Fear of Discovery IV: Lois and Clark and Clark and Lois


Rated: PG

Submitted: December 2001

Summary: Clark returns from the Alt universe, relieved to be home at last after the emotional strain of events in "Fear of Discovery II." However, soon it becomes clear that a lot still needs to be resolved back in the other universe. In addition to unresolved issues between himself and altClark, his friend is having a very tough time dealing with Lex Luthor, and there's even more trouble brewing for both altClark and his new girlfriend, altLois. It takes the combined skills of both sets of Lois and Clarks to sort everything out, and everyone learns a few lessons about themselves along the way.


I'd like to thank my wonderful beta-reader, Wendy Richards, for her unstinting enthusiasm, commitment and inspiration. On a regular basis, she got saddled with new sections of this monster to beta-read in less time than it takes me to write a paragraph, yet she never once complained. Quite the opposite, in fact! I'd also like to thank Jenni Debbage, Chris Carr and Meredith Knight for helping me cook up the solution to Lois and Clark's problem near the end of the story, and finally, a big thank you to all those FoLCs on IRC and on the boards who gave me feedback and general encouragement while I was writing the story. Oh, and a special thanks to Ann McBride for GEing this in record time!


Space and time shifted uneasily. Something unnatural was happening, something which disturbed the natural rhythm of the cosmos. Another visitor was making his way through the vortex between universes, and the fundamentals which held matter and life together took unkindly to the bending and twisting to which they were being subjected.

But the visitor had stayed in a foreign universe for too long, and even though he knew he had helped a good man rediscover his true identity, he was weary and desperate to return home. He needed succour; he needed his wife.


Our Metropolis

Clark's stomach lurched as he landed back in his own living room, reflecting that inter-universe travel really was no fun at all. He'd have thought that by now he would have become accustomed to the disorientation and slight dizziness which accompanied his arrival in a new universe, but it seemed that, like commercial flying, this was one form of travel he would never get used to. However, once he'd recovered his equilibrium, he was greeted by the very pleasant sight of his wife lounging on the sofa with her eyes closed, a bunch of open Chinese take-out cartons strewn on the table in front of her. Already he felt better.

"Drop any noodles this time?" he asked casually.

Lois' eyes flew open. "Clark!"

She stood up and he rushed to envelop her in a tight hug. It was so, so good to feel her soft body close to his again, to smell her perfume, to touch her hair, and feel her arms around him holding him close. He felt like never wanted to let her go again, and he especially never wanted to leave her like he had this time, not knowing if he would ever get her back again. H G Wells had dumped him in the alternative universe without telling him when or how he would return again, and whilst most of the time he had been too busy to dwell on it, the uncertainty had always been at the back of his mind. But now he was home, and the tension he hadn't even been aware of melted away from him in her loving arms. He felt complete once more.

"Mmmm…I missed you so much," he said into her hair.

"I missed you too, honey, but you were only gone for a couple of hours. What happened?"

He released her in surprise. "Two hours? I was gone for days and days! It seemed like forever."

"Really?" She frowned. "I guess maybe time doesn't move at the same rate between the universes, or something. And come to think of it, when I came back that first time when Tempus kidnapped me, no time had passed for you at all, had it?"

He nodded. "Almost none, although I still remember that horrible moment when there was a big Lois-shaped hole in the universe," he said, his voice letting more of his feelings show than he had intended.

"Oh, Clark." She gathered him up in her arms again. "So, was it bad? How's Clark2?"

"He's OK…pretty much. It took us a while to work things out, but he'll do just fine now."

It was a gross understatement of the extreme highs and lows he had gone through with Clark2, but it would do for now. Later, he would tell her about Clark2's struggle to recover from the violent murder of Mayson, his girlfriend, and the difficulty Clark had had in trying to persuade him to resume his Superman work once more.

"And how are you?"

"I'm fine too. I just missed you." He held her tight, enveloping her with his body, wanting to feel every soft curve, every beat of her heart, and hear her quiet, steady breaths beside him.

"It's OK, you're home now," she murmured in his ear. "We've got all the time in the world to be together."

"I know." No doubt she was confused by his clingy behaviour, if she had only been alone for a couple of hours, but he couldn't help himself. He had missed her so much…

Eventually, he released her gently, but still couldn't quite let go, entwining his fingers with hers. It was then that she noticed his bag.

"What's that?" she asked.

Clark looked down at the bag in his right hand. "Oh! I nearly forgot." He held them up for her. "These are for you."

Lois peered through the clear plastic bag to the misshapen lumps of pastry and screwed up her face. "They are?" she asked in a sceptical voice.

He smiled; yes, this was his Lois, all right. He'd missed her direct, no-nonsense style. "Yes, but they taste much better than they look, trust me. They're from Clark2."

Lois nodded slowly. "He obviously doesn't take after you in the cooking department."

"Lois! They really are good — you'll love them. And he didn't bake them — he buys them from somewhere in Scotland." He offered the bag to her, which she took, holding it up at eye level for closer examination

"These from a nation where men wear skirts?" she said, looking at the contents with distaste. "Figures." She shrugged. "I guess it was a nice gesture, though."

Clark walked her over to the sofa, where he pulled her into his lap, still wanting to keep her close. Lois dumped the bag of butteries on the coffee table and turned to him, meeting his lips in a long, deep kiss.

"Mmmm…this is nice," she murmured.

"Yeah…" Kissing Lois was always nice — in fact, way, way better than nice. He'd missed this; their closeness, the way they didn't have to say anything to understand each other perfectly, the way she seemed to fill him with extra energy and strength. He could be strong without her, of course — he'd had to be when he was on his own with Clark2, but everything was so much easier with Lois at his side. He smiled around their kiss; the world seemed a much softer, warmer place when he was kissing Lois…

*"I nearly kissed her… it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do."*

It was a sudden, unwelcome flashback to his recent conversation with Clark2.

Clark2 had thought he'd been doing Clark a favour with his confession, but Clark wasn't so sure. Instead of losing himself in a sensuous kiss with Lois, he was now wondering what might have happened if Clark2's 'I nearly kissed her' had turned into something closer; something more sensuous. Would Clark2 also have been thinking how much better than nice it was to kiss Lois? And just how close had they been when they 'almost kissed' — as close as he was to Lois right now?

"You going to tell me what happened?" Lois impinged on his wayward thoughts, and he realised he'd been drifting on auto-pilot, kissing and caressing without meaning. He pushed the memories away; he didn't want them spoiling this precious reunion with Lois.

He smiled at her. "Soon…but let's just do this for a while."

"Suits me…"

Where were they when it happened? Was he sitting in the very spot now, on this sofa, where his double had almost over-stepped the line?

<Shut up!>

He made himself concentrate on his wife; on her sensuous mouth and her baby-soft skin, and her familiar, welcoming scent. This was what gave him the strongest sense of being home at last — to caress and be caressed by Lois, his precious love. He'd missed her so much, through all those lonely days and nights in the other universe, and although he'd dreamed about her in his cold, empty bed, his dreams had been a pale imitation of the real thing.

He'd missed her body…

He'd tried fantasy a couple of times, when the longing had become too much to bear, but it just hadn't been the same without her. At last, she was here in his arms.

He undid the top couple of buttons on her blouse and slipped a hand inside. They could talk about Clark2 later — now, all he wanted there to be was just him and Lois and some gentle loving.

"Mmm…" murmured Lois around their kiss.

Her soft flesh under his fingers was like food to a starving man. He'd missed this so much…

*"I told you once that I don't love her, but sometimes I think that maybe I do"*

<Shut up!>

But the memory triggered a sudden aggressive urge to reclaim her as his own, to reaffirm his rights as her husband, to surge until his seed was planted and he had restaked his sole claim on her body. It was an unfamiliar, alien impulse; he didn't make love with Lois because it was his right, their love was a sharing kind of love.

He pushed the ugly thought to one side.

"You're so beautiful," he breathed, his gaze roaming over her soft, smooth curves, her graceful shoulders and her slim, creamy-white neck.

*"I just can't think straight around Lois."*

Clark2 had been defending himself, trying to explain why he had nearly kissed her. Well, it was no excuse, and neither was that remark about having been drinking wine — Clark2 was no more affected by alcohol than he was himself…

<Shut up!>

"Mmmm." He planted kisses around her neck and shoulder, feeling her do the same in return on his other shoulder. When that wasn't enough, he moved around to the nape of her neck, and then slowly down to the swell of her breast.

*"You must have known that I had feelings for Lois."*

<No, he didn't!>

Another surge of possessive desire ran through him, and this time blind need clouded his mind, and he couldn't resist any longer. He lunged hungrily at her with his mouth and hands, and soon hot desire and impatience had washed away all coherent thought, and he was taking her just as his status as her husband dictated he could.

She was his wife…*his* Lois…

A few seconds of pure bliss flashed by, and then a deep sense of satisfaction flooded over him. He was home at last, in the arms of the woman he loved, and she had just given him one of the greatest gifts a woman could give a man.

No-one could take that away from him.

He bent down to kiss her again, but felt her face turn away from him. Opening his eyes, he was shocked to find her distressed and upset instead of as blissfully sated as he felt himself.


Her relief at getting him back so quickly, after only a two hour wait, had turned quickly into compassion when she had learnt that the time elapsed for him in the alternative universe had been much longer than she had been expecting. It was confusing to have a husband clinging on to her as if they'd been separated for weeks instead of hours, but his emotion had transmitted itself to her so strongly that her confusion immediately became irrelevant. He needed reassurance, not questions and curiosity.

So it wasn't surprising that he was more interested in cuddling up to her than in telling her the details of his visit, especially since they had always enjoyed a very close physical relationship. Even from the early days of their friendship, they had been very tactile, and when friendship had turned into love, they had constantly kept in contact with each other through casual caresses or other brief touches. So she had been happy to indulge him, and had enjoyed every second of his seduction, reflecting jokily that perhaps he should go away more often if this was the result.

But then something had happened. He had switched suddenly from slow seduction to hungry lust, attacking her urgently and wildly with mouth and tongue and finger, quite unlike the gentle lover she was accustomed to. That had been okay, though; his passion had been infectious and she had been starting to get pretty aroused herself. Even when he had tipped her onto the sofa and roughly laid her bare for him, that had been okay. She had complied eagerly, expecting him to be his usual thoughtful and generous self; always mindful of her needs as well as his own.

Instead he had virtually forced himself on her.

She had tried to tell him, but he had smothered her protest with his mouth, and for the first time ever, she had experienced discomfort. Even her gasp of shock hadn't stopped him.

When she had looked up at him, she had found his eyes shut and a hard, determined expression on his face, which she had hated, because it wasn't her loving Clark she saw, but a man intent on achieving his own satisfaction at any cost. Almost as if he wanted to stake some sort of macho claim on her body. She had nearly protested, but something had held her back — maybe his obvious need for her, maybe the thought that it obviously wasn't going to take long, or that it would be better to let him finish and then talk. And she had been right: determination quickly gave way to contorted ecstasy and a brief grunt.

It hadn't been so bad that it had hurt, exactly, but she had felt invaded, not loved. She understood how desperately he needed her, she really did; she was even flattered, in a way. But Clark had never, ever been aggressive and selfish in his lovemaking before, and *that* hurt.



She didn't answer, her head still turned away from him.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"Nothing," she replied dully.

"Please, Lois. What did I do?"

There was a long pause. "I don't know what's worse — the fact that you have to ask, or the fact that you did what you did in the first place."

That stung. He fell silent, replaying the last few minutes in his head. Not that it was terribly clear…he reached a possible explanation, and tried to make amends with gentle caresses.

Her face swung around and she opened her eyes. "Don't bother," she said flatly.

He froze. What was he doing wrong?

"You don't get it, do you, Clark?"

He shook his head dumbly.

She turned her face away from him again. "You hurt me."

Cold shock shot through him. He had hurt her? *Hurt her?* Oh, God… He replayed their love-making again, and this time it hit him squarely between the eyes. He had been so selfishly intent on his own pleasure that he hadn't given her needs a single thought.

Guilt turned like a knife in his heart. Who, except the most selfish, aggressive person in the world, could do what he had just done to Lois? He reached out with a trembling hand to tentatively stroke her hair. "Lois…I don't know what to say."

"Sorry would be a good start."

"I'm more than sorry, I'm…appalled. That I could do something like that…I'm so sorry, Lois. So sorry. Are you all right? I mean, can I do anything…?"

"No. I'm fine," she answered bluntly.

