“Perry, are you sure you’re all right?” Loueen’s voice bordered on frantic. “I saw the Planet globe come down on the news…”
“Honey, I’m fine,” he soothed. A few feet away, Ella’s cell phone rang, and she scowled at the number as she answered it. “We’re all safe, everyone in the building got out. Superman showed up and caught the globe – the Olsen boy got some pictures of it. Great ones, I’m even in ‘em.”
“As long as you’re okay,” Loueen fretted.
“It’ll take more than an earthquake to retire this editor,” Perry promised her. Just as he was about to offer yet more assurances, he saw Ella’s eyes grow wide, heard her gasp. “Elinore, what’s wrong?” Perry barked, thinking, If that’s Luthor, I’ll strangle him myself.
Hazel eyes, blank with shock, snapped back to focus. “It’s Jason,” she said, and Perry realized it wasn’t horror that paled her skin – it was wonder. “He’s … he’s with Superman. The twins are okay. He wants us to meet them at Centennial Park. Perry, the twins are all right!”
That news, so unexpected and so desperately wished for, surprised Perry so much that he closed his phone without even hearing Loueen’s frustrated sigh. “I knew you were with Ella Lane!”
Richard pushed the throttle forward as far as it would go. “Lois, we’re almost there. Luthor could be anywhere – I wouldn’t see him in these clouds. It doesn’t make sense to turn back now…”
“Dammit, Richard, I don’t care what happens to me!” Lois’ voice exploded into the headphones, Lana wincing slightly at her vehemence. “Go get the twins. If Luthor wants to kill me, fine, I don’t care as long as Jason and Kala are safe!”
“Some of us have some slight objections to you being murdered!” Richard roared back at her.
“And the twins are probably first in that line,” Lana cut in hurriedly. She’d finished sending an update and a warning to Superman via Clark’s cell phone, and she didn’t want to hear this particular argument played out over the radio waves. “Lois, Superman’s after them – Luthor might not even have made it to the island with them. We didn’t see the helicopter there.”
“I am so not in the mood to have sense talked into me,” Lois growled. “Fine, you just get here quick…”
They heard a man’s voice say something in the background; it sounded strangely like a warning. Then a crash, and Lois’ voice again, “Oh fu–” before the radio cut off.
“Lois?!” Richard said sharply. He turned up the volume and adjusted the radio dial slightly. “Lois? If you can hear this, Lois, come in. Lois, please, answer me…”
Lois was in the act of growling at Richard for being so sensible when she heard Grant call out, “Boss!”
The door smashed open almost in the same instant, and Lois muttered a curse at the very last person she wanted to see. Luthor slammed the door back and charged her, not even giving her a second’s pause in which to raise the baton. If not for the wall beside her, Lois would’ve been tackled to the ground.
That didn’t mean she was defenseless. The infamous Lane elbow swung up and into Luthor’s chest, aiming for that cracked rib. Lois snarled at him furiously, “Bastard! How dare you hurt my kids!” She cocked the other arm back, ready to sock him one.
Lex was trying to pin her arms against her sides, and he used all of his weight to slam her against the wall before she could hit him again. He didn’t waste his breath talking; Grant was tied up, Riley was out of commission, and he’d sent Kitty and Stanford off on other errands. Lex knew perfectly well that the woman he was scuffling with was more than a good-looking reporter; her father had been a general, and had trained her in combat skills.
Living in Metropolis had further honed Lois’ proficiency in self-defense. Lex was trying to stay close, minimizing her chances to get momentum behind any of her blows. So instead of swinging at him, Lois stomped down, the heel of her boot striking his instep.
“Bitch,” Lex hissed, and grabbed her hair again. That freed her to punch him, but he used the hold to swing her head against the wall. Lois turned her head slightly, seeing stars for a moment but not losing consciousness as he’d hoped. Writhing in his grip, Lois kicked his shin and clawed for his face. How many more times can I get hit in the head before I have an aneurysm or something? The thought floating across Lois’ mind eerily echoed her rough flight on the inaugural Genesis launch.
