October 5, 1994

"Jimmy?!"

Lois' voice sheared through the normal low roar of the newsroom like a lance. People stopped in their tracks at her outburst. Conversations died in mid-word. It became, for one surreal moment, a still-life painting before the wrath of Mad Dog Lane.

Lois was wild-eyed and disheveled, still in the work attire she'd been wearing the day before. Her voice held a crack in it. Her whole body shook and twitched occasionally, the result of no sleep and so many cups of coffee she'd lost count after the twelfth or fifteenth one. Her eyes were glassy and bloodshot, but open wide, as if she dared to blink, she'd miss some vital clue. Her feet were blistered from pacing in her high heels. She'd long since ditched the shoes and was currently in her stocking feet as she traversed the bullpen of the Daily Planet. She limped a little from the blisters, but she pushed the pain out of her mind.

Clark had been in far more pain the last time she'd seen him.

The last time. She swallowed hard. Not really the last last time. I'll see him again.

That had been thirty-six hours ago. Thirty-six long, terrifying hours. Thirty-six hours of not knowing if he was dead or alive.

Alive! her brain screamed at her, whenever she thought of that. Trask wants something. He'll keep Clark alive. Until he gets it. Until Clark denies him. Until he realizes that Clark would rather die than become his puppet.

"Lois! I'm here," Jimmy called from the elevator bank.

Lois spun around toward the sound of his voice. Around her, it was as if Jimmy's arrival somehow signaled a return to the real world. Like a movie taken off pause, the newsroom and the people within it lurched into action once more. Jimmy rushed to Lois' side, a bag of takeout swaying as he skidded to a halt next to her.

"Please, tell me you've got something for me," she pleaded.

"Shrimp Lo Mein?"

"This is no time to be eating!"

"Lois, please," Jimmy said, ushering her over to the conference room they had commandeered. "You haven't eaten anything since nine am. That's twelve hours ago."

"Thanks, Jimmy, but my addition skills are perfectly intact."

"You need to eat something."

"I can't. I'm too upset to eat."

"Lois, look. We're all worried about CK. We're all going out of our minds over what happened. But we can't accomplish anything if we pass out from hunger. Okay?"

Lois balled her fists and tried to blink away the tears that were forming in her eyes. How was it possible to still have tears? She could have sworn she'd used up her quota for the entire year in the last thirty-six hours since Clark had been taken. She didn't think she'd cried this much when her parents had split up during her childhood.

But this...this was different. This was Clark. Her partner. Her best friend. The man she loved. The man who had saved her life - not just in the Congo, but in so many small, personal ways. The man she'd begun to envision spending the rest of her life with.

Still, she allowed Jimmy to escort her to the conference room, his arm slung around her shoulder in a friendly and supportive gesture. She was too tired and too upset to fight him. Jimmy softly closed the door behind them as Lois sank into one of the chairs. She folded her arms on the tabletop and pitched forward, laying half atop the polished wood. She groaned in despair.

All I've succeeded in doing so far is making a permanent butt-print in this chair, she thought to herself.

The conference room looked like a warzone. Sheets of paper - scribbled notes, printouts, faxes, maps, pencil drawings of Trask from the police sketch artist - littered the entire room. The table was barely visible beneath the volumes of research. Empty cups of coffee completely filled the small wastebasket and had tumbled to the floor. Pens, pencils, markers, and hi-lighters were strewn throughout the room.

The nickname of "Command Central" had been well given.

And yet, half of what they had found had been about Cameron Trask, not Jason. But the information they had found about Cameron painted a vivid picture of the man who'd held Clark captive for twelve years, torturing him and attempting to brainwash him, studying him like an animal in a zoo. Lois was mildly surprised that the man hadn't tried to dissect Clark like a frog in a high school biology lab. Lois shuddered to think of Clark at the mercy of that man and it made her blood run cold to think of him at the mercy of Trask's son now.

There was little to find on Jason. Though he'd appeared to be a military man when Lois had seen him, there was no record of him ever having served. It was more likely that he'd picked up certain habits from his father. Employment records had yielded barely anything. He'd bounced around the country, it seemed, working for a few months here, a few months there. And that record ended a little more than a month before, when he'd abruptly left his job as a guard in a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. The same pattern emerged in looking at his list of addresses.

There wasn't much to go on, and Lois knew it.

"Oh, Clark," she whispered into her arms. "Where are you?"

