By Ann McBride

Rated: PG13

Submitted: December 2001

Summary: In this third installment in the series the author began with "A Triangle Built for Two," Lois and Clark have a new investigation on a controversial subject — alleged racism in the Metropolis Police Department. In the meantime, they must decide where their relationship is going.

Standard disclaimers apply.

Acknowledgments: I could have never finished this story without the help and encouragement of a number of people. I want to thank my wonderful beta-readers, LabRat and Carol Malo, for doing a fantastic job with this, especially when the plot got sticky. I also want to thank Marilyn and Sarah who occasionally took a peek as well. A huge thank you goes to Eileen, who was the technical adviser for most of the legal details.

And of course, Tasha and the rest of the crowd on IRC, thanks for the nagging.

This sequel to "Growing Pains" begins the next morning.

Author's note: Cincinnati, Ohio, a lovely city on the Ohio River, has a long history of racial problems between the local police and the African-American community. Over the last several decades, there have been a significant number of cases in which excessive use of force has resulted in the deaths of African-American men there. Needless to say, Cincinnati is not the only city in the US or the world, with similar problems. On the other hand, Cincinnati does seem to have more than its share. I'm really not trying to criticize Cincinnati in particular with any references to it here. Cincinnati is a great city — it's just been in the news a lot lately and fits my plot.

*There are a couple of terms which apparently need explaining to the non-US readers. Betty Crocker is a fictional homemaker who has a large line of packaged baking mixes. DWB stands for "driving while black" and refers to the curious phenomenon of African-Americans being stopped by the police for no apparent reason other than the color of their skin.


Late morning sunlight was streaming across the room as Clark Kent slowly awoke. Keeping his eyes closed, he assessed his condition. Nothing much hurt this morning, other than some residual soreness in his throat, a legacy of the medical treatments he'd undergone the day before. His sense of well-being was almost normal, except for the fact that for him, *normal* was usually *super.* His superpowers had not yet returned as far as he could tell.

Nevertheless, Clark felt good, *really* good. Between his mother's laser sculpture and Lois' quick thinking, he and his family had managed to convince the world that Superman and Clark Kent were definitely two distinct individuals last night, completely refuting the evidence that "Top Copy's" Diana Stride had used to show otherwise. Diana and her cameraman were now in jail, unless, of course, Intergang's leadership had decided to prevent the crime syndicate's top assassin from being able to turn state's witness. To top things off, he had spent the night in Lois' arms. Not a bad ending for a day which had begun so badly.

That thought made him realize that he now seemed to be alone in bed. Slowly opening his eyes, loath to disturb the tranquil state in which he found himself, Clark turned his gaze on Lois' bedroom. Tiny motes of dust were dancing in the sunbeams bathing the room from the window opened wide. Trust Lois to stack the odds of his powers coming back sooner, rather than later, he thought. Still, where was she? The only sounds that he heard seemed to be street noises — cars and trucks moving through the city. Of his beautiful partner, there was no sign.

Clark closed his eyes and opened his mind and soul to the link he had with Lois, the psychic connection that let him *feel* her and know if she was all right. A deep calm settled over his spirit. Wherever she was, and whatever she was doing, Lois was in fine fettle. He could feel her mood as surely as he could feel the silky cover on the comforter she had spread over him when she had slipped from the bed, and apparently the apartment. Satisfied that his girlfriend was in no need of his assistance, Clark allowed sleep to reclaim him.


Lois had awakened to the novel sensation of Clark's arms wrapped around her and her head resting on his chest. She had lain there for long minutes, listening to his heartbeat, feeling the rise and fall of his chest with every breath he took. Tears had welled in her eyes as she thought of how close she had come to losing him the day before. If she lived to be a hundred, she would never forget the terror she had felt seeing him lying in a crumpled heap on his living room floor, too weak to reach the telephone a mere six inches from his hand. Once again, she thanked whatever power had compelled her to go to Clark's apartment when he hadn't come to work or answered her phone calls.

Hunger had eventually driven Lois from the haven of Clark's arms to the kitchen. Rummaging through the cabinets and refrigerator had yielded exactly one stale pop tart and a half jar of instant coffee. "I really should keep more food around the house," she had told herself as she padded to the bathroom. After a quick shower, she dressed in leggings and a comfortable sweat shirt. Lois opened the curtains in her bedroom and soon was tiptoeing out of the apartment in search of food. When Clark eventually awoke, he would undoubtedly want more than half of the toaster pastry. A trip to the supermarket was definitely in order.

As she pushed the grocery cart through the store, Lois pondered what to buy. Clark always enjoyed eating, and his farm background probably meant that he'd enjoy a big country-style breakfast. The only problem Lois could see was her inability to cook. "Pancakes! That'll work," she thought as she meandered through the aisles. "They have mixes for that. *That* I can handle." She hummed happily as she found the baking goods shelves.

The array of choices was daunting, however. "Complete" mixes stood side by side with mixes that seemed to require every possible ingredient except flour. And then there were the other choices: low-fat or regular, buttermilk or old- fashioned, fruit-flavored or plain. Totally confused, Lois threw up her hands in defeat. "Clark can just eat waffles," she mused and headed for the frozen food counter and a box of Eggos. Passing the coffee aisle, she grabbed a can of coffee and a package of filters. Real coffee she could manage.

Moving on to the checkout counter, Lois stopped to sneak a peek at the tabloids. No headlines about Superman; that was a plus. As she maneuvered her cart into line, Lois sighed happily. She and Clark had the day off, the sun was shining, and all was right with the world. Lois allowed herself to daydream about her super boyfriend as she waited in line, a small smile playing on her face.

The jangle of her cell phone ringing snapped her out of her reverie. Lois fumbled in her purse for it, then pushed the answer button. "Lois Lane," she replied.

"Hi, Lois. This is Mark Thompson," a distinctly male voice sounded in her ear.

"Uh, do I know you? And if not, how did you get this number?"

"No, you don't know me, although I feel as if I know you. I'm a friend of Clark's. We play basketball together. As to how I got the number, some kid named Jimmy at the Planet gave it to me. I'm trying to get a hold of Clark. Jimmy thought you might know where I could find him," the pleasant baritone explained.

Lois pondered the best answer. She had heard Clark mention a Mark in passing, but she wasn't aware of his last name. Inspiration struck her. "Well, actually, I'll be meeting him for breakfast in a few minutes. I can give him a message if you like."

"That would be great. Could you please ask him to call me?"

"Sure. Does he know your number?" Lois queried.

"I'm not sure. Got a pencil?"

Lois rummaged in her purse, finding a pen and paper. "Go ahead. I'm ready."

"Four four eight, seven two nine eight."

"Is that a work number? Does Clark need an extension?"

Mark laughed. "Only on his vertical jump. Today's my day off. I'm at home and plan to be here for a while."

"If he only knew," Lois thought with a smile. Speaking into her cell phone again, she told Mark that she'd pass on the message. She turned to pay the cashier for her groceries and made her way out of the store.


Silence greeted Lois upon her return to her apartment. Apparently, Clark was still asleep. She padded quietly to the bedroom door and peeked at him. He was snuggled up to her pillow, his face almost buried in the soft down. He must have been almost awake, however, because he stirred and opened one eye.

"Hi there," she whispered.

"Hi, yourself," came the soft reply. "Where'd you go?" he asked as he rolled over and rubbed his eyes.

"To the grocery store. I thought you might want some breakfast, and that half of a pop tart might not hit the spot." She grinned broadly at him. He was so cute in the morning. She could get used to seeing him first thing. "How are you feeling today? Any better?" Lois moved across the bedroom floor to the side of the bed as she spoke, touching his forehead with a cool hand.

"Yeah, I think so," he replied. "I don't think any of my powers are back yet, but I don't feel so weak anymore." He swallowed experimentally. "My throat's still kind of sore."

"Well, that's probably normal, don't you think?" Lois shrugged. "I mean, they only shoved about a million tubes down your throat yesterday. It's bound to hurt and take a while to get over it."

Clark grimaced briefly. "I guess so. It's a weird feeling." He sat up. "I better get up. What time is it?"

"About ten, I think. Maybe a little before." She gestured towards the bathroom. "If you need a razor, there are some new disposables in the medicine cabinet. I'll go make breakfast while you get ready." She turned towards the door, completely missing Clark's horrified expression.

He swallowed. "Uh, that'll be fine, Lois." With any luck, she'd bought cold cereal, he mused as he closed the bathroom door behind him. Clark quickly showered and shaved, then returned to the bedroom to dress in the slacks and shirt he'd worn the day before. The idle thought occurred to him that if he and Lois were married, his clothes would be in the closet; and he'd be able to put on something a little more comfortable. But that day seemed far away; they'd only been dating for a few months, and Lois still seemed a bit skittish when it came to a permanent relationship.

The aroma of fresh coffee drew Clark to the kitchen. Lois was happily engaged in preparing breakfast. The coffee- maker was burbling, and the love of his life was removing waffles from the toaster. He smiled to himself. Apparently Lois was well aware of her culinary limitations and had opted for a foolproof menu. He'd be able to eat it after all.

Hearing his footsteps, Lois looked up from her task. "Hi," she said cheerfully. "You look almost back to normal today."

"I am *almost* back to normal," Clark replied. "What's for breakfast?"

"Waffles and coffee." She chuckled. "I was going to make you pancakes, only then I looked at all the different types of mixes and realized that I didn't have a clue as to which one to buy, so I bought Eggos instead. I mean, how much skill can it possibly take to put something in the toaster and then take it out when it pops back up?"

Sometimes Lois was just *so* Lois. It warmed Clark's heart to hear her babble about the pancakes. "Good point. What kind of syrup do you have?" he inquired.

"Syrup? Oh god, I knew there was something I was forgetting. I'm sorry, Clark. I can run out and get some now."

She paused for breath, allowing him to interject, "Lois, it's okay. If you go to get syrup now, the waffles will get cold. They'll be fine without." He smiled gently at her before continuing, "Want me to get the coffee mugs?"

Lois nodded and turned to put the waffles on plates. "Thanks, Clark."

He moved to pull her into his arms. After kissing her lightly, he suggested, "Maybe we should go grocery shopping for some basics sometime." He kissed her again, then changed the subject. "So, have you seen a copy of the Planet today?"

"Yes, over there on the coffee table. You'll be happy to know that we have two front page stories."

"We do?" He looked skeptical. "What are they?"

"The fall of Intergang and the Diana Stride hoax story," she responded happily.

"Diana Stride? I could have sworn that we never went back inside the Planet after the impromptu press conference." Clark was genuinely puzzled.

Taking a bite of waffle, Lois replied, "We didn't. But I had the story basically written. All Perry had to do was fill in the last minute details. He left it with our by- line."

Clark took a long sip of coffee. "*Our* by-line? I didn't write anything on that."

Lois shrugged. "So? You *are* my partner, aren't you? And without you, there would have been no story, so it seems only fair that you get some credit."

"All right. Far be it from me to argue with the best investigative reporter in Metropolis."

"Absolutely." Lois gazed at her partner with loving eyes. "You really are special, you know?"

Baffled, Clark peered at her inquiringly. "Lois, what are you talking about now?"

"You. You almost died yesterday; you had the nightmare to end all nightmares in the middle of the night; and yet you're sitting here this morning acting as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. How do you do that?"

"I don't know. I just do what I have to do." He grinned wryly. "I've had worse days in some ways than yesterday."

Startled, Lois almost shrieked, "Worse days? I don't see how."

Clark smiled again. "Yesterday may have been the worst encounter I've ever had with Kryptonite, but emotionally, it wasn't all bad. I had you; that made an enormous difference. Last year, there were lots of days that were harder to get through." He reached across the breakfast table and took her hand. "It has been incredibly easier to deal with the horrors I see since we've been together, Lois. Thank you."

"For what?"

"For listening. For just being there when I need to talk. For making me feel like I do belong here." Clark inclined his head. "I'm the strongest man in the world, but when I'm with you, I feel ten times stronger."

"Oh, Clark. You know I love you. I guess there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you."

"I know, Lois. But loving me is more than enough." He gently squeezed her hand before releasing it to take up his fork.

They ate in a companionable silence that was broken by Lois' startled exclamation. "Oh! I forgot. When I was at the store, I got a call from some guy who said he was a friend of yours, Mark Thompson. He wants you to call him." She looked stricken. "I'm sorry, Clark. It slipped my mind."

Clark quickly reassured her. "I'm sure it's fine, Lois. We play ball together sometimes. He probably can't make it this week or something. I'll call when we've finished eating."

"Okay. It must be somewhat important; otherwise, why would he have tracked down my cell phone number to find you?"

"Yeah, there is that. I'll call him in a minute." Clark returned to the serious business of eating the first edible food he'd ever seen Lois produce. "These waffles are pretty good, Lois."

"Yep. That's me. The gourmet toaster," she giggled. "You want any more?" she asked as she rose from the table and took her plate to the sink.

"No, I'm fine. I want to be able to take you out for lunch." He rose as well and placed his dishes on the counter. "I'll go call Mark now. You can save the dishes for me," he offered.

"Don't worry about it. I think I can manage two plates and two cups." Lois was busily filling the sink with soap and water. "Oh, Clark, the number's on that paper by my purse."

"Okay, Betty. If you say so." Clark laughed as he moved to the living room in search of the telephone.

"Betty?" Lois called out the question.

"You know. Betty Crocker." He reached for the phone and began to dial the number as Lois snorted in the background.

"Mark? Hi, this is Clark. What's up?" Clark spoke into the receiver.

"Clark, I think I may have a story for you. I got pulled over last night, for the third time this week." Clark's friend sounded frustrated.

"What for?" the reporter asked.

"For DWB," came the terse response.

A low whistle came from Clark's lips. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"As a heart attack. Can you think of any other reason why I've been stopped?" Mark asked. "I never speed or run red lights."

"Not offhand, no. I take it you think that something's going on in the police department like racial profiling, right?"

"You bet, Clark. So, you interested?" Mark challenged. "Because if you aren't, then I'm calling reporters till I find one who is. I'm sick and tired of it."

"And rightly so, Mark. Of course, I'm interested. But I think you and Lois and I should get together to discuss this. How about lunch today?"

"Isn't this your day off?" he asked. "I don't want to interfere with any plans you have."

Clark sighed. "It wasn't supposed to be a day off. Perry just felt generous because we hauled in a couple of big scoops yesterday. I'm sure we can manage to talk about this over lunch. I was gonna take Lois out anyway. It'll just be a little less romantic."

At that comment, Mark had to laugh. "I don't see why. I've been told I'm a *very* romantic guy."

"Perhaps so, but not with my girl, you aren't," Clark growled. "You want to be romantic, get your own girl. In fact, you might like one of Lois' neighbors. Star might be right up your alley. She's in a `helping' profession herself."

His curiosity piqued, Mark took the bait. "She's a nurse or a doctor?"

Clark couldn't refrain from chuckling. "No, not exactly." He paused for effect. "She does psychic counseling and astral projections."

"She does *what*?"

"You heard me. She's actually very nice and funny … as long as you don't mind being around someone reading your mind." Clark laughed again. "She always gets it right, too. At least by the third try."

Mark had to laugh himself. "We'll see. Okay, lunch sounds good. When and where?"

"Hang on. I need to check with Lois." Clark turned towards the kitchen. "Lois, we need to meet Mark for lunch. Where do you want to go? And what time?"

Over the sound of running water, he could hear her swishing things around in the sink. "Um, how about Uncle Mike's? Say, at one?"

"Sounds good to me." Clark turned back to his phone conversation, relaying the information about lunch. "That work for you, Mark?"

"That's fine. I'll see you then."

"Great. See you at one." Clark cut the connection and wandered back into the kitchen. Coming up behind Lois, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Wanna know what Mark wanted?"

"I figure you'll tell me when you're ready," was her quick reply. She leaned back into his chest. "Umm. You feel good."

"Pretty good, all things considered."

"Cute, Kent. You can be replaced, you know."

"Lois, we've had this discussion before. I really don't understand why you keep saying that. How many other guys are you likely to find that can fly?"

"That is a point to ponder." She wiggled in his embrace. "Yeah, that does make it more difficult. Especially since you undid Resplendent Man's super powers."

"Lo…is" he rasped. "That was not funny."

She twisted around so she could look at him. "Yes, it was. It was very funny. You're just jealous because he brought me flowers."

His shout of laughter rang out. "The exotic, rain forest daisies, right? Okay. I'll keep it in mind." He kissed her forehead before asking, "Don't you want to know what Mark wanted?"

"Sure. Why don't you tell me?"

"He thinks he's got a story for us. Which is a good thing, because having brought down Intergang, it could be a slow rest of the week."

"Uh huh. You just keep thinking that." She smiled at him. "So, what's the story?"

"Racial profiling at the MPD."

"Great, just great. And here I was beginning to think those guys were all right." She shook her head sadly.

"Lois, I'm sure that a lot of the members of the police department are all right. But apparently some aren't." He hugged her close. "If we find that there is a problem, then the good guys will take care of it."

"Right, Clark. I'm sure they will." She looked at the clock. "It's almost eleven. What do you want to do for the next two hours?"

The last son of Krypton answered her with a kiss. "How about we go to my place so I can change?"

"Fine. I guess I better get a little more `professionally dressed' myself." She slipped out of his arms and padded off to the bedroom.

Clark, meanwhile, strolled over to the sofa and picked up the morning edition of the Daily Planet. Turning to their article on Intergang, he settled down to see what they had written. For some reason, he had very little recollection of it. It might be nice to know just what he'd said.


Lois emerged from her bedroom having replaced her leggings and sweatshirt with a pair of tailored slacks and a soft tunic sweater. "Okay, partner, let's go," she called to Clark as she reached for her coat.

Folding the newspaper he'd been perusing, Clark rose from the couch and looked around for his own outerwear. He shrugged on his sport coat then searched for his tie before finding it stuffed into a pocket. That Kryptonite must have done something to his memory; a lot of the details of the previous day were still a bit hazy. He frowned, puzzled at the thought.

"You okay?" Lois asked, noticing his expression.

"I guess. It's just that I've just realized that my memory of yesterday is a little fuzzy. You don't suppose that I suffered brain damage or anything, do you?" Clark's voice was tense.

Slipping her arm around his waist, Lois reassured him. "Sweetheart, I'm sure you're fine. You spent a lot of the day unconscious. That kind of trauma makes it hard to remember the details. If you don't believe me, ask a doctor. That doctor in the ER gave you his number, didn't he?" She hugged him to her side.

Clark dropped a light kiss on her head. "All right. I'll take your word for it. And it does seem to be just yesterday that seems not quite there."

Lois opened the door. Inclining her head, she asked, "So, who is this Mark guy? And how come I don't know him?"

Following her out of the apartment, Clark chuckled. "He's a friend of mine. We went to college together, but lost touch when he was in medical school and I was traveling the world. He showed up to play ball a few months back with a mutual friend. Mark's a pediatric surgeon at Metropolis Children's Hospital. You'll like him. He's a great guy."

"Okay, that's who he is. Why haven't I met him?" Lois pressed her point as they made their way to the street.

"Lois, when would we have had time for you to meet him? Isn't today about the first day off we've had together in months?" Clark took her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. "I swear, I'm not trying to hide anything." He chuckled. "Although he did suggest that you might find him romantic."

"Romantic?" Lois snorted. "Trust me, no one even comes close to you." She continued, "So if he's a doctor, why does he think he knows about there being a problem with racial profiling at the MPD?" Unlocking the Jeep, she said, "I can believe he could have knowledge about child abuse, or children in gangs, but racism at the police department? Seems a little odd."

"Not really. Mark told me he'd been stopped by the police three times in the last week for no reason at all, except, perhaps, his race."

Lois' hand stilled on the ignition. Turning to face her boyfriend, she asked, "You mean he's been stopped for doing nothing more than being black?" Ever the cynic, even Lois was appalled.

"Apparently. I didn't let him give me any details. I figured he could tell both of us over lunch." Clark shrugged. "I'm not terribly surprised. In a lot of ways, he fits the profile of someone to be stopped for `driving while black' perfectly. He's fairly young, tall, black, and muscular. On top of that, he drives a *very* nice car and lives in a fairly upscale part of town. To make matters worse, he frequently comes home from the hospital pretty late."

"So we have a big black guy driving what, a BMW? in a high- rent district at 2 AM? Yeah, I guess I can understand some racist cop thinking he's up to no good." Lois started the engine. "How ignorant can someone be?"

"Actually, it's a Mercedes." Clark grinned at Lois' indignation. "His car has parking stickers for the hospital on it, so you'd think that a policeman with suspicions would figure it out pretty quickly."

Weaving her way through the late-morning traffic, Lois responded, "Not, I suppose, if he's really prejudiced or if there is some sort of unwritten policy."

"True, but it's possible that it isn't systemic. It could be limited to certain districts or precincts. Or Mark could just have bad luck."

Lois rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Clark, there you go again. I've got news for you. You're not in Kansas anymore."

"Believe me, Lois, I know that. I just like to think that there is good in the world. Is that so wrong?" her mild- mannered partner wanted to know.

"Clark, did you learn nothing from the mess with Diana Stride?"

"I learned a lot, Lois. I learned that there are fantastic doctors, nurses, and technicians at Metropolis General Hospital. I learned that you and my mom could have rewarding careers as spin doctors for leading politicians."

She sniffed in disapproval. "You should have learned that there is no good in some people, Clark. Look at what Diana Stride tried to do to you."

He laid a hand on her leg. "And I learned that some members of the Metropolis Police Department are fine, hard-working people who did their best to protect me from her. People, in fact, who did *not* tell the press that Superman was in the hospital, near death. Just because I see the good in the world, it doesn't mean that I don't see the bad." He took a deep breath. "Lois, as Superman, I imagine I see more of the bad than most people, including you. But I also see the good. And that's why I'm willing to withhold judgment on the entire police department until we hear what Mark has to say and do a little investigating."

"All right, Clark. I'll wait to condemn them," she grudgingly agreed. Having arrived in front of Clark's apartment, she parked the car and cut the power. Accompanying him up the stairs, she remarked, "You know, Clark, this could turn out to be a really good story."

He shook his head wryly as he unlocked the door. "Let me guess. We're only as good as our next story."

"Absolutely. And while I don't like what seems to be happening, I've got a feeling that it could be good." She followed him into the living room. "After you change, we'll have some time until we need to be at the restaurant. What do you want to do?"

"I was thinking we could take a walk. I could use the sunlight." Clark disappeared into his bedroom.

Lois wandered around the living room, too restless to sit down. Her reporter's instincts were practically screaming, but there was nothing she could do until at least after lunch with Clark's friend. As she was making her third circuit around the room, Clark emerged, a dark blue sweater contrasting with his light khaki slacks.

"Shall we?" He grabbed his leather jacket and offered her his arm.

"Sure." Lois smiled up at him. "Yum. You look good enough to eat."

