All Stirred Up

By Meredith Knight <meredith@putwet.demon.co.uk>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: December 2001

Summary: In this author's debut fic, after the Man of Steel goes missing on the Nightfall mission, Lois goes to investigate a shooting star, and finds… an amnesiac *Superman*?

Author's Note: It always bothered me that Clark's aura failed *just* enough to burn off his suit on the way back from the Nightfall asteroid, so I decided to write the story of what might have happened if it hadn't.

In my world, the events chronicled in Witness took place before those of Honeymoon in Metropolis and All Shook Up. I borrowed the characters from D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., etc. I also borrowed scenes and chunks of dialogue from Bryce Zabel's excellent script for All Shook Up, and snippets of dialogue from other episodes of Lois and Clark. No infringement of anyone's copyright is intended. This story is an original work and copyrighted to me.

My heartfelt thanks go to my loyal and patient beta readers for their inspiration, encouragement and very helpful criticism: Diane Trim, Irene Dutch, Kathy Brown, Pam Jernigan, Wendy Richards and Yvonne Connell. In particular, to Irene and Yvonne, who sweated all the way through the gestation of this story: it wouldn't have seen the light of day without your help!

***

-Introduction-

As Superman strode through the small throng gathered to watch his departure, Lois was waiting for him. "How do you feel?"

<Like throwing up? No, not quite the right message. Superman has everything under control.> "This will work."

"That's a relief. Why are you so sure?"

"Because it has to."

She smiled. "The power of positive thinking, huh?"

"How are you feeling, Lois?"

"Scared enough for both of us."

He scanned her face. Everyone else he had seen that morning was terrified by the prospect of the Nightfall Asteroid hitting the Earth; they had no thought beyond relief at the news that Superman was proposing to fly several million miles into space to deal with the threat to themselves, their homes and loved ones. In Lois's face, for the first time, he could see concern for the danger to Superman himself. It helped to calm the sick feeling in his stomach. He lifted a hand to caress her cheek.

"I'll be back, Lois. We'll go flying."

Her face relaxed a little, and her lips curved at the comforting thought. "I hope so."

"I have to go."

"Good luck." But even as he turned he felt her hand on his arm; as he swung back to her, her hands curled about his neck and she was kissing him. It was all he could do to remain passive under the storm of emotion that swept over him. He willed his lips to stay unresponsive, his breathing to stay calm, and after a few seconds her lips faltered and she drew back, smiling tremulously at him. He gazed at her briefly, conscious of the news cameras whirring a few feet away, and hoping that his expression betrayed none of the mixture of passion and torment her gesture had aroused in him. Then he swung away again and walked briskly to where the EPRAD officials were fidgeting with their equipment while they waited for him.

The technicians spent a few minutes fitting him with the radio microphone and oxygen tank, and he listened politely to General Zeitlin's pompous platitudes, firmly turning down the offer of the nuclear charges the General was so anxious to test. Finally, there was no more to do. He walked to a clear space and turned towards the crowd and the cameras, his gaze finding Lois once more and drinking in the sight — the last sight? — of her encouraging face. Then he lifted skywards, chuckling inwardly a little at the "ooh" of the crowd, awed as ever at the offhand display of his superability.

At last he was alone and could stop worrying about whether Superman's guard might slip.

He flew straight up until the sky darkened, and the stars began to wink into life. Above the sun, the three points of the Summer Triangle showed clearly, and he adjusted his course directly towards the northernmost star. Professor Daitch had painstakingly gone over the details of his route with him, relieved to find that Superman had a fair knowledge of the heavens — although he probably imagined that knowledge came from Superman's space-faring past, rather than from long nights spent floating serenely above Earth's troposphere, gazing spellbound at the wondrous vista of sky frosted with stars that no earthbound, human eyes could see.

The earphones crackled into life, and he heard the voice of the EPRAD Mission Control operator. "EPRAD to Superman, EPRAD to Superman. Come in, Superman."

Grimacing at the hackneyed phrases, he cleared his throat and responded, "Superman here."

"Report your progress, please, Superman."

"I'm on course towards Deneb, as planned. I'll be leaving the atmosphere shortly. I'll let you know if I have any breathing difficulties; otherwise I will conserve my oxygen supply. Over and out." He grinned at the confused babble of consternation that rose from the roomful of self-important officials and politicians, and thumbed the mike switch to the off position, mentally tuning out the noise from the earphones. Superman's reputation for taciturnity certainly had its uses.

As the air thinned, the wind of his passage diminished and died, and the profound silence of space took its place. Superman adjusted the oxygen mask so that he could continue to breathe comfortably. The sun grew brighter even as the sky faded to black. All the summer stars were visible now, the Zodiac constellations — Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius and the long arch of Scorpio — strung out like a necklace behind the sun, crossing the gauzy scarf that was the Milky Way. He rolled over to put the sun behind him, picking out the Big Dipper and the North Star. Soon a milky glow near Greenland heralded the rising of the full moon above the Arctic Circle, and he gasped in delight. He had walked on the moon itself before, but this he had never seen.

All too soon, EPRAD Mission Control broke into his reverie to remind him of his next course correction. He rolled back to face the sun, checking his direction, and then veered directly towards it. As the heavens rolled beneath him, he was presented with a new vista of the southern sky, which he so seldom saw now that he had settled in Metropolis. Determined to dwell as little as possible on the reason he was out here communing with the stars, he let his thoughts roam over the last few months, and the excitement and challenges that Metropolis had brought him.

He had always wanted to write for the "greatest newspaper in the world", as Perry was so fond of calling it. He had anticipated the thrill of being at the forefront of the breaking news, as well as the excitement of living in the vibrant bustle of one of the world's biggest cities. But he had expected to be able to remain anonymous among the teeming millions; he hadn't expected to find such good friends at the Planet — Jimmy, Perry, and above all Lois.

Complicated, domineering, uncompromising, pig-headed, brilliant Lois.

She had been defensive from the start, although she had dealt with him in her normal head-on, take-no-prisoners fashion. "You are not working with me, you are working *for* me. I call the shots, I ask the questions. You are low man, I am top banana, and that's the way I like it. Comprende?" And then, when he had succeeded in challenging her preconceptions, "Don't fall for me, farmboy. I don't have time for it." The warning had come way too late. Long before she had started to let down her barriers, showing him the vulnerable self that lurked behind her defences and the deep scars that had forced her to hide that self, he had already been head-over-heels in love with her.

He felt he was making slow headway against her determination to keep the world at bay. With the prank he had pulled on her, sending her to search the sewage works for Superman's spacecraft, he had quickly established that he was no spineless pushover; but she was also starting to realise that, excellent reporter though he was, he posed no threat to her status as the Daily Planet's top investigative journalist. The night that he had announced he was leaving the Planet for good, she had even admitted that she was starting to like having a partner.

On a personal level too, she was gradually allowing him closer and closer. He had managed, albeit by the skin of his teeth, to avoid damning himself forever by yielding to her pheromone-induced advances. When Barbara Trevino and her sidekick had threatened Lois's life, she had turned to Clark for help and comfort. She had even asked him to walk her home after all the danger was over.

And then, in the few days they had spent together in the Lexor Hotel's honeymoon suite, they had had time to relax and have fun together, and get to know each other better. It had taken all his self-control to avoid taking unfair advantage of the situation, and when the chambermaid had threatened to catch them in a compromising position with the surveillance equipment, he had yielded to the impulse of the moment and swept Lois into a different kind of compromising position altogether. Yet instead of being outraged and retreating behind her defences again, Lois had accepted it almost without comment — Clark could have sworn that after her initial astonishment, she was even starting to respond by the time the maid had left them to their own devices.

The only fly in the ointment was… his own Spandex-clad alter ego. Superman had seemed like a brilliant solution to all Clark's identity problems, allowing him to make full use of his special abilities while still maintaining a normal lifestyle. Allowing him to risk having friends who knew his real name and the whereabouts of his parents; allowing him to live in one place for months, perhaps even years, instead of having to move on every time someone became suspicious about a fortunate coincidence or a burst of supernatural good luck.

Who would have guessed that the woman of Clark's dreams would fall as heavily for the mysterious superhero as Clark himself had done for her? It didn't help that Clark found it nearly impossible to ignore Lois when he was in the suit, and that he sometimes yielded to the temptation to visit her apartment for no particular reason during his evening patrols. And the only time he had really kissed her without reservation, putting his true feelings into the kiss, it had been as Superman. The memory of that kiss still sent delicious thrills down his spine, making his toes curl. Of course, he had had the excuse of being under the supposed influence of the pheromone perfume, and ever since that day he had retreated behind Superman's emotionless mask, giving her absolutely no encouragement; but he could still see the stars in her eyes every time she looked at Superman. How on earth was an ordinary man like Clark Kent going to attract her attention against that sort of competition?

Once again Mission Control disturbed Superman's thoughts, reminding him of his third, and final, course correction. He searched the sky "below" him, almost immediately spotting the Nightfall Asteroid. His previous course had taken him up and over the asteroid, so that he could smash into its weakest point from a course almost perpendicular to its own, maximising the chances that the asteroid debris would be scattered away from the Earth. He picked out the Southern Cross constellation, slightly ahead of the asteroid, and turned to head directly towards it, to his fateful rendezvous. It was time to stop dwelling on his private concerns, and start concentrating on the dangerous task before him — for the whole world's sake, as well as for his own.

***

"Several hours ago, Superman said his final goodbyes to the crowd. He was described as calm but determined. His last words were, and I'm quoting now, 'I'll do my best.'"

Gathered with her colleagues in front of the big newsroom television, Lois scowled and muttered under her breath, "No, they weren't!" The tension was making her stomach churn, and the hype from the newscaster, intent on milking the situation for all it was worth, was only making it worse. She had been spoiling for a fight with somebody all afternoon, just to blow off steam; but Clark had gone home with a headache halfway through the morning, and everyone else had kept well out of her line of fire.

A flicker of worry crossed her face as she thought about Clark. He was frequently nowhere to be found, but he was never sick. She hoped it had nothing to do with being knocked down by that car in front of the Planet yesterday. Then her attention was drawn back to the newscaster, who was announcing a live feed.

***

"I can see it now. In fact, it's difficult to see anything else. It's immense."

"Roger, Superman. We copy you on the ground. Do you have stress point acquisition in visual?"

<Do I have what? Don't these guys ever talk English?> "Yes, I have."

"Stand by for final briefing procedure."

<Excuse me? I'm coming in at maximum speed, as instructed, and he wants me to stand by?> "I know what I have to do. Well, here I go."

Superman thrust both his fists ahead of him and tucked his chin against his chest, bracing himself for the impact.

***

"Impact in 5, 4, 3 …" The newsroom collectively held its breath. The televised display showed the asteroid breaking up, debris shooting in all directions.

Then EPRAD Mission Control was saying something about having lost transmission with Superman. Ignoring the wave of faintness that threatened to overcome her, Lois protested gamely, "Well, his microphone went out. He's fine. He has to be!"

***

- Chapter 1 : Homecoming -

He was dreaming of flying, free as a bird. He felt warm and comfortable. He smiled and opened his eyes. The dream persisted, only now he wasn't flying, but floating in space. It was an odd sort of dream. He studied the beautiful blue-green planet suspended before him. It didn't look at all familiar, but that must be where he was meant to go. But how?

He willed himself towards it, and somewhat to his surprise, started to move. He tried turning round, and that worked, too. Now the continent in front of him looked a little more familiar. But it wasn't the right place to go. The white area down below didn't look inviting, either — maybe the area above? He headed that way, and realised it was going to take some time to get there. He closed his eyes again.

***

If Lois had been difficult before the news broadcast, she was impossible afterwards. Most of her colleagues had seen it coming and made themselves scarce, but when Lois went downstairs to turn in her story, a temp at the copy desk made an idle remark about how exciting the day's events had been. She was white and shaking by the time Lois had finished with her.

Perry yelled for Lois the moment she got back to the pit, and told her to take herself home before she landed herself with a harassment lawsuit. She pleaded to be allowed to stay in case any news of Superman came in, but Perry would brook no argument, ordering the long-suffering Myerson to escort her to her Jeep.

***

After a long while, he opened his eyes again. He was still having the same dream, only the planet was much closer now. He was nearer the top of it — the north, that was it — and it looked more familiar. Yes, over there on the right, where lights were beginning to blink into existence. He picked the clump of lights that seemed right, and headed straight for it.

Home.

***

After a day that couldn't have been worse — well, except for that brief stolen kiss — Perry just had to order her home early, and now here she was, stuck in a godforsaken traffic jam.

For a brief moment, Lois considered leaning on the horn and screaming obscenities, in the hope that someone would succumb to a fit of road rage and start a fight. Then sanity reasserted itself, and she leaned back, closed her eyes and took a deep, ragged breath.

He had to be out there somewhere. Superman could not be dead.

She opened her eyes and looked towards the sunset. It was so beautiful, so majestic and serene; above all these petty troubles. Just like him.

The traffic moved a few car lengths and stopped again. Lois's eyes returned to the sunset. Her eye was caught by the evening star, and she wished with all her heart that Superman would be safe. The star grew brighter and brighter, and seemed to move across the sky. That couldn't be right?

Lois sat stunned as the biggest and brightest shooting star she had ever seen shot across the darkening sky and vanished behind the buildings to the north, over Hobbs Bay. Several seconds after it vanished, she heard what might — or might not — have been a clap of thunder.

With shaking hands, she dragged her mobile phone out of her handbag and dialled Jimmy's number at the Planet. To her relief, he answered — he must have returned to his desk once she'd gone. "Jimmy, it's Lois here… No, I'm not going to yell at you — I've got a job for you. I just saw a shooting star like I've never seen before, and I think it landed somewhere near Hobbs Bay. It has to be something to do with Superman… Well, yes, I suppose it could just be debris, but how'd it get here so quickly? Jimmy, I want you to drop everything and phone around, find out who else saw it. We should be able to work out where it landed. But don't mention Superman to anyone — I want to be the first reporter on the scene. Leave a message for me at home if you get anything… no, I'm stuck in traffic, would you believe it? Get right on it, Jimmy, okay?"

She hung up and paused to catch her breath, scanning the horizon again. Nothing further untoward was happening. Then she dialled Clark's number. There was no answer, and her phone started fading; the battery was going. "Typical!" she grumbled, and threw it back into her bag. But there was a light in her eyes that hadn't been there five minutes before.

***

The dream had ended abruptly, with a roaring wind and fire, and then a succession of huge crashes. Now everything was quiet, and he was lying on something. There was something on top of him, too. It didn't feel like bedclothes.

He opened his eyes again. He seemed to be lying in a hole in the floor, in — he peered around — what looked like an abandoned warehouse. There was a whole pile of rubble on top of his legs. It didn't hurt. Could this be another dream? No, it didn't feel like one — he felt decidedly uncomfortable this time.

He sat up, and gingerly tried pulling his legs from under the masonry. Surprisingly, in spite of its evident weight, it moved easily and his legs came free. They were filthy, but there was no apparent damage, even to his pants.

What sort of pants were they, anyway? They looked rather close-fitting and smooth, almost like tights. He brushed off some of the dust and peered closer in the dim light — bright blue tights. What on earth could he be wearing? He stood up and moved to where a street light cast a beam through a large hole in the wall, and inspected what he could see of his clothing. He appeared to be wearing a most outlandish outfit, in primary colours: blue tights and leotard, and red briefs worn, bizarrely, outside the leotard, with a yellow belt. There was a stylised "S" in red and yellow on his chest, and he had dark red boots. Tattered remnants of a red cloak hung from his shoulders, scorched and singed at the lower edges. Singed from the fire? No, the fire had been in his dream. But perhaps he was still dreaming after all. Surely no one in his right mind would wear something like this in real life, unless he was a circus performer.

A squeaking noise intruded itself on his hearing. He had been aware of it for some time, slowly getting louder, and now it seemed to be approaching the building. Then he heard voices from outside. Not wishing to be observed in this strange getup until he had worked out what was going on, he headed swiftly away from the light.

***

Lois had used practically every back street in Metropolis to get away from the traffic jam. She had also run several red lights, and used the full force of her personality to induce other drivers to let her through. At last she was home.

She ran up the steps and negotiated her apartment locks in record time. Inside, she switched the answering machine off and checked the message light — no messages. She dialled Jimmy's extension at the Planet, but got an engaged signal. At least he was following orders.

Ten minutes later, Lois had showered and changed into her "street clothes": dark trousers, a bulky, nondescript shirt and tough, flat shoes. She dialled the Planet again, and this time Jimmy answered.

"Jimmy! At last. What have you got for me?"

"I've managed to track down a few reports. The witnesses all saw the shooting star over Hobbs Bay, and most of them think it crashed in Suicide Slum. I'm busy plotting the sightings on the map, to see if I can work out exactly where it landed."

"That's great, Jimmy! Call me as soon as you've got a location. I'll grab a bite to eat, then I'll be ready to go."

"Uh, Lois? You're not thinking of going to Suicide Slum on your own, are you? It could be dangerous."

"Don't worry, Jimmy, I'm planning to take Clark with me. He should have shaken that headache by now. He likes playing the big, macho bodyguard."

"Okay. I'll phone back in a few minutes."

Lois hung up, and dialled Clark's home number. She listened to the insistent ringing tone with a faint frown. Clark wouldn't have been playing hooky, would he? Not today, of all days! No, he must have unplugged the phone to get some sleep.

She was starving! She hadn't had a bite to eat all day — the tension had destroyed her appetite. Now it was back with a vengeance. She opened the fridge and grabbed a fat- free yoghurt, tucking into it while she sized up the options for a sandwich. As she decided on pastrami and cream cheese, the phone rang and she ran to get it.

"I've got a pretty good location, Lois. It's in Suicide Slum, in the warehouse area. Do you want to write down some street names?"

"Actually, Jimmy, I have a better idea. I haven't been able to get hold of Clark; he must be asleep. How do you feel about doing a little legwork for a change? You could bring your camera… okay, Jimmy, calm down! I'll take that as a 'yes.'" She laughed. "I'll be outside the Planet in ten minutes."

Pausing only to dump the empty yoghurt carton and grab a jacket and a heavy flashlight, Lois was on her way.

***

The two men — vagrants, by the look of it — had investigated the hole in the wall and the hole in the floor, but had found nothing of value to interest them, and had pushed their squeaky shopping trolley away again. The man in the Spandex suit relaxed, and tried to work out what to do next.

He needed to get home and change into normal clothes. Only, where was home? He didn't have the faintest idea. He could look up his name in the phone book… only he had no idea what his name was, either. And how could he get to a phone book without being spotted, anyway? Fear started to nibble at the edge of his thoughts. What *was* he going to do?

What if he just stayed here until he remembered who he was, and where to go? It wasn't much of a plan, but he didn't see any real option. Besides, now that he thought about it, he was really tired.

He sat down on the floor, in the corner furthest from the hole in the wall. He leaned his back against the wall and closed his eyes. Just before he dozed off, it suddenly occurred to him that someone would come to help him soon. It was a comforting thought, calming his fears, and he smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

***

"It must be somewhere around here, Lois. We should be able to see something soon. At least this part of the Slum still has street lights."

Lois drove slowly down the street, butterflies dancing in her stomach. All her instincts were telling her that what she was looking for was close by. A couple of hundred yards further on, Jimmy let out a whoop. "That's it, Lois! That's got to be it! See the hole in the warehouse wall?"

She pulled the Jeep to the kerb and jumped out, hoping the car would still be there — and intact — when they returned. She followed Jimmy to the hole in the wall. The missing masonry was scattered on the floor inside the warehouse, half filling a crater some yards away. As Lois put her hand on the edge of the hole to steady herself, another brick crumbled and fell. "It looks like you're right, Jimmy. This is recent enough. Whatever caused this must be in that hole in the floor."

She picked her way across the rubble, hoping that the impact hadn't weakened the warehouse roof. Jimmy was already busy taking pictures of the scene. Lois stopped at the edge of the crater and switched on her flashlight, playing the beam over the hole. "There's nothing in here except more rubble. Nothing big enough to have caused this damage." A bubble of excitement was rising in her chest, and she had to clear her throat. "Jimmy — whatever landed here has moved. Do — do you think it could be him?"

"It could be. But you know what Perry would say — we need proof. Are you sure there's nothing in that hole?"

Lois stepped down gingerly into the hole and crouched, scanning back and forth with the flashlight beam. At first she could see nothing, but when she brushed away some of the dust a flash of red caught her eye. There was some cloth caught among the broken bricks. "Jimmy, give me a hand here!" Jimmy took some quick shots of the pile of debris, then crouched down and helped her to shift some of the pieces of rubble, freeing the strip of red material. It was tattered and scorched, but… "It's from his cloak. He made it back!"

The two reporters turned to look out of the warehouse, through the hole in the wall. There was a billboard advertising Metro Trains on the other side of the street, still proudly proclaiming "Faster than a speeding bullet", but now it had a hole punched through the middle.

Jimmy grinned. "I have to go get some pictures of that, Lois! I'll be right back."

***

He could hear voices in his dream. The woman's voice was familiar, and very dear. He smiled as her face formed in his mind. Shiny dark hair, dark eyes that could flash fire or melt your heart, a mouth that could be witheringly scornful, engagingly witty, or sweetly kissable.

<Lois. The woman of my dreams.>

He frowned slightly. What did that mean? Was she his wife? His girlfriend? He loved her, but there were also troubled feelings associated with her — anxiety, possibly even guilt. If she was his wife, then he must have been unfaithful. No, that was ludicrous! He could never be unfaithful to Lois, not in a million years.

"Jimmy, give me a hand here!"

His eyes flew open. That was no dream, she was here. She had come to help him. He stood up slowly, searching for her in the gloom. Yes, there she was, crouched in the hole in the floor. But there was a young man with her — this Jimmy, presumably — and he was taking photographs. The man without a name glanced down at his filthy Spandex. He couldn't afford to be photographed like this!

For that matter, what was Lois going to say when she saw him dressed like this? Was that what the anxiety and guilt was about?

He stood indecisively for a few minutes, while the pair in the crater discussed something they had found in the rubble. Then they both looked out towards the street, and the young man scrambled out of the crater and picked his way back outside. Lois sat down on the edge of the crater and buried her face in her hands.

It was now or never. He walked slowly towards the crater. His boot scraped on some of the rubble and Lois looked up, startled. She looked straight at him, and turned as white as a sheet. He hesitated; this was obviously going to be pretty bad. She looked away again, without speaking. He walked a few paces nearer. "Lois?"

***

As Jimmy went outside, Lois sank down on the edge of the crater, covering her face with her hands as tears of relief pricked at the corners of her eyes. He had made it back. There was no blood, no body; he had left, presumably under his own steam. He must be all right. And — she smiled — what a story it was going to make!

Something moved in the darkness of the warehouse. Lois looked up, startled. She couldn't see anything. <Probably only a rat.> The next moment she cursed herself, as her overactive imagination contemplated being alone in the darkness with a rat, and for the second time that day she thought she was going to faint. It was a relief when a human form took shape in the gloom, and a voice spoke in familiar tones. "Lois?"

"Clark? How did you…" Belatedly, she remembered her flashlight, and swung it up. "Superman!"

He looked terrible. From the waist down, he was covered in dust. More than half his cloak was gone, the edges scorched and singed. His face was clean enough, but pale, and his normally smooth hair was rumpled. Most striking of all, there was no trace of his normal stern, impassive expression; he looked worried and confused.

"Superman, are you all right? When your mike went out, we thought — we were afraid you were dead! Are you okay?"

The worry receded, but the confusion deepened. "I — I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know? Are you hurt?"

"I don't think so. I feel all right. But I don't…" His eyes met hers, and it came out in a rush, "I can't remember anything."

She leapt to her feet, surprise warring with concern. "We have to get you to a hospital!"

She scrambled out of the crater and turned towards the street, drawing a breath to call for Jimmy. In two strides he was at her side, gripping her arm and whirling her round to face him. "No! No hospitals! They — they'll dissect me like a frog!"

She winced at the pressure of his fingers on her arm, and he dropped it and drew back slightly, his eyes still pleading with hers. In the light from the street lamps, she could see panic in his eyes. She rubbed her arm thoughtfully. "I guess a hospital isn't going to be able to help you much, anyway. So what are you going to do?"

"Did I hurt you? I'm sorry." He looked ruefully at her arm. "I don't know what to do, Lois. I need to go home and get out of these…" he glanced down with a grimace, "… clothes. But I don't know where home is. I thought you could tell me."

She was silent for a long moment, letting that sink in. "You mean, you really don't remember anything? Anything at all? But why do you think I can help you? Do you remember anything about me?"

<Uh oh, time to make a guess at the nature of this relationship. She seems to have taken this costume in her stride, but I notice she didn't rush into my arms.> "I recognised your voice and your face. I know I…" he hesitated, and took the safer option, "know you, but I don't know who you are."

"And you don't seem to know your own strength, either," she said with a hint of a smile. Evidently his answer had been acceptable. She pondered for a minute. "Well, first we have to get you out of here. I think we'd better take you to Clark's place. He'll know what to do."

<Wait a minute, didn't she just call me Clark? What's my name, then?>

Before he could ask, they heard a call from the street. "Lois, are you okay in there?"

Lois frowned. "Jimmy! He'd better not know about this. I'll think of something to tell him. But you'd better not look so worried — do your hero pose."

"Hero pose?" he echoed, baffled, and she sighed.

"You fold your arms and stand with your feet apart like this, and look noble and forbidding. It's very impressive. Try it." He did as instructed, and immediately — perhaps automatically — his face took on Superman's habitual stern expression. "That's it. Your hair's a bit of a mess, though. Jimmy's going to want photographs for the paper. Here…" She dived into a jacket pocket, and came up with a comb. "Comb it straight back. Hurry."

Jimmy's footsteps were approaching now. Superman quickly followed instructions and handed the comb back, feeling like a gawky child about to be taken for class photographs. He folded his arms again, noticing how the "hero pose" instantly lent him a feeling of security.

Jimmy scrambled through the gap in the wall and paused to let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. "Lois, we should go before someone steals your car… Superman! You're here! We thought you had left! Man, is it good to see you." He seized Superman's hand and pumped it fervently. "You did a great job today, we're all so grateful, but we were worried about you after your radio cut out."

