Disclaimer: Throughout this story, I have borrowed rather shamelessly from the show, taking snippets of dialogue, scenes, or character moments from a lot of different episodes. No copyright infringement is intended-it's not stealing, just admiring!
There are twenty-three chapters total. Don't worry-they're all written, and I'll be posting them probably every other day or three a week depending on how busy RL gets.
Thanks for reading-and please review! :)
A foul stench that threatened to choke me.
A low thrumming sound that exacerbated the pain eating away at me.
A sickly sweet taste that sat on my tongue like poison.
My five senses were working—they just weren't working together. I tried to move, to sit up, to look around me, but bindings on my wrists and the cramped space of the trunk I was in prohibited the actions. I was blindfolded too, I decided after a moment, not that there would likely be anything pleasant for me to see. Now that consciousness had been returned to me in all its tormented glory, I could remember what had happened.
They had jumped me just after I exited the Daily Planet building late at night. I hadn't even made it to my Jeep before they had surrounded me, placing the tainted cloth over my mouth and nose. That would explain the headache currently pounding a tempo worthy of any marching band behind my eyes. It would also explain the stench and taste that were working to overwhelm me and send me back to the darkness I had just barely emerged from.
Only when the vehicle I had been tossed into pulled to a stop did I realize that we had been moving. I shook my head, trying hard to snap myself into full awareness. If I was going to be facing…whoever had kidnapped me this time…I would need all my wits about me.
Because no one would be swooping in to rescue me.
Hastily, I shoved the thought—and its accompanying, brightly colored memories—away. There was no time for it now. I needed to focus.
When the lid of the trunk popped up, I was immediately grabbed by at least one man, perhaps two, and roughly yanked up by my arms. I bit back my cry of pain and concentrated on standing upright so they wouldn't see any need to repeat the process.
"Careful with her!" growled a deep voice from near the front of the vehicle. "The Boss said she wasn't to be hurt."
I decided it was far past time for me to pretend I was still Mad Dog Lane. "Who is the Boss?" I demanded loudly. "Why have you taken me? Where are we?"
They were good questions, questions any reporter worth their word processor and press pass would ask, but I wasn't really expecting them to answer. In my experience—and believe me, I've had a bit—villains don't normally tell you who they are or where you are after they've gone to all the trouble of blindfolding you.
"The Boss is the one who calls the shots," the same voice told me helpfully, now a lot closer to me. "We picked you up because he told us to. And as to where you are…why don't we show you?"
Well, this guy was certainly a lot more accommodating than most kidnappers I'd met. Not that the unusual mood lasted all that long. I was jerked forward to the sound of a heavy door being pulled open—the hinges squeakily protesting the movement—and then pushed from behind.
"Hope you enjoy the room," snarled a different man—presumably the one who seemed to think my shoulders were as easily disconnected and reattached as a Barbie's.
Surprisingly, I felt something pull at the ropes around my wrists, and then my hands were free. Before I could take advantage of my new mobility, the door slammed shut with sickening finality.
It's interesting how darkness has varying shades. For instance, locked in the trunk of a car with a blindfold tied around my eyes, I had known it was dark. Yet the minute they shoved me into this cell—even without sight, I had no illusions about where they had put me—I knew the difference between that darkness and the absolute blackness that now enveloped me.
For an instant, I stayed frozen where I was, afraid to move lest I fall off a ledge or stumble into a vat of boiling acid. Trust me, in my line of work, those options weren't too improbable. A twisting snarl of fear was tangled in the pit of my stomach—and not just because no one would even think to be looking for me until noon or later the next day. No, I was paralyzed with the same fear that had been gnawing at me for the past two months.
And I was sick of it.
I hated being weak, feeling vulnerable…missing him. I hated working alone. I hated being so isolated that no one knew where I was.
I hated him for leaving me to work without a partner.
Since when had I needed a partner? I asked myself caustically.
Enraged beyond all rational thought at that realization, I tore the blindfold off my eyes—not that it helped me see anything—and beat at the door. "Let me out!" I shouted. "Why are you doing this? What do you want? Who are you working for?"
A rustling sound from behind alerted me to the fact that I hadn't been locked up alone.
