By Lote <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: February 2002
Summary: Working undercover at her alma mater, Lois reevaluates her life while struggling to confront issues brought about by her last investigation.
To the loving memory of my mother who taught me to face death with a quiet dignity.
To S.K., sister of my heart, who showed me that life's challenges doesn't have to keep you down.
To J.C. who touched my heart when I least expected it.
To Merry and Tricia, my super beta readers, a million thanks for all their hard work, inputs and their encouragements in getting this story done. Thanks also to Roz Harvey for her edits in the initial parts of the story.
*And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captives on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round, in the circle game*
— The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell.
'Boredom. Yes, that's the word. Not one newsworthy event for the past week,' Lois thought as she played with the pen. Her eyes had, without her knowledge, strayed to her fianc‚'s desk. 'And he's not here either. He must be enjoying his time in Smallville.' She sighed, wishing she could have gone with him. Perry had refused to let them take leave at the same time. Her thoughts drifted back to that day in Perry's office…
"What! I'm not going to run this paper without at least one of my award winning reporters around. What if an important story breaks? No, Kent, you can go since you've not taken leave for more than half a year. Lois, you took a five-day leave nearly two months ago and have used up all your leave this year, so your request is not approved." He nodded as if that settled it. Actually it did, since he was the one calling the shots.
That didn't stop Lois from objecting, however. "Perry, you know why I took the leave. And I managed to get the scoop on the illegal organ harvesting of homeless people."
Both Clark and Perry shuddered; she had nearly been killed in the investigation. "On the records, it was a holiday leave. So no go, Lois," Perry countered. "Git, you two." He threw an apologetic look as he shooed them out of his office.
Clark had not wanted to go without her. He was very worried about her, insisting that the objective of going to Smallville was for both of them to get away from all the stress and to talk. But she insisted that he took this vacation seeing that he had not had any for a long time. They quarreled heatedly before Clark gave in to her. However, he had left for Smallville with a heavy heart, and only after extracting promises from her to take better care of herself.
'He's not going to be happy if he knew about the nightmares,' Lois thought. She sighed once again. At least, Clark was going to be back next week. Who was she trying to kid? 'Next week, no, even today would be too long,' she thought. She missed him even though he called her often from the farm.
"Lois!" Perry bellowed. "Get in here!"
'Can't he stop shouting for once? He's getting worse. What does he want anyway? If he asks me another time whether I've got anything for him, I'm going to explode! Doesn't he know what a slow week this has been. Furthermore, none of the others are getting any news either. Why doesn't he pick on them? Why me?' she ranted in her thoughts.
"Lois! Are you getting in here or do you need a formal invitation?" Perry sounded very irritated.
For the third time in the last five minutes, she sighed. "Yes, Perry. I'm coming."
As soon as she was in his office, Perry told her to close the door and take a seat. "Now, I know how slow this week's been and that you've been bored out of your mind," he said.
"And out on my feet, too. I've been looking everywhere for a story. Every source I've contacted has come up with a big, fat zero for me. So what's your point, Perry?" Lois interjected.
"Well, a friend of mine contacted me yesterday. He was asking for my help."
"His daughter almost died, trying to escape from a prostitution ring. The additional twist to this story is that the ring is operated by faculty members of Metropolis University. These people approach students who are looking to make some pocket money and offer them a job. That's how my friend's daughter was caught in the web. She needed extra pocket money because her father had been laid off recently. She thought it was just an escort service. Unfortunately, it wasn't until she had worked on a couple of escort jobs that they sprung the other aspect of the job to her. In one of her escort jobs, they drugged her drink and took some photos that weren't exactly PG. They used it to blackmail her by threatening to send it to the university. She was afraid of being thrown out of school for abetting pornography."
"Why doesn't your friend go to the police? His daughter should be able to identify these people."
"When I said she almost died, I meant the doctors are giving her a fifty-fifty chance of survival. At the moment, she's in a coma in the Metropolis General Hospital's ICU."
"So, the police have been alerted?"
"Well, it's a police case but they are filing it under mugging and rape cases. After all, she was found in a dark alley …"
Unnoticed by Perry, Lois flinched at the words 'dark alley'.
"…near her home, her belongings scattered and valuables missing. The police had been given no motivation to suspect otherwise. As for her father, my friend is afraid for his family and his own life. A couple of thugs had been around to his place. They beat him up and threatened to kill his family if he ever tried to contact the authorities."
"Hmm, so your friend had no idea as to who might be the masterminds behind this ring?"
"No. That's why I'm sending you in to investigate."
"What? Lois, my ace reporter, cannot handle it on her own?" Perry teased her gently. Then realizing what he said, he felt chagrin. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it."
Lois smiled softly at Perry's teasing and his recantation of it. A few years back, she would have been offended by the tease. In fact, she would probably have jumped at working on the story by herself which made Perry's comment true. Now however, after being 'trained' to work with a partner, it felt strange to work alone. 'Clark's not just *a* partner; he's *the* partner,' she thought.
She understood why he recanted. His worry for her the past few months were evident from the assignments he had given her. However, he was unable to grant her request for leave because of office policy. She had used up her leave not only on the last investigation, but also on recovery time after it. She reassured him with a smile.
He acknowledged it with a nod. "Actually, honey, I'm sending you and Clark. I spoke to him last night."
"Does that mean I should wait for him to return before going undercover?" she asked, feeling that it would be better for her cover to be in place before Clark entered the picture.
"Unfortunately no. The semester starts in a few days time. I've pulled some strings and got you enrolled into the same courses as Kaylie."
"What's Clark's cover?"
"Having the qualifications needed by the History Department, they've accepted his application for a Faculty position."
She groaned. "Perry, let me get this straight; I'm to be a student but Clark's a Faculty member. That's not fair," she complained.
"Now, now, Lois. They're just covers. You are more likely to be approached by the syndicate than Clark. Besides, we needed someone in the Faculty level who could mingle around."
"I know," she sighed. "Perhaps I should talk to your friend first."
"Here's his contact number." Perry handed her a piece of paper.
It was a tiring day. 'Be careful what you wish for, it might come true,' Lois thought. It was certainly true. Just this morning, she had wished for a newsworthy assignment. Well, she definitely got one and now she was exhausted.
As she turned on the water to fill her bath, she thought about the conversation she had with Perry's friend, Michael. He showed her a couple of the photos they had used to blackmail his daughter and the threatening emails she had received when she tried to back out. He did not look good at all. His broken nose and his bruised face bore the truth of what Perry told her. This man had been thoroughly beaten up, and yet, he had the courage to come forth to ensure justice was done. His last words to her still rung in her mind. "Ms. Lane, get these people before they destroy another life."
He hadn't been as concerned about vengeance as he was about the safety of his family and others who shared his daughter's fate. "They are trapped. No way out, Ms. Lane. If they tried, they'll probably end up dead."
She sighed, turning off the water and putting some of the relaxing aroma therapy bath soap into the water. Quickly shedding her clothes, she immersed herself in her warm bath. True to the laws of probability, within seconds the phone started ringing. Having anticipated the call, she had brought the phone into the bathroom with her. "Hello, sweetheart." She heard his beautiful voice on the line.
"Hello yourself, handsome," she replied, her earlier heavy feelings seemed to disappear the moment she heard him.
"What are you doing?"
"Having a relaxing bath."
"Hmm, what's wrong?"
She shouldn't be surprised at how well he knew her, but she was. "How did you know that?"
"Well, you never take baths unless you are uptight about something. This is about Perry's friend, right?"
"Yes," she sighed once again. "I talked to him today and saw his daughter. Clark, she's only twenty. How inhuman can these people get?"
"Lois, you've seen worse…"
"No!" she interrupted him. "Clark, I know I've, no, we've seen worse things. But this, this really is personal."
"Clark, Lucy would have gotten into this kind of trouble if Superman hadn't been around to save her. Kaylie's about her age and so are most of the other girls. I've seen what they did to Kaylie; it's inhuman. She would have been better off dead," Lois interrupted passionately.
On the other end of the phone, Clark sighed as he listened to his fianc‚e. She was emotionally involved and that was definitely trouble. He knew he could fly back to Metropolis to check on her. However, he also knew that she'd be insulted if he came back early. "Lois, just promise me that you'll be careful. I'll be back next week."
"I will. Don't worry, I'm not going to do anything drastic. Besides, I don't think things are going to heat up anytime soon. From what Perry's friend said, they only approached the girls after they are very confident of them. As for you getting back next week, well, I miss you."
"I miss you too. I could fly back tonight?"
"No, enjoy the stay with your Mom and Dad. We've been very busy lately, on top of the demands for Superman. You need the break, honey."
"All right, you win. Mom and Dad send their love, by the way."
"Likewise." She smiled as she tried to picture Clark's parents. They were the sweetest folks ever, …well Jonathon was. Martha, on the other hand, was as sharp as tack.
"Don't stay in the tub too long. I don't want to have a prune for a fianc‚e." Clark's teasing brought her back to the present.
"Oh, you," she said, laughing. "Goodnight. Love ya."
"Love you too. Goodnight and sweet dreams." She heard the phone click indicating Clark had put down the phone at his end. She wished that he was here, but this was an opportunity for her to prove that she wasn't dependent on anyone to get a story. Still, her heart wasn't committed to proving her independence.
She let herself soak for a few more minutes before getting ready for bed. Even Superman's wishes could not chase away the nightmares she had that night. She saw the disfigured face, only it wasn't Kaylie's. It was Lucy's. She woke up in a sweat. Although she tried, she couldn't get rid of that particular image. For the rest of the night, her sleep was haunted.
Morning found her groggily trying to make coffee. 'Oh, I give up!' Exasperated, she threw away the ruined coffee and stalked to the bathroom to prepare herself for work. She stopped by Starbucks on her way to work to get that crucial injection of caffeine into her bloodstream. Once again she wished Clark was around; then he would have made her coffee just the way she likes it. 'You're so pathetic, Lois," her devilish inner voice told her. 'Come on, this is the chance for you to prove that Lois Lane doesn't need anyone.'
"Buzz off," she replied out loud, gaining strange looks from the rest of the customers. The serving girl at the counter looked at her as if she was crazy. "Oops, sorry," Lois said to her reassuringly. "I was just talking to myself."
That earned her another strange look as the girl passed her the coffee. Lois, despairing of improving the situation, decided to retreat, and so made her way to the Daily Planet. When she reached there, Jimmy informed her that Perry was looking for her.
"You wanted me, Boss? I've always wanted to say that," Lois said by way of greeting when she poked her head into Perry's office. She was grinning.
"Are you high or something?" Perry asked her. He looked at her critically. She had bags under her eyes and was not the impeccably dressed reporter he'd known. Add those things to the silly grin on her face, he didn't know what to think.
"Yeah, high on caffeine." She sighed as she proceeded to sit, even without Perry's invitation. "Sorry, I didn't get much sleep last night, and so I'm feeling a little lightheaded. I went to talk to your friend and saw his daughter."
"Yes, he told me. Here, these are for you. All the info and documents that you'll need are there. Lois, please be careful. I don't want a repeat of your last investigation," he said, concern very much evident in his voice.
"Thanks Perry. I will, I don't want that to happen either." She shuddered, remembering that last investigation.
She was the only one in the alley as she squeezed in between the crates and boxes. It was cold, and her tattered clothes did not provide much protection from the weather. She heard footsteps approaching. 'Oh no, please God, don't let them find me,' she prayed fervently as she monitored the footsteps. As they got nearer, she could hear their voices. They were searching for her, turning over crates, boxes and trash cans. 'Please, let Clark find me before they do.'
Her body trembled, due to the cold, shock and loss of blood. She had barely managed to escape from where they had been holding her. Her side ached where a bullet had grazed her during her escape. "Come out, come out, wherever you are," one of the men said in a sing-song manner. "You cannot escape from us, you know. We'll get you. Don't worry, we will."
She shivered at the evil laughter accompanying those words. She could hear them getting closer to where she was hiding. 'Clark, where are you?'
Perry looked at her worriedly. "Honey, I could give this assignment to someone else, if you like." He was reconsidering whether it was wise to have given it to Lois. She had still not recovered mentally from the various events that had happened to her this past few months; first, her sister had been involved with this modeling agency that was actually a front for a 'white slavery' ring. Then, her mother had been attacked by robbers and had fallen into a coma for a week. Lois had stayed by her side throughout the ordeal except for the time she spent trying to track down the culprits. Then of course, there was the last investigation. If not for Clark, Lois would have had a nervous breakdown long time since.
"It's all right, Perry. Hey, at least I'll get to go back to school," She tried to joke, all the while trying to suppress the panic rising inside her. Clark had been pestering her to go and see a psychiatrist to talk about her experiences but she thought she could deal with them on her own. Now though, she wasn't so sure. 'No, I can't have such doubts, not until this is over. If I give in now, I'll never be able to finish this investigation.'
"Perry, I think I'll go home to get ready for this," Lois said. Perry nodded and she left.
'Met. U., how long has it been since I've been in her hallowed halls?' Lois thought as she walked across the campus green to the Brown Building which housed the Registrar's office. 'A long time, or so it seems, since an eager young graduate left here to make a name for herself.' She smiled at the memories of the younger Lois. All gung ho to take on the world through her writings with no thoughts of starting family ever crossing her mind. Yes, she had come a long way, indeed.
However, anyone who saw her would not have taken her as a successful reporter at all. Her faded jeans with torn knees, her shockingly bright yellow T-shirt, her cool sunglasses and her bulging knapsack made her look very much the young and eager student of yesteryear. She blended in well with the rest of the youth around her.
As she approached the Brown Building, she geared herself up mentally to play her role. She was Alexa Thompkins, twenty- four. She was older than the average new students because she had been supporting her ailing mother since high school. Her mother had passed away less than a year ago leaving her heavily in debt. She managed to get a scholarship to attend Met. U. but that was not enough to survive on, much less pay back her debt.
Her background matched the typical profile of the 'victims' approached by the syndicate. She was certain that it would hold water under scrutiny. Perry was a pro at arranging this kind of thing. She wondered briefly what name Clark would be given. He had enough names as it was already.
Before she could get the door, it swung open to reveal an attractive man in a well-tailored suit. She would have ventured a guess that he was in the late-thirties or early forties. He smiled at her before indicating for her to enter. "Thank you," she said, charmed by the gentlemanly act. It reminded her of Clark.
"You're welcome," he said with a smile and a nod, before walking out the door.
Lois turned to the bored clerk at the registration counter who scowled at her. "Well, what do you want?" the clerk snapped.
Asking for patience, Lois gave him a smile and walked up to the counter. "Hi, my name's Alexa Thompkins. I was told that I should come here to register for my courses."
"Well, in that case, here, here and here." He shoved stacks after stacks of forms at her. "You are to fill them in and give me your admission letter and other documents."
She gave them to him and started filling up the forms. 'Well, this aspect of school life hasn't changed,' she thought sarcastically. "Err…, could I ask, what should I fill in here?"
The guy turned back to her and snorted. "How would I know what you have to fill in? Just complete them." He went back to processing her documents. Lois gritted her teeth, reminding herself not to lose her temper. After all, as a student, she should be meek.
Soon, she finished all the necessary forms. At least, the ones she thought were necessary. She was then instructed to go to Jefferson College to enroll in her courses. After enrollment, she proceeded to Elizabeth Hall where she would be staying for the duration. If she had really been a new student, she would have been confused by the rapid instructions and directions they gave her. As it was, they tested her patience sorely. Of course, if Clark had been around, he would have said that it was a good practice in patience. As if she needed any. Well, okay, she did, but he didn't have to rub it in. 'What am I doing? Clark's not even here.'
She was assigned to a single room. 'At least, I don't have to share it with anyone. I couldn't stand my roommate in college. This is a bit dismal, though.' Looking around the small room with only one window overlooking the backyard of the hall, she took in the single bed and small writing desk. The mattress was thin and she was sure that the bed sagged. The desk was metal and accompanying it was a metal chair with torn cushion. Above the desk, she spotted a book rack. Oak, and with intricate pattern carved into it, made it the only redeeming thing in the room.
"Oh well, it's better than my last accommodation," she sighed as she recalled the alley she had slept in.
She drew closer to the fire as the night grew colder and wrapped her ragged coat around herself more tightly. Some of the others smiled nervously at her. Others tried to set up their shelters out of cardboard and other scavenged material. "Here," an old man said, thrusting a bottle of whiskey at her. "This will warm ye."
"Thank you." She took the proffered drink and took a swig out of the bottle.
"What led a nice young woman like ye out onto these streets?" the old man asked curiously. They talked, well into the night, sharing the bottle of whiskey. He helped her improve the shelter she had built earlier. When they were too tired to care about the cold anymore, they went back to their respective corners and slept in the makeshift shelters. She learned a lot about being a homeless that night.
She went out to the old beat-up pickup, which she borrowed from one of her neighbors to stay in character, to get her things. A few other students staying at the hall volunteered to help her and soon they'd managed to make the room more hospitable. What was even better was that she made a couple of friends among those who had helped. They took her out to lunch and introduced her to other students. It was a great way to be reintroduced to campus life.
That night, however, she found herself missing Clark a lot. It was the first time since his vacation that he didn't call her. She took comfort in her memory of the phone call they had had the night before. She also fervently hoped that she would not be plagued with nightmares. After tossing and turning in bed, she decided that since she couldn't sleep, she might as well snoop around.
She changed into her sweats, took her trusty torchlight and grabbed her keys before leaving the room. The hallway was quiet, as most of the students were in bed, asleep. Those who weren't were in the rec. room watching the midnight shows or talking quietly. She slipped past the rec. room and out the door. She didn't know exactly where to go but Kaylie's old dorm would do for a start. Pretending to jog, she took a circuitous path towards Moulmein Hall, where Kaylie had been staying.
Once there, she hid in the bushes, waiting for the opportunity to slip in. It came when one of the residents opened the door to leave. She managed to catch hold of the door before it closed and went in. Just like at Elizabeth Hall, most of the residents were asleep and no one saw her entering Kaylie's room. She looked around, trying to adjust to the darkness. Since the room overlooked the walkway and the road, Lois didn't dare to switch on her torch. Instead, she would have to make do with the light from the street.
As her eyes adjusted, she saw a pretty little room with a lot of warmth and love in it. Kaylie's dad mentioned that she had been staying there for the past three years as her family was always on the move due to his work. She had decorated the place lovingly as was indicated by the beautiful wallpaper that she had used to outline the area around her bed, by the numerous pictures of her family on the book racks and the posters of sunsets and sunrises that she had hung around the room.
Lois went to the desk and opened the drawers, hoping to get some kind of a lead. The room looked untouched, which was amazing since she had expected the ring leaders to have sent people to ensure that no discriminating evidence could be found. Unfortunately, when she went through the drawers, she couldn't find any clues. No journals, no photos, no nothing. All that was there were things related to Kaylie's school work. "Duh! What do you expect?" Lois scolded herself for not realizing it earlier. "She wouldn't have left a clue lying around in the open. Let's search through her work again."
'Why am I starting to talk to myself, anyway?' she puzzled when she realized that she had spoken aloud. Shaking her head, she fine-combed through all the material in Kaylie's desk. In the middle of her search, exhausted as she was from the lack of sleep and the full day she had, she nodded off to sleep on the comfortable bed. This time, her wish was granted; her sleep was free from nightmares.
A banging door somewhere down the hallway woke her up from her sleep. Lois felt disorientated for a while. 'Where am I? This doesn't look like my bedroom,' she thought. 'Oh yes. It's Kaylie's room. Kaylie's room! My goodness, I felt asleep in her room! Now, how do I get out of here without being noticed? And what if someone noticed my absence at E.H.?' Her thoughts babbled as she lapsed into the old, long unused abbreviations for the buildings around campus. 'Lois, this is a fine way to start your investigation. Stupid! Ah, no use scolding myself, better think of a way to get out of here and back to E.H. before anyone notices anything.'
With that thought in mind, she quickly cleaned up the mess she had made of Kaylie's room. While she was doing that, she once again noticed the pictures on the bookrack. In the early light of dawn, she studied the pictures. In them, Kaylie looked so young and happy. More importantly, she looked so innocent. Lois made a promise, there and then, that she would uncover this ring and stop them from ruining other innocents.
After she finished, Lois opened the door slightly and peered out. 'Well, the coast is clear. Now if only I knew whether the ground floor is clear as well. Never mind, if I'm caught, I'll just have to wing it.'
Taking a deep breath, she slowly opened the door further and slipped out. Walking softly down the hall toward the stairs, she kept a vigilant lookout for any surprises. She could hear a shower running. The person who had banged his or her door must have woken up to take a shower. She crept downstairs and, seeing the hallway empty, took off from Moulmein Hall as fast as she could. All the while, her heart was racing and she had to stem her fear at being caught. Even though the situation was different from the one in her last investigation, she couldn't help feeling afraid. It was silly since in the latter situation, it was a life and death matter while this time wasn't. 'Well, fears are supposed to be irrational,' she consoled herself.
'But it doesn't make sense. I've been in such a situation before. Yes, there had always been an element of fear, but this time, I'm blowing this out of proportion,' another part of her countered.
'Forget it. This is not the time for this debate, just get back to E.H. fast," yet a third voice reminded her.
Back at Elizabeth Hall and her room, she sighed in relief. She had jogged back to E.H. and found the place to be quiet as the residents still slept. She hoped no one noticed that she hadn't slept in her room last night. Since the sleep was refreshing and the adrenalin was still pumping, she couldn't quite relax. So she prepared herself for school and then sat down to jot down what she found from Kaylie's work.
Suspicions were cast on two subjects Kaylie had taken; Physics and Computational Science. From what Lois had seen from her school records, — Michael had given her a copy of them — Kaylie had been struggling in these two subjects for her first two years in Met. U. However, in her third year, her marks had improved by leaps and bounds. Even with extra effort, this amount of improvement seemed impossible.
'Urgh, Physics and Computational Science. I hated high school Physics and what the heck is Computational Science, other than it has something to do with computers. It wasn't introduced during the years I was in campus,' Lois thought, disgusted at the subjects she had to take.
A knock on her door startled her. "Hey, Alexa, are you awake?" the person outside asked.
"Yeah, I am. Door's unlocked, come on in."
Jung Hoon, a Korean guy who had kindly helped her yesterday, pushed open the door and stepped inside. "Looks like you are prepared for school," he remarked, seeing the packed knapsack and her clothes for the day lying on the bed.
"Yep, I was too excited to really sleep. You know, it's been my dream to come to Met. U." She gave a shy smile.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. The last day I was in Korea, I couldn't sleep at all. Hey, what classes are you taking?"
"Well, Physics, Computational Science, Philosophy, and History."
"Wow, that's very diverse!" Jung Hoon said, impressed. "Four subjects, can you cope?"
"I'll try my best. Because of my age, I'm trying to catch up as much as I can."
"Yes, but don't kill yourself over it. Anyway, I'm in your class for Computational Science. So, if you need anything, just holler, okay?"
"Thanks for the offer. I definitely will take it up."
"Come on. We better head down for breakfast. I want to take a morning stroll after."
"Why don't you go ahead? I've already had my morning jog, and I need to bathe first. I'll catch up with you later."
"Okay. See ya."
Lois nodded and Jung Hoon left. 'Well, at least someone can help me out in one of the subjects. I wonder how Clark will be able to conduct his part of the investigation if his department isn't involved? But then again, we cannot write it off just because a member of the department is not a suspect. Who knows how big this thing is? I think we need more information on the girls already trapped; what classes they had in common, their grades, etc…I wonder if Jimmy could help?'
Her mind raced along those lines as she went about preparing for school. At last, she was ready and headed down to breakfast. Several of the residents who befriended her yesterday were there, and they exchanged greetings. After breakfast, the first class was Physics 101. She had checked earlier that the person teaching it was the same person who taught Kaylie's last class. This was one of the suspects, and she wondered what to expect.
"Welcome to Physics 101, everyone. I'm Prof. Andrew Stanton, your guide for the rest of your journey, this year at least, into this marvelous world of Physics. You can call me Andy." Lois was shocked to see the very person who had held the door for her at the Brown Building. He had a sincere, engaging smile and looked very eager to teach them all about the 'marvelous world of Physics' as he passed out sheets of paper to the class. 'Oh spare me this baloney,' she thought sarcastically. After taking one, she passed on the stack of information sheets as she listened to him outline the course.
She glanced down at the sheet. 'What the heck is Quantum Mechanics? Something to do with the show 'Quantum Leap'? And Relativity Theory…I'm not Einstein, heck I'm not even Dr. Klein. This is more his area than mine.' She sighed, catching the attention of Prof. Stanton.
"You there, something the matter?"
She looked up. "No, Andy. Nothing's wrong," she said quickly, giving him a hopefully reassuring smile. He didn't look reassured, but nodded anyway. He went on to explain where they could find the material needed for the course, the examination and assignment details and so on. They finished about an hour and a half later.
Lois, who was going to escape after being bored out of her mind, was called back. "Ms. Thompkins, isn't it?" Stanton asked.
"Yes, but call me Alexa."
"Very well, Alexa then. You looked lost just now. Do you need any help?"
"Err…" Lois hesitated. "Actually I've been out of school for quite some time. As you can see, I'm a lot older than the other students. I'm finding it difficult to adjust."
"Well, don't hesitate to approach me for help, as I mentioned in class. You've been given my contact number, my room number and the consultation hours. If you need help beyond that, I'm sure we can arrange something."
"Thank you, Andy. I'll do that. I better go, my next class will be starting soon."
"Okay. Go on then."
She left, wondering if she had made a mistake thinking that he could be a suspect. He looked decent and seemed to be genuinely concerned for his students. But then again, it could be a fa‡ade. Lex Luthor was a good example of that. On the outside, he was a philanthropist but in actuality, he was a master criminal. No, it was best that she kept Andrew Stanton on the list until proven otherwise.
She sat down in front of the terminal in the computer lab. Not many students were around at this time. 'Only four in the afternoon and I'm already exhausted,' she thought. As she logged into the campus network, she recalled her day.
After the Physics class, she had a History lesson. The head of the History department came in to let them know that their actual lecturer would not be in till next week, a Dr. Jerome Kelton. She apologized on his behalf, informing them that he was a new member of the department and this was to be his first class at Met. U. The Head also passed out a curriculum outline and contact information for Dr. Jerome, assuring them that he was in email contact even though the actual class would start next week. Lois, of course, knew just who Dr. Jerome Kelton was and had to smile when evil thoughts of distracting her fianc‚ in class crossed her mind. Talk about seducing your teacher.
Lunchtime came around. One good thing about E.H., the services included all three meals. Therefore, she joined Jung Hoon and the others for the noon meal before proceeding to the computer lab. Evelyn, a senior resident of E.H., had given her instructions on how to register for her own email account and network access. 'You'll need it since you're taking Computational Science. Just go to the lab and ask for Gary. He's the most helpful lab tech around,' Evelyn had said.
Unfortunately, Gary was not around, and Lois got stuck with the lab tech from hell. It took her almost three hours to get her account. But here she was, finally able to log in. Not wanting to risk the possibility of anyone tracing her email correspondence, she fired up the Internet and connected to the Daily Planet's LAN system. She used her Daily Planet's email account to send a request to Jimmy to help her look at the tiny list of names that Michael was able to provide her. She needed him to retrieve their university records and any other information he could find on them. She also requested if he could do a background check on Andrew Stanton.
After sending the email, a sense of mischief arose within her. She hadn't had one of those for quite some time, with that morning's evil thoughts as an exception, and the feeling took her by surprise. Still, she couldn't resist. Taking out the email address of Dr. Kelton, she quickly composed a note to him on her school account. Less than five minutes later, a reply arrived in her inbox. She gleefully opened and read it.
"Dear Ms. Thompkins, I understand your concern that you've been out of school for a long time. But I think you should sit in for a few lessons before deciding whether you need private tutorship. Do not put yourself down too soon. If you have difficulty after we've started, then we can bring up this issue again. Yours Sincerely, J.Kelton," the email read.
She grinned and replied. Once again, the answer to her email came forthwith. It read, "Alexa, if that's what you'd like me to call you, I believe you are entirely too eager about this class. That's a sign of a good student. However, since I won't be needing any student assistant, I must decline your offer. Yours Sincerely, J.Kelton."
Lois laughed at the answer. She decided to send just one last email and waited for the reply. This time, Dr. Kelton sounded very angry. "Ms. Thompkins, even if I didn't have a fianc‚, that suggestion is very inappropriate. I hope you will reconsider taking my class, because I would not tolerate any impropriety. J.Kelton."
She didn't bother answering that email. Instead, she left the poor fellow reconsidering his decision to take up the faculty position at Met. U. 'Ah Clark, that was fun. Now for some real emails,' she thought as she sent her partner an email using her Daily Planet account, updating him on the investigation and other more mundane things. She left out her nightmares of the night before and her inability to sleep last night, knowing that it would only worry him further. She felt a little guilty for the omission though. 'Well, I did get a good night sleep last night even if it was quite short.'
That email invoked an immediate response. "Lois, sweetheart, I'm glad that you had a good night sleep, even though the place you chose to fall asleep left something to be desired. I hope you won't do it again; my heart can't take it. And please be careful in your investigation. You know that I'll only be a shout away, right? I'll check in with Jimmy about the information on Dr. Stanton and the girls and get back to you A.S.A.P. Do not do anything rash for now. Wait till I'm there.
"Honey, I missed talking to you last night, too. But you are right, we cannot continue to call each other. Let us communicate this way in the mean time. Everyday, around this time, I'll be online to answer query from my students…so send me a message if you are free, for this week at least. I love you too. Clark."
She smiled at the tone of the email. He was worried about her, and that made her feel safe, even if it seemed illogical. Didn't someone say that feelings are supposed to be illogical? She replied to reassure him that she was fine and wasn't going to do anything rash, at least not by her standard.
By the time Lois finished all the correspondence, it was nearly dinner time. Walking back to Elizabeth Hall, she started planning her next move. "Alexa, there you are. What took you so long?" Evelyn joined her as they walked toward E.H.
"Oh, Gary wasn't there and it took ages for the other guy to set up my account. It was so frustrating," Lois replied, not exaggerating her irritation at all.
"Ben, was it? Yes, he's hopeless. He wouldn't have been hired if not for his connection to the President of Met. U."
"But that's nepotism," Lois protested.
"Yes, but who wants to offend the president?"
Lois had no answer for that, and they both lapsed into silence.
That night, Lois settled in to sleep, her thoughts flying all the way to Smallville towards her partner. He was really very worried for her, she knew. He tried to tone down that concern in the email, but not very successfully. Furthermore, he had been feeling guilty for his inability to rescue her before she got hurt. Not that she held it against him, she thought as she drifted off to sleep…
'Clark, where are you?' The desperate thought flashed through her mind as the men got nearer to the place she was hiding. At this time, she wished she were telepathic. She burrowed deeper into her hiding place, hoping against hope that they'd not find her.
One of the men kept taunting her, "Come on out, little mouse. Why don't you give us cats here a little challenge?"
Lois thought furiously, weighing her options. Her side still ached and she was losing more blood as time passed, even after her efforts to stop the flow. If she tried to make a break out of her hiding place, she had very little chance of surviving. But then, she would have no chance of surviving if they found her. Better to have little than to have none.
She prepared herself to make the break. As one of the men started to touch the crates that hid her, she gathered enough strength to push the crates and boxes away. They crashed on top of him, startling his companions. Lois took the opportunity presented to rush out of her place and made a dash towards the opening of the alley. Shots rang, and time suddenly seemed to slow down to almost a halt. In slow motion, she turned back to see the man under the crates struggling to get up. One of his companions was helping him and the other held a smoking gun in his hands. Impossible as it may seem, she saw the bullet drilling its way through the air straight at her.
"Noooo…!" Lois jolted awake. Cold sweat covered her whole body as she shook uncontrollably. Her breathing was still shallow and her heart was beating furiously.
A loud knock on her door made her jump, as she realized the sound was not that of a gunshot. "Alexa, are you all right?" the speaker outside asked, concerned.
Lois hurried to her door and opened it. Her next door neighbour stood in flannel pajamas looking at her worriedly. "Hi, I heard you scream. Is everything all right?"
"Hi Maggie. Yes, everything's fine. I just had a nightmare. I'm sorry if I woke you up."
Maggie looked at her, unconvinced. She noted that Lois was still shaking and her clothes were drenched with sweat. She shook her head. "Alexa, I don't think you are all right. Look, you're drenched. Why don't you go and take a warm shower, and I'll pop into the kitchen to make you a hot drink?"
"Don't worry about it. It's fine. I heard from the others that you just lost your mother. I know how that feels. Besides, we are neighbours, right?" Maggie waved Lois's protests away.
Lois gratefully accepted and went to shower and change. When she returned, Maggie was waiting with the promised hot drink, chocolate of course, having changed Lois's bed sheets for her. "Now, there you go. I know you'd not want to talk about it tonight, but feel free to tell me tomorrow," Maggie said with a grin. "I'm taking psychiatry for my major, you know."
"Thanks a lot, Maggie."
Maggie waved it away with a smile and left a warm, sleepy Lois who drifted once more to dreamland. This time, though, the dreams were pleasantly chocolaty in nature.
"Hey sleeping beauty! Wake up!" Maggie popped her head in through the unlocked door. Lois, who was dreaming of swimming in a pool of chocolate treacle, struggled to get up. "Who? What?…Oh Maggie. What time is it?"
"Seven, and breakfast is about to be served. How'd you sleep?"
"Fine. Thanks for your help last night."
"Nah, no problem. Now, get up and come down for breakfast." Maggie left with a grin.
At the breakfast table, Lois found Maggie and Jung Hoon waiting for her. "Hey, there," Jung Hoon greeted her. "Grab some of those pancakes before they run out. They are the best."
Lois did as suggested and slipped into the seat next to Maggie. As she sipped her coffee, she looked around. Groups of E.H. residents and some of their friends were hanging around, their breakfast plates almost empty and mugs cradled in their hands. It was a nice warm feeling to listen to happy chatter and gossips. 'Very much in contrast with my nightmare last night.' With that thought, a depression came over her. 'No, I mustn't give in to it. Focus, Lois. Focus. This investigation needs all your attention.' She shook off the heavy feeling and tucked into the heavenly pancakes.
Maggie watched Lois as she wolfed down her pancakes. "Wow, you've quite an appetite."
Lois grinned and said, "After last night, I think I burnt more than half of my energy reserve."
"What happened last night?" Jung Hoon asked, confused.
Maggie looked at Lois, indicating it was her story to tell. Lois turned to Jung Hoon. "Well, Maggie played the part of the dashing white knight to my damsel-in-distress. Actually, she heard me screaming from a nightmare and came running. Helped change my sheets and even made me hot chocolate."
"Must have been quite a nightmare."
"Yes, and Alexa promised to tell me this morning." Maggie turned expectantly to Lois.
"Hey, I did no such thing. Really guys, it was just your normal, run-of-the-mill nightmare. Everyone has them now and then." Lois tried to put off her friends' curiosity.
"I don't think so, Alexa. No normal nightmare would cause you to wake up drenched in cold sweat."
Lois sighed, as her mind raced to make up a believable story. "All right, I was dreaming of my mother."
"You've not gotten over her death?" asked the psychiatrist in Maggie.
Lois nodded and asked plaintively, "Can we not talk about it?"
Both Jung Hoon and Maggie shifted uneasily before nodding. They weren't too comfortable about the subject either.
The three friends made their way to the Red Building, where all their classes that morning were being held. When they reached the building, Maggie left to attend her psychology class, leaving Jung Hoon and Lois to the mercy of their Computational Science tutor.
Lois was anxious, as once again, she was having the same tutor as Kaylie. She wondered if it was a coincidence or something that Perry looked into when he arranged for her cover. However, knowing Perry, she'd not likely to find out. Jung Hoon mistook her anxiety for nerves since she had confided that she knew next to nothing about the subject. He kept reassuring her that the course should be easy, and that if she had problems, he was more than willing to help.
Ms. Endora Sims was nothing like Dr. Andrew Stanton. At first glance, she would be dismissed as a nerd. With thick horn-rimmed glasses, hair pulled backwards and tied in a bun, skinny and a beak-like nose, she seemed like a nervous character. Her pacing and wringing of her hands further reinforced this image as she spoke to the class. Not once did she make eye contact with anyone, preferring to talk in a mouse-like voice to the walls beyond.
Lois could not quite believe that Ms. Sims, like Dr. Stanton, would be one of the faculty members involved in the ring. She just seemed too timid for such ventures. Once again, Lois had to remind herself not to judge a book by its cover. She wished that Clark was around for her to bounce ideas with. This investigation was becoming more and more complex by the moment. She had clues pointing to two unlikely suspects. She had a list of names that she couldn't identify. She had a partner who was missing in action and above all, she had no idea how to break this case. 'Not a good sign, Lois.'
Lois left the class with a pile of notes on Assembly Language which to her were just a bunch of zeros and ones. Of what significance could zeros and ones be, she asked herself. Not when lives are at stake. She had to be more patient, this case would take a lot more effort on her part, especially since she had no idea how big this thing was. Not looking where she was going, she bumped into someone. Papers would have flown all over the place if not for the person's fast action, actually extremely fast action. Lois looked up to find a very familiar face in a familiar suit grinning down at her.
Superman presented her with the papers he had rescued. "Ms. Thompkins, isn't it? I'm sorry to have caught you unawares," he said with a slight smirk.
She was surprised, and remembering her 'prank' yesterday, groaned. "How did you know my name, Superman?"
"Oh, a friend told me. Have a nice day, Ms. Thompkins," he replied, a knowing grin thrown her way. He couldn't help adding in a whisper, "And I hope you aren't planning to seduce all your tutors for better grades."
Lois could only stare after him as he flew off. Maggie, who saw the incident, approached her and asked in an awed tone, "Wow, that was Superman. What did he want with you?"
"I don't know. I literally bumped into him and he helped save my papers from flying off. Then, he left."
Maggie was a little jealous of the opportunity presented to her new friend. "At least, you managed to talk to him."
"Hmm," Lois answered. "Anyway, I'm off to the library. Want to come along?"
Maggie made a face and shook her head. Taking that as a no, Lois waved a goodbye and went off, still wondering about Clark's appearance. She knew her fianc‚ would not have risked approaching her just for something petty as letting her know that her prank hadn't worked. The only thing she could think of was that he had to have been there to pass her something. 'Of course, the papers!'
She searched through the papers, a work which paid off when she found a stack of research on Dr. Stanton and the girls on the list. Under the cover of studying, she perused the material. It looked like the girls had a few things in common besides their background. Firstly, they had been borderline students when they came to Met. U. All of them improved their grades tremendously either in their second or third year.
What was even more interesting was that they had either Physics or Computational Science background. However, their tutors or lecturers differed. Jimmy, being the conscientious researcher that he was, included the details on the various faculty members involved with these girls. As a side note, he apologized to her for not being able to provide more information on the faculty members at such short notice, but was working on it.
'Now, we are getting somewhere.' Lois smiled as she leaned back and massaged her tired neck. Once again, she longed to have Clark around. Thinking about Clark, she wondered if he had noticed the bags under her eyes or that she had lost weight. Then again, this was Clark; he noticed everything about her. She was sure he would have said something to her if they had not been surrounded by people. As it was, she could probably expect him later that night.
Lois knew she could no longer put off telling Clark about her nightmares. In a sense, it was a relief since she had been feeling very guilty for keeping a secret from him after their promise not to keep secrets from each other. However, she didn't want to make him feel guiltier than he already was. Somehow, even though she had not confided in him, Clark sensed that she was troubled. Still, he was too much of a gentleman to push her to open up when she wasn't ready. That was one of the things she loved about him.
Still for the past two months, he had been hovering near her. And when she said hovering, she literally meant hovering. For the first few nights after she was released from hospital, he would show up outside of her windows, concerned for her well-being. They had taken to sleeping together because of it. However thus far, they've managed to resist the temptation to make love. Not that she minded, of course. They were not yet ready for it. Yet, his mere presence had been able to chase away the bad dreams.
It was only when he left for Smallville that the dreams started. They were not always as intense as last night's but they were not mild either. In many of the nightmares, she found herself reliving her escape or the taunts of the men searching the alley. She had never gotten as far as she had gone last night. Lois wondered if the fact that the dreams were progressing was significant. She hoped so. She wondered what was it about the last investigation that disturbed her peace of mind so greatly. She had been in other life threatening situations before, so why this particular one?
Lois shook her head, trying to rid herself of the thoughts crowding her. She told herself firmly that she should not be entertaining such thoughts, not when she had an assignment to complete. Talking about assignments, she groaned as she remembered the assignment given by Ms. Sims; the class was to write an Assembly Language code to retrieve two numbers and add them up. A simple assignment, the mouse-like tutor had said.
Just then, her stomach growled. 'Lunch time.' Lois packed all her stuff and proceeded to E.H. for lunch. She crossed her fingers and hoped that Jung Hoon had returned for lunch. She needed his help for the assignment…wait, what was she thinking of? 'Duh, Lois, are you galactically stupid or something?' she scolded herself. 'This is the perfect opportunity to talk to Endora Sims. It would establish me as a poor student in the class and give her motivation to offer me a position just like the other girls.'
Later that night, Lois sat at the sorry excuse for a study desk, trying her best to work on her assignments. Her philosophy lecturer had thrown a long list of books at them to read. A mere drop in the ocean of knowledge, he said. 'Yeah, right.' Lois curbed her impulse to throw him to the gallows. The guy irritated her; of all her tutors and lecturers, she would have suspected that he was part of the syndicate. Unfortunately though, he wasn't. He never taught any of the other girls, being a new Faculty member himself. 'Still, let's put him on the list,' her evil side suggested with a smirk. Before she could response, a tap sounded on the window.