She broke away slightly, trying to get around him and get at the baton. Lex, panting with exertion, grabbed for her again, snaking an arm around her neck. Lois was brought up short, struggling to break his grip. Chokehold … the sonofabitch is going to strangle me, Lois thought desperately, her nails raking Lex’s forearm as he started applying pressure. She tried the stomping trick again, but he was wise to it now, avoiding the heels of her boots.
The edges of Lois’ vision started to darken. Lex kept tightening his hold on her neck, the pressure cutting off circulation and air. Lois gasped, trying with every ounce of her strength to pry his arm away from her throat. My God, he’s really going to kill me … I’m really going to die like this. I don’t know where the twins are, I don’t know where Kal-El is, I don’t even know if they’re alive… After all this time, I’m going to die without even knowing…
Tortured breath, her lungs on fire, sight dimming, and still Lex held on like a bulldog, his harsh breathing loud in her ears. Other than to curse her once, he had not said a word to her from the moment the attack began, and that was perhaps most terrifying of all. To die without even knowing precisely why she was being murdered – without some kind of justification, no matter how warped, for Luthor’s sudden violence.
Lois began to fade, her oxygen-starved muscles going limp. Thank God I told Kal-El about the twins … thank God I told him I love him. If I have to die, he’ll keep them safe if he’s still alive… That thought seemed to be her final one, wavering on the edge of consciousness, her vision completely dark now except for a narrow point of light.
Feeling her struggles grow weaker, Lex murmured against her ear, “Hush now, Lois. When you wake up all of this will be over with … for good.”
Those ominous words pierced through the core of her soul, but then Luthor did the unforgivable. Gently, almost affectionately, he kissed the back of her neck.
Rage fueled a last burst of adrenaline, and Lois arched her whole body into one last clawing strike at Luthor’s face. She had the satisfaction of feeling his skin tear under her nails before darkness finally claimed her.
The streets of Metropolis were crowded, people milling about frantically. Perry, Jimmy, and Ella managed to make their way to the edge of Centennial Park, only a few blocks from the Daily Planet building. There they waited, letting the crowds flow around them, until a familiar blue and red shape in the sky above occasioned cheers from everyone who could see him.
“Superman!” “It’s Superman!” “Hey, Superman, over here!” The mass of people surged toward him as he descended, almost knocking Ella off her feet.
“Be careful,” Superman said sternly. “Give me some room to land, please.” The crowd backed off enough for him to set Jason and Kala down, and both of them charged their Nana, hugging Ella until she thought she’d see stars. “They’re going to be fine,” Superman said.
“Thank you,” Perry told him, Jimmy hanging back to snap a picture of the Chief and the hero.
“You’re welcome,” came the cordial response, along with a friendly nod to the photographer. Those amazing blue eyes turned serious again as he spoke to Ella. “Take care of them, Mrs. Lane. I’m going back for your daughter.”
“Wait,” Ella said. Something about his tone bothered her. The kids didn’t like it either, both turning to look at him. Kala even scowled.
“You’re gonna come back, right?” Jason asked worriedly.
Superman looked at his children with a sigh. He’d meant to sidestep Ella’s questioning voice, but the looks on the twins’ faces halted him. They know. They know I might not come back this time. “Jason, Kala, I’ll be right back with your mom, okay?” If there’s any way on earth I can survive this, I’ll come back. They were dear to me even before I knew they were mine.
He looked up, meeting Ella’s hazel eyes, the sharply interrogative look in them so very familiar. “Bring her home to me,” she said softly.
“I will, ma’am,” he replied. If it kills me to do it, I’m not leaving Lois in Luthor’s clutches. With that thought, he rocketed upward.
Kitty hurried alongside Stanford, holding her purse by her side. Tala was twisting around angrily inside the oversized bag, but at least she was close by and out of Lex’s sight. No telling what he’d do to her… or to Kitty herself.
