By Louette McInnes (email@example.com)
Summary: A young woman steps forward to claim that Superman fathered her baby, but this time the child has been kidnapped -- and will be killed if Superman doesn't meet the ransom. A call from Jonathan Kent helps defuse some of the tension between Lois and Clark over the situation.
The bare bones of the plot came to light a few months ago, but the whole story took some time to "weather out". Besides, it's time Jonathan Kent got a little credit for something. John Giffin gets some, too, for encouraging me to have a go on this one, and Allan and Leland for keeping me from trashing the #$$%%^&* computer on several occasions.
Lois was trying to ignore the phone clamoring for her attention on the desk. She knew Perry was waiting for the last paragraph of her story on the Park Street bank robbery, and she was already five minutes later than he wanted it.
"Jimmy, can you get that," she asked.
"Sure thing!" he answered as he grabbed the phone. "This is the desk of Lois Lane. Can I take a message? Oh, yes, Professor Novak, I did give her your earlier message." He looked at Lois, who shook her head and kept typing furiously. "Yes, I'll have her call you as soon as she comes in. Bye!" Jimmy, valuing his head, waited patiently by the desk while Lois finished her story before speaking. "That's the third time he called today. What could be so important about a bunch of old fossils- they've been dead for millions of years. You'd think another day wouldn't matter to them."
"Jimmy, you should know by now that if some scientist gets a bee in his bonnet about something, NOTHING in the world is more important as far as he is concerned." Lois stretched her arms up, flexing all the muscles in her arms and back that she had ignored while bent over her keyboard, then she leaned back in her chair and said, "What fossils is he so worried about?"
"He wouldn't tell me. He insisted he had to talk to a 'real' reporter," Jimmy said in disgust.
"I might as well get this over. He'll just keep calling tomorrow until he finally traps me." Lois said with resignation in her voice and picked up her phone to dial the number written on several notes on her desk.
Professor Novak," she said brightly, "I understand you've been trying to reach me all day....Yes, I'm sorry, I've been out on an assignment."
As Lois was speaking, Clark arrived back from an 'urgent errand' and perched on the side of her desk. He raised his eyebrows, as if to say "what's up". Lois put a hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and said in frustration "scientists!". Clark adjusted his hearing to catch both sides of the conversation.
"...two more days of water, Miss Lane. It's impossible to get extra supplies into the Nemegt Valley on the spur of the moment. We had to plan for nine months and leave caches of food, fuel and water along the route. It's like birthing a baby. This find is just so amazing, and so important." Prof. Novak was really worked up and Lois made an attempt to stop him.
"But Professor, don't you people leave fossils in the ground all the time until the next digging season?" She was sure she'd heard that somewhere before. She looked at Clark apologetically and mouthed silently, "He wants YOU to get his precious rocks out of some HOLE in Mongolia!"
The professor was not to be stopped, however, "Miss Lane, I know Superman has a lot of demands on his time, but this would be such a small amount of time and effort for such a wonderful chance to learn about these creatures! If you could only run a story in your paper about what my colleagues have found, and ask for his help, we might get the nest out before the sand storms of winter destroy it. Please! I don't know how else to reach him in time."
"Lois, ask him if it's near the Flaming Cliffs."
"Professor, is this near the Flaming Cliffs?" Lois repeated, looking at Clark questioningly.
"Yes! Then you must understand what difficult conditions we work under, if you know something about the area."
Clark nodded to her, and held his hand out for the phone.
"No I don't, Professor Novak, but my partner, Clark Kent, wants to ask you some questions. He seems to know about the area," Lois finished, then handed the phone to Clark, who continued talking to the professor for another 15 minutes before hanging up the phone.
"C'mon," Lois grabbed Clark by the arm and started pulling him toward the elevator before he had even put the phone down, "we're getting out of here now, before anyone else finds a job for us. I'm starving!"
Clark slipped the arm she was pulling around her waist as he caught up with her and used his other hand to reach for the elevator button. The doors opened, and he loosened his hold enough to let Lois enter just ahead of him. When he saw no one else was inside, he punched the button to take them to the ground floor, then pulled her close against him for the few seconds they would have alone together.
Both looked entirely professional again when the doors opened and they walked out arm in arm, but an acute observer would know, from they way they looked only at each other, the way they smiled, that slight tension and widening that enlivens the eyes and says 'I can see only you', that this couple was very much in love.