They fell into a stony silence. He tried desperately to think of some way of making amends, some way to repair the damage he'd done, but guilt overwhelmed all other thought. Eventually, Lois shifted out from under him and sat up in a far corner of the sofa. He followed suit, straightening up at the other end.

"Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?" he asked. He wasn't sure why he suggested that, except that she seemed to be keeping a lot of distance between them.

"No, Clark. What I want you to do is explain why."

"I'm not sure." He had an inkling, but he wasn't very proud of it, and she certainly wouldn't enjoy hearing it.

"Look at me, Clark." He turned his head slowly to face her at the other end of the sofa. Instead of enjoying the sight of her beautiful body, all he could see were her dull, sad eyes. They tore at his heart.

"Yes, you are. I can see it in your eyes." She looked away. "Clark, that wasn't you I just made love with, that was some other person I've never met before, and I need to know where all that came from. I also need to know if it's going to happen again."

"Lois, I never meant to treat you like that. You have to believe me."

"You'll forgive me if I say that's cold comfort right now. I'm taking it for granted that you didn't mean to do what you did, otherwise we wouldn't be having this conversation at all." She paused, and then continued, "Just tell me why — and don't tell me you don't know, because I know you better than that."

Clark took a deep breath. She was right; this needed to be faced head-on and there wasn't any point in denying the truth. Ever since he'd returned, Clark2's confession had been hanging over him like a black cloud. "I was jealous, I think."

"Jealous," she repeated emotionlessly.

"Yes. Clark2 and I…well, we talked about a lot of things…" his voice trailed away, uncertain on how best to broach the subject. He had so many questions running through his mind, starting with why she didn't tell him what had happened between her and Clark2. But asking her would be tantamount to accusing her of infidelity, albeit in a very minor way, and how could he do that when he'd just done the most unforgivable thing possible to her?


"And…we talked about the times he's been over here…Lois, you don't want to hear this now-"

"Yes, I do. Carry on."

"We talked about that time when I was trapped in the time vortex, and you were trying to get me back. Lois, I understand how it could have happened, I want you to know that. You were lonely, and there was someone who looked exactly like me…"

"Sorry?" she asked in a dangerous voice.

Clark swallowed and looked away from her.

"Look at me, Clark!" she insisted fiercely.

His eyes shot up to hers and he ground out, "OK. He told me about the kiss."

"Almost kiss," she corrected. She was staring at him in amazement. "Clark, is this what this is all about? One lousy 'almost kiss'?"

"Yes. And the fact that you never told me about it."

"Oh. I see. You think I'm hiding something from you. That's nice, that's very nice. All this time, I thought we'd built up an understanding, a strong trust in each other, and the moment you find out something you'd rather not hear about, you assume I'm being dishonest with you. Is that about it, Clark? Am I right?"

"No! No, Lois, I trust you completely — I trust you with my life. Lois, I love you! Doesn't that mean anything?"

"Apparently not."

"Lois…" He was handling this all wrong. He was trying to explain himself, and in the process, was managing to upset her even more. After he'd hurt her so cruelly…

But he didn't understand why she hadn't told him.

"We share everything, you and I," he began. "Even the little things. So when Clark2 told me what happened, I was confused — why hadn't you even mentioned it? You told me about Leslie Luckaby, but not about this. So what did that mean — that nearly kissing someone who wasn't your husband didn't matter to you? And we're not just talking about a casual kiss here — he made it pretty clear that there was a whole lot more to it than that. So tell me, Lois — didn't it mean anything to you?"

"No! That's exactly it! It didn't mean anything. We were both tired and lonely, and I almost kissed him. End of story. Period. New paragraph, get on with rest of life."

Clark couldn't help picking up on it. "He said he almost kissed you, not the other way around."

Lois whirled around to face him with an angry look. "He almost kissed me, I almost kissed him — what does it matter? Read my lips — it didn't mean anything. Got it?"

"No!" he answered forcefully. "No, I haven't got it. Why didn't it mean anything?"

"Because it just didn't. Life doesn't always come in nice, neat packages, Clark. Sometimes there are messy, unexplained loose ends trailing all over the place. You either accept that, or you don't — it's that simple. Sorry if I disappointed you by not being perfect, but that's the package you bought into when you married me: messy, irrational, and, right now, mad as hell!"

Clark's rising ire deflated abruptly. He was doing it again: upsetting her when he had no right to. "I'm sorry, Lois," he replied quietly. "I never meant to upset you — I don't even know why I'm doing this."

"Neither do I!"

Silence descended again.


How dare he accuse her of being unfaithful! OK, so she hadn't told him, but so what? There had been more important things to say to him at the time, like 'thank God I've got you back in one piece, Clark'. Then afterwards, it had just slipped her mind, because it really wasn't important. It didn't mean anything.

Of course, she'd felt awful back then, and it had scared her that at a time when she should have been longing to get her husband back, she had been distracted by another man just because he looked like Clark. It made her seem shallow and callous, and being confused by the similarity just hadn't seemed like a valid excuse, even though that was how she had explained it to Clark2 at the time. She had retreated upstairs to bed and lain awake thinking about it, wondering how she could have even half-contemplated kissing another man.

Clark had come to her in her dreams then, and she had woken missing him terribly; lonely and aching for him. She had rationalised her mistake with Clark2 as anxiety and tiredness, and that was that. She had erased the memory from her mind.

Now Clark was dredging it all back up again, and she resented it. She resented it like hell.

<Because you still feel guilty>

She glanced over at him; he was sitting slumped in a mess of cushions and discarded clothes, looking as miserable as she no doubt looked herself. She spotted her blouse half- trapped under his left thigh and tugged it out to slip back on. He might be happy sitting there naked and…well, of course, he was as cool as a cucumber, damn him, but anyway, she was beginning to feel faintly ridiculous. She began fastening the buttons slowly.

"Lois, are you sure you're all right?"

She sighed. "Yes, Clark." She looked at his anxious face and relented. "You didn't really hurt me. It just wasn't very comfortable."


"What really hurt was seeing your face. Clark, I've never seen you look aggressive when we make love." A look of pain crossed his face, and she knew she'd touched a nerve. That wasn't going to stop her though; she wanted answers and he needed to give her those answers. "Why all the aggression, Clark? Were you trying to punish me?"

"God no!" he exploded. "Never, Lois! I'd never, ever, do that. You know that, don't you?"

"I thought I did."

"Lois, please! You have to believe that much. No, it was…like I said, jealousy. I couldn't stop thinking about Clark2 and what he'd said to me, and I guess it made me mad, so I wanted to prove to…I don't know; myself maybe, that you were mine. Not his."

Was that flattering? Or did she feel like his chattel? She didn't much like the thought of him having sex with her as a means of asserting his rights, but on the other hand, it was sort of nice that he felt that possessive towards her. Except possessiveness could be dangerous.

"So do you still feel jealous? And is this going to happen the next time another man shows an interest in me?"

"No. Lois, I'm not that insecure about our relationship. What we have is special, and some guy leering at you isn't going to affect that. But this was different — this was Clark2; me, in another universe. I know how I feel about you, so I knew how he probably felt about you too. So am I still jealous? I don't know. I like Clark2, I respect him and love him like a brother. If you really want to know, I just wish he hadn't told me about all this, and I really, really wish I hadn't just spent days and days in a strange world not knowing if I was ever coming back to you. Most of all, I wish I could erase the last hour and make it never happen again. But I can't do any of that. I might be Superman, but I can't turn back time."

He sounded bitter and defeated, and her own guilt came back to her.

"No, you can't, and neither can I." She drew in a deep breath. "OK, I think I need to admit that I did feel guilty. Actually, I felt terrible — I was supposed to be missing you, and yet there I was, getting attracted to another man. I hated myself for a while."

"You did?"

"Yes. I practically bolted upstairs away from him, and then spent the next I-don't-know how long trying to figure out what I'd been thinking."


"And nothing. I have no idea why I did what I did, but Clark — it was a crazy situation we were in. How many people have to cope with losing their husband into a time vortex and then having his equivalent from another universe show up and start living in the house?"

He smiled wryly. "Not many, I guess."

"Exactly. So, really, it didn't mean as much as we're making of it."

"Maybe not, but I'm still not sure how I feel about Clark2. I mean, I respect him a lot, but…"

But there was something he hadn't said. She'd been replaying his words in her head while they'd been talking, and whenever he spoke about Clark2, there was one word he never used.

"Do you trust him?"

"Well, yes…" His puzzlement deepened.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'd trust him with my life."

"Do you think he could ever lie to you?"

"No…" he trailed away uncertainly.

"Do you think he follows the same code of ethics that you do?"

"Well, mostly…it's not so easy for him — he didn't have an easy childhood, you know."


"So sometimes he doesn't make the same choices I would, is all. But basically he's a good guy."

"But he might bend the truth now and then to suit his needs?"

"I guess."

"So do you trust him?"

"I…yes, I trust him…"

"Clark, forget he's almost your brother, forget he's you in another universe. Do you trust him?"

Lois waited as Clark fought with his warring emotions. She knew what the answer was, but she wanted Clark to admit it to himself.

"No," he answered finally. "No, I don't trust him. Not like I trust you." He lifted his gaze to her eyes. "I don't trust him, and that's why he makes me jealous, because I can't be completely sure of his ethics. I felt like that from the first time I heard a major emergency and asked him if he wanted me to do the rescue for him. He took so long to decide, I nearly didn't make it in time. I knew it wasn't fair of me, to judge him like that when he'd been through so much, but I just couldn't help thinking that if I'd been in his shoes, I wouldn't have doubted for one second that I wanted those people saved."

"See, that's just it, Clark. You want him to be exactly like you and he's not. He's a different person, with a different set of experiences, and you have to accept that."

"I know…I guess I was just disappointed. So when he finally got around to telling me he almost kissed you, I already didn't trust him and I started to wonder just what he was capable of."

"You thought that if I'd let him go further, he just might have?"


"And then you started wondering if I might have been tempted to let him carry on?"

He nodded unhappily.

"So suddenly this tiny little innocent incident became the start of a steamy illicit love-affair?"

"Well, not exactly…"

"Not steamy, or not illicit?"

"Neither, really."

"A sordid little affair, then."

"Not sordid…"

"OK, just an affair, then."

"Not even that, really."

"All right, I'm not steamy, illicit, or sordid. Just what exactly am I? Raunchy?"

An eyebrow flicked up. "Could be."

"Passionate?" She started inching along the sofa towards him.


"Perverted?" She moved nearer.

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Inventive?" And nearer.


"Only sometimes?" She placed her palm flat on his chest.

"Always," he breathed.

"Sexy?" Her hand began smoothing over his warm skin.


"Good." She gave his chest a brief pat and straightened up abruptly. "Then let's get this mess cleared up and go to bed," she said, replacing her seductive tone with a pragmatic one. "I'm tired, and so are you."

"Lois?" He was frowning at her warily. "It's OK, I think I've forgiven you, as long as you never do it again."

"I hope I never do."

"Come on, then — you tidy, and I'll lock up the house."


The Other Universe

Clark flew over the dark countryside, looking for the landmarks which would tell him he was nearly there. Lois was silent in his arms, their conversation having withered soon after leaving the lights of Metropolis behind. He had told her he was stopping the madness, but that was all. He hadn't felt like saying any more.

A familiar shape loomed out of the darkness, and he began to descend.

In front of the farmhouse, he lowered Lois to the ground.

"What are we doing here?" she asked, at last breaking the long silence between them.


He saw her frown in the darkness and peer at the building before her. "Is this your parents' farmhouse?"

"Yes. Come on."

He reached down, clasped her hand in hers, and led her inside. To his regret, the house felt chilly and unwelcoming, and the stark central light he switched on did little to enhance its appearance.

"It's not how I pictured it," she commented, hugging herself and looking around the cold living room.

Clark glanced around quickly, noticing how it must look to a stranger. He and CK had cleaned it up a lot when they were last here together, but to Lois it had to look rather stark and spartan. "It'll be better once we've got a fire going," he said.

She rubbed her arms vigorously against the cold. "But why are we here at all? What's wrong with your apartment — your *warm* apartment?" she added pointedly.

He crossed to the fireplace and began building the fire. Everything he needed was still there from his last visit. "The place was swarming with reporters when we flew over it earlier," he said over his shoulder. "Here, at least, we get some peace and quiet."

