By ML Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: January 2003
Summary: Kryptonite is the only substance which can kill Clark. So why is Lois — his wife! — using it against him? Find out why in this dramatic tearjerker.
This is a fanfic based on the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. No copyright infringement is intended.
I do, however, use characters from that show in my story. I might keep the characters absolutely consistent with the way they are in the series or I might use a little literary license in portraying the characters. Either way, I recognize that the characters I borrow from the show are not mine.
I also use portions from the various episodes of Lois and Clark in my story. Sometime I might use these portions in context and sometimes I might use them out of context. The portions taken from the series might include, but are not limited to, using actual words, phrases and/or sentences, paraphrasing, twisting sentences around to change the meaning, using larger segments and/or simply alluding to an idea. I sometimes have the same characters say or think a particular line, idea and/or segment and sometimes I give those lines, ideas and/or segments to someone else. Wherever such portions are used, I make no claim to being the author and give credit to those to whom it is due.
Furthermore, I recognize that putting the above disclaimer on this story does not justify any breaches of copyright and/or breaches of trademark which might be contained herein. I rely on two things to keep from being sued. First, the mercy of WB and any and all other holders of rights to the series, the individual episodes and/or the characters. Second, I rely on the fact that I am not deriving any profit from either the writing or the posting of this story.
[For anyone following the evolution of my disclaimer, I suspect that by the time I have found the perfect disclaimer, it will be several pages long <vbg>.]
My thanks to Gerry Anklewicz for staying with me throughout this venture (in spite of her hectic schedule this semester) and providing tips and comments on my story as it was coming together. And my thanks to Carol Malo for taking time to read and comment on my story. And to the people on Zoomway's message boards, thanks for your ideas, many of which I have also incorporated into my story. My thanks also to Wendy Richards for editing this story for the Archives.
Special Guest Appearance: I would like to thank Cookie for agreeing to make a special guest appearance in this story. Your dog biscuits are forthcoming. And thanks to Gerry for telling me that he might be available. Your dog biscuits are forthcoming, too.
Lois took a deep breath as she reached out with trembling hands to pick up the lead-lined box sitting on the kitchen table. She fought back tears as the reality of what she was about to do began to sink in. After picking up the box and a lead-lined vest Dr. Klein had given her, she slowly made her way out of the kitchen and ascended the stairs.
As she entered their bedroom, she tried to formulate another plan to handle the situation, but once again this was the only solution she could think of. She set the box on the small nightstand beside their bed and backed away.
Closing her eyes, she swallowed hard. She was relieved that they had told Dr. Klein about Superman's secret identity when they first found out she was pregnant. But never in her wildest imaginings had she thought she would be asking him to provide her with the crystal in that box when they revealed Clark's secret to him. Yet here she was — with the one substance guaranteed to incapacitate the Man of Steel.
She was unable to take her eyes off the box as she began to get undressed. She had no doubt that Clark would be home soon. If this was going to work, she was going to have to give the best performance of her life. That meant she had to find a way to relax. After all, if she couldn't control her heart rate, he was going to know something was up. And given how paranoid he was these days… She took and let out a deep breath.
She swallowed again, this time in fear, as it occurred to her what he might do to her if he discovered the plan before she could implement it. It was the first time she had ever been truly afraid of Clark.
As she climbed into bed and turned out the light, her mind drifted back to a very different night — to a very different feeling. At the time, she would never have believed she could be lying here now, even considering doing something like this. How had things gone so terribly wrong?
FOUR WEEKS EARLIER
Lois wasn't exactly awake when she felt the covers move and the bed beside her depress, but she wasn't exactly asleep either. After three years of marriage, she seemed to have trouble sleeping soundly when Clark was out on a Superman rescue. It wasn't that she precisely woke up when he would crawl out of bed, or that she would stay awake while he was gone. But until she felt him crawl back into bed, her sleep was restless.
Her husband might be Superman, but Lois knew better than anyone that he wasn't nearly as invulnerable as people seemed to think. Of course, there was always the chance that someone else might have discovered kryptonite — or some other way to penetrate that tough exterior. But more than that, there were always the psychological dangers he faced when he encountered a situation that was more than even a Superman could handle. Until she knew he was okay, both physically and mentally, she found that she could not fully relax.
She didn't open her eyes as she felt him curl up against her back, laying his arm across her waist to place a hand on her stomach. She smiled slightly. He was obviously thinking about the news they had received last week — that she was pregnant. After finally accepting that they were not going to be able to conceive, it was their own private miracle. Still not opening her eyes, she turned her head towards him. Picking up on her hint, his lips lightly brushed hers. She moaned softly at the sweetness of his taste. How had she gotten so lucky?
"Everything go okay?" she asked, shifting positions so that she could look at Clark through mostly closed eyes.
His eyebrows furrowed for a moment before he replied in the affirmative. The sleep disappeared almost immediately from Lois' mind. If there was one thing she knew, it was that Clark tended to minimize things — especially if something was wrong. He had done it ever since they'd met. He had done it when he'd begun to shrink after a woman Lois had gone to high school with had invented a method of shrinking people. He had done it when he had begun having flashbacks to being trapped in his spacecraft when they had encountered Baron Sunday. And he had done it when he had found himself not in complete control of his powers after being exposed to red kryptonite.
In the years since, he still showed a tendency to hide things from her when he thought she would be upset. The difference was that she had learned to recognize the signs. The small hesitation in his voice before he had answered her question set off all the warning bells.
"So what exactly was the emergency?" she asked.
"Nothing much," Clark replied. "Just a jewelry store robbery. The bad guys are now the guests of Metropolis' finest." As he spoke he leaned in, softly touching his lips to the hollow of her throat.
She stifled a moan as she fought what she suspected was his attempt to distract her. She was about to speak again when he began trailing his lips up the side of her neck. Pushing her head into the pillow and fighting the urge to surrender to the feelings he was provoking in her, she brought her hands up to his head and pulled him away from her neck.
"What?" he asked.
"Clark," was the only word she said in response, but her eyes held an unmistakable warning.
He hesitated for a moment before shaking his head.
"It was nothing, really," he responded. He let out a breath when she didn't change her expression. "Okay. It was just that I got… I don't even know quite how to describe it. I mean, I landed in the jewelry store and for a moment… I just felt weird. But the bad guys are in custody and everything's fine so…"
"What do you mean by 'weird'?" she interrupted.
"Lois, it was nothing."
"Clark," she said again.
"Okay, so I got a little nervous. I don't know why. And since everything worked out all right…"
"Well, anxious, I guess."
"I don't know. It was just a feeling — you know, like when you just have this feeling that something's going to go wrong. But once the police arrived and I got everyone out of the jewelry store, it went away. I don't know why we're even talking about this." He leaned back in and once again kissed her neck. "I can think of better ways to spend the time." He trailed his lips up to nibble lightly on her earlobe as his hands slipped under the edge of the oversized t-shirt she was wearing. "In fact, I'm not entirely sure why we're talking at all." With those words, his lips descended on hers.
Lois moaned softly, finally allowing him to distract her. Okay, so it was a little weird. But she knew the feeling. After all, every now and then, she got spooked about something when there was no reason to be anxious. If it could happen to her, why not Superman? Besides… She slipped her arms around her husband and allowed herself to get caught up in how he was making her feel — and anxious was certainly not the word to describe it.
"Wait," said Clark, suddenly breaking the kiss. "I don't think I checked to make sure that the door was locked before we came to bed this evening."
"What?" asked Lois, trying to pull her mind away from that kiss.
"I'll be right back," Clark said. Then, without waiting for a response, he climbed out of bed and made his way to the door to the bedroom.
"What?" asked Lois again as Clark disappeared from the room.
Lois was lost in thought as she drove to work the next morning. Clark had heard a cry for help as they had been getting dressed and as a result, she was coming in alone. But there had been a very strange moment just before he had left. He had seemed loath to leave. After so many hundreds of quick exits, it had just struck her as strange that he was so reluctant to leave this morning — after all, it wasn't as if the call had interrupted anything. Sometimes she understood, even shared, his reluctance. But this morning had just been your normal call for help. She wondered if it had something to do with her being pregnant.
She let out a slow breath. When they had found out she was pregnant, she had worried that he would become over- protective. Well, that was one thing she was going to watch very closely. She would allow him to hover a bit more than normal, but she wasn't about to allow him to take it too far. She was pregnant — not sick. Women had been getting pregnant since the birth of the human race. And she was not about to let her 'condition' control her life. She had made that very clear to Perry and if she had to, she would take on her husband.
On the other hand, she had to admit she loved how attentive he had been since they had received the news. There was something completely adorable about his excitement. Even if she really hadn't been craving pickles and ice cream for breakfast this morning, Clark seemed to enjoy it. She suspected he was going to be one of those husbands who experienced everything she did during pregnancy — from morning sickness to labor pains. Her only concern was that he might become over-protective.
A more protective attitude was probably why he had left their bed last night during the middle of an intensely passionate kiss, too. After all, when he had returned, having discovered that the door was already locked, he had been more than anxious to pick up where they had left off less than a minute before.
Having found an acceptable explanation for Clark's attitude both last night and this morning, Lois felt somewhat better. As long as he didn't take it too far, she would let him do his macho thing. After all, there was a part of her that, as much as she would never admit this to him, enjoyed his protective attitude towards his child. She chuckled softly. She had always known there was a reason she was glad he couldn't read minds. After all, if he knew what she was currently thinking, it would undermine her reputation as an independent woman, fully capable of taking care of herself.
They had originally planned to wait before telling anyone that they were pregnant. After all, they were embarking into unfamiliar territory, being the first parents of a half-kryptonian, half-human baby. They decided to wait until they were sure everything was all right before spreading the news. But then Clark had asked if they could tell his parents. He had been so excited, she hadn't had the heart to say no. Telling his parents had led to telling hers. And that was supposed to be everyone.
That decision, however, had lasted no more than one night. When they had walked into the Daily Planet the next morning, Clark had been so excited that he might as well have been wearing a t-shirt that said, 'I knocked up Lois Lane.' Perry had taken one look at him and the gig had been up. Everyone within one square mile of the Daily Planet had known by noon.
She chuckled even now as she thought about how mystified Clark had been that people had figured it out. Lois, on the other hand, understood completely. Women might glow when they were pregnant, but kryptonians obviously beamed. At least, one particular kryptonian did. He gave the term 'proud papa' a whole new meaning.
And so far, everything about her pregnancy seemed normal. She hadn't even experienced morning sickness yet so… Her only concern at the moment was that Clark might become over-protective.
She exited the jeep and made her way into the newsroom. She had barely stepped out of the elevator when Perry bellowed for her to come into his office.
"Where's that husband of yours?" Perry asked as Lois closed the office door.
"Umm… he had an errand to run on the way here," she replied.
"Humph," Perry grunted, glancing at the clock. "Well, anyway, I thought you and Clark might be interested in this." With the words, he handed a file to Lois.
"Church appeal?" Lois said, reading the label on the file. "Perry, appeals are filed by convicted criminals as a matter of course. Why would we be interested in this one?"
"Bill Church Sr. is claiming he knew nothing about Joe the Blow being hired to blow up the Metropolis Museum."
"Apparently a witness has come forward — someone credible. This witness claims that Bill Church Jr. was trying to set up his father."
"So it seems."
"So then, that's our job — to try to find out how credible the witness is," said Lois.
"That, and to cover the appeal. The appeal is going to be heard later today. I'll get the time to you once I have it. However, if the appeal is granted and a new trial is ordered, how credible the witness is might determine whether or not the District Attorney decides to retry Church. I want you and Clark to know whether Church will be retried before the D.A.'s office makes its decision."
"We're on it, Perry," Lois replied.
Mindy Church leaned back in her chair and looked at the yellow crystal sitting on the corner of her desk. She hoped Dr. Livingston was right about this rock. The tape he had brought her of the jewelry store robbery last night certainly supported his theory. Now all they needed to do was find the right places to put pieces of the rock. And she had kind of a thought about that.
A knock at the door of her office interrupted her musings.
"Who is it?" asked Mindy distractedly. The door opened and a gangly man stumbled into the room. He always had the worst haircut — as if he regarded that as his trademark. And he practically shook with nervous energy most of the time.
"You said you wanted to see me, Mrs. Church?" asked Tommy.
"I have a sort of a problem, Tommy," Mindy said, opening a box on her desk and pulling out a cigar. Tommy was there immediately with a lighter. Mindy lit her cigar before speaking. "I need you to help me with a little something."
"Yes, Mrs. Church," Tommy replied.
Mindy immediately gave him his instructions. "I assume you can handle that," Mindy said when she had concluded explaining the situation to him.
"Yes, Mrs. Church," Tommy replied obediently. "But without knowing exactly what the effects will be, should we really be…"
"All those nasty criminals in Metropolis have ignored me. And I have lots of good ideas, Tommy. Lots and lots. Now I was kinda thinking that maybe if I could find a way to take out Superman, they'd have to listen to me. And besides, Superman has been kind of a pooper at my party — always making me fail. Until he's gone, I'm always going to fail. And I don't like failing, Tommy. I don't like it at all. So, do you think you can help me?"
"Yes, Mrs. Church," Tommy replied.
When he didn't immediately move to fulfill her order, Mindy looked confused. "So what's taking you so long?" she asked.
Tommy immediately sprang into action, picking up the rock. It was only a moment later before he was leaving Mindy's office.
Mindy set down her cigar and picked up a small dog with a bow around his neck. She pretended to give the dog a kiss on each cheek. "Well, Pookie, what do you think?" The dog licked her face. "You're right," Mindy said in response. "Mommy is brilliant."
Once Pookie was settled, Mindy once again picked up her cigar and took a drag. As she blew a perfect smoke ring, she thought about Tommy. He wasn't the smartest cookie in the cookie jar but he had been loyal to her since the beginning, although, like her, he wasn't as dumb as he pretended. When she had failed to kill Superman last time and had then set up Joey Bermuda to take the fall, Tommy had been brilliant in convincing the police that Joey was responsible. She had been amazed at how quickly the police and those two nosy reporters dismissed Joey's claim that she was behind that attempt on Superman's life — not to mention, their own.
It was some time later and Lois was carefully studying the appeal papers Perry had given her as she made her way back from the washroom. She hadn't been able to put the papers down, even during her washroom break. In fact, she was so engrossed in the argument being advanced in the brief that she never saw the photocopier repairman until she literally ran into him.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she gasped, taking a step back and meeting the eyes of the man she had hit.
"It's okay," he muttered, quickly looking and then heading away.
Lois crinkled her eyebrows as she watched him go. He looked so familiar somehow, but she couldn't quite place him.
"Hey, beautiful," came a familiar voice behind her, directing her attention elsewhere. She turned and met the eyes of her husband.
"Hey, yourself. It took you a while," she responded. "So how'd it go?"
"Fine. An oil tanker hit an iceberg in the Bering Strait," Clark responded. "What's that?" he asked, gesturing to the file.
"Oh, right," Lois replied before filling him in on what Perry had told her.
Tommy kept his head down and scampered away from Lois Lane — glad for the timely arrival of Clark Kent. When Tommy had entered the newsroom, he had been glad that neither Lane nor Kent appeared to be around. But then he had relaxed and, as a result, had run directly into Lois Lane. How could he have been so careless?
He made his way into the photocopy room and placed his toolbox on the table next to the machine. He opened the box and carefully removed two small pieces of the yellow crystal. After leaving Mindy's office, he'd had the large yellow crystal broken up into a number of smaller pieces so that he could fulfill his assignment of placing a piece in each of the assigned locations. He knew it would be counter-productive to leave one piece here — after all, what would Superman be doing using the photocopy machine? He had to find somewhere more central to leave it.
The other piece… He had seen the briefcase Lois Lane used. It opened from the top, allowing the crystal to remain undetected until such time as Lois Lane decided to clean out her briefcase. He wished he had a way to ensure she kept it on her person, but he didn't know how to make that happen. The briefcase was the next best thing. He wrapped both pieces in plain brown paper and stuck them in the pocket of his overalls before closing the toolbox.
Then, taking a deep breath, he cracked open the door to the photocopy room and looked out into the newsroom. When he realized Lane and Kent were in the conference room, he figured this was probably his best chance.
He casually stepped out and closed the door. Glancing at the conference room to make sure the occupants inside had their attention focused elsewhere, he walked quickly in the direction of Lois Lane's desk. His heart was racing as he bent over her briefcase and dropped one of the small packages inside.
"Can I help you?" asked a voice behind him.
He quickly jerked upright and turned towards the young man who had spoken.
"Umm… I just dropped a screwdriver," he said. When the man looked towards the floor as if he would help, Tommy reached into the pocket of his overalls and pulled out a screwdriver. "Oh, there it is," he said, bending over and then straightening with the screwdriver in his hand.
The young man smiled and nodded. Tommy let out a breath of relief when the young man began walking away.
Heading away from Lane's desk, he wondered where to put the second piece. He looked around before deciding that if Superman were here, he would probably stop to talk to Clark Kent — they were supposedly friends, after all. He quickly made his way to Kent's desk. Placing the piece inside without incident, he was on his way out of the newsroom almost immediately. Next stop: Star Labs.
"Can you believe that?" asked Lois after giving Clark a moment to review the appeal documents.
"It's interesting. I suppose it is possible that Bill Church Sr. knew nothing about his son hiring Joe the Blow to blow up the Metropolis Museum."
"Come on, Clark," Lois responded. "Now you're going to go back to telling me that Bill Church Sr. really was trying to dismantle Intergang."
"I told you, Lois. When I x-rayed the Cost Mart store at the time, I saw evidence of machinery being dismantled."
Lois let out a slow breath and leaned back in her chair as she looked at Clark. After a moment, she began to chuckle.
"What?" asked Clark.
"I was just thinking how difficult it sometimes is having… 'you know who' as a partner."
Clark smiled. "And how's that?"
"Well, he's always so determined to see the good in people."
"True," conceded Clark. "But then there are other advantages to having… 'you know who' as a partner."
"Not that I need his help," Lois responded fighting back a grin.
"Of course not," Clark jumped in immediately, a grin playing around his mouth as well.
"I mean, if it ever came down to a show-down between me and… 'you know who', 'you know who' wouldn't stand a chance."
"Absolutely," agreed Clark. "'You know who' has never stood a chance when it came to you."
The corner of her lip quirked up for a moment in response to his admission.
"Not that I don't appreciate his help at times," she continued. Then, leaning in closer, she placed her hand on Clark's leg under the conference room table. "Among other things."
A grin spread across Clark's face. "And just what 'other things' might you be referring to, Ms. Lane?" he asked.
Her hand moved further up his leg. "Well, last night when you…" she began.
Lois and Clark jumped apart when the door to the conference room suddenly opened and Jimmy entered the room. He looked at both of them oddly.
"What is it, Jimmy?" Lois asked, recovering her composure.
"Perry told me to let you know that Church's appeal is being heard in about an hour," he said distractedly, obviously trying to figure out exactly what he had interrupted.
"We're on it, Jimmy," said Clark, trying to redirect Jimmy's thought processes.
As Lois began gathering up the file from Perry, Jimmy made his way out of the room.
"I wonder how Mindy Church will react to the return of her husband," she said.
"Assuming his appeal is successful," Clark clarified.
"Assuming his appeal is successful," Lois confirmed.
"Well, I think she'll be thrilled. I think she really misses him."
"Clark, Mindy took over Intergang when her husband went to jail." To his look, she continued. "I know, I know. There's no proof of that. But she did. And I can't quite see her stepping aside to allow her husband back in. I mean, even if he can… poach an egg for her."
"Huh?" asked Clark.
"Years ago, when I interviewed her, I asked her why she was so bereaved. She told me that although Church had left her a string of Cost Mart stores, a store couldn't exactly… poach an egg."
Clark's eyebrows rose. "She actually said that?"
"Okay, so it might have been my phrase. But she agreed. But I don't buy it, Clark. Something tells me that Mindy Church has no shortage of men willing to… poach an egg for her."
"Maybe she really loves him."
To this comment, Lois rolled her eyes.
"Seriously, if something happened to you, it wouldn't matter to me how many stores you left me. I'd still be devastated."
"I don't think it's exactly the same thing, Clark. She's a gold digger."
"You don't know that."
"She's his son's age. Actually, if I remember correctly, she's several years younger than his son. And then, after his heart attack, she nurses him back to health, falls in love and marries him — all in the space of a couple months. Come on, Clark. How gullible do you think I am?"
"I still don't see why you are so convinced that she's the head of Intergang," Clark said. "I know that her name has come up a few time when we've been investigating stories. But do you really think Mindy Church could be the head of Intergang?" He sounded seriously skeptical.
"No one could possibly be that blonde, Clark," Lois responded, provoking a chuckle from Clark. "I'm serious. That woman couldn't possibly be as dumb as she wants us to believe. Besides, if she is a nurse, she had to make it through college. So why does she pretend to be dumb? She's trying to hide something."
He let out a breath. This was a discussion they'd been having on and off for years. And it was true that every now and then Mindy Church's name seemed to come up when they were involved in an investigation. But Clark just couldn't believe it. She seemed to him like a lonely woman who wanted to do the right thing, but just had no idea how.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" asked Lois when she had finally reassembled the file. "The traffic is going to be murder today. We probably should get going."
Clark nodded and rose to his feet. Going into the newsroom, Clark grabbed their jackets while Lois stuffed the Church file into her briefcase. She picked up the briefcase and made her way over to Clark.
"What?" she asked when she saw Clark's head lift and the expression on his face suddenly change. "What do you hear?"
"Nothing," Clark replied. "I just suddenly got the weirdest feeling that we were being watched."
Lois glanced around the newsroom. Nothing seemed out of place to her. The copy girl was running past. A delivery boy was taking donuts to Perry's office. Everyone else seemed to be tending to their business. She shook her head.
"Come on," she said, shifting her briefcase to her other hand and grabbing Clark's arm to head towards the elevators. Clark followed but the concerned look on his face didn't lessen.
Bill Church Sr. paced nervously in the Metropolis Men's Prison as he waited to hear from his lawyer. His lawyer had been very encouraging after he had filed the appeal papers, but one never knew with the Court of Appeal. Still, three and a half years after the trial, a witness had finally come forward with new information. And that information supported the contention that Bill Church Sr. had not been involved in the attempt to blow up the Metropolis Museum.
However, the witness had also provided Bill Church with additional information — information which had not made it into the appeal papers. Information which he intended to make use of when he was finally free of this place.
In point of fact, he had instructed his lawyer to tell his wife that this appeal was just 'routine' but that they really didn't think it would be successful. When his conviction was overturned, he intended to 'surprise' Mindy. Now that he knew she and his son had conspired to send him to jail, he had a little dirty laundry to clean when he got out. And this was laundry he fully intended to clean himself.
He gave a sinister smile. If his attempt to go straight scared her, he wondered what Mindy would think when she discovered just how ruthless he could be.
A court room in the Court of Appeal always felt much the same as a church to Lois. Certainly more so than a regular courtroom. Conversation was kept at a whisper and everyone was dressed in their Sunday best — unlike the regular court which was filled with those accused of a crime who were generally noisy and often saw fit to wear blue jeans and tank tops.
Lois and Clark found a seat near the front and sat down. Unlike a normal courtroom, the bench at the front was long. Three large plush red chairs sat behind the bench. Lois wondered what wonderful things the judges must have done in some previous life to rate such luxurious chairs when everyone else had to sit on hard wooden benches.
She also noted that the bench behind which the judges would sit was elevated, requiring that everyone in the courtroom look slightly up to see the judges — as if they were gods, pronouncing judgment on people's lives. She shook off the fanciful thoughts. They were here to cover an appeal, not worry about the role judges played in modern society.
She glanced over at Clark. He still had that ultra-alert look on his face, almost as if he expected a bomb to suddenly explode. As if he read her thoughts, he lowered his glasses and began x-raying the area around him.
"What's got you so worked up?" Lois asked.
"I was just thinking. If you're right and the release of Bill Church would threaten Mindy Church's control of Intergang, wouldn't this be a great place for Mindy to plant a bomb?"
Lois furrowed her eyebrows as she continued to look at Clark. "First, even if Mindy did bomb this place, it wouldn't stop the appeal. It wouldn't take long to get it in front of a different panel of judges. And since Bill Church won't be in attendance, it's not as if she'd be able to kill him. Besides, when did you start believing that Mindy was the leader of Intergang?"
"I don't know. I guess I was thinking about it on the way over." Clark shrugged his shoulders and pushed his glasses up on his nose again. Still, he continued to be watchful.
Lois found herself puzzled as they watched other people file into the room. At the front, the lawyers introduced themselves to each other before getting set up at their respective tables. Still, Lois couldn't help but let her gaze wander back to her partner. They had been fighting about Mindy's role in Intergang for years. Why was he suddenly conceding that she might have a point?
Before she could ponder the question too seriously, the room was called to order and everyone told to rise as three judges made their way in behind the bench and took their seats. She glanced over Clark. He obviously had a bad feeling about this. But then, she felt a little… unsettled herself. She suspected, however, that her feelings were because she was pregnant. She hoped this didn't mark the beginnings of morning sickness.
Lois pulled out her notebook and began taking notes as the defense counsel presented his arguments. It seemed that someone, who was referred to only as L.N., had stepped forward with additional information which, if it had been available at the time of trial, the defense counsel argued, would quite possibly have resulted in a different verdict. L.N. apparently overheard a conversation which had taken place between Bill Church Jr. and an unidentified third party in which the two had concocted a plan to blow up the museum and have Bill Church Sr. framed for the crime.
The witness had allegedly not told anyone what he had overheard at the time because he didn't take the comments seriously. Then he was afraid of the repercussions of coming forward. But unable to continue to live knowing that an innocent man had been convicted, he had finally contacted Bill Church Sr.'s lawyer. Although the police had been made aware of this witness's name, both the defense and the prosecution had agreed to keep his name a secret. A court order sealing the identity of the witness had allowed them to do that, even in the appeal papers. Because, although Bill Church Jr. was still in jail for his role in this crime, the unidentified third party wasn't. As a result, repercussions were still very possible — even likely should the witness's identity become public.
When the defense had finished with their arguments and taken a seat, the lawyer for the prosecution was called upon. Lois raised her pen as she waited expectantly to hear the other side of the story.
"Mr. and Ms. Justices," the lawyer began, "the role of the prosecution is to pursue the interests of justice. As a result, we are taking no position on this appeal. We leave it up to your honors to determine if this new evidence warrants a new trial."
Lois' mouth nearly fell open.
"Someone's been bought," Clark whispered into her ear.
She was about to respond that that wasn't necessarily true if this witness really was as credible as they were claiming. Maybe someone really had been trying to set Bill Sr. up. She just wasn't sure anymore. But then she looked over at Clark. That was what he was supposed to be reminding her.
"Will the prosecution be resubmitting the case to trial if the appeal is granted?" asked one of the judges.
"No decision has been made on that issue yet, your honor," the prosecutor replied. "We would like to have a couple of additional interviews with L.N. before making that decision."
"Very well," the judge said. Then she looked at her two fellow judges and the three moved away from the microphones to talk off the record — and where the people in the courtroom couldn't hear.
"What are they saying?" Lois asked her husband.
"Just a minute," Clark responded.
Lois was about to question him when she saw why he had dismissed her question. The conversation was already over and the three judges had moved back behind the bench.
"By a unanimous decision of this court, the appeal is granted and a new trial is ordered forthwith." The judge looked at the prosecutor. "We will not tolerate a lengthy remand here. If the D.A.'s office wants to retry the case, they will have to move quickly."
"On the issue of bail, your honor," the defense lawyer said, rising to his feet. "My client was denied bail originally, but he's been sitting in jail ever since. Since the prosecution isn't even sure if they are going to retry the case…"
"Say no more," the judge said. "One hundred thousand dollars bail — cash or bond."
"Thank you, your honor," the defense counsel replied enthusiastically.
And with that the court was again called to order and the judges left the room. The instant the clerk announced that court was closed, the entire crowd seemed to forget it was a church and chatter erupted as reporters began clambering to get questions asked of various lawyers. When both sides informed them that statements would be made on the steps to the courthouse, the room seemed to clear instantly.
"Wow," said Lois softly.
"This is a travesty," said Clark, rising to his feet and following the reporters out.
Lois picked up her briefcase and followed close behind, still trying to figure out what had changed Clark's mind about this appeal, Mindy Church and the justice system in general.
Tommy's infiltration of Star Labs was a bit tricky. Unlike the Daily Planet, where anyone could walk in off the street, Star Labs had real security. And given that Dr. Klein's lab had the highest level security, Tommy needed something with a little more pizzazz than simply walking in wearing a photocopier repairman's uniform. Fortunately, he had found the perfect cover.
He'd had the computer experts at Intergang get him a list of Star Lab employees. Then he had obtained the financial records of those listed as security. It hadn't taken him long to find the perfect candidate. His choice was a middle aged man named Gerald Sandrin who had recently spent most of his savings. A little bit of digging had revealed that the man's wife had been diagnosed with cancer, following which the man had lost his job as a security guard at one of the local factories. Since the cancer was a pre-existing condition when he started working at Star Labs, the medical plan didn't cover his wife's medical expenses — expenses which were quickly getting out of hand.
After leaving the Daily Planet this morning, Tommy had gone to see the man and made him an offer he couldn't resist. Now Tommy was waiting outside Star Labs in one of Sandrin's uniforms. Tommy shifted uncomfortably. Sandrin's uniform was a little small, but it should do.
Tommy raised his head a little more when he saw Sandrin exit Star Labs and glance around nervously. That was the problem with using civilians. They always looked so guilty when they did something wrong.
Reaching over, Tommy opened the car door and disembarked. In his new persona and in the company of a bona fide security guard, planting the item in Dr. Klein's lab wouldn't be a problem.
Lois pulled the jeep into the parking lot of the Metropolis Men's Prison, where Church had been serving his time. When she had insisted on coming to the prison to try to get an interview with Church when he was released, Clark had been less than enthusiastic. Still, that was to be expected. She and Clark had been involved in the man's imprisonment. It only made sense that Clark would be concerned that Church would take that personally. Still, as Lois had pointed out, this was where the story was.
"I suppose you should be safe enough here," said Clark hesitantly. "I doubt even Bill Church would try something in full sight of the prison."
Lois rolled her eyes and opened the door.
"There he is!" exclaimed Lois when she finally got out. Taking off at a run, she made her way across the parking lot. Bill Church Sr. was just getting into a car when they finally made it to where he was. "A moment of your time, Mr. Church. Do you think that the D.A. will retry the case?"
Bill Church seemed as if he was about to ignore her, but then he looked up, catching her eye. A self-satisfied smile made its way onto his lips as he realized who was here to ask him questions. He straightened up and turned towards her.
"Justice has been served today, Ms. Lane," he responded. "I'm confident that the D.A. will recognize that and not conduct a retrial."
"So what's the first thing you plan to do now that you're out?" Lois continued.
"I plan to have a steak, cooked to perfection and smothered in fried mushrooms. A baked potato covered in real sour cream and chives. And I intend to wash it down with a fine red wine. Then I have a little business to attend to."
"What sort of business?" Lois probed.
"For the past few years, Cost Mart has been without its leader, Ms. Lane. As a result, there are things that require my personal attention. Years in prison as a result of a false allegation can do that to a man. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to end this interview and get back to my life — which never should have been interrupted in the first place."
"Why isn't your wife here?" Lois continued. "Do you think she'll be glad you're out?"
Church smiled. "I'm afraid I don't have time for more questions, Ms. Lane," he said, before climbing into his lawyer's car and shutting the door. Lois watched as he drove off.
"What did you think you were doing?" demanded Clark as the car pulled out of the parking lot.
"My job," Lois replied. "What's got you so upset?"
"False allegations. Business to attend to. Did it occur to you that just maybe you and I might be on top of that agenda?"
"Psha," Lois responded.
"I don't like it, Lois. That man might not have been responsible for the attempted bombing of the Metropolis Museum, but he shouldn't be back on the streets. What if he comes after you? What if I'm not there? What about our child?"
"Unless we catch him in a crime…"
"So what are you saying? That we just have to stand by and do nothing while he 'takes care of business.' I'm going to…"
"To what?" she interrupted.
Clark looked slightly confused for a moment. "I don't know, but I'll think of something. What that man deserves is to find himself in the middle of the Arctic tundra without any means of survival. And I can do that." With the words, Clark began looking around as if trying to find a place to change into the Superman suit.
Lois grabbed his lapels and pulled him around to face her. "Think about what you're saying, Clark," she gasped, almost unable to believe what she had just heard — and even more dumbfounded by the serious expression on Clark's face when he said it. "You're not judge and executioner. You do this and there is no Superman — you will have killed him."
Clark's expression remained defiant for a moment before her words seemed to penetrate. His expression suddenly softened. Lois was relieved when he finally nodded.
"Good," she said in relief, still not quite able to grasp that Clark could have even suggested taking matters into his own hands. "Then let's get back to the Planet and type up the story."
"So what'd ya call us here fer?" asked a hefty man with a nasty looking scar on his cheek as he put his feet up on the conference table and leaned back in his chair.
"Yeah. It ain't as if we got time to hang around here yapping. Every minute we're here is costin' us money," added another man before using his yellow fingers to take another drag on an already too short cigarette.
"Boys, boys, boys," said Mindy, "do you forget already how you got your latest promotion? None of you would be running the operations you are now if it hadn't been for me."
The men looked at each other. Their bosses had been killed en masse when they refused to work for Mindy Church. They glanced around, all of them with one thought in mind: was this the room with the poison gas vents?
"Well, now that I got your attention, I just wanted to let you know that I expect greater cooperation from each of you in the future. It seems that some of you haven't been very good little boys — giving my assistant a hard time when he wants your reports."
"Listen, Mrs. Church," said the man who'd had his feet up on the desk until Mindy reminded them what had happened to their bosses, the man affectionately known as Scarface, "we don't mean no disrespect. But you gotta realize it ain't none too safe for anyone to know what we're doing right now. I mean, as long as that big boy scout is around, it's safer to keep operations quiet. That way if one operation goes under it don't jeopardize all the others."
There was a murmur of agreement around the table. They weren't defying Mindy Church's leadership. They were just being prudent businessmen.
"Well, that's not a problem. You see, I already have a kind of a plan in motion to take care of that. Superman won't be a problem for much longer."
There was a skeptical but hopeful look shared by all. All the men around the table had lost money because of Superman. It would be worth the inconvenience and payments they would undoubtedly have under Mrs. Church's leadership just to get rid of that pesky do-gooder. Besides, when Superman was gone, there was nothing preventing them from getting rid of Mindy Church, too. But until then…
"You do that and, I think I speak for all when I say, you'll have our full cooperation," said Scarface. There was again a murmur of agreement from all the men.
"Good," said Mindy. "Then I say this meeting is…"
Her voice trailed off when the door to the conference room suddenly opened.
"I said we were not to be bothered," said Mindy. "What do you think…"
Her voice trailed off and there were a number of sounds of astonishment around the table when a gentleman known by all those present, at least by reputation and appearance, entered the conference room.
"Don't get up, gentlemen," said Bill Church, walking confidently into the room. "Hello, Mindy," he said to a speechless Mindy. Bill walked over and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek. "Glad to see me?"
"Umm… yeah, hunky," she said rather hesitantly. "But should you be here? Won't the cops be looking for you?"
"Oh, I got out legally," he replied. "And I'm ready to take over business again."
"Oh, if you just got out, you probably have all sorts of fun things you want to do," said Mindy immediately, even as her brain began working overtime about how to deal with this unexpected complication. "Why don't you just let your little honey bunny worry about all this nasty business stuff for now?" With the question, she gave Bill Church an affectionate tap on the nose with her index finger.
"Nonsense," said Bill. "I'm back and I'm ready to jump right in. I hear you've done a wonderful job taking care of business in my absence. But, as I'm sure all the men would agree, a woman's place is taking care of her husband. Besides, I'm raring…"
"No offence, Mr. Church," interrupted Scarface. "But are you aware of Mrs. Church's plan to bring Superman down?"
The turmoil on Mindy's face suddenly cleared. "That's right, hunky. I have a plan to bring Superman down." Then, meeting his eyes dead on, she said, "Can you do that?"
When Bill Church didn't respond immediately, Scarface spoke again. "Again no offence, Mr. Church, but if your wife can do that, we gotta stick with her. Superman's been costing us a fortune."
Bill Church looked around the room with growing anger. He had just assumed that all of his lieutenants would come running back when he got out of prison — none of them would take orders from a woman, after all. But then he realized that these weren't his lieutenants. Maybe it would be a good idea if he regrouped and found out what had happened to his organization during the past few years.
"Maybe you're right, honey bunny," Bill said, looking over at his wife. "I assume you don't mind if I sit in, though — just to find out what's been going on in my absence?"
"Oh, of course not," responded Mindy.
Bill smiled, impressed by her acting performance.
"But I was just about to tell the boys that the meeting is over."
Bill's smile faded and his wife's grew.
"Sorry, hunky," she said, putting an unmistakably fake pout in her voice.
"Clark, you're over-reacting," said Lois when she and Clark walked up the steps to the brownstone. He glanced nervously around, his glasses half way down his nose as she arrived at the door.