Superman had no idea what he was talking about, but a response seemed to be in order. "No problem, Jimmy." He wondered if he should say something more, but Lois cut in, and Jimmy finally released Superman's hand.

"Jimmy, Superman was on his way to Clark's place to get cleaned up, but he was concerned about us being in the Slum at this time of night. I offered him a ride. We should get going."

"Sure, Lois. But, Superman? Would you mind if I got some pictures first? This'll be such a scoop for the Planet!"

"No, that's okay, Jimmy."

Lois added, "Better stick to head and shoulders shots, though. We want 'Conquering Hero Returns', not 'Demolition Man'."

Jimmy's eyebrows rose. It wasn't like Lois to pass up a newsworthy angle. But then, she had always been rather territorial about Superman. Safest not to argue. "You're the boss, Lois." He took half a dozen shots of Superman, including one in front of the "Faster than a speeding bullet" billboard, then they went back to the Jeep.

Jimmy climbed into the back seat, but as Superman was about to get into the front, Lois stopped him. She was eyeing his filthy legs. "Superman, nothing personal, but could I ask you not to sit on my upholstery like that? I think I have a blanket to wrap around you." She retrieved the blanket from the back of the Jeep, and draped it round Superman's shoulders, muttering too softly for Jimmy to hear, "This should stop you being recognised."

The drive to Clinton Avenue took only a few minutes. It was cold and starting to rain, and there were no passersby to gape at a dishevelled Superman climbing out of Lois's car. But once inside the building, they met their first setback: the apartment was in darkness, and Clark was not answering his door. Lois fretted and fumed for a few minutes, hammering on the door at frequent intervals, and then turned to Jimmy with an air of decision. "We'll pick the lock."

Superman shifted uncomfortably behind her. "Lois, I really don't think…"

She turned and frowned at him, adopting an airy tone for Jimmy's benefit. "Oh, I'm sure Clark won't mind, Superman. He must just have popped out for some bread, or aspirin, or something." She turned back to Jimmy. "Come on, Jimmy. If you won't do it, I will!"

Jimmy blushed and looked uncertainly at Superman, then took a piece of wire from his pocket and crouched in front of the door. After few seconds of fiddling there was a click, and the door swung open. "Good, it wasn't bolted."

Lois snorted. "Clark doesn't even have a bolt on his door. He doesn't think he needs security." She walked through the door, flicking the light on, and called, "Clark! … Clark?" She turned back to the others. "He's definitely not here."

She gazed at Jimmy briefly, wheels visibly turning in her brain. For a moment Jimmy had the unnerving, though not unfamiliar, sensation of being an insect caught in the path of a rapidly advancing windshield. "Jimmy, Perry's going to want those photos for the morning edition. I was going to run you over to the Planet and write up the story, but I think I'd better stay here with Superman until Clark gets back, and explain that picking the lock was my idea. Can you get to the Planet on your own? I could call a cab."

Jimmy smiled thankfully at the paper-thin excuse; this time, all she wanted was to spend some extra time alone with Superman. "No problem, Lois, I'll take the subway."

"I can write up the story on Clark's computer and e-mail it to Perry," she continued. "Tell him I'll have it there by…" She checked her watch. "…eight. You'd better get going if you're going to have those photos ready."

"Okay, see you in the morning. Superman, bye, and thanks again." Jimmy waved and disappeared.

Lois leaned back against the banisters, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, I think we passed that with flying colours. Come on in, Superman. You probably want to get showered right away, and I have an article to write. I'm sure you can borrow some of Clark's clothes, that's if you can find some that fit." She eyed Superman's muscular torso covertly as he passed her; as usual, his proximity was making her a trifle light-headed. She closed the door behind him and led the way down to the living room, still babbling. "I wonder when Clark will be home. He went home sick this morning, you know -"

"Lois."

"- with a headache, so I'm sure he can't …" She turned. Superman had sat down heavily on the top step, the confusion once again evident in his face. "Yes, what?"

"I'll take a shower in a minute, but there are some things I'd really like to know first."

"Well, I'll tell you anything I can. What do you need to know?"

"What's my name? And what's this Superman thing all about?" He looked dubiously at his suit. "Am I a wrestler, or some sort of circus act, or what?"

***

- Chapter 2 : Revelation -

Lois looked at Superman in dismay. It just kept getting worse. Not only had he forgotten who he was, he had also forgotten *what* he was. No wonder he was confused. "No, nothing like that. The costume is a bit… unusual, isn't it?" She smiled reassuringly. "You're a — well, a superhero."

His brow furrowed. "Like in the Batman comics? You mean, I'm a movie actor or something?"

"No, no! You're a *real* superhero. With superpowers. You can fly, and you're very strong, and nothing can hurt you. That sort of superhero. Superman."

He stared at her blankly for a few moments. He couldn't quite believe he was having this conversation. She didn't really expect him to swallow all this, did she?

"Nothing can hurt me?"

"No."

"And I can fly?"

"That's right." She smiled encouragingly.

He misinterpreted the smile, and his heart fell at the thought that she was treating his condition so lightly. "Lois, quit fooling around. No one can fly."

The smile vanished. "No one else can, Superman, but *you* can. You're special… different! You have to believe me!" He studied her face carefully. She was totally in earnest. She really did expect him to believe it.

His heart rose a little, but at the same time his feeling of unease increased. He didn't want to be different. He rose to his feet and began to pace.

"What does this superhero do, then? Do I solve crimes and bring the criminals to justice?"

"No, not exactly. You rescue people in danger and put out fires and help clean up after earthquakes and things. You stop muggers and bank robbers too, but mostly you help people. That's what you said when you first arrived, that you're here to help."

"Arrived where? And where did I come from?"

As Superman paced, his abbreviated cape swirled about the small of his back. Watching him, Lois was getting an unusually uninterrupted view of the Man of Steel's legs… not to mention the rear of those red shorts. The effect was definitely pleasing to the eye. Lois found herself getting rather warm. Realising she was still wearing her outdoor jacket, she slipped it off and turned to lay it over the back of Clark's couch, making a concerted effort to focus her mind on the conversation.

"You come from another planet, called Krypton. You arrived in Metropolis about six months ago."

"So there's a human colony on Krypton? Do they all have these whatchacallum, these superpowers?"

"No, it's not an Earth colony. You're not human."

He whipped round to stare at her. His face had gone chalk- white. Lois gazed at him, wide-eyed. Why should that come as such a surprise to him? Then his eyes narrowed, and his face began to regain some colour. "You've been watching too many late-night movies, Lois. I'm just as human as you. Look at me!" He spread his arms wide. "Do I look like an alien from outer space?" He was watching her carefully, as though she might suddenly do something dangerous.

She planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. "Dammit, Superman, I am *not* crazy, and I am *not* making it up! Will you just give me a bit of credit?"

He reached out to grasp her shoulder gently, and said soothingly, "It's okay, Lois. Don't get excited. Why don't we sit down and talk about it calmly and quietly?"

Lois closed her eyes and started to count. She had just had one of the worst days of her entire life, she was tired and hungry, and now Superman was refusing to take her seriously. At three, she gave up and recklessly abandoned the last shreds of her temper. "All right, if you won't believe me, let's see if you believe this!" she yelled, batting his hand away from her shoulder and stalking towards the kitchen. He followed her, torn between fears for his own safety and for hers. She flipped on the kitchen light, jerked open a drawer and rummaged through the contents. Then she turned towards him triumphantly, brandishing a very large, very lethal-looking kitchen knife. "Let's see how much damage this can do to you!" she exclaimed, and lunged towards his arm.

Even as she lunged, Lois had a sudden, terrifying vision of the knife actually plunging into Superman's arm. She tried to stop herself, but she had too much momentum. A split second later Superman grabbed the knife, stopping it in mid-strike as though it had encountered a brick wall. Thrown off-balance, Lois felt his other arm catch her deftly about the shoulders. She held onto the knife for an instant longer, before he twisted it and tore it from her slackened grip.

They stood frozen in a tableau for a long moment, as Superman braced himself for the anticipated struggle, and Lois's mind caught up with the last few seconds. Then Lois drew a long, shuddering breath, and subsided, trembling, against Superman's chest. "Oh, my God — I don't know what came over me! I've never tried to stab anyone before! I didn't mean you any harm — sometimes I just …"

"Jump in without checking the water level first?" suggested Superman drily, wondering what surprise this pint-sized tornado had in store for him next. He was rewarded with a watery chuckle.

"Exactly… you are all right, aren't you?" She lifted her head to look for the knife, and gasped. Superman followed her gaze. The hilt of the knife was protruding from his fist; his fingers were clenched tightly around the blade. He blanched at the sight and turned his fist over, but there was no blood, and no pain either.

He set Lois gently back on her feet, and stepped back. <Even without his memory, he's still the gentlest man in the world, as well as the strongest,> she thought. <I'm lucky he didn't toss me clear across the room… or worse.>

He took the knife handle in his right hand, and carefully unwrapped his fingers from around the blade. He inspected his fingers briefly; there was not a mark on them, which was more than could be said for the knife blade. It was twisted and buckled, and four deep indentations showed where his fingers had gripped the cutting edge.

"I think you proved my point," Lois remarked, "but we owe Clark a new kitchen knife!" Her temptation to giggle fled as she registered Superman's expression. All traces of emotion had been wiped from his face, leaving the familiar, impassive mask. He studied the knife for a second longer before dropping it on the counter and turning to face her, drawing himself up into the classic Superman stance once again.

"So, I am an alien," he conceded, his voice deep and emotionless. Lois winced.

"You say that like it's a bad thing!" she exclaimed. "The entire world is busy counting its blessings right now, instead of preparing for doomsday — and it's all thanks to your special abilities. There was a huge asteroid heading straight for us, much bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. *You* did what no one else on Earth could do, and stopped it. You flew out into space and rammed into it, breaking it up into little pieces." She laid an imperious hand on his folded arms. "The entire world is in your debt, Superman, so don't even *think* about it being better if you were an ordinary human. Not to mention the half-a-dozen times you've saved my life in the last few months, and thousands of other people's!" She was glaring at him by this time, and he was smiling slightly, although his eyes were still guarded.

"Half a dozen times? Surely that's an exaggeration?" he enquired. She blushed and looked down, running a hand through her hair.

"Yes, well, no, I, uh…" she floundered. "Okay, I get into trouble a lot. I tend to jump in without checking the water level first," she concluded, her eyes daring him to laugh.

"I'll take your word for it," he said solemnly. He leant back against the kitchen counter, growing more thoughtful. "This asteroid — that was what Jimmy was talking about? Is the threat over?"

"I imagine so. The broadcast from EPRAD showed it breaking up into about a million fragments. I don't suppose you remember it?" He shook his head. "That's a real shame, because right now I ought to be interviewing you for my article in the Daily Planet. It would have been a big scoop."

"I do actually remember something," he said slowly, thinking back. "Something from before I found myself in that warehouse. I thought it was a dream. I was out in space, looking towards the Earth, and I had to get back here. I don't remember anything about the asteroid, though. I'm sorry."

"Oh, don't apologise!" she reassured him. "You were injured in the line of duty — it's hardly your fault! Can you remember anything else?"

He pondered. "I could breathe while I was out there. Don't I need air — oxygen — to breathe?"

She smiled. "You can hold your breath for about twenty minutes, I believe, but you do need oxygen. The EPRAD team gave you an oxygen tank to use on the mission. It must have survived the impact with the asteroid. Your radio didn't — EPRAD lost your signal when you hit. We… people thought you might have been killed." Her eyes were dark with remembered anguish.

"But you came to find me," he said softly. "I owe you a debt too, Lois." He lifted a gentle hand to cup her cheek. The familiar gesture threatened to bring tears to her eyes. "So," he added, in a more cheerful tone, "I can fly, I'm invulnerable, and I'm very strong. Is that right?" He picked up the knife again and attempted to straighten the blade, but to no avail. Then he tested the point against his palm, pressing harder and harder. Lois winced, but the blade didn't break.

"I don't seem to be able to use this special strength, except when I'm not thinking about it," he concluded. He discarded the knife again. "How do I fly? Do I flap my arms, or something?"

"Most of the time you just … levitate," Lois said thoughtfully. "When you take off, you often do this -" and she demonstrated with a fist in the air, "- but I don't know whether that's just for effect."

Superman's eyebrows quirked at the last comment, but he didn't respond. Instead, he closed his eyes and concentrated on trying to levitate. Nothing. He tried it again with his eyes open, trying to visualise the room moving around him. "No go," he commented, unsure whether he was more disappointed or relieved.

Lois pondered. "You can also do special things with your vision," she offered. "You can heat things up, and you can also see through things, like X-ray vision. I know," she cried, crossing the room and clicking the lights off. "Can you see anything?"

"It's a bit dim and grey, like it was in the warehouse, but I can see clearly enough."

"I can't see a thing," said Lois triumphantly. She flipped the lights on again. "So your night vision is still working."

"Oh," said Superman, dubiously. "Oh!" he repeated with more animation, as things began to fall into place. He looked pensively at Lois. "I suppose you couldn't see anything in the warehouse, either? I wondered why you called me 'Clark'."

Lois's brow furrowed as she thought back. "That's right, I couldn't see you until I used the flashlight," she agreed. "You sounded just like Clark when you first spoke. I was so thankful," she added. "When I first heard you moving, I thought it must be a rat. You were lucky I wasn't throwing stones at you!"

He nodded. "That explains why you went pale when you looked up. I assumed you were aghast at the way I was dressed."

"Oh, you always wear that uniform. Believe me, the emergency services breathe a sigh of relief when they see the red and blue show up!"

He grimaced. "That's all very well, but why *tights*?"

She smiled slowly. "They're not exactly the fashion statement of the year. But according to a magazine poll last month, 11 out of 12 American women voted you the present they'd most like to find in their Christmas stocking." She watched with amused interest as his face coloured. Then she let her gaze drift downwards. "The tights certainly don't hurt your… appeal any."

He positively squirmed. The kitchen was starting to feel far too small for two people. He folded his arms again to help him maintain his composure. "Speaking of clothes, I really ought to get into something clean. I think I'll take that shower now."

"Good idea. I need to start writing, too." She led the way out of the kitchen. "Clark's bedroom is through here, and there's the bathroom. I hope you can find some of Clark's clothes to fit you. He's not quite as well-built as you are." The memory of Clark's torso, on the day when she had caught him wearing only a towel, arose unbidden before her mind's eye, but she dismissed it hastily. Sure, Clark was in surprisingly good shape, especially considering his eating habits, but this *was* Superman. And anyway, Superman was taller. She was feeling slightly flushed again. "I'd better find you a towel."

She disappeared, much to Superman's relief. For a minute it had seemed Lois's solicitousness was going to extend to picking out clothes for him. He opened Clark's closet and studied the contents, deciding that he liked Clark's taste in clothing better than his own, if his current costume was anything to go by. There were quite a few conservative business suits and dress shirts, but a rack of brightly- coloured ties hinted at a less conventional streak. He turned his attention to Clark's casual clothes and selected a pair of comfortably worn jeans, a T-shirt, some shorts and a pair of sport socks. He was pondering the question of shoes when Lois bustled back in.

"I found a towel in the dryer," she said. "I imagine anything else you need will be…" Her voice trailed off. She was staring at Clark's bedside table. There, beside an alarm clock, a table lamp and a framed photograph of Clark's parents, lay a little pile of personal effects: a leather wallet, a watch, a set of keys and a pair of horn- rimmed glasses.

Still staring at the table, Lois handed the towel blindly to Superman. She crossed the room and sank down on the bed, picking up the glasses. "Why would Clark go out without these?" she wondered aloud. She looked round. "And his bed doesn't look as if it's been slept in. Clark was supposed to be coming home to sleep off a headache this morning… and he was wearing these then." She shook her head and replaced the glasses. "Sometimes he's just so weird! He'll probably walk in in a minute and explain that he had to return a library book."

She stood up briskly and pasted a smile on her face. "Go and get cleaned up. I've got to get that article in on time, or Perry will have my hide." She waved Superman in the direction of the bathroom, shooting a last puzzled glance at the bedside table before heading for the computer.

As she switched on the laptop and waited for it to boot up, Lois heard the shower come on. It brought back the last time she had been in this apartment when Superman was in the shower. "Does the costume actually come off?" she had asked Clark, embarrassing both of them. Now her thoughts were once again assailed by images of Superman without the costume. "Concentrate on the story, Lois!" she admonished herself. "You have a deadline, remember?"

***

- Chapter 3 : Reflections -

Superman had a little difficulty extracting himself from the suit. He finally worked out that the cape was held on with velcro, and that there was a zip down the back of the body. The bold colours were even more conspicuous in normal lighting. He eyed the cape grimly; it was hardly fit to wear, but where and when was he going to be able to get another? Not that he was all that fond of capes, but the close-fitting suit seemed positively embarrassing without it. He tossed the cape into Clark's laundry hamper with the rest of the filthy garments, noting in passing that his taste in underwear seemed to coincide with Clark's, and turned his attention to the shower.

The warm water sluicing over him removed the last of the grime, and relieved much of the tension in his neck and shoulders, but it did little for the confusion clouding his mind. He was starting to build up a picture of himself from what Lois had told him; but while the person who emerged seemed admirable, in a rather exaggerated, theatrical fashion, there didn't seem to be much about him to *like*.

Moreover, he couldn't fathom the nature of his relationship with Lois. His feelings for her had seemed absolute and unshakeable at first. He frowned at that thought: no, his feelings still were absolute and unshakeable. But nothing that Lois had done or said seemed to provide any basis for those feelings. If he had known her for months, why hadn't he swept her off her feet long ago? Was she in love with someone else — Clark, perhaps? She wasn't wearing an engagement ring, and she didn't have a key to Clark's apartment; but she had turned to him naturally in a crisis. And she seemed to have few reservations about making use of his things. Though, to be sure, it would take a resolute man to stand up to Lois once she got the bit between her teeth.

He stepped out of the shower and dried himself. He was relieved to find that the clothes he had picked at random fitted him comfortably. He wouldn't have to spend time searching for a better fit.

He towelled his hair dry, and inspected himself critically in the mirror. Worried, dark brown eyes gazed back at him. Broad cheekbones and an olive complexion lent him a faintly exotic look. Dark, strongly-marked brows and a firm jaw gave him an air of decision. He had an unremarkable nose and a wide mouth, and — he checked briefly — good teeth. He reflected that the last characteristic probably came with the invulnerability.

His hair was thick and dark, cut fairly long, and still wild from the towel. He ran his fingers through it to restore some order, and it parted naturally on the left side. A stray lock of hair insisted on falling forward over his right eyebrow. He picked up Clark's comb and combed his hair straight backwards, as Lois had directed him earlier. The resulting effect was clean-cut, but on the whole he thought he preferred the more natural style. He shrugged, and left the sanctuary of the bathroom.

From the bedroom, he could hear Lois typing rapidly at Clark's computer. Loath to disturb her, he stood looking about the room, wondering about its owner. The furnishings were simple, but the patterned fabrics and the bold colours on the walls bespoke a less than conventional personality.

On an impulse, he picked up Clark's glasses and tried them on, studying the effect in the mirror in a corner of the room. He was a little surprised to note that he could see just as well with them as without; his eyes must be able to adjust automatically for the prescription lenses. More surprising still was the effect on his appearance. The glasses hid his eyebrows and diminished the breadth of his jaw, making him look less forceful, more approachable; almost a different person.

The computer keyboard had fallen silent. Superman hastily removed the glasses and replaced them on the bedside table, then walked through to the living room. Lois was sitting at the dining table, a pencil clenched between her teeth, scowling at her computer screen. She ignored Superman's approach, and he continued examining his surroundings with interest. The room displayed the same blend of simplicity and individuality as Clark's bedroom and wardrobe. There were a number of ornaments from exotic locations — a wooden African spirit mask, a Maori greenstone tiki, a Bornean fertility statue. If Clark had collected them himself, he must be something of a traveller.

He also had a small but comprehensive collection of books, ranging from A. A. Milne to John Steinbeck, and from Carl Jung to Stephen Hawking. Superman picked up the obviously long-treasured copy of "Now We Are Six", and opened it. The flyleaf was inscribed, "To Clark, who is as clever as clever. With love from Mom and Dad. February 1972." The next volume, Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue", was simply marked "Clark Kent" in a firm script.

As he replaced it, some foreign lettering caught his eye: Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" was labelled in Arabic. He picked it up and read a few sentences at random, confirming that the entire volume was printed in Arabic. And if its well-thumbed condition was anything to go by, Clark had read it repeatedly. The same was true of the slim volume next to it: Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", printed in Kanji. In addition to being well-travelled and well-read, Clark was evidently impressively well-educated. Superman wondered briefly whether Clark had any weak points at all. <Besides not being here when Lois needs him,> a little voice in the back of his mind suggested. He frowned and dismissed the uncharitable thought.

Lois had resumed typing. Superman crossed the room to stand behind her. It seemed entirely natural to bend down, resting a hand on the arm of her chair, and read what she had written. It was very good, he thought to himself, ignoring her slight stiffening. "Meteorite," he said, helpfully.

"I beg your pardon?" Lois said, with a slightly acid edge.

Superman pointed to the screen. "You called it — me — a meteor, but you said it had landed. Once it lands, it's called a meteorite."

Lois seethed. Reading an unfinished story over her shoulder was bad enough, but this was too much. "Listen, big guy," she retorted, shutting the laptop screen with a snap, "no one except Kent edits my copy — and even he doesn't do it lightly!" She twisted in her chair to look him in the eye. "Why don't you let me do my job, and find something else to do in the meantime?" As she paused to take a breath, Lois caught his newly-showered fragrance, and her heart skipped a beat. This was *Superman* standing behind her, his face only inches from hers. "That is, if you don't mind?" she finished, in distinctly breathless tones.

Superman stood up and retreated a pace, jolted both by the unexpected rebuff and by Lois's lightning changes of mood. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly, his expression shuttered. "I guess I could make some tea."

Lois's eyes widened at the unfamiliar concept of Superman doing domestic chores. "Thanks, that would be great!" she enthused.

As he turned and walked towards the stove, Lois closed her eyes and mentally shook herself. <Smart move, kiddo. The chance of a lifetime to spend quality time alone with Superman, and you alternate between biting his head off and gushing all over him? Pull yourself together and finish your article, and then you'd better make a fresh start. And try and behave like an intelligent woman this time!>

Something about Superman's expression was tugging at her memory. She let her mind drift back — yes, she had seen that set expression on his face once before. It had been shortly after he had arrived in Metropolis, and he had just come out of a building where a bomb had gone off. Minutes later, Lois and Clark had listened in mounting horror as the police explosives expert had informed them that the bomb had been a trap set for Superman. Lois opened the laptop again and looked briefly over her story. Yes, she had made the right decision.

She quickly amended the word "meteor" to "meteorite", glancing over at Superman to see whether he had noticed. He was crouched in front of Clark's kitchen cabinets, apparently searching for a kettle. Lois made a mental note to thank Clark for concealing it so well, because it was giving her a fabulous opportunity to admire the way Superman looked in civilian clothing, without being observed. The soft denim hugged his slim hips lovingly and the T-shirt, while not as tight as she would have expected, still displayed his broad shoulders and strong arms to admiration. She had to admit that the Man of Steel looked considerably less striking out of his Spandex, but he still cut an extremely attractive figure, worth a second look from any red-blooded woman. <Make that any woman who's still breathing,> she mused dreamily.

Superman finally located the kettle and stood up, crossing to the sink to fill it. Lois hastily withdrew her gaze and fixed her eyes on her computer, her cheeks rather pink. She forced herself to focus her mind on her article once more. Superman's hunt for mugs and herbal tea leaves was a good deal shorter, but by the time the tea was ready, Lois was fully absorbed in her writing and barely accorded him a muttered "thank you" as he set the steaming mug down next to her.

He hovered for a second and then went to sit down on the couch. He cupped his hands around his tea, and sipped it. He could feel the heat, but it didn't hurt him at all. He looked at Lois over the rim of the mug. Her pencil was tucked behind her ear now, and she was frowning at the screen in concentration. It seemed a familiar picture, but judging from Lois's irate response to his well-meaning interference, he didn't often get a chance to see her at work. Another mystery. It occurred to him that he was staring at her like a lovestruck teenager, and he switched the television on, turning the sound down to avoid disturbing Lois's concentration.

A few minutes later Lois hit the "send" button and sat back in her chair, satisfied. She picked up her mug of tea, no longer steaming but still pleasantly warm, and looked around for Superman. He was sitting in front of Clark's television set, watching a news special on the Nightfall Asteroid. He was wearing an expression of mild disgust, with a hint of embarrassment. Her curiosity piqued, she went to stand beside him. They were running the footage of his departure from EPRAD, and he was being shown talking to Lois. As she watched, her screen counterpart gripped Superman's arm and pressed a kiss on his reluctant lips. It was Lois's turn to look embarrassed.

She took a sip of her tea, and grimaced. "This could do with some sweetener," she muttered. "I don't suppose Clark has anything but sugar."

Superman looked up. "There's some honey," he offered, starting to get up.

"It's okay, I'll get it. You keep watching… it might jog your memory."

"It's in the left-hand cupboard, next to the stove," he said, as he subsided back onto the couch and returned his attention to the screen.

Lois opened the cupboard and rummaged among the contents. Sure enough, at the back was a jar of liquid honey. She added a spoonful to her tea and returned to the computer. She plugged the modem in and connected it to the phone jack, then ran the application to dial up Clark's ISP. While the email was being transferred, she pulled up a browser window and pointed it to a search engine. Time to do a little medical research.

Twenty minutes later, Lois had found enough material to go on with. She disconnected the computer, stood up and stretched. Superman was still watching the news special, which was concluding with archive footage of various Superman exploits from the previous year. He had the same mildly disgusted expression she had seen on his face earlier. As she went over to sit on the couch beside him, the programme ended and he switched the set off.

"You seem less than delighted by your television coverage," remarked Lois, amused.

