clark was watching her. Sitting up, she ran her hand slowly down his chest — marveling in how perfect his body was — until her fingers were playing with his waistband.
"All we have is tonight, Clark.," she breathed, before leaning forward to kiss him. "Please," she said, when the kiss broke. "I want tonight." And she did. No matter what might happen tomorrow, she wanted tonight. Beyond all reason, and damning the consequences, she wanted this one moment with Clark — more than she would have believed possible.
Clark groaned, as if he too was no longer able to fight this irresistible fire. He buried his hand in the hair on the back of her head, and pulled her to him for a kiss that robbed them both of breath. His free hand ran down her body as he lay back on the bed, pulling her with him.
The short break had done nothing to turn down the temperature. In fact, if anything they had only managed to fan the flames. Clark groaned and she felt the tip of his tongue slip gently between her lips. His hands found their way into her hair as his tongue began pursuing hers around her mouth. It wasn't long before the kiss was out of control — hands roaming wildly, bodies seeking greater and greater contact.
"Yes," Lois whispered before abandoning all conscious thought in order to simply feel.
Tart cringed when the phone rang again. Trevanian was obviously worried. She made sure her voice sounded confident before answering the phone.
"Have you found them yet?" demanded Trevanian the instant she picked up.
"No, sir. But I'm sure it's just a matter of time."
"Well, just in case it's more than that, I'll be bringing some men out tomorrow morning. Meet me at the airport at seven."
Clark collapsed onto the bed as he struggled to regain control of his breathing. He moved his hand to his forehead and was surprised to find beads of perspiration on it. He didn't sweat. But then, he'd never quite experienced anything like that before either. It had been incredible except… His mind flashed back to one moment. He didn't know exactly what he'd seen in her eyes, but the guilt there had informed him that, no matter the intensity of the passion that existed between them, she was holding something back — something that would ensure that there was no possibility of a future for them.
Suddenly, he felt the bed next to him shudder. He glanced over at Lois and saw a tear slipping down her cheek. He immediately reached for her. She seemed unable to meet his eyes, but still she scampered for his arms. Snuggling into them, she placed her head on his chest — her body trembling as she silently cried against him.
When Clark felt the wetness against his chest, he gently stroked her hair and whispered reassuring noises. No matter what she would do to him — and he had no doubt that she would hurt him terribly — he could hardly stand knowing she was in pain.
"I'm sorry," Clark said. "I shouldn't have let us…"
Lois rose out of his arms and finally met his eyes. "Don't, Clark. Please." She lowered her eyes. "I wouldn't trade one moment of tonight for anything," she whispered.
Clark brushed the tears off her cheeks. "I don't believe you," he said softly.
Her eyes came up and met his again. "It's true, Clark. No matter what happens tomorrow…" Her voice trailed off. She gave him a teary smile before looking down again.
"Can't you tell me what's wrong, Lois?" Clark asked.
She shook her head almost imperceptibly before saying, "Please, Clark, can't we just enjoy the time we have left?"
Clark closed his eyes briefly. He wished so badly that she would tell him what was bothering her, but he could hardly force her. He would forgive her anything — but maybe it wasn't even his forgiveness she wanted. It was entirely possible that the look he'd seen in her eyes had to do with her traveling companion.
Finally, he nodded, pulling her back to him. After drawing the blanket over them, he wrapped his arms around her protectively. He waited until they were settled before once again speaking. "I think I'm falling in love with you, Lois Lane," he whispered. He closed his eyes and held her closer when she trembled in response.
"Captain," said the first mate aboard the Alexandra.
"What is it?" growled the captain.
"I can't correct the problem with the radio. Should we continue on course?"
The captain thought about the question. "Yes. There's no reason to believe anyone knows about the cargo on this ship. Continue on course. We should be in Metropolis in just over twenty-four hours."
Lois lay in bed watching the soft beams of moonlight playing on Clark's face as he slept next to her. After he had drifted off, she lay for a long time against his chest. Finally, she moved to the other side of the bed in order to watch him. She studied his face — committing every detail to memory.
She wanted so badly to forget why she was here and just get lost in his arms for a few more hours. She had never felt such contentment and such agony at the same time. If only she'd have met him under other circumstances… If only he wasn't involved in smuggling drugs…
She briefly considered just forgetting about the story — but the papers she'd read informed her that large qualities of drugs were being smuggled into America even as she lay here. She had to do what she could to stop it. And as much as she might not want to believe it, Clark was right in the middle of it. But what did that mean for her and Clark? She gave a small snort. It meant that there was no future for them. She closed her eyes tightly — once again fighting off threatening tears.
She had never before believed herself capable of a one night stand. And no matter how hard she tried to tell herself that wasn't what had happened here, she couldn't quite convince herself. Except that this was different. For the first time in her life, she had actually wanted to make love. There had been several times when he had tried to stop. She was the one who had pushed ahead. He'd seemed simply unable to resist her advances. But it was the knowledge that they didn't have a future that had kept her going — even when he informed her that he didn't have any protection.
She reached over to touch him, but then changed her mind, her hand stopping only inches from his face. She couldn't risk waking him. If he woke and begged her not to go, she wasn't entirely certain she'd have the strength to resist. And that was a recipe for disaster. She couldn't build a future with someone whose values and beliefs were so diametrically opposed to her own. A line from the Fiddler On The Roof flashed through her mind. A fish might love a bird, but where would they make a home?
She dried the tears on her cheeks before carefully climbing out of bed and looking for her clothes. She wanted to be gone before he woke up. She found everything except her black lace bra. Finally, she gave up. It was probably somewhere amongst the sheets. And she couldn't risk waking Clark. Besides, she had another one at the hotel. She'd just have to survive without this one.
She was slipping into her slacks when she saw the white shirt she had borrowed from Clark. She hesitated before picking it up and putting it back on. She couldn't quite say why, but she wanted something of his.
She stopped at the door to his room to look at him one final time. He was still sleeping. Maybe she was making a mistake. Maybe she could tell him who she was. Maybe she could convince him to find a different line of work. Yeah, right. She'd be putting her life in his hands. And although she couldn't believe he would ever hurt her, how could she really know? In fact, she really didn't know anything about the man in that bed. She smiled sadly before making her way quietly out of his room, closing the door behind her. There was no other choice.
Making her way to the phone, she quietly called a cab. As she waited, she thought about what had happened this evening. She hadn't considered her actions before sleeping with the man in the next room — that much was obvious. It was also evident that she wasn't meant to have casual sex. She couldn't separate the emotions from the physical act. That had to be the reason she was fancying herself in love with a man she didn't even know. She heard a car outside and quickly made her way out of Clark's apartment.
Lois felt absolutely drained as she entered the lobby of the Regency Hotel. She didn't notice anyone or anything else as she made her way to her room. It took her a moment to get the door unlocked, her hands were trembling so badly. She took a deep breath before entering the darkened room. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it. When she had finally managed to calm down slightly, she turned on a light.
"Well, it took you long enough," Claude said.
Lois looked in the direction of the voice. Claude was sitting in one of the chairs — obviously waiting for her. She immediately looked away. The last thing she wanted right now was to talk to Claude.
"I thought I told you I wanted separate rooms," said Lois flatly.
"I've got my own room," said Claude. Rising, he made his way over to her. Once he was standing in front of her, he fingered the man's shirt she was wearing. As he did, Lois could almost feel the fury radiating off his body as it sunk in how she'd spent the last few hours.
"You did him, didn't you?" he hissed, confirming her analysis of his thought process. Without meeting his eyes, she instinctively began backing away until her back was against the wall. He followed, never allowing more than a foot between them.
"You did him!" he nearly yelled this time, his hand striking out to land hard on the wall beside her head.
Lois jumped, shivering as a result of his crude description of what had happened between her and Clark. Still, she forced herself to meet his eyes dead on and, in the most level voice she could muster, said, "You told me to."
He glared at her for a moment more before responding. "I hope you at least got the story."
She snorted — she should have known that would be his primary concern — before pushing at his chest to get him away from her. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out the documents she'd stolen from Clark.
"I got the damn story," she responded, pushing the papers at him. When he grabbed them, she darted under his arm and retreated to the other side of the room. She could still smell Clark on her. Claude's overpowering aftershave stunk in comparison. When she arrived at the other side of the room she turned towards him again. He was slowly examining the papers as he made his way to a chair. Although his knowledge of Spanish was worse than hers, it was obvious he was getting enough of the essence of the documents to understand the value of what she'd obtained.
His stormy expression lightened and then turned to excitement. He sunk into the chair as he continued to look through the documents.
"Oh, this is good," he said.
Lois looked at him with disdain. Watching his attitude change from jealousy when she entered the room in the middle of the night wearing another man's shirt to excitement when he saw what she had found, made her feel incredibly cheap.
"I think we need to celebrate," he finally said, rising from his chair. He came over to her and pulled her into his arms, kissing her roughly.
Lois felt sick. The last thing she wanted was any physical contact with Claude — not when Clark's gentle touch was still burning on her skin. She pushed at him. He responded by tightening his arms around her and forcing his tongue into her mouth as if determined to prove to both of them that, no matter what had happened with Clark Kent, she belonged to him.
Using all her strength, she shoved him again. Claude stumbled backwards into the room before recovering his balance.
"What?" he asked. "You too good for me now?"
Lois glared at him. She had no intention of answering his question. In truth, she figured she was no better than Claude. That didn't stop her from being repulsed by his touch.
"Please, just leave, Claude," Lois said flatly, turning away from him, not having the heart for a good fight.
Claude approached her again as if unable to believe that she really wanted him to go.
He spun her towards him. "I don't understand you, woman! What are you thinking? Do you really think you have a future with this Mr. Kent?"
"I'm not a fool, Claude," Lois replied indignantly.
"Then why are you pushing me away? After what you did to get this story, you're the one who should be begging me."
Lois turned away.
"At least you got the story," he said, almost as if he was reminding himself instead of her. "And I've got to say that this is one hell of a story."
Lois flinched. She hadn't slept with Clark to get the story. She already had the story. She had given herself to him because she had wanted to — wanted to so much that she had abandoned every standard she'd ever had to be with him. Even now, she still couldn't bring herself to regret it. That didn't stop the dull ache in her heart — an ache she doubted she would ever really lose.
"Lois, without me, you'll be completely alone in the world," Claude reminded her.
She looked over at him, suddenly realizing Claude referred to her lack of connections in this world a lot. Maybe she would be alone — but for the first time in her life, Lois wondered if alone was preferable to settling for someone like Claude. She knew she would never deserve someone who treated her the way Clark Kent had. Still…
"Then I'll be alone," said Lois flatly. "Please, just leave, Claude. It's late. We'll discuss the story tomorrow."
Claude snorted before turning to leave the room. When he arrived at the door, he suddenly felt the papers being snatched from his hand.
"What?" he demanded, turning around.
"What do you say I just hang onto these," Lois said.
Claude opened his mouth to object, but then closed it again. With a shrug of his shoulders, he spoke.
"Whatever," he said before turning and leaving the room.
Lois sank down onto the bed when he was gone. She felt absolutely wretched. More than that, she felt completely alone. Not for the first time, of course. Still, tonight, because of Clark, she realized what did exist out there. If only… She buried her head in her hands. What was the point in torturing herself like this? No matter how she looked at it, they had no future. She couldn't build a future with someone who would smuggle drugs. And when she thought about it now, it suddenly occurred to her that smuggling drugs might not be the only thing he was involved with. For all she knew, he'd been involved in Roberto's death. So why was it that she still desperately wanted to be back in his bed? It only took a moment for the tears to return.
"I think I'm falling in love with you, too, Clark," she finally whispered to the empty room.
A few hours later, a small jet arrived at the Paramador airport. Sweet Tart hobbled out to meet it. She watched in silence as half a dozen men disembarked. However, Tart kept her eyes on the exit waiting for the final passenger. Trevanian stepped up to the exit and took a look around him, tapping his trademark cane against his hand, before making his way down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, Tart immediately approached.
"I haven't been able to locate them yet," she informed Trevanian.
"Well, with that foot, I can see why not," Trevanian replied. "That's why I brought the extra men. I won't be staying. I just wanted to make sure that you knew exactly how critical it was to plug these holes immediately."
"I know that," replied Tart.
Trevanian turned directly towards her. Looking unwaveringly into her eyes, he asked, "Do you?"
Tart pulled in a sharp breath. She understood the not so subtle warning. It was very important to her personally that she not fail a second time. She had no doubt that Trevanian would turn her into the scapegoat if she failed. Unlike a captain, he obviously had no intention of going down with the ship.
"Have I ever let you down before?" she asked. In spite of his warning, she was confident she could get this job done. That confidence was reflected in the tone of her question.
Trevanian smiled. "Name that tune, Ms. Tart," he said before turning back to the plane. "I'll be waiting for your call," he informed her. In truth, he would be waiting for her call and the call of one of the men he'd brought to assist her — David Montemuro.
Montemuro was a tall, scraggly man of Italian origin. He looked as little like a spy as it was possible to look and had none of the finesse usually associated with this profession. He had a shrill voice and glasses. Still, a careful look into his eyes revealed a total lack of emotion. In point of fact, the man fit perfectly the definition of a stone-cold killer.
Montemuro's assignment was to assist in locating and silencing two reporters from the Daily Planet before they got any incriminating information back for publication. And if that failed, he was to ensure that Ms. Tart was properly 'rewarded'. Her death would allow Trevanian to construct a trail which, if any of it was traced to the NIA, he would claim was all the result of a rogue agent. Since she had been his point man… umm… woman on this project, he hoped to have everything blamed on her if there were an investigation.
"So, where should we go from here?" asked Lois as she and Claude reviewed the papers she had obtained last night.
"I think we pay another visit to the docks. After all, we now have the name of the ship that they are using for this operation. If we can find out when it's due to arrive in Metropolis…"
"We can have the police waiting for it."
"Right. And since the information will have come from us, we can negotiate being in on the bust too. That way, we can be sure that the legal department at the Daily Planet won't pull the plug on this story."
Lois nodded. "So then, what are we waiting for?" she asked. "Let's get the information and get back home."
Clark woke with a jerk — not quite able to believe that he'd allowed himself to fall asleep. Still, he was not surprised when he looked at the bed next to him to discover that Lois was gone. However, that didn't stop the pain — knowing that she wasn't there, never would be again. He snorted. Well, at least she hadn't lied to him. She had made it abundantly clear that last night was all they had. He shook his head ferociously. He would just have to put her, and last night, behind him.
He crawled out of bed and was making his way to the shower when a thought struck him. Nah — it couldn't be. He tried to put the annoying idea out of his mind. She had left because she was involved with the man he'd seen her with at the docks. There was no big mystery here. Still, he couldn't seem to shake the idea so he made his way over to where his jacket was hanging. He reached into the inside jacket pocket. He let out a short breath, staggering slightly back into the room. Finding the nearest chair, he sunk into it.
How could he have been so stupid? He hit his hand against his forehead to emphasize the degree of his stupidity. She worked for them — for the people who were smuggling drugs into America. The attack must have been staged for his benefit. That would explain why she didn't want to call the police or go the hospital. She had come here to rid him of the only evidence he had of this operation.
And he had bought it — hook, line and sinker. The tears, the laughter, even the desire to make love to a virtual stranger. He had gone so far as to have even imagined himself in love with this woman and all the time she had been playing him. What a sucker!
The cab dropped Lois and Claude off a good distance from the docks so that their arrival would not stand out. Wearing overalls and caps and getting lost amidst the sea of workers heading for work, Lois and Claude made their way through the gates that allowed access to the docks.
The goal was to get in and out as quickly as possible — and then make their way immediately to the airport. After all, they could always get the rest of the story in Metropolis.
They kept their movements deliberate but casual — as if they had somewhere to go but were in no particular rush to get there. As a result, no one paid them any attention. A sign clearly marked the way to the harbor master's office, allowing them to find their way without assistance. They were surprised when they arrived to find it empty — but they weren't about to question a little good luck. Both quickly began looking through the papers, finding a number relating to the Alexandra. It didn't take long for them to discover that the Alexandra was scheduled to arrive in Metropolis that very night — actually, it would likely have been more accurate to say the Alexandra would arrive in the early hours of the next morning.
"Let's get out of here," Lois said, sticking the appropriate document into her pocket.
Claude nodded his agreement.
"I don't think so, Ms. Lane," said a woman's voice from the doorway.
Lois and Claude spun around to see a man and woman standing in the doorway — both had guns.
Clark was loading boxes when he first heard it. He shook his head slightly. Normally he had to be concentrating to hear a heart beat, but for some reason hers broke through. He closed his eyes briefly. His heart was telling him to follow the sound, but his mind objected. No matter the reaction his heart had to the sound, he wasn't about to make a fool of himself. She had slept with him to get that information back — nothing more. And there was no point in trying to get it back from her again — it was undoubtedly already ashes. He would just have to find another way to stop this operation.
His heart changed rhythm as it sought to match the one pounding in his ears. He growled in frustration as he picked up another box and moved it over to where the crane was loading boxes onto a truck. He told himself to ignore it. That really was the only choice. He couldn't be part of a drug smuggling operation.
Suddenly, something changed. It took Clark a moment to figure out what it was. The heart beat still pounding in his ears had speeded up. He tensed. She was scared. He set down the box and was about to head towards the sound. Suddenly, he stopped. She was a drug smuggler. Hopefully her fear indicated that she was about to be caught. He might never be able to turn her in, but he couldn't be party to covering for her either — not when they were talking drugs. It was best that he just stay away.
Lois felt as if her heart was about to pound out of her chest as the ropes were wrapped around her wrist, binding her to her chair and Claude.
"Well, Ms. Lane and Mr. Gauthier, I will admit that you two did give us a few anxious moments," said the woman.
"How can you do this?" asked Lois. "Has it ever occurred to you how many lives will be destroyed with those drugs?"
The woman turned towards her. "I'm just doing my job." She turned and looked at the man. "And I believe in the American work ethic — doing my job well." When the man smiled, the woman turned back to Lois and in a slightly sing-song voice said, "Of course, it is a pity what that means for you."
With that, the two of them made their way towards the door.
"Why not just kill us now?" The words were out of Lois' mouth before she could stop them. When the woman stopped, Lois suddenly wondered why she'd given the woman that particular idea.
"A live person is easier to transport than a dead one," the woman answered. "Don't worry, we'll be back for you soon. Now, don't do anything I wouldn't do," the woman said with a smile, glancing back at Lois and Claude. "I know you're lovers, but try to remember that we'll be back soon." She chuckled, closing the door to the room and locking it.
Lois immediately began struggling against the bonds holding her.
"Hey, take it easy," said Claude. "You're tied to me too, remember?"
"How could I forget?" Lois responded sarcastically. "It's just my luck to have to die with you."
"Wait a minute!" responded Claude. "You're the one who decided to sleep with Kent to get the story for the Daily Planet. Don't blame me for that."
Clark tried to look uninterested when he saw the woman who had tried to kill Lois last night. Burying his head in his work, he moved another pile of crates. But the instant she was gone, he turned and made his way at full speed in the direction of Lois' heart beat. It had probably all been part of their plan to sucker him, but what if it hadn't been? What if that woman really had been trying to kill Lois last night? What if she was the reason Lois was scared? What if Lois was in real trouble? How could he live with himself if something happened to her?
It only took Clark a moment to find the building Lois was in. Outside the simple structure was a man holding a gun. As quickly and unobtrusively as he could, he made his way to the side of the building. Taking a quick look around, he floated up to get a peak through the window. It didn't take him long to spot Lois and her friend, tied up inside. He let out a breath. She was in trouble. Still, how was he to know if she was just being held until the police arrived? As he was pondering that question, his hearing picked up the conversation coming from inside.
"…tied to me too, remember?" said Lois' companion.
"How could I forget?" Lois responded sarcastically. "It's just my luck to have to die with you."
Clark's breath caught in his throat. She was in trouble. He figured it was entirely possible that it was just the drug dealers' attempt to tie up loose ends — disposing of the person he could identify as being involved. Still, he couldn't let her die. He was just about to force open the window when he caught her companion's next words.
"Wait a minute! You're the one who decided to sleep with Kent to get the story for the Daily Planet. Don't blame me for that."
Clark's first thought was relief. She wasn't one of the bad guys. She was a reporter. But his relief was short-lived as the truth sank in. She had still slept with him simply to get the information for her story. He closed his eyes against the pain that tore at his heart.
Lois didn't respond to Claude's comments. After all, she had slept with Clark and she had gotten the story. There was no point in trying to convince Claude that one had nothing to do with the other. Besides, correcting him would mean telling Claude exactly what had happened between her and Clark — and that was something she was not prepared to do. What had happened between them was private. She intended to keep it that way.
Besides, she might as well have slept with him to get the story. After all, what she had done had been nearly as bad. She had no doubt that she had hurt Clark terribly — after all, he had claimed to be falling in love with her after they'd made love and she had to admit, she believed him. Just because he was involved in all of this didn't mean he didn't have real feelings — feelings which she had crushed as badly as Claude had done to her. The fact that she'd managed to break her own heart in the process was no excuse. She pushed the thought out of her mind.
"Look," said Lois. "Why don't we just concentrate on finding a way out of this?"
"Fine by me, cherie," said Claude. "Any brilliant suggestions?"
Something suddenly caught Lois' attention, taking her mind away from her conversation with Claude. "Clark!" gasped Lois, her heart jumping into her throat. She'd thought she'd never see him again. Although his presence here indicated that he was involved in all this and he had probably just come here to gloat, she still felt a flutter in her heart at the sight of him.
Claude, who was tied with his back to her, didn't understand. "Kent? What about him?"
"Shhh. There's a guard just outside the door," Clark responded, refusing to look directly at her. Instead he bent down beside her chair, freeing their hands. Once their hands were free, the reporters immediately began working on their other restraints.
As Lois struggled with her shackles, she watched Clark. He'd gone back to look out the window. It was the second time he'd saved her life. Why would he do that if he were involved? Suddenly, she didn't care whether he was involved or not. What was important was that he was their best chance of escaping. That was enough for her.
Once free, she stepped up to him. Without exactly thinking about it, she laid a hand on his arm. He jumped away as if burned. His reaction almost brought tears to her eyes. She drew in a sharp breath and lowered her eyes. He obviously hated her.
"Thank you, Clark," she whispered sadly.
"You're not out of this yet," Clark said, his voice distant. He didn't look at her; instead he looked at Claude, obviously making sure he was also free, before turning back to the window. "Let's get you out of here."
"Why should we trust you?" asked Claude.
"You can do what you want, Claude," Lois responded immediately. "I'm going with Clark." With that, she stepped up to the window.
Clark made his hands into a step for her to use to get out through the window. Once she was outside, Clark turned to Claude. "Coming?" he asked.
Claude studied Clark — his eyes obviously hostile.
"Are you guys coming?" asked Lois nervously from outside the room.
Claude turned his gaze away from Clark and stepped up to the window. Clark once again made his hands into a step, but Claude ignored him, climbing out the window without assistance.
Claude took Lois' arm the instant he got outside. "Let's go," he said.
She tore her arm out of Claude's grasp. "No! I'm waiting for Clark. I won't leave him there."
Claude let out a breath before turning his attention to ensure that they were still alone. They needed to get out of here and he really didn't care if Kent made it or not. Fortunately, it was only a moment more before Clark joined them.
Without giving Claude a chance to object, Clark took the lead, guiding them quickly between the buildings. Lois was amazed by his ability to avoid people. It was almost as if he had a sixth sense. As a result, they met no one in their effort to get off the docks. Once they were safely away, Clark turned back towards them.
"This is where I leave you," he said. "I'm sure you'll be able to find your way from here."
With that, and without further ado, he turned and headed back to the docks.
"Clark," said Lois when he started to leave. He seemed to hesitate before resuming his pace away from them.
"Come on," said Claude, grabbing her arm and leading her away. "If we hurry, we can probably get a plane back to Metropolis in time to meet the ship when it arrives."
Lois let out a breath before nodding and following. There was no choice, really. Clark would never forgive her for what she'd done — whether or not he was involved. And there was an important story to get out — a story that might save countless lives.
Clark kept up a brisk pace until he was out of sight. As soon as he was, he collapsed back against a building. Having her touch his arm had sent a jolt of electricity flooding through him, in spite of what she'd done to him — sleeping with him to get the story. How could he have been so wrong about another human being? He'd practically begged her not to make love to him. He'd told her that he didn't think he'd survive a casual coupling. And he'd have given her the papers if she'd simply told him who she was and why she wanted them. So why… Why had she done this to him?
Yet, in spite of everything, it had still taken every ounce of self-respect he could muster to keep his head high and walk away when he'd heard her say his name. He was pathetic.
Maggie Sawyer and Bill Henderson knelt in the darkness as the ship pulled into dock. Maggie had just been put in charge of Metropolis' SWAT team. Given the concerns over the federal government's involvement in this operation, Perry had contacted the chief of the Metropolis P.D. He had decided that the arrest would be conducted without federal assistance. He'd worry about jurisdiction later. His main concern was to prevent drugs from being brought into his city.
As a result, he'd put Maggie Sawyer in charge of the arrest. So she waited to lead the police officers in taking control of the ship and placing her captain and crew under arrest. Henderson would take over the investigation at that point. Beside them knelt Lois and Claude, both wearing bullet proof vests.
Everyone remained absolutely silent as the ship began approaching the dock. The SWAT team waited for Maggie, and Maggie waited until the ship was moored before giving the signal. Almost instantly, the quiet night erupted as officers moved in from every direction.
Given the breakdown of the ship's radio, the surprise was absolute. As a result, the police soon had the ship's captain and crew in custody. Millions of dollars worth of heroin was found on board.
"That's it, then," said Claude enthusiastically. "We've got our story."
Lois studied him as she struggled to remove the vest. She had got the story. He had done nothing.
It was morning before they had finished typing up the story. As they handed it to Perry, he told them to go home and get some sleep.
As they were leaving, Claude stopped Lois.
"So, what about tonight?" asked Claude.
"What about tonight?" Lois asked in confusion.
"Dinner," Claude responded.
Lois looked at him in absolute disbelief. Did he really think, after everything they'd been through during the last couple of days, she'd be interested in going out with him tonight? No way! She was going to go home and… And what? Think about what could never be? She swallowed hard. Still, there was no way she was going out with Claude again. Without answering his question, she turned around and walked away.
NINE WEEKS LATER
Perry made his way to the door of his office and looked out into the newsroom. It was still too early for most of his reporters to be in, but there was one — one who had been in early every morning since the civil war had started in Paramador, regardless of whether she had to work that day or not.
Once the story broke that Chavez was using drugs to purchase large quantities of arms, the man had no choice but to make his move. Although the story had destroyed his element of surprise and had dictated that he move earlier than intended, his plan had not been altered. As a result, while the United States was embroiled in congressional hearings to determine NIA involvement in the importation of drugs, Chavez was plunging Paramador into a civil war in his effort to overthrow the government.
And every morning at about seven the UP reports on foreign missing and dead in that war came in over the wire to the Daily Planet newsroom. And every day the same person was standing by the teletype machine, pouring over every name.
Perry wasn't quite sure what to think. She had just broken what was probably the biggest story so far this decade — quite possibly the biggest story she would ever see. But instead of being on the top of the world, she seemed to have an internal sadness she'd never had before. To listen to Claude tell the tale, they had had quite an adventure, with him as the hero. But Perry suspected his young spitfire was the one responsible for getting the story. But if that were true, why was she being so quiet about the whole subject? Whereas Claude had accepted interviews from magazines and television to talk about breaking the story, Lois had declined all such interview requests.
The Daily Planet encouraged its reporters to accept interviews because doing so increased the profile of the Daily Planet. And Perry knew he should talk to Lois about taking advantage of this opportunity — not only for the Daily Planet, but in furtherance of her own career. But for some reason he kept putting it off. Besides, whatever had happened in Paramador, she'd come home with one hell of a story. And other than her refusal to give interviews, she was throwing herself into her job — working as hard as he'd ever seen.
He saw the woman in question rip the final page out of the teletype machine and, with her head buried in the report, make her way to her desk. When she was finally finished reading the names, she laid the report on her desk and, from where he stood, Perry swore he could feel her relief. He watched her for a moment more before turning and heading back into his office.
The streets were nearly deserted. People huddled together in buildings, most of which were in some degree of ruin as a result of bombings first by rebel and then government forces as the opposing powers used the capital, Paramador City, as their primary battle zone. The bombings were followed by fires which burned uncontrollably in many parts of the city.
When the story broke, Chavez moved quickly, dispersing his forces throughout the city. At first, it appeared that Chavez was going to succeed in overthrowing the government without more than a superficial fight. But by the second day of the conflict, government forces had responded, bombing any area of the city alleged to hold rebel fighters.
