Fear of Discovery III: Coming Home


Rating: PG-13

Submitted November 2000

Summary: Continuing this author's excellent series, Alt-Clark thinks he's found Lois at last. Only she's calling herself Wanda Detroit, singing in a sleazy nightclub … and dating Lex Luthor!

Feedback: Private/public comments of any description are welcome. No editing.

Author's Note

This story is a continuation of Fear of Discovery II: Nowhere to Hide. Knowledge of that story will probably enhance your understanding of this story, but hopefully isn't essential. All you need to know is that it's set in the Alternative Universe.

My thanks, as always, go to my beta-reader, Wendy Richards, who cheerled me through many, many months of painfully slow writing. This, and its predecessor, would never have been written if it hadn't been for her encouragement and excellent editing, proof-reading, plot-vetting and idea-generating skills. She even re-edited the story for the fanfic archive, incredibly quickly and with a very keen eye, considering how many times she'd already seen it. Wendy: you're a star :).

Mention should also be made of Helene, who came late to beta-reading duty, but who gave very valuable insights and extremely witty comments which frequently put a huge grin on my face.


Previously on Fear of Discovery II:

The 'Other' Metropolis

A few nights later, Clark was patrolling around the Hob's Bay area when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a brawl taking place in one of the many seedy night-clubs in the district. When he arrived on the scene, he found that almost all the occupants were caught up in the fight, the bar staff having retreated behind the counter and pulled up a protective grille. After a few abortive attempts to pull pairs of fighters apart — they merely engaged with someone else close by — in exasperation he began picking up participants one at a time and dumping them a couple of streets away in a random pattern. Most protested vehemently at such cavalier treatment, but his answer was the same to all:

"You're only a couple of streets away, in that direction. Maybe by the time you've walked back, you'll have cooled off. Just don't think you can start up the fight again wherever you go: I'll hear you, even if I don't see you."

As he plucked fighters away, he reflected that maybe he should be delivering them to the nearest police precinct, but there were so many of them, and a quick consultation with a couple of the staff told him that no-one was entirely sure who the original perpetrators were.

When things began to quieten down a little, he noticed there was still music playing in the background. Nice voice, he thought, as he pulled a particularly violent pair apart and dumped them within sight of a precinct office, just in case. Returning to the club again, he glanced at the billboard outside…awful name — sounds like someone from a bad romance novel. A hefty guy came reeling towards him, and he just managed to catch him before he crashed to the ground. This is almost comical, he mused. The whole room is fighting with each other, and that singer is plugging on doggedly with her set — does she really think anyone is listening? Curious to see who this crazy woman was, he glanced up at the stage — and his jaw dropped a mile.

"I've got a crush on you," she sang in a sexy voice, holding one elegantly-clad arm out towards her oblivious audience.

That wasn't Wanda Detroit at all — that was Lois Lane!

Now read on…


He froze, staring at the woman of his dreams, the woman he was going to love, the woman he had given up hope of ever finding. She was here, right here in the same room as him, and she was even more beautiful than her counterpart in the other universe, more stunning in person than any picture could possibly convey. His heart was thumping as he watched her singing, obviously a professional to her fingertips in the way she carried herself on the stage, the way she sold the song to the non-existent audience. He had to get rid of these people and talk to her-

Reality intruded in the form of a solid punch to his jaw from the heavy man he was still holding on to. Taken completely by surprise, his head swung round with the impact, sending him off-balance and unable to hang on to the guy anymore.

"Hey! I punched Superman!" yelled the triumphant escapee to no-one in particular, pushing his chest out and gesticulating proudly.

Two iron-like hands grabbed his upper arms from behind. "Yes, and it was a very bad mistake," said a stern voice in his ear, and then he was being hoisted up into the air and unceremoniously dumped in the street. "If I were you, I wouldn't try it again," said the voice.

Clark hurried back to the club, now completely empty of clientele. She was just finishing her song, and he stood in rapt attention while she sang the last line and then struck a seductive pose during the last few bars of the accompaniment.

As soon as the music ended, her body-language changed abruptly from seductress to tigress as she glared down at him with both hands on her hips.

"Well, thank you very much!" she said sarcastically.

"Uh, that's OK, Miss…Ms Detroit. Are you all right? C-can I do anything for you…I could see you home, if you like? Some of those ruffians-"

"-were my audience, and you just threw them all out! I just lost a night's pay because of you, so no, I think you've just about done enough for me tonight." She yanked off her enormous clip-earrings and turned to go backstage.

A single slow hand-clap from the back of the room stopped her. "Brava, my dear, brava! A performance up to your usual standards of excellence and professionalism."

She turned to face the owner of the suave, measured voice. "Lex. How nice to see you."

Clark eyed the man emerging from the shadows at the back of the room. Lex? Was this Lex Luthor, of LL Industries? Whoever he was, he certainly exuded the confidence of a man used to command and power, and he obviously liked to spend his money on the good things in life, judging by the expensively-cut dinner suit he was wearing.

"And Mr Kent," continued Luthor, turning to Clark. "A pleasure to meet you at last. I see reports of your physical strength were not exaggerated — may I compliment you on your attire?" Luthor flicked his eyes over Clark's tall, brightly-coloured form. "Most…eye-catching," he finished sardonically.

"Superman. My name is Superman." Something about this man already had Clark's hackles rising on the back on his neck.

"My apologies, *Superman*. I didn't realise the name mattered, since we all know you're really Clark Kent." Luthor was now close enough to proffer his hand to Clark. "Luthor. Lex Luthor. You may have heard of me — I run a small construction company."

"Oh, I've heard of you." Clark shook the cool, firm hand, squeezing with just enough pressure to transmit the strength he commanded. "I've already rescued the victims of one of your less successful ventures."

"If I warned the gas company at Gable Heights once, I warned them a thousand times, but they didn't listen," replied Luthor, shaking his head regretfully. "A tragic disaster — yet so avoidable. It's a criminal offence, in my opinion, to use new, untested designs on a project such as that."

"Such as that?"

"A poor neighbourhood, where no-one will have the resources to make an official complaint. Criminal, I tell you, criminal."

"Yes, criminal," agreed Clark, eyeing Luthor with hard eyes.

"Fortunately, I was able to house all the victims in one of my rental properties nearby."

At vastly inflated rates, no doubt, thought Clark.

"Very good of you, I'm sure."

"Lex always takes care of the victims, don't you, Lex?"

Lois — Wanda? — had descended the stage steps and was walking up to them. Clark's heart started doing its loud thumping in his ear again…he had to talk to her alone, he just had to.

"Ms Detroit, I enjoyed your singing very much. Have you been working here long?" he blurted out.

"All my life — at least, the parts I remember," she added caustically. "But I guess you wouldn't understand what it means to be alone with only a bottle of whisky for comfort, would you, Superman?"

Maybe not with the whisky, but I could write a whole book on loneliness, thought Clark.

"Wanda, my dear, you know that's all behind you now." Luthor turned back to Clark.

"Wanda had a small health problem, but I'm glad to say she made a full recovery. I'm so proud of her."

"I'm sorry to hear-"

"Forget it, Superman. As Lex says, that's all in the past." She turned her back on them and walked towards the backstage exit.

"Ms Detroit! Are you sure you're all-"

"Don't you have another fight to break up somewhere?" she shot over her shoulder. "Somewhere preferably not here?"


"I think that's your cue to leave, Mr Kent." Clark dragged his gaze back from the door Wanda had disappeared through to stare firmly at Luthor. "*Superman*. I'm so sorry, I must try to remember to match the name with the costume. So rude of me."

"Perhaps you'll get it right next time we meet."

Luthor smiled pleasantly. "I'll look forward to it."

Clark took off in a blur of red and blue.


Wanda sat at her dressing-room mirror, cleaning off the thick make-up she wore for the bright lights on stage. She attacked her face with irritated swipes, throwing the soiled cotton-wool pads with forceful aim into the trashcan beside her. That overgrown boy scout! What did he think he was doing, chucking out her audience like that? The fight had been about as threatening as a ladies' knitting circle arguing about the best recipe to use for cookies — except that the knitting circle had the added risk of women yielding knitting needles as dangerous weapons. Didn't he realise there was a fight like that every night of the week at the Ace O' Clubs? The audience didn't think they'd had a good time unless they'd punched at least one other person in the room.

A soft knock on her door interrupted her internal diatribe. This better not be the boy scout back again to ask if she was OK.

"Oh, it's you."

She abandoned the open door and sat back down at her dressing table to finish her face. Two strong hands landed on her shoulders from behind.

"You were so good tonight, my love. Thank you for singing my favourite number again."

"Yeah, it's always a crowd-pleaser." She got up to start peeling herself out of the tight-fitting sheath-dress she was wearing, but before she could reach back to undo her zip, his hands gripped her hips from behind and his head came around to nuzzle in the nape of her neck.

She twisted out of his way. "Not now, Lex."

His hands regained her hips and started slow circling motions around them. "Come on, Wanda, you know how much you want it." His lips caressed her neck again while one hand came around to clutch clumsily at her.

Oh…to feel his hands on her body, to know that he wanted her so much…to know that at this single point in time, she was the one in possession of the power…but no! She didn't want this, didn't need this.

"Leave it out, Lex. I'm tired." She moved away from him again, but he renewed his caressing more insistently and intensely. She wrestled with her feelings — it was comforting and flattering to receive his attentions, but she knew what she'd feel like afterwards.

Maybe this time would be different…

But no, ten minutes later her optimism was dashed, as it always was. She heard him walk over into the tiny bathroom and flush the evidence of their intercourse down the toilet while she rearranged her clothes. Out of the corner of her eye she caught her own reflection in the rusty full-length mirror on the back of her door…she turned away. She didn't want to see herself right now.

He came back into the room, not a hair out of place: he could have been preparing to attend a company cocktail function. His arm came around her shoulders and his lips slanted across hers briefly. "You see, my dear? I always know what you want."

She pulled out of his grasp. "Do you, Lex? Or is it what you want?"

"What we both want, surely, my sweet?" He crossed to the door and opened it.

"Alas, I have to leave you now, but I'll see you tomorrow?"

"I'm always here, Lex."


Clark lay sprawled full-length on his sofa, cursing his own stupidity and weakness. How could he have been so pathetic as to just give up because she rejected him and fly away with his tail between his legs? He should have stood his ground and insisted on learning as much as he could about her. What if she wasn't there the next time he went over? What would he do then? He'd been searching for this woman for half his life, and now when he'd finally found her, he ran away! - if that really was Lois he had just met, he reminded himself. He had no evidence that he was right about that, other than her appearance…but he just knew, he just knew that she was Lois. He only had to find out why she was working under a pseudonym as a singer in a nightclub, hanging on the arm of Lex Luthor…that had been the worst part, finding out that she was involved with that man. Already, Clark hated him intensely. Not just for his arrogant, supercilious manner, but for the other thing…

Flying away from the club, Clark had suddenly decided he was making a big mistake — he couldn't let her go now, not just when he'd found her at last. He'd reversed course, and had dropped down in front of the stage door. Prising the door open with his fingers, he'd wandered around the gloomy backstage area, trying to work out which door led to her dressing room, until a noise had made him stop in front of a battered black door with 'Slinky Susan' scrawled on a small card. Maybe this was hers — he didn't think there was anyone else on the bill for the club tonight. He was about to knock on the door when he heard it:

"Mmmm…oh, Wanda, what you do to me…" It was Luthor's voice, undoubtedly.

Moments later, he heard her gasp loudly, and then his voice again: "Oh, God, I'm so hot for you!"

He listened for a moment in ugly fascination to the pants and gasps coming from behind the door, and then suddenly he was stumbling through the corridors, pushing through doors, fumbling with the stage-door handle, and then at last he was out into the cold night air, gasping for breath and feeling sick to his stomach. He launched himself straight up into the air and flew home in a mindless blur, away from the horrible, disgusting truth about Lois' relationship with Luthor.


Wanda turned her face up into the meagre stream of water coming down from the showerhead, closed her eyes and tried to let the water wash away the memories of her encounter with Lex. Her hands moved slowly around her body, hugging herself and then tracing the contour of her waist and hips, bringing one hand up to cup her breast and lift it away from her body. She had a pretty good body, a nice flat stomach…she smoothed over it with the palm of her hand…why did she let herself give it to that piece of garbage? Sure, he was attractive, he had power and money, but she could do better, couldn't she, with a body like this? That voice in her head, reminding her of her real worth, the fact that she was damaged goods, fit only for a corrupt businessman on the way to the top of his evil, muck-ridden career.

Not that she knew he was like that when she first met him. As he so frequently reminded her, he was the one who rescued her from herself, picked her up from nothing and built her up, found her a job, got her a place to live. At least she wasn't living in that claustrophobic apartment of his anymore, she reflected, although that was probably just because it wasn't good for his image these days to have a woman like her living with him. Anyway, at the time, he had seemed kind: anxious to grant her a living space of her own, concerned for her and interested in her. He took her out, gave her money, made her laugh, made her forget her troubles. He was witty and charming, and he always came every night to hear her sing and clap the loudest of them all, even when she forgot her words and had to make up the verses. In fact, it had become a private joke between them, because she had become pretty good at inventing new verses on the spot, writing new stories in her head to tell through song.

Then, gradually, he had become more possessive of her. He didn't like it when she came front of house after her spot to talk to the clientele, and he especially didn't like it if one of them offered her a drink. Of course, that was understandable under the circumstances, but he was aggressive about it, not concerned anymore. He started to call her after work, ostensibly to make sure she had arrived home safely, but she realised after a time that he was really checking up on her. Snippets of conversation around the bar, on the few occasions when she could get up there, made her realise that his business dealings were less than straight, and when rumours ran through the club of the untimely death of one of his competitors, she knew then that he was not the person she had naively thought he was.

Not like the boy scout. He was so straight he was as boring as hedge-clippings, and probably just about as imaginative, witty and amusing as a pile of horse manure. Good-looking, in a cartoon cut-out sort of way — she'd give him that — and a body to die for, but if she was going to spend half her life in an outfit like that, she'd sure as eggs make sure she kept it a secret.

Which brought her back to Lex and his secrets. She knew one or two, and she was pretty sure there were a whole lot more buried in his past, not to mention the stuff he was up to now. Maybe one of these days she'd expose him for all to see. That would give her great satisfaction, and it would definitely be imaginative, witty and amusing if she had anything to do with it. She would show everyone what a sick, evil man he was, how he manipulated the people who worked for him, how he used the system against itself, how he pretended to care but didn't give a damn — best of all, she'd tell the world what a lousy lover he was! But who was she kidding — how could a pathetic night-club singer do anything to hurt someone like Lex Luthor?


Two years previously…

Lex Luthor strode purposefully into one of Lagos's safer bars, pumped up with adrenalin after his successful business meeting. At last, he'd sorted out the final strands of that mess from two years ago, when the gun-running operation in the Congo had gone sour because of that damned meddling reporter. God knew where she was now, since he'd heard she'd disappeared following the debacle at the handover point. Served her right, anyway — if it hadn't been for her, he could have been enjoying a night out at the Metropolis Opera instead of being stuck here in this God-forsaken town, dodging beggars and con-men and handing out sweeteners to corrupt officials.

What he needed right now was a long, cool drink and the warm, soft body of one of the more presentable women draped around this bar. Glancing around, his eyes lit on a dark-haired woman propped up against the bar. Her split skirt was revealing a lot of slender, shapely leg and as far as he could tell from this distance, she looked as though she had a little more class than the rest of the dubious talent on offer. He walked up to the stool beside her, sat down and ordered a drink. She had her back to him, so he took the opportunity to eye her up and down more carefully, noting the chipped high heels, the ladder running up the exposed length of her long leg, disappearing into the split of her straight black skirt, the cheap polyester blouse and the way her body slouched over the bar, one hand clutched around a tall, half-consumed drink. Chipped nails, and long dark hair needing the urgent attentions of a hairdresser. Perhaps not so classy after all — still, she was slender, and the leg held promise.

"May I offer you a refill?" he asked, leaning across to her.

He took a pull from his own drink, waiting for her answer. When none came, he touched her arm briefly. "I offered you a drink."

Her head came around slowly so that he could just about see her profile.


"Would you like a drink?" he enunciated the words carefully and a little louder. This wasn't looking so promising after all.

"'kay." She shoved her drink along the bar to him. "Cream soda."

Oh, yeah? In a pig's ear, he thought. "Are you sure you wouldn't like something stronger?"

"Soda's fine."

"Soda it is, then. Barman," he raised his voice, "a cream soda for the lady, if you please." Turning his attention back to the woman, he tried to gain her attention again. "You're American, aren't you?"

"Yeah. So're you."

"Yes, thank you, I knew that. What brings you out here?"

"Dunno." Her drink arrived, and she swivelled around on her stool to retrieve it and take a gulp, revealing a pale, swan-like neck as she tipped her head back. There was definitely something about this woman, he thought — more than the average drunken has-been washed up on the shores of life. She dumped the drink back down onto the bar, resuming her hunched-over, slouching posture.

"What's your name?"

"Wanda. Wanda Detroit."

Awful name — sounds like the femme fatale heroine from some trashy romance novel. "That's a pretty name," he commented. "Why don't you let me see your face so I can see if it's as pretty as your name?"

"'kay." She drew herself up straight and swung around to face him. "Hi. I'm Wanda. Who're you?"

Luthor stared. It couldn't be. She was dead, wasn't she? And what was she doing here in Nigeria, when she had disappeared in the Congo? Maybe it wasn't her at all, just a lookalike — an incredibly close lookalike, though: he'd seen plenty of pictures of her in the papers back in Metropolis when she'd disappeared, and this woman could be her twin.

"Guess I'm not pretty," she concluded from his silence, and turned away from him.

"No! No, you're very pretty — let me see your face again."

He studied it as she turned to face him again. The same colour eyes, same colour hair — different make-up, but the shape of her face looked the same.

"Wanda — that *is* your name, isn't it? You didn't ever have another name, did you?"

"Nope. Jus' Wanda."

"And are you on your own here in Lagos, Wanda?"

"Yeah." She shifted uncomfortably on her stool. "'Scuse me - gotta go to the bathroom. Too much soda." She climbed clumsily off the stool, twisted on her high heel and would have toppled to the ground if Luthor hadn't grabbed on to her. "Thanks." He let go and watched as she stumbled a couple of steps across the room, then stopped and quietly folded down to the floor.

He leapt off his stool and crouched down beside her. "Wanda?" He slapped her face gently a couple of times, but she was out cold. Putting his hands under her arms, he hoisted her up to a limp standing position. "OK, Wanda," he said to her unconscious form, "you're coming with me."


Luthor paced up and down his hotel bedroom, constantly glancing at the unconscious woman lying on his bed. She'd been like that for hours now, and he was starting to get worried. The odd thing was, she didn't have alcohol on her breath, and just to be sure, he'd checked her arms and legs for needle tracks and thankfully found nothing. Of course, that didn't mean drugs weren't still a possibility, but surely anyone in any kind of chemically-induced stupor would have come out of it by now? This was rapidly becoming a mess — what had started as a celebration and the chance of a little stress-relief without strings attached was turning into a major reclamation project with absolutely no hope of anything more stimulating than a cup of strong black coffee.

At least he'd managed to figure out how she'd got here, and he was now pretty certain that she was indeed Lois Lane, ex-reporter from the Daily Planet. It came to him when he was reflecting on the day's business exchange: since he had been dealing with associates of the people she had been spying on two years ago in the Congo, it was just feasible that she was actually attached to those people in some way. Inspiration had then struck, and he'd phoned his business acquaintances to find out if they knew a Wanda Detroit. After exchanging some lewd innuendo about her, during which he learnt that she was surprisingly chaste for a woman in her situation, he had managed to find out that they had picked her up from a couple of guys they knew about a year ago. Guys in our line of business? he'd asked, and was rewarded with the information that yes, it was indeed the people he'd been dealing with back in the Congo.

Thus armed with fairly conclusive proof of her identity, he'd looked over at her face for the umpteenth time and noticed a small scar on one temple. He knew there had been gunfire when everything had blown up at the handover point, so maybe she'd been caught in the crossfire, and this scar was the result. That could explain the amnesia, and possibly why she'd adopted a whole new personality. His last stroke of genius — and it had taken genius — was to hook his laptop up to the hotel's phone system, connect to the internet and after much trawling around and many dropped connections later, had finally managed to download a picture of Lois Lane from the Planet's archives.

His eyes travelled from the picture to the face of the woman on his bed. The woman in the picture had a clear complexion, a pleasant smile, and eyes that sparkled with life and intelligence. The woman on his bed had dark circles under her eyes, although a poor attempt had been made to hide them with thick, cheap-looking make-up, sunken cheeks, and although her eyes were shut now, he remembered the dull, lifeless expression in them when she had turned to face him in the bar.

Maybe he should just dump her now, before things became any more complicated. He wanted to be out of Lagos, out of Nigeria, and most of all, out of the gun-running business once and for all. He had plans, grand plans, for his future, and the arms trade, although very, very lucrative, was just too inconvenient: he hated travelling to these places and dealing with these sordid people who wouldn't recognise a Wagner opera if the whole boxed set was dumped on their stupid, uncultured heads. He had amassed plenty of funds from the business to finance a sizeable business venture back in the US, and that was just what he intended to do once he escaped from this hell-hole.

On the other hand, revenge was a very sweet thing. This woman was single-handedly responsible for putting back his business plans by two years, and it occurred to him that he could have a lot of fun with her, now that she was essentially a blank canvas on which he could write whatever background he wanted to. In her better days, he had felt a certain attraction towards her, despite her strong nuisance factor, so it wouldn't be altogether unpleasant to have her as his…companion. The corner of his mouth curled up at the thought. How sweet, how very, very sweet: Lois Lane, returned to Metropolis and hiding in plain sight of everyone. He could pull this off, he really could — assuming she ever regained consciousness, of course.

He walked over to the bed and shook her roughly. "Come on, Wanda, wake up!" He slapped her face a couple of times, and managed to raise a faint moan of protest, but nothing more. He shook her again, and tried rubbing her hands vigorously between his own. "Come on, my darling, wake up so that we can get out of here back to civilisation." Still no response.

It was time for positive action; time to call in professional help.


"Well? What's wrong with her?" Luthor demanded.

The doctor regarded the arrogant, aggressive man before him. He wondered what the relationship between this man and the woman on the bed was, although he thought he had a pretty good idea. Well, the man was going to be disappointed tonight.

"Nothing," he replied, turning to pack up his medical bag.

"What do you mean, nothing? She's been like that for hours."

"There is nothing wrong with this young lady that a few decent meals and some rest won't cure." Privately, he doubted that this man would be even remotely interested in providing any of that, but one lived in hope: without hope, his job was an endless round of desperate people with sad, blighted lives.

"And how long will that take?"

"That is out of my hands. It will take as long as it takes."

"I'm sorry, I thought I had engaged a doctor for his professional opinion, not a quack with a side line in homespun philosophy."

"Sir, I'm sorry if you don't like my diagnosis, but that is all I can tell you. This young woman has obviously spent many months subsisting on a minimal diet and with little or no sleep — once she has those things, she will begin to recover. Unlike many of the unfortunate women I see in similar circumstances, she doesn't exhibit any symptoms of alcohol or drug abuse — it's more likely that her run-down condition and confused behaviour is the legacy of one of the many tropical diseases we have to offer the unprotected traveller here in Africa."

"So she is sick."

"No, merely exhausted and malnourished."

"What about that scar on her head?"

"Obviously an old bullet wound. But that is completely healed now, and I see no evidence of head trauma — just one of the many people in this city for whom life has dealt a poor hand. Feed her and rest her; she will be fine."


Luthor wondered what this idiot doctor would say if he told her that this woman with no evidence of head trauma had completely forgotten who she really was, but decided that that was something he preferred to keep to himself. Well, at least she wasn't about to die on him; that much was obvious. Time to get rid of this fool and move to phase two of his rapidly forming plans for Lois Lane.


"I knew you'd see things my way, Miguel. Libel suits can be so expensive, can't they? Now, what time will the aircraft be ready for me at Lagos airport?"

Luthor completed the travel arrangements with his erstwhile business partner, and dropped the receiver back on to its cradle with a satisfied smile. So nice to be able to draw on an already burgeoning network of favours waiting to be called in. A few more hours, and he and his new-found companion would be out of here at last, bound for Metropolis on Miguel's private jet.



"Wanda, my love, how are you?"

Luthor leaned over her, his hand on her arm, his face a picture of concern. He waited while she stirred restlessly on the bed, mumbling indistinctly as she resurfaced from her slumbers. This was the fourth time she'd woken up since they'd embarked on their journey back to Metropolis; every other time, he had fed her with sedatives to send her back to sleep, but now that they were back in his apartment and he had access to the appropriate drugs, it was time to let her wake up — on his own terms, of course.

"Wanda, how are you feeling?" he repeated, finally managing to attract her attention by shaking her arm. She looked up at him with glazed eyes.

"Who're you?"

"It's Lex, Wanda, don't you remember me? I said I'd take care of you, and here we are, back in Metropolis in my apartment. How do you feel, my darling?"


"Yes, dear, Metropolis, where I live. Where *we* live. Now, do you feel up to a little light lunch?" He turned away from the bed, picked a tray up from the trolley behind him and showed her the contents. "Chicken salad, some fresh fruit, and a glass of orange juice. "Think you can manage that?"

She nodded slowly.

"Good. Sit up, and let's get you back on the road to recovery."


She pushed herself up and accepted the tray of food onto her lap. Everything was so hazy. She had absolutely no recollection of how she came to be in this man's apartment, and only the vaguest memories of having met him back in Lagos. He had been nice to her, she remembered that, and he was being very nice to her now. She glanced over at him, sitting on a chair beside her bed; he smiled back at her and nodded encouragingly at the tray in front of her. She picked up a fork and began to pick at the small, bite-sized pieces of chicken mixed in with the attractively-presented salad before her. Why was she in bed, and why did she feel so woozy? Was she recovering from a long illness — he had mentioned something about recovery, so perhaps that was the answer? Her eyes travelled across the tray to the glass of orange juice and the single white pill beside it.

"Have I been ill?" she asked.

"In a way," he answered, "but don't you worry your pretty head about that now. You just concentrate on eating and getting well again."

"How did I get here?"

"I brought you back with me from Lagos — don't you remember? You collapsed in the bar, I took you back to the hotel, and then we both came home in Miguel's private jet."

"Oh." She munched on some of the salad, beginning to realise just how hungry she really was. It felt as if she hadn't had a proper meal for months — of course, if she'd been ill, then maybe she hadn't been able to eat properly for some time. But then, if she'd been ill for a long time, what had they been doing in a bar in Lagos?

"When did we get back?"

"Just yesterday, but you were so tired after the long journey, I let you sleep on through until today. Come on, my sweet, you must eat. I tell you what, why don't I leave you in peace to finish your lunch, then we'll chat some more later when you're feeling stronger?"


"Good!" He stood up and leant over to kiss her lightly on her cheek. "You don't know how lucky I feel to have you here with me, Wanda." He walked to the door and turned with a smile playing over his face. "Don't forget to take your medication."


Lex bounded gleefully down the corridor to his living room. This was so much fun, this play-acting business — and that last line, about feeling lucky to have her here with him! If only she knew just how lucky.


Days passed in a confused blur for Wanda. Lex attended her constantly, bringing her meals, staying with her until she became too drowsy to sit up, talking to her about inconsequential things, amusing incidents he'd encountered at the office, always smiling, always cheerful. Once or twice she had caught him off-guard and seen the concerned, worried expression on his face as he watched her slowly eat, and gradually she began to realise just how much he must care for her. She didn't understand why, because she was pretty sure she wasn't worth the attention, but for now it was easier to relax and let this kind, understanding man look after her.

The only thing preventing her from relaxing totally was the fact that he refused to tell her very much at all about Lagos: whenever she broached the subject, he would become distressed, saying it would only upset her and he didn't want her upset, and then he would insist on talking about something else. The lack of information was beginning to eat away at her, making her imagine all kinds of terrible things which she might have done. Combined with a constant feeling of depression and the certainty that she was in some indefinable way a pretty worthless human being, the effect was to sink her self-esteem to rock-bottom levels. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, she was never able to remain awake and focussed for long enough to dwell on the matter, so instead she tried to concentrate on taking care of herself and regaining her health for him: at least that was something she could do right.

After about a week, she was beginning to feel a lot, lot better. In fact, Lex remarked upon it himself, saying how wonderful it was that she'd been able to reduce her medication down to one tablet a day.

"Maybe I could get up today, Lex."

"If you're sure, my sweet. You don't want to rush things."

"It can't be any worse than lying here all day long — I guess I have to get up sometime and start living again. And there's something I wanted to ask you- "

"Anything, my dear," he smiled.

"I want to know about Lagos. I want to know about me."

"There's nothing to know, my dear," he replied dismissively. "Nothing that matters, anyway." He stood up suddenly. "Look, if you really feel ready to get up today, how about I set up a lounger out on the balcony for you? It's a lovely sunny day, and you could sit there and enjoy the beautiful views over Metropolis."

"Lex, that sounds nice, but first, I need you to tell me what happened, or what I did. I can't move on in my life until I know where I'm coming from, what I did that's so awful that you can't bring yourself to tell me about it."

"Wanda, all you need to know is that I love you and I want to take care of you. The rest, as far as I'm concerned, is ancient history, and it doesn't matter to me one jot what other people think about us."

"You see, that's just it. What might other people think about us?"

"My love, it's irrelevant!"

"Lex, it may be irrelevant to you, but it isn't to me. You seem to forget, you know all about me, whereas I know almost nothing about me. How do you think that makes me feel? I know I'm not worth much-"

"Don't ever say that, Wanda! You're worth as much as any woman in this city — at least, to me you are."

She rode over his objection. "-but I have to know why I feel like this. Lex, I just can't go on this way — I have to know!"

Luthor looked pained. "Wanda…"

"Lex, it can't be any worse than anything I'm imagining."

Luthor sighed heavily. "All right, if you really insist on pursuing this, then I give in. What you want, I want too. But I'll cut you a deal. First you come out to the balcony, get some fresh air, rest a while, and then I'll tell you."

"OK." She didn't think that sounded like too much to ask, and anyway, she was ready to get up and move around a little.


Walking out from the French windows onto the balcony was quite exhilarating. The sun was shining, the view over Metropolis was breathtaking, the air was warm, and at last, she could hear the faint sounds of the city drifting up from below. The apartment had started to feel very claustrophobic and horribly silent the last couple of days when she'd started to feel better, and it was wonderful to be out in the fresh air with more than the sounds of her own breathing to accompany her. She looked over at the lounger Lex had set up for her, at just the right angle to view the city at its best, with a small round table just next to it-

Lex rushed past her to the table and hastily collected up a bottle of whisky sitting there. "I'm sorry, Wanda, that was thoughtless of me. I'll hide this away."

Wanda frowned at his retreating back. What was all that about?

A few minutes later he was back, carrying a chair for himself which he set down at the other side of the table. "All right, my dear, you can ask me anything you want, and I promise you I'll give you as honest an answer as I can."

She gripped the arm of the lounger tightly. Now that she was finally going to find out the truth, she was suddenly nervous. What if the truth was actually worse than anything she had imagined? Was she a criminal on the run? Did she have children and a husband she had abandoned somewhere? Worst of all, had she perhaps even killed someone in Lagos? She took a deep breath: better get that one out of the way first. Not able to face him, she gazed out over the city as she posed her question in a low voice.

"Did I kill anyone?"

He laughed. "Of course not, my dear."

She let out a breath she hadn't even been aware she was holding. That was the worst that she could imagine dealt with; now to the lesser, but only marginally less disturbing, theories. "Am I a criminal?"

He shook his head vigorously. "No."

"Have I ever abandoned anyone close to me?"

"Not since I've known you." She looked across at him. "I haven't known you all your life, Wanda — I can't tell you what you did before I met you."

She grimaced; he was right, and somehow the knowledge left her feeling even more uneasy. It also raised another question.

"How long have you known me?"

"I met you for the first time when you came up to me in that bar."

She stared. "But…all this, all you've done for me, all the time you've spent with me, and you've only know me for less than, less than…" She trailed away, realising that she had no clear idea of just how many days she had been living in his apartment.

"Less than two weeks. I know, I'm crazy. I take a woman like you back to my hotel, go to all the expense of hiring a private jet to bring you home to Metropolis, spend days nursing you and feeding you — all after one brief meeting in a bar in Lagos. But I guess that's what love does to you," he finished with a beaming smile.

A woman like me? thought Wanda. What does that mean?

"But why?" she asked.

"I told you — I love you, Wanda. And when you're in love, you do crazy things, and it doesn't matter what the person you love is, what they once were, all that matters is your love for them."

"What was I, Lex?"

He leaned forward with an expression of deep regret and sadness. "I think you know already, Wanda — and I told you, it doesn't matter."

"I *don't* know! Just tell me, for God's sake!"

"What do you think you were doing in that bar?"

"I don't know — having a drink?"

"You were certainly doing that. But that wasn't the only reason you were at that particular bar. Wanda, it was a certain kind of bar, the kind of bar people — men — go to…"

"It was a gay bar? Is that what you're telling me? I'm gay? You're gay?" She frowned and shook her head in frustration. Nothing was making any sense here at all.

A look of impatience suddenly crossed his face, to be hurriedly covered up with something softer. "Wanda, I'm ashamed to tell you this, and I hope you won't think any less of me when I admit that I, myself, went to that bar with a single purpose in mind — to pick up a woman for the night. It was a moment of madness — not something I would ever normally entertain, but I had just completed a difficult business deal and I suppose the success went to my head. I'm sorry."

She stared at him. He seemed such a respectable, kind man - good looking, in a way — why would he need the services of a prostitute? Furthermore, what had it to do with her?

He obviously saw her still looking confused and puzzled, so continued, "As soon as I sat down at the bar, I knew that it was a mistake, that I should just go — but then you came up to me and that's when my world turned upside down. I could tell immediately that you were different to all the other women in the bar, even if you were using the same…sales techniques as the rest of them. You were beautiful, and when you talked, I could hear the wit and intelligence in your voice, the laughter which had once been so much a part of you — of course, anyone else might have said it was only the drink talking, but I knew there was more to you than that. Then when you touched me…" he laughed in embarrassment, "well, if it had been any of the other women in the room touching me there I would have been disgusted, but you…your touch was like electricity. I knew I loved you from the moment I met you, Wanda, it's that simple. I was about to ask you if you'd care to have lunch with me the following day, when you stood up to get closer to me and promptly collapsed right in front of me. Well, the rest you pretty much know. I took you back to my hotel, called a doctor to make sure you were all right, and then decided I had to get you out of that hell-hole and bring you back here."

Wanda stared out blindly over the city. She was a prostitute; that's what he was telling her. A pathetic, worthless, drunken prostitute, hanging around bars to pick up total strangers and earn money from them by selling her body to them.

Now it all made sense, now she knew why she had this constant feeling of emptiness, of world-weariness — she was from the dregs of society, a used, dirty shell of a person, a thing for other people to take their mindless pleasure from. She felt disgusted by herself, sick at the thought of her body being invaded like that, sick at the thought of the perverted things she had probably done.

Suddenly, she had to be alone. She lurched out of the lounger, distantly aware of Lex calling to her, and ran through the apartment to her bedroom, where she fell on the bed, curled up in a tight ball, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging herself. Disgust permeated her body and mind — she couldn't get past the image of herself on a bed somewhere…she shivered violently and hugged herself tighter. Was this worse than all the other things she had imagined? Yes, it was, it was terrible, it was revolting…had she even used precautions? Had she ever been pregnant? Oh, God, had she ever…? Tears were running down her face as she turned over all the frightening possibilities…and all the time, the image of herself with men she didn't know…no, no, no!

A hand touched her shoulder; she flinched away from it. No-one was to touch her, no-one! Least of all him.


No! Go away!

"Wanda, listen to me."

She grabbed frantically at the bedclothes underneath her to try and pull them over her head, to hide herself away from him.

"Wanda, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I told you."

His hand was on her shoulder again, and she tried to escape from him, but this time he wouldn't let go, holding both her shoulders firmly and trying to turn her around to face him. She struggled against him, fighting with him, desperate to shake him off so that she could be alone, but he was too strong for her.

"Wanda, you need to calm down. We'll get through this together, but I can't help you if you won't let me. Calm down, stop struggling, and we'll talk about it."

"No!" she cried, trying to pull away from him, turning her face away from his.

He held her firmly and repeated, "Calm down."

She struggled some more, but her strength was rapidly fading now. Out of breath and beginning to feel dizzy from the unaccustomed exertions, she lay limply on the bed, sobbing uncontrollably in utter defeat and helplessness. Over her sobs, she heard him say, "I'm going to get you something to help calm you down," and blessedly, his hands left her shoulders.

Left alone for a few minutes, more terrors struck her — what if her illness was a consequence of her past? Did she have one of those terrible diseases — worse still, did she have AIDS? Was she dying? Right now, she wasn't sure if she cared, except that it scared her. She didn't want to die of some horrible disease, sick for months on end, perhaps even years. If that was true, then somehow she'd find a way of ending things before they got that bad, even though that scared her just as much.

She heard him come into the room again and put something on her bedside table.

"There's a sedative and a glass of water on your table. I know you don't want me here, but I'm staying until you've taken that, so you may as well do it now."

He was so right — she wanted him gone. She couldn't face him, didn't want to feel him touch her, didn't want him anywhere near her for a long, long time. Slowly, she rolled over, pulled herself up to the table and took the medicine. Thankfully, he was standing at the door so that she didn't have to look at him, and she rolled back over into a tight ball once more.

"Good. Get some rest, and we'll talk when you're feeling better."

Feeling better! She would never feel better, ever again.


Present Day…

Clark tried for the third time to get his head around the email describing new procedures for claiming expenses. Something about getting a pre-printed form from salaries with his staff number on it…original receipts only…no paperclips…three copies…what was that bit about his line manager? He started from the top again…pre-printed form…receipts in triplicate…no, original receipts only…paperclips in triplicate…staple line manager to top…

"Those paper-pushers up in salaries sure know how to make a simple procedure more complicated than filling in your tax return, don't they?"

Clark turned to his temporary editor, Jeff Greenstreet, and grimaced. "Doesn't help when your mind's a million miles away, I guess."

"Oh? Anything I can help with?"

"Thanks, Jeff, but no — this is something I've got to figure out on my own."

Jeff suppressed a small frown. It wasn't so long ago that Clark had come back to work after resolving some very tough personal issues, and it didn't bode well for the young reporter if he was still pre-occupied like this. He kept his tone light, however, when replying. "Well, you know my door's always open if you need anything."

He was turning to walk back to his office when Clark's voice stopped him.

"Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about."

"Sure. You want to talk here or in my office?"

Clark hesitated. He wanted to tell Jeff about what he was planning for his next investigation, which was perhaps better done in Jeff's office, but he also didn't want it to look as if he was always running to the boss for private chats. It was bad enough that he already held a privileged position at the Planet, being the only permanent member of staff with a completely free hand to choose his own projects, without it looking as though he needed constant support from Jeff.

His boss came to his rescue. "Actually, I just remembered I have to phone Gene in London before he leaves the hotel," he said, glancing at his watch. "You want to swing by in, say, ten minutes?"



"Thanks," said Clark, turning to close Jeff's office door behind him.

"Take a pew," replied Jeff, waving at the chair in front of his desk. "Thanks for what?"

"For stopping me looking like I can't tie my own shoe-laces without talking it over with you first," replied Clark with a smile, settling down into the chair.

Jeff raised an eyebrow. "Don't know what you're talking about, Clark. Gene was waiting for that call."

"Sure he was."

"Besides, you can help me with these while we're talking." He fished in one of his drawers and produced an open jar of cookies. "Julie made them."

"Your eldest?"

"Yes." He selected a cookie and held up the misshapen lump for Clark to see before thwacking it on the side of the desk with no discernible effects. "I love her to bits, but she can't bake for love nor money. Here, have one." He held the jar up to Clark.

Clark picked one out and eyed it cautiously. "Why don't you just throw them all out?"

"I couldn't do that — she made them for me!"

"Yeah. Of course." Clark clamped his jaws around the side of the cookie and employed a touch of super-bite to break a piece off. "Very…crunchy," he said around the mouthful.

"Terrible, aren't they? Anyway, what can I do for you?"

Clark munched his way around the tasteless rock before replying. "Just wanted to let you know what I'm planning on doing next."

"Which is?"

"An expose on Lex Luthor." He swallowed with a grimace, dropping the hand holding the cookie surreptitiously down to his side. "You know — the guy who owns LL Industries? I think there's a whole lot more to him than meets the eye."

"Ah. You do know he's up for Businessman of the Year, don't you?"


"Yes, for building up one of the most successful construction companies in Metropolis in less than two years. He's also getting to be quite a figure in Metropolis society these days — made a big donation to one of the homeless charities just last month."

"Probably so they could house the victims of his latest construction disaster."

"Hey, Clark! Where's your unbiased reporter's viewpoint?"

"Let's just say I have my own reasons for thinking he's not the caring philanthropist people might think he is."

"Hmmm. Well, don't turn this into a personal vendetta, will you? I don't mind a strongly worded expose, but it's got to be backed up with hard facts."

"Don't worry — it will be."

Jeff considered the determined look on Clark's face. "This doesn't have anything to do with that other thing you were talking about, does it?"

Clark shifted awkwardly in his seat. "Maybe."

"OK, the first whiff of personal bias, and you're off the project — you got that?" Jeff looked sharply at Clark.

"Got it."

"OK." Jeff picked up the cookie jar and held it up to Clark. "Come on, eat up your cookie — we've got another ten to get through yet."

Clark sighed and held up the hand he'd been hiding over Jeff's trash can. Fine sand-like crumbs descended from his fist into the bin. "Sorry," he said guiltily.

Jeff's mouth curled up at one side. "Guess those super-powers come in real handy sometimes, don't they?"


Clark returned to his desk and the tedious expenses email. After reading it blankly another couple of times, he gave up and closed it down. He just couldn't stop thinking about her. He'd tossed and turned most of the night, arguing with himself about who she was, how she could possibly have come back after all this time, and why on earth she was attached to Lex Luthor — especially if she really was who he thought she was. Lois Lane wasn't the kind of woman to associate willingly with a toad like Lex Luthor, he was positive of that, but last night's evidence obviously contradicted him. He had tried to blot out those few ugly moments outside her door, but they kept playing over and over in his mind despite his efforts, and he always arrived at the same conclusion: she hadn't protested the man's attentions at all, she had been a willing participant.

Which brought him to the other puzzle: why was she living under a pseudonym, and behaving so clearly out of character? The Lois Lane he knew was a vibrant young woman with a keen sense of humour and a quick intelligence; the woman he had met last night seemed jaded and sad. If she really was Lois, what had happened to her? Something so awful that she had decided she needed to submerge her old identity completely? Maybe she had done something terrible — or maybe she was under the witness protection scheme. That would make more sense for someone like Lois, a woman with a strong sense of right and wrong. It was quite possible that she had gained knowledge of some incriminating evidence, but had somehow compromised her own security at the same time. Except that they wouldn't bring her back to her home town, and her personality wouldn't have changed so radically from the Lois Lane he knew. Of course, he hadn't actually ever met *this* Lois Lane, but he'd heard Perry talk about her, and she hadn't sounded that different to the one he had met.

His only ray of hope was her first comment on stepping down from the stage: "Lex always takes care of the victims." That didn't sound like someone besotted with her man, it sounded more like someone who knew some pretty murky things about her boyfriend — if that was what he was. So if she wasn't blind to Luthor's faults, then that was something which Clark could exploit: perhaps she would be willing to talk to him about what she knew.

However, he still needed to make sure he wasn't wrong about who she was, and there was one man who could help him with that. He grabbed the phone and dialled.

"Perry White."

"Perry, what are you doing tonight?"

"Clark, is that you?" asked the mayor of Metropolis in a slow drawl.

"Yes, it's me," replied Clark impatiently. "What are you doing tonight?"

"Ah — nothing, for once, as it happens. Why? You're not asking me out on a date, are you?" Perry asked with a laugh.

"I want you to come to a nightclub with me."

"A nightclub? Ah, Clark, that's very nice of you, but my nightclubbing days are over, I'm afraid, ever since the episode with the fourteen tequilas and the woman from Mars. Why don't you come around here? — I think Alice is planning one of her Mexican specials tonight."

Normally, Clark would have pursued Perry's tangential remark about tequilas and aliens, but right now he only wanted to discuss one thing. "I think I've found her, Perry."


"Lois. Lois Lane."

There was a long pause at the other end of the phone. "Now, hold on a minute there, Clark. You're saying you've found Lois Lane?" came the wary question at last.

"Yes, she's a singer at this nightclub I want you to come to."

"She's a singer…Clark, are you feelin' all right, son? Not been neglecting yourself again, I hope? You know what happened last time you did that."

"Perry, I'm fine," replied Clark quickly. "But I need you to come with me to the club tonight so you can tell me I'm not wrong. I know it's her, Perry, even if she's…different to the way she was."

"I tell you what, Clark — why don't Alice and I come over there? We'll bring the food with us and we can all have a quiet evening together — you can tell me all about your cousin and how he's getting' on back wherever he comes from."

"I know this sounds crazy, Perry — I know *I* sound crazy, but humour me, OK? Just come down to the club and tell me what you think."

Perry sighed deeply over the phone. "Clark, I thought you told me that woman who turned up out of the blue claiming to be Lois Lane was actually an impostor. Now you're telling me she's re-appeared, but this time you think she really is Lois? You're not making much sense here, son."

"No! I'm talking about the original Lois Lane — the one that was lost in the Congo."

There was another long pause while Perry considered how best to let Clark down gently. "Clark, I never understood why you spent so much time looking for someone you never even met, but I thought you'd finally gotten over that. It's no use, son, she's lost to us forever, and we just have to get on with our lives the best we can."

Clark drew in a quick breath in surprise. "You knew?"

"That you were spending just about all your spare time looking for her? Yes, it was obvious, son, from the way you started disappearing at strange times of the day. At first I thought you were just flying off on Superman duty, but when you disappeared for hours on end and there were no reports of major disasters around the world, it was pretty obvious you were up to something else. I saw how you and the…impostor got on so well together, so it didn't take much to put two and two together."

"Oh," replied Clark in a subdued voice. He'd thought he had hidden his single-minded search across the globe for her pretty well, and it came as a shock that his good friend had known all along, even though they hadn't been working in the same office together any more.

"Don't feel so bad, Clark," reassured Perry. "I'm sure no-one else noticed. It's just that I have this secret weapon called Alice - she was the one who first suggested it when you could hardly wait long enough to finish your dessert one night."

"Oh. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. But Clark, you have to let her go. I know things have been tough for you lately, what with…Mayson, and all, but there are plenty other fish in the sea for a good-looking guy like you. Give it time — you'll see."

"I know, Perry. I'm sure you're right. But please, just humour me this once? As a friend? I just need to know if I'm right, that's all. I promise I won't ask you again."

Perry sighed again. "You say she's a singer?"

"Yes. She's pretty good, actually. Do you like light jazz?"

"So long as it's written before 1970, I like just about anything. OK, Clark, I'll do it, on one condition."


"If she tries to sing any of the King's songs, I'm leaving."

Clark smiled. "I don't think there's any danger of that."


Clark spent the rest of the day checking into LL Industries and Lex Luthor. It appeared that Luthor had purchased a tiny construction company about two years ago when it was just about to sink into financial oblivion, changed the name and had immediately begun sinking copious quantities of his own money into the business, expanding it exponentially. After the first bloom of growth, during which time the company attracted a couple of small, but high-profile projects, the company had continued its growth principally by acquisition, swallowing up several medium-sized construction businesses along the way. Clark wondered where Lex had acquired the capital necessary for such a venture; as far as he could discover, the man had no inherited wealth, which meant he must have earned (or perhaps stolen?) the money with his own resources. He filed that question away for further investigation. Another item requiring more research was the contract the company had won from the city for a new exhibition centre: to his admittedly inexperienced eyes, it was an unprecedented size of contract for the company to win, given that it beat two of its much larger competitors at the time.

Surprisingly, the company had a reputation for an enlightened attitude towards its staff: several business magazines cited it as a glowing example of the modern approach to staff relations. It was the only company of its kind to run a free creche for all its staff, for example, and the medical provision for employees was reputedly second to none. There was a generous profit-sharing scheme, and holiday entitlement and other benefits were above average for the industry.

The picture emerging was of a astute businessman with a great deal of flair and a philanthropic bent: the ideal candidate for Businessman of the Year. If Clark hadn't seen the results of LL Industries' shoddy workmanship for himself — although that still required proof, he reminded himself — and heard the hints of dissent from people connected to Luthor, he probably would have been queuing up with the rest of the great and good of Metropolis to shake the man's hand.

However, he knew in his heart that the man was evil, and he would do everything in his power to hunt him down and stop him before he insinuated himself any further into the lives of the citizens of Metropolis.


Perry stopped when he saw where Clark was leading him.

"You have to be kidding me, Clark. This is where you think you found Lois Lane?"

Clark looked at the gaudy pink and green neon lights advertising 'Girls, girls, girls', the plastic, yet still-wilting palm tree outside the battered black-painted door and the doorman built like a Sumo wrestler standing in front of it, and shrugged helplessly. "I know it doesn't look promising, but trust me, she's here."

"'Wanda Detroit — the hottest act since…Slinky Susan'?" Perry read from the advert posted over one blacked-out window. "That's her name?" he asked incredulously.

Clark put a hand on Perry's back and gently propelled him towards the door. "Come on."

Once inside, they settled down at a small circular table near to the stage and ordered a couple of drinks. Perry eyed the greasy glasses plonked unceremoniously in front of them distastefully. "Don't suppose you brought any disinfectant with you, son?"

Clark smiled. "I'm sure the alcohol will kill any germs."

Perry took a cautious sip. "Not when it's this watered down, it won't." he replied with a grimace. "I guess at least I'll have a clear head to view the action with — if I can see anything at all in this," he added, indicating the darkened room about them.

"I think the clients prefer not to see each other," commented Clark.

"Hmph! Figures."

After downing a couple more watery drinks each, a drum roll signalled the arrival of the compere, who announced in deep, breathless tones the imminent arrival of Wanda, who was apparently the sexiest singer this side of Las Vegas. The unimpressed audience continued their chatter as the music started; a fast, up-tempo song obviously designed to break through the background noise. The curtains parted, and there she was. A mass of curly brown hair surrounding a neat-featured face, elegant bare shoulders above a bright red full-length pencil dress with long, close-fitting sleeves, and red, high-heeled strappy sandals to complete the ensemble. She brazened her way through the song, apparently oblivious to the lack of attention she was receiving from her audience, giving it every ounce of energy and verve it needed to sell the shallow, throw-away lyrics.

Clark was spell-bound. Just as last night, when he had been knocked sideways by her presence, this second encounter was no less transfixing. She might look like a hard, worldly-wise nightclub singer playing up to her unsavoury audience with ease, but to him she was beautiful, captivating, and pure Lois Lane from the top of her overdone hairdo right down to her red-varnished toe-nails. His dream had come true.

Clark dragged his eyes away and turned to Perry with eyebrows raised in question. Perry shook his head emphatically. "No way," he mouthed back to Clark.

Clark looked back at Wanda, now belting out the final long high note with a thumping accompaniment underneath. He had to admit that right now, she looked nothing like the Lois Lane he knew, and certainly wasn't behaving anything like her, but he was positive - this *was* Lois Lane.

Wanda was moving into a slower, sexier number now, taking the microphone off its stand and strolling slowly around the stage with it. She watched her audience as she moved, and gradually, the background noise faded away as more and more people took notice of her performance. Clark followed her every move, studying her intently, noting the way she carried herself, watching her arm movements, her head movements, and always staring into those dark brown eyes whenever he could. It wasn't long before Wanda noticed the attention he was paying her, and with a curl of her lip, began to step down from the stage and advance on him, returning his stare with her own, equally intense eyes.

She stalked around their table first, running her fingers lightly through Perry's hair until he ducked away from her, then coming to stand directly in front of Clark, singing at him, seemingly mocking him with her sexy words. He watched, mesmerised, as she first perched on their table, leaning over provocatively to him and giving him a clear view down her cleavage, and then stood up again only to sit abruptly in his lap. He couldn't stop a quick jerk of shock, and then his whole body tensed as she laid an arm around his shoulders and brought her face up close to his for the last line of the song.

The audience broke into enthusiastic applause while she continued to smile knowingly at him, and then as quickly as she had dropped onto his lap, she was up again and walking back to the stage.

"Thanks, *Super*man," she breathed into the microphone in a sultry voice.

Clark cringed as the whole room turned to stare at him. The spotlight, which had been following Wanda around the room, swung around to highlight him and Perry at the table, and he forced a tight smile before raising his glass up to Wanda. "Thank *you*," he replied, willing the spotlight to leave them alone and return to its rightful place.

Clark glanced over at Perry when at last they were plunged back into welcome darkness again. His friend was wearing an expression not unlike the one he used to give Clark when he was late with a story: thunderous.


"Tell me, Wanda dearest — what possessed you to sit in the lap of our noble superhero, Clark Kent?" asked Luthor, lolling casually in Wanda's dressing-room chair.

The toilet flushed and Wanda emerged from the bathroom. "He was staring at me and I decided he needed to be taught a lesson - that's all." She reached behind to unzip herself out of the tight-fitting dress.

"Allow me," volunteered Luthor, and stretched out with a hand to pull the zip down her back. He patted her bottom. "You know how much I hate seeing you with other men."

Wanda moved back out of his reach and shrugged out of top half of the dress. "I wasn't *with* him, Lex — it was just all part of the act. The audience loved it." She pushed the rest of the dress down and stepped out of it.

"Well, I didn't. I hated it. Next time show a little more restraint before you start touching up the clients — I thought we had left that kind of behaviour behind us, my darling."

Wanda bit her lip. Always grinding her nose in it, always reminding her where she came from, and always with that sickly sweet endearment she was beginning to hate more and more each day. She picked up her jeans and started to put them on.

He swung around in the chair to face her. "My, my, Wanda, isn't that a little premature?"

She pulled up the zip and reached for a sweater. "I came on early this month."

"Again?" he frowned.

"Yes." She avoided his eyes by pulling the sweater over her head. "I guess it must be stress or something."

"Perhaps. Well, that reminds me — I've made an appointment for you with Mr Phelps. He's an excellent man, I hear — the best gynaecologist at Met General, apparently."

"Lex, I don't need to see anyone about this. I told you, it's just a stress thing — besides, some women are never regular."

"Unlike you, my dear, who, as far as I'm aware, was as regular as clockwork until a few months ago. I'm just concerned for your health, Wanda. It doesn't hurt to go for a check-up — we can't be too careful with your background, you know," he finished, his face a picture of concern.

"Lex, I'm fine!" she protested.

"Wanda, do this for me, please? I need to know you're all right."


"Phone my secretary — she'll give you the date and time."

Wanda turned away quickly to hide her panic. She'd known that this was coming for some time; there were only so many times she could get away with feigning the onset of her period as a way of avoiding him. Now that she had overplayed her hand, he was calling her bluff. No doubt the doctor would report back to Lex that she was perfectly normal and that there was absolutely no reason for her increasing irregularity. The only weapon on her side was the fact that this wasn't an exact science; as far as she knew, no doctor could tell conclusively whether a woman should be regular in her monthly cycle or not. Nevertheless, Lex would undoubtedly think his suspicions about her avoidance tactics were indeed correct.

Of course they were! She hated herself more and more every time she allowed him to use her like he had last night, and despite her optimism, the experience always left her empty and unsatisfied. Her attraction to him was rapidly waning too; nowadays all that was left was his power — that, and the power she held over him during those brief moments when his lust for her overcame him. At that time she knew that she was the one in control; the one who could make him senseless with desire. Well, now she had an even greater power: the power to refuse him her body. Yesterday, she decided, was the very last time that Lex Luthor was going to have any kind of sexual relations with her. Bolstered by her new-found strength, she smiled to herself: such a shame he didn't know last night was the last time - he had missed his last opportunity to get it right.

She turned to face him again. "I'll phone her first thing tomorrow, Lex." Oh, how nice it was to see that chink of self-satisfied triumph on his face, knowing how disappointed he would shortly be.


Perry hadn't said a word to Clark since they left the nightclub, other than a gruff acknowledgement when he suggested they leave. Now they were walking through the dark streets towards the centre of town, looking for a cab to take Perry home. Clark had offered to fly him, but Perry had merely shaken his head.

"Look, Perry, at least yell at me or something. You'll feel better if you yell at me," tried Clark again.

"Hmph!" snorted Perry.

"Or you could hit me…although you better give me a bit of warning if you're going to do that, so you don't hurt yourself on me. Come to think of it, yelling might be safer."

"Clark," replied Perry at last, suddenly stopping and turning on him. "get this straight: I do not want to hit you. I don't want to yell at you. I don't even want to argue with you. What I do want to do is give that — that *woman* a piece of my mind!"

Clark's heart sank; this didn't look good for his hopes of having Perry confirm his identification of Lois. "Why?"

"Why? Let me tell you why — not only does she make you look stupid, she attacks me and then as good as announces to the whole room that the Mayor of Metropolis is frequenting a seedy nightclub! That damned spotlight might as well have been a TV camera — one of them is probably already hotfooting it to the nearest scandal rag to sell their story for a few measly bucks.

"Perry, don't you think you're over-reacting just a little? I'm sure they're pretty used to seeing people like you there."

"People like me? Clark, I am *not* 'people like me'. You," Perry jabbed his finger in Clark's direction, "of all people, should know that."

"I'm just trying to say they probably won't even think of trying to make anything of seeing you there. Besides, I'm the one she named, not you."

"Hah! Just another reason to give her a piece of my mind. Look, son, I know you think I'm being petty and image-conscious here, but things are different now that I'm the Mayor. God knows, I've worked hard enough to get this town turned around from being a gunsmith's paradise to something more like it used to be — I can't afford for people to get even the slightest excuse to slide back into old ways: *I* have to be squeaky-clean, even if the rest of Metropolis isn't yet."

Clark sighed. Perry was right, but he still thought his friend was over-reacting. "I guess this means you don't think she was Lois?"

"Hell, no!" Seeing Clark's stricken face, Perry softened his voice. "Sure, son, there were similarities — I could see how you might think she was Lois, but there was no way that salacious, wanton creature was Lois Lane. Best give it up now, son, like I told you before — it'll only end in more heartache if you try to kid yourself."

"But I told you she would be different," reminded Clark, still hoping for even the slightest hint of reassurance from Perry.

"You did, and she was. She was so different, she wasn't Lois."

"And remember she's four years older than when you last saw her." Clark reached inside his wallet and pulled out a small newspaper cutting. "Here, look at this," he said, offering the picture to Perry. "Add four years and maybe some bad experiences and then tell me what you think."

Perry pushed away Clark's hand without looking at the picture. "I don't need a picture to remind me of the best damned reporter I ever had the fortune to work with. I'd know her anywhere, and trust me, Clark, that woman wasn't the bright, intelligent, sharp-witted person who was going to be the first Pulitzer Prize winner the Planet had seen for ten years."


"No buts, Clark. Forget it and move on — I don't want to see another fine reporter lost to whatever tragedy took Lois from us. Now - you gonna fly me home, or what?"

"I thought you didn't want me to?"

"That was before these darn shoes started killing me. Just…don't go too high or too fast, you hear?"

Clark cocked an eyebrow. "You don't want to be seen in a night-club, but flying over the skies of Metropolis in Superman's arms is OK?"

"Heck, it's so dark no-one will see us, Clark. But…just in case they do — just make sure it's, ah, an appropriate position they see us in, all right?"

"Sure, Perry," replied Clark with a faint smile.


"There just isn't enough money in the budget to send you and Pete to the Congo on a wild goose-chase, honey, and that's final!"

Wanda woke up with a start, her heart thudding in her chest as the alien words echoed through her head. She opened her eyes to reassure herself that she was still in her room in Metropolis, taking in the tatty curtains and peeling wallpaper made visible by the light filtering in from the street-lamp outside her window. Yes, she was in her dingy lodgings near the club, not standing in an office somewhere having an argument about travel arrangements with some middle-aged guy in a suit. Who was he? — his face was familiar…she struggled to reassemble the fragments of the dream still lingering in her mind's eye. He'd been heavy-set, his hair-line receding and beginning to show traces of grey, his face lined but not unattractive.

Her eyes widened in surprise when she finally placed him — he was the guy sitting next to Superman at the night-club! What was he doing in her dream? She didn't know him, although in retrospect his face was familiar; maybe he was another of those political types who came down to this part of town for the kind of entertainment their wives would never provide. Those guys never usually sat so near the front, though. Well, whatever, he sure didn't belong in her dream — and why was she arguing with him about going to…where was it? The Congo? The thought sent a chill down her spine: her geography wasn't that great, but she was pretty sure the Congo wasn't that far from Nigeria, where Lex had found her. She turned over in bed and drew herself up into a tight ball, just as she always did when the terrors from her past life came back to haunt her.


In the cold light of day, the Ace O'Clubs looked even less inviting than it had the previous night. The neon lights, now unlit, looked grubby and messy, the posters stuck to the blacked-out windows were peeling and gaudy, and the morning sun revealed just how pock-marked and chipped the black front doors were. The wilting plastic palm had gone; in its place were a couple of plastic sacks bulging with smelly waste material. Obviously no-one was welcome here during the day: the doors were firmly shut, and the whole place gave the impression of a lifeless, dead building.

Clark pushed his glasses down his nose and took a look through the doors. It was probably a waste of time coming here at this time of day, but he had failed dismally to concentrate on work at the Daily Planet, so desperate was he to find out more about Wanda Detroit. He would have come back here last night after dropping Perry off at home, but Superman duties had kept him occupied most of the night until just before dawn, when he'd finally crawled into bed for a couple of hours before getting up again to go to work. Jeff's early morning staff meeting had dragged by, and then he couldn't stand it any longer — he had to try and find her, talk to her in any way he could. Her presence in Metropolis had been gnawing away at him as soon as had he first discovered her, and the more he thought about her, the more he wanted to just drop everything and pursue her full-time: every minute he wasn't looking for her was another minute when she might disappear as suddenly as she had reappeared, and he knew he couldn't bear it if he lost her now. Perry's rejection of her true identity had been a set-back, no more.

And all the time, the searing memory of having her captive in his lap for those few precious moments burned through his mind and body. Her touch had sent shivers down his spine and urgent messages elsewhere as she had moved restlessly over him in time to the song - sensations so much more intense and sudden than anything he had experienced with either Mayson or the other Lois. He should have seized her there and then and born her away in his arms to the farm in Smallville, where he could have…what, exactly? Explained why he suddenly felt the need to kidnap someone? Told her she was really Lois Lane, ex-reporter for the Daily Planet? She would have laughed in his face, or tried to scratch his eyes out — she certainly wouldn't have believed him. No, it had to be the softly, softly approach, and the first step was to find her.

The interior of the club was as deserted as its exterior, and he was about to turn away when he caught sight of a side-door, which he'd dismissed as belonging to another building, falling shut. He transferred his gaze back indoors, and triumphantly spotted the barman from last night sauntering across the floor of the night-club. At last, a potential lead. He raised his hand and banged forcefully on the door for a good long time. The barman looked up momentarily from where he was restocking the bar, made a rude gesture at the door, and stooped back down to open up another crate of beer. Clark thumped harder, wondering if he could accidentally-on-purpose break the catch on the door. Probably not — this was one of the many times when the lack of a secret identity was a serious disadvantage.

"Hey!" he called out. "This won't take long!"

Now the barman was ignoring him completely, but there was no way he was going to give up now. Turning a disadvantage into an advantage, he concentrated a thin beam of laser light on the metal catch just visible between the doors — it didn't matter if anyone saw him, and he could merely weld it back together afterwards. OK, so the edges of the door got slightly singed in the process, but given the state of the door, he didn't think anyone would notice or care.

"I let myself in," he explained sardonically as he strode up to the bar.

"Yeah, well you can just let yourself back out again. We're closed," replied the surly barman.

"I don't want a drink. I just want to talk."

"Find a shrink."

Not a bad idea, thought Clark. Maybe a psychiatrist could explain why Lois is behaving the way she is — he'd have to look one up later. Right now, though…

"I'm looking for Wanda Detroit." He watched the man pick up bottles and place them on shelves: he was being ignored again. "Do you know where I can find her?" he tried.

Instead of answering him, the barman emerged from behind the bar and walked away from him towards some steps leading downstairs. Clark followed him down to the grubby stockroom piled high with crates of drink and watched him heft a crate of mixer drinks.

"What else do you need?" Clark asked.

The man glanced back at him disdainfully. "Being nice ain't gonna make no difference."

"Probably not, but you may as well make use of me — you do know who I am?"

"Yeah, I know — Wanda sure made you look stupid last night."

"OK, so right now I'm just stupid enough to want to help you."

"Two of them," he pointed, "and three of those. If you break any, you pay double."

Clark gathered up the crates, including the one the barman had picked up, and supersped upstairs, his unwilling informant following more slowly behind. By the time the man had reached the top of the stairs, he'd emptied all the crates into the appropriate places and stacked the empties in a neat pile.

His unwilling informant glanced, unimpressed, at the completed task, shrugged into his jacket and walked towards the doors.

"Hey!" called Clark. "What about Wanda?"

But the man ignored him and walked out into the street, slamming the door behind him. Clark felt a quick rush of frustration and anger — couldn't the guy at least answer him? He supersped out the door, caught up with the man and grabbed him by the shoulder to spin him around.

"I asked you a question," he gritted.

The man looked at the hand on his shoulder. "What you gonna do now? Dance with me?"

Clark snatched his hand away in exasperation. "Just tell me where I can find her and you'll get rid of me."

"You don't wanna get involved with Wanda."

"I'll decide that, OK?"

"She's Luthor's girl, and you don't wanna mess with him. People have a habit of disappearing around Luthor."

"I think I can handle Luthor."

That comment earned him an assessing look. "I guess you're probably the one guy who can, at that. He'll still find a way to destroy you, though."

"All I want to do is talk to her." Sensing a tiny chink in the man's reluctance to impart information, Clark pulled some dollar bills out of his wallet and showed them to him. "What's her address?"

The guy snorted. "You think that's gonna buy you an address?"

Clark glared and produced some more money. "Okay?"


"That's a phone number."

"That's all I got, buddy." He snatched the money from Clark and walked away. "Don't come looking for a job here when Luthor gets you fired from the Planet!" he shouted over his shoulder.


"Whoever you are, you better have a damn good reason for getting me out of bed."

She sounded weary and very angry. Clark winced: of course, for a night-club singer, this was still the middle of the night. "I do have a damn good reason," he replied.

"Well, spit it out before I die of boredom here."

"I have a complaint."

"See a doctor."

First psychiatrists, now doctors? Clark couldn't help smiling - did he give off sickness vibes or something?

"You left before I had a chance to thank you properly last night."

"Buddy, everyone wants to 'thank' me — take my advice and go back to your wife. She loves you. I don't."

He heard her start to put down the receiver. "Wait! I don't have a wife."

"Talk to your boyfriend then."

There was a click, and the line went dead. Clark re-dialled immediately, and listened to the phone ringing…pick up, Lois, please pick up! The phone casing creaked under the pressure of his tightening grip as he waited anxiously for her to reply.

"Buy a pet. Or go for long walks. Just quit phoning me."

"I prefer flying, actually."

He held his breath, waiting for her to figure it out. It didn't take long.

"The boy scout. You like my singing, boy scout?"

"I thought you were great."

He could hear her sardonic smile over the phone. "Yeah, I could tell."

Oh, God! She noticed. "Sorry."

"Don't flatter yourself — you're not the first," she told him. "Besides, it's good for business — the management like it if I can send one more customer to the girls later on." Clark didn't miss the bitterness in her voice — it didn't sound as if she enjoyed that aspect of her work. "But I guess you wouldn't understand that, boy scout."