I whirled to put the door at my back, squinting futilely into the shadows of the cell. It was impossible to see anything, but I had the feeling the cell wasn't very big, much smaller than the bedroom in my apartment, maybe no wider than the distance between my desk and Cl—the desk across from mine.
"I could tell you…but I doubt you'd believe me."
All thought temporarily abandoned me, and it wasn't because of fear. Or not the same kind of fear anyway.
That voice…I knew it. I recognized it instantly. I had been hearing it in my head for the last two months, and before that, I had had the privilege of hearing it for real, speaking new words and phrases and thoughts only he, alive and vibrant and strong, could formulate.
After he had left, he used to call to talk to me, usually only for five or ten minutes because that's all I'd allow. They had been stilted conversations, made awkward by my anger and his…I'm not sure what his emotions were. I never really took the time to ask.
I had preferred the postcards coming from all different corners of the world. They had always boasted a note that tied back to something he knew about me, subtle reminders of the unique partnership that had been ours for such a short period of time. And though I hated the notes for those reminders and the feelings they stirred up within me, I also savored them because I could take them out and touch them and look at them. They were tangible while the phone calls had been transient and elusive, always leaving me feeling as if I had lost another chance.
But both the phone calls and the postcards had eventually dwindled away and stopped. I hadn't heard from him in a month—four weeks, one day, and fourteen hours…well, fourteen hours since I had left the Daily Planet. I wasn't sure how much time had passed while I was unconscious.
Still, I thought in outrage, those little moments of communication were supposed to have come to a halt because we had drifted apart or because he had met someone else to make perfect cups of coffee for and guide to her destination with a gentle hand on her back and listen to her ramble about whatever tangent she liked and back her wild schemes even when he didn't want to and…
It wasn't supposed to be because he was locked in a dark cell, kidnapped by dangerous men.
It wasn't supposed to be because I hadn't even thought to make sure he was all right.
It was impossible. I refused to believe it.
But it was his voice.
"Who?" I finally asked, my voice ragged and hoarse. I wasn't even sure what I was asking, or why I asked it. Though I didn't care to admit it, I think I just wanted to hear his voice again.
That was not at all what I had been expecting.
I blinked. "Luthor what?"
The faint chuckle brought light to the cell. I know that sounds stupid and cliché and impossible, but it's true. His smile had always warmed my heart, and now it did the same for this black cell. A little bit of my past self, shriveled and cold and buried for a while now, actually stirred and brightened.
"You asked who had you kidnapped. I said it's Luthor."
"You think Lex is the Boss?" I asked, then winced to hear the skeptical note in my own voice.
"I said you wouldn't believe me." There was not even a hint of smugness in that I-told-you-so, and while it might have been because we were both locked in a cell with no quick hope of escape, I was certain it was really because he had never known how to gloat. Not once when my hunches had been wrong or my lead had been flawed or my sources had lied had he ever said "I told you so." Not once when his hunches had been right and his lead had played out and his sources had come through for us had he ever said "I told you so." In fact, I was pretty much convinced that he had never learned those words.
"What are you doing here?" I held my breath as soon as the haughty question was uttered.
"The same thing as you, I expect," he replied, and I almost broke down and cried right then to hear that familiar teasing note in the voice I had so missed. The postcards had been silent and the phone calls had been too rushed or stilted to produce the warm, jesting tone I had so longed to hear.
But Lois Lane did not cry, at least not in front of partners who had lied to her and then deserted her.
"I meant," I enunciated clearly, as if irritated with him, "why did the Boss want you kidnapped? If Lex really is the Boss, I know why I'm here, but what have you done to make him mad?"
"You've made Luthor mad?" The concern evident in that distinctive voice did make a tear slide down my cheek, but he didn't have to know that—sometimes, a bit of darkness came in handy. He was the one who had left; he didn't need to know that I had missed feeling as cherished as I did whenever he fussed over me.
"I've been investigating him," I said with exaggerated casualness.
There was stunned silence. It continued so long that I had to say something, anything, just so he would speak to me again and prove this wasn't all a delusion brought on by stress and exhaustion and grief.