The distinct lack of bomb shelters left the people of Paramador completely vulnerable. As a result, people, using plates and pieces of wood and in some cases their bare hands, burrowed down into mud floors, building caves in which to hide from the fire that was reigning down from above, beseeching the gods for simple silence. But then the silence would come, bringing with it the cries of the injured, the desperate screams of those trapped in rubble or burning buildings and the mourning for the dead. And the people wondered if the 'silence' wasn't worse than the bombings.
Then the explosions would start again confirming their initial feelings. A mother would thank the saints when the sounds of the bombings were far away, indicating that another area of the city was attracting the fight, only to have the fighting move, immersing her and her children in terror once again.
Men were picked up on the streets by one side or the other and forced into service with no regard for who they might philosophically support in the conflict. Men went into hiding, praying that they wouldn't be found. As the men disappeared, boys were taken until few people were daring to venture into the streets even for those merciful periods when the bombing would stop.
However, as the days became weeks, the need for food and other bare necessities drove the women into the streets during the brief lulls in the fighting in search of a means of sustaining their families. Soldiers took advantage of the situation — seeking for themselves the spoils of war. Men who, until the conflict had never shown any woman anything but respect, suddenly felt empowered to take that to which they were not entitled. Women and girls were raped without consequences. On those few occasions when Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch would register an objection, the response was always the same. The women were subversives who needed to be taught a lesson.
Even those who continued to leave their hiding places soon found there was no food which they could scavenge, purchase or steal. Any food still in the city was 'requisitioned' by either the army or the rebels to feed the soldiers. It wasn't long before the dogs and cats which had been a constant fixture of the landscape of Paramador City began disappearing.
There were no clear lines of right or wrong, good or evil. There was only life or death. Survival for one more day. For the most part, the people of Paramador, the ones caught in the middle of this power struggle, knew nothing of the reasons for the war. Others, far away, would debate and philosophize about the reasons for the war. There were those who would claim this was the uprising of the common man, rebelling against years of oppression. There were others who would argue that this was an attempted communist takeover. They would argue and debate while sitting in air- conditioned studios, eating Big Macs and drinking champagne to their hearts' content. They would pick their personal favorite to win and predict catastrophe should their hero not be triumphant.
But to the people simply trying to survive the conflict, the reasons didn't matter. Whether the government or the rebels won, their lot in life would remain unchanged — except that now they would mourn for the sons and brothers whose lives had been lost. They would live in shame for their failure to protect their mothers and sisters from the lust of the soldiers. When the fighting stopped, those left behind would still be unbearably poor. The government would remain as corrupt as before. The only thing this war would decide was which group of bastards would get rich off the sweat of the poor. Choosing between the two sides in this conflict was like trying to choose between the devil and the anti-Christ.
Yet the bombing continued and people died. And the world stood by and watched from a safe distance.
Clark collapsed back against the wall of the cave, barely able to keep his eyes open. It felt as if he'd been going endlessly since the conflict had begun. He was, however, almost glad for the constant activity, afraid that if he had time to think about the horrors around him, he'd drown in a sea of hopelessness. He felt as if he were treating the symptoms — rescuing children from bombed out buildings, smuggling people into the hills surrounding the city, constantly, secretly, digging deeper and better caves in which to hide those trying to escape the conflict — while the disease continued to rage unabated.
He glanced through half-closed eyes at a mother breastfeeding her child and smiled. He made a mental note to bring more food and water to the caves first thing in the morning — before mothers like the one he was watching now began running out of milk for their babies. Red Cross doctors tried to convince nursing mothers to eat. But because of the sparse rations, mothers with young children continued giving their meager allotments to their children, ignoring their own bodies and thus losing their own supply of milk for their infants. How much longer could these people be expected to live like this? Did either side in this conflict even care if these people lived or died?
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small piece of black lace which he had found under his bed the morning after Lois had left and balled it up, holding it to his nose. Even with his extraordinary sense of smell, he could no longer smell her on it. Still, he closed his eyes and inhaled. When his apartment had been destroyed, this was the only thing he had been left other than the clothes on his back. But then, that was to be expected since he'd carried it in his inside jacket pocket since he'd found it.
His mind became fuzzy as sleep descended. His hands reached out and traced the contours of her body. He heard her moan and closed his eyes, drinking in the sound, before once again resuming his exploration. She extended her arms, drawing him close once again. He went willingly, needing the comfort of her embrace. The blood surrounded them, pooling up on all sides of their entangled bodies. But as long as she held him, he was safe. He forced his mind away from the blood by concentrating on the taste of her lips. He shut out the cries of the dying by listening to her racing heart. And for a time, the terror retreated as he lost himself in her.
Lois quickly hung up the phone and, ignoring the questioning eyes of the newsroom staff, made a mad dash for the washroom. She threw open the door and bolted for a stall, getting there just in time to empty the contents of her stomach into the toilet bowl. Once the retching had finally stopped, she grasped onto the sides of the bowl and closed her eyes.
This was her fault. This was all her fault. If she hadn't been so damn determined to get that story, none of this would be happening. There would be no war in Paramador. There would be no people dying. And Clark… Was he alive or dead? And now… God, what if Bud were right? It seemed that during the past few days the government forces had been gaining the upper hand in the conflict. But if Bud was right… She closed her eyes and tried to regain control. Logical. She had to be logical.
Her mind refused to cooperate and, as it had so many times over the preceding weeks, insisted on thinking about Clark. Since returning to Metropolis, she'd spent a great deal of time investigating the man. He really did come from a small farm in Smallville, Kansas. She'd found out that he had no criminal record. In fact, he didn't have a record for as much as speeding. She'd even found out that he had studied journalism in university. A search of his bank records in the States had revealed that he'd emptied his bank account in order to give the Perez family money. And after all her research, there had been only one possible conclusion she could draw — he hadn't been involved at all in the drug smuggling operation. He'd obviously gotten the documents from Perez in an effort to keep Chavez from finding them.
And now there was war in Paramador. She'd tried calling the number she'd gotten from Paramador information for Clark Kent. But the phone was out of service. Where was he? Was he even alive? His name hadn't appeared on any of the lists of the missing or dead, but in times of war many of the dead were left unidentified. What if her breaking this story had cost him his life? The previous guilt of sleeping with him paled in comparison with that. He could hate her if he wanted, but… God, please let him live. If he were killed in this war, she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to forgive herself.
Not that she thought that there would ever be a future for them now. After all, as far as he'd be concerned, she'd slept with him in order to steal the documents about Perez from him. There was no way he'd ever be able to forgive her for that. Still, if he was dead…
If only her head would quit spinning and her stomach would allow her to keep something down long enough for her to figure out how to atone for her sin. She'd gone to see the doctor a few days ago. But she knew it had been an exercise in futility. She knew what the problem was. Guilt. This was all her fault.
"Haven't you ever seen anyone get sick before?" she demanded of a woman who was trying to look around the open door of the stall to see what she was doing. The woman quickly disappeared, leaving Lois alone in the washroom.
She gave herself another minute, before getting up and making her way to one of the machines in the washroom. She dug some change out of her pocket, plugged it into the machine and pulled the appropriate button. A small disposable toothbrush and toothpaste fell into the receptacle, allowing Lois to remove it. After taking a moment to brush her teeth, she made her way to Perry's office. There was only one thing to do.
Lois sank down into the chair behind her desk, feeling slightly numb. Perry had agreed to her request — not that she'd given him much choice. She wondered if he knew that she'd been partially bluffing — but only partially — when she'd told him that she was going to do this, with or without his permission. She'd even threatened to hand in her resignation if he refused to see reason.
Still, the knowledge of what she was probably walking into left her feeling slightly weak in the knees. At the same time, she felt more alive than she had since her return from Paramador. She took a deep breath. Suddenly, she didn't even feel ill.
The phone ringing dragged Lois out of her thoughts.
"Lois Lane," she said when she'd picked up the phone. "Oh, Dr. Carlson, I didn't expect…" Her voice trailed off as she listened. And as she did, the color drained from her face. She hung up the phone less than a minute later and sat in stunned silence. How could this have happened? How had she let this happen?
"What's wrong, cherie? You look as if you've seen a ghost," said a not so welcome voice, interrupting Lois from her thoughts.
Lois stared at Claude blankly for a moment before rising to her feet, grabbing his arm and practically dragging him into the conference room.
Perry sat behind his desk and thought about what he'd just agreed to. How had he let her out manipulate him like that? Still, it wasn't as if she'd given him a lot of choice. If he hadn't agreed to send her, she'd been prepared to go on her own. As a freelance journalist, she wouldn't stand a chance. At least if she was working for the Daily Planet, Perry could ensure she had all the back up she needed.
Besides, Meyerson, who was currently covering the war in Paramador, had wired him only yesterday to say that his wife was quite ill and asking to be relieved. Perry had to send someone to replace him. How Lois had found out about that, he had no idea.
He'd tried to convince Lois that the real story was here in the U.S. After all, the congressional inquires into the NIA involvement in this mess was pushing the story of a war in a third-world country like Paramador off the front page. As callous as it might seem, the American public was more interested in corruption within their own government than they were with a war in some country they'd never even heard of before this story had hit the front pages. And as one of the two reporters who had broken the original story, she had her choice of which follow-up stories to pursue. This was her opportunity to carve a name for herself in the annals of journalism history. Still, she insisted on returning to Paramador. For what reason, God only knew. Perry suspected it had something to do with those lists of foreign dead she scoured so faithfully every morning. He just hoped whoever it was that had her so obsessed didn't wind up getting her killed.
And that was a very good possibility if the information she'd gotten from her source at the NIA turned out to be true. If she did break this story though, she was right. It could knock Paramador-gate off the front page.
But that didn't make Perry comfortable with the idea of sending Lois back to Paramador. And it had nothing to do with her inexperience. He knew the photographer that Meyerson had with him. Marcus Kashur was a man in his early fifties and had covered at least a dozen conflicts around the world. He'd guide Lois through the procedures. No. His reason for not wanting to send Lois was much more personal. War was killing. And he didn't want to see Lois get killed.
Perry never liked sending his people into potentially dangerous situations. But this time was different. This young woman was quickly becoming like the daughter he'd never had. The problem was she wasn't asking his permission. She was telling him what she was going to do. It was up to him to decide if she was doing this with or without at least the meager protection a press-pass could give her.
At least this way, Perry could contact Marcus — let him know that he would take it as a personal favor if Marcus would keep an eye on his young spitfire.
"Clark?" asked a soft female voice into Clark's dream.
"Lois," he murmured in response.
"Clark," the voice said again, this time with a distinct Spanish accent.
Clark forced his eyes open and rubbed the sleep out of them before focusing on the owner of the voice that had woken him.
"Morning, Margarita," he said softly when his eyes landed on the pair of bluest eyes he'd ever seen. He moved himself into a sitting position, leaning back against the wall of the cave, before running a hand through his scruffy beard. He really hated having a beard, and it wouldn't be difficult for him to stay clean shaven. But when the world seemed to be falling apart around him, it seemed almost perverse to take time to shave. Besides, the beard helped him hide his anguish over this conflict — not to mention his pain over the disappearance of a certain female reporter. How was that possible? How could a woman he'd known for less than twenty-four hours still be so much a part of his thoughts? And yet, with every breath he took, she was still present.
Margarita handed him a cup of water and a couple of pieces of bread before taking a seat beside him.
"You said you wanted to be woken up when it got light," Margarita said.
Clark nodded and then looked over at her. Margarita Lopez was beautiful, even when exhausted. Her bright blue eyes were set in a deceptively delicate looking face. But Clark was well aware that the woman seated beside him was anything but delicate where it really mattered. Her fiance, Dominguez Rodriguez, had gone missing during the first week of the war. Yet, instead of allowing that to destroy her, she'd thrown all her energy into helping others. She had become indispensable to the refugee effort. She had become indispensable to him.
"Did you get any sleep at all last night?" Clark asked as he took a sip of his water.
She shook her head. "A new crowd of refugees arrived in the middle of the night," she explained.
"You need to get some sleep," Clark responded. "The others can take care of…"
"Look who's talking," she said, cutting him off and giving him a soft smile.
Clark looked down at his cup. As he was well aware, it wasn't exactly the same. Although he needed some sleep, it was far less than that of the humans around him. Yet, of all the people trying to help, Margarita was almost able to keep up to him. Where she found the strength was a mystery to Clark.
But no matter how bad things got, Margarita always had a warm smile and a hug for anyone who needed them. She really was a blessing to the refugee movement — she really was a blessing to Clark.
It was about two weeks into the war when Clark first discovered this woman. He'd returned to the caves, not having slept at all since the war had started. Although it seemed that all the workers had noticed and were worried about the pace he'd set for himself, only she had been prepared to confront him.
He'd sloughed off her concerns. But when, a week later, he'd been unable to save a young child, it had been she who had held him when he'd finally collapsed. The exhaustion, the sense of hopelessness, the despair. She'd embraced him as he'd shaken and silently cried against her. At the same time she'd thought to protect his privacy, ensuring that no one else saw him collapse. And, in the midst of his breakdown, while talking about how helpless he felt to stop the pain around him, how confused he was about how to help, and how devastating it had been to turn that little girl's body over to her hysterical mother, he'd told her about Lois. She'd said nothing, simply holding him and letting him vent. Afterwards, even when he'd fallen into an exhausted sleep, she hadn't let go.
Since then, a friendship had developed between them. She had never raised the subject of that night — neither had he. He knew others thought they were lovers and often retreated to give them some privacy when they were together. He had mentioned on one occasion that perhaps he should try to set people straight. She'd simply smiled and told him that it would do no good. People were going to believe what they wanted to, anyway. And it was only if her Dominguez or his Lois ever showed up that there would be any need to dispute it. It was the only time she'd given any indication that she'd even been listening that night. He'd chuckled and made some comment about doubting that his Lois, as she called her, would even care.
Clark had to admit he had something of a crush on this woman. But then, how could he not? Not that anything would ever come of it. She was still in love with her fiance and he, god help him, was still in love with Lois.
Clark gulped down the remainder of his dry bread and washed it down with a little water. It would be easy enough for him to go home to Kansas for a good, old-fashioned, home- made breakfast. But he couldn't justify it to himself. How could he eat like a king when the people he cared about were killing for dry bread? As a result, he had chosen to share their lot. He had considered just not eating, but knew that someone, like Margarita, would notice. So he always found a way to ensure that the amount of food he brought into the caves far outweighed what he ate. In fact, he'd brought in as much as he possibly could without arousing too many suspicions.
Just then Roberto's son, Dario, approached. Roberto's family was among the first people Clark had smuggled out of Paramador City to these caves. Dario hesitated as he spotted Clark. Then, in a quick move, he approached Margarita and whispered something to her. Clark made a concentrated effort not to listen. After a moment, the boy again disappeared.
"What did Dario want?" Clark asked, gesturing his head towards the retreating form of the boy.
"He just wanted to let us know that Fernando is waiting to meet with us."
"Why won't Dario ever talk to me?"
Margarita smiled. "Because he's in awe of you. You're his hero."
Clark's eyebrows rose. "I've never been a hero before," he responded after a moment.
"Well?" he asked after a moment.
"Well," she responded, giving his leg a tap before rising from where she had been sitting beside him. As they were heading in the direction that Dario had gone, Margarita spoke again. "By the way," she said casually, "you need to find time today to clean up. Even if there's a war on, that's no excuse for you to stink."
Clark roared with laughter.
Lois closed the door to the conference room and turned towards Claude. Before he could question what was going on, and without any introduction, Lois spoke.
"I'm pregnant," she said simply. His eyebrows rose, indicating that he had heard her. "Well, say something," she finally told him.
"What does this have to do with me?" he asked. Before she recovered enough to react, he continued. "It's not mine," he said.
"What do you mean, it's not yours?"
Lois turned away from him and chewed for a moment on her lower lip. "Do you want a paternity test?" she finally asked.
"It's not mine," he repeated.
"I admit it might not be yours, but…" Lois began, turning back towards him.
"I don't think you understand me. That…" He pointed to her stomach. "…is not mine. And if you try to claim it is, I'll make sure everyone in the newsroom knows exactly what you did to get that story."
"Claude," gasped Lois. If he did what he was threatening, it would take her years to overcome that reputation. She would become the dirty joke of the newsroom. She could almost hear Ralph's comments now.
"No one will take you seriously as a journalist again," said Claude, emphasizing what she had already realized. Reaching into his back pocket and withdrawing his wallet, he dropped a couple of hundred dollars on the conference room table. "I'd advise you to get an abortion," he said before turning and walking out.
Lois stood staring at the door in stunned silence as he made his way across the newsroom and began flirting with the copy-girl.
Now what was she supposed to do? It wasn't as if Clark would care. After all, he probably hoped she'd dropped off the face of the Earth. Besides, this child might not even be his. Even if it was, why would he care? And how could she expect him to take responsibility for this child?
How could she take responsibility for this child? She knew virtually nothing about children. Not to mention the fact that she had only been working for less than a year. She had no means to support this child. She was still trying to pay off her student loans. And there was no way she was going to ask her family for help. As much as she hated to admit it, Claude was probably right. Abortion was the most sensible way to deal with the mess she'd gotten herself in. In fact, what other realistic choice was there? Before she headed for Paramador, she really should make an appointment and just take care of it.
There was another problem. How much did an abortion cost? If she took Claude's money, would that be enough? She didn't have money to pay for an abortion on her own. She snorted. If she was worried about being able to pay for an abortion, how was she supposed to support a child? No. There was no way she could have a child. She glanced at the money Claude had dumped on the table with such elegance. After another moment, she snatched up the money and stuck it in her pocket. It was the least he could do. Hopefully, this would be enough.
Dr. Fernando Guadalupe was a big man. When he walked into a room, his presence automatically commanded attention. Those who didn't know him found his stature and demeanor intimidating. But his size was not the only part of him that was big. He had one of the biggest hearts of anyone Clark had ever known. Being the only doctor the refugee movement had, he worked night and day tending to the injured with an incredibly gentle touch.
"So what's going on?" asked Clark as he approached Fernando.
Fernando handed Clark an envelope. Clark looked at him curiously before opening the envelope and pulling out a number of photos. Margarita looked around him to see the pictures as Clark looked slowly through them.
"Where did you get these?" Clark asked after a moment.
Fernando shook his head. "I can't tell you. What I wanted to ask is if you had any idea how we could best make use of them?"
Clark once again looked at the pictures. Wherever these had come from, he didn't think he'd ever seen more powerful images of the horrors of war. Two boys on their knees, their hands on the top of their heads while a soldier held a gun at one boy's head. Beside him, a third boy lay dead on the ground. A small child was kneeling beside a dead woman, tears streaming down his face as he looked up at the camera. There were about a dozen other pictures, all of which were equally powerful.
"Are there negatives?" Clark asked.
Fernando shook his head. "That's why it's so important that we make the right decision in who to give them to."
Clark nodded. "I'll make some inquiries. It might not do any good, but pictures like this might move the world to take action and stop this war."
Fernando nodded, indicating that he had been thinking pretty much the same thing.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Margarita took a deep breath when she finally spotted Clark. He was talking to the Perez family. She smiled slightly at the sight of him with Maria, Roberto Perez's daughter, sitting on his knee while he talked to Lidia. One couldn't help but admire that man. His easy acceptance of responsibility for that family was just one more reason.
He looked up when she approached. She met his smile with one of her own.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked, folding what appeared to be a newspaper in half.
Clark looked at Lidia for a moment before nodding, setting Maria down and rising to his feet. "What is it?" he asked.
"Not here," she said, before leading him to the entrance to the caves. Moving carefully to remove just enough of the branches that they were using to keep the soldiers from finding their way into the caves, they slipped out into the night.
"What is it, Margarita?" Clark asked again once they were outside.
"I thought you should see this," she said, handing him the newspaper.
Clark looked at the newspaper in confusion. Opening it, he realized it was a copy of the Daily Planet, dated the previous week. He turned so that the moon was shining over his shoulder before focusing on the paper. The top story was about the beginning of the congressional hearings in Washington written by a Claude Gauthier. He looked back at Margarita in confusion.
"Look at the second story," she instructed.
He glanced back at the paper, turning it over so that he could see the story that was below the fold. It was about the war here in Paramador and it was… Clark had to stifle a gasp. It was written by Lois Lane.
"She's here?" Clark asked, looking back at Margarita for confirmation that he was understanding the significance of this correctly.
Margarita nodded. "After I got the paper, I made some inquiries. It seems she's been here for about a week. She's staying with the other journalists just outside Paramador City at the Imperial Hotel."
Clark looked back down at the name under the story. An expression of pain crossed his face. But it was only a moment before she could see him begin to think.
"What is it?" asked Margarita when she noticed the expression on Clark's face.
"I was just thinking about those pictures Fernando got."
"You think she might get them out to the world. Are you sure we can trust her?"
"On this, yes. She isn't the type to let a good story get away from her. And I think our little gutter rat might be the perfect person to get the pictures to Lois Lane."
Margarita smiled. It was a good idea. Dario had proven over the past couple of weeks that he was something of a genius at finding his ways through the hills of Paramador's country side. He'd often return filthy from head to toe, but he'd have some child with him or some valuable information or some other treasure. At first they'd tried to stop him, but he wouldn't be stopped. He was the man of his family now and he was determined to do his part.
When Margarita had first realized Lois Lane might be in the country, her automatic response was to keep this from Clark. This woman had obviously broken the heart of the sweetest man Margarita had ever known. If she could do that, she didn't deserve him. It wasn't until she examined her motives and realized that she was jealous that she reevaluated her decision. She had no right to keep information like this from Clark. Besides, Margarita was engaged. And she loved Dominguez. Still, it wouldn't take much for her to fall really hard for the man who had quickly become the leader of the refugee movement. She couldn't imagine any woman wanting to cause him pain.
But if Lois Lane really was in Paramador… It felt as if the world was completely ignorant of the plight of these people. It could be quite a coup to have a reporter from a paper as prestigious as the Daily Planet on their side. But could they trust her? Given the way she'd hurt Clark, Margarita had reservations. Still, if Clark could trust her after everything that had happened, so could she.
Clark stayed outside when Margarita headed back into the cave. Sitting down on a tree stump, he closed his eyes. His first instinct when he discovered that Lois was in Paramador was that she'd come back to him. But that feeling was short lived. She hadn't come back to him; she'd just followed the story back to Paramador. He let out a slow breath. It really didn't matter if she was here or in Metropolis.
If it were up to him, he'd simply try to ignore her presence in Paramador. Except for one thing. She was probably their best bet to get the refugee story out to the world. If there was one thing she'd proven, it was that she'd do whatever was necessary for a good story. And Clark was certain she'd see the value of the photographs. He had considered taking the pictures to the States himself. The problem was that there was no way he'd be able to explain how he'd managed to get them out of Paramador. Lois Lane's arrival was just what they needed to get the photos out.
Not that he wasn't tempted to take a trip to the Imperial Hotel himself. But he rejected that idea almost the instant it entered his mind. Seeing her would just increase the pain. No. From a personal perspective, it didn't matter if she was in Paramador or Metropolis or on the far side of the moon. He was glad she was at the Imperial, though. Both the army and the rebels had been courting the good favor of the press. As a result, the Imperial had been spared the fate of many of the buildings in Paramador City. And, from his information, the reporters had been kept on a pretty tight leash. That meant she should at least be safe.
Lois walked into the two bedroom cottage she was sharing with the Daily Planet photographer, Marcus Kashur, and slammed the door.
"What's the problem?" Marcus asked, looking up from yesterday's copy of the Daily Planet.
She made her way to where he was seated at a table set up on the deck attached to the back of the small cottage. She plopped herself into a chair as she responded.
"They censored my story again," she said in frustration. "Why did they have to take away our satellite phones? And why did they shut down communications? It's not fair."
He chuckled. "That's war, girl."
Lois growled and reached over to pour herself a glass of what appeared to be iced tea.
"I'm not sure whether to drink this or pour it over my head," she said, looking at the wet substance in her glass and contemplating the heat of the Paramadorian summer. Then, after taking what appeared to be an unsatisfying sip, she set the glass down and pushed it away. "There's got to be a better way to get my stories out. I mean, it wasn't a big deal with this story, but what about the next one?"
Sighing, Lois stared out over the rolling hills that lay beyond, toward the distant sound of the bombing that was taking place in Paramador City. She'd been in Paramador for about a week now, and still she'd found no sign that Clark had ever even lived in this god-forsaken country. On the day she'd arrived, she'd tried to get permission to go into Paramador City on what she called a 'fact-finding mission' and been denied. She was still not certain what all the fuss had been about when she'd 'borrowed' an army jeep and drove herself into the city.
Clark's apartment had been not much more than a burned out memento to the destructive nature of war. The Perez home had been even worse. She'd been unable to even check out the docks. From what she'd discovered since, the docks had turned into the rebel stronghold. Yet in spite of all that, when she'd returned she'd been given the worst dressing- down she'd ever gotten in her life — and not just from the army. Perry had obviously been contacted because he'd called shortly after she'd arrived at the cottage to inform her in no uncertain terms that she was there to get the story — not to get kicked out of the country by taking off on some fool's errand. And as if that hadn't been bad enough, the photographer sitting across from her now, Marcus, had lit into her.
She glanced over at Marcus. In spite of being in his mid- fifties, he was in good shape — probably from traipsing after troops, always looking for the defining pictures of each conflict. From what she'd learned over the past week, he'd spent most of his career photographing the horrors of war — starting in the late sixties as Perry's photographer in Vietnam. He had a quick mind and was well-versed in procedure and protocol in these types of situations and Lois was grateful for both his stabilizing presence and his assistance. This would be an awfully scary place without him.
She suspected that Perry had spoken to Marcus about her. At least, there were times when she could almost hear Perry's words coming out of Marcus' mouth. Of course, there were other times… She grinned. Marcus had apparently been married once, years ago, for about fifteen minutes — at least, that was the way Marcus had described it. The woman, once she'd realized that Marcus had a mistress — his work — had moved on. The result was that Marcus considered himself a confirmed old bachelor. And, boy, could he lay on the charm. He flirted with her something awful. From anyone else, Lois would have been offended. But the grin in Marcus' voice when he did it and the mischief in his eyes told Lois that he was harmless — at least as far as she was concerned.
"Did you hear about the shindig over at the hotel restaurant tonight?" asked Marcus.
"Yeah," said Lois, only half listening. She had more important things to do than to hang around with a bunch of reporters, diplomats and army personnel swilling wine and sharing war stories. She wanted to contact the Red Cross to see if they had any news about Clark Kent. She had spoken to a man over there earlier today who promised to feed the name into their computer. He had suggested she call back this evening. An earlier attempt to obtain such information from the American Embassy had turned up nothing.
And then there was what Bud had told her just before she'd returned to Paramador. She shivered just thinking about it. Although she'd certainly made discrete inquiries, she'd not been able to find as much as one solid lead. But if Chavez had got his hands on a nuclear weapon…
"What do you say we go over there? See what trouble we can get into?" asked Marcus. "I walk in there with you on my arm and I'll turn the head of everyone in the room."
Lois shook her head and silently chuckled. "I'm not in the mood, Marcus," she added after a moment.
His hand being laid on her arm caused her to direct her attention towards the man. The sudden seriousness in his usually twinkling eyes caught her attention.
"What?" she asked.
"You mentioned wishing you could get information out without going through the censors," he said.
Lois was suddenly extremely interested. "What are you saying?"
"What I'm saying is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. What I'm saying is that the restaurant will be filled with diplomats. What I'm saying is that diplomats have access to diplomatic pouches."
"And they might let me stick something in that pouch?" asked Lois, suddenly understanding where he was going with this.
Marcus shrugged. "I've seen it done. Not on a regular basis, of course. But if something crosses your path that you doubt will get by the censors…"
Lois nodded slowly. "So tell me, Marcus, would you happen to know any diplomats you could introduce me to?"
Marcus smiled. "Well, there's a young man in the Canadian embassy, Phil Ward, who would undoubtedly find it very hard to say no to a beautiful young woman."
Lois chuckled. "You are a brat," she responded. "But why the Canadian embassy?"
"If I understand correctly, you are still looking at possible NIA involvement in this war."
"Well, do you really think you can trust the American embassy to get information like that out?"
Lois nodded. He had a point.
"So what are we waiting for?" she asked, jumping to her feet.
Marcus chuckled at her enthusiasm. "Girl, if I were twenty years younger…" he said before pulling in a breath through his teeth.
Lois smiled. "If you were twenty years younger, I'd be asking for a new photographer."