Oh, he understood it all right! He understood all too well the frustration and unfulfilled longing she could engender in a man, and, he thought ruefully, he probably had a great deal more experience than any other man in that room of containing or refocusing that longing need. However, his solution would never be the one she was implying: he could never use another human being like that. On the other hand, he resented her implication that he was incapable of experiencing those feelings — did he really appear that cold and unemotional?

"Oh, I understand more than you might think," he found himself telling her.

A low, dry laugh told him he'd said the wrong thing. "The boy scout exterior hides a bleeding, passionate heart, does it? I've heard it before, buddy — OK, the packaging's different, but what you're telling me is that you're a sensitive, caring man who's going to take me away from all this grime and degradation and we'll build a new life together raising ten kids and a cute dog called Spot. Forget it, boy scout, I know every pick-up line in the book."

"I don't want to pick you up, I want to talk to you."

"Same thing."

"Maybe not if I say I want to talk to you about Lex Luthor." He held his breath — she could so easily knock him back again, or if he'd read the signals right, she would rise to the bait. Which would it be?

There was the slightest of pauses before she answered. "What's to talk about?" she asked in a bored voice. "He owns one of the biggest construction companies in Metropolis, makes loads of money, gives some of it to charity, and wears expensive tuxedos. Just like any of the other businessmen who 'weren't' at the club last night."

Clark listened to the carefully bored voice and knew he'd snagged her interest. Pressing on, he decided to test his theory about her opinion of Luthor. "Actually, I hear Luthor is different. I hear he cuts corners to save costs, yet none of his employees have ever reported him to the any of the regulatory bodies in the industry."

"So I guess what you hear must be wrong. No reports means no cost-cutting."

"Do you really believe that, Wanda?" asked Clark softly. "Do you really believe that Luthor is one of the best employers in this city? Do you believe that LL Industries got to be one of the most powerful companies in this city by astute business acumen alone?"

"Sure. Why would I think anything else? Anyway, I'm just a night-club singer — what do I know?"

Clark could almost hear the unspoken thoughts contradicting her words. "I think you know a lot, Wanda. I think you know more about Luthor than you pretend you do — why don't you and I meet up and talk about it some more?"

"I told you, I don't know anything."

"OK, how about we meet anyway — you can tell me what you don't know, and I'll tell you what I don't know."

She laughed derisively. "Could be a long conversation."

"Fine — I've got plenty of time. Where do you want to meet?"

"Gee, boy scout, once you latch on to something, you don't let go, do you? You got any relations in the ferret kingdom?"

Clark smiled. "Not as far as I know. My parents were farmers." Now why had he told her that? The last thing he wanted to do was dredge up all of that with her, when what he really wanted to concentrate on was her problems and her identity, yet something had made him want to share a fragment of his personal life with her.

"Oh, yeah — Smallville, wasn't it? Didn't they die when you were pretty young?"

And how had she known that? A minute ago, she'd sounded disinterested in just about everything outside her own small patch of existence, yet she knew this? He supposed his personal details had been splashed all over the media when the Mayson thing had happened, but he was surprised that she had taken any kind of interest in it. Had she looked it up since they had met, or had she followed the story as it had happened? His stomach suddenly lurched: she had probably been in Metropolis the whole time he had been meeting Mayson, dating her, kidding himself that he loved her and not Lois, holding her in his arms while she died…emotions were coming tumbling down upon him as he relived those terrible weeks with the additional knowledge that his suffering had been needless…a sudden flash of lifeless eyes in front of him as he breathed air into useless lungs set his heart racing and his hands shaking. It could all have been so different — Mayson would still be alive, and Clara Jefferson's father wouldn't have been hospitalised: he should have searched harder for her, he knew he should have…

"I'm sorry — I shouldn't have asked," said a soft voice in his ear. She had obviously misunderstood his silence for old pain at the loss of his parents…well, that was just fine. He wasn't going to burden her with this, especially when he could hardly cope with the realisation himself.

"It's OK — it all happened a long time ago." He churned out the stock phrase he always fed people when they needed to be reassured that they hadn't reopened an old wound. Not that it was ever true… With an effort, he pulled himself out of the maudlin fugue he was descending into and pushed forward into the future. "How about that meeting? What about somewhere neutral like a hotel?"

"I have a better idea."

He listened with widening eyes at her suggestion. "OK, Wanda. I'll see you this afternoon around two."


In a cramped, dingy basement office below the LLI building, a bored operative wearing headphones suddenly sat bolt upright and hit the rewind button on her tape recorder. Listening more attentively the second time through, she scribbled a couple of notes on a pad in front of her then reached out a hand to the phone to dial a seldom-used number.

"Mr Luthor? There's something on the Detroit tapes I think you should hear."


Clark gazed out over the city from the window of the slowly rising boxcar, marvelling with renewed wonder at the vastness of the metropolis laid out below him. "Ever seen a movie called the Third Man?" he asked Wanda.

"Not that I can remember. Why?"

"Orson Welles meets with Joseph Cotten on the big Ferris wheel in Vienna. I thought maybe that was where you got your inspiration for this." He gestured at their surroundings and at the view outside, a renowned feature of the Big One, the appropriately-named Ferris wheel at Metropolis' amusement park.

"I just wanted somewhere we wouldn't be overheard. I guess me and Orson must think alike."

"Well, just don't jump out the door like he did."

"You mean you wouldn't rescue me?"

"I'd rather not have to. If you want to go flying with me…well, that's different."

"My, my, Mr Kent! Do you offer all your interviewees free flights? Is that how you get them to talk — threaten to drop them if they don't tell you what you want to know?"

Clark baulked. "Of course not! That's not the way I work!"

"Relax, boy scout — I was only kidding. What happened — left your sense of humour at home today?"

No, just my sense of balance, thought Clark. He'd had time to think some more about Wanda's apparent knowledge of his history, and one thing stood out above all others: he had to know if she'd been in Metropolis during the nightmare of the past few months. It probably wouldn't make him feel any better; in fact it made him feel sick just thinking about it, but he had to know just how cruel fate had been to him. He wondered how soon he could decently come out with the question — indeed, how soon he could tell her everything he knew about her. Part of him wanted to blurt the whole thing out all at once: tell her who he thought she really was and why, tell her about alternate universes and somehow convince her that their pattern of life should mirror that of the other Lois and Clark's, take her away from Lex Luthor and turn her back into the person he knew she should be — but he couldn't. At best, she would laugh in his face and call him crazy; at worst she would retreat even further away from him and deny him once and for all this most precious of gifts he'd been handed. So for now, he had to play an agonised game of waiting and gentle probing; teasing snippets of information from her about herself.

"Actually, I preferred it when you called me Mr Kent." He turned away from the window and looked at her directly. "Clark would be even better."

She returned his serious gaze with an amused smile, seemingly considering his request for a moment before replying. "OK, *Clark*. And I guess you want to call me Wanda?"

No, actually, I want to call you Lois. "If that's all right?"

"It's better than 'hey you up there on the stage with the small ti-'" she stopped herself just in time, turning away from him to look out the window. "You get the idea."

Clark found himself assessing the area in question — they didn't look small to him, they looked just perfect, like everything else about her. He snatched his eyes away when she suddenly turned her head towards him, her lip curling in unvoiced laughter at him when she saw where he'd been looking. "You had some questions for me, *Clark*?" she asked, her eyes mocking his poor attempt to hide his interest in her cleavage.

"Yes…how long have you known Luthor, Wanda?" His eyes bobbed down to her chest again of their own accord and he had to drag them back to the cityscape once more in order to focus on the main reason for their meeting.

"Around two years."

"How did you meet?"

"In a bar."

"In a bar where?"

"None of your damn business — I thought this was about Lex, not about me."

"I'm just trying to figure out how well you know him." It was obvious to him that Wanda didn't want to talk about how she met Lex, but he had to know if he was going to find out what had happened to her since she had disappeared in the Congo. However, his cover reason was equally important. "I need to know how much you know about him."

"I told you, I don't know anything."

Well, he'd walked straight into that one! Time to retaliate. "Then why are you here?"

She turned deliberately and looked straight at him. "I like the view." Her face was serious for a second before it broke into another mocking smile. "Anything's better than the cruddy wallpaper back at my apartment."


Marnie Mayhew swore loudly, and adjusted the finely-tuned laser microphone yet again. Why did they have to keep moving around? It was bad enough that they'd picked this stupid big wheel to meet on, forcing her to keep adjusting the line of sight as the wheel slowly turned and the cars changed their position relative to one another. It was even worse that she hated, absolutely hated, heights - her natural place was in a basement listening to tapes of people's phone calls and conversations, not dangling God knew how many feet above the ground in a shoe box trying to record one of the dullest conversations she'd ever had the misfortune to listen to. OK, sex probably wasn't an option here, but couldn't they at least have an argument?


Wanda had crossed over to the other window, leaving him standing like a dummy, off-balance yet again. Had he imagined her meaning just then? Did she really mean she thought he was good-looking, or was she just making fun of him again? This conversation was turning out to be even harder than he had anticipated; he had expected her to be prickly, but he hadn't expected her to confuse him like this all the time. He rallied his thoughts once more and tried to return to his interview questions.

"So you've known Luthor for two years?"

"Yes, Clark."

"But you won't tell me how or where you met him?"

"No, Clark."

He watched her petite form as she gazed out the window, taking in the way she hugged herself as she answered his questions with sing-song monosyllables, pushing him away from her both physically and mentally, and promptly lost his interview thread once more — he couldn't help wondering what had happened to her to make her so defensive and closed. He could only guess at the possible horrors she might have encountered as she made her way from the Congo back to Metropolis, but it was painfully obvious that these things had scarred her deeply, and he hated that.

"I'm sorry, Wanda."

"Sorry, Clark? What for?"

"For whatever hurt you so much you still can't talk about it." He saw her hug herself more tightly, and pressed forward, hating himself for pushing her but needing to find out more. "Was it something that happened in the Congo, Wanda?" he asked quietly.

She whirled on him, eyes wide with panic. "Congo? What do you know about the Congo?"

"Not much. Just that-"

"But that was all a dream! The Congo was a dream! That guy…your friend…he — he said he couldn't send me to the Congo, but that was a dream! Why are you asking about the Congo?"

She shrank away from him as far as she could get and sank down onto the bench seat underneath the window.

"A person I once knew…" Well, he didn't actually know her, but he felt as though he did, "she went to the Congo on assignment and disappeared for four years."

"So? What's that got to do with me? This is crazy — it's just a coincidence, that's all. They say things like this happen all the time — you dream about something or somewhere, and then it comes up in conversation or on the news soon afterwards. It's just coincidence, like two people in a room having the same birthday, or, or the same name, or me liking Double Fudge Crunch bars when you do too. It's just coincidence, that's all, just a coincidence."

Clark felt as though he was teetering on a knife edge — he couldn't go back and retract his question, yet if he went forward, he was going to upset her even more. Yet, he needed to find out why his mention of the Congo had shocked her so much, and he was beginning to suspect that she needed to find out more, too. He joined her on the bench seat, keeping a few feet between them so as to avoid crowding her.

"What did you dream, Wanda?"

She glanced sideways at him, and as he watched, the raw panic on her face was gradually replaced by the mask of world-weary indifference he'd come to know so well. "What do you care?"

"I care a lot. I care that something upset you, I care that you're still upset even though you're trying to hide it, and most of all, I care that I might be the cause of your upset."

She laughed humorously. "Don't worry — it's not your fault. I was like this way before you came along."

"Wanda — look at me." He waited until she turned slowly to face him. "I care," he repeated quietly. "I want to know what happened to make you so sad, and I want to help in any way I can to make things better for you."

She stared at him for a long time before she replied. "I think you probably mean that-"

"I do, Wanda," he interrupted, pouring all his heart and soul into the words.

"-and it's very sweet of you, but there's nothing you can do. This is the way I am, and that's all there is to it. Don't waste your time on me — I'm not worth it."

Oh, God, Lois, but you are! "Never say that. Please never say that you're not worth caring about — it simply isn't true."

She laughed, a nervous, ragged laugh this time. "I bet you say that to everyone."

"Only you, Wanda." He moved a little closer to her. "Only you."

He waited while she stared at the floor, collecting her thoughts together. Slowly, addressing the floor, she began to retell her dream. "I was in an office somewhere, with your friend from last night. We were having an argument, and he told me that he didn't have the funds to send me and Pete to the Congo on a wild goose-chase. Then I woke up." She looked at him. "What does it mean? Who was your friend, and what was he doing in my dream?"

"That was Perry White…Mayor Perry White."


Clark watched her carefully while he spoke his next words. "He used to be the editor of the Daily Planet — where I work. Pete was a photographer at the Planet. He disappeared in the Congo at the same time as my…friend."

She stared in fearful bewilderment at him, absorbing his words and slowly assimilating the implications behind them. He was sure she was beginning to believe what he was telling her, and encouraged by this, he moved tentatively a little closer still along the bench, closing his hand ever so lightly over hers where it clutched the edge of the seat.

"Wanda, do you understand what I'm saying?" he asked gently.

Her eyes went down to his hand on hers and came slowly back up to his. "Yeah, I understand. Nice try, Kent, but I'm not that kind of girl any more." She extracted her hand from under his and crossed it over her other hand.

Clark frowned and shook his head in confusion. "What…?"

"I know what your game is, *Clark*." His heart sank fast as he realised her shutters were up again with a vengeance. "You spin me some romantic yarn about me being your long-long friend from way back when, make me think I know you, and then whammo! Let me take you home, Wanda. Let me look after you, Wanda. Let me take you to my bed, Wanda!"

She leapt up and strode over to the other window, staring out with her back to him. Clark was horrified: however did she think that was even remotely on his agenda? He was also furious with himself - he'd crowded her, got too close to her and forced too much information on her far too soon, and now she was rejecting everything he'd said, taking refuge in a total denial of his words. History was repeating itself, or at least, he was repeating himself, he thought angrily, as he remembered how he'd allowed himself to get too close to the other Lois that time so long ago in her house on Hyperion Avenue. The circumstances were different, but the actions were the same; he had almost kissed a happily-married woman who had a husband he respected and admired, all because he couldn't stop himself from wanting to be physically close to Lois.

This Lois was no different; in fact it was ten times worse with this Lois, because he felt so right being near to her like this.

However, he wasn't anywhere close to doing what she had implied by her last words, and he wondered again how she could have thought that of him. Hadn't she been repeatedly calling him 'boy scout' not so long ago, and virtually accusing him of lacking any interest in sex whatsoever? But perhaps this was how other men in her life behaved…

"Is that what Luthor said to you, Wanda?" he asked, knowing with a rapier-cold certainty that he was right.

"Damn you!" she spat.


Wanda gazed blindly at the view set out below her, her eyes suddenly blurring with unshed tears. What did this goody, oh-so-perfect boy scout know about real life? Real life, where you grabbed on to whatever scraps of survival you could; where you made compromises with your conscience; where you were a worthless piece of nothing and then someone came along and made you feel wanted again. Yes, Lex had taken care of her, and given her a home, and she had been grateful to him. He had been gentle and strong, patient and kind, and when he had first invited himself into her bed, she had truly believed that she loved him, or at least could learn to love him in time. She had wanted to give him back something for all the help he'd given her, and if his lovemaking was a little rough and one-sided, then that was a small price to pay for all that he'd done for her. It was only much later that she had realised that he now regarded it as his right to take her wherever and whenever he felt like it, and guarded his rights jealously against any other man who even remotely paid any interest in her. She was left clinging onto the notion that her participation was one small way in which she could take something back from him, while he, of course, continued to enjoy the regular release of his lustful needs.

Now, here was another apparently kind and gentle man, telling her he cared for her and only wanted to help her; immediately she could tell how insidious his words were. Why, he'd hardly finished telling her how much he cared about her before he was sidling up to her and trying to break down her barriers with his apparently innocent hand-clasp. Well, she'd been bitten once, and she was damned if she was going to be taken in twice by a man like Lex.

"Wanda, I'm sorry — I had no right to ask you that." His quiet, subdued words from behind her broke the brittle tension in the air.

No, you didn't! she thought furiously. Even if you were right, you're as bad as he is.

"I know you won't believe me when I say that I'm not like Luthor, but, Wanda, please at least think about what we've talked about — ask yourself why you had a dream about people and events you shouldn't know anything about. Those things actually happened four years ago, and I know you don't believe your dream was a coincidence - so what was it?"

I probably overheard Lex talking about it, Wanda told herself. He probably said something about a reporter who disappeared in the Congo, and lots of people must have talked about Mayor White being ex-editor of the Planet, so I just filled in the gaps, that's all.

She glanced outside and noticed gratefully that their ride was almost over. Just a few more minutes and then she could be shot of this pervert and his wandering eyes…her conscience pricked at her, telling her that she was being unfair: he wasn't a pervert at all, just a guy who cared, but she thrust the thoughts away, preferring to believe the explanation which fitted her view of the world most closely. All men were bastards, and only wanted one thing from her.

The boxcar jerked to a standstill, and her fellow passenger was swiftly at the door, turning for a few last words.

"I've left you my address and phone number." He pointed at the bench he had been sitting on, where she saw he had left a small scrap of paper. "I know you don't think much of me right now, but I'll always be here for you if you need me — or you can just yell help: I'll hear you." She watched his sad, anxious face dispassionately as he hesitated, apparently wanting to say more but unable to form the words properly. In the end, he relented with a simple request: "Take care of yourself, Wanda."

He was gone before she could say anything.


Clark made his way glumly back to the Daily Planet, feeling dejected and completely defeated. One small error and he'd messed up everything. He had been so close to making her realise who she really was, but instead she now distrusted him completely, disliked him because of his insensitive questioning, and he was left knowing hardly anything more than he had before their meeting. He didn't know how long she'd been in Metropolis, he didn't know when or where she had tied up with Luthor, and he was no closer to finding out what happened to her between getting lost in the Congo and turning up in Metropolis four years later. Just before he left her, he had tried to summon up the words to ask her again to trust him, to believe that he was different to Lex Luthor, but her unwelcoming, cold expression had made the words die before they reached his lips, and instead he took refuge in a pathetic, empty plea that she take care of herself.

A cry for help interrupted his thoughts, and it was with some relief that he spun into his suit and flew off in the direction of the call, knowing that at least in this he had a chance of doing something right for a change.

The driver of the runaway truck was intensely grateful for his assistance, and he managed to raise a genuine smile of thanks when the man complemented him on his unerring efforts to keep the citizens of Metropolis safe from disaster. His smile grew even broader when he was informed that his services were appreciated far more than his 'cousin', who never seemed to have had time to stop for a chat after rescuing anyone. Clark knew perfectly well that his 'cousin', in other words, the Clark of the other dimension, hadn't stopped to chat because he didn't want to encourage speculation about his origins: explaining that you were a visitor from another dimension was guaranteed to have people calling for the men in white coats. Nevertheless, it was nice to know he was being favourably compared to CK, who after all was his role model.

It was with a lighter heart that he walked down the ramp into the newsroom, where he found half the staff grouped around the bank of TV screens at one end of the room. Jeff caught his eye as he strolled up to find out what was happening and broke away from the group to meet him halfway.

The editor regarded him with a mixture of concern and worry. "Ten-car pile up out on the freeway. I guess you're on, buddy."

Clark looked past him to the monitors, taking in the tangle of metal and emergency service vehicles strewn over the freeway. He nodded jerkily and was already yanking at his tie when Jeff put a hand on his shoulder.

"You gonna be OK?"

He met his editor's serious eyes. "Yes," he affirmed, then feeling that his answer was inadequate given the man's obvious care and concern for him, added "Thanks," before speeding out of the newsroom and into the sky.

Of course, he knew what Jeff had been asking: this was his first big road accident since the one he had flipped out on. Then, he had abandoned the scene to the thinly-stretched rescue services when he had encountered that poor woman trapped in her car, who had done no more than remind him too vividly of another woman who had died in a wrecked car; a woman he had thought he loved.

But that was then, and this was now. The memories lingered with him, and he knew he would never forget those terrible moments: they were seared on his brain forever, but now he could cope. That was what his friend Clark had taught him — how to cope with the grief, and how to return to his life with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence. This rescue would be all right: he would undoubtedly encounter some fearful, heart-wrenching sights, but he would do his job to the best of his ability, go home and cope with the consequences, then put it behind him and move on.


Wanda sat morosely in front of her make-up mirror in the tiny night-club dressing room, mechanically applying the same shades and colours she had been wearing for the past year. The look was beginning to seem tired and unattractive to her eyes, in the same way that her whole existence was beginning to look more and more grey and unfulfilling. She would pull on one of the current batch of close-fitting dresses Lex had provided for her, go out on stage and sing her set pieces, avoiding the lascivious stares of the punters on the front row, take a drink backstage from the barman, then fend off Lex's attentions before dragging herself back to the dark, dingy hole which passed for home. Then she would sleep until late the next morning; sometimes afternoon when there wasn't anything else to do, zap a plastic meal in her microwave and force it down, carry out any other of the basic chores necessary to sustain life, watch TV for a couple of hours, and finally the whole cycle would start again when she left for the Ace O' Clubs once more.

She found herself hoping that Clark Kent might be in the audience tonight again, despite her views on his behaviour earlier in the day. At least he was easy on the eyes, and he didn't openly leer at her like the rest of the crowd did. Her mind wandered back to his expression just before he had left her alone in the boxcar; he had looked sad and defeated, she admitted to herself — but then of course he did, because she had seen through his trickery, dashing his hopes of pulling a fast one on her. But there had been anxiety as well, her conscience pointed out, anxiety for your safety and happiness, and that was why he asked you to take care of yourself. That was rubbish too, though — he was only anxious that she would spill the beans on him: Superman the womaniser would make an excellent headline or two. Her lip curled in dry amusement at the irony of Mr Whiter-than-white being exposed as a weak-willed skirt-chaser, imagining his good-looking visage plastered all over the tabloid newspapers with hysterical headlines to suit. Except he didn't once ask her not to say anything about their encounter, unlike Lex, who often told her to keep her mouth shut about something she had overheard or been an accidental party to. He also didn't try to force her to do anything she didn't want to — his only request had been for her to do some thinking, and the request had been delivered in quiet, pleading tones, not sharp, demanding tones like Lex used these days. And she was vaguely aware of some kind of recent crisis in his life to do with a woman — hadn't he disappeared for a while after she died? Of course, that didn't mean he actually loved her, or even cared about her; maybe there had been embarrassing consequences after her death which he had needed to distance himself from for a while.

Anyway, why else would Clark Kent be bothering with her? There was that rubbish about his friend being lost in the Congo, but she didn't believe that story for a minute — OK, there were some weird co-incidences, but that was all they were.

Weird co-incidences, she repeated to herself a few times as she completed her preparations for the stage. Nothing more, nothing less.


"Thank you, that will be all, Ms Mayhew." Luthor dismissed the greasy-haired, bespectacled little scrap of a woman with a wave of his hand.

"Don't you want me to show you how to work the tape machine, Mr Luthor? Here, you press this button to re-"

"Enough!" Luthor sighed and brought his temper back under control as she shrank away from him. She really had to be one of the most unattractive women in his employ, he thought wearily, glancing with distaste over the lumpy knitted waistcoat, droopy sludge-coloured cardigan and knee-length tweed skirt with the odd-shaped stain on one side. It had to be coffee, he told himself again, it just had to be… "I'll manage just fine, I assure you. Now go back down to that hole you call an office and continue your surveillance, Ms Mayhew."

He crossed to the door and opened it for her, holding his breath as she passed by him and out of the room. If it wasn't for the fact that she was so good at her job, he would have dismissed her long ago and found someone less…fragrant to continue her work. It was a pity Mrs Cox wasn't knowledgeable enough in this field - however, his private secretary had several other admirable attributes which made her an essential part of his daily routine. Smiling as he remembered her most recent imaginative contribution, he switched on the tape recorder and settled down to listen to Wanda's conversations with her new friend.

Several minutes later, he reached over and turned the tape off again. So Wanda was starting to get her memory back, was she? Well, perhaps it was time to wind up the Detroit project — he was getting bored with her these days anyway, especially as she was becoming less manageable than she used to be. He had enjoyed two glorious years of sweet revenge on her, and brought her down just about as far as he wanted to, but now the pleasure was waning. He had bigger fish to fry, and he was important enough in this city that he could get just about anything he wanted — including Mrs Cox, who after all was far more gifted at certain physical exertions than Wanda would ever be. Of course, it would have been grossly satisfying to see Wanda regain her memory and then realise just how triumphantly he had manipulated her, but that was too risky — she knew too much about him. No, better to dispose of her now, while she posed no threat.

What of Mr Kent? He was obviously pathetically attracted to Wanda, which made Lex angry: he may have lost interest in Wanda himself, but she was still his woman and he was damned if anyone, especially Clark Kent, that sexless buffoon in tights and a cape, was going to take her from him. Mr Kent's interest was also inconvenient: if there was one person who could wreck his plans to dispose of Wanda, it would be the super-being. Finally, the man was apparently also intent on investigating Luthor's business dealings: this could not be allowed to happen.

So, in summary, what were his action points? One: neutralise Clark Kent. Two: dispose of Wanda. He added a third: fund some research into Kryptonian physiology.


Wanda smiled hollowly at the fat businessman on the front row trying to sneak a peek up her skirt. Deciding to raise his pulse to danger levels, she bent down towards him, giving him a clear view down her cleavage and spoke in her best deep sexy tones into the microphone.

"Got any requests, big boy?"

She watched while he broke out into a sweat and stared with a fixed glaze down her front. Even the bald patch on top of his head was sweating, she realised in disgust. Reaching down, she grabbed his tie and pulled it up towards her, half-strangling him and forcing him even closer to her cleavage. The rest of the room laughed and clapped loudly, enjoying her humiliating treatment of the fat man. His face turned puce, but he retained enough of his wits to bring up a hand to try and fondle her, at which point she let go abruptly, making him fall back into his seat with a thump. The room roared with approval, and over their noise, she turned her back on them and breathed into the microphone, "Maybe not such a big boy after all."

She whirled around and moved smoothly into her last number before the crowd could recover, cranking up the excitement in the room with the pace and clever lyrics of the song, finishing with a sudden plunge into darkness as she hurried off the stage to grab a mouthful of soda before coming back on to take her bows. A glance down at her victim told her he was still suffering, patting his face shakily with a folded handkerchief and swigging from his beer bottle in an ineffectual attempt to cool down. She nodded down at him with an amused smile, then escaped from the stage once and for all.

Back in her dressing-room, she finished off the soda and dumped the glass on her dressing table. At least she was able to take her revenge now and then — and the beauty was that the crowd loved it when she did things like that, so no-one was likely to ask her to stop. Not even Lex. Her heart sank immediately when she recalled her disappointment on stepping out onto the stage; there was no sign of Clark Kent, but Lex was standing in the background, wearing his expensive tuxedo and his self-satisfied smile, clapping dispassionately at her antics. No doubt there would soon be a knock at her door.

Her hands shook slightly as she cleaned off her make-up. Resolving not to allow Lex to have sex with her ever again was one thing; putting it into practice was going to be harder. She had no doubt that he would be aggressive, and for the second time that night, she found herself wishing that Clark Kent was around in case she couldn't cope with him. This was ridiculous, she told herself sharply: she could take care of herself, couldn't she? She didn't need some guy in a pair of tights to defend her from Lex Luthor. Anyway, as far as Lex knew, she had just started her period, so he wasn't likely to try anything tonight, was he?

"My, my, Wanda, you certainly put that poor man in his place, didn't you?" Lex stood in the open door, smiling benevolently at her.

She glanced up at him from her seat in front of the dressing table. "He deserved it — he was trying to look up my skirt."

Lex continued into the room and shut the door behind him. "You must remind me never to try something like that with you, my dear. You were quite formidable." He stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders, looking at her via the mirror. "My Wanda. How much you've changed from the weak little kitten I found so long ago. These days you're a tigress, my sweet."

She ducked away from his hands and stood up to peel herself out of the tight-fitting dress. His hand was on her zip, pulling it down her back, before she could stop him.

"Thanks," she muttered and tried to walk away from him, but his hands came round her waist and turned her around to face him.

"I see such passion in your eyes, tigress," he told her, reaching up to pull the now-loose dress down her front. She tried to stop him with her hands but he resisted her attempts and managed to push it down so far that she was forced to free her arms from the arm-holes or end up bent double in front of him. "Don't hide from me, tigress," he reprimanded, bringing a hand up to fondle her.

"Lex, don't you remember? I came on early yesterday."

She pulled away from him again, but he held her fast in his arms, showing her a beatific smile as he did so. "Frankly, my dear, I don't believe you."

Her heart was thudding in her chest in panic, but she pushed a puzzled look onto her face. "I don't understand. Why wouldn't you believe me?"

"Oh, I have my reasons," he replied calmly. "Let's see if I'm right, hmmm?" His hand continued to roam over her without permission.

She grabbed his wrist desperately, managing to stop him momentarily. "Lex, please! Leave it alone — I'll make it up to you in a few days' time, I promise. I could come round to your apartment, or, or we could go to a hotel…you know, one of those really posh ones, with all the extra gadgets in the bedrooms? You could even hire the honeymoon suite-"

"Oh, yes, tigress, you're making me really hot with all these wonderful suggestions." He pushed his hand out of her grasp and continued on his way. "Let's see how hot I'm making you."

Wanda was dizzy with desperation and panic. Without even thinking about it, her knee came up with all the force she could muster and hit him squarely between the legs, backing away frantically as his grip loosened on her and he doubled over in pain.

"Bitch!" he ground out between clenched teeth, holding himself between his legs. "You'll pay for this!"

She grabbed her clothes and bag and fled from the room, his warning ringing in her ears.


Clark stepped wearily into his shower, turning it up to full power so that he could feel it hammering hard against his skin, washing away the dirt and grime of the rescue operation on the freeway. As he had anticipated, the rescue had been a tough one, and despite his and the emergency services' best efforts, there had been one fatality. Unfortunately, the person who had died was also the cause of the disaster — the paramedics had told him that she had most probably suffered the heart-attack while still driving her car along the freeway. Why she hadn't pulled in as soon as the pain had started they would never know, and recriminations were both inappropriate and pointless. Worse for Clark had been the teenager with injuries so bad that none of the paramedics were sure whether he would survive the night or not. One paramedic commented that even if he did survive, he would be left with severe disabilities for the rest of his life. To Clark, that was a tragic waste of a young life, and he hated the fact that despite his incredible gifts, there were some things he could never put right.

The sound of his door bell pulled him back to the present. Wondering who could be calling on him at this time of night, he dried himself at superspeed, pulled on his sleep-shorts and a short dressing gown, and took a look through the door. Not quite able to believe his eyes, he unfastened the lock hastily and gazed wide-eyed at his visitor.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" asked Wanda.

"Sure…" he stood aside to let her walk past him, staring disbelievingly at her as she entered his apartment.

"I guess you're wondering what I'm doing here," she said, walking down his stairs into the sunken lounge. "I am too. I mean, why should I trust you any more than I trust Lex…" she looked around vaguely at his apartment. "Nice brickwork…anyway, I guess I thought you're my best bet — my only bet, in fact. Pathetic, isn't it? I've lived in this town for two years and the only guy I think just might be able to help me wears electric blue ski pants and a cape. So here I am — do you mind if I sit down? Thanks."

She dropped down onto his sofa without waiting for a reply, and huddled in on herself while fixing her gaze at the carpet. Clark had followed her down the stairs and was now standing opposite her, staring in stunned silence down at her. One piece of information from her monologue echoed again and again in his mind.

"You've been in Metropolis for two years?" he blurted out, pleasantries and manners flying out the window as the need to confirm his worst fears over-rode all else.

She looked up at him, about to confirm his tangential question with matter-of-fact bluntness, when she noticed his expression. She expected surprise, but what she didn't expect was pain: what did it matter to him how long she'd lived in Metropolis? "What's it to you?"

"I…" he hesitated before shuttering away his feelings behind a bland expression. "It doesn't matter. Can I get you anything - a coffee, or tea? Or maybe you'd prefer wine or beer…sorry I don't have anything stronger."

"What, no whisky or brandy?"

He shook his head apologetically.

"I guess coffee will have to do then. Relax, Clark, just because I'm a night-club singer doesn't mean you have to ply me with strong liquor to keep me happy."

"Oh, I didn't mean-"

"Yes, you did. Go on, go make me some coffee," she ordered.

Clark took his time making the coffee to buy himself some thinking time. Why was she here? She had rejected him roundly after his ill-judged behaviour on the Ferris wheel, leaving him with the impression that he would have to work hard to regain her trust; he had expected to spend several phone calls persuading her to let him meet her again, yet here she was in his apartment already. He couldn't believe his luck — half of him wanted to shout for joy at being given this second chance to redeem himself. The other half told him that she had to be pretty desperate to come to someone she had rejected so recently — did she want something that only he could give her? That would surely have to involve superpowers, and he couldn't imagine why she would need that type of help. Or maybe she had decided to seek his help in bringing down Luthor — that would be wonderful, but again, why would she have decided he was worthy of her co-operation? What would make her desperate her enough? — she had to be afraid, he decided, which meant that she was in trouble. Oh God, what had Luthor done to her? He felt a quick surge of anger, knowing that if that evil man had caused her distress then he would be hard-pushed to maintain his objectivity.

Taking a deep, calming breath, he carried two steaming mugs back into the lounge, handed her one and sat down opposite her. "So what can I do for you?"

She cuddled the mug in both hands, the sardonic, world-weary exterior she usually wore now lost, leaving only hesitancy and vulnerability. Snatching a quick glance up at him, she started uncertainly. "I-I wondered if you might let me stay the night."

"Sure, Wanda, of course you can stay. But why? Has something happened to your own apartment?"

She laughed humorously. "Apartment. No, nothing has happened to my *apartment*."

"So why…?"

"Why can't I stay there? Because someone knows I live there, and I'd prefer that someone not be able to find me tonight."

Clark felt a fresh surge of anger, but pushed it back down again. "Is it Luthor, Wanda? What did he do to you?"

"Oh, nothing much." She took a slurp of coffee. "He just threatened me," she continued in a vain attempt at a matter-of-fact tone. "That probably doesn't sound like much to you, but you don't know Lex like I do. When he threatens someone, you start looking for the obituary."

"I believe you, Wanda — the man's evil. But why did he threaten you? I thought you and he were…together." He would have said lovers, except that she didn't know that he knew that.

"Not any more. I think he got the message about that when I kneed him in the groin."

Clark raised his eyebrows in surprise tinged with admiration. "I'll bet he did! Remind me never to get on the wrong side of you, Wanda."

She looked up and smiled wanly. "Yeah, I have a lethal knee action when I'm provoked."

As he looked at her, a single tear suddenly escaped from her bright, shining eyes and trickled slowly down her cheek. Her hand came up to dash it away in embarrassment, and his heart welled up in sympathetic sadness for her plight.

"Wanda," he whispered, wanting to comfort her but scared of crowding her with his words or actions.

"I'm OK — it's all right," she assured him in a small voice, taking refuge in a gulp of coffee from her mug. But she was far from all right; her face screwed up in anguish and the tears began in earnest.

She looked so lonely and desolate, sitting there on his sofa sobbing over her mug of coffee, yet he still didn't want to crowd her. On the other hand, he couldn't leave her alone in her misery; he stood up and sat down carefully beside her. Seeing that she didn't shrink away from him, he brought his arm up hesitantly and laid it gently around her shaking shoulders. She leaned a little towards him at first, and then he was holding her tightly to him, whispering soft shushing noises to her while she sobbed her heart out in his arms.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" he asked gently when she had cried herself out and had reached the sharp gulping stage.

He felt her shake her head against his shoulder. "Too long," she forced out in a strangled voice between gulps of air.

"That's OK — I've got all the time in the world, Wanda. I'm a pretty good listener."

She shook her head again. "No. Thanks."

"All right. Shhh…" He soothed his hand over her back, content just to hold her as long as she needed. There was no question of forcing her to tell him; he would give her as much space as she wanted, if indeed she ever wanted to share whatever had happened tonight with him.


Wanda felt safe and secure in this man's arms. When she had fled from the Ace O' Clubs, her mind whirling from the violence of her encounter with Lex, there had been only one place of refuge which stood out in her thoughts, and that had been Clark Kent's apartment. She didn't want to go back to her own room — she was too vulnerable there, and everyone else she knew also knew Lex; she wanted to be invisible to her ex-lover for as long as she possibly could. Just as she had told Clark, Lex didn't make idle threats, and she was sure he would take her attack on him very personally indeed.

Now she was being held in Clark's arms, and somehow her earlier mistrust of him had melted away. She felt no pressure from him to explain her tears — how could she, anyway, when she was crying for more than just tonight, but for her whole, sorry existence under the cloud of Lex Luthor and his sickly-sweet, cloying, controlling influence? All Clark was doing in contrast was supporting her, letting her cry all over him — Lex had never done that, she realised with renewed hatred; he usually told her briskly to dry her eyes and pull herself together.

She thought back to the conversation on the Ferris wheel, when she had decided that Clark Kent was another Lex Luthor — all surface kindness and tainted lechery underneath. Sitting here with him, hearing his steady breathing above her, feeling his strong arm enveloping her in security and warmth, made her wonder how she could ever have suspected him of being that kind of man. Sure, he had admired her chest, but after all, she had drawn his attention to her breasts, and anyway, she remembered how it had been kind of flattering to feel his gaze on her. Then he had come close to her on the bench and touched her hand — her hand, for God's sake! What was the big deal in that?

A little voice in her head was telling her that this wasn't the best time to be making character assessments, that she should reserve judgement on Clark Kent until he had proved himself to her, but for now she ignored it. Right now, she wanted to feel safe and secure, and being in this apartment with him was doing just that for her. Tomorrow, she would let the little voice have its say.

She shifted in his arms to sit up straighter, feeling much calmer now that he had let her cry herself out. "Sorry about that," she said with a quick apologetic smile at him.

"Hey! Not a problem. Any time you want to leave a damp patch on my t-shirt, just say the word," he smiled back at her. He glanced at his watch. "It's late. You ready for bed?"

For a split second, she wondered what he was implying. The apartment didn't look big enough to accommodate two bedrooms, let alone two beds. She nodded slowly.

"OK, just give me a second to collect some of my stuff, and then it's all yours." He stood up, walked around a corner of the lounge, then came back in from another corner carrying towels and a toothbrush. "Here," he said, handing them to her. "Don't worry, it's new — the toothbrush, I mean. Let me show you where everything is."

He led her around to the bedroom and then the bathroom, finishing up in the kitchen so that she knew where the coffee, tea and breakfast things were.

"But where…where will you be sleeping?" she asked finally.

"Oh, I'll be fine on that." He pointed to the couch.

She looked doubtfully at its length and general shape. "It doesn't look very comfortable. Look, I'm smaller than you — why don't you take the bed and I'll sleep here?"

He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Lois-" He stopped and froze with a curious expression of panic on his face.

Wanda frowned. "Lois?" she repeated. "Lois who? Lois what?"

Again the shuttered blank look. "Never mind. I'll be fine on the sofa — besides, I often float when I'm sleeping so it doesn't really matter what I'm sleeping on."

"You float?" she asked incredulously, filing away the 'Lois' mistake for further investigation later.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"I guess it's better than snoring — or maybe you do that too?"

"Not that I know of."

"Do you do this floating in one place, or do you float around the room? I just need to know if I should expect a Clark-shaped cloud to appear over my bed or not."

"As far as I know, I don't move around much."

"O-kay. Is there anything else I should know?"

"Nope, just the floating."

"Just the floating. Yeah. 'Night, Clark."

"Goodnight, Wanda."


Wanda woke up with a start, totally disorientated for a few seconds — the bed was too big and strange; it was too quiet. Then everything came flooding back to her and she relaxed. She was in Clark Kent's bed, in his apartment, and she was safe. Opening her eyes, she found that it was still dark, and gradually her brain processed the reason for her sudden wakefulness: a strange whooshing noise. She sat up and craned her neck around to look at his alarm clock on the ledge behind the bed: 3.30am. So what had made the odd noise? Curious, and now wide awake, she pulled back the bedcovers and sat up cautiously, letting her eyes adjust to the dark. As black shadows coalesced into objects around the room, she decided that nothing in here could have created the whoosh; however, there was very weak light coming in from the living room — perhaps that was the source. Of course, that was where he was sleeping, which gave her pause; still, she was sure she wasn't going to get any more sleep tonight until the mystery was solved. With great daring, she stepped gingerly around the corner into the living room.

The weak light filtering in through the window highlighted one end of the sofa, allowing her to see quite clearly. He was sitting amongst the mess of his makeshift bed in the Superman suit with his head in his hands, staring at the carpet. All at once the whoosh made sense — he must have just returned from a rescue somewhere. Feeling suddenly as if she was intruding on something private, she was about to turn back to the bedroom when he looked up.

"Sorry," she whispered. "I wondered what the noise was."

"I had to go out," he explained softly. "Sorry I woke you."

"Don't worry about it. Just glad I figured it out."


"I'll leave you in peace, then."


She turned to retreat, but stopped again: something wasn't right. He had looked so sad and low sitting there with his head in his hands, and now he was hardly responding at all to her prompts. She turned around again. "You all right?"

He gave her a weak smile. "I'm fine. You go back to bed."

"You don't look fine. No-one died, I hope?" she asked with a quirkily raised eyebrow, attempting to inject a lighter note into the atmosphere.

It was a mistake; he simply stared at her.

"Oh God, I'm sorry! I should have thought…" Idiot, Wanda, idiot! "Was-was it someone very special?" she asked gently.

He looked away. "They all are…" She thought that was all he was going to say, but then he continued. "He was just a teenager — I rescued him earlier today. The paramedics didn't think he'd make it, but I had to go to the hospital and find out — sometimes they recover against all the odds, you know?"

"Clark, I'm sorry. I-I don't know what to say."

"No-one ever does. I mean, what can you say?"

"Nothing that will change anything, I guess."

"No. Words don't bring them back…look, I'll be fine. Why don't you go back to bed? There's still a few hours before daytime."

"You sure?" She wasn't entirely sure how she could help him, but she felt bad leaving him when he was so obviously hurting.

"Yes, really. I'll see you in the morning."

"OK. 'Night again."


Wanda climbed back into the half-warm bed again, sad for her host and the boy he had rescued. She hadn't really considered that his job might entail more than just rushing in, making a heroic rescue or two and then rushing back out again. His Superman persona was so confident and competent that he naturally took on the appearance of an efficient rescue machine, especially dressed in that ridiculous costume of his. However, if he was attending accidents and disasters on a regular basis, he was also encountering injury and death on a regular basis, and it was now obvious to her that he wasn't a machine at all; he took the fate of the people he rescued very seriously. Not only that, but it affected him deeply.

There was more to Clark Kent than she had first thought, she decided. And who was Lois, she wondered, remembering his earlier mistake in the kitchen. His shuttered expression had told her that she was someone important to him — perhaps she was the girlfriend who had died not so long ago. If she was, then her tentative theory about him running away due to embarrassing circumstances was possibly wrong. This required further investigation; in fact, Clark Kent required further investigation.


Clark pottered around the kitchen, happily making coffee and digging out a selection of breakfast things from his cupboards. Lois Lane was in his apartment, and life was pretty good. He still felt echoes of the previous night's sadness and tragedy within him, but they were balanced by the knowledge that the woman of his dreams - his mouth quirked at the corny phrase — was sharing his apartment with him.

He heard movement from the bedroom, and then the sound of the shower running. He paused for a moment, stricken by the thought of Lois, standing naked in his shower only a few feet away from him. He looked over in the direction of the bathroom…it would be so easy - flick the glasses down, a quick burst of x-ray vision…don't go there, Clark…he shook his head to clear it and resumed slicing the loaf of bread. Minutes later he heard her humming to herself, and once more he paused, imagining her soaping herself down, running her hands over her chest…get a grip, he scolded himself. Suddenly his jeans were very constricting and uncomfortable, and he grimaced - after yesterday, this was the last thing he needed.


She was coming into the kitchen in her jeans and t-shirt…oh, oh. Maybe it was the effect of the shower, but her chest was showing him a lot more than he really wanted to see right now. He carried the plate of bread over to the table, using it as a strategic cover-up, and sat down quickly, pulling his chair in tight so that all of his lower half was hidden under the table.

"Morning," he beamed up at her, going straight for her face and missing out the bit in between. "Breakfast is served."

"So I see. I'm not usually much of a breakfast person. I will have some coffee though."

Darn! He'd left the coffee on the counter. "Help yourself," he replied, waving in the appropriate direction.

She poured herself a mug and came to sit at the table with him. "I wanted to thank you for putting me up…and everything else. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't let me stay here."

"I'm just glad you're safe." Clark hesitated, unsure of how she would take his next suggestion. "I was wondering…would you like to stay here for a few days — until you can find a place of your own? I know it's not ideal — the apartment's not really big enough for two, and you have to put up with my floating," he paused, sharing a brief smile with her, "but it's pretty central and I'm out a lot so you'd have it to yourself most of the time."

"Clark, I couldn't do that. You've already done more for me than I deserve." She began buttering a piece of bread absently. "I'll be fine — I can check into a hotel somewhere for a few days."

Clark didn't think that was a good idea; it was unlikely that she made very much money in her singing job, and probably could ill-afford Metropolis hotel rates. "Won't that be expensive?"

"I'll manage." She folded the bread in two, took a bite and pulled a face. "You got any peanut butter?"

Something else that wasn't on the table. And he wanted some more coffee. "In the fridge." He picked up his mug and offered it to her. "Get me a refill while you're up?"

"Sure." She fetched the items and came back to the table, regarding his awkward sitting position in amused consternation. "You comfortable there?"

"I-I'm a messy eater." And no, I'm not comfortable, I'm very uncomfortable.

"I find napkins are generally more comfortable then squashing myself tight up to the table."

Yeah, they probably are — just not a regular feature of men's contemporary fashion. Perhaps he could start a trend…

"It really wouldn't be any trouble having you stay here, Wanda, and besides, you'll be safer here than in a hotel," he suggested.


"I make a pretty mean chilli."

"You do, do you?"

"Not much else, mind you, but I can bring you food from just about anywhere in the world."

She considered him while munching on the last of her peanut butter sandwich. "OK. You persuaded me. How can I resist mean chilli?"



Clark offered to collect some of Wanda's things from her room; he suggested it might be safer if he went on her behalf, and to his relief she agreed. She gave him a short list, embarrassing him by describing exactly where to find her underwear and which items to select, and ten minutes later he was returning with a small bag of clothes and toiletries.

Opening his front door, he heard voices inside, and alarmed, he flung open the door and sped down the stairs to find Wanda. She was standing talking to two policemen in the middle of his living room. When they saw he had arrived, they turned to him.

"Clark Kent?" the taller one asked severely.

"Yes," replied Clark. "What's the problem, officers?"

"I have to ask you to come down to the police station with us, sir — we have reason to believe that you are in possession of information pertaining to an ongoing investigation."

"Sorry?" asked Clark incredulously. "What investigation?"

"I'm not at liberty to tell you that here," the officer replied with a glance at Wanda.

Clark frowned. Was the man implying that the investigation had something to do with Wanda? Perhaps there was more to her story about the confrontation with Lex than she had told him. But then surely they'd be after her, not him? There was yesterday's road accident, he supposed, but he wasn't aware of any criminal issues which could have arisen from that situation either — it had been a tragic accident caused by a heart attack, no more. Unless someone from the accident was involved in criminal activities — that was possible.

"Is it to do with yesterday's road accident?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't tell you. If you'll just come with us…" The officer moved to grasp Clark's upper arm to shift him along, but Clark snatched it away in annoyance.

"Hold on! I'm always happy to help the police with an investigation — you know that — but right now isn't very convenient." Clark didn't want to leave Wanda on her own so soon. He'd planned on making sure she was settled into his apartment, perhaps dawdling at home with her for a couple of hours before going into work late. "Maybe I could stop by later — say, this afternoon?"

"Sorry. No can do. We have orders to bring you in now."

"Bring me in?" That sounded almost as if they were threatening to arrest him, not ask for his help.

"Just a phrase, Mr Kent, just a phrase. But we really do need you right now."

Clark was beginning to feel suspicious — this sounded too much like a set-up. "May I see your badges, please?"

Both men sighed heavily, but reached into their back pockets and produced the requisite proof of identity. Clark took both and examined them carefully, using his x-ray vision to ensure they weren't fake. Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he crossed quickly to the phone and dialled the police station.

"Do you have a Lieutenant Gus Black, badge number 483720, working there?"

"Yes," replied the desk sergeant. "You want to speak to him?"

"No, he's here," replied Clark. "Can you describe him to me, please?" he asked while eyeing the man in question carefully.

"Six two, dark brown hair, brown eyes, clean-shaven, a beer belly he thinks he can hide by wearing jackets that are too big for him, and you could remind him about that twenty bucks he still owes me if you're with him. Say, is that Clark Kent?"


"Sure glad they found you, buddy. We really need you down here."

He still couldn't imagine why, but the sergeant sounded genuine enough in his exhortation. "I'm on my way. Thanks, sergeant."

"No problem, Mr Kent."

Clark handed back the badges and turned to Wanda.

"I'm sorry — it looks like I have to leave you. Will you be OK? I'll be as quick as I can."

She smiled reassuringly. "I'll be fine."

"You won't go out before I get back?"

"No, Clark — don't worry! You just watch out for yourself, OK?"

"Hey, I'm Superman!" he chided softly. "Nothing can hurt me."

"Come on, Superman," said Gus, taking him by the arm again. "Your girlfriend will still be here when you get back."

Clark pulled his arm away again. "She's not my girlfriend."

"Whatever," replied Gus.

Clark gave Wanda a last glance of assurance before turning and walking back out of the apartment, the two police officers following him out.


"This way," instructed Gus. They had arrived at the police station, Clark having spent a frustrating car ride trying without success to draw the officers out into explaining what was going on. For people so apparently desperate for his help, they sure weren't offering any of their own, which left him wondering yet again if there was more to this than just a simple request for information. However, if this was a set-up, whoever had organised it had done a pretty thorough job — that desk sergeant would probably have needed to be in on the ruse, for example. The one person he could think of who might possibly go to this kind of trouble was Lex Luthor, yet he couldn't fathom why Luthor would want to go after him, since so far he had hardly done anything to ruffle the magnate's feathers. Sure, he'd made his contempt for the man pretty plain at the club when he first met Wanda, but surely Luthor encountered that kind of attitude every day. It didn't seem enough of a provocation to bother him.

They stopped outside a blank door, presumably leading to one of the many interview rooms at the station. Gus opened the door for him.

"After you, sir."

Clark walked inside and immediately the mystery deepened. In the windowless room stood a single table in front of him, with an empty chair on his side, and on the other side, a balding man in a white coat was standing up and holding out his hand.

"Mr Kent, it's a pleasure to meet you, sir," he enthused. "Or should that be Superman?"

Clark took the proffered hand slowly and shook it firmly. "Mr Kent will do. And you would be?"

"Klein. Bernard Klein. Actually, Dr Bernard Klein, if you want the whole moniker…my, that's a strong grip you've got there, Mr Kent."

Clark released the hand. In truth, he had tensed up when the man revealed his status, although it didn't do any harm to transmit a little of the power he commanded, especially when he was beginning to feel more and more like a cornered animal.

"Well, Dr Klein, perhaps you can tell me what's going on. What is this ongoing investigation which I'm supposed to be in a position to help you with?"

"Is that what they told you? I guess they had to tell you something convincing to get you here. Why don't you take a seat and I'll explain it to you."

Clark hesitated. Now that he had confirmation that he'd been brought here under false pretences, he suddenly he had a strong desire to merely turn around and walk straight out — after all, they couldn't stop him. On the other hand, if he stayed, he might stand a better chance of finding out what this was all about. He sat down.

"I'm all ears," he replied heavily.

"Right. Well, I guess the first thing I have to tell you is that now you're here, you can't leave. Yet, that is."

"I'm sorry?"

"Oh, dear…I'm not very good at these things. Let's see…the city has raised an emergency court order forcing you to co-operate with me until I'm satisfied I have all the information I need."


"I told you I'm not very good at this…" he looked past Clark to the policeman guarding the door. "Officer, perhaps you could…?"

The officer reached inside his jacket and produced a sheet of paper which he held up. "It's all here," he said.

"Let me see that!" Clark shot up and grabbed the sheet from the officer. He scanned it quickly. He'd never seen a court order before, but it certainly looked official. It seemed he had to do just as Dr Klein had told him. "And if I don't?" he asked the police officer.

"Then we'll have to arrest you."

"I see." He was fuming. Who on earth had set this up, and what sort of information did this scientist want from him? He didn't know anything that the city authorities might benefit from, and he certainly didn't know anything that a scientist would find useful. There was one person who could clear this mess up, though. "Can I make a phone call?"

"No. Paragraph three, sub-section two," answered the officer.

Clark looked. They'd thought of everything, apparently: he couldn't even phone Perry to ask for his help. "OK, can I have someone make a call on my behalf?" he tried.

"Paragraph four, sub-section-"

"OK, OK, got it!" He looked back at Dr Klein, folding up the court order and placing it on the desk. "It appears I'm all yours. What kind of doctor are you, anyway? Medical?"

"I do have a medical degree, yes, but these days I do research mostly."

"Mostly," repeated Clark heavily. What did that mean? The whole situation was beginning to feel very sinister, especially as he'd just noticed that there was a screen on the other side of the room, hiding God-knew what. He slipped his glasses down his nose to take a look and immediately his heart started pounding in his chest in panic. He could see an examination table surrounded by lots of monitors and measuring devices, with a large circular light poised at the head of the table. This was one of his worst nightmares come true…

"That's fascinating," exclaimed Dr Klein. "You can't use your x-ray vision through the glasses? Why is that? Do you have the same problem with all glass, or are they made of a special material? I guess leaded glass would be the obvious choice-"

"What is it you want from me?" Clark shot back at Klein. "You do know I'm invulnerable, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, and that's one of the most fascinating aspects about you of all. Do you know why that is? Have you always been invulnerable, or was it something which gradually developed during your time on Earth?"

"Dr Klein, what is going on?" He almost shouted the words at the prattling scientist, making him recoil and stop talking for a moment. "Why do you have medical equipment behind that screen?" he asked in a quieter voice.

The scientist looked apologetic. "I'm sorry, I should have explained. Why they give me these jobs to do, I'll never know. I'm a scientist, not a policeman or a politician — give me a mass spectrometer and I'll know exactly what to do with it; give me a court order-"

"Dr Klein! Please!" protested Clark again.

"Sorry. I'll do my best to explain." Dr Klein tapped his finger on the table while Clark waited impatiently for him to continue. "You see, the city believes that you're a very valuable asset to Metropolis, and they're delighted with the wonderful work that you do in keeping Metropolis a safer place for its citizens."

"But?" asked Clark warily.

"Put simply, they don't want to lose you. So little is known about your physiology, that if you were to fall ill-"

"I don't get sick," objected Clark.

"But if you did, there would be nothing we could do to help you. The city feels it owes you to store at least some basic medical information about your body, in order to take care of the admittedly unlikely eventuality that something untoward were to befall you."

"That's very generous of them, I'm sure, but I told you — I don't get sick."

"How do you know you never will, though? Your outward appearance is so like one of us that I can't believe that it's impossible for you to succumb to the same types of physical ailments that we might. Highly unlikely, I grant you, considering your invulnerability and great strength, but still a possibility."

"Well, personally, I'd prefer to take my chances. Tell the city thanks, but no thanks."

"They don't want to take the chance," replied Klein bluntly.

Clark stared at him, at an impasse in his counter-arguments. Something didn't feel right here, but he didn't know how to refuse to co-operate without breaking the rules of the court order, and that was a course of action he preferred to reserve for rather more life-threatening situations than this appeared to be. On the face of it, Dr Klein was offering him a benign recording of basic medical facts about himself, which could well benefit him at some point in the future. He still remembered the searing agony which that lump of kryptonite had caused him when Tempus had brandished it at him, and he was only too aware that it could cause him serious damage, and ultimately death. He was also acutely aware that he had no idea where that kryptonite had ended up: he had returned with Perry later but had found no trace of it. So if someone attacked him with it, then his only chance of survival may well be the information which Dr Klein was offering to collect.

If still felt wrong. All those years of Lana telling him to hide his powers away, lest they — whoever 'they' were — cart him away and dissect him like a frog, came flooding back to him. Here he was, preparing to submit himself to exactly that type of examination, with a man he didn't know and in the worst possible circumstances. How could he control the use of this information once it was taken? The answer was obvious: he couldn't. Once the government had control of it, anyone could get hold of it, including any criminal who just might think he or she could use it against him. Of course, that wouldn't be in the government's interest, if they were doing this to protect him, so he could assume that reasonable precautions would be taken to protect the information.

"What will happen to this data?" he asked.

"Oh, it will be very secure, don't worry about that. The files will be stored in a vault at Star Labs — that's where I work - and believe me, the security there is very good. Once something is locked away in there, almost no-one can get it back out again."

"Almost no-one?"

"Well, me, of course, a couple of the senior staff at Star Labs, and one or two officials from City Hall. But the checks are very rigorous — retina scans, voice-coding, the lot."

It sounded safe, but Clark was sure that someone determined enough would be able to break in. What to do? He could refuse to obey the court order, let himself be arrested, and then spend as much time, money and effort as it took to get himself exonerated. But the problem with that was that right now, Wanda was alone in his apartment, and he didn't want to spend hours here dealing with red tape while she was on her own. If this set-up was as sinister as he suspected it probably was, then it was faintly possible that it did indeed have something to do with Lex Luthor, and that meant Wanda was vulnerable all the time he was stuck here. The quicker he got through this, the quicker he could return to her.

He sighed. "OK, where do you want me?"

"If you'll just come around here and remove your shirt…"


Once Clark left the room, the police officer cocked an amused eyebrow at Dr Klein as he tidied up.

"Wonder what he'd have done if you'd told him the real reason for the court order, Doc?"

Dr Klein frowned. "What do you mean, the real reason?"

"You know — how they want to find out how to control him if he runs amok? The folks down at City Hall got mighty nervous when he lost it at that road accident a few months back; got 'em wondering what might happen if he really went crazy."

"Oh, my!" Dr Klein raised his hand to his mouth in dismay. "I never knew! What have I done?"

"Don't worry, Doc — you did the right thing."

"Did I?"


Wanda sat on Clark's sofa, her hand supporting her chin while she pondered the carpet with a frown. When the two police officers had turned up on Clark's doorstep, she had immediately been uneasy, and their brusque manner did nothing to dispel that feeling. Their story about needing Clark's help with an investigation had sounded completely phoney to her ears, and they had seemed just a tad too forceful in their insistence that he accompany them to the station right there and then. She couldn't help wondering if this was in some way connected to Lex — the man had contacts in his pocket all over the city, and a stunt like this one wouldn't have been too hard for him to pull. The problem was that she couldn't see how even Lex would have made a connection between her and Clark — OK, she had taunted Clark with her singing and had one brief conversation with him in Lex's presence, but she had been pretty scathing on both occasions towards him. She hoped fervently that Clark wasn't in any danger because of her — as he had said, he was Superman and thus invulnerable, but there was more than one way to hurt; the damage didn't need to be physical.

Still, there was nothing she could do right now to help him, so she may as well find a way of passing the time until he returned - preferably without worrying herself silly every second. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been up so early in the morning, and without Clark, she didn't quite know what to do with herself. Strangely, despite the disturbed night and emotional evening, she felt twitchy with restless energy, yet stuck here, in someone else's living space, she was limited in what she could do to occupy herself.

Remembering suddenly her decision to investigate Clark Kent, it occurred to her that she was currently in the ideal place to do some background work — especially since the subject of her research was conveniently not here. She leapt up and started to stalk around the apartment, looking for clues. There was a well-stocked library of books mixed in with other personal items on one wall; that seemed a good place to start.

Lots of travel books, a healthy collection of classic novels, journalism texts, some foreign language books — her eyebrows raised when she came across a couple in what appeared to be Mandarin or something similar, and then her eyebrows almost disappeared into her hairline when she opened one innocent-looking book in a foreign language. Such graphic illustrations! This was a man who obviously took his duties very seriously — it definitely didn't look like the book was supposed to be titillating; more educational, she thought. Was his practice as good as his theory, she wondered wryly? Probably not, if her experience with men was anything to go by. Moving on, she found a whole host of books on child psychology, which was mildly puzzling. Perhaps he had taken a course at night school, although why he would have chosen child psychology when he obviously didn't have any kids…well, she assumed he didn't have any. Was it research for his job at the Planet — or maybe it was research for his other job as Superman? He could have decided he needed some help understanding the kids he saved, she supposed, although he didn't seem to her like someone who would have trouble relating to children. She'd have to ask him why he had the books when he came back, she decided.

She glanced around the bookshelves looking for personal mementoes — there was a football inscribed with the name of his college, a couple of weird-looking wooden carvings, and a small pile of pending correspondence and bills. Her hand drifted towards those, hovered over the top of them, hesitated, then grabbed them up with a shrug of her shoulders and took a look at the top one. It was an electricity bill — not much to learn from that. The next one was far more interesting — his credit card bill. No balance brought forward - well, of course not, this was Clark Kent the boy scout, who would never spend beyond his means and would regard paying interest as a criminal waste of money. After that, there were a couple of entries for sports ticket agencies, one entry for a men's clothes shop, a few entries for shops and businesses she'd never heard of — her eyebrows rose at the names, which were in several different languages, and a line at the bottom for a company called "P & J Tailoring." Tailoring? He was a nice dresser, but his clothes were definitely off the peg and not custom made — except the suits! Of course, someone had to make his Superman costumes for him. Her mouth turned up at one corner - she wished she'd been a fly on the wall when he placed his first order: "I'll have half a dozen just like this one." What would they have said? "Certainly, sir — will that be our regular spandex, or the comfi-stretch quality with added give for that extra snug fit?" Or perhaps, "Are you sure you want the briefs to go *over* the suit, sir?"

Something was missing here. She ran her eye over the shelves again, trying to capture the elusive thought. Books, college stuff, bills, carvings…no pictures! No pictures of his family or friends. Of course, his parents had died when he was just a kid, so that could explain the lack of family photos, but she wondered why he wouldn't have pictures of the people he grew up with — didn't he get on with them? He must have had a pretty miserable childhood if that was the case. And the lack of pictures of his friends was equally saddening: Clark Kent appeared to be a pretty lonely guy.

Depressed now, she moved away from the bookcase to survey the rest of the apartment. It was very neat and tidy; not entirely without style considering it was a man's apartment, and an effort had been made to soften the edges — she liked the cushions on the window seat, and a couple of ethnic rugs helped brighten the place up. Sunlight was streaming through the large window over the window seat - such a contrast from her dark, dingy room across town. The view was inviting: she crossed over, made herself a space amongst the cushions and stretched out with her feet up, cuddling one of the cushions to her chest. This was nice — she turned her head to look out the window and discovered the small balcony. Handy for flying on to, she guessed with a smile.

She had only been there for a few minutes before restless energy compelled her to stand up again. If she didn't keep occupied, her mind wandered back to Clark, the police officers and their mysterious investigation, and she'd already decided she wasn't going to worry about that all morning. She went into the kitchen, made herself a mug of coffee and returned to the bookcase. Scanning the book selection, she picked one of the journalism texts and leafed through a few pages. It all sounded vaguely familiar, which was funny - journalism wouldn't exactly be her topic of choice for a quiz show, and she certainly hadn't given any thought to journalism techniques before today…actually, she hadn't given much thought to anything other than eat, drink, sing, sleep for about as long as she could remember. The dry text palled after a couple of chapters, especially since it was all pretty obvious stuff to anyone with an ounce of intelligence, she reckoned. She replaced the book and scanned the shelves for something less weighty.

A pretty painted box caught her eye — it looked like it probably contained a series of smaller boxes inside, and she picked it up to take a look. There weren't any boxes inside, just a small globe around the size of a baseball. It was dull-looking, and the continent shapes looked wrong, but curiosity made her reach into the box and lift it out. Probably just some tacky souvenir he picked up on his travels — but she nearly dropped it when she got hold of it properly. It felt oddly warm, yet she couldn't work out what it was made of. It wasn't metal or wood, and it didn't look like plastic either. Weird.

She was turning it around in her hands when his key in the door signalled his return. Placing it quickly back in the box, she slammed on the lid and thrust everything back onto the bookshelf she'd found it on, knocking over a book in her haste. To her dismay, the book started a chain reaction along the shelf as all the books toppled over on top of each other. She was grabbing them and placing them upright when Clark walked in.

He turned around from the door and was at first too pre-occupied to notice her; his face carried a tense, worried expression which meant the police station visit hadn't been a very pleasant experience. When he saw her fighting with the unruly books, his face lightened with a smile.

"They're already in alphabetical order, Wanda," he commented wryly, coming down the steps towards her.

"You should use proper bookends," she complained. "A person could get hurt trying to read in this place." She made a lunge for a book as it threatened to tumble to the floor.

Clark beat her to it with a burst of superspeed. "Allow me," he offered.

Wanda saw a blur of Clark shapes and colours, and then he was himself again, placing the last book neatly beside the others. "Of course, if I could put them back that fast, I guess I wouldn't worry so much about bookends either."

"Actually, this was the unofficial bookend." He pointed to the painted box, now propping up the row. "Much prettier than a bookend, don't you think?"

"Yes…" To confess, or not? It must be obvious she had disturbed it, after all. "I'm sorry, I was being nosy. I wanted to see what was inside the box."

"Oh. So I guess you found the globe."

"Yes. Where did you get it? It felt funny when I touched it - kinda warm."

He appeared to hesitate, then replied flatly, "It's just a memento. It reminds me of home, that's all."

Wanda suspected that she'd accidentally touched on something deeply personal, and immediately regretted her intrusion into his private affairs. His brief smile had disappeared again, leaving him looking tense again as he turned away from the bookshelves to cross over to his phone.

"I'm phoning Jeff, my editor at the Planet. I usually try to let him know where I am if I'm not in the newsroom."

She took her coffee mug back to the sofa and perched carefully on the edge while he made the call, her sense of intrusion persisting in the face of his shuttered expression. Even listening to his phone call seemed suddenly rude, although it sounded as though he had a pretty good working relationship with his boss, judging by the half of the conversation she could hear. She guessed that relationship was probably important to him, given the unpredictable nature of his rescue jobs.

He finished the call and slumped heavily down into an armchair. "Sorry I had to leave you here on your own. Was everything OK?"

"You mean apart from wrecking your bookcase?" she asked with a smile. Rewarded with a quick smile in return, she ploughed on. "Yes, I made some coffee — you want some?" He shook his head. "Sunbathed in your window seat and read a little. Pretty exciting, huh?"


This looked like it was going to turn into a pretty one-sided conversation: his demeanour wasn't inviting enquiry, yet desperation to find out what had happened during his visit to the station made her broach the subject. "Clark?" she began tentatively, waiting until she had his attention. "What happened at the police station?"

He pulled a grimace. "It was…weird. They wanted to examine me."

"Examine you? You mean like a medical?"


"Why? You didn't let them, of course," she added decisively.

But he grimaced again. "They didn't give me much choice."


"-I'm Superman?" She nodded. "I guess it was tempting fate to tell you that before. Seems there's plenty ways to make me do exactly what they want without having to hold me at gun-point." She raised her eyebrows in question. "They had a court order forcing me to do whatever this…wacky scientist wanted me to do."

"Which was?"

"Oh, just standard stuff, I guess. He put some monitors on me, took a bunch of readings, made me do some exercises and tests, took a couple of samples…the questions were the scariest part."

"What sort of questions?"

"Oh, how do my powers work, do I eat and sleep like normal people do, have I ever been sick, do I ever get tired and why, am I aware of any Kryptonian illnesses and syndromes, is there anything I know of which can hurt me-"

"-You didn't answer that?" interrupted Wanda incredulously.