Laughing at her sally, he rejoined, "Oh? With or without syrup?"

"Clark, that is so unfair. How was I supposed to know that you have to buy it separately from the waffles?"

He looked at her consideringly. "Good question. Maybe because you don't freeze syrup?"

"And how would I know that?" she retorted. "I'll admit it. I know nothing about cooking."

"Really? What about that pasta salad you made for Superman during the heat wave? Didn't you say you made that?"

Lois had the grace to look embarrassed. "Yes, but it's not hard to make. You see, there is a bag with the pasta in it in the box. You just boil it in water for a while and run it under cold water. The dressing's in a little pouch in the box. You open it up and pour it on the pasta," she explained.

His shout of laughter startled a woman on the other side of the street. "So *that's* why you thought the syrup should have come with the waffles! It all makes sense to me now." He hugged her to him. "You never cease to amaze me, Lois."

"So glad I could amuse you. How was I supposed to know?" She looked up at him. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Mind what?"

"That I'm culinarily impaired?"

"No, honey. I don't love you for your cooking. I love you for yourself. Not being particularly domestic is part of what makes you you. I wouldn't have it any other way." He smiled gently at her. "But if you want to learn how to cook, I'd be happy to teach you."

Lois screwed up her face as she pondered his offer. "Uh, Clark, why would I want to do that?"

"Oh, I don't know. So that you can eat when I'm not around?"

She swatted his chest playfully. "I can do that. I've got four different carry-out restaurants on speed dial."

Clark chuckled again. "I should have known."

They entered the Jeep and headed for the Southside and her Uncle Mike's restaurant. They could stroll in the bright sunshine before lunch once they arrived there. Perhaps more direct exposure to sunlight would help Clark regain his powers.


A strikingly handsome man was waiting outside the restaurant as the two reporters approached it following a leisurely stroll in the winter sunshine. He stood around six feet four. A leather jacket stretched across broad shoulders; his athletic ability seemed to emanate from every move he made. White teeth gleamed in his burnished face as he smiled in greeting. "Clark! Thanks for taking time on your day off to see me." He turned to Lois, saying as he extended his hand, "You must be Lois. I've heard a *lot* about you." Winking at her, he continued, "Clark didn't do you justice, though. He didn't tell me you were beautiful."

Clark winced as he listened to his friend flirt with her. "I thought I told you to get your own girl, Mark," he admonished with a chuckle.

Mark responded with a hearty laugh. "Why should I, when yours is right here and so gorgeous? Smart too." He grinned at Lois. "I've read your work. I can tell who does the work in this partnership."

Laughing, Lois shook his hand and replied, "I'm beginning to see why Clark hasn't introduced us before. It was self- preservation, wasn't it?" Snaking her arm around Clark's waist, she went on, "Why don't we go inside and find a table. Then you can tell us what's on your mind, Mark."

The two men accompanied her into the restaurant. Lois' uncle greeted them warmly and showed them to a cozy booth in the back of the dining room. After handing them menus, he disappeared with their drink orders.

"So, Mark, Clark tells me you're a pediatric surgeon. Have you been in Metropolis long?" Lois asked.

"Just since July. I was in Boston doing my residency before that. That's why Clark and I hadn't seen much of each other lately," he explained.

"But you were friends in college?" she probed.

"Yeah. We played football together and lived on the same hall." Mark smiled at the memories. "I'll have to tell you some stories about this guy some time."

"You really don't have to, you know," Clark interjected. "My mom tells Lois quite enough about my past."

Lois patted his hand soothingly. "It's all right, Clark. If I've survived hearing tales of your childhood, I'm sure I can take hearing about college."

"I was thinking about me surviving it," he muttered under his breath.

Mark's laughter rang out again. "Man, you got it bad."

"Okay, let's cut to the chase. When you called this morning, you said you were upset about the MPD." Lois slanted an inquiring look at him.

"I am upset. I've lived in a number of different places, but this is the first place where I've ever really felt that I was being treated differently." He paused, unsure of how to continue.

"You mean because of your race?" Clark quietly interjected.

"Yes. I don't ever recall it happening before."

"Couldn't that partly be because of circumstances or where you were?" Lois asked. "I mean, in high school and college, you were undoubtedly pretty well-known in the community. You said you played football. I imagine you were a star, just looking at you. If people paid attention to you, it was probably verging on hero worship. So you might have been treated better because of that."

"She has a point, Mark. If I remember correctly, in college, everyone in town knew you were the all-American linebacker. So you might not have ever been the victim of racism there. But here, you're just another guy."

Mark looked unconvinced. "True, but I was just another guy in Boston; and I never felt singled out by the police there. Trust me, Clark; it's not fun. You ever been pulled over by the police?" he questioned.

Lois was intrigued to see her partner flushing a dull brick red. "Yes, Clark, have you?" she inquired in dulcet tones.

Clark squirmed uncomfortably. "Uh, not really. I don't have a car, you know."

"But you have had *some* experience with the police while in a motor vehicle?" Lois seized on his evasive answer. "Let's hear it." Turning to Mark, she whispered conspiratorially, "This should be good. The Boy Scout stopped by the police. Fifty cents says he was in high school."

Mark chuckled even as Clark's skin color deepened further. "Yeah, Clark. I think I want to hear this."

Glaring at Lois, Clark related, "It was in high school, my senior year. We used to have mixers after home basketball games. One Friday night, the girl I was dating and I decided not to go to the mixer because we needed to talk."

"I'll bet," Lois snorted.

"Do you want to hear this or not?" Clark grumbled. Satisfied with her nod, he went on. "So, instead of going to the mixer, we left in my dad's pickup truck and drove part way home. We were parked on the side of this country road, talking, when a sheriff's deputy drove by. He stopped and shone his flashlight on us." Clark shrugged. "Then he told us to go on home, before he gave us a citation for loitering."

Clark turned even redder as Lois and Mark burst into laughter. "Hey, it's not that funny," he protested.

"Yes, it is," Lois gasped. "I can see you now. Talking. Uh huh. Right. Playing tonsil hockey is more like it." She laughed again. "Did you tell your parents?"

"Lo … is! Of course. I had to tell `em. I had no way of knowing whether or not the deputy would."

Mark stopped laughing long enough to ask, "And what did they say?"

"Let me guess," Lois giggled. "Jonathan said very little, because he wasn't sure *what* to say. And your mother laughed and said, `Oh, honey, why didn't you go behind the barn?'" She took a breath and asked, "Am I right?"

"Yes," he grudgingly admitted. Realizing the humor in the situation, Clark laughed too. "I guess it is pretty funny, now. But it was highly embarrassing at the time."

Mark sobered quickly. "Yeah, and it's highly embarrassing when I get stopped and checked just because I'm black."

"I can imagine," Clark responded. "Is that all that happens, or is there more?"

"Well, usually, after the cop pulls me over, instead of telling me what he thinks I did, he takes my license, runs a check to see if there are any outstanding warrants on me, then makes me get out of the car and either does a field sobriety test, frisks me, or both."

Lois was appalled. "For no reason at all? How can they do that?"

"Very easily, Lois. Think about it. They have guns and badges. How am I going to stop them?"

"But you haven't broken the law," she protested.

"Yeah, tell that to the cops," Mark replied bitterly. "You know what really gets me? You know how I told you that this past week, I got stopped three times? Twice, it was the same cop. You'd think he'd have recognized me."

It was Clark's turn to be horrified. "You've got to be kidding! That's harassment."

"I thought so," his friend replied. "So, what do you two think? Is there a story here?"

"I'd say so." Lois shook her head. "We'll have to run it by Perry tomorrow, but I'm sure he'll think so."

"Definitely," Clark agreed. "I can't imagine it being a departmental-wide policy, but it might be going on in particular precincts or with individual police officers. Don't worry, Mark. We'll investigate this."

"What if your editor doesn't think there is a story? Or doesn't want you to do it?" Mark probed.

Clark smiled at him. "If Lois tells him it's a story, he'll say to run with it. Trust me."

"All right. Now what?"

"Now, we eat lunch." Lois grinned as the waitress brought their food. "Believe me, the food here is terrific."

Conversation became general as the trio began to eat.


Several hours later, Lois sat on Clark's bed jotting down ideas for their proposed investigation. Periodically she would cast a concerned glance at her partner who was stretched out on the window seat, soaking up the rays of the late winter sun.

Chewing nervously on her lower lip, Lois wondered for perhaps the hundredth time if Clark was all right. After they had returned from their lunch with Clark's friend Mark, she had suggested that Clark try to get some more exposure to the sun's energizing rays. He had complied willingly; and clad only in a pair of running shorts, he had repaired to the window seat where he had promptly fallen asleep. Only the steady rise and fall of his chest kept her from panicking. As long as he was breathing normally, she could convince herself that he was just tired. After all, Clark had had a rough twenty-four hours.

Lois looked over her notes, mentally playing out the conversation she and Clark were going to have with Perry in the morning. Knowing their editor, they needed to have their strategy set if they wanted him to approve the investigation. Racism hadn't seemed to be a noticeable problem within the Metropolis Police Department in the past, and Perry would want something more concrete to go on than the unpleasant experiences of one man.

The jangle of Clark's phone startled Lois out of her reverie. Quickly grabbing the portable unit on the night stand, Lois clicked it on as she headed for the living room. "Clark Kent's residence," she answered quietly, hoping not to wake him.

"Hi, Lois," Martha's cheerful voiced came across the distance. "We just wanted to let Clark know we got home all right. Is he there?"

"Yes, but he's sleeping. Want me to wake him up?" Lois replied.

Martha chuckled. "No, that's fine. You can give him the message later. How are you doing?" she inquired. "Yesterday was pretty rough on you too."

Lois considered her reply. "I'm all right. Still a little shaky when I think of how close he came to not making it, I guess."

"I can imagine. Jonathan and I are just glad that you went looking for our boy. We'd have hated to lose him." Martha's tone was bracing.

"Yeah, me too," Lois murmured. "I just wish there were some way to find all the Kryptonite in the world and send it to the sun or something. Then I wouldn't worry so much."

Clark's mother chuckled. "I can see you doing that, too. The thing is, most of it is probably still buried somewhere around here. It would be kind of awkward to go around asking people if they minded if we dug up their property in search of Kryptonite. No telling what kind of ideas that would give people." She paused a minute, then continued, "Although I suppose Jonathan could go looking for it near Shuster's Field and on Wayne Irig's property. Maybe at night."

Lois chuckled at the thought of Jonathan skulking around rural Kansas, looking for the deadly meteorite, flashlight in hand. "You think anyone around Smallville knows or suspects that Clark is Superman?"

Martha considered her response. "I think Wayne probably does at least suspect, but he'll obviously never say anything. Other than that, no, not really. Clark was always really careful not to let anyone know."

"Yeah, I know all about that," Lois muttered.

Deciding that a change in topic might be a good idea, Martha asked, "Did you have a nice day off?"

Lois smiled at that. "Yes, we did. I made breakfast, then later we met Clark's friend Mark for lunch. He gave us a lead on a story that should be interesting if it pans out."

"You made breakfast? I'm impressed. I didn't think that you could cook."

"I can't. But I can toast a mean waffle," she laughingly replied.

"Well, that's nice, dear. Clark really likes waffles and syrup."

"Um hum. He seemed to enjoy them."

Martha brought the conversation to a close. "Well, I'm glad you all had a nice day. Tell Clark we called. It was nice talking to you."

"I will, Martha. It was good to talk to you, too." Lois smiled as she said, "You and Jonathan take care. Bye."

"Good-bye, dear."

Lois hung up the phone and wandered back into the bedroom. Clark had shifted positions on the window seat and was now on his side. As she entered the room, his eyes slowly opened.

"Hey," he murmured.

"Hi, yourself. How are you feeling?" Lois moved to his side and laid a cool hand on his forehead.

"Not too bad. Better, I think. I don't know why, but I sure was tired after lunch." He grimaced. "I fell asleep on you, didn't I?"

Lois' grin reassured him. "Well, actually, you fell asleep on the window seat. But don't worry about it. I made a list of what we need to do to investigate Mark's claims while I was waiting for you to wake up." She patted his leg. "Oh, and your mother just called. She said to tell you that they got back to Smallville okay."

Clark pushed himself to a sitting position and pulled her onto the window seat. "Did I say thank you?" He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

"For what?"

"For breakfast, of course," he laughed. "I had no idea you were such a good cook."

A fairly large cushion plopped squarely on his chest was her only reply.

"Hey! Watch it! I could get hurt!" he exclaimed, a broad grin splitting his features.

"Hmmph," she snorted. "I'll bet." Rising from the window seat, Lois made her way to the doorway. "It's almost dinner time. Why don't you get dressed, and we'll decide what to eat." She shot him a sly look over her shoulder. "And we can talk about all the work I did this afternoon while you were getting your beauty sleep."

The cushion followed her out the door into the living area.

Clark began to dress, pulling on some faded jeans and a black tee shirt. When he left the sunshine on the window seat, the air felt a bit cool, so he added a sweatshirt. He grimaced; normally he didn't feel the cold. His powers must not be back at all. Resisting the urge to try any of them out, he wandered out into the living room.

Lois was flipping through the yellow pages of the telephone book. "You'd think that they could have a locality guide for restaurants," she muttered bitterly.

"They do," Clark interjected. "Right after the classification by restaurant type." He flopped down on the sofa beside her. "I take it we're not cooking dinner tonight?" he queried.

"Nope. Not after breakfast, we're not. We're ordering take- out. Unfortunately, since we're not at my place, I have to look up the phone number." She continued to riffle the flimsy pages.

Clark smiled benignly at her. "What restaurant did you have in mind? I may have a take-out menu."

She slanted an arch look up at her partner and giggled. "I should have known. You probably have a stack of `em, all filed in alphabetical order."

"Yeah, so?" Clark asked defensively. "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, sweetheart. You're just so compulsive at times." She planted a quick kiss on his cheek as she patted his arm. "It's actually kind of cute."

"And helpful during times of crisis," he added as he rose and went to his desk. Pulling open the drawer, he drew out a folder which was carefully inscribed "menus." "Here you go. What do you feel like tonight?" Clark dropped the folder on her lap and sat down once more.


As Clark carefully dried the last dish and replaced it in the cabinet, Lois looked up from the coffee filter she was wrestling with. "Why won't this darn thing go in?" she grumbled.

"Perhaps because it's the wrong filter for that coffee maker?" he suggested mildly.

"And why on earth would you have the wrong filters for your coffee maker?" she queried. "Even *I* know that much."

Clark looked at his girlfriend, a bemused expression on his face. "I have two coffee makers, Lois. That's why I have two sizes of filters." He handed her the correct one and leaned against the counter to see what happened next.

She looked at him, a puzzled frown wrinkling her brow. "And why on earth do you have two coffee makers? Even *I* don't drink *that* much coffee."

"Actually, you do." He laughed. "That's why I have two. A two cup one for when I'm alone and a six cup one for when you're here."

She shook her head. Sometimes he was definitely too compulsive. "All right. Now I can manage." Having solved the coffee filter problem, Lois carefully measured coffee and water and turned on the machine. That small task accomplished, she accompanied Clark to the living room sofa and plopped down on its cushions.

"So," her smiling partner began. "What's the plan that we're proposing to Perry? You know that he's going to want something good and some justification for even beginning an investigation." He paused, then plowed on. "And just because my friend thinks he's being harassed doesn't mean that other people in Metropolis are, or that there is a racism issue with the MPD."

Lois took her notebook from the coffee table. "I thought that we could get the police records of all traffic stops that were actually written up for say, the last month. We could check the race of the driver and compare the percentage of drivers stopped by race to the percentage of the Metropolis population. If we see anything that looks out of line, then we could go back and check the records for say three months or six months ago. That would tell us if there is a trend or a big change." She went on, "And we could check to see if the police are doing anything different when the driver is black. You know, like running more searches for outstanding warrants, that sort of thing."

"Sounds good. We should find out the racial breakdown on licensed drivers in Metropolis as well. If the percentages of people being stopped are the same as the population percentages, but a lower percentages of African-Americans have drivers' licenses, then there is still a problem."

Lois grinned at her partner. "Good point. And we also need to see if there are any time-related differences as well." She took a deep breath. "Clark, you get to figure out what we're going to tell Perry to justify beginning an investigation.

"Okay." Clark raised an eyebrow at his partner. "You think this is going to be difficult, don't you? It's not. It's a piece of cake."

"If it's so easy, how come I haven't already thought of something to use to justify it to Perry?" Lois's tone was indignant. "Well?"

"You didn't think of it because you thought of the method." He flashed a blinding grin at her.

"Yeah, because *you* were asleep!"

"I do some of my best work in my sleep," he explained.

Thwack! A sofa cushion hit him squarely on the chest and was quickly followed by the fingers of his girlfriend, tickling his ribcage as if there were no tomorrow.

"Hey," he cried, "no fair!" He tried to fend her off, but she slipped through his guard and tickled him again.

"No fair!? How can you say that? This is the first time since we started dating that I've been able to tickle you." Lois laughed up at him, her brown eyes glowing. "You know, that whole invulnerability thing. And since I've got you where I want you, I'm going to make good use of my time." Her fingers returned to their task, dancing over his sides, reducing him to helpless laughter.

Writhing beneath her dancing fingers, Clark gasped, "Please, stop. I can't take any more. I promise, I'll be good." He turned on his most innocent expression. "If you stop, I'll tell you something about my so-called invulnerability."

"All right, I'll stop." Lois sat up straight and retrieved the cushion. "Well?" she asked, looking at him expectantly.

Clark straightened his clothes and assumed an injured air. "I am invulnerable when I have my powers. But that doesn't mean I have no sense of touch. If anything, my sense of touch, just like my other senses, is heightened. So it takes a lot less to tickle me when I have my powers."

An unholy gleam shone in Lois's eyes. "Really? Hmm."

"Lo…is, I did not tell you that to give you ideas. I just wanted you to know that I don't have to be exposed to Kryptonite to be tickled."

"Uh huh. I do have a question."


"If all your senses are more, um, well, more sensitive, then does that mean …" she trailed off, unable to put it into words.

Clark swallowed hard. "Yeah. It means that." He grinned at her. "Like I said, don't get any ideas."

Her eyes danced with mirth as Lois innocently replied, "Ideas? Me? No, never. I promise not to get any new ideas."

Clark smiled wryly. Lois didn't need to promise not to get *new* ideas. He was sure that she already had enough old ones to drive him mad with both exasperation and longing. The sooner he felt that he could propose to her, the happier he would be. If they were married, nothing she could do to him would be a problem.

"So, Clark," Lois broke into his musing. "What're you gonna tell Perry to get him to let us start this investigation?"

"Simple. I'm going to tell him we got a tip, and that we want to make sure that nothing like what happened in Cincinnati could happen here." His expression smug, he continued, "Like I said, a piece of cake."

"We'll see," she replied. "I think the coffee is ready. Want some? Or will it keep you awake?"

"Not sure. I mean, normally it doesn't, but I'm not normal right now, because I am normal, if you know what I mean."

"Clark, you're babbling."

"I do not babble," was the indignant reply.

"You are now," she laughed. "So, do you or don't you want any coffee?" She poised the carafe over his cup.

"Okay. I'll take my chances. And then I suppose I ought to take you home."

Lois turned startled eyes toward her partner. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That it's getting late, and we have to work in the morning, and you must be tired. So, since I want to spend every possible minute with you, I'll take you home."

"Oh," she answered in a small voice. "It's not the only alternative, you know."

He looked at her expectantly. "You want to stay here?" He held his breath as he waited for her reply, unsure as to what he wanted that reply to be. On the one hand, he really didn't want to be alone yet, nor did he want her to be alone if she didn't wish to be. Yesterday's trauma was still too fresh; the emotional wounds still too raw. On the other hand, though, he wasn't at all convinced that, given their relationship, spending the night together wasn't likely to lead to complications which neither of them was ready to face yet.

"I think I should, don't you? I mean, last night you had that awful nightmare; what if you had been alone? And I think I'm still a little shaken by everything, you know?"

He pulled her close and hugged her to him chest. "Lois, it's fine. I know how you feel. We'll just need to get up early so we have time to go to your place so you can get ready for work."

She sighed happily. Whenever Clark held her in her arms, she felt that she was home.


"Clark! In my office now," Perry barked out as Lois and Clark strolled into the newsroom the next morning.

Clark detoured from his path to the coffee machine and headed for the editor's office. Lois turned her steps as well, reluctant to leave her partner to the not-so-tender mercies of their boss. After all, she and Clark were partners. Whatever Perry had to say to him could certainly be said to her too.

"Lois," Perry spoke again. "Have you changed your name in the last thirty-six hours? I didn't think so," he continued without giving her time to reply. "I asked to see Clark, not you."

He stared at her pointedly until Lois grudgingly responded, "Fine. I'll be at my desk."

Ushering Clark into his office, Perry pointed at the plaid sofa as he closed the door behind them. "Sit down, Son." Perching on the edge of his desk, the editor asked, "Clark, how are you? If you need more time off, just say the word."

"I'm fine, Chief." Clark was a bit perplexed at Perry's evident concern. "Lois and I do appreciate having yesterday off." He shifted on the sofa, preparing to rise; but Perry forestalled him with a glance.

"In a minute. As I said before, if you need some more days off, let me know. I know you've been burning the candle at both ends, so to speak, for quite a while now. I'd hate to see you burn out because of that."

Clark took a deep breath before responding. "I don't think I know what you're talking about, Chief. My health is fine."

"I think you do." The older man paused a minute to let his comment sink in. "Clark, your physical health may be all right, although I have my doubts. Mostly, I was thinking of your mental health. When a person tries to do too much, it takes a toll." The gruff editor cleared his throat. "I'd hate to see that happen to one of my best reporters. Understand?" He stared at Clark until the younger man nodded. "Need I remind you that a man in my position doesn't get to be a man in my position because he can yodel?"

"Um, no sir." Clark felt Perry's eyes boring into him. "If I feel that I need some vacation time, I'll let you know. All right?" he asked, anxious to get off the sofa and into the newsroom. "If that's all, um, Lois and I should get to work."

Perry moved to open the door, dropping an avuncular hand on Clark's shoulder. "You take care of yourself, you hear?"

Clark rose to his feet. "Right, Chief." Catching sight of Lois, he remembered the investigation they planned and turned to Perry. "Do you have another minute? Lois and I have an idea we want to pursue."

"Fine, let me call her." Perry smiled at Clark. "Too bad I don't have solid doors here. If I did, I bet we could open the door and she'd fall into the room."

The male half of the "hottest team in town" chuckled. "I don't think you'd find anyone to take that bet."

Perry stuck his head out and called, "Lois, I'll see you now."

She made her way to his office, marshaling her thoughts about how best to pitch the story idea to Perry. Clark had said that he would take care of it; but if she knew her partner, he'd still be mulling over whatever issue Perry had brought up during their private conference. Lois gave Clark a quick look to see if Perry had been too tough on him. Her partner appeared more puzzled than anything else, so she launched into her presentation before even taking a seat.