"And why's that?" demanded Marcus, his serious tone undercut by the upturn of one corner of his lips.
"Because something tells me that you were quite a heartbreaker."
"Were?" asked Marcus.
Lois burst out laughing. She really liked this guy.
Dario threw himself in the mud when he heard a vehicle coming down the gravel road. When clean, Dario's dark, scruffy hair and deep set eyes made all the girls crazy. And he'd just recently come to the conclusion that that wasn't such a bad thing. But worrying about whether a particular girl liked him was not currently high on his list of priorities. These days he was more concerned about staying alive and keeping those he loved alive.
Senor Clark had entrusted him with this assignment and there was no way Dario intended to fail. Besides, he liked the American woman. He just hoped the man she was with last time wasn't there. After all, his grandmother, who had died in the first bombing raids, had made it very clear that he could not be trusted. No. It would be best if he could talk to the woman alone.
He wished he knew if she was staying in the main hotel or in one of a couple of dozen cottages adjacent to the hotel. He hoped for the latter. There would be no way he could sneak in through the lobby. Since he was filthy, he would stand out too much in the elegant hotel. He would have to find another way to talk to her. That could be even more dangerous.
He cautiously looked up from the mud. The road was once again clear. He slowly got up, wiping his hands on his already filthy pants, before once again resuming his trip along the wire fence surrounding the grounds of the Imperial Hotel, looking for the best place to burrow underneath it. It would be light soon and he hoped to be on the grounds before that happened.
Lois wiped the sleep from her eyes as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Then, tightening the belt on her robe, she made her way to the french doors that opened onto the deck. It was only a moment later before she was sitting on the deck to watch the sun rise. As she did, she found herself wondering if Clark was watching the same sight.
As she took a sip of her coffee, her mind drifted back to a phone call she'd made while still in Metropolis. Desperate for news about Clark, she'd finally given in and contacted his family. Saying only that she was a friend of Clark's and that she knew he was in Paramador, she'd spoken to his mother. Apparently, Clark had contacted them shortly after the war had begun, but had not been in touch since. His mother had, however, assured Lois that she was certain Clark was fine. Although at the time, Lois had been comforted by the reassuring tone in Martha Kent's voice, the fear for Clark's safety had returned within half an hour of getting off the phone.
She suspected that her fear that Clark was dead was the reason she'd been unable to go through with having an abortion. She knew it was irrational. She didn't even know if this child was Clark's. But as she'd sat in the waiting room of the women's center, waiting to have an abortion, she found herself wondering if the child she carried was all that was left of Clark. Her hand unconsciously went to her stomach. There were still so many unanswered questions. She still didn't know how she was going to raise a child and hold down a job. Where would she get the money? Who could she count on for support? Claude's cruel suggestion was the only logical choice — she just hadn't been able to go through with it.
She forced her mind away from that issue in order to direct her attention to work. Last night had been useful — if frustrating. She'd gone with Marcus to the main dining room at the Imperial Hotel and made a number of useful contacts. In a way, Claude had been right about one thing — being a beautiful woman did have its advantages in the news business. There had been no shortage of men offering to do her a favor if she ever needed one. Even Marcus had looked impressed. And she'd smiled and flirted and acted as if she appreciated their attention when all she had really wanted was to be at the cottage so that she could be alone with her thoughts of Clark. She shook her head. Being a newspaper woman was two parts savvy and one part actress — but then so was being a woman.
Still, until she had a story to give them, the contacts were useless. After Bud had called to tell her that there were rumors in the NIA that Chavez had managed to get his hands on a nuclear weapon of some sort, Lois had done some research. It seemed that the technology for creating a nuclear bomb was something that could be understood by any second year physics student. That was a terrifying thought. The biggest problem was getting a radioactive substance like Plutonium, although from what she'd read that was not impossible.
Of course, that was assuming they were talking about a traditional nuclear bomb. There was also the possibility that Chavez was creating what was known as a 'dirty bomb'. In that case, even less knowledge of physics was needed. And although a dirty bomb would not cause nearly as much damage, the terror it would inflict would be nearly as devastating. The problem was that Lois didn't have any idea where to start looking to find out if any of the rumors were true.
She sighed and took another sip of her coffee. A noise from the shadows caught her attention. She jumped to her feet, moving behind her chair to put something between her and the unknown threat.
"Who's there?" she demanded into the darkness.
She pulled in a sharp breath when her suspicions were confirmed. An apparition appeared in the shadows — a gangly apparition — a very dirty, gangly apparition.
"Who are you?" Lois demanded.
"Senorita," came a hesitant male voice. Lois squinted, trying to see the young man in the darkness. He stepped into the light coming from the cottage. Lois gasped and then grabbed onto the back of the chair for support when it sank in who was standing before her. Underneath all that dirt and grime she could swear…
"Dario?" she asked.
"Si, senorita," Dario responded.
Lois let out a breath. If anyone knew what had happened to Clark, he would. But now that the moment was here, she couldn't find her voice. Until now, there had at least been hope. What if he took that away from her? She whimpered slightly, her legs suddenly feeling less than substantial beneath her.
"Senorita," gasped Dario, lunging forward to catch Lois when her legs suddenly collapsed.
"What's going on out here?" demanded a male voice from the cottage, approaching quickly when he saw a very dirty young man leaning over Lois.
Dario glanced up at the man, fear in his eyes, and tried to dash away. He was caught easily enough by Marcus grabbing the back of his collar.
"Let him go." Lois' words were barely audible, but they seemed to cut through the quiet predawn air like a knife.
"But…" Marcus said, looking back at the boy in his grasp.
"Let him go," Lois said again, moving herself into a seated position. "He's a friend."
Marcus took one more look at the boy before releasing his shirt. The boy stumbled backwards, putting some distance between him and Marcus, but once he was at a safe distance, he again stopped.
Lois took a deep breath before saying, "Marcus, this is Dario Perez. His father was killed when he tried to get news of what Chavez was doing out to the world."
Marcus regarded Lois and then the boy before extending a large hand to the young man. Dario looked at it suspiciously before darting forward, shaking it and quickly backing away again. Marcus chuckled. "So what are you doing here?" asked Marcus, offering Lois a hand. Lois took it and allowed him to help her up.
"I need speak to Senorita," he said.
"It's okay, Dario," Lois assured him, sinking back into her chair still not entirely certain her legs would hold her. "Marcus works with me."
"I need speak to Senorita only," Dario emphasized.
Marcus glanced over at Lois who nodded at him. Marcus took one final look at the young man before turning and heading back into the cottage.
Lois gestured to the chair, indicating that Dario should have a seat. She knew that she was putting off the question, but she still didn't have the nerve to ask. What if he confirmed her worst fears? What if her story had gotten Clark killed?
"What are you doing here?" she asked instead.
"I was told give you this," Dario said, still not sitting down, but instead reaching under his shirt and withdrawing a brown envelope that was almost as wet and dirty as he was. Lois took the envelope and looked at it, turning it over in her hands.
"Who told you?" she finally asked, her voice trembling slightly on the words.
"Senor Clark," Dario responded, not realizing the significance of the words.
Lois pulled in a jagged breath, her hand coming up to cover her mouth as tears began to pool in the corners of her eyes.
"Senorita?" asked Dario, finally taking a seat at the table.
"When?" she asked as the moisture in her eyes began finding a path down her cheeks.
"Before I comes here."
Lois closed her eyes, the tears now slipping freely down her cheeks. He was alive. He was really alive. Dario had been with him only a few hours ago. She quickly directed her attention to the envelope. Maybe it contained some sort of message to her. Maybe he had forgiven her.
As she tore open the envelope, Lois found herself wondering if the contents were as waterlogged as the envelope. She was relieved to find a very well sealed bag inside. In fact, it appeared to have been sealed with some kind of professional heat seal to ensure water stayed out. She opened it carefully, her heart in her throat. Withdrawing a number of photos, she concentrated on a single piece of paper that was also enclosed. She carefully turned it over and took a deep breath before reading the letter.
'Dear Ms. Lane, Enclosed please find a number of pictures that show the human side to the conflict in Paramador. I'm sure you will understand the value of these pictures. We ask that you use them to let the world know that this war is killing real people.'
And it was signed simply, 'Clark Kent.'
She turned the letter over. There must be more. 'Ms. Lane?' How could he call her 'Ms. Lane?' Her chin began to quiver. Then she became aware again of Dario's presence. She quickly set the letter down and focused her attention on the pictures. The top one was of a mother and two little children. The mother had the children held protectively against her chest as she crouched down behind a pile of dirt. But it was the look on the mother's face that captivated Lois. It was a look of quiet desperation, as if she was hopelessly trying to think of a way to protect her children. She set down that picture carefully on the table before looking at the second picture. As she did, she began to realize what Clark had entrusted to her.
She looked back at Dario. He had lost considerable weight since she'd first met him.
"Why don't you go in and make use of the washroom? If you come out clean enough, I'll have some breakfast waiting for you," she said. At the mention of getting cleaned up, Dario's face fell. At the mention of breakfast, he lit up. It wasn't long before Lois heard water running in the washroom.
As she made her way to the phone to order room service, Marcus reentered the room.
"So what did the kid want?" he asked.
As she waited for the phone to be answered, she gestured to the pictures. Marcus picked them up and, after leafing through them quickly, he gasped. Lois gave him a slight smile.
"These are incredible," he said, confirming her analysis. "I'd give anything to be the photographer who took these. What are you going to do with them?"
"You're going to take them to Phil Ward — have him get them out of the country as quickly as possible."
"And what are you going to be doing?"
"I'm going with Dario. There's a story here. I'm going to get it," she said, avoiding eye contact with Marcus, afraid that if he saw her eyes he'd realize it was just an excuse. But she had to talk to Clark. She had no idea what she was going to say to him. All she knew was that she had to see for herself that he was all right.
Dario glanced back again and let out a breath. She was still following. He'd tried telling her she couldn't come, but she wouldn't listen. He didn't have permission to bring her with him. And without permission… After all, if the wrong people found out where the refugees were hiding, either the army or the rebels would raid the caves — stealing their food and forcing their men into service. Even someone as young as Dario was in danger of being forced into the army.
Yet, by the time he'd finished breakfast, she'd been dressed for a long hike. She even had a back pack which he had seen her stuffing food into. He'd tried slipping out without her seeing, but she was sharp. He glanced at the hills ahead. Over the past weeks, he'd gotten to know every inch of those hills. She didn't seem to realize that he knew she was following so he'd wait until he got into the hills. Then she'd find herself chasing a ghost. Once he arrived at the caves, he'd tell Senor Clark that she wanted to come. If he agreed, Dario would come back for her. Satisfied with his decision, he headed off the road and into the hills.
After another twenty minutes of hard climbing, Dario slipped out of sight long enough to crawl into a hollow tree. Hearing her approach, he pushed himself further into the shadows, trying to become part of the tree. He heard her hesitate for a moment before making her way past him.
As he waited, his mind flashed back to his grandmother's assessment of Senorita Lois and wondered if he was making the right decision to leave her in the woods. What if something happened to her? After all, the woods were not the safest place — especially for a woman. Still, the decision had already been made. He waited until he could no longer hear her footsteps before carefully crawling out of his hiding spot.
"Can we quit this silly game now?" asked Lois, causing Dario to jump. He spun around and looked into Senorita Lois' eyes in absolute disbelief. How had she known where he was?
Lois almost burst out laughing when she saw the look on Dario's face. She had to admit that he was good. In fact, she never would have found him had it not been for the fact that she'd anticipated that he might be less than enthusiastic about bringing her along and had slipped a tracking device in his shoe while he'd been eating breakfast.
It had been easy to do since, while he was eating, she'd managed to dig up some clean clothes and shoes for Dario. A number of families lived on the grounds of the hotel. Hotel staff and maintenance had moved onto the grounds when the war started so that the hotel could be assured of regular staffing. They had been more than happy to part with the used clothes in exchange for a few American dollars.
"You can not to come with me, senorita," Dario said in frustration. "Senor Clark wouldn't…"
"Let me deal with Senor Clark," Lois interrupted. Then she let out a breath. He might only be a kid, but Clark obviously trusted this boy. And in spite of his young age, it was clear that Dario had grown up a lot since she'd last seen him. "Look, Dario, I know this isn't what you had in mind when you brought me those photos. But I assume you know how important those pictures are." She waited for Dario to nod before continuing. "Clark is right. Right now the world isn't paying attention to what is happening in Paramador. If I can tell them what the people here are going through, maybe they'll find a way to stop the war. That's why I need to come with you."
She watched Dario's eyes as he tried to process what he was telling him.
"And you to tell them — to get them to stop war?"
"With your help I am."
Dario thought about that for a minute more before nodding. "You come," he said.
Lois smiled. She was fairly certain nothing she had said had convinced him. Still, not being sure exactly why he'd changed his mind didn't stop her from being grateful. It would be so much easier if she didn't have to rely on that stupid tracking device. Suddenly, she realized that he was again making his way up the hill.
"You come?" he asked, looking back at her.
She immediately hurried to catch up. She had thought she was in good shape before trying to follow this kid through the hills.
Dario came to an abrupt halt.
"Why are we stopping?" Lois asked.
"Shhh," whispered Dario, staring forward, silently straining to hear all the noises around him.
Lois spun around at the sound of a drunken male voice slurring something in Spanish. She didn't have to grasp every word to realize that this wasn't good. She grabbed Dario's arm and pulled him behind her as she began backing away.
"Where do you think you're going?" said a second male voice from behind her. This time she picked up every word. She spun again, keeping Dario behind her as she now attempted to back between the two men.
"We don't want any trouble," Lois said in broken Spanish.
"Neither do we," said one of the men before both he and his friend laughed. She didn't catch the man's next words, but then she didn't have to. His crude gesture told her everything she needed to know.
Spinning around, she pushed Dario. "Run," she yelled, before turning to face her attackers, adopting a defensive stance as they began to move closer. It was obvious the men were drunk. She hoped that would give her the advantage of a clear head and quicker movements.
Realizing the chances of outrunning them were slim, she decided to try to take advantage of the element of surprise. Knowing that they wouldn't expect it, she launched herself at the closer of the men, knocking him off his feet with ease. She almost wished she didn't understand the stream of swear words that left his lips as he fell to the ground.
Knowing she only had one chance — to take out the second man and then run before either could regain their footing — she immediately threw herself at the second man. Just as she left the ground, she felt a hand grab at her ankle and realized it was the man on the ground who was holding her. She stretched her hands out in front of her as she tumbled to the rocky ground. She gasped at the feel of the rocks digging into her hands and forearms. Her head smashed against the ground, leaving her slightly dazed.
Before she could recover, both men were on her. She curled into a ball in an effort to protect herself from the feet kicking at her, the hands hitting her, tearing the backpack off her back. The only thing she could think was that at least they weren't trying to rape her. It was just as that thought came that she suddenly felt cold steel slip under the back of her shirt. At first there was a small pull on her shirt before the knife began to slice open the thin material.
Dario ran as fast as he could the instant Lois yelled. It took him a moment to realize she had not followed. He stopped, searching the woods behind him as he struggled for breath. Maybe he'd just been running faster than she had. Maybe she would burst through those woods any minute.
That hope was shattered when he heard some very angry- sounding voices erupt with a string of swear words interspersed with some very detailed sexual comments — comments that until this conflict had begun, Dario wouldn't have understood. But that was another side-effect of war. Even the youngest of children lose their innocence. He hesitated for a moment, trying to decide whether to go on and find help, or go back.
The men who had attacked were obviously war profiteers — no one else had the money to waste on booze. He'd heard that some of them had moved into these hills, but until now hadn't run into them. But if they were war profiteers, Senorita Lois was in even more danger. At least the soldiers normally left their victims alive. That was not the case with war profiteers. After all, they wouldn't want to leave any witnesses who might potentially reveal their location.
He heard a stifled scream from the senorita, as if someone were holding a hand over her mouth, and the decision was made. He headed back the way he'd come, running as fast as he had the last time.
He didn't let up until he came to the bushes that he'd darted through when Senorita Lois told him to run. He could hear the sounds of a struggle coming from the other side. Taking a deep breath, he quietly pushed the branches aside so that he could assess the situation.
The past few minutes had been like a nightmare. She closed her eyes as a man's hand, once again, landed across her face. She stifled the urge to cry out — she would not give them the satisfaction. Her tongue went to the corner of her mouth and she tasted the blood there. She wasn't sure how much longer she could hold out.
Lois struggled futilely against the man pinning her arms behind her back, panting heavily from the continued exertion. The man in front of her leaned closer and slurred something, which she didn't even try to translate. She turned her head to the side, overwhelmed by the heavy body odor. The smell of stale alcohol added to the experience. However, the offense to her senses seemed to remind her that death wasn't the worst thing that could happen to her. Finding a bit more strength, she raised her knee and the man howled as he stumbled backwards.
She screamed when the man responded by pulling a knife from his belt and, lunging forward, burring the blade in her side. The man holding her immediately tossed her to the ground and turned to his friend. From his anger, Lois got the distinct impression that the man wasn't upset with his friend stabbing her. He seemed more upset with his friend stabbing her while he was holding her — as if afraid that he might have been cut by the knife himself.
She closed her eyes, her hand going to her side. She pulled her hand away and looked at the red sticky substance on his hand. The pain was incredible, but this was her chance. She began pushing herself away as she tried to get her feet under her. Suddenly, the men seemed to realize that she was attempting to get away. Of one mind, they turned towards her. For an instant, all three froze, wondering who would make the first move.
With a mighty yell, a small boy decided the issue by launching himself at the back of one of the men, knocking him into the other. Given their drunken state, both men lost their footing, stumbling to the ground. Dario scrambled off them.
"Run!" he yelled, grabbing Lois' hand as if to pull her startled form away from the battle zone. It only took her a moment to respond. Scrambling to her feet, and, as if the devil himself were following, she called on every bit of strength her beaten body still possessed and began running with Dario further into the hills.
No longer concerned about finding an easy route, Dario led her directly towards a rock cliff. Lois seemed to hesitate when they arrived at the bottom, but the sound of swearing voices behind them spurred her on. He glanced back at her. The right side of her t-shirt and pants were soaked with blood and, having seen death more than enough in his young life, Dario was worried about the lack of color in her face. Still, she managed to keep up with him as they began scrambling over the sharp rocks. Dario led the way, finding a route up the steep hill. He heard her give a small yelp and turned back just in time to see her lose her footing.
Dario was unable to do more than gasp as he watched her body tumble over the sharp rocks on her way back down the hill. When she finally came to a stop, he scrambled back to her.
"Senorita?" he asked. He was about to ask again when he heard the men following them tramping noisily through the woods. Grabbing Lois under her armpits, he pulled her into the protection of a large bolder. He pulled his shirt off his back and quickly wrapped it around a large cut on her arm which she had received when she had tumbled down the rock. He waited, hardly breathing, until he was sure the men had lost the scent before trying to wake Lois again. Still, she didn't move or in any other way respond.
Not knowing what else to do, he tried to hide her the best he could under some branches and then headed as fast as possible to get help. Senor Clark would know what to do.
Everything was fuzzy. Lois felt as if she were in a dream. She tried to reach down to pull the covers further around her but her hands could only find something that felt somewhat like tree branches. She tried to move, but the hard surface under her cut into her back.
Glancing at her arm, she noticed a t-shirt wrapped around it which was drenched in blood. She abstractly wondered what it meant. She was so cold. She reached out again, looking for the blankets.
His face was suddenly there. She attempted to smile but wasn't certain she was succeeding. He was saying something but the words were garbled.
His hands moved her covers away and she tried to object that she was cold. But before she could, she felt heat on her arm. It felt good. She looked at Clark. The t-shirt was no longer on her arm and he was staring intently at the large gash. She closed her eyes again, enjoying the feeling of heat moving across the cut.
Suddenly, his arms were around her. She sighed. She was safe here. She murmured his name as he once again carried her to his bed. She felt the wind around her and had the distinct feeling of flight. She forced her eyes open. The world seemed far away as she floated above it.
Her eyes were heavy. She hoped Clark wouldn't mind if she had a nap. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to drift off into the darkness.
Clark paced nervously while Fernando worked on Lois. He felt so helpless. He never should have sent Dario. He should have gone himself. Insisting that she would come back with Dario was just so consistent with everything he knew about this woman.
His decision to send Dario was based on fear. Afraid that she would immediately know that he had been unable to forget her, afraid that she would find his infatuation amusing, he'd entrusted the task to a child, taking the coward's way out. If he'd been more of a man, she wouldn't be lying there helpless now.
He glanced over at the doctor. Lois had been unconscious for the last part of their flight to the caves. He supposed he should be worried that she had been somewhat conscious when he'd first taken to the air, but the only thing he'd been able to think was that he had to get her help as quickly as possible and that meant flying. Or maybe he should have taken her to a hospital somewhere in the States. Maybe there she'd be able to receive the attention she needed. He froze when Fernando called to one of his nurses for some assistance. Then, as they continued to work, he continued to pace. What had he been thinking? Fernando might be a great doctor, but he had none of the conveniences of modern medicine at his disposal. Maybe he could at least do something about that.
"What can I do to help?" he asked, moving closer to where Fernando was working on Lois.
"You can stay out of my way," barked Fernando.
Clark again backed off and continued pacing.
As quickly as she could, Margarita made her way towards the area of the caves that had been designated as a hospital. She could hardly believe what Dario had told her. On the other hand, she should have expected something like this to happen. After all, any woman would be a fool not to come after Clark. Of course, she could be wrong. Maybe Lois Lane had indeed just come to get the story the way Dario was claiming. But she suspected Lois' reasons had more to do with the man than the story.
She shook her head. She was jumping to conclusions. Besides, if Lois had come back to Clark, she should be happy for both of them. Although he'd only mentioned her once, Margarita knew that Clark's heart belonged to that woman. She tried to tell herself that she was just worried that she'd hurt Clark again, but these feelings of insecurity couldn't be explained that easily. She was in love with Dominguez — that was without question. But she was well aware that she had feelings for Clark, too.
Margarita felt sorry for Dario. Clark had been so preoccupied by the fact that Lois was hurt that he hadn't even taken time to tell Dario it wasn't his fault. The boy was devastated. He'd failed his hero and now he thought his hero hated him because of it. But she'd take care of all that in good time, right now she needed to find out what was going on — and she needed to find Clark.
She came to an abrupt halt as she rounded the corner into the 'hospital.' She felt her heart sink into her belly as she took in the scene. It was obvious that Fernando was working frantically on Lois, making use of a woman he'd designated as a nurse. But it was the look on Clark's face that affected Margarita the most. He was completely without color as he leaned against a far wall of the cave, his eyes glued to the activity around Lois' bed. She could see a slight movement of his lips, although no sound was coming out, and figured he was praying, desperately begging whatever gods might still be watching this small section of the world for their mercy.
"Clark," she said, walking over to him. When he failed to respond, she said his name again, this time louder.
He looked over at her as if startled. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "I didn't see you there. Did you want something?"
She let out a breath. "I think you need to come with me," she said.
"I can't. I've got to…" He gestured vaguely towards Lois.
"You can't do any good here," Margarita said, stating the obvious.
"But…" His voice trailed off and his eyes once again focused on Lois' bed.
Margarita studied him for a moment. He needed to focus on something else. But what? Suddenly, she had an inspiration.
"Dario thinks you blame him," she said.
"What?" Clark gasped.
Margarita felt relieved. She'd finally gotten his mind on something else. "You can't do anything here. But you could do some good by talking to Dario."
Clark seemed to struggle for a moment, as if knowing that she was right and yet not quite able to make the decision to leave.
"Fernando will come for you if there is any change."
That seemed to decide the issue for Clark. He nodded and a moment later was accompanying Margarita from the room.
"How's she doing?" asked Clark, jumping to his feet when Fernando entered the room. After leaving the 'hospital', he'd had a long talk with Dario who seemed to accept Clark's reassurances. Still, it had been hard concentrating on Dario's feelings when Clark was still so worried about Lois.
"She's stable," Fernando immediately replied.
"Stable. That's good, right?" Clark asked.
"Well, yes and no."
"What do you mean, 'no?'" Clark demanded.
"Sit down," Fernando responded. When Clark looked at him defiantly, he tilted his head to the side as if to say, 'if you want this information, you'll do as I say.' Clark let out a breath and took a seat, although the thought did cross his mind to simply grab the doctor and shake the news out of him.
"Okay, like I said, she's stable. She lost a lot of blood and has a slight concussion. But the knife wound didn't seem to hit any organs. It should only be a matter of time before she recovers."
Clark let out a breath. "Wait a minute! Then what did you mean when you said that the news wasn't all good?"
Fernando nodded. "Well, her body has suffered a trauma. And when that happens, the best medicine is the body's ability to heal itself. But to do that, it conserves all its strength — focusing it as it were into the healing process."
"It's just that you can't beat a pregnant woman to the extent Senorita Lane was beaten without a risk that she'll lose the baby."
Clark stared at him blankly. He heard Margarita gasp. What was Fernando saying? Lois wasn't… "Pregnant?" he asked.
"You didn't know?" asked the doctor. "I thought you and Senorita Lane were friends."
"Yeah, we are, but… Pregnant?" he asked again. When the doctor nodded, Clark spoke again. "Are you sure?"
Fernando chuckled. "Son, before this whole conflict started, you might not believe this but I was an obstetrician. She's pregnant."
Clark took a moment to process that information before the next thought struck. "How long?" he asked.
"With the instruments available to me, I'd just be guessing," the doctor said.
"Then guess," Clark begged.
"It would just be an estimation."
"Understood," Clark responded.
"I'd say somewhere between ten and fourteen weeks."
Clark did the calculations quickly. Could it be… Could it really be… He couldn't even complete the thought. He'd wanted to be a father since he'd first learned where babies came from. He'd never really believed it would be possible. But if Fernando were right…
"When will she be awake?" he asked.
The doctor shrugged slightly. "Now telling you that really would make me a witch doctor. All I can say is that she'll wake up when her body tells her it's okay to do so. Until then, we'll monitor her."
"When will you know about the baby?"
"Again, I really can't say."
"Maybe if I took her to a hospital…"
Fernando shook his head. "Neither she nor the baby needs the added trauma of being moved right now. Besides, they wouldn't be able to do much more for her there. Certainly, it wouldn't justify the risk of moving her. We'll just have to hope that her body doesn't decide that it needs to abort the fetus."
"Can I see her?" Clark asked.
Fernando smiled and nodded. Clark didn't waste another moment before he was once again on his way to the hospital.
"Where am I?"
Margarita's head snapped up at the sound of Lois' voice. She quickly rose from the floor beside Lois' cot and took a seat on the side.
"You're in…" She glanced around at the stone walls around her. "…I guess you could say this is our hospital."
"Our?" Lois asked in response.
"She's awake?" Fernando asked excitedly, before Margarita could respond.
Margarita moved off the cot to allow the doctor to get closer.
"I'm Dr. Fernando Guadalupe," Fernando said. "Now, don't try to move," he continued when noticed Lois trying to sit up. "You don't want to tear your stitches."
"Excuse me," said Margarita before, without any explanation, leaving the area.
Lois watched. Fernando seemed to notice because he spoke. "I imagine she's going to get Clark," he said. "They've both been worried about you."
"Clark's here?" asked Lois, suddenly relaxing. No matter where she was, she knew she was safe if Clark was here. After all, he'd already saved her life twice. And if she recalled correctly, she'd seen him after she fell. But that might have been a dream. After all, she could also remember thinking that she was flying.
Fernando picked up her wrist and felt for a pulse as he spoke next. "Margarita…" he began, gesturing with his head towards where Margarita had last been seen "…and Clark have been taking turns sitting with you. I understand you and Clark are friends. I imagine she's gone to find him now. I have no doubt he'll want to see you." Fernando fell silent to count her heartbeat.
Lois' breath caught in her throat. Was it possible that the beautiful woman who'd been in here only a moment ago was involved with Clark? How could he…? Her thought trailed off. What was she thinking? She'd known Clark Kent for less than a full twenty-four hours. What did she think he'd do — spend the rest of his life pining for her? Of course, that was what he was supposed to do.
"So Clark and Margarita…?" Lois asked.
Fernando stuck the ear pieces of his stethoscope in his ears as he responded. "Are they together?"
Fernando smiled and nodded in response. "Yes. In fact, we're currently placing bets on how long it will take before they're looking for a priest to make it permanent. It would really lift spirits to know that even in times like this life and love continue."
Lois swallowed hard. That could have been her. That should have been her. But she'd blown it. She supposed she should be happy that he'd found someone who would never hurt him the way she had. But she wasn't. Her hand went instinctively to her stomach.