"For the past month, I've been following some leads that might tie Lex to the underworld leader. There was a pheromone compound that made people go bonkers with love, and it was funded by Lex Labs. Even though it was only released on a couple secretaries and a fencing instructor in Lex Tower before the police managed to nab the culprit, it made me start thinking about how many crimes can be tied to Lex in some way or another. But I first thought of it because of the Nuclear—" I cut myself off abruptly. I wasn't ready to talk about that, especially not to him.
"Do you remember the Smart kids?" he asked after a moment.
I frowned. "Yes. That's when you first mentioned your suspicion of Lex."
"Why are you calling him Lex?" There was a tinge of irritation in his voice, and I bit back a smile. Odd, I couldn't help but think. For the past two months, I hadn't smiled at all, and I hadn't dared start weeping. Now, only moments after coming face to face—or, well, nearly enough—with him, I had done both.
"What am I supposed to call him?" I retorted.
"Why don't you call him the Boss?" he snapped back.
"I don't have proof yet," I stated defiantly. "Weren't you always the one who said we shouldn't decide anything until we had proof?"
"I have proof."
The quiet claim turned me mute. I pushed my hands against the door behind me, soaking in the chill of its surface to counter the warmth he offered me, vaguely realizing that I was still holding the blindfold in my right hand.
"Luthor blew up that building to test Superman right after his debut," he continued. "He forced those two suicide jumpers to take their leaps. He was the one behind the cyborg boxers. He was in league with Toni Taylor and used her Toasters to buy up the land he wanted. He funded, authorized, and was directly involved in the Mentamide 5 experiments on innocent children. He killed Commander Laderman, Samuel Platt, Antoinette Baines, Dr. Carlton, Max Menken, Thaddeus Roarke, and Congressman Harrington, and those are just a few of the skeletons in his closet."
"And you have proof of all this?" I asked suspiciously. I don't know why. I had been investigating Luthor myself; I was certain his hands weren't nearly as clean as he pretended they were. In fact, just this morning I had told Perry I thought Luthor was working with the Boss. So I really wasn't sure why I pretended I didn't believe it now.
Actually, I did know. I didn't want him to think he could just slide right in and write the story I had been working on for almost four weeks. He wasn't my partner anymore. He had given up that right. I didn't need him or his proof.
"I have eye-witnesses," he said quietly, and for the first time, I registered how weak his voice sounded. At first, I had been too overwhelmed at hearing it again to notice. Now, I could tell that though the voice was everything I had remembered it to be, it was also exhausted and…pained.
Before I even realized what I was doing, I had taken two steps away from the door and moved toward where his voice had been emanating from. Two steps more, feeling him at my feet, and I knelt beside him. I hesitated briefly before reaching out…and then I touched him. No matter how I fought to restrain it, I couldn't stop my sharp intake of air.
For the first time in two months—two months, four days, and some unknown number of hours—I was touching Clark Kent. What had once been an everyday occurrence had now become a luxury beyond words that stunned me with its power to strengthen the hidden me that had been buried very deeply beneath my bitterness and loneliness.
He gasped too, but I didn't think it was in surprise or pleasure. An instant later, when my hands informed me that he was lying slumped against the corner of the cell—he, the perfect gentleman, who had risen to his feet any time I entered a room or neared his desk—I knew his gasp had to be more of pain than anything else.
"What's wrong with you?" I asked. All suspicion and skepticism had vanished from my tone, leaving horror and fear in their place.
"I don't feel well," he said reluctantly.
"Don't feel well?" I repeated, my hands falling into my lap as if burned. "What do you mean you 'don't feel well?'"
"I…don't really know how to explain it. I feel…weak. And disoriented. And ordi—" He stopped and swallowed audibly.
"Clark…" It was the first time I had allowed myself to say his name, and I had to pause and savor the feel of it in my mouth. "How long have you been here?"
"I don't know."
I choked back an aggravated sigh. "Has it been hours? Days? Weeks?"
"Days," he answered, then wavered. "Or…maybe weeks. I'm not really sure."