He switched into superspeed to finish the job, and soon had a small fire burning in the grate. Lois came over and held her hands out to warm them. He straightened up and slid an arm around her shoulders. "I just want us to have space, Lois. It was getting hard to breathe back in Metropolis," he told her softly.

She was silent, watching the fire as it grew and blossomed into a healthy roar. He watched it with her, mesmerised by the dancing flames and crackle of burning wood. He felt curiously numb; the result of too many emotions crammed into too short a period of time, perhaps.

"OK," she said eventually. "That sounds good."

He turned to her and wrapped his arms tightly around her, glad when she hugged him closely in return. This had been one of the worst days in his life, and he knew she felt the same. Talk would come later, but for now all he wanted was to be held by her.

A long time later, they separated and went about the prosaic task of making up a bed upstairs. They searched out towels and toilet things, and finally, after Clark had warmed up the bed with a burst of heat vision, they crawled under the covers and drifted off into sleep.


Our Metropolis

Lois sat curled up on the sofa, watching TV footage of Clark doing his best to deal with an oil tanker spillage off the coast of Alaska. It wasn't an easy task even for a superhero to accomplish, because even though he'd sealed the breach in the oil tanks, there was still a lot of escaped oil floating on the surface of the sea. He was scooping it up with an old hulk of a ship he'd found and was pouring it back into the tanker, but it was slow work, and he was running out of time. Every minute longer he took, the nearer the oil slick drifted to the Alaskan shore.

In the midst of her intent viewing, the doorbell rang.

She unfolded herself reluctantly from the sofa and crossed to the door, keeping one eye on the TV screen. He was just going back to scoop up some more oil when she tore her eyes away and opened the door.

"Oh, no," she said with a sinking heart. "What now?"

The small, dapper man before her doffed his hat to her. "So sorry to disturb you, Lois. May I come in?"

She sighed and stood aside to let him in. "Our home is yours," she answered sardonically.

Shutting the door quickly, she hurried back to the TV, ignoring her guest. Clark was scooping again. She narrowed her eyes and tried to catch a glimpse of his face. He was probably concentrating too hard on the task at hand to show anything other than intelligent determination, but she still preferred to see his expression if possible.

"What a dreadful mess," commented H G Wells, coming to stand beside her in front of the TV. "I hope Clark manages to clear it up."

Her lip curled cynically. "You mean you don't know if he does?"

"Lois," he said in his cultivated English accent, "I may be a time-traveller, but I haven't visited every single moment in time from here to eternity. Many things are still as much a mystery to me as they are to you."

"Like why most of the good things in life aren't good for your health?"

"Well, that, too, I suppose."

The TV coverage was interrupted for a commercial break. Lois turned to Wells.

"So are you going to tell my why you're here, or is this just a social call?"

Wells smiled apologetically. "It's always nice to see you, Lois, of course."

"I hear a 'but' coming," said Lois dryly.

"I'm here to ask for your help — yours and Clark's, as a matter of fact." He glanced behind them at sofa. "May I sit down?"

"Sure…sit, make yourself at home, why don't you?" answered Lois heavily, waving her arms expansively at the sofa. "Can I offer you a drink as well, perhaps?"

Wells sat gingerly on the edge of the sofa. "Lois, I can understand why you're not especially pleased to see me, but I assure you that I wouldn't ask your help unless I thought it was very important."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Yes, but what you think is important may not be what I or Clark think is important."

He grimaced. "You have a point. However, will you allow me to make my case, and then you can decide for yourself?"

She looked back at the TV. The commercials were just finishing and the news program was starting again. The announcer conducted a brief interview with an environmental expert about the potential impact if the oil slick reached the Alaskan shore. The expert also offered his opinion on Superman's efforts to clean up the slick, which he said were well-intentioned, but misguided.

Lois bristled immediately. "How does he know? He's not there; Clark is."

The expert said that the correct approach was to drench the area in detergent, to disperse the slick. Trying to skim the oil off the water would only result in a proliferation of smaller slicks which would be even harder to control.

"Perhaps they should try both," commented Wells.

"Exactly," agreed Lois. "Someone should be sending up vessels to spray the slick while Clark does his work. But no — instead, they just sit back and let him handle the whole thing, and then snipe from the sidelines. Sometimes I think the authorities use him as an excuse not to get involved. That way they can't be criticised for going about the clean-up operation the wrong way."

The announcer wrapped up the interview and said they'd return to the situation at the end of the program. Lois picked up the remote control and pressed the mute button.

"And when Clark finishes the job, all he'll get is a quick handshake and a thank you," she added acerbically. "Not that he'd ever want any more than that, but it makes it too easy for them."

"Yes, I suppose it does," agreed Wells politely, running his fingers around the rim of his hat absently.

She looked at him, and realised she hadn't answered his question. "So what is it that you want from him?" she asked pointedly.

Wells looked uncomfortable. "Perhaps this was a bad idea. This doesn't seem like an appropriate time for me to barge in asking for favours."

She shook her head impatiently, irritated by his apologetic manner. "Now that you're here you may as well tell me why. Is it to do with Clark2?"

"Yes," replied Wells in a relieved voice, obviously glad to have been given an easy opening. "I think he needs your help."

He then embarked on a longish tale, recounting what he knew of Clark2's life since Clark had left him. The very good news was that he had at last found his universe's Lois Lane, but the bad news was that until very recently, she had been suffering from amnesia following her accident in the Congo. Lois couldn't believe her ears when Wells told her the identity the other Lois had assumed.

"Wanda Detroit?! You're kidding!"

Lois wondered bemusedly if there were Lois Lanes in multiple universes, all going through a period of amnesia where they believed themselves to be a femme fatale from their own novel. It seemed, however, that Clark2's Lois Lane had had a different experience to her own. Wells didn't have very much detail, but was able to tell her that the amnesia appeared to have lasted a lot longer than her own, and with dire consequences. Somehow, she had ended up in that universe's Lex Luthor's clutches as a nightclub singer.

The prospect of ending up as Lex Luthor's woman made Lois's skin crawl. She'd spent a long time dealing with the fact of her near-marriage to Luthor, so hearing of another version of herself who had lived that particular nightmare was unsettling.

However, Wells assured her that Lois had escaped from Luthor and was now living with Clark2.

"So what's the problem?" asked Lois. "Sounds like he's finally got what he wanted."

The problem, Wells told her, was that he and Lois had recently appeared on a TV current affairs programme and accused Lex Luthor of trying to murder both of them. Lois was shocked, but not altogether surprised. In a world where everyone knew that Clark was Superman, it made sense that Luthor would attempt murder; after all, he had done the same in her own universe, and knowing Superman's identity would just make the job easier. She was surprised by their tactics, however.

"Why go public — surely they weren't fishing for a confession? Luthor would never fall for that."

"I'm afraid I don't know the reason why," replied Wells. "What I can tell you, however, is that shortly after the end of the TV show, I saw Clark fly Lois past his apartment, heading in the unmistakable direction of Smallville, Kansas."

She frowned. "And…?"

"I rather suspect Clark is…how shall I put this?" He paused. "Opting out, I think. Much as he did when his second girlfriend, Mayson, was murdered."

"What makes you think that? Maybe he's just showing Lois where he grew up."

"Would your Clark do that just after he'd made an accusation such as this on TV? Or would he stay to follow through the investigation?"

"Stay, I guess. But is that it? That's your basis for thinking he's doing a runner again?"

"I suppose I also have a strong feeling — you would call it a hunch, I believe — that I'm right. I don't think life has treated Clark too well since your husband left."

Lois shook her head sadly. "Life never seems to treat him very well." The list of misfortunes just seemed to get longer and longer; his parents died when he was ten, leaving him to bounce around a series of foster homes. Later, his first girlfriend, Lana, left him when he went public with his alien identity and began work as Superman. His anonymity disappeared, he became a celebrity overnight, but then just when things were at last beginning to settle down, his second girlfriend was murdered in a car-bomb attack. His boss, Clark told her, had meanwhile been harassing him because he was an alien, and in the end, the strain of all that, plus his rescue work as Superman, had taken his toll and he had cracked. He had bolted to the farmhouse in Smallville, and Clark had later found him in the attic, hunched over his mother's old wedding gown, just a hair's breadth away from a complete breakdown.

Remembering all this, Lois reflected that perhaps Wells was correct. Clark2 was not a stable person; not like her own Clark. He had deep-seated insecurities, and a strong tendency to bottle things up until they reached boiling point. She had managed to get him to open up to her a little when he'd visited this universe, and she knew Clark had done the same, but without their input, she suspected he would revert to well-trod methods of coping. He wasn't a quitter, but when faced with an emotional crisis and no outlet for it, his reaction would be to shut down; to pretend it wasn't happening.

"So you want us to go over there and talk him out of it?" she asked. "I doubt he'll want us there telling him what to do."

"You're probably right. But perhaps you can help him consider his options more carefully."

She frowned; Wells seemed to have a completely blinkered approach to problem solving at times. "If he doesn't want to be Superman, there's no way I or Clark can persuade him otherwise. You may have to just accept that in that particular universe, there will be no Utopia."

"Ah, but you see, that's just it — I've visited Utopia in that universe, so I know that he does choose the right path eventually."

"How do you know that's not due to his descendants, and not him? Maybe one of his great-grandchildren decided to become a superhero and found the moral code you say Utopia is built on — or maybe it's someone not related to Clark2 at all."

Wells shook his head. "I've seen his statue."

She was about to answer him when she noticed the news coverage had returned to Clark. She picked up the remote and thumbed the mute button.

"We've just heard that the slick has been cleared up and Superman is towing the stricken tanker to safety," said the announcer. There was a brief shot of Clark pulling the tanker to the nearest port. The news programme finished, and Lois put the TV on standby.

"He'll be home soon," she remarked. She wasn't too sure how he'd react to Wells's invitation, and she wasn't looking forward to discussing the subject of Clark2 with him again. They'd pretty much patched things up between them since the day he'd come back, but it was still a sensitive topic.

On a personal level, and leaving aside Wells' misguided infatuation with Superman and Utopia, she was very tempted by his offer to take them over for a visit. She was curious to meet this other Lois Lane, and it would be nice to see her and Clark2 together at last. He had been such a lonely soul when she had spoken to him last. Perhaps she and Clark2 could lay some old ghosts to rest at the same time.

"Might I ask if I've managed to convince at least you, Lois, to come over and talk to Clark2?" asked Wells.

"You can ask, but you won't get an answer," she said dryly. "This is something Clark and I need to discuss together."

"Ah. Fair enough."

Wells subsided into nervous silence, still perched on the edge of the sofa and fiddling with his hat. Lois found herself irritated again, especially when he started making little clicking noises.

"Relax, can't you?" she said. "How about some tea? We've got normal, Earl Grey, Oolong, and some weird fruit stuff that Clark's Mom likes."

"Earl Grey, I think. Thank you."

She made a quick exit to the kitchen, grateful to be out of his presence for a while. Hopefully, Clark would be home soon to share the job of dealing with the hyperactive Wells.


The Other Universe

Lois chopped a few more baby plum tomatoes in half, chucked them in the bowl with the others, and carried the tray through to the lounge.

"Lunch is served," she announced. Clark looked up from the photo album he'd been flicking through and smiled. "See? I told you you could cook."

She dumped the tray on the coffee table in front of him and joined him on the sofa. "If cooking means slicing a loaf and chopping a few tomatoes, then yes, I can cook."

He popped half a tomato in his mouth. "Mmmm — I love these. They're so sweet."

Lois began assembling an open sandwich from the ingredients on the tray, glancing at the photo album on his knees. "When do I get to see the embarrassing baby photos?"

He flicked her a sideways look. "Would you believe me if I said there aren't any?"

"Nope. Here — give." She yanked the book off his knees before he could stop her and turned back a few pages. A complete double page spread of baby pictures opened up: baby Clark with a shock of dark brown hair lying swathed in white blankets, baby Clark crying while being washed in the bathtub, baby Clark with a big stupid grin in a baby bouncer, and many more. As she had expected, he had been an incredibly cute baby.

She put a hand on his back. "Want me to burp you when you've finished your lunch?"

He laughed. "I think not."

She looked back at the photos with a small sigh. They'd been carrying on this superficial banter since getting up this morning, and it was beginning to get her down. Oh, it had been very nice to wake up in a sunny bedroom, with only the sound of birdsong and Clark whistling tunelessly to himself downstairs. The peaceful surroundings had soon banished the ghosts of the previous evening, and she had got up with a surprisingly light heart. It had been even nicer to share the breakfast he'd flown in from various parts of the world, and the walk they had taken around the farm afterwards had been fun, with Clark showing her where he used to play as a kid.