"We'll find him," Jimmy swore, patting the back of her head. "If we have to go to hell and back, we'll find CK and bring him home."

"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois said, her voice muffled by the table.

Lois had entrusted only Jimmy and Perry with the truth of what had happened to Clark. Of course, she had left out certain things. Neither man needed to know that Clark wasn't quite what he seemed to be. They hadn't needed to know exactly why Trask Senior had kept Clark locked away in some unknown location for his entire childhood. Neither had the police. In fact, they hadn't even been all that interested in much of Clark's dealings with Cameron. They had grilled Lois on what Jason had said and done, what he had looked like, what Clark had said and done. Lois had kept it as truthful as possible, while protecting Clark's secret.

Henderson had promised to call her if they found anything, but so far, neither her work phone nor her cell had rung with any news about Clark. Her beeper was traitorously silent. Lois was growing more frustrated by the minute. Every ring of any phone sent her heart straight into her throat. Every time she realized that it wasn't for her, or wasn't Henderson, the disappointment threatened to shatter her.

Jimmy unpacked the cartons of Chinese takeout. He placed Lois' food and drink before her on the table, then set out his own, along with Perry's. A moment later, the editor came into the room. He settled himself in his customary seat and sighed. Lois peeled herself off the tabletop and looked at her boss. He seemed to have aged twenty years in the last thirty-six hours or so when Lois had burst into his office in tears and, blubbering, had told him what had happened to Clark.

With a start, Lois realized that she probably looked no better than Perry. In fact, she probably looked worse.

"Lois, honey, you look beat," Perry said gently.

"I'm fine," Lois lied. "You have any news?"

"Well, I just got off the phone with Bill Henderson," Perry hedged.

Lois' drooping eyes snapped open. "Does he have anything yet?"

Perry shook his head. "Not a damned thing. Uh, not yet, that is. I'm sure he'll find something soon."

"We're spinning our wheels," Lois complained, opening her food container. She picked at the Shrimp Lo Mein with a disinterested pair of chopsticks. "That nutcase has had Clark for a day and a half. He could have taken him anywhere by now. He might not even be in the country anymore for all we know."

She popped a shrimp into her mouth and chewed, more through force of habit than anything else. She really wasn't hungry. Not even chocolate, her favorite food in the entire world, could have possibly been appetizing to her.

"I doubt it," Perry said, shaking his graying head again. "Clark won't go quietly and if I were Trask, I wouldn't exactly want to be in public with someone making a fuss. Especially since Clark is a well-recognized person in Metropolis, thanks to all those Daily Planet Lane and Kent posters on almost every street corner. The word is out. Every news outlet - television, radio, and paper - has gotten the word out about Clark's kidnapping."

"Maybe. But, what if he...he..." Lois couldn't finish.

"He won't," Perry tried to assure her. "It seems like he wants something from Clark. He won't just...you know."

"Oh, Perry, you didn't see how much pain Clark was in. His fear." Lois shook her head. "And you know Clark. He's not going to give in to whatever wacko demands Trask makes. When he doesn't...I'm just...terrified. I can't lose him, Chief. I won't lose him."

Perry couldn't say anything. He only nodded. The three ate in silence for a few minutes, Lois picking at her food like a bird. Jimmy had gone to her favorite takeout place, but this time Lois barely even tasted it.

No, not my favorite place, she thought. Just my favorite takeout in Metropolis. That place in China that Clark usually goes to for our takeout is so much better. Oh, Clark. Where are you? Please, be okay. I'll die myself before I lose you. I just need...something...some clue to go on. I'll bring down the entire army down on Trask's head if I need to. Just hang in there, Clark.

"Lois? Honey?" Perry was gazing intently at her.

With a start, she realized that he'd called to her more than once already. She swallowed a bite of rice. "Sorry, Chief. What did you say?"

"I said, have you had any luck in getting contact with Clark's parents?"

Lois shook her head. "None. I've tried just about every half hour. No one is picking up. I think Trask was telling the truth when he threatened Clark with killing his parents. I'd hoped it was just a bluff, that I would have some time to warn them. But I'm starting to think he really does have them."

"You're sure about that? They can't just be out of town or something?"

"I'm sure, Chief. Clark would have told me if his parents were taking a trip or something. And besides, one of their hired farmhands they use when they're out of town probably would have picked up the phone. Trask has to have them. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"Have you told Henderson your suspicions?"