"Perry, Clark and I got a tip yesterday for what looks like a great investigation." She smiled triumphantly at him as she took a seat on the sofa. Clark remained standing by the door, one shoulder leaning against the jamb.

"I thought I told you two to take the day off, Lois," the editor replied.

Lois shook her head slightly. "You did, and we did. But the person who tipped us off didn't know that we weren't working. You don't post our schedules publicly, you know."

"So what is this idea?" Perry asked.

"We want to investigate institutional racism in the police force," she answered. "Our informant says that the police are using racial profiling in connection with law enforcement, especially traffic stops."

Once more leaning against his desk, Perry shoved his hands in his pockets before formulating a reply. He questioned, "How reliable is this source? Has he given you good tips before?" He cocked an eyebrow and went on, "And what, exactly, does this source say is happening here in Metropolis?"

"Perry, he's a very reliable source. Clark has known him for ten years. As for what his evidence is, African- American men are being pulled over for no reason other than being black." Lois's voice took on an impassioned tone. "He's been stopped himself three times in the last week or two."

"This is the first time I've heard of anything like this in Metropolis. How many other people have had the same experience, according to your source? Clark?" Perry turned to the quiet figure at the doorway.

Clark measured his words carefully before replying. "Actually, he didn't give any examples other than himself. Something could be going on, or our source could have had a run of bad experiences." He shrugged his shoulders. "The reason that I think we should look into it is because we haven't heard of it happening here in Metropolis. If racial profiling is just beginning to take place here, wouldn't it be better to investigate now, before this city turns into another Cincinnati or Louisville?" Clark took a deep breath before continuing, "If we investigate and find nothing, great. If we do find out that something is wrong in the MPD, then isn't it better to stop the problem before it gets out of hand?"

"I know there's a story here," Lois interjected. "My reporter's instincts are practically screaming."

A quizzical look from Perry was enough to make her say, "And when have my instincts been wrong?"

"Do you really want me to answer that?" the older man asked.

Lois colored briefly, but didn't respond. Putting a hand on her shoulder, Clark squeezed gently, a brief touch of reassurance.

The silence stretched for several minutes before the editor finally responded. "I'll think about it. In the meantime, Diana Stride is being arraigned at nine-thirty, and I want you two down at the courthouse to cover it. Unless, of course, you all don't think you can be objective." He quirked an eyebrow at Clark.

Straightening up, the reporter replied, "Of course we can be objective, Chief. We go, she pleads whatever, and we come back and write it up." Turning to his silently fuming partner, he spoke. "Come on, Lois, let's get going."

She stood and preceded him through the doorway. Stalking towards the coffee area, she muttered imprecations under her breath about close-minded editors who didn't know a good story when it jumped up and bit them on the knee.

Catching up with his partner, Clark touched her arm. "Honey, what's the matter?"

Lois whirled around. "What's the matter? We pitch an idea for a great story, and Perry says `he'll think about it.' And then sends us to an arraignment that could be covered by an intern. And then that last little bit, `Unless you don't think you can be objective.' What was that all about?" She all but dumped coffee in a mug, and furiously tore at the package of sweetener. Stirring her coffee, she ground her teeth. "I just don't get it, Clark."

Casting a wary glance around the coffee area and seeing no one else, Clark answered in a low voice. "He knows, Lois."

"Knows what?" she asked him, confused by the comment.

Clark looked around again before replying. "Perry knows that I'm, you know." He made the hand gesture they had come to use to indicate Superman.

"No, he doesn't. What on earth makes you think that?"

"Lo…is. Trust me, he knows. I don't know how he knows, but he does." Clark's expression betrayed his discomfort with the thought. "When he called me into his office, he wanted to know if I needed more time off. That he knew I was `burning the candle at both ends' and he didn't want me to burn out. When I said I was fine, but didn't get what he was driving at, he said a man in his position…"

"Doesn't get to be in his position because he can yodel." Lois looked stricken. "You don't think I somehow gave your secret away to him, do you?" She took a sip of her coffee, hoping that she hadn't.

Clark placed a comforting arm around her shoulders. "No, Lois. I think he just figured it out on his own. As he said, he didn't get to be where he is because he's oblivious to his surroundings. I guess it explains why he's never fired me for being gone so often." He reached for a cup of coffee and turned toward their desks. "Come on. We have work to do."

"Yeah, go to that stupid arraignment. Why can't he send Ralph?" she demanded.

"Because it's our story, Lois. You know how it works. Besides, I want to be there. I want to see what happens myself."

As they made their way back to their desks, Lois returned to her original rant. "I still don't understand why he won't let us pursue the investigation."

Her more rational partner replied, "He didn't say we couldn't investigate the police department. He said he'd think about it." He grinned at her, "No reason that we can't start looking into things. As you said, the Diana Stride story shouldn't take too long. And maybe we'll find enough evidence to convince Perry that there is a story."

She sat down, somewhat mollified. "And if we don't?"

"Then maybe there isn't a story. Maybe Mark just had a couple of run-ins with one out-of-step individual." He cocked an eyebrow. "Would that be so bad?"

Lois grimaced before responding. "I guess not." She switched on her computer. "But I'm still irritated with Perry for not letting us go ahead."

"I know you are, but be patient. Let's see what Jimmy can dig up for us anyway," Clark suggested.

"Without Perry's permission?"

He chuckled. "And when did that ever stop you before?" Seeing the young researcher, he called, "Hey, Jimmy, come here a minute, okay?"

In a matter of minutes the reporting team had briefed Jimmy on the kind of records they were looking for and was preparing to leave for the courthouse.


Steam was almost visible coming from Lois Lane's ears as she and Clark Kent left the New Troy Courthouse and headed for the Planet building. Fuming, she spat out, "I can't believe the nerve of that woman! How dare she cop a plea?"

"Calm down, Lois. She didn't, as you so eloquently put it, `cop a plea.'" Clark, if anything, was pleased with the action that Diana Stride had taken at her arraignment. "She pleaded nolo contendere, hardly a plea bargain."

Lois sniffed indignantly. "Humph. She doesn't have to testify; she doesn't even go to trial. The evidence in this case can't be used in other cases. How is that a good thing?"

Clark squared his shoulders. "Because she's going straight to jail. Don't pass go; don't collect two hundred dollars." He sighed. "You're right. She doesn't have to testify, but have you thought what that means?"

"That she won't have to admit to all the terrible things she's done?"

"Actually, I was thinking that it means that I don't have to testify." Clark's relief was almost palpable.

Lois pondered a minute. "You don't want to testify? Why not?"

"Think about it, Lois. I would have had to testify as both Clark and Superman. Don't you think that could have gotten a little tricky? People might have expected both of us to be in the courtroom at the same time. Even I can't manage that." He continued, "And to be honest, I'd just as soon not have to go over it all again in a public forum. I'd rather put it behind me." Taking her hand, he looked at her intently. "Can you understand that?"

Lois squeezed his hand gently. "Yes, I guess I can. I hadn't really thought of that. And you're right. She is going to jail." An unholy gleam shone in her eyes. "Can't you just see her in prison? No hairdresser, no manicurist, no designer clothes?"

A laugh burst out from her partner. "And poor Rolf. What will he do in jail?"

"Have lots of friends, no doubt." Lois laughed at the thought. "Hmm, suppose that Diana will try to appeal, saying that it is cruel and unusual punishment to deprive her of her luxuries?"

"Maybe, but I doubt she'll get very far."

The Planet's globe was overhead. "We're back. Let's get this written up and see what Jimmy has for us," Lois suggested. The duo entered the building and made their way to the newsroom.

As they were putting the finishing touches on their account of the case against Diana Stride, the telephone on Lois's desk rang. "Lois Lane." She listened intently a minute. "What?! Where? We'll be right there." Setting the receiver down, she turned to Clark. "That was Henderson. There's been a shooting. He wants us down at Hyperion Avenue and Maple Street. Two cops just shot a teenager."

"No," he almost whispered. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure. Henderson wasn't too clear on the details. Apparently it just happened a couple of minutes ago." She glanced around the newsroom, seeking the editor. "Why don't you go tell Perry we're heading out? I'll send this article to him and get my coat."

"All right." Clark turned toward the editor's office, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He should have been there. He didn't know exactly what had transpired, but he was certain that Superman could have made a difference — had Superman still been super. If only he hadn't been so stupid and naive when he'd gone to see Diana Stride, he would have heard something: a cry for help, a police radio, something. He could have prevented this shooting; he knew it.

"Lois, Clark!" Perry's voice broke through Clark's thoughts. "Shooting at Hyperion and Maple."

"On it, Chief," Clark said as he headed for the elevators and his waiting partner.


Semi-organized chaos reigned at the corner of Maple and Hyperion. Paramedics were working frantically on the shooting victim, a handsome youth who could not have been a day over eighteen. His ebony skin was ashen; the color leaching from his face as the blood seeped out of bullet wounds too numerous to count. One of the emergency workers was speaking rapidly into the mouthpiece of a portable radio. "Metro General Base, we're losing him. He's shocky and his blood pressure is dropping." Instructions crackled over the airwaves, and the paramedics started an IV and loaded the young man onto the ambulance. The vehicle pulled out into traffic, its lights flashing.

A late model Cadillac Sedan de Ville was wedged against a utility pole, the right front fender caved in on the wheel, antifreeze leaking from holes in its radiator and forming an iridescent green pool on the pavement. The hood was pockmarked with bullet holes, and star-shaped cracks radiated from bullet holes on the windshield. The front bumper hung drunkenly askew, a silent witness to the incident that had occurred.

While the medical personnel were doing their job, police officers were questioning bystanders, attempting to identify all witnesses. Several officers were speaking earnestly to Inspector Henderson, whose normally somber expression was even grimmer than usual. Catching sight of Lois and Clark, he excused himself and strode over to the two reporters.

"Hi. Thanks for coming." The detective looked tense.

"What's going on?" Lois demanded.

Henderson jerked his head in the direction of the Cadillac. "See that car? The kid was trying to steal it when the officers in the cruiser drove by. When they approached him, he tried to drive off."

"Okay." Lois sent a skeptical glance in the direction of her partner. "So how did he wind up in an ambulance?"

The detective shrugged. "Apparently, the two officers believed that he was going to run them down; and they opened fire."

"Was he armed?" Clark inquired.

"Not in the conventional sense," was the dry reply. "He didn't have a gun — just the automobile."

"It looks like they must have both emptied their clips into that car," Clark commented, noticing upwards of two dozen bullet holes. "What were they thinking?"

"Yes, it does." Henderson seemed disturbed. "They say they thought he was going to run them down."

Lois interjected, "Why not just shoot the tires? That would stop the car without hurting the kid."

"Lois, police officers are trained to shoot to kill," the detective responded. "If they felt their lives were in danger, that's what they'd do." He was alternating between feeling defensive about his fellow officers and exasperated with their impulse to unload upwards of thirty bullets into the stolen Cadillac and its erstwhile driver.

"How could they think their lives were in danger? That car is stuck on the telephone pole," Lois stated the obvious. "When did it wind up there? Before or after they fired at it?"

"I don't know," Henderson stated flatly. "Anyway, Lois, do you want more details?"

"Of course. For starters, who's the kid?"

"His name is Antony Jones. He's seventeen. No prior arrests."

Clark interposed a question. "What's his condition?"

"Really bad. I seriously doubt that he'll make it, but that's off the record." The detective looked pained. "What a waste." He shook his head slowly. "Internal affairs will be conducting an investigation, of course. The officers involved will be temporarily reassigned to desk jobs pending the outcome of the investigation." Henderson gave the two reporters the officers' names and ranks. "Anyway, I asked you two to come because I know that you'll at least be fair."

"Of course we will. Thanks, Bill," Clark replied.

"No problem." The detective turned back to the two policemen he'd been talking to previously.

The reporting duo walked over to get a closer look at the car. "Geez, you weren't kidding when you said it looked like they emptied their guns into the car!" Lois exclaimed. "It looks like Swiss cheese."

Distress was written all over Clark's face. "That poor kid."

"Clark, he was trying to steal this car."

"True, but he doesn't deserve to die because of that."

Lois tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. "You're right. I really can't imagine why those cops shot the into the car like that."

"Maybe we should ask them," her partner suggested. "It looks like Henderson is through with them now."

They turned and approached the two men in uniform. "Lois Lane and Clark Kent, Daily Planet. May we ask you a few questions?" Lois asked.

"Sure," was the reply from the older of the two policemen. "I'm Bill Thornley, and this is my partner Tom Stucker."

"Can you give us a detailed account of what happened here?" Clark asked. "We want to make sure we have all the facts straight."

Before either one could answer, another policeman interrupted. "I'm Captain Morrison. "I'll handle this." He motioned to the two patrolmen to move away. "It's pretty simple, really. They were on patrol when they got a call reporting an attempted car theft at this location. The two officers responded and found that black boy trying to break into the Cadillac. When they got out of the cruiser and approached him, he jumped in the driver's seat and started the automobile. He must not know how to drive too well, though, because he ran into the utility pole."

"And then what happened?" Clark prodded, wincing at hearing the police captain's use of the words "black boy."

Captain Morrison continued the tale. "Then they approached the car. That's when he started revving the engine, trying to get loose from the pole. He was headed straight at them. They pulled their guns and told him to stop, but he kept trying to drive toward them to run them down. Their lives were in jeopardy. That's when they fired."

"But the car is obviously stuck on the pole. He couldn't have run them over," Clark responded.

"Or they could have gotten out of the way," Lois suggested sharply.

"Perhaps, but they thought he was armed," Morrison replied.

"Really? How?" Lois demanded.

"He had a bulge in his pocket," was the quick reply. "They figured it was a gun."

"I see. A kid is trying to boost a car; he has a bulge of unknown origin in his pocket; and you figure it's a gun and shoot him. Makes sense to me." Sarcasm dripped with every word Lois uttered.

"You obviously don't know what it's like to fear for your life, Ms. Lane," the police captain retorted.

Clark attempted to get the interview back on track. "Okay. So the officers thought the young man was going to run them down with the car, and they fired at the car. Were they trying to hit him?"

"Of course not. They were trying to stop the car." Morrison looked pained. "I'm sorry the kid got hurt, but my men were just doing their jobs." As an afterthought, he added, "Probably a gang initiation, anyway."

Lois darted a sharp look at the captain. "What makes you think that?"

"Ms. Lane, it's common knowledge that to get into many gangs, you have to commit a crime — frequently stealing a car. Sometimes murder. Surely you know that."

She responded testily, "Yes, I know that. I also know that you have no reason at this point to make that allegation." Lois was about to say more when she was forestalled by Clark's hand exerting gentle pressure on her back.

"Thanks for your time." Clark nodded at the officer and turned to Lois. "C'mon, Lois. Let's get back to the newsroom and get this written."

Taking the hint, she turned and began to retrace her steps to the Jeep. Once inside the car, she jabbed the key in the ignition and started the engine. "I can't believe those idiots!" Anger emanated from her in waves. Yanking the steering wheel to the left, she pulled out into the road. "Morons! How could they shoot like that? That car wasn't going anywhere!" Stepping on the accelerator, her eyes fixed on the road, she asked, "And why did you stop me back there?"

"Because it serves no useful purpose at this point to make this Captain Morrison think we're against him or his men. If he thinks that, he'll clam up and not tell us everything we want to know." Having said that, Clark leaned his head against the window.

Lois threaded the Jeep through traffic for a few minutes, lost in thought. Noticing her partner's silence, she glanced at the passenger seat, where Clark was slumped in dejection. "What's the matter, Clark?"

"I should have been able to stop it," he muttered. "If only I had my powers back — or if I hadn't been so stupid to lose them in the first place." His shoulders sagged. "That kid is probably going to die because I was naive." He rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Stop it, Clark." Lois's voice was sharp. "You had nothing to do with this."

"I know," came the morose reply. "I couldn't do anything, because I stupidly let Diana Stride get close to me with that Kryptonite."

"That's not what I meant, lunkhead." Lois scanned the street ahead. "I meant that even if you had had your powers, you might not have heard anything. You might not have been able to get here in time to stop anything anyway. There is no way to tell." She reached over and placed her hand on his thigh in a gesture of comfort. "How many times do I have to tell you, whatever you can do is enough?"

"I know, Lois. It's just that he's so young. He's a kid, for crying out loud." He laid his hand on top of hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. And just because I can't stop every crime, it doesn't mean I don't feel bad when I fail."

"Clark, *you* didn't fail. Antony Jones failed, and as far as I am concerned, those two policemen failed. You can't convince me that they feared for their lives." She wrinkled her nose in thought. "You know, Clark," she said as her eyes brightened, "I think we just got the go ahead on the racial profiling investigation."

"You do?"

"Yep. Did you hear what that cop said? `Probably a gang initiation.' I think that Perry will take that as more evidence that something is going on." Excitement bubbled out with her words.

"And has the thought occurred to you that this is the same neighborhood as Mark's? And that this is the same police precinct where it's suddenly become a crime to drive a nice car if you're a black man?" Clark paused a minute to let the comment sink in. "If, as Mark suspects, racial profiling is going on here, this Captain Morrison is probably involved. Judging from a couple of his comments there, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that he's …"

"A racist?" Lois interrupted. "Good point. Okay, I'll be nice to him for a while. I guess it wouldn't do any good to mess up our investigation."

"No, but I think we just got another incident to use to convince Perry to let us run with the story," Clark replied, then subsided into silence.

The pair rode along for several blocks, each pondering the situation and their upcoming investigation. Lois cast a couple of worried glances at her partner who was staring out the car window, his unfocused gaze remote and troubled.

Suddenly his expression brightened. "You know, it might be a localized problem," Clark commented, his senses tingling with the feeling that they were onto a workable thesis. "We need to get that data from Jimmy."

Lois smiled at his renewed enthusiasm. "We do. Right after we write up this story. Which reminds me, shouldn't we go to Metro General and check on Antony's condition? We need to find out more about him before we write this up."

Nodding his agreement, Clark let go of her hand. "Turn here. I know a shortcut."

Five minutes later, they pulled up in front of the Emergency Room of Metropolis General Hospital.


"Lois, did anything strike you as odd back there?" Clark asked as they crossed the hospital parking lot.

"Odd? You mean like two cops shooting a kid thirty times because he was stealing a car? That kind of odd?" She shot a sharp glance of inquiry in his direction.

"No, I was more thinking of the police response to the situation. Both policemen were going to talk to us until the captain intervened. And then he was extremely talkative. He didn't give us any of the usual, `No comment. There will be an official statement made later' stuff they usually do." Clark shrugged his shoulders. "It struck me as a bit strange."

Lois's forehead wrinkled as she pondered the scenario. "You're right. And Henderson was awfully chatty too. Another thing," she pounced on the issue, "he told us the kid's name, even though he's a juvenile. So either Henderson is more shaken by the incident than I think is possible, or he wanted us to know."

"And he trusts us not to publish it without permission," Clark reminded her gently.

His partner tossed her head but muttered grudgingly, "Right." She looked up at him. "Suppose we'll run into anyone you know here?" she teased.

Clark grimaced. "I hope not. If we do, *I* don't know them."

"Oh, I don't know, Clark. If we run into that nurse, maybe she'll let us in farther than someone else would. She seemed to be a sucker for big brown eyes." Lois giggled at the horrified expression on his face. Slapping his arm playfully, she continued, "Don't worry. She won't recognize you. She'll be too busy wondering if I'm going to upset her patients to even look at you."

The pair made their way into the controlled chaos that was the emergency room. Huddled in a chair sat a middle-aged woman, tears trickling down her burnished face. "I don't understand. He's always been such a good boy," she was saying. "It doesn't make sense." She sniffled. "I tried to raise that boy right."

The nurse sitting beside her patted her shoulder in an effort to console her. "Who knows what gets into kids' heads? Sometimes they do stupid things. And it has nothing to do with how their parents have raised them. They forget their sense sometimes." Looking up, Nurse O'Brien noticed Lois and Clark. "Ms. Jones, there are some reporters here — that Lois Lane and someone else. Do you want me to get rid of them?" Steely resolve showed in her face.

"No, I'll talk to them. I don't want people thinking my Antony was a bad boy. Maybe they can tell people the truth." She wiped her eyes with the tissue Nurse O'Brien handed her.

"All right. But if you change your mind, just let me know. I can take care of things," the nurse replied. Rising to her feet, she went on, "I'll go check on Antony."

"Thank you, Ms. O'Brien. I appreciate that." Ms. Jones squared her shoulders and swallowed the lump in her throat.

As Clark and Lois approached the row of chairs, Nurse O'Brien intercepted them. "Hello, Ms. Lane. So nice to see you again." A small smile almost reached her eyes.

"Hello, Ms. O'Brien. This is my partner, Clark Kent. We were hoping we could get some information about Antony Jones's condition," Lois began. "How is he doing?"

"Off the record? Not too well. He's still in surgery." The nurse looked sharply at the reporters. "How did you two know his name? I didn't think that the police normally identified juveniles to the press."

"We were at the scene of the incident. One of the police officers told us his name," Clark responded. "And you're right. They don't normally identify juveniles. We're wondering about that ourselves." He cast a concerned glance at the woman sitting by the trauma room. "Is that his mother?"

"Yes, it is."

"May we speak to her?" Lois asked. "I promise not to upset her — at least not on purpose," she said wryly.

The nurse looked at her quizzically. "Can you keep that promise? It took me ten minutes to calm her down. I don't want to have to do it again."

"We promise," Clark interjected. "We just want to find out more about her son; get some background information on him."

The older woman considered the request. "All right, you may talk to her. But if I get the feeling that you're upsetting Ms. Jones, then I'll toss you out of this hospital personally."

Lois nodded. "I know you will," she said.

"You do?" Clark asked, puzzled.

"Yes, she does. Ms. Lane and I got to know each other pretty well the other day when she was here with a friend." Nurse O'Brien smiled at Clark. "Now, if you will excuse me…" She headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.

The two reporters cautiously approached the woman who was staring blankly off into the distance. Her face was lined with tension and her fingers plucked nervously at her skirt.

"Excuse us, Ms. Jones?" Clark spoke gently. "I'm Clark Kent and this is my partner, Lois Lane. We're reporters for the Daily Planet. Do you mind if we talk to you a little about your son Antony?"

The woman startled at the sound of his voice. "Oh, I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention." A weak smile creased her face. "Yes, you can talk to me."

Clark pulled a couple of chairs out of the line so that he and Lois could face Ms. Jones. "First, I want you to know that anything you don't want us to print, just tell us that it's off the record. We'll respect your wishes on that."

"We're not here to sensationalize anything," Lois interjected. "We want to print the truth, the whole story."