"You're not sure?" I wished I could stop repeating everything he said, but there was a cold lump choking me and weighing heavily in my stomach. A lump that made me blink rapidly and swallow back sobs. I hadn't spoken to him in a month—a very long month. "How can you not be sure? How often do they feed you?"
"Uh…well, they d—uh, not very often."
"What's wrong with you?" I held my breath as I waited for his answer. My tentative probing hadn't found any blood, but that didn't mean he wasn't injured. And if it really had been weeks, I wasn't sure how much longer he could go without visiting a hospital. How long did it take to die of malnutrition anyway?
"Uh…they keep…dosing…me with…something. Something bad."
"Dosing you?" There I went again, repeating him. But how was I supposed to make any sense out of his answers? He wasn't telling me anything! "Something to make you talk?"
Or, I thought suddenly, something to make him compliant? Something to keep him weak and disoriented and unsure—and completely unlike the sharp, intelligent man who had not only been partnered with me but had actually kept up with me? The idea that this drug might actually be rewriting his personality made me almost mindless with panic, so I ignored it.
"Are they trying to find out who your witnesses are?" I asked. "Clark, what do they want from you?"
"I don't know!"
I stilled. I had never heard Clark sound so…defeated. Even when he had told me goodbye and walked away from me, he hadn't sounded so worn and tired and despairing. In fact, I hadn't even been aware Clark knew what despairing meant.
"He just comes and…taunts me. He gloats. And he…doses me with the…stuff. He never asks me anything. He never tells me anything. He just…he just keeps me here. He says it's…"
"What does he say?" I whispered, not sure I really wanted to hear the answer. Or think too hard about who the "he" was. I had dated Luthor a couple times, after all, before he had dumped me in favor of his fox-like personal assistant. I had liked him, or at least felt drawn to him. Just how bad was my luck with men anyway?
"Never mind. It doesn't matter."
My breath caught in my throat when I felt his hand reach out and cover mine, so solid, so warm, so…there.
My emotions had gone through some pretty violent fluctuations concerning Clark Kent. At first, I had been too busy trying to save Superman to really spare too much thought to my partner's absence. Then, when Superman had left Metropolis as well, I had figured that the superhero's absence would cut so much more deeply, and it was, after all, more prominent. But as I had faced day after day of that empty desk taunting me and the work I had to do on my own without Clark's teasing remarks and cheerful countenance and small touches, I had been startled to realize that I missed him.
Lois Lane missed Clark Kent.
Instantly, I had been furious. How dare he leave me alone? He was the one who was all for the partners idea, so why had he abandoned me? How could he side with Superman over me?
Gradually, as the phone calls grew more awkward due to my sharp replies and cold shoulder, I had realized that I wasn't angry so much as I was hurt. I couldn't understand why he had felt the need to abandon me. Sure, Metropolis had treated its resident superhero badly. Sure, we shouldn't have tossed Superman out just because of a bit of unseasonable heat. But couldn't Clark have stayed with me? Couldn't he have gotten past his hurt and offense on Superman's behalf and stayed…for my sake?
When apathy, anger, and hurt had all passed, I had finally settled on confusion. Clark had always confused me when he was present; why should his absence be any different? I didn't know why he had left so suddenly, or why he had lied about his reasons for leaving, or even why he had started traveling the world again instead of becoming the editor of the small town paper as he had said he would. Above all, I didn't know why I felt as if he had taken the important parts of me when he left, packing them up along with his belongings in that box he had carried as he walked away from me.
All I had known was that I missed him. And I wanted him back.
And now, unexpectedly, completely out of the blue, he was right beside me. It was almost more than I could comprehend after the day I had had.
"Lois," he murmured, and the last of my composure fled, shattered by the sound of that beloved—well, appreciated was probably a better word—voice saying my name in just the sweet, intense way he always said it. "I missed you."
"Oh, Clark," I stammered. "I…I missed you too."
He opened his arms, and I fell into them, leaning against the broad chest I had leaned against so many times before and feeling the spasmodic shudders that shook his frame. But no matter how much he trembled or how weak he was, I knew he could hold me together in his freely offered embrace—knew it because he had done it for me before.
And despite our time apart and whatever had been done to him during his time in this cell, he didn't fail me now.