Faux Pas

By Wendy Richards <wendy@kingsmeadowcr.freeserve.co.uk>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: January 2001

Summary: Clark offers his new colleague Lois Lane a bed for the night after she's mugged. It was supposed to be all above board, but one thing leads to another… What *will* she think of him in the morning?


This story is set directly after 'Neverending Battle,' and in some respects is an early Season 1 rewrite; the A-plots of several episodes form the background for some of the story. There are, however, numerous differences in what I'm using here, some subtle and some more noticeable — that's partly for convenience and also partly because I don't want to write a straight reprise of S1 with only one major difference. However, the episode plots are there in sequence, with the exception of GGGOH, which — in this universe — didn't happen. That's not because I dislike GGGOH (quite the opposite!); it simply didn't fit into the plot of this story. Jason Trask, however, does appear a couple of times.

While I don't wish to give spoilers, I would caution that it is quite possible that readers may find themselves disliking one character considerably early in the story. I'd just like to suggest that you carry on reading; major themes of this story are self-discovery and redemption. And it was a challenge to myself to see whether I could manage what I'd set out to achieve in that respect.

Several thanks are in order. To everyone who commented on this story on Zoom's message boards, PG and nfic, your thoughts and suggestions were very much appreciated, whether I agreed with them or not. <g> In particular, to people whose ideas I used in the story, I'm very grateful: Elisabeth, Sherry and Sheila, to name a few. Most of all, though, thanks to my beta-readers. Sheila and Pam, who came in late, and Irene, who read early sections of the story until RL got in the way: your time and very helpful comments are very much appreciated. Yvonne and Helene, you two are the best beta-readers I could ever dream of having. You suffered through every sentence of this story — sometimes more than once — and always, cheerfully, sent helpful comments, criticism and praise. *And* laughed at my weak jokes, which is always a bonus. Thank you both very much. This story could not have been finished without you.

This is a PG-13 version of the original nfic story. The nfic version, for anyone over eighteen who may like to read it, may be found at Annesplace (www.annesplace.net).

Wendy Richards


"Hey! It's not as if I *asked* to be mugged! What do you think — that I go around with a sign on my back saying 'attack me'? Huh?"

Clark retreated further into the background as Lois took out her frustration on the duty officer. He would have liked to stand beside her, offering her comfort and support, but he really didn't feel that he knew her well enough to presume. And, in any case, he was well aware that his reluctant partner didn't particularly like him. No, his support would be even less welcome than the police officer's questions to which Lois was objecting.

"Well, make sure you do more than just put this on file!" she retorted to something the officer said to her. "There are things in that purse I want back, and I'm not prepared just to shrug and accept they're gone for good, you hear? After all, what do we pay taxes for? You know, I've a good mind to write an article about this for the Daily Planet — yeah, I'm a reporter at the Planet, did I tell you? Yeah, about police inefficiency…"

Lois trailed off as the officer turned his attention to someone else, and Clark saw her grimace in disgust, then turn away. "Let's go," she said abruptly; he assumed that she was referring to him, although she didn't look in his direction.

They exited the police station together; Clark noticed that Lois's angry defiance had now altered to bleak resignation. Daring to invade her privacy, something he wouldn't even have considered with this prickly woman he worked with under normal circumstances, he touched her arm lightly. "Hey! It's not so bad. You've already cancelled your credit cards, and tomorrow, once the bank's open, you can get a new cheque-book and withdraw some cash. And we can get a locksmith to change the lock on your apartment, and the Jeep too if necessary. And the police said they'd keep an eye on your apartment. It'll be fine." His tone was deliberately upbeat; there was just something about Lois which made him hate to see her in this state.

"I *know* all that, Clark!" she retorted. "And it's going to be a real pain in the butt, too. I can cope with all that, though," she added, more quietly.

"So what's really bothering you?" he ventured, now concerned for her.

She rolled her eyes, as if the answer should have been obvious to him. "Clark, I can't get into my apartment, and I've got no money apart from — " she dug her hands deep into the pockets of the smart trousers she was wearing, and came up with a rolled bill in one hand. "Apart from five bucks, apparently."

Wanting to kick himself for his thoughtlessness and insensitivity, he shook his head. "Lois, that's not a problem. You know I'll lend you as much as you need!" He gestured further down the road. "There's a cash machine over there I can use. Come on."

But she hung back, her expression now awkward. "That's… kind of you, Clark," she began, and he realised — apart from finding it a novel experience for her to say anything of the kind to him — that she was no doubt reluctant to accept such a loan from him. After all, she barely knew him. She'd worked with him for less than two weeks, after all, and their relationship was cool, at best. She didn't like him; of course she wouldn't want to accept his money!

"Look, I really don't mind, but if you'd prefer to ask Perry, that's okay too," he assured her. "We can catch a cab back to the Planet — I bet he'll still be there."

She seemed to be working something out in her mind, and he waited patiently; she was no doubt finding this very embarrassing. After the initial shock of being mugged, and her anger and frustration that the mugger had managed to make his escape with her handbag — containing so many necessary and indispensable items — had worn off, she was left with the very real problem of not being able to get home, get access to money, even get into her apartment.

That final thought made him pause. Yes, she had said that she couldn't get into her apartment. "There isn't anyone who has a spare key to your place, then?"

She shook her head. "Lucy — my sister — moved out last week and she's in California now. My landlord had a key so that he could do any repairs if necessary, but it got broken the last time he used it and I said I'd get another one cut. I never got around to it." Sighing, she added, "So if I borrow some cash from Perry, I need enough to get a hotel-room."

And reporters weren't paid so much that spending a night in a Metropolis hotel was no big deal — unless Lois earned a lot more than he did, Clark mused. And there was no way that Lois should even contemplate staying somewhere like the Apollo, where he'd stayed for his first few days in town, before he'd found his apartment.

For some reason she didn't seem over-keen to rush off and ask Perry for help, which suggested that she didn't feel too comfortable with borrowing money from their boss either. There was another solution, if she'd be willing to contemplate it. He buried his hands deep in his pockets and gave her a straight look. "You can always stay at my place tonight."

That seemed to take her even more by surprise than his offer of a loan had. "Clark… but you hardly know me!"

"True, but I hardly think you're going to murder me in the night and make off with my possessions," he answered dryly. "Anyway, I don't have anything worth stealing. I just moved in, remember?"

She gave him a suspicious look. "I remember when you were looking around that place — "

He interrupted quickly, thinking he knew what she was going to say. "Yeah. I know. It was a dump. I've cleaned it up, and painted, and it looks a lot better now."

But she shook her head. "How many bedrooms?" Her tone was cynical, and he couldn't help feeling a stab of bitterness at this response. When had he ever given her any reason to suspect his motives in that direction? He'd always behaved himself perfectly well around her — okay, she *had* caught him staring at her, that night he'd brought the Chinese takeout from Beijing, but as soon as she'd warned him off he'd reverted to being completely businesslike.

He took a step backwards, away from her. "Lois, I don't know what sort of man you're used to working with, but this is me. I'm not like that. I offered you a bed for the night, and that's all you'll get. No unwanted company. *If* I feel so inclined, you might also get a home-cooked meal, but whether or not you even get my company while you eat it is up to you." His tone was harsh, and he knew he sounded offended. So what? She deserved to know that her implied accusation was unfounded.

She looked away, clenching and unclenching her fists, then spoke awkwardly. "I'm sorry if I offended you. I… guess… well, you're from Kansas, maybe you don't know what it's like in the city. Here, everyone has an angle. No-one's as… as straight-up or genuine as they appear to be… as *you* appear to be. Can you blame me for suspecting your motives?"

He grimaced, hearing the bitterness and submerged pain in her voice which she hadn't allowed herself to express. His opinion of Lois Lane was changing by the day, ever since he'd met her. At first, he'd thought she seemed supremely self-assured, confident in her own abilities and personality; harsh, abrasive and intolerant of those who didn't match up to her. That had been disappointing, given the way he'd fallen head over heels for her the moment he'd seen her; though he'd quickly decided not to let her intimidate him, to give as good as he got. Then, a couple of days later, he'd seen a very different side to Lois: when they'd been chained together, waiting to find out what Antoinette Baines intended to do with them, she'd revealed a side of her which was riddled with insecurities and longing. He'd been intending to use his powers to get them out of there immediately , regardless of the consequences of her knowing, but her bleak words had delayed him. Even though he'd known that it was more than likely Baines intended to kill them (not that he could have been killed in any case, but he'd had no intention of allowing it to happen to his companions), it had been essential that he heard what she was saying.

Then, the following day, just as he was assuming that a new bond had been formed between them, she had made it clear that she didn't trust him one inch.

And later, of course, once he'd created his alter ego and Lois had fallen like a ten-ton truck for Superman, she'd made it even clearer where Clark Kent rested on the scale of human evolution. Completely beneath her notice; barely worthy of existence at all. That had made him see her in yet another new light. Was she really as shallow as her fawning over Superman made her appear? Probably. Definitely, if a bright suit and some flashy Super-powers blinded her to any reality — made her ignore completely the resemblance between her new partner and the man in blue and red Spandex. Shallow, arrogant and rude. Not someone he really should waste any of his time or emotions over.

And then she'd surprised him once again, a couple of days later, when she'd first shown concern for him — the partner she didn't want — and had then proceeded to give a really thoughtful insight into why Superman was so important to the people of Metropolis. Not why he was necessary to *her,* Lois Lane, who'd been one of the most tenacious in her attempts to hunt down his alter ego; but why the idea that there was someone out there to give people hope was so important. That she could be so insightful, and so caring, had touched him deeply, almost to the point of making him forget completely her selfish actions in stealing his story.

She was such a complex character; a complete mass of contradictions. She *was* selfish; yet at the same time she was loyal. She was rude, arrogant and could be obnoxious; and yet he'd seen her go out of her way to defend someone she thought was getting a rough deal. She had 'No Trespassing' signs all over her; yet she could open up with childlike honesty at the most unexpected time.

So it wasn't surprising that he couldn't stop himself thinking that there was so much more to Lois Lane than she wanted people to see; that she wasn't really as brash and forceful as she seemed. He *knew* she was insecure underneath, and he knew that she'd have to be desperate before she let anyone see it — before she let him see it ever again. And now, stranded without her purse or her keys and realising that she had nowhere to go — didn't she have any friends? he suddenly thought, as the realisation dawned that for most people that would have been the first solution in these circumstances — now, her vulnerability was showing again.

It occurred to him then that Superman could probably find a way of getting into her apartment without damaging the locks. He could certainly fly her through a window, and he could repair it afterwards — as Clark — without too much difficulty. But, unfair to Lois though it might be, he didn't want to bring Superman into this situation. He didn't think he could bear to see her fawn over him when in that outfit, only to have her ignore him again minutes later. Selfish, he knew, but…

He realised that Lois was watching him, still waiting for a response to her apology. "Yeah, okay, I guess you're right," he acknowledged stiffly. "But *I'm* not like that. And, to answer your question, I have one bedroom, with one bed. The bed's yours, and I'll sleep on the couch in the other room. That satisfy you?"

"You don't have to give up your bed," she insisted, now sounding guilty. "I can take the couch."

Was she actually accepting? He hadn't expected her to, much as he'd made the offer in all sincerity. Suddenly he noticed the weariness in her expression, the dullness in her eyes which made him realise that it had been a *long* day, and that less than an hour ago she'd been sent flying to the pavement by some *lowlife* who didn't give a damn. Once again, his fists clenched; if only he hadn't chosen just that minute to go back into the building so he could take a peek at the visitors' register with his Super-vision! It wasn't as if he'd even learned anything useful; and by the time he'd heard Lois scream the mugger was already making off with her bag. He'd considered making pursuit, but the sight of his partner sprawled on the ground had tugged at his caring instincts.

She was probably in pain now, no doubt carrying several bruises, and desperately wanting just to go home. His conscience pricked him yet again, reminding him of the Superman option; but then he told himself that the mugger had her apartment keys, and even if the police and her landlord were keeping a watch on the place, she could be in danger.

He reached to take her arm, the gesture this time seeming more natural. "Come on, Lois. My place is this way."

She nodded, falling into step beside him.


What was she doing, going home with this guy she barely knew? Lois could hardly believe she'd agreed to his suggestion. In fact, she hadn't really; he'd taken her acceptance for granted once they'd got past her assumption that he had something less innocent in mind. Yet, for some reason, she thought she could trust Clark Kent; that when he assured her that all he was offering was a bed for the night, he meant it. He wouldn't try to force anything else on her.

This man — this Kansas farmboy she'd had foisted on her — was indeed a 'strange one,' as she'd commented very early in their acquaintance. His country naivete was very, very obvious at times; and yet there were other times when he revealed a cool intelligence born of some worldly experience which left her feeling that she lacked something of his sophistication. Once or twice, she'd wondered just how he viewed her, and had come to the conclusion, based on his attitude, that he'd probably weighed her up and found her wanting. He certainly didn't approve of her.

And yet he'd been very kind after the mugging. Okay, if he hadn't left his pen inside the Freeman building and had to go back for it, she probably wouldn't have been mugged in the first place, but she couldn't really blame him for that. He'd helped her to her feet after initially seeming to be torn between chasing after the guy who'd grabbed her bag and seeing whether she was okay — though what made him think he could catch someone who was now two blocks away, she had no idea. Then he'd offered her his arm to lean on, saying that she probably felt a bit shaken up; she'd declined his offer, but it had been nice of him to make it.

Nice? she asked herself then, wondering whether she was turning soft. It hadn't been 'nice'; he'd just been flaunting his macho credentials. Big strong man offers help to little feeble woman.

Nevertheless, he'd escorted her to the nearest police precinct and had stayed with her while she'd filled out seemingly endless forms, and then waited while she made some phone calls to cancel her credit cards and sort out a few other things. He hadn't needed to do that; for one thing, it was well after six pm. He'd have been perfectly entitled to go on home; work was finished for the day.

She'd expected him to leave her to it once they'd left the police station, but again he was sticking around. Not that she'd given him too much choice after she'd let her guard down and reminded him of the practicalities of the situation; but even then, he could have just put her in a cab and sent her off back to the Planet. Money wasn't a problem — they both knew the fare could be put on the Planet's account, since they had been out in pursuit of a story.

Yet she hadn't wanted to go to Perry, even though she was well aware that he'd come through for her — he'd certainly lend her as much money as she needed, and he'd probably insist that she come home and stay with him and Alice. Yet… somehow, she didn't want her boss and father-figure to know that she'd been so stupid as to get herself mugged. He'd fuss too much, and… she just didn't want to ask him for help.

Clark's offer of a loan, and then later the offer of a bed for the night, really had taken her by surprise. He barely knew her, so why should he even care? And yet, just now when he'd taken her acceptance for granted, he'd really looked as if he cared about her. That was ridiculous, of course, but it was still good of him to offer.

Her hip was really aching now; she'd fallen heavily on the concrete when the mugger had shoved her down. Clark had wanted her to go to the hospital to get checked out, but she'd refused, insisting she was okay. Well, she *was* okay; it was just a few bruises. But they hurt…

Suddenly Clark halted, and she realised that he was flagging down a taxi. She gave him a puzzled glance; if she remembered correctly, they were only a little over half a mile from his apartment. His answering glance gave her no clues, but she guessed then that he'd somehow realised, or worked out, that she was in some pain and was being thoughtful. She was going to protest that she didn't need it, but another throb from her hip made the decision for her. She climbed into the cab.

After a few minutes, though, Clark asked the driver to stop; pushing a few bills into Lois's hand, he waved in the general direction of the kerb. "There's a pharmacy and convenience store over there. You're going to need a toothbrush and stuff like that. I'll wait here."

Even more considerate of him, she mused as she scrambled, not without some difficulty, out of the back seat. She needed more than a toothbrush if she was going to make an unscheduled overnight stay somewhere, and he was giving her the privacy to get what she needed. A quick check of the paper money he'd given her revealed a total of thirty dollars — "expensive toothbrush!" she muttered to herself, but his thoughtfulness was certainly appreciated.

Arriving at Clark's apartment a few minutes later, she waited while he paid off the cab, and then instantly his hand was at her elbow. Before she could protest or ask what he was doing, he was explaining. "You looked like you were starting to limp, before. And there's quite a few steps here."

There were; and by the time she got to the top she was grateful for the support of his arm. He opened the door, and for a moment she just stood and stared. The last time she'd seen this apartment it had been a mess. Dirty, dark, with peeling paint and grease and filth everywhere, she wouldn't have touched it in a million years. And yet now it was bright, airy, with light streaming in from the kitchen and the main door; comfortable and welcoming furniture making it clear that this was a home where someone relaxed and unwound at the end of a day, rather than a showpiece which was little used.

But he was urging her forward. "This way," he said, guiding her through into the kitchen, and then under an archway. "That's the bedroom," he added with a wave of his hand; it was an unnecessary explanation, since she could see the large bed with a brightly-coloured spread thrown over it. "And the bathroom's through there." This time, he indicated another door. "I think you might find some herbal bubble-bath in there — my mom left it behind when they visited at the weekend."

She frowned at him, and he gave a light shrug. "I just thought you might want to take a bath — it might help with some of those bruises I imagine you've got."

Good idea, she realised. "If you're sure that's okay…?"

"Course it is. Look, unless you need me to show you where anything is, I'll go and let you get on with it," he added, beginning to move away from her. "I need to get started with dinner anyway — pasta okay for you? Do you prefer a cream and wine sauce, or a tomato one?"

He was actually going to *cook*? She stared at him disbelievingly for a moment, then realised that he probably meant that he'd open a jar of sauce, or perhaps that he had frozen pasta dinners ready to be microwaved. "Umm… well, tomato is healthier, I guess…"

"But you prefer the cream and white wine, yeah?" he prompted, merriment in his brown eyes.

How did he know that…? "Yeah, I guess," she confirmed.

"Well, I think after being mugged you deserve a little treat, so forget the tomato sauce," he said, a teasing note in his voice. He took a couple of paces back towards the arch, then stopped. "Forgot — you'll need something to change into. I guess you probably won't want to wear that for the rest of the evening?" He gestured vaguely in the direction of her trouser-suit.

No, she didn't, but thirty dollars — thirty-five counting her five — had only been enough to get her the toothbrush and some clean underwear, pantyhose and a camisole top to go under the suit for tomorrow. Not that she was accusing Clark of being stingy, or anything like it; he hadn't needed to do anything for her, and he'd probably given her all the cash he had on him.

He was rummaging in a drawer, and a moment later he turned to her and handed her a pile of clothing. "T-shirt, sweat-pants and a sweat-shirt. They'll be way too big for you, of course, but you can wear the pants with the legs rolled up or something."

The thought occurred to her then that he obviously lived alone and probably didn't have a regular girlfriend at the moment, if he only had clothes of his own from which to choose. It hadn't so far occurred to her to wonder about his personal life — what was Clark Kent to her? — but for some unknown reason the absence of any evidence that there was a woman in his life made her feel oddly pleased.

He strolled off then, leaving her to investigate the bathroom.


Lois Lane was in his apartment. What was more, Lois Lane was going to be spending the night in his apartment.

As he chopped an onion, mushrooms and broccoli for the pasta sauce, Clark couldn't help musing on that thought and thinking that he could barely believe it. Despite his completely mixed feelings about Lois, he was well aware that she aroused sensations in him he'd just never experienced about anyone before. He wanted her, badly, though he wasn't foolish enough to imagine that that was ever going to happen. But even that — sex — wasn't on his mind now. As the knife in his hand moved with lightning speed over the chopping board, what he was focusing on was spending the evening with Lois. Talking. Getting to know her. Maybe, even, convincing her that he wasn't the naive, clumsy, idiotic country hick she seemed to think he was.

If she actually took the trouble to look about her while she was in his apartment, things like his collection of books and artefacts would tell their own story. He was an eclectic reader, and his bookshelves were filled with fiction of all kinds, plus biographies, history books, books on geography, travel and science, and journalism-related texts. He had artefacts and souvenirs from around the world, plus his cherished college football, given to him as the highest scorer in the winning game of the league.

Not that he thought Lois was especially interested in sports, but it would show her that he was a pretty all-round guy. Except that he didn't want her to know quite *how* all-round he was; she wouldn't find anything which would give her any clue as to his Super secret identity. The Suits were carefully hidden in his secret compartment, where he'd returned them when he'd unpacked the suitcase after his crazy decision to stop being the Super-hero. And there was no chance she'd find the compartment; he'd hidden it too cleverly for that.

His Super-hearing heard the splash of bath-water; so she was taking his advice. He hoped it helped, as he was very sure by now that she was in quite a bit of pain. He'd laughed at his Mom's purchase of a first-aid box for the apartment, knowing that he wouldn't need it, but it would certainly come in handy now. He was pretty sure that it contained some embrocation for bruises, as well as some painkillers; leaving the vegetables for a moment, he went to get the tube of embrocation and took it into the bedroom, leaving it on the bed beside the clothes he'd given Lois.


Kent was even more thoughtful than she'd given him credit for, Lois admitted when she found the tube of cream. Of course, the worst of her bruises *would* happen to be in the most inaccessible place on her body — not that she would dream of asking for help.

Some delicious smells were floating in from the kitchen, so once she was dressed in the very loose clothing Clark had given her — she'd had to fold the waistband of the sweatpants over on itself a couple of times as well as rolling up the hems — she walked a little awkwardly out of the bedroom. Clark stood in front of the cooker, stirring the contents of two saucepans. Clearly he *had* meant that he was going to cook, she realised, noting also that there was a chopping board by the sink which showed signs of recent use.

Her preconceptions about Clark Kent — admittedly, based on nothing except prejudice — were tumbling by the minute.

He turned as she approached, giving her a quick smile. "Feeling any better?"

She pulled a face. "A little. You're right about the bruises — thanks for the ointment, by the way."

A shrug. "No problem. I just remembered I had some." He turned back to stir the contents of one of the pans, then added, "Sorry I haven't anything which would fit you better."

"I think I can survive for one evening," she assured him dryly. "What're you cooking?"

"Told you — pasta. Tagliatelle, fresh vegetables, and a white wine sauce." He did something with the cooker controls. "Okay — the sauce is ready to be added to the vegetables, and I just need to boil the water for the pasta."

She noticed an open bottle of white wine on the worktop; it seemed he'd made his own sauce too! "You enjoy cooking?" she asked idly.

He smiled, giving her a flash of white teeth; she was forced to acknowledge, silently, that Kent had a beautiful smile. "Yeah, though I don't get a chance to do it as often as I'd like. I don't mind cooking for one, but with our job I'm just not here a lot of the time."

Yeah, they'd had a couple of late nights when they'd shared takeout of one kind or another, and Lois was aware that Clark had worked late on a couple of evenings when she'd had other plans. One thing he couldn't be accused of being was a shirker, even if he did have his mysterious disappearances.

"I don't cook," she informed him abruptly.

"Don't or can't?" he enquired, simultaneously taste-testing the sauce.

She shrugged. "Either. I'm not very good at it, but I don't see the point when there's so many takeout places able to deliver."

"True," he drawled, "but then, how many takeout restaurants will make a meal just how *you* like it, instead of how *they* like it? Okay, order a pizza and you can tell them to hold the anchovies and give you extra mushrooms instead, but it's not always so easy. Besides," he added as he reached into the fridge for a packet of pasta — *fresh* pasta, Lois noticed in amused surprise — "don't you miss the sense of achievement you get from having cooked something you enjoy?"

"I get that from writing front-page articles for the Planet," she told him, a little sardonically. "If I wanted to fulfil myself in domestication, I'd become someone's stay-at-home wife, or work in a restaurant. Neither appeals to me." And that should let him know that Lois Lane is just not interested in being someone's appendage, as well, in case the thought had crossed his mind, she mused.

"My mom loves cooking for her family, but she would never call herself a stay-at-home wife," Clark observed. "But then, the house and the farm are hers as much as Dad's, and it's important to her to make sure everything is as good as it can be."

"Oh, a *farm,*" Lois scoffed. "Definitely not my idea of the perfect lifestyle."

Clark looked her up and down, and Lois had the distinct suspicion that he was somehow judging her and finding her wanting again. "I don't really think you'd be suited to that environment, no," he told her, a faint smile playing about his lips as he returned his attention to the meal simmering on the hob.

His apparent condemnation of her as useless stung. "So, anything I can do to help?" she offered belligerently.

This time, his smile was more friendly. "No, everything's under control here. And you don't know where anything is, so you might as well leave me to it. Feel free to go and sit down, if you want — oh, and help yourself to some wine," he added, gesturing at the open bottle. "Glasses are on the table."

So they were; he'd already set the small table in his kitchen for dinner, she realised. Cutlery and napkins lay in appropriate place settings, each with a wine glass and another straight glass — for water, it seemed, since a jug of iced water was also on the table.

Typical bachelor male trying to impress the female he's invited for dinner, Lois thought cynically, but then another thought occurred to her. If he was really out to impress with a view to seduction, surely he'd have candles on the table? No; this seemed to be just the way he ate normally.

Taking him at his word, she walked awkwardly through to the living area. It was, as she'd noticed earlier, much more informal than her own apartment; she would never give that sofa house-room, much less the throw and the cushions on top of it, for example. And he had a very strange collection of ornaments… Her attention was drawn to a photograph, which depicted a slightly younger Clark Kent with a much older couple. Must be his parents, she decided; the farmers. His father was tall and broad, with a high forehead and a dependable face; his mother was quite a surprise, however. Soft blonde hair, slim, and with an impish expression, Mrs Kent did not look like Lois's image of a farmer's wife. And the way her gaze rested on her son made Lois experience a stab of envy; if only either of her parents had ever looked at her like that! And judging by the way Clark smiled back at his mother, the deep love between them was mutual.

Mommy's boy, she scorned silently as she moved away from the photograph, refusing to admit how much it had affected her. No wonder he can cook, she added to herself; he was probably tied to his mother's apron-strings before coming to Metropolis. He probably still called home every night.

He called to her then to say that dinner was ready, so she had to leave her examination of his possessions until later. When she returned to the kitchen, she noticed immediately that he'd changed his clothes and was now wearing a soft blue cotton shirt teamed with faded jeans. She frowned briefly — how had he had time to change while preparing the food? — but shrugged. Obviously he was quick.

Unsurprisingly, the meal was excellent; delicately seasoned with herbs and wine, the sauce was light and very tasty. And the pasta was perfectly cooked. The wine he'd chosen was also excellent — a Sancerre, with a label in French, she noticed in surprise. He shrugged when she questioned it, though, saying that he had a friend who'd recently returned from France and who'd given him a couple of bottles.

Conversation over dinner was a little awkward, though Lois had to give her host some credit for doing his best to keep it going. He asked the usual polite questions which tend to be asked of near-strangers: where she had gone to school, what she'd studied at university (journalism, as if he couldn't have guessed, she thought scornfully), how long she'd been at the Planet, what she'd won her Kerths for.

It was when they somehow got onto the subject of journalistic ethics that she had to revise her opinion of Kent once again. He wasn't merely a hack; he had a brain, and he liked to use it. He also had a very strong sense of morals, and even if she didn't share all of his convictions, she had sympathy with many of them. She was less inclined than he was to believe that most invasions of privacy were wrong; as she argued vigorously, many people deliberately put themselves in the public domain, for whatever reason, and therefore they lay themselves open to having their lives investigated.

Clark, however, argued just as passionately — but without losing his cool or his articulate manner — that for the most part, the private life of someone such as a politician should be no-one else's business. "So what if the President had affairs?" he observed with a shrug. "As a voter, I don't think it has anything to do with his political skills or his ability to run the country. I don't think it's any of my business."

"It shows that he's capable of deceit," Lois countered.

"Maybe, but whose business is that?" Clark challenged. "Personally, I think that the only person who deserves to feel hurt or betrayed here is his wife. She can call him a cheat, a liar, an adulterer or whatever, and she's entitled to. But no-one else has the right to even know about it, I think. I'd rather judge my politicians on their performance in their day jobs. Wouldn't you rather have Johnson, for all his alleged affairs, given that he seems to be doing a good job with the economy and foreign affairs, than Rooney — faithful husband, but barely lifted his finger off the nuke-button the whole time he was in power?"

Lois had heard that general argument articulated before, many times, including in the Planet conference room. But Clark presented his case clearly and in a good-humoured manner, his arguments sounding more plausible as a result. And, in fact, she agreed with him in relation to the two politicians in question. She'd voted for Johnson for a second term, affairs or not, so she couldn't deny the validity of his final argument.

To her surprise, she admitted that she enjoyed sparring with him, and when they were in too much danger of agreeing on that subject, she quickly introduced another one. "So, what's your view on elected as opposed to appointed public officials — judges, DAs and so on?" she challenged him.

He stood and removed their plates. "Interesting question." Indicating her empty glass, he enquired, "More wine?"

She nodded, and he emptied the bottle into her glass. "Don't avoid the question, Kent."

"I'm not. I was just going to suggest that we continue the discussion in the other room — it's a bit more comfortable. I'll get another bottle, unless you'd prefer coffee?"

Lois wondered briefly whether she'd had enough wine — they'd managed to drain an entire bottle between them — but then she decided that after being muggedshe probably deserved to over-indulge a little. And if he was offering more of that delicious Sancerre, she wasn't going to object.

"Wine. And yes, let's move. Unless…" She hesitated, feeling that she should make some gesture to thank him for his hospitality. "Unless you'd like me to wash the dishes?"

But he shook his head. "The pans are already done, so there's only the plates — they'll only take a minute." Scrubbing and then rinsing them as he spoke, he left them to drain. "I forgot completely — would you like some dessert? I think I have some ice-cream…"

Lois rolled her eyes; did everyone talk about her at work? "I suppose Ralph or someone told you about my craze for chocolate," she said snappily.

But he frowned. "It's pecan flavour. You like chocolate?"

"Oh, never mind," she muttered, taking the wine-glasses and wandering into the other room. He joined her, sitting on the armchair rather than beside her on the sofa, another point which made her question her perception of his character. That was soon forgotten as, within minutes, they were deep into a lively disagreement about the relative merits of election versus appointment, with Clark arguing that election surely made judges more prone to decide and sentence according to popular opinion, while Lois made a vigorous case for accountability.

Some time later, she noticed that it was almost nine o'clock. "Mind if we watch the news?" she asked him.

"No problem." He reached for the remote control and the television flickered into life. There were no major stories this evening, however — major as judged by Lois, that was, in terms of whether she should be following them up for the Planet. There was news of a bridge collapse in New Hampshire, which for some reason made Clark appear to tense momentarily. But when she glanced at him again, as the newsreader was saying that no-one had been killed or seriously injured, he was sitting apparently relaxed, so she decided she must have imagined it.

The final item on the news was a silly story about a survey of kissing preferences which showed a stark gender divide: apparently the researchers had found that women disliked French kissing, while men loved it.

"That's ridiculous!" Lois exclaimed as Clark reached for the remote control again, preparing to switch the TV off.

"What is? That women don't like it?" He glanced in her direction, raising one eyebrow.

"Absolutely! Whoever did that research asked completely the wrong questions!"

"Oh?" Now he was smiling in amusement. "So what questions should they have been asking?"

"Whether the men they've met have known how to do it properly," Lois insisted. "Tongue action can be really good, but too many men just want to shove their tongues in and go for it like a battering ram."

Clark's expression was comical; a mixture of apparent revulsion and innocent enquiry. "So what's the right way to do it?" he asked her, clearly struggling to maintain a serious note to his voice.

How did she get onto this subject anyway? Lois wondered incredulously. Of all the things she could be doing on a Thursday evening, sitting in her (unwanted) partner's apartment discussing kissing technique was not one she could ever imagine.

Clark leaned across and poured some more wine into her glass. "Come on — do a guy a favour and tell me what women really like in a kiss."

She pulled a face at him. "I'm not sure I should. If you know what we really want, it could give you an unfair advantage."

He held his hands out in front of him in a gesture of surrender. "Hey, I promise not to misuse the information! And anyway, I'm just a country boy from Kansas. Hardly a heartless seducer or anyone's pin-up guy!"

She had to acknowledge that was true, although… sitting across from Clark, she was aware, in an objective sort of way, that he was far more attractive than she'd realised. In those ill-fitting suits and jacket-trouser combinations he wore to work, he looked almost like a schoolboy dressed up in his father's clothes, sometimes. Now, though, the tight jeans clung to his hips and thighs like a second skin, revealing powerful muscles and not an ounce of spare flesh. The pale blue shirt wasn't quite so clingy, but when he'd leaned forward a couple of minutes ago, the fabric had stretched tight across his back and shoulders, revealing muscular biceps and upper body. That, together with his strong jaw and the way he looked when he smiled…

But that was all academic, she reminded herself. *She* wasn't interested in Kent. Hardly! Now, if it was Superman she was talking about…

"So? Come on, Lois, you can't say something like that and refuse to substantiate it!" he challenged her.

She supposed not… but how on earth did one describe kissing technique? After trying a couple of explanations in her head, she conceded defeat. It simply was not going to be possible to sit opposite Clark Kent and discuss licking as opposed to sucking, delicate stroking as opposed to slurping, and light touching of one's partner's tongue, as opposed to vigorous tangling.

It would be much easier to… No. She stopped her thoughts in their tracks. No. No way. She was *not* going to do that. No matter how much Kent challenged her, no matter how smug his expression once he realised she wasn't able to answer him. She was *not* going to do that! She had *no* desire *whatsoever* to kiss Clark Farmboy Kent. Even if he did, in casual clothes and in the soft lighting of his living-room, look sort of attractive in a clean-cut, boy-next-door kind of way. That made no difference; he was still the highly annoying smart-ass rookie she was having to work with against her will — *and* who had sent her crawling through the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility!

No demonstrations. She could do this; she was a professional journalist, after all. Words were her professional tools. Okay… how to explain it…

"You do *know* how to French-kiss?" he enquired then, in a deceptively idle tone; Lois wasn't fooled, however. She could see the mischief in his expression.

"Well, naturally!" she retorted. "Better than some of the guys I did it with, too!"

"So, come on then — tell me what it is we do so wrong!" He challenged her yet again.

She seized her wine-glass and took a sip as a delaying tactic. "Okay then… well, it's all to do with being subtle and erotic as opposed to just going straight for the target. Kind of like good foreplay, I guess."

He surveyed her from over the rim of his own glass, his eyes dancing. "But I thought women claim men aren't that good at foreplay either?"

"So I believe," Lois answered, her tone — she hoped — discouraging further questions in that regard. She had no intention of giving Kent any clues whatsoever as to her own experience on the subject.

"Well, how on earth are we going to learn if women don't show us?" Clark demanded.

He had a point, she supposed. Maybe… all in the interest of furthering understanding…

No! She was *not* going to kiss Kent! She had no idea what even led her to contemplate such a thing… no, that wasn't right, she corrected herself. The wine. It had to be the wine — only under the influence of alcohol would the thought even cross her mind.

Clark laughed suddenly, in what Lois interpreted as a rather superior fashion. "Okay, Lois. I was prepared to believe you, you know, but since you can't even give me any examples to substantiate your argument I think you're just going to have to admit that you lost your nerve and concede defeat."

Concede? Lois stared at the hick from Smallville in disbelief. Didn't he *know* that Lois Lane never lost an argument? She was *right,* dammit, and she was going to prove it, too. And how dare he imply that she was a coward? No-one called her a coward and got away with it.

"No chance, Kent," she drawled, deliberately raising one eyebrow. "If you insist, I'll prove it. You can show me how you'd French-kiss someone, and if you mess up you'll have to admit that I'm right."

Her challenge did appear to surprise him; he froze and gave her that deer-in-the-headlights look she'd seen a few times now. She felt a sense of triumph. She'd dared him and he'd chickened out! Hah!

But then, the nervous look vanished and he frowned slightly. "But I'll only have your word for it that I mess up, if that's what your verdict is."

He *was* going to do it… well, okay, she could cope with that, and she'd take great pleasure in informing him how bad he was at it. "But that's the whole point," Lois insisted. "Men don't know what women want, and aren't interested in finding out."

"And… if I am interested in finding out?" he enquired. "Will you teach me?"

"Don't push your luck!" she retorted.

He held his hands up again in a gesture of 'pax'. "Just tell me what I do wrong, okay?"

That seemed reasonable, Lois thought, wondering idly why her brain seemed a little cloudier than usual. After all, if someone didn't know the right way to do something, how were they to learn without proper instruction? That wasn't logical, was it?

Shrugging, she answered, "Might as well. No reason another woman should suffer, after all, is there?" She hesitated, then added, "I'll probably have to show you, I guess."

In a sudden movement, he shifted from the armchair to sit beside her. She lifted her face so that he could show her just how inept he was at this kissing thing… and was surprised when he paused, a concerned expression on his face.

"Lois… are you sure you're okay with this?" he asked her quietly.

"Yes, of course!" she insisted impatiently. "You have a point to make, so make it!"


Clark didn't quite know how the conversation had taken the path it had, or what had got into him to make him turn the discussion of kissing technique personal as opposed to generalised. He'd expected Lois to change the subject pretty quickly, and he'd been prepared to make some light-hearted quip about her not having the courage of her convictions but then let it drop.

But she hadn't done as he'd expected, and instead *she'd* called *his* bluff. She'd expected him to back down… and he'd known, in that moment, that if he had, she wouldn't have let him forget it. So he'd had to suppress all his doubts and fears and his sudden stage-fright at the whole idea of kissing Lois, and show willing.

Not that he was *unwilling,* precisely…

Oh, he was by no means averse to kissing Lois Lane. He'd wanted to do that, and more, from the moment he'd first laid eyes on her. She was quite simply the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, but there was something more… something about her which seemed to appeal to his very soul. A kind of connection… which was a completely stupid idea, of course, since she clearly didn't feel it.

Now she was challenging him to kiss her, and he was torn. He desperately wanted to, but, for one thing, he was pretty sure that the wine was at least partly responsible for Lois's behaviour. They had drunk a bottle and a half between them, after all. And he suspected that Lois was not normally a heavy drinker — too committed to her work, she worked too long hours to have much time for drinking in the evenings. So if she was inebriated, was it fair to take advantage of her?

But he wouldn't be taking advantage, he argued with his conscience. It was just a kiss, for heaven's sake! Just one kiss! And she was no doubt going to tell him immediately afterwards what a lousy kisser he was, so he was hardly going to be the evil seducer here!

And anyway, he wasn't entirely convinced that she was drunk. She wasn't showing any of the classic symptoms: her speech wasn't slurred; she wasn't collapsing on the sofa or falling asleep; she wasn't rambling on drunkenly. If she was obviously drunk, then there'd be no question about what was the right thing to do. He'd just pick her up, carry her to the bedroom and leave her to sleep it off. No doubt at all about that.

But she wasn't behaving like that. Instead, she was watching him as if she now thought *he* was about to back out, her raised eyebrow and questioning gaze daring him not to respond to her challenge. So… well, he wasn't going to give her the chance to accuse him of lacking the nerve to put his money where his mouth was… or should that beto put his mouth where… oh, he couldn't be bothered to find the correct metaphor! All that mattered was that he had a chance to do something he'd dreamed of doing every night for the last two weeks.

Maybe she wasn't drunk, though, but she certainly wasn't sober, his conscience pointed out. And he had to ask himself — since he knew that alcohol didn't affect him — whether it was fair to take advantage of her when this was something she no doubt wouldn't even consider when sober. It wasn't as if he didn't know her opinion of him, after all. Clark Kent would not be her first choice when it came to kissing someone.

But… oh, it was only a kiss! And, what's more, when was he ever going to get such a chance again? One kiss wouldn't do any harm, surely?

However, to salve his conscience, he had to give her an opportunity to back out. Her response made it clear that not only had she no intention of changing her mind, but also that she was now challenging *him* to prove his point.

He moved closer, then wondered briefly what his approach should be. His instincts were telling him to show her that he was *not* the kind of inconsiderate male she seemed to expect, and therefore to kiss her with as much skill and expertise and consideration he could muster. Yet another part of him argued that if he played it the other way, kissed her in the way she was expecting, he'd earn himself another kiss — since she'd already promised to show him where he was going wrong.

But then he recognised, wryly, that either approach was based on a false premise. First, he wasn't exactly that experienced, so any notion he had that Lois would be bowled over by his kisses and realise that he was the man of her dreams was a complete fallacy. Wasn't going to happen. And, if he knew Lois, no matter how good his 'technique', she'd still claim that he wasn't up to scratch. No, he had nothing to lose; he might as well just go for it.

She would ridicule him whatever he did, but it would be worth it, to be able to get closer to Lois than he had ever dreamed could happen. There was no way she would kiss him under normal circumstances, so he should just make the most of this.

Reaching towards her, he slid his hand behind her head and brought his lips to hers.


Lois was prepared for Clark to slobber. She was prepared for his kiss to leave her completely cold. She was even prepared for a wet tongue to force its way into her mouth and leave her needing to rinse with mouthwash. That was okay; she would make her excuses and go to the bathroom to brush her teeth once she'd taught him a lesson.

She wasn't prepared for the heady sensation which swept over her the instant his lips touched hers.

His first kiss was gentle, a light brush of his mouth against hers, which ended even before she'd become accustomed to the sensation. Then he was back, his warm lips moving over hers in an intimate, sensuous caress. Involuntarily, her lips parted; as if he'd known she would do it, immediately he gently sucked her lower lip into his mouth, nibbled gently, then released it again.

Without conscious thought, she slid her arms up around his neck, drawing him closer. He responded by sliding his free arm around her waist, bringing her up against his hard, lean body. His strong thigh was pressed against her hip, his thick dark hair invited her to rake her fingers through it, and his mouth was still doing wonderful things to her senses. Her head swam, and she moaned softly as she opened her mouth wider so that she could push her tongue forward.

He anticipated her again, his tongue gliding over her upper lip and then invading her mouth, continuing the caress along the inside of her lip and then over her teeth. Experimentally, she touched his tongue with hers; instantly, he ceased what he was doing and joined her in a game of touching and stroking and tangling.

She yearned to get closer still… shifting position on the sofa so that she was leaning against his upper body, she lost her balance and fell against him. He grunted in surprise, breaking the kiss as he fell backwards; she grabbed his head and tugged his mouth back to hers, tumbling down to lie sprawled on his chest.

His kiss this time was deeper, more passionate, and it was with a sense of satisfaction that she heard him moan. His arms came around her, settling her more securely on top of him as he made himself more comfortable on the large sofa; as she wriggled into position, something became obvious to her.

Recognising Clark's arousal gave her an enormous sense of power. *She* had had this effect on him; not that she was going to do anything about it, of course, she told herself hazily. But it would be fun to… Deliberately, she rotated her hips a couple of times, giggling as his hands moved to her waist to hold her steady.

"Stop that!" he muttered. "Lois…"

"Stop talking and kiss me," she instructed, rejoicing in her ability to control the situation, to tell Clark Kent what to do. Sure, she told him what to do at work all the time — not that he always obeyed — but here, now, in the privacy of his apartment and in a situation where she was the guest, he'd thought he was in control. He wasn't. He was at her mercy; she'd got him all worked up, and in a few minutes, she would…

Would *what*? Just get up and walk away? She'd always despised the concept of being a tease, though; why any woman would want to drive a man to the point of desperation, without any intention of following through, made no sense to Lois. She'd always made a point of being straight with a man. If she had no intention of going to bed with him — as she had with most men who'd pursued her — she made that very clear. She'd never deliberately teased anyone sexually the way she was now doing with Clark.

She should get up *now,* apologise for having let things get further than she'd intended, and go to bed.

She would… in a minute.

She just wanted to kiss him again, just for a couple of minutes, to figure out just what it was about Clark Kent's kisses which were making it impossible for her to think straight… to pull away from him…

Feeling his hand threading through her hair, she moaned again and met him kiss for kiss as her senses swam with the pleasure of his caresses, his mouth on hers, his tongue stroking inside her mouth and driving her crazy…


Barely able to believe this was happening, Clark cradled Lois on top of him, trying to ignore his body's pleadings for him to take this further. She wanted him to carry on kissing her, and that was exactly what he was going to do. That was *all* he was going to do. Her tongue plunged deep into his mouth, and he welcomed it gladly. Her fragrance, the feel of her soft curves against his body, the silky touch of her hair as it brushed against his face… his senses swam with these unfamiliar but deliriously wonderful sensations.

A new touch took him by surprise. She'd slid one hand between them and was unbuttoning his shirt; her hand felt soft and warm against his skin, and he murmured against her mouth, "Yes… yes, please…"

She shifted, and moved to a kneeling position, leaving his lips bereft; but it seemed that ending their encounter wasn't what she had in mind. Instead, she unfastened his shirt buttons one by one, trailing a finger along the exposed skin of his chest as she parted the fabric. When she reached the waistband of his jeans, she pulled at his shirt, freeing the material so that she could uncover his chest completely. She seemed completely intent on her task, unaware that he was watching her every move.

He shivered in anticipation as her questing finger glided over towards his nipple; some part of his consciousness wondered why he, invulnerable as he was, should feel every single light touch with the force of an electric shock.

She knelt back again, removing her hand from his body; again, he felt bereft. But then he realised her intention; in a swift movement, which he could barely believe was happening, she pulled her borrowed T-shirt over her head. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her beautiful naked torso was inches from his face. To his amazement, she reached for his hand, drawing it to her breast.

"Oh yeah…" he sighed, his hand shaking as he touched her. Her skin was soft, warm and felt wonderful against his fingers; driven by an instinct he couldn't even explain, he reached up to touch her with both hands, stroking and caressing the warm skin which felt so soft and silky under his palms.

"Oh yes… yes, Clark!" she groaned, and he took that as permission to take the next step. Leaning forward, and tugging her towards him at the same time, he rasped his tongue across her chest. Again, she moaned, then wriggled forward so that her body was even closer to his face. Now, she was squatting over his hips, a beautiful torture.

Passion flared more swiftly and, finding that his shirt was getting in the way, Clark rolled them so that Lois was beside him; he threw the shirt to the floor and leaned over her to resume their kissing. But she now seemed to feel cramped, and he tore his mouth from hers to gasp, "You know, maybe we'd be more comfortable — "

"In the bedroom," she finished for him.

Scrambling to his feet, he scooped her up into his arms and strode quickly across the living-room and through the arch, depositing her on his bed. As he came down beside her, she grasped the belt of his jeans. "You're wearing too many clothes."

Without even stopping to think, he stripped off the jeans, lying beside her dressed only in his shorts. Trailing one hand down over her stomach and along her thigh, he murmured, "So are you."

"Take them off," she invited, her voice a low murmur.

He swallowed, then peeled off the baggy tracksuit pants; her legs were long and slender and gorgeous… As he stroked one hand along the inside of her thigh, she claimed his mouth again, kissing him furiously. Needing to get as close to her as he possibly could, he stretched out alongside her, their bodies touching at every point.

Kisses became increasingly passionate, every stroke of her hands on him felt like fire, the flames burning uncontrollably within him. When he felt her hand slide inside his shorts, he groaned aloud and dragged them off. He'd so often imagined how it would feel to have a woman touch him just like *that,* but reality was so much more *real* than his feverish dreams.

He wanted to touch her, too… Turning thought into action, he fumbled and reached for her. After a few moments, she cried out and shuddered; thus encouraged, he continued to stroke her. Her hand was now gliding up and down on his body in a movement which was guaranteed to drive him crazy…

Somehow he was on top of her… she was encouraging him by touch and by the little cries she was making, and he knew, by instinct, what she wanted. Nothing else mattered now; his fears and self-caution had all vanished in the reality of what was happening between them. He wanted her and she wanted him, and they were together, loving each other, losing themselves in each other…

He finally collapsed, exhausted but replete, incredibly aware that he had never, ever, experienced such a profound sense of *rightness* about anything in his life before.


She couldn't let him stop touching her, kissing her… she *needed* to feel him against her skin, his sensitive fingers finding her nerve endings and making her cry out, his passionate mouth driving her crazy. She'd needed to have him touch her; merely seeing his reaction when she'd touched his chest had made her long to have him caress her too. Ripping her T-shirt off had seemed the natural thing to do, not that she'd even thought about it. It had been pure instinct, driven by need.

She was dimly aware of agreeing with his suggestion that they move to the bedroom, of demanding that he remove his jeans, of wanting to be naked too, so that he could continue touching her everywhere with those clever fingers.

He responded instantly to her touch when she slid her hand inside his shorts; she was pleased when he seemed to read her mind, disposing of the shorts so she could have freer access to him. Her body was throbbing with fiery intensity, and she longed for him to touch her…

Yes! Yes, his fingers were there at last, and a shudder jolted her body as he touched her in just the way she needed; encouraging him with soft murmurs, she continued to stroke him, enjoying his body's silky smoothness under her fingers. She needed more, though, needed him to keep touching her, fill her, take her to ecstasy…

Instinct was now guiding her to demand fulfilment; clawing at him, she finally got him to move on top of her; he had to know what she needed, had to understand that she wanted him *now*. She wanted more…

…and then he was there. One hand reached up of its own accord, tugging his head down to hers so that she could kiss him again, drive her tongue into his mouth in imitation of the movements of his body against hers, showing him what she wanted and that she needed him not to stop, to take her all the way…

…and suddenly there was white light all around her, fiery, shuddering sensations streaking through her body, starting in the pit of her stomach and hitting every nerve ending, stealing her breath away and robbing her of awareness. Whimpering in ecstasy, her final thought as Clark slumped, exhausted, on top of her was that she had never, ever, before experienced such a powerful sensation, or such a profound sense of having come home.


Lois awoke slowly, gradually becoming aware of unfamiliar surroundings. Opening her eyes momentarily, she realised that she was in a large, airy room with sunlight streaming in a sloping picture window in the far wall. The events of the previous day came back to her, and she remembered; her new colleague had offered her a bed for the night because she'd been unable to get access to her apartment.

She remembered the mugging clearly now, too; could feel again the hard ground as she was thrown backwards by the youth who'd made off with her bag. Her hip was still sore; she'd have to remember to apply more of that embrocation after she'd showered.

There was something else strange about the circumstances in which she now was… with a start, she realised she was naked. She never slept naked. Even without her usual nightgown, she'd have slept in a T-shirt — the T-shirt Clark had loaned her the previous evening…

No, she was naked, and there was something… warm flesh touching hers, a naked leg resting against her thigh, another human being breathing close to her.

Her eyes flew open again, and she saw that Clark was sprawled on his stomach beside her, his dark hair flopping over his forehead, his expression soft in repose.

Why was he…? She caught her breath as she remembered.

She'd started that stupid discussion about kissing — not just any kissing, but *French* kissing, and she'd been crazy enough to challenge him, claiming that he couldn't do it well enough to satisfy her. And then she hadn't had the sense to stop the game, and…

And she'd had sex with him. Let him invade her body.

She'd had *sex* with Clark Kent!

Groaning inwardly in despair, she blinked back tears. Would she ever learn? This was exactly what she'd done with Claude, and he'd betrayed her, walking out on her, stealing her story, and making sure that everyone at the Planet thought that she was an easy lay. After that, she'd vowed never, ever, to sleep with any man again unless she was positive that she could trust him and wanted to be with him on at least a semi-permanent basis. She'd learned from bitter experience that men just couldn't be trusted; they were selfish, disloyal, always out for the main chance. She'd never yet encountered a man who genuinely cared about what she wanted from their relationship, whether that man was her father, a friend, or a potential lover. And she'd been hurt too many times when she'd allowed herself to hope that *this* man could be different. She'd learned from experience that the phrase 'a decent man' was a contradiction in terms, a complete impossibility.

And yet last night she'd slept with Kent, the hack from Nowheresville, the junior reporter who, she suspected, viewed her with amused contempt most of the time — apart from when he lusted after her, she added bleakly. A man she barely knew.

She could see history repeating itself with a vengeance, now.

Now, he would no doubt regale the male portion of the newsroom with the story of his success; of how easy it had been to seduce Mad Dog Lane, the iceberg. How she'd fallen into his bed like a ripe plum from the tree.

How could she have been so *stupid* as to believe his promises that she was safe with him, that he had no intention of trying to lure her into his bed? Oh, he certainly hadn't seemed like a smooth-talking practised seducer, but he sure used that Kansas wide-eyed country boy innocent look to good advantage!

Bitter tears stinging her eyes, she stumbled out of bed and towards the bathroom. She had to get dressed and out of here. There was bound to be a subway station somewhere near, and she had a couple of dollars left over. That would get her to the Planet, where she could sort out her bank cards and getting a new lock for her apartment. Then she could decide how to handle Mr Super-Stud Kent, without letting anyone guess at how humiliated she was.


The sound of running water roused Clark from a deep sleep. He felt a sense of deep contentment as he stretched in the bed, and idly wondered why today was different… and then he remembered.


Lois had stayed at his apartment last night… and they had made love.

It had been the most wonderful experience of his life. He still felt sated, blissfully happy and longing to love her again.

He'd turned towards her side of the bed before realising that the running water indicated that she was in the shower. That was a shame; he'd liked to have spent a few minutes just kissing and caressing each other before getting up. Of course, they couldn't delay long; they were both due into the Planet, and Lois also needed to get her keys and bank cards sorted out — he would help her with that, of course. But a few minutes just spent being close while they both woke up properly would have been the perfect way to start the day.

Still, if she was already getting washed, the least he could do was prepare breakfast. He pulled on his shorts and a T-shirt and padded into the kitchen, finding orange juice, cereal and — in a sudden impulse to impress his guest — flying at Super-speed to France for fresh croissants.

They needed to talk, but there wouldn't be time that morning, unfortunately. This wasn't how he'd imagined starting a relationship with Lois. They'd done it all backwards; they'd made love without ever having dated, while they still barely knew each other. Not that he really objected to that, he thought with a happy smile as he filled the coffee filter. It would be fun getting to know each other properly. There was so much he wanted to find out about Lois, and so much he wanted her to know about him — even his special powers. After all, she'd trusted him with her body in the perfect act of lovemaking. It was only fair that he trust her with the knowledge that he was Superman. What did it matter that she seemed to have a crush on the Super-hero? She'd made love, generously, beautifully, with the man behind the Suit.

He heard sounds from the bedroom, and quickly finished laying the table; by the time she emerged he was pouring coffee.

As he turned to look at Lois, his lover, two things struck him at once. First, she was wearing her business suit and looked ready to leave immediately. Second, she was absolutely furious, hatred burning in her dark eyes.

"Bastard!" she hissed venomously, and turned to walk towards the door.


Lois had hoped that Clark would still be asleep when she finished showering, but when she crept back into the bedroom his bed was empty. She dressed hurriedly, not bothering about drying her hair properly; finger-combing it into position would have to do for now. Hoping that her host would have the decency to keep out of sight, she walked purposefully through to the kitchen.

Clark was there, to her dismay, putting some items on the table. He wore a T-shirt and a pair of hip-hugging shorts, but she quickly averted her eyes; she wasn't interested in his anatomy. He turned to face her and, unable to stop herself, she let herself vent her rage at him before heading for the door, just catching sight of his completely stunned expression as she did so.

<Probably thought I'd be so impressed by his… talents that I'd be begging for more> she thought angrily, focusing on just getting to the door and leaving Kent's apartment. She had to get out of there; what had happened was just too humiliating…

Suddenly, her arm was caught in a firm grasp. "Lois — what's this all about?" a very confused voice asked her. "What did I do to deserve that?"

Trying to shake off his hand, she glared at him. "What do you think, Kent? So much for your promises! Now I know exactly what your word's worth!"

She couldn't fail to see the bewilderment on his face, but she dismissed it. He was obviously not used to being rejected by women; like every other man she'd known, he clearly thought himself irresistible. Well, he'd soon learn that there was a first time for everything.

"Lois, I really have no idea — " he began, but she cut him off, angry at his fake show of innocence. What had he expected her reaction to be?

"Oh yeah, sure you don't!" she threw at him scornfully. "Try remembering what you did last night! You told me you had no intention of expecting sex when you offered to put me up for the night — you even got all offended when I questioned your motives. And then what?!"

He stared at her, apparently dumbfounded.

She shook her arm vigorously, hating the feeling of being trapped as much as the reminder of Kent's touch. "And let go of me!"

He suddenly seemed to realise that he was holding on to her, and released her arm. "Lois, hang on a minute!" he exclaimed as she again made for the door. Before she could grab the handle, he was there in front of her, blocking her way.

"Let me go," she demanded, struggling to keep her voice even instead of giving way to the fury — the self-disgust — which was so close to the surface.

"Please — we have to talk about this," he insisted, and she noticed that he now looked… what, hurt? That didn't seem to make sense, unless he was really taking it personally that a woman could reject him the morning after.

Unless… unless he'd assumed that this was going to be some hot affair, which would continue until he decided it was over. Maybe that was it — Mister Would-be Hot-Shot Kent thought she'd be begging for it the morning after. Well, he was in for a rude awakening.

"I don't know what you think you're going to gain from stopping me leaving," she told him coolly, all the time trying to prevent bile from rising up into her throat at the memory of what had happened… what she had done. She *didn't* sleep with men she barely knew — men she worked with, what was more. Once was more than enough for that. She'd vowed never again to let a good-looking man sweet-talk her into his bed. She felt… dirty. Humiliated. And furiously angry at the way he was behaving now. She just wanted to get out of here, get her life sorted out again so that she could go home to her own apartment and shower again and again, until she'd washed the memory of him off her body. It was taking a real effort to maintain this outwardly calm appearance.

"I just think we need to talk," he repeated stubbornly. "Lois, what happened between last night and this morning? I really am lost here!"

She shook her head, unwilling to be dragged into an argument with him when she only wanted to get out of there and try to forget this had ever happened. How could she have been so *stupid* — how could she have trusted him? Why hadn't she just made her excuses and gone to bed straight after dinner? But she hadn't; and instead she'd fallen victim to the most practised seducer she'd ever encountered.

"Lois, I really am serious," he said, his voice sounding strained; he still hadn't moved from his position in front of the door. "I don't know what's going on here. Last night — "

"Last night was a mistake. I never should have made the mistake of believing you could be trusted," she flung at him.

He stared at her, his expression incredulous. "Lois… *what* are you talking about?" He ran one hand agitatedly through his rumpled hair. "Okay, okay, I'm getting the message that you think our making love should never have happened. I'm sorry you regret it, I really am. But I really don't see how that makes me the bad guy in all of this!"

"No?" She gave him a scornful look, then tried to reach behind him for the doorknob.

He sighed. "Lois, I am prepared to take my share of the blame for what happened. My *share.* In case you don't remember, it was very much mutual."

She flushed, remembering her own behaviour all too well. It was mortifying to remember how she'd behaved with this man she didn't even like, kissing him so furiously, taking off her T-shirt and inviting him to touch her, agreeing with his suggestion that they move to the bedroom, touching him so intimately…

It had been the wine. Obviously. It had to be, because she would *never* have behaved like that under normal circumstances, and certainly not with Clark 'Farmboy' Kent. Of course she wouldn't. She wasn't even attracted to him!

She tilted her chin and stared straight at him. "You got me drunk," she accused flatly.

He stared back, the bewilderment in his expression now vanished entirely. In its place was a cold anger which made her shrink back involuntarily. "You think I deliberately…" He broke off abruptly, gritting his teeth. Then, in a sudden movement, he stood away from the door and flung it open. "Go. Get out of here, before your twisted imagination moves on to accusing me of rape."

She fled, hearing his biting words echoing in her head as she ran down the street.


Clark stood, almost rooted to the stop, as Lois rushed away from him as if he were the devil incarnate. How could two otherwise intelligent people have read the same situation so completely differently? How was it that he had been convinced they'd made wonderful, beautiful, mutual love, while Lois believed that he'd callously seduced her?

He couldn't fathom what was going on inside her head, how she could turn something so beautiful, so perfect, into an act of shame. He'd been so completely unprepared for her reaction, but even before he'd heard her first hissed word it had been obvious that there was something seriously wrong.

Closing the door, he turned to walk back through the apartment; he felt as if he'd aged thirty years in the space of five minutes. He made himself relive that crazy, passionate hour last night — had he been wrong? *Had* she been unwilling, reluctant? Could he have misread the signals — taken a shout of protest for a moan of encouragement?

No. He might have been inexperienced, but he had enough knowledge to know when a woman was encouraging him. And she'd been with him every step of the way — ahead of him in some ways. She'd been the first to move to an even greater level of intimacy; and even now he groaned silently as his body tightened at the memory of her slender fingers curling around him. She'd touched him, caressed him… and it had been she who'd encouraged him to move over her, to ready them for the culmination of lovemaking. Not that he'd been reluctant in any way… but, even carried away by passion as they had been, he was sure he would have been hesitant to take that step without some form of permission.

So why was she now behaving like a wronged innocent? It just didn't make sense.

Or… His jaw tightened as he remembered one overheard conversation as he'd been about to enter the men's room one day. It had been one of the times when he'd regretted his Super-hearing and its ability to activate at certain prompts. Like someone crying 'Help!' Or 'Fire!' Or… 'Lois.'

And it had been Ralph, of course; Clark had barely been able to be polite to the man subsequently. Ralph had — at what prompting Clark did not know — pronounced Lois a 'prick-tease.' He'd said that she got pleasure out of rejecting men in as superior a manner as she could; that she thoughtherself too good for just about every man she encountered, with the exception of Superman — Clark had concurred with Ralph's observation on the likelihood of Lois actually getting anywhere with Superman, but disagreed completely with the other man's reasoning. He'd decided, however, that Ralph's opinion of Lois's attitude to men was nothing other than sour grapes; after all, he'd heard Lois dismiss the older man's crass attempt at flirtation only the other day. Jimmy, who'd clearly seen Clark's surprise at the incident, had dryly informed him that Ralph frequently made passes, and Lois just as frequently rejected them.

Could Ralph have been right? Did Lois somehow enjoy having men at her mercy, delight in the knowledge that she had them in her thrall sexually but knowing that she never intended to follow through? *Was* she a…?

He refused to allow himself to articulate the word. Despite his hurt and bewilderment, and his cold fury at her final accusation, he couldn't bring himself to believe that Lois had deliberately led him on, intending to reject him. He'd never seen any sign of that behaviour in her — he'd be more inclined to believe that of Cat, who was quite definitely a vamp. And anyway, Lois hadn't tried to stop, at any point. If she was… what Ralph suggested, she'd never have practically dragged him on top of her, never begged him to make love to her.

Not that he'd needed any persuasion… but she hadn't tried to get away from him at any point.

So just what had happened to make her not only regret what had happened, but also to see him as some sort of vile seducer?

He slumped into a chair at the kitchen table, and his gaze was caught by the breakfast he'd so lovingly prepared. Before he knew what he was doing, he'd seized a croissant; a second later it was only crumbs on the floor.

He'd been *stupid*! — stupid to imagine that last night had represented the beginning of the relationship he'd wanted all his life. There had been no reason to believe that, after one night of sleeping with him, being made love to by him once, Lois Lane would want to be with him. For all he knew, last night could have been the worst sex she'd ever had, instead of — as it had been for him — the most wonderful experience he had ever dreamt of. After all, she was an experienced woman. She hadn't been, unlike him, a virgin who barely knew what he was doing…


But even if he was a lousy lover — which wouldn't be unlikely, since he *had* been inexperienced, that still didn't explain *this* reaction. She wasn't complaining that he had failed to satisfy her. She wasn't telling him that he hadn't a clue about how to treat a woman in bed. Nothing of what she'd said could be interpreted as a criticism of his skill as a lover — though, if he had satisfied her, he saw that as luck more than skill. No, this was Lois regretting that it had happened at all, not complaining that he hadn't done enough to make it good for her.

It still didn't make sense, he thought as he padded slowly through his bedroom to the bathroom. Sure, he could understand that she might regret sleeping with him. After all, she barely knew him, and, from her attitude, she didn't seem to like him very much. He hadn't gained the impression, in the couple of short weeks he'd known her, that she slept around; and now he remembered her reaction when he'd angrily accused her of trading sex for favours in the case of Lex Luthor. That had been the response of someone appalled at his implied allegation because she found the idea entirely repugnant.

She wasn't into casual sex — which was an attitude of which he entirely approved, though no doubt she'd never believe him now. Heck, *he* barely believed himself now! He'd *never* been interested in casual encounters — that was why he'd still been a virgin at twenty-six. And yet he'd participated more than enthusiastically in their lovemaking… but then, he'd assumed it *was* genuinely *love*making. It had been, for him, and it was that conviction which had overcome any reluctance he might have had. He'd been waiting, before, to find a woman he loved, with whom he wanted to share the whole truth about himself. And he'd been convinced, from the moment he met her, that Lois was that woman. Sure, in the cold light of morning he'd recognised that he would have preferred to take their relationship more slowly, to get to know each other as friends and then as two people who were dating before plunging head-first into bed. But that wouldn't have mattered if their feelings about what they'd shared had been mutual.

Since they weren't… well, he couldn't bring himself to regret having lost his virginity on what looked like being a one-night stand. It wasn't what he'd wanted, how he'd dreamt of his first serious relationship turning out. But it had been with the woman he loved…

…and who clearly hated him.

So if Lois wasn't the kind of woman who slept around, morning-after regrets wouldn't be unexpected. But what was still a complete mystery to him was why she should have persisted in treating him as the bad guy. If she'd just been embarrassed, told him that it shouldn't have happened and wouldn't happen again, he would still have been hurt. But he could have understood it!

This reaction was something else, though, and Clark had no idea what was going through Lois's mind. Although… A dim memory flashed into his consciousness as he scrubbed his hair in the shower; Lois, tied up and expecting to be killed, telling him that she'd broken all of her rules, that she'd slept with a man she worked with, and he'd abandoned her and stolen her story.

But that was *crazy*! How could she equate *him* with that worthless so-and-so? Didn't she know he wasn't like that?

Probably not, Clark concluded. But that still didn't excuse her behaviour.


In his fury at her accusation that he'd deliberately tried to get her drunk, he'd ignored the underlying implication of her parting shot. She'd been drinking last night — well, they both had, but *he* at least wasn't affected by alcohol. Lois, presumably, was. And he had even wondered himself whether she would have issued her challenge, behaved as she had, if she'd been sober. He hadn't thought she was drunk; in fact, he was certain that she hadn't been. But it was very possible that she'd been tipsy, at the very least. And if that was the case, her inhibitions would have been lowered, and she could have acted out of character.

And, since alcohol had no effect on him, *he* should have behaved sensibly. He should have stopped things before they got out of hand. *He* had undoubtedly been sober, even if he had been carried away by a rush of blood to the head.

Maybe Lois had a point.

Maybe he had behaved badly; taken what she would never have wanted to give, sober.



He slammed his fist into the bathroom wall, only just remembering in time to rein in his strength so that he didn't make a large hole in the wall. He had *not* done what Lois suggested. He hadn't *deliberately* plied her with alcohol. There had been no pre-meditation whatsoever on his part.

And he had asked her whether she was sure about kissing him; given her every opportunity to back out. She'd made it clear she didn't want to. And later, when he'd tentatively begun to suggest moving, she'd pre-empted him and insisted they moved to the bedroom. She had been sufficiently in control to make it very clear what she wanted, both then and later.

If she hadn't been entirely sober, that wasn't his fault, he insisted to himself, ignoring the tiny voice of his conscience which repeated over and over that it had been his responsibility to stop things before they got out of hand. Lois could have refused more wine, he told himself. And he could swear she hadn't been drunk enough to have no control over her actions. Maybe he shouldn't have risen to her challenge, but that didn't make it his fault. If she had regrets the morning after… well, how was he to know that would happen? *He* had no regrets… or at least, he hadn't until less than half an hour ago.

As he dressed — at normal speed for once, since he was really in no hurry to get to the Planet — Clark remembered the reason why Lois had been at his apartment in the first place, and wondered whether he should offer to help her with gaining access to her apartment. If not as himself, then as Superman. But he dismissed the idea. The less he saw of Lois today, the better, for his own peace of mind.

Unfortunately, convincing his body to forget how wonderfully responsive she had been was going to be a lot harder.


After a few paces, Lois slowed down, realising that her hip was still painful; but nothing would have prevailed upon her to go back to Kent's place to call a taxi. Even if she had to crawl, she would make it to the subway station.

Fortunately, there was one a little over a block away, and once inside the train — standing, as it was early rush-hour — she began to calm down and work out what she needed to do. The first, and most important, thing for the time being was to put Clark Kent from her mind. He could wait. She'd have to work out how she was going to deal with him, but she could do that later. For now, she had to sort out getting her bank cards back and getting the lock changed on her apartment door.

That took up most of the morning. She'd called Perry to say she'd be late in, and then spent well over an hour in her bank branch, first trying to prove her identity — not easy, when everything of that nature she had was in her purse, which had been stolen! Finally, the official agreed to match her signature with that held in the bank's records, and also asked her a list of questions to check whether the answers matched those on her details. She was then issued with some temporary cheques and was permitted to make a cash withdrawal.

Getting her apartment sorted out was simpler, since her landlord was around; he agreed to hang around while the locksmith did his work, so she was able to claim one of the new keys immediately and leave. Then it was the Jeep's turn; she had to get the garage to come and tow it back to the workshop, and then wait while new locks were fitted. While she was waiting, she called the precinct where she'd reported the mugging, but even when she'd managed to get hold of an officer who could find her file, there was no news. No progress whatsoever had been made in finding the guy who did it, let alone in getting her belongings back. Lois was singularly unimpressed by that; it was well known that, once they'd taken anything of value, thieves usually dumped the remainder of their haul somewhere. There were other personal items in that purse which she wanted back.

During the whole of the frustrating morning, Lois couldn't stop her thoughts from occasionally drifting back to Clark Kent and the previous evening's activities. She'd been so *stupid*! After Claude, she'd been determined never to be taken in by a smooth-talker again, and yet she'd allowed Kent to seduce her into bed. Oh, he'd played it so cleverly, taking the opportunity she'd given him over that French-kissing article and challenging her to support her assertion; he just hadn't let it drop, even when it must have been clear to him that she wanted to change the subject. No, he'd persisted; and then he'd issued that bare-faced challenge he *knew* she wouldn't be able to resist.

<You could have resisted. He even asked if you were sure you wanted to do it>

No. He'd been goading her, trying to make her back down so that he could taunt her with it. He'd persuaded her to kiss him, or to let him kiss her, at any rate. And he'd used all of his experience to make sure that it didn't stop at kissing.

She wondered grimly just how many notches Clark Kent had on his bedpost. Perhaps so many he'd lost count. He was clearly very practised at it, anyway; he'd managed to win her over so completely that she'd been with him all the way. She'd even agreed to his suggestion that they move to the bedroom… and the way he'd touched her, with such expertise she'd nearly been screaming underneath him, had ensured her surrender.

<At least he made sure *you* enjoyed it, too> her conscience objected at this point, but Lois brushed the thought aside. Any experienced guy should be able to make sure that a woman had an orgasm.

<But Claude hadn't… and nor did Joe in college> that irritating voice reminded her.

She gave a mental shrug. So Kent was a better lover than either of them; that still didn't justify what he'd done. She would *never* have slept with him by any conscious choice of her own, she was sure of that. He'd created the circumstances — well, not the mugging, though it had no doubt provided the perfect opportunity for him to get her to his apartment. He'd plied her with alcohol, goaded her until she'd ended up inviting him to kiss her… and that had been it.

And yet he'd had the… the *gall* to complain about her reaction this morning, to claim she was practically accusing him of raping her!

<Be honest with yourself, Lois; isn't that pretty much what you *were* doing?> her inner voice annoyingly pointed out. She took a sharp breath; *no*! She hadn't said that — she hadn't even thought it! She wouldn't…

<Admit it, Lois, you were willing. You are attracted to him>

That was the problem. She *had* been a willing participant, but she wouldn't have been if she'd been sane — no, *sober* — at the time. There was no way in any normal circumstances that she'd have gone to bed with Clark Kent. The only way she'd have done it was under some form of…

No! Not duress — that was the word which had almost come to mind, but she knew very well that wasn't true. But she wouldn't — couldn't — have slept with Kent if she hadn't been under the influence of something intoxicating. Would she?

<You weren't incapable, Lois. You knew exactly what you were doing!>

No! Clark *had* plied her with alcohol, and then used his powers of persuasion on her. No, he hadn't raped her, but he had made her lose her inhibitions; without the wine, she'd never have gone along with his little game. The fact that she, a grown woman, had been perfectly happy to enjoy the wine was irrelevant. Of course it was!

So how dare he accuse her of being unfair by turning him into the 'bad guy'? He knew exactly what he'd done. Of course he did; he no doubt did it all the time.

<You weren't drunk. You know what a drunk looks like, and you weren't like that. And you don't even have a mild hangover>

She sighed, trying to push those thoughts aside for now. And now, she had to get to the Daily Planet before he capitalised on her absence by stealing stories. Especially Superman exclusives: Kent was showing that he was very determined to beat her to the finish on as many Superman stories as possible. And that wasn't fair; *she* had found him. She had broken the story of his existence, had the first exclusive interview. *And* she had named him.

But then she acknowledged to herself that her biggest worry wasn't whether Kent was busy grabbing all her stories in her absence. Instead, she needed to worry about what he was saying about her. Was he already boasting about how he'd taken Lane the Ice Maiden to bed? Who knew what he could be saying by now? The story was probably all around the newsroom, and the research floor and the morgue and the marketing division too, if she knew the Planet grapevine.

So how was she going to deal with that? And how was she going to cope with her own feelings of shame and mortification, whether he told anyone else or not?


Because he hadn't done a Superman patrol the night before, Clark decided to delay his departure for work by about half an hour. He and Lois had put in quite a bit of overtime recently, covering Superman for the paper, so he figured that Mr White wouldn't object. And anyway, he needed some more time to calm down and collect his thoughts before seeing Lois again. He had no idea how he was going to behave towards her; he just hoped that she would have the good sense and diplomacy to keep their personal situation out of the newsroom. He certainly intended to. He *could* be polite to her, but only if she reciprocated. If she intended to brand him publicly as the 'bastard' she'd labelled him that morning, it would be very difficult to maintain a facade of good manners towards her.

He *did* want to talk to her, to clear the air if possible and explain his side of what had happened, perhaps even to apologise if she really did think that he should have realised she'd had too much to drink, but he knew that there was no way they could have that conversation at work. The best he could hope for was to persuade her to come for a drink — non-alcoholic — with him after work, if she'd calmed down by then. Though he suspected that was probably unlikely…

Maybe tomorrow. Or some time next week…

It was some seconds before he realised that his flight-path had carried him over the part of town where Lois had been mugged the previous evening. He didn't know whether this was pure accident, or something subconscious, but he was just about to accelerate and head for another part of the city when something caught his eye in an alley not far from the building they'd been in.

He flew down and went straight for the large refuse container… yes, that was a black strap hanging out of it. Frowning, he pulled at the strap; that looked like Lois's purse. He used his X-ray vision to check the interior, and saw Lois's press pass as well as a photo of Lois with her sister Lucy. There were no bank cards, and no cash either.

He scanned the purse carefully, looking for fingerprints, but even his eyes could only detect one main set of prints — Lois's, no doubt — and a very blurred set which he knew he wouldn't be able to do anything with, so it was unlikely that the police would. He hesitated, wondering whether he should hand it to the police, but then wasn't sure how he'd explain having found it. Superman wasn't even supposed to know that Lois Lane had been mugged.

For a brief instant he entertained the thought of taking it to her as Clark. That would make her think twice about some of the things she'd said to him; she'd have to eat humble pie and thank him.

But he quickly rejected the idea. He knew enough about Lois by now to realise that she wouldn't back down that easily; he might get a grudging thanks, but nothing more. And she'd want to know why Clark Kent was searching in dumpsters for her purse; she'd no doubt accuse him of trying to impress her, or, even worse, suggest that he was somehow in league with the mugger.

In the end, he went back to his apartment and wrapped it in an anonymous plastic bag, including a note written in stiff block capitals.


He would find a way to leave it on her desk in the newsroom.


Lois finally arrived at the Planet shortly before noon, tired, frustrated and still very upset and angry about the night before. Walking out of the elevator, she looked anxiously around her, expecting to be the focus of sniggers and nudge-nudge-wink-wink gestures. To her surprise, no-one looked at her.

As she walked to her desk, Jimmy came running over to her. "Lois — where've you been? The Chief said you called and said you had things to do, but that was hours ago and I think he's getting a little cranky now."

Lois frowned; didn't people know she'd been mugged and had to deal with the aftermath? Surely Clark would have told them that, as an explanation for why she'd been at his apartment in the first place… unless he wanted people to assume that he'd been as successful in his chat-up lines as in his seduction technique. She told Jimmy to tell Perry that she'd be in to see him in a minute, and proceeded to her desk. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Clark Kent at his desk, diagonally opposite hers, but she averted her gaze. Just as she did so, she noticed him glancing up, but looking away swiftly; his expression was unreadable.

There was a package of some sort on her desk. Curious, she opened it, and to her amazement her purse was inside. It was a bit battered and dirty, but… but what was it *doing* there? She opened it quickly, and discovered to her delight that, even though things like keys and cards and cash were all gone, her other personal items were intact, though left scattered loose.

A piece of paper fluttered to the floor, and she reached down to grab it. Scanning the note, she felt her stomach flutter. *Superman* had found it? Superman had brought it to the Planet for her? And she'd missed seeing him!

Jimmy passed her desk again on his way somewhere, and she grabbed his arm. "How did this get here?" she demanded, gesturing at the bag.

He shrugged. "Hey, Lois, I may look like I spend all my waking hours in this place, but I promise you, I don't! I have no idea where that came from or how it got there."

Disappointed, she released him. Sensing that she was being watched, she allowed her gaze to flick very briefly over to Kent, but he was already turning away. He would know, some instinct insisted; but there was no way she was going to ask him.

Instead, she contemplated calling the police to tell them that her purse had been recovered, minus valuables, but decided against it. Since they clearly hadn't shown any interest in trying to recover it themselves, and it was unlikely they'd ever catch the thief, what was the point?

It was time to see Perry, before he came out and started demanding whether she wanted to be put onto a part-time contract. And anyway, there were things she might want to say to Perry, depending… well, depending on exactly what Kent had been saying about her.

Nothing, it seemed; though Lois thought cynically that he was probably biding his time. Waiting for the right opportunity, and the right audience, no doubt. Perry had other concerns on his mind, since it seemed some Government agents had been sniffing around the Planet looking for information on Superman. They hadn't identified themselves, but one had called the man in command 'Trask,' and apparently Kent had managed to discover the man's full name and rank after they'd left.

They had already interviewed Kent, who apparently had *not* been at all happy at the idea, and wanted to talk to Lois as well. The alternative, she discovered when she protested, was having her computer confiscated and searched. She decided on the interview, which, it seemed, would probably occur the following day.

"Okay, Lois, but once you've seen off these guys I want you and Kent to investigate them. Find out who they are, who signed their orders and what the heck they're doing in my newsroom!" Perry ordered, looking more furious than Lois had ever seen him before.

But he'd given her an instruction she just couldn't comply with. Shaking her head in raw denial, she spoke jerkily. "No… Chief, no. I can't."

"Can't *what,* Lois? What the Sam Hill is going on here? You're my best reporter, Lois, and I need you on this! I want to know what this Colonel Jason Trask is up to!"

"And I'll find out," she promised. "Just not with Kent. I can't work with him, Perry," she whispered.

He frowned, then stared at her. "Judas Priest, Lois, I thought you'd got over that! I know you didn't want to work with him on the Messenger explosion, but even you had to admit that he did a good job! Kent's a good reporter, Lois. I know he doesn't have your experience or your instincts, but he'll learn. And he's intelligent, so it's not as if you're dragging around someone who can't keep up with you — "

"Chief!" Lois bit out, interrupting him. "It's got nothing to do with that. It's… personal. I just can't work with him."

His eyes narrowed. "Lois… are you okay? Did Kent do something I should know about?"

She was briefly tempted… but only very briefly. This was personal, and not something she wanted to drag into the newsroom. She didn't want anyone to know what she'd been stupid enough to do, anyway. Shaking her head, she denied his suggestion. "No, Chief — I told you, it's personal. I… don't like him and don't want to work with him."

Perry was silent for a few moments, then he nodded. "Okay. I don't like it, but if you're telling me that's the way it is, then okay. You work alone. I'm just going to have to put Kent on a different story, which is a pity because he was all fired up to work on this one…"

He paused, and raised an eyebrow at Lois as if to ask whether she was going to change her mind. She stared unblinkingly at him, and after a while he sighed deeply. "Go on, get out of here, Lois. I've got a newspaper to run."