She was about to open it when he stopped her. "It could be wired to a bomb," he said before carefully examining the door frame and lock. Then, opening the door, he quickly scanned the house before zipping her inside, closing and locking the door.
She let out a breath, set down her briefcase and removed her coat. Once she had hung up her coat, she began walking across the living room. All of a sudden, she let out a yelp as she was grabbed from behind and found herself sitting on the couch, being held solidly against Clark.
"Don't walk in front of the windows, Lois. There could be a sharp shooter out there, just waiting for you to do exactly that."
"What are you talking about, Clark? You just took a look around outside. How would someone get into position that fast?"
"Just humor me, okay. You know how sometimes you just get these gut feelings — and you ask me to trust you. Well, this time I've got a bad feeling. All I'm asking is that you trust me."
Lois turned her head so that she could study her husband. Okay, so sometimes she did ask him to trust what her gut was telling her. And she had to admit, her stomach had felt uneasy all day, too.
"Okay," she finally said. She would follow his gut feeling — for now. But tomorrow, they were going to find out what was going on with Bill Church — if for no other reason than to get Clark to calm down.
"Besides," said Clark, pulling her even closer, "isn't this a great way to spend the evening." His head came down and began nuzzling at her neck.
"Mmmm," moaned Lois. Yes. This wasn't such a bad way to spend the evening. In fact… His hands began working on the buttons on her blouse. She adjusted positions, giving him better access to her body.
"The stove!" Clark suddenly exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
Lois' arms flailed wildly as she tried to remain seated when her former backrest disappeared. "What?" she gasped as she watched him head for the kitchen.
"I can't remember if I turned off the stove," said Clark, disappearing into the kitchen.
"Why would you need to check the stove?" Lois asked the door Clark had gone through. "We never use it."
Late night found Bill Church scrunched over his computer, reviewing everything his lawyer had been able to give him about Intergang. Following the meeting, Bill enjoyed a steak dinner with his wife and then accompanied her to his house on the outskirts of Metropolis. He stayed long enough to… fulfill his husbandly obligations and make up for years in prison. Not that he wouldn't have been able to find warmer companionship tonight, but there was something about knowing how little she wanted him there that made the whole encounter more exciting. Afterwards, of course, he left again. There was no way he intended to stay there for the night — not when he couldn't be sure she wouldn't kill him in his sleep. Their relationship almost felt like the old joke: how do two porcupines have sex? The answer, of course, was: carefully.
So, claiming that after being locked up for so long he needed to see the stars, he went for a drive — and, after a quick stop at his lawyer's, he ended up at his apartment in downtown Metropolis. This was where he used to stay when he got bogged down by work and didn't want to take the time to drive home. And it was certainly better than spending his first night out of custody at a hotel. He'd had his lawyer come here before the appeal was heard to ensure the kitchen was stocked, the beds were made and the wine rack was loaded — and, most importantly, to change the locks. After all, Bill didn't particularly want a surprise visit from his wife or one of her henchmen while he slept.
He leaned back in his chair and yawned. It seemed that taking Intergang back from his wife might take a little work. After all, she had replaced all of his people — permanently retiring most of them. He had to admit, he liked her style. It was too bad they weren't working on the same team. Of course, that meant he was the only thing standing in her way now. He would have to take steps to get some bodyguards first thing tomorrow — always assuming, of course, that he lived through the night.
He suspected his wife would also be beefing up her security. That meant a direct attack was probably out of the question. No matter. If the only reason Intergang's new lieutenants were staying faithful to her was because they believed she could get rid of Superman, it was likely only a matter of time before she went the way of all the others who tried to take on the Man of Steel directly. He found it slightly ironic that, in this case, he was cheering for Superman. After all, if Superman won this encounter, Bill Church's empire would be restored to him.
He would figure it all out tomorrow. Right now he was going to enjoy his first night of sleeping in a comfortable bed.
"Pineapple!" exclaimed Bobby Bigmouth. "Who gets a pizza with pineapple on it?"
"You said fully loaded," Lois responded in exasperation. They had decided to begin their investigation by meeting with Bobby Bigmouth. And since he demanded pizza at ten o'clock in the morning, they had spent the past hour tracking down a place that sold pizza at that time of day. "That's what it is. Fully loaded. So what do you have for us?"
"Who puts pineapple on a fully loaded pizza?" Bobby demanded, pulling off little pieces of pineapple and dropping them back into the pizza box. "The juice gets into the rest of the pizza and completely ruins the taste." Still, even as he spoke, he began to shove the piece of now pineapple-free pizza into his mouth.
"Next time, no pineapple," promised Lois.
"And where's my drink?" demanded Bobby.
"Lois!" exclaimed Clark.
"All right. All right," said Lois, digging into her briefcase and withdrawing two containers of milk. She handed them to Bobby.
Bobby looked at the milk cartons for a moment before handing one back to Lois. "For the baby," he said. "Congratulations, by the way. You have no idea how many people have been hoping you two would get past your infertility problem."
"How did you…" began Clark.
"What people?" asked Lois at the same time.
Then Lois and Clark looked at each other.
"Never mind," Clark said.
"So what can you tell us?" Lois asked, getting them back on track.
"Okay," said Bobby, cracking open his carton of milk to take a drink. "It seems that before Bill Sr. got out of prison, Mindy Church was having problems keeping control of the various criminal enterprises of Intergang."
"So Mindy is in charge of Intergang?" Clark interrupted.
Bobby gave him a look that very clearly indicated that he thought everyone knew that.
"Told you," said Lois, looking over at Clark.
"Anyway," continued Bobby, "rumor is that Bill Church returns and suddenly everyone is pledging allegiance to Mindy."
"Why?" asked Clark.
Bobby shrugged his shoulders. "That's all I know."
"Can you tell us anything about this witness, L.N.?" asked Lois.
"Nah. The cops are keeping that info under wraps. Anyway, thanks for the breakfast." With those final words, he made a move as if he would get out of the jeep. Clark stopped him.
"Have you heard anything about Bill Church coming after Lois or me?" he asked.
"It's just a feeling Clark has," said Lois.
"Oh. Well, no. I doubt you're high on his list of priorities at the moment, though. I'd imagine getting control of Intergang might be a little more important. Anyway, if I hear anything else, I'll contact you."
"Thanks, Bobby," said Clark as they watched Bobby crawl out of the jeep, being sure to take the remaining pizza with him.
"See, Clark," said Lois when Bobby was gone. "There's nothing for you to worry about. The baby and I are safe. Bill Church has bigger fish to fry at the moment."
"I'm not convinced, Lois," Clark responded immediately. "I'm sure he's up to something else. I think we should get some extra security installed at the brownstone and I think we should let Perry know. He can see that Planet security is a little tighter than normal."
Lois, who had been about to pull the jeep out onto the road, suddenly threw it in park and turned to look at Clark.
"Clark, I don't know what's gotten into you lately, but this is getting ridiculous."
"I want to make sure you're safe. What's so ridiculous about that? Besides, before we met, you had what? Four locks on the door of your apartment. All we have is the regular lock and a dead bolt. It couldn't hurt to beef up security a little."
"But before I met you, I didn't have a superpowered protector in my life to make sure I didn't get in too deep."
"You see, that's what I'm talking about, Lois. I can't be everywhere. And what happens if I'm out on a rescue when Bill Church comes after you?"
"If," corrected Lois.
"If Bill Church comes after me," Lois said, emphasizing the first word, "I can handle myself. I did before you came along and I can now." With that, she shoved the gearshift into drive and swerved the car out into traffic — clearly marking the end of the discussion. There were the usual horns, but, as always, Lois ignored them.
"So what do you two have for me?" Perry demanded.
When Lois and Clark had returned to the newsroom after their meeting with Bobby, they had contacted every other source they had. Most had been complete dead ends. Even those who were able to confirm what Bobby had told them hadn't been able to elaborate further. Otherwise, it had been an entirely unproductive day.
"Not much, Perry," responded Lois. "Bobby indicated that there was some sort of power struggle going on for Intergang. Otherwise…" She shrugged.
"What about this mysterious witness? What do you know about him?"
"Look, Chief," began Clark. "His name is being kept under wraps. There's no way for us…"
"Actually," interrupted Lois, "I've been thinking about that. Now, if only the police knew this witness' identity, we might have a problem. But Church's lawyer knows it, too."
"So what are you suggesting?" asked Clark. "Do you think he's just going to tell us?"
"Of course not. But it's got to be in his files."
"No, Lois," said Clark when it sunk in what she was about to suggest.
"I'll let you two work it out," Perry said. "Just be sure that if you do get his name, you keep it under wraps. We don't want to inadvertently give it to the bad guys. Just talk to him — find out if he's credible and…" He pointed a finger at Lois. "…you be careful."
"No, Lois," Clark said again when Perry began heading back to his office. "It's too dangerous for you to break into his lawyer's office. What happens if you get caught? I forbid it."
Had anyone in the newsroom looked over at Lois at this moment, they would have sworn they saw steam coming from her ears. She hadn't initially been surprised that Clark would object to breaking into the lawyer's office to get the witness' name. After all, the police were obviously concerned about the safety of L.N. She figured Clark would object on the grounds that there was a greater possibility that someone would find out L.N.'s identity if they started digging around. But that wasn't what was troubling him at all. Instead, he was objecting that it was too dangerous for her to get the information. Forbid her? How dare he? She opened her mouth to respond, but then closed it again. Instead, she got up, grabbed Clark's arm and practically dragged him into the conference room. Closing the door, she spun towards him.
"What the hell is going on with you, Clark?" she demanded.
"What the hell is going on with me? What the hell is going on with you? Here you are, wanting to walk into Church's lawyer's office. What else do you want? A sign on your back that says: 'Go ahead and take your best shot'? What happens if you get caught? Do you think Church will hesitate to have you killed? You've just made his job a hell of a lot easier." Clark shot back, his voice even angrier than hers had been.
"And what about the baby?" Clark continued. "This isn't just your life you're taking chances with now. Do you really think you have the right to risk our child's life like this? And you wonder what the hell is going on with me?"
Lois stared back in stunned silence, almost unable to believe that this was her husband talking. He seemed to blush saying the word 'heck'. Yet in that speech, he had used the word 'hell' four times. Granted, he had always been cautious — concerned about her safety. But they both believed that the best defense was a good offense.
"So what are you suggesting?" Lois gasped, when she again found her voice. "That we just sit back and hope he doesn't come for us?"
"I'm suggesting that you stay out of this. I'm suggesting that you let me take care of Bill Church."
"Stay out…" Her voice trailed off with her incredulity. "Lois Lane is not the helpless woman! She does not stay out…" she yelled back.
"Maybe that's why our application for adoption was denied," Clark interrupted, his voice as loud and accusing as she had ever heard. "That lady was right! You are a danger junkie! You just can't quit, can you? You just gotta be hanging over the jaws of death. Now you're taking our child with you! I can't believe you!"
Lois had never believed she could hear such accusations from Clark. He had just taken one of the most painful times of her life — when she realized that she was probably the one who was going to prevent them from being able to adopt a child — and thrown it back in her face. Tears of shock, disbelief, pain and anger began pooling in the corners of her eyes.
"How dare you!" she hissed. "I can't believe you just said… How dare you!" she yelled this time. "I… You…"
Before she could even get her mind to grasp his accusation, the door to the conference room opened. Lois turned her back to the door so that whoever had interrupted wouldn't see how badly Clark had hurt her.
"Umm…" came Jimmy's hesitant voice. "I'm not sure if you care, but you can be heard yelling all over the newsroom."
"Thank you, Jimmy," said Lois, still not turning towards him. She heard the door close before turning and making her way towards the door herself.
"Wait a minute," said Clark. "We're not finished here!"
She spun towards him.
"Yes, we are, Clark!" she said.
"So where are you going?" he asked.
"To break into Church's lawyer's office," she responded without hesitation before throwing open the door and storming out.
Clark stood in silence for a moment. Then, even though he knew she couldn't hear him, he responded. "There's no way in hell you're doing it without me!" With that, he headed after her.
It was dark as Lois navigated the jeep bearing her and Clark to Church's lawyer's office building. Neither she nor Clark had said a word to each other since they had left the Daily Planet. And right now, Lois wasn't entirely certain she wanted to talk to him ever again.
She hated more than anything when they fought. It left her with a knot in her stomach the size of Metropolis. Clark had almost been cruel earlier. She knew he was concerned about her safety — and the baby's. But some of the things he had said… She half expected him to apologize the instant she left the conference room. But when he followed after her, he had said nothing. He simply grabbed his coat and silently accompanied her to the elevator.
She didn't dare look at him. But even so, she could almost feel the fury still radiating off him. Never in the time she had known Clark had she known him to be so angry — especially at her. But it made no sense. That was what was troubling Lois most of all. He had no right to be mad. It wasn't as if she had suggested sky diving into a war zone. In fact, she hadn't suggested anything which both of them hadn't done a hundred times since they had started working together about six years ago. And although, at times, he would try to talk her out of some nefarious adventure, never had he berated her the way he had done today. If anyone had the right, almost the obligation, to be angry, it was she.
Sure she was pregnant. Sure she was doing something that had some risk involved. But if Clark was right and Church was a threat to her, the risk was not nearly as great as sitting back and doing nothing. Besides, it wasn't as if she was doing this for kicks. She was doing this because it was her job. If he thought that he suddenly had a right to tell her what she could or couldn't do because she was pregnant, he had another think coming. Forbid her! How dare he! He wasn't her lord and master — no matter how many powers he had. Besides, it wasn't as if she had insisted on doing it alone. He would be right there. Not that she wasn't having second thoughts about that right now. It might be easier if she were doing this alone.
She still had no idea why he was so convinced that Bill Church would come after her. It wasn't as if their role in his downfall had been anything more than locating the bomb and disarming it. In fact, if anything, if he really was innocent of the crime, they had done him a favor. After all, he might have been facing the death penalty if that bomb had gone off. And although prison was, in her experience, not exactly pleasant, it had to be better than being on death row for the last four years. No. She couldn't imagine that she would be high on Bill Church's list of targets — if she was even there at all. Bobby's comments had certainly supported that idea. But Clark had dismissed Bobby's comments out of hand. It made no sense. Why was Clark taking the threat more seriously than the evidence indicated?
Lois pulled the jeep over to the side of the road and put it in park. The office they were going to was just up ahead. But it was best not to park too close in case someone saw the jeep and was able to make the connection between them and a break in at the lawyer's office. As she turned off the motor, she looked at Clark for the first time. He was already reaching for the door.
"Wait a minute, Clark," she said, while reaching into her briefcase to withdraw a pair of gloves so that she wouldn't leave fingerprints. "Before we go, there's something I have to know."
He stopped and looked at her. In the darkness of the vehicle, she was unable to read his facial expression.
"What?" he asked, the coldness in his voice telling her how angry he still was.
"I just need to know that we're going to be able to work together in there. Otherwise, I'd prefer that you wait out here," she said while pulling on her gloves.
There was a moment of silence before he replied. "I'm a professional, Lois. Let's just get this over with." He didn't wait for a response before opening the door and getting out.
Taking a deep breath, Lois opened her own door and stepped out.
"Clark, look at this," said Lois. She felt Clark's presence behind her immediately, looking over her shoulder at the file she was holding. Neither said anything as they both read.
It seemed that the witness was a recent graduate of Metropolis University. He was the son of Senator Nicholson. A young man named Lawrence. He had been working at a Cost Mart store part time to help pay his way through university. Even though his father was certainly capable of simply paying the bill, it appeared that the young man was required to contribute to his education.
On the day in question, Lawrence Nicholson had been working to move crates containing a number of expensive paintings into one of the Cost Mart stores so that people could enjoy the beauty of culture while shopping for bargains. He had taken a break and slipped behind some crates to have a smoke. He froze when he heard Bill Church Jr.'s voice which was getting perilously close to his position. Any closer and his unauthorized smoke break would be discovered.
Clark suddenly gasped.
"What?" asked Lois.
Clark reached over her shoulder and pointed to a sentence that had caught his attention. "It appears that Bill Church Jr.'s co-conspirator was Mindy Church," he replied.
"Omigod," Lois breathed. "And Bill Sr.'s lawyer knows this which undoubtedly means…"
"…that his client knows as well," Clark concluded.
She glanced at Clark and for just a moment, it felt as if they were again on the same side. But then Clark broke eye contact and Lois sighed. She redirected her mind back to the file and continued to read.
It seemed that the conversation between Bill Jr. and Mindy had been started by Mindy who had outlined a plan in which Bill Sr. would arrange a fund-raiser at a museum. When she went on to suggest that maybe the museum could then blow up, Lawrence had almost gasped and given away his position. As the conversation continued, Lawrence had pushed himself further against a crate and listened to Bill comment that if that happened, the police would think that his father had done it to increase the value of his own burgeoning collection.
Lawrence had been horrified. And at first he thought Bill Jr. had been, too. At least, Bill had apparently responded by saying something like: 'You expect me to frame my own father for the murder of hundreds of innocent people?' But then Bill had gone on to say that he loved it; that it was all just so Greek. As they had continued to discuss what would happen then — in particular that Bill Sr. would have to turn the business over to the two of them — they began walking away, making it impossible for Lawrence to hear.
He left work early that day — feeling slightly ill. He had almost gone to the police. But the more he thought about it, the more he thought he must have misunderstood. After all, the Churches were pillars in the community. The conversation he had overheard must have been a joke. And he hadn't thought more about it until he heard what had happened at the museum.
When he finally did find out about the incident, he was scared. How would he explain the fact that he had overheard this conversation and done nothing? He had been afraid to see the disappointment on his father's face. He had been afraid that his father would get blamed for his failure to contact the police immediately and that the voters would take it out on him when elections rolled around. And he had thought the truth would all come out in court.
When Bill Sr. had been convicted, Lawrence felt guilty. But he figured it was too late to come forward with what he had heard. He had only contacted Bill Sr.'s lawyer recently because he could no longer live with the guilt of knowing that an innocent man was in jail and he could have prevented it.
Lois closed the file and stuck it back in the file cabinet.
"Well, I guess that settles it," said Lois. "Bill Sr. was indeed set up."
"Assuming that what the lawyer's file says is also what Lawrence Nicholson says," said Clark.
Lois glanced again at Clark. When had their roles changed so completely? Normally, Clark was the one who was trusting — she was the skeptic. Well, this wasn't the time or the place to worry about it.
"I guess the next step is to talk to Nicholson," said Lois, closing the file cabinet. "I don't think we'll find out anything else here."
Clark was escorting her out of the building immediately — so fast, in fact, that it took Lois a moment to realize that her feet weren't exactly hitting the floor. Still, she said nothing until they were back in the jeep.
"See, Clark," she said as she stuck the key in the ignition. "There was no danger."
"This time," Clark responded flatly.
Lois let out a frustrated breath as she turned the key to start the jeep.
Clark stared blankly at the living room ceiling. He wasn't entirely sure whose decision it had been for him to sleep on the couch. Given the lateness of the hour, they had decided to talk to Nicholson in the morning. Since they couldn't write the story before interviewing Nicholson, they had come straight home.
Clark wasn't even entirely certain what had started their argument in the jeep on the way home. Maybe it was her self-satisfied tone when she had told him that there was no danger. Maybe it was just that she didn't seem to be taking any of this seriously. But he wasn't sure he had ever been quite this angry with her.
Why did she refuse to see the danger? Couldn't she understand that it was just a matter of time before Bill Church, or one of a hundred other criminals they had helped expose over the years, made an attempt on her life? For all they knew, a plan had already been agreed on and was being put into action even as he lay on this couch. And how could she take it so casually when it was now not only her life, but that of their child? Yet she had dismissed everyone of his concerns as if he were overreacting.
When they had finally arrived at the brownstone, and he checked to be sure it was safe, she stormed into their house and, without even bothering to remove her coat, had thrown her briefcase on the floor and headed for the stairs. He followed, determined to continue this conversation until she promised to be careful. But when she walked into the bedroom, she had slammed the door in his face.
It wasn't that she had refused him entry to their room. In fact, he never even heard her lock the door. So he knew she wasn't exactly determined to keep him out. But he was in the right here. And if she was trying to punish him for wanting to protect both her and their child, so be it.
He shifted positions, trying to get comfortable. He had napped on this couch many times. But tonight sleep eluded him. Even if he were right, it still hurt like the dickens to fight with Lois. It left him feeling as if he had a hole the size of Metropolis in his gut. But he would do whatever was necessary to save her life, even if she hated him for it.
For about an hour after she had gone to bed, he heard soft crying coming from their room. It had been a relief when her breathing had settled into the regular pattern of sleep. But as hard as it was to hear her cry, it would be even harder not to hear her — ever again. No. No matter how many nights he had to endure that were as awful as tonight, he wasn't about to let her get herself killed.
While Lois had been rifling through Church's lawyer's papers looking for the identity of L.N., Clark had been focused on something else — not that he had told Lois. He was looking for some indication of what Church had planned for Lois. He had not found anything. Although, that didn't necessarily mean anything. He still knew, with every fiber of his being, that Lois was in danger.
He allowed the ceiling to disappear from view so that he could look into their bedroom. His side of the bed was completely untouched and she was curled up, hugging a pillow as she slept. He always loved watching Lois sleep. There was something so vulnerable, so innocent about her when she was asleep — as if her true self were revealed. It was a captivating sight. It was a sight which only he was allowed to see. And it was almost hypnotizing.
Not taking his eyes off his wife, he slowly moved to a seated position. Then, without consciously making the decision to do so, he got off the couch and ascended the steps to their bedroom. Before he knew what was happening, he was standing inside, silently drinking in the most beautiful sight he thought he had ever seen. Still, he was unable to join her — not entirely sure he would be welcome. After standing there in conflict for a moment, he made his way over to a big chair and sank into it.
He was just so completely terrified. His entire life was in that bed. If something happened to her, to their child, it would destroy him. Losing his own life would be preferable to losing her.
The tightness he had been feeling in his chest most of the day got worse — almost strangling him, cutting off his oxygen. He felt cold and clammy and realized that a thin sheen of perspiration was soaking through his t-shirt. And the voice in his head… If only he could stop the voice in his head that seemed to keep repeating, 'They're coming to take her from you.'
He wasn't at all certain why he was so terrified. He could only assume that his subconscious mind had picked up on some threat, some danger, that his conscious mind had failed to register. Glancing down at his hands, he watched them tremble. If he thought he would get away with it, he would pick her up and fly her to some place where no one and nothing could hurt her. He closed his eyes, trying to keep his fears from overwhelming him.
"Clark," said a soft voice causing Clark's head to snap up.
Lois hadn't been sleeping well. When she opened her eyes to see Clark sitting in that chair, his hands trembling, a tear slipping slowly down his cheek, their fight no longer was as important as he was. He looked up, the look in his eyes one of absolute vulnerability and there seemed to be a complete absence of blood in his cheeks. Never had she seen him looking so lost.
She slowly pulled back the covers, silently inviting him to join her. He seemed to hesitate for a moment before making his way over to her. She moved on the bed to give him room. When he crawled in with her, burying his head against her chest, her arms went around him. Neither spoke — as if both somehow knew words would only get in the way. It was then that she felt him tremble. She placed a kiss on the top of his head and held him even closer. She wasn't entirely sure what was going on. What she did know was that, at this moment, he needed her.
"What's wrong, Clark?" she finally whispered into the darkness.
"I'm just so scared I'm going to lose you," Clark muttered as his arms tightened around her a little bit more.
"Why? I mean, why now?"
"I don't know."
She swallowed hard at the sound of quiet desperation in his voice as he trembled against her. Her hands moved over his back and she realized he was actually sweating. What was happening here? Clark didn't sweat — at least not normally.
It was quite some time later before his trembling stopped. It wasn't, in fact, until he fell asleep. She stayed awake, keeping vigil long into the night as her mind thought back over the past twenty-four hours. When she first crawled into bed, she wasn't sure which emotion was stronger — anger or pain. But as she held her husband now, all she felt was a need to protect him. She still didn't know what had happened to make Clark so paranoid, but she knew that Clark would never deliberately hurt her. He seemed honestly terrified for her safety. Why, she still had no idea.
The lights were out and the office was lit only by the greenish-blue glow coming off the television screen and a yellowish glow from a small piece of yellow crystal sitting on the corner of the desk — what remained of the rock Tommy had planted earlier today in Lois Lane's briefcase, Clark Kent's desk and at Star Labs. Mindy Church picked up the remote control and pressed rewind. It was almost as much fun watching this tape in reverse. Once she reached the beginning, she pressed play again.
So long as this plan didn't backfire, Bill didn't stand a chance of regaining control of Intergang. And given what the plan was, she didn't see how she could possibly fail. Even if Superman did realize something was wrong, his macho male ego would never let him admit it. That was one of the advantages of being a woman. There were no stupid ego issues to get in the way of seeking help when necessary.
"You watching the tape again?" asked Tommy, coming into her office.
"Oh, Tommy," said Mindy. "Yeah. It's just so much fun watching this tape of Superman at the jewelry store robbery the other night. It's almost better than sex," she giggled.
They both fell silent to watch the tape. They saw Superman enter the jewelry store and then, instead of immediately stopping the robbers, backing up slightly. Mindy smiled as she watched Superman's eyebrows furrow. Superman looked around before moving, somewhat hesitantly, to conduct a citizen's arrest of the men Mindy had sent to test the yellow crystal.
"You know, when I first heard that Superman had ruined my party and stopped the bad guys I had sent to the jewelry store, I thought that must mean the rock didn't work," Mindy said. "But then that yummy Dr. Livingston pointed out that Superman looked scared."
"And that's when you got the idea?" asked Tommy.
Mindy nodded. "Dr. Livingston told me that this rock was found by Gene Newtrich when he discovered the red kryptonite. But that Newtrich didn't tell Bill Jr. about it because he had plans of his own for it. If he hadn't gone to jail, little old me might never have gotten it."
"Is it really kryptonite?" Tommy asked, running his fingers lightly over the yellow crystal.
"Yes," Mindy responded. "And you know what's really neat? Apparently, this yellow version is even more radioactive than the green kryptonite. It's a nasty rock, Tommy. Really nasty."
She giggled when Tommy snapped his hand away from the crystal in response. "Don't worry. It's not dangerous to us."
Mindy looked at the tape and the two fell silent as Superman once again entered the jewelry store. When the tape came to the end, Mindy clicked rewind and turned back to Tommy.
"Anyway, when Dr. Livingston mentioned that Superman looked scared, I had a kind of a thought," she said. "When Bill Jr. used the red kryptonite, he found out that all those nasty effects increased with prolonged exposure. I thought if Superman was scared enough to hesitate that time, maybe he might become too scared to get involved at all if we gave him even more exposure. And after enough time, Dr. Livingston assures me that the effects will become permanent."
"But why have me plant it on Lois Lane, at the Daily Planet and at Star Labs?" asked Tommy, settling into the chair across from Mindy. He immediately jumped up again when she gave him that look — that one that said she didn't remember saying he could sit.
"I'm not just a dumb blonde, Tommy. I had just one itsy bitsy little problem. When Bill Jr. used the red kryptonite, he found out that Superman was going to see a shrink. I had to be more smarter. So I decided to plant it on Lois Lane. After all, she seems to get more interviews with the Man of Steel than any other reporter. Besides, Superman has a kind of a crush on her."
"I thought that theory died when Superman proved that the Dirt Digger had faked the story about him and Lois Lane," said Tommy.
"A woman knows these things, Tommy. And I decided on the Daily Planet for the same reason. I had you put those pieces at Star Labs since, if my sources are correct, Dr. Klein is probably the first person Superman will run to when he starts getting sick. Although, I'm still not too sure about that one. He might go to see the doctor, but he'll never tell the doctor that he's scared."
"How do you know?"
"He's a man. And if there's one thing I know, it's men. And real men don't admit they're scared. Now do they, Tommy?"
"No, Mrs. Church."
"So now all we have to do is sit back and wait as Superman gets more exposure to that nasty kryptonite. Soon he'll be too scared to interfere in my little business plans."
"What about your husband?"
A definite pout appeared on Mindy's face. "He doesn't love me anymore. And now he wants to take his little business back, too."
"But you aren't going to let him, are you, Mrs Church?"
"Of course not, Tommy. When I've finally taken care of the Superman threat, do you really think anyone will challenge me ever again? All those big ol' tough guys will be scared of little itsy bitsy me." There was a moment of silence before Mindy continued. "Still, it might be time to do a little house cleaning. Find out if anyone is expressing displeasure over my refusal to turn the business over to Hunky." Her voice suddenly took on a much deeper quality. "And take care of them."
"Yes, Mrs. Church," Tommy responded. She gave a wave of the hand, indicating that Tommy was being dismissed. He turned and headed for the door to her office.
As he left, Mindy turned her attention back to the television and once again hit the play button on the remote control in order to watch the tape one more time.
THREE WEEKS LATER
Lois held her breath when the sudden lifting of Clark's head told her that something had caught Superman's attention. She felt a profound sense of relief when Clark jumped up in response to whatever emergency his enhanced hearing had picked up.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked. "I really think I need to respond to this, but I don't want to leave you if…"
"I'll stay right here," Lois promised immediately.
Clark glanced around at the newsroom, as if making sure that he didn't see anything out of the ordinary, before nodding and dashing off.
Lois waited until she was certain he was gone before letting out a breath and closing her eyes. She wasn't entirely sure how much more of this she could handle. If she thought Clark's behavior when Church had been released from prison was irritating, it was nothing compared to his behavior since. It seemed as if with each passing day, he became more protective and more insistent that she was in danger.
On the day following their break-in at Church's lawyer's office, they had gone to see Lawrence Nicholson. It was obvious within ten minutes of their initial meeting why the D.A.'s office hadn't challenged Church's appeal. If there was a more credible witness alive, Lois wasn't sure where they would find him. In fact, after the interview, she could hardly believe that the D.A.'s office was hesitating in making its decision not to retry the case. At first, of course, Lawrence had been hesitant to talk to them. But once they had assured him that they wouldn't include his name or anything else that could be used to identify him in the story, he had become a fountain of information.
Even Clark, with his new attitude, couldn't find any inconsistencies in Nicholson's story. He, however, had been less than enthusiastic about the news — claiming that even if Bill Church Sr. was innocent of this particular crime, as the leader of Intergang, he was undoubtedly guilty of many others. And Clark didn't particularly care which crime kept him behind bars. The whole reaction was so un-Clark- like that it had rendered Lois completely speechless.
They also discovered the official reason Mindy Church's name had been left off the appeal documents. It seemed the police were looking at the possibility of filing charges against her in this case. But without any supporting evidence, they didn't think they could get a conviction.
In the weeks that followed, bodies had begun showing up all over Metropolis — all with one thing in common. They all had alleged links to Intergang. It was obvious that a power struggle was taking place for control of the infamous crime syndicate. Of course, that had only made Clark's paranoia worse.
Life with Clark had been so difficult lately that it was almost a relief when he got called away on a Superman rescue. She glanced up at the various news items that were running across the message board. A volcano had erupted in Hawaii. She felt a wave of guilt when the first thought that crossed her mind was that at least that should take him a little while — giving her a moment or two of freedom.
He had cut back on a lot of his Superman activities, not doing as much as one charitable appearance. And he was leaving minor emergencies for city workers to take care of. All of this so that he could hover over her like a mother hen. It was not so slowly driving Lois nuts.
Clark's new attitude resulted in a lot of fights between the two of them. She had tried yelling; she had tried reasoning; she had even tried begging. But Clark would not be moved. It seemed as if his fear for her safety was taking over every aspect of their life. No longer were they going to movies or out to dinner since Clark claimed he couldn't be certain he could protect her in public places. Lois could have gone without him. But he was her best friend. Those were the types of things they did together. They had even stopped leaving the newsroom for lunch or taking walks through the park.
But even their lack of activity wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the emotional aspect of their relationship. The problem, in Lois' mind, was that emotionally she wasn't certain they had ever been further apart. Not even after he had broken up with her 'for her own good' so many years ago. Not even when she had turned down his marriage proposal. Not even when she, as temporary editor of the Daily Planet, had eighty-sixed his story. Not even when Leslie Luckaby had made a pass at her that Clark found out about before she had a chance to tell him.
And yet in all the time since Church had been released from prison, there had not been a single hint that she was in any sort of danger. If only she could figure out what was causing his fear… But the only thing she could think of was that this new attitude had emerged with the news of her pregnancy. She wasn't certain she could stand another six and a half months of this — assuming, of course, that things went back to normal once their child arrived. And assuming a nine month gestation period for a human/kryptonian child. If things didn't return to normal then…
One of the most shocking incidents had been when Clark had gone ahead and beefed up security at their brownstone without consulting her. Oh, sure, he had suggested the possibility previously. But when she indicated that she didn't think it was necessary and he hadn't pursued the topic further, she thought the issue was settled. And apparently it was — just not the way she thought. One day she simply walked into the brownstone to discover that it had been turned into a fortress. There was a new state of the art security system, a half dozen locks on both the front and back door and bars and bullet-proof glass covering the windows. It felt as if she had walked into a prison. Had their house not been attached to other houses, she suspected he would have built a moat and a draw-bridge. She had dreams that night about falling into a shark- infected moat, screaming for Superman who was too busy installing an electrified fence to help her.
When she tried to tell him that he was taking this too far, they'd had a fight that made the fight they'd had in the conference room seem like a dress rehearsal. In fact, there had been a lot of fights that made their fight in the conference room seem mild by comparison. Yet no matter how loud Lois yelled, Clark seemed to yell louder. And not one word of reason she spoke seemed to penetrate his thick skull. As far as Clark was concerned, she was in danger and he was going to protect her — with or without her consent.
She had tried to understand his new attitude. She really had. She loved him so much and it hurt to see him so convinced that he was going to lose her. She had reassure him. On occasion, she had even gone along with his demands. But it seemed as if nothing she could say or do made any impact. Unless she agreed to live in a glass bubble in some remote area of the world, she doubted he would be satisfied. She simply didn't know how much more of this she could take.
She even tried calling Martha and Jonathan for back-up. And then, she persuaded Clark to fly the two of them out to the farm. That had probably been her worst mistake yet. When Martha and Jonathan had confronted their son, Clark had completely flipped — accusing her of trying to turn his parents against him and accusing them of not caring about her safety. Never before had Lois heard Clark talk to his parents the way he had that night.
It almost seemed as if Clark could suddenly see dangers that weren't there, bogeymen hiding behind every corner. He had always been a tad bit over protective, but this was getting absolutely ridiculous. There was one thing that was particularly odd to Lois. It seemed that Clark had developed something of an obsession with their stove. Given that they had a gas stove, there was certainly a danger if it were left on. But since Clark cooked with his heat vision and she… well, didn't exactly cook, it was strange how often Clark seemed to check the stove. In fact, he checked to make sure it was turned off two or three times a day.
One incident that had been particularly disturbing was when Perry had assigned them the task of following up on Bill Church's activities now that he was out of prison. At first, Clark had been hesitant. But then when bodies had started turning up… She had been absolutely furious when Clark had gone behind her back to tell Perry that Lois was off the story. That had resulted in their most public argument yet — in that it had taken place in Perry's office, in front of Perry. In the end, she won — mainly because Perry had insisted that he was the one who assigned stories. Lois had been stunned when, although Clark backed down, he proceeded to warn Perry that if he wasn't careful, and didn't take his wife's safety into account in assigning stories, he just might find a couple of resignations on his desk. Clark had walked out, leaving Perry as speechless as Lois. Not wanting to get into it with Perry when she suspected that Clark would be listening, she had simply shrugged and followed her husband out of the office. She would only challenge him to Perry if Clark tried to fulfill his threat — at least as far as her resignation was concerned.
She wasn't entirely sure why she was putting up with as much from Clark as she was. She suspected it was because she, too, was having a funny feeling in her stomach about the whole thing. The problem was that she was no longer sure if the 'funny feeling' was that she was afraid of what Bill Church might do or if it was anxiety about what seemed to be happening in her relationship with Clark. She suspected it was the latter.
Clark had changed in other ways, too. One thing about Clark was that he was always friendly with people. He stopped to talk to everyone — from chairman of the board of the Daily Planet to the night janitor. Yet, over the past few weeks, he had begun snapping at people. He no longer took the time to find out what was going on in people's lives. And he often wondered aloud when people tried to approach them — commenting that he felt as if they had a hidden agenda.
Even in his clothing, there was a change. Clark had always taken great care with his appearance. Yet these days, he often looked disheveled. Lois suspected that it was the result of the distinct lack of sleep he had been getting. Although she had been going to bed at the regular times, he seldom came to bed when she did. On many occasions, she had woken up in the middle of the night to find him sitting in the big chair in their room, as if watching guard over her. At times she tried to coax him into bed. Other times, she simply allowed him to sit there. And although Lois knew her husband needed less sleep than ordinary men, he did need some. Maybe the lack of sleep was also the reason Clark seemed so paranoid these days. But how exactly did one make a Superman sleep? It wasn't as if she could slip a sleeping pill into his drink at night.
"Lois," said Perry's voice, snapping her out of her thoughts. When she glanced up, he jerked his thumb in the direction of his office. She got up and followed him as he led the way there, somewhat surprised that he hadn't just bellowed at her like he usually did.