"I kinda skirted around it. I don't think he was fooled, but by then he was getting pretty embarrassed himself, and I don't think he really liked asking those types of questions anyway."

"You mean there is something that can hurt you?"

He hesitated for a long moment before nodding imperceptibly. "I've only come across it once, and I never, ever want to see it again, believe me," he answered with a flattened swipe of his hand. "So, anyway, he finished his questions and then I was free to go."

"Did he even tell you why he wanted to know all this stuff?"

Clark hunched forward in his seat, elbows resting on his knees. "He *said* they wanted to get all this stuff down so that if I ever got sick, they'd be able to help me."

"Oh, yeah, like you believed that, Clark!"

"Well, I did at first…kind of, but when he started asking all those questions, I began to wonder, you know? The whole setup felt wrong from the start, and, call me cynical, but I find it hard to believe that City Hall could be that altruistic."

"Seems to me like they wanted to find out your weak spots," observed Wanda.

"That's what I thought." He bent his head forward to twiddle nervously with the hair at the back of his neck.

She watched him, seeing how uneasy he was with the idea of anyone in the government knowing about his physiology; it made her even more guilty about poking into his private possessions — first someone examines his body from top to bottom, and then he comes home to find his house guest raking though his apartment. "Clark, I'm sorry."

"What for?" He looked up with a frown.

"For all this. It can't have been very nice having to let that doctor poke and prod you all over-"

"That wasn't your fault." he objected mildly.

"Maybe not. But I didn't make things any better by prying into your private things, did I? That was probably the last thing you needed to come home to."

"It's OK — really." He fiddled some more with his hair. "Do you want to see it?" he asked finally, looking up at her again.

"Oh, Clark, you don't have to-"

"No, I want to." He fetched the box and came to sit beside her on the sofa. She watched him lift the globe out of the box and lay it on the palm of his open hand. "Look," he whispered.

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when the globe began to glow and change colour, until it was depicting a clear map of strange continents and oceans.

"It's Krypton," he explained quietly.

"Wow," she breathed.

"This is the only possession I have from Krypton — the only thing which tells me who I really am, where I come from. Literally. My parents sent it with me when I left Krypton as a baby, and they left recorded holograms in it telling me about themselves and why they had to send me away."

"So you've seen them?"


Wow, she thought again — and to think she nearly dropped it! "I don't suppose…"

"It only works at certain times. It seems to be programmed to me somehow, but I can't make it show me the pictures — it has to decide when it's ready."

"Oh, Clark! So you can't even play the pictures when you want to?"

"No. But at least I have this — a lot of orphans don't own anything at all from their real parents. I'm pretty lucky, really." He replaced the globe in its box and closed the lid over it.

"Thank you for showing it to me."

"You know, I didn't even know my own name until I saw the first message," he admitted ruefully.

"Your name? You mean it isn't Clark Kent?"

"Oh, that's my name here on Earth. But my Kryptonian name is Kal-El."

"Kal-El," she repeated. "Does it mean anything?"

"Not that I know — it's just a name." He stood up to return the box to its place on the bookcase. "Look, it's nearly lunchtime. You want to eat here, or we could go out if you like?"

Wanda hesitated. She'd been stuck inside all morning and a trip out sounded attractive, but she was still a little scared of Lex and whatever he might have planned for her. She saw Clark watching her and quickly made up her mind: she'd left Lex Luthor for good, and she wasn't going to let him control her any more.

"Out sounds nice," she replied decisively.

"You're sure? I've got some nice cheeses from France and Italy-"

"Clark, I can't let him rule my life," she interrupted pointedly.

"OK," he answered lightly. "We'll try the Italian place around the corner — they usually do pretty good ciabatta."


Wanda struggled to fit the huge sandwich in her mouth, it was so crammed full of filling. Eventually she managed to take a bite by squashing the whole thing flatter and leaning over her plate to catch the bits which consequently fell out.

"This is nice," she told Clark once she'd munched on it for a while.

"Yeah. Their focaccia isn't bad either," he agreed from across the table.

"No, I meant this." She indicated the cafe with her swinging eyes. "This…sitting here, going out for lunch, talking to you…it's nice. It's like I feel alive again."

Clark felt a strange mix of emotions on hearing her admit that — he was elated that she was happy to be with him, yet he was saddened to learn that her life had been so terribly empty. He wondered how long she had felt that way.

"Didn't Luthor ever come out with you like this?" he asked.

"Oh, at first, he did. We went out a lot — places like this, grander places, the theatre, sometimes the movies. It was fun for a while. Of course, that was when I was still recovering, so we never stayed out too long anywhere — I got easily tired back then."

"Recovering? You were sick?"

Clark was alarmed by the reaction his simple question elicited — Wanda looked suddenly panicked, as if she'd given away a whole lot more than she'd intended. "I-I…kind of," she answered in a low voice.

He wanted to pursue this, but given the disaster of the previous day when he'd pushed her about her dream, decided to leave it for the time being. The trouble was, he was encountering a lot of no-go areas: her history with Lex, the dream, and now this mystery illness. If he didn't try to draw her out on some of these things soon, he would never help her discover her true identity. True, he had the advantage now that she was living temporarily with him, but even that seemed a fragile arrangement — he still felt as if he could lose her again at any moment, especially since Lex Luthor was probably looking for her to try and reclaim her — or worse.

Perhaps one way to get her to open up to him was to be completely honest with her about himself; if he demonstrated his trust in her, then maybe she would begin to return that trust. He'd already started — it had been a tough decision to admit to her that there was indeed something which could hurt him: if Luthor or anyone else got hold of that nugget of information, he'd be in serious danger, but ultimately, if he had avoided the question, it would have been pretty obvious what the answer was anyway, and he couldn't bring himself to tell her an outright lie. He'd taken a risk, but he knew instinctively that Wanda would protect his secret in any way she could.

Then there was the globe. When he'd first realised she had discovered it, he was hurt and defensive; she had been right when she had suggested that her prying into his most treasured possession had been the last straw after facing those two policemen and Dr Klein this morning. Yet, he had quickly realised that he needed — no, wanted — to share his personal things with her, which was why he had relented and brought it over for her to see. And already, her presence was doing him good, he was sure of that. It felt good to share the globe with her, and her quiet words with him in the lounge last night had helped him enormously — she hadn't said anything much, but it helped to know that someone else cared.

Perhaps that was all she needed…

"Wanda, I'm sorry," he offered softly.

She looked up with a shaky smile. "Change of subject? Please?"

"Sure." He reached across the table hesitantly; she met him halfway and let him give her hand a brief reassuring squeeze before retreating again. "I should go into the Planet for a couple of hours this afternoon. Jeff cuts me a lot of slack, but I don't like to take advantage too much. What do you want to do? I could walk you back to the apartment and then fly over to the Planet, or if you prefer, you could come to the Planet with me."

"See how a big city newspaper works? Gee, Mr Kent, how could I refuse?" she teased, letting a little of her cynical personality bleed through again.

He rested his chin on his hand with a rueful smile. "My apartment, then. Just promise me you won't let any more police officers in, hmmm?"

"Oh, I don't know. Depends how good-looking they are."

"Please don't tell me that's why you let those two in this morning."

"Hey! Credit me with some taste, please!"

"Oh, yes — you did say you liked the view, didn't you?"


"When you were looking at me yesterday on the Big One," he grinned.

"If I remember correctly, we were talking about the view over the city, Kent. Don't flatter yourself."

He looked at her with a deadpan expression. "Oh, yeah. The city."


"Well then, Emile. You've seen the data; how long will it take you to build the weapon?" Luthor smiled encouragingly at the wiry little scientist before him. "Don't let me rush you — a day or two will suffice."

"Two days?" Emile exploded. "Two days? Mr Luthor, I've only just seen this, and already I can tell how impenetrable his defences are." He began to fiddle with his goatee moustache nervously. Mr Luthor's extra-curricular projects were always extremely lucrative, but each time Emile was successful, it seemed that the stakes were raised even higher: this proposal was downright preposterous.

Luthor clapped a heavy hand on the slight man's shoulder, making him jump. "Oh, come, come, man! What about his dependency on sunlight? Surely you must be able to make something of that?"

"I grant you, that is a weakness," replied Emile, ducking away from Luthor to pace up and down. "However, it would take days to weaken him sufficiently to make him vulnerable, and moreover, there would be no way of incarcerating him given his immense strength."

"What if he were weakened first?"

"That could help…yes, that could help. A weapon which delivered a sufficiently high-energy beam could certainly hurt him, if not kill him. Keep him confined…yes, that could work."

"Excellent! And I believe you have a prototype already?"

"The quantum disruptor? Yes, but it needs work…"

"I believe you have your first action point, Emile. You see, it can be done — all it requires is some lateral thinking."

"Yes, Mr Luthor."

"And, Emile?"


"You might find somewhere else to pace other than my 2-million dollar Persian rug."

"Yes, Mr Luthor."


Wanda strolled out of the sandwich bar with Clark, feeling more alive than she had for the best part of two years. She had just finished a great snack in a cafe full of life and good-natured buzz, shared a lunch-hour with a good friend — it was odd, but already she thought of Clark in those terms — she was free of Lex Luthor, and the sun was shining.

"So what will you do at the Planet?" she asked her companion as they made their way back to his apartment.

"Oh, write up yesterday's crash — it's old news now, of course, but Jeff will probably still be interested if I write something about the boy that died."

Wanda frowned up at him. "So you get to relive it all over again?"

He gave her a surprised glance. "Sometimes that's good." He shrugged. "I get to put it all down on paper…kinda get it out of my system."

"Except you can't really say what you feel, can you? Newspapers don't sell on gushing emotion, they sell on hard-hitting facts."

"Granted, but there are ways of saying what you want to say without gushing."

"I guess. But if I was your editor, I'd be asking you to get the facts behind the story — fight the injustice with the truth, not wallow in the misery."

"Lo- Wanda, I do not wallow."

She watched him look steadfastly ahead, pretending the slip-up hadn't happened again. Her curiosity was piqued once more; who was this Lois? The girlfriend theory seemed more and more likely. She would have to find a way of getting him to tell her — it was obviously something which was eating him up, judging by the way his conversation had dried up, and she wanted to know why. Sometime soon, she and Clark Kent were going to have a long talk.

"Anyway," he said finally with a forced smile, "that's what I'll be doing at the Planet — plus some research on an investigation I'm working on."

Research sounded interesting, especially since he was probably referring to his Lex Luthor investigation. She could help him with that…

"Clark, would you mind if I changed my mind — can I come to the Planet with you?"

To her surprise, his forced smile opened out into a wide grin. "Sure! I'd love you to come."

They returned to his apartment so that Clark could change into his work clothes. Wanda wandered out onto his balcony while she waited for him — except she only had a few seconds to take in her surroundings before a sound behind her signalled his return. She turned around, taken aback when she was confronted by his red and blue-clad figure approaching her with a confident smile.

"I thought we'd fly there. You don't mind, do you?"

"I-I…no, I guess not. You won't drop me, will you?"

He laughed. "You'll be just fine, Wanda," he told her, coming forward to lift her up into his arms. "Here we go…"

She sensed the balcony sink away from them, and then they were aloft, the air rushing gently through her hair as they flew high above the city. She gripped onto him tightly, still uneasy about the unnatural mode of travel.

"OK?" he smiled at her.


"Relax, Wanda. I won't drop you. Look…"

He rose up even higher and described a huge circle in the air. "Clark!" Wanda squealed, clinging on to him harder still. He dropped out of the loop and continued on his way more sedately, grinning down at her.

"See? I didn't drop you."

"Don't ever…ever, do that again," she gulped. It was dizzying, shocking, terrifyingly new…and exhilarating, she realised suddenly.

"Too much?"

"Way, way too much…do it again," she told him, hardly recognising herself as she said it.

And so he performed another loop with her, and this time she let herself enjoy the heady sensation with all her senses, revelling in the rush of air as they rose higher and higher in a huge arc in the sky, then hovering at the top of the loop for long seconds before coming down the other side with a whoosh which took her breath away. Clark was more daring the second time around, speeding up his flight in an effortless display of aerial expertise.

When they had resumed their onward journey, Wanda peeped down to the streets below. "Do you think anyone was watching us?"

Clark grinned carelessly. "Who cares?" he said happily.


Clark fought to concentrate on his accident article, reading over his first paragraph for the third time to try and find the momentum to finish it. Normally he would easily lose himself in a piece such as this, especially when his emotions had run so deep over the incident, but today he couldn't concentrate at all. The object of his distraction was sitting at a spare desk opposite him, frowning with intense concentration at the screen in front of her. He couldn't stop glancing up at her to confirm that she really was here, working opposite him at the Daily Planet. It was a dream come true. Which was probably why he had performed that crazy stunt in the air with her; he just couldn't contain his delight at having her with him…she even seemed to like him!

And then there had been her reaction when she stepped out of the elevator and into the newsroom. She had stopped and looked around in surprise before turning to him with a quirky look.

"This is weird."

"What?" he had asked, holding his breath.

"I could swear I've been here before."

"Maybe you have," he suggested, trying to keep his voice light.

"Oh, yeah, Clark. In my past life as a newspaper reporter - is that what you're going to suggest? Give me a break! Reincarnation? I mean, it's a nice idea, except for that whole paying for your mistakes in the next life thing. How would the human race survive if we all came back as amoebas?"

Clark had smiled in spite of having had his breath taken away by her first words. "Good point, Wanda."

Jeff had been polite but obviously sceptical when Clark had dropped into his office with Wanda in tow when they had arrived. He agreed that Wanda could use the spare desk and PC to help Clark out as long as no-one else needed them, but Clark could tell that he didn't think Wanda could contribute much to the investigation — until she had taken the initiative and told him herself just how much he needed her services.

"Look, Jeff — you don't mind if I call you Jeff, do you? Clark calls you Jeff and I've come to think of you that way too, and now I've met you, you're definitely more of a Jeff than a Mr Greenstreet, so I think you'll agree that you and I should start out as we mean to go on, and anyway, you prefer Jeff, don't you? So what I wanted to say is this: I know what your readers want, and I know what your bosses want — hard-hitting news stories backed up with solid facts, and that's just what Clark's story on Lex Luthor will give you. But what he needs right now is a fast track to Luthor's personal affairs, and that's why he needs me — I knew Lex from the days before he bought LL Industries, and in those days, he sure wasn't as discreet as he is nowadays. I've heard things that would make your hair stand on end, Jeff, so sure, Clark could write this story without me, but with me, your paper will be walking off the news stands, and you'll have your readers demanding more and your shareholders counting the zeros. OK?"

Jeff had stared open-mouthed at Wanda for a long moment while Clark wondered whether he'd made a huge mistake in bringing her into Jeff's office. Then he had laughed and stretched back in his chair.

"Take her away and bottle it, Clark, whatever it is that she's got! I could use a dose of that every single day of the week." He was still chuckling to himself as they exited his office.

"I didn't overdo it, did I?" asked Wanda out of the corner of her mouth.

"No, Wanda," replied Clark with an easy laugh. "You were just great."

So here he was, working with Lois Lane, just as he had always wanted to ever since he met her counterpart from the other dimension. He'd given her the notes he'd put together on LL Industries, which she was currently reviewing to see what she could add to them, while he tried to write his accident piece. A sarcastic snort from her made him look up again and catch her eye.

"Exemplary employee relations my eye! Exemplary employee control is more like it," she observed dryly.

"Thought so. But have you got any proof?"

"Is it all right if I make notes on here?" He nodded. "OK, I'll write what I know and then we'll see if we can convert it into proof."

"Great! Do that with anything else you find, OK?"

"You finished that story yet?"

"Getting there — slowly," he added with a grimace.

"Can I see it when you've finished?"


He turned back to his screen, and with a supreme effort of concentration, managed to think himself back to the previous day's disaster and its terrible aftermath. Ten minutes later he had completed the story and was beckoning to Wanda to come over and read it. She walked over and leant over him, perching a hand casually on his shoulder for support. For the second time that day, her perfume filled his senses and the nearness of her warm body sent his pulse racing…just as well he was the only one with superpowers here, he decided. What would she think of him if she knew the effect she had on him?

"Well?" he asked, twisting his head around and up at her.

"Not bad. Not really my style…if I had a style, that is. I'd write something with a harder edge — more punch."

"This isn't a hard-edged story, Wanda."

"Maybe not. I guess I'd be more your investigative, hit 'em with the hard facts behind the tragedy kind of reporter."

"I think you probably would."

"Yeah…" Her attention appeared to have drifted — she was gazing over the top of his screen with a frown. "What is it with that guy over there?"

Clark followed her gaze. "That's Eduardo. He's practically part of the furniture around here, he's worked at the Planet for so long. Why?"

"Hold on…" Wanda marched up to Eduardo's desk. "All right, what is it?" she demanded. "Have I grown two heads? Turned bright purple? Carelessly dropped a limb?" She patted herself all over. "No, looks like they're still there. So what gives?"

Eduardo looked up at her apologetically. "I'm sorry, Miss-"

"Ms," corrected Wanda.

"It's just that you look so much like someone I once knew - gave me quite a turn, I can tell you. Sorry if I was staring."

"Well…don't do it again."

"It really is uncanny," said Eduardo, studying her again now that she was closer to him. "I don't suppose you're related…no, I guess that would be pretty far-fetched."

Wanda had been about to turn away, but she turned back, curiosity piqued despite her annoyance. "What was her name?"

"Lois Lane. She used to work here."

Lois! Clark's girlfriend! No wonder he kept calling her Lois if she even looked like his girlfriend. This was awkward — and sad: how could he bear to be with her, if she constantly reminded him of the woman he had loved and lost? She needed to make sure she was right, though.

"I think I heard about her — she…she passed away didn't she?" Wanda asked carefully, hoping fervently she wasn't treading on open wounds.

"Yes, it was a real waste of a great talent — and a good person. She-"

"Hi! Want some coffee?"

It was Clark, holding out a mug of coffee to her. He'd appeared awfully fast, she thought with suspicion. Didn't he have superhearing?

"Thanks," she answered, searching his face for clues. Whatever he was thinking was well-hidden under a bland expression of cordiality, however.

"Clark, I was just telling your friend how much she looks like Lois L-" started Eduardo.

"Yes, Eduardo, she does," interrupted Clark, rather hastily in Wanda's opinion. "Wanda, you going to show me what you've got on those notes of mine?"

"Yes, Clark, but I'm talking with Eduardo right now."

"It's OK, Clark," butted in Eduardo. "I know what it's like when you've got a hot investigation going on. Can't stop once you're on that trail, huh?"

"That's right!" agreed Clark enthusiastically. "Come on, Wanda, let's go."

Wanda bristled. She had just been on the brink of getting some really useful information from Eduardo, and now both of them were ganging up on her to drop it. She couldn't talk to Eduardo about Lois Lane while Clark was around, and she could tell he wasn't going to budge without her, so her hand was forced.

"OK," she said with a brittle smile. "Nice talking to you, Eduardo," she added.

"And you, Ms?"

"Detroit. But call me Wanda."


Back at Clark's desk, she watched Clark give an immaculate performance of someone with nothing to hide. He was animated and pleasant, delighted with her annotations to his notes, and eager to pursue some of the leads she had suggested. Nothing in his manner suggested he had deliberately interrupted her conversation with Eduardo, yet she was positive that he had done just that: for some reason, he didn't want her to learn anything about Lois Lane. Well, that made her all the more determined to find out everything there was to know about her.


Forty-eight hours later, Wanda still hadn't found out anything useful about her doppelganger. Somehow, and she suspected Clark was to blame, they hadn't spent very much time at all at the Planet, where she would have done most of her investigation if she'd been given the chance. Instead, they had travelled around town during the day, following up leads in the Lex Luthor investigation, and searched for a new place for her to live. Clark had insisted that she was welcome to stay with him for as long as she wanted to, but although it was certainly very comfortable living in his apartment, she felt guilty depriving him of his own bed each night. She had seen how weary he looked after coming back from the hospital that night; he might claim not to need any sleep, but she wasn't convinced. His body might not need sleep, but she reckoned his spirit probably did.

In fact, she mused as they sat together in the back of a cab on the way to interview an ex-employee of LL Industries, leaving aside the mystery about his girlfriend, she was getting to know Clark Kent pretty well. He didn't hold anything back from her, unlike Lex; he was open and honest about himself. He was also a deeply generous person, always anxious to take care of her comfort and happiness before his own; always ready to defend anyone he thought might be getting a raw deal. She saw how personally he took the plight of the people they visited; people who had fallen foul of the Lex Luthor success machine in one way or another. There was a tiny muscle in the side of his face which jumped when he was upset, she had noticed, and it twitched a lot when he was discussing their interviews back at the apartment or over lunch. He also lost his normally sunny expression now and then — she had caught him wearing a heated, angry look on a couple of occasions when he thought no-one was looking.

On the other hand, she had discovered his wicked sense of humour, which she shared, and just when she would least expect it, he would suddenly abandon his mild, diffident persona for a far more confident, assured Clark Kent — the Clark Kent who took her for a crazy aerial display of acrobatics, or decided that she *was* going to try the snails he brought back from France and then grinned triumphantly when she discovered that she actually quite liked them. Of course, the lashings of garlic butter and wonderful crusty French bread helped a lot, she told herself in her own defence.

No-one else could have made her do that, she knew. Somehow, she felt drawn to him; content and relaxed in his company, happy when he was happy, sad when he was sad. Just yesterday, she had spotted a Superman headline on a tabloid and dragged him over to it, only to discover to her horror that it was about Superman and his new girl. Clark had looked at it for a mere second before turning away in disgust.

"At least they don't know who you are," was his only comment.

Wanda had lingered long enough to read scurrilous suggestions about super-sex and alien babies, and then had had to rush down the street to catch him up as he walked moodily away, his hands thrust deep in his pockets and his head down studying the sidewalk. She had wanted to hug him right there and then in the middle of the street, he had looked so down. Instead she had slipped a friendly arm through his and given him a sympathetic smile when he had looked up at her in surprise.

"I guess you get a lot of that."

"Yeah. I should be used to it by now, though."

"No, you shouldn't, Clark! They have no right to say those things about you, and you have every right to be hurt by them."

He had smiled ruefully then. "Doesn't help much, though, knowing I'm right."

"Well, any time you want me to hit one of those so-called reporters where it hurts most, you just say the word. You know how good I am at that," she had reminded him with a raised eyebrow.

"I certainly do, Wanda."

Her bravado had seemed to cheer him up a little, and she had felt a warm glow of satisfaction on being able to help him with her words. It had been a long, long time since she had been in a position to give instead of take, and it had felt just great.

Unfortunately, in every other respect, she was still taking: Clark refused to accept payment from her for using his apartment, not even for food. She didn't even have her own source of income any more, not since she had decided to quit her singing job at the club. She couldn't face the risk of encountering Lex there, and anyway, the longer she stayed away, the less she felt like returning to that whole lifestyle and the people who inhabited it. Clark's world seemed a whole lifetime away from her old one; it was bright, clean and airy, and full of new experiences and challenges. Yet she needed a job, and an idea was forming at the back of her mind about that; she hadn't broached it with Clark, but she was pretty sure he would like it.

She smothered a yawn. Clark's bed was roomy and comfortable, but no amount of comfort could stop the dreams from coming. Every night they visited her, jerking her awake with a thumping heart, disorientated and confused as she struggled to separate dream from reality. In one dream, she had been sitting at a desk at the Planet - possibly the same one as she was using now, except Clark hadn't been sitting opposite her, and instead someone strange had been arguing with her about which photographs to use for a story. She knew she was right, in fact she had an unshakeable certainty that she was right, but he insisted on disagreeing with her, until they ended up shouting at each other — at which point she woke up. That name again — Lois. It scared her; lying in the darkness, she had even entertained crazy ideas about spirits and possession — maybe the spare desk she was using at the Planet was actually Lois Lane's old desk, and somehow Lois' spirit was taking her over. Perhaps Lois Lane had even been in this bed with Clark, and Wanda was picking up past memories from his ex-girlfriend.

Of course, it had all seemed ridiculous in the cold light of day, but she was still left with unpleasant feelings of confusion and unease. The dreams were so real and specific — that first one about the Congo, for instance, where she was being yelled at by Perry White in a room she now knew was the chief editor's office at the Daily Planet. She had been kidding herself previously — she was pretty positive that she had never been aware of what Perry White did for a living before he became mayor. So why had she dreamt so accurately about things she didn't even know? When they had talked about the dream on the Big One, Clark had been trying to lead her somewhere when he had told her that a close friend of his had disappeared in the Congo four years ago — did he mean Lois Lane? But she had died recently, hadn't she, and anyway, what was that to do with her?

Wanda decided she needed information badly, and with a flash of inspiration, realised that all the information she needed was probably sitting in the Planet's archives. Why hadn't she thought of that before, she wondered with a mental slap to her forehead? What was even better, she'd heard that the archives were being transferred to the paper's internet site and that so far, the past five years were available. Suddenly she was itching to get back to the Planet.

"You're very quiet." Clark brought her back to the present with his smiled comment.

"Oh, just thinking," she replied evasively, buying time.

"Penny for them?"

She decided to challenge him. "Oh, just that we haven't been back to the Planet much these past couple of days. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were avoiding the place, Clark."

"Me?" he asked, with a surprised hand on his chest. "Why would I do that?"

"I have no idea, but I know that innocent look of yours, Clark. You're hiding something."

"I'm not hiding anything," he denied. "We've just been kinda busy meeting people, is all. Look, how about we do this interview, then we'll drop by to write up our notes, OK?"

She smiled, trying not to look too triumphant; she was beginning to learn how to play Mr Clark Kent.


The interview with Dr Bancroft was very interesting, as Wanda had expected. Dr Bancroft had worked in LL Industries' occupation health department for a short period of time, before she and her employers had parted company on 'mutually agreed terms in the interests of both parties.' In other words, explained Dr Bancroft, she was given the choice of leaving voluntarily, or being fired.

Apparently the company had been very enthusiastic about employing her, offering excellent terms of service, and she had been delighted to accept the position, knowing what a good reputation the company had for employee care. It wasn't until she had been working for a couple of weeks that things started to make her uneasy — small things at first, such as the peculiar atmosphere which dictated that no-one should speak ill of the owner, Mr Luthor, even to the point where jokey asides were banned. Usually, senior management in a large company were the butt of many a joke and ribald comment, yet here, all was serene admiration and respect.

Then there were the medicals. Everyone joining the company was offered a free medical, and everyone without fail accepted the offer. She found this odd; surely in a large company, there would normally be some dissenters? Later, she discovered that there were different levels of medical, the most in-depth being what were termed 'President's Medicals'; these were for any member of staff likely to come into direct contact with Lex Luthor himself, and entailed several morally suspect tests. Employees didn't know which level of medical they were receiving, and they happily submitted themselves to the tests, believing that any test for hidden ill-health was a good test, not realising that the information was being used to vet them for 'suitability.'

Then she discovered that she was expected to make herself available to senior executives, the owner included, to dispense impromptu medical advice and treatment. This hadn't been made clear to her at her interview, and certainly wasn't in her contract of employment, but the subtle implication was that she would lose her job if she didn't comply. The duties even extended to the families of senior staff; this was how Wanda had met her. Wanda had been suffering from a bad cold which was threatening her singing at the club, and had received treatment from Dr Bancroft. The doctor had been professional and efficient, but obviously unhappy about having to give up her free time to attend people who weren't even employed by LL Industries.

There were several other irregularities and peculiar incidents during her nine months with the company, which all added up to a picture of subtle and insidious control of the staff working there. Dr Bancroft did her best to maintain her own professional standards and ethics, but she was constantly coming into conflict with her superiors, who put the wishes of the owner first and good medical practice second. The final straw came when she was asked to assess an employee for early retirement on the grounds of ill-health. The man had seemed remarkably healthy, and so Dr Bancroft had asked him what his problem was. "Nothing, really," he had replied innocently. "I had a couple of days off for stress around the time of the accident, but that's all." Why was he applying for ill-health retirement then, she wondered. "My boss said I should," was the answer. "He said I'd get a better package that way."

She asked about the accident he had mentioned; a building-site elevator had crashed to the ground, killing two people. He had been the site safety officer at the time. She didn't press him further, but had refused to certify him as eligible for the early retirement, since she could find nothing wrong with him to justify it. Her boss in the occupational health unit had been furious, she had been grilled as to why she had denied an obviously sick man his rights, and her decision had been overruled. Dr Bancroft had been certain that the ill-health retirement ploy had been merely a way of getting rid of the man out of the company, and making sure he had enough money not to be tempted to take any information he might have about the accident to the authorities.

Shortly after that incident, she was summoned to a meeting with her boss where it was strongly suggested that she seek employment elsewhere, as her code of practice obviously wasn't compatible with LL Industries. She agreed wholeheartedly, and promptly resigned.


Back at the Planet, Clark set Wanda to work trying to track down the safety officer, leaving himself free to write up his notes and finish a feature story he owed Jeff on the plight of the overworked and under-funded emergency services in Metropolis. At least Eduardo was out on a story, he noted with relief as he gazed out over the newsroom. It would have been so easy to let Eduardo tell Wanda/Lois all about herself, but Clark had a gut feeling that the best way for her to regain her memory wasn't from people forcing the truth on her; better to let her discover her memories from within herself. In fact, he was planning on seeking some advice on that gut feeling later; he only had one shot at this, and he wanted to get it right for her.

For now, he was content to let her get used to the Daily Planet again, and give her the freedom to be her own person, away from the stifling control of Lex Luthor. He was sure that was what had been going on between them, although he still hadn't found out any more about her life for the past four years. She also hadn't volunteered any more details about what had happened when she had run away from Lex. In truth, he was just a tiny bit frustrated; he had confided in Wanda, been totally honest with her about himself, and he had yet to be repaid with any of that trust. Of course, he reminded himself, he had a huge advantage over Wanda; he knew Lois Lane could be trusted, whereas she had to learn to trust Clark Kent, a man she had only known for a matter of days.

Yet in that brief time, they had progressed from being total strangers to good friends. Wanda was relaxed in his company, and had lost the trademark cynicism which had made her mock him and accuse him of being no more than an overgrown boy scout when she first met him. She still challenged him and made fun of him, of course, but he returned as good as he got, and together they had forged a friendship of equals. He wanted more — he wanted so much more it hurt at times, and he knew in his heart that he loved her even if she didn't love him, but that would change, he insisted to himself. All she needed was time, and he had all the time in the world for Lois Lane and her alter ego Wanda Detroit.

A shrill cry for help interrupted his musings. He already had his tie off by the time he was stopping at Wanda's desk to explain.

"What is it?" she asked with a concerned look.

"Bank alarm."

She touched her hand briefly to his where it was resting on her desk. "Take care," she smiled.

He beamed back at her. "I will!"

She cared! She really cared about him, he thought as he sped towards the city central branch of Metropolis Mercantile Credit. Everything was going to work out just fine, he was sure of it now.


Wanda gazed at his disappearing back, marvelling at the constant skill and energy with which he juggled his two jobs. She already understood how much more than an overgrown boy scout his Superman persona was, but he also commanded a lot of respect as a reporter, she had discovered over the past few days. This was not just for his unstinting interest and concern for the difficult social problems besetting the community, but for his incisive reports and ability to dig deep to the root of an issue. It seemed there was more to Clark Kent the reporter than the nice, polite exterior he presented to his friends and colleagues; when he wanted to, he could ask the difficult questions which drew out information from awkward and unwilling sources.

All of which made him even more attractive in Wanda's eyes, and probably why she had just felt the need to touch his hand before he left. She had been surprising herself recently — usually, she didn't like casual physical contact, especially with men, yet with Clark she felt quite different: she wanted to touch him, and she loved it when he touched her. In fact, in her sillier moments, she wondered if perhaps he might be romantically attracted to her — a couple of times she had caught him looking at her with such a soft, yearning smile. But that was crazy; why would he be interested in her, when he could have any woman he chose? Still, it was a nice dream to have.

However, right now, he was out of the newsroom saving the world, which meant it was time to do some digging around in the Planet archives.

Half an hour later, Wanda leaned back in her chair, even more confused that she had been before. She now knew that Lois Lane had been one of the Planet's most prominent reporters four years ago, before she had disappeared in the Congo with her photographer, Pete Goldsmith. She had travelled over there to investigate illegal gun-running, which might have had links back to a mysterious operator in Metropolis, but her last report had been inconclusive, and then nothing more had been heard of her. Eventually she was declared missing, presumed dead.

So was Lois Lane Clark's girlfriend? Wanda was about to start a search on Clark himself when his phone rang. How was it she could pick up his calls again? Oh, yes…

"Uh, Clark Kent's phone." Should she have announced the Daily Planet?

"May I speak with Mr Kent, please?" asked a polite female voice.

"Mr Kent isn't available right now — may I give him a message?"

"This is Dr Friskin's receptionist. Could you tell him that Dr Friskin will see him at 5 o'clock this afternoon, please? I'll assume that's OK unless he calls back."

Dr Friskin? Clark was seeing a doctor? What for? "All right, I'll let him know. Can I have your phone number, in case he wants to call you back?"

"I think he's already got it, but sure — it's 555 5943."

"And…that's Dr John Friskin, his optometrist, right? I'm new here, you see, and I want to make sure I do this right."

"It's Dr Jane Friskin, and she's a psychoanalyst, not an optometrist. Do you want me to spell that for you?"

Wanda rolled her eyes — there was acting dumb, and there was being treated like an imbecile. "No thanks. I think I can just about cope with that one. I'll make sure he gets the message. Bye."

She replaced the receiver before the caller could respond. This was an interesting development. Poor Clark — he must be really messed up about his girlfriend's death if he was seeing a psychoanalyst. He'd never mentioned it either, which meant that this must be something very private to him. How could he put himself through such torture, living with a woman who constantly reminded him of his loss? This might explain his yearning glances though; perhaps he was pretending that she actually was Lois Lane — perhaps he even hoped that she might take the place of Lois Lane. The feeling of unease was back again. She was experiencing Lois Lane's memories and she was living with a man who wanted her to be Lois Lane. Where did that leave Wanda Detroit, nightclub singer from the back streets of Hobs Bay?


Clark walked back slowly from his appointment with Dr Friskin, wanting to mull things over before rejoining Wanda back at his apartment. The meeting had been a strange mix of interview and analysis; more than once, he had felt as though he was losing control of the situation, as Dr Friskin's obvious delight at being given the opportunity to meet such a fascinating subject as he apparently was made her constantly slide into analysis mode rather than expert consultant mode. Nevertheless, things had started out well enough. He had explained that he wanted advice for a hypothetical situation, and had then gone on to describe Wanda's circumstances in general terms. He wanted to know what to do: should he tell her who she was, or let her discover the truth for herself? He also wanted to know how much she should be introduced to her former life; should he try to trace her family, for example?

Dr Friskin had confirmed his instincts; that he should continue to let his hypothetical friend discover herself without undue pressure. That meant that he had to put her in contact with familiar places and people, but at the same time not force information onto her; she would ask when she was ready to learn more. It was important that he shouldn't tell her more than she could cope with, emphasised Dr Friskin, otherwise she may reject everything and retreat back into her adopted persona. He asked how he could tell what was too much; Dr Friskin was less than helpful — he would just have to judge that for himself, she said. He would soon know if he'd overloaded her. Great! Clark had thought. So I know when I've got it wrong, but by then it's too late — how am I supposed to figure that one out? Trust your judgement, Dr Friskin had told him sagely.

The doctor had been of even less help over the question of Lois' family. Again, the advice was not to overload her with facts, but on the other hand, her family could play a vital role in her recovery, depending on the relationships which existed before her disappearance. If the family was close, or if there was perhaps one member of the family who was important to Lois, then she should at least be introduced to that person. If Lois didn't get on with her family, then contact was less important, although even if these circumstances, it could be a factor in her recovery. Which left Clark with a lot of investigation and digging into Lois' past to get through before he could even make a decision about the family question. Well, it would be tough, what with his two jobs and his constant vigilance on Lois' behalf while Lex was still a threat, but he would have to find time somehow. The obvious place to start was Perry White — maybe he'd drop in on his former boss tonight, on the pretext to Wanda that he was chasing up on the city's virtual kidnapping of him the other day.

He sighed. He still felt unsettled by the incident — lying on an examination table with electrodes attached to his bare chest and a scientist in a white coat grilling him with very personal questions about his body had truly been his worst nightmare come true. And Dr Friskin hadn't helped just now. She had been fascinated by the essential dichotomy of the most powerful being on earth, an alien, no less, wanting to sublimate his power, fade into the background and be accepted as a normal human being. She noted his conservative clothes and glasses, his use of his adoptive parents' name rather than his Kryptonian one, and was more than curious about his powers and the necessary control he exerted over them. Did he ever make mistakes? Not these days, he had explained through gritted teeth, going on to point out that he'd been controlling them for all of his adult life. Her "and how does that make you feel?" question had him wanting to scream, abandon his famous control and squeeze every last psychoanalytical molecule out of her. Naturally, he didn't — he had smiled pleasantly but firmly and told her it was second nature; he never gave it a thought these days.

And then, coming back to Wanda, there was her clam-like attitude whenever he got too close to her; she had all these rigid boundaries which he wasn't supposed to step beyond. Only a few days, he reminded himself yet again, they'd only been together a few days. He had no right to expect more from her — but he did.


Wanda turned the heat up under the pan again and stirred the contents doubtfully. It wasn't that she was a terrible cook, just that she was trying something new, she told herself. Anything would be new, an irritating little voice inside her head pointed out. I can make scrambled eggs, she protested. Yeah, so why aren't you doing that now instead of trying to impress Clark with risotto?

She groaned out loud and stirred some more…surely it wasn't supposed to be this runny still? The rice was nearly cooked, so maybe she could just pour away all the extra liquid — but the meat wasn't cooked yet…would it cook in the rice alone? Probably not. She turned the heat up again until the liquid was boiling furiously - nice and hot so the meat would cook quickly and the liquid would boil off, that was the answer.

This had seemed like a good idea half an hour ago, when she had decided that she wanted to celebrate the good news she had for Clark by cooking him dinner. Now it was looking like a major disaster - well, at least they could celebrate with the wine…oh, God, the wine! She grabbed the bottle off the counter and shoved it in the freezer to speed up the cooling process.

His key turned in the lock and she wandered out to the living room to greet him.

"Hi!" she said brightly.


Was it her imagination, or did his smile seem a little forced? "I'm cooking you dinner," she announced proudly. "I-"

There was a rush of air past her; she turned in time to see him grab the overflowing pan off the stove, liquid splashing down with burning hisses onto the hot plate. "So I see," he replied dryly. He lifted the lid and peered inside. "Soup? That's nice."

"It's not soup, it's risotto," she objected.

He looked down into the pan again. "Trust me, Wanda, this is soup. Smells good, though. Is it ready?"

"It's risotto, and no, the meat's not cooked yet — that's why I had it on high."

He picked up a spoon and prodded down to the bottom of the pan. Wanda's heart sank.

"It's burnt, isn't it? I knew I shouldn't have tried this — I should have stuck to scrambled eggs. And the wine's not even chilled - I can't even cook wine, Clark!"

A corner of his mouth twitched. "Look, maybe I can fix this. I can't make it into risotto, but I can make it into a passable thick soup, which will be just as good. Why don't you open the wine while I finish this?"

"But it's not chilled!" protested Wanda.

He fished the bottle out of the freezer, gave it a blast of cold air with his breath, and handed it to her with a smile. "It is now."

She raised her eyebrows. "You could come in very handy around the house, you know."


A few minutes later they were sitting down to a pleasant dinner of soup, crusty bread and chilled white wine. On one level, Clark was more content than he could remember for years; he was sharing a comfortable, easy evening with the woman he loved. However, at another level — one which seemed to be bubbling up more and more often — he felt irritable and frustrated. If only she knew what he knew… But it wasn't fair to take these feelings out on Wanda, especially when she so obviously bursting with some important news for him.

"So what's the occasion?" he asked, pushing away his negative thoughts.

"I've got a job," replied Wanda happily.

Clark was surprised. He also felt a little let down; things were pretty good just the way they were, he thought. Wanda was where she belonged, at the Planet, and as his unofficial assistant, he could make sure she was introduced gradually to the places and people who should be familiar to her. She was looking at him expectantly, however, so he dredged up some enthusiasm he really didn't feel from somewhere and gave her a beaming smile. "That's great! Where?"

She grinned proudly. "At the Planet. I asked Jeff for a job as research assistant, and he said yes! Isn't that great?"

Well, yes, it was wonderful, but… Clark wondered if it was too much, too soon — as a paid researcher, she'd be expected to work for lots of people, not just him, so how was he going to make sure he followed Dr Friskin's advice and help her take things slowly and gradually? He was disappointed, too, that she hadn't involved him in this important decision.

"Clark?" She was frowning. "I thought you'd be pleased."

"Oh, I am!" he insisted. "That's wonderful, Wanda. I'm happy for you."


"Nothing! It's great — when do you officially start?"

"Next Monday…come on, Clark, out with it — what's bothering you?"

He laughed defensively. "I don't know what you mean. I'm over the moon. Really."

"Oh, so that's why you're sitting there looking as though someone stole your favourite toy. What's the big deal — don't you want me to get a job?"

"I just wonder if it's too soon, that's all. You've only been working there for a couple of days, and maybe you need a little more time before you commit yourself fulltime to it. Don't you think maybe you're rushing into things a little?"

"No, I don't. I think I'm finally taking control of my life, instead of letting someone else control it for me. Is that so bad?"

She had a point. It sounded like Luthor had pulled her strings as if she was his own personal puppet from the day they had first met — Clark could only imagine what that would do to a person, but he understood well enough that Wanda needed to start making her own decisions. But he still thought this was premature.

Wanda crossed her arms angrily in front of her, misinterpreting his silence as disagreement. "So you don't think I'm capable of making my own decisions, then? Fine, I'll keep them to myself in future! And another thing — I don't know why you don't want me at the Planet, when you invited me there in the first place. What is it — your protege getting too good for you? Have I hurt your pride somehow because I'm actually good at what I'm doing there? Because I'm actually starting to think for myself? Tell me, Clark, are you another control freak like Luthor?

Clark was horrified and stung by her accusation — he didn't want to control her, he wanted to help her! But he couldn't tell her that. "You know I'm not like that, Wanda!" he protested. "The last thing I want is to control you — I couldn't control you, Wanda."

"OK, if it's not control, then what is it? Oh, don't worry, don't bother answering that — I don't need to know why, you just keep it all to yourself, just like you always do."

Clark stared at her in amazement — he kept everything to himself? He, who had told her just about every single secret he'd ever had in his life? "Sorry?" he asked in genuine bewilderment.

"You! I know there's something really awful, something that hurts you so much you get that dead look in your eyes, but you're not going to tell me what it is, are you? Oh, no! Wanda needs to be protected, Wanda needs to be cosseted, we mustn't say or do anything to upset Wanda! Well, here's some news: I'm upset!"

He couldn't understand where all of this had suddenly come from, when she'd been so happy just a few moments ago. Surely it wasn't just because he wasn't enthusiastic enough about her new job? And he resented her suggestion that he was hiding anything from her. "Wanda, I don't know where you get the idea I've got something to hide. I've told you just about everything there is to know about me - I've even told you things I've never told anyone else!"

"Oh, yes? What about Lois Lane, then? Who is she, Clark? Why do you keep calling me Lois, and what happened with her that was so awful that you have to go see a shrink to get your head straight about her?"

Clark felt something snap inside — she had no right to pry into his personal life like that, even if she had jumped to completely the wrong conclusion. "How did you find out about that?" he demanded.

"I answered your phone while you were out — how do you think?" she retorted.

"That was your note?"

"Yes! Here's another news flash, Clark: if you want to keep things private, don't bring them to work where your fellow workers - fellow worker," she amended, indicating herself, "might think they're actually doing something useful for you by answering your phone. So how about it, Clark? Who is Lois Lane?"

It was a split-second decision, made in the heat of frayed tempers. Maybe he would regret it later, but…

"I can't tell you," he answered flatly.

Dr Friskin had told him to take things gradually; it was the right decision, he was positive.

Wanda leaned back in her chair, wearing a dangerous look of triumph. "See? You can't tell me. You still insisting you don't have any secrets, Clark?"

He could scream, he was so frustrated… "You don't understand…I will tell you, when the time is right. Just not now."

"Not now. Fine! You decide when it's time for Wanda to know - poor old Wanda, she can't possibly make her own decisions."

"It's not like that — and anyway, you're no better! What have you told me about yourself? Nothing. About Luthor — nothing. About that night at the club — nothing. Just about anything at all about yourself — no chance. But that's OK, Wanda, because I want to give you time. I'll give you just as much time as you need to tell me as much or as little as you want, because I'm just happy that you're here with me. That's enough for me. So you make that decision, Wanda, you decide whether you want to share anything of yourself with me or not — I'll be here waiting when you're ready."

"And I'll still be waiting for you to tell me about Lois Lane!"

Wanda lurched to her feet and stormed away from the kitchen.


The next morning, Wanda was relieved when she could finally escape from the stifling atmosphere between them to sit at her own desk and hide behind her computer screen. The rest of the previous evening had been horrible; Wanda had sat in the bedroom fuming about Clark's lack of trust and what she viewed as his wholly unreasonable attitude to her new job, while the object of her anger had kept solely to the living room, until a familiar noise told her that he had flown away. That's right, she had thought grumpily — fly away and pretend we didn't have an argument. Sit on a mountain top somewhere and obsess about Lois Lane all night — see if I care!

As usual, she had missed out on her sleep because of more intrusive dreams, and eventually, she'd ended up sitting up in bed, cradling a cup of coffee and attempting to make sense of it all. It had been a very long time since she had dared to think about her past - in the early days with Lex, she had cried herself to sleep many times over, trying to come to terms with the disgusting profession she had left behind in the Congo. Mostly she had been grateful that she couldn't remember back beyond those first hazy days when Lex had found her, but she had wondered a few times how she had ended up in the Congo in the first place — where she had grown up, who her parents were and whether she had any family in the US.

Somewhere along the line, though, she had stopped thinking about her past — and now, as she thought back to those first few months, she realised that Lex had played a large part in discouraging her from pursuing her roots. He had made it sound distasteful — something better left undisturbed, and with his constant subtle reminders of her old profession, she had ended up agreeing with him. The inference was that anyone who ended up working as a prostitute in a country thousands of miles away from their homeland couldn't possibly have come from a stable, loving family, and quite probably they were running away from something extremely unpleasant.

God, he was a bastard! Now that she was thinking clearly again, she could see that there were many possible explanations for her pitiful circumstances when he found her. She had plans for Lex Luthor — something long and slow and very painful, she hoped, although she would endeavour not to sink to his level of cruel manipulation. Her revenge would be exacted through their investigation, which was progressing well, if not fast enough for her. Tomorrow she would redouble her efforts to find that safety officer; he was an important witness, she felt certain. She would also make sure she did that search on Clark — she was tired of him holding out on her, so she would just figure out the whole Lois Lane mystery for herself.

Her thoughts had turned back to their argument again. Now, in the dead of night, she could replay his protests about her unwillingness to confide in him, and admit to herself that he was right. He *had* told her a lot about himself, whereas she had told him virtually nothing. And the more she learnt about him, the more she liked him…in fact, it was beyond 'like'; she was attracted to him. She laughed dryly at herself: Wanda, the hard-bitten, world-weary nightclub singer, attracted to a boy scout in electric blue tights. What would the clientele at the Ace 'O Clubs say about that? Not that she cared…

So, if she was attracted to Clark, did she want to take it further? Because if she did, she recognised that she would have to give him something in return for all his honesty and generosity: a relationship had to be based on sharing and trust. Her heart lurched - was that what she wanted? A relationship with Clark Kent? If only she knew what his relationship with Lois Lane had been, though — she needed that clarified before she could commit herself to anything more with him. One thing was certain — she wasn't going to step into Lois Lane's shoes for him; he would have to accept her for who she was.

Wanda suppressed a yawn and returned her attention to the screen in front of her — the first order of the day was her research into Clark Kent and/or Lois Lane. First, she did a search cross-referencing him with her, but was surprised when it returned zero entries. She would have thought that if they'd been close co-workers, then something would have come up — a co-written article, perhaps, or even a story where both their names appeared. Unless their relationship had been clandestine, of course — the mystery deepened, she mused with a mental rubbing of hands. She keyed in Clark Kent, and watched as her screen filled up with references. The first thing she noticed was the dates — every single one post-dated Lois Lane's disappearance in the Congo! So did they know each other before Clark came to work at the Planet? That would be weird, though - his girlfriend disappears suddenly because of her work at the Planet, so he decides to join the staff there? He'd be more likely to want to stay away, to avoid being constantly reminded of her absence. She formed a new hypothesis: what if Clark Kent never met Lois Lane?

No, that didn't work either — his mistakes with her name contradicted that theory; he wouldn't keep calling her Lois if he wasn't used to having a companion with him by the same name.

She scrolled down a few more articles, and began to notice another woman's name appearing a lot: Mayson Drake, Assistant DA. It looked like he'd been working on an investigation with her into protection rackets in the garment district — she winced when it became clear that the racketeers had decided to exact revenge on those unfortunate enough to have passed information on to the investigating duo. That must have cut deep…suddenly she froze. The headline screamed out at her: "Assistant DA Murdered!" She scanned the text quickly — he'd been with her, trying to save her life, when the emergency services had arrived. A horrible experience, but probably not the first time he had been faced with a situation like that…she scrolled forward in time some more, clicking furiously with her mouse and wanting to scream at the screen every time it was too slow for her.

A Superman headline led her further into the story: "Where Is Superman?" Apparently a few days after Ms Drake's death, he had abandoned a multiple-car pile-up on the freeway in mid-rescue, and then hadn't been seen for a long time afterwards. She was surprised by the tone of the article; given that he worked for the Planet, she would have expected a sympathetic, understated description of events. Instead what she found was a lot of speculation as to why he had run off, the most popular theory being that he had lost his nerve. Jeff hadn't seemed like the kind of editor who would have let this type of copy through — but then she remembered Clark telling her that he had been drafted in fairly recently following the previous editor's despatch on a long, intensive management training course. How awful to be lonely *and* lack any kind of surrogate support system from your workplace. Which was exactly how she felt until recently! She had more in common with Clark than she ever could have imagined when she first met him.

Wanda leaned back in her chair and glanced over at the subject of her research. He was concentrating intently on his screen, a small frown playing on his face. What happened to you, Clark? Was Mayson Drake your girlfriend? That last article had certainly suggested that she was. So your investigation started going wrong, then your girlfriend died in your arms, you went back to both your jobs as if nothing has happened, and then days later you're running away from an accident scene. You hadn't lost your nerve at all, had you? The world just dealt you too many cruel hammer blows all at once.

Suddenly there was a lump at the back of her throat. All of this had only happened a few weeks ago, yet here he was, back at work again. How could he do it? He must have sensed her looking at him, for he glanced up from his screen and saw her — she snatched her eyes away quickly. Pretending to read her own screen, she made up her mind: they needed to talk about this, about Lois Lane, and about her. She approached his desk.

"Clark, we need to talk."

He stopped typing and looked coolly up at her. "Sure — have you found that safety officer?" His demeanour was polite and patient, yet his eyes were cold.

"No, bu-"

"Then I guess there's nothing to talk about." He turned his attention back to his screen.

His cold attitude was making her softly, softly approach very difficult to pursue, but she couldn't just bludgeon him with this. She perched on the edge of his desk and tried again. "Clark…"

His cool eyes looked up at her again. "Yes?"

"Why don't we go somewhere quiet and talk this through like adults? This whole sulking thing is crazy, don't you think?"

"I think we've said enough to each other, actually. You find that safety officer and then maybe we'll have something to talk about." He turned away to his screen once more.

Suddenly her image of a sad, broken man dissolved in the face of the sharp contrast sitting in front of her: an unyielding, cold individual currently doing his best to ignore her completely. "OK, have it your way! Play the wounded, bitter heart if that's what makes you happy — see if I care!"

She stalked over to the coffee machine, wrinkling her nose in distaste at what she found there. "And why people can't clean up after themselves," she said in a loud voice, "I'll never know!" She picked up the soggy sugar sachets littering the top of the counter gingerly by one corner and dumped them one by one in the trash can.


Clark heard Wanda…no, she was Lois, dammit! *Lois* was taking her wrath out on anyone within hearing distance, and every word stung as much as her words last night had. He thought he had endless patience for Lois, but this play-acting was really starting to get to him. It didn't seem fair: she was taking so much from him, emotionally and materially, and not only did she seem pretty ungrateful, she didn't even realise just how much more there was to this situation than just a helpful guy giving a friend a place to stay until she found her own apartment. And he couldn't tell her.

Damn Dr Friskin and her expert advice — he should never have consulted her; then maybe he wouldn't feel so constricted as to what he could and couldn't tell Lois. Don't overload her — well, right now, he felt like the one being overloaded, not Lois! He had spent long hours last night drifting across the countryside, churning through their stupid argument again and again, and he still came to the same conclusion: Lois was wrong, and he was right. He was *not* holding out on her, and he certainly wasn't interested in controlling her — how could she think he was capable of doing that? After all he'd shared, after all the patience he'd shown her, she still didn't trust him. What did it take to gain Lois Lane's trust? Sainthood?

And yet…he hated this. He hated arguing with Lois, when they should be building bridges across to each other — which was what she'd been trying to do just now. He had known what she was up to, had seen the soft, sympathetic look in her eyes when he had snatched a glance up at her, but somehow that had just hardened his heart. Oh, it was OK to do the caring, concerned thing — as long as it was on her terms, and not on his! Whenever he offered a sympathetic ear, she clamed up. Well, he could clam up too.


Dr Bernard Klein poured the contents of the beaker he had been heating over his Bunsen burner into the flask in front of him and took an absent-minded swig. He was tired and despondent. When he had first taken this job, he had enjoyed every minute of the day — he had looked forward to work in the mornings, and had worked long hours on the fascinating projects he was given. Now, he woke up every morning and wondered if he could decently come up with an excuse not to turn up at work. For one thing, he had been promoted, which meant he had staff, which in turn meant that he had to do tiresome stuff like appraisals and overtime rotas. For another, Star Labs had merged with Luthor Labs, a tiny organisation in comparison to his own, yet somehow their people and methodologies had permeated the new company at all levels. How was it that David could take over Goliath so effectively, he mused. The end result was a company culture he hated - OK, the Star Labs way of doing things had been empirical and a little messy, but it had been comfortable, and they had turned in the important projects on time. Now, it seemed that everything required forms in triplicate to be submitted, and no important decisions could be made without the Chairman's approval. He hated it.

And right now, he was doubly miserable, because of the message burning a space in the middle of his computer screen. He had hoped he would never see this particular message, but here it was: someone had accessed the Superman bio-data.

Reluctantly, he spent the next few minutes tracing the access codes back through the system, until he found the culprit. Emile LeFevre. His heart sank even further — since the message had arrived, he had been clinging on to the notion that perhaps the access had been from one of the very few people he knew were properly authorised to view Superman's medical files, but LeFevre didn't qualify. What was even worse, LeFevre worked in Weapons Research, a department Dr Klein had as few dealings with as he possibly could — in fact, it hadn't even existed before the merger.

The question was, what should he do with this information? Since the trace he had set up was strictly against company procedures, he couldn't tell his superior, and he couldn't go to the authorities either: the authorities were the very people who wanted to find a way of keeping Superman under control. And who was to say that LeFevre wasn't working on something legitimate — or at least, something Star Labs had taken on as a project, which Dr Klein wasn't party to? That wouldn't have happened with the old Star Labs, but these days anything was possible.

Should he tell Superman himself? That would be a betrayal of the trust the company had invested in him, and despite his reservations about his employers, Dr Klein was a firm believer in loyalty: he wasn't ready to bite the hand which fed him yet. Which meant that he would have to find out more about what LeFevre was accessing the bio-data for all on his own. A frightening prospect.


"Norman Peretti." A computer printout was dumped unceremoniously on top of the paper Clark was reading. "Lives in Gable Heights — number 94, Heston Tower. You coming?"

He looked up from the printout to a cool-faced Wanda, already packed up and ready to go. "Sure." He grabbed his jacket and followed her to the elevators. "How did you find him?"

She gave him an inscrutable look. "I have my sources."

Fine, if that was how she was going to play things…he shrugged. "Just hoping it was legal, is all."

"Oh, don't worry, Clark — your boy scout image won't be tarnished." She thumbed the first floor button viciously.

And she was back on that old thing again, was she? How little she appeared to understand him at times; he didn't give a fig for his image, he just wanted to be sure that when it came time to apprehend Luthor, that he couldn't wriggle out of any charges because their methods had been less than above-board. He leant up against the rear of the elevator with his arms crossed, staring at her back. Another thing — why did she have to wear those slim-fitting pants he loved so much and that cropped sweater which sat just perfectly on her waist when he was mad at her? When she moved, sometimes the sweater would ride up and expose tantalising slivers of her bare skin. He projected forward in time, to a day when he might be permitted to touch that skin…

Don't go there, Clark! The ways things were right now, that was never going to happen, and anyway, the woman he loved was so much more than an attractive body. She was bright, funny, audacious, and-

"You may as well fly us there. It'll be quicker."

Pragmatic. She certainly took his powers for granted, treating them as a useful accessory rather than a peculiarity, which mostly he appreciated tremendously. There was only one other person left in this world who accepted his gifts so matter-of-factly, and that was Perry White. Which reminded him; he must visit with Perry soon to find out what he knew about Lois' family.

Right now, however, Wanda was leading him purposefully across the Planet foyer, en route to the nearest alley so that he could spin into his Suit.


Wanda leaned forward on Clark's sofa to carefully lift off a piece of congealed cheese from the half-cold pizza on the table in front of her and nibble it morosely. It was early evening, and Clark was out. She suspected he was avoiding her, although he claimed he was visiting with Perry White, his old editor. That might be true, but it seemed like more of the same treatment he'd been giving her earlier: he had spent a large part of the afternoon disappearing on saves; many more than he usually attended to. So now she was stuck in on her own, eating cold pizza and staring at the four walls of his apartment.

Why he had to hold on to his anger with her for so long she couldn't understand at all. OK, they had said a few things to each other they probably shouldn't have, and maybe she had let her frustrations about Lois Lane lead her into exaggerating a little, but surely it was time to kiss and make up? She laughed hollowly. Kiss - that was a joke! They were never going to reach that stage, if they fell out over the stupidest things like this — and he had been looking so darned attractive today, too. Charcoal suit, nice matching tie and a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Why was it that rolled-up sleeves had that effect on her? — well, there was also the way his pants fit so nicely around his…

Don't go there, Wanda! It's pointless when he won't even look at you.

At least the Peretti interview had been useful, if tense. At first, Peretti had been reluctant to talk to them when he discovered that they were from the press. It had only been Clark's powerful but gentle persuasion which had got them through the door and into the man's living room. Wanda was immediately struck by the view from the ninth-story apartment — it reminded her of the view from Lex's downtown penthouse apartment, except that from this less glamorous part of town, the view was of other high-rise apartment blocks interspersed with factory buildings and industrial wasteland. However, she had remarked politely on the view, and Peretti had laughed.

"Yeah, I get to admire Lex Luthor's handiwork every single day." He had pointed out Cedar Villas to her, another high-rise block in the middle distance. "Me and Thelma are gonna have a party tomorrow when that one comes down."

"Comes down?" Clark had asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, it's being demolished tomorrow morning — should be quite a sight when it goes. We're being evacuated before she blows, but we get to watch the action on big TV screens over at Presley Memorial — I just wish I was the one pushing the button on the explosives."

Apparently the building had only been completed two years ago, yet already it had been declared unsafe and subsequently condemned for demolition. LL Industries were having to pay for the demolition job and all the accompanying safety measures, which to Peretti was another huge joke.

"I mean, who'd trust LLI to get safety right? It's only because I understand this stuff myself that I know we'll actually have a home to come back to tomorrow — you see, they don't really need to evacuate this block. But hey, if I get free entertainment at LLI's expense, who am I to complain?"

The discussion about Cedar Villas had been enough to break down any remaining inhibitions Peretti had about the press invading his privacy, and they had learnt how LL Industries had regularly ignored safety procedures on building sites, and also how he himself had been forced to drop his professional standards. It had taken him a long time to persuade himself that the death of the two workers in the elevator accident hadn't been his fault, but the fault of the company who prevented him doing his job properly. In the end it had been a relief to leave early and retreat into quiet, anonymous retirement.

They had asked if he would be prepared to swear to any of this in a court, and to their surprise and delight he replied that he would. It had obviously been a spur of the moment decision, given his earlier reluctance to let them in, but he told them that he'd been sitting on this information for too long, and their visit had finally made him realise that he could do something positive with what he knew.

"Anything which puts that bastard Luthor behind bars has to be worth it," he commented as he showed them out.

So now they had their first real witness. They still had to find someone to corroborate his stories, but the way LL Industries left disgruntled employees littered around the city made Wanda think it wouldn't be too long before they did that.

She leaned over to lift some more cheese off the pizza and discovered she'd picked it clean. Getting up to dispose of the remaining mess in the trash, she thought she heard Clark's key in the door. Back early? Maybe he had decided they needed to talk after all.

Suddenly, with a crash of splintering wood, the door smashed wide open and in rushed one of the bouncers from the Ace 'O Spades. She ran, but there was no-where to run to. He grabbed her roughly, span her around and bent her arm up agonisingly behind her back. She tried to struggle, but she was helpless when every movement threatened to pull her arm out of its socket. His free arm was wrapped around her body, pinning her arm to her side. She tried to step back and heel his toes viciously, but he anticipated her move and stepped back with her, making her lose her balance and nearly wrenching her arm out again. She was trying to regain ground when a familiar voice stopped her dead.

"Wanda, my dear! Still the little tigress, I see."

Lex Luthor strode into Clark's apartment wearing a pleasant smile and carrying a very large gun.

Summoning up a dose of bravado she was a long way from feeling, Wanda relaxed slightly in the goon's grip and gave Lex a look of contempt.

"Lex, you must be slipping. What is it — three, four days before you found me? Tut, tut," she shook her head slowly. "Just can't get the staff these days, can you?"

"Au contraire, my love," Lex smiled, tripping neatly down Clark's steps to come face to face with her. "I've known where you were from day one. It just took a few days to arrange things, that's all."

"What — this," she indicated the man holding her with her head, "took you four days to organise? What is he — a cyborg?"

The person in question tightened his grip on her, making her grunt in pain.

"Actually, that's next year's project. No, this year I'm carrying out a little spring-cleaning first, and you happen to be top of my to-do list right now."

"Lucky me," she remarked with a sneer.

He smiled graciously. "My pleasure. Now, if you'll just step this way?" he waved the gun at Clark's door.

With the goon pushing and shoving her from behind, she had little choice but to comply. "Where are we going?"

"You'll see soon enough. Oh, and by the way…"

He suddenly lunged towards her face, and before she could stop him, he had covered her mouth with a large piece of masking tape.

"I'm surprised you haven't tried already, but that's in case you get a sudden urge to yell 'help Superman'."

Her heart lurched. Why hadn't she called Clark? He could have been here in nanoseconds. Stupid, stupid, stupid!


Twenty minutes later, her fear reached new heights when the car she had been bundled into drew up outside a deserted high-rise building in the Gable Heights district. She could just make out the faded shadow of lettering above the entranceway: "Cedar Villas." The building due to be blown up tomorrow morning.

The Ace 'O Clubs bouncer pushed her out of the car and, still being held at gun-point by Lex, she was forced inside and pushed down into a single chair set up in front of the dilapidated reception desk. The goon stood behind her, reached around and abruptly ripped the tape off her mouth. The shock took her breath away — at least it hadn't hurt because he had done it so quickly — but she recovered and snatched in a lung-full of air, ready to yell for Clark.

Sense kicked in. Why was she being allowed to call him now? It had to be a trap. She let the air out slowly and glared silently at Lex.

"What? Decided you don't need our noble superhero after all?" asked Lex, feigning surprise.

"I'm not calling Superman here just so you can set him up," she replied defiantly. "So you'll just have to improvise without him, Lex. Think you can manage that?"

"Oh, I'll muddle through somehow, my dear. You'll just have to help me yourself."

"I'll never help you, Lex, as long as I live!" she spat at him.

Lex smiled beatifically back at her. "I think you just did."

He snapped his fingers, and suddenly her own voice was coming back at her. "Help Superman," it said, in slightly jerky tones. It repeated several times, getting smoother and more convincing each time, until it was a facsimile of her own voice calling for Clark. It was also booming loudly around the foyer, while Lex laughed mockingly at her.


Clark reached up from his seat on Perry's sofa to accept the mug of coffee being handed to him. "Thanks, Alice. So Lois didn't have any relatives at all?" he asked, returning to the reason for his visit.

"I didn't say none, just that they weren't much of a family to her," replied Perry. "Her mother died when Lois was a teenager - reading between the lines, I'd say she drank herself to death. Her father ended up in prison somewhere out of state — a get-rich quick scheme which cut just a few too many corners, if you get my drift. There's a sister around somewhere — you could try and find her, I guess. But Clark, I tell you again: there's no point. My advice is to drop this crazy idea that she's Lois Lane and start getting to know her for who she really is."

"I already know who she is, Perry," Clark replied earnestly. "What do you know about the sister?"

Perry shook his emphatically and pursed his lips. Alice gave him a quick glance before turning to Clark. "Perry's right, Clark. We're delighted you've found someone who obviously means a lot to you, but you've got to start putting Wanda first and your own hopes second. How do you think she would feel if she knew you were trying to prove she was someone else?"

Clark sighed heavily. How could he make them understand? Sure, Wanda would probably be hurt and confused if she knew what he was trying to do, but he couldn't drop it just for that. This was the rest of her life they were talking about; he couldn't just give up because things were getting a little tough.

"Alice, I hear what you're saying, but I know I'm right. I have to do this, for Lois' sake."

"Well, you just keep asking yourself whether you're doing this for Wanda or yourself, Clark. That's all I'm going to say," replied Alice sadly.

It was sound advice, and he appreciated their honesty. These two were almost like surrogate parents to him, and they'd helped him through some pretty difficult times in the past. They gave him support when he needed it, guidance through difficult decisions, rarely disagreed outright with him, but when they did, gave him their reasons and left him free of pressure to make up his own mind. He nodded to Alice.

"I will, Alice — and thanks…"

All of a sudden, he heard a cry for help. No ordinary cry, this — it was Wanda calling to him! He leapt up from the sofa.

"Sorry, I have to go — Wanda's in danger!"

He didn't even wait for their acknowledgement, but supersped out of the house and up into the sky, changing into his Suit as he ascended.


Alice turned to her husband with a frown. "I'm worried about him, Perry. First Mayson, and now this. Do you think we should try and get him to see someone? A professional, I mean."

Perry expelled sharply. "I don't know, Alice, I really don't. He seems so certain that she's Lois, I almost want to believe it myself."

"You don't think…?"

"There's a strong resemblance — I can't deny that. Sometimes, the way she moved on stage at that…nightclub," Perry enclosed the word in physical parenthesis with his fingers, "I could see how he might get the notion into his head that she's Lois, but there is no way that woman I saw could be the Lois Lane I knew. No way!"

Alice sighed heavily. "Then I guess we just have to keep talking it through with him until he gets himself straight. I think I will call Linda, though, and get the name of that counsellor her sister was seeing last year — just in case."

"I hate to say it, Alice, but I think you're right."


Clark frowned as he neared the location of Wanda's cries. The building looked to be in about the right place in relation to Peretti's apartment block, but what was Wanda doing in Cedar Villas? Had she decided to take a closer look for herself — perhaps witness the full extent of the building's dilapidation before it was razed to the ground? Or was she looking for further evidence of LLI's poor construction standards? Quite possibly, knowing Wanda — and she'd probably fallen down somewhere. His heart beat faster — what if she was badly hurt? He'd never forgive himself if their argument had somehow led her to come here on her own and put herself in danger…at least her cries were good and strong. That had to be a good sign.