Clark sat at his desk, pretending to work but unable to focus on anything in front of him. Today had gone from being terrible to being the worst day of his life. As if Lois's reaction on seeing him earlier hadn't been bad enough, he'd come into work to find some FBI agents demanding information on Superman. Why did the FBI need to know about a Spandex-clad Super-hero anyway? And, of course, because he was one of the reporters who had written Superman stories, he was prime target for their questions. He'd managed, with difficulty and not without the surreptitious use of some Super-powers, to pass the lie-detector test, but it had been obvious that the man in charge, a Colonel Trask, wasn't satisfied.

What did this mean? Were his father's fears finally going to be realised — *was* he going to be caught, and stuck in a laboratory, and dissected? Always assuming they could manage it, he thought with a cynical smile. On the other hand… He still had no idea who or what he was. What if he really was a government experiment — but a *US* government experiment? What if now was the time his creators had chosen to claim him? The thought made him go cold with fear and horror.

He *liked* his life. He was Clark Kent, reporter, working in the job he'd wanted ever since he'd started journalism school. He was working for the greatest paper in the country; he'd been there for under three weeks, and already he'd had three front-page stories. There was no way he wanted to give up that life because some government scientists who'd played God with genetics wanted their creation back.

So he *had* to find out what was going on; what Trask's agenda was and, if possible, who *he* was. Because he wasn't really Clark Kent. That was only the name his parents had given him when they'd adopted him. So perhaps he should try to see Trask's visit as an opportunity as well as a threat.

Perhaps. But he had a bad feeling about all this.

Then Lois had arrived; he'd watched her, wondering whether she'd calmed down at all and whether he could persuade her to talk to him. He'd toyed with the idea of inviting her for lunch, somewhere quiet where they could talk about what had happened. He could explain that the idea of getting her drunk had never crossed his mind and that he hadn't thought she was drunk anyway, and tell her that… well, maybe *not* tell her how much making love with her had meant to him, but at least try to get her to accept that he wasn't some kind of Casanova with a score-chart above his bed.

But she'd ignored him completely.

Her expression as she'd crossed the newsroom had told him that she wasn't over her temper, not by a long way. He'd mentally written off his plans to talk to her over lunch, though he knew that this was a conversation which shouldn't be avoided for too long. There were other concerns, one of which had only occurred to him after he'd arrived at work.

He'd seen her expression when she'd found her purse; delight, combined with chagrin that she'd missed seeing Superman. <Yeah, right> he thought bleakly, watching her ask Jimmy who had put the package on her desk. <If she only opened her eyes, she'd realise just how close to her Superman is…> Not that he really wanted her to know. Not now. It wasn't a good idea at all…

Now, if she'd thought to ask *Clark Kent,* the guy sitting almost opposite her, who'd left the package there… but he knew she wouldn't.

When she'd gone into Mr White's office, he'd been unable to resist listening in on some of the conversation. He hadn't even bothered trying to justify his eavesdropping to his conscience; he knew it was wrong, and he didn't care. He needed to know whether Lois was trying to get him sacked, for one thing.

The fact that she didn't do so gave him little cause for comfort. She'd made it very clear to their editor that there were good reasons why she and Clark could not work together. That was not going to do him any favours at all.

As Lois emerged from the editor's office, Clark tried to look busy; he didn't want to give the impression of having been watching for her. Pulling up a search engine on the Planet network so that he could begin checking out Colonel Jason Trask's credentials, he mused bleakly that whoever had said getting involved with someone you work with was a bad idea had been right. It was a *terrible* idea.

But they were both adults; they should be able to be professional and put it behind them. He *would* do that… once his body stopped reacting as soon as he saw Lois, once the memories of last night had faded into nothing, once he…

"Kent! In here!"

His thoughts were interrupted by the editor demanding his presence. Unsurprised, he entered the office and closed the door behind him. "You wanted to see me, Mr White?"

"Yeah. I have no idea what's gone on between you and Lois, Kent, and I don't much care. What I do know is I have a newsroom to run and a paper to get out, and it *doesn't* help me when one of my reporters refuses to work with another!" Perry White paused, and Clark avoided the older man's gaze. This was *not* all his fault, and he had no intention of taking the blame, but he had only been at the Planet a couple of weeks. Lois, on the other hand, had been there a few years. So, if Mr White was saying that he couldn't *employ* two people who couldn't work together…

But he wasn't. After a moment or two, the editor continued. "I'm not assigning any blame here, Clark. I know what Lois is like, and I'm not leaping to any conclusions. But I'm going to have to take you off that FBI story, since Lois is working on it."

"But I've already made a start — " Clark protested.

"Doesn't matter," the editor interrupted him. "If you've got anything useful so far, you give it to me and I'll pass it on to Lois. Look, Kent," he added, more gently, "I need an experienced reporter on this case. And out of the two of you, that has to be Lois. She's got far more contacts in this town, for a start." He sighed, then added, "You work with Myerson on the mayor's tax plans, okay?"

Clark reluctantly agreed, knowing that he didn't have a lot of choice and resenting Lois for being the cause of this setback. He didn't like it at all; working on this story had been one legitimate way of finding out just what Jason Trask and his superiors knew about a small baby abandoned in Smallville in May 1966.

It seemed that he would just have to sneak around, using his powers, and find out what he could behind both Perry's and Lois's back.


Lois was feeling frustrated. She'd spent most of the afternoon trying to track down this Colonel Trask, and coming up against a complete blank. The FBI had actually disowned him, which was a first for that organisation. In her experience, the FBI's response to most things was a bland 'no comment;' in this case, a senior information officer had called her personally to inform her that no-one by the name of Jason Trask was employed by the FBI in any capacity.

So was he a fake? What was he up to? It was all very suspicious.

A further major irritation was the continuing presence of Clark Kent only a few feet away from her. He seemed to be keeping out of her way, but he was *there;* any time she raised her gaze from her monitor she could see him out of the corner of her eye. And seeing him brought back lots of reminders she simply didn't want; memories of her anger at waking up and finding herself in his bed, the feeling of betrayal she'd experienced when she'd discovered that he was just like any other male. Only after one thing, no matter how much he'd insisted that she could trust him.

But at the same time, more frustrating memories kept flooding her brain: how it had felt when he'd kissed her, the sensation of his skin under her fingers, the way he'd stroked and caressed her when they'd moved to his bedroom, how she had felt when they'd moved on to still more exciting things. No matter how much she now regretted it, how much she hated him for having taken advantage of her, she knew that last night had been probably the best sex she'd ever had.

But she hadn't *wanted* it! And not with Clark Kent.

She ignored the nagging voice of her conscience which insisted that there hadn't been a lot of advantage-taking going on; in fact, it could as easily be argued that she'd taken advantage of him. She didn't want to admit anything of the kind! She didn't want to think about that incident in any way other than negative. She didn't *want* to have any kind of relationship with Clark Kent; she would have given almost anything just to be able to go back in time twenty-four hours to wipe out the entire incident.

It wasn't just that she worked with Kent, although that was part of the problem. After the Claude incident, she had determined *never* to get involved with a colleague ever again. It just carried too many risks. And she didn't want to be a main topic of conversation in the men's room; she didn't want to wonder continually if her lover was telling his pals all about their sex life. Nor did she want to cope with the inevitable fallout at work after a relationship ended.

There were other reasons for not wanting to get involved in any way with Clark Kent. He wasn't her type, for a start — he was far too much of a country hick, for one thing, and he was also profoundly irritating. He needed to smarten up, treat her with more respect and generally acquire a *lot* of street-smarts before he could even begin to cut it in the city and in the Daily Planet. She had little or nothing in common with Clark Kent.

<But you had no trouble carrying on a conversation with him last night!> her conscience reminded her. Kent had shown that he was both intelligent and articulate, and he had a wickedly subtle sense of humour.

That was irrelevant, she told herself. She had no interest in him at all on a personal level, and last night had been a *mistake.* A mistake he had contributed substantially to, by making sure that her inhibitions were lowered enough so that she would go along with his sly seduction technique. She should have guessed what he was really like under that faux-naive exterior; should have realised that he was a complete womaniser. She'd even seen him flirt with Cat, on his very first day at the Planet — hadn't that been enough of a warning for her?

Well, never again. And Clark Kent could whistle for the opportunity to work with her again; she'd told Perry that she wouldn't work with him, and she meant it.

A tiny voice again suggested to her that perhaps her anger was being directed at the wrong target; that she was blaming Clark so that she didn't have to face the unpalatable truth that she'd broken her own rules *again.* That Clark wasn't really the person she was upset with. The humiliation was all self-inflicted, and the only reason she was focusing on Clark Kent as the villain here was so that she didn't have to face up to the reality that this situation was all her own fault. Tears stung the back of her eyes as she tried to shut her mind to this possibility; it *was* Kent's fault. He *had* deliberately seduced her!

A phone call distracted her then; a few minutes later, she replaced the receiver, all thoughts of Kent forgotten. She had a lead!

On her way out of the newsroom, Kent suddenly appeared in front of her. "Lois, we need to talk," he announced, his tone quiet.

"I'm on my way out," she informed him bluntly, not wanting to talk to him at all. "And anyway, I said all I want to say to you this morning."

"This is important," he insisted, following her into the elevator.

The doors closed before she could dart out again, leaving her trapped with him. She was *not* going to show him that she was uncomfortable with the situation, she determined, and simply selected the button for the ground floor. He pressed the 'stop' button, however, and leaned against the control panel to prevent her starting the elevator again.

"Get away from there!" she demanded coldly, determined not to let him see how much she was shaking inside — from fear, from humiliation, from the force of the memories of him kissing her, touching her, sliding into her… "You want me to report you to Perry for stalking and harassment?"

"I just want to ask you something," he replied quietly, though she could see an oddly determined expression in his eyes.

"What?" she demanded, intentionally rudely.

"Well, to tell you something and then ask you something," he amended. "I wanted to *tell* you that I had no intention of getting you drunk last night, and I'm sorry you thought I did. I really didn't realise we'd had so much to drink, and I apologise for that."

She didn't respond, deliberately looking away from him; she hoped he would interpret her silence as meaning that she had no interest in the conversation. She did *not* want to talk to him; did *not* want to be reminded of last night in any way. She just wanted the whole subject dropped and forgotten about; better still, she wanted to pretend that last night had never happened.

"And I want — need — to ask you: is there any possibility that you could be pregnant?" His voice sounded strained. No wonder, Lois thought cynically once she'd recovered from her own momentary shock; she was amazed that the possibility of pregnancy hadn't even occurred to her. The reason for his question — and the strain in his voice — was evident. Kent was no doubt panicked at the thought that he might actually have to take some responsibility for the consequences of his actions. The idea that a child might result from one of his one-night-stands was obviously scaring him rigid.

Well, she had no use for a man who couldn't face up to his responsibilities anyway. But beyond that, she didn't want Clark Kent having any role in her life in any sense, so the prospect of having his child filled her with horror. But she wasn't on the Pill at the moment, which meant that pregnancy was a definite possibility. Resolving to make an appointment to see her doctor first thing in the morning to arrange emergency contraception, she turned a cold gaze on Kent.

"Rest assured, Kent, that I would do everything possible to ensure that I am *not* carrying your child," she bit out. "You'd never even know about it." He flinched slightly at her words, and she realised that she'd probably given him the impression that she would even contemplate abortion to avoid that outcome. Whatever her principled views on the subject in general, she wouldn't ever consider it for herself; but she had no intention of telling him that.

Anyway, it was no doubt what he would want her to do in any case, so she'd just saved him the trouble of insisting on it.

"Now, are you going to let me go to see my source, or do I have to start screaming for help?" she demanded icily.

He didn't answer; instead, he pressed a button on the control panel and the elevator began to move again. As they reached the ground floor and the doors slid open, he stood back to let her past as if he was deliberately avoiding any physical contact with her.

Ignoring him, she stalked past and out of the building, on her way to meet Mr Thompson, the man who had called her claiming to have information about Jason Trask.


Standing back to allow Lois to pass him, Clark felt the cold fingers of shocked disbelief close around his heart yet again. As if Lois's unexpected accusations that morning hadn't been bad enough, he was now having to assimilate something far worse. The idea that Lois would have an abortion rather than bear his child was too awful to contemplate; did she really hate him that much, or did that reflect her opinion of children in general?

He felt frozen to the spot, only remembering to move when the elevator doors started to close. How could the woman he'd fallen for at first sight have turned out to be so… so cruel, so selfish, so cold-hearted? Did he really have such appalling taste in women? How could he have been so completely wrong about Lois? Oh, he'd known from the start that she had a hard, stubborn exterior, but he'd been so sure that the few glimpses he'd had of a different Lois meant that, underneath, she was a much nicer person. Kind. Soft-hearted. Generous. Lacking in self-confidence, and looking for love… a love he could offer her.

Even after her reaction this morning, he'd still been sure that the woman he'd thought he'd glimpsed in Lois still existed; it was just that he had to try harder to find her.

But now… his illusions had been shattered with a few harsh words.

He'd been fooling himself. The woman he'd thought Lois Lane was did not exist; in her place was a cold, hard, selfish bitch. He flinched at his mental use of the word, but he was well aware that many men of his acquaintance would use it to describe her.

And he'd actually genuinely wanted to apologise; that was galling. Her accusation that he'd got her drunk had refused to leave his head all morning, and he'd finally conceded that he *had* to accept some responsibility there. After all, alcohol didn't affect him. He *knew* that. So he'd been completely sober all along, and he'd *known* that she wasn't. She might not have been rolling-in-the-aisles drunk, but she had been inebriated sufficiently for her inhibitions to have been lowered. And, while he couldn't explain to her why he hadn't been affected by the wine, he'd decided that he did owe her an apology for what had happened. It *had* been more his fault than hers, he thought, despite her very obvious willingness.

The pregnancy thing had only occurred to him after he'd made his decision to offer her contrition. He'd suddenly realised that he hadn't used any protection — he didn't *have* any to use! — and that he couldn't take it for granted that Lois had. He was a responsible adult, and responsible adults did not behave carelessly and ignore the consequences; so, he'd decided, he needed to let her know sooner rather than later that, if she was pregnant, he would be there for her and help her in any way she wanted. He *would* be a father to their child, even if she didn't want him as part of her life in any other way.

Well, she'd made her feelings about *that* only too clear.

Could he ever have imagined that he would feel so disillusioned the morning after his first time making love? Last night had, for him, been so incredibly special, made even more so by being with the woman he thought he was in love with… the woman who clearly existed only in his imagination. He'd wanted his first time to be special, and it had seemed at the time that it *was* — but now, he felt empty inside.

He inhaled deeply and then blew out sharply; he had to make himself forget about that wonderful night. *He* might have enjoyed it; he might have fooled himself that it was the start of a beautiful relationship, but Lois Lane certainly didn't think the same way at all. Far from it. And the sooner he got used to the idea — and accepted the fact that Lois was not the woman he'd imagined — the better.

Right now, though, there was something more important to focus on, he reminded himself. Lois had a lead on the Trask story, it seemed, so if he wanted to have any chance of finding out what was going on — who and what he was — he needed to follow her.

He strolled out of the Planet building, quickly ducking into an alley and spinning into his Super suit. Moments later he was hovering in the air above the newspaper offices, looking for his colleague; within a few seconds he'd spotted her in a taxi which was cruising down the road. A nano-second later, he was hovering several hundred feet above, following her to her destination.


Late that evening, Clark sat cross-legged on the window seat in his bedroom, staring down at the small object cradled lovingly in his hands. For the first time in his entire life, he knew where he came from.


Just a name, that was all; in an objective sense, it meant nothing to him, or to anyone else. He hadn't even needed to search through all the published works on astronomy he could find in the Metropolis University Library to discover that, although he'd done it anyway. Krypton was nota known planet, either in this solar system or anywhere else. But it was the planet from whence he came. The globe had told him that.

He was from Krypton. *That* was what made him different; not because he was an experiment gone wrong and then discarded; not because he was a freak; not because he was just inexplicably weird.

He was an alien, from another planet. He was Kryptonian. And, although he had no idea why he had ended up on Earth, or where Krypton was, or why his birth parents — or the Kryptonian community — had sent him here, that didn't matter for the moment. Time enough on some other occasion to wonder whether there were more Kryptonians on Earth, whether others had grown up, as had he, in complete ignorance of their origins. Although, he mused, if there were and their genetic make-up was the same as his, why hadn't they made themselves known when he'd started appearing as Superman, flying and revealing lots of other powers?

That wasn't important for now. Now… he knew. For the first time, he could answer for *himself* the question: 'Who am I?'.

"I am Kryptonian. I am from another planet." He spoke the words aloud, feeling elated. No more wondering… well, except about *why.* That was still the tough part. But now he knew *who.* And he felt a sense of wonderment about this knowledge, a feeling which hadn't left him since the instant he'd lifted that tarpaulin and seen… *it*.

His parents had been astonished when he'd flown to Smallville to tell them. They'd been delighted for him, that he finally knew the answer to at least some of the questions he'd asked himself, and them, over and over ever since they'd realised that he was *different.* His mother had told him that it would have made no difference to them, in any case, regardless of whether he was the product of a Russian lab experiment or a Martian. He was their son, and they loved him. As he loved them, the couple who had taken in a foundling and brought him up as their own son, protected him all his life, and especially since they'd all realised just how different he was.

They'd told him again, in detail, about the night they'd found him, the craft he'd been lying in, their rescue of him and Jonathan's burial of the spaceship… and the fact that some Government agents had come sniffing around a few days later.

He now knew what that was all about…

Allowing his mind to backtrack, he remembered floating above the anonymous-looking office in which Lois had spoken to the man she'd gone to see, someone called Thompson who'd claimed to have been sent by the Government to investigate Trask, apparently a rogue agent. He'd seen that she hadn't believed a word the man had said either; then he'd been irritated as she climbed into a cab afterwards to follow Thompson. *He'd* planned to follow the man. This was the best chance he'd ever had to find out the truth about himself, and he didn't want to lose it because Lois Lane did something stupid and he had to rescue her.

But, much to his relief, she merely watched Thompson enter the warehouse on Bessolo before leaving. Clark had hung around for almost an hour before Thompson and Trask had left. To his disappointment, he hadn't been able to hear their conversation, since it would have meant hovering too low in an open area where he'd be visible to passers-by, but he would find them again. And in the meantime, there was the warehouse to search; its contents looked intriguing…

He could never have dreamed of what he would find. The file had been the first shock: opening a cabinet at random and flicking through, he'd come across files labelled by year and place. The place-names all seemed to ring a bell, but while he'd still been trying to figure out the connection, suddenly he found *it.* One slim manila file, labelled 'Smallville, Kansas, 1966.'

His home town. The year he was born… no, the year his parents had found him.

He scanned the file's contents at Super-speed. There had been a report of a strange, unidentified light streaking through the sky above Schuster's Field. Some unnamed local source talked about a UFO. There was a mention of a man, unidentified by the source, burying something late at night a day or two later. When B-39 sent agents to investigate, the file recorded, no objects were found in the field. But there had been a depression in the grass, graduated, as if something had gradually come into land and then coasted along the surface for a few feet before coming to a halt.

B-39… what was that? he wondered. By the look of the other files in this cabinet, and the contents of this file, these people were interested in UFOs. But who were they? Government, or some mavericks? Thompson, allegedly a government investigator, knew about this place and about Jason Trask, so Clark was inclined to believe the former… which made his father's advice to him all the more resonant. Officialdom *was* dangerous to him.

Someone in the government knew that his ship had come to Earth in 1966, and where it landed. Therefore it was possible that someone could know what was in that ship, and where he was now…

His heart beating frantically, he'd forced himself to continue reading. The buried space craft had been discovered after a lot of searching, and was in B-39's possession. No trace had been found of any objects or living organisms which might have been in the craft.

And the file said nothing whatsoever about the origins of the craft. It seemed that this organisation didn't even know there had been a baby in there, let alone where that baby came from and why. He was no closer to figuring out his origins.

But — assuming that Trask was part of this B-39 operation — what if they now linked Superman with that space craft? What if the link had already been made? He'd looked again at the file in his hand, and had realised something. It was less dusty than the other contents of the cabinet, and — he scanned it with his X-ray vision — there were recent fingerprints on it. Someone had been looking at this file in the last couple of days.

Was Trask close to figuring out who Superman was? The thought had made him shiver with fear.

He'd shoved the file back into the cabinet, worrying about protecting his secret and that of his parents.

But then his attention had been drawn to the tarpaulin-covered objects. What if…? Breathless, he'd started to float slowly around the room, coming to a halt beside one mound; he had no idea why he'd chosen that one, but with a shaking hand he'd reached out to lift the edge of the tarp. The strange figures along the sides of the smooth, dull-silver coloured craft meant nothing to him, but… on the front, the symbol carved there matched the one on his Suit. The one his mother had copied from his baby blanket. The stylised S.

This was *his* space craft. The one his parents had found him in. The one his father must have buried. The one a B-39 agent had dug up and stolen.

And… there was a small bag. Inside, a small globe — the one he now cradled in his hand as he continued his mental reconstruction of the afternoon's events. The globe had glowed as soon as he'd touched it, and for an instant had shown an image of Earth, before changing to an odd red-coloured mass.


Somehow, looking at the globe, he had known. That red mass was Krypton, and it was where he was from. The name had just come to his lips. It wasn't even as if he'd somehow heard anyone speak it in his mind; he, somehow, had just *known.*


But before he'd been able to think about this amazing discovery, he'd heard voices. Deciding just to get out of there, rather than use his powers to hide, he'd thrust the globe inside the belt of his Suit and re-covered the space craft. It was too large and bulky to take with him now. He would return for it another time.

It had crossed his mind, just before leaving, that he probably should have stayed, at least to find out exactly what Trask was up to and why he wanted Superman; but he'd just needed to see his parents, share his incredible discovery with them. Trask would keep; this couldn't.

And so he'd seen his parents; they'd talked for hours about his amazing news, before he'd finally flown back here to his apartment, where he was still sitting, staring in wonderment at the small object which was of so much significance. He knew who he was, finally. And he felt…


Looking over at his bed once again, more of the day's events reconstructed themselves for him. Last night, less than twenty-four hours ago, he had made passionate, beautiful love with Lois Lane. This morning, she'd accused him of deliberately getting him drunk so that he could take advantage of her. And then later, she'd told his boss that she couldn't work with him — thus possibly sabotaging his career — and had told *him* that she'd abort any child she might have conceived, without even telling him.

Suddenly, his amazing discovery didn't seem so wonderful after all.


Lois sat on the bench-seat of the small plane, glaring at Trask. How on earth had she got herself into this situation? It should have been straightforward; she'd agreed to be interviewed by Trask, at a location of his choice but which seemed reasonably safe, being a hotel conference room, and had been determined not to let him realise that he'd been rumbled. She'd answered all his questions — not entirely honestly — and had then been getting ready to ask some of her own about his interest in Superman, when suddenly his companions had produced guns and Trask himself had insisted that she accompany him outside.

Bundled into a car, she hadn't even had an opportunity to use some of her martial arts training to get away. Even when they'd arrived at the airfield just outside Metropolis, too many guns had been trained on her. And Trask had still refused to explain what he wanted with her.

Now, he was burbling on about something called the 'scientific method.' Advance a theory, subject it to a test, he'd said. *What* theory? *What* test?

"What are you talking about?" she demanded sceptically.

"Superman, Ms Lane," Trask drawled in sardonic amusement. "From what I see, you and your colleague Mr Kent — shame I couldn't get hold of him too — are the two people the alien seems to have had most contact with since his appearance a couple of weeks ago. Since he appears to favour doing good and saving lives, I'm betting that if, say, you should happen to fall out of an airplane at twenty thousand feet, he will rescue you. At any rate, if you should find yourself airborne without a parachute, you will do your best to contact Superman."

He was planning to throw her out of the plane! And she hadn't the faintest idea how to contact Superman! She was really going to die this time…

"One question, Trask," she demanded coolly, deliberately suppressing the fear which rose inside her. "Just why is it so important for you to find Superman that you'd break the law, even kill someone, in order to do it?"

His expression was a sneer. "That information is on a need-to-know basis, Ms Lane, and even so close to your impending death you don't need to know it."

He grabbed her, signalling to one of his men; instantly the door of the plane was thrown open and a rush of air swept in; she saw the other men grabbing hold of the plane's interior for support. Calculating her chances at minimal, at best, she decided that if she was going to get thrown out of the plane, she was taking Trask with her.

One swift movement had him on his back on the floor; but before she could take advantage of the situation, he was on his feet again and twisting her arms behind her back. He frogmarched her to the open door, Lois resisting the whole time. She was at the edge; her feet were already touching thin air as the wind rushed past her at an alarming rate.

Suddenly, his hands pushed and she fell forward; she tried to twist around, to grab his arm to pull him after her, but he had already moved back. Screaming loudly, only to have her words whipped away from her by the breeze, she went into freefall.


Clark was in the conference room with Myerson, engrossed in the detail of the mayor's tax plans. It wasn't exactly his favourite type of story, but he knew he had a lot of ground to make up for, having disappeared in the early afternoon the previous day and not returned. He hadn't even had a good excuse for his absence, in the shape of a story; the events of the previous day, in their entirety, had been so traumatic that the thought of covering for himself hadn't even occurred to him.

So today, he was applying himself seriously to his work. He needed to; he'd been hired on a two-month trial period, after all, and after his rift with the Planet's most senior reporter, he'd be lucky if Perry White kept him on. Although the discovery he'd made when he'd got to his desk that morning had almost ruined his concentration for another day…

Money. Cash — dollar bills, just thrown on his desk. Puzzled, he'd collected up the notes, idly counting the amount as he'd glanced around to see who was nearby, whether there was anyone who could tell him why it was there. Thirty dollars, he'd realised — why would anyone leave thirty dollars on his desk? Then he'd noticed the business card underneath the final five-dollar bill. Lois Lane, investigative reporter, Daily Planet.

For a moment, he'd felt cold inside. This felt like a pay-off for services rendered! Apart from the offensiveness of the idea itself, which made him feel sick, was she also implying that he was only worth thirty bucks? But…

He just hadn't been able to figure out, at first, why Lois would have given him money. Then he'd remembered — of course, he'd given her some cash to buy a few essentials on their way to his apartment. He couldn't remember exactly how much he'd given her, but thirty dollars was probably about right. He'd glanced over in her direction then, not really wanting to speak to her but feeling that he at least ought to acknowledge her repayment, despite the manner in which she chose to do it. But she'd been looking away from him at the time — probably deliberately, he'd decided — so he'd abandoned the idea, at the same time deciding to give the cash to the first charity collector he encountered.

"So the Planet's line is that we approve of the increase in emissions taxes on businesses located along the Hobbs River area, but not the hike in householder taxes." Myerson was saying. "That's what Perry said to me yesterday. We can say what we like about the rest of it, but the Planet's position on those two areas has already been laid out in editorials."

"Um… yeah," Clark answered, trying to show some degree of interest. "Well, shouldn't our position really be based on what the mayor plans to use the additional revenue for, anyway, rather than on whether or not we approve of the taxes?"

He saw Myerson roll his eyes, and realised that he was probably being naive. Again. "It's not as simple as that, Clark. Even if we approve of the spending plans, we might argue that there are better ways to raise the revenue."

Just as he was about to agree, Clark froze. He was having the strangest sensation that he could *hear* someone… someone calling for help, yelling for Superman but without any real expectation that help would come. And yet he wasn't hearing it; his Super-hearing hadn't kicked in. He couldn't explain it. He wasn't telepathic, so how could this possibly be happening?

He had to be imagining it. Dismissing the sound, he turned his attention back to Myerson. "Yeah, I see your point. So we need to look at both aspects, then."

The cries in his head came back, even more urgent. And suddenly he realised: this was *Lois's* voice! He had no idea how this was happening, or how she'd managed to get herself into trouble this time, but none of that — nor how he felt about her at the moment — was important. She sounded frantic, afraid for her life. And his immediate reflexive reaction, that he had to save her, was pure instinct.

Getting abruptly to his feet, he muttered something to Myerson about needing the men's room, and hurried out. He went straight to the stairs, running up at Super-speed and changing into the Suit en route; once he'd run through the door at the top he was airborne.

Where was she? His instincts were telling him that her cries had come from *above,* not below; yet how could that be the case? He focused intently, willing her to keep calling so that he could track her down.

Then he heard her again, with his ears this time; above, and to the north of the city. She really was somewhere above him! But how…? That wasn't important. He flew swiftly onwards, and in a few seconds saw her plummeting towards the ground, a mere few hundred feet below her at this point, her arms flailing and an expression of frozen horror on her face.

In under a second he had her in his arms; he forced himself to forget about the last time he'd held her in his arms, and instead to concentrate on being Superman and making sure that she was safe and unhurt.

At first, she barely seemed aware that her downward plunge had been halted; her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, her face a mask. Then she opened her eyes, stared at him in disbelief and clutched wildly at his upper arms, muttering something incomprehensible even to him. Her relief at being saved from certain death was palpable, and Clark silently thanked whatever force of nature had caused him to be aware in time of her frantic cries for help.

"Lois, are you okay?" he asked, his voice deliberately stiff and formal, even more so than his usual manner as Superman; it was so hard to talk to this woman with the memory of what she'd said to him the previous day so fresh in his mind. But it would be a bad idea to give her any hint that Superman was behaving any differently towards her; that would only make her wonder why.

"Superman!" She sounded as if she was still in shock, and she no doubt was. Her teeth were also chattering, and he increased his speed, landing them outside the Daily Planet in under a minute. As he lowered her to the ground, she clung to him; he wasn't sure whether it was the result of dizziness or something else, but he steadied her and then released her before sweeping her over with a gentle blast of heat vision. He didn't want her getting hypothermia, he thought wryly; not after he'd gone to such trouble to save her life.

He was about to fly off, not having any desire to stick around and talk to her despite his curiosity about what had happened to her, but she caught at his arm. "S-Superman, I have to warn you… Jason Trask… he's the one who threw me from the plane, I think he wants to kill you!"

"I don't think there's anything that can kill me, Lois," Clark replied automatically, but his brain was churning over as he assimilated the information she'd just given him. Trask had *thrown her from a plane*? He'd tried to kill Lois? But why? But he supplied his own answer: to draw Superman out.

This was a trap…

He grabbed Lois by the arm, shoving her roughly in the direction of the Planet's entrance. "Go inside!"

"But, Superman — "


She went, and he scanned the skies and the surrounding area in agitation. Had he been wrong to bring Lois to the Planet? Was whatever Trask had up his sleeve going to harm innocent people? But then he saw it; a large missile, heading straight towards him. Somehow, Trask must have fitted a tracking device to Lois; he would have to find a way of ensuring that it was removed.

The missile first; he flew directly towards it, catching it and reversing its direction. It sped away from him, exploding violently and harmlessly just beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

A few minutes later, Clark Kent strode back into the Planet's newsroom, rubbing his forehead just above the frame of his glasses as if he was tired. He wasn't; he was actually scanning Lois's clothes as she explained to Perry White what had happened. And he'd been right: there was a tracer. It wasn't even well hidden, just attached to the back of her jacket.

He deliberately knocked against her, in the process snatching the tracer and crushing it in his palm. She turned to glare unpleasantly at him. "Watch where you're going, Kent!" she snapped.

"Sorry," he muttered politely before making his way back to the conference room, dropping the crumbled remains of the tracer in a trash-can on his way.


Lois left the Daily Planet several hours later, feeling somewhat pleased with herself. She'd recovered from the acute shock of plunging, as she'd believed, to her death; being rescued by Superman was certainly one way of helping her forget such an unpleasant experience, she considered as she relived those few moments in the Super-hero's arms. He was absolutely incredible…

She had no idea how he'd known that she was in trouble: was his hearing really so good that he'd heard her, wherever he'd been at the time? Or was he somehow telepathic? Oh, how she wished she could get a proper one-on-one interview, instead of having to content herself with yelling a question at him after a rescue and perhaps getting a two- or three-word answer. There were so many questions she wanted to ask him: who he really was, where he came from, whether he really was from another planet as so many had suggested, exactly what he could do and why he'd suddenly emerged from nowhere the day of the Messenger transport shuttle flight.

She should have made better use of her time with him earlier — after all, she'd been flying in his arms! Once they'd been on the ground, all she'd been able to do was give him the warning about Jason Trask — which was just as well, since that missile could have destroyed the Planet building if Superman hadn't caught and deflected it. Would it have harmed Superman himself? She had no idea, though the Super-hero himself had implied that it couldn't.

Oh well, even without the interview she longed for, she had a guaranteed front-page story for tomorrow's edition. The story of Jason Trask's abuse of his position as a US government agent would make compelling reading: the man who was so fanatical in his desire to destroy the man he thought of an alien as to try to kill one reporter and endanger the lives of many other people. The police and the FBI were now out looking for Trask, and it was only a matter of time before he was arrested and thrown in jail.

And Lois had a story which was a strong contender for this year's shortlist. So she was feeling very pleased with herself as she climbed into her Jeep to drive home. Even the presence of Kent in the newsroom hadn't had as much power to aggravate her as it had earlier and on the previous day. She could almost believe, now, that maybe Kent had no intention of boasting of his 'conquest' where she was concerned; two whole working days had gone past and she'd caught no amused glances, no leers, no whispered comments, and no smart remarks aimed in her direction.

But just because he hadn't talked didn't exonerate him for what he'd done, she reminded herself firmly. And because of what he'd done, she'd had to endure a very embarrassing visit to her doctor that morning, to arrange emergency contraception and also to discuss another potential consequence which had occurred to her in the hours during which she'd lain awake the night before. Kent was clearly a womaniser, a skilled seducer. And he hadn't used a condom. That being the case… was she at risk of contracting any sexually transmitted diseases? Even worse, what if he had HIV or even AIDS? But he *looked* healthy, she'd protested to her doctor, earning herself the disapproving response that HIV, and even AIDS, does not necessarily carry visible symptoms.

So, thanks to Kent, she was now going to have to undertake some very humiliating tests to ensure that there were no other unpleasant reminders of that mistake.

All the same… she had to work with him. They were employed by the same paper, and for the good of the Planet she was going to have to treat him courteously — and far more so than she had the previous day. Even though she knew *why* she'd done it — and she'd been shaking inside at the time, just not wanting to be anywhere near him — she knew she'd gone too far with what she'd said to him. She did feel guilty about that, but the thought of apologising… well, that was unthinkable. She couldn't even look at the guy without wanting to shrivel up inside. The memory of that night, and the morning after, was just so humiliating that she'd made herself almost blot it out, suppressed the details to prevent herself dwelling on it.

And yet she would have to get along with him, even work together with him if a story demanded it. She knew that could happen — was quite likely to happen in the future. Whatever her personal feelings about Kent, he had potential as a journalist and had already turned in some good work, even if it lacked the edge her own writing had. And when they'd worked together on the various Messenger-related stories, she'd been surprised to realise how well their styles complemented each other, and how good an investigator he was. She might not appreciate his charm, but it certainly worked as an interview technique, and as a means of obtaining information which might otherwise be denied.

Perry had been very understanding the previous day, but, as he frequently reminded his staff, he ran a newspaper and not a social club. Personal differences could not be allowed to interfere with the job. Sooner or later, he was going to expect her to work with Kent again; apart from issues of team-work and best fit, there was the simple truth that often there simply wasn't another person available. There would come a time when it would be Clark Kent or nobody. So perhaps, before she got forced into it, she should make the first move and indicate to Perry that she was ready to be more professional when it came to working with colleagues.

Not that such a move would mean that she had forgiven or forgotten Kent's behaviour; she would make sure he understood that.


Clark flew slowly over the city, watching and listening for anything unusual below; he'd got into the habit now of flying a patrol at varying times of the evening or night, as well as responding to emergencies which came to his attention. Patrolling was another way of pointing out to criminals and petty attackers that the chances of their getting caught were higher now that Superman was in town, and the random timing of his patrols ensured that offenders didn't just wait until the usual time had passed.

Most people, he knew, welcomed Superman's presence in Metropolis; he knew that the way the Daily Planet had presented his arrival had done a lot to soothe any worries about the presence of an incredibly strong being who could fly. Lois was responsible for that, he knew; she had decided to trust him almost at the instant she'd first seen him in the Suit. No-one who didn't know Lois would probably consider that at all surprising, but he did know her and he was surprised. Lois notoriously trusted no-one; yet she'd immediately decided that the man she'd dubbed 'Superman' was one of the good guys.

Maybe that was why he'd assumed their night together meant that she'd finally decided to trust Clark Kent?

But that was a question he couldn't answer. And after her comments the previous day about her response to any pregnancy which might have resulted, he no longer really wanted to dig very far into Lois's psyche. Although, he'd told himself in the small hours of the morning after getting little sleep, perhaps she was actually on the pill and her words had been just that — words. Bravado. But even in that case, why couldn't she appreciate that he would be appalled at the prospect? Hadn't she understood that he'd asked her the question in the first place because he *cared* — about her, and about wanting to take his share of the responsibility if she was pregnant? That he would want to play a role in his child's life?

There was no point dwelling on that issue, though. Much as he hated the idea, it was Lois's body, Lois's life. He'd made love to her on one occasion, and she'd had regrets the morning after. He had to concede that he had no influence in the situation; that if she wasn't on the Pill, any decisions were up to her and her alone. She didn't want him involved. And he wasn't sure he wanted to be involved with a woman who could behave so callously… though he knew, even as his mind voiced the thought, that it wasn't true. The sense of connection was still there. He'd felt it, earlier that afternoon, as soon as he'd caught Lois in his arms to rescue her from freefall.

That afternoon… the memory reminded him of Jason Trask and the loose ends which remained there. He knew that Trask was now being actively sought by the FBI, and he'd been tempted to offer his help in the search; but in the end he'd decided that it was probably better if Superman stayed out of the situation. After much thought, he'd concluded that Trask most likely hadn't made the connection between Clark Kent and Superman; if he had, then why go to the trouble of risking his cover by pretending to be an FBI agent at the Planet, and kidnapping one reporter and attempting to kill her? Why the tracer on Lois's jacket, so that Superman could be detected? If Trask had known, all he'd have had to do the previous morning was march into the Planet and declare Clark Kent under arrest; or he could even have found Clark at his apartment.

No, Trask didn't know. But what had happened had left Clark with more food for thought. For some reason, the organisation of which Trask appeared to be in charge, Bureau 39, which had an interest in UFOs, seemed to think that Superman was a threat. Trask, at any rate, had made up his mind that the Super-hero was an alien and, according to Lois, had even muttered something at one point about an 'advance guard.'

Clearly, there were some people out there who were not willing to be so charitable where Superman was concerned. They suspected his motives, and they resented his presence. And if that had led to one madman putting civilians' lives at risk to try to kill Superman, then what would stop others following in Trask's wake, aiming to succeed where he had failed?

Perhaps it was time for Superman to stop being so reticent. So far, he'd dealt with whatever emergency he was helping with, conferred with officials at the scene if necessary, perhaps answered one question, then left abruptly. No reporter had yet managed to obtain that elusive exclusive interview. He had observed this aloof manner deliberately, as part of the persona he assumed when he was in the Suit; it was yet another way of ensuring that Clark Kent was not recognised in the Spandex.

But if he wanted to assure the world that he really did mean no harm, that he only wanted to help and would do so to the best of his abilities, then perhaps it was time he emerged a little from under that mask of aloofness. He needed to give an interview. He could, at the same time, answer the question on everyone's lips about where he came from: that he was from Krypton and, to the best of his knowledge, he was the only Kryptonian on Earth.

Having decided that, the only remaining question was which reporter he should choose to give the interview to. Television was out of the question; he had no intention of being questioned live, or even recorded and edited, in full view of millions of people. And anyway, he was a newspaper reporter himself; he had a special affinity with print journalism. That narrowed down the options somewhat, he considered in wry amusement: if he was talking about a newspaper, then what else could it be but the Daily Planet? Quite apart from the quality of the paper, loyalty to his employer meant that he would never offer something as significant as this to another paper.

So… the Planet. Who would he choose to interview him? Again, the answer to that question seemed obvious: the Planet's best reporter, without a doubt, was Lois Lane. She was also Superman's discoverer. So naturally he should approach Lois.

But he was reluctant. Trying to tell himself that he wasn't allowing personal feelings to get in the way of what was best both for the Planet and Superman, he explored the options in his mind, deliberately forcing himself to ignore his opinion about her as a person. Lois was a good journalist — a *great* journalist. What if she asked questions he didn't want to answer? That was a strong possibility. And although his own training would stand him in good stead, he wasn't used to being on the other side of an interview situation.

And anyway… Lois wasn't the only reporter at the Planet who'd had Superman stories under her byline, he reminded himself pointedly. And he really needed to do something to secure his position at the Planet. He was on a two-month trial, and having Lois refuse to work with him as she'd done was obviously not going to endear him to Perry; neither had his disappearing act the previous day gone down well. He was on pretty thin ice at the moment as far as his job was concerned, he knew. A huge scoop would earn him a *lot* of brownie points.

He was above the Planet building. Dropping down swiftly, he landed in an alley behind the building, spun back to his Clark clothes, and then walked around and in through the front entrance. Catching sight of the elevator, another thought occurred to him. Lois would be *mad*! And, right now, Clark could only feel pleased at the prospect. He didn't enjoy the way she'd been looking at him lately, as if he was something offensive the cat had dragged in. While this was hardly likely to improve him in her estimation, at least he'd have got one over on her.

Sitting at his desk a few moments later, he booted up his computer and then began to type, slowly at first and then furiously as the words and phrases formed themselves in his mind and demanded to be written. Half an hour later, he sat back, scrolled to the top, and smiled in satisfaction as he began to read the article through before emailing it to the night editor.


'I AM FROM ANOTHER PLANET' — Superman talks exclusively to the Daily Planet, by Clark Kent.

Lois stared at the front-page headline in sheer disbelief. She had emerged straight from the Planet's parking garage to the street in order to buy a copy of that morning's paper from the vendor outside the building, expecting to rejoice in the sight of her byline on that morning's scoop, the story of Jason Trask's attempt to harm Superman and kill herself in the process. Instead, her gaze alighted on a headline she had longed to see on the Planet's front page — but with a very different byline.

How had this happened?

Superman was *her* story! If anyone had gained an exclusive interview with the hero, it should have been her. She was the one who'd found him, after all. How had Kent managed to scoop her? What right had he interfering in her territory? How *dared* he steal what should have been her story?

More fundamental, she realised, was the question of why Superman had chosen to speak to Kent rather than to herself. She'd thought he liked her. The way he'd smiled at her when he'd left her at her desk in the newsroom, the way he'd looked directly at her as he'd flown off, telling her that he'd be 'around'… all those tiny signals she'd interpreted as Superman having some sort of personal interest in her. Not necessarily any sort of romantic interest — after all, why should he choose her, as much as she might want him to? But she had thought she was in some way special to him.

But he'd given what had to be the biggest story of the year to Kent.

Well, it was up to Superman, she supposed; whatever she felt about the matter, he clearly didn't think that she had any claim to exclusivity where he was concerned. But Kent… Kent was a different matter. He would certainly have known Lois's views on the subject. Had he done this deliberately?

Lois considered that idea as she travelled up in the elevator. He'd been pushing himself into the limelight ever since he'd arrived at the Planet, refusing to take instructions from her, challenging her at every turn, sneaking behind her back to grab stories she should have had. And now he'd grabbed *the* story which should have been hers, just a day after successfully making the moves on her in his apartment.

Just what was his agenda?

She wasn't sure, but she was getting a pretty good idea. And Clark Kent was not going to get away with it. Forget any notions she might have had the night before about working with him as a professional colleague; this guy was Trouble with a capital T. And she was *not* going to sit back and let him take over her position as the Planet's top reporter.

Oh, no. War had now been declared, on both a professional and a personal level.


Over the next few weeks, hostility was barely hidden beneath the surface where Lois's relationship with Clark was concerned. At morning conferences, she either ignored him or treated him as if he was lower than the office junior, and made it her business to grab all the most interesting stories, if possible.

Clark, in contrast, treated Lois with a cool courtesy. It just wasn't in his nature to be rude to anyone, for one thing — and in any case, if the thought had even crossed his mind of being as unpleasant to Lois as she was to him, his mother would have given him a clip around the ear, invulnerable or not. In any case, he felt that his tactics were actually preferable in the circumstances. It was obvious that Lois hated his manner towards her, which gave him a perverse pleasure. He suspected that she would have preferred him to be rude to her, for there to be open hostility between them. As it was, Lois was the one who appeared discourteous; Clark was the one who was at the receiving end of sympathetic glances from newsroom colleagues.

His interview with Superman had definitely been a turning-point. He'd arrived in the newsroom the following morning to cheers and congratulations from his colleagues, and had been called to an immediate interview with Perry White. The editor had been delighted with Clark's scoop, clapping Clark on the back and declaring that the Planet so far that morning had outsold all other papers on the newsstands put together. Mr White had asked Clark how it was that he'd managed to obtain what every other reporter in the city had been after to no avail; Clark had decided to play the ingenue and had shrugged self-effacingly. "Just luck, I guess."

Lois, however, had sat stony-faced while Clark was being feted by newsroom staff; she'd met his gaze just once, briefly, as he'd passed her desk on the way to his own, and her glare, he thought, could have frozen the Great Lakes. She considered Superman her own personal property, Clark concluded sardonically; she seemed to believe that she had some sort of automatic right to any and all information about the Super-hero, and that no-one else should have access to him.

That attitude had prevailed, he'd noticed, at a charity bachelor auction a couple of evenings earlier. He'd agreed — well, Superman had agreed — to be 'auctioned', and it had been well known around the newsroom that Lois intended to be the one to make the winning bid for a date with the Super-hero. Although in many ways Lois would have been preferable to a complete stranger, Clark hadn't been able to ignore his distaste at the knowledge that she would fawn over Superman, while at the same time continuing to treat *him* — Clark — like dirt. He had, therefore, been very pleased when the bidding went beyond her financial limit; though he hadn't been able to help feeling a pang of guilt at seeing her extremely disappointed expression. He'd left soon afterwards, but a flight over the LexCorp building a few minutes later had allowed him to see her sitting at the bar, getting slowly drunk.

Had relations between them not been completely impossible, he would have been tempted to re-enter the building as Clark, to offer her some sympathy and put her into a taxi home. But he knew he was the last person she would want to see; so he'd put on a burst of speed and continued his patrol.

He and Lois had been working on very different stories over the past few weeks, which meant that, apart from the morning conferences and occasional encounters in the newsroom, he hadn't seen a lot of her. Perry had assigned him to investigate sightings of a supposed invisible man — something Lois had openly scoffed at, only to become very chagrined when it turned out that not only were there two invisible men, but that one of them was a known gold robber and escaped convict who was planning to rob the Metropolis GoldRepository. That story had gained another front page headline for Clark; what with that and his Superman story, he was beginning to think that his employment at the Planet was probably secure.

Lois had spent most of the intervening weeks chasing down Superman — not too successfully, although Clark had at one point paused after a rescue and given her a two-minute interview. His motivation had been mainly guilt, as well as self-preservation: he was aware that his scooping of the first Superman interview had actually hurt Lois's ego pretty badly, so he'd felt some twinges over that despite his instinct to believe that she deserved it. Additionally, he'd thought that perhaps, if she got an interview of her own, her general mood might improve. Even if she still treated *him* as beneath her notice, she might cheer up more generally.

However, he'd almost regretted his decision as soon as he'd walked over to her; she'd stared back at him with hero-worship in her eyes instead of the usual brief contemptuous stare before looking away, to which he had now become accustomed. She hadn't even been able to assume her normal highly-competent reporter manner, instead stammering out a couple of questions of which even Jimmy would be ashamed. And he hadn't known whether to be embarrassed for her or angry with her.

His anger sprang from the fact that, when it came to journalism, Lois was the best there was. And yet there she'd been going all dewy-eyed and uncertain in front of a guy in a flashy suit. *Lois,* Mad Dog Lane, who never let anyone see that they impressed her — not that people frequently did have that effect on her anyway. A three-times Kerth award-winning reporter, allowing herself to behave like a star-struck teenager. He hadn't even felt the sense of flattered delight he'd experienced the first few times he'd seen her as Superman; she'd looked at him in a similar way then, but then it had been a novelty for him. He'd basked in the warmth of her admiration.

But on that afternoon, he'd just felt sick inside. Knowing that Lois's hero-worship would change to disgust in an instant if she knew who he was made him bitter; all of a sudden, he hadn't been sure who he despised more: Lois or himself. So in the end he'd given her a couple of platitudes and made an excuse to fly off.

That, together with her behaviour towards him since their night together — including the day after that night — had led him to the conclusion that Lois was just a very shallow person. Good journalist or not, how could she be anything else? And if she was as good as she was believed to be, why was she, of all the reporters in Metropolis, not looking for the real story behind Superman? Everyone else was focusing on what he could do and where he'd appear next; he'd expected Lois, with her hard-hitting approach to the job, to be *investigating* him. Where had he come from? How long had he been on Earth? How had he come here? What was his motivation for what he did? Where did he go when he wasn't rescuing people? Did he have a hidden agenda…? All the questions he had *expected* to be asked when he'd finally decided to give Lois an interview… and all she'd been able to say was something inane about how wonderful it was to see him again and how magnificent he looked when he was saving people. She'd asked him how he felt about knowing he could do all those wonderful things and that people were grateful to him — like some grinning host on a frivolous daytime chat show where tough questions were contractually barred.

Sometimes, now, it was hard to believe that their night together had ever happened. And sometimes, he wished it *had* never happened.

And yet… was he really able to forget what had been, what *might* have been, so easily? He still only had to look at her to want her; there were still moments, even when she was treating him like dirt, when he just *knew* that all he wanted was for them to be together. He couldn't even understand it himself: was he crazy, some kind of masochist, to long for a woman who clearly couldn't stand him and, what wasmore, could talk as she had that day in the elevator? Just what was it about Lois Lane which made it impossible for him to put her out of his mind?

And how, that day Trask had thrown her out of the plane, had he somehow *known* that she was in trouble? He hadn't been within Super-hearing range of her cries, and anyway it hadn't been his *hearing* which had heard her calling for him. It had been as if there was some sort of mental connection between them — or from her to him — which had enabled him to know she needed him.

He'd wondered for a while whether he did indeed have some sort of telepathic abilities of which he'd been previously unaware. But nothing of that kind had manifested itself again in the interim… leading him back to the inescapable conclusion that what had happened was something which really was exclusively between him and Lois.

Which made no sense whatever in the light of their current relationship — or lack of one.


Lois put the finishing touches to her story on the use of cyborg technology to rig boxing matches, and stretched her weary shoulder and back muscles. This was another late night for her; nothing new for Lois Lane, top journalist, but these days she felt under increasing pressure to deliver the goods, whatever it took in terms of working hours.

Somehow, Clark Kent seemed to have turned from a naive hick, too innocent to recognise when someone was lying to him, into a talented and successful reporter. Not that she would dream of admitting that to *anyone*, of course. But Kent had turned in several impressive scoops over the past two or three weeks — starting with that long interview with Superman. She'd still love to know just how Kent had pulled that one off. She would have been only too happy to consider that a fluke, though; but then Kent had pulled in more scoops one after the other. The 'invisible man' stories, the gold bullion robbers, more Superman rescues… Kent seemed to be incredibly lucky.

Lucky… or deliberately trying to muscle in on Lois's position?

At the rate Kent was going, he'd be made permanent by the end of the week. Lois was aware that he'd been appointed on two months' trial, but she also knew how Perry operated. He was impressed by Kent; somehow, Clark Kent not only turned in the work, but also sucked up to the editor in grand style. She hadn't once heard the new reporter address Perry as anything but 'Mr White.'

Although… Lois frowned and conceded that she probably should acquit Perry of vanity here. After all, if Ralph suddenly started calling the editor 'Mr White, sir,' it wouldn't make any difference at all to the way in which Perry viewed him. No; much as it pained her to admit it, Kent was just darned good — or good at taking advantage of opportunities, at any rate. He'd managed to position himself to be in the right place at the right time on sufficient occasions to make himself look very good indeed.

And if Lois wasn't going to be overtaken as the Planet's star, she had to work even harder to compensate for Kent's lucky breaks. Now, if *she* could get a full-length interview with Superman… But unfortunately, the only time she'd even had a chance to speak to the Super-hero recently, he'd only given her two minutes of his time before he'd had to fly off. And she'd still been over-awed by the sight of him flying in and out of a burning building, carrying trapped victims to safety, to concentrate properly on the kind of questions she really wanted to ask him. If he'd stayed, given her a little longer to relax and get into her stride, she could've had a front-page interview far better than Kent's — he hadn't asked Superman any of the difficult questions.

Still, she knew her current story was good, and it looked as if she might be getting closer to that exclusive Lex Luthor interview as well. Lex had been charming to her when she'd run into him earlier, and he'd also saved her from being attacked by one of the boxers. If she could cultivate him… she could be the first ever journalist who managed to get an in-depth interview with Lex Luthor. He knew what she wanted, and he hadn't said no yet. She just had to keep trying, that was all. And that was a story which would certainly put Kent's perfectly-proportioned nose out of joint.

Thinking about Kent's physical appearance was a bad idea, Lois realised immediately. He *was* undeniably good-looking, and to her disgust her dreams over the past couple of weeks had been infested with images of being in bed with him. No matter how hard she tried to forget what had happened, to blot out the details of that night, she couldn't ignore the fact that he was a skilled lover. Before Kent, she'd almost come to the conclusion that she was incapable of reaching fulfilment with a man — not that she imagined herself to be a lesbian or anything like that. She'd considered that either she wasn't capable of responding properly — frigid, as one previous boyfriend had claimed when she'd refused to go to bed with him — or else that the men she had made love with were somehow incapable of arousing her adequately. Now, she inclined to the latter possibility, which in some ways was a relief; she really hadn't wanted to think of herself as just not good at sex. There was no doubt that she'd climaxed that night with Kent. But, she thought bitterly, that was doubtless the result of his obvious years of practice, the countless women he must have slept with.

Which reminded her of something else… She'd seen her gynaecologist again after taking the emergency contraception she'd been prescribed, and had been relieved to discover that she wasn't pregnant. Nor had she contracted any nasty infections, but unfortunately the question of HIV infection was still unanswered. The initial test had come back negative, but the doctor had explained that she would need to be tested again in three months' time, since the infection took time to show in tests. The doctor had suggested that she should simply ask Clark Kent his HIV status, but Lois shuddered at the thought of doing that. No, she would simply have to wait the necessary nine or ten weeks.

Grimacing, she sent her story to the editor-in-chief's email box and shut down her computer. It was far too late to be sitting in the Planet newsroom; that was no doubt why her mind was drifting to subjects which were really best forgotten. She needed a good night's sleep before the following morning's news conference, because she had a killer idea to present to Perry for her next investigation.


Clark was already feeling weary by the time he arrived at the Planet the following morning. He'd been up most of the night helping to put out a spate of fires which had broken out overnight; both he and the emergency services were sure that the fires were arson, but so far no trace had been found of how they could have been started. Also confusing was the fact that some of the fires had started, not quite simultaneously, but very close together in time. They seemed to have been confined to the West River area, but other than that there were no other clues as to what was going on or what the link was between them.

He intended to propose to Perry that he be assigned to work on the arson story; he already planned to offer an exclusive — though brief — interview with Superman on the subject, gained, he would say, in the early hours of the morning. He'd gone out, he would say, to see what was happening when he'd seen smoke and the glow of fire, and he'd been fortunate enough to run into Superman.

There was just enough time before the morning conference to type up his 'interview'; printing it out, he hurried across to the conference room where the rest of the staff were already gathering. Lois was already there, he noticed instantly. His body reacted just as it always did when he saw her; a flutter in his stomach, a tightening in his groin, and a bitter taste in his mouth. Why had things had to go so wrong between them? He wondered briefly whether it would be worthwhile trying to make another attempt to patch things up; perhaps sufficient time had now passed to enable her to be more objective about it. Perhaps he'd ask her to have coffee with him after the meeting.

With that thought in mind, he caught Lois's eye and gave her what he hoped was a friendly smile. She frowned briefly and then looked away; he sighed as he took a seat some distance from her. It looked as if nothing had changed.

About half-way through the meeting the arson attacks came up, and Clark instantly produced his Superman interview. Perry was initially impressed, but less so once Clark revealed that neither Superman nor the police or fire chiefs had any leads as to the cause of the fires.

"I've got a lead," Lois interrupted, sounding very pleased with herself. Clark swung his head around in her direction, taken aback.

"You do?" Perry demanded, looking pleased.

"Yeah. One of my sources came through early this morning — and it's really convenient, Chief, because it ties in with another story I was going to pitch you. That same source told me yesterday that there's a power struggle going on for control of the Metro Gang, and I want to go undercover to investigate that."

"So what does that have to do with the fires?" Perry now sounded puzzled and a little wary.

"Seems the Metros might be behind them," Lois answered triumphantly. "I'm not sure why, but I know I can find out."

"Uh… I'm sure I'm going to regret asking this, but how?" Perry was now definitely wary.

"I told you. I go undercover."

"Undercover doing what?" Perry now sounded irritated; Clark had already figured out that whatever idea Lois had in mind was not one she expected the editor to agree to immediately. It was no doubt dangerous, he concluded wryly, thinking that Superman would probably end up being very busy over the next few days.

"Simple." Now she was smiling broadly, a sure sign that she knew what she was about to suggest was risky. "I'll get a job at the Metro Club. I've already got an audition for an opening — in fact, I'll have to leave here in half an hour."

Clark ignored Perry's shout of "What?!" His blood ran cold at the thought of Lois doing what she proposed; he'd been right. It was *far* too dangerous.

"Lois, you can't!" he exclaimed in alarm. "You know that place is run by the Metro Gang. They're ruthless criminals! If they suspect who you are, they won't ask any questions — they'll just kill you!"

But she gave him a ferocious glare. "Butt out, Kent," she fired at him before turning back to the editor. "It makes sense, Perry. I'm in the perfect position to get inside their operation and find out what's going on. And if I'm right — which I'm sure I am — we get at least two great stories out of it."

"And you could get killed!" Clark pointed out sharply.

Lois ignored him. "Perry — "

"Now, Lois, maybe Clark here has a point. This *is* dangerous. And I know you've taken risks in the past and been okay, but this is different. I'm not sure I want to take the chance that one of my reporters could get bumped off by the mob."

She glared at the editor this time. "Perry! Are you going to listen to a… a junior *hack* who obviously hasn't the guts ever to take a chance for a story?!"

"Oh yeah?" Clark intervened hotly, not even stopping to think about the wisdom of his words. All he could focus on was the fact that Lois had just insulted him in front of the entire newsroom staff, including the editor. He leaned across the table, staring her straight in the eye. "At least I don't act like a starry-eyed teenager when I'm interviewing, unlike *some* people I could mention! Exactly *what* hard-hitting questions did you ask Superman the other day?"

She stared at him, clearly aghast; regretting his words already, Clark heard her whisper, "How did you know…?" before getting up and stalking over towards the door. "Sorry, Perry, but I refuse to stay here if certain people can't treat this as a serious discussion. If you want to talk to me about my investigation, I'll see you in your office."

Clark saw the editor's gaze flick from Lois to Clark and back again; he looked obviously irritated. "Okay, Lois," he agreed after a moment. "I think we're about done here anyway. I'll see you in…" he checked his watch, "ten minutes."

*Why* had he said that about her interview with Superman? Clark slumped back in his seat as the door closed behind Lois, barely able to believe that he'd done it. How could he possibly have been so needlessly cruel? Besides which, he'd given the impression that Superman had talked to Clark about Lois's questioning of him, which — apart from identifying Clark Kent with Superman in a way he didn't really want — made it appear that he and Superman had been laughing at Lois behind her back. That wasn't an impression he wanted anyone to have about Superman…

How could he have been so nasty? It was obvious that what he'd said had hurt Lois — he'd seen the pain and withdrawal in her eyes before she'd got to her feet. She'd been surprisingly restrained in her comments before leaving the room; she'd certainly come out of this in a far more professional light than he had.

Okay, Lois had lashed out at him — indirectly — but although her words had stung, they in no way excused what he had just done. He had publicly humiliated her. He had challenged her competence as a reporter and made public something no-one else should ever have found out about. Yes, she was starry-eyed around Superman… but then, so was a large proportion of the people with whom he came into contact as Superman. They just weren't sufficiently used to him yet to treat him with equanimity. So Lois's behaviour wasn't that unusual.

He should never have said it, despite the provocation.

Aware that some of his colleagues were watching him — with varied expressions, some taken aback, some even admiring — Clark got to his feet. The meeting was clearly over, and he knew what he needed to do. He caught up with the editor by the door. "Mr White — could I talk to you for a minute? In private?"

The editor nodded. "I think that'd be a good idea, Clark."

He followed Perry White across the newsroom, noticing as they went that Lois was at her desk, typing furiously and clearly doing her best to ignore everyone emerging from the conference room. Her heart-rate was still faster than normal, Clark could tell, and his mouth turned down at the corners. Stupid, stupid, *stupid*!

"So, Clark, you want to tell me what that was all about?" Perry asked, once they were safely behind the closed doors of the editor's office.

Clark grimaced. "It's… personal, Mr White. But that was very unprofessional of me, and I'm sorry."

Perry gave him a gimlet glare. "Not sure I'm the person you should be saying that to. Anyway, seems to me that Lois wasn't exactly complimentary about you either." He sat down behind his desk and gestured to Clark to take a seat. "Now, Kent, I don't interfere in my reporters' personal lives. But about three weeks ago Lois told me she didn't want to work with you any more, for 'personal reasons'. I didn't ask her what those reasons were, but now you're telling me that that little scene out there was also 'personal'. I don't appreciate people bringing their personal problems into my newsroom, Clark, especially when something like that happens."

"I'm sor — " Clark began, but was interrupted.

"Now, in case you think I'm being unfair to you, let me assure you that I'm going to be saying exactly the same thing to Lois in a few minutes. This has got to stop, you hear?"

"It will," Clark said heavily. "Mr White, I've come to the conclusion that it would be best if I left."

"What do you mean?" Perry demanded.

"Quit, I mean. Looked for another job." Now that he'd convinced himself that this was the best way out of what had become an impossible situation, Clark was determined to persuade the editor that it was the only solution. "Lois and I clearly can't work together, and — as you've just seen — it's damaging the Planet. She's been here a lot longer than I have. She's got three Kerth awards — you can't afford to lose Lois. I've only been here a couple of weeks — I won't be missed."

The appalled look the editor gave him was actually gratifying, Clark thought bleakly. He didn't want to do this. Working for the Planet was his dream, and he'd been so happy when he'd achieved it. But the current situation couldn't continue. The prospect of the two of them coming to some sort of accommodation looked ever more unlikely — and today he'd probably blown all chances of resuming a good working relationship with her. It was best all round that he should leave and get a job at another paper.

"Now, Clark, don't be hasty…" Perry began.

But Clark shook his head. "I'm not. I really think it's for the best — and I think you do too, Chief."

"Kent, I think you're forgetting who makes the hire and fire decisions around here — "

"No, I'm not, Mr White," Clark replied soberly. "But you're also the one who has to get a newspaper out at the end of the day. And you can't do that when two of your reporters are at each other's throats. It's for the best if I go."

"Clark, listen to me!" the editor said sharply. "Lois will get over whatever it is about you that's bugging her. I don't know what it is, and I don't want to know, but she's a professional right down to her little toe. When the crunch comes, all she'll care is that you're a good reporter. Now, I went along with her request at the time to *give* her time — it doesn't help me if one of my newsroom teams can't even speak to each other without biting each other's heads off. That's people management, and that's what I do."

But Clark was shaking his head. This was more that just Lois having taken a dislike to him — and him to her, come to that, and while he had no intention of revealing any of the circumstances, he knew that there was little or no chance of their getting over their animosity. He realised now, after what had happened in the conference room that he couldn't forget what she'd said to him in that elevator — and if he ever found out that she had aborted his child without consulting him or even letting him know, he could never forgive her either. She hated him for her own peculiar reasons — the facts just didn't seem to matter. And so there was no chance that either of them could carry on working for the same newspaper.

"Chief, no. I appreciate what you're trying to do, but this isn't some little disagreement which will blow over. The two of us just can't work together, and that's not good for the Planet. I realised this morning that it has to be either Lois or me, and in the circumstances it should be me."

Perry was silent for several moments, his expression torn. Then he sighed deeply and gazed at Clark. "I guess you're probably right. Not that I want to lose you — you may be new, and pretty raw, but you got a lot of potential, son."

"Thanks, sir!" Clark said awkwardly, feeling complimented. At least he had managed to make something of a mark in his few weeks at the Planet.

"I'll give you a reference, not that you need it with what you have in your portfolio," Perry continued. "And if you ever want to change your mind, there'll be a job here for you at the Planet. Just give Lois time to forget this, yeah?"

"Maybe," Clark agreed, though silently he considered that it would be best if he never came back to the Planet. Perhaps if he no longer saw Lois every working day, it would be easier to forget that magical night together, and how badly everything had gone wrong afterwards. Maybe…

He shook hands with the editor, having agreed on a week's notice, then left the office to start job-hunting.


Lois marched into the venue for the mayor's press conference and glanced around her while she waited for the event to begin; her gaze alighted on a tall man standing several feet from her, and she rolled her eyes.

Clark Kent. Again.

Ever since Kent had shocked her by handing in his resignation a month ago, she'd seen more of him than she had in the weeks he'd been working at the Planet. It seemed that every story she covered for the Planet was also one he'd been assigned to cover for the Metropolis Star.

She'd first heard about Clark's resignation when she'd gone to see Perry about her Metros investigation. The editor had refused to listen to her pitch at first, ordering her to sit down and then delivering a lecture about professional behaviour and not bringing personal problems to the workplace. She'd been about to protest that Clark Kent's behaviour had been even worse, until she'd admitted to herself that he *had* been provoked. What she'd said about him, in front of all their colleagues, had been unnecessary and unprofessional.

"You're right, Perry. I'm sorry," she'd conceded. "I may not like him, but that's no excuse. We have to work together, so I'll try to do better in future."

"Well, looks like that won't be necessary." Perry's response had puzzled her, until he'd totally shocked her by explaining. "Kent's quit. He's given me a week's notice."

Lois's immediate reaction to Kent's impending departure had been relief; she would no longer have to come into the newsroom every day and see him sitting across from her, no longer have to wonder just when he was going to tell their male co-workers that he'd stormed the citadel that was Lois Lane. She wouldn't have to be on her guard in case he tried to hit on her again; and she would no longer be in competition with him for the best stories, no longer be conscious that the competition within the Planet had just got a lot tougher.

And she would no longer be tormented by memories of his seduction of her, drifting off into daydreams in which she remembered the feel of his fingers caressing her, his hand drifting up her leg, his mouth plundering hers, the incredible sensation she'd felt as they'd made love. In time, memories of their night together would cease to fill her dreams, and she would stop waking up shuddering, sweating, appalled that she'd given in to such an obvious Lothario.

So she'd been happy; nothing so crass as to let Clark Kent actually see that she was delighted about his impending departure, but she certainly hadn't joined in the chorus of regrets which their colleagues were making. And when it came to signing his good-luck card, all she'd written was 'Goodbye. L. Lane.'

But after his farewell party she'd begun to experience some regrets. After all, before he'd revealed himself to be a complete bastard by taking advantage of her when she'd had too much to drink, he'd actually shown signs of being a reasonably decent person. He'd certainly been understanding the night she'd confessed some of her deepest secrets to him — and none of those had ever made it to the newsroom grapevine. Nor, she had to acknowledge, had the story of their night together. A womaniser he might be; a boaster he was not.

And he *was* a good journalist; and he'd actually been a useful partner on the couple of occasions when Perry had teamed them together. She had to concede that she'd far rather have Clark Kent as a colleague than Ralph, for example. And he'd quit the job she knew he loved, that he'd wanted ever since he'd graduated from college — he'd told her about that over dinner at his apartment. Because of what had happened between the two of them, and her inability to let it go at work, he'd had to quit; and as far as she'd been aware at the time, he didn't have another job to go to.

So, as she'd watched him leave the Planet building for the final time, she'd found herself feeling sorry for him. Not only that; she'd been on the point of calling him back to wish him well in his job-search and to tell him to…

To what? To keep in touch? To take care of himself? She'd shaken herself and abandoned that thought as soon as it had formed itself in her mind. She'd made her feelings very clear as far as Clark Kent was concerned — she could still visualise his expression that day in the elevator when she'd deliberately allowed him to conclude that she'd have an abortion rather than bear his child — and so he'd be far more likely to tell her to go to hell than to thank her for her consideration. He no doubt held her entirely to blame for the loss of his job at the Planet, on top of everything else he probably held her responsible for.

So she'd said nothing; instead, she'd stood in the shadows, unobserved, as he'd marched swiftly out of the Planet's main entrance carrying a small box containing his personal belongings. A minute later, he'd turned into a nearby alley, and that, she'd thought, would be the last she'd see of Clark Kent from Kansas.

Not so.

A few days later, as she'd been working undercover in the Metros Club as a singer, she'd noticed someone behind the bar. A man. The hair and glasses had been different, but it was Kent. He'd noticed her staring, and had inclined his head very briefly in recognition. Later, when she'd managed to corner him to demand to know what the *hell* he was doing muscling in on *her* story when he no longer worked for the Planet, he'd had the cheek to tell her that *he* was now investigating the Metro Gang for his new employer. The Planet's biggest rival, the Metropolis Star.

She'd been furious. Not just that Kent was still in town and apparently planning to remain underfoot, but that he'd made use of the information she'd mentioned *in confidence* in the Planet's conference room only a little over a week earlier in order to give himself a head start with his new employer. She'd been tempted to tell him exactly what she thought of him, but the need to preserve her cover had been more pressing, so she'd simply glowered at him and walked off.

Even more galling had been the discovery that Perry *knew* Kent was working for the Star. Apparently he'd already secured the position before he'd worked out his notice for the Planet, and it had been Perry White's reference which had clinched the offer. Lois had been amazed that Perry would countenance helping someone get a job at a rival paper, but the editor had simply shrugged and commented that he'd had no desire to see a talented writer like Kent out of a job.

"And if he's out getting stories for the Star now, you'll just have to work even harder to make sure that the Planet gets there first, Lois," Perry had drawled, giving her a challenging stare.

He hadn't been wrong there! Okay, Lois had managed to get the scoop on the Metros, but Kent had beaten her to the story behind the Toasters and Toni Taylor's involvement with them. Then he'd been dogging her trail as she'd investigated the 'smart kids' and Mentamide 5, and to her chagrin he'd gained some more Superman scoops. Only that morning, on her way to work, she'd seen that day's Star on the newsstands with a story about Superman saving a stricken plane, complete with quotes from the Super-hero. The Planet had the bare story, on an inside page, with no quotes; the Star had somehow managed pictures!

Needless to say, Perry hadn't been very pleased at being scooped by the Star, which he considered to be a lower-quality paper in every way. The fact that the front-page splash carried the byline of Clark Kent had certainly not improved his mood, and Lois had found herself wondering, in a momentary crisis of confidence, whether her editor was beginning to think that he'd let the wrong reporter go. Her only consolation had been the knowledge that the Star was not in the same league as the Planet in terms of quality or reputation. Reading Kent's articles, she could see how his style had altered, become far less sophisticated. He hadn't seemed to find that adjustment difficult, she thought, and that made her wonder in some satisfaction whether, when it came to writing as opposed to finding stories, Kent just didn't have what it took to compete at a top paper like the Planet.

But, regardless of that, he kept getting the scoops…

However, three days ago she'd pulled off a coup, exposing a leading accountant who'd been on the take from his clients for several years. A combination of off-the-record interviews with staff in the man's office, a couple of clients whom she'd persuaded to speak out, and a little bit of good old breaking and entering had got her the proof the Planet's lawyers needed in order to go to print. That had been another front-page story, and one which had set the news agenda for the remainder of the day. The Star had been reduced to following the Planet's lead, following up the story in its evening edition and quoting from Lois's article. Kent had written that story for the Star, and seeing her ex-colleague having to refer to her own exclusive had given Lois an enormous sense of satisfaction.

But now, here she was waiting for the mayor's explanation of what additional measures the city was taking to cope with the very unseasonal heat; and once again, Clark Kent was covering the same story for the Star.

He glanced across, as if realising that he was being watched, and saw her; giving her a brief nod in acknowledgement, he then turned his attention back to the platform, where the press conference was about to start. He didn't even look *warm,* Lois thought in disgust; every other person present was sweating uncomfortably, fanning themselves with their notebooks or anything else which came to hand, or trying to get into the draught created by the feebly-performing fans. Clark Kent stood there in his dark suit, not even breaking sweat, looking for all the world as if it was a cool sixty or seventy degrees in that room.

The press conference itself was fairly predictable, Lois thought; as usual, Mayor Berkowicz had nothing new to offer, although a ripple of interest was caused by Lex Luthor's announcement that his new nuclear power station would be ready to go live within a couple of days. Kent jumped on that statement — he still had it in for Lex, Lois noted with cynical distaste — referring to some safety concerns which had been expressed. All resolved, Lex assured the assembled reporters.

Then Lois was finally able to ask the question she'd been waiting for: what was the cause of the heatwave? The mayor and one of the scientists present tried to fudge the answer, but another scientist, a Dr Sayer, clearly had some theories in that respect; the reporters bayed for their answer, and finally it was forthcoming.


Lois stared at the speaker in disbelief. Superman couldn't be responsible for this! There was no way that he would cause harm to anyone, let alone to the city's ecological balance. For a moment, she almost expected Superman to fly into the room and deny categorically that it had anything to do with him. But as the clamour rose in response to the allegation, it was clear that others were taking the suggestion seriously.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Clark Kent; ashen-faced, he was discreetly making his way to the back of the room.


Once outside the conference room, Clark darted along the corridor and into a stairwell; checking first to ensure that it was empty, he ran at Super-speed up the steps to the top of the building. Once on the roof, he spun into his Suit and took off at lightning speed, only slowing down when he was out somewhere over the Atlantic.

*He* might be responsible for the heatwave?

Could it be that his use of Super-powers while in Metropolis had damaged the eco-system to such a degree that normal weather patterns had completely altered? If so, then…

If so, he would have to stop using his powers; stop being Superman. There was no other solution. He couldn't reconcile with his conscience the pleasure of his powers versus people's lives. The heatwave had already cost people their lives — people had had heart attacks, some had been electrocuted trying to repair appliances which had burnt out through over-use, and others had suffered sun-stroke. If all that was really his fault, then Superman would have to go.

And yet Superman saved lives; if Superman hadn't been around over the past three months, then many people would have died. The passengers on the Prometheus's transport shuttle, would-be suicides, plane passengers, car drivers, pedestrians, people trapped inside burning buildings, Lois…

Lois would be dead. He had saved her life, as Superman, three times now, and once as himself while surreptitiously using his powers.

Lois. He'd seen her at the press conference, as he'd seen her at several others since his precipitate departure from the Planet. She frequently ignored him altogether, though at other times — like this morning — he would sense her looking in his direction. Although he'd always acknowledged her in some way, she rarely reciprocated.

Time and distance hadn't altered the way he felt about her, the way his body reacted when he saw her. Even after what had transpired between them, he still felt as if a light had come on inside him every time he saw her; his senses were still aroused simply by the knowledge that she was in the same room. She was as beautiful as ever, and still as remote.

He couldn't understand his feelings for her. With everything that had happened between them, he ought to despise her, or at the very least be indifferent to her. The fact that he didn't could only indicate that he was some sort of masochist. He'd been sure, the day he'd told Perry he wanted to quit, that he hated her. She'd slept with him and subsequently accused him of taking advantage of her. She'd threatened to abort his child if she'd conceived — and, for all he knew, she might already have done that. She'd treated him like dirt, and at the same time had continued to fawn over Superman like some teenage groupie, barely able to string together a coherent sentence. She'd been contemptuous of him publicly, and ultimately had been responsible for his walking out of his dream job, at the Daily Planet.

No… no, he'd done that all by himself, his conscience forced him to acknowledge. He had lost his temper in a spectacular — and, for him, very unusual — way and had insulted her publicly. He'd been ashamed of himself a second after he'd said it, but it'd been too late then. But he wouldn't have done it if Lois had been prepared to keep their personal issues out of the way when it came to work. She hadn't; and he'd retaliated. And in that moment, he'd known that they couldn't continue to work together. Either they'd come to blows in devastating fashion, or Perry White would lose his temper and take definitive action.

It had seemed a far better option, therefore, for Clark to make the decision to quit. He hadn't wanted to; he'd loved working at the Planet. But he couldn't deny that working there under circumstances in which Lois Lane behaved as if he was something the dog had dragged in, and in which most of his colleagues quizzed him every chance they got about exactly what had happened between him and Lois, was not ideal. In fact, he'd been beginning to hate it. And since Lois seemed to be able to carry on, most of the time, almost as if nothing had happened, it had seemed he was the only one who was finding things a strain.

So he'd quit, and had then been faced with the task of finding another job. Much to his shock, Perry White had helped him there, pointing him in the direction of Mike Lloyd, the editor of the Metropolis Star — the Planet's rival.

Mr White had explained that, much though he hated to lose a good journalist to the competition, he did hold out hope that one day Clark could rejoin the Planet; if he stayed in Metropolis, that move would be easier. And, he'd added, he didn't want to see Clark out of work and short of cash. The Star needed another city news reporter, and Clark was better than anyone they'd ever managed to hire before, in Perry's opinion. It was the Star Perry was doing the favour, not Clark, he'd explained.

The Star was not the Daily Planet. Clark had decided that during his first morning there. Stories Perry wouldn't have touched with a barge-pole — too salacious, too little evidence, just plain trivial — were grist to the mill of Mike Lloyd and his team, and Clark had found himself having to adapt to a very different set of news values.

As well as that, he had also had to adapt his style of writing considerably. After his first few articles had come back from the sub-editors covered in blue pencil-marks, with commas changed to full stops, paragraphs broken up and vocabulary choices rejected throughout, he had been forced to simplify his work — dumb it down significantly, he thought dryly. He'd heard it said, before moving to the Star, that while the Planet's reading age was around sixteen, the Star's was no more than twelve at best. Now, he knew that was true. From the subs' alterations to his work, he'd deduced that sentences should be no longer than a single line, with at most one comma. Paragraphs should be, at most, three lines. And woe betide him if he didn't use at least two exclamation marks in any one story. No words of longer than three syllables; he sometimes wondered how 'Metropolis' managed to make it past the subs.

While Clark had never used what he considered to be complex sentence structure in his articles for the Planet — no colons or semi-colons, for instance, unless he was writing a longer op-ed piece rather than a news report — this made him feel as if he was writing for a comic book. Still, he had swallowed his distaste and learned to adapt. It was a job, after all, reporting the news, and he was still in Metropolis.

Of course, he could have taken the excellent reference Perry had given him, and his newly-augmented portfolio, and just started again in another city; there were other papers with reputations equally as good as the Planet's. But there was something about Metropolis which compelled him. He loved the city. He loved its people, the buzz he got when walking through the busy streets to and from work. He loved the atmosphere at night, and in the early morning. And, most of all, he loved seeing the city from above when he was flying.

And he loved Metropolis because it was Lois's home. Despite everything, he just couldn't turn his back on her; regardless of her feelings for him, and the way she'd treated him, he found the idea of leaving unthinkable.

Except that now…


Forcing himself to push aside his thoughts of Lois and of Metropolis, he reminded himself again of what had been said at the press conference. Dr Sayer, the physicist who was investigating the cause of the heatwave on behalf of the city, seemed sure that it was Superman who was responsible… or Superman's use of his powers.

He thought back over the past few days, slotting together incidents in a logical order. Despite it being November, the temperature had been increasing almost steadily for about a week. There had been a couple of days when it had seemed to cool down a little, but he realised that those days had something in common.

Superman hadn't been required to assist at any emergency.

On the other days, he had helped out somewhere — a fire, a train crash, a freeway pile-up, the usual kind of emergencies with which he was now accustomed to helping. And on each of those days, the temperature had gone up again.

He had worked out, some years ago, that his powers were somehow solar-induced. That had been simple observation; if he stayed out in the sun, he tended to feel 'recharged'. In winter, especially if he stayed indoors during daylight hours, he tended to notice a diminution of his strength after a couple of days. Yet a flight to somewhere warm and sunny always left him feeling stronger. So he was clearly drawing down the sun's energy to himself.

He had no idea, really, how strong his powers really were, or how much energy it took to recharge him. He could be drawing the sun's rays down to Metropolis like a giant funnel, and never even know it… until now.