He was waiting just inside the door when she entered. Closing the door, he sat on the edge of his desk, gesturing her to take a seat.
"What's up, Perry?" she asked as she sat down.
He studied her for a moment, as if slightly unsure about what he had to say.
"What is it?" she asked again, very curious now.
"You know how much I care about you and Clark," he said slowly.
She nodded, not responding verbally, afraid that it would slow him down from getting to his point.
"I just want to know… Well, are you and Clark all right? He seems to be… well, almost possessive of you these days. And knowing you…" He shrugged. "I guess given all the fights you two seem to be having I'm just a little worried. So are you okay?"
"Of course we're…" Her voice suddenly trailed off and tears began congregating in the corners of her eyes. She closed her eyes and dropped her head. She couldn't do it. She couldn't lie to the man who had been more of a father to her than her own had been. Besides, right now she felt so alone. It was only a moment before the tears began slipping down her cheeks. And a moment after that, Perry's arms were around her. She buried her head in his shoulder and allowed all the pain to come pouring out.
"I don't know how much more I can take, Perry," she breathed. "No matter what I do or say, I can't get through to him. I'm almost starting to feel as if the only option left is to leave Clark." Even the words felt like a betrayal. And she half expected Perry to withdraw from her in shock. She was almost surprised when his arms held her even closer.
"I'm always here for you," Perry responded. "You do know that, don't you?"
Lois simply nodded tearfully against his shoulder.
Clark entered the newsroom and automatically scanned it, looking for his wife. When he spotted her in Perry's office, he started towards it. He hesitated when he realized that Perry's arms were wrapped around Lois. And then his heart sank when he picked up her words.
"…the only option left is to leave Clark."
"I'm always here for you," Perry responded. "You do know that, don't you?"
Unsure what to do, he continued to stand there. Suddenly, his hearing picked up the sound of an emergency transmission of an overturned truck, leaking some sort of dangerous substance all over the interstate about ten miles outside Metropolis. With one final look at his wife, and a pain in his heart, he headed back towards the stairs.
Lois returned to her desk lost in thought. She felt almost numb. Was she thinking of leaving Clark? She didn't know. What she wanted was the man she had married — the man she had lived with for the past three years — the man she loved and needed above all others. But the way he was now… She just wasn't sure how much more she could handle.
Still, he was her husband. And there was a big difference between thinking of leaving him and actually doing it. No. In spite of what she had said to Perry, she knew deep in her heart that leaving Clark wasn't even an option. That meant that they were going to have to have it out once and for all. She hated the thought, but she hated the alternative more. She couldn't leave him. And she couldn't continue living, feeling as if she was a virtual prisoner.
Besides, every marriage had its ups and downs. They were just going through a down period. They would find a way to work through this, just as they had every other problem they'd had in their relationship — of which there had been several. No. No matter what, he was her husband. And she was determined to find a way to make this marriage work — she loved him too much to do otherwise. And even if she hadn't… her hand drifted onto her stomach …there were other things to consider here. This child would need his or her father — especially if the child turned out to share some of his or her father's remarkable gifts. And Lois knew only too well what losing a father could do to a child.
No. Leaving Clark wasn't an option. But…
"Earth to Lois," came Jimmy's voice, bringing Lois back to the present.
"What is it, Jimmy?" Lois responded, trying to make herself look busy.
"I just wondered if you had the twenty bucks you borrowed from me last week. I have a hot date tonight."
"Bank!" Lois exclaimed, jumping to her feet. With everything that had been going on with Clark, she had completely forgotten that she needed to go to the bank. "I'll be back with your money in ten minutes. If Perry's looking for me, tell him I'll be right back. By the way, who's the lucky girl — the new girl in copy?"
"Uhh, young love," said Lois wistfully as she grabbed her jacket and headed towards the elevator.
Clark spun out of the suit and headed down the stairway into the Daily Planet at a jog. It had taken him nearly a half an hour to clean up the mess the overturned truck had left on the interstate. He just hoped Lois was all right.
He stepped into the newsroom, his eyes immediately landing on Lois' desk. His search widened when he didn't see her. His gaze swept the newsroom quickly before returning to do a more thorough search, this time peeking into the conference room, Perry's office, the photocopy room and the supply closet. He even checked both the men's and the women's washrooms.
When he still didn't see her, his heart rate increased, his hands got sweaty and his mouth became dry. What if something had happened in the short time he had been gone?
"Hey, C.K.," came Jimmy's voice. "Are you…"
"Where's Lois?" Clark demanded, cutting Jimmy off.
"She went to the bank a few minutes ago. I got this hot date toni…" His voice trailed off when, without any explanation, Clark headed back towards the stairs at a jog.
Lois pulled out her checkbook and filled out a withdrawal slip while waiting in line at the bank. When she finished and the line still hadn't moved, she looked up. She let out a frustrated breath. There were ten places for bank tellers. Yet only two were actually working the counter. She glanced over at the bank machine and sighed. The line there was shorter, but with everything that had been going on, she had forgotten to send in the mortgage payment. If it wasn't paid today, there would be a penalty. She decided that she would make the payment in person while getting money out of the bank. The problem was…
She sighed again as she counted the people still in front of her. One of the tellers became available, causing the entire line of people to take one step forward. Why did standing in the line at the bank always make one want to become a bank robber?
She glanced down at the mortgage cheque and the withdrawal slip in her hands. Her head snapped up again when she heard the doors to the bank swing open and then watched four people noisily enter the bank — all of them dressed in black and wearing ski masks. Almost immediately, gun fire filled the air. Acting solely on instinct, almost everyone, including Lois, dropped to the floor.
"Everyone stay down," said one of the men with guns. "Now, we're just here to make a little withdrawal. If we don't have any heroes, everyone will live to see another day. Otherwise…" The sound of gunfire again echoed through the enclosed space of the bank. "Any questions?"
The man's final comment was greeted by silence. "Good," the man said. "I guess that means we understand each other."
With his words, he gestured to his companions who quickly made their way into the employees' section of the bank, forcing the employees to put whatever money they had access to into large bags. At the same time, the man who had spoken stayed where he was, keeping an eye on the entire operation as if almost hoping someone would decide to be a hero.
Clark's blood ran cold when he heard gun shots coming from the Metropolis First National Bank. He didn't even stop to check out the situation as he made his way at full speed towards a window on the first floor of the bank. He was through the window, and three of the four assailants were tied up before the sound of the breaking glass of the window could even be heard.
The fourth assailant was being held up by his collar, his mask having vanished, a furious Superman no more than a couple of inches in front of him.
Lois looked up from the floor to see the brightly clad superhero holding the would-be bank robber — a boy who appeared to be no more than eighteen.
"Who do you work for?" Superman demanded of the boy. "Who do you work for?" Superman demanded again when the boy didn't immediately answer, this time giving the boy a slight shake.
"I don't…" began the obviously confused, obviously fearful child.
"Who do you work for?" Superman demanded again.
"I don't work for nobody," the boy said, his expression going from fearful to terrified.
A glimpse at the anger on the superhero's face brought Lois up short. She immediately understood the reason for the boy's fear. In his place, she would be feeling the same way. She took a look at the other people in the bank who had obviously realized the robbers were no longer a threat but had still not risen from their positions from the floor, being completely captivated by the drama now taking place before them.
"That's why you're here, isn't it?" Superman demanded. "It's all a cover so you can kill her, isn't it?"
"I don't…" the boy began again, his voice breaking in the middle of his denial.
"Don't lie to me," the superhero hissed, narrowing his eyes. "This is about my wife, isn't it?"
Lois' breath caught in her throat. She had been about to get up and put a stop to Superman's over-the-top actions. But at the mention of 'his wife', she froze. If she got up now and it became known that she was in the bank… She noticed the cameras covering the place and kept her face towards the floor. She didn't want it to look as if she was trying to avoid the cameras, but at the same time, if they didn't catch a clear view of her face, she could hopefully get out of here without being too noticeable. That was, unless Clark said something else — or directed attention to her.
"I didn't even know you had a wife," the boy stuttered.
Superman looked as if about to respond, but then something the kid had said seemed to sink in. He glanced around the bank, somewhat nervously, before, in another flash of color, he tied up the final kid and disappeared out the window just as the sound of police sirens could be heard approaching.
Lois let her head drop to the floor and she breathed a sigh of relief. But then police officers began to rush into the bank and she realized she had to get out immediately — before she was asked for her statement. If at all possible, no one could know she had ever been there.
Clark watched Lois exit the bank from a rooftop across the street. He knew he had made a serious mistake in that bank. Everyone had heard him make a comment about his wife — of that he had no doubt. If anyone made the connection between that comment and Lois… He wasn't entirely sure how he had made such a stupid mistake. He had just been so scared that Lois was in danger, he hadn't been thinking straight.
Lois would be angry. And he couldn't really blame her. That was why he wasn't waiting for her when she left the bank. At the same time, he couldn't let her walk back to the Daily Planet without his protection — just in case his initial impression that the bank robbery was just a cover to attack her was correct.
He saw her keep her head down as she wove her way through the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Taking to the sky and floating high enough to remain unseen, he followed her progress until she was safely back in the newsroom. Then he headed back towards the bank. Taking a deep breath, he made his way into the bank so that, under the pretext of giving the police his statement, he could erase any security tapes that would likely have got a clear shot of Lois during her time in the bank. He knew it was evidence he was destroying, but… Besides, he would leave ones that wouldn't likely have recorded a clear picture of her. And there were a number of witnesses who could testify, after all.
As soon as he was finished, he returned to the Daily Planet. Landing on the roof, he spun into his Clark clothes and took a seat. He needed to think about what had happened — trying to sort out what he knew from what he suspected.
He still thought that the bank robbery was just a cover for an attack on Lois. He just wasn't sure why he thought that. And if he went in there without a coherent theory… Lois was going to kill him. And if she had already been planning to leave him before this latest incident… He felt a cold knot of fear well up in his stomach. The thought of her leaving him was bad enough. But how was he going to be able to protect her if she left him? Maybe it was time to start seriously considering taking some drastic action. Maybe it was time for him to get Lois out of the path of danger — whether she wanted to go or not.
When Lois arrived back at the Daily Planet, there were televisions on in the newsroom. She pushed her way through the crowd to see what was on, hoping desperately that it wasn't what she thought it probably was.
"So what do you make of it, Lois?" came Perry's voice.
"Of what, Perry?" Lois asked, trying to sound innocent.
"Of Superman's comment about his wife," Perry clarified.
Lois actually breathed something of a sigh of relief. It was bad — true. But it could have been so much worse. Had someone recognized that she was in that bank, Perry's question would have been so much different.
"I suppose it's possible," said Lois as if unaffected by the news.
Perry glanced over at her. Then, without comment, he looked back at the televison. Commentators had definitely heard about Superman's remark and were taking turns trying to figure out what it meant. Had the woman, Zara, who had come to Earth from Krypton years ago, stayed and married Superman? Was it possible that he had married Ultra Woman? After all, there had been rumors at the time that Ultra Woman and Superman had been seen kissing. She watched for a moment more, relieved that there was no mention of her. That didn't necessarily mean that someone wouldn't think to review all the bank tapes. But for right now, at least, it was a relief. And Clark hadn't actually said that she was in the bank so… Maybe they would be okay. Either way, it wasn't as if there was a lot she could do about it now.
"We have just received the following video from the bank's security," said the anchorman on LNN before a video which showed Superman at the robbery began to play.
Lois held her breath as she searched the people in the background of the video, only breathing again when she didn't see herself. If ever there was a time when she did not want to be seen on television, this was it. From the angle of the camera, Superman's actions, and even his facial expressions, could clearly be seen. But she was no where in sight.
"Lane, line two," came a yelled voice.
Lois made her way back through the crowds. When she arrived at her desk, she grabbed the phone.
"Lane, here," she said.
"Lois," came a woman's voice on the other end.
"Hi, Martha," Lois responded, recognizing her mother-in- law's voice.
"What's going on with Clark?" Jonathan asked, skipping any small-talk his wife might be tempted to engage in.
Lois let out a breath. "I don't know, Jonathan. I wish I did, but…" Her voice trailed off. "I just don't know what's going on anymore," she said, her voice trembling as she sank down into her chair, the tension of the last half hour suddenly catching up with her.
"I take it that you don't think the bank robbery was an attempt on your life," Jonathan commented.
"I'm sure it wasn't. I was at the bank. But my trip there wasn't planned. I just happened to be there to pay the mortgage and get some money. The robbers didn't even know who I was. But somehow Clark…" Again her voice trailed off.
"So things aren't going any better between you and Clark?" Martha asked.
Lois snorted. "It's getting almost impossible. You should see our home, Martha. He's turned it into an armed fortress. And the stove…"
"What about the stove?"
"We don't use it. But it seems as if he's checking to make sure it's off two or three times a day. I don't know how much more of this I can take." There was a moment of silence before Lois spoke again. "God, you must think I'm horrible. I mean, he's concerned about the baby. I should be more sensitive."
"That's not what we were thinking at all," said Martha. "We've just been talking and…"
"Well, do you think there might be something wrong with Clark? Something more than just concern for you and the baby?"
Lois was silent as she considered the possibility. "Like what?" she finally asked.
"I don't know. But from what we saw on that bank tape LNN got its hands on… Lois, that was more than just being overly protective. The look on his face… I've never seen that look on Clark's face before. I was scared he was going to seriously hurt that boy. He almost looked… crazy," said Martha.
"No," Lois denied immediately. "Martha, Clark might be a little over-protective. But he'd never hurt anyone. It just isn't in him." But even as she said the words, her mind flashed back to Clark's comments about taking Church to the arctic tundra with no means of support. Before she could evaluate Martha's comment any further, she saw Clark enter the newsroom. Suddenly, feeling guilty for even doubting him, Lois spoke into the phone. "Gotta go," she said before saying a quick goodbye and hanging up.
Mindy heard the phone in her outer office ring again. It seemed as if that thing had been ringing non-stop for the last few hours. She had left instructions quite some time ago that she wasn't taking any more phone calls.
She turned the television up a little bit more to drown out the sound of the phone. It had all been going so well. Superman hadn't been around nearly as much during the past few weeks, making her believe he was too scared to get involved. Bill had killed some of her supporters, just as she had killed some of his. But Bill's hostile actions hadn't been doing much to undermine the support she was still receiving from Intergang's lieutenants. At least, not until now. But after that incident at the bank… By the number of phone calls she was getting, Superman's behavior at the bank had shaken up a lot of people.
But until she had some answers herself, she wasn't taking their calls. Hopefully, this was an isolated incident. Although it might be time to make use of another one of her gifts as a woman — the ability to seduce. Choosing the right 'benefactor' could certainly help with keeping the boys calm. She thought about that for a moment before smiling and picking up the phone to make her own call.
Early the next morning, Lois' hand hovered above the phone in their living room. It was their day off. But, once again, Clark was out as a result of some sort of Superman emergency. Although she had quickly dismissed Martha's comments the day before, she hadn't been able to stop thinking about them. Martha loved Clark as much as she did. She wouldn't suggest her son had a problem if she didn't honestly think he did. And now that she thought about it, Lois found herself wondering the same thing.
She had just assumed that his protectiveness was the result of her being pregnant. But when she considered Superman's behavior in the bank the other day — not to mention other little things, the stove, for instance, she found that she was unable to completely dismiss Martha's comments.
Still, calling Martha and Jonathan almost felt like a betrayal. How could she go behind Clark's back like this? He was her husband. And one thing they had jealously guarded was their ability to talk to each other about anything. How could she start talking to his parents about something that she hadn't yet discussed with Clark? Not that talking to Clark would be easy. But didn't she owe him at least that much before going behind his back to discuss him with his parents?
Having made her decision, Lois allowed her hand to drop and began moving away from the phone. But before she had been able to take more than a step, the phone suddenly began ringing. Lois jumped and then stared at it in disbelief for a moment before grabbing the phone.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Turn on the television," came Martha's voice.
"Do it now," Martha interrupted.
Lois set down the phone and made her way to the coffee table. Picking up the remote, she clicked it on, tuning in LNN. She assumed there was something on the news that Martha thought she should see. She knew instantly that she was right.
Making her way back to the phone, she picked it up but didn't raise it to her ear. Her eyes were glued to the television set as she sank into a chair beside the phone. Unable to do anything but stare, she watched in fascinated horror as the scene on the screen played itself out before her. Although the commentators were certainly giving their opinions on what was transpiring, Lois didn't hear any of it. She simply watched, working out the unheard details for herself.
There had obviously been a multi-car pile up on the interstate. That must have been the emergency that had called Clark away this morning. At least, he was certainly there. A camera in a helicopter overhead was focusing on the superhero as he yelled at a man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties. What he was saying could only be imagined. But there was no doubt that the man looked terrified — and the superhero looked as if he was about to kill him.
A third party, an older gentleman with thinning hair, cautiously approached Superman from behind. His body language seemed to indicate that he was trying to get Superman to calm down. The man reached out and touched Superman's arm. Lois' heart almost came to a stop when, without more than a glance at the intruder, Superman seemed to swat him, sending the man through the air to land a good ten to fifteen feet away. Without waiting to see if the older man was all right, Superman turned back to the original object of his anger.
"My god," Lois breathed, almost as if in prayer. The camera focused for a moment on the man on the ground. Lois let out a breath of relief when the man moved. It seemed that there was a problem with his leg, but at least he was alive.
As if afraid to miss any of the action, the camera returned to the main focus of activity. Superman. He was again yelling at the younger man — almost as if there had been no interruption. Although the camera hadn't caught the reasons for it, Superman was now holding the younger man up by the collar of his shirt.
The helicopter moved around and the camera began to zoom in closer. At first the picture was fuzzy, but when it again came into focus, the look on Superman's face was clearly visible. Lois tensed when she saw Superman's eyes. They seemed to glow slightly. She had seen that before and knew immediately what it meant. Clark was about to use his heat vision on that man.
"No, Clark," she yelled at the top of her lungs — oblivious to what the neighbors might think and hoping desperately that Clark would hear her. "Don't hurt him."
Suddenly, the look on Superman's face seemed to clear. He tilted his head to the side and Lois held her breath, not entirely certain if she was imagining things or if he had heard her. He seemed to look confused before dropping the man and disappearing into the sky.
Lois closed her eyes and finally released her breath. She thought she heard her name and raised her head. Her name being called again finally reminded her that she was still on the phone with Martha. She raised the phone back to her ear.
"What's going on, Martha?" she asked in quiet desperation.
"I'm not sure, Lois. But I've been doing some research. I think Clark might have schizophrenia."
"Multiple personalities?" Lois asked.
"That's a fallacy," said Martha. "Schizophrenia is not about split personalities. It's an illness that affects a person's thought processes. It plays with a person's senses, making them think they see or hear, or even taste, touch or smell, things that aren't there. The symptoms are not identical for everyone. The reason it is confused with split personalities is that the person suffering usually has a personality change."
"Well, that's certainly the case here, but…"
"Also, some people become completely paranoid. Since they are having difficulties distinguishing between real and unreal, they can become convinced that they are being plotted against or constantly spied on. Their reality says that there are dangers lurking around every corner. Their thinking is colored by delusions, having little basis in reality."
Lois was now on the edge of her seat. It almost seemed as if Martha was giving her a description of Clark over the past few weeks.
"But the important thing to remember is that it is an illness — not a weakness. And it is treatable. The problem tends to be that people suffering from schizophrenia are often in denial. What they are experiencing is so real to them that they can't accept being told that it isn't."
"So what do I do? How do I find out?"
"You need to get him to see Dr. Klein," Martha said. "There's something wrong with my boy. And given his powers, if he continues the way he's going, it's only a matter of time before he ends up killing someone. If that happens, Lois, he'll never forgive himself."
Lois was silent for a long time. Martha didn't say anything, as if understanding Lois' need to try to digest what she was being told. Finally, Martha spoke again.
"Even if he isn't suffering from schizophrenia, can you still deny that Clark is having some sort of breakdown?"
Lois let out a breath. "No," she finally whispered. The incident on the freeway had been the final proof. There was no way the man Lois knew would have hurt that older man — especially since he seemed to be simply trying to help. It had almost reminded her of the time Ching had swatted her away as if she were no more than a fly. And it was so unlike Clark that the only explanation for it was that something was wrong with her husband.
"Then at least talk to Dr. Klein," Martha begged. "I'm no expert, after all."
"I will, Martha," Lois said quietly.
"Do you want me to come to Metropolis?" Martha asked. "Jonathan and I have talked about it. He can't get away from the farm right now, but I could come."
Lois smiled, touched by Martha's offer. But she knew full well that the last few years had been hard on Martha and Jonathan financially. Flying to Metropolis without Clark's assistance was beyond their ability. Besides, they were both needed on the farm this time of year.
"We'll be okay, Martha," Lois responded.
"Well, let us know if we can do anything," Martha added.
"Just be there," Lois said softly. "You have no idea how much it helps just knowing you're there."
Clark shook as he slowly lowered himself to the ground by the edge of a small, deserted lake in New Troy's State Park. He needed a moment to himself to try to sort out what had just happened.
By the time he had arrived on the scene, the chain reaction caused by one car abruptly braking, being followed too closely by too many other cars was well underway. The first car had been hit by the second, which had been hit by a third and so on. Even those cars that did manage to brake in time were hit by the car following them. And then one of the cars, upon being hit, had been forced into a second lane. The car there had braked, starting a whole new chain reaction. It had taken some superspeed and some super muscular dexterity for Clark to stop the process.
Once he had finally ensured that no more cars would be involved in this particular collision, he had sped to the front of the line, intent on checking for injuries. It was then that he saw it. A young man had emerged from the second car and was approaching the woman who had emerged from the first. In the man's hand appeared to be a tire iron. Fear had well up in Clark's stomach as, for a moment, he saw Lois as the woman.
The rest was sort of a blur. He could recall putting himself between the man and his intended victim. And… He struggled for a moment. He was fairly certain another man was involved somehow, although he wasn't entirely certain how. And then he had heard Lois' voice. Unlike the voice in his head that kept telling him Lois was in danger, a voice which he knew wasn't real, he could almost swear that Lois' voice had been real — telling him not to hurt the man. It had taken a moment for the remark to sink in. He couldn't imagine that he would have intended to hurt someone. But then he realized he was holding an obviously terrified man by his collar. He had immediately released him and flown away.
But what had happened? Could he have actually have been intending to hurt someone? All he could really remember was being terrified. Terrified that that man was going to hurt that woman. Terrified that he wouldn't be able to stop it. Everything after that was a blur.
He slumped down onto the ground and buried his face in his hands. What was happening to him? Why couldn't he remember what had happened between the moment he had inserted himself between the young man and the woman, and the moment he had heard Lois' voice? And why had he been so scared of failing? The man only had a tire iron, after all. Had there been some threat there that he had not been consciously aware of? And, most importantly, what did he do about it now?
Well, there was one thing he knew he couldn't do. He couldn't tell Lois. After all, she had enough to worry about with the danger that Bill Church was coming after her. Besides, the stress couldn't be good for the baby. No. He couldn't trouble Lois with this. He would have to be strong and sort all this out for himself.
Bill Church Sr. leaned back in his chair and smiled as he watched the commentators clamor all over themselves to give their own versions about what had happened with Superman at the interstate. Superman's apparent lack of control, first at the bank robbery yesterday and now at the interstate, was certainly getting a lot of coverage by the press.
It had taken a not so modest amount of money, but Bill had managed to find out Mindy's plan for the Man of Steel. The yellow kryptonite. He had to admit, he'd had some moments of anxiety. After all, Superman had been around a lot less over the past few weeks — indicating that Mindy's plan was working. Superman was obviously too scared to get involved except on increasingly rare occasions. But he had to admit, these past couple of days… A slow smile made its way across his face.
Actually, he figured that if the yellow kryptonite really did increase Superman's fear, his behavior at both the bank and the interstate were almost predictable. After all, fear could be manifested in a number of different ways. And his absence at a number of incidents he would normally have attended to over the last few weeks indicated that he might well be battling fear. And lately, when he did get involved, he was overreacting which could also be an indication that he was scared. Still, he was fairly certain Superman's current behavior wasn't what Mindy had had in mind when she had exposed him to the yellow kryptonite. A scared Superman could actually become more dangerous — allowing his fear to push him to do things beyond the boundaries he had set for himself. If this continued, it was only a matter of time before Mindy's lieutenants began deserting her in mass, allowing Bill to slip on the mantle of leadership once again.
Of course, two isolated incidents didn't necessarily mean anything. But this was a development Bill Church intended to follow very closely. He needed Superman losing control often enough to bring down Mindy's management of Intergang. At the same time, he wanted to be sure that Superman wouldn't be a threat to him when he again took over the crime syndicate. He sat back and thought about the problem as a plan began to formulate. Reaching over, he picked up the phone.
"Get me the Mayor," he said to his new assistant. Then he hung up, working out the details of the plan as he waited to be connected to Her Honor. The Mayor might not be able to be seen publicly with him until he was officially cleared of the charges hanging over his head. But he had known the woman for years. She wasn't about to dismiss out of hand a large contribution to her reelection fund.
Lois was relieved when the news anchor informed the public that the man Superman had pushed was going to be fine. He'd had the wind knocked out of him and had sprained his ankle, but otherwise there was no permanent harm done.
It didn't take long for the reporters to catch up with him. Lois waited to hear him berate Superman for his actions and was amazed when the man was actually gracious about the whole incident, commenting that everyone does things they don't mean to at times. When asked if he intended to file charges, the man seemed almost offended. "No! Of course not!" he replied vehemently.
In spite of the man's affable comments, the commentators had taken to tearing Superman apart over the incident. It wasn't long before Lois couldn't take it anymore. She turned off the television and began puttering around the house, looking for a way to keep from drowning in her own thoughts and fears. Right now Clark needed for her to be strong — even if it did feel as if her entire world was falling apart.
She felt unbearably guilty for the number of times she had yelled at Clark during the past few weeks. If Martha was right and Clark was sick, how could she have yelled at him? Maybe her behavior was what had pushed him over the edge. Would it have been so bad if she had let him go to Church's lawyer's office by himself? He would have gotten the information for them. And it might have eased Clark's mind. Why did it always have to be her way or the highway?
Wandering into the washroom off their bedroom, she began organizing the magazines in the magazine rack beside the toilet. It felt as if she was in some kind of cloud or haze, going through the motions of cleaning house without having her mind recognize what she was doing — and, in reality, never really finishing any task. Clark was sick. She could hardly believe what a difficult concept that was to grasp. And as that idea sunk in, she realized that in spite of her knowledge that Clark wasn't invulnerable, she had succumbed to the belief that he really was. He was her rock. It felt as if everything she had relied on for the past three years — oh, heck — for the last six years, namely that Clark Kent would always be there for her, had suddenly been ripped from her.
Trying to concentrate on something, anything, that wasn't quite so painful, she forced herself to look at the magazines in her hand. She tried straightening the pile, but one magazine stubbornly refused to become part of a nice, neat stack. Given her mind's preoccupation, her hands couldn't seem to straighten it. After a moment, she growled in frustration, pulled the uncooperative magazine from the rest of the pile and tossed it in the direction of the garbage can. It fell open on the floor.
Sinking down onto the side of the tub, Lois dropped her head into her hands. It felt as if the walls were closing in around her. Her breath began coming in short gasps as the tears finally began.
No. No. She wasn't doing this. Clark needed her to be strong. She couldn't allow herself to collapse. With a vengeance, she forced the remaining magazines into a pile and got up off the edge of the tub. Clark needed her and she was going to do whatever it took. He was sick. She wasn't sure what the sickness was, but it was just one more thing for them to overcome together. And that wouldn't happen if she let herself collapse. Later. Later she could collapse. But not now. Not now.
She put the remaining magazines back in the rack before making her way to the garbage can. Bending over, she reached for the magazine that was lying open on the floor. She was about to pick it up when something on the page staring up at her caught her eye. She gasped as she picked up the magazine. Making her way back to the tub, she sank back onto the edge as she began to read.
The article was about gas stoves, pointing out both the advantages and the dangers. Closing the magazines, she looked at the publication. It wasn't one that Clark had gone out and purchased. It was one that they received by subscription every month. Maybe Clark hadn't even seen the article. She purposely dropped the closed magazine again. It once again opened to the same article. Okay, so at least now she knew where Clark's concern about the stove had come from. Not that it explained him checking the stove as often as he did. But at least she now knew what was driving the fear.
Fear. Suddenly, that word seemed to really sink in. His fear for her safety. His fear that Bill Church was coming after her. His fear that something might happen to the baby. His fear. Whatever had happened, whatever Clark was going through, it was about fear. His fear had driven him to react as he had at the bank robbery. She wasn't sure how the incident on the freeway fit into it, but it must. Clark was afraid, terrified if his reactions over the past few weeks were any indication.
If there was one thing Lois knew about Clark, it was that he consistently refused to admit fear — as if by somehow denying it, it would go away. That attitude had manifested itself several times since she had known Clark. And that attitude would undoubtedly make it more difficult to convince Clark that he had a problem. In that way, Clark was very much like the human males around him. He thought admitting fear was a weakness — instead of realizing that persevering in spite of fear was the real strength.
Martha had suggested she talk to Dr. Klein. But Lois couldn't do that — at least, not until she talked to Clark. So many of their fights had been the direct result of secrets between them and she was not about to complicate the problem by going behind his back now. She wouldn't tell him his mother's theory. But she needed to at least try to get him to see that he had a problem. Maybe she could convince him that it would be a good idea for them to see Dr. Klein.
She heard a familiar whoosh and jumped up from the side of the tub. Quickly washing her face to hide her earlier tears, she headed out, determined to talk to her husband. Maybe she could convince him to do it as a favor to her. She wasn't entirely sure what she was going to say. But whatever it was, she was going to have to choose her words very carefully.
"Hi, honey," said Clark, spinning back into a t-shirt and jeans. "Cleaning?" he asked, glancing at her attire.
"Umm, yeah. I was just starting with the upstairs washroom when you came in," she said.
"You know, honey," Clark said, heading past her. "The majority of household accidents take place in the washroom. I'd really appreciate it if you let me clean up from now on."
"So what emergency called you away this time?" asked Lois carefully, refusing to accept the bait he had just thrown her. Maybe she could convince him to tell her what had happened on the freeway. Maybe it would lead to him admitting that something was wrong. And maybe, just maybe, that would give her an opening to suggest the idea of going to see Dr. Klein.
"Nothing much. Just a pileup on the interstate. No one was seriously hurt, though." He shrugged as he headed towards the kitchen.
"That's it?" asked Lois.
Clark was half way through the kitchen door when he stopped and turned to look at her. Lois could see the question in his eyes.
"I saw the news, Clark," Lois admitted. She would rather that he had told her. But she wasn't about to complicate the problem by lying to him about what she knew.
Clark's eyes went from questioning to cautious. "Oh?"
She let out a breath before heading into the living room to turn on the television. Clark left his spot in the doorway to follow. LNN was still covering the near-fight on the interstate, once again showing the scene where Superman hit the man who had tried to intervene.
Lois watched Clark as the scene played out. The commentator's voice was berating Superman's actions as each frame was shown, talking about how dangerous Superman could actually be.
"Well, what of it?" asked Clark defensively. "What are you trying to imply? I lost my temper. So what? Everyone loses their temper every now and then."
"I know. I'm just wondering if maybe it's something more than that. It just seems like you've been afraid a lot recently. And…"
"I'm Superman!" Clark interrupted a little too quickly. "What do I have to be afraid of? I might be Kryptonian, but that doesn't mean I can't lose my temper once in a while. It doesn't mean anything. And it certainly doesn't mean I'm scared of anything. Is that what you think? You think your husband is a coward, don't you?"
"Of course not," Lois responded carefully. "I'm just…"
"The media is just overreacting. Don't you see what they're doing? They're taking one little mistake and trying to use it to turn the world against me."
"I knew LNN was still being controlled by some shady characters. Luthor wasn't about to leave his best propaganda tool to someone legitimate."
"Clark, you hit that man," Lois interrupted.
Clark spun towards her. "I lost my temper! Is that the unpardonable sin or something?"
"No! Of course not. I just think that maybe…"
"Clark," Lois said softly, before taking his arm and leading him towards the couch. She waited until he was seated and then took a seat beside him. She wasn't entirely sure how to say this without making him even more defensive. "You've been under a lot of stress recently," she began. "I just think… I mean, nobody can deal with stress for long periods of time without some… I just mean, maybe we should take a trip over to see Dr. Klein. It's been a while since you've had a checkup. You seem to be having a problem dealing with the stress we've been under recently." As she spoke, she reached up and gently soothed back a wayward lock hair on his forehead — trying to soften her words by communicating with her eyes and gestures how much she loved him.
His hand came up to hers to take it in his. Lowering both their hands, he seemed riveted on her hand as he turned it over, studying it from all angles. Lois held her breath, hoping his silence meant he was seriously considering what she had said. Maybe this would be easier than she had initially thought. He raised her hand to his lips and lightly kissed her palm.
Clark's mind began working overtime. This was his chance. Maybe if she thought she was helping him, he could convince her to leave Metropolis until Church was again behind bars. She could take a leave of absence from work. He would fly back in the daytime to go to work and then join her again. At least that way she would be safe, and maybe, if they got away from here, she would decide not to leave him.
"Maybe you're right," Clark began. "Maybe I have been a little stressed lately. I've just been so worried about the Church threat."
"I love you and the baby so much. And it would kill me if anything happened to either of you."
She gave him a soft smile, removing her hand from his to run it over his cheek.
"So you'll go see Dr. Klein?"
"That's not what I need."
He leaned over and kissed her neck. "What I need is you." She moaned softly and he smiled. There was a spot just at the base of her neck that seemed to drive her crazy. It was a handy thing to know. Her hand began making its way slowly through his hair. "What I need is to go away somewhere with you. Somewhere quiet and private." He began running his lips up her neck. "Somewhere where it's just the two of us. Where we can be alone and concentrate on us for a change." One of his hands began trailing up her rib cage even as her other hand found its way around his neck. He continued with his exploration for a few minutes, reveling in the soft moans that were beginning to come from the back of her throat, before speaking again. "Come away with me. We'll go somewhere safe."
The final phrase snapped Lois out of the passion-induced haze she was in. With all the fights they'd been having lately, it had been three weeks since they had made love. And his admission that he needed her, his lips nibbling at her neck, his hands running slowly over her body, had completely distracted her. He knew the exact pitch of his voice that affected her the most. He knew every part of her to touch, and how to touch it to get the desired reaction. After spending three years exploring every inch of her body, he had managed to find erogenous zones even she hadn't known about. She was suddenly having visions of lying on a deserted beach somewhere in the south Pacific with her husband — much like a scene out of From Here To Eternity.
His final comment — 'Somewhere safe' — snapped her back to reality. This wasn't about being alone with her. This was about getting her out of harm's way. And her going along with it would just feed Clark's illusions that she was in danger. No matter how tempting it might be to push the idea that Clark was sick out of her mind, he was.
"No," Lois said, pulling herself out of Clark's grasp and skirting backwards across the couch, putting as much distance between them as she could.
"Come on, Lois," said Clark, as he slowly began crawling across the couch towards her. She was struck by how much he looked like a panther tracking down his prey. "Think about how much fun we'll have. No deadlines. No workload. Just you and me alone in some deserted paradise."
"No, Clark," Lois said, her tone a definite plea.
"Why not, Lois?" Clark asked, the twinkle in his eye indicating that he knew how tempted she was to go along with his suggestion. "All I need is some time alone with you. How long has it been, anyway? Come on. You know you want to. Champagne. Caviar. Deserted Island. You. Me. Clothing optional."
Lois felt her resolve melting. The picture he was painting was so tempting. And maybe that was all they needed — some time to themselves. It had been a while since they had left Metropolis — at least to be alone together. She wanted desperately to believe him, to believe there was nothing wrong with him that couldn't be solved with a weekend of looking at the ocean and making love under the stars.
"Clark," she moaned in desperation as he again leaned in to nip lightly, playfully at her earlobe.
"I just need to get lost in your body for a few hours." His lips moved lower. "A few days." His tongue lightly tickled the hollow of her throat. "A few weeks."
Weeks! Lois jumped back. This had nothing to do with them, she reminded herself forcefully. This had to do with getting her out of Metropolis. He was running away — and he was trying to take her with him. To take her somewhere where he could control where she went and what she did. This was about Bill Church.
"Lois?" asked Clark.
"What's wrong with you, Clark?" Lois asked, forgetting her resolution to broach this subject gently. "Why are you trying to get me out of Metropolis?"
"I just want us to be alone together. What's wrong with that?"
"That's not what this is about," objected Lois. "You're trying to control me! You take me to some deserted island and I can't get away!"
"How can you think that? I just want some time with my wife."
"No, you don't. You want your wife out of the path of danger."
"What's so wrong with that?"
"You can't get away from danger, Clark. Life's dangerous."
"Not as much for some people as others," Clark responded, his pleading tone being replaced with an accusation. The change didn't get past Lois. She raised her eyebrows.
"This is who I am. You knew that when you married me. I never pretended with you. If you had a problem with who I am, you never should have asked me to marry you."