But they hadn't said a word about the TV show yesterday, or the fight with Lex afterwards. Clark seemed to be pretending it hadn't happened.

She closed the photo book and put it aside. "Clark, can we talk?"

He gave her a wide-eyed, open look. "Sure."

"No, I mean *really* talk. About yesterday — about what we're going to do when we go back."

His gaze slid away from her. "Do we have to?" he muttered.

"Of course we have to! Clark, this was a really good idea of yours, getting us away from it all for a while. I really feel as though I've had a chance to unwind and put things in perspective." She paused, laying her hand on his shoulder. "But now we have to go back and sort out the mess. We have to follow through with our accusation and make it stick this time — we can't let Lex get away with it."

"I know, but…"

"But what?"

He seemed about to answer, but then he pulled a face. "Can't we talk about this later?"

"No. I want to talk about it now. What were you going to say?"

He shrugged. "I just wonder…"


"What it would be like to leave all that behind." His gaze swung back to hers again briefly. "Permanently."

"Perm…" She stared at him. "You're kidding, right? You don't mean what I think you mean."

He waved a hand in the air vaguely. "Just think how nice it would be to start over. We wouldn't have to worry about the past any more, there'd just be you and me and the future. No Lex Luthor, no investigation, no murder trial, no-"

"Responsibilities?" she interrupted. "Is that what you want? You just want to drift, is that it?"

"Not exactly dr-"

"I suppose you'd give up Superman too, right?" she interrupted again, her anger rising sharply. "Because he comes with a whole bunch of responsibilities, doesn't he?"

He didn't answer her immediately. He picked up the photo album and turned to the last page. Looking down at one of the pictures, he said, "Yes. Yes, he does."

She looked across at the album and saw to her surprise that he was staring down at a picture of a woman who could have been her twin.


Our Universe

"Let me get this straight. You want us to just barge in on him and tell him to pull himself together, go back to Metropolis and start being Superman again?"

Clark was standing in the middle of the living room, his Superman suit covered in oil and dirty water, laying into Wells with a show of temper Lois rarely saw him display.

Wells seemed to shrink into his pin-stripe suit. "In a nutshell, yes. But I wouldn't put it quite like that. I rather thought you could have a quiet chat with him about Lex Luthor, and perhaps help him come up with a way of bringing the man to justice."

"Hasn't it occurred to you that maybe he's not interested in that?" exclaimed Clark, thrusting a hand out towards Wells. "Maybe he just wants a quiet life with Lois."

"I find it hard to believe that Clark Kent in any universe wouldn't want to bring a villain such as Lex Luthor to justice," said Wells.

"Well, he's not the same as me." Clark retorted flatly.

Wells blinked up at Clark, seemingly momentarily floored for words. Lois stood up with a sigh and put a hand on Clark's mucky shoulder. "I don't think you're being entirely fair there, Clark. The Clark2 I knew had a very well-developed sense of justice."

"When it suits him."

She frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that he has a different set of priorities — I told you that before."

She remembered he had said something about a rescue that he thought Clark2 had taken too long to make up his mind about. Still, she thought Clark was being uncharacteristically uncharitable towards his friend.

"Honey," she began after a pause, modifying her tone to a more conciliatory one. "Why don't you get cleaned up and get changed before we talk about this any more? That grimy suit can't be very comfortable."

He eyed her balefully. "I'm tired and grumpy; that's what you're really saying," he observed.

She reached up and kissed the end of his nose, one of the few parts of him which wasn't spattered with oil. "And you smell," she added with a smile.

He lifted the back of his hand up and took a sniff. Wrinkling his nose, he said, "Okay. But don't let him talk you into anything while I'm gone."

She rolled her eyes at him, and he disappeared upstairs in a blur of red and blue.

"Oh, dear," fretted Wells from the sofa. "I really don't seem to have come at a good time."

"Actually, there's never a good time to discuss universe- hopping, in my opinion," replied Lois dryly.

She let the room fall into awkward silence until Clark came zooming back down the stairs again, clean and fresh, and dressed in jeans and his favourite black t-shirt. Under different circumstances, she reflected, she would have happily ravished him right there in the living room, he looked so delectable. A spot of ravishing would also have done wonders for his mood, whereas Wells' presence patently did not.

Clark shoved his glasses up his nose and sat down opposite Wells. "Okay, I'm sorry if I was a bit short-tempered before," he said calmly. "Ladling thousands of gallons of crude oil doesn't bring out the best in me, apparently."

"I can imagine," agreed Wells, fiddling with the rim of his hat again.

Lois stretched out a hand. "How about I hang that up for you?" she suggested pleasantly, trying not to let her irritation show.

"Ah — most kind," said Wells, letting her confiscate the hat from him. Clark gave her a grateful look; evidently the nervous fiddling had been annoying him, too.

"I did some thinking under the shower," said Clark, "and I can understand why you want Clark2 back in Metropolis and working as Superman again-"

"Oh, good — so you'll go?" interrupted Wells eagerly.

"I said I understood, not that I agreed," said Clark sharply. "Who knows what causes a civilisation to change its moral code? Okay — so you saw a statue of Clark Kent in this Utopian future you visited, but I don't think that's enough proof on its own that Clark2 is the foundation of that future."

"Exactly," interjected Lois, coming back from the coat stand to join Clark on his sofa.

"So I don't think that's a good enough reason for us to go over there and start telling him what he should and shouldn't do with his life. What do you think, Lois?"

"I think he and Lois need to lead the life they want to live, not what anyone else thinks they should live." She paused. "I do think he sounds like he's lost his way a bit, though. And I wonder what Lois thinks of it all."

"True," agreed Clark, "but I also don't think it's right for me to go dashing over there every time he runs into trouble. He's got to figure things out on his own sometime — or with Lois, now that he's got her."

"I rather think the Lois of that universe is somewhat less…stable than your good self, Lois," interjected Wells. "She has problems of her own to solve."

"But that's life," objected Clark. "We didn't have anyone bailing us out whenever things got rough."

"Yes, we did, Clark! What about your parents? Clark2 doesn't have anyone like that to talk to."

"OK, fair point. But aren't we all jumping the gun here? We don't know for sure that he's done anything other than take Lois to Smallville for the night — in fact, we don't even know for sure if that's where they went. So I think we should just leave them alone and let them get on with it. I'm sure they'll do just fine now that they're together." He smiled at Lois. "Sure worked for me."

"I see," said Wells, clearly disappointed. "And you, Lois? Do you feel the same?"

Instead of answering him, Lois looked at Clark. "Would you excuse us for a few minutes, Mr Wells? Maybe you could help yourself to some more tea in the kitchen."

"Tea? Ah…yes. Yes, that's a good idea. I'll just go and make some more tea. Tea would be nice." Wells stood up and crossed to the kitchen door. "You'll call me…yes, of course you will. I'll be in here when you're ready. Making tea."

Lois waited until Wells had disappeared. "I swear he gets worse."

"Maybe time travel does that to you," suggested Clark. "All the more reason why we shouldn't go with him."


"Well what?"

"I've been thinking. Yes, we shouldn't go over there just to drag him back to Metropolis, but don't you think it would be nice to meet this other Lois? We both know how lonely he's been, and how hard he's tried to find his Lois, and now he's found her at last…well, I feel like Clark2 is a good friend we don't get to see very often. If we've got the chance to see him and meet his new girlfriend, I wonder if we should pass it up just because Wells has a different agenda."

He gave her a sideways look. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what happened a couple of weeks ago, I suppose?"

She shrugged innocently. "It might have."

"Lois…" he said in his 'don't beat about the bush' voice.

"Okay, yes — it does," she replied. "I think this a great chance to patch things up between you and him-"

"We already did that."

She raised an eyebrow. "You did?"

"Yes," he nodded. "We talked everything through while I was there, and ended up parting on pretty good terms, actually."

"Except you still don't trust him," she observed.

He pulled a face. "Trust isn't something you fix overnight — it takes time."

"True, but I remember you saying a long time ago that you trusted him implicitly, so what's changed?" Not that she didn't know, of course; the difference was that since then he had learnt that Clark2's feelings for her were so strong, he had almost kissed her. But she was making a point — or at least, she was trying to.

"I think you know the answer to that," he replied evenly.

"Exactly. So maybe between the three of us, we can work that out. And maybe with his Lois there, you'll be able to see where his feelings really lie."

"Maybe," he agreed without conviction.

"And if they do need help with Luthor, or anything else, we can do that too." She laid a hand on his knee. "Come on, Clark — let's do it. Let's go over there and clear the air once and for all."

He covered her hand with his own and stared at it for a long time.

"I guess it would be good to meet his Lois," he said at last. "She must have quite a story to tell, if she's come back from being lost in the Congo for…what would it be? Four years?"

"That sounds about right. I wonder what she was doing all that time — although maybe she doesn't remember."

He looked up at her. "You remembered everything that happened to you after you got your memory back, didn't you?"

She nodded. "Mostly. There were one or two blanks, but they came back eventually."

"Maybe that's something you could set her mind at rest about," he suggested.

"So — you agree? We'll go over there, say hi, and maybe spend a couple of days with them if they don't mind?"

"That's a very big 'if'," he observed dryly. "I'm not even sure they'll want us there at all."

"Hey, when did that ever stop us doing anything?" she asked with a wink.

He smiled. "Replace 'us' with 'me', and I might agree with you."

She pretended to punch his arm. "Cheeky."

"I'll go fetch Wells," he said, standing up. "Let's hope he hasn't electrocuted himself in there."


The Other Universe

Clark stared glumly into the washing-up bowl as it filled up with water and soap-suds. He'd known she wouldn't like the idea of just dropping everything they'd been involved with back in Metropolis, and that was why he'd wanted them to spend just a little longer together at the farmhouse before he'd introduced her to the idea. He'd hoped that she would start to unwind and begin to enjoy the peace and quiet of the farmhouse and its surrounding countryside, and hopefully get just a tiny bit hooked on the tranquillity and lack of hassle. Then he could have slipped the idea into the conversation naturally, and it wouldn't have seemed like an outrageous, off-the-wall suggestion, but a natural consequence of the happiness they'd found together at last.

He shoved his hand into the bowl and encouraged the soap suds to lather up. Of course, he had been kidding himself. There was no way Lois was going to let go of the investigation and forego her determination to see Luthor jailed for life. The man had hurt her too badly for that; Clark knew that really. And her determination was why he loved her, after all. That, and a whole bunch of other reasons.

But he was so tired. Life just seemed to be one big climb up a slope that got steeper and steeper.

He turned off the water and started to wash the first glass.


His hand nearly crushed the glass in shock. It had been a few weeks since he'd heard that voice in his head.

<<CK?>> he replied after a second, surprised at how quickly the dormant skill came back to him.

<<Yes, it's me. Sorry if I startled you.>>

<<Where are you?>> he asked.

<<We're outside the front door>>

"Clark, I'm going for a walk. When I come back, we'll talk about this properly, okay?"

He was aware that Lois had walked into the kitchen and spoken to him, but he couldn't spare enough brain power to figure out what it was she had said. When it was this rusty, telepathy took all of his concentration.

<<We?>> he asked CK.

"Clark? Are you listening to me?"

Again, she had spoken, but her words faded into the background while he was straining to sense CK's reply.

<<Lois is here, too>>

<<Lois?! What brings you both here — are you all right?>>

"Fine — have it your way. Maybe you'll be in a better mood when I come back."

Suddenly, Lois's words crystallised into meaningful sentences and he whirled around to reply to her directly. "Sorry! I was miles away."

<<Oh, we're fine! This is just a social call — we heard there was good news.>>

"Well, maybe that's because your conscience is telling you that's exactly where you should be — miles away from here," she replied acerbically.

"Lois, please stay," he blurted out, suddenly realising that if she walked out the front door right now, she'd bump into Lois and CK.

<<Is this a bad time?>>

<<Wait…>> He really couldn't cope with this dual conversation.

She had her hands on her hips. "Clark, I'll follow you to the ends of the earth, but not until we've finished what we started back in Metropolis."

"No, I meant please don't go out for a walk right now. We need to talk."

He needed to tell her about parallel universes, for a start…

"I know we do, but you seemed to want to perform household duties instead."