But why hadn't any of this become apparent before? He'd been using his powers for years before coming to Metropolis.

There was a simple answer to that, he realised. He'd been travelling the world for the past two or three years, never staying in one place longer than a few months. This was the longest he'd stayed in one place since leaving college. And although he'd had the full range of his powers since he was eighteen and had discovered that he could fly, he'd never used his powers as much, as openly, as he had since becoming Superman. This increase in Super-activity — including the *degree* of strength and other powers he now used on a daily basis — could easily be what was causing the change in the climate.

If that was true, then everything in Clark's life could be about to change.

He would have to stop using his Super-powers, not only for rescuing people, but also as part of his everyday life. He used his powers every day, and frequently his use was so automatic that he didn't even think about it. He shaved using heat vision. If he wanted a hot drink, he heated the water with his eyes. He floated cross-legged in front of the TV when watching a ball game. He flew to India, China, Malaysia, all over the world whenever he felt like having an exotic meal. He floated in his sleep sometimes — now, how on earth was he going to stop doing that? He used X-ray vision and Super-hearing in the course of his work; perhaps that was cheating, but he always made sure that he had printable evidence for everything.

So giving up the use of his powers wouldn't be easy; but would it stop there?

Although the other physicist present had tried to stop him, Dr Sayer had effectively told the whole of Metropolis that the heatwave was Superman's fault. How would the citizens of Metropolis receive that? What would his colleagues in the print media be writing about him, now, at this very second? What editorial line would be taken by the next editions of newspapers, the next news bulletins on TV and radio?

Would there be a movement to drum Superman out of town?

Of course, if Superman was asked to leave, that didn't mean Clark Kent had to, he told himself. He could stay; after all, no-one knew he was Superman. He didn't have to leave the city he loved; there was no need for him to give up hope of some day returning to the Planet.

But what if he stayed, and he occasionally forgot and used his powers? Would the hot weather come back? If it did, and people's lives were put at risk as a result, he'd never be able to forgive himself.

<The research is not conclusive. We need to carry out more studies. It hasn't been proven that Superman is responsible>

Clark reminded himself of the second scientist's words. He needed to calm down and not make any hasty decisions. Sayer could easily have jumped the gun, and the next study might show a completely different probable cause.

He flew back to Metropolis, conscious of the fact that he needed to show his face at the Star and write up this story for the afternoon edition. Nearing the Star's offices, he suddenly realised that he was directly above the Daily Planet; pausing in mid-air, he used his X-ray vision to see into the newsroom. Perry, Lois and several other reporters were in a heated discussion about the line the paper should be taking, he realised quickly, but as he listened it suddenly came to a swift conclusion. Perry White had made up his mind.

Holding up his hands, the editor declared loudly, "Headline: 'Super Feat Equals Super Heat.' Afternoon edition."

Without waiting to hear more, Clark flew on to the Star's offices with a heavy heart.


Lois watched on the newsroom monitor as Superman rescued a group of dock workers who had been trapped in a burning building, then shut down the transformers to prevent a gas explosion. How had Metropolis managed before Superman arrived? And how could anyone suggest that his actions were responsible for the heatwave? Didn't they see how much good he did for the city, every single day?

Turning back to her computer, she continued the search she'd begun before the LNN broadcast had caught her attention: an attempt to quantify the number of lives Superman had saved since the day he'd swallowed the bomb which would have sent everyone on board the Prometheus's transport vehicle into oblivion. It was a difficult search, since there had been some degree of exaggeration, and also since he'd saved many people from serious injury rather than death, but who was to know whether they might have died from those injuries?

Even still, an approximate count was yielding a figure well in the upper hundreds, not far short of a thousand. One thousand citizens of Metropolis, alive today because of Superman — and there were other people in other cities, since Superman didn't confine his activities to city limits.

Was this the way to repay Superman? Lois intended to write an article on that very theme, and then she would argue with Perry until he agreed to run it. It just wasn't fair that everyone was jumping on this Dr Sayer's bandwagon before his hypothesis had been properly tested; Lois had argued that earlier, but Perry had still insisted on his 'Super Feat' headline. Despite that, she'd managed to get Jimmy to start doing some research; she wanted him to contact that other physicist who'd been on the platform with Sayer, and at the same time she'd given him instructions to start plotting some observations on maps of the city.

One way or another, no matter how long it took her, she would prove Sayer wrong and exonerate Superman of blame for the heatwave.


"Looks like Big Blue's finally found a problem he can't solve with his fancy powers!"

"Yeah, he's not looking so *cool* now, huh?" A shout of laughter followed.

"Wonder if he'll get hauled out of town by the tights?" someone else suggested, following up the remark with raucous laughter.

Clark sat at his desk in the corner of the Star's large open-plan newsroom, desperately trying not to listen to his colleagues' comments. It wasn't easy to concentrate on his work and ignore them, however; apart from the fact that they were talking very loudly, they were only expressing his own thoughts — though considerably more crudely.

*Was* that going to be the reaction of the general public to the theory that Superman might be responsible for the heatwave?

He sighed. Only half an hour earlier, he had rescued several workmen from certain death in fire or an explosion; he'd also prevented the explosion from happening, which had saved a lot of valuable property in the docks area. And yet people were talking about drumming him out of town? He'd thought he'd been exaggerating earlier when that possibility had occurred to him, and yet now he was listening to his co-workers discussing that very notion. And they thought it was *funny*!

It was all so different from the general mood a few weeks earlier, when he'd been declared Metropolis Citizen of the Year and feted by the city council. He'd hated the adulation; all he wanted, as Superman, was to get on with what he did best: saving people and property from disaster.

Had inventing Superman been a mistake after all? Should he simply have carried on with what he'd done for all of his adult life previously: helping in secret, moving on whenever people started to ask too many questions about the mysterious person performing startling feats? But he hadn't wanted to do that. He'd known, as soon as he'd arrived in Metropolis, that he wanted to stay here. Even before he'd met Lois Lane, he had known that Metropolis was his home.

Could he, if necessary, give up the use of his Super-powers? Never use anything greater than human strength or speed? Never use his vision or hearing powers? Never fly again?

His thoughts were interrupted as the volume on the TV screens suddenly increased. The City Attorney was standing on the steps of the courthouse, apparently about to begin a press conference, and according to the LNN reporter covering the story, it was about Superman. Clark frowned; why hadn't he heard about this? Why wasn't he down there covering it?

Ms Cheng, the attorney, began to speak. "As the City Attorney for Metropolis, I will be seeking an injunction tomorrow ordering Superman to immediately cease and desist in the usage of his Super-powers," she announced clearly.

Clark stared at the screen, a cold lump beginning to form in his chest. He'd been expecting something like this, but it still came as a shock. He was relieved to notice, however, that the crowd reaction to the statement was hostile.

As he continued to watch the broadcast, a very familiar voice shouted, "Under what authority?"

Lois. The picture on camera changed, the LNN producer obviously wanting to see who had asked the question; Lois's familiar features became visible, her expression determined.

Ms Cheng was ready for the question, though. "I am acting under municipal code, section 12, article 5, the so-called 'Civic Emergency' provision," she explained, holding up a copy of the document. "I have a subpoena for his appearance tomorrow morning to show cause why he should not be so enjoined. I am making this public appeal this afternoon asking him to submit to the laws of this community."

As if he wouldn't submit to the law, Clark thought bleakly. Why would anyone suspect that Superman would put himself above the law? Had he ever done anything to give the impression that he would consider himself above the law?

But as Clark was still recovering from that statement, he received another shock. A reporter for a tabloid TV news programme asked, "But what if he doesn't? And if he's endangering the lives of everyone in Metropolis, shouldn't you be issuing a shoot-to-kill warrant?"

McKee. Clark knew the man's reputation, so in a way he shouldn't have been too shocked at the question. But he found it hard to credit how Superman could have overnight gone from a civic hero to a criminal who should be shot on sight. Not, of course, that anyone *could* shoot him, he mused wryly. He was invulnerable… at least, in a physical sense. He was relieved to note that most of the crowd didn't share McKee's views, although Cheng's response that she hoped the city wouldn't be forced to use any extreme measures wasn't especially comforting.

So he had to appear in court the following morning. Well, he had better do his own investigation of Dr Sayer's theories in the meantime — there was certainly no doubt that it had got even hotter since his return from the warehouse, but that didn't necessarily mean it was his fault -

"Kent! What are you doing here? Why weren't you down at the courthouse?" The irate voice of Mike Lloyd, editor of the Star, interrupted Clark's thoughts. He sighed heavily and prepared to justify his position as reporter; good practice for justifying himself in court the next day, he considered bleakly.


But by the following afternoon Clark was beginning to think things couldn't get any worse. Despite working on it all night, he hadn't been able to find anything which could challenge Sayer's theories, and then he'd had to get ready for his appearance in court. Telling Mike Lloyd that he'd be covering Superman's hearing would, he'd hoped, have stopped any questions at the Star as to Clark Kent's whereabouts… but that had been earlier. Now, he was locked up in a prison cell.

Not that bars could hold Superman in any case; but that wasn't the point. The court had granted the City an injunction banning him from using his powers, and he'd voluntarily agreed to comply in any case. And he had genuinely intended to keep his promise — at least until more research was completed as to the cause of the heatwave. But then, outside the courtroom, a prisoner had escaped, grabbed a bailiff's gun and put the lives of innocent people at risk. He'd had to do something, and he'd used his heat vision. He'd saved people's lives… and yet he'd been hauled back inside the courtroom, declared to be in contempt of court, and remanded into custody. And he was in a cell trying to ignore the taunts of the other prisoners, who were, not surprisingly, highly amused at finding as a fellow prisoner the Super-hero who had actually captured at least one of them.

He couldn't blame the judge or the City Attorney, or even the police who'd booked him in and taken him to the cells; they were only doing their jobs. And if his Super-powers really were responsible for the meteorological problems… well, the city was entitled to demand that he cease to use his powers. That, no doubt, was what he would be told when he was brought back to court later — or would he be sent for trial and possibly a prison sentence? That would create all sorts of problems; no doubt Clark Kent's absence had already been noticed, for instance. What if Superman offered to leave? Then Clark could carry on with his normal life, and he'd just have to try to manage without his powers. That wouldn't be easy…

"Superman? It's time for your court appearance!" The prison officer's shout caught the attention of the other prisoners as well,and several renewed their earlier taunts.

"Hope you got a good lawyer, Supes!" one sneered.

"Don't enter a plea until they offer you a bargain," someone else suggested; that was possibly well-intentioned, Clark thought, but he had no intention of doing anything of the kind.

"Aw, if he had any gumption at all he'd zap the judge and the cops and fly out of there," a thick-set man with a crooked scar across one cheek scoffed. "He's not the Man of Steel — he's the Man of Cardboard!"

He shook his head, ignoring the men's remarks, and followed the prison officer away from the cells.


Sitting in the sweltering courtroom, Lois was barely able to believe this was happening. *Superman,* the best thing to happen to Metropolis, was actually on trial for contempt of court.

A couple of fans were half-heartedly spinning in a feeble attempt to lower the temperature; most people were fanning themselves with sheets of paper or anything else they had to hand. The hot weather was still showing no signs whatsoever of dissipating.

She was there in her capacity as a reporter, covering the story for the Planet, but she would have attended in any case to support Superman. To her surprise, Perry had accompanied her; she'd wondered if that meant he was planning to do or say something in support of Superman, to act as a character witness perhaps, but he'd so far given no indication of his motives. Even when she'd suggested that the Planet could hire a lawyer for Superman, he'd refused.

Superman sat alone at the defendants' table; she couldn't see him, since he had his back to her. But she thought he looked despondent; his shoulders were a little slumped, and at one point he sighed wearily. She willed him to turn around and see her — at least he might draw some comfort from her presence — but he continued to face straight ahead, at the empty seat where the judge would sit.

But he stood straight and tall as the judge entered the courtroom, and remained standing as the charge of contempt of court was read out. Lois listened intently as Superman was asked how he pleaded.

"Court is not something I'm contemptuous of, Your Honour," he declared firmly. "I've sworn to fight for truth and justice."

"Clever," Perry murmured. "See — I told you he didn't need a lawyer."

But that didn't satisfy the judge, who insisted that she needed a guilty or not guilty plea. "Not guilty," Superman responded clearly.

"I don't know about that," Perry whispered, leaning towards Lois again. "He may have respect for the law, but he did break the injunction. You saw him do it!"

"Yeah, but he only did it to save people's lives!" Lois objected, and was immediately hushed by an usher.

The question of bail was discussed, with Superman wanting to be released on his own recognisance pending trial; Ms Cheng, the City Attorney objected, and at that precise moment she knocked over her coffee cup. As the liquid spilt out in Superman's direction, he jumped aside…

…and floated several feet into the air.

"Oh, no…" Perry groaned. "Can't he avoid using his powers for five minutes?"

The courtroom dissolved into laughter as Ms Cheng declared Superman an obvious flight risk, and the judge hung her head in her hands, wondering what to do with him. To Lois's surprise, Perry got to his feet.

"Your Honor, Perry White, Editor of the Daily Planet. I just want to say that Superman is a person of absolute integrity, honesty and decency," Perry said firmly. Lois wondered what he was up to; was this why he'd come? To give Superman a character reference?

The judge stared straight at Perry. "So you're willing to vouch for him?"


"Sold!" the judge exclaimed, banging her gavel down.

Perry looked puzzled, but Lois smiled, beginning to guess at what was coming.

"He's yours," the judge explained. "The Daily Planet is now responsible for the whereabouts of Superman. I mean, what am I going to do? I can't hold him if he doesn't want to be held. You do it for a while."

Perry clearly hadn't expected this; he looked taken aback, but Lois reached for his arm and squeezed it. "Well done!"

The judge was still speaking, this time to Superman. "No Super-powers. Period. Is that clear?" Lois saw Superman nod; she found herself wondering how on earth he would manage that. But, she told herself, this was *Superman* she was looking at. There didn't seem to be a lot he couldn't do.

She turned to grin at Perry. "See? You can't be objective about this either, Chief!" But Perry was already moving towards Superman, who was now watching the two of them cautiously.

"You ready to go, son?" the editor asked the distinctly wary-looking Super-hero.

Superman nodded, but Lois could see that he was not at all happy with the arrangement. She moved to stand in front of him and reached out tentatively to touch his arm. "We'll find out what's really behind all this, Superman, you'll see. This will all be over very soon and things can get back to normal."

He gave her a wry smile. "Thanks for your concern, Lois. But, you know, they could be right. It might be my powers causing the problem with the weather."

"I refuse to believe that!" Lois retorted, then turned back to Perry. "Superman's coming back to the Planet with us, right?" As Perry nodded, she linked her arm with Superman's. "Come on — my car's parked around the corner."

"Your car?" he queried, frowning.

"Well, you can't fly!" she pointed out, teasing. "So you'll just have to put up with my driving."

His expression was resigned as he walked out of the courtroom with her.


Walking out of the elevator on the newsroom floor with Perry White and Lois, Clark was reminded once again how much he missed working at the Daily Planet. The Star just wasn't the same; apart from the different news values, its atmosphere was clinical compared to the Planet's old-fashioned newsroom ambience. At the Star, he felt as if he was part of a production line, under the complete control of Mike Lloyd. Too much initiative on the part of reporters was definitely frowned upon, whereas at the Planet Perry White required his reporters to come up with ideas for stories. He might not always sanction the spending of Planet time on these ideas, but he did at least consider them.

Thinking of his new employer reminded Clark of what was now his most pressing concern. He was stuck here at the Daily Planet, as Superman, while Clark Kent was supposed to have been back at the Star's offices hours earlier. There had been nothing at all he could do about it beyond the very brief phone call he'd made to his editor while at the police station; he'd said then that he was covering the story of Superman's arrest and would write it up later. But that had been hours ago, and if he was going to stand any chance at all of not being fired, he needed to report into the Star as soon as possible.

He wryly wondered what his chances were of getting left alone in an office with a telephone, before discarding the idea as hopeless. Even if they did leave him alone — which was hardly likely, after all, given Superman was probably the biggest story in town right at the moment — he couldn't take the risk of calling the Star as Clark Kent from the Daily Planet. There was no guarantee, after all, that any call wouldn't be recorded, nor that someone wouldn't later check to see what number Superman had called.

"Can I get you something to drink, Superman?" Lois's eager voice suddenly broke into his thoughts.

<That's all I need… Lois fawning over Superman!> he thought bitterly. On the other hand, he was thirsty, and it would give her something to do…

"Yes. Please — coffee, milk, one sugar, if that's okay," he replied, deliberately not asking for his usual two sugars; he didn't want anyone noticing that Superman had at least one thing in common with Clark Kent.

Lois hurried off, and as she did so Perry White attracted his attention. "Ah… you want to wait in my office for now, Superman?"

"I really don't want to be any trouble, Mr White." Clark repeated what he'd already said on the car journey back to the Planet, hoping that perhaps this time the editor would listen and suggest that perhaps Superman should go and get on with whatever else he wanted to do.

But it seemed that Perry was determined to take his responsibilities seriously; he smiled in what Clark assumed was intended to be a welcoming manner. "It's no trouble at all, Superman. It's a pleasure to welcome you to the Daily Planet."

"It sure is!" Lois exclaimed, bouncing up with the coffee. "And, you know, Superman, this could be a great opportunity!"

"Umm… it could?" Clark asked awkwardly, wondering what was about to come.

"Sure! No-one's given you the chance to put your side of the story so far, have they? This is your chance — an exclusive interview for the Planet. 'The Heatwave — Superman Speaks Out!' What do you think?" Lois's animated expression made it clear what *she* thought.

Clark shook his head. "Lois, I'd… um… I'd really prefer not to. This is _sub judice_ now, anyway. I wouldn't want the Planet to get into trouble with the courts…"

"Oh, I'm sure the lawyers could find a way around that, can't they, Perry?" Lois turned to appeal to her boss.

Perry shrugged. "I'd be amazed if it wasn't possible. How about it, Superman? You know the Planet will treat you fairly."

But Clark just didn't want to do it. He knew that part of his instinctive refusal was a reluctance to be interviewed by Lois, but alongside that he was still feeling very raw from his treatment by the judge and the police. No matter how many times he told himself that they were only doing their job and that it was perfectly possible that his powers could be causing the climate change, it had *hurt* to be hauled into court, ordered to desist saving people's lives, and then accused of being in contempt of court simply because he'd prevented an escaped prisoner from killing anyone who stood in his path.

If he gave an interview now, he wouldn't be able to maintain his now-trademark Superman behaviour; he would become over-emotional and angry, rather than calm and collected. It was out of the question.

"No. I appreciate the offer, and I know you mean well, but I can't do it." His tone was deliberately cold, and he knew that he was being rude to two people who were actually helping him, but there was nothing he could do about that.

Lois looked disappointed, and after a moment she excused herself and went back to her desk where, within a minute or two, she was deep in conversation with Jimmy. Perry, meanwhile, began to usher Superman towards his office, beginning what Clark could tell was going to be a long story about Elvis facing some sort of adversity. Sighing inwardly, Clark longed for some excuse to get him away from here.

Ten minutes later, the door to the editor's office burst open and Lois entered, the formal jacket she was wearing earlier discarded to reveal a camisole top which, because of the heat, was clinging to her upper body. Clark swallowed, trying not to look. "Sorry, Perry, but we need Superman," she announced.

"What? Lois, I hope you have a good reason for barging in here like this — " the editor began, but Lois over-rode him.

"Jimmy and I are going through every kind of map of the city we can get hold of. Satellite, geothermal, meteorological, everything — and we're trying to find another possible explanation for the heat. We need Superman to help us."

Clark stood up slowly, reluctantly. "Lois… I'm not sure how you think I can help."

She gestured vaguely in the direction of her eyes. "You know — Super-speed, Super-vision, telescopic vision — all of that kind of stuff. You can search all those maps far quicker than we can!" She turned back towards the door, then paused. "Well, come on — what are you waiting for?!"

Clark wanted to roll his eyes at her, but Superman didn't do things like that. Instead he allowed his mouth to turn down at the corners. "Lois, you know I can't do that. I've promised not to use my powers."

In fact, it wasn't so much the use of his vision powers which was troubling him. He had never before spent so much time as Superman in the company of anyone who knew him as Clark, and he was worried that his disguise could be penetrated at any minute. And if he agreed to help Lois, that would be even more likely; despite her apparent blind spot where Superman was concerned, she was a reporter, and a good one at that. And he was a reporter too; if he helped Lois, he'd have to be completely on his guard to ensure that he wasn't seen to know too much about the work.

It was just too risky.

But Lois wasn't satisfied; crossing the room to grab his arm, she urged him to come with her. "Superman, this is important! And I'm sure just a tiny use of your vision thingy won't hurt."

Clark raised an eyebrow; his 'vision thingy' indeed! "Lois, I told you — I can't. I've given my word — would you want me to break a promise? And anyway," he added with a sigh, "I don't know why you're bothering. There's no point. The general consensus seems to be that I *am* causing this."

"Well, I don't share that consensus!" Lois retorted. "And I'm sure the Planet doesn't either."

"Now, Lois, we can't let personal feelings get in the way here," Perry interrupted. "The Planet has to report the news."

"Yes, and you're saying it isn't news that scare-mongerers are turning the city against Superman?!" Lois demanded, flapping her hands in front of her face in an attempt to cool down.

"Lois, you know we try to tell all sides of the story," Perry pointed out, his tone chiding. "So we'll report the scientific evidence, as well as the fact that some people doubt it."

Lois wasn't happy with this response, Clark could see. He moved further away from her. "Lois, come on, we all have to accept the facts. Dr Sayer's right."

She glared at him — that had to be a first, Clark considered wryly. "You accept it if you want to, Superman. I refuse to, and I won't stop digging until I prove him wrong."

She turned swiftly to leave the room, then just as quickly turned back as a thought clearly struck her. "Where are you going to stay tonight, Superman?"

<The same place I stay every night… why should it be any different *now*?> Clark thought, but remained silent.

"I guess… well, the court did make me responsible for you," Perry White commented, frowning.

"He can stay with me, Perry!" Lois offered instantly.

But that gave Clark an idea. "I could stay with Clark Kent," he said slowly. "In fact… if I could call him, I could get him to meet me at his apartment. Then I can get out of your way here."

Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Lois was not at all happy with this suggestion, but he ignored her, focusing on the editor. Perry grunted, then nodded. "Sounds like a good suggestion to me." He gestured at the phone. "You want to call him now?"

Clark gratefully stepped to the phone, dialling his own voicemail at the Star; that way, should anyone check to see what number he'd dialled, they would be satisfied. Once he heard his own voice, he spoke quickly into the receiver, telling 'Clark' that he would meet him at his apartment shortly, then ended the call having first pressed the key to delete the message he'd just left.

"Clark can meet me now, so I'll be able to get out of your way," he announced to Perry, avoiding looking at Lois.

"How are you going to get to Clark's apartment?" Lois demanded before the editor could speak. "You can't fly…"

"I'll be fine, but thanks for your concern," Clark interjected swiftly, now just wanting to get out of there.

"I'll drive you," Lois offered immediately.

"No! — I mean, there's no need," Clark insisted, now finding it very difficult to maintain his Superman persona. "And anyway, you're busy, aren't you?"

But she smiled at him. "Not too busy to help out a friend."


Lois had made her offer before she'd had time to think about the consequences: she now had to drive Superman over to the one place she had no wish to be, ever again. She hadn't been near Kent's apartment since that awful morning when she'd woken up and found herself in his bed; she'd even found alternative routes to avoid Clinton Street any time she had to be in that part of town.

But Superman had looked so alone and vulnerable in court, and even though he was clearly putting on a brave face for the benefit of the Planet staff, he was obviously hurting. She'd wanted to offer him comfort herself, but it seemed that he was too proud to admit that he needed someone to care about him.

Well… not *too* proud after all, maybe.

It hurt, Lois had to admit, that he'd asked Clark for help rather than herself. After all, *she* had been a friend to Superman right from the start. Kent had only come on the scene, as far as Superman was concerned, later — although, of course, Kent had managed to get far more Superman scoops than she had over the past couple of months, including the first big official interview. That hurt, too. As did the fact that Superman had obviously told Clark about her embarrassing behaviour the one time he'd offered her an interview. He hadn't needed to do that. And it had been cruel — though maybe, she thought with a tinge of hope, it had never occurred to Superman that Clark would use the information in that way.

She stole a glance across at her passenger; he was staring straight ahead, his expression unreadable.

"Superman?" He turned slightly towards her at her tentative voicing of his name.

"Yes?" His tone was neutral.

"I've been wondering… You seem to see a lot of Clark Kent — I mean, he's had a lot of interviews with you recently, and you called him today…" She trailed off uncertainly, not sure how to phrase the question she really wanted to ask, which was why Superman chose Kent over her.

Was it her imagination, or did the expression in the brown eyes become cooler? His tone was still fairly neutral when he did speak, though. "Clark is a friend, Lois. Just like you are, I guess."

He thought of her as a friend? Lois felt warmed inside at the thought, until she recollected that he'd also described Kent in the same way. A tiny voice nagged her, suggesting that if Superman considered Clark Kent a friend, then the man couldn't be all bad. But Lois rejected that thought; *obviously* Superman didn't know his so-called 'friend's' true nature. Or… depressingly, she acknowledged that it was quite possible that Superman did know about Kent's sexual proclivities, and thought nothing of it. They were both men, after all…

Rounding the corner onto Clinton Street, Lois felt torn suddenly. If Superman invited her in for coffee, would she accept? Knowing that she'd be spending time in Clark Kent's company? But maybe Kent wouldn't be there yet — he didn't have a car, after all — unless he'd acquired one more recently — and if he was coming by public transport, he'd take longer than she had in her Jeep. So… but she really didn't want to be inside that apartment again, even if it did mean she had the chance of more time alone with Superman.

She should have used the journey time more effectively, she realised as she drew the car to a halt. This had been a perfect opportunity to get an exclusive interview with Superman; okay, he'd refused earlier when she'd asked, but he might have changed his mind now. Clark Kent certainly wouldn't hesitate to grab an interview once he got home, that was for sure.

That was what was really bugging her about Superman's decision to stay with Kent, she told herself. Kent would have every opportunity to scoop a great story for the Star, while she and the Planet had missed out again, *despite* having had Superman in their custody. It was *nothing* to do with feeling jealous that someone else — let alone someone like Kent — would get to spend time alone with Superman. No, she wasn't that petty. She was a professional, and what really mattered was the story.

Wasn't it?

Superman thanked her for the ride, then left the Jeep without asking if she wanted to come in with him; she watched him walk up the steps and into Kent's apartment, noting with dismay that he seemed so familiar with the place that he even knew where the spare key was kept. As the door closed behind him, she bit her lip and drove off.


Mike Lloyd was every bit as furious as Clark had expected, and only the promise of an exclusive with Superman on his response to the court injunction and his time in prison calmed the Star's editor sufficiently so that he stopped hinting that pink slips were on their way. Clark hadn't actually wanted to give Superman's side of the story at all; apart from the fact that the whole thing was still in the hands of the courts, he'd refused the Planet an interview, and it seemed disloyal to give one to the Star.

When he thought about that objection, he realised that it sounded crazy. How could he be disloyal to the Planet when he was employed by the Star? But that only made him realise that, while he might have worked at the Star for almost a couple of months now, it wasn't his journalistic home. It had only ever represented a temporary position for him; he'd spent his time at the Star feeling as if he was marking time. Waiting for what? he wondered. But the answer was simple; waiting for a time when he could apply again for a job at the Planet.

Not that he could realistically envisage that happening in the near future, he realised. Seeing the Planet's newsroom again just a short time ago had reminded him how much he missed the place, but the same problem remained: Lois Lane.

It was clear that her feelings towards Clark Kent remained hostile; he hadn't missed the way she'd looked when he'd mentioned his own name. And later, in her car, as they'd arrived at Clinton Street he'd been able to tell how little she'd wanted to be in that neighbourhood: her heart-rate had accelerated, a tiny pulse had beaten in her throat, and he'd noticed her hands clenching on the steering-wheel. No, Lois Lane was nowhere near ready to make up with Clark Kent yet. And anyway, he wasn't sure whether Clark Kent was ready to make up with Lois Lane either. Regardless of this totally illogical attraction he felt towards her, the woman she really was just wasn't a woman he felt he could love or want to be with.

No matter how his body reacted to the sight of her; no matter how many nights his dreams were filled with memories of that wonderful night when he'd been in love and all his dreams had come true. The woman he'd been with that night just didn't exist.

There was, of course, another reason why he *should* have done something for the Planet, and that was because of what Perry White had done to help him. It had been very bad manners not to grant the interview which had been requested of him. He should have done it.

But it was too late now. Instead, Clark resolved to ensure that the Planet — Lois, or whoever — got the next big Superman story.

Always assuming, of course, that there would ever be other Superman stories in the future, if he really was the cause of the heatwave.


By the following evening, Clark knew that he'd run out of options. In fact, to be strictly accurate, he'd run out of options the previous evening when he'd heard the news of the impending train crash. He'd had no choice than to do what all his instincts had screamed at him to do: to go and stop the train. Flying. Super-strength. Super-speed. Super-human abilities in every respect.

The train crash had been averted and three hundred lives saved.

And his life — or rather, Superman's — had come to an end.

He hadn't needed to hear the news broadcast to know that he'd be expected to surrender; he'd known it since he took the decision to stop the train, and the article he'd written late the previous night for the Star, calling into the newsroom around midnight, had suggested as much. He'd tried to include a sense of Superman's dilemma in the article, even though it was a news story and not an op-ed piece; readers should be made aware that it couldn't have been a straightforward decision. Superman had known what stopping the train could mean, as far as both the weather conditions and his own position were concerned; he'd weighed up those consequences against the fact of up to three hundred deaths if he'd done nothing.

But his article had been cut to pieces by Mike Lloyd, Clark had realised as soon as he'd reported for work that morning. As he'd walked in the entrance to the Star's building, he'd seen the paper's headline: 'Superman Defies The Law!' Underneath was a smaller headline, which read 'How Much More Does He Expect Metropolis To Put Up With?' In a text-box near the bottom of the page was a phone poll asking whether Superman should be thrown out of town.

He'd scanned the article, noticing with barely-suppressed fury that it carried his own byline. It bore no resemblance to the story he'd submitted the previous night, however. Instead, the article was a heavily-biased polemic which almost ignored the lives which had been saved, the damage to property and infrastructure which had been averted. Its main focus was on the fact that Superman had broken the court injunction, clearly considering himself to be above the law.

When he'd remonstrated angrily with the editor, Mike Lloyd's response had been sneering. "Sentiment has no place in a newspaper, Kent. Public opinion is turning away from Superman, and the Star has to be ahead of the game. That's all there is to it." Pointedly turning away from Clark, Mike had continued, "Make sure you're in court later to cover the guy's appearance there — and if he's thrown in jail, I want you to get the inside story. I don't care how, just make sure your expense claim looks kosher."

Which meant, Clark assumed in disgust, that he was supposed to bribe his way to any salacious disclosures. Yet again, he'd sighed inwardly and wished he was back at the Planet. If he hadn't already known that he only saw the Star as a temporary position — and if it wasn't that he had too much on his mind otherwise — he'd be considering resignation at this point. He was furious enough at having his byline over an article which he couldn't support, without his editor demanding that he follow practices of which he thoroughly disapproved. But this was no time to make that kind of decision. Later, when all this was over, he would think very seriously about moving on, and what Lloyd had done to him would certainly be an important factor in his decision-making process. He might not want to stay in Metropolis anyway after this, Superman or no Superman.

Turning himself in had been an experience he wouldn't want to repeat. He'd been tempted to go to a police station on the edge of the city, where he knew no-one, but in the end had decided to turn himself in to Inspector William Henderson. He knew Henderson slightly as a result of his reporting work, and had met him a few times as Superman, and he liked and respected the detective. If there was any police office he could trust not to make some kind of capital out of Superman being under arrest, it was Henderson. But even though Henderson had been matter-of-fact about the whole thing, it had still been profoundly embarrassing.

His court appearance had been far worse — even more so given that he could hear the shouts of the crowds outside the courthouse. He hadn't even needed his Super-hearing for the cries of "Superman Must Go!" to reach him. The judge had been less sympathetic than on the previous day, completely unmoved when he'd pointed out how many lives had been at stake the night before. She'd offered the city attorney a deal, and the city's demands had quickly been made: Superman to leave Metropolis, by noon the following day.

It was that or prison, not that Clark would have volunteered for the latter in any case, and he couldn't really envisage any state penitentiary wanting to take the responsibility for holding Superman prisoner. So, with a heavy heart, he'd agreed to the city's demand that he leave.

He hadn't missed the expressions on the faces of some of those in the courtroom: relief on the judge's, victory on the attorney's, delight on the faces of some of the people in the public area, sneering on some of the reporters'. Not all, though. Lois was there; he'd almost been able to feel the force of her gaze on him throughout the brief hearing. As he'd turned, after nodding his agreement to leave the city, he'd seen her.

She'd looked stricken.

For an instant, he'd reminded himself that this was the woman who'd accused him of deliberately seducing her, who had threatened to get an abortion if she was pregnant with his child. Hardening his heart, he'd turned away. After all, she didn't care about *him* — she was only interested in the Super-hero. She'd proven that by her behaviour the previous day, after all. She'd wanted a piece of him, just like everyone else.

But had she been that callous — or even that groupie-like? He'd forced himself to acknowledge that Lois's concern had been genuine, reminded himself that she'd been trying to find some alternative explanation for the heatwave. And it *was* possible that there was another explanation, he reminded himself. The judge had even implicitly acknowledged that. Not that it had made any difference; she'd still agreed to Attorney Cheng's demand that he leave Metropolis and never come back during the period of his natural life.

Lois had looked stricken.

He'd glanced at her, wordlessly signalling his thanks and appreciation, then had left the courtroom to face the waiting crowds; they'd begun to boo loudly as soon as he'd appeared. No-one had listened to his farewell speech — not even the reporters it had been aimed at. Worse still had been the Superman doll flung at him by a small boy who'd clearly decided that his hero was no hero after all.

Lois had stopped him on his stumbling route out of the building; she'd put out a hand towards him, staring at him. "You can't leave," she'd said, pain in her voice. He'd wanted to take that hand, to hold it close to his heart and to bury his face in her soft hair.

But he couldn't; she didn't know who he was, and she would never again want to touch Clark Kent in that way. So he wouldn't let her get that close to Superman.

Instead, he'd blinked and looked away. "I don't have a choice," he'd muttered.

"They can't be right!" she'd exclaimed, obviously wanting to accompany him wherever he was going.

But he'd just looked at her, willing her to understand. Superman had to leave, and he had to go alone. Silently saying goodbye, he'd then turned away and made his way out of the building.

And now, it was late evening and he was sitting in the Star's newsroom. Most of the staff had gone; there was only a small skeleton staff now preparing the morning edition. He wasn't even sure why he was still there. He'd done his job for the day, filed the story of Superman's final court appearance — and, much to his amazement, Mike Lloyd had even allowed it to appear as he'd written it; perhaps the editor had felt some twinge of guilt over butchering and twisting his other story. Not that that had stopped the editor from emblazoning the front page with a 'Good Riddance!' headline, and writing an editorial praising the city council for ridding Metropolis of a health hazard.

As if Superman was contagious, carrying disease like the rats which crawled in the city's sewers, Clark had thought in revulsion. He was from another planet — was that suddenly a hanging offence?

Okay, he knew that the city had a point. If he was causing the heatwave, then they had every right to insist that he leave. But that didn't excuse the manner of their 'request'. Superman had gone from hero to villain in the space of weeks, and no matter how many times Clark told himself it didn't matter, it hurt.

His parents had offered to come to Metropolis, but he'd told them not to. Much though he loved them, he wasn't sure he could face them right now. Not feeling as he did; as if he had failed. Oh, they'd assure him that he hadn't, but he didn't feel as if he could accept that from them. And anyway, he still hadn't decided what to do. Superman had to leave Metropolis, but did that mean Clark had to? He could remain, as Clark; he would just have to bury Superman permanently and try never to use any Super-powers.

<But what if I can't stop?> he'd asked himself earlier that day, when he'd first considered that option seriously.

He could. He would have to. And anyway, he reminded himself now, it wasn't the little things which seemed to cause the trouble. He'd been shaving and cutting his hair with heat vision for almost ten years now. And he'd been using some of his other powers for small domestic tasks for even longer. The problem had only arisen when he'd started doing much larger, more impressive feats; every day he'd done something major, the temperature had risen. It had gone up another couple of points after he'd stopped that train last night. But his everyday usage of powers hadn't seemed to affect anything, ever. Even flying hadn't been a problem, though he'd clearly have to stop that — he couldn't risk being seen.

So Clark could stay, and that was probably the best thing to do. He was tired of running away.

His decision made, he grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair and headed for home.


Lois sat surrounded by maps, scraps of paper on which she'd been scribbling ideas, and half a dozen cold and congealing cups of coffee, one hand raking through her very tangled hair and the other fanning herself with that afternoon's Planet. Although the logical side of her brain had been telling her for the past several hours to give up, that it was hopeless, her emotions refused to allow her to stop searching for something — *anything* — else which might explain the meteorological problem.

"Hey, Lois, I got those textbooks you asked for," a weary Jimmy Olsen announced, approaching her desk. He snagged a spare chair, pulling it over, and collapsed into it. "Phew! I'm bushed! Rushing around in this heat sure ain't a good idea!"

Lois merely grunted, dropping the paper and reaching for the books to make a start. The newspaper fell on the desk with the front-page photo of Superman uppermost; Jimmy had arrived at the courthouse just in time to see the Super-hero emerge from the building, and his photo had captured the weariness and misery on Superman's face perfectly. That, along with the headline Perry had approved — City Turns on Hero — made the front page doubly poignant. Lois could barely bear to look at it, and she immediately flipped the paper over.

Catching the hurt expression on Jimmy's face, she said quickly, "That was a great picture, Jimmy, you know that. The Chief told you so himself — and I heard it's already being sold in syndication."

But Jimmy shook his head. "That's not what I meant. It's just terrible — how could they believe that about Superman? How could they just order him to leave like that?"

"I don't know," Lois answered wearily. "All I know is that I want to prove them wrong." Noticing what looked like a crumpled newspaper sticking out of Jimmy's pocket, she gestured at it. "What's that?"

"What?" He looked puzzled for a moment, then realised what she meant and pulled the paper out of his pocket.

Lois frowned as she recognised the Star's masthead, then became angry when she read the headline. "Did you *have* to bring that in here?"

"Huh? Oh, that." Jimmy's expression made his opinion of the headline clear. "No, it's not that. It's CK's article, inside — you really should read it, Lois."

Kent? Lois frowned; she had no wish to read anything written by Clark Kent. Although… She hesitated suddenly, remembering that Superman had told her Clark was a friend of his. Had he given Kent an interview? But she'd seen the Star's front page lead story that morning — it had carried Clark's byline and she'd been appalled at the content. It sounded as if the writer was working his way up to demanding a lynch-mob to take care of Superman. That was weird… how could someone Superman called a friend write an article like that? Unless Kent made a habit of betraying friends and co-workers…?

She opened the paper, quickly finding the article on page three, and scanned it in silence. As she reached the end, a lump began to form in her throat at the final two paragraphs.

'The crowd reacted with surprise and relief. It was all over. Superman knew it. He felt an object strike him in the chest. Something hard, small, thrown with a force much less than that of an adult. Searching the mob as he knelt to retrieve it, Superman's eyes fell on the face of a young boy. The boy appeared to force back tears as Superman identified the object — a plastic Superman action figure.

'Superman slowly rose with the toy — a ninety-nine cent lump of moulded plastic that was once priceless to its young owner. Superman wanted to return it but in a second the boy was gone. And so was his hero.

'They say the Man of Steel is invulnerable. I don't think so.'

"CK hasn't lost his touch, has he?" Jimmy observed quietly.

No, he hadn't, Lois admitted silently. So much for betraying his friend — and so much for her thoughts about how his style had dumbed down in his weeks at the Star; he could still write poignant, flowing prose when he needed to. This piece was heart-wrenchingly good; she'd been there, she'd seen the way Superman had looked when that boy had thrown his toy at the hero. Superman had looked gutted; hurt to the core. She had wondered if he was close to tears.

And Kent had reflected that pain so well in this article; so well that she was jealous. She hadn't written anything half as good as that, and she'd been there!

Wait a minute…

Clark Kent hadn't been at the courthouse that morning!

So how had he known about this? How could he have written an article as passionate as this without having been there?

Unless… She closed the paper and thrust it back at Jimmy. Superman had clearly talked to Clark about it. So much for claiming that he saw her as a friend — he'd refused to give her an interview the previous day! And he had to have known he could have talked to her that morning, after the trial. She'd been there, she'd offered her sympathy; but he'd shaken his head and walked away.

She snorted. Superman clearly hadn't seen that earlier article by Kent. Unless… unless he had, and he'd gone to see Kent to tell him he didn't appreciate it, and demanded that Kent write something more sympathetic. But Superman didn't seem the type to use his media contacts in that way — and surely he knew that if he wanted sympathetic coverage all he had to do was come to her?

What had Kent got that she didn't?

But there was no point getting worked up about that now. It was far too hot for that, anyway. She turned back to her books; it was more important to find a way of clearing Superman before it was too late.


Troubles always seemed worse at four o'clock in the morning, Clark mused as he lay, sleepless, in bed at his apartment. Normally, if he couldn't sleep he'd go out flying, but he couldn't risk that, not now. Public opinion was too hostile to Superman. No matter that he was pretty convinced that simple flying wasn't affecting anything; there was already mass hysteria over the probability that the heatwave was Superman's fault. He didn't want to do anything to add to that.

He was well aware that the general public knew that Superman would be leaving in… he checked his watch. Under eight hours. That wouldn't make any difference; this wasn't like allowing the condemned man a hearty breakfast. Superman wouldn't be permitted a final flight. They just wanted him gone.

Well, that was easy; he'd already bundled up his Suits and stored them in his old battered suitcase again. He would take them to Smallville some time soon, by commercial flight if he had to, though he was toying with the idea of waiting a couple of weeks until all this fuss calmed down and then flying out at dead of night, dressed in black. The way he used to go flying before Superman was ever dreamed of.

Maybe. Or maybe he would try to forget he'd ever had Super-powers.

It was certainly going to be very difficult, in future, to hear cries for help and not be able to do anything. And the fact that Superman had existed, albeit for only a few months, meant that he would have to be even more careful in future. Now, people knew what heat vision was and what it could do; before Superman, such powers were beyond most people's imagination. So Clark Kent could no longer take the kind of risks he used to take in helping people unobtrusively. Now, certain things would alert people to the presence of Superman.

Could he really go back to not being able to help? To seeing and hearing people in trouble, knowing he could save them and not being able to lift a finger to help?

He didn't know; but he intended to try. Otherwise, what was the point of anything?

He turned to stare out of the large picture window; it was still dark, but dawn would break in a couple of hours. Dawn would be breaking soon in Smallville, and for an instant he was tempted to take the risk, to dress all in black and fly across to his parents' farm. There, he would be welcome, and he could talk to the only two people in the world who understood his dilemma.

But it wasn't worth the risk. And anyway, he could call his folks if he wanted; they'd be getting up about now in any case.

No. He could cope with this on his own; his parents had worries of their own, and he didn't want to make them feel even worse about him.

It was at times like these, though, he mused bleakly, that he wished his birth parents had never sent him, a Kryptonian, to Earth.


It was mid-morning, and Lois was conscious of Superman's noon deadline getting ever closer. She and Jimmy had been at the Planet all night, she slowly making her way through the stack of physics textbooks, while he was checking some things out on a computer. However, by the time the morning shift had arrived they'd still been nowhere near a solution. They had made one advance — well, Jimmy had, and it had seemed important at the time. Jimmy had discovered that, while the days on which the temperature had risen did correspond to days on which there had been reported Super-activity, the locations of the hottest spots did not correspond to places where Superman had been in action.

But as the clocks ticked inexorably onwards, the likelihood that they would find out what was really causing the heat was diminishing. Lois had asked Jimmy to contact the other scientist who had been at Mayor Berkowitz's press conference, Dr Goodman, to see whether she had any ideas based on the maps Jimmy had created; there was still no response, however.

The atmosphere in the newsroom was now gloomy; even the heat wasn't leading to raised temperatures this morning. While Perry had insisted that the Planet's official line on Superman as a cause of the heat was neutrality, even the editor was depressed today; he made periodic visits to Lois's desk to enquire whether she'd discovered anything new, and she noticed that he made no attempt to assign her any other stories. Unofficially, without any explicit discussion, exonerating Superman was now Lois's most important task as far as the Planet was concerned.

Suddenly, everything seemed to happen at once. Perry came out to demand that several newsroom staff start compiling material for a tribute to Superman, and Lois, furious at what she saw at his premature move, began to argue with him about it. Perry, insisting that if it was to go in the afternoon edition it had to be written *now*, stood his ground. As the two were arguing, Jimmy ran up to Lois.

"Not now, Jimmy!" Lois barked at him.

"But, Lois — "

"Ms Lane?" An unfamiliar female voice now entered the shouting match, and Lois turned to see the other physicist from the press conference.

Breaking away from Perry, Lois hurried towards her visitor. "Dr Goodman! Oh, I'm so glad you could get here! Do you have any ideas?"

"Well, those maps you sent over were certainly interesting. They showed a pattern I'm very sure that no-one else has looked at, and it got me thinking…" The scientist began to talk rapidly, and despite all her research Lois was soon lost by the jargon. A momentary memory of Clark Kent explaining and simplifying scientific information when they were investigating the Messenger explosion came to her, but she pushed it away. She didn't need Kent. When had she ever needed him?

However, Lois's lack of precise scientific knowledge was no barrier to understanding what Dr Goodman wanted to show her. Emerging from the entrance to the city's aquifer, Lois was exultant. She'd known all along that the heatwave was nothing to do with Superman, and now she had proof. Now, all she needed to do was to get in touch with Superman, tell him that he was exonerated, and get him to stop the LexCorp nuclear power plant from going live.


That was easier said than done, she reflected immediately. How was she going to contact Superman, for a start? For all she knew, he could already have left town. She checked her watch; it was a little after 11am. Okay, his deadline wasn't until noon, but on the other hand, why would he stay around in a city which had made it perfectly clear that he wasn't welcome? He could be anywhere by now.

But there was one method of attracting Superman which had always worked up until now. It had to be worth a try; if she failed, maybe she'd look a fool, but what was that compared to the chance that she could save Superman — and, more than that, save the city from a nuclear meltdown?

Hurrying back to the Daily Planet, she rushed inside and into the elevator, and pressed the button to go up to the roof.


"Help! Superman, help!"

Clark, busy typing up what he considered to be a completely trivial story about a TV chat show host's cosmetic surgery, suddenly froze in his seat as his Super-hearing kicked in. Someone was in trouble.

His hand automatically went to his tie, but he stopped himself. Superman was gone. By order of the city, courtesy of the judge, Superman was banished for ever. He couldn't respond to the person calling him.

"Superman! Help!"

The cry came again, and Clark squirmed in his seat. How could he not help? But he'd promised the city — a city which was calling him a criminal, he reminded himself caustically. Even still, he'd made a promise. And if he really was causing the heatwave, he had an obligation to everyone in the city not to make things worse. He couldn't do anything. He had to ignore the scream, just as he would have to ignore every single cry for help from here onwards. There was nothing he could do about it. As much as it tore him apart, Superman was gone — Superman had to be gone. For every single person he saved by using his powers, he reminded himself, he could be causing the deaths of many more. He couldn't have that on his conscience. So Superman had to ignore that scream. No matter how many times his father had told him, when they'd talked again early that morning, that it wasn't possible that *he* could be causing the problem, Clark just couldn't take the risk that the scientists might be right.

But… there was something familiar about that voice; he hadn't noticed the first time, since he'd been taken by surprise. But now, he knew — Lois was calling him!

Lois. His mouth twisted; what did she think she was doing? She knew Superman was banished, and she knew why. What on earth was she up to, trying to make him disobey the court injunction? Didn't she realise what she was asking?

But she's in trouble, he told himself. She needs help… she needs *me*.

And when it came down to it, he would never leave Lois in any kind of trouble and refuse to help her. Even after everything which had passed between them… something in him still responded to her in a fundamental way, and always would. Why, he wasn't sure. After everything she'd done, he *couldn't* still care for her! And yet, that time Trask had thrown her out of the plane, he'd *known* she was calling for help. His ears hadn't heard her, but his heart certainly had. He'd concluded then that the only explanation had to be that there was some sort of connection between them, but he couldn't understand why… except that it had occurred to him some time afterwards to wonder whether it was because he'd slept with her. She was the first woman he'd made love with — he couldn't dismiss the possibility that something of that kind happened to Kryptonians when they made love. Perhaps, as a result, he would always feel this tie to Lois, whether he liked it or not.

And, it occurred to him suddenly, could this link, connection, whatever it was, be the reason all his instincts rebelled against the thought of leaving Metropolis? Eventhough leaving would be the most sensible option — after all, what was there to keep him here? He hated his job, and the city hated his creation — he just couldn't bring himself to cut all ties with this place… because it would mean finally cutting all ties with Lois?

And now, she needed him.

He got swiftly to his feet and hurried over to the stairwell, running at Super-speed up to the roof. There, he realised that he had a problem; he wasn't wearing the Suit. There was nothing else for it; he took off dressed as he was, shooting straight up at Super-speed until he was above cloud cover, then flew to his apartment. Under a second later, he was flying out again dressed in the blue and red Spandex.

<Hold on, Lois, I'm coming!> Where was the cry coming from? He could only hope that he wasn't too late.

The calls were coming from the Daily Planet… from the roof, in fact. What was she doing up there? What could be happening? His mind flooded with visions of Lois being pushed off the roof by some villain she'd threatened to expose and who had decided that disposing of the too-nosy reporter was worth the risk of a murder charge. He put on an additional burst of speed, and in another second the Planet globe was visible ahead of him. And there was Lois on the roof, and…

…and… she didn't seem to be in any danger at all!

She was standing in the centre of the roof, looking around and up into the sky, an anxious expression on her face. No-one else was in sight, and she seemed to be completely unharmed. His mouth tightened; was this some sort of stunt, to force him to come and say goodbye to her or something like that? Surely she wouldn't be so crass, so thoughtless? But, he reminded himself, this was the woman with a huge crush on Superman. Maybe she could…

He landed heavily in front of her and instantly glared at her as she swung to face him.

"Super — "

He cut across her excited greeting. "Lois, what do you think you're doing?! You made me think you were in some sort of danger — that's the *only* reason I broke the injunction and came after you. And now — " he gestured at her, his expression as scathing as his tone, " — you seem to be perfectly all right to me. So," he continued, his tone suddenly as cold as chipped ice, "just what is this all about?"

She was staring at him, apparently shocked by his cold, chastising manner. "Superman, I needed to talk to you and I didn't know any other way of getting hold of you," she managed after a moment.

"Lois, whatever you have to say, I can't imagine that it's so urgent that it justified making me break the injunction!" he snapped back at her. "You know they think my powers are causing the heat — "

"But that's just it!" she interrupted. "They're not!"

"— and if you *really* needed to talk to me that badly, you could have called Clark Kent and asked him to get in touch with me. That is, if you could bring yourself to -" He stopped abruptly and stared at her, suddenly realising what she had said. "They're not? You have proof?"

Her hands on her hips, she raised her eyebrows at him. "That's what I've been trying to tell you, if you'd stopped yelling at me long enough to listen! Dr Goodman figured it out, once Jimmy and I gave her the right information. The city aquifer is overheating, and we think it's coming from the LexCorp nuclear power plant."

"A leak?" Clark demanded, alarmed at the thought of what that could do to the city.

"Dr Goodman thinks so. She's gone to try to convince the city council and some other scientists, but I knew I had to get hold of you. That plant is due to go live in half an hour!"

"Less than that now," Clark amended dryly. "And the mayor is flipping the switch, isn't he? He'll probably be enjoying Lex Luthor's corporate hospitality. I have to get over there now."

He prepared to take off, but Lois caught at his arm. "Take me with you!"

Finding himself irritated despite the fact that she'd just done him an enormous favour, he raised one eyebrow at her.

"This is a huge story, Superman! And if it wasn't for me…"

"I know. There'd be no story, and I'd have left Metropolis," he finished for her, recognising that she was right — he owed her a lot. "Or rather, there could be a different story if that plant goes live and a meltdown happens," he added soberly. "Okay, come on." He extended his arms to her, and she moved forward so that he could pick her up in the usual way he did when taking someone flying with him.

As he swooped upwards, he remembered what his temper had allowed him to say to her, and he groaned inwardly; he'd actually told her that if she needed to contact Superman all she had to do was get in touch with Clark Kent. What a stupid move! Even without the addition of his bitter reference to her unwillingness to talk to 'Clark', it had been a stupid move. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to link Clark Kent too closely with Superman — and especially not for a talented reporter like Lois Lane to make that link.

Still, it was too late; he'd said it. But her mind had clearly been on other things at the time. If he was fortunate, she might not have even noticed.


The flight was by far the most exciting of any she'd had with Superman so far. He'd warned her that he was going to be fast, and suggested that she hide her head against his shoulder, but Lois had no intention of missing any of this. He'd flown downwards at what felt like at least twice the speed of any roller-coaster she'd ever been on. Ignoring the shouts and curses of onlookers, he'd then found an entrance to the aquifer and flown along inside to see for himself the temperature levels below ground before emerging again to take them to the LexCorp plant.

Once inside, he let Lois go, gripping her for a moment or two until she regained her balance, then he shot forward at Super-speed, completely ignoring the objections and the stunned faces of Mayor Berkowitz and Lex Luthor, the former having been interrupted mid-speech. Once Lois mentioned the words 'possible nuclear meltdown', and the fact that Dr Goodman was at that moment showing her research findings to the city council's energy approvals committee, the mayor's face turned grey and he began to gibber incomprehensibly.

Lex Luthor frowned, looking mildly perturbed. "Ms Lane, are you quite sure about this? You do realise that this plant has been through the full complement of safety inspections — "

"Not from what I understand, Mr Luthor," Superman observed crisply, returning from the containment chamber. "I heard that some of the checks on this facility had been short-circuited in order to give it an early approval certificate."

"The approvals committee was completely satisfied as to the safety of this plant," Luthor insisted firmly. "It is simply not possible that there could have been a leak."

"There has to be," Lois persisted. "The only other explanation is that someone was creating a chemical reaction in order to heat Metropolis up on purpose." The idea hadn't even occurred to her before, but as she watched Lex Luthor now it struck her that it had to be a distinct possibility. A leak in a nuclear reactor was something pretty major, after all, unlikely to have been missed by any thorough safety inspection. If, on the other hand, all someone wanted to achieve was to ensure the departure of Superman — while gaining a little bonus in the shape of a fat contract with the city to supply power — then a chemical reaction would achieve that aim much more easily.

Assuming that it was possible…

Lois resolved to contact Dr Goodman again once she returned to her desk. In the meantime, she needed to catch Superman before he left, to interview him about how he felt at being exonerated -

She stared in stupefaction as Superman took flight, her call of his name going unheard in the >whoosh!< of his departure. No interview; not even his thanks for having saved him.

She grimaced as she emerged into the stifling November daylight and heat shortly afterwards. Lex Luthor had already hurried off, refusing to talk to her since, he'd said, he needed to consult his technical staff and his lawyers. The mayor had taken cover in the middle of his entourage and had rushed for the official cars. No-one on the street outside seemed to be in any way aware of the momentous discovery which had just been made inside the power plant: the fact that Superman was in no way responsible for the heat.

Except… She stared at the solitary figure of a man, silhouetted against the strong sunlight, who stood turned away from her gazing over at the plant's main entrance. He looked familiar… and then he turned, and she recognised him.

He nodded in acknowledgement. "Lois."

"Kent," she bit out abruptly. What was he doing here? How could he possibly know anything about this? But then something she'd heard earlier but had been unable to react to at the time came back to her — something very surprising. Superman had told her that if she wanted to get hold of him urgently, all she had to do was contact the man who stood in front of her. Clark Kent.

Clark Kent had direct access to Superman.

Kent — the man who'd written that story on the front page of yesterday's Star. The man who, she'd thought, had betrayed Superman, just as surely as he'd betrayed her.

It didn't make sense — why would Superman give Clark Kent that kind of access to him? Why Kent and not herself?

Superman had begun to say something else, before he'd stopped and listened to what she was trying to tell him. He'd said 'if you could bring yourself to — '


There was no doubt about it; Superman knew about what had happened between Kent and herself, and he was taking Kent's side. Lois grimaced, wanting to say something extremely cutting, something which would make Kent feel very ashamed of himself — or, better still, make him feel inadequate next to her. Something which would show him that she did not care one way or the other whether he existed or not.

No doubt she would think of the perfect exit line later, when she was back at the Planet, or that night in bed. Right at that moment, though, she couldn't think of anything.

"Lois? Are you okay?"

To her shame, she realised Kent was looking anxiously at her and had taken a couple of steps towards her. "I'm fine," she bit out. "Is there a reason why you're here?"

His mouth twisted. "Probably the same reason you're here."

"How do you know about this?" she demanded.

He raised one eyebrow in a challenging gesture. "About what, exactly?"

But she wasn't going to fall for that old trick. "About my story. Which I have no intention of telling *you* about."

He shrugged. "For all you know, I could be here to write an expose on the environmental consequences of the nuclear power industry, Lois. Or I might be here for a completely different reason. Have a guess if you want — or else you can read about it in the Star's evening edition."

"No thanks," she told him coolly. "I prefer my reading matter to be a little better quality."

Great exit line, she told herself as she turned and walked away, only to hear the soft sound of Clark's laughter following her. She grimaced in frustration, trying at the same time to ignore the little voice which told her that she'd *missed* this kind of exchange. One thing she really had enjoyed about working with Clark Kent, for the brief period during which they had worked together, had been the continuous cut and thrust of their verbal sparring. She'd never, either before or since, worked with anyone who was a match for her on that level. She'd actually got to the point where she enjoyed his company, looked forward to finding out how he would choose to challenge her next. She'd thoroughly enjoyed the mental challenge he presented… and she missed it.

<No, I don't!> she insisted. <Kent was a nuisance, a troublemaker; and he couldn't be trusted>

You still find him attractive, her conscience pointed out.


But the thought refused to leave her brain; as she travelled by taxi back to the Planet, she couldn't erase from her mind the image of Kent, in short-sleeved shirt and well-fitting tailored trousers, as he'd stood outside the power plant. That broad, muscular torso; the long and powerful legs; the arms which, she had good reason to know, were very strong; the sensitive hands which seemed to know instinctively where to touch and how to stroke in order to make her whimper in ecstasy; that mobile, generous mouth which had driven her insane.

Those thoughts were *crazy*! she told herself. Kent was history. She'd never wanted to sleep with him in the first place; she wouldn't have done it if he hadn't seduced her. And she should be thankful that she didn't have to work with him any more, instead of dreaming about his admittedly halfway-decent body!

Forget Kent. She had a story about Superman to write.


"So Superman's back to stay, then?"

"Yeah, Dad — looks that way. The judge lifted the injunction right after the city council received Dr Goodman's report, and Mayor Berkowitz made a public apology early this afternoon," Clark answered, cradling the receiver under his chin as he stood by the wall-mounted phone.

"And are you happy about that?" his mother asked.

"What do you mean, Mom?"

"She means that only this morning you were getting booed and the city wanted to drum you out of town," his father answered. "You said there were some very hostile editorials and news reports too. Why would you want to stick around in a city which treated you like that?"

Clark grimaced. "I know, Mom and Dad, but, like I told you the other day, I love Metropolis. And I've had enough of moving all the time." He'd thought again about that during the afternoon. The city's knee-jerk reaction had hurt him, more than he'd allowed himself to admit at the time. If they'd wanted him to stop using his powers, why hadn't they just asked? Why go to the trouble of obtaining an injunction? That had been a hostile act; okay, he'd defused it by voluntarily agreeing not to use his powers, but the city could have achieved that aim just as easily by asking him to come and talk to the mayor. And then, later, treating him like a criminal! — that had really hurt. It still hurt. All he'd done was save a few hundred lives. And they'd repaid him by throwing him in jail, and later refusing to release him on his own recognisance. Their lack of trust in Superman — who had never lied, never done anything to harm any other person — had spoken volumes.

Even throwing him in prison had been a stupid thing to do. He was Superman; he could have been out of there in under a second. So they'd clearly trusted him to stay put, then. So why couldn't they have trusted him not to use his powers? Why the threat of the National Guard, and the demand that he leave Metropolis?

So the temptation to leave anyway had been quite strong, and had been bolstered when he'd considered his feelings about working at the Star. But he'd ultimately realised that he wanted to stay in Metropolis. He would give the city some time to show that the mayor's apology meant something. As for the Star — whose editor had run an incredibly hypocritical 'You're The Greatest, Superman!' headline that afternoon — he was considering his position very seriously. He felt no loyalty whatsoever to the paper which paid his salary. But, unless he wanted to move to TV journalism, or work for a tabloid or the specialist press, he didn't have a lot of other options in this city. And anyway, quitting two jobs at reputable newspapers in as many months would not look at all good on his resume. Who'd want to employ someone with a record of lack of staying power?

For now, therefore, the Star was his only option, though he'd decided today to set himself a target date, four months hence. By then he would have built up a far greater portfolio and track record, and he would have a decent history of continuous employment. He hoped he would also have Perry White's support for any future job applications; the Planet's editor had promised that. And if he wasn't in a position to return to the Planet by the end of that time, he would seriously consider leaving Metropolis and looking for work in another city. Which meant, if he was being honest with himself, that he would be leaving Metropolis in four months' time. He knew very well that the only way he was likely to rejoin the Planet was if Lois were to leave — which was about as likely as anything being able to kill Superman.

"Yes, but you're sure about bringing back Superman?"

"Absolutely. He allows me to help, Dad. I can do things as Superman I could never do as Clark. I need to be Superman."

"And how do you feel about Lois?" his mother asked carefully.

"Lois? What about her?" Clark answered uncomfortably, knowing that she'd been on his mind ever since that morning. He just didn't know what to think about her. He'd told his parents a heavily-censored version of what he'd described as a difference of opinion with Lois, trying not to make it too clear how torn he was where his feelings for her were concerned.

"Well, we know what she did to you before — that it's because of her you left the Planet," Martha explained. "But it's because of her that Superman is exonerated."

"I know, Mom, and I'm grateful to her. But it doesn't change anything. She has a crush on Superman — that's why she wanted to help."

"Does it matter why she did it?" Martha objected. "She cleared you of causing the heatwave, when no-one else cared enough to ask questions."

That was true, Clark realised. He'd reflected on that himself; that only a month or so ago Superman had been named Metropolis's Man of the Year, and yet suddenly the populace was prepared to run him out of town. He was pretty sure that, had there been a known way to kill or severely injure him, the city's police or the National Guard would have been issued with instructions to do something about it. And yet Lois had continued to believe in him.

Superman owed Lois a huge debt of gratitude. Okay, Clark Kent had good reason to dislike her — not that he actually did; whatever it was about her, he still couldn't help feeling attracted to her regardless of what she'd done — but Superman had no reason to share that dislike. Not without leading her to wonder whether Clark had 'told' Superman what had happened between him and Lois.

"You're right, Mom. It was good of her, and I am grateful… in spite of everything."

As he ended the call, something else struck him. Earlier, when he'd carried Lois in his arms on the way from the Planet building to the LexCorp plant, was the closest he'd been to her in a couple of months. Her trim figure seemed no different. So she certainly wasn't pregnant. He was pretty sure of that; even at two months, she'd have some weight gain. But then, she'd told him she had no intention of carrying his child. He wondered, with a bitter twist of his mouth, whether she just hadn't become pregnant in the first place — which was entirely possible, of course, he reminded himself; after all, he was an alien, and he had no idea whether he could procreate with a human — or whether she had taken steps to end a pregnancy.

He would probably never know. So he should stop torturing himself about it.


Chocolate ice-cream was a great comforter, Lois told herself yet again as she ate another large spoonful of her favourite double-chocolate, double-chunky-chocolate-chip flavour. She wasn't even sure why she was feeling down this evening — after all, it had been a very good day. Not only had she saved the day for Superman, but the Planet had led all the other news media with its evening edition. The Star and other sources only knew that there had been a problem with LexCorp's power plant and that Superman was in the clear. Lois had been able to tell the story of her search for the truth, and how the Planet had led Dr Goodman to the real source of the problem.

She had also, she suspected, uncovered a chink in Lex Luthor's apparently perfect armour. If her guess was right, Lex was by no means innocent in the heatwave business, though she had no idea how she was going to prove anything. What she did intend to do, however, was to start being a *lot* more sceptical where Metropolis's most powerful businessman was concerned. And if she managed to expose him, that would definitely be a Pulitzer-winning story.

So why was she still feeling so depressed?

She wasn't depressed, she insisted. Just suffering from the feeling of anti-climax she sometimes got after a big story was finished. Nothing more than that.

She was just feeling a little bit low. That was all. And it had absolutely *nothing* to do with having run into Clark Kent today. That sleaze had no power to harm her in any way. She felt *nothing* for him. Only contempt and disgust, and delight that she was still working for the Planet and he was with that inferior paper, the Star.

<He's still a very attractive man…>

He was still the man who had seduced her! And who could have left her with a very unwanted disease, for all she knew; she'd been trying to forget about it, but she knew that in about a month's time she had to go for a further HIV test, to ensure that she was clear. So she was worrying about that, while all the time Kent was still strutting around town with not a care in the world. He'd *laughed* at her today!

As far as Clark Kent was concerned, she was history; a now-old notch on his bedpost he'd probably almost forgotten about. Who knew how many he'd had since her? In fact, Lois remembered suddenly, her old college contemporary Linda King was at the Star now — she was no doubt exactly Kent's type, and it was a dead cert that she was by now very familiar with the interior of Clark's bedroom.

Why was she even thinking about Kent?! Lois got to her feet and marched over to the television, clicking it on with a furious push of the power button. <Because you still dream about that night; because you *don't* regret it as much as you pretend to!> a tiny voice objected. <Because, if you hadn't been so hasty the morning after, it could have been the start of something really good…>

"No!" she exclaimed aloud, then clapped her hand over her mouth in horror. She really was going insane — earlier she'd almost regretted Kent's departure from the Planet, and now she was not only pondering the wisdom of blowing him off, but she was talking to herself too!

That, too, brought to mind another aspect of her current situation. She was almost turning into an old maid; it was months since she'd dated anyone, and a long time since she'd been with anyone she really felt she wanted to make love with. She'd always told herself that being single wasn't a problem; that, in fact, with her career and her aspirations, it was a distinct advantage. Men just didn't like women who also had career ambitions; they preferred to have a little woman who'd sit at home and have their dinner waiting for them when they deigned to get in. She was happiest alone, she'd decided a long time ago. But now… in recent weeks she'd begun to wonder.

Even with the example of her parents' marriage to put her off serious relationships, she was beginning to feel her solitary state more and more. Other people had someone to *talk* to in the evenings; someone they could confide in, laugh with, curl up and watch videos with, cuddle with… make slow, sweet and *loving* love with.

She had… an empty apartment, a TV set and a carton of chocolate ice-cream.

She was lonely.

Obviously so much so that she was even starting to think of Clark Kent as a potential…


She jumped to her feet and headed into the kitchen. Clearly the ice-cream wasn't enough to stop her thinking stupid things; she needed something else to cheer herself up, and a quick flick through the TV channels had revealed nothing but dross. There was some wine in the fridge… She poured herself a glass and was about to take a sip when she froze, suddenly seeing the significance of what she was doing.

She hadn't really touched alcohol since that night at Kent's apartment, apart from the night of the bachelor auction when she'd stupidly got very drunk. Lois had never been much of a drinker; she'd seen the impact too much of it could have on a person. Her mother's drinking had always been something the family never talked about; something they hid, as if it was shameful. It was only in the last couple of years that Lois had acknowledged that her mother was an alcoholic; Ellen herself had been attending AA meetings for some time by then, without telling her daughters. Lois's own view on the subject had always been that alcohol was very pleasant in small-ish quantities, but she knew she could control herself sufficiently not to over-indulge, and she would never get herself in a position where she was unable to control her reactions.

But that was precisely what had happened at Kent's apartment that night. She had drunk too much. Her inhibitions and natural good sense had completely been over-ridden by the alcohol and by Kent's blandishments, and she had tumbled into bed with him.

She might have blamed him for pushing the wine on her, but in reality she was the one who had drunk it. She could have stopped him filling her glass at any time, but she hadn't. She had been enjoying it too much. She *liked* alcohol too much. And so, while Kent was still to blame for seducing her, she had brought much of it on herself by letting herself get out of control… by drinking too much.

*She* had lost control… she still had dreams — nightmares — in which she pleaded with Kent to touch her, stroke her, do all sorts of thing to her… She'd deliberately blotted out most of the details of that night, but if she'd lost control, if it had happened in the way her dreams suggested, then whose fault was it really?

Rebelling against the conclusion she was about to reach, she told herself that maybe she was making too much of it. Maybe it hadn't been just the wine… maybe, somewhere underneath, in a completely off-the-wall kind of way, there was some infinitesimal part of her which was somehow attracted to Clark Ke -

No! That was completely impossible. It didn't even bear thinking about. She was *not* attracted to Clark Kent. Clearly alcohol had the sort of effect on her which made her *completely* unable to control her reactions, or to act with any sense of decorum or good taste. And Kent had somehow taken advantage of that fact.

She closed her eyes and groaned. She was obviously a total lush, a female barfly! Give her a few glasses of wine and she'd sleep with any darned Casanova who paid her a compliment!

She was just like her mother. She must have the same genetic propensity towards alcoholism, Lois realised, going cold at the thought.

Why hadn't she realised this before? With another grimace, she recognised that she must have been trying to block it out. The last thing she wanted was to be anything like her mother — or her father, come to that. So naturally she hadn't wanted to see the truth in relation to her attachment to drink. She wasn't an alcoholic, nowhere close; but it probably wouldn't take much to turn her into one, judging by how she'd behaved with Kent.

But why today? Today had been such a good day, after all.

Simple, she realised. Today she'd seen Kent — even spoken to him — and that had reminded her again of what had happened, and made her face up to her own failing. Given the chance — if she wasn't careful — alcohol could become a dangerous addiction for her. When she drank, she was not in control of her actions. It was just as well she'd recognised that now; who knew what she might do some other time when she'd drunk too much? She'd gone to bed with a man she wasn't in love with — a man she didn't even like — on that occasion. And there were worse things she could do; it didn't even bear thinking about.

Shuddering, she poured the wine down the sink.

Tomorrow, she would start to get herself a social life. That was what she needed — it was obvious, and she couldn't think why she hadn't realised it before now. She could join a club, take evening classes, try to contact some of her college friends — any number of things. Once she had an active social life, all these strange thoughts she'd had this evening would seem as crazy as they really were.

Relieved to have taken that decision, she went to her desk and booted up her laptop; she could have a quick look on the Internet to see whether there was anything local which she might be interested in joining. But then, astrange sound distracted her, and she frowned. What was it? It sounded like tapping, but it was coming from…

It was coming from one of the large windows in her living-room. But she wasn't on the ground floor; how could anyone be knocking on her window? Ever cautious, she went into the kitchen; rummaging about in her cupboards, after a few moments she found the wooden rolling-pin one of her optimistic aunts had given her when she'd first got her own place. The implement had never been used for its designated purpose — not that Lois had ever disillusioned her aunt about that — but at times like this it made a useful weapon.

She returned to the window then, standing just slightly to one side as she twitched the curtain a little in an effort to see who or what was out there. All she could see in the darkness was a faint flash of red; then suddenly she heard a familiar voice.

"Lois? Lois, it's me. Can I come in?"

Superman! What on earth was he doing outside her window? Very puzzled, but with her heart beating in delighted anticipation, she quickly raised the casement to allow him to enter.


The first thing which struck Clark about Lois was that, while she was certainly pleased to see him, she looked as if she was upset about something. That puzzled him; after all, she'd had an excellent day as far as work was concerned. Had she had some bad news, perhaps? If so, then maybe this wasn't a good time…

"Lois, are you okay?" he asked her quickly, unable to ignore his concern. "You know, I can come back another time…"

But she gave him a quick smile. "No! — no, I'm fine, Superman. I was just… thinking about some things. Nothing important. Not at all important now you're here… can I do something for you?"

Oh, so they were back to the Superman hero-worship, Clark thought glumly. Still, he was there for a purpose, and it wasn't fair to let his feelings about Lois's obvious crush on his _alter ego_ get in the way. "Actually, Lois, I came because I wanted to thank you for what you did for me."

She blushed, and he tried not to show the mild irritation he felt at her reaction. He owed *her* a massive favour, and yet here she was acting as if he'd shown her great condescension by deigning to come and thank her.

"You don't have to thank me, Superman," she told him, apparently sincerely. "I just couldn't stand to see all those people turning on you like that, completely ignoring everything you've done for this city."

"It's thanks to you that I'm still here," he reminded her. "If you hadn't kept looking, asking questions and doing everything you did, I'd have been gone hours ago. And I hate to think what could have happened if that LexCorp plant had gone live."

"Me too, Superman," she agreed. "It was just lucky Dr Goodman made the connection between the hot-spots and the aquifer."

"Oh, I'll be thanking her too," Clark assured Lois. "But she never would have had the information on which to base her deduction if it hadn't been for you. Believe me, Lois, I won't forget what you did for me."

She blushed again, and gave him a rueful smile. "I'm sorry I made you think I was in some sort of trouble earlier. I couldn't think of any other way to get hold of you."

He had been a little harsh on her about that, Clark realised. "It's okay, Lois — I can see you didn't really have any other choice. And I guess that yelling 'Help!' is really the best way to get hold of me."

Suddenly she was regarding him with an assessing look; no sign of that hero-worship now. "How does… Clark Kent do it?" He must have appeared puzzled, because she explained. "You told me earlier — if I want to talk to you, I should tell him and he'll let you know."

He was right to have been worried about letting that slip, he realised. He should never underestimate Lois Lane; even obsessed with Superman as she clearly was, she had no intention of letting a good story opportunity slip through her fingers. Or was this just personal — jealousy, perhaps, because Clark had access to information about Superman which she did not?

He needed to be very careful in his explanation of this. "Lois, I told you the other day that Clark is a… friend. I see him quite often, so all I meant was that he could pass on a message the next time he sees me."

She was studying him intently, and he wished he knew what conclusions she was drawing from his words. There were several which *could* be drawn, he realised, most of which he had no wish to let people think… such as that Clark and Superman could well be 'very close friends' indeed. Would Lois think that? But she had very good reason to know that Clark was heterosexual. Or, at least… but he wasn't going to go there.

Instead, he quickly decided, he was simply not going to answer any more questions. He was *Superman*, after all, and he had a reputation for not answering intrusive questions about himself or about his relationships with other people. He might have told Lois he was a friend — and after what she'd done for him today there was no way that he could retract that, even if he wanted to — but she was still a reporter, and she'd have to understand that there were lines which even she was not allowed to cross. And that wasn't unreasonable, he considered. Friends respected each other's privacy; that was how friendship worked.

But she moved away from him and went to stand by the couch. "I'm glad that you have… friends," she told him. "What you must have gone through the last few days… you must have felt so alone sometimes."

"I did," he confessed without thinking. "That is… well, I didn't know whether it was my powers causing the heat or not, so that made me wonder a lot about whether I was doing the right thing by staying here. But I was grateful for your support," he assured her.

"And — Clark's?" she asked, a little jerkily; he could see that she wasn't comfortable using his name. "Though he did write that horrible article in the Star yesterday morning."

Clark flinched; of course, people thought *he* had written that! "Actually, Lois, he didn't." At her look of surprise, he elaborated. "I know it carried his byline, but his editor redrafted it substantially after Clark submitted it. He told me he barely recognised more than a couple of sentences as his own work. He… was very apologetic — he told me he'd have refused to let it go out under his byline if he'd seen it."

"Oh… that explains it, I guess," Lois said with a shrug. "I saw the piece he wrote after your final court appearance. I guessed you must have given him an interview — after all, you stayed with him the night before, didn't you?"

That would teach him to write up incidents as Clark Kent when he hadn't been seen to be there as himself! Of course, Lois had been there, both in court and in the melee afterwards; she would know that Clark had not. He shrugged. "It seemed a fair return."

"I guess," she agreed quietly. Then, giving him a curious look, she added, "It's good of you to come, Superman — but is there something else you wanted? Are you sure I can't get you a drink or something?"

"Oh — nothing, thanks." This was ridiculous; what was he doing?! "As well as telling you I'm grateful, Lois, I wanted to ask if there was anything I could do to thank you." That was clever, he told himself cynically — now she'd be asking him for a date! Perhaps he should just have suggested the one thing he was really offering.

She frowned. "Superman, you don't need to do anything for me! You've already saved my life at least three times — this was the least I could do to help!"

Surprised, Clark gave her a faint smile. "That's what I do, Lois."

"And investigating's what I do, Superman."

"Okay." This time his smile was wider. "How about I give you an interview? You asked me the other day and I refused — I wasn't very polite to you, I'm afraid."

That clearly pleased her; her expression immediately became businesslike. "That'd be great, if you're sure, Superman. I know my editor will be pleased — the Star seems to be getting a lot of exclusives lately."

"Well, I can promise you that Clark won't have an interview for the next day or two," Clark offered, as much for his own self-preservation as to appease Lois. If it was becoming noticed that the Star — and Clark Kent — had a lot of Superman stories, questions might be asked which he had no desire to answer.

Lois offered him a choice of the couch or the dining-table; he chose the latter as offering a greater sense of formality and distance, and he waited while she set up her tape recorder and notepad.

This time, her questions were serious, thoughtful and probing; there was no trace of the nervous, starry-eyed woman who had interviewed him a few weeks earlier. This was quite definitely Lois Lane, award-winning reporter. She went back to basics, asking him question which had already been covered, to a degree, in other articles, but he couldn't fault her for doing so. This was her first opportunity to have an in-depth interview with a mysterious and highly sought-after public figure; as a journalist himself, he would have done exactly the same thing.

He gave her the same information which he had already made public himself: that he was from Krypton, that as far as he knew his home planet no longer existed, that he didn't know whether everyone on Krypton had possessed the same powers he had, that it was possible that the Solar System's sun enhanced his abilities in some way. He added that he believed his powers also imposed on him the responsibility to use them for good and to help people; since he was privileged enough to be allowed to remain on this planet, then he had an obligation to do what he could.

He had to side-step some awkward questions then; she asked him the one question he'd been grateful that no-one had raised so far. With a direct stare from her assessing brown eyes, she asked, "So when did you come to Earth?"

He hated lying, and had determined that he would not do so as Superman. With swift mental adroitness, he answered, "You were the first person to see me, Lois, remember? On the passenger shuttle."

A shrewd look met that response. "Superman, you know that's not actually the question I asked you."

He decided to be blunt. "It's still the only answer I'm going to give you."

She sat back, smiling. "Okay, but it's only fair to warn you that I won't forget. I'll find out, one way or another."

"And then print the answer?" he asked, more sharply than he intended.

"Superman, I'm a reporter," she reminded him. "But on the other hand, if you gave me a good reason why the answer shouldn't be made public knowledge, then…" She shrugged. "I'd consider it. I don't always print everything I know."

Clark thought that was probably true; he was pretty sure that she'd held some stuff back from that boxing story, for one thing — probably to help her father. And he remembered a time a few months ago, when all those strange incidents kept happening and needing his attention. He knew they'd been tests of his abilities, and something Lois had said around that time had suggested that she'd guessed someone was testing Superman. Nothing of that suspicion of hers had ended up in the Planet.

"Well, I'll consider myself warned," he answered, then raised an eyebrow at her to remind her that the ball was in her court.

She moved on to the heatwave then, asking how he'd felt when he'd first realised scientists were blaming him; he tried to remain nonchalant about it, explaining that he'd just wanted to get to the truth.

"But they took you to court," Lois pointed out. "As if you'd broken the law — which you hadn't!"

He shrugged. "They had to do their job."

"Well, what about when they decided you were in contempt of court? And threw you in jail?"

He shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat. "Lois, I think you can probably imagine how I felt. How would you feel if someone jumped to conclusions about something you'd done, without considering whether there could be another explanation, condemning you without even giving you a chance to explain — " He cut himself off quickly, realising what he was doing, then added more soberly, "But I just don't want anything appearing in the Planet which might make me look… well, vengeful or anything like that. Because I'm not. This thing is over, and I'm willing to put it behind me."