On hearing the expected tap, Lois looked up to see her fianc‚'s face peering in. He was wearing dark clothing. Opening the window, she gave him a brilliant smile. She watched him impatiently as he struggled to enter through the little window. It was difficult to wait to feel his arms around her…to feel that she had come home. 'For once, I know where my home is.' Her eyes misted with tears as she thought of the years she had spent trying to find a home. Neither her family nor her boyfriends were able to provide that for her. Not until Clark came along. She thought of how fortunate she was to have Clark. Not many were as fortunate as she was to find someone with whom they could feel a sense of belonging.
Still, she waited until he was steady on his feet before swiftly walking into his embrace. As his arms closed around her, she felt her cares and concerns fall away from her. She felt safe. They stood just so for what seemed like an eternity as she soaked in his presence. Finally, she looked up, meeting his concerned gaze. Their lips met. It was a kiss meant to tell him just how much she had missed him.
Clark broke off the kiss somewhat reluctantly, still keeping his arms about her. She felt thinner. "Hi honey. So, you were expecting me, huh?" He smiled when she nodded. "I guess I'm becoming predictable. Honey, what've you done to yourself? Didn't you promise me to look after yourself better?"
Lois sighed. She was right, he had noticed her appearance. "Clark, I need to tell you something. Shh…wait till I'm finish, OK?" She led him to the bed and forced him to sit. "I don't want you to feel guilty about this. After all, I've been telling you over and over that it's not your fault."
Now Clark was even more alarmed. He was about to speak when Lois forged ahead. "Clark, I've been having trouble sleeping without you. My sleep's been plagued by nightmares. Not just any nightmares, these were about my captivity and later escape. To make matters worse, I haven't been able to force myself to eat, except for the last few days. The food here's good and the company's friendly. Do you know that the cook's simply a genius? If only I was rich, I'd pay him to cook for me everyday. Oh, sorry. I know, I know. I was babbling again, right?" She suddenly realized that she had gone off on a tangent when Clark looked almost dazed.
She then continued, "I'm sorry I haven't told you about it earlier. Like I said, I didn't want you to feel guilty. You don't have to deny it, Clark. I know you have."
Clark pulled her down on his lap and cradled her, neither of them speaking for a long time. Finally, Clark whispered into her hair, "Tell me."
Lois, who had nearly fallen asleep by this time, lulled by the comfort and safety she found in his embrace, shifted her position to a more comfortable one by forcing him to lay down on her bed. She then stretched herself on top of him. He automatically placed his arms around her waist as she tucked her head between his chin and shoulder blade.
"Last night's the worst one yet," she started in a small voice. "I woke up in a cold sweat and if not for Maggie, my next-door neighbor…" She shivered as she remembered her dream. Clark tightened his embrace, but did not speak.
Lois nuzzled at his throat, inhaling the scent that was uniquely Clark. She loved the smell, so much so that she had a few of Clark's shirts and sweaters in her closet to be pulled out and slept in when she missed him. The last week was definitely one of those times. She then continued, "They were searching the alley and I was trapped behind those crates. This time, I managed to make a run for it. However, I woke up just as I was dreaming that the bullet was flying toward me." She sighed, finally looking up into his concerned face. "The whole time, I was thinking 'Where was Clark?'"
Clark flinched at her remark, even as he kept his tight hold on her. He used his power to float them above the bed and then resettled back with him reclining on the headboard. "Lois, I really wished I had been there on time. I wished a million times since then that I had the ability to time travel…"
Lois put her fingers against his lips to stop him. "Clark, it wasn't your fault. There's something I finally realized this morning when I thought back to the nightmare I had last night.
"Clark, for the past couple of years, you've been there for me every time and any time I needed you. It is to an extent that I've taken your being there for granted. That's not what I should be doing as an investigative reporter, Clark. I can't afford to be overly dependent on others, not even you, without losing the edge. It doesn't mean that it'll affect our relationship in anyway. In fact, I feel safe whenever you are with me. I feel that at long last I'm finally home. But that investigation woke me up to the fact that I was relying too much on you to save me.
She stopped him before he could protest. "I know that you'd try your best and you did your best then too. However, there'll be times when it's not possible for you to help me and I need to realize that. That was what happened in that investigation, I took for granted that you'd be there as my safety net. And when you weren't, I felt bereaved, abandoned. No, Clark…," she stopped him again when he was about to say something.
"Again, it wasn't your fault. It was mine. Mine for assuming that I, the reporter, had exclusive rights to Superman. Even as your wife, which I hope to be one day, I will have to share you with the rest of the world. How could I then imagine that you have to be there for me as my bodyguard every time?"
She ran her hands through his hair and gave his clenched jaws a kiss, hoping to relax him. She knew how badly this was affecting him. She wished she could talk as good as she wrote. Unfortunately, she was never good at expressing her emotions verbally. It wasn't a good idea to be emotional around her parents. They'd just use it as another weapon against her. No, she learnt early to keep her feelings to herself. That way, no one could hurt her. Though now, such defense mechanisms put her at a disadvantage.
Clark laid back, letting her do whatever she wanted with him even though he wished that he could say something. Lois looked so small and fragile as she tried to open up to him. He knew that she wasn't finished and he should let her finish. After all, this was what he had been waiting for the two months since she was shot and almost died. He had known that something was bothering her, but was reluctant to push her, knowing how fragile she was emotionally.
"I almost died back there in that alley. If it wasn't for your timely arrival, Clark, I would have bled to death, if not worse. They wouldn't have cared, after all, they were just interested in my organs." They both recalled that last few seconds.
"Nooooo!" Time seemed to be moving ever so slowly for Lois as she found herself rooted to the ground, staring at the bullet, coming ever closer. People said that when you're about to die, your whole life seemed to be flashed at you. The same thing was happening to her. She did not feel the impact of the bullet into the left side of her chest, barely missing the heart. She did not feel the pain shooting through her whole body nor the fall that she took on impact nor the blood spurting out of her.
No, she felt none of those things. Instead, she felt almost calm as she watched her life passing by her. Her childhood days which were spent trying to gain her dad's approval and helping her mom in her drunken state. Her life at Met. U. where she first fell in love and was betrayed. Her time at the Planet before Clark; Mad Dog Lane was her name. And Clark! Oh, how much time she had wasted when she could have been with him earlier. How much she had taken him for granted. All her regrets, her mistakes, as well as her joys, her triumphs passed before her. Time seemed to have stopped or was it that time seemed to have sped up. She had no way of knowing. Was she dead?
"Nooooo!" From seemingly a distance she heard a voice screaming. A familiar voice. She struggled to consciousness, wanting to tell that voice of what she'd learnt from her little sojourn into the afterlife. 'Please, let me be able to tell him!' she pleaded. To whom, she had no idea; to God, perhaps?
She felt herself being picked up into the familiar embrace and then she knew no more.
Lois was roused from her remembrance by Clark's tightening hold. It was as if he was trying to stop her from leaving him. If only he knew that she could never leave him. She couldn't walk away from him even if she tried.
"Clark, you know I love you, right?"
He nodded, but couldn't speak past the lump in his throat. The recollection of her near death had him very frightened that she would be gone one day. Then, what would be his fate? Without her, he wasn't whole. Could he live on with a piece of him missing? Without his heart and soul?
"Clark, I…" She was about to say more when there was a knock on her door. The knock took both of them by surprise. They immediately got up and separated, as Clark gave a glance to the door.
"Looks like an Asian guy," he whispered to Lois.
"That'll be Jung Hoon," she said, somewhat reluctantly. "You have to leave."
He nodded. "But I'll be back later. We need to finish this conversation, Lois."
"Yes, I know. Bye." She kissed him, before turning toward the door as another knock was heard. Clark swiftly climbed out of the window and flew off.
"Wait up. Let me get decent," Lois called out. She looked around to see if there was anything that she needed to hide before opening the door. "Hey, Jung Hoon."
"Hi Lois. I was wondering if you needed help on the assignment Ms. Sims gave us," Jung Hoon stammered out, a little flustered. He had something in his hands and it wasn't the assignment sheet.
"Oh." Lois finally realized what he was holding; a box of chocolates.
Jung Hoon followed her gaze and flushed. "Here," he said, thrusting the box to her. "I thought you might care for some chocolates. My mom posted me a lot."
Lois didn't really believe him but let it pass. She thought it was sweet of him, however she didn't care to lead the poor guy on. So she decided to let him down gently. "Thanks Jung Hoon. However, I can't really accept these."
"Jung Hoon, I…I'm involved with someone."
He looked down at his feet, slightly embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. Maybe I should go."
Wanting to make him more at ease, she invited him in. "It's all right. I do really need help on the assignment. So if you don't mind, I'd like to take you up on your offer."
With the scene behind them, they spent about an hour on the assignment before he left and shared the chocolate that he had brought.
A tap on the window woke her up from her state of half- sleep. She immediately got up to open the window. However, Clark didn't come in. Instead, he asked her to get dressed in warm, dark clothing. The implication was clear, they were about to do some breaking and entering. She grinned at the thought. Superman, breaking and entering. But it wasn't Superman doing it, it was Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
When she had settled comfortably in his arms, he turned to her and apologized, "Sorry, Lois. I got held up, rescuing a sailing boat off the coast of Florida. Then as I flew back, I had the idea to search Dr. Stanton's apartment. Have you looked at Jimmy's notes on him?"
"I glanced at it but nothing seemed to leap up at me."
"Well, for the most part, he seems clean. However, there is one tiny detail which could be our break. His wife is a silent partner in a holiday agency touted for its services to the rich and famous. Jimmy checked out the agency earlier today after I passed the information to you. It's known for arranging unusual holiday tours suited for each client and comes with excellent services. Guess what one of the services is."
"An escort service."
"Clark, the Stantons might be in," Lois said, a little worried.
"I flew by their place earlier. No one's at home. Do you want to do this?" Clark asked, concerned.
"Yes, sure I do. But we haven't …"
"Finished talking. I know. We'll do it later, sweetheart. I promise."
Lois smiled and nodded. Clark had always kept his promises.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the Stantons' townhouse. Alighting on the balcony, Clark checked around to ensure that no one saw them. Lois went forward to work on the locks. "I get the feeling that this is too easy."
"Lois, let's not question our luck," Clark said with a smile. It was just like Lois to doubt when things were going their way.
"Do you see any security system we need to disable first?"
"Exactly. If you were a criminal, would you leave incriminating things laying around without any way to secure them. In fact, even if you weren't, you'd still have a security system. What kind of sane person does not have a good security system at home? They must be so na‹ve, the kind of mentality that makes crime more rampant."
Clark smiled at the patented Lois babble. It was good to hear it. There had been little of such babble in the last few months. "Lois, let's just go in and check it out. If we come up with nothing, at least we tried."
"That's just so you. Clark, you've…"
To shut her up, Clark captured her upturned face and planted a kiss on her lips. "Come on. Or should I take over?"
She glared at him. "Not fair." Turning back to the locks, she finished picking them with a flourish and opened the door with a bow. "After you, sir."
Clark suppressed a chuckle and proceeded inside. Unfortunately, Lois was correct. They did not find any evidence to link the Stantons to the syndicate at all. Still, Clark planted a few listening devices, which Jimmy had supplied, in strategic locations. Jimmy had volunteered to monitor the devices. Hopefully, they might pick up something of use. They'd barely left the townhouse when they saw the Stantons returning.
"Whew, that was close." Lois snuggled closer to her fianc‚ as he flew them back to her room.
"Yes, but it's like old times," Clark grinned. "Now, don't tell me it didn't get your adrenaline pumping?"
Answering the knowing glance thrown at her, she said, "Nope, didn't do anything to me. Working with you, on the other hand…"
"Sweetheart, that's a privilege I'd never want to give up."
"Hmm." She was drifting off to sleep as he flew them slowly. For the first time in a long while, she felt all was well with her world. They were going to talk and this investigation was a very interesting and challenging case. Yes, she was at peace at long last.
A few minutes later, she was roused from her state of semi- sleep when they arrived outside her room. When she climbed in, a doubt came to her, "Are you…?"
"Yes. Didn't I promise?"
She nodded and moved away from the window, making way for him to enter. "Clark, we need to discuss the case first. Could…?"
"I'll stay here until just before dawn, honey." He reassured her.
"Thanks!" She swiftly hugged him, and just as swiftly, turned away to get the collection of her notes on the investigation. They discussed late into the night. Clark managed to extract promises from her not to put herself in too much danger while he's not around. In return, she had him convinced that he need not check on her all the time. They worked out a way to contact each other, at least for this week while he's not officially on the campus.
It felt good to be on a surer footing with regards to their partnership. He had been handling her with kid gloves these few months and even if she had been someone who didn't mind being handled, the kind that she was subjected to was too much. Between him and Perry, she had felt rather claustrophobic. It was the reason she had insisted that Clark should go home to Smallville, even without her. Not that she hadn't wanted to go with him. But at least this way, she felt less smothered.
A thought came to her out of nowhere. In the midst of all the discussion, she suddenly asked, "Clark, how did you know that I was Alexa Thompkins?"
Clark blinked, not expecting the question at all. He should have, since it was just like Lois to change topics in the midst of conversations. His mind had to reorient itself before he could answer. "Well, Perry told me." It was more a question than an answer.
Lois raised her eyebrow, and replied, "I don't think so. Perry never told me your identity and I'll bet that he didn't tell you mine either."
Clark gave her a sheepish grin. "OK, so I got it out of Jimmy." Then slowly, the grin turned into mischievous. "Actually, what I told him was that there was this student who volunteered to help me out, if you know what I mean. And I'd like to know more about her before I take her up on her offer. Jimmy was only too willing to help."
Lois screeched and launched herself on him. "Clark! You didn't! You wouldn't dare!" She attacked his most vulnerable spot and tickled him.
"Alexa! Are you all right?" Maggie's voice came from the door.
Clark groaned and Lois's first thought was 'Not again'. She got up and motioned Clark to stay out of sight. Opening the door a little, she peeked out sheepishly.
"Hi Maggie, sorry to wake you up. Maybe, I should be requesting another room."
"Don't worry about that. Are you OK?" Maggie frowned.
"Yes, another nightmare. But not as bad this time. Sorry Maggie," Lois stammered out, not really liking the fact that she was lying to someone who was concerned for her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, don't worry. Go back to sleep. Thanks again."
Maggie nodded and went back to her room next door. Lois sighed softly as she closed the door. "Clark, don't do that next time," she scolded him.
"Me? It was you who screeched. Is that the girl who helped you last night? I should thank her."
"Yeah, I know. I feel so bad about waking her up twice in a row. And this time, it wasn't even a real emergency."
"Makes you feel like the boy who cried 'Wolf', doesn't it?" Clark agreed, as he took her into his arms and floated them to the bed.
"Hmm, yes. I had a friend like Maggie once during my days at Met. U.. She was an exchange student so we only had one semester together. We tried to keep in touch but …"
"I know what you mean, honey. Even when your friends are in the same city, it takes a lot of effort to keep in touch."
They laid down together with Lois on top. She turned to face him. For a while, neither spoke as they thought of all the friends they've lost along the way and those still around. "You know, I didn't really have any good friends while growing up. There was Lucy of course, but she was a sister. I'm not saying that sisters can't be friends. I'm sure there are many sisters out there who are best friends. It was just that in our family, it was difficult for us to even talk much less bond."
"Yes, I know. I had friends in school and around town, but none that I could be close to. Lana and Pete were probably the closest friends I had."
"Oh Clark, your secret must have been such a burden when you were growing up all those years," Lois said, saddened by Clark's youth.
"It's all right, honey. Now, I have you. You're my best friend. What more can I ask?" Clark hugged her.
"You're mine too. Yes, what more can we ask? Someone said that to be in love with your best friend is the most ideal thing in a relationship."
"And that's exactly what we have."
She nodded in agreement, laying her head contentedly on his chest. Before either of them knew it, they had drifted off to dreamland.
"Honey, wake up."
"Two more minutes. Please. Call Perry and tell him we'll be late," Lois muttered and went back to sleep.
Clark had to smile. This was something he missed when he went home to Smallville without her. That aside, he was feeling guilty this morning because he had not managed to keep his promise to continue their talk. Well, if Lois wasn't too mad or decided to go back into her shell, they could talk more tonight.
He had decided when he woke up that he wasn't going to spend one more night apart from Lois. Besides, it wasn't as if he couldn't fly to and fro in just a few minutes. Why hadn't he thought about that earlier, he wondered.
Shaking his head to clear those thoughts away, he attempted to wake Lois up a second time. "Lois, wake up. I need to leave shortly."
"Hmm," she mumbled, struggling to open her eyes. "What is it? A call for help?"
"No, honey. It'll be dawn soon, and you wouldn't want Superman to be caught coming out of a window of Elizabeth Hall, would you?"
That woke her up. She finally realized where she was. "Oh, Clark. We fell asleep." She sounded upset.
"I'm sorry. It's my fault that we…"
"No, not your fault. We were both tired. Can we talk tonight?" Lois asked, shyly.
"Yes." Clark smiled and gave her a morning kiss. "I need to leave but I'll be back tonight."
"Bye. Say hello to your parents." Lois followed him to the window and watched him flew away. Deciding that she had a few more hours, she went back to sleep. The bed smelled of Clark, enough to keep the nightmares away.
She woke up that morning feeling more refreshed than any day since she was hospitalized. Somehow, the day seemed brighter and she could smell the fresh air. 'Where did that come from? This is Metropolis, there's no fresh air in Metropolis,' she wondered.
'Oh girl, you've got it bad,' a little voice remarked.
'Well, I think it's more than that. The talk must have done something to her,' another voice chipped in.
'Quiet down, both of you. You are both correct,' Lois told them as a bright smile dawned on her face, rivaling the brightness of the day. Jung Hoon and Maggie were waiting for her at the same table as the day before. They looked at her with concern and were a little confused when they saw her bright smile.
"So?" Maggie started, once Lois had settled down with her breakfast.
"Yes?" Lois answered cheerfully.
"What she means is that you look a lot better this morning," Jung Hoon clarified.
"Well, I had a good night sleep."
"I thought you had the nightmare."
"It was a mild one. I slept like a log after that."
"Glad to hear it." Maggie nodded.
"Maggie, thanks a lot for being concerned. I've not had many friends who would have been concerned about me," Lois stated reflectively.
"Hey, that's before. Now you're one of us. A resident of Elizabeth Hall. We take care of one another here." Maggie grinned at her.
"Still, I appreciate it."
Soon the three friends finished their breakfast and Jung Hoon suggested a stroll. Maggie declined because her class was about to start. Lois hesitated before accepting. She needed to talk to Jung Hoon as she wasn't sure that he had fully accepted her rejection and that there weren't any hard feelings.
As they strolled along the side of the river running through the campus, she tried to broach the subject. "Jung Hoon, about last night…"
"Hey, it's all right Alexa. I understand. We are still friends, right?"
"Yes. We are."
"That's the important part. I guess it was a little idiotic of me to develop a crush on you." He looked at her, sheepish.
"Hey, I am flattered. At my age, I'll take all the flattery I can get," Lois defended his action, grinning mischievously.
"Your age! Got to be kidding. You look like a 16 year old. I swear, not one day older." Jung Hoon grinned back. For the rest of the walk, they exchanged jokes and flattery. Lois was surprised at her ability to befriend these students. She used to have difficulty developing friendships. 'Until Clark came along,' she thought. 'He changed my life for me. He helped me to better relate to others.'
Her thoughts flew to her fianc‚. She knew that she would have to tell him what she learned from her sojourn to the 'afterlife' and tried to imagine what he would have to say about it. They've never really talked about such things before. 'Is it the right time to do so, now?' she wondered. 'We are in the middle of an investigation. Is such a discussion really appropriate at this point of time? Perhaps, I'll wait until this is over for that discussion.' She finally resolved her dilemma.
Classes flew by the rest of the day. Lois spent much of her time struggling to understand the various concepts in Physics when she would rather spend time concentrating on her investigation. At least, it gave her the excuse to interact with 'Andy'. He patiently sat with her, explaining his lecture all over again. 'Well, he's a gifted teacher, I'll give him that,' Lois thought as she found herself beginning to see the beauty of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. 'He has the passion for the subject. So what made him get involved in the ring?'
There was no doubt in her mind that Professor Andrew Stanton was involved, especially after Clark's revelation regarding his wife. It was just too coincidental. And Lois had never believed in coincidences. As they wrapped up their session, Andy asked her, "What makes you start college at such a late age?"
'Ah, time to set the trap!' Lois smiled inwardly. Physically, she pulled a sad face. "I would have gone in earlier, but after high school I had to support my mom who had a stroke which left her paralyzed. She passed away recently."
"I'm sorry to hear it. It certainly explains why you have a difficult time trying to catch up. So how are you supporting yourself? You are no longer working?"
"No. I managed to get a scholarship. It's adequate." Lois made a face to indicate what she really thought about 'adequate'.
"Don't worry. There's lots of opportunity for you to earn money here on campus. Once you have managed to catch up on your work, that is," Andy said, understandingly.
'I bet.' Of course, Lois didn't say what she really thought out loud. "Thanks for your time, Andy. I truly appreciate it. In fact, it never occurred to me what an interesting theory Einstein had put across."
"Yes, Physics need not be dry. It can be quite philosophical too. Wait till we get to Quantum Mechanics." Andy grinned mischievously.
Lois left his office, groaning.
'Do all lecturers like to torture people? Hmm, perhaps that could be my next assignment. If I survive this one.' Lois complained to herself as she walked out of her philosophy class, the last class of the day. The more she thought about it, the more she felt that she should keep Professor John W. Lykos's name in the list. That guy was a slave driver, expecting his students to have read at least five percent of the dozens of books on the list he gave out the day before. Furthermore, he had a scathing tongue, one that had blistered many of the jokers in class. He had no patience for fools; he even said it himself. The only redeeming quality was that he had a wicked sense of humor and made the discussions very lively.
'God! I sound like a student, complaining about school! Here, I thought that was behind me.' Lois suddenly realized how typical a student she was becoming. 'I've got to do something else.' She didn't realize that there was someone watching her as she walked down the Brown Memorial Avenue, heading back to E.H.
"So what do you think of her?" The person watching Lois turned to face his companion.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean, you spent quite some time with her today. You should be able to form some kind of an opinion," his companion replied.
"We've seen her records. She's a perfect candidate for us."
"Actually that's the reason I'm asking your opinion. She's too perfect a candidate. Furthermore, she's only in her first year. The others were in their second year before we even considered them."
The first person remained silent for a time before finally answering. "The unfortunate incident with Kaylie has made the rest of the girls more restive and frightened. While they are still doing their 'assignments', they aren't willing to help us recruit others. We need new blood and Alexa seems to come at the right time."
"But it may be a set up."
"What does Ben has to say?"
"He has looked over all her records and it's all in order. He spoke to her high school principle who had praised her diligence to her work. Her financial and social backgrounds also pass muster. The doctor who treated her mother said that she was a devoted daughter; she spent her evenings at the hospice tending to her mother."
"So what's the problem? Why do you think it's a set up?"
"Just my gut feeling."
"Well, we'll just have to observe her further. After all, the term has just begun."
His companion nodded and the conversation turned to other topics.
Meanwhile, back at Elizabeth Hall, Lois had no inkling of the discussion taking place not even a mile away. She dumped her stuff on the desk and headed straight for the shower. After a refreshing shower, she felt ready to tackle her workload. Well, sometimes the body had other ideas, and she fell asleep at her desk.
Tossing and turning, she shivered in the night. In her sleep, she groped around, trying to find her covers. 'Where are they?' Her unconscious mind noted that her covers were missing. Unable to take too much of the cold, she started to wake.
"Ouch." She banged her head on the tin cover of the makeshift 'house' she had made earlier in the night. Of course, that was why she was cold. No proper bed covers and definitely no proper house. She was on her investigation, which Clark had not even an inkling of. He had been in Switzerland, dealing with the terrible landslide, and all those trapped skiers and holidaymakers when her source gave her this hot lead on illegal organ harvesting.
Lois shivered once again. What had made her so impulsively take a few days leave to investigate this without notifying anyone? Was there some sort of suicidal tendency in her? Well, if not suicidal, at the very least, a masochistic one. Being in this cold, without proper clothing and shelter was definitely not her idea of comfort. However, she knew that Perry would not have approved her investigation, since he had been rather worried about her. With her mom in a coma for a week, just a week ago, he didn't think she had recovered from her exhausting vigilance by the bedside nor from the maximum effort she put in to bringing the men who had harmed her mother to justice. Especially when Clark wasn't around, as he was supposedly covering the news of Superman's activity in Switzerland.
No, there was no other way for her to investigate the case without resorting to taking leave. Perry had been glad to grant it. He thought that she needed the time for some relaxation. Shivering violently as a strong gust of wind blew across the alley, her thoughts were wrenched back into the present. She needed to find some place warmer. Perhaps, the homeless shelter that some of the others were talking about would be a good place to go. Yes, she'd better leave now before it closed. She shivered.
Lois shivered in her sleep. The gust of wind outside startled her into waking. She instinctively turned towards the window. There, hovering outside, was Clark. He grinned, looking rather boyish in his dark clothes.
"Clark! Come on in." She felt a little guilty for the almost nightmare that she just had. 'Don't be ridiculous, Lois,' she scolded herself. 'You'll tell him later.'
"Hi honey. Fell asleep before completing your work, eh?" Clark's grin turned mischievous. "Tut, tut. Who'd thought that the great Lois Lane would not finish her work before she sleeps?"
"Well, you try being a student for a change. You, Faculty types, just know how to give work without considering the amount of work we students have in total." Lois gave him a mock glare.
"If you cannot take it, perhaps you should drop a few," Clark shot back.
"Of course I can take it. You just wait. I'll top my classes, yet," she replied, finding this conversation bordering upon silliness. Unable to contain her delight, she laughed out loud. Clark continued grinning at her.
"Lois, mom and dad send their hugs and kisses. Now why don't I give them to you," he teased. She grinned and went into his open arms.
After a few moments of comfort in each other's embrace, they went to work. She told him about the opening that she had given Dr. Stanton. "The bait has been set. Let's see whether the fishes are going to bite," she told him.
"At least, you've made some progress. The listening devices didn't pick up anything useful other than the fact that Professor Stanton and his wife are estranged. They sleep in separate bedrooms and do not actually talk to each other, other than 'can you please pass the butter' or comments like that." Clark sighed. "As for the research on the other lecturers that the girls had in common, Jimmy and I managed to get detailed records on three of them."
"Hmm, records you say?" A light dawned on Lois.
Clark knew that look. "Lois?"
"Clark, how did these people get to know the records of the girls? I'm sure they would go through the records with a fine comb before they actually approach the girls. These people are not your street corner pimps; they had shown themselves to be very selective when it comes to choosing their victims. So they must have a way to get to the records."
"You may be right. All right, you are definitely right," he amended when she raised her eyebrows at him. "From what I've been briefed, none of the Faculty members have direct access to those records other than the Deans of the faculties. Any one else have to request permission from the registrar's office to view the records."
"Do they have to justify their requests?"
"So that means…"
"They would look suspicious if too many such requests were made. Which implies…"
"That there is a mole in the registrar's office helping them."
"Bright! Lois, you are absolutely brilliant," Clark laughed.
She sketched a bow. "Thank you, kind sir. Brilliant's my middle name."
"I'll get Jimmy to trace who's been accessing the records of the girls. We may have a break, yet."
Now that that was over, she felt nervous about confessing to him regarding her recent nightmare. "Clark," she started. Just then, Clark had the 'look'. She sighed, knowing that he'd have to leave. She couldn't make up her mind whether she resented the intrusion or felt relieved that she didn't have to confess so soon.
"Lois, I've…" Clark looked at her guiltily.
"Go." She gave him a peck on the cheek and waved him away. He hesitated before finally leaving.
After he left, Lois decided she had better return to her schoolwork. Inwardly, she groaned. She knew she would not be able to concentrate on her work. Especially with the adrenaline coursing through her from the 'almost' breakthrough they had. She needed to do something. 'Yes, a jog would be good. And if I just happen to pass by the Computational Science Department, well…' A devious smile crept onto her face as her mind raced through the plans for breaking into Ms. Sims's office. Changing into a dark sweatshirt and pants, she left her room.
The route she took was quite a scenic route if it had been daytime. Late at night, it was dim and almost deserted. The trees on either side of the pathway seemed to loom in the darkness, casting shadows onto the path. A mist seemed to seep from behind the trees, making the pathway barely visible. As Lois jogged on, the echo of her footsteps jarred the creepy silence of the night. There was something about the route that made her feel rather claustrophobic and reminded her of the dark alley where she had found herself in the last investigation.
Her heartbeat increased and she felt eyes watching her. Was it her imagination or did she actually hear footsteps following her? 'Lois, you stupid girl! What made you decide to do such a harebrained thing like breaking into Ms. Sim's office? And taking this route is definitely a bad idea,' she silently lectured herself. She strained her head behind to try and detect anyone following her, but saw none.
'OK, Lois. It's just your imagination. Now, pick up speed and the faster we'll get to the Computational Science Building.' With that goal in mind, she increased her speed. However turning a corner, a dark shadow reached out to grab her from the cover of the trees. Momentarily, Lois froze, but soon began to struggle. The person was strong and it wasn't easy for her to twist her body enough to land him an effective kick in the groin. She tried to shout, but the guy covered her mouth with his hand and drew her close to his body. His other free arm pinned her arms to her side in an overwhelming grip. She struggled to free her arms while kicking him wherever she could. But it was futile. He dragged her off the pathway and into the woods beyond.
Seeing that there was no other way to free herself, she stopped struggling for the moment. Lois thought that if she could wait until the assailant was less vigilant, she had a chance to escape. That plan flew right out of her head when her 'kidnapper' whispered into her ears, "Ms. Lane, please be quite. Just wait a while. I'll explain everything very soon. If you agree, please nod."
Who would know her real identity? Making up her mind, she nodded. He slowly released his hand from her mouth though his other arm still gripped her tightly. For a while, all was silent. Then, they heard footsteps and voices.
"Where did she go?" the first voice asked in a whisper.
"I don't know. I saw her heading this way. She couldn't have gotten far." Another voice replied.
"Yeah, well she didn't reach my vantage point at all. And this path only leads there."
"Where could she have gone then? She left my sight barely five minutes ago."
"Perhaps she took a short cut through the woods. Anyway, this assignment is pointless. I don't understand why Hawk feels that we need to keep an eye on a potential. We've never done so before."
"Well, Hawk's the brain of the operation, we are just the minions. Unless you want to get into trouble?"
"Of course not. We'll have to tell the boss that we lost her, you know."
"I'm not looking forward to that."
Lois and her assailant, or was it her rescuer, she hadn't made up her mind yet, kept very still as the voices moved on and left the vicinity. After a few minutes, the person released his hold on her and she quickly turned to face him. She gasped. The face was familiar.
"Prof. Lykos, you?"
"Actually, it's Detective Lykos from Vice, Ms. Lane," he said while giving her a slightly mocking smile.
"Vice? What would a detective from Vice be doing here in Met. U. undercover?" she asked challengingly.
"I would expect for the same reason you are here undercover." He smirked.
Lois was speechless. How did the police get wind of the case? From what Michael told her, she was under the impression that the police had no knowledge of the syndicate. Was this Lykos fellow trying to pull one on her? Perhaps he was another reporter trying to horn in on her investigation. If so, she wasn't about to give him any advantage, that was for sure. Her mind came up with an even worse scenario. What if he was part of the syndicate? That would mean that her cover was blown and her life might be in danger.
'I better proceed cautiously,' Lois thought and wondered the approach she should take. Thinking fast, she smiled at him. "So, how did you know who I was?"
"I was with the team trying to arrest Lex Luthor. I believe I saw you there."
Lois winced at the mention of the infamous wedding scene. "Oh, were you? I didn't know that Vice was involved."
He gave a sheepish grin and said, "Your caution is applaudable. Check with Bill Henderson regarding my identity, if you care to."
"You can bet on it. Now, can I go?"
"Nope!" His grin got wider and turned mischievous. "Not until we make a deal."
"A deal? What deal? I don't make deals," Lois's voice became quite indignant as she tried to move away from John Lykos.
"I know your reputation, but I think we can work together on this."
"Work together on what?" She tried for an innocent look.
That didn't work on him, however. "The investigation; they obviously have their eyes on you."
She sighed since obviously she wasn't going to be able to shake the detective. "Look, I'm not going to say anything until I confirm your identity. I'm going now… unless, of course, you're going to try to stop me."
Lykos watched her stalk away. He had to shake his head. 'Now, that's Lois Lane,' he thought as he remembered the almost pitiful lady he had previously encountered during her aborted wedding to Luthor.
Lois, on the other hand, was cursing to herself for even leaving her room. 'But at least, I've gained a better picture of the cast involved in this "play". It will be useful later, I'm sure. Besides, now I know that I've caught the attention of the syndicate.'
Reaching Elizabeth Hall, she made her way to her room. She retrieved her cell-phone and called Bill Henderson. "Inspector Henderson, please."
While waiting, she searched around the room trying to find her pen and paper. "Bill? It's Lois Lane. Fine, thanks. Sorry to disturb you at home. Well, not that sorry," she spoke into the phone, grinning slightly at the remark that Inspector Henderson made in reply. "I ran into a detective from Vice. Said that he knew you. A Detective John Lykos…Greek, I think."
"Yes. That's him all right. Is he clean?" she asked, while scribbling on the paper some ideas she wanted to go over with Clark once he returned. "Hmm, sounds like he's another boy scout. Yeah, Clark's away on vacation. I'll tell him when I hear from him. Thanks, Bill."
Clicking off the phone, she reviewed again what Bill Henderson said about Detective Lykos. He had a slew of commendations for his work in Vice and before that in Homicide. But for all that, he was quite the lone wolf, could never work with a partner. She wondered why he was willing to work with Clark and her.
"Lois?" Clark called out, as he hovered outside the window.
"Oh, Clark, wait," Lois said, moving to open the window. "What happened?"
"There was a plane caught in the storm, north of here. It almost crashed into the mountains."
"Well, will it make the papers tomorrow?"
"Yes, Henry was at the airport when I brought in the plane. Gave him the scoop."
Lois nodded. Henry was a new reporter whom Perry had hired to cover the city beat. A young, earnest man who was eager to learn all he could. Clark took to him at once. But she had gone off on a tangent. They had more important things to discuss. She reluctantly tried to tell him of her foolish trip.
"Clark, I've to confess something."
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Clark teased her.
"Well, depends on how you look at it." She grinned weakly.
"All right, honey. Lay it on me." Clark made himself comfortable on the bed.
He was silent for a while after hearing what she had to say.
"Well, you don't have to tell me that it was a foolish thing to do." Lois finished her description.
Clark sighed, knowing that Lois would never really change. However, it was good that she had recovered her confidence enough to do such things. "About the detective, I think we should take him up on his offer…"
"Are you serious? Clark, he'll put a gag on our story. Then where will we be?" she disagreed.
"Lois, look at it this way. We aren't going to write this story until we have all the facts. And we are not going to have all the facts on our own as fast as if we work with this detective. Besides, Inspector Henderson trusts him."
"That's the only point on his side," Lois said, almost resentfully.
Clark was on the alert at once. "What's bothering you about him?"
She sighed, knowing that her bias was not logical. "He's my philosophy professor. Let's just say that he didn't impress me all that much."
"I see." Clark grinned at the understatement. Lois was too passionate to not like someone mildly. No, the poor detective probably earned her everlasting dislike based on the cover he had used when he first met her. "Still there is merit in working with him, honey. After all, you were the one who wondered how the police got wind of this. Now we'll be able to gain access to the info that he has."
"When you're right, you're right," Lois conceded after being silent for a moment. "I guess, since officially you aren't suppose to be around, I'll have to beard the lion in its den, so to speak."
"Come on, Lois. Cheer up. It's not that bad." Clark tried to contain his impulse to laugh at the disgusted look on Lois's face.
"Yes, it is. If the way he conducts classes are anything to go by, that damn man can be very unreasonable."
Clark couldn't contain it any longer and burst out laughing. Lois glared at him and his mirth increased as a result. "Sor…Sorry. I didn't…" he tried to apologize and suppressed his laughter at the same time. "I mean I wasn't laughing at you. Just that by the way you are so reluctant, you made him out to be this monster."
"Clark! Be serious for once, will you?" Lois was rather exasperated at the way Clark wasn't sympathizing with her.
"I'm trying." He grinned very widely.
"Well, try harder!"
"Lois, you are being silly. The way the guy is acting is just a cover. I'm sure he'd turn out to be a very decent person if you approach him nicely."
She muttered something under her breath. He grinned even wider, having heard what she had said. She probably didn't even realize that Clark could hear her. It wasn't too flattering for Detective Lykos but that was the way Lois was. From her response though, he knew she had conceded the point.
"OK, OK. I'll go tomorrow. Now about this Hawk character, it sounds like he's the one who hired the goons. Wonder if he's the mastermind?"
Clark thought about it. "We might be jumping to conclusions. He may be just the person who can make those guys tow the line. He's not necessarily the head of the ring. I'll get Jimmy to dig into the idea you had earlier and see what he can find. You didn't get a good look at the guys, did you?"
"No," Lois replied in a disappointed tone. "Wish I had your eyesight. It was too dark and I was blocked by the bushes."
"Well, Det. Lykos might have some information about them since he seems to know that they were following you."
She glared at him. "Sure, rub it in."
His reply was simply a smug grin. It was immediately replaced by a warm smile as he opened his arms to her. Without further invitation, she snuggled into his arms and they laid down on the bed together.
"I had another nightmare…well not exactly a nightmare…" Lois started to say, playing with his hair.
"When?" Clark would have gotten up but Lois put her hands on his chest to keep him down and calm.
"It's all right, Clark. As I said, it wasn't a nightmare, technically."
He settled down again, and took a deep breath. If there were anyone who could wound Superman without using Kryptonite, it would be Lois. How many times, since he had met Lois, had he experience the pain and anxiety of watching Lois dangle over the jaws of death?
"If not a nightmare, what was it?" he asked.
"Well, I fell asleep at the desk earlier, remember?" When he nodded, she continued, "I dreamt about the night I stumbled into the headquarters of the organ harvesting ring. Not the actual event but just before it…when I decided to take shelter from the cold. I think I realize something from the dream." She ended her explanation in a wondrous tone.
He looked at her, surprised. "What is it?"
"I need to confide and trust more in people …if not everybody, at least the people closest to me. If I had told Perry about the investigation, I don't think it would have turned out the way it did. Of course, there was a very great probability he would have assigned someone else to cover it," she said with a sheepish grin.
"I'm glad that you realize this." Clark gave her hug. "You can bet that I'll keep reminding you to open up more," he said, with a sly grin.
"I'll welcome it," she replied, giving him a gentle kiss. "I'm pretty tired, Clark. We'd better say goodnight."
"Goodnight, my little tornado." He returned the kiss and they both drifted off unaware of what was brewing across campus.
"WHAT!! Idiots! Must I do everything myself?" The man called Hawk paced up and down the plush office as the two men who had followed Lois stood, cringing at his fiery anger.
"Tell me again how you could have lost her." The heated tone brooked no nonsense. The two men glanced at each other. Neither really wanted to say anything more, for fear of incurring even more of Hawk's wrath.
"Well?" Hawk asked impatiently.
"We don't know, Boss. There was only one way she could have given us the slip, and that was for her to go through the woods. But it didn't make sense for her to do that when even on the path, the visibility was poor. She'd just get lost going through the woods," the braver between the two answered.
"That's right, Boss. Perhaps, she's a little touched in the head. Who'd actually go jogging so late at night and then choose that path, anyway? There were better paths she could have chosen for jogging," the second man, drawing courage from his friend, added.
Hawk frowned. He knew he'd get no better answer from these two. They were just hired help. Good for certain things but brains were not among the list. He sighed. Good help was hard to come by these days. "Get out of here," he growled.
The two needed no other invitation. They left quickly, as if their lives depend on it. As soon as they had left, the side door to the office opened. A shadowy figure stood in the open door. Hawk turned and asked, "You heard?"
"Yes. It sounds suspicious. They asked the right question, you know. Why was she jogging on that path?"
"Hmm…so my gut feelings might have some basis."
"Perhaps. If we think carefully, the path leads to only one place…the Computational Science Department. I've a feeling that was where she was heading before she disappeared from sight."
"Why was she heading there? And how did she disappear? Was she aware of our surveillance on her?" Hawk asked.
"Good questions. I think we'll soon know the answers." That statement was spoken very ominously.
Hawk looked at his companion. He wondered whether he was out of his depth trying to work with such a person. "How are we going to find out?" he asked.
"Wait and see, Hawk. Wait and see." With that, the door closed and the Hawk was left alone. He sat down tiredly in his comfortable chair. He wished he could turn back time and never have become involved with this operation. As he looked around his office, he knew that he couldn't be where he was without the influence the head of the ring had. Once again the question arose; did his gains outweigh his losses in this venture?
He had no answer. However, there was no way he could withdraw from the operation. He was in too deep. He would never survive if he were to betray them. 'In for a penny, in for a pound,' he thought.
With that final thought firmly in mind, he shook off his doubts and stood up to clear his office. He took another long look at it before switching off the lights and walked to his car, unaware of the person watching him from a distance.
As he drove away, the person came out of the shadows. Light from the street lamp fell on his face, revealing him to be Detective Lykos.
Lois stirred. Something woke her up. She tried to move but something was holding her tight. For a moment she started to panic but as sleep fled, she realized that the something was Clark. Her panic subsided and she tried to wake him up.
