John and Lois and Clark and Joan

By Blaise Pascal <pascal256@yahoo.com>

Rated PG-13

Submitted November 2000

Summary: An alternate beginnings story that uses both heavenly and earthly intervention to get our two favorite reporters together.

Note: This is an alternate beginning story where I took the events of the pilot and mixed them around. This story is *not* in the same continuity as the series, nor is it in the same continuity as my previous stories ("The Wedding", "The Rehearsal", "The (Mis)conception", and "The Final Gift"). Thanks to Sarah Wood for her transcript of the pilot episode, where I took many lines and borrowed a few of her interpretations. And thanks especially to Alicia Utowski for being my beta-reader and my sounding board, even with her busy schedule. I owe you big time, Alicia. :)

All comments are appreciated, as always.

Disclaimer: The story is mine, but the characters are not. I'm merely borrowing the characters from WB, DC Comics, etc., etc. No borrowing, copying, or distributing without my permission, etc., etc.

***

[Prologue: Somewhere in Metropolis]

The woman could not believe her ears. "Lois Lane and Clark Kent?" she exclaimed.

The man smiled at her outburst. "I know, honey, I know. We're going to get our hands full with this assignment."

"But, why them, of all people?" she inquired. She got up and started to pace around the room.

"I don't know. But let's not question his choices, shall we?"

"All right, then, all right," she sighed. "How much time do we have?"

"The usual," he shrugged. They looked at one another for a moment. Then he added, "He's confident of our abilities, you know that."

Her face softened. "I know, honey. So how are we going to do this?"

"That's why we're here. To plan. Shall we get to work?"

"Yes, let's!"

***

[Metropolis, Hotel Apollo]

[Monday, August 16, 1993, 5:26 P.M.]

Clark was feeling dejected as he made his way back to the Hotel Apollo. The biggest job interview that he had ever done, and he blew it. It was simple as that. He had hoped that for once he could stay in one place and not move on like the way he did the past four years. He had hoped that he could get a job at the Daily Planet, 'the greatest newspaper in the whole world,' as Perry White, the Editor-in- Chief, said with pride. And it didn't look like either was going to happen.

Clark walked through the lobby of the Hotel Apollo, clearly lost in his thoughts. A shout of "Hey, you!" on his left jarred him back to reality. He turned and saw the hotel manager standing by the front desk, motioning him over.

"You the guy in Room 210?" the hotel manager barked. Without waiting for Clark's response, the older man handed him a piece of paper. "This is for you."

"Thanks…" Clark started, but he saw that the hotel manager was already walking back to his office. Clark glanced at the piece of paper the manager gave him and smiled. Instead of going up the stairway to his room, he turned around and went out the front door of the hotel.

A few moments later Clark was standing in front of Apartment No. 105 of an apartment building across town, and knocked. He heard a muffled "Just a minute!" and leaned against the opposite wall of the rather dark hallway — a couple of the lights were out, he noted. The door opened to reveal an attractive brunette in her mid to late twenties.

"Hi, Clark! You're just in time for supper…" Joan Duoblys started, but then she noticed the look on his face. "Oh, Clark," she said softly, and stretched her arms out. "Come here…" Wordlessly Clark allowed himself to be enveloped by her embrace.

***

[Metropolis, Joan Duoblys' apartment]

[5:34 P.M.]

It was hard to describe Clark's relationship with Joan, perhaps because he had not been in many relationships in the past. They had met in Paris a month before — he had been working as a freelance for a couple of French newspapers, and she was an American high school French teacher on sabbatical. They had clicked, and days later, Clark and Joan were on their first date, a dinner and a movie. It turned out that they had a lot in common. Both hailed from the Midwest, both had traveled a lot (Joan's father was in the Army), both had a natural flair for languages (besides English and French Joan was fluent in Spanish and could get by in Italian), and both were ridiculously nearsighted. Okay the last wasn't true, since Clark wasn't nearsighted, but he had been wearing glasses out of habit since he was fourteen.

There had been many dates since then, but nothing had gone further than a perfunctory peck on the lips at the end of each evening out. Clark had liked Joan a lot, but he didn't want to pressure her into anything. Joan had liked Clark too, but she didn't want to go too fast, fearing that he would get uncomfortable. When they had voiced their concerns, Clark had been amazed at how similar their views were. Both wanted to find that special someone, yet neither was in a hurry to do so.

Joan was also the first person besides his parents who knew his 'secret', that he had these powers. She had found out totally by accident. The two were preparing dinner one night, and while Joan was chopping up some vegetables, the knife had somehow flown out her hand and headed towards Clark. Before she could even scream, the knife had bounced harmlessly off his head. She even had seen that the blade had hit him first, and yet it had bounced off! Clark turned around as the knife fell to the floor. When Joan looked down at it, she had found that the knife was bent a little at the tip and was not covered with blood.

Immediately Clark was very worried about what would happen next. He was afraid that Joan would either run away, contact the authorities, or both. But Joan's reaction completely surprised him. She hadn't been angry at all. Dinner was forgotten as Joan asked Clark questions late into the night about his special abilities, and afterwards it looked as if Joan was looking at him with even more respect, instead of total fear and disgust. Joan had continued to treat him the same way as before, and Clark really appreciated that. And when she had sworn that she would not tell anyone, Clark believed her.

Once Joan had found out, Clark had felt himself freer than before. He no longer had to pretend or to lie around her. She had taken the revelation completely in stride, and once in a while she would accuse him of being a show-off (in jest, of course). They found themselves closer friends than ever before, and their goodnight pecks lately became longer and more substantial.

About a week ago, Joan's sabbatical had ended, and she had to return to Metropolis, where she had been teaching French at an all-girl Catholic school for the past seven years. She wasn't about to suggest that Clark follow her to Metropolis, yet he surprised her by saying that he was going to stop freelancing in Paris and find a job in Metropolis. "It's been a dream of mine to work at the 'Daily Planet'," Clark had said. This also gave Joan the opportunity to fly in Clark's arms for the first time, and she had enjoyed it.

When the pair had arrived in Metropolis, Joan had offered the guestroom of her spacious two-bedroom apartment, but Clark had declined. While it was agreed then that they would continue to see each other and see what would happen, Clark was a little uncomfortable at this point with the prospect of living with her, even though it would be in separate bedrooms. Joan had not questioned his refusal, which made him feel better about his decision.

So now here he was, in the hustle and bustle that was called Metropolis, living at a hotel that was in a seedy part of town, and woefully unemployed. He accepted the cup of tea that Joan had offered him and told her about the interview that he had blown.

"I should have known that a resume like mine wouldn't get me a job at the Daily Planet," he sighed as he took a sip of tea. "I probably should never have left Smallville. Instead, I should have started there and worked my way up."

"Didn't the editor look at your samples?" Joan asked.

"Not really," Clark reflected. "I had brought stuff from the French newspapers of course, the Smallville Press, the Borneo Gazette…"

"The Borneo Gazette!" Joan interrupted, face agape. "He didn't see your article on the mating rituals of the knob-tailed gecko, did he?" She put a hand on her mouth to hide the laughter that was threatening to escape her lips.

"Actually, he did," Clark replied, somewhat defensively. "It was a good piece, you know!"

"I know it is!" Joan shot back, trying not to giggle. "But it doesn't sound like the type of piece to impress the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet with. Maybe you should have shown him that article you did for Le Monde right before we left Paris."

Clark shook his head. "Well it doesn't matter now. I blew the interview, no doubt about it."

"That sounds mighty defeatist, Clark," Joan pointed out gently. "You are going to try some of the other newspapers, right?"

"I guess…" Clark didn't sound very convincing.

"… But the Daily Planet is the place you wanted to work for, I know." Joan paused to look at him as she thought about the situation. Then an idea came to her. "Why don't you write a story, a mood piece, on anything? You could try to show it to the editor and see what he thinks."

Clark looked up at Joan and smiled. Always resourceful. That was one of many things that he liked about her. "That's a great idea! And I know what to write about!"

"Really? What are you going to do?"

"Mr. White was asking one of the reporters about the razing of some theater on 42nd Street, and it looked like she didn't want to do it."

"The Bernhardt Theater is going down?" Joan asked, eyebrows raised. "Interesting. That place must be at least a hundred years old. So what's her name?"

Joan's question caught Clark off guard. "Name?" he repeated.

"You said 'she'," Joan reminded him, bemused. "The reporter who didn't want to write it? What's her name?"

"Uh, what was it… oh yeah. It was Lois Lane," he mumbled. What on earth was wrong with him?

"Lois Lane? Oh, I've heard of her. As a matter of fact, she was three years behind me at MetroU." Despite being the same age as Clark, Joan had entered MetroU two years early.

Clark raised his eyebrows at this new bit of information. "Did you know her?"

"Not really. I was an undergraduate teaching assistant for her French class. We barely spoke five words to each other all semester. She was a very good student, as I recall," Joan said. She noticed the look of interest on Clark's face and rolled her eyes. "Why do you ask? Do you think she's cute?"

"Jo-an!" Clark exclaimed, turning a deep shade of red.

Joan chuckled. "Just kidding. Anyway, why don't you do that piece on the Bernhardt Theater? In the meantime…" — she got up, and pulled Clark towards the kitchen — "I'm hungry and you're helping me cook."

There was laughter in Clark's eyes as he pulled Joan back to him. "Oh really? I'm in the mood for something different, though. How about Italian?"

"And I bet you're going to go to Rome to get it," Joan smirked, her lips inches away from his.

"Of course," Clark said, and met Joan's lips for a light kiss.

"Okay," Joan consented. "But be careful. You don't want to…"

Suddenly there was a whoosh and a sonic boom, as Clark flew out the door. In ten seconds another whoosh signaled Clark's return, his hands full of genuine Italian cuisine.

"… be seen by anyone," Joan finished, shaking her head and smiling. "I could get used to this," she remarked, as she started to take the still hot containers of food from Clark's arms.

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's apartment]

[6:21 P.M.]

<Click…>

<Click…>

<Click…>

<Click…>

<Squeeeeeak!>

With relative ease and finesse, Lois Lane unlocked all four locks on her apartment door. Well, as much ease and finesse as it was possible with a bag of groceries in one arm and her satchel hanging from her shoulder. "Lucy?" she called. "Are you home?" Lois was closing the door with her foot when a pair of hands grabbed the bag of groceries. She jerked her head around and found herself face to face with a tall, dark-haired and good-looking man.

"John!" she squeaked, and then found her voice. "You scared me!"

John Bialzak made his way to the kitchen with the groceries and methodically began to put them away. "Sorry about that, Lois," he said over his shoulder. "Lucy let me in, and then she had to go out."

"Oh, that's all right." Lois said, as she unceremoniously dumped her satchel on the couch. She then began to take off her shoes, letting out a groan as she did so. It had been a long day at the Planet. There was the routine trading of insults with Cat Grant, the Planet's Society columnist. Then a madman had come to her in the newsroom and proclaimed that the Messenger was going to explode. Then there was the routine bursting into Perry's office while he was talking to somebody. 'Probably an interview with some new, green reporter,' she had thought. Of course there had also been the usual tasks of running around the city all day conducting interviews and meeting with sources. All in all, it had been a normal day in the life of Lois Lane.

As Lois sat down on her couch with a plop, her thoughts returned to the scene in Perry's office, when she barged in to ask Perry to let her check out the Messenger story. She had concluded that Perry was conducting a job interview with the guy, but there was something about the guy that she couldn't place a finger on. Then it came to her: the man had stood up when she had entered Perry's office! She couldn't recall any other man doing that recently. Instead she was beginning to recall how devastatingly good-looking the bespectacled man was, much better-looking than Claude, maybe even better-looking than… John?

What in the world was she thinking? Fortunately John was still busy in the kitchen and didn't notice the blush that was appearing on Lois' cheeks. She covered her face with her hands. Here she was, daydreaming about some good-looking guy she had just met, and John was standing no more than 10 feet away from her! How low could she go? How could she do that when she has John?

But *did* she have John? That was a question that Lois couldn't answer. They had met in May while she was on a story; it had turned out that the newly elected DA was accepting bribes. John was a lawyer in his own private practice, and he had been visiting the DA's office when the two of them had literally bumped into each other outside the office building. He had then helped her get the evidence she needed, for he actually believed in justice, unlike most of the other lawyers that she had met in the past.

After she had broken the story and the DA had resigned, John and Lois began seeing each other, less on a professional level, and more on a personal one. They had become fast friends. Despite her vow never again to get involved with men, she couldn't help but to say 'yes' when John had asked her out to dinner. She couldn't help but to allow him to see her again after the first date. And she couldn't help but to allow him to kiss her goodnight at the end of each evening out.

John was a rather tall and slim fellow. He was attractive *and* he was nice. Usually the two qualities were mutually exclusive — Claude was a prime example of this. But after three months of seeing him, nothing went beyond a couple of make-out sessions on the couch. Why was that? Maybe it was because of the fact that all of her previous relationships were federal disasters, and that she was essentially afraid. Maybe it was because John didn't want to push her into anything. Whatever the reason, neither one of them had taken the initiative to do anything further, physically or emotionally.

And yet, Lois did not want to break things off with John now. She couldn't imagine herself without him, especially with Lucy currently undecided as to what she had wanted to do with her life, especially with her mother nagging her to settle down and get married when Lois wasn't sure that was what she had wanted, and especially with her father still ignoring everyone for the sake of his work. John was the best thing that has happened to her so far, but once in a while, she would think if this was the best there is…

Lois' thoughts were interrupted when two strong hands began massaging her shoulders and neck. She sighed as the tensions of the day began to leave her body.

"Rough day at work?" John asked, sympathetic.

"When isn't it?" she quipped back. "Don't stop. This feels wonderful. I hope that your day wasn't as stressful as mine, though."

"No such luck," John said wryly. "I've just received five new cases today. All for me as defense counsel."

Lois let out a low whistle. "Ouch. That's sounds awful."

"Yeah," John agreed, stopping his ministrations on Lois' shoulders so that he could walk around to sit down next to her. "An increased workload is never fun, especially since I haven't had a break in months," he continued, sighing. "This will mean, of course, that we will see each other even less. And that's not good." He draped Lois' shoulders with his right arm and brought her closer to him.

Lois didn't resist the motion, for she was pretty tired. She rested her head on John's shoulder. "I know, the past couple of weeks alone have been crazy for the both of us, you with the Peretti murder trial and me with my car theft ring story." She let out a long breath. "We haven't done anything more than visit each other for supper.

John smiled. "Well, tonight it is going to change," he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

"What do you mean?"

"The last time we tried to cook dinner, let's just say I'm glad we didn't have to call the fire department," John said. Lois chuckled at the memory. Each had thought the other could cook when it was suggested that they cook dinner together last Friday night. The result looked as if a tornado swept through John's kitchen. They had ended up eating Chinese takeout, and then they had spent the weekend cleaning up the mess. "How about we go for some Italian this time?" John suggested.

Lois was sorely tempted. "Oh John," she sighed. "I'd love to, but today's Monday. I have a ton of work to do."

"I know, and so do I," John said. "It's just Luigi's, Lois, right down the street from my place." He grinned mischievously. "Besides, I know how much you love their Double Chocolate Cheesecake," he added dramatically.

"Oooooh!" Lois cried. She pushed John away and pulled a couch pillow over her head. "You sure know how to torture me, John Bialzak," she accused him mockingly, her voice muffled.

"Please, Lois?" John asked gently. "It'll just be dinner, because I've got a stack of documents this high…" — he indicated with his hands how high the stack was — "…that I have to read over tonight."

Lois gave in. With John, it was impossible to say no. "Okay, okay, but you have to massage my feet first."

John rolled his eyes. "Deal," he said. Lois swung her legs up and rested them on John's lap. "I'm starting to regret telling you that my sister is a masseuse," he said, pretending to look remorseful.

"I'll make it up to you somehow," Lois promised, as she sighed at the movements of John's hands on her stocking-covered feet. "By the way," she remarked, "did I tell you that Perry's now hiring?"

"Another reporter?"

"I think so. I saw a small stack of newspaper clippings on Perry's desk when I went in."

"You mean when you 'barged' in," John corrected her.

Lois made a face at him but didn't respond to John's comment. "Anyway, I glanced at the clippings. Probably samples of this guy's work."

"Was the guy good-looking?" John asked, his face looking innocent.

Lois was about to counter with a retort when she saw the laughter in John's eyes. "Oh, you!" she admonished, swatting him with the couch pillow she was still holding.

"Sorry," John said, clearly not meaning it. He looked at his watch. "Oops! It's 6:35. We better get a move on. I've got reservations at Luigi's for 7:00." He pushed Lois' legs off his lap and got up.

"Wait a minute," Lois called. John turned to look at her. "You got reservations *before* asking me to dinner?"

John grinned. "Yep. You have a problem with that?" he challenged.

Lois rolled her eyes. 'Some things never change,' she mused. "Just give me a couple of minutes to get ready," she replied.

Exactly four minutes later, John and Lois left her apartment, after she locked the four locks on her apartment door. This *was* Metropolis, after all, with one of the worst crime rates in the country. As the pair left the apartment building, Lois wondered yet again if *anything* could be done to reduce the crime in the city.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building]

[Wednesday, August 18, 1993, 7:02 A.M.]

It was very early Wednesday morning when Lois arrived at the Planet. Normally she would have arrived at 8:00, but she had wanted to do some checking on the Messenger story. Most of Tuesday was spent tying up loose ends on the car theft ring story and attempting yet again to secure an interview with Lex Luthor — this time his personal assistant had returned her calls — but Lois was able to do some background checking on Dr. Samuel Platt. What she had found wasn't pretty. When she talked to Perry about it later that afternoon, she wasn't surprised when he didn't want to run the story. How did Dr. Samuel Platt know that the Messenger was going to explode? Was he even in sound mind when he made that proclamation to the entire newsroom? Now another question nagged Lois: what if Dr. Platt was *right*?

With a sigh, Lois turned to the heap of folders and papers that was sitting on her desk. Jimmy had brought her some research on the space program yesterday, and it was going to take a while to go through everything. About an hour later, she was still at her desk, the size of the heap of research not much smaller than when she had started. Her coffee had also gotten cold, and she was getting a bit sore in places. God, she *had* to go back to her Tae Kwon Do class!

She was so engrossed in her work that she almost didn't hear someone clearing his throat. She jerked up, annoyed that she was being interrupted. "What?"

Jimmy held up his hands, placating her. "Whoa, Lois, no need to bite my head off! The chief wants to see you." With a grumble she followed Jimmy towards the Editor-In-Chief's office. When she entered, she stopped short.

Seated in Perry's office was Clark Kent, that man, that devastatingly good-looking man in glasses. 'You've already used those adjectives to describe him,' she reminded herself. What was *he* doing back here? Was this another interview? But she had heard that the interview hadn't gone well. 'How can someone get hired based on an article from the Borneo Gazette? I mean, really! What kind of newspaper is that?'

"What's up, Perry?" Lois asked, trying to sound calm. She tried her best to avoid looking at Clark, but she did notice that he stood up again when she came in.

"I wanted you to listen to this," Perry drawled, holding a piece of a computer printout. "I'm sure you remember Mr. Clark Kent here. He's interested in joining the Planet, and he has just given me this piece as a sample of his work." He began to read Clark's article. "'Beatrice was eighteen when she made her debut. Warren G. Harding was President, the Unknown Soldier was interred at Arlington, and Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees…'"

Lois' eyes widened. It was a story on the demolition of the Bernhardt Theater! The mood piece that Perry had assigned her Monday morning. The article that Lois wasn't 'in the mood' to do. And now, apparently this Mr. Kent had taken the liberty of writing it. When she began to actually listen to Perry as he read (she has to check up on the potential competition, of course), she was astounded.

Okay, maybe 'astounded' wasn't the word. She was stunned. She was impressed. She was… moved. She was touched. Whoever this devastatingly good-looking man was, he had a way with words. Not only did his appearance disturb her equilibrium, but his words and his emotions did as well. She suspected that Clark had felt this Beatrice's pain, a lady who would soon never see that theater again.

But Clark wasn't the only one who had a way with words. Lois Lane was a heck of a writer herself. After all, had she not won the Kerth award twice (and for the first two years that she was eligible, no less)? She was a brilliant and a passionate journalist who didn't run away from adversity. (At least, so she had heard.) If one had looked at the list of stories she had written in the four years that she had worked at the Daily Planet, he or she would notice, however, that virtually all of them were big news-breaking stories. Once in a blue moon she would have a Page 8 mood piece like the one on the Bernhardt Theater, but only because Perry would force her to do it.

Lois focused her attention back on Perry's reading of Clark's story, but a bit too late, since Perry was almost finished. "… She came to say good-bye — as we all must — to the past, and to a life and a place that soon would exist only in a bittersweet memory." He smiled as he set the printout down on his desk.

"Smooth," Jimmy quipped, with admiration.

Clark turned to Lois. After hearing about Lois Lane from Joan, Clark had visited the Metropolis Public Library yesterday to look at some previous issues of the Daily Planet. If anyone had asked why he was doing this, he would have said that he had wanted to check on the quality of the writing of the stories. Never mind that all the articles he had looked at were written by Lois Lane, Staff Writer.

Lois saw Clark turn to look at her, probably wanting to hear her reaction. Lois had wanted to say something nice, something that would accurately convey her thoughts on Clark's piece. But despite her intentions, and despite her being in a relationship with John for about three months, where John had taught her to open up and to express her feelings, she couldn't. In the most nonchalant voice she could muster, she said, "Uh, yeah, if you like that sort of thing."

To Clark, however, it sounded like Lois was perhaps bored? Uninterested? Unimpressed? A story which Clark took pride in writing, and it didn't seem to faze Lois Lane. He cringed inwardly. Of course, she was the seasoned reporter, someone who had written big stories, despite her age. She could probably write this piece in seconds if she had wanted to, though Clark didn't know why Lois didn't want to. It looked like Clark would have to do more to impress Lois Lane.

Impress Lois Lane? Why would he want to do that? He had Joan, for goodness sake! Well, sort of! Anyway, he figured that Lois wasn't happy with him. Maybe he stepped into her territory when he had written that article. He didn't know. Besides, he had heard Jimmy, the young man in the office, say that Lois had always worked alone, and that suited Clark just fine. Perhaps they could be friends. Perhaps they could be close friends. But he hoped that they wouldn't be enemies — he could infer from what he had learned that Lois was very competitive, and competition among reporters is a good way to mess up a friendship, or a romance, or a marriage…

Then Perry spoke up, so Clark turned his attention to the Editor-in- Chief. "You know, Kent, there's only one attribute I value more than experience, and that's initiative." With that, Perry stood up and offered his hand. "Clark Kent, welcome to the Daily Planet!" They were about to shake hands when Perry seemed to have remembered something. "Whoops!" he exclaimed, and patted Clark's hand instead of shaking it.

Lois was floored. This devastatingly good-looking man (God, she's got to stop using those adjectives to describe him!) was now her colleague. A potential friend. A potential adversary (in her journalism career, of course). A potential… don't go there, Lane! She mentally kicked herself, thinking that she should know better. There's more to a man than a pretty face. Look at Claude!

Claude had charmed her, had wooed her, had gotten into her bed, and had stolen her story. But then again, there was John, who had also charmed her and had wooed her. Of course, he made no attempts to get into her bed, unlike any of the other men, and he couldn't really steal her stories, since he wasn't even a reporter. Okay, he could give one of Lois' stories to another reporter at the Metropolis Star, for instance, but he would never do that. Yes, John Bialzak was one of a kind, and no man, not even Clark Kent, would make her feel differently. For now.

A commotion in the newsroom brought Lois back into the present.

"The Messenger's on fire!"

"Lois! Get over here!"

Lois scurried out of the office, thankful for the interruption, thankful for an opportunity to get away from Clark Kent. A crowd gathered around one of the monitors, which was showing the Messenger, on the launch pad, and in trouble.

Lois' heart sank. This was what she had feared. The prophetic ravings of an eccentric had turned out to be true. And she had done nothing about it. Well, she *couldn't* have done anything about it! As she was barely listening to Carmen Alvarado's report on the tragedy, Lois noticed Perry next to her watching the report. "I knew there was something to Platt's story, I knew it!" she said to him.

Perry sighed, and tried to reason with her. "Now, Lois, just because one madman's prediction came true doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy to sabotage the entire space program," he remarked.

"But with more than a hundred colonists going up on the next launch, are you willing to take that chance?" she countered. Perry sighed again.

Clark was distraught as his gaze alternated between Lois and Mr. White and the television screen. This was terrible! Clark had contemplated leaving the newsroom and fly to EPRAD, perhaps to try to save the astronauts, but he knew that was out of the question. There were a lot of people in the newsroom, and Mr. White would certainly notice his absence if Clark left, especially since he had just got the job. And probably Mr. White would want him to start immediately, now that there's a lot of things to investigate.

Clark's dream to work at the Daily Planet may not have gone up in smoke, but his chance to avert a tragedy did. Upset, he looked at the monitor again, seeing the Messenger and the launch pad engulfed in flames.

***

A few hours later, Lois threw away the remnants of her sandwich, a pastrami on rye. What a day it had been, and it was only 12:30 in the afternoon! Not long after seeing the report on the Messenger explosion on television, the newsroom was in a whirlwind of activity. Perry had issued orders left and right, like a general to his troops. Lois had asked Jimmy to get more research on Dr. Samuel Platt, the other scientists, the space program, anything.

Now her stack of files and papers was twice as high, and she had barely scratched the surface. She had considered taking everything to the conference room and working there (the newsroom was rather noisy), but Perry and Clark were using it right now. She pulled her chair back from her desk and stretched, keeping her eyes on Clark… and Perry. Clark *and* Perry. In the conference room.

She took another look at the pile of research and let out a long breath. If there *was* a conspiracy to sabotage the space program, and if she got the story, this could mean a fourth Kerth, assuming that she gets her third one in the Kerth ceremony this October. She already knew that she was nominated for the story on the DA three months ago — her story was written just before the end of the eligibility period. But the Messenger story, if her gut instincts were telling her correctly, would be the biggest story yet. Unfortunately, this story might be so big that Lois might not be able to handle this alone.

No, Lois Lane wasn't backing down from a challenge. It was just that she was realizing what her limits were. John was always trying to get her to slow down and not to overwork, which was funny, because he had a tendency to do the same. True to form, Lois had not spoken to John since their dinner at Luigi's Monday night because of all the work they were now doing. She simply missed him. If Lois tried to tackle the Messenger story alone she might not leave Planet building at all until it was done.

A movement in the conference room caught her eye. She saw Clark and Perry stand up and shake hands… no that's not true. Perry was patting Clark's hand again. Such an odd gesture. She didn't give what she had just witnessed a second thought, however, as Perry was leaving the conference room and was making his way to his office. Lois bolted up from her chair and walked briskly to Perry's office before giving anyone else a chance to see him first.

***

Clark was on cloud nine. Because he was momentarily out of it he didn't notice Lois making a beeline towards Mr. White's office. Clark was now working for the Daily Planet, and Mr. White was now his boss. His new boss.

Because the news of the Messenger incident had just broken, Clark was going to start today. It was amazing that less than forty-eight hours ago he was wondering if he could feel lower than he did, when Mr. White had said at first that he didn't have anything for him. He stayed where he was, in the conference room, observing the hurricane that was called the Daily Planet newsroom. Everyone seemed to be either typing, talking on the phone, or moving about. His eyes focused on an empty desk with a chair, in fact the only empty desk that he could see. His new desk.

As Clark looked in the immediate vicinity of his desk, he noticed that Lois' desk wasn't far from his. There it was; her nameplate was sitting on top of it. At the moment, she wasn't sitting at her desk — - she probably was out gathering info on the Messenger, or maybe meeting one of her sources. Of course he had no idea what Lois Lane was *really* like. After all, today was only their second meeting, and what he had learned so far came from her stories and from overheard conversations in the newsroom. But there was something about her that… intrigued him. And no, it wasn't just because Lois was a very attractive woman. 'Like Joan is,' Clark reminded himself. Well, it would be nice to work with Lois Lane, and perhaps someday, they could be… friends. Lois Lane. His new colleague. His new… friend?

Clark shook his head, reprimanding himself for daydreaming. Mr. White had just given him a chance, and there was no way Clark would mess it up. Now that he just got the job, it was time to start working. At the Daily Planet. In Metropolis. His new home.

***

Lois was pacing in Perry's office, the wheels in her head turning quickly as she planned for the Messenger story. "I'll need a task force. I can't cover this story alone."

Perry looked up from the papers from his desk. "You can have Jimmy," he suggested.