"That's fair enough," she agreed. "I won't print anything you don't want me to. But surely you must have felt betrayed? After all, you'd only ever done things to help people. You saved lives the night before they told you to leave Metropolis — that must have hurt."

Oh, she was good, Clark thought; subtly leading him to agree with her, sympathising in a tone which encouraged confidences. He caught her gaze and held it, giving her a direct stare. "Yes, it hurt. But that's as much as I'm going to say. You can write that, but I'd rather you didn't make it the focus of your article."

She met his gaze for a few moments, her own expression revealing sympathy and a sense of anger — on his behalf, he realised. "If that's what you prefer, Superman. Okay, so how about you tell me exactly how you see your role, in relation to the emergency services and so on…"

Clark had to revise his opinion of Lois as an interviewer, and to some extent as a person, he thought a little later as he left her apartment. He really had been wrong to assume that, just because she had a crush on Superman, she couldn't be professional. And, although his motivation for offering this interview had been both to thank Lois and to ensure that some exclusive coverage appeared somewhere other than the Star, he recognised that what she wrote was likely to do him a lot of good too. He'd had an opportunity to respond to some of the criticism he occasionally encountered which argued that he behaved like a vigilante, and to reiterate that he saw his role as helping where needed. It would be, in a way, a new start, both for him and for Metropolis.

If only, he thought as he stared through the wall of Lois's apartment and watched her working at her laptop, he and Lois could start again as easily.


She'd written a great article. But somehow, that didn't give Lois the adrenalin high it usually would have.

She tossed and turned for most of the night, unable to rid her mind of the thoughts which had haunted her during the earlier part of the evening. Was she just like her mother? Did she lose her reason after a few drinks? Was she fatally attracted to the wrong men at the wrong time? And if she was alone… was it her fault? Did she really frighten people away, as Lucy had once suggested?

And why couldn't she get Clark Kent out of her mind?

That morning, he'd actually looked *concerned* for her — that was such an unexpected response from most men that Lois had barely believed it was happening. But if it had been real… She pummelled her pillow furiously as she tried to banish the thought that maybe, just perhaps, she could have misjudged the man.

She *couldn't* have! He'd seduced her. And then, later, he'd shown how scared he was that he might have to share the responsibility of having made her pregnant.

But there was something else which refused to go away. That had been a very odd thing Superman had said. "How would you feel if someone jumped to conclusions about something you'd done, without considering whether there could be another explanation, condemning you without even giving you a chance to explain…"

He'd said it in the context of his own experiences at the hands of the city attorney, but Lois couldn't help feeling that it was a very pointed remark. And it wouldn't be the first time Superman had alluded to something about Clark Kent. What was it he'd said on the Planet roof? Something about 'if she could bring herself to talk to him.' She'd thought at the time that Superman obviously knew what had happened and was taking Clark's side.

What if he was trying to tell her that there was another side to the story, that she *had* misjudged Kent?

She turned over in bed yet again. *If* she had, it was a bit late to do anything about it. It was over two months ago now, and Kent no longer worked at the Planet. She had little or nothing to do with him; okay, they occasionally ran into each other at press conferences and the like, but they didn't need tospeak to each other. Wouldn't it just be for the best, she asked herself, if she let things lie? It would be embarrassing for them both if, after all this time, she brought the subject up. Apart from anything else, it would make it look like she was still really bothered by it, which wasn't at all the impression she wanted to give. After all, to him she was no doubt just a ship which had happened to pass by one night… he probably would have forgotten all about it long ago if it hadn't been for her prolonged hostility afterwards.

But if she had misjudged him…

Well, if she had, she would just have to live with it. She'd been feeling vaguely guilty for a long time for allowing Kent to think she would have an abortion without even telling him, had she been pregnant. That had been nasty; even if her assumption that he wouldn't want the responsibility had been correct, there had been no need to be so cruel. And… he had looked shocked. Hurt, in fact — just as he'd looked hurt that awful morning in her apartment.

But to apologise… that would just be humiliating. Lois had for a long time cultivated a very forthright, determined manner. She never explained, and certainly never apologised. That, she knew, was the way to get respect. If she kept changing her mind, or running to people with apologies, then she would just look weak; and she had no intention of ever being made to look weak.

Unable to sleep now, she got out of bed and padded into the kitchen to make herself a mug of milky hot chocolate. Even though she was wrapped in her warm dressing-gown, she felt chilled through. The temperature had very quickly returned to normal once the LexCorp power plant had been completely shut down, and Metropolis in November was cold, especially at three am.

But she knew that the cold feeling which just wouldn't go away was not entirely due to the external temperature.

A hot tear fell onto the work surface suddenly; she gulped, and realised that her eyes had suddenly become blurred.

It was no wonder that she had no friends, no social life. She really was a horrible person. Who would want to be friends with Lois Lane, someone who had pushed away anyone who'd ever tried to be a friend to her?

It had only taken Lucy just over a month to get completely fed up with Lois's bossy behaviour before she'd moved out and gone to California. And she hadn't exactly tried to find out what Clark Kent was really like before dismissing him as just another typical male — she'd been rude to him at their first meeting and contemptuous of his background subsequently. Later, he'd been a sympathetic listener when they'd been chained up together by Toni Baines, and had then saved her life; she'd repaid him by telling him in an extremely offensive manner that she didn't trust him to keep his mouth shut.

One thing that incident, and their sleeping together, seemed to have shown her was that Kent *did* know how to keep his mouth shut. Okay, it looked like he'd told Superman, but that wasn't exactly the same as telling all the guys at work; she had to concede that. And Superman had emphasised that he and Clark were friends.

And he'd accused her before of jumping to conclusions about him — when she'd questioned his motives for offering to let her stay at his place. What was it he'd said then? "I don't know what sort of man you're used to working with, but I'm not like that" — or something like that. Of course, the following morning she'd thought that he'd lied — that he was *exactly* like she'd imagined. But yet he'd looked so offended when he'd said it, as if she'd accused him of something which he'd consider beyond the pale.

Oh, she just didn't know *what* to think!

For so long she'd convinced herself that it was all Kent's doing; that she'd been the injured party, lured to his apartment under false pretences, persuaded to drink more than was good for her, and then taken advantage of just when she was vulnerable. But she'd been thinking some very uncomfortable thoughts this evening.

If she was really as susceptible to losing control of herself as she now believed… if her dreams were an accurate picture of that night which she'd practically forced herself to forget…

Cupping the mug of hot chocolate, she went to curl up on the couch and tried to think of all the times recently when she'd had alcohol. At Kent's place. Then nothing for a long time, because she hadn't been able to touch the stuff. But then there'd been the night of the bachelor auction; she'd been so utterly depressed because she hadn't come close to buying the date with Superman, and the hero himself had completely ignored her. She'd sat at the bar for a couple of hours, becoming progressively more drunk, until Lex Luthor had taken pity on her — or decided that she was an embarrassment, more likely — and had sent her home with Nigel St John.

Nothing then for some weeks, but then just this evening she'd actually craved a glass of wine. Drinking alone… wasn't that supposed to be one sign of addiction? That, and not knowing when to stop — and not being in control of one's actions after a few drinks. And drinking when you're miserable, she reminded herself bleakly. That was why she'd wanted a drink this evening. It was why her mother had started drinking to excess.

That was easily resolved, she decided firmly. No more alcohol. Ever. If she had inherited that genetic trait, she needed to nip it in the bud. Now. Tomorrow, every single alcoholic beverage in her apartment was going in the trash, and she'd stick to non-alcoholic drinks when out with other people.

That was the easy part. The harder part was facing up to the reality of what she'd done.

For the first time since that fateful night, she laid her head back against the sofa-back and forced herself to remember exactly what had happened and how it had happened.

There had been the challenge — *her* challenge — and the kiss. *He'd* looked concerned, asked whether she was sure she wanted to go ahead with it; she'd scornfully accused him of trying to back out. She'd very quickly completely forgotten what was supposed to be happening — and it had been *she* who had taken things to the next step by sitting up and stripping off her T-shirt. *She* had practically begged him to touch her — not that he'd needed too much encouragement.

And… her face flooded with embarrassment as she remembered how she had taken the lead, told him to take his clothes off, made it clear by words and touches that she wanted sex with him.

She'd been lying to herself all along. There had been no smooth seduction technique. Oh, he was a skilled lover all right, but if anyone had been persuading the other to greater intimacies, it had been her rather than him. Kent might not have been blameless in the situation, but he wasn't the lowlife she'd portrayed him. She'd known that all along, subconsciously, but somehow it had been easier to demonise Clark Kent than to acknowledge her own appalling, sluttish, drunken behaviour.

So that was what Superman had been trying to tell her.

And, of course, it was far too late to do anything to put things right. She'd cold-shouldered Kent for too long, quite apart from the vicious things she'd said to him — there was no way that he would even listen to her now, even assuming that he had any interest in her apologies, if she could bring herself to make any. Yet again, she'd wrecked any chance of what could have been a good friendship with someone everyone else she knew had known was a decent guy — but, as usual, she'd made a snap judgement based on her own prejudices, instead of opening her eyes and actually seeing what was underneath her nose.

The tears came freely now, as her hurt and humiliation and loneliness and the depression she'd been feeling all evening poured out of her. Shivering, sobbing, she curled up in a foetal ball on the uncomfortable couch and tried to sleep.


With shaking hands, Lois ripped open the envelope which had just arrived bearing the logo of the hospital where she had taken her HIV test. She'd tried to ignore the feeling of dread which had been lurking at the back of her mind for so long, but eventually she'd realised that she couldn't put it off any longer. She'd gone for the second test several days ago.

And now, the results were here. Or, at any rate, the letter was here asking her to make an appointment to come in for her results — the clinic insisted on giving the results of these tests face-to-face.

The sooner the better, she decided; better to get it over with.

But was getting it over with really such a good thing after all? Emerging from the hospital, clutching her print-out almost with a death-grip, she debated with herself whether she would have preferred just not to know the truth. Even her thoughts carried a sense of black irony, she mused as she realised that she was mentally verbalising her actions. That apparently harmless piece of paper, a computer print-out, carried a death sentence.

She was HIV positive.

The doctor had assured her that this did not necessarily mean that she would develop AIDS, but Lois was aware of the research; she'd only recently written an article on HIV and AIDS, and had interviewed victims of both. She knew the prognosis, just as she knew the symptoms and the growing hopelessness as the days went past.

And yet not all that long ago she'd thought that her greatest problems were a tendency towards alcoholism and feeling depressed! Now, she was facing a premature death from a disease considered even more shameful than cancer was once thought of, one which would, in its later stages, make people shrink from her, and even now, if her status became known, would cause people to keep their distance.

Could her life get any more horrible? she wondered as she got into her car and drove out of the parking lot.

It was dark when she stepped out onto the roof of the Daily Planet. It was a cold, clear, windy night; the stars were a visible blanket across the black sky, and there was a full moon. The lights of the city stretched far on either side, and to the south the harbour was ringed with dull yellow light and the red lights of warning beacons. The low, booming sound of ship's horns echoed across the few miles separating her location from the river.

Lois had lived in Metropolis all her life, and she loved the city. It had a buzz, an atmosphere of excitement which she'd never found anywhere else she'd visited. She could never imagine wanting to live anywhere else. But now, the city had lost its excitement; and she knew that was because life itself held no attraction for her any more. It was precisely her love of excitement which had got her into this position — the thrill of sensation, from alcohol and from sex. And yet, she thought bleakly, before that night just three months earlier, she'd thought sex held no real attraction for her. How wrong she'd been… and how she had paid for that hour of pleasure.

She had learned a lot about herself in the last few months, and she didn't like the person she'd become.

She was cold, bitter, a woman no man would want as his partner in love, someone who judged on the basis of prejudice rather than making the effort to get to know people. She had alienated everyone who could have been a friend, and what she'd done to Clark Kent had been particularly despicable…

…except that it was now thanks to him that she was facing a living death by a horrible route.

He could have told her! He could at least have had the decency to use protection!

No, there was no reason why she should feel in any way guilty for the way she'd behaved towards Kent, she argued with herself. She might have rejected him and made him believe she would destroy a child of his, but did he deserve any better? After all, he was still alive, and seemingly healthy. He seemed perfectly content with his life. It was possible, she supposed, that he didn't know of his HIV status; but that was his problem. She wasn't going to tell him.

And anyway, wasn't it just as well there would be no baby? She'd thought before that she couldn't have countenanced an abortion, but what if she'd been pregnant and received the news that she was HIV-positive? What kind of start in life would that be for a baby? Clark Kent would be a double murderer, in that case.

<Murderer… the guy only had sex with you…!>

He might as well have injected her with a fatal poison! she retorted to her conscience. And not even one which would bring death swiftly.

She stepped towards the edge of the building and looked downwards. It would be so easy… just one step further, and then an end to it all. No more pain, no more fear, just… nothing.

After all, what reasons were there to stay? Her job? Okay, she loved her job — the challenge of that hadn't gone away, but who at the Planet would miss her? She knew she was almost universally disliked. Her family? When was the last time she'd spoken to either of her parents? At least a month ago, she realised… and Lucy even longer ago than that. No, they wouldn't miss her. No-one would.

Cars passing below became an indistinct blur as her eyes filled with tears. Her body rigid, she shuffled one foot forward and it encountered empty air.

There was a sudden rush of wind… Superman was hovering in front of her, reaching out a firm hand to steady her. "Lois, why?" he shouted at her, the wind whipping his voice away from her.

"Why not?" she shouted back, trying to pull away from him.

"You know why not!" He sounded angry. "Lois, you have everything to live for! I won't let you do this!"

"I have nothing — and no-one would care anyway," she yelled back at him, pulling away from his grasp.

"I would!" he insisted, grabbing hold of her and preventing her taking the final step off the roof.

She hesitated, staring at him, seeing the concern in his expression, the caring in his dark eyes. "You… would?"

A gust of wind caught his hair and ruffled it; an instant later, his cape flapped in the breeze and surrounded him. The moon disappeared behind a cloud which seemed to appear from nowhere, and when it re-emerged the figure before her abruptly seemed to metamorphose… all of a sudden the man holding her had floppy hair, and wore a dark business suit and glasses.

Clark Kent laughed cruelly. "You really think I'd miss you, Lois?" With a swift gesture, he flung her from him.

She swayed, wobbled, lost her balance, and…

…and then she was falling, arms splayed, down into the great empty space beneath her. Something seemed to catch as she plummeted, some item of clothing getting caught in the flag-pole, perhaps, but then it gave way and she was in free-fall. Too late for it to matter, she realised that she hadn't really wanted this, would never have taken that fatal step off the roof. But it was too late now… death was surely only seconds away.

She closed her eyes and screamed, terror-stricken, as the ground rushed up to meet her…

…and, with a bump, she met solid, carpeted floor. Opening her eyes, she found herself on the floor beside the couch in her apartment, her dressing-gown tangled around her and the belt caught in the sofa-cushions.

It had been a nightmare. Only a nightmare.

Breathing heavily, Lois struggled to her feet and walked shakily back to her bedroom. That would teach her to drink hot chocolate in the middle of the night… no, it hadn't entirely been the chocolate. Her nightmare had reflected the thoughts which had been running through her mind all evening — except for one thing.

She was *not* so desperate that she would consider suicide.

Life was far too valuable just to throw it away so carelessly. That was something she could never do.

<But what if> an insidious little voice asked tormentingly, <you really are HIV-positive?>

But Lois refused to contemplate that at the moment. She would face that if it happened. Right now, she had some real issues to resolve: deal with whatever it was which was making her feel so depressed and alone, stop herself drinking, and make an effort to be nicer to people around her.

<Including Clark Kent?> that little voice asked again.

Clark Kent wasn't in her life any more, she reminded herself. She encountered him only rarely. And, even if she had misjudged his motives that night, even though it really had been she rather than he who had taken the initiative and demanded intimacy, there was still the question of whether she had contracted anything nasty from him. Okay, it was possible that she hadn't. In fact, extremely probable — her doctor had told her that the probability was pretty low, given the overall incidence of HIV among heterosexual professional males. But she couldn't assume, until she had that final test and the results showed her in the clear… or not.

She just didn't know what to think about Kent. Earlier, she'd come to the conclusion that she must have misjudged him badly — even Superman had seemed to be telling her that. But what could she do about it? She had no doubt whatsoever that, as far as he was concerned, what had happened between them was ancient history. So how could she set the record straight without making it appear that, for her, it was still a big deal? How he'd laugh at her!

So it would be better just to let sleeping dogs — or Kents — lie. She might have wronged him in one respect, but she was certainly paying for that now.


She just didn't know what to think about Kent. Earlier, she'd come to the conclusion that she must have misjudged him badly — even Superman had seemed to be telling her that. But what could she do about it? She had no doubt whatsoever that, as far as he was concerned, what had happened between them was ancient history. So how could she set the record straight without making it appear that, for her, it was still a big deal? How he'd laugh at her!

So it would be better just to let sleeping dogs — or Kents — lie. She might have wronged him in one respect, but she was certainly paying for that now.


The next few weeks were painful for Lois, as she set about a reassessment of her life in a number of respects. She knew she was regarded as cold and hard, unfriendly, superior and unhelpful, by her colleagues at the Planet, and while once upon a time she would have considered that irrelevant — why should she care whether they liked her, when she had little or no respect for them? — she could see that her attitude was arrogant in the extreme. Perry had been right to give her that lecture on unprofessional behaviour all those weeks ago; she knew she'd been at fault in not taking it to heart sooner.

She'd arrogantly assumed that with Clark Kent out of the way it no longer mattered. But that was manifestly not the case. The morning after her nightmare she'd gone into work and made a particular effort to notice how her colleagues behaved to each other and to her. She barely got a 'good morning' from most people. Yet other reporters yelled friendly 'hi!s' to each other, swapped stories about what they'd got up to the previous evening, showed each other photos of offspring, holidays and so on, and were always quick to help each other out.

It occurred to her that Clark Kent had been equally friendly with the others, and they with him. He, for example, Lois remembered, knew that Eduardo had twins, a boy and a girl — he'd reminded her, in what had been only his second week at the Planet, that the daughter had just been in hospital for a minor operation, when she'd wondered aloud why several people had asked Eduardo how Susie was. Clark had always been greeted warmly by colleagues; at the time, she'd put it down to his being 'one of the boys', but she now remembered that the women had been equally friendly with him. And not just Cat; he had been universally liked.

And that was because he had put himself out to be nice. Which, she noticed on that day when she made a special effort to do so, was something which most of her colleagues seemed to do quite naturally. Jimmy, on his way across the newsroom, paused by Vanessa to ask after her mother — how had Jimmy known that the fashion correspondent's mother had recently had a stroke? Even Ralph, who Lois would have readily believed to have no redeeming features at all, had got up from his desk and gone to help old Wilbert from Security with a large and heavy-looking package which had arrived for Perry.He had even demanded to know why the front desk didn't seem to possess a trolley or something similar.

When Marie from the financial section did her sandwich run, she went around a large section of the newsroom asking what people wanted; but she came nowhere near Lois. After some thought, Lois remembered that this had started some months earlier; a different person did the run each day. Lois had been asked once whether she wanted to join in, but she'd shrugged and turned away, and had never been asked again.

She'd gone home after that day feeling shell-shocked. For the first time, she had realised that, while she might work in the Daily Planet newsroom, she was not a part of its community. Once, that wouldn't have bothered her. Now, it depressed her even more.

But there was no point brooding over it, she decided. She couldn't change everything which was wrong with her life, but she did have the power to change some things, and how she was regarded by her colleagues was one of those things. She'd assumed that people respected her because they saw that she was resolute and determined and good at her job. She now understood that respect had nothing to do with that. Respect had to be earned; it wasn't given automatically. And liking was even harder to gain, and for the first time in her life Lois realised that she wanted to be liked. But instead, she could see that she was viewed as stubborn and unfriendly and sometimes just plain rude.

So, slowly, Lois had begun to adjust. She began by making a point of greeting colleagues warmly, by smiling at people instead of glowering when they approached her, by addressing people by name — and not in a tone of voice which suggested that they were one degree lower than pocket lint in importance. It clearly surprised some people, and she even heard that Ralph had opened up a book on how long Lois Lane's new leaf would last, but she ignored that. The important thing was to prove to herself that she could be nice.

Being nice didn't mean losing her edge, though. Perry had been delighted with her Superman interview, and her follow-ups on the LexCorp nuclear power plant; but they were old news now. What mattered was the next story… and the next, and the next…

She wasn't finished with Superman yet either; while she'd finally got the big interview she'd been waiting for, in many ways that had left her with even more unanswered questions. He'd been very evasive about his arrival on Earth, and there had to be a reason for that. She'd assumed, as had everyone else, that he'd only just arrived when he'd made his first appearance in the passenger transport shuttle — no-one had seen him before that and, after all, he would have been pretty noticeable in that suit of his.

But what if he *hadn't* just arrived then? Where would he have been? How had he disguised himself? And why had he chosen to reveal himself at that precise moment? — why not before?

If he was being evasive, that meant he had something to hide. What if he had been on Earth before then, and had done things in secret?

That raised two questions: when had he got here, and how had he disguised himself? It was certainly possible that he'd been here earlier, and that he had found discreet ways to help. Staying late at the Planet one night, Lois had searched a web-page of unexplained occurrences from around the world, and it was at least possible that some of them could be explained by the presence of Superman. A man mysteriously saved from certain death in front of a car; a train crash mysteriously averted; an explosion which was somehow less devastating than it should have been; survivors of a capsized boat claiming to have been rescued by an angel… all of these *could* have been Superman, acting in secret. They had all happened in different places — Australia, Brazil, the North African coast… so, if it was Superman, why was he now largely confining his activities to Metropolis? And why had he gone public?

The latter question wasn't too much of a puzzle; acting in secret, he had to disguise himself and he would always have run the risk of discovery. By going public, he showed he wasn't afraid of discovery; he awed people with what he could do, and for the most part he was safe. Oh, reporters wanted their pound of flesh, but he was always able to fly away.

And that raised yet another question: where did he fly away *to*? Now, that was an intriguing thought. No-one ever asked where Superman lived. No-one ever asked what he did when he wasn't saving people. No-one asked how he earned a living — if he did. And yet, if he didn't, how did he live? How did he manage to eat, to provide a roof over his head?

Perhaps people assumed that Superman didn't need such mundane things; and yet Lois wasn't so sure. He hadn't refused coffee that day at the Planet, and she was sure she'd seen him eating *somewhere*. He had been in her apartment once, and seemed perfectly at ease with the concept of an apartment — if he lurked in a cave somewhere, surely he'd be less… well, *house-trained*, she thought.

So just who was Superman? She didn't even know his *name*, she realised suddenly, recalling that she had been the one to dub him Superman — no-one, in interviewing him, had thought to ask him his real name.

And Clark Kent apparently knew how to contact him. That raised a number of interesting possibilities, such as that he really did live somewhere and Kent knew where that was, or that he was telepathic and had told Kent how his powers in that regard worked — or, perhaps, that he'd given Kent some sort of signal mechanism. Lois would love to know which — and she'd give her eye teeth for Superman to offer her the same privilege.

So it was possible that Superman was hiding rather a lot of things. And Lois intended to be the one to find out and print the story.

But even before she'd been able to get to work on that, other things had intervened, as they usually did in her job. What turned out to be a pheromone spray had caused most of the Planet staff to fall madly in love — or lust — with people around them, and she'd put all her energies into finding out who was responsible for that. She'd done it, too, exposing a famous Metropolitan perfumier who appeared to want to take some sort of revenge on the city.

That had been another great front-page story with the Lois Lane byline. However, two things from that incident niggled at her still. First, Lex Luthor had been at the Planet when Miranda had struck, and he'd obviously been sprayed; he had, for some reason, become attracted to Lois. It had been very embarrassing, in fact — she'd been invited to his penthouse apartment for what she'd thought was an *interview* — and he'd spent the entire evening trying to flirt with her and had eventually made a very crude pass at her. Since then, although he'd apologised for his crass behaviour, he'd several times called her up to ask her for a date. She wasn't really interested — well, she didn't think she was, and anyway, Lex Luthor was someone else on her list of people to investigate in a serious way when she got the opportunity. But, although it was flattering to have the third-richest man in the world wanting to date her, it was also very unsettling.

The second thing which bothered her about that incident was the fact that *she* had not been affected by the pheromone at all, as far as she could tell. She hadn't felt the slightest frisson of attraction to anyone around her. She hadn't wanted to rush up to any of her fellow reporters and kiss them, as one or two of her co-workers had done. Her thoughts might have once or twice have drifted to romance, but there had been no-one specific on whom her imaginings had dwelled.

Except… well, once she'd found herself re-living having sex with Clark Kent, only she'd found herself thinking of it as making love…

No! She thrust that half-formed thought out of her mind. That lurid, totally irrational fantasy had nothing to do with any effect of the pheromone.

What was clear from the pheromone incident was that Lois seemed to be somehow incapable of loving. That probably wasn't too much of a surprise, she finally decided. After all, given her experience of her parents' marriage and her father's affairs, as well as her own disastrous experiences of romance, she certainly had no real desire to put herself in a position where some man had the power to hurt her. But what really worried her was one question: had she become part of the problem here? Perhaps it wasn't just that there were too few trustworthy men; it was that she herself was just not able to fall in love. Loving was an unselfish act, in its truest form; and she was too selfish to be able to do it.

Though she was working on it… She'd set herself a target of doing at least one unselfish act per day, and so far she was doing pretty well. Sometimes it was something small, like not taking the last chocolate donut from the newsroom box, but at other times she made herself do something significant, something which was actually *difficult*.

Like the other day, she reflected as she let herself into her apartment late one evening towards the end of November. She'd been downtown, following up on a bank robbery story, and she'd decided to have some coffee in a nearby deli while she wrote up her notes. On entering, she'd noticed a familiar figure in a booth near the back… Clark Kent. Her first instinct had been to leave, but then she'd reminded herself that not only had she turned over a new leaf, but that she'd also admitted to herself that she'd treated him badly. Okay, she was still waiting until she could have the second HIV test, but she was less worried about that now than she had been — after all, if she'd misjudged Kent in one respect, then perhaps he wasn't the serial seducer she'd imagined either?

She owed him an apology. And that was something else she'd learned recently: apologising was not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it took enormous courage to walk up to someone and admit to having been wrong; even more so to beg forgiveness. To apologise to Clark Kent might be humiliating, but better that than to know she was a coward.

So she'd taken a deep breath and advanced towards his booth, intending to ask him nicely how he was, and if he didn't tell her to get lost, then to apologise for her behaviour and her accusations. She was just about to take the final steps which would bring her into his line of vision when she noticed that he wasn't alone.

There was a woman with him.

She was about Lois's age, with long auburn hair which she was combing through her fingers in a manner designed to draw attention to both her hair and her long painted fingernails. She was smiling at Clark in a way which said 'I'm beautiful — don't you want to kiss me?' And, with her other hand, she was reaching across the table and patting his hand.

And Lois knew her. Linda King, old college rival, now reporter for the Star. And, by the look of it, Clark Kent's latest bedmate — or soon to be so.

She had never liked Linda King. And that impression had only been reinforced when she and Linda had both been interested in Paul, the editor of their college magazine. Lois had worked her butt off on a story in order to impress Paul, hoping he'd ask her out… but Linda had tried the direct route. She'd slept with him. And along the way, she'd managed to steal Lois's story too.

The woman was no better than… than a slut! And a thief. She was as bad as Claude.

And she was with Clark Kent.

Well, maybe they deserved each other, Lois had decided as she exited the cafe. She hadn't managed her goal of performing an unselfish act that day.


Snow was falling as Clark emerged from the Metropolis Star building late one evening in early December. It was time he thought about making plans for Christmas, he decided; he wasn't sure how many days he'd be able to get as vacation, especially as he was still relatively new at the paper. Still, even if he was only able to get away late on Christmas Eve and had to be back at work on the 26th, he'd still be able to spend the time with his parents — unlike most people, he wouldn't be at the mercy of commercial flights, bad weather and congestion.

The last month at the Star hadn't been so bad, he conceded. Shortly after the heatwave had ended Mike Lloyd had teamed Clark up with another reporter to concentrate on investigative work, which meant that Clark was no longer required to report on just about anything which might conceivably interest the Star's readers. This new arrangement gave him, together with his partner, far more freedom to choose what to concentrate on. Just recently, for instance, they'd beaten the Planet — and Lois Lane — to a scoop about Congressman Harrington taking bribes to ensure that Congress adopted a specific missile defence system; that had pleased Mike Lloyd enormously, and ensured that the Star's editor gave his new top reporting team still more autonomy.

Clark liked Linda King; she was a good reporter and writer, and while her investigative instincts weren't on a par with Lois's, for example, he saw that as an advantage. Linda was unlikely to make any connection between Clark Kent and Superman. Lois, on the other hand, could well have begun to ask some very awkward questions had he still been working with her, Clark knew. She was still the only reporter yet to have asked when Superman arrived on Earth, and as far as he knew she was the only person to have come close to suspecting a link of some sort between Clark Kent and Superman. That was largely his own fault — he knew he should never have told her to contact Clark if she wanted to speak to Superman. But she had also been putting together clues from other sources, he'd realised that night he'd given her the interview.

She'd written an incredibly good article following that interview. In fact, Clark thought it was one of the best she'd ever produced. It certainly served the purpose he'd hoped for: it reinforced Superman's desire to help and to be a friend to the inhabitants of this planet where he was welcomed as a visitor. It had stressed that Superman presented no danger to any citizen of Metropolis, and that in fact he was regarded by many to be their protector, someone who made the city a safer place to be. His own statements about wanting to belong were well highlighted. At the same time, Lois had made it clear that the city had badly mistreated Superman, and that Metropolis was very fortunate that he had decided to stay. It was clear in the article that this was her own view; in fact, she'd stressed that Superman himself had refused to criticise any city official for what had happened. He'd insisted that they'd simply been doing their jobs, she had written. At the same time, however, she had managed to convey the impression of a Super-hero who had been hurt by what had been done to him, however much he tried to hide it.

What had surprised — and touched — him most had been Lois's description, close to the end of her article, of Superman as a solitary, sometimes lonely, figure who was forced because of his position to hold himself aloof from others, whatever his instincts might be. She commented that she suspected he was a very warm, caring person at heart, but that he had to suppress that side of himself most of the time in order to ensure that criminals were less able to use those emotions against him. She had referred to the counselling services typically offered to emergency workers who might suffer from trauma after assisting at major disasters, and wondered how Superman coped with his reactions in such situations since this kind of outlet was not available to him.

And she was right, Clark had thought on reading the article. Most of the time he kept his emotions to himself after helping at a major emergency; sometimes he talked to his parents, but he didn't want to burden them with too many horrific details, so he frequently suffered alone, blaming himself when he failed to save lives. Yet no-one else had imagined that Superman might experience emotions such as frustration, pain, grief or horror — not even after the article he'd written about himself on the day the court had ordered Superman to leave town. And she'd been right in another respect as well: Superman couldnot allow himself to be seen to be close to any other person, as it would be an open invitation to any criminal to use that person's life as a weapon to control Superman.

Why was it that Lois seemed to understand Superman so well, when she had got Clark Kent so spectacularly wrong?

He'd wondered for some time after giving her the interview whether his pointed reference to misjudging someone had sunk in. He hadn't been sure at the time whether it had been the right thing to say — he still wasn't sure — but he'd done it and that was that. But had she thought about it at all? Had she seen the relevance to her own position? He'd hoped that she might; that she'd think about it and realise that she'd jumped to conclusions where Clark was concerned, and that she might even make contact to apologise or suggest that they needed to talk.

But she hadn't been in touch, and on the few occasions on which he'd seen her since — at a distance, mainly — she'd made no effort to acknowledge him, let alone speak to him. So, he concluded, she hadn't seen any relevance to herself in what he'd said, or she'd simply refused to accept it.

Or, most likely, she simply didn't care. What was Clark Kent to her? Nothing but some guy she'd slept with, changed her mind the morning after, and then pushed all the blame for it onto him. And whose child she'd probably got rid of, if she'd been pregnant — although, he was pretty sure, someone like Lois would take darned good care to ensure that she never got pregnant in the first place.

Still, whatever he felt about her personally, there was no denying that she had done him a huge favour — a couple of favours, in fact. Without her intervention, Superman would have been banished. And her article had made it much easier for the Super-hero to re-emerge and to show that he bore no grudges. His approval ratings had shot through the roof in the days following the discovery that the LexCorp plant had caused the heatwave, and the publication of Lois's article, which the Planet had splashed on the front page. Superman was considered a friend again by the general populace, and woe betide any politician or public official who spoke a word against him.

He owed her for that, and in return he'd ensured that she got a few Superman exclusives in the intervening weeks; nothing major, and certainly no more interviews. That, of course, had helped him as well; he'd realised that it really wasn't a good idea for Clark Kent at the Star to be too closely associated with covering Superman. Better to spread it around — and with that aim in mind, he'd also ensured that his new partner got a couple of stories as well, including one brief interview at the scene of a rescue.

His new partner… that brought to mind the only downside of his working relationship with her. Linda liked him. That was good, as far as it went; it was certainly pleasant to work with someone who wasn't constantly trying to undermine him or assert her superiority. However, Linda wanted more than that. She *really* liked him — to the point of wanting them to be more than work colleagues and casual friends. He'd realised that on the second occasion she'd suggested they eat out together after working late; suddenly the conversation had taken a sharp turn from the lively discussion of current affairs and Metropolitan politics, and Linda was asking him about his personal life and whether he was seeing anyone. At the same time, her bare toes had — accidentally, of course — made contact with his ankle.

She was certainly forward, he'd realised with a shock. And, as he just wasn't interested, he'd had to fumble to find some way of letting her down gently while at the same time leaving her in no doubt whatsoever that, while he liked her, he didn't want a closer relationship with her; he didn't want yet another reporting partner to refuse to work with him! And, while he'd been not-very-tactfully extricating himself from what had become a very awkward situation, he'd been depressingly aware that had this been his former partner making such advances towards him, he would not be rejecting her.

And that was *crazy*! Somehow, he knew, he had to get these feelings he still seemed to have for Lois Lane out of his mind. He knew why he still thought about her. She had been his first. The first — the *only* — woman he had ever made love to. Of course he still remembered that night so vividly!

He had tried, just once, to fool himself that making love would be just as good with another woman. Oh, not that he'd actually tried to do anything to prove it — he'd simply told himself that had to be the case. But underneath he'd known that he was wrong, and he'd very quickly given up even trying to pretend. Something very special had happened that night with Lois. And she was in every sense the one who'd got away.

He could almost believe that the Lois he'd laughed with and argued with and kissed and touched and made love with had been replaced by an alien life form the next morning — she'd undergone such a complete personality transplant from the night before. And yet he'd been warned that Lois was cold, was hard, was just not interested in the men she worked with or came into contact with.

Thinking about Lois was a waste of time, he told himself as he headed towards the subway, deciding to ride rather than walk back to his apartment. He didn't mind the snow and the cold, of course, but it wouldn't do to let anyone else see Clark Kent walking the streets of Metropolis at after nine o'clock on a winter evening, even wearing an overcoat. No-one walked very far in these temperatures.

A car drew to a halt beside him and he glanced at it curiously, wondering whether the driver needed directions. The passenger window rolled down and a man leaned out; his words confirmed Clark's guess. Carefully he explained the most straightforward route to the city hall, leaning towards the car and indicating with his hands as he spoke. His attention thus distracted, he didn't see the car's back door opening.

To his shock, he suddenly felt something hard jabbing him in the ribs.

Carefully, he turned his head; a tall, stocky man stood very close beside him, his face obscured by shadow. Without even glancing down, Clark could see that what was pressed into him was a gun.

Guns, of course, presented no danger to him. But that wasn't something he could afford to let anyone else know; and anyway, he was curious to know why he was being targeted. This didn't seem like a straightforward mugging. But best not to let his attacker know he realised that.

"What's the problem?" he drawled quietly. "You want my wallet?"

"Get in the car," the man grunted in response, and Clark instantly recognised the voice. He took another swift glance at the man, and his suspicions were confirmed.

It was Jason Trask.

He could have made his escape easily, even without giving himself away. But this discovery made things very intriguing indeed. Jason Trask had been missing ever since the day he'd thrown Lois out of the plane; occasionally Clark had called his contact in the FBI to find out whether there was any progress in the hunt for the rogue operative, but the routine response was that Trask seemed to have gone to ground, or that he could have left the country. The FBI still considered him a wanted man, but no-one considered that he was likely to show up any time soon.

Neither had Clark been able to make any progress as to discovering exactly who the man was, or what Bureau 39 was or had been. The article Lois had written hadn't told him any more than he'd already found out himself; in fact, he knew more than she had, since although she had discovered something about Trask's interest in aliens, she hadn't seen the warehouse he'd discovered. It had, of course, been swept clean when he'd gone back, and he hadn't seen his space craft since.

Here, then, was his chance to discover exactly what Trask wanted with Superman, and possibly to regain his spaceship.

He wasn't going to seem too eager, however. He hesitated, tried to take a step backwards, and protested. "Who the hell are you? And what do you want with me?!"

Trask jabbed the gun roughly at him and then, deliberately, noisily, cocked it. To Clark's sensitive ears, the sound seemed to echo around the deserted street. "I take it you want to stay alive, Kent," the rogue agent said harshly. "If you don't want your folks to get you home in a body bag for Christmas, get in — now!"

Clark climbed into the back seat of the car, pretending to shrink into the far corner as Trask joined him. The car moved off into the night.

"What do you want with me?" Clark demanded, deliberately making his voice sound shaky.

"Oh, I don't want *you*, Kent," Trask said with a short laugh. "I want what you can get me. You're one of the two reporters the alien Superman seems to talk to. I want you to bring me Superman."

That was no surprise, Clark thought. After all, Trask had previously kidnapped and tried to kill Lois in order to draw Superman out, and he'd had a trap planned that time as well, he remembered — the missile. Whether Trask had actually thought that the missile could harm Superman, Clark had no idea. As far as he knew, he was invulnerable. Which meant that he would be all right; all he needed to do was to play along with Trask for the time being, find out as much as he could, and then make his escape in some way in due course.

But, he realised suddenly, Trask had said, 'one of the two reporters'. Lois! What if he went after Lois, too?

Well, he told himself in an attempt at reassurance, they had him — which was another good reason for him not to make his escape just yet. If they had him, why would they want Lois as well? At least, he had to hope that was their thinking. After all, the last time Trask had tried to flush out Superman, he'd shown himself willing to commit murder. He had thrown Lois out of that plane, uncaring whether she lived or died. Why should he behave any differently this time? At least Clark knew he would be safe — he couldn't be harmed. Lois could. This man would kill her in a second if he thought it would increase his chances of getting to Superman.

And therein lay one big problem for Clark. If Lois was involved here too, there was no way he could stand idly by and see her hurt. He would have to rescue her…

Even if it meant risking his secret identity? he asked himself in silent incredulity.

Even then, the answer came immediately. He could not stand by and allow Trask to kill her. To kill *anyone*, he insisted quickly. How could he retain his secret at the expense of someone's life?

Better to try to stop this before it started. "What makes you think I can get Superman for you?" he threw at Trask, making his voice sound belligerent.

"Oh, if the alien knows you're in danger, I think he'll come to your rescue, don't you?" Trask drawled sarcastically. "It worked the last time with the Lane woman — too bad he saw the missile before it hit him."

"Do you seriously think that you can kill Superman?" Clark demanded incredulously. "He's invulnerable!"

Trask smiled slowly, clearly savouring the pleasure. "That's what everyone assumes. But everything has a weak point. And that's what I'm good at — finding the enemy's vulnerabilities."

The enemy… clearly his hard work over the past few weeks, the interview with Lois and Superman's efforts to show himself as friendly and non-threatening, had not served to convince this fanatic, Clark thought frustratedly. Now he was even more determined to find out exactly what Trask wanted, and what he thought he knew about Superman.

"So exactly what vulnerabilities do you think Superman has?" Clark retorted, deliberately scornfully.

Trask looked him up and down with a disdainful expression. "You, for a start, Kent. The alien's principal flaw is that he seems to care about people. He was stupid enough to stop that train crash a few weeks ago even knowing that it would lead to him being thrown in jail or asked to leave Metropolis. I found that fascinating. He really doesn't seem to have much sense of self-preservation. Though no doubt it's all an act," the colonel added carelessly.

"An… act?" Clark queried.

"Naturally. After all, if he is the advance guard for an alien invasion, he needs to lull the populace into a false sense of security. Convince us he's here to help. That he presents no threat. That he values human life above his own safety. And," Trask added, "the vast majority of these idiots are allowing themselves to be duped!"

"Have you ever thought that he might be alone? That he might really be the last of his race?" Clark suggested.

Trask waved his gun in Clark's direction. "You're as big a fool as the rest of them! Of course his presence on Earth is not innocent." Turning away from Clark then, he leaned forward and addressed the driver. "How much longer is this going to take? We should be there by now!"

Where, wondered Clark, but he didn't ask. Instead, he focused on learning as many clues as he could about their destination. He didn't dare adjust his glasses so he could use his Super-vision, but he could listen, and his night-vision was also better than most people's. They had left Metropolis behind, and from what he could tell they were driving up into the mountains. But, even with his facilities, he couldn't see enough of any road-signs to work out where they were.

It didn't matter, he told himself. Once they got there, and he found out exactly what Trask was up to, he could escape and then work out where the guy's headquarters was — which was where he figured they were taking him. Then he could call the cops and the FBI.

In the meantime, he decided, he would just stay quiet and look and listen.


An hour later, the car finally drew to a halt, and Clark was quickly pushed outside. He was somewhere in mountainous, wooded countryside, that much was clear; he couldn't get his bearings yet, but once he was looking from the air it would be much easier, he knew. Ahead, there was a low building, built of solid grey brick; Clark suspected that it had once been an army installation, but it looked abandoned. A relic of Cold War preparation, perhaps, or simply an abandoned training post.

A shove in the middle of his back pushed him in the direction of the building, and he made his steps reluctant, still watching and listening and using all his senses to work out what was going on. He could hear voices and the low humming of some sort of electronic equipment from inside the building, and he was pretty sure that a space or clearing to the side of the building looked like it could be a helicopter pad; there was no chopper there right now.

Inside, two men in fatigues sat at a table, one apparently listening to a monitor attached to some electronic equipment; Clark focused his Super-hearing, but could hear no more than the rustling of wind in the trees. Trask either was taking a great deal of care that no-one should find his hideout, or he actually believed that he would be able to hear Superman coming.

To his delight and relief, Lois was nowhere in sight. He concentrated, focusing his senses on the other rooms in the building, but he could hear nothing. There was no-one else here, particularly not Lois. A silent sigh of relief escaped him; that was one complication he would not have to deal with.

A gun in his back nudged him further into the room. Holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender, he moved and then waited.

"So, Kent, you are about to become bait for Superman," Trask drawled.

"Only if he knows I'm here," Clark pointed out calmly. "And even then, how can you be so sure he'd come for me?"

"Of course the alien will rescue you!" Trask sneered. "I told you — that is his fatal flaw. And since he seems to have gone to so much effort to recruit you and Ms Lane to his cause, he is hardly going to risk losing you." Trask paused, lowered himself into a chair, and added, "What did he do to brainwash you? Did he take you to his ship? Or some high-tech hideout somewhere? Or does he use telepathy?"

Clark stared at this madman in disbelief. "Brainwashing? Telepathy? Trask, you really don't have a clue, do you?"

"You don't have a clue, Kent," Trask rapped in return. "But then, it's obvious that you have been completely traduced to the enemy's side. No matter," he continued briskly. "The alien will most certainly rescue you, because you yourself are going to beg him to."

"You're kidding!" Clark exclaimed harshly.

"Don't mock me, Kent!" Trask shouted, slamming his hand onto the table. He gestured at one of his associates, and the man immediately went to stand behind Clark, twisting his arm up behind his back. Clark reminded himself to yield, to pretend that it was uncomfortable.

"You *will* make the alien come to save you, because you will die if he does not," Trask explained in triumph.

Clark stood perfectly still. "Shoot me. See if I call him."

"Oh no. Nothing that simple. After all, what could be easier than dying of a bullet?" Trask mocked. "No. I'm going to lock you up, with no food, no water, and no ventilation. After a few hours you will be feeling very uncomfortable. By morning you will be very thirsty and dehydrated. At unspecified intervals one or more of my men will visit you and apply some persuasion. After twenty-four hours you will be extremely hungry. And because of the lack of fresh air, you will begin to feel ill. And you will also be in pain. And your only way out at any point will be to send for the alien."

The man really was crazy, Clark thought in disbelief. Straightforward torture would have been a better strategy if he wanted to force his prisoner to beg for mercy and call for help. But, apart from that, it was obvious that Trask had no intention of allowing his prisoner to leave alive, so what would be the point in Clark's calling for Superman anyway, if he had been in a position to do so? Or did he think that Clark might actually believe that he would be set free?

He shook his head, exaggerating his disbelief in order to persuade Trask to reveal more of his thinking. "I still don't understand why you think this is going to work. If I do what you want, Superman will come, get me out of here, and be gone before you even know he's been here."

"Oh, I doubt it'll be as simple as that." Trask snapped his fingers, and another associate went to pick up a bulky object which had been covered by a rough blanket. Laying it on the table, the man removed the blanket. Clark stared, at first too stunned to hide his reaction. It was his ship, which he hadn't seen since the day he'd been inside the Bureau 39 warehouse. He clenched his jaw. Whatever happened, he was determined that Trask would not have that in his possession very much longer.

"I have reason to believe that the alien might be interested in this," Trask drawled. "Do you know where this was found, Kent? Smallville, Kansas. Yes, I thought you might be surprised at that," he added cynically. "Quite a coincidence, isn't it? The alien's space-craft found in the same small town where you were born and grew up. In fact, it was even found in the same year as you were born, Kent. Now, that's an even bigger coincidence."

His fist slammed into the table again. "Too bad I don't believe in coincidences, Kent!"

Clark froze, a feeling of sick dread running through him. Trask knew who he was!

"I've been suspicious of you all along, Kent," Trask continued coldly. "The right age, the right background, and behaving like a fifth-columnist in the presence of the enemy… it's obvious."

Trask knew. His life was over.

Okay, Trask couldn't kill him, Clark knew that, but he could still destroy him. If he was exposed as Superman, then he would have no life. Even worse, anyone close to him would never be safe — his parents, the people he worked with, anyone who had any connection to him in any way.

His breath caught in his throat as he waited for the denunciation.

"The alien obviously chose you at a very young age," Trask continued distastefully. "It invaded your mind, brainwashed you and took you over. Then it bided its time until you were in a position to help it. Reporter for the Daily Planet," Trask's voice was scathing now. "You were in a position to influence what other people thought about the alien invader. You persuaded your then partner, Lois Lane, to do the same. Then you cleverly left the Planet and went to do exactly the same at the Metropolis Star. Spreading propaganda and false messages of comfort about the alien."

Trask snorted loudly. "You're a traitor to your race, Kent. You deserve to be executed for treason. And you will be, once you've brought the alien to me."

He *didn't* know! Clark's first emotion was sheer relief, coursing through him in waves and making him feel weak at the knees. His secret was safe.

Then he focused on what Trask had actually said, and he reeled in disbelief. The man really was insane! Brainwashing, aliens infiltrating human brains… the guy had watched far too many second-rate sci-fi movies.

And he'd actually admitted that he intended to kill Clark once he'd done what they wanted and called Superman. Didn't Trask realise that any incentive his prisoner might have had to obey had just been removed?

He'd heard enough now. Once Trask locked him up, as the man had threatened, it would be time to make his escape. And the sooner he could come back as Superman and restrain this lunatic and his thugs until the FBI got here, the better.

Trask was leaning over the space-craft now. "You asked how I can be so sure that I will succeed in killing the alien." Opening the lid, he continued. "This isn't the only thing Bureau 39 found in Smallville." Inside the craft was a small box, made of some metal — it looked like lead, Clark thought. "From our tests, it appears to be of extra-terrestrial origin. It is harmless to humans, but it emits an extremely high-band radiation."

What was he talking about? Clark wondered in bewilderment.

Trask raised the cover of the metal box, and instantly Clark felt a wave of acute pain wash over him. What was happening to him? He couldn't believe this was happening — he was invulnerable! What had this madman got there?

Without looking at his prisoner, Trask continued, "My theory is that if a Kryptonian were exposed to a significant piece for any length of time, the result could be lethal."

Desperately fighting the pain, and a weakness which threatened to overcome him at any moment, Clark recognised dully that Trask was most probably right.

The object in the box glowed a sickly green. Clark's vision was blurring now, but he knew that if he ever saw that rock, or whatever it was, ever again he would know it instantly. And something inside him bleakly resolved, in a moment of dark humour he could barely believe he was experiencing under the circumstances, that if by some remote chance he got out of this alive he would never again allow himself to get within Super-seeing distance of it.

But right now, getting out alive seemed a very remote possibility indeed.

He stumbled forward, losing his balance, and just about managed to thrust out his arms in front of him, grasping almost sightlessly at the table in an effort to prevent himself collapsing completely. Despite the extreme pain he was in, despite feeling as if he was going to lose consciousness at any second, his entire being was sending urgent messages to his brain that he could not afford, under any circumstances, to allow Trask to guess that the rock in that box was causing any reaction at all in his prisoner.

One of the thugs shoved him heavily. "Get up."

Ignoring the waves of pain coursing through his body, Clark made himself stand up again. Trask turned to see what was going on. "What's the problem?"

"Nothing," Clark managed to say; he hoped his voice sounded normal. "Just… lost my balance. Minor dizzy spell. I… get them at high altitude," he improvised, hoping that Trask would swallow the excuse.

"Weakling," Trask scoffed, but Clark barely heard him. The waves of pain were increasing in ferocity, and he couldn't… fight it… any longer…

Wanting to scream in agony, unable to make his body do anything at all, Clark finally yielded to the blackness which had been threatening to overcome him for the past several minutes. Slowly, inexorably, he slumped to the floor.


It was almost eleven pm when Lois finally began to unlock the complicated array of locks and bolts on her apartment door. Another late night at work. But this had been well worth it; she had another scoop, a huge front-page story which would lead the news agenda for the rest of the day, if not for several days to come. And it was all the result of her own hard work, some clever intuitive leaps, a lot of tedious digging around, working out the right questions to ask and the right people to whom she should ask them.

Tomorrow, the CEO of a large software company called E-nable was going to resign following news of his arrest, having been proven by her investigation to have been installing deliberately-defective email and internet software into companies. The software had been doctored to allow E-nable staff to gain access to the security codes of these companies, which would then be used to gain access to secret documents, formulae, or anything else E-nable's criminals clients wanted to acquire.

It had taken a lot of hard work and comprehension on Lois's part even to understand what E-nable was doing, since computer technology was not her strong point. But she'd managed to work it out, and had then caught E-nable's CEO red-handed giving instructions to his operatives as to what had to be done with a new customer's software. And, along with the story she'd written about her investigation, she and Jimmy had written a two-page spread about electronic security and major organisations' vulnerability to hackers. That was a major story, and it would get people — politicians, industry leaders, technophobes and information technology specialists — talking for days.

And, best of all, the Metropolis Star — in particular, Clark Kent and Linda King — had absolutely no idea what was going to hit them between the eyes first thing tomorrow morning.

Lois was on an adrenalin high; it was late, but she didn't feel ready to sleep. Instead, she wanted to make some coffee and wind down with a late-night movie or something. Already mentally ticking through what she had on video and wondering what might be showing on TV, she finally pushed the door open and entered the apartment.

Immediately she was seized from behind by a large man who had to have been waiting behind the door.

Lois didn't hesitate. Exactly as she had been trained, she reached up and grabbed the man's hand, spun slightly and threw him over her hip. He lay sprawled on the floor, momentarily dazed.

Immediately she reached for the switch, flooding the room with light so that she could see what she was up against, and then turned back to her attacker, who was already climbing to his feet. She assumed the readiness pose of her martial arts training, hands poised in front of her ready to strike.

Then she felt something hard and cold pressing against the back of her neck.

Lois stilled instantly, forcing her body to relax as she considered the implications of the fact that a second intruder was holding a gun on her. Her initial thought on being attacked was that she'd disturbed a burglar. The fact that there were two of them and that one had a gun put a different complexion on things. And anyway, she noted unemotionally, nothing seemed to be disturbed in the apartment, which made burglary a less obvious motive.

"Okay, what do you want?" she said flatly.

"You're coming with us," the first man, who was now standing in front of her, informed her.

"You think so?" Lois replied coolly. "And just how are you going to do that? March me out of here at gunpoint? If even one of my neighbours sees us, they'll call the cops."

"They won't, because you're going to look like you're coming willingly," the man standing behind Lois drawled.

"And why would I do that?" Behind the facade of her apparently unperturbed attitude, Lois's mind was racing through possibilities. She could try to throw the guy with the gun over her shoulder, but her impression of these two was that they were thugs she shouldn't underestimate. They both appeared strong and watchful, and she'd bet that the one facing her had had combat training. She'd managed to get the first strike in by taking her attacker by surprise. If she tried to take on both of them, she'd end up dead.

The obvious option was to yell for Superman, and she was seriously contemplating that. But what held her back were her thoughts about what exactly was going on here. These guys weren't burglars. Her guess was that they were somehow associated with E-nable, and that this was a retaliation for her expose of the company's illegal activities. But then, a straightforward retaliation would surely mean that they'd just kill her, so why hadn't they shot her as soon as she'd got into the apartment? If these were professional hit-men, she'd already be dead.

Okay. So this wasn't a straightforward murder attempt. They wanted her to go with them, which meant that someone wanted her brought somewhere. Now, that was interesting; she might well be surprised to find out exactly who wanted her. It could make a great follow-up to her story if she could expose and bring down another link in the chain. So it might well be far better to go with these bully-boys, and save calling Superman until later. After all, as long as they didn't kill her, she could call in the cavalry any time. And if her guess was right about someone wanting to see her, she wasn't about to be killed in the immediate future.

"You'll come quietly because if you don't, you'll be dead," the man behind her rapped. Lois mentally raised an eyebrow, knowing that to be unlikely given her deductions. But she would play along. She allowed her body to slump, as if resigned to her fate.

"Okay, okay. Just don't shoot me, all right?"

She was hustled between the two men out of the building and into the back of a dark sedan parked outside; probably a Chevy or a Buick, Lois thought, and she tried to look for any indications of the make of car once she was inside. She caught sight of an insignia on the steering-wheel which identified it as a Chevrolet, but then a blanket was thrown over her head and she was forced down onto the floor.

It was a bumpy ride, made even less pleasant by the stale smell of the blanket and the occasional kicks from her captors, who seemed to feel the need to use physical force to make her stay down. Then, finally, the car came to a halt and she was dragged out. The blanket was held firmly over her, and they made her run.

She had absolutely no idea where she was, but she could feel the wind and the harsh sensation of icy snow hitting her as she ran. There was concrete of some description under her feet, so they were crossing some sort of large paved area or a wide road. And there was another noise, she realised, louder than the wind… a whipping sound, something mechanical, which sounded very familiar…

…and then she realised. It was a helicopter.

Whoever wanted her kidnapped was going to an awful lot of trouble, she mused as she was bundled into what she assumed was the cabin area of the helicopter. Her hands and ankles were tied then, and they left her half-sitting, half-lying in the back of the cabin. She tried to listen to the men's conversation, to get some clue as to who they were and where they were taking her, but the noise of the engine and the rotor blades drowned most of it out and the blanket made what little was left muffled and incomprehensible.

She had no idea how long the flight lasted; it could have been half an hour or even as much as an hour. Finally, the helicopter came in to land with a thump and a shudder, and after a few moments the ropes which bound her were untied; she quickly massaged her ankles before she was dragged to her feet.

The next walk wasn't very far at all, which was a relief; it was now extremely cold, and while the half-length coat she was wearing was suitable for a winter's day in the city, it didn't provide anywhere near enough protection against snow and hail and a biting wind. They were walking across grass, Lois thought, or at least earth and mud rather than concrete; that, and the crisp quality of the air which she was managing to breathe by lifting the blanket as far away from her face as her captors allowed, suggested to her that they were out in the countryside somewhere. Possibly even somewhere in the mountains, she guessed.

But then they were inside, and as the door slammed behind them Lois could feel blessed warmth. Suddenly the blanket was dragged away from her and she tensed, ready to find out exactly who had wanted her brought here.

The man she saw sitting at the rough wooden table was not anyone she'd been expecting.

"Trask!" she spat in disgust. "What rock did you just crawl out from under?"

"I see your manners haven't improved at all, Ms Lane," Jason Trask drawled, getting to his feet.

"What do you want with me?" Lois demanded. "Got another plane you want to throw me out of?"

"You make a lot of demands, Ms Lane. Too bad you haven't yet realised you're not in a position to demand anything," the fake FBI officer told her scornfully. "You're here because I want to finish the job properly this time."

"You don't still think you can kill Superman?" Lois was incredulous.

"I know I can," Trask snapped. "And you are going to help me, by getting him here for me."

"No chance!" Lois spat at him, ignoring the fact that her earlier plan had been to call for Superman once she worked out what was going on. If Trask had some trick up his sleeve, it wasn't a good idea to bring Superman here — even if she was right and Trask couldn't kill him.

"Oh, you will," Trask replied, his tone menacing. "Maybe not yet, but give it about twelve hours and you might just be desperate enough."

Twelve hours? That puzzled Lois more than anything else which had happened that evening. If Trask was talking about that length of time, then he wasn't planning on threatening to kill her on the spot. Which was strange; it seemed to her that holding a gun to her head would appear to be the most straightforward way of getting her to comply with his wishes.

And twelve hours gave her plenty of time to plan her own escape. She was pretty confident of being able to do it, too; they weren't going to be able to stand guard over her the whole time. Some of the thugs would want to sleep; they'd need to eat and go to the bathroom… She glanced around the room. In total, including Trask, there were six men. Far too many for her to take out on her own, especially as, now that she knew Trask was involved, she was pretty sure that they all had army training. But there would be a way, she knew. There was always a way.

But there had to be a reason why Trask was willing to wait so long. Which meant that it probably wouldn't be a good idea for her still to be here in twelve hours' time.

She tilted her chin and gave Trask a challenging stare. "Want to bet?"

"Oh, I don't bet on certainties," Trask told her. Turning away, he gestured roughly towards a couple of his aides. "Take her away."

She was then roughly hustled out of the room. She considered trying to take down the two men who were escorting her, but one of them brushed very close to her right at that moment — deliberately, she was sure — and she could feel the hard pressure of a gun against her thigh. Probably best not to risk it right now.

A door at the back of the building was unlocked, opened, and she was given a hard shove forward. Realising too late that there were steps down into the room beyond, she stumbled and fell, landing in a heap on the cold floor.

The door slammed behind her and was locked again.


It took a few moments for Lois's eyes to accustom themselves to the very low-wattage lightbulb in the windowless room; a couple of moments longer for her to realise that the odd sound she could hear was actually someone's laboured breathing. With a shock, she realised that she wasn't alone.

In the far corner, the huddled shape of a man lay, his body curled up protectively into a foetal ball as if shielding himself from further pain. He wore a heavy wool overcoat which looked dusty and crumpled.

Lois dragged herself to her feet and hurried over, bending to touch his shoulder. "Hey! Are you okay?" she called softly, wondering who he was and why Trask had taken him prisoner too.

He didn't respond, so she knelt on the floor and leaned over to take a proper look at him. With a shock, she realised that she recognised him.

It was Clark Kent.

And that made perfect sense, she realised instantly. Trask had gone for the two people who, it seemed, knew Superman best. And, in Clark, he'd found the only person who actually knew how to contact Superman, though whether or not Trask knew that was debatable.

He'd been beaten up rather badly, she saw. His lip was split in a couple of places, and he had a two-inch cut on his cheek which was still bleeding. His glasses were still in place, but one lens was smashed. Clearly he'd already experienced some heavy-duty 'persuasion' — and, she thought, the fact that he was still alive and that she was here as well suggested that Kent had so far refused to yell for Superman. Clearly he, too, believed that Trask had something up his sleeve which was potentially dangerous to the Super-hero. In which case, she decided, her resolve to get out of this without Super help had just been redoubled.

And, she realised on further investigation, Kent seemed to be sweating profusely. Puzzled — after all, it was freezing cold in the room — she laid the back of her hand against his forehead. He was burning up. Feverish, she recognised, and wondered whether Trask had drugged him. Did sodium pentathol cause someone to break out in a fever? Could that be what they'd done to him?

"Clark! Clark, come on, wake up," she urged him. He emitted a low moan, but otherwise didn't respond.

Lois took a deep breath, trying to remember what she knew about first aid. Rummaging in her pocket, she found a clean paper tissue and used it to blot at the cut on his cheek. She managed to clean away the coagulated dried blood and was able to see the injury properly. It looked like a clean cut, though she knew she couldn't possibly tell just by looking at it in this poor light, and it wasn't as deep as it had looked on first sight. That was a relief; she didn't want him to bleed to death!

She needed some water, and she glanced quickly around the room; they had to have left some drinking water! But all she could see was a bucket in another corner, covered by a plastic lid. Hurrying to investigate, she found that it was empty; then she realised its purpose and grimaced. So Trask wasn't even prepared to offer them proper sanitary facilities!

So, no water. She would have to make do, not that she knew quite how she was going to do that. Returning to Clark, she sat on the floor beside him, feeling the cold, hard concrete beneath her backside and legs and wishing that she still had the blanket which had been thrown over her earlier. It might have been malodorous, but it would have been warmer.

He was still unconscious, and his breathing was still rasping, painful to listen to. A sudden, panicky thought occurred to her: what if he had internal injuries? A punctured lung? Desperately trying to remember what little medical knowledge she had, she tried to decide whether a punctured lung would mean that he would be coughing up blood. He could have broken ribs, or any other kind of injuries — and while he was lying there out cold, he couldn't tell her where he was in pain.

But lying on the cold floor couldn't be doing him any good, and if he was having trouble breathing, then surely it would be better if he wasn't lying all hunched up? For a moment, she was indecisive; she'd always been told that it was best not to move an unconscious patient in case there were broken bones. But there was no way that she was going to be able to get medical help for him right now, or in the very near future. All he had was her, and she had to hope that she was making the right decisions.

Reaching for him then, she gently tugged his upper body towards her; apart from making it easier for him to breathe, surely, she could watch over him better if he was lying across her lap.

There was little she could do about determining the extent of his injuries, but she kept the tissue pressed firmly to the cut on his face to staunch the bleeding; then a thought occurred to her and she unbuttoned her coat. Pulling her blouse out of the waistband of her trousers, she grasped the hem and pulled. It ripped, and shortly afterwards she had a strip of pale blue cotton fabric. With that, she began to wipe the beads of sweat from Clark's face. He really was feverish, she realised very quickly. He was burning up. His face, his neck and… she loosened his tie and felt the base of his throat. He was sweating all over, and he was beginning to thrash around a little.

She undid the buttons of his overcoat, loosening it and allowing the sides to fall across her lap — it was warmer for her, and might help to lower Clark's body temperature.

Lois had no idea how long she sat there holding Clark in her arms. It could have been hours, though might just as easily have been only twenty minutes or so. She continued to wipe his brow with her wadded-up cotton, concerned that he was still so hot. Occasionally his body would jerk a little in her arms and she would wrap her arms more tightly around him to prevent him falling, or hurting himself on the hard floor. Just twice he emitted a low moan, which sounded to Lois like pain; she wondered anxiously whether the injuries he'd sustained when he'd been beaten were worse than she could tell.

How ironic, she thought at one point, gazing down at her ex-colleague's battered face. Three months ago, she would never have imagined willingly getting this close to Clark Kent ever again, let alone being so concerned about him. Yet now she just couldn't have done anything else. There was no way that she could have just let him lie there. Nor could she have been content with just sitting beside him and watching him. He was in pain; and she had to hold him, to give him what comfort she could, if he could in his present condition take any comfort from the presence of another human being.

Clark Kent. The man she'd slept with and regretted it the morning after. The man she'd hated for so long, whom she'd built up in her mind to some sort of demon, a callous seducer and serial romancer. The man she'd driven into resigning his job at the Planet. The man she'd never wanted to see again.

And yet, here she was in the small hours of a freezing cold December morning, locked up by a madman, holding Clark Kent in her arms as if he was somehow necessary to her survival. Yes; she realised with a shock that her decision to hold him was not made purely out of altruistic concern for him. *She* had needed the comfort of his nearness, even though he was unconscious.

His body seemed so familiar to her, even after so many weeks. She knew exactly what she would find if she opened the buttons on his shirt. She could visualise precisely what he looked like under those well-cut trousers he wore, and the thought actually made her feel hot despite the temperature.

This was *not* a time to remember how good Clark Kent was in bed, she told herself ferociously. He could be dying, for all she knew! Hell, they were both going to die unless she could figure a way of getting them out of here. The thought of calling for Superman occurred to her again, but she dismissed it instantly. She had no idea why Trask seemed so confident that he could hurt or kill Superman, but she wasn't prepared to take the chance. No; she was on her own. And she had an unconscious, sick and injured man to deal with as well.

The thought occurred to her that she could try to make her own escape; she didn't have to stick around and take care of Kent. He was no responsibility of hers. But she dismissed the idea immediately, furiously. How could she go and leave him here like this? He didn't deserve that. She was the only chance he had; there was no way she was going to abandon him.

His cut appeared to have stopped bleeding, so she removed the tissue; as she did so, her fingers involuntarily brushed the corner of his mouth. She stilled, allowing her fingers to linger. His lips were hot, like the rest of him, but his mouth was beautiful.

"Clark," she whispered without thinking, gazing down at him. He didn't respond, and she swallowed suddenly, discovering that an enormous lump had suddenly appeared in her throat.

He couldn't die. She wouldn't let him die! Lois had no idea why it mattered to her so much, and she refused to dig too deeply inside herself for answers. She was a prisoner of that madman, Jason Trask, and if she didn't manage to escape, she would die one way or another; he would either kill her, or leave her to starve. Clark was the only person from whom she could derive any comfort at the moment. Unconscious or not, seriously ill or not, she needed him.

Her arms grew tired, and she released him to stretch and massage weary muscles. In the dim light, she caught sight of her watch; it was close to three am. So she had been locked up for about two hours. She was now very cold, apart from her lap and lower stomach which were kept warm by the presence of Clark's upper body; but her legs and feet, and her head, felt frozen. And her bottom and thighs had been close to numb for some time from the very cold floor.

She picked up the now-damp strip of cotton fabric, then discarded it; it was too sodden to be any good. Tugging her blouse free again, she tore off another strip; this one left her chest partially bare, but she didn't object. It was the only part of her garment she'd been able to get at, given that her movements were constrained by Clark's heavy weight lying across her lap. She wiped his brow again, then laid the back of her hand across his skin. It felt cooler.

That was a relief, she thought. Had his fever broken at last? But if it had, she realised in alarm that now he would probably become very cold. And if he started to shiver, and she couldn't get him warm enough… she would probably lose him anyway.

As a precautionary measure, she wrapped his overcoat around him again, noticing immediately the absence of its warmth on the tops of her legs, and then continued wiping his face and neck, unable to prevent herself stroking his skin lightly with the tip of one finger as she did so. He was definitely cooler. If he was lucky, she thought, he might just fall asleep straight from the fever, and then he wouldn't notice the cold so much. And if she continued to hold him, their combined body temperatures would help to keep each other warmer.

"Oh, Clark…" His name escaped her this time in an involuntary sob. Here, now, it just didn't matter what had happened between them, who had led on who, whether he had given her anything nasty, what he was doing with Linda King… he was just Clark, someone she now understood she hadn't been able to get out of her system in the past few months. And someone she'd behaved very badly to.

And she didn't want him to die before she had a chance to talk to him, to apologise for what she'd said and done.

She thought she saw him blink, but she dismissed that; it had to be her imagination. She was tired, and so cold, and facing possible death. No wonder she was imagining things.

Then his eyes were fully open and he was staring up at her.

"Clark! Oh, Clark… you're…" She trailed off, completely at a loss as to what she could say to him. His dark eyes were disconcerting her completely, and she couldn't interpret his expression at all beyond the initial surprise when he'd first met her gaze.

Then he shifted awkwardly, dragging himself slowly away from her; she felt cold and lost as his welcome warmth left her. And with a cold shock she realised that it wasn't only his physical warmth she had lost in that moment. She huddled into herself, wrapping her arms tightly around herself in a movement which was as much for protection as for warmth.

Propping himself up against the wall, he turned and regarded her coolly. "So tell me, Lois," he began, his voice sounding even more harsh due to its hoarseness, "when did you have the abortion?"


He was still in pain; coming to a slow awareness of himself and his surroundings, Clark wanted to keep his eyes tightly shut and sink back into unconsciousness. But the soft voice calling his name had awakened him, and as he blinked and looked up to find out whether it had just been his imagination, he realised that he was lying on something soft… on some*one*.

He reluctantly opened his eyes, and immediately decided that he had to be dreaming. Lois Lane wasn't there. If she was, and if he wasn't dreaming, there was no way that she would be holding him in her arms, no way at all that she would be speaking to him in that agitated voice which seemed to show concern for him, or looking at him like that. No, he was dreaming.

Then the freezing cold began to seep in. He never felt the cold. He was Superman; he was invulnerable.

<But you never feel pain either, and you're feeling it now…>

Then he remembered. Jason Trask and his insane vendetta against Superman. The strange green rock in his spaceship, and the agonising effect it had had on him. Passing out — collapsing — in front of Trask and his men. Coming round when he'd been kicked in the ribs a couple of times… did his ribs hurt? He thought, and realised that they did. Then being beaten, and thrown in this room.

Had Trask guessed that he was Superman? No, Clark didn't think so. He had a vague, hazy recollection of Trask telling him that far worse was to come unless he called his alien friend. So his identity was safe, at least.

He wasn't dreaming, and that meant that Lois was really here. And what was he *doing* letting her hold him like that, laying himself open for more accusations of manipulation or something equally ridiculous?

With far greater difficulty than he'd anticipated, he dragged himself away from her and into a sitting position; a wave of dizziness and more pain instantly swept over him, though he tried to fight it. It was cold, too; he realised as he propped himself up against the cold wall that Lois must have been keeping him warm with her body heat.

Lois. Clark turned to look at her, but all he could see was a blurry haze as memories of his last proper conversation with her combined with the pain which his movement had caused. He opened his mouth, and words over which he seemed to have no control emerged.

He had no idea what he'd intended to say, and he regretted his obnoxious question the minute he actually heard it spoken. Once he'd realised who was holding him his feelings had been an indescribable mixture of amazement, delight, horror and dislike. Lois Lane was the woman who'd rejected him so cruelly and who'd taken pleasure in his pain. He still felt dizzy, woozy, disorientated and aching all over, sensations which were completely alien to him. So somehow, instinctively, he'd just lashed out.

And he didn't need her gasp of shocked hurt to understand that he had been wrong and unfair.

She flinched and shifted a little, moving further away from him. "I didn't have an abortion," she replied in a low voice, her tone clipped. "I wouldn't have… I only said that to… to make you go away. I thought — I thought you would be glad to know you wouldn't have to worry about the responsibility," she added in a whisper. "Then you looked so appalled… and I didn't know how to take back what I'd said." He saw her swallow, and then she turned away from him.

He'd known it was just bravado. Of course he had — he'd accepted that weeks ago. There had been no need for him to make such a gratuitously hurtful comment. Especially as, he was gradually realising, Lois had to have been taking care of him for however long it was they'd been in this room together. He still had no idea how Lois had come to be in the room with him. He'd been positive that she wasn't in the building when he'd been brought there — assuming that they were still in the same place, that was.

Wanting to apologise for his crass remark, and needing to find out from Lois what was going on, he shifted and turned towards her. "Lois…"

"And anyway, whatever I did to you, I can promise you that what I've been going through the past three months, waiting to find out whether I've caught anything from you, was far worse!" she threw at him belligerently.

Clark stiffened. "Caught…?" What on earth did she mean? Had it something to do with his being an alien? But Lois didn't know that? Or… did she? Had she somehow figured it out while he'd been out cold?

But that didn't make sense. Lois had said '…the past three months.' She certainly hadn't known he was Superman during the heatwave crisis. So what on earth did she mean?

"Yeah, caught!" she retorted. "Like HIV, AIDS… You didn't use a condom, and I haven't a clue how many women you go through in a year, Kent, but I wasn't going to take any chances!"

Stunned, Clark could only stare at her. She'd thought he was…! She'd imagined that he was so promiscuous that he might actually have something like AIDS! But… but he was Superman, so he couldn't be infected by anything like that anyway, much less pass it on to her, could he?

But… *she thought he was promiscuous*? Quite apart from his total confusion as to how she could have imagined that he would treat women so carelessly, was she saying that she hadn't known he was inexperienced? It seemed like it — in fact, it looked like she was implying that he'd seemed very experienced indeed!

For a moment, he was tempted not to deny that impression. Why should he embarrass himself, after all, by admitting to having been a virgin? Why should he lay himself open to her scorn once again? But then he sighed and admitted to himself that he couldn't lie to her like that, not merely to save his own ego. And, he realised as he stole a quick glance at her, she was genuinely worried.

"Lois." His tone was deliberately firm but calm, and as he heard himself speak he realised that it also sounded stronger than it had when he'd first woken up, or come around, or whatever had happened. "Lois, you can't have caught anything like that from me," he told her, holding her gaze firmly.

"Oh no?" she challenged him. "You have certificates to prove it?"

"No," he replied patiently. "I don't need them, Lois." He hesitated, feeling nervous about making this confession, but knowing that he had to do it. No matter what she'd done to him, he couldn't let her carry on thinking that she might have contracted an incurable illness because of him. "I don't need them because before we slept together, I'd never been that intimate with anyone. You were my… I was a virgin that night, Lois," he finished, feeling a warm flush of embarrassment creep across his face.

She stared at him in amazement and frank disbelief.


Clark had been a *virgin*? No… no, that was just too incredible. She shook her head and glared at him. "You expect me to believe that? No way! No way you'd never…" But the expression on his face, a sort of deer-in-the-headlights look — which made him look very peculiar given that he had one broken lens — told her that he'd been telling the truth.

"Oh my god… am I that out of practice that I didn't even realise?!" she muttered to herself, still completely thrown by Clark's revelation. All these months, she'd been worrying over nothing! "You could have told me," she said flatly.

"Huh? Lois, you weren't exactly listening to anything I tried to tell you!" he protested. "And anyway," he added, "it never occurred to me that you'd be worried about… about something like that."

"Well, I was," she muttered darkly, staring down at her ice-cold feet. "And I was about to see my doctor again next week and get the second set of tests done."

Clark was silent for a few moments. Then she heard him sigh. "I wish you'd asked me, Lois. You wouldn't have had to go through any of that."

He was right, Lois recognised as she thought through the implications of what he'd just confessed to her. Somehow, although this was completely unlike the image of Clark Kent she'd held in her mind for the past three months, she knew that he would have told her the truth, to save her from worry. Unlike her reaction when he'd asked about a possible pregnancy…

And if this had been his first experience of sex, she hadn't exactly made it pleasant for him, had she? Accusing him of getting her drunk and seducing her, and storming out of his apartment. Now that she remembered, he'd looked completely stunned. She'd dismissed it at the time, thinking that he clearly wasn't used to women who didn't fall at his feet begging for more the morning after. But in the light of this revelation his behaviour could now be seen in a very different light.

But she hadn't known — she *couldn't* have known!

She raised her head and turned to look at him again. He looked embarrassed and awkward, not meeting her gaze, and something made her reach out to him and touch his arm lightly. "You're right, I should have asked. If I went through three months of… well, it's my own fault for assuming." It cost her a lot to make that admission, but she could tell that Clark had also found it difficult to make his confession to her. One admission deserved another, she decided.

He raised his head then and gave her a rueful half-smile. "Better late than never, huh?"

She shrugged, then decided that it was time to get on to more important matters. "Let's forget that for now. I need you to tell me what you know about what Trask's up to — and we need to figure a way out of here!"

He nodded, instantly becoming more matter-of-fact. "Trask thinks he can kill Superman, but he needs us to lure him here."

"That much I figured," Lois said dryly. "He never heard of standing on a roof somewhere and yelling 'Help!'?" She didn't expect Clark to understand the reference, so she was surprised to see his lips quirk briefly in the beginnings of a swiftly-smothered smile. Maybe this was something else Superman had told him about, she thought bleakly, but pushed that thought aside. "Anyway, surely nothing can kill Superman?"

Clark was silent for a moment; then he frowned at her. "Trask has something. He claims it can harm Superman — who knows whether it can or not, but I don't want to take the chance in the circumstances. And I don't want you calling for Superman either!" he added roughly.

Lois stared at him, hurt by his implied accusation. "You think I'd deliberately bring Superman into a situation where his life could be in danger, just to save my own skin? Well, I know you don't think a lot of me, Kent, and I guess you have reason, but you're supposed to be a friend of Superman's, and I hope he knows me better than that."

"Lois, I was just saying — "

"I know what you were just saying!" she interrupted him, furious. "I would never want to do anything to harm Superman! I… I love him," she found herself adding, biting her lip as soon as she realised what she'd said. How Kent would mock her now!

But he regarded her thoughtfully. "Lois, you barely know the man — "

"I know him," she insisted, her voice quiet but determined. "I know he's decent, and honourable, and good, and kind. I know he puts other people's welfare above his own — I saw that when the city wanted him to stop using his powers during the heatwave. He could be anything he wanted to be — he could rule the world if he wanted — but all he wants to do is to use his powers to help. He's incredibly special, and I love him for everything that he is. And although I know he'll never see me in that way, it doesn't matter. I'll still love him anyway."

Clark greeted her declaration in silence, which was not the response she'd expected. She glanced over at him again and saw that he was chewing his lip; he winced, and she guessed that he'd forgotten it was split. "Careful — you don't want to let it bleed again," she warned.

He gave her a rueful grimace. "Too late."

"Oh." She hesitated, then reached for the second piece of her blouse which she'd been using to wipe his brow. "Use this."

He accepted it and blotted the blood which was pooling on his lip. "Thanks. And… I'm sorry if you thought I was ridiculing you. I didn't mean to."

Lois shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time," she muttered, then, regretting it, added, "Sorry. This isn't the time to resurrect old arguments."

He gave her a faint smile. "Time enough for that when we get out of here, huh?"

She nodded, then gave a violent shiver as her body tried desperately to warm itself. "What's Trask's plan anyway?" she asked him."He said something to me about giving me twelve hours — well, us, I guess. I didn't know he had you too then."

"Was I here when they locked you up?" Clark asked, and she nodded. He paused for a moment, then continued. "He told me I'd — well, we would — get no food or water. He'd starve us to death. And that some of his men would come and do their best to 'persuade' me to do what they wanted."

"Looks like they already tried with you," Lois remarked. "What does the other guy look like?"

He rewarded her attempt at lightening the atmosphere with a quick grin, immediately followed by a wince as his lip burst again. "Got away lightly, unfortunately. I… uh, had a kind of dizzy spell and they kicked me about while I was on the floor."

"Cowards," was Lois's instinctive reply. "Was that why you were feverish? Is it flu or something?"

He gave her a quick, almost alarmed, look, then said, "Something like that. Uh… how long was I out for?"

"Couple of hours after I got here," she told him. "I don't know how long you were here before that."

He was silent for a long moment. Then he reached out and covered her hand with his. "Thank you."


What was he doing touching her? Clark asked himself incredulously as his hand covered hers. She'd start accusing him of attacking her next! No, she wouldn't, his instinct immediately responded; whatever had happened three months ago, the Lois he was with now seemed to have changed markedly from the person she was then.

As he was about to remove his hand nonetheless, he became aware of something. "You're frozen!" he exclaimed.

She turned her hand over and caught hold of his. "You're not much better," she commented dryly. "Though your fever seems to have gone pretty quickly."

It had, though he was by no means back to his normal self. He was still in pain, for a start, and as far as he knew, he had no powers. Clark concentrated for a moment, testing whether his enhanced hearing was working; nothing. He was probably lucky to be alive, he mused with an inward grimace; regardless of that, however, that green rock, whatever it was, had robbed him of his powers. Whether or not its effect was permanent he had no idea, but that was hardly important right now, he told himself. As much as the prospect of losing what had been a part of him for so many years scared him, it was hardly significant if Trask was going to have his way. As Lois said, they needed to find a way out of here, and soon.