"Clark," she whispered into his ears. "Clark, wake up. I need to get up."
"Hmmm," he mumbled, releasing his hold on her, and turned over in the small bed. She got up and looked around, wondering what woke her. A quiet tap on her door took her by surprised. She quickly moved towards the door, throwing a quick glance at the sleeping figure of her fianc‚. Opening her door just a tiny bit, she was shocked when it was shoved opened further and a figure slipped in.
"Ms. Lane, I'm sorry to budge in like this but…" Detective Lykos stopped his apology when he noticed the male figure starting to rise from the bed. He turned back towards Lois and blushed in embarrassment.
Clark, having been alerted by the tap, got up as quickly as he could. He, too, was a little embarrassed at being caught in bed with Lois. Even if they were engaged, his sense of propriety didn't extend to letting others know about their sleeping arrangement.
Lois, on the other hand, wasn't embarrassed at all. She was too busy being outraged by the actions of the detective. 'Who does he think he is to barge into my room without even an apology?' she thought, forgetting that the detective had apologized.
"Who do you think you are?" she demanded.
The two men turned to her in some confusion, before her dark countenance registered in their minds. Clark took immediate action as he reached for her.
"Detective Lykos, I presume? Please sit down," he said, motioning to the single chair in the room. Lois was about to object, but he stopped her with an embrace and directed her to the bed. She glared at him but allowed him to continue.
Lykos noted their exchange with interest. "Thank you, Mr. Kent…you are Mr. Kent?"
"Yes, I am." Clark pulled Lois down to sit on the bed with him. "What brings you here, Detective?"
"Call me John. Actually, I don't know what I was thinking." Lykos said, coloring a little.
Lois muttered under her breath that obviously he wasn't thinking. Lykos didn't hear it, of course, but Clark did. Sparing her a quelling glance, he said, "It's all right, John. You weren't disturbing us and you can call me Clark. I'm sure that my partner wouldn't mind you calling her Lois." Clark raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Lois.
Once again, Lois glared at him before turning to Lykos and nodded an acknowledgment. While she still didn't particularly like for the detective, she was smart enough to know that he wouldn't be in her room in the early hours of the morning without a very good reason. It was very likely connected to the case.
"O.K., Clark, I think I'd better come straight to the point. Lois, you are in a dangerous position at the moment. Yet, you have a key role to play if we want to break this case."
"And what case might that be?" she countered.
"Lois!" Clark objected.
"Come on Clark. How do you know that he's working on the same case as us?"
"I can assure you, Lois, that I am. I've been trying to bust this high-class prostitution ring for months."
"Are you working alone?" Clark asked, curious since he knew that a case this big would definitely rate more than one cop to it.
"Unfortunately yes. I'm working in an unofficial capacity," Lykos replied, sighing. "You see, when I stumbled on this case, I tried to bring it to my superiors' attention. But since I didn't have a scrap of evidence or anything else to support my suspicions, they refused to look into it. So I decided to conduct my own investigation."
"How did you manage to get a teaching position? You were suppose to be from a university in Greece," Lois asked, her curiosity was now aroused.
Lykos grinned, expecting the question. "Well, I am Greek. As for the cover, someone in the FBI owed me and so helped create it for me. So does that establish we are working on the same thing?"
"Yes," Clark answered.
"Now can you tell us why you're here?" Lois asked impatiently.
"That's simple. I've information which I thought you might be interested in."
Lois frowned, suspicious of the detective's motives. "Why are you helping us?"
"Because it'll be wiser for all of us to pool our resources together and shut this operation down faster. As for the information, I want to know if you're interested in working with me first."
The two partners looked at each other and came to a decision. "Of course we are," Lois assured. "Now what can you tell us?"
Lykos smiled at Lois's eagerness. "As I mentioned I stumbled on this case. An informant remarked in passing that he heard a rumor of a new operation that caters to high levels. One of the hotels they were using happened to be the Excelsius."
Clark frowned. "Excelsius? The new hotel that is touted to rival the Lexor?"
"Yes. I was surprised as well. But you must remember that these people cater to powerful clients. Anyway, I did some stake outs on the place."
"And?" Lois asked impatiently.
"A distant cousin of mine happened to be one of the girls involved. I spotted her with a powerful Congressman coming into the hotel. At the time I didn't suspect anything at all. The Congressman was very 'surprised' to be pulled over by a cop from Vice, I can tell you that."
Lois snorted, knowing exactly what he meant by 'surprised'.
Lykos continued, "Well, he didn't want to get involved. Of course, he denied having hired a call girl. Instead he insisted that my cousin was from an escort service he had hired. They were going to the Excelsius for an engagement party. It checked out and my cousin supported it."
Clark interrupted him, "Actually their claim might be true. We've found out that these people lure out these girls by offering them a job with an escort service."
"Yes, you're right. I've found out about it later. Back to my cousin. I quizzed her and found out that she had just started with the service. She was recommended by her professor in the Chemistry Department, one Professor Henry Bakers."
Lois and Clark exchanged another look that Lykos caught. "What?" he asked.
"I'm due to come in as a Faculty member. History Department though," Clark answered.
"Good, another pair of eyes will be welcomed. But be careful, they will be watching you."
Clark nodded in acknowledgement of the advice.
Lois, on the other hand, was impatient to get the discussion back on track. "What happened to your cousin? How does she fit into the profile of the girls they target?" Lois asked.
"She's actually an orphan, but as Greeks, we are big on family. I got her to get help from our uncle. But that incident spurred me to investigate this case. I checked out the escort service only to find that their tracks are well covered."
"Which service was it?"
"It was not an actual service by itself. It's actually part of a fancy tour agency called…" He paused to think.
"The Thrill-Seekers?" Clark supplied.
"Yes, how did …"
"We did our homework," Lois said smugly. Clark snickered and gave her an amused look.
Returning the look, she explained, "Professor Andrew Stanton's wife is a co-owner of the agency. He's actually one of the professors who taught one of the girls. It was the father of the girl who alerted us. She tried to get out of the operation but they caught up with her and left her for dead. She's in a coma at the moment in the hospital. The police have her as a rape victim."
"How did you know about the guys following me? And I don't think you'd come here in the middle of the night just to gain our cooperation," Lois asked suspiciously.
Lykos grinned; he was expecting that from her. "No, Ms. Lane. I did not. I came here because I believe I've made a breakthrough tonight."
"But why did I come here? I need your help and you need mine. Tonight, I made a breakthrough in the case. The Hawk your pursuers were talking about, well he happens to be the President of the university himself."
"How did you get this information?" Clark asked.
"I followed the men right to the doorstep of the President's office," Lykos replied, grinning. "This is very big if the President of Met. U. is involved."
"Definitely!" Lois exclaimed and jumped up to pace around the tiny room. Of course, given there were two other people in the room, the space was even more constrained. Both men watched her pacing, each having almost identical thoughts of how beautiful Lois was. Lykos flushed as the thought passed through his mind. He had heard about the engagement between the two reporters, and he hadn't forgotten the scene that he had intruded. It was not an appropriate thought but he rationalized that it was not a fault to admire from afar.
Meanwhile, Lois had no clue of the thoughts of those around her. Her mind was focused on this latest development. "This means that almost anyone of the faculty could be a suspect."
"I'm sure not all of them are involved. We'll work with the leads we have at the moment, Lois," Clark reminded her. "Your suggestion of looking into the people who have access to the records is a great idea. And now that we know for sure that the President of the university is involved, we can put him under surveillance."
Lykos asked curiously, "How are you going to do that? There's only three of us and we can't be around constantly."
"True, but we have someone at the Planet who is very good at this kind of surveillance work. We've got the Stantons' house under surveillance and we could do the same to the President's office," Clark explained.
"Sounds like a plan," Lykos agreed, getting up. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Goodnight."
Clark and Lois exchanged a glance which, once again, Lykos intercepted and wondered about. It was as if they had this unspoken communication between them. A second later, Lois answered, "Clark's suppose to be on vacation at the moment and it's better that no one knows that he's back early. This will free him to do some of the leg work for us."
Lykos nodded, though he knew there was more to it than that. He wasn't about to ask too many questions. "Well then I'll see you tomorrow, Ms. Thompkins," he said with a mischievous grin.
After Lykos had left, Clark said, "See, he wasn't so bad."
Lois snorted and went back to bed. "Well, are you going to stand there all night? I'm definitely taking what little time of the night left there is to sleep."
Clark sighed, knowing that Lois was not a happy camper. He didn't quite understand why, but Lois was Lois. He doubted he'd be able to understand her fully even after spending their whole life together. He heeded the advice his father gave him; it's better for the man in the long run just to agree with the womenfolk. "Yes, ma'am." He grinned and snuggled in beside her.
Like any other student, Lois was glad that it was Friday and the week was almost over. She found her first week as a student quite exhausting, especially since she had another assignment on top of her classes. Today was the worst since she had a total of 3 hours of sleep last night thanks to Prof. Lykos.
'And just to be cruel, he decided to pick on me this morning,' she thought, as once again the good professor quizzed her on one of the books which she was supposed to have read yesterday. 'Who had the time to read with everything that was going on?'
"No, sir. I've not read it."
In a solemn voice, Lykos remarked to the class, "I have a problem with procrastination. I've been meaning to do something about that but I keep putting it off."
At that remark, a lot of the students colored. Lois gritted her teeth and said defensively, "I was not procrastinating. You only gave us the list two days ago. I've not started that book yet."
"Did I accuse you of anything, Ms. Thompkins?" Lykos raised his eyebrow.
Feeling very frustrated, Lois replied with a curt 'No, sir'.
"Good." Before he turned back to the class, Lois caught the slight wink he sent her way. "Now Class, today we'll be discussing the very famous words: 'I think therefore I am'…"
Lois came out of the classroom, feeling as if she had just emerged from hell. "Alexa! Wait up."
She turned, to see who had called her. Weaving around the mess of people in the corridor was Andrew Stanton. She slowed down to let him catch up, wondering what Andy wanted. Could they be contacting her so soon? Her earlier lethargy due to sleep deprivation evaporated and was replaced by anticipation.
As Andy drew near, she smiled at him and greeted him. "Hi Andy. Why are you all the way over here, on this side of campus?"
Andy tried to answer her as he gasped for breath, "I…was…having lunch at the Springs Kitchen." He waved in the general direction of the cafeteria. "Then I saw you. Did you just finish class?"
"Nope. Just emerged from Hell," Lois replied, grinning.
"Ahhhh…I understand," Andy grinned back. "I just hope that none of my students ever call my classes hell."
"I'm not telling," Lois said with a mischievous smile.
Andy laughed out loud, attracting the attention of the people around them. Fortunately, it was short-lived. "So how's the first week of school been for you?" he asked.
"Exhausting! I've never worked as hard in my life."
"Now, surely that's an exaggeration."
"Ok, maybe a little," she said sheepishly. "But not by much."
"Look, if you need help with Physics, I can hook you up with a student of mine. She's in her fourth year and is willing to help tutor you free of charge."
Lois was taken aback. This was not what she expected him to have said. She would have thought that he'd have offered her the job. Had they come to the wrong conclusion about him? But given that his wife was a partner in the agency they were investigating, he had to be involved.
Quickly recovering, she said, "I don't know what to say, Andy. It's very kind of you and her, but I don't want to impose."
"No imposition at all. Camille has helped quite a few others, and when I approached her yesterday, she was keen on helping you. She admires how you have the courage to come back to school at your age. Look, why don't you come to my office this evening and I'll introduce the two of you. Then whatever you decide is up to you. OK?"
The name struck a cord in her since Camille was one of the names on the list. Perhaps this was just the approach they are taking to contact her. "If that's the case, sure. What time should I come by?"
"How about 6 pm?"
"No problem, see you then," Lois answered.
Looking satisfied, Andy nodded and left. Lois watched him go, her mind still processing this new development. 'Girl, I think you've just hit the jackpot,' her inner voice informed her.
'Don't be too sure. This Camille may not be the same one,' another inner voice cautioned.
'You're too cautious,' the first voice countered. 'Let's review the facts. One, this Camille majors in Physics. Two, she's in her fourth year. Third, she's a student of Stanton. All three fit the profile for the Camille in our list.'
'We don't know whether she really majors in Physics,' the second voice argued.
'Stop! We'll just see this evening, OK?' Lois stopped the argument, wondering when she started arguing with herself. She wondered if she was developing split personalities. 'I guess I only have to start worrying when I start losing the arguments.'
She was so engrossed with her thoughts that the light tap on her shoulder made her jump and yelp. "What the…" she said, swiftly turning and taking a fighting stance, only to find Lykos grinning mischievously at her.
"Did I scare you?" he asked, unrepentant.
Lois would rather die than admit that. "Don't do that again, if you know what's good for you. I could have hurt you," she scolded him as she relaxed her stance. "What's with you, anyway? Last night, you grabbed me and just now, you sneak up on me."
"Sorry," Lykos said, without a trace of real remorse.
"What do you want?"
"I saw you talking to Stanton."
"So, is there a law against it?"
She hissed at that little slip and looked around. "Alexa. Unless you want to blow my cover," she corrected him in a low voice.
He gave a sheepish grin and apologized, "Sorry, Alexa. But you know that our deal was that we'd work together and holding information from me isn't working together."
Lois considered this with some deliberation. Finally, she answered, "This is not a good place to talk. I'll e-mail you the information."
"Fair enough. But don't send it using the school's email. I believe it's being monitored. E-mail me at this address," he said, passing her a small piece of paper. "Oh yes, how can I contact Clark?"
"Why do you need to do that?" Lois asked.
"Because he's more cooperative than you." Lykos said, more of a question than an answer.
Lois would have said something, but before she could, he had disappeared. She was left with the piece of paper and a feeling that she'd have met a formidable opponent. She hadn't known anybody else who could get a rise out of her like Lykos. 'Well except maybe Clark when we first met,' she thought warmly. She wondered at the irony of the situation; she liked Stanton a lot, even though he was a suspect, and she disliked Lykos who was an ally.
Shaking her head ruefully, she walked in the direction of the computer lab for her next class. In fact, she was already late for the class. However, when she arrived, Ms. Sims only mumbled something about being more punctual next time and waved her on. Jung Hoon looked at her curiously, silently asking for the reason of her lateness. She mouthed 'later' to him, as she took her place.
The class was asked to do a small sorting routine. Given a list of numbers, they were to write a program to sort the numbers in ascending order. Lois, having absolutely no knowledge of programming, found herself totally at a loss of where to start.
"Is there a problem, Alexa?" Ms. Sims came over and peered over her shoulder to look at the blank computer screen.
"Er…Ms. Sims, actually, I'm having trouble with this class. I've no experience in computer programming," Lois answered sheepishly.
"Huh?" That was the only intelligent sound Lois could make.
"Good," Ms. Sims reiterated. "This means that you won't have to unlearn all the bad habits you would have picked up otherwise. You can start fresh. Now, why don't we work this out?" She dragged a chair and sat beside Lois, patiently going through the algorithm for sorting step by step.
Lois was surprised and quite touched by Endora Sims's dedication to her students. She might seem quiet and nervous, but she was very willing to help. She earned Lois's admiration for that. However, Lois still wondered if Sims was involved in the ring. Once again, she was stumped by the fact that the suspects were all people whom she admired and liked; dedicated teachers. Or was it just a fa‡ade to impress her and gain her trust?
The cynical side of her believed that was the case while the other, more reasonable side of her argued that people are not all evil or all good. 'OK, that maybe true,' the cynical side said. 'Still, it is not possible to be a nurturer and a destroyer of a life at the same time. Besides, you can't really be that na‹ve after what happened to us in the last investigation.'
The other side couldn't answer that rebuttal as Lois was reminded of the incident at the homeless shelter.
The door to the shelter was closed and the lights were dimmed inside, but having walked all the way here, Lois wasn't about to turn around and look for some place else in this cold night. She banged on the door once again, hoping that someone inside would be kind enough to come and open it.
After knocking for the third time, she could hear footsteps approaching the door. The door opened and a pleasant looking woman peered into the darkness. On spotting Lois, she immediately smiled and said, "Hi there. Come on in. It's just too cold to be out here."
Lois warmed up to the soothing voice and charming smile. The offer to get out of the cold was definitely welcomed. "Thanks," she replied, hugging herself and rubbing her arms to keep warm. "Do you have a place for me, just for tonight?"
"Yes, of course we do. My name is Linda, by the way." Linda didn't ask for Lois's name, as most of the homeless would rather not tell people their names.
"Thanks, Linda." Lois entered the shelter as Linda moved away from the door. The warmth emanating from the shelter was a welcoming change from the howling winds outside. Linda guided her to the mess hall where they were serving food to several other homeless folks. The smell of the food made Lois's mouth water since she hadn't had a proper meal in two days.
On seeing her reaction, Linda motioned her to the queue and said, "Why don't you get your food while I'll go and arrange for your bedding?"
"Err…thanks again. I would have frozen out there if you hadn't opened the door."
"It's the reason I'm here, to make sure I can aid those who come seeking for help. So don't worry about it." Linda smiled reassuringly and Lois took comfort at how dedicated she and the other people helping to serve the food seemed to be. She was sure that they were all volunteers. Remembering the piece she did a long time ago on homeless shelters, she would have had to give a good rating for this particular homeless shelter. It was well kept and they seemed organized.
After getting her food, she looked around for a place to sit. There wasn't much of a problem there. It would seem that most of the people had turned in right after finishing their food. She had hardly finished her food when Linda reappeared.
"How's the food?" Linda asked.
"Good," Lois answered, yawning. Inexplicably, she felt very sleepy, probably due to her full stomach. She had never appreciated a meal as she had this simple meal of bread and stew.
"I can see that," Linda said, grinning when she noticed Lois's second yawn. "You look as if you're about to fall asleep on your feet. Why don't you come with me? I've already made up a cot for you."
"Thank you, Linda."
Linda waved away the gratitude. "Thanks aren't necessary."
Lois fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. It was a relief to have pillows and blankets after a little more than two days of being out in the elements. She had been glad that Max, the old man who befriended her on her first night, had told her about the shelter. But she hadn't seen him today.
Something woke her up. Somehow she couldn't open her eyes. Her lids were too heavy. However, she could hear soft voices speaking somewhere above her head. "This one seems to be in very good condition," a male voice spoke.
A familiar female voice, which unfortunately Lois still had trouble identifying in her half-sleeping stage, said, "Max told me that she's new on the street."
"Good old Max. These guys seem to fall for his trustworthy looks and helpful act all the time. For a group of people who are supposedly wary of others, they are quite trusting," the first voice remarked.
The female voice laughed. "Max earns his keep well. So, which of her parts are you going to harvest first?"
At that, Lois struggled to open her eyes. The lights shining on her face drove her to close them as soon as she managed to open them. She felt a prick on her arms and the voices started to fade as she succumbed to whatever they had injected into her.
"Alexa? Are you all right?" Lois heard Ms. Sims asking her and realized that she had drifted off.
"Sorry. I was just recalling something."
"O.K. Let's get back to the problem," Ms. Sims said.
When they've finished working on it, Lois thanked her for her help.
"You're welcome. Don't hesitate to come and see me if you need help," Endora Sims spoke quietly, but reassuringly.
"I won't," Lois answered.
After the class, Jung Hoon approached Lois. "So what kept you?" he asked.
"Oh, I was stopped by two of my professors," she replied.
"Wow! I wish my professors would pay as much attention to me. But then again, I'd rather not. It's just not comfortable to be the teachers' pet," he said, grinning ruefully.
"Very true. I'm wondering why they're paying so much attention to me," Lois pretended to muse.
"Maybe you should learn the art of being invisible," Jung Hoon suggested, laughing.
Lois grinned and agreed. Neither of them noticed the person watching Lois from a corner of the lab as they passed by him on their way out. Once they were out of the door, he quickly went inside the lab administrator's office and dialed a number by memory. After waiting a few minutes, he heard the other party on the line.
"Uncle? It's Ben. She had just finished her computer lab class and went out with an Asian guy. Chinese, perhaps," he informed the other party.
Listening for a while, he then replied, "Yes, I can do that. But why are we doing this?"
He winced from the blistering he received on the phone. "OK, OK, I'll do it and I promise not to ask too many questions next time. Sorry."
Then, he put down the phone and booted up his computer. He still didn't understand why he had been instructed to access the e-mail account of Alexa Thompkins. While he knew that she had been targeted by the syndicate as a candidate, he was puzzled since they've never done this for any other girl before.
She hadn't done much e-mail on her account and the ones she had seemed almost mundane. 'But wait, what's this?' he exclaimed silently as he viewed the e-mail Alexa Thompkins had sent to a Prof. Kelton. She had implicitly offered her 'services' for better grades in his class. Ben was surprised because Alexa didn't look like a person who would do such a thing. Then again, looks can be deceiving. His uncle would be interested to hear this. He was right.
"Good work, Ben. It sheds some light on our Ms. Thompkins. Keep monitoring her e-mails," his uncle, the President of Met. U. commended him.
Ben beamed on his end of the phone. "Thanks. I'll do that."
"You'll do what?" asked Gary, the other lab technician, as he entered the office. Gary didn't quite like Ben; he thought that he was lazy. However, he was always polite to Ben so that Ben would not tell tale to his uncle.
"Nothing!" Ben said sharply. He hung up the phone and left the office.
Gary stared after him. He could never understand Ben. Although Ben had the computer knowledge, he never extended himself in the work. Instead he left Gary to cover both of their work. H e wondered what could have made Ben beam like he did and seemed so enthusiastic about. 'Certainly not work,' he thought, shaking his head.
Meanwhile, unaware of what was happening back at the computer lab, Lois had gone back to her room and booted up her laptop, which was delivered courtesy of Superman Express. Of course, as Alexa, she wasn't supposed to have one since she was a poor student on scholarship. So it was only safe to use it in the privacy of her room. She plugged the modem to the telephone line and used her Planet email account to send a message to Clark and Lykos about her impending meeting with Camille.
After that, she reread her notes on Camille in order to familiarize herself with Camille's background. Like most of the other students, she had very little contact with family, had financial problems and was an average student before she started her third year. She became involved with the ring in her third year when she majored in Physics and came under Prof. Stanton.
Camille had come from a broken home, with her father a drunk and her mother rearing four other kids from her next marriage. She hadn't time for Camille nor had given much support to her, financial or otherwise. Lois could identify with Camille in that sense, given that her mother had been the drunk and her father the neglectful one. She wondered if part of the reason of Camille's involvement with the ring was due to the neglect of her parents. However, she tried not to dwell too much on those kinds of things.
Lois checked her e-mail once more to see if either Clark or Lykos had received and responded to her earlier mail. Seeing that neither had replied, she decided she would just go and meet Stanton and Camille on her own. She left her room and walked towards Prof. Stanton's office.
"Hey, Alexa. Come on in," Stanton called out, when he saw her standing outside his office.
Lois hesitated a tiny fraction of a second, before bolstering her courage and walking into the office. Shyly, she said, "Hi, Andy. Am I late?"
"No, not at all. Camille, meet Alexa."
Lois turned to her right, where Andy had indicated with his hand, in time to see a beautiful girl of about 21 years old extending her hand.
"Hi, I'm Camille."
Lois shook her hand, saying, "It's nice to meet you, Camille. I'm Alexa."
"Sit down, ladies," Andy interjected.
After all of them settled down, Andy turned to Camille. "Camille, Alexa had been out of school for quite some time and is finding it difficult to get back into the groove. I was hoping that you could help her not only in Physics but also take her under your wing."
Lois tried to protest. "It's not necessary, really."
Camille smiled. "Don't be shy, Alexa. I'll be happy to help if I can."
"Good. Good. Alexa, you're in good hands. Camille, I'm depending on you," Andy said, delighted.
Camille suggested that Lois and she go for a cup of coffee to get to know each other better. They left Stanton's office and made their way to the caf‚ a few blocks away. Lois took the chance to ask her some questions.
"So, Camille. Andy told me that you're in your fourth year. Are you doing your honors?"
"Yes. I'm working under Andy doing Quantum Chaos."
"Sounds like fun," Lois said, almost sarcastically.
Camille grinned. "Quantum Chaos takes some getting use to, but it can be fun if you understand it. Where are you staying?"
"Elizabeth Hall. Where are you staying?" Lois asked.
"I'm sharing an apartment with two other girls at Charles Street, about two blocks from the main campus," Camille told her.
The waiter came to take their order. After ordering, Lois turned back to Camille and asked, "Isn't it expensive to rent a place so near the campus?"
"Yes, but it's better than staying in a dorm. You're probably in a crappy room, having to put up with lots of nonsensical rules," Camille said, scoffing.
Lois tried to defend E.H. "The people at E.H. are great."
Camille only looked at her condescendingly. "So how do you like your school experience so far?"
"The teaching staff is great, well most of them."
Camille laughed. "So you've had conflicts with some of your tutors or your lecturers?"
"Who's that?" Camille asked, curious.
"Never mind. Not worth talking about." Lois shrugged and changed the subject. "What subjects did you take besides Physics?"
"I tried my hands at Chemistry, Mathematics and World History. Of course, as you see, I wasn't able to succeed in any of them the way I do in Physics."
"Was it due to Andy?"
"What do you mean?" Camille asked her sharply.
The waiter who delivered their orders interrupted them. Lois cringed and scolded herself inwardly. "Andy seems to be so supportive of his students. I guess I thought that his support could be a reason for your ability to succeed in Physics as opposed to other subjects," she tried to explain.
"You're right. He is very supportive of his students if he thinks they deserve it. That's why he's concerned about you. I believe he's very impressed by your desire to continue studying. I am too."
"Thanks. But it's nothing really. In this world, paper qualification matters a lot. I wouldn't be able to go far with only my high school diploma."
"That's very true. Well, I'm here to help. Let me know what I can do," Camille assured Lois.
Lois smiled. "There isn't much to help out at this moment, but I'm sure I'll be needing help later. Why don't you give me your e-mail address and contact number so that we could make some kind of arrangement soon?"
Camille nodded and they exchanged e-mail addresses. "I know the number to Elizabeth Hall so I can just call you there. Here's my number. It's my private line so you don't have to be afraid about disturbing my roommates."
"Thanks a lot, Camille. You're a lifesaver," Lois gushed convincingly.
"No problem. Call me, even if you just want to talk, O.K?"
"Sure," Lois replied.
They separated after leaving the caf‚. Both Lykos and Clark were waiting for her in her room by the time she got back.
"What were you thinking of?" Lykos immediately attacked.
Clark cringed, knowing that wasn't the right way to approach Lois. He tried to save the situation by interjecting, "Hi honey, hope you don't mind us barging in like this."
Lois glared at Lykos. "Clark, I don't mind you here, but what is he doing here?"
"Worrying about you, that's what." Lykos answered.
"Who died and made you my mother?" Lois asked sarcastically.
"Calm down, Lois," Clark said. "John was just worried, especially after what we've found out."
"What did you find out?" Now Lois's curiosity was pricked.
"Jimmy recorded a conversation early this morning in the Stanton's household. It was between Stanton and an unidentified voice, a female. It would seem that they're trying to ensnare you in order to test you. They suspect that Alexa might not be who they thought she is," Clark replied.
"Could the female voice be Camille?" Lois asked.
"If we have a recording of her voice, I could get someone at the precinct to do voice analysis for us," Lykos offered.
"That's a good idea," Clark said.
"I can do that when I meet her next. But what's important is that they need some reassurance about me. I had better give it to them."
"Be careful, Lois."
Lois looked at Clark reassuringly. "Anyway, Camille gave me her contact number and e-mail address. She's staying at an apartment on Charles Street with some other girls. Perhaps we can find out who her roommates are and whether they're in anyway connected to the syndicate."
"I'll check it out," Lykos affirmed.
They discussed things further but there weren't any more leads. Jimmy was doing his best to try to track down who had access to the student records. Soon, their discussion was over and the detective left quietly.
Clark also had to leave since Jonathon needed his help with the birthing of a calf that night. "Are you going to be all right?" Clark asked her, worried.
"Don't worry. I'll be fine," Lois replied, trying to reassure him.
"Lois, perhaps you should come with me. You can sleep in my room," Clark suggested.
"It's all right, Clark. You don't know how long this birth is. You can't afford to take the time to send me back in the morning. It's not practical."
"I'll be fine. I don't think I'll be having any nightmare tonight. I'm too tired."
"You know tomorrow is Saturday. You don't have to be here."
"Yes I do. People would wonder if I'm not around. We wouldn't want to blow my cover, would we?" Lois asked.
"OK, but please be careful. I know you," Clark told her reluctantly.
"All right. You're a nag," she teased. Giving him a light kiss, she said, "Say hi to your folks for me."
He nodded and just before he left, he stole another kiss. Lois laughed before settling down to sleep.
"Where am I?" Lois looked around. It wasn't anywhere she could actually see. There was a sense of vastness about her but not something that she could feel with the five normal senses.
She tried to remember the last thing she had seen. It was Clark's face hovering over her as she slipped into unconsciousness. Did she die? Was this heaven? Or was it hell? Perhaps purgatory?
"No, it's none of those."
Lois turned around at the sound of another voice. The person she encountered surprised her. "Clark?"
The Clark-like figure walked towards her. "No, I'm not. But this is the form you seemed to be most comfortable with."
"What are you then? My guardian angel?" Lois asked, perplexed and a little uncomfortable.
"There's no such thing as a guardian angel. No, I'm your subconscious."
"That's so cheesy," Lois retorted.
"Not my fault," 'Clark' said, shrugging.
"Well, where is this place? What am I doing here? Why are you here?"
"So many questions, Lois. Once a journalist, always a journalist, eh?" 'Clark' raised an eyebrow.
"Just answer me." Lois was running out of patience. What was she doing here? She remembered that she had been shot and had felt Clark's arms around her. She was worried about Clark. What was he doing? Was he crying? Blaming himself for not being able to rescue her?
She didn't want to be here, wherever 'here' might be. No, if she was dead, she'd rather get over and done with it. But it would seem that part of her didn't agree.
'Clark' grinned mischievously. "Now, now, Lois. Contain your enthusiasm, please. Actually, you're lost somewhere in your own self and I'm here to guide you back."
"Why am I lost? How can you guide me back? I'm lying somewhere in the alley dying right now, for goodness sake," she asked, exasperated.
"Lois, calm down. Time doesn't exist here, not the time as you know it, anyway."
"Sit, Lois. It's time for us to talk," 'Clark' told her. "Why did you risk your life like that?"
Lois was a little distracted when she found a couch, her couch, materializing right before her. She was trying to grasp the fact that she wasn't on Earth or any parts of the universe that she knew. 'Clark' gestured for her to sit down, so she did. "What did you say?"
"I asked why you risked your life like that."
"If you're my subconscious, you should know that I've been risking my life in pursuit of my story."
"Yes, but you've been taking more and more chances, every time. Especially lately. What made you decide to do this story, without telling anyone? What were you thinking?" 'Clark' frowned at her, looking quite upset.
Lois sighed. "It's difficult to explain."
"Clark's Superman. Do you know how difficult it is to keep up with him?"
"What do you mean by keeping up with him? Isn't your relationship one of equals?"
"It is to a certain extent. But not always. What I mean is that with his powers, he has all the advantages to get the stories that I used to get."
"That's not fair. I'm sure he doesn't take advantage of his powers," 'Clark' said.
"No, of course he doesn't. He's a boy scout. But the thing is that when he flies off to rescue people or fight against crime, it's news. He generates stories."
"Yes, but doesn't he share them with you?"
"Yes, but I don't want that. I want to be there with him, not just for him. He tries to protect me, but that's not me. I've been risking myself since I was a kid."
"So, you're doing this to rebel?"
"In a way. In a way, not. I guess, subconsciously I've been expecting Clark to be there as my safety net." She threw a sidelong look at 'Clark' when she mentioned about her subconscious.
"Hmm…so you're saying that you've been risking your life because, on the one hand, you're trying to rebel from Clark's overprotective nature, and on the other hand, you're too dependent on him."
Lois grimaced. "I know that it doesn't really make much sense and it seems contradictory, but it's what I feel. As a child, I had always to depend on myself. When Clark came along, I found myself relying on him more and more. He satisfies the need of the child in me. The fact that I've finally found someone who makes me feel safe and loved gives me a rush. To finally be able to relinquish control to someone else. Not to be the adult in the family all the time. I've never had that until Clark.
"The independent side of me, however, cannot reconcile with that. Having been in-charge all my life, it's not easy to be able to take a back seat on anything. I chafe at the way Clark tries to protect me by leaving me behind when he carries out Superman's activities. So I find that I try to put myself at risk, serving a twofold function. One, it helps me assert my independent nature. Two, when I'm in trouble and Clark rescues me, it gives me the feeling that I'm loved and cared for."
"OK, while it seems lame to me, I can accept that for most of your actions, but this particular stunt that you pulled just takes the cake," 'Clark' scolded.
"I guess I wasn't really thinking. What can I say besides the fact that I lost my mind," Lois said wryly.
"You did. Going off on the investigation without telling anyone, without any backup is just nuts, especially when you're on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
"I'm not on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
"For goodness sake, Lois. There's no one here for you to fool."
"Are you accusing me of lying?"
"Yes, a matter of fact, I am."
"You can go to…" Lois shot off from the couch angrily and stalked away. Of course, there was nowhere to go. So she turned back, only to find herself alone. "What the …" She didn't finish her sentence as she felt pain bursting in her body. She tried to move and look around but found herself immobilized. Darkness was encroaching.
Lois woke up and stretched. For a while she felt disorientated; where was Clark? 'Oh, right. He's at his parents place. Wish I had taken up his offer,' Lois thought as she got out of bed.
Slowly, last night's dream came back to her. 'I don't believe I forgot about that experience. Clark as my subconscious? That's just so strange. But he's correct. I was lying and I've been lying all this while. I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Investigating about the organ harvesting didn't help matters either. Looks like I've got to talk to Clark, the real one, regarding this issue of me putting myself at risk. I wonder what he'd say about his being the cause of it all.' Lois tried to picture Clark, and grinned. She knew he'd feel guilty even though it was not his fault. She'd have fun trying to console him. Her grin got bigger at the ideas she was getting for consoling him.
A knock on her door pulled her back to reality. "Who's there?"
"Maggie. Alexa, you ready to go?"
Lois opened the door, and asked, "What do you mean, go? Go where?"
"Dummy, the Hall is organizing a picnic for us at the lake." Maggie frowned at the state Lois was in. "Did you just get up?"
Lois got a little defensive. "It's Saturday. After a week of virtual slavery, the weekend is just the right time to laze around."
"Well, you can laze around later. Now, it's time to get ready and enjoy the frozen lake while it lasts."
"Do I have to?" Lois whined.
"Of course, silly. Come on." Maggie grinned.
"OK, I'll go. Just give me five minutes," Lois said, rolling her eyes.
Maggie smiled smugly, and nodded. "All right, see you downstairs. Bye."
Saturday passed quickly as Lois and the other residents of Elizabeth Hall had fun on the lake. She enjoyed the outing very much, though she was reluctant to admit it. It reminded her of her college days more than five years past. Her college days were one of the happy moments of her life, rivaling only her time with Clark. Thinking of Clark, she wondered if the calf had been born safely and what he was doing at the moment.
"You're a good skater," Jung Hoon complimented.
She looked up at him and grinned, remembering the time in Smallville when Clark taught her to skate. "Well, I had a good teacher."
"Who taught you?" Jung Hoon asked, curious. He noticed the slightly wistful grin, and wondered if someone would ever remember him the way she was remembering the person who taught her skating.
"A special friend? The guy you're involved with?" Jung Hoon probed.
Lois looked at him, surprised at his perceptiveness. "Yes."
"No, actually, I'm the lucky one. He makes me feel less lonely, is always there for me whenever I need him. Cheers me up when I'm feeling down. Just thinking about him brings a smile to my face."
"Sounds like a dream guy," Maggie interjected, as she dropped down beside her two friends.
"Better than a dream, he's real," Lois said, grinning.
"Are we ever going to meet this real 'dream' guy?" Jung Hoon asked.
"You might," Lois said without elaborating further. "So, Maggie. Where did you learn to skate?"
"My brother taught me," Maggie said, chewing on her sandwich.
"Brothers, they are very useful, aren't they?" Jung Hoon fished for compliments for the male species.
"Not at all. They are mostly a pain in the neck. When they're not irritating you, they're doing something stupid and making you take the rap," Maggie told him.
Jung Hoon gave a mock wince while Lois laughed. She was really glad for Maggie and Jung Hoon. They've proven to be good friends, something she lacked even during her college days.
"Alexa, you're not getting away that easily. So, tell us more about this special guy." Maggie raised her eyebrow.
'Then again, friends can be a pain,' Lois thought, as she inwardly winced. She didn't want to talk about Clark, because she was worried about giving away her true identity.
"What do you want to know?" she asked.
"OK, describe his physical appearance," Maggie instructed. Jung Hoon nodded.
"Hmm…what can I say? He's tall, brown eyes, dark hair and wears glasses."
"A tall, dark guy. Sounds clich‚," Jung Hoon remarked. Lois just grinned.
"How did you two meet?" Maggie asked.
That question caused Lois to ponder. She didn't want to tell them a lie, but couldn't really say the truth without blowing her cover. "Well, a mutual friend introduced us," she hedged, remembering that Perry did introduce them to each other.
"You're not really comfortable talking about him, are you?" Maggie observed.
"Not really. We were friends for a long time before we finally became more than friends. He was my best friend, and still is. But this new feeling is just that, new. I'm still trying to adjust to being in love. It's not an easy thing, especially when I've never been in love before."
"I don't believe that," Jung Hoon said, surprised. "How is it possible for a lovely woman like you never to have been involved before this?"
Maggie scolded him, "Jung Hoon, I think it's not our place to…"
"It's OK, Maggie," Lois interrupted. "Jung Hoon, I know what you're trying to say. It's just that with my mom being ill and other circumstances, I just didn't have the strength to look for a relationship. Even this one took me by surprise."
"I'm glad your boyfriend is also your best friend. I've always thought it'd be perfect to be both a couple and best friends. Then, there's no pressure on the couple to put up a front with each other," Maggie said approvingly.
"Thanks. I'll tell him you approve."
"What's his name?" Jung Hoon asked.
They heard a shout from the housemaster, signaling that they should pack up. The three friends helped each other pack up and made their way slowly back to E.H. with the rest of the residents.
When they got back, Jung Hoon asked the two ladies if they had plans for Sunday. Maggie had plans with friends. Lois said that she'd be going out with Jerome. Jung Hoon groaned. "I guess, I'm going to be alone for the day."
"Don't worry, you'll think of something," Lois reassured him.
The three friends parted company and Lois went to her room, only to find Clark there. "Hey, sweetheart," Lois said, giving him a kiss.
"Hey, you. Looks like you were having fun."
"Of course!" Lois grinned widely. "So how're the calf and the mother?"
"They're fine. The calf was born at dawn and he was already walking steadily by the afternoon."
"Good, so what else did you do?"
"Helped around the farm a bit, did my usual rounds over Metropolis and talked to Jimmy."
"Talked to Jimmy? What else does he have for us?"
"What do you mean, 'what else'?" Clark teased.
"All right, what did you talk to him about?"
"I needed to get more information for my cover, and of course, Jimmy had some information to impart."
"That's what I was asking," Lois said, exasperated.
Clark shot her a knowing grin. "He narrowed down the people who had access to the students' info."
"So, who're they?"
"There're three people on the list. The first is Catherine McCormick, the head of the Registrar's office. The second is Donald Burton, the head of the Students' Services. The third is Benjamin Dale. He's an IT technician at Metropolis University."
"Ben, the lab tech?"
"Yes, Jimmy found out that he's in-charge of maintaining the staff and students' records. Furthermore, he's related to the President of Met. U."
"Oh, yes. A senior told me about it. Sounds like he's our prime suspect."
"Seems so. Jimmy's digging further into it. Anyway, Mom invited us to stay over tomorrow. I know you're worried about blowing your cover. Well, I've found a way to do so without blowing your cover."
"Leave it to the expert."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
Clark pouted and Lois laughed at his expression.
"You don't trust me." Clark told her, putting on a hurt look.
"Oh, all right. Go on. I'll wait and see what you've cooked up."
"OK. Be right back."
Before she could respond, he was gone. Two minutes later, she heard a knock on her door. She opened it to find Maggie and Jung Hoon in front of it. "What's up, guys?"
"What's up? You didn't do justice to Jerome." Maggie complained.
"What are you talking about?" Lois asked.
"We just met him. He's downstairs now. Why didn't you tell us that he's actually a history professor?" Jung Hoon chimed in.
"WHAT!" Lois felt like wringing Clark's neck, not that it would do any good.
"Yeah, and he's a hunk," Maggie gushed.
They didn't realize the person was walking towards them.
"Hey, there." All three turned towards the voice.
In front of them was a tall, dark man in a tweed jacket. Clean-shaven and handsome, Prof. Kelton looked like the stereotyped professor. He smiled and said, "Alexa, sorry I'm late. The traffic is a killer."
"It's OK, Jerry," Lois said, making up the name, knowing that he didn't care for it. "Have you met my friends? This is Maggie and that's Jung Hoon. Guys, meet my fianc‚, Jerome."
Both Maggie and Jung Hoon looked at her in surprised. That wasn't what they expected.
"Please to meet you both. Alexa told me a lot about you."
"Oh, thanks," both of them said together.
"Alexa, are you ready to go?"
"Sure. Guys, I'll see you Monday?"
"Have fun," Maggie said meaningfully.
"Nice meeting you," Jung Hoon told Clark.
"Pleasure's mine," Clark replied, ushering Lois out of her room and E.H.