"I don't know the whole story, Ms. Lane," the young man's mother replied. "All I know is what those police officers told me — that Antony was stealing a car; and when they told him to stop, he tried to run them over with the car. They said that's when they shot him." Her voice caught on a sob. "But I don't understand. He's always been a real good boy. That child has never given me or anyone else a moment's trouble." She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

"No trouble, ever?" Clark prodded gently.

"No, he doesn't have time to get into trouble, even if he wanted to. He's an honor student in school, works part- time, and plays in the school band. Antony is active in our church youth group too." Ms. Jones swallowed more tears. "He wouldn't steal a car. No way that child would do something like that."

Lois turned troubled brown eyes on her partner. Something was definitely not right with this situation. "But, Ms. Jones, Antony was in that car. There is no doubt about that part of what the policemen told you."

"Then there has to be some other explanation. I know my son, and my son would not commit a crime like that." Ms. Jones drew herself up as she spoke, squaring her shoulders. "Antony is not a car thief. And he certainly wouldn't try to run over a police officer with a car."

Clark nodded. "I'm sure you do know your son. But there has to be some explanation why he was in that car. Do you know any of his friends who might…"

"Ms. Jones! Ms. Jones!" a disheveled teenager burst into the waiting area. "How's Antony? I couldn't get anyone to tell me anything!" Tears mingled with beads of sweat on his face. His distress was almost palpable.

She turned toward the young man. "Marcus! What are you doing here?" Turning to Lois and Clark, she explained, "This is Marcus Tolliver, Antony's best friend."

Marcus was panting, his chest heaving as if he'd run a marathon. "Ms. Jones, I'm so sorry. It's all my fault. It should be me that got shot. I'm so sorry." More tears trickled down his face, and he dashed them away with his arm.

"What on earth do you mean, it's all your fault?" Lois demanded.

"Who are you?" the young man asked suspiciously.

"We're reporters for the Daily Planet. Lois Lane and Clark Kent," she introduced herself. "I'm confused here. Why do you think that this is all your fault?"

The young man took a deep breath to steady himself. "It was my idea. I told Antony that I bet if we told kids at school that we'd boosted a car this summer, they'd quit teasing us."

Lois gave him a puzzled look. "Why would stealing a car make kids not tease you? What do they tease you about?"

"Acting white." Marcus stared at his tennis shoes. "If you try to do well in school and work at a job, and plan to go to college, then lots of kids make fun of you. So I thought that it could help us fit in." He swallowed hard and went on, "It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. I don't even know why the police did anything."

"Well, as a general rule, they don't take kindly to people stealing Cadillacs," Lois interjected tartly.

"That's just it. We weren't actually stealing it. It's my uncle's car." Marcus looked at the three adults as if that would explain everything.

"You lost me on that one," Clark said. "If it's not your car and you take it without permission, it's stealing; even if it does belong to someone you know."

Marcus shook his head. "No, you don't understand. Antony and I would never *really* steal a car. I told my uncle what we wanted to do. He said it was okay. So actually, we were just borrowing the car."

"If that's true, then why did Antony try to run over the policemen?" Lois's voice was sharp. "Why didn't you just explain the situation to them?"

"We got scared. I ran, but Antony was closer to them since he was at the driver's side of the car. They had their guns drawn. He wasn't trying to run over them. I think he was just trying to get away from them." Marcus wiped his eyes again. "We were scared."

"Afraid of what?" Clark questioned him gently.

"Of the police, of course." The expression on the young man's face clearly showed his frustration. "They wouldn't have believed us if we'd told them the truth. They still would've arrested us. And then we'd have records and…" His voice trailed off as the enormity of what had happened hit him.

"Oh, honey, it's not your fault. It was a bad idea, but Antony didn't have to go along with it." Ms. Jones gave him a weak smile. "He made a bad choice." She shook her head slowly. "And so did you. Does your mother know about this?"

"No, ma'am. I haven't told her. I didn't want to bother her at work." The teenager looked sheepishly at his shoes.

Clark looked at him, his brown eyes warm with sympathy. "Don't you think you better call her and tell her before someone else does? I know my parents always got less upset if they heard something first from me."

Scuffing the toe of his tennis shoe on the hospital floor, Marcus looked up at the reporter. "I guess so." He gulped nervously. "My mom's gonna kill me!"

"I doubt that," Clark replied. "Few mothers will actually do it, no matter what they say." He grinned slightly at the young man's distress.

Marcus raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You don't know my mother, then." Squaring his shoulders, he straightened his posture. "But I guess you guys are right. I better go call her." Turning to Ms. Jones, he said, "I'll be down the hall at the pay phone. Then I'll come back and stay with you. You shouldn't be alone right now."

Lois and Clark watched in silence as the teenager strode down the corridor to make what was no doubt the most difficult telephone call of his young life. Then they turned their attention back to Antony's mother.

"He's right, you know. You shouldn't be alone at a time like this. Is there anyone we could call to come stay with you?" Lois asked.

Ms. Jones shook her head in denial. "No, not really. His father's been in Pennsylvania visiting our daughter. He's on his way home now. I'm not real sure when he'll get here."

Catching a glimpse of his partner's face, Clark could tell that Lois was thinking about something that had been said earlier in the conversation with Marcus and Ms. Jones. He wondered briefly what it was, and how long it would be before the question emerged from her lips. A minute later, he got his response.

"Ms. Jones, Marcus said that he and Antony got teased by their classmates for being good students. Do you know what he was talking about?" Lois posed her question.

Sighing deeply, Ms. Jones replied. "Yes, I do. Because Marcus and Antony are serious students who have serious goals for the future, a lot of kids in their school make fun of them and try to get them to join gangs, or at least reject what you would probably call middle-class values. We live in a pretty decent neighborhood; but they go to school with kids from the projects, kids from much poorer parts of town. Those kids don't understand kids like my Antony and his friends. They ride them pretty hard."

"You sometimes read about African-American kids being teased if they try to do well in school, but hearing it first hand makes it more real," Lois commented. "It's terrible that it happens."

"Not as terrible as the future some of those children face, Ms. Lane. Some of them will never finish high school. To some of them, the only way to make a decent living is to do something illegal, like sell drugs." Ms. Jones shook her graying head. "It's a terrible waste."

"You're not kidding." Clark turned to Lois. "Do you have any more questions for Ms. Jones?"

"No, not right now." Holding out her hand to Ms. Jones, she said, "Thank you for talking to us. We won't publish Antony's name, but we would like to tell our readers about what can happen to even the good kids."

The woman nodded. "That would be fine. Thank you for listening. I think it helped a little."

Shaking her hand as well, Clark told her to call them if they could do anything to help her, and the two journalists moved off toward the exit. As soon as they were out of earshot, Lois turned to Clark. "Don't even think of doing it. You hear me?"

"Doing what, Lois?" Clark's voice was puzzled.

"Obsessing, Clark. Don't do it. It won't do you or that kid any good at all." Lois's deep brown eyes were troubled. "I'm not any happier about the situation than you are, but all we can do is try to make sure that it never happens to anyone else." Placing a hand on his arm, she squeezed affectionately. "Understand?"

"Yes, ma'am. I understand." He smiled softly down at her. She was so beautiful and so loving, and she always seemed to know just what to say to him. "But understanding that doesn't keep me from feeling bad that I couldn't do anything to prevent the situation."

Jabbing the key in the door lock of the Jeep, Lois replied, "But feeling bad isn't productive. It tears you up inside and makes it harder for you to think clearly. And we need to think very clearly on this story. Every time we talk to someone, I feel like there are more layers to the story than before. It's like peeling an onion that keeps growing instead of getting smaller." Her frustration was evident in the jerky movements she used to pull out of the parking space and enter traffic. Stomping on the brakes at the first stoplight, she continued, "You can't tell me that racism isn't a problem here. I just wonder why we haven't seen much evidence of it before."

"Maybe we weren't looking for it," was the quiet reply. "It doesn't normally affect us, so we don't see it." Clark looked depressed once more. "I should have noticed it before."

"Not if it wasn't there to see," Lois interjected. "Think about it, Clark. I've lived in Metropolis all my life, and I can't ever remember hearing of the police acting the way Mark said they've been. And I really can't remember them shooting teenagers, even if the kids were stealing cars. Something is fishy here. We just have to figure out what and why." She brightened as they pulled into the parking garage at the Planet. "Maybe Jimmy's got that research done."

"We can only hope."


As they entered the bullpen, Perry caught their attention. "Lois, Clark! In my office."

They followed him into his office, wondering what he needed privacy to tell them.

The editor's eyes were somber as he said, "Henderson just called. They're charging that kid as an adult."

Stunned, Lois asked, "What charge?"

"Attempted murder while committing a felony." Perry shook his head slowly. "Sometimes, I don't know what this world is coming too."

"Neither do I, Chief," Clark murmured sadly.

"Can the DA do that?" Lois asked incredulously.

"Apparently so," Perry drawled, "because that's the charge. The police or the DA must think that they've got enough evidence for it."

"Or the cops want to preempt any bad publicity they're likely to get from shooting an unarmed kid," the more tempestuous half of the reporting team snapped.

Clark raised a quizzical eyebrow. "You really think they would do something like that? It seems unethical to me."

Lois tossed her head impatiently. "I think that the MPD and the current DA would do anything to make sure that *they* look good." She inhaled sharply. "And emptying your service revolver into an honor student does *not* make for good PR."

"So why don't the two of you get going?" Perry's smile took the sting out of his words. "I've got a paper to put out here; and the last time I looked, your computers were out there." Jerking his head in the direction of the bullpen, the editor waved the two reporters out of his office.

As they made their way toward Lois's desk, Clark asked, "Want some coffee?"

"Sure," she replied with a grateful smile. "I have a feeling it may be a while before we get any lunch."

"You and me both," he grinned as he loped over to the coffee area.

Booting up her computer, Lois began to type furiously; her indignation over the DA's charges fueling her emotions.

"Hey, you can't say that," Clark mentioned as he looked over her shoulder while he placed the cup of coffee on her desk.

"Sure I can," she retorted. "I just did." Hitting the return key, she continued her written tirade against the stupidity and venality of the Metropolis Police Department and the District Attorney's office. "What do you think about this, Clark?" Lois looked up at him, her eyes flashing fury.

Taking a deep breath before responding, Clark reread the copy his partner had written. After exhaling deeply, he replied, "Lois, I don't think that you are going to get the results you want with a headline like `Racist Police Department and DA Conspire to Charge Juvenile Unjustly.'" He shook his head. "But it could just be me that thinks that is a bit inflammatory. I'd hate to jeopardize our investigation of the entire department over one case." He took a sip of his coffee and held his tongue, waiting for her reply.

Lois grimaced before deleting the headline. "All right, Mr. Cautious. So what do you suggest we write?"

"How about the truth? You know, the who, what, when, where, why, and how?" he gently chided. "Don't you think that the facts will get across your point?"

She shrugged her shoulders, suddenly tense. "I don't know, Clark. I'm still having trouble with the whole concept of kids on life support because cops shoot first and ask questions later." Lois sipped her coffee, putting it down with a decided thump.

"What's the matter, Lois?" Clark inquired, a worried expression on his face.

"Nothing. I've just let my coffee get cold."

"Let me try to fix that," Clark offered, reaching for the mug.

Lois put out a hand to stop him. "It's okay, Clark. I'll just get some more in a minute."

"But, Lois, I can take care of it. No problem." He lowered his glasses and looked intently at the cooling beverage, clearly expecting steam to begin to rise from its surface. When nothing happened, Clark put the cup down slowly, as if it weighed a ton. "What's wrong with me? I can't do anything anymore." Frustration was evident in every syllable.

Grabbing his hand, Lois murmured, "It's all right, Clark. I'm sure that it's just too soon."

"Yeah," he muttered, chagrined. "Too soon. When does too soon turn into too long?" He pulled his hand away and strode over to his own desk. "I'll try to get a hold of Marcus's uncle — the guy who told the kids they could take the car. We can't do anything without his corroboration of the story." Throwing himself into his chair, he reached for the telephone book, only to realize that he didn't know the man's name. The reporter rose, grabbed a notebook, and headed for the ramp to the elevators.

Noticing his direction, Lois stood and called him. "Wait a second, Clark. I'll come with you." She grabbed her coat and bag and followed in his wake.

A ping announced the arrival of the elevator just as Lois made her way to the landing. Not looking back in her direction, Clark got on. His partner followed him, her concern for him growing by the second.

As the doors slid shut, she took hold of his arms and turned him to face her. "Do you want to explain what's going on, Clark?" she asked, unsure whether to be angry or worried.

"Nothing's going on." He looked away from her, unwilling to see whatever emotions were in her eyes. "What makes you think that something's going on? I just realized that we need to talk to Marcus's uncle, but we didn't get his name. I thought I'd go back to the hospital to see if Marcus was still there. No big deal."

She shook her head. "Right, no big deal. No connection at all with your trying to use heat vision to warm my coffee; heat vision that didn't work; and your taking off alone." Lois reached up to pull her partner's face around so she could look him in the eye. "I don't believe you. You're a terrible liar, Clark, so don't even try." She pulled him into her arms. "Clark, it's all right if your powers aren't back yet. I'm sure it's too soon." She hugged him fiercely. "Trust me, Clark. It's just too soon."

He returned the embrace, resting his cheek on the top of her head. "That's just it, Lois. Even after spending the night in the Kryptonite cage, I didn't take this long to get back to normal. I'm worried, Lois, really worried." He sighed heavily. "Do you know what it will mean if my powers never come back?"

Clasping him tightly, she nodded. "It means that you won't be able to be Superman anymore. Is that so terrible?"

"Yes, I think it is." He swallowed the lump of unease in his throat, a lump that was threatening to choke him. "How am I supposed to explain it? What am I gonna say?" Clark searched for the words to make her understand. "Thanks to the hologram, the world thinks that Superman is fine. Only you and I know that he isn't. If my powers never come back, how on earth am I going to explain it?" He burrowed his head further into her hair. "God, Lois, what'll I do?"

Hearing his words and his worry, Lois felt some qualms herself. If Clark's powers did not come back, they *would* have a problem. Nevertheless, she refused to give in to his fear. "Clark, honey, you're worrying needlessly. Your powers have always come back before. Why should this time be any different?" She sought to reassure him.

"Um, maybe because the Kryptonite was never inside me before?" He hugged her tightly. "This time could be different because it *is* different." It was so hard to explain to her. Clark wasn't even sure that he could explain how he felt to himself. If his powers didn't come back, he would have to come up with an explanation for Superman's disappearance that didn't rebound back on Clark Kent. The people who weren't completely convinced that Diana Stride was wrong would be quick to do the math. As Lois had said, he was a terrible liar. His parents, Lois, and, he had to admit ruefully, he, himself, would be in serious danger. But other than wait, an activity that was becoming increasingly difficult, he had no idea what else to do.

"Well, we'll deal with that when we have to. In the meantime, we have a man to track down so we can write this story." Lois pulled his head down for a quick kiss just as the elevator doors opened in the lobby. "C'mon, partner. We have places to go, people to see, and things to do." She tugged him by the hand toward the door and her waiting Jeep.

They drove, not speaking, toward Metropolis General Hospital, both of them lost in thought. Lois suddenly broke the silence. "I've got it!"

Startled, Clark turned to face her. "Got what?"

"You need to go back to see the doctor. Remember, he gave you his card and said to call him if your powers weren't back in a couple of days." She gave him an indulgent look. "You could go see him while I talk to Marcus."

"I could, if I had the suit." He smiled ruefully at her. "But I don't. And I can't see going in as Clark to talk about getting my superpowers back, you know?"

Lois handed him her cell phone in answer. "Fine. I get the point. But you can call him now and set up an appointment for later this afternoon."

Smiling, he dialed the number. Two minutes later, he rang off. "All right, Ms. Boss Lady. Superman has an appointment for five o'clock. Satisfied?"

She chuckled. "No, not really. I haven't been satisfied since I fell in love with you." Her eyes twinkling, she squeezed his thigh.

"Cute, Lois. Really cute." A sudden thought occurred to him. "And just why is that?"

"Uh huh. No way. I'm not touching that with a ten foot pole." She shook her head in denial. "Besides, we need to focus on the story and the investigation." She flashed a dazzling smile at her partner.

"Speaking of which, we didn't bring that back up with Perry, and we didn't talk to Jimmy yet." Clark rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "What were we thinking?"

"We were thinking that we needed to get back to the hospital to find Marcus so we could get the information we need to finish the story." She patted him again reassuringly. "There's no rush, at this point. Once Perry reads all the details of this incident, he'll be telling us to do the investigation. He'll probably think it was his idea in the first place. Trust me."

The dark-haired reporter thought, "I do, Lois, I do. I trust you completely." Turning to her he replied, "All right. So, we find Marcus and the unknown uncle, track him down for corroboration, go back to the Planet and write the story…"

"Grab some lunch," she interjected.

"Grab some lunch," he parroted, "and maybe talk to Jimmy and Perry about the investigation. All before I have to be back at the hospital at five." He sighed tiredly. "Tell me, Lois, how on earth do you do it? I'm exhausted, and it's not quite noon."

Lois cocked her head to one side, her lips pursed as she thought. "Well, I think that part of why you're tired is that you just aren't used to being `normal.' The other part is that you probably aren't completely recovered, so it's as if you were getting over an illness like the flu."

"Makes sense, I guess." A parking place caught his eye. "Why don't we park there? It's only half a block to the hospital."

"Okay." She pulled into the spot. "You got any change?"

Clark laughed. "Sure. I'm a Boy Scout, remember?"

She stared at him, puzzled. "Boy Scout?"

"Yeah. I'm prepared."

Her answering grin warmed his heart.


Entering the Emergency Room area, the duo looked for Ms. Jones but failed to find her. "Nurse O'Brien will know where she went," Lois stated as she tugged Clark toward the nurses' station.

"And what makes you think that?"

"Because that woman knows everything around here. Haven't you noticed?"

"No, actually I haven't. I was a bit out of it the other day. Plus, I didn't have your advantage of seeing her in her complete environment." Clark's tone was rueful.

Lois pulled harder on his hand. "There she is!"

Approaching the nurse, Lois spoke. "Ms. O'Brien, we were looking for Ms. Jones, or rather for the young man who was with her — Marcus Tolliver. Do you know where they went?" She held her breath as she realized why they might no longer be at the hospital.

"Relax, Ms. Lane. They went to the coffee shop. Antony is still in surgery, and I figured they could use a break. So I sent them for food." Nurse O'Brien smiled broadly at Clark. "It's right down that corridor," she said, pointing to a hall on the right.

Thanking her for her help, Lois and Clark made their way down the hall. "Humph," Lois snorted. "I'm disappointed in that woman."

"You're what?" Clark asked, confused by his girlfriend's tone.

"Yesterday, she was practically drooling all over Superman, and today she's slobbering over you." Lois was on a high horse as she continued, "She has no constancy at all."

Clark gave a muffled laugh. "Lois, did you hear yourself? You just criticized a woman old enough to be my mother for smiling at me. And as for your being upset that she has been `drooling over Superman' one day and `slobbering' over me the next, do you really think you have a leg to stand on?" He snaked an arm around her waist. "I don't know whether to laugh or to kiss you."

"Well … you could kiss me. But not now. Wait until you can do it properly." Her eyes twinkled up at him. "Besides, here's the coffee shop."

They entered the hospital restaurant, seeking Marcus Tolliver. Lois spied him first. "Over there," she hissed. "Come on, partner. Let's get this show on the road."

Ten minutes later, they had the name and phone number of Marcus's uncle and were heading for the Jeep.

"So, lunch or story first?" Clark asked.

"Story, of course. I want to be able to enjoy my lunch. So you better cooperate and not slow us down with all your nit-picking."

"Yeah, right. `Nit-picking' she calls it." Clark shook his head sadly.

"And what would *you* call your obsessive-compulsive tendency to edit and re-edit my copy?" she asked, her voice dangerously low.

"I call it being thorough. I believe that is what my mentor told me I should be when I first became a reporter at a `great metropolitan newspaper.'" Even Clark's glasses couldn't disguise the twinkle in his eyes.

"I give up!" she exclaimed in exasperation. "So, can we get this written?" Lois tried to look pitiful. "I'm starving."

"Sure. No problem. Just don't write an inflammatory, editorialized diatribe. We want to stick `with the facts, ma'am.'" He turned a serious gaze on her. "All right?"

"Yes." Lois turned into the Planet parking garage. "Remind me again as we write, okay? I'm still so steamed that I can hardly think straight."

Clark pulled her to his side. Dropping a light kiss on the top of her gleaming hair, he answered. "Of course, Lois. That's what partners do."

The punched the button for the elevator and stood, arm in arm, lost in thought, until it dinged to signal its arrival.


Stepping off the elevator onto the ramp that led to the bullpen, Clark suggested to Lois, "How about I call Marcus's uncle while you finish up the article except for any quotes I get?"

He grinned when she retorted, "Don't trust me not to yell at the guy and tell him what a moron he was for going along with those kids' hair-brained idea, huh?"

"You know me too well," he murmured as they reached their desks. "And see if you can make it quick. I'm hungry too."

Rolling her eyes at her partner, Lois sat down to work, rewriting the piece whose tone had so offended Clark earlier. She found herself having to stop and count to ten every paragraph or so — she was so infuriated by the Metropolis Police Department.

A jubilant exclamation came from her partner as he hung up the telephone. "Got it!" Clark flashed a megawatt smile at her as he rose from his seat. "Not only did the uncle give the kids permission to take his car, he gave them the keys. The only thing that Antony Jones is guilty of, in my opinion, is panic."

Lois pulled him down for a quick kiss. "That's wonderful! Check out what I've got, and then we can add what you have." An elated grin spread across her face. "Perry is going to *have* to let us investigate now. There is too much evidence that something is wrong." Turning back to her keyboard, she began to type.

Several edits from Clark later, the two saved the file and LAN'd it to the editor. Clark pulled Lois's chair out for her as he suggested, "Lunch? Or is it time for high tea?"

Chuckling, Lois looked at her watch. "Clark, it is only one-thirty. I think that qualifies as lunch time." She screwed up her face in thought. "So where do you want to go?"

"The corner deli is fine, Lois. I need to get back to the newsroom pretty soon since I've got to leave work early," Clark said in a quiet voice.

"*We* need to leave early, sweetheart." Lois squeezed his arm. "Whither thou goest and all that." She gazed lovingly at his handsome face. "You honestly didn't think I'd let you go to the doctor all by yourself, did you?"

"Lois, you don't need to go with me. I can manage."

"I know you can. I just want to keep you company, all right?" She looked anxiously at his face, hoping she wouldn't see refusal in his expression.

Clark sighed deeply. "All right. But don't feel like you need to go out of some sense of obligation or anything."

Lois shook her head in denial. "I want to go, Clark. I want to be with you. You might get bored in the waiting room." Her eyes danced with mischief. "You haven't seen the magazine selection there. I have." She grabbed her purse and his hand. "C'mon. I'm starved!"