"Of course I have."

"Good."

"Ugh, I can't eat this," Lois complained, shoving the paper boxes of Chinese food away from her and toward the center of the table. She'd eaten less than half of the contents. Even that was enough to do somersaults in her stomach and make her feel ill.

"Lois, perhaps you ought to go home for a while. Get some rest."

"I can't, Perry," she argued.

"Now now, it's not up for debate."

"Perry..."

"That's an order," Perry said gently but firmly, cutting her off before she could retort. "You won't do Clark any good if you're too tired to see straight."

"But, Perry, I can't. How am I supposed to sit still and rest when God only knows what Clark is going through?"

"Look, I know you pride yourself on your 'Mad Dog Lane' side. But you've got to give your body a break. You've barely eaten and you haven't slept at all since before Clark disappeared. You're going to crash out," Perry said. "I'm amazed you're still standing, to be honest."

"I'll drive her home, Chief," Jimmy offered, swallowing down the last gulp of his soda.

Perry nodded. "Good. I'd better not see either one of you until tomorrow. Got it?"

"Got it," Lois grumpily mumbled.

She stood from her chair, pushing it back. With a sigh, she left the conference room, swept over to her desk, and slipped into her light jacket. Jimmy scrambled along behind her, trying to keep up. Lois felt slightly guilty about making Jimmy race to keep stride with her. But she felt even worse about leaving behind her research. Perry would never allow her to take it home with her, she knew. If she did, she would never sleep. Not that she anticipated being able to sleep with her fears for Clark and his parents keeping her company.

With a scowl affixed to her face, Lois walked with Jimmy to the elevator bank, rode the car down to the ground floor, and exited out through the lobby. A lump formed in her throat as they passed the newsstand there. That was where she had first started to come to know Clark, though they had met briefly prior to that conversation. She swallowed hard, trying to loosen the lump enough to be able to breathe.

Jimmy saw what a struggle it was for Lois to pass by that spot, knowing their history. He once again slung his arm about her, pulling her close, in what he hoped was a comforting manner.

"It'll be all right," he whispered to her.

Lois nodded feebly, unable to speak. She hoped Jimmy was right. She wanted to agree with him. But at the moment, she couldn't quite believe that it was true.

They drove in silence to Lois' apartment. Lois sank deeply into the supple leather seat of Jimmy's car. Once at Lois', Jimmy parked out front, then walked Lois up the steps, into the brownstone, and to her apartment door.

"Are you going to be all right?" Jimmy asked. "I mean, here, alone?"

Lois nodded. "I'll be fine."

"Because, if you need me..."

Lois managed a weak smile. "Thanks, Jimmy. But all I want right now is a shower and some time to think."

"Okay. No problem. But, like I said, if you need anything, call me, no matter what time it is. I can be here in twenty minutes."

"Thanks. I will. I'll see you in the morning."

"Right. Bye, Lois."

Lois watched Jimmy retreat down the corridor until he vanished down the steps to the main floor. Then she closed the door, locked the numerous bolts and locks, set the alarm, and headed off to her bedroom. Keeping herself moving so that she barely had any time to dwell on her dark thoughts, she stripped out of her work attire and headed into the shower.

The hot water was soothing on her tired body and she momentarily felt a twinge of remorse and guilt over that. There she was, enjoying the basic luxury of a simple shower when Clark was being held captive. She angrily scrubbed down her body, shampooed and conditioned her hair, and rinsed. Hot beads of water rolled down her face and it took her a minute to realize that they were tears, not shower water. She wiped them away with the back of one hand and scrubbed her face free of the salt her tears had left behind.

She toweled off quickly and threw on her favorite fluffy bathrobe. She tossed herself onto her bed, finally feeling the full extent of her weariness. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, but all she saw behind her eyelids was Clark, writhing on the floor of that condemned warehouse, in pain as Trask stood above him. Her eyes snapped open again. She reached for the silver picture frame she kept on her nightstand, with her favorite picture of her and Clark together. It had been taken on their first date together, as the sun had set over Centennial Park and they had waited for the outdoor theatre group to begin their performance. Lois couldn't help but smile at the image of Clark.

In it, she was sitting before him on their picnic blanket, her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms around them. Clark was on his knees behind her, his arms wrapped around her, holding her close to his chest. She had a blissful smile on her face. Clark's grin was wide as an ocean and more radiant than the sun. Even in that still image, she could see the familiar sparkle in his eyes and the depths of his love for her.