"It's a bit disconcerting to discover that you're a media celebrity," he replied slowly. "Especially one that comes across like a muscle-bound cartoon character."

"What do you mean?" Lois asked, looking at him oddly. She was surprised to find that she felt slightly offended by the comment.

"Well, take that appearance at EPRAD today," he said, gazing abstractedly at the blank television screen. "I can see what you meant about my gestures being 'for effect.' They all seem very theatrical, like my costume. And everything I said seems so… so totally unimaginative. It's as though I were playing a part." A horrid thought struck him, and he turned to look at her. "Lois, this is all off the record, isn't it?"

She gaped at him, struck to the quick. "Of course it is, Superman! Are you implying that I'd take advantage of your weakness, just to… to print some nasty gutter-press gossip article?" Her eyes flashed fire.

He closed his eyes and ran one finger up the bridge of his nose in a gesture that struck Lois as incongruous, and yet oddly familiar. "I'm sorry, Lois. I don't know what to think. This is all so confusing." He sighed, and met her eyes. "I don't even know what sort of a relationship we have. Are we… close?"

Lois knew he was thinking about the kiss he had just seen broadcast on a national news network. For a wild moment she toyed with the idea of saying "Yes, we're very close indeed," and flinging herself into his arms. He would kiss her passionately, the way he had once before, and this time they would… float off into the sunset together? She grimaced as her imagination failed her. Then it presented a different picture altogether: Superman looking at her in disgust when he realised she had deceived him, the way he sometimes looked at a criminal he had just apprehended. Superman never lied, and right now what he needed most from her was support and honesty.

"No, we're not really close," she replied. Was that a glimmer of disappointment in his eyes? Surely not. "We're friends, I hope. You give me quite a few exclusives about your rescues, and you sometimes drop in at my apartment for a minute in the evening, when you're on patrol. You take me flying sometimes — I love that." She looked down at her hands. "You told me you loved me once, but that was only because you were under the influence of a love potion that a mad chemist was trying to spray all over Metropolis. You even kissed me." She swallowed, trying *not* to recall that kiss in too much detail just at the moment. "But you never mentioned it again, so it obviously wore off." She smiled brightly at him, trying not to look disappointed. "You've never told me very much about yourself, though. For all I know, you have a wife and five bouncing children."

"No!" he exclaimed, startling her. "No, I'm not married," he repeated, less forcefully. The words, "I do love you, and I always will," hovered on the tip of his tongue, but doubts restrained him. Why had he never told her so before? He must have his reasons, and he needed to find out what they were before he said something he might have cause to regret.

She was looking eagerly at him. When he didn't continue, she prompted him: "Are you starting to remember anything? Did the TV footage help?"

He shook his head doubtfully. "Some of it sounded faintly familiar, as though it happened to someone else. It didn't seem like me. But I do know one or two things about myself, and I know I'm not married. I wish I could remember more about who I really am."

Lois looked puzzled at this, but as she opened her mouth the phone began to ring. She grinned. "Excuse me. I think this is for me." She leaned over and picked up the phone. "Hello, Chief," she said.

Perry's familiar Southern drawl responded. "You were expecting a call from your poor, long-suffering editor, then? Good, that'll make this easier. You know, Lois, I had Jimmy come in here an hour ago, walking on air because you and he got the scoop on Superman getting back safe from his mission today. He told me he left you with Superman at Clark's place, so naturally I assumed we were going to get the exclusive straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

"Now, I've got your article right in front of me — and don't get me wrong, Lois, it's a very good article — but you know, when I look carefully I can't find a single detail in here that Jimmy didn't already tell me. So would you like to tell me what in the Sam Hill's going on?"

"I didn't think it was going to fool you for long, Chief," she replied meekly. "What Jimmy doesn't know is that Superman didn't get back entirely safely today. He doesn't seem to be hurt, but he's got amnesia. He can't remember anything about the mission today — or much of anything else, either." She looked at Superman, who was looking alarmed at her words, and mouthed "It's okay" at him.

Perry was making concerned noises. "That sounds pretty bad. Has he seen a doctor?" he enquired.

"No, he… doesn't want to. I doubt any doctor's going to be able to help much, anyway. There aren't any experts in Kryptonian physiology that I know of. I've just finished reading up on amnesia on the web, and it looks as if his memory ought to come back on its own. He just needs some rest and some time in familiar surroundings, doing familiar things."

"That sounds more encouraging. So tell me, how much space should I be keeping in the afternoon edition for this story?"

Lois bit her lip, and took a deep breath. "Chief, we can't print it," she said firmly.

"Great shades of Elvis! Has my top investigative reporter gone soft?" asked Perry, with deceptive mildness. "We're talking Kerth material here, Lois!"

"I know, Chief. The thing is… do you remember just after Superman arrived in Metropolis, someone was setting up tests and traps for him? And you remember all the trouble we had with Bureau 39? Jason Trask may be dead, but someone just as bad will have taken his place. Once the criminals and the crazies know that Superman can be hurt, they're going to start going after him again. And even if they don't succeed, they don't care who they injure in the process. Superman risked everything for us today. I think he deserves a little protection in return!" she finished, defiantly. She met Superman's quizzical gaze, and blushed.

There was a brief silence, then Perry chuckled. "Now that's something I never thought to hear — Lois Lane, hot-shot reporter, arguing herself out of a front-page story. Well, you've convinced me. I'll see you in the morning, then."

"Wait, Chief… if Superman hasn't recovered his memory by tomorrow, I was wondering if I could take the day off -"

"And spend it holding Superman's hand? Are you sure he wouldn't rather Clark played nursemaid? How is Clark, by the way?"

"Well actually, Chief, we haven't seen Clark this evening. He seems to have gone out without his wallet or his keys, and we're a bit worried about him…"

"Then how in tarnation did you get into his apartment? No, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Now listen, Lois, I don't want any argument. I can't afford to have both members of my best reporting team off duty at a time like this. EPRAD has announced a press conference at noon tomorrow, and I expect one of you to be covering it, even if you don't make it in to the office. Now, you do what you can for Superman, and give him my thanks and my best wishes." And Perry hung up.

***

- Chapter 4 : Three's a Crowd -

Lois put the phone down. "That was Perry White, my editor at the Planet," she explained, and relayed his last words to Superman. "That was easier than I expected," she added. "I thought he would take a lot of persuading not to print the big story."

Superman nodded. "Are there people constantly trying to kill me?" he enquired. The idea was distinctly unsettling.

"We never found out who was setting traps for you," Lois replied. "Nobody's ever found a way to hurt you. They seemed to be trying to drive you away rather than kill you. The incidents stopped after you announced that you had come to Metropolis to stay."

"Oh, so I live in the city? Not in a space ship somewhere? I should be going home, then, not trespassing on Clark's hospitality — especially when he's not here."

"I don't know where you live, Superman. But you stayed here once before when you couldn't go home, so it counts as familiar surroundings for you. And I know Clark wouldn't mind."

He looked unconvinced, but he didn't argue. "You said something on the phone about familiar surroundings. Will you tell me what you found out about amnesia?"

"Yes, of course." Her voice took on a professional tone. "Amnesia is usually associated with head injuries, or with a traumatic event. You seem to have almost total amnesia about your identity and your past experiences, but you can remember everything that happened since the accident, which is a good sign. Can you remember the date?"

"It's January 1994, but I don't know the exact date." She nodded, and asked a few more questions. He could remember general information such as the capital of France and the name of the President of America, but nothing of more personal significance.

"It doesn't matter," she reassured him. "Unless you had serious brain damage, which you obviously haven't, your memory should return of its own accord within a day or two, at the most." <As long as your brain works like ours,> she added privately, deciding not to voice that particular concern. "We can try to speed it up by establishing associations with past memories. That's why I thought the news footage might be a good idea. Familiar music and photographs, and of course people, can also help."

He nodded slowly, taking it all in. "So what do you suggest I do?"

"I'll tell you everything I can, and Clark will too, once he gets home. But the very first thing I suggest is something to eat. I'm starving!" Her stomach chose to underline this statement with a low growl, and she blushed.

She got up from the couch and went over to the kitchen area. "I wonder if Clark has anything we can eat. Last time I looked, his kitchen was full of Twinkies and Ding-Dongs." She opened the fridge. "Plenty of milk — how does he get through that much? Eggs, cheese, cream… doesn't he even think about cholesterol? Some raw vegetables… ham… We might be able to make some sandwiches." She checked the bread bin. "No, no bread. What about something we can microwave?" She opened the freezer. "Lots of ice cream, but no frozen dinners. We'll just have to order take-out." She took two steps towards the phone, then stopped. "No, that's no good, either. I left my purse at home when I went out to the Slum."

Superman cleared his throat. He was leaning against the kitchen counter, enjoying the miniature whirlwind effect Lois had been creating. "I might be able to help."

Lois raised an eyebrow. "You mean, fly me over to my apartment to get some cash? I wish you could! But I don't think you'd better go anywhere dressed like that. You aren't instantly recognisable as Superman without the costume, but we shouldn't risk it."

Superman looked faintly embarrassed. "No, what I meant was, I could cook something."

After a moment Lois remembered to close her mouth. "I, uh, didn't realise you could cook," she said, feebly. "That would be very nice… if you're sure…"

"It's good to know I can surprise you," Superman said, and grinned. Lois blinked; she had never seen him look so natural before. "I enjoy cooking, I think. It's relaxing."

<Not if you do it my way,> thought Lois. Somehow she found herself sitting at the table, as Superman gathered up some onions and garlic and located Clark's chopping board.

"It's a good thing Clark has more than one knife," he remarked, as he closed the knife drawer. Despite the tease, he was looking serious again. "Would you mind answering some more questions while I work?"

Lois pulled herself together. "Of course not. What do you want to know?"

"Tell me about Clark," he requested.

Lois was surprised again. "I didn't expect that to be your first question," she commented.

"I'm standing in Clark's kitchen, cooking his food and wearing his clothes," Superman replied. "I feel I ought to know something about him." He started to chop the onions. Lois watched his hands moving confidently; he certainly seemed to know what he was doing.

"Well, Clark's my partner," she began. The knife slipped, and sliced across Superman's fingers. Lois flinched and caught her breath involuntarily. "Ouch! Are you… of course you're all right," she tailed off.

He checked his fingers cursorily, then tested the hapless knife on the onion. "I'm fine," he said, "but I've taken the edge off this knife." He pulled open the knife drawer and rummaged at the back, pulling out a whetstone. He closed the drawer and crossed to the sink, where he rinsed the knife and then ran some water over the stone. Standing with his back to Lois, he began to sharpen the knife with long, careful strokes. "You were telling me about Clark," he said.

Lois had been gazing wide-eyed at this display of culinary proficiency. She had never seen a whetstone before, and certainly wouldn't have known how to use one. Once again, she collected her scattered thoughts.

"Clark came to work at the Planet in about May last year. I thought he was just a small-town hack — Perry didn't even hire him at first. Then he came back with a mood piece he'd written, about an old theatre that was closing down. Such a nerve — Perry had given me that assignment, and Clark must have found out about it. The article was really good, though, and Perry hired him on the spot. Perry called it 'initiative'." Lois smiled wryly. "I was furious when he assigned Clark to work with me! That must have been shortly before you arrived in Metropolis, because it was the shuttle sabotage story we were working on.

"Anyway, I soon realised that he wasn't quite the Mister Green Jeans that he looks. He grew up in Smallville, Kansas, but he did a lot of travelling after he graduated, and he speaks several languages. He even reads Chinese, for heaven's sake. And he's a good journalist." She hesitated; this honesty she had promised herself was going to be more difficult than she had thought. "Very good, in fact. Maybe even nearly as good as I am. Our styles complement each other very well."

Superman had finished sharpening the knife, and chopping the onions. He found a large frying pan and melted some butter on the stove, adding the onions. Lois watched as he used a small implement to crush some cloves of garlic into the pan. "I bet you could do that with your bare hands," she remarked idly.

He shrugged. "Maybe I could," he admitted, and shot another heart-stopping grin at her. "But what would people say when Superman arrived to rescue them with his hands covered in garlic?"

She laughed. "You have a point," she conceded. "Mmm, that smells wonderful. Where was I?"

"You were telling me what Clark is like to work with. What's he like as a person?" He turned his attention to slicing mushrooms.

"He's… really difficult to pin down. You think you have him all figured out, and then he does something that really surprises you. He comes across like a wide-eyed country boy most of the time, but nothing seems to faze him. Heck, even I don't intimidate him, and everybody else I know has the sense to run scared when I'm in a temper. Clark just stands there and lets me shout at him and work it all off, and then he grins at me and goes and gets me some coffee. It's not that he lets me walk all over him, either. I did something really mean to him, back when he first arrived, and he got me back…" She hesitated, and decided to leave it at that. Being honest didn't necessarily require all the gory details. "But he didn't rub my nose in it, and he doesn't seem to feel the need to prove he's better than me, like most other men I've met.

"And there's another thing. He's fairly attractive…" She lost another brief struggle with her conscience, "… very attractive, in fact. The gossip columnist from the Planet, who eats men like him whole, made a bee-line for him the moment she saw him. I thought he'd fallen for her, hook, line and sinker; but she's still all over him any time she gets a chance, so maybe he evaded her clutches after all." <Or maybe he's so good that she wants an unprecedented second bite,> she thought to herself.

The unconscious note of jealousy in Lois's voice hadn't escaped Superman's notice. What sort of relationship did Lois have with her lover — no, her "partner", he amended — if she was still feeling threatened by someone from Clark's past? The coil of jealousy growing in the pit of his stomach was joined by a thread of anger at the absent Clark. He glared at the ham he was now chopping.

"Anyway," Lois continued, "most men who are that good- looking are really full of themselves, but not Clark. He doesn't do things to draw attention to himself. You could call him mild-mannered, I suppose. But he's fun to be with, and he's got a great sense of humour. He cares about people, too, and cares about trying to help them.

"And then, just when you think he's safe and predictable, he goes and pulls some weird stunt, like this one today. He'll just disappear off the face of the earth, as though he never existed. And ten minutes later, or maybe six hours later, he'll come strolling casually in as though nothing has happened, and tell you he went to pick up his dry- cleaning, or he left something in his car, even though he doesn't have a car. It's so frustrating! I don't know why Perry puts up with it, but he never seems to call Clark on it."

Superman added the ham to the frying pan, and stirred the mixture contemplatively. "When did you -" He found he couldn't say the words "fall in love with him." "- start seeing each other?" he finished.

Lois looked bewildered. "Seeing each other? We don't… we aren't… we're just friends," she stammered.

It was Superman's turn to look surprised. "But you said you were partners?"

"Oh! Not that sort of partner — working together partners. We investigate our stories and write them up together. We don't have any… romantic attachment."

"Oh." That explained quite a few things which had been troubling him. He couldn't resist probing the hurt, though, like a child worrying a loose tooth. "Why not? You obviously like him a lot. Are you saying there's no romantic feeling there at all?"

Even as Lois drew a breath to deliver a vehement denial, she was assailed by the memory of that kiss in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel. She had been startled when Clark had unceremoniously scooped her onto the bed and started kissing her, but within a few seconds she had been grappling with very different feelings. The sound of the maid entering the bedroom had come in time to prevent her losing her head completely, but even so she had returned the kiss with rather more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary. And when the maid had left and Clark had abruptly released her, evidently expecting her to let rip at him, all her shaken mind had come up with was a feeble complaint that the maid hadn't knocked.

Lois realised that Superman was still waiting for an answer. Honesty, she reminded herself. "I don't really know," she said slowly. She looked down at the tablecloth. "It hasn't exactly come up. Well, I suppose it did once, actually. You remember I mentioned that love potion? Miranda squirted it all over the Planet newsroom, and everyone who was sprayed lost all their inhibitions. Well, I got some, and so did Clark. I spent the next two days fawning all over him." Her cheeks were burning, and she put her hands over them. "He was a perfect gentleman the whole time; he fended me off gently but very effectively. So, to answer your question… I guess I am attracted to him to some extent — but he isn't attracted to me."

There was a silence, as Superman searched vainly for something to say to ease Lois's embarrassment. He concentrated on adding pasta shells to the pot of bubbling water on the stove, giving her time to recover her dignity.

After a few moments Lois shrugged, and forced her voice to a matter-of-fact tone. "But it's probably just as well. Office romances are always a disaster. I had one once, years ago; it ended badly, and it made work hell for both of us for months, until he left to go to another paper. I swore I'd never do anything like that again. Clark and I are friends, and very good partners. It would be stupid to throw that away for a superficial fling." She studied the tablecloth, refusing to meet Superman's eyes.

"Not all romances are a disaster, Lois. Sometimes people do fall in love and live happily ever after. You sound as though you're not prepared to take a chance to find out if it could happen to you."

"I know more about the other kind of relationship. My father just walked out on my mother one day, and never came back. It nearly destroyed her." She traced the pattern on the tablecloth with one finger. "Anyway, I don't think I'm good happy-ever-after material. I'm an ambitious career woman — I'm better at trampling on men's egos than at stroking them. I can't even cook!"

Superman put a lid on the pasta pot, and turned down the heat. "Cooking is overrated," he said, crossing to the table and sitting down opposite her. He stilled her restless fingers with one hand, and gently lifted her chin with the other until she met his eyes. "You're a very attractive woman, Lois. You're beautiful, and brilliant, and brave. Any man who can't see that must be blind. And any man who feels threatened by it doesn't deserve you."

Tears were pricking at her eyelids, and she blinked them away. She could see the total sincerity in his eyes, and it awed her. "If someone had asked me a year ago, I'd have said I didn't believe in happy endings," she said huskily, and smiled tentatively. "But then, a year ago I didn't believe in men who could fly, either. I guess life can surprise you."

She looked down at their linked hands on the table. "That's another reason it wouldn't work out with Clark," she said hesitantly. "The feelings I have for you. Ever since the first day I met you — when you saved my life by *eating* a bomb, of all things — I've felt… as if we were connected. As if there's something special between us."

"I know you're special to me, Lois," he responded, but his eyes were guarded again. "You're the only person I can remember anything about right now. And back at the warehouse, when I didn't know what to do, I knew you would come and rescue me."

He looked down at their hands. He seemed to be hesitating over what to say, and Lois's heart sank. He was trying to work out how to let her down gently. The sudden sound of the telephone ringing startled them both. Lois pulled her hand free, and got to her feet. "I'd better answer that," she said unnecessarily.

By the time she returned, Superman was putting the finishing touches to two plates of mouth-watering pasta. He had also had time to remind himself of all the reasons why starting anything with Lois could prove disastrous. Not least among those was the reflection that, if it turned out he wasn't able to follow through a relationship with her for some reason beyond his control, her already low self- confidence would be shattered.

To his relief, she didn't seem about to pick up where they had left off. "That was Clark's mother," she announced in conversational tones, as she sat down. "She seemed rather upset to hear that he wasn't at home. I do hope nothing's happened to him… Anyway, she said she had phoned to ask him if he had any news of you, so I told her you were here. She was very pleased, and sent her good wishes." Lois frowned slightly. "I hope she won't say anything to anyone before tomorrow morning, or we could lose our scoop. But she must be used to that, with Clark."

She lifted her fork, and dug into the pasta. "Mmm," she sighed, leaning back with her eyes closed to savour the first mouthful. "This is heavenly!" She opened her eyes and grinned. "You know, if someone had told me six hours ago that I'd be sitting here eating pasta cooked for me by Superman, I'd have called the funny farm. Why aren't you eating?"

<I'm enjoying watching you too much.> He said the first thing that came into his head. "Are Clark and his mother very close?" He started eating; she was right, it was pretty good.

"I've only met his parents once. They seem like a very close family… Clark is an only child, you know. It's odd, though — we went to Smallville last fall for a story, and that's the only time I can remember him going home in, what, eight months? You'd think he'd take a weekend off occasionally to see them, or at least Thanksgiving and Christmas." She shook her head. "But we keep talking about Clark, and about me. You must be anxious to know more about yourself."

"You're right, I do have a lot of questions. But from the sound of it, you won't be able to answer many of them. You never answered my first question."

"What was that?"

"What's my name?"

Lois grimaced. "It's true, I don't know. I christened you 'Superman' in the first article I wrote about you, because of that 'S' on your costume, and you said it was a good enough name. You wouldn't answer most personal questions, so you have only yourself to blame." She glowered at him, and he smiled ruefully. "Still, you may as well ask me the rest of your questions. I might be able to help some." She attacked the pasta again, with gusto.

"Okay. I was wondering if I have a family who would like to know that I got home safely. Have I ever even met my family? Did I grow up on Krypton and then come here, or was I brought up on a space ship on the way here? It could take years, even generations, to get from Krypton to Earth. I could even have been raised in… in a tank, or something."

"You're right, those are tough questions," she admitted. "But I do know one answer. On the day I first met you, a little girl admired your costume, and you said your mother made it for you. So you must be in contact with your mother, or at least it can't be all that long since you've seen her."

He closed his eyes in relief. At least he wasn't that alien. "I wish I could remember her."

"You will, soon. Don't doubt it." She laid a reassuring hand on his arm, and after a moment he met her eyes, smiling his appreciation. The feel of his warm skin and the soft hair under her fingers threatened her fragile equilibrium, however, and she drew her hand away and picked up her fork again.

They ate in silence for a while. Then Superman began to muse aloud. "If I was brought up by Kryptonians, I ought to be able to speak some Kryptonian language. I can speak a few languages…" He paused for a moment, evidently going through them in his head. "A *lot* of languages, in fact; but they're all from Earth. I can't remember any Kryptonian languages." He looked puzzled; then he shrugged. "Never mind. Here's a question you should be able to answer. Who pays me to do this Superman job?"

Lois blinked. "Pays you?" she echoed.

"Yes, I assume I'm employed by the police or someone." He looked at her in surprise. "Are you saying it's a volunteer effort — that I'm just a vigilante?"

"I wouldn't have called you a vigilante! But you don't answer to anyone, or at least not that I'm aware of. You just… come and help when someone needs you."

"But what do I live on?

She regarded him blankly.

"Come on, Lois, I must get money somehow. I've presumably got an apartment somewhere in Metropolis, and I have to eat, and buy Spandex outfits. How do I pay for all that? Do I have another job? I suppose saving people can't be a full-time occupation, so I must do something with myself the rest of the time."

Lois finally got her voice working again. "You don't have to eat. But you like to." She stared at her plate. "This is really embarrassing. Not only do I not know the answers, but in all the time I've known you, I've never even thought of the questions. Some reporter!" she finished, chagrined.

"I guess you just don't have what it takes -" he said, and she looked up open-mouthed, "- to be a dirt-digger," he finished, and grinned impishly at her outraged glare. "Come on, Lois, don't be so hard on yourself. In the normal way of things, I'm sure I'm really glad that you respect my privacy. I know you're a great reporter."

She looked daggers at him for a moment longer, before her sense of humour got the better of her and she laughed. "See, your memory's coming back already." She polished off the last of her food, and pushed the empty plate away with a sigh. "What we really need is for Clark to come home," she said. "He'd probably be able to answer some of your questions."

"Clark? Why would Clark know?" he asked, puzzled.

"He doesn't talk about it, but he's obviously a close friend of yours. For one thing, he always seems to be able to get hold of you when someone wants to talk to you."

"Clark is a *friend* of mine?"

Superman was looking dumbfounded. Lois stared at him, perplexed. "Yes. Why is that such a surprise?"

"Well, I… I can't remember a thing about him. You'd think I could remember him if he was such a close friend." He reflected briefly, then picked his words with care. "I've been… envying him, you know. He has all the things I'd like to have. Memories of his childhood, growing up in Kansas. Concerned parents calling him. A comfortable apartment, filled with treasures that he's collected all over the world. A good job with -" He smiled at her. " — a great partner. I wonder if he knows just how lucky he is."

***

- Chapter 5 : Phantoms -

Superman swooped down to land on the stage in front of the cheering crowd. A handsome man in a business suit, whose welcoming smile didn't quite reach his eyes, stepped forward to shake hands with Superman and hand over a huge golden key. Then the businessman stepped forward to the microphone, and the crowd subsided. "Let the games begin," said the businessman.

An eerie hush fell. Everyone was looking expectantly at Superman, but his prepared speech had vanished from his mind. The crowd began to shuffle closer, and hands reached out to clutch at his cape. He retreated a pace and the crowd muttered, the mood turning ugly, threatening. Superman turned and tried to lift off into the sky, but found he couldn't fly. The businessman stood looking at him with a mocking smile.

Suddenly, pain lanced through Superman's fingers. He lifted his hand and found the golden key had turned a nauseous, glowing green. A sickening ache spread through his body. He fell to his knees, and the businessman roared with derisive laughter. The business suit turned into a military uniform and the man's features changed, becoming coarser. A feral gleam shone in his eyes. He lifted a revolver and shot Superman through the chest. Superman fell back into the crowd; hands reached for him and ripped at his costume, tearing it away to reveal nothing inside. Superman had disappeared.

***

Superman sat up abruptly, fighting to escape from the last lingering shreds of the nightmare. Slowly his breathing calmed and the peace of the apartment seeped in to soothe his fears. He lay back on the bed and reached out for his lost memories.

He closed his eyes and tried to picture his mother. She was probably dark, like him. He tried to conjure up a comforting, beloved, dark-haired image… and found himself thinking of Lois. A wry smile curved his lips, and he held onto the image for a moment. In his vision his hand came up to cradle Lois's cheek, just as it had in the kitchen yesterday evening. Only now, he bent to brush his lips softly against hers, and then stood up. "Goodbye, Lois."

His eyes flew open. Was that a genuine memory? It didn't seem to fit in with anything Lois had told him. He would have to remember to ask her about it.

He closed his eyes and reached out again for his childhood. He tried to imagine being a small boy, waking in the morning, full of anticipation for the exciting day ahead -

<— He ran down the stairs and erupted into the kitchen, still buttoning his shirt. Mom was standing at the counter making pancakes, and there was a delicious smell of new bread in the air. "Mom, where's Dad? He said I could help him with the ploughing this morning!"

