The Reckoning

Part 1 Missing

She knew the answers to most questions thrown at her. That was the reason why at such a young age, she had become star reporter of one of the nation's leading newspapers. What questions she did not know the answer to, she pushed to the back of her mind. They were likely facts that held no great importance at all. Yet there were things she was curious about. Many things intrigued her. It was an intrinsic quality that she knew was a strength, especially in this line of work.

Lois Lane narrowed her eyes at the fluttering slip of paper on her desk, held down by a shiny black rock that served as her paper holder. At times like this, the inquisitiveness she had always been so proud of was a bane. She knew she should not even be considering the invitation. But here she was, twenty minutes after work hours and still undecided.

"He's still stalking you."

Lois looked up at her partner and shook her head. "I would hardly think that he would stalk me, Kent."

Finely sculpted cheekbones were emphasized with the arch of his eyebrow. Lois stifled a smile at the questioning look that the smalltown guy threw her. She knew the irony of her own statement because she was wrapped with it. On her office table, the fragrance of dozens of blood red roses permeated her surroundings. "You're a floral shop here, Lois."

Lois reached for the slip of paper and crumpled it into a ball, then tossed it into the trash bin. "I don't know what his obsession with me is," she told Clark, who nodded in understanding and sat at the edge of her desk. "He keeps coming after me. I am hot for a story but not so much that I would agree to go out on a date with a career criminal."

Lex Luthor, once the most prominent philanthropist and connoisseur of art that ever graced Kansas state, had fallen hard, his reputation completely destroyed, in the year following his exodus from Smallville. It was a year of promise that Clark had shared with his friend. He had no idea what possessed Lex Luthor. When Clark met him for coffee a day before he left, Lex had been astoundingly happy in a way that amazed anyone who saw him. To Clark, Lex's attitude had not been as surprising as it was well-deserved. Then one week into his vacation, the world shattered. The budding great that Lex Luthor was fell headlong into an underworld that existed only in the penthouses and top floors of skyscrapers across Metropolis.

Because of the length of time that they had trusted each other, become part of one another's lives, Clark had given him the benefit of the doubt. He flew the entire way to Los Angeles and met his closest friend inside the high security prison cell that he had been at the time. It would have been easy to forgive him at the time. Clark only needed to see regret for the crime he had committed. Clark cherished Lex enough to swallow the fury inside him about what had happened. The billionaire stubbornly denied the accusation; Clark could not accept that because he had seen the tape, the sole evidence that Lex transgressed in the most abhorrent way possible. Until today, Clark waited for that apology, that look of guilt.

Lex Luthor preferred to live pretending that no truth existed beyond that which he believed.

"I know why he's doing this, Lois."

Pretty black eyes blinked at him. "If you tell me it's a crush I will kick you back to your farm. It's Luthor's excuse and I refuse to believe it. He hasn't even interacted with me for more than twenty minutes."

"And you think it takes more than twenty minutes to fall hard for someone?" Clark asked with a smile. "You have obviously not met my partner." There were more direct ways of telling her what he suspected. There were ways that required less forced cheer. But he was going to introduce an aspect of their relationship that Lois never knew existed yet, so Clark would try everything to make certain that it was ushered in as smoothly as he could.

"Shut up, Kent," she said without acerbity. "And spill. Our co-workers may be too obtuse to notice the fact that you seem to be accurate about everything Luthorian. I'm not. You're from Smallville. I'm guessing there was some sort of connection there at one time or another."

"All right, Lois." Clark nodded. "It's about Chloe."

"Who?" she frowned.

"Chloe Sullivan."

Lois sat up straighter in her chair. "Oh my God. I can't believe she slipped my mind." The brunette bit her lip in guilt. "She's my cousin. How do you know her? I lost my cousin years before I met you, Kent."

"You said it yourself, Lois. I'm from Smallville."

She shook her head. "Chloe lived in Metropolis all her life. You can't have run into each other. The city isn't the small."

"But Smallville is, hence the name. Gabe and Chloe moved to Smallville for a few years. You have to have known that."

Lois shook her head. "We lost touch when I was moving with my dad. He was in the army. I never grew up with one permanent home. We only picked up our correspondence when I was a cub reporter in New York and she was attending college here in Metropolis."

Clark slipped off the desk and pulled a chair towards Lois. He sat in front of her and took her hand, squeezed it tightly. "I was best friends with her. There were three of us. Chloe, Pete and I. We were inseparable."