Jimmy? Lois almost laughed out loud. No offense to Jimmy, but he was only a photographer and a researcher. What she needed was another reporter at the very least. "Chief," she protested, "we're talking about the space program!"

Perry thought for a moment. Judas Priest, that girl could be very difficult to deal with at times. But she was one heck of a reporter, so… "Okay, take Kent."

No, Lois didn't hear that correctly, did she? He wouldn't suggest… "Kent?" she repeated, in an unusually small voice.

"Kent!" Perry repeated.

Working with Clark Kent? No, that's impossible. A bad idea. Not Clark Kent, that… man. There had to be someone else available. Besides, Kent was just hired today! What does *he* know about investigative reporting? Now let's see, who else could help? "What about Myerson?" she asked.

"He's busy."

Busy doing what? Fine. All right then, who else? "Burns?" Lois tried again.

"Budapest."

Lois sighed. Everyone else *was* busy with other things. But there was still no way that she could work with Clark Kent. "Forget Kent," she said firmly.

Perry was tired of this. Lois was right; she couldn't possibly tackle this story by herself. It was time to play the bad boss… "Uh-uh, he's a good man," he said.

What was this? Was Perry now *ordering* Lois to take Kent? Uh uh, no way. She wasn't going to be intimidated by Perry's change of voice. "Kent is a hack from Smallville, I couldn't make that name up!" she said in desperation.

Okay, so Perry wasn't really ordering Lois. But there *was* no one else available, so he decided to leave it up to her. "Kent, or nobody," he stated.

For a moment Lois contemplated saying, "Nobody." But then she remembered John, remembering how she agreed with him when he had said that they've been seeing too little of each other lately. Oh… all right! How bad could it be? She was a professional. She could keep her feelings to herself. So she'll take Kent; but of course, Lois Lane always had the last word. "Fine. Don't ever say that I'm not a team player," she said, and with a huff, she stormed out of Perry's office. Perry's face was grim as he watched her leave.

***

'I can do this,' Lois thought to herself. Kent is just another reporter. 'Just treat him as you would treat any other colleague.' The problem was that she had little interaction with her colleagues, so she had no frame of reference to use.

Fortunately, Lois had been getting better in getting along with her co-workers. When she had started at the Daily Planet four years ago, she had virtually talked to no one, with the exception of her Editor- in-Chief and her department head. After a while, though, while she moved quickly to become an award-winning reporter, she had become lonely. So she had begun to talk to a third person, resulting in one of the most embarrassing moments in her life. That person was Claude. After the events of Claude's seduction and betrayal (yes, he did seduce her, much to her chagrin), Lois became even more withdrawn. Perry had tried a few times to partner her with another reporter, but in all cases, it didn't work out. It wasn't until after John had come into Lois' life that she had begun getting to know her colleagues, exchanging pleasantries, and talking about things besides the weather and one's health.

Lois shook her head. What was she doing? Daydreaming about her almost boyfriend? She prided herself in being able to focus and be businesslike at work. Well, that won't do! Time to earn her pay. She would have another front-page story, no matter what it takes. She would get that fourth Kerth. And she would find a way to completely ignore Clark Kent.

Yeah, right.

***

Lois found Clark standing near his desk, looking at some papers. Okay, show time. She walked briskly towards him. "Let's hit it," she said, swatting his arm and walking past him without looking his way.

Clark was stunned. Did Mr. White assign him and Lois to work together? Great! This would be a great opportunity to get to know her… and to watch first hand an investigative reporter at work, of course. He dropped the papers on his desk and followed Lois. "Mind if I ask where we're going?" he asked.

'Why do I feel nervous?' Lois asked herself. When she reached her own desk, she grabbed her bag. "To interview Samuel Platt," she answered quickly, "He's convinced the Messenger was sabotaged. I'll brief you on the way."

"And let's get something straight," Lois continued, as she made her way up the ramp. "I did not work my buns off to become an investigative reporter for the Daily Planet just to baby-sit some hack from Nowheresville!" Oh my God, did she just say that? What was wrong with her? Of course she knew: she was babbling. And now that she had started babbling, there was no way for her to stop. Sometimes John would tease her about that, and he had said that there was only one way to stop her babbling… Don't you dare go there, Lane!

Lois stopped at the top of the ramp and finally looked at him, but continued in her babble mode: "And one other thing, you are not working with me, you are working *for* me. I call the shots, I ask the questions." 'Help, somebody shut me up!' she thought, as she walked towards the elevators. "You are low man, I am top banana, and that's the way I like it. Comprende?" She almost groaned at her words as she and Clark waited for the elevator.

Clark was intrigued (there's that word again) at what he had just witnessed. He had never seen a person talk continuously as long has Lois just did. And she did so practically without taking a breath! God help the boyfriend or husband who has to deal with her babble- mode…

Jeez, already he was wondering about her dating status! It looked like Lois wasn't married — Clark did not see a wedding band — but a woman as attractive as she was, surely she was seeing someone now. Of course, that was very stereotypical, Clark realized, but it was probably a good idea to make that assumption now.

Clark almost forgot that Lois had asked him a question. He wasn't going to let her intimidate him. So he replied, "You like to be on top, got it." But immediately he regretted saying that. 'That's a great way to impress someone, Kent,' he mused. He willed himself to look straight ahead at the elevators, maintain a neutral look, and not see her reaction.

He would hear Lois' reaction, of course. She obviously did not like Clark's answer, but at the same time, she was grateful. She didn't want to like Clark, and him being a smart aleck was a great reason not to like him. Assuming an angry expression, Lois said with deliberation, "Don't push me, Kent, you are *way* out of your league." The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. She stalked inside and Clark followed her. Once they took their positions Clark allowed himself to smile. What he had just said *was* funny, he mused, as the elevator doors closed.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building]

[4:07 P.M.]

To the casual observer, Lois Lane looked cool, calm, and collected when she and Clark returned to the Planet three hours later. The fact of the matter was, she was none of these. Lois was hot (temperature wise, of course), agitated, and very confused.

Temperatures during the month of August were usually mild for Metropolis, but this year the largest city in the world was experiencing its worst heat wave ever. The highs were consistently in the upper 90's the last couple of weeks, and in five separate occasions new records for high temperatures had been set. The unusual thing was the fact that the weather in the rest of New Troy was abnormally cool for this time of year. Lois had wondered if there was something else that was causing the heat wave. 'Thank goodness the Daily Planet building is air-conditioned,' she thought, as she sat at her desk warily.

The source of her agitation was a certain John Bialzek. After Lois and Clark's interview with Dr. Platt, John had paged her. This was odd, because John had rarely paged her while she was at work. And the fact that he had paged her from his place instead of his office had puzzled her even further. Unfortunately, she had figured correctly that there was a problem. John had just found out that his grandmother had died of a stroke. This meant that he was going out of town and leaving this evening. This also meant that he would not be able to escort her to Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball Thursday night. Now what was she going to do?

Being with Clark today left her confused. Very confused. While Clark did make that smart-aleck comment about her liking to 'be on top,' he was also smart. Half the time Lois had not understood Dr. Platt's technical explanations as to why the Messenger exploded. But Clark had, asking questions to clarify Dr. Platt's points. All the while Clark had been looking around Dr. Platt's 'office.' Something that all good reporters did. Observe.

Clark had also used his charms to soften up Dr. Antoinette Baines during the second interview at EPRAD. Baines had originally said that reporters were not allowed to look at the Messenger wreckage, but Clark had convinced Dr. Baines to at least consider letting him and Lois take a look in the future. Lois was actually glad that Clark had done this; many times in the past Lois had exploited her femininity to get a story. But being physically close to Clark had short-circuited her brain again and she had ended up reprimanding Clark for his efforts with Dr. Baines.

Clark was also a gentleman, for on six occasions today he had held the door for Lois, and four times he had let her enter and exit the elevator first. God, had she actually been counting? John had also done things like that for her whenever they went out. Sometimes Lois had wanted John to cut it out and let her do things herself, but in reality she loved the way John was treating her. And she had loved the way Clark was being a gentleman as well…

Darn it, she was doing it again! Thinking about Clark! This had rarely happened before, her thinking about a guy, any guy, at work. In the past, the Daily Planet had been sort of a safe haven for her, a place for her to forget about her lack of a love life, the outside world, her lack of a love life, her family's problems, her lack of a love life… Being with John for three months had changed things, but now, there seemed no place for her to be where she could forget about Clark, even while she was with John, and Lois found that very disturbing.

'Oh, all right, I admit it,' she thought to herself. 'I am attracted to Clark. There, I've said it.' But of course, this did not make her feel any better. For the person who occupied her thoughts was sitting no more than ten feet from her, and now, she was going to have to figure out a way to summon her courage to ask him to Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball.

***

It was a long day for a first day at work, but Clark of course did not feel tired. With a smile on his face he picked up the phone book. Since he had been in Metropolis for only a couple of weeks, he wasn't yet familiar with the restaurants in the area. Of course, the fact that he had flown to other countries for cuisine hadn't given him the opportunity to become familiar. This time, Clark wanted to take Joan to somewhere nice, here in Metropolis.

He had wanted to have this celebration dinner tonight. But before he had left his hotel room this morning, she had called and said that if he ended up getting the job, then they should wait until tomorrow to celebrate. Apparently Joan had an early meeting at her school tomorrow morning, and after that meeting she wouldn't have to come in until Monday. (Her first day of classes wasn't for another two weeks.) The plan, then, was for Clark to cook this evening, and tomorrow evening they would go somewhere ("Surprise me," she had said, when he had asked if she had any preference). So now Clark was sitting at his desk, looking at the phone book looking for the restaurant listings, so that he could memorize the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all the restaurants in the area.

Clark almost smiled at what he was about to do: relying on his powers again. Having these powers did make things easier. But he had to control himself, all the time, never use his powers in public, because he didn't want to jeopardize his chances to lead a normal life. So far there were only two situations when he used his powers freely and without worry: at his parent's farm, and in front of Joan.

Thinking about his parents and Joan almost caused him to frown. His mom and dad had been very worried when he told them that someone else knew about his powers. They had not been sure if Joan could be trusted, because of course the three had never met. So right after Clark and Joan had returned to Metropolis from France, he had decided that it was time for Joan to meet his parents. This meant that there had been a second opportunity for Joan to fly in Clark's arms, which Joan didn't mind at all. Clark's concerns about the first meeting were unfounded, as the three of them had gotten along very well. The fact that Joan was born at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas probably had helped.

Without moving his head, Clark glanced upward to see who was still in the newsroom. Looking to the right, he noticed that Lois was looking at him. Immediately, his eyes returned to the phone book, and he tried very hard not to blush. As nonchalantly as he could, he resumed turning the pages of the phone book until he found the restaurant listings. He then heard her stand up and walk away from her desk.

Clark's impressions of Lois Lane did not change in the three hours, eight minutes, and 28 seconds that they were out on interviews. He had found out that she *was* brilliant. He had found out that she *did* have passion for her work. And he had found out that she *was* seeing someone. Before they went to see Dr. Baines at EPRAD, Lois had asked the cab to stop at a payphone because she had been paged. He wanted to beat himself up for doing it, but while he was sitting in the cab waiting, he had used his super-hearing to see whom Lois was talking to. When Clark had realized that it had been to a man named John, he immediately had focused his attention on the radio in the cab, only to find that the radio was belting out hard rock. Clark cringed inwardly. How could anyone stand that kind of music? His tastes leaned towards Jazz, Easy Listening, and Country…

At least Clark hadn't eavesdropped on Lois' entire phone conversation. But when she had returned to the cab, he had noticed that her mood was darker. Clark had tried to ask if everything was okay, but she had responded by reaching forward, turning off the radio, and ordering the cab driver to step on it to EPRAD. Well, at least he *was* right. Even though he didn't like making assumptions about people, like he had about Lois before they had left the Planet, he was right in that she was seeing someone. Clark should be happy that she was in a relationship, and that he was in a relationship.

So why didn't he feel that way?

***

Clark's eyes were still on the phone book when his phone rang. He reached for the phone and answered it. "Clark Kent."

"Clark?" said Joan. To him it sounded more like a croak.

"Joan? Is that you? Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not," Joan mumbled. Clark had to use his super-hearing to catch what she was saying. "I think I got the flu."

The flu? In August? Clark thought that hardly anyone got the flu during the dog days of summer, but he decided not to bring it up. "Well, you might as well forget about the meeting at your school tomorrow," he said, sighing. "And probably we should forget about tomorrow night as well."

"Oh Clark, I'm so sorry," Joan said, sounding very guilty. "I know you wanted to celebrate getting the job."

"It's okay. It happens."

"Not to you. You know how much I hate you now?" she asked, teasing.

"Sorry," Clark said cheerfully, not meaning it. "Listen," he continued, "why don't I stop by anyway? You haven't experienced a little TLC from me yet."

"I'd have be crazy to turn you down," Joan remarked. "See you in half an hour?"

"Right. See you later." Clark hung up, feeling disappointed. With a sigh, he stood up and grabbed the jacket that was draped on his chair. He then heard footsteps approaching his desk. Clark turned around to see Lois, looking nervous. "I don't suppose you own a tuxedo," she said with trepidation.

For a moment Clark couldn't speak. Now why would she ask if he had a tuxedo? She wasn't going to ask him out, was she? 'I thought she had a boyfriend!' he thought. 'And what would I need a tuxedo for?' Confused, he answered, "I could get one. Why?"

Lois took a deep breath. 'Just get this over with,' she thought. "Oh, well, the guy that I was going to Lex Luthor's Ball with had to go out of town unexpectantly," she explained, almost sounding as if this had happened to her often.

She was! She was asking him out! In a very calm voice (although certainly he didn't feel that way), Clark said, "So you were wondering if I wanted to…"

At the same time, Lois blurted out, "Do you want to take his place?"

Clark raised his eyebrows. While he had heard of Lex Luthor (who in Metropolis hadn't?), he didn't know about any charity ball that he was hosting. But something else bothered him. It was just a weird coincidence. Just a second ago, Joan had begged off celebrating tomorrow evening. And now, Lois needed a date for the ball.

Interpreting Clark's lack of a response for hesitation, Lois continued, "You realize, this is *the* social event of the season! Everyone who is anyone is going to be there!"

"Oh," he managed to say. Had Joan heard about this ball? And if so, why didn't she say anything? Clark finally addressed Lois. "It's just funny that you asked. I had plans with my, um, girlfriend tomorrow night, but a minute ago she had called to cancel. She has the flu."

"Oh, that's too bad," Lois said, sympathetically.

"Yeah," Clark agreed, lost in his thoughts. Then he abruptly turned to his desk. "Hold that thought," he said, as he picked up the phone.

It was no surprise to Lois that Clark Kent, a guy who essentially looked like a Greek god, was seeing someone too. Still feeling tense, she went back to her desk. She had a sinking feeling that Clark was going to say no. And if Clark said no, who else could she go with to the White Orchid Ball? Lois really, didn't like the idea of going to the ball alone. Warily, she put some of the research that was still on her desk into her bag. It was only about 4:00, but she had been at the office since 7:00 this morning and she was feeling tired. As she was getting her things together, she glanced at Clark, only to find him signaling her to not leave yet.

Moments later, Clark finally replaced the handset on the receiver and faced Lois. "I called Joan. She said that I could take you." That wasn't entirely true. When Clark had told Joan about the White Orchid Ball, she had ended up suggesting to him that he take Lois.

"Oh, you didn't have to do that!" Lois exclaimed. Now she was starting to feel like she was about to steal Clark from this Joan person. '*Steal* him?' Lois wondered.

"It's all right," Clark reassured her. "Joan is sick, and she didn't want me staying at home alone on her account. She's okay with me taking you."

"Fine," Lois said, and returned to her desk to gather her things. She glanced up to see Clark looking at her quizzically.

"This isn't a date, right?" he asked, sounding strange.

Lois blinked. Where did that come from? "A date?" she said. "You mean like in Kansas, where you meet my parents and then you try and give me a hickey in the vacant lot behind the Dairy Freeze?" Oy, she was doing it again, babbling and insulting him at the same time. She shook her head vehemently. "No this is not a date. This is business. I am going to land the first one-on-one Lex Luthor interview somehow…"

"Okay," he interrupted, feeling a little relieved.

"Good," Lois said, as she walked back to her desk. "Let's just meet there, okay? Nine sounds good? No, that's too late." She picked up her bag. "Make it 8:30," she continued, forcing herself not to glance at Clark's way. Before she made her way up the ramp she stopped and turned around. "Oh, you probably don't know where it is, do you? Well, remind me to give you directions tomorrow." She turned and walked up the ramp. "See you then."

Clark blinked twice, realizing that she had just babbled again, and that she was leaving. "What an… interesting woman, this Lois Lane," he spoke out loud. Shaking his head and smiling, he reached for his jacket and prepared to leave the newsroom.

***

[Metropolis, White Orchid Ball]

[Thursday, August 19, 1993, 8:27 P.M.]

Clark adjusted his tie for the umpteenth time as he waited outside the ballroom in Lex Luthor's penthouse. He knew that Lois had not yet arrived — he had seen Perry and Jimmy earlier and neither had seen her. What bothered him, though, was the fact that he had butterflies in his stomach. He was nervous. Very nervous. And he didn't know why.

After all, this was business, right? Lois was here to secure an exclusive personal interview with one of the richest persons in the world (the third richest, as Clark had found out earlier). Clark, in turn, was here as Lois' escort. And as Joan had pointed out while he had been on the phone with her this afternoon, he could also take this opportunity to get to know the other guests, which included most of the influential and the wealthy in Metropolis.

But deep down, he wanted to impress Lois Lane, probably the best investigative reporter around. He wanted to prove to her that he was more than a 'hack from Nowheresville' Clark grinned as he recalled Lois' remark when they had begun working together — and he wanted to prove to her that he was a gentleman. The tuxedo was a rental, which, fortunately for Clark, he had been able to get it in time for the ball. He had realized, after finding out the tuxedo's rental fee, that it would probably be most wise to buy one of his own.

Adjusting his tie yet again, Clark sighed and leaned against the wall next to the doorway to the ballroom. To calm his nerves, he reflected on his second full day of work at the Daily Planet. He had been delighted to find out this morning that his Bernhardt Theater story was in the Planet's morning edition. Mr. White had been impressed with the story, and after congratulating Clark for a job well done, he had assigned Clark another solo story: 'Adopted Kids Looking for Their Birth Parents'. Given Clark's background, the assignment was very ironic.

He had known since he was ten years old that he was adopted. His thoughts turned to his parents. Jonathan and Martha Kent had not known where Clark came from, only that they had found him, had took him in, and had raised him as if he was theirs. And when Clark started to develop his powers, when he realized that he was different from the other kids, when he had to hide his true self to others, his parents had continued to give their love and support. Clark was grateful for the kind of parents that he had.

The adopted kids article shouldn't be hard to do, he mused. Clark had thought about writing on his own efforts in searching for his birth parents, but later had decided against it. Incredibly, he still hadn't asked his parents for the full story on how he was found. (He should probably ask them soon.) Anyway, Mr. White had told Clark to take his time with the story, as he was still working with Lois on the Messenger story. Clark figured that with a little super-help he could have the adopted kids story by tomorrow…

"Clark?" A woman's voice woke him from his reverie. He looked around, not seeing anyone he knew, but then realized that his super- hearing must have kicked in. A few seconds later, he saw Lois walking towards him. Clark turned to face her, stopped, and stared.

And stared.

And *stared.*

Without realizing it, he grabbed on to the doorframe to keep himself from floating. This woman, the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen, was wearing a midnight blue gown, low cut. Her hair was pulled up into a twist with a few stray curls framing her face. Clark took a deep breath and exhaled with difficulty. 'Uh oh,' he thought, 'I'm in big trouble.'

Lois did not even notice what Clark was doing, because she had been doing some staring on her own. Standing before her was Clark, wearing a tuxedo.

A *black* tuxedo.

And he looked really, *really* good in it.

Lois knew that Clark was attractive, and had admitted so to herself. But seeing Clark in a tuxedo was… wow. Her mind began to wonder, imagining Clark in other forms of dress: in jeans and a T-shirt, in a swimsuit, in nothing at all… 'Uh oh,' she thought, 'I'm in big trouble.'

Finally Clark felt it was prudent to stop staring and to say something. "Hi," he said, choosing something safe.

"Hi," she returned, shyly.

"You look great."

"Thanks. So do you."

For the next few moments both Lois and Clark alternated between looking at the each other and looking away. Clark broke the silence again. "Shall we go in?" He offered her his arm.

Lois automatically hooked her arm into his. "Yes, we shall." With that, the very attractive couple entered the ballroom.

***

"So how is Joan feeling?"

"Pretty bad." Clark silently thanked Lois; it would be better to think about his significant other instead of the woman at his side right now. "Every time I saw her she's always in bed," he explained.

"You've seen her while she's sick?" Lois frowned. "Good job, Kent! Now you'll get sick too."

Clark bit back a groan. He had done it again, saying something that compromised his secret. His mind raced to cover his slip. "Uh, I doubt it. I've been, um, getting my flu shots regularly."

Lois said nothing at his explanation. Clark relaxed, thinking that he had dodged the bullet. Anxious to change the subject, he asked, "Have you heard from John?"

"No." Lois was now looking around discreetly, as if looking for someone. Clark, however, noticed. "He left me a message saying that the funeral is tomorrow," she added. Then, without warning, Lois exclaimed, "Aha!" Immediately she marched through the crowd with a look of determination on her face.

Clark had to subtly use a little of his powers to catch up to Lois. 'I guess she found Luthor,' he deduced. He had reached her when Lois' voice rang out, startling him.

"Lex Luthor! Why haven't you returned my calls?" Lois asked. She then noticed that Clark was beside her. "What are you doing?" she hissed.

"Meeting Lex Luthor," Clark responded calmly. "You know I've never met him, Lois."

"Well, you can meet him another time!" Lois shot back. She was about to tell Clark in the most unladylike terms to go away when Luthor approached. Turning to face Luthor, she smiled, offered her hand, and spoke in the most confident voice that she could muster. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet."

Lex, instead of shaking Lois' hand, bent low to kiss it. "Well, I can assure you I'll never make that mistake again," he said, smiling. Clark did not like that smile.

To Lois' annoyance, Clark was still at her side. Still smiling, she gestured to him. "This is Clark Kent, one of my colleagues."

'One of my colleagues?' Clark asked himself, holding back a laugh.

"A pleasure," Lex said, barely giving Clark a second glance. Lex extended his hand and Clark shook it. Then Lex let go, trying to cover a wince.

Too late, Clark realized that he just did the same thing that he had done to Mr. White three days ago. Squeezing the other person's hand too hard. He let out a small chuckle. "Sorry," he muttered. "Don't know my own strength."

Lois looked like she wanted to kill Clark. She was convinced that Clark had squeezed Lex Luthor's hand on purpose. Trying to regain control, she turned to Lex. "I hope you'll forgive me for being so bold…"

Clark had seen Lois' expression, and it was now his turn to wince. True, he shouldn't have done what he did, but it was really an accident. Heck, Clark had even done it to his own father a few times! He hadn't intended to squeeze Luthor's hand in order to prove his manliness.

Or did he? He didn't catch the conversation between Lois and Lex, but instead, Clark was concentrating on Lex's face. There was something that bothered Clark about Luthor. And it wasn't because of the way Lex looked at Lois. No, there was something that made Clark feel distrustful. But why did he think that? Clark had always tried to see the best in people. Always. But in this case, Clark's gut instincts were telling him that Lex Luthor would someday be a formidable adversary.

An elderly and distinguished-looking man approached Luthor and spoke a few words in his ear. Nodding, Lex addressed Lois and Clark, "You'll have to excuse me. There's something that requires my attention. I will have my assistant contact you to schedule a meeting." Lex reached out and touched her arm. "Till then, Lois." Turning to Clark, he merely said, "Kent." Then he walked away, still favoring his right hand.

As soon as Lois knew that Lex was out of earshot, she exploded. "What the hell were you doing, Clark? I was trying to get an interview with Luthor, and you meanwhile decided to show your manliness with your death grip!"

Looking and feeling contrite, Clark replied, "I *am* sorry, Lois. It wasn't intentional. I sometimes don't know my strength. I accidentally did the same thing to Mr. White when he interviewed me Monday. You can ask him if you wish."

Clark was relieved to see that Lois was calming down. He was about to go on when his ears perked up. The beginning notes of "Fly Me to the Moon" were being played by the band. His favorite song. Clark stretched his hand out to Lois. "Would you like to dance?"

Yes, she would love to, Lois realized, but she knew that she shouldn't. Instead, she asked, "You know how to dance? I would've thought square dancing was more your style!" She realized that she had just insulted him yet again.

Clark just smiled at her remark. "Actually," he answered, "I learned from a Nigerian princess who studied ballroom dancing in England."

"Really? How fascinating," Lois deadpanned, not believing him. Nevertheless, Lois took Clark's hand, and they made their way to the dance floor.

After a few moments, Clark was very much aware of what he was doing. He was dancing with a woman, and she wasn't Joan. He tried to make some conversation so that he wouldn't have to dwell on this fact. "So I guess what you got what you came here for." Lois looked at him, puzzled. "The interview?" Clark clarified. "Luthor said his assistant was going to call you?"

"So?" Lois snorted. "That doesn't mean anything! It just means that he knows who I am and that I'm back to where I was before this evening. And it took me a year to get this close!"

"What, this close?" he asked, pulling her body closer to his. It was supposed to be a joke, of course, but suddenly, Lois and Clark froze, realizing the positions that they were in. It has been said that there were moments when it seemed that time was slowing down, or even standing still. This was becoming one of those moments. Neither Lois nor Clark was aware of anything happening around them. All they noticed was that they were in each other's arms, and all they were hearing were their own breathing and heartbeats.

Clark's gaze rested on Lois' eyes, and immediately, he realized that that was a huge mistake. Those big, brown eyes, open wide. He could swear to anyone who might ask that he could see himself in her eyes. Lois too began to realize that this man, the most handsome man that she had seen in her life, was affecting her in ways that no other man had ever done. In a slow, deliberate, and synchronous motion, Clark leaned forward, Lois reached up, and their lips met in a soft kiss.

Clark's conscience was screaming, ordering him to break off the kiss immediately. But all he could do was to close his eyes and feel, to feel Lois in his arms, to feel her arms around his neck, and to feel her lips on his. The only thing his brain would tell him right now was the fact that it felt so *right* to him! Lois began to run her hands through Clark's hair. Eyes closed, and tongues dancing, the two of them were performing a duet, accentuated by the sighs and moans that they were making.

An idle thought entered Lois' mind as she moaned again into Clark's mouth. 'Where did he learn to kiss like this?' Of course, Lois had experience with kissing, but most of them were just pecks, with no use of the tongue. Claude was an exception. While Claude could certainly kiss, she had felt that with him, kissing wasn't always a mutual activity. (Lois now realized, much to her chagrin, that the way Claude had kissed her, with his tongue forcing his way into her mouth, was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as his bedside manners would attest.) No, besides Claude, no one had kissed her like this, not the boys from high school, not the guys in college, and not even John.

'Oh my God… *John*!'

With a strangled cry, Lois pulled away from Clark's embrace. The spell broken, Clark's eyes flew open. He took stock on Lois' appearance, with her chest heaving, her lips smudged from being thoroughly kissed, her mouth quivering, and her eyes filling with tears. Then he finally realized what had just happened. He raised his hand slightly, but Lois immediately took a step back, as if in fear. Clark tried to say something, but the words refused to come out. He was still pretty out of it from the kiss that he and Lois had shared.

Clark caught Lois' heartbeat with his super-hearing, and found that it was beating fast. Very fast. He was so attuned to her heartbeat that he didn't notice the guests assembling at the other side of the room and Lex beginning to speak to them. Then Lois took another step backwards, still giving him that look. For some reason it was hurting him to see her looking at him that way. He stood there, feeling as if he was rooted to the ground, and feeling increasingly miserable, as he watched Lois do an about face and run towards the gathering of people at the other side of the room.

***

[Somewhere over Metropolis]

[Friday, August 20, 1993, 12:14 A.M.]

"*What have I done!?!?!?!?*"

For the millionth time Clark asked himself that question as he floated among the clouds high above Metropolis late at night. He was still wearing his tuxedo — instead of going back to his hotel room after the White Orchid Ball he had ducked into the nearest alley and flew straight up into the sky — and his glasses were safely tucked away in his breast pocket. In the past, Clark would at night fly up into the sky and just drift. That way he wouldn't be part of the stars, or part of the earth. It was here that Clark had often wondered where would he fit in, if ever. But tonight he was asking himself an entirely different question.