The duo made their way to the bank of elevators and from there to the lobby. After exiting the building, they strolled to a nearby delicatessen and placed their order. Staring wide-eyed at Lois's lunch of pastrami, cheese and sauerkraut on rye; potato salad; and a chocolate milk shake, Clark shook his head in disbelief, wondering not for the first time how his slender partner managed to eat so much and stay so slim. "And she thinks *I* eat like an eight-year-old," he mused.


Thirty minutes later they returned to the newsroom to be greeted by Perry's bellow echoing throughout the bullpen. "Lois! Clark! In my office! Now!"

Giving each other a "what now" look, the two reporters headed in his direction. "Does he look mad?" Lois whispered.

Clark shook his head. "I don't think so. More likely some new story just broke." Entering the office, he asked, "So, what's up, Chief?"

Perry White cleared his throat and drawled, "Y'all know that story idea you pitched at me this morning?"

"Yes," Lois replied, eyeing him intently.

"Y'all really think that there's something there?"

Clark nodded, his gaze somber. "Unfortunately, yes. The attitude of the policemen we saw today just convinced me even more that something is rotten in the MPD. These guys didn't seem the least bit concerned that they might have killed a kid. And the captain's choice of language gave me the impression that he was not, shall we say, an unbiased person in the matter of race."

Lois broke in, "Perry, you haven't talked to these clowns. They were *happy* they shot Antony. They acted like they were gonna add to their trophy collection or something." She snorted. "And you cannot convince me that they feared for their lives. It was the kids who feared for their lives." Taking a calming breath, she went on, "So, are you gonna let us run with it?"

Perry looked at her, his expression steely. "Lois, if you all start pokin' around, you might get yourselves into trouble."

Shrugging her shoulders, she replied recklessly, "So? When has that ever stopped me?" She paused a second. "So, does this mean we can do the investigation?"

"Yes, but please try not to antagonize the entire MPD. You do want at least some of them on your side — for future stories if nothing else."

"Thanks, Chief. We'll watch what we're doing," Clark answered for the pair.

The editor stared at the female half of the partnership. "Lo…is?"

"All right, all right. I'll behave myself," she grudgingly agreed.

The two reporters went out the doorway, heading toward their desks. Lois managed to maintain a cool, professional demeanor, even as every instinct shouted, "Yes!" Turning to survey the newsroom, she caught sight of her quarry. "Jimmy!" she called.

The young researcher hurried across the bullpen, a thick stack of papers in his hands. "CK, Lois, I think this is what you wanted. Records of all traffic stops in Metropolis for the last year, right?"

Taking the stack from him, Clark nodded. "Thanks, Jimmy. We appreciate it."

"Yeah, well, you guys owe me. I had to use up a couple of favors down at the records division to get these for you."

Lois narrowed her eyes. "You didn't say anything about why we wanted them, did you?"

"No, how could I, since I *don't* know why you want them?" Jimmy sounded hurt.

Clark clapped him on the back. "It's not that we didn't want you to know; it's just that we were in a hurry this morning. We think that there may be a problem with racial profiling and harassment on the part of at least some officers in the police department. We're gonna check out the statistics and see if there is a pattern." Inspiration struck. "You're more than welcome to help."

Lois smiled warmly at her boyfriend. How on earth did he always manage to say the right thing to make people feel good? And, she had to admit, to get things done quickly. "Right. C'mon to the conference room with us and help us plow through all these files."

Jimmy laughed, his spirits restored. "Sorry, guys. I have to go with Ralph to take some pictures at his interview with Councilwoman Smythe in a couple of minutes."

"So, do you want congratulations or condolences?" Clark asked.

"Some of both, I guess. I mean, it's a good opportunity to get some more pictures printed; but on the other hand, it's also a couple of hours with Ralph." Jimmy looked intrigued. "Wonder what fantasy he'll come up with this time?"

"You got me." Lois chuckled. "He is a piece of work, isn't he?"

"Yep," was the reply as Jimmy sauntered off to collect his photography gear and the oily reporter that was Ralph.

Lois and Clark repaired to the conference room to begin the tedious task of reading through thousands of police reports, checking each one for the race of both the driver and the officer as well as the location of the traffic stop. They worked in relative silence for several hours, only stopping when Lois noticed that it was a little past four.

"Clark, it's time to go," she interrupted his train of thought.

"Huh?" he asked, startled out of his concentration on the forms before him.

"Look at the time." She jerked her head in the direction of the wall clock. "It's time to leave so you can go change into Superman and get to the hospital by five."

"Oh, yeah." He let out a heavy sigh. "I guess I better go." Clark rose and began to make orderly piles of traffic reports on the table. "Do you want to call it a day, or do you want to take some of this stuff home and work on it tonight?" he asked, hoping she'd want to wait till the next day to continue sifting through all the forms.

Something in his tone brought her head up, and she glanced at her partner. In addition to the fatigue evident in his voice, exhaustion lined his face; and a pallor underlay the normally tanned features. Tamping down her desire to keep working, Lois replied, "Let's call it a day. I don't know about you, but I'm beat." She rubbed the back of her neck, then helped him organize the documents. "Let's leave these in your desk. There's no way there's enough room in mine."

Grinning at her comment about her workspace, Clark picked up the piles and walked out of the room, only waiting for Lois to precede him through the door.


"Lois, what do you think I should wear to the hospital?" Clark called from the bedroom of his apartment.

"Clothes, maybe?" she responded.

"Lo…is," he grumbled. "I'm serious. Should I wear the suit?" He secretly hoped she'd say no; he was extremely uncomfortable wearing it without his powers.

"How about jeans and a tee-shirt like you wore when you came home the other day?" Lois suggested. "You can wear a baseball cap again and take your glasses off after we get in the car."

"All right," Clark replied as he loosened his tie and kicked off his dress shoes.

While Clark changed, Lois wandered aimlessly around his living room, picking up and putting down knickknacks and figurines, souvenirs of her partner's world travels. She stopped when she came to the framed photograph of the two of them taken after Clark won his Kerth award. Picking it up, she stared at the faces smiling up at her. It was so obvious from Clark's expression as he gazed, not at the camera but at her, how much he loved her. Not for the first time, Lois wondered why it had taken her so long to realize what she meant to him. And what he meant to her. She thanked all the powers that she had finally come to her senses about Clark. What she would do without him didn't bear contemplating.

A slight cough alerted her to his presence in the living room. Gently placing the photograph back on the bookshelf, she turned to face her boyfriend.

"Ready? she asked brightly.

"I guess," he replied, reluctance evident in his voice.

"Clark, what's the matter?"

"Nothin'. I'm just a little tired." He shrugged off her question as he pulled on his jacket.

Lois looked him over critically from head to toe. "You *do* look tired. What's that all about?"

He shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure. It's not like we even had that hard a day." Clark started to move over to the stairs. "If you're coming with me, we better get going."

She frowned as she noticed the slowness of his gait and the way he practically dragged himself up the steps. A sidelong look at his face kept her silent on the way to the Jeep. His expression was shuttered; his brow was creased; the sparkle was missing from his eyes. Lois wondered what was bothering Clark; but experience had taught her that when his defenses were up, it would take a little more finesse than the blunt question she was currently contemplating to get him to open up and tell her what was bothering him. She'd have to ponder her tactics a bit before pressing him. For now, it was enough to know that he was troubled and could undoubtedly use some sympathy.

Once ensconced in the driver's seat, Lois fastened her seat belt. Sneaking a peek at her partner from the corner of her eye, she winced when she saw the bleak expression on his face. His head was in profile as he stared blindly through the window. Her tentative, "Clark, is everything all right?" received no response. If she didn't break through the walls he had erected soon, she'd go crazy. Lois tried to be patient, but by the second traffic light they'd passed, she gave up the attempt. "Clark! Earth to Clark! Come in, please!" She almost managed to keep from sounding sarcastic.

Her sharp tones broke through his reverie. "What?" Clark turned startled eyes on his girlfriend. "Did you say something, Lois?"

She snorted. "Yes. I need you to talk to me. Something is bothering you. A lot. And I want to know what it is." She reached out to touch his leg. "Clark, what is going on?"

Clark smiled weakly. "Nothin'. I told you that already. Everything is fine."

"No, everything is definitely *not* fine, Clark. You look depressed. Extremely depressed. And since the investigation seems to be going fairly well, I want to know what the problem is." Concern showed in her voice and in her eyes. Squeezing his thigh, she went on, "Clark, whatever it is, wouldn't it be better to talk about it?"

"I don't know. Would it?" Clark's face was drawn, and his tone was weary.

"Yes, it would." Lois cocked her head and grinned at him. "At least, that's what you always tell me." She bit her tongue to keep from saying any more while he considered her request.

When he said nothing more, Lois prodded him. "Is it the story? Are you still obsessing about Antony?" Her question met with silence; she tried again. "Is it the investigation? Because if it is, you have to remember that we just started a couple of hours ago."

A dogged silence was Clark's only reply. He leaned his head against the coolness of the window and allowed his eyes to drift shut. He'd be happy to answer her question, if he only knew how to put what he was feeling into words. But he honestly did not know how to tell her what he was feeling. Maybe if he could just nap a bit on the way to the hospital, he'd feel better; and he'd be able to explain things to Lois.

The sudden jolt of the Jeep's brakes locking up brought him back to the conversation. Blinking his surprise, Clark turned to Lois. "Lois, what was that all about?"

"That was all about me wanting to know what's wrong, Clark," she snapped. "Plus, it's a red light." Lois cast another worried look at him. Inspiration struck her. "Is the problem that you don't know what the problem is?"

Completely awake now, he nodded. "Yeah. I really don't know what it is. I can't decide if it's physical or mental."

Lois straightened. "You mean you feel bad physically? I thought you just didn't have your powers back."

He shook his head. "No, it's not just my powers. I don't feel good. I think maybe I feel sick. And the only times I've ever felt sick was when …"

"You were around Kryptonite!" she exclaimed. "Do you think that they didn't get it all out of your system the other day?"

"I'm beginning to wonder, Lois." He sunk back into the leather seat and closed his eyes. "It's probably no big deal, but I don't feel good." The slow deliberation of his tones punctuated his words.

"Clark, when you say you don't feel good, exactly what do you mean?" she asked.

"Um, I'm achy all over, my head hurts, and I feel like all I want to do is sleep — which is not good when I have to work."

"True." Lois seemed pensive as she wheeled the Jeep through the busy thoroughfares to Metropolis General Hospital. "Well, you need to tell the doctor all this. Maybe he can do something." She smiled at him warmly. "He better do something, `cause I don't like seeing you look so down." A new thought struck her. "You said you didn't know if it was mental or physical. Has it occurred to you that maybe you feel depressed because you don't feel good?" She smiled brightly. "I bet that's what it is."

"I hope so. `Cause I don't feel like myself at all." He turned dejected eyes on his partner. "Do you really think that's all it is?"

"You bet. But you need to tell the doctor everything, no matter how trivial it may seem to you."

"All right," was the grudging reply. "If you say so."

As they pulled into the hospital parking garage, Lois remarked, "Are you supposed to go to the Emergency Room?"

"Yes, that's what the nurse said when I called."

"Right." Lois nodded briskly as she cut the engine. Before exiting the car, she turned to Clark. "Are you worried?"

"About what?" he asked.

"About what the doctor is going to say? Because you look worried."

"Wouldn't you be? I mean, what if there still is Kryptonite inside me?"

"Then the doctor will figure out how to get rid of it," she responded.

Clark wasn't convinced. "What if he can't? Think about it, Lois. I was here all day two days ago. They did all kinds of things to get rid of it. Don't you think that maybe they've done all they can do?" His face fell again.

"Nope. Not at all," was her quick reply. "Think of all the things that it takes time to get out of your system. You know, like athletes, who get disqualified because a cold pill they took three weeks before is still in them. Some things, especially certain chemicals, take a long time for your body to process. So, even if the doctors didn't get it all out the other day, that just means it was hiding or something."

"Thanks for trying to cheer me up, Lois." He smiled wanly.

"Clark, trust me. I'm not trying to cheer you up. Well, okay, maybe I am. But I know what I'm talking about. You need to believe me. After all, when have I ever lied to you?"

At that remark, he had to chuckle. "Gee, Lois, I don't know. How many times did you talk to me the first month I worked at the Planet?"

At that attempt at humor, Lois snorted and grabbed her purse. "C'mon, farmboy. Time to get out of the car."

"I'm hurt, Lois. I'm not the farmboy now."

"You're right. You're the flyboy. Either way, c'mon." She strode off toward the entrance, leaving him to hurry after her.

Clark smiled wryly. One thing about Lois — she was never dull.


The triage nurse in the Emergency Room shuffled some papers, looking for the message from Dr. Drayton. "Ah, here we are. Mr. Mann? Come with me. We'll get you settled in an examining room, and the doctor will be with you shortly." She rose and motioned for Clark to follow her.

As Lois trailed along in their wake, she almost wished for Nurse O'Brien. At least *she* had noticed Lois's existence. This nurse had looked right through her. Of course, Lois mused, that might be a good thing. If the nurse didn't notice her, she might let her stay with Clark.

"Just have a seat. I'll tell Dr. Drayton that you're here." The nurse bustled efficiently around the room for a minute and then made her way to the door. Seeing Lois for the first time, she asked, "What are *you* doing here? The waiting room is out there." She pointed firmly in the direction from which they had come.

"I know," Lois answered in stubborn tones. "I'll just keep Mr. Mann company, if you don't mind." There was no way that she was going to permit some officious nurse to separate her from her ailing boyfriend. He might need moral support, and Lois was going to be there to provide it.

Something in Lois's words or expression convinced the nurse to nod briskly and leave the room. "The doctor will be here soon."


Clark perched on the gurney that passed for a bed in the examination room, allowing Lois to take the solitary chair. Try as he might, he could not feel the least bit comfortable with the situation. He was beginning to doubt the wisdom of having come in regular clothes; while it had seemed a good idea back in his apartment, not wearing the Suit made it more likely that someone would recognize him as Clark, slicked-back hair and lack of glasses notwithstanding. But it was too late now; he was here in the hospital wearing a blue tee-shirt and an innocuous pair of jeans. The ailing superhero fidgeted with the Metropolis Metros baseball hat in his hands and tried to look calm.

"You're not fooling anyone," Lois interrupted his thoughts.

"What?" her startled boyfriend asked.

"I said you're not fooling anyone. You may try to look calm, but I can tell that you're nervous. It's all right, you know," she added in a reassuring tone. "Even Superman is allowed to have a bad day."

Clark tried to muster up a grin. "Thanks, Lois. Is Superman allowed to have a bad week?"

Lois tilted her head toward her shoulder while she considered her reply. "Hmm, let me think about that." Looking straight back at him, she asked, "How do you figure a bad week? By my count, you have only had a bad couple of days. You still have five to go."

A brisk knock on the door prevented Clark from answering her. He sighed in relief as Dr. Drayton opened the door a bit and asked, "Superman, may I come in?"

"Of course," was the quick response.

The ER doctor who had treated Superman two days before strode into the room, glancing at the papers on the metal clipboard in his left hand even as he thrust out his right at Clark and said, "Hello. How are you doing?"

Shaking the doctor's hand, Clark replied, "Other than feeling pretty rotten, not too bad. How about you?"

"I'm not complaining. Although we did have a couple of pretty serious cases today. I don't know that I realized before I came to Metropolis what an exciting place it is to live if you're an emergency medicine specialist," he said with a grin that crinkled his eyes. He turned to Lois and greeted her as well. "Didn't I see you here earlier today?"

"Probably. My partner and I were here covering the story of that teenager who got shot by the police." She debated whether or not to ask him about Antony's condition, but was forestalled by the doctor's next comment.

"Then you'll be pleased to hear that we just upgraded his condition to serious. I think he's going to make it."

Clark almost slumped in relief. He hadn't realized just how heavy a burden he had been feeling about not being able to do something during that confrontation between police and teenagers. Knowing that his inability to act as Superman had not resulted in anyone's death was an enormous weight off his shoulders. "That's great news," he said.

"Yes," agreed his partner. "Clark and I discovered that he had only been borrowing the car, so it would have been even more tragic if he had been killed over a misunderstanding."

"True," replied the doctor. "Now, Superman, let's see just what is going on with you. I need to take your vital signs, and then we'll see where we go from there."

A few minutes later, after having taken Clark's blood pressure and temperature, measured his pulse and respiration rate, and listened to his heart and lungs, the doctor slung his stethoscope around his neck and jotted down some notes on the clipboard. He murmured softly to himself a couple of times as he looked at the file from two days before and compared the two sets of data. "Superman, I don't want to alarm you, but your vital signs haven't changed at all since you left here two days ago. I would have expected them to have changed in some direction. Of course, not having your usual vital signs, I can only guess what they should be."

"I'm sorry, doctor. But I honestly don't know what they are myself. I've never been to see a doctor before," Clark explained sheepishly.

Dr. Drayton nodded. "I understand completely, Superman. Tell me your symptoms again, and be sure to tell me everything, no matter how trivial it seems."

"All right. Let's see…" Clark mentally ticked off his symptoms. "I feel achy all over, I still don't have any of my powers back, and I feel really tired. But I've been getting enough sleep. Yesterday, that's about all I did. So I ought to feel better."

"I see." The doctor perused his notes again. "What about today? Have you gotten much rest?

Clark choked back a laugh. "Not really. I've been pretty busy today. But still, it seems like I ought to feel better."

The doctor shook his head. "It all depends on what's going on here. In the best case scenario, your condition was so bad two days ago that I would expect you to take a while to recover completely. The body doesn't usually appreciate being traumatized by either germs or by injury. And frequently, the medical treatment necessary to cure one ill causes another that then takes time to heal. So, no, if you haven't been resting today, it's fairly understandable that you would feel pretty wiped out by now." Chewing on the end of his pen, the doctor continued, "What puzzles me though, is why you are still in pain. That seems to indicate that there may still be Kryptonite in your body somewhere."

The superhero blanched at hearing that theory. "You mean all that stuff you did to me day before yesterday didn't get it out?" He knew that he and Lois had discussed the possibility, but somehow hearing it from the doctor made it suddenly seem all too real.

"I'll have to do some tests to be sure, but that's what it looks like to me." Dr. Drayton's tone was sympathetic. "You see, sometimes toxins or other chemical substances, alcohol or certain drugs for example, hide in organs like the liver. Others hide in fat cells. It can take days or even weeks for some substances to be completely removed from the body. If that is the case with Kryptonite, then there might still be some inside you."

"And if there is?" Lois interrupted, worry in her voice.

"If there is, then we will have to discover where exactly it is and do our best to help Superman's body get rid of it." Dr. Drayton's matter-of-fact tone reassured Clark a little. So, let me get the lab tech up here and we'll get started." He stopped at the door and turned back to Clark. "I'll be back in a minute. Just wait patiently." A second later, the door closed quietly behind his back.

The instant the door was shut, Lois turned to her partner. "Wait patiently?! How am I supposed to do that? Huh? What does he mean they might not have gotten all the Kryptonite out of you?" She rose from the chair and began to pace around the tiny cubicle. "I thought you said the personnel here was competent. I thought this was supposed to be the best hospital in town. I thought …"

"That we'd never face any setbacks? Have any problems?" Clark's quiet voice interrupted her tirade. "Lois, calm down. It sounds a lot better to me than what I had been thinking." He patted the gurney beside him. "Come here."

She moved to the narrow bed and sat down at his side. Draping an arm around her shoulders, he gave her an encouraging squeeze. She leaned her head on his shoulder for an second, then pulled away. Before his eyes could register the hurt he felt at her withdrawal, she whispered, "I can't sit here like this. What if someone came in? I'm dating *Clark,* remember?"

"Thanks." He breathed a sigh of relief. "I thought for a minute you were mad at me."

"At you? No. At this stupid hospital, yes."

"Lo…is. It's not the hospital's fault. I almost hope that *is* the problem."

"You do?"

"Yeah. If there is still Kryptonite inside me, then that explains why I feel the way I do. If there isn't, then maybe my powers are never coming back. Maybe I'll feel lousy forever."

"Maybe you're a lunkhead who's borrowing trouble." Her affectionate grin took the sting from her words.

"Maybe." Clark returned the smile.

At that moment, the door opened to reveal a lab technician carrying the requisite paraphernalia to test blood and other fluids. "Superman, I'm Mary. The doctor wants me to draw some blood, and he wants a urine sample as well. Think you can manage that?" She smiled brightly as she pulled out the tourniquet and syringe necessary for her task. After swabbing his arm down with alcohol, she tightened the rubber tube around his biceps and felt for a vein. "This will just stick a little," she explained before jabbing a large-bored needle into his arm. She loosened the tourniquet and crimson fluid filled the glass vial attached to the needle. After filling three of the small containers, she removed the needle and placed a small bandage on his arm. Handing him the plastic cup, she led him to the door and indicated the men's room across the hall. "Just place it behind the little door and come back here." She smiled at him again as she gathered up her equipment. "The doctor will be back in a few minutes, just as soon as we have the lab results to him." The technician left the room.

Left to her own devices, Lois once more prowled the room, peeking into cupboards and drawers. She was on her fifth circuit around the room when Clark reappeared looking more tired than ever. "What on earth are you doing?" he asked as she pulled at a mysterious tube hanging from the wall.

Lois jumped at the sound of his voice. "You startled me!"

His raised eyebrows were his only response.

"Well, you did," she said defensively. "As to what I'm doing, I should think that it would be obvious."

"Hmm, let me see. You're investigating, because you are an investigative reporter?" he teased.

"Exactly!" she exclaimed proudly. "You have finally figured out a few things, Flyboy."

She was saved from having to explain just what he had figured out by the reappearance of Dr. Drayton. Lois subsided to the chair as Clark squared his shoulders to receive the news about the medical tests.

The doctor cleared his throat. "Superman, I'm sorry to say that my hunch was right. Both your blood and urine show moderate traces of Kryptonite particles."

Lois gasped. "That's bad, isn't it?"

"Well, yes and no. It's certainly not good. I would have preferred to have removed it all from Superman's system the first time he was here. On the other hand, it gives us something to work on."

Clark swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'm guessing this isn't going to be pleasant."

"No, not particularly," the doctor replied wryly. "On the other hand, it won't be quite as unpleasant as it was day before yesterday."

Clark steeled himself for the doctor's next words. "So, what, exactly, are you planning to do?"

"The first thing we need to do is get you back on dialysis to remove whatever Kryptonite is still in your bloodstream. And, while you won't like this part at all, I think that since the stuff is showing up in your urine, we should do everything we can to flush the particles out of that system as well."

As Dr. Drayton paused to take a breath, Clark asked, "And how do you do that?"

"We would increase your fluid intake greatly, thereby increasing your output."

"While he's hooked up to the dialysis machine?" Lois interjected

"Yes, of course."