When they were outside, Lois found a black convertible. Clark opened the door for her and then moved to the driver's side. When he climbed into the car, Lois started her lecture. "Clark, what were you thinking about? Having Prof. Kelton be associated to Alexa is the worst idea you've had."
"Lois, trust me. Don't worry. Let's just enjoy the weekend and I'll tell you later why I'm doing this. Please." Clark looked at her with his pleading brown eyes.
As usual, Lois wasn't immune to those eyes. So she relented and sat back to enjoy the ride. They rode in silence for a while, enjoying each other's company. That wasn't to be for long, however. Lois's curiosity got the better of her, and she couldn't keep quiet any longer. "Clark, where are we going? I thought you said that Martha invited us to Smallville. So why are we in this car and where are we going?"
Clark grinned. He had anticipated the question, and was surprised that it took Lois this long to ask it. "This is the car I've been given as part of my cover. I'm taking you to the house the University has provided for me. Thought you might like to take a look at it."
"You have to rub it in, don't you?" Lois asked, pouting.
His grin turned wicked. "It's not my fault that I get to be the professor and you, the student."
Lois didn't bother to reply but looked straight ahead.
At the same time, in an apartment across town, a woman sat, holding a blinking gadget in her hand. 'Just as I thought!' she exclaimed silently to herself. Putting down the gadget, she picked up her cell-phone and made her way to the bathroom. There, she turned on the tap and shower before punching a number on her cell-phone.
Two rings later, a voice answered, "Becker."
"Chris, it's Sidney."
"Geraki? What's the noise in the background?"
"Just my shower."
With a mock leer, Becker asked, "Oooh, am I getting the privilege…"
"Cut it out. I found a couple of bugs around my place."
"After so long, they still haven't fully trusted you, eh?"
"Seems so. However, it seems there might be some new development."
"Update, Geraki," Becker commanded.
"Roughly a month ago, one of the girls tried to back off and would have gone to the police. They caught her and now she's in the hospital. The Metropolis PD had put her case under robbery and rape."
"How does this affect…"
"The way the ring dealt with the girl had some repercussions on the other girls. While they are trapped in the syndicate, none of them had gotten new recruits. However, the ring has been 'courting' this new girl. I need more information about her."
"What's her name?"
"I'll have someone on it. What do you plan to do with her?"
"I think we can get her to work for us."
"You'd have to reveal yourself. That's blowing a whole two years' work if she's not reliable."
"I know but things are progressing rapidly down here. I'm not gaining much on my own. If she turns out clean, I think we need to risk it."
"But if it bombs…"
Sidney interrupted, "Becker, if it bombs, I'll take full responsibility, ok?"
Becker was silent as he weighed the pros and cons. "All right, Sid. It's your investigation. I'll talk to the AD and get you the info on Ms. Thompkins A.S.A.P. Meanwhile, you hang tight and take care of yourself. From the way things sound, they still don't trust you."
"I know," she said, frustrated. "The president seemed to be the ringleader. But my guts tell me that there's someone else behind the entire thing. A faceless, nameless nemesis."
"Geraki, while I trust your instinct, the law doesn't care for it. If you can't find this nemesis and no proof to back you up, we'll have to settle for the rest of the syndicate."
Sidney sighed. "Just get me the information on Thompkins."
"All right. Keep a look out for it tomorrow."
"Well, what are partners for?"
Sidney could hear the smile in his voice. "Bye, Chris."
"Bye." The phone went dead with a click.
Sidney decided to take a shower. In fifteen minutes, she was in her bedroom, trying to decide what to wear for her date. She didn't really wish to go, but Hawk ordered her to. It would seem that Professor Lykos had been poking his nose where it shouldn't. They wanted her to check him out and find out about what danger he posed to the syndicate. It hadn't been easy to get him to notice her, much less to get him to ask her out. She wouldn't say that he was exactly keen about her. In fact, she felt that he was using her to get closer to the syndicate. She wondered about his motives.
Half an hour later, her doorbell rang. Peering through the peephole, she opened the door. "Hi, John."
John Lykos looked up and started to say, "Hi, are you…" He was shocked into silence. The sight in front of him was unexpected. He never imagined the mousy Endora Sims to turn out to be such a beauty. The Endora Sims he knew was a thin, pale and nervous looking woman. She always wore something brown. Her favorite dress was brown and very loose, giving her a waiflike look. The woman in front of him, on the other hand, was a hot little item. 'Oh boy! What am I getting into? Hmm…is it my imagination, or has she some Greek blood?' All the thoughts rushed around his head, as he tried to recover his wits.
"Is there something wrong?" Sidney asked timidly, in keeping with the image that she projected as Endora Sims. Inside, she was smiling smugly, thrilled by his reaction. After all, she had taken a risk at wearing the low cut, black evening dress.
"No, not at all," Lykos replied. "Here, these are for you." With a flair, he produced the roses that he had behind his back.
"Thank you." As Sidney received the roses, she motioned him in.
While she put the flowers in some water, Lykos took the chance to look around. What he saw pleased him. The place was homey without being cluttered. 'Seems like Endora Sims is a good housekeeper.'
"Hope I didn't keep you waiting long."
He turned at the sound of her voice, in time to see her emerging from the kitchen. "Not at all. Are you ready to go?"
"Sure, just let me get my coat." She fetched her coat from the closet and struggled to put it on.
"Here, let me help you," John volunteered, as he took the coat and helped her into it. He adjusted her collar as she buttoned up, noticing the flowery smell of her perfume. It reminded him of his grandmother's scent, a unique perfume which she concocted herself. He wondered where Endora Sims got hers.
Sidney stepped back when she realized how close they were. She quickly covered the move by reaching out for her purse. "Shall we go?" she asked.
"After you," John said, motioning for her to go first before closing the apartment's door.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, another couple was entering a dark apartment. "Wait, Lois. Let me find the switch first," Clark said.
Of course, Lois wasn't one to wait for anyone. She entered the place and immediately banged herself into the coffee table. "Ouch!"
Clark winced at the sound and hurried to switch on the light. He turned around to see Lois blinking at the bright light while rubbing her knee. "Sorry," he said, trying to apologize.
"It's all right. Actually, it's my fault," Lois admitted sheepishly. She looked around the living room, impressed by the d‚cor. "Wow, this is great. If only it was a little larger."
Clark looked at the tiny apartment and sighed. "I know what you mean. When we scout for our apartment, let's look for something with a bit more space."
Lois blushed, thinking of the day when that reality would happen. They've been affianced only for a few months, but it seemed like ages. She almost couldn't wait for a day when she could call Clark, her husband. He held so many titles but he once told her that being called her husband was the best title he could ever have. It was the same with her. For a long time, she coveted for the title of 'best journalist' but now, that title did not mean as much as the title of being Clark's wife.
Still she had doubts about marriage, about her commitment to the institution. She realized that she had to share the doubts with him as she should share other fears that she was harboring. That was why she had to tell him about the latest dream. It was imperative to do so if their relationship was to develop further. It was like a crystal's growth. If you seed it with the incorrect shape, you'll not get the shape that you want in the end. It must start off properly. The same goes for a relationship. She couldn't afford to start off with the wrong foot.
"Lois?" Clark looked at her a little apprehensively. He wondered what was going through her mind. Had he overstepped his boundary by the remark he made?
"Did I say something wrong? I'm sorry if I did. It's just that sometimes the boundaries are a little blurry…"
"Stop it. You didn't do anything wrong. I was just thinking about something. Something that we have to discuss soon."
"Oh. Sounds serious," he said, teasing her lightly.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she said, smiling mysteriously. "Now, why don't you show me around? Then we can fly off to Smallville."
So Clark proudly showed her his small, art d‚cor apartment before they headed to Smallville.
In a small Greek restaurant, John Lykos and Sidney Geraki were being shown to their table. "I hope you don't mind my choosing a Greek restaurant. This restaurant happens to serve great, authentic Greek food," John spoke up after they were both seated.
Sidney, who had been craving some good Greek food, was ecstatic. However, since Endora Sims was not Greek, she couldn't quite show her enthusiasm. "It's all right. I'm not choosy about food. This is a nice place," she said, before turning to look at the menu.
John smiled at her, amazed at the woman before him. He had passed her so many times on campus, never noticing her until he found out that she was linked to the syndicate. It seemed that she was the most accessible of those within the syndicate. When he started to pursue her, she seemed so nervous and flustered. He didn't really want to take advantage of her. Besides, he wasn't attracted to weak females with no backbones, much less one who was a criminal. However, he had no other choice but to pretend to be interested in her.
Now, he didn't what to think of her. It wasn't just the way she had changed into a desirable woman. No, she just seemed familiar, somehow. Something about her kept teasing his memory. The way she tilted her head, the way she sang along softly to the Billy Joel songs that he was playing in his car, the way she smelled. It was a little frustrating that he couldn't identify whom it was that she reminded him of.
As he watched her peruse the menu, he realized she reminded him of his grandmother. She had similar facial features and similar mannerisms. For example, both ladies had dark eyes and both would tilt their heads to one side when they're asking questions. Like now.
"John? Are you all right?" Sidney asked, perplexed. Why was he staring at her like that? As if she was an enigma to be solved.
John realized that he had been staring too long. "I'm fine. Just wool gathering."
"From what sheep?" she teased.
"Huh?" He was amazed that Endora Sims would be so bold as to tease a near stranger.
"Sorry," Sidney said sheepishly. It was a natural reaction of Sidney Geraki, but definitely not for Endora Sims. What was it about John Lykos that made lose her perspective on things? She had been an undercover agent for years and never before had she been out of character. Yet, here she was, tonight, wearing a dress which Endora Sims would never wear, and now, teasing the man in front of her.
"No, no. It's all right," John hurried to assure her. "I just never thought that you're one to make jokes. I had the impression that you're quite serious. Guess impressions can be faulty, huh?"
"Guess so. O.K., now I'm really curious. What's your impression of me?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye. She had never been able to ask about any of her undercover identities before. It was sufficient that she never blew her cover.
John was once again surprised when he detected the mischievous glint in Endora's eyes. Mischievous was not part of his first impression of her. He decided it was time he surprised her instead. "Hmm. That's a tough one. Are you sure you want my honest impression?" he asked, seemingly serious.
Sidney had to laugh silently as she realized that John Lykos wasn't what she thought him to be either. "Sure, go ahead. Do your worst," she encouraged him.
He raised an eyebrow which cracked her up. They both burst out laughing. Recovering, he said, "Let's just say I'm finding out that you're totally opposite to my first impressions."
"Come on, John. I'm not going to be offended by you being honest," she replied.
Just then, the waiter arrived to take their orders. "So, what's your choice?" John asked her. Sidney gave her orders that once again raised John's eyebrows. "Wow, you seem to know your Greek food."
"And love it, actually."
"So, you were being modest when you said you're not choosy about food." It was his turn to tease her.
"You're not being a gentleman to mention that," she mock scolded him.
"Who said I was a gentleman?" he shot back.
"Hmm, I distinctly had the impression of your being one."
A discrete cough reminded them of the presence of the patient waiter. Both looked at each other sheepishly before John turned back to the waiter and gave him his order. Once the waiter retreated, he focused his attention once again to the stranger in front of him.
"So…" he started.
"You were about to tell me about your impression of me," she reminded him.
He grinned evilly and said, "If you're sure. Just don't regret it."
"Just get on with it, Lykos." He could hear the impatience in her voice. Another thing he definitely didn't know about her.
"O.K., I used to get this impression that you were shy, a little timid and quite malleable. A little reserved. Quiet. Not given to humor…"
"All right, stop. Any good points in there at all?" she asked, giving him a mock glare.
He barked out a laugh. "Told you, but you insisted."
"Definitely not a gentleman. I guess both of us have to revise our impressions of each other," Sidney said while grinning wickedly.
"Wake up, Lois." Lois stirred in Clark's arms. 'Why is it that I can always fall into a peaceful sleep in his arms?' her sleepy brain wondered. She opened her eyes to find that they had landed in front of the Kents' back porch. The smell of Martha's cooking wafted towards her in the evening's air, making her stomach growl.
"Seems like someone's starving," Clark remarked, grinning.
"Just because you don't need to eat, doesn't mean you can comment on my stomach." Lois winked to show that she wasn't serious.
"No, but I can comment on my fianc‚e's stomach," he replied, his grin wider.
Before they could knock, Martha had flung the door wide open and enveloped Lois in a big hug. Jonathan was a little more reserved but still, Lois felt the love that these great folks had for her. She felt quite blessed.
As they walked into the house, she spotted a new sculpture gracing the rack in the hallway. 'Must be one of Martha's,' Lois noted. It wasn't as bad as her earlier ones though.
Putting away their coats, Martha led them to the kitchen for a sumptuous meal. Lois was in heaven; great food, cozy surroundings and best of all, loving company. Just what she needed to end a stressful week. She absorbed the banter around her as the Kents teased one another, exchanged their experiences of the day and generally just talking. They did not forget her, either. Martha was especially masterful in getting her to talk about her week. They laughed at her description of John Lykos, and speculated at the involvement of Ms. Sims and Professor Stanton.
Clark tried to give a positive spin on Detective Lykos but was always interrupted by Lois, something which Martha found especially hilarious. "Good gracious, Lois. Is he really that bad?" she finally asked.
"Yep!" said Lois
"No." Clark responded at the same time, glaring at Lois. "Come on, Lois. Give the man a break. He's quite decent, and quite attracted to you."
"What! Attracted to me? Clark, you've got to be kidding!"
Before Lois could speak, Jonathon held his arms up, like a referee in a soccer match. "Hold it, children," he said, grinning.
"Dad…" Clark called out plaintively while Lois stuck out a tongue at him.
Martha laughed at their antics. 'Yes,' thought Lois with an inward smile. 'A normal dinner with the Kents.'
As dinner wound down to a close, it was time for some serious talk. The parents sensed that, which was probably the reason why they shooed Clark and Lois away when they volunteered to be the cleaning crew. Clark led Lois to the spare room which she normally used when she visited. Silence fell as they climbed up the stairs. Both knew that they had a long night ahead of them as they needed to air things out.
They chatted over dinner on various topics. Sidney found John had an eclectic taste in music. "Blue grass music?" she asked.
"Yes, blue grass music. Or mountain music, as some call it," he affirmed. "I'll try to email you a few, just to widen your education."
"Gee, John. I don't know what to say," Sidney said, full of sarcasm.
"Thanks would be nice," he responded, ignoring her sarcasm.
"Who would have thought that a Greek professor who just arrived in the U.S. would be well versed in the various types of American music?" she asked out loud.
"Well, someone who'd be smart enough to know that the world is not that big," he answered with a grin.
"Are you insinuating something, Lykos?"
"If the shoe fits." John threw her a mischievous smile to take the sting of his response.
Once again, she was struck by how different he seemed to be from her impression. The stern, no nonsense professor was gone. In his place was this stranger with a quirky sense of humor and an eclectic taste in music. She wondered if she should abandon the practice of having first impressions. The phrase 'first impressions last' certainly did not apply to this man. Perhaps she should have gotten Becker to run his name through the database. After all, if he was poking his nose into the syndicate's business for the reason of joining them, she should be prepared for it. However, she couldn't reconcile the man in front of her with the image of a criminal. In her heart, she didn't want him to be a criminal. That would mean that she was attracted to a criminal.
Inside the hospital's cafeteria, three college girls huddled in wait for their friend. Soon they heard footsteps heading towards them. As one, they turned towards the footsteps. They sighed with relief on seeing their friend approaching. The relief, however, did not last very long as they took in the somber face of their friend.
The tallest amongst them voiced out her concern, "Did you get to see her? Is she all right?"
The newcomer replied, "No, I didn't manage to go in. Her whole family was there, plus a police officer. I overheard the doctor talking." She paused to regain her composure. From the look of her, everyone was aware that she had been crying.
"What did the doctor say?" a girl with ebony hair asked, quite alarmed.
"He…he felt that there was no longer any point of keeping her on the respirator. They had declared her brain-dead."
A gasp was wrenched out of all three girls. The last one, the one who had not spoken began to cry. The others immediately tried to comfort her.
After a little while, her tears subsided and she started to speak, "It's all my fault. Why did I believe Camille? Now, Kaylie is dead and I'm to blame. She had always been there for me and this is how I repay her."
The others murmured their agreements as they thought back to the vivacious girl who kept up everyone's spirits and always could be counted on to lend a helping hand. They couldn't imagine her being dead.
"It's not your fault. Camille is sneaky and a hypocrite. She was the one who recruited most of us. I believe she even has a relationship with Hawk," said the tall girl.
"You're right. I saw her in his office a few times. They seemed quite cozy," the ebony-haired girl agreed.
"I thought she was involved with Stanton?" asked the newcomer.
"Stanton? She's got him wrapped around her finger. I heard she was the cause of the rift between him and his wife," the tall girl answered.
"Do you think Camille was the one who told Hawk about Kaylie?" the last girl asked, hoping that it wasn't true.
"I know so. This afternoon, she went to meet this new girl, Alexa Thompkins. I think Alexa's being recruited." The ebony girl paused and then went on, "We should warn her about Camille. I don't want another innocent to get trapped."
"You're right, but how do we do it? Will she even believe us? G**, I wish I could get out," said the last girl.
"We can't get out, not unless we want to end up like Kaylie. But we can stop someone else from coming in. We'll just have to think of something. Anyone know this girl?" asked the tall girl, obviously the leader of the group.
Everyone shook their head but the girl who went to see Kaylie replied, "I know that she's in Stanton's class. She's also in Sims's class. I believe I can get Sims to introduce us since I'm suppose to be the TA for the course."
"Good," the leader said. "Let's do that. As for Kaylie, I think we should send her parents something."
Everyone agreed and they left the hospital.
Lois made a slow 360 degrees turn around the little guest room. She loved the place. Located at a corner of the house, it had windows opening out to the fields. In the mornings that she stayed over, she could hear Martha and Jonathon at work from this charming room. The wooden poster bed, smack in the middle of the room, with its beautiful carving and canopy made of lace gave an elegant touch to the room. It was matched with the antique dresser to the left of it and a dark, oak wardrobe to its right. Together with the wooden floors and light wallpaper, they made her feel as if she had been transported into the past, probably the late Victorian era.
She pulled her thoughts away from her musings and focused them on the man sitting on the edge of the bed, patiently waiting for her to begin. Now that the time had come, she wondered if she wasn't making a mistake. If she wasn't trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. The flutter in her stomach seemed to be made by a hundred butterflies instead of just the normal one. 'That's being silly,' her braver half scoffed. 'Come on. You're not a coward. Don't start being one now.'
Even though she knew that she was being silly and that Clark would understand, it was still difficult to start. It had never been easy for her to share her private thoughts. Since Clark came into her life, she had been better at it. Yet, there were still times when the hard fought skills seemed to have fled. This was definitely one of those times. Where should she start?
'At the beginning, of course,' her logical self suggested. Inwardly, she rolled her eyes. She decided that it was better if she wasn't standing in front of Clark, so she sat beside him.
Instinctively, Clark drew her closer and they lay down on the bed, cuddling. He said nothing. He knew that she had to be the one to start. This was about her, and not him. He would be there for her, with her but she had to make the first move.
"Clark, you're my best friend. You know that, right?" Lois began.
"I'm honored to be your best friend, Lois. And you're mine," Clark replied.
"I never expected at the beginning that we'd end up here, engaged to be married." She looked at him to see if he was following her.
Clark nodded his understanding.
"I was a loner. Always have been since I was a kid…" Clark gave her a supportive squeeze as she continued, "Things were not easy for me, growing up. With my parents and their various problems, I was basically left to not only fend for myself, but to fend for Lucy as well. There was no time, even if I was inclined to, to make friends. I wasn't inclined to, by the way. I didn't feel secure that they wouldn't gossip about my family problems to others in school.
"No, I wanted…I needed to keep the problems away from other people. I didn't want people to pity me. I didn't need their pity. However, that meant there was no one that I was close to. No one for me to learn the dynamics of a relationship that wasn't screwed or one whereby I was an equal." Lois leaned on Clark's chest, shifting and making herself a little more comfortable in his embrace. He loosened his embrace to accommodate her movement. They soon resettled to a position where both were looking up at the canopy of the bed with Lois's head on Clark's chest and tucked underneath his chin.
"It didn't help that after my parents' divorce, they were still using me as the go-between. I had to be the referee." She made a face at the memory. "Not something you'd want to experience. Definitely. By that time, I was in college. It was a nightmare. I felt so torn between them and almost had a breakdown."
Clark felt like wringing her parents' necks for burdening her with such problems at an age when she should be exploring her potentials and the world around her. Instead, he hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head.
Lois smiled at his actions, understanding his feeling of helplessness in this case. For her, it seemed like centuries had passed between then and now. Yet, like any history, what happened in the past ultimately affected the present. She was not about to let it affect the future, she resolved. Or at least, let it affect the future in a positive way.
"It was just after my 'almost' breakdown that I met Gilbert, my very first boyfriend. As I've told you once, I don't have a good track record with men. You can probably guess how it went. I thought for once that I've found someone who would love me for who I am. Someone who didn't want to shape me to fit the image they have of me. It turned out that he approached me because he wanted a soft, weak, 'yes-sir' kind of a girl. He had that impression of me.
"Perhaps it was my fault. I felt so needy that I went along with his 'suggestions' the first few weeks of our relationship. I was afraid that he'd leave me if he found out how screwed up I was…"
"That didn't give him the right to be a bully," Clark interrupted.
"…Gil was just as screwed up as I was, now that I think of it." Lois continued. "He wasn't a typical bully. He came from a family where the only way to show love was to be a sadist. And I was a masochist at the time." She sighed.
"When the relationship ended, I was more screwed up than when I entered it. But one thing the relationship taught me was that I had a backbone. There was a limit to which people can push me around. That was the time when I started to try to find myself. Before that, family came first…my parents, Lucy…but after, I knew I had to put me into the equation. That I was as important as anyone else. I wasn't just my parents' daughter-cum-referee, nor was I just Lucy's sister-cum-surrogate mother. I was Lois Lane, with my own thoughts, feelings and ambition."
Lois fell into silence for a moment as she recalled the difficulties she had to face by making the decision to put herself first. Everyone was against her for a time. Lucy threw tantrums, her mother threatened, and her father sulked. She had no one to turn to. So like a song she remembered, she turned to herself and earned the nickname of "Mad Dog Lane".
"I survived as you can see, even managed to get ahead in my career. However, I was not so lucky in my personal life. None of my previous relationships worked because of one thing. Me."
"Of course not…" Clark protested but was silenced by Lois's finger on his mouth.
"Let me finish, Clark," she begged with her eyes. "Up till now, I've never been able to balance between dependence and independence. It was one or the other. In some of my relationships, especially my first few, I became almost too dependent on the guy. In the later cases, I removed myself so much that there wasn't really much of a relationship to talk about. This was the case with Lex, even though he was manipulative and a control freak. I never invested enough of myself in that relationship."
"And now?" Clark asked, knowing that this was the crux of the matter. Everything that she was talking about was heading to this; their relationship. He didn't really know what to expect, only from the way she was sounding, she seemed to have given it a lot of thought. How were the last investigation and the nightmares linked to their relationship? That wasn't something he fully understood, but he had given up trying to figure out women, Lois in particular, for quite some time. A book he read described that a woman's thought process was like spaghetti. She could probably find a connection between things remotely unconnected.
Lois, of course, had no idea what Clark was thinking. If she were a mind reader, she would have been insulted by the book's description of HER thought process. As it was, she had to collect her thoughts in order to present them to Clark. It was important for him to understand the issue at hand.
"Clark, you were the unexpected one. Ever since Claude, I sort of gave up on finding the one of my dreams. The one who'd be my best friend, who'd share some of my interests, who could keep up with me in terms of discussions, who could calm me down and give me a counter point of view, and who'd be there to listen to me and trust me enough to share with me his problems and experiences. I never thought I'd ever find that person.
"Then, you came into my life and turned it upside down. I found myself falling in love with you even without my knowing it. Perhaps I didn't want to know it…didn't want to admit it. 'Cause by admitting it, I would have to admit that I was scared. Scared that I had once again fallen for the wrong guy. Or if you were Mr. Right, that you'd find me repulsive when you knew the real me."
Clark couldn't stand it any more. He had to speak. "Lois, stop! How could you even think that! You have a beautiful soul and you've done nothing to tarnish that soul. Whatever happened when you were younger only made that soul stronger and more beautiful."
She looked at him with tears in her eyes. No one ever said anything as beautiful to her as this man holding her. No one ever cared about her inner self until he came along. "Tha…thank you, Clark," she said, trying to hold back those tears. She gave him a tender kiss, before going on. "You're the sweetest man alive. But I'm talking about what I was feeling the first few months we were working together. I finally realized my feelings for you too late. I thought you were gone then…that Capone and his gang had killed you. How I wished, at the time, that I had the courage to tell you earlier. Or to admit it to myself, at least. I knew then that I had truly fallen in love for the first time. Not just settling for someone who could be my surrogate parent, or my idol, or even just someone to keep company with. When you came back, I was just overwhelmed. I had been given a second chance. Of course, we seemed to be derailed by circumstances then."
Clark gave a grimace at the thought of the few months after the incident with Capone. Looking at his expression, Lois had to laugh. Clark pretended to pout, but Lois ignored him. He gave her his best puppy look and said, "Hey, where can a guy get some sympathy around here?"
Grinning, Lois replied, "Not me. I ran out of it when I saw the fantastic perks you got as a faculty member."
"O.K. fair enough," Clark laughed and put up his hands as if in surrender.
"All right, back to the topic at hand, all said and done, we finally got engaged. For a while, I thought I had it all. But I guess the past never lets you go. I found myself becoming overly dependent on you."
"You're kidding! You're the most independent person I've met. You take risks even when no one else would, even against my advice."
"That's just it, Clark. I may seem to be independent but I'm really not where it counts." She pointed to her head and said, "Here in my mind, I'm still that little girl who longs not to be the responsible one. The one everyone can count on. I want to be free from responsibility. There're times when I think I take risks because of my repressed childhood.
"I want to be a rebel. To be noticed. Some childish part of me thinks that by doing that I'd get the attention which I was deprived of. What do you know! I hit the jackpot with you. Not only do I get my dream, I get someone who's always giving me the attention that I crave. I guess, my psych just couldn't process the fact that I'm getting attention. So it decides to test it out…"
"By taking more and more risks?" Clark interjected, his eyebrows raised.
"Yeah," she admitted, blushing. The way Clark said it, it seemed a tad unreasonable to do such a thing. Her ire rose at his tone. "O.K., so I'm not perfect. Never said I was," she added defensively.
Clark sighed. "I know, honey. But it's killing me to think that our relationship is the cause of it. I don't want you hurt. Do you know how I felt seeing you on the ground in that alley, bleeding to death? I felt like dying. I don't know if I could go on if you die." By the end of his short but impassioned speech, both of them had tears in their eyes.
"Clark…sweetheart, I know how you felt. It's the same way I felt when I thought I lost you to Capone. I didn't mean to make you feel that way. That's why we're having this conversation. We need…I need to lay it all on the table. This way, we can be truly honest with each other and work from there."
"There're other issues?" Clark asked, beginning to realize that this was going to be a long conversation. Not that he didn't welcome it. Lois was right that they had not been truly honest with each other, sharing their fears, and more importantly, themselves.
The man known as Hawk turned to his companion. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive. He came and identified himself as Jerome Kelton," his companion answered him coolly, quite unruffled by the turn of events.
"Damn! I thought that she had no one. How did we miss that she had a fianc‚?" Hawk groused, raking his hair with his fingers roughly.
"Well, it's not a legal relationship, Hawk. That's how."
"Why aren't you upset? This will affect all our plans." Hawk frowned at his companion.
"No it won't. Not at all," was the confident answer.
Hawk narrowed his eyes, not liking the answer. He wished his companion would give a straight answer sometimes. He hated to be the front man without knowing all that was going on; it was difficult for him to work, that way. However, he didn't dare voice his thoughts out. It'll just get him into trouble.
His companion got up from the couch and walked towards him. "Hawk, Professor Kelton happens to be the right person to be recruited, too. I had Candice from H.R. interview him. We need someone from the History department in our pockets. The rest are old and stuffy. This new blood is just what we need. He's ambitious and he's in need of money. Seems like he's quite the gambler."
"But selling his fianc‚e? He might not be willing to do that."
"He'll do it if he's desperate enough," his companion said with a certain glee.
"You have a plan," Hawk stated.
"Have you known me to ever be without one?" a delicate eyebrow was raised in question.
Hawk sighed. It was out of his hands.
A knock on the door interrupted them. Clark realized how focused he was on their conversation that he didn't hear anyone approaching.
"Lois? Clark? Perry's on the line. He sounded upset," Martha's voice came through the door.
"Thanks, mom. We'll be right out," Clark shouted back while exchanging looks with Lois. Both wondered why Perry had called them here. How did he know where to find them? Why was he upset?
"I better get it," Clark volunteered.
Lois nodded and they both left the room, heading for the extension in Clark's room. Picking up the phone, Clark shouted to Martha to hang up her extension. "Hi Perry. What's up?" he asked.
"Is Lois with you? I tried reaching her at her dorm but the front desk said that she had left with her boyfriend."
Clark looked at Lois who was listening in on the conversation. She indicated that he should tell the truth. "Yes, Perry. She's here. Superman gave us a lift."
"Can she hear me? Lois?"
"I'm here, Perry," Lois acknowledged after Clark turned the speaker on. "What's the emergency?"
"Kaylie was declared brain-dead tonight. This has become a homicide investigation."
Clark frowned while Lois asked sarcastically, "So, does that mean that they're going to blunder about and blow our cover?"
"From what I gather, they still think that it was a rape case. They are pursuing the matter as such. But you've got only a small window to break this case open," Perry warned.
"We'll do our best, Perry," Clark promised. "The investigation is making quite a bit of head way. Lois got contacted this afternoon by one of the girls. The syndicate is going for our bait."
"Good. Anyway, Kaylie's funeral is going to be Monday."
"Send my…er, our condolences to her family, Perry," Lois requested.
"Will do. Lois, are you all right?" Perry asked, a little concerned.
Both Lois and Clark exchanged looks. They had the same thought; Perry was a mother hen when it came to Lois. "I'm fine, Perry. Never better," Lois assured him.
"Good. Enjoy your weekend, kids," Perry said.
"You too," Clark and Lois said together.
After the phone conversation ended, Clark and Lois exchanged another look. Clark could see that Lois was quite shaken up by the news of Kaylie's death. He quickly embraced her and sat down, pulling her into his lap.
"Hold me, Clark. Just hold me."
For a long while, they sat thus in absolute silence. While Lois drew strength from the comfort of her fianc‚'s embrace, Clark was trying to keep his feelings in check. The news of Kaylie's death not only affected Lois; it also affected him. It brought home once again the fact that he almost lost Lois, and that if this investigation was not handled properly, he could still lose her. The last case was a bitter pill to swallow.
"Nooooo!" He had come too late! What registered in his mind was the figure of Lois falling to the ground, blood spurting everywhere, especially onto his uniform as he dived unsuccessfully for the bullet.
Red! That was what he saw and knew no more. He wasn't even aware of what he did to the guy who shot at Lois. Flinging him aside where the guy hit the wall and slumped unconscious, Clark immediately gathered Lois into his arms. He could hear her pulse. That was the only thing that kept his sanity. He used his cape as a compress on the wound and slowly, ever so slowly, lifted her up and flew to the nearest hospital.
By the time he arrived at the emergency room, his cape was soaked. He didn't know what he did, but whatever it was, it got the doctors and nurses to work on Lois immediately. It was only when she was rolled into the operating theatre that he finally could feel again.
He realized the curious looks the people in the E.R. were giving him but he didn't care. Secret identity be damned, Lois was inside that theatre battling for her life. Yet, he could do nothing to help her. What good were his powers if they couldn't save the ones he loved? 'Lois, don't die. Please, don't die.' The words became his mantra for the whole six hours she was in the operation theatre. He didn't give a thought to calling Perry or her parents. He would have if he hadn't been wallowed in guilt.
'Why? Why couldn't I save her? Why wasn't I there for her? I should have been. It's not fair. We've barely had a few months together. Damn it! We had wasted a whole year and more trying to get together, and now, this happens. Is fate against us? Are we not destined to be together? Please, take me instead. Let me die on her behalf. I can't go on without her. Please.'
A tap on his shoulder brought him back to reality. The doctor who did the operation stood before him. "Doctor?"
"Superman. Ms. Lane was lucky that you managed to get to her in time. If you had been there any later, she wouldn't have made it. As it is, the next twenty four hours are critical. She could go either way. I believe it's always good, at such times, that she be surrounded by her loved ones. Could you let them know?"
Clark sighed inwardly in relief, sending a silent thanks to the One above. He also realized the fact that he had not called anyone about Lois. He colored slightly as he tried to answer the doctor, "Doctor, I will. I'm sorry, I should have notified them earlier. In fact, I should have notified the police as well."
"Don't worry about that aspect. One of our staff had done that for you. The police had arrested a few men and had brought the person who shot Ms. Lane to the E.R."
"E.R.?" Clark asked, his actions earlier finally dawned on him. Another rush of guilt came over him. "Is he all right?"
"He's fine, just a concussion. Still unconscious, though," the doctor reassured him.
Sighing, Clark nodded. "Thanks, doctor."
"You're welcome. Ms. Lane will be in the I.C.U. when the anesthetics wear off," the doctor informed Clark, before leaving him.
Clark immediately phoned Perry and reported what had happened. Perry assured him that he would call Lois's family for Clark. That call done, Clark felt it was time for Superman to leave and Clark Kent to appear.
Clark came out of his thoughts when Lois snuggled closer, trying to get comfortable. As he looked down, he couldn't help but feel fortunate. Until Lois, he had always wondered if he was ever fated to meet someone. He was resigned to his lonely fate until one day he found himself looking into a pair of beautiful brown eyes, and had fallen hard. Now, she owned him, heart and soul. She was his heart and soul. To lose her was to lose an integral part of himself.
Lois was surprised when Clark suddenly tightened his embrace. On looking up at his face, she saw…she was shocked at what she saw; a look of desperation, of loss, and of near panic. Just what had triggered those looks? "Clark, are you hearing something? Is there an emergency?" she asked, worried that she was detaining him from saving lives.
At her voice, he quickly recovered, shutting down the feelings rampaging through him. "No, not at all, Lois. Why did you ask?"
Lois was alarmed at the rapid change of his expression. 'He's hiding something. But what and why?' she asked herself. The best way with Clark was to go straight to the point. So she asked him pointedly, "Clark, what are you hiding? What were you thinking about?"
Then she changed her tone to one of pleading. "Please, sweetheart. Let's just be honest with one another. We've got to if we want to go further in this relationship." She caressed his face as she spoke.
Taking a deep breath, Clark tried to gather his thoughts. From what Lois told him earlier, one of the important things she cherished about their relationship was the honesty that they had between them. It was a hard fought battle; the ability to stay honest with each other. Their relationship almost ended before it actually began when she found out about his secret identity and felt that he hadn't been honest enough with her.
"Lois, before my mom interrupted us, we were discussing how I felt when you almost died."
Lois nodded, which he took as indicating that he should go on. "I never told you what happened after you got shot, did I?" This time he didn't wait for her to react. He had to go on before he lost his courage. "I nearly lost it. I backhanded the guy who shot you, even without realizing it. He could have been killed."
Lois took his hands and squeezed them. She knew how painful it was for him to intentionally hurt anyone, even bad guys. She could hear his guilt. "It wasn't intentional, Clark. You wouldn't have done it intentionally. It was a reactionary thing."
He nodded unconvincingly. "Lois, that day made me realize something. You're an integral part of me. To lose you would mean losing myself and I don't know how to cope with that."
"Clark, listen to me. No matter what happens to me, you will and must go on. I believe that you can cope with it; you're strong enough. It may take time. You'll miss me terribly and there'll be times when you forget that I'm not there beside you, and you turn to me to say something before realizing my absence. But Clark, time will ease the pain and you'll be able to at least live with the dull throb of a remembered loss."
"Shh…" Lois said, not giving him a chance to interrupt. "I thought about it too. What if I were to lose you? What would my life be like? I couldn't imagine it. But Clark, being a realist, I know that one day we'll have to separate, either one of us will be left behind. I don't think either of us wants the other to mourn us excessively to an extent that it'll cripple us. I want both of us to make this promise right now; that whoever gets left behind will try to go on living, to carry on the love we have and to share it with others."
"What are you saying, Lois? That we should find other partners?"
"Yes, Clark. The human heart has a capacity to love beyond any that you can imagine. One day, who knows…" she shrugged, "She won't be me…but if she can appreciate the man I know now; the romantic hero of my dreams, then she's the right one for you…you'll know her when the time comes."
"Lois, I…how can you calmly say such a thing?"
"Because, Clark, I know that you'll outlive me one day. I love you too much to see you wasting your life away. Plus, it's not as if I'm asking you to find the first woman you meet after me. It'll take a special person to love you and for you to love, but I've no doubt that it'll happen again. Please, sweetheart, will you promise me this?" she pleaded with her whole being.
There was nothing else that Clark could do but say yes; even if he was reluctant to do so. He simply couldn't imagine a life without her.
"Good! Now, let's get back to discussing those issues," Lois said with a hint of mischief. She was trying to lighten the mood. She knew that she had asked Clark to do something very difficult. Still, she couldn't see any other way to save him from himself, so to speak.
Taking his cue from her, Clark asked with all the innocence he could muster, "What issues?"
"Clark Jerome Kent!"
"I thought it's 'Jerry'?"
"Hah, back to you," he said with a laugh.
She groaned, "O.K., now we're getting silly."
"So we are," Clark said, grinning.
"Hmm, it's strange, you know. I've never had this kind of relationship with anyone else. To be able to be serious one minute and be silly the next. Clark Kent, what you do to me?" Lois pondered softly.
"You do the same thing to me, too," Clark replied in similar tone.
"Yet, for all those great points about our relationship, I still feel inadequate about being your partner, your equal partner."
"I don't know. It's just that I…I…I don't know!" She got up from Clark's lap, frustrated at herself. As she paced around the room, she silently berated herself for not being able to articulate her feelings. For an award winning reporter, she was hopeless at talking about her feelings.
Clark watched his fianc‚e grow more and more agitated. He had to do something. "Lois, calm down. Do you know that I feel just as inadequate being your significant other?"
Lois looked at him incredulously. "You? Clark, you're Superman, for God's sake."
"I'm not Superman where it counts," he said, tapping his heart. "Here, I'm just as vulnerable as any other man. I have all these insecurities about us. Wouldn't you be better off with an Earth man, rather than a Kryptonian? Will I live up to your expectations? My being Superman means that you will have to share me with everyone else, that I may not be around when you need me. We know that it has already put a strain on our relationship when we were just friends. What will happen later when we're married and have kids?"
Lois listened to him very carefully. It was incredible that this man before her could actually have all these thoughts, thoughts that were similar to her. It was incredible too how he was able to get her to talk about her insecurities. 'He knows me too well,' she thought with an inward smile.
"Clark, selfish as it may sound, I have some of those fears. Sometimes, I resent the fact that you have to go away in the middle of our time together. In those times, I wonder if I'd be left alone with our kids while you go away on one of your rescue missions. What if they fall ill, or there was an accident, or worse? I have played all the scenarios in my head of the times you could be gone and I'm left holding the fort. There are times when I question myself, if I'd able to cope alone. It'll be like my childhood all over again.
"But then, I know that you won't let me cope alone; that you'll always be back as soon as you can. You would never let me carry the burden alone. I may be alone for a short time but in the long run, we'll face the problems together."
"Then, why are you afraid of not being my equal? Lois, like you said, we'll face the problems, all the problems, together as a team. Where else would I go, if not to you, to share my problems with? You're there for me whenever I need you. You're my pillar of strength, my cheerleader, and my home, all in one. We belong with each other. Whatever tomorrow may bring, as long as we're together, there's nothing we can't overcome," Clark declared passionately.
Lois sighed, knowing that Clark was right. It was just that something still nagged at her. She couldn't put her finger on it but it was there. She was about to give up even thinking about it when suddenly it all became clear; her childhood fears, her independence vs. dependence issues, her low self esteem vs. the need to prove herself, the difficulties she faced in the search for her own identity. Her relationship with Clark was tainted by her fears.
"Oh my God! Clark, what a mess…and all because of me!" she wailed, sitting down heavily on the comforter opposite him.
Alarmed, Clark rose up and went to her immediately. "What's wrong? What mess? I'm sure it's not because of you, honey."
"Clark, don't try to comfort me," she said, shrugging off his arms. She got up and started pacing again. "My life has been so screwed up that I can't even let go of all these fears I have in me. First and foremost, is not the question of my independence. It is the fear that I'll lose myself if we take the next step and get married. For so long, I prided myself on being able to break away from Gil and establish my own identity. I resisted every attempt of my family to drag me into their problems for fear of losing this identity. All these years, this sense of identity has never been tested until recently. Why do you think I didn't want a partner? Not because of Claude, though he may have been part of it. No, I feared that Lois Lane, the reporter, would be overshadowed by the partnership."
"But that's not what happened to our partnership," Clark protested. "Lois, you've a strong enough personality that you'll never lose that sense of identity you have established."
"I did lose it once, remember."
"It was a long time ago. You were young and impressionable. The Lois Lane I know could and would never be swallowed up by another identity."
"Even when we're married, and I have to take your name?"
"Who said that you have to? I would never presume to force you to take my name. Lois, I love you. You, Lois Lane. Not some puppet that I can mold."