With half a salad and some wine inside of her, Lois was prepared at last to review the day and it's events. She and Clark reached the last one as the waitress arrived at their table in the restaurant with more coffee.
"So what are these Flaming Cliffs and how do you know about them," she asked her partner. "Have you been there before?"
Clark put down the cup he held in his left hand and gently enclosed the hand Lois had been using to play with the stem of her wineglass. The wonder of being allowed the liberty to restrain anything she did still amazed him, and the way her smile brightened at his touch caused his concentration to slip. Her smile brightened even more as Lois saw the effect she had on Clark.
"What?" he asked.
She leaned forward. "The Flaming Cliffs," Lois reminded him, almost laughing.
"Oh, right, the Cliffs. I read an old book by Roy Chapman Andrews when I was in grade school, about his expedition to Mongolia, where he found the first recognized dinosaur eggs. While I was in China, I also went to Ulan Bator. That's the capital of Mongolia. Most expeditions start from there as a jumping off point for the Gobi Desert and the Nemegt Valley.
It's so desolate south of there, no roads, no trees, nothing much to help you find your way. And there are these beautiful, red sandstone cliffs, like giant red castles built by the god of the wind. I flew over the area after I saw some of the exhibits at the Natural History Museum in Ulan Bator. I guess, as a kid, I was fascinated by the idea of such giant creatures and the weird names they had."
"Like those awful things in Jurassic Park?" asked Lois.
"Yeah_the Velociraptors. But we don't know how smart they really were. I saw one in the museum, locked in a death grip with its prey, a Protoceratops. I guess both were buried in the sand as they struggled. Just_that one instant of time caught and held for 80 million years. I almost felt like I was standing in a time machine," Clark finished.
"And the good Professor wants you to bring out some special fossil that he thinks won't last through the winter winds?" she asked.
"It's a whole nest with eggs and embryos and the best preserved Oviraptor skull they've seen. It weathered out since last winter, and the sand blasting the winter storms do can destroy a lot of detail. He's right, it would be a lot easier for me to fly it out. They don't have time to plaster and pack it up properly to withstand the bumps and holes in what passes for roads over there. If I do a short article for Perry to put in the paper tomorrow, no one will be surprised if I show up there tomorrow night. Want to come? It will still be daylight in Mongolia - they're almost exactly 12 hours offset from us. It really is beautiful, and we could have a picnic dinner - just the two of us.."
The next night after work, with Lois snuggled into an Arctic weight sleeping bag, they left for the Flaming Cliffs. Clark left Lois there to enjoy the view of the wind carved turrets and desolate surroundings in the morning sun while he quickly sped over to the dig at Khermeen Tsav and collected the fossils. A quick trip back over the North Pole delivered the samples to the curator of the Metropolis Museum, where they would be cleaned, prepared and studied.
Clark flew back to enjoy the morning sun and the picnic alone with Lois. They walked, hand in hand, along the top of the wind worn Cretaceous sandstone bluff, then Clark took them down to the loose sand at its foot to look at the bones of ancient life that had weathered out of the cliffs and lay scattered at its base. As the sun rose higher, they moved to a shady spot to rest.
"Can't we stay a little longer," Lois asked, "its just so peaceful here." She rested her head on his shoulder and let out a long sigh. In moments, she was asleep, and Clark, not having the heart to waken her, cradled her more safely in his arms. He rested his cheek on her hair and closed his eyes. Clark's wrist watch woke them only just in time to make it to the office less than 10 minutes late.
"Where in tarnation were the two of you last night? NO, don't answer that!" Perry held his hands up in front of himself as if to ward off their excuses.
Lois and Clark looked rather sheepishly at each other, but with little secret smiles. Perry grinned at his two star reporters, enjoying their embarrassment but pleased things were working out so well for them now. He had been seriously worried more than once since he first realized their close friendship had started to turn into something more. He'd guessed long ago how Clark felt, and had hoped Clark would have the patience to slowly chip away at the hard, protective shell Lois showed to the world at large.
The two reporters had barely sat down at their desks when Perry came out of his office to question them. "I tried callin' both of you when I couldn't get any response with your beepers."
"What was so urgent, Chief?" asked Clark, straightening his tie and smoothing it down after their hurried arrival, and to hide his embarrassment.
"Yesterday one of those cheap, tabloid rags, the Mirror, printed a story about some girl claiming she had Superman's baby. You know the routine, some girl in a jam tryin' to make some money, till the real father shows up wanting a piece of the pie. Boy! Superman would have to use all his super-speed to get around that many girls as well as do all his other rescue work," he commented.
