Author's note:Since it has been awhile the last chapter was posted, I'm including a summary from the last few chapters as indicated below, but I'd recommend just re-reading the past few chapters instead. However, the short down and dirty version, is below.
Lois and Clark get a tip that someone knows about who bugged Lois's house and phone lines, so they go to meet the source in a parking garage, except it's a trap and they are kidnapped. Inadvertently, one of their kidnappers had a necklace of kryptonite in their pocket that was meant for Lois to wear, and unfortunately for Clark, rendered him powerless to fight off their attackers. The two reporters were kept captive in an abandoned wearhouse for multiple days and during their captivity, a large airplane crash occurs and haunts Clark, as he is captive and unable to save hundreds of people from perishing.
While they are held captive, Chloe shows up in Metropolis to temproarilly fill the position left unfilled by Lois and Clark as the news stories must still be written. Richard finally meets the woman who has been Lois's adversary but ironically, Clark's oldest friend. Chloe and Richard pair up to try to track down Lois and Clark, and find that somewhere in the midst of their chaos, they enjoy each other's company.
After a few days of captivity, Lois and Clark have decided they've had enough of the status quo and make a break for it, and this is where we come in on the reporters.
A special thanks to my fantastic betas SparklingStone and NiteAngel. You ladies are wonderful!
Proximity Chapter 20
The sudden metallic bang echoed through the cavern of air ducts, causing Lois and Clark to halt.
"My knees are taking a beating," she mumbled.
"Just a little farther, Lois," Clark commented as he scanned the ventilation system then quickly added, "Well, I think so, anyway."
A series of pings and clangs that accompanied their movement caused Lois to pause again and lines formed across her forehead.
"Can you crawl any more loudly? Really…" Lois hissed over her shoulder.
He shrugged his shoulders as his eyebrows lowered with irritation. "I guess I'm just too heavy not to make noise."
Inwardly, he was as annoyed with the amount of noise he was generating as Lois was. During the pause in their escape from the room that had contained them, the quickened voices below the reporters and increased volume was fairly audible to both individuals above.
Their escape had been discovered.
They began to move at a brisk pace, discarding any attempt at a stealthy getaway. It was pointless. Their captors already knew they had fled to the ventilation system.
Lois and Clark hadn't been gone from the room that held them long before their absence was noticed. Unfortunately, the location of where they disappeared to hadn't been that much of a mystery either.
As quickly as they had been discovered, the reporters themselves learned their escape route would only lead them to the floor just directly below. If they had any chance to truly escape, they had to run for it.
Lois and Clark were in a full sprint down the hallway.
What had been the most suitable escape plan wasn't flawless; it did have its limitations but Lois and Clark weren't defeated yet. Instead they ran like hell.
Lois's lungs were burning. It was only tolerable due to the adrenaline coursing through her veins while her legs kept tempo with Clark's long strides.
The length of his stride naturally allowed him the lead. His partner was too preoccupied with escaping from their captors who were nearly at their heels and gasping for breath to question him about the choices he made regarding the direction of their escape.
Fortunately the maze of hallways in the unfamiliar building was somewhat less daunting with the aid of Clark's X-ray vision. This was unbeknownst to Lois, of course, but he had tried to tell her he was Superman.
Quite obviously, now wasn't the time for such a revelation.
The two pairs of feet pounded down the corridor as a thunder of feet echoed behind them. That their flight was no longer secret was painfully clear. Audible threats reached their ears long before they rounded the corner.
Both Lois and Clark's feet slid as they turned the corner, but they quickly regained their stride along the dim corridor. They burst into a full sprint as both journalists detected their saving grace: a door marked as an exit.
It was a stairwell.
"Thank goodness," Lois huffed as the door slammed behind them.
They grasped each others' hands, looked up and down, and both decided to run.
In opposite directions.
Lois and Clark's heads whipped around only to be met with equal confusion and disdain from the other regarding which direction to flee.
"Down is this way." He gestured to the dizzying flights of stairs below.
"And that's exactly the way they think we'll go." Lois rolled her eyes as she tugged his arm forcefully in an upward direction.
"That's where the exit is." Clark briefly allowed the cement stairwell to melt away and noted the men were closing the gap and fast.
They had to go. He looked up through the stairwell.
"Getting to the roof will buy us more time," she argued.
Without pause for Clark's response, she yanked her hand from his grasp and refused to accept another option as she tore up the stairs in the direction of the roof.
"Time for what?"
He already knew. Lois was banking on Superman to save them. Clark was left with no other option but to follow.