"I'm afraid, Clark. Afraid that when we're married, I'll change and not be myself any more. I know it doesn't make sense…"
Clark interrupted her. "Lois, you'll change. And I'll change. But you'll still be you, Lois Lane. It's human nature to change, grow and develop. You'll change to fit into your new role as wife, and I as husband. When we have kids, we'll change into our roles as parents. But I don't think the basic part of us, the ones defining us as Lois and Clark will change so dramatically that we're no longer the same people. It'll take a drastic event for that to occur."
"I know. Mentally, I understand what you're saying. But I guess emotionally, I'm still struggling to accept the change. I'm not very good at coping with changes," she sighed, finally stopping her pacing.
Clark stood up and took her into his arms. Gazing into her eyes, he reassured her, "Well, honey. That's the good thing about being together; you won't have to face this change alone. I'm right beside you. As long as we keep talking, communicating, we'll be fine."
She could see the love in his eyes. It almost made her knees go weak. Almost but not quite. An imp reminded her of a song. So, in a seductive voice, she commanded, "Kiss me."
"Huh?" Clark was puzzled. One moment, she was looking as if she could cry, and the next, she was smiling devilishly.
"Kiss me," Lois repeated. She didn't give him the chance to respond before drawing closer to him and giving him a long, hot kiss. As she released him from the kiss, she couldn't help laughing at his confused, befuddled and a little aroused look. "Sorry, Clark. I couldn't resist. Remember the song "It's in His Kiss"?"
He had to join in the laughter. "So did I pass?"
"Famously!" she replied, snuggling close.
He swept her off her feet and carried her back to her room. "Lois, I promise you this; we'll always talk about what's disturbing us no matter what situation we face. This conversation will not be the last one," he said solemnly.
She sighed, and snuggled in his arms. "Thank you," she whispered to his chest.
The ring of her cell-phone interrupted their laughter at a story Lykos was telling about his childhood experience of swimming with the dolphins near Athens. Looking at the number flashing on the screen, Sidney threw him an apologetic look. "Excuse me, I've to answer this call. I'll be right back."
John watched her as she made her way to a discrete corner. From her body language, she seemed very tense and nervous. Endora Sims of old was back. He wondered who had called to cause her to revert back to that personality.
Unaware that she was being observed, Sidney pressed the button to answer the call. "Hello?"
"'Dora?" a man's voice asked.
"Yes, Andy. It's me," Sidney answered, her voice automatically changed tones to match Endora Sims's.
"Are you still on a date with Professor Lykos?"
"Yes. Though he hasn't tried to ask me anything related to you-know-what."
"Good. If he starts questioning you, pretend you don't know. Change the subject, if you can," advised Andy.
Sidney was perplexed. Her earlier instructions were to test Prof. Lykos. "Why?"
"I've just found out that he's actually a cop. A congressman I tried to hook up with one of our girls told me about being pulled over by a cop in Vice who matched the description of our dear colleague," he said sarcastically. "So I checked with someone I know from the Met. Police Department. What do you know, there is a Det. John W. Lykos working in Vice. He's been on no-pay leave for the last six months."
Sidney found it difficult to resist looking back at Lykos. 'No wonder, he seemed very different. At least, I'm not falling for a criminal wanabe,' she thought in relief. She wondered what she should do next; bring him into the loop? At least then she would have a back-up since her partner was in Washington.
"All right, Andy. Thanks. You saved my skin. I'll be careful," she reassured Andy.
"O.K. then, goodnight…wait! 'Dora, Kaylie passed away about an hour ago. Bye."
The phone went dead, leaving Sidney with her jaws dropping to the ground. What kind of a callous guy would deliver such a message without any indication that he was affected by it. After all, she was his student. Didn't he feel guilty at all?
John watched the expressions on her face as she walked back. Endora Sims definitely didn't have a poker face. He wondered idly what was upsetting her. To his surprise, he was a little angry with the person on the phone, and felt a tiny, illogical need to protect this woman walking towards him. 'For goodness sake, she's a criminal,' the sensible part of him scolded. He sighed; it didn't matter, he was falling for Endora Sims, despite her criminal activities.
Standing up as she neared, he helped her to be seated before seating himself once again. "Is something the matter?" he asked. He was stunned by the look on her face when she faced him.
Her voice nearly broke when she tried to talk. "Yes. But John, I'd rather not talk about it here. Is there somewhere we can go to talk?"
"Of course. Just hold on. Let me settle the check," he said, alarmed.
Sidney settled back, waiting patiently as John signaled for the waiter and settled the bill. Once he had finished, she immediately got up and put on her coat, before walking off. John hurried after her. "Are you all right?" he asked when he managed to catch up.
"I'll tell you later. Where can we go, now?"
"I know of a park nearby, it's quiet at this time of the night." He steered them in the way of the park.
Neither of them spoke as they made their way to a bench in the park. However, even before they actually got comfortable on the bench, Sidney twisted around to stare at him and demanded, "You're a cop, aren't you? Andy found out from a congressman you almost arrested. So don't try to deny it."
Lykos was flabbergasted. He never thought that his cover could be blown. Damn. What was he to do now? Perhaps he could plead with her not to blow his cover, but it wouldn't work since Andrew Stanton knew about it.
"Well, aren't you going to say something?"
"What do you want me to say? Yes, I'm a cop. I'm investigating you, Andy and the people you're working for. So what are you going to do to me?" he asked defiantly.
"Andy said not to make you suspicious, did you know that?"
Now, he was perplexed. "Then, why are you doing this?"
She didn't answer him, instead she seemed to change the subject, "Did you know one of the girls; her name was Kaylie Brent? She tried to escape and was 'taken care of' by them and Andy told me, ever so casually, that she passed away tonight. She was a brilliant student, and a great friend to those around her. She used to help me a lot, being my TA. Now, she's gone, because of one stupid mistake she made…to trust her friend when she offered Kaylie a job as an escort."
John heard the pain she was feeling as she spoke. It was clear that she felt very guilty about not being able to help Kaylie out. This girl must be the one Lois and Clark spoke about. Even though he didn't know her, he felt a little sad for a life lost so young. He also felt relief that it wasn't his cousin who had been in that situation. At least, she's safe.
"Endora, perhaps you could help the others before more of them get hurt. If you're willing to help give evidence and testify in court about this syndicate…"
He was cut off by a near hysterical laughter from Sidney. "Don't you get it, Lykos? Why do you think I'm talking to you without a lawyer?"
"So you're willing…"
"Sheesh! Lykos, for a cop, you're not very bright. Let me say this just once; my name is Sidney Geraki, a Special Agent with the FBI. I've been working undercover since I infiltrated the syndicate two years ago. Now, pick up that jaw of yours," she said, with an evil grin.
He couldn't believe his ears. She was Greek? No wonder, she reminded him of his grandmother. 'Lykos, where's your priorities? Shouldn't you be wondering about her being an FBI agent?' "What…why…"
"Who…where…how?" she teased him. "O.K. Now that we've covered that, we need to have a serious talk. You realize that you're not doing any good on this investigation on your own?"
"What about you? I don't see any backups for you either."
"I have backup; the whole resource of the FBI is available to me. You, on the other hand, seem to be a lone wolf in this."
He gave her a vague, mysterious look. "Not exactly. I've my backups too."
"Come on, John. You don't expect me to believe that. Andy told me that he checked with his sources in the police force and found out that you're on no-pay leave."
"You think?" he countered.
"O.K., we're not going anywhere with this conversation. Lykos, your cover's been blown, but not mine. I'm sure we can work together, don't you agree?"
"How do I know that you're really who you claim to be?"
"Do I have to give you my badge number for you to check?" she asked sarcastically.
"That'll be nice," he replied, deadpan. "Of course, it'll be good if I could have your resume too."
She was about to erupt when he held up his hands and grinned widely. "Don't kill me, please?" he pleaded, giving her a puppy-dog look.
She sighed, exasperated. "Stop giving me the puppy-dog look."
"Hey! It's not a puppy-dog look. It's a genuine puppy-wolf look," he protested, grinning.
"Let's get serious, Wolf!"
"Hmm, you know Greek? Of course, you know Greek! You're Greek, after all."
She frowned at him and said, "Lykos, a girl died tonight. As much as I like to banter with you, this is a serious matter."
He immediately sobered up. "Sorry. You're right. We should work together. However, given that I've blown my cover, I don't know what good I'll be in this investigation."
"Let's compare notes and we'll go on from there," she suggested.
He nodded and suggested that they adjourn their discussions until they had a proper place to compare notes. So they left the park and headed to his grandmother's, which was nearby. His grandmother was on the porch, in her rocking chair. As they got out of the car and headed towards her, she got up to greet them. She called him by the Greek version of John and commanded him to come and give her a hug.
"Certainly, grandma," he said, giving the old, petit woman a warm hug and a kiss on her wrinkled cheeks. As with Sidney, he could smell his grandmother's unique perfume.
"So, little wolf, aren't you going to introduce me to your girlfriend? A nice, proper Greek girl, I see," his grandmother remarked, turning her old but observant eyes on Sidney.
Sidney blushed and came forward. "Mrs. Lykos, I'm Sidney Geraki. I'm not John's girlfriend, though. Just a colleague."
"Call me Grandma, everyone does. A colleague, you say? My John would never bring a colleague to meet me. Actually, he's never brought his girlfriends to see me either. So you must be special."
"Grandma," John said, a warning in his voice. "Sidney and I are working on a case. She's FBI. Both of our places are under surveillance, so I thought of your place."
His grandmother gave an unladylike snort, but waved them in, nonetheless. "Well, it's still nice to meet you, Sidney. Come in. Now, make yourselves comfortable. I'll go and see if I've got some of those pies you like so much, John. I should have since I baked them yesterday. Would you like tea or coffee, Sidney?"
"Don't trouble yourself, Grandma. We just had dinner," both of them said at the same time. The little, old lady just waved their protests away as she went into the kitchen.
John shrugged, saying, "She's a stubborn lady. Never mind, let's go into the study. My grandmother just got herself a brand new, state-of-the-art computer. I keep backups of my investigations there."
Sidney nodded, amazed by the fact that a ninety year old woman could be so computer savvy. "I didn't bring my notes. But if your grandmother has an Internet connection, we could access my notes."
"She subscribes to cable, so there shouldn't be a problem."
They soon immersed themselves in the investigation, looking through all the material they've uncovered thus far. Raiding his grandmother's desk, they got notebooks, papers and pens. They read through each other's notes and tossed ideas and insights back and forth. They worked late into the night, munching slowly on the snacks Grandma Lykos brought out.
Sidney was amazed at how much John had gathered by himself in the few short months he'd been investigating. Furthermore, he wasn't even working inside the syndicate. She had to admit that he was a brilliant investigator, one of the best she'd known. For his part, John found Sidney to be a meticulous and conscientious investigator.
"Did you know that they're trying to recruit a new girl?" Sidney asked after an unofficial break, chewing slowly on her apple pie.
"Yes. Alexa Thompkins."
She nodded. "Exactly. She's in Andy's and my class. He introduced her to Camille, who's one of the best recruiters the syndicate has. Camille is probably the only girl loyal to the syndicate, and not looking for a way out. Anyway, I'm thinking of approaching Alexa to help us out. I've already asked my partner to do a background check on her, just waiting for the results."
John who was in the middle of sipping his coffee found himself spewing it out. There was a flurry of hands trying to wipe away the coffee from the table, couch and floor. Once that was settled, Sidney leveled him a long look before commanding, "O.K., Lykos. Tell me everything, and don't you dare leave anything out."
Morning came to Smallville in a brilliant burst of colors reflected across the snow covered grounds. Sunlight crept slowly into the bedroom, washing the beautiful room in golden hues. Lois, never an early riser, found herself waking up to the sounds of the cock crowing somewhere on the farm, of chickens clucking, and of Jonathan's voice calling out to Martha about milking the cow. It was definitely a nice way to be awakened.
Turning, Lois found Clark still asleep. It was excusable since he'd had to leave at two in the morning for a rescue mission. She wasn't even aware of him leaving until she felt the loss of her living 'hot-water bottle'. He got back just before dawn, trying unsuccessfully not to wake her up. Still, she appreciated the thought.
Quietly, Lois left the bed, not wanting to wake Clark up. Putting on her bathrobe, she left the bedroom and went down into the kitchen. She found Martha hard at work, preparing breakfast. "Good morning," she greeted Martha.
Turning her head, Martha smiled at her. "Good morning. Where's Clark?"
"Still in bed," Lois said, coloring a little. She felt awkward knowing that Martha was aware of their sleeping arrangement. "Martha…"
"It's all right, Lois. Neither Jonathan nor I are against both of you sleeping together. You're both adults," Martha tried to reassure her.
"Martha, you're getting the wrong idea. We're sleeping together but not that kind of sleeping together. Both Clark and I decided to wait till we're married to engage in those kinds of activities," Lois tried to explain, blushing even more furiously. How does one explain such things to an almost mother-figure in one's life?
"Oh." Martha blushed as well. She was embarrassed to have made the assumption in this case, but she quickly recovered. "Well, then. Since you're up, what would you like for breakfast?"
"Your famous blueberry pancakes, of course," said Lois, grinning. She was glad of the change in topics.
"Coming right up." Martha turned back to the stove and started the process of making Lois some pancakes.
"Can I help?" Lois offered.
Martha indicated for her to set the table. "Both Jonathan and I have had our breakfast."
Lois nodded, knowing how early both Jonathan and Martha got up to do the various chores on the farm. She rifled through the cabinets to get herself a plate, a cup, and utensils. Pouring herself a cup of delicious coffee, she perched on the edge of the cabinet to watch Martha cook and sipped her coffee in silence.
"Martha, can I ask you something?" she finally spoke up.
Martha glanced at her before resuming her cooking. "Sure."
"Clark told me that you were from the city and you had a high level of education before you married Jonathan," Lois stated before pausing.
Martha nodded at that.
"How did you adjust to being married to Jonathan? I don't mean that he isn't a good man, but it was quite a change, wasn't it? I mean, you went from living in a city to living in a small community like Smallville. Not to say anything bad about Smallville, but didn't you find that you were losing yourself in the process of adjusting? It must have been such a drastic change for you. I can't imagine myself being married and not change. I'm not making much sense, am I?" Lois finally stopped her babble when she saw Martha focusing on her.
"Lois, let me try to understand this. Your question is how I coped with the changes that come with marriage or how I coped with living in Smallville?"
Lois took a deep breath. "Sorry, Martha. Actually neither, though coping with the changes that come with marriage is close. I'm afraid that if I marry, I'll lose myself, the me that defines Lois Lane. I'd like to know how you do it. You've been married for so many years but you retain your own unique identity. You're unlike my mother who seems to define herself in terms of being a wife to my dad, which by the way was the reason why she clung so much to him, turning a blind eye to his roving ways and preferring to drown herself in the bottle. Look around this house. There's so many things, little touches, that just screams of you. Like the sculpture in the hallway, or the paintings in the study. And especially here in the kitchen."
Martha slowly smiled as she absorbed what Lois was saying. "Lois, make no mistake. It's very easy for us, women, to lose ourselves in the family setting. Especially if you're a homemaker. Do they still use that term? Anyway, it is easy because it's very tempting to just be a wife or a mother and live your life through your husband or your children. I've met women like that. They become very bitter and controlling at times. Others become mere shadows with no personalities of their own. They just cannot see any other alternatives.
"But with a little effort, this need not be the case. For me personally, I've always abhorred being a cling-on or a shadow. I was lucky to have met Jonathan. At a time when women are defined by their 'wifely' abilities, he had always encouraged me to be myself. Since I was better at finances and administrative stuff, he encouraged me to take over those parts of our life together. Any time I expressed an interest in learning something, whether it be for the family or just my own interest, he would go out of his way to try and get information or material for me. He gave me a free hand at expressing myself.
"I believe that it'll be the same with you. You do not have the personality to just let your husband or children take over your life. Plus, Clark won't let you do that. As for changes in marriage, well, we all go through those changes. It's normal to have to adjust to the marriage. But it's supposed to be an accommodative situation, not a grand battle. I wouldn't worry about it too much," Martha ended her long lecture with a smile.
Lois, who had been listening attentively, shrugged. "I don't know, Martha. I'm afraid that I'd become like my mother."
"The fact that you're consciously afraid will ensure that you won't fall into that particular trap," Martha affirmed.
"I hope so," Lois said.
"Just talk it out with Clark," Martha replied. "Here, the pancakes are done."
Lois took the plate of pancakes from Martha. "Wow! These smell wonderful. Thanks."
"Mom, that's unfair. Don't I get some too?" Clark spoke from the kitchen door.
Both the women turned to him and then looked at each other. "Lois is my guest. You, on the other hand, are not. Besides, you can cook them yourself," Martha replied.
Lois stuck her tongue out at him, sitting herself at the table. In retaliation, he ruffled her hair on his way to the coffee pot.
"Hey! That's uncalled for," Lois protested.
"You asked for it," he shot back, grinning evilly.
Martha just laughed and walked out the back door into the farmyard.
After they had finished breakfast and cleaned up, Clark suggested a walk. They took a leisurely stroll along a nearby stream. After some time, they sat down on some boulders, enjoying the sun. For winter, it was a relatively warm day.
"What was the emergency last night?" Lois started the conversation.
"Oh, just a small fishing boat caught in the storm. Everyone was safe by the time it was over," Clark answered.
"Oh, but you were gone a long time."
"A complication arose. Two dolphins got caught in the fishing net. After I rescued the boat, we had to untangle the dolphins. There was a team to check that they were all right before we could release them back to where they'd came from."
"Hmm, I'm glad every mammal was safe," Lois said, grinning. "Now, that my curiosity on that topic has been satisfied, would you care to satisfy another curiosity of mine?"
"O oh. Have I created a monster?" Clark teased.
"Perhaps. Now, Prof. Kelton, would you care to explain how you get to be Alexa Thompkins's fianc‚?"
"I didn't say I was your fianc‚. You were the one who said that," Clark pretended to protest.
"All right, I'll admit my culpability in that part. Still, you passed yourself as my boyfriend. Don't you think you're jeopardizing our investigation?" she asked, this time quite serious.
"Lois, you know that I wouldn't do that. I would never jeopardize our investigation," Clark replied just as seriously. "I guess I better explain Jerome Kelton's background. He's supposed to be this wonder kid, getting his PhD in History at a young age. However, he has this one weakness. He loves to gamble. Right now, he's heavily in debt but his credit is still good."
"How does this fit into his relationship with Alexa?"
"They grew up in the same neighborhood and were best friends. He left her for a short time to attend college and grad school to get his PhD. That was where his addiction began. Alexa knew nothing of this. When he got back, they started their new relationship. She discovered his addiction when her mom died and she approached him for financial help. Now they're both in a bind because of the debts she incurred due to her mother's illness and his gambling debts. This should set the stage for the syndicate to recruit them."
"But why together? I don't see the need for it."
"Remember the prank email you sent out to me?"
"Yes, what about it?"
"Jimmy put a tracer on your school email. If anyone besides you tried to access your email, the tracer will send a warning to Jimmy. Two days ago, that warning sounded and Jimmy was able to confirm that the copy of that particular email was accessed. It would have cast a shadow on your credibility with the syndicate."
She rolled her eyes. "You'd figure that such prostitution rings would be less picky about the morals of their girls," she said sarcastically. "So, you're saying that linking Kelton and Thompkins would lend the email some kind of rational reason?"
"Correct," Clark confirmed.
"What if this plan backfires on us?" Lois asked, still not quite convinced that the plan would work.
"Det. Lykos and I discussed it and felt that it would work," Clark tried to reason with her.
"Lykos!" Her voice was now raised and could be heard echoing across the stream.
"Lois, be reasonable."
"You want me to trust you, that I can do. But I don't trust that guy."
"Well then, trust my judgment. I won't let you down."
The sunlight on her face woke Sidney up. For a while, she couldn't figure out where she was. Then she heard a soft snore beside her. Turning, she found John Lykos sleeping peacefully beside her, both of them sharing a blanket on the floor of his grandmother's study. Memories rushed back to her; the last thing she remembered was that they were discussing what the next move should be.
"Good, you're awake," Grandma Lykos said, poking her head into the study. "It's almost time to go to church. John, wake up!"
John shot up at the raised voice. "What? Grandma? What are you doing here?"
"I believe I live here," said his grandmother, her eyebrow raised.
"Huh?" he looked around confused, until his eyes met Sidney's. Slowly, he began to recall the previous night. "How did we end up like this?" he asked Sidney.
Sidney could only shrug while his grandmother answered him, "You both fell asleep. Almost like when you were children, John. Remember how you and your cousins would try to stay awake as long as you could on Christmas eves? By the time midnight arrived, all of you would be fast asleep. Well, it was about the same this time. I just put the blanket over you."
Neither John nor Sidney could find anything to say after that. Impatient at their paralysis, his grandmother ordered them to get their respective selves off the floor and into the bathrooms to get ready for church. Sidney who had rarely gone to church in her adult life found herself spending the morning in a Greek orthodox church frequented by the Lykos family and the rest of the day with his family. The family, huge even by Greek standard, welcomed her and treated her as if she was one of them. Grandma Lykos made it seem as if she was John's girlfriend. Even though she tried to deny it, the Lykos family didn't seem to notice. John wasn't helpful at all as he grinned goofily and just winked at her whenever the question of their relationship came up.
In another part of Metropolis, Hawk was getting red in the face. 'When did I start losing control of the situation?' he thought as he listened to Andy on the other end of the phone.
"Andy, are you positive? O.K. then. Have you heard from Endora, yet?" he asked Andy.
"No. Apparently, she didn't return to her apartment. Look, I've to go get ready for the funeral," Andy answered on the other end.
"All right. Just don't cause a scene. The father is probably suspicious of you," Hawk advised.
"No problem," Andy assured him before hanging up.
On his end, Hawk put down the receiver gently, squelching the urge to hurl the whole set across the room. He leaned against the desk and looked unseeingly around the study of his house. His mind was too busy to see the beautiful room that he personally furnished and painstakingly decorated. Once again, he wondered how he could have lost control of the situation. How did the police get wind of this operation? Even though Lykos was working on his own, Andy found out that he had raised his suspicions to his superiors.
Now, even more alarming is that he might have influenced Endora Sims. While Sims wasn't a key player in the ring, she still had insider's information that could be used against them. Hawk was afraid to report this to his companion. She wouldn't like it at all. It was after all his idea to recruit Sims, vetoing her violent objections. He hoped that Sims wasn't compromised, but he knew he would have to treat her as one already compromised.
He fingered the phone, debating whether he should call his companion and apprise her of the latest development. After a long while, he decided to wait till tomorrow.
Kaylie's funeral service was held in the afternoon. Being a popular girl, a lot of the people from Moulmein Hall where Kaylie had stayed attended the service. Many of her classmates and lecturers were also there. Perry sat beside the family in the front, looking at the crowd of people paying their last respects to Kaylie.
Of prominent note was Dr. Andrew Stanton. Perry recognized him from the photos that they had of him. Dressed in sober black, he looked elegant as he walked up to the casket and laid a single rose on it. Michael, Kaylie's father, reddened as he watched one of his daughter's murderers calmly walking up the aisle. His fists were clenched and his teeth gritted. Perry put his hand on Michael's shoulder as if to console him, but in actuality to restraint him from decking Dr. Stanton in front of everyone. He left his hands there until Dr. Stanton had safely passed to return to his seat. No one else was aware of the drama that had almost happened.
After the service, Perry relayed Clark's and Lois's condolences to Michael and left. Before leaving however, his keen reporter eyes spotted four girls in the back of the church, trying their best not to attract attention to themselves. His reporter's instincts which had not been dulled by the time spent as an editor told him that these girls were somehow linked to the reason for Kaylie's death. They were young and beautiful enough to be the type of girls recruited by the syndicate. Looking around, he saw that Dr. Stanton was no longer around. But that didn't mean anything. There were a lot more faculty members who had come to pay their respects to Kaylie. Any of these could also be involved in the syndicate. He pondered how he could approach the girls without drawing people's attentions to them. After weighing his options, he decided it was best not to approach them. He felt confident that Lois and Clark could handle the case without his interference.
"Sidney, why are you sitting here all by yourself?" John's mother, Lisa, asked as she approached the bench where Sidney was sitting. Lisa had followed Sidney's gaze to the object of the gaze; her son was playing with a group of children, making them laugh and smile. She instinctively softened and smiled.
Sidney, startled out of her introspection, turned towards Lisa. She became aware of where Lisa was looking, and blushed. "Oh, hi. I was just…"
"Admiring the view?" Lisa ended for her, smiling still. "May I join you?"
"Sure," Sidney said, scooting over to make room for her.
"He's great with those kids, you know. All of his siblings and cousins just wait for him to volunteer to babysit for them. The children just adore him. If only he would settle down and have his own kids," Lisa not so subtly hinted, throwing Sidney a sidelong glance.
Sidney pretended ignorance as she asked, "Why doesn't he then?"
Lisa sighed, thinking about her only unmarried child. "I honestly don't know. All of his relatives have tried matchmaking him with someone, to no avail."
"Can't he find someone on his own?"
"I thought he already did," Lisa replied, grinning openly at Sidney.
"Lisa, I'm not…"
"I know. I know. You're not his girlfriend. John told me about it. That you're working together on a case."
"Yes. That's right," Sidney confirmed.
"But you know something?" Lisa leaned over a little as if trying to convey an important secret. "He's never brought any girl over to meet the family, even if they've been working together. The fact that he brought you means something. Besides, I'm not blind. I see the way you both look at each other when the other is not aware."
"Lisa, we've known each other only for a day. Even less than a day," Sidney tried to protest.
"So? Sidney, when it comes to matters of the heart, it can take one heartbeat or an eternity. Doesn't matter where or when. When it happens, it happens," Lisa declared quietly, but passionately.
A shriek of laughter made both women turn. They saw John holding down a squirming toddler on the grass. He was trying to tickle him and make him say 'uncle'. The other kids jumped onto him trying to break the little boy free from his grips. They were all laughing so freely. Sidney, an only child who had no cousins to speak of, smiled wistfully at the scene before her.
"Go on. They wouldn't mind you joining in," Lisa whispered, startling Sidney once again.
Sidney turned to the older woman and searched her face for any indications that she might have been joking. All she saw was sincerity from John's mother. "Thank you," she whispered back, not really knowing why she was whispering. She just felt that the permission granted to her was too precious to be spoken out loud. Sidney got up to join John and the kids, almost running to them.
Behind her, two women smiled as John's grandmother joined his mother on the bench. "I think, Lisa, we're looking at the future right this moment," his grandmother remarked casually.
Lisa only nodded back, her eyes focused on how her son drew Sidney into the game that they were playing. Soon shrieks from both Sidney and the kids could be heard as the kids took shelter behind Sidney when John tried to get around her to reach them. Other adults joined the two women in watching the play, bringing the food and drinks along with them. For the Lykos family, it was a blessed day.
Camille wondered where her roommates were. She had come home from her morning jog and brunch to an empty apartment. Usually, Deborah and Helen would be lounging around the apartment watching reruns of their favorite television show. However, she didn't give it much thought as she slipped into the bathroom and took a refreshing shower. After the shower and a change of clothes, she went to her room to take a short nap.
She woke up at three in the afternoon to a silent apartment. Now she began to wonder where the girls were. She grew so suspicious that she went into the others' bedrooms to check on their belongings. However, she couldn't find anything out of place. 'Perhaps they just went out to enjoy themselves,' she thought, trying to convince herself. 'After all, Deb and Helen hadn't been in the best of moods for the past few weeks since Kaylie had been admitted into the hospital,' she thought further as she spotted a photo of Deborah and Kaylie on Deborah's desk.
Deciding not to give it any further thought, she left the apartment to meet Andy. He was supposed to go to Kaylie's funeral and then meet her for dinner. She knew that he wasn't really bothered by the funeral, so she looked forward to having a good time.
"Your family's fun to be around," Sidney remarked, as she got into the car with John. Finally they were heading home. Of course, it was another challenge to do so when all of the Lykoses were trying to get out of the parking area almost at the same time. Yet, even when such entanglements should be annoying, they made it to be fun. Shouts of farewell and promises to meet again could be heard around the parking lot. "Boisterous but fun," she reiterated.
John shrugged. "Aren't all families suppose to be that way?" he asked seemingly in all innocence. However, she caught the twinkle in his eyes.
"So Lykos, why didn't you help me out when your grandmother purposely tried to make me your girlfriend?" she switched topics.
He didn't answer her straight away. Instead, he concentrated on maneuvering the car around other departing cars. It was only when they cleared the parking lot and were actually on the road that he turned back to her. "No one was fooled, Sidney. They know that you aren't my girlfriend."
"So why did everyone pretend that I was?"
"My family's made up of busybodies and matchmakers. By pretending that we were a couple, they were hoping we'd take the hint," he clarified, grinning at her, apparently amused by the antics of his family.
Sidney noted however, that he never really answered her first question. She wondered whether it was prudent for her to press the issue. On one hand, she was hoping that he would say that he didn't help her out because he wanted her to be his girlfriend. On the other, she dreaded him saying that. She didn't think she was prepared to actually get involved with anyone at the moment. She liked her independence too much for it to be curtailed by a relationship. Yet, she knew that she had fallen for him.
As Lisa had said, it took only a second to actually fall in love. And that second happened a long time ago, when she first saw him on campus. They had literarily bumped into each other, spilling the books all around. As he helped her gather the books and sort them out, she snuck glances at him. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to be aware of her at all, well not as a woman anyway. Instead, he had helped her carry the books to the library without even making a single flirtatious gesture. On her part, she was uncomfortably aware of him. Every gesture, every word he said seemed magnified to her mind at the time. Without meaning to, Sidney sighed, catching John's attention.
John turned toward her, wondering why she was sighing. His mind was still focused on his family's reaction to her. He hadn't intended for her to be dragged along on a Lykos family gathering. But his grandmother, as usual, would not be denied. His mother was just as bad. In fact, his whole family was. Perhaps it was because he was taking so long to find someone that they reacted so strongly to the first time he brought home a lady-friend. On pondering for a while, he rejected the idea. His sister, Andrea, met his last girlfriend and found her wanting. However, Andrea instantly bonded with Sidney. Before they left the park, Andrea had pulled him aside and whispered, 'Don't let go of this one, John.'
He didn't intend to. Sidney was definitely a surprise to him. He had found himself attracted to Lois when she first appeared on the scene as Alexa Thompkins. It was the attraction that had made him push her a little harder than the rest. He knew that it was a defense mechanism for him to distance himself from her. But with Sidney, the moment he looked into her eyes last night, all his defenses were disarmed. As he got to know her better in the last day or so, he grew more convinced that she was the one he had been searching for. Her sigh caught his attention, and he filed away his thoughts to focus on her.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," Sidney said in an unconvincing tone.
"Are you thinking about the syndicate?" he tried to fish.
Not wanting to tell him what she was actually thinking, she grasped the olive branch. "I can't believe that Alexa Thompkins is Lois Lane. I've been a fan of her writing since she started at the Planet," she exclaimed in almost disbelief.
"Yeah, you mentioned that, last night," John teased her gently.
Sidney blushed as she remembered what happened.
"O.K., Lykos. Tell me everything, and don't you dare leave anything out."
John looked at Sidney, gauging how she'd take finding out that a pair of reporters were nosing around for a story. Would she try to order them to back off? Or would she come to the same conclusion as he did; that the two reporters were strategically placed and would be very useful in the investigation? Since he had never worked with her before, all he could base his judgment on was the experience he had with her in the past few hours. He hoped he was making the right decision.
"I don't know what your partner would actually come up with. I was being assured that the covers would hold up, they're that good."
"What are you saying?" Sidney asked, perplexed.
"Alexa Thompkins is a cover, just like Endora Sims."
"So you're not working alone," Sidney drew the conclusion, her forehead creased in a frown. "She's your partner? If so, why only now? Why after six months of investigation?"
"She's not a cop, Sidney."
"She's not?" Sidney grew even more puzzled. "Then what the heck is she? Why would a civilian be drawn into an undercover assignment?"
"Why indeed," he drawled. "It's simple, it's 'cause she's an investigative journalist. She's Lois Lane." With pleasure, he watched Sidney's jaws drop. She had been very smug about her own revelation. It was nice to have the tables turned.
"Lois Lane! The Lois Lane? Daily Planet's top reporter? I don't believe it! I've been a fan of hers for a long time, even seen a picture of her before. I would've known her if we ever met face to face." Sidney shook her head, not really believing that such a famous reporter could be working undercover.
"It would seem you don't know her all that well," he said smugly.
She glared at him, and got up to pace. Her mind tried to process the implications of Lane's presence. "Is she alone? Somehow, I've a feeling she's not. Especially since you mentioned 'covers' — plural," she finally stopped pacing to ask.
"Clark Kent is also undercover. He's coming in as a history professor," John confirmed.
"Kelton? Jerome Kelton?" Sidney asked.
"Yes, how did you know?" Now it was John's turn to be surprised.
"Hawk mentioned him. It would seem that they're looking for someone to be the point of contact in the history department. All of the other history professors are just too staid and moralistic. He was wondering if Kelton would be the right one to be recruited," Sidney explained.
"Hmm…" John stroked his short beard in contemplation. "Sounds like Clark and I are right on the money, then."
Sidney raised one of her eyebrows in question.
John found the way she did it to be quite charming and grinned at her. He waited for a while to memorize that look before trying to explain, "A colleague of Clark is quite the computer wizard. He managed to cross-reference all the names of the girls that we know of and their various professors. It would seem that only Kaylie had taken History and her professor is no longer at Met U. We deduced that the History department might actually be free from the syndicate's clutches, and that they'd be very interested to recruit someone from there."
She nodded her understanding. "You only mentioned Clark Kent. What about Lois Lane?"
"That's a whole different story," he said. He leaned forward to get her up-to-date on their side of the investigation, especially about Lois being in contact with Camille. Once both of them were clear about all the facts, they started to plan their next move.
Remembering the plans they've made, she asked him, "Think that we'll be able to wrap up this investigation soon?"
He spared her another glance, before turning his attention back on the road. He didn't really know how to answer it. On the one hand, he'd love to finish the investigation before anyone else got hurt. On the other, when the investigation was over, he'd probably never see Sidney again. After all, she'd be going back to Washington. There was nothing here to make her stay. He decided on a safe answer, "I don't know."
Sidney appeared satisfied with that as she leaned back on her seat, falling into a comfortable silence.
"All right, I'll trust you, but you'd better tell me everything that the two of you, macho men that you are, discussed," Lois conceded later that evening. She hadn't answered his plea for her to trust him when they were out strolling by the stream. Instead she had changed topics and the couple went on to enjoy the unseasonably warm day with a picnic with Clark's parents. They had just had their dinner and were now enjoying the fire in the study, sipping some hot chocolate. Jonathan and Martha had left earlier to a party at a friend's place.
Clark readily agreed. "Sure, Lois. I can do that. But I really don't understand your distrust of Lykos."
She sighed, turning her attention to the painting on the wall above the fireplace. "I know it's illogical. In fact, you'd think by now that I should've learnt not to trust a person based on whether I like him or her."
"Want to talk about it?" Clark offered gently, knowing that whatever's bothering her had to be due to the last investigation.
Lois turned back to Clark, bestowing him a sad smile. She nodded slowly. "In the last investigation, there was this old guy Max who befriended me and taught me the necessary skills to survive out on the streets. He was so friendly and helpful. While others seemed quite suspicious of the new 'girl on the block' and worried that I might be taking over their territories, he went out of his way to make me feel safe and welcome me into the 'community'. Of course, I should have suspected something fishy about that," she finished with a look of disgust.
Lois was jolted in consciousness by a loud bang. She found it difficult to even open her eyes. When that task was accomplished, she couldn't seem to focus them on anything. The dim lighting made it even worse. It was strange but her body didn't seem to be cooperating with her when she ordered it to get up or her hands to move. She seemed to be somewhat paralyzed.
Thank heaven that her mind was working properly. She last recalled that she had gone to bed in the shelter. Now, she was lying in what seemed like an operating table, wearing nothing but a hospital gown. 'Damn it! I must have stumbled on the syndicate by mistake. Lois, boy, are you in trouble with Clark!' she scolded herself. Clark would definitely be livid to hear that she had once again gotten herself into a dangerous situation. Especially when he wasn't around and no one else knew about it. Yes, she was truly in deep trouble.
'Well, don't just lie there. You better get up before they come back and decide to cut you up. Come on, Lois, move.' She forced her legs to swing over the table while grasping the side. Once they touched the ground, she almost fell over because her legs seemed unable to support her weight. After she managed to stand, she tried to take tiny steps to test her balance. She felt the controls of her body returning to her as she started to take larger steps.
Gingerly, she opened the only door in the room. She sighed with relief when it didn't make any noise. Peeking out, she found the corridor empty. She didn't really know which way to go, but since there was an exit sign to the right of her, she decided to head for it. Unfortunately the door was locked. She looked around for another way out, thinking to retrace her steps. However, before she could move away, the door opened to reveal Max.
Her panic subsided. "Max! Boy, am I glad to see you. We've got to go. Now! Come on," Lois took him by the arm and started to pull him towards the open door.
Max put his hand on hers to detain her instead. "Hold on. Go where? Why?" he asked.
"Max, these people are trying to kill us. We've got to leave before they get here," Lois said, once again trying to move towards the door. She found herself forcibly detained by Max as he tightened his grips on her hand. "Max!"
"Come now. This is a nice place. Why the haste? Ye just sit here and I'll take care of things. It's just a misunderstanding," Max coaxed her.
"Max, look at what I'm wearing. And if you go into the room over there," she said, waving her hand in the direction of the room she had been in, "you'll discover an operating theatre. This place is a set-up for an organ harvesting syndicate, Max. Now, really, we've got to leave before they find me missing."
"Now Lass. I'm not about to let ye go." Max's tone of voice changed to become more sinister. "They wouldn't pay me if I let ye go, now would they?"
Lois's eyes widened as the implications of what he was saying sank in. She struggled to pull out of his grip but to no avail. For a homeless person, he was strong. He was about to grab her when she decided to make use of one of the moves she learnt in Tae Kwon Do class. She sidestepped him, twisted under his arm and ended up slightly behind him. With his arm in an awkward position, he wasn't prepared for her sidekick right under the armpit. He automatically let go of her, trying to cope with the burst of pain. Lois took the chance to leave.
Unfortunately, the scuffle had attracted attention. A shot rang out and almost immediately, Lois felt a pain on her side. She didn't let that deter her however as she raced out the door and the building. She had no idea where to go, since she wasn't familiar with the place. Furthermore, the 'shelter' was located at a remote location, far away from any major roads. All she could do was duck into one of the alleys and hope that she would be able to shake off any of her pursuers.
The phone rang, making Hawk jump. He had been staring at the wall for hours. Earlier, he had received a call from a friend in FBI who confirmed that someone from the FBI created Lykos's cover and that there were hints about an FBI investigation into the doings of the syndicate. It seemed that it predated Lykos's involvement, though. He wondered who else the mole could be, or if there was someone from the FBI working undercover. The whole thing seemed out of control.
He stared at the phone, debating whether to pick it up. Even though there was no number on the caller ID, he knew who it was. He really had no wish to talk to her. What he'd like to do was to take his share of the money and get the hell out of Metropolis. Why couldn't he? He had access to the Swiss Bank account, and he hadn't had all that many ties in Metropolis. After all, he and his wife were estranged and going through the divorce proceedings at the moment. No children and no relatives. Since he had become involved in the ring, his friendship ties had also started declining. Probably the only thing he'd miss would be his beautiful study. 'Yes, I should bail out before I become her scapegoat. Perhaps, I might even help the FBI on this,' he thought, his mouth curving into an evil smile. He let the phone rang as he left his study to start packing.
On the other end of the phone, the lady was furiously tapping her feet while she waited for the phone to be answered. 'No doubt, Hawk is too chicken to face me,' she fumed. 'That's probably why I had to find out from Andy about Lykos and Sims. I knew Sims wasn't the right candidate for the syndicate. But Hawk insisted. Now look what happened. It's probably not easy to get rid of her, now. Damage control. That's what's needed now.'
She slammed down the phone when the operator's voice came on. Hawk wasn't answering his phone. Was he thinking of bailing out? The thought crossed her mind and she became alarmed. He knew too much about her and the syndicate. No, he couldn't be allowed to leave. Taking her purse, she went out of the apartment and drove over to his place. He might not know it but he wouldn't escape her clutches so easily.
"Wake up, Sidney," John gently spoke into her ears. Sidney had fallen asleep during the drive back to her place and John loathed to wake her up. He liked the way she had curled up against the door, breathing softly. He'd like to imagine it wasn't a snore, but a quiet sound of contentment. He also liked the way her face softened in her sleep; with her guard down in her sleep, she looked much younger and more innocent. The hard-edged, sharp-witted FBI agent gave way to the gentle woman he knew had to be behind the FBI mask she wore so well.
She stirred awake, confused as to where she was. "Where are we?" she asked.
"Your place," John answered.
"My place? This doesn't look like mine."
"It is. I've just taken the precaution to park a block away from your place, in case they might have surveillance on you."
"Right. I guess you're not coming with me then?" she asked, half wishing that he would.
He shook his head sheepishly. "I don't want to put you in anymore danger. By now, they'll probably suspect you. Our plans would be jeopardized if they saw us together."
The investigator in her agreed with him. "Well then, I'll see you tomorrow," she said, opening the car door. She was stopped from going out by his hand on her arm.
She turned to find out what was wrong, only to find herself being kissed gently by John. Surprised by it, she didn't resist but just went with the feelings it invoked. It was a soft, tentative kiss, as if neither was sure about the other's feelings. Indeed, they didn't know the other's feelings. Just their own. And for that particular moment, it was enough.