He swept downwards and in through the front door, ready to begin a superfast search until he found her. He barely managed to register the tableau in front of him — Wanda sitting tied up in a chair with her mouth covered in masking tape, her eyes wide in terror, and Lex Luthor standing a few paces away pointing a gun at her — before something slammed into his chest with huge force, sending him reeling to the floor.

The shock and pain were overwhelming. He tried to struggle back up again, but there was no power in his body; it was all he could do to suck in painful breaths past the solid ball of agony in his chest. In the midst of his dazed and painful misery, he sensed Luthor standing over him and tried to lash out at his legs. Luthor stepped nimbly and easily out of his reach.

"My, my, Mr Kent! Still got some fight in you, I see — most impressive. Emile!" he threw the name over his shoulder while still watching Clark writhing on the floor. "I believe the patient requires another dose."

Clark heard a faint squeal from Wanda, and then a smaller man was standing beside Luthor holding a strange-looking device with a huge barrel. "Mr Luthor, I-I'm not sure…" quavered this man.

"Do it!" barked Luthor roughly.

"It's just that it might not hold out a second ti-"

"We'll never know if you don't try it, will we?" ground out Luthor. "Do it!"

"No…" whispered Clark desperately. It was all he could manage to say through the pain, and he didn't really expect them to listen to him, but he had to try anything to make them stop. He would try anything to prevent Luthor from hurting Lois.

"Begging, are we, Mr Kent? I like it. So…cowardly. Emile?"

There was another moment of blinding pain as the giant fist struck him again, and then blackness.


Wanda couldn't stop the sobbing. Clark looked crumpled and lifeless, lying in the pool of red which was his cape. Had they killed him? Please don't make him dead, he can't be dead. He was the first person to treat her like a human being in two long years, the first person to let her discover her self-respect, and he was so, so wonderful. Please don't make him dead. She strained to see signs of life — a flickering eyelid, a finger movement, anything at all. Was he breathing? It was impossible to tell from where she was.

"Come, come, Wanda! Why so sad?" asked Lex with a mock frown. "Don't tell me you had feelings for him?"

She looked up at him furiously through blurry eyes, wishing she could tell him exactly what she thought of him, but with the masking tape still plastered over her mouth, it was all she could do to make impotent angry noises at him.

"Oh, you did? Well, isn't that a shame? At least, it would be if he were actually dead, but alas, the quantum disruptor isn't yet capable of delivering the final, *final* blow. As you can see, it can wreak considerable havoc on Mr Kent, and who knows what we might have achieved if Emile had been given longer to perfect it, but I'll admit it — I was impatient. Still, I think you'll agree it's a splendid achievement for just two days' work, and it's done as much as I could reasonable expect of it: I believe our noble superhero is well on the path to his eventual demise."

Lex's self-satisfied smile taunted her. Ignoring his ominous last words, Wanda allowed a flicker of hope to kindle in her heart. If he wasn't merely playing cruelly with her emotions, then Clark was actually alive. Even better, Emile's device had obviously blown itself out, judging by the flash of light and puff of smoke which had accompanied Emile's second firing, so Clark was at least safe from further attack.

And now the ratty little man was untying her, she was ripping the tape from her mouth and running to Clark's side…yes, there were faint rasping sounds coming from his chest. Thank God, he was alive! She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Clark?" She could hardly recognise her own shaky voice.

"Lois…" he rasped.

Oh, he could call her anything he liked! She didn't care, as long as he was alive and talking to her.

"Very touching, Wanda," commented Lex. "It's a shame you couldn't show me a little of the same."

"You?" she spat over her shoulder. "Why would I do anything for you, Lex? You disgust me!" She bent over Clark, her tender caresses of his face in sharp contrast to her words. Her free hand searched and found his limp one and gave it a quick squeeze of reassurance; not that there was much to reassure him about, but she could pretend, couldn't she?

"You didn't say that two years ago when I rescued you from the whorehouses of Lagos. I seem to recall you were quite grateful then. How about it, Wanda — care to show a little of your gratitude now, for old time's sake? I'm sure Emile would avert his eyes for us."

She snorted derisively. "He wouldn't need to for the two seconds it would take. Didn't anyone ever tell you what a lousy lover you are, Lex?"

"I believe it takes two to tango, my dear," he replied smoothly. "Still, if you don't feel inclined to take up my offer, perhaps you could be so kind as to help Mr Kent to his feet? I believe he may be sufficiently roused to oblige me in the final stage of my little playlet."

"Why would I do that? Why should I do anything to help you, Lex?" Wanda shot back while doing her best to support Clark, who was indeed beginning to stir from the floor and attempting to sit up.

Lex pointed his gun directly at her. "Because I have one of these, and so does Emile?"

Wanda looked over at Emile, who had abandoned the quantum disruptor in favour of a normal gun which he was pointing at Clark.

"I very much doubt that Mr Kent has any invulnerability left, and anyway, would you want to take the risk?" Lex continued reasonably.

Wanda decided to ignore Lex and turned her attention fully back to Clark, looking into his eyes with a question: did he think he had any powers left? He shook his head imperceptibly, before trying to prop himself up on one arm. She put an arm under his back and helped lever him up to a sitting position, where he wheezed and trembled against her support.

"Can you stand up?" she asked him quietly, receiving a helpless look of defeat in turn.

"He can't stand," she protested to Lex. "Look at him!"

"Oh, come, come, Wanda — you're a big strong woman. You can help him. Now! Before I lose my patience and shoot you both instead."

"Instead of what, Lex?" she asked, genuinely curious as to what could be worse than being shot, and also trying to buy time any way she could.

"You'll see soon enough. Now get up!" he snarled viciously.

Wanda tried again to delay him — she had no idea what she was delaying, but she knew it wasn't going to be pleasant. "Why, Lex? Why are you doing this? OK, so I hurt your pride when I left you, but what has Clark ever done to you?"

"Hurt my pride?" exclaimed Luthor in mild surprise. "You flatter yourself, Wanda. No, you've just outlived your usefulness, I'm afraid — you've become tiresome, wilful, and frankly very, very dull. As for Mr Kent — well, let's just say I'm getting rid of him before he becomes too much of a nuisance. Forward planning has always been one of my strengths. Now, I really must insist you do as I ask, or I'll have to practice my marksmanship skills on you both. Get up!" His conversational tone had vanished again.

Wanda couldn't see what else she could do but obey him; beneath his smooth veneer of civilisation she could see a violent core ready to erupt at the slightest provocation. "I'm sorry, Clark," she whispered.

She saw him try to smile, but it was more grimace than smile. "It's OK," he whispered back. With an obviously huge effort of willpower, he boosted himself up, and together they somehow managed to get him to his feet, stumbling and swaying all the while. He was so heavy…Wanda struggled with all her might to keep him upright, bracing herself as best she could against his taller frame which threatened to topple her every second they stood clinging on to each other.

"Over there!" ordered Lex, waving his gun briefly at a door to one side of the reception desk.

It was only a few paces, but it seemed like a mile. Every step, Clark's weight against her made her stagger, and every step, his breathing grew louder and more laboured until he was wheezing continuously through his open mouth. She was scared for him — maybe Emile's ray gun thing hadn't killed him, but he sounded desperately unwell.

At last they reached the door, and on another barked command from Lex, managed to open it. Steps led down into blackness.

"No!" cried Wanda.

"Down you go!" instructed Lex. "Just think — you can spend a few last cozy hours together before the building comes down tomorrow morning. A romantic night, just for two. Maybe you'll have better luck with her than I did, Kent — who would have thought a whore would be so unresponsive?"

Wanda flinched, and felt Clark tense beside her. Now it was ruined…any stupid dream she had ever had was shattered. He would never want her…

"Oh, didn't she tell you?" continued Lex inexorably. "No, I don't suppose she would. She didn't tell you how I plucked her from the whorehouses of Nigeria and brought her home to safety and security, how she thanked me for my kindness, how she welcomed me into her bed? No? Well, no matter. Sorry you're not in a better state to enjoy her, but such is life — better luck in the next life."

Suddenly Wanda felt a rush of air behind her, and then someone was pushing her in the small of her back, sending her and Clark tumbling forward into the darkness. Together they tripped and scrambled down the steps, until their momentum became too much for them and they fell the last few steps onto the hard, cold, concrete floor below. The door slammed shut above them and they were plunged into darkness.


Long minutes passed. Pain, shock and confusion blotted out coherent thought. For a time he was frightened to move, in case he discovered things were even worse than he already suspected they were. Were his eyes open? The blackness was so intense it was impossible to tell. He closed and opened them deliberately, with no discernible difference to the blackness. Wanda was stirring beside him…no, under him — he tried to lift himself off her, but there was no strength in his limbs. He attempted a rolling action instead, and felt her hand against his back, helping him over. He redoubled his efforts, and with a gasp of pain, managed to roll over onto his chest and set her free.

It hurt *a lot*, lying on his damaged chest, and breathing was hard — his wheezing breaths sounded incredibly loud as they bounced off the concrete floor and back up at him.


Her hand on his leg, locating him in the darkness, patting up his back and then his shoulder; now he sensed her head close to his.

"What can I do?" she asked. Her voice sounded so calm and comforting — he drew strength from that.

"Turn…turn me over," he gasped.

"OK. Tell me if I hurt you."

He felt her reach across his back and pull on his side. It hurt like hell, but he didn't tell her. How could he, when she was trying to help him? With what little strength he had left, he pushed up with his hands, and together they turned him over onto his back. Relief. He could breathe almost normally again.

"Thank you." He heard a rustle of clothing, and then he was being located again by her hands. "Here."

Her hand reached behind his neck, encouraging him to lift up his head. Something soft brushed against him and then she was lowering him onto the makeshift pillow. He wanted to ask what item of clothing she had removed — it wasn't very warm in here and from what he could remember from his brief glimpse before he had been shot, she didn't have much more than jeans and a sweater on. He didn't have the energy right now, though. If it was her sweater he'd make sure she put it back on soon: she couldn't afford to do without it in this cold, damp place.

"Better?" she asked from the inky darkness surrounding them.

He nodded automatically before realising that she couldn't see him. "Yes."

"I'll be back in a minute — I'm going to check that door."

"Be careful," he whispered.

He felt her leave him, and then heard a muffled wince from her. She was hurt!

"Wanda? What is it?"

"It's OK — I must have turned my ankle when we fell down those steps. Don't worry, I'm all right."

He heard her uneven steps up the stairs; she was limping.

"Try not to put too much weight on it," he suggested, his voice feeling a little stronger now.

"If ever I heard such superfluous advice," he heard her mutter under her breath, and took heart — if she was complaining, she couldn't be hurting too badly. "I'm at the door," she announced in a louder voice. He heard her bang on it and kick it a few times, and then she went quiet.

"Wanda? What are you doing?"

"There's no handle…and no lock on this side! It's completely flat…help! Help! Let us out!" He heard her bang it furiously with her hands and feet many times over. "Help! We're trapped!" Again and again she struck at the door, and kept up her yelling until he could hear her voice beginning to tire. "Please," she faltered on a half-sob, and was abruptly quiet.

"Wanda?" He could hear sniffles now: she was crying softly. He thought his heart might break in two to hear her so devastated - he tried to roll over again, to make his way up to her so that he could cradle her in his arms, but it was useless. He was simply too weak. "Wanda, please don't cry. We'll get out of here somehow, I know we will." He couldn't remember ever feeling so impotent, and he hadn't the faintest idea how they were going to get out either, but he couldn't let her give up hope.

She muttered something too low for him to hear.

"I can't hear you. Why don't you come back down here a while?"

"It's all my fault," she whispered.

"Wanda, don't say that — it's not your fault at all. Nothing's your fault."

"Everything's my fault," she countered miserably. "For as long as I can remember, everything's been my fault."

She had such a low opinion of herself. Thinking about Lex's final words just before he'd thrown them down here, Clark at last thought he understood why. The man was the cruellest, most sadistic bastard he'd ever met — Clark didn't believe for one moment that Wanda had been a prostitute. Although he wasn't innocent; he'd kicked around enough to know that desperation could push a person to do things they would otherwise abhor. If your body was all you had left to earn you enough money to stay alive, then what did you do — fold up and die, or push aside your inhibitions and disgust and make the most of what you'd got? He found it almost impossible to imagine Wanda being able to do that, believing that she would do everything in her power to find an alternative means of supporting herself. But even if she had, it didn't matter to him. He loved her; that was what mattered. Her feelings, of course, would be entirely different: how must it feel to know you'd shared your most intimate, secret places with entire strangers? His stomach contracted. He couldn't imagine anything more terrible.

"Wanda…what Lex said? Is that why you think everything's your fault?"

She gave a dry laugh. "What do you think? If I hadn't been a…a whore," she pronounced the word in a low voice, "then Lex wouldn't have picked me up in that bar and brought me back here, and then I wouldn't have become a lousy singer in a lousy club and allowed myself to get trapped so badly that I was afraid to leave him. Then you wouldn't have met me, I wouldn't have come to stay with you, and you wouldn't have had to fly in and save me and been shot and nearly killed and trapped in a stinking basement with me! That's why everything's my fault."

"Wanda, that's crazy! That story you just told — it's Luthor who made all that happen, not you."

"Oh, he made me into a prostitute, did he?"

Clark suddenly had a sickening thought: maybe Luthor had done just that. Carefully, he asked, "Tell me how Luthor found you. You said he picked you up in a bar?"

"Yes." There was a long silence, and he thought perhaps she wasn't going to go further, but then she continued slowly and quietly - so quietly he had to strain to hear her. "Apparently I was so drunk I could hardly stand, but not so drunk I wasn't beyond trying to sell myself to him-"

"You mean you don't remember any of this?"

"Fragments — I remember a bar, and I remember him talking to me-"

"So he filled in the blanks for you?"

"Yeah. Lots and lots of big empty blanks."

"So how do you know any of it's true?"

"Why else would I be hanging around a prostitute's bar in Lagos?"

"Because you had nowhere else to go? Because someone abandoned you there? How do you even know what sort of bar it was? Can you remember what you were doing before he picked you up?"

"No. That's another big empty blank. I can't remember anything at all-"

"Nothing? You mean you can't remember anything back beyond the day he picked you up?"

There was silence again. Clark was stunned — how could you live your life, not knowing anything more than just the two short years or less in between now and a hazy recollection of a chance meeting in a bar? To have no past…there were times when he would wish for a different past, but any past was preferable to none at all. How did you centre yourself; how did you know who you were? No wonder she was so insecure and lonely, and no wonder she had built up that tough, cynical exterior she had worn when he first met her. How else could she have survived?

As for Luthor! The man was pure evil: Clark imagined him finding Lois when she was, for whatever reason, extremely vulnerable, and then instead of helping her like any normal human being would have done, he had seized the opportunity to fill her head with a network of ugly lies about herself. Clark hated him; he hated Luthor so completely that he was shaking with anger, and all at once, the constriction in his chest which he'd been trying to ignore became too insistent, making him desperate to cough. He experimented with a quick bark, knowing it was probably going to hurt and hoping that it would be sufficient to clear his chest, but instead it opened the floodgates and soon he was coughing and wheezing painfully.

"Clark? Are you OK?"

He wanted to reassure her, but it was impossible: the coughing fit persisted, and it was all he could do to hoist himself weakly up a little on one elbow to try and ease the pain and breathe more easily. He heard quick, uneven footfalls on the stairs, and then a hand was patting his arm — she was getting very good at locating him in the dark. Her arm snaked under his shoulders, helping him raise himself up until he was sitting upright. He leaned shakily against her, coughing until he was dizzy and hot from the exertion. The new position worked, though, and soon the fit had subsided.

"OK?" she asked.

He nodded, reluctant to try his speaking voice lest it set the coughing off again. Her free hand caressed the side of his face briefly then felt his forehead, her touch cool and soft on his hot skin. How could anyone want to hurt such a wonderfully kind and gentle person?

"We've got to get you out of here," she murmured. "Are you sure you haven't got any powers left at all?"

He shook his head: he didn't even have to try them to know there was nothing left. He felt her squeeze him encouragingly.

"Come on, Clark, try them. How about your hearing?"

Obediently, he strained to reach beyond the confines of their prison with his hearing, but all was silence. Without her bidding, he tried all the various visual powers he usually commanded, but nothing worked.

He shook his head again. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and received another squeeze of encouragement.

"Don't be."

"Isn't…isn't that…my line?"

"Yeah, well…Look, I don't think I can hold you up like this much longer. I need to move you over to the wall — it's only a few feet away. Think you can shuffle yourself over if I help you?"


A couple of minutes later, Clark was propped up against the wall with his cape tucked securely around him for extra warmth, waiting for his head to stop spinning and his breathing to calm down. Meanwhile, Wanda was carrying out a painstaking but cautious exploration of their prison, keeping up a running commentary as she went.

"Feels like solid brickwork here…I'm at a corner now…there's some kind of metal shelving on this wall…" He heard a cautious, hollow patting noise as she checked the shelves for their contents. "Nothing on them…more brickwork…another corner…I hope there's nothing living down here except you and me…this wall feels like plaster…I'm at the stairs again."

He heard her limp up the stairs. "Wanda, there's no-one out there," he protested. The anger he'd felt towards Luthor had transformed into intensified concern and protection for her, and he didn't want her getting as upset as she had the last time she had tried to attract attention.

"I've got to try!" she retorted fiercely. "How do you know one of the demolition workers won't come by?" Without waiting for a reply from him, she began her yelling and banging on the door again, shouting herself hoarse once more. Clark sat helplessly on the floor, listening to her torture herself, knowing there was nothing he could do to help her, and that very probably, they were trapped down here until the explosives detonated and they were buried forever.


Dr Klein stared blankly at his computer screen. Everyone had gone home for the day, and he was left on his own in the lab, supposedly caught up with analysing the results of an experiment which had completed earlier in the day. Not an usual situation for Dr Klein, except for the past twenty minutes he hadn't been working on the results; he'd been trying to screw up his courage enough to be able to take the first steps into his investigation of Emile LeFevre. He planned to take a look around LeFevre's lab for clues as to why he had been accessing the Superman data, but executing the plan was a lot harder than the contemplation thereof. The lab archives were on the same floor as weapons research, so it wasn't unreasonable for Dr Klein to be found up there: he had his story all worked out, but still he sat staring at the columns of data before him, running through all the things which could go wrong if he was caught.

He glanced over at the printout he'd prepared earlier as his cover — was it convincing enough? His brain told him that he was the only person at the labs who was capable of comprehending his fakery, but his heart kept insisting that maybe, just maybe, someone else would spot the fabrication. The idea was that he'd obtained results which reminded him of some data obtained a few years ago on another project, the details of which were stored in the archives. He was going upstairs to compare notes. Of course, he didn't visit that floor very often, so he could easily lose his way. At least that part of the story was semi-plausible: Star Labs had very few signs posted around its corridors, and most rooms and labs were labelled with a generic numbering system which strangers frequently fell foul of.

Another glance at his watch — yes, it was well past normal office hours, so what was he waiting for? With a thudding heart, he picked up the printout and his security pass, and made his way up to weapons research.

The elevator doors slid open, and immediately a security guard hove into view. Dr Klein nearly fainted with alarm.

"Hi, Doc," remarked the man. "Working late again?"

He forced a rueful smile onto his face. "Seems I just can't keep away from this place sometimes."

"Must be some real interesting experiment you're running."

"Certainly is," he replied with false enthusiasm. "If you'll excuse me…" He sidled past the guard and started down the corridor.


He froze. This was it: what was he doing on this floor? He turned around slowly. "Yes?"

"Remember and turn the lights out when you're done."

"Oh!" He felt like melting into a puddle on the floor, he was so relieved. "Yes, sure. Don't want to waste the planet's precious energy reserves, do we?"

"We sure don't."

He stood smiling inanely at the guard until he had stepped into the elevator and continued on his patrol elsewhere. No doubt the man thought he was acting strangely, but with any luck, his reputation as the archetypal absent-minded scientist would help explain his weird behaviour. Would his presence on this floor be recorded in a log somewhere?

No sense worrying about it now, though. Taking a deep breath, he walked swiftly down the corridor, found LeFevre's door, swiped his security card decisively and walked in as if he belonged there. A quick glance around the lab confirmed that the place was empty.

Fifteen minutes later, he was about to give up and retreat back to his own lab, when a screwed-up piece of paper in a trashcan caught his eye. There were scribbled calculations on it with some very familiar-looking numbers — he lifted it out and spread it open to read it properly.

"Oh, my!"

He glanced around quickly, taken by surprise by the sound of his own voice in the empty lab. This didn't look good at all. Calculations on the depletion of energy reserves — and he knew exactly which energy reserves those were. Worse still, the starting point for the degradation was far below what it should have been, which meant that LeFevre didn't expect Superman to be at full power at the start of his calculations. And LeFevre worked in weapons research…

He rummaged through the rest of the trashcan, but there was nothing more to be found there. What to do now? He eyed LeFevre's computer. He had avoided it so far, because anything useful was probably all password-protected, and Dr Klein was no computer expert, but in the light of this new information, he should try, at least. He sat down and switched on…no power. Feeling around the back of the PC, he discovered why: the power leads had been removed. A quick check under the desk and in all the drawers he could open came up blank. Now what? The thought of taking the time to fetch leads up from his own lab filled him with horror: he simply couldn't take the risk of being spotted a second time. In fact, he was rapidly losing his nerve the longer he remained in LeFevre's lab.

He should leave while he still could, he decided, and try again tomorrow, bringing the requisite leads with him. He looked down at the crumpled paper in his hands — would it be missed? No, because the cleaners would be in early tomorrow morning anyway.

The journey back down to his own lab was torture, but at last he was home and dry, and shaking like a leaf. This spying business was definitely not his forte!


She wasn't sure how long she'd been sitting in a crumpled mess, slumped up against the door she'd been hammering constantly on. Time had ceased to mean anything in this dark, cold place where no-one could hear her shouts for help except her poor, helpless companion. All she knew was that she was exhausted, and completely crushed in spirit. In a way, it seemed inevitable that her life would come to this: trapped in a basement storeroom waiting to die. Part of her had been dying ever since Lex had found her in Lagos and explained to her who and what she was. Yet for a brief, wonderful time, her life had been transformed by the man sitting injured at the bottom of these stairs. He had given her hope, made her regain her self-respect, taken care of her, and shown her a world where anything seemed possible. He had even made her question the truth of the terrible past she'd been handed by Lex, especially now that he had made her realise just how much Lex had filled in for her during those early days. Was it possible that all of it was lies? But if that was the case, then what belonged in its place, and would she ever find out, or did she have to face an even bigger blank in her life? Whatever the truth was, it seemed that she was back where she belonged: discarded; an empty vessel thrown on the waste-heap of life.

She heard a soft cough from below and held her breath for a second, fearing another coughing fit was about to take hold. Clark didn't belong here. He belonged in the light, in the bright, vibrant world of Metropolis, the Daily Planet, and the lives of all the people he touched with his brave kindness. It was her fault he was hurt and trapped down here with her — if she'd had an ounce of sense, she would have shouted for him the moment that goon had broken into the apartment, and then none of this would have happened. But she was stupid and slow, and now he was going to pay for her mistakes with his life. Well, the least she could do was try and make things easy for him — she stood up and felt her way down the steps, biting her lower lip to prevent herself from wincing when her ankle protested loudly all the way down.

"How're you doing?" She slid down beside him and put an arm around his shoulders.

"Better, I think."

His voice did sound stronger. Was it too early to allow herself a little hope? "Maybe you just need time to recover."


She could hear the doubt in his voice. "Why not?"


"Come on, Clark. Why not?" She found his hand in the dark and clasped it in her own.

"I get my powers from the sun," he answered quietly, "and you probably noticed it's kind of dark in here."

"Oh." She thought hard for a moment. "But that's just your superpowers, Clark. You could still recover enough to feel like a normal man, couldn't you?"

"I guess."

"OK!" she exclaimed brightly. "So you just keep resting here, and who knows? Maybe in a few hours you'll be ready to challenge me to our first game of blind man's bluff."

He snorted, and she almost regretted her attempt at humour when it brought back a brief coughing fit. When it passed, he continued. "Yeah. You got a blindfold we can use?"

"Darn. Forgot to bring one. Guess you'll just have to close your eyes instead — can I trust you not to peek?"

"I think I can categorically state that I won't be able to see a thing, Wanda."

"You're right — I guess it is kind of dark in here, now you mention it."

They fell into a comfortable silence for a few moments, and then Clark squeezed her hand. "Thanks, Wanda."

"What for?" she asked in surprise.

"For this. For taking care of me, talking to me and cheering me up…holding me…"

"Hey! I haven't done anything."

"Yes, you have. I've never been sick before, Wanda, but you've made it a lot easier for me to bear." Suddenly she was aware of how close he was to her — her arm around his shoulders, her hand holding his, her body turned towards his. She could almost imagine she felt his breath on her face. "I'm not sure I could have held it together without you." His voice cracked on the last few words.

"Oh, Clark," she whispered, holding him tighter. "Yes you could've. You're strong in so many different ways — you would have been just fine." He was such a complicated man: as Superman, he was poised and confident, and frequently as Clark he was equally strong, but then there were times like this, when his self-confidence appeared to desert him completely. He'd been through a lot in his lifetime, she reflected, from being orphaned at an early age, through what must have been some pretty tough times growing up, to arrive at a lonely existence as a single man with lots of acquaintances but virtually no close friends, and yet more bereavement to cope with. Perhaps it was surprising that he wasn't even more uncertain and off-balance than this, and perhaps it was no wonder that he was consulting a shrink and that he'd taken so long to put that stupid argument they'd had behind him. "I'm sorry I picked that argument with you before," she confessed.

"I seem to remember I wasn't exactly too well-behaved myself."

"Maybe, but I was the one who started it, and I had no right to. I knew you were doing everything you could to help me, and all I could do was complain that it wasn't enough. So — I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

"Wanda, there's nothing to forgive. I was the one sulking all day long — and if I hadn't left you alone this afternoon, then none of this would have happened."

There it was again! Blaming himself; thinking he had failed when nothing could be further from the truth. "That's not true, Clark. You can't be everywhere at the same time."

"But I knew that you were in dang-"

She found his lips in the dark and pressed her finger to them to silence him. "Stop it, Clark. I don't want to hear you blaming yourself for this, OK?"

"Only if I know you'll do the same," he replied when she released him. "Please?"

She crossed her fingers. "OK." The information she had found earlier about his recent troubles came back to her — no doubt he had blamed himself for Mayson Drake's death too. Was he still harbouring doubts about that? "You're pretty good at blaming yourself for things, aren't you?" she suggested.

There was silence while he contemplated her question. "Maybe."

Clasping his hand again, she felt it tense with her next words. "Tell me about Mayson, Clark."

Silence. Shocked silence. Had she stepped over the line?

"How did you know?" he asked finally.

She wasn't sure what he was asking, how big a question he was posing, but she decided to answer the simpler question first. "I wanted to understand you, Clark, so I did a search on you in the Planet archives. I know it was probably nosey of me, but there was so much you weren't telling me, I had to find out more about you somehow. I saw the headlines, read the stories." She paused. Now for the other question. "She was very special to you, wasn't she?"

Another long pause, then, "Yes."

He fell quiet again for so long she began to feel guilty about raising the subject. "Clark, I'm sorry. If this is too difficult for you-"

"No. You took me by surprise, that's all." She waited patiently, soothing his tense hand with gentle strokes of her thumb. "I thought I loved her. We spent a lot of time together — got to know each other pretty well. She was clever and funny — she had this great sense of humour, and she didn't pull any punches when she had something really important to say. She was going to be a great DA someday…anyway, we worked on this case together…but I guess you know all about that if you've read the stories…"

"Yes — it looked like a tough case."

"It was. We argued about it — nearly split up over it, actually. She was the one who brought us back together again; she was good at that."

Yet he had been very specific in describing their relationship. "You said you thought you loved her?"

"Yeah…there was even talk of marriage, just before…"

It was Wanda's turn to be shocked; she hadn't imagined they had been that serious — although his behaviour after her death was certainly extreme enough, if she was right about what had happened to him. "Clark, I'm sorry. I never realised how close you were — is that why you had to leave Metropolis?"

"It was a lot of things…but you're right. I kind of…fell apart for a while."

"Where did you go?"


He stopped again, and she wondered whether he would say any more; despite his assurances that he was OK talking about it, his voice was very quiet and subdued as he answered her questions. Perhaps she should stop pushing — it wasn't fair to make him revisit barely-healed wounds when these could be the last few hours they had together. In fact, why had she even brought up the subject in the first place? All right, so she wanted to understand him, but in so doing, she was also finding out about his previous girlfriends, just like she might do if she were at the start of a relationship with him: checking out who she was likely to be compared with. Was that how she wanted to spend this time with him?

"I had a lot of guilt to deal with — you were right about that, too."

His voice interrupted her thoughts, and led her to a different thought: funny how being right wasn't always a good thing. "But what was there to be guilty about, Clark? It wasn't your fault she…" Wanda hesitated over the word.

"Died. It's OK, you can say it. *I* can even say it now." He sighed heavily. "What was I guilty about? Just about anything you could think of, from not being able to save her, to not being truthful enough with her when we were together. But I'm over all that now."

She reached up and found his face in the dark; she wouldn't have been surprised to find tears there, but thankfully there were none. She stroked his cheek. "Are you, Clark? Are you really OK?" Because he didn't sound all right…and something was happening to her; a loosening of ties, an irresistible attraction — she was drifting closer and closer to him, both physically and mentally.

"I am now that I've found you," he breathed, and then his lips touched hers in a tender kiss. She returned his caress with an equal tenderness which soon turned into deep, full-blooded passion, letting the emotion and feelings she had been suppressing for so long finally express themselves through the touch of her lips on his.

Clark broke away first, panting slightly. "Sorry…can't…"

"It's OK." She kissed his forehead instead, his cheek, the side of his neck, exploring him with her lips while holding him steady in her arms. Why hadn't they done this before? It seemed so natural, now that they'd let go their inhibitions, and he was so wonderfully sensuous, even when he was sick. She came back to his face, and he met her lips in another searing kiss which left her feeling giddy with sensation.

This time she was the one pulling away reluctantly, anxious to prevent him running out of breath again. Was this true emotion? Was he showing her his true feelings for her, or was it just that he needed solace and comfort, and she was conveniently nearby? Had he forgotten already what Lex had revealed about her sordid past, or was he choosing not to believe it, as he'd implied she should do? With anyone else, she might have been happy to pretend that his feelings for her were as strong as hers undoubtedly were for him, but with Clark somehow it mattered. Suddenly, she knew that she cared for him too much for this to simply be a shallow fling, even if they only had a few hours left together.

Before she could form a question for him, he was back again, a hand moving gently through her hair while he rained kisses over her face, filling her senses with his undisguised passion for her, until the hand in her hair was trembling and he was gasping for breath. She reached up and stilled him, pushing him softly back against the wall.

"Shhh. You need to rest." She leaned across and kissed his face, feeling his hot breath against her skin. "Is this real, Clark?"

"What…what do you mean?"

"Are we just two lonely people trapped in a condemned building together, or is it more than that?"

She heard him inhale deeply a few times, bringing his breathing back under control. "Wanda…do you want the truth?"

Of course she wanted the truth — she'd always wanted the truth, even when it hurt. "Tell me."

"I've loved you from the day we first met. From the moment you yelled at me for ruining your show, to this moment right here." He paused to draw in a shaky breath. "You've no idea how long I've wanted to tell you how much I love you, Wanda."

She was speechless. OK, she had been ready for him to tell her he cared for her, or the opposite — that she had been right, and this was all just the result of the situation they found themselves in — but to hear him say he loved her! How could he? Why would he? "But I've been horrible to you!" she blurted out. "How can you love me?"

"I couldn't not love you, Wanda. You mean too much to me." His hand found her face unerringly in the dark and stroked the side of her cheek.

"Even though I'm a p-"

"You're not, Wanda. Can I tell you a story?"

She wondered where he was going with this — was it going to be some sort of moral tale about the difference between love and sex? "Does it have a happy ending?"

"A very happy ending, but it's a pretty crazy story, and you'll have to take my word for it that it's all true."

Sounded interesting. "OK."


Clark paused to collect his thoughts. This was it: he was going to tell her who she was, and damn the consequences. He couldn't let her die thinking that the cruel lies Luthor had fed her were the truth. If Dr Friskin were here, she would undoubtedly tell him sagely to follow his instincts; well, that was precisely what he was going to do.

"Four years ago," he began, "one of the Daily Planet's top reporters went to the Congo with her photographer to investigate gun-running. She had some problems convincing her editor that the trip was worthwhile, but she was sure that there were links back to someone in Metropolis, and that made it a story the Daily Planet needed to cover. So he let her go, and shortly after that, both she and her photographer disappeared. Search parties were organised, but no trace was ever found of them. Her editor was devastated, and blamed himself for allowing her to go, but eventually, he gave up looking and had to accept that she was probably dead."

"Clark, I know this story. You're talking about Lois Lane, aren't you?"

He should have known she would have worked that part out: she was a reporter, after all. "Yes. I guess you looked her up in the archives too."

"Yes. But what has this to do with me?"

He plunged onwards. "Two years ago, Lex Luthor was on a business trip in Lagos when he came across an American woman in a bar. She was vulnerable; maybe she didn't even know who she was or how she came to be there. He decided to exploit her vulnerability - maybe he even recognised her from her days as a reporter back in Metropolis-"

"Clark! What you're saying…that's crazy! There's no-"

"Hear me out, OK? Let me finish the story, and then you can say what you think."


"Just listen, please? I need to tell you this," he answered urgently. Even if his chest was aching, even if every breath hurt more than the last; he could ignore it all if she would only let him tell her the story he'd been wanting to tell her since he first met her.

"I think you're wrong, but OK."

"Thanks. So, whether or not he recognised her, he decided he would create a completely new history for her; a history which would ensure that she was easy to control and in a permanent state of self-loathing. He told her she was a prostitute, and maybe even a drunk, but that he didn't care, because he loved her and wanted to take care of her. She didn't know what he was really like — he probably seemed like the only lifeline she had to cling on to. So he brought her back with him to Metropolis and set about moulding her into a sad, lonely nightclub singer who hated herself because of what she thought she had been. He used her…"

Clark felt his voice crack again; the blazing anger he had felt earlier towards Luthor resurfacing as he retold the story he had pieced together. The thought of Luthor taking his selfish pleasure with Lois, the sounds he had heard all those days ago behind that closed door flashed through his head again, making him tremble once more with disgust and hatred. He reached up to hold her hand where it still rested on his shoulder, drawing peace from her closeness and calm, and continued his story. "He made her dependent on him financially and emotionally, and for the next two years, he toyed with her, rubbing her face in the lies he had fed her whenever he could. Finally, when he was finished with her, he discarded her."

He stopped, waiting for her inevitable denial. He ached for her to believe him, but he knew in his heart that it would take more than just a few short sentences to make her accept his story.

"Clark, I am not Lois Lane. I know you want me to be — God knows the number of times you've nearly called me Lois instead of Wanda, but you can't make me into someone I'm not. The world doesn't work that way, Clark."

Clark was shocked; he never imagined she would think he was trying to force her to be the person he wanted her to be. Alice White's warning about this suddenly came back to him — it seemed he should have listened more closely to her. "I'm not trying to do that…Wanda." Oh, how he wanted to call her Lois!

"See — you nearly did it again!"

"Wanda," he began urgently, "there's a good reason why I keep making mistakes with your name, believe me."

"And that would be?" she asked sceptically.

He couldn't tell her. How could he tell her the crazy story of alternative universes and visits from other Lois Lanes, when she was having a hard time believing what he'd told her so far? Which meant he never should have raised this in the first place — stupid, Clark, stupid!

"I-I can't tell you."

"Oh, that's good. That's very good — you have a good reason for wanting to call me Lois Lane all the time, but I just have to take that on trust? What do you think I am — some air-head floozy straight out of the chorus line?"

He tried for some damage limitation. "Of course not, Wanda. You deserve an explanation, and I promise I'll give you one — later. It's just that if I tell you now you won't believe me."

He felt her draw away from him slightly. "That much I *do* believe," she answered in a dry tone, making him worry that he was losing her trust. This would never work if she didn't trust him…he became aware that he was gripping her hand too tightly, and relaxed his hold back to a gentle caress.

"Anyway," he ploughed on, "the issue isn't what I call you, it's who you are, Wanda. Think about what I've told you — how do you know you're Wanda Detroit? Because Luthor told you. Why do you think you were a prostitute? Because Luthor told you. Is there anything you know about yourself that Luthor hasn't told you?"

"I'm a lousy cook?"

He smiled in spite of himself. "Apart from that."

"Well, nothing, I guess — but that doesn't mean I'm someone else."

"What about your memories?" he countered, trying hard to keep his tone even and reasonable, when all he wanted to do was make her believe him at almost any cost. "OK, you said you can't remember anything before Luthor picked you up, but you've had dreams, haven't you? Do those dreams fit into Wanda Detroit's past, or Lois Lane's?"

She fell quiet. Officially, he only knew about the one dream she'd had, involving the initial argument with Perry about going to the Congo, but he'd guessed she'd had others, and her silence now suggested that he was right.

"They scare me. I don't understand them," she admitted eventually.

"But that's only because you don't think they belong to you. What if you really are Lois Lane, but you're suffering from amnesia - aren't those dreams your body's way of helping you regain your memory? And remember the first day you came into the Daily Planet? As soon as you walked out into the newsroom, you said it felt familiar, as if you'd been there before. Of course it was familiar; you'd practically been living there up until four years ago."

"But everyone gets that weird deja vu sometimes — it doesn't mean anything."

"Yes, it does. That was your memory again, fighting to come back to you." He had to pause for a moment; the long conversation was really beginning to tire him out now, and he was grateful for the darkness which allowed him to hide his pain from her. Another point occurred to him…"Remember Eduardo? He recognised you as soon as he saw you; you see, it's not just me who thinks you're Lois Lane." Clark had been unhappy with Eduardo's revelation at the time, but now he was glad that he could use it as collaborating evidence.

Wanda was as quick as a shot to find a counter-argument, though. "Perry White didn't recognise me, though, did he? If he did, he never showed it at the club."

One day he was going to appreciate her ability to argue so effectively and quickly, he was sure. Right now, though…"You're right, but you said it yourself — he saw you as a nightclub singer in a dodgy part of town; he didn't see you in the right context like Eduardo did. Plus, I think Perry made up his mind that you were gone forever after he'd tried for so long to find you; he didn't want his hopes raised yet again. He'd pretty much closed off his mind to any chance you could still be alive."

"But you hadn't? You've never even met Lois Lane, Clark! Why did you suddenly get started on this crusade to prove I'm her, anyway?"

Because I need you. I've needed you from the day I met her…that day in the newsroom when she thought I was her fiancee and kissed me…but your kisses sent me reeling. "Because I couldn't stand to see you so sad." He found her face in the dark and ran his fingers down the side of her cheek.

"Oh, Clark!" Her hand clasped his on her face. "That's so like you, but you can't just make me into someone else and expect everything to suddenly change for the better. I told you — the world doesn't work like that."

"I know! But I also know I'm right — think about those dreams again, Wanda. Whose dreams were they?"

"I don't know," she wailed miserably. "Maybe I'm just going crazy."

"You're not crazy. You've just been misled by an evil, manipulative man who hasn't ever let you question anything he told you. I know how hard it must be to erase all that, but try — just pretend for a moment that everything he told you about yourself is a pack of lies, and then think about what *you* know about yourself, and see where that takes you."

"But that's just it, Clark. All I have is a few stupid dreams. I don't know anything else about myself — no family, no identity papers, no mementoes, no memories."

Oh, God, he could hear tears in her voice now. He never wanted to make her cry. "Lois…" he whispered instinctively.

"Stop it!" she shot back with a catch in her voice. "Just stop it."

How could he have been so clumsy? "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"I don't know who I am, Clark," she said in a small voice.

"Here…" He reached with some difficulty around her back, inviting her to draw near, and she came easily to him, burying her face in his shoulder and letting him encircle her with his arms. He ignored the discomfort in his chest; it wasn't important. She needed comfort, and he needed to give her that comfort.


Dr Klein put aside his motorcycle magazine with a sigh. He'd cooked dinner, eaten dinner, cleaned up, flicked through his magazine from cover to cover, and yet he still couldn't get rid of his nagging conscience — even a double portion of fries and an extra-dry martini hadn't done the trick, he mused gloomily. He knew there was a lot more he needed to discover about LeFevre's work on Superman's biodata, and he couldn't help but feel as though he had ducked out of his responsibilities at Star Labs when he had decided to leave the rest of his investigation for another day. What little he had discovered pointed to something very sinister; even more sinister than the city wanting to be able to control Superman. It almost looked as though LeFevre had been working on a way to kill him.

He could tell the security guard he'd left something behind in the library if he bumped into him again…he could take the leads straight from his home computer and stuff them his lab-coat pocket…he'd heard of a password-cracking program you could download from the net…before he knew it, he'd planned his second attempt at a Sherlock Holmes impersonation, and was climbing back into his motorcycle leathers.


She was brimming full of nervous excitement and apprehension. Her first day at the Daily Planet; the biggest, oldest, most respected newspaper in Metropolis, and she had landed a job on its city desk as junior reporter! Not that she was letting any of that show; she was the model of efficient calmness and competence, paying close attention to everything she was told without appearing to be too over-eager. She was determined to succeed here, and from day one, people were going to know that Lois Lane was someone to be taken seriously.

Meeting Perry White had been the best part of her day so far. He was a legend in the industry, and for a moment, she had been tongue-tied in his presence. But then she had seen past his gruff exterior to the big-hearted man below, and she knew instantly that she was going to enjoy working for him.

Now that she was alone for a moment at her desk, it was hard to resist the temptation to pick up the phone and try to call Lucy. "Hi, Luce — guess where I'm phoning from?" But her sister was probably already bouncing down 'Main Street, USA' in her Minnie Mouse costume on the other side of the country right now, and anyway, she wouldn't create a very good impression if she started phoning her relatives from day one.


"Princess, this time it's going to be different, you'll see."

"Daddy, you always say that," she retorted angrily. "When are you going to get yourself a real job?"

"Don't talk to me like that, young lady!"


She was passing the bathroom door when she heard it. Clink! The familiar sound of the whisky bottle hitting the rim of the glass clumsily, then the rattle of glass on glass while a hefty measure was poured. So that was where mother was storing it these days.


"And the winner of this year's award for Top Investigative Reporter goes to…Lois Lane!" Yes! Oh, yes! Everyone applauding as she made her way through the tables to the stage…Perry beaming up at her, Eduardo giving her the thumbs up, Pete mouthing 'I told you so' at her. Who would have thought the kid from a broken home who virtually had to raise herself and her sister would have come this far? This time it was a Kerth; next stop the Pulitzer? That gun-running story she'd been working on might do it — if she could persuade Perry to spring for the money to send them to the Congo.


Something was crawling up her leg. She brushed it away impatiently, feeling the flutter of tiny wings against her fingers - amazing how blase she had become since arriving here. Over in the clearing beyond the bushes she was crouching amongst, money was changing hands at last…she glanced over at Pete, making sure he was capturing everything on camera. He was deep in concentration, snapping shot after shot — the click of his shutter sounded so loud. She glanced back at the gunrunners; suddenly one of them looked directly at them and she froze. Before she could react, the gun was coming up and then there was a loud boom…


She woke up with a sharp intake of breath, the gunfire still ringing in her ears. Lois Lane! That was her name. She was Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet with countless front-page stories to her name. She had a sister named Lucy, a mother…no, she didn't have a mother any more, she recalled with an odd mixture of regret and relief…but she had memories! She had real, live, long-term memories!

Awareness of where she was right now began to creep back - one of her arms was numb…she was cold, except…she was pressed up against a warm body, feeling the deep breathing of their sleep…Clark! She had to tell him! Sitting up straighter and pushing herself away from his chest, she reached over a hand to his shoulder and shook it gently.

"Clark!" she whispered urgently.


"Wake up, Clark!"


"I need to talk to you! Wake up!" She shook his shoulder again.


"I've got something to tell you!"


Becoming more impatient, she switched to her normal speaking voice. "Clark, I know who I am!" she said loudly.


He sounded more awake now, but still…"Are you awake?"

"Guess so…"

She gave him another shake. "Repeat after me: Yes, Lois, I'm awake."

"Yes, Lois, I'm awake."

She waited anxiously for the penny to drop.

"Did I just say what I thought I said?" he asked slowly.


"And you told me to say it?"


"So this means…"

"Yes." She groped for his hand in the dark and clasped in firmly. "Hi, I'm Lois Lane. Pleased to meet you."

"Lois…" He held her hand in silence for so long, she worried that she might have taken him too much by surprise — after all, he was unusually vulnerable right now. She put her hand up to his shoulder for reassurance, and then suddenly her arm was slipping around his body and he was coming forward to encircle her with his arms. She was reminded of the first time they had embraced, when she had felt secure and safe in his arms as she cried out the aftermath of her confrontation with Lex. She felt that same sense of security now, as if all was right with the world at last. "I'm so happy for you," he whispered into her hair.

"I'm pretty happy myself," she told him. "At long last, I have memories, I have a past — and a real past, not just a hazy, horrible feeling that I was some worthless joke of a human being. Now I remember everything, right back to seventh grade when Gary French stole my ruler."

She heard the smile in his voice. "What happened? I mean, how did it come back to you, not how did Gary French steal your ruler?"

"You don't want to know how I solved my first crime?" she replied, putting a little mock hurt into her words to tease him.

"Lois, I want to know everyth-"

She'd have to knock that over-sensitive, protective attitude out of him if they were going to have any kind of long-term relationship together. "Lighten up, Clark — I was only kidding!" She leant away from him, wishing she could see his face. "I don't know - I guess it started when you where telling me all that stuff about Lex and my dreams. You put me in a place where I really didn't know who I was any more-"

"I didn't mean to do that, Lois — I'm sorry I hurt you like that."

"But that's what helped me remember, I think. Kind of like starting with a blank sheet again, and then when I fell asleep, I kept getting all these bits of memories coming back to me. When I woke up, I just knew who I was."

"How does it feel?"

"It feels just great — Clark, I have a sister!"

"I know."

"What?! Why didn't you tell me?" she demanded.

"I only just found out from Perry just before I came here. Besides, you wouldn't have believed me."

"True. But now I want to find her, tell her I'm all right…" Suddenly the futility of her words struck her, and she ran dry. What was the point of making plans for the future, when they were trapped inside a building which was going to be blown up in a few short hours? Dreaming about any kind of long-term relationship with Clark was pointless, too — what had she been thinking of?

"I know," he whispered softly, and gathered her back into his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder once more while he repeated "I know," over and over again, rubbing his hands over her back in soothing strokes. "Look, I'm feeling stronger now — how about we take a crack at that door together?"

"Clark, are you sure? I don't want you making yourself any worse."

"I'll be fine — anyway, I'm stiff after lying here for so long, and the exercise will warm us up. Come on." He eased her away him and she sensed him moving to stand up. She followed suit, and hand-in-hand, they fumbled their way back to the stairs — she tried not to limp too heavily, but her ankle was still painful. "How's the ankle — is it getting any better?" he asked.

"Just don't ask me to perform the first act of Swan Lake."

"Nothing was further from my mind."


They made it to the top of the stairs, where Lois introduced Clark to the lack of features on the door by taking his hands and guiding them around the edges. "See? No handle, no lock, no bolts, no nothing."

"OK. I want to see if we can kick it open, or at least make a hole in it. If I sit on the top step facing it, then I can use both feet on it."

Lois looked doubtfully at the step. "Won't you just fall backwards down the stairs when you hit the door? I don't think this step's wide enough to stop you."

"That's where you come in. Do you think you could sit a few steps below me with your back to me, and kind of brace me with your back?"

"You mean so we're sitting back to back? We can try."


She went down a few steps and sat down, then worked her way back up again until she felt Clark's upper back against hers. "How's that?" she asked.

"Can you lean forward a bit more?"

She complied and felt more of his weight come on to her shoulders. "Better?"

"Yes — here goes."

He slammed his feet against the door; at the same time she felt as though she were being squashed flat as his back pushed down on her.

"You OK?" he called breathlessly.

"Yes — you?"

"I'll try again."

Several attempts later, the door was firmly intact and Clark was wheezing loudly as he drew his legs back for yet another try. "Stop it, Clark!" gasped Lois, feeling a little out of breath herself after his continual pounding on her back.

"Just…one more…"

His feet struck the door at the same time as her protested, "No!", and then she felt him go limp against her. His wheezing was so loud, it was frightening; she could even feel and hear his struggle for breath through the contact she had with his back. She knew this had been a bad idea — she should never have let him try. It wasn't long before his wheezing had turned into wracking coughs again, and she fumbled out from under him and quickly helped him turn himself around until he was sitting upright again, supported against her shoulder. His breath rattled in and out between coughs, frightening her still further — what if he stopped breathing altogether? She could try mouth-to-mouth, she supposed, although she'd never been on any first-aid courses to learn how. She knew the theory, but that wasn't the same — well, she'd damn well try anything to keep him alive, that was for sure.

His struggle seemed to last interminably; she was sure it was much longer than either of the previous bouts. Did that mean he was getting sicker, or was it just that he had over-exerted himself? She reached over and felt his forehead — it was hot and dripping with sweat, but what did that prove? No doubt his pulse was racing too, but that was probably a result of the coughing fit; not necessary proof of a fever. She wiped a soaked lock of hair from his forehead, held him close and prayed for the fit to stop.

At last the coughs slowed and then stopped, and he sagged exhaustedly against her. "OK?" she asked.

She felt him nod. "Least we're warm now," he whispered weakly.

"Yeah…I can think of better ways to get warm, though."

"Oh?" he replied with a note of interest.

"None of which either of us are in any shape to try right now, unfortunately," she reminded him.


"Yeah…" What would sex with Clark be like, she wondered. Nothing like her experiences to date, that was for sure. No — he would be kind and gentle, unlike Lex, who had become increasingly rough over the years, and never took the time to return any of the pleasure she was giving him. She shivered. Sex with Lex Luthor: what could be more disgusting, and how could she ever have let it happen? On the other hand, that remark he had made about her being unresponsive was true — she had come to much the same conclusion herself lately. But maybe things would be different with Clark — not that she was ever going to find out now, of course. So many regrets…

"Come on," she said briskly. "Let's get you downstairs and sitting more comfortably."

"Need a minute…" he replied.

His voice sounded odd; distant and weak. "Clark? What is it?"

"Dizzy…" he answered thickly.

Dizzy? This was new — what was happening now? But of course he felt dizzy after all that coughing, she told herself. "You sure this isn't a ploy so you can look down my cleavage?" she teased him.

"If only…" He paused for a moment, then continued, "Wish I had my x-ray vision right now."

"Oh, so that's what you do with it? I'm disappointed — I thought superheroes were above all that smutty stuff."

"Sorry…to shatter your illusions."

"I can see I'm going to have to invest in some lead-lined underwear — you did say you can't see through lead?"

He nodded.

"Right, lead it is." She waited for a response, but he was silent. She dropped the banter, and squeezed his arm reassuringly instead. "You just tell me when you're ready to move, OK?"

Another nod.

"OK," she repeated, as much for her own benefit as his. He was going to be fine, she was sure of it; he just needed to rest some more, and he'd be fine. If she told herself often enough, she might even start believing it…oh, this was so ironic! Finally, she had her memory back, she had a man in her life that she was starting to feel pretty serious about, but a) she had about four hours left in which to enjoy this new-found happiness, and b), the man in question was sick and getting sicker. What would Lucy say?

"Hey, sis — still picking up lame ducks? You need to get out more."

Well, he wasn't a lame duck, he was Superman, for heaven's sake! Sure, he had some hang-ups, but who didn't at their age? What about her father?

"He's not even the editor, Princess! I know how much you newspaper people get paid, and it's not enough. You gotta aim higher, Lois." Yes, that was Daddy; always thinking about money — and look where it had got him! And mother, if she were still alive:

"At least his fingernails are clean."

She wasn't so sure what her mother might have said; she wasn't dating when mother finally drunk herself into her grave. But she was always concerned about appearances…all those hidden bottles in weird places…so some disparaging put-down about his looks was pretty likely. Well, his looks were just spine-tinglingly wonderful, she reckoned, even in those crazy blue tights. In fact, they showed off his thighs to very good effect, she mused, and those red briefs - well, they just kind of drew the eye in. Whatever possessed him to choose such a revealing outfit? Vanity? Not likely. Bad fashion sense? More likely, although on the whole, he dressed pretty well for a single guy. Conservative, but she'd seen a lot worse. Still, it would have been nice to try and help him improve the Superman suit into something less embarrassing…

Some time later, Clark stirred against her, and together they struggled back down the stairs, where she re-installed him propped up against the wall. He was shivering slightly with cold; again, only natural, she told herself, given how much he had been sweating earlier, but she was stuck for a satisfactory solution. Her sweater was far too small for him to wear, so she compromised, and simply laid it on him, tying the arms around his neck and then enveloping him in his cape again. Finally, she snuggled up as much of her body up close to his as she could without putting weight on his chest.

"This is nice," he mumbled, and soon she felt his chest rise and fall steadily in slumber.


Dr Klein sat uneasily in front of Emile LeFevre's computer waiting for it to boot up. Every noise was making him flinch — and in a lab environment, there were several automated processes and experiments running which produced the occasional unexpected click or beep. He wasn't sure how long he was going to last here…at last the computer was ready, and he began with a trawl around the hard disk for any folders or files which looked interesting. There was one file in the list of recently opened files which looked appropriately anonymous: A. Doc. Trying to open it was no good — it wasn't on disk any more, but he had brought along some disk recovery utilities for just this purpose.

Five minutes later he was looking at notes on the power output of some sort of hand-held laser-powered weapon — and feeling very proud of his achievement. The broad smile on his face gradually evaporated as he realised the awesome destructive power of the device. So much evil wrapped up so conveniently; so portable, too.

Suddenly, he heard voices in the corridor. Voices which were getting louder…he scrambled around furiously, thumbing the off-switch on the PC, grabbing his diskettes, bending down to yank out the power cables, banging his head as he came up from under the desk…where to hide? He whirled around in a complete circle, searching for somewhere to hide. A cupboard — too small. A desk — too exposed. Another cupboard — too small again. The voices were outside the door…he bolted for the larger of the two cupboards and found it filled with shelves…his heart in his mouth…it would have to be the other desk. He ran on tip-toe over to it and crawled underneath, pulling the chair up as close to himself as he could for extra cover.

He heard the door open, and screwed himself into a tight ball, squashed up against the inner corner of the desk. His heart was thumping so loud, it was difficult to believe they couldn't hear it.

"So you see, Emile, I really must have the new prototype by the end of the week."

The voice sounded familiar — he'd heard it before around the labs occasionally. Who was it?

"But I can't! Modifying it to target specific materials is a major project — you know how many days it took me just to make it hit Superman with sufficient force."

That was the nasally tones of LeFevre.

"And a splendid job you did, Emile! Watching Mr Kent topple like a felled tree tonight surpassed even the Met's finest performance of Tosca in sheer entertainment value. But, alas, you've spoilt me, Emile: I expect even greater feats of scientific achievement from you now."

Dr Klein was horrified — had they killed Superman? A huge wave of remorse hit him: he should never have been so innocently duped by those city people. This would never have happened if he hadn't collected all the base data on Superman's physiology. And now he understood how the Kryptonian's body worked, it seemed an even bigger tragedy: he was a scientific marvel, and his death would be a huge loss to both the scientific community and the human race. And it was all his fault!

He was so caught up with his own horror, he missed LeFevre's response to the mystery man's words. Now the man was speaking again…

"I'm afraid not. Cedar Villas will meet its demise as planned tomorrow morning — we can't risk Mr Kent surviving the night, now can we? No, I'm sure I can provide you with an alternative test building to use — you'll have the address by 9 am tomorrow morning. Now, you were going to show me where you're storing the quantum disruptor?…ah, yes, an excellent choice. We'll make a spy of you yet, Emile!"

"Mr Luthor, what you're asking me to do — it's just not humanly possible."

Luthor! Lex Luthor was the mystery man. So this was nothing to do with City Hall after all, unless they were in Luthor's pockets - which wouldn't surprise Dr Klein, after the manner in which the man had insinuated his influence over Star Labs so effectively. And Superman wasn't necessarily dead yet!

"Well, you'll just have to do it inhumanly, won't you? Let me explain this to you one last time: I need that weapon, I need it by Friday, and you *will* complete it on time. Is that clear?"


"No more, Emile! I'll see you on Friday."

Dr Klein heard the door open and shut, and then spent a very nasty, panicky half-hour waiting for LeFevre to finish puttering around the lab before he too left.

Klein huddled under the desk for a long, long time after he heard the door shut a second time, terrified that LeFevre might come back and discover him. While he huddled, he pondered the conversation he had overheard: Luthor was obviously the one calling all the shots, and he may even have been behind City Hall's sudden desire to measure Superman's abilities. He and LeFevre had used that terrible weapon on him tonight, but it hadn't killed him. What was it they had said? Some building… Cedar Villas…was going to be destroyed tomorrow morning, and somehow that was going to ensure that Superman was dead by morning. Which must mean that he was going to be destroyed along with the building, which in turn meant that he was probably trapped inside it!

Dr Klein stood up urgently, forgetting the desk above his head yet again. Suppressing another wince as his bald pate struck the wood for a second time, he crawled out from under the desk and hurried back down to his own lab. He needed to find out where Cedar Villas was, and get over there as quickly as he could.


Clark was floating. High over the farmhouse, skimming the bottom of the clouds while he gazed downwards, watching the happy people gathered together in the backyard, chatting and laughing together. There was Mom, wiping her hands on her apron as she came out of the house towards Dad; they met in an easy, warm embrace. Dad pointed up into the sky and they both looked up at him, smiling and waving. He wanted to fly down and hug them, but an invisible barrier stopped him; they waved again and walked away into the farmhouse, holding hands. Bye, Mom and Dad…he looked back at the crowd of people left in the yard. Lana, hand on hip, shaking a finger at her father…hi, Lana! She broke off her argument and looked up, her angry face breaking into a smile. He waved; she blew him a kiss and pulled her father into the farmhouse. Bye…

Who was left?…Clark, playing ball with his friend Chen Chow. Hey, Clark, can you hear my thoughts? His twin from the other universe turned his head upwards with a broad grin and an enthusiastic wave — his superfast reflexes caught Chen's ball easily as it suddenly hurtled towards him. He threw the ball up in the sky towards Clark, but Clark couldn't reach it…it bounced back down to the ground, and bobbed lazily up and down a few more times across the yard…there was Chen, smiling up at him…his alternative self came over and clapped his arm on Chen's shoulder and together they strolled, laughing, into the farmhouse. See you around, Clark…

A woman with long, curly fair hair was lying face down in the grass now. She wore a red suit…so much red…she rolled over slowly to reveal her face…Mayson. Was there time to say goodbye properly at last? She winked up at him with a smile, stood up and walked towards the farmhouse…a wave at the door and she was gone. Bye Mayson…

The backyard was empty now. All the people had gone…but no, someone was opening the back gate…


They were shaking him…funny, that. How had they got from the back gate up to his cloud?

"Clark! Wake up!"


"I think I heard a noise! Wake up!"


"Yes, a noise from outside. Wake up!"

He blinked his eyes open…oh, yes — the darkness and their cellar. And the cold. And a deep ache all over his chest. And Lois.

"You heard a noise?" he asked, suddenly awake and aware of the significance of her words.


She left him, and she heard her scramble up the stairs. "Help! We're in here!" She started banging on the door again. "Help! Let us out!"

Clark added his own hoarse cries to her, hoping against all the odds that she was right and that there really was someone out there.


Dr Klein stood in the foyer of the tower block, wondering how on earth he was going to conduct a search through the whole building on his own. Maybe shouting would be a good start. Feeling a little silly, he called hesitantly, "Hello? Superman? Can you hear me?"

He wandered around the floor, noting the grey elevator doors covered in gaudy graffiti, the bare concrete stairs beside them with a puddle of something brown and unpleasant-looking on one step, the ramshackle reception desk, and the anonymous door to one side…was it his imagination, or could he hear a faint banging? He hurried over to the door and listened — yes, there was definitely methodical banging coming from the other side. He banged back and yelled at the top of his voice this time, "Superman? Are you there?"

There was silence, and then a faint voice — a woman's voice, replied, "Yes! We're in here! Can you get us out?"

A woman? Had he come to the right place? Surely there couldn't be two buildings in Metropolis with people trapped inside them waiting for demolition? Unlikely — statistically, highly improbable! He tried the door handle, but of course it was locked. He bashed the door a couple of times with his feet, but that didn't work either. Casting a glance around the foyer for anything useful to break the door down with yielded one small breeze block and sundry screwed-up pieces of paper. He thought for a moment, and then sighed heavily: there was only one real tool at his disposal, and it was his pride and joy.

"I'll be back in a minute!" he yelled.

Minutes later, Dr Klein was sitting astride his motorcycle, crash helmet firmly pushed down on his head, heart thumping, and adrenaline surging.

"Move away from the door!" he shouted. "Tell me when you're clear!"

"Clear!" came the quick reply.

He took a deep breath, gunned the engine and hurtled forward, shutting his eyes at the last second before impact. There was a loud crash, a bone-shattering impact, and then his engine was screaming in protest as the wheel tried to turn where it was embedded in the door. He cut the engine and hauled the bike backwards until it was clear.

A slow smile spread across his face. "Evil Knievel, eat your heart out," he remarked smoothly, standing back to admire his handiwork: there was now a gaping vertical hole in the bottom half of the door.

"Hello?" called the woman. "Are you there?"

He blinked and came quickly back to his senses. Kneeling in front of the door, he thrust a hand through the hole. "I'm Dr Bernard Klein."

A feminine hand took his and squeezed it briefly. "Lois Lane."

"Pleased to meet you, Ms-"

"Hold on — aren't you that doctor who trapped Clark and tried to dissect him like a frog?"

"Yes, but I didn't know what was going on then. I'm sorry I was ever involved in that business, believe me!"

"Can I trust you?" she asked suspiciously.

"Implicitly. I broke the door open for you, didn't I?"

"Yes, but that might have been for some devious, evil plan to trap us again."

"I only want to help, Ms Lane. Is Superman in there with you?"


"How is he?"

"Not good."

"Then let me help you get him out. If you'll move away again, I'll try and break some more of the door down."

It took a while, and a couple more hits with the motorcycle, but eventually, the heavily-damaged door was swinging open on its hinges. Helping Superman up the stairs was equally difficult; he was virtually a dead weight and it was awkward trying to share the load with Ms Lane when there wasn't really room enough on the stairs for three people. However, eventually they made it, and they eased Superman down to the foyer floor, propped up against a wall.

Dr Klein felt awful looking at Superman; his face was pasty, the front of his suit was in tatters, and he was obviously in some pain. To think he had waited so long before coming to rescue the poor guy! Well, the least he could do was help him as much as he could now he was here — he began a basic medical check to establish the seriousness of his patient's injuries.


Lois eyed Dr Klein with a frown; she still didn't trust him completely, but he was all they had, so she guessed he would have to do for the present. She watched while he found Clark's wrist with one hand and looked down at his watch on the other; at least he appeared to be vaguely competent medically.

"Do you know how long you were down there?" he asked Clark, now using an ear thermometer he'd produced from one of his pockets.

Clark rolled his head from side to side on the wall and looked over at Lois with a question.

"I think we were locked in there at around 6," she supplied. "What time is it now?"

"Around 2 am," replied Dr Klein. "That's 8 hours…hmmm…" He looked at Clark. "I take it Luthor shot you with the quantum disruptor?"

"Yeah — twice," replied Clark.

"Twice? That's amazing…do you think you could have withstood a third shot?" the doctor asked enthusiastically.

"I have no idea, Dr Klein, and I hope I never find out," replied Clark dryly.

"Sorry — guess that was a dumb question to ask." He collected a stethoscope and blood pressure gauge from his motorcycle's bags and proceeded to check out his patient's chest. Lois saw Clark bite back a wince when the cold instrument hit his chest; now that she could see him by the weak light from the street, she was amazed that although the suit appeared to have suffered considerably, his skin was unblemished. It was small comfort, however, since she knew there must be something seriously wrong behind that clear skin.

"And lean forward for me," Dr Klein was saying, moving Clark's cape out of the way to use the stethoscope on his back.

"Well?" she demanded. "Is he going to be all right?"

"Oh, yes. Judging by his symptoms, I'd say there's fairly extensive tissue damage — but don't worry," he hurried on at seeing Clark's alarmed expression. "I'm sure that a few hours in the sun is all you need and you'll be as good as new."

Lois couldn't believe her ears. "That's it? Years of medical training, all that time you spent examining him and recording every little detail about how his body works, and the best you can offer him is a few hours in the sun?" she exploded.

"I'm sorry, but it really is the best thing for him." Dr Klein sounded honestly apologetic, but also affronted that his medical opinion was being viewed so critically. Well, what did he expect, thought Lois, if he came up with harebrained ideas like this all the time? He wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Clark's bicep to continue with his readings. "All indicators point to him possessing enhancing healing abilities along with his other powers; the sun gives him those powers."

OK, that sounded logical, but…"Dr Klein, it may have escaped your notice, but the sun's not shining right now."

"Lois, it's all right," interjected Clark. "I'll just go home and rest for a few hours until the sun comes up."

"Oh, no, you won't!" retorted Lois. "I'm not listening to you struggling for breath for the next four hours. No, we can do better than that — what about artificial sunlight? Sunlamps — that sort of thing?"

"Well, they wouldn't be as effective as the real thing," replied Dr Klein, standing up to dump his equipment back in the motorcyle bag. "I haven't managed to identify which elements of the sun's energy he's utilising the most of yet-"

"But they'd be better than doing nothing at all, wouldn't they?"

"I guess so," he agreed with a shrug.

"OK, let's do it! Where can we get some artificial sunlight from at 2 am in the morning?"


The taxi drew to a halt outside Clark's apartment, and with a final quick squeeze of reassurance, Lois let go of Clark's hand she'd surreptitiously been holding under the folds of his cape.

"I'll get this, Superman. You go on ahead," she instructed, praying that he could make it under his own steam across the sidewalk and into the building. He'd done an amazing job so far of appearing outwardly normal for the benefit of the taxi driver, giving a firm, silent gaze which didn't invite further comment when asked why he wasn't flying. Hopefully the taxi ride home had allowed him time to gather enough strength to make the short walk inside.

Noting that he seemed to be managing all right, and in fact was moving quite quickly, she paid the driver. By the time she turned away from the car, he had disappeared inside.

She found him just inside the door in the lobby, sitting propped up against the wall with his eyes closed. Crouching down beside him, she put a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, Clark, you're nearly there now."

In the harsh lights of the lobby, his sickly white face contrasted sharply with the bright primary colours of his suit, and for a moment she panicked, thinking the worst had happened. Common sense reasserted itself quickly, however; his chest was rising and falling shallowly and she silently chided herself for being so silly. She found his hand and squeezed gently, anxious to get him moving again before he fell asleep.

"Come on, sweetie, time to move." 'Sweetie'? Where had that come from? She didn't call men 'sweetie'.

He opened his eyes and raised weary eyebrows at her. "Sweetie?"

"Well, 'sweetie', 'Dumbo', 'boy scout' — whatever your name is, it's time to move your butt," she answered briskly.

"Yeah…" He sighed and slowly pulled himself to his feet; she supported him tightly around his waist and together they made their way to the elevator. "Just don't call me Super-Clark," he remarked as they shuffled inside.

"How come?" she asked, wondering who might have coined that particular name.

"It's a long story," he asked dryly.

"Oh. OK." She filed the topic away for future interrogation, along with the one about whoever had designed his awful costume.

They had to make one further stop on the stairs leading up to his apartment, when dizziness threatened to overcome him, but otherwise she managed to get him into his apartment without further incident, and once inside, headed straight for Clark's bed, where he finally allowed himself the luxury of crumpling in a dead faint.