<<How about if we come back in half an hour?>>

<<Just give me one minute…no, I mean- >>

"Just give me one minute to clear this up, okay?" he said frantically. "Then we'll talk."

"One minute?" She glanced at her watch. "Okay, you've got 60 seconds, starting now. I'll be in the lounge, counting."

She turned on her heel and walked out. Clark turned back to the washing with a huge sigh of relief.

<<OK — yes, this is a really, really bad time. But it's great that you're here, and I'd love to see both of you again. Just give me half an hour to explain a few things to Lois, will you? Oh — you know about Lois, do you?>>

He could feel the smile in CK's thoughts. <<That was the good news we heard about. See you in thirty minutes, then — sorry to have barged in like this>>

<<At least you 'knocked' first>>

<<Yeah, this telepathy thing comes in handy at times!>>

<<Just wish I could read Lois this easily>>

He felt CK's chortle.


"How about a stroll down to Shuster's field?" suggested Clark.

Lois smiled. "A stroll down memory lane?"

"No doubt it looks just the same here, but I have to admit I'm curious. I never got around to looking last time I was here."

Lois linked arms with him. "Let's find out."


"57, 58, 59-"

Clark zoomed into the lounge and stopped dead in front of Lois.

She looked up at him. "60. OK, you got here in time. Now sit, and let's talk."

Clark sat down slowly in his Dad's old armchair, buying himself thinking time. He had no idea how he was going to pull this off without annoying Lois any more than she already was, but somehow he had to do it. "So, explain to me again why you think it's a good idea to abandon everything we've been working towards for the past two weeks," demanded Lois. "I don't think I quite got it first time around."

"It's…a lot of things," he began cautiously. "Do you remember that woman I told you about, who looked exactly like you? The one we all thought actually *was* you?"

She frowned. "That was her picture, wasn't it? The one you were looking at over lunch."

"Yes. I shouldn't really have kept it, but it was the closest likeness I had of you for a long time. Anyway, I think I told you she just appeared from nowhere and said she was you, didn't I?"

"Perry partnered the two of you on a story," said Lois, nodding.

"That's right. But I haven't really told you everything about her."

"Oh?" she raised an eyebrow.

"No." Clark paused, and considered Lois's sceptical, slightly impatient face, feeling his way gradually into an explanation which wouldn't sound too crazy. "She wasn't really an impostor," he said finally. "She was you."

Lois gave him a look which told him he'd failed dismally. "She was me," she repeated heavily. "So who am I? Snow White?"

"No…look — before you heard of me, did you believe in aliens from outer space?"

"No, of course not," she said impatiently. "But what on earth has all this to do with you wanting to drop the investigation, Clark?" she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air.

He leaned forward on the chair. "Lois, please — bear with me," he implored. "I'll get to the point eventually."

"Does hell freeze over first?" she asked sarcastically. In spite of himself, he smiled slightly at her pithy comment. "No, I promise we'll get there before the next ice age sets in."

"Well, then, get on with it!"

He drew in a slow, calming breath. "Okay, so you agree that the idea of alien life was pretty much fantasy to you until I came along?"

She shook her head at him. "I have no idea where you're going with this, but, okay, yes, I agree."

"Fine." Time to go for the punchline… "Because that's pretty much how I felt about parallel universes until I met a visitor from one," he declared.

"Parallel universes." She nodded sagely. "Well, why not? I guess I was probably wrong about fairies and leprechauns too. And the moon *is* really made of cheese, isn't it? One of those holey ones, like Emmental. Yup, parallel universes makes sense to me."

He eyed her warily. "You're not buying this, are you?"

"Full marks, Clark!" she erupted. "Of course I'm not buying it — are you crazy? Do you think *I'm* crazy?"

"I think you're the sanest person I know, actually," he murmured as an aside. "And why should parallel universes be any less credible than aliens from outer space? You would have said they were both the stuff of science fiction once upon a time, yet here I am, the living proof that you were wrong."

"Well, okay, but does that have to mean that everything I don't believe is now true?" she retorted. "Just because I was wrong once doesn't mean I was wrong all the time."

"True, but can't you at least keep an open mind about this?"

"Why, Clark?" she asked, clearly utterly bemused and frustrated by his clumsy explanations. "Why do I need to believe in parallel universes?"

He considered his options. He could hedge around some more and try to get her thinking more openly about the concept, so that the news that her doppelganger from another universe was about to come knocking on their front door wouldn't be so much of a surprise when he finally told her. However, he seemed to be making a hash of that tactic so far.

Alternatively, he could just hit her straight up with the facts. One thing he'd learned about this Lois, he thought ruefully, which was the same as the other Lois, was that she never skirted around an issue. She went straight for the jugular, and so maybe he should do the same with her. It couldn't go much worse than anything he'd tried so far.

He faced her directly. "Because the woman in that picture was from a parallel universe, her name is also Lois Lane, and in about twenty minutes' time, she's going to be walking through the front door of this farmhouse," he said, throwing caution completely to the wind. "I figured you'd want some warning before she arrives with her husband."

He watched her tensely. Not unsurprisingly, she just stared at him open-mouthed to begin with.

Eventually, she spoke. "Clark, are you feeling all right? I-"

He shook his head in frustration. "I'm fine, Lois! This-"

She held up a hand to stop him. "I know last night's fight with Lex upset you a lot more than you're admitting, but making up stories about strangers from parallel universes isn't the way to deal with it. You need to talk about the real issues. We both do."

"I know we do, and I'm not trying to avoid all that. It's just that this is important — I'm trying to prepare you for a surprise. A big surprise."

"Oh, Clark…" She was shaking her head again, and incredulity had been replaced by a look of concern. "Don't do this to yourself."

He sighed. This really wasn't going very well at all.


"How do you think she's taking it?" asked Lois as they strolled down the lane towards Shuster's field.

"If she's anything like you, she's probably giving him a hard time," Clark replied with a grin.

"Huh! And so she should. It's a lot to have thrown at you all at once."

"True. But again, if she's anything like you, she'll handle it just fine," he said with a smile.

"If she's anything like me," agreed Lois, tightening her hold on his arm.

Clark looked at her. "Nervous?"

She smiled ruefully. "Just a bit. I've never met myself before — what if she doesn't like me?"

He stopped, slipped her into his arms and kissed her lightly. "Impossible," he told her. "What's not to like?"

She looked up at him, studying his face. "You're very cheery," she observed. "What happened to my grumpy, irritable husband?"

He shrugged. "The sun is shining and it's a beautiful day."

"You're not worried about meeting Clark2 again?"

"Of course I am, but we're here and there's no going back, so I may as well enjoy a stroll in the sunshine with my wife rather than fret about a meeting which is going to happen whatever I do." He took her hand and led her forwards. "Come on, the gate is just around this next bend."

She walked with him until they rounded the corner and then he stopped again. "Uh-oh," he said. "End of the line, I think."


Instead of answering her, he took a couple of paces further forward and stopped again. "Definitely." He put his arm around her shoulder and hustled her back around the corner again.

"What, Clark?"

"Maybe Clark2's never been down here, or the field's been ploughed recently," he said, "but there's definitely kryptonite back there."

"Are you all right?" she asked immediately.

He smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine — I could sense it before I got too close."

"Then it looks like Lois and I have a clean-up operation ahead of us," she concluded.

Clark nodded. "I think that would be a very good idea."


Clark paced up and down in front of Lois, unaware that he was further damaging his cause by presenting the perfect image of a man at the end of his tether.

"Lois, I promise you I'm not having some kind of breakdown because of what happened last night with Luthor," he insisted. "Do you really think I'm that unstable?"

"Well, what else am I to think?" replied Lois, following him from her position on the sofa as he crossed backwards and forward. "First you fly us out here in the middle of the night instead of taking us back to your apartment, then all morning you refuse to talk about anything except your happy childhood on the farm and what a great place Smallville is, and now you're telling me this crazy stuff about parallel universes and other Lois Lanes instead of having a proper discussion about why we're still here, which is what you promised me when we sat down here ten minutes ago."

She paused for breath. "Lois-"

"If that's not the behaviour of someone trying to avoid reality, I don't know what is," she added.

"I am *not* trying to avoid reality! I'm trying to introduce you to some."

She rolled her eyes at him. "And just look at yourself, Clark — you're pacing around like some kind of caged animal."

He stopped. "That's only because I'm frustrated." But when she simply stared at him, he sat down again and settled deliberately into the back of the seat. "Look, I'm sorry," he said in a quieter voice. "I don't seem to be handling this very well. I only just found out myself that the other Lois is on her way here, so I haven't had much time to plan how to say all this."

"Only just found out? How?"

Clark groaned internally. This probably wasn't the time to tell her about telepathy. "Her husband contacted me," he said, skirting around the truth.


"When I was washing up."

She crossed her arms. "I didn't notice a phone in the kitchen."

"It's behind the door," he answered quickly, reflecting that at least that much was true — even if it wasn't actually connected. "So you see I haven't had very long to figure out the best way to break this to you."

"Or very long to invent a plausible story," she muttered, but before he could dissimulate, she continued. "Okay, say I believe you. I still don't understand what this has to do with you wanting to set up home here instead of going back to Metropolis."

"Well, it doesn't really having much to do with that…" he trailed off, suddenly realising that this so-called social visit of CK's and Lois's was an amazing coincidence. No sooner had he arrived at the farmhouse with the idea of leaving his life in Metropolis behind, than here they were, knocking on his door.

Almost as if they'd been sent.

Well, if they'd been sent to persuade him to change his mind, then they could go straight back to their own universe. They, or H G Wells, had no business telling him what to do with his life.

"So why are they here?" asked Lois.

"That's a very good question," he said dryly.


Lois and Clark stood, hand in hand, outside the front door. "You think he'll be okay with this?" asked Lois.

"He sounded pleased enough to see us when I 'spoke' to him before," replied Clark brightly. "Hold on."

He closed his eyes. <<We're here again. Everything okay?>>

<<Not really, but I guess you're here so you may as well come in>>

Clark opened his eyes and frowned at Lois. "Something's wrong. He sounds completely different."

Lois grimaced. "Maybe she didn't take it as well as you thought she would."

"Maybe. Still, like he just said, we're here, so we may as well go in." He pressed the doorbell.

Lois squeezed his hand as the door swung open.

A tense Clark2 stood in the doorway, dressed in tatty jeans and a faded t-shirt. "Hi."

Clark extended his hand. "It's great to see you again," he replied warmly.

Clark2 accepted the handshake briefly. "And you. You too, Lois," he added with a nod in her direction.

"I'm sorry we came at such short notice," said Lois. "Is Lois okay with this?"

Clark2's mouth twisted. "Not really. She thinks I'm having a nervous breakdown, actually. Sane people don't talk about parallel universes, you see."

Clark's heart sank. Clark2 sounded tense and depressed, and it was probably largely their fault for forcing him into a situation where he had to explain a pretty far- fetched concept far too hurriedly.

"Maybe we should come back-" began Lois.

"Come on, Clark," said an oddly familiar voice from behind Clark2. "Let's meet these universe-travellers of yours."

And suddenly she was standing beside Clark2 in the doorway.

Clark couldn't stop himself from staring at her. She could have been Lois's twin-sister, the similarity was so striking. Her hair was different, and she wore more make- up than Lois, but she had the same face and the same build as his wife. Her clothes weren't exactly Lois's style — he couldn't imagine his own Lois ever wearing a pink-sequinned t-shirt, but his practised eye could see that the figure underneath the clothes was the same as Lois's.

She was looking very shocked. Her eyes darted between himself and Lois, taking in the obvious similarities between herself and her partner, and the couple standing in front of her. Eventually, her gaze settled on Clark. "You never said he looked like you," she said faintly to Clark2.

Clark2 put an arm around her shoulders. "You didn't exactly give me a chance," he said softly.

Clark felt a small pang of guilt when she pulled herself away from Clark2's embrace. There was an obvious rift between the two, and he couldn't help wondering if he'd been the cause.

"Why don't we take this indoors?" suggested his wife pleasantly. "It looks like Clark and I have a lot of explaining to do."

She ushered everyone inside before they could protest. Clark followed, thankful for her no-nonsense, take-charge approach.

"Clark?" repeated the other Lois as she was led into the living room.

Clark went up to her and held out his hand. "Yes, my name is Clark Kent, too. I know that sounds crazy, but we'll do our best to explain," he said with a smile.

She clasped his hand, and he had a brief moment of total confusion when their hands met. He was shaking hands with his wife, except she wasn't his wife. He caught her eye, and saw that she was experiencing the same feeling.