Both were bound for Lex’s study, rushing to complete the tasks he’d assigned them in the few minutes before Lois’ fiancé caught up to the yacht. Stanford made it through the door first – running in heels slowed Kitty down – and he went directly to the large steel locked case. Only he and Lex had the combination, and he spun it open before Kitty could even see what the numbers were.
Stanford took out a small plastic package, then closed the case quickly and handed it to Kitty. She glimpsed an instant of pity in his eyes, but the scientist wouldn’t help her. He was too frightened of Lex – not quite as scared as Kitty herself, who had tasted Luthor’s violence more fully than the men. His eyes… She shivered as she took the case, and turned to hurry out again.
The latch clicked slightly as she turned just outside the door, and Kitty had to stop suddenly to keep the case from falling open. Stanford didn’t see her; he was busy with his own errand. An idea, terrible and wondrous, began to take shape in Kitty’s mind. Unlike Lex, who loved his elaborate, multistage plans, Kitty tended to think on her feet. It took her only seconds to decide what to do, and begin doing it.
Holding the case very carefully, to keep it from coming open or latching fully, Kitty rushed to her own room. No time to close the door, even – if Lex caught her at this, she’d be dead whether he had to break it down first or not. Kitty set the case on her bed and opened it. She quickly plucked the Kryptonian crystals out of the foam that cradled them, hiding them under her pillow. Forcing her alarm clock inside, she hefted the case to make sure the weight was about right, then latched it firmly shut.
No going back now. It’s done. Katherine, for once in your life, you’re being heroic. So why the hell are you scared out of your mind? That was an easy answer – when Lex figured out what she’d done, he would probably kill her. Forget ‘probably’. But he’d have to catch her first, and if she could get herself and Tala away from him, so much the better. The life she’d been raised to – a con woman, a grifter like her mother – was no peach, but it was better than this. I can forgive a lot, but what he did today… never.
At the last second before she bolted out the door, inspiration struck. Kitty grabbed a handful of her jewelry and carried it with her as she raced back to the main deck.
Stanford had been almost as quick in his work as she was, and he didn’t even look at her askance as they rushed up the stairs. He’d been keeping his head down lately, refusing to make eye contact with anyone, and some distant part of Kitty’s mind pitied him for making the same mistake she had – getting in way over his head. Most of her was shivering in terror of discovery, trying not to let any indication of her treachery show.
The sight that greeted her and Stanford silenced those thoughts. Lex had carried the unconscious reporter to the helicopter, and through the open door they could see her head lolling back as he buckled her in. Her hands were cuffed in front of her, and from the rumpled look of her hair and clothes – not to mention the blood dripping down the side of Lex’s face – subduing her had been particularly difficult.
What made Kitty’s flesh creep was the way Lex looked at Lois. His expression had frightened her months ago, when she’d seen him watching Lois on television. Now that he had her helpless, though, the avid gleam in his eyes renewed Kitty’s determination to get away from him at any cost.
Stanford, beside her, shuddered a little. He had seen such looks before, in the eyes of fellow geologists who had found their first vein of gold, or plucked their first diamond from the earth. A kind of fever that mere possession could never satisfy – such men would level a mountain and leave a barren wasteland behind them in pursuit of riches.
Things were not looking good for Lois, and neither Kitty nor Stanford made a sound, not wanting to disturb Luthor when he was so absorbed. After a moment in which he stared silently at his prize, Lex stepped forward and bent over her. The top two buttons of her blouse had come undone in the scuffle, and he was almost tender as he re-buttoned them.
“Mr. Luthor,” Stanford said quietly, and the boss’ head snapped up. “Here you are, sir.” He held out the speed-loader that Riley had taken from Lois when she boarded the yacht. The simple plastic and aluminum device held six .357 cartridges in exactly the same spacing as the Ladysmith’s cylinder, which made reloading the revolver much faster.