"PERRY!" remonstrated Lois.
"Okay, okay. Seems somebody took the girl's claim seriously enough to think it was worth kidnappin' the kid. The baby was taken late yesterday afternoon from the creche where his mother left him while she worked. Some woman came with a note claiming the mother was sick and her boss had sent someone to get the child. A phone call to the paper said they wanted 50 lbs of gold. Then, this morning, the Mirror got a ransom note increasing the amount to 500lbs. and demanding Superman personally deliver it within 24 hours, or they'll kill the baby," Perry finished at last.
"And the police haven't been able to find the baby?" asked Clark, genuine concern in his voice and on his face.
Perry knew Lois had had a "thing" for Superman once, but was startled when she suddenly stood up, looked sharply at Clark, then just ran out of the newsroom. Clark had looked puzzled as Perry spoke, then concerned for the baby, and finally stunned when Lois ran out. He got up from his chair looking very worried and seemed set to follow her, but Perry grabbed Clark's arm to stop him.
"Son, are you sure she might not need a few minutes alone? I know you and she have been _ well _ 'getting along', but she still might have some feelings to work through over Superman."
Clark looked even more worried and upset. "Then she needs me," he said, and hurried after her. He caught up with her just outside the building as she rushed, almost ran, down the street toward her apartment, nearly knocking down an early shopper.
"Lois! Wait!" He tried to take her arm to slow her down, but she wrenched her arm loose and said in a furious tone, "Leave me alone!"
He followed her, but didn't try to stop her again, hoping her anger would abate enough to listen to reason. He followed her all the way to her apartment, where she slammed the door in his face, with a final "LEAVE me ALONE!" as her only response. He waited patiently, calling softly, but could hear her angrily banging cabinets open and shut, then the fridge, then finally only soft weeping from the bedroom.
Lois' first shock and pain had exploded as the anger she used - to cover her emotions, to block out anything that could hurt her, and to keep anyone from seeing her weakness. 'How could I have been so stupid' she thought as she slammed a pillow down on the bed again. 'Stupid enough to trust any man, let any man get to me?' She grabbed another handful of tissues and wiped her red, tear-stained face. But slowly the rage and pain dulled, and she picked up the spoon sitting in the now half melted chocolate ice-cream. Rationality started to return as the black cloud she felt covering her lifted and a little more with each spoonful. She sat, at last, curled up on her bed with the tub still cradled on her lap and the spoon almost un-noticed in her mouth, feeling like crying again. Not in rage this time, or pain, but in guilt and frustration at her failure - failure to take charge and take control. Lois hated herself now for the failure, that, once again, she had lashed out without thinking, without giving Clark a chance to explain, that her emotions had controlled her again when she was so determined to control herself and her life. She looked up, startled by the gentle tap on her bedroom window, to see Clark/Superman waiting patiently just outside with a very worried expression on his face. She slowly unfolded her legs off the bed, and opened the window.
"Want some?" she said in a small voice, offering him the spoon, "Its half melted by now."
He took the tub and quickly chilled it, then put the tub back in the crook of her arm, took a spoonful and ate half, then gently fed her the rest of the spoonful. Brushing the hair back from her red and swollen eyes and wiping a streak of ice-cream from her cheek, he said, "It's not true, Lois. You have to know that."
Lois padded back to the side of her bed and fell as much as sat down.
"I learned the hard way not to trust any man, 'til you came along. But I CAN be galactically stupid sometimes. I should have given you a chance to explain. I'm sorry, Clark. Running away from the issue wasn't going to help."
Clark, still dressed in the red and blue suit, sat beside her and took her gently by the shoulders. "You know how worried I was about forgetting to control myself, and maybe hurting you. Right from the start, you had such an effect that I literally couldn't even keep my feet on the ground _ at Luthor's ball. And I wouldn't let us get too _ intense _ because I can't think straight with you in my arms. Do you think I'd dare risk_anything_if I thought it might hurt you? I was so afraid, that Mom and Dad finally found you that tiny chip of kryptonite in the locket Mom gave you." He paused and lifted her chin gently with his right hand so she was looking directly into his eyes, trying to will her to believe him. "Lois, I was only afraid because I ... I'd never ... I hadn't ... there wasn't anyone, ever. If I had ever been with someone, do you think I would have had to worry about what would happen if we made love? Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Lois looked at him for a long moment, then her expression softened. She took his hand from her chin, kissed his fingers and laid his palm along her cheek. "Yes," she said softly, and tried to smile, "I understand. And I believe you. I can't imagine believing any other man who told me that. Even if they were a ... well, they'd never admit it - it might hurt their reputation with the other guys. But I do believe you, Clark."