After what seemed like an eternity, they broke apart. John looked at her guiltily. "I'm so…"
"Don't. Don't say you're sorry, please," she pleaded, her voice hoarse. She didn't want to find out that whatever she felt was a mistake on his part.
He gazed into her eyes, seeing the plea in there. On reflex, his right hand came up to caress her left cheek. Whispering softly, he said with a tender smile, "No, I'm not sorry for kissing you, just sorry that I didn't warn you about it. Sidney, I know we've only known each other for a short time but I believe we do have feelings for each other. Do you?"
She nodded, unable to speak.
"If you want, only if you want, maybe once this is over, we can explore these feelings?" he asked tentatively, feeling a little shy all of a sudden.
She nodded again, feeling just as shy. "I'd like that," she agreed, blushing a little. Not really knowing how to end it, she changed topics and said gruffly, "I've got to go. I'll see you."
"All right. Be careful," John advised. Both of them suddenly realized that his hand was still cradling her cheek. Sheepishly, he let it fall but not before she caught it to press a small kiss into his palm. He raised his eyes to hers to find her winking at him mischievously.
"Bye," she said and left.
He waited until she disappeared from sight before turning on the engine and driving off. Without realizing it, he whistled a merry little tune all the way home.
Clark listened as Lois recapped that last scene. She hadn't been very forward in talking about the investigation besides the article she had written. He never knew how close he was to losing her that night. 'Well,' he amended to himself. 'That's not true. I didn't know that I could have lost her before I had even known how close I was to losing her. What would have happened if she had died while I was on Superman duty?' He found himself wondering if he would have been able to go on if that had happened. Already, seeing her almost dying had him shaken right to his core.
"Lois, I wish…" he began, and then stopped. He didn't really know what to say in response to what she was saying.
Lois ignored him, gripped by a puzzling thought. Instead she asked him, "Clark, how did you know where I was? Or that I was in trouble at all? I never really realized how strange it was until now that you were able to know I was in trouble."
Clark frowned, trying to remember what caused him to search for her and to come to her rescue almost too late. "Hmmm…"
"Perry, are you sure she said that she just wanted to stay at home. She didn't mention any plans about going elsewhere?" Clark asked worriedly into the phone, as he searched Lois's empty apartment once more with his 'gizmo vision'.
"I'm sure, Clark. What's wrong? Lois isn't around, is she?"
Clark could hear the rising alarm in Perry's voice. "No, the place is empty."
"Could she have just gone out for a while?"
"I doubt it, Perry. The place hasn't seemed to have been inhabited for a few days. Are you sure she wasn't working on anything before she took her leave?"
"As far as I know. But perhaps you should check with some of her sources. And Clark, let me know if you find out anything."
"Will do, Perry. Goodnight," Clark replied.
"Goodnight." A click ended the call.
Clark looked around once again. "Where are you, Lois?" he asked the empty apartment. He had this nagging feeling that she was in trouble. It was frustrating and worrying not knowing where she was or what she was into. 'Yes, perhaps Bobby know something,' he thought as he punched in Bobby's number.
Bobby told him about the syndicate which was harvesting the organs of homeless people, and Lois was undercover. Clark was livid that Lois went undercover without notifying anyone. 'How could she do this? Didn't she think about the risks involved? What if she got into trouble? If no one knew about it, she'd be on her own. In fact, she is on her own.'
He was glad that at least Bobby gave him a place to start looking for her. Checking her computer diary entries, he managed to locate her notes on the investigation. She never knew that he knew about the fake diary entries. If she did, she'd have ranted at him for invading her privacy, if not worse. He had always felt bad about the knowledge. But in this case, he was glad that he knew. He called Perry to let him know what had happened. Perry was furious. He ranted at the stupidity of some reporters. Clark let him rant, knowing that being furious was Perry's way of coping with worry. He knew that Perry was very worried, perhaps as much as he was. After all, Perry considered Lois as a daughter.
After managing to reassure Perry that he'd find her, Clark hit the pavement in search for Lois. However, he was unable to locate Lois in the places she indicated that she'd be looking into. None of the few homeless who were around would talk to him. He decided to search for Lois in the shelters since most of the homeless seemed to have taken shelter this cold night. Unfortunately none of the shelters he went to knew anything about Lois.
He was getting desperate, the feeling of dread mounting. The inexplicable connection between Lois and him was sending signals that she was in grave danger. He felt like tearing apart the whole of Metropolis, turning it upside down to look for her but knew that it'd do no good. A calm, rational mind was needed in these kind of situations, one which he was losing every passing minute. Unable to stand it much longer, he shot up into the air and started scanning every alley that could possibly shelter some of the homeless.
He was about to quit when he heard a gun being fired nearby. Driven by instincts, he was unable to ignore the gunshot and immediately flew towards the vicinity. Once there, he saw the bullet flying across the short distance towards Lois. He dived and screamed, "Noooo…"
"Oh, Clark. I'm sorry. I should not have gone without informing anyone," Lois cried out, feeling ashamed for what she put the ones closest to her through with her unthinking actions.
"Yes, you shouldn't have," Clark admonished gently. "But some good came out of it, I believe. Just don't do it again."
"Cross my heart and hope to…" Lois said with a small grin, resorting to a childish phrase in order to alleviate the mood a little.
Clark immediately put his finger on her lips. "Don't joke about it, Lois," he scolded. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
Her expression softened, and she kissed the finger. "Nothing will happen to me. Well, nothing except for more classes, that is," she sighed. Then she brightened up considerably.
Clark looked at her suspiciously. "What?" he asked, almost dreading the answer.
"Nothing," she said innocently.
"Come on, Lois. You don't get that look unless you've something up your sleeve," Clark cajoled.
She pretended to think about it for a while before dissolving into laughter. Clark rolled his eyes which made her laugh even more.
"Well…" Clark demanded after she had mastered her laughter.
"O.K., O.K., don't get your nose out of joint. I was just thinking how much fun it'll be tomorrow in history class," she clarified with a mischievous grin.
"Uh oh," was Clark's only response as he grinned back at her. "Behave yourself, Ms. Thompkins."
"No can do, Prof. Kelton," she replied, her grin widening. "After all, this is the one opportunity for me to disturb you."
"If you do anything funny, be sure that there'll be payback," Clark warned, an evil grin appearing on his face.
Lois drew herself up haughtily. "Funny? What do you mean 'funny'? I do happen to have better taste."
"Just warning you," Clark reiterated, getting up from the couch. "We should turn in now, if we want to get a head start tomorrow."
Lois got up as well and took his outstretched hand. She wrapped his arms around her, snuggling against him as they made their way up the stairs.
"Deb, Camille is sure to ask where we were."
The ebony haired girl, Deborah, turned to the person addressing her. Her tall companion looked rather worried.
"Easy, Helen," she replied. "What we do in our free time is our own business."
The tall girl, Helen, frowned. "While that's true, she'd likely ask and we do have to tell her something."
"Tell her the truth."
Deborah held up her hand, stalling Helen's outburst. "There's nothing wrong with telling her that we went to Kaylie's funeral. After all, Kaylie was our friend."
"She's not going to like that."
"She doesn't have to like it."
"But that doesn't explain the rest of the evening. She would have known that the funeral was in the day," Helen insisted.
"I'll handle it, Helen. Just agree with me, when she asks." Deborah assured her friend.
"All right. Just don't make her suspicious, if we do all our plans will go down the drain," Helen reminded Deborah.
Deborah just grinned confidently as they made their way up to their apartment. Upon entering the apartment, they found Camille pacing the living room. "Where have the two of you been?" Camille immediately asked.
"Worried about us?" asked Deborah tauntingly.
Camille glared at her. "You never go out on Sundays. Why the change?"
"Kaylie's funeral was today. While you probably don't have a heart to care enough, we do," Deborah retorted.
"'Don't have a heart!' Deb, if you weren't my friend, I'd have…"
"You'd have what?" Deborah taunted, "I'm not your friend. Camille, you don't have any friends. You only use us when it's good for you. Otherwise, you cast us aside."
Camille looked like she would burst as she turned redder and redder. "I took you guys in, didn't I? When you needed the money, I lent it to you. How ungrateful can you get?" she hissed at them.
Helen groaned inwardly, wondering if she should interfere. But she had agreed to let Deborah handle it, even if she disagreed with the way she was managing it.
Deborah, on the other hand, was enjoying the confrontation. "Grateful to be a prostitute? You've got a weird sense of what to be grateful for and what not to be. I'm tired. Goodnight." She walked away, leaving Camille sputtering.
Helen decided that it was best to just follow Deborah, though she couldn't resist a glance at the furious Camille. Camille turned around and marched straight to her room, banging her door closed. Deborah flashed a smug grin at Helen before going into her own room too. Helen sighed, switching off the living room's lights and heading to her room.
Lois couldn't believe how excited she felt. After all, she just saw Clark a few hours ago when he flew them back to his apartment and then drove her to Elizabeth Hall. 'But this is different,' she told herself as she slipped into her history class. "I can't wait for class to begin," she whispered, snickering slightly.
Most of the other students were already sitting when she arrived at the lecture theatre. She quietly slipped into a strategic seat, in the center of the whole class. No one seemed to notice her, which was fine by her since she didn't want to attract attention. At least, not from the students. She waited patiently as students drifted in, taking out her Philosophy notes since that was the next class. She wondered about Lykos and how his weekend had been. Did he manage to come up with anything more during that time? She felt a little guilty for not doing any work the past weekend. But she rationalized that it was still a fruitful weekend in that she and Clark managed to have a long, almost uninterrupted talk, and they came out of it in better shape than they had been before. She was cautiously optimistic about the future now. After all, it wasn't in her nature to be too optimistic when it came to her own life.
Lois was so involved with her thoughts that she didn't notice the person walking into the class. She was probably the only 'girl' in the class who didn't notice his entrance. If there were an observer in the room, he would have heard the collective dreamy sigh emitted by more than half of the class.
"Good morning. I'm Jerome Kelton," Clark said, startling Lois. He flashed her a quick wink when he noticed her start. He had been observing her since he came in and had wondered about her distracted look. "I know some of you have emailed me last week to introduce yourself. But since emails do not have pictures on them, I'd really hope to learn your names in person. So, perhaps we can start by doing a roll-call? You can tell me and the class your name and perhaps the reason why you're in this class."
Lois had caught the wink and as she watched him conducting the 'roll-call', she couldn't help but be impressed by his style. He had the academic air about him; if she hadn't known him, she would have actually believed that he was a professor. The 'roll-call' was taking forever as every girl wanted to impress the new, ultra-foxy professor. Lois didn't mind since it meant she had more time to plan on 'impressing' Prof. Kelton.
Clark stole glances at Lois even as he listened to the others. He knew that she was up to something. He hoped that it wasn't embarrassing. That was the reason why he limited the introduction of each student to their names and their reason for joining the history class. But judging from the way the others were giving their answers, he knew he had made a mistake. 'I shouldn't even had invited anyone to speak,' he thought, silently groaning at the 'creative' answers he'd been receiving.
At last, Lois's turn came. "My name is Alexa Thompkins," she started. The students in front of her craned their necks to look at her and she grinned at them, before focusing on Prof. Kelton, her grin changing to something more seductive. "As to why I'm in this class, that's a lot more complicated."
Clark groaned. Of course, it was complicated but he knew she didn't mean the actual motive of her being there. With that smile, he knew he was doomed. He could never resist that come-hither smile she had on her. He struggled to control himself and tried to give her a warning look, but it failed as his heart melted at the sight of this woman who had given him her heart and more. But he still had to try, futile as it may be. "Well, if that's the case, perhaps we'll just move along."
She gave a very realistic pout as she sighed dramatically. "Sure, if you want. But my fianc‚ might not be too happy with you, sir," she commented with an air of mystery.
"Why's that?" a guy behind her asked, curious. He imagined her boyfriend to be a gangster.
Lois turned to look at him. "Well, he's the reason I'm taking this class. After all, he's suppose to be teaching it," she revealed with a grin.
Everyone turned to Clark to look at him curiously. The imaginary observer could probably hear the collective breaking hearts of the girls.
Lois continued her little comment. "He's suppose to be teaching and so I thought I'd join to keep an eye on him. Just in case," she ended, flashing Clark a mischievous grin.
Clark was speechless. "Ms. Thompkins…" He stopped, not knowing what else to say.
"So you're Prof. Kelton's fianc‚?" the girl beside Lois asked her.
"Did I say that?" Lois retorted with a mysterious smile.
"But?" the girl said, confused.
"Ms. Thompkins, that's enough. I'm sure your fianc‚ is a very nice guy, but right now, I'm the teacher," Clark finally put an end to all the speculations.
"Of course, sir. Do forgive me, but you did ask why I signed up for the class," Lois agreed in a sickeningly sweet tone.
"My apologies. I must have been insane when I posed that question," Clark remarked sarcastically.
"Oh, temporary insanity I hope," Lois replied, tongue-in- cheek. "If not, it would be a pity that we'd lose a hunk of a teacher to the asylum."
Everyone stared at her, wondering if she was the one who was insane. Clark rolled his eyes and decided it was time to stop all this nonsense. "All right, you've been given the reading list. Anyone have trouble getting the books?" he said, changing the subject.
Lois decided to raise her hand.
"Yes, Ms. Thompkins?" Clark asked, steeling himself for another round of heckling from her. He resolved to give her a punishment that night.
Surprisingly, Lois had no such intention. It had been fun 'teasing' him, but she didn't want to overdo it. "I'd like to recommend another reading material, at least for those who are interested, sir."
"What is it?"
"There's actually this Greek writer who was the first to record history. We have some of his writings translated, right here in Met. U. I've read them and they're impressive."
"Perhaps you can bring a copy in the next class, Ms. Thompkins. While our class is focused more on recent history and not ancient history, I do believe in expanding one's education. So that would be a good material for 'recreational' reading for this class," Clark agreed, relieved that Lois wasn't going to pull another stunt.
The rest of the session went by smoothly as everyone concentrated on Clark's lesson. Lois was once again impressed by her fianc‚'s skill as a teacher. Perhaps, if he hadn't gone into journalism, he would have been a teacher. "Clark, good work," she whispered towards the end of the class, knowing that he would hear her loud and clear.
As an acknowledgment, he tipped his head to one side and gave her a quick wink before leaving the class. Lois had to laugh, catching the attention of the other students. A few of the girls gathered around the front, whispering. Lois imagined that they were probably gossiping about her behavior, but she didn't care.
Leaving the class, she headed straight to her Philosophy class. By the time she reached the room, she was running late. Lois braced herself for another sarcastic comment from Prof. Lykos, but was surprised instead.
"Good morning, Ms. Thompkins," John greeted her with a grin.
"Err…sorry, sir. My last class went over," she said cautiously.
He waved her in. "I understand. Come on in. Monday's never a good day to start the week, is it?" he made a little joke.
She raised her eyebrow at his good mood. Where was the dragon professor that she had gotten accustomed too last week?
"Today, we're going to discuss the interesting phrase — 'I think therefore I am'. Would anyone like to start?" John launched into his lesson.
For the rest of the class, everyone including Lois was puzzled by the happy persona that had overtaken their professor. He seemed to be beaming the whole time. Before she left the class however, he stopped her. "Ms. Thompkins, can I see you for a moment?"
"Yes, sir?" she went up to the front of the classroom.
He waited for the last student to leave before saying quite seriously, "We need to arrange for all three of us to meet. There've been new developments, which I should apprise you of. However, I'm probably being watched, so we need to be careful. Is there any way you can arrange something?"
Lois looked at him, thinking about his request. "I'll see what I can do. I'll email you the details."
He nodded and she left.
Sidney woke up, feeling strange. She couldn't believe what had happened last night. For the first time in her life, she had fallen in love. It was a weird feeling — excitement, happiness, sense of anticipation, hopefulness, fear of the unknown, doubts and more, all mixed together inside of her. People said that being in love was something wonderful. Yes, in a way, it was. Still, there was something within her, perhaps the cautious side of her, that held her back from being immersed in it. The rational detective inside of her didn't care for the dizziness of the feelings it invoked.
That didn't mean however that she didn't want to explore this new realm of feelings. What she told John was true. She didn't regret the kiss or the fact that she had fallen in love. She would like to get to know him better and see where this fledging relationship would go, but it would have to be taken slowly and cautiously. She hoped that he wouldn't mind. From the impression he gave, she knew he was an impulsive and gung-ho person. Already, the relationship had started way to fast for her, if not for him.
Sighing, she realized that it didn't matter what she wanted. This relationship, like any other relationship, had to be a two way communication. They would have to talk about it further. Right now was not a good time since the investigation was taking up too much effort already. Just as she ended the thought process, her cell-phone rang. "Hello," she said.
"Sidney! Boy, have I got news for you," Chris Becker's voice boomed through the phone.
Sidney had to smile at the enthusiastic tone of her partner. "Hey there, John. I had a good time yesterday."
"John? Who's John? Oh, O.K., are the bugs still there? O.K. Just listen, you don't have to talk," Chris told her.
"Oh no problem. I'm sorry about your car problem. Tell me what happened," Sidney improvised.
"O.K. you asked me to check out Alexa Thompkins. Well, she doesn't exist actually. Though, whoever forged the identity did one hell of a good job. It's almost foolproof except if you really scrutinize it and had all the right tools and access to the right databases. Whoever she is, I want you to be cautious. O.K.," Chris said worriedly.
"Sorry to hear that, John. But you know what, things will be fine," Sidney tried to reassure Chris in an indirect manner.
"Look, I've got more information. That Lykos fellow, it seems that he's a cop. Jake owed him a couple of favors and so set up an identity for him. He's your best bet in this investigation."
"Your carburetor? How much did Jake, your mechanic, say it'll cost?" Sidney asked.
"I get it. Well, he knew this Lykos fellow from way back. He assures me that Lykos is one of the best in the Vice squad of Metropolis P.D. I did some background checking myself, 'cause I'm not going to risk my partner's life on just one person's testimony. He's one of the most decorated detectives ever. But he's a bit of a lone wolf."
Sidney couldn't help it but barked out a laugh.
Chris was now puzzled. He didn't expect that response. "Huh?"
"Never mind. Just my quirky mind. So how long are you going to be 'car less' then?" she asked.
"Why don't you call me again in three hours? I've got to go for the budget meeting. Should be back by then. You can update me when you call," Chris suggested.
"Well, three days doesn't sound so bad. All right, talk to you later," Sidney replied, mentally noting to let John know that he shouldn't be driving his car for another two days. She quickly changed and prepared to go for work.
On arriving at her office, her phone rang. "Hello, Sims speaking."
"Ms. Sims? This is Theresa, President Spenser's secretary. Do you have a few free moments today? He would like to meet with you."
Sidney was prepared for this phone call. "Yes, I'm quite free from now till lunch time."
"Great, when do you think you'll be able to come?"
"Right now if President Spenser is free."
"Yes, he is. I'll see you in a few minutes then?"
"Very well. Thank you, Theresa. Take care," Sidney confirmed. She put down the phone and checked her watch. She had an hour before she had to call Becker. It didn't matter if she was a little late. This meeting, however, was essential.
Theresa was waiting for her when Sidney came in. "Ms. Sims?" she asked as she extended her hands.
"Yes," Sidney replied, shaking her hands.
"Please, come with me," Theresa motioned as she led the way to the President's door. She gave a small knock. When a response came from inside, she poked her head in and announced Sidney's arrival. "Go on in," she then said to Sidney.
Pushing the door a little, Sidney slid in. Once again, she had to don the identity of Endora Sims. She smiled timidly at President Spencer and asked softly, "You wanted to see me, sir?"
Hawk, who had been sitting down, stood up and glared at her. "Yes" was his only reply as he continued to stare at her with his steely eyes.
She twisted her wrists nervously and asked, "Can I ask what it is about?"
She hurriedly sat. Likewise, Hawk slowly descended back into his plush, comfortable chair, without breaking any eye contact.
"Where were you, Endora?"
"Don't play dumb with me," Hawk warned her ominously. "Andy told me that he warned you about Lykos. It's strange that you didn't come back home after that."
Inwardly, Sidney was laughing at the classic intimidation tactic. After all, she had learned that in FBI's Intimidation 101. Outwardly, however, Endora seemed to be sweating under Hawk's gaze.
"Er…I…I…Could I have a glass of water?" she asked timidly.
"No. Not until you give a good reason why I shouldn't get rid of you before you can do any damage to our organization."
"But I wasn't!" Sidney, or rather Endora, burst out. She then shrank back at the fierce glare. "I really wasn't. I wanted to prove myself to the organization. Knowing how you brought me in, I wanted to do something to repay you, sir. This was the chance."
Hawk regarded her with narrowed eyes before saying, "Explain."
"When he came to my apartment that night, I saw how attracted he was to me. The observation was borne out when he flirted with me outrageously before Andy called me. So I thought that this was a good chance for me to get some info from him."
"Did you not think that he was only pretending, that he was using you?" Hawk asked angrily.
"Of course, sir. I knew that and I used that knowledge."
"I told him I'd cooperate and help him by being his informant," Endora said so softly that Hawk had to strain to hear her.
"What!" Hawk stood up and was visibly controlling his temper.
Endora shrank from him. "Ple…Please, sir. Listen to me. I have a plan. Please."
Hawk drew a deep breath and sat again. "God, help me against silly women," he muttered irreverently. Louder, he said, "All right, Sims. You'd better have a good plan." The threat was definitely implied from his tone.
"He's not going to go away, sir. And we can't get rid of him, not without arousing suspicions. He's too well connected. So I thought, why don't we try to give him false information? Let him chase shadows."
Hawk thought about it for a while before asking, "He will only do so for a little while. Lykos is too clever to be fooled for long."
"We need only do it for a while till we can cover our tracks. With Kaylie's death, Lykos's appearance and the girls getting more restless, we can't go on with this forever, sir. I think, while we distract Lykos, we can use this time to wrap up our operations here and move to greener pastures. Of course, this is only a suggestion."
Hawk sat back, considering what she had said. After a long silence, he drew another deep breath before answering her. "All right, Endora. I see that I was right in taking you in. Do whatever you need to distract him. Just keep me updated, understand. Don't do anything without consulting me first."
"Er…" she seemingly hesitated.
"He knows about you, sir."
Hawk nodded, not really surprised. "What else have you got from him?"
"He knows that Andy had been actively recruiting and so he stumbled on Camille. He doesn't know the other girls though. But he's suspicious of Andy's interest in Alexa Thompkins. I told him that we're thinking of recruiting her just to throw him off the scent of the other girls. Given their conditions, we don't want him near any of them. We don't know which one of them would break down and talk."
"That means we would have to abandon Alexa," Hawk said.
"Not necessarily. If we do, he'd be suspicious. We can still continue but at a more cautious pace. In fact we can still have Camille being friendly with Alexa. But not really recruiting her. Instead, we get someone else whom Lykos is not suspicious of to do the recruiting."
"Who do you have in mind?" Hawk asked, intrigued by the way Endora's mind worked.
"One of the girls is Andrea Seamour. She happens to be the teaching assistant for my class, a quiet and solid girl. Someone Lykos would never associate with the organization."
"Can she be trusted to recruit? After all, as you said the girls have been restless since Kaylie's hospitalization."
"I think I can convince her to do so."
"Hmm…let me think about this and I'll get back to you."
She took that as a dismissal and stood up. "Thank you sir. I'll be waiting for your response."
When she left, the side door opened revealing the woman inside. "Good, Hawk. Good boy," she said condescendingly.
Hawk looked at her in a near hatred. He couldn't believe how he let her blackmail him last night. But he had no choice since if his secret was ever revealed, he would be a dead man before his next breath.
"Well, you heard her. What do you think?"
"You've got to wonder why the men of this operation have to rely on the females to think for them," she said sarcastically.
Hawk colored at that but kept his temper in check. He knew he couldn't afford to anger her. "Well?"
"She's right. Clever girl, don't you think? I guess you were right about her after all. Let her go ahead with her plans. And we do need to wrap this operation up." She then walked up to him and patted his cheeks. "Now, my dear, you will not fail me in this, will you?" she asked with a silky but deadly tone.
Hawk tried not to flinch at her touch. Unable to talk, he nodded.
She gave a little satisfied laugh. "Good boy," she said before leaving.
"Ms. Sims?" Andrea Seamour knocked on the door. Like the girls discussed before, she was about to volunteer to give tuition to the poorer students, one of them being Alexa Thompkins.
"Come in," Sidney called out. "Ah, Andrea. Just the person I wanted to see."
"Oh? About what, Ms. Sims?"
"I'll tell you later. Now, what did you come to see me for?" Sidney smiled at Andrea reassuringly.
"I've been marking the assignments. Seems like a few students really need help to catch up with the rest."
"So what are you proposing?"
"I could spare time to give them extra coaching, if that's agreeable with you?" Andrea suggested, silently praying that Sims wouldn't oppose the idea.
"That's very kind of you, Andrea. Who are the students?"
"Lia Osborne, Mathew Soren and Alexa Thompkins."
Sidney looked at her, startled. She had detected a slight emphasis on Alexa's name. "Sounds good, Andrea. At least you're not taking on too many people."
"Yeah, I know. I think it's 'copable'."
"Good, don't let it hinder you from your work though."
"Of course, Ms. Sims," Andrea flashed her a reassuring grin. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
"Actually it's regarding Kaylie. I know how close you two were."
Andrea's face dropped as she struggled with her tears. "Yeah. It's been hard."
"I'm sorry to have heard about her death. If you need any help, please do come to me. I assure you, I'll do all I can to help," Sidney told her sincerely.
Andrea opened her mouth as if to speak, before closing it again. Her expression became guarded as she spoke, "Thank you Ms. Sims. Unfortunately, you can't help me with this. I don't want to involve you with this."
Sidney sighed. "Well, the offer stands, Andrea. This door is always open to you."
Andrea looked at her with an undecipherable expression. "Thank you. If there's nothing else?"
"Go on. I'll see you around," Sidney waved her away.
Lois met Maggie and Jung Hoon for lunch.
"Well, well, well. Look who we have here. Enjoyed your weekend, girl?" Maggie teased her, big grin on her face.
Lois laughed and answered, "Better than yours, Maggie."
"Ouch! Direct hit," Jung Hoon commented, mimicking an arrow hitting his heart.
Both Maggie and Lois laughed at his antics. "I did miss both of you," Lois said then.
"You did?" Maggie asked, incredulously. "With that hunk of fianc‚ of yours around, I would have thought that you'd not be focusing on anything else."
"Maggie, that hunk of a fianc‚ of mine happens to be a…"
"A what?" Clark asked, approaching from behind her with his own lunch tray.
"A lunkhead," Lois answered with an evil smile.
"Keep this up, Ms. Thompkins, and you might just live to see the punishment I've in store for you," Clark replied.
"Ooh, I'm shaking in my boots," Lois retorted back.
Clark looked to the other two. "How do you guys put up with her?"
As an answer, Maggie and Jung Hoon just laughed. Jung Hoon invited Clark to sit with them.
Maggie decided to take the opportunity to ask, "So, how long have you been together?"
"Together? As in friends or as in a couple?" Clark asked her back.
Lois and Clark exchanged looks before Clark answered. "We've known each other since we were kids. Lived in the same neighborhood. However, we've only recently become more than friends."
"And he popped the question about a month back," Lois interjected.
Maggie nodded, her curiosity satisfied.
They continued to chat as they ate lunch. However, before long, a group of girls from the History class spotted Clark and headed their way. They looked at Lois suspiciously. Her only response was an innocent smile.
Clark looked up and asked politely, "What's the problem, ladies?"
"Prof. Kelton, we were wondering if we could ask you some questions regarding one of the readings," one of the girls answered.
Maggie threw a look to Lois as if to say 'Are you not going to do anything?' Lois just grinned at her. Maggie frowned and decided to take matters into her own hands. She knew girls of this type; they were not really sincere in asking questions. "Can't you see that he's having lunch? I'm sure Prof. Kelton has consultation hours. So if you like to ask him questions, ask it then. Now, leave the poor man alone," Maggie scolded the girls.
They were about to retort back when Clark put his hand up, forestalling any arguments. "Maggie's right. I'll entertain your questions during the consultation hours. If you think you need the answer before then, email me."
The girls looked disappointed but didn't dare to argue. They left quietly.
Maggie turned to Lois and asked her heatedly, "Why didn't you do something?"
"Maggie, I'm suppose to be in the same class as the girls. If I say anything, they'd suspect something about my relationship with Jerome. He might get into trouble."
"Alexa's right, Maggie. Though that didn't stop her from harassing me earlier," Clark said, flashing Lois a grin.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
"Oh boy, your relationship is complicated," Jung Hoon said.
Clark and Lois just laughed.
"So?" Becker's voice boomed out of the cell-phone.
"Hello to you too," Sidney said, sarcastically as she got comfortable lying in the courtyard near her office.
"Come on, Geraki. Quit stalling. What's been happening down there?"
"Kaylie, the girl who wanted out, died on Saturday. The organization discovered Lykos's identity. Lykos and I are working together. Alexa Thompkins happens to be a reporter. Nothing much, just your normal weekend in Metropolis," she drawled.
"What!" Becker shouted.
Sidney put the cell-phone away from her ear and rubbed her earlobes. "Will you stop shouting over the phone?" she scolded.
"Geraki, if you stop irritating me, I'll stop shouting," Becker promised. "I'm really worried about you. I knew I should have insisted on going to Metropolis with you instead of being stuck here doing paperwork."
Sidney felt a little guilty. It was her fault that her partner was not with her on this investigation. In their last investigation, Chris had been shot trying to save her and he had been paralyzed by it. "I'm sor…"
"Don't say it, Geraki. It's over and done with. I don't regret saving my best friend's life."
"But I regret causing my best friend's paralysis," she said bitterly.
"Nonsense. I can do everything just as well as any ordinary guy. Betty never complained," he told her, laughing.
"Your wife's a saint. Betty never complains about anything that you do," she said in mock disgust.
"Hey, you're just jealous. One day, you'll find someone who'll put up with all your nonsense too," Becker assured her.
"No maybe. You will. Now, tell me about what's been happening there," Becker ordered.
Sidney smiled at the order and complied with her partner's request. After she updated him on all that had been going on in the investigation, both fell into silence.
"Sounds like the weekend had been eventful," Becker commented after a while.
"Yeah," agreed Sidney.
"Hawk doesn't suspect anything?" Becker asked.
"No, he didn't seem to be. But don't worry, I'll watch my step."
"How about the two reporters? Are they reliable?"
"They're well known for their investigative writings. In fact, they were the ones to bring Luthor and Intergang down. Lykos seems to trust them as well. And if you say that their identities are pretty airtight, they must be good. He's setting up a meeting with them soon."
"Hmm…O.K., Sid. Just watch your back, all right? What can I do on my side?"
"Do a another background check out on President Henry Spencer and Andrew Stanton."
"Why? We did before and didn't come up with anything," Becker questioned.
"We're missing something, Chris. I feel it in my bones. A link between those two. Check out their connections. Go as far back as you can. I believe that Hawk is not the mastermind of this organization even though I've no evidence of it."
"Think Stanton might be the mastermind?"
"Not him either, though he probably knows the mastermind. That's the reason I want to know who are their common acquaintances. I believe that's the key to busting this organization."
"O.K. partner. Will do. Keep me updated, O.K.?" Becker requested.
"Sure, say hi to Betty for me. Bye," Sidney said before disconnecting.
Clark walked Lois to her next class, both of them strolling along. "Does this remind you of your school days?" Clark asked her.
"Yeah, though I didn't have a hunk of a professor to walk me to class," Lois teased him.
"You are warned, Lois. Just wait for your punishment," Clark warned mock seriously.
"Promises, promises," Lois taunted, all in good fun. Then she turned serious. "Clark, Lykos approached me after class this morning. Seems like there've been new developments. He'd like to meet with us some time today. I told him I'd arrange for it. But I'd like to do some checking before we meet him."
"Why?" Clark asked.
"I don't like having him dictate this investigation. We need some edge ourselves. So, perhaps, you can check with Jimmy about his surveillance and any information he might have dug up the past weekend," Lois clarified her motives.
"You're right. I'll do that. Wait for me after class."
Lois nodded before turning to enter the Physics lab. It was an exhausting three hours as the teaching assistant demonstrated to them the various experiments they were suppose to conduct, before breaking them up into pairs to work on a particular experiment. By the time the lab session ended, Lois was ready to call it quits. 'I knew I had a good reason for refusing to go into the physical sciences,' she thought ruefully. She had been quite a menace to the safety of her partner when she almost electrocuted the poor fellow.
As promised, Clark was waiting outside for her. One look at her face, he had to ask, "So what did you do? Is your partner still alive?"
That broke Lois's control and she laughed almost hysterically. As she wiped the tears of her eyes, she shot out just two words, "Don't ask."
Clark was perplexed at the extreme reaction to his question, but shrugged it off. "Come on, let's go sit some where," he said, offering to take her books.
After they found a quiet place to sit, she asked, "So what did Jimmy come up with?"
"Very interesting stuff. Firstly, Stanton put a call to Endora Sims to warn her of a spy — Lykos. Seems like Stanton found out that Lykos is a police officer with Met.P.D."
"Why was he trying to warn her?"
"She was on a date with Lykos. The syndicate wanted to probe him at first so they sent her in to check him out."
"So his cover's busted, eh? Think that's why he's asking to meet us?"
"I'm sure that's part of it. Jimmy also recorded Stanton's conversation with Hawk."
"What about the surveillance on Hawk? Did that yield anything interesting?"
"That, my dear Ms. Lane," Clark drawled, grinning widely, "was a brilliant idea on my part. It hit the jackpot."
Lois had to smile at the exuberance her partner was displaying. "O.K. Einstein, tell me about the jackpot."
"This morning Jimmy recorded two interesting conversations: one that Hawk had with Endora Sims and another with an unidentified female who seems to be the mastermind of this operation."
"Could the unidentified female be the voice that talked to Stanton about testing me?"
"I don't know, but Lykos should have some results from the voice analysis for us. Perhaps I'll give the taped conversation to him to be compared with the earlier tape," Clark answered.
"O.K. what were the gist of the conversations anyway?"
"Seems like Sims is trying to mislead Lykos by pretending to be an informant. She also got another girl, one Andrea Seamour, to recruit you instead of Camille. The syndicate seems to be wrapping up their work here, so we must act fast."
"Andrea Seamour, isn't she one of the girls on the list?"
"Yes, she is. She's also Sims's teaching assistant."
"So I should be expecting her to 'court' me?" Lois asked.
"I think so. As for the other conversation, I believe there might be trouble in paradise," Clark said, grinning. "Apparently, the woman on tape wasn't very pleasant to Hawk."
"Perry went to the funeral and saw Stanton there. He also saw four girls lurking in the back, none of them fitting Camille's description. After Jimmy produced the photos of the girls on the list, Perry identified the girls as Deborah Canes, Helen Swift, Andrea Seamour and Jessica Hayward."
"Did he find out what they were doing there?"
"He didn't, but he thought that they were there to pay their last respects to Kaylie."
Both lapsed into silence as they tried to absorb all the information and to make sense of them. In the end, they decided to think more about it and made plans to meet Lykos that night before parting; Lois to the library and Clark to his office.
Night had fallen. Sidney tried to warm herself by rubbing her hands together. She wondered why John asked her to meet here tonight. Looking around the small lake at the center of Met. U., she guessed it was probably the most appropriate place to meet. Not many people come around here and the trees and bushes allowed covering, especially at night.
She jumped up, startled and alarmed. Immediately upon landing, she took a combative stance, only to find John's mischievous grin staring at her. Relaxing, she scolded, "Sneaky wolf! You can bet that it'll be my turn the next time."
"This wolf is not easily taken off guard," John said, grinning evilly.
"Do your worst."
"I will. Don't worry, Lykos, I will," Sidney replied, an answering evil grin creeping onto her face.
John decided that it was time to get serious. "Were you waiting long?"
"A few minutes. So why are we meeting here?"
"Lois chose the place. We've to wait for them."
"All right." Sidney didn't know what else to say. She was thinking about their first kiss and didn't really know how to broach that subject. She decided not to broach the subject but instead asked a safe question, "How was your day?" 'Sidney, you coward,' her inner self scolded.
John, who had been feeling a little awkward too, looked up. He was glad to have some place for him to start. "Weird. Definitely weird," he answered.
"Yeah, weird…" Before he could elaborate, they heard approaching footsteps and turned in unison toward the noise. Soon they saw two figures emerging from the shadows of the trees.
Lois was startled to find Ms. Sims with Lykos. She glanced up at Clark to catch the same look on his face.
John stepped up to the two reporters. "Glad for you to join us. I know you were only expecting me, but I'd really like to introduce someone to you." He beckoned Sidney to come nearer. "This is Special Agent Sidney Geraki of the FBI. Sidney, these are Clark Kent and Lois Lane of the Daily Planet," he introduced them.
Clark and Lois were totally floored. That Ms. Sims was an undercover agent was something they didn't expect.
Sidney, on the other hand, had had time to absorb the information of the identity of the people in front of her. Extending her hand forward to Lois, she said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Lane. I've been a fan of your work for years. I've enjoyed yours too, Mr. Kent."
Lois shook the extended hand. "Thank you. I wasn't aware that the FBI was involved, Ms. Geraki."
"Call me Sidney. We've been investigating the organization for quite some time. Of course, I've only managed to infiltrate the organization about two years ago. John reassured me that you'd be willing to work with me on this since time is of the essence," Sidney explained.
"Why don't we get comfortable and update each other?" John suggested. So the four of them headed to a warmer and drier area to get comfortable. Clark sat on a fallen branch while Lois sat on his lap, secured by his arms around her. She leaned against him and tucked her head underneath his chin in an unconscious gesture of intimacy. Sidney and John, however, were very aware of the gesture and both felt a little awkward. While Sidney longed to be able to copy Lois, she knew it wasn't appropriate. Instead, John and Sidney ended up sitting side by side on a nearby boulder, conscious of the distance between them. John wished that he could gather Sidney up like Clark was doing with Lois but he didn't think Sidney would appreciate it in such a setting.
When they were all finally settled, John told Lois and Clark what had transpired the past few days and what the current plans were. Sidney contributed about her meetings with Hawk and Andrea and her speculation about another mastermind instead of Hawk. When it came to Clark's and Lois's turn, Lois became the spokesperson by default.
"Interesting, Sidney. Our colleague managed to record your conversation with Hawk. That was the reason Clark and I were a little shocked to find out you are an FBI agent. What was more interesting was that he also taped a conversation between Hawk and an unidentified lady right after you left. Seems like your gut feeling is right; she's the mastermind behind this. What we're not sure of is the identity of this lady." She directed her gaze to Lykos and said, "We should compare this lady's voice with the earlier recording that you sent for voice analysis. Perhaps we might find that they're the same person."
"Give me the tape and I'll send it to the lab to be compared. However, the voice pattern of the first showed that it might be Camille on the tape. I can't imagine Camille as the head of this organization at all," John replied, shaking his head at the mental picture of Camille sitting at the head of a conference table with Andy and Hawk.
"Neither can I," Sidney agreed. "She might be loyal to the syndicate but she's not the one running the show. I believe that this mystery woman might be someone connected to both Hawk and Andy in their past. I've asked my partner, Becker, to do some research on this."
Lois nodded. "Perhaps he could work with Jimmy, Sidney. That is, if he doesn't mind working with non-FBI personnel."
"Becker's cool, if a little on the nerdy side. Don't worry, I'll make him work with Jimmy," Sidney replied.
"In any case, there seems to be a rift between Hawk and the woman. I'm not sure how we can make use of this information, but it's good to know that all is not hunky- dory at the top of the organization," Clark decided to continue. "Another thing is that, Perry saw Andrea and a few other girls, all of whom are on the list, at Kaylie's funeral. He said that they seemed to be really affected by Kaylie's death."
"Who's Perry?" asked Sidney.
"Our editor-in-chief," answered Lois. "He's also a good friend of Kaylie's dad. That was how we got wind of this organization."
John frowned as he processed what Clark had said. "We need to talk to at least one of them. They will make good witnesses if they're willing to testify," he spoke his thoughts aloud.
"I tried to reach out to Andrea but she didn't take it up. Said that she didn't want to involve me," Sidney said.
Clark shook his head. "I don't think they'd be willing to talk to just anyone. Especially the lecturers here. They'd be too afraid that whoever they confide in may be part of the organization. No, we need someone from the outside, someone they can trust to protect them from the same fate that Kaylie suffered."
"Who can we co-opt? I don't want to get someone else involved unless we absolutely can't do it ourselves. There's too much room for mistakes when the number of people involved is large," John argued.
Lois, who understood Clark's suggestion, quickly countered John. "Don't worry. The person Clark has in mind is already involved in this."
Sidney was now confused. "Your colleague? How can he ensure the girls' safety?"
"Not my colleague, though he's a good guy. Clark meant Superman," Lois explained.
Both Sidney and John looked at them in amazement. While John was quite used to Superman flying around, assisting the police in emergency work, he never thought of the superhero as someone who could be called upon to help in an investigation. However, he did see Clark's point. The girls would no doubt feel safe with Superman as their protector, and they would be safer too than if they were in the protection program.
Sidney had never seen the superhero except on TV or in the newspaper. She had forgotten that the two reporters had reputations as Superman's friends. Lois's calm explanation, therefore, came as a surprise. But, like John, she saw the merit of letting Superman talk to the girls and protect them.
Unintentionally, both of them said together, "I like the idea." Then, they looked at each other and started laughing. John said, grinning, "Seems like great minds think alike."
"Or fools seldom differ," Sidney shot back with an answering grin.