Lex took it and inspected the rounds Stanford had doctored. “Excellent. Thank you, Stanford. Kitty?”
She held out the locked case, trying not to shiver. “Here’s your rocks. Can you put my jewelry in with them, Lex? I don’t have any more room in my purse.”
Luthor had touched the latch as soon as he took the case from her, but at her wheedling question he left it locked. Snatching the fistful of gold and gemstones from her hand, Lex flung the jewelry over the railing. “I said bring nothing, Kitty! We don’t have time – you’ll have plenty of trinkets later. Get belted in.”
He ignored her completely as she scurried past, handing the case to Stanford. “Secure this and start the helicopter. I have a little unfinished business before we leave.”
“Yes, sir,” Stanford said, then hesitated minutely. “He’ll be after us.”
“I know that,” Lex snapped. “I saw him moving on the alpha-wave tracker. Somehow he survived the island – but we’re not beaten yet. Be ready to take off in five minutes.”
The scientist hurried to obey, and Lex rushed down the stairs in search of Riley. He’d actually had the audacity to take over the aquatic gallery, and Lex found him trussed like a turkey on the floor. The three cameras set strategically around the room confirmed Lex’s suspicions, and he set about destroying them first.
Then it was time to deal with his employee’s unsatisfactory job performance. “Riley, you disappoint me,” Lex said silkily as he approached the prone man.
“Boss, be careful,” Riley urged. “Ms. Lane got loose…”
“You mean you set her free,” Lex replied, standing over him.
“No, boss, she—Ow!” Riley yelped as Lex kicked him in the side.
“You were trying to play with her, weren’t you?” Lex questioned, and the very softness of his voice bespoke danger. “She was going to star in one of your pathetic little films. Only this time, instead of a frightened college girl or an unlucky housewife, you picked General Lane’s daughter. Your mistake, Riley, and it cost me.”
Riley looked up at him, finally seeing the blood on his cheek. “Boss, I’m sorry…”
“You are,” Lex mused. “Riley, Riley, Riley. You poor little lust-crazed fool. I suppose I brought this on myself, didn’t I, by not allowing you to satisfy your… creative urges… in Nevada, hmm? How could I expect you to resist a woman as delightfully tempting as Ms. Lane? After all, she hardly looks dangerous – she’s petite and pretty, not the sort you’d expect to fight back.”
Riley was nodding frantically. “Yeah, yeah – it’s been rough, you know, Nevada, nothing much to do there, no women in the place… I hadta have something, some kind of entertainment… It’d been so long…”
“So it was all my fault, then?” Lex asked.
In spite of his mounting terror, Riley recognized the danger. “No, no, boss, no, it was me – I shoulda left her alone, I shoulda listened to y—Ow! Ow, that hurts!”
“Yes, you should have listened to me,” he snarled, kicking Riley repeatedly just below the ribs. “You should have followed orders – all I asked was that you do as you’re told, and you couldn’t even accomplish that! Six years I planned this, and you almost ruin it in a few minutes just to sate your pitiful lust!”
He suddenly stopped, breathing heavily, and forced himself to calm down as Riley whimpered in terror and pain. “Be glad you didn’t succeed, Riley,” Lex finally said, his tone almost casual. Riley’s eyes rolled up to meet his gaze. “If you’d actually touched my prize, I’d have to spend weeks planning an appropriately painful death. Lucky for you, Lois was more than capable of defending herself against an incompetent buffoon like yourself.”
Riley coughed blood and rolled onto his side, panting. “So you’re … you’re not gonna kill me?”
Lex smiled cruelly. “I won’t waste time plotting a torturous end for you. A pity, really – if I was creative enough, do you think the fans of your little movies would buy the film of your demise?”