They both broke the handshake abruptly. "This had better be good," said the other Lois, and he immediately recognised his wife's trick of covering up her real feelings with heavy cynicism. She retreated to the sofa and sat down abruptly.

Clark glanced awkwardly at Clark2, his ingrained politeness preventing him from emulating his hostess's disregard of the social niceties.

"Have a seat," said Clark2, gesturing vaguely at a couple of armchairs. "Can I get you anything? A beer, perhaps, or I think we've got some coke, haven't we Lois?"

"You drank the last can at lunchtime," she answered flatly. "There's always water. It's very good here, apparently — but I guess you already know that," she said to Clark cynically.

"Yes," answered Clark.

"Although your Mom always points out that soft water isn't actually very good for you," added Lois.

Clark nodded. "True."

"I remember that…" said Clark2 softly.

Clark looked up at him sharply. "She'd read somewhere that people who live in soft water areas have a higher incidence of heart disease," he said.

"And that made her worry a little about Dad-"

"-because his father had died of a heart attack."

They stared at each other for a second. These shared, mutual memories never ceased to take Clark by surprise, even though they'd already done this many times over. It was like talking to the brother he never had.

"So, no water?" asked Clark2 shakily after a moment.

"No, thanks."

"Me either," added Lois.

"Think I'll get myself something," said Clark2. "Lois?"

"No, thanks."

"Back in a sec," he said, and disappeared quickly into the kitchen.

Clark frowned at his friend's hasty retreat, wondering whether to follow him or not.

"That was a neat trick," observed the other Lois. "How did you know about his parents?"

He sighed. "Because they were my parents too. Or at least they were in this universe." "I thought you came from another universe."

"I…we do." He shook his head. "Let's start from the top, shall we? I'll try to explain everything so it doesn't sound too crazy."

"Think I'll get myself a glass of water after all," interrupted his Lois suddenly, already up and crossing to the kitchen. "You carry on, Clark — I'll catch up."

He found himself frowning again. Lois obviously didn't want water, she wanted to talk to Clark2 in private. What about?

Pushing away conflicting thoughts, he forced his attention back to the other Lois.


Lois pushed through the kitchen door to find Clark2 with his back to her at the sink, sipping water from a glass. She crossed the floor and stood beside him.

"You okay?" she asked mildly, picking up a glass from the draining board.

He turned around to face her. "Me? Why shouldn't I be?"

She shrugged. "Clark has a knack of jogging memories. I know it's difficult for you to remember your parents."

His mouth twisted. "Very good, Lois. You read me just like a book."

"Only because I know Clark so well, and you're very like him." She leant across him and filled her glass from the tap.

"So what am I thinking now, Lois?" he asked harshly.

Instead of answering, she straightened up slowly and studied his face. He seemed different, somehow. The man she had known was softer and gentler than the tense, cynical person facing her. "What happened, Clark? Why are you so distant?" He snorted. "What happened? What didn't happen — that would be a shorter list."

"Tell me," she said softly.

But he shook his head. "No, I'm not going to play true confessions with you, Lois. Not this time."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.

"Well, look where that got us last time," he said.

Slowly, he laid his glass on the draining board, and looked at her with a serious expression which made her feel vaguely uncomfortable.

She was suddenly aware of how close they were standing to each other, and edged a few inches away from him. "That was different, Clark. We were both tired and lonely. I was missing Clark, and you…"

"What was I, Lois?" he asked.

"You were confused."

"Am I confused now?" He was standing right over her, having somehow closed the gap between them again. His behaviour was very strange; he seemed almost predatory in the way he was questioning her and the way he was carrying himself. Yet, oddly, she couldn't back off; it was as if there was an invisible force binding them together. All she could do was stare up into his dark, intense eyes.

"Yes, I think you are," she replied slowly.

"Let's see if you're right," he said quickly, and before she could stop him, he had grabbed her shoulders and was pressing his lips hard up against her own.

Cold shock made her freeze in his embrace.

He broke away almost immediately. "I should have done that first time around," he said breathlessly. "Then I would have known." "Known what?" she asked faintly, reeling from the shock.

"That there's nothing between us," he replied.

His cool, impertinent answer snapped her out of her shock, and in a white hot rage, her hand shot upwards to slap his face.

He caught her wrist within inches of his cheek, and the moment was etched on her soul for ever.

Time stood still for a second, and then the blistering fury returned and she snatched her arm away. "How dare you," she seethed in a low voice shaking with emotion. "How dare you treat me like that." She pushed him forcibly away with her hands, not caring that he staggered slightly. "Get away from me."

She steadied herself with one hand on the draining board, unable to believe what had just happened. Clark2 had kissed her. Forcibly; without her consent.

He seemed to slowly crumple in front of her. His arms came up and he buried his face in the crook of his elbows. His body folded in on itself. "Oh, God, what was I thinking?" he moaned softly. "What have I done?"

"Don't you ever, *ever* do anything to me like that again," she told him, still shaking from the reaction. "It was rude, callous, and downright disgusting."

"I know," he whispered. "I don't know what got into me. I'm sorry, Lois; I'm so, so sorry."

Sorry! He was sorry — only sorry? Did he have any idea what he'd just done? How *invaded* she felt?

She turned away from him and picked up her glass with a shaking hand. The cold liquid helped calm her nerves a little, and she took a few sips before trusting herself to speak again.

"I don't know what's happened to you, Clark," she said without looking at him. "But whatever it is, it's changed you. The man who helped Clark defeat Tempus would never have done what you just did to me."

"I know," he whispered again.

"Is it Lois?" she asked, trying to find some logic in the madness. "Is she not what you expected?"

He didn't answer her immediately. She glanced over at him, and found that he'd lowered his arms but was still covering his face with his hands.

"She's everything I expected," he replied emotionally, slowly dragging his hands away from his face to reveal stricken, devastated features. "I love her so much it hurts."

"Then why, Clark?"

"I don't know," he said. "Please, Lois, you've got to believe I didn't mean that. I just don't know what came over me."

"Well, you'd better figure it out soon. Lois won't stand for that kind of behaviour any more than I will."

"No." He paused. "You won't tell her?" he asked guiltily.

"No, I'll leave that to your conscience." She walked up to him and spoke in a low, angry voice. "And if you ever tell Clark what happened in here, I swear I'll find a way to damage that invulnerable body of yours. Okay?"

"Yes. But please, Lois — I don't want us to become enemies because of this. I know I did wrong; terribly, unforgivably wrong, but will you ever be able to put this behind you?"

She glanced at the door. "For the sake of the two people next door, I will treat you with the respect I always have done — I'll even be good-humoured with it, because Clark doesn't deserve any less. Neither, I suspect, does Lois. But you're going to have to earn my friendship, Clark. I don't have any friends who treat me with the contempt you just showed me."

He nodded. "That's very fair of you, Lois — thank you. And I promise I'll do everything in my power to regain your friendship," he added contritely.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," she warned.

"I'll keep this one," he said seriously.

"Okay." She glanced at the door again. "I'm going to go back into the living room now, and you're going to pull yourself together and follow me, as if nothing has happened. Just two friends fetching a drink together."


She looked up at his face. "And splash some water on your face — you look terrible."

She collected her glass, took a deep breath, and pushed through the door. "So, what have I missed?" she asked brightly.


Clark glanced at the kitchen door again. What was taking them so long in there? They were only supposed to be fetching drinks, yet they'd been in there for ages.

"So are you from Krypton too?"

He dragged his eyes back to Lois2, as he'd automatically christened her mentally. "Yes."

"Prove it," she said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms in front of her.

Clearly, she thought she had wrong-footed him. Sighing, and thanking his lucky stars that he'd sensed the kryptonite in Shuster's field before it had done him any harm, he let himself gradually float upwards above his chair. He watched her eyes grow wide as he rose. When his head bumped up against the ceiling, he glanced around the room for something with which to demonstrate his other powers.

"Watch the fireplace," he said.

Directing a wide-ish beam of laser energy from his eyes, he lit one of the logs in the fire, waited until it was burning nicely, then blew it out again with a carefully- aimed stream of cold air.

Then he let himself sink back into his chair, noticing that she followed him with her eyes all the way down.

After a noticeable pause, her mouth hardened. "That still doesn't prove you're from another universe."

He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "What do you want me to do, Lois? Produce my birth certificate that says I'm Martha and Jonathan Kent's son?"

"You could forge that," she observed.

"Yes. But ask yourself this: why would I? You've now got proof that I have the same powers as Clark, and am therefore most likely also from Krypton like he is. Why would I, a fellow member of Clark's race, arrive on your doorstep and start trying to convince you I'm from another universe? What would be the point?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't know yet."

He threw his hands up in the air. "Don't you trust anyone?" he asked in exasperation.


"Not even Clark?"

She hesitated. "Usually, yes. But Clark has some personal issues at the moment and I don't think it's appropriate to drag him into this." Clark pounced, eager to demonstrate his inside knowledge. "Those personal issues wouldn't have anything to do with Lex Luthor, would they?"

"Ah, now we get to the real reason you're here," she said cynically. "You're from a newspaper, aren't you? Somehow, you've figured out this is where we came after the TV show last night, and you've trailed us all the way out here so you can get a scoop for your editor. Well, I'm sorry, pal, but we're not ready to talk to you or your partner, so you may as well go back to Metropolis and tell your editor you couldn't find us."

So much for pouncing. He was beginning to understand why Clark2 had looked so frazzled when he had opened the door earlier. This Lois was even harder to talk around than his own. He leaned forward and started enumerating points on his fingers. "Okay — one: yes, I am from a newspaper. As you might expect, since I'm Clark Kent from a different universe, I work for the Daily Planet, and Lois is my partner. She's also my wife, and you might like to think about what that means in relation to you and Clark."

He paused and flicked his eyes over at her. She was frowning, which he supposed might be progress. He continued. "Two: I'm not here to get a scoop, I'm here as Clark's friend. We've met a few times before, and gotten to know each other pretty well. When I heard that he'd finally found you, the woman he'd been searching for, I thought it would be nice to pay him and his new partner a visit. That's what friends do. Three: You're a journalist — would you try and interview someone by pretending you're from another universe? I doubt it. Four: what do you think the chances are of a journalist turning up here in Smallville who looks exactly like Clark, with a wife and partner who looks exactly like you? Thousand to one? Million to one? And feel free to poke and prod all you like, but I can assure you that this is all me, and not make-up or plastic surgery."

He finished and watched her frown her way through some obviously serious thinking. Finally, she nodded briefly. "Okay, you've convinced me — you're not chasing down our story. And I guess this can't really be some kind of elaborate set-up, unless Clark arranged it, and I don't know when he would have had time to do that. Mind you, he could have flown back to Metropolis last night…but I don't think he would have done anything like that." She looked at him and grimaced. "I guess I'm left with the horrible conclusion that you're actually telling me the truth."

He raised a silent cheer. "I know it sounds completely crazy, but it's true."

"I have difficulty with the concept of parallel universes, but I suppose I'll have to live with it until something better comes along," she added dryly.

The kitchen door burst open and his wife emerged carrying a glass of water. "So, what have I missed?" she asked brightly.

Clark eyed her as she crossed the room, came to sit beside him, and slid an affectionate arm around his shoulders. She kissed his cheek briefly before turning to Lois2. "Are we making progress?" she asked with a smile.

<She's hiding something>

Immediately, he chastised himself for being suspicious just because she was showing a little extra affection than usual. Lois didn't have anything to hide from him. Not deliberately.

"I think I just managed to convince Lois here that we really are from a parallel universe," he told her.

"Great!" She looked at Lois2. "I didn't think it was possible either until I saw it with my own eyes.

"Well, as I told your husband, I still have a problem with the concept, but I guess you two are the living proof that it's at least a possibility."

Lois squeezed his shoulders affectionately. She reached for his nearest hand, and automatically, he intertwined his fingers with hers while determinedly *not* reading anything into her actions. "Has he shown you that he's just like your Clark? In his own, unique way, I mean?"

"Yes, I'd say he gave a pretty effective demonstration," the other Lois replied wryly.

"What did you do, honey?" Lois asked with a smile.

"Oh, just a little floating and such like. Nothing spectacular."

"Don't you love it when they say that?" Lois remarked. "Just a little floating — nothing spectacular," she repeated jokily.

"Yes, I guess it is a little arrogant," replied Lois2.