It was obvious what Clark had done. He had betrayed Joan. Completely and undeniably betrayed her. And in the process, he had destroyed Lois and John's relationship as well. For a minute Clark wished he didn't have any powers, so that he could inflict physical pain on himself, to punish himself for what he had done. In his 27-1/2 years of existence (that is, assuming that his birthday was February 28th — his parents had to have made a guess not long after they had found him), he had never done something like this.

Of course, there hadn't been many opportunities to do something like this, kissing a woman that wasn't his. Before Joan, Clark had been in only two relationships, both during high school: Lana Lang, for almost two years, and Rachel Harris (now *Sheriff* Rachel Harris), for a year and a half. At Midwest State, he had been on a few dates, but none of them progressed into anything serious. Then followed about five years of traveling around the globe, where he hadn't dated at all.

It had been almost a month now since Clark started seeing Joan, and again, he had no idea how to describe the relationship. While neither had asked the other that they see each other exclusively, Clark was sure that Joan hadn't been seeing anyone else. Of course he hadn't: he had no reason to. Until now.

His thoughts returned to the kiss with Lois. All of his previous kisses had been simple pecks, until one evening in France, when Joan had had one drink too many. She had concluded that Clark was a lousy kisser and that she would teach him how to kiss properly. The kisses from that night were… nice. Interesting. Awkward. Unnatural. At least, they were to Clark. Joan had said later, however, that he had deserved an A+, with extra credit for the use of his hands. He never asked what she had meant by that.

But now he had just kissed Lois tonight, and what a kiss! Clark felt that kissing Lois awoke something inside of him. And much to his embarrassment, for the first time in his life, a kiss had elicited a response in other parts of his body as well. He had felt lightheaded. He had felt warm. He had felt… 'Well, let's just hope Lois had not noticed his reactions after that kiss,' Clark thought, blushing. 'Gosh, a dip in the Arctic Ocean sounds good right about now…'

So yes, the kiss was wonderful. It was beyond everything Clark had imagined. But it was also *wrong*.

What was he going to do?

Well, Clark knew that he had to tell Joan. Right away. She of course had to know. And she should have the right to decide the future of their relationship.

Or should she? And idle thought entered Clark's head. He recalled the conversation he had with Lois when she had asked him to the White Orchid Ball. "I had plans with my, um, girlfriend," he had said. He had hesitated before saying, 'girlfriend.' Why? Why did it feel weird to refer to Joan that way? At first, Clark had thought that it was because he had met Joan just a month ago. It was different than when he was with Lana or Rachel, for they had been friends long before he had started dating either of them. But was this the real reason?

So what did this all mean, then? Did this mean that there would be perhaps no future between Joan and himself? Should Clark also suggest that they stop seeing each other? Oh, he wished he knew the answers! Briefly Clark considered calling his parents, or better yet, flying to Smallville. But the last time he checked his watch it was after midnight in Metropolis, which meant that it was after eleven in Smallville, which also meant that his parents were in bed now. (Clark had always admired his parents for being able to wake up at four in the morning every day and to begin the work at the farm.)

Well, tomorrow, he would visit his parents for supper, and he would ask them for advice regarding Joan and Lois. And he would tell Joan about the kiss… *after* she got better from the flu. It would be heartless to tell her while she was still sick, wouldn't it? But that left Lois. What was he going to do tomorrow morning at work?

On one hand, how could he possibly work with her after the kiss this evening? While Clark knew that both he and Lois were professionals, what had happened was something that neither could ignore. He would be a little uncomfortable working with her, and most likely she would feel the same way. That is, if she wasn't contemplating killing him first. Probably the best thing to do was to ask Mr. White to take him off the story. Then he could perhaps concentrate solely on the adopted kids story. On the other hand, Mr. White assigned the stories at the Planet, not the reporters. The Messenger story was Clark's *first* assignment, so he would have to do this to the best of his ability.

Furthermore, he should not be a coward; he *really* should talk to Lois about the kiss instead. He should apologize for allowing it to happen, and he should promise that it would never happen again. Easier said than done, he realized sadly. With a heavy sigh, Clark floated downwards and flew back to his hotel.

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's apartment]

[Same Time]

With much difficulty and impatience, Lois unlocked all four locks on her apartment door. Slamming the door shut, she stumbled onto one of her couches and burst into tears.

It had taken all of her will not to break down and cry at the White Orchid Ball, after what had happened to her about four hours ago. This was Lois Lane, always in control of her emotions. It had helped, of course, that she had two places where she could let everything out after bottling in her emotions all day. One place was in her couch with a gallon-sized container of Rocky Road ice cream, and the other was in John Bialzek's arms. Unfortunately, neither were available now (she had eaten up the Rocky Road last night).

"Oh, John… how could I have done this to you?" she cried. In retrospect, it was partially his fault. After all, hadn't it been he who, after pulling out of the date at the White Orchid Ball, suggested that she ask someone else? But John didn't know that this someone else would later be kissing her as if there was no tomorrow. So all right, it wasn't John's fault.

"No, it was Clark's fault!" He had a girlfriend, right? And he knew that she had a boyfriend, sort of! How dare he kiss her like that! How dare he come between her and John! How dare… *she* come between *him* and *Joan*… oh God, what had she done?

No, it wasn't Clark's fault, but it was also hers. True, Lois and Clark had been working together for only two days, but from what she could tell, his relationship with Joan was a happy one. 'At least he referred to Joan as his girlfriend,' Lois thought sardonically. For some reason she had problems thinking of John as her boyfriend, even though she had treated him that way the past couple of weeks. But that didn't give her any excuse to lock lips with her coworker.

Lois was very appalled at her behavior. She had *never* done this before, kissing a guy that belonged to someone else. It was just as bad, if not worse, as stealing a boyfriend from another woman. And she knew how it felt to have someone steal a guy from her — that was the reason why she was no longer talking to Linda King, her *ex*-best friend at MetroU. And now, not only had Lois stepped into Joan's territory, she had done so while she had someone else! What would people think?

'What would people think? Oh my God! Perry! Jimmy! *Cat!*' Lois jerked up from her couch, feeling panicked. She had no idea who, among the rich and the affluent in Metropolis had witnessed the scene between her and Clark. Oh God, maybe someone from the press saw her! She could see herself on the front page of the Metropolis Star: 'Planet Reporter Cheating on Lawyer Boyfriend'. Lois grabbed a couch pillow and wailed into it.

She had been fortunate that, right after the kiss, Lex Luthor had made the announcement regarding Space Station Luthor. 'Space Station Luthor, my foot,' she thought, recalling his plans for a privately owned space laboratory. It was way too convenient for Lex to make the announcement when Space Station Prometheus was in danger of cancellation. If the space station was cancelled, and if the Congress of Nations accepted Luthor's proposal for 'Space Station Luthor', then he stood to make money out of it. A lot of it. Could it be possible that Luthor had a hand in the destruction of the Messenger, to force the Congress of Nations to cancel Prometheus?

Oh, that was completely crazy! Wasn't it? Lois had a strong reporter's intuition about things, and in too many instances her hunches were dead on. Her last story on the million-dollar car theft ring was proof of that. Something about Lex Luthor didn't add up. She knew that Luthor was ruthless — a person doesn't become the third richest man in the world by being a Boy Scout. But would he resort to sabotage to get his way? Could he be involved?

With a moan, Lois sat back in her sofa. She was doing it again, she realized. She was ignoring her personal problems by thinking about her work. And this was a problem she couldn't ignore. Oh Lord, what was she going to do?

It was no question that Lois would have to tell John. She owed him that much. But John was out of town, at his grandmother's funeral. It wouldn't be nice for her to give him the 'Dear John' routine over the phone. It would be better to wait until John returned to Metropolis Saturday night. So that gave her less than 48 hours. But was Lois waiting because she felt John deserved better by talking to him in person, or was she waiting because she wanted to stall for time? "Heck if I know!"

And what about Clark? Tomorrow was Friday, and most definitely they would have to continue the investigation on the Messenger explosion. Together. Suddenly, an idea came to her. Lois had found out yesterday that EPRAD was planning to move the wreckage into one of the hangars tomorrow morning, but she didn't have a chance to tell Clark yet. Well, she could 'forget' to tell him, and visit EPRAD tomorrow morning by herself. Sounded like a good idea.

Lois realized what she was doing, and sighed. *Now* she was stalling. But it was late, and she had an early day tomorrow. Wobbly, she stood up, and made her way to the bedroom. She passed the vanity table on her way to the bedroom closet, and noticed her reflection on the mirror. Her mascara was ruined from the tears, and her lipstick was smudged from the kiss. The *incredible* kiss. Wordlessly she touched her lips with her fingers. It was such a powerful kiss, a kiss in that *both* partners had taken part. Never had she thought that a kiss could change anything. But this one had.

And it scared her.

***

[Somewhere in Metropolis]

A man and a woman were sitting in the living room of their house, drinking coffee.

"So what do you think, Darling?" he asked.

"I still think it's unusual, Angel," she answered. Then she grimaced at coffee, and, reaching forward, spooned some more sugar into her cup and started stirring. "This has got to be the most difficult assignment he has given us!"

"You're correct as always, heart of my heart," he said as he helped himself to some more coffee. "But still, this was what *he* wanted, so we should do it if we want to stay on his good side."

"Of course," she agreed. In fact the two of them always agreed. They never fought, and they thought exactly alike. They simply adored each other.

"Any ideas on how we're going to do this?" he asked.

"Not yet," she admitted. "But if we make sure to take the initiative then we'll be fine. I'm sure of it, my love." They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying each other's company and sipping their coffee.

"Can you believe that I still remember *that* day?" he asked, giving her a knowing smile.

There was that smile of his, she noticed. The smile that always made her melt. With a loving smile of her own, she said softly, "I do, too." She then set her coffee cup on the table and snuggled closer to him. "Have I told you lately that I love you, my pet?"

"Not in the last thirty seconds, light of my life, and that's thirty seconds too long," he remarked. He too placed his coffee cup on the table and took her into his arms.

"Why don't I show you instead, lover man?" she purred, pulling his face towards hers. The rest of breakfast was quickly forgotten as they concentrated on each other.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building]

[Friday, August 20, 1993, 8:16 A.M.]

Clark was a little angry with himself, and a little shaken, as he waited for the elevator to take him to the newsroom. He was angry because today was only his third day at the Daily Planet, and he was late to work. Fifteen minutes and 57 seconds late, to be exact. The reason he was late was also the reason why he was feeling shaken.

For the first time in his life, Clark had overslept. In his distress over what had happened the previous evening, he had forgotten to set the alarm. He also had not slept well, obsessing on what was going to happen with him and Lois. Despite oversleeping, he, with his powers, could have still made it to the Planet with time to spare. But then there was that manhole incident.

Clark had been walking to the Planet (he had flown part of the way to save time) when there was an explosion underground, beneath the sidewalk, trapping a worker in the manhole in the process. Slipping away from the crowd, he had went to another manhole, had checked to see if anyone else was watching, and had quickly went down. Within seconds, he was able to free the trapped worker underground and simply handed him over to the other worker standing above.

He had then made his way back to the manhole slipped out. He had walked away from the crowd, but then his super-hearing had kicked in. He had heard the man say, "That man… that man saved me, that man…" Glancing towards the scene, Clark had found to his horror that the injured man was looking at him and gesturing wildly towards him. Before everyone else turned to look at Clark, he was gone in a flash. He had ducked into a nearby alley to calm down.

He had dangerously came close to giving his secret away. He should have known better than to pull a stunt like that. What if someone had videotaped the incident, for goodness sake? If the tape became public, how would he explain himself? His chance for a normal life would be completely ruined, and the lives of Joan and his parents would drastically change. No longer would they have any privacy.

But what would the alternative have been? A man would have died, trapped in a manhole, had Clark not saved him. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he sighed. It was starting to get real difficult to hide his true self. How long would he have to do this, the hiding, the controlling of his powers? He was fortunate that he didn't have to hide in front of his parents or in front of Joan. There had to be a way, though, that he could be Clark Kent and still use what he'd been given to do some good.

He had then looked at his watch, and had found to his dismay that he was late. Looking around, he had also found that in his haste, the 'nearest alley' in which he had ducked was in fact twenty blocks away from the manhole, which was right near the Daily Planet building. Again he had to combine flying and speed walking to get to his destination.

The elevator dinged, bringing Clark back to the present. 'Okay, here goes nothing,' Clark thought, as the elevators opened to the Daily Planet newsroom. Hesitantly he walked into the room, feeling as if he was dragging himself with every step, not knowing how Lois would greet him when she saw him. Making his way down the ramp, he passed Lois' desk, only to stop and stare at it.

Lois wasn't there.

For a split second Clark felt relieved that he didn't have to face Lois just yet. But that feeling of elation quickly eroded. She might have been somewhere else in the newsroom, or she might be in the ladies room. With a start, Clark realized that he was babbling in his head. He groaned inwardly. There was no choice in the matter; he and Lois *had* to talk about last night. Before he could go look for Lois, he saw Jimmy Olsen walking towards him.

"Morning, C.K.," Jimmy greeted Clark cheerfully.

"Hey," Clark said, but then noticed that Jimmy was on his way out. "Where're you off to?"

"Lois sent me to pick up that report from Platt," Jimmy answered. "He called this morning, said he hopes we can read it. She also told me to take a copy over to my friends at S.T.A.R. Labs to analyze."

"So Lois is here, then?" Clark asked nervously.

"She was. You just missed her; she left saying something about going back to EPRAD. I don't why she left alone, though. I thought you were working with her on this story?"

"I was." Clark then quickly corrected himself. "I mean I am. She didn't tell me about going back to EPRAD."

"Lois must have 'forgotten'," Jimmy remarked, emphasizing on the last word. "That's what the Chief thought, and he's not pleased." Then he noticed Clark's appearance and pointed at the dusty jacket. "What happened to your suit?"

"Don't ask," Clark replied flatly, not wanting to explain to anyone what had happened. Then out of a corner of his eye, he saw that the elevator doors were opening. Gesturing towards them, he said to Jimmy, "See you later." After watching Jimmy run to the elevators, Clark turned and walked to the men's room. He definitely did not want to explain his disheveled appearance to Mr. White.

For the next hour and a half Clark alternated between working at his desk and poking around the Research department. After cleaning himself up the best he could, Mr. White came up to him and ordered him to work on the 'Adopted Kids Looking for Their Birth Parents' story since it was obvious that Lois had abandoned Clark for the moment. Clark was only too happy to oblige.

Clark had been right from before; it was an easy story to do. Search for roots, emotional roller coaster, unrealistic expectations, and tear-jerking reconciliations. It was taking him longer than expected because Clark was making extra sure not to use his powers, now that he was feeling a little more paranoid after the manhole incident. He had just finished a draft of the story, and was about to run the spell check when he heard the elevator ding once more.

***

After prolonging it as long as she could, Lois finally returned to the Planet. The visit to EPRAD was didn't shed any light on her investigation. She had hoped that putting the conversation off would give her time to think about what she would say, but the only thing she could think about was remember how wonderful it had felt when Clark kissed her. She walked down the ramp towards her desk, and glancing up, she saw Clark rising from his desk. Immediately she tensed, and avoided his eyes, as she reached her desk and turned on her computer. Then she finally felt his presence. Taking a deep breath, she looked up.

Clark simply stood there, in front of Lois, and for a moment he did not say anything. He looked very uncomfortable. Lois sighed and looked away. She knew that this conversation had to take place. But someone had to initiate it.

Finally, Clark cleared his throat and said softly, "Good morning, Lois."

For a split second Lois felt warm. The way Clark said "Good morning" sounded so nice. So caring. So loving… She immediately tried to clear her head. Unfortunately, just the mere presence of that man made her do something that she had always felt embarrassed doing. She began to babble.

"Maybe for you, I've been at it for hours," Lois started, removing her jacket. "I went back to EPRAD to follow the truck with the wreckage of the Messenger inside. They brought it into this hangar. I tried to get in but your friend, Dr. Baines, threw me out." Then Lois reached into her bag and pulled out some folders. "And so far, I must have called fifty ex-employees that worked at EPRAD the same time Platt did. None of them are talking. I don't know, maybe there's nothing to talk about." She shrugged and sat down at her desk, still avoiding his eyes.

Clark blinked. Well, at least he knew why Lois visited EPRAD this morning: to temporarily avoid him. He could forgive her for not letting him tag along, for he probably would have done the same.

It was also obvious that Lois was not ready to talk about last night. Clark also felt like slapping himself; he should have known better than to want to talk about this at work. Talking about personal matters at work? Especially for a person who had been working for only two days? Bad idea. Instead he asked, "So what do we do now?"

But Lois started to panic. What did Clark mean by that question? What should they do about the story, or what should they do about last night? Lois took a deep breath. Of course he meant the story. She scolded herself for even thinking otherwise and forced herself to relax.

"Well, first we piece together Platt's report, if that's possible," Lois answered in a nonchalant manner. "Then we try and figure out a way to prove that Dr. Baines got a copy of it. And if there's any written evidence that Platt found coolant devices and Baines ignored it… Well, I hope you didn't make dinner plans," she finished. Right away she wanted to cover her mouth. What on earth made her ask about *dinner plans*?

At first Clark did not answer. He tried not to give her a remorseful look. As it turned out, he *did* have plans this evening; Clark had wanted to visit his parents and talk about the problem sitting in front of him. But the Messenger investigation was important. Lois and Clark had to stop whoever was behind this from further sabotaging the Prometheus project. Making his decision, he sat down on the chair besides Lois' desk and replied, "I am all yours." He gave her a brief and sad smile.

Lois smiled sadly at Clark in return, knowing that the talk was to be postponed again.

***

[6:44 P.M.]

Torture. Pure, unadulterated torture.

Clark was starting to wonder if this was how it was like to be tortured, like a prisoner of war. He could not remember experiencing pain in his life, but what he was feeling now was close. For the past two hours, he and Lois had been going through the piles of paper that was called Dr. Platt's report. This 'report' consisted of scribbled notes of different shapes and sizes, some of which may had been originally intended for the recycling bin (for they were crumpled). Also, the entire 'report' was completely unorganized. But this mess explained why the Messenger exploded Wednesday, so he and Lois had begun going through everything.

He quickly glanced at the woman sitting next to him, and noticed that she was deep in concentration. It looked as if Lois was able to set aside the events of the previous evening and focus on the story. Of course, Lois was a veteran in her field, so it probably wasn't hard for her to focus and to be a professional. Here was yet another trait that he admired in Lois Lane. Clark held back a sigh as he looked at the notes in front of him.

Little did he know that Lois was in reality a bundle of nerves. For now, it seemed that no one from the Planet had witnessed her appalling behavior last night. Yes, she was concentrating on the work in front of her, but what was the alternative? She could think about how she had betrayed John, and about the daunting task she had in telling him. Or she could talk to Clark about what happened Thursday night. Or heaven forbid, she and Clark could end up reenacting the events of last night if they weren't careful. Lois looked around and realized that it was getting late, and that there were very few people in the newsroom.

Yes, Lois was concentrating on the work in front of her, but she would rather be doing something else instead. The stuff that Jimmy had brought from Dr. Platt was really a mess. And time wasn't a luxury that she and Clark could afford. If her memory served, the colonist's launch was scheduled for early next week. They had to figure this out by then. Why hadn't Dr. Platt kept a copy of the report? Why was it up to her and Clark to sort it all out? And why was her stomach grumbling?

A quick look at her watch answered her last question. When was the last time she had eaten? Lois blew a loose strand of hair from her face and stuck her pencil over her ear. Finally she spoke up. "This is impossible," she said with a sigh. "Nothing matches, no dates… We're never going to get through this. Ugh, and I'm starving!" She dropped the batch of papers she was holding with a 'plop' on her desk. "Wish I knew some good Chinese take-out…" Lois added wistfully.

Clark had to stop himself from jumping up from his seat. Here it was, an opportunity to take a break, an opportunity to put a little distance between himself and Lois. He tried to sound casual. "I know a place," he said. He tried to get up slowly and grabbed his jacket. "I'll be right back."

Lois could tell, however, how eager Clark was to get away for the moment. It didn't prevent her throwing a question at him though. "Don't you want to know what I want?"

"I'll bring an assortment," he said over his shoulder as he left the newsroom. Lois said a silent prayer of thanks, and went back to work.

***

Clark used a bit of speed to run up the stairs to the roof of the Daily Planet building. After a quick check to see that no one was watching, he launched himself into the air. While flying was a very efficient means of travel for him, it had also given him chances to clear his head. He did know an excellent place to get Chinese food. And he did need a breather from the newsroom that, even though it was a large room, was suffocating him. And he really needed to talk to Lois.

Clark sighed. Here he was, possibly the strongest being on earth. As far as he knew, he could not get hurt physically. But it was the words, the reactions, and the other person's feelings, that could pierce his heart. He knew that once he and Lois talked she would end up hating him. Of course, he was hating himself at the moment. He also knew that once Joan found out that he would be alone again. And being alone, after experiencing what it was like to have someone, would be unbearable.

Clark mentally reviewed what had happened this week. His reaction to when he had met Lois four days ago was of awe. He had looked up old articles that she had written on Tuesday. He had tried more than once to impress her. He had caught himself daydreaming about her during work and while in his hotel room. He had trouble sleeping lately, which was very unusual for a guy who didn't need more than three hours of sleep a night. He almost floated when he had seen her in that midnight blue gown at the White Orchid Ball. And of course, he and Lois had been kissing last night like two people madly in love.

Madly in love…? Clark stopped in mid-flight and floated in the air. 'Did I just think that?' he asked himself.

Was it possible? Since Clark had never been in love before, how could he tell if he was in love now? He had read books about it, and according to them, he seemed to be having some of the symptoms. Oh, how he wished he was in Smallville now, enjoying Mom's home cooking and talking to his parents about his dilemma!

The thought of food brought him back to reality, as he almost forgot why he was flying. Glancing downwards, he found to his relief that he didn't pass his destination. With a burst of speed, he dropped altitude and landed in a remote field just outside of Shanghai, China. A few minutes later, he was again airborne, carrying a couple of bamboo containers.

As he flew eastward, the more Clark thought about it, the more it seemed plausible that he was in love. And the more plausible it seemed, the more upset he became. Lois already had a boyfriend, and from what he could tell, she was happy with him. He had already come between them last night, and he wouldn't dare do that again. Besides, there was no way Lois could feel the same way now, as she probably hated him. 'You already said that,' he thought grimly. Glancing downward again, he noticed that the waters of the Pacific Ocean were more or less calm. Where Clark was flying to was anything but that.

***

Lois didn't get very far with her work after Clark left, for her phone rang a minute later. Annoyed, she pounced on the receiver. "Lois Lane," she barked.

"Catch you at a bad time, Lois?"

"John!" she yelped. Yes, she wanted to say. This would be the worse possible time to talk to him. But evidently her mouth had other ideas. "I missed you." She… what?

"Wish I could believe that," John said.

Oh, God! What did he just say!?!? Okay, now was the time to panic. Lois' mind raced! Did John know what she had done last night? Taking a deep breath, she asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, Lois, you're not home, aren't you? You're at the Planet. And it's late, which means you're hard at work on a story. If you're thinking about me instead of your story then something's wrong here," John chuckled.

Normally Lois would laugh at the joke, too, but that was before last night. "Very funny," she deadpanned.

"Seriously, though, did I catch you at a bad time?" John asked.

Lois calmed herself down. There was no reason to be angry with John Bialzek at the moment. On the contrary, it was he who should be angry with her, once she told him what she had done… "Yeah," she sighed. "Clark and I are working on the Messenger story…" Lois winced, realizing that she had just mentioned Clark's name.

Unfortunately, John caught on her slip. "Clark? Who's he? The new reporter?"

"Who, Clark?" Lois squeaked. "I told you about Clark, remember? He was the guy Perry interviewed earlier this week. Perry assigned Clark to me for the Messenger story."

"Your boss 'assigned' him to you?" John inquired. "I guess you weren't thrilled with the idea."

"Definitely not," Lois replied. "But there was no one else, and I couldn't possibly do this story alone."

"Yeah, that would certainly put a cramp on our relationship," John agreed. In a teasing voice, he asked, "Should I be jealous?"

Lois gulped. For a moment she contemplated telling him right now, telling him the truth and asking for his forgiveness. But that wasn't the way she wanted to tell him, on the phone, with him thousands of miles away. No, it would be cowardly. Face to face was better. So Lois decided to do the more cowardly thing: lie. "Err, no. He's just working for me."

"Working for you, huh?" John quipped, with laughter in his voice. Anticipating some kind of retort from Lois, he continued. "Oh, the reason I was calling you. I'm taking an earlier flight. Instead of tomorrow night, I'm coming in tomorrow afternoon. Estimated arrival time from Dallas: 3:40 P.M., your time."

"That's great," Lois said, though not enthusiastically. What was wrong with her? "I'm planning on coming in tomorrow, so I'll get off early to pick you up."

"No, no, no," John argued. "I had a feeling you would be working, being on the Messenger story and all. You have to get to the bottom of this, Lois. I know you want to. I'll get a cab."

"All right," Lois relented. "But let's go somewhere for dinner, okay?"

"Deal," John said. After they said their good-byes, Lois' stomach grumbled again, reminding her of the necessity of getting fed tonight. Oh well, it should take Clark a while, so she'll just have to wait.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for Lois, she didn't have to wait long. She barely picked up one of the scribbled notes of paper that she was looking at when Clark set down a couple of bamboo containers of Chinese food. "That was quick," Lois remarked.

"I took a short cut," Clark offered.

"And still hot!" Lois said approvingly. She took off the lid on one of the containers and helped herself. "Oh!" she cried, after taking a bite. "This is out of this world!" Where *did* he get this? How was it possible for a guy who's been in Metropolis for only a short while (only a couple of weeks, she now recalled) to find good Chinese takeout? She didn't recall any of the other places nearby the Planet that served food this good. Lois made a mental note to ask him about it later.

After finishing their meal, both Lois and Clark took upon the task of opening their fortune cookies. Lois opened hers first and frowned. "It's in Chinese!" she said, puzzled.

Clark tried not to groan. Of course it was in Chinese. 'Really, Kent, you've got to do better hiding yourself,' he thought. He took Lois' fortune and glanced at it.

Lois' eyes widened. "Oh, don't tell me that you read…" she started, with disbelief in her voice.

"'A good horse is like a member of the family'," he translated, and handed the fortune back.

"I hate that! That is not a fortune!" Lois complained. Clark could only chuckle as he tried discreetly to put his fortune in his pocket.

Lois, however, noticed, and was about to comment, when her eyes met his. Again, their eyes locked, and again, time stood still around them. 'No!' she mentally screamed. 'Not again!' She jerked her eyes away from Clark's and stumbled out of her chair. Clark reached over, ready to steady her, but Lois swatted his arm away and took a step backwards, away from him. "We have to talk," she said, shakily.

"You're right," Clark sighed.

Lois began pacing back and forth. "What happened last night… I mean, what we did… it was a mistake. It was unforgivable."

Clark's heart sank. She was completely right. It was all his fault, and she hated him now. "I'm so sorry," he said earnestly.

Not really listening, Lois continued her tirade. "Just shameful," she declared.

"I'm really sorry," he repeated.

Clark's word's finally registered into Lois' consciousness. What was *he* apologizing for? "What? No, not you, me! I kissed you last night. How could I kiss you?"

Now it was Clark's turn to be confused. "No Lois, *I* kissed *you*."

Lois stopped pacing. "No, *I* kissed *you*," she insisted.

"No, believe me," Clark assured her, "I…"

"Okay, fine," Lois cut him off. "We kissed each other. Look, Clark, you're a darned nice guy, and attractive to boot. But I'm seeing someone right now, and so are you, and what we did was so wrong, and you have to understand that."

"Yes, understood completely. I think you're attractive too, and there's this weird chemistry between you and I that I don't really understand. But I promise it'll never, ever, ever, *ever* happen again," Clark said, feeling very much relieved. So Lois didn't hate him; instead, she was as remorseful as he was. A prospect for the two of them becoming friends would be very nice, indeed. There was, however, one issue left to be discussed… "Do you think we can continue working together?" he asked.

"We have to," Lois said firmly. "We're in too deep with the Messenger story. And as much as I hate to admit it…" she let out a dry chuckle. "… we do work well together. And something tells me you want to get to the bottom of this as much as I do."