He paused briefly and checked the stairwell above for any mafia henchmen and exhaled in relief. Their escape route remained free.
As Clark followed Lois, time seemed to slow and his breathing grew shallower. All sound seemed to fade save both of their two racing hearts. Hopefully his ability to fly would be there and wouldn't fail them.
He didn't exactly prefer the moment in time Lois had unknowingly chosen for the revelation, but their current predicament was reality and he quickly made peace with his fate.
Clark swallowed and paused briefly just before the pair rounded the last turn in the stairs prior to the final ascent to the rooftop exit. The brick wall and stairs above dissipated in front of his eyes and Clark found five men atop the roof perched near the exit. He came to an abrupt halt.
"Lois," he called with urgency. "We can't go that way."
Predictably a heavy door to the stairwell slammed four floors below as familiar voice echoed up the stairwell.
"You guys go up, we'll go down. We can't miss them…"
"No, Clark," she hissed with urgency and looked at him in a panic "We can't go that way." She gestured below.
"We can go down half a flight, exit the stairwell to a different floor, then find another to get out of the building. There's got to be more than one set of stairs in a place this big," he urged her as the footsteps from below grew closer. "We can not go up."
"We're out of options, Clark," her voice, tinged with desperation, was low and frantic "So unless you can give me a really good reason why not; it's either the rooftop or we get caught again."
"We can't, because, Lois…" He cleared his throat, looking up through the door at the men waiting for them on the other side and back to Lois.
"Because what, Clark?" She retaliated as if speaking to an obstinate child.
He quickly bounded up the stairs that separated him from Lois and leaned closer to her face to speak quietly.
"Because there are men on the roof, right on the other side of that door."
"There are men below us and getting closer. That's a guarantee, not a hunch. I'm not willing to bet our escape on a premonition."
"They're on the other side of the door, Lois," he repeated himself with assertion.
"And just how do you know that they're right there on the other side of that door just waiting for us?"
"I can see through it, Lois."
"Really…" Her face fell, dumfounded and her body felt immobile with the exception of a raised eyebrow.
"I can't believe you, Clark," Lois spat as she spun on her heel to ascend the remaining stairs to the door. "Now is so not the time…"
"For what?" His feet skipped three stairs as he raced behind the woman and met her at the door. He clamped his hand on top of hers as she perched to open the door to the roof.
"For a sorry attempt at sarcasm." She turned with fire in her eyes. "Maybe you don't understand that if we don't go on the roof in about thirty seconds, those guys down below are going to catch up to you and me and do only God knows what to either of us."
Clark's face fell as she paused to continue. She doesn't believe me.
Lois swallowed as she gasped for another breath. "We've got to get out of here and let Superman rescue us. He's our only chance," she exclaimed, and throwing his hand off hers angrily, she flung the door open.
She gasped as five faces met hers.
The shock, however, faded almost instantly as Lois recoiled and threw a punch, landing a solid upper cut to one of the men's jaws. His head flew back as she kneed him in the groin. The last time someone attacked her it was from behind and a surprise, but this time, her body performed almost on autopilot. She was every bit a cornered dog, ready for a fight.
The man groaned as he swayed backward in pain and the fiery woman flung herself forward to take on the next opponent.
Knowing Lois would offer a considerable fight but would be quickly overpowered; Clark remained close at her heel. Keeping his potentially lethal strength and nearly blinding speed in balance, he allowed the hired muscle to receive a few more of Lois's punches before he sprung into action. After all, revealing himself to Lois was one thing, but exposing his identity to a known adversary would have been detrimental to not only himself, but for anyone who knew him.
After Clark's fist connected with the side of an equally large man's face, Lois ducked an attempt from an attacker to render her unconscious and she didn't miss a beat. Clark also knew the men who had been in pursuit of them down the halls and up the stairwell had caught up with them.
As he spun on his heel to battle the men at their backs, he swung to hit their familiar captor in the sternum. As it made impact, a sharp pain radiated from the knuckles through the fist of his hand.
Clark's surprise was evident along with a familiar sinking in his stomach. He knew it wasn't a positive sign and when his hand recoiled, he briefly glanced down at the reddened knuckles. An all too familiar nausea surged in his gut. Kryptonite.
Clark did his best to ignore the kryptonite that lurked nearby, presumably with the men that had come from below. He continued to swing and land blows but noted the sudden increase in discomfort as each blow met another man's features. Consequently, as the nausea became too strong to ignore any further, his reaction time slowed and he found himself on the receiving end of an increasing number of jabs. Every single one was painful.