"The baby," she suddenly gasped. "Is it…" Her voice trailed off.
"It's fine," Fernando responded immediately. "It gave us a scare there for a while. But it's a fighter — like his mother, no doubt."
Lois felt a surprising surge of relief. Then her eyebrows crinkled in confusion. Shouldn't she have been wanting the child to… She couldn't even complete the thought. The mere idea of something happening to this child… She felt a surprising rush of fear, followed almost immediately by a surge of protectiveness. She shook her head slightly in disbelief when it sunk in what had just happened. She had just experienced her first spark of maternal instinct. Until this moment, she wouldn't have believed she had it in her.
Lois looked up when a shadow moved in her peripheral vision. She glanced over to see the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen. He was hairy and his clothes were crinkled and slightly stained, but he was absolutely gorgeous. His face broke into a smile when their eyes met.
"Hey," he said softly, making his way to her side. He knelt beside the cot and gently picked up her hand. "How you feeling?"
"Sore," she responded.
"Yeah, well, that's understandable," Clark responded. "You got beat up pretty badly."
He glanced over at Fernando, who automatically gave them some privacy.
"Fernando told me about the baby, Lois," Clark began.
Lois looked away, knowing instantly what was on Clark's mind. It was a reasonable question. One she didn't know how to answer. He was with Margarita. He wasn't going to want to know that he could be the father. Besides, Claude had more reason to care about the baby than this man did — and look at how Claude had reacted. No. Given how much she'd hurt him already, she couldn't dump this on him now. He deserved to be happy — no matter how much she hated the idea. Besides, when he reacted the way she knew he would, she suspected it would break her heart.
"Is it mine?" Clark asked when she didn't respond.
"Don't be ridiculous," she said dismissively.
"What's so ridiculous about it?" Clark asked. "We were, after all…" His voice trailed off.
"Once," Lois clarified.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought once was all it took."
She let out a breath. "Clark, we spent one night together. I was… I am involved with someone else — since before we ever met. You met him on the docks that day. Claude. He's the father."
Clark was silent for a long time. Lois didn't dare look at him, not wanting to see the relief that must be on his face.
"I see," he finally said.
She was grateful that he had the decency to keep his feelings of relief out of his voice. Lois was almost obliged when Margarita reentered the room, ending the conversation.
"Could I have a glass of water?" Lois asked.
Clark was immediately on his feet to fulfill her request.
Clark leaned against the cave wall the instant he was out of Lois' sight. Not only was this not his child, but she had just told him that she was involved with that Claude guy from the docks. He should have known. After all, if it were his child, surely she would have had an abortion. Given her devotion to her job, there was no way she would even consider raising a child as a single mother.
He'd been nervous about the idea of being a father. But now that he knew that he wasn't… He shook his head. What was he thinking? He should be relieved. She was a reporter — a very ambitious one. If she were pregnant with his child, he'd have to tell her everything about himself. Who knew what she'd do with that information? He could very well find himself being put in a lab and dissected like a frog.
He let out a breath. He knew what he was thinking. He was thinking about being part of that woman's life. He was thinking about the dream of having someone to love, having a family of his own. Although he had the best folks anyone could ever want, they still couldn't understand what it was like knowing that every other member of his race was gone. The idea of having someone who shared his blood…
Still, it had been foolish of him to think that could ever be. What were the chances that he could be compatible enough with the humans of this world to produce a child? A million to one? A billion to one? He wasn't sure why he'd even considered it a possibility.
Taking a deep breath, he redirected his mind to what he needed to do. Lois had been concerned that her photographer would be worried about her. Clark had promised to take care of it. Giving himself one moment more, he headed for the entrance to the cave. It would only take him a minute to fly down the hill to the Imperial Hotel and fulfill her request. Then he was supposed to be smuggling some refugees into the caves tonight. It was probably just as well — now that he knew Lois was all right.
Lois took a deep breath before looking at herself in the mirror.
She gasped when she saw the large bruise running down the left side of her face. Very slowly, she grabbed the edge of the blouse she'd been given and pulled it up. Then, after taking another deep breath, she pulled the bandage on her stomach away.
"Oh, god," she heaved, her breath becoming labored as she took in the ugly scar on the right side of her stomach.
"It's seldom as bad as it looks," said a woman's voice behind her.
Lois turned to see Margarita standing there, before looking back in the mirror.
"It's probably trivial," Lois said, "but… I guess I should be grateful just to be alive." She paused and gave a self-depreciating laugh. "Well, at least I don't need to worry about my tan lines anymore."
"It's okay," Margarita assured her. "All of us still want to look our best. Even if we are in a war."
Lois nodded slowly, once again lowering the edge of her shirt. "So what can I do for you?" Lois aksed.
"Well, Clark suggested I give you a tour of the caves. He said you might want to see what we're trying to do here."
Lois nodded. She really didn't want to spend time with the woman Clark was involved with. But she was here to get the story. Besides, throwing herself into her work was probably a good idea. After all, other than work, what did she have? Her hand instinctively went to her stomach. At least she had that. No matter which man had impregnated her, in her mind this would always be Clark's child. But she was glad that she hadn't told Clark the truth. There was no way he needed this complication in his life right now.
"Lead the way," she said, keeping her voice as level as possible.
As Margarita showed Lois around, her mind drifted. She loved Dominguez. Still, it was hard having the woman Clark loved here. She was tempted to talk to Lois about Clark, but then rejected the idea. That was Clark's call. It was up to them to work things out.
Part of her was saddened by the thought of losing Clark. His presence was a comfort and his company was like a ray of light in a very dark world. Still, she liked Clark too much to stand between him and an opportunity to be happy. And besides, she wasn't available. Even if Dominguez was dead, she wasn't sure her heart would be ready for another relationship for a long time. She just hoped Lois would finally come to realize how lucky she was to be loved by a man as incredible as Clark Kent.
"Margarita," a woman called out.
"Excuse me for just a minute," Margarita said to Lois before making her way over to the woman who'd called her.
Lois watched Margarita give the man in the tattered suit a huge hug. Lois was amazed that Margarita could give this man a hug given the powerful body odor that seemed to radiate off him. Although she couldn't follow the entire conversation, Lois could tell that the man was thanking Margarita. It had been that way throughout the entire tour. It seemed that everywhere they went, Margarita was being assailed by people needing to thank her or ask her for help. Margarita accepted both requests and comments with equal humility.
Well, Lois could think of a few thank yous, too. Thank you for stealing the man I love. Thank you for taking my child's father away from him. Thank you for ruining my life. Suddenly, Lois felt so incredibly petty. They were in the middle of a war zone and she could tell that Margarita sincerely cared about these people. But try as she might, Lois couldn't help but dislike the woman. Still, she knew none of the dislike she bore for this woman was the result of this woman's actions. It was Lois' own fault that the man she hoped was the father of her child was in love with someone else.
"Lois," came Margarita's voice, snapping Lois out of her thoughts.
"Yes?" Lois answered.
"Could you get Dr. Fernando?" she asked. It was only then that Lois realized that the man who had been talking to Margarita had collapsed.
"Certainly," Lois responded, immediately rushing to do as instructed. When she arrived back a couple of minutes later, doctor in tow, Margarita was performing CPR on the man. Fernando rushed in and, thanks to Margarita's quick actions, the man's life was saved.
Lois stood on the sidelines watching as Margarita seemed to organize effortlessly everyone around her to get the man, once he was stable, back to the hospital.
Lois accompanied the crowd back to the hospital where she picked up her notebook. She opened it to the first page and wrote 'Heroes of the Refugee Movement.' The name she wrote at the top was 'Margarita.' No matter how she felt about this woman on a personal level, her instincts told her that Margarita was one of the heroes of this war. Taking a deep breath, she decided it was time to get to work. Maybe her opinion of Margarita would change once she got more information. But one thing she did know was that Margarita was one of the people about whom Lois intended to find out more.
And another such person was Lidia Perez. Lois was pleased to discover that Lidia was in the caves. As the widow of the man who'd actually obtained the information leading to this war, Lois knew an interview with her would be big news. So she made her way through the tunnels until she found what was now considered the Perez family home.
Lois had been working on her Spanish since arriving in Paramador and was certainly understanding much more now than when she'd been in Paramador the last time. But when people started sharing feelings or complex concepts, she often still found herself at a loss. Fortunately, when she'd arrived, Dario was there.
"Ah, good," Lois breathed in relief.
"Do you wish for me to translate, senorita?" asked Dario.
"You can call me 'Lois'," Lois corrected. "And yes." She paused and looked directly at Dario for a long moment. "How would you like to work for me while I'm here?" she finally asked.
"Work for you?" Dario asked.
Lois nodded. "I need a translator and…" She glanced around at the people in the caves. "I also need a guide. Someone who can show me around and help me set up interviews. Things like that. I could make you…" She paused. "…my research assistant," she finally concluded.
Dario sat up straighter. "Is research assistant important job?" he asked.
"Absolutely," Lois responded. "I probably won't be able to get the information I need without a research assistant."
Dario beamed. "How much it pay?" he finally asked, trying not to look quite so pleased as he prepared to negotiate the best deal he could.
Lois laughed and then, after a bit of bargaining, she had her new 'research assistant.'
Dario took a moment to explain what had just transpired to his mother before beginning the first of what Lois hoped would be a series of interviews. They hadn't got far when Dario was no longer paying attention. Lois was about to rebuke him when she realized that something in particular had distracted him. She turned to see that Clark had entered the area. Her heart did a small but very distinct flip as she met his eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry," stuttered Clark, beginning to back up.
Lidia made some comment to Clark in very rapid Spanish. Lois didn't catch all of it, but the color that rose in Clark's cheeks made Lois suspect the comment had been about her relationship with Clark. But from what she'd learned from Lidia so far in this interview, Clark spent a lot of time with this family. Surely they knew he was involved with Margarita.
Clark's response was much easier to understand. "No, Lidia. We're not." He didn't quite look at Lois as he continued in English, "I'm sorry to have interrupted. I'll let you get back to work."
"It's okay, Clark," Lois responded immediately, desperately hoping he wouldn't leave. They really needed to talk — to clear the air between them. "You don't have to go. I'll just be…"
"I've really got a lot I need to do, Ms. Lane," Clark responded. Without waiting for a reply, he practically fled the area.
Lois bit her lip as she watched him go. 'Ms. Lane,' she thought to herself. When had she stopped being Lois and begun being Ms. Lane?
She had hoped that they could at least come out of this as friends. She desperately needed his forgiveness. The problem was that she couldn't quite figure out how to go about getting it. She knew she should apologize, but how was she supposed to apologize to a man for sleeping with him? She was simply unable to find the words. Not that it would have mattered if she knew what to say. Clark seemed as intent on avoiding her as if she had the plague.
She turned her attention back to Lidia. "Now, where were we?" she asked, trying to force her mind back to the interview.
Lois looked away from Dr. Fernando when Dario called her name. The doctor had confirmed that her injuries were healing well, although he was disappointed with her decision to leave the next day. He seemed to think it was too soon for her to be making that difficult journey through the Paramadorian countryside. Still, it had been over a week and she had enough interviews to give her a whole series of articles on the refugee movement. It was powerful stuff. It was time to try to get the world to focus on the plight of these people. And she couldn't do that from here. She needed to go back to the hotel.
Lois also had personal reasons for wanting to leave. Clark's behavior when she had been interviewing Lidia was only the first in a whole series of such incidents. Walking into a room only to have Clark make a quick exit was very quickly eating away at what was left of her heart. He was always very polite about it, of course. And it might not have been obvious to anyone else. After all, a man with so many people depending on him must have a million and one things to take care of. Still, he had to eat and sleep. And she would give almost anything to be the one lying next to him when he slept at night, or sitting with him when he ate. Hell, she'd settle for seeing him smile at her on occasion.
In fact, although she'd managed to interview most of the leaders of the refugee movement, there was one interview she'd been unable to get. Clark's. And yet, Clark seemed to be the undisputed leader of this mass of people. His leadership style stood in sharp contrast to the leaders of the two factions now at war in Paramador. In fact, she doubted he'd even call himself the 'leader.' But whenever there was a need, he seemed to take it upon himself to fill it. Whether it was ensuring the drinking water was safe or finding medical supplies. Whenever anyone had a need, Clark, although no one seemed to know how, found a way to solve it. She suspected most of these people would follow Clark into hell if he decided to lead them there.
And as much as she'd like an interview with Clark, she was sure she could write the story without it — everyone else having been more than happy to talk about Clark's role in this underground movement. Besides, he wasn't likely to be willing to sit across a table from her to answer questions — not when he couldn't even stand to be in the same room with her.
"Are you finished with doctor?" asked Dario.
Lois smiled and nodded.
"You okay, si?" he asked.
"I'm fine, Dario," she assured him.
"Then you come," he said.
"Where?" she asked in response.
Instead of answering her question, he simply repeated his instructions and turned to leave the room.
"I guess I'm being summoned," Lois said to Fernando.
"It seems so," Fernando said on a chuckle. "Come say goodbye before you leave," he said.
She reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. "If I get a chance," she responded. "If not, I want to thank you for everything."
Fernando nodded in response.
"You come," said Dario's voice from the entranceway to the cave.
Both Fernando and Lois chuckled at Dario's insistence.
"I guess you better go," Fernando said.
Lois nodded before quickly following Dario. She wondered briefly where Dario might be taking her. But she couldn't ask because he was a good ten feet in front of her, walking at a pace that made catching up difficult. Still, she trusted Dario's instincts.
Over the past week, she'd come to realize just what a remarkable young man Dario actually was. Hiring him was the best decision she'd ever made. He'd found her a small alcove that had a fair measure of privacy for interviews. He'd found a way to provide her with additional light so that she could work without straining her eyes. He'd even located a small camera and some rolls of film. She'd overheard a conversation between Clark and Dario, however, that indicated that Clark was actually the one behind Dario's success in obtaining the things she needed. Clark might not want to be in the same room with her, but he obviously wanted the refugees' story told.
One thing Dario found that Lois had rejected was a cot. Most of the people in the caves had only hard ground on which to sleep. She'd accepted the extra blankets, but she'd told him to give the cot to Fernando, knowing someone must need it more than she. Then she'd made her bed on the ground in her 'office.' It had given her a degree of privacy beyond that of most of the people here. And the blankets had served to adequately protect her from the cold ground.
After all that, Lois had no doubts about following Dario even if she didn't know where they were going. Her pace slowed and then stopped when the tunnel expanded into a large open area. There were more people here tonight. She looked around slowly at all the tired and grimy faces. Small groups huddled together, seeking comfort from family and friends. Children who had lost everything still laughed and played. The adults' faces, although there was relief on them, also bore lines of worry and stress. 'Send me your huddled masses' took on a whole new meaning as Lois took in the sight of these people — people who only weeks ago had dreamed dreams only to have them now lying buried beneath the rubble of war.
In the midst of this human tragedy, Lois spotted Margarita. She was giving a cup of water to a child as she knelt in front of him, wiping what appeared to be a dirty nose. During the past week, Lois had watched Margarita with growing admiration. She had to admit if the circumstances had been different, she would have been proud to call this woman a friend. Never had Lois known anyone who gave herself so selflessly to other people — except perhaps for Clark. It was obvious to Lois that Margarita would do anything for these people. On one occasion, Lois had actually observed Margarita take the shoes off her own feet to give them to an old woman who had no shoes. Margarita had gone around without shoes for the next couple of days herself as a result — until Clark had somehow found another pair for her. How could she possibly measure up to that? For Clark to choose her over Margarita would be like choosing the sinner over the saint.
"You come." Lois heard Dario's voice from the other side of the room and pulled herself out of her thoughts in order to follow.
It wasn't long before Lois began to suspect where they were going. The small alcove she called home lay only a short distance ahead. But why hadn't Dario simply told her that they were going back to her place? She slowed as he waited at the final corner for her to catch up. Once she had, Dario said goodbye and quickly vanished.
Lois turned towards the alcove, not knowing what to expect. Her heart came to a complete halt when she saw Clark standing by the table, flipping absently through her notes. What was he doing here?
"I understand you are planning to leave," said Clark, looking up at her.
Lois simply nodded.
"Well, if you do leave, it's safer to travel after dark. I can take you tonight or, if you still have more work to do, I could always take you tomorrow night."
"You're pla…" Her dry throat cracked on the word. She swallowed and tried again. "You're planning to take me?" she asked.
He nodded. "So, do you want to go tonight? Or should I come back for you tomorrow night?"
"Well…" Lois began slowly. It was obvious he was not at all upset to see her leave. But there was one thing she was determined to do first. "There is one more interview I still need."
"Fine," responded Clark. "Then why don't I come back for…"
"I need an interview with you," Lois interrupted.
"I really don't see…"
"Scared to answer my questions?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
Clark met her eyes and Lois held her breath. She'd thrown down the gauntlet. Now she'd see if he had the nerve to accept her challenge. He seemed to be evaluating the situation from all possible angles. She cocked her head to the side, as if to say that she was suddenly wondering if he had something to hide and could see him begin to crack.
"I've got a few minutes now," he finally said.
A smile twitched at the corner of Lois' mouth for a moment, before she put on her best poker face and gestured him to a chair.
"I do have one condition," he said as he took a seat.
"What?" asked Lois suspiciously.
"For personal reasons, I'd prefer if you didn't use my name."
Lois studied him as she considered his request. From what she'd learned from the others about Clark Kent, he tended to shy away from attention. Besides, a lot of others whom she had interviewed had made the same request — fearing retribution against friends and family if their names were used.
"Agreed," she finally said, opening up her notebook.
"So why don't you start by telling me how an American came to be in the middle of this mess? I mean, you don't have to be here. You could catch a plane home tomorrow if you wanted," Lois began.
Clark was feeling uncomfortable on a number of different levels. First, it was so hard being in the same room with Lois these days. It wasn't that he hated her. In fact, there were moments when he wished he could. It was the almost uncontrollable desire he had whenever she was around to make a complete fool of himself by throwing himself at her feet and begging her to love him. But she was involved with someone else — had been even during the night they'd spent together. But then, deep down he'd known that even at the time. He wasn't exactly sure why she'd slept with him. He hoped that it was because she'd felt the same over- powering electricity between them. But he suspected that it was to get the documents from her jacket.
He gave a sad smile. It didn't really matter why she'd slept with him. She obviously loved another man. Why else would she have his child? The problem was that he couldn't seem to find a way to make his feelings for this woman go away.
In addition to his personal feelings, he was uncomfortable answering questions about himself. He'd spent his entire life trying to avoid the spotlight. Besides, he was afraid that Lois might probe too deeply and find out things that he didn't want anyone to know about him. And if she started to ask too many questions about how he managed to get food or medicines up here or wondered why they kept discovering new caves… he could be in real trouble. But there seemed to be no way out without making her suspicious. So he directed his mind to answering her questions as efficiently as possible — answering the questions without giving any more information than strictly necessary.
Lois laid her pen on the table. Getting information from Clark Kent was roughly equivalent to pulling teeth. Still, she was done — although she was disappointed that she'd had no luck in directing them off course and into more personal matters. She leaned back in her chair and studied him.
"So is that it?" asked Clark.
"Umm… yeah. I think I've got enough information for a whole series of stories about the refugee movement. It's time to get the story out," she said, trying to think of how to bring up what had happened when she had last been in Paramador.
"I'd like to thank you for doing this, Ms. Lane," Clark said. "It seems as if no one is taking an interest in what happens to these people. And we are beginning to run desperately short of food. Anything you could do to bring world attention to these people would be greatly appreciated.
Lois swallowed hard. Why the hell did he have to insist on calling her Ms. Lane?
"No problem," she responded, trying not to let him see how badly his formal address had hurt. "It's my job, after all."
"As long as I'm here, there's something I need to talk to you about," Clark said following an awkward pause.
"Oh?" Lois responded as casually as possible. He was about to do it. Thank God. He was about to bring up the subject of what had happened between them, saving her from finding a way to do so. After all, if there was one thing Lois had never been very good at, it was talking about anything that had to do with the heart.
"Yeah. When you leave here, you're going to need to wear a blindfold," he said.
"What?" gasped Lois.
Clark let out a breath, as if he'd expected her reaction. "There are a lot of lives at stake here, Ms. Lane" he explained. "You're going to be telling the world about us. Either the army or the rebels would love to raid this place for supplies. Or worse, to take all our young men for their army. We can't let you know the way back. That way no one can force it out of you."
Lois was silent for a long time. It went against everything in her to agree to this. But he was right. The work they were doing here was too important to risk anyone discovering where these people were hiding from the bullets.
"Wait a minute," said Lois. "How on Earth am I supposed to climb those hills with a blindfold on? Or are you going to fly me again?" she asked, her mind drifting back to the odd sensation of flight she'd had on the way to the caves.
"What?" gasped Clark, taking Lois by surprise.
"It's nothing. I just…" Her voice trailed off when she saw the shocked, almost scared look that appeared on Clark's face. Why would what she'd said scare him? After all, he knew nothing about the weird hallucination she'd had. Yet he looked absolutely terrified. Why? Was it possible she had been flown here? She couldn't recall hearing any sort of engine. A glider, perhaps? Still, why would her remembering that — if it even was a memory — make Clark so nervous? "Nothing," Lois repeated. "I just had the strangest feeling I was flying when you brought me here." She gave a dismissive laugh. "I guess I really was out of it, huh?"
"I guess so," Clark responded, trying to give what was obviously an imitation of a chuckle himself. But the hollow sound made Lois even more suspicious. He was hiding something. It had to do with flying, obviously. But what?
"Anyway," she continued after a moment, "how do you expect me to walk through these hills with a blindfold on?"
"Well, we've got some donkeys," Clark explained. "We keep them to bring people up here who are injured or to help bring in supplies. I'll guide the donkey while you ride — at least far enough away from the entrance to the caves so that you won't be able to find your way back. So when do you want to go?"
"I guess it doesn't really matter," she responded. It was obvious that she and Clark weren't going to get anything worked out. He was not the least bit interested in even trying. So it didn't really matter from a personal standpoint whether she stayed here or went back to the Imperial Hotel.
"Then how about I come back for you in about an hour?" he asked.
Lois let out a breath of air. "Fine," Lois said. Then she watched Clark nod casually before heading out of the alcove. She stared absently at the last spot she'd seen him, unable to put into words the feelings flowing through her at this moment. Ms. Lane. She shook her head sadly.
There was a part of Clark that wished he'd assigned this particular task to someone else. It was just so hard breathing the same air with her, knowing that she was with another man, was having another man's baby. But after what had happened on her trip here, Clark was not about to trust her safe return to anyone but himself. All he had to do was to remember to keep his distance from her — treat her like he would anyone else he guided to or from these caves.
He silently handed her a blindfold when they arrived at the entrance way to the caves.
Lois nodded slowly as she reached out to take the strip of cloth from Clark. She might understand the rationale behind not being able to find her way back. Still… She really hated this. It might make sense, but it went against everything inside Lois to let someone else determine her destination. She didn't even like being the passenger in a motor vehicle. On the other hand, there were hundreds of lives at stake — mostly women and small children.
"I'm afraid we're going to have to insist on it," said Clark, as if reading her thoughts.
Lois studied his eyes for a moment. Since she'd known him, Clark had saved her life on three occasions. If she could trust anyone, it was him. After a moment, she nodded and raised the blindfold to her eyes. Clark was immediately behind her, tying her blindfold. It was the closest he'd been to her since he had brought her here and she was certainly not unaware of that fact. His body heat seemed to radiate, warming her completely. Her mouth was suddenly dry.
"Here," he said when he had finished. He picked up her hand and placed it through his arm. "Just hold on to me and I'll lead you to your ride, Ms. Lane." The 'Ms. Lane' pulled her back to reality. Everytime he called her that, it was like a slap in the face.
"Don't you think you could call me Lois?" she asked, her voice sounding small even to her own ears.
He didn't answer. Instead, he led her outside and then… She gasped when she found herself in his arms, her heart missing a beat. But rather than the closeness she'd experienced when he'd carried her to his bed, or the safety she'd felt when he'd carried her to the caves, this time she felt awkward in his arms. When he finally set her on the donkey and was able to release her, she could almost feel his relief.
Her mind completely occupied with thoughts of Clark, she was unprepared when the donkey beneath her took a step forward. She gasped as her hands began flailing around her, looking for something, anything, to hold on to. Before she could completely panic, his hands were on her waist, steadying her.
"I'm not sure this is going to work. There's not even a saddle on this thing."
"I won't let you fall," Clark said reassuringly. "Just hold on to me." And with that he placed her hand on what felt like his shoulder. She immediately grasped his shirt and when they started this time, she felt much more stable.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much," she responded before retreating into her thoughts as the donkey again started to move.
Lois wasn't certain of the time. It felt as if hours had passed. Every muscle in her body seemed to ache. Being beaten up by those thugs was certainly not making this mode of transport any easier. She tried to stretch her aching muscles, but it was hard to hold on to Clark and stretch at the same time.
During the ride, she'd attempted on a few occasions to start a conversation with Clark. If only she could get some idle conversation going, maybe things wouldn't be so awkward between them. Maybe she could at least let him know that she wasn't the tramp he undoubtedly thought she was. But he seemed completely uninterested in talking to her.
She wondered why he was even bothering to take her back to the Imperial Hotel — given his obvious, and quite justifiable, hostility towards her. Surely one of a dozen other men could have done it.
Suddenly, the donkey came to a halt. She tilted her head to the side, trying to figure out why they were stopping. She didn't dare ask. Maybe he'd stopped because there was some danger up ahead. She really hated this blindfold!
"I don't think you need the blindfold anymore," he said.
Almost instantly, she removed the hated material from her eyes. She blinked as her eyes struggled to adjust. Once they had, she swung her leg over the side of the donkey in an attempt to get off. She slipped slightly. Clark was there immediately, his arms steadying her. Then, a moment later, he slid her off the donkey.
She slipped to the ground, before looking up into the eyes of the man standing only inches in front of her, her back pressed firmly against the donkey. She expected him to immediately back away and was shocked when he suddenly seemed unable to move. Both stood there for a moment.
"Lois," Clark breathed.
Lois felt her eyes begin to fill up with tears. When a concerned look appeared on his face, she spoke, her voice no more than a whisper.
"You called me 'Lois'."
Whether they stared into each other's eyes for a second or a lifetime, afterwards neither could say. It was as if they were suddenly transported to a place where time didn't exist. Even the noises of the outside world — the wind in the trees, the distant sound of rushing water, the birds — none of that could be heard in this new world. There was only one reality — boy and girl alone, looking into each other's eyes. The electricity between them seemed to pull them slowly together, as if neither were being given any choice in the matter, and Lois began to feel the pounding of blood as it raced through her veins. He was going to kiss her. She watched his eyes drift from her eyes to her lips and pursed her lips together, automatically moistening them in anticipation.
And then, the world seemed to crash in around them. Clark pulled back quickly, clearing his throat.
"Umm…" he began while fumbling through the small bag thrown over the back of the donkey. "I think Margarita said something about sandwiches. Would you like one, Ms. Lane?" He pulled out a bag, opened it and handed her a sandwich, taking a second one for himself.
"Thanks," she said as it sank in what he was doing. Margarita. Of course. There was always Margarita, wasn't there, Lois thought resentfully. She took a bite of the sandwich as Clark began tending to the donkey.
Clark realized that Lois was exhausted when they finally slipped under the fence surrounding the Imperial Hotel and made their way towards her cottage. He suspected it was made worse by the fact that she was not fully healed from the beating she'd been subjected to on her way to the caves. Yet, never once had she complained. When he'd tried slowing down to give her a break, she'd pushed past him with an enquiry about why he was going so slowly.
The remainder of the trip had been made in silence. Clark had been trying so desperately to keep his distance from this woman. He was not unaware how easily he could wind up making a complete and utter fool of himself. That was why he'd insisted on calling her Ms. Lane. He knew she found it offensive, but he didn't know what else he could do.
And it had worked, too, until he'd lowered her from the donkey. How could he have almost kissed her like that? She was involved with someone else. She was having that someone's baby. He could hardly believe he'd almost kissed her.
Now that they were at the Imperial, he probably should just say his goodbyes and leave. He'd left the donkey in a nearby field so that they could slip under the fence. He really should get back before it decided to wander off. Besides, it wasn't as if there was any reason for him to continue to be here. She was safe now. Still, he continued to accompany her as they made their way to the cottage. She opened the door and they were immediately greeted by Marcus whom Clark had met when he'd come to tell him of Lois' injuries after she'd first arrived at the caves.
"Well, I suppose…" began Clark.
"Listen, there's a cot in the closet. If you need a place to stay the night…" said Marcus when he noticed Clark's obvious reluctance to leave.