Clark was floating. High above the farmhouse, looking down into the empty backyard. She came through the gate and walked lazily to the centre of the yard before turning her smiling face up to him. Her arms came up and stretched up to him, beckoning him; welcoming him. He soared effortlessly down to her, through the invisible barrier to land in front of her. She was beautiful, wearing her favourite jeans and the short, cropped sweater he liked so much. Her short dark hair swung forward when she leant into him and touched her lips briefly to his.

He opened his eyes and found her face close to his own — so that part hadn't been a dream, then. She straightened up beside the bed and gazed down at him with a half-smile in her eyes. "Dr Klein's here," she explained.

He heard an embarrassed cough and then the doctor was standing beside Lois, holding up a sunlamp with a flex dangling from its base. "I brought two like this, Superman-"

"Call me Clark." Something told him he was going to be getting to know this man very well; formalities may as well be dispensed with right away. Already, the doctor had shown a genuine desire to help, by finding them a taxi to take them home — even giving them money to pay the taxi-driver — while he rode over to Star Labs to collect a couple of sunlamps. From the tenseness in his voice and body, Clark could tell that Dr Klein had dreaded the visit to Star Labs, yet he had never mentioned his fears to them, but merely gave them instructions to take things easy getting home. Clark had wondered why he was so fearful of his own labs and had come to the conclusion that it had something to do with his sudden appearance as their saviour. No doubt he would tell them everything when he was ready.

"-Clark, but as I said before, we'll keep the treatment pretty short — ultra-violet light is a carcinogen, and we wouldn't want you getting sunburn, would we?"

"I guess not."

The lamps were set up, and then Dr Klein looked at him awkwardly. "Superman…Clark, you need to get undressed."

"I'll help," said Lois quickly. Clark turned to her in surprise, and was aware of Dr Klein doing the same; she was perched on the side of the bed, holding one of his hands in both of hers. She reddened. "I-I mean, do you need any help?"

"I-I…" Now he was embarrassed too — nothing would be nicer than to have her help him out of his Superman suit, but if he was honest with himself, he could probably manage without her if he took things slowly. "Thanks, but I'll be fine. But maybe you could find me a pair of sleep-shorts to change into?"

She rummaged and found them, then she and Dr Klein left him alone to get changed. Ten minutes later, he was lying on top of his bed, feeling slightly dizzy, out of breath, and very naked. "OK," he announced.

Thankfully, only Dr Klein came back in, handed him a folded napkin to protect his eyes, and bent down to find the switch for the lamps. Clark remembered something. "Dr Klein, could you take a look at Lois' ankle? She twisted it when we fell down the stairs."

"Sure. Now, you just relax and let these lamps do their work. If you feel any discomfort at all, just call."

"OK — and Dr Klein?" He waited until he had the scientist's full attention. "Thank you for all you've done for us. You saved our lives."

"Clark, it was the least I could do."

"What do you mean?"

Dr Klein sighed heavily. "All this was my fault, you know. If I hadn't recorded all that biodata about you, they never would have been able to build a weapon to hurt you."

Why was it everyone wanted to take the blame for this? First Lois, now Dr Klein! He pushed himself up on one elbow. looked at the scientist sternly and summoned as much force into his words as he could. "It wasn't your fault, Dr Klein! You didn't throw us down there. You didn't kidnap Lois, and you didn't fire the quantum dis…dis…" The cough was back. He flopped back down helplessly on the bed, angry and frustrated with his weak and ailing body. All he had wanted to do was make his point forcefully enough to penetrate through Dr Klein's thick, guilt-ridden skull, and this was the result. When was he going to get back to normal — if ever, he suddenly thought with a stab of fear. What if he never got his powers back?

The side of the bed dipped and then he was being raised up by Lois's soft arms, easing the pain and constriction until he was breathing easily again and the coughing stopped.

"OK?" Her voice calm and quiet.

He nodded, hoping this was the last time she would have to do this for him. He let his hot head fall onto her chest, feeling exhausted and very depressed.

Her hand soothed over his arm. "Want some water?"

Come to think of it — yes, he hadn't had anything to drink for a long time. He nodded slightly against her body.

"Is it OK for him to have a drink?" Her voice louder and directed past him.

"Of course — I'll get a glass," replied Dr Klein.

"What brought this on?" This question for him; quiet and intimate.

He pulled his head away from her to speak. "Trying to stop his guilt-trip. He feels responsible…can you talk to him?" She was quiet — he hoped that didn't mean she agreed with Klein. "Lois?"

"Sure, I'll talk to him, Clark."

He suspected she was humouring him, but he wasn't in a fit state to argue with her; on the other hand, he really didn't want Dr Klein leaving here with a guilty conscience. "Tell him he's wrong, OK?"

"Clark, I'll tell him."


He left it at that, too tired to pursue he subject further. Instead he nuzzled back into her body until Dr Klein returned; it was a nice place to be.

"Here's your water." Dr Klein handed him a glass. "Don't drink too fast."

A few minutes later he lay back down on the bed, Dr Klein switched on the lamps, and he was left on his own with instructions to rest and try to get some sleep if he could.


He was dozing lightly some time later when he felt his arm being lifted up and something was wrapped around it. He turned his head, forgetting he was blinded by the cloth covering his eyes.

"Just checking to see how you're doing," came Dr Klein's calm tones from his side. He felt the by-now familiar pressure of the constricting blood-pressure cuff, followed by the gradual release. "How do you feel?"

He thought. The ache in his chest had gone, and with it, the heavy weight which was making breathing so tiring and painful. "Better."

"Good." Dr Klein completed his brief examination, then continued, "You're making good progress. I'll turn the lamps back on for a little longer, and then we'll let your body do the rest."

He remembered the stabbing fear he'd had previously. "Am I…I *am* going to get my powers back, aren't I, Dr Klein?"

"I don't see why not. Once your normal energy levels are restored, your powers should return to the level they were at previously. For now, the best thing you can do is get as much sleep as possible, OK?"



Lois tip-toed into Clark's bedroom and turned the sunlamps off. She'd sent Dr Klein home as soon as he had confirmed that Clark was recovering well; he'd looked exhausted and in need of sleep. Her opinion of the doctor had changed since she had first met him; he was obviously competent and very intelligent, although his bedside manner and nursing skills were nil. When she had heard Clark's coughing fit and rushed in to help, he had been merely watching his patient with an anxious frown. But she forgave him for that; he appeared to be a research worker rather than a medical practitioner by profession. Then, when he had relived his snooping on their behalf with her, and it was clear that he had striven against a very great fear of being caught, she had decided he was definitely on the side of the good guys. He was a little naive, she thought, and that was probably why he had genuinely believed he was doing the right thing when he had participated in the city's hi-hacking of its resident superhero. He had nothing but respect and admiration for Clark, as well as a healthy dose of scientific curiosity, and that combination was probably what led to his downfall. Perhaps someone who knew him had even deliberately exploited those qualities.

She had therefore had little difficulty in carrying out Clark's wishes that he be told in the strongest terms not to feel guilty for their close encounter with death. Whether she had succeeded was doubtful; he had still looked troubled when he had left - which only served to increase her respect for him. A doctor who could be trusted, had a conscience, and who understood how Clark's body worked could be very useful in the future, she reflected — who knew when the next crazy person would turn up with a weapon or device to destroy Clark with.

She stood over his bed and gazed down at him. He was still lying on his back with only his sleep-shorts for cover, his face relaxed in sleep; it was a relief to see him in repose, the lines of pain and stress gone at last. How she had hated to listen to him cough for minute after painful minute, feeling his chest heaving as his damaged lungs struggled to pull enough oxygen into his body. And he had sounded so low and depressed after that last attack…her eyes wandered over his torso, remembering what it had felt like to hold his powerful body in her arms, the feel of his smooth skin against hers. Pretty darned exciting, she decided, now that she could reflect upon it without the accompanying worry and concern for his pain. Was she in love with him? She had kissed him as Wanda Detroit, when she had thought she only had a few hours to live; now that she was Lois Lane with a past and hopefully a very long future, did she feel the same? She looked back up at his face, and thought back over all the things she had discovered about him, thought about how much he had done for her, all the things she would like to do for him, and decided that, yes, she loved Clark Kent.

He shifted slightly in his sleep, drawing her attention back to his body again — she frowned. Goosebumps? Of course — if he didn't have his powers, then he would feel the cold like anyone else. She thought for a moment, then collected a blanket from the pile of bedclothes Clark was using for the sofa and laid it over him. To her surprise, he immediately turned towards her and opened his eyes.

"Hi," he whispered.

She smiled down at him. "Sorry — didn't mean to wake you."

"It's OK, I was only dozing. Thanks for the blanket."

"How're you feeling?"

"OK…tired, mostly. How's the ankle?"

"Fine. Dr Klein took a look at it — I guess you asked him to?" He nodded. "He's bandaged it for support, but it's much better than it was before anyway. Still not ready for Swan Lake, but I'm getting there." She suppressed a yawn.

"You should go to bed." He paused for thought. "Hold on, I'm *in* your bed, aren't I? I'll move…" He started to sit up.

She stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Quit being so noble, Kent. I'm taking the sofa, and that's final — OK?"

"But you're my-"

"Your guest? Which means you have to give me what I want, right?" He nodded again. "OK, right now, I want to sleep on your sofa."

He gave in and sank back to the bed. "Well, if you put it like that…"

"I do." She pulled the blanket back up over his shoulders. "'Night, Clark."

"'Night, Lois."

She bent down to kiss his forehead, changed her mind and touched his lips briefly instead. Before she knew what was happening, his hand was on the back of her head, pulling her down to deepen the kiss. His lips caressed hers softly and gently, sensual yet undemanding. After a moment or two, she pulled reluctantly away with an apologetic smile; they both needed their sleep.

Back in the lounge, she undressed wearily for bed, brushed her teeth, and began to make up the sofa. After the closeness of those long hours spent huddled together in their dark prison, it felt strangely lonely to be preparing for bed out here — not to mention the fact that she was minus a blanket. She stopped, and sat pensively on the edge of the sofa, hugging herself tightly. She wanted comfort, and she missed him…

His deep breathing filling the silence in his bedroom told her he was asleep. She lifted the blanket slowly and eased herself in beside him, lying tense and rigid lest he wake up and discover her intrusion. He moved, and she tensed even further. He was rolling over to face her, and then his arm came around her — she quickly checked his face, but it was peaceful in sleep. Hesitantly, she snaked her own arm around him; he murmured and snuggled closer in to her. She closed her eyes, and let her body relax into his; she was home at last.


Clark awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and warm bread. Two of his favourite smells, especially as there was only one person who could be responsible for the delicious aroma filling his apartment. Lois Lane. He smiled contentedly and rolled over in bed, pulling the blanket up close; he couldn't remember when he'd felt so at peace with the world. It was funny, but he even had this vague feeling of having held her in his arms while he slept — probably just wishful thinking, but it was a nice dream.

He heard her walk into the bedroom, and with a luxuriant sigh, moved onto his back again and opened his eyes. "Smells good." She was barefooted, still wearing her pyjamas and carrying a tray, her hair tousled from sleep; she looked adorable, he thought.

"Just coffee and some rolls I found in your freezer." She laid the tray on his bed as he pulled himself upright.

"Still smells good." He helped himself to breakfast while she perched on the side of the bed and sipped coffee. "Did you sleep OK on the sofa?"

"I slept just fine," she replied after a pause.

Now why was that such a difficult question to answer? She was even turning pink — obviously she wasn't telling him the truth…"We'll swap back over tonight, OK?"

"If you like…so, how are you feeling today?"

Now she looked disappointed as well as embarrassed — he caught himself frowning and deliberately pasted a smile on his face. "Pretty good, I think."

"Good. Here's the plan: Dr Klein said you should stay off work today — and strictly no Superman stuff, so we'll finish breakfast, and then you can phone Jeff — it's already after midday, so I guess he'll be wondering why you're not at the Planet. Then you and I are going for a walk in Centennial Park — Dr Klein also said you should get as much sunlight as possible today. We can use the time to figure out how I'm going to get my old identity back, and how we're going to nail Lex once and for all. Then back here for dinner and a nice, quiet evening without any crazy megalomaniacs or unexploded bombs to spoil things. Oh, and I figured we shouldn't let Jeff print anything about last night yet — being 'dead' could prove useful when we're going after Lex. OK?"

He couldn't help himself; he was grinning inanely at her.

"What?" she asked with an uncertain smile. "What did I say?"

"Nothing…welcome back, Lois."

Her tentative smile turned into a broad grin. "It's nice to *be* back, Clark." She lunged forward and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Now, finish your breakfast — we've got a lot to do."



Lex Luthor flung himself back into the soft, luxuriant cushions of his black leather office chair in deep satisfaction. The TV monitor encased within one section of his walnut-panelled office now showed the aftermath of the building's demise: a huge pile of rubble surrounded by a thick cloud of dust and debris. Two annoying people destroyed in one masterstroke: it was almost orgasmic in its explosive destruction. He thumbed his intercom and stretched back to wait, resting his hands behind his head.

The door opened and he let his eyes run up and down his PA in frank appreciation as she entered the room. She was tall, with thick, long black hair, wearing a short leather skirt, long high-heeled boots, an animal-print top, and copious gold jewellery. On anyone else, the outfit might have looked cheap and tasteless; Mrs Cox carried it with flair and elegance.

"Ah, Mrs Cox. I believe the Daily Planet may soon be looking for a new reporter for its City desk. Bring me the file of journalists on our payroll, would you?"

"Certainly, Mr Luthor," she replied in a deep, sexy voice.

He admired her leather-clad behind as she retreated to the door, and made his decision: the morning's success required a brief celebration. "But first, I have a confidential memo to dictate. Make sure the door's locked, hmmm?"

"Certainly, Lex." She clicked the lock shut and minced slowly back towards his chair with a smouldering look in her eyes. "Where would you like me?"

"I believe the desk is still unexplored territory, is it not?"


Clark strolled hand in hand with Lois through the meandering paths of Centennial Park, half-listening to Lois relating Dr Klein's story to him, but mostly drinking in every facet of these precious moments with his love. She was so animated and happy, her free hand punctuating her story with expressive gestures while her other hand held his in a warm and confident clasp. Her voice sparkled, her eyes were bright, she told the tale with wit and intelligence — suddenly he stopped, enveloped her with his arm and kissed her in mid-sentence.

She immediately went rigid with surprise, but he merely deepened the kiss until she melted and snaked her arms around him, and then they were kissing deeply and passionately. He felt her tongue touch his lips; he welcomed her into his mouth and met her there with his own tongue; together they played in a delicious, sensual game. Minutes ticked by and the outside world faded away to a background echo while they explored each other thoroughly.

Eventually, Lois broke off, panting, "I guess this means you don't have a problem holding your breath any more?" She smiled up at him.

"Yeah…" he kissed her again, more briefly this time. "I love you, Lois Lane." He hoped desperately that he wasn't putting undue pressure onto her by declaring his love for her so openly, but his heart was brimming over and he just couldn't stop himself. What if she didn't love him back?

"I love you too, Clark Kent."

His heart was thudding in his chest — had she really just said that? "You do?" he blurted out.

"Yes, I do."

"Even though you're a different person — I mean, you must feel different now that you can remember your past, old colleagues at work, friends…"

"Clark, there was never anyone else, if that's what you're wondering."

"I-I…" Yes, she was right. He had just realised that there was no reason why she shouldn't have someone waiting for her, or someone she would want to renew her relationship with. It would have been deeply ironic for him to have expended all this time and energy in helping her regain her identity, in the hope that he could have her for himself, only to discover there was someone else she wanted. Of course, he would be happy for her, however things turned out for him, but it would be a terrible wrench.

"There were a couple of guys a long time ago, but nothing serious. I guess I was just too busy looking out for Lucy, and then later there was my job…I probably frightened men away, actually," she finished ruefully.

"Yeah." He could see how men might feel threatened by a successful woman journalist. He remembered how her alternative counterpart had stormed the newsroom when she had arrived out of the blue two years ago.

"Hey!" She thumped his shoulder playfully. "What do you mean, yeah? You're supposed to disagree with me there!"

"You haven't managed to frighten me away, have you?" he answered with an innocent smile.

"Yes, but you're Superman — I'd be kind of worried if I managed to frighten you away," she grinned.

"Oh, but I'm Clark Kent, too — he's just a regular guy, like any of those other guys."

"Yes, you are." They were still in each other's arms, and now she reached up and brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead thoughtfully. "In fact, you're a whole lot more Clark Kent than Superman, aren't you? That's all you really want, isn't it? — to be a regular guy, to fit in with the crowd? Being Superman is hard work for you sometimes, isn't it?"

"Yes." She knew him so well; better than he understood himself, almost. "I'm no good at the public appearances, talking to the media, meeting important officials. I hate all that, and all the hype, and tabloid trash written about me. Sometimes it feels like I don't have a private life at all, you know? Like I'm owned by the city — or even worse, the media."

She smiled. "Except the Daily Planet."

"Except the Planet," he agreed. "I just wish they'd leave me alone and let me do my job. That's what keeps me going — all the people I can help with these amazing powers I have."

"Talking of which — how are you? Dr Klein mentioned you were worried they wouldn't come back."

"He did? Well, yes, I was scared." He saw her looking knowingly at him. "*Am* scared," he admitted. "I've never lost them before, so this is all new to me."

"But he said there was no reason why they shouldn't come back."

He nodded. "Yes." But what did Dr Klein really know about it? He could only hypothesise on what might happen; he had no more experience with this than Clark did. Lois was watching him steadily again. "I'm sure he's right," he added, not really believing his own words.

She hugged him tightly. "You'll be fine, Clark. Just give it time."

He wasn't sure, but the strength of her words gave him comfort; with Lois, anything was possible. Drawing away from her, he began walking slowly again down the path, his arm draped lightly over her shoulders. "So, what do you want to do first? Find your sister?"

"Well, that, and visit Perry, track down my savings, find out what happened to my old stuff, get some official id back, get my old job back — for starters, that is."

He smiled. "And then?"

"Then I'm going to nail Lex Luthor to the ground and do unspeakable things to him."


"Clark, he tried to kill us! Not to mention the fact that he also tried to steal my life, and turn me into a horrible, miserable wretch with no hope and no self-respect. He used me, Clark — you have no idea how sick that makes me feel. So he deserves everything and anything I can do to him."

"How much do you remember?" he asked softly.

"I was chasing this gun-running story. I knew someone in Metropolis was making a lot of money running guns through the Congo, and I had a hunch about who it was too-"


"Who else? Yes, I'd heard rumours that a small-time businessman was running a big-time operation over there, and I finally managed to persuade Perry to let me and Pete go over there to try and trace the leads backwards — back to Metropolis and hopefully Lex Luthor. We were watching an actual trade — hoping the guy in charge was going to turn up — when it happened. I think one of them must have seen the sunlight catching on Pete's lens — he was my photographer — and then all hell broke loose."

"What happened?"

"I don't remember exactly — I saw Pete go down, and then lots of noise and shouting, then…nothing."

They reached a convenient park bench, and Clark drew her over to it, holding her hands in his while they sat together. "Nothing at all?"

"No — it's all a complete blank until that bar in Lagos, and even that's pretty hazy. I remember sitting at the bar and Lex talking to me. Don't ask me what he said, or what I said — hang on! I remember him asking me if I ever had another name when I told him who I was."

He waited while she absorbed the new memory, a frown playing over her face. "Clark, he knew! He knew who I really was, even then, I'm sure of it. As soon as he saw me, he must have decided he was going to, to kidnap me and make me his mistress."

He couldn't help it — he flinched. Even though he knew they had been lovers, she caught him off-guard with her open declaration, so he flinched. And she noticed. Her hands withdrew from his and hid under her thighs on the bench. "That's right," she said, staring at the ground. "First a prostitute, then a mistress."

"Lois, you don't still believe that, do you?" he exclaimed. "That you were a prostitute? Surely you know that Luthor invented all that to make you easier to control?"

"I have a two year blank in my life — how do I know what I was doing during that time?"

"Granted. But that doesn't automatically mean you were doing what Luthor says you were doing. Do you trust him?"


"So why trust him on this? Lois, please don't keep punishing yourself for something you didn't do. We've just escaped from Lex Luthor's evil plans — don't let him win now."

She laughed humourlessly. "I don't intend to, believe me."

"Good! So forget anything he's told you, because it just isn't true. OK?"

"Sure…just like that. Zap." She swept the flat of her hand through the air. "Gone. No problem."

He looked at her, head bowed, staring at the ground, sitting on her hands and scuffing her heels on the gravel beneath their bench. A hug was probably not a good idea right now, but that was what he wanted to do — he wanted to take her in his arms, and show her how little Lex Luthor's lies mattered now that they were together.

Instead, he would have to fight this battle with words. "I know it's not that easy. You've spent — what, two years? - listening to the lies that man spun you, and I'm asking you to forget it all in minutes. That's not fair of me, it's completely unfair of me, but maybe what you can do is ask questions. Any time you get a negative memory, ask yourself if it's true. Any time you feel bad about yourself, ask yourself why. And if Luthor is a part of the answer, then you ignore it — can you do that? Can you chase away the bad memories?"

"I don't know, Clark."

"I think you can. You're strong, Lois — stronger than me. I could never have survived what you've been through, yet not only have you survived — you helped me too. That takes courage and determination, and that's why I know you'll beat Luthor's brainwashing."

"Maybe…" She paused, scuffing her feet over the ground some more while he waited for her to continue. Her head came up and confronted him with glossy eyes. "So it was brainwashing when I let him into my bed?"

This time he didn't flinch. "In a way — yes."

"And it was brainwashing when we had sex at his office?"


"Brainwashing when he used to…screw me…most nights at the club?"


"Glad we got that straight. Brainwashing, every single time."

She dashed away her tears impatiently with the heel of her hand — he reached up quickly, caught her wrist and tried to pull her towards him. "Stop it, Lois. Please." He wanted to comfort her again, but she wasn't going to let him. She stood up and pulled away from him, yanking her wrist out of his grasp; he let go immediately to avoid hurting her. Her arms crossed in front of her chest and she faced away from him, a couple of paces away from the bench.

He gazed at her back despairingly. He didn't know how to fix this. He was Superman; he could prevent buildings from toppling, rescue people from all kinds of disaster, catch armed criminals, but he couldn't stop one person, the woman who meant the most to him in the whole world, from hurting. What could he say or do to erase the years of abuse and manipulation? If he said it didn't matter, he would be trivialising her hurt; if he said he didn't care, it wouldn't be true, because he could hardly care more; if he said she wasn't herself when it happened, it would sound trite. Worse still, he wasn't sure if he could bring himself to say anything at all, because her brutal words had hammered home once and for all the ugly truth of her relationship with Luthor. He might have pretended that the pants and gasps he had heard behind the theatre door were a one-off, but she had now made sure there was no escape from the truth: she and Lex Luthor had engaged in a long-standing sexual relationship — which left him feeling sick, angry, and confused.

Furthermore, by her own admission, that relationship included her own complicity: she had 'let him into her bed'. As a man of limited sexual experience, Clark found this hard to understand: he couldn't comprehend how someone would willingly share such an intimate act with a person so obviously twisted and immoral as Lex Luthor. He had to remind himself that Lois had been extremely vulnerable and lonely, and probably blind to Luthor's true nature, but he still couldn't understand the attraction she must have felt for him. Sure, he had told her she'd been brainwashed, and he honestly believed that she had — but surely the man wasn't attractive enough on the surface for even a mind-altered Lois to contemplate sex with?

"He disgusts me." Her voice was very low, and full of the revulsion her words expressed. "*I*…disgust me."

He froze. Such a terrible, terrible admission — and he was suddenly reminded of his own feelings of disgust when he had overheard their coupling. If he felt disgust, then he couldn't even begin to imagine how Lois must feel. He stood quickly, and went to her, putting his hands gently on her upper arms; she wrenched herself free and stumbled forward a step, but he captured her again. She struggled but this time he wouldn't let her go; it was suddenly desperately important to show her that she wasn't disgusting, that another human being wanted to touch her and be near to her. He turned her around in his arms and enveloped her with his body; she brought her arms up and fought with him, struck his chest with her fists.

"Let me go!" she sobbed.

He hugged her more tightly, restricting her movements, and rode out the hammer blows raining down on him, until she ran out of resistance and went limp in his arms. A curious passer-by stopped and stared at them for a moment; he glared at them until they moved on. If they wanted to call the police, if they thought he was attacking her, fine — just leave him alone with her for now…

He rocked her and made soothing noises into her hair; there were no tears but he knew they weren't far from the surface. She was completely passive now, standing simply and silently within the circle of his body, as if drained of all energy. Clark's chest throbbed and the tight feeling was back again, but he wasn't sure if it was the result of her pummelling or the ache in his heart and the huge lump in his throat. He felt her pain as if it were his own, and the pain was almost unbearable. Perhaps there was some comfort in the fact that she was letting him hold her at all — he had been scared that she might reject him: he was a man after all, and the source of all her misery was male. But it seemed that she hadn't made that connection; at least, not yet.

When he thought she was ready, he drew her silently back to the bench and held her close, just as she had done for him all through their ordeal in the cellar. One thing was clear: if Lois Lane was revolted by Wanda Detroit's behaviour, then he should try and think of her two personalities as two completely separate people: Wanda Detroit may have been attracted to Lex Luthor, but Lois Lane emphatically was not. He might be confused by Wanda Detroit's willingness to sleep with Luthor, but Lois Lane never even so much as kissed Luthor. Except that here she was, sitting beside him, devastated by the fact that she *had* kissed him, and a lot worse besides. Could he get her through this — was he even qualified to get her through this? Clark Kent, a thirty-two year old man whose sexual encounters could be counted on the fingers of one hand?

"I don't know how I did it." Her voice, muffled and low against his chest. "How I even let him touch me, let alone kiss me…

"Because you were a different person, Lois."

"The brainwashing," she said dully.

"Yes. You said it yourself — you, Lois Lane, are totally disgusted by the thought of sex with Luthor. A different person named Wanda Detroit did those things. You happen to inhabit the same body as she did, but that's all."

"But, you see, that's where you're wrong. Wanda Detroit *is* me — where do you think the name came from? I *told* Lex who I was."

"OK, so you gave her a name-"

"Wanda Detroit was the name of the heroine in a romance novel I was going to write. I invented her, and then I became her, Clark - who's to say she's not the real me?"

"Because the real Lois Lane knows exactly what and who Lex Luthor is — Wanda Detroit was only just beginning to figure that out after two years with him. The real Lois Lane has family — Wanda Detroit couldn't even remember further back than two years, let alone who her parents were. The real Lois Lane has a good job with one of the best papers in the US — Wanda Detroit was a singer in a sleazy nightclub. The real Lois Lane is a self-confident woman with ambition — all Wanda Detroit ever wanted to do was get from one day to the next. The real Lois Lane is bright and sassy and has a great sense of humour — Wanda Detroit was too cynical and depressed to let anyone figure out if she was any of those things." He paused. "Do you want me to go on?"

She shook her head.

"Good, because I was just about to run out of nice things to say about you," he said, squeezing her shoulder playfully. When that didn't raise a reaction from her, he put a hand under her chin and gently raised it so she was looking up at him with sad eyes. "Hey! Where's that sassy Lois Lane I was just talking about?" he asked softly.

"On temporary vacation," she replied.

"Hmmm — and did she take the Lois Lane with the great sense of humour with her?"

"Yeah." But there was a hint of a gleam in her eyes now. "They're having a great time driving from coast to coast together."

"Well, do you think you could ask them to come back, because the Lois Lane I've got here needs cheering up?"

At last the glint of a smile. "I'll see what I can do."

He leant down and kissed her lightly on her forehead. To his relief she didn't duck away; rather, she seemed totally at ease with his familiarity. "You do that," he replied tenderly.

She tucked her head back onto his chest and sighed deeply. "You know, he wasn't even a good lover."

"Lois…" He had thought the subject was closed for the present, but it seemed she wasn't ready to drop it yet.

"In fact, he was a lousy lover. I don't think he'd ever heard of the word 'foreplay', and whatever he was doing, it sure wasn't anything to do with making love. All he wanted was sex, and the quicker the better."

Clark was back in uncharted territory; he could listen, but he wasn't at all confident that he could say the right things to her, or that he could give her the answers she might seek. On the other hand, she needed to talk about it; that much was clear, so he would be her sounding board for as long as she needed one. "It must have been terrible for you," he said, his words sounding lame and inadequate to his own ears.

"He didn't even look at me lately," she continued. "A quick fumble with his hands, and then…" She drew in a deep breath, and briefly described Luthor's preferences. "…all so he didn't have to look at me," she finished.

Clark felt a hot flush rise up through his face, and was immediately annoyed with himself. He shouldn't be embarrassed by her frank talk, even if it injected vivid images into his head; she needed him to be mature and understanding when she was sharing these painful memories with him. "Maybe he was scared to see your face," he suggested, "because then he would see Lois Lane and not the person he wanted you to be."

"I doubt it. He'd want to revel in it — the fact that he'd got me right where he wanted me: totally submissive."

"Lois…" And now she was heading down the path of self-recrimination again. A terrible thought occurred to him; something about her choice of words. "He didn't ever…hurt you, did he?"

She shook her head. "Not deliberately."

A quick surge of rage passed through him: along with everything else, the man had obviously forced himself on her at times. Luthor really was the most vicious, monstrous person he'd ever come across, Clark realised, and the realisation was bringing with it unaccustomed feelings of intense anger and a burning desire for revenge. Luthor deserved to — Lois shifted under his arm, and he noticed with chagrin that he was gripping her far too tightly; he released the iron tension in his muscles and pushed the anger back down again. He would deal with it later.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, kissing the top of her head.

"I think it was because he'd given up on me. You know — what he said about me being unresponsive? Well, it's true."

"Lois, how could you be responsive with a man like that?" Clark couldn't let her believe it, no matter if he was inexperienced and unfit to offer an authoritative opinion; he certainly didn't believe it himself. "You said he was selfish, that he was a lousy lover because all he wanted was the sex — he didn't give you the chance to be responsive!" He lifted her chin up again so he could look into her eyes. "Lois, you're beautiful. You're soft and sensual, and your kisses make me dizzy with your passion — there's only you in my world when we kiss." He put his whole heart into his next words. "No-one else has ever made me feel like that, Lois."

Her eyes glistened up at him. "That's very sweet of you to say, Clark."

And he could hear the 'but' in her voice; what could he say or do to convince her? Even as he was thinking, his body was giving him the answer, drifting him closer and closer towards her. He closed the gap and touched her lips gently and tenderly, without demand. She didn't refuse him; she let him deepen the kiss, pressing his lips more heavily against hers, until, as if a barrier had been lifted, she responded in kind, crushing his lips with her own, quickly heating up the kiss with her hand in his hair pulling him down towards her and kissing him with fire and passion and her mouth opening and her tongue pushing through his lips into his mouth and tasting him all over with her sensuous tongue playing with his tongue so that he could chase her back into her own mouth and twine his tongue around hers while his hand caressed her face in the most sexy and intimate kiss he had ever experienced in his whole life -

He broke away, panting heavily. "Lois…" Her eyes smouldered up at him, drawing him back for more. He clasped her face between his hands and pressed his lips to hers again, reliving the previous kiss all over again. Her arms snaked around him, and then he was lifting her into his lap and she was arranging herself so that they could embrace tightly while they kissed and kissed again, so many kisses, drowning in her kisses, losing himself in her kisses…his body responding to hers — he should be embarrassed, but instead a small thrill ran through him: he didn't care that his response was so obvious, in fact, he wanted her to know. It was as if an unspoken signal had passed between them.

Eventually they parted again, and she relaxed with her head on his shoulder, pressing him down onto the park bench with her weight, reminding him of his body's response to her closeness. He felt languorous and content as he stroked her hair, enjoying their easy familiarity and her still and calm presence within his embrace.


Lois listened to the slowing rise and fall of his chest beneath her, letting herself drift away from reality into a warm and comfortable place where there was only Clark and their park bench. He had managed to put her in this place, despite her deep-seated revulsion of everything she had done with Luthor, and for now, she was content to remain there, without care or worry. There was wonderment; wonderment that she could have discovered such a wealth of passion from within herself merely by sharing a kiss with him, but wonderment was all right — wonderment was contentment.

He really did seem to have accepted her along with the brutal truth she brought to him. She hadn't intended to grind his face in it, but the words had just spilled out of her, inexorably revealing the details of her relationship with Lex, sure that at every new ugly revelation he would be unable to bear her any longer. He had flinched, and she had been positive he would withdraw from her then, but instead he had held her, making her feel safe and protected from her own frightening emotions.

At first she had thought he was doing only what he would do for anyone in trouble; he was a pathologically helpful and empathic person, after all. But then she had sensed his own emotions boiling just below the surface, especially when she had needed to shift in order to remind him how tightly he had been holding her; knowing how mild-tempered he usually was, his tension when she had told him of Lex's rough treatment had revealed more than ordinary anger. She didn't think he had realised it, but his big body had been trembling with fury as he had held her.

And then the kiss. Her heart had surged and a door had suddenly opened; she had wanted him madly, deeply, crazily — just thinking about the kiss made her want to grab him and assault him all over again, but she was still in this calm, warm place, and she wasn't ready to leave yet. Clark had wanted her, too — sitting in his lap made that pretty obvious.

So did this mean she wasn't the frigid creature Lex had made her into? She wasn't sure; kissing was nice and kissing was important, but kissing wasn't making love. And would Clark *really* want to make love with her, knowing everything he now knew about her? Would he want to risk love with a Lex Luthor cast-off who had allowed herself to be so easily used as nothing more than a living sex toy? Who was so pitifully unsure of herself she wasn't even sure she could enjoy sex any more?


Some time later, Lois yawned and stretched, and declared the need to move before they both ended up sleeping away the rest of the day on the park bench.

They wandered some more around the park, hand in hand, Lois running through the things she could do to regain her legal identity while Clark offered what little knowledge he had of her circumstances now that she had in effect returned from the dead. Together they came to the conclusion that the first person she had to visit was Perry White, in the hope that he might know what had happened to her belongings and savings after she went missing. The only other contenders would have been her sister or her father, but she had no idea how to trace them, since Lucy had been working on the other side of the US when she disappeared, and her father would have been released from prison by now and living who knew where.

And so half an hour later, they were sitting on easy chairs outside Perry's office, waiting for him to finish talking with the fire chief. Lois had mixed feelings about visiting Perry: she longed to see the look on his face when she told him who she was, but she was mindful of his failure to recognise her previously when she was living under a different name. It hurt a little that he hadn't seen behind her nightclub singer exterior, when she had worked closely with him for so long and considered him to be almost a surrogate father to her.

The door burst open and there he was, shaking hands with the fire chief and bidding him farewell. Lois stood up nervously with Clark and held his hand tightly as Perry came towards them wearing a surprised smile.

"Clark! What brings you here? I hope you're not gonna try and interview me about the darned budget cuts, because I'd hate for you to ruin a beautiful friendship."

"No, Perry, I won't interview you — at least, not right now," Clark added with a wink. "I want to introduce you to someone." He turned to Lois.

"Hi, Chief," she smiled brightly, fighting nervousness with a shot of false courage. She was suddenly aware of her clothes, and wished she'd had time to shop for some new ones. White jeans and a pink sequined top wasn't at all the style Perry was used to seeing on her, and her still wildly-permed hair — even though she'd brushed it down as much as she could — still bounced up into a mass of very un-Lois-like curls. At least her make-up was minimal. Her uncertainty wasn't helped when Perry frowned at her, cocking his head on one side.

"Ms Detroit, isn't it? Pleased to meet you."

He offered his hand out to her. Her heart sank — he didn't recognise her at all. Perhaps he needed more clues. Feeling like she was back on her first day at the Planet, she took it and clasped it firmly, saying, "Sorry I'm late with my copy on the Congo story. I guess it's too late to hit deadline now."

His frown deepened. "I'm sorry — if this is some kind of joke, then I have to tell you, it's not funny."

Desperate now to make him acknowledge her, she blurted out, "Perry, it's me! Lois! You know — the raw kid with attitude you gave a job to all those years ago? The one you sent to the Congo four years ago and never came back? Well, I'm back."

To her dismay, his voice took on a hard edge. "Honey, I don't know what Clark's told you, but the person you're describing was declared missing a long time ago — heck, I should know, I spent enough time trying to find her."

That came as a surprise. "You did? How long?"

"Months — well, all year, in fact. So believe me, I know she's not coming back, and this…whatever it is you're playing at, is starting to stick in my craw." He turned to Clark. "Son, I don't know what you think you're doing here, but you've got to drop it. Dragging Ms Detroit into your fantasy world isn't just irresponsible, it's downright cruel, and the sooner you realise that, the better."

"Perry, it's not like that!" Clark exclaimed hotly. "This really is Lois Lane — look at her!"

"I am looking at her, son — no offence, Ms Detroit, but looks are only skin deep. Sure, you look a little like Lois Lane-"

"I am Lois Lane, Perry!" Lois barrelled on, pulling up memories from her past as fast as she could. "Remember that time you threatened to sack me if I didn't tell you the name of my source?"

"And Lois said she would if I told her who the guy was that gave me that story about the President all those years ago? Sure, everyone knew about that."

"But they didn't know that you did tell me his name a year later, did they?"

"She might have mentioned it to someone."

"No I didn't, and you know I wouldn't have, Perry. You trusted me — like you did when you told me about Jack." Lois knew this one was a gamble, but it was a unique memory which only she and Perry would share. Jack was Perry's son — for the single, short day during which he lived. She saw him blink, and immediately regretted bringing up the subject.

"No-one knows about Jack," he said flatly, staring at her with a wounded expression.

"You told me about him when I was doing that story about the cot death scandal at Metropolis General. He was named after Alice's father." She met his eyes steadily.

Perry stared at her silently, searching her intently with piercing eyes. He came forward and laid his hands on her shoulders and studied her some more; she tried to smile but his gaze was too intense. "Lois? Is it really you?"

She nodded. "I've been gone a long time, but I'm back now." She was still trying to raise a smile, but it kept wobbling.

"Aww, honey, come here…" He enveloped her in a bear hug.

Her eyes went blurry as she rested her head on his shoulder, enjoying the hug she seldom got from him when she was actually employed by him, his big frame solid and comforting as he enveloped her. He was her first real connection with her past life since regaining her memory, and somehow meeting him like this brought home to her in sharper relief than anything else just how far she had strayed from home when she disappeared into the bleak world of Wanda Detroit. She was glad her face was hidden from him, because she wanted to show her how happy she was to see him, not how upset she was by her loss. At last she was truly home.

They broke away eventually; she had to quickly dash away stray tears and give him a shaky smile to show him she wasn't really crying. Oddly, he turned away swiftly and headed for his office door. "Ah, why don't you both come inside?" he suggested, his voice gruff and low.

She glanced at Clark, who also looked unusually bright-eyed; he came across and laid his arm across her shoulders protectively. "Better give him a minute," he whispered to her. She nodded, and they lingered outside until Perry called out to them impatiently.

"What you doin' out there? Come on in, you two!"

They walked in, to find Perry with his back to them, pouring coffee from a machine set on top of a bookcase, in a corner of his office which had been furnished with easy chairs around a low table. He turned around and held out two mugs. "It's not as good as newsroom Java, but it's as near as I can get it. Lois, I'm sorry I don't have any low-fat milk."

"Hey, I'm living dangerously these days — full fat is fine."

Perry cocked an eyebrow. "Clark, are you sure we have the genuine article here? The Lois Lane I knew never took full fat anything."

"And the Perry White I knew never apologised to his staff for the catering arrangements," retorted Lois on Clark's behalf.

"Touche," replied Perry appreciatively. "Guess you must be the real thing after all," he added with a sly smile. "Have a seat," he said, waving his own mug at the chairs.

"Thanks," replied Clark.

Once they were all seated, Perry turned to Lois. "Honey, I'm sorry I didn't recognise you right away — heck, you must have thought I'd forgotten about you."

"It's OK, Perry — it took *me* a while to figure out who I was."

"It's just that I'd searched for you for so long, I was pretty damn certain I hadn't left any stone unturned, so when I finally stopped looking, I resigned myself to having lost you forever. Then, of course, that woman who turned up two years ago claiming she was you didn't help any. I just couldn't go through all that again."

This was news… "What woman?"

"Didn't Clark tell you? Someone who looked exactly like you appeared out of the blue just two years ago, and we were all convinced then that you'd come back to us."

Lois turned to Clark just in time to catch him rearranging his features from a glare at Perry to blank innocence. "Clark, you never mentioned her. Who was she?"

"Ah…just what Perry said — someone who looked like you."

She frowned at him: he was hiding something.

"I'm surprised Clark never mentioned her to you — he spent quite a lot of time with her, didn't you, Clark? Took quite a shine to her, in fact."

"Clark?" She raised her eyebrows to him.

He laughed nervously, telling her all she needed to know. "I think Perry's exaggerating a little, aren't you, Perry?" The last words were spoken with more emphasis than they needed; further proof that something wasn't right.

"Ah…I guess I am, son." So Perry had read the unspoken message. Well, she'd winkle this out of Clark later. Right now, she wanted to find out what Perry knew about the whereabouts of her family, and her old belongings.

It turned out that Perry had no idea where her sister or her father were; he had tried to trace them when she had disappeared, but hadn't managed to find them. Lois was a little hurt that they hadn't tried to contact him; after all, her disappearance had been newsworthy enough to rate the front page of the Daily Planet, if not TV or radio coverage. Of course, Lucy had been living on the other side of the country, and ever since she took off on her own, she had been careless of maintaining family ties — if she thought about Lois at all, she would have assumed her big sister was plodding along in what Lucy viewed as her dull, staid job. Which in a way was good news, Lois told herself, because it meant that at least Lucy wasn't in any trouble: that was the only time Lois was sure to be contacted by her wayward sister.

As for her father; well, he would have been released from prison three years ago, and could be anywhere in the country by now. Probably chasing after yet another 'get rich quick' scam — if he wasn't back in prison already. She would ring around the prisons sometime soon: she wasn't in any hurry to renew her acquaintance with him.

Perry had good news for her regarding her identity, however. He revealed that he'd never had the heart to declare her legally dead, which meant that, with any luck, her savings accounts would still be open. Better still, he had been keeping many of her belongings in storage all this time, hoping that one day either Lucy or her father would turn up and claim them.

After a long discussion, they left Perry's office with an invitation to dinner and details of the storage company's address and phone number; they would have to wait until the following day to make contact as it was now past closing time.


Lois leaned against a kitchen counter in Clark's apartment, chewing a stick of celery thoughtfully while he stir-fried a wonderfully aromatic-smelling concoction. She was still trying to figure out where this look-alike fitted into things, and why Clark hadn't mentioned her before. Of course, they hadn't had a lot of time since she'd regained her memory to talk about it, but he could have easily mentioned her before, when she had demanded answers to her questions about Lois Lane. In fact, she thought with a flash of inspiration, this mystery woman was probably why Clark had made all those mistakes with her name: he had already spent time with a woman he thought was Lois Lane; had become used to calling someone who looking exactly like she did Lois Lane. Yet instead, he was obviously very reticent to discuss her: all through their journey back home, shopping for food in a late-opening deli on the way, he had managed to keep the conversation steered well away from the subject. In fact, she'd never heard him so chatty about inconsequential things.

"Soy sauce, soy sauce…had it here a minute ago…" His eyes flicked over the counter beside the cooker.

Lois shifted away from her perch and, on a hunch, looked behind her. "Here," she said, holding it out to him.

He took it with a smile. "Thanks. So you still hate cooking?"

"It's not so much that I hate cooking; more that cooking hates me. The cooker rebels, the utensils go on strike, and the food revolts…at least, it does by the time I'm finished with it."

He turned and waved his spatula in the air at her. "Maybe your problem is that you just try too hard. Maybe you should try just flinging a few things in a pan and seew what happens."

Or flinging a few words into the conversation… "Is that what she did?"

His spatula stopped waving. "Who?"

"That other woman. The one who said she was me."

Naturally, he turned back to his stir-fry: Lois made a face at his back. "I don't know. We never discussed cooking."

"What did you discuss? Knitting? Dress patterns? The state of the nation?"

"We worked on a case together, that's all. We discussed that."

"Did she ever come here?"

He gave a silent shrug.

"What does that mean? Yes or no?"

He stopped stirring and whirled around: progress, she thought. "Look, I promise I'll tell you all about her, Lois, but can we drop the subject right now? Please? We've both been through a lot lately — I'm tired, you're tired, and I don't know about you, but I'd really, really like a quiet couple of hours just cooking dinner and eating it with maybe a glass of wine or two. Can we do that?"

She stared at him. OK, so she'd been a bit pushy with her questions, but it wasn't like him to just deflect her like that! "Sorry I asked," she drawled back at him.

"Lois, I'm sorry — I didn't mean to snap at you." And he did look sorry, she reflected; his face had immediately softened at her words and now looked purely conciliatory — which in turn revealed something else to her; he was so transparent to her these days.

"Still no powers, huh?"

Bull's eye: for a moment vulnerability replaced reconciliation, then he reached over for a plate with a shrug. "I guess a few hours' sunlight isn't enough to recharge me after all - I'm sure they'll come back tomorrow."

"Of course they will, Clark. Dr Klein didn't say how long it would take, did he?"

"Exactly. So why worry? Come on, let's eat — this is ready. You want to get the wine?"


You never realise how much you rely on something until you don't have it, Clark reflected as he carried their dishes over to the sink after dinner. It wasn't so much the big, flashy stuff he missed, as the little things he did almost subconsciously, like x-raying the meat to check when it wasn't pink in the middle any more, or zapping a pan of water up to boiling point — or using Lois' heartbeat to gauge her mood. That last one had been a surprise; he hadn't realised how much he used it until he couldn't. It felt as if his senses were blunted, and his body felt sluggish and weary — if this really was how the rest of the planet felt all the time, then he was glad to be different.

And how much more different could you get, than not only being an alien from another world, but also having travelled to different dimensions and encountered alternative versions of yourself - and having met two time-travellers to boot? Probably different enough to have people calling for emergency psychiatric help on your behalf if you told them. Broad-minded as Lois was, he couldn't help thinking this was one truth he would be better off keeping to himself for a while; at least until she was settled back into her life and they had dealt with Luthor. Maybe then he could tell her these fantastical things; but for now, he would limit himself to the simpler truth which Perry and Mr Olsen knew of her doppelganger's appearance two years ago.

He dumped the plates and collected the half-empty wine bottle on his way over to the sofa where Lois was already waiting. Settling down beside her, he topped up their glasses before raising his to her.

"To memories."

She clinked her glass against his. "To the future."

He nodded in approval. "Better still." To his delight, she shuffled up the sofa to snuggle up tight alongside him. "I guess I owe you that explanation now."

"Who was she?"

"She just appeared out of nowhere," he replied, side-stepping the question he didn't want to answer. "She said she was you, and everyone believed her — even Perry. I think he was so thrilled to have you back, it didn't occur to him to question whether she was genuine or not."

"And you worked together on a story?"

"Perry partnered us up. We were investigating this weird guy who was running for election against Perry — she seemed to know something about him already."

"Did she say why?"

"No. But it was just as well she was around, because otherwise this city would be being run by a crazy lunatic who believed in old-fashioned gun-law as the way to make things happen."

"What was she like?"

He couldn't help smiling at the memory. "A lot like you, actually. Strong-willed, funny, intelligent — *obstinate*," he added with a playful wink.

"Huh! So, sounds like you got to know her pretty well?"

"She wasn't here for very long, Lois."

"*Here*, here — as in, here in your apartment?"

"Yes — like I said, we were working on the story together."

"Just the story?"


"Because I'm wondering why you're so secretive about her."

"I'm not."

"Ah, so you shut up Perry when he started talking about her, and you put off telling me about her yourself because…?"

"Because I wasn't sure how you'd feel, knowing someone had impersonated you. I didn't want you getting hurt."

"Nice try, Clark, but Perry suggested something else — he said you took a shine to her."

"It wasn't-"

"It's not that I don't expect you to have had relationships with other women, Clark. I'm not about to get jealous of every other girlfriend you've ever had — but look at this from my point of view: you meet a woman who looks exactly like me, tells you she's me, and you fall for her. Then two years later, Wanda Detroit comes along, and you spend all your time trying to turn Wanda Detroit into Lois Lane — the same woman you fell for two years previously. Where does that leave me, Clark? Am I supposed to be her for you? Because I don't think I can — I'm done with being other people; I want to be myself for a change."

"Lois, it's not like that! You've got it completely wrong!"

"Have I? Why are you being so defensive then?"

"Because you're making me act defensively!" Clark forced himself to pause and take a deep breath. "Lois, let's not fight over this. Please. I love you too much."

He saw her purse her lips. "Are you sure? Are you sure it's me you love, and not that other woman?"

"Yes! Lois, I admit that I was attracted to her, but it was nothing like the feelings I have for you. And when she disappeared, it wasn't her I started searching for, it was you — the real you."

"*You* searched for me too?"

He nodded. "Once I'd met the woman everyone thought was Lois Lane, I knew I had to find the real Lois Lane. I knew she'd be this wonderful, funny, crazy, beautiful person that I just had to meet. So I read all about you, found out everything I could, and then went looking. Perry told me I was being obsessive, and I guess I was, but I just couldn't stop. I had to find you."

"Where did you go?"

"Everywhere. The Congo, all its neighbouring countries, further into Africa and across to the Middle East. I even searched out to sea on any boats I saw."

"But why, Clark? Just so you could *meet* me?"

Could he risk the truth? She was too intelligent to accept anything less, and he was also beginning to suspect that he couldn't hide much from Lois Lane — she understood him too well. He put his hand under her chin and tilted her face so that he could look into her eyes. "Because I loved you."

A frown puckered her forehead as she gazed up at him. "But you hadn't even met me!"

"I know…I know it sounds crazy, but that's how I felt. The more I learnt about you, the more I loved you."

She laughed shakily. "I hope I lived up to your expectations."

"Lois, you're so much more than anything I could ever have dreamed for."

Her eyes went wide for a moment, and he had a second of self-doubt — had he frightened her with his honesty? Then her eyes softened and she smiled. "You say the nicest things for a boy scout sometimes."

"I try," he replied sincerely.

He felt her hand on his knee. "Hey! Lighten up, Clark. This is getting pretty intense."

He relaxed and returned her smile. "Sorry. But you scared me for a minute there."

"Do you always find what you look for? You could be pretty useful, you know — earrings, stray socks, keys…I can give you a list right now, if you like?"

"Ah…no, 'fraid not. Anyway, I didn't really find you. I'd stopped looking when I saw you at the club."

"But you still knew it was me?"

"Right away, yes."

She reached up and kissed him. A soft, gentle, lingering kiss. "That's for not finding me," she smiled.

"Any time, Lois," he replied huskily. Her face was still only inches from his, so close he could feel her breath on his skin. Her smile faded into serious intensity as he gazed at her, and then suddenly she was seizing the back of his head to pull him towards her in a much more impassioned kiss. Surprise turned quickly to passion, and he was soon joining her in a deeply sensuous kiss; this time he was the one seeking entrance to her mouth, unafraid to be bold, pulling her onto his lap again so that he could feel the warm softness of her body close to his.

His hands were becoming bolder too, caressing her shoulder, the nape of her neck, the top of her arm…soon he was silently asking her permission to go further, and she was encouraging him. Still the kisses went on, sometimes short, playful pecks, sometimes long, deep explorations…and all the while caressing and stroking, enjoying the shapes and textures of her body as his hand ran over her.

Oh, how he wanted her, he wanted her so much, but did she really want him? Was she ready to make love with another man so soon after her horrible experiences with Luthor? And if she did, could he give her the pleasure she deserved? — his own experience was pretty limited, and a long time ago. A very long time ago.

Her mouth left his, leaving him disappointed despite himself: she didn't want to take things any further. He let his hand still on her; he would have to content himself-

"Make love with me, Clark."

His heart did a flip. "Lois? Are you sure?"

"Never been more sure." She pressed his lifeless hand into her body with her own. "Make love with me."

He met her in another searing kiss, experiencing a heady rush of joy — she wanted him after all! With her hand guiding his, he caressed her gently, fascinated by the feel of his fingers sinking into her firm yet soft flesh; she arched her body forward into his grasp again, forcing him to handle her more boldly. In fact, he wanted more direct contact than this — he withdrew from her hold to pull her t-shirt loose from her jeans and slipped a hand inside, laying the flat of his hand on the warm smooth skin of her torso. For a moment, it was enough for him just to experience this first touch of her body, the direct sense of the life beneath his fingers. She was more impatient, however, and drew away from him so that she could yank her t-shirt over her head and discard it somewhere on the floor.

He blinked at the sight of her trim figure before him, the pure white of her bra contrasting sharply with the healthy glow of her skin. So beautiful…he smoothed his hand slowly up her body, watching as she closed her eyes and murmured softly in her throat, delighting him again with her relaxed acceptance of his touch.

"Ohhh." Her eyes opened. "That was nice."

"I wasn't too rough?"

"No, silly!" She was busily pulling his shirt free of his jeans and lifting it off him, seemingly unaware of the need to unfasten it first.

"Whoa! — you want to strangle me?" he laughed, stopping her so that he could undo a few of the top buttons first.

"I'm anxious to reacquaint myself with that wonderful chest of yours," she explained, finished the job of removing his shirt for him.

"Reacquaint?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"You know — last night? The sunlamps, your sleepshorts, and this chest," she grinned, running her palms firmly over the area in question.

He drew in a quick breath of surprise at her sudden touch…funny how she hadn't had this effect on him yesterday, he reflected. "Oh, that," he replied shakily.

"Yeah, that. You have no idea what effect this has on me."

"If it's anything like the effect you're having on me, I think I do."

"Hmmm — wonder what happens if I do this?"


He hadn't even realised himself how sensitive he was there. Maybe it was who did the touching which mattered…


She had done it again. He sought and found her lips, to kiss and caress, kiss and be caressed, and then to gather her up in his arms and press their upper bodies tight together, marvelling in the intimacy of bare skin on bare skin. He had her in his arms and he never wanted her to leave him; their terrible ordeal all through the previous night flashed back to him — how terrified he'd been when he had learnt that she was in danger, how she had held him and comforted him when he was sick, how she'd listened sympathetically to him when he had talked about Mayson, that wonderful moment when he realised that she had come back to him as Lois Lane — and he knew he had the most precious prize in the world in his arms.

"I love you," he whispered in a cracking voice.

She drew away from him gently and held him at arm's length, gazing searchingly up into his eyes. "Hey!" she said softly, her hand coming up to caress the side of his face. "It's all right, Clark — I'm here."

Not trusting his voice, he simply enfolded her again with his arms, holding her close up against himself, taking comfort from her closeness, her warmth, her arms around him, her understanding, protecting him from the loneliness he had endured for so long. Her face came close to his again and once more they were kissing, building back up from the brief lull he had drifted into, stroking and caressing, his hands traversing her arms, her neck, her sides…

He shifted awkwardly on the sofa: his jeans were becoming highly uncomfortable now, especially with Lois sitting on top of him. And whilst she made him feel more complete than even the other Lois had, and their gradually increasing intimacy with each other was so much more than he ever would have dared to hope for just a few days ago, he was beginning to fight nervousness at what was to come — he so much wanted this to be special for Lois, but he was very unsure of his own ability to make it special for her. The only time he'd actually gone that far before had been a complete disaster — although for different reasons, he thought ruefully. At least he didn't have his powers this time: getting shot at and nearly killed by Lex Luthor had its compensations after all. But the spectre of that crazy night back in college still loomed large in his thoughts — how he had ever ended up in Sally Fletcher's bed was still mostly a mystery to him.

He had been a different Clark Kent that night, carried away on the high of the end of term and one of the best parties he'd been to, losing himself in the abandoned craziness of his fellow students - becoming one of the crowd instead of Clark Kent, the secret alien from Smallville. Following a break-up with Lana the previous summer, he and Sally had been dating for a few months, and that night the fooling around suddenly became more serious, his hormones seemingly running on overtime — until the moment when, like a cold shower, the threat of his powers suddenly dawned on him. By that time, he had been alone with Sally, half naked and very excited. A loud voice screamed in his head to stop and get out before he hurt her, or did something impossible by human standards, but somehow he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Part of it was not wanting to be mean to Sally, and part of it was his own libido demanding to be satisfied.

So instead he stayed, but delayed and delayed the final moment of intimacy, frantically scared that his powers would cause him to hurt her — until she virtually demanded that he go further. His emotions had been in a complete turmoil by then, as if there were two warring factions fighting inside his head, and she had been on the verge of being extremely hurt by his strange behaviour. So he had done as she asked, extremely cautiously and with determined, iron control — not at all the gentle, sensuous lover he aspired to be. His concentration and fear had been so great that he had hardly even enjoyed this very first experience of making love, and then, to his intense dismay and eternal shame, it was suddenly all over before it had even begun: his steely control had completely killed his arousal. It was one of the worst and most humiliating experiences in his life.

Sally had been angrily frustrated, and he had been ashamed and alarmed by his failure — was there something fundamentally wrong with him? He had resolved then and there never to have sex with anyone who didn't know about his powers, which sadly ruled it out completely, since when he and Lana finally got back together again, she ironically had then refused to sleep with him until they were married.

"We have to save something special for our wedding night, Clark," she had insisted in that irritating sing-song voice of hers. Oh, they indulged in some pretty heavy petting, which seemed to satisfy Lana, but it left him feeling increasingly frustrated. The subject of whether or not his powers would even allow him to have sex safely became wholly academic, and after that initial refusal from Lana, he never felt able to discuss his fears with her.

So now here he was, an almost-virgin, hoping to give the woman he loved a sexual experience to wash away all her previous bad ones, when all he had was one bad experience himself, a wealth of unsatisfying sessions with Lana, and the knowledge gleaned from a few books.

Lois shifted slightly in his lap; he should do less thinking and listen to his instincts more, maybe. Lois was making it clear she wanted more, so he took things a little further, then paused to let her get used to this fresh intimacy between them. In any case, he needed time too; every new touch was a moment to be savoured with Lois — but then she surprised him by beginning a path of soft kisses down his neck. Her delicate, wet kisses made him languorous and heavy — he leant his head back and closed his eyes to sink into her caress, his touch becoming more daring while she nuzzled at the nape of his neck, making soft noises which relaxed him and excited him all at the same time.

Instinct led him onwards — he became even bolder as she accepted his intimate caresses with sultry eyes gazing at him through half-closed lids. Their explorations felt simultaneously generous and erotic; quite different to anything he had experienced with Lana - those sessions had seemed to be all about maintaining control: stimulate and caress, but never step over the rigid boundaries lest you lose control and end up going further than you intended. This, on the other hand, was all instinct and letting go of inhibitions, exploring and sharing each other's bodies without any invisible barriers. When Lois surprised him with a particularly intimate caress, his first thought was that Lana had definitely never done anything like this…he could stay like this forever, letting Lois repeat this assault on his senses over and over again.

Of course, he had to go and spoil things by getting carried away and clumsily blurting out something which was supposed to express his love for her, but instead suggested unreasonable expectations, given her earlier claim to be unresponsive. She faltered and gazed at him uncertainly, and he could have kicked himself.

However, with slow, unforced caresses, he managed to regain her confidence until she was showing him what to do, teaching him so much with her openness. Making love with Lana had been more like a guessing game than the deeply sharing experience Lois was giving him, he reflected in wonder.

"Love…you…" he heard her whisper indistinctly.

His heart surged. Instinct again — he could show her how much he loved her…but she had gone very still, and for a moment he thought he had done something she didn't like. Panic struck, and with it, a very unwelcome thought — had Luthor ever done anything like this with her? A sickening image of Luthor taking Clark's place in these intimate moments flashed across his mind. But just as quickly, he dismissed it: Luthor, the selfish and impatient lover, wouldn't take the time to engage in any activity which didn't involve his own direct pleasure. And Luthor didn't belong anywhere in this beautiful scene — *he*, Clark, was making love with Lois; Luthor had merely had sex with her.

"Don't stop."

Her words confirmed his thoughts; heartened, he began again, losing himself to her, until she asked him in a fuzzy, distracted voice to move them into the bedroom. He didn't need to be told twice: he rose up and put his hands under her to lift her and carry her to the bedroom. He suppressed a grunt as he took her weight into his arms: women were a lot, lot heavier when you didn't have superpowers. At least his apartment wasn't very big; a few paces and he was laying her down on his bed.

A stray thought took him by surprise: condom. He should use a condom. He'd never forgive himself if he got Lois pregnant. Thankfully he had a box, bought in an optimistic moment when he'd been dating Mayson; cursing his lack of superspeed, he crossed quickly to his chest of drawers and rummaged feverishly around until he found them.

"Clark? What are you doing?"

Talk about killing the moment…he came back to the bed, lay down beside her and showed her the slender packet. To his surprise, she frowned.

"But I'm on the Pill."

"Oh!" He'd never thought of that. Of course she was — who would want to risk having Lex Luthor's child? "You don't mind…?"

"Don't mind what?"

"I…I *am* alien, Lois."

"Oh, God, no, Clark! Of course not! Whatever gave you that idea?"

He gave an embarrassed laugh. "Not sure, really." Except he was: it was Lana, always pushing him away, always so fastidious…

Lois flicked the packet out of his fingers and threw it carelessly away. "Just love me, Clark," she said, inviting him to join her.

He looked at her, and the image was burnt into his memory for ever: Lois, his Lois, lying in natural beauty upon his bed, her dark hair a sharp contrast with the white pillow, her brown eyes fiery and passionate, her mouth slightly open, her neck and shoulders a graceful line leading to her slender arms. "I do," he breathed.

Gently, he joined them.

"I love you so much," he murmured in a brief respite between hot, passionate kisses.

"As I do you," she replied, pulling him down again.

Their lovemaking was wonderful, if not perfect: Clark suspected it probably hadn't been quite so intensely satisfying for Lois as it had been for him, but she had most definitely enjoyed it, he concluded, as reality seeped slowly back and he looked down at Lois.

Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her face onto the pillow.

Oh, God, Lois, what have I done? How did I hurt you? Even without my powers, I was too rough with you. Remorse flooded through him, threatened to overwhelm him, crashing him down into the depths of despair and guilt.


He hardly recognised his own voice, quavering and trembling while he wiped away her tears with his thumb on the side of her face.

"I never knew," she said in a tiny voice.


"…it could be so, so…" She was starting to sob through her words, frightening him with her runaway emotions. "…so wonderful…oh, Clark…"

She dissolved into tears, sobbing helplessly beneath him on the pillow. He didn't know whether to join her or shout out in joyous relief. He reached up and stroked her hair away from her forehead, then bent down to kiss her lightly there. "It's OK…it's OK," he soothed shakily.


She couldn't stop the crying. All she wanted to do was to show him how happy she was, but she couldn't stop crying. This was what she had been missing for long, long years; those horrid sessions with Lex when she would strain fruitlessly to achieve the same satisfaction he obviously derived from their lovemaking, or when he was too fast for her, or when he would be too rough with her, making her bite her lower lip while he enjoyed himself selfishly, mistaking her cries of discomfort for the throes of passion. Then there were the early days, when she would pretend she was enjoying it as much as him, hoping that play-acting might eventually convert into the real thing. It never did.

Just like it never did with Claudio, the self-styled Italian stud on secondment from Rome. She hadn't been proud of herself for falling for him, and she had been even less proud of herself when he 'repaid' her infatuation by stealing her story. As for being a stud, he had certainly made a lot of noise, but his arrogance had prevented him from acknowledging that his performance was hardly ever enough to satisfy her: if she didn't derive any pleasure from it, then the problem was with her, not him. He wasn't even interested in helping her. Then before Claudio, there was Judd, but she discounted him — a brief, hasty fumble after the prom then quickly home to relieve Lucy's sitter: just enough to lose her virgin status, and also enough to tell her that sex could be a deeply unsatisfying experience.

But now Clark had shown her what real physical love was, and she was overwhelmed. Even now she still felt vaguely aroused while he kissed her forehead, but then she was sobbing more at the realisation of what else she had been missing: he was paying her lavish and generous attention, even though the moments of intense passion were over, kissing her and stroking her hair, not leaving her empty and abandoned, cast off like a used toy.

She had never felt so completely loved as she had with Clark, from the first moment they had both stepped over the invisible barrier they had been maintaining for the past few days.

His kisses and slow caresses had made her respond in ways she hadn't known she was capable of, erotic experiments such as no-one else had ever made her want to try. In the past she had usually been a submissive participant, but with Clark, the moments had glided seamlessly from one to the next; one moment she had been receiving caresses which sent pangs of excitement all the way through her body, the next she had been improvising an erotic role reversal with him. She hadn't been moved to handle a man like that before, except in the most cursory manner, and she had surprised herself with her bold moves - and the incredible thing was that she had felt just as aroused doing that as by his kisses and sensuous touch. Everything had fascinated her, and at one point it had been all she could do to stop herself taking over completely and using him for her own feverish pleasure.

But that would have been selfish, and she had wanted to be a good lover with Clark.

He had panicked her for a moment with his apparent expectation which she was positive she could never deliver for him - hadn't she made it clear enough to him how difficult lovemaking was for her? — but then the panic had washed away when he began the most incredible series of caresses and kisses she had ever experienced. How unselfish he had been, when she knew exactly how aroused he already was, to direct the attention back to her own pure pleasure.

No-one had ever kissed her there before.

Fresh tears spilled down her temples onto the pillow — what was the matter with her? She was never usually this out of control and teary, but every time a new memory assaulted her the tears came again, and Clark's voice murmured soothing nonsense over her quiet sobs. She remembered — would never forget — his deep moans, firing her with hot, searing desire. Why couldn't her previous lovers have done anything like that? Because they were selfish and unfeeling, came the inevitable answer. They had used and abused her, and it was only now, after Clark had shown her what could have been, that she was understanding the extent of their abuse, and her own pitiful participation in that abuse.

Whereas Clark took her higher and higher, until she had had to grab desperately onto his proffered hand to try and control the too-strong sensations and the sense of growing panic because she really didn't think she could handle this much intensity — but at the same time she had wanted the experience which had eluded her for most of her life. Clark could give her that experience. Neither Lex, nor Claudio, had ever excited her like that; driven her dizzy and breathless with anticipation.

And he had; he had given her so, so much. Joy, rapture, generosity and patience.

But she had to stop crying. His voice sounded worried, and that meant she was spoiling things for him. She brought a hand up and scrubbed away her tears, holding her breath at the same time to try and stem the flow of sobs. It seemed to work a bit, and anyway, she was beginning to feel calmer at last — she tried to smile up at him.


"Are you OK?"

She nodded. "Things…things just got a little intense for me, I guess."

"I was too fast, wasn't-"

"Clark, you were perfect."

"You're sure I didn't hurt you?"

"No!" She shook her head emphatically. "Everything was wonderful." A stray sob took her by surprise, but she recovered quickly and smiled at him again. "I've never felt so completely loved."

He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers. "Lois…" he breathed.

"And I promise I won't cry every time we make love," she added in a stronger voice, and felt him laugh a little.

"Every time? Does that mean I get to do this again?"

"Oh, yes — you better count on it."

"I wish I could stay like this forever," he whispered. "You complete me, Lois."

His tender words made tears a threat again; she fumbled blindly with her hands for his face and pulled him towards her to kiss and kiss again, soft, gentle, quiet kisses, loving kisses, but eventually, with a reluctant sigh, he pulled away from her.

He was lying on his side beside her now but she still wanted to be close; she entwined her legs amongst his and rolled them over, so that she could lie partly over him with her head resting on his chest.

A thought struck. She bobbed up to look at him questioningly. "This is OK, isn't it? I mean, your chest isn't sore any more?"

He smiled quickly. "I'm fine, Lois. How about you?"

She snuggled back down onto his broad chest. "Never better," she replied with as much conviction as she could muster.

His hand was in her hair, stroking and curling around her locks. "You want to tell me about it?" he asked, his voice gentle and kind above her.