"He's just gone out to see to the fence, honey, there's plenty of time…" But he was running again before she had finished. Dad was in the yard, fixing the fence where the wind had blown it loose. He had just put a nail in position and was reaching for his hammer.

"Let me help, Dad!" he cried, and struck the nail with his fist, driving it deep into the wood.

Dad stood up and grabbed his wrist, looking at him grimly. "How many times must I tell you not to do that, son?" he asked sternly. "If people find out about you, they'll put you in a laboratory and dissect you like a frog!"

"Breakfast time, boys!" Mom called from the kitchen door. He trailed glumly behind Dad, wishing he could remember not to use his powers. As Dad got to the door, Mom reached out and gave him a swift hug, and they looked lovingly at each other for a moment in the warm Kansas sunlight. —>

<Kansas?> Superman opened his eyes and frowned. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, and reached for the photograph of Clark's parents on the bedside table. Sure enough, the faces matched those in his daydream. He wasn't recovering his memory; instead, his subconscious was building phantom memories around what he had heard about Clark's childhood. Superman's lips set grimly; he put the photograph down and dropped his face into his hands. Was he ever going to be a whole person again?

After a minute, he got up and padded quietly through to the kitchen to get a drink. He splashed some water on his face and ran his wet hands through his hair to smooth it back, then filled a glass from the tap. Leaning against the counter to drink, he looked over to the couch. All he could see of Lois was a huddle of blankets and a tousled mop of dark hair. He smiled, remembering how she had been yawning by the time he had finished the washing up. She had refused to go home, insisting that he shouldn't be left alone; but she had also refused to take the bed, pointing out that she was much smaller than he was, and could sleep more easily on the couch. Superman reflected that it could have been awkward if Clark had come home in the middle of the night and found her in his bed. However, Clark was evidently still missing, although the sky was nearly light outside.

The phone shrilled, startling him. He put the glass down quickly and strode over to answer it before it could wake Lois, but she was already stirring. "Hello, uh… Clark Kent's apartment."

A woman's voice responded. "Clark, is that you, honey? We were worried when you didn't phone back last night…"

"I'm afraid Clark isn't here right now," he replied, awkwardly. "Can I give him a message?"

There was a pregnant pause, and then the woman spoke hesitantly. "Clark, what… is there someone there? Are you okay?"

"I'm not… Clark is… I'm just a friend," he stammered, thoroughly confused. Lois sat up and reached a hand out for the phone, hissing at him, and he handed it over thankfully and retired to the kitchen in disarray.

Lois spoke smoothly into the receiver. "This is Lois Lane, Clark's partner. Clark is out at the moment. Can I help you?"

"Lois! This is Martha Kent. I was just… is Clark… who was that who answered the phone?"

"That was Superman, Martha. We, uh, he stayed here last night. Clark isn't here at the moment. In fact, Martha, I'm really worried about him…" And somewhat to her own astonishment, Lois found herself pouring out the story of Clark's accident two days before, his headache the day before, and his disappearance without his personal belongings.

Martha took the recitation surprisingly calmly. "I'm sure Clark is fine," she assured Lois. "But if you're really worried about him, why don't you ask Superman to look for him? I'm sure he could find Clark quickly enough."

"He, uh, well, he can't…" Lois tailed off, thinking furiously. What possible excuse could she give for Superman's incapacity?

And indeed, she had finally succeeded in alarming Martha. "Whatever do you mean?" demanded the older woman, her voice sharp with worry. "Is there something wrong with Superman? He didn't sound like himself when he answered the phone just now. Is he hurt?"

There was an awkward pause. Lois briefly considered telling Martha that Superman had searched for Clark and failed to find him, but that would only serve to alarm her further. Lois sighed and spoke hesitantly. "Superman's not hurt, exactly. Martha, I probably oughtn't to be telling you this, because it could be dangerous for him if the wrong people found out… He has amnesia. He can't remember anything from before the accident, including how to use his special abilities."

"Oh my, Lois," Martha exclaimed, clearly more shaken by this than by anything Lois had said about Clark. "What is he… what are you going to do?"

Lois told Martha about bringing Superman to Clark's apartment, and the information she had managed to gather about amnesia. Martha was relieved to hear that Superman wouldn't need to consult a doctor, and thoroughly approved of Lois's plan to have him stay at Clark's place until his memory returned. She seemed a little surprised, though, when Lois expressed her hope that Clark would be able to tell Superman more about himself. It was almost as though she didn't know the two men were close friends — or perhaps she didn't think Lois knew.

"I'm quite sure you don't need to worry about Clark," she said firmly, when Lois reiterated her concern about Clark's disappearance. "He was supposed to go out and see someone — an old friend — last night. They probably went on talking late, and Clark stayed over. You just stick to worrying about Superman. Clark will turn up soon enough."

By the time Lois hung up, most of her anxiety had been assuaged. It was quite a relief to be able to share the tale with someone, she reflected, and she couldn't help remembering what Superman had said about how lucky Clark was. She couldn't have spoken to either of her own parents about her concerns, and if she had, she would never in a million years have got the kind of support that Martha had given her. Nevertheless, there had been an odd undertone to the conversation that she couldn't quite put her finger on.

Her train of thought was interrupted by Superman coming through from the kitchen and handing her a cup of tea. It wasn't the strong cup of coffee she really needed to jolt her into life at this time of the morning, but not having to get up and get it herself more than made up for that. He had even remembered to put a spoonful of honey in hers this time. She wrapped her hands around the cup and smiled warmly at Superman. "Thanks."

She got a small smile in return. "You're welcome," he said, dropping into the armchair. He was looking tired and strained, and he had a distinct five-o'clock shadow. He was wearing a pair of Clark's sleep shorts with last night's T- shirt. Trying not to stare at his muscular legs, Lois felt a warmth creeping over her that was not wholly due to the tea.

Superman leaned back and stretched out his legs. "How did you sleep?" he enquired.

"Okay, I guess." Actually, the narrowness of the couch and the unfamiliar noises in the apartment had kept her tossing and turning for much of the night, and she had a bit of a stiff neck, but she wasn't about to admit that. She ran a self-conscious hand through her hair. "And you?"

"Quite well, thanks. I had some strange dreams." He paused, then veered off at an apparent tangent. "Do I know Clark's parents?"

"I shouldn't think so. I don't think they've been to Metropolis since Clark moved here. I suppose you could have visited the farm with Clark." The phrase "take you home to meet his parents" flashed into Lois's mind, and she frowned. Where had *that* thought come from?

Superman nodded. He was having difficulty concentrating on anything except the way Lois looked. Last night, dressed in bulky, nondescript street clothes, she had been attractive enough. This morning she was sitting up in her blanket, still sleep-tousled and wearing an over-large borrowed T- shirt and shorts, and she looked perfectly adorable. Superman was trying not to look her way, lest he give in to the temptation to go over to her, gather her into his arms, and kiss her into oblivion; but he could still see her in his mind's eye, and his resolution was being sorely tested.

He drained his cup with sudden decision and stood up. "Why don't I get dressed, while you finish your tea in peace?" he suggested. "Then I'll make you some breakfast, if you like." Not waiting for a response, he vanished in the direction of the bathroom.

Lois blinked. Everyone seemed to be behaving strangely this morning: first Martha, and now Superman. She snuggled back into her blanket and tried to make sense of their odd reactions, but found herself dozing over her tea instead.

***

By early afternoon, Lois had still had virtually no time to think. Days off were evidently overrated, she mused wryly, as she put the finishing touches to her hastily-written article on the EPRAD press conference and emailed it to Perry.

She sat back in her chair and savoured another mouthful of strong Daily Planet newsroom coffee. Coffee and artificial sweetener had been at the top of her shopping list when she had sallied forth this morning. True to his word, Superman had cooked a delicious breakfast of bacon and cheese omelette, but it had left precious little food in Clark's kitchen. She had also needed to buy Superman something to shave with, because a search of Clark's bathroom had turned up nothing whatsoever in the way of shaving kit. The only convincing explanation appeared to be that Clark had taken it with him, although why he should do that and yet leave his toothbrush behind was yet another in the long list of puzzles that had surfaced in the last day.

Lois frowned across at her partner's empty chair. She had still heard nothing from him; although when she had gone home to change into business clothes before the press conference she had discovered that she had left her answering machine turned off, and her cell phone battery was still flat, which could explain why he hadn't been able to reach her. It wouldn't have occurred to him to call his own apartment.

But Lois was discovering that in addition to being puzzled and worried by Clark's disappearance, she was also quite simply missing her partner's cheerful presence. The news at the EPRAD conference, that a large chunk of the Nightfall Asteroid was set on a direct course for Metropolis, was extremely disquieting for someone who knew there was no guarantee that Superman would be able to help out this time. She would have given a lot just to be able to discuss the situation with Clark and get his creative input on how to solve the problem of restoring Superman's memory. Besides, although Superman had shown the occasional gleam of an unexpected sense of humour, on the whole he was worried and withdrawn; and although it was entirely understandable in the circumstances, Lois could have used a little of Clark's unfailing optimism and supportiveness.

The door to Perry's office opened, and the editor leaned out. "Lois, my office, please."

Lois got to her feet and drained the last of her coffee. "Coming, Chief!"

As she walked into the office, Perry motioned her to a seat. He was looking grave. "This is bad news we got from EPRAD, Lois. How is Superman? Any better?"

Lois shook her head. "He doesn't seem to be, Chief. I got him some press cuttings to read through this morning, and I called Jimmy and asked him to get together a tape of all the video footage he could lay his hands on. I'm hoping that'll trigger Superman's memory. I just wish Clark would turn up — I'm sure he knows more about Superman than we do."

"I'm sorry, Lois, I thought you knew already, or I would have told you sooner," Perry said, looking uncomfortable. "Clark's mother called earlier. Clark went to visit some old family friends last night, and one of them had a heart attack while he was there. He's been at the hospital with the family, and he isn't going to be able to get away for a while."

"He *what*?" exclaimed Lois indignantly, all her pent-up worry turning quickly to exasperation. "Didn't Martha tell him about Superman? He's a good deal more important right now than some… some sick person in a hospital! Where can I get hold of him? I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!"

"Now, calm down, Lois," said Perry firmly. "Mrs. Kent didn't say what hospital they're at, and I'm sure Clark is doing his best in the circumstances. His parents are flying to Metropolis as soon as they can, and no doubt once they arrive he'll be able to come and talk to Superman. If you need some help looking after Superman in the meantime, I can tell Jimmy to give you a hand…"

Lois brushed off the suggestion hastily. "No, no, Chief — I'll be fine on my own. It's no trouble at all." "Glad to hear it," Perry declared. "What are you waiting for, then? Remember, we're all depending on you." And he ushered Lois out of his office.

Jimmy was nowhere to be seen, but Lois decided to wait for the video tape before she went back to Clark's apartment. It would give her a chance to sort through her thoughts a little.

She went back to her desk, and started to make a list of odd things that needed explanation. First of all, she had noticed again this morning how very familiar Superman seemed to be with Clark's kitchen. He must spend a lot of time in Clark's apartment; and yet Clark never mentioned it. Then there was the fact that Superman couldn't remember anything about Clark. Could it be that there was something he didn't want to remember, that he was repressing? She had also noticed that Martha had seemed surprisingly concerned about Superman, as though she knew him well. Lois's eyes narrowed. Being able to fly to Smallville any time he liked would explain why Clark didn't need to take weekends off to see his parents. And that habit Clark had of disappearing at a moment's notice — Superman's schedule would no doubt be totally unpredictable. Finally, there was something which had puzzled Lois for a long time: everyone else that Miranda had sprayed with her perfume had fallen for *somebody*, but Clark alone had seemed completely unaffected.

Lois sat back and looked at her list in dismay. All the evidence was pointing to a single conclusion. A bitter ache was settling around her heart, but she couldn't give way to her feelings; everyone was depending on her, even if most of them didn't know it. She had to face up to this bravely. When the crisis was past, when Superman was back to normal and the danger from the Nightfall Asteroid had been eliminated, she would be free to indulge her emotions.

The question was, should she confront Superman with it? If he was suppressing this part of himself, it might be a terrible shock for him. On the other hand, he needed to know as much as possible about himself if he was going to get his memory back quickly. The Nightfall Asteroid was not going to wait.

Lost in her dismal thoughts, Lois was almost shocked when Jimmy bounced into the newsroom, whistling cheerfully. He trotted over to Lois's desk and gave her a big grin. "Why the long face, Lois? You're not worrying about that old asteroid, are you? Superman will sort it out in no time!"

Lois made an effort to shake off her gloom. "Oh, hi, Jimmy. No, it's nothing." <Nothing except the fact that Clark has been lying to me, and that I've been making a complete fool of myself over Superman for no good reason…> "What have you got for me?"

"I got the tape you asked for. All the TV news coverage of Superman I could lay my hands on. I went over to LNN to use their archives, and guess what?" Jimmy's grin became positively beatific. "I met their new assistant, and I asked her out, and she said yes! I've got a hot date tonight!" And he waved cheerily and trotted away again.

"That's nice, Jimmy," Lois said lamely. She wanted to put her head down on her desk and howl. Instead, she carefully tore her list of clues into tiny pieces and dropped them into the bin. Then she put the video tape into her bag and headed for the lift.

***

- Chapter 6 : The Return of Superman -

Superman was dozing in the sun on Clark's balcony when a familiar sound slowly penetrated his consciousness. Rhythmic and soothing, it would have been instantly recognisable among a thousand others. Lois's heartbeat.

Reluctant to wake completely, Superman put his hands behind his head and stretched, arching his back. The heartbeat accelerated rapidly, then settled back to a new, faster rhythm. Superman opened his eyes. At once, the heartbeat faded and disappeared. Now, all he could hear was the usual background noise of the city: the distant hum of traffic, children playing in the alley, an advertising jingle from the landlord's television set.

Superman sat up on the lounger and looked towards the apartment. Lois was standing inside, looking through the picture window. He smiled a greeting, and Lois lifted a hand in response. A flash of colour in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he suddenly remembered he had taken his shirt off to catch some extra sun. He picked up the shirt from where it was draped over the back of the lounger and shrugged it on, then retrieved Lois's scrapbook from the ground next to him and went inside.

"Hi, Lois," he said, shutting the door. "How -" He completely forgot what he was going to say as he took in her appearance: tailored black jacket and crisp white shirt, short black skirt, and long, slender, nylon-clad legs. He dragged his gaze back to her face with an effort. "Wow. You look… Wow."

"Thank you." Lois gave him a tight-lipped smile. A few hours before she would have been ecstatic at the compliment, and even now she had to fight against a traitorous weakness. "I can't quite believe you were sunbathing at this time of year. It can't be over forty outside! But I suppose that doesn't bother you."

Superman's brows drew together. Judging from her clipped tones, Lois was pretty upset about something. Before he could formulate a response, however, she was speaking again, eyes fixed on his chin. "You haven't shaved. Is there a problem with the razor?"

Superman looked guilty and embarrassed, like a small boy caught stealing apples. "Oh, that. I, uh, broke it."

"Broke it?"

"It wouldn't cut my stubble. The blade broke."

"Oh." She grimaced. "I suppose we should have expected that. I wonder how you shave normally? I guess we'll have to wait till your memory comes back to find out." Her gaze dropped to the scrapbook in his hand. "Did the newspaper articles help at all?"

He shrugged. "The stories all seemed familiar, as though I'd read the articles before. But they didn't trigger any memories. I can see what you mean about your and Clark's writing styles, though. His style is more emotional, yours is more logical and hard-hitting. The pieces you write together are brilliant."

This conversation was rapidly getting to be too much for Lois. She turned away and started to fill the kettle. "I'm going to make some coffee, want some?"

"Yes, thanks. Lois, are you okay? You seem upset."

"No, I'm fine. I just had a bit of a tough day. I'll tell you about it later." <When I've decided how much to tell you.> She finished putting the kettle on and then walked over to where she'd left her bag on the coffee table. She fished the video tape out. "I got Jimmy to collect some of the news footage about you from the last year. Why don't you watch it while I make the coffee?"

Superman would rather have found out what was bothering Lois, but she didn't seem in any mood to talk, so he sat down obediently in front of the television.

He seemed unimpressed by the first few video clips, although Lois saw him wince at the explosion of the remote- controlled bomb. But when Lois brought the two mugs of coffee over and sat down in the armchair, Superman was sitting hunched forward with his eyes riveted on the screen.

The clip was showing Superman receiving the key to the city of Metropolis. As it ended Superman picked up the remote to rewind a couple of minutes. "Lois, who's this guy who had the key before me?"

"That's Lex Luthor," Lois answered, sipping cautiously at her coffee. "Do you remember him?"

Superman shut off the tape and muted the television set. "Lex Luthor. Let's see: head of Luthor Industries, millionaire businessman, philanthropist and playboy — if I remember what I read in your scrapbook this morning?"

Lois nodded. "That's right. What about him?"

"He's your mystery crime boss."

Lois nearly choked on her mouthful of coffee. She set the mug down carefully. "What do you mean by that?"

"He's the one behind those time trials, with that woman 'falling' from the roof, and the bomb that was set as a trap for me. He's also behind most of the organised crime in the city."

Lois shot to her feet. "But, Superman, he funds half the charities in Metropolis… and most of the research, too!"

"I'm sure it comes in very handy for him, Lois. It keeps the press off his back, for a start."

Lois winced. Clark had warned her against Luthor before, but she had always dismissed his words as blind prejudice. Could she have been the one who was blind? Of course, he hadn't actually said, 'Lex Luthor tried to kill Superman.' But would she have listened even if he had? "You can't remember anything else. What makes you think you're remembering this correctly?"

"I remembered you as soon as I heard your voice, and I knew I could trust you. I'm just as certain about Luthor. I remembered as soon as I saw his face."

Her eyes wavered, and she sighed. "Do you have any proof?"

"If I had proof, I imagine I'd have done something about it before now. But there's no doubt in my mind."

Lois nodded, and sank back into her chair. "Well, we'll have to get proof." She picked up her coffee again. "Is there anything else you want to set me straight about?" she enquired, with an acid edge.

Superman eyed her cautiously. "Well, I had a dream last night," he said. "I'd forgotten about it until now. Luthor was in it, and so was someone else; and there was a glowing green substance, which made me weak and ill. It must have been that kryptonite you wrote the article about. It must be real."

He picked up the scrapbook and flipped through it at a remarkable speed. "Here it is," he said. He peered closely at the grainy photograph of Jason Trask. "This looks like the guy. In my dream, he shot me."

He looked at Lois, and was alarmed to see that she had buried her face in her hands. He dropped the scrapbook and leaned over to place a gentle hand on her shoulder. "What is it, Lois?"

She lifted her face and drew a ragged breath. "I'm just… having to rethink one thing after another. For a hot-shot reporter, I seem to have been incredibly blind over the last few months."

There was a pause while he digested her words. "This isn't just about Luthor and the kryptonite, is it?" he hazarded.

Lois grimaced. He was altogether too perceptive. "No, it isn't," she admitted. "I worked something out today, that I should have realised long ago." She stood up again restlessly, refusing to look at him. "The thing is, I think it may be a memory you're repressing, so perhaps I shouldn't tell you — it might be too much of a shock. On the other hand, it might have the opposite effect, and bring your memory back — so I don't know what to do."

By this time she was pacing back and forth, wringing her hands together. Superman got up and stood in her way, forcing her to halt, and grasped her shoulders with both hands. "Just tell me, please," he requested.

"Well, it was obvious when you were cooking how well you know Clark's kitchen. You clearly spend a lot of time here. It explains why the two of you are close. And it explains why Clark is always running off like that…"

"Lois!"

Lois sighed and fixed her gaze on the middle of his chest. "I think he goes to meet you," she said haltingly. "I think the two of you are… a couple."

"A couple."

"Yes." She couldn't bear to look at him. How would he take it — blank denial? Calm agreement, spelling the final end to all the hopes she had cherished of a relationship between them? Or — perhaps worst of all — the same stricken look she had seen on his face last night?

"You mean, I'm gay?"

Lois nodded, finally lifting her gaze to meet his. To her astonishment, his face was alight with warm laughter.

"Lois, I'm *not* gay," he said, with complete conviction.

"How can you be so sure?" she challenged.

The amusement left his face, though the warmth remained. "Because of this," he said. His right hand left her shoulder to cup her cheek, and he lowered his face to hers.

The first brush of his lips was feather-light, and he raised his head briefly to gauge her reaction. Wide-eyed, she lifted her face for his second kiss. This time his mouth was warm and firm on hers, exploring and tasting her sweetness. All conscious thought fled from her mind, and she wound her arms about his waist and arched her body against his. His left hand caressed her back gently, and she shivered. Her mouth opened beneath his, inviting him to deepen the kiss, and he responded with enthusiasm. Greatly daring, she slipped a hand beneath the hem of his shirt to caress the warm, soft skin of his back, exploring the steel-hard muscles beneath. He growled deep in his throat and stroked his hand down the side of her neck to push her jacket collar aside; then his mouth left hers to trail fiery kisses down her neck and into the hollow of her shoulder.

At her gasp of protest he lifted his head instantly and released her. He would have moved away, but she held onto him and lifted a hand to his cheek. "We have to do something about that stubble," she said huskily, her eyes still dark with passion.

He smiled with mingled relief and apology. "I'm sorry," he murmured, capturing her hand and kissing her fingers gently.

"Don't be." She snuggled her cheek into his chest, closing her eyes blissfully, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her in a close and comforting embrace.

As Lois became aware of their surroundings once more, it occurred to her to wonder why she was lying on top of him, when previously they had been standing. She lifted her head to look about her, and saw the couch several feet below them. "Oh my God, we're flying!" she exclaimed. The next moment the room was whirling about them as they plummeted to the floor, landing heavily in a tangle of arms and legs.

Superman lay stunned for a moment before he collected himself and scrambled to his feet, bending solicitously over her. "Lois, are you all right?" he asked urgently.

Lois flexed her limbs one by one, expecting the pain to hit her at any moment, but everything seemed normal. "I seem to be fine," she said, sitting up cautiously. "That's an impressive party trick, big guy." She started to get up, and he quickly helped her to her feet. He would have lifted her into a chair, but she waved away his assistance. "I'm fine, Superman, really." Nevertheless, she found her legs were rather shaky, so she subsided into the armchair, picking up her coffee. She sipped it and made a face. "Ugh, it's cold."

"I'll heat it up for you," he offered immediately, taking her cup and picking up his own. It took him a few moments to work out how to do that: the microwave, of course. When the coffee was hot he tasted his and added a couple of extra spoons of sugar before carrying them back to the living area.

The pause had given Lois a chance to collect her thoughts. The fall had brought her back to earth in more senses than one. She had just experienced the most passionate kiss of her entire life, and it shocked her to realise the extent to which it had overwhelmed her. She knew that if Superman had taken things further, she would have done anything he had wanted, without a second's thought. What was she doing, losing her head so completely over someone whom, as he himself had pointed out, she barely knew? Sure, she had been fantasising about him since the day she had first met him, but her fantasies seemed to revolve around gentle kisses with sunsets and violins in the background, not mindless passion. Besides, a few minutes ago she had been convinced that he was having an affair with her partner and best friend. A sense of helpless confusion welled up inside her, and she had to quell a moment of blind panic. There was still too much at stake to lose control.

Superman handed her her steaming mug and seated himself on the couch near her. He met her eyes uncertainly. "Lois -" he began and stopped, not sure how to proceed.

She spoke quickly to forestall him. "Superman, this probably isn't the right time to be talking about … our feelings. Let's wait till you have your memory back." She smiled shakily. "After all, I still don't even know your name!"

He nodded his agreement. "I wanted to say something like that. Thank you, Lois."

As he leant back and took a gulp of coffee, the television caught his eye. A news broadcast had just begun and, inevitably, the first item was about the Nightfall Asteroid. Superman reached for the remote and turned the sound on. His face turned grim as he absorbed the news that the threat from the asteroid was far from over.

When the announcer went on to the next item, he turned the television off. "So that's what your news conference was about," he said heavily.

Lois nodded, and filled him in on the details. "They mentioned that they hadn't heard from you since you got back. But they think they can handle it without you this time. They're modifying an Asgard rocket to take a nuclear bomb up and destroy it."

Superman shook his head angrily. "That's no solution," he said. "The whole earth will get showered with radioactive fallout. They just want an excuse to test their nukes."

Lois smiled. "You refused to use nuclear charges yesterday because of the fallout risk," she said. "I agree with you completely. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

He shrugged. "I guess the first thing is to find out whether I can fly when I put my mind to it. If I can't fly, there's not much I can do." He stood up and walked to a clear area of floor. Then he took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes and tried to levitate. Nothing happened. He tried again with his eyes open, with as little result.

He glanced self-consciously at Lois, who was watching him with interest. Looking away again, he let himself remember what it had felt like, kissing her earlier. Almost at once, he was suffused with a feeling of joy and lightness. He bent his knees, and his feet lifted clear of the floor. "So much for jumping off," he commented, grinning. "Now what do I do?"

Lois had been holding her breath, but she laughed at that, and applauded. It broke his concentration and he dropped to the floor, but this time he was able to lift off again with little trouble. He managed to push himself off and float up to the ceiling, where he pushed himself down again. He spent a little while getting used to floating back and forth, then concentrated on trying to move under his own steam. Remembering the gesture he had seen repeatedly on television, he thrust one fist in front of him, and was barely able to stop himself smashing into the far wall of the living room. As it was, several flakes of paint fell.

"Oops," he said. "Clark's not going to like me destroying his apartment. Have you heard from Clark, by the way?"

As Lois told him about Martha's phone call to Perry, Superman continued to exercise his newly-rediscovered skills. By the time she concluded, he was able to control his movements reliably, and could turn and stop in mid-air. A few minutes later he discovered he could walk upside down on the ceiling, and Lois couldn't help but chuckle at the expression of innocent glee on his face. He turned and flashed a mischievous smile at her. "This is great fun, you should try it," he said, walking over to a point above the couch and extending a hand down to her. "Want a hand up?"

Lois laughed. "Not in this skirt!" she exclaimed.

Superman's smile faded. "No, you're probably right," he replied, and turned to give his attention to walking down the wall, but not before Lois had seen the colour creeping into his cheeks.