Despite the ferocious battle the two reporters fought, it didn't take long for them to realize they were outmanned and in trouble. They barely escaped through the arms of their captors to the roof in a last ditch effort to flee.
Lois's knuckles, once red, were blanched white but streaked with smears of blood as she gripped the ledge and bent over to look to the alley far below. They were trapped. Again.
"Superman," she gasped as her wide eyes surveyed their impassable escape. "We really need your help!"
Lois turned and looked to Clark, who bore an unreadable expression.
"He's not coming." His voice was thick with remorse. Clark looked down below, defeated, then back at Lois.
"Smart guy, then," commented one of their captors whose arm was extended, something dangling from his fist.
Lois and Clark spun to face the jeering man. The kryptonite necklace that they had hidden in the file cabinet below now swung back and forth in front of them, taunting both journalists. "Seems that you forgot something. Nice necklace... would have been a shame to lose it."
"Shit," Lois whispered under her breath.
"You can thank me later. And don't think about jumping either."
As he spoke, Lois and Clark were held firmly on either side. The men who had been beaten had regained their second wind, only to hold the duo captive again.
"You make me sick," Lois seethed as she flailed against her captors. "You need to use a little piece of kryptonite to protect yourselves. It's pathetic."
Clark did his best not to vomit as the nausea swelled again when the man who they had first encountered placed the necklace over Lois's neck again.
His head shook as he stepped backward. "I'd call it a smart insurance policy. My boss has informed me the two of you are far more trouble now than we'd like to deal with, so we'll be finished with you shortly."
Hoods were quickly produced from their pockets. Everything went black as they were slipped over the heads of the two reporters.
Muffled but not silenced, Lois continued to antagonize their captor. "So you're just going to hold us for a few days, then dump us over the roof? That's it? That's all you're capable of?"
"No of course not, someone would find your bodies. For intrepid reporters such as yourselves, we've got something the two of you deserve far more than chucking you from ten stories up. You don't give yourself or your partner enough credit, Lois."
"Daddy, where's Mommy?"
Jason looked up at Richard with large questioning eyes. Richard couldn't lie to his son any longer. It had been three days and he was surprised Jason held up as well as he did without asking the obvious question.
He sighed, scratched his head and motioned for the boy to join him on the couch. He closed the notebook that contained his notes and theories as to where Lois and Clark were kept hidden.
"Jason," he looked pensively across the water of the bay before continuing. "Your Mom isn't home because she's missing."
"Missing?" The boy's blue eyes brimmed with tears.
"No one knows where she is." Richard shook his head, and ran his fingers through Jason's hair, attempting to soothe himself as much as Jason. "But I promise, the police are looking very hard for her. And I'm doing what I can to try to find Mommy."
"What about Superman? Why hasn't he found her yet?"
Now that was a question Richard didn't have the answer to, and was equally curious why Superman had not found Lois. He also found it odd that Superman hadn't come by their house to question Richard about the matter.
"I don't know. But I'm sure that's why he hasn't been by to talk to us. He's doing the best he can to look for her too."
"I miss her," the boy managed to choke out as he began to sob.
Richard bent forward, kissed his son on the forehead and enveloped him in a large hug.
"Me too, buddy. Me too."
Jason nestled into his father's sweatshirt and allowed himself to be comforted while Richard reopened the notebook and continued to examine his notes from before. He knew that if he looked extensively enough, he would find the clues that linked Lois and Clark to someplace and he could locate them; the answer just had to be there. Hopefully he would be able to do so before it was only their bodies he would find.
It didn't sit well with Richard that the airplane crash earlier today went without Superman's assistance and additionally, it was troubling that he hadn't heard from the caped hero about any attempts to find Lois and Clark's whereabouts either.
He ignored a wave of dread in his gut and the nagging unpleasant feeling that perhaps Superman had disappeared again.
Richard attempted to brush the intrusive thoughts away; he hoped he was wrong.
The man's concentration was broken by a doorbell, startling both him and Jason. He looked up and frowned in the direction of the clock over the fireplace mantel. It was approaching nine o'clock at night and quite the mystery whom would be knocking at a later hour than most visitors come to call.
Cramps in Clark's muscles began to set in due to the uncomfortable position he and Lois found themselves in. Despite the lack of sight, his nose didn't betray him; the pungent smell of burnt jet fuel was unmistakable. They had to be at an airport and undoubtedly about to disappear from Metropolis. He also didn't need his eyes to tell him what the unnatural position of his body indicated; his wrists and Lois's were bound.