"Yeah, I do," Clark admitted. "I guess you never had a partner before, huh?"

"No, I'd always worked alone. Except once." There was no way Lois was going to tell Clark about her embarrassing encounter with Claude. "It was easier."

Clark nodded in understanding, and extended his hand. "Friends?"

Lois smiled, feeling that the situation was now under control. She was about to take his hand when she remembered something. Reaching out with both hands, she took his hand into her right and used her left to pat Clark's hand, just like Perry did. "Don't want to get my hand crushed," she explained. Clark could only blush in embarrassment. He really needed to watch his grip.

"Okay, serious talk over," Lois announced. "Come on, let's go find Platt. Maybe he can help us decipher this." She indicated the mess of papers on her desk. Quickly Clark grabbed his jacket and followed her out of the newsroom. Neither of them noticed a man and a woman, hiding in a darkened area of the newsroom, watching them intently.

***

[Somewhere in the streets of Metropolis]

It was a dark and stormy night. Clark was walking towards his hotel room, and he paid no attention to the fact that the rain was soaking his clothes. He guessed it was one of the advantages of being different, that he could never catch a cold. Clark had been walking for hours, not really caring where he was going. All he knew was that he was sad, and he needed some time alone to think.

His wondering around had taken him to various places in the city, whether it was the through the industrial areas, the suburbs, or the red-light district. (He had ended up at the latter completely by accident.) It was the walks through the residential areas, however, that proved most interesting. He had walked thought those areas earlier in the evening, when people were still awake, yet relaxing after a long day at work.

On one such street was a row of townhouses, each with steps to the front door. Every house Clark had passed, he had glanced through a lit window on the ground floor. He had always seen people through the windows. The people had been doing different things, but there was something similar about all of them. He had seen a man and a woman sharing a candlelight dinner. He had seen a man and a woman sitting on a sofa in the living room, watching TV. He had seen a man and a woman playing Mozart on the piano together. He had even seen a man and a woman making out on a couch — Clark had to walk more quickly than usual to pass that house.

By now Clark reached the street where his hotel was, and he stopped. Did he really see what he had seen, or was it a series of hallucinations? Regardless of whether or not the images were real, Clark knew that they were pictures of what he wanted in life. He wanted to find a woman with whom he could share a romantic candlelight dinner. He wanted to find a woman with whom he could cuddle while they watched the evening news. He wanted to find a woman with whom he could play musical duets — he could get by on the piano. He also wanted to find a woman with whom he could make love all night… with the window curtains drawn, of course.

The vignettes that had been presented to Clark while he had been walking by the townhouses had saddened him greatly. Would he ever find a woman to share everything with? *Could* he ever find such a woman? Those scenes portrayed people doing normal things, and it was especially important for Clark, who always wanted to be normal, despite his powers. Usually he tried not to let these scenes affect him, but there was something about them on this night, these scenes of love, which touched him to the core.

Clark resumed walking, and within a few seconds he reached the entrance to the hotel. Passing through the small corridor, he noticed that someone was in the lobby. He looked closer, and found that it was Lois.

Lois? What was she doing here? Especially at this time of night? He noticed the wet hair, the clothes that were soaked. This must have meant that she had come in not too long ago. Then she began to speak, with determination and animation. Clark wasn't really paying attention to what she was saying, because her facial expressions were telling him the same thing. The raindrops that had sprinkled her face moments ago were now replaced by her tears. She was pleading for him not to leave her, giving reasons why he couldn't, and showing him how it would affect her. Then she stopped talking, and in one, two, and three steps, Lois came up to him, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him with such intensity that it left Clark momentarily breathless.

The kisses were full of love, full of promise, and Clark could do nothing but kiss her back with such passion that he had never known existed. Lightening painted the sky, and thunder played on like kettledrums in Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony, but inside the lobby of Hotel Apollo was a storm of a different nature, a storm that was finally out in the open after so long. Steam arose from their bodies as they continued kissing, again oblivious to everything around them. Lightening struck, the thunder roared again, and…

… the alarm clock went off. Disoriented, Clark reached out to hit the snooze button. Too late, his hand slammed down and smashed the alarm clock into small pieces. He let out a loud groan. That was the third time already that he had broken his alarm clock. Perhaps he should consider moving it to the other side of the room where he wouldn't be able to reach it.

He sat up, and then floated a couple of feet above the bed. He now knew that he was dreaming before. And what a dream! Never had he had a dream that was so vivid, so real. He could remember everything, the endless walking down the city streets, the rain pattering on his back, the kiss…

The kiss… the most wonderful and the most disturbing part of Clark's dream. Was this dream telling him something? Or was this a fantasy of his, something that he had never really had before? He glanced downwards, realizing that the kiss was still affecting him physically. Blushing furiously, he floated to the floor and walked towards the bathroom. A very cold shower would be a good idea right now.

***

[Metropolis, Hotel Apollo]

[Saturday, August 21, 1993, 8:35 A.M.]

It wasn't until Clark finished his shower that the events of the previous evening came roaring back. After the 'talk,' Lois had decided to visit Dr. Platt again. What they had not expected to find was water all over the floor and Dr. Platt electrocuted. Clark had been totally despondent and had been riddled with guilt while the police had come and gone. Dr. Platt's death had been ruled a suicide, much to his and Lois' disbelief. And when one of the police officers had the gall to make a joke about the situation, it was just too much.

Clark glanced at his watch on the table. Lois would be coming to pick him up in less than half an hour. There was enough time for a quick phone call. He really didn't want to call Joan in the morning, even though it was almost nine, when most of Metropolis was up and about. She was still sick with the flu, and she needed her rest. But he hadn't spoken to her since Thursday night, before the ball, and he knew very well why. He grabbed a quarter from the pile of change on the table and fed it into the phone's coin slot.

"Hello?" said a groggy sounding Joan.

"Joan, it's me."

"Hey stranger," she greeted him softly. "Long time no hear."

"Yeah, I've been busy," Clark said. Well, that much was true. "Something happened last night…" Right then Joan knew that something was wrong. She listened as Clark told her about the manhole incident and the death of Dr. Samuel Platt.

"Why do you think it's your fault?" Joan asked, when Clark had finished.

"I should've known. I should have protected him," he insisted.

"How?"

"I don't know, but I should have done something," he said helplessly.

"Sometimes there's nothing that you can do," Joan said gently. "If you could've helped him, you would have. You are only one man, Clark, and you can't be everywhere at once to use your powers."

Clark sighed. Of course Joan was right, but it did not make Dr. Platt's death any easier to deal with.

"Speaking of powers," she continued, "saving that worker trapped in the manhole was very risky. What would have happened if anyone saw you?"

"I don't think anyone did, but you're right. I was yards away when he pointed to me. I'm sure nobody believed him, but…"

"I know, Clark, you couldn't let the man die," Joan finished, and then sneezed. "You know, Clark, I think something needs to be done here. It's obvious you want to help people, but you don't want them to know that it was Clark Kent making the rescues." Suddenly a thought came to her. "That's it! I have an idea. Maybe it's crazy, but anyway, how about you wearing an outfit?"

Clark wasn't sure he had heard her correctly. "Outfit?" he repeated.

"Yeah, you know, like a disguise! You could wear it when things like that explosion happen," Joan explained. "Oh, this sounds really good! Ask your mom; see if her sewing machine's still working. She could probably make you a good outfit. I would, but I'm afraid I'm not good at that sort of thing." She laughed quietly, and then let out a loud cough.

Clark smiled into the phone. Joan was *really* resourceful. He was lucky that she had came into his life. But then he thought about Lois and felt total despair. He should tell Joan now, tell her everything. "Joan," he started, "I have to tell you something…"

"What is it, Clark?" she asked expectantly.

But of course Clark couldn't do tell her about what he had done. Not on the phone — it would be very cowardly. And not while she was still sick — that would be like rubbing salt into her wounds. "I… I, um, think you're brilliant. Your idea sounds brilliant." '*Coward.*'

There was a short pause, but then Joan responded, "Thank you, Clark. I try." She paused to cough again. "Listen," she said softly, "why don't you come over tonight? I haven't seen you since Wednesday you know."

Clark grimaced. Yes, he hadn't seen her since Wednesday. And yes, that was an excellent idea. He would go see her tonight, and tell her. He really shouldn't let the fact that Joan was sick affect his decision — to delay telling her would only hurt her more. "That's a great idea, Joan. I…"

Clark was interrupted by a knock on his door. "Oh, Joan, I gotta go, Lois is here."

"Lois?" Joan asked, sounding very curious.

"Yeah, she wants me to work with her on the Messenger story today, even though it's Saturday," Clark explained, hoping that Joan wouldn't at the moment read anything more into it.

"Oh," Joan said simply. "Go get the people responsible, okay? I'll see you later."

"Right, see you." As Clark hung up, there was another knock on his door. Hurriedly, Clark went to the door, grabbing his glasses along the way. He opened the door quickly, forgetting about his appearance.

Lois took one look at Clark and gulped.

***

[9:00 A.M.]

Lois was anxious in getting on with the Messenger investigation today. By now it had been three days since the Messenger had exploded, and she was beginning to worry. Each passing day meant that the chance the Daily Planet was going to get scooped would increase. And there was no way that she was going let that happen!

She had little trouble in finding the Hotel Apollo. Lois was surprised, however, that Clark had been staying there the past couple of weeks. She knew that she wouldn't consider living in this area, as it wasn't in the safest part of town. But was Joan staying with him? No, Lois concluded, she couldn't be; if Lois wouldn't, why would Joan? But if she was Clark's girlfriend, wouldn't they be living together?

Lois jerked her head upwards when she realized what she was thinking. Why was she so curious about Clark and Joan's relationship? It was certainly none of her business! With a sigh, she knocked on the door to Clark's room and tapped her foot on the floor impatiently. After a few moments, the door opened.

'Oh my!'

There stood a man wearing nothing but a towel… check that, he was wearing glasses too. But Lois wasn't paying attention. Her eyes were glued to Clark's bare chest. The story was forgotten, the concern for her safety was forgotten, and the curiosity about Clark and Joan's relationship was forgotten. All she could think about was the fact that the Greek god Apollo was standing before her, naked for her to see. Well, almost naked.

'*Oh my!*'

Clark was very, um, well, just darn gorgeous! She definitely had to revise her opinion on country hacks like him. Were there others where Clark came from? Where was it, Kansas, right? 'Darn it, I'm babbling in my head again!' she thought. A sigh escaped Lois' lips as she continued to stare unabashed at Clark's chest. Obviously Clark had just come out of the shower. She watched with interest as droplets of water ran down his chest to the towel below. Right now she would like nothing more than to feel the smoothness of Clark's chest, to feel the taut muscles everywhere, to feel his arms around her as he kissed her passionately…

Lois then realized what she was thinking and right away she looked up. She was doing it again, treading into dangerous territory. She tried to hide her blush as she concentrated on Clark's face. Then she noticed a couple of things that were interesting. First off was the glasses. They really looked out of place with the rest of the package that was called Clark Kent, especially with a body like his. Second was Clark's expression. He was now looking like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car.

It finally occurred to her that staring at him was making him uncomfortable. She felt it was prudent to say something. "I said nine, I thought you'd be naked," she said. Oh no, what did she just say? Quickly she corrected herself. "Err, ready." She tried to look unaffected by Clark's appearance.

She failed, but Clark didn't notice. He meanwhile wanted to run to the nearest rock and hide under it for all eternity. He had forgotten that he had been in the shower, and he had just answered the door looking like this. What had he been thinking? He felt so embarrassed that he didn't even hear what Lois had said. Finally, he took a step backwards. In a clear and even voice he said, "I was on the phone. I'll be out in a jiff." Then he all but ran to the bathroom and closed the door.

Lois, on her part, quickly entered Clark's room to watch his retreating back. Closing the door behind her, she let out another sigh. Such a beautiful body… If she wasn't careful, she was going to swoon. Then she let out a soft groan and restrained herself from hitting her head against the wall. 'Clark Kent is *taken*, Lane. T, A, K, E, N, taken.' Lois glanced at the bathroom door. 'So what if Clark has a body to die for? There's more to a man than his looks, you know!' Again she glanced at the bathroom door. Behind that door was a man who was getting dressed. A man who would have to remove his towel before putting on his clothes. A man. Who looked like the Greek god Apollo. With *no* clothes on.

Suddenly the room felt very warm. Of course, it was mid-August, and the heat wave was still in full force, even at nine in the morning, but Lois felt like she was getting a temperature. A drink, that's what she needed. Suddenly Lois' mouth felt dry. 'Yes, that's a good idea. Let's look for something to drink, something to do to keep my mind off him and his muscular body…'

Armed now with a sense of purpose, Lois made a beeline for the kitchenette. She opened one of the cupboard doors, intending to find a glass, but what she saw stopped her short.

"What the…?"

The cupboard was full of food. Junk food. What were they doing *here*? Quickly Lois considered the possibilities. Clark wasn't staying with Joan, for there was nothing in this dingy room that suggested that a woman was staying here. Was Clark staying with a friend? She looked around the room. She could only find one single bed. No, Clark was staying in this hotel room alone. So if all this stuff were his, how could he be eating it and still look so good? How was it possible? Briefly Lois recalled the towel-clad body, with the muscular chest and the *flat* stomach. Yes, her memory wasn't deceiving her. Clark's stomach was flat. This didn't make any sense!

Lois' gaze rested on the kitchen counter. Next to the sink was a draining board, and on the draining board was a glass. She picked it up and examined it critically, making sure that Clark had in fact washed it. Then she went to the refrigerator and opened it. Her jaw dropped to the floor. The refrigerator was full of… no, overflowing with more junk food. 'How is this possible?' she asked herself again. 'This is so unfair!'

A sound of a door opening behind her interrupted her thoughts. Lois turned around to find herself looking at a completely dressed Clark with his usual suit and tie. How did he get dressed so fast? Lois had always wanted to know everything when she was investigating, and now, she knew little about Clark Kent, and that was annoying her.

Clark could see Lois looking at him questioningly and wanted to groan. He had thought that he took longer than usual to dress, because he first had to calm down after Lois had found him in a towel, and he had tried on three different suits before deciding on the one he had wanted to wear. But evidently, he had still changed too fast, and it looked as if Lois noticed. 'Good job, Kent, why don't you just tell her how different you are while you're at it?' he thought.

Even in a suit, Clark still looked very handsome, Lois thought. But there was no chance for her to get a drink to cool her off or to calm her nerves, especially since the man of her dreams, er, the man of her current distractions, was standing before her. "We'd, um, better be going," she faltered. She tore her eyes away from him and made her way to the door.

But wait, there was something that she had to know. Chalk it up again to her insatiable curiosity. Before they exited Clark's room, Lois turned to him and asked abruptly, "So, explain something to me. You… you… eat like an eight year-old, and you look like Mr. Hardbody. What's your secret, and can I have it?"

Oh God! Did she just call him Mr. Hardbody? Did she not know the meaning of the word 'subtle'? Trying to cover her embarrassment, Lois gave Clark only milliseconds to respond before shrugging her shoulders as if to say, 'Never mind.' Lois stalked out his room, and Clark had little choice but to follow her.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building]

[9:48 A.M.]

Lois let out a frustrated sigh as she spoke to Inspector Bill Henderson on the speakerphone. "But Henderson," she said, "if there were contusions on Dr. Platt's head, then he could've…"

Henderson cut her off. "Inconclusive. He could've gotten them last week. I'm sorry, but the autopsy result is gonna read, 'suicide'."

"This isn't over," Lois promised. "I'll call you back." She broke their connection and sat back in her chair.

Things were not starting on the right foot this morning. Lex Luthor had promised to contact her regarding the interview, but she had called his office again anyway. Luthor was extremely busy, one of the assistants had said. Someone in the office will call you when he has something free, the man had said. Have a nice day. Ugh, what an annoying voice!

On the Messenger story, Lois had sent Jimmy yesterday to give a copy of Dr. Platt's report to S.T.A.R. Labs, and they had said that they would let her know the results of their findings first thing in the morning. Well, it was past 'first thing in the morning' right now and she had heard nothing yet. Add to the fact the Henderson wasn't budging in his finding that Dr. Platt's death was a suicide, and you have an irritable Lois Lane.

Deciding to take a break, Lois let her thoughts wander to John. She didn't know why she was thinking about men at work all of the sudden, but given her current dilemma, she couldn't help herself. John had excused her from meeting him at the airport this afternoon, but there were plans for dinner tonight. Plans to ask him how his family was. Plans to ask him how the funeral went. Or plans to tell him about her betrayal.

Lois sighed for the umpteenth time. How could have she done that to John, an attractive and a nice man? He deserved much better than that, she told herself once again. It was obvious that he liked her a lot, and she knew that once he found out that he would be hurt.

But did she love John? Wait a minute. Where did that question come from? To be quite honest, it was a question that Lois had never asked herself in the three months that she and John had been dating.

'Well, I like him a lot, and he's a really nice guy. I respect him very much for the work he does…' But that didn't answer the question. Did she love him?

'I care for him a lot…' Come on, Lois, that's not an answer. '*Do you love him?*'

'No,' she finally realized. 'I don't love him…'

But could she *learn* to love him? Lois didn't know the answer. Maybe it would be possible if Clark hadn't entered the picture. Why then, was she hesitating in breaking things off with John? Maybe it was because they were good friends as well, and a break-up would end their friendship. Maybe it was because Lois would miss John's company. Maybe it was because John was safe…

'Safe???? Oh, Lois, what are you doing?' Lois had always wanted to find true love, but she wasn't sure if it existed. If it had existed, her parents would never have been divorced. If it had existed, Claude would never have betrayed her and had stolen her story. If it had existed, kissing John wouldn't feel only 'okay'. But Lois wanted so much to believe that somewhere out there she would find true love and happiness. She didn't want to end up like her heroine in her romance novel, where the heroine died without ever finding her true love.

The sound of Clark's voice brought Lois back to the present. "Lois?" He motioned towards the elevators. Lois turned, and saw a woman and a girl in a wheelchair.

"Who's that?" Lois asked.

"It's Mrs. Platt and her daughter, Amy," Clark replied. Lois got up and followed Clark to meet the visitors. She was now back into reporter mode, but there was one question that she didn't ask herself when she was thinking about her problems.

Was she falling in love with Clark?

***

Mrs. Platt and her daughter's visit had left Clark more determined than ever. He had promised them that he and Lois would do whatever they could to get to the bottom of this. The thought that Mrs. Platt would live the rest of her life without her husband, and Amy without her father, saddened him greatly. He sighed as he sat down at his desk.

Clark had also been relieved to find out that Mrs. Platt had not left her husband, that Dr. Platt in fact had sent them away for their protection. To be truthful, Clark could not understand why married couples could fall out of love, get separated, or get divorced. How was it that 50% of all marriages ended in divorce? Marriage was a lifetime commitment of two people, in good times *and* in bad, in sickness *and* in health, as long as they *both* should live. In this regard Clark agreed with the Catholic Church, which did not recognize divorce.

Clark's thoughts wondered to his adoptive parents. They had been through a lot in over 31 years of marriage. Whether it was their own parents' reluctance for them to get married (because of his father's profession), the years of excellent crops, the years of bad crops, his mom's infertility, or his growing up with unusual powers, Jonathan and Martha Kent had endured it all. In Clark's eyes, *this* was the perfect marriage, with all the problems, with all the arguments, and with all the misunderstandings. Clark above all else wanted to have a relationship like his parents'. He knew that marriage takes work on both sides, and if he should get married, he would do what it took to keep the love strong.

The ringing of his phone woke him from his reverie. Clark shook his head; how was it that he had been daydreaming so much at work? He picked up the phone.

"Clark Kent." Only the sound of the dial tone greeted him.

Clark frowned as he put down the receiver. This had been the fourth time that there was no answer when he had answered the phone. He couldn't say that he had ever received a prank call, even when he had been in Paris, but since his arrival at the Daily Planet, he had started getting them.

He looked up from his desk and found that Lois was watching him intently. "You too?" she asked him simply from her desk.

"Yeah. That was my fourth. I answer, and I get the dial tone. This been happening to you too?"

Lois nodded. "I've gotten five of them the past couple of days *alone*, and all of them on this phone."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "I take it that this is unusual, even for Metropolis. Anyone else complaining about them?"

"Not that I know of," Lois replied. "Weird, huh?"

Clark frowned. "Do you think someone wants us to stop…"

"… stop investigating the Messenger explosion?" Lois finished, incredulous. "This person, whoever it is, is doing a bad job threatening us then! Usually someone would send death threats, trash our apartments, or even shoot us or someone close."

Clark was a little disturbed by Lois' remark. Had Lois been subjected to all of that before? "Speaking from previous experience?" he asked quietly.

"Well, when you've been an investigative reporter as long as I have, you make a few enemies, and you'll find people who'll want to stop you from finding the truth," Lois shrugged, looking as if it didn't bother her at all.

Clark was amazed at Lois' attitude. If he didn't have his powers, he knew that he would be scared. He wouldn't let the threats affect his job, but he would be scared nonetheless. Lois couldn't be completely unaffected by all of this, could she? Or was she one of those people who was good at hiding her feelings?

"So if it wasn't someone threatening us," Clark stated, "who could it be? A nervous snitch?"

Lois dismissed the notion. "Probably some prank by some kids, calling us at random." Then it was Lois' turn for her phone to ring. She froze.

Both Lois and Clark looked at her phone, and then at each other. The phone rang again. With a long, drawn out sigh, Lois picked up the phone. "Lois Lane."

This time, however, it was someone who wanted to talk to her. "Yes, hello!" Lois exclaimed. Darting her eyes around her desk, she searched for her organizer. "Are you saying that say he's available?"

Seeing that the call wasn't a prank, Clark got up and headed for the elevators. There was more research that he wanted to do for the Messenger story.

***

Lois couldn't believe what she had just heard. "Dinner tonight?" she asked.

"That is correct, Ms. Lane," the voice on the phone answered. "Mr. Luthor would like you to join him for dinner this evening."

Her mind raced. She had wanted to have dinner with John tonight, to tell him that she had kissed Clark. It was important that John hear this from her first hand and not from someone else. But this was Lex Luthor, for goodness sake! This was her ultimate goal, to procure a one-on-one interview with the third richest man in the world. The story of a lifetime! And now she had her chance.

The talk with John could wait a day, couldn't it? After all, both Lois and John had had to take rain checks for dinner plans a few times each in the past three months that they have been dating. This was not a surprise for two people with demanding jobs. John would understand, as always, right? Besides, this was business.

In her most confident voice, Lois said, "Yes, I can meet with Mr. Luthor this evening… You say someone will pick me up at 6:30? All right. Let me give you my address…" Slowly and deliberately Lois recited her address, almost as if she was afraid the interview would be called off if she couldn't recite it on the phone. "Yes, thank you. Have a nice day too." Calmly she replaced the receiver, and then let out a yell and shook her fist. "Yessssssss!!!!!!!!"

The other reporters in the newsroom merely shook their heads or smirked at Lois' outburst. Since Lois had been working at the Planet for four years, the other reporters were used to her sudden outbursts and didn't let them affect them.

***

It wasn't until later in the day when Jimmy returned from S.T.A.R. Labs. Immediately Lois jumped up, and motioned Clark, who was working at his desk, towards the conference room. Then she all but dragged Jimmy there and closed the door.

By the expression on Jimmy's face, he had good news.

"So I gave STAR Labs Dr. Platt's report," he explained. "They recreated the launch in a hologram, it was really smooth. Anyway, they concluded that Platt's theory was right on, it was deliberate sabotage, and the transport explosion was no accident. Congrats!"

Yes! All was right in the world! Lois playfully punched Jimmy in the arm. Jimmy laughed, and ducked, before exiting the conference room. Lois turned to Clark, wearing a grin that said, 'Victory.' "He was right! Platt was *right*!" she cried happily.

There was nothing for Clark to do but be enthusiastic about it as well. Lois' enthusiasm could be quite contagious. "Now we can write the story," Clark suggested.

'We? As in, you and I?' Too excited to ponder over Clark's last remark, Lois said instead, "I can write the story."

Clark stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Wasn't this the same woman who had admitted to him last night that she couldn't have done this story alone? To Lois he insisted, "With my help."

"With your help," she agreed. "And if we can convince people there was sabotage, and who was behind it…"

"… we can stop them," Clark grinned. And Dr. Platt's death would not have been in vain. Neither would the deaths of the crew of the Messenger space shuttle.

With a cry of "Oh God!" Lois threw her arms around Clark and gave him a hug. At first Clark was a little bit startled, but he recovered quickly and began to enjoy once again the feeling of Lois in his arms.

Lois in turn realized suddenly what she had just done, but she couldn't help herself. She was just hugging a coworker, for goodness sake! 'Yet it felt good,' she thought. 'It felt right.' Oh no, what was she thinking, hugging Clark? Quickly she stepped out of Clark's embrace, trying to regain her equilibrium.

"Why don't we have dinner?" Clark suggested. Internally, he frowned. Why did he say that all of the sudden? In fact, Clark realized, he had said the oddest things, suggested the oddest things, ever since he had met Lois.

'Yes, oh yes!' she wanted to say. Instead, she sidestepped. "Oh, I don't know." Was having dinner with Clark a good idea right now?

"We should celebrate," Clark pointed out.

"Okay, dinner," she assented. Just liked the evening at Lex Luthor's ball, this wasn't a date. This was just a celebration dinner between to coworkers… Hold it. Lex Luthor? Lois wanted to slap her forehead. Since when did she start forgetting things? "Oh, wait a second, what am I talking about? I can't, I have plans tonight."

Clark wanted to tan his own hide. Of course, what was he thinking? Lois probably had plans with John tonight. 'Good move, Kent,' he thought grumpily. On top of that, he had plans tonight, with Joan. Where he was going to make her a heck of a dinner. Where he was going to tell her that they couldn't see each other anymore. How could he have been so insensitive? "I'm sorry, Lois, I forgot. You're probably going to be with John tonight. He's coming back today from his grandmother's funeral, isn't he?"

"He should be back by now," Lois replied, "but actually, I'm having dinner with Lex Luthor tonight."

"Luthor?" Clark blurted out. This was certainly a surprise to him.

"Yeah," she said simply, and opened the door of the conference room to leave.

Clark put his hand on her shoulder to stop her momentarily. "But what about John?" he asked.

'Would you take your hand off my shoulder please?' Lois wanted to ask. 'It feels too nice.' "What about him?" she returned. "This isn't a date. As I told you before, this is business." Suddenly Lois felt a little claustrophobic. She needed to get away from Clark now. Otherwise, who knows what would happen if she stayed? She started for her desk, intent on leaving the newsroom. It was quitting time, anyway.

Once Lois reached her desk she mumbled to herself, "Besides, I've already cheated on John once by kissing you." She got her things together. Looking up, she saw Clark, still standing in the conference room, staring at her with a hurt-filled look in his eyes. 'He couldn't have heard that, could he?' she thought. 'But that's not possible…' Shaking her head, Lois made her way up the ramps to the elevators.

***

[Metropolis, near Hotel Apollo]

[6:13 P.M.]

It was interesting, Clark realized, that five days ago, he was doing the same thing he was doing now — walking slowly back to his hotel feeling depressed. Five days ago, he had been convinced that he had blown the interview with Mr. White. Today, however, he wondered if he could feel any lower.

Clark still had to tell Joan about Thursday night. He knew that it would hurt her. The problem was, if could help it, he didn't want hurt anyone, physically or otherwise. But there was no other way around it. Joan had invited him over, despite feeling sick, and this was the best opportunity to face up to the situation, to tell her everything. He *had* to.

Clark also had to deal with the fact that he'd heard Lois' last remark before she had left work today. "I've already cheated on John once by kissing you," Lois had said. Well, it was obvious that Lois did not feel the same way as Clark felt towards her. Maybe she was just attracted to his looks — oh, why did he not get dressed before Lois had come to pick him up this morning?

Why should it matter how Lois felt? She still was with John. And hadn't Clark said not too long ago, that a relationship with Lois was out of the question, and that a *friendship* was the next best possible thing? 'But that was before I had that dream last night,' Clark thought sadly. 'Before I dreamt of kissing Lois.'

He stopped suddenly when he got to the street the hotel was on. Had that dream foretold something that was going to happen? Well, whether it had or not, it wouldn't have foretold today. Not when it was still daylight outside. Not when the skies were clear. Not when he had flown most of the way back from the Planet instead of wondering around the streets. Of course, he didn't have many dreams that were so vivid as this one had been, so it could have just been his subconscious mind at work.