"Hey! I'm…" John tried to protest weakly.
"Not a fool? Neither am I," Sidney laughed.
Clark and Lois saw the exchange, and how the two had seemingly forgotten the presence of others around them as they bantered. "Do we look like that to other people?" Lois whispered her question to Clark who nodded in response.
"Perhaps. I don't really know," Clark answered just as quietly not wanting to disturb what he knew was a budding romance between the two law enforcers. He was glad that John had finally overcome his infatuation with Lois. Not that he felt threatened by John. Instead, he pitied Lykos. Lois was oblivious to the man's infatuated looks. At least with Sidney, it seemed to be reciprocated.
The other two finally finished their banter and got back on track. After some discussions, the four agreed on an action plan where Superman was to contact Andrea. They also agreed that Sidney would contact Becker to get him and Jimmy to pool their resources to figure out the identity of the ringleader. Lois was supposed to make friends with Camille and Andy to get on their good side. Clark had his work cut out for him to try to get into the organization and perhaps sell the idea of them moving to San Francisco, where Kelton was said to be from.
Lykos was going to be everyone's point of contact instead of a more active role that he preferred, since his cover was busted and he couldn't move about so freely. But Sidney convinced him that it was best for him to be the hub of the investigation, especially since he was grounded due to 'car problems.' He had groaned when she told him about the cover story she had enacted, whining a little why she had chosen his car as a target. The only answer he received was 'live with it.'
As the four went their separate ways, each was feeling more positive about the investigation. "I'm glad Sidney is on our team," Lois mentioned to Clark as they walked back to Elizabeth Hall.
Clark looked at her in surprise. "I would have thought that you'd be a little suspicious of her," he said.
"I was. But from the way she's handling Lykos, I like her," Lois affirmed with a grin.
"Handling Lykos? Lois…"
"Hey, don't look at me like that. That guy can be full of himself. I was wondering what happened to him this morning when he taught us. He was definitely walking on air. Now I know the reason. He's been struck by cupid's arrow. Wow! The dragon professor's in love. I can't picture that of him. He looks too fierce for anyone to fall for him. But then again, perhaps Sidney is just the woman to tame him."
Clark shook his head at his fianc‚e's babble. "When was the last time I told you that I love your babble?" he asked.
"A long time ago, it seems," she answered with a smile.
"Well, consider yourself told," he said, laughing softly. They soon lapsed into a comfortable silence.
Meanwhile, Sidney and John walked together along the bank of the lake, neither one wanted to part. Unlike Clark and Lois, their silence was heavy with unresolved tension. At last, Sidney could no longer stand it and she spoke up. "John, where do we go from here? I'm really clueless about this, you know. I've never been involved with anyone before. I mean you kissed me and we both liked it. We both want to pursue a relationship. But how, when, where? Are we doing it too fast, too slow or just right? What is 'just right', anyway? This is so awkward and the case is getting more demanding every minute. I wish I knew who this mystery woman is. I just know she's the key. If we can nab her, we'll break this case. Well, I guess I have to trust Chris to do his magic. He's really a good friend, you know. I've very few close friends but when we started out working together, we just clicked and we became friends and partners. That's why I feel so guilty when he nearly died saving my life," Sidney sighed softly, thinking back to the events that made Chris a paraplegic.
John looked at her fondly as he tried to keep up with her rapid change of topics. "Do you know you could give a man a whiplash, trying to keep up with you?" he asked, amused.
"You changed topics three times in the entire speech. First, you asked about our relationship. Second, you talked about the case. Then, you spoke of your partner," John summarized for her.
"Well, I don't see you having any problems keeping up," Sidney observed a little sarcastically.
"That's because I'm special," John answered with a cocky grin.
"Yeah, right!" Sidney snorted.
They both laughed, the tension easing a little. After a while, John spoke, "Sidney, this case will be solved and soon. I have faith that with all of us working together we can ensure that no one else would ever be ensnared into this ring…"
Sidney just nodded.
"As for your partner, I'd really like to hear more about him, especially since he occupies a special position in your heart. He has to be a special man to do that, I believe. And furthermore, since he did save your life, I can't be more grateful to the man…"
Sidney blushed at this.
"The questions you posed about our relationship are valid, and we will have to sit down to talk over them. However, time doesn't permit us to do that now. What do you say if we agree to postpone the discussions till this investigation is ended?"
Sidney once again nodded. Then she tried to open her mouth. But John intercepted her, saying, "That doesn't mean we can't get on with our relationship. That is, if you still want to pursue it?" he asked, a little unsure.
"Yes, but slower, John."
"That's not a problem," he assured her with a grin.
Hawk lifted up the handle of the phone and punched in a number. He waited patiently for the other party to pick up, scanning the report in front of him. While everything else is in a mess, his job as President of Met. U. still continued to impose its restrictions on him. The report was a budget projection for the next five years and there were a couple of important recommendations on expansion as well as budget cuts that begged his attention. However, as the other party answered, he placed the report back on his desk.
"Ben, this is Uncle Harry. I want you to listen carefully." Hawk listened as Ben acknowledged him.
"Ben, I want you to tender your resignation effective tomorrow, buy a plane ticket to London. There, someone called Whisky will meet you. He'll give you further instructions on what you must do." He was glad that Ben wasn't one to disobey orders even if the boy was rather reluctant to leave his cozy job.
After he put down the phone, he sighed in relief. Ben was the only one of his family that mattered. Ben's mother had been his twin and she had asked him to care for Ben before she passed away. He had tried his best, now it was time that the boy lived his own life. Hawk just hoped that he gave Ben enough time to get away before the organization fell and the feds swooped down on them like vultures.
He had just received word from his friend in the FBI that there were people investigating his connection to Andrew Stanton. He knew it wouldn't be long before they found out everything. He hoped that he was able to dismantle the operation in time to disappear. It was imperative that Sims managed to fool Lykos in order to buy that time.
Andrea looked up from her reading in the courtyard of the Computational Science Building and squinted at the man before her. At first, she could only make out his figure since he was standing with his back to the sun. But as her eyes became used to the light, she realized who it was that addressed her. "Superman?" she asked, bewildered. She looked around but saw no one else in the vicinity.
"Could we speak for a moment?" Superman asked gently. Clark had watched her from afar for a while before approaching her. Until the moment he laid eyes on her, he hadn't understood fully what Lois felt when she saw Kaylie in the hospital. Now, he felt a growing anger at the people who dragged sweet, innocent girls like Andrea and Kaylie into the kind of filth that no one should be forced to enter. Of course, he had felt a certain anger before this and the wish to set things right. But seeing Andrea solidified those feelings and his resolve to shut the operation down. She was one of the 'wounded angels', a term Lois had coined for these girls who were forced into prostitution.
Andrea was alarmed, even though she hid it well as she rose from the bench. She wondered as to how Superman knew her name and why he was asking to speak to her. "Er…what is this about, Superman?"
Clark sat down on the bench beside her. "I've been told by some friends that you and some friends of yours might be willing to help out in an investigation. You were a friend of Kaylie, weren't you?"
Andrea became more guarded. She had a suspicion of where this was going and found herself torn between asking for help from Superman and keeping silent to save herself. "Yes, she was a friend," she answered hesitantly.
"Ms. Seamour, Kaylie's father approached a friend of mine about her involvement with a prostitution ring that is run by members of the faculty of this university. He also provided my friend with a list of other girls involved. Your name was on it."
Clark anticipated Andrea's objection by raising his hands in a plea for her to let him continue. He hurried his explanation, "I've also found out that the FBI is investigating this organization and they need help. I believe, Ms. Seamour, that you can provide that help to them. I hope that you will."
He once again stopped her from speaking by continuing on, "If you're worried about your safety, I can assure you that I will personally take charge of your safety. And the faster the ring is exposed, the safer you'll be. Ms. Seamour, Kaylie died trying to escape the ring and bring them to justice. She managed to compile a few names for us to start with. I hope you will honor her memory by coming forward to help us. But I'm not going to force you. Do think about it. If you'd like to contact me, you can call this number." Clark gave her Lykos's cell-phone number.
Andrea accepted it, not knowing what she should say. She looked at the superhero and found him to be rather different from her expectations. She had imagined Superman to be taller, more imposing and most of all, aloof. But the man beside her seemed warm and caring. He had a concerned look on his face. When he mentioned Kaylie, he seemed rather sad. She wondered if he blamed himself for not being able to save Kaylie. "Superman, I…yes, I'll think about it. Thank you for trying to reassure me about my safety. I have no doubt that you'll be able to carry out your promise. But I do need time to think about it," she spoke softly.
Clark got up and looked at her once more before leaving. He wished that he could do more. Perhaps just take her away from this place. But that's almost as bad as the people who are using her. He would be taking away her right to choose. No, he had to wait for her to come to the right decision by herself. For now, it was enough that she knew that she had a way out.
"Lykos," John answered his cell-phone.
"Hurt her and you're a dead man, Lykos," warned the voice on the other side.
"Who's this?" John was taken aback by the harsh warning.
John realized who the 'her' was. He took a deep breath, trying to think of what to say to an overprotective partner. But he soon realized that the best thing to say was the truth. "I would rather hurt myself before I hurt her. I cannot promise you more than that."
"Hmph," Chris Becker grunted. "At least, you're honest, Lykos. Treat her well, and you'll have no complains from me. Now I've some info to pass to you."
"I will. Go ahead, I'm listening," John said.
"Andrew Stanton and Henry Spencer were in the same undergraduate course at Princeton University. It's where Stanton met his wife too. Seems that she had been Spencer's girlfriend before dumping him in favor of Stanton. The Stantons did stay in touch with Spencer through the years, if sporadically. That's the only connection I've got between them. I've given Jimmy the lists of acquaintances that both the Stantons and Spencer have in common. We'll be going through them to see who matches this mysterious lady of yours. I've also gotten the copy of the tape and handed it to the labs to get it checked out."
"O.K. That sounds promising. Have you thought to check Mrs. Stanton's background? It's interesting that after dumping Spencer, she'd still keep in touch with him," John suggested.
"You're not the only one to think so. I'm checking it out as we speak. But that's it for now," Becker said.
Then John heard a click, signaling the end of the conversation. He wondered if Becker was in love with Sidney. He was a little overprotective and didn't seem to like John very much. John decided to put it out of his mind for a while and turned his attention to the assignments he had to grade.
Lois called Camille. "Hi Camille. Am I bothering you?"
"Hey Alexa, no. What's up?" Camille said, getting up from her bed and closing the door to her room. She didn't wish for her roommates to overhear her conversation with Alexa. Andy had told her that she wasn't to recruit Alexa but to befriend her in order to throw the scent of the actual recruitment. It didn't really make sense to her why they were recruiting when the cops were on to them. She knew that Andy wasn't telling her the whole story but she trusted him enough to follow his orders, especially if those orders came from Hawk himself.
"I'm currently doing the assignment Andy gave out last week and finding it difficult to answer. Would you mind helping me out?" Lois asked, hoping that Camille would agree.
"Oh, sure," agreed Camille. "So where should I meet you?"
"How about the caf‚ we went to last time?" Lois suggested.
"No problem. I'll see you in an hour?"
"See you then."
On her end, Lois looked around her room, wondering if this was the wisest course of action to be taking. While there were indications to the contrary, she thought that Camille might come around. Camille's background was probably what drove her to be involved in the ring. Perhaps Lois could persuade her to think back on her actions and to rectify them. If only Lois could reach out to her.
A knock brought her back to reality. "Come in," Lois said.
Maggie poked her head in. "Hey, Alexa. You're going to love what I just did?"
"What did you do?" Lois asked her friend in a tone that said 'Do I really want to know?'
"Well, your problems with the girls in Jerome's class are over," Maggie beamed.
"Jung Hoon and I spread the word around about you two being engaged and that anyone trying to mess with Jerome answers to me," Maggie said fiercely. "I have some clout around the campus, you know."
Lois shook her head, trying to imagine what her friends had done. She sighed, "Thanks, Maggie. You guys are so sweet. I don't deserve friends like you."
"Nonsense! This is what friends are for. So, if anyone gives you trouble, let me know," Maggie told her, giving Lois a small hug before leaving the room.
Lois stared after her in disbelief. She was going to miss Maggie when this investigation was over.
John kept getting interrupted by phone calls. After Becker called, Clark called to update him about Superman's meeting with Andrea and to let him know that Andrea would be calling him. John assured Clark that he would call him the moment that Andrea gave him a tinker.
Then Jimmy called him, saying that he was faxing some information on Dr. and Mrs. Stanton as well as Dr. Spencer that John might be interested in. Jimmy was right; the information was fascinating. Alicia Stanton was born Alicia Marie Alessandra. Her family came from a long line of businessmen who, while the feds were unable to prove, had links to the mafia. What was more interesting was that Spencer had grown up together with Alicia Stanton because his father had worked for her family as their butler. Spencer also had a twin sister by the name of Mary who married and had a son named Benjamin Dale. However there weren't any records of the father. 'That has to be Ben, the lab tech,' thought John as he skimmed through. 'Why's the info on the father missing?'
Before he could delve deeper, he heard a knock. "Come in," he called out.
"Prof. Lykos?" asked the woman who stepped into his office.
"Yes," John said, getting up and extending his hand.
"I'm Theresa, Prof. Spencer's secretary," Theresa introduced herself, shaking his hand. She seemed nervous and more than a little uncomfortable as she fiddled with the file she carrying.
John was surprised but hid it immediately. "Did Prof. Spencer want me for something, Theresa?"
"No, sir. I'm here without his knowledge," Theresa said in a soft voice. "I could get into very big trouble if he knew I was here."
"Why's that?" John asked, choosing to be cautious.
"At the very least, I'd get fired. But I believe, Prof. Spencer has connections with some very powerful people that could make me disappear if he ever caught me talking to you," Theresa explained, looking around as if Hawk would come out of hiding somewhere in the office.
"Why would he do that?" John asked again, playing dumb.
"Prof. Lykos, I know that you're an undercover cop. I've information that could prove useful to your investigation, if you would protect my family from the syndicate and give me assurance of a lighter sentence, possibly not time in prison," Theresa told him upfront.
John stared at her for a long time before finally deciding. "How did you know about me?"
"Prof. Stanton found out about you. Here," she opened the file, took out a few sheets of paper and handed them to him. "These are the lists of people I know who are involved in the syndicate. Prof. Stanton's name's in there. In fact, he's one of the key players. I've highlighted a few other names that might be important."
John took the papers from her and scanned through them. He'd seen the list compiled by Lois and Clark. Most of the names on that list were in Theresa's list. Of course, Theresa's list had more names. John made a note to get the list to Jimmy and Becker. "Why are you doing this?"
Theresa sighed. "I didn't know about the syndicate when I went to work with Prof. Spencer about four years ago. It was a promotion and I needed the job since my husband's ill and can no longer work. I stumbled into the secret one night when I accidentally left my house keys in the office. No one was at home since my husband was in the hospital and my kids were at my sister's place. I went back to the office and chanced upon Prof. Spencer, Stanton and a few other people discussing about the running of the syndicate. I was horrified and would have gone away unnoticed, except my luck ran out, and I stumbled into the water dispenser. Between his carrots and sticks, Spencer managed to rope me into the syndicate. I've been praying for a way out, and when I heard about you, I thought that perhaps that was a sign from God."
John listened attentively as she explained. He would have to get Becker to check on Theresa's story, but his guts told him that she was telling the truth. If so, she was a material witness and they'd finally got their first break. "Theresa, if you're telling the truth, I can help you and your family. I assure you that your family will be safe. Now, tell me what you know."
Theresa shook her head. "Sir, I'd like to believe you. But I've seen what Prof. Spencer can do. I've given you some information there," she indicated the list, "and I've said that I'd be willing to help. But first, you need to show me how you can ensure that my family will be safe."
John sighed. "All right. Wait a while." He picked up his cell-phone and called Clark's number. "Hello, Clark? It's John. Can you get Superman to come over to meet me? I've someone for him to meet. No, not her. Someone else. Right, I'll wait."
He ended the conversation and turned back to Theresa who sat there gaping. "Superman will be along in a few minutes. Will he do as an assurance of your family's safety, Theresa?"
She nodded silently, still trying to grasp the thought of the Superhero coming to her rescue.
Before they could say any other thing, the open window rattled as a gust of wind blew into the room and resolved itself into a familiar blue and red form of Superman. Both John and Theresa were dumbfounded for a short while. While John had seen the Man of Steel a few times in his work, this was the first time he was face to face with him. John had to say that Superman seemed familiar though he couldn't explain why. Perhaps it's because he had seen him a few times before. Theresa, on the other hand, had never seen the superhero except on television. She had to admit that Superman was even more impressive in person than on TV, unlike some other people.
Clark was a little amused by John's almost dropping jaw. But he hid the smile behind the stern face of Superman. He had never seen the woman but surmised that she was the reason for the request. "What can I do for you, Det.?" he asked in his Superman voice, uncrossing his arms and stepping forward to greet Lykos.
"Superman, thank you for coming," John shook the superhero's hand firmly. "This is Theresa…er…" He turned to Theresa.
"Manuel," Theresa interjected. "Thank you for coming, Superman."
"Ms. Manuel, Det. Lykos, what can I do?" Clark asked once again.
John gestured for his visitors to sit and sat himself. "Well, as you know, we're investigating the prostitution ring operating within the campus. Theresa, here, has volunteered to help but she's afraid that the syndicate might harm her and her family."
"My family's more important," Theresa interrupted.
Both John and Superman nodded. "But Theresa, if you're harmed, we won't be able to bring these people to justice and your family would always be in fear of them," John reasoned with her. He then turned back to Superman. "So we'd need some way for you to arrange for them to be safe while Theresa's helping us out in this investigation and till after the trial."
Clark thought about it. He had planned for Andrea and her friends to stay with his parents in Smallville. The Manuels could also do the same. "How old are your children, Ms. Manuel? And would your husband mind being transplanted somewhere else?"
"Superman, my husband's ill. He has cancer and needs special care. My children are flexible however. They're twelve and ten," Theresa answered, clearly worried about her husband.
Clark thought about it and nodded. "Can you give me all the information about your husband's illness? I need to arrange for a doctor to care for him but I think I've a place for your family to go. Give me until the end of the day to make the arrangements."
Theresa nodded and took out a pile of documents from her file. "I've got the information here." She handed them to Superman who accepted them, looked through them super speed and got up.
"I'll be at your house later this evening to fetch all of you," Clark confirmed. "Det. Lykos, if the other person calls, will you give Clark a ring?"
"Sure Superman," John answered, a little relieved that at least one problem was solved.
After Superman left and the other two recovered their wits, John turned back to Theresa. "Well, Theresa, you've got another thirty minutes of lunch time before you need to go back to your office. Perhaps, you can furnish me with more information in the meantime?"
Theresa, grateful that at least one of her concerns was taken care of, agreed. The rest of the thirty minutes were very fruitful as John learned more about the operation than what he and Sidney had gathered between them.
"Andy, it's Hawk. Can you get away for a little while? We need to talk." Hawk listened to the response from Andy before nodding his head. "I'll wait for you at the usual place, then."
He put down the phone and rolled back his chair. Taking his coat from the back of the chair, he walked to his door and opened it. His secretary had just stepped in. "Theresa, where have you been?" he asked.
"Lunch, sir. I'm sorry I took a little longer than I thought but the queue was long," Theresa managed to stammer out.
Fortunately for her, Hawk was too distracted to notice. "Cancel all my appointments. I'm going to be out for the rest of the afternoon," Hawk ordered.
Theresa just nodded her head and Hawk left. He got into his car and drove out of Metropolis. He was headed to a small cabin owned by Andrew Stanton just outside of the city. As he arrived, another car pulled up. Andy stepped out of the latter car.
"Did you have problems getting away?" Hawk asked him in greeting.
"No, though I'm wondering why you didn't want Alicia to know about our meeting," Andy said with a frown.
"Andy, how long have we been friends?" Hawk quizzed him.
Andy frowned. His friend was in a weird mood. But it was best to humor him. "Since I started dating your sister. Why?"
"Have I ever done you wrong in the time we've been friends?"
"Not that I know of," answered Andy, puzzled.
"You might like to know that I've arranged for Ben to leave town."
Andy sighed in relief. "Good. I don't know why you involved the boy in the first place. He had no business being involved in the organization," he admonished his friend.
Hawk nodded. This was a debate that had been going on ever since he hired Ben. Andy had strongly disagreed. But then he had a reason to disagree. Ben was Andy's son, even though Ben knew nothing of it. Andy hadn't wanted Ben to be in danger. "Andy, I couldn't tell you this before, but I was forced to hire Ben."
"Forced? By whom? What are you talking about, Hawk?" Andy asked, truly puzzled.
Hawk didn't answer his friend at first. Instead his eyes roamed the woods as if in search of someone or something. After ensuring that they were truly alone, he turned back to Andy. "Andy, think back to roughly twenty-five years ago. Mary brought you home to be introduced to my parents, right?"
Andy remembered. Mary had been his first love and probably, on hindsight, his only love. "Yes, I remember. You were dating Alicia back then. We had a couple of double dates together. Those few months were some of the best times in my life," Andy said, sighing.
"Did you ever wonder why Mary broke off with you? Why she disappeared and married Billy Dale?"
"Of course, Hawk. You remembered how devastated I was at the time. If not for Alicia's and your support, I would have gone crazy."
"What happened then, Andy? Do you remember?" Hawk pressed on.
"You had a call from Mary asking for you to go to her. When you came back, you had Ben with you and told us about her death. You only told me later, much later, about Ben's real parentage," Andy spoke softly, the pain in his voice was quite visible. He looked at his old friend, searching Hawk's face for some glimmer of understanding. "Did she tell you why she left? Why didn't she come to me about Ben? I would've married her in an instance."
"Would your parents have approved, Andy? They were ecstatic when you married Alicia, right? Would they have been as welcoming if it was Mary?"
Andy winced. "No, but it wouldn't have mattered."
"You're wrong, Andy. It would've mattered. You wouldn't be where you're now without Alicia," Hawk said derisively.
Andy looked sharply at Hawk. "What has this got to do with Alicia? All right, so it's her family that has money even though my family's suppose to be the American 'blue blood'. But I've never owed Alicia my status or anything else for that matter."
"Yet, you managed to convince her to invest in the agency to be used as a front." Hawk pointed out.
"It was your idea," Andy shot back. "Really, Hawk, why are we digging up old bones? What's this got to do with you being forced to involve Ben?"
Hawk sighed. "Andy, twenty-five years ago, when you came to visit, Alicia met you and decided that you were the one for her," he told his friend.
Andy looked at him shocked. "But she was going out with you."
"Do you really think she would go out with the hired help? She was just toying with me. In fact, she had a hold on me," Hawk said heavily. "She found out that I swindled some money from her father. She had proof of it, and would've brought the matter to her father if I didn't do exactly as she said."
"Hawk, you're crazy. You got entangled with the Mafia? How much was it?"
"A hundred grand."
"Ouch! What did you do with the money?"
"I didn't do anything. Alicia was the one who wanted the money and she got me involved. I was stupid at the time, thinking that she actually loved me. Of course, after her blackmail, I knew she was just using me."
"What are you saying? Mary going away, Alicia trying to comfort me, you forgiving me for stealing Alicia away were all Alicia's plan to marry me?" Andy asked in disbelieve.
"And Ben? She knew about Ben, didn't she?"
"Yes, she knew."
"She was the one to force you to get him involved. But how? How did she know about the organization?"
Hawk looked at Andy, not speaking.
"Of course. Of course," Andy finally realized things. He started pacing. "She was the one to think up of this in the first place. That's why you didn't want her to know we were meeting. Hawk, I've been so blind."
"Andy, I'm sorry. I wish I could've have warned you earlier. But I was afraid of the consequences if I were to alert you to Alicia's manipulations."
"The threat is still there, Hawk. So why now?"
"Because I no longer care. The feds are involved in this matter, Andy. A friend informed me that they're looking into our background. They know who we are. I'm going to them for a plea bargain. At least then, I'll finally be free from Alicia. Furthermore, Ben's safe," Hawk answered, the weariness in his voice could be plainly heard.
The two old friends stood in front of the cabin in silence, each deep in their own thoughts. "Are you sure Ben is safe?" Andy finally asked.
"Yes, he got on the plane two hours ago. My friend will keep him safe."
"Then, we've a lot to do if we're to help the feds capture the real mastermind, don't we?" Andy smiled ironically.
Hawk answered with an ironic smile of his own. "We do, indeed."
With that, the two friends got into their respective cars and left the cabin.
Andrea and her friends sat around her coffee table in her apartment. She had just informed them of Superman's offer. Now, they were all silently considering it, sipping their various beverages and not focusing on their physical surroundings. If it were up to Andrea, she would've accepted his offer immediately. His protection was definitely much safer than the FBI's protection. Besides, it was their chance to get out of the situation they were in. Though, she could see why some of the others were hesitant about it. They'd been caught in the web for so long it was difficult to imagine that they could be free. Given what they did to Kaylie, she guessed that the syndicate had quite an influential backer. Could Superman afford to protect them from this backer in the long run? Furthermore, if it were to leak out that they were involved in the ring, they'd probably be kicked out of college or worse.
Helen looked at her friends. She hadn't known them before her involvement in the syndicate. But now, she couldn't ask for better friends. They've been the ones to lend her strength to go on. She almost committed suicide three or four times but Deb and the other three girls, including Kaylie, had talked her out of it and monitored her constantly. She wanted out from the ring and knew that Superman's offer was the best way to obtain it. But Jessica seemed to be hesitant. Until all of them were agreeable, Helen knew that none of them would accept the offer.
Deborah was surprised by the offer. Her first instinct was to accept it and get the hell out of Metropolis. She hadn't wanted to come here, having been raised in a small farm in Tennessee. It was only the fact that it had been her parents' dreams for her to study in a famous city like Metropolis that she accepted the offer of a scholarship to study at Metropolis University. City life hadn't impressed her and being involved in the syndicate made her like it even less.
Then, she considered her friends. Did they want to accept the offer, to expose themselves to the publicity that will arise? How about the implications to her family when they found out what she had been doing? Besides embarrassment, would their lives be in danger too? Doubts assailed her as she pondered on the matter.
Jessica's immediate reaction was fear. Of the group, she was the one most affected by Kaylie's death. Kaylie had been the bravest of them all, and she was going to go to the police with the information she had. Yet, she died before the police could do anything. Could Superman do any better? How could he alone, superhero though he might be, protect the four of them against unknown enemies?
Andrea cleared her throat. "So, what do we do?" she asked.
The other three exchanged glances, none wanting to start. Andrea sighed, knowing that she would have to pick on someone. "Jessica, why don't you start?"
"What do you want me to say?" Jessica replied reluctantly.
"Jessica…" Deborah warned.
Jessica looked down on the table, trying to phrase her thoughts. "O.K., O.K. I know that Superman's great and all that, but can he really protect us? And for how long?"
"Yeah, Jessica's right," Deborah supported. "And what about our families? Would they be safe too? If it were just me, I'd take his offer. But my family's safety is also my concern. My dad is old and I've a brother who's only six."
Andrea listened to her friends' worries, knowing that they echoed her concerns too. "Helen, what about you?" she asked the only silent person in the room.
"Well, your concerns are valid," Helen began. "I'm not denying that. But do we really want to be stuck in here forever? Superman's offer may be our only chance to get out of the syndicate. I'd rather take my chances out there with him around than endure this hell."
The others frowned. They knew what she said was true. All of them wanted out, and Superman represent the best way out. What a dilemma.
"Look, Andrea, why don't you give a call to this guy to get Superman here? At least we can talk to him and perhaps come up with something more concrete that would lay our fears to rest," Helen suggested.
"You're right. But are you guys sure you want to reveal yourselves to him?" Andrea asked. After getting a positive response from everyone, she went ahead to call the number she had been given.
Sidney and John were sitting in his office when the call came in. Having Sidney act as an informant for John was a good idea since it would waylay any suspicions. She had come by to get updates from him since she was feeling rather useless in the investigation at the moment. He had just finished telling her all the information he had been receiving since morning when his cell-phone rang.
"Hello," John spoke into his cell. "Ms. Seamour?"
Sidney raised an eyebrow at the name. John just winked at her and attended to the conversation at hand.
"Hi. We were waiting for your call. No problem at all. He'll be right there. Good. I'm delighted to hear that. Take care," John said, terminating the call. Then he dialed up another number. "Hi Clark? I've just got a call from Andrea. Yes, she wants to meet with Superman. She said that some friends of hers wish to know more about the offer before they can decide. All right, then. I'll wait for an update from Superman on that front."
After finishing his call with Clark, he turned back to Sidney.
Sidney grinned. "Sounds like things are falling into place," she remarked.
"Yep. Seems so. Just one thing though," John said, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Should I be jealous of Chris?"
That was something she didn't expect. Her mind had been focused on the investigation and the various developments that had been happening. It was a little difficult to re- orientate herself to a personal question. But she finally managed to. "Why the question?" she shot back, curious.
"The first thing he said when he called me was that he'd kill me if I ever hurt you. That sounds like a man who's protective and maybe even possessive," John explained, his evil smile getting wider. "Now, since he's not your father or brother, the only reason why he's possessive is…you can fill in the details, right?"
Sidney shook her head when she heard of Chris's threat and laughed. That was just like her partner to be overprotective of her. He was always saying how innocent she was and how he worried if someone took advantage of that innocence. Of course, she always denied that charge. She wasn't innocent. She had seen too much in her course of work to be an innocent. But that didn't stop Chris though. Even his marriage with Betty hadn't stopped him from fussing over her suitors, as he called them. But now that John pointed out to her that it wasn't quite natural for her partner to do that, she wondered. 'Not a chance. Chris would've told me if he had feelings for me. Besides, he's so enamored with Betty,' Sidney reasoned out.
"Chris is just being Chris. We worked together for a long time as partners, John. He's my best friend, sort of like a big brother," she explained to him. "Besides, he's married and when I say married, I really mean that. The two of them are inseparable. So, maybe your theory is sound…that he's just being a concerned elder brother."
John had his doubts but didn't voice them. He knew Sidney truly believed what she said. Besides, it didn't hurt to have her thinking that way. In fact, it meant that she had no commitment to any other guy and that he had a chance with her yet. He shrugged and said, "I was just teasing. Though, I'd love to get to know Chris better, seeing that he's your best friend."
"Don't worry, you will," Sidney assured him with an evil smile of her own. "You'll get to know him so much that you'd not want to know more."
"We'll see. But one thing is for certain, I do want to know more about you and I'd never stop wanting to know more," John said, his voice gentle as if he was trying to calm a colt that was ready to bolt if he made a wrong move.
He was right too. Sidney looked at him with a particularly trapped expression. No one had ever said that to her. But then, most of the things she had experienced with John were her first time experience. She should have gotten used to that. But before she could phrase an answer, John spoke again.
"Sidney, I'm not pushing. As we've agreed, we'll take this as slowly as you want. But I do want to know you. You've obviously met my relatives and know more about my life than I do yours. It's only fair that I know some things about your life too, right?"
Sidney sighed and nodded in acknowledgement of the truth he spoke.
"Well then. We really need to piece together the flood of information we've gotten today. I'm sure when Superman gets here, he'll have more information for us," John changed the topic of discussion.
Sidney gave a silent sigh of relief, knowing that she wasn't prepared to really talk about their relationship. Work, on the other hand, was a safe topic.
Lois closed the door behind her and let out a sigh. It had been a difficult day for her. She had tried to reach out to Camille, only to be rebuffed. The planned talk had started out on a nice note with Camille helping her out with the assignment. Then, when they took a break, she began question Camille about her past, trying to get her to open up. Unfortunately, Camille wasn't too keen on sharing, and got upset with Lois's persistence. Lois was taken aback when Camille pushed out of her chair so fast that it fell backwards and the table overturned, and stormed out of the caf‚. The people in the caf‚ looked at Lois strangely as they tried to figure out what was happening. Lois had to apologize to the waiter who helped her clean up the mess.
She had never thought Camille would react that badly, although she should have anticipated it. After it took her years to completely open up about her family situation, and even then, only to a select few. She shouldn't have expected Camille to be any different. But it felt like she had failed somehow. Of course, Clark would tell her she was being a perfectionist, and that it wasn't her fault not being able to reach out to Camille. 'Still, when it's a life you're trying to save…' she thought about how Clark was similarly affected whenever he couldn't save the people he tried to rescue. For all their various differences, they were remarkably similar in so many ways.
Perhaps that was what made their relationship special; that they could be their individual selves and yet share so many common traits that they were almost one person. 'Soulmates?' she wondered. She didn't really subscribe to the theory of soulmates but it was interesting to think that there could be someone out there who was the perfect other half of you.
A knock at the window interrupted her reverie. On opening the window, Clark came in and changed out of his suit. He looked rather tired. "Hi Honey," he greeted her with a kiss.
"Hi Clark. You look exhausted. Did you overextend yourself in some big rescue?" Lois asked, worried for him.
"No, it's not exhaustion of the body," Clark assured her. "Just that a lot of emotional stuff happened."
She cocked her head to one side in question.
"Come on. Let's get comfortable and I'll tell you my day, and you can tell me yours," Clark suggested.
Lois agreed, excusing herself for a while to change into her sleeping garments. By the time she had return to the room, Clark had made himself comfortable on the bed. He beckoned to her. With a small smile, she slipped into bed and stretched herself on top of him, laying on her stomach so that she could see his face while they talked. "Hmm…this is nice."
"Yeah, isn't it?" Clark agreed. "You know, we should determine the wedding date soon."
"Why? I don't mean that I don't want to set a date. But why soon?"
"'Cause my dear, it's too much of a temptation to be sleeping together without going further. I'd rather not test how far I can resist temptation. I'm not made of steel, you know," he tried to joke.
Lois sighed. She knew what he meant and it was time for them, no…for her, to stop delaying the inevitable. They were both ready to take that next step, she knew that now. "You're right. Let's talk about it when this is over. So, tell me your day."
"Where to begin…"
Alicia Stanton stood outside on her balcony, and watched the beautiful hues of magenta and pink lighting up the sky and in the far distance, the fiery red ball slowly disappearing from the horizon. She had always loved the sunset. To her mind, it was a time when all of creation seemed to be still. It was a peaceful time.
However, she wasn't able to enjoy it today. The detective she hired to spy on her husband had informed her of his meeting with Hawk. Then, there was Ben's disappearance. If she were a betting person, she would have bet that Hawk had arranged for his nephew to disappear. Clenching her fist, she berated herself for not watching Ben closely enough that he managed to slip away. Now, her hold on Hawk was not as secure. The old codger was sly enough to escape her clutches and set Andy against her as well. While there was no love lost between her husband and her, Alicia liked to think that they were at least civil and that, if not friends, they were friendly acquaintances.
Now with Hawk bringing tales to Andy, she had no choice but to plan for her own survival, even if it cost Andy's downfall. She was sure that Andy would not be merciful to her either. She sighed and wondered if things would have been different had she chosen a different course.
Her ambitions had made her lose so much. Her best friend was the first to suffer. Mary, sweet little Mary, who had been her most constant and loyal companion since they were small. That is, as long as her twin hadn't demanded for her attentions. Alicia couldn't stand Henry; she saw him as a rival for Mary's loyalty. In fact, that was the reason she nicknamed him Hawk.
Alicia hadn't known of Mary's pregnancy when Alicia confessed her attraction to Andy. She had subtly suggested that Andy wasn't suitable for Mary. Of course, Mary, being perceptive and loyal, had bowed out of the race and ran away with Billy Dale. She hadn't expected the gesture but didn't hesitate to take advantage of the given situation.
When Hawk brought Ben home, she had known instantly who Ben's father really was. For one weak moment, she mourned the loss of Mary and felt a little remorse for what she had done. But the moment soon passed, though she took great interest in Ben. Having no children herself, and the fact that Ben was Mary's son, she wanted to adopt him. But Hawk prevented it and exerted his influence over the boy. If he hadn't tried to interfere, Ben could have had a great future with her guiding him. Now, it was too late and she would have to do what it takes to protect herself.
With that in mind, she turned abruptly and went in to make some calls. At the end of the phone-calls, she sat back frustrated. No one seemed to be able to trace Ben. Hawk was too clever by far. At least, the money had been transferred and her transportation out of the country had been secured. It was time for her to decide whether to blow the whistle on the operation. She slowly reached for the phone and dialed a number.
"May I speak to Alex, please?" she asked the person who picked up on the other side.
After waiting a few minutes, Alex, her business partner at tour agency-cum-escort service named The Thrill-Seekers, came to the phone.
"Hi Alex, it's Alicia. I'm sorry to disturb you so late, but can we meet? Something of grave importance came to my attention and the business may be in serious trouble," Alicia requested, sounding very distressed.
Alex, who had no idea what was happening, became alarmed and agreed to meet at The Thrill-Seekers office. Alicia thanked him and put down the phone with a sly smile on her face. She needed to make one more phone call and she would have things all set. After punching in the number to Prof. Kelton's residence, she waited forever before the answering machine activated. It seemed that Prof. Kelton was not home. She wondered if he was with the lovely Ms. Thompkins. She decided she could always call him later and headed out to The Thrill-Seekers.
When she arrived, Alex Treborn, a relatively non- descriptive man in his early forties, got up to greet her. He was worried at how distraught she was. Before long, she poured out tearily the story of how she found out about her husband's misuse of the agency as a way to set the college girls up and draw them into the syndicate.
"Alex, how could Andy do such a thing? I didn't want to believe it when I first saw the photos," Alicia sniffed into her handkerchief.
Alex nodded as he looked at the photos which were basically pornography material of some of the girls who Andy had recommended to the agency. He recognized at least two of the girls as he had had the pleasure of developing a good working relationship with them. He remembered how impressed he was with their work ethics and their intelligence. That was the reason he had given them jobs of escorting some of his high profile customers to public events. To think that these girls were victimized indirectly by his agency made his blood boil.
"But then I managed to talk to one of his students, Kaylie. She approached me to let me know what Andy had been doing. She provided the material that I've just given to you," Alicia said amid her hiccups, pointing to the file Alex had in his hands. "At the time, I was still in denial. I just chucked it aside. A day later, Kaylie turned up in hospital after being raped and beaten. The police suspect that it's a normal rape case. But I have my doubts. Especially when I overheard Andy talking about Kaylie. What should we do?"
"Alicia, why don't you leave these things here and let me and the lawyers handle this? I'm going to call them and also some friends in the M.P.D. who might be able to help," Alex suggested gently, worried about Alicia's state of mind. "You go home and rest. Don't talk to Andy or alert him to this. If he is involved in this matter, you'd be in danger. I would go even further to suggest that you go off to one of your friends' place to stay until this blows over."
"Thank you Alex. You're a life-saver. I don't know what I would do without you. I feel so guilty…"
"There, there. We all make mistakes. This will blow over. You did the right thing," Alex said as he escorted her out of the office. He didn't see the smile on her face after he closed the door behind her.
"So, you brought Theresa and her family to Smallville?" Lois asked when Clark told her about Theresa.
"Yes, and I gave Dr. Sheppard her husband's medical documents. He assured me that he'll arrange for the medical facilities and care that Theresa's husband needs," Clark affirmed. He had a long talk with the Smallville doctor whom he had known all his life about the necessity of keeping things as low-key as possible. He left Dr. Sheppard's office feeling reassured of the ability of the good doctor to ensure confidentiality of his new patient. This reassurance was something he tried to convey to Lois.
"What about the girls?" Lois asked, curious of their reactions to the offer she knew Clark had made to Andrea.
"Andrea contacted John. She wanted me to meet all the girls to answer some of their questions," Clark started. "When I arrived, all four girls were present. They didn't look too enthusiastic though."
"What happened then?"
When Clark arrived at Andrea's open window, he was struck with a totally unrelated question. He found himself asking why he was always entering through windows as Superman. Why did everyone expect Superman to come via the window? It wasn't as if Superman couldn't alight outside the door and enter like normal people.
Lois laughed, making Clark look at her with mock sternness. "Young lady, what's so funny?" he asked in his Superman voice. Of course, the position he was in didn't help his cause at all.
Lois laughed louder and then stole a kiss from him. "You're a dear, honey," she told him after she finished laughing. "Never mind me. Continue with your narration."
He gave a mock pout before continuing.
Andrea or one of the others must have been on a lookout for him since Andrea immediately came to the window upon his arrival. Inviting him to come in, she introduced him to the others. Clark felt uncomfortable being the object of scrutiny of four college girls but he didn't show it as he courteously greeted them.
"Superman, thanks for coming. Especially when I know you probably have more important things to attend to," Andrea said, acting as the spokesperson for the group.
"Not at all, Ms. Seamour. I'm pleased to meet all of you and hope to answer as many of your questions as I can," Clark addressed all of them. He looked at each one of them and was pained at how they must have suffered. Hopefully, they were willing to cooperate and help bring down the organization.
Andrea and the others looked at one another in silent communications. "Please sit, Superman. Do you want anything?" Andrea asked, trying her best to overcome her anxiety and be a good hostess.
Clark smiled at her as he sat down. "Thank you. I'm fine."
Awkwardly, the rest followed suit and for a while, no one spoke as they sat around the coffee table. Before the silence got too oppressive, Clark decided it was best for him to break the ice. "As Andrea probably told you, I made an offer to her which would be extended to anyone of you who wants to accept it," he explained. "I've not furnished the details to her, but if you would like to know, I'm willing to do so."
"Superman, before we begin, how much do you know about the situation?" Deborah asked.
"At the moment, we're investigating it," Clark responded. "We've some suspicions and we're gathering more information on it. That's why we need your help," he emphasized.