He looked so vibrant, so healthy, so full of life, so happy there, frozen in time like that.

That was the image of him that she wanted to keep in her mind. She had to.

Hours later, she finally fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep, hugging the picture frame to her chest, as though it alone could ward off any nightmares.

October 10, 1994

"Are you ready to cooperate, yet?"

"Never, Trask," Clark said through gritted teeth.

"Wrong answer," Trask said, kicking Clark in the gut.

Clark muffled the moan of pain that escaped him. How long had it been now? he wondered. Days, certainly, since Trask had first entered that warehouse and turned Clark's world upside down in a single instant. Maybe a week. Could it be that long already? Either way, it felt like a lifetime.

"Ashton, please lock this creature back in his cell now."

The man in question - Rob Ashton - saluted Trask. "Yes, sir."

Clark couldn't muster any fight in him. He was too weak, too wracked by pain, too short-winded from the kick to his midsection. Ashton and Nunez hooked him beneath his armpits and dragged him down the hall. He was unceremoniously tossed into the small room that served as his cell. The door clanged shut behind him and he heard the lock slammed home.

Alone.

He was finally alone.

Clark breathed a small sigh of relief to finally be by himself, wincing in pain as he did so. For the past hour, perhaps, Trask had tormented him. He had made demands of Clark, things Clark would never - could never - bring himself to do. Among them was the command for him to fly out to a retirement village in San Diego, where a judge now resided, the same one who had delivered the guilty sentence to Cameron so many years ago at his court martial. The poor old man was now wheelchair bound, blind, and so arthritic that he could barely move on his own, but Jason still craved justice for his father.

Clark had refused.

He would never be allowed to fly there alone. He would never be free from Trask or his minions. There would be no chance for escape. Trask had shown him the bullets he'd formed out of Kryptonite. Clark had no doubt that whoever would be sent with him to kill the judge would put one of those bullets right through his head if he tried to escape.

Cameron had paraded Jonathan and Martha before Clark, threatening to take their lives if Clark didn't change his mind. Still, Clark hadn't been able bring himself to agree to do it. Trask had ordered Jonathan beaten, right in front of Clark's eyes. That had nearly broken Clark's resolve. As a child, on the very day his adoption had gone through, he'd pledged to himself that he would be the perfect son, and to always protect his parents, no matter what the personal cost. And yet, Jonathan had held Clark's eyes with a fierce, determined gaze, one that told Clark not to give in. With an effort, Clark had kept his mouth closed.

Of course, Kryptonite had been around while Trask had done all of this. Although Clark had tried to fight back, the radioactive stone had rendered him more helpless than a newborn child. And the pain had all but paralyzed him. Shame burned him that he hadn't been able to do something - anything - to stop the abuse his father had been taking.

Not soon enough, Trask had raised his hand in a silent gesture for the beating to stop. Jonathan had been doubled over, coughing, and wheezing. Clark had nearly cried as he looked upon the man he proudly called his father. Martha had been white as a sheet, her mouth hanging open, though it seemed her tongue had been rendered mute. Clark's heart had bled for his mother, knowing that she was hurting for her husband and son alike.

But now, Clark was finally away from the deadly green stone. His parents were, for the moment, still alive. If he had to guess, he'd say that Trask planned on keeping them alive for the time being. They were the one thing, the only leverage, that the man had over Clark. He wouldn't kill them. At least, not right away. Trask would want them alive for as long as possible in order to try and control Clark.

Still too weak to stand, Clark crawled his way across the tiny room until he was at the far wall. With an effort, he propped himself up, still feeling the lingering effects of the exposure to the Kryptonite. He leaned heavily on the unadorned concrete of the room, thinking, not for the first time, that it reminded him of the time he'd taken shelter in his parents' storm cellar when Cameron had come looking for him so many Christmases ago. Clark breathed as deeply as he dared, his bruised ribs and sore diaphragm aching in protest.

He looked around the room, as he always did, examining it for any clue as to where he was or how he could escape. Like the rest of the complex, the walls were made of concrete. In this room, the walls were rough and not quite finished. Only one wall had been smoothed down and in three spots swatches of different shades of beige had been haphazardly splashed on the surface, as though someone had once tried to decide which one to use. The ceiling, easily twenty-five feet tall, had exposed wires running to the single naked light bulb that hung in the center of the room. There was nothing else in the room, not a chair or bench to sit on, not a sign or scrawled message to give him any indication of where he was.