Perhaps it was nightfall, maybe the next morning. But despite the uncertainty of how much time that had elapsed, he knew it was a lengthy amount, as strongly indicated by the ache felt in his back and knee joints.
Clark was aware Lois's wrists and his were bound together, but he wasn't certain if she was alert. She had remained silent. She was either unconscious or worse; she had surrendered.
"Lois?" he ventured.
A wavering sigh escaped from Lois; she was cognizant.
"Look, Lois…you're not giving up, are you?"
"I'm sorry, Clark. It's my fault." She was defeated. "I should have listened to you. Now because of me and my stupid decision, we're trapped again." Her voice had begun to waver, an indication she choked back tears. "I'm never going to see my son again."
"We'll figure a way out of this." But I'll be damned if I know what it is.
She laughed bitterly. "I doubt it. We're in some sort of confined space, in what I'd guess is an airport. None of this bodes well in our favor. Oh, and that piece of Kryptonite around my neck? It probably isn't such a good thing either."
"Well," he sighed, "it's not the best scenario but if we can just get rid of it…"
A mechanical whir coupled with sudden blinding light caused both reporters to pause; curious as to their whereabouts and the next move their captor was going to make.
Chloe Sullivan sat upright and rubbed her stiff neck, earned from sleeping in an awkward position on a couch that just so happened to reside in the house owned by Lois Lane and Richard White. In the morning light, she blinked, rubbed her eyes and stood. Making her way toward the large window, she admired the impressive view of Metropolis.
"So this is how the Daily Planet treats their star reporter," she mused to herself. "Not bad. Clark, how do you manage to live in a small apartment when your partner gets this?"
"Assistant editors tend to bring in a larger paycheck than reporters. No matter what sort of stature or revenue they generate," Richard commented behind Chloe.
Mortified that talking to herself had not only been witnessed by someone she worked with, but the content of her statement was overheard, Chloe turned and blushed in embarrassment.
"Sorry, I was just talking to myself. I don't have this great of a place in Washington, not even half the size."
"Ah," he noted and moved to the kitchen to brew coffee before readying Jason for the school day.
"It's almost enough to make you wonder if your employer is paying you worth your salt, that's all," Chloe commented from the living room.
"I think the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence," Richard commented as Chloe followed the smell of fresh coffee into the kitchen. "It's not. Greener, I mean." He poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Chloe. "Sugar is on the counter, and there's milk in the refrigerator."
"I know that at least I need the caffeine." He managed a smile and began to pack Jason's lunch. Well, that and it's the least I could do, after all your help last night."
"I'm just trying to find my friend."
"So why so overprotective of your computer?"
"Excuse me?" Richard flinched.
He knew his refusal to let her use his computer at their house wouldn't go without comment. In fact, he was surprised Chloe's silence about it had lasted so long. He knew he had to tell her a little about their situation.
"If I hadn't brought mine, would we even have gotten anywhere last night?"
"Look, it's not really all that simple."
"Actually, it is. You see," She swallowed some of the black coffee and proceeded. "There's an 'on' switch that you flick or a button you push, depending on what model of computer you have." She looked at him expectantly, knowing there was more that lay beneath the surface. "And it turns on."
He gestured for the blonde to follow him outside. Both rubbed their arms in the cold early winter morning as they continued to walk farther from the house. When they had reached the dock, Richard turned and exhaled a plume of frosty breath.
"You see, Chloe, some article or investigation or something Lois has been involved with has ruffled more than a few feathers and someone has decided to wire tap our computers, cell phones, phone lines, you name it, to eavesdrop on us. And I'm not sure the house isn't bugged either."
"And you're suspicious that whoever tapped your lines and monitoring you is somehow connected with Lois and Clark's disappearance?"
"Of course. Wouldn't you wonder the same?"
She nodded. "I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to connect the dots. What's she been snooping around that made someone so nosy?"
"I'm not sure; it could be a number of things. But I'm not entirely ruling out that maybe the mayor's office is somehow involved."
"You've got to tell me why you'd be so bold as to think the mayor of the largest city in the United States would be so interested in something your former fiancé is digging up."
"The line taps are legal. Whoever it is, has taken all the legit steps and appropriate paperwork to do so."
"How on earth could you have found that out?"
"I have my sources."
She smiled. "Fair enough. I get it. You're not going to tell me everything, that's fine. Come on Mr. White, I'm freezing, not another word until we get to your office. Your office may be bugged, but I'd doubt the vacant one at the Planet I'm using is. If the mayor is involved in this, we'd better find our missing friends and fast, otherwise I'm afraid someone that powerful can probably make people disappear quickly and never be found."