"Superman, did you know that these people are connected to the Mafia? That it was the Mafia that had ordered Kaylie's death?" Jessica asked.
"We suspected something to the effect," Clark confirmed.
"How are you going to protect us then? The Mafia has a long memory. Will you be able to protect us indefinitely?" Jessica pressed on.
At the very pertinent question, Clark flinched inwardly. It was not going to be easy convincing these girls, it seemed.
Deborah jumped in. "What about our families? These people wouldn't hesitate to hurt them to get to us."
"Can you assure us that we're not going to be kicked out of school for this?" Helen added.
Andrea and the others quickly chipped in with more questions, to an extent that Clark was clearly taken aback. He had not expected to be barraged with so many questions all at once. It was a good thing that he had a Super-memory or else he would've been lost. He gave a silent thanks to Lois who had been her thorough self and had made sure their plan would address as many concerns the girls could have as possible.
Putting his hand up to stop the flow of questions, he flashed a quick grin which was not quite in character with his image as Superman. But he needed to reassure them that he didn't mean anything by his action.
"All right, why don't I answer your initial questions first and then, we can continue," he suggested. "Firstly, regarding the Mafia, there is no real evidence that the Mafia is involved. However, your questions regarding your safety and your families' are still valid. What the FBI can offer is that we'd have you as anonymous witnesses. Unless you have knowledge of inside information which no one else has, you might not be called to testify. While I'm not the police, I do know that in this case, you're all victims of this crime committed against you. As such, you've a right to your privacy and confidentiality. I believe that there is a statutory prohibition on things that might identify you. So, even if you were to give testimony in court, there are ways for us to protect your identity."
He went on further to elaborate on the plans which he had worked out with Lois, Sidney and John on protecting the girls and anyone else who might be affected. After many hours of discussions and over boxes of tissues and mugs of hot chocolate, the girls finally decided to take up his offer.
"So I took them to see John and Sidney. Andrea was really surprised when she found out about Sidney," Clark finished his story.
"They took the girls' statements?"
Lois got up before Clark could react. She didn't see the wistful look on his face as she started pacing the floor. "Given the amount of information we've gotten today, I think we should arrange for another meeting with Sidney and John. We need to sieve through the information carefully. Right now, we can't afford to make mistakes," Lois declared.
Clark reluctantly sat up. "Sidney and John can look through the information without us."
His suggestion met with a glare from Lois. "Come on, Clark. We're supposed to be investigating this. So far, we've not been very active in this investigation. You know that if we let John and Sidney to handle it on their own, we're not going to see the material in order to write the story before the news actually break out."
Clark sighed. Mad Dog Lane was on the case, once more. "All right, Lois. Should I call them?" he asked, giving in.
She thrust her cell-phone at him and stood there as he arranged for the meeting. Right after he disconnected, the phone rang. Both of them exchanged a look before he answered it. "Jimmy," he mouthed to her. "Hi, Jimmy. What's up?"
Jimmy's excited voice was audible even to Lois's non-Super- hearing. "Clark! I'm glad I managed to get through to both of you. I've found the identity of our mystery lady."
Lois grinned at his enthusiasm, imagining him bouncing all over his chair at the Planet. Clark answered her grin with one of his own before turning back to the conversation. "Who is it?"
"It's Mrs. Stanton. Tonight, she called a number of different places and the bug you guys placed managed to get her voice on tape. Of course, Becker is getting it processed but I'm positive it's her. Especially since the conversations she had pretty much incriminated her." He then elaborated further on the conversations.
Clark passed the phone to Lois who said, "Good work, Jimmy. Looks like we're really getting all the pieces of the puzzle together."
"Thanks, Lois. This has been fun. Furthermore, Becker's a cool dude. I'm learning so much from him. You have to thank Ms. Geraki for introducing us."
Once again, Clark and Lois had to smile at the childlike joy Jimmy was expressing at having a new 'toy'. "Hey, Jimmy. Does this mean that we're now old news? That you'd rather hang around with Becker than us?" Clark teased.
"Of course not," Jimmy protested heatedly before stopping when he heard laughter from Clark's end. "All right, all right. Stop teasing me. I'm off to grab some dinner. Night guys."
At their end, they both wished Jimmy good night, still laughing slightly. "Ah, Jimmy, Jimmy," remarked Lois. "Come on, Clark. We wouldn't want to be late for our meeting with Sidney and John."
"Right," Clark said, before spinning into dark clothing. "Say, what was the reason we discarded Mrs. Stanton from our list of suspect?" he asked Lois.
She thought hard but couldn't remember the answer. "I don't know. But I guess she's on top of that list now."
Clark nodded as he stepped out of the window and held his hands for Lois to join him. Looking at him, Lois felt a small shiver of pleasure passing through her. How could it be that she hadn't noticed this handsome man for such a long time? She had wasted so much time and hurt both of them before she finally came to her senses. Now, she couldn't imagine a world without him. As she gazed at the strong hands waiting patiently to embrace her, she knew that the time had come to finally end this indecision of hers. She had never been a coward before and had always faced the challenges that came her way with a positive attitude. She could do so now too. Especially with Clark by her side. The two of them together was stronger than either of them alone, after all.
"Yes, Clark," she whispered as she took his hand and stepped into his embrace, trusting that he wouldn't let her fall.
Clark tipped his head back and looked at her, puzzled. "Yes?"
"Yes, I'll marry you. Just name the time and place, I'll be there," Lois whispered softly, not wanting to break the mood which she found herself in.
"Are you sure?" Clark whispered back as he made them drift upward into the clouds.
With that, Clark gave a loud whoop of joy as he spun them around in the clouds. "I love you," he said, before melding their lips together in a kiss of promise and hope.
John and Sidney spent the whole day trying to organize the amount of information they had suddenly received. "You know, this is like the saying 'when it rains, it pours.' Only this is a good kind of rain," Sidney remarked, stretching herself after hours of sitting down, perusing the papers in front of her.
John managed to keep his eyes on the paper he was trying to read even though he was keenly aware of Sidney's movements. He didn't dare look up because he knew that he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to take her in his arms and kiss her. He didn't know whether to count his blessings or to curse his fortune, for it was both heaven and hell to be working beside her the entire day. "I know what you mean," he said, finally daring to look up after she finished stretching. "I've been at it for six months now and maybe a little more than that. Till today, I've had to work extra hard to get scrapes of information and even then, they're not permissible evidence in court. Suddenly, we've got tons of material."
Sidney grinned at him. "Well, at least we can't complain that the investigation is not bearing fruit," she reminded him.
He only grunted in response and tried to return his attention to the document in front of him. Before she could say anything, there was a knock on the door and Lois breezed right in, followed by Clark.
"Hi Sidney, John. Sorry for being late," Lois greeted them brightly.
Sidney looked from one reporter to the other. Something was different about them though she couldn't put her finger on what it was. Acting on a hunch, she asked cheekily, "Is there something you'd like to share with us?"
Lois blushed while Clark grinned almost cockily. John, who had missed the whole exchange, added innocently, "Yes, what's new?"
It only made Lois's face redder and Clark's grin wider. John couldn't understand the reactions and was about to ask when Sidney interjected, "So?"
Since Lois seemed to be at a lost for words, Clark answered, "Congratulate us. Lois's agreed to marry me."
"Huh?" John was confused. "I thought you guys were already engaged?"
Sidney shook her head, thinking 'clueless men' and winking at Lois who, having recovered from her embarrassment, winked back.
Clark, missing the exchange between the two ladies, replied patiently, "We were but we never really fixed the date. Now, we've agreed to fix the date and make it soon." He grinned again just thinking about it. They both took a seat on the sofa on one side of John's office. Unconsciously, Lois slipped her right hand into Clark's left and their fingers threaded a complicated weave.
"So, what have we got so far?" Lois asked, focusing everyone's attention back to the investigation.
"At the moment, we're putting together several lists based on the information we've gathered so far," John updated them. "The list of girls who are involved in this are extensive. The information given by the four girls contributed much to this. I also believe that the names of the faculty members are almost complete. Theresa had been the one who arranged all of their meetings with Hawk. The girls also gave the list of their regular clienteles. Impressive names ranging from movie stars to politicians." He grinned with relish when he mentioned the last bit.
"I've alerted Becker to this and he's submitting a request for warrants to question these people," Sidney added. "Furthermore, Theresa gave us some hard evidence of money being laundered through the University's funds. We'll try to get warrants to sift through the University's financial audits as well. I'm just waiting for his call."
"Right now, the only disappointing thing is that we've still no clue who this lady-boss is. It would seem that Stanton and Spencer have known each other for a long time and have had a lot of female acquaintances in common," she ended, a little dejected that her theory about the identity of the mystery woman didn't work out.
Lois grinned a little smugly as she leaned forward. "Your partner already has the tape processed, but there's really no real need for that. Our mystery lady has been uncovered."
John frowned and asked, "Who's it? How did you find out?"
"Jimmy did. Remember he was keeping a surveillance on the Stanton's residence? Well, he chanced upon an interesting phone call." She paused for the dramatic effect. "By Mrs. Stanton."
"You mean, she's our lady-boss? The one running the show?" John asked incredulously.
"Yep," said Lois smugly.
John and Sidney exchanged looks that seemed to express their shock. Neither had thought that it could be Mrs. Stanton. It was a blow to both egos to think that they might have overlooked a clue, there.
Sympathizing with them, Clark gently reminded them, "Well, none of us ever suspected her. We were so focused on Stanton and Hawk that we never really wondered about her. Besides, I remembered our discussing how Stanton had married her because of her family's money and he was the one who arranged for her to buy The Thrill-Seeker. That was a big misdirection."
"Right. So now, what do we do? Unfortunately I can't ask Becker to get an arrest warrant," Sidney asked.
John nodded his head in agreement. "If the tape was admissible, then we could have done so. But, it's not. Furthermore, we've no hard evidence linking her to the organization."
"Maybe if we get Hawk, we can convince him to turn in evidence against her," Lois suggested. She was a little disappointed at not being able to get Mrs. Stanton, even though she knew that their hands were tied due to the law.
"Perhaps. We'll have to act fast. From what Jimmy told us, she seemed to have some clue that we're on to the organization. If she does, I believe Hawk and Stanton know as well," Clark interjected. "They could be preparing to fly the coup soon."
They all agreed on his observations. Sidney assured them that based on the current testimonies and evidence gathered, her partner would be able to obtain the warrants without much trouble. They got down to review the evidence already gathered where Lois and Clark spotted some tentative mention of another person who was running the show. While none of the evidence directly mentioned Mrs. Stanton's connections to the syndicate, all four were pleased that they were heading in the right direction.
"You never know, some of these people might have the evidence we need," Sidney remarked, thinking positively.
"So how much of this will you allow us to print?" Lois asked, changing the subject. Now that the case seemed to almost come to an end, she wished to ensure that the Planet would be getting its rightful due as she saw it. It wasn't enough to get an exclusive on this. Looking at the evidence and the hint of things going on within the organization and University, there was enough material for Clark and her to not only do a series on the syndicate, but also the University's policies, students' rights and more. This story could be the one to win them the Pulitzer.
John looked at Sidney, since officially this was her investigation. As far as Met.P.D. knew, he was on vacation. Sidney sat back, thinking. "Well, you know you won't be able to print Theresa's name. Nor will it be possible to print the girls' names either."
Lois and Clark both nodded. They were aware that these people needed the protection afforded to them. Anonymity is just one aspect of that protection.
With a grin, Sidney went on to say, "You could use the tapes; while they're not admissible in court, there's nothing to stop you from using them. Of course, they might sue you for defamation. As for the evidence, we'll share as much as we can. None of this material is particularly sensitive. I think you guys should do an expose on how much damage this is causing the education system as well."
"You bet," Lois agreed, grinning back.
John raised an eyebrow in question at Clark who only shrugged his shoulder in answer. He was about to say something when his cell phone rang. "Hold on a second," he told them.
Getting up from his seat and making his way to the window, he pressed the answer button. "Lykos here," he acknowledged the other person. The other three wondered who was on the other side since John suddenly went stiff as a board and wore a frown as he listened to the person. Clark was curious but did not try to use his superpower to eavesdrop. He probably would have if John's heartbeat hadn't been steady, indicating that whatever it was, the news wasn't all that bad.
After some terse reply, John turned off his phone and stood there for a while, unmoving. He sighed softly and turned back to face the others. "I didn't believe this case could get any more complicated, but it did," he said as an opening. "That was my boss. He was apologizing for not believing me when I went to him about this case. A friend of his, Alex Treborn, just turned in more evidence for this case and insisted that this be investigated fully."
"Alex Treborn? Isn't he the partner running the show at The Thrill-Seekers?" Clark asked.
"Yes, he is. My boss said that he came over to the HQ with his lawyers and various papers incriminating Andrew Stanton, Henry Spencer and others on the Faculty to pimping and other violations. It would seem that Mr. Treborn received the information from his partner, Mrs. Stanton, who had chanced upon them in her house. His lawyers were there to ensure that it went on record that both partners were fully cooperating with the authorities on this matter and that their rights were to be protected."
"Sounds as if Mr. Treborn is protective of his partner. Think he's involved?" Lois asked, suspicious of the turn of events.
"Maybe, maybe not. I've checked his background before and he came up clean. But then so have all our suspects." John shrugged. "Anyway, Sidney?"
Sidney looked at him questioningly.
"You might want to contact the field office here to inform the Captain about your investigation. Just so, no one would be overstepping their bounds and muddy the water for us."
Sidney smiled, thinking how cute John was as he went into his 'take-charge' mode. "Right," she assured him. "In fact, it would be better if we go down there ourselves. Then we can appropriate the evidence and also find out what really happened."
"What about your cover?" Lois asked, concerned.
"It's not likely to be affective anymore. Things are coming to a head very rapidly. It's time for Agent Sidney Geraki to make her appearance, especially if we get those arrest and search warrants. I would need to be the one coordinating the effort since it's basically my case," Sidney explained.
After discussing for a while longer, they split up; Sidney and John were proceeding to Met.P.D. HQ, and Lois and Clark were heading to Professor Kelton's apartment where they could peruse the information that they'd collected so far.
Hawk signed the UPS form and handed the package to the lady over the counter. With luck, Lykos would receive the package by tomorrow and the organization would fall, together with the woman who was behind it all. By then, he'd be far away from Metropolis, heading for the beaches of the Cayman Islands. He didn't know what Andy's plans were, but he definitely didn't wish to be around when the roof caved in, so to speak.
After meeting Andy, he had returned to his house and had waited for a phone call, confirming that Ben was safely out of anyone's reach. Once he had that reassurance, he had taken out the evidence he had secretly gathered and stashed over the years. Evidence to prove Alicia Stanton blackmailed him into doing what he did and also evidence of Alicia's guilt in giving the orders to kill Kaylie and others before her. There were also papers to link her to the crime of laundering money through the University's funds. She was not going to be able to escape justice, he was sure of that.
Hawk made his way to his car, checking that his luggage was properly stowed away. Glancing at his watch, he calculated that he had about two and a half hours before he needed to be at the landing strip and board the private Learjet that he had hired. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since the morning. That reminder prompted him to stop at a nearby pizza joint to grab a bite.
Sidney and John stepped in through the door of Met. P. D. Headquarters, Vice Section. All around them, organized chaos reigned. Not one of the officers was sitting idle at their desk. "Welcome to the madhouse," joked John as he led her through the bullpen.
"No problem. You should see the madhouse that passes for my office. This is mild compared to that," Sidney assured him.
"Which department do you work in exactly? I don't think you've mentioned it before," he asked curiously.
She opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by someone shouting John's name. "Lykos. What are you doing here? I thought you were on vacation?" a heavy-set man greeted him, slapping him on his back so forcefully that John's slighter frame jerked forward.
"Ouch! Jim, you don't know your own strength," John complained. "Sidney, I like you to meet a colleague and good friend of mine, Jim Welsh. Jim, Sidney Geraki."
"Nice to meet you Sidney. But, John must be a cheap date if this is the best place he could bring you to," Jim teased his friend.
"Actually John's not my date."
"She's not my date."
John and Sidney spoke at the same time. Jim looked from one to the other before asking, "You're sure?"
"Yes, Sidney is an FBI agent who's here to see the Captain."
Jim frowned. "This is about the prostitution ring at Met. U., right?" he asked, making an educated guess. The whole department was in an uproar over the matter. From the evidence given by one Mr. Treborn, it seemed that the operation was really huge. It wasn't surprising that the FBI got called in this matter.
Sidney smiled, saying, "Yes, it is. So if you'll excuse us, Det. Welsh?"
"Of course," Jim assured her. He watched as John and Sidney passed him. John's hand was settled at Sidney's back, an intimate gesture that Jim thought neither Sidney nor John was aware of. It probably seemed natural to them. He wondered how John had met her and the reason he was escorting her as they both disappeared into the Captain's office.
John's captain was quite glad to hand over the case to the FBI. Given the magnitude of scandal that could arise, he hadn't relished the thought of handling the high profile nature of the case. He wasn't surprised that John had been carrying out his own investigation but did warn him not to pull any more such stunts. Furthermore, he had been agreeable enough to let John continue to participate in the investigation. But then, both Sidney and John realized that with John on the team, any credits to be obtained from the case would make its way to the Vice Section of Met. P.D. without the accompanying headaches. Still, as long as the captain was cooperating, neither was willing to call him on it.
With the new evidence in hand, they went over to interview Mr. Alex Treborn who was more than willing to assist. By the end of the session, they came to the conclusion that Alex wasn't involved in the operation at all. Given that he only found out that very evening, it was likely Alicia Stanton's way of removing herself from the suspect list by bringing the evidence to him.
Lois and Clark reached their destination at about the same time as Sidney and John. This time, Lois learned her lesson and made Clark go in first to switch on the light. She wasn't about to bruise herself on another piece of furniture.
"All right, come on in," Clark invited her, as he dumped the pile of papers and tapes onto the sofa. He looked up to find his fianc‚e deep in thought. "A dollar for your thoughts?" he offered, smiling a little.
Her eyes began to focus, losing that almost dreamy look to them. She flashed him a wistful smile. "Are my thoughts worth that much?" she asked softly.
He stepped up to her and gazed down into her eyes without touching her. "No. They're worth more," he replied just as softly, but intensely. There was no mistaking the seriousness of his comment.
She brushed her fingertips against his cheek. "What did I do to deserve you?"
"Nothing. It's me who's fortunate. You came into my life at a point where I had almost given up searching for someone who could light that spark within me," Clark whispered, his voice almost shaking with emotions. "And since then, you've taught me how to live. You've helped me find a way to be myself. If anyone has anything to do to deserve what he's got, it's me."
It was Lois who made the first move and embraced him tightly. "Oh, Clark," she sighed into his chest, touched by what he had said. "All right, let's agree that we both deserve each other. If not for the good points, well then for being hopeless idiots," she laughed, lightening up the mood.
"There's that," Clark agreed, pulling her closer to him before dropping his lips on hers for a lingering kiss. Unfortunately, they were interrupted by the phone. "Should I answer it?" his lips moving barely an inch from hers.
The phone rang again, spoiling the mood. They reluctantly pulled apart as he turned to pick up the phone. "Hello," Clark growled into the phone, not really feeling charitable to whoever interrupted them.
"Professor Kelton?" a woman's voice asked.
"Yes, who wants to know?" Clark asked, now alert. He recognized the voice. It was Alicia Stanton. Why was she calling him? He motioned Lois to use the phone in the kitchen to listen in. She quietly picked up the phone and placed it to her ear, just in time to hear Alicia's reply.
"Someone who could help you with your problems," Alicia stated.
"What problems? Who are you?" Clark asked, now truly curious at her motives.
"You owe about a hundred thousand dollars in gambling debts, and you really thought that getting this job might help you raise enough money to pay them off. Well, you're wrong. The University is going to be in a lot of trouble within the next few days and I doubt very much that it'll be able to get out of that trouble anytime soon."
"How do you know this? Why are you telling me this?" Clark narrowed his eyes, suspecting where this might be leading.
"I'm calling as a friend. I could help you raise that kind of money easily. What's more, I don't want to see you trapped by the upcoming situation at the Met. U. Are you interested?"
"Look lady, I don't know who you are but no one can raise that kind of money so easily. Not by legal means, anyhow," Clark said as if offended, playing his character to a hilt. His facial expressions, however, contradicted the tone of voice he was using.
Lois desperately wanted to laugh at the faces he was making but didn't dare do it while she was holding the phone. She mouthed 'stop it' to him. His response was to make another face at her, before grinning.
"Professor Kelton, I didn't say anything about its legality. All I'm asking is whether you're interested. This is probably the only chance you're getting to raise the money." Alicia's tone was frigid.
Clark suspected that she was controlling her temper. "I'm sure I can find other ways," he baited.
"No, you're wrong. The owner of your I.O.U. notes will not accept anything less than your full cooperation," Alicia stated directly.
Lois and Clark exchanged looks; the plan Clark had laid out earlier was bearing fruit. "Are you implying that you're the one holding my I.O.U.?"
"Exactly, Professor. I'm willing to wipe off the debt if you're willing to help me. But if you're not…"
Lois raised her eyebrow at the implied threat.
"What do you want me to do?"
"I'd rather not say it on the phone. Why don't we arrange to meet sometime tomorrow?" Alicia suggested smugly.
"Where and when?"
She named the time and place, to which Clark agreed. After the phone call ended, Clark turned to Lois who was grinning widely. "So?"
Her grin became wider and there was a wicked twinkle in her eyes. "We've got her now. Get Sidney to wire you."
"Good idea. Now where were we?" he asked, his voice turning husky.
Lois laughed in delight. "We were about to do some work, that's what."
In response, Clark gave a groan. "Yes, ma'am," he said with a mock salute.
"Don't worry, farmboy. Once we're finished with the investigation, we'll ask Perry for time off…"
"And we can elope." Clark sounded so hopeful that Lois had to laugh again.
"I'm sure you want your parents to be there, at the very least," she told him. "I want them there too."
"So, we can get them to organize it for us. We'll take Superman Express to Smallville and get married there," he suggested, giving her a puppy dog look.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Lois agreed, leaning forward to steal a kiss as she couldn't resist him. They both then turned to the pile of papers they had brought back from John's office and got down to work.
The new day dawned. For the denizens of Metropolis University, the day began as per normal. No one noticed that President Spencer and his secretary were both missing. No one noticed that six girls weren't in any of their morning classes. Nor did anyone notice that Professors Andrew Stanton, Jerome Kelton and Ms. Endora Sims weren't at their offices either.
Andy had surprised Hawk when he turned up unexpectedly at the airstrip. However, Hawk didn't turn his old friend away when he asked to join him. As the sun climbed the horizon, Hawk and Andy found themselves in the Learjet in deep discussion about Alicia. Hawk found out that Andy had cleaned out all of the money from his and Alicia's joint account and transferred the money to a Swiss account. He also had arranged for their joint investments to be liquidated and their properties around the US to be sold overnight.
Andy didn't care how much was made, only that he had deprived Alicia of most of her sources of income. He knew that she had money and properties of her own, which he couldn't touch, but those were not enough for her lifestyle. With the syndicate brought down, she would become desperate. He only wished that he could be there when she found out what he did. Still, the Cayman Islands were a good substitute; beautiful beaches and beautiful ladies, what more could a man want?
The morning found John and Clark sleeping on the floor of Kelton's apartment while the ladies shared the bed. They had retired in the wee hours of the morning after putting together all the evidence and creating an action plan to trap Alicia Stanton. Lois and Sidney had ganged up on the guys when it came to the question of who should get the bed. Of course, there was no other conclusion to that discussion which would satisfy them.
Sidney was the first one to stir as she felt the vibrations of her cell phone. Sleepily, she answered it, "Hello?"
"Rise and shine. The early bird catches the worm," Chris's voice drifted to her ears. "You might like to know that both Andrew Stanton and Henry Spencer are gone."
That woke her up immediately. "WHAT!!"
Beside her, Lois jolted awake and so did John and Clark. They all gathered around her, wondering what had happened.
"Yep, it would seem that they had flown the coup," Becker confirmed.
"Any ideas where they might have gone?" Sidney asked, mouthing to the others the bad news.
"Cayman Islands, from the looks of it. Spencer booked a Learjet. The pilot filed a flight schedule early last night."
"Can we retrieve them, you think?"
"It'll be tricky, but I think we can get help from the local authorities. I'll see what I can do. The warrants are ready, though, so that'll help."
"Great. Another thing, Mrs. Stanton contacted Clark last night. We might still be able to get her."
"All right then, seems like we both have our work focus. Good luck," Chris said.
"Contact me if you've any progress to report," Sidney ordered before disconnecting the call.
She quickly updated the rest on what was happening. John cursed himself for not blindly assuming that Stanton and Spencer were going to stick around. If Mrs. Stanton knew about their investigation, so would those two men.
"It's not your fault, John. Besides, if it's anyone's fault, all of us are responsible," Sidney tried to pacify him. Both Lois and Clark nodded their heads in agreement.
"Yes, John. How could we have foreseen that they would act so fast? What's more important at this moment is to carry on as planned and let Becker handle the retrieval of Spencer and Stanton," Clark added.
"I agree. The most important person to arrest is Alicia Stanton. We cannot afford to let her escape," Lois voiced her opinion.
As the day progressed, the administration and faculty members of Met. U. were surprised when their offices were invaded by FBI agents with search and arrest warrants. The news spread around campus more rapidly than the bushfires in Australia and classes ground to a halt. Rumor had it that the Special Agent-in-charge of the investigation was actually Ms. Endora Sims, a faculty member from the Computational Science department. She was said to have been an undercover agent who managed to infiltrate some sort of syndicate that existed on campus. There were also rumors that President Spencer and some very senior faculty members were involved in the ring and so were some of the students, all of which were female.
There were other rumors as well, making everyone puzzled at what was the truth. The University declared that there would be no classes for the rest of the week, while the FBI was looking through the records and questioning material witnesses. It also encouraged everyone to cooperate with the FBI if they were approached. Sidney, heading the FBI team, had her hands full as more and more evidence was being gathered. Several of the people arrested were cooperating in exchange for lighter sentences. A few others, like Gary, came forward out of their own volition to help with the investigation. Gary gave his testimony about his colleague's, Ben, illegal hacking into students' records and emails. However, no one could find Ben or Camille, for that matter. The FBI agents who were assigned to arrest her came back empty handed. They informed Sidney that the apartment was empty and that all of Camille's belongings were gone. 'Two more people who escaped,' Sidney thought grimly.
Sidney turned to find one of the agents trying to catch her attention. "Yes, Agent Wilson?"
"There was a package that was meant for Det. Lykos." He handed the package to her.
Sidney frowned and would have dismissed it altogether except for the label that caught her eye. It was addressed to Detective John Lykos, Vice. But the address was given as his office on campus. Somehow, the person who sent it knew of his true identity.
"Open the package, Agent Wilson," she made the decision.
"I'll take full responsibility for it," she assured him.
When they opened it, Sidney grinned. "Well, Wilson. Seems like we hit the jackpot," she said triumphantly.
John checked Clark's wire once more. "Everything seems to be in order. You comfortable?" he asked him.
Clark tested things out by walking around the very tight space of the van. "Seems fine," he assured John and the FBI agent who would be monitoring the wire.
"O.K., you're all set. Good luck," John told him.
Clark flashed a grin, before stepping out of the van and walked the short distance to the park where he agreed to meet Alicia. He was early but that was good. It would make Alicia think that he was nervous from her implied threat.
From the other side of the park, Alicia got out of her car. She was late due to a surprise phone call from her lawyer. He told her that Andy had served her with divorce papers and a letter which he had only received that morning. He asked if she could come to his office to look at them. Upon reading the letter, she had almost blown a fuse. Andy had left her with almost nothing. If it had not been for her trust fund, she would have had to declare bankruptcy.
She truly needed Kelton to agree to her plans if she were to recoup her losses and get away from Metropolis. She hated Metropolis. It was Andy who persuaded her to settle there. Now, he had betrayed her. The thought of his audacity brought her blood to a boil. Spying Kelton, she shook herself out of the mood. This was not the time to ponder over the revenge she would exact on Andy.
Clark was sitting casually on a bench, watching some kids playing ball nearby. He knew Alicia was approaching since he recognized her from the photos he had been shown. However, since they had never met, it would be a little suspicious if he indicated that he knew her.
He looked up to see an elegant lady in her mid-forties standing beside the bench. There was a grace to her that was evident from the way she carried herself. Clark wondered what drove such a woman to do what she did. Greed, perhaps? Or was it just the thrill of being able to get away with it?
"Yes, I am," he answered even though she hadn't asked him. He stood up, courteous even to a criminal. "You never introduced yourself, Ms…"
"Stanton. Alicia Stanton."
"Ms. Stanton," he repeated, nodding. "Please have a seat."
After both of them were comfortable, Clark decided to take the lead. "So how did you know that the University is in trouble? And how is it that you're holding my I.O.U.s?"
"Let's just say that I've good sources. You don't really need to know the answers to those questions. What you need to know is that I hold your I.O.U. notes and that your girlfriend's life depends on your cooperation."
Clark narrowed his eyes at the direct threat. "I don't appreciate being threatened, Ms. Stanton," he told her coldly.
"Mr. Kelton, if you don't appreciate being threatened, you shouldn't have started gambling and incurring debt in the first place," she retorted. "Perhaps you don't love her as much as she thought you do, eh?"
Clark gritted his teeth and clenched his fists at the remark. Even though his situation wasn't the truth, he still resented her for belittling his feelings for Lois. "What exactly do you want me to do?" he muttered in the end.
Alicia smiled, feeling triumphant at getting her way. She launched into her plans and how Kelton and Alexa would fit into the scheme, all of which were being recorded by the wire Clark was wearing.
"Are we agreed then?" she asked him, finally.
"No, not quite," Clark replied, a cold smile on his lips. Anyone who knew Clark would say that the expression was very alien to him.
"What do you mean 'not quite'?" Alicia's voice had risen slightly.
"What he meant is that you're under arrest," John spoke up, suddenly appearing from behind the bushes.
Alicia looked at him stunned before she started running. However, all her exits were blocked by FBI agents lying in wait. As they took her away, she screamed obscenities, contrary to the elegant image which she had projected when she arrived.
"Well, Clark. Looks like she's going to be in prison for a long time," John remarked. "I've just got a call from Sidney. Seems that someone's been collecting evidence against her for a long time and only now decided to post it to me. Sidney took the liberty of opening the package and got the 'treat'. My bet is that it might either be Stanton or Spencer who sent it."
Clark nodded. "Good. With that evidence and what we've got here, I hope she will not resurface, ever. I've only met one person who's as manipulative before."
John raised his eyebrow in question.
"Maggie, Jung Hoon, thanks for coming," Lois said to her friends when they were seated in the dining area.
"What's up, Alexa? I've not seen you since yesterday," Maggie greeted her.
"And you didn't turn up for class today. Not that you missed much since Ms. Sims wasn't there either," added Jung Hoon.
"Talking about Ms. Sims, have you heard the rumors that she's actually an undercover agent? She's here on campus right this minute, taking the University apart, piece by piece," Maggie informed them. "I don't understand why they're doing this," Jung Hoon complained.
"I do, and that's the reason I asked you down here. We need your help." Lois explained to them about the investigation, the various players and her real identity. It took a while and she felt bad when she saw how they reacted to her revelation. Their expression of shock and hurt was expected but still it made her feel guilty for deceiving them and taking advantage of their friendship. She ended her narration with a heartfelt "I'm sorry, Maggie, Jung Hoon."
Neither responded for a while, trying to absorb what she had said. Both were truly shocked that such things as a prostitution ring could spring up in a well respected University like Met. U. The fact that it was run by professors who held the trust of their students left a bitter taste of betrayal in their mouth. The magnitude of corruption within campus was also staggering.
"You've nothing to be sorry about, Al…Lois," Maggie finally spoke up. "You were doing your job. While it's painful to think that we've been played the fool, we have to accept it and move on."
Lois winced, misunderstanding that Maggie meant her playing them for fools. "I never meant to fool you. And our friendship is not a cover. I truly appreciate your friendship for I never had such friendship during my college days."
"Oh no. I didn't mean you. I meant the professors who betrayed the trust given to them in good faith," Maggie hurried to reassure her. "As for your cover, it was understandable. Though I'm glad that I get to be friends with a famous reporter." She flashed Lois a grin.
Jung Hoon, who had been quiet till then, also grinned. "Well Lois, how can we help?"
Lois sighed in relief, glad that she wasn't about to lose two very good friends. "Let me explain the background of this idea first. I am a Met. U. alumnus and do not want to see the University close down because of this incident. Don't let it fool you that there won't be repercussions to this scandal. Once it gets out, a lot of parents will think twice before letting their children apply to Met. U. And a lot of good caliber professors will not deign to work here for fear of tainting their reputation."
The other two nodded, both agreeing with her. "So, what can we do?"
She told them her idea of garnering the support of students and alumni to make the university the first of its kind to be a student run university. That the Board of Trustee would be made up of elected members of the Alumni body who would hold the office for a term of 4 years. They would be elected by the students and alumni. The student union would be given more say in the administrative matters. It was a rough sketch but they agreed that it could work if they had enough people interested.
"Clark and I are thinking of doing a series of articles focusing on the rebuilding of Met. U. This will give publicity to the whole issue. What you need to do is to spread the idea around and get the momentum going," Lois told them.
Both Maggie and Jung Hoon were excited by the idea and by the time Lois left them, they were well into brainstorming ways to make things happen.
The investigation went on for several days, most of it consisted of taking down depositions from various people and sifting through the records. Another breakthrough was made by Becker when he managed to get the help of the local authorities to arrest Spencer and Stanton. They were waiting to be deported back to the US, where they would face the criminal charges against them. However, no one was able to find Camille or Ben.
Lois and Clark, once again, clinched the exclusive on the Met. U. scandal as it was known and wrote two award winning series on the follow-up to the scandal. One was entitled Wounded Angels, a series of articles that dealt with the repercussions the affair had on the psychology of the Met. U. community as a whole and as individuals and dynamics of the community. The other focused on the rebuilding of Met. U. and the positive changes that were taking place.
John went back to work, though he was still assisting with the tail end of the investigation. Sidney was ordered back to Washington, relinquishing the investigation over to the SAC of the Metropolis office.
"Where am I?" Lois looked around. It was that other place again, with the 'Clark' figure. "Oh no. Not again."
"Relax, Lois." 'Clark' suddenly appeared by her side. "You're not in trouble this time," 'he' reassured her with a grin.
"Then why am I here?" she challenged 'his' statement.
"Shall we be comfortable?" 'Clark' asked, gesturing to the sofa which suddenly appeared behind them.
Lois sighed, knowing that she wasn't going anywhere until this particular interview was over. "Might as well," she agreed.
After getting comfortable, she turned to her host and waited patiently. Well, as patiently as she knew how. As if to test her patience, her host only stared back, a smug smile affixed to 'his' face.
"Well?" she asked, finally losing her patience.
"Congratulations, Lois," 'Clark' said, as 'he' leaned to give her a warm hug. "I knew you could do it. That you could overcome your fears and take the necessary step forward."
"Did you? So, you think I'm doing the right thing?" she asked 'him', suddenly feeling relieved. It was a difficult decision for her and there was a tiny part of her that was still uncertain. It was good that her subconscious mind approved of it.
"Yes, I am. In fact, I'm very proud of you," 'Clark' told her, beaming.
Impulsively, she hugged 'him'. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Live long and prosperous," 'Clark' wished her before disappearing.
Unlike before, the scene seemed to fade away as she lost consciousness.
"Lois. Wake up," a familiar voice called out. She felt hands shaking her shoulders.
Suddenly Lois bolted out of the bed, her mind snapping awake. "Oh my God. Martha! Did I oversleep? Oh no, where's my dress? I need to shower. How am I going to explain to Clark?"
Martha laughed as she watched her soon-to-be daughter-in- law run around panicking and babbling. "Stop, Lois. Take a breather. You're not late. Besides, Clark will always wait for you, no matter what," she calmed Lois down with a saucy wink.
Lois took a deep breath and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Martha. I guess I'm having a panic attack."
"As long as you're not backing out of this, I'll forgive you. I've waited for this moment for a long time — to finally get a daughter. I knew from the moment Clark came back here, bursting with news about being accepted by the Planet and about this beautiful reporter he met that you were the one for him. Meeting you during the corn festival sealed my resolve to see you two get together. Lois, like any man, Clark has his stupid moments. In those moments, always remind yourself that he truly loves you and you shouldn't give in to the impulse to kill him," Martha said with a grin.
Lois chuckled, a little teary eyed. She was touched by Martha's confession of wanting her for a daughter. "Martha, I wish my mom was as supportive," she said, as she remembered the conversation she had with her mom a couple of weeks ago.
"Mother, guess what?" Lois spoke excitedly into the phone.
Dripping with sarcasm, Ellen replied, "Don't tell me. You won a Pulitzer for one of your articles."
Ellen went on as if she didn't hear Lois's interruption, berating her daughter. "I just don't understand you. You literarily have to risk your life for every story, don't you? Why can't you settle down and marry a good man who will take good care of you? No, you want to be Superwoman."
This time Lois forcefully interrupted her, "Mother! I'm calling to tell you that your wish has been granted. Clark and I are getting married in two weeks in Smallville. Will you let Superman fly you there?"
"Clark! You're really going to marry Clark?" Ellen shouted into the phone, making Lois wince and rub her ears on the other side. "Lois, you're so stubborn. He'll be just like your father. Who knows how many mistresses he has, the way he's been running out on you? Now, Lex Luthor was a good candidate."
"Mother, he was a criminal and he was also having an affair with his secretary," Lois reminded her. "Clark is not like Father at all. He doesn't have another mistress. Now Mother, are you coming to my wedding or not?"
Ellen sighed. "No, not if you're marrying Clark. Lois, you're making a mistake and I don't want to watch you make it," she said, making it sound like a big sacrifice on her part.
Lois gritted her teeth, wishing she could shake her mother through the phone. "I'm not making a mistake. You're the one making the mistake if you don't attend. If you do change your mind, call me." She hung up the phone.
"There, there. It's not right for a bride to cry on her wedding day," Martha cooed, giving her a quick hug. Her own eyes were suspiciously bright. "She'll come around, Lois. In her own way, she wants the best for you. It's her fears that are keeping her from acknowledging that you're right."
"Thanks, Martha. I'm glad you're going to be my mom as well," Lois said, giving the older woman a big hug.
Martha beamed at her remark. "Thank you," she said simply. "Now, why don't you go and get ready? I'll send the girls up to help."
The girls, as Martha put it, were actually Lois's bridesmaids. Lucy, Maggie and Sidney were asked and accepted the role with pleasure. Lucy was the only one of Lois's family to attend the wedding. It was something that Lois appreciated so much since her father couldn't be reached at all and her mother refused to come.
Superman had fetched the girls to Smallville the day before where they had organized a small hen's night for Lois. It was then Lois found out that Sidney was leaving the FBI. Later on, Clark told Lois that John was setting up his own private investigation firm. It immediately occurred to her that Sidney could be joining John's firm, even though she hadn't indicated it. Lois made a note to herself to pry some more information from the reluctant FBI agent.
Soon it was time for the wedding. She had spied Sidney and John kissing earlier in a corner of the house, both of them quite oblivious to the commotion around them as everyone ran around trying to get ready to go to the church. Her suspicions about their relationship were confirmed.
However, she couldn't dwell on it for long as a long distance call came in. It was Jung Hoon who had gone back to Korea for the holidays. She nearly cried listening to him recite her a Korean poem about happiness and prosperity for the future. Luckily, Lucy and Maggie managed to tease her out of the teary mood before Martha bustled them out the door.
However, they found themselves in a quandary since the car reserved for the bride and bridesmaids couldn't fit all five of them. Lois, recalling what she had seen, pounced on the chance to do a little matchmaking of her own. "Martha, let Sidney go with John," she suggested, turning to John. "You've got room in your car, right?" she asked him.
"Good, it's settled then." Lois didn't allow him to disagree before hugging Sidney. "See you there, Sidney." She immediately jumped into the car and drove off.
Sidney and John looked at the disappearing car with mouths wide open. Hearing chuckles behind them, they turned to see the groom grinning at their reactions.
"That's my little tornado," Clark remarked in a proud and possessive tone. "Well, Sidney. Seems you're stuck with John since we don't have room in my car either," he said, indicating his entourage. Perry, Jimmy and Jonathon were already in the other car with Wayne behind the driver's seat.
John shook his head ruefully. "O.K. Clark. I guess we'll see you both at the church."
Sidney and John climbed into his car and followed the groom's car to the Smallville's church. "Do you think Lois was trying to play matchmaker?" John asked, breaking the comfortable silence.
"Seems like it. Though, she's a little too late there," Sidney answered with a grin, as she turned to the man she had pledged her life to.
With his free right hand, John took her left hand and placed a soft kiss on the ring finger. If one was careful to look, there was a slight band of lighter skin around her tan. It was as if the area had not been exposed to the sun recently.
"Aye, I'd agree," he said, smiling softly at his wife of a month.
As she stood on the threshold of Smallville's church, she recalled the dream she had the night before. It was true, she was taking the necessary step forward, metaphorically and physically. But she also knew that she wouldn't be taking that step alone. For beside her was her best friend and, more than that, her other half, Clark Kent.
"Are you ready?" he leaned down to whisper in her ears.
She gave his arm a squeeze to indicate her readiness. His answering smile warmed her like even the sun couldn't. With the music playing, they took the step forward together down the aisle.
The song that inspired Lois:
*Does he love me, I want to know
How can I tell if he love me so?…
If you want to know if he loves you so, it's in his kiss*
—It's in his kiss by Vonda Shepard