"So how does he deal with the inevitable output?" Lois wanted to know. A minatory glance from her partner failed to squelch her. "He can't go anywhere if he's hooked up to that machine, can he?"

Dr. Drayton smiled. "No, he can't. So, Superman," he said, turning back to his patient, "we would use a catheter to solve that problem. It's really quite routine. I think we should get started as soon as possible."

The pallor in Clark's cheeks increased. Dialysis and catheters. Not exactly how he'd envisioned spending his evening. He had only a dim recollection of how the dialysis had worked before, but the thought of someone cutting into his arm to introduce tubes into blood vessels seemed familiar.

"Superman, as soon as the technician brings the portable machine in, we'll make an incision in your wrist and place a tube in your vein and another in the artery. Then we'll get started with the dialysis. I'd really like to go for about five hours this time."

Clark nodded his acquiescence. "All right. What about the other?" he asked.

"I'd like to put an IV in with normal saline along with having you drink a lot of water. We can put the catheter in while we're waiting for the dialysis machine. It only takes a minute." Dr. Drayton put a comforting hand on Clark's shoulder. "I know it doesn't sound like much fun, but I think it's the fastest way to get this stuff out of your body. And until we do, it's pretty obvious that you're going to feel pretty ill."

"You're right, Doctor. I need to get well." Clark took a deep breath. "Let's get started."

The physician turned to Lois and said gently, "Ms. Lane? I'm going to have to ask you to leave for a while. Perhaps you might want to go get something to eat. It's going to be a fairly long evening if you're planning to stay."

Lois stood and gathered her purse and coat. "That's fine. I'll go find some coffee or something. Can Superman have anything to eat? I could bring you something," she addressed her boyfriend.

"I'd rather that he didn't. It will be easier on his body if he doesn't have to digest anything along with everything we're doing to him. Superman can eat after the treatments are finished."

"All right. I'll be back in what, half an hour?" Lois asked.

"Thirty, forty-five minutes should be fine. We'll have Superman all set up by then." He grinned at Lois as she turned to go.

"Superman, you be good, all right? I'll be back in a bit." She looked at him sharply as she waited for a response.

"I'll be fine, Lois. Take your time." Clark smiled wanly at her, hoping that she'd disregard his words. He wanted her back as soon as possible. He didn't think he'd ever felt so alone as he had this past week. There was something incredibly isolating about being in a tiny cubicle, clad only in a backless hospital gown, tied to a bed while strange machines whirred and beeped. Without his powers, Clark felt completely vulnerable to threats both real and imagined. And in his current state, his imagination was doing a very good job of keeping him apprehensive. His only consolation was that the physician hadn't mentioned putting any tubes down his throat. Clark didn't think he could have handled that again.

"I'll send someone in with a gown. You can get changed, and then we'll begin." The doctor's cheerful tones did little to raise Clark's spirits. "I'll be right back." Dr. Drayton closed the door behind himself, leaving his patient to fight the nervousness that was rising in his throat.

Scant seconds later, a cheerful nurse entered the room and handed Clark a gown. "Put this on so it opens in the back. Would you like the back raised up on the bed so you can sit up?" Before he could open his mouth to answer, she had raised the bed and found the call button. "Once you're in the gown, get on into bed. If you need anything, push this button." She indicated a red button on the apparatus. "This blue button turns on the television. And the green one does the channels." She plumped the pillow and left the room.

Alone at last, Clark pulled his tee-shirt over his head. The doctor had no way of knowing, but tonight was a repeat of Clark's worst nightmare. Trapped in a medical room somewhere, tubes running in and out of him, unable to flee. His father's fearful admonition echoed in his head, "They'll put you in a lab and dissect you like a frog." Clark shook his head to clear it. Donning the gown, he climbed onto the narrow bed and pulled the covers up to his chest. Suddenly, he felt very, very cold.


As Lois's steps took her down the hospital corridor toward the coffee shop, inspiration struck. The forced confinement for the evening was a perfect opportunity to continue sifting through the traffic reports—traffic reports that were now tucked up snugly in Clark's desk drawer at the Planet. A quick glance at the clock hanging over an Exit sign showed Lois that she had at least thirty or forty minutes before the doctor was likely to let her back into Clark's room.

"No sense wasting time in that lousy coffee shop," she thought. "There's plenty of time to go to the office and get those folders. Clark'll never know I'm gone." Her decision made, she changed direction and headed for the parking garage. After all, Clark might not feel like working, but there was no reason why she couldn't continue their attempt to get to the bottom of whatever was rotten in the Metropolis Police Department.


Not long after Clark climbed into the bed, Dr. Drayton reappeared in the doorway accompanied by a nurse who reminded Clark of Hot Lips on the old television show M*A*S*H. She was carrying an assortment of medical paraphernalia that looked like it could be painful when put to use.

"This is Nurse Brown. She'll be assisting me in setting up your IV and some of the other equipment," Dr. Drayton's cheerful voiced filled the room.

Clark paled as the meaning of the physician's words sank in. For some reason, he had thought that perhaps he hadn't heard correctly earlier. The nurse began opening sterile packages and arranging equipment on metal trays while the doctor approached the bed.

"Now, just relax and it will be over in just a minute." Dr. Drayton reached for the sheet and blanket that were covering his patient. Clark closed his eyes and willed himself to breathe. He wondered what would kill him first: the Kryptonite or the cure.

"Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" the blonde nurse asked in a bracing tone several minutes later.

"Compared to what?" was Clark's initial thought. His innate politeness kept him from voicing it, however. "I guess not."

Bad was relative, he decided. At the moment, he had an intravenous needle stuck in his right wrist, with the tube from it taped half-way up his arm. "So you can move your arm without worrying about pulling it out," the Hot Lips look-alike had explained. Clark supposed that was a good explanation for the tape on his leg as well. All he really knew was that he was uncomfortable and lonely. Even though he knew that Lois was just obeying the doctor's command to leave for a bit, he wished she were there. And the nurse, although friendly enough, wasn't anywhere near as reassuring as Nurse O'Brien had been the other day. Clark idly wondered how long before they started the dialysis. If he was going to have to be on it for at least five hours, he wished they would get going. He was tired and he wanted to go home.

A sharp knock on the door heralded the arrival of a technician with a portable dialysis machine and another physician. "This is Dr. Hammond. He's a venologist and will assist with the incisions in your blood vessels," Dr. Drayton explained.

"Hello. Nice to meet you," Clark replied.

Dr. Hammond was a large, ruddy-faced man in his late fifties. "I'll just bet you think it's nice to meet me," he boomed. "Everyone likes to meet people who are about to stick a knife in them."

Clark winced at the doctor's words.

The man laughed at Clark's expression. "You don't have to look so pained, son. We'll give you some lidocaine before we start. You won't feel a thing."

"Thanks," was all Clark could manage to reply. Where on earth was Lois? If she didn't return soon, he might just take off looking for her, backless hospital gown, tubes, and all.

Dr. Drayton, busying himself with preparing to do the procedure on his patient, spoke in encouraging tones to Clark. "Don't mind him. His bark is a lot worse than his bite, and he's got the most delicate touch of anyone in the hospital. Trust me; you're in good hands."

"Glad to hear it," Clark replied, as the doctors took his left arm and scrubbed it down with Betadine.

"You should just feel a bit of a pinch," Dr. Hammond explained as he slid the hypodermic needle into Clark's wrist. "The lidocaine may sting a little for a minute, but then it should feel numb."

Clark nodded dumbly. These were all new sensations to him. Even if they had given him an anesthetic the other day, he had been too ill to notice. He winced as the doctor depressed the plunger. If that was a little sting, he didn't want to feel a big one.

The two doctors conversed softly as they waited for the local anesthetic to take effect. Clark wondered if it would: just because he was no longer invulnerable didn't necessarily mean that ordinary medications would affect him. As he glimpsed the scalpels on the metal tray, he hoped that the medication would. The glittering blades looked like they would be painful.

"Is your wrist numb?" Dr. Drayton asked, sticking a needle into the flesh.

"I guess so. I can't really feel anything," Clark replied.

"Great," roared Dr. Hammond. "You might want to look somewhere other than at your wrist. Of course, it all depends on how much you like the sight of your own blood." Grabbing a scalpel in one hand and Clark's left wrist in the other, he and Dr. Drayton worked quickly. "Don't forget to breathe, son," he barked at his patient.

Startled, Clark inhaled sharply. Amazed, Clark realized that he had been holding his breath in anticipation of something; he wasn't sure what. At least what they were doing to his wrist didn't seem to hurt; it was more of a pulling sensation. Nonetheless, he'd be happy when they were finished. Clark tried to focus his thoughts on his and Lois's investigation. Maybe they'd get enough information from the traffic reports to prove their hunch.

"There, all finished." Dr. Drayton and Dr. Hammond beamed at Clark. Indicating to the technician to turn on the machine, they watched with satisfied smiles as his blood began to flow from one tube through the machine and back into his wrist through the other tube. "We'll just leave you to recuperate a bit. Someone will be in to check on you in a bit."

"Thanks," Clark managed to get out as they left the room.

Alone once more, he took inventory of his situation. He was by himself, hooked up to a machine through which flowed his blood, attached to an IV that dripped saline into his veins, and chilled. The cold permeated his bones and spread outward through his muscles before returning to his very core and affecting his spirit. Clark wondered idly why hospitals were always so cold when it seemed more logical to keep sick people warm. He also wondered if Diana Stride would be happy to see him now. She hadn't managed to kill him, but she had certainly come close. And if the medical treatment didn't work, in a sense she would have succeeded at killing Superman; for without powers, Clark would be unable to carry on as the superhero. He would become the "ordinary man doing an ordinary job" whom Lois had professed to love a year ago. But would she? Although she had expressed her love for him as Clark, she had known about his alter ego at the time. Would she still love him if he were only half the man she had come to love?

On that dismal thought, Clark felt an overwhelming desire to slide completely under the covers and remain there, hidden from sight and perhaps able to blank out the gloomy ideas that wanted to take over in his mind. He was thwarted, however, by the tubes — tubes that he was terrified of dislodging. It had been extremely unpleasant having them inserted the first time. He didn't want to have to go through the experience a second time. So he lay still in the narrow bed, listening to the whirring of the dialysis machine and wondering how much longer it would be before Lois returned to remind him that he wasn't isolated; that he did belong.


Five minutes later, a sharp rap on the door signaled the arrival of the currently healthier partner of Lane and Kent. "Hi! Hope you didn't miss me!" Lois said cheerfully as she bounced into the room, arms full of folders. "It took a little longer than I had thought it would to go get these." She waved airily at the papers she had just deposited on the counter. "So, how are you feeling?" She turned to face Clark at that moment. Seeing him lying there looking so forlorn and miserable tore at her heart. But she pasted a brave smile on her face and continued in cheerful tones, "A bit like a pincushion, I suppose."

Moving over to the side of the bed, she brushed a cool hand against his forehead. "Well, at least you don't seem to have a fever. Be grateful for small favors and all that." She swallowed hard. Something in Clark's face told her that while he wanted her to hold him, now was not the time. Drat the man, anyway! If he had to be sick, why couldn't it be as Clark so that she could be open about her feelings? As it was, he seemed miserable and in need of some TLC that she couldn't directly give. How on earth could she cheer him up when he was here as Superman? She didn't want to risk saying anything that might be overheard that could give away his secret. An idea formed in her brain, and her eyes began to dance. Maybe she *could* tell him how she felt. "Superman? Have you seen Clark lately?"

Clark shook his head in disbelief. Now what was she up to? "No, not in the last couple of days. Not since that mess with Diana Stride. Why? Is something wrong?" He was genuinely puzzled.

"No, nothing's wrong. It's just that I haven't seen him in a while. He's staying with a sick friend, and I miss him. I miss being able to hug him and tell him just how much I love him." She paused to consider her next comment. "Say, you sure you're not telepathic or something? Because then maybe you could give him the message." She smiled tenderly at the wonder she saw on his face at her words.

He returned the smile and nodded. "I don't think I'm telepathic, but I'll be sure to give him the message when I see him."

Lois patted his shoulder in encouragement. "Thanks. I'd appreciate it. I have a feeling that he's been a little down lately, and it concerns me."

"I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, Lois. Any man fortunate enough to be loved by you couldn't feel bad for very long."

Lois smiled contentedly. Apparently her words had done the trick. Clark looked much more like his usual optimistic self. "Do you need anything? I thought that doctor said he wanted you to drink a lot tonight."

Clark shrugged his shoulders tentatively. "Dunno. Nobody's brought any water or anything, so maybe he changed his mind."

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, followed by a volunteer bearing a tray with what appeared to be a meal on it. "Dr. Drayton wants you to eat and drink all this."

"What is it?" Lois demanded.

"Dinner." The volunteer put the tray down and left the room.

Lois moved a little bed table over to the gurney and removed the covers from Clark's dinner. He gazed in horror at the contents of the tray she revealed. "What *is* that?" he asked.

Laughing, Lois replied, "Dinner. Didn't you listen?"

"No, Lois, I meant what is it? It doesn't exactly look like food to me."

Peering more closely at the tray's contents, Lois chuckled again. "It's broth and apple juice and Jello and a popsicle. A classic clear liquid diet." She tucked the napkin under his chin. "Bon appetit." She sank into the chair by the bed and succumbed to laughter. "If you could only see your face! It's priceless!"

Clark took a deep breath before replying, "Yeah. Okay. I'm glad you're so entertained. And aren't you hungry?"

"Nope. I grabbed a burger on the way to the Planet. I'm fine. You, on the other hand, seem to have a problem."

"I do? And just what is that?" he asked indignantly as he tried unsuccessfully to taste some of the broth.

"You don't seem to be able to manage that spoon. Here, let me help you." She perched on the edge of the bed as she fed him. Every time he opened his mouth to protest, she shoved in another spoonful of the broth. When she ran out of that, she started on the Jello. "Look on the bright side. They could have given you a bland diet."

"And how would that be worse?" he managed to mumble between mouthfuls of Jello.

"Well, at least with the clear diet you get a little color and taste variety. I mean look at this tray. You had the lovely yellow chicken broth, the amber apple juice, the red Jello, and the piece de resistance, a purple popsicle." She unwrapped the masterpiece and stuck it in his mouth. "With the bland diet, everything is white and tasteless. So they give you cream of nothing soup, rice pudding without the raisins, and a carton of milk." She sat back, pleased with herself. "Now tell me this wasn't better."

Clark surprised himself by chuckling at her nonsense. "All right, you win. This was better or at least more colorful." He looked at her gratefully. Somehow, she had managed to dispel his depression and help his normal cheerful personality reappear. He wondered if she had any idea just how much he loved her, just how much he needed her. But now was definitely neither the time nor the place to discuss that topic, so he reverted to the professional. "So, what's in the folders? Or should I know?"

"You should know, of course." She grinned at him again.

"Hmm, it's gotta be work because it's not tax time. Let me guess—traffic reports?"

"Yep. I figured that if I'm sitting here for the next five hours, I might as well keep plugging away at them." She gave him a serious look. "You, however, should probably try to get some sleep. You look like you could use it."

"Thanks for the offer, Lois, but do you honestly think I could sleep with all this?" He looked at all the visible tubes. "If you give me some files, I think I can manage to turn pages one-handed."

She looked at his skeptically. "Are you sure? I don't want to tax your strength."

"Lo…is," he protested. "I'm not dying. I'm just…poisoned. I'll be fine. Give me a folder." As she complied, he had one more request. "Lois, would you mind opening the door and leaving it open? It's awfully small and stuffy in here."

"Sure." She handed him a folder and propped open the door.

They worked in companionable silence, sorting traffic stops by the race of the driver. As they neared the bottom of the stack of reports, there was a loud commotion in the hall. "I'm going to go see what that is," Lois informed her partner as she headed for the corridor.

She gasped in disbelief as she watched an ambulance crew hurriedly push a stretcher into the main trauma room, doctors and nurses in surgical scrubs scurrying in their wake. A large, handsome black man lay on the gurney, his eyes squeezed shut in pain. If it had been possible, Lois would have thought that she recognized the man. But there was no way. There couldn't be.

"Lois! What are you doing here?" Inspector Henderson's harsh tones interrupted her musing.

"Henderson, I'm here with a sick friend. What are you doing here? And more importantly, what happened to that man?" She cocked her head in the direction of the trauma room.

"Lois, I'm here on official business. That man was just involved in a police traffic stop that turned violent. Hopefully, he'll stay conscious so he can tell me what happened." Henderson was momentarily distracted by the arrival of two uniformed officers. With a quiet, "Excuse me," he posted them by the doors of the trauma room. Returning to Lois, he continued, "So, if you're here, where's Clark?"

"Following up on a story from the other day. Why?" She was about to let him know just what she thought of detectives who only wanted to talk to the male half of the partnership when he answered.

"Because I want to talk to the two of you about something important, but I want to talk to you together. Can you get a hold of him? I'd like to see the two of you tonight."

Lois pondered her answer. Henderson rarely, if ever, sought them out, so this must be big. "He and I should be at his place around eleven, if that's not too late."

"Good. I'll see you then," was the terse reply.


Lois stared at the doors to the trauma room, playing with the niggling thought in her head. The man on the stretcher had looked familiar; but there had been a wide gauze bandage around his brow, partially obscuring his features. And, she reminded herself, she had only seen him once. There was no reason, no reason at all, to think that the man in the trauma room was Clark's friend Mark. Inspector Henderson should know who it was though. Lois looked around the area and sighed in relief when she saw him talking to one of the ER nurses. Lois walked toward him, questions jumbling in her mind.

Going back and forth from foot to foot, Lois waited impatiently for the Inspector to finish his conversation with the nurse. Apparently he had gotten whatever he needed; he was almost smiling as he turned once more in Lois's direction.

"I thought you were here with a sick friend. Won't he or she be wondering what happened to you?" he queried.

"No, he knows where I am," she replied. "I have a couple of questions for you, though."

Henderson raised his right eyebrow, a sure sign that Lois should tread warily. "I see," he responded laconically.

Realizing that Henderson wasn't going to volunteer anything at this point, Lois pressed on. "The man you just came in with. He looks familiar. What's his name?"

"Well, Lois, if you know him, then you should know his name."

"Not amusing. If I were sure, I wouldn't ask, now would I?"

"Lois, relax. The guy's name is Mark Thompson. He's a doc over at Children's Hospital. Why do you think everyone here got so bent out of shape over a little head wound?" Henderson's dry tones were reassuring.

"No," Lois said in a strained voice. "Not Mark!"

"Afraid so, Lois. He a friend of yours?"

"He's really a friend of Clark's. They went to college together." Lois shrugged. "I've only met him once, but he didn't seem like the kind of person to get into trouble with the police."

"He's not. That's part of why I want to talk to you and Clark. But not here and not now." The detective turned as if to go but was forestalled by Lois's hand on his sleeve.

"Henderson, how bad is it?" Lois had to know.

"He's a lucky guy. Or maybe he just has a hard head. It sounds like it's only a graze on the scalp. He may need a couple of stitches, but he should be all right." Henderson pulled his arm out of Lois's grasp. "Lois, I really need to get back to the station. I'll talk to you later."

This time she let him go, with a terse, "Bye," for farewell. Turning to return to Clark's room she realized, "Oh, lord, I've got to tell Clark." Her boyfriend was definitely not going to be happy about this turn of events. They needed to get to the bottom of things so that no more racial incidents happened in the city, turning Metropolis into another Cincinnati.

Lois entered the treatment room to find Clark looking anxious.

"So what was going on?" he wanted to know.

"It seems there was another confrontation between the MPD and an African-American male," she informed him quietly.

"No!" he exclaimed. "If only…"

"Stop right there. Enough with the *if only's*. You couldn't have done anything to prevent it. You're here, sick. And even if you weren't, you might have been on the other side of the world." Lois spoke more sharply than she had intended, but her nerves were a bit stretched. She swallowed, then began again, "Superman, there's more."

"More?" He raised an eyebrow.

"Yes. The guy who got shot, um, it was Clark's friend Mark." She hurried on, "But Henderson says it's only a flesh wound and that a couple of stitches should fix him up just fine. Also, before I forget, he wants to meet Clark and me at his apartment at eleven, assuming, of course, that Clark is home by then." She drew in a long breath.

Clark zeroed in on the most important bit of information that Lois had given him. "It was Mark? What happened?"

Lois placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I'm not sure. I tried to get Henderson to tell me, but all he'd say was `it was a police traffic stop that turned violent.' He seemed like he was going to tell us at Clark's place."

"At Clark's place?"

"Yes, weren't you listening? Henderson wants to talk to me and Clark at his apartment at eleven. He said it was really important."

Clark lay back on the pillows, his face even paler than before. "Do you have any ideas?"

"The only thing I can figure is that he knows something that he wants us to write about." Lois shrugged her shoulders. "We'll find out in a few hours. In the meantime, I want to get this data figured out. If we can come up with any patterns, we can ask Henderson about them tonight."

Nodding his agreement, Clark returned his attention to the papers on his lap. He was grateful to his partner for getting the files. The work was distracting him from how he was feeling. Perhaps the five hours would go fairly quickly.

The two reporters worked in a silence broken only by the mechanical whir of the machine and the occasional appearance of a nurse to take Clark's vital signs and exhort him to drink more water. None of them would accept his plaintive, "But I feel like I'm floating already."

"That's the idea," they would smirk as they plunked yet another full pitcher down on his table. "Drink it all up. The sooner you do, the sooner you may get out of here."

Lois wasn't any better. As soon as the nurse would leave, she'd pour him a glass of water and solicitously hold it to his lips. When he protested, she threatened to pour it on him.

"Not funny, Lois," he grumbled as he drank the icy fluid.

"Hey, I'm just trying to help."

"You're trying all right," he muttered.

A cold drop danced on his neck. "I heard that," Lois said sweetly. "Now, shall we get back to work?"

Clark turned pitiful brown eyes up at his partner. "Lois, that was so unfair. You know I can't reach that water."

"Let that be a lesson to you," she laughed, as she swiped at it with her hand. "Now, c'mon. We need to get this finished."

"All right. I promise, I'll be good." He flashed his trademark grin at her.

Lois put the glass to his lips once more, forcing him to drink what had to be the hundredth glass of water. "Yeah, right. And the Easter Bunny exists. I'm not falling for that look, Flyboy."

"Lois, I feel like I'm drowning here." He did look somewhat uncomfortable.

"But, you can't drown. Trust me." She gave him an evil smile. "The nice nurse told me that they took care of that problem."

"Nurse Ratchet? Yeah, they took care of it all right. Doesn't mean it feels good," he groused. "In fact, it feels pretty awful."

Lois sighed. "All right, I'll let you rest for a bit." She rearranged her papers and took up her pen. "Okay. I've finished my stack. What about you?"

Clark nodded. "Me too. Shall we see what we've got?"