High in the air, Kal-El took out his cell phone. Surprising that it had remained intact this long – lucky, too, since it had enabled him to get in touch with Mrs. Lane. Got to write the manufacturer a letter of recommendation. But sign it Clark Kent, not Superman. A hero can’t do product placements…
Jason had said that it beeped while he was talking to Ella, and sure enough, the screen was showing text messages. Kal-El quickly scrolled through them, chuckling wryly at the most recent. ‘Island made of kryptonite – be careful.’ I wish I’d known that half an hour ago, he thought resignedly. The rest of the message was more hopeful – Lois was still on the Gertrude, and Richard had sent him the coordinates.
Kal-El took off in that direction, his far-seeing eyes scanning for the yacht. The wound in his side still burned painfully when he exerted himself, but there was nothing he could do for it now. Hold on, Lois, he thought, the fervency of his hope making it almost a prayer. Just hold on, I’m coming. No matter what happens to me, I won’t leave you to him.
Lex hopped into the helicopter just as Stanford finished the preflight. “Move it,” he snarled, and Stanford rushed into the air. He headed straight up at first, disappearing into the heavy cloud cover. Then the geologist forced the throttle all the way forward, and sent the helicopter scything away southward.
Stanford asked, “South out of range, and then inland? We’ll wind up refueling somewhere like Charleston.”
“Fine,” Lex said. The rear of the helicopter had two bench seats across from each other, and he sat down across from Lois. Kitty squeezed herself as far to one side as she could, wanting nothing to do with the avid gleam in Lex’s eyes.
Lois’ head still lolled back, and she slumped bonelessly against the seat belt. Lex grinned cruelly as he flicked open the cylinder of her Ladysmith, shook out the cartridges, and replaced them with the altered rounds from the speed loader. Clicking it shut, he leaned forward and took hold of the short chain that linked her cuffed wrists. “I don’t think you’re sleeping, Lois,” he purred.
No response from Lois, and he considered that she might actually be unconscious still. But her pulse beat steadily in her throat – ah, such a lovely neck. Lex watched her carefully as he crossed his feet at the ankles and slid them between Lois’ feet – no chance for her to kick him in the groin now, which she would surely try at some point.
Lex glanced at the alpha wave tracker beside him. Superman had just left the Metropolis area and was moving quickly toward them. Not good – hopefully his improvised plan would halt the caped wonder once and for all. Until then…
Tapping the cold barrel of the revolver against Lois’ cheek, Lex said, “Playing possum won’t help you now, Lois. You’re mine – once and for all.”
“Fat fucking chance,” Lois snarled. Hazel eyes shot open, and Lois tried to kick, catching him painfully on the shin.
Lex smiled broadly even as he winced, and yanked on her handcuffs, pulling her closer and pressing the revolver hard against her throat. “None of that, now. I don’t want to have to hurt you too much yet – have patience, my dear. We’ll have plenty of time later.”
Lois sneered in disgust and outrage. “God, you’re worse than that twit Riley,” she spat. “I’d sooner slit my throat with my own fingernail than touch you.”
“I’ll do the touching, thank you,” Lex chuckled. “I don’t trust you with your hands free. One scar is enough to remember you by.”
Growling in frustrated fury, Lois reared back away from the pressure on her throat. “In your dreams, Lex,” she muttered. “You just want me because I’m a trophy. Well, fine. Go ahead, rape me. But you’ll never have what he had from me. That’s one thing you can never possess, much less taint.”
Lex pulled steadily on the handcuffs, forcing Lois closer to him. He casually kicked her feet further apart and leaned toward her, his knee now brushing hers. Lois couldn’t fight the belt that held her in the seat, nor the constant pressure on her arms, but she could tip her head back. Lex merely chuckled and slid the gun up behind her ear, pressing the muzzle hard against that sensitive point until Lois was forced to tilt her face toward him. Thus violating her personal space, his breath mingled with hers as he spoke. “Oh, we’ll see about that, Lois my dear,” Lex purred, so close that she could feel the air disturbed by his words. “You haven’t made the extensive study of pharmacology and hypnosis that I have. Let me assure you, there are ways.” His voice lowered, and Lois’ lips curled back like an angry dog’s as he added, “Though I’d love to have your compliance and your hatred, for my safety I may have to settle for less.”