Her eyes sparked with interest at the revelation. "You knew her? Clark, there are so many things I want to know!"

"I don't know if I can give you all the answers you want, Lois. I'm still a little hazy with some things myself. All I know was that Chloe was a healthy, beautiful, ambitious girl. And then suddenly, she was gone." He searched her face for hidden answers, clues. "Gabe wouldn't tell me anything before he left. He must have told you."

She shook her head quickly. "No. I was away when it happened. All I know is that-I can't understand why Uncle Gabe didn't press charges!"

"What do you know, Lois? Maybe we can help each other out."

"Well, once I settled into a city, we began writing a lot. We're writers, Chloe and I," she said unnecessarily, with a soft smile. "She told me about her passion for journalism. And I have her firsthand experiences about how tough a life it is. I remember telling her that if she could still shift her major, she should. Journalism would take a lot out of one person. You can't get rich in this line of work."

"Chloe didn't need a salary. She needed a passion."

Lois smiled. "That's what she told me too."

Clark could not interrupt her narrative. If he could, he would have told Lois that money was the last thing that Chloe needed at the time. She was firmly established at the time. Lex was enamored of her. Chloe would have been set for life if she only agreed to marry him. The independent woman inside the college girl refused to be tied down to one man while she had a world to explore. Funny though. They moved in together on the second year and never saw anyone else.

"She was in love," Lois told him. Judging from Clark's agreeing nod, the man was aware of the entire story. "She told me about all those things he did for her. When she came home from school, he would have this magnificent dinner ready for them. Sometimes he would pick her up at the campus and take her out. He gave her wonderful gifts almost every day." Clark had seen evidence of Lex's generosity with the truck that Lex attempted to give him for saving his life. Once, Lex mentioned, in the most confidential moment between the two of them, when Lex allowed most of his walls down, that Chloe saved his soul with every touch. Clark could hardly imagine what kind of gift that would merit. "But that wasn't the most important thing. She was so enthusiastic when she told me that he talked to her, really talked. How many grown men can do that?"

He remembered how many times Lana had complained about that specific weakness in him. "Not a lot," he admitted.

"Heck, I was glad I had a contract in New York because if I didn't, I would have flown here to steal him away. From everything Chloe said about the guy, any woman would fall for him. They were so in love."

"Lois," Clark called.

"He killed her," she finished firmly.

"What?"

"I received her last letter. She was raving about their pseudo honeymoon trip. They were going to travel across the country. They just arrived in Los Angeles and they were having so much fun. And then suddenly, Uncle Gabe was ringing me, telling me that Chloe's missing. Her live-in partner beat her up. There was enough evidence to lock him up-neighbors reported the screaming and the sounds of a struggle. There was tape!"

Clark moistened his lips and handed Lois his handkerchief. Lois appeared surprised by the gesture. Her hand flew to her cheeks and belatedly she realized that she had actually cried. "You didn't see it, right? You never came."

"What was the use of coming? Uncle Gabe told me already that he wasn't pressing charges."

"I saw it, every second of it. The tape did show that he abused her. But there was never any evidence that he killed her."

Lois huffed in disbelief. "He beat her up and then she goes missing? It was murder and you know it. That's why I'm here, back in Metropolis where I know the rat scurried back to. I will find out who it is. Uncle Gabe wouldn't tell me either."

"You never tried to find out before today?"

"You think I haven't? I say her name in the research department and everyone scatters like flies. I don't know what's going on. I can't find anything on her in the web. It's like she never existed! I just want to figure out what happened to my cousin, Clark." He was silent for the longest moment until she prodded him with her foot. "Nothing to say, Kent? Uncle Gabe must have had a great reason not to tell me everything. Is that your reason too? I know you know who killed my cousin."

Clark met her gaze unwaveringly. Finally, he nodded. This was his purpose after all. "We were talking about Lex's reason for hounding you, Lois." Her eyes widened. "I won't tell you that Lex was involved with what you think is Chloe's murder. I will tell you this, though. Be careful with Lex. He's obsessive when he's in love. So much of you scream Chloe Sullivan. I don't even doubt that he knows about your relationship with Chloe. Don't let yourself be a substitute."

Lois turned around quickly to pick up a pen and paper. When she looked up again, Clark was gone. Alone in the office, Lois smoothed the paper on the desk and wrote down everything new that she learned.