But first, he grasped her hand between his two, rubbing it in an effort to warm her up. She gave him a grateful half-smile. "Thanks, but it won't help much — the rest of me is still frozen." To his surprise, she got to her feet. "Walking around will help me get my circulation back," she told him, then mimed listening and zipping her mouth shut. At first he didn't know what she meant, then he understood. She was right — It was entirely possible that Trask had the room bugged.

As she walked towards the door, he said loudly, "You're wasting your time walking around, Lois. You'll only burn off calories, which will make you get colder faster."

She rewarded his attempt at disguising her true intentions with a swift smile; he was suddenly transported back to the earliest days of their acquaintance, before that fatal night, when they'd been working on the Messenger investigation and things had started to fall into place. Then, they'd almost seemed to be attuned to each other; each had almost seemed to understand what the other wanted before he or she had said it, and they'd worked as a perfect team. And yet, he supposed, that was what had happened just now too…

She was trying the door, and he frowned in puzzlement, getting to his feet as well. "Damn, it's cold!" he exclaimed roughly, as much because he meant it as for the benefit of any listeners. He *was* cold; for the first time in many years, he could actually feel extremes of temperatures, and it was a shock. Wrapping his overcoat more tightly around him, he made his way over to Lois. He still felt shaky, and he suspected that he wasn't even backto human strength yet. But Lois couldn't know that… although if she'd thought that he had the flu that could be a convenient explanation.

Coming to stand close to her, he murmured very softly, "What are you up to? And can I help?"

She turned, startled. "You any good at picking locks, Kent?" she answered, her own voice equally low.

<Not the slow way> he was tempted to quip, but he managed to prevent himself. "I haven't had a lot of experience at that," he told her with a grimace.

She nodded, then bent back to the door; she'd taken something from her trousers pocket and was fiddling about with the lock. Realising that he was supposed to be providing cover for her, he began to complain loudly about the standard of their accommodation, the cold, the lack of anything to sit on and the sanitary facilities. Lois told him to stop whining a couple of times, but he could see her face; the nods and quick smiles she was giving him assured him that he was doing what she wanted.

After several frustrating minutes, she stepped back. "No good. I can't do it," she muttered, her posture slumping.

"We'll find another way," he replied quietly, trying to sound confident for her sake. They *had* to find a way out. He didn't want to die — he didn't want to let Lois die, if there was any way he could help it. And there was no way on Earth he wanted to let Trask win.

As she turned completely to face him, he noticed something very strange. "Ummm… Lois, why is your blouse torn?" A horrible thought occurred to him then, and he caught his breath as a blaze of anger swept through him. "They didn't molest you, did they?"

"What? Oh, no…" She looked embarrassed, then explained. "You were feverish, and I needed something to wipe your forehead… and you were lying on my lap and I couldn't reach the hem of the blouse, so…"

Then he remembered the pale blue cloth she'd given him to dab the blood from his lip, and felt guilty again. She'd been taking good care of him while he'd been unconscious, and the first thing he'd said to her when he'd woken had been vicious.

No point dwelling on that now. He looked at her again, noticing again how cold she appeared. And no wonder, with her blouse torn! He began to strip off his overcoat, saying, "Here, take this. You look frozen!"

But she put up a hand in rejection. "Clark, you're just getting over flu or whatever kind of fever you had! You were really sick, you know. And you're cold too."

She'd called him 'Clark', not 'Kent', he noticed abstractedly. He took a tentative step towards her. "Look, Lois, we're both cold. And the only way we're going to conserve as much body heat as possible is if…"

"Is if we huddle together to keep warm," she finished for him. She looked embarrassed, though, standing rigidly exactly where she was, looking down at the floor.

"Yeah," he confirmed, and took another step towards her. "Come here." In an awkward movement, he wrapped his arms around her; she stood motionless for a moment, and then relaxed against him, wrapping her own arms around his waist. He felt her shiver almost uncontrollably, and instinct made him rub his hands up and down her back, trying to warm her.

"Let's sit down while we try to come up with a plan for getting out of here, hmm?" he suggested.

She seemed uncertain. "We have to keep trying…"

"You have to get warm first or you won't be in any state to do anything," he pointed out.

Lois still seemed reluctant, and as a possible explanation struck him he grew angry. "You still think I can't be trusted, don't you?!"

She stared at him, her dark eyes showing hurt and resentment. "I do trust you. Which is more than you did for me when you woke up back there! You couldn't get away from me fast enough! What did you think I was going to do?"

She tried to pull away from him then, but he wouldn't let her. "I'm sorry about that. It was… unnecessary. And ungrateful, too — you probably saved my life," he acknowledged quietly. That was very possible. After his exposure to that strange rock Trask had, he'd been convinced he was dying. He guessed he'd been unconscious for some time, and if Lois hadn't taken care of him he could have slipped into a coma.

Although it had to be difficult when he was holding her so close to him, Lois shrugged. "You were pretty sick. I couldn't leave you like that."

Not too long ago, that wouldn't have bothered her, Clark thought with a touch of cynicism. But maybe he was being unfair, he instantly told himself. After all, he'd learned over the past month or so that there was far more to Lois than he'd given her credit for. The way she'd proven that Superman was innocent of causing the heatwave, for example. And, he remembered, when he'd come to thank her she hadn't reacted in the way he'd expected. He'd been prepared for her to demand kisses, some declaration of his feelings for her, or to tell him that she'd only done it because she loved him. But she hadn't, and her manner towards him had been mature and dignified, if a little nervous. Even her claim, just a short while ago, that she loved Superman had been convincingly made. Even if he found a bitter irony in the fact that she could claim to love the Super-hero when she so clearly disliked the man standing in front of her now, he couldn't deny that she believed her feelings were sincere — and that there was nothing groupie-like in the way she'd expressed them.

She wasn't the shallow, selfish person he'd concluded that she had to be. Which left him completely baffled as to her motive for treating him as she had.

But this wasn't the time to worry about that. Leading her over to the side of the room where they'd been sitting before, he lowered himself awkwardly to the floor; his ribs still hurt, which made movement painful. Lois sat next to him, and for a moment he hesitated, then ventured, "It might be better if you sat on my lap. We could keep each other warmer that way, and you'd be off the cold floor."

"You're on the floor," she pointed out.

"Yeah, but I have my overcoat. And your blouse is torn." He inhaled deeply, then added, "Look, all I'm suggesting is that we keep each other warm, not…"

"I know," she interrupted. "I guess you wouldn't want to touch me with a twenty-foot bargepole now anyway."

That surprised Clark. For Lois, that was a very melancholy statement — and it also suggested someone who was feeling very self-critical, almost self-pitying. That was not the Lois Lane he knew, by any means, and he wondered what on earth had happened to make her feel so miserable, and so unsure of her reception so far as he was concerned.

He was now very sure that she seemed to have changed her view of him completely. If she still believed that he'd deliberately set out to seduce her, she wouldn't have said something like that, of that he was certain. Her words not only suggested that she accepted her error, but also that she understood that he had every right to be angry with her. So, somewhere along the way, she'd worked out that she'd been wrong about him — or perhaps she'd simply stopped lying to herself about what had happened and admitted that it had been mutual.

But if that was the case, why hadn't she told him she'd changed her mind?

That was easy to answer, he supposed. After all, she'd been pretty vehement in her condemnation of him. It couldn't be easy to admit to being wrong in those circumstances. And, after all, he'd no longer been working with her, so where was the need to put things right? He could just about understand that, although he himself could never have ignored the need to apologise in similar circumstances. However, he ignored his feelings, instead helping her to get comfortable on his lap and wrapping the folds of his overcoat around the two of them.

Despite the cold, and their predicament, he very quickly realised that having Lois so close to him was having an embarrassing effect on his body. Shifting a little so that she was sitting a little lower across his thighs, he hoped she wouldn't notice. To his surprise, she leaned into him, resting her head against his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Thanks, Clark," she murmured as he tightened his grip on her.


Lois felt very uncomfortable about being so close to Clark. To begin with, sitting on his lap, being in such close proximity to his muscular and undeniably attractive body, was affecting her in a way she wouldn't have believed possible in present circumstances. Staring at the top of his head, she wanted to run her fingers through his dark hair. In an attempt to distract herself from that, she leaned down and rested her head on his shoulder. Not that that proved to be much better; in that position, she was gazing at his strong jawline and the tiny pulse which throbbed in his throat.

In the uncomfortable silence which fell between them, she found herself remembering what he'd told her. Sleeping with her had been his first sexual experience. If she hadn't known instinctively that he was telling her the truth, she would never have believed it — a guy as good-looking as Clark, and as skilled a lover as he had been? It seemed impossible. And yet it was clearly true.

It couldn't have been the way he'd have wanted to be introduced to sexual intimacy. And that made her feel bad. Almost without thinking, she blurted out, "I'm sorry, Clark."

His surprise was palpable. "What for, Lois?"

"For the way I behaved that morning — that can't have been what you wanted for your first time," she confessed awkwardly, not looking at him.

He stilled, and was silent for several moments. Then he spoke hesitantly. "So you don't still think I deliberately got you drunk?"

She laughed without humour. "Oh, no. I did that all by myself — my fatal flaw."

She thought he seemed puzzled by that, but he didn't query it, for which she was grateful. After a lengthy pause, he said quietly, "We both made mistakes that night, Lois."

"Yeah," she replied in a low voice. "At least you were willing to admit it, though. I wasn't. And I'm sorry. Not that saying so makes up for it — at least, not after all this time."

Again he was silent, though she fancied that his arms tightened infinitesimally around her. She wasn't surprised that he wasn't accepting her apology. In his position, she knew that she wouldn't. The offence was too great, and the delay too long.

His response, when it came, was voiced in an almost neutral tone. "Why?" The single word cut through her like an ice-cold wind. That was the one question she just couldn't bear to answer; how could she explain the past humiliations, the betrayals, which had led her to expect no better from a man than that he should want to use her? And yet he deserved an explanation, especially now that she'd admitted that Clark Kent was nothing like her father, or Chris, or Claude, or any other man who had used and discarded her. He was nothing like Lex Luthor either, who — for all his wealth and charm — simply wanted to possess her and, if she gave him the chance, would turn it into a crude business transaction.

Clark Kent, she'd finally realised, was the one decent man she'd refused to believe existed. He was the last Boy Scout, the courteous, considerate gentleman. His country-boy manners hadn't been an act, and he hadn't been part of the boys' club in the newsroom. As she'd finally admitted a few weeks ago, people had liked Clark Kent because he was a genuinely likeable man… and she'd refused to see it. She'd been the only person who had looked at him and seen someone putting on an act. And that was because she was far too suspicious for her own good. And, as a result, she'd lost what was probably the best chance she'd had to have a relationship with a man who would treat her as if she was the most precious thing in his universe — and who, in bed, would put her satisfaction before his own.

He, more than anyone else who had ever asked her why she was so mistrustful of men, deserved an answer. And yet, ironically, that made it even harder for her to contemplate telling him. How could she lay her past open for his judgement like that? While part of Lois was telling her that Clark wouldn't judge, another part insisted that he knew her as a highly-competent reporter, a Kerth-award-winning journalist. How he'd laugh if he knew how she'd let herself be fooled in the past!

Realising that he was waiting for an answer, she raised her head from his shoulder and met his questioning gaze. "Not here… not now. If you really want to know, I'll tell you once we get out of here," she offered, knowing that it was only a delaying tactic. Of course, they had to *get* out of there first, and if they didn't… well, then she wouldn't have to tell him, would she?

He gave her a quick, accepting nod. "Okay, you got a deal. So now, we figure our way out of this, huh?"

She studied his face; the flush caused by his earlier fever had now receded, and he was as pale as she felt sure she was herself. The one unobscured eye of his she could see appeared to be clear, however; no sign of dizziness or anything else, from what she could tell. But he'd really been sick before… Before she even thought about what she was doing, she'd raised one hand to touch his forehead. It was cool and dry.

At his enquiring look, she explained. "You were really sick earlier, Clark. I need to know whether you're going to be well enough to help us get out of here."

He shrugged. "All I can tell you is that I'm not as strong as I usually am. But I can still do my bit. So…" His tone became more businesslike; simultaneously, his voice lowered to an undertone, "… do you have a plan in mind?"

She nodded. "Tell me again what Trask said about sending men in to persuade us?"


Clark repeated what he remembered of what Trask had said to him; his mind was still a little hazy on some of those finer details. But while he did so, he was trying to deal with Lois's apology and retraction. That was something he hadn't expected to hear from her, and it was even more amazing that she'd decided for herself — or admitted to herself — that she'd been wrong about his motives. However, he found himself wishing somewhat bitterly that she'd come to this conclusion a couple of months sooner — for example, before he'd had to quit the Planet.

Still, he was well aware that it must have taken a significant degree of courage for Lois to make her apology. She was, in fact, behaving towards him in a very humble manner, quite at odds with her normal behaviour; that suggested that she felt very embarrassed — or guilty — indeed at the way she'd treated him. But, while that was gratifying to a degree, Clark found himself thinking that he didn't want her to feel nothing but guilt when she looked at him. Just what he did want from her he wasn't prepared to articulate right at that moment, however.

But Lois, her mouth distractingly close to his face, was outlining a tentative plan, and he needed to concentrate on that. Getting away from Trask was the priority, after all, especially now that he knew what Trask had. Clark was pretty sure that if he came into any kind of contact with that green rock again at the moment he'd be very lucky to survive. He still felt weak and drained, and as far as his powers were concerned he couldn't help but fear that they'd gone for good.

Her plan was good, but had some weaknesses; between them they thrashed out the details until they were agreed on how to proceed. It was a long shot, but, Clark knew, it was their best chance at freedom.

Lois slid off his lap and stood up. "We should get into position — no telling when someone might come in."

"Sure," Clark agreed. "But first — Lois, would you mind if I tried to lift you up?"

She gave him a very puzzled look. "What…?"

He gave a faint shrug. "I know I'm still not back to full strength. I need to know what my limitations are, and that seems like the best way of finding out."

"Oh." Her face cleared, and she stood in front of him, looking a little nervous.

"It's okay, I'll try not to drop you," he teased lightly, sliding one arm around her waist and bending to put the other under her knees. Then he lifted. At once he felt the impact of her weight in his arms, and he staggered backwards; she clutched wildly at his shoulders. Taking a deep breath, he steadiedhimself. It was a very long time since anything had felt heavy to him, and now, he realised, he was gaining a real insight into what life was like for *normal* men. Although, he wondered, would a normal, fit man of his height and build find Lois heavy? For all that she was of average height for a woman, she was very small in build and, he was sure, very light. And yet he was staggering under her weight.

Feeling depressed, he lowered her to the ground.

"Everything okay, Clark?" she asked him, concerned.

He gave her a rueful smile. "I guess so. Well, I know my limitations, anyway." She was about to move away when he reached out to lay his hand on her shoulder, delaying her. "Lois, if this doesn't work…"

"It *will* work," she insisted.

"If it doesn't," he repeated, "I want you to get out of here if you can. Don't stick around for me — if there's any chance at all that you can escape, do it. I don't want you to die because I'm holding you back."

She stared at him, her brown eyes wide in dismay. "Clark, either we both get out of here, or neither of us does. That's non-negotiable."

He shook his head. "I mean it, Lois. If you get the chance, take it! Anyway, if you get away you can go and call for help."

But her expression showed total rejection of his words. "Clark, you know as well as I do that this place would be deserted by the time anyone managed to get back here. Trask would kill you rather than take the chance that he could get caught." Her words were said in the same soft undertone they'd both been using for most of the time since they'd sat down together, but Clark could hear the emotion and fierce intent in her voice, and it touched him.

He grimaced. "Lois, I appreciate that, really. I just… I don't want to think that you could have escaped."

She moved closer to him, laying her hand on his arm. "We're in this together, ex-partner." This time her voice was rough, as if she was almost afraid to say the words; as he gazed down at her, he could see her blinking away tears she hadn't wanted him to see.

"Here." He fumbled in his pocket and awkwardly handed her his handkerchief, trying to ignore the swelling in his throat at the word she'd used to describe him. Ex-partner. It sounded so final, placing an emphasis on the fact that they had once worked together, but no longer did. Except that… except that it suggested that she still thought of their time working together — and, judging by her expression, they were not unpleasant reminders. And ex-partner was, after all, a far nicer way to describe him than a one-time and despised ex-lover.

She dabbed at her eyes, avoiding his gaze; a wave of emotion swept over him and, ignoring all the reasons why this was the one woman he should not touch, he reached out and pulled her into his arms for a hug.

She came willingly, nestling against him and wrapping her arms around his waist and laying her head against his shoulder. He tried to transmit, without words, a reassurance that everything would be all right; he didn't dare say the words aloud because he was every bit as aware as she was that the changes of either of them getting out of this alive were very slim indeed.


Lois pulled slowly away from Clark, doing her best to ignore the little voice which told her that she really wanted to stay in his arms and plead with him never to let her go. That was foolish. They needed to get out of there, to save their own lives and to warn Superman that Trask was after him again and claimed to have something which could kill him. That was what was important, not forgetting her fears and the cold in Clark Kent's arms. And besides, Clark was only being considerate — taking pity on her. If it wasn't for their current circumstances, she was only too aware that he wouldn't want to touch her with a sterilised cattle-prod.

So she had to push all those thoughts and suppressed yearnings back out of her mind. Even if his picking her up had reminded her of *that* night, when he'd scooped her up in his strong arms and carried her so effortlessly into his bedroom, laid her down on his bed, then come to join her, smothering her in mind-blowing kisses…

"Let's get into position," she said shakily, then mentally kicked herself. <Pull yourself together, Lois! This is no time to fall apart!>

Clark nodded, but then glanced down at her and frowned. "What is it?" she asked, more sharply than she'd intended.

He grimaced. "You need to fasten your jacket, Lois," he observed quietly, then turned away to pick up the metal bucket.

She glanced down at herself, and immediately saw what he'd been referring to. Her blouse gaped open at the front, and several inches of creamy flesh were revealed where she'd torn a strip off. Flushing, she fumbled with the fastenings on her jacket before taking up her position.

Now, they had to wait.

It was a long wait; Lois had to walk around in tiny circles to prevent herself getting so cold that her circulation stopped working properly. After about five minutes, Clark offered her his overcoat again, but she again refused, reminding him that he was still sick. And anyway, it would be far too long and bulky on her; it would impede her movement.

He looked very weird with his broken glasses, she thought as she surveyed him in his position at the other side of the door. She wondered idly why he didn't simply remove them, then figured that he really did need them to the extent that one lens in usable condition was better than neither.

Even with a black eye, a split lip and that ugly-looking cut on his cheek, Clark was still a very attractive man. Standing not three feet from him, studying him, Lois was hard put to deny that truth; not that she really wanted to deny it, but her inner voice kept reminding her that, since there was absolutely no possibility of their having any kind of relationship at any time in the future thanks to her stupidity, there was absolutely no point in coming to an appreciation of the finer points of Clark Kent's physique. Anyway, he was all Linda King's now.

She was engrossed in compiling a mental inventory of all the names she would at one point have called Linda King when a sound in the corridor outside caught her attention. She stiffened, then gestured at Clark. She had his attention instantly. "Someone coming?" he asked quietly.

She nodded. "Action stations."

He gave her one brief nod in return, then he focused intently on the door. She flattened herself against the wall beside it.

It opened, and one fatigues-clad man strode in and down the steps. Before he reached the bottom step, Lois shot forward and hooked her leg around his. He stumbled and fell forward, and as he tried to regain his balance another man pushed into the room behind him.

"For crying out loud, Johnson, look where you're going!" the other man said angrily, then noticed Lois. He was about to make a grab for her when Clark thrust the metal bucket roughly over his head and banged it hard, at the same time giving him a hard shove in the back. The man stumbled and fell hard, cursing.

The first man, Johnson, was struggling to his feet, at the same time reaching for his gun. Lois assumed her 'on guard' position again, ready to throw him over her hip if he came closer. But then she noticed Clark behind him; he'd grabbed the second man's gun and in a swift movement held it to Johnson's neck. "Drop it," he said softly.

Johnson dropped his gun; Lois reached for it and, checking that the safety catch was on, shoved it in her pocket. "The key?" she demanded, at the same time glancing quickly over at the second thug. He was still struggling to wrench the bucket off his head and presented no immediate threat, she decided.

Johnson hesitated. Lois saw Clark grimace, and then he pushed the gun more firmly against his prisoner's neck. Lois wondered whether they were going to have to be more forceful still, but then Johnson slowly reached into his pocket and produced the key. Grabbing it, Lois glanced at Clark. "Come on, let's get out of here!"

Not a moment too soon; the second man, who had been momentarily stunned, was pulling the bucket off his head and scrambling to his feet. The two reporters hurried up the steps and out of the room, locking the door behind them.

"Which way?" Lois demanded, exchanging glances with Clark.

He shrugged. "I was pretty much out of it when they brought me down here."

"This way," she decided, turning left. "That way's the control room. Let's hope there's a rear entrance." And they had to hope it wasn't guarded, she added silently to herself.

They crept carefully along the darkened corridor; Lois noticed that Clark pushed past her and remained in front. Boy scout, she thought dryly, wondering what he would do if attack came from behind. He was still holding the gun he'd confiscated, but it was obvious to her that he wasn't comfortable with it at all. She wasn't a fan of guns either — in fact, she was strongly pro-gun-control — but in this situation she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. If pointing a gun at someone would help them get out of there, then she would do it.

Her foot struck something, and it shot along the floor with a rattling sound. Clark turned and frowned at her, and she paused, heart in her mouth, listening for any sign that someone had heard. He grabbed at her arm and muttered, "Come on! We can't hang around."

Just then, voices could be heard from the other end of the building; someone said, "What the heck's keeping Johnson and Terry?"

Then Trask's voice, a little louder, barked, "Get after them and see what's going on!"

"Come on!" Clark urged again; she glared at his back. She *was* coming!

"You go in front," he murmured then, slipping behind her.

She knew what he was up to; muttering, "You got a death-wish or something?" she did as he said and hurried on. They had to be around the back of the building now; there was no light here at all, and she didn't dare look for a light-switch. They couldn't afford to let anyone know they were here.

"Hey!" Clark called softly. "A window."

"Yeah, but can you get it open?"

"Think so," he answered, and she could hear him fumbling with the catch. Endless seconds ticked past, and she was positive that anyone anywhere close to them could have heard her heartbeat. Any second, she expected Clark to turn around and demand that she breathe less noisily. But he didn't; and after another few moments he gave a grunt of satisfaction. "Okay, come here," he said.

She hurried to his side, and he held out his linked hands for her to step into. "Careful jumping down — we don't know how far the drop is," he warned.

"I know how to land," she assured him.

"If you're sure… well, just be careful. You don't know what the terrain is like," he cautioned.

Just then, she heard further shouts. "Johnson! Terry! What the f***'s going on? Why is this door locked?"

"Hurry, Clark!" she muttered urgently to him, then let herself drop from the windowsill.


Clark heard the soft sound of Lois landing on the ground outside; peering intently into the darkness, he thought he could see her moving aside. He hoped so; he didn't want to land on top of her! Yet again, he found himself yearning for his Super-powers; even using them surreptitiously, he could get them out of this situation so much more easily. He'd been amazed that Lois's plan for getting them out of the room had worked; although he'd agreed with her that it was their only chance, he'd been sure that it could never work. He shouldn't have under-estimated Lois's courage and resourcefulness, however; she was even better than he'd remembered. He hadn't felt comfortable holding the gun to that second thug's head, but he'd had little choice. And anyway, although Trask's bully-boy had been completely unaware of the fact, he wouldn't have used it.

The shouts were getting closer now; he swung his legs over the windowsill and let himself drop. It wasn't too far down, and he landed easily, though with a painful jolt to his ribs, quickly regaining his balance and hurrying away. Lois was waiting for him; she muttered, "They brought me here by helicopter and kept my head covered, so I haven't a clue which way to go. Got any ideas?"

Clark momentarily considered hiding out in the woods, but dismissed that. Trask and his men were all army-trained; they'd be sitting ducks. He made a snap decision. "This way," he urged, grabbing her hand and striding quickly around the building. "Can you still boost a car? How about an army jeep?"

"Should be able to fix either," she answered, breathing heavily as they both pushed their way past bushes and tried to avoid stumbling over roots and on the rough ground.

"Good. The jeep'd be better on mountainous roads," Clark replied, thinking aloud. He just hoped they were able to get to it before Trask realised that they were outside and sent men out the front entrance. He still had the gun he'd stolen — and so had Lois — but he felt very unhappy about even carrying it. He had no wish to use it. He wished that there was some way of rescuing his space-craft — he was extremely unhappy about leaving it in Trask's possession — but he knew that there was absolutely no way that he'd be able to run in and grab it. Even if all Trask's men had deserted the main operations room, there was still that green rock. If he went near that again… Well, he couldn't take that risk.

"Come on! Over here!" he whispered suddenly, as they rounded the building and he saw the jeep parked outside. Running up to it, he tested the door and found it unlocked; he would have smashed a window to get into it, but this was easier. "Okay, Lois, all yours," he told her, stepping back. "Anything I can do?"

She was already inside the vehicle. "Just keep a look-out, okay?"

Suddenly the shouts were closer still; their escape had definitely been discovered, and the men were searching for them outside. Clark reached into his pocket and awkwardly felt the gun he'd stuffed in there before he'd jumped from the window. He didn't want to use it… but if Lois's life was in danger, if Trask and his thugs were there, threatening to shoot her… He didn't know what he would do. He knew what was right; but he also knew that he had no powers and that there was no way on earth he would see Lois killed if it was somehow within his power to save her.

"Hurry up, hurry up," he muttered agitatedly.

"I'm trying, okay?" she threw at him. "I'm good, but I'm not Superman!"

"And neither am I right now, Lois," he replied under his breath. He so much wished he was; then he could find a way of delaying Trask and his thugs, or of helping Lois surreptitiously, or if it became absolutely necessary, he could fly Lois out of there.

The engine spluttered into life, shattering the near-silence of the night.

"Get in, Clark!" Lois yelled at him. "They're coming!"

He threw himself into the back of the jeep as Lois shoved it into gear and floored the accelerator. To his shout of, "Careful — you don't know how these things drive over frozen earth," she threw him a dirty look over her shoulder.

"Look, I'm driving and I'm going to get us out of here, okay? You just concentrate on keeping Trask and his bully-boys away from us!"

Clark didn't want to speculate on what Lois meant by that. As she swung the jeep onto the road — and impressed him by controlling the skid which resulted — he kept his gaze fastened on the building and its surroundings. Suddenly running figures appeared through the darkness, gesticulating and shouting, and pointing guns.

"There they are! Stop them!" Jason Trask ordered.

"Keep your head down behind the head-rest, Lois!" Clark yelled as several fatigues-clad men aimed guns at the vehicle. He leapt down and crouched on the floor, hoping that none of the bullets rattling against the jeep hit the fuel tank. Suddenly the jeep began to swerve crazily over the road, and his heart went cold. They'd hit Lois!

Hoping, praying, that she was still alive and that he could help her, he leaned forward between the two front seats and grasped her arm. "Lois…? Are you okay?"

"Get down, Clark! And hang on," she yelled back at him. "I'm making us less of a target. If we're swerving about…"

"Okay, good thinking," he told her, withdrawing, feeling the sense of sheer relief overwhelm him.

Through the side window, he could see Trask and a couple of his associates leap into the sedan car in which he'd been brought from the city. "They're going to follow us," he told Lois.

"We'll lose them," she said matter-of-factly.

Raising an eyebrow, Clark commented, "You're pretty cool in a crisis. Anyone else I know would have been panicking long ago."

"Yeah, well, I'm not like anyone else you know," she replied dryly. "Hang on — I'm going to leave the road."

Well, it was an off-road vehicle, Clark mused, but he wished he was driving. Even though he wasn't yet back to full strength, he had more muscle-power in his arms than Lois. Steering a heavy off-roader along this kind of terrain, and at night, in circumstances when they couldn't even use lights, wasn't an easy task and he didn't want Lois to injure herself.

But she was able to control the vehicle extremely well, he realised very quickly. He leaned forward between the seats again, keeping his head low. "You've done this before."

"Yeah, years ago. I persuaded Perry to send me on an army assault course, and I made them teach me how to drive these things while I was there," she replied without taking her eyes off the view ahead. "Where's Trask and his crew?"

Clark glanced behind. "Still on the road, but following."

"Yeah, well, at least they can't see us properly now," she said with satisfaction. "They haven't managed to hit this thing with any of their last eight or ten bullets."

"True, but I guess we're lucky they only have hand-guns," Clark acknowledged. "If they had automatics, or even semis…"

"Yeah, well, let's just be grateful they don't!" She made a sharp right turn, bypassing a tree and swinging the jeep down into a stream, which meant that they were lower down than before.

Looking behind again, Clark saw that the sedan was also making its way — though with far more difficulty — over the rougher ground. It was having to go much more slowly, and as he watched one of the wheels seemed to get stuck. He could hear the engine revving and the wheels spinning around and around.

"You've bought us a little time," he informed Lois. "Great work!"

"We're not out of here yet," she muttered, putting on more speed.

A deafening explosion resounded from behind them in the next instant, and Clark whirled around to see what had happened. As he did so, Lois exclaimed, "Oh, my god…" and slammed on the brakes.

The car following them was on its side and in a blaze of flames. Instinct led Clark to fumble at the door of the jeep, until he remembered that he had no Super-powers and wouldn't be able to help.

"It's too late. There's no way anyone's going to get out of there alive," Lois said after a moment. She was right, Clark knew from his experience in assisting at the scene of accidents. It had been too late the moment the explosion had occurred.

The driver must have managed to free the trapped wheel, but then failed to slow down; it was clear that the car had hit a tree, and Clark guessed that it must have been at considerable speed. In the impact, the car had tipped over and the fuel tank had exploded.

"How many of them were in there?" Lois asked him after a pause.

Clark pulled himself together. "I saw three get in. There were four altogether outside, back there — I have no idea whether the fourth guy got in the car or not."

"And there's still two locked up in the room where we were," Lois calculated.

"Yeah, if they're still in there."

"Looks like we're safe," she said heavily; he glanced at her, and saw that she was still staring with an appalled expression at the burning car. "What a horrible way to go."

"Yeah." Clark slid forward until he was crouching on the front passenger seat. "You okay, Lois?"

She turned to look at him. "Yeah. A little shaky, but okay."


Lois slumped into the seat-back, allowing her body to relax for the first time since they'd worked through their plan for escaping. They were out, and Trask could no longer harm either of them. They were safe.

She turned to glance at Clark. For someone who had been really sick — in fact, unconscious — a couple of hours earlier, and who she suspected had at least badly bruised ribs, he was holding up very well. She'd certainly caused him to be thrown around the back of the jeep in a manner which would have been very uncomfortable even for someone in the best of condition. Yet, judging by his question and the concern in his voice, his anxiety was for her well-being.

Guilt flooded her again. She had completely misjudged him, treated him shamefully, and probably destroyed his career in the process.

She was about to say something when he shifted and reached for the door-handle. "I guess we ought to go and see whether there's anything…"

It was hopeless, Lois knew, and she was aware that Clark was just as conscious of that as she was. But still, he was right. She inhaled deeply and gripped the steering-wheel again; the jeep's engine was still running, mainly because she couldn't cut it, having bypassed the ignition. "Stay where you are — we can drive back."

Taking the jeep carefully out of the stream, she turned around and drove it with caution back to the still-burning wreck. As she drew to a halt, Clark was already getting out; she hurried to join him, catching his arm as he drew too close to the blazing car for her liking. "Come on, Clark, there's nothing we can do here," she said quietly. "No-one could have survived that."

"No," he said heavily after a while.

"Clark, I'm as shocked as you are, but they would have *killed* us!" she reminded him. "And if it was us in that wreck, you imagine any of them would feel the slightest remorse?"

He turned to look at her then, and in the pitch darkness of after four o'clock in the morning, illuminated by the flames, she could see the agony in his expression. It hit her again at that moment: Clark Kent was a man who cared about his fellow human beings.

Why could she not have recognised that long ago?

"That doesn't make it right," he murmured softly, and for a moment she was confused; then she realised that he was referring to what she'd said to him moments earlier.

"I know, Clark, but that's life and that's the way this has turned out," she replied matter-of-factly. "It's happened, and we have to deal with it and move on. Which means calling the cops and getting out of here and home."

He inhaled deeply, then turned away from the flames. "You're right. Though, instead of the police, I'd prefer to call a contact of mine in the FBI — I talked to him a few times about Trask after what happened before."

Lois nodded; that made sense. She'd spoken to a couple of FBI agents as well around that time, and she supposed that they would be more efficient than the police in clearing this up — and would probably ask fewer questions about the dead bodies. There was only one problem. "You realise that if we call in the FBI we can kiss goodbye to any story out of this?"

Clark blinked, and she wondered whether he thought she was being callous to think about a story when three or four men had just been burned to a crisp. But he gave her a crooked smile. "*We*, Lois? I'm sure you already have *your* story written in your head, and I can't see you letting the FBI stop you!"

Oh… he meant that it wouldn't be *their* story; there would be her story, and his story. That thought saddened her; it was a reminder that, while they'd worked so effectively as a team for the last few hours, that was coming to an end. She would return to the Planet and he to the Star.

An impulse led her to stop and gaze straight at him. "Who says we have to do this separately? We were in this together — at least we could liaise on what we want to say about what happened. I think Perry would understand, for once."

Clark grinned suddenly, briefly. "I'm not sure Mike Lloyd would, but you know what? I don't care!"

She grinned back at him, delighted that they seemed to be enjoying a moment of accord. "Okay, let's go and make that phone call."

He swung into the jeep beside her, and she noticed that his expression was thoughtful. "Mind if we go back to Trask's headquarters to make that call? There were a couple of things I saw there which I want to check out again…"

Lois gave him a curious look. "You realise that one of his men could still be there? You said you didn't see the fourth guy get in the car. And we don' t know whether the other two are still locked in the room."

Clark hesitated, then pulled the confiscated gun from his pocket. "I'm willing to take that chance."

She watched him for a moment, part of her surprised at his seeming willingness to use the gun now, given his obvious distaste earlier. "Well, if it's important to you…"

"It is." His grim expression told her how much, and she shrugged.

"Okay, let's go."


It was a short drive back up to Trask's hideout, although Clark barely noticed the passage of time. His mind was filled with images of burning bodies, screams, the guilt of not having been able to save people.

<It wasn't your fault! You had no powers — and the *reason* you have no powers is because Trask took them away from you with that rock thing!> his inner voice objected.

Clark knew that; inside, he was very well aware that there was absolutely nothing he could have done and so he shouldn't blame himself. But somehow that didn't stop the feelings of guilt and regret. He stole a glance at Lois at one point; intent on the road ahead, she wasn't looking at him, and he almost, for a moment, wished that he shared her sense of pragmatism and lack of guilt. But then he remembered that it was precisely that self-assuredness and confidence which had enabled her to reject him so comprehensively the morning after he'd shared his body with her, and had led her to blame him entirely for the incident.

He grimaced. No, he would not want to be like that.

Although, from what she'd said to him in the last couple of hours, she was regretting that very much. He was pleased about that, and very relieved that she'd told him she didn't blame him any more. He still wanted to know why she'd reacted as she had, but that could wait.

Now… now, he had to figure out how he was going to get his spaceship out of this place. It had seemed simple when he'd told Lois he wanted to go back: he would go in, grab the space-craft and hide it in the back of the jeep. There was no way he was leaving that for the FBI to find.

But he'd forgotten one major stumbling-block: the glowing green rock. That was still in there, he imagined, waiting for the arrival of Superman. And if he walked into that room he would get sick again. And that meant that, even if he could get the space-craft out of there, he couldn't even take it with them in the jeep because of the rock — and yet, there was no way that he wanted to leave that rock behind for anyone else to find and potentially use. That rock was lethal to him. He couldn't let it fall into the wrong hands again.

And yet if he came into contact with it — was even in the same room as it — it would cause him excruciating pain; could even kill him. Even the thought of it made him shiver internally; his body reacted as if guarding itself against the pain it had encountered once Trask had opened that lid.

Wait… opened the lid?

That was right, he reminded himself as Lois braked and halted the jeep outside the building. He hadn't felt a thing until the lid of the box had been opened.

So perhaps, then, if he could just get close enough to close the lid of that metal box, he would be okay. But he rejected that idea almost immediately. There was no way he'd be able to get that close without collapsing. Not judging by the reaction he'd had to it earlier. And yet he had to get that and the space-craft out of there.

Clark turned to gaze speculatively at Lois. How much could he trust her?

He answered his own question swiftly. She'd been there for Superman during the heatwave, and had proved his innocence. She'd then supported him by that article she'd written.

But that was Superman. How far would she go to protect Clark Kent? Okay, she felt guilty about her treatment of him, but how far would that last?

On the other hand, he reminded himself as he became aware of her staring enquiringly at him, he didn't have a lot of choice.

"Clark? Are you all right?"

He nodded quickly. "Yeah. Just thinking. We need to be sure that there's no-one else around before we go in." Suddenly realising that he was still holding the gun, he glanced down at it in repugnance. He didn't want to use it, even to threaten someone. He didn't even want to have it in his possession. But if there was a chance that even one of Trask's thugs was on the loose, he needed it for protection.

<To protect Lois>

Although she had the gun she'd confiscated, too; and although he was aware that she was no fan of widespread gun ownership and use either, he had a sneaking suspicion that she knew rather better than he did how to use one…

"I'm not sure there is," she said, answering his question and turning to scan the outside again. "We've been here for almost a minute, and the engine's been running the whole time. If there was someone here — if those two weren't still locked up — they'd have been out to grab us."

"Not necessarily," Clark replied pessimistically. "They could be waiting until we get out of the jeep."

Before he could stop her, Lois had thrown open her door; grabbing a walkie-talkie which had lain on the dashboard, she threw it out. Nothing happened; no doors flew open, no shots rang out.

"There's no-one here," she announced, and swung herself down to the ground.

Hurrying out and around to catch up with her, Clark made a swift decision. "Lois, I need you to do me a favour. Please. I'll check first to see that there's no-one inside, and then I want you to go into the control-room and go over to the strange silver-coloured object on the table. The top should be open. If it is, you'll see a metal box inside with the lid open. I need you to close that lid. While you do that, I'll call my FBI contact."

<And, if I'm lucky, she won't notice that I didn't follow her into the room until she'd closed that lid> he thought, biting his lip as he waited for her agreement.

She gave him a puzzled look, then nodded. "Okay."

The room was empty, Clark established, but even putting his head around the door made him feel dizzy. He could see the strange glow emitted by the object; in fact, it somehow compelled his gaze, seeming to call to him to come closer… come closer…

He stepped back abruptly. "It's all clear."

Lois moved past him then, and he risked another glance into the room a moment later. She was standing by his spaceship, touching it gently with her fingers as she stared at it in wonder. As he watched, she moved to touch the glowing green rock; he saw a very puzzled expression on her face, and then she reached for the lid. As it closed, the faint dizziness he'd been experiencing vanished.

He inhaled deeply and entered the room.

"Clark, what is this?" she asked him, clearly very intrigued. "There's a symbol on the front… does it belong to…?"

"I'd guess it belongs to Superman, yes," he told her quickly. "And that thing inside — that's what Trask thought could hurt Superman. And since we don't know for sure either way, it's best that it stays locked up."

"Oh… yes, absolutely!" Lois agreed. "Are you… should we try to give it back to him? I mean, I'm guessing that he'd want to have it?"

Clark nodded. "He would. And I'm also very sure that he wouldn't like the idea of anyone else getting their hands on it. We'll take it with us."

"Okay," Lois agreed. Casting one last wistful glance at the spaceship, she said idly, "I guess we better see what else is here. I want to know who Trask worked for!"

"Bureau 39," Clark answered abstractedly as he lifted the receiver of the old-fashioned telephone on a far wall.

"What on earth's Bureau 39? And how do you know about it?"

"I did some digging round about the time Trask threw you out of that plane," Clark explained carefully. "After all, he'd also tried to kill Superman, and I… wanted to know exactly who he was and what his motives were. I found Bureau 39 — it's some murky quasi-government outfit interested in UFOs — but that was all."

"Oh, yeah, Superman told me you're a good friend of his, so I guess you'd want to find out as much as you could to try to protect him," Lois answered pensively. Clark wondered what she was thinking; but then the person he was calling answered, and he had to concentrate on the phone call. To his relief, he noticed a map on the wall close to where he was standing, with the co-ordinates of their location marked, and so he was able to give his FBI contact the details of where to send the team.

When he looked around again, Lois was thumbing through some files which she'd found on a side table. "Anything interesting?" he asked her.

"Yeah," she murmured abstractedly. "This Bureau 39 you mentioned — all this stuff has their name on it. And Jason Trask was a real colonel, by the look of this — and it seems that at one point he was taking orders from a General Newcombe."

"That name sounds familiar," Clark commented, frowning as he crossed to read over Lois's shoulder.

"Yeah. Burton Newcombe. Wasn't he found dead about a month ago? Suspected suicide."

Clark nodded slowly, remembering the story now. A lonely widower, a retired general, had been found at home with a bottle of bourbon and an empty container of morphine-based prescription drugs. It had been assumed that he just hadn't been able to bear living any longer. But if he was associated with Bureau 39 and Trask, could there be more to the story? He knew his investigative hackles were rising, and he knew even without looking at her that Lois felt the same.

If only they could pursue it together…

But that wasn't possible, so he made himself focus on the task at hand. "We've got about twenty minutes before our FBI friends arrive," he told her briskly. "I'm guessing you don't want to be here then? I know I don't."

She turned away from the folders. "You guess right. How much of this stuff can we take with us?"

He grimaced. "Not a lot, unless you want to have federal agents turn your apartment over later today."

"Okay, so shove these inside your overcoat," she ordered him, thrusting several documents at him.

Clark raised an eyebrow, but did as she requested. At the same time, he wondered whether she saw those documents as being part of the story of their kidnap, which they'd agreed they would work on together — and he knew that co-operation would necessarily be limited, since their employing newspapers were commercial rivals — or whether she was expecting him to guard *her* evidence and hand it straight back to her afterwards.

"We need to get out of here," he said abruptly. "I'm just going to check that those two guys we locked in are okay, then I'm ready to go."

Lois frowned at him. "You're not going to let them out?"

He shook his head. "No. We'll leave them there — but hey, write a note for the FBI agents, would you? Just to let them know."

Checking on Trask's men didn't take long; they made their presence felt, loudly, as soon as he banged on the door, demanding to be released instantly. He refused firmly, informing them that they would be freed within half an hour by the authorities. It was clear that his was a voice they hadn't expected to hear; his words were followed by loud demands to know where Trask was. Clark didn't quite feel himself equal to answering that question, however, and he reminded them that they would be released in due course, before leaving.

When he returned to the main room, he found Lois gone; the spaceship was also missing. He felt a momentary panic, before telling himself that she'd no doubt taken it out to the jeep. He was about to leave, when he remembered something; reaching inside his overcoat pocket again, he pulled out the gun and carefully laid it on the table, having first wiped it all over with the hem of his coat. This was one souvenir he was happy to leave behind.

He was suddenly reminded of the state of his glasses, and removed them, idly knocking out the shattered remains of the left-hand lens. Tempted to leave them off — after all, they were only plain glass — his inner sense of caution advised against it. Sure, his face was bruised and he probably had a black eye, so there was little chance that Lois would recognise him as Superman at the moment, but it was still unwise to take any unnecessary risks. And anyway, she would no doubt question how he could see properly without glasses.

He had, of course, got away with it the night they'd slept together; at some late stage in the proceedings his glasses had got in the way and one of them had removed them; she'd been too engrossed in kissing and touching him to look at his face properly. And afterwards they'd both fallen asleep; and when he'd wakened in the morning, his face had been buried in his pillow and Lois had been in the shower.

He paused for a moment as he replaced the glasses, assessing his state of health. To his relief, he no longer felt dizzy, and his ribs didn't hurt as much as they had earlier. Maybe the effect of that rock was wearing off; he concentrated momentarily to see whether there was any sign of his Super-hearing coming back.

Nothing. He was still without powers, even though the sickness had worn off. Maybe the effect of this thing was permanent, in that respect. Maybe Superman really was gone for good.

And if he was, how did Clark feel about that?

He thought about that for a moment, and realised that the only word he could find to describe what he was feeling was… numb.

For almost all his life, he'd known that he was different. That he could do things which no-one else could. That he had to hide those differences from other people, so that no-one realised that Clark Kent, son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, was not quite the ordinary farmer's son he appeared to be.

There had been many times when he'd wished he hadn't been different — that he was *normal*. Normal would mean that he was just like every other guy. Normal would mean that he didn't have to hide, didn't have to come up with excuses as to why he could do things, didn't have to pretend to be human, with normal human limitations. And yet, having Super-powers was special too. He'd enjoyed being able to do things at Super-speed; and the day he'd discovered he could fly had been the most wonderful day of his life.

Until he'd thought that he and Lois were starting a relationship… but he pushed that thought away.

How did he feel about the prospect of a life without Super-powers? A life in which he would be *normal* — just like any other guy? No more Super-speed; no more flying; no more Super-hearing; no more saving people. How did he feel about being plain Clark Kent from Kansas, who could be hurt, who could get sick, who could even be killed; for the rest of his life?


And yet he'd contemplated giving up being Superman only a bare month earlier. When the entire city — well, almost the entire city — had thought he was responsible for the heatwave. He'd thought, then, that it would be an enormous sacrifice — all those people whose cries he would hear, but whom he could never save. But he'd decided to do it, because he'd thought a greater good would be served.

<Yeah. And you were incredibly relieved when Lois proved you innocent and you could be Superman again>

And now, all of what made him Superman had been ripped away from him completely without warning. He was nothing more than any ordinary man. Not that there was anything *wrong* with being an ordinary man… it was just that he had never *been* ordinary.

And now he was.

And he felt numb.

Pulling the door shut behind him as he left the building, he went to join Lois at the jeep.


Lois had just finished wedging the spaceship carefully in the back of the jeep when she heard a soft tread behind her. Glancing back, she saw Clark, looking at her somewhat owlishly through his broken glasses. She noticed that he'd removed the shattered glass from the broken lens, and wondered how well he could see.

"Ready to go?" he asked her briskly.


"I'll drive," he offered, heading for the driver's seat. Surprised, she frowned at him in response.

"Clark, only a couple of hours ago you were really sick! And you're hurt, and you probably can't see properly!"

"I'm not too bad now," he assured her, and she studied him as much as was possible in the early-morning darkness. He did look better; certainly less likely to keel over, she thought, and he didn't act like someone with a couple of possibly-broken ribs either. And she was feeling very weary all of a sudden.

"Okay," she agreed abruptly, and went around to the passenger seat. As soon as she slammed her door, he moved the jeep off, turning onto the road leading down off the mountain. Glancing at Clark, she frowned. "Can you see properly? I mean, with one lens…"

He threw her a quick smile which she could just make out in the dim interior. "Sure, I can see fine. Don't worry, I'll get us home safely."

An awkward silence descended inside the jeep then; Lois, shrinking into the far corner of the passenger side, found herself wishing that she'd suggested she stay to deal with the FBI. But Clark had been right; they didn't want to be any part of a Federal investigation. Not at this point. If agents came to track them down later, that was a different matter; by then, they should have written up whatever story they wanted to write, instead of being ordered under some sort of government order to stay silent.

The awkwardness of the silence, she realised uncomfortably, was all down to her guilty conscience. She'd told Clark earlier, when he'd asked her 'why', that she would explain all later, once they were out and safe. Well, 'later' had just arrived. And Clark was entitled to his answer. He hadn't said anything, but she could guess from his silence that he was waiting for her to talk to him.

For a moment, she considered taking the easy way out, telling him that she couldn't talk about it, it was too difficult or too painful. But she dismissed that instantly. She'd been so unfair to Clark for so long; she'd had sex with him and then rejected him quite brutally, and to add insult to injury had blamed it all on him.

She owed him his pound of flesh. And it was time to deliver. She would eat as much humble pie as he wanted her to; that was only fair. And then she would tell him again that she was sorry, and then say goodbye and wish him well for the future. After all, once they got back to the city he'd be only too happy to be rid of her. Of course he would. After all, it wasn't as if they were *friends*, was it? Just two people, one of whom had wronged the other appallingly, who had come together in adversity and worked as a team out of necessity, in order to save their lives. They would naturally go their separate ways once they got back to the city. Okay, he'd talked about them possibly working together to decide what they would say about tonight's incident, but perhaps he hadn't really meant it. Or else he'd just meant that they could agree something quickly en route back to Metropolis. Either way, it certainly didn't suggest that he'd ever want to see her again once this nightmare experience was over.

If only… if only she hadn't just begun to realise what a darned nice guy Clark Kent really was, she thought miserably.

Before the silence could move from being merely awkward to being oppressive, Lois grasped her courage firmly between both hands and, refusing to face her companion, spoke hesitantly. "Clark?"

"Yeah, Lois?" He sounded a little distracted; concentrating on driving, she assumed. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Maybe it would be best if she just sat there and didn't say a word. After all, he really didn't want to have this kind of difficult conversation here, surely? He probably wasn't even interested in her explanation anyway…

But that wasn't fair. She took a deep breath, then willed herself to look at him. He was focusing intently on the dark, winding road ahead; the jeep's faint lights didn't seem to make a great deal of difference. Okay, she had to do this. "You asked me a question earlier, and I said I'd answer it…"

"After we got out of there, yeah," he finished for her. "I remember."

She swallowed, finding a large lump in her throat which refused to go away. Did he really want an explanation?

"Why, Lois?" he asked her, right on cue.

Did he just want his pound of flesh?

She felt his gaze on her, and turned to give him a wary look. But his expression was uncertain, awkward, as if he too was finding this difficult. "I just need to know, Lois," he told her quietly. "I need to understand… what did I do? What did I say?"

Suddenly his reason for wanting an explanation dawned on her. She hadn't just offended him by her behaviour: she had hurt him really badly. His ego had clearly suffered quite a knock. And, while that realisation wouldn't have bothered her one whit some weeks earlier, now she knew that Clark Kent was not the egotistical, over-confident guy she'd imagined him to be. He was shy, in a way; he might well be confident and outgoing professionally, but on a personal level he seemed to lack confidence.

And, of course, when he'd slept with her it had been his first time — and given how much emphasis men tended to place on sexual performance, her behaviour the following morning had no doubt shaken his self-confidence pretty badly. And there was something else, too — if he'd waited that long to have his first sexual experience, there had to have been a reason. He'd obviously been waiting for someone special — he'd never seemed the religious type, from what she could tell — and she'd taken away that special time from him forever. He couldn't get that back. And that was yet another crime to lay at her door.

She was a total bitch.

She grimaced, and tried to reassure him. "It wasn't you, Clark. I know what I said — but really, it wasn't you."

"I just find that hard to believe," he replied after a moment, his voice heavy. "I mean, come on, Lois! I was a… a virgin — of course I didn't have a clue what I was doing!"

"You… didn't seem inexperienced," she answered quickly. "I'd never have guessed."

"Yeah, well…" he began, before trailing off a little uncomfortably. He swallowed audibly, then spoke again, not even glancing at her, and seeming to choose his words carefully. "Lois… I'm not trying to… well, to rub it in that you got my motives wrong. It's just that… well, I've spent the last three months wondering what the heck I did that was so wrong, just why you were so disgusted at the thought that you'd gone to bed with me. It… well, the knowledge that you'd found going to bed with me so… so revolting — it made me feel dirty, Lois."

While blushing at his direct reference to what they'd done together, Lois could tell, by the tone of voice in which he'd spoken as well as Clark's obvious embarrassment, that he wasn't out to increase her sense of guilt. Regardless of that, every word he spoke seemed to flay her with increasing ferocity. It struck her then that by leading him to believe that she'd have an abortion rather than carry his baby she'd given him yet another reason to believe that he'd disgusted her; her threat had suggested that his inexpert lovemaking had made her so sickened that the thought of becoming pregnant by him was far more dreadful than her worst nightmare.

"It was nothing you did, Clark," she reiterated miserably. "In fact, I… um, it was good. Umm… yeah, it was good." She swallowed again, embarrassment flooding her, then forced herself to continue. "I know I accused you of doing all sorts of things — of getting me drunk, seducing me — but I knew all along that I was the one who'd set the pace. I just wouldn't let myself admit it, and I hid behind the excuse that you'd set out to get me drunk. I was lying to myself every bit as much as I was to you." She swallowed, struggling to get rid of the huge lump in her throat. "I know 'sorry' is totally inadequate, but I do mean it."

She felt his gaze on her again, albeit briefly. "I know you mean it, Lois. I'm not asking you for endless apologies. Like I said, I really just need to understand why — what I did, if I did anything wrong. Why did you need to lie about what happened?"

Lois bit her lip, wondering where to start; how to explain so that he wouldn't think that she was a horrible, man-hating witch. Her dilemma was made more difficult still by the fact that she was still trying to understand her own behaviour herself.

After a pause which, to her, was beginning to feel uncomfortable again, she spoke hesitantly. "I… guess I've just had some bad experiences with men, Clark. And I… judged you by them."

"What happened?" His question was softly-voiced.

She shrugged uncomfortably. "I… think I just have a habit of getting entangled with the wrong guys — guys who don't want me for myself, but for what they can get out of me. My father always used to tell me I had lousy judgement in men — he never thought much of any of the guys I dated when I was at school." She fell silent for a moment, remembering her father's scathing comments on 'losers', 'jocks with no ambition' and guys who only wanted to date her because her father was a well-paid doctor and the Lane girls were never short of the usual teenage 'must-have' consumer goods.

"I remember that story Perry put you on a while back," Clark replied after a moment, his voice sounding thoughtful. "From what I could figure out, you were mad at him because it meant you had to interview your father for it — I thought you just didn't want to have to use family contacts for a story, but then something someone said made me wonder if it was more than that."

Lois nodded. "My father and I have… a difficult relationship. I guess I finally got tired of always trying to be what he wanted, and never succeeding."

"He set high standards? Lois, I can't believe — I mean, I've never met anyone who's more of a perfectionist than you when it comes to work!"

"It wasn't like that. It's just… well, I never seemed to be good enough for him," Lois muttered miserably. "It wasn't bad enough that I wasn't a boy like he wanted, but I had no interest in going into medicine like him. So I probably disappointed him too."

"I don't understand that," Clark answered immediately. "You're smart, successful, pretty — what more could he have wanted in a daughter?!"

"Someone who always got 100% on a test, and not 98%," she told him dryly. " 'That leaves two points for improvement, Lois'!" she quoted at him. Before he could answer — she didn't want platitudes aimed at reassuring her that of course her father loved her — she rushed into speech again. "Anyway, that's not answering your question, Clark. He always said I have bad judgement in guys, and that seems to be true."

She paused for a moment, wincing at the memory of her first serious boyfriend. He'd been a college contemporary, and she'd been absolutely crazy about him, thinking he felt the same way. "The first was Chris," she said tonelessly. "I was crazy about him for a whole semester before he even noticed I existed. We had some classes together, and I used to offer to study with him, give him my notes when he missed a class, help him with his assignments… and then finally he asked me out. I thought I was in love — I'd have done anything he wanted. The night before mid-terms, we were revising round at his place, and he asked me to go to bed with him. I… well, he said he loved me, and I wanted him — I wanted to know what my friends all thought was so wonderful."

Lois swallowed hard. "It hurt. And after, he just rolled over and went to sleep. And in the morning, he threw me out. He… he told me I was useless, frigid, that he'd only slept with me because I was begging for it, and that he didn't want me hanging around him any more." She inhaled deeply, a long, shuddering breath. "And I was so shattered that I couldn't think straight in the exams, and I almost failed. While he -" She stopped briefly, bile rising in her throat at the memory. "He sailed through. Thanks to all my help, of course," she finished bitterly. "He was too lazy to do a proper study plan himself, and I'd put together all his notes for him."

She thought she could hear Clark mutter something uncomplimentary under his breath; then a moment later he said, in a more normal voice, "That's rough, Lois. But not all guys are like him."

"I know," she acknowledged. Well, at least, she did now — she was sharing this old jeep with the one decent guy she'd ever met. "And I tried to put him from my mind, and in my final year I met a guy I wanted to try again with. Paul… He was the editor of the college paper, and I was a reporter. I worked my *butt* off, Clark! I kept bringing in great stories, but he never seemed to notice me. Until I got a real scoop — I slaved over it, confident that he'd finally see that I was a great reporter and the woman he wanted to be with. But…" She hesitated suddenly, remembering that Linda King worked with Clark and was possibly more than just a co-worker. There was no way that she could allow herself to wreck his second chance at a relationship — if he loved Linda King, she wasn't going to disillusion him about her. Anyway, for all Lois knew, Linda could have regretted that long-ago incident.

"But?" Clark prompted.

"But my room-mate was also interested in him, though I never knew. She was a journalism student too — she stole my story and took it to him, and she went to bed with him. He took her to the graduation ball," she finished sourly.

"That was unlucky," Clark agreed, "though it sounds like it was more your room-mate's fault than this Paul's. Maybe he didn't know how you felt about him?"

She shrugged. "I think he did, but he didn't care. Well, maybe guys just aren't interested in me in that way."

Clark was silent in response to that, and Lois wondered whether she'd sounded self-pitying. That certainly hadn't been her intention, but it was proving even more difficult than she'd imagined to explain to him exactly what had given her such a cynical view of men. She wasn't finished yet, though; she still had to tell him about the worst betrayal — but then she remembered another intense conversation, on an earlier occasion when the two of them had been prisoners, waiting to die.

"I told you about the worst one," she said abruptly. "Claude. The reporter at the Planet. I thought I was in love with him too, but it wasn't really love, of course. He was… very charming, very persuasive. And good-looking, and he seemed to like me a lot too… I thought he was serious about me — about us."

"This is the guy who seduced you, and then stole your story, wrote it under his by-line and got an award for it?" Clark asked, his voice again soft.

"Yeah, that's him. Though why I should have imagined that he could really want *me* -" she began bitterly, before stopping herself. "Yes, Claude stole my story, and then walked out on me and told everyone at the Planet that I was a pathetic slut who couldn't satisfy any man in bed," she finished, hating herself for still letting the memory of his betrayal hurt her even now.

"Thus confirming your view that all men are only out for one thing, and devious to boot," Clark added, a harsh note to his voice.

Put like that, Lois could certainly see why he was angry. She'd judged him on the basis of her past experience with men, without waiting to find out whether he was different. She'd asked no questions, just leapt to a conclusion and made him suffer for it.

"I know now you're not like that," she told him, her voice miserable. "I made a big mistake where you're concerned."

He was silent for a long time, and she finally ventured a glance over at him. A tiny muscle was jerking in his jaw, but to all intents and purposes he was concentrating on the narrow, winding road ahead. Then he seemed to sense her gaze on him, and he braked carefully, bringing the jeep to a halt.

Turning in his seat, he watched her for a moment, his expression — much to her surprise — actually sympathetic. "Lois, I feel bad that you've been betrayed by just about every man you've ever allowed yourself to care for. But I feel far worse about what it's done to you as a person."

"What do you mean?" she whispered, unable to tear her gaze away from him.

He breathed deeply, looking uncomfortable for a moment. "Lois, have you ever thought that the way you behaved to me is kind of like the way you expect men to treat you?"

That stung; she was about to fly into angry speech, denying every word of what he'd said, until she made herself stop and think about it for a moment. Just how had she treated Clark? They'd gone to bed together… and *she* had led him every step of the way. And then she'd walked out on him the morning after, having no doubt made him feel very small indeed as a result of what she'd said to him. She knew how she had felt once she'd realised what Claude had done to her, how he'd betrayed her; for the first time, she recognised that she had probably made Clark feel exactly like that.

"Am I really that bad?" she asked, in a small voice, knowing she sounded pathetic but unable to help it. She already knew the answer. "Of course I am. I seduced you. Then I rejected you. And, okay, I didn't steal your story, but I made you quit the Planet. I destroyed your career. And all because I got scared the morning after…" She swallowed again, this time unable to hold back the tears.

Clark didn't speak immediately; instead, he offered her his handkerchief for the second time that night and waited until she'd blotted her tears. "We both made mistakes that night, Lois. What happened — us ending up in bed together — wasn't only your fault, and it wasn't only mine. I shouldn't have opened that second bottle of wine. I shouldn't have taken you up on your challenge. And I shouldn't have made love to you without protection."

"We're both adults, Clark," Lois pointed out. "I didn't have to drink so much. I didn't have to issue that challenge — or insist that you follow through on it. And I certainly should have stopped you and asked about protection. But that's not the real issue here, is it?"

He shook his head. "Anyone can change their mind the morning after, Lois. And I honestly wouldn't have minded — well, I guess I'd have been hurt, but I could have dealt with it — if you'd just said you thought we'd made a mistake. But you didn't."

"I didn't," she agreed. "Instead, I made you feel lower than a cockroach, in the scale of evolution, didn't I?"

"Well, yeah," he agreed. "But, Lois, I'm not trying to make you feel bad about that here. I already know you feel bad about it. I guess I… well, I want you to stop and think, before you do something like that to some other guy, and realise just what you're letting yourself become." His voice was gentle, holding a note of caring which Lois recognised with shock. This was yet more evidence that Clark Kent was nothing like any other man she'd ever known. He was forcing her to face some hard truths, but he was doing it because he thought she needed to understand her own behaviour, not because he wanted to punish her. His attitude told her that he wasn't holding what she'd done against her; in so far as anyone could forgive what she'd done to him, he had forgiven her.

She had demonised Clark in her mind for so long that, over the past couple of hours, it had felt as if scales had fallen from her eyes. The picture she had built up of a conscienceless, selfish seducer was just that — a picture. A false image. Clark Kent the man was nothing like that, but she'd allowed her own stupid prejudices to prevent herself seeing the truth about him.

"I already figured out, a few weeks ago, that I'm… well, I've been selfish and thoughtless for far too long," she told him miserably. "But I'm trying to do something about that now…"

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that you really need to accept responsibility for your own actions, Lois," he told her, his body language suggesting that he was choosing his words carefully. "Yeah, we both made mistakes. But…"

"But I tried to pretend I'd done nothing wrong," she acknowledged. "And I almost destroyed your career as a result." She halted suddenly as a horrible realisation dawned on her. "My god, Clark! I've become as bad as Claude! I treated you the way he treated me — the way the other guys who hurt me treated me. I've become just like them, and I never even saw it." She covered her face with her hands, unable to meet his questioning gaze any longer. "I'm just a totally horrible person!"

Suddenly his hands were on her wrists, gently pulling her hands away from her face and forcing her to look at him again. "You're not, Lois. You've got so much going for you! You're a brilliant journalist, you've won awards, you're really intelligent. You're also beautiful, though sometimes I wonder if you know it. You're staunchly loyal to your friends — I happen to know that Superman's very grateful to you for everything you did for him a few weeks ago. And you're the most resourceful person I've ever met. If it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't have got out of that situation alive. And you looked after me when I was sick. You are a really great person, Lois Lane — I just don't know why you can't see it!"

She stared at him in disbelief. "I don't know how you can say that, Clark — after everything I did to you!"

He gave her a wry smile. "No-one's all bad, Lois. And although some of what happened still hurt, I'd kind of recovered from the worst of it a while ago. And…" He paused, and his grasp tightened on her hands. "You apologised, Lois. I was brutal to you when I first woke up and saw you — you could have refused to say anything to me after that. But you apologised, and you told me you knew I hadn't done what you'd accused me of. That made a huge difference. And, you know, I really admire you for doing that."

"You do?" The words emerged almost breathlessly, but she didn't care.

"That took courage, Lois. And lots of people wouldn't even have tried."

"I left it long enough," she countered, refusing to accept the credit.

"That meant it took even more courage." He squeezed her hands, gazing intently at her; the look in his eyes, which she could just see in the dim interior lit by the vehicle's instruments, was kind. "Lois, I don't want to tell you to forget about it, because I don't want you ever to forget and fall into a pattern of being a female version of every guy who's ever betrayed you."

She understood what he was saying. He was making it clear that he no longer held what she'd done against her, but he wanted her to learn from the experience. That wasn't difficult, she thought with dark humour; she didn't think any experience had ever affected her quite so much as sleeping with Clark Kent and its aftermath.

"Trust me, that won't happen." Her voice sounded rusty; the effort of holding back the tears and forcing the lump back down her throat was making it difficult to speak. "And… thank you, Clark."

To her surprise, he smiled; it was the wide, friendly, caring smile she'd seen him use on several occasions while he'd worked at the Planet, and even once or twice that evening at his apartment. It warmed her, making her begin to think that perhaps he meant what he'd said; that there was some good in her even in spite of what she'd done to him.

"Come on, let's go home," he told her, taking the handbrake off and recommencing the long drive back to the city.


Clark was glad of the silence which descended in the jeep after that long and emotionally-draining conversation. He'd had no idea that Lois was so insecure on a personal level; the Lois he'd known and worked with at the Planet had always seemed to be highly confident and self-assured. The discovery that she believed herself to be inadequate in any way — and in particular, in relation to her own desirability — had amazed him. In addition to the other things he'd said to her, he'd wanted to tell her that she *was* desirable, and that she was pretty darned fantastic in bed — but he'd reminded himself just in time that, since she wasn't attracted to him, she wouldn't be interested in knowing that he found her desirable. And he had to admit that an assertion that she was a great lover would be less than worthless coming from almost-a-virgin Clark Kent. He didn't have anyone to compare her with — not that he wanted to have — so that wasn't going to reassure her at all.

He hadn't missed her description of their night together as 'good'; he couldn't help wondering, though, whether she'd just said that to make him feel better about his inexpert performance. Perhaps she'd realised just how much that had bothered him… no, what was he thinking? Of course she'd realised! It was nice of her to say so, even if she hadn't meant it, he decided.

It was an enormous weight off his mind, however, to know that he actually hadn't done anything wrong apart from those things he already blamed himself for. She didn't think that he'd deliberately plied her with wine in order to seduce her. Her earlier comment, about alcohol or drinking or something along those lines being her 'fatal flaw', came back to him then, and he wondered what she'd meant by it. Had she had too much to drink before any of the previous encounters she'd mentioned? But he didn't want to ask her about it now. She'd had enough soul-searching for the moment, and he didn't want to cause her any more distress.

Clark couldn't help but feel guilty about having distressed her so much already, although he told himself that he had needed her to tell him the truth about what had happened and why. For all sorts of reasons, he'd needed to know. And once she had told him, it had been apparent to him that she was in danger of getting into what was frequently considered the typical abusers' cycle: those who abuse others, in whatever way, are frequently themselves victims of abuse. There was no denying that Lois had been extremely unlucky in the men she'd known and had relationships with; they had treated her appallingly, and what she'd told him had made him very angry indeed. Ironically, the worst of his anger was reserved, not for Claude or for that first lover who had told Lois she was frigid and useless in bed, but for her father, whose careless scorn had, he guessed, caused her to undervalue herself. And he'd convinced her that her own judgement in men was terrible, thus, he suspected, leading her to rely on past experience as a guide, rather than her own instinct about the man she was with at any time.

Without that lesson from her father, Lois might have been more inclined to realise that *he* wasn't another Claude.

He knew he'd spoken harshly to her in suggesting that she re-evaluate her behaviour and be ready to accept blame for her actions. He certainly hadn't enjoyed doing it. But he'd had enough lectures on considerate behaviour from his own parents to be able to recognise just what Lois's refusal to acknowledge her own responsibility was in danger of doing to her. And he felt that she'd understood his point without thinking that he was lecturing or being patronising; at least, he hoped so.

He'd meant what he'd said to her about her apology and explanation. Much though he'd wanted to know why she'd behaved as she had, and much as the apology was important to him, he hadn't actually expected her heartfelt confession just now. He'd have been more than happy with her — clearly sincere — apology earlier. But he now understood Lois a lot better, and he admired her for her courage in talking to him. After all, since she barely knew him, she could have anticipated that he'd be angry with her, or just plain unpleasant; she'd ignored that possibility and opened her heart to him.

Even if they did part company once they were back in the city, he knew that from now on he would consider Lois Lane his friend. Even without that strange connection which seemed to draw him to her, he *liked* her. But now, he suspected that she was very unsure of herself where he was concerned, and he needed to do something to reassure her that he really had forgiven her for what she'd done. Apart from anything else, as he'd tried to tell her, part of the blame for their precipitate bout of passion was undoubtedly his.

Finally, they were out of the mountains and heading for a state highway; visibility was better here, and the road was of a better quality, which meant that he wasn't having to concentrate so much. Glancing quickly at Lois, he saw that she was staring down at her hands, which were clenched around the hem of her jacket. "Hey," he said in a deliberately upbeat tone. "How are you doing? I guess you're tired, huh?"

She gave him a surprised but grateful smile. "Yeah, I am — but you must be too! That was a horrible drive." She hesitated for a moment, then offered, "You want me to take over for the rest of the journey?"

He shook his head. "I think I've got my second wind or something. I feel okay, anyway." He did; although he had no powers now, he'd recovered very quickly from his injuries and although he was pretty sure that he'd sleep well once he finally reached his bed, he didn't feel anything like as weary as he had earlier, when they'd still been imprisoned in Trask's headquarters.

"Um… that's good," Lois answered, sounding a little abstracted. Then, to his surprise, she asked, "What's it like, working at the Star?"

He shrugged, reluctant to tell her his true feelings about his current employer, or about Mike Lloyd's editorship. She seemed to feel guilty enough about causing the rift which had ultimately led to his quitting the Planet without his adding to her pain by telling her that he really didn't like working at the Star. "It's okay. It's not the Planet, sure, but it's still a good paper."

"Okay?" she repeated.

He grimaced. "Well, at first it was a bit of a culture-shock, but things have been better lately."

"I saw that article about Superman your editor butchered," Lois said abruptly. "Superman told me what had happened to it. You must have been furious!"

"I was," he admitted. "And mainly because I was afraid that people who knew me would think that was really my own opinion. I had a huge fight with him about it — I think it might have helped, actually, because he realised I wasn't going to let him do something like that again. I'd have quit if he had, no doubt at all."

"Well, he wouldn't want to lose someone like you," Lois surprised him by remarking.

"You think?" He let his amazement show.

"Of course! Clark, you're far and away the best writer the Star has. And you get far more Superman exclusives than anyone else in the city apart from me — he needs you for that alone. But apart from that, you've had some pretty terrific stories in the last couple of months. That human-interest piece from outside the courtroom the day Superman was ordered to leave town was incredible. And your story on Congressman Harrington made us all jealous at the Planet."

Clark could barely believe what he was hearing; all the time he'd been at the Planet, Lois had alternated between contempt and grudging acceptance as far as his reporting and writing was concerned. Now, she was praising him in terms which, as far as he knew, he'd never heard her use about anyone else before. "That's kind of you, Lois, but you don't need to make me feel good about my work — "

"Out of guilt, you mean, Clark?" she interrupted him, an edge to her voice. "I'm not. I was paying you a compliment because I *meant* it. You're a great reporter, and it shows. It's just a pity that you're working for the wrong newspaper. And before you say it, I know that's all my fault too."

"That's not your fault, Lois," Clark insisted immediately. "I handed in my notice all by myself — just like I was rude to you all by myself in that newsroom conference. I shouldn't have said what I did. That's not how I normally behave, and that was why I resigned. I was unprofessional."

"So was I, Clark," she told him quietly. "But you were the one who quit."

"Because you'd been there longer," he pointed out. "Anyway, that's not important now. It's not as if I was unemployed or anything — I went straight from the Planet to the Star, so you don't have to think you 'destroyed my career'. You didn't, trust me." He knew that he was dissimulating here; after all, the Star certainly was not the Planet, and he'd wished many times over the past couple of months that he was back at the Planet. However, he'd wished that a little less often lately, now that he was allowed a little more independence through being partnered with Linda, and in any case he figured that he'd given Lois enough cause to tear herself apart with guilt for one day.

She glanced at him briefly, then said, "I saw you with Linda King recently."

Raising an eyebrow in curious surprise, he said lightly, "She's my partner — you hadn't heard? We were teamed up about three weeks ago."

"Oh?" It was clear she hadn't known. "You like working with her?"

"Linda's a good reporter," Clark answered easily. "And it's great to be working with someone on meaty investigations again. She's fun to work with, and she's pretty intelligent too. Yeah, I like working with her." A thought struck him then, and he asked, "You know her? Apart from just seeing her around the Metropolis beat, I mean?"

"Yeah — we were at college together," Lois told him, to his surprise.

"And did you get along? Funny, I've never heard her mention you, and she knows I was at the Planet before moving to the Star."

Lois shrugged. "Well, it's ancient history now, but… well, not really."

Clark was about to ask her for an explanation, when something occurred to him. Lois had mentioned a friend — a room-mate — who was also a journalism student and who had stolen her story. He wondered whether that could have been Linda. It was possible, he realised. Although if that was the case, why didn't Lois tell him?

Then he answered his own question: he'd just told her that Linda was his partner and that he liked working with her. He could imagine, especially as she was already suffering from an overload of guilt, that Lois had simply decided not to shatter his illusions about his new colleague.

"That day I saw you… I wondered if you were dating," Lois ventured awkwardly then.

He stared at her, before remembering to return his attention to the road ahead. "Dating? No! We're just partners, Lois." He hesitated then, unsure whether to tell her about Linda's hints; it seemed to him to be a very egotistical thing to do, as well as possibly being unfair to Linda. Deciding against it, he simply added, "We work together, Lois. We get along pretty well. And she's a good reporter, like I said."

"Better than — ?' Lois began, breaking off abruptly. He shot her a quick glance and noticed that she was blushing.

"You need to ask?" he enquired, incredulous. "You're the best, and everyone knows it."

"I wasn't good to work with, though," she told him with a rueful grimace, sounding unhappy again.

He gave her a quick, teasing smile. "I wouldn't necessarily say that, Lois — working with you definitely had its moments."

"Oh yeah, like the time I called you a hack from Nowheresville, sure!" she reminded him dryly.

"And the time we cracked the Messenger sabotage," he pointed out. "That was great team-work."

"Yeah, it was, wasn't it?" She sounded pleased that he'd remembered it. "You know, you were the only person I've ever been able to stand working with. Perry never bothered to team me up with anyone else after you left."

Now, that surprised him — not that she hadn't worked with anyone else since; he was aware of that from reading her work. But her admission that she'd found him a worthy partner was certainly a major shock to his system. And it yet again made him wish that, somehow, he could turn the clock back three months, so that he could ensure that *that* fateful night had never happened.

But it had happened, and it was too late for regrets or for turning back the clock. They had made their bed — quite literally, as it happened — and they would have to lie on it. Just not together, he reflected sadly, realising, as he mentally finished that old saying, that he was every bit as attracted to Lois Lane as ever.


It was an hour before dawn when they reached the edge of the city. As they approached a major junction, Clark turned to Lois and said, "Okay, where to?"

"Huh?" They'd travelled in silence for about the last fifteen minutes, although unlike earlier it had not been an uncomfortable silence in any respect. Lois had almost, but not quite, dropped off to sleep, and Clark's question took her by surprise.

"Well, we said we needed to talk about what we're going to write. I wondered where you wanted to go to do that." He hesitated for a moment, then added, "The Planet and the Star are both out of thequestion. Want me to see if I can find an open drive-in or something?"

Recalled to reality, Lois exclaimed, "We need to get you to a hospital first, Clark!"

He seemed surprised at that. "I'm fine, Lois. I don't need a hospital."

"Clark, you have a cut on your face which I'm *sure* needs stitches, and you had a lot of pain in your ribs. You need an X-ray to be sure that you don't have any broken bones. And you were unconscious and in a fever for *hours*!" He was clearly still in some sort of state of denial so far as his health was concerned, Lois decided; he'd had to put it out of his mind while they were trying to escape, and obviously his over-active male sense of responsibility had led him to insist on driving back to the city, but now they *were* back and there was no need for him to ignore his condition any more.

"Honestly, I'm fine. I think I must just have been bruised. And as for the cut, I'm not sure what you did to it, but it seems to be doing just fine. Look!" Stopping at the approaching red traffic lights, he turned so that she could see the left side of his face. The bleeding had stopped some time earlier, and a scab was forming. It looked like any normal minor cut, Lois realised in surprise; that was certainly not how it had looked a few hours earlier, but obviously Clark was one of those people who just seemed to heal well and quickly, for some unaccountable reason.

"Lois, I promise you that if I still have pain in my ribs tomorrow I will go and get it checked out," he assured her. "Right now, it's nothing like as bad as it was, which makes me sure that it's only bruising. I'll put something on it when I get home."

The same embrocation he'd given her after the mugging, Lois realised, again getting a mental flash-back to that night in his apartment. Needing, for the sake of her sanity, to change the subject, she remembered Clark's original question. "You're right — we need to discuss the story. There's no need to find a drive-in, though — why not just go to my place?"

He gave her a surprised look. "If you're sure, Lois. I just didn't want to assume that that would be okay with you."

Clark's hesitance surprised Lois; it looked to her as if he was anxious in case she didn't want to be alone in her apartment with him — as if *she* didn't trust *him*, whereas, as she saw it, he had every right to feel he couldn't trust her. "My place it is, then," she announced firmly, wanting to make it clear that she had no reservations about having him invade her personal space. She wanted Clark to know that she trusted him implicitly.

<Too bad you couldn't have trusted him — and shown him that you trusted him — long ago, Lois> her conscience pointed out sharply, to her discomfort.

"Okay, if you're sure," Clark replied easily, and clearly supremely unaware of Lois's feelings of embarrassment as she was reminded, once again, of just how badly she'd treated him.

"I'm sure. What do you want to do about the spaceship?"

Clark shrugged. "It belongs to Superman. I'll give it back to him the next time I see him."

Lois shifted in her seat, turning to look at the small craft again. "I wonder what it is? It's too small to be a real space-ship — I mean, I know Superman has to have come to Earth from Krypton somehow, but there's no way he could have got inside that!" From what she'd seen of the interior at Trask's headquarters, the craft was far too small to hold an adult, or even a child. At best, it could take an infant, but even then the child would have to be under a year old, she surmised, based on her limited knowledge of babies and young children.

"Well, I guess that's Superman's business," Clark answered. Something about the way he said it made Lois turn to look at him sharply. He'd sounded evasive, as if he knew something and didn't want to tell her, didn't want her to ask any more questions.

"Clark? What do you know about how Superman came to Earth?" she asked him, a little sharply.

She saw his jaw tighten. "Lois, are you asking me to betray a confidence?"

So Superman had confided in Clark… but then, she'd guessed some time ago that the two were good friends. Clark clearly knew a lot more about Superman than he'd ever printed. And yet, if he wrote everything he knew, he'd be in line for any number of awards! He could even write a best-selling book about Superman — the inside story on Metropolis's incredible Super-hero.

And he would be betraying a friend.

Silenced for a moment by that realisation, Lois looked back at the small craft. It certainly would not hold an adult. It would, however, hold a baby.

Superman had come to Earth as a baby.

And Clark knew.

And Jason Trask had probably also known, if he had the craft — the guy might have been insane, but he hadn't lacked intelligence.

Lois turned back to Clark, still reeling from her discovery. "He's been here all this time, hasn't he? Since he was a baby?"

She saw Clark bite his lip and tighten his grip on the steering-wheel; his knuckles whitened.

"Clark!" she exclaimed immediately. "Look, I understand why you didn't tell anyone. He's… I hope he's a friend of mine too. And I told you how I feel about him. If he doesn't want this information known, then no-one will find out about it from me, I swear to you."

She heard the sudden rush of breath as he exhaled. Then he said, his voice a little jerky, "Thanks, Lois. My… Superman's life would be hell if people knew he'd been here that long. Think about it — where was he all this time, who brought him up… the papers would be digging and digging."

Lois knew exactly how some of her colleagues, especially in the less reputable press, would respond to that information. But then, as she remembered what had happened to her and Clark, another thought occurred to her. "Whoever brought him up — if it ever came out, they'd never be safe! Every criminal in the world would want to get at them as a means of controlling Superman!" she exclaimed, horrified.

"Exactly." Clark spoke abruptly, which told Lois a lot about how concerned he was.

"Tell him his secret's safe with me," Lois said firmly.

Clark smiled at her then. "I will. But I daresay you'll get a chance to tell him yourself."