He could almost have kissed her with those words, and for a moment it seemed as if he would. Stanford was ignoring them, concentrating on flying the helicopter, and Kitty was trying to block out what she was hearing, curled protectively around her purse and Tala within.
Lois was not yet beaten, swallowing back bile, she darted her head forward, teeth snapping. If Lex wanted to kiss her, fine – he’d lose a healthy chunk of flesh for the privilege. He jerked back, narrowly missing the bite, and laughed delightedly. “I’ll see one of us dead first,” Lois promised with a snarl.
“Such spirit,” Lex said genially, a mad possessive gleam in his eyes. “Oh, Lois, it would almost be worth dying to finally break you.”
“Good,” Kitty hissed. “Too bad she didn’t tear your throat out just then.”
The laughter died in Lex’s throat, and he cut Kitty a venomous glare. She didn’t turn away like she had before; something new and fierce had come into her eyes, and Lex distrusted it. She’s outlived her usefulness, he thought, then turned back to Lois with an apologetic smile. “You’ll have to forgive Katherine,” he said gently. “She’s a little upset with me at the moment. I’m afraid I committed one of those unpardonable relationship sins earlier; I said the wrong name at a… delicate moment.”
Richard was leaning forward, peering through the windshield for the yacht. They were very close to the last set of coordinates…
His phone chirped in Lana’s hand, and she looked at the little screen. A perplexed frown stole over her pretty face at the message, which was simply Look left. She did so, and quickly tapped Richard’s shoulder, pointing.
The pilot turned, and his startled expression matched Lana’s. Superman was right outside the window, keeping pace with the plane, and gave them both a little wave. He was carrying Clark’s cell phone, and quickly typed out a message one-handed, his fingers blurring with super-speed.
Lana read over the headphones, “Twins are safe with Mrs. Lane & Mr. White. Yacht ahead; no heartbeats on board. Am checking it. Will meet you there.”
A lot of information to process quickly. “Thank God the twins are okay – thank God he’s okay,” Richard sighed, shooting him a thumb’s-up. He impulsively snapped off a salute, and Superman grinned and saluted back. Then the hero took off in a blur of speed that left Richard’s flight-loving soul aching in envy.
As the seaplane corrected course slightly behind him, Kal-El heard Lana’s voice saying, “Wow… That was really him…”
And Richard’s reply, a little exasperated, “Oh, so now you’re a fangirl too? What is it with every woman in my life falling all over him?”
“Who said I was in your life, Mr. White?”
“Who said you weren’t?”
Kal-El just shook his head, chuckling. Oh, dear. I really ought to be upset on Lois’ behalf, but they’re just too amusing. And I badly need the levity. He winced slightly at the throbbing in his side – would it never stop? – and angled down toward the yacht. His vision revealed at least two lead-lined rooms which would need to be investigated…
While they were making their way to Centennial Park to meet Superman, Perry had managed to get hold of Lieutenant Sawyer. With all of the turmoil in the city, including continuing aftershocks from the earthquake, even off-duty Special Crimes Unit officers were doing whatever they could to help. Maggie managed to carve out a few minutes to escort the Lane twins to Metropolis General Hospital. Jason and Kala seemed pretty much okay, except that they were less interested in riding in the police car with its flashing lights than Maggie would’ve expected. She stole glances at them in the rearview mirror, sitting on either side of Lois’ mother and holding her hands tightly.
“Other than exhaustion, they seem all right,” Sawyer murmured to Perry, who rode up front beside her.
He nodded, adding, “Awful quiet though.”
“I want Mommy and Daddy,” Kala piped up, right on cue, and her brother seconded the plaintive wish. Fortunately, the adults all assumed they meant Richard – if asked, the twins would’ve clarified that they wanted both daddies.