As the two of them recorded the traffic stops by race, a disturbing pattern began to emerge. In the past six months there had been a marked increase in stops of black men by officers in the fourteenth precinct: the one where Hyperion Avenue was, the one where Mark Thompson lived. The one that had gotten a new captain six months before. Captain Morrison's precinct. And while only two months before that, whites outnumbered blacks four-to-one in getting stopped for traffic violations in the fourteenth precinct, blacks now outnumbered whites in the same proportion. Not only were more African-Americans being stopped, but a higher proportion were also having checks run for outstanding warrants on them than were whites. This pattern had continued even though the reports showed the same proportion came back as positive.

Lois let out a low whistle in unison with Clark. "Somehow, I don't think the racial demographics of that neighborhood have changed that rapidly, do you?"

He shook his head, dumbfounded at the numbers they saw. "They can't have. If they had, every house in the fourteenth precinct would have had to have been on the market. They haven't been. If I were a cynical man, I'd think that the new captain had told his staff to deliberately target African-Americans. Nothing else can explain these numbers."

Lois snorted in exasperation. "So, do you have any bright ideas on how to prove any of this? Right now, we have data and a hunch as to why the data looks the way it does."

Clark shrugged. "It could be that this Captain Morrison is from some other town where there is a lot of racism on the police force. Or maybe he's just a racist. Or he simply doesn't care and has allowed his officers to follow *their* natural inclinations. Or maybe, he and the officers in this precinct really do believe that there is justification for racial profiling."

"Right. As if anyone could think that," Lois commented.

"Actually, when `profiling' was first used as a tool of law enforcement, race was just one component of many. And a lot of fairly well-respected people in law enforcement honestly believed that profiling was a useful tool," Clark explained.

Lois glared at him. "How?"

"Because, so they say, there are `profiles' that do signal something wrong. For instance, a twenty year old woman driving a BMW around the South Side at two o'clock in the morning is suspicious. There are very few legitimate reasons for a woman with that profile to be in that area at that time of night. Someone could argue that she is probably involved in something illegal, like prostitution or drugs." Clark's tone was steady. "Conversely, if an unwashed, unkempt person is walking around Hyperion Avenue at two o'clock, that too is suspicious. The problem with the traffic stops in the fourteenth precinct is that the only reason people seem to be stopped is their race. Most of these people were driving nice cars and weren't doing anything illegal or even suspicious. And that is just plain wrong."

Lois smiled at him. "Why do I think I hear an Op-ed piece coming?"

Clark grinned back at her. "You know me too well."

"Well, I think we've done all we can do here. So now I guess we just wait for you to be finished." Lois stretched her arms high over her head. "Do you mind if I wander outside and see if there's any news about Mark?"

"No, I wish you would."

She blew him a kiss as she left the room.

A casual stroll down the corridor allowed her to discover that the uniformed policemen had left the area. Inspector Henderson had also left the building, but the activity in the trauma room indicated that Mark Thompson was still being treated. Lois attempted to ask a nurse about him but was summarily dismissed with a terse, "No comment. Privacy rules, you know."

Lois made her way back to Clark's room, unhappy that she had no more to report about his friend. At least they might be able to get something out of Henderson later in the evening. A quick glance at her watch showed the time as nine-thirty. Clark had been here for four and a half hours; maybe he'd soon be able to leave.

She had barely had time to tell him what little she had learned about Mark when Dr. Drayton knocked on the door. "So, how're you doing?" the physician inquired. "Thirsty?"

Clark choked back a laugh. "I don't think that would be possible. Lois has been pouring water into me every chance she gets."

"Good, good. Let's take a look at things." The doctor moved to the bed to check Clark's vital signs. "Well, this is interesting. Your blood pressure is significantly lower than it was. I wish I knew what was normal for you. At any rate, I think it's time to draw a little blood and see if we've gotten it cleaned up. Someone will be here in a minute to do that." He smiled encouragingly at his patient. "And if everything looks good, we'll let you out of here."

"Great." Clark sighed in relief. It was more than time to get rid of the toxin poisoning him and get back to normal.

Dr. Drayton paused at the door to ask, "By the way, do you feel any better?"

Clark thought a minute before replying. "Yes, I think that I do. I guess that's a good sign too."

"Most definitely. I'll get a lab tech up here." The doctor exited the room.


Every tick of the clock seemed an eternity to Lois as they waited for the lab results. So she was almost giddy with relief when Dr. Drayton returned to the tiny room.

"Superman, things look really good. The latest tests show no Kryptonite at all in your blood or urine. So, we'll get you unhooked and let you go home." The doctor looked pointedly at Lois. "Ms. Lane, would you mind asking the technician down at the nurses' station to come in here?"

"Of course. I'd be happy too."

"And, Ms. Lane? I'll let you know when you can come back in."

Clark smiled broadly at the spluttering sound that came from his girlfriend's lips.


Thirty minutes later, the Daily Planet's star reporting team left the hospital and headed for Clark's apartment — and their meeting with Inspector Henderson.


"Thank you, Lois," Clark said quietly once they were in the Jeep.

"For what? Making you work all night when you were tired and in the hospital?" she asked. She glanced sideways at her partner in the passenger seat, his lap full of file folders. He never ceased to amaze her.

"For staying at the hospital with me. And yes, for making me work. It helped make the time go faster. And now we're halfway finished with the research for that article." A smile crinkled his eyes. "I'm glad you stayed."

"You're welcome, Clark." She grinned evilly. "It was kind of fun, actually."

"Fun? What part of the evening did I miss?" Clark was curious. "I seemed to have missed the fun part."

Lois chuckled at his expression. "Well, my favorite part had to have been the relentless stream of nurses pouring water down your throat. Every time a new pitcher showed up, the look on your face was priceless."

Clark smiled ruefully. "I'll just bet. You're right; you did enjoy yourself forcing all that water on me."

"Yes, I did. It's good for you. Builds character."

"Uh huh." He sounded unconvinced. "Character notwithstanding, what do you suppose Henderson wants to talk about?"

"Something to do with the shootings today, I think," Lois responded. "At least that's how he sounded when I talked to him." She kept her eyes on the road as they made their way through the darkened streets of Metropolis. Changing the subject, she went on, "It's a little after ten now. Do you want anything to eat? You want me to stop somewhere? We should have enough time."

Clark shook his head. "No, that's okay. I have food at home if I get hungry."

"You're not hungry? You must be. You haven't eaten since lunch!"

Laughing, he replied, "You have obviously forgotten that I had `dinner' at the hospital. I distinctly recall you telling me how good it looked."

"Oh, yeah. The popsicle and the broth." She grinned back at him. "Well, if you're sure…"

"I'm sure, Lois. Right now, I'm still so full of water that I doubt I could eat a thing."

She nodded her understanding and continued the drive to Clark's apartment on Clinton Street. Finding a space in the pale glow of a streetlight, Lois deftly parked the Jeep and shut off the engine. "Got everything?" she asked as she opened the door.

Clark hefted the neatly arranged stack of files and nodded. "Looks like it."

As the pair climbed the steps to Clark's apartment, Lois noticed that Clark seemed to be moving much more easily than he had earlier in the day. She hoped that the doctor had finally removed all the Kryptonite from his system. It had been difficult the past few days, watching him fight for his life at first and then later try to maintain his normal work schedule when he was still so ill. Except for a couple of times when his lack of powers had prevented him from saving someone, he had pretended to be in good spirits, consistently saying, "Fine," when she asked how he was feeling. She was happy to see the spring back in his step.

Juggling the files in one arm, Clark opened the door and waited for Lois to enter. Standing on the landing of his apartment, he drew in a deep breath of contentment. It was good to be home, feeling better and having Lois with him. The only snag was the imminent arrival of Inspector Henderson. If not for that, he and Lois would have been able to do some serious cuddling. As it was, any personal issues were going to have to wait. This visit from Henderson might be the break they needed on the police department investigation. The dour detective rarely volunteered any information; to have asked for a meeting was unheard of.

"Should I make some coffee?" Lois broke in on his thoughts. "I know you said you were still floating on all that water, but I could sure use some."

He grinned at her comment. "Yeah, I could use some coffee. I imagine Henderson wouldn't mind any either when he gets here. He's had a long day too."

"Ya think?" Lois rummaged around the kitchen, pulling out the coffee-making necessities. "Regular or decaf?"

"Regular. I don't see this conversation being a quick one, do you?" he wondered.

Lois pulled her head out of the cabinet she was searching. "No, not really. Even if what he has to say is brief, I think I have a lot of questions for him." She shot a frustrated look at her partner. "Okay. Last time I made coffee here, I know that you had filters. So where are they?"

"Over there, by the coffee-maker. Are you sure you don't want me to do it?"

"Yes, I'm sure, Clark. You need to rest. You've had a rough day and evening. I think I can manage coffee."

Her complete lack of culinary skills never failed to intrigue him. Equally astounding was her pride in that fact. For Lois Lane, arch-perfectionist, to be as incompetent as she was in the kitchen should have been a source of humiliation and frustration. But apparently not. She seemed to revel in her ineptitude, to thrive on her ability to burn water. Yet at the same time, she loved to eat. Clark wondered idly if she'd accept his proposal, once he got up the nerve to ask her to marry him, just because he could cook. He smiled to himself as he realized that he'd come a long way in the last few months if he was no longer concerned about Lois wanting his superpowers but instead was wondering if she'd want him for his cooking skills. Clark leaned against the counter, prepared to enjoy watching her attack coffee-making with the same intensity that she did everything.

Several minutes later, after having over-filled the coffee pot, put in the wrong filter, and almost dumped salt into the sugar bowl, Lois sighed in satisfaction. "There. The coffee should be ready about the time Henderson arrives."

"That's good." Clark smiled tenderly at his girlfriend. Snaking an arm around her waist, he pulled her close. His eyes closed as he leaned down to kiss her. As his lips moved against hers, she pressed closer to him. "Hmm," he murmured. "I could do this all night."

Lois kissed him again before leaning back in his arms to look at his face. His brown eyes were so rich it was easy to lose herself in them. "Me too. But we can't. Henderson will be here soon; and by the time that's over, it will be time for bed."

Clark grinned wolfishly at her. "Really? I guess I can wait, then."

Slapping him playfully on the chest, Lois gently disengaged from the embrace. "That wasn't what I meant, and you know it." She failed miserably at repressing a laugh when he responded with a pout. "Get out there," she said as she pushed him toward the living room sofa.

"Hey!" he complained. "You should be nice to me. As you said, I've had a rough night. All those needles and knives and things sticking in me." He turned a pitiful face in her direction, a face that might have made her feel sorry for him if the crinkles in the corners of his eyes hadn't given him away.

"Especially `things,' I suppose." She laughed at his baleful expression.

"Ain't that the truth. I think the `things' were definitely the worst. Sharp I can handle, but that other…" he trailed off, at a loss for words to finish the thought.

"Maybe you should remember that the next time someone besides me tries to kiss you." Lois plopped down on the sofa and patted the spot next to her. "C'mon. Let's take one more look at this stuff before Henderson gets here."

"All right. Sounds like a plan." Clark lowered himself to the couch and picked up a file.

A sharp rap on the door interrupted their perusal of the files. As Clark loped up the stairs to let Henderson in, Lois restacked the folders. No sense letting the policeman know what they had unless absolutely necessary, she thought.

"Bill, hi. C'mon in." Clark welcomed his visitor and ushered him into the living room. "Would you like some coffee? We just made a fresh pot."

The inspector removed his coat and answered, "Yes, that would be good. It's been a long day."

"I can imagine," Lois spoke dryly. She looked as if she were about to say more, but Clark quelled her with a sharp glance. "Want some help with the coffee?" she asked, her dulcet tones not fooling Clark for an instant. He better have a darn good reason for silencing her. She rose quickly and met him in the kitchen. "What was *that* all about?" she whispered.

Clark spoke quietly. "I just think that we should see what he has to say before we say too much." He poured coffee into thick mugs and placed them on a tray. "Where did the sugar go?"

"Here it is," she replied as she plunked it down on the tray. Opening the refrigerator door, she pulled out the pitcher of milk. "Anything else?"

"No, that should do it." Carrying the tray, Clark led the way back to the living room and the waiting inspector.

The three busied themselves for a few minutes with the coffee, Lois gingerly adding sweetener while Clark dumped in what seemed to be half the milk and an enormous quantity of sugar. Lois noticed that Henderson took his black. "Fits his personality," she thought.

Clark broke the silence. "So, Bill, what brings you here at this time of night?"

"This," the inspector replied sharply as he slapped down a copy of the afternoon edition of the Daily Planet. "`Shoot first, ask questions later?'" Henderson's tone was brusque. "Nice headline. Did you write it, Lois?"

"Nope, can't take credit for that, although I must say, it does have a nice ring to it. Do you like it, Clark?" she asked innocently.

"Lo…is," he began.

"Look," Henderson interjected, "I'm not complaining about that headline. It's what made me decide to talk to you two." He took a swallow of coffee. "I get the feeling from that article that the two of you think that there is a problem of racism on the police force."

Clark nodded slowly. "It looks that way to us, yeah."

"At least, it does in the fourteenth precinct," Lois added. "We had heard some things that made us curious before today's incidents."

The inspector put his mug down on the coffee table with a pronounced thud. "What made you think that?"

"Someone told us that there were unwarranted stops of black males in that area, that police officers were running background checks on people that they had pulled over for no apparent reason since traffic tickets weren't even issued. It got us wondering about what was going on," Clark explained.

"I see. And what have you found out so far?" Henderson's voice was tight.

"Not enough," Lois quickly replied. "Why?"

"Because I would like to help you, but I don't want to be identified as a source." Henderson grimaced wryly. "Not only do I like to eat regular meals, but I happen to like my job. I don't want to jeopardize it." He took a deep breath. "But you two are right. There is a problem with some members of the department, and I want it cleaned up. It embarrasses me to be part of the same organization."

"What about Internal Affairs?" Clark asked.

"IAD? You've got to be kidding." The sardonic detective actually laughed. "For one thing, it probably wouldn't do any good. For another, an IAD investigation would take months, and during all that time, there would be more incidents. I'd rather the Daily Planet handle this one."

Lois took a deep breath. "All right. Is this on or off the record?" she asked as she pulled her micro-recorder from her purse.

"On the record, as long as I'm `an unidentified source.' I'm sure that your capable research skills will be able to find the corroboration you need," he said dryly. "And perhaps the two of you would be willing to share with me?"

"Of course, Bill," Clark replied. "Let's have what you've got."

Henderson picked up his coffee. "I think it all boils down to Morrison, a nasty piece of work if there ever was one." He intercepted the triumphant look that passed between the two reporters. "I see you share my opinion." He took another swig of the hot drink and continued, "He came to Metropolis about a year ago, got promoted to Precinct Captain late last summer."

"Isn't that unusual?" Clark probed. "To come from somewhere else and get that high a rank that fast?"

The inspector shrugged one shoulder. "Usually, yes. But Morrison's wife had been transferred here, and he had gone to college with the deputy police chief. I'm not sure how close they'd stayed in contact in the interim, but that connection made a difference. At any rate, once he became captain, things began to change a lot in the fourteenth precinct. Suddenly, there were rumors that the beat cops had been told to step up traffic enforcement, which was odd in and of itself. That part of town is not normally a problem area. Guess people who drive BMW's don't want to risk hurting them. Anyway, a couple of people filed complaints about harassment, but nothing happened. I'm not at all sure that Morrison didn't just file `em in the circular file. I've heard a couple of people talking about some minor incidents involving excessive force in that precinct as well. As far as I can tell, there has been a definite racial component in the increased enforcement." He peered into his empty mug.

"More coffee?" Clark rose to get the carafe.


As the policeman paused in his narrative, Lois asked, "Where did he come from?"


"I'd say that says it all," Lois remarked.

Henderson acknowledged her comment with another wry twist of the lips. "Could be. They do seem to have some long- standing problems on the police force there. Don't get me wrong. I like Cincinnati. It's a nice city, nice people. But some of them need an attitude adjustment."

Clark spoke quietly. "It would be interesting to find out if Morrison had been involved in any of the incidents down there."

"Well, do your homework. You two seem to be pretty good at that. If you come up with nothing, let me know. I might know someone there who would be willing to help you out." Henderson sipped his coffee appreciatively. "Now, *this* is a good cup of coffee."

"Thanks," Lois smirked. "And you thought I couldn't cook."

"That was Bobby, Lois," Clark reminded her.

Henderson chuckled. "At any rate, from what I've heard from a couple of guys who've been at the fourteenth for years, Morrison has let it be known that African-Americans should be watched closely. He seems to think that being black and on Hyperion Avenue should be mutually exclusive events. The officers on the next promotion list from that precinct are all ones who've got a high rate of traffic stops." He paused a minute to let that item sink in. "I understand you two already have the records for the past year. Check out the names of the officers involved and match it against this list."

Lois repressed a gasp. "How do you know that?"

"I have my sources too, you know." The detective pulled a folded paper from his inside pocket. Handing it to Clark, he said, "These are the people slated for promotion. They are also the ones with the highest rates of stops and background checks. Now, Captain Morrison can say that that just proves that they're good cops, but every single one of them is white, and over half the people stopped by those particular cops are black." He sat back in his chair. Swallowing some more coffee, he went on, "And those two who half-killed that kid this morning — they're on the list. Apparently, Morrison likes their `approach' to police work."

"Great," Clark commented dryly. "By the way, Lois told me that a friend of mine got shot by a policeman tonight. Do you know anything about that?"

"Yes," Henderson answered. "The doctor was apparently on his way home when one of the guys on that list decided he better improve his chances for promotion. Must not have written enough tickets lately. Anyway, the cop pulls the doc over, practically in front of his house on Maple Avenue. Apparently, it was the third time this week that the same cop has pulled this guy over. So, when the cop is giving him the third degree, Dr. Johnson gets a little testy and says, "Geez, don't you know me by now? I certainly know you." At which point, the cop, who happens to be friends with the two from this morning, pulls his service revolver, points it at your friend, and says, "Don't get funny with me. I can take you in for resisting arrest."

"Arrest?" Lois was astounded. "What on earth prompted that?"

Henderson shrugged. "Like the headline says, some of these guys are a bit trigger happy. As much as I hate to admit it, there are some people who become policemen for the wrong reasons. They like the sense of power it gives them. And if they are racists as well, then black men driving late-model Mercedes are going to have a problem."

Clark had listened in stunned silence to the inspector's recital. He could not imagine the scene at all—his friend wasn't stupid. Mark would never have done anything to provoke someone to pull a gun on him. "Are you saying that Mark was doing something illegal? That this policeman was arresting him?" he asked incredulously.

The detective shook his head in denial. "No, Clark. I'm saying that this patrolman said that. As far as I can determine, your friend was doing nothing more than going home from a fairly normal day at work. He just happened to run across the path of this particular member of the police force who gives the rest of us a bad name."

"How did Mark get shot?" Clark was still perplexed. "Surely the cop didn't just fire at him for no reason."

"Not sure, exactly, but what I think happened would be laughable if it weren't so serious. From what I pieced together from their accounts and the reports of a couple of witnesses on Maple Avenue, right after this patrolman Sherman pulled his gun, a fairly large Labrador retriever got loose from the person walking it and ran into Sherman's legs. He lost his balance and dropped his gun, which went off, striking your friend in the head."

"So what happens now?" Lois asked sharply.

"What happens now is that Sherman pushes paper at a desk pending an investigation, and Dr. Johnson gets a free vacation for a day or so as a guest of the Metropolis Police Department at Met General," was the laconic reply.

Ever the cynic, Lois demanded, "So why are you telling us all this?"

Henderson sighed. "Lois, I have spent my entire adult life as a police officer. I joined the force to make a difference. So did a lot of my colleagues. Guys like Morrison and some of his men make us all look bad. People don't know which police officer pulled them over for no reason. They just know that *a* cop did. Bad cops make it hard for good cops to do their jobs. I want this mess straightened out, and I think you two can make it happen a lot faster than I could." He pulled another paper from his pocket. "If you need any more corroboration, check these sources out."

"Thanks, Bill," Clark said quietly. "We really appreciate it."

"Yeah, well, I figure I kind of owed you one after the Intergang bust. Sometimes, we can work together." Henderson finished his coffee. "Now, it's your turn. What do you two have?"

Clark answered for them. "We started to investigate the idea of racism in the police force after Mark called me and told me about his experiences. It seems he's been pulled over on a very regular basis for the past few months. He decided that he'd had enough. Today's shooting just confirmed that there was something going on." He proceeded to fill the detective in on the data they had analyzed. In conclusion, Clark said, "So, it looks pretty clear to us that racial profiling is a way of doing business in the fourteenth precinct."

Henderson agreed. "Definitely. No doubt in my mind at all." He rose, ready to take his leave. "I'll be looking forward to your next article. Thanks for the coffee."

"No problem. Thank you for the information. It will help a lot." Clark rose to escort him to the door.

Lois rose as well. "We appreciate it. We'll keep your name out of it."

As he turned to leave, Henderson threw a cryptic remark over his shoulder. "You might want to check out the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer on June 18, 1993." With that, he left the apartment.

"So what do you suppose that meant?" Lois wanted to know as Clark came back down the stairs.

"No idea, but it can wait till morning." He moved back to the sofa and dropped down beside Lois. She snuggled up next to him, resting her hand on his thigh.

"So, what do you want to do now, Clark?" she asked with a breathy catch in her voice.

"This," he growled as he slid his left hand across her cheek into the shining mantle of her hair and slanted his lips across hers. He kissed her hungrily, thirstily. His other hand somehow found its way to her back and caressed her in slow circles as his lips moved against her mouth. "God, Lois, do you know what you do to me?"

"Um, hmm," she murmured against his roving lips. "Probably about what you do to me." She ran her hands up and down his sides, caressing the strong muscles beneath the simple tee- shirt. "Have I told you lately that I love you?" she whispered.

"Yes, but you can tell me again." He wrapped both arms around her and pulled her in even closer. "Lois, I love you. More than I ever thought it would be possible to love anyone. You complete me."

She shifted in his arms, breaking the kiss. Looking up into his deep brown eyes, she saw her own longing reflected back at her. Blessing the fates that had brought him all the way from another galaxy, she pulled his face down for another searing kiss.

The two passed the next half hour in this pleasurable activity, enjoying the closeness, the love that they shared. A need for air finally prompted Clark to pull away from the heated embrace. Running a hand through his hair, Clark asked, "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"Yeah, about twelve-thirty. Time for you to go to bed." Lois moved to pick up the coffee things. "Looks like we've got a lot to do tomorrow."

"Yes, it does." He took the tray from her. "I'll get that. Why don't you get the lights in the living room, and then we can get some sleep?"

"Because I'll need them to find my way out?" she retorted, secretly touched at his assumption that she'd be spending the night again.

"Your way out?" he asked, puzzled. "Where are you going?"