Lois felt a tiny twinge of regret at the thought that Clark would simply hand over the spaceship to Superman and that would be it; all her evidence gone for ever. She was very sure that Superman would make certain that it never again fell into the wrong hands. But it was absolutely the right thing to do. There *were* some things far more important than a story.

All the same, that didn't stop her wondering… Just where had he been all these years? How come no-one had noticed — seen how different he was, what he could do? Had he just not used his powers? But that didn't make sense: she'd seen how much Superman cared. He couldn't stand by and let someone suffer. So had he helped in secret before going public? And what had made him decide to go public?

There was one thing — she now knew she'd been right. After she'd interviewed Superman, she'd wondered about his reticence on the subject of when he'd come to Earth, and had speculated that he might have been on this planet longer than anyone was aware. And she'd been right. Too bad no-one would ever know she'd been right — but what Clark had said was true. They had to protect Superman's secret. Regardless of that, she now had several more questions she intended to ask the Man of Steel the next time she encountered him. Nothing for publication; she just thought he might be persuaded to tell her a few things. Such as, what was his real name?

And what had made him decide to go public, rather than continue to help in secret? What had he done before then? — had he mingled with everyone else as if he was just an ordinary human? Without the bright blue suit and red cape, she thought suddenly, he would look just like thousands of other guys. Anyone could pass him on the street and not recognise him — *she* could have passed him on the street and not recognised him!

No way! she told herself in response. She would recognise Superman anywhere! That face… those eyes… that great body…

But maybe she might not have. She'd lived in Metropolis all her life, and he'd only appeared four months ago; now, though, she knew he'd been on Earth since he was a baby. She'd no idea how old Superman was, or even if Kryptonian age was anything like the Earth ageing process, but he looked around twenty-eight or thirty. She could have seen him any number of times and never realised.

But suddenly, as she was castigating herself for only noticing the flashy Suit,she was reminded about something else. "Clark, what about that green rock?" she asked anxiously. "If that can hurt Superman, how can you risk giving it to him?"

"I have to. He needs to know about it, and to dispose of it safely," Clark insisted. "I'm not sure why, but I think it's safe as long as that box it's in is closed."

"Lead shield," Lois murmured automatically.


"Lead shields radiation," she explained. "Clark, I forgot to tell you! Those papers I made you take — they're Trask's speculations about that green rock. I read them quickly — he claimed it's definitely Kryptonian in origin. He had it tested, and it gives off some sort of radiation which seems to be harmless to humans."

"Yeah, he mentioned that."

"And the document speculates that it's a meteorite of some kind."

"Well, that would explain how it got here," Clark replied thoughtfully. "Wonder how Trask got hold of it?"

Lois shrugged. "How did he get hold of Superman's spaceship? And when? And where? That I *would* like to know… maybe we need to do some more digging," she added thoughtfully, then realised that again she'd fallen into the trap of referring to them as a couple. No, a *team*, she corrected herself quickly. Maybe he hadn't noticed, she hoped. Though she had no idea why she should have made such a slip anyway. It wasn't as if she'd worked with Clark for long enough to have got used to him as a partner, and she hadn't worked with anyone since. She worked *alone*!

"At least we have the ship and that rock now," she added quickly, hoping that Clark would be distracted by this thought.

"Yeah, and let's hope no-one else knows that this Kryptonian meteorite exists," Clark added grimly. "Trask speculated that it could kill Superman."

"That's a bit of a mouthful," Lois quipped. "Kryptonian meteorite… wonder what it's really called?"

Shrugging, Clark replied, "Who knows? I guess we can call it what we like. Krypto… Kryptonite, maybe."

"Sounds kind of right," Lois commented. "Unless Superman knows any better, of course?"

"Maybe he won't even have come across it before," Clark suggested. "But, hey — all this stuff about a name. You're not thinking of writing about it, are you?"

For a brief moment, Lois allowed herself to think of the headlines. 'Exclusive: Something CAN Kill Superman!' Then she mentally shook her head. She could never write about this; it was far too dangerous to Superman. Apart from the fact that he was her friend, he was a good man — the best thing ever to happen to Metropolis — and there was no way that she could betray him like that. "Of course not, Clark. This is just between you and me and Superman."


Clark followed Lois's directions to Carter Avenue, mulling over in his mind the implications of their conversation and Lois's very accurate guess about Superman. It showed him that he'd been right about one thing, and that was his reluctance, right at the beginning, to give Lois the first serious Superman interview. He'd guessed then that she was intuitive and enquiring enough to ask the kind of questions he wouldn't want to answer — and that had certainly proven to be true when he finally had given her an interview. But she'd clearly had her own suspicions about him. That had been obvious, based on her questioning about when he'd come to Earth. And now, she knew precisely how long Superman had been here.

Oh, the spaceship had been a pretty major clue, he conceded. But he suspected that most other people — other reporters, even — would never have put two and two together the way Lois had.

So now she would have a whole new set of questions — and one of them, on the basis of what she'd said to him about Superman's need to keep this information private, would be just where Superman had grown up and with whom. Would she now be doing her best to find that out too? Her questions about the spaceship certainly reminded him, as if he needed reminding, just how good a reporter she was. She asked the questions it never occurred to anyone else to ask. And, even without the threat that she might publish, he still didn't think he wanted her paying such close attention to Superman's origins.

He quickly told himself that he was being unfair to her. She'd given him her word that nothing of this very delicate information would get out to anyone else. She would keep Superman's secret. Some people, a little voice somewhere inside Clark told him cynically, would say that he had little reason to trust Lois based on the way she'd behaved towards him. But he immediately squashed it. Whatever she'd done to him, he had never doubted Lois's integrity when it came to her work. And she'd apologised very sincerely to him now, and he believed she meant it. He guessed that, for the most part, she was an honest person. And he was well aware that she had a good sense of loyalty; she'd already shown that she was a very good friend to Superman.

A good friend to Superman…

He mused on that for a moment. No, she was more than that, from what she'd told him. She said she was in love with Superman. She'd told him twice — once while they were held captive, and once again in the car just now. She was *in love with* his alter ego.

He'd been tempted to dismiss her claim earlier; to consider that, if anything, it was a silly infatuation. She'd certainly behaved at times as if she was infatuated. And yet he couldn't convince himself that it was no more than that. She'd sounded very sincere about her feelings — and very realistic, too. And she certainly saw Superman as very real, and her understanding of him did seem to go beyond his own idea of the character as a mere caricature in a fancy suit. That article she'd written about Superman, for instance; that had made it very clear that Lois Lane had somehow managed to see beyond the primary colours and the showy powers. She'd somehow managed to glimpse the fears and the need and the yearning of the man who wore the Suit.

But, of course, she thought that the man who wore the Suit *was* Superman. Instead, he was Clark Kent.

Lois was in love with his creation. And he was still, heaven help him, in love with Lois Lane.

Clark was tempted to resolve never to let himself get too close to Lois again as Superman; he didn't want to encourage her in her feelings for his alter ego. But he quickly decided against that — not only would it be very difficult to maintain over a long period, but it would also make Lois wonder what was going on. He found he really didn't want to embarrass her by making her think that either Superman had guessed at her feelings for him, or — even worse — that his best friend Clark Kent had told him.

Lois deserved better than that. And now that she was keeping some very important secrets for Superman, he couldn't bring himself to treat her so shabbily.

"You can park here." Lois's voice interrupted his thoughts, and he quickly dragged his attention back to her, pulling the jeep into the kerb.

"What do we do about this thing?" he asked her. "I can't leave the engine running — your neighbours will get upset."

"I'll deal with it," she told him, and once he'd got out she was as good as her word. In seconds, the jeep was standing silent.

Clark swiftly reclaimed the space-craft from the rear seat; he had no intention of letting that out of his sight. He followed Lois into her apartment building, remembering the last — and only — occasion on which he'd been inside her apartment. Not that she knew he'd been there before, he reminded himself; he would have to ensure that he showed no familiarity with the inside of her home.

On his way over there for his previous visit, he'd speculated a little about what her apartment would look like. He'd imagined Lois as a very tidy person, whose apartment could almost be a showcase for some magazine or other. She would have a television, of course — any good journalist would have to — and a study, or at the very least a work-area, where she kept her lap-top and other paraphernalia ready to hand. He knew she didn't cook, so he'd visualised a minimalist kitchen. Having suspected that she'd found his apartment cluttered and his furniture old and battered, he had imagined that her living-room would be pristine, with furniture more suited to looking at than sitting on.

He had been extremely surprised at just how accurate his guesses had been. Her apartment was very tidy, with everything in its place; it certainly didn't look much like a home. He'd had to restrain himself from X-raying into her bedroom to see whether it was as pristine as the rest of the place, or whether she actually allowed herself to spread belongings around a little in that more private space.

Lois unlocked her door, exclaiming that it was just as well she'd thrust her keys in her coat pocket when she'd come home the previous night, rather than dropping them into her purse as she normally did. The purse, Clark saw, lay on the floor of her apartment, its contents strewn over the floor.

He laid his spaceship on the floor close to the door as Lois bustled around picking up her purse and then headed into the kitchen. "Coffee?" she called out to him a moment later, her voice sounding a little tense.

Clark frowned and crossed the room towards her. "You sound tired, Lois. How about I make it?"

But she shook her head firmly. "It's okay. You… um, take your coat off and sit down." Then she hesitated. "Actually, umm… do you want to use the bathroom first? I'm still not happy about that cut on your face — you really should clean it up. There's some antiseptic in the bathroom cabinet…"

He supposed it couldn't hurt; Lois would be suspicious if he did nothing, even though he had a strong suspicion that the cut was healing rather quicker than it would for a human. But he knew his powers had gone, and with them his invulnerability; from now on he would have to use human remedies in this kind of situation. Heck, he'd even have to make sure the first-aid kit in his apartment was properly stocked in future!

She directed him to the bathroom and, taking his coat off first, he obediently headed off in that direction. Once inside, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and did a double-take in shock. The last time he'd seen himself with a split lip had been when he was about eleven. As for the cut, while a scab was clearly forming there was dry blood and some dirt around the edges; he'd have to wash it thoroughly, letting it bleed again, and apply some antiseptic. And there was shading around one eye — Lois hadn't been joking when she'd told him he'd have a black eye in the morning.

Several minutes later, having washed quickly and applied ointment and a Band-Aid to the cut, Clark re-emerged and took a seat at the dining table to wait for Lois. He began to formulate his suggestions for what they should write concerning their kidnap and incarceration; he was anxious to avoid any information appearing in print which might suggest that there was any kind of substance harmful to Superman. But he needn't have worried. Lois came to join him shortly afterwards, bearing coffee and double-chocolate-chip cookies, and her first words to him were, "Okay, I guess first we work out what we need to leave out, yeah?"

"Leave out?" He gave her a wary look. True, in the jeep she'd made it clear that she'd keep the new secrets she'd discovered about Superman. She'd assured him that her silence extended to include the rock they'd named Kryptonite. But he couldn't help being cautious all the same.

Lois frowned at him. "I think that knock on the head or whatever it was you had must have scrambled your brain or something, Clark! I mean about Superman — his spaceship, the Kryptonite. And why Trask kidnapped us in the first place."

"Oh, that," Clark murmured, relieved, and surprised. She was suggesting that they remain silent on why they were kidnapped? "You don't think we should say why?"

"Well, not that I'd want to suppress real news, but what if some other criminal gets the idea that he could get to Superman by kidnapping people he's rumoured to be close to in some way?"

"But Superman didn't rescue us," Clark pointed out. "We escaped by ourselves."

"Sure. But that's not important. There could have been a good reason why Superman didn't come," Lois argued, gesticulating animatedly with her hands. "He could have been helping with some emergency somewhere on the other side of the world. And anyway, we never called for him, so maybe he had no idea that we were in trouble."

"That's true," Clark agreed thoughtfully. "But no-one else need know that. We *could* say that we were kidnapped as bait for Superman, but that he never showed up. Which suggests that it's not a good idea to try to blackmail Superman." He wasn't entirely sure about that as an approach himself; he thought it could have merits, though there were also clear dangers. But he wanted Lois's opinion on the matter.

But she was shaking her head. "I don't think it'd work that way. All they'd say is that Trask didn't try hard enough — he left it up to us to call for help, rather than finding some more obvious way to get the message across. And they'd all come up with ways to do it differently. Superman could find himself being faced with dozens of crude blackmail attempts with people's lives at stake."

Clark nodded; that had been his gut instinct, but he'd wanted to hear Lois's views. "So, okay. Why were we grabbed?"

Lois seized the pencil which she'd brought over to the table along with a legal pad, and began to chew the end. "We're not sure," she said after a few moments. "I thought initially I was being abducted as a result of the Planet's front-page story tomorrow — no, today," she corrected herself.

"Oh?" Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "Big story?"

He noticed that she hesitated for a moment, and he was unsurprised. He did work for a commercial rival after all. But then she shrugged, and briefly filled him in on the activities of E-nable. "Great story," he complimented her with sincerity. "Well, I guess I know what Linda and I will be working on today."

"Thanks," she replied, then added, "I had to eat your dust when you got Harrington. I guess this makes us quits."

Coming from Lois, this compliment meant a lot to Clark. He was aware, from his early experience at the Planet, that she rarely acknowledged that anyone else's work was any good. However, this did seem to be a very different Lois, and he wondered again what had happened to this proud, confident woman to turn her into the insecure and apologetic person she was now. On the other hand, he mused suddenly with a flash of inspiration, perhaps she had always lacked self-confidence, and her outward arrogance had simply been a front to disguise her true nature?

He remembered again her aside, while they'd still been locked up, about something being her 'fatal flaw'. She'd been talking about getting drunk, or alcohol generally. Did she mean that she had a habit of drinking too much? Strange… that wasn't something he would have accused Lois of doing. On the other hand, another memory came to his mind then: Lois, propping up the bar after the bachelor auction at Lex Luthor's penthouse, miserable and getting very drunk indeed.

But getting drunk once because she was depressed — because she hadn't managed to get the date with Superman she'd wanted to win — didn't mean that she had a drink problem! Unless she made more of a habit of that than anyone knew. But he couldn't believe that. Journalism, by its nature, was a very incestuous profession. If Lois had a reputation for getting herself drunk in public, he'd have heard about it long before now.

He filed that comment of hers away in his brain. He would try to talk to her about it sometime, if possible, if they stayed in contact after today. Maybe he should ask her out for a drink… no, bad idea, Kent, he told himself quickly. Dinner, maybe. Casual — a pizza, before going to some city function they'd be attending anyway.

Recalling himself to the conversation, he shook his head quickly. "Don't under-rate yourself, Lois. That sounds like another great story."

She grinned at him suddenly. "Yeah. It is, isn't it?"

"No-one would expect anything else from you, and you know it," he teased her before turning his attention back to the original subject. Half an hour later, they had agreed on the basis for the story each would write for their respective papers' afternoon editions. In the end, they'd decided not even to try arguing for a single story with joint byline, which had been Clark's initial idea; he knew there was just no way that Mike Lloyd would ever agree to that, and in any case he didn't want to force Lois to have to adapt to the Star's house style. Instead, they would each write their own version, but the main elements of the stories they would write were agreed between them.

They had worked very well together, Clark thought as he finalised his own notes. It had been like being back at the Planet all over again, only better; this time Lois asked his opinion as if she really wanted it. They'd batted ideas back and forth, occasionally even finishing each other's sentences. They were a perfect writing team, of that he was very sure.

And he hadn't missed her slip in the car, when she'd referred to *them* again rather than just to herself. Perhaps she wished they could work together again, too? He smiled wryly to himself; it would be wonderful, but it was unlikely. No matter what Perry White had said when he'd quit the Planet, it wasn't as if the editor would have kept his job open all this time. And the chances of a new opening coming up in the near future were no doubt pretty slim.

No; this was just a one-time opportunity, so he needed to make the most of it, he told himself, jotting down a couple of quotes they agreed they'd use.

Finally, Clark dragged himself wearily to his feet. "I better get going, Lois. Thanks again for everything you did tonight," he told her; glancing over towards the windows as he spoke, he could see the pale fingers of dawn creeping across the dark night sky. It was already 7.30 am, he realised; he would be expected to show up in the newsroom in half an hour or so.

Well, he would call Mike Lloyd and say that he wouldn't be in until later, if at all, he decided. He had a laptop with internet software in his apartment, so he could email the kidnap story. If Lloyd wanted someone working on a follow-up to the Planet's E-nable scoop, then Linda could do it on her own. He was tired; absolutely bone-weary, a sensation he never before remembered feeling. He wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for hours.

Lois stood too, giving him a questioning look. "I can drive you home, if you want…?"

But he quickly shook his head. "Lois, if you're feeling anything like as tired as I am, you need to get some sleep. I'll be fine — I can walk."

"Not carrying that, you won't," she objected, indicating the spaceship. "It's too bulky — and it's heavy." She crossed to examine it again, raising the lid and staring with open curiosity at the inside. "It's really amazing, Clark — imagine Superman coming all the way from Krypton as a baby! And we have the spaceship he came in!"

Warily, Clark crouched down beside her. "Yes, isn't it? And I know Superman will be relieved to get this back."

She glanced quickly at him. "Oh, I know, I wasn't suggesting that I wanted to keep it or anything. It's just… well, I wanted to get a proper look at it while I had the chance. This is a piece of history, Clark!"

He could understand that; and, yes, if he didn't intend to do his best to ensure that the time and manner of Superman's arrival on Earth should remain a secret, that spaceship would indeed be considered an important piece of US history. As it was, it was a priceless piece of *his* history, and he never intended to…

What was Lois *doing*?

Just in time, he'd seen her hand grasp the lid of the lead box; faster than he'd imagined he was capable of, being without Super-powers, he grabbed her hand and prevented her opening it.

"Clark! What are you doing?!"

"Lois, don't open that box. Please," he asked quietly, heavily.

She threw him a very surprised look; he could tell what was going through her mind. What was his problem with the box and its contents? Why didn't he want her to open it? If he was really unlucky, she'd remember that he'd insisted she be the one to go into Trask's control room and close the box in the first place.

Any second now, she was going to make the connection; she would realise that he was Superman.

Should he confess first? How could he convince her to keep his secret? She'd already agreed to keep other secrets, but was this one too many for Lois's competitive reporter instincts?

Too late; she was getting to her feet and opening her mouth to speak. "Clark… you're right, of course. We have no idea what kind of range that stuff has. I could have been putting Superman in danger!"

Clark closed his eyes briefly, letting out a long, silent breath. His secret was safe. "Ummm… yeah, Lois, best not to take the chance."

She nodded, crossing the room again. "I'll call you a cab, Clark. And I'll find something for you to wrap the spaceship in, okay?"

The soonest a cab could get to them was fifteen minutes. Once he'd wrapped the spaceship carefully in the large carrier-bags Lois had given him, Clark bit his lip and gave her a thoughtful look, wondering whether to say what was on his mind. Being with Lois for most of the past six or seven hours had afforded him an opportunity to see a different side of her than she'd shown him for the past three months, different even from the way she'd treated him before that fateful night; and he was reluctant just to say goodbye and walk out. And yet he wasn't sure whether she'd want to hear what he was thinking right now. It was quite possible, of course, that having humiliated herself in front of him with her obviously painful confession she wouldn't want to have anything further to do with him, despite her relaxed manner over the past half-hour.

She took the initiative, showing herself to be the observant reporter he knew her to be. "What is it, Clark? You look as if there's something on your mind… something personal?" She sounded nervous; the same guilt which he'd seen in her expression earlier when she'd been explaining her rejection of him was back now.

"Oh… well, I'm not sure. It's just… I just wanted to tell you something, but I'm not sure whether you'd really want to hear it," he hedged, now feeling that perhaps he should remain silent. He began to turn away, adding, "Look, forget it. I'll wait downstairs for the cab."

"No… don't go. Please." Her voice sounded forlorn, and he turned back, surprised, to see her reaching out a hand tentatively towards him.

Was it worth taking the chance to tell her how he felt? Well, the worst she could do was laugh at him, he decided. He nodded. "Okay. It was just… well, I wanted to tell you that I'm really sorry about everything that happened between us, too. Us sleeping together… it was as much my fault, if not more so. I was pretty much sober — I knew we shouldn't be doing it."

But Lois shook her head, rejecting his statement. "I was every bit as much a part of it as you were. And I *know* I'm the one who encouraged you. You don't have to apologise."

Clark hesitated for a moment, then said awkwardly, "Actually, I wasn't so much apologising as stating a fact. I *am* sorry it happened — I wish it hadn't."

He realised that he'd chosen his words carelessly the instant he saw the stricken look on Lois's face. "You… it was your first time — I know I wrecked it the morning after, but was it — sleeping with me — really so horrible?" she asked him, her voice cracking as she spoke.

"No, that's not what I meant at all!" he hastened to explain. "It's only… Lois, before we got onto that challenge and started kissing, we were getting along really well. I felt… we were really getting to know each other, and it was great just talking and debating with you. I got the impression that you were enjoying our conversation too. And I've asked myself a couple of times since — if we hadn't made a mess of things by going to bed together, would we have become friends after spending that time together?"

Lois stared at him in silence for a moment, her brown eyes wide. Then she nodded her head once before speaking jerkily. "You're right, Clark. I was having a… a nice time. And we could have been friends. Even after going to bed together, we could have been friends. But now, because of what I did, the way I treated you, it's too late." She swallowed, then continued, "I've ruined that, just like I ruin everything," she finished in a whisper which Clark could barely hear.

Clark could hardly bear to see Lois castigating herself like this; yet again, he wondered what had given this attractive, successful woman such a low opinion of herself. The little she'd told him about her father perhaps gave him some clues, he suspected. But that wasn't relevant right now. He took a step towards her, deliberately holding her gaze with his. "Not necessarily," he said in a low, but intense, voice. "Lois, everybody deserves a second chance. And I'd like to have you as my friend."

"You would?"

"Well, on one condition," he told her, hoping to tease her out of her bleak mood.

"What?" Now she was looking suspicious, which made Clark smile.

"Well, I've kind of missed your acerbic put-downs, you know, Lois. I think I can only be your friend if you promise to hit me with a sarcastic zinger at least once a week from here on in."

She stared at him; then, seeing his own broad smile, shook her head and grinned back. "You're a glutton for punishment, Kent!"

"Probably," he agreed glumly, then grinned again. "Friends?" He held out his hand to her.

"Friends," she agreed, accepting his hand. They stood facing each other, hands joined, for a long, almost embarrassing moment, until Clark took a step closer and wrapped his free arm around her in his second hug of the night. As she let herself relax against him again, he heard her murmur, "Thank you, Clark."


Once she'd closed the door behind Clark, on his way down to get his cab, Lois hurried straight over to pick up the phone and call Perry. It was still early, but she was sure he'd be at the Planet. He answered his phone within two rings, and was clearly surprised to hear from her so early.

"Lois, honey! You been watching LNN this morning?" he asked her, before she could explain why she was calling.

"No, Perry, I haven't had a chance — I've been — "

"Well, your E-nable story is top of most news bulletins, the Planet's name is getting mentioned at least every five minutes, and you're picking up credit all over the place for the story. And I already got two company CEOs wanting to give us the exclusive story about what E-nable did to them! Great work, darlin'!"

"That's great, Perry," Lois said automatically, wearily.

"Lois? You all right, honey? You don't sound too good."

"I've been up all night, Perry. There were guys waiting for me in my apartment when I got back last night…" As briefly as she could under the circumstances, she related the night's events.

"But you're all right, honey? You're sure?"

"I'm fine, Perry, I promise. But thanks for your concern. Clark Kent was hurt more than I was, but he seems to be fine too now."

"Ah, Kent. You say you and he were locked up together for a few hours?" Perry's voice now held a note of keen interest.

"Perry! He was sick and unconscious! And then we had to figure a way to escape!"

"Okay, okay, honey. You said the FBI is dealing with this, yeah?"

"Yes, Clark called them before we left."

"So how much can we print?"

"As much as we want," Lois insisted confidently. "That's why we left before the FBI arrived. They can come after us later if they want — right now, we go to press. I won't be in this morning — I need a shower, and some sleep — but I'll write up the story and send it to you first, so you have it for the afternoon edition."

"Terrific, honey!" Lois could visualise her editor's broad grin as Perry answered. "Look, you take all of today off if you want. That way, if the FBI does come after you, I can tell them you're having some time off. It might buy us a little more time."

That was a good idea, Lois thought; ending the call shortly afterwards, she thought wistfully of the long, hot shower — or even longer soak in a scented and bubble-filled bath — which she could have as soon as she'd written her story. But her job came first, and within minutes she had a fresh cup of coffee and a Double Fudge Crunch bar by her side as she started typing.

Unfortunately for her concentration, an image of a tall, good-looking, dark-haired man kept intruding on her thoughts. She was *glad* she'd got the chance to tell Clark she was sorry; explaining things to him had been extremely embarrassing, but he'd been so nice and understanding; that had certainly made things easier. And even though his comment that she'd been behaving every bit as badly as Claude had *hurt*, she knew he was right. And she was grateful to him for saying it; it told her that she had some more re-appraising to do. She intended to do it, too. There was no way that she deserved to have a relationship with any man if she was really as much of a manipulative, cruel person as Claude.

It was just depressing to realise all this *after* she'd ruined any chance of a relationship with the one man she now realised was worth knowing.

At least Clark had told her he wanted to be her friend. It was a consolation prize of a sort, she supposed; and anyway, she'd love to have the man she'd got to know so much better over the past seven hours or so as her friend. She'd just have to accept that friendship was all she could ever have from him.


"I'm fine, Mom!" Clark insisted for about the third time since he'd begun his phone conversation. "I'm just tired, and I don't have any powers, that's all."

"But, from what you said, you're healing far faster than an ordinary person would, Clark," Martha objected. "So there has to be something 'Super' about you still."

"I'm not sure about that, Mom. Oh, maybe my metabolism still works differently, who knows? But I'm not Super any more."

"Now, Clark, don't be too hasty here, son. You can't be Super all your life, and then suddenly, WHAM, not have powers any more. And I don't understand how this rock thing could just take them all away like that."

"It's a meteorite, Dad," Clark explained again. "And the papers Lois took claim that it's from Krypton." When he'd arrived home, he'd noticed the papers as he was removing his coat; even though Lois had agreed to keep Kryptonite out of any story she might write, he was relieved that those documents were in his possession and not hers. Reading them had given him some surprises; Trask had actually found the substance very recently in Smallville, it appeared, close to where his ship had apparently landed. He hoped Lois hadn't read that section of the report. Trask had ordered a wide range of tests on the meteorite before concluding that it was probably harmful to Superman. Clark was just very relieved that Trask hadn't had it in his possession when he'd thrown Lois out of the plane; if that missile had contained Kryptonite, he would have been killed.

"It doesn't matter how it works, Jonathan — the main thing is that it's poison for Clark," his mother intervened again. "You have to make sure you don't come into contact with it ever again, Clark!"

He glanced through the arch into his bedroom, where the spaceship lay just below the window-seat. "Actually, it's here, Mom."

"It's *what*? Are you crazy, Clark? Jonathan, tell him he's crazy!"

"Mom, it's all right. Really. It's in a lead box. And I remembered that I didn't feel a thing before Trask opened the box, so as long as I keep it closed I'll be fine."

"What are you going to do with it, son?" his father asked, concerned.

"Well, I took it to stop anyone else getting their hands on it," Clark explained. "I figured maybe you could take it back to the farm next time you come to Metropolis, or I'll bring it when I fly out for Christmas." He paused, realising that he would now have to take a commercial flight to Wichita; he'd have to check for availability later that day. "Anyway, if you bury it somewhere there, it should be safe enough."

"I still don't accept that your powers can go, just like that," Jonathan Kent objected firmly.

"Dad, what more can I tell you? They have!"

"Clark, sweetie, remember what you said during that heatwave scare?" his mother asked suddenly.

"What about?"

"About drawing your powers from the sun. You said you knew that the sun refreshed you."

Clark frowned, remembering that he had indeed come to that conclusion. 'Drawing down the sun's energy to himself' was how he'd put it at the time. His powers, it was generally believed, were at the very least solar-enhanced, if not solar-induced.

"Yeah, I remember."

"Well, what if you go and sit in the sun for a while?" Martha suggested. "Okay, I know that Metropolis in early December isn't the best time for sun-bathing, but even if you could get an hour of sunlight, couldn't it help?"

"I don't know," Clark answered slowly. "But it can't hurt."

"Sure it can't," Jonathan encouraged him.

"How's Lois, by the way?" his mother asked. "You said she wasn't hurt?"

"No, she's fine. And she saved my life, you know. She said I was in a pretty bad way when she found me, and I can believe that — I really thought I was going to die when the pain of that Kryptonite just wouldn't go away."

"Have you two made up?" Martha asked.

His mother was far too astute for her own good, Clark reflected. "We had a long talk. And we're friends again."

"Oh, that's nice," Martha answered, and Clark could hear her smile. Even though he'd given his parents a highly-edited version of his disagreement with Lois, and it had been clear to them — or so he thought — that he disliked her and wanted as little to do with her as possible, his mother had always seemed keen to consider that Lois might not have been entirely ill-intentioned.

He ended the call a few minutes later and, giving his bed a yearning look, decided that he needed to write his story first. He'd already talked to Mike Lloyd, who had not been overjoyed to learn that half his best reporting team — the first time Clark had heard his editor refer to Linda and himself like that — would not be in today, but was happier once Clark had described the story which he would be sending later.

His story written and emailed to his editor an hour later, Clark gathered up a few pillows and a blanket and headed out to sit on his balcony; it was positioned to catch the sun in the early morning, so he had a few hours to rest and soak up whatever sun was present on a cold December day. He wasn't at all optimistic that his mother's suggestion would work, but, as he'd told her, he had nothing to lose. Either way, he would still be without his powers.


It was mid-afternoon when Lois rolled sleepily out of bed, feeling as if grit was lodged underneath her eyelids. She'd slept for a few hours after sending Perry her story, but it had been a restless sleep, punctuated with dreams in which Clark either simply hadn't woken from his unconscious state, or had been shot while they'd been running away and had bled to death in her arms.

She should have made her peace with him long before.

He'd been more understanding than she had a right to expect, though she supposed that he might have felt some sense of obligation after finding her taking care of him in their makeshift prison. Regardless of that, he'd been very magnanimous — in particular, telling her that he wanted them to be friends. She certainly hadn't expected or deserved that.

Standing under her second hot shower of the day, she wondered if he'd meant it. There was one way to find out…

A few minutes later, having obtained Clark's phone number from Information, she was dialling his apartment, her excuse at the ready — if he wasn't in, she could leave a message, she thought, not wanting to call him at the Star.

The phone was answered on the third ring by a sleepy voice. " 'Lo?"

"Oh! Clark, I'm sorry… did I wake you?"

There was a brief pause, during which Lois was on tenterhooks. His response now would tell her everything she needed to know about whether he'd meant his declaration of friendship or not. Then…

"Hi, Lois! Hey, how are you feeling?" His voice was surprised, but pleasantly so, Lois thought; there was definitely a strong hint that he was pleased to hear from her. He also sounded concerned for her. She kicked herself for worrying; hadn't she decided already that Clark was a downright decent, honest guy? Of course she shouldn't have doubted him.

"Not so bad — tired, I guess, but hey, I'm a reporter, I'm used to long hours." She hesitated, then asked anxiously, "How are you? You're not in any more pain, are you?"

"No, I'm fine," he assured her, sounding cheerful. "I've just spent the last few hours sleeping — you just called as I was getting out of the shower."

The shower… for a moment Lois's concentration blurred as she visualised Clark with a towel slung around his hips, barefoot and hair dripping as he stood by the phone. "Oh! Uh… I'm sorry, I didn't know I'd caught you nak — um, *wet*!"

The sound of his soft laugh resonated down the line. "It's okay, I'd just pulled some jeans on," he told her, making it clear that he hadn't been fooled by her swift correction.

"Well, anyway, um… well, the other reason I was calling is Trask's jeep," Lois said, quickly changing the subject. "I just realised, it's still parked outside my place. And I didn't want any of my neighbours calling the cops to tow it away — our fingerprints are all over it."

"Already sorted," Clark informed her. "I called my FBI contact again once I'd sent my story to Mike Lloyd — told him where the jeep was if the FBI wanted it, and he said he'd send someone over to pick it up. I guess they want to check it over themselves anyway."

"Yeah… you know, I am extremely suspicious about the FBI's relationship with Trask," Lois mused aloud. "Before, they denied that he was anything to do with the FBI, but I'm not so sure I believe them."

"Me neither," Clark agreed. "I tried out 'Bureau 39' with Wallace — my contact — and he played dumb. But this wasn't some little organisation set up by a couple of crazy ex-Army officers. From what I saw, before, those guys had been active for at least twenty-five years."

"Before?" What was he talking about? This was news to Lois.

"Oh… sorry, didn't I say?" Now she got the distinct impression that Clark was playing for time.

"You didn't! What else do you know about Bureau 39? You said, up on the mountain, that you'd done some digging of your own around the time I got thrown out of the plane!" He was holding out on her, she knew. And after they'd worked together, co-operated, earlier… But, she reminded herself, he worked for a different paper. Why should he tell her anything?

"Yeah, I did. There was a warehouse, on Bessolo Boulevard — I managed to sneak inside and I found lots of weird artefacts and objects hidden under tarps — and there were some really old files, most dating back to the sixties. Some of them had 'Bureau 39' on them."

Bessolo Boulevard. Lois remembered that address: she'd followed the mysterious Mr Thompson there. But she hadn't been able to get into the warehouse, and when she'd tried to go back afterwards, it had been deserted. Swept clean.

And *Clark* had managed to get inside!

Why hadn't he told her? They could have written about it… but her thoughts were halted almost instantly. Of *course* he hadn't told her. She'd just told him, that same day, that she'd take any steps to ensure she wasn't carrying a child of his! In the circumstances, it was perfectly understandable.

"What kind of objects?" she asked him, curious.

"Well, this is going to sound weird, but I think the people who put them there thought they were UFOs."

"But the government got out of the UFO business…"

"In 1969. I know," he told her. "I guess this stuff was left over from then — well, lots of it looked like it hadn't been touched in years. But some of it had been moved recently."

"Very weird," Lois said aloud, but her mind was whirling. Just who had Jason Trask worked for? Who was behind Bureau 39? And just because Trask was dead, did that really mean its activities were over?

"You know," she added then thoughtfully, "I'm more convinced than ever that there's a cover-up going on here. This'd make a great story."

"Sure would," Clark replied; she could almost hear his grin as he spoke. "Bet I'll get to it before you do!"

"Wha — ?" she began, before she remembered. Again. He worked for the Star. They wouldn't be working on this together. But, even if she wished they could work on it together, she wasn't going to let him beat her! "In your dreams, Kent!"

He laughed loudly. "We'll see, Lois. You can buy me dinner when I win."

"Don't hold your breath!" she warned him, grinning despite herself. She was enjoying this conversation; in fact, she didn't want it to end, and she found herself searching for new things to say to prolong the call. "You may be good, Kent, but I'm still better!"

"Oh, you're definitely good, Lois," he drawled, in a tone of voice which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. "But I'd say the jury's still out on which one of us is better. Maybe we better wait until the Merriwether awards, or even the Kerths, before declaring a winner."

"Oh, well, if this is a contest about which of us is going to win any awards next year… well, I do have a track record, remember," she pointed out in a superior voice.

"Yeah, and maybe the judges might think you've been resting on your laurels a little, and it's time to give a hot newcomer some recognition."

<And he's certainly *hot*> a little voice in Lois's head pointed out; she squelched it quickly. "Clark, have you *seen* some of the stories I've pulled in lately?" she asked incredulously. "Not just the E-nable one today, but over the last few months — the heatwave exclusive, Miranda's pheromone, the Metros gang, my exclusive in-depth Superman interview… they're all potential award-winners, for a start!"

"Yeah, and I got the scoop on Congressman Harrington taking back-handers, and don't forgot I got the first Superman interview," he reminded her. "And *I* exposed the Toasters, too."

"Not bad for a rookie," she told him, knowing that she sounded patronising but unable to resist teasing him. "But don't forget my story on the Messenger sabotage — "

"*Your* story, Lois?" he cut in, his tone incredulous. "That was *our* story — remember?"

Oh, she did, very well… that had been during that very short time when they'd been partners. And how she had failed to appreciate what a great partner she'd had, she would never know. But she couldn't tell him that; even after everything else she'd confessed to Clark today, this seemed a confession too far. "Don't forget I was the senior partner," she told him in a mock-supercilious voice.

"Yeah, right," he drawled. "I remember — you like to be on top."

Lois flushed, and felt extremely grateful that Clark couldn't see her; she remembered his quick-as-a-flash sardonic rejoinder to her intemperate comment on his first day at the Planet. That was the first time she'd realised that this farm-boy from Kansas was by no means as green as he appeared. Then she felt uncomfortably warm all over as the sexual overtones of his remark hit her, and she remembered once again that night, visualised herself in bed with Clark again. He'd been the one on top then…

And now, he was talking to her on the phone, wearing only a pair of jeans…

<Pull yourself together, Lois!> she instructed herself firmly. "Glad you remember it, Kent!"

His voice was low and husky, sounding amused. "How could I forget?"

She was about to reply with another smart rejoinder, but a familiar noise prevented her. "Oh… I'm sorry, Clark, but that's my pager. I'm going to have to go."

There was a momentary silence, then he said quickly, "What are you doing later?"

"Later? I… uh, I don't know. Not much, I guess."

"You know, maybe we should talk a little more about our public line on all this.I mean, I know we're each going to be doing our own investigating from now on, but there are some things we might want to agree not to talk about…?"

Lois grabbed hold of her pager, while gripping the phone under her chin. Her guess had been right; it was Perry. She wasn't sure that there was actually anything else she and Clark needed to discuss, but, on the other hand, if he was using the suggestion as an excuse… "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. So what do you suggest?"

"Dinner? Tonight? I could bring take-out…"

"Sounds great. See you later, then?"

Lois hung up a moment later, feeling almost inexplicably excited. Clark was coming around in a few hours! Even after her conversation with Perry a few moments later, which was only because he wanted to clarify a couple of things about Jason Trask so that he could ask Jimmy to do some follow-up research, she was still smiling.


Clark replaced the phone on its hook and returned to his bedroom to dress, a silly smile taking up almost the entire width of his face. Lois had called him to ask how he was, and he didn't think she'd only done it because she still felt guilty about how she'd treated him. And, even better, they'd fallen into what seemed to him to be a naturally teasing banter which he had certainly enjoyed. At a stretch, he could even have described some of their conversation as flirtatious; okay, he was well aware that Lois was unlikely to have been flirting with him, but there had been some deliberate innuendo among the banter, from both of them.

This was the Lois Lane he liked and admired: the woman who was sure of her ability and, yes, a little arrogant in that certainty, and who possessed a keen sense of humour as well as an ability to tease. That Lois had hardly been in evidence at all during their ordeal at Trask's hands and the conversation in the jeep on the way back to Metropolis; his companion then had been humble, self-critical and so apologetic it had almost hurt to look at her. Yes, he was pleased that she'd apologised for what had transpired between them; he'd accepted that her apology was genuine. But he wanted to put it behind them, to move on and focus on being friends.

And it seemed like they were well on the way to that status. Tonight; he'd have to decide where he would go for the food he'd promised to bring. He'd made the offer automatically, having it in mind to fly to one of his favourite restaurants in Canton, forgetting that he no longer had his powers.

Well, his parents' suggestion hadn't worked, he conceded. He'd sat out on his balcony, in the sunlight, wearing his overcoat and with a blanket draped over his lap — it was *cold* out there — for several hours, actually falling asleep for a time. And still no powers. Even though his injuries seemed to have improved dramatically — his ribs no longer hurt, and when he'd removed the Band-Aid from his face, there was only a thin, almost-healed scar underneath — he hadn't healed in the most important way.

He would just have to face it, he told himself; his Super-powers had gone. He was now an ordinary human, just as he'd wanted to be in his teens when his developing powers had scared the wits out of him. No more excuses, no more covering up for himself; he would be just like everyone else. Normal.

And normal is *good*, he insisted, trying to convince himself.

<But you're not normal. You're Kryptonian. Being Super-powered is normal for you> It was as if his father was in the room with him; Clark could hear the words exactly as Jonathan Kent would have said them to him. Well, whatever had been normal for him once was certainly not normal any longer, and he would just have to get used to that fact.


A few hours later, Clark was knocking on the door of Lois's apartment, bearing several cartons of Chinese food, and wearing his spare pair of glasses. She answered the door, dressed in blue jeans and a deep cerise sweater which, in Clark's view, emphasised the chestnut highlights in her hair and looked stunning on her.

She seemed genuinely pleased to see him too, giving him a welcoming smile and immediately urging him in. She asked again after his state of health and again he reassured her that he was fine; he'd put a new Band-Aid on the by now barely-noticeable cut on his face, though, in order to avert suspicion.

They ate almost immediately, talking as they did about their respective editors' reactions to the story of their kidnap. Clark had brought with him copies of both Planet and Star's afternoon editions, and Lois was amused by the fact that Mike Lloyd had put Clark's story on an inside page while the Planet had it on the front page. "I see your editor thinks some fluff piece about a Metropolis weather-girl is more newsworthy than a story about one of his own reporters being kidnapped by a rogue government agent, she teased him.

"Tell me about it," Clark replied ruefully. "I'm not even sure he'd have put it on the front page if I'd ended up dead."

"Yeah, Superman would have had to be dead too to make your story more important than this really *significant* piece about Leanne Linn," Lois drawled.

Clark laughed; it did seem funny here, talking to Lois, but his opinion of the Star's new values was about as low as it had been ever since he'd joined the paper. He knew that he'd have to make a decision one way or the other soon; even though he was now paired with Linda King and they were bringing in a succession of *good* stories, he was still frequently frustrated by their editor's choice of running order and the hatchet-job the subs often made of his or their copy.

Lois's expression altered suddenly. "How do you stand it, Clark? You're far too good for a trashy paper like the Star!"

He avoided her gaze. "It's a reporting job, Lois, and I have more autonomy than I had at the Planet, now that I'm working with Linda." That wasn't enough, and he knew it wasn't, but he had no intention of telling Lois that. One of these days he would simply have to put his resume and portfolio together and start making applications to some of the reputable papers in other cities. The Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune… all of these were as well-regarded as the Planet, and it really was about time that he stopped kidding himself that he could stay at the Star. It wasn't even as if he had anything to tie him to Metropolis any longer: Superman was gone, so Clark Kent could move on without any difficulty.

Except for Lois.

Now they were friends, leaving the city where Lois lived and worked would be far harder; but he had to face facts. They might be friends now, but that was all they would ever be. Even though she'd admitted that she'd over-reacted the morning after they'd slept together, it was still clear that their lovemaking hadn't meant anything much to her at all. He'd be just kidding himself if he stayed around hoping for their friendship to develop into something more.

They were friends, and with modern technology it was very easy to carry on a long-distance friendship. He would start to update his resume tomorrow, he resolved.

"Oh, Clark…" Lois began; he turned back to look at her and saw guilt and apology written clearly on her face.

On impulse, he reached across and covered her hand with his own. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, Lois… don't. *I* walked out of the Planet. It was my decision, not Perry White's, and it wasn't because of anything you did either. I behaved unprofessionally that day, and after that I knew I had to leave."

She gave him a wry half-smile. "It's nice of you to pretend it wasn't my fault, Clark, but I know very well that if I hadn't goaded you, you'd never have said what you did. I was rude about you first."

"Look, forget about it," Clark urged. "Let's put all that stuff behind us and just be friends like we agreed, okay?" He had no wish to spend their evening together dissecting the past again, especially if it meant that Lois would start another guilt-trip. That wasn't what he wanted from her at all. Even if being alone together, eating together, was reviving memories for both of them of another evening when they'd done that together. He wanted them to move on, as friends.

She watched him for a moment or two, and he could sense that she was thinking hard about something. But then she nodded. "If that's what you want, Clark."

"It is," he assured her. "And hey, I almost forgot — I have some news for you. My FBI contact called me back to let me know they'd picked up the jeep, and he 'let slip' that Trask had been kicked out of the army about ten years ago for disobeying orders." He knew that would distract her.

And it had the desired effect. Her eyes widening — to pools so deep Clark felt he could drown in them — she gave him a surprised look. "Clark, why are you telling me this? You'll want it for your story!"

"Hey, he kidnapped us both. I thought it was only fair to pass on what information I had."

"You're a lot more generous than I would have been," she commented, flashing a swift grin at him.

"Yeah? Well, I guess I'm just a nice guy, aren't I?" he teased.

"Too nice to survive at the top in journalism," she pointed out with a smile, then became serious again. "So… your contact just happened to let that piece of information slip, huh?"

"Yeah, just like that." Clark smiled; he could tell that Lois had already reached the same conclusion he had.

"You're thinking what I'm thinking, right?" she challenged him.

"Yeah. Too darned suspicious, isn't it? I mean, why tell us that?"

"The government's trying to disown him again, that's why," Lois answered. "They don't want us tracing Trask or Bureau 39 to any part of officialdom — they'll be happiest if we describe him as a maverick madman. So they're gently guiding us in that direction."

"Don't know about gentle — I thought it was about as subtle as a ten-ton truck," Clark commented with a grin.

"You know, I haven't heard anything more from the FBI about our involvement — have you?" Lois asked him, looking thoughtful.

Clark shook his head. "My guess is they're too worried that we might ask questions they don't want to answer. So they're leaving us alone, hoping we'll leave them alone."

That sounded very plausible. Looking as if she was already sure of her answer, Lois propped her chin on her hands, giving him her Lois-in-search-of-a-big-story look, and enquired, "So where do you think we should start looking for Trask's chain of command?"

<We…> Was she forgetting, again, that they couldn't investigate this together? There was no reason why they couldn't discuss it, he supposed; although he could see the two of them enjoying a friendly rivalry from this point on — assuming that he stayed at the Star — he really didn't want to compete with Lois on this story. They were both too personally involved for that.

"My guess is the FBI itself," Clark suggested. "UFOs isn't really an army issue. Okay, the air force was interested for a while, but I'm not convinced that there's anything going on there still. And Trask was out to get Superman. I think it's quite possible that some elements in government could be behind that."

"Why would the government want to harm Superman?" Lois demanded, incredulous.

"Oh, I'm not necessarily suggesting that it's government policy, nor that it goes all the way to the White House. Though it wouldn't surprise me if Trask was taking his orders from somewhere in the Pentagon or maybe a tiny office somewhere in the West Wing. Though if it was the Pentagon, then it would be military and not FBI behind him," he mused aloud. "Who's to say the military isn't working with the FBI on this? As for a motive, think about it — Superman's invulnerable…" or he was, Clark added silently, knowing he had to watch his words carefully. "He can do all kinds of things — destroy weaponry, crush things with his bare hands, sabotage complex electronic gadgetry with his eyes… I know Trask seemed to have it in his mind that Superman was the forerunner of some alien invasion, but that would suit whoever was behind him. No-one's going to take those sort of ravings seriously, so if Trask was caught the government could disown him, call him crazy, and that would be that. Like they're trying to do now."

"While the real motive is… making sure Superman's not around to interfere with any military plans which he might not agree with," Lois added slowly. "Which is crazy too, if you ask me — Superman's never got involved with anything like that. I just don't think he would."

"Yeah, but maybe someone up there in DC didn't want to take the chance," Clark replied. "So, yeah, that's where I'd start looking."

Lois reached across and touched his hand lightly. "I'll find out. And… I'll share anything I find with you."

Clark couldn't help grinning at her automatic assumption that she was more likely to get information than he was. Raising one eyebrow in amused sarcasm, he answered, "Sure, Lois. And I'll let you have anything I find out."

"Oh, you really think you'll get to it before I do?" she challenged him, getting to her feet. "Eat my dust, Kent!"

Clark laughed, following her through to the kitchen with the debris of their meal.

As he watched her fill the coffee-filter, he wondered whether the time was right to broach the subject which was his real reason for wanting to see her this evening. Well, not his only reason, he admitted to himself. His main reason had been the sheer need to spend some time with her, to reassure himself that he hadn't dreamed the events of that morning, to prove to himself that Lois really had apologised and exonerated him of all blame and said she wanted to be his friend.

But he wanted to talk to her, too…

He leaned against the worktop, watching her movements as she put mugs and milk and sugar — for him — on a tray. "Lois, can I ask you something?"

She stilled in the act of putting some cookies on the tray. Not looking at him, she answered, in what he could tell was a forced easy-sounding tone, "Sure. Sounds like it's something personal… is it to do with what we talked about this…" her voice cracked, and she paused for a moment. "This morning?" she concluded, still avoiding his gaze.

Clark wanted to walk right over to her and take her in his arms and promise her that he was never going to hurt her the way the other men she'd known had hurt her, and tell her that he didn't want her to humiliate herself any more by making her expose even more of her deepest secrets to him. He knew that, because of her strong sense of guilt, she would tell him what he was going to ask, and for a moment he had second thoughts about his question. But then he reminded himself of the way she'd looked in that damp, cold room up in the mountains, and decided to persevere.

"Sort of," he told her. "Here, let me take this into the other room — we can talk there." Before she could react, he'd picked up the tray and was carrying it through. In the living-area, he paused. The dining-table or the sofas? Neither looked hugely comfortable, from his perspective; but if he wanted Lois to relax and talk to him, the sofa area was probably better. He laid the tray on the low coffee-table and waited, hands shoved in the pockets of his black jeans, for Lois to join him.

She arrived shortly afterwards, bearing the filter jug and wearing an anxious expression. Using pouring the coffee as an excuse to avoid looking at him, she asked, "So what was it you wanted to ask me?"

<Don't beat around the bush… just ask!> he told himself. "What you meant when you talked about drinking being your 'fatal flaw' this morning."

He saw her tense, and it occurred to him that if he still had his powers he'd detect a rapid increase in her heart-rate. But then she gave the appearance of a casual shrug, not that Clark was fooled. "Nothing much… I was probably just… rambling on a little."

"You weren't," he insisted quietly. "Lois, I remember exactly when you said it. And it bothered you."

She sat down and pushed his coffee towards him; he noticed in passing that she'd remembered exactly how he took it. "Why do you want to know, anyway? Haven't I made enough painful confessions today for your liking?" Her words were harsh, but her tone betrayed the hurt and fear she was feeling.

Clark took a swift step over to sit on the sofa beside her, reaching for her hand and holding it firmly. "I'm not looking for that. And I think you know it. I just want to know what you meant, that's all."

She was unmoving for a moment, then withdrew her hand from his and pulled her legs up so that her feet rested on the sofa in front of her, then wrapped her arms around her knees. The body language was obvious; she was blocking herself off from him. Keeping him at a mental as well as a physical distance.

Finally, she raised her gaze to him, and in that instant Clark felt his gut tie itself in knots. He shouldn't have asked her. He knew that her confession and apology to him that morning had been hard for her, and he admired her courage enormously. This, though, seemed different. He'd worked out that she'd needed to apologise to him, and to explain her actions — somehow, that would help to assuage her guilt, he felt.

Somehow, he knew that this was different.

He was about to withdraw his question and apologise for the intrusion when she finally spoke, her voice low and intense. "My mother is an alcoholic — well, a recovering alcoholic now. She hasn't had a drink in four years."

That wasn't news to him. "Yeah, someone at the Planet told me. That had to be tough for you and your sister."

She gave a humourless laugh. "I guess you could call it that. All the lies — telling people she was tired and lying down when she was out cold in a drunken stupor, finding vodka bottles hidden all over the house, having to put her to bed because she was too drunk to find her own way up the stairs, cleaning up when she'd been sick… And Lucy was just a kid. I tried to hide it from her as much as possible, but I just couldn't… I let her down. I let my kid sister down. She was only ten and she found out that her mom was just a drunk."

Appalled, Clark exclaimed, "That wasn't your fault, Lois! You were a child — thirteen, fourteen?" She nodded. "It wasn't up to you to cover up for your mother. That was your parents' responsibility. If anyone let you and Lucy down, it was your parents."

She shrugged. "I guess. Anyway, that's not important any more. Mother finally went into detox and she's been going to AA for years now. I'm proud of what she's done, Clark. She cleaned herself up and got a job, and although we'll never be the best of friends, I can respect her."

Whatever this was, it wasn't about her parents, Clark thought. "So what about you?"

Lois took a long, shaky breath. "There are some genetic factors associated with alcoholism," she told him; it sounded to Clark as if she was reading from a scientific journal rather than carrying on a conversation with a friend.

Suddenly he knew what she meant. "You? Lois — " He was about to insist that she was definitely not an alcoholic, but he stopped himself in time. Not only did he not have anything like enough information about her on which to base such a judgement, he knew she wouldn't listen to a blanket denial.

Okay. Rethink.

Holding her gaze firmly with his own, he asked quietly, "Lois, what makes you think you might be an alcoholic? There's a lot more to it than just genetic predisposition, you know."

"I drink too much. And I enjoy it too much," she told him.

"What's too much? Do you drink every day? How much? Do you get blind drunk every time?" He felt a twinge of guilt at bombarding her with questions, but he sensed that she needed to think this through in a more analytical way. He wasn't sure why, but something told him that she hadn't yet done that.

"I haven't had a drink for a month," was her defensive reply.

"Okay, before then. When was the last time you had a drink?"

"The night Superman came and gave me an interview — that's when I realised," she replied immediately.

He remembered that night; remembered particularly thinking that she'd looked upset about something. "Realised…?"

"I was… doing some uncomfortable thinking that night," she explained, her voice still low. "About my life, about the way other people saw me, about why I felt so miserable… and I went to get some wine I knew I had in the fridge. And that's when it struck me. I was miserable. I was alone. And I was about to have a drink. Which was *exactly* what my mother had always done. She drank because the way Daddy treated her made her miserable."

"So you were miserable once, and you had a drink to cheer yourself up?" he asked, trying to get her to see that one isolated incident hardly amounted to an addiction.

"I didn't actually have a drink then — I poured the bottle down the sink once I realised what I was doing. But that wasn't the only time. There was the bachelor auction… it was a couple of months ago, I don't know if you remember, but I wanted to bid for Superman. And I didn't win… and he left without even acknowledging me. And I sat at the bar alone for hours drowning my sorrows," she finished bitterly.

Oh, Clark remembered that night very well; and now, he wished he'd followed that tiny voice of his conscience which had suggested that he should go back in as Clark and make sure that she was all right. "Okay, one night when you were feeling disappointed and ignored, you got drunk. You know, lots of people do that sort of thing all the time, and no-one thinks anything of it."

"I was drinking alone — that's a sign, isn't it?" she objected.

Clark shrugged, making the gesture look casual. "Lots of single guys come home from work every day and grab a beer from the fridge before they make plans for the evening. They're drinking alone. And I'm sure plenty of single women do something similar, whether it's beer or wine."

"One beer isn't the same as getting drunk alone," she countered.

"Okay, you got drunk at that reception. When did you last get drunk before that?"

He'd already guessed the answer to his question, so wasn't surprised when she answered, "At your apartment, that night."

"You weren't drunk then, Lois. You were… well, a little tipsy. Not completely in control of your reactions, I'd guess. But not drunk." Clark wondered whether she'd accept his argument, since for so long afterwards she'd insisted that she would never have slept with him unless she'd been drunk.

But she nodded slowly. "You're right. I wasn't drunk."

"And you weren't drinking alone — we were drinking together, remember? And I'd have noticed if you were drinking faster or more than I was — you weren't. And you weren't miserable either, if you're looking for a pattern. You were laughing and joking and talking that night."

Lois gave him a direct look suddenly. "You know something about this, don't you?"

He nodded. "I had to write a piece about alcoholism for the Star's weekend edition a few weeks ago, and I did a lot of research. Far more than I needed for the article, but then my editor wasn't exactly interested in the medical research."

"Well, I grew up with an alcoholic, so I guess I know the symptoms pretty well too," Lois snapped at him. "I don't need your 'research' to tell me what I am or am not!" She described quotes with her fingers as she said 'research'.

"No? Try this, then," Clark challenged. "The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's definition of alcoholism goes like this — characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial."

"You learned it by heart?" she asked him scornfully.

"I have a photographic memory," Clark said, ignoring her tone. "So… is your drinking out of control? Are you always thinking about having a drink, hardly able to wait until you get home or into a bar? And are you in denial about all that? Because the only thing you seem to be in denial about is that you're clearly *not* addicted!"


Lois stared at Clark, his words slowly assimilating in her brain. He was right. She *didn't* have a continuous longing for alcohol — in fact, in the month since her last taste of an alcoholic drink, she'd never once felt even a fleeting longing for anything alcoholic. As for being out of control, even though she hated herself for having been so weak the night of the auction, she knew she hadn't been unable to control her drinking. She'd carried on drinking because it was an anaesthetic; but when Nigel St John had come over and told her that Lex Luthor had asked him to drive her home, she'd gone without protest. No pleas of 'just one for the road' — she'd put down her wine, picked up her purse, and allowed herself to be led out of the penthouse suite.

The resentment she'd felt at Clark for pushing the subject dissipated. He was right; she'd been foolish to jump to conclusions like that, and even more foolish — though he hadn't said so — not to do some investigating of her own on the subject. She was a reporter — it would have been the obvious thing for her to do! But she hadn't; probably because, she admitted to herself, she hadn't wanted to know the answer. She hadn't wanted proof that she was, or was in danger of becoming, an alcoholic.

"Come over here — I want to show you something." Clark's voice burst in on her thoughts, and she looked across at him. He'd got up and gone over to the little desk on which stood her laptop. "Mind if I switch this on? I want to connect to the Internet."

"Yeah, okay." She followed him over, showing him where her Internet dialup controller was located, and they waited while the clicks and whirrs were completed. Clark called up her browser immediately, typing in a URL as if from memory, clicked on a link, then stood back to allow her access to the keyboard.

"What's this?" she asked, suspicious.

"Part of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence's website," he explained. "There's a questionnaire I'd like you to take a look at."

Lois read the introduction on the screen; it told her that the questions were to help users assess whether they had a problem with alcohol. She shrugged; it couldn't hurt. Then she looked at the first question, and grabbed for Clark's arm. "See this? See?"

"Do you occasionally drink heavily after a disappointment, quarrel, or when the boss gives you a hard time?" Clark read aloud. "Lois, that's just one question. And does once count as 'occasionally'?"

Maybe not, she thought. But, on the other hand, if she was going to take this test seriously she should be as self-critical as possible. Deliberately, she clicked her mouse in the box. The second question, about drinking more heavily when under pressure, she was less sure about; but the third and fourth she knew very well did not apply to her. One asked whether she was unable to cope with drinking more than when she had first started, and the other whether she'd ever experienced memory blackouts after a night of drinking.

Memory blackouts. No; she knew very well that she had *not* experienced a blackout about what had happened with Clark. She herself had tried to suppress the truth about what had happened that night, because she hadn't wanted to admit to herself that she'd been so stupid as to go to bed with another guy she barely knew and who could — probably would — let her down. So she'd lied to herself, pretending that she couldn't remember. And she'd known all along that it was a lie, because she'd been able to remember encouraging Clark to kiss her and touch her, and telling him that she wanted him inside her. Because she *had* wanted him. But instead she'd been stupid, vindictive, rejected the one man she could -

She stopped that thought before she could complete it. What was done was done. She might have apologised, but she couldn't go back and change anything; not now.

No; no memory blackouts. She left that box blank.

There were only three other questions in the list of twenty-six which she was tempted to answer positively; one asked whether she usually had a reason for the times when she drank heavily, although Clark again reminded her that she'd only been able to point to one time when that had happened, so she agreed that perhaps a positive answer wouldn't be right. A second asked whether she often did or said things when drunk which she regretted when sober. With a guilt-ridden glance in Clark's direction, she made to tick that box. But he stilled her hand.

"Often, Lois?"

She hesitated; the only time she could think of was that night at his apartment.

"You weren't drunk that night, Lois. I don't know what happened to us, but I genuinely believe it wasn't entirely the wine."

No; as she'd already accepted, she hadn't been drunk. What had happened was that as soon as Clark had kissed her she'd been swept away by an overwhelming attraction to him; an attraction she still felt, she realised, incredibly aware of his proximity to her. The only thing the wine had done to her that night was to remove some of her inhibitions; the high wall of control she'd built up around her defences in an attempt to ensure that no man ever got close enough to hurt her again.

And that was something else: the alcohol had lowered her control, but — contrary to what she'd allowed herself to believe for so long — it did not absolve her from responsibility for her actions. *She* was responsible for what had happened between her and Clark.

And there was another truth she needed to face. She didn't regret sleeping with… no, *making love* with Clark. The only thing she regretted — as did he — was the aftermath. And that was all her fault.

No, she didn't regret making love with him. But she thought he knew that now — after all, she'd told him that morning that it had been good. She regretted her behaviour the morning after, but she was only too aware that *that* had nothing to do with the wine she'd drunk.

He was still waiting for her decision; she gave him a hesitant smile, feeling unable to tell him anything of what she'd just been thinking. "You're right. It wasn't the wine. It was us. We just… got carried away, and I can't try to blame anything or anyone else for that. I've spent too much time laying blame in the wrong direction as it is."

"So — no tick?"

"No tick."

The final question she hesitated over was the one which asked whether she sometimes felt guilty about her drinking. Again, with Clark forcing her to be honest with herself, she acknowledged that she didn't really; there had only been that one occasion on which she'd panicked, thinking that she was becoming like her mother.

She was feeling quite pleased with herself for only having been able to tick one box, the one about drinking heavily after a disappointment or quarrel, so she felt horrified when the result told her that possible symptoms of alcoholism were indicated. Giving Clark an accusatory look — after all, she wouldn't have taken the questionnaire had he not insisted — she shut down the connection and marched off.

"Lois, don't jump to conclusions," he said calmly, following her. "You remember what the question asked — do you *occasionally* drink heavily when you're upset? I told you, once hardly counts. Have there been other times?"

None that she could remember. Maybe Clark was right. All the same, she decided, it couldn't hurt to stay off alcohol, and she told him so.

"Sure, if that makes you feel more comfortable," he replied. "I never got the impression that it was any way essential to you, anyway."

Lois frowned. "You didn't?"

"No. Come on, Lois, you know the kind of business we work in. It's highly incestuous. Admit it, you could name the half-dozen reporters in Metropolis with the biggest drink problem without even stopping to think, couldn't you?"

He was right; she could. She knew about them through industry gossip, and through her own personal observations of seeing them propping up bars and of making drunken fools of themselves at conferences. "Yeah."

"Well, *no-one* has ever said anything like that about you. And, believe me, if you made a habit of getting drunk people would be talking about it. That test is aimed at people who find themselves doing things like that a lot." Clark paused, gave her a wry half-smile, then added, "You know, if you're really worried, you could see a counsellor. Or maybe try Al-Anon — your mother's alcoholism obviously had an impact on you, and maybe you need to talk about it in the right environment. And…" he hesitated, then added, "If you'd like someone to go with you, I'm available."

That sounded sensible; maybe she would look up her nearest group, Lois thought. "Thanks, Clark. You've been a great help. And I'm sorry I yelled at you."

He gave her a flash of the brilliant, knee-trembling smile she loved. "I think you were entitled. And I'm glad I could help."

He was leaving; wishing once again that there was some way to rub out the past and her crass stupidity so that they could start again, Lois followed him to the door. He bade her goodnight as a friend would: with a smile, thanks for her hospitality and an expressed hope that she would sleep well.

And she thanked him and sent him on his way, yearning for him to lean towards her and kiss her, but knowing that he would never do that again.


After Clark left, Lois went back to her laptop and redialled. Clark had made her challenge the conclusion she'd drawn for herself, and made her realise that she couldn't just decide she had tendencies towards alcoholism without doing any research at all. There was no real reason to believe that she was like her mother, and so far she'd shown little similarities of behaviour.

So she went back to the website Clark had showed her, and spent an hour reading and following links and doing some serious thinking. When she finally shut down for the night she was feeling a lot happier, less inclined to believe that she was on some sort of downward spiral, and less afraid even to contemplate having another drink. Alcohol, like many dangerous things in life — like cars, for instance — had to be treated with caution. That was a lesson which, no doubt, her mother had learned a very hard way indeed, and Lois resolved to arrange to see Ellen Lane some time in the near future. She had meant it when she'd told Clark she respected her mother; it was time she showed it, and also learned from Ellen's experience.

Leaning back in her chair, she reflected again on the caring, insistent way Clark had made her face her fears and had then persuaded her that they were probably groundless. She found herself wishing, once again, that he'd turned to her on his way out the door and kissed her — or that she'd had the courage to kiss him, assuming that he wouldn't have just pushed her away in disgust. And then she remembered the shock of realising, for the first time, that she *didn't* regret making love with him that night three months ago.

She didn't regret their lovemaking one bit. It had been wonderful… sensual, sensuous, loving, the most erotic and intense sexual experience she had ever had. For the first time, she'd been with a lover who had cared more about her own pleasure than his — which was all the more remarkable now that she realised he'd been a virgin. Clark had been passionate, but giving; his body had been insistent, but his entire being had been lover-like. If she'd only *noticed* how he was treating her, allowed herself to see what had been in his every gesture, every touch of his sensitive hands… he had *cared* about her. Their lovemaking had been special to her.

And so, if she'd trusted him, as her body had clearly been telling her that she could, if she hadn't leapt to conclusions, she could by now be this man's steady girlfriend. And…

And she wanted that. Wanted it so much that, if she hadn't been sitting down, her knees could have given way.

It wasn't just that she found Clark attractive. Nor was it that his lovemaking had been the most perfect experience of her life. It wasn't even that he'd made her feel beautiful, desirable, sexy, that he'd put her own pleasure above his own. It was that she knew, somehow, that Clark had made her feel loveable that night. No other man she'd ever known had done that.

And *he* was definitely loveable. Now that she'd abandoned that false image of him she'd built up in her attempt to convince herself that she'd done the right thing in rejecting him, she could see Clark clearly for what he was. Not just the decent man she'd admitted that he was in the jeep that morning, but a wonderful, kind, warm and caring man. Someone generous enough not only to forgive her the unforgivable, but also to offer her his friendship. And who cared enough to set her straight in what she was now coming to believe had been an irrational fear that she was an alcoholic.

But she was having these thoughts three months too late, she knew. She'd missed her chance where Clark Kent was concerned; now, she should count herself fortunate that he wanted her as a friend. And she was fortunate; this time, she wouldn't wreck their budding friendship. He mattered to her too much for that.

When she finally went to bed, she slept far more soundly and peacefully than she had in months.


Coming to slow wakefulness the following morning, Clark gradually realised that something unexpected was happening. There were sounds in his apartment — a TV blaring, a radio playing, the sounds of traffic passing on the street.

He sat up in bed, puzzled, trying to figure out what it was… and then realised. His powers were back!

Barely able to believe it, he focused his vision on the wall ahead of him; it blurred, and then disappeared, leaving him looking at the sky and other buildings beyond. Then he willed himself upwards, and in under a second he was floating over his bed, the sheet slipping off him to land in a heap on the bed.

Too delighted to stay in bed any longer, he had a lightening-fast shower before dressing in one of his Superman suits; he couldn't wait to go flying. But the circuit of Metropolis, complete with euphoric loop-the-loops, didn't seem sufficient to work off his sheer joy at being back to normal. He wanted to shout out to everyone that his powers were back, that Superman was alive again. And yet, of course, he couldn't. No-one knew — no-one *could* know — that there had ever been a problem.

Except for…

He changed direction and headed for Smallville, landing in his parents' back yard a few minutes later. The back door was thrown open as he strode up to the house; his mother stood there and stared at him in amazement.

"Hi Mom! Am I too late for breakfast?" Clark asked, teasing, as he swept her into a hug.

"Even if you were, you know darn well I'd still make you something, don't you?" she said, laughing. "So I take it your powers are back?"

"Yeah. This morning."

"Well, I won't say we told you so," she commented, leading him into the kitchen. "Your father's outside, but I'd be surprised if he hadn't heard you landing."

She was right; under a minute later, as he and his mother were talking about his reclamation of the spaceship, the door opened and Jonathan Kent came in. "Thought I heard a sonic boom somewhere near," he said laconically, but the expression on his face made his pleasure clear.

"So where's that green stuff?" Jonathan asked a little later, once Clark had related the story of his kidnap and escape once again.

"Back at my apartment. I didn't think about going back for it this morning, but I'll fly out with it soon. I want to bring my ship here too — maybe leave it in my tree-house. It should be safe there."

"Well, make sure you do, son. You don't want that stuff getting to you again by accident. I'll bury it out in one of the far fields."

Martha cut in then. "You said Lois knows some things about Superman now — things which could be dangerous?"

Clark nodded. "She knows I came here as a baby, Mom. And I know that she'll be wondering about who brought me up and what I did before I got the Suit. She's probably already worked out that I have some sort of secret identity — if I'm lucky, though, she'll come at it the wrong way."

Jonathan frowned. "The wrong way?"

"Yeah — she'll think that Superman's the real person and that the disguise is whoever he pretends to be otherwise. That won't lead her to me — Clark's too real, I think, for her to wonder whether he could be someone else in disguise."

"I hate it when you talk about yourself in the third person, Clark!" Martha said with a sigh.

He grinned, leaning across the table to drop a kiss on his mother's cheek. "Sorry. Occupational hazard! But seriously," he added, "I think I can trust Lois. She said she wouldn't print any of this, and I know she means it. If she does find out more about Superman, I know she won't abuse the information."

"But what if she does figure it all out?" Martha asked anxiously.

Clark considered for a moment, then spoke his thoughts aloud. "I'm not sure how she could. She gave me the folder Trask had about the spaceship and the Kryptonite, and I know she didn't have time to read it all. The details about finding them in Smallville were tucked away at the back, and anyway I think that if she'd seen that she'd have asked me. She knows I'm from Smallville."

"Well, if you're sure," Jonathan said slowly. "But you be careful, son."


The kidnap of a Daily Planet reporter by a UFO-obsessed madman was still making the headlines the next morning, Lois noted with interest as she picked up a copy of the Planet on her way to work. And, much to her great satisfaction, tucked away below the fold was a brief follow-up on her own E-nable story, trailing some new material on the inside pages. She experienced a minor stab of resentment at not having bagged the follow-up herself — Eduardo, with assistance from Jimmy, had covered it — but then she reminded herself that she really had needed that day off. And anyway, it wasn't as if she didn't have enough headline-grabbing material to work on today. She couldn't wait to get stuck into figuring out exactly where Trask was getting his orders from.

But first, she had something far more important to do.

Perry was in, but he was busy; she had to content herself with a brief conversation by her desk in which he assured himself that she was okay and that she had enough resources to carry on with the Trask follow-up. She didn't really, but that wasn't something she wanted to discuss with him in the middle of the newsroom, so she agreed that she was fine, and resolved to talk to him properly as soon as his schedule cleared up a little — even if she had to wait until late that evening to do it. This was too important to wait even one more day.

It was mid-afternoon before she was able to sneak into Perry's office in between the series of wall-to-wall meetings he seemed to be having today. She'd brought him a cup of coffee — "it's strong and sweet, just as you like it," she assured him as she laid it on his desk.

"Now, Lois, honey, much as I appreciate your kind thought, I'm very sure that you didn't just come in here to bring me that," he replied, exaggerating his Southern drawl. "So what can I do for you?"

She took a seat in front of her desk, figuring that it made her look less of a supplicant. "Well, Chief, maybe it's a question of what I can do for you."

Perry raised his eyebrows. "Well, that sure sounds intriguing. Okay, you got yourself three minutes before I have to toss you out before my next meeting."

"Okay, I'll cut to the chase," she said firmly. "We're short-staffed in the newsroom, Perry. I know I said this morning that I could cope, but that was because I could see you were busy and I didn't want to add to your hassles."

"I'm still busy," he drawled, glancing at his watch. "What's different now?"

"We need to know whether there's going to be a new appointment to take up some of the extra work," Lois insisted, determined not to be put off.

Perry sighed and ran a hand through his thinning hair. "Lois, honey, I know we're down on staff — it didn't help when Murray took that LNN job last month. But I really don't have time at the moment to go approving job advertisements, let alone interviewing and all of that. Maybe in the new year, if y'all can wait that long."

"We can't wait that long — and anyway, we don't need to," Lois instantly countered. "Chief, what if there was someone available who had all the qualifications and experience the Planet needs, and who could start now? Well, in the next week or so. You wouldn't need to advertise, hold interviews and all that, would you?"

Perry sat up straight and gave her a direct look. "Come on, Lois, out with it. Who've you got in mind?"

"Clark Kent. I think you should re-hire him. He's wasted at the Star, and if he was here the Planet would get the exclusives on anything he or I finds linking Jason Trask to the FBI." Lois's words came out in a rush, completely unlike the way she'd planned to make her case. She'd been mentally practising this all morning, ever since she'd resolved to put into practice the idea which had come to her the previous evening when she and Clark had been laughing over the Star editor's news judgement. Clark deserved to be back at the Planet, and since it was her fault that he'd left, it should be up to her to ensure that he was offered his job back.

There was, she had to admit, a selfish motive in there too. She *wanted* Clark back at the Planet, and she wanted him working as her partner. She hadn't given him a proper chance before, when they'd been paired up to work on the Messenger sabotage. But the way they'd worked together to escape captivity at the hands of Jason Trask, and then bounced ideas off each other about Trask's motives and who could possibly be behind Bureau 39 had shown her that they made a great partnership. Correction — they *could* make a great partnership, given the opportunity. And since she had no intention of leaving the Planet to work at the Star, she wanted Clark back at the Planet.

So she'd planned her strategy carefully; to alert Perry to the fact that they were short-staffed — which they were: Clark had never been replaced, and Murray's departure had exacerbated an existing problem. Then she would drop Clark's name casually into the mix, and, whatever Perry's response was, she would point out all the advantages of bringing Clark back.

Instead she'd let Perry unnerve her, and she'd thrown all her carefully-thought-out arguments at him at once. So much for her strategy.

But a broad smile curved slowly across the editor's craggy face. "Kent! So you two have made it up, then?"

Lois gave an awkward shrug. "Well, we were locked up together for a couple of hours, and then we shared a ride back to town. We had a lot of time to… talk."

"Well, honey, that's just great." Perry was getting to his feet, still smiling. "Y'know, I told that boy the day he quit that there'd always be a job for him at the Daily Planet. I told him his job would be waiting for him soon as I knew you and he could work together without being at each other's throats all the time. I knew it was just a matter of time, but, honey, I'm real pleased that you've changed your mind about him. You're right — Kent's a great reporter and he's wasted at the Star."

Lois stared at Perry, stunned. *What* was he saying…? That Clark's job had always been there for him — and that Clark *knew* that? But then… why hadn't Clark come back to the Planet already? Why was he still slumming it at the Star?

Because Perry had said that he'd take Clark back as soon as the two of them could work together again. And Clark knew that was the condition. Clark *knew*. And that explained why he'd been so understanding, so willing to agree to be friends despite what she'd done to him — that was probably why he'd made such a big deal of telling her he wished they hadn't slept together because he'd wanted them to be friends!

*Was* that why he'd told her he wanted to be friends? Just because he wanted his job back? Because he was so desperate to get away from the Star — so desperate he was even prepared to say he'd forgiven her for what she'd done to him and pretend he liked her?

She was recalled to awareness of her surroundings by Perry coughing pointedly. "Ahh… Lois, I did tell you that I have another meeting, so…?"

"Oh! Ummm…" She thought frantically. There was no time right now to get hung up over the question of Clark's motives. Did she want him back at the Planet, even if he had been deceitful over saying he wanted her friendship?

There was no doubt about it. She did. After all, it was her fault that he'd left in the first place. "Well, in that case, Perry, why don't I get him to make an appointment to come in and see you?"

"Tell him to hand in his notice at that other rag," Perry answered gruffly. "His desk is here whenever he's free to start."

She left Perry's office barely noticing her surroundings. She'd thought she understood Clark; she'd thought he'd really forgiven her and wanted to be her friend. Was it possible that it was just an act? Did he want his job at the Planet back so badly?

Had she, yet again, made a bad judgement where a man was concerned?

Oh, admittedly she'd been very wrong about him before; but just because Clark hadn't been guilty of what she'd previously thought didn't mean that he *had* to be innocent of any other possible charges, did it? After all, no-one was perfect — and it could well have seemed like an irresistibly easy way of getting back the job he wanted.

Buying herself time before she had to sit down and work again, she went to help herself to a coffee, her thoughts on Clark the whole time. All she could see, despite the busy newsroom, was Clark as he'd looked in his form-fitting black jeans, bending over her as she'd filled in the questionnaire, Clark sitting beside her on the couch and holding her hand in a gesture of comfort and reassurance. A battered and dusty-looking Clark hugging her as he left her apartment that morning. A bleeding and injured Clark hugging her close in Trask's makeshift prison cell; Clark holding her, keeping her warm with his body heat.

And Clark, in the jeep, patiently and gently persuading her to tell him about her past and why she found it so hard to trust. Could that man really have conspired behind her back and then pretended to win her trust and friendship?

She didn't know. She didn't want to believe it, but…

But she'd misjudged Clark before. What if her instinctive guess about him was wrong this time too?

But, even if she was right and he had pretended, didn't she owe him this opportunity to return to the Planet? Well, she did; that wasn't remotely arguable.

But she just wished he'd talked to her, told her what Perry had said, trusted her to do the right thing. All he'd had to do was tell her that he wanted to come back to the Planet, and that Perry had offered him a route, so long as *she* wasn't going to pick fights with him every chance she got this time. If he'd told her that, asked what she thought, she could have told him what she planned to do.

Returning to her desk, she made a decision. Before, she'd condemned Clark unheard. Now, though she wasn't sure what to think, she was going to ask him to explain before she drew her own conclusions. That was the right thing to do.


Clark should be home by now, Lois thought as she drove across to his apartment shortly before six-thirty that evening. She hoped he was; she needed to have this conversation *now*. It had been bad enough having to stay at work, trying to chase down non-existent leads on Jason Trask and come up with another follow-up to the E-nable story, while her mind had been somewhere else entirely. Specifically, on Clark Kent. Wondering whether he really had meant his declaration of friendship. Deciding definitively at around 3.45 pm that he couldn't have — after all, who would really want Lois Lane as a friend? Hadn't she scared off or pushed away anyone who had ever wanted to be her friend? Hadn't she treated Clark abominably? Why on earth would he even contemplate wanting her as a friend?

Then, at around 4.05 pm, she'd remembered his voice on the phone, when she'd called him the previous afternoon to find out how he was. He'd sounded genuinely pleased to hear from her — that couldn't have been put on, could it? Unless he really was a great actor. And he'd been very talkative; teasing her, keeping the conversation going, even introducing some risque banter at one point. And *he'd* been the one to suggest dinner at her place; and he'd been amusing, entertaining and great company then.

*And* he'd figured out that she was worried about something, and had put himself out to persuade her to confide in him, and then had immediately set about convincing her that she had nothing to worry about. Why would he have done any of that if he was just pretending? It took real friendship to care about someone like that, she'd convinced herself. He wasn't deceiving her.

But then, at close to five o'clock as she'd been finishing the one not-very-earthshattering story she'd written that day, another objection had occurred to her. Why *hadn't* he told her what Perry had said? Why hadn't he asked for her help in returning to the Planet? She could have believed that he didn't want to return to the Planet if it hadn't been perfectly obvious that he wasn't happy working at the Star. In fact, she'd guess that he was miserable there. He hadn't really answered her question in the jeep, when she'd asked him how he liked working there. But in her apartment, last night, she'd seen his expression when she'd been teasing him about his editor's news values.

Clark was wasted at the Star, as Perry said. And Clark himself knew it. So of course he wanted to get away from there. Naturally he would have remembered Perry's promise to him.

So why hadn't he told her?

Even now, parking her Jeep Cherokee outside Clark's apartment, she had no idea what to think. Her brain was screaming at her that he was a man, and men were inherently untrustworthy, and that this was why she shouldn't even contemplate giving him a chance to lie himself out of it. Yet from somewhere deeper inside her came the calm, still reassurance that Clark could be trusted. Other men might let her down; Clark wouldn't. She should believe him.

Trust him.

<No man can ever be trusted>

Clark can.

<You're sure of that, are you?>

Nooo… *yes*.

<And so you're going to let him walk all over you, lie to you, betray you, and leave you hurt… again?>


Lois took a shuddering breath, forcing out the twin voices in her head which insisted on arguing with each other. This wasn't helping. Why couldn't she be as decisive, as intuitive, in her personal life as she was in her professional life as a reporter? She *knew*, as a reporter, when someone was lying to her. She knew when a lead was good and when it was flaky. She knew when a story was a real zinger, a front-page splash, and when it was a turkey, only fit for burying somewhere underneath the classifieds.