"Then you know the baby can't possibly be mine?"
Clark leaned forward and gently pulled her toward him until his lips could feel the soft warmth of her mouth returning his kiss, the melting tub of ice-cream forgotten on her lap.
The unwelcome sound of the telephone interrupted them.
"Lois, honey, are you all right?" The voice was Martha Kent's. "We've been trying to reach you and Clark since we heard the news this morning."
"I'm fine, Martha," Lois assured her calmly.
"Do you know where Clark is?"
"He's right here beside me." She reached out a hand and laid it on his knee. Do you want to talk to him?"
Martha, still standing in her bathrobe in the farmhouse, nodded in relief to Jonathan beside her on the other phone. "No, dear, unless there's some way we can help. Does he want to talk to us? Is there anything we can do for the two of you?"
Lois held the phone out to Clark, who took it and held it where both of them could hear. "Hi Mom, hi Dad, I think we're okay. Lois and I just had a talk."
At this, Martha looked knowingly at Jonathan, who spoke then, "Son, any woman would be upset if the man she cared for was accused of fathering someone else's child. If she didn't care, she wouldn't be upset."
"I know, Dad, and I've told her why it can't possibly be true." He looked at Lois, who tried again to smile. Jonathan's comment lifted some of the burden of guilt she felt for failing to controlling her emotions. He was always so solid and practical, and if he felt some reaction on her part was reasonable then maybe she hadn't over-reacted as badly as she had thought.
"That poor woman!" said Martha, thinking of one occasion when Clark, as a toddler, had somehow gotten away, and of her frantic and desperate search until she found him. She had been useless the rest of the day from the adrenaline rush and subsequent weak-kneed relief when he was found safely playing under the porch.
"It's the baby I'd worry about," said Jonathan. "If someone really believes the baby is Clark's, they're likely to" - Clark's voice joined his father's, "put it in a cage and dissect it like a frog."
"I know, Dad, and that has me really worried. You said I didn't seem to get the usual cuts and scrapes, and you thought my skin would bend any scalpel they tried on me, but_ I KNOW a scalpel would hurt this baby." Clark's face looked grim as he said this.
Lois suddenly looked at Clark, her face solemn, her eyes wide. "Is that why you looked so upset this morning when Perry said they were threatening to kill the baby?" She laid a hand gently on his arm.
Clark, you have to find the baby before that can happen." Martha told him. Lois could hear this and nodded in agreement. "Call us if there's anything we can do to help, love, won't you?"
I will, Mom. We'd better get started looking for information," he added, looking at Lois. She nodded once. "We'll call if we find anything. Bye, Mom, bye, Dad." Clark hung up the phone. He had the same expression, serious and concerned, that she had seen on his face just before he chilled her body when they were trying to save his kidnapped parents.
"For all the time I've known you, I still misjudge you, don't I," she said softly, still resting her hand on his arm. "I keep trying to bring you down to some lower level of humanity, give you the same self-serving motives I would expect other people to have. But you're not like other people, in or out of that suit, except for your parents. I thought your concern this morning meant the baby must be yours, but Jonathan also cared enough about a stranger's baby to save it, save you. Maybe a small town IS a special place, to produce people like them,_ and you." Lois reached up to push back the hair that had started to fall over his face, and smiled with that touch of love in it that told him everything was all right between them again.
With the ice cream no longer needed and back in the freezer, Lois and Clark had moved to her sofa with a cup of coffee.
"So," said Clark, "now we have to decide what to do. We've at least got a little time if the deadline is tomorrow. I guess I'll have to contact the Mirror before then to find out about the location for the exchange. If I don't contact the paper, the kidnappers will kill the baby, but if I do make contact, that give's the girl's story credibility and could put the baby in even more danger - if not now, in the future when someone else decides to pull the same stunt."
Lois leaned back and thought carefully, staring into the shifting steam from the coffee. Clark knew that look, and knew Lois was being analytical and instinctive at the same time, calling on all her experience. She had some way of threading through problems, linking strands others didn't notice, weighing up alternative possibilities and getting results that made others envy her as a reporter.