He glanced grimly over the water to the downtown across the bay and frowned.
As the two individuals made their way back to the house to collect Jason and begin their work day, Richard couldn't help but notice how Chloe had failed to question him if Superman had contacted him about Lois. It was fairly common knowledge Superman and Lois had a strong connection of some sort. Her seeming lack of interest about the Man of Steel was something Richard found rather odd, especially for a journalist.
The roar of the C-23 Sherpa's twin propeller engines echoed inside the drafty back of the aircraft's cargo door.
As a final courtesy, Lois and Clark's captors removed the hoods that obscured their vision, only to reveal that the two reporters had found themselves in the cargo hold of a small prop cargo plane and it was evident that their captor had no intention of returning them to Metropolis alive, or in one piece.
"So we're leaving Metropolis, is that it?" Lois pumped the man for further answers.
"We're leaving the country, but the two of you won't make it that far, I'm afraid."
Clark and Lois looked at each other with a foreboding sense of dread. They were going to be dumped out the back of the airplane in mid-flight.
The man continued. "And of course when you scream your head off at about ten thousand feet, Superman won't think twice about coming to your rescue as he has countless times before, I'd wager, Miss Lane."
"Not if I tell him to let us die. I'd rather die than risk his life. He knows that."
"I doubt he'll watch you plummet to your death, and with the kryptonite around your neck, he won't realize it's there until he's too close to you. It will be too late, and he'll fall to his death right along with the two of you. But, I suppose we'll find out later which of our theories is correct."
"So this was your plan all along…" she seethed as her face grew hot in anger. "To use us as bait, toy with us only to drop us from an airplane to make sure Superman dies."
"Basically. You're really quite a perceptive person. It's a shame you won't live to write the article."
"You're an asshole," she spat. "And a stupid one. If I tell Superman there's kryptonite around my neck, he won't come within a mile of me," she laughed.
The man shrugged. "But the upshot for my employer is you'll die either way. Have a nice flight," he commented as the cargo doors began to close. "You're a thorn in his side he'll be glad to part with, no matter what."
Lois and Clark were jostled roughly as the plane made its way along the tarmac, taxiing toward a runway.
As the engines revved, her eyes grew wide, looking to Clark in silence before she spoke her mind without any pretense.
Lois became somber.
"I regret that I won't see Jason grow, become a man, have a family of his own." Her petrified expression and candidness was heartbreaking. "I regret not having given you a chance years ago, and realized that maybe, just maybe you are the one person who actually understands me. Not Mad Dog Lane, not the bitch in heels, just me. It does irk me a bit that I never did find out who Superman really is, although your joke in the stairwell would have been funny if our lives weren't in danger. I do appreciate your attempt at sarcasm."
Lois was a reporter he had never seen give up, but her recounting of regrets gave him every indication that she had done just that. It seemed that she accepted that they were going to die.
"Lois, about that, um…joke…"
"And I regret quitting smoking." She interjected. "At least we know it won't be the cigarettes that killed me."
Clark continued to search the dimly lit cargo hold for anything that could help them, an escape hatch to allow them to roll down the runway before the plane took off…anything.
As he looked up above for one, their bodies slammed backward into the walls of the cargo door as the plane launched itself down the runway, tipping upward. With a final lurch, they were in the air.
Awkwardly fighting the forces of gravity that pushed against the two reporters and the increasing swells of nausea when Lois's body was against his, Clark pushed them both back, away from the rear door of the plane, as he attempted to stand both Lois and himself. Despite the low ceiling, he contorted his torso to examine the pull latch to the cargo door. Not that it did them any good at this point, as they were gaining altitude with each passing second.
It was debatable how long they had before the plane reached their final cruising altitude and to the desired drop point.
"I don't think we should pull that, even if we could free our hands, Clark." Lois had caught on to what Clark was thinking. "We'll be killed for sure" she yelled over the roar of the engines and the air that whipped around them from the drafty doors.
"Right. We've got to free our hands and get that necklace off you, that way when the door opens, we can get rid of it. It's our only chance."
Lois nodded, understanding Clark's plan and with her sudden second wind, immediately began to inspect the interior of the exposed framework of the aircraft's rear for any type of hook, rough or sharp surface to aid their predicament.
"Clark, that's it!" The brightness had returned in her voice. She eyed a hook, and without hesitation, jerked herself, and Clark's arms along with her, to the metal piece over her head.
"Help me; we can get the rope loose. One of us can untie our hands and then the other's."