Lois frowned. "No, I didn't mean-"

"How's it going?" interrupted Clark2, bursting through the kitchen door. "Have you had any more success than I did with the parallel universe thing?"

He perched on the arm of his Lois's chair and rested his hand on her shoulder. Clark thought he saw her twitch slightly, but at least she didn't duck away from him this time. She did grimace, however.

"Why is it I'm beginning to feel like the subject of a psychiatric experiment?" she asked waspishly. "I'm sorry," she apologised, nodding over to Clark and Lois. "I've only just met you, so I probably shouldn't be speaking so plainly, but I'm getting a little tired of being treated as 'subject A, the sceptic'," she said, enclosing her imaginary title in air-quotes.

"And we're sorry, too," said Clark immediately. "We've dumped a lot of stuff on you this past half hour, and it was probably the last thing you wanted right now. And I'm sorry if we've been rude to you."

He glanced at Clark2. <<Everything okay?>>


"We knew this would be difficult for you," added Lois. "But we really wanted to meet you. We know how much Clark was longing to find you, you see."

He tried again. <<Clark?>>


Lois2's mouth twisted. "You seem to know almost as much about me as I do myself. How did you know I was missing and that Clark was looking for me?"

"Because Clark's a good friend of ours. Aren't you, Clark?" said Lois.

If he didn't know better, Clark would have thought he detected a note of irony in Lois's voice. He might also have thought that Clark2 actually seemed to squirm under Lois's questioning. "Yes," Clark2 confirmed after an infinitesimal hesitation. "Lois and Clark are very good friends of mine, although we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like."

Clark probed outwards with his mind, trying to sense Clark2's feelings, just as he'd found he'd been able to do the previous times they'd met. He wanted to figure out why Clark2 was suddenly ignoring his telepathic conversation, but all he encountered was a silent barrier. He tried looking directly at Clark2, but his friend refused to meet his gaze.

This needed sorting, but not now. Lois had persuaded him to come here to resolve any lingering bad feeling between them, and it appeared that somehow, things had already got worse instead of better. He would have to talk to Clark2 privately, he decided.

"And how does that work, exactly?" the other Lois was asking. "How do you travel between these universes, and why hasn't Clark mentioned it before? Do you all have some kind of inter-universe travelling device?" she suggested with a hint of mockery in her voice.

Lois snorted. "Sort of. He's called H G Wells."

"H G Wells? Like the writer?"

"He *is* the writer," said Lois.

"But isn't he dead?"

"Sometimes," replied Lois.

Lois2 stared for a moment, then her mouth settled into a firm line. "Okay, I haven't got time for this." She glanced at her watch. "Clark, do you realise it's three o'clock in the afternoon, and we still haven't even told Jeff where we are? And are you taking me back to Metropolis or not, because if you're not, I'm calling a cab."

"Lois, don't do that," began Clark2 despondently. "Sure, I'll take you back to Metropolis if that's what you really want."

"Fine, then let's go." She stood up and crossed to offer her hand to Clark. "It was nice to meet you," she said politely. "Perhaps you'll come and visit us in Metropolis some time?"

Clark stood up and took her hand, and once again experienced the weird feeling of holding his wife's hand without the hand actually belonging to his wife. He saw his confusion reflected in her own eyes. "I'm sorry you have to leave so soon."

Lois got up from the sofa to stand beside him, with a casual hand resting across his back. "Me too," she added. Her move made him break the handshake with the other woman, and for a split second he wondered if his wife had done so deliberately. Had it looked as if they had been holding on to each other for too long?

"Well, Clark and I have a criminal to catch, don't we?" Lois2 answered, glancing briefly behind her at Clark2.

"Yeah…" replied Clark2 with a heavy sigh.

"Oh, come on, Clark!" said Lois2 impatiently, whirling away from Clark and his wife to face her partner. "Anyone would think you don't want to see Lex behind bars. I would have thought last night's fiasco would have made you even more determined, but instead you seem to want to run away and pretend it never happened."

Behind Lois2, Clark exchanged a look with Lois. It certainly looked as if Wells had been right about something, at least.

Clark2's face hardened, confirming their thoughts. "I do not want to run away! And I do want to see Luthor brought to justice. It's just-"

"Just what, Clark?" Lois2 interrupted. "Just that you'd prefer to shirk your responsibilities and go live on a farm for the rest of your life?"

"No…" Clark2 stood up from his perch on the side of Lois2's chair and started pacing. "You don't know what it's like. I have no privacy; whatever I do, someone is watching me. If I'm out as Superman, everyone knows it's really me, Clark Kent. If I'm trying to be plain old Clark Kent, everyone knows I'm Superman, their resident all-round do-gooder and tame alien from another planet. It's gotten so I can't be me any more, Lois."

"Excuse me, but I do know what it's like!" she retorted. "I've lived with you for long enough to know exactly what it's like, and it's not as bad as you're making it sound. The people at the Planet don't give you a second glance; you're just part of the furniture there. And Jeff treats you like any other member of staff. You don't get mobbed every time you walk down the street, and as far as I know, you don't have reporters banging on your door all the time either. And when was the last time someone laughed in your face as Superman, because you're only some guy who works for the local newspaper? Face it, Clark, you're just using all this as an excuse to duck out."

"I am n-"

"And you're not the only one who went through hell and back yesterday, you know — or are you forgetting that I was the one who got attacked by Lex, not you?" Her voice was rising in pitch and emotion as she continued her rant. "You're so busy feeling sorry for yourself you seem to have forgotten about me completely. *I* was the one who was cornered in an abandoned office; *I* was the one who was nearly assaulted; *I* was the one got accused of being a dirty pr-"

"Lois!" Clark2 interrupted her agitatedly.

"Well, they may as well know. In fact, they probably already know anyway — they seem to know everything else about me," she added sarcastically, and turned to Clark and Lois. "Not that it'll be news to you, but I used to be a prostitute," she said flatly.

Clark blinked, utterly lost for words. The argument seemed to have escalated out of nowhere, while he and Lois faded into the background as if the two had forgotten they even had company. But now she was staring at them, her mouth a thin, white line, her eyes flaring with anger.

He was shocked by the level of hurt hiding behind her anger. Someone had hurt Lois2 very badly, and he was sure — he hoped — it wasn't Clark2.

He was just recovering from being rounded on when she lifted her chin defiantly and twisted back to Clark2. "See? The world didn't stop just because I told someone."

"Of course it didn't, Lois. That's not what I meant, and you know it."

She faced Clark and Lois again. "Judging from your faces, I guess you didn't know," she concluded. "Not very nice, is it? Not exactly the clean, well brought-up, all- American girlfriend you were expecting, am I?" she said harshly, and Clark could see her trembling with emotion.

"She's only saying that to shock you," interjected Clark2 from behind. "She doesn't actually know that was what she was."

"Well, frankly," said Clark's wife. "I don't think it matters what you were or weren't. What matters is whether you love Clark, and whether he loves you."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," agreed Clark, finding his voice again. "Look, we don't want to interfere, but it sounds like you two have been through an incredibly awful ordeal recently. I know we're almost strangers to you, Lois, but if there's anything we can do to help, we'd be glad to, wouldn't we, honey?"

His words sounded trite as soon as they left his mouth, but he felt he had to say or do something to break up the fight between the pair. Lois nodded beside him.

"You can start by telling him to stop acting like an ostrich and take us back to Metropolis!" Lois2 said, and suddenly a huge sob shook her. Dashing away a tear from the side of her face with her fingers, she continued in a shaky voice, "If anyone wants me, I'll be upstairs packing my toothbrush." She took a few stumbling steps away from them, then rushed out of the room.

They stood, frozen in place, while her racing footfalls thudded up the staircase and a door slammed shut.

The room was deafeningly silent following her exit. Clark2 looked heart-broken, and Clark knew just how he felt. When his Lois was this upset, it tore him up into tiny pieces.

"I-I'm sorry," Clark2 stammered helplessly. "I…"

"Would you like one of us to talk to her?" asked Clark softly.

He shook his head. "No, I'll go." He paused, then drew in a shuddering breath. "I've been incredibly selfish, you know."

"Yes," conceded Lois. "But don't tell us that, tell her."

He gave her an arrested look, then nodded briefly and turned to follow his girlfriend upstairs.

When he was safely out of earshot, Clark looked at Lois. "That was a bit harsh, wasn't it?"

She shrugged. "Sounds to me as though he probably has been selfish. He's obviously dragged her out here against her will, and then proceeded to wallow in his own self-pity. If you ask me, what he needs is a good kick up the backside."


"Well, maybe not that, but I do think he needs to stop thinking about himself so much and start thinking about her, or he'll lose her."

"Maybe. But I think I'll reserve judgement until I've heard the whole story."

She punched him lightly in the arm. "You're infuriatingly fair sometimes, you know that?" "Yeah. It's part of my charm." He looked at his watch. "Time for a coffee?"

"May as well. I think they're going to be up there a while."



"Go away."

Clark2 stood outside his parents' old bedroom and knocked on the door again. "Lois, please let me in."


"We need to talk, Lois."

"What — about how great cherry tomatoes taste and what colour your first bike was? No thanks," she replied bitterly.

He winced. "Really talk, Lois. I know I've been incredibly selfish towards you."

"Yes, you have."

"But I also love you, and I don't want to lose you. Please let me in."

"Why don't you just break the door down, then? You know you can."

"Because I would never do something you didn't want me to."

"You already did."

He laid his forehead against the door and closed his eyes. "I know."

And the more he thought about it, the more he realised just how much he'd screwed up. Last night, he'd carelessly let her out of his sight, and the consequences had been her near-assault by Luthor. Then, just when she probably least needed it, he'd dragged her out here to a cold farmhouse in the middle of the night and made her spend the night in an unfamiliar bed in unfamiliar surroundings. Then, he'd sprung the idea of leaving Metropolis for good on her, before she'd even had a chance to catch her breath.

Then he'd kissed Lois.

Oh, God, why had he done that? He loved this Lois, not the one downstairs, didn't he?

So why had he done it?

"Lois, I love you," he repeated, needing to hear himself say it as much as for her benefit.

"Then take me back to Metropolis," she replied.

"I will, I promise," he said. "But can we just talk first?"

There was silence, and at first, he thought she was ignoring him again.

Then the key turned in the door and it swung open, to reveal her walking away from him back to the bed. "The first mention of cherry tomatoes and you're out of here," she said in a small voice.

He closed the door carefully, and went to sit beside her on the end of the bed. "I promise I won't mention tomatoes once," he replied gently.


He wasn't sure if she'd let him, but when he hesitantly put his arm around her shoulders, she didn't object. And after a pause, they moved closer together and she leaned up against him in the shelter of his arm.

"I wanted to talk, and all you wanted to do was look at photo albums," she said sadly.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"Maybe your way of coping is to pretend nothing happened, but it's not mine," she continued. "I needed to talk, Clark."

"I'm here now, for as long as you want."

"And it didn't help when you started talking about universes and all that crazy stuff, either"

"I know, and I'm sorry about that, too. Do you want me to get rid of them?"

"No, they seem like nice people." She sniffed. "I wasn't very nice to them."

"I'm sure they'll understand." She looked up at him, and he tipped her chin up with his finger with a soft smile. "Let's face it, if anyone can understand, it should be them."

She gave him a small smile in return. "Bet she's never been a -"

He put a finger to her lips. "Hey. Don't do this to yourself. We both know that's not true."

"Lex wouldn't agree with you," she said miserably.

"And since when did you start believing anything that toad says? He's playing on your one weakness, Lois. You can't remember what happened, so he's trying to undermine you by feeding you hurtful lies about yourself."

"I know. But that's just it — they hurt, Clark."

Suddenly, he had a big lump in his throat. "Lois…" He pulled her closer still, feeling terrible that she'd been bottling this up all day long and he hadn't even noticed. "I didn't help either, did I?"

"You could have done better."

"I'll try and do better in the future, I promise."

"Okay. Just don't forget."

He rested his chin on her head with a sigh. "I don't deserve you, Lois."

"No, you don't."

He held her quietly for a moment or two, until her breathing calmed down and she was at peace again.

She stirred after a while and twisted to gaze up at him. "You're all I've got, though, so I guess you'll have to do."

He looked down at her sweet face, at her cute nose and her big, dark brown eyes, and found himself sinking slowly towards her. She met his eyes in a moment of stillness. Something electric passed between them in that moment, and then her open mouth was beckoning to him and he was sinking again. The space between their faces narrowed, and at last his lips were closing delicately over hers in a feather-light kiss.