"You weren't carrying my child then," Clark shot back.
"Oh no you don't," Lois warned. "Don't you dare…" She emphasized the last word. "…drop that on me! I take care of myself. And I'm taking care of our child, too! So don't try to tell me that…"
When Clark threw up his arms in exasperation and got off the couch, Lois' voice trailed off. What was she doing? She was yelling at him again — even after feeling such guilt earlier about doing exactly that.
"Clark, I think you're sick," she said softly, deciding that directness was the only option left to her.
"I'm Superman," Clark responded. "I don't get sick."
"I talked to your mom and we thought maybe if you went to see Dr. Klein and had a check-up…"
"You talked to my mom about me behind my back?" he accused.
"We're worried about you." She gestured to the television. "You don't seem to be acting like yourself."
"I'd be fine if you didn't insist on dangling over the jaws of death every waking moment."
"I don't…" Her voice trailed off when she realized that she had again raised her voice. "Just talk to Dr. Klein," she begged. "Please. Do it for me."
"There's nothing wrong with me," Clark responded immediately. "Except that my wife doesn't want to spend time with me. I'm not going to bother Dr. Klein for no reason."
"I need some air," he said, spinning into his Superman suit before she could respond. Then, in a flash of color, he flew out the balcony doors, slamming them behind him. Lois was almost surprised when she realized that the glass in the balcony doors hadn't shattered. Maybe bullet proof glass did have some advantages. Her head dropped into her hands.
"You handled that well," she told herself sarcastically.
TWO DAYS LATER
Scarface looked at his colleagues. "Well, ya all, what do ya think?"
"I think we need to reconsider our position with Mindy Church," said the main promoter of prostitution in Metropolis, Stan 'The Kid' Twain.
"Now that's exactly what I was thinkin'" said Scarface.
There was a general murmur of agreement from all the thugs present.
A short, skinny man was sitting at the far end of the table from Scarface. In spite of his deceptive appearance, Robert Decorte was probably the most dangerous man in the room. He ran a bunch of killers for hire, and it was well known that he was the most dangerous of his men. Unlike the others, he disapproved of nicknames, most likely because of some of the nicknames he himself had picked up as a child.
"I disagree," Decorte responded in his high pitched voice.
"How can you say that? I mean, the boy scout was dangerous enough before that Church broad did whatever it is that she did," said Scarface.
"So far, the only ones Superman has gone after is some kid who tried to rob a bank and a tough guy who was threatening a woman. And he has been around a lot less than he was before. I say we wait it out," said Decorte.
There was another general murmur.
"Okay," said Scarface. "Maybe we are moving too soon. Let's wait a little longer — see what happens." He seemed to be speaking for the majority because no one objected. "Now, let's break up this meeting before word of it gets back to the broad." It only took a couple of minutes before the men at the impromptu meeting were making their way out of the bar where they were meeting.
"So how did it go?" asked Mindy.
"They're getting impatient," Decorte responded. "I think I bought you a little more time, though."
"Mmm," responded Mindy, slinking across the room and into the arms of her latest lover. "And how about that other project?"
"You mean taking out Bill's lawyer?" Decorte asked.
"Oh, I love how sexy you make it sound," purred Mindy.
"Don't worry. That man will be dead before we leave this room," said Decorte, breaking from Mindy's embrace long enough to lock her office door.
Lois felt absolutely exhausted. Having failed in her attempt to get Clark to see Dr. Klein, she had employed a different tactic. At first, it hadn't been conscious. But after a time, she realized what she was doing. And in spite of the fact that it hadn't given her a chance to talk to Dr. Klein, she couldn't seem to do anything else.
Superman hadn't made any appearances since their talk two days ago — almost entirely as a result of her. Every time he would hear something, she would make some comment about being scared, and he would end up staying with her. She knew this wasn't the solution. She knew she was just delaying the inevitable. But the idea of him out there, perhaps hurting or even killing someone…
Besides, there was part of her that hoped that Clark would get better if he just took a break from his Superman duties. Of course, another part of her knew that was a pipe dream. Her acceptance, even encouragement, of his hovering just seemed to be making things worse. At times, though, she couldn't help but wonder if she shouldn't have taken him up on his suggestion that they leave Metropolis. Maybe if he didn't have to worry about her…
No. She knew that wasn't the solution either. The last couple of days had driven home exactly how sick he really was. She had been giving in to his pleas for her safety — in hopes of calming him down. And yet nothing she did seemed to be enough.
For example, he had always been the one to do the grocery shopping — after all, he did the vast majority of the food preparation. And they had learned long ago that when she took his grocery list to the store, she normally came back with the wrong things. To her, butter and margarine were the same. To him, it was the difference between buying steak and ice cream. Not that she minded. He could do all the grocery shopping as far as she was concerned.
But yesterday, he had flown to Los Angeles after she was safely in bed to do the shopping. When she had questioned him about it, he had remarked that no one in Metropolis would think of poisoning food in a grocery store in California to get at her. It wasn't only the comment that had scared her. It was the serious tone of his voice when he had said it — as if the insanity of his observation didn't even occur to him.
Just then, Clark walked past her desk, giving her that look, the one that suggested she might want to accompany him, before heading for Perry's office. She immediately followed, curious about what might be going on — not to mention more than a little nervous about what Clark might be up to now.
"What's up?" asked Perry when they entered his office.
"I just heard that you gave the Superman story to Eduardo," Clark said immediately.
Lois' eyebrows rose. The press was speculating about the 'new Superman' these days. In fact, it seemed to be the only thing on the press' agenda. Talk shows were filled with so-called experts talking about Superman's behavior as well as his absence since the incident on the freeway. The same was true of every publication on the planet. It had crossed Lois' mind to wonder who exactly Perry had assigned to cover it for the Daily Planet, but she hadn't asked, fearing that if she did, Perry would assign it to her and Clark.
And that was just about the last thing Lois needed right now. How was she supposed to write articles defending Superman when at the same time she was using all of her powers of persuasion to keep Superman out of the skies? Now, thanks to Clark, she was right in the middle of the issue.
"You both are too close to Superman to be objective here," Perry responded.
Clark looked over at Lois, obviously looking for her support.
"I agree with Perry, Clark," she said softly. Then, at the look in his eyes, she diverted her gaze. "I think we're too close to this to be objective."
"The press is crucifying Superman and you two are just willing to…" Clark's voice trailed off when his head snapped up.
Lois knew the look. She opened her mouth, but then closed it again. What was she supposed to say to stop Clark with Perry present?
"I just remembered, I was supposed to meet with a source. I've gotta go," said Clark, rushing from the room.
Lois rose to her feet, trying to figure out what she should do now. Clark was out there on his own. What if he did something crazy?
"Are you okay, honey?" asked Perry.
"Huh?" said Lois before Perry's question penetrated. "Oh, fine." Suddenly, she realized what she needed to do. "Listen, Perry, I gotta go. I've got to… umm…" She gestured vaguely in the direction of the elevators. "I'll be back soon."
With the words she rushed from the room, knowing that Perry had no idea what she had just said. And hoping that he would have forgotten all about it by the time she returned. Grabbing her coat, she rushed towards the elevators.
The man settled down into his position on the rooftop. When Decorte had assigned him the task of taking out Bill Church's lawyer, he'd not asked any questions. He cozied the butt of the high-powered rifle into its position on his shoulder.
He had to admit some jobs were more fun than others. Given the fact that his wife had left him six months ago and her lawyer was currently taking him to the cleaners, the thought of shooting a lawyer, any lawyer, was not exactly an unpleasant thought. In fact, he figured it was a service he was doing for the good of society.
He held his breath when the door to the restaurant across the street opened and his target stepped out. Looking down the sights, he located his target and slowly, gently pulled back on the trigger.
The shot rang out through the air just as the lawyer bent over. The sound of glass breaking, combined with the sound of the gun firing alerted the lawyer to the danger and he dove to the street, scrambling for safety.
"Damn," the shooter breathed, raising his head from the gun scope. Now that the lawyer was taking cover, he no longer had the luxury of lining up his next shot. He began shooting, one shot after another, in an effort to hit his target before it found safety behind a nearby parked car.
It was only a moment before other men rushed from the restaurant, returning fire.
Clark had been alerted by the first gunshot. Heading as fast as possible to the roof of the Daily Planet, he spun into the suit and was in the sky by the time the air erupted with gunfire. He spotted the shooter on the roof first. Diving at full speed, he had the man disarmed and tied up in the blink of an eye.
Still, the gunfire continued. He was heading towards the source when he first spotted Bill Church's lawyer on his belly beside a parked car. Superman hesitated for only a second. Then, moving faster than sound, he disarmed the men on the sidewalk.
Clark stood motionless as the lawyer rose to his feet.
Dr. Klein was bent over a microscope when Lois entered the room.
"Dr. Klein," she said softly.
Bernard Klein looked up. Since Lois was standing behind him, he didn't immediately see her. Instead, he glanced up at the ceiling.
"Dr. Klein?" Lois said again.
He spun towards her. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize there was anyone else here. I thought, when I heard my name, that you know who was talking to me." He gestured to the ceiling.
Lois followed his gesture, looking up at the white ceiling above them. Then she raised her eyebrows at the amusing thought of whom Bernard might have thought was addressing him and whether he was in the habit of hearing her voice often. She quickly shook her head, trying to clear that last thought from her mind.
"Listen, Dr. Klein," Lois said. "The reason I'm here is…"
"I know," Klein interrupted. "I'm actually a little surprised it took you so long to come see me. But… Well, where's Clark?"
"He doesn't think there's anything wrong," Lois said.
Dr. Klein regarded her for a moment before nodding.
"Look, Dr. Klein. I'm at the end of my rope. I think there's something really wrong with Clark."
"Well, I've seen the news so I know he isn't exactly acting like himself. But I imagine you've seen things that I'm not aware of. What exactly are his symptoms?"
"How is he acting?" Klein clarified.
"Oh," said Lois before proceeding to fill Klein in on Clark's behavior over the past few weeks and Martha's theory. "So what is it? Are we just overreacting?"
Dr. Klein took Lois' arm and led her to a chair. He waited until she was seated before speaking. "Lois, I really don't know what the problem is. What I can tell you is that I don't think you're overreacting. Incidents like the ones at the bank and on the interstate are troubling. But from what you're telling me, those are only the tip of the iceberg. I'm very concerned about his stove obsession, not to mention his buying your groceries in California. We need to get to the bottom of what is causing all this — especially considering who he is and the damage he could do."
"Is it schizophrenia?" asked Lois, her voice trembling on the words.
"I can't say. I mean, it could be. But it could be a lot of other things, too."
"Well, it could be something as simple as burnout."
"I'm not sure how to say this. I mean, I've never had a very good bedside manner. I mean, what happens if I just tell you what the possibilities are and you panic. Or what if I play it down and I don't manage to convince you of the importance of getting Clark to come to see me. Or what if…"
"Dr. Klein!" Lois interrupted.
"Oh right," said Klein, returning from his trip into the twilight zone. "Well, how do you want this? Straight or sugar coated?"
"Straight," said Lois in frustration, wishing he'd just get to the point.
"Like I said it could be something as simple as burnout. Or it could be schizophrenia, like you suggested, or some other mental illness."
Lois nodded thoughtfully.
"On the other hand, it could be something even more serious," Klein continued "I mean, we really don't know much about kryptonian biology. It could be that Clark has some disease we've never heard of. We might not know if it's serious or something that could be controlled with kryptonian medication. It also might be something like a brain tumor. Although, whether we'd be able to operate if he did have a brain tumor, I simply don't know. I suppose if we can't, a brain tumor could be fatal. Not that he would necessarily live even if we could operate. But at least…"
"Omigod," Lois gasped, cutting Klein off.
"I knew it. Too direct."
"Is it too late to choose 'sugar coated'?" asked Lois in desperation. Then, after letting out a breath, she continued. "So what do I do?" she asked.
Clark's mind had begun racing the moment he'd recognized the man cowering behind a parked car — the man who was quite obviously the target of this attack. Bill Church's lawyer. And for just a second, he wondered if he should even be bothering to try to save the man's life. Had it not been for Clark's fear that innocent bystanders might be hurt, he might well have freed the shooter on the roof and left him to finish the job.
But then his thoughts unexpectedly took him in a different direction. This was Bill Church's lawyer. The holder of Bill Church's secrets. This was the one man who might well be able to tell him what Church had planned for Lois.
"Thanks so much, Superman," the man said, rising to his feet and wiping his dirty hands on his trousers before extending a hand to the superhero. "I was afraid for a minute there that I was a goner," he continued, completely oblivious to the thoughts now running through Superman's mind. "I'm so glad you came along when…"
His voice trailed off in shock when Superman grabbed his hand. But instead of shaking it, Superman twisted it, pulling the man's arm behind his back. There was a soft, but very distinct crunch of breaking bone. The man cried out in pain. Still, Superman didn't back off.
"What does Church have planned?" Superman hissed into the man's ear.
"What does he have planned?" Superman demanded again, twisting the already broken arm further behind the man's back.
The man's scream echoed through the air. Oblivious to the police sirens approaching or the crowd gathering or even the young woman with a video camera, Superman made the same demand for information.
"I don't know what you want," the man said in desperation. "Please. I'm just the man's lawyer. He seeks my advice on legal matters. But that's it. I don't know…" His voice trailed off when Superman's other arm was suddenly around his neck, putting pressure on his windpipe.
"Then tell me this," hissed Superman, increasing the pressure on the lawyer's throat. "If you don't know anything, why shouldn't I just kill you?"
The man's free hand came up and began clawing futilely at the arm Superman was using to cut off his supply of oxygen. He tried to answer Superman's question. But it seemed the former superhero must not have been looking for a response, because the arm did not let up on his neck.
"Freeze," came a voice as police officers scrambled out of their cars, guns drawn and, almost unbelievably, aimed at the Man of Steel.
"Let him go," one of the officers demanded, his voice trembling only slightly with the knowledge of who he was trying to stop.
Superman seemed almost oblivious to them for a moment before focusing on the speaker. Then his expression turned from oblivious to confused and, a second later, to horrified. Dumping the lawyer unceremoniously on the ground, Superman disappeared into the sky. The lawyer coughed and sputtered as he began, once again, sucking air into his burning lungs.
"You have to get Clark to come in to see me. I can't tell you anything until I've examined him," Klein emphasized.
"He won't come. I already tried," replied Lois.
Klein studied her for a long time before saying, "There is one way to get him here. But I warn you, it is a little radical."
"How?" asked Lois in desperation. "Look, Dr. Klein, I'm getting a little desperate here. I'm willing to try anything to get Clark help."
"You know that I keep a small amount of kryptonite in the safe," Dr. Klein began.
"Yes, but what…" Lois' mouth dropped open when it sank in what he was suggesting. "No! No, Dr. Klein. I won't do it! I can't. How can you even ask me…"
"Lois, Clark's out of control. For what reason, I don't know. What I do know is that someone with his powers could do a lot of damage. So far, no one's been seriously hurt. But if he doesn't get some help, it's only a matter of time before someone is. Now, I know it might be a little radical, but exposing him to kryptonite for a short period of time would make him vulnerable — allowing you, or us, to bring him here for testing, with or without his consent. Now, as his wife, you have the legal right to consent to his being held for psychiatric observation until…"
"I can't do it," Lois responded, her voice practically begging Dr. Klein to stop talking.
"Where is he right now?" asked Klein.
"He was called away on some sort of Superman emergency."
Klein's eyebrows went up. "I take it you're the one who has been keeping Superman from responding to emergencies lately."
Lois nodded, feeling slightly sheepish.
"So why is that? You're scared he's going to hurt someone, too, aren't you?" When Lois didn't respond, Dr. Klein walked over to a television sitting in the corner of his office and turned it on. Lois followed, not entirely certain what he was trying to prove.
"You said Superman took off to attend to some super business. So let's see what he's been doing," Klein said as the television slowly warmed up.
Lois suddenly wasn't so sure about this. The sinking feeling in her stomach started even before she saw the news report on Clark's latest venture.
"Did the police say why Superman broke the man's arm?" the voice on the television was asking.
"No, Bob. All they were able to tell us was that when they arrived…"
Lois grabbed the nearest chair, the words coming over the speaker no longer penetrating her mind, and sank down into it. "Clark, what are you doing?" she barely breathed.
"You've got to bring him in to see me, Lois," Dr. Klein said again, pushing the mute button on the television.
Lois nodded slowly and then focused her attention on Dr. Klein. "I'll find a way. But I won't use kryptonite on my husband."
"Then you've got to find another way. Fast." He turned back to the television. "Otherwise, someone is going to end up dead."
"I need to talk to Bill Church," said Scarface into the phone. When the woman on the other end of the line asked who was calling, he responded, "Just tell him we met at Mindy's meeting a few weeks ago. Tell him I might be able to solve his problems." He drummed his fingers nervously on his desk as he waited for Bill Church to come on the line.
In spite of their decision earlier today to wait it out, Scarface had begun to receive nervous phone calls the moment the latest incident involving Superman had hit the airwaves. Although the target in question was one of Bill Church's men, the consensus seemed to be that Superman was hitting too close to home. Next time, any one of them could be the target. Whoever could put an end to this new and most alarming Superman was the one all the various factions would support — even if it meant accepting Superman the way he had been before the Church broad had begun to work her magic on him.
"Bill Church here," came a man's voice over the phone.
"Mr. Church, I believe I can bring the majority of Intergang's people into your camp. If you're interested, that is."
"I'm very interested," Bill Church responded. "But are you sure you can deliver?"
"Yeah, I can deliver," Scarface responded. "Ain't none of us too happy with this new Superman. If you can help, we're yours."
"Then I think we have something to talk about," Bill Church responded. "I'll make a call. Listen to LNN for an announcement later today. If you like what you hear, call back. I'll be waiting."
Lois was glad it was late enough for her to call in to the Daily Planet and simply inform Perry she would see him in the morning. Perry told her to take care and then casually mentioned that Clark hadn't made it back to the office either, but that if he did, Perry would let him know she'd gone home. The whole conversation had been somewhat strange — especially how it had ended. Perry had concluded by saying that if she needed anything that she should just give him a call.
Still, Lois was not about to question a little good luck — especially during a day with so much bad news. She was worried about Clark not returning to the Daily Planet after the incident outside the restaurant. Where was he? What was he doing?
She kept the radio on during her drive home — just in case. Then, the moment she entered the brownstone, she turned on the television, desperately hoping that Superman wasn't involved in anything worse than breaking that man's arm.
She made her way into the kitchen and got a glass of water before returning to the living room. Just as she sat down on the couch, the Mayor appeared on the television. A sea of microphones had been set up on the steps of city hall, almost dwarfing the Mayor as she stood behind them. It took a moment for the crowd to calm down enough for the Mayor to be heard.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. An hour ago, I instructed the D.A.'s office to go to court to get a warrant for Superman's arrest for assault as a result of the incident that took place earlier today. I understand that Superman has done great things for this city, for this world. But that does not place him above the law. The attack on an innocent bystander was completely unacceptable and must not go unanswered. We are asking Superman to turn himself in immediately.
"I have also obtained an injunction prohibiting Superman from assisting in any emergencies until this entire unpleasant matter has been dealt with. Thank you for your time."
As the Mayor was about to step away from the podium, one of the reporters, to Lois it sounded like Eduardo, asked a question that drew the Mayor's attention back to the people in front of her.
"What will the city do if Superman doesn't surrender himself or abide by your injunction?"
"I assure both you and all the citizens of this city that Superman will surrender himself or we will bring him in. By any means necessary. But I'm certain that won't be necessary. Superman will undoubtedly realize his mistake and turn himself in. I'm afraid that is all the time I have for questions." On the final word, she stepped away from the podium and was quickly escorted back inside city hall.
"And to think I gave that woman cheese for Christmas last year," Lois mumbled. Yet, although Lois suspected that the Mayor might have a hidden agenda, she couldn't actually fault the woman for her actions in this case. Or at least, she probably wouldn't have been able to if it weren't for one little detail — this was Lois' husband the Mayor was talking about. And there was no way Lois intended to have Clark turn himself in to the likes of that woman.
Besides, Lois had no doubt that the Mayor would have no interest in getting Superman the help he needed. She was only interested in… Well, Lois wasn't entirely certain what the Mayor's interest was. But she knew Superman's well being was not it.
"So they've finally done it," said a familiar male voice causing Lois to spin around.
"I didn't hear you come in," said Lois, surprised to find Clark standing behind her.
He looked at her for a moment before continuing, "It seems the people of this city are finally turning against me. So, are you one of them? Are you going to turn against me, too?" he asked.
"Of course not!" Lois exclaimed. "How can you even think that?"
"Bill Church here," said Church, picking up the phone.
"Did you do that?" asked a familiar voice over the phone. "Are you responsible for the Mayor's announcement?"
"What do you think?" asked Bill in response, immediately recognizing the voice as belonging to the man who had called him earlier.
"Can we meet?" the voice asked.
Supper was strained. Lois kept trying to think of a way to bring up what had happened today without getting Clark's hackles up. But after his comment, asking if she was going to turn against him, too, she wasn't able to think of a way to broach the topic without making him believe that she had.
After supper, Clark turned on the television. When he finally found something that was not about Superman, he settled down on the couch. Lois stood in the entranceway to the living room for a few minutes before making her way over to sit beside him. She snuggled back against him when he, somewhat awkwardly, put his arm around her shoulders.
She spent most of the evening in that position, pretending, as she was sure he was, to watch the programs on television. But it was impossible to put the events of the day out of her mind. Clark was in trouble — and she couldn't even find a way to discuss the matter with him. But how could she possibly let him continue to be Superman when there was a chance that he could seriously hurt or even kill someone?
'Are you going to turn against me, too?' Clark's question from earlier continued to haunt her, as did Dr. Klein's remarks — including his suggestion that she use kryptonite to bring Clark to see him. She picked up Clark's hand and played with it. How could she take such extreme measures against the man she loved? If only there were some way to get him to understand…
"Clark," she finally said, her mouth suddenly going dry.
"Hmmm," responded Clark.
"I was just wondering if you've given any thought to our discussion about going to see Dr. Klein."
Clark snorted. "You aren't going to start that again, are you? I told you, I'm just a little stressed. And given the Bill Church threat, can you really blame me?"
"Of course not," Lois cut in immediately. She was silent for a moment more before speaking again. "I just think it might be a good idea. I mean after what happened today…"
"Oh, don't you start now," Clark interrupted. He moved from his position, releasing her to get off the couch. "Do you have any idea who that man was?"
"Bill Church's lawyer," she responded. "That doesn't give you the right…"
"To what? Demand to know what Church is up to."
"That's not all you did, Clark," Lois responded in disbelief. "You broke that man's arm. What would you have done if the police hadn't shown up when they did?"
"What do you think I would have done? Are you trying to imply that I would have killed him?"
"No. I mean, I don't know. I mean, do you know?"
Her last question obviously penetrated Clark's defensive attitude. A look of fear flicked through his eyes. Almost immediately, he turned away from her — obviously in an attempt to keep her from seeing the effect her question had had on him. But she had seen it. She had seen the doubt in his eyes. It was obvious that he was as troubled by his behavior as she was. She got off the couch and approached him slowly. When she arrived behind him, she hesitated before slipping her arms around his waist and laying her head against his back.
"I love you so much," she whispered, knowing that she didn't have to speak loud for him to hear. "I just hate to see you struggling."
He turned towards her, taking her face between his hands. And for the first time, she felt hope. Maybe she had been wrong in thinking that Clark wouldn't agree to see Dr. Klein.
"I wouldn't be struggling," he said, "if you would just come away with me. Please. We could go anywhere."
She stepped back immediately.
He snorted again, allowing his hands to fall away from her face.
"I should have known. You would never leave Metropolis, the Daily Planet or Perry White, would you?"
Her voice trailed off when it became obvious that she'd lost his attention. He cocked his head to the side and a familiar expression appeared on his face. He turned away from her. Reacting immediately, she grabbed onto the back of his shirt.
"Don't go," she begged.
He turned back towards her, his eyes looking sympathetic.
"Let the authorities take care of whatever you heard," she continued. "Stay here with me."
"Lois, I…" His voice trailed off and she watched the expression on his face change. He had looked sympathetic; now he looked suspicious. "You don't trust me to handle this, do you?" he accused.
She quickly averted her eyes, not quite able to hide her reaction to the truth of his obviously rhetorical question. She looked up again when she heard him spinning. Her eyes landed on him for only a second before he flew out the balcony doors.
"Clark," she said in desperation when she heard the familiar sonic boom. Then the reality of his disappearance began to sink in. She spun towards the television that was still playing quietly in the background. Grabbing the remote, she switched to LNN, turning up the volume.
Almost immediately, she realized what her actions signified. She was, indeed, terrified about what Clark might do. If that were true, how could she stand by and let him continue to do it? Wouldn't she be at least partially responsible if he did kill someone? After all, she could have prevented it. Sinking down onto the couch and pushing the mute button on the remote, she thought about her options.
There was no doubt in her mind that he wasn't going to see Dr. Klein on his own. She also suspected that Clark realized he had a problem. So why was he so resistant to the idea of going to see Dr. Klein? She thought about Martha's comment that people suffering from schizophrenia were often in denial. Maybe that was it. But whatever the reason was, it was obvious that Clark was not prepared to face this of his own volition. That left finding the solution to her.
There was one option that she no longer had after this latest confrontation with Clark. She couldn't continue to prevent Clark from responding to Superman emergencies. He'd obviously figured out what she was doing. So what other options existed?
Going away with him. It was certainly what he wanted. And if she got his word that he'd retire Superman maybe… No. What if Clark did have some Kryptonian disease or even a brain tumor? How could she go away with him when they didn't know exactly what the problem was? She couldn't risk Clark's life — not if there might be something that could be done to make him better. The world needed… No. She needed Clark to get better. Even more importantly, their child needed Clark to get better. And even if he never talked to her again if she used kryptonite to bring him to Dr. Klein, he would never turn his back on his child.
She closed her eyes, trying to prevent the tears that seemed determined to escape. She failed and one tear slipping down her cheek was followed by a second. She brushed them away angrily. Crying wouldn't help right now. She had to get a grip.
There was only one way to deal with the situation. She had to get Clark to see Dr. Klein. He wouldn't go on his own, which obviously meant using kryptonite. But how could she… Maybe she could ask someone else to do it. That thought lasted no more than a second. It had to be her. She wasn't about to trust that green crystal to anyone else. If anyone was going to use kryptonite on Clark, it was going to be her.
She picked up the phone and called the airport. After a brief conversation with the person on the other end, she hung up and called Smallville. Her hand felt grimy on the phone as she waited for an answer.
"Hello," came Jonathan's voice.
"Hi, Jonathan," Lois responded.
"Martha, pick up the other phone," Jonathan said into the background. "It's Lois."
A moment later, Martha was on the other end with her husband. "What's wrong, honey?" she asked immediately.
Lois filled them in on what had happened and what she was planning to do, half expecting them to yell at her. When they remained uncharacteristically silent after she had finished, she wondered if she was making a mistake.
"I don't think there's a choice," Jonathan finally said. "Clark can't be allowed to continue the way he is. And if he won't go to see Dr. Klein on his own, you've got to force him to go — by any means possible."
The words hit Lois hard. It would almost have been easier if they had yelled at her, telling her that she was the one who had lost her mind. Their confirmation of her decision started the tears anew.
"I'm coming to Metropolis," said Martha. "I'm sure there must be a plane out some time tonight."
"Actually," Lois responded, "the first one is at ten a.m. tomorrow morning. You're already booked. I called the airline before calling you. A ticket will be waiting for you at the airport."
"Good," said Martha. "Then I'll see you tomorrow."
"So when are you planning to do this?" asked Jonathan.
"Tonight," Lois said softly. "I don't know where Clark is at the moment, but…"
"There's a typhoon off the coast of India that he's trying to divert," said Martha.
Lois let out a slow breath. At least that was something he couldn't blame on anyone.
"Can you wait until I'm there?" asked Martha. "This might be easier if you had some backup."
"I can't risk it, Martha. If I'm going to do this, I think the sooner the better — before Clark ends up…" Her voice trailed off, not able to actually put into words her fear of Clark killing someone.
"Then call us as soon as…" Martha's voice trailed off before she seemed to find a way to complete her sentence. "…it's done."
"It could be really late," Lois responded.
"I don't think either of us will be getting much sleep tonight," said Jonathan.
Lois slowly nodded. "Well, I suppose I should give Dr. Klein a call," Lois said hesitantly. There was equally hesitant agreement on the other end of the line followed by a very loud period of silence.
"You do know how much we love you, don't you, Lois?" Martha asked finally breaking the silence.
Lois drew in a sharp, shaky breath in response to the words. But, although she tried, she suddenly discovered that her throat had constricted and, as a result, she was unable to respond.
"I've gotta go," she finally managed to choke out before, almost without waiting for them to say goodbye, hanging up the phone.
Leaning against the table for support, she closed her eyes and drew in a number of deep breaths. Once her breathing seemed somewhat under control, she tried out her voice. It took several tries, but eventually she thought her voice sounded somewhat normal. Taking a final deep breath, she picked up the phone to place the call she really didn't want to make.
"Hello?" said the man answering the phone.
"Dr. Kl…" Her voice broke. She noisily cleared her throat before trying again. "Dr. Klein," she said, "I need your help."
Lois was pacing nervously in the kitchen when a knock came at the back door. At first, she simply stared at the door, as if not entirely certain what the knock indicated. But then the knock was repeated.
When Lois had called Dr. Klein, asking him to bring the kryptonite, she told him to come to the back door. She would leave the back porch light on if it was safe. If Clark turned up before Dr. Klein arrived, she'd just have to wait for another night. And since the call, Lois had found herself almost praying that Clark would get home first. But he hadn't. And now there was a person, she assumed Dr. Klein, knocking at the back door.
She could almost feel the blood racing through her veins as she opened the numerous locks and turned the door handle to admit her visitor. Dr. Klein was indeed standing on the other side. Her eyes drifted down to the box he was holding in his hands, and suddenly she couldn't see much of anything else. Her hand made a vague gesture, indicating that Bernard Klein should enter.
"I got here as soon as I could," said Dr. Klein, holding the box out to her.
Unable to take it, she shook her head, pointing in the direction of the kitchen table. He seemed to understand because he made his way over to the table and set the box down.
"I had a heck of a time keeping that little item away from the Mayor," he said casually.
"The Mayor?" asked Lois.
"Yes. She stopped by this evening demanding that I release the kryptonite to her."
"I assume to fulfill her threat to bring Superman in by any means necessary," said Dr. Klein.
All the color instantly drained from Lois' face. "What did you tell her?" she asked nervously.
"That the safe lock was on a timer and that I wouldn't be able to get it until tomorrow morning. I figured that I could think of another way to stall then."
Lois began to pace again. "Look, Dr. Klein, I don't want that woman anywhere near Clark. I don't know exactly what her agenda is here, but I'm sure it isn't Clark's well- being."
"I agree," Dr. Klein said immediately. "Look, Lois, Star Labs is not an agent of city hall. I don't answer to the Mayor. And I trust the people at Star Labs. They had to sign strict confidentiality agreements and their backgrounds were thoroughly searched when they applied to work for Star Labs. Also, I will make sure that very few people know of Superman's presence. He'll be safe there. Far safer, I suspect, than flying around the skies of Metropolis right now. After all, even if the Mayor can't get the kryptonite from me — and if necessary I was going to steal the crystal myself — I would imagine she has other, less reputable, sources. After all, anyone out there who does have access to kryptonite and a gripe against Superman would likely see this as the perfect chance to use it legally on Superman."
Lois nodded slowly before bringing her eyes up to meet Dr. Klein's. "I'm doing the right thing, aren't I?" she asked softly, searching his eyes.
"You're doing the only thing," he assured her. "We'll get Clark the help he needs. I promise you, Lois."
Lois let out a breath.
"Also," continued Dr. Klein, "I brought you this." He held up a thick white vest. When Lois looked confused, he continued, "It's a lead-lined vest."
"For Clark?" she asked, not understanding why she would need this.
"For you," Klein corrected. "For the baby."
Lois gasped. "Thank god you thought of that. It never even occurred to me to worry about how the baby might react to kryptonite. But…" She took the vest from him and turned it in her hands. "Are you sure this will protect the baby?"
Klein nodded. "And I brought along a few other things you might need." With that he withdrew a pair of handcuffs and handed them to Lois. "Even if he doesn't have his powers, I figure it might be easier controlling him if you have these."
"Thanks," said Lois, taking them from the doctor and sticking them in a pocket of the vest.
"And I brought this," he continued, pulling a small black gun out of the bag he was carrying.
Lois stared at it in horror before shaking her head. "I can't," she said. "I've never believed in guns. Besides, he'd know I wouldn't be able to use it on him."
"No. I'll find another way. But I won't take that."
Klein let out a breath and nodded, sticking the gun back in his bag.
"Okay," he said. "Do you have a plan?"
"Not much of one," she admitted. She had been unable to think much beyond using the kryptonite on Clark.
"Well, you know that all-night diner just around the corner?"
"I'll be there. As soon as you have Clark incapacitated and the handcuffs on him, give me a call. I brought a windowless van with me. We can take him to Star Labs in it. That way there will be less chance of anyone realizing that Superman is inside."
"Well, if you're going to help me bring Clark in…" She paused. "Where's that gun?"
Klein's eyebrows crinkled before he reached into his bag and pulled out the gun, handing it to Lois. For someone who didn't like guns, she seemed to know her way around them. Pushing on a small lever, she popped the clip out of the gun and removed the bullets. Then she checked the chamber for bullets, returned the clip and handed it back to Dr. Klein.
"If you're going to help… I won't take the chance of his getting hurt. And if you use a gun… Do you still want to help?"
Klein let out a breath and nodded. "Also, we will need to bring him to Star Labs wearing the Superman outfit. It will be easier if those who do know he's there know that we're dealing with Superman — especially when we start working on things like diagnosis and treatment."
Lois nodded. "But, doctor, we have to keep this very quiet. No one who doesn't absolutely need to be told he's there can know that he is," she emphasized.
"I agree. The only people we will tell are the ones who have to know in order to give him the care he needs. And I'll only use people I trust implicitly."
Lois glanced over at the box on the table. "How long should I keep him exposed to it?" she asked. "I mean, I don't want any possibility that I'm going to kill him."
"Well, from what he's told me over the years, I'd say you need to keep that box open for at least an hour."
"An hour?" Lois gasped.
"Lois, don't worry. Before your wedding… umm… almost wedding to Lex Luthor, Clark told me that he was trapped in a kryptonite cage for almost twenty hours. An hour won't kill him. But what you don't want is to close the box and have his powers return almost immediately."
"But an hour? Dr. Klein, have you ever seen his reaction to kryptonite? How am I supposed to watch him in agony for an hour?"
Instead of answering, he reached out and placed a hand on her arm. "Everything is going to be all right, Lois," he said softly. "Anyway," he said, stepping back as if slightly embarrassed by his attempt to offer reassurance, "I'll be at the diner around the corner." With that, he began backing towards the door.
"It could be a long wait," Lois said as he opened the door.
"I brought a good book," Klein responded. "For a long time I've been wanting to read the MPD's DNA handbook. It deals with the collection and analysis of DNA, specifically for the purpose of tracking down criminals. Do you realize how much DNA analysis has changed crime scene investigation? Before we could break down a person's DNA…"
His voice suddenly trailed off. By the look in his eyes, Lois got the distinct impression that he was concerned by her failure to stop his babble. But she simply didn't have the energy.
"Anyway, I'll be waiting for your call," Klein concluded before heading out the door.
Lois forgot about him almost immediately as her eyes focused on the small, lead-lined box sitting on her kitchen table. It felt as it that box was sucking all the air out of the room. Suddenly, she was fighting to keep the walls from closing in around her.
It was quite some time later before Lois worked up the nerve to approach the box. Taking a deep breath, she reached out with trembling hands to pick it up. She fought back tears as the reality of what she was about to do began to sink in. After picking up the box and the lead-lined vest, she slowly made her way out of the kitchen and ascended the stairs.
As she entered their bedroom, she tried to formulate another plan to handle the situation, but once again this was the only solution she could think of. She set the box on the small nightstand beside their bed and backed away.
Closing her eyes, she swallowed hard. After a moment, she took the vest into the washroom, stashing it in a cupboard where Clark wouldn't see it, before heading back into the bedroom to prepare for bed.
She was unable to take her eyes off the box as she began to get undressed. She had no doubt that Clark would be home soon. If this was going to work, she was going to have to give the best performance of her life. That meant she had to find a way to relax. After all, if she couldn't control her heart rate, he was going to know something was up. And given how paranoid he was these days… She took and let out a deep breath.
She swallowed again, this time in fear, as it occurred to her what he might do to her if he discovered the plan before she could implement it. It was the first time she'd ever been truly afraid of Clark. It wasn't that she actually believed he would hurt her. But she figured that if she were caught, she could very well find herself on that deserted island Clark kept trying to lure her to — without her consent. She didn't doubt she would have everything she could possibly need, except for the things she valued most — her freedom, her job and her friends. And, given that Clark would think she was trying to kill him, she probably wouldn't even have him.