By the time Clark reached the entrance of the Hotel Apollo, he felt a little apprehensive. He opened the door slowly and made his way into the lobby. Of course, the lobby was empty, save for the hotel manager dozing off at the front desk. And of course, Lois wasn't there. 'Why would she be here, anyway?' Clark thought irritably. 'She's off to have dinner with Luthor.'

The thought of Lois spending time with Luthor made Clark sick in the stomach. There was something about Luthor that bothered him, and now, he had wished that he could have asked Lois to be careful before she had left the Planet. Maybe Lois wouldn't have appreciated the concern, but still, for some reason, Clark had this urge to protect her.

Protect Lois? That was weird. Of course, Clark had been concerned for Joan's safety from time to time, like when she had gone out late at night to get Chinese takeout. But Joan was a high school teacher. Statistically speaking, it was less likely for her to get into trouble than for Lois. This urge was stronger. Clark was worried about her. Clark was worried about her safety. Clark was in love with her…

Oh, this was going nowhere! There was nothing he could do about his feelings. He knew how Lois felt, and he would just have to be content with being friends. Right? *Right*? Feeling quite despondent, Clark walked through the lobby. He was about to reach the stairs when someone shouted behind him.

"Hey you! The guy with the glasses!" Clark turned, and saw the portly, middle-aged hotel manager motioning him over to the front desk.

Clark walked to the man. "You wanted to speak to me, sir?" he asked politely.

"Just wanted to know how much longer you're planning on staying. You said a few days, and it's been a few days."

"I would have thought that you would want me to stay as long as possible," Clark pointed out. Perhaps he was being naive, but he wouldn't have expected the hotel manager wanting to throw him out.

"Business is pickin' up," the hotel manager shrugged. "S'that time of year. Need to know what rooms I'll have vacant."

"Oh," Clark replied simply. With everything that had transpired, at work and in his personal life, he had forgotten to start looking for an apartment of his own…

An apartment of his own? Did he want to stay in Metropolis? Clark wasn't sure. It had been a little over five years since he had graduated from Midwest State, since he had begun traveling all over the world, never staying at one place for longer than six months at a time. It had been what, ten days? since he had arrived in Metropolis, and Clark had really liked living here so far. Okay, so maybe the hotel room wasn't the best room out there. But seriously, Clark had enjoyed all the aspects of city life. It would be nice to stay.

Clark noticed that the hotel manager was waiting for his answer. Clearing his throat, Clark said, "I don't know, maybe a week?"

A grunt was the manager's reply. He was about to go to his office when remembered something. "Oh, there was some blondie looking for you a little while ago. She looked a little nervous. Was that your girl or somethin', kid?"

"I don't know any blond woman," Clark started to respond, but found that he was talking to air. Just like before, the hotel manager had turned abruptly and went into his office.

This was news to Clark. Who could this blond woman be? It couldn't have been either Lois or Joan — Joan was at home sick, and Lois was at the Planet most of the day. And both of them were brunettes. It couldn't have been Cat Grant either — she was auburn-haired. Besides, when Cat had first come on to him, at Clark's first day at the Planet, he had made it quite clear that he wasn't available, that he was seeing someone. She had not bothered him since. The last he heard, she was now eyeing some rich Oriental.

Clark turned around and went upstairs to his room, lost in thought. Come to think of it, it couldn't have been anyone from the Planet. Only Lois and Mr. White knew where Clark was staying. This didn't make sense. First the phone calls, and now this. Clark's eyes narrowed. Was there a connection? If there was, then why? Was someone stalking him?

'Okay, the idea sounded way out there,' Clark thought. 'I haven't been in Metropolis for long, and I don't know many people.' But there were quite a few women who would consider him attractive, Clark realized, to his discomfort. After all, his super-hearing had picked up some interesting adjectives that had been reserved for him, when he had been in school. He had always been very uncomfortable with all the attention.

The more Clark thought about it, the more plausible the idea sounded. This *was* Metropolis, after all. The city with one of the worst crime rates in the U.S. The city that was home to all kinds of people, including those who were, well, not in the best frame of mind. Maybe one of those people was following him around, and she was probably harmless. Of course she was harmless; what could she possibly do with Clark and his powers? Perhaps this was normal, and perhaps Lois had been stalked by someone before. Promising himself to ask Lois about it later, Clark unlocked the door to his room.

***

[Metropolis, Joan Duoblys' apartment]

[7:00 P.M.]

At seven o'clock sharp, Clark was standing in front of the door to Joan's apartment. Because the mystery of the blond woman was still in his mind, he had taken extra precautions before taking off from an alley nearby the hotel. Once he had landed near Joan's apartment building, he had used his x-ray vision to make sure no one was watching.

He noticed that the same lights were still out in the hallway. He also noticed that one of the numbers on her door was missing (the '0', as it turned out). He finally realized that he still hadn't knocked the door yet. Sighing, he brought up his hand and lightly rapped the door twice.

The door opened, and there stood Joan, with her hair all mussed up, wearing a robe, and looking drowsy. Her smile seemed forced. "Hey," she greeted him softly and gave him a hug. Unfortunately, she still hadn't found her voice yet.

"Hi," Clark said. "Did I wake you up? 'Cause I could come back later…"

Joan shook her head. "I got up a while ago. I'm making some chicken soup now. Join me for a bowl?" Without letting Clark answer, Joan turned and headed for the kitchen.

Clark sighed again. This hadn't started on the right foot. He had been planning on cooking Joan dinner, to soften the blow later, but Joan had already beaten him to it. He stepped into her apartment and closed the door. The aromas from the kitchen floated into the living room, and to Clark, it smelled really good.

Moments later, Joan reappeared in the living room carrying a tray laden with two steaming bowls. Clark got up to take the tray from her, but Joan shooed him off. Gingerly she set the tray on the coffee table. For the next several minutes the two ate in silence, their attentions focusing on the news on LNN instead of each other. Clark both liked and disliked the delay. Apparently no one else was close to figuring out what had happened to the Messenger; the coverage had decreased considerably since Wednesday.

Clark finally set his empty bowl on the tray and looked up. Joan was still working on hers. The soup was good, as always, but again, he had wished that Joan hadn't gone through the trouble. "I was planning on cooking," he remarked.

Joan shrugged. "I just wanted to do something besides sitting in bed feeling miserable." She set her bowl down, and as she did so, noticed the sad look on Clark's face. She grabbed her remote and turned off the TV. She said carefully, "Something wrong? Bad day at the Planet?"

Clark gave a humorless chuckle. "You could say that. But I wanted to talk to you about… I did something, um, bad. Something really bad and unforgivable…"

He tried to put his thoughts into words. 'I am in love with someone else…' No, no good. 'I kissed another woman because I wanted to…' No, that was worse. 'I went behind your back at the White Orchid Ball…' He took a deep breath. 'Just say it, Kent!' "I've betrayed you, and I kissed another woman." There, he said it.

For a moment Joan said nothing. Clark was about to repeat himself, thinking that what he had just said hadn't settled in Joan's mind yet, when she sneezed. Looking at him with an expression that pained him, she said quietly, "You kissed Lois Lane."

Clark was speechless. She *knew*. Somehow, she knew. And now she hated him for it. But wait, the look in Joan's eyes. It wasn't of hatred, but of sadness. Okay, so he had broken her heart. Oh, why hadn't he told her sooner? "How did you know?" he finally asked, not even bothering to deny it.

"Do you know Senator Washington?" Clark's blank look told her that he didn't. "He was at the White Orchid Ball," Joan explained. "His niece is a friend of mine, and she saw you and Lois on the dance floor, kissing. She didn't know you, but she recognized Lois Lane, and her description of Lois' date sounded a lot like you."

"I'm so sorry," Clark said brokenly, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't mean to hurt you…"

"At first I was angry," Joan went on, not listening. "I never would have expected that from you, Clark, you know? You were the most honest, decent, and caring person I have ever met. But Elaine said that you looked very upset when you left, and that sounded like you were guilty over what you'd done. So I decided to test you."

Joan paused to cough. "So I said nothing and waited to see if you were going to tell me. I wanted to see how decent of a guy you really are. I didn't hear from you all day yesterday, and I started getting worried. Then you called me this morning. You were thinking about telling me then, weren't you?"

Clark nodded numbly. Joan sniffed, "At least I can say that you had the decency to tell me now instead of trying to see Lois behind my back." She sighed and leaned back into her sofa. Her little speech had tired her.

Clark was simply confused at Joan's reaction. Wouldn't Joan have cried, yelled at him, or looked angry? Joan seemed, well, subdued. Perhaps it was because she was still sick. "Should I leave?" he asked in a small voice.

Joan shook her head. "Not yet. I am upset at what you had done, but look at us, Clark! We've been dating for about a month. We've hugged and kissed, and not much else. We haven't slept together, though I've been tempted." Joan looked Clark over, and he blushed. "Maybe it's unrealistic, but one of the things I look for in a guy is passion. You're very attractive, and you're quite a gentleman, but, well, let's just say that I'm not feeling any spark here. Do you?"

"No," Clark admitted, "but like you said, Joan, it's only been a month. Couldn't a 'spark' develop later on?"

"Maybe," Joan said. "But I'm pretty good in sensing things like this. I don't think I see a future for us."

Clark looked at Joan, wide-eyed. This was not how he expected it at all. 'Now who was breaking up with whom?' he wondered. He was at a loss for words. "I'm sorry," he said again.

Joan coughed again, and stood up. "Me too." Not so discreetly, she eyed her door.

"I guess now I should leave," Clark remarked, as he got up. "But don't you think we should talk about this some more?"

"I don't think there's anything else we could talk about," Joan replied. "Like I said, I see no future for us, and you have feelings for Lois. Besides, I'm tired and I'm still feeling miserable." She walked to the door.

"I'm sorry," Clark said, following her.

Joan tried not to roll her eyes. That man was sometimes too much of a Boy Scout. "It would be nice if you didn't have to say, 'I'm sorry' so much."

"I'm sor…" Clark started, and checked himself. "Okay."

"You don't have to worry about your secret," Joan said earnestly. "I won't tell anyone."

"I wasn't worried, but thank you." Clark paused at the door, as if he wanted to do something. Joan took the initiative and gave him a warm hug.

"If you still want to talk about other things, I'll be here," she whispered in his ear.

"Okay." Stepping back, Clark looked at Joan for one last time, and slowly walked out the door, and perhaps out of her life.

Joan closed her door and turned all three locks. She smiled sadly and shook her head. "Oh, Clark," she breathed. "You'll see that this was for the best." Blowing a strand of hair from her face, she went to her living room and retrieved her tray of empty dishes.

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's Apartment] [8:09 P.M.]

Lois forced open the door to her apartment and slammed it shut behind her. She was mad. Furious. Never had a day had so many highs and lows. "How could you have done it?" she muttered to herself, she threw her keys, purse, and coat onto the sofa. "You call yourself an award-winning reporter, ha!"

For now, there would be no story on her exclusive interview with Lex Luthor. Lois had agreed on having dinner with him, assuming that she could conduct the interview at the same time. She had then realized that Luthor had no intention of answering her questions. He had instead asked questions about *her* — he had treated it like a date instead of an interview!

A little voice in her head had told her that maybe Lois could play along, perhaps hoping that he would open up later. She had considered answering his questions, being coy, and maybe even flirting — she had done this before for other stories — but her common sense had told her that might have been a dangerous idea. Besides, once Lois had mentioned to Luthor that she was seeing someone, the atmosphere had changed. Both had seemed to be in a hurry to finish the meal. Playing along wouldn't have worked anyway.

The change in mood had confirmed Lois' suspicions, that Lex Luthor was interested in her. After she had told him about John, Luthor had remarked, "Mr. Bialzek is a lucky fellow to have a woman as beautiful as you." She was uncomfortable with the attention. Lois already had two men who had feelings for her and didn't want a third.

'If John hadn't been delayed in Atlanta, then I would have been more mad!' she thought as she kicked off her heels. (Oh, her aching feet!) The so-called interview would have been a complete waste of time. But as it had turned out, when she had come home from work this afternoon, there was a message from John saying that because of a problem with the plane he was stuck in Atlanta. He wouldn't be able to come home until later that evening.

Reaching the bedroom, Lois began changing into her nightclothes, despite the fact that it wasn't late out. The episode with Luthor had left a bad taste in her mouth. Lex Luthor was one of the most powerful men in Metropolis, a businessman and a philanthropist. But was he really a model citizen, a 'Man of the Year'? Thursday night, while she had been bemoaning the fact that she had betrayed John, she had also briefly considered the announcement Luthor (Lois was also uncomfortable about addressing him as 'Lex') had made at his charity ball.

Again, Lois felt that it was too convenient that Luthor was planning to build Space Station Luthor when Prometheus seemed to be in danger to be cancelled. If the Congress of Nations had approved of Luthor's proposal, he would have stood to make a huge profit out of it. But she had seen him this evening, after the Congress of Nation's announcement that they would continue to support the Prometheus program, and he didn't seem too upset about it. Perhaps he had been hiding his emotions?

Yes, it sounded crazy, but Lois reminded herself that that was how she got to be where she was today. She was sure that Luthor was involved in the Messenger explosion. But she needed proof. She needed physical evidence. Lois could hear Perry's voice in her head: "Hard facts!" he would shout. "Hard facts, that's the name of this game! Now go out there and get me some!"

A smile appeared on Lois' face. An exclusive interview with Lex Luthor might or might not happen, but an expose of Lex Luthor as a saboteur would be a million times better! Oh, what a story that would make! Suddenly Lois, who a few minutes ago felt defeated and was considering going to bed early, was full of energy. Noticing what she had changed into, she rummaged through her closet once again. Minutes later, she flew into her living room wearing jeans and a dark T-shirt.

Lois decided that a stroll would be nice… maybe around some hangars at EPRAD. The 'polite' thing to do would be to call Dr. Baines' office and get permission to set up an independent examination. That's what Clark would do, Lois guessed. 'He could be too nice and naive at times!' she thought. But Lois knew that Dr. Baines wouldn't go for it, even if Clark used his charms once again. Besides, there was no time to play by the rules. The colonists' transport was scheduled for this Tuesday, less than three days away.

She smiled again as she locked her apartment door and was prepared to go out. Yes, she could see the headlines now: 'Messenger Sabotaged, Luthor Involved, by Lois Lane.' Well, okay, 'by Lois Lane and Clark Kent.' Just as long as her name appeared first; after all, she was the senior reporter on this team.

***

[Metropolis, near Hotel Apollo] [8:33 P.M.]

For the past hour Clark had been wandering through the streets in a daze. What had happened when he was at Joan's place? He had arrived at Joan's, dreading the moment when he had to hurt her with his confession, when he had to break up with her. But Joan had already known, and it had seemed that she had doubts as well about the relationship. The whole scene had felt surreal.

Clark slowly exhaled the breath that he had held for a while. Despite knowing that he had done the right thing, he was still sad. He would miss Joan, even though he knew that there could be no future for them. She was the first person after his parents who knew about his powers, and Clark had been quite relieved to find that Joan continued to treat him the same way.

Joan's reaction from that day had given Clark hope. Perhaps he could find another woman who would treat him the same way, with or without powers. Maybe Lois… Clark shook his head. No. That was not possible. 'I may be available again, but she isn't.' Finally paying attention of his surroundings, he noticed that he was yet again walking the same way back to the hotel, the way he had done in his dream. He let a groan escape his lips.

Why was it that he was obsessing about a dream, a dream that seemed so real, but could never be? Why was he still remembering that dream at all? Clark kept telling himself that it was merely a fantasy, something concocted by his subconscious because of his feelings towards Lois. Besides, while it was dark outside and he had been wondering the streets, it wasn't raining. 'And,' Clark thought, 'I didn't do this.' Looking immediately around him to make sure no one was around, he ran at super-speed the rest of the way to his hotel. Because he had been going so quickly, he had failed to notice a young and attractive brunette a block away getting into a jeep.

***

[Metropolis, EPRAD Space Center] [8:55 P.M.]

Lois went into EPRAD the same way she had went in yesterday, when the wreckage of the Messenger had been brought into one of the hangars. She wiped her brow with her arm and surveyed the area. For a moment uncertainty had settled in — could she remember how to get to the hangar in the dark? For another moment, she had wished that Clark was with her.

Oh, well, it was his loss if he wasn't here to witness the story of the century. When Lois had left her place she had driven first to Clark's hotel. She really didn't want to take Clark, but her conscience won out — after all, Clark had been helping her a lot the past few days. To Lois' surprise, he wasn't there, and the guy at the front desk had been no help — she remembered the guy mumbling, "First Blondie, now you." She hadn't given herself time to think about his remark (Who was 'Blondie'? Joan, maybe?), as she left afterwards without giving the guy at the front desk a message.

Lois walked carefully, trying to retrace her steps. EPRAD was a conglomerate of buildings, runways, and hangars, and so it was easy to get lost. When she thought she had reached the hangar the Messenger was in, she found a side door with a glass pane. She looked inside.

What a mess! The pieces of what survived the explosion were being put together, like a dinosaur's skeleton. There were people working inside ('Why were they working at this hour?' Lois asked herself), going through the other remnants of the Messenger, and trying to figure out where they belonged. Guards were stationed all over the place, and if Lois wasn't careful, she could get caught by one making his or her rounds outside. She glanced around, making sure that she wasn't being watched.

Peering through the glass again, she noticed that most of the personnel were working on the biggest piece that had survived intact, a portion of the hull. Then Lois frowned. From her angle, she was looking at the left side of the hull. Yesterday morning she had watched the Messenger being loaded onto a truck, and she remembered that the whole left side was bashed in. The hull inside this hangar wasn't. Therefore they must be working on a phony hull. Yes! Someone obviously didn't want the real Messenger hull examined, and that smelled like sabotage to Lois. She felt excited at the discovery.

Suddenly the PA system switched on. "Dr. Langley, please contact the main gate. Dr. Langley, the main gate." Lois jumped, and took a couple of breaths to calm herself down. This was what she lived for, being on the edge. She stepped away from the hangar and retreated to one of the outer fences. From where she stood, she could see almost all of the hangars. Most of these hangars had light emanating from the small windows. However, there were two of them, Lois noticed, that appeared deserted.

The first of the two darkened hangars revealed nothing, but in the second one, jackpot! The burned shell of the real Messenger was inside. Using the miniature camera that she'd brought along, she began taking pictures. There was no time to examine the wreckage herself — she had been on the EPRAD grounds for about twenty minutes now. The pictures could be analyzed later.

As Lois continued snapping away, she planned her next move. Once she finished here, she would break into Dr. Baines' office. That wasn't a problem, since she had brought her lock-picking kit as well. Her face hardened as she remembered her and Clark's meeting with the scientist. Now more then ever, Lois was convinced that she had lied about the report. From the first time they had met, she hadn't trust the woman. And while Clark had done the right thing and used his charms on Dr. Baines, Lois still didn't like the way the other woman had looked at Clark. It was very… unprofessional.

Lois was so engrossed in her work that she didn't notice a shadowy figure following her. Without warning, she felt two hands grab her from behind. Acting on instinct, she whirled around, backed out of the attacker's grasp, and planted a jumping kick on his face. The man staggered backwards for a moment, but did not fall. Lois resumed an attacking posture, ready to strike, when the attacker pulled out a switchblade. Before he got a chance to lunge, she landed a kick into his stomach. Surprised, he groaned, and dropped the knife. Another kick to the head knocked the guy out cold.

Lois could feel her heart racing. While she was able to take the guy down, she noticed that her form was off, due to the fact that she had missed so many Tae Kwon Do classes. She really had to go back to that class. But for now, she had to get out of here. Grabbing her camera and her lock-picking kit, she dashed to the entrance of the hangar. Once she reached the door, she stopped short. The door was open, and she could see a gun pointing straight at her.

***

[Metropolis, Hotel Apollo] [Sunday, August 22, 1993, 4:45 A.M.]

<Rrrrriiiiinnnnggggg!!!!!!>

Clark jerked up, ready to hit the alarm button, but stopped himself just in time. Feeling sheepish, he climbed out of bed and walked to the other side of the room and turned the alarm off. It was a good thing he remembered; otherwise, he would have smashed the night stand to bits.

It was still dark in Metropolis. Clark had not returned to his room until almost eleven the night before, and he had set the alarm for quarter-to-five in the morning. The small amount of sleep that he needed only compounded the mystery of Clark Kent — why did he have these unusual abilities? Hopefully he could get some answers, which was why he had awakened so early. His parents were usually up by four because of their work on the farm, and Smallville was an hour behind Metropolis. Besides, he had not seen his parents since Tuesday night, and he was starting to feel guilty about it. He hadn't been intentionally avoiding them — he just had been very busy the past few days.

Clark zipped into the bathroom and stripped off his clothes faster than a blink of an eye. Stepping into the shower, he decided to shower in a slower pace this time. A blast of cold water came out of the showerhead. Since he was unaffected by temperature, a cold shower wouldn't have the same result for him as on anyone else. Nevertheless, he left the cold water on.

Five minutes later, Clark had stepped out of the shower wearing a towel and carrying another. Briefly he remembered that a scant twenty-four hours ago Lois had found him in the same attire. Clark could tell that Lois was physically attracted to him, and the way she had been staring at him had made him uncomfortable. He sighed. Being attracted to him physically was one thing, but being in love with him was another.

With a little use of speed, he began drying himself with the towel he had been carrying. He then paused, flung the towel around his back to dry it. Then he smelled something burning. He groaned as he looked at the towel. Because he had been drying himself so fast, the friction had caused a hole to be burnt into the towel. Shaking his head, he dumped the towel into the trash. It was the second time he had done this, and he knew that he would have to pay extra for his hotel bill to cover the damage.

Quickly he spun out of the towel he had still been wearing and changed into a pair of shorts and a Midwest State T-shirt. He turned the radio on his alarm clock on to hear the news, and found out moments later that the National Weather Service was calling for rain in Metropolis. As if on cue, Clark could hear raindrops beginning to fall. The rain and the darkened clouds would make it easier for him to take off unnoticed for a flight to Smallville.

As he picked up his watch that was lying on the round table near his bed, his gaze rested on the newspaper that he had been carrying with him ever since he had left the Planet last night. It was the Daily Planet, the late edition from the day before. The one with his first article: 'Adopted Kids Looking for Their Birth Parents'. Because so many things had been happening, Clark could barely remember sending the story to Mr. White when it was done Friday. Clark didn't even know if Mr. White had said anything to him about the story, whether it was good or whether it was garbage. He read the article for the first time since he had submitted it, using super-speed. 'The Editor-in- Chief must have liked it,' he mused, for he could only find minute differences between his last known copy and the published article.

Clark looked at his watch and noticed that he had to get going. He smiled as he folded up the newspaper. He would take with him to Smallville — his parents would be pleased to see his first article. He cocked his head to one side to listen for anything within the building. All the hotel guests were asleep. With a burst of super- speed, he ran out of his hotel room and locked the door. Seconds later, he was airborne, on his way to Smallville, high within the dark rain clouds.

***

[Metropolis, EPRAD Control] [7:28 A.M.]

Lois, meanwhile, woke up on her own on Sunday morning, considerably later than Clark had, and without the benefit of her alarm clock. 'What a nightmare,' she thought. She had dreamt that she was poking around a hangar at EPRAD when someone had attacked her. She had successfully defended herself, and had tried to get out, but was stopped by someone carrying a gun. Very scary, indeed. Lois, struggling to wake up, couldn't understand why she had slept in a sitting position. She tried to scoot downwards, so that she could be lying down, when she realized that she couldn't move at all.

Her eyes flew open. Lois looked down to find that she was restrained by seat belts, that she was gagged, and that her hands were tied together behind her back. *Seat belts!?!?* Glancing around, she found herself still inside the hangar where the *real* Messenger was kept. Her 'nightmare' was of course, real. And the seat belts must have come from the Messenger's seats.

"Ow!" she cried into the gag. The events of last night were coming back in vivid color. The person who had stopped her with a gun had apparently knocked Lois out with the butt of the gun. That explained the throbbing pain in her head she was now feeling. Lois then took a quick survey of herself to see if there were any other injuries. She saw no blood, but she was 'tied up', sort of speak, so she really couldn't tell. She was, however, sore in a few places.

'What time was it anyway?' she wondered. Lois was tied to a post facing the Messenger wreckage. She tried to look behind her to see if there was anyone there. Then she heard footsteps approaching from her right.

As if on cue, a woman's voice answered Lois' question. "It's 7:30." Lois turned to see Dr. Antoinette Baines holding a gun. "Good Morning, Lois," she said. "I hope you'll forgive the accommodations. But then again, I never was much of a hostess." Dr. Baines gave an evil smile. "Not to worry, soon you'll thinking about things more important than accommodations."

Lois glared at her captor, glared at her for her sarcasm, glared at her for the situation Lois was in, and glared at her to cover her true feelings. It was a developed trait, to be able to hide one's vulnerability. 'God, I'm scared,' she said to herself.

"I was impressed last night, Lois," Dr. Baines continued, "with the way you handled that guard. These days a woman has to know self- defense."

Lois remained angry and silent.

"Is something wrong, Lois?" Dr. Baines asked with false concern. "You don't seem to be in a talkative mood." Lois finally made an indignant noise in response. "Not to worry, Lois," Dr. Baines said cheerfully. "Soon it will be all over." Lois turned away, and she could hear footsteps fading away.

As soon as Lois heard a door shut, she began struggling against her bonds. But it was to no avail. Whoever had tied her up had used many seat belts, and it was very difficult to move. Her legs were not tied, but there was nothing that she could reach. In the past, Lois had been able to get out of sticky situations, but this time, she worried that her luck might have run out. Now more than ever, Lois wished that she had left a message at Clark's hotel when she had tried to find him. She had no idea where Clark was, and he would have no idea where she was. The tears Lois had been holding finally began to fall.

***

[Metropolis, Hotel Apollo] [8:18 A.M.]

The trip to Smallville had only raised more questions. Once again, Clark was in a daze when he returned to his hotel room. Oh, it *was* nice to see his parents again. By the time Clark had arrived in Smallville his parents were already up and about. His parents had congratulated him on his first published article in the Daily Planet. Then he had helped his father with the morning chores while his mother had tended to things around the house and had prepared breakfast. By the time the three of them had sat down to eat, Clark had finally began explaining the reason of his visit.

When Clark had asked his parents about his origins, his father immediately began telling a story, remembering every little detail about it. Jonathan Kent had explained how on May 17, 1966 he and Clark's mother were driving by Shuster's Field when they had saw what had appeared to be a meteorite. When the two of them had left their truck to investigate, they had found a small spaceship with a baby inside. Fearful that someone might come to take the baby away, the Kents had taken the child in and had raised him as their own. As soon as it had been possible, the two new parents had legally adopted Clark, claiming that he had been abandoned on their doorstep.

Now, Clark was still stunned at the revelation, as he closed the door to his hotel room and plopped himself down on the nearest chair, nearly breaking it in the process. He had been found in a spaceship as a baby? Did that mean that he wasn't human, that he was… was… a strange visitor from another planet? It was very possible.

The biggest mystery of all, however, surrounded the spaceship his parents had found Clark in. To Clark's surprise, his father had not destroyed the ship as he had originally intended, but had buried it in a remote part of their farm. Clark and his parents had set out after breakfast to the spot where the ship had been buried, only to find that it wasn't there. Someone had come along and had dug it up. The Kents had returned to the house moments later, shaken. Someone else must have known about Clark and the spaceship. But who?

Clark sighed. Here was yet *another* mystery for him to solve. Already he had the Messenger explosion, the prank calls, and a potential stalker to investigate. Today might be Sunday, a day of rest for many people, but not for Clark. Not now. He glanced at his watch. 8:21 A.M. Perhaps some time spent at the Planet would be a good idea. At this hour probably no one would be there, and that suited Clark just fine. He spun out of his clothes and changed into something more suitable for work, but casual. When he had stopped spinning, he found himself facing the payphone on the wall.

'Should I call Lois?' he asked himself. It *was* Sunday, and Lois might be sleeping in. Lois, enjoying a day off? It seemed incredible, but everyone needed down time now and then — where else would Lois have all that energy? But knowing Lois, she was probably there already, wondering why *he* had come in so 'late'. Now ready, he grabbed a few things from the round table and made his way to the nearest dark alley.

***

[Metropolis, EPRAD Space Center] [8:31 A.M.]

Lois sniffed as she blinked away her tears. She was a little angry with herself — how could she have lost control like that? She was an award-winning reporter who had *always* gotten out of trouble when it had came to her. Why was she giving up so easily? 'Okay, think rationally, Lane,' she told herself. She surveyed the situation. Her upper body was tied to the post, and her hands were tied together. Perhaps there was something on the post itself. Finding nothing but the smooth surface of the post at the top, she decided to try feeling the sides of the post.