As he successfully negotiated the last step from the wall to the floor, there was a knock on the door. They both froze for a moment, then Lois got to her feet. "I'd better answer it," she said. "It could be Clark at last."

When she opened the door, however, Martha and Jonathan were standing there, both looking tired and strained. "Hi, Martha," Lois said in surprise. "Perry said you were coming to Metropolis, but we didn't expect you so soon!"

"A lot of people cancelled their flights to Metropolis after EPRAD released the latest news about the asteroid," Martha explained, giving Lois a swift hug. "The plane was half empty." She swept past Lois and paused at the top of the steps as she saw Superman standing in the living room. Then she headed down the steps towards him.

Behind Lois, Jonathan cleared his throat. Lois turned to greet him, suddenly realising that, laden down with two large suitcases, he couldn't get past her. By the time Jonathan had manoeuvred the suitcases through the door and Lois had closed it, Martha had seated herself and Superman on the couch, and was asking after his progress.

Superman was feeling thoroughly confused. When Martha had first seen him, her face had lit up and she had hastened towards him. For a moment he had expected her to hug him but, to his disappointment, she had contented herself with clasping his hand warmly between both of hers and introducing herself. Now, in spite of his natural inclination to conceal himself from strangers, he was experiencing a strong urge to confide completely in Martha. He compromised by answering her questions truthfully but briefly. She seemed pleased at the news that he had succeeded in retrieving a few facts from his memory, and delighted that he had worked out how to fly again; and she expressed her firm conviction that the rest would follow soon.

As Lois joined them, Martha turned to her. "I'm sorry I couldn't get hold of you earlier, to give you the good news about Clark," she said. "We were in such a hurry to pack and go that I only had time to speak to Mr. White."

"Oh, that's no problem," Lois reassured her. "You must be very worried about your friends. I thought you'd go straight there."

"They're still at the hospital," Martha explained. "George is in intensive care. Clark said we should come here, and he'll come and pick us up later, when he can get away." Her face was slightly flushed, and she stood up to take off her coat and scarf. She handed them to Jonathan, who had just finished putting the suitcases in Clark's bedroom.

Jonathan hung Martha's things up and then brought a dining chair over to sit on. He was looking grave. "Tell us about this asteroid," he requested. "Are you going to be able to do anything about it, s… Superman?"

"I hope so," Superman said. He hesitated, wondering how much to say, and Lois took over, telling the Kents about the plan to use nuclear warheads to break up the asteroid, and the risk of fallout.

"At least Superman's worked out how to fly," she concluded, "but I don't know what else he'll need to deal with the asteroid."

Jonathan grunted thoughtfully. "When are they planning to launch the rocket?" he asked.

"Tomorrow evening," Lois answered.

"So you'll have to go some time tomorrow," Jonathan said. "How long will it take you to fly up there?"

There was an uncomfortable pause. "I've no idea," Superman said.

"Well, how long did it take yesterday?" Jonathan asked.

Superman looked helplessly at Lois. "About three hours," she said. "But he didn't take a straight course. He had to go round the side to get to its weak point."

"Well, say one to two hours, then," Jonathan said. "That means it'll take at least half an hour each way tomorrow. You'll need oxygen."

"Good point," said Superman. "Lois, where can I get oxygen from?"

Lois was staring at Jonathan with astonishment and dawning respect, but she quickly pulled herself together. "EPRAD gave you a tank yesterday," she said. "I suppose we could just get a scuba tank somewhere, but it would seem a bit odd."

Jonathan nodded. "Then you'd better go to EPRAD in the morning," he said. "I hope they can think of a better scheme this time than having you smash into the asteroid and hurt yourself." Behind the glasses, his eyes were anxious.

"It's a lot smaller now," Superman said reflectively. "It should be easier just to divert it from its current course. But I can't very well go to EPRAD looking like this — I need to find out how to shave first. I can't use a normal razor," he added, for the Kents' benefit. "My stubble seems to be invulnerable."

An odd silence fell. Looking up, Lois noticed Martha and Jonathan gazing fixedly at each other. If it was a battle of wills, Jonathan evidently lost, because he finally sighed softly and looked at Superman. "You use your heat vision to shave," he said. "You bounce it off a mirror onto your chin."

Lois's jaw dropped.

"Superman has stayed with us at the farm," Martha said, almost apologetically. "That's how we know."

"I'm going to have to learn how to use my heat vision before tomorrow, then," said Superman, filing that snippet of information away for later. "But I'm also going to need a costume to wear."

"Why, what happened to the one you were wearing yesterday?" asked Martha.

"It's filthy, and the cape is half burned away," Superman explained.

Martha and Jonathan exchanged another look. This time, Martha's eyes dropped first. "Well, we can wash the suit," she said. "And I'm sure we'll be able to find a cape somewhere. If necessary, we can hire one from a costume shop." She got up resolutely. "I'll put the suit in the wash now. Jonathan, why don't you see if you can help Superman with his heat vision?"

Over the ensuing couple of hours, Lois was deeply impressed at the efficiency with which the Kents organised matters. Martha put on a load of washing and inspected the cape, declaring it a write-off. Then she unearthed a can of red shoe polish from somewhere in Clark's kitchen, and succeeded in restoring a passable shine to Superman's boots. After that she turned her attention to the subject of food, and in no time at all had whipped up an amazingly delicious vegetable soup from the contents of Clark's fridge, followed by a couple of pizzas that Lois had bought frozen that morning.

Meanwhile, Jonathan took a large cooking pot with a couple of inches of water in it and placed it on the living-room floor on a layer of newspaper; then he patiently coached Superman in trying to heat up the water with his heat vision. It took some time before anything happened, but when Jonathan suggested he think angry thoughts the water finally hissed and sent a small geyser shooting up to soak the newspaper. Shortly after that, Superman was able to turn his heat vision on at will, and Jonathan set him to lighting a candle and then toasting a slice of bread, to practise his focus. Finally, with the aid of a small mirror that Martha located somewhere, Superman managed to give himself a respectable shave.

Lois had offered to help Martha with the food, but when she confessed to very little cooking ability Martha laughed and suggested that Lois help by talking to her while she worked. Lois asked her about George and his family, but Martha said very little about them. Instead, she drew Lois out on the subject of how she had found Superman the previous evening, and then encouraged her to talk about her work with Clark. "Clark tells us about his work, but it's interesting to hear your perspective," she explained.

When Lois asked her about Superman's visits to the farm, though, Martha grew uncomfortable. "We don't talk about it much," she said awkwardly. "If it gets to be known who Superman's friends are… well, anyone who's close to him would be at risk from people who want to hurt him."

Lois nodded. "I know — I've been thrown out of a plane by someone who wanted to trap him," she pointed out. "But I'd already worked out that Superman must fly Clark to the farm sometimes. It explains why he never takes a weekend off to go to Kansas."

Martha eyed her with respect, and a hint of alarm. "I see," she said.

Lois bridled. "You don't have to worry about me printing anything that could harm Superman, or you," she said stiffly.

"Oh, honey, I know that!" Martha assured her hastily. "If you hadn't been here for him last night… it's just that, well, if you've worked that out…" Her voice tailed off, and she turned away to check on the soup.

"Other people might work it out too?" Lois suggested. Martha tasted the soup and then nodded as she added a little more seasoning. "I don't think you need to worry, Martha. I know Clark better than most people, and I still didn't realise how close they were until I saw Superman here, in Clark's apartment."

Martha finally turned back to meet Lois's eyes. "I hope you're right," she said, evidently still troubled by the turn in the conversation.

Lois screwed up her courage, looking over her shoulder to check that Jonathan and Superman were still absorbed in their experimentation. "Martha, is Clark gay?" she asked quietly. "Are he and Superman… a couple?"

Martha's jaw dropped, and she stared at Lois with wide eyes for several seconds. Her mouth quirked, but if she was tempted to laugh then she managed to suppress it. She shook her head vehemently. "No, Lois, they aren't," she said firmly. "I can see why you might think that, but they definitely aren't. And he isn't."

"Oh," said Lois, embarrassed. She couldn't think of anything to add.

There was an awkward silence, then Martha reached out and took Lois's hand. "Lois," she said, and waited until Lois met her eyes. "You bring your children up as best you can," Martha said. "But when they're grown up, they make their own decisions. And you have to support them, even when you might prefer to do something different."

Lois waited for her to continue, but she seemed to have finished. "I don't think I have the faintest idea what you're talking about," Lois said apologetically.

Martha laughed, and patted Lois's hand. "I don't suppose you do," she said. "But I think one day you will, and then I hope you'll remember what I said." She stood up abruptly and started serving dinner.

By the time everyone had eaten, Lois was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. It seemed as though, with the Kents' help, Superman would be able to tackle the asteroid in the morning; and there was no telling when Clark would arrive. Yawning, Lois announced her intention of going home to get a good night's sleep. It seemed almost as though Martha and Jonathan were relieved at the idea, but Lois decided her imagination must be playing tricks on her. Martha hugged her warmly and promised that either she or Clark would call Lois in the morning to let her know what was going on.

Jonathan forestalled Superman's offer to walk Lois to her car, pointing out that he might be recognised. Superman was disappointed by the lack of opportunity for a few moments alone with Lois, but he contented himself with smiling warmly at her as she said good night.

As the front door closed behind Lois and Jonathan, Superman thanked Martha for the meal and began to clear away the dishes. Martha sat quietly, her tension almost palpable, until the door opened to readmit Jonathan; at his nod she finally relaxed slightly and spoke. "Superman, would you mind leaving those dishes a minute?" she asked. "Come and sit down again."

Superman obligingly came back to the table, looking curiously from Martha to Jonathan.

Jonathan cleared his throat. "We have something to tell you, son…"

***

- Chapter 7 : Two Plus Two Plus Two Equals… —

Lois snapped all the locks on her front door shut and fastened the chain. Then she dropped her bag on the floor, cast herself face down on the couch, closed her eyes, and finally let herself relive that kiss. That glorious, amazing, soul-shattering kiss. The mere memory made her tingle all over, left her breathing heavily and her heart beating fast.

Reluctantly, she opened her eyes and sat up. <You can't afford to think with your hormones. You have to work out what you're doing.> She doubled her legs up and hugged her knees, resting her chin on them as she sorted through the events and discoveries of the last day.

Superman had demonstrated conclusively that he was attracted to her. But that didn't necessarily mean that he wasn't having some sort of relationship with Clark. He could be bisexual. It could even be normal for Kryptonians — who could say? If he and Clark were… lovers… and at the same time he was attracted to Lois, he could be feeling very guilty about it. That could explain why he was repressing his memories of Clark. And she of all people ought to be able to sympathise with him…

It was time to face up to the fact she had been refusing to think about ever since she had admitted it to Superman last night. She was attracted to Clark. In love with Clark? No, that couldn't be true, because she was equally strongly attracted to Superman, and she couldn't be in love with two men at the same time… could she?

Turbulent emotions — confusion, guilt, panic — came bubbling to the surface, and Lois leapt to her feet and started to pace. How long had she been harbouring these feelings for Clark? Well, to be honest, the physical attraction had been there since the very start. (Once again the image of a lean, muscular body clad only in a towel obtruded, and once again she thrust it away.) But it had been easy to ignore. Lois Lane, dedicated career-woman, well on the way to the top of her chosen profession, didn't trust men and didn't need them in her life.

Only somehow, in the intervening months, Clark had snuck past her carefully-constructed defences. She did trust him, both as a partner and as a friend; and although she wouldn't go so far as to say she needed him, she had discovered how enjoyable it was to work with him. The few leisure hours they had spent together had been equally pleasurable. Clark had seen some of her least endearing qualities — her competitiveness, her sharp tongue, her bad temper — and they didn't seem to worry him. He was intelligent, witty, charming and, to quote Cat Grant, a "really cute guy". By any normal standards, if you left Superman out of the equation, Clark would come close to being her ideal man.

Lois sighed. She couldn't leave Superman out of the equation. Even if Martha was right, and there was no relationship between Clark and Superman — and mothers, even if they were as loving and concerned as Martha, didn't necessarily know everything about their children — that still left Lois's own feelings for Superman. And his feelings for her, whatever they might be.

Her shoulders were knotting up, and Lois decided she needed a good soak in a hot tub. It would relax her and help her to think. She poured a generous amount of bath salts under the running water and sat watching the bath fill, letting her mind empty. Then she undressed and sank gratefully into the hot water, letting it soothe some of the tension away.

The last twenty-four hours had made it very clear to her how very little she really knew about the real Superman, the man beneath the cape. She hesitated to think that her feelings for him were based purely on blind hero-worship, but besides her admiration for his selfless courage and nobility of purpose, it was difficult to say why she felt so drawn to him. On the other hand, the glimpses she had caught of his real nature, beneath the confusion and insecurity caused by his loss of memory, had shown her a generous and gentle man with a wicked sense of humour. It only served to confirm her intuitive conviction that the real Superman was someone she would really like to get to know better.

What would it be like to date the "god in a cape"? Between her job's long hours and his job's unpredictable demands, she didn't know how much time they would be able to find together, but what would happen if they decided to try it? She couldn't imagine going to a movie with him. Even going out for a meal would be fraught with difficulty. She imagined the stares, the whispers, the flashes of the paparazzi's cameras. The headlines: 'Man of Steel meets his match'. 'Top reporter snares Superhero'. She grimaced. The gossip columns would have a field day every time he rescued another woman, or gave an exclusive to another journalist. Her face would be plastered all over the tabloids, and it would affect her ability to do her job. And every criminal who wanted to get to Superman would target her, just as Martha had said.

No, they would have to stay out of sight. They would spend time alone together, at her place or at his, wherever that was. Or he could fly them to romantic and out-of-the-way spots. But they would have to conceal their feelings for each other in public, and they would be constantly fearful of being found out. Lois frowned: it sounded like a miserable way of life. Superman himself didn't seem to be too happy about his status as a celebrity — he had criticised his media image, and had even expressed envy for Clark's modest but fulfilling lifestyle.

The hot tub was starting to soothe the knots out of her neck. Lois sighed and rolled her head back amid the bubbles. She didn't take the time for this sort of relaxation nearly often enough. Why, the last time she'd had a long hot soak had been… in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel. And it had led to three days holed up there with Clark.

Clark Jerome Kent. What would it be like to date Clark? Assume they could manage to extend their easy working relationship into their private lives. Well, *they* wouldn't have any trouble going out to a movie, or for a meal. They had had a surprising amount of fun together at the Smallville Corn Festival, and equally so when they had been stuck together on stake-out in the Lexor. Lois smiled — a romantic relationship would certainly add interest to future stake-outs, and to long evenings spent working together. They wouldn't have a problem finding enough time to be together. Of course, she would have to break Clark of his habit of running off at odd times, or at least find out where he went to…

True, a relationship with Clark wouldn't have the added excitement of knowing she was dating the world's most powerful man, a superhero who spent his time rescuing people from deadly danger, battling natural disasters and criminal masterminds. Nor could Clark take her flying, swooping and diving amidst the clouds, or hovering spellbound in the night sky above the lights of Metropolis. But those were superficial considerations compared with being able to share your life with someone. Besides, Clark did his fair share of fighting corruption and injustice in his job, just as she did. She even had to concede some reluctant admiration for his boy-scout sense of ethics, however inconvenient it was at times.

Lois groaned and covered her face with her hands. She was being forced to the unwelcome conclusion that she had spent the last few months making a complete idiot of herself over the wrong man. But even if Clark was as wonderful as her imagination was painting him, she was still weaving daydreams out of moonshine; he had made it perfectly clear that he simply wasn't interested in her. He couldn't possibly have faked his lack of response to her after he had been sprayed with the pheromone compound. On the other hand, when Superman was in his right mind he had never given her the slightest encouragement either, in spite of her blatant pursuit of him — so where did that leave her?

<Alone in your apartment,> her inner voice whispered. She quashed it angrily, and got out of the rapidly cooling bath. She got dressed in sensible flannel pyjamas and belted her robe around her, then headed for the kitchen for some additional therapy.

Some minutes later, she was sitting with a cup of coffee and a bowl of Rocky Road in front of her, and a renewed sense of determination. She had managed to get clarity — too much clarity, in fact — about her own feelings, but she had no answers to the choices she faced. It was time to stop worrying about her emotional life, and turn her mind to the questions that Superman had raised last night: the questions she should have been asking months ago. The kind of questions she answered for a living.

Who was Superman? Where did he come from, and who had sent him? He spoke perfect American English, and himself had pointed out that he knew a large number of other Earth languages; but he couldn't remember any Kryptonian language. Yet he must have been in contact with his mother recently. Being sent to Earth to "help" sounded like an official military or diplomatic mission; but if so, why would his mother be making a costume for him?

What other information had she gleaned from him over the past twenty-four hours? He was terrified of hospitals. That didn't make any sense at all; what would an invulnerable alien have to fear from a hospital?

Another strange thing was his reaction last night, when she had told him he wasn't human. He had been shocked and horrified. Why would a Kryptonian, whose physiology was so obviously superior to that of humans, mind being non-human? He had also used the term "alien" with marked distaste: a very human attitude, but surprising for someone who had been brought up on another planet.

Unless… he hadn't been brought up on another planet. What if he had been brought up right here, on Earth, trying to blend in with everyone else? That would fit… He would have had his entire childhood to learn languages, and perhaps when he was small he would have been taught to stay away from hospitals, so that they didn't find out there was something strange about him. In that case, he had been right — he did have an anxious family somewhere, who would want to know how he was. But why hadn't they tried to contact him? They would doubtless know that he spent time with Clark, but Martha was the only person who had phoned Clark.

Lois slowly put down her spoon in the empty bowl and wrapped her hands around her coffee mug.

Martha was the only person who had phoned Clark. Martha and Jonathan had dropped everything and rushed to Metropolis, but instead of heading for their friend's bedside, they had spent the evening looking after Superman. Jonathan had spent hours coaching him in the use of his heat vision.

What if Superman hadn't been brought up by his real parents, but adopted by a human couple? He would grow up wanting to be just like them, and be upset at the thought of being an alien. When he decided to go public and start helping people, his adoptive mother — Martha — would make him an outlandish costume so that he seemed exotic and alien, and nobody questioned where he had been brought up.

That would make him Clark's brother. Of course! It finally explained their close relationship, and why Martha had been so flabbergasted when Lois had suggested they were a gay couple. And why she had talked about supporting one's children's decisions.

Lois sipped her coffee thoughtfully. It even explained why Clark and Superman looked alike. Then she winced — that had to be the stupidest thought she'd ever had. Superman was an alien from Krypton, and Clark… Clark really did look remarkably like Superman, except for his glasses and his hairstyle.

No, it was ludicrous! She'd seen Clark get a paper cut, and he'd exerted all his strength to win her a teddy bear at the Smallville Corn Festival. She still had that teddy. She'd named him Jerome. Lois stood up and walked through to her bedroom, picking up the little bear from the shelf beside her bed and staring at him.

They had gone to Smallville to investigate a case of bureaucratic bungling, and they had come back with a story about Jason Trask and a mythical mineral called kryptonite. Only, Superman had said it wasn't mythical, it was real. It had made him "weak and ill."

The first evening in Smallville, Lois had come downstairs to find Clark's parents hovering around him, and Clark himself looking as sick as a dog. He had said it was allergies, but he had never suffered from allergies before or since. He hadn't even had a cold all winter.

Lois sank onto the bed, still staring unseeingly at Jerome. Her mind was whirling.

Nobody in Smallville, not Sheriff Rachel "tush-push" Harris, not even that nosy waitress at the cafeteria — what was her name? — who had known all about Lois's romance novel, had ever mentioned Clark having a brother. Lois herself had slept in Clark's old bedroom, a tiny room with just enough space for a single bed. The farmhouse had no third bedroom.

Clark's clothes fitted Superman perfectly. Clark had been unaffected by the pheromone compound. Clark had been unaffected by the heatwave in November. Clark had left the Daily Planet the night before Superman had to leave Metropolis. Clark was always disappearing at a moment's notice, generally just before Lois needed him to help her on a big story… involving Superman.

Clark Kent, her highly esteemed partner, the only person she trusted enough to get this close to — this *attached* to, damn him — had been laughing up his sleeve at her, ever since he first met her.

Lois glared at the teddy in her hand with sudden loathing, and flung him to the floor with all her might. "You… you slimeball!" she snarled. She got up, walked over to him, and kicked him from her bedroom clear out into the kitchen. "Ratfink!" she shouted. She stalked out after him, and kicked him into the living room. "Low-down, rotten pond- scum!" she yelled. That one hurt her throat. She kicked Jerome all the way back into the bedroom, muttering imprecations under her breath and savagely planning what she was going to do to Clark when she got hold of him. Finally she picked Jerome up and deposited him unceremoniously in the bin. Then she collapsed face-down on the bed.

She couldn't do anything to Clark. He was invulnerable.

Lois had spent nearly eight months working side-by-side with Superman, and she hadn't noticed. He put on a pair of glasses and restyled his hair, and she was completely fooled. She had just spent most of the last twenty-four hours with Clark, in his own apartment, wearing his own clothes, and she hadn't recognised him even then.

Words she had said to Clark, back when he first started working with her, came floating back to her. "I think I've got you figured out… That's my business, looking beyond the external." And "Clark is the 'before', Superman is the 'after'… make that the 'way, way after'." Lois groaned bitterly. She had certainly given him plenty to laugh about. No doubt he'd be laughing some more when he regained his memory, and thought about the things she had said to him last night. "Mister Green Jeans." "Wide-eyed country boy." She had said he was very good-looking, and even admitted that she was attracted to him. And then, this afternoon, she had kissed him… Lois moaned in an agony of humiliation.

After a few minutes of vain self-recrimination, she rolled over and sat up with sudden decision. Any self-respecting planet would have opened and swallowed her up, but since this one obviously wasn't going to oblige, there was only one thing to do. She marched through to the kitchen, picked up her ice cream bowl and dumped it in the sink. Then she collected her spoon, opened the freezer and removed the ice cream carton, sat down at the counter and tucked in.

Clark had kissed her this afternoon, so he was attracted to her after all. He must have faked Superman's response to the pheromone, meaning he'd wanted to kiss her then, too. But he had obviously decided that he wasn't going to do anything about it, either as Clark or as Superman. He must know he had only to crook his little finger and she'd come running, so the only logical conclusion was that he simply wasn't interested in a relationship with her. Her character flaws must have put him off after all. What had she said to him last night — "I don't think I'm good happy-ever-after material"? He'd denied it then, but it was obviously true.

And he didn't trust her with his secret. Perhaps he was scared that Mad Dog Lane would publish it to get herself a Pulitzer. She would have liked to think he knew her better than that! Perhaps he would reconsider after the way she'd protected him yesterday. What kind of friendship could they have if he was lying to her? Her heart contracted: so many lies. Lies about fake errands that he needed to run, fake interviews with Superman, fake reasons for knowing little bits of information that he'd doubtless found out with his superpowers. The lies hurt even more than knowing he wasn't interested in her as a woman.

Martha and Jonathan had lied to her, too. Lois waited for the anger and hurt to well up anew, but it didn't. Martha had obviously hated lying to her. Lois understood her words now: she had to support Clark's decision to hide his identity, even if she would rather be honest with Lois. It comforted Lois enormously to know that Martha, at least, trusted her. It was a pity Lois would never be able to tell her that.

Because, much as she would have liked to confront Clark and tell him exactly what she thought of him, she knew she wouldn't. If Clark didn't trust her enough to tell her himself, then there wasn't any point. She would keep Superman's secret, even though she'd discovered her idol's feet of clay.

Dejectedly, Lois inspected the empty ice cream carton. She had cleaned it out; a bloodhound would have had a hard time telling what the contents had been. She tossed the carton in the bin and set about getting ready for bed. As she climbed under the covers, it suddenly occurred to her to wonder what it would be like dating Clark "Superman" Kent.

The best of both worlds? They would have the fun, the camaraderie, the ability to be together in public. They would also have the secret excitement and adventure, the ability to fly together. But, at the same time, she would constantly be concerned about protecting his secret identity, covering up for his inexplicable absences, concealing her fear when she saw the latest danger he was facing broadcast on the newsroom television. She would have to comfort him when he came back from a rescue sick at heart because he hadn't been able to get to everyone in time. She would always be worried lest some madman find a chunk of kryptonite and kill him. She shook her head: it wouldn't be easy. Still, it would almost certainly be more rewarding than going to bed alone for the rest of her days.

But she was daydreaming again, to no purpose. She was never going to have the opportunity to find out. She switched off the light.

Ten minutes later, Lois sat up and switched on the light again. She took a tissue from the box beside her bed, dried her cheeks, and blew her nose defiantly. As she leaned over to drop the tissue into the bin, she caught sight of Jerome gazing forlornly up at her. She got out of bed and retrieved him, dusting him off carefully. Then she got back into bed.

As she switched the light off again, it occurred to her that there was one small crumb of cold comfort to be gleaned. At least she wasn't in love with two men.

She lay down once more, holding Jerome close. This time, she went straight to sleep.

***

- Chapter 8: Son of Nightfall -

Clark woke early, cramped from sleeping on the couch. Holding tightly onto his pillow, he levitated a few inches into the air and stretched the kinks out of his back.

He couldn't believe how wonderful it felt just to be Clark; to be his whole self again. As soon as his parents had broken the news to him last night, it was as though a dam had burst and his past had come flooding back. He hadn't needed the photographs they had brought along to convince him they were telling the truth. Everything had suddenly made sense: the memories of his "human" childhood that he had been holding at bay, the sense of familiarity with Clark's apartment that had been growing all day, the instinctive affection he had felt for this couple who, to the best of his knowledge, were mere acquaintances.

As soon as he accepted that these things were his by right, and not the product of a disordered imagination, the pieces of his identity had started to fall into place. The relief had been indescribable.

He had truly been lost without his past. It emphasised for him once again how shallow and two-dimensional the Superman persona was. All the things that gave his life meaning — his parents, his childhood, his career — belonged to Clark. He had envied those things when he had thought they were beyond his grasp, with a passionate longing that was painful even to remember; yet they had been his all along. That must make him one of the most fortunate people alive, he mused. In all aspects except one…

Clark sighed and rolled onto his front, burying his face in his pillow. He could still detect traces of Lois's unique scent on it, from the night before.