Easily over a foot taller than his counterpart, Clark raised both their arms over Lois's head to begin to loosen the knot and worked one of his hands free. With one hand free, he began to make quick work of releasing the other. As he was in the middle of releasing the second hand and leaving Lois's arms suspended above her, the floor of the plane shifted as the nose tipped upward, causing both reporters to begin to loose their footing on the floor. Clark turned his head quickly to notice the door of the plane was opening.
"Hurry, Clark," Lois exclaimed, as her vantage gave her a clear view of the opening hatch.
Both reporters squinted and blinked, adjusting to the sudden brilliance of sunlight that nearly blinded them as the doors opened. The roar of air rushing around them was nearly deafening.
With his freed hand, Clark yanked the necklace from Lois's neck and flung it toward the opened door. In a brief moment, it tumbled down the slanted floor and then it was gone, disappearing into the sky with a flash of green.
What Clark needed was the sunlight flooding the cabin and time. Will I have enough of it to save us both? The amount of light in the airplane was considerably more than the small amount he had been exposed to in the abandoned factory.
It was no longer a question of if he was going to show himself to Lois for everything that he was, it was when. He knew he had no choice, but at the moment, it was a trivial matter and something he'd gladly sacrifice to save both of them. It was the only way they would survive.
If their predicament wasn't so perilous, Lois would have been amazed at her partner's sudden commanding nature and fearless behavior, but she was more focused on maintaining her footing as the slant of the floor continued to increase.
As both reporters watched the necklace disappear into oblivion, Lois lost the battle with traction and felt her feet slide away, leaving her bound hands and wrists still on the hook. It was the only thing that kept her from sliding away along with the necklace.
"Clark!" she screamed in panic.
Clark moved toward her as he fought to keep his own footing. But with the challenge of keeping his feet on the floor and making is way toward her was too much. Without his superhuman speed, he moved too slowly.
Suddenly, with a tear in the already frayed rope, it released itself from the hook, leaving Lois's hands bound in front of her and falling to the floor of the plane on her stomach, Clark found himself momentarily frozen as he watched her slide away, feet first toward the open hatch.
Clark swallowed, dove onto his own stomach and slid down the floor of the plane stretching his arms out, trying to grab Lois's outstretched ones, as her feet continued to race toward the hatch opening.
Lois slid down the floor of the cabin toward the open cargo doors in a motion that seemingly felt slowed but truly just a flicker of time, rolled toward the cabin's interior metal skeleton as her arms flailed, attempting to grab anything that could hold her. Her frantic fingers latched onto a steel brace shortly before her feet lost contact with the floor and dangled perilously in the air.
Grunting while exerting all the strength that she was able to manage, Lois attempted to pull her legs and lower half of her torso back into the plane. But her fingers were slipping, and she didn't have the upper body strength to overcome the loss of her legs to assist the motion.
"Clark, I can't…" she trailed as her head looked up along the cabin's floor only to see the commonly uncoordinated man sliding headlong with his arms outstretched to reach her.
"Just hang on!" His voice boomed above the engine and wind that roared around them.
Lois felt the burn in her fingertips bleed into her forearms, then biceps and shoulders. It became unbearable and her arms began to tremble in rebellion. As the muscles failed, she cried out, observing Clark's widening eyes.
When Clark saw her hands, he knew they wouldn't remain clutching the metal much longer. Instead of defying gravity, he attempted to slide faster, on a decline along with it on the floor.
With his fingertips inches from hers, the shaking arms and hands that clung to the steel support failed.
She attempted to scream as her body began to slide while looking momentarily at the blue sky that was about to swallow her, but her voice was mute.
As Lois felt her body fall, suddenly Clark's large hands clasped her wrists in a firm lock, and abruptly ceased her decent. Her body whip-lashed in midair as Clark's long legs had barely braced the span of the open hatch of the plane. He managed to keep his lower half in the airplane by hooking his feet onto the steel ribbing near the hatch.
"I've got you." He clenched his teeth in concentration.
She blinked and looked up at the man who dangled along with her. But it wasn't Superman.
"But nobody's got you." A chill rippled down her spine as she said it. Her arms began to slip again. "Now what?" She panicked. We're so screwed.
Clark concentrated his increasing strength on keeping a firm hold of Lois's wrists, ignoring the glasses that had not only slipped down his nose, but tottered on its tip. Silently, both of them watched the glasses relinquish their hold from their perch and tumble down toward the ground below.
Lois's eyes widened as her gaze remained stationary for a moment in the direction where the glasses had disappeared, then regained what was left of her composure.
"Superman!" Despite the cracking in her voice, she yelled again. "Help, Superman!"