With renewed determination, she bent her knees and tried to move from a sitting position to a squatting position. She could barely move an inch upwards. Whoever had tied her to the post had tied her *tight*. Lois took a breath (she couldn't take a deep breath because she was tied from the waist up) and tried again. After a few tense moments, she was able to lift herself up a few inches. Her arms were getting sore quickly. She darted her eyes around, checking to see if anyone was around. 'If Dr. Baines decides to check up on me again she may not take any chances and just shoot me,' she reasoned. 'But if I don't do something, I'll end up dead anyway.'

Now began the hard part: pulling herself up to a standing position. Lois took another deep breath and tried to pull herself up further. The tight bonds around her chest were making things difficult. Sweat glistened her forehead as she tried to raise herself up. After trying for a couple of minutes, she stopped. Close to hyperventilating, she tried to take slower breaths. Again, the bonds made it hard to breathe. 'You can do it, Lane.' Lois looked down and found that she was only a couple of inches higher than before. 'Okay, relax for a minute, and then try again,' she thought.

Lois looked around again, checking if anyone was nearby. All she could hear was air coming in through the ventilation system. 'Assuming it *is* good, clean air and not gas,' she thought sardonically. She tried to get a sense of what direction she was facing. Okay, if the Messenger wreckage was in front of her, then one set of doors — the doors that she had come in last night — was on her right. So a wise thing to do, Lois reasoned, was to face in the direction of the door. She was about to try moving around the post when she heard a clang to her left.

Her heart was in her throat while she jerked her head to the source of the noise, expecting to see Dr. Baines, or worse, one of the henchman who had decided to take advantage of his boss' captive. Unfortunately that had happened before, and those who had tried had received a kick to the most sensitive part of the male anatomy. All she could see in the immediate vicinity was a table with two canisters. She saw a piece of metal on the ground, and assumed that it had just fallen off the table. Lois sighed in relief.

She took a closer look at the two canisters on the table. Each had a spout on the bottom, almost like a beer keg. Each canister also had an electronic device attached to the top. For a minute Lois panicked. What if those devices were timers? What if these canisters are really bombs? She listened carefully for any clicks or beeps emanating from the devices. Nothing. She relaxed again. 'Maybe they are safety locks?' she asked herself. It did look as if each canister had a lid on the top, and it looked like the devices were holding the lid closed.

Lois noticed that each of the two canisters had a white label on the side. One of them said, 'Monomethyl Hydrazine,' in big letters. The other one was labeled, 'Nitrogen Tetroxide.' Both labels also had something in smaller print under the names, but she could not read them. Oh, she wished she could remember that those chemicals were! But the last time she had seen Chemistry was during her sophomore year at MetroU, over six years ago, and she could not recall anything from that class.

She heard another sound from her right. Footsteps. Now was time to panic. If Dr. Baines saw Lois like this than it might be over for her. But wait, these footsteps were not as loud, and it sounded like more it could be from more than one person. It couldn't be Dr. Baines, could it? Wait a minute. The footsteps were really faint. Were these people possibly *sneaking* up to her?

'Could it be *Clark*?' Lois' hopes were raised, and then they fell immediately. He had no idea that she was here, remember? 'He could have known if I only had left a message with that rude hotel manager who only barked at people,' she thought miserably… Hold it now. Was she hearing *voices*? The hangar was immense in size, and so the acoustics were such that she could hear almost anything anywhere. Lois strained her head to listen.

"Come on, my pet, we have to do this. We have to save her." That was a woman's whisper.

"Of course, Darling, I'm just a little nervous. You *know* who she is…" A second voice, and it sounded like a man.

"I know, Angel, I know," whispered the woman. "The sooner we do this, the sooner we can complete our assignment."

Lois' forehead furrowed. It had sounded like those two were trying to decide whether to save her or not. But did Lois want to be saved by those two? Who were they? And what was this 'assignment'? Were they the good guys or the bad guys? Lois' mind raced. Maybe she would let these people rescue her, and when she had a chance, make a run for it. Her decision made, she tried to get the couple's attention, even though she couldn't see them. "Hello? Anyone there? Please, help me!" she said, in her best 'damsel-in-distress' voice.

For a few tense seconds Lois heard nothing. There were no footsteps coming closer, but there were also no footsteps fading away, either. Then she heard some murmuring, this time unintelligible. Finally, someone sighed, and Lois could see a man walking out from his hiding place.

Lois had never seen this man before. He looked young, probably in his early to mid twenties. A little on the thin side, he was not too tall, maybe a little shorter than Clark. He had a moustache, and he was blushing. '*Blushing*?' His eyes were looking at the floor in front of him.

"Ms… Ms. Lane?" the man stuttered.

"Yes?" she said cautiously.

"Wow, this is, ah, this is an honor," he said, gushing. "The great Lois Lane from the Daily Planet! Oh, I, I can't believe that I'm finally meeting you… Honey, come here." He looked in the direction of their hiding place.

Moments later a young, blonde woman stepped out of the hiding place. She was considerably shorter than the young man, perhaps shorter than Lois, and her face was equally red. She too was someone Lois had never seen before. "Ms. Lane," the woman said with difficulty, "it's a, it's a pleasure meeting you at last."

If Lois wasn't tied up to a post she would be laughing out loud. Who were these clowns? Lois Lane groupies? She would have otherwise been flattered, but she didn't consider herself *that* famous. They looked awfully shy, and it didn't seem likely that they were planning to abduct her, did they?

"Who are you?" Lois asked, her voice still guarded.

The young couple jumped. After looking at each other a moment, the man answered. "My name is, um, Timothy Lake, but you can call me Tim. And this is my, uh, my wife, Amber. We're, um, big fans of your work, uh, Ms. Lane."

Lois tried not to raise an eyebrow at them. It wouldn't matter, because neither person was looking directly at her. *Fans* of hers? Since when did fans follow their idols like this? "So why are you here?" she barked.

"We, uh, we followed you," Amber replied. "Do you want us to get you out of here?" She darted around the room, looking extremely nervous.

"Yeah, that would be nice," Lois said flatly. There were a lot of unanswered questions about Tim and Amber Lake, but it would be better to wait until she was out of danger. If they were here to save her, that is. If they were really here to kill her, well, there was nothing Lois could do. She was tied and at their mercy. But if they freed her, and if Lois found later that they had ulterior motives, then she would be out of there as fast as she could. Unfortunately, the pain throbbing in her head might slow her down a bit.

Lois remained tense as Tim crouched behind her. She turned her head to see Tim pull out a Swiss Army knife and cut her free from the seat belts. The seat belts were difficult to cut through, but after a few tries, Lois was free. She was about to dart up and run when she heard a sound from her left.

<Ding!>

Lois looked and saw that on the table, the two electronic devices on top of the canisters were blinking. Chemicals were coming out of the spouts. Pools began to form on the floor, and they were heading towards a nearby drainage gate.

Tim noticed the two canisters, and his eyes widened. "Uh —" he started to say.

"— oh!" Amber saw the canisters too, read the labels and finished Tim's thought. "Sweetheart!" she cried in alarm. "Monomethyl Hydrazine *and* Nitrogen Tetroxide? We've got to…"

"… get out of here!" Tim finished. He offered a hand to help Lois up.

Lois batted Tim's arm away and got up herself. "What's going on?" she demanded.

"Monomethyl Hydrazine and Nitrogen Tetroxide mixed together creates a big explosion!" Tim explained, pulling Lois' arm. "We've got to go!"

Lois didn't have to be told twice. She saw smoke coming out of the two chemicals and began to run. The three of them were just yards outside the hangar when the explosion came. A firestorm rushed though the building, igniting everything inside. A louder and bigger explosion followed the first, and its force set the trio flying into a pool of muddy water.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building] [10:07 A.M.]

Clark was standing next to the coffee machine, getting coffee for Lois and himself. His mind wandered to the events of the last hour. He was stunned at what had happened. No, he was beyond stunned: he was flabbergasted.

Clark had been quietly learning the email program at his computer when he had heard the elevator ding. Into the newsroom limped a wet Lois Lane. Wet as a noodle. Immediately upon seeing Clark she had launched into a full-scale babble mode, explaining how she had been abducted while she had been snooping around EPRAD last night. She had also told of her escape from Dr. Baines and the scientist's untimely death when Dr. Baines had tried to get away in a helicopter that had then exploded. Clark had been very concerned about Lois' appearance and her injury, and he had tried to ask her if she was all right, but he couldn't get a word in edgewise.

Lois had also found out that Dr. Baines had not acted alone. The young couple who had accompanied Lois to the newsroom had also overheard Dr. Baines talking on the phone, and it was clear that Lex Luthor was involved in the sabotage of the Messenger. As for the motive, the only one that would fit was money. A successful, privately owned space laboratory would have easily moved Lex Luthor from the third richest to the richest man in the world. Unfortunately, neither the Lakes nor Lois had any hard evidence to support their claims. The telephone conversation had not been recorded, of course, and Dr. Baines was now dead. The hangar next to the one with the real Messenger wreckage, the other one that had no lights on, had survived the explosion. It was in this hangar where Lois had found more damning evidence that Dr. Baines was one of the saboteurs, but none that pointed to Lex Luthor.

Clark was also stunned at the circumstances surrounding Lois' escape from certain demise. Tim and Amber Lake, two young people who professed to be big fans of Lois, had risked their lives to save her. It turned out that they had been responsible for the mysterious 'prank' calls the past few days. It had been they who had tried to visit the newsroom but didn't have the nerve. And it had been they who had stopped by Clark's hotel yesterday — Amber was the blond woman whom the hotel manger had seen.

Tim Lake had explained that they had done these things because they had wanted to meet Lois, but they were very shy in front of celebrities. Apparently, he and Amber had somehow found out very quickly that Clark was working with Lois. They had planned to approach him in order to meet their idol, but, like before, they were too shy to do so. That explained the phone calls to him and Amber's visit to Clark's hotel.

Interesting enough, it had taken Lois' abduction to make Tim and Amber get over their shyness. When Lois had asked how she could repay them for their help, their answer surprised her and Clark. All Tim and Amber had wanted was some Polaroids of them with Lois, and some autographs. Even Clark, who had often been accused of being too trusting and naive, had his doubts on the sincerity of Lois' rescuers, but it was very obvious that Tim and Amber Lake were uncomfortable in Lois and Clark's presence. They had also in their possession two 8x10s of Lois, and permanent markers for her to use to sign them.

Why did Tim and Amber wanted this? Both of them were going to the same therapist to help overcome their extreme shyness. He had given them assignments as part of the treatment, and one of them was to approach Lois Lane for autographs. Lois had found this approach to be rather odd, so she had inquired as to who the therapist was. She was surprised at their response. The therapist was none other than Joe Malloy, one of the few friends Lois had in high school. After a quick phone call to Joe to confirm Tim and Amber's story, Lois had done her best to make them feel comfortable by talking to them about what she had known about Joe. All Clark could do was to make note on how red the young couple's faces were. After posing for a few pictures and shaking their hands, the Lakes had left (rather quickly, Clark noticed), leaving Lois and Clark with their work.

The ding from the coffee machine brought Clark's mind back to the present. Glancing towards Lois' desk, he noticed the haunted look in her eyes as her fingers flew over the keyboard in a speed that rivaled his. He poured the coffee and carried the two steaming mugs to Lois' desk. "Lois?" he called out softly, gently setting down a mug in front of her. She blinked, stopped typing, but otherwise did not respond.

Right away Clark became concerned. He set his mug on Lois' desk as well, pulled up a chair, and sat down. He took her hands into his, forcing Lois to look away from the monitor. "Are you okay?" he asked gently.

Lois looked away, but Clark could see several emotions on her face. First there was the look of annoyance, perhaps due to the fact that he had just interrupted her while she was working. Then there was a brief look of fear in her eyes. 'Why fear?' Clark wondered. Was she afraid that Luthor might after her? Luthor probably knew that she and Clark were on to Dr. Baines, so that was maybe possible. Then Clark noticed that her eyes were tearing up, and that her mouth was quivering.

Seeing Lois waging war with her emotions gave Clark the confirmation he needed. This woman, an award-winning, brilliant, fearless reporter, indeed did whatever she could to keep her emotions in check. Just like anyone else, she could experience pain, sadness, and fear. Clark's heart went out to her as he saw the look in her eyes. Quickly he pulled Lois into his arms and gave her a big hug.

Lois could do nothing else but to let it out, to let the tears fall. Clark could feel her body shake as the sobs engulfed her. Because her outfit was muddy, Clark's shirt was getting messy. But he didn't care. All he cared about was the fact that the woman he was in love with was hurting, and he wanted to whatever he could to comfort her.

'The woman he was in love with…' As soon as he realized this, tears were threatening to fall down Clark's cheeks as well. Yes, without a doubt, he was in love with her. It had felt so incredible when they had kissed at the White Orchid Ball Thursday night. And it felt so good to have her in his arms right now. Clark did what he could to catalog these feelings into his memory. He knew that would be all he would have with Lois for the rest of his life, because he knew that there would never be anyone else after Lois.

Clark realized that it was prudent to move out of the embrace. Now, more than ever, he needed to do whatever it took to keep his feelings to himself. But he hesitated. He couldn't help himself; it just felt so right!

'Move!' his conscience ordered him. Looking down at Lois, Clark saw that the tears had stopped. Moving first, he slowly but gently removed her from his grasp. Lois blinked her eyes at the movement. She was very embarrassed at losing control once again. That was what her apartment was for! She had been shell-shocked when the Lakes had rescued her earlier. It was because of this shock that she was able to play the role of a humbled idol as she talked to the Lakes and posed in pictures with them. The shock had worn off while she was writing her story. Correction: her and Clark's story.

A part of her wanted to reach up and pull Clark's face towards hers for a kiss. After all, hadn't she learned, from staring at death in the face numerous times, that life was short? She was realizing that she was developing strong feelings for her new co-worker. But she couldn't act on them, of course — Clark was still with Joan. No, the best thing to do was to concentrate on getting the story done, to work on this with her co-worker. Launching herself quickly into professional mode, Lois straightened herself up the best she could. "Read this and see what you think," she said, pointing to the screen in front of her.

Clark caught himself from letting out a sigh. He knew very well what Lois was doing, but he silently agreed that it was the right thing to do. Comforting her just now was a mistake. He was a bit disturbed at how Lois could now look unaffected by the events of this morning, but who was he to ask her how she was feeling? Pushing his feelings aside, he read the words that would become the first joint story by Lois Lane and Clark Kent.

***

After the story was written and sent to Perry (he had come in after hearing from them by phone about the scoop), Lois decided to walk home instead of taking a cab. Her Jeep was still parked in front of her apartment building since she had taken a cab to EPRAD last night. 'Was it last night when I started snooping there?' she wondered. 'It seems like it was ages ago…' The worst of the thunderstorm that had been forecast by Metropolis' meteorologists seemed to have passed, and now it was only drizzling. The storm this morning had provided much needed relief from the heat wave that had been going on the last couple of weeks.

Lois sighed deeply as she walked out the doors of the Planet building. What was it with her and trouble? They have seemed to go hand in hand of late. Once again she had been taking risks, dangling by the jaws of death. Yes, she had lived this time to fight another day (fighting corruption, crime, and greed, among other things), but if the Lakes hadn't shown up this morning, she would have been dead for sure.

'But that's how I am!' Lois argued to herself. 'How I always have been!' It was the only way she knew how to do it. How to get the job done, to get the respect that she wanted, no, that she deserved. And the results of her hard work: winner of the '91 and '92 Kerth awards, and nominated for the '93. Never had a reporter as young as she was (she would turn 26 next month) received even one award.

Had it been only four years ago when she had started working at the Daily Planet? It didn't seem that long ago. The Daily Planet had been the only paper she had applied to during her senior year at MetroU: it was the *only* paper Lois had considered working for. She also remembered meeting Liz Cochrane, one of her idols growing up, and the person Lois had replaced (Cochrane had just retired). The older woman had these words of advice for the new reporter: "You should live by three rules. One, never get involved with your stories. Two, never let anyone else get there first. And three, never sleep with anyone you work with."

Of course, being the person Lois Lane was, she had broken every one of them by the end of her first year at the Planet. Her first articles had been on uninteresting things (to her, anyway), but once she had started getting the bigger assignments, she had poured her heart and soul into them. As a result of that, she had worked increasingly harder to get to the story first, but there were times when she had been beaten to it by someone else. And after breaking rule number three (by sleeping with Claude), Lois had decided that it was too risky to give her heart and soul to a man. Meeting John three months ago had changed her way of thinking, of course, and then there was Clark…

Thinking about Clark left Lois with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, despite the fact that it was a bit chilly outside. (The fact that she hadn't changed from her soggy clothes after her escape this morning didn't help either.) She was still a bit embarrassed at what she had done at the Planet earlier today. Clark had said nothing of the matter, but had simply consoled her, and comforted her in her distress. He had also said nothing of her abrupt change in her behavior afterwards, something that Lois had been known to do often. He had also been nice, very nice, the past few days, despite the awful way she treated him sometimes. And it didn't help that he was so gorgeous. Lois sighed again.

Another thing that Lois had found this morning was that she and Clark worked well together. Granted, it was only one story, and Lois did most of the writing, but there was something about the way that they could complete each other's thoughts in the writing process, something that had never happened before. Maybe they could continue to work together in future stories. Maybe they could become partners in a news team. Maybe they could become partners for life…

Lois sighed yet again. Maybe it *wasn't* a great idea to work as partners. How could she, knowing the feelings she had for Clark? Yesterday she had realized that she wasn't in love with John, and it was obvious that she was quickly falling for Clark, despite her numerous attempts to fight it. Of course there was nothing she could do about it now, since Clark had Joan. She would also be alone, once John found out the truth. It wasn't the prospect of being alone again that she dreaded. Despite her innermost desires of true love and happiness, she could survive being alone if she had to. No, it was the prospect of being alone *and* being in love with someone she couldn't have that upsetted her greatly.

By the time Lois reached the front door of her apartment building, tears were threatening to fall. 'Just a few more steps,' Lois ordered herself. In a minute, she would be in the privacy of her apartment, where she could let it all out. She walked briskly down the hallway to Apartment 501. An unbelievable sight greeted her when she opened her apartment door. On the couch Lois found John Bialzek, sleeping. 'So John snores,' she thought. Still on the brink of tears, she made her way to the sofa and shook his shoulders gently. "John?" she cracked.

John opened one eye, and then bolted into a sitting position when he noticed Lois' appearance. "Lois? What happened? Are you okay?"

Lois half-wished that John wasn't here — she had wanted to be alone for a while — but because of her ordeal, and because of her problems with Clark and John, she could do nothing but let the tears fall. Concerned, John pulled Lois onto the sofa and held her while she cried and cried.

Minutes later, Lois pulled herself away from John's embrace, trying to calm down. She didn't want to stay in John's arms longer than necessary — it wouldn't be fair to him, given what she would have to tell him. She got up and paced, explaining what had happened yesterday and today, explaining why she had broken down just now. Worry, and then relief, etched on John's face as he listened. With Lois, her story came out in classic babble mode, so by the time she was finished, she nearly collapsed on the other couch, feeling exhausted. Nothing was said for a couple of minutes.

"I think I better go, then," John said, breaking the silence. "You need a nice shower and a nap. You've been through a lot." He got up from the couch.

"Wait!" Lois exclaimed. "A shower sounds nice, but I'm hungry too. I haven't eaten dinner last night. How about you?" Seeing John shake his head, she continued, "Okay then. I'll shower while you order something." She stood up and headed for the bathroom.

"Good thing you didn't ask me to cook," John remarked.

"Yeah, if evil scientists don't kill me, your cooking would," Lois retorted, and closed the bathroom door.

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's apartment] [12:33 P.M.]

Lunch (which consisted of sandwiches from a nearby deli) was eaten in relative silence. Lois did find out, however, that John hadn't gotten in from Dallas until sometime this morning, and instead of going to his place to crash, he had gone to hers instead, because it was closer from the airport. It was evident that Lois wasn't the only person with something on her mind. John was definitely preoccupied with something, looking nervous. Did John have some bad news to tell as well? 'Oh John, I hope you will forgive me at some point…' It was a good idea to have lunch first. Though she was tired, she was a little refreshed from the shower, and she figured she needed her strength to tell him what really had happened without succumbing to tears again.

When lunch was finished, and when the table was cleared, Lois and John looked at each other, both feeling awkward in the other's presence.

"John…" Lois began. "Lois," John said at the same time. Both chuckled nervously.

"Let me go first," John said. "It's my turn." Lois smiled a little at that, nodded, and let him continue.

"It's obvious that both of us have demanding careers. You are a reporter for one of the most prestigious newspapers in Metropolis. I have a private law practice. I have been totally understanding when you've had to cancel dates, and I think you have been understanding too when I've done the same. I think that says something about our relationship: that we both want this to work."

"John," Lois started, but John lifted his hand.

"Let me finish, please. I got something for you from my Dallas trip, Lois. Would you like to see?" Without letting her answer, John got up, went to his carry-on bag that he had left near Lois' cylinder- shaped fish tank. He dug out a small plastic bag.

John explained what was in the bag, not letting Lois see quite yet what was inside. "What I have here was originally bought by my grandfather, who had given it to my grandmother when they were in college. Then she had given it to my late uncle to give to my aunt for the same purpose. My aunt, after hearing my intentions, gave this to me." He finally took the item out of the bag, a small black box. Without giving Lois time to react, he walked to Lois, knelt in front of her, and opened the box. In it lay an engagement ring.

John cleared his throat. "Will you marry me?"

***

[Somewhere over Metropolis] [12:42 P.M.]

Clark flew up into the air as fast as he could. For the first time in his life there was a tremendous ache in his heart. Tears blurred his vision as he went higher. The higher he went, however, the slower he flew, until eventually, grief overcame him. Wearing the same clothes as he did when he had been at the Planet earlier today, he floated in the upper regions of the atmosphere and began to cry.

He should have known better. He had come to Lois' apartment after tying up some loose ends at the Planet (Lois had left before Clark did), making sure that she was all right. After all, Lois had been through a lot last night and this morning, and Clark had been worried about her. He had intended to use his x-ray vision from outside her apartment building, never announcing his presence, just to check up on her. What he had witnessed was her boyfriend's marriage proposal instead. Instead of going home, he had run to the nearest alley and had launched himself into the air, not caring whether anyone saw him or not.

The image of Lois' boyfriend kneeling in front of her holding a ring would forever haunt Clark's memory. What he would give to be Lois' boyfriend right now, to see the love for him shining from her eyes? It had not even been a week since he had first met Lois Lane in Mr. White's office, and yet, he had admitted a couple of hours ago that he was in love with her. This had never happened to him before, falling in love so quickly.

Had Lois told John of the kiss she and Clark had shared Thursday night? What if she hadn't? If she hadn't, then Lois was not the woman Clark had thought she was. But if she had, then John must have forgiven her. If Clark and Joan had been serious and she had kissed someone else, he would have felt utterly betrayed. He would have been able to forgive her eventually, but not forget. Another unhappy thought popped up in his mind. Perhaps John was able to forgive her because the kiss didn't mean as much to Lois as it did to Clark. That possibility, even though it might not be true, would hurt him more, since the kiss meant the world to him.

If everyone in the world knew about Clark and his powers, they might have considered the scene of Clark crying to be unbelievable. Clark might be the strongest person on the planet, but he had feelings like anybody else. After all, his adoptive parents had tried to teach him not to bottle up his emotions and to let it out. It was okay to cry, they had said. Whether they had succeeded with Clark or not was open for debate.

He pulled at his hair, feeling alone and confused. What was he to do now? How could he continue to work at the Planet, knowing that Lois' heart belonged to someone else? He couldn't. Maybe it was time to move on — granted, he had been in Metropolis for only a couple of weeks, but there had been times when Clark had stayed in places for shorter periods of time. Maybe it was a good thing he hadn't started looking for an apartment of his own. Perhaps his subconscious was telling him something? There was nothing left for him here — Joan had broken things off with him, and Lois was in love with someone else. It was time to go.

But how could Clark give his notice at the Planet? He had only worked there for five days. Five wonderful days, working for one of the biggest newspapers in the world. It had been a dream of his to work there. And he wanted to throw all that away? But it wouldn't be worth it to work there if he had no one to share his life with. He had met people who lived only for their work, and he suspected that Lois was like that before she had met John. He wouldn't like working there for the rest of his life, living a life of loneliness. Maybe he could ask Mr. White for a transfer. The Daily Planet did have various bureaus around the world… No, Mr. White wouldn't go for that. Again, Clark had been working for a week, and Mr. White wouldn't approve a transfer unless it was for a very good reason. And being lovesick wasn't a good reason.

The tears returned in full force. His altitude dipped slightly as Clark cried in anguish at the stars above him. There was no one to console him now — he was all alone and in love with a woman he could not have.

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's apartment] [1:43 P.M.]

Lois was sitting on her couch in her apartment, the shock she had felt finally wearing off. 'What the heck happened an hour ago?' she wondered. The plan had been simple enough. Have lunch with John, and then tell him about Clark. Break up with him, and then continue to work with another guy who was beyond her reach. She had not expected John to propose to her. What a mess everything was!

She wished that John hadn't left so abruptly — there were many things that they needed to straighten out.

A hurried knock on the door had brought her to her senses. She had not moved from her seat since John had left, which was an hour ago. She went to the door, hoping that it was John. Maybe he came back. Maybe he wanted clear this web of confusion. A look through her peephole, however, told her otherwise.

"Hey, Lois!" In came Jimmy Olsen, looking very excited. "I heard you got the scoop on EPRAD. Real smooth!" Jimmy had also put in some time at the Planet, despite the fact that it was Sunday. A phone call from Perry White sent Jimmy flying to the Planet, eager for the opportunity to impress the Editor-in-Chief. Usually Lois would just smile and shake her head at his enthusiasm (she hadn't been like that when *she* had started out, had she?), but right now Lois wasn't in the mood.

"Yeah, I probably would feel more happy about it," Lois said tiredly as she closed the door, "if I hadn't almost gotten killed." And she *was* tired. Already she regretted letting John stay when she found him asleep in her apartment. It was probably her exhaustion that allowed things to happen as they did.

"Oh," Jimmy said, now wondering if he had come at a bad time. He had come in just as Clark was leaving the Planet, and the younger man had been filled in as to what had happened.

"Is there a reason why you're here?" she asked, wanting Jimmy to get to the point. A couple minutes more and she would probably fall asleep leaning against her door.

Jimmy snapped to. "Yeah! The Chief sent me over to EPRAD to take some pictures. I've got them all developed and I've brought 'em with me here. I thought you could pick which ones you wanted for your story."

"Jimmy, I'm real tired now. I need a nice long nap after what I've been through." Lois reached out and opened the door again, sighing.

Jimmy was puzzled. This didn't sound like the Lois he knew, a Lois who didn't let anything, even sleep, deter her from her work, especially on a story this big. Several times he had seen Lois do an all-nighter at the Planet. "Sorry, Lois," he said, feeling contrite. "I heard what happened from Clark. I guess I wasn't thinking." He backed into Lois' doorway. "You going to be okay?"

Lois waved him off. "I'll live," she yawned. "Show the pictures to Perry. See what he thinks." Jimmy nodded in assent. Lois closed the door. She didn't notice his eyes widen as something had caught his eye.

Her eyes grew heavy as she dragged herself to her bedroom. Yes, she needed to talk to John again — after her nap, though. With difficulty she removed the ring from her hand before collapsing onto the bed.

***

[Metropolis, Hotel Apollo] [Monday, August 23, 1993, 7:21 A.M.]

Clark stared at the ceiling in his hotel room, sighing deeply. He sat up in his bed, noticing that he had slept in his clothes last night. It was after 3 A.M. when Clark had returned to his hotel room after drifting way up into the sky for several hours. The tears long since dried out, he had done nothing but drift late into the night, not part of the stars, not part of the earth. He was no closer in deciding what to do about his future. He had decided, however, on calling in sick today. Never mind the fact that it was only his heart that was not well. He really didn't want to lie to Mr. White, but he wasn't ready to face Lois yet. Perhaps he could say that Joan had given him the flu — if he were human, he *could* have caught the flu, he realized ruefully.

He got up and went directly to the payphone.

"Perry White's office…"

"Jimmy? Is that you?" Clark really sounded subdued.