“It’s okay, kids,” Maggie soothed. “First we have to get you to the hospital so the doctors can make sure you’re okay.”
“Nooooo,” they whined in unison. “I don’t wanna shot,” Kala added, sniffling.
“I want Ignatius,” Jason added petulantly, provoking a snort of tired laughter from the adults.
“Hush,” Ella said. “We just have to make sure you’re okay, then you can go home. Probably no shots.”
The twins looked at each other across Ella’s lap, both scowling slightly. They were old enough to know that ‘probably’ didn’t mean ‘for sure’, but they both felt good after their sunbath. Except for being tired and cranky, but that was Luthor’s fault for messing up their schedules and ruining their sleep.
“Godzilla should squish Luthor,” Jason opined.
“Splat,” Kala said emphatically. “Let’s tell Superman he should make friends with Godzilla next time.”
Richard and Lana had just come into view of the yacht when a red and blue blur soared toward them. Richard banked the plane slightly, circling above the Gertrude, and Lana checked his cell phone. The message appeared in seconds, and she read it aloud: “Lois not on board. I hear the helicopter heading south. Alert Coast Guard and follow me.”
Lana looked up, meeting his amazingly blue eyes through the glass windshield. Superman looked … worried? “What’s wrong?” Richard asked rhetorically, seeing the same expression on the hero’s face.
The cell phone chirped again. They had both forgotten that Superman could hear them with perfect clarity in spite of the noisy engines and the wind speed. “Luthor has kryptonite. I may need your help,” Lana read, then forced herself to swallow on a suddenly dry throat.
“Our help?” Richard said, his voice suddenly small. “Holy…”
Lana nodded, biting her lip. If Superman needed their help, the situation was truly dire. “Anything we can do,” she said.
“Anything,” Richard affirmed. “Let me radio the Coast Guard, and we’ll be right there.”
This time it was Superman who saluted first, and Lana had the awful sense of something final about the gesture. Then he was gone, heading with determination and speed for his most bitter foe … and the woman he loved enough to risk his very life for her.
“Poor Clark,” Lana sighed. Richard glanced at her, but only nodded. The hero’s love was obvious to both of them. What possible chance did an ordinary guy like Clark Kent- their friend – father of the twins or no – have against the feelings between Lois and the superhero?
“Lower,” Lex said tautly, staring at the alpha wave tracker, and Stanford brought the helicopter even closer to the waves. Lois was still holding herself tense against Lex’s grip on the cuffs, waiting for an opportunity to strike. She had spent the past few minutes listening to Lex’s plans for her, and his low hypnotic voice had chilled her blood. It was all she could do to keep an expression of cold fury on her face and suppress her rising gorge; her razor-tongued wit had deserted her in the face of Lex’s diabolical designs. The fact that he had been stroking her cheek with the front sight of her own damned gun didn’t help.
Lois was also torn between praying for rescue – for her future, if Lex had his way, was nothing less than hell on earth – and praying for Kal-El to stay safely away. Regardless of her prayers, he was coming. Words from the recent past echoed in her mind. Superman would never deliberately abandon Lois Lane. Especially not now.
She bit her lip to stifle a sob, but couldn’t help the tear that trickled from the corner of one eye. Kal-El, please know what you’re doing – please be careful. If I have to die so you and the twins can live, then so be it. But I couldn’t live knowing you were gone.
Lex smiled at that tear and Lois’ throat working. He ran the sight of the Ladysmith gently over her cheek again, almost a caress of cold steel. “It’s almost over,” he murmured softly.
The alpha wave tracker beeped loudly, and Lex swung his attention back to it. “Stanford, bring us as low as you can and hover,” he commanded, then unbuckled his seat belt. He reached across and did the same for Lois, hauling her to her feet by one arm and turning her toward the helicopter’s door. The Ladysmith was now pressed firmly against its owner’s throat, Lex growling, “Try anything – speak one word – and the last thing he’ll see is your brain splashed across the roof.”