And yet she was incapable of looking a man in the eye and determining once and for all whether he was a lying snake of scummy low-life from the Planet Dirt, or whether he was good, and honest, and decent, and caring, and… and a man she could allow herself to love, even if he didn't love her back.

Clark was a good guy, she was sure of it. Hadn't he as good as told her that he'd be willing to give up his life to save hers? He'd told her that if they couldn't both get away, she was to go on her own and leave him — and she knew very well that he'd have let Trask kill him rather than give any clues as to her whereabouts.

His caring insistence the previous evening also spoke volumes. How could she not see how genuinely trustworthy he was?

<All men are hiding something. If they're nice to you, it's only because they want something>

Oh yes, Lois well remembered that maxim; it was one her mother had frequently repeated when she'd drunk just enough to be maudlin, to complain ad infinitum about Sam Lane's endless perfidies. And Lucy believed it too, Lois thought. Her sister's approach to men was quite different from her own. Lucy had had a succession of boyfriends since she was old enough to date, and Lois suspected that she took none of them seriously. Lucy was out for what she could get: fun, company, the feeling, at least for a time, that someone found her desirable. Then, Lois suspected, Lucy simply dumped them so that she could be the one to end it; the person with the power in the relationship, instead of the one on the receiving end.

And Lois herself had come to believe in that maxim herself, though it had been a long, hard lesson. Somewhere deep in her heart, she admitted to herself now as she sat outside Clark's apartment and tried to motivate herself to go and knock on his door, she'd always wanted to believe in the romantic fantasy of happy ever after. One of her biggest secrets, something she would never dream of confessing to anyone, was the romance novels she read in the privacy of her bedroom. Heroes who could be trusted — or, where they made mistakes, always came and begged the heroine's forgiveness; heroines who, no matter what their problems or shortcomings, were always made to feel loved and wanted and attractive by the hero by the end of the book.

And, somehow, without even admitting it to herself, Lois had dreamed of a fantasy hero who would come and sweep her off her feet; someone completely trustworthy, utterly reliable and decent, as well as good-looking, who would love her for the rest of his life. For a while, she'd tried to fool herself that Superman was that fantasy hero, but underneath she'd been only too aware that it wasn't going to happen. He was a truly good man, but he was far above her. Although she'd insisted to Clark that she was in love with Superman — and she'd even believed it at the time — she'd known that she was fooling herself; being in love with someone as remote, as far out of her reach, as the Super-hero meant that she didn't have to face the reality of learning to trust an ordinary man with her love.

Although, a stray thought occurred to her then, if she could have got to know him before he'd become Superman, when he was still disguising himself as the ordinary man he had to have been before he wore the Suit, could he have…?

Well, there was no point in brooding over Superman, she reminded herself caustically. He wasn't relevant to this discussion anyway. The real issue was Clark. And she wasn't going to get anywhere in figuring out whether he could be trusted by sitting in her car. She had to go and knock on that door and *ask* him.

Even if something inside her was yelling at her to stay put, not to ask the question, because once she asked it, she'd have an answer and that answer might not be what she wanted to hear.

She got out of the car and walked up the steps to Clark's door.


It had been hard for Clark to go back to the Star after almost a day spent in Lois's company. He really hadn't realised how much he'd missed that kind of high-level intellectual stimulation, not to mention being around someone who really cared about decent news values. Oh, Linda was frequently as impatient as he was with Mike Lloyd's view of what made a front-page story, but she seemed to take it in her stride nonetheless. He suspected that her ambitions were somewhat different to his; she'd once or twice told him how she would like to see the Star develop as a paper, and he guessed that she was really after the editorship. She'd be good, he thought; she liked the Star for what it was and for the potential it could have, unlike himself — he just wanted to be working at a different newspaper.

Linda had been very curious about his kidnap. At first Clark had put it down to genuine concern for him, but he'd quickly realised that her real interest lay in finding out how he and Lois had got along. He'd soon found, from something she let slip, that she was aware he and Lois hadn't been on good terms, either at the Planet or since. Did she somehow see Lois as a rival? he wondered. Was she wondering whether, in the intimacy of imprisonment, he and Lois had managed to put their differences behind them? Well, they had; but that wasn't something he intended to broadcast around the Star, or even tell his partner.

He was, though, now very sure that Linda was the former room-mate Lois had referred to; her interest in his relationship with Lois was too intense for it to be mere curiosity about a fellow female reporter. While he didn't want to make any judgements about his partner's behaviour — after all, he'd only heard Lois's side of the story — his conviction made him a little more wary of Linda.

However, he'd had other things to think about that day besides Linda, and even besides carrying out the responsibilities of his job. Superman was back. That, he realised, made his calculations of the previous evening somewhat moot. He'd all but decided to quit the Star and get a job in another major city somewhere. But that had seemed a workable plan while Superman was consigned to memory. Now that he had his powers back, moving to somewhere else wasn't so simple any more. If both Superman and Clark moved, that would look suspicious. If Clark moved and Superman stayed, how could he convincingly continue to patrol Metropolis?

That just wouldn't work. He had to stay in Metropolis — he'd never really wanted to leave anyway, he knew, so that decision was something of a relief. Lois lived in Metropolis, and even if they could only be friends he wanted to be near her. But he couldn't stay at the Star, so he needed to find a solution to that.

Which brought him back to Lois. He really should talk to her. He was pretty sure she'd guessed that he wasn't happy at the Star, and, judging by the few slips she'd made the previous day, he suspected that she would quite like to work with him again. Maybe, if he asked her, she could talk to Perry for him, find out whether there was likely to be a vacancy anywhere in the near future.

Yes, that was the sensible thing to do, he decided. Talk to Lois. So… should he call her? Go around to her apartment? — no, too intrusive. Email her, maybe. Or call. His gaze drifted speculatively to the telephone mounted on the wall between kitchen and living-area, but his tentative movement towards it was halted by a sharp knock at the door.

Muttering an imprecation, Clark changed course and headed towards the door, lowering his glasses as he went; then he stopped dead, his jaw going slack. It was Lois! But why was she here?

Maybe she wanted to talk about Trask, he thought as he reached out and pulled the door open, remembering just in time to act surprised when he saw her.


As Lois reached up to knock at the door, she was struck by the realisation that the last time she'd been in Clark's apartment was the night they'd made love. It wasn't that she'd forgotten that; she'd just blocked it out, she supposed. Well, she simply had to ignore that. It wasn't why she was here, after all. So any memories of kissing him which came to her mind would simply have to be suppressed. And she could do it. Easily.

As a signal of her determination, she knocked more sharply than she'd intended.

The door was opened bare seconds later and Clark stood there, a surprised expression on his face. His very handsome face, even with the minor blemish of the Band-Aid he still sported. And he was wearing the same soft blue shirt he'd worn the night they'd made love… She almost turned tail and ran, but reminded herself just in time that she was *not* a coward. This had to be faced.

"Hey, Lois! You won't believe it, but I was just about to call you!" he told her cheerfully, holding the door wide so that she could enter.

"Oh… uh, you were?" she answered, stepping past him and down the shallow steps into the apartment. It looked the same, exactly the same… over there, the table where they'd eaten and talked, playing the classic conversational game of testing each other out; there, the couch where she'd sat as they talked and drank wine, and watched the news… and from where she'd offered her crazy, stupid, *dangerous* challenge, and where they'd touched and kissed and caressed…

She tore her gaze away, but that was a mistake. Over at the other side of the room were the twin arches leading into Clark's bedroom, where he'd carried her and they'd undressed each other and made love and… and where she'd woken up the next morning and gone ballistic. Gone totally, illogically, crazy.

And, standing here in the place where it had all started, Lois knew that she would give anything to be able to go back in time to the morning after. *This* time, she would reach for Clark, kiss him into wakefulness, and start the game of kissing and touching and caressing and lovemaking all over again.

"Can I get you some coffee?" Clark's casual question burst into her thoughts, making her jump.

"Uh… yeah…" She followed him into the kitchen, watching his easy movements as he collected together the required materials and crockery.

"So what did the guys at the Planet think of Lois Lane taking a day off?" he asked with a teasing grin, throwing her completely off balance.

"Oh… uh, well, no-one really said anything. I think Perry might have given them a kind of exaggerated picture — suggested I was injured or something." Which reminded her — he *looked* okay… "Are you okay today? Your ribs…?"

"Me?" There was that blinding smile again. "I'm fine, Lois, trust me. Must have been just bruising."

"I guess… but you were pretty sick."

He shrugged. "Must have been one of those twenty-four hour things." But she noticed that he didn't quite meet her gaze when he said that; he was spooning coffee into the jug at the time, but even still, she couldn't help thinking that he was hiding something.

Then she remembered what he'd said when he answered the door. "You said you were going to call me — has Perry called you?" Had the editor got in before her and offered Clark his job back, or suggested that he talk to Lois?

"Perry White?" Now Clark seemed genuinely surprised. "No — I haven't talked to him in about two months."

"Seems you had quite a talk the day you quit, though," she'd said before she could stop herself, her voice accusatory.

He froze for a moment, then laid the filter-jug down on the counter and stared at her in bemusement. "Lois, what are you talking about? What am I supposed to have done?"

<This time> she could almost hear him finish, although he didn't say the words.

"I went to see Perry today. I wanted to ask him whether he'd be prepared to offer you back your job at the Planet. You don't belong at the Star." She paused for breath, noticing peripherally that Clark was staring at her in stunned disbelief. "I had all my arguments ready, about how you were too good for the Star and how together you and I would get the Planet some pretty great stories, starting with who's really behind Bureau 39, when… when Perry told me you and he'd had this all arranged right from the day you left!"

"Uh… you've lost me, Lois," Clark said, sounding baffled. "We've had what arranged?"

"That your job was still waiting for you at the Planet. That you could come back as soon as Perry was sure I wouldn't be tearing strips off you all the time." There — let him deny that!

She watched him, waiting, *hoping* that he had a simple explanation which would make everything all right. He hadn't heard Perry say it, perhaps, or he'd treated it as a joke, or… or he'd never intended to come back to the Planet anyway, so it was irrelevant.

But he frowned. "Yeah, he said that. Well, what he actually said was that you needed time to calm down and forget… well, whatever it was that was making you mad at me. And then I might be able to come back."

He *had* known.

She turned away from him. "So… yesterday, all the stuff about us being friends… was that just…?" She couldn't finish; it hurt too much to ask the question, to let him see how much she cared.

But his hand descended on her shoulder a moment later. "Lois, do you really think that?" His voice was incredulous.

"I don't know what to think," she muttered.

"Look at me, Lois," he urged. His hand tugged at her shoulder, and, reluctantly, she turned to face him. He was standing watching her, a concerned expression on his face, those dark brown eyes gazing down at her. "Lois, do you really think that?"

She stared back at him, again remembering the kind things he'd said the previous day, his gentleness, his teasing; and she shook her head. "I don't… want to think it."

"Then don't." This time his voice was soft, persuasive.

"Tell me it's not true," she insisted, resisting his urging. He wanted her to trust him unconditionally, and she just couldn't do that. She needed him to tell her what his intentions had been; she'd trusted the wrong person too many times before.

He sighed, but didn't release her. "Okay, first, Mr White did tell me that. And for a long time I guess I held onto that as some sort of… oh, I don't know, a promise or a sign that I might be able to come back to the Planet some day. It was something to hold onto in that first month or so at the Star — I really hated working there then. I suppose telling myself that it was only temporary made it easier, somehow."

Lois could understand that; she knew very well that she would hate working at the Star, so it made perfect sense that Clark would. "You said, at first?"

"Yeah. I guess I just stopped kidding myself after a while. Or, at least, I told myself the Chief hadn't really meant it, or that even if he had at the time he'd have forgotten it. Anyway, I tried to make the best of it at the Star, but I've known for a while that I wouldn't stay. Yesterday I was making plans to send my resume to papers like the Washington Post, the New York Times and so on."

"Aiming high," Lois commented, but inwardly she was shocked. He was planning to move! And just when they'd become friends! He was just like everyone else, after all. He was abandoning her too.

He moved away from her, his hand dropping from her shoulder; she felt the chill of his absence. Shrugging, he answered, "I was aiming high when I went to the Planet. I thought I might strike lucky again."

Lois latched onto the one crumb of comfort in his words. "Thought?"

"Yeah, thought." He was leaning against the counter-top now, running a hand through unruly hair. "I… well, after yesterday, when we were getting along so well, and I thought we really made a great team working on that Trask stuff… well, that was why I was going to call you. I wanted to ask you whether you'd ask Mr White whether I'd have any chance if I applied for a job at the Planet again — and whether you'd be okay with it if I did it."

He grimaced. "So, yeah, I guess you could say I was hoping you'd help me get a job at the Planet again. But I meant everything I said yesterday about wanting to be your friend." She heard his deep, heavy sigh before he continued. "I… well, I'm glad you came to ask me about it, Lois, but I wish you could've trusted me, instead of thinking I'd do that to you."

She had *wanted* to trust him, but…

Before she could say anything, he had levered himself away from the counter and resumed making coffee. Throwing her a quick glance as he worked, he added, "It kind of got lost in there somehow, but did you really say you went to ask Mr White to re-hire me?" He sounded incredulous.

"Yeah. It seemed… the right thing to do." She was playing with her hair, which she only did when she was feeling nervous or awkward.

He paused, and gave her an awkward half-smile. "I really appreciate that, Lois. I can't tell you how much it means to me."

Giving an embarrassed shrug, she said, "Like I said, you're wasted at the Star." And he didn't want to leave, after all. Because they'd become friends, he'd said. Okay, maybe there were other reasons as well; he'd commented on how well they worked as a reporting team, but then she'd noticed that herself. That was one of the reasons she'd approached Perry on his behalf. He wanted to work with her, and that pleased her more than she'd expected.

Another quick smile from Clark; then he added, in a self-deprecating voice, "I guess it must have been quite a shock for you to hear the Chief say he wanted me back anyway and was only waiting for you to get over your problem with me."

"Yeah, it was. I didn't know what to think, Clark… but I guess I should have trusted you," she admitted.

He was silent for a moment, concentrating on pouring coffee. Then he passed her a cup, giving her another brief smile as he did so. "Maybe it's not so easy to trust when it's been your experience that people rarely give you any reason to trust them."

Lois stared at him. How was it that he was able to understand her motivations and hang-ups so well, when she barely understood them herself? "I should have trusted *you*, though. You haven't given me any reason not to — you haven't lied to me or let me down, despite what I thought."

As she watched Clark, he seemed to go very still at that comment, and there was a long silence, during which she really didn't know what to say; what was he trying to tell her? *Was* there something he'd lied to her about? Did he still not trust her? — not that she could blame him.

Just as she was wondering whether she should make her excuses and leave, she saw him swallow, and then his mouth formed itself into a grimace. "I haven't given you any reason not to trust me…" he repeated slowly. Then he inhaled deeply. "You know, I've just realised that I can hardly expect you to trust me if I behave like I don't trust you. Maybe it's time I proved once and for all that I really do trust you implicitly, Lois."


Clark had been disappointed, and hurt, to realise that Lois suspected him of ulterior motives in not having told her about his final conversation with Perry White. Then, when he realised that she also thought he could have lied about wanting to be her friend, he was tempted to be angry; but only briefly. After all, he reminded himself, after her confidences the previous day he understood her a lot better now. He could see only too well that she'd had too many experiences in her past where people — usually men — had taken advantage of her.

And at least this time she hadn't jumped to conclusions. She'd come to him and asked. And that quietly-voiced answer — 'I don't… want to think it' — had shown him all too clearly the conflicted state of her mind. She wanted to trust him, but her past was getting in the way.

Telling her the truth about his discussion with Perry White had been easy, and he could tell that she believed him when he said he'd never really thought the Chief meant it. Her obvious shock at his comment that he'd been thinking of leaving Metropolis was very flattering.

Most of all, he was extremely touched that she'd gone to the Planet's editor herself to try to get him re-hired at the Planet. And it looked as if she'd been successful — did she really mean that all he needed to do was contact Perry White and arrange an interview, and the job would be his? That would be wonderful, to be back at the Planet and to be working with Lois. As her partner; that was what she seemed to be suggesting.

But then she'd said those words. 'I should have trusted *you*, though. You haven't given me any reason not to — you haven't lied to me or let me down, despite what I thought.' And he'd been unable to look her in the eye.

He *had* lied to her. He had behaved as if he didn't trust her — even that morning, when talking to his parents. Instead of telling them that he trusted Lois to protect his secret if she got any closer to working out who Superman was, he'd hedged and said he thought she wouldn't find out. He'd hoped she wouldn't work it out. And yet her attitude the previous morning had made it only too clear that she could be trusted where Superman was concerned. She'd even given him the Kryptonite paperwork! There were documents in that file which could have made a great story, but she'd never even considered it. She'd just thrust the papers at him, and later told him in the car that they were for Superman.

She'd shown, in so many ways over the past couple of days, that she could be trusted with what, to him, was a crucially important secret. She might not know he was Superman, but she'd understood the importance of protecting Superman, even to the point of refraining from asking him for further information even when it must have been obvious to her that he knew more than he was saying.

And she had clearly, today, tried very hard to trust him despite the circumstantial evidence.

They might only have been friends again for a very short time, but it was clear that Lois Lane was a person of integrity who was deeply sorry for her error of judgement where he was concerned, and that she had a very strong sense of loyalty where her friends were concerned. And Superman — and now also Clark Kent — were numbered among her friends.

It was time he trusted her — and, in doing so, proved to her that he considered her not only trustworthy, but that he really had meant it when he told her he wanted her as his friend. He needed to make that gesture, to prove to her that she could likewise trust him.

But just as he was about to rush into speech, that pessimistic side of him whispered insidiously, 'what if she can't be trusted? What if she betrays you again?'

She wouldn't, he told himself firmly. He knew Lois now; understood how she ticked, and what made her act the way she did. And, right now, she needed to know that he really did believe in her.

But what if she took advantage of the knowledge in some way? Okay, even if she wasn't tempted at the possibility of a Pulitzer, what if she just couldn't keep the secret — let it slip somehow, or actually told people? Or, even if she didn't do that, would it make her behave differently towards him?

No. Just as he'd been convinced after only a very short time in her company in Trask's prison that she was sincere in her regrets over the way she'd treated him three months earlier, he was now convinced that he could trust her with his biggest secret. And he could rationalise it in any way he chose — the way she'd saved his life, helped him escape, dealt with the Kryptonite, promised to protect Superman's secrets — but ultimately he knew he could trust her because some fundamental instinct, deep inside him, was telling him that she *would* protect his secret.

Just as he'd been convinced that there was some sort of soul-bond between them, that time she'd called for help and he'd heard her in his heart and not with his ears, now his heart was telling him that she deserved to know, and she could be trusted with this. And, above all, he wanted to tell her.

So he took a deep breath and met her gaze, focusing on her with a calm, serious expression. "You know, I've just realised that I can hardly expect you to trust me if I behave like I don't trust you. Maybe it's time I proved once and for all that I really do trust you implicitly, Lois."

"Come and sit down," he urged as she stared at him in confusion. Carrying the coffee-pot to the small dining-table, he then pulled out a chair for Lois. She sat, but looked a little uncomfortable; Clark wondered if she was remembering the last time they sat together at that table.

"I don't know what you mean," she said, giving him a direct look. "You behave like you don't trust me? I thought I was the one who did that."

He shook his head. "There's something very important that you don't know about me, Lois. Now, okay, we've only just become friends, and there's no reason why I should share all my secrets with you, just like there's no reason why you should share yours with me — "

"I've shared a heck of a lot," she muttered, and he smiled briefly, reassuringly.

"I know, and you know — I hope — that no-one will ever hear of any of that from me. But, anyway, there is something about me that I want to tell you. And I know I can trust you with this information, Lois. So I want you to know it."

He had her attention, he could see; she was watching him closely, as if looking for clues as to what he was about to tell her. "Go on," she told him quietly.

"Well…" he began, looking for the best way to approach the subject. This was, after all, the first time he had ever told anyone about himself; Lois was the first person he'd ever felt he could entrust with that knowledge. It was therefore a hugely important moment. And he was finding that, even though he'd made the decision to tell her, he also had to overcome the instinctive habits of protecting his secret at all costs.

"Do you remember what we talked about yesterday when you realised that Superman had come to Earth in that spaceship, Lois?"

She nodded. "He came to Earth as a baby. And grew up here too, I guess."

"Yeah, he did," Clark confirmed. "Those papers you gave me, Lois — how much of them did you read?"

Lois shrugged. "Enough to know why Trask thought that green stuff — the Kryptonite — was dangerous to Superman. And that it had been found in the same place as the spaceship."

"Did you see where they were found? And when the spaceship was found?" he asked, watching her closely, wondering how much she already knew.

She shook her head. "I didn't have time — you'd come back, and I was too concerned about us getting out of there before the FBI got there."

Clark caught and held her gaze. "They were found in Smallville, Kansas," he told her slowly, his voice low and intense, as befitted the enormity of the secret with which he was entrusting her. "And the ship carrying the baby arrived in 1966."

He could see the precise second at which the penny dropped; the moment at which it dawned on her that Superman was in reality the man now talking to her. Her expression changed from keen interest at this opportunity to learn more about her Super-hero to incredulity, bewilderment and awe. "*You're* from Smallville!" she exclaimed, in little more than a whisper. "And 1966… you had to have been born around then…"

"That's right," he confirmed, waiting to see whether she'd guessed it all, or whether he'd have to give her some more clues. But she was staring at him, her gaze taking in every inch of his face, his upper body; her eyes narrowed as she visually swept him, and he could almost read her thought process.

"And you look like him… I never noticed it before, but you have the same hair, the same eyes… the same shape of face…" She trailed off, but reached across the table and grabbed hold of his glasses. He sat perfectly still, exerting iron control over his reactions, and allowed her to remove them.

She laid them on the table and returned her gaze to his face. "Superman," she breathed, shaking her head at the same time, almost as if she could deny the truth which sat across the table from her, staring her in the face with blinding realisation.

"Yes," Clark confirmed; it was almost a relief to admit it. It also felt like an incredibly solemn moment.

"*You're* Superman… no wonder you made me close that box yesterday!" she exclaimed, finding her voice this time. "And I almost opened it again at my apartment!" Now she looked genuinely horrified. "Can it really hurt you?" The question was voiced in a whisper, as if the prospect was almost too horrible to contemplate.

"Yes," he confirmed again. "Lois, I meant it when I told you that you saved my life yesterday. I thought I was going to die when Trask opened that box — I've never, ever, felt pain like that before. I may be invulnerable now, but I wasn't as a kid — I have felt pain before, but this was unbelievable. I was sure I was going to die. It wasn't flu that was making me feverish, Lois. It was the Kryptonite."

"And your ribs — your face?"

He shrugged. "The stuff takes away my invulnerability, so I can be hurt just like any ordinary guy. But," he added quickly, seeing the concern on her face, "surprisingly enough, I seem to heal pretty quickly. Last night, when I came over to your apartment, you remember that I was still wearing a Band-Aid on my face? Like I am now?"

She nodded.

"I didn't need it by then — the cut had almost completely healed. And now — " He reached up and ripped it off, allowing her to see the unmarred flesh beneath. "As you see, not a mark."

"I can hardly believe it — *you're* him, all along…" Her fingers extended towards him then, reaching up to brush the line of his cheekbone where the Band-Aid had been; he suspected that she was barely aware that she was doing it. His suspicions were confirmed then as she suddenly looked embarrassed and pulled her hand back. He caught it, in a lightning-quick reaction, and imprisoned her hand firmly in his own, holding their clasped hands between them on the table and giving her a reassuring grin as he did so.

She blinked. "*How* fast did you just move…?"

Clark couldn't resist grinning. "Super-speed does come in handy sometimes."

She was frowning again. "Your powers… did you lose them as well as your invulnerability?"

"Yeah." He grimaced, his hand gripping hers a little more firmly as he remembered the long hours when he thought his Super-powers had vanished for ever. "Don't doubt it, Lois — if I'd had powers that night, I'd have had us both out of there. Even if it meant you'd have found out about me, I think I'd have still done it."

But she shook her head. "You'd have been a fool to take that risk with me then, Super — " She broke off as he shook his head swiftly.

"Clark, Lois, not Superman. I will explain everything to you — I'll tell you anything you want to know. But, for now, I need you to understand that Clark is who I am. Superman's just… just a disguise to enable me to do what I can without having my life and my parents' destroyed by people who want to — "

"Want to do what Trask tried to do with us," she finished quickly. "Like you said in the car yesterday, your parents would never be safe. I understand that. And you'd never have any kind of a normal life, I guess. You know," she added, her expression wistful, "I speculated, a while ago — after you gave me that interview — that Superman might have been here longer than anyone knew, and that he might have done things in secret before going public."

He smiled then; he'd always known Lois Lane would be the most formidable of the entire Metropolis press pack once she overcame her hero-worship. "I knew I was in trouble when you asked me — Superman — when he came to Earth."

"And you refused to answer," she reminded him. "And that made me very suspicious."

"Oh, I knew that," he admitted, giving her a rueful grin. "I always knew you'd be dangerous in a one-on-one interview, Lois."

"Except I wasn't the first time you let me talk to you properly," she reminded him, biting her lip; her face was flushed and she avoided his gaze.

He shrugged, dismissing her behaviour that day as unimportant. "I'm sorry I embarrassed you by bringing it up in that meeting, Lois. I shouldn't have done it. It was unprofessional — but, worse, it gave you the impression that Superman had been telling his friend Clark all about you, and probably laughing about it. And…" He hesitated suddenly, unwilling to finish his thought; he was reluctant to raise the reason for their lengthy estrangement again.

"And…?" Lois prompted, raising her gaze again and giving him a direct stare with her intent brown eyes.

"And… I realised afterwards that it probably left you wondering if 'Clark' had confided in 'Superman' too," he told her slowly, making quotes in the air with his fingers as he spoke.

She looked away, and he knew he'd been right.

But she didn't comment on that, instead reverting to her earlier point. "Anyway, you'd have been crazy to let me find out yesterday, if you'd still had your powers. You had no idea whether I could be trusted — for all you knew, I could have decided to take the story straight to the Planet once we were out of there."

"That's true," he agreed. "When we were still locked up, at any rate, I didn't really have any way of knowing whether I could trust you or not. I had to take a risk by getting you to close that lead box so the Kryptonite couldn't get to me again — " He halted then, remembering what had helped him make that decision. He hadn't had a lot of choice, but besides that… "But, remember, you saved my life, Lois. And you made it clear that we were leaving that room together or not at all. That told me a lot about whether you could be trusted. And then, both in Trask's headquarters and in the jeep on the way back, you understood why it was important to protect Superman's secrets. Yeah, you found out things yesterday which would have made a great story — probably guarantee you at least a Kerth, if not a Pulitzer. But you agreed to keep all of them a secret — and because I asked you to. Me — not even Superman. So I have every reason to know *now* that I can trust you. I'm not even going to ask you to keep what I've told you tonight a secret. I know I don't need to."

"No." Lois shook her head, at the same time drawing her hand away from his grip. "No, you don't. Even though this would be the greatest story I've *ever* had my hands on…" She gave him a grin and a wink, the first glimpse of humour he'd seen from her since she'd arrived at his apartment. "I can't believe I'm letting a story as big as this go! But… nope, I couldn't do that to you, Clark, even if I wanted to. And I *don't* want to."

"Thanks." He smiled back at her, and for a few moments they shared a mutual sense of harmony.

Then she sighed, giving him a self-deprecating look. "It must have been… really hard for you not to show what you thought of me any time you met me as Superman."

He responded with a wry grimace, adding, "Not really. This disguise only works as long as no-one makes a connection between Clark Kent and Superman. That's why Superman is pretty formal and distant with people. So Superman had to act completely as he normally would around you — I couldn't afford to let anything affect how I behaved. Though…" He sighed heavily. "I admit I did fly off a little more quickly sometimes than I needed to."

"But…" She was staring at him again, appalled realisation starkly written on her face, her dark eyes wide. "But you saved me when Trask threw me out of that plane, and it was only the day after I'd said all those horrible, unforgivable things to you…!"

Surely she knew him better than that, Clark thought as he grimaced and reached involuntarily for her hand again, gripping it tightly. "Lois, of *course* I came for you! That's what I do — and anyway, how could you imagine that I'd do anything else? Okay," he added, seeing the look of self-castigation which came over her face, "I'll admit it. I disliked you a *lot* right then. But when I heard you screaming for help, and you sounded terrified, I thought of nothing else but going to rescue you."

He decided not to tell her exactly how he'd heard her screams; it was still something he didn't fully understand himself, other than suspecting that it had to do with some sort of bond which must have been formed between them when their bodies had been joined.

She gave a humourless laugh. "I think I'd have been tempted to let me get pretty close to the ground before catching me!"

Clark smiled, but shook his head. "I don't work like that."

"No," she agreed. "You're Superman — of course you don't."

A thought struck him suddenly, making him smile again.

"What?" she asked, a little suspiciously.

"It just occurred to me, Lois — you never even asked me to prove it! I gave you enough information so you could make a guess in the right direction, to figure out that I was Superman, and you accepted it. And I'd guess it's not something you'd ever suspected — one reason I always thought the disguise worked so well is that people don't imagine that Superman's a disguise. They just wouldn't expect a normal guy, a reporter for the Metropolis Star, to be the same guy who flies around rescuing people." Most people wouldn't, Clark thought as he gazed across the table in admiration at the woman he thought of as the most brilliant reporter in Metropolis. But then, she'd already told him that she'd had her suspicions that Superman had been present on Earth, even performing Super activities, long before he made his first public appearance in the blue and red suit.

She shrugged. "Like you said, you gave me enough information. And you'd told me that you were going to tell me something pretty important. It wasn't that difficult — and anyway, I'd already figured out that Superman had been around longer than anyone else had guessed."

"True," Clark acknowledged. "But look at it this way, Lois. Jason Trask knew that my spaceship was found in Smallville, in the same year as I was born — he had, or at least *someone* has, known that since 1966. He knew I was from Smallville. He knew there was a connection between me and Superman. And yet it didn't occur to him to think I might be Superman." He smiled across at Lois again, a conspiratorial grin. "You know what he thought?"


"He thought Superman had brainwashed me, taken over my mind or something along those lines. I couldn't believe it, Lois! He told me where the spaceship had been found, and that he knew there was a connection between me and Superman — I was *positive* that he'd figured it out."

"Well, we knew the man was an idiot," Lois said dismissively. "But…" She paused and grinned at him. "Well, I am the best around. Of course I'd figure it out!"

"Hey, you worked next to Superman for over a month and never guessed!" Clark pointed out indignantly.

Her face fell. "We weren't exactly on speaking terms for most of that time." And he knew she was castigating herself again.

"Come on, Lois, put that behind you," he urged her. "I have." Well, most of it, he supposed. He'd forgiven her — that wasn't an issue. But there was so much he couldn't forget — how it had felt to touch her, to stroke her silken body, to feel her hair trail over his chest as she rained kisses on him, to gaze at her gorgeous naked body and know himself free to touch every inch of it, to slide his tongue into her mouth and feel hers dance with his, to cover her body with his own and to… oh, god, even now the memory was making him want her again… to make love to her over and over again while she clutched at him and cried out and screamed his name and begged him never to stop.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, avoiding her gaze; he knew his face was probably flushed and he didn't want her to guess the direction his thoughts had just taken. He certainly didn't want her to realise that he still dreamed of making love with her. It was bad enough that she knew it had been his first time — he'd had to tell her that, there was no way that he could have let her go on imagining the worst; he had no wish for her to guess that he still wanted her every bit as much as he had that night. She certainly didn't think of him that way, that was obvious. And the last thing he wanted was for her to wonder whether he expected… well, *something* from her in return for forgiving her. Though maybe she wouldn't think that; after all, she'd worked out for herself that he wasn't the calculating seducer she'd imagined.

Even still, he wanted them to be friends — and, if possible, partners. That wouldn't be possible if Lois thought he was lusting uncontrollably after her.

<Change the subject, Clark. Get yourself under control> he told himself sternly, and grabbed the coffee-pot. "More coffee?"


Clark was *Superman*… no, that wasn't right, she reminded herself. He was Clark, but Superman didn't exist other than as a disguise Clark put on when he wanted to go out and help people. Superman wasn't real.

Though he'd seemed real enough to Lois. That first time she'd met him, in the Prometheus's transport shuttle, when he'd swallowed the bomb…

<My mother made it for me>

Yes, that was what he'd said… and why hadn't she remembered that before now? Clark's mother, Mrs Kent from Smallville, had made that tight Spandex suit — obviously she had no worries about preserving her son's modesty, Lois thought with an inward smile. She'd like to meet Clark's mother some day.

When he'd given her the clues and allowed her to piece the evidence together for herself, at first Lois had been incredulous — he couldn't be, it had to be a coincidence, there was no way that Superman could really be… And yet it had all added up. The physical resemblance was indisputable, once she allowed herself to think about it — and hadn't she, in that awful nightmare several weeks ago, seen Superman morph into Clark? Didn't that suggest that, subconsciously, she'd *known* this all along? Perhaps. Maybe she just hadn't wanted to acknowledge that her hero was really an ordinary guy…

But then, Clark wasn't just an ordinary guy. She sat in silence, watching him as he poured more coffee, and thought about the ramifications of this amazing discovery. He was *Superman*! *He* was from Krypton and had all these Super-powers, could do all these amazing things…

And she'd told him she was in love with him!

At that sudden flash of memory, Lois wanted to bury herself under the table. How could she have told Clark that? And how could she have imagined herself in love with a man she barely knew — a man she *now* knew didn't even exist in the form she'd known him.

She'd imagined herself in love with a chimera. And, just as she was coming to realise that Clark, her friend, once-lover, and future partner, had far more to offer than the remote but kindly Super-hero, she had to discover that they were one and the same. And Clark would never believe, now, that she loved him. Not only would he have to forget all the nasty things she'd done and said to him, but he would need to believe that she loved him for *himself*, not because she'd just discovered that he was the hero she'd told him only a couple of days ago that she loved.

How could she have been so arrogant? And how could she have been so foolish? Blithely claiming to be in love with a man she'd only talked to less than half a dozen times, believing that she *knew* him — and all the time, she'd been telling the man he really was that she was in love with this mirage! How Clark must have laughed at her!

But he hadn't laughed, she remembered. He'd told her that she barely knew the man — which she now knew to be the truth. And when she'd elaborated, he'd just listened and then apologised for seeming to ridicule her. He'd been kind.

Though he hadn't had a lot of choice, she supposed. He'd been still protecting his identity then.

No, that wasn't true. He'd *had* a choice — of course he could have laughed at her, told her how ridiculous she was being, how totally stupid. But he hadn't.

Which had been very kind of him, true. But the embarrassing fact remained that she'd told Clark that she was in love with his _alter ego_.

Did he remember? He hadn't mentioned it, and he'd just told her that he was Superman. And there had been no undertones, no knowing looks, or anything to suggest that he remembered it and was either laughing at her or challenging her to admit that she hadn't really been in love with Superman at all.

But then, that was Clark, wasn't it? Kind, understanding, would never knowingly embarrass someone… just a darned nice guy. And she'd misjudged him again.

As he pushed her refilled cup back across the table to him, she caught his arm. "Clark — I'm sorry."

He gave her a puzzled look. "What for?"

"For thinking you might have had an ulterior motive — you know, over what Perry said."

"Oh!" He blinked, and she supposed that her comment had come out of the blue, given what they'd just been discussing. Then he shrugged. "That's okay. You did come and ask me about it — and I guess it must have sounded kind of strange. Look, maybe I should just stay at the Star?"

Horrified, Lois stared at him. "You have got to be kidding, Clark! I meant it when I asked Perry to re-hire you. I…" She faltered, feeling unsure. "I want you to come back to the Planet. And I want to work with you as my partner, if you think you'd like that."

"Nothing I'd like better," he assured her. "If you're sure, then I'll give Perry a call tomorrow."

She studied him for several moments; he was still bare-faced, his glasses on the table where she'd put them. "Clark, why did you tell me? That you're Superman, I mean."

"Oh. A couple of reasons, I suppose," he answered, giving her a quick smile. "First, like I told you, I wanted to prove to you that I trust you, so you wouldn't doubt me again. And I knew I could trust you with this, after yesterday. And that's part of the second reason, I guess — you knew so much about me already that it seemed… well, *right* that you should know it all." He hesitated, took a sip of coffee, then added, "You know, this morning, after my powers returned, I flew to see my parents. They were worried about how much you knew, and I told them you didn't know enough to work it out and that you were unlikely to link Superman with me. I realised very quickly afterwards that I knew you *were* likely to figure it out, and that if you did I knew I could trust you to deal with the knowledge fairly. And, you know, I think I'll enjoy having you in on the secret," he finished with a grin.

"Well, you won't have to pretend with me to be two different people any more, will you?" she mused aloud. Then, as a memory of one occasion on which he'd done just that returned to her, she added, "I suppose that thing you — Superman — said about people jumping to conclusions… that was deliberate, to make me think about what I'd done to you?"

To her surprise, he flushed. "Yeah. I… couldn't resist, though I probably should have. It's not fair to use Superman to fight Clark's battles."

Immediately, she shook her head. "No, you shouldn't. You were right to say it — and it did make me think, you know. I'm glad you said it."

He nodded briefly, but added, "I mean it, Lois. I want us to forget all that. It's in the past, okay?"

Clark was too decent for his own good, Lois decided, agreeing to his suggestion. But something else occurred to her suddenly, and she stared at him in alarm. "The Kryptonite! I gave it to you — I even almost opened the box in front of you!"

He gave her a rueful grin. "I know, and I almost had heart failure! But you were right about the lead box. I didn't feel a thing as long as it was closed. When Trask opened it in front of me…" He trailed off, and Lois could see the remembered pain on his face. "It was like nothing I've ever experienced before, Lois. I really thought I was going to die." Clark gave her a straight, intense look. "You realise it wasn't flu? I don't know what that stuff did to me, but I'm convinced that you saved my life."

Lois shrugged, embarrassed. "I didn't do much."

"You kept me warm and stopped me bleeding, and talked to me, and refused to let me die." He continued to watch her. "I've never really been sick, Lois. Even if I'd woken up on my own, I wouldn't have had the faintest idea what to do."

"Where's the Kryptonite now?" Lois asked; she was concerned, but she also felt a need to turn the conversation from the almost-morbid turn it had taken.

Clark smiled. "I took it back to my folks' place — that and the spaceship. They'll be safe there — my dad will bury the Kryptonite somewhere no-one's going to find it, and we hid the ship. I'd like to have that here, but it's a little big — I wouldn't want anyone finding it and asking questions."

"True." She smiled back at him, though she felt some regret that she wouldn't get an opportunity to examine it herself. Still, it did belong to Superman, and it was back in the custody of its rightful owner; and now she understood why Clark had been so insistent on going back to Trask's headquarters, and why he'd sent her in to close the box!

And… she also understood just how Clark had managed to get so many Superman exclusives! She reached across the table and thumped his arm. "You cheat!" she accused, laughing, then rubbed her fist; that had hurt her more than it had him, she suspected ruefully.

"Huh?" He looked genuinely confused.

"So-called Superman exclusives, that in-depth interview which got you taken off probation immediately, all those stories I didn't get — you know, you had me thinking that you had to be a real hot-shot!" she threw at him indignantly.

Clark laughed out loud. "I am a hot-shot!" he claimed, his eyes dancing. "Hey, I write well — so what if I just interviewed myself?"

"Cheat!" she accused again.

His expression sobered, and he smiled wryly. "I know. I was actually going to offer you that first big interview, you know."

Lois stared at him. "You were? But… but that was the same day I…"

"I know," he answered. "And I'd be lying if I said that didn't have something to do with my decision — but it wasn't the most important factor. What I said earlier — I always knew that you'd be dangerous if you got too close to Superman. You ask the questions it never occurs to anyone else to ask. So I played safe and wrote the story myself."

That made sense, Lois decided. She believed Clark absolutely when he said he'd considered giving her the interview, and she agreed with his assessment. He'd been right not to; even if she had overcome the stupid hero-worship attitude she'd had towards Superman then, he had clearly wanted to get a certain amount of — safe — information across, and the best way to achieve that had been to write it himself.

She could forgive him for 'cheating' in relation to access to Superman stories — in his position, she'd have done exactly the same. And it wasn't as if Clark Kent was only known for stories about Superman, or even as if every scoop he'd got could only have been obtained through use of Super-powers. He was clearly a darned good investigator and journalist, and working with him on the morning after the kidnap had reinforced that impression in her mind.

There was another thing she was curious about, though. "So… where do you keep the Suit?

That made him grin. "I'm wearing it. See?" He swiftly unbuttoned part of his shirt so the spandex became visible.

"What made you decide to become… him? Superman?" After all, if he'd helped in secret for so many years, as she suspected, what had made him decide suddenly to go public?

His smile that time took her by surprise; it was amused and, she thought, directed at her. "You did," he told her; she blinked and stared at him. "Remember one morning outside the Planet, way back when I'd first started there? A workman was trapped down a manhole?"

Lois nodded. The man had suddenly emerged, and had babbled about someone who'd saved him, and had pointed in the direction…

The direction where Clark had been standing, just beside her. And his clothes had been a mess. And she'd told him to…

"Bring a change of clothes to work," she echoed her words from all those weeks ago. "And you did."

"Yeah — that gave me the idea," he confirmed. "I went home and suggested to Mom that we design an outfit for me to wear. So, in a way, you created Superman. You certainly named him."

"Yeah, and I never stopped wondering what his real name was!" she pointed out. "So… you're from another planet, Clark. Do you have another name? Do you know anything about where you came from, apart from what you wrote for the Planet?"

That, she noticed, caused a shadow to cross his face briefly. "Nothing, Lois. I have a globe — I'll show it to you later — which I found with that spaceship. And when I touched it, it changed colour and something told me that it came from Krypton — that *I* came from Krypton. And that's all I know. I have no idea who my birth parents were, or why they sent me to Earth. And I don't know if I'll ever know."

A sudden realisation struck her. "You think they abandoned you — that they didn't want you, because they sent you away?"

That made him flinch, but then he sighed. "I just don't know what to think, Lois. I have no information, so I just have to… accept what I do know and not try to wonder, or ask questions to which I don't have answers."

"But you have your parents — the Kents, I mean," she said. "You love them, and they love you — that's obvious from the way you've talked about them. Lots of kids have a far worse start in life."

"Oh, I know that," he said, giving her a direct, meaningful look. "Don't get me wrong, I love my parents and I never cease to be grateful that they found me and brought me up as their son. It's just… the not knowing, Lois, that kills you."

She swallowed, detecting the very real pain beneath the surface which she sensed he was trying not to reveal. Speaking brightly, knowing that he didn't need sympathy right now, she said, "Who knows, Clark? — maybe you will find out one day."

He smiled gratefully at her. "Yeah, who knows. Hey, do you want — "

Abruptly, he halted in whatever he'd been about to say, and she knew that his attention was no longer directed to her. He seemed to be listening… to what, she couldn't be sure. But then, he got to his feet, frowning and looking concerned.

"Lois, I'm sorry, but I have to go. There's trouble — a train and an eighteen-wheeler collided on the north end of the city…"

Lois felt a frisson of excitement, realising that Superman was about to go into action. Making a swift mental calculation about whether she could get to wherever it was in time, she asked rapidly, "Where?"

He told her, then stood back…

… and became a kaleidoscope of colours embedded in a whirling dervish as he spun on the spot, amazingly not sending everything within reach flying. In little more than a second, he halted, and Superman stood there. "I'm guessing I'll see you there?" he enquired dryly.

"If I can get there in time! Go, Clark," she urged. "I'll let myself out."

He disappeared through the arch to his bedroom. As she opened the front door a bare second later, a sonic boom was clearly audible. Superman was on his way.

Superman — her partner-to-be, Clark Kent. Oh, there were interesting times ahead!


Several hours later, Clark returned to his apartment, ready for a shower and bed. After dealing with the aftermath of the collision — and giving Lois a brief interview afterwards — he'd been called to another emergency and had then done a patrol of the city. And it had been a busy night; a couple of muggings, one stranded driver of a broken-down car and an officer caught without back-up in the middle of a robbery. Everyone had been immensely grateful for his help, and again Clark felt very relieved that he'd regained his powers.

And now, Lois knew he was Superman.

It had been almost a spur-of-the-moment decision to tell her, even though he'd thought it through as carefully as he could in the circumstances. But he didn't regret it. He'd had his reasons at the time, and they'd been good reasons. Thinking about it further, though, as he had while he'd been patrolling, he'd realised that it could be extremely useful to him to have someone he could trust in Metropolis who was in the know. Even better if she really was going to be his partner — no more stupid, hastily-thought-up excuses when he needed to dash off. And she could cover for him — he suspected she'd be more than happy to do so if it meant they would get plenty of Superman exclusives.

Not too many though; he'd have to warn her about the dangers of any one newspaper or reporting team becoming too closely associated with Superman. She might be disappointed, but he thought she'd see the sense in it. Anyway, he could probably find ways to compensate her, he thought with a smile; had he not been interrupted by the need to go to that train crash, he'd intended to offer to take her flying.

There'd be another time for that. He suspected that Lois would love flying every bit as much as he did, even though she wasn't able to fly under her own steam and would have to be carried by him. It was the sense of freedom, of being able to go anywhere he wanted in the big, wide, open sky; to soar as high as he wanted, and then plunge downwards, halting his flight just in time before he hit the earth or water beneath. He could float along in the soft breeze, basking in the sun's warmth, or he could hurtle along at incredible speed, turn somersaults in the air, or any manoeuvre he fancied.

Oh, Lois would love to fly with him, he assured himself as he stepped into the shower. He'd flown with her three times already that he could think of, and even though there had been a reason for the flight each time — and one of them had been after he'd saved her from death by falling from a plane — she'd clung to him, but given every appearance of enjoying the experience. Especially the last time, when he'd flown her to the LexCorp Nuclear plant; he'd gone fast, and she'd been exhilarated by it.

Lois would love flying with Superman…

He froze, standing rigid in the shower.

Lois was *in love with* Superman.

Superman… not Clark Kent.

And now, she knew that Superman *was* Clark Kent.

Well, one thing was for sure: Lois would certainly no longer claim to be in love with Superman! But, as he'd known all along, she'd been focusing on some imagined conception of what she believed Superman to be; an idol, some perfect hero who could never have existed in reality. In some ways, it had to be like having a crush on a pop star or a famous actor; she might have met the Super-hero, and talked to him on a few occasions, but she didn't *know* him. There wasn't a chance that she could have been exposed to the real persona behind the Suit, and so her perfect image of him would have remained untarnished.

Until she'd discovered that her hero didn't even exist.

But, he decided, stepping out of the shower and rubbing himself with a towel before padding, naked, through to the bedroom, that really wasn't his problem. It was hers — she would just have to get used to the fact that Superman was really a farmboy from Kansas.

She'd soon realise that her 'love' for him had just been a crush — and that the Superman she'd thought she was in love with was a fantasy, he assured himself. Which meant that the kindest thing he could do was to pretend she'd never mentioned it. She wouldn't want to be reminded of her embarrassing confession, and he most certainly didn't.

No, they would pretend it had never been said. He was pretty sure that was how she would want it too; she certainly hadn't referred to it at all, though there had been one point during the evening when she'd looked embarrassed; perhaps she'd remembered her confession of love then? Best to forget it. After all, she'd been talking about someone who didn't really exist.


"Lois, thought you might like to know that Kent just called me."

Perry's voice from behind her caused Lois to pause in her typing and turn to look at her boss. "He did? What's happening? Is he coming in to see you?"

"No need for any of that nonsense," Perry replied dismissively. "Now, I know Personnel will probably tell me that I should go through all sorts of *procedures* and idiotic bureaucracy, but as I see it, it's simple. We need another good reporter. Kent's a darned good reporter. He wants to work here, and we want to poach him from the Star. So — " He shrugged. "I told him the job's his and he can start as soon as his notice runs out at that rag."

Which would be… when? Lois wondered It could be as little as a week, and she fervently hoped it would be that soon. Now that she knew Clark was definitely coming back, Lois wanted him at the Planet as soon as possible. Especially after last night…

She was still getting used to the idea that her putative partner was not just an intelligent guy and a good reporter; that he was also Superman. And that, she knew, would lead to lots of great stories for the two of them. The collision last night between that train and the truck had just been a start; without Clark, she wouldn't have known it had happened, since she hadn't been in work at the time. And when she'd driven out there — at breakneck speed — she'd discovered that, apart from one reporter from a local community paper, no-one from the media was on the spot to cover the story. So she'd watched Superman in action — even more impressive now that she knew he was Clark, taken some photos with the little 33mm camera she always kept in her Jeep, and grabbed a brief interview with him before he'd flown off.

And interviewing Superman, knowing that he was Clark, had been a very strange, though intriguing, experience. He'd come straight over to her once the emergency services didn't need him any more, and she'd noticed that, just for an instant, he gave her a smile which was less formal and more friendly than was Superman's habit. Although she suspected that he wouldn't have done it had it been daylight and had more people been around, it had still made her feel warm inside.

He'd talked to her for less than a couple of minutes, answering her questions about the extent of the damage, the number of injured and the scale of their injuries, and speculation as to the cause — a failed signal, possibly, since the juggernaut driver had insisted that the light had been green, permitting him to proceed over the crossing. That had given her enough ammunition to write an article castigating the level of spending on rail safety, which had been cut in the previous year's budget, as well as the straight report and interview of the incident itself.

With Clark as her partner, she could envisage herself — well, the two of them, she supposed — getting the vast majority of Superman scoops in the future. That would surely guarantee her — no, *them* — awards.

Yes, she could foresee some good times ahead, at least insofar as work was concerned.

As far as their personal relationship went… well, he was her friend, and that was all she had any right to wish for.


It had felt good — no, great — to hand in his notice to Mike Lloyd. Clark came out of the editor's office feeling far happier about his career than he had in a couple of months. Mike hadn't been at all pleased to discover that half of his top reporting team was quitting, and had been even less thrilled when Clark had revealed where he was going.

"Perry White made you a better offer? Things must be bad at the Planet if he's poaching my staff," Lloyd had said sourly.

"I wouldn't call it 'poaching'," Clark had responded calmly, refusing to rise to the bait. "I was offered a job, and I decided to take it, that's all."

"I suppose he'll be approaching Linda next," Lloyd had grunted, not looking at all pleased. "He offered you a raise?"

Wondering whether this might mean that Linda could be offered a pay-raise to stay, Clark merely smiled slightly. As it happened, Perry had offered him a salary increase, on the basis that he was no longer a novice; but that fact had no impact on Clark's decision to leave the Star.

Exiting the editor's office then, Clark headed straight for Linda's desk; she gave him a smile which he knew was intended to be both welcoming and enticing. This was certainly one aspect of working at the Star he wouldn't miss. Although he liked Linda and considered her good to work with, her continual attempts to get him to pursue a relationship with her were starting to irritate him.

But, right now, he needed to talk to her. As tactfully as possible, he told her that he was quitting, but — not to his very great surprise — she was hurt and disappointed.

"You're going back to work with Lois Lane, aren't you?" she demanded.

"I guess I'll be working with Lois, yes."

"I get it. This is why you've never been interested in me," she muttered bad-temperedly. "It's always been Lois, hasn't it? What happened that night the two of you were kidnapped? Did she beg you to come back or something? I suppose I should have realised she had the hots for you."

"Linda!" Clark exclaimed, careful to keep his voice low; he didn't want their newsroom colleagues overhearing this. "Don't be silly. Lois and I are friends, and that's all."

"Friends. Yeah, sure," Linda said flatly, turning back to her work.

If he'd been in any doubt about whether Linda was the college room-mate Lois had told him about, the one who had also been interested in the same guy and who had stolen Lois's story in order to get the guy, he was no longer. It was clear that there was a lot of unpleasant history between Lois and Linda. Clark considered arguing with her, but decided it wasn't worth it. Instead, he turned the conversation to their assignment for the day, and she responded in a chilly tone of voice which made him glad that Mike Lloyd had agreed to let him go on a week's notice.

It was going to be a *long* week.


The knock on his door, several evenings later, took Clark by surprise. He groaned inwardly; he had not wanted visitors tonight. Tonight, he'd just wanted to sit on his own and wonder what he could have done better; whether he really had tried enough to save those people… He *hated* it when people died before he was able to get to them; he could never stop himself obsessing over what would have happened had he been just a split-second faster, a few feet closer, if he'd seen the danger sooner. And all he could see were dead, shattered and damaged bodies, and the faces of the bereaved, who were just learning of the loss of their loved ones.

For a moment, he considered simply not answering, but then good manners reasserted themselves and he dragged himself to his feet. Pausing before he reached the door, he looked over the top of his glasses so that he could X-ray the door.

It was Lois.

Well, maybe he could stand to talk to her, though he wondered what she wanted. At any rate, he couldn't help but feel pleased to see her, he thought as he opened the door. Owing to a sudden surge in Superman-related activity, combined with Lois herself being busy on a major story, they hadn't seen each other since the night he'd told her he was Superman.

"Hi, Clark." She sounded a little nervous, as if unsure of her welcome; perhaps his expression on opening the door to her had been more off-putting than he'd realised. Or maybe knowing that he was Superman had altered her attitude to him in some way? He hoped not. The last thing he wanted was Lois becoming either gooey-eyed or nervous with him now that she knew. "I wasn't sure whether you'd be here — I thought maybe you'd be at the Star," she added as she entered the apartment.

He closed the door and turned to frown in surprise at her. "I finished work three hours ago, Lois."

"Yes, I know, but I saw you," she explained, not clearly enough for Clark's elucidation; he raised an eyebrow quizzically at her.

"On TV, I mean. Saving those people from that fire."

"Oh," he mumbled inadequately. Of course she would have seen it. He hoped she didn't want to talk about it, but, knowing Lois, that was a faint hope.

"You were brilliant!" she exclaimed, her tone encouraging more than effusive, walking past him into his living-room. "I saw you — you just kept going in there, bringing people out… dozens of people owe their lives to you."

<And seven people are dead because I couldn't get there fast enough> he reminded himself; then deliberately cut across her praise to change the subject. "So, Lois. Is there something I can do for you, or is this just a social call?"

She frowned, clearly puzzled by his harsh interruption. "I just wanted to talk to you, I guess. We're friends — isn't that what friends do?"

Oh; she had some problem she wanted to discuss with him, probably. Okay, he could handle that. He moved into the kitchen to prepare coffee, asking as he did so, "What made you think I'd be at the Star?"

"Well, I thought you'd be writing up the story," she answered, again sounding surprised. "I mean, it's a great story, and you could even write an exclusive interview with Superman — "

"So that's what you want!" He paused in his coffee-making routine and turned to glare at her. "An exclusive for the Planet, is that it? How Superman saved the day, in his own words?"

"What…? No!" The indignation was written clearly on her face as well as being evident from her tone of voice. "Clark, do you really think I'd try to take advantage of you like that?"

Giving her a wry, apologetic smile in an attempt to tell her without words that he regretted his instinctive lashing-out, he shrugged. "I wouldn't blame you. Why shouldn't you? I'm Superman, you're a reporter, there's a big story out there tonight involving me, so why not?"

She walked over to him and placed her hand on his arm, her expression concerned. "Clark, I saw you."

"On TV. I know, you said."

"I *saw* you," she repeated. "At the end, as you were walking away. I saw the expression on your face — defeated, desperately sad. *That's* why I'm here. You looked like you could use a friend."

Clark went still. He'd thought he'd done such a good job of hiding his feelings, that he'd kept his face impassive until he was up in the sky, away from any onlookers or intrusive TV cameras. And he'd failed. He bit his lip. "I… looked like that?"

She shook her head. "It wasn't obvious, Clark. No-one else saw it — they just saw Superman leaving, looking a bit tired. I know *you*, and that's how I thought you looked."

She *knew* him that well… after only a week since they'd renewed their friendship? Although, he thought, if their positions were reversed he would probably say the same about her, but, he argued with himself, that was because he loved Lois. She wasn't in love with him.

But… maybe she did care about him, nonetheless?

He inhaled deeply, then just gazed at her, unable to put his emotions into words.

"Tell me what happened," she encouraged. "How bad was it?"

"I… don't know if I can," he answered reluctantly. "Lois, it happens sometimes, okay? I try as hard as I can, but I just can't do it — I can't get there quick enough, I can't save everyone. People die because I'm just not fast enough." He turned away from her and resumed making coffee.

"Clark." She was touching him again, her hand on his arm, her body close to his. He could smell her fragrance, sense her nearness… and he wished she'd go away. "Clark, I remember telling you once before, though I didn't know I was talking to Superman at the time — there's only so much you can do. But people are grateful beyond words for just that much. Whatever you can do, that's enough."

He remembered that too; it had been during the time that Lex Luthor had been testing him. He had actually gone so far as to pack up the Superman suits and resolve never to wear them again; Superman had almost disappeared for good. Then Lois had said that to him, and had unknowingly given him the confidence and the determination to bring Superman back. And he'd repaid her, of course, by sending her on a crawl through the Metropolis Sewage Reclamation Facility… but that was another story.

"Yes, I remember. And I was grateful, Lois, more than I can say."

"Remember it now, then," she urged him. "You saved dozens of people tonight who would be dead if it wasn't for you. The news reporter on LNN said that the fire chief had told them the flames were too intense and poisonous for the fire-fighters to get very far into the building. You were the only person who could have done it."

That was true. Lois was right; he needed to focus on the positive side to what he'd done. And, although she hadn't said it explicitly, he knew that she also believed he needed to talk about what had happened; and she was right about that too.

He turned to face her and spoke impulsively. "Interview me, Lois."


"For the Planet. Interview me — Superman — about the fire."

She frowned. "But don't you want the story for the Star?"

"Why?" He gave her a blank look. "I won't be working there after tomorrow. I don't really feel any sense of loyalty to Mike Lloyd — I'd far prefer you to have the story. And anyway… I need to talk to someone, Lois, and I think you'd understand."

She squeezed his arm again. "I'll try, Clark."

"I'm not even sure my parents could understand how I feel tonight," he confessed wearily. "I've talked to them once or twice, when a rescue's gone wrong and I couldn't save someone, but although they try their best I'm not sure they really understand why I feel as if I'm responsible. Take tonight," he added, sitting down at the table and gesturing to Lois to join him. "They'd tell me — like you did — that so many other people survived, that I helped them get out of the fire. And… that's great," he conceded, though he knew he didn't sound particularly happy about it. "But it's the others…"

Feeling unable to vocalise his feelings on the subject any further — and somehow, unwilling, as well, to engage in the necessary soul-baring, even though he'd decided to talk to Lois, he trailed off and gazed moodily down into his coffee.

He was conscious of her watching him; then she turned away and reached into her back to produce the small pad and pen that no reporter serious about their career was ever without. Opening it and holding her pen at the ready, she then faced him. "So, how did you hear about the fire?"

Her businesslike attitude helped him to regain a calmer, more matter-of-fact demeanour. "I was here — just got in from work, and I heard the news on a neighbour's radio. Though," he added quickly, "you can't say that. Just say my Super-hearing picked up the news on a radio broadcast."

She nodded, scribbling. "Okay. And you flew straight over? What did you find when you got there?"

What had he found? Clark found himself recoiling from the question. A hospital in flames. A place where people went when they were sick or injured, where they should have been safe and being made well again; and where many of them were trapped simply by virtue of their illness or injuries. Trying to be matter-of-fact, reminding himself to treat this as an *interview*, he took a deep breath. "The main wing was engulfed in flames," he told her. "The firefighters were already there, but they were having trouble getting close enough to the heart of the fire because the flames were just too hot. And I knew that, even though hundreds of people were milling around in the parking lot, there were still people trapped."

The voices; the panicked, frenzied screams had told him that, long before he'd actually reached the site of the fire. The scream of a human being in acute pain was like no other sound on earth, and he still couldn't get those screams out of his head. Nor could he forget the man he'd carried out of the hospital, most of whose body was blackened from smoke and burns and who had screamed in agony the entire time. He'd handed the man over to the paramedics and hospital doctors outside; he hadn't missed the pessimistic shaking of heads which had followed the doctors' initial examination of their patient.

And after that, the bodies he'd carried out had been dead. Seven of them in total, each one of them a man or woman who'd had a life, families who cared about them, friends who would grieve at their death.

And if he'd only heard about the fire sooner, he could have saved them. He could also, by getting there sooner, have put the fire out before it had become so ferocious, and therefore the extent of people's injuries could have been less.

Somehow, he found himself saying all of this to Lois; she listened carefully, only interjecting questions when he fell silent. She wrote some things down, but for the most part simply listened. His parents, Clark reflected in an almost detached manner, would have been full of shocked sympathy; his mother would have gripped his hand and his father would have laid a heavy hand on his shoulder, both of them assuring him over and over that there was nothing more he could have done. He'd done as much as he could, they would tell him; he had to focus on the people he had managed to help.

And they'd be right, of course. But it wasn't as simple as that.

He didn't realise that he'd spoken his thoughts about getting to the fire sooner until Lois gave him a direct look and asked, "Why didn't you hear about it sooner?"

Why…? He stared at her. "I don't know! My Super-hearing isn't active all the time — if it was, I'd never be able to hear anything! Have you any idea what it's like to be able to hear every tiny sound anywhere in my vicinity? If I activated it now, for example, I'd be able to hear your breathing as loud as a high wind, and your heart would sound like a bass drum! And the TV next door would drown out our conversation, and any time a plane went overhead I'd be deafened — "

"I get the picture," she interrupted. "So you only hear things like calls for help, is that it?"

"Something like that," he acknowledged. "I'm not sure why — I guess I must have attuned myself to hear that kind of cry, but not to pick up other sounds unless I deliberately try to listen."

"Well, that makes sense," she told him. "So you heard the radio broadcast, yeah? No cries for help or anything like that?"

Clark shook his head. "It was on the other side of the city, remember. I *can* hear cries from quite a distance away, but… well, maybe not that far. Or maybe it needs to be a person whose voice I'm attuned to… I don't know. I'm still figuring out how my powers work."

"So unless the emergency services had put out a broadcast calling for Superman to get over there, or unless you'd seen a report on TV sooner, there's no way you could have been there any quicker," Lois suggested calmly.

He had to admit that she was right; but that didn't stop him searching his conscience for things he should have done.

"Clark." Lois's firm tone interrupted his musings. "Do you have any sort of emergency pager? Has anyone from the city ever suggested that you carry one?"

He had to shake his head.

"Well, in that case, how are you expected to know when you're needed? All you can do is react to things you see on TV or on the news wires. You're not telepathic — at least," she added quickly, "I don't think you are?"

"No," he told her, though once again he wondered about the strange connection which had enabled him to hear her cries for help three months earlier.

"So how else are you supposed to know, Clark?" Lois was gazing at him, her expression a mixture of concern and impatience; it was so completely unlike the way he knew his parents would respond in this situation that, for a moment, he wanted to laugh.

But her expression made it clear she wanted an answer. So he shrugged. "I don't know, I guess."

"So if you got there as soon as you Super-humanly could, and did everything you possibly could to save people and put out the fire… how is it your fault?" she demanded.

He gazed down at his hands. "I don't know. Maybe I could have done things differently when I got there, gone to a different part of the building first…"

"Did you X-ray the hospital before you went in?" she asked.

"Before I was even close enough to go in," he told her. "It's what I do as I'm getting nearer — look to see where the worst danger is, where people's lives are most at risk. If there's time," he added, "I'll talk to the firefighters first, see what they need me to do. But today there wasn't time. I just had to go straight in."

"And if you were doing it all over again," Lois persisted, "would you do anything differently?"

That made him pause, and again in his mind he relived those few seconds as he'd approached the blazing hospital. Should he have taken a different course? But then he remembered what he'd seen as he'd studied the interior, and he shook his head. "No. That was the way I had to do it."

"So, if you wouldn't do anything differently, and you worked as quickly as you could, and you got dozens of people out safely…" She trailed off, and he raised his gaze to meet hers again. She was watching him closely, a half-smile on her face.

Reluctantly, he returned her smile with a wry one of his own. "There was nothing more I could have done. That's what you're saying, isn't it?"

"No," she informed him. "That's what *you're* saying."

She was right. He'd known it all along, of course, but it was hard to stop the feelings of guilt, the conviction that there had to be something more he could have done. But there wasn't; he'd done all he could. And, although he didn't feel any less saddened at the loss of lives, he did feel more at ease with himself.

"Thanks, Lois, I needed that," he told her gratefully.

She shook her head and smiled, then added, "Think about this, Clark — you weren't the only person there today. Do you imagine that a single one of those firefighters, doctors, nurses, paramedics and everyone else helping there isn't asking themselves right now whether there was anything else they could have done?"

That was true, he conceded. "I guess you're right. But they can't work miracles, any more than — " He broke off abruptly, for some reason reluctant to finish his thought.

"Any more than you can," she finished for him.

"True," he agreed.

"So." Her voice was businesslike now, and he felt grateful that she wasn't dwelling on his obsessing. "Back to the interview — do you have any idea what caused the fire?"

The interview. Yes, she was interviewing him, though Clark realised suddenly that she hadn't actually written anything down for some time. But then, they'd both known all along that the 'interview' was only an excuse for her to get him to talk. But she was right; this story deserved to be written, and he could think of no-one else he'd rather given an exclusive to. Apart from anything else, Lois had shown herself to be a true friend tonight. She'd seen that he'd been upset, and had come straight over to offer comfort, and had refused to be put off by his terse welcome.

And there had been something odd about that fire…

"Gas," he told her briefly. "I could smell it the whole time I was there. The smell's still on my Suit. There'd been an explosion — well, you probably heard about that. And my guess is that it was caused by some sort of spillage or leak."

"Gas, at a hospital?" Lois was incredulous. "What kind of gas? Petroleum, or vapour? Though I suppose either could be used to fuel a generator…"

"The generator's some distance away from the main building," Clark pointed out. "I think it might have been arson."

Lois gasped. "That fire at the city art gallery last week… that was arson, and petroleum gas was used… And no-one has any idea what the motive was."

"Could be connected," Clark agreed. "We should call the fire chief, and the police."

"Can we tell them Superman told us?" Lois asked.

"Don't see why not, if you're going to write the interview up for the Planet," Clark told her.

Thus distracted from his memories of the rescue, Clark worked with Lois to piece together a picture of what had happened. The fire chief's office confirmed that there were suspicious circumstances, but that nothing had so far been released to the media. In response to Lois's comment that Superman had told her that he'd smelt petrol, she was told that Superman hadn't apparently said anything to the fire service, to their knowledge.

"I'll go and talk to them tomorrow," Clark said when she put the phone down. "They won't be able to start their investigation until then anyway, and I might be able to help."

No further information was forthcoming from the police, other than that the fire was being treated as suspicious. "That's enough to go on for now," Lois concluded when they'd drawn a blank with every other enquiry. "I can write up the interview later — as long as I let Perry know, and don't leave it too late, it can go in the morning edition. I'll add a paragraph speculating about the cause. Then you can follow it up tomorrow."

"Me?" Clark was taken aback.

"Yeah." She was looking despondent suddenly. "It's your story, Clark."

And they couldn't continue to work on it together yet, of course. "Lois, it's yours. I've only got one more day at the Star anyway, so there's not a lot of point in me working on it, is there? This one isn't going to be solved in a day."

"Well… Linda could carry on with it after you leave…" Lois suggested doubtfully.

Clark grinned briefly. "Why are you so keen on offering a good story to the competition, Lois?"

She shrugged. "I'm just trying to be fair!"

"I know you are. But it really doesn't make any difference to me. To be perfectly honest, I can't wait to walk out of the Star for the last time, and I know that Linda will have plenty to work on without me giving her this story on a plate." His relations with Linda had been pretty frosty over the past week anyway, although he didn't really feel the need to tell Lois that. Although Linda had offered a half-hearted apology for her insinuations about him and Lois, her manner towards him hadn't been the same since, and he guessed that she was as relieved as he was that their partnership only had to endure for one more day.

"Well, we'll follow it up together on Monday," Lois offered.

"Sure." Clark got to his feet then, stretching a little. "You know what I'd like to do now, Lois?"


"Go flying," he told her. He needed it; the sense of freedom, the feel of the wind rushing past his body as he cruised above the city. He needed to clear his head; and he thought Lois would enjoy it as well.

She stood as well, reaching for her bag. "Well, okay then, I'll go and leave you to it," she said awkwardly; her expression was polite, but he realised that she thought he was asking her to leave. Hurriedly, he explained.

"I meant that I wanted you to come with me — if you like the idea, that is." He smiled, extending a hand towards her. "Would you like to go flying with me, Lois?"

She stared, and he could almost see her jaw drop. "I'd love to!"


Lois reached out to take Clark's hand, still blinking at his suggestion. The thought of flying with him sounded irresistible, but it had never occurred to her that he might offer to take her. Somehow, she had never envisaged Superman giving pleasure flights… But then, this wasn't Superman taking her flying. It was Clark.

Clark. For the past few days, she'd been struggling to get her head around the concept that Superman was actually Clark. Although she'd thought she'd done a very good job of taking it in on the night he'd told her, she'd woken up the following morning feeling completely overwhelmed at the idea. And it wasn't easy becoming accustomed to the knowledge that there weren't really two men, only one. Superman still *looked* different, to her; she still remembered being with him, talking to him, and it seemed inconceivable that he could have actually been Clark.

Even though she'd been busy planning, at work, how to make best use of her partner-to-be's abilities in grabbing them great stories, she'd felt incredibly awed, not just at the knowledge that Clark was actually Superman, but that he'd trusted her enough to tell her. She'd told herself at first that he'd only done it to prove a point to her, but very quickly she'd realised that that couldn't have been the only reason. This wasn't just any secret: it was a massive, incredible secret, and if it got out Clark's parents could be in danger, and his own life would be destroyed. And he'd told *her* — a reporter, what was more. That had to mean not only that he trusted her, but that he regarded her as a friend.

Superman thought of her as a friend; she'd felt very privileged.

No, *Clark* thought of her as his friend. He'd told her that Superman was just a disguise.

And she'd realised that he meant it, too, about considering her a friend. He'd allowed her to see his vulnerability on the subject of his birth parents, for instance. And now, tonight, he'd accepted her comfort and advice — she actually felt that she'd been able to help him, and that perhaps in some way she'd returned the favour he'd done her on the night he'd persuaded her that she'd been wrong to suspect she could be an alcoholic.

But knowing intellectually that the two were in fact one was one thing; feeling it instinctively was quite another. Watching Superman in action at that fire scene earlier that evening, she'd had to remind herself occasionally that this was really *Clark* flying in and out of the inferno which was the hospital's main building, Clark who carried patients and staff with him each time he emerged.

And then, she'd seen him walk away when his work was done.

Suddenly, she'd *known* she was looking at Clark Kent, a man who was vulnerable, a man who cared; and a man who'd just endured more than he could bear.

And at that point she'd understood in her heart that there weren't two men. There was Clark Kent, a Super-powered man from Krypton and Kansas, with a very human heart. A heart which was hurting badly, torn apart with despair at not being able to do enough; because not everyone had come out of that fire alive. Somehow, she'd understood that even before speaking to him; one look at his anguished face on the TV screen had told her that.

And yet, she'd known that no-one else had noticed. To Lois, looking at the screens, all she'd been able to see at that moment had been Clark. Clark, her friend, the man she was coming to value and appreciate more all the time — they'd spoken almost daily on the phone since his revelation to her — and the man she loved, even though she knew that she'd blown any chance she might once have had with him. Clark, wracked with guilt and pain, walking away alone and, she knew, going home alone.

She hadn't even been sure that he would *be* home — she had no idea what Clark normally did in such circumstances. She knew he was close to his parents, and of course it was possible that he could have flown off to be with them. It was equally possible, she'd supposed, that he might have just gone to be alone somewhere, brooding on his thoughts. And, since he was Superman, he could have gone anywhere — the North Pole, a tropical island, the bottom of a volcano. Who knew?

But she'd taken the chance that he could be in his apartment; and he had been. Distant and unwelcoming at first, and she'd been hesitant about pushing him; she'd almost apologised for disturbing him and left, but then she'd seen the pain in his eyes and known that he needed comfort. Okay, she might not be his first choice of person to fulfil that role, but she was all he had right then.

She smiled up at him now, allowing him to release her hand so that he could spin into his Suit and then walking with him out onto his balcony. The cool night breeze rustled around her, disturbing her hair and making her shiver a little; Clark glanced down at her and gave her a lop-sided smile. "I can lend you a sweater if you like, but I think, once I'm holding you, you should be warm enough."

It felt strange, being lifted into Superman's arms and knowing that it was Clark holding her. Stealing a glance up at him, she saw his expression; far more relaxed than Superman had ever been when flying with her, he seemed happy to be taking her soaring over the city with him. Watching him, Lois began to get an idea of just how much the ability to fly meant to him, and she wondered how he had felt during that twenty-four hour period just a few days ago, when he'd thought his powers had gone permanently.

Or, of course, during the heatwave crisis, when he'd been banned from using his powers. She'd wondered a little how Superman had felt about that, but that was before she'd known the Super-hero in anything other than his remote guise. In that form, it had seemed almost presumptuous to imagine that he could feel pain, although Clark's article for the Star at the time had given the lie to that myth. And, of course, when he'd come to her apartment to offer her an interview he'd shown some hurt at his treatment by the city.

"Clark…" She leaned up, putting her face close to his ear, hoping he could hear her against the sound of the wind rushing past them.

He turned his head a little, smiling at her. "It's okay, I can hear you."

"I just wondered… it must have been horrible for you when you were being accused of causing the heatwave."

Watching him, she saw his smile falter before it returned, wry this time. "It was pretty unpleasant at the time, especially since I thought there was a chance it could be true." He paused, frowning. "But you never believed that, did you? I meant what I said at the time, Lois — what you did meant a lot to me. You saved Superman, and in a way you also saved Clark Kent. I did think about staying in Metropolis as Clark if Superman had to leave, but I'm really not sure it could have worked. You have no idea how hard it is to hear people calling for help and not to be able to do anything."

"I think I'm beginning to understand," she told him, thinking back to his depressed state over the people he hadn't been able to save that night. "I'm just glad I could help, Clark."

"Me too." He smiled at her again before turning his head to concentrate on navigating them above the rooftops and across the city. "The powers themselves… well, they're part of me, and it felt as if I'd lost one of my senses when the Kryptonite took them away. But what I missed most was this -the flying."

Staring ahead into the dark night, seeing the lights of the city spread out beneath them, Lois could see why he felt that way. It was different for her, although she was revelling in the sensation of being carried in free-flight. Clark could fly under his own power, could control his pace, height, destination, anything he wanted. That ability was something she knew she would never want to give up voluntarily.

He slowed suddenly, waving a hand in front of them in a sweeping gesture. "See all this, Lois. The city below — it's just so beautiful from up here. And look — " he gestured upwards, at the panorama above. The dark night sky, devoid of clouds, spread above them like some magical blue-black carpet spread with glittering silver stars, all twinkling faintly down at them.

"Down there, on the ground, we never get to see the city like this. We never get to feel so close to the stars either. And it's easy, sometimes, to forget what's important in life — we get so caught up in all the little daily irritations, and we can't look at the bigger picture. And we find it hard, sometimes, to remember just how lucky we are. That's why I like to come up here," Clark told her softly as he hovered in mid-air, allowing her to gaze around her in wonder.

"It's incredible," she whispered.


For several moments, they stayed exactly where they were, each lost in their own thoughts as they watched the stars above. Then Lois saw Clark turn to look at her again, and he was grinning.

"Hey — you want to know what it's really like to fly?" he asked her.

Lois frowned. "How can I?"

"Easy. Just trust me — I won't drop you," he assured her, before removing the arm which held her knees against him. She hung, suspended, against his lean and powerful body, clinging with her arms about his neck and his other arm around her shoulders. "Let go one arm," he instructed her, tugging lightly at her right wrist.

Obeying him, she found herself clamped to his right side by their combined grips. "Okay, let's go!" he exclaimed, grinning with sheer delight, before setting off in a rapid motion, tugging her along beside him as he sped forward and out towards Metropolis harbour.

In this position, Lois realised that she was able to experience the intensity of their flight far better; mimicking Clark, she allowed her body to lie prone and simply floated along beside him. The downside of this flying position was that she felt the cold a little more, and she was experiencing some wind-burn on her face; but once she tucked her head into Clark's shoulder, that disappeared. Why this should be so, she couldn't imagine, but then she remembered him telling her that she wouldn't be cold once he was holding her.

Was this yet another aspect of Clark's amazing powers? Was she, when held close to him, protected by his invulnerability?

It seemed incredible, and yet she was unable to reject it as a theory. After all, he was flying very quickly, and her rudimentary knowledge of the laws of physics told her that she should suffer considerable pain, and possibly injuries as well, from being dragged through the air at this sort of rate. And since they were well above the city, she ought to be frozen through. Yet she wasn't. Her lower body felt chilly, but again she tried to pull herself closer to Clark, and the chill disappeared as she felt his cape cover her.

"You like this?" he asked, tilting his head a little towards her.

"It's… just amazing!" she exclaimed, turning to smile at him. "You really don't know how lucky you are, Clark — you can do this any time you want!"

"Any time you want to go flying with me, you only have to ask," he replied easily. "I don't often get the opportunity to show someone else just how special all of this is." After a brief pause, he added, "Actually, I don't mean just *anyone* else — a friend, someone I trust, who I know will love it as much as I do."

"You take your parents flying?" Lois asked, curiously.

"Sometimes. And you're the only person apart from them I've ever taken flying *just* to go flying." He smiled at her again, and Lois felt warmed by the genuine affection in his gaze.

A little later, he changed direction, saying that it was probably time they headed back. "Want me to fly you to your apartment?" he offered.

Lois shook her head and then, realising he probably couldn't see her, replied, "Thanks, but my car's at your place."

A few minutes later, they landed on Clark's balcony and he led the way back into the apartment; as she paused to thank him, she saw that he was spinning again. Within seconds, she was looking at Clark Kent in casual gear again.

He accompanied her to the door. "I'm heading over to Smallville straight after I finish at the Star tomorrow, and staying there over Sunday too," he told her. "So I'll see you at the Planet first thing on Monday, right?"

"Right." She beamed at him. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Hey, me too!" A wide Clark Kent smile accompanied that remark.

Lois was about to turn to leave when Clark spoke again. "Lois, I want you to know I really appreciate what you did tonight. Thank you."

She flushed, a little embarrassed. "That's what friends are for, Clark. I don't have a lot of experience at being a friend, but I want to learn."

"You did pretty good tonight," he told her, his voice low and husky.

She smiled awkwardly and began to reach for the doorhandle, but his hand on her arm stopped her. To her surprise, he pulled her into a warm hug, wrapping both arms around her and holding her close to his long, lean body. Lois hugged him back, marvelling that such an incredibly strong man could hold her with so much force, and at the same time so gently.

After several moments, he released her; but before he stepped back, he bent his head and surprised her by dropping a soft kiss on her cheek. "See you Monday, Lois," he murmured before moving away.

Dazed, she made her way out of his apartment and back to her car.


Lois strode into the Planet newsroom on Monday morning, eagerly looking around for Clark as she hurried down the ramp. To her disappointment, he didn't appear to have arrived yet. Telling herself that it was only just eight o'clock, she sat at her desk and booted her computer, getting ready to download her email. Then two large hands appeared in front of her eyes, and a warm voice murmured in her ear, "Guess who?"

"Hey, partner!" Lois replied, laughing and trying to pull away from his grasp so she could turn and look at him.

"Close your eyes," he instructed.


"Close your eyes. And keep them closed. Then I'll let you go."

What was he up to? Well, she might as well do what he wanted, she decided; she'd find out soon enough. Obediently, she closed her eyes and waited as he removed his hands; in only a few seconds he told her that she could look.

On her desk sat a paper plate with a delicious-looking French pastry, which had to be still warm since it was giving out a wonderful-smelling aroma, and a take-out cup of coffee. The writing on the cup was in French.

She turned quickly to stare at Clark. "Did you…?"

"Quick flight to Poitiers before coming into work," he murmured sotto voce. "I wanted to show my new partner how happy I am to be working with her." As he spoke, he moved around to perch on the edge of Lois's desk.

"Poitiers?" Lois wondered aloud, sipping her coffee.