Not enough conviction, obviously. She didn't need to ask what he meant, but it took her a minute of wobbly emotions to manage an answer to his gentle probing. "You don't want to hear about all my stupid hang-ups."

"Yes I do, Lois. I want to understand everything about you - what makes you happy, what makes you sad, and everything in between. I love you."

It was that simple to him, it seemed: he loved her, and everything he did or said stemmed from that single fact. Her life appeared a little more complicated than that — not that she didn't love him unconditionally, but it felt like she came along with a whole lot more baggage into this relationship than he did. Of course, she reminded herself, he had been through hell and back himself, what with Mayson's death and all those desperate days he had spent searching for his theoretical love, his real Lois Lane. But at least his love life must have been fairly straightforward, unlike hers. She sighed. He wanted to share, and she supposed it probably was good for them not to have any more secrets from each other.

"I've never really been much good at it," she began. "Sex, I mean," she added after a pause.

"You could have fooled me."

"I've never found it easy… Not just with Lex, but with anyone — not that I've had loads of partners," she hastened to point out lest he think she was promiscuous.

"But was that your fault, or theirs? From where I was, you were pretty incredible just now."

"Well, I wouldn't say I was exactly that. But you're right, they didn't help much. Which is why I got emotional, I guess — for the first time in my life, someone was making love with me, not just having sex."

"I wouldn't want it any other way, Lois."

"I know you wouldn't, Clark, but a lot of guys aren't like you. They want a quick fix — oh, they might kiss a little, maybe even stroke and touch a while, but it's really all for their own benefit. All they really want is their own… pleasure, and then it's all over before it's even started for you."

He went still beneath her, and she replayed her last sentence in her head. "Sorry," she said. "That was a bit crude."

"No, it's OK. It's just…well, I guess I know the world's not a perfect place, but I hate to think of anyone treating you like that."

"Well, trust me, it happens a lot. So when you started kissing me on the sofa…" she paused, trying to find the words to express her feelings. This wasn't coming out the way she wanted it to, precisely, but then she remembered the shock of one particular special moment — "You see, no-one's ever kissed me there before."

"On the sofa?"

She could hear the light humour in his voice and smiled despite herself. "You know exactly what I mean, Clark Kent."

"Oh, *there*."

"Yes, *there*, Mr I'm-not-as-innocent-as-I-look. They were never interested in touching and kissing me the way you did, Clark, if they weren't getting something out of it themselves."

"Oh, I was getting something out of it, believe me."

"Directly, I mean. And they would never have made me want to do the wonderful things we did together — it was all new and a little overwhelming."

"I knew I was too-"

"No, Clark. It was overwhelming, because I'd wanted it for so long - to be loved like that." She planted a kiss on his chest. "No-one's ever made love with me the way you did, Clark."

"Oh, Lois…"

She was talked out; she closed her eyes and contented herself with listening to his steady breathing beneath her, once again experiencing that sense of return, of coming home to the place where she belonged. For a while she was aware of his fingers lazily playing with her hair, but gradually things became fuzzy and indistinct — there was warmth and darkness, and floating, random thoughts, and then there was nothing.


Lex watched in irritation as his ex-date for the night scampered feverishly around the bedroom, locating her clothes and belongings. She had some acceptable features, but otherwise she was a waste of space: too thin, with stick-like legs and arms, immature and stupid. He found her underwear underneath his hand, picked them up between finger and thumb and held them up for her to see.

"Looking for these?"

She turned her pathetic, tear-streaked face towards him and scurried over to snatch them from him, her tiny chest and skinny ribs emphasising her distastefully childlike body. He noted the smudged mascara — hadn't she even heard of waterproof mascara? Just another indication of her incompetence, he thought with disdain.

"Tell your employer to send me a real woman next time, would you? Someone who knows how to pleasure a man properly, hmmm?"

"You're a monster!"

He rolled his eyes heavenward. "Spare me the hysterics. It's simple, my dear — I pay you, you do whatever I tell you. If you haven't grasped that yet, then I suggest you seek alternative employment. Now get out before I decide to call your mistress and tell her how dissatisfied I am with your services."

The door closed and at last she was gone. He settled back on his pillows, pushing the silky black sheets impatiently away; they were suddenly an unwelcome reminder of a wasted evening. He had chosen this private soiree in preference to the less salubrious surroundings of the club in order to pamper himself a little. His latest contract negotiations were not going well — it looked like his competitors, Metropolis Construction, were going to win the bid to build the new Met Giants stadium after all, and worse still, his plans to undermine their credibility were running behind schedule. He pondered briefly the efficacy of applying physical pressure to Emile in order to make him speed up his modifications to the quantum disruptor, but dismissed the idea; better to reserve that sanction for more pressing circumstances. All in all, he considered himself well-deserving of a little pampering, and now he was wishing he had gone to the club after all. At least they had women there, not stick insects.

Like Wanda Lois Lane Detroit. She had had her uses, he admitted to himself with a mild stab of something unfamiliar - regret? Surely not! No, he was better off without that unresponsive bitch.

He sighed heavily and reached down absently with his hand. Imagination would have to suffice tonight.


Clark squirted some shower gel into his hands and lathered his chest liberally with it, turning his face up into the stream of water droplets cascading down from the showerhead at the same time. He smiled as he remembered a different type of rain on his face: Lois' kisses, raining down on his lips, his cheeks, his forehead, his neck. Her mouth on his skin had been soft and gentle like this water, then sensuous and fiery, like…well, like nothing else he'd ever experienced, in fact.

Waking up this morning beside Lois had been pretty special, too. To lie on his side and watch her as she slept, her face serene and calm in repose, her hair all mussed up but beautiful anyway, to listen to her deep breathing and glimpse the contours of her naked body half-hidden beneath the sheets, and remember. Remember the fire and passion she had shared with him last night, so sharp a contrast to the quiescent image she presented in slumber. He loved her in all her guises, and almost felt he needed to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming — was he really the luckiest man in the world?

There was a new energy coursing through his body today, he reflected, and smiled wryly. Would it show, the fact that he'd made love properly for the very first time with the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with? Would people point and say, "there goes a man who's just had the time of his life?" He hoped not! He peered at his indistinct reflection in the glass; he looked pretty normal, he reckoned, but was he the best judge? — especially since he couldn't stop thinking about last night. And he really did feel great — suddenly he knew why, as he picked up the sound of Lois stirring in the bedroom.

His powers were back.

Relief flooded through him. Whole again: no longer deaf and blind and achingly tired, free to soar over the rooftops and speed through oceans and valleys, cross continents in seconds. He had thought he had been coping pretty well with his powers' prolonged absence, but the sense of exultation now washing over him made him realise just how scared he'd been. Except last night, of course, when they'd been making love…

As quickly as the relief, a new emotion lurched in his heart. If his powers were back, then how was he going to cope if they made love again? Last night had been an incredible gift from fate, but now with the threat of his powers hanging over him, how could he be sure he wouldn't hurt Lois?

He thought back over last night, trying to replay his feelings and sense of control — or lack of it, he concluded, when he remembered the surging, uncontrollable arousal; that sudden, urgent need when his body had blotted out any coherent thought or consideration. He hadn't resisted it; didn't think he could have resisted it. What if he were to inadvertently run off into superspeed? It was unthinkable.

"Room for one more?"

He whirled around in the shower. Lois, stepping into the shower with a sexy grin on her face. Her eyes dipping downwards then looking into his with raised eyebrows. "Interesting."

"Lois…" He was transfixed, frozen to the spot. His body was responding to the nearness of her, the water running over her beautiful, curvy skin so, so temptingly, while his head was screaming at him to get out of the shower. Deja vu — it was that terrible night in college all over again.

He was helpless. She pressed her body up against his and kissed him. At first he was passive, unable to resist yet too shocked to respond, but her hands were everywhere, sliding smoothly over his soapy chest — get out! — kissing him, wet kisses through the sparkling curtain of water tumbling down onto their faces, confusing him — get out! — her smaller frame pressing up against his, the heavy pressure of her body against him — get out! — but he was lost, kissing her, deep, sensual kisses, enjoying the confusion and the delicious rain showering down on them, her body so close to his…


He jerked away from her. She broke contact and stood in front of him, an expression of hurt and confusion on her face which broke his heart.

"What's the matter? Did I hurt you?"

"No." He shook his head quickly.

"What, then?"

"I…I…I'm sorry…"

"What did I do wrong?"

"Nothing! I just can't…not now…"

"Can't what?"

"Can't…can't make love with you…it's too…dangerous…"

"Dangerous? Clark, I told you — I'm on the Pill."

"It's not that…I just can't…"

"Why not?"

"I can't…can't tell you. I'm sorry." It was instinct, borne from panic and the desire to protect: don't tell her until you can reassure her that everything is all right.

"Clark." Her frowning, concerned face turned up to him through the rain, brushing away the wet hair from his forehead, her hand lingering there. "What is it? Are you sick?"

"No, I'm fine, absolutely fine. In fact, my powers came back this morning."

"They did? That's great!"


"So what's the problem?"

"I can't say…Lois, I'm really, really sorry about-"

"Can't or won't?"

"Please, Lois. I promise I'll explain later, but right now…"

"Why not explain now?"

"Because…oh, God, Lois, I do love you, you know that."

"You have a funny way of showing it."

Staring at him through the curtain of water, hurt and indignant; suddenly the joyous, happy, crazy cascade was a veil of tears between them. She turned on her heel abruptly and stepped briskly out of the shower, not bothering to stop the water flowing off her body onto the carpet as she disappeared into the bedroom once more.

Clark leant forward in crushed defeat against the wall of the shower, banging his fists against the side. What a mess. He could have so easily avoided it by brushing her off lightly when she first came into the shower — given her a quick kiss, then made up a jokey excuse to leave — but instead he had let his body rule his head yet again. Why did he keep letting himself get into these crazy situations? He seemed to have a peculiar talent for leaving his partners hurt and confused, when all he wanted to do was show how much he loved them.

Could he find some way of taking away his powers while he made love? He knew of at least two possibilities: kryptonite, and the quantum disruptor. Both made him shudder at the thought of the pain they could inflict, but perhaps in small doses it wouldn't be so bad. However, the former was of little use to him, since he had no idea where to find any, and the latter was unavailable to him. Anyway, unless the weapon could be modified somehow so that it didn't harm him except for destroying his powers, then it wasn't much use. And there was always the risk that he would destroy his powers permanently. Was that a reasonable trade-off? Loss of superpowers, for a full and safe sex life with Lois? Given his responsibilities as Superman, it was probably selfish to even contemplate such a trade-off — except he couldn't expect Lois to stay with him if he wasn't able to love her physically as well as emotionally, could he?

And then there was the whole question of fertility. A few times in his life, he'd wondered whether he could have children with an Earth woman, but since the question had been academic, he had always dismissed it with a mental shrug as something to be explored when it was more relevant. Suddenly it seemed very relevant. Could he make Lois pregnant? And if he could, would Lois be able to carry the baby, or would it harm her? Would the baby be healthy? Would it have his powers? Coming back a step, it occurred to him that maybe he'd even taken a risk with Lois' health last night by letting her persuade him not to use a condom — what if his semen could harm her in some way?

He needed answers — lots of them, and quickly, too.

Perhaps Dr Klein would be able to provide some of the practical information he needed — maybe even help him construct some sort of variant on the quantum disruptor. He cringed as he imagined the embarrassing conversation which would ensue with Dr Klein, but he had little choice unless he wanted to remain single and celibate all his life. And most urgently of all, he desperately needed an answer to the last question — he would never forgive himself if he made her sick. The moral dilemma — superpowers or physical love — was something he would have to wrestle with himself.

But before contacting Klein, he had to make sure Lois was all right — not that it was likely after the way he'd treated her.


Lois sat slumped in an uncomfortable, damp heap on the end of the bed, having dragged her clothes on over her still-wet body. Whatever had happened to sharing? She had bared her soul to him last night, telling him her deepest and most private hang-ups, and he had been wonderful, listening patiently and calmly, encouraging her to open up and talk until she had nothing left to be upset about. Didn't he realise how hard that had been for her to do? Yet when he had a problem, he had clammed up. Oh, she could take the rejection - it was embarrassing and frustrating, but she'd get over that — but she couldn't take his silence. She wanted to help him as he had helped her, but how could she help him when he wouldn't even tell her what the problem was?

He'd said it was too dangerous. What the hell did that mean? Too dangerous for her; for him; for both of them? And why now, after they'd made love so wonderfully just last night? Could Kryptonians only do it once every 24 hours, or never in the mornings? — the visual evidence belied those theories, unless it was actually physically dangerous for him. That seemed ridiculous, but she supposed anything was possible, so little was still known about him. Or was it a religious thing? Clark didn't strike her as the religious type, and anyway, a religious restriction wouldn't exactly constitute danger. Was he superstitious? Make love in the morning and die a horrible death? That wasn't Clark either.

A bolt from the blue struck her. What if it was something to do with Mayson? Had he been making love with her in the shower just before she died? Now that seemed more likely — perhaps the danger was psychological rather than physical. Oh, Clark! You said you were over her. And if I'm right, why couldn't you share this with me?

He had been so frank with her when they'd been locked up in the cellar, really opening up to her and telling her all about Mayson. She had heard the sadness in his voice and listened to the eloquent pauses as he had related his story, but at least he had been talking. Perhaps it had been made easier for him since he believed at that point that they were probably going to die down there, she thought sadly. So, now that he knew he had to live through the consequences of sharing with her, he was avoiding that commitment. What did that tell her about his feelings for her? He had told her repeatedly that he loved her, but had he really meant it?

And maybe she couldn't take his physical rejection after all, she thought with a sniff. Perhaps her performance last night had disappointed him — she wasn't sexy enough, or she should have done more to please him.

"I wish I could stay like this forever, Lois."

He hadn't sounded disappointed when he had said that. Was he faking it? No, Clark wouldn't deliberately deceive her, she was positive. He might try and spare her feelings, but he wouldn't volunteer something which was cruel if it wasn't true.

So he probably wanted her. He just wasn't clear on whether he loved her or not, and couldn't make love with her in the morning in the shower, possibly because of a hang-up to do with his deceased girlfriend. She laughed hollowly. Great.

She stood up and wandered through into the living room to look for the clothes she had discarded there last night, and came face to face with him. He had a jumbled-up collection of jeans, t-shirts and underwear in his arms, and looked as startled to see her as she was to see him. Ignoring the sudden pleading in his face, she eyed the bundle coolly.

"I'll have these," she yanked out her jeans, "and this," her t-shirt, "and…" she searched some more, "these," her bra and panties. Her final vicious yank made the remaining bundle tumble out of his arms, but she sensed him catch everything up again with a burst of superspeed as she turned to march back into the bedroom.

"Lois, please! We need to talk."

She whirled around. "Oh, you're ready to explain what happened, are you? Fine — I'm all ears." He was pathetic, standing there dumbly in the middle of the living room, blocking off his feelings from her all because he wasn't willing to commit to her. "Off you go," she prompted. "Here — I'll get you started. Lois, I couldn't make love to you in the shower because…"

"I love you, Lois."

"Oh, that's a new one! I couldn't make love to you because I love you. How does that work, precisely?"

"I don't know. I don't have all the answers, Lois, but please believe me when I say that I love you with all my heart, and I'm more sorry than you'll ever know that I hurt you. And in a way, what you said is true — I couldn't make love to you in the shower precisely because I love you so much. I know that sounds crazy, but that's all I can tell you. I'm sorry."

"You keep saying you're sorry, but it's no good, Clark. I need more than that. You say you love me, but then you push me away."

"You know that last night was wonderful-"

"I'm not talking about that. I mean you push me away emotionally. You're not sharing anything with me, Clark — I want to help you and you won't let me. How do you think that makes me feel?"


"So are you going to tell me what's eating you up inside? Because I can tell that something is." Still standing with that helpless look on his face. Part of her wanted to gather him up in her arms and give him a big hug, he looked so defenceless, but then another part of her wanted to take him by the shoulders and shake the answers out of him.

"I need time, Lois. Can you give me that? Please?"

Pleading with her. Her heart melted a little: he wasn't denying her completely, just asking for a little space — was that so unreasonable? After all, he'd given her a heck of a lot of space before she'd regained her memory, so maybe she owed him something in return. "All right, Clark, but don't keep me out in the cold for too long, OK? I don't want us to have secrets from each other any more."

"Believe me, neither do I, Lois…"

It was probably her glare which stopped him; she couldn't believe she was hearing this after what they'd just been through!

"Sorry." His tone conciliatory, as well it should be. "Thank you for giving me a second chance."

"Just don't screw it up."

"I won't."

"OK, how about you fix us breakfast, and then we can figure out how we're going to nail Luthor — and get my identity back."

He grimaced at her. "I need to go see someone first. Can we make that a latish breakfast?"

Delaying tactics, or genuine need? She assessed his apologetic expression thoughtfully. "Is this part of me giving you space?"

He nodded. The plot thickened. Was this that shrink she thought he'd been seeing — what was her name again? Dr Friskin - that was it. He needed to run to her and get his head straight, was that it? Amazing that she would be willing to see him at such short notice, but maybe Superman got preferential treatment.

"OK. But be careful — remember we're officially dead, won't you?"

She saw him hesitate; obviously he'd forgotten. "Thanks for reminding me."

She waved him away. "Go…wherever it is you need to go."

"You're sure you're OK with this?"

Oh, for heaven's sake! "Just go!"


Clark flew high above the clouds so that so-one could see him. Just as well one of them was thinking straight this morning, otherwise he would have blown their cover as soon as he had left the apartment — although considering they had walked all around Centennial Park yesterday, and then visited City Hall, there was a risk that they'd already lost that advantage anyway. They hadn't been thinking very straight yesterday, he reflected with a touch of foreboding, which made it all the more difficult to leave Lois alone this morning; the last time he had left her like this, Luthor had grabbed her. Still, Luthor wasn't expecting them to be alive, so hopefully he wouldn't have his spies out on alert for them; as long as Clark didn't mess things up, she was probably safe.

So, maybe walking into Star Labs and asking to see Dr Klein wasn't a very good idea right now. He'd have to find an unobtrusive payphone and ask the scientist to meet him somewhere quiet.

Five minutes later he was airborne again, seeking out the small park Dr Klein had suggested for their rendezvous. Checking that no-one was around, he landed quickly, changed into his street clothes and settled down nervously on the single bench to await Dr Klein.

Was this how people felt when they were waiting to see the dentist? His stomach was churning as he tried to figure out exactly how he was going to broach the delicate subject. Perhaps he should have confided in Lois after all; she would have been easier to talk to than a scientist he hardly knew.

But how could he? How could he burden her with this, when she had already confessed to him her difficulty in finding pleasure in the act of making love? If she knew she also had to cope with a super-powered alien who could lose control at any second and hurt her - possibly even without realising it — her fragile confidence, which he'd tried so hard to build up last night, would be completely shattered. She'd certainly never want to make love with him again, and the revelation that he could lose control of his powers would probably make her fear him: if he could lose control in one circumstance, when else might he do the same thing? He never, ever wanted Lois to be afraid of him; the thought of her cringing from him was unbearable. Then there was his deceit. Men had used her and tricked her all her life, and what had he done last night but make love with her under false pretences — he was no better than any of the other men who had deceived her.

No, better to work this out with Dr Klein's help, and then when he had things under control, he could tell her — when he was safe. Spying the doctor hurrying across the grass towards him, he stood up to greet him.

"I came as soon as I could, Clark," began Dr Klein worriedly. "Are you all right? Ms Lane persuaded me to leave the other night before you were fully recovered, but I really thought-"

"I'm fine, Dr Klein." Well, physically, anyway, except for the butterflies in his stomach.

"Oh," replied Dr Klein, visibly adjusting his thoughts with relief. "Well, I guess I should have realised that, since you obviously used your enhanced abilities to get here before me. I mean, this place is miles away from your apartment, and it's only around the corner from Star Labs, so unless you happened to call me from a payphone near-"

"Exactly." And Dr Klein in nervous-babble mode wasn't helping. "Look, why don't we sit down? I need your advice on something."

"You do?" asked Dr Klein in surprise, sitting with him on the park bench.

"Yes, you see…I have a few questions."

"Clark, I assure you, I honestly didn't realise what they were going to do with that data I collected from you-"

"I know. This isn't about that — well, not really. You see, I was wondering…"


"About children."


He may as well have asked the scientist to dance the tango with a rose between his teeth; the pole-axed look Dr Klein was giving him would have been much the same.

"Yes, children. Whether I can have any."

"Ohhhhh." Now the penny dropped. "You mean with…?" Dr Klein's eyebrows went up into his forehead.

He nodded. "An Earth woman." Firmly said, so that there was no doubt.

"Oh, my. Well, I can't say that I've given it much thought - no thought, actually."


Dr Klein stared at him in consternation. "Clark, I honestly don't know. There's never been any research into inter-species reproduction with humans — I mean, there wouldn't be any point, would there? Mind you, it would make a fascinating topic for research-" he started enthusiastically.

Clark baulked. "Dr Klein, I don't want to be a research subject — I just need some practical advice."

"Well, I can certainly run some tests for you-"

"Confidentially, of course?"

"Of course! But I can't guarantee quick answers; this is a very new area for me."

He sighed; something told him he wasn't going to get very many of the answers he wanted today. "I guess it is." He took a deep breath — now for the really tricky bit. "In the meantime, I wondered…"


"Is it safe to…you know?" He could feel the blood rising into his face; oh, this was so embarrassing! And don't just stare blankly at me, Dr Klein! Help me out here, please! "I mean…could I make her…an Earth woman…sick?"

"How?" asked Dr Klein with a look of genuine puzzlement on his analytical features.

I'm not going to answer that. I'm just going to stare at him until he figures it out.

"Oh! Oh. Good heavens, no. Whatever gave you that idea?"

You and Lois, both, huh? He heaved a sigh of relief. "Thanks, Dr Klein."

"No problem, no problem. So, when do you want to come around to give me a sample?"


"Yes — for the tests?"

Oh. Ohhhh. Oh, no… "Let's leave it a couple of days, OK? I have a few things to sort out right now."

"Sure! Just call me when you're ready." Dr Klein stood up to leave.

"Ah, Dr Klein? There was one other thing."

"What's that?"

"This has to be extremely confidential, too." It occurred to him that he really didn't want anyone finding out about a device which could render his powers useless — in fact, he was probably taking a huge risk by confiding in Dr Klein, both with his own safety, and with the scientist's. There were plenty of people out there who wouldn't hesitate to use violence to achieve such a valuable prize. Still, he'd started now…Dr Klein nodded, and he continued, studying the scientist's face keenly to gauge his reaction. "I need to find a way of losing my powers for a short time - maybe a couple of hours at most."

Was that an optimistic estimate, or a pessimistic one? — he imagined a dreadful scene, not unlike this morning, where he began making love, but then had to call a halt because his time had run out. Not an attractive proposition.

And he'd really shocked the man now. After staring in silence for some time, one word popped out: "Why?"

"It's…confidential. Do you think you could do it? I need some sort of device, as unobtrusive as possible, that I could just kind of zap-"

"No. I'm sorry, Clark, but I can't help you," interrupted Dr Klein bluntly.

"But I really need this-"

"I won't take responsibility for damaging your health, either temporarily, or permanently."

"But I'd be fine — just no powers."

"Your powers are an integral part of your physical well-being, Clark. Without your powers, you're sick — or at least not healthy, by your own standards. I can't be a party to something which hurts you."

"I was kind of hoping it wouldn't hurt, actually."

"And I couldn't guarantee that."

He shrugged. "OK, so it might hurt a little. But I wouldn't be sick, just…normal."

"Normal for a human is abnormal for you."


Dr Klein held up a hand. "I'm sorry, Clark. I won't do it. I'm happy to help you have children, but I won't do this for you."

"You don't understand…" Clark was fighting hard not to show how frantic he was: it was no use Dr Klein running reproductive tests, if he couldn't even have sex in the first place!

"You're right — I don't. Why would you want to lose your powers?"

"I can't tell you."

"And I can't help you. I'm sorry."

He couldn't believe it. Of all the obstacles in his path - whether they could construct the device, whether they could tune it accurately enough, whether it would hurt him — coming up against the brick wall of Dr Klein's ethics was one which just hadn't occurred to him. What was he going to do now? He didn't have the skills and knowledge to make something himself, and he hadn't the faintest clue as to where he could find any kryptonite. Was he to remain celibate the rest of his life?

"Clark? Did you hear me?"

He looked up and saw Dr Klein gazing down at him with a frown. "Sorry, what did you say?"

"I said I have to get back to the labs now."

"Oh, sure. Thanks for coming, Dr Klein. I-I'm sorry I put you on the spot like that."

"That's OK…look, I don't know why this is so important to you, but I can see that it is. Isn't there anyone you can talk it through with? There must be another alternative."

"I wish there was." It was at times like this that he missed his parents. They had always been a good sounding board when he was little, talking through the strange things happening to his body and helping him cope with his alarming new powers. Talking about sex might have been more difficult, but he felt sure he could have had a frank talk with either one of them — especially his Mom. She had always made him feel as though he could talk to her about anything without getting embarrassed — at least, he would be embarrassed, while she would be calm and practical. She would listen to him, offer him comfort, tell him when he was being stupid, reassure him when she thought he was right, hold him if he cried. He really missed her.

So there was no alternative but to figure things out himself.


Frank talking.

A sounding board.



He almost slapped himself on the head. If his alter-ego in the alternative universe could enjoy a full sex-life — and he was positive that he did — then surely that meant that he could too?

Why hadn't he thought of it before? CK and Lois were obviously happy together, so if there had been problems, they had just as obviously solved them. Suddenly he wished CK were here right now so that he could quiz him all about it — what problems had he encountered, had he had the same self-doubts, had he found a way of controlling his powers, had he confided in Lois?


He shot up from the bench and grabbed Dr Klein's hand to shake it. "Thanks, Dr Klein!"

"Ah, sure. Any time."

"You've been a great help."

"Glad to hear it."

He took off, feeling a whole lot happier than when he had landed here. He didn't have the answer to his problems, but at least he knew that there was one to be found.


She was sitting at the kitchen table, trying to make a list of the things she hoped to find when they went over to the storage company holding her belongings. Alas, her mind kept wandering back over what had happened in the shower, and she kept dragging it back, reminding herself that she had promised him space to work it out himself. She scribbled 'birth certificate' and took another gulp of coffee. He had seemed so eager at first — well, no, actually, he hadn't been, now she thought it through again. She had been eager, practically assaulting him on the spot as he stood passively in front of her; forced him to respond to her kisses and caresses. He, on the other hand, had looked…panicked, she realised with a pang of guilt.

She cringed. He had been enjoying a quiet, private moment in the shower, and she had barged in virtually demanding sex from him. What had she been thinking? He probably thought she'd reverted to her days as a prostitute, throwing herself at him like that. If only he knew, she thought miserably — she couldn't ever remember feeling playful and sexy like that: waking with a warm, happy glow suffusing her body, hearing the sound of his shower, running her palm over the indentation he had left in the bed, still warm from his body heat, remembering that heat around and inside her the previous night, getting up and seeing the faint contours of his nakedness behind the shower door, the sudden rush of mischievous arousal as she had slipped off her robe and opened the door, his body…his body!

She shook her head to clear it and looked down at her list again. Passport? No, she had lost that in the Congo — Lex must have smuggled her back into the US somehow.

So had he panicked because he hadn't been ready for her onslaught? Surprise or shock, she could understand, but panic? He hadn't panicked when she had asked him to make love with her last night. On the other hand…what had flashed through her mind when he had cried out for the first time? Almost virginal. His face when they began making love…she concentrated, trying to blank out her own feelings at that moment and visualise his face above her. There was shock — "Oh God, Lois!" — and something else. Something foreign; unexpected in the circumstances. She closed her eyes and pictured him looking down at her, his dark brown eyes…panic. Definitely a tinge of panic in his eyes, a faint shadow of what she had seen this morning. As if he didn't know how to handle himself.

Could he be?

No! It was impossible — he was over 30, for heaven's sake! Anyway, he had a packet of condoms in his bedroom, and he'd been dating Mayson Drake: quid pro quo.

List again: Lucy's last known address. Not much hope of tracking her down, but she had to try.

Condoms. She didn't really like them; they reminded her of too many passionless sessions with Lex. But Clark had assumed she would want him to wear one because he was an alien — how ridiculous. Where had he got that idea from? Had Mayson, or any previous partners insisted on him using one because of his non-human biology? Poor guy if they had; it can't have done much for his self-esteem.

Suddenly a gust of wind blew her list off the table, there was the rush of something close by, and then the front door slammed shut. Trembling with shock, she picked up the new piece of paper sitting on the table in front of her.

"Sorry, Lois — I had to. Turn on the TV. Clark."


Thick black smoke. Sirens. Glass everywhere. Rubble. Bodies. Blood. And screams — screams of pain and shock, screams of outrage and loss. The screams were always the worst, even though he knew that it was the quiet ones you had to worry about. The screams would bring him awake at night, sweating, his heart thudding in his chest. The screams would come to him at his desk, writing the story, reliving everyone's agony, over and over again. They would come to him during quiet moments when he least expected them, ripping his heart open with their sorrow and grief.

It was bad. The explosion had ripped through an office block in the heart of downtown Metropolis, tearing away one whole side of the building and devastating several smaller office blocks nearby. Already rescue workers were talking about a frighteningly high death toll, and they hadn't even begun to search through the rubble in the surrounding streets.

Clark worked grimly, blotting out the human grief all around him, concentrating all his mind and body on calm, efficient help to those who needed him most. He couldn't save everybody, not even a superhero could do that, but he would give every ounce of strength in his body in the trying.


"…and with me here at the scene of what some are calling Metropolis's biggest disaster since the hurricane of '87 is Fire Chief Mark Thompson. Chief Thompson, are you able to determine the cause of the explosion yet? Was it in fact a gas main rupture, as some people are suggesting?"

"It's too early to say. A full report will be available once the incident investigators have completed their work."

"But are you prepared to rule out the possibility of this being some kind of bomb?"

"Nothing can be ruled out at this stage."

"So it could be a bomb?"

"As I said, anything is possible. I can't say more."

"Chief, we've heard reports that the death toll could be as high as fifty. Can you confirm that figure?"

"Again, it's too early to give accurate figures. We've still got a lot of rubble and debris to search through, although right now our main concern is to secure the area and make sure no-one else gets hurt."

"And is Superman helping you in that task?"

Lois started as at that very moment, Clark strode into shot behind the two men carrying someone in his arms. She shot out of her seat and dived up close to the TV, straining to see his face, wanting to see how he was coping with the disaster. The interviewer whirled around, obviously prompted by his cameraman.

"Superman! Can you give us an update on the situation?"

Clark's head turned towards the camera, and she caught a brief glimpse of his face before he turned away again and strode on, ignoring the request for information. She'd never seen that look on his face before; in fact, if she hadn't known it was Clark, she wasn't sure she would have recognised him at all. The Clark she knew never wore such a grim, impassive mask; of course, she'd never seen him at the scene of a major disaster before, but she'd heard reports of how kind and generous he was from people who'd been rescued by him in the past. The man striding out of shot didn't look kind and generous, he looked cold and emotionless.

But as she continued to watch the coverage of the rescue operation, trying to catch further glimpses of him, she noticed how all the other rescue workers wore the same faceless expression. Once, the camera caught a large, burly fireman being led away in tears, but then a hand came up into the lens and blotted out the picture. Clearly, there was a huge price to be paid here, both in terms of the victims and the people rescuing them.

Already, her reporter's instincts were running on overdrive. The interviewer had mentioned a gas leak and a bomb as possible causes, but hadn't offered any motive for a bombing. It sounded to her as if he was just trying to over-sensationalise things with the bomb theory, but on the other hand the fire chief had been pretty non-committal about either theory. She reckoned he would have been able to confirm a gas leak, which left a big fat zero: they hadn't a clue what had caused the explosion, except that it probably wasn't either of the two theories expounded by the interviewer.


An immeasurable length of time later — was it three hours, four, five? — Clark was reporting back to Chief Thompson in a grubby, grimy haze of exhaustion.

"Go home, Superman. You've done more than enough here — we can manage without you now."

Clark looked at the lined, weary face under the yellow safety helmet. "What about you, Chief? Are you going home?"

The fire chief snorted. "Oh, I'll be here a while longer."

"Then I'll stay too. What can I do?"

"No, Superman. I don't let my firemen work even a fraction of the shift you've pulled. Go home and rest up."

Clark glanced around him before bringing his eyes back to the chief. "Looks to me like you could still use some help clearing up the streets. Why don't I-"

"We can manage, Superman. Now go home before I have to call the cops to throw you off the site." Clark raised an eyebrow. "I know, I know," continued the chief with a weary smile. "Just humour me, OK? It's been a long day."

"Can't argue with you there." Clark turned back before taking off. "Call me if you need me, OK?"

Chief Thompson waved him away. "Bye, Superman — and thanks."


Lois looked up when she heard a sound out on the balcony. He was back at last. She hauled herself off the sofa and went to meet him at the door. He was still in his Superman suit and he was filthy.

"Hi." She didn't know what else to say. What did you say to someone who'd been through what he'd just been through? She watched as he turned away from her and carefully closed the door behind him.

"Sorry I blew our cover," he said, still with his back to her.

"It doesn't matter."

"Luthor won't be very happy." Turning back to glance at her with a carefully blank expression before walking past her to descend down the steps to the lounge.

"Not all bad, then," she said to his back, following him down.

"No." He stopped in the middle of the room, facing away from her.

She walked up behind him, hands fluttering uselessly in the air, not sure whether to touch him or leave him alone. What did he need from her? Hesitantly, she touched his shoulder, and when he didn't resist, she brought her other hand up and turned him slowly to face her, looking up into his eyes: dead eyes, dull and sombre. After a moment she drew him closer into her body; he came easily, like a limp rag doll, letting her ease his head down onto her shoulder and leaving his arms hanging loosely by his sides while she held him.

She stayed with him for a long time, quietly letting him draw whatever solace he could from her: an oasis of silence in the middle of chaos. Eventually he sighed deeply and pulled away to arms' length. "I need a shower."

She reached up and caressed the side of his face with her half-closed hand. "OK."

She went back to the sofa and huddled up into it, listening to him move around the bedroom and then the sound of the shower running. Tears filled her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks, as the shower noises went on and on in the background, far past the time when he should have been finished. She could picture him in there, letting the water pound down onto him, waiting for the hurt to wash away…


Clark let his back slide down the side of the shower until he was sitting on the floor, then reached up and turned the heat and power up as far as it would go. Maybe if he sat here long enough, it would all just wash away down the plug-hole.

He'd done big rescues before, of course, but it never got any easier. Sometimes he thought it grew more difficult. At least in the early days he'd had the uncertainty of his own abilities to deal with and distract him, but these days he knew exactly what he could do, and the best way to do it. Oh, yes, he knew the best way to locate all those broken bodies…

But he had also done good today, he reminded himself. There were people alive today who wouldn't be if he hadn't been there to help. That was the part which kept him going back for more; the knowledge that he could save lives and prevent injury to others.

He just wished he could do more.

He closed his eyes, leaned forward and rested his head on his knees. He should probably come out soon; Lois was probably worried about him. Just a few more minutes here in the darkness, the hot needles of water pounding down on him, washing away the pain.


At last, she heard the shower stop and hastily wiped away her tears. A few minutes later, he was coming back into the lounge, dressed in dress slacks, shirt and tie.

"I'm going into the Planet to write up the story," he explained.


"Yes, now. I always do a piece for Jeff on my own rescues if they're newsworthy."

"Can't it wait until tomorrow?"

"Lois, you're a reporter — you know it can't. The only thing is, I don't want to leave you alone now that our secret's out. Do you mind coming with me?"

"Clark, I think I can look after myself, you know. This isn't the first time some maniac's wanted to kill me." At his stricken look, she softened. "Why don't you write the story here and email it to Jeff?"

"Because I owe him better than that. I've hardly been there for two days now, and it's not fair to take advantage of him like that. So will you come?"

She observed his strained face and slumped posture and thought privately that the last thing he needed right now was to plunge himself into more work. Was this what he always did after a major rescue — bury himself in work instead of dealing with his emotions? Probably. In fact, she'd probably do the same thing herself; had done the same thing herself many times over. Whether that made it the right thing to do was debatable, but maybe now wasn't the right time to try and change things. At least if she went with him she could keep an eye on him.

"All right, Clark, I'll come."

Immediately he brightened and she was happy that she'd made the right decision. "Thanks, Lois."

"We flying?" she asked, standing up.

"Cab." She raised her eyebrows. "I guess I'm not in a flying mood," he shrugged.

"OK," she replied, keeping her voice light. When had he ever avoided the chance to fly before? "Come on," she continued, taking his hand. "This should be fun — who knows, we might even find a cab driver who understands the highway code."


The last few bars of the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No 2 for Solo Violin resounded around the wood-panelled office, a clean, muscular sound full of order and passion. Luthor clenched his fist in affirmation of the power behind the final single note and looked up at the lab-coated little wiry man in front of him. Eyelids blinked rapidly behind small, round spectacles.

"Efficiency, power, clean lines and single-minded intent, Emile. Bach distils music down to its most basic elements, then builds an edifice of great complexity and masterful ingenuity, which Perlman then executes with the skill borne of one in perfect control of his abilities."

"Quite so, Mr Luthor."

"All qualities which I admire, as you know."

"Yes, Mr Luthor."

"So tell me, Emile, why do I not observe these same qualities in the man I see before me now?"

The man before him smiled nervously, his hands waving vaguely in the air. "Bach was a genius, Mr Luthor."

"And you are not? Alas, I fear I must agree with you, which is why I may have to sack you, Emile."

"I'm sorry about today-"

"Did Bach apologise for his music? No, but then, one who has reached the heights of perfection has no need for apology. Whereas you, Emile, have failed me. I ask you to provide a means for the destruction of Superman, and today I see him flying the streets of Metropolis in remarkably good health. I ask you to build a mechanism to weaken the structure of a building, and instead, you blow the building up. Are you aware of how many people you killed today, Emile?"

The scientist hung his head. "Yes, Mr Luthor. It will be on my conscience for the rest of my life."

"And so it should. You've severely disrupted my plans, Emile: mass murder was not on today's agenda."

"I'm s…" The poor man faltered under Luthor's glare. "If I may, Mr Luthor — there is no way that Superman could have retained enough strength to make his escape from the building. I believe he must have had outside help."

"And where am I to believe this outside help came from?"

"I-I don't know, Mr Luthor."

"His fairy godmother, perhaps? The patron saint of Kryptonians?"

"Perhaps one of the demolition workers?"

"In the middle of the night? No, I'm forced to conclude that your calculations were incorrect — especially given the evidence of today's debacle."

"I needed more time, Mr Luthor."

"And I gave you fair warning that additional time was not an option. Ah, Emile, Emile," sighed Luthor. "What am I to do with you?" He regarded the mousy little man, now wringing his hands as well as blinking myopically through his glasses. "Can I trust you to modify the quantum disruptor to work as I originally specified?"

"I believe I can make the necessary modifications within a couple of days, yes."

"Then consider yourself a very lucky man. Lex Luthor doesn't give second chances; but in your case I will make an exception. Now go so that I can listen to the work of a real genius."

Luthor switched the CD back on and leaned back in his chair. Second chances be damned: Emile LeFevre would need to be dealt with, and soon. He didn't tolerate failure. Thankfully, he had had the foresight to select an office block for today's test which was one of Metropolis Construction's; if he had left the selection to LeFevre, the idiot probably would have chosen one of LLI's. Some useful negative publicity could be generated from the day's disaster, if nothing else.

And in due course, he would deal with Clark Kent — and Wanda Lois Lane Detroit, if she was also still alive. Personally, if he had to.


Lois eyed Clark as he worked on his story. He typed rapidly, although not at superspeed; she'd noticed before that he avoided making obvious use of his powers at work unless under time pressure. He still looked very strained, frowning constantly as he worked, and at the rate he was typing, she reckoned the story was going to come out far too long. It almost looked as though he was going through some sort of catharsis through the writing down of his experiences. Presumably he would edit it down once he'd finished.

"Clark? What are you doing here?" Jeff perched on the edge of Clark's desk and leant forward to read his screen over Clark's shoulder. "Ah, I see."

"I thought you'd want something from me as soon as possible, Jeff."

"Well, yes, it'll be great alongside John's piece. You might want to tone it down some, though."

"Sure — this is just a first draft."

"I can see that. How are you, anyway? It looked pretty bad from the TV coverage I saw."

"I'm fine, Jeff. Thanks for asking."

"Do you have any idea what caused it? John doesn't think the bomb theory fits, or the gas main explosion."

Lois stood up and crossed over to join the two men. "I don't think they do either. I made a couple of phone calls while you were out, Clark. That building doesn't even use gas — it's all electricity. And the demolition expert-"

"Demolition expert?" asked the two men in surprise. "Since when do you know demolition experts, Wanda?" continued Jeff alone. Behind him, she saw Clark's eyes widen: he'd completely forgotten that Jeff wasn't aware of her regained identity.

"Since I got my memory back." Jeff's expression became even more incredulous. "Look, I'll explain later. The important thing is, this expert said that there's no way the damage he saw could have been caused by a bomb. The blast pattern was wrong, he said."

"Did he say what it might have been?" asked Jeff.

"No, but I reckon if I could get him onto the site, he'd have it figured out. He's the best — used to be in the British SAS."

"One day you'll tell me how you manage to have a contact like that, but right now, I suggest you get hold of him and get him down there — I assume you can do that?"

"Oh, I think so."

"OK — Clark, you finish your story, and Wanda — you get onto your expert. But first, I'd like a word, Wanda — in my office."

Lois looked past Jeff to Clark, but he merely shrugged. "Sure, Jeff."


As she followed Jeff into his office, he told her to close the door and have a seat. She sat opposite him at his desk, vaguely apprehensive of his intentions.

"How are you, Wanda? That ordeal in the cellar can't have been any picnic for you."

"I'm OK, Jeff. I twisted my ankle a little, but that's all healed up now."

"And Clark? You said he was hurt?"

"He's fine now. You haven't printed anything about-"

"No, and I won't, even though the cat's out of the bag now and whoever put you down there knows you're still alive. I don't think people should know that there's a weapon out there which can harm Superman, do you?"

"No. Thanks, Jeff."

"No problem — but do you have any idea who did this to you?"

Lois squirmed inwardly. She'd deliberately kept this particular information from Jeff, thinking that if he knew who had done it, he wouldn't be so ready to sit on the story. Looking him directly in the eye, she answered firmly. "Not yet."

He returned her look with equal directness, and she was uncomfortably aware that he knew she was holding something back from him. "Well, I'm sure you'll figure that one out soon, won't you, Wanda?"

"If I get a lucky break or two, yes."

"Because I reckon you'll want to know ASAP who hates you enough to want to kill you — and I wouldn't want any other paper getting the news before the Planet."

"Rest assured, Jeff — as soon as I've got something printable, the Planet will be the first to know."

"OK. Glad we got that straight."

"Yes." Seeing a welcome opportunity to change the subject, she seized it quickly. "Um…Jeff? You know I told you I just got my memory back?" He nodded, and she took a deep breath; there didn't seem to be any other way to say this other than to come straight out with it. "Well, the truth is, my real name is Lois Lane." She stopped and waited for his reaction.

He stared. "*The* Lois Lane? The one who disappeared in the Congo?"

"That one, yes. It's a long story, but basically I lost my memory when I was out there and got picked up and brought back here with a different identity. I've been living under that identity ever since, until Clark recognised me."


"Yes, he bumped into me at the club, and recognised me from pictures and from that double who claimed to be me a while back. Ever since then he's been trying to make me remember who I am."

"But I thought she was dead."

"I guess a lot of people thought that. Actually, in a way I was, considering the life I was leading as Wanda Detroit. But that's all behind me now — at least, mostly it is — and here I am, Lois Lane, in the flesh. Back to my old self and ready to start living again."

"But how can you be sure-"

"How can I be sure I really am Lois Lane and I'm not just unconsciously picking up on Clark's suggestions? Because I have memories — I can remember things he never told me, things no-one but me knows. And before you ask, I'm working on getting back my stuff so that I can prove to you that I am who I say I am."

Jeff leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head. "I'm amazed. You hear stories of people who've lost their memory, but I've never heard of someone who's adopted a completely different personality at the same time. And then to get everything back again - do you have any gaps?"

"No, I'd say everything is pretty much intact. As far as I can tell, of course." Not including the two year gap she had after things blew up in the Congo, but she didn't feel like getting into that with Jeff.

"When did it happen?"

"In the cellar, of all places. I started remembering all these little snatches of conversation with people I knew, and it just suddenly all fell into place."

"Do you remember what happened to you in the Congo? I know Perry White searched for you for months and months before he finally gave up."

"I know — Clark and I went to see him yesterday. And no, I don't remember everything from the Congo — I can remember shooting and a lot of confusion, but after that it's pretty hazy."

"So how does it feel?"

"To finally know — really know — who you are? Like I've come home at last. And Clark has been great — he's been really supportive."

"Yeah, he's good at that." Jeff stood up and looked through the window at his reporter. "Always gives more than he takes." She got up and joined him at the window. Clark was staring blankly at his screen, oblivious of the attention he was receiving from the two of them. It didn't look like he was doing much work on his write-up. "Take him home when he's finished that story, Lois. He shouldn't be here in his state."

"I tried to make him stay home, but he insisted on coming in. I think maybe he needs to be here."

"Yeah, that figures," mused Jeff. "Well, I guess if you're going to be here a while, maybe you could give me something from that Lex Luthor investigation you two have been working on. You must have enough material by now for a story."


"And pass on anything you get on the bomb story to John - he's running the main story."


"No buts, Lois. I'm not taking the story away from John, and for the moment, you're still just a researcher here. We'll see what we can do about getting you your old job back when the dust has settled around here, OK?"

Lois bristled at the unfamiliar sensation of not managing to hold on to a front-page story. A raised eyebrow from Jeff told her she'd reached the boundaries of patience with him, however, so she gave a grumbled "OK," and vowed not to let this happen again once she was back in the saddle.


Thick black smoke. Sirens. Glass everywhere. Rubble. Bodies. Blood. Screams, always-


He jerked back to the present. A hand on his shoulder — he twisted around in his seat to find Lois looking down at him with concern written all over her face. "Sorry. Guess I was miles away." He pushed a smile onto his face. "What can I do for you, Ms Lane?"

"Ask not what you can do for me, ask what I can do for you."

"Hmmm." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I don't think that's quite what Kennedy said, Lois."

"Quotes were never my strong point. How's it going?" She leaned across to scan what he'd written so far. "Want some help?"

"I don't think so. I've got the bare bones of it; I just need to polish it a bit."

"Clark, you don't know what you're turning down. Lois Lane, award-winning reporter for the Daily Planet, always works alone - it's a well-known fact. I'm making a big exception for you here."

"Oh, you are, are you? That's very generous of you."

"Yes, so move over and let me at it." Without waiting, she edged onto his seat and pushed him out of the way. In faint amusement, he allowed himself to be elbowed away and sat on the side of his desk instead. She then proceeded to work through his story with him, tightening it up where necessary, chopping pieces out where he had started to wallow too much, adding bits when he wasn't clear. She was quick and efficient, and within a short space of time the story was finished and winging its way to Jeff.

"Now, was I good, or was I good?" she demanded with a mischievous smile which he couldn't help returning.

"You were good, Lois. Any time you want to write my story for me-"

"I did not write it for you! I just helped you finish it."

"Just kidding, Lois." He paused. "Seriously, thanks for helping me out. I guess I had got a little…blocked with it."

She laid a gentle hand on his knee. "I know," she said softly.

Suddenly he had to swallow past a huge lump in his throat. He was going to lose it if she kept doing things like that — his emotions were always a little rocky after a major rescue, but usually he managed to ignore them by ploughing back into work. If only she'd stop being so nice to him…

"Cup of coffee?" she asked with a vigorous pat on his knee. "I think we've earned one, don't you?"

He nodded, grateful for the time-out she'd handed him.


Over the coffee machine, Lois enlightened Clark on her conversation with Jeff regarding her identity, and also on her disgruntlement at being ousted from the bomb story. She'd already managed to get her demolition expert onto the scene of the disaster, and was awaiting his report; it didn't seem fair that she would then have to hand the information onto someone else. Clark reassured her that the story was in excellent hands with John, but she left him in no doubt that she was nevertheless going to keep close tabs on the story. That suited him: he had a hunch about the cause of the explosion which he wanted confirmed.

Back at his desk, coffee in hand, Clark reclaimed his chair while it was Lois' turn to perch.

"So, what next? Jeff said he'd like us to give him something from the Luthor investigation, but he also said it could wait if you'd rather go home."

Jeff too — was he hiding his depression that badly? "What, go home and waste another chance for you to write my story for me?"

"You just wait until you're late for deadline and you need me to write a story for you! You'll be grateful I was able to copy your style so well."

"Copy my style, huh? And just what is that?"

"Oh, sentimental, emotional, ordinary-guy-from-Kansas kind of stuff."

"Whereas yours is…?"

"Hard-hitting, direct, rational and extremely well researched."

"I see. And the better of the two would be…?"

"Do you have to ask?"

"Humour me."

"Well, do I have to point out which one of us has the Kerth award?"


"OK. I rest my case."

"So your measure of good technique is a commercial award system."

"It's recognised as one of the highest accolades in the industry," retorted Lois haughtily.

"Which can only, by definition, award a tiny percentage of journalists working in this country. Does that mean the rest of the non-award winners are bad journalists?"

"No, of course not!"

Clark smiled smugly. "I rest my case."

"Nice try, Kent, but that doesn't mean that all non-award winners are good journalists either."

"But it does mean that some of them are — maybe even the ones who write sentimental, emotional, ordinary-guy stuff."

"See — you said it yourself: 'maybe'. Maybe they're good, maybe they're not. The day one of them wins a Kerth award, then *maybe* you'll have a point."

"Oh, I think it's only a matter of time before one of them wins a Kerth," returned Clark, pushing back in his chair with a smile.

Lois curled her lip sardonically. "You? Not a chance."

"We'll see, Lois, we'll see."

Really, he wasn't that interested in winning an award; it would be wonderful to receive that kind of recognition from his peers, but he would never actively pursue it. Still, it was a nice distraction to be able to bait Lois playfully with the possibility. She was doing a great job of lifting his spirits, although he suspected she would never admit that was her real motive in joking along with him. There was still a deep, background ache biting away at him, but at least superficially he was feeling lighter in his heart.

They turned their attention to the Luthor story Jeff wanted. Both found it difficult to put aside their feelings about the man; Lois especially. She hated him with painful intensity, and it wasn't that easy to separate that hatred and disgust from the task of writing an even-handed story in acceptable journalese. It was also frustrating that their evidence against him was in many ways very thin: they had a lot of disgruntled employees reporting harassment and intimidation techniques from his company, but they knew that he could easily transfer the blame for that onto his senior executives. Even the ex-safety officer, who had told them that he would swear under oath that it was neglect of the required safety procedures which led to two workers' deaths, was a meagre threat to Luthor's personal freedom. Blame could again be directed away from the owner of the company. His most blatant crime to date had been his own attempt on their own lives, but unless they could persuade their only witness, Emile LeFevre, to turn against his employer, they had no direct proof of Luthor's involvement in the crime.

"We should talk to Dr Klein again," observed Lois. "Find out exactly what he overheard in the lab when Lex was talking to Emile - and also what he knows about Emile. From what he said before, it sounded as though Lex was putting Emile under a lot of pressure, so maybe he's ready to talk."

"It's worth a try. Dr Klein is a witness himself, so maybe if we had him and LeFevre it might start to add up to more than just hearsay."

For the present, however, they decided to write up the information they had about LLI and its poor employment practices; it would hopefully be enough to irritate Luthor, and more importantly, challenge the accepted truth that LLI was a model employer.

Mid-way through composing the story, Lois' phone rang and she leapt up to answer it. As she had hoped, it was her demolition expert with news on his findings. Clark watched while she scribbled furiously on her notepad, interrupting now and then with sharp, pointed questions.

"I knew it!" she said, coming over to stand in front of his desk. "He says the building exploded from within itself, as if each block of concrete spontaneously blew up on its own. When I asked what could have caused that, he said it would have to be something that made the molecules vibrate very violently." She paused and pointed the end of her notebook at Clark. "You know what I'm thinking, don't you?"

He nodded; this confirmed his own hunch. "The quantum disruptor."

"Precisely. And you know who happens to have built that office block, don't you?"

"Metropolis Construction."

"And who do we know is in a competitive tender situation with Metropolis Construction?"

"Lex Luthor Industries."

"Clark, we have to get that weapon."

"How so?"

"Because if we can prove that it was responsible for the office block disaster, then all we have to do is prove that Lex ordered the construction of the weapon, and we've got him."

"Which we do how?"

"By getting Emile to talk, of course!"

"Just like that."

"Yes! Clark, what's the matter with you? You sound like you don't believe we can do this."

"Well, I'm not sure we can, Lois. What if there's something else which could destroy a building like we think the quantum disruptor did? What if we can't get hold of it? What if we can't get Emile to talk?"

"This is our best shot, Clark! We have to try — you want to get him as much as I do, don't you?"

"Yes." Every time he thought about the man, he remembered how he had treated Lois, and it made him feel dangerous; a disturbing, simmering rage would burn deep inside him. Furthermore, now that he was certain the man had been responsible for today's disaster, that rage was bubbling even closer to the surface. Yet he felt oddly defeatist about their chances of bringing Luthor to justice with this latest information. There seemed to be too many obstacles in their way, and someone as adept at evading the law as Lex Luthor wasn't going to be easily caught, even if they managed to piece together enough evidence against him. Lois was frowning down at him. "Of course I do," he added for emphasis.


"I just think he'll find a way to slither out of this."

"Oh, so we give up before we've even started trying because we think we might fail? Is that how you usually work?"

"No! It's just…" he lifted a hand, trying to find the words to express himself, but dropped it hopelessly in defeat. Maybe… "Maybe I'm just tired, Lois." He turned away back to his computer and scrolled aimlessly up and down the screen, seeing the words but not really reading them. He was aware of her standing in front of his desk watching him, then sensed her leave and walk back to her own desk. With a sigh, he made another effort to read the story before him, all the time thinking how badly he was behaving, but not able to summon the will to make amends.

After a few moments, she was back again, pulling over a chair and sitting down beside him at the computer. "Come on," she said, resting her arm over his shoulder and peering at the screen. "Let's get this story finished — then I'm taking you home." He turned to look at her in surprise. "And no arguments, OK?" she added, returning his gaze.

"What about the investigation?"

"I've given the report to John so that he can include it in his own story if he wants. We'll pick up our own hunches on it tomorrow." She looked at the screen again. "Now, where were we?"

He gazed at her profile in amazement as she studied their work. She was incredible — so kind and understanding, and amazingly patient. He didn't remember the other Lois being quite this patient, in fact she had been very impatient when he had first met her, steaming ahead with the Tempus expose with single-minded intent, then later dragging him out for the crazy shopping expedition to purchase the materials for his suit. Was she different with her own Clark, as this Lois seemed to be with him?

"Do you think we should include the stuff from that occupational therapist — what was her name?" Lois asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"Um, yes, I think we should. Dr Bancroft — here, I've got some notes."

He took over the keyboard from her and pulled up the relevant file. Together they finished off the story and emailed it to Jeff. Five minutes later, Clark's phone rang; it was Jeff, requesting their presence in his office.


"You know what I'm going to ask you, don't you?"

Clark glanced at Lois and found her doing the same thing as they stood side by side in front of Jeff's desk.

"And the answer's yes," replied Lois firmly.

"Care to expand on that, Clark?" Jeff moved his eyes from Lois to Clark.

"Ah…very definitely yes?" tried Clark. Was this some sort of code?

"Would we — Clark — send you a story where he couldn't guarantee that?" added Lois.

Clark threw his hands up demonstratively. "Exactly!" What were they talking about?

"O-kay," replied Jeff slowly. "Just wanted to be sure before I ran it. I don't mind sticking my neck out if the story deserves it, and this one certainly does if it's true. It *is* true, isn't it?"

Clark sensed Lois' hackles rise. "Chief, we just finished telling you we've got corroborating witnesses! — Jeff, I mean."

Oh, that! He was surprised Jeff felt he needed to ask, since he knew that Clark was always meticulous in his research. Perhaps he was less confident of Lois' methodology than of Clark's — well, Lois was definitely hot-headed, but Clark was positive she would never try and skimp on background work just to get a headline or two. And that 'chief' slip had been interesting — almost as if she had forgotten who she was talking to for a moment; maybe she'd had similar conversations with Perry in the past.

"OK, OK!" answered Jeff, holding up both hands in mock self-defence. "When we print a story which says that the company which is lauded time and time again as a model example of modern staff relations is actually one of the worst companies in Metropolis to work for, I get a little picky. I guess none of the other papers will be running this?"

Lois snorted. "I doubt it! Lex's PR machine has got them all believing what he wants them to believe."

"Good! So we have an exclusive. I'll call up the guys in advertising."

"Just tell them not to bother trying to sell any space to LLI," suggested Clark with a half-smile.

"Yeah, and I hope we haven't got any booked already," agreed Jeff. "So, Clark — or should I say Lois and Clark? What else is there to come on the Luthor story? I guess you're going to tell me he's an axe-murderer next?" he finished sardonically.

Clark grimaced. "You might not be so far off the mark as you think."

"You're kidding! The guy's still supposed to be a shoo-in for Businessman of the Year."

"Funny — that's not on my list of names for him," remarked Lois sourly.

Jeff looked sharply at Lois. "We are being objective here, aren't we?"

Lois pursed her lips but didn't answer him. Clark knew exactly how she felt; it was impossible to be completely objective where Luthor was concerned. He was tempted to link hands with her in support, but wasn't sure whether she'd welcome the gesture; this morning was still fresh in his mind, and anyway, it was perhaps a little soon for public displays of affection. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets instead.


Could he answer his editor truthfully and say that he was being objective? He wanted to bring the man to justice and prevent him hurting anyone else, but would he do it without considering all possible viewpoints and acting as fairly as he could?

"You know I'm always objective, Jeff," he answered eventually, having reached the conclusion that he needed more time to examine his motivation.

"That's not an answer, Clark, and you know it isn't, but for now I'll let it pass. The moment I catch a whiff of personal bias, though, I'll be down on you like a ton of bricks. OK?"



"Hey, I'm just the researcher around here."

"And if you think that lets you off the hook, think again. You're working on this together, so you take equal responsibility. Which reminds me, Lois — I see you're sharing the by-line with Clark on this story-"

"I am?"

Clark smiled, pleased to have caught her out on this. "I snuck it in when you weren't looking." He had thought it only fair that she share the credit on the story, after all the hard work she had put into it — not to mention the fact that she'd written more than half the story herself.

"That's fine," answered Jeff, "except maybe you want to consider letting the rest of the staff know you're back before they read it in their own newspaper?"

Clark winced. He'd been so keen to share the story with her, he hadn't stopped to considered the consequences. "Sorry, Jeff — I should have thought of that."

"It's OK, Clark — your motives were good. So what about it, Lois? You want me to make an announcement?"

Clark wasn't surprised to see Lois pull a face. "Couldn't you just send around a memo? I don't want a big fuss made."

"Sure! But I should really put something in the paper as well — do you mind if I put in a small piece somewhere on the inside? Nothing elaborate; just a quiet notice that you've returned and we're delighted to have you back. You can read it before it goes out."

"And change it if I don't like it?"

Jeff raised an amused eyebrow. "Maybe you'd like to write it?"

"Nah — I'll leave that to you, Jeff. You'll do it much better than I would."

"Why, thank you, Lois. That's very generous of you."

"Takes one to know one — a good writer, that is."

Clark looked at Lois in amusement, but she was maintaining a very deadpan look.

Jeff bowed solemnly. "And thank you again."

"No problem." She turned to leave, giving Clark a wink as she passed him.

"And, Lois?" added Jeff, waiting for her to turn around again, wearing a deadpan look of his own. "Any time you want to call me 'Chief', as in 'he who is in charge', is just fine by me."

Clark laughed, licked a finger quickly and scored 'one' for Jeff in mid-air. Lois gave a sickly-sweet smile and continued on her way out. Jeff shook his head slowly, chuckling wryly to himself. "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into, Clark."

"Oh, I think I do, Jeff. I think I do."


Lois grabbed the remote control as the film credits began to roll up the TV screen, and turned the sound down. Stretching and yawning, she looked over at Clark. He was slumped almost horizontally on the sofa, his eyelids drooping and head nodding closer and closer down onto his chest. She was pleased to see him so relaxed at last, after all her efforts during the remainder of the day to help him overcome the weary depression which had obviously been eating away at him since the rescue. That conversation they'd had at the Planet, when he had just seemed to give up completely on their chances of catching Lex, had really worried her — once she'd got over her own frustration at his attitude. Clark wasn't a quitter, and his defeatist attitude was so out of character that she'd been forced to conclude that he'd simply run out of emotional resilience. She'd decided then and there that he wasn't fit to be at work any longer; he needed peace and quiet to decompress after the stress of dealing with so much human pain and suffering.

Once she'd got him home, they hadn't said much about it at first; he had seemed to want to avoid the subject and she had allowed him to, until after dinner they had caught a brief update on TV about the disaster, which hadn't told them anything new, but had mentioned in passing that all the rescue workers involved were being offered professional counselling to help them cope with any post-traumatic stress-related problems. Lois had snorted and asked Clark pointedly if he'd had his phone call yet. Of course he hadn't: no-one would think of offering support to Superman, an unofficial, unpaid, ad hoc helper who was outwardly invincible. Clark had told her he had very mixed feelings about the efficacy of psychiatric help anyway, which had surprised her, but the TV piece had prompted her to ask him a hypothetical question: what would he tell a counsellor if he were given the opportunity? He had spotted her ruse immediately and fobbed her off with dry humour, but she had persisted until at last he had begun to unbend and tell her what had happened.

She went through horror, sorrow, frustration, and anger with him, making him repeat and clarify every detail of the aspects which hurt the most, until at least some of his hurt was replaced by irritation towards her for being so slow to grasp what he was telling her. When he was completely irritated with her, she attacked his guilt, which was the hardest to deal with because it was so insidious. Even while he was agreeing with her that he had no reason to feel guilty, she could see the self-flagellation in his eyes. In the end she had had to admit to herself that this need to always have done better was simply part of who he was; it would never go away, and the best she could do was to ameliorate the pain and feelings of inadequacy.

Finally, he had let her simply hold him, in the same spirit as when he had first returned from the rescue. Sitting quietly beside him, one arm around his waist while the other clasped his hand, she was relieved that there didn't appear to be any physical barrier between them; after the morning's episode in the shower she had wondered whether he might reject her embrace. Of course, she was well aware that this was an entirely different touch; there was nothing sexual about it whatsoever, but at least they hadn't lost the familiarity which had been a welcome part of their friendship for some time.

However, they were about to hit another problem which she was pretty sure Clark hadn't even thought about. Last night had been the first time they had shared a bed together, officially anyway, she thought wryly, remembering her sneak into his bed the previous night when he'd been sleeping. Where were they both going to sleep tonight?

With the rescue following close on the heels of this morning's debacle, she hadn't been able to ask him how things had gone when he had disappeared off to visit whom she had supposed was his shrink. That theory was now looking a little shaky, considering his bitter comment about psychologists earlier, but whoever it was, she had no idea if he had resolved his problems or whether he was still sitting on yet another difficult personal issue. Giving him space to work things out was all very well, but where did it leave her? Not knowing for certain if he loved her even though he claimed that he did, not knowing what bothered him about making love in a shower in the morning, and not knowing where she was sleeping tonight - that's where it left her, she thought with a degree of annoyance.

Two things were certain, however: she loved him, and she wanted to sleep next to him. She glanced at her watch. "Time for bed, I think," she announced.

"Hmmm?" He roused himself and pulled up straighter in his seat. "Bed, did you say?"

"Yeah. Some of us look like we need it — a lot."

"Sorry — I just can't seem to keep my eyes open. Did the good guys get the bad guys?"

"Yes, and the girlfriend moved back in with the lonely one, and the good-looking one married the sister."

"There was a good-looking one?"

"Yes — and don't try and pretend you don't know what women find attractive in a guy, because I know you do."

"Yeah, well…"

Lois stood up. "So…um…shall I take the bathroom first?"

"Sure. I'll just tidy up around here and lock up," he answered, looking up at her from the sofa with sleepy eyes. Lois doubted that: he didn't look like he was going to shift unless she forced him to. Sure enough, when she returned from the bathroom, he was still sitting there, except now with his eyes closed. She picked a hand and hauled on it. "Come on, Clark — you're sitting on my bed."

There: she'd forced the issue now. He frowned up at her. "What?"

"My bed: you're sitting on it."

"But…" She could see him fuzzily trying to process what she'd said, and waited patiently while letting her grip on his hand loosen. "Don't you want to…I mean, I thought we…you know?"

"Know what, Clark?"

"I thought we'd…we'd be sharing my bed tonight," he said quietly.

"Did you? After this morning, I don't know what we're doing any more." The look of hurt crossing his face made her regret her words; she had promised him space after all, yet now she was forcing him to face the issue head on. She could have simply wandered past him into his bedroom and left him on his own on the sofa.

"Lois, that was…different. It had nothing to do with the way I feel about you."

"Clark, can't you see that it has everything to do with the way you feel about me? Something has got you all tied up in knots, and you won't share it with me."


"I know — you can't." He was gazing up at her with that sincerely helpless look of his which was always guaranteed to melt her heart. "Look, I know I said I'd give you space to work it out, but-" She dropped down beside him on the sofa and put an arm around his shoulders. "Can't you understand that I love you too much to do that? I see you hurting and I want to help."

"I know," he whispered.

"So do you love me enough to let me help you?"

"I want to — believe me, Lois, I want to share everything with you. It's just this one thing…I don't know what to do."

She shook him gently. "Then ask me, Clark. We can work it out together."

"Maybe…I don't know."

At last, it sounded like she could be making progress with him, but she didn't want to push him when he was half-asleep. "OK. It's late, and you're tired, so let's get to bed now — but promise me we'll talk about this tomorrow?"

He nodded.

"And since your bed is a whole lot more comfortable than this sofa, I'll accept your tentative invitation — if you don't mind?"

He shook his head.

"All right." She stood up again and smiled down at him. "See you next door."


Clark lay on his back, staring at the ceiling and listening to Lois' even breathing beside him. He'd jerked suddenly out of his dream and now he was wide awake and not in the mood for sleep at all. Instead, he was wondering why on earth he'd let himself be talked into promising Lois he would discuss his fear of super-powered sex with her. Hadn't he decided that he couldn't burden her with this knowledge; that it would probably make her fear him? He had been going to figure out the answer, and then tell her. Had he changed his mind, or was it just that she had caught him with his guard down, tired and not thinking clearly?

But it was more than that. Her sincerity when she had told him she loved him too much to let him struggle alone had cut deep; he had been incredibly touched by her words. She had also plucked at his conscience: he could imagine himself saying exactly the same thing to her. He wouldn't be able to stand on the sidelines while she wrestled with a problem on her own, so was it fair to expect her to?

No — but was it fair to add to the burden she already carried?

He sighed softly and glanced over at his bedside clock: two thirty. He had roughly five and a half hours to figure this all out before she was awake. Carefully lifting the bedclothes so as not to disturb her, he eased out of bed and padded through into the kitchen for a glass of milk.


Lois rolled over and laid her hand on the warm hollow Clark had left in his pillow. She hadn't been positive he was awake until he got up; she'd been aware of him lying on his back beside her but wasn't familiar enough with his sleep patterns to be sure whether he was conscious or not.

So he had been awake for some time, and had finally given up the battle to regain sleep. She was surprised: he had been very sleepy when they had eventually retired to bed, and after a brief kiss on her forehead and a murmured "'Night, Lois," he had seemed to settle down for deep sleep, as she had herself.