"So let's see what we've got," she started. "Even assuming the kidnappers know the baby isn't yours, they still could expect you to try and save the baby, or you'd have all of Metropolis turn against you. That gets them a LOT of gold that's easy to dispose of. The paper would have to 'go public' with the story, otherwise they couldn't contact you easily. But that means, for some reason, the kidnappers want you there in person ... why? What would they have to gain by that?"
"They can't know who I am, or they'd have tried Mazik's method using you," he reached out and brushed the back of his fingers gently along her cheek, "or my parents. So the next question is - do I visit this girl and the Mirror, and if ..."
The telephone interrupted them again. Clark picked it up. "Hello?"
"Is that you, Clark?" A southern accent gave away the speaker's identity.
"Yes, it's me."
"Boy, I was startin to get worried. Is Lois all right? I'm assuming she did let you in - you didn't break down the door or anything drastic?"
"She's fine, Chief. We're actually working on the story," then Clark added, "assuming you let us have it, of course."
"It's what I had in mind, especially since Superman is a friend of yours. You could maybe give him some help. But I wasn't sure Lois would feel comfortable handling this one."
"You can ask her, yourself - she's right here." Clark held the phone out to Lois. "He wants to know if you want to work on the story."
Lois took the phone and explained that she was fine, she had run out because she realized she'd left a tap turned on at home in her rush to get to work that morning. She could see Clark's eyebrows go up, and a smug, amused look appeared on his face at this excuse - she stuck her tongue out at him in reply.
Perry then explained he had an added reason for phoning. The Mirror had called a full press conference for the media at 1 p.m. that day, and had sent a special invitation to Lois and Clark. Perry figured the Mirror was "makin' hay while the sun shines", what with all the free advertising every other paper, radio, and TV station around the country was giving them. Inviting Lois, once considered to be Superman's girlfriend, to a meeting with the mother of his 'love child' would be, according to Perry, "right up their sleazy tabloid alley. I'd almost bet my autographed photo of Elvis that they figure they'll double their circulation overnight."
The press conference was hot and crowded, with TV crews jockeying for position and radio crews trying to set up microphones at the front of the hall. Clark managed to guide Lois to a couple of seats on the side of the room and only halfway back. Several people stared at her as she took her seat, and he knew she was aware of them.
"Are you really sure you want to do this?"
"No," her strained answer didn't reassure him at all. "But have you got a better idea? If I didn't show, I'd be fielding phone calls all night. This way I can be on the dishing rather than just the receiving end."
"You know, you really would have been a good football player."
"Why?" came her puzzled reply.
"Same basic philosophy - the best defense is a good offense." That at least brought a small smile to her lips.
Bedlam broke out, then suddenly quieted as Shana Streeter was escorted to the podium at the front by the editor of the Mirror- short, well dressed Milo Boon. Shana looked about 20 and had long, auburn hair. She was also half a head taller than her escort and looked nervously at the crowd. Her yellow floral print dress was cut short to reveal her shapely legs.
"See," said Clark, trying to lighten his partner's mood, "if I REALLY liked hair that colour, do you think I would have had to go farther than Cat's desk?"
Lois looked at him with daggers in her eyes, then suddenly had to choke back a laugh as she remembered how hard Cat had tried to corner her partner. She hadn't thought it funny at the time but had eventually realized the chase had been all Cat's, and Clark had eluded Cat's clutches, somehow, every time. That made Lois nearly miss Boon's opening.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please, we'll make a short statement, then answer some questions. Ms. Streeter would like to appeal to the kidnappers not to harm her son. The Mirror will do everything that it can to get him back safely, and we only hope Superman will live up to his responsibilities and do the same. We appeal to him to make contact with us so we can make arrangements for the safe return of his son."
At this last sentence, the audience broke into an uproar as assorted reporters all tried to speak at once. Milo Boon appealed for order and silence but the crowd took several minutes to settle down.
Clark looked at Lois to see how she was taking Boon's last statement. Her face was pale and somewhat strained and her expression looked very serious and thoughtful. Clark reached over and took her hand and squeezed it once.
She tore her eyes from the girl at the front and looked at Clark.
"There's never been, never WILL be, anyone except you."
Lois smiled wanly, but she did smile, "I know. Perry tried to tell me that once before, and I knew deep down even then that he was right."