"A city in the west of France," Clark explained, still keeping his voice low. "I'll take you there sometime if you like. The scenery and architecture are beautiful, and they make the most wonderful macaroons. You'll love them," he added. "*And* there are shops selling hand-made chocolates, too," he informed her with a grin, letting her know that he was very familiar with her preferences.

"I'd love that!" Lois exclaimed, staring at him with wide eyes and a broad, delighted smile.

He returned her smile. "Great!"

"So…" She cast a glance across the newsroom to the desk Clark had used when he'd worked there before. "They given you your old desk back or what?"

He shook his head, giving her a swift grin. "There," he answered, gesturing to the desk which faced her own. "Perry said that if we're going to work together, we should sit where we can talk without having to interrupt the entire newsroom."

"Sounds like Perry," Lois agreed, amused. "So… we should talk, I guess. I need to fill you in on what I've been working on."

Her new partner raised one eyebrow. "So we're just going to work on your ongoing stories, huh? You know, maybe I have some leads we should follow up — you forgetting that?"

About to reassure Clark, concerned that she might have offended him, Lois suddenly noticed the teasing glint in his eye and she stopped abruptly. Fixing him with an incredulous look, she challenged him instead. "You're saying that the Planet might actually want to follow up on a Star story?"

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time, Lois," he informed her in mock-serious tones. "Who had to eat my dust over Harrington?"

She swiped at his shoulder, earning herself a burst of amused laughter from her partner.

"Anyway, Lois," Clark added, "we do have one ongoing story, don't we? The hospital fire?"

"Oh, yeah, sure!" she confirmed, remembering. "Perry was delighted with the exclusive Superman interview. We really scooped the Star on that one," she added, enjoying their private joke; the involuntary smile which crept around Clark's mobile mouth told her that he did, too. And that comment reminded her… "How was your last day?"

He shrugged. "Okay, I guess. I just couldn't wait to walk out of there for the last time, and Mike Lloyd still hasn't forgiven me for jumping ship back to the Planet, so there were no fond farewells. A quick drink in the bar around the corner, that's all — and I didn't stay long. Told them I had a flight to catch." He winked at her, and again she shared a private joke with him.

She had to ask. "And… Linda?"

He ducked his head. "She wasn't happy that I decided to leave, Lois. We kind of had a truce for my last week, but let's just say that I'm not on her Christmas card list."

Lois had to look away in order to hide her relief at that information. So Clark wouldn't be keeping in touch with Linda! Okay, it by no means made it any more likely that he would turn to *her* for romance, but she knew he saw her as a valued friend — his farewell hug the other night confirmed that — and just maybe, in time, he might see her as more than a friend. After all, he'd been attracted to her enough to want to go to bed with her, once; and all the evidence suggested that Clark wasn't the kind of guy to treat sex lightly. Merely getting carried away over a couple of drinks — which probably didn't affect him anyway — wouldn't be his style. He must have been hoping for more.

"Lane! Kent! In here, now!" Perry's bellow interrupted her yearning thoughts, and she looked up to see Clark's head snap up at the same time.

"Looks like your honeymoon period didn't last long," she said wryly as he walked beside her to the editor's office.


Returning to the Daily Planet as an employee had felt like coming home. When he'd exited the elevator, Clark had needed to pause and just gaze down at the newsroom, remembering the month or so he'd worked there previously and how different the Planet was from the Star. Most reporters who worked here cared about the quality and veracity of their work, and many of them actually engaged in debate with Planet readers over issues such as objectivity, news values and content — this was encouraged by Perry White, who occasionally reminded reporters that, without readers who were happy with the paper's content, none of them would have jobs.

One person was missing: Lois. He'd actually got there before her, which gave him time to find which desk was his and to prepare for her arrival — the coffee and pastry needed to be stashed somewhere safe until she came.

As he watched her walk into the newsroom, from his position half-hidden behind a pillar, Clark was struck by the obvious fact that her relationship with colleagues seemed to have changed. Previously, Lois had been tolerated, and had frequently been resented; now, people called a cheerful 'good morning' to her, and the greeting was reciprocated by Lois herself. What had caused things to change so much? he wondered.

But, a few minutes later, her delighted reaction to his presence and his surprise was all he could have wanted, and it felt so good just to perch on the edge of her desk and talk to her. Sharing little private references to his being Superman gave him great pleasure. He knew he'd been right to tell her his secret — if he'd been in any doubt at all, both Friday evening and this morning would have reassured him about that.

And he hadn't missed that casual, teasing swipe at his arm. She was becoming more comfortable around him all the time. He knew she'd been very awkward in his company after her apology and confession during their long drive back to Metropolis, but with each meeting she was relaxing more in his company. She'd certainly been very much at ease in his arms when he'd taken her flying, and that had encouraged him to venture the hug — and the kiss — as she'd been leaving. Even if they never became more than friends, he wanted Lois to be physically comfortable with him. He was pretty sure that she trusted him now; he never again wanted her to imagine him capable of treating her with the kind of callous disrespect that other men she'd trusted had.

Now, he walked with her towards Perry's office, trying to resist the temptation to place his hand against her back as they went. That would be presuming too far — and it might also send the wrong signals to their newsroom colleagues, he guessed; most of them would remember only too well that Lane and Kent had previously barely been able to speak to each other. That conference room argument was no doubt still very fresh in people's minds. He could only imagine what the reactions were to seeing him and Lois chatting together in such a friendly manner just now; better not to give anyone any other cause for gossip.

They closed the door of the editor's office behind them and turned to face Perry, who was looking every bit as gruff as Clark remembered him. However, there was a twinkle in the older man's eye, which told Clark that Perry was pleased about something, even if he didn't want to say it.

"Okay, Kent, I've already welcomed you back to the Planet. I've called the two of you in here because I guess you both know I want you to team up permanently."

"Sure, Chief. I was kind of hoping you'd want that anyway," Lois answered immediately. "Clark and I discovered after we were kidnapped that we work well together, and it would be good for the Planet."

"Yeah, Lois, I think I got the message that you want to be partnered with Kent here. Wasn't that part of the sales pitch you gave me when you persuaded me to rehire him?" Clark saw the editor raise an eyebrow sardonically at Lois; she flushed a little.

"Actually, I'd be honoured to work with Lois," he interjected swiftly, doubting very much that Lois was upset by the Chief's comment, but wanting to ensure, all the same, that his feelings on the subject were registered.

"Well, I seem to remember that it wasn't all that long ago you two couldn't even look each other in the eye without hissing like two Kilkenny cats," Perry drawled. "You wouldn't want to tell me what's caused this change of heart, would you?"

Clark glanced at Lois; she caught his eye simultaneously, and they stared at each other, momentarily speechless. Then she turned to face Perry again, shrugging. "It's no big deal, Perry. We just had a… misunderstanding. Yeah, that's what it was. A misunderstanding. Way back when. And when we were kidnapped and locked up together, we got a chance to talk about it and we realised that's all it was. No big deal."

He grinned inwardly at her awkward babble. "Yeah, what Lois said, Mr White. And it's all water under the bridge now."

Perry raised another highly sceptical eyebrow, but otherwise ignored the explanation. "Uh… Kent?"


"You're not the office junior. You can call me Perry, or Chief if you insist. Okay?"

"Uh… sure, Perry!" Clark stammered, now feeling as if he was the one under the microscope.

"Right — well, now we have that all sorted out, I want to talk to you two about your assignments," the editor added, sounding more formal. "I've decided that you should focus on special investigations — I don't want you wasting your time on run-of-the-mill stuff that any reporter could cover. You two need to pull in some big scoops, and I'm going to make sure you're freed up from the usual routine stuff in order to do it."

Clark liked the sound of that very much, although he wondered whether it would prevent him — or them — bringing in the occasional Superman story. On the other hand, he mused, it might be no bad thing to let other Planet reporters grab those occasionally — there would be less chance of anyone associating the Super-hero with the reporter.

"So, I'm giving that hospital fire follow-up to Eduardo, Lois, and if you've anything else in your pending file which isn't a major story, you can pass it on to Jimmy. I want the kid to try his hand at reporting — he's been bugging me for long enough, and it's about time he got a chance to show what he can do. And I'll deny I said that, if you repeat it!" he warned them.

It was almost a relief to Clark to hear that they wouldn't be working on the hospital story. He desperately wanted the perpetrator brought to justice, particularly as the police had, over the weekend, announced that they were indeed looking for an arsonist. As Superman, he'd offered his help in any way the emergency services might find useful. But he knew that it was a story which he would find very difficult to remain objective about.

"So, Lois, Clark — got any big stories you want to tell me about?"

Immediately Lois burst into speech. "Jason Trask, Chief. Clark and I don't believe he was working completely alone. No-one could have the kind of resources and organisation his Bureau 39 had and be maverick for ten years or more. We want to check that out."

Perry looked from one to the other, a thoughtful expression on his face. "So who do you think was behind Bureau 39?"

"The FBI," Clark answered. "And if not them, the military — maybe both."

Perry blinked a little. "Lois, you said Trask was wanted by the FBI."

"Well, we think that's all part of the cover-up," Lois said quickly. "I mean, maybe the FBI didn't like some of his methods anyway — that wouldn't surprise me. But I'm darned sure they approved of his aims."

"Well, see, that's what I've never understood," Perry drawled. "What were his aims?"

Clark glanced at Lois, wondering how much she'd told Perry so far; she gave him a look which he knew meant that the decision of how much to say was up to him. "Well, we didn't want to print this at the time, and we still don't want to unless we get proof that the FBI or the Pentagon is involved, but Trask was after Superman. He wanted to kill Superman."

The editor was silent for a moment, his expression revealing shock. Then he said, slowly, "You two are standing here and telling me that the government wants Superman dead?"

"That's our guess," Lois replied. "Well, maybe not immediately, or even directly. But if someone was willing to do it for them, they weren't going to intervene. Which is why we think that Trask was getting his funding secretly from the FBI."

"Well, okay, I could see that," Perry acknowledged. "But why would the military or the government want Superman dead?"

"He's a potential threat," Clark explained. "They can't control him. And, okay, at the moment he's useful — he catches criminals and he helps out with disasters and emergencies. But what if he turns bad? What if he decides he doesn't like the government? What if he decides he wants to be a dictator?"

The editor laughed aloud. "Judas Priest, I don't know Superman all that well, but even I know he wouldn't do that!"

"So do Clark and I, Chief, but there are some pretty weird conspiracy theories out there on the Internet and in cult magazines," Lois responded.

"Well, okay, you two look into that. But I'm going to have to run anything you write past the lawyers, you know. We might not be able to print it. So I'm hoping that you have some more stuff up your sleeve too. I don't mind if you don't have a big story every week, as long as I know you're working on things which will result in major scoops."

"We'll do our best, Perry," Lois said firmly. "In fact, I do have some other ideas, but I need to discuss them with my partner before we're ready to go any further. And Clark says he has some leads too," she added, glancing at Clark for confirmation; he nodded.

"Okay, you two go and talk," Perry said briskly, waving them towards the door. "But don't forget, morning conference is in half an hour. I expect to see you both with plenty of ideas then."

"Sure thing, Chief!" Lois answered breezily, grabbing Clark's arm and tugging him towards the door; he grinned and went willingly with her.

"Oh, and just in case it wasn't clear…" Perry drawled as Lois began to open the door.

"What?" Clark turned back to face him.

"The two of you have built up a pretty good reputation for Superman exclusives. By the look of things, he trusts both of you enough to talk to you sometimes. I don't want that to stop, okay?"

"We'll do our best," Lois intervened smoothly before Clark could respond. "But you know Superman, Perry — who knows where he's going to show next? If he carries on talking to us, I'll be delighted. But I guess we can't take him for granted."

Her response pleased Clark very much: it seemed as if Lois also understood that it wouldn't be a great idea for the two of them to be too closely associated with Superman, and she was paving the way for other reporters — and other papers — to get stories sometimes without Perry thinking that his star team had somehow blown it.

Lois led the way into the conference room; as she turned to him after closing the door, the expression on her face was positively gleeful. "Clark! Special assignments!" she almost screamed. "No more dime store hold-ups, no more tedious mayoral press conferences to announce a new refuse collection contract, and no more dog show detail!"

"When's the last time you got sent to cover a dog show, Lois?" Clark demanded with an amused grin, loving her excitement.

"That's not the point, Clark! I *could* have been sent — and now it won't happen! Now we can decide what we want to write about!"

"Within limits, remember," Clark felt obliged to point out. "Remember, Perry did say he wants a big story from us on a regular basis."

"Oh, we can throw him an occasional big Superman story to keep him happy," Lois told him, giving him a wink to show that she was — at least partly — teasing. "But this way we get to choose our assignments. And we get to investigate Bureau 39. You know, Clark, in Superman's place — " she gave him a meaningful look — "I wouldn't be at all happy if I thought there were still people out there who might want him dead."

"And I'm sure Superman's not one bit happy," Clark agreed, pleased to see that Lois realised that, even in this room where they were alone, it was sensible to talk about Superman in the third person. "And, yes, I still want to find out who's behind that too. So far I haven't got much, though. Wallace clammed up the last time I talked with him."

"So we go it alone," Lois told him. "That's by far the best way anyway — how do you know your contact isn't feeding you the information they want you to have?"

"I don't," Clark agreed. "I was pretty sure he was trying to point me in the wrong direction before anyway."

"We'll get there, between us," Lois said confidently, and began to discuss how she thought they should proceed.

Clark fell silent after a while, just watching Lois as she expounded on her theories. She looked even more beautiful when she was getting carried away with ideas, as she was now; she exuded vibrancy and energy, pacing around the conference room and gesturing with her hands. Her expression shone with enthusiasm; her entire body was animated. Just as she had been that night in his apartment, as they'd discussed and argued about a range of topics from politics to news values to current affairs.

Looking at her now — and seeing her in his mind as she'd been then — it was almost impossible to believe that she could lack any confidence in herself. And yet, as he now knew, Lois had real issues with self-confidence. She'd been hurt so badly in her past that she couldn't allow herself to trust, and judging by what she'd told him about herself, and what she'd allowed him to see for himself, she was a mass of insecurities inside. It was a wonder that she was so successful in her career, although he was pretty sure that the insecurities only applied on a personal level.

As he continued to watch her, allowing these thoughts to play through his mind, he had a mental image again of how confident and happy she'd looked as she'd encouraged him to kiss and touch her -

His thought process came to a skidding halt.

Lois had had bad experiences with the men in her past. Her experiences of sex, from what she'd said, had been poor for one reason or another. She was clearly very cautious about getting involved with anyone romantically. She was wary about going to bed with anyone, because she couldn't risk getting seduced and abandoned again.

With that past, with those hang-ups, why had she gone to bed with *him*?

Why had she forgotten all her hang-ups? All her bad experiences; all the reasons which, he knew, made her very cautious about getting involved with anyone?

She hadn't simply had a little too much to drink and become carried away. He could believe that might be true of another woman in the same situation, but not Lois. Even if he had done something for her on a sexual level, even if their kisses had affected her in the same way as they had him, she wouldn't have just gone with the flow. The Lois he now knew wasn't like that.

She wouldn't have made love with him — with any man — unless she trusted him.

But she hadn't trusted him the following morning! his own inner insecurities pointed out.

She'd been completely sober the following morning.

Thinking about it all now, Clark could see that the wine had just loosened Lois up enough so that she felt comfortable enough to trust him.

Lois's biggest problem where trusting people was concerned, he mused slowly, was that, most of the time, when she was rational, she was unable to trust, because then she thought with her head instead of her heart. That night, the night they'd made love, the alcohol had loosened her inhibitions — but not her *sexual* inhibitions, as he'd thought. It had relaxed her emotional inhibitions.

For that night, or at least for those few short hours, she had trusted him. Trusted him enough to feel comfortable with him in every way: talking, arguing, teasing, kissing, and ultimately making love. But, because she hadn't known him well enough for that instinctive trust to be reinforced by her experience of him, in the morning, without any artificial suppressant for her rational thoughts, all that trust had vanished and she'd been left appalled, wondering what on earth she'd done. Thinking that she'd allowed herself to be seduced again by a smooth-talking ambitious colleague.

She hadn't known him well enough to trust him.

This was a momentous discovery. All along, he'd thought that the only reason she'd gone to bed with him had been a fleeting sexual attraction heightened by alcohol. But it was now perfectly plain that it couldn't have been that at all. She *had* found him attractive. Contrary to everything he'd told himself since, she had been turned on by his kisses and caresses; she had *wanted* to have sex with him. But, most of all, she'd allowed herself to trust him.

And now, she had learned to trust him again.

Was the attraction she'd felt towards him that night still there? He couldn't be sure; she certainly wasn't giving any signs of it. But then, he reminded himself, after everything that had happened in the interim, she would probably find it difficult to let him see how she felt. And anyway, they'd only just become friends.

He could wait. They were friends, and he wanted her to get used to having him in her life, as her best friend. Once having him as her friend was as natural to her as breathing, he could make his move and ask her out on a date.

"Earth to Clark!"


"Hey, I know you're from Krypton, but do you have to vanish off there when I'm trying to talk to you?" she demanded, a little impatiently, but still remembering to keep her voice low.

In spite of the fact that she'd interrupted some very pleasant thoughts, Clark grinned. He was delighted that she was taking his alien origins so much in her stride that she was able to tease him about it — clearly the fact that he wasn't human didn't bother her in the slightest.

It was no wonder that he was still as crazily in love with her as he had been on the day he'd met her.

He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. I was listening. Except I just got thinking there for a moment."

"Anything you want to share?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Not right now. Except… well, it's great to be back, Lois. And it's great to be working with you again."

She studied him for a moment, before answering, "It's great to have you back, Clark. And I know we're going to make a great team!" Stepping towards him, she laid her hand lightly against his chest for a moment, then backed away almost as if she thought he would have withdrawn from her first if she'd given him the chance.

Without comment, Clark reached for her hand and gave it a warm squeeze. Then, releasing her, he smiled at her. "So — what were you trying to say to me when I so rudely stopped listening?"

"Oh!" She looked a little flustered momentarily; then she collected herself and answered him. "Well, I think we should investigate Lex Luthor, Clark. There's too much about him that doesn't add up, to me."

Clark raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "Can't say I disagree there, Lois. But didn't you kind of like him a few months ago? You wanted an interview with him, I remember that. And he seemed kind of attracted to you."

An expression of distaste crossed her face, making him very curious indeed. "I think he is, but that's kind of a long story and we don't have time to go into it now. You remember it was his power plant causing the heatwave?"

"How could I forget?" Clark replied dryly. "You thought the same as I did, then? That it wasn't accidental?"

She nodded. "But there wasn't any way to find out. No-one on the council would say anything — the official line was that it had been certified safe, and that's all they told me."

"Well, I went back later that day to take another look. But because of what I had to do to stop the reactor going online, there was no way of finding a leak. And I'm darned sure that anything which could have linked Luthor to any malpractice got destroyed the instant we all left."

"I bet," Lois agreed. "But it's not just that. There are too many gaps in his resume, Clark. Who knows where he came from? It's a rags to riches story, but where are the interviews with people who grew up with him? Where did he go to school? How did he make all his money? And why is it that he's in such total control of his empire? I just don't trust him, Clark."

"I've never trusted him," Clark told her. <And it's not just because I was jealous, either…> "Okay, Luthor's on the hit-list," he agreed. "And, you know, I kind of got suspicious about Preston Carpenter over the past few months."

"The Star's owner?" Lois stared at him.

"Yeah. I don't know what it is about him, but I don't trust him. I'm pretty sure he's up to no good, but there was nothing I could prove. I guess I could have… asked Superman to help, but even if I had found out something I couldn't have written it."

"Not for the Star," Lois agreed. "Okay, Carpenter too."

Clark was about to speak again when some voices outside the door triggered his Super-hearing. It was almost time for the conference, he realised, and he was just about to mention that to Lois when one of the people speaking mentioned her name.

"…still taking bets on how long Lane's attitude lasts."

"Yeah, well, now Kent's back she's not going to stay all sweetness and light, is she, Ralph buddy? You might as well pay me my winnings now."

"I dunno," the first voice answered; Clark now recognised it as the rather sleazy reporter named Ralph, whom he hadn't taken to at all in his previous stint at the Planet. "They seem pretty buddy-buddy so far. You figure they've got it together or something?"

"Only if the guy's desperate," the other speaker snorted. "Ice-maiden Lane? She'd freeze a guy in bed faster than Superman's breath!"

Furious, Clark forced himself to remain calm; there was no way he could explain having heard that exchange anyway, other than to Lois, and he had no wish to tell her about it. But he determined to make it plain to Ralph and his friend that he would not allow anyone to talk about his partner like that. And as for the idea of *taking bets* on how long Lois would behave 'nicely'… He gritted his teeth and moved to the conference table, pulling out a chair for Lois.

He'd engineer some suitable revenge. And he would enjoy it, too.


As the newsroom staff filed into the conference room for the Monday morning meeting, Lois noticed several of her colleagues casting very curious glances at Clark; some also seemed surprised to see him sitting next to herself. Perry had, of course, announced the previous week that a new reporter would be starting this week,but — to Lois's secret amusement — had not mentioned the new staff member's name. And even though Clark had been in early that morning, the fact that they'd disappeared into Perry's office before most of the staff had arrived for work meant that many people hadn't seen him yet. Some had — she hadn't missed the double-take Ralph had made on seeing Clark perched on the edge of her desk, teasing her as she'd been eating the pastry he'd brought her.

Cat was last to enter; she sashayed into the room in her usual I'm-making-an-entrance style, pausing for a moment to allow everyone to admire her in her leopard-skin top which clung to every curve of her body, halting just above her waist in order to reveal an inch or so of bronzed skin above the *very* tight tan leather mini-skirt she wore. "Only Cat would wear a crop-top *and* a skirt that's barely there in December," Lois muttered to Clark. "That's for your benefit, you know."

He turned to give her a puzzled look. "You have to be kidding, Lois! You told me no-one knew I was coming back here."

Men could be so naive at times, Lois mused. "Of course she knew. Cat always manages to know everything. Either she wormed it out of Perry, or she got it from someone at the Star."

Clark rolled his eyes, and Lois remembered that in his previous period of employment at the Planet Cat had made a very obvious play for him. At the time, she'd assumed that he'd probably taken her up on what she was so clearly offering, but now, of course, she knew that couldn't be true. So he wasn't interested in Cat either, she realised, and filed that one away for later digestion.

"Clark!" Cat's voice purred from behind Lois's head. "It's so *good* to see you back here! Why don't we have a nice cosy reunion drink after work, hmm? My place?"

Because she had no intention of turning right around in her seat to look at Cat, Lois had been looking at Clark. As such, she was able to see his expression as Cat made her suggestion; he looked totally horrified and completely at a loss as to how to respond. His eyes were giving that same deer-in-the-headlights look she'd seen before from him, and she couldn't help but take pity on him.

"Oh, Clark's coming over to my place after work this evening," she objected breezily. "So, sorry, Cat, but he'll have to decline." As she spoke, she patted Clark's arm; although she was well aware that she was sending signals implying ownership, she felt that Clark was unlikely to object right at this moment.

And it seemed that he didn't object; turning his head to smile at Lois, he replied, "Sorry, Cat, but it looks like I have other plans."

Perry interrupted then, starting the news conference. "Now, before we get into it, I have to introduce you all to our new team member. Well, I guess 'introduce' isn't really what I mean here, since I'm sure you all remember Clark Kent. Clark's worked at the Star for the last couple of months, but now he's seen the error of his ways and come back to the Planet, where he belongs."

There was a pause, during which various colleagues smiled at Clark or otherwise made welcoming murmurs. Perry then continued, "Anyway, as a result, I've teamed him up with Lois and put the pair of them on special investigations. If they do as well as I'm expecting, I'm expecting Lane and Kent to be the hottest team in town by summer. And from now on, no-one gives Lane and Kent an assignment without coming through me."

At that, a number of disgruntled faces could be seen, but Perry forged onwards. "Now, if anyone has a problem with that, they can come and see me. Right, who's got anything for me this morning?"

Lois leaned back in her seat, content to allow her colleagues bat ideas back and forth for Perry's approval. This had been an excellent start to what she was sure was going to be a great week; Clark was back and working with her, she'd been taken off the regular city beat and they'd been given a lot of freedom as a result. She was going to enjoy this, a lot.

As everyone filed out again afterwards, she noticed Ralph position himself so that he was next to Clark. Surreptitiously edging closer, she heard Ralph say, "So… that's pretty brave of you, Kent, agreeing to work with Lane!"

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," she heard Clark reply smoothly. "I'm surprised Perry didn't say it — the only reason I came back was because I was going to be partnered with Lois. She's the best there is, and I want to work with the best."

Lois was giving way to a sense of embarrassed delight at Clark's remark, when she heard Ralph's response and had to bite her tongue in fury.

"Well, watch it, that's my advice, Clark. She's a total bitch. She may be all nice and sweet right now, but that's just a cover — we guessed she was after promotion, and after this morning it looks like she's got it. Mark my words, the bitch'll be back any day now."

"Oh, I wouldn't *bet* on that, Ralph," Clark said dryly and with emphasis. "Nor would I bet on Lois's reaction if she were to find out what you've been saying to me."

That clearly confused Ralph; he hadn't been expecting Clark to stick up for his partner, it seemed. But he should have known Clark better than that, Lois thought silently; after all, even she had noticed the way Clark had conspicuously failed to join in any of the anti-Lois behaviour in the newsroom before. That should have told her a lot about Clark's character, but — to her shame — she hadn't put two and two together there either.

But that pointed reference to betting told her something as well. Clark knew about Ralph's little betting game related to her changed behaviour. For a moment, she wondered how that could be the case, but then she mentally kicked herself. With his Super-hearing, nothing in the newsroom could be a secret from him. Not that he would deliberately eavesdrop, she thought; but there were no doubt times that he overheard stuff by accident. And this had to have been one of those times.

She deliberately stopped at his desk and waited for him; he came over a moment or two later, bearing two mugs of newsroom coffee. "Thanks for rescuing me from Cat," he murmured, handing her one. "I *really* appreciate that! Ummm… and am I invited to your place for dinner?"

"If you want to come," she told him, a little surprised that he seemed to want to. <You'll have to get out of this under-confident mindset, Lane!> she told herself roughly. <How many times does the guy have to tell you he wants you as a friend?>

"Well, yeah — as long as nothing else gets in the way," he added quietly, and she instantly got the reference. As long as nothing happened to require Superman's attention.

"Sure — well, if you are free," she added, "then you're welcome, as long as you bring some of that wonderful takeout you got that first time we worked late together!" Which she was now very sure had come direct from China.

He winked. "Sure!"

"Oh, and thanks yourself," she told him, beginning to turn away.



"What? Oh — you heard?" He looked surprised.

"I heard, and I guessed that you must have heard something too?" She tugged lightly at her ear, assuming that he would understand what she meant.

His grin told her that he did. "He'll be sorry, Lois, trust me on that. He might not be able to explain the scalding-hot coffee he's just poured himself, or how four sugars got in there instead of two, *or* how the doughnut he's just grabbed is burnt and hard inside — but at least it makes me feel a little better."

Lois stared, slack-jawed, at her partner. "You did *that*?" But Superman didn't… But then, this was *Clark*, not Superman, she reminded herself. No, Superman wouldn't play practical jokes on someone as a means of extracting revenge, but Clark would. He'd consider it a point of honour, almost. And Lois found that she loved that side of him.

"Who, me?" He gave her an innocent stare, and she couldn't help laughing.

Patting him on the arm as she walked off, she told him, "I'm just glad you never decided to pay me back like that when you first came here!"

"Oh, I found better ways to deal with you," he murmured in a low, soft voice, and she slowed to look back at him, surprised by the apparently suggestive undertone to his teasing; it reminded her of their telephone conversation the day after their kidnap, which at times had made her feel wobbly at the knees. "Like reminding myself that you like to be on top… or making you a present of a Super-Godzilla," he finished with a subtle wink.

"Careful, Kent, you can be replaced," she informed him before moving swiftly around to her side of their joined desks. His low chuckle followed her, and she felt warm inside.


By the end of that week, Clark felt almost as if he'd never left the Planet. It wasn't just that everything was so familiar, more that returning to the Planet had been like coming back to his natural habitat. Everything was so much more civilised than at the Star. And even though Perry White had a sharp tongue when he felt like using it, and he tended to rule the newsroom with a rod of barely-tempered steel, Clark respected him as an editor. He had never respected Mike Lloyd. The Planet was a great newspaper with sound news values, and the Star was a low-market rag which tried to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Not that Clark was a snob, but he'd always believed that it was the job of a reporter — and, by extension, the newspaper for which that reporter worked — to write the news, to tell the truth, and to keep the public informed on the issues which *mattered*.

And an endless diet of celebrity marriage break-ups, sports stars' drunken punch-ups and the occasional sad-eyed dog story was not keeping the public informed on the issues which mattered. Even the stories in the Star which had covered real news had always had a slant; they were pretty much dumbed down for a start, but they also had to be peppered throughout with the kind of values the Star held as important — even when those values weren't held consistently.

It was such a relief to be writing for a real newspaper again.

And Lois was turning out to be as fantastic a partner as he could wish for. By some really weird coincidence, their minds seemed to work on the same wavelength a lot of the time; wading through piles of documents, or exchanging notes after lengthy telephone conversations, they would look at each other and just *know* that each had already come to the same conclusion as the other. They'd already given up asking the inevitable 'are you thinking what I'm thinking?' — because it was too often true. Instead, one would begin to explain, and the other would take over part-way through. They'd even taken to finishing each other's sentences, a habit Perry and Jimmy, who had more dealings with them than anyone else at the Planet, were finding increasingly disconcerting.

Lois was also making herself indispensable to him in other ways. On his first day back at the Planet, a report had come over the news ticker-tape about a train crash upstate, and he'd wanted to get away to help; Lois's gaze had gone straight to the tape display when she'd noticed his distraction, and she'd immediately made a surreptitious gesture which looked rather like the motion of a plane taking off. He'd interpreted that — correctly, she'd later confirmed — that he should get airborne, and she'd proceeded to announce that she thought he should go over to the city records office to check something out for her. That had given him his cue to escape, and she'd helped out with excuses in a similar manner a couple of other times during the week.

Of course, their new assignment as special investigators meant that there wasn't such need for Perry or anyone else to be aware of their every movements, but it really helped that he didn't have to make excuses to a partner who had every right to know where he was. And it was even more helpful that said partner was a dab hand at coming up with convincing explanations of where he might be when he wasn't at his desk.

Like earlier that week, when they'd been walking back to the Planet after a visit to the university library a mile or so away. As they'd passed one of the city's larger hotels, Clark's Super-senses had kicked in and told him that there was a smell of gas coming from the basement. He'd had to send Lois back to the Planet on her own; she'd wanted to stay, but he'd asked her to send Eduardo over instead, and to tell him that she'd seen Superman. On entering the hotel, his suspicions had been confirmed: a man was trailing petrol all over the basement, clearly with the intention of setting the place on fire. Acting at Super-speed, Clark had grabbed the man, frozen the spilt gas with his Super-breath and swooped up to street level to ask the duty manager to call the police. Eduardo had arrived just in time to see the perpetrator — who, it later turned out, was a pyromaniac — taken off by the police, and to get a quick interview with Superman.

And, when he'd finally got back to the Planet, Clark had discovered that Lois had told a couple of people that he'd stopped to conduct some personal business at the bank and that she'd wanted to make some phone calls, so hadn't waited for him. He'd taken her flying again that evening to thank her for that one, although he hadn't quite been sure, once they were airborne, just who was doing whom a favour. With Lois in his arms, he discovered that flying was a completely different, and highly sensual, experience. The only drawback was that, at such times, the close-fitting nature of the Suit had the potential to be a disadvantage…

He and Lois had spent quite a lot of time together outside work; as she'd suggested, he'd come to her place on the Monday evening bearing Chinese takeout — straight from Canton — and a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. Although she'd raised her eyebrows at the bottle, Lois had told him later that she actually hadn't touched a drop of alcohol since he'd come to her apartment as Superman and given her that interview; even though their conversation that night she'd told him about her fears, and her own subsequent investigations and a conversation with an addiction counsellor, had told her that she probably didn't have alcoholic tendencies, she hadn't felt any particular desire to drink.

That had been followed up by a visit to the movies mid-week, since there was a new film out both had wanted to see, and only the previous evening he'd offered to cook for her in his apartment, and she'd stayed until after midnight as they'd talked about almost everything under the sun. In the end, he'd insisted on flying her home, and he'd driven her Jeep over to her place the following morning to pick her up.

Their friendship was now, he felt, solid as a rock. They had, in the last few days, even fallen into the habit of calling each other last thing at night — even last night, which had surprised him, since he'd flown her home and left her at her bedroom door before going out to fly a patrol. Not two minutes after he'd got home, his phone had rung: Lois calling to say goodnight.

Now, he wanted to invite her to come home with him for Christmas. He'd prepared the ground a little by asking what her plans were; apparently her father would be working and her mother was half-heartedly making noises to the effect that Lois and her sister Lucy *could* come over for the day if they wanted to. Clark got the impression that Lois wasn't especially enthusiastic about that option. And besides, he wanted to show her how a family whose members genuinely loved each other interacted; perhaps she might even lose some of her cynicism about relationships if she could see how close he and his parents were.

His parents, of course, were eager to meet Lois; his mother had already decided that she obviously had to be the perfect woman for her son. Not that her son disagreed with this conclusion; he simply didn't want his mother to think that she could engineer anything between him and the woman she wanted to be his girlfriend. If he was going to try to get Lois to try again with him, he wanted to make his own move, when he was ready — not have his mother matchmake for him!

Maybe in the new year, he thought idly as he watched his partner cross the newsroom towards him, a pile of files in her arms. His attention entirely on her now, he sprang to his feet and took her burden from her, grinning at her insistence that she could manage.

"Come on, you should at least *try* to take advantage of who your partner is," he murmured, falling into step beside her."

"Oh, I will, believe me!" she assured him. "Just wait until the first time we have to go undercover, or break into somewhere!"

Raising an eyebrow, Clark murmured in return, "Just as well my ethics are a little more flexible than you-know-who's!"

He laid the files down on his desk and snagged a vacant chair so that she could sit beside him — depending on how much there was here to read, he thought, he might even suggest that they head into the conference room, where he could use his Super-powers unobserved to help them go through the information more speedily. He'd already done that a couple of times already this week, and he was well aware that Lois loved to see him using his powers openly in front of her in that way. And he enjoyed watching her reaction, too.

Their investigations were progressing slowly, but well. Already, a former military intelligence officer had contacted them, in response to some careful enquiries, with some very pertinent information about Jason Trask. The man, it seemed, had at one time been in the FBI, which explained his presentation of himself as a 'Federal agent' even while dressed in military fatigues. But he had also been a genuine colonel, had served in Vietnam and had remained in the army afterwards. So it seemed likely — and their informant agreed with their speculation — that Trask could have been receiving orders and funding from two separate sources, and possibly playing one off against the other. The FBI, it now seemed likely, had been interested in Superman from the point of view of wanting to know the limitations of his powers and the likelihood of his being corruptible; it seemed highly unlikely that Washington had wanted the Super-hero dead.

"Although if the White House wanted to know what I can do and whether I'm likely to succumb to temptation, I'd have been perfectly happy to be interviewed," Clark had told Lois one evening when they'd been discussing the case at his apartment.

The military, they now speculated — and again, their source had also thought this to be likely — had actually been concerned about the potential threat posed by someone powerful enough and invulnerable enough to take on the entire US Army and win. Whether or not the Pentagon had wanted Superman dead was a moot point; it looked as if they'd wanted him neutralised to a degree.

Which meant, of course, that neither the White House nor the Pentagon trusted Superman, apparently. In a way, Clark couldn't blame them, although Lois was less forgiving in that respect; she reminded him that Superman's trustworthiness could be judged by his actions, and that in that respect he'd more than earned their trust. But at the same time, Clark had pointed out, Superman was a self-confessed alien from another planet, with some potentially very frightening abilities; it was hardly surprising if the US government wanted to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Maybe, he thought now, Superman needed to ask the President for a one-on-one discussion…

But, in the meantime, there was their investigation, and he turned his attention back to the files Lois had just brought in. But a sudden increase in volume on the TV screens caught his attention, and he looked up in time to see a man garbed in a military dress uniform address the camera; the officer was standing outside EPRAD, the space research facility, and was telling the world that Superman's presence was requested in order to discuss something of importance.

He glanced at Lois, seeing that she was frowning in his direction. "Be careful," she whispered. "Don't trust them too far."

Understanding why she was warning him, he nodded. "Got to go," he told her briefly.

"I know. I'll cover for you." She gave his arm a brief pat, then continued to watch the TV, ignoring him as he discreetly left the newsroom, tugging at his tie as he slipped through the stairwell door.


Lois put the Jeep into park outside Clark's apartment, but had to remain seated for a few minutes as she tried to control the shaking which had started the instant she'd assimilated the President's announcement on live TV an hour earlier. She had barely been able to write up the story Perry had asked her to do, and she'd found it difficult to think straight in order to come up with an excuse for Clark's absence.

She could never have imagined just how much the prospect of Clark's death could affect her. And yet it had; inwardly, she'd felt frozen, incapable of thought, incapable of any reaction other than shaking, and it had taken all the self-control of which she was capable not to show reaction. Perry had needed her to write a story, others in the newsroom were talking about the President's announcement with varying degrees of shock, amazement and excitement, and expecting her to join in. She simply hadn't been able to withdraw into herself, as she'd wanted to, nor to run from the newsroom and rush over to Clark's apartment. Anyway, he wouldn't have been back there yet, she'd told herself.

And another reason for staying at the newsroom had been the faint hope that he might come back there. But he hadn't, and she hoped now that he'd gone home. She needed him to be here; she had to talk to him, to make him listen to her. She couldn't lose him, not now! Clark meant far too much to her; he was her dearest friend, the only real best friend she'd ever had. She trusted him more than she'd ever been able to trust anyone in her life before. And he trusted her, in spite of what she'd done to him; he'd told her a secret which, she knew, was something he would never contemplate telling anyone else.

And she loved him. Maybe she'd been in love with him for months without ever knowing, but she'd finally realised it that night a couple of weeks ago, when he'd helped her to face her fears about alcoholism. She had no idea whether he could ever feel the same way about her; he had been attracted to her once, and she had a suspicion that he might still feel that attraction, but whether he could bring himself to act on it, after what she'd done, was another question entirely. If best friends was all she could hope for from Clark, she'd been prepared to settle for that.

But that was before *this* had happened. If the worst came to the worst, Clark would die. And she couldn't bear to lose him.

"Oh, Clark…" she sighed aloud, involuntarily; then tried to collect herself as she realised how she must look to any passers-by. Throwing her car door open, she scrambled out and hurried up the steps, hoping that Clark was in.

He was. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, he gave her a surprised smile as he opened the door, immediately inviting her in. She stared at him, wanting to run to him, wrap her arms around him and hold him, never to let him go; but she lacked sufficient courage. He wouldn't repulse her, she knew that, but she still felt as if she didn't have the right.

"Hey, Lois!" he greeted her cheerfully. "Sorry I didn't manage to get back to the Planet — I was kind of tied up for a while."

How could he be so calm? How could he behave as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened? She stared at him, aghast, as he led the way down into the apartment and offered her coffee. Did he seriously think he could pretend that it wasn't happening? Could he really believe that she didn't know?

"Clark!" The sense of urgency in her voice obviously penetrated to him, for he stopped and turned to face her.

"Lois? Is everything okay?" His face was a picture of concern, and he took a couple of steps towards her.

"Clark, stop pretending, please!" she exclaimed, only barely managing to keep control over her emotions. "I know what's going on — everyone knows! The President announced it an hour ago!"

He frowned. "I knew he was going to, but… well, I guess I didn't think he'd do it so soon. Does Perry want us back at the Planet to write up the story?"

"I've done that already," she answered with impatient dismissiveness. "Clark, you can't do this!"

His expression grew serious. "Lois, you know I must. If I don't, the asteroid will collide with the Earth in less than 72 hours' time, and just about everyone on the planet will die. I have no choice." He gave a faint shrug, and something steely in his expression reminded her very much of Superman right at that moment.

Helpless, she stared at him. "Clark, this is a suicide mission! You can't go!"

He stepped closer to her and took her hands in his, his expression now more reassuring. "It's not suicide, Lois. I'll be fine — it'll take me a couple of hours, at most, and then I might have to rest a little. But I'll be *fine*!"

"You know that, do you?" she demanded angrily. "Do you destroy asteroids as a hobby? Got an Olympic medal in flying into space and smashing huge rocks to smithereens?"

Clark shook her hands lightly, in a gesture she recognised as an attempt to soothe her. "Lois…"

"Well?" she demanded again. "Have you done this before? How far into space have you flown before?"

This time he sighed, though he didn't release her; she turned her hands in his grasp so that their palms were together, and he immediately twined his fingers with hers. "Okay," he said more soberly. "I've never done anything like that before. But, Lois, I'm invulnerable. I can hold my breath for a pretty long time, and the EPRAD scientists have offered to kit me out with an oxygen tank. And it should be pretty straightforward: all I have to do is smash this rock so that it doesn't crash into the Earth."

"That doesn't sound like no big deal to me," she insisted, the cold hand which had been about her heart since hearing the announcement gripping her even more tightly.

"Lois…" This time he released one hand and, grimacing, stepped to her side, looking away from her; she gripped his other hand more tightly, to prevent him pulling away from her altogether. "Lois, I have no choice. What else can I do?"

"What would they have done if Superman didn't exist?" she flung at him.

He shrugged. "They mentioned a nuclear option, but there are all sorts of dangers with that, including the possibility of nuclear fall-out."

"So? Does that justify them asking you to risk your life?"

Clark sighed again, then turned back to look at her; whatever he saw in her expression caused him to groan and mutter her name. "Oh, Lois…" In a sudden movement, he gathered her into his arms and held her close. "It'll be all right," he murmured as he rubbed his hand up and down her back. "I'll be fine."

"But what if you're not?" she threw at him, clutching him as if she would never let him go.

He was silent for a few moments, then said, "Come and sit down." He led her, not to the kitchen table, but to his couch, and sat close beside her, holding her hands in his.

"No, I've never done anything like this before, Lois," he told her. "But I spent a long time talking with the scientists and experts at EPRAD, and we all agree that I should be able to do it without too much difficulty. And, Lois, you have to know what the consequences are if I don't do it! This thing — the Nightfall asteroid — will destroy all human life on Earth. And I can't let that happen, you must see that."

She remained silent for a few moments, drawing comfort from his nearness, the strength of his hands gripping hers. Then a thought struck her. "You lost one planet when you were sent here to Earth — is that why you don't want to see this one destroyed?"

That made him frown. "I never saw it that way," he answered slowly. "Though I guess you could be right, except that I have no idea what happened to Krypton — although some instinct I can't explain tells me it doesn't exist any more." He paused, then added, "Lois, I can't stand by and see this planet destroyed, for all sorts of reasons. I can't bear to see people suffering when there's something I can do about it, for one thing. When I became Superman, I promised to help in any way I could, and this is something I *can* do. And for another, there are too many people here I love — my folks, all my friends — how could I abandon them, let them die?" The expression in his dark eyes told her that he numbered her high among those people he was unable to abandon to their fate. "No matter how selfish it is to get hung up on my own feelings," he added quietly, "I just can't stand by and let people I love die."

Of course Clark would see it that way, Lois conceded. He *cared*. Far more so than anyone else she'd ever known. Why was it that people imputed the ability to care to something called 'humanity'? Clark might not be human, but he was quite simply the most humane person she had ever met.

"If the government, EPRAD, didn't have you, Clark, they'd be forced to find their own solution," Lois argued again, the lump in the back of her throat getting progressively larger. "And anyway, how come they left it so late?!"

He gave her a wry smile. "Yeah, I asked them that. A combination of bad planning, lack of expenditure in the right area, and sheer complacency. I told them straight out, I'd help this time, but if it happened again they'd have to deal with it themselves." Raising one eyebrow, he added, "I was going to agree anyway, but it's kind of hard to refuse a personal request from the President."

"*He* was there?" Lois asked in amazement.

"By telephone," Clark explained. "And, yes, I knew it was him. That voice would be kind of hard to imitate, wouldn't it? And besides, I could hear all the buzzing on the line which told me that it was being scrambled."

She just watched him, unable to articulate her fears; she didn't want to lose him, but what right did she have to demand that he stay? She had *no* right. Okay, she was in love with him, but he didn't know that, and anyway, he didn't love her.

As she fought with herself, Clark suddenly gave her a wry smile. "You know, I guess maybe the Pentagon and the White House have decided they can trust me after all. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it?"

He was going to go; that was obvious. There was nothing she could do to stop him. Unless…

Whether or not she had the right to ask him was suddenly irrelevant. She was going to do it anyway. Sitting forward suddenly, Lois seized Clark by the shoulders and looked straight at him with a pleading gaze, begging, "Please don't go, Clark. Please!"

He was silent for a long moment. Then he leaned forward and touched his forehead briefly to hers. "I have to, Lois. You know that."

She dropped her hands from his shoulders and grasped his hands again; he curled his fingers around hers and returned the pressure warmly.

After a moment, he added, "Tell me something, Lois. Would you be as worried if this was Superman you were talking to? I mean, if you didn't know he and I are the same guy?"

That seemed a strange question at first, but once Lois thought about it she realised that he was right. She *wouldn't* have been so concerned if she hadn't known that Superman was Clark, the normal guy she worked with. After all, before she'd known the truth, Superman had been a sort of demi-god, a being capable of anything and incapable of being hurt in any way — although that wasn't strictly true, she thought, reminding herself of Superman's hurt over the city's behaviour during the heatwave incident, and the existence of Kryptonite. Still, if she hadn't known Superman was Clark, her attitude to the Super-hero going to destroy this asteroid might well have been different.

But it wasn't just her fear that Clark might not make it back alive; even if she might have had the same fear for Superman's life, it wouldn't have been the same. Clark was different; Clark was her best friend, the man she loved.

"Clark, I…" she began, then trailed off. After a moment, she continued, "I can't bear the thought of losing you."

His grip on her hands tightened, then he released one hand and reached up to stroke her hair. "You're not going to lose me, Lois."

"I *might*," she told him, her voice taut from the effort of holding back tears. "Can you tell me that it's not possible?"

Clark sighed heavily. "Of course it's *possible* — I don't know what my powers are like in space, because I've never flown that far out before. I know I can hold my breath for twenty minutes, and this is farther than a twenty-minute return flight, but I'll have an oxygen tank. It'll be cold, but I never feel the cold normally. I should be okay, but there are no absolute guarantees, Lois."

That was what she was afraid of. She had a sick feeling, deep in the pit of her stomach, telling her that she was going to lose Clark. Just as they'd become best friends; just as she'd finally understood exactly how special he was to her, how much she needed him in her life.

If she hadn't been so stupid, so *horrible*, she could have had him for the last three months or more.

And now, just as she'd come to her senses at last, and he'd forgiven her, she was going to lose him. Just like she lost everything good and special in her life.

She couldn't stop him going. But she could give herself a special memory to cling to through all those empty years in the future, if he didn't come back.

"Clark." She stared at him intently, silently pleading. "I know you have to go. Please… before you go… make love to me again…"

She felt his shock, even more obviously than it was written on his face. It took him several moments to respond, during which time she saw disbelief, something which looked like fear, and astonishment all cross his face. Then he gripped both her hands again and said, "Lois… this is just panic talking! You don't really want…?"

"I want you, Clark. I need you," she whispered.

"Just for tonight, you mean," he whispered in return, pain evident in his voice. "And tomorrow…?"

Lois winced. "I can't blame you for thinking I'll change my mind again," she muttered.

"I don't mean that," he said quickly. "I just mean… well, what if I do come back? Do you expect us to go back to just friends again? Is this just… farewell sex?"

She stared at him, horrified, though she knew she couldn't blame him one bit for assuming that. She had to remind herself, again, that he'd been a virgin that first time, and that she'd worked out that she'd damaged his sexual self-confidence pretty badly. It was clearly her responsibility to swallow her pride some more and tell him how she really felt — even if he didn't reciprocate.

Not daring to meet Clark's gaze, in case he repudiated her, she said jerkily, "It's not that, Clark. I… I love you. I'm *in* love with you. Oh, I know you won't believe me," she added before he could interject anything. "There's no reason why you should. I mean, only a couple of weeks ago I was insisting that I loved Superman. But… but I realised that wasn't real even before you told me who Superman is. I love *you*, Clark. I realised it that night we talked about alcoholism — when I was doing that questionnaire, one of the questions really made me think and reassess everything that had happened between us, and I realised then. I love you — so much that I can't imagine life without you. And it scares me, because I've never felt this way about anyone before, and now I might lose you…"

She'd been watching him from under her lashes, all the same, and she saw that Clark's expression had altered from shock to disbelief to delight during her semi-coherent speech, and several times he'd seemed about to interrupt, but had stopped himself. Finally, he seemed to find his voice, and he insistently cut across her rush of words. "Lois." His tone commanded her attention, although his voice was shaky. "Lois, don't you know I love you too?" he asked, now sounding incredulous. "I've loved you from the day we met!"

She stared at him disbelievingly. "Clark — how could you have? After the way I treated you?" Then, as another thought struck her, she buried her head in his shoulder, unable to face him in her shame. "You were in love with me *that night*? And I did that to you…?"

He tilted his head to the side endearingly, resting it on top of hers. "Lois, I would never have made love to you if I hadn't been in love with you."

"Oh, Clark!" she wailed, looking up at him. "Why was I so *stupid*! How could I have been so horrible?"

His arms came around her again, tugging her against his broad chest. "Hush. It's not important any more. All that's important now is that we love each other. Isn't it?"

She nodded, burying her head in his shoulder again. He tugged her until she was sitting on his lap, curled up against his hard body, welcoming his strength beneath her and around her. Clark *loved* her; that was incredibly hard to take in, especially given her conviction that he couldn't care for her as she did for him, not after the way she'd treated him. But he did, for some unknown reason, and all she could do was hold him, hoping and praying that she wasn't going to lose him forever in a few short hours' time.


Lois *loved* him. Clark's head, which had already been spinning from the thought of the task ahead of him, was now in a complete whirl. That had been the last thing he'd expected her to say — well, that and her request that he should make love to her.

He'd known that she valued him as a friend, though it had both surprised and gratified him to find that the news that he would be flying to destroy the Nightfall asteroid had shaken her quite so much. When he'd opened the door to her, he'd noticed her pale expression and the fear in her eyes. But he hadn't connected it to himself, or to the asteroid; but then, he'd been taking everything to do with that pretty much in his stride. It was a task which had to be achieved, that was all. And he hadn't considered it to be particularly risky — or, at least, he hadn't allowed himself to think of it in that way. It would certainly be the most difficult thing he'd ever done, but that didn't mean it was necessarily dangerous.

Lois was afraid that it was dangerous; afraid enough to overcome her insecurity and hesitance and tell him that she loved him. In a strange way, therefore, he owed Nightfall a great debt already.

But Lois was stirring. Gripping his face between her palms, she asked, "When do you have to go?"

"I promised them early tomorrow morning," he answered. "Just before sunrise."

She drew a shuddering breath. "Then we have less than twelve hours."

"You meant it, then?" She really wanted to go to bed with him again?

She nodded fiercely. "I meant it, Clark. I don't want to waste a second of the time we have left. Please — make love to me!"

In answer, he simply leaned towards her and covered her lips with his own. Kissing Lois felt so familiar, so *right*, now; it was as if they had become so accustomed to each other that each knew exactly how the other would respond. Her lips opened beneath his, allowing his tongue entry; at the same time, her tongue traced the outline of his lips before darting into his mouth. Her arms wrapped around him, and she pressed her upper body even closer to his. He could feel himself becoming more aroused every second; his entire body throbbed, yearning to be more intimate with her.

Tearing his mouth away from hers, he asked breathlessly, "Are you sure, Lois? I mean, you know I'm not experienced at all this. Last time… well, it was great for me, but for you…?"

Her expression was incredulous. "Clark — how can you think that? You're — you were the best lover I've ever had!" She grimaced suddenly, then added, "Okay, that's probably not saying much, considering my past, but I couldn't have asked for anyone more generous or considerate. And… and I've never felt so good about being with a man — no-one's ever done as much for me in bed as you did. I know I wasn't in love with you then, but we made love that night, Clark. We didn't just have sex."

Feeling overwhelmed, Clark touched his lips to hers again briefly before standing up with Lois in his arms. "Your wish is my command, partner," he told her softly before striding into the bedroom and laying her down gently on his bed.

She smiled up at him. "Not just for tonight, I hope," she teased.

Clark grinned. "We might have to discuss that." He knew that, in her own oblique way, she was telling him — reassuring him — that if he came back she was going to want this new relationship to continue. He wasn't going to say anything more about that now. Clearly Lois was very worried that he might not survive the task ahead of him. He was pretty confident that he would, but he didn't want to make her think about it yet again. For now, if possible, the only thing he wanted her to think about was the two of them, and being in love.

He hesitated then as a thought struck him. "Lois… what about protection? I don't have anything — should I go out and buy some condoms?" he asked awkwardly.

She sat up and stretched out a hand towards him; he accepted it and came closer. "There's no need, Clark — I'm on the pill. Oh, not because I… well, I told you I don't sleep around," she added quickly. "It's for… medical reasons."

Clark noticed her flush and, as the reason slowly dawned on him, felt a little embarrassed himself, but pushed the thought away. "Though, you know," he added, "I have no idea whether I could make a woman pregnant. I never really thought about it, last time — I just put two and two together and got worried that you might be. Since then, I began to wonder whether my genetic make-up might not be compatible with a human's anyway." That was something which did bother him a little, Clark thought; after all, one of the things he longed for was a family. But there was time enough to consider his options in that respect in the future.

For now… Lois wanted to make love with him.

He joined her on the bed, sitting beside her and reaching out a hand to stroke her hair, telling her silently, with his touch and with his eyes, just how beautiful he considered her. Her gaze never left his as his hand moved from her hair to trail around the curve of her ear so that his fingers could drift lightly along her jaw and then up the other side of her face, tracing the perfect line of her lips, the bridge of her nose and then across her eyebrows.

She reached out and snagged his glasses, tugging them gently away from his face; he took them from her with his free hand and placed them on the nightstand without taking his gaze from her. Then she gripped the fabric of his shirt, pulling him towards her; he took the hint and moved to lie on the bed beside her.

They lay side by side, facing each other. Lois reached up with her hand and began to explore Clark's face in exactly the same way as he had done to her, and he made himself lie completely still as her fingers drifted across his skin. The sensations her touch evoked amazed him: he was the Man of Steel, completely invulnerable, and yet the faintest touch from Lois had the power to make him shiver inside.

"I don't know how I never noticed, when I first met you, just how beautiful you are," she whispered after a few moments.

Clark caught her fingers in his and drew them to his mouth, kissing them lightly. "That should be my line," he murmured. "And you have no idea — I fell for you right there, in Perry's office. That's why I was so tongue-tied when Perry introduced us. I'd lost the ability to string two words together coherently."

"Oh, Clark… I'm just sorry it took me so long to see what a wonderful guy you are," she exclaimed softly.

He parted his lips to suck at her fingertips, allowing the force of his gaze on her face to show the strength of his feelings for her. Lois's eyes widened as he lightly brushed the tip of his tongue across one fingertip, and he heard a faint gasp. Then she reached for him with her free hand, catching hold of his T-shirt and tugging it free of his jeans. Letting go, she pushed her hand below the fabric to stroke his chest; now it was his turn to gasp at the sensation her touch caused within him.

Impulse overtook him, and he released her hand in order to sit up; in one smooth movement he had pulled the T-shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. Before he could even lie down again, Lois was pushing him back; suddenly her lips were on his chest, trailing a blazing path across to one nipple. He gasped again suddenly as her teeth nipped at him.

"Don't pretend that hurt, Fly-boy!" she teased, raising her head a little; her hair now brushed his chest, and that made him shiver again in anticipation.

"No, not really," he tried to explain, knowing his voice was unsteady but unable to help it. "I *feel* it when you do things — I'm invulnerable, but I'm definitely tactile! And when you do things like that… you have *no idea* what it does to me inside!" he finished with a gasp.

"Oh, I think I do," she told him huskily. "The way you made me feel when you sucked my fingers…"

He took advantage of her position to lean towards her and kiss her again. She overbalanced and fell backwards onto the bed, clutching at him; he fell with her and landed, sprawled, on top of her, but she refused to release him and simply deepened the kiss, sliding her tongue into his mouth again and exploring the heat within. At the same time, she slid her hands down his back, tracing patterns up and down and around; one hand slid over the fabric of his jeans to rest against the curve of his buttock.

Clark had wanted Lois the moment he had pulled her over to sit on his lap; even their emotional confessions of love hadn't distracted his body from its reaction to her. Now, though, the feeling was more and more insistent, making him feel increasingly uncomfortable; he shifted almost painfully, and pulled back from her.

"No…" she whimpered, grabbing at him, trying to pull him back.

"We have all night, Lois," he told her, his voice strained. "If we carry on like this for much longer, I won't be able to hold on…"

She grinned suddenly, one hand sliding down his body; he almost convulsed there and then from the sensation of her hand pressing against him. "Well, if we have all night," she murmured gleefully, "then we don't have to worry about this time being over too quickly, do we? It just means we can take the *next* time more slowly!"

"I thought you'd want to do this slowly," he protested, without too much force. If she wanted to proceed far more rapidly than he'd intended, he wasn't going to complain…

"I want you, Clark — now!" she insisted, reaching for the belt on his jeans.

He grinned. "If you're sure." Levitating above the bed, he freed himself from the remainder of his clothes in under a second, with considerable relief as far as his body was concerned, then lay down beside her again and winked at her, noting her incredulous expression with open amusement. "You're a little over-dressed, partner," he teased."

"Well, why don't you do something about that, then, Superman?" she teased in return.

It was too tempting to resist. Clark could still remember how beautiful Lois had looked without clothing that previous time, and he wanted so much to see her like that again. Actually, he wanted to kiss and touch every inch of her unclothed body, but at the moment he doubted that he would manage to make it that far. A twinge of nervousness struck him suddenly, and he hoped he could live up to her faith in him. This was too important to wreck because he couldn't control himself sufficiently…

He deftly unbuttoned her blouse and freed her from its confines; next came the white lacy bra, which he unhooked from behind, supporting her with one hand while he removed it from her. Then there was her skirt, and the pantyhose she was wearing underneath. "Instruments of torture," he muttered as he tried to get a proper grip on the nylon and Lycra mix.

Lois laughed. "I won't complain if you rip them," she assured him. He decided that he would have to, since at that moment her mouth began to trail down his chest, dragging open-mouthed kisses over his body and generally driving him completely mad with longing.

"Keep that up and it'll all be over," he warned her, ripping her pantyhose in the same moment.

In the same moment, she grabbed hold of his shoulders and pulling him towards her. Clark found himself sprawled on top of her. He groaned, but she stifled the sound with her lips, thrusting her tongue inside his mouth again.

He was lost. Barely aware of what he was doing, he shifted so that he was lying between her thighs, andHe He suddenly he was home.

Minutes later, he exploded into oblivion, the sound of Lois's cries echoing in his head.


Lois lay, dazed, secure in Clark's arms as she came back down to earth after their frantic, exciting, incredible lovemaking. That last time had been no illusion, she decided; there was definitely something special between her and Clark where making love was concerned. She wondered briefly whether it was because he was Superman: were his reactions or senses somehow enhanced, enabling him to know just what she needed and *how* she needed it? But then she dismissed that idea. Clark might be Superman, but he was also just Clark; just the man she worked with, a pretty normal guy in most respects, and who — when it came to intimacy — was still kind of lacking in confidence. He'd needed her to tell him that she was ready for him, that she wanted him too much to wait while they indulged in extended foreplay.

Not that she wouldn't enjoy extended foreplay with Clark — especially if he was prepared to use those fantastic powers of his — but right then, all she'd wanted was to have him inside her as soon as possible. She'd already been turned on to screaming point, and the way he'd responded to her kisses, and to her gentle stroking of his body, had told her that he'd wanted her every bit as much.

He was still with her. It felt right, in every way, to be with him.

An evil instinct made her look up and trail her hand along his thigh.

"Hey! What are you doing?" he asked, raising his head to look at her. "You don't really want…? Already?"

"You saying you can't?" she demanded, giving him a very satisfied smile.

He raised an eyebrow in a challenging gesture. "Don't tempt me to prove otherwise, Lois!" Instead, he moved off her, much to her dismay, and settled his lean body next to her. This wasn't such a bad position after all, she decided a moment later; from here, she could study him to her heart's content, at the same time touching and caressing him all over.

It was too tempting; she moved to straddle his hips and then bent her head to rasp her tongue over his chest again. He tasted of clean sweat, some subtle cologne or possibly soap, and of her. He lay still and allowed her to explore his body with her mouth and hands, although she noticed the expressions flitting across his face and realised, with delight, that he was having great difficulty maintaining his self-control.

Until, suddenly, everything became a blur and she found that *she* was the one underneath, while Clark's hands and mouth were everywhere; whisper-soft caresses covered her like a blanket, and every nerve-ending throbbed. She could hear a low moaning sound, and it actually took her almost a minute to realise that *she* was making that noise.

"I love you… love you… love you, Lois," he murmured as he kissed his way up her inner thigh, causing her to wriggle and cry out in ecstasy.

"Clark!" She reached down and seized his head, tugging him so that he moved up her body; shifting to lie beside her again, he obliged by kissing her thoroughly.

"I love you, Clark," she murmured. "I just wish I'd had the nerve to tell you before now."

He smiled wryly, his fingers stroking her upper body. "I could have told you that I was in love with you, but I didn't. I thought you probably needed time to get used to having me as a friend first." He paused, seeming thoughtful, and she resisted the impulse to smother him with kisses; she wanted to hear what he had to say next. "Last time we did this," he continued, a little hesitant, "we jumped into it too soon. We barely knew each other. Okay, I knew I loved you, but I really knew too little about you. If I'd known about your past experiences, I'd never have assumed that you were okay about it all. I'd have understood that you hadn't had enough time to trust me."

"I should have known that you weren't what I thought." She threaded her fingers through his soft dark hair. Remembering then what had led her to tell him how she felt, that she wanted to make love with him, she added, "And now it could all be too late… if you don't survive doing this thing…" She trailed off, the lump in her throat not allowing her to continue.

"Hush." His fingers pressed against her mouth, and she couldn't resist sucking gently on them. "Lois, I can't promise you that everything will be all right, you know that. But I will promise to be careful. And I'll do everything possible to come safely back to you. You think I want to throw all this away, now that we've finally told each other how we feel?"

Lois knew Clark was sincere, but she wasn't reassured. How could he know he'd be able to do this safely? And what if he was killed? What if he died out there in space — what would happen to him? Would she ever even know? And, since he would be there as Superman, she wouldn't even be able to grieve for him as Clark. Clark would just disappear, one of the many statistics which went to make up the missing persons list in Metropolis.

What would she do without him? She'd only just realised how much he meant to her, and now she was about to lose him. No matter what he said, she knew there were risks involved in what he was about to do. There was no way he could *know* that he would be safe. And if he died… That just didn't bear thinking about.

She threw herself onto his chest, her arms clinging around his neck. "Clark… please, don't go!"

He embraced her tenderly. "Lois, I have to. You know that! If I don't…"

"Everyone will die. I know that," she told him, her tears now drenching his shoulder. "I'd rather have you alive and with me for the days we have left, than lose you for ever tomorrow morning."

He was silent for a long while, simply cradling her and stroking her body. Then, finally, he said, "You know I have to do this, Lois. And if I didn't already have enough incentive to make sure I came back safely, you've given me more tonight. I love you, Lois. I've never been in love before — I've had girlfriends, but I've never felt for anyone the way I feel for you. I promise you, you will not get rid of me that easily!"

Oh, she'd known that was what he would say. And, if she was honest with herself, she wouldn't want him any other way. He was Superman, after all. And Superman would not be who he was if he didn't care enough to want to help. Superman was never selfish; although she understood that Clark might want to be, she also knew that he would suppress his own needs for the greater good. Even if that greater good required him to take a huge risk with his own life.

Finally trusting herself to speak, Lois leaned up on her elbows to look at him, seeing the love and concern in his expression. "I know you have to go," she said quietly. "And you wouldn't be who you are if you didn't. But… oh, let's not talk about it now. Let's make the most of the time we have left together."

"Come here," he growled, pulling her suddenly — but oh, so gently — so that she was lying on top of him. His lips devoured hers again, in a kiss which was as loving as it was a statement of intent. Lois, determined that if this night was all she was going to have with Clark, responded with passion bordering on desperation, clinging to him as if she would never let him go.

They kissed and touched and caressed, arms and legs tangling, tongues melding, soft sighs and moans and 'I love yous' puncturing the silence of the darkened bedroom, until finally neither could stand it any more. As Lois pleaded with him to love her again, Clark suddenly moved them until she was sitting over him. She was barely aware that he was actually hovering about two feet off the bed; all she knew was that her feet were resting comfortably on the mattress as he gripped her hips and brought her to him. Sensation flooded through her, she cried out again hoarsely and then collapsed on top of her lover as he shuddered helplessly beneath her.

The last thing she remembered before falling into a deep sleep was Clark wrapping his arms securely around her, kissing the top of her head and telling her that he loved her.


It wasn't dawn yet, but Clark couldn't sleep any more. Lois was fast asleep beside him, her head on his chest, and if his guess was right, she wouldn't wake for some time yet. He didn't have to leave yet, but he really didn't want to wait until she awakened, and then have to go through what would no doubt be a painful farewell.

He knew that Lois was scared he wouldn't come back alive. If he was totally honest with himself, he could admit that a similar fear had crossed his own mind, but he'd simply pushed that thought away from the first moment it had occurred to him. Of course he could do this. He was Superman, and he hadn't yet encountered a problem he couldn't solve.

That, of course, was a highly arrogant attitude, and one which deserved to be met with a fall. Just not this time, he pleaded silently to whatever higher power might be listening; not this time, please. There were too many reasons why it was important that he succeed; one of those reasons lay sleeping peacefully in his bed.


He loved her so much, so deeply, and it was tearing him apart to leave her this morning. But he needed to go. If he was very lucky, the job would be done and he would be back here before she even awoke; she need never go through the pain of worrying about him, hoping he would be all right.

For a moment, he hesitated, wondering: should he wake her after all, to tell her he was going?

He didn't want to; he knew that she'd be worried, and that she'd probably spend the couple of hours he was gone pacing the apartment, picturing all sorts of horrible fates which might have happened to him. She was convinced that he wouldn't survive this asteroid; he was very sure that he could do this safely, but at the same time she was right. There was a risk. And he couldn't promise her that he'd return.

So should he tell her goodbye?

Far kinder to let her sleep, leave her in blissful ignorance of his departure. He might even be back before she awakened.

But… what if he *didn't* come back? Would she feel forever cheated of her opportunity to say goodbye?

Maybe, he thought. But it was kinder that way. He didn't need an emotional farewell this morning, but he also didn't want her to feel obliged to put on a brave face and hide what she was feeling.

It was the right thing to do, he told himself, and he gently lifted her off him, laying her down on the bed and pausing for a few moments to ensure that she was still sound asleep.

She was; under a minute later, having left a note in the kitchen in case she woke up before he came back, Superman took off from Clark's balcony, heading for his appointment with an asteroid called Nightfall.


Something had awakened her, and for a moment Lois lay, disorientated, trying to work out where she was and what was happening. Then she remembered: she was with Clark, they'd confessed their love for each other and had made love again.

Beautifully. Lovingly. And very satisfyingly.

It had been absolutely perfect, the most wonderful experience of her life.

And Clark loved her; he wasn't going to abandon her the morning after. If she'd read his intentions correctly, he wanted her as a girlfriend. He probably wanted more than that, too; Clark was the old-fashioned type, and he'd be thinking in terms of permanence, if she was any judge.

And she wanted that, too; wanted it so badly she was shocked by the depth of her yearning.

But Clark had to go and destroy the asteroid this morning. *That* reminder could have waited a while, she thought bitterly; why couldn't she have had a few blissful, worry-free minutes to enjoy him before he had to leave?

The bedroom was still in darkness; he'd pulled the drapes last night, she remembered, when they'd woken a couple of hours after their second loving, hungry for each other again. She turned over in the bed and reached for Clark, wondering why he wasn't holding her still; perhaps he'd had to get out of bed in the night and hadn't wanted to risk waking her when he'd returned.

With a shock, she realised that he wasn't there.

"Clark?" She sat up suddenly, trying to see in the near-darkness; some small rays of light were trying tocreep in at the edges of the drapes, but it wasn't making much difference. "Clark!"

He couldn't just have gone, could he? He couldn't — he *wouldn't*, she told herself. He just wouldn't leave her without saying goodbye! Not after last night; after the way he'd made love to her so perfectly, telling her in all sorts of ways, through non-verbal communication as much as in words, how special she was to him.

"Cla — " She was about to call him again, but broke off as she saw a shape appear from the arch leading to the kitchen.

"Hey, sweetheart!" It was Clark; he came closer, tugging at one side of the drapes as he did so. In the morning light, she could see that he was carrying a mug — and he was dressed in the Super-Suit. Her heart sank; he was about to leave.

"Clark… it's time, then?" she said bleakly, trying desperately to hold back the tears. How could she bear to let him go? She loved him so much, needed him so desperately…

He sat on the edge of the bed and smiled at her, brushing her hair back from her forehead with one hand, then leaned over to place the mug on the nightstand. "Thought you might like some coffee."

She ignored the coffee; that wasn't what she wanted. Seizing Clark's free hand, she said tautly, "You're leaving now?"

Suddenly, he grinned, a broad smile which seemed to light up the entire room. "Lois, I've just got back."

Staring at him, her expression feeling frozen, Lois echoed, "Got back…?"

"It's all over," he assured her, still smiling. "Nightfall's gone."

For an instant, Lois felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her. The asteroid, which could have killed everyone on Earth — although, strangely enough, she hadn't even thought about that prospect at all previously; she'd been too concerned about Clark — was no longer a threat, and Clark was back, alive, and apparently unhurt.

Then, reaction set in.

Fury; wild, angry and sobbing temper burst from her. How could he have done that to her? How could he have just *gone* without telling her? What if he hadn't come back? He'd have denied her, for ever, her chance to say goodbye.

In a sudden movement, she grabbed one of the pillows and lunged at Clark with it. It wouldn't hurt him, of course, but it helped to ease some of her angry frustration. "You *bastard*!" she yelled at him.

"Huh?" He looked genuinely stunned, and for an instant she felt transported back to another morning, when she'd thrown a similar insult at him, but for totally different reasons. He'd looked just as appalled and confused then.

"You *left*! You went off to smash that… that *thing* without telling me!" she yelled at him. "What if I'd woken before you came back? What if you hadn't come back at all? What was I supposed to think? You…" She stopped abruptly, tears again threatening; choking them back, she added, "You never even gave me a chance to say goodbye!"

He stared at her, and she saw the realisation dawn in his eyes. "I left you a note, in case…"

"In case what? In case you got killed? That's all I would have had? A note? What did it say? 'Sorry, Lois, I decided to go without telling you. Had a great night, goodbye'?" she threw at him bitterly.

"No!" Now Clark looked hurt, defensive. "No, Lois — I wouldn't do that. Just letting you know where I was, and promising I'd be back soon. I left it in the kitchen, so you'd have to go looking for me in order to find it. I was hoping to be back before you even realised I was gone."

"You still shouldn't have done it," she whispered, the anger dissipated to be replaced with fear for what might have been.

He reached for her, pulling her against his hard, warm body in a comforting embrace. "I'm sorry, Lois — I didn't think. I wanted to save you worry — I thought if I woke you up to tell you I was leaving you'd be upset, and I didn't want to cause you pain again."

"And finding you'd gone without telling me wasn't going to cause me pain?" she asked him. "If you'd died…"

"I didn't die," he pointed out. "I'm not even hurt, Lois. Not a scratch."

"That doesn't make what you did right," she muttered, but she'd forgiven him. It was far more important that he was back safely than that she continue to berate him for his thoughtlessness. Just as long as he understood how his actions had hurt her… "Okay, but if you *ever* pull a stunt like that again…"

"I know. You'll find some Kryptonite and use it on me," he teased; she pulled back and glared at him. "I was just kidding," he added quickly. "Really, I'm sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I guess I'm just an insensitive male. I don't know why you put up with me."

"Well, I happen to be in love with this insensitive male," she pointed out, thumping his chest fiercely and choking back the lump in her throat.

"That's just as well, because this insensitive male is so completely in love with you that I don't know what he'd do if you walked out on him," Clark added soberly, his expression so completely sincere that she had to reach up and kiss him.

A few minutes, and several kisses, later, Lois drew back from him. "So… you going to tell me all about it? What did you do? And how hard was it?"

"Actually, it was pretty easy in the end," he told her, smiling warmly. "But that was all thanks to you."

"It was?"

"Yeah. You made me think, Lois. You asked whether I'd ever done anything like this before, and you made me see that I was being complacent. And it was just as well I snapped out of that attitude, because once I was out in space, oxygen tank notwithstanding, I realised I really could have been out of my depth. And this thing was *huge*, Lois! Seventeen miles across! I've never felt quite so insignificant before in my life!"

She gripped his hands tightly, waiting in silence for him to finish his story.

"Anyway, I realised that it could easily be a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object if I wasn't careful. If I'd tried to fly straight at it and smash it as I'd intended, I'm not sure I'd have made it back in one piece. So I tried a different tactic — I made it change direction."

Lois stared at him. "How did you manage that?"

"Just a little pressure to one side, that's all. It was quite easy — and now its trajectory is heading in a slightly different direction. It should miss Earth by a couple of thousand miles now," he finished with a broad grin.

"Nice to see you've discovered intelligence is even better than brute force sometimes," Lois pointed out, a little acerbically, but then reached for him, hugging him close. "Never scare me like that again, Clark!"

He returned her hug, but then stood up, saying, "Let me get out of this thing." Much to her disappointment, he simply spun in front of her, reappearing dressed in the T-shirt and jeans he'd been wearing the previous evening.

"Spoilsport," she complained.

Clark laughed. "Sorry! But it's late, you know, and we have work to do." Heading towards the arch leading to the kitchen, he added, "Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes, so you'd better jump in the shower now if you want it!"

He was right, Lois acknowledged, and she made for the shower, mentally itemising what they needed to do. The asteroid had been destroyed and, unless Perry planned on handing that story over to Eduardo too, they had a major set of articles to write. If Clark agreed — and she'd work on him *very* hard to ensure that he did — they would be able to offer Perry an exclusive interview with Superman.

Padding into the kitchen a few minutes later, dressed only in Clark's robe, she called a question to him. "So who knows yet? About the asteroid, I mean?"

He turned, then did a double-take at the sight of her in his robe; once he'd visibly regained composure, he answered, "Just EPRAD right now — and the President, I guess. I had to go back there to let them know. There'll be a press conference shortly — you want to go to that, or should we let Perry send someone else?"

Lois tilted her head to one side and grinned at her partner and lover. "I'd rather we wrote up our exclusive Superman interview."

"Loisss…" Arms folded in front of his chest, Clark looked very Superman-like as he frowned mock-seriously at her. "What exclusive Superman interview would that be?"

"The one you're going to give us, of course!" she informed him.

Clark relaxed his posture and turned to serve up scrambled eggs and toast. "Sure, but I want you to write it. Leave my name off the byline."

"Why? We're partners!" Lois stared at him incredulously.

"Because I think it's a good idea for Superman to become a little less associated with me, or with the two of us together. I'll help you write it, if you really want, but, to be quite honest, I'd prefer not to be involved. I'm too close to this as it is."

She studied him for a few moments as he took a seat opposite her, then accepted that he meant it. "Okay — so I call Perry, tell him that Superman's offered an interview and that I'm going to be late, yeah? What are you going to be doing?"

"Apart from giving you an interview, you mean?" He winked at her. "I think Clark might just have a dentist's appointment this morning. Anyway, you should get into the newsroom ahead of me and start writing this up."

The smile which accompanied Clark's final remark made Lois's heart do a flip. Reaching out to catch his hand, she said shakily, "That's if I ever agree to let you out of my sight again!"

He curled his fingers around hers, giving her a soft, almost wistful smile. "That's going to be kind of difficult when your apartment is three miles from here, you know."

"I may never go home again…" she retorted instantly, almost sotto voce; that had been a waste of time, she thought instantly as she realised that Clark's Super-hearing had enabled him to catch her words.

"Well… this apartment might be kind of on the small side for two, but I don't mind if you don't…" he quipped, a teasing note to his voice. It was only when Lois looked straight at him that she realised he hadn't been entirely teasing; the uncertain look around his mouth and in his eyes showed her that.

Was he suggesting that she should move in with him?

To her amazement, she realised that the idea held a *lot* of appeal. To be with Clark twenty-four hours a day, except for when he was out on Superman duties; that sounded like her every wish come true.

But they'd only admitted to being in love with each other the previous evening! Lois could hear Lucy's voice, enquiring a little caustically whether they couldn't have just tried dating for a while first. And maybe that would be sensible. After all, she hadn't known Clark all that long.

She felt as if she'd known him all her life.

She loved him, in a way she had never loved anyone ever before.

*He* loved her in a way she had never been loved before.

And she knew that Clark would be faithful; he would cherish her and protect her, but at the same time he would respect her.

And she just couldn't imagine her life without him. Even those two minutes earlier that morning, when she thought he'd gone and she'd feared he might never return, had shown her how it would feel to lose him.

She didn't need to think about it. Clark was the only man she wanted in her life.

"Lois?" Clark's tentative voice interrupted her thoughts. "Look, just forget I said it, okay?"

But she tightened her grip on his hand. "Don't you dare, Clark! I… I was just thinking. You know, we've known each other such a short time…"

"I know," he interrupted. "Far too soon to even think about anything like that. Maybe we should just try dating?"

Lois couldn't help smiling at that. "That's just what my sister would say. But, Clark," she added, recognising his insecurity and marvelling at it, "It really doesn't matter how long we've known each other. You knew the moment you met me that you loved me, didn't you?"

He nodded. "I told you that."

"I wish I'd recognised what I felt for you as quickly," she told him wistfully. "Instead I focused on the flashy Suit, and never realised that everything I admired in Superman was all part of you. But, you know, even while I was convincing myself that I wanted nothing to do with you, I still couldn't get you out of my mind."

"No?" That seemed to please him.


"So… where do we go from here?"

"Well… I have an idea," Lois suggested. "I love the thought of living with you, Clark. But it might be a little too much, too soon. So how about a part-time arrangement, to begin with?"


"Yeah. Weekends, for a start."

He nodded. "Sounds good to me. And what about Christmas?"

"Christmas?" Lois brightened further; she really hadn't relished spending the holiday on her own. "You want me to move in here for Christmas?"

"Nope, I want you to come to Smallville with me for Christmas," he answered quickly. "As my friend, my girlfriend, my future wife — whatever capacity you feel most comfortable in. And no, that's not a proposal," he added, squeezing her hand again. "Call it a declaration of intent, if you like."

A declaration… Clark wanted to marry her. For an infinitesimal moment, Lois felt scared — after all, her parents' marriage was not the best advertisement for that state. But one thing she'd learned from her alcoholism scare was that she was *not* her mother. And Clark was definitely not her father. And if she could ever consider getting married, Clark was the only man she would want to see at the end of that aisle. Her lover; her love.

"Yeah," she told him softly. "A declaration of intent. I like that."


Author's note:

In case anyone wonders about the conversation in which Clark makes Lois think again about her assumption that she could be an alcoholic, it's not only Clark who did some research. Alcoholism is, I'm very aware, an extremely serious subject, and not one which I would want to write about frivolously or without being sure of my ground. I would certainly never want to suggest that Lois could be 'diagnosed' as an alcoholic or not an alcoholic, on the basis of an evening's conversation with her best friend. Hence, I chose to leave that aspect of the storyline open, with Lois agreeing to go for counselling in order to find out what, if any, problem she might have with alcohol. Even if she's not addicted, or has a propensity to become addicted, she certainly has some hang-ups which need to be explored properly.

Most of my information comes from the website of the (US) National Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependency, at http://www.ncadd.org/; this udes the definition which Clark quoted to Lois. The questionnaire which Lois took is accessible from the NCADD site, but may be found at: http://www.recoverycentral.org/helpself/testalco.html