She wasn't sure what had brought her awake again, but as soon as she was, she had wondered if he was too. A pang of guilt hit her: she was no doubt responsible for his wakefulness. She had reminded him of the issue he still had to resolve, and now he was probably next door obsessing about it.


Clark stood gazing out of the large sloping window in his lounge, glass in hand. If only he could somehow contact CK and ask him what to do, then this would be easy. He closed his eyes momentarily and tried to concentrate on the strange connection he had shared with his friend when they were in the same universe together. Nothing. He sighed. And where are you when I need you, Mr H G Wells? The time-traveller cum universe-hopper popped up, it seemed, at some incredibly inconvenient moments, but when Clark could really do with some outside intervention, he was nowhere to be found.

Which left him drawing on his own inadequate resources to sort this out. He tried to imagine what CK would have done; he didn't know how many sexual partners CK had had before Lois, but he couldn't imagine him ever taking the risk of hurting Lois or any other woman. That meant he must have figured it out while he was still a virgin. Experimentation? But that wasn't the same thing at all — he'd suspected it wouldn't be anything like the real thing, and now that he had finally experienced that with Lois, he was positive it wasn't.

So what else might CK have done? Maybe he'd just been much more confident than Clark was of being able to maintain the necessary control, and had succeeded where he himself had failed dismally. The memory of that horrible night with Sally stabbed at him again, reminding him yet again of how keeping a tight control over his urges and making love successfully seemed to be mutually exclusive activities. Contrast that against last night with Lois, and the difference couldn't be more obvious: he had been wonderfully, passionately out of control, and they had enjoyed many moments of intensely satisfying pleasure.

"Can't sleep?"

Lois. He turned slowly and found her in the gloom, standing hesitantly at the other side of the lounge in her robe. He smiled ruefully and shook his head. "Guess I've got a lot of thinking to do."

She ducked her head. "Yeah…sorry about that."

"Oh, it's not your fault!" he hurried out. "Besides, I do my best thinking at three thirty in the morning," he added wryly, gesturing vaguely with his glass. The milk slopped around and escaped with a 'plop' onto the carpet. "Oops," he said, looking down.

"I'll get a cloth."

"No, it's OK — I've got it." He sped into the kitchen, retrieved a damp cloth, cleaned up the spill, rinsed out the cloth and came back, all at superspeed. "All fixed."

Lois looked at him with a half-smile on her lips. "Those powers really do come in handy around the house, don't they?"

He shrugged self-depreciatingly. "Why take longer to do the household chores than you have to?"

"Exactly. Sounds like an excellent reason for me not to do any."

"Hey! I never said that!"

"No, but it's very logical, don't you think?"

"It's very Lois, is what it is."

She grinned impishly at him. "So is there anything your powers aren't useful for?"

He felt the grin fading from his face and turned away from her quickly to hide his shock. She can't possibly have known how close she was to the truth, but still…

"What makes you ask that?" he asked, hoping his tone was still light and in keeping with their playful banter.

"Oh, nothing," she replied airily. "Just wondering if us mere mortals can beat you at anything."

He knew she was just kidding; if certain other people had said that, like Ralph, his old editor, then he would have been deeply hurt by her question, but from Lois, it was OK. He needed to deflect this line of questioning, however, before she made him say more than he was ready to.

"Nope. Not a chance." He yawned expansively. "You know, I think I'm ready to go back to bed now. How about you?"

"Ah, so there is something," she said gleefully. "I can tell when you're fobbing me off, you know. Come on, Clark, spill the beans — what is it we can do that you can't?"

He laughed. "You don't think I'm going to tell you, do you?" he answered, moving towards the bedroom. "I'd lose my unfair advantage."

"Oh, no you don't!" She intercepted him quickly, standing in front of him. "You're not escaping to bed until you've confessed. In fact," she reached out and took his glass of milk from him, "I'll take this as hostage. Now talk, or the milk gets it." She held the glass up as if to drink from it.

He couldn't help smiling a little, but her little game had him at a loss for words. He couldn't just walk away from her, yet he couldn't think of a neutral way of answering her either. "Lois…" he began helplessly.

She lowered the glass. "Not funny, huh?"

"No, it was funny-"

"But you're not laughing." She paused, looking up at him with a slight frown. "Did I say something wrong? I was only kidding about the mere mortals thing, you know."

"I know — and it *was* funny, Lois. Come on, let's go back to bed." He moved to go past her, but she stopped him with a hand on his chest.

"No, Clark. What did I say?"

He shrugged. "Nothing."

"You know, Clark, sometimes talking to you is like talking to a brick wall — worse actually, because at least I'd know when I'd walked into a brick wall. With you, I never know when I've walked all over your feelings because you just disappear behind that protective cocoon of yours. I've tried patience, I've tried humour, I've tried cajoling you — what do I have to do to get you to talk to me? Aren't people who love each other supposed to share everything with each other?" She thrust the glass of milk at him. "Here! Maybe you can talk to that!"

He accepted the glass automatically, feeling intense dismay and guilt that he'd upset her so badly. He was trying to protect her, but instead he was making things worse for her, it seemed. Once again, he questioned his decision not to confide in her until he'd figured everything out. His overriding concern had been not to add to her own burden of emotional trauma — after all, she had only just regained her identity and was now trying to re-establish her place in the world at large, as well as deal with the aftermath of having been used and abused by Lex Luthor. But he was clearly failing; he definitely *was* adding to her burden right now. The other concern had been largely selfish: he didn't want her to fear him as some sort of uncontrollable monster. Well, maybe it was time to stop being so selfish and just accept that risk.

She began to turn away from him. "I'm trying hurt right now, in case you hadn't noticed," she said in a low voice.

"Lois!" He caught her arm gently. "I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just talk to me."

"I will. Right now, if that's what you want."

"Clark, it's what I want, but is it what you want? Don't just pay me lip service — I want the real thing."

"This is the real thing. I've been stupid — trying to protect you, when all I'm doing is hurting you. And I value your opinion a lot, so I'm not just saying this." He watched her anxiously, feeling as though he was on a knife-edge: one false move and she would turn and walk away from him. Taking a deep breath, he said the scary words. "Lois, I need your help."

"Then start by telling me what I said wrong just now," she replied immediately, her eyes burning fiercely up at him.

He met her gaze and answered her as honestly as he could. "You asked if there was something I couldn't do because of my powers."

A flicker of confusion crossed her face. "Not exactly, I didn't."

"It meant the same to me. You see, there is something I can't do."

"What?" she asked, looking even more puzzled and surprised.

But it wasn't that easy. He couldn't just blurt it out without explaining so much more to her — where to start? And was three thirty in the morning really the right time to begin telling her? "It's a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it all right now?"

Which was the wrong thing to say. She glared fiercely at him again. "Clark, if you think you're going to wriggle out of this-"

"OK. Sorry. Come on, let's sit down — this is going to take a while."

He drew her back into the lounge, and sat on the sofa while she sat on the single chair. He was grateful for the distance between them, which made it easier for him to marshal his thoughts together. If she'd sat beside him, he would have been distracted by her closeness; he still wanted to hold her, caress her, kiss her, make love with her until their troubles floated away into the night. The desire he had for her hadn't diminished at all; instead he felt it all the more deeply since last night's wonderful experience. But he had to figure out how he was going to make all of that safe for Lois first.

"My powers are…incredible," he began. "I can do things no-one else on this planet can do — I can move at close to the speed of sound, lift aeroplanes with one hand, see through things, even burn holes through things with my eyes — hear things no-one else can."

"And fly," Lois added.

He nodded. "And fly. But I didn't just wake up one day with all these powers, they developed gradually when I was a kid and right up until I was eighteen. Sometimes it was scary — I'd be looking through something, and then I'd suddenly be burning a hole in it. Or I'd misjudge my speed and break things by crashing into them. So I learned to control my powers, and by the time I was around nineteen, I'd pretty much figured out how to make them work for me rather than them taking me over."

She stretched out a hand to him across the gap between sofa and single chair; he clasped it lightly in his own. "It must have been hard, having to do all that when you were living in foster homes."

He shrugged, not wanting to delve into that time in his life at all. She was right; it had been very hard — hellish at times - but he had coped eventually, and that was all that mattered right now. "I survived. So, since then, that's what I've been doing all my life — controlling my powers."

"So is it second nature to you now, or do you still have to think about it?"

"Oh, it's definitely habit these days," he rushed out, keen to dispel any fears he might already have planted in her mind. "I don't have to think about it any more."


He paused, still holding her hand lightly. This was where he took the risk; where he planted a seed of doubt in her mind. The first time she looked at him with fear in her eyes, he would know that he should have kept this to himself. Careful not to increase his grip on her hand, he continued. "What if I lost control of my powers? Especially now that I'm so much stronger than I was when I was growing up."

"But you just said it's second nature."

"I know. But…" He was stuck again. He glanced at her; she was sitting forward on the edge of her seat, waiting intently for him to continue. At least she didn't look disturbed by his fear of losing control yet. When he told her the circumstances, though…

"Tell me, Clark. It's OK."

He huffed nervously: it wasn't going to be OK in a minute when he told her. "There are times when everyone loses control."

"What — you mean like when you get angry? True, but I've seen you angry, Clark, and I know you wouldn't just lash out with your powers."

"There are other times," he explained, shaking his head. "Well, time really. A specific time."

"You're losing me, I'm afraid."

And he was rapidly losing his nerve. He drew a deep breath and looked directly at her. "When a person makes love. They lose control when they make love."

But instead of the dawning look of comprehension he was expecting, she just looked more confused. "So…?"

It looked like he would have to get more specific. "*I* lose control when I make love."

At some point he had let go of her hand, but now she grabbed his again. "Of course you do, Clark — wonderfully and passionately. But I still don't understand why that's a problem." Her expression had softened a lot from blank confusion to tender concern, making it easier for him to talk to her, but also more difficult, because her empathy was making his own emotions start to tumble around inside. "I mean, you must know that your powers don't go on some sort of rampage when you…" She trailed off as he shook his head miserably. "You don't know?"


"But last night…?"

"I didn't have my powers."

"So…" He could see her thinking hard, trying to make sense of his disjointed explanation. "That means…if you don't know…Clark, was last night your first time?"

Feeling a flush rising up his face, he nodded. "More or less."

"Oh, Clark! But I thought…Mayson, surely?"

"We never got that intimate."

"Never…but I thought she was your girlfriend?"

"She was, but we just didn't…reach that point, I guess."

"But there was no-one else before her? You said 'more or less'?"

He hesitated. He'd never told her about Lana, not because he wanted to hide anything, but simply because the subject hadn't come up. Sally was a long time ago, and apart from that awful night, hadn't really been in his thoughts since college. Not to mention that talking to Lois about his ex-girlfriends wasn't exactly easy. However, tonight was the night he shared everything with Lois, so… "There was a girl at college. But…I couldn't. Or wouldn't. Well, couldn't, in the end."

"What happened?"

"I was so scared of hurting her — I thought if I held back, kept tight control, then maybe it would be OK, but it wasn't. Oh, I didn't hurt her, of course! — out of control powers never became an issue. But…I couldn't…I lost my…" He gave up with a nervous laugh. "Well, you get the picture."

Snatching a glance at her, it didn't look as if she did. "Everything went…limp." God, this was difficult!

Staring at the carpet, unable to meet her gaze, he heard her sudden comprehension. "Oh! Well…well, that happens sometimes, Clark. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you."

"Try telling Sally that."

She stood up slowly and came to sit beside him on the sofa, and for a moment he wasn't sure if he was happy having her so close to him after such an embarrassing revelation. But she merely took his hand in both of hers, asking him silently with her eyes if he was OK with it, and actually he was; it was comforting instead of discomfiting.

"How did she take it?" she asked.

"Angrily," he answered bitterly. "I mean, I guess she had every right to be, after I treated her so badly. You see, I'd been holding off for ages before we…you know."

"Because you were afraid of hurting her?"

"Yes. I should never have let things go so far, but it wasn't really until it was too late that I realised I should have stopped."

"But, Clark, how do you even know there's a problem in the first place?"

"I don't! But I can't take the risk of hurting someone…hurting you, Lois."

"Clark, I know you'd never hurt me. Not like that, anyway."

"But when I lose control, who knows what could happen?"

"Oh, Clark. I guess this explains the shower this morning?"

He nodded. "I'm so sorry, Lois. After Sally, you'd think I would have learned my lesson — I shouldn't have led you on like I did."

"Clark, I was the one doing the leading! I came on so strong to you, you didn't stand a chance against me — I should be the one apologising here. And you know — I'm so relieved! You've no idea what crazy, weird things I was imagining. I thought maybe you had some weird psychological hang-up to do with sex and showers and ex-girlfriends — or even a religious objection to making love in the mornings. Believe me, this is a lot easier to cope with than the stuff I had in mind!"

"I'm sorry for putting you through all that. I had this stupid idea that I was protecting you, when all I was doing was making things worse for you."

"It was the not knowing, Clark. You left a void, and I filled it the only way I could — with guesses and speculation. If you'd just told me what the problem was, we could have been having this conversation this morning instead of nearly twenty four hours later. You wouldn't have had to spend all day obsessing about it, and I wouldn't have been having doubts about our relationship."

"Doubts?" He understood that she would be hurt, but he didn't realise he could have jeopardised their relationship together.

"Well, what was I to think? You turned away from me and refused to tell me anything. What do you think that told me about how you felt about me? You'd told me you loved me, but I was beginning to doubt whether you really meant it."

"Lois…I never realised." He was horrified — to think that he had made such a huge mistake, and if he hadn't come to his senses, they might have drifted further and further apart. "What do you think now?" he asked, fearful of her answer but needing to hear it.

"I think you think you love me. I'm not sure whether you really do or not."

"Lois, I do! Please, you have to believe me. I was stupid - incredibly, completely stupid and I wish I'd done things differently, but I didn't. I'm still learning how to make this work for us, and I don't always get things right, but surely you have to see that I love you?" He had to fix this; there was a seed of panic growing within him, telling him that he had to convince her right now that he was genuine, or it was going to be too late. But surely she couldn't fail to see it, after everything he'd done for her? "I love you with all my heart," he expanded for emphasis.

"Clark, you say that so beautifully, but-"

"Because I mean it, Lois! I know it's not easy for you to trust anyone after everything you've been through, but think of everything we've been through together, and all the things I've done for you — just because I love you."

"You loved the idea of me, maybe. And this isn't about trust, Clark — I'd trust you with my life. It's about you understanding the difference between thinking you're in love and actually being in love. Yes, you've done such a lot to help me and I'll never be able to repay you enough, but you admitted yourself that your motive was to find the woman whose picture and reputation you'd fallen in love with. So now your dream's come true: here I am, in the flesh, memory intact and even living with you."

"Is that really what you think? That I've somehow recreated you the way I want you and now I'm going to play at being in love with you? You think I'm no better than Lex Luthor?"

She dropped his hand. "Oh, come on, Clark! That's not fair. Of course I'm not comparing you to Lex — you and he are like night and day. I'm just saying that maybe you aren't in touch with your real feelings about me."

"Lois, I made a mistake! I admit it, I misjudged things completely and I ended up hurting you. But believe me, I *know* I love you; I love you so much it hurts — *I* hurt when you hurt, *I* cry when you cry. Maybe not on the outside, but on the inside it tears me apart. Last night when you cried after we made love, I was so devastated I could hardly speak. When I think of everything Luthor put you through, I hurt with you. When I think of the time you've lost, the years you can't recall, I feel that loss too." He paused to catch his breath. Emotion was robbing him of the air he needed to speak, and he desperately needed to speak; to tell her how every fibre of his being felt the same towards her. "Does all that sound like I'm playacting at love?"

"Maybe not."

"And does it help you to know that it was more important to me that you got your memory back than if you even liked me, let alone loved me, when you did?"

He saw her eyes widen for a second. "Really?"

Hoping that perhaps he'd got through to her at last, he pressed home his point. "It would have hurt like hell, but if you'd gone out of my life that would have been bearable as long as you were happy. That's all I ever wanted, Lois — to make you happy, because I love you."

She drew away from him and stood up to walk over to the large sloping window overlooking his balcony. He watched her across the darkened room, her back turned to him as she gazed out into the night. There was no clue to tell him what she was thinking; perhaps he had repelled her with his protestations, or perhaps she was composing a kind way to let him down, to let him know he had failed to convince her.

"So what are we going to do about this problem of yours?"

She was still facing the window, and he wasn't sure if he'd heard her correctly — and if he had, what did it mean? Did she believe him, or was she giving up on the discussion and just skipping onto a new subject. "Lois?"

She turned around. "I mean, I love you a lot, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to stay celibate just because you think you can't have sex when you're superpowered."

"Does this mean…?"

She began to come back towards him. "And I'm pretty sure - if last night is anything to go by — that your love for me is as strong physically as it is emotionally, so I can't see you wanting to miss out on that either."

"You believe me?" He was on his feet and gathering her into his arms even before he'd finished speaking.


He kissed her. Over and over, he kissed her, his relief making him incoherent with half-finished sentences in between his kisses, telling her how happy he was and how relieved he was, but most of all, how much he loved her.

Lois pulled away eventually, laughing softly. "It's OK, Clark, I believe you," she chuckled.

"Just wanted to make sure," he smiled back at her.

"Oh, I think you did that pretty thoroughly. But you have to promise me you're not going to do this again, all right?"

"Believe me, I don't want to go through this again."

"But do you promise? Promise that next time you have a problem you'll share it with me, and not shut me out?"

"I promise."

"Even if you think I've got enough problems of my own to handle?"

He hesitated. He didn't think he could promise that; his desire to protect her was too strong. How could he foresee what they might face in the future, and what he might have to do to keep her safe? OK, this time he'd made a poor choice, and he would certainly learn from his mistake, but he couldn't guarantee to tell her everything no matter what the cost was. "I'll try. I promise I'll try."

"You'll try," she repeated back at him sceptically.

"I'm new at this — we're both new at this, Lois," he answered in the most conciliatory tone he could muster. "We forget how little time we've had together — it seems like a long time because of all we've been through these past few days, but that's all it is: a few days. I can't promise to get everything one hundred percent right, but I can promise to try." Which was honest, if not exactly the whole truth, since he was answering a different question to the one she was asking.

"Hmmm. Well, I guess that'll have to do — for now. We may return to this subject at a later date."

So he hadn't managed to deflect her completely with his oblique answers — he should have expected no less from Lois Lane. At least she was letting him off the hook for now, though. He smiled. "I'll consider myself forewarned."

"You do that. But right now, we have to figure out your so-called problem."


"Yes, so-called." She sighed. "To be honest, Clark, I don't even know why you think you have a problem. You're so tender and gentle when you make love, I just don't believe you could ever hurt someone, powers or no powers. OK, so last night you weren't 'super', but there were plenty of times you could have hurt me even then — and you didn't."

"But that was different."

"I don't see how. You must have been exercising some sort of control."

"Maybe, but I wasn't controlling what I was doing, really - just not…you know."



She was shaking her head at him as if he'd claimed he had two heads, but it was no more than the truth. Controlling superpowers just wasn't anything like what he'd been doing the previous night. His thoughts went back to CK again: he would understand where Clark was coming from with this. He wondered crazily how long it would take to build a dimension-hopping device. But that was silly, and anyway, if CK could work things out on his own, then he should be able to as well.

"If you only knew, Clark," Lois was saying, "how different that makes you. A lot of men wouldn't even try, let alone succeed in doing what you did for me — especially considering that was your first time."


"But nothing, Clark." She reached up and pulled him down into a kiss — except that this was a deep, sensual kiss which took him by surprise at first. But when the tip of her tongue requested entrance, and then met the tip of his, he was soon carried along with her passion. How easily she warmed and excited him, he thought briefly as he let her taste and explore him. Just a touch, or even just the nearness of her, could make him want to drown in her kisses.

Breaking off into playful pecks, she commented slyly, "You kiss pretty well, too."

"You make it easy," he answered, pulling her back for more. Yet even as he was enjoying more of their close, unhurried caresses, he was searching for the answer to the seemingly unanswerable question, afraid that this intimacy was as far as they could go for the foreseeable future. His body wanted more, and so did his heart - but what could he do? Correction: what could *they* do? he thought, remembering his promise to Lois.

He sensed her draw away from him again, and let her separate until she was standing at arm's length from him. She had a small smile playing on her face which made him wonder what she was thinking.


Instead of answering him, she undid her robe and let it fall to her feet in a puddle. He swallowed — he still didn't know what she was thinking, but she looked so lovely it was immaterial. Her nightdress looked almost black in the dimly-lit room, but he knew it to be a dark maroon, the lacy bodice outlining her breasts and passing over her graceful shoulders with the thinnest of straps, while the rest of the garment flowed down from the bodice to the floor, skimming her hips and flat stomach. She was almost more beautiful clad in the nightdress than with nothing on at all.


As if she had read his mind, her fingers slowly gathered up the material underneath them and began to lift the nightdress up. What was she doing? Was she trying to torment him; show him exactly what he couldn't have until he sorted himself out?

"Don't," he whispered.

But she merely smiled gently at him, and he was powerless to stop her. "Shhh," she soothed, lifting the garment further to reveal slender legs melting into rounded hips. "It's OK." And with that, she pulled it up over her head and let it trickle from her fingers to the floor.

His breath caught in his throat. Her curves and rounded shapes were all the more tantalising for being half-obscured by the dim light. The swell of a hip, the in and out of her waist, a glancing beam on one shoulder, and dark hair framing her softly smiling face. If this was torture, then he could stand it for a few minutes more.

She came back to him and pressed up against his chest, reaching up with her hands to draw him into another kiss. His bare skin tingled with heat everywhere she touched it. He let himself fall under her spell for a little longer, knowing he would have to break the magic soon, but wanting these moments of tender intimacy to last and last. Her motives were still unclear to him, but as his arms circled automatically around her slight frame, his hands caressing her smooth, soft skin once more, it didn't seem to matter.

When her hands began to slide down his sides and her kisses travelled down his neck and over his chest, he began to think that perhaps it did matter. His body was beginning to respond inevitably to her delicious touch, and he really didn't want to repeat this morning's disaster in the shower. When her thumbs hooked inside the elastic of his sleepshorts and began to tug downwards, he couldn't remain silent any more. Putting his own hands over hers, he murmured, "Please — no, Lois."

"It's OK, Clark," she murmured back. "I only want us to be close. That's all right, isn't it?" She resumed her gentle, feather-light kisses over his chest, making it difficult to think clearly.

"But you know I can't-"

"I know. But we don't have to stop being close like this, do we?"

"I guess not," he agreed foggily, her hands slipping easily from his unresisting grasp.


Clark allowed himself to be led in tiny stages to greater and greater intimacy. Lois was always one step ahead of him, encouraging him and teasing him with gentle humour, helping him to forget his nervousness and fears. It wasn't long before he realised that he was completely naked before her. "Lois," he protested half-heartedly. Part of him knew exactly where she was probably heading with her kisses and caresses, and thought it was probably not a good idea to let her go much further, but the other half of him was refusing to acknowledge that knowledge, preferring to let the spell which Lois and the late hour had cast carry him carelessly along to who knew where.

"It's OK. We're just being close," she repeated. "By the way, did anyone ever tell you how nice you taste?" She kissed his stomach and lapped at his skin with her tongue, making him shiver with pleasure. "Mmmm," she purred. "Very nice."

"Yeah…" Being close was certainly very, very nice indeed. He relaxed into this gentle way of sharing their bodies, safe in the knowledge that nothing more was expected of him, ignoring the little voice at the back of his conscience telling him that he was kidding himself. This was familiar territory, after all; he'd played this kind of game many times over with Lana in the past. He knew where the boundaries were; knew how far they could go, and even better, he and Lois had already made love together, so that terrible, aching, urgent need to break through the intimacy barrier wouldn't be a problem — would it?

"Relax, Clark," she murmured, soothing her hands up and down his thighs. "Are you enjoying this?"

"Yes," he breathed, reflecting that there wasn't a tense muscle in his body. "I'd like to do the same for you."

"In a few moments. I haven't quite finished yet."

"OK." He closed his eyes and let her kisses soothe and energise him all at the same time. Of course, he and Lana had never gone quite this far together, but he'd never felt so contentedly sexy and un-pressured with Lana as he did with Lois. He trusted her completely, and she understood him like Lana never did. Her caress stopped briefly and he waited for her to rise up in front of him again so that he could return her favours.

Instead she did something very intimate and unexpected.

He froze. "Lois," he began in a tight voice — this was too dangerous. 'Told you so', said the little voice in his conscience.

"Relax, Clark, relax." She was making him dizzy with arousal, and her next words sounded almost reasonable if he ignored his conscience. "I only want to kiss you."

And why not? Except…he looked down at her, to discover her kneeling before him, smiling smokily up at him. A shiver of excitement ran through him and his conscience ebbed away; her touch wasn't enough to inflame him right to the edge, but it was enough for his feverish libido. His imagination ran wild, and suddenly he wanted everything he had imagined; the arousal in her eyes told him how much she wanted it too. Why not let them both have what they wanted?

He wrenched his waning conscience back to the front of his mind again. "But what if I-"

"Lose control? I think you're more likely to fall over than hurt me!" she answered with a broadening smile.

She had a point — already his legs felt like jelly.

"Trust me," she said, while he was reflecting that he did, she calmly began to take enact the pictures in his imagination. His fear of hurting her faded away; she was in control of him, taking him in waves of rising and waning arousal closer and closer to the precipice, never so near that he toppled over, but close enough that soon he was helpless under her attentions, gasping when she took him again and again by surprise, moaning when she made him wait for more.

He could never have explained afterwards how she did it, but eventually he found himself following her willingly into the bedroom. All he knew was that at that point, he was convinced that they were merely finding somewhere more comfortable to continue their kissing and caressing. It was the logical thing to do.


Lois led her reluctant lover further and further down the inexorable path which her plan dictated he follow, taking bold, daring steps when she thought he needed her to, or making soothing noises and reassuring him when he faltered.

As soon as she had understood his problem, she had known that he was wrong. There was simply no possibility that Clark Kent, the most gentle, kind, considerate man she'd ever met, could hurt someone during intercourse. Everything he had done last night told her that, not to mention all that he had said to her and everything he'd done for her since they met.

She could just about understand where he'd acquired this idea - as he had explained, he spent his whole life controlling his powers, and she supposed that although through practice that control was second nature to him now, sex was completely new to him. Practice wasn't an option, so it was the one sphere of activity in his life where he simply had no experience to draw on. Self touch wasn't exactly the same thing, although she would have thought it would have been a fairly good indicator. Still, he was convinced he was dangerous, and it was up to her to prove him wrong.

And the final turning point was when she at last made him understand about trust: he had agreed readily that he trusted her completely, and she had told him over and over that she trusted him. The connection she had hoped he would make between those two facts, and seemed to eventually, was that, therefore, he could trust himself.

So when he let out a soft cry against her shoulder, she was overjoyed; in those last few moments, she had sensed how helpless he had been in the grip of his own need for her. She was certain he had let himself reach the point where he couldn't have stopped even if he'd wanted to; she knew she was witnessing him raw and uncontrolled.

It was a gift of trust and love which filled her with tender happiness.

When it was over, he collapsed, trembling, in her arms. He was heavy, but for a short while she could bear it.

"That was wonderful, Clark," she reassured him. "I told you that you couldn't hurt me." When he didn't answer, but merely continued to quiver in her embrace, she patted his shoulder gently. "Hey! You're not going to go all soft on me and start crying, are you?"

He raised his head up from her shoulder and looked down at her with over-bright, shining eyes. "Who, me?" he asked shakily. "Supermen never cry."

"But maybe Clark does," she suggested softly, stroking the hair away from his forehead. "You've been holding onto this for a long time, haven't you?"

He nodded. "I guess." His head dropped down again and she waited until he was ready to continue, playing with his soft hair under her fingers. After a moment he looked up at her again. "Ever since I figured out that sex was more than a way of making babies, really. Not that I was obsessed by it — mostly I just didn't think about it. I mean, for a lot of my life, it was pretty irrelevant, and there was plenty of other stuff to figure out. But it was always there, you know?"

"Kind of nagging away at you."

"Exactly." With that, he rolled off to the side, propping his head up on one hand. "So I guess it just built up and built up, until…"

"Until some mad, sex-crazed woman came along and attacked you in the shower one morning?" she asked with a harmless grin.

"Yeah, kind of. But you know, if you want to try that again some time…?"

"Count on it." She stretched up an arm and stroked the side of his face gently. "So, you're OK with this now? No lingering doubts?"


"Because you were pretty out of control at the end there."

"Yes — thanks to you, Lois. You really turned me on when you were saying all those sexy things to me."

"That was the general idea," she smiled.

He leaned over and kissed her softly. "I can't thank you enough for what you did for me tonight. I was really messed up over this — you don't want to know what crazy ideas I was thinking of to try and fix it."

"I don't? Try me." And he better give her a straight answer, she thought suddenly, after everything they'd talked about tonight.

She detected the tiniest of hesitations before he answered her. "I asked Dr Klein if he could make a device to take away my powers temporarily."

"Clark! You didn't?" He nodded. "Is that where you went this morning?"


She was shocked that he would have been prepared to hurt himself just so he could make love with her. And… "You didn't tell him why, did you?"

"No! Anyway, he refused on ethical grounds."

"Good for him. Clark, never, ever think of doing anything like that again, will you?"

"Like I said — I was going a little crazy about it at the time."

He certainly had been! It made her realise just how fragile his emotions and thinking processes had become — which was understandable, when she thought about it some more. In just two short days, someone had tried to kill him, he'd been seriously ill for probably the first time in his life, been through hell with her as she struggled with her own problems, worked on one of the most traumatic disasters Metropolis had seen for years, and still had the threat of Lex Luthor to deal with. Not to mention the fact that Mayson had died in his arms only weeks ago, and Lois reckoned his difficult childhood hadn't exactly made him the most emotionally stable person in the first place. It was a wonder he was stringing coherent sentences together, let alone reasoning clearly about a problem he'd had since early adulthood.

So she forgave him his crazy ideas. What he needed — what they both needed — was a nice long period of normal, predictable life so that they could get things back into their proper perspective. Whether life with Superman could ever be normal and predictable, on the other hand, was seriously questionable.

His hand stroking her side brought her attention back to him. "Lois, I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What for?"

"That was all pretty one-sided."

"Oh! Don't worry about that, Clark. I had a pretty good time anyway."

"Still, how about if I…?" To her surprise, his hand slid slowly down her torso.

She hadn't anticipated this. To be so considerate towards her after his own tremendous emotional release was something she had never expected of him. How could he manage to remember her needs after everything he'd just gone through himself? Well, she already believed in his genuine and deep love for her, but if ever she needed affirmation of that love, this was surely it.

Silently, she nodded.

His fingers trickled softly over her. She was mesmerised by his touch, gazing up into his quietly confident, loving features with wonder. This was her Clark from last night, gently taking control and leading her into new realms of experience. His generosity was so unexpected and so tender, she couldn't speak; all she could do was submit and allow him to cast an electric spell over her. His face bent over hers, and she felt his hot breath briefly on her face before his lips touched hers and slowly pressed her into a deep kiss. Her mouth opened without request, and his tongue delved sensually into her depths.

Bliss. Sweet, unadulterated bliss.

They made love twice more; intense, wild love, but this time it was Clark who took the initiative, using his new-found confidence to breath-stealing effect.

Later, they sat entwined in each other's arms, Lois resting her head on Clark's shoulder.

"Clark, that was…" Words failed her.

"I know. You were amazing."

"*I* was amazing? Clark, what we just did — nothing like that's ever happened to me before."

"OK — we were amazing."

"Yeah." The single word turned into a yawn.

"Maybe we should get some sleep."

"Sounds like a good idea. What time is it, anyway?"

"You don't want to know."

"Is it worth going to sleep?"

"Just barely. You want me to fix the bed first? It'll only take me a second, and you have to admit, it's a little messed up."

She smiled against his shoulder. "OK. That would be nice."

She had barely crawled off the bed before, with a blur of movement, he had finished and was lying in bed with the covers turned down on her side. "Care to join me?" he asked, smiling.

"It would be my pleasure."

She climbed in to the fresh, crisp sheets and snuggled into him. Seconds later she was asleep.


Lex Luthor sat at one end of the long walnut dining table in his silk dressing gown, holding his copy of the Daily Planet in one hand while sipping tea from the cup in his other. On the basis that any publicity was good publicity, the article wasn't so bad, he reflected. LLI was mentioned in every other sentence, along with several oblique references to himself as owner. The fact that the article purported to be an expose of the ugly truth behind LLI's glowing record of employee relations was mildly irritating, but no more.

What raised it from mildly irritating to hugely aggravating was the byline: Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Not only had both of them survived, but she had obviously regained her memory. His poor, pathetic Wanda had finally remembered who she really was, and was no doubt completely cognisant of the little game he had played with her for so long. It also hadn't escaped his notice that she had wasted very little time in beginning her retaliation; he had no doubt that this article was only the start.

Still, ever resourceful, he already had a plan for dealing with Ms Lane and her irritating friend, Clark Kent. Laying down his cup, he picked up a silver butter knife, and with a deft flick of the wrist, decapitated his boiled egg neatly.


"Decaf, semi-skimmed, no sugar. Possibly a faint taste of coffee, if you're lucky," smiled Clark, plonking the polystyrene cup down in front of Lois' desk.

"Thanks — I need this. Everything OK?" Lois looked enquiringly up at him.

"Yeah. You know, I swear I've put that guy in jail at least twice already. He even complimented me on the ride to the station - said it was his favourite part of being caught by me."

Lois raised a sardonic eyebrow. "You don't think he snatches handbags just so he can get a free flight with Superman, do you?"

"I hope not!" he snorted. "I'd hate to think I was creating a new breed of habitual criminal."

"I doubt it."

"I mean, they're not supposed to enjoy being caught by me. Maybe I ought to try acting more sternly towards them. Trouble is," he added, leaning down to murmur quietly to her, "after last night, 'stern' just doesn't seem to be in my vocabulary any more." Which wasn't an exaggeration; he felt like walking around with a silly grin on his face all the time. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he was floating free and easy of worry. Even the depression which had overwhelmed him after yesterday's disaster seemed to have receded; he still felt anger and sadness when he thought of the human life wasted by the actions of one evil, megalomaniac man, but it no longer gnawed deep into his soul like it had yesterday.

The source of his happiness was smiling indulgently at him. Glancing around quickly to check they weren't being watched, he pressed his lips briefly to hers. More would have been nice.

"Clark!" Lois admonished him in a fierce whisper. "Not here!"

Usually, he'd agree with her, but he was feeling pretty mischievous this morning. "Relax — no-one's watching us."

"Oh, you have eyes in the back of your head now, do you? Is this another new superpower you've developed?"

"You mean like the one I discovered last night?" he asked with a wink.

"Clark! Go back to your desk and start behaving yourself," she said firmly, obviously trying to keep a straight face while she spoke.

"How about we go visit Dr Klein instead?"

"Dr Klein?"

"You know — to ask him what he heard that night at Star Labs? When he overheard you-know-who talking to you-know-who?"

"Oh! OK, but maybe we should call him first. I have a feeling he won't want us to meet him at the labs."


It turned out that Dr Klein wasn't able to meet them until his lunch-hour, which left a couple of hours to kill. They'd already pored over their newly-published Lex Luthor expose together, admiring the joint by-line and how right it looked — although Lois had remarked that it would look even better if had it read 'Lois Lane and Clark Kent', rather than 'Clark Kent and Lois Lane'. Not out of vanity, she had insisted, but because it would look less as if they were merely being listed alphabetically. That had resulted in a playful battle of wits, until Clark had heard the cry for help and flown off to catch his enthusiastic mugger.

Now, Clark decided to fill in the intervening time by catching up on some of his other stories and articles, leaving Lois to chase up some loose ends on their research.

Clark had been pleased for Lois when they arrived at the Planet this morning; several members of staff had made a point of coming up to welcome her back. He wondered if Jeff had had a word with them, since no-one probed too deeply into where she'd been, merely offering generalised sympathy and delight that she was back and looking so well. Lois had accepted their welcome with typical understated enthusiasm, but he could tell that she was touched by their kindness.

Seated at his computer, his mind kept wandering back to last night, despite his best intentions to finish some of the work he'd been neglecting for days. How patient she'd been with him, listening to him confess his private and very personal fears without ever rushing him or cutting him off short. He'd rambled on about powers and making love; she'd even made that extremely painful confession about Sally easier than he ever would have imagined. He'd never told anyone else what had happened that night — never wanted to; never would have been able to.

He wished he could have expressed his gratitude more strongly. 'Thank you' just didn't seem enough — she had done so much for him last night. Not only did she believe in him so completely, and understand him better than he understood himself — she expected so little in return, and had given him a new confidence to trust in who he was. He was different, he was alien, and that was OK.


Lois was bored. OK, it was nice sitting opposite Clark and exchanging smiles with him — and wow, what smiles! She could have sworn that last smile had been loaded with sexual undertones. It gave her a thrill to think he was so turned on by her, and for a brief second she considered doing something mildly outrageous about it, but decided that the Daily Planet wasn't the ideal place for what she had in mind. Besides, she had things to do and people to see, and it felt like she was wasting time just fiddling around with these unimportant bits of research.

She picked up her handbag and crossed to his desk. "I'll meet you at Dr Klein's cafe at lunchtime, OK? I'm going to go over to that storage facility to see what they've got left of my old stuff."

He looked surprised. "But you can't!"

"Why not? I'm not really achieving anything here, Jeff doesn't seem to have any other work for me to do, and I really need to take a look at that stuff. I'll see you at the cafe." She started towards the ramp.

She knew he'd follow her, and sure enough, he came jogging up behind her. "Lois, it's too dangerous!" Lowering his voice to a murmur, he continued, "Luthor could be looking for you. Why don't we go together after lunch?"

"Because I want to go now." She knew what he was doing, but she wasn't going to make it easy for him. OK, so he cared, and he wanted to protect her, but she had needs too — she had to get out on her own for a while and rediscover Lois Lane, the independent, confident woman with attitude.

"I'll come with you, then."

"No, you won't. Clark, I don't need a chaperone! I'll be fine."


"Look, the first hint of trouble and I'll call you, OK?" She turned away again. "Bye."

He caught her arm. "Lois, I can't let you do this." She must have given him a harder stare than she realised, because he immediately winced. "I mean, I'm scared for you."

"I know you are, but you'll just have to deal with it. Clark, I need to do this, can't you see? I need to do something on my own, on my own terms for a while." She glanced at her watch. "I'll only be gone for just over an hour."

"Kidnapping only takes five minutes," he muttered.

"Yeah, and falling out with your partner only takes two minutes. Let's just stop this now before we both say or do something we regret, OK? I promise I'll scream the second anyone comes near me, but assuming they don't, I'll see you in around an hour." She pulled away from his grasp and walked away to the elevators.

He was still standing gazing after her when she turned around inside the elevator and pressed the down button.


Clark took another sip from his drink and glanced around the cafe before settling his eyes back on the entrance again. The last hour had been pure torture; he hadn't done any more work while he sat imagining all the different ways Lois could run into danger. He had been poised to shoot out of his seat the split second he heard her voice, and several times had nearly given in and flown out to find her and track her until she came back to safety.

But he hadn't; he had seen the determination in her eyes, the steel in her voice which meant she was going to fight tooth and nail to get her own way if she had to. He didn't want an argument so soon after yesterday's, but more importantly, he had understood how important this small act of independence was to her. So he had forced himself to respect that independence — but that hadn't stopped him arriving early at the cafe, to sit nervously watching the door for her safe return.

His heart sank when Dr Klein arrived first and joined him at his table. "Clark, I'm glad I've caught you on your own, because I wanted to have a word with you about those tests."

"Tests?" Clark asked distractedly, glancing over to the door again. Where was she?

"You know," Dr Klein leaned towards him and said in a low voice, "the fertility tests."

"Ah, those. What about them?"

"Well, things are a little quiet at the Labs right now, so I have some free time. I know you said you wanted to wait a couple of days, but if you could just spare me a few minutes, I could get started right away."

"Dr Klein, I'm kind of busy…" Lois, where are you?

"Here's the sample bottle." Dr Klein started reaching into his trouser pocket.

Clark's attention swung sharply back to the scientist in alarm and grabbed his arm to stop it going any further. "Wait! Not here, please!"

"I know these aren't exactly the most conducive surroundings, but I'm sure you could use your imagination, if you know what I mean," he said conspiratorially.

Clark couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You don't mean…you want me to do it here?" Even to his own ears, his voice sounded as though it had risen about two octaves.

"Do what here?" Clark whirled around to find Lois looking down at him with an amused expression. "I didn't know you two were so close." She nodded at Clark's hold over Dr Klein's arm, the hand stuffed into the doctor's trouser pocket.

Clark let go quickly and sat back in his chair. "Hi, Lois." Well, at least it was a relief to see her in one piece, even if she had picked a singularly awkward moment to appear. Hoping to distract her, he beckoned the waitress over and they spent the next few minutes ordering drinks and food.

"So," began Lois brightly once the waitress had left, and his heart sank immediately. He knew what she was going to ask next. "What is it you don't want to do here?"

"I'll tell you later," he replied evasively. That was going to be a difficult conversation, he mused. How would she take it when he told her he'd been making enquiries into the feasibility of fatherhood? Well, maybe put like that, it wouldn't sound so bad — it didn't necessarily carry the scary implication that he was considering it with her. Which he wasn't, really — he was just checking out his options, and making sure he understood all the possible consequences of having sexual relations with her. That was all.

"You *are* remembering what we agreed?" she asked threateningly, and he sighed, feeling a faint sense of deja vu — that was the kind of thing Lana might have said to him a while back.

"Lois, I really will tell you. Honestly."

"Well, telling me honestly would be good."

He pulled a face at her. "And when was I ever dishonest with you?"

"Dishonest? Well, let me see…"

Dr Klein cleared his voice loudly, thankfully intercepting her list before she got started. "Er…you wanted to talk to me about something?"

And so the conversation turned to an interrogation of Dr Klein and what he had overheard at Star Labs the night he had rescued them. Some of it was a little vague; apparently he had heard LeFevre say something about modifying 'it' to hit Superman with 'sufficient force', and he remembered hearing Luthor crow about watching Superman topple, but he couldn't remember either of them referring specifically to the quantum disruptor in relation to Superman. When asked why he had known to come to Cedar Villas to rescue them, he couldn't quite recall; he thought he had heard them mention its planned destruction the following day, but that was all. He leapt to his own defence at that point, protesting that if they had been hiding under a desk trying not be discovered by two very dangerous men, they might not have committed every detail of the conversation to memory either.

Lois had given Clark a disgruntled glance; he knew what she was thinking — Dr Klein didn't look like he would be much use as a witness if they ever managed to drag this thing into court. His memory wasn't very reliable, and they already knew that since he had only heard the conversation and not seen either of the two men, his evidence wouldn't carry a lot of weight.

When quizzed about LeFevre, Dr Klein agreed that he had sounded very pressurised; that Luthor demanded a lot from him and he obviously wasn't happy about that. Clark asked why Dr Klein had suspected LeFevre in the first place, wondering if it had been some outward evidence of the stress the man was under, but Dr Klein said he hardly ever crossed paths with his colleague. No, he had put a trace on Superman's biodata, and the first unauthorised person to access it had been LeFevre. The explanation triggered another memory: Dr Klein still had a piece of paper he'd rescued from LeFevre's trash. Lois pounced.

"What piece of paper?" she demanded.

Dr Klein looked taken aback at her manner, eyeing her warily for a moment. "It was a set of calculations on the depletion of energy reserves," he answered finally.

"What sort of energy reserves?" she asked quickly.

"Well, you have to understand that I recognised the figures because I'd recorded them myself…" replied Dr Klein cagily.

"Superman's!" concluded Lois triumphantly.

"Yes, but like I say, there's nothing on the paper to indicate that they're his."

"But could they be anything else?" asked Clark, seeing where this was going and hoping to find some positive slant on things.

"Given that they're just pure numbers, yes."

"Great!" exclaimed Lois sardonically. "Do we have anything we can use?"

"Lois, it's not that bad," suggested Clark. "There's still a chance we could get LeFevre to talk to us."

"Knowing our luck he probably just dropped dead of a heart attack," retorted Lois.

Funny how he had been the one with the negative attitude yesterday, and now she was the one ready to give up, thought Clark ruefully. Maybe when they were both going after something at full force, they would really start to get places fast. In the meantime, he had to admit she had a point. Still, they had to try, if it meant even the smallest chance of getting at Lex Luthor.

"How do you think we should contact him, Dr Klein?" asked Clark.

"Not at Star Labs, that's for sure! What with hiding the quantum disruptor in his lab-"

"Hold on!" interrupted Lois. "You know where it is?"

Clark couldn't help smiling at Dr Klein's beleaguered look; he was receiving the full brunt of the Lois Lane treatment — despite her despondency — and suffering every minute of it. Clark knew just how it felt to be the recipient of Lois in full flow; he recalled her alternative self's persistence in persuading him to accept that flying around in a cape and tights saving people was a sensible thing to do.

"Not exactly. I know it's in his lab somewhere, because I overheard him showing the hiding place to Luthor, but it could be anywhere in there," replied the embattled Dr Klein.

"Oh, but I'm sure you could find it, couldn't you?" Lois suggested.

Dr Klein baulked. "Me? Oh, no, I don't think I could do that. I'm a scientist, not a spy. I mix things in beakers and heat them over Bunsen burners — I don't do snooping."

"But you did the other night," she pointed out.

"That was different. I thought you were in danger," he protested, nodding at Clark.

"And hundreds of people could be in danger if we don't get that weapon," retorted Lois.

"We think the quantum disruptor was responsible for yesterday's disaster," explained Clark.

"You do? Oh, my! Come to think of it, I remember hearing them say something about modifying it to target certain materials. Oh, my!" he exclaimed again with an appalled expression.

"So you have to get it for us," Lois insisted, pressing home her point. "We can take it to a demolition expert, and he can say for certain whether it could have caused the explosion. He already thinks the way it exploded looks odd, as if each block of concrete in the building spontaneously blew up on its own. He said that would have to be caused by something that made the molecules vibrate very violently."

Dr Klein was nodding slowly. "That certainly fits the quantum disruptor."

"So you'll do it?" asked Lois.

Clark took pity on the poor scientist. "How about if we came with you?" Not that he took breaking and entering too lightly himself. He wasn't exactly experienced in the field, but to catch Luthor, he'd do just about anything.

"That would be better." Dr Klein replied doubtfully, and then brightened suddenly. "Or how about I tell you where his lab is and you go without me?" he suggested hopefully.

Lois rolled her eyes impatiently. "Dr Klein, this is going to be hard enough without trying to follow your directions — and what if we need access into a secured area? At least with you there we stand a chance."

"They've probably moved it by now anyway."

Even Clark was losing patience with the man's negativity. "But they might not have," he said. "We have to check."

"When were you thinking of doing this?" asked Dr Klein.

"Um…tonight?" suggested Clark, looking at Lois for confirmation. She nodded enthusiastically, and they both turned to Dr Klein.

"You wouldn't accept a night-class in Indian dancing as an excuse, I don't suppose?" he tried forlornly.

They shook their heads in unison.

He sighed. "Mrs Patel will be so disappointed in me."


Lois glanced over at Clark as they made their way silently down the darkened corridor with Dr Klein. He looked tense and uneasy, and was glancing around all the time — no doubt looking through the walls and door with his x-ray vision to make sure they weren't about to be discovered on their illicit task. He'd even taken his glasses off, she noticed, so that he wouldn't need to keep pulling them down his nose to check. She sidled up to him.

"Did anyone ever tell you how sexy you look in black?" she whispered saucily.

"Lois!" he hissed back, looking pointedly at Dr Klein's back.

She smiled. "Just trying to lighten you up — you were looking so tense."

"Well, breaking into a weapons research lab isn't exactly my idea of a great way to relax."

"We didn't break in," she pointed out. "Dr Klein let us in."

Dr Klein turned around and glared at them. "Shhh!" he mouthed.

Really, the two of them were so pathetic! She rolled her eyes and mouthed "Sorry!" back at Dr Klein. This was nothing, just a little late-evening snooping — they had no idea what real danger was at all. They should have been with her in Ecuador, when the drug barons and their hired guns were only feet away from her hideout -

Dr Klein stopped in front of the next door and gesticulated. Clark stepped past him and stared intently at the door and walls before nodding. "All clear," he whispered.

Once inside, Clark stood in the middle of the room scanning with his x-ray vision while Lois hunted around with Dr Klein inside cupboards and cabinets. Of course, anything which was unlocked wasn't likely to yield up the quantum disruptor, Lois knew, but it was always possible that LeFevre had decided to hide the device in plain sight somehow. She turned back to Clark. "Anything?"

He shook his head.

"Well, use your imagination a little, OK?" Good, honest Clark — probably hadn't a clue what tricks people used to hide things. And he still looked uncomfortable, unlike her. She was enjoying this; it was where she belonged, digging out the answers no-one else could find, venturing where no-one else dared go, on the edge of safety — God, did that mean she was an adrenaline junkie? She shrugged; so what if she was?

He was pulling a face at her. "I am," he retorted dryly.

"Well, use it some more," she answered insistently. "If anyone can find this thing, you can."

"Thank you," he answered with a sickly sweet smile. "I'm so glad you recognised my talents at last."

"Please!" hissed Dr Klein from the other side of the room. "Don't you two ever stop?"

"Maybe when one of us is dead," suggested Lois, grinning at Clark through the gloom.

"Or when Lois stops trying to be the best at everything," returned Clark.

"I *am* the best at everything!" Well, maybe not everything, but where it counted.

"Then find this weapon for us!" Dr Klein hissed fiercely.

"OK." She forced herself to sober up. "Do you know where they were standing when you heard LeFevre show the hiding place to Lex?"

"No! I couldn't see them, remember?"

"Yes, but from where you were hiding, what direction were their voices coming from?"

"I don't know!"

Ignoring his exasperation, she barrelled onwards. "Try! Preferably before the security guard comes around on his next patrol."

"Well…" He walked over to a desk and crouched underneath it. "I was here, and their voices did swing around…"

"Yes? Right? Left?"

"To my right, I think."

Clark turned and scanned in the direction he was indicating. "Nope. Nothing there."

"No, wait! I was facing this way," Dr Klein shifted around, "because there's more shadow here, you see, and-"

"Yes?" interrupted Lois impatiently. Now was not the time for a demonstration from Dr Klein on the finer aspects of hiding under a desk.

"So they would have been more over there." He pointed again, and Clark took another look.

"Well…" Clark fell silent, walking forwards in the direction Dr Klein had indicated.

Lois scurried after him. "Well, what?" He was looking at the floor — why was he admiring the floor tiles? Surely he didn't think there'd be a secret compartment under the floor? — that only happened in the movies!

"Well, this." He bent down, hooked two fingers under a small metal ring buried in the lino and pulled up.

Lois peered in. "Well done, Clark — you found the cabling floor-box. We're looking for a weapon — you know, a thing with a trigger and a barrel and…"

While she was talking, he reached into the box, undid a couple of screws at superspeed with his bare fingers, and lifted up the metal casing. "You mean like might have been in here?"

They both gazed down at the foam padding with the empty gun-shaped hole in the middle of it.

"Yes, just like that," Dr Klein answered for her brightly, peering downwards with them. "We found it! It really worked, trying to imagine where their voices were coming from. Thanks, Lois."

Lois gave him a withering look. "We didn't find it. We found a hole where it used to be."

"Wonder why they moved it?" mused Clark, mostly to himself.

"I hope they're not planning on using it again any time soon," added Dr Klein in a horrified tone.

Lois stared at him, sensing Clark doing the same. She found herself clasping his hand in the semi-dark, fearful of where the terrible weapon might strike next.


Luthor narrowed his eyes and aimed along the sights at the figure 10 yards in front of him. Just a single pull of the trigger and it would all be over. So easy.

Too easy, in fact. This weapon had no finesse; no skill was required to operate it. At least clay-pigeon shooting required a keen eye and sharp reflexes, even if the targets were a little too inanimate for his tastes. Still, this target was very animate, he smiled with satisfaction, and so very easy to aim at — all those bright, primary colours. Again, he reflected on the poor sartorial taste of Clark Kent, aka Superman. Hadn't the man ever heard of neutral shades?

Luthor lowered the quantum disruptor and thumbed a button on the wall beside him to bring the cardboard cut-out of his favourite target back up the wire towards him. When it was close enough to reach out and touch, he smiled up at it. "The fun starts tomorrow, Mr Kent — have a good night's sleep. You'll need it."


Clark lay on his back staring up at the ceiling, absently twining his fingers in Lois' hair where she lay half over his chest. The investigation really wasn't going that well for them, he acknowledged, and for the first time since they began, he was starting to question the wisdom of their single-minded pursuit. Although she would never admit it, he knew it was taking its toll on Lois, who had been as grumpy and depressed as he'd ever known her after they'd come home from the abortive snooping exercise. She wanted so desperately to get back at Luthor for all he'd done to her, that every set-back seemed to hit her harder than the previous one. Tonight they had spent a desultory, almost mono-syllabic half-hour eating take-away pizza, then had retired to bed early by mutual consent. OK, so she was probably suffering from lack of sleep after last night, but he didn't think that could entirely account for her low morale. He wondered also how healthy it was for her to be constantly reminded of her nightmare with Luthor, to be thinking about Lex Luthor for so many of her waking hours — and no doubt some of her sleeping hours too.

Was Clark letting his own fierce, angry hatred of the man cloud his judgement? Perhaps they should hand everything over to the police and let them handle it. Then he and Lois could get on with the business of learning to live with each other, building on the foundation of love they had for each other, and leave the job of catching Luthor to the experts. Except there wasn't much to hand over, unless they admitted to the attempt on their lives, and Clark wasn't ready yet for the world to know about the existence of a weapon which could potentially kill him. Besides, Luthor would probably wriggle out of any accusations they aimed at him; he probably had three or four alibis lined up and waiting to roll if needed.

And what of Clark's journalistic integrity? He had assured Jeff the other day that he was being totally objective in his approach to the Luthor investigation, but was he? He wasn't sure that it was possible to do, given his feelings towards the man. Sure, he always tried to flip things over and view them from the other side, but all he saw in Luthor's case was more cruelty, more single-minded, heartless ambition and more inhumanity. He simply couldn't find a single redeeming quality to temper the evil he saw. Maybe for his own peace of mind, he had to dig deeper into Lex Luthor's past in order to understand what made the man behave the way he did.

His heavy sigh must have disturbed Lois, because she stirred and lifted her head up to look at him. "You too?" she asked.

"Yeah." He sighed again. "Lois, are we doing the right thing?"

"What do you mean?"

"This investigation. Chasing after Luthor on our own, breaking into Star Labs, involving Dr Klein, keeping the police out of it?"

"Yes." She was surprisingly firm with her answer. "Of course we're doing the right thing. Clark, you know how little — how *very* little," she repeated sarcastically, "real evidence we've got. It's all hearsay, or one person's word against another's. Even if we told the police about his attack on us — which we won't, because of the threat to you — he'd have a dozen alibis ready to wriggle out of it with."

Clark smiled faintly. "I thought maybe only three or four."

She returned his half-smile. "I always think bigger than you, Clark. Anyway, like I said, we're doing the right thing."

"It's just that you seemed so down tonight, I wondered…" He left the sentence dangling, not sure if the direction his thoughts were taking would upset her. He was still very aware of his recent promise not to be over-protective towards her, and he really didn't want to blow it so soon after they'd just worked things out together.

"Whether I can handle it?"

He nodded.

"Hey, this is Lois Lane you're talking to," she admonished softly.

"I know, and she's pretty formidable when she's in full flow - but I just don't want you getting hurt any more than you have already."

"I'll be fine. OK, so I'm a little depressed tonight, but I'll bounce back tomorrow morning after a good night's sleep. Anyway, what about you? You've been pretty quiet all night too."

"Me?" She had taken him by surprise, sending him automatically into denial mode. "I'm OK. I was just worried about you."

"Of course you were. Clark, did anyone ever tell you you're a fraud?"

He smiled again. "Only one person. She seems to see straight through me."

"Yeah, and if I'd been around you when you were still hiding behind that mild, reporter exterior, I'd have spotted the Superman in you straight away."

"I think you probably would have, Lois." He lifted her face up towards him and kissed her softly. "I wish you'd been around then."

"Me too. Just think of all the hours we've wasted not doing this."

He kissed her again.

And again.

And again.

"Love you," he murmured, playing with her hair again.

"Love you too," she answered, kissing his chest.

A few tender kisses later, she was asleep.


The sudden, persistent ringing of the telephone jolted Clark abruptly from sleep. Keeping his eyes stubbornly closed, he considered his options. Ignore it, because it felt far too early for anyone he knew to be phoning him, but then worry that he'd missed an important call. Answer it, then discover it was a wrong number but that he couldn't get back to sleep again.

"Don't answer it," mumbled Lois from beside him.

He sighed. "It might be important," he said, stretching over to pick up the receiver. "Clark Kent."

"Mr Kent, this is Todd Armstrong of the Metropolis Courier," said a bright, young voice. "We wondered if you'd like to tell us your side of the story? You know — on the recent attempt on your life?"

"What?" Clark sat bolt upright in bed and flung an alarmed look at Lois. "What recent attempt on my life?"

He saw her eyes go wide in surprise as he listened to the answer. "The one that's all over the front page of the Star this morning. Emile LeFevre confessed to everything in his suicide note. So tell me, Superman — what did it feel like when he shot you? I bet you were surprised. Was that the first time you'd ever experienced actual physical pain?"

Clark couldn't believe what he was hearing. Did this mean that absolutely everything which had happened to them was in the Metropolis Star? And if so, how had it ended up there? "Suicide note? You mean he's dead?"

Lois was staring at him, mouthing "Who?" frantically. He put his hand over the receiver and murmured "Emile LeFevre." The reporter was talking to him again.

"Yeah, offed himself real good, apparently. Said he couldn't live with the blood of so many innocent victims on his hands any longer."

Clark winced at the callous words — any premature death was a waste, but suicide was a particular condemnation of the society which failed that person. Casual, cruel words just weren't appropriate. And anyway, what was the guy talking about — 'blood of so many innocent victims'? He bit back a rebuff for the unfeeling reporter, merely asking "Sorry?"

"He also confessed to the Metro building disaster day before yesterday. So, you want to give us your side of the story? I mean, I guess the Planet will want to run its own story on you, but we pay better than the Planet."

"No," said Clark firmly, and put the phone down. He didn't know which was the stronger emotion: seething anger at the reporter's gall in trying to buy his story, or blind panic that the whole story was out in the public domain.

"Who was that?" asked an alarmed Lois.

"Some reporter for the Courier. Apparently the story of our night in that cellar is all over the Daily Star."

"What?! How?" demanded Lois.

"LeFevre confessed to it all in a suicide note." The phone was ringing again, and he grabbed it quickly. "Clark Kent."

Lois was repeating "Suicide note?" incredulously while he listened to the next phone call. "Superman, this is Anita Gregson from Metropolis Today. We'd like to invite you onto the show tonight so that you can tell your side of the story-"

"Sorry, but I'm not interested." He replaced the phone, and immediately it rang again. Rolling his eyes at Lois, he picked it up again. "Kent!" he barked.

"Superman — Rob Wilson, Daily Enquirer. Now that everyone knows there's a weapon out there which can potentially kill you, are you planning on giving up your vigilante status?

"I am not a vigilante," seethed Clark. "I work very closely with the police and emergency services."

"We hear the police knew nothing of this crime. Do you have any comment to make on that?"

"No. Goodbye." He replaced the receiver very firmly in its cradle, then as an afterthought, lifted it up again and laid it down beside the telephone.

Lois was staring at him. "We have to get a copy of the Star."

"Yeah, but something tells me that walking down to the local news stand isn't an option."

Sure enough, the front door bell began ringing. "Clark, don't answer it."

"This time I definitely agree with you," he said.

"Why don't you fly us to somewhere on the outskirts of the city where the reporters won't find us?"

He nodded, getting up and heading for the bathroom. "Just what I was thinking. I'll be two seconds." He shifted into superspeed, raced around the bathroom and was back in the bedroom while Lois was still fishing out clothes to wear. "All yours." Crazily, his brain still managed to register how beautiful she looked, hurrying around in the nude, but then she was gone, carrying her clothes with her.

Fifteen minutes later, they were back in Clark's apartment again, sitting side by side on the sofa with the Daily Star spread out in front of them on the coffee table. Clark read it at superspeed and groaned, flinging himself backwards against the cushions. Lex Luthor! Were they never to escape from the man? His quotes were all over the article: apparently he was devastated that one of his own employees could have been planning such a terrible campaign of destruction and murder. He was appalled that an instrument designed to make the process of pulling down old, dangerous structures easier and safer had been modified to destroy Superman and then blow up the Metro building. He was taking this opportunity to issue a public apology to Superman for the actions of his employee, and hoped that he and his girlfriend, Ms Lane, were fully recovered from their terrible ordeal. Of course, he pointed out, if Superman had seen fit to report the crime to the police, then perhaps the Metro building disaster could have been averted.

"Bastard!" said Lois under her breath. She straightened up from reading the article and looked across at him. "Everything's there, Clark."

"Except for one small detail."

"Yeah — the fact that he did all those things, and not LeFevre. And you notice how he's managed to make sure everyone knows about the quantum disruptor and what it can do to you? He's probably already got a string of criminals queuing past his door wanting the blueprints."

"Don't remind me. And I, for one, don't believe for a minute that LeFevre committed suicide, do you?"

"No, I-"

Someone began banging on the front door, and then they heard a faint voice shouting, "Superman, we know you're in there! Why don't you come out and give us an interview?"

"Because you'll just twist my words," muttered Clark angrily.

"You'll have to talk to them at some point," pointed out Lois.

He flung out a hand. "Yes, but on my own terms, and after I've figured out what I'm going to say. Besides," he flicked the wrist of his outstretched arm over to glance at his watch, "we're going to be late for work if we don't get moving soon…darn! I should have phoned Jeff; he'll be furious with us for letting the Planet get scooped. Well, I guess we may as well leave it until we're there now."

Lois stared at him. "You want us to go to work when all this is going on?"

"I'm not letting Lex Luthor interfere with my life and yours any more than I absolutely have to. Why should we dance to his tune? No — I think we should treat this like any other big-breaking story and investigate it as thoroughly as we can for the Daily Planet."

"Clark, we don't need to investigate it. We were there!"

"Yes, but we need to find out about LeFevre's so-called suicide, and why Luthor thinks he can get away with all this. The Planet's the best place to do that."

"Well, OK, as long as we also spend some time figuring out how we're going to deal with the press, and whether we're going to tell the truth about Luthor. OK, he'll deny it, but we can't let him get away with this."

"I agree." He stood up and span into his Suit, holding out a hand to her. "Ready?"

She accepted his hand. "As I'll ever be," she sighed.


Clark landed them on the roof of the Daily Planet, and they took the elevator down to the newsroom floor. Just before the doors opened, Clark edged his arm hesitantly around Lois' shoulders, unsure of whether she'd be happy with the move or not. He meant it mostly as a gesture of support rather than one of affection, but she might see it differently: they hadn't yet made their love public, after all. Looking at her, he was reassured when she smiled weakly at him and slid her arm around his waist.

"We can do this," she said firmly.

Clark was reminded of the first time he had walked back into the newsroom after revealing his true identity to Metropolis. He had dreaded it, standing in this very elevator, waiting for the doors to open onto his former colleagues who now knew that he was an alien from another planet. This time, however, he wasn't alone; this time he had Lois to share the burden with.

The doors slid open and they walked out.

Slowly, the hubbub of the newsroom died down as they walked down the ramp arm in arm. It was a horrible feeling, knowing that they were the centre of everybody's attention. Clark could feel Lois gripping his waist tighter and tighter, but a glance at her face told him she wasn't letting any of her tension show. She was looking around her in mild surprise.

"What — am I wearing this jacket back to front, or something?" she asked dryly in a strident voice clearly audible to anyone nearby. "Clark, you should have told me."

He smiled, her nonchalant attitude helping him lose some of his own tension. "It looks fine to me."

They reached their desks just as the background noise was beginning to pick up again. Eduardo came up to them as they were sitting down.

"Are you guys OK? I guess you've been hounded since daybreak, huh?"

Clark sighed. "We're fine, Eduardo, but thanks for asking. We took the phone off the hook and didn't answer the door after the first few calls."

Eduardo nodded. "I'd have done the same. Those press people can be so rude, can't they?"

"Hey, Eduardo — you're one of 'those press people'," pointed out Lois.

"Yeah, but I've been in this business so long I'm way past rude and heading back towards meek subservience."

Clark shook his head in amusement. "You subservient, Eduardo? Somehow I doubt it."

Eduardo shrugged. "You better believe it. Anyway, you take care, OK? Don't let them get you down."

"Thanks," replied Clark warmly.

"Oh, and by the way, Jeff wants to see you in his office. Now."


"You want to tell me how the Star got this story before we did? And why you've only just seen fit to come and talk to me about it now?" Their normally mild, genial editor shoved his copy of the Metropolis Star across his desk and fixed them with a steely gaze. "I thought we had an agreement, Lois."

Clark was surprised — Lois hadn't mentioned any kind of agreement between herself and Jeff. Still, he could guess what the terms were — the Planet should be the first newspaper to break the story of their incarceration. Lois didn't look like she was prepared to answer Jeff's question, so Clark tried on her behalf. "We suspect Lex Luthor fed them the story," he explained. "Look, Jeff, I'm really sorry-"

"And why would he do that?" interrupted Jeff.

Glancing at Lois for support, he ploughed on. "Because he wants to get at us."

"What, because you took his girl away from him? Sorry, but-"

Clark sensed Lois flinch beside him and felt a sudden flare of anger towards Jeff; he had no right to use such blunt language in front of Lois, and it wasn't as straightforward as Jeff was making it out to be, either. Reaching out for Lois' hand with his own, he interrupted his editor quietly and firmly. "You don't know what you're talking about, Jeff."

Jeff stopped in surprise. Clark pressed home his resolve with an unflinching stare, not prepared to give way on this even though Jeff was his boss. He saw Jeff's eyes flick down to their clasped hands, then come up to meet Clark's own eyes again. Clark continued to stare steadily until Jeff broke away to look at Lois. "Sorry, Lois. I guess that was out of line."

Lois nodded. "It was."

"But," he continued in calmer tones, "you can see where I'm coming from - the head of a major corporation here in Metropolis and a respected member of the community, finds out that one of his employees has made an attempt on both your lives *and* caused the biggest disaster this city has seen for years, so feeds that story to our competitors — all because he's annoyed at you? Doesn't that sound a tad like an over-reaction on his part? Wouldn't he prefer to suppress the story as much as he can to minimise his own bad publicity?"

"You're assuming the story's true," pointed out Clark.

"Oh? You mean you know differently?"


Jeff sat back in his large editor's chair and put his hands behind his head. "Shoot."

Clark squeezed Lois' hand gently while wondering whether they should tell Jeff the truth or not. Was telling Jeff that Lex Luthor had personally tried to kill them, and had in all probability ordered the Metro building's destruction tantamount to going public with their accusations? Or could they tell their editor in confidence, and then spend the next few days or weeks building a case against their captor? At the back of Clark's mind was the knowledge that Luthor was probably handing out blueprints of the quantum disruptor to anyone with a large enough bank account, and it would only be a matter of time before he was confronted with armed criminals against whom he had no defence. In a way, perhaps going public quickly was his best defence. But none of these were decisions he could make alone.

"Jeff, can you give us a few minutes alone?" Lois surprised him by voicing his own thoughts exactly. "We need to discuss this."

"What's to discuss?" asked Jeff impatiently. "I've got a newspaper to get out here."