At last, Boon said he would take a question from the audience. Hands went up and several journalists jumped to their feet to make a claim for preference. To Clark's surprise, Lois was one of the first to her feet. Boon saw her and immediately called for order again and announced, "First question will be from Lois Lane of the Daily Planet."
"The kidnapping came very quickly after the Mirror went on the news stands yesterday. Do you have any idea who could have located your son so fast? How many people knew about your claim that Superman was the baby's father before the paper bought your story, and could one of them be the kidnapper? And had you contacted Superman before you went to the Mirror with your story?" Lois paused, and when the answer seemed slow in coming, she said, "Ms. Streeter?"
But Ms. Streeter and Mr. Boon were suddenly busy conferring together, obviously unprepared for the questions Lois had tossed out. Lois looked down at Clark, and when she saw the pride and admiration with which he was looking back at her, the last nagging doubts evaporated from her mind.
The room quieted as Ms. Streeter leaned toward the forest of microphones on the podium. "No, I didn't tell anyone about my son, and I don't know how the kidnappers located him so fast. I haven't seen Superman since before Coren was born."
"She's lying," said Clark whispered to Lois, "about knowing how the kidnappers found the baby so fast - her pulse."
Lois raised an eyebrow at this new angle on things.
The next reporter wanted to know if Superman had contacted the paper. Boon admitted he hadn't, but another reporter reminded the gathering that no one had seen Superman since the previous day. Someone else wanted to know how they would raise the money demanded and got the answer that Superman should be able to help them somehow.
Clark finally got a chance to ask a question. "Ms. Streeter, did Superman ever give you a way to contact him in an emergency? And does your son's unusual name, Coren, have anything to do with his father?"
Lois watched intently as Shana Streeter consulted Boon and then prepared to answer. "No, I had no special way to contact him. And my son's name, I was told, had been used in his father's side of the family for several generations."
At that reply, Lois and Clark looked at each other. Then Lois nodded at Clark and complimented him, "Very clever!" Her statement seriously puzzled the reporter sitting behind them and hoping to get a story out of Lois' reaction at the press conference.
The next few questions added nothing to the story the Mirror had printed the previous day about Shana's first meeting with Superman at a charity event the previous year, an event he was known to have attended.
The two partners got some coffee at a street stand and went to sit at a quiet spot in a nearby park where they could talk in peace and privacy.
"She was telling the truth about the father's side of the family providing the name, wasn't she?" asked Lois.
"Her pulse was a steady 76 beats a minute," Clark confirmed Lois' assumption, then added, "and she seemed to be telling the truth about meeting me at that charity event. I signed at least 400 T-shirts that day, so it is possible. But Lois, she lied about two things: not knowing how the baby was located by the kidnappers so fast, and being worried for the baby's safety."
"So what are you saying?" asked Lois.
"I'm _ not sure."
"If she didn't believe her baby was in danger, then who kidnapped it?" Lois was slowly dismembering her empty coffee cup as she thought.
"The real father?" suggested Clark, "who, from the name, is Irish rather than Kryptonian."
"You know, I never thought of you as really devious before," Lois commented, then smiled. She took out her notepad, flipped it open, got her pen and started tapping it on the paper. "Let's look at who has the most to gain out of all this. First, the real father could be behind all this for the money. Second, the Mirror has been able to sell this story world wide and get massive amounts of free publicity, as Perry pointed out. If they could spin this out, get some appearances by Superman, and take advantage of all the exclusive rights that they have, they'd make a fortune. So would the baby's parents. Either one would also explain why Ms. Streeter isn't worried about her son, and how the kidnapper's knew where to find him. If they get Superman to come up with the 500lbs. of gold, that's just extra cream. Let's get back to the Planet. I think a little digging is in order."
Six hours and a lot of research later, Lois had just faxed an order for pizza from her apartment while Clark was seated on the sofa sorting through all the notes they had made on the financial affairs of the Mirror, Ms. Streeter, and several men listed as having had the name of Coren registered on their birth certificates in the last 30 years. Lois came over to sit beside him and grabbed a pile of notes.
"The Mirror wasn't exactly on the edge of bankruptcy, but their profits have been down considerably the last two years," Clark told her.
"Yes, well almost any of these Corens would ..." a knock at the door interrupted Lois. "That can't be the pizza yet. I'll get it. Maybe it's another lovelorn suitor who hasn't heard Lucy moved back out to an apartment of her own again."
Lois opened the door, and her mouth opened in surprise, then promptly closed. "Why are you here?" she asked Shana Streeter.