"I really have to be going," Clark interrupted.
"Before you go…" began Lois.
"Look, Lois," said Clark softly, "I really need to get going. You're fine now. Marcus will see to that. And I'm needed…"
"Please, Clark," Lois interrupted. "Just give me five minutes? It might be our last chance to talk."
Clark stared at her for a moment before shaking his head. It was just too hard being with her. And he was fairly certain he didn't want to hear her say goodbye, to thank him for his help getting the story or something else equally meaningless. It might even provoke him into making a fool of himself. And he'd already done that once before where this woman was concerned. He had his pride, too. "I've really got to go," he said. Then, after a brief nod at Marcus, he headed for the door.
However, almost the instant the door closed behind him, he regretted his decision. She was right. This might be their last chance to talk. Maybe he should take the risk to tell her how he felt. Yes. The more he thought about it, the more determined he was to do it. After all, it wasn't as if he'd have to face her tomorrow if she laughed in his face — which she was very likely to do. All she could do was tell him no. All she could do was tell him he was crazy for thinking her sleeping with him meant anything. At least he wouldn't go to his grave wishing he'd taken the chance.
He raised his hand to knock. However, before his hand could connect, he realized Lois and Marcus were talking. Maybe he shouldn't interrupt. He listened for a minute trying to decide if it would be okay to knock.
"I'm glad you're back," said Marcus, taking a seat beside Lois on the couch. "There've been a few developments."
"What type of developments?" asked Lois.
"Well, maybe we should start with this," he said, handing her yesterday's copy of the Daily Planet.
He gave her a moment to peruse the front page. The headline read: 'ROGUE AGENT BEHIND NIA INVOLVEMENT'. The byline underneath was none other than Claude Gauthier. She could hardly stand the idea that Claude had broken this story. Still, she forced aside her feelings of jealousy to look back at Marcus, waiting for him to continue.
"As you can see, Gauthier is claiming that the NIA involvement was confined to a rogue agent named Sweet Tart. The most incriminating of the documents found were traced back to her; she has bank accounts and assets well in excess of eight figures and she's disappeared. Apparently, there have also been numerous other indications that she's been operating on her own, as well." Marcus took the paper back from Lois and flipped it over to reveal a picture of a very attractive Asian woman on the bottom half of the paper.
Lois grabbed the paper from Marcus in disbelief. "She's the one who tried to kill Claude and me at the docks when we were looking for ship manifests," she informed him as she stared at the picture.
"Oh, that makes things even more intriguing," said Marcus.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, she came by here this evening. About an hour ago. She was looking for you."
Outside the door, Clark froze. He'd intended only to determine if this was a conversation that could be interrupted. But at the mention of the woman who'd tried to kill Lois stopping by this evening, Clark's blood ran cold. What if she'd come back to finish the job? What if she blamed Lois for the exposure of her plot? How could he leave knowing that Lois' life might be in danger?
He closed his eyes and continued to listen in on the conversation.
"Looking for me? What did she say?"
"Well, she told me you two were old friends."
"That's one way to describe it," Lois muttered under her breath.
"What?" asked Marcus.
"Nothing. So she showed up here…?"
"Right. She told me that you two had met at some bar on the corner of Rio de la Loza and San Antonio when you were in Paramador last time."
Lois gave a small gasp. She hadn't realized that the woman who'd held her and Claude hostage in the harbor master's office was the same one who had tried to kill her the night before. She wasn't quite sure why she'd never made the connection.
"She claimed that Gauthier got his facts wrong," Marcus continued. "That she was just following orders."
"And did she say why I was supposed to believe this?" Lois asked skeptically.
"She gave me an envelope," Marcus said, getting up to retrieve a plain brown envelope and handing it to Lois.
She quickly looked inside to see a number of documents.
"She also said to tell you that the reason she's doing this is because Trevanian has made her his patsy. She claims he has a contract out on her life — that's why she disappeared. She claims she's barely avoided being killed a number of times now and she intends to take Trevanian down with her."
"She's claiming Trevanian is behind this?" gasped Lois. "As in the deputy director of the NIA? That Trevanian?"
"That's what I assumed."
"Wow," breathed Lois. Then she glanced back at the copy of the Daily Planet Marcus had handed her earlier. "But then why is Claude so certain the trail ends with Tart?"
Lois contemplated the problem for a minute before asking, "Anything else?"
"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Now, I'm not sure what she meant but she said that as a gesture of good faith, she has some information for you."
"She didn't say. Well, not exactly. She just said that you had been given a tip about some new weapon Chavez might be working on…"
"How did she know that?" Lois asked, wondering briefly if someone had realized that Bud was feeding information to her. She reminded herself to give him a call and warn him that he might have been compromised.
"She didn't say. What she did say was that you'll find what you're looking for in a building complex at the end of San Pablo Row. What?" Marcus asked, when Lois remained silent.
"If she's telling the truth… Marcus, before coming back to Paramador I heard that Chavez was building some sort of nuclear weapon."
"And you think that's what she was referring to?"
"I don't see what else it could be," Lois said. She looked at Marcus for a long moment. "I've got to get down there and check it out," she said, struggling to rise to her feet. But if felt as if every muscle in her body had tightened up on her.
"Tomorrow," Marcus said.
"Tomorrow," Marcus reiterated. "It has kept this long. It will keep 'til tomorrow. And I'll go with you." To her look, he continued, "I'm not about to let Perry tear me apart because I let his protege get herself killed. Besides, this sounds like a good photo op to me."
"Thanks, Marcus," Lois replied. Tomorrow probably was a good idea. It had kept this long. Surely it could last one more day. Besides, it was already the early hours of the morning. And it wasn't as if she was in any shape to do it tonight, anyway. She'd been barely able to stand by the time she and Clark had arrived at the cottage. Clark. She forced her mind away from Clark. He was gone. What she had to do was forget about him and find a way to go on with her life. And that started with… She had to call Bud. "I need to make a phone call tonight, though," Lois said. When Marcus looked as if he was about to object, Lois continued. "One of my sources could be in danger."
Marcus understood immediately. "I'll make the arrangements," he informed her.
She smiled. "Thanks, Marcus," she said, slowly rising to her feet.
"Where are you going?" asked Marcus.
"If I don't have a shower this instant, I'm going to go insane," Lois replied.
"Oh, thank god," Marcus replied. "I was hoping you were going to bathe." He laughed when she gave him a swat in reply. "Seriously, though," he continued once the laughter died, "I'm glad you're back safely."
"Thanks," Lois said, touched by the sincerity in his voice.
Clark was x-raying the building complex in question less than five minutes after he learned that Chavez apparently had some sort of nuclear weapon. It didn't take him long to find what seemed to be a laboratory complex. Clark took a deep breath. That must be it. Under the cover of darkness, he floated over the barbed wire which surrounded the complex.
As he made his way between the buildings, Clark found himself doubting Tart's claim. There was almost no visible security. If they had or were building a nuclear weapon, wouldn't security be tighter? On the other hand, that might be the point. By keeping security to a minimum, Chavez might hope to keep government forces from suspecting what was going on behind these walls.
If only it stayed dark long enough for him to find out if the rumors Lois had heard were true. After all, a nuclear weapon in the hands of someone like Chavez… Clark shuddered. It would make all the work he'd done in this country since the war had started seem insignificant in comparison with the destruction Chavez could inflict in a single strike.
Even if he didn't have the facilities to create a proper nuclear bomb, a dirty bomb, one that contained conventional explosives and some sort of radioactive substance would inflict such a panic on a city already on the verge of collapse that hundreds, if not thousands of lives would undoubtedly be lost. His mind flashed back to the words of Oppenheimer, the man most directly linked to the creation of the bomb: 'I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' Clark had no doubt that Oppenheimer had only the best of intentions. The belief that the Nazis were going to get the bomb first had spurred on many of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Still…
Clark ducked into the shadows when a couple of soldiers made their rounds. The last thing he needed right now was to get caught. Their bullets couldn't hurt him, but it wasn't as if he wanted them to know that.
As soon as the guards were gone, he snuck around the corner of the building he had targeted as the best place to start. It only took him a second to force the lock and sneak inside.
Standing in the large reception area, he lowered his glasses and looked intently at the walls. As he peered into the lab next door, he couldn't see into a small room that was attached to it. That indicated lead which, in turn, indicated radiation. He'd start there.
He darted out of sight when he heard two people approaching. A man and a woman. He barely breathed as they headed past him towards the door he had just come through.
"Santina's going to kill me. I should have been back hours ago," the man said.
"It isn't your fault, Bernardo," said the woman.
"Yeah, I know. But try telling her that. The last time I was this late, she…"
His voice trailed off as his hand landed on the door.
"The door's been forced," he breathed.
Clark tried to make himself invisible while they looked nervously around their environment.
"Come on," said the man, heading quickly back the way they'd come. "We've got to alert security."
Clark breathed a sigh of relief. Now all he had to do was to get in and out before security showed up. He could do that.
He quickly made his way to the door of the lab and forced it open before slipping inside. He had just closed the door when he first felt it. He shook his head slightly. It couldn't be.
Then a wave of dizziness hit him followed by a pain shooting through his head and he knew. There was only one possibility. Kryptonite. He'd had a few encounters with the rock when he was younger. But what was it doing here? He doubled over. He had to get out of here. He had to get out of here now. He dropped to his knees, struggling for breath. He just needed a moment to gather his strength.
When, after a moment, the pain had not abated, he forced himself to his feet and turned back to the door. He was just about to pull on the doorknob when the door opened on its own — knocking him off his feet and further into the room. Everything was a blur. The room was suddenly swarming with soldiers. He grunted when the first foot hit him. It wasn't long before everything went black.
The cold water hitting his face brought conscious thought back to Clark. And with conscious thought came pain. He sputtered for a moment before his memory returned.
Looking up, Clark tried to focus on the man standing before him. His uniform indicated that he was a major in the rebel army and the armband indicated he was in the security division. Taking in his surroundings, Clark realized they hadn't moved him to a different room; he was still in the room with the kryptonite.
"Who are you?" the man demanded in Spanish.
Clark attempted to speak. That was when he tasted it. It was something he'd never tasted before. He tried to raise his hands to his mouth, but discovered that they were tied behind him as he lay on the floor. He struggled for a minute but his hands didn't come free. Still, the taste in his mouth… He spit, and stared in disbelief at the dark red spittle on the floor. Blood. He was bleeding!
He gasped when the major slammed a boot into his stomach.
"Who are you?" the man demanded again.
Clark closed his eyes. Although telling this man his name would probably not give the man any overly useful information, answering that question would lead to more questions. Questions like: 'How did you find out about this place?', 'Does anyone else know?' or even questions that might lead to him giving up information about the refugee movement. No. It was better not to answer any questions at all. He tensed, preparing himself for the next strike.
Clark groaned as he woke. He pulled against the bonds holding his hands behind his back but to no avail. He simply didn't have enough strength to free himself. Kryptonite. If only they would take him to another room… Between the beatings he had endured over the last… who knew how long and the kryptonite… he wasn't sure how much more he could endure. He glanced around him, but his vision was cloudy. He had to find a way out of this room. If he could only get away from the kryptonite… Every moment he stayed here, the weaker he became.
"Well, I see you're awake," said a man's voice.
Clark looked up to see the major who had been interrogating him previously, holding a cane and tapping it against his gloved hand.
"So why don't we try again?" the major asked.
'Why don't we not?' Clark thought in an effort to at least think defiantly.
"What's your name?" the major asked.
Clark closed his eyes as he waited for the blow. He wasn't wrong. The cane landed across his back and Clark fought back the instinctive urge to cry out. He would not give the man the satisfaction.
Clark drifted in and out of consciousness. Finally, knowing that he had to fight this, he forced himself to concentrate. He had to get out of here now. The longer he stayed in this room, the less likely he was to be able to leave — ever. He turned his head, catching sight of the window. It was dark. He wondered if that meant it was still the same night or if it was a different night. He wasn't sure if it had been daytime or not the last time he'd been conscious.
He moved his head and found the place he was resting was sticky. He pushed himself up a few inches and looked at the substance in which he was lying. It almost looked like blood. But whose blood? His? No! That was ridiculous. He didn't bleed. This must be a dream. He closed his eyes and darkness again engulfed him.
The cold water once again revived Clark. Shivering, he forced himself to look at the man who was holding an empty pail. The major. He could hear the major talking, but couldn't seem to concentrate on the words. What did it matter anyway? He knew if he answered a single question, the battle was lost. He almost wished they'd simply kill him. Not that it would be much longer before that happened, anyway — not unless they took him somewhere without kryptonite.
When he didn't answer the major's question — what question he didn't know; he hadn't really been listening — the man raised his cane. A small cry finally escaped Clark's lips when the cane hit him across the nose, breaking it. Almost instantly, he again lost consciousness.
Major Pablo Fuentes looked up when he heard the man on the floor groan. He was confident that it was just a matter of time before the man broke. Everyone had their breaking point, after all. But so far he'd been unable to get as much as a name out of this man. What Fuentes didn't understand was why anyone would resist in the first place? Why go through all that pain when he could opt for a quick and painless death?
In this case, it was important to find out why this man was here, who else might know about this project and, most importantly, what exactly they knew. And so far in his career, Pablo Fuentes had not failed to get information from a source. On the other hand, none of his other victims had put up quite this much fight. Why anyone would endure this torture to support the current government was beyond him.
He saw the man on the floor attempt to roll over. Time to go back to work. He moved his chair closer to his victim and took a seat.
"Why not make this easy on yourself?" Fuentes asked. "This is pointless. Do you really think your superiors care whether you live or die? Chavez is going to win this war. Why not join the winning team? Tell me what you know and I'll find a way to ensure that you're taken care of. And since I will be chief of security in the new government…" There was no response, although this time the man at least appeared to be listening. "I could use a man like you," he continued.
Still, there was no response.
Fuentes rose, making his way to the counter. He filled a glass with water and made his way back to the man on the floor. Kneeling down beside him, he raised him and held the glass of water to his lips. The man's hands shook as they came up to the glass. Grabbing it, he gulped down the water so quickly that it was only a moment later before he was retching some of it back up.
Fuentes made his way back to the chair and again had a seat. "So what do you have to say?" he asked. "You help me and I'll help you."
The man on the floor looked at him for a moment before looking away.
"Have it your way," Fuentes responded, rising from the chair. "I'm not sure how long I can offer you this deal. I have people to answer to. And they're getting impatient." When there was still no answer, he made his way to the door. Opening it, he gestured in a couple of big burly- looking men. He heard the beating begin as he closed the door behind him. He needed a break. Maybe he'd eat the lunch his wife had made for him. He was feeling a little hungry, after all. Maybe once he had a full stomach he'd come up with a new angle, something that would persuade the man to talk. If only he could figure out what was making this man so loyal to a doomed cause…
Clark opened his one good eye. For a man who had never known pain, he was certainly getting a crash course. He didn't hear anyone else in the room. Using all his strength, he raised his head far enough to look around the room. It confirmed his first impression. He was indeed alone.
Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to roll over. He closed his eyes in anguish when he finally got over. He must have a couple of broken ribs.
The doorway was probably being guarded. If only he could get to a window… He knew he couldn't last much longer. He had no doubt that there was kryptonite somewhere in this room — for what reason, he had no idea — unless it was just that he was vulnerable to any form of radiation. After all, other than his few encounters with kryptonite, he'd never knowingly been exposed to any other sources of radiation. No. That couldn't be it. If there was another source of radiation in here, the soldiers or the major would have been affected by it, too.
He sighed as he looked longingly towards the window. So close and yet so far away. If only his hands and feet weren't tied, maybe he could still crawl to it… It was dark outside. He briefly wondered how many days might have gone by. He had been in and out of consciousness so much that he had no real concept of time. Besides, it felt as if this torture had been going on forever.
Lois was suddenly kneeling beside him, running her hand gently through his hair. In spite of everything that had transpired between them, he was glad to have her here. Still, she couldn't stay. He had to send her away before the major came back.
"Lois," he mumbled. "You've got to get out of here." She just smiled at him and continued running her hand through his hair. He closed his eyes and sighed as she crawled into the bed next to him, wrapping her arms around him to warm him as he shivered.
"Come on, Marcus," said Lois impatiently. "This thing has to be able to move faster."
"Listen, Lane," Marcus snapped back, "there's only so fast I can drive when I can't use the blinkin' headlights."
Lois squinted out the front window of the jeep at the road ahead of them. She had to admit that Marcus had a point. It was just so frustrating. When morning had come, Marcus had a doctor at the cottage. He'd examined her wound and forbidden her to go anywhere. He'd actually had the nerve to suggest that she take sick leave to give her stomach wound time to heal properly. Right!
She'd wanted to go to the location Tart had given them as soon as she woke up this morning. But Marcus was right when he'd suggested that it would be smarter to come after dark. So she'd spent the day writing up the first refugee story. When she'd called the story into the Planet, Perry had informed her that the pictures had arrived and that he'd be running one of them with her story. On the front page — above the fold, even! Ahead of the latest developments in Paramador-gate.
When it finally got dark again, she simply told Marcus that she was going to check out the warehouse. He'd argued with her but had finally said if she was going, he was, too. Lois knew this might be reckless, but she kept having this weird feeling that this investigation simply couldn't wait. So here they were, driving a stolen army jeep through the back streets of Paramador City, trying to make it to the address Tart had given them.
"Damn it!" Marcus cursed when the jeep hit a very large bump in the road sending him and Lois into the roof. "Sorry," he said sheepishly.
Lois steadied herself against the dashboard. "Just get us there in one piece, Marcus," she instructed.
"That's what I'm trying to do," he mumbled back under his breath.
Since Lois had arrived in Paramador, she'd never seen Marcus even get ruffled. Now it seemed, every one of the feathers on his back were up.
"Do you have any idea how crazy this is?" he finally asked as he swerved to avoid hitting a pile of rubble in the street.
"What are you talking about?" asked Lois. "If they do have a nuclear weapon…"
"What are we going to do? Steal it?"
"We've got to find out if it's there."
"Then we write the story."
"And then?" Marcus continued to prompt.
"And then…" Lois fell silent. Suppose the rumors were true. Suppose Chavez did have some sort of nuclear weapon. What would they accomplish by finding that out? Who was going to stop him from using it the instant the story ran? "I don't know what then. And you can't expect me to figure it all out at once. Maybe we'll find out Tart was wrong. Then there won't be anything to worry about."
She heard a deep 'humph' come from the seat beside her. Staring silently out the window, she considered Marcus' words. If Chavez did have a nuclear weapon, she was carefully going to consider the alternatives. This time she was going to think through all the possible consequences before running the story. Her mind flashed back to the comics she'd read as a kid. Wonder Woman was her personal favorite. If only there really were people like that in the world. She sighed. This wasn't Gotham City. And there was no Batman. She would just have to figure this out for herself — with Marcus' help, of course.
She glanced across at his silhouette. He was a good man. As a photographer, his presence was not required on this investigation. He was here simply because he refused to let her do this without backup. She reached across and gave his arm a squeeze.
"Watch it there," his voice came in response. "I might be forced to get the wrong idea."
Lois laughed and the tension in the air immediately lessened.
The remainder of the trip was made in silence as Marcus continued to maneuver the jeep through the dark. In the distance, explosions could be heard, marking the continuation of the war. Through the front window, Lois could see the red sky and occasional flames marking the fires in the city — a sight which couldn't be seen from the Imperial Hotel. The jeep jolted with each new explosion as the ground below them shook. Lois made sure her seat belt was secure as they continued closer to the fighting. All it would take was one stray bomb… She shuddered. What was a pregnant woman doing bringing her child into this? Then her mind shifted. Right now there were countless pregnant women and young mothers hiding beneath the city, hoping to save both themselves and their children.
And with sudden clarity, what Clark was trying to do settled home with Lois. This war wasn't about strategies and advantages. It wasn't about who would gain the upper hand and come out victorious. It was about people. Real, living, breathing people. People who took no sides and had no choices. With all the advancements of the human race, including the splitting of the atom, why was it that mankind couldn't find a way to stop slaughtering each other?
That was why she was here. If Chavez had the bomb, they had to stop him from using it. It was really as simple as that. Each life was precious. Each life was worth the effort to save. Her mind drifted back to Wonder Woman. If only there were a hero who could understand the value of human life — a hero who could introduce a degree of sanity into this insane world — a hero who cared as much about people as someone like Clark. The big story in America was the congressional hearings into the NIA's involvement in arms shipments, while here people were fighting for their lives. How had things got so turned around?
She shook her head. In journalism school, they had been warned to keep from getting personally involved with their stories. But so far she'd been in on two major stories — the one that started the civil war in Paramador and the refugee story. And both times she'd found herself getting personally involved. And now, as she thought about her current investigation, she knew she was already personally involved with the outcome of this story.
"I think we go on from here by foot," said Marcus, interrupting Lois' thoughts, as he pulled the jeep to the side of the road.
"I'm so glad you're here, Lois," Clark murmured to the woman holding him. "I was so afraid I'd never see you again."
"So you American," a man's voice said in heavily accented English. "Maybe that's problem. Maybe you not understanding my questions?"
Clark blinked. He was still lying on the floor, Lois having suddenly vanished. The only person present was the major.
"So who's Lois? Your wife? Or your mistress, perhaps? I can make you to see her again."
Clark closed his eyes. How much longer could this go on? He wished he could just go back to his hallucination. He thought about Lois. How could he be so completely in love with a woman he'd known for such a short period of time — a woman who had hurt him terribly? His mind drifted back to their night together — when she'd cried in his arms after they'd made love. She'd felt it, too. There was no other way to explain the tears. He'd begged her to tell him what was wrong. He'd given her every opportunity, so why hadn't she done so? And why did he still dream about her almost every time he closed his eyes.
"If you don't answer the questions," continued the major, "we will find this Lois and she will be made to regret your silence."
Clark gritted his teeth. If they didn't know his name, they couldn't fulfil their threat. He just had to keep his mouth shut. Otherwise… He didn't give much more than a grunt when the foot plunged into his stomach this time. It was just too much effort. Maybe this would all be over soon.
No one even knew where he was so rescue was unlikely. Lois didn't know that he'd overheard her conversation with Marcus. Margarita wouldn't miss him immediately. After all, he had told her that he was going to meet up with another refugee group trying to escape the city. Given that such efforts had been known to take as much as a couple of days, she wouldn't be expecting him back any time soon. When she did find out he'd vanished, he hoped Margarita wouldn't waste their very meager resources trying to find him. Those resources could be used much more profitably. Food was becoming very expensive.
"Pass the potatoes, Mom," he muttered, as he set the roast beef platter on the table.
Lois and Marcus crouched behind a pile of rubble and looked at the front entrance to the compound. The entire complex was surrounded by an electrified fence, leaving the front entrance as the only real option for getting inside. Security was light, but how were they supposed to distract the security guard? As Lois was puzzling over this dilemma, Marcus leaned over and spoke.
"How much time do you need?" he asked.
"I don't know," Lois responded, not certain what he was getting at. "This looks like a fairly big complex and since I don't have the first idea about where to look… It could take most of the night."
"I can provide a distraction," he said. "You get in there. Find out what's going on." He handed her a flashlight. "Once you're ready to come out again, flash this light a few times from…" He looked towards the front entrance before allowing his gaze to drift along the fence. "I'll wait right here. So if you flash the light a few times from over there…" He pointed towards a spot beside one of the buildings. "It looks fairly protected."
"Don't you think the guard will find it suspicious if there are two 'diversion' type activities in one night?"
Marcus flashed her a smile. "Trust me," he said, giving her a wink. Without waiting for a reply, he got up and walked into full view of the front gate.
Lois reached out to grab him — what did he think he was doing anyway? — but couldn't get a hand on him without exposing herself, too. She bit her lower lip as she watched him head directly towards the guard's hut. At least there was only one guard. And it appeared that the guard… Lois gasped when it sank in what he was doing. Had he lost his mind? This was never going to work.
Reseda was a fifty-ish woman, slightly overweight with short brown hair. She hated the uniform she had to wear since the war had started. But these days, it seemed as if everyone wore uniforms.
She had been uncertain whether or not she should continue working here once the war started. But her husband had died a number of years ago and her children were grown. She needed the job. And other than the number of military individuals that came and went, the war had pretty much left this place alone. She knew the facility did scientific work, but she wasn't entirely certain what type of work. It had been explained to her once, but most of it seemed to go right over her head.
She glanced at the monitors when she spotted an attractive man walking towards the guard's hut. Her hand reached under the counter and landed on a gun. Making sure she had a good grip on it as he came towards the window, her other hand rested on the emergency button which would have security swarming around this place within a minute if necessary.
As she waited for him to approach, she found herself wishing that she'd pushed her glasses up on her nose and straightened her hair before occupying both her hands.
"Can I help you?" she asked when he stopped at the window. He smiled. It was a devastating smile causing her to want involuntarily to trust the man.
"I sure hope so," the man replied in flawless Spanish. "I'm Marcus Kashur. And you are…?"
"Reseda," she responded cautiously.
Again he smiled and Reseda felt a small tug on her heart. She wondered briefly if he knew how powerful his smile was. It should be registered as a lethal weapon. She almost smiled when that thought flitted through her mind.
"That's a beautiful name," Marcus said softly. "Doesn't it stand for a fragrant blossom?"
"I don't know," she responded, not entirely sure how to react to the battle between her head's suspicion and her heart's desire to trust.
"What do you want?" she asked, forcing herself to sound abrupt. She regretted her harsh tone almost instantly when a hurt look flickered in his eyes.
Looking a little lost, he stuttered adorably before saying, "My car broke down about a mile from here. I'm wondering if you know of any mechanics. I've walked past a number of service stations. But with the war and everything, all of them were closed."
"What were you doing driving?" she asked still trying to decide if he could be trusted — and hoping almost desperately that he could.
"I'm a photographer with the Daily Planet," he said, handing her his press pass and gesturing to the camera around his neck to prove his claim. "I was trying to get closer to the war… I know, I know. It was stupid. But I'm getting older and I'm thinking this might be my last chance to get the defining pictures of a war. You know, like the photograph of the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima during the second world war." He shook his head slightly. "Anyway… well, now I'm trapped down here without my car and with no way to get back to the hotel where they're putting the journalists up."
He gave her a helpless, little boy smile, and she felt a flutter ripple through her stomach.
"I'm afraid I don't know where you could find a mechanic," she said, trying to get her mind back on her job.
Lois cautiously slipped from behind the rubble. She really wasn't sure about this plan. But what other option was there? Still, she was almost in awe when she realized exactly how captivated the woman in the guard's hut was with the man in front of her. Her initial impression of Marcus as a lady's man was confirmed at that moment. She was glad that he'd never turned that devastating charm on her. She wondered how much of it was her age and how much of it was that Perry would undoubtedly tear him apart with his bare hands if he made a pass at her. Not that it would matter. She was in love with Clark and even if he never returned her feelings, she knew her feelings wouldn't change.
She pushed those thoughts out of her mind in order to concentrate on her task. She was now inside. It was just a matter of finding what they were looking for. There was only one small problem — she didn't have a clue how she was going to know if she found it. She doubted that she was going to find a bomb with 'nuclear weapon' printed on the side.
She snuck into the shadows and surveyed the complex, wondering where to start.
Clark wasn't sure whether or not to believe his eyes when he saw someone pushing up a window in order to crawl through. He was even less sure when he realized who it was.
"Clark," Lois gasped.
He tried to smile at her but knew he wasn't entirely successful by the look of near panic she gave him in response. He wanted to tell her it was okay, but didn't have the strength. She stood there for no more than a moment, looking around. She must have decided it was safe to approach because she was soon making her way towards him.
"Agg," she gasped before she had taken more than a couple quick steps. She grasped her stomach and doubled over before collapsing to her knees in pain. The realization that Lois was hurt instantly cleared Clark's fuzzy mind.
"Lois!" he exclaimed, pulling on the bonds on his hands with every bit of energy he still had left. But the ropes held.
"Oh, god," Lois panted, clutching her stomach even as her head dropped.
"Lois, what's wrong? Please, talk to me."
He watched as she closed her eyes, in obvious pain. Suddenly it hit him. The baby. There was something wrong with the baby. He began to struggle again. What could be wrong with the baby? Almost instantly, the pieces snapped into place and Clark knew what the problem was.
"Lois, listen to me," he said, a forced calm in his voice. When she still didn't look up, he raised his voice. "Lois!"
She finally raised her head, looking at him through pain clouded eyes.
"Get out!" he said when he finally had her attention.
"But I have to…"
"Radiation!" he interrupted. "The baby."
Suddenly, a look of fear came across her face and she began to scamper backwards towards the window.