Her head snapped upward, toward his voice.
"Let go!" he stated.
"Do you have a parachute, or something?"
His head shook as the wind continued to throw the mop of black hair about and across his brow. "No."
"You're nuts. Forget it!" she screamed, as if he had suggested suicide in a lapse of sanity. "Superman, help!" she wailed again into the sky.
"Lois," he repeated more calmly but with authority. "Let go." The sunlight tingled, rippling across his skin.
"I can't do it."
"We've got around ten or nine thousand feet, I think."
It was ample time for them to free-fall before he caught her in mid-air. Clark didn't wait for a response, and began to assist Lois with her decision; he loosened his grip. If their captors watched them from any hidden camera, well, there was only so much time a human was capable of maintaining his nearly impossible position.
"My hands, they're slipping." Tears were visible on her genuinely terrified features. "What if Superman doesn't come?"
"I can't keep this position much longer." If I do, everyone on this airplane will know who I am. "You've got to let go, now. Lois," he added for reassurance. "It will be alright." He smiled despite their seemingly impossible situation. All of his false bravado had evaporated.
She nodded with a grave sense of finality. "Alright." Her forehead puckered.
"I just want you to know, that no matter what, I love you."
"Me too," Lois managed. She felt unable to say the words. They would surely perish if she bade him goodbye. It was better to not say such things.
She clamped her eyes shut, nodded and let go of Clark's hands.
The plane, along with Clark, who was left dangling, began to grow smaller as the rush of air flooded her ears.
Hanging from his feet, Clark waited. It seemed an aching eternity, but as he watched Lois's pallid face grow smaller with her arms still bound together, outstretched, reaching upward, he relinquished his hold of the plane and began a free fall.
The roaring wind coupled with Lois's racing heart rate was all he heard. The other sounds in the world that often flooded his ears seemed to disappear as he fell.
The man tucked his arms against his torso, straightened his legs and assumed a more aerodynamic form, allowing him to fall with less resistance. It was a comfortable position for him. The distance between Lois and Clark narrowed somewhat, but it wasn't enough. Clark's brow furrowed in concentration.
He needed to fly.
His speed increased as he became more aware of the need to shorten the gap from Lois. His arms extended in front of his body. Clark's outstretched arms were inching closer to hers; he was getting closer and at that moment, he knew.
His flight had returned.
As Lois fell, she watched Clark lose his footing and began his decent. She held her breath as she watched him tumble into the sky from the airplane. She opened her mouth to yell for Superman, but quickly shut it in surprise. Lois stared as she saw Clark tuck into a straight line and seemingly fall faster, and an odd sensation in her stomach swirled. He seemed at ease free falling through the atmosphere.
The plane had disappeared from her sight and Clark was all that remained in sharp contrast to the sapphire sky.
They were alone.
Clark seemed to have hurled himself toward her and Lois watched him quickly check their distance from the plane. What was transpiring was something she didn't believe possible. But there it was.
He was focused, intent on his task and kept eye contact with the terrified woman beneath him.
His white shirt flapped in the sunlight as it was unceremoniously ripped open and cast away; business as usual. As the layers of his clothing were peeled away and discarded in merely a flicker of time, Clark Kent disappeared.
Her heart that had been pounding loudly against her chest seemed to cease beating. Lois was unable to breathe as a tight band constricted her chest.
Before her eyes, in the sky, and in a flash of bold colors, her partner, Clark Kent immediately became Superman and rocketed to her rescue.
It all happened so quickly, in such a brief instant. But a coordinated, perhaps even elegant maneuver allowed the man of steel to spiral into a rapid dive to position himself beneath Lois. He made an arc upward from underneath to catch her frame and with ease, slowed her descent until both of them hovered, the world far below their feet.
The pair seemed suspended in a haze; an illusion. It didn't seem plausible or real. Lois felt completely void of any emotion and found herself incapable of doing anything other than to remain clutching the bright blue suit that encased the arms of whom she was so familiar.
She had been in this position an embarrassing or perhaps an envious number of occasions, depending upon one's perspective. But everything was different this time. She inspected him with fresh eyes and remained somewhat unaware her jaw hinged open.
Everything was quiet, even the air seemed still. In an instant, everything had changed.
The heartbreakingly handsome features of the man were etched in concern. He cradled her as his eyes searched hers.
"I'm sorry, Lois. I wanted to tell you everything so many times. I didn't want you to find out this way."
Her vocal cords remained paralyzed. She found herself as if a puppet master pulled strings to cause her head to bob slowly up and down as if she understood.