"Please, Miss Lane, can I come in?" her tone was pleading and she looked nervously at the stairs.
"By all means," said Lois, "I wanted to talk to you anyway, but I thought it would be harder than this to arrange a meeting." Lois sounded the complete reporter, glad to have a scoop drop into her lap.
Shana entered and stood just inside the door, still looking worried, and playing with the ring on her right hand, twisting the band around and around. Clark stood up as she entered, and Shana glanced at him but seemed far more interested in talking to Lois.
Lois pointedly said, "Ms. Streeter, this is my partner, Clark Kent, who is also a friend of Superman's."
Shana again looked at Clark, but turned back to speak to Lois, "Miss Lane, I need your help! They'll kill my baby! You have to get Superman to help me!"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, and Clark nodded as if to say Shana was telling the truth this time.
Lois said coldly, "Why should you need MY help to contact Superman? I thought you were supposed to be his lover?"
At this, Shana collapsed into the chair near the door and burst into tears.
Superman isn't the father of your child, is he?" Lois had a hard edge to her voice that forced Shana to look up, but the girl was unable to get any words out, only tears came.
At last, between weakening sobs, Shana spoke. "How did you know?"
"Because he's not that kind of man," Lois answered as she looked at Clark over Shana's head. Then she put a hand on Shana's arm and asked, "Who has the baby, and where are they?"
Shana looked up but instead of answering, started to cry again. "I don't know!" she wailed. "I really don't!"
"Was it the boy's real father or the Mirror that kidnapped him?" Clark asked her.
They had to wait a minute to get their answer.
"His father died in a truck accident before I found out I was pregnant. We really loved each other," she added earnestly, as if that fact would excuse her from denying the man's very existence by her lie, claiming Superman as the father of her child.
Clark knelt down by the chair and put his hand on the chair arm. "Shana, we need to know the whole truth if we're to help you."
Shana looked straight ahead and took a deep breath. She let it out slowly. "I don't care about the money any more. I just want my baby back. He's all I have left and all I care about. He has his father's dark hair and his father's eyes, and that's all I have left of Coren." She paused, then continued calmly, "When Coren O'Reilly, my Coren, died in the accident, I was working as a waitress. We had planned to get married and work awhile before starting a family. At least I had a part of him still with me, I thought. I didn't realize how hard it would be to have a baby alone. What little we had saved couldn't support me and the baby, so once Coren junior was born, I went back to work. I never seemed to have enough sleep, and I got so tired. I thought if I could sell a story to a magazine, I'd be able to go back to school and then get a better job."
"Whose idea was it to kidnap the baby?" asked Lois.
"Mr. Boon thought it would sell more papers and get publicity. He said if they did follow-up stories I would get more money. And if it worked really well, I'd get paid for a yearly follow-up. I didn't think it would hurt anyone."
"So what went wrong?" this time Clark supplied the question.
"First, Mr. Boon never mentioned the gold. I would never have agreed to that. But _ someone else has really kidnapped Coren! And they really think I can get Superman to meet them with the gold!"
"And?" prompted Lois.
"The only time I ever even saw Superman was when he signed my T-shirt at that charity event where I said I met him. That, at least, wasn't a lie. I did meet him there. But I doubt if he'd even remember my face, there were so many other girls getting shirts signed. I'd gone because Coren wanted the shirt." She started to cry again, "but he never even got to wear it before the accident happened ..."
Another knock on the door announced the arrival of the pizza, and Lois paid the delivery boy while Clark moved Shana to the sofa and went to make some tea for her.
With some food and drink in her, she was able to give them more details of where and when the kidnappers wanted to meet Superman and how the exchange was to be made.. Having cried herself out earlier, and being assured the two reporters would try to get Superman to help her, Shana was induced to lie down on Lois' bed and rest. She was soon in an exhausted sleep while Lois and Clark tried to make some plans.
They were standing in the kitchen, reheating the last of the pizza.
"You should be flattered," Lois told Clark, who was leaning on the counter by the microwave.
"Why, because she couldn't see past the glasses, either? And ignored me like you did?" Clark smiled, but there was a tiny trace of pain as well.
Lois came over and slid her hands up the front of his jacket and around his collar until they met behind his neck. "No." She wrapped her arms around him and held him tight, then pulled back enough to give him an ironic smile. "Because Intergang, or someone as powerful, has such a good opinion of your character," she finished, the love showing in her eyes now that they were alone.
"Oh, really?! And how do you figure that?"