"Go!" Clark said. "Please, don't worry about me. Just get the baby out of here."
She hesitated and he could tell she didn't want to listen.
"Please, Lois," Clark begged. "You've got to get out of here now."
She began looking around in desperation from her position near the window, obviously looking for a solution. He bit his lip, trying to find the words he needed to persuade her to leave. Regardless of what she'd told him, he knew at this moment beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was carrying his child. He knew that as certainly as he knew he loved her. That was why she was reacting to the kryptonite. And that, more than any other reason, was why she had to go now.
"I can't leave you here," she said, even as a tear found a path down her cheek.
"You have to. Lois, listen to me. That's my baby you're carrying. It's my choice. I want you to save my child."
Lois looked at him in stunned silence. He wished he could explain. He wanted to explain, but there wasn't time.
"Trust me, Lois. Just go," he finally said. "Tell my parents about the baby. They'll explain everything." At least his parents could make sure that she knew what she needed to know. "Just let him know I loved him. I would have been there for him if I could." The last words were barely a whisper.
With all his energy expended, he collapsed back onto the floor. "Just go," he muttered, once again closing his eyes.
When Lois had first looked into the room, she'd noticed the man lying beaten on the floor. For a moment, she wondered about the wisdom of helping him, but she couldn't just leave that poor man there. It wasn't until she was inside the room that she recognized his clothes as the ones Clark had been wearing when she'd last seen him. And suddenly she knew who it was. The amount of blood caking his beard, the number of bruises he had sustained left him almost unrecognizable. But it was definitely Clark.
When the first wave of pain hit, Lois' initial thought had been that the knife wound had again opened up. But this pain was different. It was almost as if she could hear a tiny voice in her mind, screaming in agony. That was when Clark mentioned the baby — and the radiation.
She'd backed up as far as the window and, although there was still some pain, it was less than when she had been close to Clark. With an abatement of the pain, she had a moment to think. There had to be a way to save Clark. She supposed she could sneak out, get Marcus and maybe together they could come up with a plan. But looking at Clark, she wasn't certain he would last that long. It was then that Clark made the claim that this was his child. Lois wasn't at all certain how he was making these leaps of logic, but there wasn't time to worry about it.
She rose to her knees and scanned the room with her eyes. There had to be a way to save the man she loved without losing the child growing within her. She gasped when she spotted the solution. There were three lead lined vests hanging on pegs, obviously for work on radioactive substances.
She forced herself to her feet and, staying as close to the wall as she could, she headed for the vests. When she was about eight feet from them, the pain was again almost unbearable. Closing her eyes, she gathered all her internal strength. Then, taking a deep breath, she dashed the remaining distance, grabbed a vest and pulled it on, doing it up as fast as her trembling fingers would allow. Although her initial impression was that it was a vest, it covered her more like a short dress. And the instant she had it on, the pain was gone.
She gave herself a moment to appreciate the lack of pain before grabbing a second vest and making her way over to Clark. She briefly wondered why she no longer seemed to be having any reaction to the radiation in this room. After all, her head was still uncovered. Her arms were still exposed. Surely if Clark was right about the radiation, it should still affect her — shouldn't it? Still, there wasn't time to analyze it all now. She had to get Clark out before someone decided to come in here.
It seemed to take forever to get his ropes unbound and then all her energy to get the vest on him. Whereas he'd been animated, almost energetic while pleading with her to leave, saving his own life was almost too much for him. He kept muttering 'go' as she got him free.
Feeling much better now, she began struggling to get him to his feet. But he was heavy — much heavier than she had anticipated.
"Clark," she finally said in desperation, "I'm not leaving here without you. And I can't carry you, so you're going to have to help me or we die together. So does the baby."
That seemed to finally reach him, breaking through his pain and fatigue. He struggled to his feet. Once he was standing, she pulled one of his arms around her shoulder and put her arm around his waist, providing him with some support as they began making their way towards the window. Her legs almost gave out beneath her when he stumbled slightly, leaning heavily against her. But then he seemed to regain his balance and she let out a sigh of relief. After a moment, they continued their trip towards the window.
Clark leaned against the wall as Lois checked outside to be certain no one was around. Once she was satisfied, she turned back to Clark, wondering if he had enough strength to crawl out the window — and wondering what she would do if he couldn't.
Almost as if he anticipated her concern, Clark reached forward, grasping the window pane. Pulling himself over, he leaned outside. Lois gasped when, rather than attempting to climb out the window, he simply leaned over until gravity took over, pulling him out the window to collapse on the ground outside. Still, there was no time now to worry about his method of exit. It was only a second or two later before she was outside on the ground beside him. She quickly dispensed with her vest and was relieved when she felt no pain. It only took her a moment to pull Clark's vest off as well.
They had just managed to stumble to their feet and Lois had gotten Clark's arm back around her shoulders when there was a distinctive 'click' behind them.
"Don't move," said a man's voice in Spanish.
Both Lois and Clark turned very slowly towards the voice only to confirm their worst fears. A soldier was standing there, holding a gun on them.
Clark was glad that the debilitating pain was gone. But without his powers and with the constant beatings he had taken, he knew he was no challenge for a man with a gun — heck, for a man without a gun. In fact, he doubted that at this moment he could take Lois on. Still, he attempted to pull Lois behind him. But without her cooperation, he simply didn't have the strength. He was still trying to think of an alternative when Lois began to talk.
"Look," said Lois in Spanish, a low note of intensity in her voice, "you don't want to do this."
"I don't?" asked the soldier in response.
"We're reporters. If you turn us in, you know as well as we do that they will kill us. Do you really want to be party to that?" When he didn't flinch, she continued. "If you kill reporters, you'll have the entire press corps covering this place. People know we are here. They'll come looking for us."
The soldier's expression didn't change and Clark realized that Lois' pleas weren't making any impact.
"Come on," begged Lois. "Can't you just pretend you haven't seen us."
Just then all three people heard noises coming from inside the room from which Lois and Clark had just escaped.
"They're going to be out here any moment," Lois informed the soldier. "You've got to make a decision now."
"Come!" the soldier said, gesturing with his gun where he wanted them to go. "Now," he added when they didn't move, holding his gun much more threateningly.
"It was a good try," whispered Clark, as they did the only thing they could do — following the soldier's instructions, heading towards a building across the way. "When they question you," Clark continued just loud enough for Lois to hear, "tell them who you are. You can play that press card with this guy's superiors. They'll check it out and find out it's true. Just don't let them take you back into that building. The baby can't go back in there. And you can't tell them why. That is unless I can create a distraction for you to get away. And if I do, you have to take it."
"What?" asked Lois. Suddenly she understood at least part of his meaning. "I'm not leaving you behind," she hissed.
There wasn't time for Clark to respond because they had arrived at a door to a building.
"In!" the soldier barked.
They opened the door and Clark stumbled as they entered. Lois reached out and steadied him as they backed into the deserted building. The soldier closed the door behind them.
"Look, we can give you money," began Lois, hoping once again to convince this soldier not to turn them in.
"Shhh," responded the soldier. "They'll hear."
Lois and Clark's eyes met, both realizing that the other was having similar thoughts. Suddenly, outside there was the sound of rushing feet and noisy voices yelling in Spanish. All three occupants of the deserted building remained absolutely silent. They held their breath when they heard someone outside the door. A moment later, there was the sound of someone trying to open it. Three people let out identical breaths of relief when the person on the other side must have decided that if a locked door was keeping him out, it was keeping their escaped prisoner out, too.
"Why…" Lois started.
"Come," the soldier interrupted, before making his way past them and leading them further into the building. Once they had arrived at the doorway to a room that looked as if it had once been a supply closet, the soldier gestured them inside.
"Oh, god," Lois breathed when she smelled the rancid odor in the room and looked around the filthy environment. There were open cans of… who knew what. Rotting bed sheets, musty uniforms, broken furniture and a decaying mattress. The room was lit only by reflected light.
"In," the soldier said, giving his 'prisoners' a small push. When they were inside the confined space, the soldier lowered his gun. It took a moment for the eyes of all three occupants to adjust to the dim lighting. Once they had, Lois and Clark looked at the soldier expectantly.
"You'll never be able to get out now," the soldier said, switching to English and surprising his 'prisoners.' "You'll have to stay here until things calm down. I'll be back for you when it's safe," the soldier concluded, turning back towards the door.
"Wait," said Lois, relieved to be able to speak English. "Why are you doing this?"
The soldier looked at her for a moment before deciding to ignore the question and turning back to the door.
"Just a second," said Clark, speaking his first words to the soldier as he collapsed back onto the mattress. The soldier looked at him. "You've got to tell us something. How do we know that we can trust you?"
The soldier looked between the two of them before nodding.
"I'm not a soldier," he began. To Lois' raised eyebrows, he continued. "I mean, not really. I was picked up by the rebel army near the beginning of the war. I tried to resist. But…" His voice trailed off.
"But…?" prompted Lois.
"I made the mistake of letting them know about my fiancee. They apparently found her and told me that if I didn't do as they said…" Once again his voice trailed off.
This time, neither Lois or Clark needed clarification. In fact, Clark understood completely. After all, they'd tried to do that with him. He briefly wondered exactly how much he would give up to protect Lois. He just hoped he'd never have to find out.
"So if you do get out of here alive… Please, don't say anything about me."
"We won't," Lois immediately assured him.
He went to reach for the door, before turning back again.
"You're really a reporter?" he asked, looking at Lois. When Lois nodded, he continued. "Then I need to tell you something. I need you to make sure the world finds out what's going on here."
"What's going on here?" she asked, her reporter's instincts once again kicking into full gear. "Does Chavez have the bomb?"
The soldier shook his head.
"But…" Lois began. Something here didn't make sense. She knew, from personal experience, that Chavez had some sort of radioactive substance. So even if he didn't have a nuclear bomb, per se, he could still construct a dirty bomb. "But he has a radioactive substance," she said. She noticed in her peripheral vision that Clark was trying to give her some sort of signal. But she didn't understand the message.
"You're right. I don't know exactly what it is," said the soldier. "But apparently it came from some small town in Kansas, America. The thing is, it doesn't affect people."
"But I…" Lois began. This time, she felt a foot hit the back of her lower leg and her voice trailed off when she looked over at Clark. He had a near panicky expression on his face. She wasn't sure what he was saying, except that he didn't want her to tell the soldier what had happened to her when she entered the lab. But why?
"But," the soldier said, "Chavez doesn't want anyone to know the substance won't hurt people. The war is going badly for Chavez. He can probably only hold out for another couple of weeks with his current supply of weapons. So he's planning to let the information leak that he has a nuclear device. He's hoping to use the fear he can provoke to his advantage. And if anyone examined that lab with a Geiger Counter, they'd find enough evidence of radiation to back up his claim. I think he's hoping to intimidate the government into surrendering."
A noise in the room startled all the occupants. They relaxed, sort of, when it became apparent that it was just a rat.
"I've got to go," said the soldier. "Before someone notices I'm missing."
"Wait," said Lois. "What's your name? I won't use it in the story. I'd just like to know who we owe our lives to."
The soldier smiled. "Dominguez," he replied.
"Well, thank you, Dominguez. I'm Lois and this is Clark. We…"
"Dominguez?" asked Clark, suddenly being struck by a wild thought. "Dominguez Rodriguez?"
"Yeah," said the soldier cautiously. "How did you know?"
"Margarita," Clark responded.
"Margarita?" Lois whispered, trying to figure out what Clark obviously knew that she didn't. Could this be Margarita's brother. But Rodriquez was not Margarita's last name.
"What do you know about Margarita?" Dominguez demanded, a definite desperate quality in his voice.
"She's hiding out in the countryside with a group of refugees. And she talks about nothing but how she can't wait to marry you," Clark said.
Lois gasped, even as Dominguez collapsed back against the wall.
"She's safe," Dominguez breathed.
"Come with us," said Clark. "When you come back for us, come with us. I'll take you to her."
Dominguez didn't respond verbally, but the look on his face, the relief, was more than enough answer.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said. Just as he was about to leave, he turned back again, handing Lois his canteen.
Lois stared at the door as it closed behind Dominguez. She felt as if she were on information overload. She had so many pieces of information, but still hadn't had time to put them together. Margarita couldn't wait to marry Dominguez? But what about Clark? Was she just using Clark? But Clark seemed to know all about Dominguez and didn't seem upset at finding him. And what had all that stuff been about Chavez not having a radioactive substance that hurt humans? And why had Clark stopped her from correcting Dominguez's impression that it couldn't hurt humans? And was there any connection between finding it in a small town in Kansas and Clark? And why was Clark so convinced that this was his child?
She turned towards Clark, wanting all the answers now. But then she saw him, collapsed back on the mattress, arm raised over his head, his eyes closed. She saw the blood on his shirt and pants and caking his beard and suddenly all her questions could wait. Opening the canteen Dominguez had given her, she made her way over to him.
She rebelled internally about getting anywhere near the filthy mattress. But her concern for Clark overcame her revulsion. She crawled onto the mattress, sitting beside him, facing him.
"Clark," she said softly. When he opened his eyes, she handed him the canteen and then helped him sit up to take a drink. He raised the canteen and began to gulp the water. "Whoa," she said, grabbing the canteen from him. "Slowly," she said before handing him the canteen again. This time he took only a small sip and swallowed before repeating the procedure.
When he handed the canteen back to her, sinking back down onto the mattress, she opened her jacket and tore a small piece of the lining out. She poured a small amount of water on the lining before putting the cap back on the canteen. Then, very slowly, very gently, she began running the moist, cool cloth over his face.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Sore," he responded without opening his eyes..
"Yeah, well, that's understandable. You got beat up pretty badly," Lois responded.
He smiled, and she realized that he recognized his own words to her not that long ago.
There was a moment of silence before Lois spoke again. "You're going to be okay, though. Aren't you?" Her voice trembled at the end.
She watched Clark bite his lower lip and waited in tense silence for some sort of response.
"I just wish there was some way I could get some sun," he said.
"What?" asked Lois, completely confused by his answer.
He opened his eyes and looked at her. "We've got to talk," he said. "But first… Lois, my nose." One of his hands came up to his face and tentatively touched his nose.
"I need you to do something for me." He struggled into a seated position. "I need you to straighten it."
"What?" gasped Lois. "No. I can't…"
He reached out and took her hands in his, causing her to fall silent. Looking into her eyes, he said, "Please. It hurts like the dickens. Since this war started I've fixed a few noses. All you need to do is place a hand on either side and snap it back into place."
"Please," he said again, looking at her in desperation.
She closed her eyes before nodding. She could do this. He needed her to do this. She moved to straddle him so that she could be sure to have the best possible angle before raising her hands to his face.
"You can do it, Lois," he said softly when he saw her hesitate.
She let out a breath and swallowed hard. "This is going to hurt," she said.
"Tell me something I don't know," he responded.
She smiled at his effort to lighten the mood. With his guidance, she gently moved her hands into position and then…
"Aaaaa," gasped Clark as his nose snapped back into place.
"Are you okay?" Lois asked immediately. She watched in horror as blood poured from Clark's nose. Not seeing anything else around that could be used to stanch the bleeding, she began searching, first the pockets of her jacket and then his. It wasn't until she reached into his inside jacket pocket that she found material. She withdrew it. There were two pieces of material. Recognizing the white piece as a hanky, she handed it to him. He immediately raised the material to his nose, laying his head back and keeping his eyes closed.
She watched him for a moment, wishing she could take the pain away, before glancing down at the other piece of material in her hand. She was about to put it back in his pocket when she realized what she was holding. A bra. Why would he have a… Her thought trailed off and she glanced back at the man on the bed. Why would he have kept this?
Suddenly, afraid that he might open his eyes and realize what she'd found, she stuck the material she was holding back in his jacket pocket and forced her mind away from her discovery.
"Are you okay?" she asked, turning her attention to more important matters.
Although he didn't open his eyes, she was relieved when he nodded.
She moved off the mattress and sat down on the floor, pulling her legs up and wrapping her arms around them — finally allowing herself to think about what she'd found. She wanted desperately to believe that he'd kept that because he still thought fondly about their night together. But she suspected it was more likely that it was a war memento — like a person who'd been shot keeping the bullet that almost killed them. It was probably a reminder of what not to do.
It was quite some time later before Clark again opened his eyes, or at least the eye that still fully opened. He seemed slightly disoriented when he didn't immediately see her.
"I'm over here, Clark," she said softly.
He gave her a half smile and she found herself wishing she had the nerve to go to him. Then her breath caught in her throat, when he crawled off the mattress and sat down with his back against the wall, facing her.
"Thanks," he said when he got comfortable.
She crinkled her eyebrows as she looked at him. What on Earth was he thanking her for?
"For saving my life," he clarified. "I couldn't have lasted much longer in there, Lois. The kryptonite… It would have killed me if you hadn't got me out of there."
"Kryptonite?" she asked.
"Lois, there's something you really need to know." Clark fell silent as he struggled for words. He'd never told anyone this before. But she needed to know — and she needed to know now. If they did get caught again, she had to know that she couldn't allow them to take her back into that room. If they did, it was more than obvious to him that the baby wouldn't survive.
And for his own survival… Without sunlight, Clark wasn't entirely certain he'd be all right. He hadn't said anything to Lois, but the pain in his chest was making it difficult for him to breath. And if he was barely conscious when they left here, she needed to know not to call a doctor, but instead to get him into the sun.
Finally, if he had to, he intended to sacrifice his own life so that Lois and his child could live. And if that happened, she had to know about him. She had to know that this child was probably not going to be exactly… normal. At least, the baby's reaction to the kryptonite indicated that he or she had some of Clark's genes. And if that was the case in one area, it was reasonable to assume some of Clark's other special abilities would be passed on as well.
But how was he going to tell her that he was actually an alien from another planet? She was going to think he'd lost his mind. It wasn't even as if he could prove it — having lost his powers.
"What is it, Clark?" she finally asked when he remained silent.
"Before I tell you, I need to ask you something."
"Do you trust me?"
"Clark, you've saved my life three times. How could I not trust you?"
"Because what I'm going to tell you is going to make you think I've lost my mind." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "And you're going to have to simply take what I say at face value because right now I can't prove any of it."
"Clark, what is it?" Lois asked.
"Now I know that you're a reporter and this would be big news, but if you tell anyone it will ruin, not only my life, but our child's…"
"I promise, Clark. I know you don't have any reason to trust me. But I promise you I'm not going to do anything to hurt either of you — no matter how big a story it is," Lois responded.
Clark nodded slowly. "Do you remember telling me that you had the distinct feeling that you were flying when I brought you to the caves?"
She nodded and he could see her mind beginning to work. He'd got the impression that she'd been suspicious when he'd tried to brush off her comments. And from the look on her face, he realized he had been right. She had known that he was hiding something.
"And the cut on your cheek?" he asked. When she looked slightly confused, he continued. "Do you remember when you first looked at it?"
"Yes…" And he watched her struggle to understand what he was getting at. "It looked horrible. You said it was just the blood."
"And when I took care of it, what did you feel?"
She struggled to think back. "Heat," she finally said. "When you were treating it, I felt heat."
"And the cut on your arm," he said, gesturing to the almost healed scar on her arm. She glanced at it even as she remembered the strange heat she'd felt when he'd looked at it.
"Clark, what are you getting at?"
He took a deep breath. "Just hear me out, okay," he began. "I've never told anyone this before and you're going to find it hard to believe, especially since I can't prove any of this right now because of being exposed to kryptonite."
"The radiation source that makes you think that I'm carrying your child?"
Clark nodded. "Lois, the flying sensation you felt was because you were flying," he said, not looking at her. "Lois, I can fly under my own power." He took a quick glance at her. She was simply staring at him. "The heat you felt on your skin when I tended to the cut on your face and then the cut on your arm was from me using what I call heat vision. It's like a laser beam I can shoot out of my eyes. I used it to cauterize your cut. That's why both healed so quickly. I didn't use it on the knife wound because I was concerned that there might be some internal injuries that the doctor would have to attend to. But I took care of the cut on your arm before flying you to the caves.
"You asked a lot of questions during your interview of me about how I managed to get enough food up to the caves to feed everyone. Well, I'm strong. I'm fast. And I can fly. Getting the food to the caves isn't the hard part — finding any food to buy, now that's the hard part."
"How… how is this possible?" asked Lois.
Clark took a deep breath. "That's the interesting part. Lois, I wasn't exactly born on this earth."
Marcus' breath caught in his throat when he noticed the dramatic increase in soldiers swarming around the front entrance to the compound. Something had happened. The question was, what? If Lois had been caught, why would additional security be out front? Unless, she'd been spotted and not apprehended. If that had happened, she was going to be desperate to get out of there. And he'd have to be ready for anything. After all, it wasn't as if he could exactly distract all those soldiers with simply his charm. He needed an idea.
His eyes scanned the area he'd suggested Lois signal him from. It still looked as if she could signal him from there. The only question was what he would do then.
"So you're actually an alien from this Kryptos…" began Lois after Clark finished his story.
"Krypton," Clark corrected.
"And you were sent to Earth by your parents when your planet was destroyed."
"And you were raised on Earth by…"
"Martha and Jonathan Kent."
"And this Kryptonium…"
"Hurts you and…" Her hand went to her stomach. "…this child because it's some sort of poison that followed in the wake of your space ship when it landed on Earth."
Lois studied the man sitting across from her. She had indeed heard every word correctly. Exactly how gullible did he think… Okay, so there was the feeling she'd had of flying. But she'd been really out of it at the time. And he had done a remarkable job on the cut on her jaw line and… She glanced down at the undeniably well-healed cut on her arm. If she recalled correctly, it had been bleeding horribly when she'd first seen him. And there was no denying that it was much further along in the healing process than the knife wound. Still… Suddenly, another question she'd often asked herself since her last time in Paramador occurred to her.
"How did you know that I was in trouble that day in the harbor master's office?" she asked.
He let out a breath. "I heard your heartbeat the moment you came to the docks. I knew you were in trouble because I heard your heartbeat speed up."
She fell silent again as she evaluated this new information. It was just so hard to believe what she was being told. She looked across at Clark. He'd started this by asking if she trusted him. And her response had been completely automatic. The first time they'd met, Lois hadn't trusted him, and look at all the pain and heartache that had been caused by that decision. But this…
On the other hand, Dominguez had told them that the radioactive substance they had at this facility did not hurt humans. And yet it had definitely hurt her. No. Actually, that wasn't exactly true. When she'd put the lead vest on, protecting the baby, she hadn't felt any negative effects at all from the radiation.
"Do you believe me?" he finally asked.
"I'm trying, Clark. I really am. But you have to admit it's a little…"
"That's one way to put it." She closed her eyes and thought for a moment before saying, "Can I reserve judgment?" she asked.
Clark snorted, sounding almost amused. "Yeah," he said softly. "Just trust me about two things for now. One, you can't go back in that room. No matter what you have to do, don't let them take you in the room with the kryptonite."
Lois nodded. Her experience with that room made that an easy promise to make. "And two?" she asked.
"Don't let anyone take me to a doctor. I'm not sure exactly how similar my biology is to Earth humans. Besides, what I really need in order to heal is sunlight."
"That's a hard one, Clark," she responded. After all, how could she be expected to just stand by if he got worse?
"Please, Lois. For me. And the baby? If people found out that you're having my baby… Lois, I'm scared about what they might do to our baby."
She looked down at her hands. She could tell how important this was to him. And he didn't seem delusional. After a long moment of consideration, she nodded. Almost instantly, he seemed to relax. He closed his eyes and within minutes, his breathing slowed, soon shifting into the regular pattern of sleep.
Lois, on the other hand, couldn't have slept if she wanted to. Her mind was moving at the speed of light, trying to evaluate all the new information she'd received.
By the time the sun began coming up, Marcus was starting to feel a little desperate. They hadn't discussed what he should do if she didn't come out in the morning. So he really was on his own here. He cursed himself for not thinking that they might need a back-up plan. He suspected Lois wouldn't be coming out in the daylight. But he couldn't say that for certain.
He was still trying to think about what to do when he spotted Reseda leaving the compound. When he'd been talking to her last night, he'd gotten the distinct impression that she was a good woman. He needed to find out what was going on in that compound. She could tell him that. Still… He waited until she was well away from the front of the compound before sneaking out from his hiding place and following her.
"Reseda," he called, when he thought he was far enough away to avoid attracting the attention of the soldiers.
She turned and looked at him. It seemed to take her a moment to recognize him. He immediately began jogging to catch up to her.
"You shouldn't be walking home alone," he rebuked. "The streets aren't safe these days."
"I only live a short distance. Besides, how do I know you aren't one of the people making them unsafe?"
"Well, maybe I am," he responded with a twinkle in his eye. "But…" His voice trailed off and he became much more serious. He'd always been good at judging people and since it was fairly obvious that Lois' presence in the compound had been discovered, even if she hadn't been detained, he figured it was only his life he was endangering by trusting her. "…I need your help," he concluded.
"What do you need?"
"Reseda, are you aware that they are apparently building a nuclear weapon in that factory?" he asked.
"What?" gasped Reseda.
"I don't know for sure if it's true, but no matter which side you're on in this war, you must realize how devastating it would be for people on both sides if a nuclear weapon was used in such a small battlefield."
Reseda nodded slowly. "Who exactly are you?" she asked.
"I told you. I'm a photographer for the Daily Planet. My partner heard the rumors and so we came here to check it out."
"Reseda, what's going on inside the complex?" he asked.
She studied him for a long moment before grabbing his arm and quickly leading him down the block to a small basement flat. She waited until they were both inside before speaking.
"It seems there is a trespasser. At least that's what I was told. I don't think they've apprehended him."
"Her," Marcus corrected.
"Her?" Reseda asked. "Well, I guess you'd know. But I thought it was a man they were looking for."
"Her," Marcus repeated. "I might need your help. Will you help me?"
Reseda studied him for a long time, obviously evaluating everything she'd been told, before nodding. She was rewarded by an absolutely devastating smile from the man before her.
Lois hadn't noticed the small window high in the wall until sunlight began streaming into the room. It was only then that it occurred to her that the window must have been the reason they had been able to see each other and Dominguez while in here last night. But then it had been the reflected light of the compound. This was undiluted sunlight.
During the course of the night, Lois had become increasingly concerned about Clark. His breathing was becoming more and more labored. She wished there were something she could do to help him. She wished that Dominguez would return. But all she'd been able to do was to sit and pray that he would make it through the night.
She'd also worried about Marcus. He was probably going crazy wondering where she was. She wished she'd thought to tell Dominguez to get a message to him. But there was nothing she could do about that either. It wasn't a position she liked to be in — trusting someone else with her safety. But then again, there wasn't much she could do about it.
There were a few advantages, however, to having a few hours to think. Her first realization was that somehow she'd gotten her signals crossed about Clark's relationship with Margarita.
Of course, that didn't necessarily mean anything for her and Clark. But it did give her reason to hope. At least, it would if both she and Clark made it out of here. She suspected he wasn't being completely honest with her about his injuries. And that scared her.
A small stream of sunlight was hitting the floor beside her. She moved over to take advantage of its warmth in order to break the chill of the night when she thought of Clark's comments about the sun. She still was entirely unsure what to make of what he'd told her. But if he were telling the truth. She rose to her feet, taking a moment to straighten her aching muscles.
"Clark," she whispered, kneeling down beside him.
"Hmmm," came Clark's reply as he slowly cracked open both eyes as far as the bruising would allow.
"Clark, there's sunlight," she said.
That seemed to finally wake him. If it had been a struggle for her to move after a night on the floor, it was even more of a struggle for both of them to get him into the small stream of sunlight. Once that was accomplished, Lois began to rise, intending to move over to where Clark had previously been sitting.
"No, stay," said Clark softly.
She sank back down to the floor beside him.
"How you doing?" she asked.
"Enjoying the sunlight," he responded.
They sat in silence for a moment before, without opening his eyes, Clark spoke again.
"Lois, why did you lie to me about the baby?" he asked.
Lois bit on her lower lip as she struggled to find a response. "I didn't exactly lie to you, Clark," she said. She still had her doubts that this was his child. She supposed that would depend on whether Clark was telling the truth about who he was and the effects of kryptonite. And that was something with which she was still struggling. Oh, she knew that Clark wasn't lying to her. But maybe the beatings and lack of food were making him delusional.
"But…?" Clark asked, forcing her mind back to his question.
"I'm not exactly sure how to say this," she said in all honesty as she studied her hands. There was no way to tell him this without sounding like a tramp. "I don't know if this is your child," she whispered.
"This is my child, Lois," Clark said, his absolute conviction coming through on every word.