In all comparisons, when Lois fell from a helicopter atop the Daily Planet building and a flying man from another planet came to her rescue it felt like an outer body experience, but what had just occurred was a completely other level altogether.
"Where are we?" Lois managed quietly.
"Somewhere over Pennsylvania, I think." His brow furrowed in thought. "They probably tried to dump us before they fled for Canada." His voice was deep, but not the chest rattling timbre she had grown accustomed to when Superman spoke.
She looked over his elbow and peeked at the ground far below. From her perspective it was difficult to determine where they were, however he had probably circled the globe and easily navigated from such a distance as one read a street map.
The sun had begun to sink and the sapphire sky was melting into hues of violet to the east and threads of saffron to the west. As the energy and adrenaline left her body, so tense from nearly plummeting to her death, she shivered.
They began a slow descent, gracefully drifting down through the sky. Eventually the lights that had begun to come on across the earth beneath them became more visible.
"I'll take you home now," he softly murmured.
As they both assumed a customary and comfortable position of her frame tucked into his, they slipped through the sky toward the darker horizon in silence.
It had been a long day. To say the least, Richard was exhausted. Balancing his typical daily responsibilities while repeatedly running into brick walls as he and Chloe searched for Lois and Clark was frustrating.
As far as Jason was concerned, he didn't know how to function all that well from one day to the next. If Lois had passed away, that would have been one thing, but she was missing, and a void and an air of uncertainty hung thick in the air. Life wasn't normal.
Mealtimes and the morning routines were easy, but other than that, Richard found himself uncertain how to behave, what to say or even what to do in between.
He had confessed as much to Chloe earlier during lunch, and she had not been able to provide much advice, but her consolation was soothing. The car ride back home with Jason from school was quiet.
Jason had kept his forehead pressed against the rear window and his eyes fixed to the sky, looking, searching. Richard didn't ask, but had also surmised that he was listening for his mother's voice.
"How was school today?"
"Okay." Jason resumed his transfixed look upward toward the sky.
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Uh, huh," he mumbled.
The car pulled into their garage and they made their way through the hallway to the kitchen, where Richard began the motions of preparing something for dinner.
"I got a permission slip for you to sign." Jason retrieved a somewhat crumpled piece of paper from his backpack and placed it on the kitchen island.
"You mean, you have a permission slip."
Jason sighed, and exasperated, corrected himself. "I have a permission slip. It's for the natural history museum in downtown Metropolis."
"Oh, that should be interesting. I like the dinosaur skeletons in the great room."
"Yeah, those are neat, but they're fossils, Dad," the boy corrected, grinning.
"Right," he nodded and washed lettuce.
"We're learning about them in school." He helped himself to a glass of water, took a swallow. "Our teacher says they need parents to go."
"Do you want me to go?" Both of them danced around the topic of Jason's missing mother.
Richard read through the permission slip and attached letter requesting parents to chaperone. He looked up from the paper at his son. "Sounds like fun."
A flicker of movement caught his eye in the back yard near the water. Reflexively, Richard turned toward the window and looked on the dock. He froze, dropped the bowl that had the torn lettuce and inhaled sharply.
Jason looked up at the sound of the clatter.
"Daddy!" The small boy lost interest in the kitchen and immediately sprinted out the back door. "It's Mommy!"
Lois looked blankly at the calm waters of the bay as their feet touched upon the wooden dock, and then she turned her attention toward their shoes.
The man who wore Superman's suit was often confident, save this particular moment in time when he wasn't certain what to say. In fact, neither of them were. The sounds of the plane Lois was unable to hear won his attention as he turned his head and searched the darkening sky.
"I have to go. I've got to get to the airplane before it enters Canadian airspace."
Mute, Lois nodded. She couldn't look at him, as words escaped the woman who often had an answer and opinion about everything.
He swallowed. "I don't want to leave things this way."
Both turned in response to the back door of the house slamming shut. Their expressions brightened; relieved they had someone else to diffuse the awkwardness. They increased the distance between themselves as Jason sprinted ahead of Richard.
"It's alright, go," he urged. "I need to go anyway."
Momentarily, Lois looked back. "Thanks," she managed. "For, well," she glanced upward, "you know."
He smiled, despite the uneasiness between them, nodded in acknowledgement and began to drift up from the dock.
Superman waved to Richard and Jason as he began to ascend. "Goodnight, Lois," he added in the deep voice people associated with the hero, then shot upward and disappeared from view.
As he raced in the direction of the plane and the Canadian border, he couldn't shake the nagging feeling that another shoe had to drop.
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