"Morning, C.K.! The Chief stepped out for a moment; maybe I can take a message?"

"Yeah. Would you tell Mr. White I think I caught the flu and won't be in today?" There was silence on the other side. "Jimmy? You there?"

"Yeah, C.K. I'm here. You sure you can't make it in today? And how did you get the flu?" Jimmy's voice sounded a little funny as he asked.

"I'm sure. I actually got it from my, um, girlfriend. Well, now it's my ex-girlfriend. She dumped me." Clark frowned. Why was he telling Jimmy this?

"Bummer! A double whammy, that's got to hurt! Get better. Oh, and C.K.? You know anything about the guy Lois' been seeing?"

Clark turned away from the receiver and sighed. He didn't want to talk about Lois and John to anyone. "I haven't met him. All I know is that his name's John."

"I think she just got engaged to him."

Now Clark was curious. How would Jimmy know about this? "Why do you think that, Jimmy?" Clark asked, trying to sound casual (and sick) at the same time.

"I was over last night at Lois'. I wanted to show her the pictures I took for your story. And I noticed a ring on her finger just as I left."

"I guess congratulations are in order," Clark said flatly, and promptly hung up the phone without another word. There was the proof he needed. He sat on the bed and put his head in his hands.

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building] [9:35 A.M.]

It was a celebration like most other celebrations in the Daily Planet newsroom. Party decorations everywhere, with staff wearing party hats and drinking and eating to the Planet's good fortune. Once again, they had scooped every major newspaper with their front-page story of the Messenger. "Messenger Sabotaged, Saboteur Dies In Fiery Explosion," the headlines screamed. Copies of today's edition were strewn about everywhere around the newsroom. Televisions were blaring with reports of the sabotage.

It would have been a celebration like the others if Lois Lane, one of the people being honored, were feeling happy about the whole thing. But she wasn't. She honestly thought that the article she and Clark had written yesterday was the best she had ever seen. She was confident that story had 'Kerth' written all over it, and assuming she would win this year, she could see herself with her fourth Kerth, and her first joint one with Clark. As much as Lois wouldn't admit it, Perry's idea of her and Clark working together was one of his better ones. So why wasn't Clark here?

Perry had told her when she had come in this morning that Clark had called in sick. At first Lois had been suspicious — Clark had seemed perfectly fine when they had been working together yesterday. But then she had reasoned that it must have been because of the junk food she had seen Saturday morning. 'Ha!' she had thought. 'His eating habits are catching up to him! I'll bet that maybe on the outside he's got a body to die for, but inside he's a complete mess! Maybe he's got ailments that even I, a daughter of a medical doctor, can't pronounce, much less recognize.'

Lois wanted to see Jimmy, for she had heard that he was the one Clark had talked to when he'd called in. But right now she was surrounded by a bunch of college interns, all female, all looking at her with such admiration and awe. She tried to be patient as she explained to the young women what she had done to get the story. She ended with a warning about the potential dangers of investigative reporting can be dangerous. Lois viewed herself as a role model for these girls, and after all, she didn't want any of the interns to later get into trouble investigating because they had wanted to be just like Lois Lane.

As soon as Lois had excused herself from the group, the subject of discussion among the young ladies abruptly changed the other honoree, who was absent. Lois caught the beginning of the conversation, heard some sighs, and began to get angry. 'Are those words that girls use nowadays to describe guys? How dare they!' Lois was tempted to march back to the group and tell them, "Back off, he's mine!"

'Did I just think that?' Lois asked herself and sighed deeply. Clark *wasn't* hers, and he would never be. The sooner she accepted that, the better. Feeling a bit low, she made her way to the table of refreshments when someone carrying a box ran into her.

"Hey, watch it!"

"Sorry, Lois!" Jimmy threw back. He was about to go his merry way when Lois grabbed the box, and, dragging Jimmy with it, led him to her desk. She turned to face him as he rested the heavy box on her desktop.

"I wanted to talk to you, Jimmy. Where's Clark?"

"Good Morning to you too, Lois. He called in sick. He didn't sound so good. Said he caught something from his ex-girlfriend, poor guy."

"Oh, that's too bad…" Lois started, but then what Jimmy had just said finally registered in her brain. Did she hear Jimmy right? "Wait a second, did you say ex-girlfriend?"

"Yeah," Jimmy replied, "Clark was dumped… sounded like it happened recently. I feel for him, though…"

Jimmy kept chatting, talking about one of the girls he had used to date, but Lois wasn't listening. The word 'ex-girlfriend' was repeating over and over in her head. Lois was concerned for her friend ('My *friend*? Ha!'), knowing full well how upset Clark must be. While it had usually been her who initiated the break-up in her previous relationships, she had been dumped before. She wanted to go straight to Clark's hotel room and… comfort him, just as he had comforted her yesterday.

Liar. What she *really* wanted to do march over to Clark and kiss him senseless. She wanted him to know what he was doing to her. The kiss they had shared Thursday night was incredible, and now, Lois was finding herself missing the feeling of Clark's lips on hers, his hands caressing her face, his body held tightly against hers… 'Careful, Lois,' she admonished herself. 'You're at work now.'

Lois looked up to see Jimmy looking strangely at her. No, that wasn't true. He was staring at her hand. Her left hand.

"Uh, Lois? What happened to the ring?" Jimmy asked.

Lois' eyes widened. How did he… Did John tell Jimmy about last night? "What ring?" she said slowly.

Jimmy's face turned a little pink. "Well, um, when I was over last night, I thought I saw a ring on your hand. An engagement ring. Did John propose to you?"

Lois became exasperated. Yet another mess to straighten out. Jimmy really had no clue. "No… I mean yes! He did propose! But then John was paged and he had an emergency with one of his clients. So before John left, he put the ring on my *right* hand, saying if I decide to accept he'll move it to my *left* hand. Don't you know you're supposed to wear the ring on your left hand when you're engaged or married?"

At Jimmy's blank look Lois shook her head. Men! She looked at him pointedly. "When John came back I gave the ring back to him. Not only am I *not* engaged, but I'm also single again." Lois frowned. She wasn't about to mention about how she had finally told John about Clark's kiss after she had given the ring back. A few tearful moments later, John had walked out of her apartment door and out of her life. She hoped that John would one day forgive her… "You didn't tell anyone that I was engaged, did you?" Lois asked. Seeing Jimmy now sporting a guilty look, she let out a loud sigh. "What a mess! Once Cat gets a wind of this, I'll never live it down!"

Jimmy vehemently shook his head. "No, no, Lois, I only told Clark. Since he's been working with you I asked if he knew about it."

Lois was floored; this was unexpected. "Clark?" she repeated.

"Yeah, sorry. I didn't tell anyone else, though." Seeing Lois was a little shell-shocked, Jimmy took his cue to grab his box and flee, in order to avoid the wrath of 'Mad Dog Lane.'

Wrath wasn't coming anyways. In a daze, she sat at her desk with an unceremonious thump, her anger at Jimmy forgotten, the celebration forgotten. 'Clark and Joan broke up, and he thinks I'm engaged. Oh God.' A feeling of dread and worry passed through her. For some reason, Lois felt that she had to find Clark and see him right away. 'What must my poor Clark be thinking?' She smiled at the thought. 'My poor Clark…' It now felt good thinking of Clark as hers. Of course, assuming Clark will let her think that. She bolted from her chair, ready to leave the newsroom. She had a bad feeling that if she didn't see Clark now, she would be too late. The last thing she wanted was to loose her one chance at true love, just like the heroine in her romance novel. God, she sounded like a sap. She had to leave. Now.

The booming voice of her Editor-in-Chief stopped her in her tracks.

"I just spoke to ground control over at EPRAD," Perry White announced to everyone in the newsroom. "They went back over the colonists' launch vehicle with a fine-toothed comb, found the same coolant problem in the protective bands, and fixed it. Launch is set for tomorrow morning!"

Lois tried not to cry out in exasperation as all of the staff applauded around her. There was no way for her to leave now! Not when the party was still going on! Not when she was the honoree and the other honoree was absent. There had to be a way to slip out of the newsroom. All hopes were dashed, however, when she saw Perry motioning to her. What the heck did Perry want now?

Perry spoke in sotto voce to his top reporter. "It's a 'no go' for you, Lois. No reporters allowed."

What? What was he talking about? Immediately she switched to professional mode, and then she understood. Her request to board the colonist transport was denied. Well, that was too bad, but she had a potentially bigger problem on her hands. She needed to leave…

Lois paused. She had really wanted to go to Prometheus. She hadn't considered asking Clark to join her because she had felt that the odds were better for one reporter to go than for two. It was a bit selfish, but Lois couldn't help it. And she shouldn't let her personal life interfere, but Lois hadn't been in love before. She sighed. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to arouse suspicion with her editor if she looked indifferent right now, would it? So she replied by doing what Lois Lane would normally do under the circumstances: she argued.

"Chief!" she said in her best whining voice that she could muster. "Imagine the Daily Planet getting an exclusive personal account of being on the colonist transport!"

"No can do, Lois," Perry shrugged.

'Well,' Lois thought, 'that was out of the way.' Now to feign reluctance… "All right. Another time, maybe."

Perry grunted in reply and returned to his office. As soon as the door shut, Lois all but flew up the ramp to the elevators.

***

[Somewhere in the streets of Metropolis] [5:41 P.M.]

It was a dark and stormy afternoon. After two weeks of hot, scorching, and unrelenting weather, it had seemed that the skies had opened and the rain would not completely go away. As always, this was not bothering Clark, who was again wondering the streets, lost in thought. He was sad. He was depressed. He was brokenhearted.

After calling in sick earlier this morning, Clark went out, walking all day, not paying much attention to what was going on around him. Most of his time had been spent around Centennial Park, thinking and watching other people. Despite the weather, a few brave people were up and about, and to Clark's dismay, most of them were couples — married or in love, he didn't know. He had seen one couple walking slowly down the path, sharing an umbrella, holding hands, and smiling at one another. There was another couple wearing ponchos, running through the park, and laughing as they had tried to get out of the rain as quickly as possible. There was yet another couple trapped under a huge oak, clothes drenched, and making out, not caring if anyone was watching.

After witnessing all of that, Clark had had enough. Why oh why was he being tortured by witnessing things that he couldn't have, things that he wouldn't be able to experience himself? He had spent the rest of the day in places where there weren't many people around. A few times, however, he had performed some rescues — in secret, of course — because his super-hearing wouldn't turn off. While helping people was the right thing for him to do, he had not felt completely *satisfied* today in performing those rescues. What was the point?

He remembered the dream, the darned dream that would not go away. The 'hallucinations' at the townhouses in his dream were just that, hallucinations. If Clark had told someone of his heartbreak, he or she might tell him to move on, that there were other women out there. But, as he pointed out to himself yesterday, since the woman he loved was engaged to marry someone else, there would never be another woman in his life. That would mean no one to share a romantic candlelight dinner with, no one to cuddle with, no one to play musical duets with, and no one to make love with.

Was he sounding defeatist? Probably. Was he obsessing? Most definitely.

He was finally on his way back to the hotel, without using any superpowers, so that he could get ready to visit his parents. He had mentioned the idea of a disguise to them, and while they had been skeptical of the idea, they had agreed to help him in designing the outfit, after supper tonight. What he had not told them, however, was the fact that he was considering assuming the disguise full time. Maybe he would just let Clark Kent disappear without a trace. Or maybe he would fake an accident that would kill Clark Kent while he was on assignment for the Daily Planet. He would talk about it with his parents, of course, but knowing them, they would not like the idea. But more and more, Clark was thinking that it would be his destiny to spend the rest of his life alone. He might be a little apathetic about performing rescues today, but perhaps using his powers full time might let him forget the wonderful, engaging, brilliant woman who had stolen his heart away a mere five days ago.

Just as Clark reached the street the hotel was on, lightning struck, and he saw all of the lights on the block go out. Instinctively, he lowered his glasses, going through each building, using his X-ray vision and making sure that no one was in danger. Fortunately no one was on the street at the time to witness such an odd gesture. So far he only saw people (especially small children) looking scared, others reaching for their telephones (they were reporting the outages to the power company, Clark assumed), and nothing else. As he made a sweep through the Hotel Apollo he froze in his tracks.

Pacing in the lobby was a very agitated Lois Lane. Part of Clark didn't want to see her, because seeing her would only compound his pain and unhappiness. Another part of him, however, realized that he should congratulate her on her engagement, and to give her his best wishes. He streaked across the street in less than a second. Realizing that barging in at this speed would raise questions, he paused, took a deep breath, and opened the door. He slowly made his way through the small corridor and entered the lobby.

When Lois saw Clark, she did not change her expression. Lois had been waiting in the lobby for nearly two hours, and she was angry. Angry not at Clark, but at herself. She had went to the hotel after leaving the celebration, only to find that Clark had gone out and that he had not yet checked out. After feeling very foolish, she had decided to wait at the hotel, leaving only to make a couple of phone calls regarding the launch of the colonist transport tomorrow morning (Lois still had something up her sleeve), and to eat at the small cafă around the corner. And it was all because of Jimmy's mix-up about John's proposal.

Lois and Clark merely stood in the lobby, looking at each other, not saying a word, not making any attempts to move. A few eye-blinks and some labored breaths later, Clark spoke first.

"Lois… What are you doing here?"

Lois ignored his question, for she had one of her own. "You weren't really sick today, were you?" she returned.

Clark took a small step backwards and sighed. He really had to cover himself better if he was going to lie. But he wasn't lying. Not really… "I was sick," he answered truthfully. "Just not in the way you think." He wasn't going to mention that he had been, and still was, sick in the heart.

Lois nodded as if in understanding, causing Clark to almost frown. How could she understand? "Lois…" he started to say.

"Clark," Lois said at the same time. Both chuckled at their nervousness.

"You first," Clark said, sitting on an arm of a frayed couch.

Lois resumed pacing. "Something terrible happened yesterday. I was abducted while checking out EPRAD, tied to a post, expecting to die any minute because I got too close to the investigation." She saw Clark looking upset. "I know," she said, preventing him from speaking. "And I know you know. But please, let me?" Clark nodded.

"Physically I'm fine. Just sore in a couple of places. Emotionally, I'll live. But you would think that after something like this I would realize that life is too short. You gotta live for the moments." She stopped pacing and took a step towards Clark.

"But still!" Lois continued, "I waited, and I put things off. I would have lost my one chance for happiness if I kept going this way." She took another step. "So no more waiting. No more putting things off. 'Carpe diem', 'seize the day', that sort of thing." Another step, and then another.

By now she was right in front of Clark. Lois was about to do something she had never done before: take the initiative when it came to love. It scared her to no end, but she knew she had to take the chance: she didn't want to live the rest of her life in regret. She grabbed his hands and pulled him up. Then she grabbed his head and pulled it closer. "'Carpe diem,'" Lois repeated softly. Her arms snaked around his neck as her lips met his.

Clark tensed slightly at first, and his eyes widened. Their first kiss of last Thursday was the most wonderful thing that had happened to him. He had expected that it would never happen again, so he had intended to file it away into his memories. He relaxed and closed his eyes as he began to reacquaint himself with the love of his life in an intimate way. Lois held on, as if he was her lifeline, never wanting to let go. A small noise in the back of her throat crescendoed into a full-fledged moan as they initiated a conversation between lovers.

Clark pulled back first, not because he was running out of breath, but because he was confused and was starting to panic at what he was doing. Lois sensed this, of course. She had a speech all rehearsed before, but once she had seen Clark, she had forgotten every word of it. Consequently, she had neglected to explain a few things before attacking him with her kisses…

Without a word, Lois lifted her left hand so that Clark could see it up close. There was a catch in his breath as he noticed that there was no ring. He gave her a questioning glance.

"I wasn't ever engaged," Lois said simply. She was in no mood explaining what had happened last night, so she gave the Reader's Digest version. "Jimmy thought I was, but he was wrong."

Clark was about to speak when Lois put a finger on his lips, shushing him. "And I know about you and Joan, and I'm sorry to have messed things up," she said. "I was going to wait, but after talking to Jimmy this morning I couldn't. I was afraid that if I did I would be too late." Lois continued to babble again, not noticing that Clark was smiling. "I hope you're not mad for me being a little aggressive about this. I'm not usually this way, you know…"

Lois' babble was cut off when Clark swiftly, but gently, took hold of her face with both hands and latched his mouth onto hers. The sounds of thunder outside barely registered in their consciousness as they retreated once again into a world with only the two of them in it. Both of them sighed happily as they alternated invading the other's mouth with their tongue. Lois tightened her arms around him, knowing that if she let go she might fall into a heap onto the floor because her legs now felt like Jell-O.

'This is heaven,' a small voice declared in her head. 'This is what I've been looking for my entire life.' How on earth would she be able to finish her romance novel now? The thunder outside grew more distant as Lois and Clark continued kissing. Perhaps the storm outside was now receding, but what was happening inside the hotel lobby maintained its intensity. The kisses were aggressive. The kisses were high electricity. The kisses were explosive. Yet neither Lois nor Clark minded one bit.

Suddenly, the lights came back on, and the squeak of a door opening echoed through the lobby.

"Hey you!!"

Lois and Clark jumped and pulled themselves apart, looking for the source of that voice. They found the burly — and angry — hotel manager standing near the front desk with his hands on his hips.

"This isn't a kissing booth, people! Take it to your room, you hear?" Without waiting for a response from either of them, he went into his office and slammed the door.

Lois and Clark looked at the office door, and then at each other. The only thing they could do was to burst into laughter at the latest display of the hotel manager's rude behavior. After the laughter subsided, Clark gathered Lois into his arms and kissed her again, a short peck on the lips.

"Let's do what he says," Clark suggested. "Wanna come up to my room? There's so much I want to say to you."

"And I, you," Lois beamed at him. Grasping his hand into hers and squeezing it, she allowed Clark to lead her to the hotel elevators.

***

'Why am I feeling so calm?' Lois asked herself as she and Clark entered his room. If anything, she should be feeling as if she was marching towards a firing squad. Or she should be feeling as if she was a virgin on her wedding night (which unfortunately for her would never happen, Lois realized sorrowfully). No, she shouldn't be feeling calm. Was this perhaps what being in love was like, she wondered: being completely at ease with the other? 'Completely at ease?' How could she feel this way, when she had met him for the first time a week ago? Did she know everything there was to know about Clark Kent? Of course not! Without realizing it, Lois stopped in her tracks, and her body tensed slightly.

Clark noticed this, and became instantly concerned. Oh no, she wasn't having second thoughts about this relationship, was she? 'Oh, Lois, I couldn't bear it if you did…' "Lois?" he asked softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You okay?"

Lois shuddered in another involuntary response at his gesture. God, what was it about this man that made her brain short circuit every time he touched her? What was it about him that gave her a warm and fuzzy feeling inside? What was it about him that made her want more from him?

Once again, her mind, heart and body began to do battle inside of her. Her heart wanted to her to kiss him right now and throw caution into the wind. Her body was quickly agreeing with her heart, becoming more and more physically aroused at standing so close to him, with his brown eyes, even with glasses on, boring into her soul. But her mind cautioned her that it was too fast and too soon, and that she and Clark should take things slowly. While her mind was outnumbered two- to-one, it was winning the battle right now.

She tore her eyes from his glance, feeling a little vulnerable. After all, it wasn't very often that Lois confided her fears with anyone. She had begun to do so with John, but she still found it difficult. Keeping things to herself, after all, had been ingrained from her childhood. Her eyes gazed at his chest, but realizing that that was a bad idea, she clasped her hands in front of her and looked down at them instead. "I'm just feeling overwhelmed by all of this," Lois whispered. "You and me, together."

Clark took a deep breath, feeling relieved. "Me, too," he said simply. Lois looked up at him, looking a little startled. "I don't have much experience with relationships," Clark explained. "We met just a week ago, and we were both dating other people at the time. I think I might have started falling in love with you the day you barged into Mr. White's office. And now, suddenly, I want to take you into my arms and never let you go."

"So do I," Lois said, relaxing a bit. "Anyway, I'm still sorry about you and Joan…" she continued, but Clark put his finger on her lips.

"No more apologies," Clark stated. "I could say I'm sorry too about you and John, but what happened at that ball happened. We kissed. And I'm not sorry for doing that."

Lois nodded, reveling in the fact that Clark was now caressing her cheek with his right hand. 'Mmmmmmmm… More of his caresses and I'll end up dragging him to his… Oh no, we will not go there, Lane,' Lois thought to herself. She wouldn't allow herself to continue that thread of thought, not just yet. "So what happens now?" she asked.

"How about dinner?" Clark suggested. "I haven't eaten much all day, and I'm starving." Discreetly he crossed his fingers behind his back. Perhaps he wouldn't have to do that much longer, he hoped… "Have you eaten?"

Lois hesitated. It was not because of the prospect of eating with him — oh no! Dinner right now sounded like a wonderful idea — it would allow them to take things slowly in their relationship. But they were in Clark's hotel room right now, and she remembered the contents of his refrigerator and of his kitchen cabinets from Saturday morning… "What do you have in mind?" she asked in a guarded voice.

The two of them began to walk towards the kitchenette. "How about some stir-fry?" Clark offered.

Lois breathed a sigh in relief. Great! Something that wouldn't make her eat like an eight-year-old… Not that she would mind eating like an eight-year-old, but she *did* have her chocolate cravings from time to time, and she knew that she would end up being the size of a beached whale if she wasn't careful. Oh dear, she was babbling in her head again… "Sounds wonderful," she said. "You want any help?"

"Sure," Clark replied. "I might need you to chop up some vegetables." He opened the refrigerator door. Because of his height, he had to bend over to reach inside. As he was doing this, Lois had wandered to the sink and picked up a sharp knife she had found on the draining board, ready to help, without telling him how inept she was in the kitchen. 'He'll find out soon enough…' She nearly dropped the knife when she turned to face him.

Lois remembered Clark's rear end from Saturday morning, when she had seen him in nothing but a towel. As he had retreated to the bathroom to get dressed, Lois had simply stared at his muscular back and his rear end. With the towel on, it had been hard to see how well defined it was. Later, she had been feeling really guilty for staring at him so unabashedly then, while both she and Clark had been still seeing other people.

But now, seeing the tight fitting (and still *wet*, she realized) jeans as he gathered the ingredients for a stir-fry dinner, her eyes remained glued to his rear end, and all she could do was whimper. 'God,' she thought, 'I wonder what would he look like without any clothes…' Immediately she shook her head to try to clear her naughty thoughts. It was obvious that 'taking things slowly' was going to be very difficult. She felt warm. She felt faint. Oh, God, she was actually going to faint at the sight of Clark. How embarrassing was that? Lois Lane does not faint! It was a good thing he was not looking in her direction. And as much as she hated to admit it, she knew that Cat was right: he had one tight end…

"What about a tight end?" Clark asked from the refrigerator.

Lois jerked her eyes away, mortified. How could she have just said that out loud? 'Note to self,' she told herself, with cheeks blushing. 'Keep mouth shut while ogling.' Fortunately his head was still in the refrigerator. "I, um, asked if you, uh, played football," Lois stammered. "And if it was, did you play tight end…" She relaxed slightly. 'Nice save, Lois.'

Clark straightened up, holding a mix of stuff, and closed the door with his foot. "How did you know I played football?" Clark asked casually as he put the food on the kitchen counter. He didn't notice the predicament Lois had just put herself in.

'Okay, now is the time to panic…' She thought furiously. "Uh, I don't know, um, I thought I overheard someone say that you played tight end. That's all."

"Oh," Clark answered. "To answer your, question, I played middle linebacker, not tight end." Something happened that he didn't understand. Lois was acting more nervous than before, and her pulse rate jumped way up when he closed the refrigerator. Had he done something wrong? No, she had just said she was overwhelmed at everything, right? Deciding to ask about it later, he reached up into one of the kitchen cabinets and took out an oversized wok. This time Lois deliberately did not look at his direction.

***

The rest of the dinner preparations, and then dinner itself, were spent talking. For the next few hours, they talked their breakups, they talked about each other, and they talked about their dreams.

Lois was still a little sad at how she was a factor in Clark and Joan's breakup, but she was very happy at how it had been done. Clark did not try to lie about it (unlike Claude, who had lied to steal her story). He had simply told Joan, and then had let her decide the fate of their relationship. It had showed Lois that he was honest. It had showed her that he was decent. It had showed her that he cared. Lois was surprised, however, at the fact that Joan had suspected Clark's feelings. She had wished that Joan had clued her in earlier… Clark, in turn, was surprised at how Lois told him about her dysfunctional family. It had seemed like it was something Lois didn't tell anyone. He was, of course, glad and honored that she told him. It had given him more clues into the gigantic puzzle that was called Lois Lane.

They were washing the dishes together (Lois washed and Clark dried), now that they had finished their dinner. Lois' mind began to wonder as she took stock of what they were doing. She imagined the two of them married, doing things around the house together (like washing dishes), having a quiet evening at home together, and then making noise in the bedroom… 'That's it, enough of the fantasies!' Lois reprimanded herself. To prove her point, she picked up a recently cleaned knife and thrusted it Clark's direction, not noticing that the blade was pointing towards him.

Clark was equally out of it, enjoying the simple activity of washing dishes together. So when he blindly reached for whatever dish or utensil Lois had in her hand, his forearm was heading straight for the sharp point of the knife.

Lois' eyes flew open when she first heard the sound of tearing fabric, and then felt the knife bump and fly out of her hand. She jumped backwards while the knife clattered on the floor, feeling quite alarmed and panicky. Now she remembered that she had been holding the knife by the handle. Oh God, she didn't just accidentally stab Clark in the arm with the knife, did she? Oh, please God, no! She looked at the floor, and then at Clark's arm, expecting to see blood. What she saw surprised her.

The knife was on the floor with no trace of blood. There was a large, jagged tear in Clark's shirt, right at the forearm, but his arm appeared to be uninjured and unmarked. The way Lois accidentally stabbed him, there *should* have been a wound. Clark had noticed the commotion, and was looking rather astonished himself, but for different reasons. Lois said nothing but stared at him, incredulous.

Finally Clark picked up a towel and dried his hands. He grabbed Lois' hands, with no resistance from her, and dried them as well. Then he guided her out of the kitchen and the sofa in the middle of the room. He began to speak.

"Lois, I have something to tell you…"

***

[Metropolis, Lois Lane's apartment] [10:48 P.M.]

Lois put the phone down with a triumphant look on her face. She had done it again. She had found a way (perhaps not so legal, but a way nonetheless) to get on board the colonists' transport tomorrow morning. It had taken a lot of cajoling and promises of favors, but come tomorrow, she would be the first reporter in space.

To say that she was excited was an understatement. One of her childhood dreams was to fly in an airplane, and now, she had done it so many times, traveling for the Daily Planet for stories, that it wasn't exciting anymore. Flying into space was another dream she had had (Lois might have been too young to remember Neil Armstrong's walk, but she did follow the subsequent Apollo missions with fervor), and flying into space was a million times better than flying in an airplane.

To her surprise, she had found herself talking about it with Clark earlier, when they were finally able to affirm their love for each other. He hadn't been too keen on the idea, especially after Lois had mentioned that she didn't get permission from EPRAD. But even Clark knew that it would be the story of the century if she were to pull it off, a first of its kind. In another surprising move on her part, Lois had asked Clark to join him, but he immediately declined: there would be a greater risk that they would be discovered if both were to go. Other colleagues might have tried to steal the opportunity from Lois (especially Claude, that sorry excuse of a man), but not Clark. By letting him stay behind, he could at least provide some cover story for Lois in case anyone asked. It would mean that Clark would have to lie, but he had said that he would do it for her.

Anyway, why would Clark want to join her if he could fly into space himself? Lois was still a little shaken at the near accident, as they had washed dishes after dinner. To any person, being stabbed in the arm would be a serious injury (heck, any sort of knife wound would be serious, and Lois had firsthand experience on it), and she couldn't believe that she hadn't been paying attention. Clark's subsequent explanation was also still quite a shock for her. A man, with special powers? A man, who was… faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Able to leap tall buildings with a single bound?