"To bed, in my apartment." At the hurt look in his eyes, Lois wrapped her arms around his waist. "Clark, I think it's best if I go. If I stay tonight, we'll talk; you know we will. And we're both exhausted. We need the sleep." She looked up into his eyes. "I love you. You know that. I just think that you'll get more rest if I go. I'll be over here at eight for breakfast, okay?"

Clark tamped down his disappointment. He knew that she was right about the talking, right about the need for sleep; but he had gotten used to falling asleep with her head on his shoulder the past few days. He had gotten used to waking with her arm draped across his stomach. He was going to miss her if she left. "All right, I'll bow to your superior logic. I'll take you home."

"And then how are you going to get back here? I want my car in the morning. If you think I'm going to let you walk home, you've got another think coming."

"Fine. Will you at least call to let me know you got home safely?" he asked.

"Uh, Clark, what's with this protectiveness all of a sudden? You've never wanted me to call before when I've driven home alone."

"Well, I still can't fly, so…"

"Are you telling me that you follow me home every time?" she asked, a note of surprise in her voice.

He nodded sheepishly. "It's just that I worry about you, Lois. And don't tell me not to, that you can take care of yourself. I know that. It's just that I worry. I love you. I don't want anything to happen to you."

"I know. I feel the same way about you." She hugged him tight. "So, sweetheart, how about you escort me to the Jeep, and then you get some sleep."

"All right." He kissed the top of her head. "Let's go. It is late, and I am tired."


As Clark hung up the phone, he thought that Lois had it all wrong. There was no way he was going to get more sleep in her absence. He was going to lie in his lonely bed, wishing she were there, waiting for the dawn.

In the end, however, exhaustion claimed him. The past few days had been debilitating. He drifted off to sleep, thoughts of Lois tantalizing him.


As she replaced the receiver, Lois cursed herself for a fool. Clark had obviously wanted her to stay the night with him, yet she had told him no, that she was going to go home so that he could get a good night's sleep. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but having seen the hurt in his eyes earlier, and having just heard the disappointment in his voice, she realized that while Clark might get some sleep, it would be a long time before she did. It certainly hadn't taken long to get used to the warmth of sharing a bed with her partner and to hearing the peaceful sounds of his breathing. It especially hadn't taken long to grow accustomed to the sense of security she felt lying cradled in his arms. Why *hadn't* she taken the out he had given her, the face-saving opportunity to stay after all?

She twisted and turned amid her chilly sheets, punched the pillow into a fluffy mound, and pondered the question that kept her awake. Why had she come home?

The answer finally came as icy tendrils of moonlight crept across her bed. She had rejected Clark's invitation to stay because it would not do to grow accustomed to spending the nights or to enjoying the mornings wrapped in his embrace. Although he had avowed his love on a daily basis since they had been dating, not once had he said anything to imply that he had intentions of making the relationship a permanent one. Although, in all fairness, she thought, neither had she. The two of them had been spending practically every waking moment together for months now, separated only by Tae Kwon Do classes or super feats. But neither one of them had voiced a belief that they should take the next step in their relationship. And if she were honest with herself, Lois had to admit that until the events of the past week, she hadn't really thought beyond the next day or the next week. She loved Clark, Clark loved her, they had a fantastic relationship, and that was enough. Or at least it had been until Clark had almost died.

The realization of just how close she had come to losing him was giving Lois second thoughts about the wisdom of continuing the current state of their relationship. Until she had seen Superman lying unconscious on the floor, it had never occurred to her just how very vulnerable he actually was. Sure, Clark had been in pain and lost his powers for a short while when he'd encountered Kryptonite in the past; but to her knowledge, he had never needed anything more than getting away from the mineral to recover. This time it had taken serious medical intervention, and not only once but twice.

Lois choked back a strangled sob as she realized just how close to death Clark had been. He might be impervious to most physical dangers, but he wasn't immortal. If he died, Lois thought, she'd be lost. It had taken every ounce of determination she had to keep working that first day, not knowing if Dr. Drayton was going to be able to save Clark's life. What if she hadn't gone to his apartment? What if she'd gone an hour later?

Pulling the comforter up more tightly around her neck, Lois tried to banish the chilling images from her mind. Clark hadn't died, and in fact seemed to be well on his way back to health. She pushed the worry down, only to have another pop up in its place. What about the next time that some crackpot criminal got a hold of another chunk of Kryptonite? What if she didn't know that she should go look for him? He could die. And she wouldn't even know that he was hurt until it was too late. Since Clark lived alone, it could be days before anyone thought to look for him if he went missing on a weekend. Lois swallowed back the tears that stung her eyes at that thought. She needed to talk to him about that. They could come up with a system, so that she would know when to get worried and when to call in the Marines. She turned on her side and curled up, trying desperately to get warm.

As her feet touched yet another icy spot on the sheet, Lois thought again how foolish she'd been to come home alone. If she'd stayed at Clark's, she would undoubtedly be asleep by now, snuggled up to his warm chest, her head nestled in the hollow of his shoulder. Or perhaps they'd be spooned together, and she could have tucked her frozen feet in between his legs. Maybe she and Clark ought to think about moving in together. Now that she thought about it, there would be a lot of advantages to living with Clark. She'd never go hungry; he was an excellent cook. She'd never have to wake him up with a phone call in the middle of the night if she had a sudden flash of insight about a story. And she'd never be lying in a huddle under a quilt that failed miserably at its job of keeping her warm, driving herself crazy pondering what-ifs and why-nots. Yes, there were definitely some plusses to living with Clark.

On the other hand, she wasn't at all sure that she wanted to give up that much independence just for his company. Not unless they got married. If they got married, she'd know without a doubt that he'd never let her down on purpose. Not Clark. He was too rock-solid, too steady, to turn out like her father. Clark could be relied upon. *He* would be faithful to his wife. She knew that as firmly as she knew her own name. Otherwise, she wasn't about to trust her complete self to any man, not even Clark.

Startled by where her errant thoughts had taken her, Lois sat bolt upright in bed. Marriage?! What had made her think of that? She had *never* wanted to get married, even when she had come to recognize her love for Clark. Marriage was a trap for women, probably for everyone, she'd always thought. Just look where marriage had gotten her mother. Abandoned by her philandering husband, lost in a bottle, abandoning her daughters in her turn. Lois had never wanted any part of that. So why had she thought of marrying Clark?

"Because you love him. Because you know that he is *not* your father. Because you trust him. And because you know that what you want is to be with him forever," a tiny voice told her.

Lois turned the idea over in her mind. Could she really want to marry Clark? Oh, sure, they had joked about marriage and children the night he told her that he was Superman; but she hadn't really taken that part of the conversation too seriously. And what about Clark's feelings? He hadn't brought up marriage since that night. If he wanted to marry her, surely he would have been hinting at it, wouldn't he? So maybe he didn't want to marry her.

"Or maybe he's waiting for you to make up your mind. He would never pressure you into rushing into a deeper relationship," the little voice went on.

She shook her head to clear it. Thinking about the past year and a half, she had to admit that she hadn't really ever said anything to let Clark think she was ready for marriage. And perhaps he had doubts of his own.

"True, but his doubts would not be about *him* getting married. It would be about you — and your readiness to get married," she thought. "Or maybe there is something else holding him back." She lay back down, chewing on that notion.

Lois stared at the ceiling for long moments, watching the flickering moonlight playing with the shadows in her room. And finally it dawned on her. Besides waiting for her to be ready for a proposal, Clark might very well be afraid to propose, afraid that she would reject him because he was Superman. He might fear that she wouldn't want to tie herself to a man who never knew when he'd be called away, sometimes for days at a time. He might fear that upon reflection, she wouldn't want to marry an alien. Knowing Clark, she was sure she had the right of it. Sometimes Clark was too noble for his own, and her own, good. Well, if that was the case, she'd have to do something about it.

Her decision made, Lois plumped the pillows once more, and burying her face in them, found sleep overtaking her at last.


The next morning dawned cold but clear. And with the light of day, Lois's resolve to sort things out with Clark strengthened. But first, they had to finish the investigation of the racial incidents involving the Metropolis Police Department. That thought in mind, she was knocking on Clark's door at seven-thirty, well before the time she'd told him the night before. When he didn't immediately answer her summons, she opened the door with the spare key she still had.

"Lois!" he exclaimed as he came out of the bedroom, a towel around his waist and water droplets sliding down his muscled chest. "Did I lose track of the time?"

"No, I woke up early and couldn't go back to sleep, so I just came on over," she explained. "Want me to start the coffee while you get dressed?"

"Thanks, that's be great. I'll just be a minute." He smiled warmly at her as he returned to his room.

Lois took a deep, steadying breath. He really was *well- defined,* she thought. Unlike their relationship. Well, that was something to deal with later, after the MPD. She wandered into the kitchen and pulled out the coffee things.


Eight-thirty found the two reporters deeply involved in running down the leads they'd received from Henderson, along with several of their own. A quick telephone call to the hospital had produced an interview with Mark for a side-bar on "One man's experience as the victim of racial profiling." And at eleven o'clock, Clark leaned back in his chair and gave Lois a triumphant thumbs up sign.

She rose immediately and went over to perch on the edge of his desk. "So, what're you looking so happy about?" she queried.

"We've got Morrison," he told her jubilantly.

"We do?"

"Yep, got him dead to rights. Check this out," he said as he opened up a window on his computer screen.

She stared in astonishment at the article he had showing from the archives of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Police Lieutenant charged with excessive use of force," the headline fairly screamed. Further reading showed that Captain Morrison, then a lieutenant, had ordered the officers under his command to open fire with bean-bag shells and rubber bullets on a group of peaceful demonstrators — demonstrators protesting the excessive use of force and the inappropriate use of racial profiling by the Cincinnati police. A dozen people had been injured, some severely enough to require hospitalization. A second article, dated several months after the first, indicated that an Internal Affairs investigation had resulted in Morrison's censure and a two-day suspension.

Her partner also showed her his notes from the telephone interviews he'd made with police officers from Morrison's former unit in Ohio. "And," Clark added, "I talked to the people from the fourteenth precinct that Henderson suggested. Some of them are really unhappy with what's going on. One of the policewomen in the precinct faxed me a copy of a memo he sent out a couple of months ago."

"Let me guess," Lois spoke up. "A memo in which Morrison encourages the people under his command to use racial profiling as they patrol the oh-so-dangerous streets of the fourteenth precinct."

Clark flashed her a grin. "Yep. It's not even worded vaguely so he can protect himself if it does come to light. So, what do you want to do now?"

She considered her answer for an instant. "Have you tried to talk to Morrison or to the deputy police chief yet?"

"I called Morrison; he said, `No comment.'" Clark chuckled. "I guess there really isn't much he can say."

"Let me call the deputy chief. I'll see what he has to say about all this," Lois offered.

Clark nodded his agreement. "Want me to start writing this up?"

"You bet. I'll let you know what I find out as soon as I get off the phone." With that, Lois returned to her own desk and began to punch in the number.

Clark looked over at Lois occasionally as he wrote. Whatever the deputy police chief was saying wasn't making her any too happy, judging from the scowl on her face and the force with which she jabbed her pencil onto her notepad. He wasn't too surprised when she slammed down the receiver with a decided bang at the end of the call.

"So what did he say?" he asked her as she returned to his desk.

"That lousy, no good, old-boy system pig! He hired Morrison without checking any references because `He was the top student in my class at college, so there was no need.'"

Clark was puzzled. "Surely they have to do some sort of background check."

A seething Lois replied, "Apparently not. I guess if you're best buddies with the deputy chief of police, the rules *don't* apply to you."

Clark grinned at her passion. She was so beautiful when she was enraged over injustice or wrong-doing. "Lo…is, calm down. The rules are going to apply to Morrison by the time we're through." He directed her attention to his computer screen. "What do you think of this so far?"

Thirty minutes later, the two reporters LAN'd their completed stories to Perry and sat back to wait for his response.

"Lois! Clark! In here now!" came the familiar roar from their editor.

They rose in unison and made their way to his office.

Perry looked them down at the sheaf of paper he held. "You two got the documents to back all this up?"

Lois shot him a pained look but stayed quiet as Clark calmly replied, "Of course, Chief. Two sources or documents for everything."

Perry smiled then. "Great. This is incredible stuff. Definitely above the fold." He thought gleefully of the sales that would ensue from the headline on the afternoon edition. "Why don't you two go get some lunch?"

"On it, Chief," they replied.

As soon as they were free of the confines of the office, Clark pulled Lois into his arms. "You are the best!" he told her.

Squeezing him tightly, she rejoined, "Nope, *we* are the best. And don't you forget it, Farmboy."

"I never do, Lois," he said happily.

Had it only been a year or so ago when she had said, "There is I. There is You. There is no We?" They had definitely come a long, long way since then. But if Clark was honest with himself, it wasn't far enough. He wanted to marry Lois, to have the right to be with her always. To go to sleep cradling her in his arms, to wake in the morning with her nestled against him. If only, he thought, she were interested in marriage. But she had never given him any reason to believe that she wanted to be married. The thought probably hadn't even crossed her mind, he mused. And if it had, he was sure that she would have immediately chased it away. Patience, he advised himself. Perhaps in time, Lois would come to trust him and trust herself enough to consider making their relationship permanent.

Lois's voice broke into his musing. "Clark, how about that lunch?"

Blinking behind his glasses, Clark started. "Oh, right, lunch. Where do you want to go?"

"How about Linihan's?" she suggested.

"That would be fine," he agreed. Linihan's would be more than fine. The historic restaurant occupied an old livery stable and was noted for its booths that were closed off from the main dining room by wooden doors. Lois must be in the mood for privacy if she wanted to go there. Privacy sounded like a good idea to Clark. Perhaps the cozy intimacy of a booth would be just what they needed to act as a catalyst for the conversation he wanted to have about their relationship. And given that it was Lois's idea, perhaps she was thinking along the same lines as he. He grinned optimistically at the thought.

They grabbed their coats and made their way out of the newsroom.


A cheerful hostess met them at the entrance to Linihan's. "Would you like a table or a booth?" she asked.

"A booth, please," Lois responded immediately.

"Follow me," the hostess said as she led them through the dining room. A quick glance at the couple caused her to seat them in a secluded booth in a corner where the clink of dishes and cutlery and the chatter of diners barely reached them. "Your waiter will be here in a minute to take your order," she informed them as she shut the door.

Ensconced in the dimly lit booth, Lois and Clark stared at their menus, each willing the other to speak first and state what was on both their minds. The waiter came and took their orders, but neither was sure exactly what he or she had said.

Desultory conversation about their successful investigation filled the time until the waiter returned with their food, and once more they were alone in the small compartment.

"Lois," Clark began just as she spoke.


"You go first."

"No, you," Lois responded.

"You sure?" he asked, insecurity evident in his voice.

Lois nodded. If Clark wanted to talk, and it seemed he did, maybe *he'd* say the scary words.

"All right, if you're sure." Clark drew a deep breath as he reached across the table to lay a hand on top of hers. "Lois, we've been dating for several months now, and I want you to know that they have probably been the best months of my life. Your knowing my secret, knowing the real me— it's been fantastic. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life."

"Oh, Clark," Lois interrupted. "I haven't ever been happier either."

Clark continued, "I love dating you, being this close to you. It's wonderful. Mostly, I love you."

"And I love you."

"But dating has never been all that I've wanted our relationship to be. And lately, especially this past week, with everything that happened, I've been thinking about a lot of things. Mostly, I've been thinking about us. About what we have together…and what more we could have. Lois, I love you. I think I love you more each day than I did the day before." He paused to take a steadying breath.

Lois watched him run his free hand through the dark hair that tumbled down onto his face, no matter what he did. Placing her other hand on top of his, she squeezed it gently, encouraging him to go on. It was beginning to sound like her fears were unfounded.

Clark swallowed hard. "Lois, the other day, when I was lying in that hospital bed, not knowing if I was going to live or not, I had a lot of time to think. And I realized that I didn't want to miss out on anything because I was too cautious to try." He took another deep breath and as he peered into her eyes, said, "Lois, this probably is too soon, and you probably don't want to anyway, but I have to know. I know I'm different, and there will be certain difficulties because of Superman, but I think we can work them out. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is: Will you marry me?"

"Oh, Clark," she breathed. "Are you sure you want to? I mean, I don't really know anything about how a good marriage works. My parents' marriage made Dante's Inferno look like a nice place to live. Do you really want to risk it?"

Taking both of her hands in his, Clark replied, "Of course I want to risk it. I don't see it as a risk. It's really simple. I love you; you love me. We belong together. And I guess I am a farmboy—because to me that means marriage." He looked earnestly into her face, his eyes shining with love and devotion.

When she didn't respond, he asked in a worried tone, "It doesn't bother you that I'm not really human, does it?"

That plaintive question brought her to her senses. "Oh, Clark, no. Not at all. I was just stunned, I think. I spent half the night trying to figure out how to convince you that we need to take the next step, and when you did, I…I guess I didn't know what to say."

He smiled gently. "Well, you could say, `Yes.'"


"Your answer. You could say, `Yes.' Although I guess you could say, `No,' but I really hope that you don't. I want to marry you, Lois. I want to go to sleep with you in my arms and wake up with you by my side. I want to spend my life with you." He subsided, afraid of saying any more.

"Yes," she replied, tears of joy glistening in her eyes. "Yes, Clark. I'll marry you." She sighed in contentment.

Clark let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Oh, Lois, thank you. I'll do my best to see that you never regret it." He left his seat and went around the table to squeeze in beside her. Gently placing his hand on her cheek, he leaned in for a kiss that had her senses swimming.

Her hands moved gently over his arms as her lips moved against his. Lois sighed with deep contentment. This was turning out to be an incredible day. Life could not get much better than this.

They had just broken the kiss when a discreet knock on the door signaled the arrival of their waiter with the check. "Did you enjoy your meal?" he asked.

Lois laughed delightedly. "Meal? Clark, did we eat?"

"I think so, Lois." Handing the money to the waiter, he chuckled. Kissing Lois certainly was distracting. Once they got married, they'd have to be careful, or they'd never get any work done.

"C'mon, Farmboy," she said. "Let's go. We've got a few loose ends to tie up back at the Planet."

"We do?"

"Yep. There's bound to be a lot of public reaction to that article when it hits the stands. We'll need to write a follow-up."

"Right." He laughed as he followed her out to the Jeep. That was his Lois; accepting a marriage proposal one minute, and hot on the trail of a story the next. And he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wouldn't have her any other way.


As Perry watched his two star reporters exit the elevator, he felt a deep sense of satisfaction. From the elated glows on their faces, he could tell that they must have taken the next step. Humming "Love Me Tender," Perry returned to his sanctum. Looked like everything was going to be all right with those two.


Later that night, Mark Thompson sat in an over-stuffed chair in Clark's living room, coffee cup in his hands. "Lois, Clark, I cannot begin to thank you for that article. It looks like it's already had an effect."

Curled up on the sofa next to Clark, Lois responded cheekily, "You think?"

"Lo…is," Clark began.

"Clark, if you don't like her, I'll take her," he friend offered.

"Nope, no way. Like I told you before, get your own girl." He pulled her a bit closer. "As to any effect the stories had, I'm just glad to see people doing the right thing."

Clark thought of how in an effort to save his own position, the deputy police chief had disavowed any knowledge of Morrison's problems in Cincinnati. He claimed to have erred only in hiring an old classmate without checking his references closely enough. Pleading lack of judgment, he had resigned his command position and had been reassigned to a precinct at his former civil service rank. Orders had been issued by the police chief requiring all officers in the department to attend training classes on racial and ethnic issues. And the Internal Affairs Department was beginning a full investigation into the incidents of the past few days.

As for Antony and Marcus, given the testimony from Marcus's uncle, the district attorney had decided to drop all charges against them. And Mark had just told Lois and Clark that while it would be several weeks before he was healed, Antony was probably going to make a full recovery.

The only fly in Clark's ointment was his continued lack of superpowers. It had now been a full twenty-four hours since he'd left the hospital; surely they should have returned in all that time. And as much as Lois tried to convince him to be patient, he was finding it increasingly difficult not to wonder if perhaps this time his powers weren't coming back. She was probably right, however. Stewing about the situation was not going to change anything. He willed himself to relax and listen to the conversation.

"Well, Clark, as much as I enjoyed dinner and coffee, I think I better be going. I'm still feeling kind of wiped out from getting shot yesterday." Mark stood up to leave.

Rising to show him to the door, Clark replied, "I'm just glad it wasn't any more serious. I need to have a friend I can beat in basketball."

"In your dreams, Clark, in your dreams." Mark shook his head sadly as he headed up the stairs. "Lois, see if you can get this idiot to face reality. He's never gonna beat me in basketball. See if you can convince him, okay?"

Laughing at his teasing, Lois said, "He has a harder head than you do. I'm not even going to try. It was good to see you. You take care."

Thirty seconds later, Clark had locked the door and was loping down the stairs. Pulling Lois into his arms, he embraced her passionately. "I thought he'd never leave. And you, did you have to encourage his abuse towards me?"

"Yep. It's good for you. Builds…"

"Character. Yeah, I know. You keep saying that. It kind of makes me wonder if you mean it." A chuckle rumbled deep in his chest. "You know, this week has been nothing if not humility-inducing." On a more sober note, he went on, "It's been different, not being Superman…" His voice trailed off as he hesitated to put his fears into words.

"Oh, Clark, you've always been Superman. You made right a terrible wrong. You helped thousands of people with your writing this week. Once you told me that Superman was only what you did; that Clark was who you are. I honestly don't think you can separate the two. Superman and Clark have all the same qualities. Superman just has some extraordinary physical abilities. That's all. And if they never come back, you'll still be Superman, fighting for justice." She reached up and gently touched his cheek. "And no matter what, I'll always love you."

Clark laid his cheek on his hair as his arms encircled her slender form. How could any man be so lucky to have found this incredible woman? He closed his eyes in contentment. She was right; no matter what happened about his powers, he could still fight for what was right with his words.

As they stood in the middle of the room, locked in a peaceful embrace, Clark dimly became aware of a throbbing sound. Startled, he raised his head. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" she murmured.

"That throbbing noise." He tried to concentrate, to see if he could identify it.

"Lub dub, lub dub." It sounded familiar; but for a minute he couldn't quite place it. And then it dawned on him; it was the sound of Lois's heartbeat. He could hear Lois's heart, beating against her ribs. A wide smile spread across his face. If he could hear her heartbeat, then…

"Lois! I'm back!" he exclaimed, relief and joy in his voice.

"You're back? You mean your powers?"

"Yes." He hugged her tightly, lifting her off the floor. "You know, I was afraid…"

"I know. I know." She lifted up her face to kiss him. "But I told you not to worry. You really need to listen to me more."

"That's right. You call the shots," he teased. "So, Ms. Top Banana, what would you like to do?"

Grinning wickedly at him, she tugged his hand toward the bedroom. "I'd like to go to bed."