Lois. His relationship with her was the one aspect of his life where he seemed to be as far as ever from his goal.

And yet, after his accident, things had started out so positively. Lois had found him and brought him home to the best possible place in which to regain his memory. By the most astonishing good fortune, she had failed to recognise him even when he was dressed in his own clothes. And then — Clark smiled wryly at the irony — his jealousy had led him to ask Lois about himself.

He would never have dared do such an underhand thing under normal circumstances; indeed, he had the uneasy feeling that Lois, once she knew the truth, might find it hard to forgive. But the results had disproven the old adage that an eavesdropper never hears any good of himself. Not only had she been surprisingly complimentary about him, but — with far more honesty than she had shown to Clark or, he suspected, to herself — she had even gone so far as to admit she was attracted to him.

Wistfully, Clark wondered how things could have been if his parents had turned up right then and there. Once the immediate problem of his memory had been dealt with, he would have been able to let his guard down slowly over time, letting Lois realise how very far from indifferent to her he really was. With no reason to think Superman might be romantically interested in her, there would have been every chance for her relationship with Clark to develop.

Instead, he had spent many hours with her as Superman, giving her an opportunity to get to know the man beneath the suit, and feeding her fantasies about the illusory superhero. He had asked probing questions about his real identity, the kind of questions he had been amazed but relieved that Lois herself had never thought to ask. And then, to crown it all, he had kissed her… Hot and cold shivers chased each other up and down his spine at the memory, and his body yearned to feel Lois's touch again, even as he berated himself for his stupidity.

Clark groaned, dropped the pillow onto the couch and rolled free of the blanket, then floated quietly over to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. To his surprise, Martha came through from the bedroom to join him, belting a brightly- patterned housecoat around herself. His parents always woke early on the farm, but normally appreciated sleeping in on their rare trips away.

Martha hugged him briefly and kissed his cheek, but waited to speak until he had made two mugs of tea and they could move further away from the bedroom. As they sat down on the couch, Clark grinned and gestured with his mug. "New robe, Mom?"

"I went to a fabric-dyeing workshop. Your father says I should call this 'Sunrise Surprise'." She leant over to give him another hug. "Oh, Clark, I'm so glad you're back with us!"

"Me too. You have no idea how glad." He returned the hug. "And thank you for coming to the rescue. My memory was starting to come back, but I thought I was going crazy. What I could remember didn't fit with anything Lois had told me." He sipped his tea, frowning.

Martha studied his face carefully. "Are you still worrying about Lois, honey?"

He nodded glumly. "Yeah. I don't know what to do about it. Kissing her was just so stupid."

"Clark, we went over this last night. You have to make up your mind — either you have to tell her that you're Superman, or Superman has to tell her that it was a mistake."

"Mom, if I tell her I'm Superman, how am I ever going to know if she really loves me, or just the guy in the suit? But how can I tell her that it was a mistake? I can't tell her I don't love her. Even if I wanted to lie to her, it would hurt her so badly. She's been hurt before, and she doesn't think anyone really can love her. How could I do that to her?"

Martha sipped her tea pensively. "You could tell her that you're not free to pursue a relationship with her. Maybe you could say that your family arranged for you to marry someone back on Krypton."

Clark chuckled. "Oh, Mom, that's so far-fetched. Do you think she'd believe that? Still, I suppose it's a possibility. But I'm also worried about all those questions I asked her, about the real me. She's going to want to know the answers, and Superman can hardly say he doesn't trust her, especially after all she did to protect him. I guess he could say that he can't tell her now, but he will tell her when he can — and hope that satisfies her curiosity for long enough. The last thing I need is for her to start interrogating me, or investigating our private lives. You did convince her that Superman and I aren't a gay couple, didn't you?"

Martha nodded, frowning. "I think so. Clark, I do wish you wouldn't talk about yourself in the third person like that. Like it or not, honey, you *are* Superman."

***

Lois was staring morosely into her morning cup of coffee when the phone rang. She had tossed and turned all night, plagued with bizarre dreams about Superman and a blond Clark, inviting her to join a ménage ů trois. Now, weary and heavy-eyed, she wasn't sure she was ready to deal with what the day would bring. The emotional roller-coaster she had been on had dumped her in a deep pit of depression, and she had no idea how she was going to be able to face Clark again… in either of his identities.

Hoping it was Martha, she picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hello, Lois, it's Clark." Her foolish heart did a little dance of joy. He was all right!

"Hi, Clark. So you got away from the hospital at last." To her relief, her voice was steady, but try as she might, she couldn't help the sarcastic tone that crept into the last sentence. She tried to pull herself together. "Does that mean I'm going to have my partner back today?"

"I have to go back to the hospital this morning. George is having surgery — a bypass operation. I should be back at the Planet this afternoon, though."

Lois's eyes stung. So much for her hopes that he might be honest with her after she had protected him. "Okay, I'll see you then. How's Superman?"

"He's fine. We had a talk last night, and some things started coming back to him. His memory seems to be back to normal this morning. He's going to go to EPRAD as soon as we can get hold of Professor Daitch, and then he'll go and deal with that piece of asteroid."

"That's great news, Clark!" Lois tried to inject enthusiasm into her voice, but it didn't seem to be working very well.

"He asked me to pass on his thanks for everything you did for him. He'd like to thank you himself as soon as he gets back. He doesn't know what time it'll be, but he says he'll find you. He wants to know if you'd like the exclusive interview for the Planet."

"Yes, I would, of course… that's very kind of him." Even to her own ears she didn't sound very convincing, and she hastened to end the call before she gave herself away. "I'll see you later. Bye."

As she got ready for work, Lois tried to figure out how she was going to cope with Superman when she saw him again, and how she was going to manage working with Clark. She had to try to suppress the hurt and anger she felt at having been duped by them… by him, she corrected herself; she was still having difficulty thinking of them as being the same person.

She couldn't let her personal feelings get in the way of her professional activities. Her Superman coverage had been a very good boost for her career so far, and she couldn't afford to let that go. As for her partnership with Clark… well, she was going to have a hard time trusting him again, but she had to admit that on the work front, she had no reason to think Clark had been less than fair to her. His special abilities would have enabled him to outdo her professionally with no trouble, had he chosen to compete with her instead of partnering her. Whatever his reason for wanting to work with her — and it could be as simple as the fact that they *did* write better as a team than either of them did individually — she would be wise to attempt to preserve what she could of their working relationship. As long as she never admitted to him directly that she thought of him as anything more than a partner and a friend (and she winced once again at the memory of what she had said to Superman), it should be possible to continue working together almost as though nothing had happened.

As for yesterday's kiss… doubtless Superman would come up with some explanation for why it meant nothing. Clark must be dreading the prospect that she would take it as a declaration of his romantic interest, and become a clingy nuisance. Well, she'd be able to put his mind at rest about that soon enough.

By the time she arrived at work, Lois had convinced herself that everything was going to be just fine. She took the time to bring Perry up to date on Superman's return to full health and his intention to deal with the last remnant of the Nightfall Asteroid that morning. Then she started catching up on her in tray and e-mail.

She was a little surprised to find a message from Lex, asking to see her ASAP. She had almost forgotten what Superman had had to say about Lex. Should she place any more reliance on it than she had on what Clark had said previously? Superman could have sources of information that ordinary reporters didn't. The sensible approach was to behave like a reporter: ask Superman for more information, and then investigate Lex. She resolved to have a word with Jimmy before she left to meet Lex.

And what could Lex want with her now? Perhaps he had come up with some plan for dealing with the asteroid? He had significant resources at his disposal, and he had been silent on the subject of the asteroid so far. This might be a conclusive rebuttal of Clark's suspicions about him.

***

Half an hour later, Lois was gazing wide-eyed at Lex's underground bunker: his "Ark", as he called it. He was explaining how it would enable two hundred people to survive through the next three years of turmoil, assuming that the worst happened and the Nightfall Asteroid proceeded to hit Metropolis. It was so utterly different to what she had expected to hear that she was having difficulty taking it in.

"Why am I here?" she queried.

"Aha," Lex said, smiling, and led the way to a nearby door. He opened it with a flourish and ushered Lois through.

The sight that met her eyes left her open-mouthed. "This is my apartment!" she gasped.

"Well, at least a reasonable facsimile thereof," Lex said behind her. "I hope you like it."

"Of course I like it, I decorated it!" Lois exclaimed. Every detail she could see was identical to her own apartment. Only her personal things seemed to be missing. She turned slowly to face Lex. "But I am a little confused…"

Lex gazed deep into her eyes. "I'm offering you a chance, Lois, to become a passenger on this Ark. To be my special guest on Mankind's next great adventure."

Lois blinked. Shouldn't he be thinking about preserving important people — scientists, humanitarians, great thinkers? "Lex, why me?"

"Because I care," he said, taking her hand. "And because I must admit that three years will be a long time without… companionship."

"Oh." <A lifeline — with strings attached.> She drew her hand away to gaze once more around the room. "How have you selected the… passengers on this Ark, Lex? Who are you going to save?"

"Well, the government has its own contingency plans for a disaster of this magnitude. I've extended an invitation to a few businessmen and… religious leaders, and their families. But our group will need quite a lot of support staff, so most of the occupants will be able-bodied men who are fit for manual labour — farming, simple manufacturing and so on. And, in case mob rule has taken over by then, they will be able to protect us. We have enough weapons in storage to ensure our safety."

Lois was silent for a minute, absorbing the picture. In effect, Lex would have a private army. It would be a major power in a world where the rule of law had broken down. She would have a privileged position at his side, but it seemed the group wouldn't have many women to start with. Perhaps they planned to acquire additional women from the "mobs" they subdued…

She swallowed hard, and adopted her best professional manner to mask the disgust she felt at the images she was conjuring up. "Most people are expecting Superman to deal with the asteroid, Lex. You obviously don't think he's going to be able to do that."

He smiled at her with a hint of patronage. "Superman has already tried once, and failed. It would be foolish to place all one's trust in him a second time, don't you think?"

Lois felt a spark of anger ignite. "Superman risked his life to save us all," she said evenly. "I believe he's going to do so again — maybe he's up there right now. You've put an impressive amount of effort and money into this Ark, Lex. Have you devoted any of your considerable resources to finding a way to destroy the asteroid?"

If she hadn't been studying Lex's face carefully, she would have missed the surprised anger that showed in his eyes for an instant before he masked it with his normal suave charm. <He didn't expect me to bite the hand that's feeding me,> she thought with mingled satisfaction and disquiet. When had Lex come to regard her as his lapdog?

"My scientists have been working with EPRAD in their efforts to adapt the Asgard rocket," he said smoothly. "I hope I don't need to remind you that the project and the participants are top-secret, of course. But my Ark is a simple matter of risk management, Lois. All businesses have good risk assessment and contingency strategies, or they perish. Now, I have a lot that needs my attention. May I send someone to pack your personal belongings?"

She shook her head firmly. "I can't stay here, Lex. I'll put my faith in Superman — and, failing him, the EPRAD project. And if the worst comes to the worst, and that asteroid does destroy the world as we know it, then I'll be there to see it for myself."

***

Back at the Planet, Lois thought over her conversation with Lex. It certainly hadn't vindicated his philanthropy the way she had envisaged; in fact, it made her skin crawl to think about his vision for a post-apocalyptic world. He "cared" for her, he had said, but it seemed he wanted her to become some sort of… concubine. It sickened her to think that he had expected her to accept.

Moreover, as an inducement to her to join his wild scheme, he had created an exact copy of her apartment in his bunker. Did he think her that attached to material things, or had he intended the demonstration of his power and wealth to impress her? Perhaps it would have, before Superman had convinced her to think twice about his motivation. When had she started thinking about Lex like a groupie, instead of like a seasoned, cynical reporter? Wasn't she the person who normally claimed that everyone had an angle?

And someone — perhaps Lex himself, but more likely his minions — knew enough about her apartment to create an uncannily accurate copy of it. Someone had been in her home, measuring up the rooms and the furniture, going through her things. Perhaps they had taken photographs, so they could match the colours and designs… Shivering uncontrollably, Lois crossed her arms protectively over her queasy stomach.

<This isn't the way a seasoned reporter behaves!> Abruptly, Lois stood up and strode over to the coffee machine, fighting for control. She took several deep breaths and recklessly poured herself a cup of real coffee, with real milk and sugar. Right now, she needed all the help she could get. Then she sat down at her desk again, ruthlessly suppressing all thoughts of Lex to concentrate on her Superman story.

By mid-morning, Lois had written the outline of the story, based on the assumption that this time Superman would succeed. The details were missing, of course; she would have to fill those in from her interview with him. Always assuming he made it back…

Thrusting her sudden fear aside, Lois placed a call to EPRAD. It took some time to steamroller her way through the military bureaucracy, but finally she was put through to Professor Daitch. At first it seemed he was going to refuse to speak to a member of the press; Lois had to remind him that it was her partner who had contacted him on Superman's behalf that morning before he reluctantly admitted that Superman was indeed currently engaged in a second mission to clean up the debris from the Nightfall Asteroid. Beyond saying that the mission was going according to schedule, and that EPRAD would hold a press conference once they were certain of its success, he refused to divulge any further information. Nevertheless, Lois hung up well satisfied. She had some official confirmation of her story, and the longer the press conference was delayed, the more certain she was to preserve the Planet's scoop.

Suddenly it hit Lois: at this precise moment Clark, her quiet, unassuming partner, was flying somewhere out in space, pushing asteroids about with his bare hands. Saving the world.

All the blood drained from Lois's face, and the newsroom swayed sickeningly around her. If she hadn't been seated at her desk, she would have fallen.

She had been so focused on her anger and hurt at Clark's betrayal of their friendship that she hadn't even given a thought to this. Clark ate bombs and lifted rockets into orbit. He could light fires with his gaze and put them out with his breath. He could catch bullets in his fingers, or simply bounce them off his chest. What could he possibly have in common with her?

The sense of unreality threatened to overwhelm her. Once again, Lois thrust her reflections away and concentrated on the only stable constant in her shifting universe: her work.

***

Clark flew slowly towards the Planet building. It had been a busy morning. After a protracted meeting with Professor Daitch and his assistants to discuss the best strategy for dealing with the asteroid fragments, he had started with the single large piece. Flying out to meet it, he had pushed it away from its collision course with the Earth and out of the plane of the ecliptic; then he had shepherded it onto a new course which would take it down into the sun without interfering with Venus or Mercury on the way. Next, guided by EPRAD Mission Control, he had hunted out all the remaining fragments that were large enough to survive a trip through the atmosphere, lobbing some towards the sun and crushing others to dust. There would be spectacular meteor showers for the next few nights, but there would be no damage to property or lives.

Finally, he had gathered a few smallish rocks as samples for scientific study and delivered them to EPRAD, extracting a reluctant agreement that they would be distributed among various scientific institutions in different countries.

There was no longer any excuse for delaying. It was time to face the music. Lois was going to be looking for answers to all those questions he had posed, and he could see no real alternative but to tell her the truth. The question of how to break the news most tactfully had occupied his mind for most of the morning; unfortunately, he didn't yet have a good answer.

He scanned the newsroom as he approached the Planet. As he had hoped, most of the staff had filed their stories for the usual twelve o'clock deadline and left for lunch, leaving the room almost empty. Lois was still hunched in front of her computer, however — the cold cup of coffee beside her suggesting that she had been in that position for quite some time. Clark broke into an involuntary smile at the sight of her, before recollecting himself and composing his face into the trademark Superman solemnity.

He entered the newsroom at super-speed, coming to a halt in his "hero pose" beside Lois's desk. He studied her face in the instant before she looked up. It looked pale and drawn; had she been worrying about him?

"Ms. Lane? I believe we have an appointment for an interview."

The delighted smile he had anticipated failed to materialise. Instead, a hint of what might have been apprehension showed in her eyes for a second before she composed herself. "Superman," she greeted him quietly. "I'm glad you made it. Let me just get a notebook." She turned away and yanked a desk drawer open to find a notebook and a pencil.

"Shall we go somewhere more private?" he suggested. "I could fly us to your apartment…"

She flinched, and this time the panic was unmistakable. "No!" she yelped. "I mean, no, that won't be necessary," she continued, more calmly. "We can use the conference room." She stood up and strode briskly to the conference room, trailing an astonished Clark in her wake. What could possibly have happened since the previous evening to make Lois afraid of him?

When they reached the conference room, Lois shut the door behind him and motioned him to a chair, seating herself on the opposite side of the table. She opened her notebook and positioned it in front of her, then looked at him with a careful smile. "Clark said you'd recovered your memory," she said. "I'm very glad for you. Are you feeling a hundred percent?"

"Yes, I am," he said, and allowed himself a grin. "I'm feeling super!"

The small joke failed to impress. Lois's eyes flicked to his cape. "I see you got another costume," she said.

He grimaced. "I prefer to call them 'suits'," he said.

Her eyes returned to his face. "I guess that makes it seem less like playing a part," she remarked. Clark flinched inwardly.

Fortunately she didn't wait for a response, but began to question him about the Nightfall Asteroid. She was very thorough and her manner was totally professional… and completely devoid of warmth. Clark tried to concentrate on the questions, but as the interview wore on he became steadily more worried about what could have upset Lois so.

Finally, Lois seemed to have run out of questions. She turned over a new page in her notebook and sat staring blankly at it, visibly changing gears. Clark braced himself for the difficult part of the interview.

But her next question took him quite by surprise. "What can you tell me about Lex Luthor? Strictly off the record." She mistook his startled pause for hesitation, and looked up with a frown. "I assume what you said about him yesterday was true?"

"Yes, it's true, Lois, but I don't have any proof…"

"Well, that's where I come in. That's what an investigative journalist does — get proof." She added with an edge of anger, "I can't imagine why Clark didn't start investigating him months ago, instead of just complaining about him."

Clark shifted uncomfortably. "Well, here's what happened…" he began. He proceeded to fill her in on the details of Superman's interactions with Luthor: how Luthor hadn't bothered to deny his involvement in the sabotage of Space Station Prometheus and the 'trials' of Superman's abilities, and how he had threatened that someone might get hurt if Superman stayed in Metropolis. Then he enumerated the suspicious 'coincidences' linking Luthor to various other criminal activities: the Toaster Gang, the Mentamide kids, the pollution leaks from the Luthor Nuclear Power Plant, the development of the pheromone perfume.

Lois took careful notes. At the end of his recitation she sighed. "This is all either your word against his, or completely circumstantial," she commented.

"I know," he said sombrely. "I've been hoping Luthor would make a slip, and I'd be there to catch it. So far, he's been much too careful."

Lois nodded. "Well, if there is any evidence to be found, we'll find it," she averred. She closed her notebook, looking tired and drained. "Thank you, Superman. This will be very helpful."

Clark tensed. She appeared to be about to end the interview without asking a single question about his real identity. Something was very wrong. He had worked himself up to face the moment of truth at last, and he was loath to leave now without even broaching the subject; at the same time, he was uneasily aware that the newsroom had started to fill up again after the lunch hour, and a number of curious pairs of eyes were trained on them through the conference room windows. Since Lois was unlikely to take his confidence calmly, it would be best not to have an audience.

He cleared his throat. "Lois, I haven't had a chance to thank you properly for everything you've done for me over the last few days…"

"You're welcome, Superman," she responded coolly. "You've just saved all of us from a very nasty fate. What I did pales in comparison. It was the least I could do."

Clark drew a frustrated breath. He didn't seem to be reaching her at all. He glanced at her hand on the table between them; he wished he could pick it up and kiss it, but that would certainly cause a feeding frenzy among the newsroom gossips. "Lois, we need to talk about… us. What happened yesterday…"

"I don't think there's much to say," she interrupted, folding her arms defensively. "We both know that kiss was… a mistake. It didn't mean anything; we just lost our heads for a moment. I'd rather just leave it at that."

Clark fought to keep himself from gaping at her like a fool. By the time he regained some control of his faculties she was speaking again, studiously avoiding his gaze. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a deadline to meet to get my scoop into the evening edition." She stood up and proffered her hand, which he shook like an automaton. Then she was opening the door for him.

He briefly considered picking her up and flying her willy- nilly to somewhere private, where he could demand to know what was going on, but he resisted the temptation. Not only were there the onlookers to consider, but she would probably never forgive him for ruining her scoop. He collected himself and stood up. "Goodbye, Ms. Lane, and thank you." He cast a brief glance at the assembled throng in the newsroom and elected to leave as he had arrived, at super-speed.

Hovering a couple of thousand feet above Metropolis, Clark struggled to make sense of Lois's reaction to him. She was obviously bitterly regretting having kissed him yesterday, and terrified he would try and assert some sort of claim on her. But what could possibly have changed her mind about Superman overnight? Could the all too human weakness she had observed while his memory was missing, have convinced her that the superhero was after all unworthy of her love? No, he couldn't believe she was that shallow. Could she have decided that she wasn't interested in a relationship with any man, even her erstwhile idol? What could have prompted such a decision?

And the next question was, what should he do about it? He had an unexpected reprieve from the need to tell her who he was. Should he force the issue, just to find out what was behind Lois's change of heart, or should he refrain from looking the gift horse in the mouth? As Clark, he might have a better chance of getting Lois to confide in him.

And speaking of Clark, he had a job waiting for him. Perry had been surprisingly understanding about his protracted absence, but he would undoubtedly expect something for tomorrow's edition.

Clark headed for home and a lightning change of clothes and persona.

***

- Chapter 9: Aftermath -

Lois finished adding the details about Superman's Nightfall mission to her article for the evening edition, and sat back with a sigh. One more pass through to polish the writing and this was going to be Kerth material for sure. Perry had already set aside most of the front page for the scoop, and he was expecting the full interview to be written up for the morning edition. She was grateful that his understanding attitude over the need to protect Superman's secret had been repaid so handsomely. As she leant forward again and used the mouse to scroll back to the top of her document, Lois noticed that her hand was trembling. She hadn't stopped shaking since shortly before Superman had left the conference room. She rested her elbows on the desk and massaged her temples, closing her eyes for a minute. She needed to compose herself before Clark returned to the newsroom.

Superman's initial offer to fly them to her apartment had caught her completely by surprise, though in hindsight it was an obvious idea. But after what felt like Lex's violation of her personal territory, the mere thought of going to her apartment had turned her stomach, and she had panicked for a second. Fortunately she had recovered swiftly and the rest of the interview had gone smoothly. Apart from a couple of barbed remarks, she had managed to avoid voicing her anger at his duplicity, while that same anger had helped her to maintain a superficial calm.

And then he had started to broach the subject of their personal relationship, and her nerve had snapped. She couldn't sit there and listen to his excuses as to why a close relationship between them was out of the question; she had pre-empted him with her own disclaimer, and salvaged some of her pride in the process. She hadn't been able to look him in the eye afterwards, to see the relief he must have felt, but the speed with which he had vanished left her in little doubt about how anxious he was to get the awkward conversation over and done with.

Saying the words had been more difficult than she would have believed possible. From the moment she had become aware of his presence beside her desk, all her instincts had been clamouring for her to reach out to him, to renew yesterday's intimacy. Even after she herself had pronounced the death-knell on their relationship, it had taken every ounce of her self-control to stop her flinging herself into his arms. It was evidently going to take some time for her brain to convince the rest of her that he was off-limits.

And soon he, or rather Clark, would be back in the newsroom, and she would need to face him with equanimity. In fact, a sixth sense told her, he had just arrived. She looked up to see him emerging from the lift. Immediately his eyes homed in on her desk; as they met hers he lifted a hand in greeting and a cheerful smile lit up his face, taking her breath away. Then he turned away to walk down the ramp, greeting the colleagues he passed on the way.

She watched his progress, searching for the evidence of his dual identity that she had missed before. She hadn't dared do the same with Superman earlier, lest he think she was pining over him. Now that she was looking for it, the resemblance between Clark and Superman was obvious, yet the glasses and hair did make a surprising amount of difference. Their posture and manner were also markedly different — Superman always held himself stiffly and cultivated an air of aloofness, while Clark was friendly to a fault and frequently seemed positively clumsy. Even their voices differed somewhat. Superman spoke in deep, measured tones; the only time she had heard him use Clark's lighter, more animated voice had been when he had lost his memory. Clark evidently worked very hard at maintaining his disguise. Perhaps she could stop blaming herself for having failed to penetrate it sooner.

And now he was walking towards her desk, still smiling cheerfully. She gathered the remnants of her anger about her like armour. What right did he have to look so pleased with himself, when she was feeling so wretched?

"This is a fine time to come in to work," she greeted him frostily.

"Afternoon, Lois," he said sunnily. "It's nice to see you, too. Have you had lunch?"

"Clark, I've been working my buns off for the last two days, gathering actual news and writing actual articles for the Planet, while you've been… occupied elsewhere!" she snapped. She knew how horrendously unfair it was, but she couldn't stop the angry words tumbling out, and doubtless he and whoever else was listening would simply see Mad Dog Lane being her normal sympathetic self. "We've been in the middle of a national crisis, or hadn't you noticed? I don't have time to go to lunch."

He nodded. "That's what I figured," he said calmly. "I stopped on the way in to pick up a sandwich, and I got you one too." He opened the bag he'd been carrying and unpacked the contents onto her desk. "Rare roast beef and English mustard for me. Chicken salad for you. And some yoghurt." He smiled sweetly at her.

She stared back, all the wind taken out of her sails. "Clark, that's very kind of you," she said huskily. She thought for an appalled moment that she might burst into tears, but she rescued herself by reflecting that her uncertain emotional state probably owed a lot to the fact that she hadn't eaten since last night. She picked up her sandwich and sniffed appreciatively. "Mmm, heaven! How's George?" she asked before taking a bite.

"George?" he echoed, evidently flummoxed for a moment. "Uh, George is fine. I mean, the doctors say he'll be fine now. The operation was very successful."

Perry appeared at Clark's shoulder. "I hate to break up your picnic, boys and girls," he said, "but could I remind you that we have a paper to get out? Lois, my front page is looking mighty bare right now. I want your article on my desk in fifteen minutes, and you've got a press conference to cover at EPRAD at two o'clock."