Under different circumstances, Lois perhaps would have ended up being afraid of Clark. After all, a man with those powers could kill anything and anyone with his bare hands. But what she had seen, this past week, was first and foremost a *man*. A man who had thoughts, feelings, and desires like everyone else. A man who had trouble fitting in despite the fact that he had hid these gifts most of his life. A man who had no meanness in him whatsoever. A man who was a fantastic kisser… 'God, could Clark kiss!' she sighed. 'His kisses are out of this world!' She nearly laughed at the pun. 'It's only been an hour, and I'm already missing him: his arms, his neck, his lips…'

Lois was amazed that Clark, as drop-dead gorgeous as he was, and as powerful as he was, would be in love with *her*. Not that she thought that she was unattractive; she wasn't too concerned about her appearance, unless it helped her get a story. She could be difficult, and had admitted to Clark as such. She could be a witch at the Planet (and she knew that some would use a more offensive word that rhymed with 'witch'). And she could a lot of times not be forthcoming with her feelings. Yet he was in love with *her*. He wanted *her*, and that sent a shiver up her spine, not with fear, but with desire.

Besides, it wasn't as if Clark was perfect, for he clearly wasn't. At times he could be so naive and so trusting. Cynicism wasn't in his vocabulary, something that went hand in hand with 'the real world.' He wasn't exactly forthcoming with his feelings either, but that of course came from his natural tendency to hide himself. Yet she was falling in love with him, before she knew about his powers. Lois knew of Clark's plan to assume a secret identity, which would allow him to use his powers to help others without the fear of discovery. In fact, he should be in Smallville now, trying on various costumes that his mother would make. Too bad Lois couldn't sew, or she would have helped. Oh God, what if she had met the other identity before really knowing Clark Kent? Or, horror of horrors, what if she had fallen in *love* with Clark's secret identity instead? What a predicament Clark would have been in!

If Lois were really cynical, she would have wondered when Clark would have told her about his powers. She believed him when he had said that he had planned on telling her his secret today anyway. He had been nervous about doing so (which Lois had chalked it up on his inexperience with relationships, as he had put it), and he was worried about Lois' reaction (which was understandable, Lois surmised). The knife accident had forced Clark to bring it out in the open. She was also surprised to hear that Joan had found out the same way. At least the secret was out now; who knew how she would have reacted if she were to be told *after* they were married, for example? Or after they had children? Come to think of it, the secret would have been out by then anyway: wouldn't their kids be able to fly once they were born?

At the thought of children Lois turned a deep shade of red. It was astonishing enough that she would be thinking of having children at all, but having children with *Clark*? Lois shook her head as she prepared for bed. The old Lois Lane would have never considered marriage or children. Even while she had been seeing John, she was uncomfortable with the idea. She remembered saying to herself that being alone was what she had wanted. So what had happened to Lois Lane?

She had met Clark; it was simple as that.

Never before in her life was Lois any happier. She was on the heels of a big story. She was so excited that she knew she wasn't going to get any sleep tonight, and it was an early day tomorrow. She was also at the start of a beautiful relationship with Clark, a man who was beyond anything she had hoped for in a man. A *super* man. Could things get any better than this?

***

[Metropolis, EPRAD Mission Control] [Tuesday, August 24, 1993, 6:07 A.M.]

Could things get any *worse* than this?

Lois took deep breaths and tried to calm down. Things had been going well this morning on her quest to the biggest story she had ever done. She was able to get into the colonist transport without any trouble at all. Not of the colonists had known who she was, except for Mrs. Platt and Amy, but Lois had been able to keep out of their sight. Once she had entered the colonist transport, Lois had quickly ducked into a nearby compartment so as not to be seen by anyone. She had closed the door and had strapped down in the single jump seat.

"The umbilical cord attached to the liquid fuel booster has been disengaged. One minute and counting," came the voice of the flight controller. Lois had closed her eyes, allowing herself to dream about all sorts of Planet headlines and front-page stories about her stay at Prometheus. She had heard the outer doors close, and she had heard the voice of the flight controller again. "Forty five seconds and counting."

Then she had seen it.

*It* was a small back box, attached by cement to the opposite wall in the compartment, about three inches across, three inches wide, and an inch thick. It had started beeping a second ago. On the cover was an LED displaying numbers in red. Lois had a bad feeling it wasn't displaying another countdown for the shuttle launch. She had jumped out of the seat, after unstrapping herself first, to take a closer look. Finding some wires attached to the black box had given her all the confirmation she had needed.

"Oh my God, it's a bomb! Baines!" she had cried out, in full-blown panic mode. She had tried to exit the vehicle, but the doors had been sealed. Then the engines had ignited, and there had been no way for her to be heard over the noise.

Not only was Lois panicked, but she was also annoyed. Why was it that she had a knack for finding trouble? Hadn't she been through enough Saturday night and Sunday morning? But no, Baines had to haunt her by planting this infernal device within the colonist transport, as a last ditch attempt to dismantle Space Station Prometheus. Or, if Lex Luthor was involved, maybe he had someone else put the bomb here for him? Well, there was no time to be annoyed. If she didn't do something, she would never see Clark again, and that wasn't an option. Not when she had just found him!

Speaking of Clark, surely his mother had made a suitable disguise for him by now. If there was a time for him to debut with the new persona, now would be it. Lois remembered him telling her about his super-hearing abilities. Could he have heard her cries a second ago from Smallville? No, impossible: Smallville was over a thousand miles away. Especially since the engines were now roaring within the transport.

No, she would have to somehow alert EPRAD that there was a problem here. If she could do that, and if Clark was watching the news now, he might come here to see what the problem was. Seeing no other option at the moment, Lois looked quickly around the compartment. Underneath the bomb was a panel of some sort. She tore it open. Yes! There was a lot of electrical wiring, and to the side was a pair of large pliers.

Lois grabbed the pliers and started cutting. It was nearly impossible, for the wires were quite thick, and placement of the wires forced her to place the pliers at an awkward angle. Finally, after a few tense moments, sparks flew from the control panel, and then, she heard the voice of the flight controller: "Due to a mechanical failure we are suspending the countdown at twenty-nine seconds. We will advise, we will advise." But the engines did not shut off, and there were less than thirty seconds until the bomb was to go off. The only thing Lois could hope for now was a miracle.

And it came.

Lois heard the sound of the outer doors opening. A man then stepped into the compartment, wearing a blue suit, a red cape, and red boots. On his chest was an insignia that displayed the letter 'S'. ('Why 'S'?' she asked herself.) He was not wearing glasses. All Lois could do was stare again at Clark with his new disguise. What had his mother been thinking? The suit left *nothing* to the imagination. The huge forearms, the broad shoulders, and the muscular legs. A sight to behold! Clark looked just *super* in that outfit! But unfortunately, if Lois was noticing, so would other people. Particularly women. Lois, feeling a twinge of jealousy, bit back a retort.

Clark, for his part, blushed as he felt her eyes on every part of his body but his face. Just like what his mother predicted, he realized. The persistent beeping of the bomb forced him back to attention. He strode towards the bomb, having no idea how to disarm it. As the countdown reached ten seconds, he pried the box open and took out a small black disc.

Lois looked at Clark with puzzlement. Why was he still *here*? Shouldn't he take that thing and hurl it to the sky or something? Her eyes widened as she watched him put the bomb in his mouth.

'He *wouldn't*, would he?' she wondered, closing her eyes.

(Boom!)

The explosion was very muffled, probably not noticeable to anyone else in the shuttle. As Lois opened her eyes, Clark belched and patted his chest. "Excuse me," he said.

Lois could not believe her eyes. Yes, she had known of Clark's powers, and she had seen him demonstrating them last night. She had seen his heat-vision. She had seen him float. She had seen him lift some heavy things. And she had seen him fly (albeit very slowly, as he had done this inside his hotel room). But nothing, *nothing*, had prepared her for this display of his powers. Lois' reaction was also astounding, for it was something that she had never done before in her life.

She fainted.

***

[Metropolis, near EPRAD Mission Control] [Thursday, August 26, 1993, 12:25 P.M.]

Lois was still a little mad as the transport re-entered through the Earth's atmosphere. The biggest story of the century, and she hadn't been able to get it. The people in charge at the Prometheus Space Station, and those in EPRAD, hadn't been happy about the fact that a reporter had been able to get on board the transport, without authorization, and that she had afflicted damage on some of the circuitry in the main panel. But since this same reporter had helped to prevent another tragedy, of which it could have forced the cancellation and dismantlement of Prometheus, a deal had been made. They wouldn't press any charges against her if she returned to Earth with the shuttle crew today, and if she did not report anything on what she had seen on the space station. Reluctantly, she had agreed.

Lois could take solace, however, in knowing that there were no other reporters staying at Prometheus. Before she had left the space station, she had extracted promises from a couple of the colonists for exclusive interviews, so the trip hadn't been a total loss. As Liz Cochrane had once said, "You're only good as your next story." Perhaps Lois had broken the three rules that the older reporter had given to her, but Lois had at least taken *these* words to heart. The Prometheus story would wait, for now, but her next big story was waiting for her back on Earth.

Apparently, Clark had lifted the entire shuttle into space. All 3 million pounds of it! After she had fainted, she had come to minutes later in a compartment where there had been a group of baffled colonists talking about. "How had they been able to go into space after all?" they had asked among themselves. "How come had there been no sounds of the engines?" "If the crew hadn't been piloting the shuttle, who had it been?" It wasn't until later, after the transport had been docked, when some of the scientists reported seeing a man in blue and red hanging on to the shuttle, and then flying into shuttle to brief with officials that some of their questions were answered.

'What was it that Clark couldn't do?' Lois had asked herself. She hadn't had time to ponder this question, however, because she had been escorted to the Prometheus officials and then had to explain to them about her presence at the station. Now, as the transport was making its final approach to EPRAD, Lois thought about it.

Clark would definitely be of help to the citizens of Metropolis. The last she had heard, Metropolis had the third worst crime rate in the country, not far behind Central City and Gotham City. Once he began to use his powers publicly, Lois knew that the criminal element would be scrambling to find a way to eliminate him. Her mood darkened, she shivered involuntarily at the thought.

Okay, perhaps she was being cynical in thinking that Clark could be hurt in some way. But Lois had just found him, the love of her life, and she would do anything to protect him. Besides, she hadn't become the reporter she was by being glowingly optimistic. She didn't care if she was thinking as if she was a mother hovering over her chicks. On the other hand, the same criminal element of Metropolis had tried to get rid of *her*, but without success. And she didn't have any powers. She had her wits, she had her charm, and she had her luck. Adding these with Clark's powers… well, maybe they'll be okay.

Lois hugged herself as she waited for the final touchdown on one of EPRAD's runways. She found herself missing him again, and she couldn't believe that she was acting this way. It had been a little over 48 hours since she had last seen him and she *missed* him so much? Yet another indication on her how strong her feelings were towards him. Sighing, she waited impatiently in her seat.

***

At the same time the shuttle was landing, Clark was flying quickly to EPRAD, wearing his costume for the first time since Tuesday. Despite the new suit, he had felt a little uncomfortable using his powers publicly; it wasn't something he was used to doing. He had left Prometheus right after he had docked the colonists' transport and briefed with transport's crew. Clark had said nothing to explain his actions, but had only informed them what repairs were needed on the shuttle. He had flown away from a sea of people wide-eyed with amazement and disbelief.

Heck, if he were normal, he wouldn't have believed it himself if he had seen a person do what he had done. Regardless of whether this had been the best time to debut with the disguise, he had a suspicion that there had been a problem with the colonists' transport, and he had to investigate. He tried to reason with himself that he didn't do that because he had known that Lois was there, but he failed.

Now there were four people that he had to protect. His parents, Lois, and Joan. Yes, Joan. He might be out of her life now, but he couldn't help but worry about her. He had received a letter from her yesterday, telling him that she had gone to Quebec, Canada as part of some teacher's exchange program. It had appeared that another teacher was to go, but he had a serious illness and Joan was asked instead. Clark had considered that to be highly irregular, since Joan had just been on sabbatical the previous year. But what did he know about schools behind the scenes? Clark had wanted to warn her: if there was a chance someone knew Clark's identity, Joan could become an instant target. But Joan was smart; she wrote that she had known the possibility existed ever since she had found out about him, and she assured him that she would be careful. Despite those words, Clark was still worried.

Now that Lois knew, and now that he was beginning to use his powers publicly, Clark felt more protective towards her than ever. Yes, Lois was more than able to protect herself (and he knew that she had done so before they had met), but Lois was still vulnerable to bullets, fists, and all sorts of other weapons. So far, Clark had not found anything that could hurt him (physically, of course, since he had already known what a broken heart was like), and he hoped that it would stay that way. What Clark had to make sure was that he not so overbearing that Lois would resent him. Easier said than done, however, as he admitted to himself.

'So what happens now?' he asked himself. He wasn't wondering about the relationship; that he had an idea. Lots of dating, lots of doing things together, and hopefully, sometime in the future, marriage. No, he was wondering about this new identity he was assuming. There had been staggering amounts of press coverage about the mysterious man flying a shuttle into space, supposedly under his own power. It had been partially because of the press that Clark had not done anything in public with the suit since then. He wanted to talk to Lois about it. He hovered high in the sky so as not to be detected, he waited as the shuttle made its landing down at EPRAD. 'Perhaps today would be a good day to make another appearance,' he mused.

***

Lois steeled herself as she reached the doorway to the transport. Already she had heard a commotion outside, signaling her that the press was waiting for statements from the crew, as customary for anyone returning from space. She knew that once they saw her, however, they would bombard her with questions, as it was not yet known that a *reporter* had went up into space. Peering outside, she saw that the stairs were a little steep for anyone to step forward properly; as on cue, one of the crew members, after glaring at her for a moment, turned around and stepped out of the transport, with her back to the press. At least that gave her a few extra seconds before she would be recognized.

Lois emerged from the entrance with her back to the press as well. Immediately she could her murmurs throughout the crowd; it had been known that the crew had consisted of five men and one woman, and the one woman had already stepped out. She took a step down, waiting with dread for someone, anyone, to shout her name. It was a good thing she had put her hair up in a business-like ponytail (it was different than her normal hairstyle), she realized. Suddenly, before she could take a second step downwards, there was a sonic boom, and a gust of wind. Just like that, before the eyes of the reporters gathered around the shuttle, the mysterious woman had disappeared into thin air.

To Lois, first there was disorientation. Then there was recognition. Then there was mild panic (mild for Lois, anyway). A minute ago she was on the stairs, not quite ready to meet the Committee of Public Safety. Now, she was in the air, nestled in Clark's arms. She gripped her arms around his neck like a vise, knowing that it wouldn't hurt him, worried that she might fall. As if he was reading her mind, Clark spoke softly. "Don't worry, Lois. I've got you."

Finally she found her voice. "Clark! What are you doing?"

"Taking you home," Clark replied casually.

"I meant, is there a reason why you scooped me away and scared me to death?" she asked.

"I could tell you didn't want to face them," he said quietly.

Now Lois was curious. What powers hadn't she seen yet? "You could tell? How? Don't tell me you can read minds…"

"No, nothing like that," Clark assured her. "It's just…" Suddenly he began to blush.

Lois caressed his face. "What is it, Clark?" she asked gently.

"Well, you know I have super-hearing," he explained. "And, I sort of, well, listened to your heartbeat. It was beating pretty fast, so I figured you were anxious about something. Was I wrong?" He looked straight ahead and avoided her gaze.

She smiled softly at him, and reached over to kiss his cheek. "That was sweet. And no, you weren't wrong. Just don't make a habit of it, okay? If you had been wrong, well, you know what I'm like when I'm mad…"

Clark held Lois closer to him, feeling a wave of tenderness. "Okay, deal."

For the first time Lois dared to look around her, seeing the wisps of clouds everywhere. She began to relax in his arms, realizing more and more that she trusted him. No longer was the experience scary. It was… enlightening… uplifting… exciting…

"So why did you come in the suit?" Lois asked, breaking the silence.

"I was thinking about what happens next," Clark said, not really answering her question. "I, um, didn't do anything in public since Tuesday."

"Why not?"

"There's been a lot of questions about me. The press coverage was unreal, Lois. I haven't talked to anyone yet, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next." Clark sighed as he made his descent towards Lois' apartment building. To her puzzlement, they landed on the fire escape right outside her window. "I used my X-ray vision and found this window unlocked," Clark explained matter-of-factly.

Once the two of them were inside Lois' apartment, Clark closed the window. When he turned around, he found Lois undoing her ponytail and straightening her hair out. It was a simple gesture, but it left Clark momentarily speechless. The smallest of sighs escaped his lips.

Lois looked up, and noticed that he was looking at her. "What?"

Clark blinked, and blushed again. "It's just that… you're so beautiful," he said, almost in a whisper. As if in a trance, he moved towards her.

Lois, touched by his words, could not move. She looked away, feeling a bit shy. "You really think so?" she asked. Clark gently took hold her face, forcing her to look his way.

Their lips inches apart, Clark answered, "I know so." With that, he closed the distance and kissed her.

Lois immediately wrapped her arms around his neck, reveling in the softness of his lips against hers. Perfect, sweet, and gentle, she realized quickly that it wasn't enough. She then took the offensive, attacking his mouth, probing it with her tongue, and communicating that that was what she wanted. Clark dutifully responded with a passion that matched her own. Lois moaned in response. It had only been two days since they had last seen each other, yet they were acting as if they hadn't seen each other in weeks.

Finally they both parted, Clark breathing heavily ('Breathing heavily?' Lois asked herself. I thought he could hold his breath for a long time…'), and Lois feeling dazed and breathless. She knew that addictions were usually bad, but she found herself addicted, addicted to Clark, and she knew that she wasn't going to let him go. But, it was still afternoon, and there was still work to do at the Planet.

"You're going back to the Planet right now as Clark, I assume."

"Yeah. 'Clark' is on a lunch break," he responded.

"Don't go in as Clark yet," Lois said. "I have an idea…"

***

[Metropolis, Daily Planet Building] [1:09 P.M.]

Clark's heroics at EPRAD two days ago was still major news, even though he had been in virtual hiding ever since. The newsroom at the Planet was frantic with activity. Normally, the scene before the Planet's Editor-in-Chief would have pleased him in no end. But there was something different about this scene: his star reporter, Lois Lane, wasn't here.

Now there were reports of a mystery woman aboard the transport that had just landed, and that she had just vanished in thin air. Perry had had a sneaking suspicion that Lois somehow was able to get on the space shuttle. Once of his own sources had even mentioned something about it yesterday morning. This was why Perry had not been completely worried about Lois' disappearance. But if the mystery woman aboard the transport was Lois, how did she disappear so fast? Perry White would have dismissed the report completely had it not been for the eyewitness accounts from two of his own reporters, who had attended the press conference for the returning astronauts.

A man flying a space shuttle into space. A woman disappearing in thin air. Two different reports, but both were unbelievable. Perry didn't know what to make of them. "I still don't believe it," he growled to no one in particular. "A man who flies!"

Jimmy had been the closest to the Chief's outburst and cautiously went up to the older man. "Chief, it was all over the TV…" Jimmy offered.

"Aw, Jimmy!" Perry said, exasperated. "Don't believe everything you see on TV." He glanced back at the reports he was holding. They still didn't make sense! "Whoever pulled off a hoax like this… is…" The Editor-in-Chief looked up from his reports and froze at what he saw.

Jimmy looked up as well, not understanding the reason his boss suddenly stopped speaking. Then his eyes widened. Murmurs and gasps were heard all around the newsroom as the back windows opened and in flew the mystery man himself, carrying the missing reporter, Lois Lane, inside. The young photographer got over his shock and began snapping pictures madly with the camera he always carried around his neck. Other photographers followed suit.

"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry bellowed.

The entire staff was amazed. There seemed to be no wires holding the mystery man up. He was actually flying! And now he was setting Lois Lane down in front of everyone in the newsroom, with no difficulty at all! Clark looked around, giving everyone a small smile. No one, except Lois, smiled back, which was understandable, since everybody was still clearly stunned.

Lois also looked around, and then stopped herself from letting out a laugh. They were at least half as stunned as she was when she had found out about Clark's special abilities… She looked into Clark's brown eyes, and then immediately looked away. She had to be careful and not do things like that; otherwise she might reach over and give Clark a big smooch in front of at least fifty witnesses. Not a good way to debut this super man to the world.

She pulled herself together and spoke in a normal volume. Too loud, and others might suspect it was an act. Too soft, and no one would hear her. She tried not to smile and to look astonished like her colleagues. "I think, um, considering the fact that I saw you first, you owe me an exclusive." Then she gave Clark a hint of a knowing glance.

Clark, for his part, couldn't believe that he had gone along with Lois' plan to introduce him to the world. He knew that as long as he continued to use his powers in public, he would have to answer to the press. But Lois wanted to be the first in line, which didn't surprise him, and she wanted to squelch any doubts about the reports. In fact, she already had enough for her first piece on him, discussing with him beforehand what was going into her story. She also promised him that he, Clark, could write the second story. 'Which would be interesting,' Clark thought. 'Writing about myself.' He let a big smile escape him and asked, "Is that the rule?"

Lois pretended to chuckle nervously. With a secret glance, she saw that all in the newsroom were still spellbound. "Well, no," she answered. "But I'd appreciate it very much." Ugh, that didn't sound very good. She fought the temptation to wince. Maybe staring at him would be a good idea after all…

Clark, by now a little nervous from all the attention, decided that he had better go. Without saying a word, he slowly floated up and made his way out the way he came in, not realizing that he was straying from his and Lois' 'script.'

His actions brought Lois out of a trance. A little disoriented, she jumped and ran up the stairs towards the windows. "Wait! How do I find you?" 'Better… That sounded more natural, and more believable,' she thought.

Clark turned around and said simply, "I'll be around." Smiling, he slowly flew out of the newsroom, picking up speed the further he got.

"Real smooth," Jimmy piped up.

Lois could only sigh dreamily as she watched Clark fly farther and farther away until there was nothing she could see. Herself being occupied, she didn't hear footsteps approach her side.

"Did you find out what the 'S' stands for?" Cat Grant asked.

"Huh?" Lois' mind worked furiously. Of course, leave it to Cat Grant to ask something she didn't know. 'Honestly, you'd think that after Clark told you he didn't know what the 'S' stood for that you could have come up with something.' But no, all she could do was to stare, and to think what a super man Clark was…

'Hmm… A super man…'

"*Superman*!" Lois yelped. Cat nodded in reply and returned to her desk.

'Ick!' Lois thought. 'That just sounded egotistical.' She had a feeling this wasn't what Nietzsche had in mind, and she had a feeling Clark wasn't going to like his new name, but oh well, too late now. She glanced at the windows one more time and then made her way to her own desk.

Lois and Clark were lucky that they had been able to pull off their little charade. As soon as he left, she realized something. It was going to be difficult from now on to hide her feelings towards him whenever he was in the suit. They would have to be careful, pretending that they were only acquaintances, maybe friends. Lois and *Superman* were not in love. But what could she do? Here was a guy, who was kind, caring, gorgeous, out of this world (literally, perhaps? Neither Clark nor his parents were sure)… and he can *fly*! She can't help but stare at him like some moony-eyed cheerleader.

But, of course, Lois wouldn't have it any other way. Here she was, a career woman, beautiful (according to Clark; it wasn't an adjective she would use to describe *herself*), brilliant ('Oh yes, definitely,' thought Lois with a smile) and in love. A few days ago her thoughts had wandered to children. Now her thoughts were on what to her mind was a prerequisite: marriage. Yes, Lois Lane with children would be an unbelievable notion. But Lois Lane with a husband was equally incredible. After all, she had been voted 'Least Likely to Get Married' in her senior year of high school. And while it was early yet, married to Clark would be a dream come true.

Now that Clark had just found his freedom in helping others, Lois realized that he would be away for a while. She also realized that he would make it up to her should the calls for help interrupt their time together. And finally, she just realized that Perry would have her and Clark's heads if she didn't produce some copy for the early edition tomorrow. Lois reached over and turned on the computer. A couple of minutes later, the program was ready, waiting to accept input from the keyboard, ready to accept perhaps another award-winning story. All she could do, however, was to stare at the blinking cursor on the monitor as she daydreamed of her future with Clark. From this point forward, Lois knew that her life would never be the same.

***

[Epilogue: Metropolis, Daily Planet Building] [Friday, August 27, 1993, 8:04 A.M.]

It began like any other day at the Daily Planet newsroom. Many reporters were about, getting a head start in working on the next day's early edition. There were quite a few stories to cover, besides the usual local ones. There were follow ups for the sabotage of the space program by Dr. Baines and Superman's heroics with the transport; Superman's real first public appearance in the newsroom; and reports of a handful of rescues by Superman around the world.

In the middle of it all stood two people dressed in white. The woman was a tall, willowy brunette in her mid twenties. She had long curly hair and was wearing a white jacket over a white blouse, and a white skirt. A pair of white pumps completed her ensemble. The man was also tall, perhaps an inch or two more than the woman with her heels. He appeared to be the woman's age. His hair was also dark, but cut short. He was wearing a white suit, which was slightly ill fitting because he was a little on the thin side. On his feet were a pair of white dress shoes. Normally whey would look out of place in the Daily Planet newsroom, but the fact of the matter was, no one in the room could see them at all.

They watched with interest as one of the reporters, a young, attractive brunette, turned away from a row of monitors she had been watching and made her way back to her desk. As she passed the ramp, another reporter, equally young and equally attractive, walked towards her. The man and the woman in white listened intently to the conversation that would ensue.

"Clark, where've you been?"

Clark shrugged his shoulders. "Around."

The couple dressed in white saw Lois rolling her eyes. Without warning, grabbed Clark and dragged him back up the ramp. "Well, not that it's anywhere near as exciting as the stories you covered on the Smallville Press, but Superman was in the newsroom and *I* just nailed down the exclusive!"

"Well, congratulations," Clark told Lois, hiding a frown. It was the first time he had heard his new name, and he was a little uncomfortable with it.

The woman in white turned to her companion. "Is Lois always like this?" she asked.

The man responded by chuckling. "Constantly!" The woman simply shook her head.

"Oh Clark, you should've seen him!" Lois gushed, deciding to tease him. "Up close, he is the most magnificent figure of a man that I have ever…"

Now it was Clark's turn to roll his eyes. "Sounds like he made quite an impression on you," he broke in, with a knowing smile.

"He did!" Lois declared, and sighed. "Why, are you jealous?" she threw at Clark as she walked briskly to the elevators.

"Of Superman? Should I be?" he asked, following her.

The man in white tsked. "Now he's going to start thinking himself in the third person."

The woman nodded her head and agreed.

Lois turned around and eyed her love critically. "If you are, then there's something wrong with you," she said, smiling. The elevator dinged, and she strode into the empty car.

Clark followed her inside. "Where are we going?"

"To cover a shoot-out on Sixth," Lois replied. Then, just as the elevator doors began to close, she grabbed the lapels of Clark's jacket and, without any hesitation on her part, kissed him hard on the lips. She pushed him away gently and said softly, "Good morning," beaming at him.

The doors closed, but the couple in white could still hear the conversation as the elevator made its descent.

<"How did it go last night, Clark?">

<"It was good. Are things usually this bad…">

A polite clearing of the throat forced the man and the woman to drop their eavesdropping and turn around. Standing before them was another man, middle-aged, shorter, and wider, dressed also in a white suit.

"You did a good job, John and Joan," the older man remarked.

"Thanks, Mike," Joan responded. "It wasn't easy, you know."

"It's never easy," Mike reminded the two of them. "Love is never easy."

"We know," John replied, squeezing Joan's hand.

"Well, despite the obstacles, you got Lois and Clark together. It's no small feat." Mike smiled at his two subordinates.

"You're right, Mike, considering that they are pretty much opposites," Joan piped up.

"Opposites attract, my love," John noted.

"I know," Joan said, giving John a big smile. They looked at each other and said nothing for a moment.

Mike reached in his jacket pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. "Well, kids, ready for your next assignment?"

The two younger people stared at him. "So soon?" John asked, dismayed. He took the paper from Mike's hand and began to read. Joan leaned on John's shoulder and waited for him to finish reading.

Suddenly Mike looked skyward. "Uh oh," he said. "I'm being paged. Good luck you two on your new assignment!" Then, with a flash of light, he disappeared into thin air.

John sighed as he handed the paper to Joan. "We've done this sort of thing before," he said, indicating the paper. "Two best friends, working together for four years, afraid to admit their feelings for each other. Both are military."

Joan glanced at the paper, raising her eyebrows. "It's not far from here. Falls Church, Virginia. That's right outside of Washington DC, isn't it?"

"I think so. But it's not in the same time frame: it's 2000, seven years into this future."

Joan sighed, and with a slight movement of her hand, made the paper disappear. "Okay, then. Let's go upstairs and brainstorm a little bit, and then we'll start tomorrow. Sound like a plan, honey?"

"Sounds like a plan," John assented. He reached over and grabbed Joan's right hand with his own. Another flash of light, and they were gone.

THE END