The best time to do this would be when he was asleep. But given Clark's erratic sleeping patterns recently, how was she supposed to get him to sleep? A blush rose in her cheeks as one way suddenly occurred to her. No. She couldn't do that. It would be like Judas' kiss.
But what other choice was there? If Clark got wind of this plan before she could implement it… She would only get one opportunity. Going over to her dresser, she withdrew a very different type of sleep apparel to that which she was wearing. At least this way, she wouldn't have to worry about controlling her heart rate. Besides, this might be the last time Clark ever wanted to be with her. That last thought decided the issue for Lois, and almost immediately, she was pulling off her t-shirt and slipping into a sexy red teddy.
Lois was wide awake as she lay in bed waiting for the return of her husband. When she finally heard a familiar 'whoosh' downstairs, she froze.
Her eyes focused on the door to their bedroom as she waited for him to ascend the stairs. After a few minutes, she rose to sit on the side of the bed. What was taking him so long? Then she heard a number of loud beeps and without even taking time to throw on a robe, she sped from the room, practically throwing herself down the stairs. She came to an abrupt halt when she reached the bottom.
Clark was floating up near the ceiling with his back to her and doing something with the smoke detector.
"Sorry if I woke you," said Clark. "But I realized that it's been a while since I checked the smoke detector."
"I was thinking, too. It seems to me you're supposed to have a smoke detector on every floor of your home. And we only have the one down here," he began, floating around to face her. "Tomorrow I'm going to go out to get…" His voice trailed off when his eyes finally landed on her.
Lois felt confused by the abrupt change in Clark's expression. But then his eyes slowly slid down her body, almost like a caress, and she remembered what she was wearing. She glanced down at herself, taking in, with almost as much fascination as was so evident on Clark's face, the red teddy she had chosen. She'd purchased this about a month ago, planning to surprise Clark with it. Obviously, she had.
"Lois." The word was little more than a breath on Clark's lips as he slowly floated to the floor in front of her.
A small smile was suddenly playing around the corners of her mouth at the realization that she still had it — still had the power to make the Man of Steel forget everything but her. Then the smile faded as the reality of her current situation began to sink in. And for a moment she was tempted to dash back up the stairs. But then she saw the dark passion already so evident in his eyes and felt her body respond.
She stepped forward, breaking eye contact as she raised her hands to his chest. She watched every movement as her hands slid slowly, deliberately over his torso. He stood perfectly still as she explored every well-defined muscle. His breathing quickly became more labored as he obviously struggled for control. Looking up, her eyes landed on his mouth. It was slightly open as he sucked in each excruciating breath. She ran her tongue over her own lips.
She wanted him. She suspected that she wanted him more at this moment than she ever had before. She wanted to feel his strength and to draw from it. She wanted to experience his passion and get lost in it. She wanted to know his love and respond to it with her own.
Her eyes left his lips to meet his eyes again, silently begging him to love her. His eyes had become darker than they were before and she suspected that her own eyes were matching the intensity of his. They stared into each other's eyes for no more than a second before his lips were on hers, meeting her kiss with a passion equal to or even exceeding hers. She refused to break contact even when she felt him bend over slightly, slipping an arm around her legs to pull her into his arms. She was barely even aware of movement as he carried her up the stairs, so focused was she on memorizing the way his tongue pursued hers, the way he tasted, even the way he smelled when they made love.
She pushed what would come later to the back of her mind. For now, she would love him, and let him love her.
"Wow! Where did that come from?" asked Clark as they lay in bed together quite some time later. Except for a number of expletives, they were the first intelligent words that had come from either of their lips since they had come upstairs.
Lois allowed her hand to wander absently over his chest, not entirely certain how to answer him. The last thing she wanted to do was lie to him. But at the same time she didn't want him to know exactly why she had been quite so… She allowed her thought to trail off.
"Not that I'm complaining, mind you," Clark continued when she didn't speak. "But were you trying to kill me?"
She gave the best imitation of a chuckle that she could manage even though his words felt as if they were a dagger slicing into her heart. If everything went as planned, she'd be using a substance on him shortly that could indeed kill him.
"Sorry," she said softly, not entirely certain if she was apologizing for her exuberance… or was that desperation? …earlier or for what she knew would come later.
He moved slightly, so that he could look at her. "Don't you dare apologize!" he admonished. "That was… incredible."
She gave him a soft, very genuine smile. How was it that he always sounded almost in awe whenever he referred to their love-making? It was the most Clark-like thing she'd heard him say in a long time. She leaned over, giving him a soft kiss in a desperate effort to communicate one final time just how much she really did love him.
As soon as the kiss ended, Clark started to rise.
"What are you doing?" she asked, pulling him back down into the bed with her.
"I just think I should probably get up. I mean, if I lie here much longer, I'm going to fall asleep. What if Church tries something in the middle of the night?"
"No," Lois begged, knowing that having Clark fall asleep was integral to the success of this plan. "Stay here with me."
"I want you to hold me tonight, Clark," she continued. "If Bill Church does try something, I trust you to respond fast enough to protect me, even if you have fallen asleep. After all, it isn't as if he knows you're Superman. Being asleep won't cost you more than a second."
"Please, Clark. We've been fighting so much lately and I just don't want this moment to end." She then looked at him and watched in relief as his determined expression began to fade in the face of her pleas.
He let out a breath and nodded, fully relaxing back into the bed.
"I was right," he said softly. "Superman never stood a chance when it came to you. And I guess you're right. If Bill Church does try anything…" His sentence trailed off into a yawn.
Lois laid her head back against his chest and closed her eyes, fighting off a sudden wave of nausea. She had won — and never had she known winning to be so painful. She had no doubt that he'd be sound asleep shortly. In that way, he was very much like the men of this world. And there was a big part of her that wished more than anything that she hadn't won. After all…
"I love you," she whispered. His arm tightened around her briefly in response.
Jonathan pulled on his robe and slippers before making his way down the stairs to the living room. The lights in the house were out, but he could see the crackling light of a fire coming from the main room, telling him where his wife must be.
He entered the room almost noiselessly. Martha was sitting on the couch staring, as if captivated by the dancing flames, at a fire blazing in the fireplace. It really was too early in the season for an open fire. But Jonathan said nothing, knowing that Martha often found serenity in watching flames leap in the fireplace. He took a deep breath and made his way over to sit beside her.
She glanced at him briefly before looking back at the fire. Neither said a word. His hand entangled with hers as they continued to sit there, both lost in their own thoughts, both drawing strength, as they had so many times in the past, from the mere presence of the other.
Lois watched each minute click past on the clock. It had been a half an hour now since Clark's breathing had settled into the regular pattern of sleep. And for the past half hour she had been telling herself she'd just wait a few more minutes — just to make sure he really was asleep. But it was well past the time for her to make her move. Dr. Klein was waiting at the all-night diner. And she had no doubt that Martha and Jonathan were sitting anxiously by the phone.
Taking a deep breath, she carefully disentangled herself from Clark's arm which was still wrapped loosely around her. She began moving over to the other side of the bed when it was suddenly too hard and she found herself scampering back to the safety of his arms. It was a few minutes before she worked up the nerve to try again.
This time she had more luck. When she was finally out of bed, she looked back at Clark. Satisfied that he was still sound asleep, she grabbed a pair of jeans and a sweater and padded softly into the washroom, pulling the door until it was almost shut behind her. After dressing, she made her way to the closet, removing the lead-lined vest. Once it was on, she glanced down at herself. The vest came well down her legs. Satisfied that the vest completely covered the baby, she again approached the door to the washroom. Taking a brief look through the crack to satisfy herself that there had been no movement on Clark's part, she quietly pushed the door open and stepped into the bedroom.
Trying to keep her footsteps light, she quickly crossed the floor to the nightstand. She opened the drawer located there, flinching at the creak which accompanied the action. She froze as the sound seemed to echo through the room before silence once again filled the air. Glancing quickly over at Clark, she let out a silent breath. The noise had obviously not roused him. Reaching into the drawer, she withdrew the box and then quickly backed away from the bed.
She was tempted to wake Clark. Maybe just the threat of using kryptonite would be enough to convince Clark of the importance of going to see Dr. Klein. The thought came and went almost immediately. If she woke him and told him what she was holding, he would have it out of her hands before she had a chance to use it. Doing this while he was asleep was the only option. Taking a deep breath and steadying her trembling hands, she cracked open the box.
Pain. The only thought Clark had when he was pulled abruptly from his sleep was virtually paralyzing pain. He heard a noise between a scream and a groan and somewhere in the back of his mind realized he had made it. His hands were instantly holding his head as he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to find a way to keep his head from exploding.
"Lois," he groaned, reaching out a blind hand in an effort to wake Lois. He didn't know what was wrong, but he knew he needed help. He forced his eyes open when his hand didn't find a warm body.
He closed his eyes when the pain again took hold.
"Lois," he called as loud as he could, although he was certain his voice wasn't much more than a cracked whisper. His mind registered a small female whimper. Suddenly, it occurred to him that he might not be the only one in pain. Whatever was happening, it must be some sort of attack by Bill Church. And that meant… Lois.
He forced himself to move, pushing himself into a seated position. He had to help Lois. Making himself open his eyes, he scanned the room for her. He let out a breath of absolute relief when he spotted her. She was standing on the far side of the room, bracing herself slightly against the wall. And she seemed fine. He closed his eyes, in his mind thanking the gods that Lois was all right, before a sense that something was very wrong began to sink in.
He again opened his eyes. "Lois?" he asked. Why was she just standing there? She had to have heard his anguished cry. So why wasn't she… His eyes drifted to the lead- lined box in her hands and for the first time he saw the green glow coming from the box. He knew instantly what he was seeing. Still, he blinked. So many things the past few weeks had been confusing to him. But this couldn't be real. His mind had to be playing tricks on him. Lois wouldn't be… He couldn't even force his mind to come to the logical conclusion for what he was seeing.
"Lois?" he asked again, his eyes drifting from the box to her tear-filled eyes. "What…" The question trailed off as another wave of nauseating pain hit. He again grabbed his head and collapsed onto the bed, curling into the fetal position.
Lois clenched her jaw as she watched helplessly while Clark writhed on the bed in pain. Every instinct she had screamed at her to close the box. But she couldn't let instinct rule, even though she could feel every agonized move of his body as if it were her own. She glanced down at her hands, willing them to stop shaking.
Her jaw trembled, causing her teeth to chatter slightly when he again opened his eyes. He looked at her and their gazes seemed to lock. More than anything, she wanted to look away. But it was if he was holding on to her, unwilling to let go. And as her eyes stayed on his, it felt as if she could see into his soul.
Betrayal. That last thought settled into her heart and refused to leave. She could see the belief in his eyes that she had betrayed him. She wondered if this was how Delilah felt when she watched Samson's enemies cut his hair, sapping his strength. Or how Brutus felt when he buried his dagger into Julius Caesar.
His eyes accused her as loudly as any words he could have spoken, driving into her heart and drawing blood. She was his wife. The person he'd trusted with everything — his secret, his heart, his body, his child. And she was the one bringing him to his knees. Where others had tried and failed to bring down the Man of Steel, she was succeeding.
"No," he finally managed to groan, giving her the distinct impression that who was holding the rock was almost more painful than the kryptonite itself.
"Clark." The strangled word was the only sound that managed to escape her lips. Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as she shook her head. There was no way she could possibly explain to him why she was doing this when her throat was so tight that she could scarcely breathe and the pressure on her chest was almost crushing her heart. She swallowed hard, trying desperately to remove the large lump that had lodged itself in her throat, preventing words from passing.
He grabbed his head again, this time emitting the most heart-shattering whimper she thought she'd ever heard. Then he seemed to regain some control. With what appeared to be an extraordinary effort, he hurled himself towards her — in what he undoubtedly believed was a last-ditch effort to save his own life. She instinctively backed harder into the wall. But his effort had done no more than thrown him off the bed and onto the floor.
He didn't move, lying as he'd fallen. Lois' entire body tensed, torn between moving further away and going to him. The seconds ticking by felt like hours as she waited for some sign of life. Her eyes darted from Clark to the clock and back again. He was still lying absolutely still on the floor. She raked her eyes across his body looking for the smallest sign that he wasn't dead. Yet his body didn't seem to move at all, not even to allow air into his lungs.
Suddenly, he coughed himself to consciousness and a whimper escaped her throat. Still, other than the cough and the obvious labored breaths that followed, he didn't move. She considered closing the box. After all, surely he was harmless enough now to… She closed her eyes. No. She couldn't do that. Dr. Klein had told her that she needed to keep the box open for at least an hour. And she herself had seen how quickly Clark could recover when kryptonite was taken away. Still, there had to be something she could do — at least she could offer comfort.
Refusing to worry about the possible consequences of her actions, she flew across the room, setting the open box on a night table, before scampering across the floor to her husband. It took some considerable effort to get him rolled over. Sitting down beside him, she pulled his torso into her lap, cradling his head gently against her chest. She reached for the bed, pulling the comforter off to wrap it around Clark as he shivered against her.
He opened his eyes no more than a crack and focused on her. "Why?" he asked in anguish, virtually begging her for answers.
She opened her mouth to explain, desperately wanting to plead for his understanding. But no words would come.
He closed his eyes again as if in defeat, having obviously put his own meaning on her failure to respond. 'Et tu, Brute?' The phrase seemed to echo in her mind. She felt a change in him, as if all the strength had suddenly gone out of him and he had finally succumbed to abject despair.
"I wouldn't have tried to stop you," he finally managed to breathe.
"What?" Lois whispered, trying to figure out what he was telling her. He wouldn't have tried to stop her from what? He wouldn't have tried to stop her from taking him to see Dr. Klein?
"I wouldn't have tried to stop you from leaving me. Not if it was what you really wanted," he whispered. "I loved you too much to…" His voice trailed off as his head lolled to the side.
"Leave you?" Lois' cracked voice managed to choke out. Then a strangled sound came from the back of her throat when she realized he was unconscious. She raised her face to the heavens. "No!" she yelled at the gods that seemed to taunt her from beyond, before dropping her head against the one she was clutching to her chest. Her fingers rested against his throat. His pulse was strong. She could feel his breath against her cheek. Knowing there was nothing more she could do to help him until the hour was up, she simply held the still body of her lover in her arms and allowed herself to weep.
Lois watched the clock, waiting impatiently for the time to come when she could close the box. When there was a minute remaining, she gently set Clark's still unconscious body on the floor and made her way to the kryptonite. The box was closed the instant the hour was up. Turning quickly back towards Clark, she watched, expecting him to wake up. When he didn't she made a mad dash for the phone.
The cell phone number she had for Dr. Klein rang a full two times before he answered it, causing Lois' panic to deepen. She wasn't exactly sure what she said into the phone, but Dr. Klein seemed to be on his way. The instant she hung up, she returned to Clark's side, wondering how she had ever let herself be talked into this foolish venture.
It felt like an eternity before she heard the doorbell ring. Running down the stairs, she threw open the door and without even a word of greeting to the good doctor, turned around and headed for the stairs. Without speaking, Dr. Klein followed closely on her heels as she once again ascended the stairs to the bedroom.
"He's all right," Lois muttered as they entered the room. "He has to be all right."
She glanced at Dr. Klein, desperately searching for reassurance, but he gave none. Instead, he pushed his way past her to the unconscious man lying on the floor. Bending down, he placed his fingers to Clark's neck and then let out a breath that told Lois that he was relieved. And in that instant, she suddenly doubted Klein for the first time. If he had been so certain that an hour exposed to kryptonite would not kill Clark, why was he so relieved that he was still alive?
Moving cautiously, she positioned herself to observe every single move made by Dr. Klein.
"What are you planning to do?" she asked suspiciously when the doctor reached into a black bag he'd brought with him.
He looked up at her, a question on his face. Then, almost as if understanding her concern, spoke. "Smelling salts," he said, removing something from his bag and holding it up for her to see. "It's going to be okay, Lois," he added.
She let out a breath. What was she thinking? Dr. Klein was Superman's friend. He was her friend. She was becoming as bad as Clark. She nodded and watched as the doctor turned back to his patient. He waved the smelling salts in front of Clark's nose and then jumped back when the man on the floor jerked awake.
"Clark," Lois gasped, taking an instinctive step towards her husband. She stopped when Klein held up a hand, palm facing her, as a sign for her to stop.
"Clark," said Dr. Klein softly, "do you know where you are?"
Clark looked confused for a moment until his eyes landed on Lois. She watched in horror as his memory obviously returned.
"No," he groaned, his eyes staying fixed on Lois. She bit down on her lower lip — hard.
Then, without warning, Clark's hand darted out to grab Dr. Klein's throat. Lois jumped back, expecting the worst. But the kryptonite had obviously done its job because Klein easily brushed Clark's hand away.
"Okay," said Dr. Klein, almost as he'd expected Clark's actions, "I guess that means your memory and reactions are okay. You're just a little weak."
"You did this, didn't you?" Clark spat at Dr. Klein. However, the words were barely more than a whisper, telling Lois exactly how weak he really was. "You turned her against me." As he concluded he jerked his head slightly in the direction of Lois.
"No, Clark," Lois jumped in immediately. "I haven't turned…" Her voice trailed off at a look from Dr. Klein.
Not having a clue what to do was not a sensation familiar to Lois. She felt completely impotent as Dr. Klein continued checking Clark's vital signs. As he did, Clark growled at him, throwing the odd comment in her direction. But even his words were no longer making sense. Suddenly, Lois' legs felt less than substantial beneath her even as the room began to spin. Then everything became a strange shade of grey and she watched, as if in a tunnel, Clark on the floor with the doctor moving in slow motion beside him. After that, everything went dark.
Dr. Klein saying her name brought Lois back to consciousness. It didn't take more than a second for Lois to realize where she was and what was happening. She could hardly believe she'd fainted. She pulled herself into a seated position.
"Are you all right?" Klein asked from his position beside Clark.
"Umm… yeah," Lois responded. "Sorry about that. I don't…" She allowed her voice to trail off. She wondered if part of her reaction was due to the fact that she was pregnant.
"I need one of the suits," Klein said.
Lois let out a breath of relief. A suit. Now that was something she could do. After feeling so helpless earlier, it was good to have something that she could do to help. "They're downstairs," she said, rising to her feet. "I'll get one."
Her gaze darted between Clark and the doctor before she headed out of the room.
"Don't leave me, Lois. Don't you see what he's doing? He's manipulated you into turning on me. If you leave, he'll kill me. And you'll be next. And the baby…"
Lois' hands covered her ears to stop Clark's words as her pace down the stairs accelerated.
A VERY LONG HOUR LATER
"Hello. Is this the Dirt Digger?" a young woman in a Star Labs' janitorial uniform whispered into a phone while looking around nervously.
"Yes," came a voice on the other end of the line.
"Have I got a story for you," the woman said. "I understand you pay for tips?"
Martha and Jonathan were on their feet scrambling to the phone almost the instant it began to ring.
"Lois?" Jonathan asked, getting there before his wife and pulling the phone to his ear.
Martha pulled on her husband's arm, bringing the phone down so that she could hear, too, not wanting to take time to go to another phone.
"Jonathan," came Lois' hoarse voice.
"What happened?" Martha gasped into the phone. Now that the moment was here she didn't think she could stand to wait for Lois to get to the point.
"He's at Star Labs," Lois said, answering a number of Martha and Jonathan's unasked questions — including the one they would never have had the nerve to ask: is he dead?
Both Martha and Jonathan seemed to let out identical breaths of relief.
"So it went well," Jonathan said, although the hidden question was definitely there.
"Define 'well'," Lois responded giving a humorless chuckle. Then, after letting out a breath that both Clark's parents could hear, she continued. "I guess it went as well as can be expected. I mean, the kryptonite worked the way it was supposed to. And Dr. Klein helped me bring him to Star Labs. I don't think anyone saw us bring him here." There was a period of silence before Lois continued. "He's in bed now, but he had to be restrained."
"He was quite agitated by the time we got him to Star Labs. I…" Her voice trailed off.
"What is it, honey?" asked Martha.
"Nothing," Lois answered. She let out another breath before continuing, her voice sounding absolutely exhausted. "I'm just a little tired, I guess. I'm calling from Star Labs. Dr. Klein thinks I should go home and get some sleep. He doesn't think I should be seen here — to protect Clark's secret."
"I think Clark would appreciate that," Jonathan said.
Lois snorted. "Yeah," she responded in a way that told Martha and Jonathan that Lois didn't think she could do anything that Clark would appreciate right now.
After answering a few more of Martha and Jonathan's questions, Lois said her goodbyes and all three hung up. As soon as the phone had been returned to its cradle, Martha turned to her husband and was lost in his arms. Tears of relief and anguish combined as they held each other tight.
Lois collapsed against the rear wall of the elevator and closed her eyes as it slowly took her back to the ground floor. Since they had brought Clark to Star Labs in a van, she would be taking a cab. It was shortly after four o'clock. Once she got home, she planned to call Perry and tell him that she and Clark wouldn't be in today. After all, the events of the past few hours had completely drained her. She wasn't entirely sure she had the strength to do much more than collapse into bed.
Collapse into bed — without Clark. His pleas, begging her not to leave him in this place, were still echoing in her ears. If only there had been another way… No. Dr. Klein was right. Clark was safer here than flying around Metropolis right now. After all, if the Mayor couldn't get kryptonite from Star Labs, there was always the chance that she could get it elsewhere. And the Mayor had proven once, when Clark had lost control of his powers, that she was not above giving the order to kill Superman.
Besides, he needed help — help that she couldn't give him. Until Dr. Klein knew what was wrong… Then, once they knew what the problem was, no matter how devastating the diagnosis might be, they would tackle it together. And they would overcome it together. It was the not knowing that was the hardest part.
Lois opened her eyes as the elevator door opened. Stepping out, she took a brief look around the lobby — which all of a sudden didn't look familiar in spite of the number of times she'd been there. Once she managed to get her bearings, she headed towards the front entrance. Stopping at security, she handed the man behind the desk her temporary identification card before making her way to the doors.
It was still dark. For a moment she was tempted to wait inside until she saw the lights of her cab. But then she decided that she needed to feel the crisp autumn air on her face and breath in the smog of Metropolis to clear her head. She pushed open the door and stepped outside.
Suddenly, night seemed to turn to day. Lois blinked as her eyes fought to adjust to the change. Before she could see, something was thrust in her face. She batted at it, recoiling back into the outer wall of the building as she fought to understand what was happening.
"Ms. Lane, it has just come to the attention of the Dirt Digger that you turned against Superman this evening — using kryptonite to incapacitate him and bring him here. Why did you do it?"
Lois felt her mouth fall open as she realized not only what she was seeing and hearing, but what it all meant. The 'day' was made up of two large bright lights that were shining in her face for the benefit of getting her picture on the cameras attached to them. What she had batted away was a microphone. And the woman holding the microphone was one who Lois had encountered numerous times in the past — and completely despised.
"I don't…" Lois began, caught completely off guard.
"Did you do it because you agree with the Mayor? And why bring him here instead of turning him into the police?" the woman continued.
Lois was still struggling through her exhaustion and the unexpected position in which she found herself. Not sure what else to say, she said the only thing that came to mind. "No comment!" As the woman continued to throw questions at her, Lois raised a hand in front of her face, in part to get the lights out of her eyes, in part to obstruct the camera's view.
Seeing car lights approaching the building, she quickly pushed through the people, hoping that it was the cab. She let out a breath of relief when she realized that her luck tonight wasn't all bad. It was indeed the cab. She ran for the back door, threw herself in and yelled her address to the cabby. The cabby seemed to understand because he squealed his tires to get them out of there before the cameras could catch up.
Lois let out a breath of relief when she turned and saw the reporter from the Dirt Digger standing helplessly on the street behind them as the cab bathed Lois once again in darkness. She leaned her head against the seat and let out a long slow breath. She should have known something like this wouldn't remain a secret for long. Still, she couldn't think about it now. She could barely keep her eyes open now. She closed her eyes and drew comfort from the steady hum of the engine.
All too soon, the slowing cab forced her to again open her eyes. They had turned onto her street. She reached into her briefcase to pull out her wallet, glad that she hadn't forgotten to bring it with her when they'd taken Clark to Star Labs.
"Somethin' seems to be happening up ahead, Miss," came the cabby's voice. "You might wanta take a look at this. It seems to be happenin' at the address you wanted to go to."
Lois glanced in the direction of her house. Reporters. They seemed to be everywhere. How on earth had they arrived here before she had? Still, there wasn't time to worry about that now.
"Daily Planet," she instructed the cabby who made an immediate u-turn and headed back in the direction they had come.
Perry stood in the doorway to his darkened office for a long time trying to figure out exactly what he should do. It was barely six a.m. and his most tenacious reporter was sound asleep on the couch in his office. Every so often, a soft whimper seemed to come from the back of her throat as if her dreams were not entirely pleasant.
Finally slipping into his office, he turned on the small lamp on his desk. Then he headed to a closet and withdrew a blanket. Making his way back to Lois, he carefully spread the blanket over her before returning to his desk and taking a seat.
He had seen the news and knew that the young woman on the couch had… or should he say was currently the biggest story in Metropolis. Not only had someone allegedly brought Superman down. But that someone was the reporter who had been linked romantically with him on a number of occasions and was vocally one of his biggest supporters. If there were a bigger story out there today, Perry couldn't imagine what it could be. Still, she was obviously drained. He'd let her sleep — at least for now.
Picking up some papers he'd left on his desk the night before, he leaned back in his chair and began to read.
"Perry?" asked Lois, before she was even fully awake. Slightly disoriented, she couldn't quite figure out why she was waking up in a darkened room and watching Perry, his red pen raised as he huddled over his desk.
"Lois," Perry answered immediately. "Did I wake you?"
Lois shook her head and sat up as she still tried to make sense of what she was doing here. She raised a hand to her head as a headache took hold. Suddenly, every dreadful detail of the previous night came back to her with sickening clarity. She closed her eyes and let out a long sigh.
Perry rose from his desk and disappeared out the door, leaving Lois alone. She dropped her head and tried to drive the headache and sleep from her mind. She needed to have her wits about her today. Glancing over at the clock in Perry's office, she realized that she had only been asleep for a little more than an hour. She groaned. How was she to be expected to think on so little sleep?
She glanced towards Perry when he reentered the office with a cup of coffee in his hands. When he handed her the steaming cup, she gave him a smile of gratitude before taking the cup in both her hands, raising it to her nose and taking a deep breath of the life-giving substance.
Perry took a seat on the edge of his desk and waited until she had finally taken a sip before speaking.
"I heard the news," he said.
She kept her gaze focused on the cup in her hands, waiting for him to tell her what he knew — not wanting to risk giving anything away that wasn't already out there.
"So what's the story?" he asked when she didn't respond.
"What story?" she asked, still not meeting his gaze.
"What story?" Perry responded. "The 'my best reporter uses kryptonite to turn Superman into the authorities' story."
"Oh, that story," she said, still not elaborating further.
Perry's tone seemed to change from concerned friend to boss. "I want the story on my desk this morning," he informed her, rising from the edge of his desk and heading back to take a seat behind it.
"No," Lois responded immediately, still not looking up.
He stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her. "No?" he asked in disbelief.
Finally, Lois looked at him. "No," she said again with a firm shake of her head.
"Listen, Lois, do you have any idea how big this story has already become? What am I supposed to tell the chairman of the board? Sure, we've got the reporter that turned him in working for us but she refuses…"
"No," Lois interrupted, keeping her eyes firmly on his. "I'm sorry, but I can't do it, Perry. I just can't."
Perry held eye contact with her for a moment, before looking away. Lois had no intention of explaining any of this. She couldn't. She'd left her heart in Star Labs earlier this morning. She simply didn't have the energy to come up with a believable story.
She heard Perry release his breath and then watched as he again took a seat on the edge of his desk.
"So where's Clark?" he asked.
Somewhat surprised by the non-sequitur, it took her a moment to grasp the question. "He's…" Her voice trailed off as her mind struggled to find an explanation for Clark's absence. Suddenly, it occurred to her that it was still very early. She could always say that he was still at home. "He's…" No. She couldn't say that. What would she say when he didn't come in later? She supposed when that happened, she could tell Perry that he'd woken up with a cold. "He's…" No. That wouldn't work. After all, she had no idea how long it would be before Clark would be able to come back to work — if at all. Still, at least that would give her a temporary reprieve. "He's…" No. A temporary reprieve was no good. After all, if she gave a poor excuse now, someone might connect Clark's disappearance with Superman's incarceration.
"Well," said Perry when she didn't respond, "I suppose…" His voice trailed off as he rose from the corner of his desk and made his way to the door to his office. Closing it, he turned back to her. "…we could say that Clark's help was needed on the farm and that I gave him a leave of absence."
Lois stared at him in disbelief before understanding sank in. "I suppose we could say that," she said slowly, cautiously, as she tried to figure out if Perry was fishing.
"The problem with that is that if I give Clark a leave of absence, he won't get paid. And I imagine that you need two incomes to pay your mortgage." Perry looked thoughtful. "Of course, I could give him sick leave. At least, I assume you wouldn't have taken him to Star Labs if he wasn't sick. That would keep his paycheck coming. But I'm concerned that giving Clark sick leave might cause people to connect Clark and recent news events. I can see now how hard these excuses are to come up with."
"You know," Lois breathed.
"You didn't think I was editor because I could yodel, did you?" Perry asked.
Lois shook her head slightly. "How long? Have you known, I mean?"
"Since Superman left with the Kryptonians," Perry responded. "I saw the way you and Superman looked at each other when he left. That was when I started to suspect. And after that, I just kept my eyes open. I'm actually sort of amazed that it took me that long."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Perry shrugged. "I figured you two had enough on your plate without worrying that someone else knew Clark's secret. Besides, I always got a kick out of the excuses you two had to come up with to explain Clark's continual disappearing act."
"So why tell me now?" she asked.
Perry's look softened. "Because now I figure you have enough on your plate without worrying about what you're going to tell me. And I sort of figure you might need a friend you can talk to about what's really going on."
Lois' eyes immediately filled with tears.
"So, do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
That was all the encouragement Lois needed for the entire story to come pouring out. When she finally finished, Perry looked thoughtful.
"I did the right thing, didn't I?" Lois asked, desperately seeking reassurance.
"You did what you had to do," Perry responded. "I doubt that makes it any easier, though." He rose to his feet. "I can probably work something out so that you can take some time off, too."
Lois snorted. "To do what, Perry?" she asked. He nodded slowly, obviously understanding what she was telling him. "Still," he continued, "I want you to take the day off."
"Perry…" she began. Regardless of how exhausted she was, the idea of going back to the brownstone without Clark was leaving her with mixed emotions. Maybe she should just throw herself into her work as she usually did. The problem this time was she wasn't sure she had the energy to focus on anything but Clark.
"You need some sleep. And if you're here, I won't be able to explain why we don't have the inside story on Superman for the afternoon addition. I'll tell anyone who asks that you two were up most of the night because of the Superman thing. I'll figure out how to keep Clark's paycheck coming in after that. After all, the Planet does pay for extended sick leave. And I'll let you know what the story is as soon as I work it out. In the mean time, you need to figure out what the official Superman story is."
"But, Perry, I can't…"
"Great shades of Elvis, honey! Think about this for a moment. If you don't write the story, the press is going hound you like a bulldog from heat. The only way they're going to leave you alone is if they think you've already told the whole story to the Daily Planet. In the meantime, if anyone asks, you just say that they can read all about it in tomorrow's issue. It's better than 'no comment' or worse, 'what story?' Just stick as close to the truth as you can. After all, the Daily Planet is not a propaganda tool — not even for Superman."
Lois nodded slowly. She could probably come up with something that would be mostly true. And Perry was right. Now that the world knew she had been the one to bring Superman down, the press was going to hound her if she didn't tell 'her story'.
"Good. Then go before someone sees you here," Perry said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the door.
Lois rose to her feet. "Thanks, Perry," she responded softly, feeling a lot better now than she had when she'd first arrived.
"Hey, that boy's like a son to me." Perry cleared his voice nervously, as if suddenly feeling uncomfortable with his admission. "But… uhh… well… just don't tell him I said that," he concluded gruffly.
The remark brought a partial smile to Lois' face.
"Now, git!" Perry said, causing Lois to nod before quickly making her way out of the Daily Planet figuring that she could face the reporters outside her place now that she knew what to tell them. 'Read all about it in the Daily Planet tomorrow.' Perry was brilliant — not to mention, shameless. After all, those words would guarantee that tomorrow's edition of the Daily Planet would sell out. She suspected that, even now, Perry was making arrangements for a special printing to meet demand.
Bill Church leaned back in his chair and chuckled. Who'd have thought it? Lois Lane had brought down the Man of Steel. And with perfect timing, too. His meeting with Scarface had gone extraordinarily well. In fact, he figured it was only a matter of time before he was again in control of his most prized possession — Intergang.
He didn't doubt Scarface's sincerity. After all, this new Superman had certainly been cause for concern. Still, it was always good business practice to keep an ace up one's sleeve.
Superman's attack on Church's lawyer had been a stroke of extremely good luck. It had provided the Mayor with the hook she needed to turn on Superman. But it had done more than that. After all, if Scarface and his associates decided to go back on their deal with him, a call by Bill to his lawyer could change the man from a witness for the prosecution to… well, not exactly a witness for the defense. But if Bill's lawyer did decide he didn't want to pursue the case against Superman, although the D.A. could still force him to testify, the entire case would turn into a public relations nightmare.
And a public relations nightmare was something the Mayor was going to be anxious to avoid coming into an election year. As a result, Bill had no doubt that a call to the Mayor was all it would take to get the charges vacated. And that was a message he'd made more than clear to Scarface during their meeting yesterday.
Gerald Sandrin's hand trembled as he inserted the key into the lock on the door to Superman's room. He was sorry now that he'd ever accepted that man's offer to pay off his wife's medical bills. But in for a penny, in for a pound. When the man had called this morning, he hadn't given Sandrin a lot of choice. It was either this or risk having the man provide information about his previous transgression to his employers. And it wasn't even as if Sandrin could turn on his co-conspirators. All he knew about them, after all, was that they seemed to have a lot of money.
Getting the door unlocked, he looked nervously around before cautiously opening it and stepping into the semi- darkness of the room. He let out a breath of relief when he realized that Superman was tied to the bed and appeared to be heavily sedated. A string of nonsensical words left the superhero's mouth.
Making his way quickly to the nightstand, he removed a small package wrapped in plain brown paper and, using surgical tape, taped it to the back of the drawer in the nightstand. He didn't know what was in the package — in fact, he preferred not to know. After looking again at the drugged up man in the bed, he made his way quickly to the door and let himself out, breathing a sigh of relief when the door was finally locked and he was heading away.
"Absolutely unacceptable!" said Dr. Klein emphatically.
"Doctor, if you don't cooperate, I will have you charged with obstruction of justice," the Mayor said.
Klein looked at her for several seconds before responding. "Your honor, I will not turn Superman over to the police. He's sick. You and I might both have taken oaths. But my oath, as a doctor, is about two thousand years older than yours. Of course, I suppose you could have me arrested if I refuse," he added.
"Good! Then we understand each other. Officers will be here to place Superman under arrest in about an hour. I expect your full…"
"Mind you," continued Dr. Klein, as if she'd never spoken, "if I am arrested, I'm sure the press will get wind of it. And then it will be up to the people of Metropolis to decide which of us is being unreasonable. And since you are elected and I am not, I'm guessing you have more to lose than I should the voters decide you're the unreasonable one."
The Mayor took a deep breath. "Dr. Klein, I told you that Superman will be housed in the infirmary at the Metropolis Jail."
"With doctors who have no knowledge of his biology and no idea how to treat him," Klein added. "I suppose, though, you have to do what you think is right. Whether it gets you kicked out of office during the next election is probably irrelevant. But given how much Superman has done for this city…"
"Fine!" the Mayor interrupted. "We'll do this your way — for now." She leveled her eyes firmly on his. "But I will have police officers here within the hour to post a guard on his room. If that man does manage to escape, I'm holding you personally responsible."
Klein shrugged his shoulders and made his way to the door to his lab. Opening it, he stood to the side, obviously inviting the Mayor to leave. "I'll look forward to the arrival of your officers," he said coolly.
With a final huff, the woman marched out of the office.
"That woman could try the patience of a saint," Klein said once he'd closed the door.
"So is it done?" asked Mindy without looking up from the fashion magazine she was reading when Tommy entered the room. She flipped a page while waiting for an answer.
"Sandrin said that he put some of the yellow kryptonite in Superman's room," Tommy responded.
"Good," Mindy said, finally looking up. "Do you anticipate him cracking under the pressure?" she asked.
"He's a civilian," Tommy said. "And you know how they are. They can get spooked at anything."
"Then, let's not make a boo-boo. I don't like loose ends, Tommy. I don't like them at all. If we need any thing else done at Star Labs, we can always get someone else to help us."
"Yes, Mrs. Church," Tommy responded immediately. "I'll take care of it. Also, any word on how people are reacting to Superman's incarceration?"
Mindy smiled. "Well, judging by how little my phone has been ringing today, I think they're happy. We've just got to make sure nothing else goes wrong."