Lois swallowed, not trusting herself to nod. She might have one chance, but it would be slim and desperate. Still, she had to hope for that chance, or there was nothing left to hope for. The General’s daughter steeled herself to be ready for any action as Lex pushed the helicopter’s door open.
The rotors whipped up cold spray from the ocean’s surface, close enough that the salt water stung Lois’ eyes. Lex forced her forward, and Lois braced her elbow against the door and leaned out, into the roar of the blades above and the sea below. Luthor stood securely behind her, the gun steady as death, as he gripped the back of her belt and pushed her even further out.
For the first time since falling out of another helicopter so many years ago, Lois knew true terror. The spaceplane had been more disbelief and grief than anything else – this was an all too familiar fear, the drop yawning below her and her feet sliding on the wet floor.
And here came a familiar savior, his suit vivid against the gray sky. Lois’ felt palpable relief wash over her at the sight of him, a naïve reaction considering all she knew of Lex but one she couldn’t deny. Kal-El slowed as he neared the helicopter, seeing Lois’ precarious position. “It’s over, Luthor,” he called, voice strong against the sound of the helicopter. “Give Lois to me.”
“Come and get her,” Lex challenged, giving her another slight push to make her lean even further into peril. “Of course, she’ll be of no use to you dead. Agree to my terms or I’ll put one of her own bullets into her skull.”
Lois snarled wordlessly at Lex, her vision reddening in rage. How dare he use her to bait Superman! His softly-spoken threats were terrible, but this was far worse torture than anything he’d promised her. He surely planned to somehow use her to kill Superman – just as Jor-El had predicted so long ago.
Kal-El drifted closer warily. It was hard to negotiate when both parties had to bellow to hear themselves. “What are your terms, then, Luthor?”
Lois cut him a pleading look, heartbroken hazel eyes meeting his stern blue ones. Just go, she thought. Leave me and go on, take care of my babies – those are my terms. You can’t always save me; let me die so you and the twins can live. Please…
“I just want one small favor from you,” Lex said.
“What is that? I’m in no mood for games.” Kal-El had closed the distance to only ten yards, and his voice was now close to his normal speaking tone.
“What?” Lex called loudly. “I can’t hear you over the rotors!”
Closer still, twenty feet away, every instinct of Lois shrilling at him to stay back. “I said I’m in no mood for your games!” Kal-El called. The look on Lois’ face burned him worse than the shard had; he would give anything, even his life, to erase her terror. “What do you want me to do?”
Lois felt Lex tense, and he abruptly swung the gun away from her neck, aiming it at Superman. What the hell is he thinking? The thought flashed across her mind, and then she finally caught a glimpse of her gun as it moved. The hollowpoint bullets had been doctored somehow; something green protruded from the point of each…
Kryptonite! “Kal-El, GO!” she screamed, but Lex was already pulling the trigger. The last son of Krypton had never feared bullets; had stood patiently and let one bounce off his eyeball only a few months ago. He saw the cluster of minute kryptonite fragments one second too late, and the bullet smashed into his chest. The deadly crystal penetrated his flesh with all the velocity of Lois’ prized .357 magnum rounds.
“Now fly,” Lex said as the hero tumbled from the air with a shocked expression on his face. Before Luthor could pull the trigger a second time, Lois pistoned her cuffed wrists forward, then back, her elbow catching him in the ribs. Luck finally decided to smile on her, and she struck the same rib she had cracked earlier. Lex released his hold on her with a pained yelp.
Only one place to go. Kal-El struck the waves hard and went under almost instantly. Ignoring the height and her handcuffs, Lois dove after him without a second’s hesitation.
I won't let him touch you
I love you
Needless to say
I'll stand in your way
I will defend you
I'll take the shot for you
I'll be the shield for you
~Rasmus, The Shot