She let out a slow breath. "I know you believe that, but even I…" She emphasized the word. "…don't know if this is your child. It could be, but… Please, just let me say this," she said when he looked as if he was about to interrupt. "I've only been with two men in my life," she began. "You and Claude."
"The man you're involved with," Clark said.
"Was," Lois corrected. He looked confused so she continued. "I sort of lied about that. I haven't been with Claude since you and I…" She looked down again. "I just couldn't stand the thought of him touching me after you…" Her voice trailed off and she began nibbling on her lower lip. She hadn't meant to tell him quite that much.
"Why didn't you tell me all this when I asked about the baby's paternity?" he asked.
"I didn't think you'd want the complication of being a father — given the way you obviously feel about me."
"How I feel about you?"
"Not that I blame you," she rushed to continue. "I mean, what I did to you… I'm so sorry, Clark," she concluded on a whisper.
There was a moment of silence. Lois didn't dare look at Clark. She didn't really expect any reaction. She finally looked up when he began to speak.
"Lois, I think you're working under a misconception here." Each word was said slowly, deliberately. "Do you remember what I told you after we made love?" he asked.
She struggled to remember. Suddenly, her eyes widened. But he couldn't possibly by referring to that! Could he? She couldn't even bring herself to suggest that he was referring to his claim that he was falling in love with her, afraid that he would laugh in her face. He must be referring to his pleas with her to tell her what was wrong.
"I told you then that I was falling in love with you," said Clark, causing her to pull in a sharp breath.
"But that was before…"
"Before you broke my heart," he concluded. "But, Lois, none of that has changed how I feel about you. Not that I didn't hate you, or at least want to, at times. But…" He shook his head. "Lois, that night… You're the only woman I've ever been with. The only one I ever really wanted to be with."
Lois felt completely stunned. It went against everything she believed about human nature to believe that such love could even exist, that a person could continue to love in the face of such hurt. "Clark, about what happened between us," she began. She owed him an explanation. He needed to know that her sleeping with him was not part of her plot to get the information she had. "I didn't sleep with you to get…"
His fingers fell across her lips, causing her to fall silent.
"It's okay," he said. "You don't owe me an explanation. I just need to know one thing." He took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Do you think there's any chance for us? I want to be part of our child's life. But I want to be part of your life, too."
She let out a breath. "Clark, you aren't the only one who fell in love the night we were together," she said.
"Are you saying…" His voice trailed off.
"I'm saying I'm in love with you, too. I knew that at the time."
"But then why…?"
"I didn't sleep with you to get the information, Clark. I already had it. I just couldn't seem to make myself leave afterwards. And then when we… I don't know what happened. I've never done anything like that before."
"Then why didn't you tell me who you were and what you were doing when I asked what was wrong?"
"I couldn't. I just couldn't be certain you weren't involved. I couldn't risk it." She intently studied her hands for a moment before whispering, "I'm sorry."
His hand was suddenly on her cheek, the pad of his thumb gently sweeping across it, brushing away a tear that had slipped down it. She finally met his eyes and then pulled in a breath at the simple love in his eyes. And suddenly none of her remaining questions mattered — including why he'd avoided her since she'd come to Paramador. He began leaning towards her and she knew what was coming. In spite of his beaten up face, the unromantic surroundings, and her aching muscles, this moment was as idealist as any she'd ever before experienced. The man she loved, the man she thought would never love her, had forgiven her. And never before had she known such a natural high. He paused just before his lips touched hers, drawing out the anticipation. She felt her mouth go dry. He gave a small smile and…
They jumped apart when the door to the room opened. Since Lois' back was to the door, she spun around, her mind immediately running a million different scenarios, none of them good.
"Dominguez," Lois gasped in relief when she saw the man in the doorway.
Dominguez looked at the two people inside the old storage room. It was fairly obvious he'd just interrupted something. Still, this wasn't lovers' lane. He stepped inside and closed the door. He watched in amusement as the two occupants moved further apart.
"I wanted to let you know that security is still scanning the area, looking for you," he said to Clark.
"So when do we leave? It's only a matter of time before they think to check in here," said Lois.
"Not until it gets dark," Dominguez interrupted. "I'm sorry," he continued in response to their looks of disappointment. "I just don't think I can get you out until it gets dark. And I'm still not sure how I'm going to do that. What I do know is that if you go out there now, you are dead."
"There is someone who might be able to help," said Lois. "Can you leave the compound?"
Dominguez nodded. "I also came to tell you that I'm going off duty. I'll be back again tonight. So getting off the base isn't a problem."
"Then why have you stayed?" Clark asked.
"Margarita," Dominguez responded. "The first time I got off the base, I tried to find her. When I couldn't, I became convinced that they had her. Given the security here, a lot of men's families are being held hostage. I couldn't risk Margarita's life."
Clark nodded slowly. He understood that.
"So getting off the base isn't a problem?" Lois said, getting the conversation back on track.
"When I came here, the Daily Planet photographer was with me. He's probably going crazy wondering what happened to me."
"Where exactly is he?"
Lois used her finger to draw a map in the dirt on the floor to show Dominguez where Marcus should be hiding.
"I brought you some things to get you through the day," Dominguez said, handing Lois a backpack. "And might I suggest that you find a way to barricade the door until this evening — just in case."
"Good idea," Lois responded.
Dominque backed up to the door again and, placing his hand on the doorknob, said, "I'm glad that you're looking better."
"Thanks," Clark responded.
Lois glanced over at Clark and realized, for the first time, that he did look a lot better than he had last night. She saw the stream of sunlight falling across him and wondered if maybe…
"I'll see you tonight," said Dominguez before exiting the room.
"Well," said Lois, "let's see what we have here." She took the backpack and set it on the floor in front of her before opening it. She was almost glad that Dominguez had come in when he had. She and Clark had come so far in the last few hours. And she knew full well exactly how attracted she was to Clark. But last time, they'd jumped in without checking the water level. She was almost desperate not to let that happen again.
Inside the backpack, there was food and water as well as a first aid kit. Then Lois noticed something which she hadn't expected.
"Take a look at this," she said, withdrawing a folder with a number of documents in it.
"What?" asked Clark.
"He's given me… well, us, a number of documents about Chavez's activities and intentions here." She passed the documents over to Clark.
"You know, with these, I think we can stop him," said Clark as he flipped through the papers. He handed half of the documents back to her. "I take it you read Spanish," he said. When she nodded, he continued. "Well, since we have some time here, why don't we see what we can find out?"
Lois smiled. "Good idea," she responded. There was something about the idea of sharing her love of work with the man she loved that was incredibly appealing. Besides, the man sitting beside her was certainly smart enough. It might be fun working together. "But he's brought us some food, too," Lois continued. "What do you say we have something to eat first?"
"What!" exclaimed Chavez. "How did you let this happen?"
"We have the entire compound locked down," Major Pablo Fuentes informed him. "We'll find him."
"You're damn right you will! Did you at least find out who he is?"
"All I know is that he's an American and that he was talking about someone named Lois."
"An American? Could he be working for the NIA?"
"Does he know that we don't have the bomb?" asked Chavez.
"I don't know. I don't think so, but I can't be sure."
"You find him. I'm going to see what I can find out from the NIA."
When Pablo walked out, Chavez picked up the phone. He was just about to dial when he noticed the by-line on his copy of the Daily Planet. Lois? Lois Lane? Was it possible…?
He set down the phone. When he'd first put his plan in motion to overthrow the current government of Paramador, he'd begun looking into the possibility of obtaining a nuclear bomb. Getting the experts needed had been no problem. Getting the majority of the equipment needed was no problem. The problem had been getting a radioactive substance.
When he'd been contacted by a soil specialist in Kansas, he'd been thrilled. He'd paid almost a million dollars for that green rock. When he'd discovered that he'd been ripped off, he'd had the man who'd sold him the rock killed. He'd been about to simply throw the rock away. But then his chief scientist had come up with the idea of using the threat of a nuclear weapon. It was a brilliant idea. But it would only work if the press didn't find out the truth. That meant if the woman this man had mentioned was Lois Lane of the Daily Planet, they had a problem.
Marcus was getting stiff in his hiding place, but he didn't dare move. He'd managed to bury himself in the pile of rubbish that had made up the barrier he and Lois had hidden behind when they'd first arrived. And Reseda had managed to get the jeep from where he'd left it the night before. But his entire plan was dependant on Lois managing to get to their prearranged location.
He watched through a small slit in the rubbish as a soldier left the compound. At least the activity in front of the complex was still active — indicating that Lois hadn't been found. Breathing a sigh of relief, he watched the soldier head in the opposite direction. He thought he was well hidden, but it was still best if no one looked too closely.
"Marcus?" came the whispered voice of a man behind him.
Marcus jumped, giving away his position.
"It's okay," a soldier quickly informed him. "I've spoken to Lois. She told me where to find you."
"She's okay?" His words were as much statement as question. "Oh thank god," Marcus breathed in relief when the soldier nodded. "So where is she?"
"Safe for now. But I don't think I can get them out of there until tonight. At least, I'm hoping things will have calmed down enough by then."
"Oh, didn't you know? She's with a man. I think his name's Clark… something or other. I'm not sure I ever heard his last name. Apparently, they had caught Clark in the facility the other day. He suddenly disappeared. I found Lois trying to sneak him out."
Marcus was having some difficulties following all this. But he suspected Clark Kent must have somehow found out about the rumor that there was a nuclear weapon at this compound and had decided to check it out on his own.
"Listen, are you going to be able to speak to them?" Marcus asked.
"Yes. I'll be going back in again this evening. Why? Do you have an idea?"
"Yes. I do," Marcus replied.
Clark rose from where he'd been seated on the floor and stretched. He'd found that by constantly changing positions, he'd been able to stay in the sun most of the day. And he was beginning to feel much better. Even his hearing was beginning to return. That was usually the first sign. He lowered his glasses and tried looking through the wall. He sighed. Nothing.
Since the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky, he suspected it would be another day before he got all of his powers back and his injuries healed completely. Unfortunately, that meant waiting for Dominguez to return since he couldn't use his powers to get Lois out of the compound.
Of course, Lois had also noticed how quickly he seemed to be healing. And had actually suggested they use the supplies from the first aid kit to keep his healing process from being too obvious to Dominguez.
He glanced at Lois who was still reading through papers. It had been fun working with her today. He suspected she was beginning to believe his bizarre claim that he was an alien. At least, the bandages had been her idea and so far she'd not mentioned men in white coats coming to take him away. Still, it was a lot to ask of anyone. He was looking forward to the return of his powers so that he could show her that her faith in him had not been misplaced.
Lois growled as she struggled with a paragraph. Between some of the heavy scientific terminology and the Spanish, he knew this was difficult reading for her. Still, amongst the dry scientific information were also a number of memos where Chavez outlined his plan. Clark shook his head slightly. How was it that men like Chavez could not only come up with a horrific plan, but actually have the chutzpah to commit it to writing?
Clark heard a noise outside the room and once again wished his x-ray vision was working.
"Clark, I'm wondering…"
"Shhh," said Clark, turning back to the door. He could hear Lois rise to her feet and realized that she was also now hearing the commotion outside the storage room. She stepped up beside him as someone tried the door. The man cursed and then made some comment about the door being stuck.
Clark examined the pile of rubbish they'd managed to use as a barricade, hoping it would discourage these men in the same way it had discouraged other men today. By not locking the door, but instead putting stuff in the way of it being opened, Lois and Clark had hoped to make the men on the other side think that it had been blocked naturally and leave it alone.
Then Clark heard more voices. He listened for a moment and realized that there were at least half a dozen men on the other side of that door and that they had apparently decided this was one of the last places they could look for their escaped prisoner.
Lois stepped closer to the door, and Clark could hear her increased heart rate as she, too, seemed to realize the situation. This time, the men were planning to come into this room — even if they had to knock down the door to do it. Both Lois and Clark began looking desperately around the room, but the only things behind which they could have hid were now acting as a barricade.
Suddenly, Clark had an idea. It might not work, but what was the alternative? He wrapped an arm around Lois' waist from behind, clamping a hand over her mouth to stop a startled 'yelp' and, closing his eyes, tried to…
Yes! Although he doubted he could fly yet, he knew that floating, like superhearing, was one of the first powers that tended to come back after exposure to kryptonite.
He quickly floated them to the ceiling, Lois lying on top of him, her face only an inch or two from the ceiling.
"Don't panic. Don't make a sound," he whispered into her ear. He felt her give a nod and slowly slipped his hand off her mouth.
Lois wasn't entirely certain what was going on. It had all happened so fast. Still, she wondered why Clark expected that the men wouldn't see them standing tightly against the wall. Still, making any objection would just draw attention. She heard crashing sounds and realized that the men were making progress in their effort to enter. Closing her eyes, she tried to become invisible.
Suddenly, something didn't seem quite right. Gravity. There was something wrong with gravity. It felt as if it was pulling her against Clark instead of against her feet. She opened her eyes and looked slowly down.
A sharp breath, followed by a hand again over her mouth were the only indications that she had figured out that they weren't standing against the wall.
"Just lie still," came Clark's breathed words right next to her ear.
She closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart even as Clark's hand again left her mouth. Maybe they were lying on top of something — a cupboard, perhaps. No. They'd used everything for the barricade. Okay, so maybe it was… Her thought trailed off when the sounds below her indicated that the men were now inside the storage room. Suddenly, she didn't care where they were nearly as much as she cared about whether they were adequately hidden. She held her breath until the men left the room, closing the door behind them.
"What's holding me up?" Lois asked when the room was again quiet.
"I am," Clark responded.
Lois closed her eyes. "Then what's holding you up?" she asked, her voice trembling. When he didn't immediately respond, she glanced over her shoulder and saw the floor beneath them. "That's what I thought. Oh, god. Oh, god," she gasped, clawing uselessly at the ceiling as if she expected that, just like the cartoons, now that she realized she was floating, she would fall.
"Lois," Clark responded as he floated them back to the floor.
"Oh, god," Lois kept repeating, her breathing quickly taking on a hyper quality.
"Lois!" Clark said again as he set them both on their feet. However, when he removed his hands, she began to collapse. He quickly reached out again, catching her and slowly lowering her until she was sitting on the floor.
"I mean," began Lois, almost as if she didn't realize Clark was there, "I knew what you said. I even sort of believed you, but… Oh, god."
"Lois, it's okay," Clark said.
"Okay. Okay? Right. Right? It's okay. Oh, god. You… we were floating. That's not possible. That's…" She looked over at Clark, studying him as if seeing him for the first time. "You…" Her voice once again trailed off as she sought desperately to put what she'd just seen into the context of what she'd been taught all her life about the laws of nature — gravity, in particular. "Oh, god," she said again.
Suddenly, Clark chuckled.
"What?" she asked, seeing nothing at all amusing about the situation.
"It's just that if you call me 'god' one more time, I might be tempted to believe it. But, Lois, I make no such claim."
It took her a moment to realize what he'd said. The humor pulled her out of her state of shock. "Wow!" she finally breathed as the enormity of this discovery finally sank in.
Chavez leaned back in his chair and smiled. His source inside the press corps had informed him that Lois Lane and the Daily Planet photographer, Marcus Kashur, had disappeared from the Imperial Hotel in a stolen army jeep. It seemed as if Chavez now knew the identity of the culprits. Marcus had obviously snuck onto the compound and been caught. He supposed that made sense — even if Lois Lane was apparently the reporter. After all, a woman wouldn't have the nerve to sneak into the compound. It was simply too dangerous.
Well, if they didn't manage to locate Marcus Kashur and Lois Lane at the compound, they could deal with them once they arrived back at their hotel — before they could report the story, of course.
He wondered if he should find out exactly what they knew first. But then he rejected the idea. It wouldn't particularly matter what they knew when they were dead. If they didn't know anything worth killing them for, well, that was their bad luck. Besides, Lois Lane was one of the reporters who'd broken the story of his arms shipments. Trevanian had told him to leave Claude Gauthier alone. But Lois Lane… Chavez was going to enjoy dealing with that little whistle blower. The only question was whether to have his men simply kill her when she got back to the hotel, or if he should have her brought here so that he could do it himself.
Clark glanced over at Lois who, once again, looked away. He sighed. For the past hour, since they'd hid on the ceiling, she'd seemed as if she were trying not to watch him — as if she were still trying to fit this new set of realities into her former opinion of how the universe worked. Her 'trying not to watch' was interspersed with questions. Each question was carefully phrased, as if she were afraid of offending him.
He wouldn't have minded the questions, except that he couldn't tell what she was thinking. Now that she knew that he was an alien, was she feeling uncomfortable about having been intimate with him? Was she glad they hadn't kissed earlier? And what about the baby? Did all this change her opinion about the baby?
He rebuked himself. He knew having kept this secret to himself for so long had left him slightly insecure. He had to be careful not to overreact and let his own securities color the way he interpreted her actions, words and looks.
"This is all just so hard to process," Lois said, as if reading his thoughts.
"I understand," Clark assured her.
"Can you float anytime you want?" she asked.
He smiled. "Normally. Although I'm not sure I can do it again right now. I'm still pretty weak as a result of the kryptonite. I sort of used up all my strength on my last stunt. I really need to get out in the sun before trying it again."
Lois looked as if she were about to respond, but before she could, they heard noises once again on the other side of the door.
"It's Dominguez," said Clark.
"How do you know?" Lois asked.
"He's muttering under his breath about how filthy it is in here."
Lois crinkled her eyebrows. He immediately understood and pointed to his ear to tell her how he was able to hear Dominguez. But before he could respond verbally, Dominguez was at the door. Clark jumped up and moved some things to allow him entrance.
"You're still here," said Dominguez in relief.
"Yeah," said Clark. "So how do we make it so that we're not here anymore?"
Dominguez chuckled. "Well, we do have a plan."
"Great!" Lois exclaimed. "So what is it?"
Dominguez looked around the storage room until he saw what he was looking for. He tossed the items to Lois and Clark before saying, "Put these on."
Lois raised the musty material of the old uniform to her nose. "You've got to be kidding," she said. Then, to the looks the two men gave her in response, she rolled her eyes. "Okay, okay," she said. "But…" She raised her eyebrows, her eyes drifting between Clark and Dominguez. "Do you mind?" she asked. Suddenly, they both seemed to realize what she was waiting for and turned around to give her some privacy.
Lois wasn't entirely sure of this plan as the three of them approached the front gate. They might be wearing uniforms, but if anyone thought that they were soldiers… After all, the uniforms they were wearing were wrinkled and smelly. They had been unable to hide the fact that Clark had been beaten up. Both of them were thoroughly filthy. And if questioned, they had no identification.
The idea might have had merit if there had been only a single security guard. But with the number of soldiers lingering around the front gate now…
"This is never going to work," breathed Lois.
"Just trust me," Dominguez responded.
Before Lois could reply, she realized one of the soldiers had noticed their approach. If they turned around now, it would seem even more suspicious. Taking a deep breath, she continued with her companions towards the front gate. She could tell that somehow Clark had sensed her fear by the way he moved slightly closer and began watching their environment just a little more carefully.
One of the soldiers began approaching. He stopped at the sound of a woman's voice calling to the three strangers from the guards' shed.
"Where have you three been?" she asked. "I've been expecting you for the past half hour."
"Sorry about that," Dominguez responded. "We got delayed."
The soldier who had been approaching glanced between them and the guard. He seemed slightly conflicted and Lois held her breath, hoping he'd decide not to check their credentials. This was one situation she could not try to talk her way out of. After all, if she opened her mouth, her accent would give her away. It briefly crossed her mind to wonder if Clark had an accent.
She looked directly in front of her, not making eye contact with the soldier. When they'd finally passed the soldier without being stopped, she let out a breath. It was only a moment before they arrived at the gate.
"Well, you better get going," said the guard, clicking the gate open.
Clark maneuvered them in such a way that she was the first person through the revolving gate, followed by Dominguez. Clark was just about to step into the gate when a voice could be heard behind them.
"Hold it!" a man's voice exclaimed.
Lois felt a little push behind her, indicating that they should keep moving. But the knowledge that Clark was still inside forced her feet to a stop. Maybe they could still bluff their way out of this, but if she ran, Clark wouldn't stand a chance.
Although, she didn't move forward, she couldn't bring herself to turn around either. She kept hoping beyond hope that she'd hear the gate clicking, telling her that Clark was coming through.
"What's the problem?" asked a woman's voice, and Lois realized that the guard had come out of her hut and was speaking to the approaching soldier.
"No one gets out of here today without showing identification," said the soldier.
Lois finally worked up the nerve to look back only to discover that, not only was the soldier approaching, but all his comrades seemed to be as well. Now what were they supposed to do? Maybe they could…
A loud explosion just outside the gate caused her to spin around.
"Run," the guard yelled.
Lois watched Clark push the woman through the gate before jumping it himself and all four people were suddenly running. She didn't dare even glance back as she heard the first shot ring out behind her. Suddenly, a jeep swerved in front of her. She was about to change direction in an effort to avoid the new threat when the door swung open.
"Get in!" Marcus yelled and Lois dove inside the vehicle. Scampering quickly, she got as far in as she could as three other people threw themselves in behind her.
"Go!" Clark yelled when he was only half way in. By the time the door was closed, they were already on their way.
The small band of rebel soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, crouched in the shadows outside the cottage being rented by the Daily Planet. The phone call had finally come informing them that the target was on its way. After the stress of hiding, it was a relief to know that the time had finally come.
"So what's the plan?" asked one of the men in a whisper.
"We wait until they're all inside the cottage," their captain began. "That way they won't have anywhere to run when we attack. According to intelligence, there are four or five of them in total. This all has to be done with military efficiency. Because soldiers around the hotel will show up the instant the first shot is fired. Once we're done, we slip under the gate as quickly as possible. Under no circumstances can anyone know that we're with the rebels. We want the blame for this placed squarely on the government. Does everyone understand?"
One after another, they nodded.
It was a very quiet group of five that made their way towards the Imperial Hotel in the darkened jeep. Reseda had climbed into the seat beside Marcus and Lois had to smile at the small looks passing between them. It seemed to her that maybe Marcus had finally met his match. It was hard to believe that someone could succumb that quickly — at least it was until she glanced over at Clark who was seated on her right. His eyes were closed and his head was resting on the back of the seat.
On the other side of her, Dominguez was staring silently ahead, lost in thought. She glanced back at Clark. His thigh was brushing lightly against hers. He shifted slightly. The back of his hand brushed against her arm and a flutter began in her stomach.
Almost as if he sensed her feelings, he opened his eyes and looked at her. She broke eye contract suddenly feeling inexplicably shy. Her gaze was redirected to her hand when he reached into her lap, entangling his fingers with hers. She shifted slightly closer when he brought her hand into his lap. As she cuddled against his shoulder while he played with her hand, everything suddenly seemed right with the world. She marveled at the unfamiliar sensation. Closing her eyes, she allowed the tension to drain from her body.
The small gutter-rat burrowed deeper in the mud when he saw the moving shadows. Staying flat on his belly, he slithered slowly, cautiously closer. It took a good fifteen minutes for him to get close enough to see that the men in the shadows had guns. But these men weren't soldiers. It was also obvious that they weren't just waiting here for the fun of it. No. These men had a purpose. He watched them, trying to discern that purpose. They were watching Senorita Lois' cottage closely. Having found the reason for these men's presence, he slowly slunk backwards into the night.
The men in the shadows tensed when they saw an army jeep heading towards the cottage. The captain began gesturing them to move into position.
"Well, what have we here?" asked a voice behind them.
The captain spun around, looking into the eyes of an army major. It didn't take long for him to realize that the major wasn't alone. There were a couple of dozen soldiers, all with their guns at the ready. The rebel soldiers had been so preoccupied with what was in front of them that they'd forgotten to watch their flanks. One by one the rebel soldiers laid down their arms and raised their hands.
After taking a shower, Lois wrapped her robe around her as she sank down into a chair on the back porch of the cottage. When they'd arrived, Dario had been there — Margarita wanting him to find out if Lois knew where Clark was. Lois was stunned that Chavez had somehow made the connection between Clark's disappearance and her — unless, of course, the action had been revenge for her breaking this story in the first place. Either way, she was exceedingly glad that Dario had reported the presence of armed combatants to the soldiers stationed at the Imperial Hotel. Otherwise, it would undoubtedly have been a blood- bath.
Dominguez had been anxious to be reunited with Margarita. And, although both Marcus and Reseda had hated it, it was dangerous for Reseda to stay here, too. So both Dominguez and Reseda had gone with Dario who was, even at this moment, leading them to the caves. As soon as they left, Marcus had gone to the main hotel to try to explain about the jeep. He expected a lecture, although with the story they'd gotten about the rebels, he had no doubt they'd be forgiven.
Clark, however, had been completely exhausted. Once they'd gotten back to the cottage, she'd discovered that he'd been winged by a bullet during their escape. It hadn't done more than caused a nasty cut on his arm, but with the other injuries he'd suffered, he hadn't been in any shape to hike through the mountains tonight. So he was planning to sleep on a cot in the common room.
Lois let out a long, slow breath. She still had a story to write tonight. She really should get at it. The problem was that she was a little distracted. Everything was… undefined between her and Clark. And although they'd made significant progress in straightening things out between them and he'd told her that he wanted to be part of both her and the baby's life, things were still so new, so… scary. She'd already lost her heart to this man, and everything she'd learned about him during her time at the caves had told her that he was a good man. But what she'd realized during the floating incident in the storage room was that there was still so much she didn't know about him. And although there was certainly part of her that wanted to drag him into her room and stake her claim, a part of her told her to be smart about this.
She heard some noise behind her and looked at the doorway to the cottage. She smiled when she saw a cleaned up Clark Kent standing there.
"Hi," she said softly.
"Hi," he responded. "Do you mind if I join you?"
She gestured to a chair. He took a seat and they sat in silence for some time, as if neither were quite sure what to say to each other.
"Thanks for letting me stay tonight," he finally said.
"You're welcome," she responded.
There was another period of silence. Lois could hardly stand the awkwardness that suddenly seemed to exist between them.
"It was quite a day," she commented in an effort to break the silence.
"Quite a couple of days," he corrected.
She nodded more enthusiastically than the words required as she desperately sought for something else to say to him.
"I have a story to write tonight," she continued. "It's important that people find out that Chavez doesn't have a nuclear weapon so that he can't use the threat of a nuclear attack to further his cause. The panic that could cause…"
"I agree," Clark said. Then he glanced at Lois. "Can I help?" he asked. When she crinkled her eyebrows, he continued. "I took journalism in college. And I have worked for a few newspapers — including my hometown paper." To her almost amused expression, he spoke again. "I know the Smallville Gazette isn't anything like the Daily Planet, but… Well, I've always wanted to be a journalist. I just find it hard to stay in one place so I've never had the chance to build up a reputation."
"Why?" Lois asked.
"Well, I have a little bit of a problem not helping out when I can. And I'm scared of anyone finding out that I'm not exactly normal. Everytime I move to a new place, I tell myself that this time, I'm not going to do anything to make people suspicious of me. But then someone gets in trouble and…" His voice trailed off.
"You can't stop yourself from helping. 'This is a job for Clark Kent,'" she added jestingly.
When he shrugged sheepishly, she reached over and gently squeezed his arm.
"It's just so frustrating, you know," he continued. "I could do so much more to help these people if I didn't always have to hide what I can do. But if people found out that I'm from another planet, I wouldn't have a life anymore. I'm not talking about deciding who should win this war. I don't think that's my place to say. But maybe I could save more people. Maybe I could stop the unnecessary slaughter by both sides. Maybe I could get more people out of the city. But I can't…"
Lois fell silent as she considered what he was saying. He did have a point. If people found out that he was from another planet, his life would be over. And what did that mean for them, for their child?
"Wonder Woman!" she exclaimed after a moment.
"What?" asked Clark.
"Wonder Woman! That's it!"
"Clark, when I was a kid, my hero was Wonder Woman. I was down at the corner store every week when the new shipment of comics came in."
"And?" Clark asked.
"It's so obvious. I mean, you probably can't do everything that Wonder Woman can, but… She had a secret identity. That way she could have a normal life and still do all these remarkable things. You could do that. If you had a splashy costume that people wouldn't associate with Clark Kent, you could wear it to help out and then disappear again into your secret identity, Clark Kent."
"Wait a minute!" said Clark. "I've seen Wonder Woman's costume. It's… It's almost not there. You aren't suggesting I wear a speedo or something, are you?"
"Well…" Lois' voice trailed off as she looked down Clark's body. "No! Of course, not!" Lois exclaimed when she saw the look Clark gave her in response. Although the image of Clark in a speedo was not exactly unappealing. "I'm sure you could come up with something you're comfortable with. As long as it's splashy and recognizable."