"I already got all the details I need from Superman," she objected. "And I have an interview to write up. Clark can go."

"Superman may have left something out, and you can write up your interview afterwards," Perry decreed. He turned to Clark as though noticing him for the first time. "Kent, you found your way back to us at last. I take it your friend is on the mend?"

"Hi, Chief," Clark said, collecting his lunch quickly and moving over to his own desk. "Yes, he's recovering, and my parents are with him now."

"Glad to hear it. So, what do you have to contribute to our little publication?"

"I was researching background stuff about asteroids — scientific information and so on — before I took off, uh, had to take time off. I should be able to write up something on that by this evening."

"Glad to hear it. I won't keep you from your work any longer, then," Perry declared, and left them to it. Clark shrugged apologetically in Lois's direction and turned his attention to his work, and Lois did likewise.

A few minutes later Lois finished her sandwich and reached absently for her coffee mug, before recollecting that its contents were several hours old and would be stone cold by now. To her astonishment, when she picked it up she found that the mug was pleasantly warm. She gazed at it for several bemused seconds before shrugging and lifting it to her lips. By a supreme effort of will she prevented herself glancing over to where she knew Clark would be watching her reaction out of the corner of his eye. Having a super- powered partner looking after her did have its benefits.

***

Clark waved farewell to his parents as they went through the airport security checkpoint. They had declined his offer to fly them home himself, preferring to use the return half of their plane tickets instead.

"It would be suspicious if anyone ever checked up on our travel arrangements," his dad had said. "And don't worry, we'll enjoy the flight together."

"As long as you're sure," Clark had conceded. Privately, he found it hard to imagine how anyone could choose to be shut up in a metal tube in the air given the alternative. He left the airport on foot, walking a few blocks before ducking into a dark alley to spin into his suit and take to the sky his own way.

In some respects, it had been a good weekend. Perry had been overjoyed by Lois's scoop and the follow-up exclusive interview with Superman, and in a rare expansive moment had told both of them to take the weekend off. When Clark had demurred, thinking guiltily of the two days he had already lost due to other causes, Perry had clapped him on the back and told him that he was looking tired, and that Perry wanted his best reporting team at full fighting strength the following week.

So Clark had had a day and a half to show his parents around his favourite city before their plane left. Jonathan had visibly hated the big city, but he had kept Clark company uncomplainingly while Martha was making the most of the opportunity to do some shopping. There were still half a dozen bags full of her purchases in Clark's apartment, which he had volunteered to bring with him next time he flew out to Smallville.

In other respects, the weekend had been deeply frustrating. The newsroom had been full all of Friday afternoon, and Clark had had no opportunity to use superspeed to get his research or his writing done more quickly. Consequently there had been no time to talk to Lois again, and he had still been busy when she had turned in her interview copy at five and gone home.

He was desperate to talk to her and find out what was going on; desperate enough to drop by her apartment as Superman late that evening, when he was out on patrol. He had picked up the familiar sound of her heartbeat in the bedroom as he approached. But when he had tapped on her living-room window, although her heartbeat had accelerated, she had made no move to acknowledge his presence or to let him in. It seemed she had no desire to talk to her erstwhile hero. He had been tempted to use his x-ray vision to check that she was all right, but he couldn't justify the invasion of her privacy. Instead, he had flown away with a heavy heart.

He had tried ringing her apartment a few times on Saturday, but he had only reached her answering machine. He hoped it meant she was out seeing friends, or spending time with her family, but somehow he doubted it. His worry had been nagging at the back of his mind all weekend.

Clark did a leisurely patrol of the city. It was too early for the city's lowlife to be busy, but it didn't hurt to remind them and their potential victims that Superman was around. He stopped at a traffic obstruction and found that an elderly lady had stalled her car in the middle of the road and flooded it trying to restart it. She gratefully accepted the offer of a lift home for herself and her car. He flew slowly and stayed low, monitoring her heartbeat inside the car; she evidently found the ride exciting, but not dangerously so. He parked the car neatly outside the address she had given him and stayed long enough to give her a hand out of the car. "My pleasure, ma'am," he responded to her embarrassingly effusive thanks, and took to the skies again, reflecting that it really was a pleasure to be able to lend a hand with simple things for ordinary people once in a while.

Finally he could no longer ignore his need to find Lois. He headed for her apartment and hovered above it, listening for her heartbeat, but it wasn't there. Nor was her Jeep parked outside in its usual place. He scanned the neighbourhood quickly, and then headed over to his own apartment on the off chance that she had decided to respond to his answering-machine messages in person, but there was no sign of her.

Clark told himself that he would look in the only other obvious place and then he would quit worrying unnecessarily about Lois's whereabouts. To his surprise, when he scanned the Daily Planet building he found Lois's jeep parked in the basement car park, and although her desk was empty he finally espied her sitting in the conference room, scrutinising one of the stacks of paper which liberally festooned the table. For an anxious moment he wondered whether she was engaged in investigating Superman's private life, but when he zoomed his vision in on the paperwork he saw with immense relief that it all seemed to be corporate financial records.

He dropped out of the darkening sky into a suitably deserted alleyway, and a few moments later he was entering the Planet's foyer, dressed in ordinary street clothes.

As he tapped on the door of the conference room and let himself in, Lois looked around from her reading. "Clark? What are you doing here? I thought you were spending the weekend with your parents."

"They just caught the plane home." Clark closed the door carefully and turned to study her face. She looked wan, and there were dark smudges under her eyes. "What are *you* doing here, Lois? You're supposed to be taking some time off to relax. You look as if you've been here all weekend!"

She looked down at the paperwork, biting her lip. "I guess I have been here most of it."

"What is all this stuff, anyway?" Clark sat down next to her and picked up the top sheet from the nearest pile: a list of trustees and office-holders for the United Front charity.

"I'm looking into Lex's business affairs. After what Superman told me, I wanted to get started on an investigation, so I asked Jimmy to pull all the information he could on Lex's financial holdings and interests." She pulled a face as she gazed around the table. "I didn't realise there would be so much of it. I've barely managed to get it sorted into categories, never mind start working out how all these corporations and trusts relate to each other."

"It'll go more quickly if both of us work on it together," he suggested. "That is, if you want me to work with you," he added hastily.

"I'd love some help," she said ruefully. She lifted her eyes to meet his. "You've had suspicions about Lex for months, Clark. Why didn't you start investigating him long ago? Or at least tell me what was going on?"

"Well, like you said yourself, Lois, most of the evidence is circumstantial." As her eyebrows rose, he covered his mistake automatically. "Superman told me what you said in the interview…"

Lois's lips tightened into a grim line, and Clark realised dimly that he hadn't made matters any better. "Oh, you've been talking it over, have you? I suppose you discuss everything I say to either of you?" Lois's tone was angry, but Clark glimpsed a wounded look in her eyes. Was she jealous of what appeared to be the close relationship between him and Superman, or was she simply embarrassed about what they might have told each other? Was she regretting the things she had said to Superman about Clark, perhaps?

He sighed and closed his eyes, running a hand through his hair. "Lois, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it to sound like that…"

"I just bet you didn't!" she muttered furiously.

"… but can we concentrate on one villain at a time?" He looked at her appealingly, and her face softened. "Can you tell me what's so urgent about digging the dirt on Luthor? A few days ago you didn't think he could put a foot wrong, and now you're spending your free time going through his finances…"

Lois sighed and looked away. "Lex contacted me on Friday morning, and I went to see him," she began, haltingly. "I thought he was going to prove you wrong — you and Superman. I thought he might have a plan for dealing with the Nightfall Asteroid. Well, he did, but it wasn't what I expected…"

Clark listened with mounting distaste as Lois described Lex's bunker, and his scheme for saving himself and a private army. "I can't say I'm surprised," he commented when she drew to a close. "But why did he tell you about it?"

Lois looked down at her hands, which were nervously pleating and unpleating her skirt. Her hair swung forward to hide her face. "He wanted me to go along," she said in a low voice. "For 'companionship', he said. I suppose it's a compliment in a twisted sort of way… but I think he genuinely expected me to accept. What did I do to make him think I'd welcome an offer like that? And how could I have been so wrong about him?" Her voice wobbled. "I'm an award- winning investigative reporter, and I couldn't see that he's a two-faced slime-ball!"

Clark shot a quick glance through the window into the newsroom, noting with chagrin that several reporters were still at their desks. He wanted to put his arm around Lois, but instead he picked up one of her hands and held it in a comforting clasp. "Lois, Luthor is a very charming man, and he's very good at deceiving people. Everybody in Metropolis has been fooled by him… even Perry. You shouldn't blame yourself."

"You weren't fooled," she muttered rebelliously.

He grimaced. "I had … privileged information. Lois, look at me." She hesitated before complying; her face showed embarrassment and hurt, and other emotions he couldn't quite place. "This room isn't the best place to be talking about this. You're upset, and Ralph is sitting out there watching us and wondering what we're up to. Why don't we pick up some takeout, and then we can go over to your place and talk… Lois, what *is* the matter?" For her face had gone white and her hand was shaking in his clasp.

"I didn't tell you all of it." Her voice was trembling, too. "He had an apartment built for me in the bunker. I guess he thought it would persuade me to stay. It's exactly like my own apartment. Every detail… the carpets, the curtains, the furniture… everything." She swallowed. "That's why I spent all weekend here. I can't bear being at home. I feel like he's watching me all the time. And what if he is?" Her voice was rising on a panicky note. "What if whoever came into my apartment to inspect it also planted bugs in it? Or even a spy camera?"

Clark cursed under his breath. He felt more helpless than he had ever felt before. When Lois's life had been threatened, he had been able to stay with her and protect her; this time the threat was not so much physical as mental, and he didn't know how to protect her from it. He gripped her shoulder firmly, and spoke urgently. "Lois, I won't let Luthor harm you. I'll never let anyone harm you. You must believe me!" As she looked searchingly into his eyes, he added, almost as an afterthought, "Superman would never let anyone hurt you, either."

A ghost of a smile flitted over her face, and she nodded. "I believe you, Clark."

"Good. Now, why don't I ask Superman to check your apartment for any spy equipment?"

This time the smile was real, and some of the fear left her face. "Oh, could you? I mean, can he do that? That would be such a relief…"

He got to his feet. "I'll go and do it right now. Will you be okay here for half an hour or so?" At her nod he strode to the door, then turned back to her. "You're quite sure you'll be all right?"

She chuckled. "Just go, already!"

He smiled back. "I won't be long," he promised, and finally left.

Lois's indulgent smile faded as she watched him go. She had spent most of the weekend obsessing about Lex and dreading being alone at home. Just telling Clark about it had been a weight off her mind, and his large, solid presence was utterly reassuring at an instinctive level that she could barely comprehend. Even though she knew he was lying to her, she realised, she still trusted him completely when it came to protecting her.

If only he weren't being so… so *adorably* sweet in the process. So thoughtful and concerned about her, and so charmingly ridiculous with his Kevin Costner bodyguard impression. It made her want to kiss him, and when he held her hand it made her senses swim… <It's just nerves, and lack of sleep,> she reassured herself. <Once this is over, we'll go back to being partners and friends. It'll be fine.>

***

True to his word, Clark was back within half an hour. He was carrying two carrier bags; delicious smells were wafting from one, while the other was small but looked heavy. "There was nothing in your apartment," he reported. "Luthor may have a warped sense of ethics when it comes to other people's property, but he doesn't seem to be spying on you."

Lois's shoulders slumped in relief. "Thank you," she whispered, closing her eyes. A single tear trickled down her cheek, and Clark's heart turned over. He dumped the bags on the table and pulled a chair up next to her, taking her hand again.

"Lois, it's going to be okay," he said awkwardly. "Let's get you out of here."

She looked at him nervously. "Clark, I'm not sure…"

"Lois, it's your home!" he said forcefully. "You can't let Luthor destroy your peace of mind. We're going to take you home, and we're going to change the locks on your front door. Then we're going to eat our dinner, and maybe watch something on TV, or talk, or do whatever friends do in the security of their own homes. And after that, if you want me to, I'll stay over to make sure you're all right. We are *not* going to let Luthor defeat you!"

She smiled and gave a watery sniff. "Okay. That sounds okay."

As she hunted in her purse for a tissue to blow her nose, a new thought struck Clark. "Lois, would you like to find out if you can charge Luthor with harassment or something? Or get a court injunction forcing him to leave you alone?"

She thought about it for a moment, and shook her head. "No, I don't think so," she said slowly. "I doubt any charges would stick, and an injunction wouldn't stop him doing anything he really wanted to do. It would just give our game away." She looked up at Clark with a new determination in her eyes. "I'd prefer to investigate him thoroughly instead, and bring him and his empire down."

He smiled. "I like the sound of that. We'll take this paperwork with us, then, and make a start after dinner."

***

Lois finished unlocking her front door and hesitated, gathering her nerve. Clark gave her an encouraging smile and she took a deep breath, pushed the door open and went in, Clark following close behind her. As she shut the door, he deposited his carrier bags on the coffee table and relieved her of her armful of papers. She wrapped her arms defensively around herself, looking nervously into all the corners of the room and shivering slightly. Clark gave a low growl, stepped forward and enveloped her in a reassuring hug.

Lois stood stiffly for a moment before her self-possession crumbled and she subsided against his chest, bursting into tears. He held her tight, rocking her slightly and murmuring comforting nothings into her hair, while she cried out the fear and the disillusionment of the past few days. Finally her tears diminished into sobs and then silence.

Clark fished in a pocket with one hand and pulled out a handkerchief, with which he dried her tears. "Feel better?" he enquired sympathetically.

She nodded. "I'm sorry, your shirt is all wet," she said ruefully.

He grinned. "That's okay, I've got my waterproof underwear on," he quipped. He turned her chin up with one finger to look into her eyes. "Lois, I'm sorry you had to face this alone," he said seriously. "I had a feeling something was wrong — I should have tried harder to find you this weekend. You could have called me, you know."

"I suppose so," she said dubiously. "It seemed such a stupid thing to be upset about, though…"

"It wasn't stupid!" he said firmly. "You've been incredibly brave. Luthor is an evil man, and we're going to get him — together."

She nodded, smiling. "Count on it, partner!" she said, and drew herself away from him. She felt a keen sense of loss as his arms dropped from her shoulders, but it was time to stand on her own two feet again — before her hormones kicked back into action and she did something they would both regret. "Why don't I get some plates and we can eat before our dinner gets cold?" she suggested.

By the time she came back, Clark had unpacked several containers of Chinese takeout, and the room was full of enticing smells. Lois suddenly realised just how hungry she was. "I don't think I've eaten properly since that sandwich you brought me on Friday," she remarked. "You're taking really good care of me." She smiled at Clark and set to with gusto.

Within a remarkably short time, all the food had vanished. Lois sat back replete, and Clark smiled at her look of absolute contentment. "Don't move," he ordered. "I'll clean up. Would you like some coffee?"

"That would be wonderful," she sighed. "I'll make a start on the paperwork while you're busy." But when Clark came back to the living room a few minutes later, he found Lois sound asleep. She slept on while he changed the locks on her front door for those he had brought in the second carrier bag. She slept on while he drank his coffee, using superspeed to read through the pile of financial records but finding nothing untoward.

Clark wondered whether he could simply put Lois to bed without waking her, but as he bent over her, her eyelids fluttered open. She sat up straight, stifling a yawn. "Did I fall asleep?" she mumbled apologetically.

He chuckled. "I was just wondering whether I should put you to bed," he said. "You obviously have a lot of sleep to catch up. Do you want me to stay and sleep on your couch tonight, or will you be all right on your own?"

She considered the question carefully, looking around the room. To her relief, for the first time since she had seen Lex's bunker, she could feel no sense of watching eyes, no prickle of hidden menace. The apartment was her home again. She shook her head. "It's kind of you, Clark, but I think you've laid the ghosts," she said with a smile.

"Then you'd better let me out," he said. "I've changed the locks, but I'm sure you'll feel better if you've put the chain on as well."

She gazed in surprise at the pile of old locks on the table, and then inspected the new ones on the door. "Where on earth did you manage to get a new set of locks on a Sunday evening?" she wondered.

Clark shrugged. "There's a locksmith in my neighbourhood. Superman stopped an armed robbery there a while back, and the owner was happy to do him a favour in return."

Lois stiffened. "That was very kind of him… of them," she said woodenly.

Clark looked at her in surprise; but it didn't seem like the right moment to ask her why she was upset with Superman, any more than it was the right time to tell her that her partner had been deceiving her. "Call me if there's anything you need," he said. "Sleep well." He bent and brushed her forehead with his lips, then he was gone.

***

- Chapter 10 : New Perspectives -

"I am not stupidly reckless!" Lois yelled. "I just know when to stop shilly-shallying around with background information and go after the big story. I was an award- winning reporter before you ever arrived in Metropolis, buster!"

Clark raised his hands defensively and drew a breath to placate her. Suddenly a curiously defeated look came over his face and he stepped backwards. "I'm going out," he announced. He turned on his heel and strode across the newsroom to disappear into the stairwell, one hand plucking at his tie.

Lois watched him go with an angry scowl. As the door slammed behind him she turned a stony gaze on the various members of staff who had been watching the latest Lane-Kent quarrel with expressions ranging from dismay to malicious enjoyment. The onlookers guiltily dropped their eyes and went about their business; all except Cat Grant, who continued to regard Lois with a knowing smile playing about her lips.

Lois turned back to her computer screen. It was the fifth shouting match they had had in the last few days, and she knew the tension was souring the whole newsroom atmosphere.

This one had blown up over such a stupid little thing. They were getting nowhere by investigating Lex's background, and Clark wanted them to turn their attention to Lex's associates. Lois had suggested that they try more direct action instead, such as breaking into his office to search for incriminating information. Clark had protested that it was too dangerous, and Lois had retorted that Superman would save them if necessary. "You can't rely on Superman to save you every time you're stupidly reckless," Clark had argued, and Lois had lost her temper.

The worst of it was, she knew he was right. She herself had seen Lex shoot a man dead; at the time she had been grateful, even admiring, but now it made her blood run cold. If, as Clark suspected, Lex made a habit of getting rid of dangerous people — Toni Baines, for example, and Dr. Carlton — then it was far too risky to tangle with him directly until they had a better idea what they were up against. Superman couldn't be everywhere all the time.

To add to the tension, Superman had been having a busy week, and Clark kept walking out on her with some feeble excuse. She might have guessed that Superman would be a poor liar, Lois thought resentfully, but some of his excuses were an insult to her intelligence. Remembering he'd left a tap running? Forgetting to feed his cat? Not that she really wanted him to put more effort into deceiving her, she reflected — what she really wanted was for him to stop lying to her. It hurt every time she saw his face blank out as he tuned into something she couldn't hear, and then searched desperately for an excuse to get away from her. This time he hadn't even bothered; perhaps he thought her temper was excuse enough.

But even the lies might have been bearable if Lois hadn't been on edge all the time they were together. Her principal problem was that it was getting harder, not easier, to keep her physical distance from Clark while working closely with him. He had made no attempt to touch her since he had left her on Sunday; yet every time their hands brushed as he passed her a cup of coffee, or he leant over her shoulder to read what she'd written, or they got into the lift together to go out on an assignment, her body would react to his closeness by going into overdrive, her heart pumping and her breath coming fast and shallow. It was usually after such moments that she would get angry with him over some triviality, and they would end up quarrelling.

It couldn't go on. If she couldn't keep herself under control then she would have to go to Perry and tell him that she couldn't work with Clark any longer. Her throat closed up in a panic just thinking about it, and she couldn't imagine what excuse she could give that wouldn't reflect badly on Clark, but she would do it if she had to.

"Working hard, Lois?" a voice drawled behind her, and Lois tensed.

"Haven't you got a mall opening to attend, Cat?" she asked tartly.

"I think you and I should have a talk," Cat purred.

Lois swivelled her chair around and regarded Cat with disfavour. "What do you and I have to talk about?" she asked.

"Man trouble, Lois. You have man trouble. I know about man trouble. Let's talk."

Lois felt her face redden. As she groped unsuccessfully for a retort, Cat gave her an unexpectedly sympathetic smile. "Why don't we go somewhere a bit more private? Unless you want to discuss it here, of course…"

"Discuss what?" said Jimmy, breezing by. "Wow, Cat, nice outfit. Don't go outside in that, will you? It wouldn't do to get frostbite in some of those places."

Wordlessly, Lois got up and followed Cat to the conference room. She cast herself into a chair and looked at Cat. "So what's my trouble?" she asked ungraciously.

Cat shrugged. "You've finally decided you're in love with Clark, but he's done something to make you angry," she said offhandedly. "You need to decide what to do about it."

Lois winced. "The newsroom grapevine has been busy, has it?" she snarled.

Cat studied her nails intently. "Actually, the pool on how long it would take Clark to get you into bed petered out for lack of interest about the time Superman showed up. Now they've decided Clark made a pass at you, so they're betting on how long it'll take you to get him fired."

Lois gazed at Cat, temporarily bereft of speech.

Cat shrugged. "You asked," she pointed out.

Lois cleared her throat. "So what makes you think differently?" she asked.

"Oh, come on, Lois," Cat said, raising one elegantly plucked eyebrow. "Observing people is my job. I read body language the way you read…" she waved a hand vaguely, "police reports, or whatever. You've had the hots for Clark ever since he arrived at the Planet, but you wouldn't admit it, even to yourself. You bristle every time he even speaks to a marginally attractive woman. I used to get a real kick out of raising your hackles." She shrugged dismissively. "Now you've finally realised how you feel about him, but you're also angry with him about something. Am I right?"

Lois's face was burning. "Did you haul me in here just to humiliate me, or do you have a point?" she asked sourly.

Cat smiled. "My point is that I think you could do with someone to talk to," she said. "Who else can you talk to about it? Jimmy? Perry? Come on, Lois, spit it out. What did Clark do to upset you?"

Lois eyed Cat with growing dislike, and opened her mouth to tell her to mind her own business. "He lied to me about something," she said, and clapped a hand over her mouth to stop herself saying any more.

"About what?" Cat asked.

"I can't tell you that!" Lois protested.

Cat sighed. "Why, because I'm a gossip columnist? Lois, I can be discreet, believe it or not, and I don't target my colleagues. Besides, let's face it — Lois Lane and Superman would be news. Lois Lane and Lex Luthor would be news. Lois Lane and Clark Kent is not news."

Lois remained stubbornly silent, and Cat sighed again. "Well, is it a little thing or a big thing? Is it a speeding ticket, or did he kill his man in a duel out west?"

Lois's mouth quirked in spite of herself. "It's a pretty big thing. Oh, nothing illegal… but it changes the way I feel about him."

"Not so much that you don't care for him any more, though."

Lois bit her lip. "No," she said in a small voice.

"So what's the big deal, Lois? You lie to him, don't you?"

"Of course I do, all the time! But…"

Cat grinned. "But it's not the same when he does it to you? What was his excuse for lying?"

"I haven't told him I know," Lois muttered.

"Waiting for him to tell you about it himself?" Cat whistled. "Ooh, sister, you have got it bad, haven't you?" Lois looked at her uncertainly. Cat's mocking smile faded, and she spoke with uncharacteristic earnestness. "Clark isn't the devious type, Lois. He's basically an honest, decent guy…"

"'What you see is what you get'?" Lois quoted wryly.

"Exactly. Since you're so upset about it, I'm willing to bet this is the only thing he's ever lied to you about. If you confront him with it, he'll probably be incredibly relieved that it's out in the open, and he can stop worrying about finding the perfect moment to tell you. The way you feel about him and the way he feels about you, you'd be crazy to let something like that come between you."

"Well, that's just it," Lois said painfully, studying her hands. "I don't think he feels that way about me."

Cat stared at Lois for a moment, then laughed. "Blind as well as crazy. Lois, that man has been head-over-heels in love with you since the day he first walked in here."

Lois glared at her. "That's just not true!" she snapped. "He's never given me any reason to think he feels anything more than friendship…"

Cat rolled her eyes. "Be realistic, Lois," she suggested. "What would you have done if he'd made a pass at you the first few weeks he was here?"

Lois thought for a moment. "I probably *would* have got Perry to fire him," she admitted ruefully. "Or at least transfer him to the sports page, or Timbuktu, or somewhere."

"Exactly. And since then, you've been too busy chasing after Superman to give Clark a second look. Clark is horribly jealous, but there isn't much he can do about it."

Lois reddened again. "Clark isn't jealous of Superman!" she protested. She suppressed the urge to explain just how impossible a concept that would be.

Cat laughed again. "Of course he is. Any normal male would be. And when you go all dreamy-eyed over Superman, Clark gets this grim, frustrated look. Makes one feel quite sorry for the poor guy."

Lois sat stunned. Cat's description sounded convincing, but was it accurate? How could Clark be jealous of himself? Was he mentally unstable? No, Clark was about the sanest person she knew.

She realised that Cat was staring at her with frank curiosity. "So tell me, what made you decide you preferred Clark to Superman?" she enquired. "Not that Clark isn't a fine specimen of manhood, of course — but you seemed to be the only woman making any progress with Superman. What happened, did he tell you he was gay or something?"

Lois snorted, and dissolved into helpless giggles. <If you only knew…> "Superman's not gay," she managed to gasp out when she had caught her breath sufficiently.

"That's fairly obvious to the casual observer," Cat remarked. "Sounds like you have some personal experience to go by, hmm?"

Lois sobered and shrugged, fixing Cat with a limpid gaze. "As you said, a relationship with Superman would be big news. I write the news, I don't want to be it. Besides, Superman is hardly ever there — he's always off somewhere saving the world. I'd rather have someone who's there for me every day." The explanation even had the benefit of being nearly true, she thought to herself.

"Imagine — Lois Lane getting all domestic," Cat drawled. Her affected tone didn't quite disguise a hint of envy.

Lois looked narrowly at Cat. "And you?" she asked in her turn. "What made you decide to stop trying to jump Clark's bones and play Cupid instead?"