"Milo Boon thought it would be nice if you showed up, to add to his publicity. But he didn't really need you. Intergang must know by now, if they know Milo had the baby, that the child isn't yours. But they still think you are so good and honorable that you'll come anyway." Her eyes were shining with pride as well as love now. Then her expression clouded over with worry.
If they're depending on you to come in person, they must think they have a way to hurt you. And the only thing I know of is kryptonite." She put her arms around him again and felt his arms tighten around her.
They stood quietly for a few minutes, holding on to the pool of warmth and security that surrounded them when they could touch each other, even briefly. Then Lois gently and reluctantly pushed Clark away. "We still have a lot of work to do, partner. Let's go over what we know about the exchange," suggested Lois at last, picking up the pizza and going to the table.
Neither of them got any sleep that night. They studied plans of the rendezvous site, and Clark examined it from a distance. When he was sure no one was near the old factory, he went in and examined it, then flew in some equipment he and Lois had decided might be useful. He was reluctant to let Lois get involved, but the plan called for an assistant, and Lois was more fit that his mother, and more capable at self-defense. A bullet-proof vest and a prepared escape route for her were the best he could do in case things went wrong.
At 3:15 a.m. they woke Shana to tell her Superman would meet the kidnappers at 4:00 a.m. as required, then Lois and Clark drove off toward the rendezvous site. Lois got into position and waited for Clark's grand entrance at the appointed time.
A van drove up and parked outside the warehouse just on 4:00 a.m. and two men emerged. The taller man retrieved a carry-cot from the front seat, with the baby wrapped inside. The other carried a small, now empty box that he kept rolling in one hand, and a .44 calibre handgun. Once inside, they switched on the few bulbs still operating in the old building and placed the baby under the center beam of the roof, then retreated to the end of the building to wait, one nervously chain-smoking, the other standing perfectly still, not taking his eyes off the baby, nor lowering the gun even a centimeter from its aim on the carry-cot.
"What if he doesn't show?" asked the nervous one.
"He'll show," said the non-smoker.
"Did you remember to load up that special green bullet?"
"And what if you miss?" asked his nervous companion.
"I won't. Twenty years a hitman, and I never miss."
"So what about his super speed?"
"Do you think the boss is an idiot? Between the gold and the baby, that should slow him down long enough to get off the shot. If he's concerned enough to rescue a kid that isn't even his, he'll be concerned enough to be careful how he collects it."
As they spoke, a figure in red and blue drifted down from the darkness of the roof, and floated just above the floor 10 feet in front of the carry-cot.
So practiced he didn't even seem to aim, the hitman fired, and Superman shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor. The two Intergang employees hesitated just a moment too long in shock, and in a blink the carry-cot had disappeared. They ran up to the spot where Superman had been and a thousand tiny Supermen all stared up at them from the fragments of glass on the floor. The gunman picked up one piece of glass and turned it back and forth, staring at the red caped figure in the hologram.
"Keep it as a souvenir. You won't be taking any vacations for a long time," the real Superman advised him. Then he wrapped the two men in some #8 fencing wire from an old reel left in a corner of the warehouse before delivering them to the nearest police station. The baby, still safely in its carry-cot, was also delivered, to be checked over by a doctor. Lois drove home and took Shana to the station to be re-united with her son. Clark 'met' them at the station, and Shana, overjoyed at having her son back, thanked them both for their help. But her warmest thanks were saved for Lois, as well as an apology.
"Miss Lane, you had every right to refuse to let me in, especially after Mr. Boon was so cruel and greedy, inviting you to that press conference. He hadn't told me he'd done that before we went out to make the statement. I know you have a special relationship with Superman. I really am sorry if I caused you any pain."
Lois smiled at Shana, who was cradling Coren in her arms as if he was the most precious thing in the world. "I did have a special relationship with Superman, but," Lois slipped her arm through Clark's "I have someone else special in my life now, and Superman knows that. But, like you, it just took me a while to see that what mattered most was right in front of me all the time," and she smiled up at her partner. She'd told him once, early on, that she had him all figured out. He'd smiled and said, "Really, didn't take you very long." In her arrogance, she'd called him 'farmboy' and warned him not to fall for her.
Later, involved with Lex, she'd told him she could only love him as a friend, only to realize it was she who had fallen for him. Fallen, not for the superhero, but for that kind, caring, honest farmboy inside. It just took time to see what was right in front of her all the time.