"You know," said Clark thoughtfully. "My mother sews. I could probably ask her to make me something. I'm sure she wouldn't make anything too revealing."
"Well, there you have it!" said Lois excitedly.
There was a moment of silence before Lois spoke again.
"Although, it's too bad you can't do everything Wonder Woman can. I mean, if you could…"
"What can she do?" asked Clark.
"I know you said you can fly. But Wonder Woman can fly at supersonic speeds."
"I can fly at supersonic speeds," Clark responded.
Lois' eyebrows went up.
"Lois, I can be anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes."
"Well," Lois continued, when she finally came to terms with that fact, "she has these silver bracelets. And she can move fast enough to deflect bullets with her bracelets. And when she crosses the bracelets, they create a small energy shield around her so that she can deflect large projectiles."
"What?" she demanded. "You don't have silver bracelets, do you?"
Clark shook his head. "On the other hand, I can move fast enough to catch bullets in my hands or I can let them bounce off my chest."
"Do you have a magic lasso of truth?" demanded Lois.
"No. What does that do?"
"Well, when she lassos someone, they have to tell the absolute truth."
"Now that would be handy," said Clark.
"It would be, wouldn't it? In fact, if you did have one of those, I'd be tempted to steal it from you. I could use that in my job."
Clark chuckled. "Although I do like the idea of standing for truth."
Lois smiled. "That's one of the things you need to think about — what you stand for. After all, when you appear, you are going to be big news. Undoubtedly, the press will be clamoring all over themselves for an interview."
"And I suppose you intend to be one of them," said Clark on a chuckle.
Lois crinkled her eyebrows at him, not entirely sure how to interpret that. She had just assumed he'd give her the first interview. But given how her ambition had caused them so many problems, she wasn't sure how to broach the subject. And she wasn't willing to risk a possible future with him just for a story — not even one as big as this.
"Do you want the first interview?" he asked.
"Only if you want to give it to me," she responded.
He burst out laughing, surprising her. "Lois, you can't fool me. I know that you want it so bad you can taste it. So why the coy act?"
She shifted uncomfortably. "I guess I just want you more," she said, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
His laughter died and the soft look he gave her sent a pang into her heart. "Then how about I give you both?" he asked.
"I'd like that," she responded. "But seriously, Clark, I don't want you to think I see you as a news…" His finger on her lips cut her off.
"I know, Lois," he said softly.
There was a moment of silence as both seemed to get lost in each other's eyes. Lois broke eye contact first.
"Clark, when you said that you can deflect bullets…" Her voice trailed off. "If you do this, you will become a target. I just don't want you in danger. I'm afraid you might…" She looked down and bit on her lower lip.
"Lois, don't worry. The only thing I've ever encountered that can hurt me is kryptonite. I'll be fine. So…" he began in an effort to change the suddenly solemn mood of the room. "…how about I help you write up that story. I promise, I'll try not to get in your way."
Lois smiled. "You've got a deal," she said, before rising to her feet to make her way back into the cottage, Clark following close behind. She was looking forward to working with Clark. The research they'd done together earlier today had been fun. And working with him kept things from getting too intense. Maybe it would allow them to get to know each other a little better.
"Lois?" said Clark.
Lois turned back to look at him. "Yes," she asked.
"Before we start to work… Well, there's something I want first."
"What?" asked Lois.
Then, her breath caught in her throat when Clark stepped closer — and time suddenly stopped. When his hand came up to her face, gently cupping her cheek, her entire body trembled. He was obviously intending to kiss her. But he had almost kissed her a couple of times in the past couple days, and something had always happened to interrupt them. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe the fates were trying to tell them something.
He took a small step closer and then leaned in, slowly lowering his lips to hers. Her eyes drifted closed an instant before their lips met — finally. She moaned softly at the power of the feelings that were immediately cascading through her body. This felt so perfect, so incredibly right. Kissing Clark was better than… than chocolate.
Her lips responded to his, slowly exploring these feelings. In all too short a time, he pulled back, leaving her feeling lightheaded.
"I can't tell you how long I've dreamed of doing this," he said softly, wrapping his arms around her.
Suddenly, Lois tensed. Although his kiss had the power to bring every nerve ending in her body to life, she still desperately wanted to take things slowly this time. Would he understand?
"What?" he asked.
"I'm just not ready," she said, taking a small step away from him.
"For what?" he asked and she could hear the confusion in his voice.
"Can we take this slowly?" she asked, not meeting his eyes. "I'm just… a little gun shy, I guess."
"I just meant, I've dreamed about kissing you," he said in amusement.
"Oh," she said.
"And yes," he added, much more seriously. "I'm not going anywhere, Lois. We can take this as slowly as you want."
He nodded. "I love you, Lois. And I swear, I'm willing to wait until you're ready — however long that is. I just don't want you to walk away. I almost didn't survive when you left me last time. I don't want to do anything that's going to make you do that again."
Lois studied his eyes, almost unable to believe he could mean what he was saying. But his comment about being afraid was so sincere. She could hardly believe he could be experiencing the same fear that she was — the fear of eventual rejection. And it was even more remarkable that he would tell her that — admitting his vulnerability.
"I'm not going to send you away," she said. "I couldn't. After all…" Her voice trailed off and she looked down at where her hand was resting on her stomach.
Clark smiled, stepped forward and placed his hand over hers.
"Oh, that reminds me," said Clark.
Clark took her hand and led her to the couch. He waited until they were seated before saying, "I'm a little concerned about Claude," he admitted.
"Well, what if he insists on blood tests to find out if this is his child? And blood tests would reveal that this child is… different. I'm just concerned that…"
"He won't want blood tests," Lois assured him.
"Lois, if he thinks this is his child…"
"He won't," Lois repeated.
Lois took his hand in hers. "When I told him I was pregnant, he was adamant that this wasn't his child. So I asked him if he wanted a blood test done."
"What did he say?"
"He tossed a couple of hundred dollars on the table and told me to have an abortion."
"What?" exclaimed Clark in indignation.
Lois shrugged. "That was part of the reason I didn't tell you that you could be the father. I didn't think I could handle…" Her voice trailed off and she shook her head.
Clark's hand came up to her cheek. Directing her face so that she was looking at him, he said, "I'm thrilled that you're having my child."
"Really?" she asked.
He nodded. "It might not be happening in the order I would have planned, but… I promise you, Lois. No matter what happens between us, this is my child. I take that responsibility seriously. I want to help out as much as you'll let me."
She pulled in a jagged breath and was instantly lost in Clark's arms. She wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his shoulder, marveling in the new direction her life seemed to be going. From Claude to Clark — how had she gotten so lucky?
"That reminds me," she said. Rising to her feet, she made her way to her room. A minute later, she reemerged, holding an envelope. She handed it to Clark.
"What's this?" asked Clark.
"A donation for the refugee movement," said Lois. "Preferably to help the children."
Clark opened the envelope to find a couple of hundred dollars inside. He looked back at Lois. She shrugged. "Just say it's from Claude."
Clark smiled and nodded, folding the envelope in half and sticking it in his pocket.
"So," she said, "why don't we get to work on that story?"
TWO WEEKS LATER
Lois leaned back in her chair and looked at the television. It had been two weeks now since she and Clark had discovered Chavez's plot and written the story. Lois, unbeknownst to Clark, added his name to the by-line. Of course, she'd given herself top billing. She was, after all, the 'senior journalist' in this partnership. But Clark had really surprised her. His writing ability had made her envious. He had a way of wording things that brought across the human side of the story.
A couple of days after that story had run, Lois had obtained yet another scoop. The documents Tart had given her had proven that Trevanian was indeed the one behind the plan to exchange guns for drugs. Lois wondered why Claude had been convinced that the trail ended with Tart, but the documents were incontrovertible. She had enjoyed hearing the surprise and the pride in Perry's voice when she'd called in the story. He'd seemed completely amazed that she'd managed to find the definitive NIA story while in the outback of Paramador — a story that had evaded Claude during his stint in Washington. She suspected Claude would have some serious explaining to do. That wasn't exactly an unpleasant thought.
Clark had been right to assume that his powers would come back. It had only taken a couple of days — although he continued to wear the bandages for much longer. It had amazed her when she discovered some of the things he could do. Of particular benefit was that he could come from the caves on a regular basis so that they could see each other. But she had to admit… flying. Wow!
Not that they'd been able to do much of that. But when he'd come down to see her one night, he'd taken her flying. There were two benefits to flying with Clark. First, soaring above the clouds, the wind whipping at her hair, looking down at the world, was exhilarating. But being in his arms… She suspected that even if he hadn't been able to fly, she would have loved being in his arms. But the flying provided a great excuse.
In spite of the fact that the only time Clark would show up was after bedtime — so that Marcus wouldn't question how Clark was able to get to the hotel so often — they hadn't been intimate with each other. Clark's claim that he was prepared to wait had been genuine, causing Lois some surprise. After Claude, she really hadn't believed any man was really willing to wait. Yet, Clark hadn't even attempted to push things further than Lois was comfortable with.
Last night had been the most incredible night yet. Clark had gone back to Kansas this morning, hopefully to get some sort of costume made. But, he'd shown up last night at her bedroom window so that they could discuss strategy.
They'd ended up sitting on the floor with their backs against her bed. She'd been curled up in his arms as they'd talked long into the night, finally falling asleep in his arms. When she'd woken this morning, she'd been in bed. Clark had been gone — a rose on her night stand the only evidence he'd even been there.
During their talk, they'd both agreed that Clark could no longer stay on the sidelines. At first, Lois had insisted that this had to be his decision — that she would support him either way. But he wouldn't hear of it. This decision, he had insisted, would affect both of their lives — not to mention the baby's. They were doing this together or not at all. In the end, there really hadn't been any decision to make.
Since his plan had been thwarted, Chavez had become increasingly desperate. And the more desperate he became, the more innocent people he slaughtered in his last-ditch effort to win. It was obvious now that Chavez couldn't win this war. But it wasn't in his own personal interest to surrender. Neither Lois nor Clark could just stand by and let people die to allow Chavez to avoid the consequences of his actions.
So now Lois was watching the television, once again horrified at the indiscriminate slaughter that was taking place as Chavez made his last stand. If ever this area of the world had needed a superhero…
Suddenly, she sat up straighter and couldn't help but gasp as the camera caught a brightly clad man fly into view. The camera immediately zoomed in on the man as he appeared to evaluate the situation. Then, moving faster than the camera could follow, he gathered up all the weapons of war, disabled them and dumped them into a heap in front of the rebel army. Lois couldn't hear what Clark was saying to the commander, but she could tell that the stunned man wasn't in any condition to object to Clark's comments. A moment later, Clark flew off, a bright red cape flapping behind him.
Lois chewed on her lower lip as the commentators began speculating that this unusual man was supporting the current Paramadorian government. She and Clark had talked about this problem. After all, Clark didn't want to be associated with a regime that had as horrendous a record for human rights as this government did. But how could he just sit by and watch while Chavez, in his last ditch effort to save himself, slaughtered hundreds and even thousands of people?
Lois knew that at this moment Clark was making a citizen's arrest of Chavez. As a result, the rumors that Clark was supporting the Paramadorian government were only going to get worse. She just hoped their plan worked.
"Have you seen?" asked Marcus, rushing into the cottage.
"I'm watching now," Lois responded.
Marcus sank down onto the couch beside her. "Unbelievable," he whispered, staring intently at the television. "Unbelievable," he said again.
Lois looked back at the screen and had to agree. Just then, the commentator announced that the president of Paramador was going to be giving a press conference at the Imperial Hotel shortly.
"We're on," said Lois, rising to her feet.
"What does that mean?" asked Marcus.
"Just that I think we should be there for this," said Lois, trying to hide the fact that she and Clark had expected that the president would be giving this news briefing to announce his victory. And Lois intended to be there for the fireworks.
Ignoring the dirty looks her colleagues were giving her, Lois pushed her way through the crowd of reporters gathered by the make-shift platform at the Imperial Hotel. She needed to have a front row seat for this. Marcus followed closely in the trail left in her wake.
It was only a moment before a military presence was felt. Then the President of Paramador stepped out onto the platform. By the look on his face, it was obvious that he was ecstatic. He shook hands with a number of people as he made his way to the mass of microphones.
"Can I have your attention, please?" asked the President's press secretary — a face and voice very familiar to anyone following this conflict over the past weeks.
The mass of press people congregated fell silent.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the President of Paramador."
There was polite clapping as the President stepped up to the microphone.
"As you may be aware, the traitors that have plunged Paramador into the nightmare of civil war have now issued a statement of unconditional surrender. As was written by Jon Harrington, and in this case, proven, 'Treason never prospers.'"
Lois shook her head at the President's choice words. After all, the reason treason never prospers, as Sir Jon Harrington so eloquently wrote in the sixteen hundreds, was that if it prospers, none dare call it treason. She shook off the thought. As much as she didn't like the President of Paramador up there, the idea of Chavez, a man who wanted her dead, as President repulsed her more. On the other hand, how many people would the victor kill in the aftermath of this conflict?
"My fellow countrymen," the President continued. "I promise you that the full resources of the state will go into seeing that these traitors are brought to justice. We will come out of this stronger than before."
Lois shivered at what the President might mean by bringing the traitors to justice. And how many innocent people would die in the process? And what about people on the periphery — like Dominguez and Reseda? They had 'worked' in support of the rebels. Would they be targets, too? There was nothing to choose between the two sides of this conflict in terms of either morals or humanity. She really hoped that she and Clark had made the right decision.
"Any questions?" the press secretary asked.
"Who was the man who confiscated all of Chavez's weapons?" asked one of Lois' colleagues.
"Is he some sort of new weapon?" asked another man before Chavez could answer.
"Does he work for you?" asked another. Suddenly, it seemed as if everyone was asking questions at once — everyone except Lois.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please!" the press secretary interrupted.
When the press finally calmed down, the President spoke again. "No, the man we all saw on television is not known to this administration. Although, we are very pleased to have a friend like him — someone who obviously realized the rightness of our cause and…"
The President's voice trailed off when someone yelled, "Look," directing everyone's attention to the sky and, in particular, to a man in a red and blue suit who was slowly floating onto the platform beside the President.
Even though Lois had expected this, even though she knew it was Clark, she felt completely blown-away when she took in the sight before her. To her left, she could hear Marcus frantically snapping pictures.
Clark landed on the podium, and although their eyes met briefly, Lois could tell that he was making a concentrated effort not to notice her. Since he wasn't looking at her, she used the opportunity to sweep her eyes down his body and felt her breath catch in her throat. In that outfit… She pulled in a breath through her teeth. He must have heard her because he looked over at her, a slightly shocked, almost embarrassed look on his face. Fortunately, he quickly covered the look and directed his attention to the people on the platform.
Men with guns stepped forward, as if to protect their President, but moved back again when the President gestured them away. Reporters, who had been standing in stunned silence only moments before, were suddenly yelling one question after another. It took the press secretary to get them calmed down once again.
"My friend," said the President, stepping up to Clark, extending his hand. Lois noticed a number of cameras raised to capture the handshake. She brought her hand up to hide a smile when Clark just looked at the hand before ignoring it to look back at the President. The President lowered his hand and Lois wondered if he would get the hint. He didn't. He turned towards the press and said, "My friend, what is your name?
"I…" He hesitated slightly and Lois rebuked herself for not thinking that would be the first question. "Kal El," Clark said, and Lois relaxed, although she did wonder where the name came from. He needed something snappier — something that described him and the super things he could do. Something that… Her eyes drifted to the 's' symbol on his suit and suddenly she knew what she was going to call him in her article: Superman! She brought her mind back to what was happening on the platform.
"I want to thank you for recognizing the righteousness of our cause, Kal El," the President was saying, "and for bringing the criminal Chavez to justice."
"Mr. President," the newly ordained Superman interrupted, and Lois was impressed by the authority his voice held, "I stand for truth and justice. I stopped Chavez because his cause was lost and I wasn't going to stand by and watch him slaughter innocent civilians in an effort to avoid the consequences of his actions. But in exchange, I want your word that he and the people who fought for him are going to get justice — not revenge."
"Of course," the President responded. "I guarantee that neither Chavez or his people will be subjected to any abuse. This administration…"
"Good," interrupted Clark. "Then I assume you won't mind if I ask that the United Nations get involved to ensure that there are no human rights abuses."
"Do you have a problem with an independent third party ensuring that there aren't human rights abuses? Is there something that you are worried the world might see?"
"Of course not," the President responded.
"Good. Because I won't tolerate any form of human rights abuses." He looked directly at the President and continued. "From anyone."
"And if someone defies you?" the President hissed, covering the microphone so that Clark was the only one who could hear.
"Don't go there," Clark warned in response, looking directly at the President. "You just might come to regret it."
The President looked stunned at the not so veiled threat. Then Clark turned to look at the press. "Are there any questions?" Every member of the press corps raised his or her hand. Clark looked over the crowd before pointing to a very attractive brunette near the front. "You have a question?" he asked Lois.
"Lois Lane. Daily Planet. I just want to know why you decided to support this government over the rebels."
"I don't support this government," Clark responded. "I didn't support Chavez either. I think both sides in this conflict are equally reprehensible."
"Then why did you do it? Why did you stop the war?"
"Lois Lane? Are you the reporter who wrote the articles about the refugee movement?"
"I did it for them. Chavez had already lost. I wasn't about to see more innocent people killed. Any other questions?" he asked, looking around at the rest of the reporters.
"Just one more," interrupted Lois. Clark looked back at her, his eyes telling her that he was trying to figure out what he'd forgotten to say.
"Can I have an interview?" she asked.
She saw a smile quirk at the corner of his mouth before his expression became much more serious again.
"I'm not sure I'll have time," he said. "Are there any other questions?" he asked, looking at the other reporters.
"Yeah. Do you think you could look any sexier?" Lois whispered. Clark looked back at her in shock before getting control and directing his attention to a question being asked by a correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A blush rose in her cheeks. Had he actually heard that?
Lois was deep in thought as she and Marcus made their way back to the cottage following the press conference. She couldn't help but enjoy the fact that the President had been completely upstaged by Clark's attendance. She just hoped it had worked and Clark wouldn't forever be associated as someone who supported the President of Paramador. Her interview should help in that regard as well. She grinned. It had nothing to do with her getting the first definitive Superman interview.
She thought about the outfit Clark had chosen for his public persona. For a moment, she wondered about his mother. She couldn't imagine Clark coming up with that particular idea on his own. He was much too conservative for that. But maybe that was the point. It was so un-Clark that it would make it more difficult for people to make the connection. But seeing him in that outfit… She felt her temperature rise just thinking about it. Suddenly, she frowned — not entirely certain she liked the idea of all the women who would undoubtedly be drooling over the man she loved. Then she relaxed. Who cared what those women fantasied about? He was hers.
Lois and Marcus had just unlocked their door and stepped inside their cabin when they heard a knock on the patio door. Marcus made his way past Lois and opened the door, only to step back in shock upon seeing the larger than life figure standing on the other side.
"Is Ms. Lane here?" asked Clark.
Marcus had, during his life, photographed a lot of important people. And until this moment, he would never have believed he could be star struck. But looking at the man floating slightly on the other side of that door, he couldn't seem to find his voice.
"I'm here," said Lois, pushing past him.
"You asked for an interview, Ms. Lane?" asked Clark.
"Absolutely," said Lois. "Do you mind if Marcus gets some pictures at the same time?"
"Not at all," responded Clark.
The mention of photographs pulled Marcus out of his stupor. He rushed back into the cottage to grab his camera and a few more rolls of film. By the time he arrived back, Lois and the stranger were seated outside on the balcony, Lois asking questions. He watched for a moment, amazed by how calmly Lois seemed to be reacting to this remarkable newcomer, professionally asking the questions that needed to be asked. If he didn't know better, he'd almost think that she wasn't at all surprised by this man's appearance.
Lois let out a breath of relief when Marcus finally decided that he had enough pictures and left the cottage to head to the photo lab set up for the reporters at the Imperial Hotel to develop them.
"That was harder than I expected it would be — treating you as if you are a stranger," Lois told Clark.
"I don't suppose you heard the comment that was made when I took your first question," he said, his eyes twinkling.
"No," Lois responded.
"Someone whispered, 'Of course he'd take his first question from the most beautiful woman here.'"
"Yeah. I almost responded that I didn't dare take someone else's questions first. After all, that beautiful woman would kill me afterwards if I did."
Lois swatted his arm, causing Clark to laugh again.
"Listen," he said, "do you mind if I go inside for a minute? I'd like to change. I just feel so…" he glanced down at himself causing Lois to smile. "I'll pretend to fly off and then…"
When she nodded, he took off into the sky and then a moment later, walked out of the cottage as Clark.
"What… How…" she gasped in disbelief.
"I can change really quick," he explained as he again took a seat in his chair. "So how do you think Kal El did today?" he asked.
She looked at him oddly, before shaking her head.
"What?" Clark asked.
"Well, I was just thinking. It's going to be hard learning to refer to Superman as a third person."
"Superman?" he asked.
She wriggled her eyebrows at him, causing him to laugh which ended when he saw her mood change.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I've been wondering," she began slowly, not entirely certain how he was going to react to this.
"You've been wondering…?" Clark prompted.
"Well, I'm not going to be here indefinitely. And I guess I'm wondering what's going to happen when I have to go back to Metropolis. After all, the war is over. I'll be needed around here for a little while yet. But eventually…" She shrugged self consciously.
"I can fly to Metropolis in a matter of minutes, Lois. What's really on your mind?"
"Well, I was talking to Perry the other day. It seems that Claude was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. Perry did some digging around and found out that he took money from Trevanian to help cover up the story about the NIA's involvement in this mess. So there's an opening in the newsroom." She looked at Clark expectantly.
It seemed to take him a moment to process what she was trying to say.
"You did say you had always wanted to work as a reporter," she continued.
"I do, but… Well, Lois, this is the Daily Planet we're talking about here."
Lois smiled. "Perry was quite impressed by your contribution to our story about Chavez's doomsday plan."
"How does he know about…"
"I put your name on the story. After mine, of course," she added with a grin.
Clark blinked. He hadn't expected her to share her story with him, and given how busy he'd been, he hadn't taken time to read it. Considering how driven she was by her job, the gesture was very touching.
"I don't know what to say," he admitted.
"Say you'll talk to Perry," she responded.
He looked as if he were about to accept, but then his expression changed.
"Lois, right now the people of Paramador need my help. I'm not sure when I'll be able to leave."
Lois looked down.
Clark let out a breath, pulling her over onto his lap. "I'm going to be there for you, Lois. I promise. I just might have to… commute for a while."
She couldn't help but chuckle at his description of traveling between Paramador and Metropolis as 'commuting'.
"Besides, you're not going home tomorrow or anything, are you?" he asked.
"No. I'll be here for a while, I guess. Assuming…" She looked down at her stomach.
Clark's hand gently stroked her stomach, telling her that he knew what she was talking about.
"Are you scared?" he asked.
Her hand covered his.
"Terrified," she admitted.
"Lois, I don't want you to think I'm going to leave you to raise this child alone. I promise that you and the baby will have everything you need. Even if I have to dig a gold mine to make sure. And I'll be there. So will my parents. So…"
His voice trailed off when her fingers landed on his lips.
"I believe you, Clark," she said, before leaning in and softly kissing him. The kiss lingered for a moment before she pulled back. "I believe you," she repeated.
And for a moment, Clark could almost feel her fear. She wanted so desperately to believe him, but… He tightened his arms around her, trying to silently communicate just how much he meant his promise. He thought momentarily about proposing, but then he rejected the idea. He loved this woman with his whole heart, but did they really know each other well enough to be talking marriage? He just wasn't sure — and he knew that getting married simply for the sake of a child was not a solution. But maybe he should start thinking about how he was going to alleviate her fears. In particular, he realized that his world had suddenly shifted. He could no longer think in terms of 'his life' or 'his responsibilities.' Lois and his child had to be his priority. He had to make sure they both knew just how seriously he took that responsibility.
A MONTH LATER
Lois stared at the numbers as the elevator ascended to the newsroom of the Daily Planet. The war in Paramador was now truly over. It had been time for her to come home. Between her Superman coverage, her war coverage and her breaking the story about Trevanian, Lois suspected that the newsroom she'd be returning to would be quite different from the one she'd left.
There was also another reason the newsroom was bound to be different. Claude would no longer be working at the Planet. Not only had Perry fired Claude, but he'd also told Congress about Claude's efforts to help Trevanian bury the truth. As a result, Claude was now also facing charges. Lois was almost tempted to feel sorry for him — almost, but not quite.
She sighed. She'd been back in Metropolis since late yesterday afternoon. She'd wondered if Clark would stop by her place last night. But he hadn't. He hadn't even made it to see her off in Paramador. She knew he had been extremely busy for the last couple weeks, but she had hoped… She sighed. Between Superman's efforts to ensure an orderly surrender under UN supervision and Clark's efforts to get the refugees returned so that they could attempt to reestablish their lives, Clark had been kept busy — giving them only moments together.
Lois had been occupied, too. The aftermath of the war was now drawing the attention of the world — thanks to interest in the man who was now known worldwide as Superman.
But the war, and much of its immediate aftermath was now over and it was time for her to get back to Metropolis' city desk. There was still a lot of work to do before people would be able to get on with their normal lives — that would take months and even years. But her job in Paramador had been over.
The sound of the elevator doors opening snapped her out of her thoughts. She entered the newsroom and walked to the banister, looking down into the familiar, and yet now different, looking bullpen.
"Hey, congratulations, Lois," said a man's voice behind her.
"Thanks, Phil," she responded.
"You did great, kid," came another voice. And then another voice was added to that one. And soon, the entire newsroom erupted in applause. Lois smiled. It was good to be home. She wished she and Clark had settled things a little more before she'd left Paramador, but at least she still had this.
Of course, intellectually she knew that Clark could fly in to Metropolis any time he wanted to. But there was something about leaving Paramador that made her feel insecure. It was completely up to him to decide if and when he wanted to see her. She couldn't call him. She couldn't show up at his apartment. That left pursing this relationship entirely in his hands.
"Lane! My office now!" bellowed Perry.
Lois quickly made her way past the remainder of the newsroom staff who were trying to offer her congratulations to head to the chief's office.
Perry watched as Lois approached the door to his office. She looked much more animated now than she had when she'd left. It was good to see. He stood in the doorway, waiting for her.
"You did good, darling," Perry drawled as she got closer.
Lois' face lit up. "Thanks, Perry," she said.
"Well, now that you're here, perhaps you can solve a little problem for me."
"And that would be…?" asked Lois, her expression clearly indicating that she was somewhat taken back that he would be asking for her help. She also seemed a little off balance by the fact that he was not stepping into his office, seeming to want to have this discussion in the doorway.
"You're aware that Claude is no longer working here," Perry said.
"Of course," Lois responded.
"Well, that leaves us with a hole in the newsroom. And I thought… Well, I've had a number of applications, but I wanted to wait to make the final decision until you got here."
"Me?" Lois asked in confusion.
"Yeah. Well, I know it sounds weird, but this guy said he wouldn't take the job without your approval." With those words he stepped back into the office, Lois following behind him. Then he heard her gasp when the young man in his office stood up as they entered.
"Lois, I believe you know Clark Kent," Perry said. "At least, I think that was the second name you added to the by-line of your story about Chavez's doomsday plan."
Lois, however, no longer seemed aware of him. Perry was caught completely off guard when Lois suddenly launched herself at the young man in his office, a resounding "yes!" the only word on her lips as she was swung into his arms.
After I'd finished writing Cause and Effect, I wondered how the story might have gone if Lois had been involved with Claude when she went to Israel. I went back to try to change the story to accommodate the idea. It didn't take long for me to realize that making that one change was a major undertaking. In fact, I had ended up writing the first forty pages of this story by the time I realized I was working on an entirely different story. So I proceeded to post Cause and Effect. And this story sat on my hard drive, untouched until recently.
In obtaining information about Wonder Woman, I looked at a number of websites as well as talking to the owner of my local comic book store. He sold me a comic which was quite helpful. It was DC comic book, Wonder Woman: Secret Files and Origins, No. 3, May 2002.
Also, when I sent this story to Gerry and Carol for suggestions, they both noticed a similarity between one section of my story and the first Superman movie. I don't believe I've seen the movie. In fact, it is my personal opinion that WB has access to a time travel machine and that they went forward in time and read this story. Then they stole the scene in question from me <g>. I'm already working on drafting the law suit <vbg>. But seriously, I suppose it is possible that I have seen the movie given the number of times it has been on television. And if that movie gave me the idea for the scene where Lois discovers that Clark is holding her against the ceiling, I'd like to say thanks.