"There are…issues." Clark was deliberately oblique: if they decided not to tell Jeff, then they needed to start protecting their secret now. Once again, he found himself exchanging a long look with his editor, who finally sighed and stood up.

"OK, you've got five minutes."

"We didn't mean for you to leave us here," said Clark hastily - he hadn't intended to throw Jeff out of his own office. "We'll find somewhere else."

"No, it's OK," replied Jeff, walking to the door. "I'll go do some prowling around out there. They could probably do with an unexpected visit from the boss."

Clark smiled despite the difficulty of the situation; Jeff might think he was making himself out to sound ogre-like, but more likely he'd end up perching on someone's desk sharing a good joke.


Lois shut the door on Jeff's retreating back and turned round with a determined gleam in her eye. "I think we should tell him."

A small part of Clark's mind was marvelling at how close they'd become in the past few days; they hadn't said anything to each other, but they both knew that what they were discussing was whether or not to tell Jeff that Luthor himself had tried to kill them, not LeFevre. He'd caught his first glimpse of this effortless communication when he'd met the alternative Lois Lane and discovered what it was like to work with someone who knew what you were thinking even before you thought it yourself; now he was sharing that same closeness with his own Lois.

He raised his eyebrows. "So do I. That was easy — do we go get him back?"

She smiled. "No. Because I think we need to decide what that means."

He sighed and leant back against Jeff's desk. "Yeah — do we print it or not? Lois, you know what it's going to mean if we do - we'll have all the media on our backs for days, and every detail will get picked over. No-one will believe us, and no doubt we'll be the ones the public turn against, especially after that article we wrote the other day about employee relations at LLI. We'll be right in the middle of a public scandal with Lex Luthor. And if it goes to court, everything will come out." He paused. "Everything, Lois."

She was nodding seriously. "I know."

"You know what they'll say."

She faced him out squarely, almost defiantly. "They'll find out I was his lover, and then they'll say I'm accusing him out of spite."

He closed the few paces between them and wrapped his arms around her. The blinds were shut, so there was no risk of them being seen, but he wasn't sure that he wouldn't have done the same thing even if they'd been in full view of the whole newsroom. People were going to find out about their love for each other eventually, and despite his promise to her, he couldn't help wanting to protect her. "Could you handle that, Lois? Listening to people talking about you behind your back, hearing things said about you that aren't true? Because your safety and happiness is way more important than catching Luthor."

She leant away from him to look up into his eyes. "Clark, I want to catch him as much as you do."

He ran his fingers down the side of her face. "I know you do, but it could get even worse than all that." Pulling her back into his protective embrace, he soothed his hands up and down her back, hating himself for what he was about to say, but needing to make sure she had considered all the implications of going public. "Lois, they could find out about Wanda."

He knew she would understand what he meant; of course, everyone at the Planet knew that she'd changed overnight from Wanda Detroit into Lois Lane, but what they didn't know was why she had believed herself to be someone else. They didn't know she'd been used and abused by Lex Luthor.

"Maybe it won't come to that," she said quietly. "We don't have to tell them any of that, and I doubt Luthor would want it made public, for all his brazenness over the attempted murder."

Clark wasn't so sure. Once lawyers got hold of if, anything could happen, and if Lois had to relive her two-year ordeal publicly, what would that do to her? Maybe there was a better solution. "Is this the way we want to fight Luthor? Maybe we should fight his corruption instead — that way we avoid all the personal issues. We can take our time building a case-"

"And meanwhile, he gets away with mass murder?" interrupted Lois fiercely. "Don't forget he's blaming LeFevre for the Metro building too. Do you want that on your conscience?"

"No! Of course I don't. But I also don't want you on my conscience, Lois."

"I'll cope, Clark. Together we'll cope. We've done pretty well so far, haven't we?"

"I guess."

"And I'm not the only one at risk here, Clark. How many sets of blueprints do you think Lex has sold for the quantum disruptor today?"

He shrugged. "How many crime syndicates are there in the city?"

"Exactly. So the more public that particular risk is, the better for you, I reckon."

"Yeah." He sighed. "I guess also that now we don't have to keep the quantum disruptor's existence a secret, there's no reason why we shouldn't hand everything over to the police for them to investigate. That way at least we just have to cope with the media storm."

"Do you trust the police to run the investigation? I'm not sure I do — look how they treated you when they hauled you in for that so-called medical exam. In fact, doesn't that imply that someone somewhere is open to bribery in the police? We both know who ordered the medical."

Clark nodded. "Luthor. But they're not all corrupt - there's at least one guy I know who I'd trust to do this properly."

"Who's that? And how do we know he'll be handling the case?"

"A guy called Henderson-"

"Sergeant Henderson? Yes, I know him, but he's a bit junior to be in charge of a case like this."

"He's an Inspector these days, and there's a good chance he'll be assigned the case anyway, but if he isn't, maybe we can pull some strings."


"Yes — although I hope we don't have to do that." Using his privileged position as a personal friend of the mayor didn't sit too comfortably with Clark, who believed in working within the system he was a part of, rather than manipulating it to his own advantage. However, to catch Luthor, he was prepared to be ruthless if that was what it took.

"Me too. OK — I agree that Bill Henderson will do a half-decent job, and he'd probably even listen to us if we thought he was going wrong. You don't get many cops to the square yard who'll do that."

"No." He kissed the side of her cheek. "So we're going to do this? Tell Jeff, print the real truth about Luthor?"


He held her quietly for a few moments longer, trying not to think too far ahead to the turbulent days facing them. After everything they'd been through, was this going to be too much to deal with? He felt instinctively that they'd made the right choice; he just hoped his instincts were right.


They called Jeff back into the office and proceeded to tell the appalled and incredulous editor the truth about their kidnap and attempted murder, and also their suspicions regarding the Metro building disaster. Once he'd recovered from his initial shock, he was grudgingly willing to accept their reticence in telling him the truth previously, and was even grimly pleased that the Star had printed the wrong story. However, when they started to outline the piece they were planning to write, he stopped them with a raised hand.

"Sorry to rain on your parade, guys, but we can't print this."

"What? But this is the biggest-"

"You can't be serious-"

Clark was aware that they'd started objecting simultaneously, but bit back further comment when Jeff silenced them both with a tough look and a raised voice. "I need hard evidence before I can print a story like this, or Luthor's lawyers will make mincemeat of us. Sorry, but I don't even have to ask those people up there on this one," he continued, pointing skywards with a finger. "I see no evidence, guys."

"Jeff, this is crazy! You *know* we're telling you the truth," flung out Clark in frustration.

"*I* know you are, and *you* know you are, but you can't prove to our readers that you are." Jeff frowned at Clark. "Clark, where's your objectivity? You seem to be hell-bent on getting at this guy no matter what the cost is — that's not like you."

"You don't know Luthor like I do," Clark retorted hotly.

"Oh, so this is a personal vendetta? Sorry, Clark, this is a newspaper, not a poison pen letter — or have you conveniently forgotten that fact?"

"Of course he hasn't!" weighed in Lois. "But this is more important than anything a few lousy lawyers might have to say about it."

"Look, I don't know what's got into you two, but I can't believe I'm hearing this. Clark, you're the best damned reporter I've got on this paper, and Lois, you're not far behind, but all I'm hearing here is unprofessional whining and immature personal attacks on a respected member of our society. OK, OK," he said loudly when they both dissembled at his last comment, "I now know that he's not, but you've got to see things from the point of view of our readership. They think he's a pillar of society, and they'll expect more from the Daily Planet than half-cocked, unfounded accusations before they'll believe what we tell them — and so they damn well should!"

"They're not unfounded," muttered Clark.

Jeff stared at him for a moment before continuing in a more conciliatory tone. "I know you've both been under an incredible strain recently, and believe me, I can understand why you'd want to get to Lex Luthor any way you can, but I'm going to have to give this story to someone else unless you can distance yourselves from it and tackle it with the professionalism I know you're both capable of. Now, go out there, cool down, think about what I've said, and then give me a story the Daily Planet can print, OK?"

"A story the Planet can print?" Lois repeated sarcastically. "OK, how about Goldil-"

"OK, Jeff," interrupted Clark before Lois dug herself into a very deep hole — the last thing they needed right now was to lose Jeff's support. Besides, he'd just replayed a few of the things he'd just said in his head, and realised that he'd been behaving like a juvenile. Of course Jeff would want solid proof for a story like this; Luthor had enough money and clout to hurt the paper seriously if he decided to sue for libel. Mr Olsen, the proprietor, was a wealthy man, but Luthor was wealthier.

He was leading a reluctant Lois out of the room when they were pulled back by Jeff's voice again. "I forgot to say — how are you holding up? I imagine our colleagues in the media haven't given you much peace since daybreak."

Clark turned. "You could say. We took the phone off the hook at home."

"I guessed that when I couldn't get through to you. How about I get someone to field your calls for you here? Keep the hounds from your back for a while?"

"Thanks, Jeff," answered Clark, watching Lois nod as he spoke. "That would help a lot."

"OK, I'll get Janet to divert your phones."


Lois stomped off for coffee as soon as they were out of the room. She needed time to think. She was angry at Jeff, and she was angry at Clark for caving in to Jeff. It hadn't been at all easy, psyching herself up to go public with their story, but since she had made up her mind, she just wanted to get on with it and get it over with. Couldn't either of them understand that? Especially Clark himself, whom she knew was still holding onto a lot of anger and hatred for the man who had treated her so badly and then tried to kill them.

So Lex had thrown down a gauntlet in front of them with his audacious move, and was probably sitting smugly in that leather armchair of his, secure in the knowledge that they would never dare launch an equally audacious counter-attack. Well, she wanted to prove him wrong: she wanted to rub his smarmy, ugly, self-satisfied face in just how wrong he was. It wasn't professional, it wasn't objective, but it was how she felt.

OK, she had a lot of personal issues she'd prefer not to air in public, but she was the victim here, not the perpetrator. A pretty pathetic victim who should never have let those things happen to her, but a victim nevertheless. How many victims did Lex have to leave behind in his ruthless and sadistic march to absolute power before someone took a stand against him? And what he had done to her hadn't even been part of his plan to grow his empire — that had just been pure, sadistic evil. A shiver of horror and disgust ran through her. She'd never really thought of it in those terms before, but his manipulation of her life had actually been a very personal, very vicious attack. Surely Metropolis needed to know what kind of man employed one of the largest workforces in the city.

So she had faced down the reality of having every minute detail of her history paraded for all to see and read about, and while it made her sick with dread, she was ready.

And now Jeff was telling her she couldn't do it.

She took the coffee back to Clark's desk and dumped it in front of him. "Written the story of Goldilocks and the three bears yet, have we?" she asked acerbically.

Clark reached up under his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm as frustrated as you are, Lois, but Jeff's right. We can't just go printing a story like this without rock solid proof."

"What happened to 'You don't know Luthor like I do'?"

"No, he doesn't. But that doesn't make it right. We don't want to sink to Luthor's level, do we? Print whatever pleases us, and never mind the facts?"

"The facts, Clark, are that Lex Luthor tried to kill us! Not Emile LeFevre, not the tooth fairy, but Lex Luthor."

He glanced around. "A little louder, Lois. I don't think they quite heard you upstairs."

"I don't care who hears me!"

Her phone had been ringing since the start of their conversation, and she finally lost patience with it and crossed over to it, shooting "And where's Janet?" at Clark as she picked up the receiver.

"Lois Lane!"

"Ms Lane, this is Anita Gregson from Metropolis Today. I spoke briefly with your colleague Mr Kent earlier today, but unfortunately he didn't have time to finish our conversation."

"You mean he put the phone down on you — just like I'm going to."

"Wait! Would it interest you to know that Lex Luthor will be appearing on our show tonight?"

"And why would that interest me?" asked Lois casually. All he was going to do was to repeat all the lies the Star had already printed — but an idea was forming at the back of her mind, so she didn't replace the receiver.

"We feel that there are important questions to be asked, such as why Emile LeFevre was able to use Star Labs facilities to manufacture his weapon, and why Star Labs was employing someone so apparently unstable in its weapons research department. We thought you and Mr Kent might like to be there to hear the answers to those questions. We'd also be very interested to hear your first-hand experience of Mr LeFevre's attack."

"I see." Lois was thinking fast. It was a public forum; a very public forum. Could they do it? Should they do it? They'd have to talk it over with Jeff first, but what better way than a popular current affairs show to tell the world that Lex Luthor, the owner and chief executive of Lex Luthor Industries, was a murderer?


Clark eyed Lois as she spoke on the phone. She was doing it again; all the signs were there. They'd hit a set-back in their pursuit of Luthor, and she was taking it hard, letting it upset her even worse than last time. She had strode away from him without a word as soon as they'd left Jeff's office, making a bee-line for the coffee machine and glaring at anyone in her path. Now she had a dangerous look in her eye as she responded to whoever was on the other end of the line. He'd seen her determined before, but there was a touch of the obsessive in the way she tapped her pen constantly on the desk while she snapped sharp one-liners down the phone. Still, she looked pleased with herself as the conversation drew to a close; he was tempted to crank up his hearing to eavesdrop, but resisted. It wouldn't be right to start intruding on her personal space like that.

He called across the aisle when she'd finished speaking. "Who was that?"

She was out of her seat and perching on his desk almost before he'd got the words out. "Ever been on TV, Clark?" she asked, looking very smug.

He frowned warily. "Sometimes. At rescue scenes and the occasional charity event. Why?"

"Of course you have — I was forgetting. Well, you're an old pro then — you'll be fine tonight."

"Lois, what have you done?" he asked suspiciously.

"Only found us a way to do what Jeff won't let us do." She leaned towards him with a satisfied smile. "We're appearing on Metropolis Tonight — with Lex Luthor."

He stared at her. "What?! Are you crazy? We can't do that - Jeff would kill us!"

"No he won't. We'll tell him we're what we're going to do."

"And telling him will make it all right? Don't you think it's even slightly unethical to appear on a news programme and tell a story which could have been printed in the Planet?"

"But that's just it — it won't get printed in the Planet, because Jeff hasn't got the…you know what to do it. Clark, this is the perfect way to catch Lex off-guard. He won't be expecting us to appear with him on TV, and he sure won't be expecting us to tell everyone the truth about who tried to kill us." She slapped her hand down on his desk triumphantly. "We'll beat him at his own game."

"Lois, this is not a game!"

"Believe me, I know that. I've never been more serious about something in my entire life."

"OK, how's this for serious — you're planning on telling everyone who did it, right? So what do you think Luthor might do?"

She laughed derisively. "Well, he won't try to kill us with the whole of Metropolis watching, that's for sure."

"No, but he could sue us. And without any proof to back up our accusation, we'd probably lose. We'd be ruined." He didn't add that being Superman wouldn't help much either during a legal battle; OK, he knew he commanded a certain popular respect and was known for his honesty and integrity, but he also knew that he didn't have that totally incorruptible, whiter-than-white reputation which his counterpart in the other universe enjoyed. Becoming Superman when everyone knew who you really were, and that you'd been hiding your alien origins for years, had very definite drawbacks at times. Which was another reason to be careful; he couldn't afford for Superman to be seen in a bad light.

"So? I've had nothing before, I can cope. Anyway, he won't sue us, Clark. He's too arrogant — why do you think he pulled this stunt in the first place? Because he thinks he's untouchable, that's why. And before you say we don't know that for certain, remember I've known him far longer than you have — lived with him, even. I know how he thinks."

"And that's another thing. How can you even contemplate appearing on TV with the man, after everything he's done to you? I would have thought you wouldn't want to be in the same state as him, never mind the same studio!"

"If it gives me a chance to put him in prison where he belongs, I'll do just about anything! And I thought you felt the same, Clark."

"I do, but not this. This is just plain crazy!"

"Uh, people?" Clark swivelled around to find Eduardo standing behind his chair. "Maybe you should take this someplace else — like the conference room. The decibel level is a tad high for most of us out here."

Clark winced. "Were we shouting?"

"Yelling, more like."

"Well, pardon me, but sometimes I get a little loud when I care about an issue," drawled Lois icily. "Maybe this place could do with a little more passion."

"Lois, that wasn't passion, that was hysteria," replied Eduardo laconically.

She glared at him angrily for a moment, until Clark was sure she was going to erupt in a blazing fit of venom at Eduardo for daring to criticise again. Instead, however, she shifted quickly off Clark's desk. "See you in the conference room," she shot over her shoulder, striding tensely away from him.

Clark made to stand up and follow her, but Eduardo stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Give her a minute or two."


"Take it from an Olympic Gold medal winner at arguing, Clark - you both need a few minutes to calm down. Chill out, grab a cup of coffee, visit the bathroom, then go in there and you'll find yourself having a reasoned discussion instead of re-enacting World War Two."

Clark wasn't so sure. Give her a few more minutes and she'd have ten more reasons why she was right and he was wrong. And he didn't want to have an argument with her, especially right now, when they needed to be united against Luthor, not bickering with each other. Yet he couldn't agree with her on this, no matter how much he wanted peace between them. OK, so some of the arguments he'd given her weren't as important as catching the man, but he still held by his original words in Jeff's office: nothing was more important than Lois' safety and happiness, and he couldn't see how appearing on TV with the man who had abused her for two years could do anything other than damage both of those things.

Nevertheless, he fetched a couple of coffees and took them into the conference room, where Lois was sitting drumming her fingers against the table.

"Here," he said, laying a coffee in front of her. "Your last one's probably cold by now."

"Thanks," she grunted.

He pulled out a chair beside her and sat down. "Let's not fight over this, OK? It's Lex Luthor we need to fight, not each other."

"Exactly. Which is why we need to go on Metropolis Tonight and tell him what he doesn't want to hear," she snapped.

He pulled in a slow breath, determined not to let her draw him back into another shouting match. "All right," he began in what he hoped was a slow, calm voice, "leave aside everything else I said about being sued — maybe he would or wouldn't sue us, and maybe we'd cope even if he did, and maybe putting Luthor behind bars is more important anyway. But I still have two problems with this, Lois. Can I tell you what they are without us falling out over it?"

She shrugged, sipping coffee. "Go ahead."

"OK. The first is ethical. I — we — are employed by the Daily Planet to investigate and report the news, for publication *in* the Daily Planet. All right, so we could write for other journals if we got the Planet's OK to do it, and journalists appear on TV on current affairs programs all the time, but they would never break a story as big as this one through any other media than the paper that employed them. Otherwise, what right have they to draw their monthly pay check?"

Lois put down her coffee and started enumerating points on her fingers. "Number one: like I said, we'll get Jeff's OK first. Number two: we're different because we *are* the story this time, so the story is ours to tell to whom we please. Number three: what about journalistic integrity? If you had a story which you thought it was your public responsibility to print, and Jeff wouldn't let you, for whatever reason, would you just sit on that story, or would you take it somewhere you'd know it would get printed?"

He pulled the sides of his mouth down in a non-committal gesture. "It would depend."

"Oh, very convenient, Clark."

"Well, you know it would — if the only place I could get it printed was the Dirt Digger, for instance, then I probably wouldn't do it."

"OK, this story is so big that the Washington Post is interested. Are you going to print it now?"

"Maybe. But you're not comparing like with like, Lois. Jeff isn't preventing us from printing this story, he just wants us to wait until we can provide the proof to go with it."

"But it's no good waiting. The whole point of this is to take Lex by surprise; to call his bluff and maybe shock him into doing something rash. Finding proof is going to take time, and anyway, you've said it yourself — he's probably already got a hundred alibis lined up to prove his innocence."

"Yes. But you've also said it yourself — *maybe* we'll shock him enough to do something stupid. That's a big if, Lois."

"We haven't got anything to lose by trying. And Clark, if your main problem is ethical, then the answer's easy, like I keep on repeating — we ask Jeff."

Clark closed his eyes briefly and pinched the bridge of his nose. Was it possible to have a headache when you were invulnerable? He wasn't entirely sure what a headache was supposed to feel like, but the heavy, woolly feeling at the front of his head certainly felt like a close facsimile. This argument seemed to be going around in circles, and the only way out seemed to be to let Lois have her way and consult Jeff. He didn't feel comfortable doing that, but it appeared to be the fairest compromise they were going to reach.

"OK," he sighed. "I'm not entirely happy with it, but I agree we'll talk to Jeff. But before we do, I still want to tell you my other problem with all this."

It was Lois' turn to sigh. "Don't bother, Clark. I know what it is. You think it's too soon for me to confront Lex."

Was he that predictable? He supposed he was, but it didn't change how he felt. "Yes."

"Well, you're right. I feel sick when I think about it, and I know I'm going to be as nervous as hell tonight, and afterwards I'll probably feel like hell too — heck, I'll probably have nightmares about it," she added with a choked laugh.

"Lois…" he put his hand over hers on the table. "This is exactly why I don't think it's a good idea."

"But it'll be worth it, Clark. To see his face when we announce on live TV that Lex Luthor is the sadistic creep who tried to murder us and blow up the Metro building — that'll make my day. If he makes any kind of slip, well," she shrugged, "that'll be a bonus. And I know I'm going to end up confronting him at some point, so it may as well be today as any other day. Frankly, I want to use tonight to speed everything up so that this whole, horrible mess is over with and we can get on with the rest of our lives."

He shook his head. "But you know it won't be that easy. It will still drag on and on for days, or maybe even weeks."

"Yes, but we already had this conversation in Jeff's office, and we agreed we could cope with that." She paused and looked at him directly. "*We*, Clark. Not just me."

"I know, and I'll always be there for you-"

"That's not what I meant. I'm not the only one who's going to find this tough — I know how hard this is for you, too. You remember that day in the park after we escaped — when I told you about Lex and…Wanda?"

He nodded, remembering those terrible few moments when she had beat her fists against his chest while he held her, railing against all that had happened to her in an outpouring of angry, desperate hurt. Then sitting with her in his lap, listening to her sad, heart-wrenching account of life with Lex.

She continued. "I could feel you shaking with emotion while you were holding me. I even had to shift to remind you not to hold me so tightly, you'd tensed up so much."

He remembered that. At least, he remembered the trembling fury, but he didn't realise she had noticed it; releasing his grip on her must have been an automatic response to her body language. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No, of course not. But the point is, you're as emotionally affected by this as I am. Just think how upset you were after the Metro building disaster — do you think *you* can cope with confronting Lex?"

"Not easily, no. It would be difficult to stop myself lashing out at him after all that he's done — to hundreds of innocent victims, to me, and most of all, to you."

"But could you cope?"

"Yes, but I still think that's different. I haven't spent two years of misery with the man. And don't forget that you'd be face to face with him."

"True. But I'll have you by my side, Clark — together we'll support each other." She laid her other hand on top of his and he found her staring at him intently. "I want to do this, Clark. I really want to do this."

He gazed into her eyes. At this moment, she looked so strong and determined; fearless even. He could almost believe that the crazy idea she was trying to talk him into wouldn't take a heavy toll on her emotions or bring additional chaos and stress into her already difficult life. He knew that wasn't true, but could he protect her from all of that? She had a valid point when she said that it would all happen sooner or later, unless they dropped the case completely, and that was unthinkable. So was it better to force things out into the open now, rather than delay it?

"Will you promise me one thing?" he asked finally.


"If we go ahead with this, promise me that the second it becomes too much for you, you'll tell me? It doesn't matter where or when — live TV even — if you want it to stop, I'll make it stop. OK?"

Lois raised an eyebrow. "That's some claim — that you'd be able to stop it just like that."

Oh, but he would. No matter what it took, he'd find a way. "Believe me, Lois, I'd do it." He surprised himself with the quiet force of his words, and he must have taken Lois aback too, because the mildly sceptical expression she was wearing was swiftly wiped off her face.

"I think you probably would," she replied slowly.

Making himself relax and soften his expression, he asked her again, "So do you promise?"

"OK. But I'll be fine, Clark."

"Let's talk to Jeff then," he found himself saying.

"OK!" She smiled and stood up.

"Better let me do the talking, though," he added, following her out of the conference room. "This requires very sensitive handling."

"You implying I'm not sensitive?"

"As a bull in a china shop."


Lois followed Clark into Jeff's office, not happy to be muzzled by her partner, but willing to keep quiet if it meant getting her way eventually. Jeff had already made a disgruntled comment to the effect that they still didn't appear to have written anything he could publish, and were they planning on doing any work at all today, which Clark had neatly fielded, so she guessed it was best to let him handle this — at least, unless it looked as if he was going to mess things up.

"Jeff, Lois and I have thought very carefully about this story of ours, and we feel that for a number of reasons, it needs to be made public as soon as possible," began Clark.

"Glad you agree, Clark," replied Jeff dryly. "So where's your copy?"

"You'll get it in time for the early edition, I promise you. But when we say the story needs to be made public, we mean the whole story. The truth."

Lois watched Jeff roll his eyes up to the ceiling. "Why is it I feel this strong sense of deja vu? I could have sworn we had this conversation less than an hour ago. Maybe it's those cookies my daughter baked for me — she's put something in them that makes me hear everything twice, that's what it is. Which reminds me," he reached into a drawer and dumped an open tin on the desk in front of Lois. "Try one. I've got double quantities to get through this time."

Wanting to earn some goodwill, Lois picked out a strangely-shaped rock-like object and sank her teeth into it. Too late, she saw Clark's hand below desk level, shaking urgently from side to side. With a sinking heart, she bit down harder and eventually managed to prise a chunk off. A gritty, floury, burnt-tasting substance filled her mouth, and, forcing a smile onto her face, she reported, "Very…unusual."

"Tell me if you start hearing things twice," said Jeff sardonically.

Effectively silenced by the cookie, Lois resorted to a mild glare while Clark picked up where he'd left off.

"We understand why you can't print the full story yet, Jeff, and we respect that. We wouldn't want to put the Planet in jeopardy by publishing something which wasn't fully backed up with rock-solid evidence." Clark paused. "There are other ways of making this public, though," he said carefully.

"Such as?" Jeff picked up the cookie tin and offered it to Clark as he spoke.

Clark smiled and shook his head to decline the offer. Lois was indignant that she had to suffer in silence whereas he airily managed to avoid the noxious cookies. While she was transferring her glare to him, he continued, "We had a phone call earlier from Metropolis Today. They want us to-"

"Hold on!" interrupted Jeff. "Now I know there's something funny in those cookies, otherwise I wouldn't have heard you say you want to scoop your own newspaper on live TV. You didn't say that, did you?"

"Well, that's one way of putting it."

"And another way of putting it would be…?" asked Jeff with a dangerous glint in his eye.

"You see, Lex Luthor is going to be there too."

"Ahhh…" Jeff nodded sagely, but didn't add anything to help make it clear whether he thought that made things better or worse.

Lois finally managed to swallow the last of the burnt offering and interjected hastily, "We want to call his bluff."

"O-kay," said Jeff, standing up to pace around his office. "Let me see if I've got this right. You want to appear on Metropolis Tonight — you haven't actually said that, but I presume that's what you're intending?" he paused, both in his speech and in his pacing, and waited for their nods before continuing. "So you want to go on live TV and basically confront Lex Luthor to try and make him confess all. Is that about it?"

"Well, we know he won't confess anything, but he might make a mistake and say more than he should," expanded Clark quickly.

"True, very true," agreed Jeff in a reasonable tone of voice. "And this is good for the Daily Planet because…?" He stopped pacing again and fixed Lois with a piercing gaze.

"Because then-" began Clark.

"I want to hear this from Lois, Clark. After all, she's the one that came up with this idea, aren't you, Lois?"

Lois shifted uncomfortably. Up until now, she'd always thought of Jeff as a pretty easy-going guy; much softer than Perry White and consequently much easier to manipulate. He had a comfortable, bluff exterior which made him popular with the staff, and a ready supply of jokes and banter which he shared at all levels, so that often it was easy to forget that he was the Editor-in-Chief of the most prestigious newspaper in Metropolis. Now, squirming under his steely gaze, she realised why he had that title.

She pulled herself up straight and met his gaze calmly. "Yes, it was my idea. I think if we spend days and days trying to dig up evidence before we break the story, he'll just wrap himself in more and more levels of alibi and legal niceties, and he'll end up walking away free. This way, we catch him off-guard before he's had a chance to prepare his response."

Jeff shook his head quickly. "That wasn't my question. Do I have to repeat myself?"

Lois bristled at being talked to like a kid in school, and suddenly something snapped inside. "OK, you want to know why it's good for the Planet?" she asked hotly. "You get a real story to print, that's why. Instead of printing vague speculation and boring, on-going investigative stuff that no-one's going to read, you get to print a hot story, where two of the people most closely involved in it are right under your nose, working for your paper. You get exclusives every day, you get eye-witness reports, you get inside information that no other newspaper will have access to, you get to rub the Star's nose in the fact that they printed the wrong story, and you get two of the best damned reporters in this city writing it all for you. Basically, you get all the benefits of having broken the story here, without any of the risks. That's why it's good for the Planet!" she finished angrily.

"OK," replied Jeff calmly. "And when Mr Olsen calls me up tonight to ask me why, yet again, the Daily Planet isn't breaking the big story of the day, what exactly do I tell him?"

She snorted. "You point out that today's so-called big story from the Star was a pack of lies, and then -"

"Alleged pack of lies. No proof, remember?"

"Are you saying that Mr Olsen, who I presume is the owner, doesn't trust his own reporters more than the hacks over at the Daily Star? Especially when one of those reporters is Clark?" She glanced over at her partner, who was thankfully nodding in agreement; she hadn't had a clue as to whether she'd been right or not until she saw his confirmation.

"Of course he trusts Clark, and the rest of the reporting staff. But he knows as well as I do that the newspaper-buying public won't see it that way. All they'll see is a paper continually missing the big headlines."

"Well, I'm sorry, but when I was last working for this paper, we stood for more than just a bunch of pretty circulation figures." She stood up and made for the door. She'd had enough; she knew she was right, and if Jeff couldn't understand that, then he wasn't the tough editor she'd thought he was. It wasn't worth wasting any more time arguing — Clark could sit there and calmly take all the crap if he wanted to.

"Wait, Lois." It was Clark, with his hand on her arm. She tried to shake him off but he wouldn't let her. "You're not giving up, are you?"

She whirled on him furiously. "No, I'm not darn well giving up! I'm just saving us all some time. Jeff has obviously made his mind up, so why bother talking about it any more?"

"Never stop to consider that you might be wrong, Lois?" asked Jeff laconically, now sitting casually in the seat she had just vacated.

"About you, Jeff? No."

"Yeah, I guess I'm pretty much an open book. So what am I going to say next, Lois?"

She eyed him sitting relaxed and calm, the grittiness he had shown earlier completely disappeared. "You're going to say nice things to me to get me to calm down."

He nodded. "Got it in one. Why don't you come over here and sit down so I can give it my best shot?"

She rolled her eyes.

"Come on, humour me."

She felt Clark exert gentle pressure to encourage her, and she shook him off successfully this time. "I'll stand, thanks."

Jeff shrugged. "Fine by me. I just thought you might find it more comfortable. Clark, take a pew, why don't you?"

"Thanks, Jeff, but I'll stand with my partner." And before he had finished speaking, his hand slipped into hers by her side and squeezed gently.

"OK, guys. Guess I'll just have to get a crick in my neck." He clapped his hands together in an expansive gesture. "Right, where shall we start?" he asked pleasantly. "Well, first off, you know as well as I do that publishing, especially newspaper publishing, is always a compromise between content and circulation. If we don't sell newspapers, no-one gets to read the great pieces of journalism we publish."

Suddenly the pleasant voice was displaced with steel again. "So don't give me that crap about pretty circulation figures, Lois, because if you haven't figured that one out yet, you're in the wrong job."

He paused. "No comment?" He continued in softer tones again. "OK, moving on — this whole business has brought a lot of emotions close to the surface, and I've heard a lot of impassioned talk from both of you this morning. Now, I understand that — you're under an incredible amount of pressure, and you know it's not going to let up any time soon. I don't know how you're both coping with it, I only know I sure as hell wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now. I'll give you whatever support you need, and I'll help you in any way I can to get through the next few days and weeks. OK?"

Lois nodded and heard a muttered "Thanks, Jeff," from Clark.

"OK. Third thing — I don't appreciate what you tried to do here, guys. Lois had the idea, but you, Clark, tried to talk me into it because you thought I'd take it better coming from him. I don't like being manipulated like that."

Lois opened her mouth to object, but Clark got in before her. "Jeff, with all due respect, that's not what happened," he answered. "Yes, it was Lois' idea, but I fully support it, and the only reason I spoke to you and not Lois was because she felt so strongly about it she was afraid her emotions might stop her from explaining it to you properly."

"I see. Is that the case, Lois?"

Again, before she could vent, Clark squeezed her hand gently. She took a deep breath. "That's about it, Jeff."

"OK. I guess I was wrong on that one, and I apologise. Lastly, I understand where you're both coming from with this, I really do. You want to catch the bastard any way you can, you want to speed things up as much as possible, and you're prepared to do just about anything to do that. That's fine — like I said, you're in a hellish position and I'd probably do the same in your place. But you also understand my problem; you must, otherwise you wouldn't have bothered coming to talk to me about it first. So we need to find a compromise. Agreed?"

"I guess." Lois frowned, not convinced this was going the way she wanted it to go.

"Now, I've listened to your arguments, and I've had time to think things through myself while we've been having this…discussion, so here's the deal. Today, I'm going to hand the story over to Eduardo to write." He held up a hand when they both started to object. "Hear me out, guys. Eduardo can take a step away from this thing and write an objective piece based on the facts currently available, and it will be better for us all if you're not seen to be writing one version of the truth today and a different one tomorrow. Tonight, you'll go on Metropolis Tonight and say whatever it is you want to say — and give him an earful from me too, OK?"

"Thanks, Jeff!" exclaimed Clark beside her. "We will, won't we, Lois?"

Lois fixed her gaze on their editor. "He's not finished yet, are you, Jeff?"

"Correct. This is the important part: tomorrow, you give me something extra. Whatever you say on TV tonight, tomorrow I want more. I don't care what it is, as long as it's newsworthy; we're not talking shoe colour here."

"So, in effect, you want us to hold something back tonight?" asked Lois.


"Who's manipulating who now, Jeff?"

He shrugged. "If you choose to interpret it that way, that's fine. Do we have a deal or not?"

"Deal," answered Clark firmly.


Given that she could think of several options to satisfy Jeff's criteria, none of which stopped her achieving her main goal, she nodded. "Deal."


Gerald Hackman. Known popularly as Hacksaw Hackman. Clark couldn't decide whether it was good news or bad news that the interviewer chosen to host tonight's show was the man reputed to turn even the hardest, most cynical politician into a quivering wreck with a few well-chosen scathing remarks. Hackman wouldn't let Luthor get away with evading his questions, but equally, he would be tough on Clark and Lois.

Perhaps it would have been wisest to come here in his Superman suit after all, he mused, as he sat in front of a brightly-lit mirror while a make-up person fiddled with powder and brushes all around him. People were more willing to take what he said as Superman at face value than when he was just plain old Clark Kent. It was an odd phenomenon, considering that he was the same person underneath, and they theoretically knew that too, but nevertheless, the suit had an effect he never would have deemed likely when the other Lois had first suggested it to him. Of course, that was one of his reasons for deciding not to appear as Superman: he didn't want to be seen as cashing in on his unusual status in society. The bubbly, rotund production assistant who had greeted them had obviously been wrong-footed when he had arrived in one of his smarter work suits, and had tried to talk him into changing, but he had been firm. Superman was going to stay out of this as much as he could; that guise was for rescuing people in need and apprehending criminals, not for appearing in the midst of a messy public scandal.

"All done, Mr Kent!" announced the make-up man brightly. "Shiny noses banished for the duration, I think."

"Thanks." Clark didn't think he had a shiny nose, but he supposed these people knew best. He glanced over at Lois, sitting sipping coffee from an insipid-coloured plastic cup. "What do you think? Is it me?"

"Oh, definitely. And you smell so nice, too," she replied with a grin.

"Lois, it's scentless make-up," he pointed out.

"So?" She winked. "You always smell nice."

He coughed and looked at the make-up man still putting away his things. Either he was a good actor or the remark had passed him by, because he seemed oblivious to Lois' words. "Candy will be back in a couple of minutes to take you onto the set," was all he said before finishing his tidy-up job and leaving them alone.

Alone was good. Clark hadn't relished the prospect of sharing this pre-studio time with Luthor, but, to his and Lois' relief, Candy the PA had explained that Mr Hackman preferred to keep his guests separate until they were on set. At any other time, Clark would have viewed this piece of information with a great deal of cynicism: trust the man to try to heighten the tension by preventing the guests from getting comfortable with each other before being interviewed, but now, he was glad of the arrangement.

Candy had also explained the format of the show, and what they should expect when they were on the set. She had asked them a few basic questions, the answers to which she was presumably conveying to the great man himself as they were made-up. In fact, so far, the experience had been surprisingly pleasant; despite his ever-present nerves, Clark was enjoying the behind-the-scenes view of what was involved in putting together a live TV programme.

Lois seemed to be holding up pretty well, too. She'd been maintaining a steady stream of banter since they'd left home, and even though he knew it was her way of coping, he didn't think she was under too much pressure — yet. He smiled at her. "How're you doing?"

She shrugged. "Nervous as hell. You?"

"Glad we're on our own."

"Yeah, I'll second that," she agreed with feeling.

"Means I can do this," he said, standing up to move across to her. She stood also, and let him enfold her with his arms. He felt her arms come around him, and he fell quiet, drawing the strength he needed from this amazing woman he was so lucky to have at his side. He'd thought he'd been moving to give her comfort and succour; actually, it seemed to be flowing both ways.

There was a cough from the door and they separated reluctantly. "Time to take you onto the set," announced Candy. "Follow me and watch your step. There's a few cables and other stuff around, and we wouldn't want you to take a fall — at least, not until you're being interviewed!" She laughed heartily. "Just kidding."

Walking behind Candy, Clark exchanged looks with Lois, who coughed lightly with her hand over her mouth; he picked up her muttering easily with his superhearing. "Just as well she laughs so we know when she's trying to be funny."

He nodded wryly.


As they picked their way carefully around the cables and equipment littering the approach to the set, Lois felt her palms grow sticky with sweat. She'd been OK in the make-up room; she'd even been OK when Candy had announced it was time to go on to the set, but now that they were actually there, the enormity of what she'd got them both into was beginning to hit her. Why had she thought this was a good idea? Appearing on live TV for the first time in her life was bad enough, but to be doing so in these circumstances was just plain crazy. How did she expect to be able to say anything remotely sensible, let alone get to the point where she could actually turn the situation to her advantage?

And — Oh God — how were the seats going to be arranged? She couldn't sit next to him, next to Lex…

The lights on the set were bright and startling. There was quiet, understated activity everywhere; people behind cameras and other people wearing headphones talking into radios, a make-up person leaning over a familiar figure — yes, that was Gerald Hackman; Candy was approaching him. Lois' eyes travelled further around the set.

There he was. Sitting behind the curved desk looking like he did this kind of thing every day of the week. He was wearing that smile, the smile which said "I'm confident, in control, and the most benevolent business magnate you've ever had the pleasure to meet."


Did his face flicker when he saw them? She thought it went still for just a moment, and then the smooth veneer was back in place again and the eyebrows raised a fraction in controlled, well-practised surprise. He was good at that, so good at manufacturing the synthetic reactions and emotions which made people think he was human, made them feel secure that here was a man — an important man — who had feelings and emotions just like they did. They liked that.


A welcoming smile accompanied the mild surprise — he was delighted to see them.


"Gerald, let me introduce you to Clark Kent and Lois Lane," said Candy.

Lois dragged her attention back to the niceties of meeting and greeting. Making the appropriate bland responses to his words of welcome and shaking hands with him, she took in the set layout around them. There were two empty seats to Hackman's right; Lex was sitting alone on his left. Relief: she didn't have to sit next to him.

"Lex Luthor; Clark Kent and Lois Lane," said Hackman, addressing all of them.

Lex stood up and extended his hand across the table, still wearing the plastic smile. "Ms Lane. Metropolis is indeed fortunate to have regained you as one of its most talented and hard-hitting journalists."

She glanced down at his hand. Her first reaction was distaste, and she was on the point of refusing to touch him, when a grim determination made her grasp his hand very firmly and meet his gaze steadily. "Thank you. I'm looking forward to writing many more hard-hitting stories in the near future. The very near future."

A corner of his mouth turned up. "I'm sure you are." He withdrew his hand from hers and thrust it towards Clark at her side. "And Mr Kent. Always good to meet Metropolis' resident superhero, although I see you've relinquished the tights for something a little more conventional tonight."

Clark nodded sharply. "The suit can be a little intimidating for some people."

Lois saw Lex grimace as Clark gripped his hand and suppressed a satisfied smile: it wouldn't hurt for Lex to receive a little physical reminder of who he was dealing with.


"…also with me tonight are the first two victims of Emile LeFevre's violent outburst; Clark Kent, better known as Superman, but also a reporter for the Daily Planet, and Lois Lane, recently returned to the journalistic staff at the Daily Planet. As was reported in the papers earlier today, they were incarcerated in a condemned building by him and left to die." Hackman turned to Luthor. "So, Lex Luthor, as the owner of Star Labs, what do you say to accusations that staff vetting procedures must be pretty shoddy if someone like Emile LeFevre can get a job working in weapons research?" he drawled aggressively.

Luthor smiled benevolently. "Well, Gerald, I'm glad you asked me that, because it gives me the opportunity to assure the citizens of Metropolis that Star Labs weapons research lab is one of the safest-"

"That's not what I asked," interrupted Hackman, launching straight into the heckling interview technique he was renowned for. "How do you respond to accusations that Star Labs' staff vetting procedures for a sensitive and potentially very dangerous area of research are apparently non-existent?"

"Star Labs' vetting procedures for staff are second to none," answered Luthor patiently, "but like all systems involving the human decision-making process, they are subject to error. Emile LeFevre slipped through the net-"

"Slipped through the net? And just how easy is it to 'slip through the net'? How many slipped through today, Mr Luthor? One, two, three?"

"Gerald, if you'll just allow me to finish a sentence," replied Luthor, "I might be able to explain. Will you do that?"

Hackman shrugged carelessly. "As long as you answer the question."

"Thank you. As I was saying, Star Labs' vetting procedures are second to none. Ask anyone in the industry — most labs take two references; we take three. Most labs ask for the previous two employers; we ask for the last four. Most labs employ a two-tier security-vetting model; we use the more expensive, but more rigorous, three-tier model. This is in addition to the usual checks with criminal records, both in this country and world-wide."

Hackman asked his question again, this time in a slow, sing-song voice as if talking to a five year old. "So how did LeFevre, an unstable, suicidal man with psychopathic tendencies, end up working for you?"

"As I've explained, errors happen. But I can-"

"Errors happen. Mr Kent," Hackman swivelled to face Clark, clearly bored with his first interviewee's answers. "How does that sound to you? Are you happy with the selection process at Star Labs?"

Clark blinked. He'd been grateful for Hackman's pre-interview scene-setting to camera, summing up the news story which had brought them all to the studio. It had been a chance to relax and get used to the idea that they were on live TV, and when the camera had paused briefly on each of them during the introductions, Clark had found that easy enough to deal with. Now he was being asked a direct question, and it felt as if the eyes of the world had just swung in his direction.

He drew together a few scattered thoughts. "Not entirely, no. But if-"

Hackman swung back to Luthor before Clark had had a chance to finish speaking. "There you are, Mr Luthor. Mr Kent's not happy. What are you going to do about it?"

"With respect, Mr Kent's opinion on our recruiting process is hardly relevant. And-"

"I'd say it probably is, considering he nearly died because of it!" scoffed Hackman.

Luthor drew in a long, slow breath. Watching him, Clark thought that Hackman's irritating habit of constantly breaking into his replies was beginning to rile him just a little. "As I was going to say before you rudely interrupted me again, Gerald, not only is Star Labs' recruiting process second to none, but a full review of that process has already been commissioned from an extremely well-respected third party."

Hackman laughed derisively. "So the recruiting process is perfect, yet you're spending time and money reviewing it? Sounds to me as if it's not perfect, Mr Luthor."

"May I say something?" Lois interjected, leaning forward over the desk and looking past Clark to Hackman.

"By all means, Ms Lane. Jump in whenever you like."

"This entire line of questioning is irrelevant. Whether or not Emile LeFevre should have been working at Star Labs is not the question you should be asking. The question you should be asking is whether or not it was actually Emile LeFevre who committed the crime."

Clark saw her shift her gaze pointedly from Hackman to Luthor, who frowned in apparent puzzlement. Following on from Luthor's previous genuine irritation at Hackman, this was galling; one moment, the man was off-balance, the next, he was feigning surprise when he should have been showing unease.

Hackman raised an eyebrow. "All right, Ms Lane. I guess you've got my attention — who do you think committed the crime?"

"I don't think, I know," replied Lois, still watching Luthor.

"Who, Ms Lane?"

"I'm looking at him now."

Clark had known she was going to do it, but even so, to hear the stark accusation still set his heart pounding. He didn't notice Hackman's reaction; he might have heard a gasp of surprise from one of the cameramen, but mostly he was intent on Luthor's face, searching for clues that would indicate they'd managed to shake the man out of his comfortable, arrogant self-confidence. And to his satisfaction, Luthor's expression *did* freeze, and for a second Clark thought he detected fear.

It was time to lend his own weight to the accusation. "Lex Luthor personally kidnapped Ms Lane and myself," he began, clarifying Lois' words so that there would be no mistaking what they was saying, "shot me, then left us to die in the basement of a building due to be demolished by explosives the following morning."

"Mr Kent, that's some claim. Are-" began Hackman.

"It's not a claim, it's the truth," Clark contradicted, barrelling firmly over the interviewer's voice. "Lex Luthor had one of his employees, Emile LeFevre, construct a weapon, known as the quantum disruptor, solely for the purpose of killing me."

"And why would he do that?" asked Hackman.

"You'd better ask him," replied Clark, wanting to force Luthor to respond before he could recover from the surprise of being exposed on live TV.

"Well, Mr Luthor? You're being accused of attempted murder here — what do you say?"

"I say it's a pack of lies, that's what I say," replied Luthor angrily. "And anyone who thinks they can accuse me of attempted murder on live TV and get away with it better think again," he added, leaning forward over the desk to direct the words straight at Clark.

It was a chink in the smooth, urbane exterior, and Clark clenched his fist in triumph under the table: Luthor could have brushed the accusation off, but instead he'd risen to the bait.

"Threatening us again, Mr Luthor?" asked Lois loudly across the table.

"No, Ms Lane. Just informing you that I don't take slander lightly; you'll be hearing from my lawyers."

"Sounds like a threat to me," retorted Lois.

"If you choose to interpret it that way, that's your business." He turned to Hackman. "Now, am I going to be asked the questions I was invited here to answer, or do we have to put up with any more of this hysteria?"

"I don't-" began Hackman.

"You call this hysteria?" interrupted Lois coldly. "I call this speaking the truth. You've hidden behind that respectable citizen of Metropolis act of yours for far too long, and yes, I'm sure you'll be able to give the police a whiter than whiter account of your whereabouts that night, but it won't last forever, Lex. Sooner or later someone will talk, and then everything will start to unravel, and you'll be exposed for the, the corrupt, evil man you really are."

Clark began to feel uneasy: Lois *was* beginning to sound out of control; her voice had been shaking on those last few words, and he was sure she hadn't meant to use such emotional language. He wanted to reach out and touch her; try to steady her, but it was awkward when they were on camera: he didn't want to fan the flames of rumour, even if they, as a couple, didn't have anything to hide.

Luthor was raising his eyebrows in mild surprise; any fear or raw aggression he might have felt previously was obviously now firmly under control again. "Ms Lane, now it sounds like you're threatening me."

"You better believe I'm thr-"

"Ms Lane and I intend to make a full statement to the police right after this show, and will co-operate in any way we can with their investigations. We're confident that Mr Luthor will be meted out the justice he deserves," said Clark as calmly as he could.

"Mr Kent," began Hackman, "I have to say, I'm still puzzled as to why Mr Luthor here would want to kill you of all people."

"Because he sees me as a threat: I fight crime. Draw your own conclusions."

"I'd rather you were specific, actually. I'm sure Mr Luthor would, too — are you accusing him of more than attempted murder?"

"Yes, I am, but I'm not prepared to go into details here."

"I'm sorry, Mr Kent, but that's not good enough. What-"

"It'll have to be good enough." Clark gave Hackman a warning look. He could question Clark all night, but Clark wasn't going to take any more risks with unproven accusations, and anyway, the rest of the story belonged to the Daily Planet, as they'd agreed with Jeff.

Hackman shrugged. "An empty accusation is worthless. Ms Lane, I noticed you addressed Mr Luthor by his first name — you know him well?"

Clark tensed — of course, she called him 'Lex' just now when she had been ranting at him. This was the start: how many more times would questions like this be asked? And how long would it be before Lois cracked under the strain?

"That's none of your damned business," she snapped after a moment's hesitation.

"Ms Lane and I go back a long way, Gerald," commented Luthor urbanely. "But I don't think this forum's an appropriate place to go into that. I'm sure Ms Lane doesn't want her private life cracked open for all to see, do you, Ms Lane?"

"I'm sure you don't either!" she retorted.

He smiled. "I'm an open book. Turn to any page you like and begin reading; I welcome the interest."

"And I guess we might just take you up on that offer, Mr Luthor," said Hackman. "But right now, we've run out of time, and so I'd like to thank Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Lex Luthor for appearing on Metropolis Tonight. You heard it here first, folks — Lex Luthor, owner of one of the biggest construction companies in Metropolis and a nominee for Businessman of the Year, has tonight been accused of attempted murder and worse by none other than Superman, tireless defender of the vulnerable and the weak. I'm sure this won't be the last we hear of this incredible story."


White-hot fury coursed through her veins. The slime-ball was getting away with it again — OK, he'd made that threat to crucify them in court, but he'd hardly turned a hair while he did it. No-one had seen the real Lex Luthor; the raw, ugly aggression of the man and his contempt for human life — the sadistic streak which ran a mile wide through him. He'd practised for too long to hide it, and she had obviously completely lost her touch if she couldn't force him out of the act.

Hackman was shaking her hand, thanking her for coming, asking some stupid question about whether what they'd just said was really true — of course it was! What did he think they were? Idiots?! Clark was taking her hand, suggesting it was time for them to leave, but she wasn't interested, all she knew was that the bastard was walking away — literally. She followed him with her eyes while giving automatic replies to Clark — he was with a couple of the production staff, picking his way through the set to the exit.

"Lois, are you coming?"

Clark's raised voice brought her attention back to his face. He was looking concerned; probably worried about her after Lex's veiled threat to expose her less-than-admirable history to all and sundry. He was right — she was upset, and she wasn't finished with the bastard yet. Maybe he thought he'd given a star performance as the injured party on TV, but she was going to tell him just how little that counted; that the real fight was only just starting, and they were going to get him prosecuted for every tiny infringement of the law he'd ever committed. If he'd been done for jay-walking, they'd dredge it up and make him pay.

But he'd disappeared in that short interval. She broke away from Clark and hurried in the direction he'd been walking in. She heard Clark's "Lois!" but catching up with the slime-ball was more important. Soon she was backstage and alone. She walked down one corridor, and then another, coming eventually to a dead-end. There were a few deserted offices in a short, darkened corridor, and no obvious exit to the street. Maybe he'd come here to discuss further TV appearances with those people she'd seen him with — well, that wouldn't make a difference to her. She began checking the offices; most had open doors so it wasn't too difficult to glance inside. One was L-shaped, and she had to walk a few paces inside to glance around and ascertain that it was empty.

Suddenly, rough hands grabbed her from behind and a hard body pressed close up against hers. She struggled furiously and viciously, but already he had wrapped a leg around one of hers so as to keep her off-balance and unable to kick out at him. She tried to use her shoulders and arms to break free, but he was too strong for her.

His head rested heavily on her shoulder and she felt his hot breath on her ear.

"Think you can threaten me, do you, Lois? Don't you realise you're nothing — a dirty, squalid prostitute with a drink problem and a bad line in cheap underwear?" She felt his lips touch her and jerked her head away in disgust.

"You must be confusing me with someone else, Lex," she retorted. "That was someone you created in one of those sick, depraved fantasies you were always having."

"Au contraire, my darling. That was you, Ms Wanda Detroit. You think I won't tell everyone what you were? You think I won't want it made public? Wrong, Wanda. I'll make you look so pathetically deranged and twisted you'll never work again — they'll probably lock you away after I've finished telling them what you did."

Lois tried again to struggle away from him, but he merely tightened his grip around her. Both of his arms were solidly wrapped around her arms and chest, and he was pressed so tightly up against her she had no room at all to move. She starting wondering if she could kick backwards at him somehow — even if she fell over while she did it, it wouldn't really matter as long as the kick was accurate. "Lex, you're fantasising again. I've got nothing to hide — you're the one with secrets to hide, not me," she said with as much cool disdain as she could muster.

"You mean you don't remember? Ah, well, of course, there probably are still big gaps in your memory, aren't there? You won't remember much about Lagos, or what happened when I first brought you back here, will you?" he breathed in her ear.

Her heart thudded: he was right. She couldn't remember any of that, and she had only the haziest recollection of her first few weeks with Lex. She vaguely remembered the conversation on the balcony when he had told her she was a prostitute, and then life was a blur of half-remembered fragments, until one day she had found herself living in a horrid little room in Hobs Bay, belting out old favourites in the Ace 'O Clubs by night.

But he was bluffing; he had to be.

He had to be.

"I know enough to know you're just blowing smoke,"

"Do you, Wanda, do you? I doubt it. I doubt you even remember our first time together, do you, Wanda?"

She shuddered. That was one memory she thankfully didn't have, although there were plenty of other times that she could remember. And having him squashed so closely up against her made the memories even more vivid…she could feel herself shaking, and bile was rising in her throat…

"I doubt any woman would, Lex," she forced out. "You're not exactly a memorable lover."

She felt one of his hands grasp her chest and she bit back a whimper…Clark, where was Clark? She drew in a breath to scream his name-

Luthor's hand clamped over her mouth. "Now, now, Wanda. Where's your manners? We're only just getting started." He squeezed up even tighter up against her and lowered his voice to a murmur in her ear. "Don't you want to show me how good a lover you've become, now that Mr Kent's been teaching you how? What's it like having sex with an alien, Wanda?"

She lunged forward into his hand, opened her mouth and bit down hard as soon she felt flesh under her teeth. He swore in pain, and before he could renew his grip, she screamed "Clark!!!!" at the top of her voice.


There was a blur, a rush of air, and then Luthor's arms were being forcibly ripped away from her and she was free. She staggered forward and whirled around just in time to see Clark with one hand on Luthor's neck, driving him backwards to slam against the wall and pin him there at arm's length.

"You just can't leave her alone, can you? You bastard!" he growled. "Well, this time, you made a mistake; this time you've gone too far, Luthor. I've been wanting to do this for a long time, and you've just given me the perfect excuse."

She watched with growing alarm as his hand pressed into Luthor's neck and strange choking sounds emanated from her captor's throat. It was a side to Clark she'd never seen before; an aggressive, coldly furious Clark. He was almost more frightening that Lex himself; he wasn't shouting, but the hard, hard edge in his voice and the power behind his actions carried a menace far more effective than mere volume.

One of Lex's hands was flailing helplessly against the wall behind him, the pain he was experiencing self-evident.

Yet his eyes were steely and passionless.


"Clark! Stop it!" she cried.

But Clark was intent on Lex's face, his back to her and apparently oblivious to her voice. Lex's face was growing redder and redder, and she thought it was probably only minutes, if not seconds, before Clark's hand crushed the life out of him.

She caught Lex staring over Clark's shoulder at her with his cold eyes. He knew. He knew she wouldn't let Clark kill him.

For a split second she was tempted to do the exact opposite and encourage Clark to finish the job; Lex deserved it just for that look alone. But killing Lex would kill Clark, and she would rather die herself than let that happen. She lunged forward to grab Clark's arm and shake it. "Stop it, Clark! You're killing him!"

"I know," he ground out grimly, still staring at Luthor's face.

Terrifying words. He couldn't mean them…she tugged hard again, but his arm was rock-solid and immovable. "You're killing yourself, Clark!" she sobbed, fighting angrily with herself to force the words out. "Look at me! Look at me, Clark!"

In a moment of wild panic, she reached up to his chin and yanked it around with all her strength. The move caught him unawares, and his face swung round towards her; a mask of seething, ice-cold fury, almost unrecognisable as the gentle man who had rescued her from Lex and shown her love, patience, and quiet understanding. Here was a man who Lex Luthor was creating in his own image.

"He's making you do this, can't you see?" she said fiercely, suddenly losing the tears and finding a strong, determined force from deep within her. "He knows you won't kill him, but he's pushing you right to the edge to try and break you. Don't let him win, Clark. Don't."

She continued to hold his face towards her and stared up into his eyes until the mask began to crack. Recognition crept into his eyes, and she added, "I love you," forcefully, not letting him waver from her gaze. Gradually, the tension fell from his face, and she heard a gasp of relief from Lex as Clark's grip lessened.

Clark let the arm which had been pinning Lex to the wall flop down to his side. She held his gaze a moment longer, reassuring herself that the Clark she knew was back again, but then his face hardened once more and he turned back to Luthor, who was coughing and rubbing his neck. "Lois is right. Killing is too good for you."

Luthor cleared his throat with a sneer. "Oh, please, spare me the false threats," he said hoarsely. "You'd never kill me. It's a well-known fact that Superman doesn't kill."

"But maybe Clark Kent does." Clark took a step closer so that his face was inches from Luthor's. "You so much as breathe on her again and I can guarantee you'll be begging me to kill you by the time I've finished with you."

Lois' breath caught; again, that simmering violence, so alien coming from Clark's lips. The two men stared silently at each other, and she thought she detected a glimmer of fear at last in Lex's expression.

"Do you want to call the police, Lois?" Clark asked, still staring at Luthor.

"No. Just get him out of here."

"You heard the lady." Clark gave Luthor a shove in the direction of the door. "Get out."

Luthor tripped under the force of Clark's shove, but then regained his balance, shouldered his jacket back into place and walked to the door adjusting his tie. "You think you can threaten me, Kent?" he said viciously. "If I were you, I'd stop issuing idle threats and start figuring out how you're going to stay alive yourself. Who knows how many people LeFevre gave his quantum disruptor designs to before he departed this life?"

With that, he turned on his heel and walked out.


Clark watched Luthor's retreating back, those final words only serving to add fuel to the boiling fury which was coursing through him, making him shake with barely-controlled emotion. He'd never felt such pure, vitriolic rage towards another person as he was experiencing right now, and he was positive that it was only Lois' presence which was keeping him under control.

Seeing Luthor holding Lois so threateningly, so lasciviously, had brought all the anger he had been bottling up for days and days right up to the surface. Coming on the heels of the interview debacle, it had been the last straw. How *dare* Luthor even touch Lois, let alone press his body with such clear sexual intent up against hers? How *dare* he intimidate her? — she had never done anything to deserve such cruel treatment. For the first time in his life, Clark had actually wanted to deliberately hurt someone…no, worse than that — he had wanted to kill.

To kill.

He caught up with his own raging thoughts and suddenly felt sick. To kill another human being — it was unthinkable, debasing; it stripped him of everything he believed in and everything he was. Yet it *was* him; he, Clark Kent, had wanted to squeeze the life out of the man he held at his mercy. What had he become?

He felt Lois' hand touch him tentatively on the shoulder. "Clark?"


His arms went around her to clutch her to his chest and bury his head in her soft, sweet-smelling hair. His precious Lois. She had rushed away from him on the set, disappearing in a different direction to the one they needed to go in to leave. He hadn't known why she was rushing away, but would have followed her in any case, if it hadn't been for the crowd of people who had seemed to appear from nowhere and surround him, bombarding him with questions about Luthor and the accusations he and Lois had made. He had answered them shortly, impatiently, always trying to escape politely but firmly, wanting to catch up with Lois. She was especially vulnerable now - he had even asked a couple of them if they knew where she'd been going. They didn't know; perhaps she had been heading for the restrooms? He'd been on the point of breaking away from them when he had heard the cry which made his blood run cold.

Her voice, desperate and terrified, screaming his name.

Nothing else had mattered. He supposed he'd have to check up later in case he had hurt anyone or anything in his flight; at the time he had been deaf and blind to everything except her need for him.

Then finding her being…mauled by Luthor, his hand still on her chest even though she'd obviously managed to start breaking away from him. He'd been standing behind her, with one leg wrapped around hers to keep her off-balance. The violent image would be burnt on Clark's mind forever.

But she was all right; she was here in his arms and he never wanted to let her go.


"Lois, are you all right? Did he hurt you?"

"No. I'm fine."

"You're sure? He didn't…do anything?"

Her head shook from side to side against his chest, and he breathed a silent sigh of relief. It was bad enough that Luthor had been holding her so close; she would probably have nightmares about that, but if he'd done any more, then Clark couldn't bear to think of the consequences for her.

"What did he say?" he asked softly.

"You don't want to know," she mumbled.

"Tell me. It's better if you tell me."

She renewed her hold around him and answered in a low voice. "He said I was nothing — that I was just a dirty prostitute."

"Lois, you *know* that's not true," he said fiercely, and felt her flinch. "You know it's just a pack of lies," he said more gently, although his heart was cold. "He's just trying to play on your insecurities."

"I know. And I know we've talked about this before. But, Clark, the truth is I *don't* know what I did, because I can't remember. What if he's right?"

Her voice was beginning to quaver, and he knew she was only seconds from tears. He swallowed past the sudden lump in his own throat, and moved away from her so that he could look directly into her eyes. Cupping her face gently in his hands, he told her, "He's not right, Lois. Whatever he says, you don't believe it. Whatever he makes other people say, you don't believe it. He's an evil, sadistic bully, and he'll tell you anything he wants if he thinks it will hurt you. So you don't believe him. OK?"

But her face crumpled as he watched, and as he drew her back to his chest, the tears came. "He kept calling me Wanda," she said in a small voice.

"Lois…" The lump in his throat was back, and he couldn't do more than merely hold her while she cried tears of fright and hurt; the same emotions he was experiencing himself now that the white heat of fury had dissipated.


Luthor gazed out of the window of his limousine at the buildings gliding smoothly by, massaging his aching neck. A stylish cravat would probably be in order tomorrow, to cover up the bruises which would no doubt appear. Still, it was a small price to pay: Kent was no doubt well into the self-flagellation stage by now, and Lois Lane was probably whimpering in a corner, wondering what terrible things she could have done during that gratifyingly long period of time when it was doubtful she would be able to remember which country she was in, let alone what she was doing at the time.

Admittedly, discovering he was sharing the TV stage with the two of them had been a surprise, and he would make the appropriate complaints to the TV station: he had been brought there under false pretences, and Lex Luthor would not stand for that kind of treatment by an upstart TV producer. However, as usual, he had taken a lemon, and made the most delicious lemonade out of it; they had clearly believed he would make some sort of blunder when faced with their clumsy attempts at pressure interview techniques, and instead, he had emerged triumphant as the injured party, and sent them slinking away with their tails between their legs.

All in all, an excellent evening's work. Rounds one and two could be chalked up to Lex Luthor, and round three…well, round three was going to be an interesting one. How many crime syndicates did it take to build a weapon capable of destroying Superman? Answer: as many as you've leaked the designs to.

He smiled, and fished out his cell-phone from an inside pocket; this called for a celebration.

"Ah, Mrs Cox. I wonder if you'd care to put in some overtime work this evening? I have a letter of complaint to write."


Lois was at last managing to stem the tide of tears. She was annoyed with herself for being so weak — after all, he hadn't actually *done* anything. Just said a few things, and immediately she was reduced to this pathetic creature, sobbing her heart out against her partner's chest and soaking his shirt in the process.

And what a fool she'd been. She had underestimated Lex, even though she had thought she knew him back to front. He had laughed at her; brushed away her feeble attempts to make him crumble in public.

"I've been so stupid," she announced, pulling away from Clark. "I should never have tried to pull this crazy stunt. Lex is too sophisticated to let a few wild accusations on live TV faze him."

"Maybe. But you weren't stupid, Lois. It was a good idea, and who knows? It might have worked."

"But it didn't. I should have been more subtle."

"You saw an opportunity, and you took it. And it took guts, real guts, to do what you did tonight, Lois."

She scrubbed tears away from her face angrily. "Did it? Did it really? Or would it have taken more guts to wait until we had enough evidence to crucify him no matter how many dupes he set up as alibis?"

Looking up at his face, she saw the conflict in his eyes, reminding her that she had talked him into this thing; he would never have considered it on his own. He was trying to support her now, because she was upset, but really, this whole disaster was her fault. And at what price to Clark himself? Lex had driven him to the point where he had completely lost control of his emotions in the most terrifying way — terrifying for Clark, because he abhorred violence so intensely. But she had seen the naked aggression in his face, and she suspected he would relive those few moments of deliberate, cold-blooded violence over and over again. He wasn't a violent person, yet Lex had made him into one. And that was her fault too.

"We'll never know, Lois. But we discussed it, and we made a decision. It was the right one at the time."

He almost sounded convincing. But she wasn't angry with him, she was angry with herself. And depressed. She wrapped her arms around him again and choked back another sob, for herself and for him.

"Come on," he murmured gently. "Let's go."


High up in the night sky, held secure in Clark's arms, Lois gazed down at the buildings rushing by beneath them. Most were in darkness, the streetlights making a criss-cross pattern of light between them; occasionally a larger dark patch would indicate a park or construction site. She imagined the people inside the buildings, watching TV, eating a late dinner, sleeping, making love — all of those lives, so simple and straightforward. The most they probably had to worry about was whether they would meet the repayments on the mortgage this month, or which school to send their kids to. So easy.

And here they were, she and Clark, flying home to a sleepless night, followed by a waking nightmare. Why couldn't they have one of those simple, straightforward lives like the ones down there?


It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He was supposed to find Lois, fall in love with her, marry her, settle down with her and maybe have a couple of kids, then live happily ever after. That was what CK and the other Lois had (well, all except the kids part), so why couldn't he have the same? Why did he have to go through this endless pain and heartache; why did there have to be this evil person standing in the way all the time, ruining their lives at every turn?

He felt as if he'd been fighting a losing battle with fate ever since he had become Superman. Everything seemed to be so hard; every time he thought he'd overcome the worst the world could throw at him, something new would come along to bash him back down again. It wasn't that he was a quitter; he'd always thought of himself as pretty tenacious, but there was only so much one person could cope with, and he thought he'd had more than his fair share.

He was so tired.

He glanced downwards. They would be home soon; his apartment was only a couple of blocks away now. Then the nightmare would be back again. He searched ahead and saw that he was more right than he could have imagined: reporters, door-stepping the apartment block. The feeding frenzy was beginning in earnest.

He looked further ahead into the distance, to the far horizon, imagining the country beyond.

So peaceful.

It was an easy decision. Picking up speed, he flew on, past his apartment and into the night.

"Clark? What are you doing? You missed the apartment."

He looked down at her anxious face and told her what he should have told her a long time ago. "I'm stopping it. Just like I said I would."

He fixed his sights back towards the horizon and flew, leaving behind the nightmare, the reporters, Lex Luthor and the quantum disruptor — all the pain and heartache, and headed forwards, towards the horizon and their new life together.



A short, dapper man in a three-piece suit and bowler hat turned his head up to the night sky and tutted to himself, shaking his head. It appeared that history was repeating itself, and sooner than he would have expected. Apparently this Superman preferred to run away rather than confront his problems head on. He supposed everything would turn out all right in the end; Utopia was certainly intact the last time he had visited it in this universe. But…it wouldn't be as if he was tampering with timelines, he rationalised, and it did seem that this man needed some good solid advice, not to mention his future bride. It had worked once, bringing in some outside help — why shouldn't it work again?

His mind made up, he trotted back to the alley where his transport was waiting. Setting the co-ordinates for the other dimension, he hummed happily to himself. Superman and Lois needed his help, and he knew just where to find it.



To be continued in Fear of Discovery IV: Lois and Clark and Clark and Lois