Cat met Lois's eyes with no trace of her normal flippancy. "Most people treat me like either a sex object or a fallen woman," she said. "Clark's one of the few people I've met who treats me like a real person. He's always pleasant and polite, even when I'm coming on to him. He could do with a break."

She got to her feet. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a mall opening to attend," she said, and turned to go. At the door she paused. "He finds my advances intimidating," she said abruptly. "I might have thought he was gay, only he doesn't register any interest in men, either. You're the only person who has that effect on him." And with that she walked out of the room.

Lois watched, wide-eyed, as Cat collected her coat and left the newsroom without a backward glance. Lois could scarcely believe it; unless she was very much mistaken, Cat had just admitted that she had lied about her conquest of Clark in his early days at the Planet. There was no doubt that she believed what she had said about Clark's feelings for Lois. But could Lois believe it? Clark had known all along how she felt about Superman, even if he hadn't known until last week how she felt about Clark himself. Why had he never responded to her? And what of Cat's assertion that Clark was jealous of Superman? How could Clark mind if she found his alter ego attractive? It didn't make any sense to her at all.

Cat was right about one thing, at least — they needed to talk.

***

Jonathan and Martha watched Clark pushing the last few bites of apple pie round and round on his plate. Jonathan looked up at Martha and winked. "I'd better go and check on the henhouse," he said, and got up from the table.

Martha waited until Jonathan had left the house before laying her hand over Clark's. "What's on your mind, honey?" she asked.

He looked up at her guiltily. "Why do you think there's something on my mind, Mom?" he asked.

She chuckled. "Oh, Clark, normally you inhale everything in sight. When you sit and play with your food, it means there's something you need to talk to me about. I think the first time I saw you do that was when you were about seven, and you'd seen Bobby Harris bullying little Lana Lang at school."

"Sorry," he murmured apologetically, and quickly finished his pie. Then he sat staring blankly at the empty plate.

"It's Lois, isn't it?" Martha prompted him.

He heaved a heavy sigh. "Yeah, it's Lois," he acknowledged. "I thought she was feeling okay by the time I left her on Sunday. But ever since then she seems to be angry with me about something, and we just end up arguing all the time. It doesn't matter what I say to her. I can't figure out what I've done wrong."

"Have you asked her?" Martha enquired gently.

"Asked her?" Clark echoed, as though Martha were speaking a foreign language.

"Yes, Clark, asked her," Martha repeated patiently. "When people are upset with each other, it's normal to talk about it."

"You make it sound so easy!" Clark groaned. "Every time I go near her she gets upset… I can hear her pulse speed up, and within a few minutes she'll be picking a fight with me. How am I supposed to have a meaningful discussion with her? And as for Superman, if I even mention him she ices over. Maybe she's still upset about my supposed friendship with Superman. What if she asks me about him? Then what do I tell her?"

"The truth, perhaps?" Martha asked.

Clark grimaced unhappily. "I couldn't tell her on Sunday — she was really upset about Luthor deceiving her, and snooping around her home. She needed me to be there for her. And now… she's already angry with me. How's she going to feel if I tell her I've been deceiving her, too? It just doesn't seem like the right time…"

"Oh, Clark, honey, it's never going to seem like the right time! The closer you get to her, the more you'll have to lose, and the more hurt she'll be when you tell her. You do want her to know, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Mom! I really hate lying to her. I just don't know *how* to tell her…"

Martha looked at him sympathetically. "Of course it's difficult, honey. But you have to be careful about leaving it too long. You might find yourself forced to tell her at a really bad time; or she might find out for herself somehow."

He smiled crookedly at her. "And then she'll trust me even less than if I tell her of my own free will," he finished. "But that doesn't make it any easier to decide when to do it, or how."

Martha studied his tense face. "Clark, when we talked about this last week you were worried about the hero-worship that Lois felt for Superman. You didn't want her to transfer those feelings to you. Well, from what you've told me, she doesn't seem to feel that way any more. So what are you afraid of?"

He ran a hand through his hair, thinking. "It's just… after what Lois said about me to Superman, I think we might have a chance at being more than friends, at last. I'm scared that when I tell her I'm Superman, she might never speak to me again. I don't want to blow my chances…"

Martha shook her head. "You can't build a real relationship on a foundation of deceit," she said firmly. "Think about it this way: the sooner you tell her, the sooner you'll be able to start building a relationship based on honesty instead."

Clark's face lit up with his first real smile of the evening. "You're right, it helps," he said. He got up from the table and bent to give Martha a hug. "Thanks, Mom," he said as she kissed his cheek.

"Night, honey," she said. Watching him pick up his glasses and leave the house, she hoped that he hadn't left it too late already.

In the yard, Clark found Jonathan gazing out over his beloved farm and sniffing the air. "Snow before morning," Jonathan remarked. "It's a good thing we laid in supplies this week." He looked sidelong at Clark. "You on your way, son?"

"I guess." Clark stood beside his father, looking out at the night. "Mom reckons it's time I told Lois who I am," he said after a while.

Jonathan grunted. "That's got to be up to you," he said.

Clark lifted an eyebrow. "I was expecting you to give me the speech about being careful," he remarked, with a grin.

"You're all grown up, son. Besides, I think they'd have difficulty locking you in a lab any more."

"It's not just my secret," Clark pointed out. "I may be invulnerable, but you and Mom aren't."

"Well." Jonathan pondered for a moment, then shrugged. "I don't think your mother and I have anything to fear from your Lois," he said. "Sooner or later you've got to take a chance. I took a chance on your mother thirty years ago. Paid off."

Clark nodded. "I'd better be going," he said after a pause.

Jonathan shook one hand free of his coat pocket and gripped Clark's shoulder. "Good night, son," he said quietly. Clark returned the gesture briefly before stepping back and spinning into the suit.

"Night, Dad," he said, and took off for Metropolis.

***

- Chapter 11 : Confessions -

Lois slammed the phone down in its cradle for the umpteenth time, glaring balefully at it. Where was Clark?

Once she had decided that she and Clark needed a heart-to- heart talk, she had found it difficult to concentrate on anything else. She had determined, via the newsroom television, that Superman was busy with a multi-car pileup and an overturned oil tanker on the interstate; when it became obvious that Clark was highly unlikely to make it back to the Planet that evening, she had finally given up the pretence of working and gone home early.

As soon as she got home, she had checked the news again, then showered and changed. She had never — with the possible exception of her abortive one-on-one interview with Lex — had so much difficulty deciding what to wear. She wanted to look casual, but not sloppy; attractive, but not vampy. Eventually she had settled on black tailored trousers and a silky, cranberry-coloured shirt. She had applied light makeup and dabbed a touch of perfume behind each ear, wondering nervously if it was a mistake. Then she had selected some light classical music to play in the background while they were talking.

By the time she had finished, LNN was reporting that the pileup had been cleared; the emergency vehicles were still dealing with the last of the oil spill, but Superman had left the scene. Lois had given him ten minutes and then phoned Clark's apartment, but there had been no answer. His extension at the Planet had proved equally fruitless.

Throughout the evening she had kept phoning his apartment, her frustration growing. In the intervals she had cooked and eaten a TV dinner from the freezer, scoured all the available television channels repeatedly for any hint of his whereabouts, and paced nervously round and round her living room.

<Just one more try,> she thought to herself now. <I'll wait half an hour and then phone once more. And if he doesn't answer, I'll go to bed and watch old Ivory Tower tapes and cry myself to sleep.> She headed for the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, reflecting miserably that she had finished the last of her ice cream the night before, after another fight with Clark, and she hadn't thought to replace it on the way home today.

As she finished making the coffee, there was a soft knock on the door. Lois frowned as she went to answer it, hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be Lex. She checked that the chain was on before cautiously opening the door.

"Clark!" She felt her heart begin to pound painfully.

He gave her a tentative smile. "Hi, Lois. I hope you don't mind me just turning up on your doorstep. I need to talk to you… Lois, at least let me apologise!" he pleaded as she swung the door to, heaving a relieved sigh as he realised she was simply taking the chain off.

"Come in, Clark," she said quietly. "You don't need to apologise for our fight. You were right — Lex is dangerous, and I am reckless sometimes."

He blinked at her in confusion, and she had a sudden inkling that she had forestalled a carefully prepared speech. The insight shored up her confidence a little, and she smiled to herself as she closed the door behind him.

As she turned to face him, he was taking in her appearance. His eyes flickered to where the stereo was issuing the quiet notes of the Moonlight Sonata. "This isn't a bad time, is it?" he asked. "Are you expecting someone?"

"Not exactly," she replied, meeting his worried gaze. "I also decided we need to talk. I've been trying to call you, but you weren't home."

She saw his eyes shift and knew with a sinking heart that he was groping for an excuse. She didn't want to hear another lie. "Would you like some coffee?" she said quickly. "I just made a pot."

"Thanks," he nodded, and she escaped thankfully to the kitchen.

Clark took off his coat and draped it over the back of the couch, then seated himself stiffly. He had every intention of telling Lois everything, but he still had no idea how to start. Her unvoiced question about his earlier whereabouts had caught him by surprise, and the ingrained habit of a lifetime had brought him to the brink of another lie. Now he was also fighting the urge to flee, to run away from the dangerous conversation, to leave Metropolis the way he had left every other place when people had got too close to the truth.

<This time I'm not going anywhere,> he told himself firmly. <I want to spend my life with Lois, if she'll have me.>

Nevertheless, he was trembling and his palms were sweating by the time Lois returned with two steaming mugs. She placed one next to him and sat down opposite him with the other, tucking her feet under her. She looked at him uncertainly.

"Lois, there are -"

"Clark, I wanted -"

They spoke simultaneously, then broke off, grinning foolishly at each other. Lois waved a hand. "You first."

He nodded, the grin fading back to apprehension. "Lois, this isn't just about the way we've been arguing the last few days. There are some things I need to tell you… to explain. Like why I'm always running off." He studied her face, but her sombre expression gave no clue to her thoughts. "I'm S… sorry I wasn't in earlier." He couldn't manage to frame the fateful words. He took a deep breath and tried an oblique approach. "I was visiting my parents."

"Your parents," she repeated slowly. "In Kansas?" There was a flash of something he couldn't identify in her eyes. Disbelief? Apprehension? Hope? "You went there this evening?"

<Superman flew me there…> He dismissed the automatic excuse. The urge to flee increased, and he rose to his feet and began to pace, clenching his fists to stop the trembling and shoving them deep into his pockets. "I visit my parents quite often," he said, almost at random. "We're very close, even though I'm adopted."

"I worked that out," Lois said behind him. Then she kicked herself for interrupting him. If this conversation was going where she thought it might be, she desperately wanted to hear what Clark had to say, without interruption.

Clark turned slowly. "How did you know?" he said cautiously.

"The way you reacted when you did that article on adopted children searching for their parents," she said. "And your real parents couldn't both have blue eyes."

He nodded. The brief diversion had helped to steady his nerves slightly. He moved to the window and stood gazing out unseeingly.

"What you don't know — what nobody else knows — is how they came to adopt me. They always wanted children of their own, and they tried for many years. When they were told that my mother couldn't have children, they were devastated. Then they tried to adopt, but all the agencies they approached turned them down. I'll never understand why, because they were the best parents any kid could have wished for."

He paused and focused briefly on Lois's reflection in the window. She had picked up a cushion and was hugging it to her stomach, her attention riveted on him, her expression still unreadable. He looked back at the street outside, leaning his forehead against the cool glass.

"Then one evening, when they were driving home, they saw a shooting star. They thought it was an ICBM, but when it landed in Schuster's Field and didn't explode, they went to investigate. It was a space ship. Inside was…" He took another deep breath. "… a baby, about three months old. They took it — him — home and looked after him." It was easier talking in the third person, he found. "And when some men showed up a few days later, asking whether anyone had seen any debris from a Russian satellite, they lied and said they hadn't seen anything. The only person they told was their family doctor, and he arranged a birth certificate and adoption papers somehow. He's dead now."

He fell silent, awaiting some reaction from Lois. Did she understand what he was telling her? And just how angry was she going to be?

After a moment she said quietly, "And that was you?"

"Yes." He squared his shoulders and turned to face her, unconsciously folding his arms and bracing his legs apart. As her eyes widened he looked down and grimaced, then made a conscious effort to relax, leaning back against the windowsill and resting his hands on it. "I seemed pretty normal at first. Just a few minor differences — slightly different temperature and heart rate, for example. And my body doesn't respond to regular drugs, like aspirin, but fortunately I didn't get sick much. My parents taught me to stay away from strange doctors — put the fear of God into me, in fact."

Lois nodded. "But later… ?" she prompted.

"As I got older, I stopped hurting myself and started getting really strong. Unnaturally strong. Then I started to be able to hear things nobody else could. And set things on fire by looking at them." He swallowed hard, remembering. "It was really scary at first. But Dad helped me practise each new ability, in secret, until I could control myself. And I learned to hide what I could do from everybody. That was really hard, too — when I wanted to help someone but I didn't dare, for fear everyone would find out I was a freak. Sometimes I would take the risk anyway, especially when I was travelling. Then if anyone got suspicious, I could just move on. Until I came to Metropolis, and I found…" <you…> "… I didn't want to move on any more."

"So you invented Superman?"

He nodded. She understood, and by some miracle she wasn't angry. He smiled. "Actually, you invented Superman."

"*I* did?" she said incredulously.

"You gave me the idea, when you told me to bring a change of clothes to work. Mom made the suit, and the rest is history. For the first time, I've been able to use all my abilities to help, without worrying about the consequences. And once I'm finished, I take off the suit and carry on with my ordinary life, and nobody's any the wiser."

"Where did the 'S' insignia come from?" she asked.

"The 'S' that Mom sewed onto my first suit was in the space ship with me. There was one embossed on the front of the ship, too. I don't know what it means."

"What happened to the ship?"

He grimaced, remembering his loss. "Dad buried it after the men came to town asking questions. But they must have found it and dug it up, because it turned up in Bureau 39's warehouse. I saw it the day we got trapped there. It disappeared with all the other stuff, but I did manage to hang onto this."

He crossed to the couch and picked up his coat. Holding one pocket open, he proffered it to Lois. She looked quizzically at him and hesitantly put her hand into the pocket, bringing out a small sphere. "It's… a globe of Earth," she said, bemused.

"Among other things," Clark replied. He put his coat down and held out his hand. "Watch this."

As Lois dropped the globe into Clark's hand it burst into radiant life, the green continents blurring and reforming into new shapes of red. Lois gasped.

"Krypton," Clark said, looking pensively at the globe. "My home planet. The first time I touched this globe, I suddenly knew those two facts, though I can't explain how. That's how I know I'm an alien, not a Russian experiment." He put the globe down on the table, and after a moment it faded back into its dormant state.

Lois sat still, staring at the globe as she took everything in. Clark studied her face, her very calm making him nervous. And yet, calm was the wrong word, he realised; she was still clutching her cushion defensively, and her pulse and respiration told him that she was still as taut as a strung bow. As though the worst was yet to come.

He sat down opposite her. "Lois, what are you thinking?" he asked quietly.

She looked at him warily, and her tension increased another notch. "Why didn't you tell me before?" she asked. "Was it because you didn't trust me not to print the story?"

"At first I didn't trust you," he admitted. "And with good reason," he added with the ghost of a smile. "I'm pretty sure you would have printed it back then — you'd have been crazy not to. But since then — well, we've become partners, and friends. You've met my parents. And you've been there for Superman when he needed you. The way you protected me last week — that just proved what I've known for a while, that you wouldn't betray my secret."

"Why, then?" Her eyes bored into his, searching for the truth.

He stood up again, pacing restlessly. "I was afraid you'd be angry with me when you found out I'd deceived you. And it's been really difficult to tell you tonight, even though I really wanted to. It's second nature to hide what I am. I've only ever told one person about it before, and that was Trask, when he was threatening to kill my parents if I didn't. Not that it helped, of course — he just tried to kill all of us…" He shrugged. "Anyway, that's not the whole story. Lois, I want to be completely honest with you."

He stopped behind the couch and rested his hands on the back, looking down at them. "Lois, the way I kissed you last week… You must know how I feel about you. I think I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. I wanted you to fall in love with me, too. I didn't want the fact that I'm Superman to affect that."

He looked at her to gauge her reaction. The tension had gone from her posture: whatever she had feared hadn't happened. Her face was no longer blank, but now there was hurt and confusion in her eyes. "But, Clark, I don't understand. You knew how I felt about Superman. I'm embarrassed to think about the way I threw myself at you when you were in the suit… But you never gave me any hint of how you felt. Why did you always stonewall me?"

He waved a frustrated hand. "Lois, Superman isn't a real person! He's just a disguise. Sure, he flies around doing amazing things and helping people. He's noble and powerful and he never tells a lie… and he's completely two- dimensional. He's not the real me! He doesn't have a family, or friends, or a job, or even a sense of humour. I'm the one who has all those things. I'm an ordinary guy. I wanted you to fall in love with me, not with him."

Lois was bristling. "Let me get this straight, Clark. Are you saying that because Superman isn't a real person, I couldn't have real feelings for him?"

Clark opened his mouth and shut it again, realising that he did think something of the sort. He tried again. "Not exactly, Lois. It's just… I want you to care about who I am, not just about the amazing things I can do."

Lois's eyes flashed. "You must think I'm pretty shallow, Clark, if you think Superman's powers are all I care about."

Clark eyed her in trepidation. The conversation was rapidly getting out of his control, and everything he said seemed to be getting him deeper into trouble. This time he opted for silence.

"It's like the story of King Cophetua and the beggar maid, isn't it? Hiding your powers so that I can fall in love with the real you. In other words, you were concealing information from me in case it influenced the way I feel. That's pretty manipulative, wouldn't you say?"

Clark winced. His quiet "Yes" was lost on Lois as she got into her stride.

"You know, I always thought that poor beggar maid would have had a terrible shock when she discovered she was expected to be a queen. All that royal protocol, and having to use the right fork, and deal with the paparazzi. Because you know, Clark, you're *not* an ordinary guy. Tabloid photographers snoop around after you, and teenage girls swoon over you, and little kids play with dolls made in your image. You can't finish a conversation without having to run away and save someone. Government agents kidnap your friends and throw them out of airplanes, or try to burn your family to death. Half the criminals in Metropolis are probably plotting to get hold of some Kryptonite and kill you. You don't even know if Kryptonians are genetically compatible with humans!"

Clark had gone white. He bent and picked up his coat. "I'm sorry you feel that way. I'd better go." He turned and strode towards the door.

Lois leapt to her feet and put her fists on her hips. "Clark Jerome Kent!" she yelled. "Don't you *dare* walk out on me before I'm finished with you!"

He stopped. Lois stalked up behind him and pulled on his upper arm, forcing him to turn. He stood with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunched miserably, refusing to look at her. She studied his grim, pinched face, and her heart misgave her. She was still angry, but she hadn't intended to hurt him.

She folded her arms and glared at him pugnaciously. "Clark, have you any idea what it feels like, thinking you're in love with two men at the same time?"

She watched as his face came alive again and his shoulders straightened. It astonished her to realise just how much he cared about her. He even seemed to grow an extra inch before he collected himself and his feet settled back onto the floor. He lifted one hand as if to touch her cheek; but looking at her face, he changed his mind and fiddled nervously with his glasses instead.

"Lois, you're right, I haven't been fair to you. I'm sorry. As God is my witness, I never meant to hurt you."

Her face softened, but the hurt still showed in her eyes. "Clark, I trusted you. It's been a long time since I trusted anyone… I still trust you to protect me from Lex and the bad guys, but I need more than that. I need to be able to trust you to tell me the truth. The fact that you're bigger and stronger and faster than I am doesn't give you the right to hide things from me. Partnership — an equal partnership — is about sharing things."

He considered her words earnestly, and nodded. "I hated lying to you. It'll be a huge relief to be able to tell you the truth from now on."

"Promise?"

"You drive a hard bargain. All right, I promise… partner." He held out his hand, and Lois shook it solemnly.

"I'm glad we've got that sorted out," she said, relaxing and smiling at him.

He smiled back. "So where do we go from here?"

"Well, first of all, come and sit down again." She led the way back to the couch and sat down at one end, turning to face Clark and tucking one leg up onto the seat.

Clark picked up her coffee and made to hand it to her, then hesitated. "We seem to be doomed to let our coffee get cold," he observed. "I'll heat it up if you like… but I won't bother with the microwave this time."

He looked enquiringly at Lois, who nodded. Clark started to pull his glasses down to look over the top, then stopped. "I guess I don't need to wear these around you any more," he remarked in a wondering tone. He took them off and laid them on the table, sitting down beside Lois on the couch.

"Are they just for disguise?" Lois asked, surprised. "You wore them before Superman…"

"No, they remind me not to use my powers when there are other people around," he explained. "My parents got them for me when I started setting fires. The glass blocks most of the heat energy, in case I forget."

Lois studied his face as he focused his gaze on the coffee mug. In a few seconds the liquid was steaming, and he handed it to her and picked up his own mug. She took a long, welcome drink, thinking how the lack of glasses made him look like a blend of the two men she knew.

"You're wrong, you know," she said abruptly. "About Superman being just a disguise. I know it seems like that to you, but that's not what other people see when they look at him. His powers are awesome. If he chose, he could take over the world and turn the whole human race into his slaves, and there's very little we could do it about. Instead, he chooses to use his powers only to help people in need. He's unfailingly gentle and polite, except with crooks. He doesn't get any material reward for what he does. He even donates all the proceeds from the Superman merchandise to charity. He makes one heck of a role model."

Clark had ducked his head to avoid her gaze, but Lois could see that his ears had gone pink. "But that's what I mean, Lois," he protested feebly. "I'm not really like that. I don't need to oppress people to get along — I'm perfectly happy just being a reporter."

She shrugged. "Where else does Superman get those qualities from, Clark? Sure, you're not like that all the time. And I'm glad — who could measure up to someone that perfect? But you're not just an ordinary farmboy from Kansas, either. The real you is somewhere in between. I don't think I know the real Clark Kent… though I started getting to know him last week, when he didn't know he was supposed to be a two-dimensional cartoon character." She grinned. "He was quite a fun guy. I'm hoping to get to know him better."

He looked up at her uncertainly. The love he could see in her eyes warmed him from head to toe. Something was still puzzling him, though. "You're taking this very calmly, Lois. I expected you to be… well, livid, to be honest. I thought you'd be throwing things at me."

She blushed and looked down at her empty mug. "I *was* livid," she said guiltily. She looked up at his baffled face through her eyelashes. "I worked it out last week," she confessed. "After I left you with your parents, I came home and, well, I got to thinking. Everything just suddenly fell into place."

His eyebrows had shot up. "You knew?" he said incredulously. "And you didn't say anything? You made me go through all that…" He gestured helplessly.

"Clark, I was really hurt," she answered defensively. "I thought you didn't trust me… and I was so confused. I'd just admitted to Superman that I was attracted to Clark, and then I'd kissed Superman, and I couldn't understand how I could be in love with both of you. And then I realised you were the same person… only neither of you had ever shown any interest in me. I thought you couldn't possibly love me — and that hurt even worse than not trusting me."

Clark put up a gentle hand to caress her cheek. "I'm sorry, Lois," he said, his voice deep and sincere.

She nodded. "I needed to hear you tell me, Clark. That you're Superman… and that you love me."

He reached out a hand and removed the coffee mug from her nervous fingers, setting both mugs down out of harm's way. Then he put an arm around her shoulders, gently pulling her closer until her face was nestled against his shoulder. He stroked her hair with his free hand. "I do love you, Lois. More than I can say."

She closed her eyes, feeling the softness of his shirt beneath her cheek, listening to the comforting sound of his heartbeat. It soothed away her insecurities, but at the same time it evoked ghosts from her past.

"I love you too, Clark — but I'm scared," she blurted out. "What happens if it doesn't work out for us? What if it all ends badly, and we can't even work together?"

His hand stilled while he puzzled that one through. After a while he said thoughtfully, "I'm not planning to steal your story and dump you, Lois."

A chuckle shook her slight frame. "I suppose Superman is already Man of the Year. He doesn't need Pulitzer prizes."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. Clark Kent, the Planet's second- best investigative reporter — by the narrowest of margins — has every intention of winning a Pulitzer one day. But I'd rather win it with you than without you." His arm tightened around her. "Lois, I'm happy that you know about me, and how I feel about you. I'm not in a hurry to rush into anything. Let's just take it one step at a time."

She lifted her head to look at his face, the corners of her mouth turning up. "You mean, we should date?"

"That sounds like a good idea." His eyes danced. "Hmm, let's see… would you like to go out for dinner this weekend? If that works out okay, we could try something more adventurous, like a movie. And maybe after the third date or so, I could take you home to meet my parents."

She laughed. "I'd like that. I need to thank your mother for something she said last week."

He quirked an eyebrow at that, but decided that it was probably best not to know. He grinned at her. "So, now that the Planet's best investigative reporter has landed the unique, one-on-one, no-holds-barred interview with Superman — what questions have you got for him?"

She looked up at him speculatively. "Oh, I'm not in a very hard-nosed mood just at the moment. There's only one thing I really want to know."

"And that would be?"

Her gaze drifted down to his mouth. "When did you last shave?"

His eyebrows snapped together, and she was delighted to see him look totally disconcerted for a second. "Just before I came here," he admitted, with a trace of embarrassment. Then the import of the question sank in, and a twinkle stole into his eyes. "Why, Ms. Lane," he said solemnly. "What are you suggesting? My mother told me never to kiss before the first date."

"Welcome to the big city, farmboy," she retorted, giving him a sultry look. "You'll find a lot of things are a bit different here." She placed her hands flat against his chest. "Anyway, I don't recall you letting that consideration stop you last week…"

He grinned, and then his face grew intent. As he bent his head, Lois had the dizzying sense that she was the complete focus of his attention; that in all the world, nothing else mattered to him at this moment. She stroked her hands across his chest, up to his shoulders, and turned her face up to his.

Their last kiss had taken her by surprise, and they had both been swept away by passion. This time the fires of passion were banked. The kiss was gentle and sweet. It spoke of comfort given and received, of mutual homecoming, and of commitment to a new beginning together.

* fade to black *

THE END