THREE DAYS LATER
Lois paced nervously in Dr. Klein's lab waiting patiently… Well, less than patiently …for the doctor to show up. Although she'd spoken to Klein several times a day, this was the first time she was being allowed to see Clark. And she wasn't certain she'd ever been more nervous.
The reason she hadn't been here before now was because of the difficulties they'd been having keeping Clark calm. Dr. Klein had insisted, over her protests, that her presence would just provoke him. She had never before known exactly how much backbone Dr. Klein actually had. Nothing she'd been able to say or do had swayed him. And given the fact that he was the one with the key, Lois had been unable to find a way to see Clark without his permission.
Although Dr. Klein's stubbornness was frustrating in terms of seeing Clark, she was glad for it when it came to his attitude to the Mayor. If it hadn't been for him… She trembled at the mere thought of Clark, and kryptonite, falling into that woman's hands.
Martha had wanted to come with her to see Clark. The problem was that, at least as far as the world was considered, Lois Lane and Superman were friends. Martha had never even met the Man of Steel. As a result, they'd agreed that Martha wouldn't come — at least during this first visit. She had, however, insisted on driving to Star Labs with Lois and was currently waiting in the jeep.
Still, in spite of how scared Lois was, she was also excited — for a couple of reasons. First, she was going to see Clark. Second, when Dr. Klein had called asking her to come, he'd told her that he had some news and a plan for Clark's treatment. Lois assumed that meant Dr. Klein had figured out the problem. And, no matter what, it had to be better than not knowing.
But all that depended on Dr. Klein actually attending this little soiree. Lois glanced at the clock on the wall. Where was that man?
"Well, it took you long enough," Lois said with characteristic impatience when Dr. Klein entered the room.
"I had a phone call I had to take," he told her.
She let out a breath. "So can I see Clark?" she asked.
"Soon," he said. "First, I think there are a couple of things we need to discuss."
"Have you figured out what's wrong with him?" Lois asked, her impatience returning.
"But on the phone…"
"I told you I have news," Klein said, gesturing her to a chair.
"Anyway," he continued once she was seated, "we have managed to determine that Clark does not have a brain tumor."
Lois let out a breath of relief. "That's good news, right?" she said.
"Yes. On the other hand, we've also managed to determine it isn't as simple as burnout. Since he's been here, he's been… well, let's just say that I now understand why you were concerned about his paranoia. It's sort of a case of 'I might be paranoid, but everyone is still against me'," Klein said chuckling slightly at his own joke. When Lois' expression didn't change, he quickly cleared his throat.
"So what is it, Dr. Klein?"
"That's the bad news. We don't know."
"What about schizophrenia?" Lois asked.
"Until recently, it was impossible to scientifically diagnose schizophrenia. You basically had to look at the behavior, listen to the patient, see how he responded to medication and then decide from that if a person had schizophrenia. However, we seem to be on the threshold of a whole new understanding of this illness. It seems as if the electrical impulses used by the brain to send messages to other parts of the body are abnormal in people with schizophrenia. Brain scans have also shown that some suffers have enlarged ventricles in their brains through which cerebral spinal fluid circulates. As well, blood flow in different parts of the brain seem to be different for people with schizophrenia. And, although none of these methods are exactly used in diagnosis yet, since they are really in the research stage, they can be indicators that a problem might exist. As a result, we've given Clark an EEG, a CT and an MRI. We've even given him a PET."
"Dr. Klein!" Lois interrupted.
"Oh, right. Well, the problem we have with Clark is that we don't have a 'normal' kryptonian brain to compare his brain patterns with. As a result, we can't use any of the new scientific breakthroughs to assist in our diagnoses of Clark."
"So what does all that mean?"
"I'm afraid we are back to the old method to determine whether or not he has schizophrenia."
"Didn't you do brain scans on Clark before he got sick?" Lois asked.
Klein nodded. "I can't see any differences. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, though. Like I said, all of this really is in the research stage."
"So what happens now?" Lois asked, wishing he'd just bottom-line the situation.
"Well, at this point all we can do is put him on an antipsychotic and see how he reacts."
Lois nodded. "So can I see him?" she asked.
"Before you do, I should warn you," Dr. Klein said.
"Well, Clark's in pretty rough shape. He's been poked and prodded and he's feeling persecuted. We've also had to restrict his exposure to all types of light and have been exposing him to green kryptonite on a regular basis to keep him vulnerable. He's also currently on a pretty powerful sedative to keep him calm. So… I just want you to be prepared."
Lois swallowed hard but nodded determinedly.
"Good. Then let's go see Clark."
Lois' heart clenched when she saw the two police officers sitting outside the door to Clark's room. Taking a deep breath to avoid making some sarcastic comment about a waste of her tax dollars, she followed Dr. Klein to the door. He unlocked it and then paused.
"Do you want me to come in with you?" he asked.
She was tempted to say yes. But she gave a resolute shake of her head. He moved back as she stepped up to the door. Taking the doorknob, she took a deep breath and opened the door, stepping quickly inside and closing the door behind her.
As prepared as she thought she was for anything, there was no way she could have prepared herself for what greeted her on the other side of that door. The lights were low, giving the entire room an eerie feeling. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. The walls were devoid of any decoration — as was the rest of the room. A single nightstand with a plastic cup sitting on it and a hospital bed were the only furniture in the room. And the walls appeared to be covered with some kind of padding.
At first, she thought that there must be some mistake. She couldn't see Clark. She was just about to turn back to the door when she heard it.
She spun towards the sound. Clark was sitting in a corner on the floor, a blanket from the bed wrapped around him. He looked small and ashen and his eyes seemed almost devoid of emotion. Never had Lois seen Clark looking so completely dejected. Her heart came to a total stop. What on earth had she done?
Very slowly, she began approaching, finally crouching down in front of Clark.
"Lois," he said slowly, as if not entirely sure she was even there.
"I'm right here, Clark," she responded, reaching a hand up and, after hesitating, running it gently through his hair.
"Take me home," he begged, even as his voice slurred the words.
Her eyes instantly filled with tears. She wanted more than anything to do exactly that. But how could she? Sure, she could find a way to distract the officers outside. She even figured she could get past Dr. Klein. But if she did get him home, what then? He needed help and she had no idea how to help him. This was a job for experts.
"Please," he continued. "I'll do anything you say. Just please, get me out of here."
"I can't, Clark," she said softly. "I would if I could, but you need…"
"What I need is my own bed." His hand reached out and tentatively touched her stomach. "What I need is to hold you, both of you, at night. They aren't giving me enough time in the sun. They're killing me, Lois. If not for me, then do it for our baby."
"Clark," she said, leaning in to touch her forehead to his. She sighed. "Oh, honey, I wish I could take you home. But right now you need to be…"
"Please, Lois. I'm dying. You've got to help me get out of here."
"I…" Her voice broke. "I can't."
He pulled away from her abruptly. She pulled in a breath but didn't again reach for him, afraid of spooking him.
"It's him, isn't it?" he asked, his voice still slow, soft and slightly slurred, but the tone had changed from pleading to accusation.
"Who?" she asked. "Dr. Klein?"
Lois could no longer follow the conversation. "Perry?" she asked.
"I know all about you."
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. That's why I'm here, isn't it. You told Dr. Klein all sorts of lies about me so that you could be with Perry."
Lois' mouth fell open. Of all the things she could have imagined Clark thinking, that was not one of them. "You think there's something going on between me and Perry?" she asked, still not quite able to believe she'd understood him correctly.
"I heard you, Lois. I saw you."
"Heard? Saw? Clark, what are you talking about?"
"I saw you in his arms. I heard you tell him you were going to leave me and I heard him say that he'd be there when you did."
"Huh?" asked Lois, now frantically searching her memory to determine if this was connected to what was wrong with Clark or if he had heard and misunderstood something she'd said or done. But when had she ever told Perry that she was going to leave… The thought trailed off as the memory of her comments in Perry's office returned. He'd held her while she'd cried into his shoulder, voicing a thought that she didn't exactly mean. And Clark had overheard. She silently cursed herself for not taking better care to control her tongue. "Oh, Clark, you don't understand," she responded immediately.
"I should have known there was someone else when you found out that you were pregnant. But I actually believed you when you told me it was mine."
Lois was tempted to inform him that she had never told him that this child was his. The words had never been necessary since they both knew he was the only one who could possibly be the father. But she was still trying to grasp the accusation.
"…even though Dr. Klein had already told us we couldn't have children; even though I knew the chance of me being able to father a child with a human were about one in a billion," he continued. "But I didn't make the connection until I got in here. I've had a lot of time to think in here and…"
"Clark, stop it," Lois interrupted, a little more forcefully than she intended. "How can you even think…" Her voice trailed off. "Nothing has ever happened between me and Perry. He's been like a father to me — but that's it. I've never even thought of him that way," Lois responded, almost stunned to be defending her relationship with Perry. The idea was just so ludicrous. And Clark knew that — didn't he?
"Then who's the father?" Clark asked. "If not Perry, then who?"
"You! Clark, I've never been with anyone but you since well before we got married. You know that," she concluded, reaching towards him again. He flinched away from her hand. "I love you, Clark," she said, lowering her hand. "I promise you I haven't been with another man. I've never even considered cheating on you." Her voice trailed off. Clark was no longer looking at her, making his disinterest in this conversation obvious.
She let out a breath and took a seat on the floor, not entirely sure what to do now.
"Please leave," Clark slurred.
"If you don't want to help me get out of here, then just leave."
Lois sat there for about five minutes more, hoping that he'd give her some indication, any indication, that he wanted her to stay. But he sat perfectly still, staring at a spot on the wall behind her. Finally, she got up off the floor and made her way slowly back to the door. When she arrived, she leaned her forehead against the door before turning back towards her husband.
"I love you, Clark," she said softly. "I love you so much it hurts," she concluded. She waited one more time for some sort of reaction, but it seemed as if he hadn't even heard her words. She pulled open the door and stepped out of the room.
As she began walking away, the air of the building became stifling. She had to get out. Now. Her pace quickened. She faintly heard someone call her name but ignored it. Arriving at the elevators, she hit the button. But after stopping for no more than a second to wait for the elevator, she headed for the stairs. When she got into the stairwell, she picked up her pace. By the time she reached the ground floor, she was at a full run. Bursting through the doors, she steamed right by security and out into the parking lot. She didn't stop until she was finally in the jeep.
"What happened?" gasped Martha.
Lois' mouth moved for a moment before she gave up trying to respond. Dropping her head to the steering wheel, she burst into tears.
"Obviously, the court order also entitles us to seize the kryptonite," the Mayor said, sounding as if she thought the man on the other end of the phone line was an idiot if he thought she'd bring Superman to the Metropolis Jail without the kryptonite.
"I'm just making sure," said Bill Church.
"And I've prepared the press release and assigned Inspectors Henderson and Potter to bring him in."
"The problem is," the Mayor continued, "now that Dr. Klein is saying that Superman was sick when he attacked your lawyer, we don't have much of an assault case against him."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that he's still charged with assault, which definitely gets us in the door, but it doesn't give us a conviction. Once this matter goes to court, Superman will be found not guilty by reason of mental defect and probably sent right back to Star Labs for treatment. Then we're back to where we started."
There was silence as Bill Church digested this new information.
"Well, who's to say we have to bother the citizens of Metropolis with the expense of a trial?" asked Bill.
"Now what are you saying?" asked the Mayor.
"First, tell me what your grudge is against Superman," said Bill.
The Mayor let out a slow breath. "This is my city. I'm the one who is supposed to be in charge here. Superman keeps encroaching on my territory."
"So it's about who has the power?"
"Isn't that what it's about for you, too?"
Bill Church chuckled. "I suppose," he said slowly, "we have more in common than one might think."
"I suppose so. So what's your idea?"
"You get Superman into that jail infirmary and you make sure that the kryptonite accompanies him…"
"Wouldn't it be a shame if someone accidentally left Superman exposed to the kryptonite?" he asked.
The Mayor nodded slowly. "That would certainly save the people the expense of a high profile trial," she responded.
"He didn't mean it, Lois," Martha said softly when Lois had finally calmed down enough to tell her what had happened. "He's sick. And he's scared. And he's striking out. He knows deep down that you love him. And he knows that you would never cheat on him," she continued, reaching over and rubbing a hand reassuringly over Lois' back.
Lois sniffled slightly, but didn't respond.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the window beside Lois' head. Lois turned towards the sound. Almost immediately, she was rolling down the window.
"Dr. Klein?" she asked.
"I… umm…" His eyes landed on the older woman seated next to Lois. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" he asked Lois.
"Dr. Klein, this is Martha Kent. She's Clark's mother," Lois responded immediately. "Anything you have to say to me can be said in front of her."
Klein gave Martha a quick nod of acknowledgment before turning back to Lois. "We have a problem," he said. "You ran out of there so quickly that I didn't have a chance to tell you about my conversation with the Mayor's office."
"What is it?" Lois asked, the threat of the Mayor's office instantly clearing all thoughts of self-pity from her mind.
"A source I have at the Mayor's office informs me that the woman has apparently made arrangements with the prison infirmary and prepared a press release stating that the doctors at the infirmary have assured her that they are fully capable of caring for Superman. That way if something goes wrong, she can blame the doctors. And she has a court order to come and collect Superman. She's planning to execute it later tonight."
"What?" gasped Martha and Lois in unison.
"I'm sorry. I thought I had convinced her to leave Superman at Star Labs. But apparently she was just waiting to have a coherent plan before taking action."
"Dr. Klein, what would prevent us from treating Clark somewhere other than Star Labs?" asked Lois. She didn't trust the Mayor — although she couldn't precisely say why. And the idea of Clark falling into her hands… No. That was not an acceptable option.
"Nothing, I suppose. Well, except that we wouldn't have the personnel to take care of him."
"Lois and I can do that," Martha jumped in. "What about taking him back to the farm?"
"What farm?" asked Klein.
"My home — the place Clark grew up. It's in Kansas," Martha responded.
"No good," said Klein. "When we put him on the antipsychotic drugs, he'll need to be monitored regularly. Kansas is too far for me to be able to monitor him. What about your place?" he asked Lois.
Lois shook her head. "Clark and I have been associated with Superman enough that I'm sure the police will think to look there. And if they do and they find that Clark isn't well, they're bound to make the connection — especially since I don't think we can necessarily count on Clark's cooperation."
All three were silent for a minute.
"Wait a minute!" Klein finally exclaimed. "I have a summer house just outside Metropolis. One room could be converted for Clark." He seemed to get lost in his thoughts as he continued, "Just before my wife died ten years ago, she was quite sick. I fixed up a room for her — with a hospital bed and everything. I think it could work.
"In fact," Klein continued, "I think it would be perfect. I could drive out at nights to check up on Clark."
"Do you go there much? Is it a place the police might think to look?" Lois asked.
Klein shook his head. "I haven't gone there since my wife died. And it's still officially in my wife's name. I don't think anyone at Star Labs even knows about it."
"Then… it has been ten years since anyone has been there?" asked Martha, glancing at Lois to communicate her skepticism.
"There's a man who goes there and checks on it regularly in exchange for using it as a summer house. Of course, we'd have to make some modifications, but…" Klein looked between Lois and Martha. "Yes, I think it could work. I even think the hospital bed is still there."
"Great!" said Lois. "Okay, so how about we meet back here in about an hour? That should give us enough time to get some of the things we'll need. I assume we can still use the van?" she asked Klein.
"Sure. And I think I have an idea for how to take out the security cameras. But how are you going to get him past the police officers who are posted at the door to his room?"
"Child's play," responded Lois dismissively, finally sounding a little bit like her old self.
Lois was actually feeling a lot better when she called Perry and told him that she was going to need to take that leave of absence after all. He told her to take all the time she needed — that he'd work it out with the boys upstairs and that their pay cheques would be deposited directly into their bank account.
Lois had even smiled when Martha made a light joke while they were packing. For the past few weeks, she'd felt as if life was out of her control. She'd watched Clark's behavior, unable to prevent him from getting sicker and sicker. She'd used kryptonite to turn Clark over to others for care. Suddenly, she felt again as if their future was in their hands. And if felt good. It felt really good.
They loaded their things into the jeep before Lois gave the brownstone one last look — knowing that it could be quite some time before she'd be back again. She spotted her briefcase sitting beside the couch. Walking over, she automatically picked it up. Then, taking a deep breath, she headed towards the door.
Just as she was about to step outside, she glanced down at the briefcase in her hand. No. She didn't need this. Reaching inside, she withdrew her wallet, set down the briefcase and stepped out the door, locking it behind her.
"Okay, so tell me again why you want me to be the one to get Clark?" asked Martha suspiciously.
"I just think that after this afternoon, Clark might be more receptive to going with you," Lois responded as she deftly negotiated the jeep through traffic. "Besides, I've got to distract the police officers."
Martha glanced over at the slightly too tight, low-cut t- shirt and the jeans that made the t-shirt look loose. "Is that the reason for the… attire?" Martha asked.
Lois smiled. "You know," she said, glancing down at her breasts, "there are certain advantages to being pregnant. Although, I have a feeling that this is the last time I'm going to be getting into these jeans for a while." She glanced over at Martha. "Most of the cops that get this type of assignment are young. So I figured…" She shrugged. "Besides, I think I've still got it — even if the only one I use it on anymore is your son."
"So that's your brilliant method of distracting the police officers?"
Lois grinned. "Trust me," she said. "By the way, look in that bag."
Martha opened the pack on the floor and burst out laughing as she pulled out a long, blonde wig.
The security officer watching the cameras at Star Labs had the best job in the world. All he had to do was sit there, monitoring cameras for fifteen dollars and fifty-three cents an hour. That was about thirty thousand a year and a great pension and benefits package. He lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair. Pushing his chair away from the counter, he raised a foot to put it on the…
He jumped up, lowering his foot when the door to the security room unexpectedly opened. After smashing out his cigarette, trying not to notice all the no smoking signs plastered around the room, he directed his attention to the man who had entered.
"Dr. Klein," he gasped, "we don't usually see you up here."
Klein looked slightly sheepish. He wandered around the room before looking at the security guard. "I guess I got a little lost," he said, playing up his absent-minded professor persona to the hilt. It was an attitude that had often served him well.
"Do you need a hand getting back to your office?" the security officer answered.
"No, no," Klein said. "I just got thinking about something and…" He shrugged and then looked around at the cameras. "Can you see everywhere in the building from here?"
"Mostly. Your lab is off limits. But other than that… Why?"
"Just curious. I don't think I've ever been in this room before." Klein cleared his throat. "Do you have anything to drink here?" he asked.
"Down in the lunch room."
"Do you think you could get me a soda or something?" Klein asked.
"Umm…" The security guard hesitated, torn between doing what the top scientist at Star Labs was asking of him and the fear that this was some kind of test to see if he could be distracted from doing his job. "I've sort of got to watch the cameras," he said.
"Oh, I'll do that," said Klein, sitting down in the security guard's chair and swirling it around to look at the cameras. "It'll be fun."
"Umm… Okay," said the security guard, turning and leaving the room.
Klein waited until the door closed. Then, moving as quickly as he could, he removed a floppy disk from his pocket and inserted it into the computer controlling the various cameras. Quickly typing the appropriate words into the computer, he clicked enter.
"Come on. Come on. Come on," he said as he waited for the file to load into the computer. "Yes," he said when a beep informed him the virus was loaded.
Removing the disk and sticking it in the pocket of his lab coat, he did some more typing. A message came up on the screen. 'Run Program in Ten Minutes.' Following the message was a 'yes' and a 'no'. Klein heard noise outside the door. After a quick glance back, he clicked 'yes' just as the security guard entered.
"Here's your pop, Dr. Klein," the man said.
"Oh, yes. Thanks," Klein said, rising from his feet. "How much do I owe you?"
"It's on the house," the security guard informed him.
"Well, thanks," said Dr. Klein, making his way to the door.
"It's sort of fun watching all those people when they aren't conscious of it. A great study in human behavior," said Klein, gesturing back to the cameras. "I must stop by and do it more often."
"Anytime, Dr. Klein," the security guard responded.
Klein gave him a smile and nod before leaving the room, knowing that in less than ten minutes this same man would be desperately trying to figure out why all the cameras and door locks at Star Labs had simultaneously failed.
Bernard Klein was actually quite excited. He had invented this little computer virus some time ago and was dying to see if it really would override all the security in the building — not to mention the added bonus of wiping out all the data on the security tapes for at least the past half hour.
Ten minutes later, Martha waited around the corner when Lois slipped on the Star Labs' lab coat and stepped into the hall leading to Clark's room. Lois' one concern had been that the police officers might be the same ones that had seen her there earlier. But as luck would have it, they arrived just after the shift change.
Martha glanced around the corner to watch as Lois approached the officers. She almost giggled at the swing in Lois' hips. It seemed that Lois' advance was having a completely different effect on the two officers.
"Hiya, boys," Lois purred, stopping where the cops were seated. Chomping down on her chewing gum, she began twirling her long, blonde hair with a finger. "I don't think I've seen you two around here before," she said, leaning against the wall so that her lab coat swung open, showing off her all too tight attire.
Martha shook her head when she realized that not only had both officers noticed the body covered by loose, white material, but that one of the officers had actually licked his lips.
"So what's your name, beautiful?" asked one of the officers.
"Candy," Lois purred. "What are yours?"
"I'm Eric and this is Josh."
"Tell me something?" the newly-ordained Candy asked.
"What?" asked Josh.
"I was just wondering if all the officers at the station are as cute as you two."
Martha fought back a snort as both officers immediately assured Candy that they were definitely the best looking men at the precinct. After a few more minutes of flirtation, in which both officers seemed to be competing to get the majority of Candy's attention, Candy glanced at her watch and sighed.
"Well, I guess I better get going," she said, a distinct pout in her voice.
"Why?" asked Eric. "Surely they can spare you a little bit longer."
"Well, I have to… You know," said Candy as if suddenly struck by a thought, "if I could get your help moving a desk, I could probably hang around a little bit longer."
"Well, we really can't leave our prisoner," said Josh.
Eric was immediately on his feet. "Just consider this my washroom break," he said. "Besides, what type of white knight would I be if I didn't help a damsel in distress." He was rewarded by a big smile and a wink from 'Candy.'
Josh rose to his feet as well and Martha could almost feel the jealousy radiating off him.
"Well, if you need a desk moved, it really is going to require two people. And we wouldn't want you to strain something," Josh said.
"That's awfully sweet of both of you," said Candy, reaching out and giving Josh an affectionate touch on the arm. "But what about your prisoner?"
"He'll have to get his own date," said Eric. Candy giggled before linking arms with the officers and leading them down the hall away from Martha.
Martha shook her head and chuckled before heading toward her son's room.
Getting Clark to agree to come had been more difficult than Martha had anticipated. Although he'd seemed more than anxious to get out of this place, he'd seemed suspicious of her reasons for being there. She'd finally had to simply order him to get into the Star Labs' uniform using her patented 'mommy voice'.
Clark had instinctively responded, getting into the uniform and allowing her to help him to escape. When they had finally arrived at the bottom of the stairway, Clark had been exhausted.
"Just have a seat here," Martha instructed, pointing to the bottom stair.
"Shouldn't we just go?" Clark asked while at the same time sinking down to sit on the stair.
Martha shook her head. "We've got to wait," she said, looking over at her son. "Don't worry. We'll be going soon."
Clark closed his eyes and nodded. "What are we waiting for?" he asked, his voice not much more than a breath.
Just then there was the sound of a door opening a long way above them.
"That," said Martha.
There was the sound of running. Although Clark seemed to try to rise, he was unable to make it to his feet. But the anxiety on his face was obvious.
"It's Lois," Martha said.
"Lois," Clark hissed, looking at his mother as if she had just betrayed him.
Martha ignored the look. After all, Lois had warned her to expect it. Right now, they had to keep their eyes on the goal — to get Clark somewhere safe.
It didn't take Lois long to arrive. She immediately made a move towards Clark. She stopped when he flinched away from her.
"Come on," Martha said, giving Lois a reassuring look and cracking open the door at the bottom of the stairs.
Josh looked jealously at Eric as the two of them reluctantly made their way back to their assigned location. Eric didn't seem to notice. After all, he was still studying the paper in his hands.
"Put that thing away," said Josh as they once again arrived at the door to Superman's room.
"You're just jealous that I got Candy's phone number," Eric replied with a smirk. He held up the piece of paper and, with a flourish, folding it in half and sticking it in his pocket.
Josh let out a breath. "I suppose we should take a look at the prisoner. Just to make sure that nothing happened when we were gone." He made his way over to the door as Eric took a seat.
There was still a smug look on Eric's face as he leaned back in his chair and watched his partner. "You know, I could always give you a few tips on women," Eric said.
"Yeah, like I need…" Josh's voice trailed off when he opened the door to Superman's room. After looking inside, he turned to his partner in a panic.
"What's wrong?" asked Eric.
"What?" exclaimed Eric, jumping to his feet. Pushing past Josh to enter the room, he looked thoroughly around. "He's gone," he confirmed.
The two men looked at each other in disbelief before Josh grabbed his radio and spoke into it. Almost instantly, the alarm at Star Labs went off.
"Is he here yet?" asked Lois when Martha again opened the door to look out into the parking garage.
Martha shook her head before something seemed to change her mind. "There he is," she said just as an alarm sounded.
Inspector Bill Henderson hated this particular assignment. The idea of taking Superman from Star Labs to the jail's infirmary made absolutely no sense. If he was sick, shouldn't he be where he could get the best help? Still, no one had asked for his opinion. And having been given a court order to take Superman into custody, he could hardly do otherwise.
Henderson and his partner, Frank Potter, were just approaching Star Labs when the call came over the radio that Superman had escaped. Reached under his seat, Henderson removed the light stashed there and placed it on the roof. The sirens came on even as Potter stepped on the gas.
The car flew towards the entrance to the underground parking lot, sliding into place in front of the entrance to prevent anyone from leaving. It swerved suddenly, barely avoiding collision with a black Star Labs van that was attempting to leave that same lot. The van came to an abrupt halt, unable to get past the police car.
Lois knew they were dead the moment Dr. Klein informed them that Henderson was getting out of the car blocking their escape. Henderson was a good cop. He wouldn't be put off by the fact that someone as distinguished as Dr. Klein was driving the van. He would insist on searching it.
"We're dead," Lois whispered, glancing over at Martha. "We are absolutely dead."
"So what do we do?" asked Martha.
Both women glanced at Clark. He was lying down with his eyes closed. The breakout had obviously drained all his reserves — well that and the fact that he'd used what little he had left to avoid letting Lois help him into the van. There was no way he'd be able to make a run for it. And neither woman was going without him… So where did that leave them?
Their only hope was that Henderson might be on their side. But Henderson was so by-the-book that Lois had her reservations. On the other hand, what other hope was there?
"Dr. Klein," said Henderson, not able to brush aside the sinking feeling in his stomach at the nervous demeanor of the doctor when he approached the driver's door. "I'm afraid that I'm going to have to search the van."
"Is that really necessary?" asked Klein. "I'm in something of a hurry."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist…"
Just then, Lois Lane stuck her head through a curtain blocking off the back of the van from view and looked at Bill Henderson.
"Lois?" asked Henderson. "What are you…" His voice trailed off when he noticed that his partner had disembarked and was also approaching. "Yes, well, I don't see anything out of the ordinary here. Frank, could you move the car? Dr. Klein is in a bit of a hurry." Potter looked as if he were about to comment, but then, without a word, made his way back to the car.
"Why?" asked Klein.
"You owe me an explanation," Henderson whispered. Then the car moved out of the way. "Later," Henderson concluded, stepping to the side.
"What was that all about?" asked Potter as he again stepped out of the car.
"Nothing," said Henderson. "I could see inside the whole van from the window. Trust me. Superman wasn't there. Besides, why would someone as respected as Dr. Klein risk his reputation to break Superman out of police custody?"
Potter made a noise of agreement before heading away. Henderson glanced after the retreating van. Now exactly why had he done that? He wasn't entirely sure. Still, it was done now. Taking a deep breath, he allowed his partner to remain to check vehicles. And although he was almost certain that Superman was no longer in the building, headed inside to continue the chase.
"I guess prayer still works, huh?" asked Martha as three occupants of the van breathed almost unbelievable sighs of relief. The fourth occupant of the car, Clark, seemed to be almost asleep, with no realization of the close call they'd just had.
"Thank god," said Lois.
"I already did," Klein replied.
There was ensuing silence as Martha, Lois and Klein grappled with how close they'd come to being caught.
"So should we head straight to the house?" asked Klein.
Lois shook her head. "I parked the jeep a few blocks away. I'll drive the jeep and follow you."
"Do you want me to drive your jeep?" asked Martha.
Lois again shook her head. "I think Clark might be more comfortable having you here than me," Lois said, giving Martha a sad smile.
Josh and Eric were going through their story once again. Disciplinary action was a certainty. Both men had accepted that. But what was so frustrating was the number of times they had to repeat the story of their incompetence. Okay, so maybe there wasn't a Candy working for Star Labs. But how were they supposed to have known that? And maybe there had been a computer malfunction taking out all the security cameras and door locks, but no one had seen fit to inform them.
"So this Candy," Bill Henderson said, "you say she was a blonde."
"Yes," said Josh for what felt like the hundredth time.
"And she never said what her last name was?"
"No. But she couldn't have been involved in this. Like we said…" Eric began before his voice trailed off. "Wait a minute!" he suddenly exclaimed, realizing for the first time why they were being asked the same questions over and over again. "I just remembered." He reached into his pocket, withdrew a piece of paper and handed it to Henderson. "She gave me her number."
Henderson held it by the corner. "Did you write this down or did she?" he asked.
"Well, I did, but…"
"So this wouldn't have her fingerprints on it," said Henderson.
"No, but… Well, why do we need fingerprints? We have her phone number."
Setting down the piece of paper, Henderson pushed the button on the phone that would allow him to use the speaker phone. Then he dialed the number.
"Metropolis Humane Society," came a prerecorded voice on the other end of the line. "Lonely? We can give you that special love you're looking for. Adopt a dog or a cat today."
In spite of the serious trouble they were in, Josh burst out laughing. "And you wanted to give me advice about women?" he asked his partner.
"Are you sure?" demanded Mindy.
"Well, there are no scientific certainties here, but yes. I don't think Superman needs additional exposure," Dr. Livingston responded. "Given the amount the crystal had already affected him by the time he was taken to Star Labs and the full time exposure you say he was given during his stay there, I'd speculate that the effects are, indeed, permanent. But even if I'm wrong, without knowing what caused his symptoms, if he does get better, he'll begin frequenting the same places and will once again get exposure. I suspect his relapse will be almost immediate. So I really don't think there's anything to worry about."
Mindy let out a breath of relief and leaned back in her chair. Stage one was complete. She doubted anyone would ever even hear from Superman again. Now, stage two: taking care of Bill Church.
Henderson stood on the shore as the car was pulled out of Hobbs Bay.
"…so when we saw that the driver was wearing a Star Labs uniform, we thought we should call you," the officer next to him was saying.
Henderson nodded, but didn't take his eyes off the car.
"Anyway, I was thinking," the man continued. "If this man was killed because he found out about the plan to get Superman, wouldn't that indicate that the people who took Superman were not helping him? After all, Superman wouldn't be party to murder."
"Any idea who the man was?" asked Henderson.
"Maybe. The car was registered to a…" He glanced down at the notebook in his hands. "…Gerald Sandrin."
Henderson simply nodded. As the man walked away, Henderson thought about what the officer had said. He knew that this murder had nothing to do with the escape of Superman. Henderson, although he had no proof, also had no doubt that Klein and Lane were responsible. And neither of them were capable of murder — well, unless you counted the coronary they were likely to give him by the time this was over.
Klein's name had come up when the Star Labs security guard mentioned a visit that Dr. Klein had paid him shortly before the cameras had failed. But there was obviously a reason Dr. Klein was considered a brilliant scientist. Police experts had been unable to find any evidence of computer tampering. As far as Candy was concerned… Henderson had no doubt that letting the police officers see a picture of Lois Lane would solve that mystery. But so far, he'd neglected to give them that option.
So, since he knew who had taken Superman and that this murder was not connected, what should he do? A half-smile made its way onto his lips. Following up on the murder might actually keep Lois Lane and Bernard Klein from becoming suspects. Besides, if he wasn't really trying to find Superman, he might as well be trying to solve a murder. It did briefly occur to him to wonder why he was going along with this plan when he didn't even know exactly what the 'plan' was.
FOUR DAYS LATER
Lois opened the door to Dr. Klein's 'summer house,' stepped outside and took a deep breath of clean air. She sighed. She missed the comforting smell of the smog that she associated with being home. Making her way over to a swing on the porch, she took a seat.
The past four days had been difficult — to say the least. When they had arrived at the house and Clark realized that he was simply 'changing jail cells', as he had put it, he made a dash for freedom. In spite of his weakened state, it had taken all three of them to subdue him. When Klein had slapped the handcuffs on him, the defeat in Clark's expression had broken Lois' heart. And the look he'd given his own mother… Although Martha had tried to hide it, Lois was well aware that the woman had been devastated by the accusation in her son's expression.
Clark had been taken off the tranquilizer to ensure it didn't in some way react with the antipsychotic Klein had put him on. Given Clark's unique biology, Klein felt it would be best to avoid mixing medications. Of course, the result was that both Lois and Martha had been subjected to more than one stinging tirade.
An antipsychotic. What a horrible way to categorize a medication! It was as if Clark had been labeled psychotic. Dr. Klein had warned them that trying to find the right medication could take some time. As a result, they were to write down any side effects he experienced.
Dr. Klein came out every evening to check up on Clark, see how the medication was working and answer any concerns or questions that might have come up during the day. But otherwise, the two women were very much on their own.
Still, Lois and Martha had managed to come to terms with what they had to do. In an odd way, this tragedy had solidified the bond between the two women. And Lois couldn't imagine facing this without the consistent support of Martha. But there was one moment every day during which Lois often found herself almost resenting her mother-in- law. And this was it. Even at this moment, Martha, as she did every evening, was on the phone talking to her husband — drawing strength from him to continue this battle. Lois would give anything to have the same. But Clark had been openly hostile to both her and Martha.
Since they had been there, they had converted the room Dr. Klein had fixed up for his wife to a room suitable for Clark. Of course, that meant they had boarded up the windows and installed locks on the door to prevent Clark from escaping. However, when they had reentered the room the second day to realize that his hands were bloody from trying to claw the boards away from the windows, they'd had no choice but to further restrain him.
Using a padlock, they had secured a chain onto the steel hospital bedframe. Then they had fastened a pair of handcuffs to the other end of the chain which they had attached to Clark's left arm. The chain allowed him to get off the bed and get comfortable. However, he was unable to reach either the windows or the door. Clark had growled and cursed at them the entire time the new restraints were being employed.
There was, however, an advantage to this new arrangement. It allowed Lois and Martha to keep the door to his room open, allowing indirect light and fresh air into the room and making it easier for them to hear if Clark had a problem.
Unfortunately, one of the results of binding Clark to the bed was that anytime Clark had to do something as simple as go to the washroom, he had to call for one of the two women. For the strongest man in the world, it was humiliating to be powerless over the inability to control something as basic as relieving himself. Neither woman wanted him to feel that way — he was sick, after all — but neither were able to say or do anything to prevent his sense of impotence.
Every day they also had to expose him to kryptonite and listen to him whimper. Unlike when they'd restrained him, he seldom said a word during those times. In fact, he never did more than turn his back to them, curl up on the bed and whimper — as if he were too proud to let them hear him beg.
The only time Clark was allowed out of his room was to get him into the sun for prearranged periods of time. This was something Lois and Martha always did together. One would always take the box of kryptonite in case he tried something. At the end of these short periods, he'd plead for more time, claiming that the lack of sunlight was killing him.
Martha and Lois had had more than one discussion about whether he was right. After all, how well did Dr. Klein understand the way Clark's body worked? Still, every discussion seemed to end the same way — with Martha and Lois deciding they had no choice but to wait it out, keeping a close eye on Clark in the mean time.
They had discovered one thing, however, which had surprised both of them. It seemed that without his powers, Clark needed food, as well as sunlight, to sustain him. When Martha had offered him a sandwich that first night, he'd gulped it down as if he'd been starving. It was only when Lois asked Dr. Klein what Clark had been eating while at Star Labs that she'd found out that since Superman didn't need food, they'd not been feeding him. Yet, it seemed quite obvious to both her and Martha that he did. If not, he would likely have used the offer of food as another opportunity to lash out at them. But he never did, taking whatever was offered and downing it as quickly as possible — often leaving Martha making complaints about how she hated it when he inhaled his food.
It seemed a full-out search was currently taking place for Superman. Perry White was writing the follow-ups on the Superman escape himself. Lois had understood immediately. He was writing these stories himself to get her inside information, trusting her to read between the lines. And it was amazing how much information he'd been able to provide so far.