But, more importantly, there were no windows.

No windows meant no sunlight.

No sunlight meant that Clark's powers had never returned after his initial exposure to the Kryptonite.

No powers meant no hope of escape. No hope of rescuing his parents. No hope of bringing Trask to justice. No hope of getting back to Lois.

Lois.

The image of her floated in his mind, momentarily blocking everything else out. Trask hadn't gotten to Lois. She wasn't his prisoner. If she was, Clark was certain that Jason would have held her life over his head as well. He was sure that she too would have been brought before him, along with his parents. But she hadn't been. She had to be safe.

And if she was safe, she would be looking for him. Clark knew her too well. He knew she'd leave no stone unturned until she found him. She was Lois Lane. She was Mad Dog Lane. She always got what she was looking for.

But this time...

Would Lois be able to pull off a miracle? Would she be able to find him before he and his parents were hurt any further...or killed? Did he even want her to do so? She would be exposing herself to real danger if she found and confronted Trask. There was little doubt in Clark's mind that a confrontation would wind up getting Lois killed. And he simply would not - could not - continue living in a world without Lois.

She was his rock, his center, his soul mate. She grounded him. She gave him a home. With her, for the first time in his life, he didn't feel like the alien outsider that he'd always been.

He needed her, as much as he needed air to breathe and sunlight to recharge his body.

Oh, Lois, he thought miserably, I need you. But please, be safe.

October 11, 1994

"Good to see you," Trask said, smiling thinly at the man before him. "It's been too long."

"More than a decade," the man agreed, nodding.

"You must be wondering why I've contacted you after all this time."

The other man nodded again. "The question had crossed my mind."

"Come, come. Have a seat in my office."

Trask gestured around the lavish living space. It looked more like a living room in an apartment than an office. He settled himself on a black leather couch while the other man hesitantly took a seat in a matching armchair. The man shifted a little uneasily.

"Pardon my asking, sir, but..."

"Why are you here? Yes, yes, of course. You see, I need a favor from you."

"A favor?"

Trask chuckled. "Okay, you caught me. It's more like a job opening that I want you to fill."

"A job? Is this anything like what your father...?"

"Indeed. In fact, it's the exact same thing."

"Are you telling me...?"

"Yes, Jenson. We've found and recaptured codename Specimen S."

"That's...how?" Jenson breathed, shocked.

"Never you mind," Trask said sharply. Then softer, he added, "Are you interested or not?"

"Absolutely," Jenson said, without hesitation.

"Good. Because Bureau Thirty-Nine is a lifetime commitment. I would have hated to bring you all the way here just to give you your...severance package."

"Is he here? In this facility?"

Trask nodded. "But I'm afraid that, for the time being, I have others for you to see to."

"Not S?"

"No."

"Who?"

"Two human traitors who sheltered the alien creature after he escaped from my father's compound all those years ago."

"So...you want me to...what, exactly?"

"Monitor them. Make sure that they don't die on me."

"Don't die? Sir?"

"You heard me, Jenson. I need them kept alive, as a way to control S. Understood?"

Jenson nodded. Jason had the same ruthlessness in his voice that Cameron had possessed. It seemed that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree. He also knew that if that was the case, then Jason probably wouldn't hesitate to kill him if Jenson displeased him. Jenson swallowed hard and nodded.

"Of course, sir."

"Any more questions?"

Jenson shook his head slightly. "None."

"Excellent. Now, get to work. You'll find the human traitors just down the hall, the last door on your right. The guards have been given your description and will let you in."

"I, uh, need to get some medical supplies," Jenson protested before he could stop himself.

But Trask shook his head. "No need. We have just about anything you could need right here. Food. Water. Medical supplies of just about every type. Ashton here will give you the grand tour of our humble new compound. Now, go. And Jenson?"

"Yes, sir?"

"If they die, you die."

"Not to worry," Jenson said, putting on an air of bravado. "They won't."

"Good."

Jenson stood and faced the man called Ashton. If the man was thirty-five years old, that was a lot. He stood just to the right of the door, in the military at-ease stance, dressed in army fatigues. Jenson wondered if he was actually a military man, or if, like Trask, he was play-acting at one. Still, he didn't say a single word. He merely followed Ashton as the man began his tour of the underground facility.

What have I gotten myself into? he wondered.