For example, he had written how Bill Henderson said that they were looking for an unknown blonde woman in connection to Superman's disappearance — telling Lois that Bill Henderson was still keeping what he knew about her and Dr. Klein a secret. Perry had also written that neither Lois nor Clark were available to give statements because, as a result of the strain of turning Superman in, both had needed, and been approved for vacation time — thus, telling Lois what their cover story would be upon their return. And apparently, Perry had interviewed Dr. Klein who was claiming that Superman's illness was the cause of his breaking Church's lawyer's arm. He went on to say that because of the illness, Superman could not be held accountable for his actions and that Dr. Klein had indicated that he was fully prepared to testify on Superman's behalf if the Mayor insisted on taking this matter to trial.
Lois looked up when Martha emerged from the house.
"I need to go into town to get some groceries," Martha said. "But if you want me to wait until Dr. Klein comes back this evening…"
"Go, Martha," Lois interrupted. "We'll be fine."
"I shouldn't be more than an hour," Martha informed Lois who instinctively glanced at her watch. "I took a look before coming out and he's sound asleep."
Lois' head came up at the sound of Clark calling her name. She immediately laid down the book she was reading about schizophrenia and made her way into the house.
Clark was sitting on the bed, holding his left arm in his right hand.
"What is it, Clark?" she asked softly.
He held his arm towards her. She gasped and took an instinctive step closer when she saw the blood on his arm. The handcuffs were obviously provoking his skin and, it appeared, had worked it raw.
"Help me," said Clark softly, looking at her with his big puppy-dog eyes. She felt her heart soften.
She glanced at her watch. It was almost an hour since Martha had left.
"Your mom will be home soon and then we'll…"
"It hurts so much, Lois," he interrupted. "Please?"
She swallowed hard, glancing back at his bloody arm. Then she glanced at the small handcuff key which they had hung on a nail just outside the door to his room. Well, she couldn't remove the handcuffs without Martha here, but maybe there was something she could do that would help.
"Just a minute," she said, before leaving the room. She was back less than a minute later with a wash basin, a wash cloth and some medical supplies. Without another thought, she closed the distance between them. Setting the basin on the nightstand she took a seat on the side of the bed, picking up his injured arm. She turned it over before looking into his eyes. This was the most civil he'd been to her since the last night at their home, and she felt drawn in by his simple faith that she would help him. Reaching over for the wash cloth, she…
…gasped when Clark suddenly grabbed her, twisting her around and pulling her back against his chest, even as his arm flipped the chain tying him to the bed around her and drawing it firmly across her neck. Then everything went still.
She sat there in complete disbelief. The idea of fighting back had never even crossed her mind. This was Clark, after all. And yet the failure of her instinct for survival to kick in meant that the fight was over before it had even begun. She had her back to Clark with the chain tying Clark to the bed firmly across her throat. Even without super powers, all it would take was one solid yank on that chain for him to kill her — snapping her neck. Her hands came up slowly to the chain, touching it, testing it.
"Clark?" she asked as fear settled in for the first time.
"Give me the key," Clark hissed into her ear.
"I can't," she began. Then she gasped as he pulled tighter on the chain. "I didn't bring it with me," she added quickly.
He stilled, as if not entirely sure what his next step should be.
"I understand, you know," Lois said, trying to think quickly, hoping that his hesitation would give her a chance to talk her way out of this. And, as much as she hated the thought, she had to be prepared to fight him if he gave her half a chance.
"Understand what?" Clark asked suspiciously.
"Why you think I betrayed you," she responded. "But even if you're right, even if I did betray you, if you kill me, you kill our child, too."
His 'humph' told her that she'd made a mistake. "Why should I care about your child?" he responded.
"Clark," she whispered, a tear trickling slowly down her cheek, "this is your child, too."
"I can't have children," he responded, his voice as cold and certain as she'd ever heard. "I used to worry that you didn't really… couldn't really love me. That you were simply attracted to the powers. I guess I was right, huh? I used to ask myself why a woman like you would love someone like me. I guess I got my answer. You never did, did you?"
"Clark, I did… do love you. I love you with every fiber of my being. I…"
"…love me so much you attacked me in my sleep, just after making love to me," he hissed. "You don't love me. You just liked the status symbol of being 'Superman's wife' — just like you liked the status symbol of being Luthor's wife. And then, when you realized that people were never going to find out who you were married to… were never going to find out that Clark Kent was really Superman, you became restless, didn't you? That's why the affair with Perry. After all, Perry White has a lot of power in the community, too — just like Superman and Luthor. Was getting pregnant part of the plan or was it an accident?"
"God, Clark, how could you even…"
"After all, with a baby on the way, Perry would feel obligated to marry you. The only problem was that you had to get rid of me. Is that when you came up with this plan to turn the world against me — to attack me in my sleep? And you expect me to care whether or not the baby lives?" he concluded in disbelief.
"Omigod," Lois breathed as it sank in what he was accusing her of. His fear that she didn't think he was good enough for her, which had been bolstered by her infatuation of Superman and her interest in Luthor, had pushed him to create this whole scenario in which she had never loved him. For the first time, she truly believed her life and the life of their child might really be in danger.
"So what can you tell me?" Bill Church asked the man now seated at the desk in front of him.
"According to your wife, the effects of the yellow kryptonite are permanent," the man replied.
Bill narrowed his eyes. "And upon what does she base this?"
"That was Dr. Livingston's diagnosis."
Bill snorted. "That man's a quack," he said dismissively. "Which means… You're sure Mindy had nothing to do with Superman's disappearance?"
"Then what we need to do is find out where Superman is."
"And how do we do that?"
"You leave that to me. But it seems Lois Lane and Clark Kent have also disappeared"
"But Lane was the one who turned Superman in," the man objected.
"True. But she turned him in to Star Labs to get treatment. The Mayor was planning to have him taken into custody and that's when he disappeared."
"So you think she's involved in his escape?"
"I'd bet on it."
"So what's the plan if you do find him?"
"Well," Bill said, leaning back in his chair, "Lane turned him in so that he'd receive treatment and since the green kryptonite disappeared along with Superman, I imagine her intention is still to get Superman medical attention. That would require continued use of the kryptonite. Which would mean he's still vulnerable. Which would mean…"
"That the right man could take care of the Superman problem permanently."
Bill church smiled confirming the man's analysis.
"So what do you want me to do?"
Bill sized the man up for a moment. "For now, keep sleeping with my wife."
"Relax, Robert," Bill said. "I just want you to remain in a position where you can keep feeding me information. And be ready to act when I finally do track down the Man of Steel."
"Yes, Mr. Church," Robert Decorte replied.
Martha grabbed a couple of bags off the passenger's seat and got out of the jeep. Using her elbow to close the driver's door, she made her way into the house. She could hear voices coming from Clark's room. Setting the grocery bags down on the kitchen counter, she wondered if perhaps Dr. Klein had arrived early.
"Why don't you come join us, Mom?" said Clark's voice from his jail cell.
"Lois?" asked Martha cautiously. She heard some whispered voices coming from the room before she heard Lois' voice.
"It's okay, Martha," Lois said.
Martha entered the doorway to Clark's room and froze when she took in the sight. Her son was holding her daughter-in- law around the throat and both of them were looking towards her. The kryptonite! She began moving backwards. If she could get the kryptonite…
"Stay where you are or Lois dies," Clark warned.
Martha froze. Suddenly, without much thought about the consequences, her mother's instinct took over.
"Clark Jerome Kent! You release her now!" she said, using her best mother's voice — a talent she'd developed through years of practice. A talent which, until now, had always served to get the desired reaction out of the man on the bed.
She was stunned when he almost chuckled in response.
"Okay," he said when he seemed to realize that she had no idea what to do now. "There's a key hanging just outside the door. The key for my handcuffs."
Martha took a small step back so that she could see the key.
"Don't do it, Martha," Lois said immediately. She let out a gasp at the small jerk of the chain on her neck. But her words were enough to stop the automatic movement of Martha's hand towards the key.
"If you were smart, you'd keep your mouth shut," Clark hissed in Lois' ear. "If I don't get that key right now, you're dead."
Martha's hand again began reaching for the key. How could she not do what he said, given the possible consequences of non-compliance? And by the look on Clark's face, she didn't dare risk not believing him.
"He won't kill me," Lois breathed, keeping her eyes firmly on Martha. "Don't do it, Martha," she pleaded.
"Oh? Won't I?" asked Clark into her ear. "I wouldn't be so sure about that."
It seemed that Martha wasn't sure either because she was taking down the key and taking a step closer to Clark almost immediately.
"I can't take the risk, Lois," Martha said.
"If he'd kill me, what will he do out there?" Lois asked.
Martha stopped and met Lois' eyes. The calm certainty in Lois' eyes was compelling. What Martha wasn't sure about was whether that certainty was that Clark wouldn't kill her or that Clark couldn't be allowed back out even if… especially if he would kill the woman he loved. Martha hesitated for a moment more before taking a step back. Lois nodded slightly in response before mouthing, 'Thank you.'
Then Martha let out a gasp as the chain tightened around Lois' throat. Lois' hands clawing at that chain told Martha that Clark had cut off Lois' oxygen. Martha's gaze darted between Lois and Clark, trying to figure out what to do. Still, she didn't move. After all, if she attacked it could provoke Clark into pulling harder on the chain and snapping Lois' neck — perhaps even by accident. Should she take the risk, or believe that her son's love for this woman would prevent him from fulfilling his threat. It did briefly cross her mind to get the kryptonite, but… Lois was pregnant. Could she really risk what that rock might do to the baby? She knew beyond any doubt that Lois would never want to take the risk.
Just then, Clark let out a yell before throwing Lois to the floor. Martha let out a breath when Lois began sucking in air, coughing and sputtering but obviously very much alive.
"Get out!" Clark yelled at both his mother and his wife. Neither Lois nor Martha hesitated.
Once they were both outside, they closed, and Martha, using trembling fingers, locked the door behind them.
"Are you okay?" she asked, turning to Lois.
"Other than for the fact that my husband almost killed me?" asked Lois, before letting out a breath. "I'm fine," Lois responded. "But I don't think I realized exactly how sick Clark is until now. I mean, when he lured me into the room, I thought… I hoped…" She closed her eyes.
"I know," Martha responded. "But at least we have a second chance. We've just got to be more careful in the future." She paused. "And Lois," she said softly, laying her hand on Lois' arm, "hang in there. He will get well. I promise you. We'll figure this thing out and Clark will get better."
"Yeah," responded Lois, although her tone reflected that she wasn't entirely certain on that topic. "It's just so hard, you know?" she said. "I mean, I know this isn't his fault and I still love him, but…" Her voice trailed off.
"I know," Martha responded softly.
Inside his room, Clark took out the pen he'd stolen from Lois' pocket during their encounter and pulled it apart. Once done, he began using the metal clip in an attempt to pick the lock on the handcuffs. After a couple of minutes, he let out a breath. Lois always made this look so easy. He wished now that he had asked her to teach him. But he'd never thought he'd need to know how to do this. Besides, this wasn't exactly the right equipment. Still, he returned to the task. Lois was able to do it — which meant that there must be a way. He just had to figure it out. But then, what else did he have to do?
"Damn," he muttered when the small piece of metal slipped. Taking a deep breath, he started again.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Lois sank into the swing outside the house. She was relieved that things had calmed down during the past couple of weeks. Since the incident where Clark had threatened her life, things seemed to be getting slowly better. At least Clark wasn't berating her and Martha nearly as much these days. She wondered, however, if that meant the medication was beginning to work or if Clark had just given up.
Dr. Klein, although he still wasn't certain, was becoming more and more convinced that Clark was suffering from schizophrenia. Both Martha and Lois had gone through an entire range of emotions following the diagnosis. They had been sad and angry, confused and dismayed. They had felt shame and guilt and bitterness. Both had to constantly assure the other that Clark's illness wasn't their fault. From the reading Lois had done about this disease, it seemed as if shame and blame were both very common reactions by family members. But knowing that and stopping the emotions were two very different things.
She smiled when her eyes spotted a figure that was quickly becoming a familiar sight. When she first met him, he'd frightened her. But since then he'd become one of her favorite diversions from the realities of dealing with Clark's illness. In fact, at times she wondered if she would still be holding up if she wasn't able to hug him and cry into his shoulder. Other than Clark, he was the first one she had ever felt completely comfortable confiding in. She talked to him about everything. And the way he looked at her with those big, brown eyes… Sometimes it reminded her of the way Clark had looked at her — in better days.
"Hi, Cookie," she said, making soft clicking sounds with her tongue.
The small, but definitely ferocious looking dog's bum started to move as he attempted to wag his very short stump of a tail. He bounded over to Lois, jumping easily onto the swing with her.
"Whoa," Lois gasped, trying to steady the now violently rocking swing.
The dog hardly seemed to notice as he burrowed his head under her arm to tuck it on her lap. Then he looked up at her with those soulful eyes and Lois laughed.
"Is this what you want?" she asked before beginning to rub the dog's ears.
His gaze almost instantly became slightly glazed as he continued to watch her.
"Do you have any idea how much you sometimes remind me of Clark," she laughed.
Clark concentrated on the lock on the handcuffs, almost despairing that he'd ever get these stupid restraints off, when he heard an unexpected 'click.' Slowly, he pulled the cuff off his hand. He had done it. It had taken him two weeks, but he had done it.
He would have gone insane during the past couple of weeks if he hadn't had the handcuffs to keep his mind occupied. Oh, sure, Lois had taken to sitting on the far side of the room to read the Daily Planet to him every day — like he couldn't read it for himself. And his mother was making all his favorites to eat — including those excellent oatmeal- raisin cookies. But neither of those small acts had managed to impress him. Didn't they realize how humiliating it was not to be trusted to go to the washroom by himself?
But all that was behind him. He was free — finally. Now, all he had to do was get out of this house. He grabbed the pair of sweats lying on the end of his bed and put them on. His mother must have put them there for him to wear today. Then he snuck to the door to his room and looked out into the hall. He was in luck. No one seemed to be around. Keeping his steps as quiet as possible, he made his way down the hall. He saw the kitchen up ahead and froze when he heard footsteps. His mother.
Taking a deep breath, he quickly made his way past the entrance way to the kitchen. He would go out the front door. Stopping briefly, he grabbed his running shoes and a jacket from the front closet and headed to the door. He froze when he heard Lois' voice coming from outside. Who was she speaking to? Sneaking closer, he listened.
"Yeah, I love you, too," Lois was saying. There was a brief pause. "Clark?" she asked. "Well, maybe Clark will just have to learn to share me."
Clark's heart caught in his throat as he began backing away from the door. He'd lost her. Over the past few days, he'd begun to wonder if he'd been a little harsh in his evaluation of Lois' actions. After all, if this was all some big plot to get him out of her life so that she could be with Perry, she was sure taking the long way around this. He didn't think she'd left the house even once during the past few weeks. But now he understood why. Whoever she was with was obviously coming to the house to see her.
He was half way to the back door when curiosity got the better of him. Who was it that Lois had betrayed him to be with? He had to know. He cautiously made his way back to the front door. Since the door itself was open, he carefully approached the screen door. Then, taking a deep breath, he got close enough to see outside.
When he saw Lois sitting alone in the swing on the front steps, he felt confused. Maybe her lover had already left. He was about to back away when Lois again began to speak.
"You know what I miss the most?" she asked.
Clark again looked out the screen door. It was then that he saw who Lois' confidant was. A dog. He let out a breath of absolute relief. There was no other man. She was talking to a dog.
"I miss the way he used to look at me," Lois continued. "He used to look at me as if I was the most precious thing in the world. Do you know that the first time he looked at me that way was when we were investigating our first story together? I actually told him not to fall for me." She chuckled. "I'm not sure who that warning was actually meant for — him or me. It was just that for a second there I felt…" She seemed at a loss for words.
It suddenly crossed Clark's mind that the longer he stood here, the more likely it was that he'd get caught. And if he didn't get out of here now, he was going to find himself back in that room and next time, they'd make sure he couldn't escape.
"No one has ever been able to touch my heart with just a look the way Clark can," Lois said, finally finding her thought. "And he's been able to do it since we first met. I must admit, at the time, it was terrifying."
Clark froze. She'd never told him that before. He moved closer to the door, wanting to hear what she might say next.
"You know, though, come to think of it, I'm not sure that really is what I miss the most," Lois continued. "I think what I miss most is his laugh. When he laughs… I don't know what it is, Cookie, but it just seems to echo through the house. It doesn't matter what's going on in our lives, when I hear that laugh, everything seems just a little bit more tolerable. I really could use that right now.
"In fact, I just miss him — being able to talk to him, being able to go for a walk and feel him entwine his fingers with mine, just having him hold me."
Clark began backing away from the door. If he didn't leave right now, he was just asking to be caught. And he couldn't take being locked in that room for one more minute. He quietly snuck back the way he had come, wondering how he was going to distract his mother. Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem. It seemed that his mother was taking a washroom break.
He snuck silently through the kitchen and noiselessly opened the back door. It only took him a moment to be outside. He was free. He was finally free.
"What do you have for me?" asked Bill Church.
"First, as instructed, I had Lane and Kent's place searched," said Church's lawyer.
"No indication there of where they might be. And I discovered that Lane left her briefcase, you know the one with the yellow kryptonite, at the brownstone."
"So if I'm right about her involvement in all this and if Dr. Livingston is wrong about the effects of the yellow kryptonite being permanent, we can't count on him getting additional exposure from the rock Mindy planted in Lane's briefcase?"
"No, sir. Also, I found out…"
"Go on," Church said when his lawyer hesitated.
"It might not be anything. But it seems that when the cops arrived at Star Labs following Superman's escape, Dr. Klein was just leaving."
"Well, I talked to Henderson's partner, Frank Potter."
"Did he know why you were inquiring?" asked Church.
The lawyer shook his head. "He thought telling me was the right thing since I'm the victim in Superman's attack."
"Good. So what did he tell you?"
"Like I said, it seems that when Henderson and Potter arrived at Star Labs, Klein was just leaving. Klein was driving a windowless van and… And this is the interesting part …Henderson just waved the van through."
"Henderson's too good to… Put a tail on Dr. Klein immediately. Contact Decorte and have him ready. Tell him I don't want anyone but him handling this."
"Of course," the lawyer responded. He got up as if to leave before hesitating.
"What is it?" Bill asked.
"I'm just wondering… Well, sir, why is it that you haven't taken control of Intergang yet? I mean, it's fairly obvious that all the lead players are working for you unofficially. Why leave Mindy thinking that she's still in control?"
Bill smiled. "So that if anything goes wrong with this Superman thing she can still be blamed," he responded. "You always need a back-up plan when dealing with the Man of Steel."
He was free. Clark began jogging away from the house. As he did, he took a deep breath, enjoying the smog-free air. He loved that smell. And today it smelled even sweeter — the sweet smell of freedom. Now all he had to do was get into the sun and his powers would return. Then…
He stopped in his tracks. Then what? It was fairly obvious that, for whatever reason, his wife and his mother wanted him to stay in that room and go through this hell. And since they had kryptonite… If he ran now, he'd never be able to come back. Never again would he taste his mother's oatmeal-raisin cookies. Never again would he be able to seek the advice of his parents. But more importantly, never again would he be able to entangle his fingers with Lois'.
After overhearing Lois' conversation with the dog, he found himself believing that she loved him — even though he was still having problems reconciling it with her attacking him with kryptonite. And his parents… He wasn't entirely sure why he'd ever believed his mother would do something to hurt him. He might not understand exactly why they'd done what they had, but he suddenly realized he didn't believe it was because they hated him.
For the past couple of weeks, he'd been focusing all his energy on getting free of his handcuffs. And now that he suddenly was, he found himself wondering if he would have been better off concentrating on figuring out why two of the people he loved most in this world were putting him through this. And wondering if maybe it was time for him to figure it out.
Taking one final breath of free air, he turned and headed back to the house. Once inside, he went straight to his bedroom, sat down on the edge of the bed and, after playing with the handcuffs for a few minutes to make sure that he could get out of them again whenever he needed to, put them back on. Leaning back on the bed, he sighed. Maybe it was time for him to try to figure out what was going on. There would always be time to leave later.
'No one has ever been able to touch my heart with just a look the way Clark can.' Lois' words seemed to repeat themselves time after time in his mind. She loved him. So why had she attacked him in the middle of the night with kryptonite? If he could figure that out, maybe he'd be able to find a way to put an end to this nightmare that didn't require him to cut off contact with the people he loved.
"So what do you think is wrong with me?" Clark asked.
Lois' head snapped up from the article in the Daily Planet she had been reading to him. For the past week, he had seemed to tolerate her presence. But this was the first time he had asked what was going on — other than to make accusations.
"Umm… well…" Her voice trailed off. Was this some kind of trick? "We aren't exactly sure, Clark."
"You must have some idea," Clark responded.
"Umm…" she stuttered. Was he really offering her an opportunity to explain to him what was happening? They had tried to explain everything to him, but so far he'd seemed completely uninterested — having already come to his own conclusions about their actions.
"I heard you and Mom talking. I think I heard her say something about schizophrenia," he said. "Is that what you think is wrong with me?"
Lois let out a breath. Well, what could it hurt to try again? "That seems the most likely possibility," she said softly.
"Why? I mean, why do you think that?"
"Clark, do you remember what happened during the week before I…" She swallowed hard but then plunged ahead. "…used the kryptonite on you that day at our house?"
Clark's eyebrows crinkled. "I'm not exactly sure. It all seems…" He made an erratic gesture with his hand. "…fuzzy, I guess." He let out a breath and Lois could see that he was trying to think back. "In fact, it feels as if I've been kind of out of it for quite a while. I mean, I can remember bits and pieces but… Lois, why do you think I have schizophrenia?"
"Clark, for a few weeks before… well, you know …you got… I don't know. It was scary. It seemed like you thought everyone was out to get us. And, as a result, you scared the hell out of a boy who tried to rob a bank. You even attacked Bill Church's lawyer. Don't you remember any of this?"
"Vaguely," Clark said slowly, obviously still trying to put the pieces together.
Lois suddenly felt hope — for the first time since he'd attacked her. If he was admitting that he was out of it, maybe he was on the road to recovery.
"So that's why you used the kryptonite on me?" he asked.
"I didn't know what else to do. I tried to get you to go see Dr. Klein on your own. Do you remember that?"
"But you refused to admit there was anything wrong. You just kept trying to get me to leave Metropolis."
"But… Bill Church! What about Bill Church? Wasn't he coming after you or something?"
"No, Clark. That was part of it. You were so convinced that Bill Church was coming after me, but there was no evidence of that. In fact, everything we found indicated that Bill Church had other concerns."
"Bill Church wasn't coming after you?" he asked, noticeably confused.
"No, Clark. He wasn't. You just thought he was. Can you tell me why you thought that?"
Clark was silent for a long time before responding. "All I can really remember is that I was so scared. All the time. I don't know why. I just knew that you were in danger."
"That's one of the reasons we think you might be suffering from schizophrenia," said Lois.
"But I don't feel scared now. At least not in the same way."
"That's because you're being medicated. So… What do you mean, 'not in the same way?'" she asked.
"I just mean…" He shook his head.
"What is it, Clark?" she asked, scooting towards the edge of her chair.
"I just mean… Well, I guess I'm scared that you're going to leave me," he said self-consciously.
Lois let out a breath. "Clark, I'm not going to leave you. I'm still here, aren't I? I'm not going anywhere. I can't. I just… Well, I wouldn't know where else to go."
Clark met her eyes. She wasn't entirely sure what she'd said that had reached him, but the softness in his eyes… It reminded her of that first time he'd looked at her as if she was the most precious thing in the universe and she felt her eyes become moist.
"Could you do something for me?" asked Clark.
"Anything," Lois responded.
"Come sit here with me," he said, tapping the bed beside him.
Lois froze. She'd told him she'd do anything. But she couldn't give him what he was asking for. She wanted to believe that Clark had had some sort of breakthrough, but how could she know if this was simply another trick?
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked," said Clark immediately.
"No, Clark. It's not that. It's just…" Lois' voice trailed off, not knowing how to respond. How could she tell him that she was afraid he would hurt her? She let out a breath of relief when Martha suddenly called for her. "We'll pick this up later," Lois said, rising to her feet and making her way, as quickly as possible, out of the room.
Clark crinkled his eyebrows as he watched Lois dash from the room. For some reason, his request had completely spooked her. He was not fooled by her need to respond to his mother's voice. But what… He shook his head slightly as an odd memory… or was it a memory? …came to mind. He was sitting on this bed with Lois but… No. He shook his head again — this time in an attempt to reject the memory.
Had he really threatened to kill Lois? Oh god. No. No wonder she'd been spooked by his asking her to join him. It was a wonder that she was still able to sit in the same room with him.
'I wouldn't know where else to go.' Her words to him came back. It was at that moment that he had known that, even if he didn't completely understand what was going on, she still loved him. After all, it was that same sentiment that had made him stay when he had finally escaped the handcuffs.
He pulled in a jagged breath. She was amazing. In spite of everything he had put her through, she still loved him.
So what should he do? Nothing. The answer came the instant the question was asked. He should stay handcuffed. He should do what he was told. And he should slowly regain her trust. That was the only chance he really had — at least it was if he wanted his family…
Suddenly another memory came back. He had actually accused Lois of being unfaithful. And with Perry of all people. He gasped. What on earth could possibly have made him believe such a crazy thing? He had even claimed that the baby wasn't his. How could he possibly make up for something like that?
The man in the black sedan sunk further into his seat when he saw Dr. Klein driving out of the Star Labs' parking lot in a black van. He waited until the van passed him before pulling his car onto the road, making a u-turn and following. The van was easy to track. The driver was obviously not used to watching for tails. That was good. Still, that didn't warrant getting careless. He pulled in behind the car following the van. The extra car between him and the van would make it harder for his target to realize he was being followed.
Lois stared at the cast iron frying pan sitting on the stove. She had told Martha that she could do this. After all, the choices were to get supper going or to go out to the store to pick up… what was 'clove garlic' anyway? She looked at the ground beef. Martha said that all she had to do was put it in the fry pan and start cooking it for supper. She could do this. After all, Martha had been helping her with her cooking skills.
She turned the element under the frying pan to high. Then, taking a deep breath, she picked up the bowl containing the ground beef and emptied it into the pan. She let out a breath of relief. So far so good. Picking up the spatula, she began breaking apart the large lump of ground beef. After all, as far as she recalled, chilli didn't have one big lump of meat in it. Once she got it broken up, she leaned back against the opposite counter and smiled. She'd done it. Well, that called for a celebration.
She walked over to the fridge as the ground beef spit and sputtered behind her. Opening the door, she pulled out a bottle of wine, inserted the corkscrew and opened the bottle. She moved over to the cupboard, removed a wine glass and poured herself a glass of wine. She was just about to take a sip when she suddenly remembered she was pregnant. Wine was probably not a good idea. She was about to set the glass down when something suddenly smelled wrong. It smelled…
She gasped and spun around, staring in horror at the fire leaping out of the frying pan. Without thinking, she tossed the content of the glass in her hands at the flame. She cried out when the liquid only seemed to spit boiling grease around the room — a few small drops burning at her throat where her blouse showed exposed skin.
Clark was out of the handcuffs and on his way to the kitchen the instant he heard Lois yell. Rushing into the doorway, he saw Lois. She seemed basically all right. Without remembering that he wasn't invulnerable, he bolted to the cast iron frying pan and picked it up, intending to take the flaming pot outside.
He yelled when the hot metal burned his hands. Quickly setting the frying pan back down, he looked around until he spotted the oven mitts. Using them, he again picked up the frying pan and rushed through the door. He carried it to a spot where the ground was covered with sand before dropping it. Letting out a sigh of relief, he watched as it harmlessly continued to burn.
When Clark had entered the room, Lois had been frantically brushing at the hot spots of grease that burned on her skin. She only became aware that Clark was even there when he yelled upon picking up the frying pan.
Making her way slowly out into the darkness, she watched from a distance. She waited until Clark dropped the pan before approaching — half afraid he'd use it as some kind of weapon.
"Are you okay?" he asked when he turned and saw her standing about ten feet away.
She nodded. "Umm… I got a few splatters on me, but nothing serious. I guess it just caught me by surprise."
He let out a breath of relief before looking back at the fire that was burning itself out.
"I take it that was supper," he responded, glancing back to give her an amused grin.
It took a moment for the humor of the situation to penetrate. Suddenly, the stress of the situation was released in laughter. Clark joined her and both found themselves laughing uncontrollably.
"I guess you didn't marry me for my culinary skills," she managed to choke out through tears.
"If I did, I sure didn't get what I paid for," Clark responded.
As the laughter began to die, Lois looked over at her husband. The questions which had been pushed aside to deal with the emergency suddenly came rushing back. She was standing outside the house with Clark. It was already dark, so at least he wasn't being exposed to the sun, but…
"Maybe we should go back inside," she said nervously. He was free. If he made a run for it now, she'd have a hard time bringing him back. Still, she tensed as she prepared herself for the chase. She was almost surprised when Clark nodded and headed back into the house.
She waited to be sure there was some distance between them before following him back inside. She was even more stunned when he headed directly back to his room. She waited until he was inside before taking a deep breath and following. She stopped in the door to the room as she watched him again sit down on the bed.
She could hardly believe what she was seeing when he picked up the handcuffs as if he would put them back on his arm. Then he flinched and pulled in a breath. It was only then that she noticed his hands.
"Clark!" she said, forgetting all the rules as she rushed to the side of the bed. Taking a seat on the side, she grabbed his hands and turned them, palm up. "Oh, Clark," she said when she noticed the angry red burn marks on his hands. "Just a minute," she said, jumping off the edge of the bed and rushing to the washroom, bringing back a basin of cold water. Setting the basin down on her lap, she again reached for his hands, inspecting them closely. The red marks were definitely deepening but she couldn't see any blisters or peeling skin.
"We've got to stop the burning," she said softly before bringing his hands over to the basin. She could feel his eyes observing her as she lowered their hands together into the cold water.
They continued to sit there in silence for a couple of minutes before Lois broke the stillness.
"So how long have you been able to get out of the handcuffs?" she asked, keeping her eyes focused on their hands.
"Since this morning," said Clark.
There was another minute of silence.
"Why are you still here?"
"I wouldn't know where else to go," he said, mirroring her words to him earlier.
Her eyes finally left his hands. Looking up, she met his eyes. The depth of emotion which suddenly filled the room was palpable. As usual the lights in the room were low. But suddenly the lack of light no longer seemed depressing. It seemed romantic.
"Lois," Clark whispered.
Lois broke eye contact, looking back at his hands nervously. She wanted so much to believe that this was really happening — that she really had Clark back. But she couldn't. She had hoped too many times only to have those dreams turn into ashes.
Redirecting her attention to her first aid work, she removed his hands from the water and set the basin on the nightstand. She picked up the towel and took his hands again in hers, gently blotting off the water. The hands looked sore, but not seriously damaged. Without thinking about what she was doing, she lowered her head, lightly touching her lips to the sore skin.
One of his hands left hers to place itself under her chin. A gentle upwards motion forced her to look at him again. His eyes were so full of love, touching that place deep in her heart that had always known the man before her.
"I really want to kiss you," he whispered softly, causing her eyes to drift to his lips.
When she didn't respond, he began moving forward. The battle between her mind's questions and her heart's desire intensified. Yet she didn't move, unable to see anything but his lips moving resolutely towards hers. He allowed her all the time in the world to move away, to stop the impending kiss. Yet, as if she were in a dream, she was unable to move.
The emotions coursing through her were comparable to the emotions she'd felt at the end of their first date. Standing in the doorway to her apartment, knowing that this was the moment where he would traditionally kiss her, she had felt overwhelming fear. It had been the knowledge that they were about to irreparably change the nature of their relationship. It had also been the realization of how much she wanted that kiss. She had slammed the door in his face.
'Fortunately, there are no doors here now.' Clark's words of a couple of days later came back to her. Well, there were no doors between them tonight. And whether what was happening turned out good or bad, she seemed powerless to stop the progression of events.
She let out a slight whimper and closed her eyes when his lips finally brushed against hers. Even before she could process the end of the first kiss, he kissed her again and she felt a tingle make its way down her spine. And as quickly as the battle had begun, it was over. Her hands, as they had so often in the past, made their way around his neck. She was vaguely aware of motion when he leaned back into the bed, pulling her along with him. But her concentration was focused on the feel of his lips against hers. She knew his kiss. It echoed in every fiber of her being. When he rolled her gently onto the bed so that he could lean over her to continue what by now was a series of light kisses, she didn't fight — in fact, she was no longer able to think about 'possible consequences' so taken up was she in the moment.
She felt the gentle touch of his tongue on her lips and opened her mouth in invitation. She moaned at the following intrusion. His taste, so familiar and yet, at the same time, so new. His hands gently cupped her face as he concentrated on her mouth, as if determined to once again explore every crevice. She ran her hands through the soft scruff of his hair and then allowed them to drift over the broad expanse of his shoulders. It wasn't long before she was exploring the muscles of his chest. It was not a conscious decision when she began the familiar process of unbuttoning his shirt. Her hands moved with deftness in performing the task.
She moaned again when she finally felt skin beneath the tips of her fingers. She knew his body. Yet the experience of exploring it seemed new. It had been so long. Slipping her arms around him, she pulled him to her, groaning when she felt the weight of his body on hers. Her lips left his and she began planting kisses down the side of his throat until she was nuzzling at the nape of his neck even as her fingers found and began playing with the waistband on the back of his sweats. A moment later, her fingers ran over the muscles of his buttocks.
Suddenly, Clark was gone. She opened her eyes and looked around, partially in fear that this had all been some sort of cruel trick and partially in confusion.
"Clark?" she asked when she realized that he was moving into a sitting position on the bed beside her.
"What?" asked Clark even as his hands began to do up his shirt.
She watched him in confusion. What was he doing? Why had he stopped?
"What's…" Her voice trailed off as she stumbled over how to ask the question.
"My mother's going to be coming back soon," Clark said, even as his hands finally succeeded in doing up the last button — the one at the very top, the one he never did up unless he was putting on a tie.
Lois' eyebrows rose. "I could always put a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your door," she suggested.
"But then she'd know that we were… you know."
"Clark, we've been married for three years. I'm pregnant. I think your mother has figured out that we are… umm… intimate," she said with a grin, reaching out again to touch his chest.
Her hand was immediately caught in his. Although he made the gesture seem as if he was just wanting to hold her hand, she got the distinct impression that he was stopping her from touching him. Suddenly, the truth sunk in. He didn't want her to touch him. He had started it, but..
That had been her greatest fear — that Clark would get better and then, realizing what she'd done to him, be unable to forgive her. Not that she could blame him. He had the right to feel safe in his own bed. And yet she'd taken kryptonite into their bedroom and used it on him while he was sleeping. How was he supposed to forgive that? Or if he did manage to forgive, how could he ever be expected to forget?
He might stay with her after this given his commitment to the institution of marriage and his child, but he'd never trust her. He'd never again love her so unconditionally. And, given the fact that to him, sex was not about physical pleasure but a tangible manifestation of love, it was entirely possible that he would never again let them be intimate. Her greatest fear was coming true — that she would get him back only to lose him again when he realized the depth of her betrayal.
"Umm… yes… well, I suppose I should go and see what else I might be able to put together for supper," Lois said, quickly straightening her own clothes and scampering from the bed.
Clark took a moment to compose himself. He knew that his withdrawal had hurt Lois. But the truth would have hurt more. Still, he had to do what he could to smooth things over between them. He rose from his bed and made his way into the kitchen.
She didn't seem to hear his entrance until he flicked off the light, leaving the kitchen in a half-light. She spun around from where she was looking absently into the fridge.
"I assume there's a reason you have been keeping the light in my room off," said Clark.
"Umm… yeah. According to Dr. Klein, although you don't get the same charge from electrical lights as you get from the sun, you do get some power. And since we've had to keep you vulnerable, we've had to monitor all the light you get."
He nodded slowly.
"So what are you doing out here?" she asked.
"I just thought you might be able to use some help with supper," he responded.
She let out a breath. "How did you know?"
He laughed, making his way to the fridge. After looking inside, he removed a number of items. Lois moved back against the counter as she watched him simply take over the task of preparing supper.
The man in the black car slowed when he saw the taillights of Dr. Klein's van light up, indicating that the man was braking. He watched an orange light on the left side of the van come on just before the van turned onto a gravel road.
The man pulled his car over to the side of the road. He waited for a minute. Just as he was about to pull back out onto the road, a jeep approached, making the same turn onto the same road. Since the road appeared to be a private, he waited until the jeep's taillights disappeared from view before turning out his headlights and following.
Driving solely by moonlight, he made his way over the narrow road. When he spotted light ahead, he stopped the car and got quickly out. As he approached, he could see Dr. Klein talking to an older woman outside a small house. Maybe Church was wrong. Maybe Klein wasn't on his way to see Superman. Maybe he was simply meeting with the woman in his life. Still, he had to be sure.
He waited until the two people made their way into the house before approaching to look through the windows. He had been told that Lane and Kent were apparently helping Dr. Klein with Superman. All he needed was to confirm that one of them was there.
He smiled when he finally got close enough to see the activity inside the house. It appeared that both Lane and Kent were, indeed, inside. Bill Church would be pleased. He slunk quietly back to his car, got inside and eased the car backwards down the gravel road, glad for the slight decline which allowed him to get further away from the house before starting the car.
Martha kept reaching out to touch her son as he sat beside her on the couch in the darkened living room — not entirely certain he was really there. When they'd entered to find Clark helping with supper, both she and Dr. Klein had been stunned. But after eating supper with him and then having him help with clean up, it had become obvious that Clark was coherent and anxious to understand what was wrong with him.
Every so often, Martha would glance at Lois and smile. She found herself somewhat concerned by the relieved, but not entirely happy smile she was receiving in return.
After a long discussion, they had discovered that Clark didn't think he'd been seeing or hearing things that weren't there. But, of course, there was no way for him to know whether or not that was the case. Lois had not been able to point to a single case where he had appeared to have seen or heard something which she knew wasn't there. Clark did confirm, however, the profound, almost paralyzing feeling of fear that had taken over every waking moment of his life. And he was entirely unsure what had caused it.
"But could simple fear really have caused all of Clark's actions?" asked Lois.
"'No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear,'" Klein quoted. "Edmund Burke wrote that in the seventeen hundreds. Yes, I'd say that this entire thing could be some sort of kryptonian mental illness that is predicated on fear."
"So what do we do?" asked Martha.
"Well, I'd say that whatever caused it, the antipsychotic seems to have it under control," continued Klein. "I think we stay with what works. Of course, I'd like to keep a close eye on him for the foreseeable future just to be certain the drug continues to work and doesn't cause any problems for Clark."
"Sounds reasonable," said Clark.
"Well, my boy," said Dr. Klein, rising to his feet, "then I suppose I should give you a check up."
When Martha and Lois both rose along with Clark, Clark looked at them.
"Please," he said. "I mean, I know that I don't have a lot of secrets from either of you after the past few weeks, but I'd really like to do this on my own."
Martha understood immediately. One of the things that Clark could do, now that he was feeling better, was assert his right over his own privacy. But she could tell by the look on Lois' face that Lois was hurt. She gave Lois a squeeze on the arm and said, "We'll just wait here."
"Maybe we could do the… umm… kryptonite thing, too," Clark said, looking at Dr. Klein.
"Sure," Klein responded immediately, following Clark into his bedroom.
"What's wrong?" Martha asked, turning to Lois the instant they had given Dr. Klein the kryptonite and the door to Clark's room had closed behind the two men.
"He's shutting me out, Martha," Lois responded immediately.
"No. He's just trying to get some control back over his own life."
"But why did he ask Dr. Klein to use the kryptonite on him? I mean, that's been our job."
"He probably doesn't want us to see him in agony. He's a proud man, Lois. Much like his father. He's not trying to shut you out. He's just trying to assert control over his own life again. When Jonathan hurt his back, I can still remember how much he'd fight my help. I actually think Clark reasserting his own power over this situation is healthy." She led Lois back to the couch and took a seat with her. "Don't worry. He'll still need you."
Lois gave a small chuckle. "Why is it that when he so desperately needed me to do everything, I wanted nothing more than for him to get well and yet now, when he's starting to assert his own independence, I find myself… I don't know."
Martha laughed. "Trust me, if you think it's bad with Clark, just wait until that baby of yours starts asserting its independence."
Bill Church paced nervously as he waited for news. He had received directions to the place where Superman was likely being held. His man hadn't been able to confirm that. But then that was to be expected. If Superman were being treated for his illness, he was probably being held in a back room. Still, Church considered it extremely likely that Superman was indeed being held in that house on the outskirts of Metropolis.
As a result, he had passed the information on to Decorte. Decorte was incontrovertibly the best 'mechanic' Church had ever known. He had killed or ordered killed hundreds of men and yet never, in all the time Church had known him, had he even been considered a suspect in any murder case. If anyone could get this job done, it was Decorte.
Church had been concerned that Decorte might decide to order someone else to do it. But he should have known better. To be the one to kill Superman… Decorte would live in infamy. Every criminal in the world would know and fear his name. There was no way Decorte would assign this task to someone else.
"What is it, my boy?" asked Dr. Klein. He had finished all the necessary tests and he had exposed Clark to kryptonite for the prescribed period of time. Yet throughout the examination, Klein kept getting the impression that Clark wanted to talk to him about something in particular — something that he suspected he didn't want his wife or mother to hear.
Clark fiddled nervously with the edge of a sheet. "I was just wanting to…" His voice trailed off. "…thank you for all the help you've given me," Clark finally said.
"Oh, well, you're welcome," Klein responded, knowing full well that that was not what Clark was wanting to say. "So do you understand your schedule for taking the medication?" he continued.
"Yeah. I was just…"
Dr. Klein looked at him when he didn't continue. "You were just?"
"Nothing," Clark responded, pulling on his shirt and concentrating on doing up the buttons.
"Well, then, I also assume you know how important it is that you continue to stay out of the sun and limit your exposure to other forms of light."
"Sort of like a vampire," Clark said with a small, although not even slightly amused, chuckle. Then he let out a breath, "Yeah, I know."
"And if you start to experience any of the same symptoms, especially the fear, contact me immediately. Even if you aren't sure, it's better to be safe than sorry."
"I understand," Clark said.
"So…" said Klein. When Clark didn't say anything, Klein spoke again. "Is there anything else you want to talk to me about?"
"Umm… No. I think I understand everything," Clark responded.
Klein nodded. Although he still suspected that something else was on Clark's mind, it was up to Clark to decide if he wanted to confide in him. Klein picked up his bag and finished packing it before turning towards the door.
"Before we go back out there," said Clark before Klein could get the door open. Klein took his hand off the doorknob and turned back to Clark.
"Yes?" he asked when Clark didn't continue.
"It's just… Well, there is something I sort of did want to talk to you about."
"Yes?" said Klein again.
Clark began fiddling nervously again.
"Clark, I'm your doctor," said Klein. "Anything you say to me won't go beyond these walls."
Clark took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. "Well, I don't know if this is connected to anything. But earlier this evening… I… Lois…" Clark cleared his throat. "Dr. Klein, things were getting a little… umm… intense between us and… umm…" He looked desperately at Dr. Klein, silently begging him to fill in the pieces.
"Yes?" asked Dr. Klein, not understanding what Clark was trying to say.
"Well, we were in here. And we were…" Clark gestured to the bed. "…and I couldn't…"
"Couldn't?" asked Klein.
"The big couldn't," said Clark.
"Oh," said Klein as it finally sank in what Clark was having such problems saying. Obviously, Clark hadn't responded to Lois the way he normally did when things were getting intense between them. "Umm… well, has anything like that ever happened to you before?"
"No! Never!" Clark responded emphatically.
"I imagine it's a side effect of the drug you're on," said Klein. "It's really quite a common reaction to this particular drug. I wouldn't worry about it."
"You wouldn't, huh?" asked Clark sarcastically before letting out a breath. "So what do I do about it?"
"Well, we could try putting you on a different medication, but…"
"Great!" exclaimed Clark.
"But given that we've just got you stabilized with this medication, I don't think that would be wise at this time."
"But what do I do about…" He gestured vaguely towards the bed again.
"Oh. Well… Why don't you try talking to Lois? I'm sure she'll understand."
"What?" exclaimed Clark. "I can't talk to Lois. Not about this. She's been through enough. I can't hit her with this now."
"The only other option is to try to avoid situations that could get… umm… awkward. But I'm not sure that is the best…"
"I understand," interrupted Clark. "But you will consider putting me on something else as soon as possible?"
Klein nodded and put his hand on the doorknob.
"Are you coming?" Klein asked when Clark didn't move.
"You go on," Clark said. "I just need a minute. Just tell them I'm getting dressed."
Klein nodded and left the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Clark stared absently at the closed door. He was getting better — or at least, the medication was controlling his symptoms. And although he felt better than he had in a couple of months, the future looked scary. Schizophrenia. The diagnosis itself was terrifying. It was going to take him some time to get used to this. After all, it wasn't as if there was some magical cure.
And the changes it would mean to his life with Lois… Lois. The anguish he had put her through already because of this. And now, after what Dr. Klein had just told him… No. He couldn't tell Lois that he couldn't… he couldn't… Oh, he just couldn't. Perhaps he could pressure Dr. Klein into changing his medication earlier than he might otherwise. But Lois had already gone through enough without having to deal with this.
He shifted uncomfortably when his conscience pointed out that protecting Lois wasn't his only reason to keep this new information to himself. It wasn't that he didn't think she would understand. It was her understanding he was actually trying to avoid. After almost three weeks of not being able to control any aspect of his life, of having to have his wife do everything for him, even take him to the washroom, he suspected that she looked at him differently than she had before all this started.
Oh, he knew she didn't hold what had happened against him. But she undoubtedly saw him as less of a man. Heck, he saw himself as less of a man. Telling her that he couldn't… That would be the final straw. No. He couldn't stand the thought of looking in her eyes and seeing his self- diagnosis confirmed. Until he could persuade Dr. Klein to change his medication, he'd just have to avoid awkward situations. Yes. That was the best thing to do.
Taking a deep breath, he got off the edge of the bed and headed into the other room.
"So how did it go?" asked Martha the moment Clark reentered the living room. When Klein had come out, he had informed them that he couldn't say anything without the permission of his patient. So Martha and Lois were waiting patiently for Clark to reemerge.
"Dr. Klein?" Clark asked, giving Dr. Klein implicit permission to fill Lois and Martha in — on most of it, at least.
"He's doing good," Klein responded. "His blood pressure is normal as is his pulse rate — well, as normal as Clark usually is. His body appears to be healthy, just sans superpowers. And he seems to understand what is required of him and why. All in all, I'd say he's healthy. Of course, I still need to run his blood through the appropriate tests to be sure the medication isn't having an adverse effect on either his liver or his kidneys. But so far, so good."
"Great," said Lois. She reached across to lay a hand on Clark's arm. When he seemed to tense, she removed it. "So I take it that this means we can get back to our life. I know that the world will be happy to see Superman again. And from what Perry said, your illness will prevent the Mayor from being able to get a conviction if you're prosecuted for hurting Church's lawy…"
"Lois, Superman won't be returning," interrupted Clark.
"I'm not cured, Lois," Clark immediately explained. "My illness is just being controlled by medication."
"But if it's being controlled, why…" Her voice trailed off as it sank in what he was saying. In order to have the medication continue to work, he had to stay vulnerable. And if he was going to stay vulnerable, there could be no Superman. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry." She took a steadying breath. "Are you going to be okay with this?" she asked Clark softly, even as her eyes misted over.
Unable to stop himself, his hand came up and, using his thumb, he lightly rubbed it across her cheek. "I'll be fine," he responded. Then he seemed to realize he was touching her and dropped his hand. "The harder part will be my job at the Daily Planet."
"What about your job?" asked Martha.
"Well, I can't spend time in the sun."
Lois let out a breath. She had been waiting for Clark to be stabilized through the use of medication. She hadn't considered what would come after that. What other unpleasant surprises would be part of their new life? "So what do we do now?" she asked softly.
"I'd like to go home," Clark said. "I miss sleeping in my own bed."
Lois looked over at Dr. Klein. He nodded as if he thought the idea had merit.
"Well, why don't we talk about it in the morning," said Martha. "It's too late to go anywhere tonight anyway."
The adrenaline was pumping through Decorte's body as he made his way through the woods towards the small house. This was it. He wasn't entirely certain how many people he'd have to kill to get to Superman. But, from what he knew about Lois Lane and Clark Kent, neither were the type to have guns.
Still, it would be best if he could shoot Superman first. After all, if he failed to kill the others afterwards, it wouldn't really matter. He could devote his attention to his escape.
As soon as Church had called with the location, he had found a copy of the house plans on the internet. There were only a certain number of places the superhero could be held. He would start with the bedroom on the ground floor.
He was pleased that the house was dark when he approached. Everyone was obviously tucked 'safely' in bed. Making his way to the back door, he took out his lock-picking equipment. He was inside almost immediately. He gave his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim lighting.
The first door he came to was closed. There was a lock on the outside of the door. He smiled. Chances were that this was the room he was looking for. He carefully tried the door and was surprised to realize it wasn't locked. Pushing the door open a crack, he took a peek inside. He finished opening the door when he didn't discover what he was looking for. Nothing.
Taking a deep breath, he proceeded towards the stairs. Superman must be upstairs.
Lois looked in the rearview mirror of the jeep to find her mother-in-law sound asleep in the back. Then she glanced at the seat next to her. Clark was also nodding off — not completely asleep, but obviously not awake either. When Martha had suggested that they wait until morning before coming back to the brownstone, Dr. Klein had pointed out that it would be better to travel at night in order to keep Clark out of the sun.
There were still so many unanswered questions. For example, how was Clark supposed to be able to do his job when he could only go out at night? On the other hand, now that Perry knew that Clark was Superman, she was sure that they could work something out. Still… She sighed.
And then there was Clark's reluctance to touch her. Her mind drifted back to what had happened on his bed earlier. She wondered briefly if he would really be comfortable sleeping in the same bed with her.
She sighed again as she pulled the jeep to a stop in front of the brownstone. Home. In spite of everything, it was good to be home.
"Are we there?" came Clark's sleepy voice.
"Yeah," Lois responded, automatically leaning over to run a hand lightly over his leg. She realized her mistake almost immediately when she felt his muscles tense. "Martha, we're here," she said, forcing herself not to think about another rejection as she pulled her hand back.
It only took a moment for all three sleepy occupants to get out of the jeep, collect their luggage and head inside. Lois had just opened the door and was about to step inside when she was suddenly grabbed from behind by Clark.
"It's not safe, Lois," Clark said immediately.
"But…" Her voice trailed off and she glanced back at Martha.
"Stay here. Let me check this out," Clark said, moving her to the side and taking a step inside the brownstone. He jumped when his foot hit the briefcase Lois had left beside the door.
"No, wait," said Lois as a wild thought occurred to her. It might be a crazy idea but it was suddenly the only thing that made sense to Lois. He didn't have schizophrenia. There was something in the brownstone that was causing Clark's paranoia. She didn't know what. But she was suddenly convinced of the accuracy of her analysis of the situation.
"What?" asked Clark.
"I have a better idea," said Lois. "Let's stay at a motel tonight."
"What?" asked Clark.
"That's a great idea," Martha responded as she seemed to come to the same realization as her daughter-in-law.
"But what if there's a bomb or something in there? If we leave now and it goes off, it will hurt a lot of people. I really think…"
"Clark!" Lois interrupted, pulling his lapels to turn him towards her. "Clark, look at me," she continued when he kept looking towards the doorway. He finally met her eyes. "Clark, what are you feeling? Right now?"
"I'm…" His voice trailed off as the implications of her question began to sink in. Still, he glanced back at the doorway, obviously struggling. "…scared that there's something dangerous in there," he finally concluded.
"Let's go to a motel, Clark," Lois said. Clark glanced back at the doorway before nodding. Locking up again, all three piled back in the jeep and went to a reasonably priced motel a few blocks away.
"What do you mean, 'no one was there?'" Bill Church demanded when Decorte arrived at his apartment.
"Just what I said. I don't know who your man saw there, but there was no one there when I arrived. Although I had a heck of a time escaping. You see, there was this dog…"
Bill Church took a deep, cleansing breath, blocking out Decorte's diatribe about some dog attacking him to concentrate on more important matters. Okay, so he had failed. But it wasn't the end of the world. After all, Decorte wasn't going to want anyone to know that he had failed. And so, as far as the other lieutenants of Intergang were concerned, the Superman problem was the result of his wife's actions, not his failure to kill Superman.
Lois took a deep breath as she again exited the jeep in front of the brownstone. After getting Martha and Clark settled at Bob's Motel, she had decided to return to the brownstone by herself in an effort to figure out what was causing Clark's paranoia. Clark had been… anxious about her decision. But it seemed that realizing he was having a problem with fear was enough to calm him down enough that he agreed to her plan — well, sort of agreed. At least, he hadn't used physical force to try to stop her.
Still, she found herself somewhat nervous as she entered their home. Maybe Clark really had picked up on some unknown or unseen danger. No. If there was something here which was causing Clark's paranoia, maybe it was having some sort of effect on her, too — given the fact that she was pregnant. She rushed back to the jeep, pulled open the back and began rifling through the luggage until she found what she was looking for — the lead-lined vest she'd been using to give Clark his kryptonite treatments.
Making her way back into the brownstone, she felt better — no longer having that anxious, stomach-churning feeling she'd had upon first entering the brownstone. Okay. Where to start? She didn't even know what she was looking for so how was she to know where to start? She wandered through the living room, looking for an idea. She stopped in her tracks when she saw the light on the answering machine blinking.
Making her way over, she hit play.
"You have three new messages," came the voice over the machine.
The first one was obviously a hang up. She snorted. That was probably what they all were. But then a familiar voice came over the line. Bobby Bigmouth. It seemed he had left a call last week.
"Hey, Lois," came the voice of Bobby Bigmouth, "I have some more information that might be of interest to you. I hear you're out of town. Give me a call when you get back. I have a hankering for Chinese."
She reached for the phone, stopping only when Perry's voice came over the line. This final call had been left only today.
"I got a call from Jerry. I know you're on vacation, but when you get back I want you to look into what he had to say…"
Lois began dialing the number for Bobby. After all, Perry's message was just about their next story. She stopped dialing when he continued.
"Jerry heard about Superman's illness. Apparently, when he found out about red kryptonite from Gene Newtrich, Newtrich made some sort of cryptic comment that led Jerry to believe that Newtrich might have some other color kryptonite. He didn't really think too much about it until he heard about the problems with Superman. And so he called me. I want you two to look into it."
Lois laid the phone back in its cradle. Kryptonite. A different color kryptonite. Could it… It certainly made sense. But where… She glanced around the brownstone. Where would someone have planted kryptonite? And would they really have planted it here? And how was she supposed to find…
She immediately picked up the phone and placed a call.
"Hello," said Dr. Klein's sleep filled voice.
"Hi. I'm sorry to wake you, but I need you to bring a Geiger Counter to the brownstone. Yes, now," she added to his obvious query. "I'll explain when you get here."
"Well?" asked Lois later the next evening as she, Clark and Martha sat in Dr. Klein's office.
"I've run the tests on that yellow rock you found in your briefcase and I'd say you're right," Klein said. "It is kryptonite. I'd say Clark never was suffering from schizophrenia. It seems as if he just had a little touch of… Considering the color of that kryptonite, I'd call it 'yellow fever' — kryptonian style. And the tests on you, Lois, came out negative. I imagine you did have some effects from exposure to the crystal. But the baby's mind isn't fully developed yet. As a result, there doesn't seem to be any permanent consequences as a result of your exposure."
Clark reached over for his wife's hand and gave it a squeeze.
"Of course, all that leads me to conclude that Clark doesn't need to stay on the medication. What caused him to recover was being away from the kryptonite. It's a good thing you didn't bring your briefcase with you to my house."
Lois nodded, remembering how close she'd come to doing exactly that.
"Also, after I returned to the lab, I decided to use the Geiger Counter to check out Star Labs. And guess what?"
"You found some," Clark said.
Klein nodded. "Actually, it's a good thing that the Mayor forced our hand. After all, someone had planted a piece in Clark's room here at Star Labs. If we had kept you here, you never would have gotten better."
"Any idea who put the piece in here?" asked Clark. "After all, security here isn't all that easy to get by." Then he looked at the three people seated with him. "For most people," he added.
"Well, one of our security guards turned up dead on the very day of Superman's escape. Now I don't know if it's connected, but…" He shrugged. "I also sent the Geiger Counter to Perry White like you requested. Have you heard back from him yet?"
"He's supposed to be meeting us here," Lois explained.
"Anyway, I think I can now release a statement saying that Superman is on the road to full recovery. So when do you think we might expect to see the Man of Steel again?" Klein asked, looking at Clark.
"Right now I'm just glad I'm not going to have to be exposed to kryptonite tonight," Clark responded. "But as for the rest… I'm not sure when my powers will come back. After all, it's been quite a while since I've had them. Although, I intend to spend all day tomorrow in the sun."
Klein chuckled, rising to his feet. "It's been quite an adventure," he said.
"Yes, it has. And we'd have never gotten through it without you, Bernard," Lois said, stepping forward and, quite uncharacteristically, giving Klein a hug.
Just then there was a knock at the door and a moment after that, Perry entered. He swept the room with his eyes until his gaze landed on Clark.
"Good to see you, son," Perry said and, although he smiled, his eyes looked worried.
Lois glanced over at Clark and immediately understood. Although she was used to the way Clark looked, he had obviously lost some body mass and looked pale. There was no doubting that he was sick — or at least had been. His clothes hung sloppily on his body. But he had been given a clean bill of health and, as a result, to Lois he'd never looked quite so gorgeous. She watched Clark look down at himself, his mind obviously making the same connections she had just made.
"It's not as bad as it looks, Perry," Clark said. "In fact, Dr. Klein just gave me a clean bill of health."
Perry looked relieved before his expression suddenly changed. "Was there something wrong with you?" he asked. "I thought Superman was the one with the problem."
"It's okay," Lois informed him. "Dr. Klein knows the connection between Clark and Superman."
"What connection between Clark and Superman?" Perry asked. "Oh, you mean that they're friends."
Lois and Clark exchanged confused looks.
"But of course everyone knows that Clark and Superman are friends," Perry continued. "Otherwise I wouldn't have found a piece of that yellow rock you told me about in Clark's desk."
"But I thought…" Clark began, looking at Lois. "Didn't you say that Perry knew…"
"Right!" Lois interrupted when it finally sunk in what Perry was doing. "But then everyone knows that Clark and Superman are friends," Lois concluded, maintaining eye contact with Clark. He continued to look confused for a moment more before understanding dawned.
"So, Dr. Klein," Perry continued, "is Superman going to be okay?"
Clark was more relieved than he could possibly say as he, Lois and his mother returned to the brownstone in the jeep. In fact, he wasn't certain he'd ever been more relieved. His life had just been returned to him. He was also glad now that he'd chosen not to tell Lois about his little… problem. Now there was no reason to. He just needed to avoid awkward situations until the drug worked its way out of his system or his powers returned. Then… He grinned.
"So what was all that with Perry?" asked Martha. "I thought you said Perry knew about Clark."
"Unofficially," said Clark.
"What?" asked Martha.
"He knows unofficially," Lois clarified. "But then if a man in his position didn't know unofficially…"
"…he wouldn't be a man in his position," Clark completed. "But he's obviously decided that he doesn't want to know officially."
Martha shook her head. "Has anyone ever told you you're all crazy?" she laughed.
Clark chuckled, too — until he looked over at Lois. She was staring straight ahead out the window and her knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel.
"Lois?" Clark asked.
"I…" Lois' voice trailed off and she shook her head.
"What is it?" Clark probed again.
Finally, Lois let out a breath, pulled the jeep to the side of the road and threw it in park. Turning slightly in her seat so that she was facing Clark, she opened her mouth, seeming to struggle with what to say. Clark watched nervously. Her eyes were blazing and her back was straight. She was angry — that much was obvious. But about what in particular?
"It's just not fair, Clark," Lois began. "I mean, all Superman does is try to help people — to give them hope. He sacrifices so much of his time for others. And yet, over and over again, they attack him, humiliate him and try to hurt him."
"We stopped them, Lois," Clark replied, reaching over to run a hand gently over her leg.
"But they put us through hell, Clark. I swear, when I get my hands on whomever is responsible…" Anger choked off her words.
Clark quickly removed his seatbelt and moved close enough to gather his wife in his arms, allowing her to cry silently against him.
TWO WEEKS LATER
"So how did it feel?" Lois asked when her husband entered the living room.
"How did what feel?" Clark asked, sitting down beside her on the sofa.
Lois swatted at him. "What do you mean 'how did what feel?" she asked. "How did it feel stopping that robbery?"
"It felt… super," Clark responded.
Lois groaned. "You know, Superman's reappearance has been all over the news for the past hour," she said. "So where have you been since you stopped the robbery."
Clark gave an exaggerated sigh. "A man can't even do a few aerial barrel rolls and a quick tumble over Niagara Falls without having his wife bust his chops," he grumbled, once again earning himself a swat on the arm.
"Oh, I should mention that the Mayor made a statement about half an hour ago that the charges against Superman have been dropped in the light of Dr. Klein's report."
"Which reminds me," said Clark. "I do need to apologize to both the man I hit at the interstate accident and Bill Church's lawyer."
At the mention of Church's lawyer, Lois rolled her eyes.
"It's only right, Lois. I might not have been legally to blame, but I still owe the man an apology."
"Fine," Lois responded, less than enthusiastically. "But for all we know, Church was behind the kryptonite thing. And if he was, his lawyer probably knew all about it." Over the past two weeks, she'd managed to work through most of her anger — not that she was entirely sure what she would do if she got her hands on the people responsible. But even if she now felt some control over her anger, the idea of apologizing to someone who might be knee deep in responsibility for the hell she and Clark had gone through…
"We don't know that Bill Church is responsible, Lois,"
"But, Clark, don't you think it's quite a coincidence that…"
"What?" he asked when her voice trailed off and a smile made its way across her face. "What?" he asked again.
"I was just thinking how difficult it sometimes is having Superman for a partner," she said, even as her eyes filled with tears and the smile on her face grew. "God, Clark, you have no idea how much I missed your insistence on finding the good in people."
"Glad to be of service," Clark replied, meeting her smile with one of his own. "But you know how I'd really like to be of service?" he asked moving slightly closer. But Lois' attention was already directed elsewhere. "What?" he asked, turning his attention towards the television.
"Oh, this should be good," said Lois, reaching to the coffee table, picking up the remote and turning up the volume on the television.
Clark sat down more comfortably as he watched Mindy Church step behind a number of microphones.
"Oohh… wow… are all of these really on?" Mindy asked, looking at the microphones. Then she made a blowing noise into the microphones as if testing just to be sure. "Well, Billy and I just got news today that he isn't going to be retried for that awful museum business. Isn't that just about the most wonderful thing? And now Superman's back in business, too. We're both as happy as a fish in tartar sauce."
"Water," Lois couldn't help but murmur. "Happy as a fish in water."
Clark chuckled. "No, she's probably right. They probably are just as happy as a fish in tartar sauce."
"And we want to send Superman all our love," Mindy continued. She followed up the words by blowing kisses at the camera.
Lois rolled her eyes.
"What? Aren't you going to rip her eyes out of their…" His voice trailed off when Lois was suddenly on her feet, staring intently at the television. "What?" he asked.
"That man," she said, pointing to a man who was standing slightly off to the side and a couple steps behind Mindy Church. "I've seen that man before, but where…" Lois gasped. "That's it. He was in the Daily Planet on the day we covered Bill Church's appeal. He was dressed as a photocopy repairman. And the day he was at the Daily Planet was the day you started acting weird."
"And Gene Newtrich who apparently mentioned this other color kryptonite to Jerry White worked for Intergang," Clark added.
"And according to Henderson, the security guard from Star Labs who was killed had his wife's medical bills paid off by a company which he suspects traces back to Cost Mart stores," added Lois, inserting what she and Clark had learned from Henderson earlier today.
"And Bobby mentioned that the reason Intergang's lieutenants were sticking with Mindy because they thought she could provide some sort of unique 'protection.'"
"Well, that's it then," said Lois. "Mindy Church had to be behind the yellow kryptonite."
"Except that we can't prove any of it. All we have is rumors from Bobby, speculation from Henderson, the coincidence of having someone close to Mindy at the Daily Planet around the same time I started getting sick and suspicions from Jerry," said Clark. "Besides, from the sound of Mindy Church's comments, I get the feeling that Mindy and Bill Church are back together again. So which one of them is responsible?"
"Mindy," Lois said. "And no, Clark, they aren't back together. Did you see him anywhere when she made that press statement?"
"No, but why would she make it sound as if they were together. If they aren't together, do you really think Bill Church would let her speak for him?"
"I think they are both anxious to maintain the illusion that they are together so that when one of them eventually ends up dead, the other won't be the most obvious suspect — both assuming, of course, that they will be the survivor."
Not having a response, Clark just shook his head. Lois, having, in her opinion, won the argument, smiled. She made her way back to the couch and took a seat. As she did, she glanced at the windows. "By the way, thanks for removing the bars from the windows," she said.
Clark smiled. "And thanks for letting me keep the locks on the doors."
Lois shrugged. "Well, you were right about one thing."
"I did have a lot more locks on the door of my apartment. And considering the fact that we are bringing a child into the world…" She shrugged again, causing Clark to laugh.
"Why do I suddenly suspect that you are going to be as bad as I am when it comes to protecting our child?" he asked.
On the other side of the city, Mindy Church got out of her red convertible and made her way towards her office under the Cost Mart store. Not paying attention to anyone, she descended into the sub-basement and headed towards her office. Once inside, she was stunned to realize that her office was full of people.
"What's going on here?" she demanded, her gaze drifting from Tommy to Scarface and from Scarface to Decorte.
"Ah," said a man's voice behind her, "I see you decided to drop in for a visit."
She spun around to see Bill standing behind her. "What are…" Her voice trailed off when it sunk in what was going on. She glanced back at Tommy. He shrugged. Then her gaze shifted to Decorte.
"I never let pleasure stand in the way of business," he said in response to her unasked question.
Bill passed her, making his way to his desk and taking a seat. "So what can I do for my little honey bunny?" he asked, a small grin playing around the corners of his mouth.
Inspector Bill Henderson stood quietly on the edge of Hobbs Bay waiting for the body to be removed. Taking a deep breath, he walked over to where the woman's body was placed on the dock. Mindy Church.
He shook his head. Everything he had found so far indicated that Mindy Church was the one who had ordered the death of the Star Labs' security guard who had been dragged out of the same bay. Sandrin's wife's medical expenses had been paid by Cost Mart stores allegedly for work Sandrin did as a security consultant. But given the amount of money involved, Henderson had his doubts, especially given Lane and Kent's comments about the time frame of Superman's illness. And given the fact that the payment had taken place before Bill Church was released from prison, he suspected Mindy Church was responsible. It was ironic that she should have suffered the same fate.
Lois fluffed the small cushions on the couch nervously. Martha had gone home earlier today, so this was the first evening she and Clark had been alone since they had returned to Metropolis. And although she and Clark had been sharing the same bed, he had been staying as close to his own side of the bed as he could. It wasn't possible for her not to notice the lengths he was going to to avoid touching her.
And although he was certainly pleasant enough towards her during the day time, something seemed to happen when they entered their bedroom at night. Today, although outwardly it appeared that the final piece of their life had returned — Superman was back — Lois was beginning to think that nothing would ever be the same for them again.
Her fear that he'd never trust her again was coming true. He might have forgiven her. He might even understand why she'd used kryptonite on him after an evening of love- making, but he obviously couldn't forget what she'd done.
Not that she would change what she'd done. Even now, it was the only way she could think to handle the very difficult situation in which they had found themselves. Although Clark didn't seem to have any intention of leaving her, he just as obviously wasn't able to forget what she'd done — not that she particularly blamed him.
So now that Martha had left, Lois was thinking that both of them might be more comfortable in separate bedrooms. At least, Clark might be more comfortable. And she could hardly stand the idea of spending another night watching him scrunched up on the far side of the bed. Still, she wasn't exactly comfortable raising the subject with Clark.
She heard a 'swoosh' behind her and knew that her husband had just returned. She waited for him to spin back into his Clark clothes before turning around. Running her eyes slowly down his body, she swallowed hard, realizing exactly what she had lost.
"Hi, honey," said Clark, making his way into the living room. "Sorry that took so long. But… Well, I guess I sort of took my time. It just felt so good, you know, being out there again." His voice trailed off as he took in, for the first time, the lack of color in her face. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," she responded immediately, turning her back to him to fluff the cushions on the couch once again. "I just think… well, I was wondering… I mean, your mom isn't here anymore, so we don't exactly have to keep up the pretense. And so I was thinking… Well, you know."
"No, I don't know. Lois, would you slow down? Tell me what you're talking about?"
When her activity suddenly ceased, he made his way over to her, took her arm and moved her to the front of the couch. She sat down, still clutching the small cushion in her hands. Taking a seat beside her, he turned to face her again.
"What is it?" he asked, his hand coming up to push a strand of hair behind her ear. When she flinched away, his hand stilled. "Talk to me, Lois," he softly begged.
"Clark, I know that using kryptonite on you when you were asleep…" Her voice trailed off. "I do understand that it's not exactly the type of thing that can be easy to forget — even if you do understand why I did it. And I would say I'm sorry, but I don't know what else I could have done. I mean, I tried talking…"
"Lois," he said, cutting her off. "Actually, you bring up a good point. I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
She held her breath. She knew what he was going to say. But that didn't make waiting to hear it any easier.
"I just wanted to say thank you," Clark said.
"What?" gasped Lois in disbelief.
"Lois, if it hadn't been for you, Superman probably would have eventually killed someone. And even if I wouldn't have been held legally responsible, I would have felt morally responsible. And it would have been the end to Superman. You saw that and you risked everything to keep that from happening. If it hadn't been for you…" He shook his head slowly, as if not wanting to think about the possibilities. "So I wanted to say thank you. I know I should have told you that earlier, but…"
"Then I don't understand," said Lois. "If that's how you really feel about what I did, why have you been avoiding me?"
"I haven't been avoiding you," said Clark in confusion.
"In bed," Lois clarified, searching his eyes as if they would reveal the mystery.
"Oh," Clark said softly, looking down at his hands. "I've done it again, haven't I?"
"Hurt you. After all the things I said to you, accused you of when I was sick, I swore I would never hurt you again. But I've done it."
"Clark?" asked Lois.
He took a deep breath. "You know that I was on an antipsychotic."
"And that I only got all my powers back yesterday."
"I know that, Clark, but…"
"The drug had a side effect that I didn't tell you about."
"What sort of side effect?" said Lois, not understanding where he could possibly be going with this. After all, what kind of side effect would keep him huddled up on his own side of the bed, unwilling to risk even accidental contact with her during his sleep?
Clark suddenly looked decidedly uncomfortable. He seemed to struggle with words for a minute before his mind seemed to clear. He looked at her, running his eyes slowly over her face and then down her body in a way that caused her breathing to deepen. Then his hand came up to her face and he slowly traced the lines and shadows he found there.
"I'm not sure how to say this, Lois. What if I just show you what I couldn't do?" he said. Without giving her a chance to answer or to question the meaning of his suggestion, he leaned in and softly kissed her.
Lois was almost unable to believe what seemed to be happening. She still had no idea what Clark was talking about. But this was the first time he had kissed her since pulling away from her at Klein's summer house. As he pulled slowly back, she leaned back in. This time, he didn't make any effort to pull away. Instead, he wrapped his arm around her, lifting her into his lap with ease. Whether she moved first to deepen the kiss or he did, she didn't know. But what had started as a light brushing of lips across each other was soon a raging fire.
Lois didn't stop to question what was happening, afraid that if she did, it would end. When he moved her gently onto the couch, she pulled him with her. When he was finally on his hands and knees above her, he broke the kiss. They stared breathlessly into each other's eyes for several seconds as the sparks jumped between them.
"Today is the first day that I've been invulnerable," Clark said softly.
Lois crinkled her eyebrows at him.
"Today is the first day that the medication has had no effect on me."
Lois shook her head slightly. What on earth was he trying to tell her? And did it really matter when he could kiss like that?
"Today is the first day that I've been able to…" Instead of completing the sentence, his mouth dipped down to claim ownership of her mouth.
Suddenly, understanding dawned. All this time, she had been thinking that he wasn't touching her because he was unable to forget her betrayal. And all this time… He really was a lunkhead. Why hadn't he just told her what was going on? She suddenly wondered why she hadn't figured out what the problem was on her own. She'd certainly read enough books about schizophrenia to know that Clark's problem was a common side effect of the medications used to treat it. It was just that Clark always seemed so virile it was hard thinking of him having a problem in that area.
She was about to bawl him out for keeping this from her, when she felt his hand run up her rib cage. She moaned, no longer caring what he had or had not told her previously. She broke contact with his mouth.
"Welcome back, tiger," she said with a grin.
His eyes twinkled and the corner of his mouth twitched. Then, growling slightly from deep in his throat, he pounced. Lois giggled. The giggle faded almost instantly as he found that particular spot at the base of her neck that drove her crazy.
As morning dawned, a woman who worked at the police station sorted through the day's mail. She paused on a flowery envelope. Raising it to her nose, she shook her head at the smell of perfume which permeated the paper. Reading the name on the envelope, she dropped it into Bill Henderson's mail slot.
Forgetting about the letter immediately, she continued with her job — never realizing that the flowery envelope she had just handled was Mindy Church's last will and testament, telling Henderson where all of Bill Church's bodies were buried.
A lot of the information contained in this story about schizophrenia came from a pamphlet on the internet called 'Basic Facts About Schizophrenia.' It is located at www.mentalhealth.com/book/p40-sc02.html. I also use some of the wording from that pamphlet in my story since it deals with medical data which I don't fully understand <g>.
'Happy as a fish in water,' is apparently attributed to Victor Cherbuliez.
My thanks to the television show MASH for giving me the idea of referring to Clark's… umm… problem when he was on the medication as 'the big couldn't.' Until I remembered the episode involved, I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to address that issue and still stay within the bounds of PG-13.