Her lips were as soft and sensuous as ever. He brought a hand up to support her head, and quickly, their gentle kiss intensified, until they were clinging on to each other and devouring each other's lips and mouth with their own.

Lois broke away breathlessly. "Make love with me, Clark," she said.

"We can't," he protested, but as soon as he'd said it, he was back again, hungry for her luscious lips and the feel of her soft hair running through his fingers.

"They can wait," she said around his lips, tugging his t- shirt out of his jeans. "I can't." Her hands ran up inside his t-shirt, and what little resolve he had flew out the window.

"Neither can I," he agreed, and surrendered himself to the inevitable.


"Wonder if they've made up yet?" asked Lois.

Clark glanced automatically at the door. "I hope so. They've been up there long enough."

"What do you think of her?"

He frowned. "I think she's had a tough life."

"And it shows," said Lois, nodding.

"Yeah. She's a little more abrasive than I expected. But you can tell that Clark2 is head-over-heels in love with her, and that's what counts."

The sides of her mouth turned downwards. "I guess."

He frowned again. "What?"

She shrugged. "Nothing."

"No, you don't agree, do you? Don't you think he loves her?"

"I think he loves her; I'm just not sure whether that's enough."


She shrugged again. "I have my reasons."


"Call it women's intui…" She trailed off as a distinctive, rhythmic thud started up from above their heads.

Clark's eyes travelled slowly up to the ceiling, where the central light was beginning to swing gently to and fro. The rhythmic thudding grew a little faster. "I guess they've made up," he observed wryly.


Lois lay cradling Clark in her arms, still slightly winded by the intensity of their love-making. Their coupling had been fierce and quite desperate, to her surprise, and, she suspected, to Clark's as well. They had both felt it; the tension and emotion of last night's ordeal suddenly needing and finding an outlet they hadn't anticipated.

She was grateful for Clark's ability to float slightly even in the aftermath of lovemaking, however, for these were some of the most precious moments of their joining. After the fireworks came the peace and reconciliation of release.

She needed this peace.

Flashes of last night had been plaguing her all day long. Lex's hot breath on her neck while he held her roughly from behind and spoke ugly words in a low voice to her. The taste of his flesh between her teeth when she bit his hand. A furious, out of control Clark hoisting Lex up with one hand on his throat. Lex's beet-red face as Clark slowly strangled him.

Cold, calculating eyes staring out from Lex's face at her, even while the life was forced out of him.

Her desperate, terrified struggle to bring Clark back from the brink.

Thank God she'd got through to him in the end.

He stirred in her arms, drawing in a deep breath. It was a good sound; a relaxed sound, and it gave her hope that last night's ordeal wasn't going to leave a permanent scar on his psyche.

She'd had her doubts, earlier, when he'd been babbling on about parallel universes and duplicate Lois Lanes. For a moment, she'd wondered whether he'd cracked under the strain of yesterday and everything which had happened before that. Especially when the parallel universe rubbish had come after dragging her out here in the middle of the night, with hardly a word of explanation, but with this crazy notion of starting their lives over again.

But then the proof had arrived, in the persons of Clark Kent number two and…


Lois supposed there was a similarity between herself and the other woman. They were about the same height, and had the same figure — although she'd always thought her chest was bigger than that…wishful thinking, maybe. They had the same colour eyes, and she supposed their face shapes were even similar. The other woman was annoyingly slender though; the pale tan capri pants, white fine cotton sweater with three-quarter inch sleeves, and neat, flat shoes made her look trim and petite, not to mention her short, well- cut dark hair. Lois, in her blue jeans, hot pink v-neck t- shirt with brash sequins, and messy, voluminous hair, felt big and bulky by comparison.

And the other woman was annoyingly pleasant and competent.

A bit clingy, though, the way she hung on her husband — especially when she had emerged from the kitchen with her glass of water. Almost as if she had been trying to give out very strong 'hands off' messages to Lois.

As if Lois would do anything like that!

As if she needed to do anything like that, she reminded herself with a satisfied smile, running a hand slowly over her Clark's muscular shoulder.

Which was why she'd deliberately made that remark about Clark number two's arrogance; just to stir things up a little in return. This, after all, was the woman who had inspired her Clark to search for her, which meant that he had fallen for this woman first, not Lois herself. Did he still harbour any feelings for her?

And then she had felt as if they were all laughing at her when she had asked how the travel between universes worked. H G Wells indeed! Did they really think she was that stupid? What was it that woman had said when she had asked a perfectly reasonable question about him being dead?


Lois thought she just might end up hating Lois Lane number two. Or loving her like a sister.

One of the two.

Clark Kent number two, on the other hand, was…well, he was pretty darn good looking. Not as nice as her own Clark, of course, but a good second. She could imagine herself falling for him if she didn't have Clark. And that handshake had been very weird; like holding hands with her own Clark, only not.

They must be very close, she decided, her Clark and the other one. Very similar, too.

But hers was the best, she decided with another slow caress down his back. Even when he was messing her around and trying to make her leave her life in Metropolis behind and become a farmer's wife.

He raised his head from the crook of her shoulder and kissed her softly.

"I love you, Lois," he said simply.

She smiled up at him. "Likewise," she replied.

He kissed her again briefly. "I'd love to stay like this the rest of the day, but I guess we should go downstairs and speak to our guests."

"Yeah," she said without enthusiasm. They were nice people, on the whole, but now that she and Clark were properly back together again, she'd have preferred to have him to herself for a few more hours.

However, he separated from her slowly and reluctantly, dropped a final kiss on her forehead, then set about the task of reclaiming his clothes. She watched him for a moment or two, enjoying the sight of his well-defined body as he bent to pick up his trousers. Then she sighed and pushed herself off the bed.

There was always tonight, she thought with a saucy grin.


"You have no idea how glad I am that I was never down here when my parents were…" Clark glanced up at the swaying light. "Up there."

"You'd have thought a farmhouse would have thicker ceilings," said Lois.

"And is it just me, or is it just a tiny bit rude to abandon your guests for a bout of bedroom gymnastics?" Clark asked, a little belligerently.

"No, it's not just you," replied Lois.

In fact, she was more than a little disgusted with Clark2. Not five minutes after he'd finished slobbering all over his friend's wife, he was upstairs making love to his girlfriend. Guilt made a man do strange things, it seemed.

"I mean, I know they've been through a lot, but couldn't they save this for tonight?"

"I guess they just couldn't wait," said Lois, pulling a face. "Maybe we interrupted something when we arrived."

"A massive row is what we interrupted, if you ask me." He glanced up at the ceiling again, and then vaguely around the room. Lois thought he looked pre-occupied by something, as well as a little tense. She wasn't sure what the problem was, but she didn't think it was the noise filtering down from upstairs.

His wandering gaze finally settled back on her. "Talking of parents," he said casually. "Did I upset Clark2 earlier when I mentioned mine? I noticed you were in the kitchen for quite a while with him."

Lois's heart did a thump.

Lifting her eyebrows innocently, she replied, "Oh, you noticed that? Yes, well, he was a bit upset — you know how difficult he finds it to talk about his own parents."

She faced him calmly, keeping her hands relaxed and meeting his eyes steadily. She also prayed that he wasn't aware of her increased pulse rate; she was well aware that he could, and did, tune into her body's rhythms whenever he wanted to figure out what she was really feeling. Right now, she was feeling very nervous.

He frowned slightly, and her heart sank. He knew.

Trying to bluff her way out of the situation, she looked up at the ceiling, sighing heavily. "You know, I think all that activity up there is really starting to get on my nerves."

Now maybe he had a plausible reason for her racing pulse.

It seemed to work. "Yeah," he nodded. "I know what you mean. So, did you manage to calm him down?"

"Oh, yes — eventually. I think he was a little ashamed of his behaviour, actually," she added, thinking just how excruciatingly true that was.

Clark look surprised. "What — just because he went out for a glass of water? Maybe I should have a word with him later."

<Oh, no, he shouldn't!>

"No," she said, shaking her head slowly. "I think he's fine. You'd just stir things up again."

He shrugged. "If you say so."

She looked down into her coffee mug. "Want another?"

"May as well."

Had she deflected his suspicions? He seemed relaxed enough as he stood up and led the way into the kitchen. He even made a joke about knowing his way around the kitchen almost as well as Clark2.

But then he paused in front of the sink, just where Clark2 had kissed her, and she began panicking again — did he somehow sense a trace of what had happened there? He was standing with his back to her, his hands resting on the draining board.

"Lois, are you sure you didn't talk about anything else with Clark2?" he asked heavily.

She closed her eyes briefly, hating the way this was going. "No, not really," she answered.

He sighed and turned to face her. "Because I just get this feeling you're hiding something from me."

She frowned. "Why would I do that?"

"I have no idea. Unless maybe you were telling him off about something."

She swallowed hard. He knew. Somehow, he knew that Clark2 had kissed her. Well, the best form of defence was always to attack. "What is this, Clark? Why are you suddenly giving me the third degree?" she demanded.

"I just wondered if you were having a quiet word with him about a certain confession he made to me. About a kiss."



Oh, that!

Relief brought her temper to the fore. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Clark! When are you going to drop it? I thought we settled that days ago."

He crossed his arms with a hardening expression. "And I thought we came here to settle it."

"Between you and Clark2! Not between you and me — that part of it is history. At least, I thought it was history. You, apparently, can't let go of it. Does this mean I'm destined to apologise for something I didn't do for the rest of my life?"

"No, of course not! I just don't want us to have any secrets, Lois." "Well, we…we don't!" she said, crossing her fingers behind her back. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. Maybe when I come back, you'll have dropped this stupid witch-hunt."

She felt his eyes boring into her back as she walked out of the kitchen.

In the bathroom, she stood staring at herself in the mirror for a long time. Did her deceit show in her eyes? She examined the face of the woman who was lying to her husband, and didn't like what she saw. In fact, she hated it, and she was angry with Clark2 for having put her in this invidious position.

She bent down, splashed some water on her face, and dabbed it dry with a towel. Then she studied herself in the mirror again.

Of course, she could just tell Clark.

But the timing was lousy. Clark would be justifiably furious with Clark2, and no doubt a blazing row would ensue, or worse still, they wouldn't talk to each other at all. The two would end up further apart from each other than ever, and would probably never get around to patching up the differences they had come here to resolve. Clark might even insist on leaving immediately.

So if anyone should tell Clark, she thought it should be Clark2 himself. That, she realised, contradicted her threat in the kitchen of dire consequences should he tell Clark, but she was beginning to revise her opinion. At least Clark might respect Clark2's honesty and latent maturity, if nothing else. And maybe if she was there, she would be able to defuse any argument which became too heated.

She laughed bitterly at herself. Lois Lane, casting herself in the role of peacemaker? That was usually Clark's role.

Then there was the question of Lois2. Lois suspected that she already felt excluded by the three of them; she was the only one, after all, who didn't know any of the others. She was also the only one who hadn't known about the existence of parallel universes. It also occurred to Lois that perhaps that facetious remark about Wells had been inadvisable in the circumstances. Lois2 had probably thought they had been laughing at her.

So, trying to organise a three-way talk about Clark2's stupid behaviour without involving Lois2 would be difficult, if not impossible.

Unless Clark2 had already told Lois2 beforehand, of course. But given his present occupation, it seemed unlikely that he'd told her so far.

She sighed. Whatever happened, it was clear that this was one secret which wasn't going to stay secret very much longer. Clark was already suspicious, and she was damned if she was going to let this escalate into something which would threaten her relationship with him.

Damn that stupid, stupid man and his insecurities, she thought angrily, lifting her eyes unconsciously towards the ceiling.


Clark slumped down on a kitchen chair. Lois wasn't being honest with him. She might as well have a neon sign hanging around her neck, the signs were so clear.

He'd tried to give her a chance to open up to him — twice! And both times she'd been evasive, employing her favourite diversionary tactics to try and deflect him. Didn't she realise he knew her too well to be taken in by those? And didn't she realise that the less she told him, the more vivid a picture his imagination painted about what might have gone on in here?

He'd thought this trip was all about clearing the air — about honesty and trust. Instead, so far it seemed to have involved conflict, deceit, and mistrust.

He could cope with Clark2 being dishonest, and he didn't know Lois2 well enough for it to matter either way, but it cut to the quick when Lois lied to him. They'd been through such a lot together, he and Lois, and he really thought they'd matured in their relationship over the last couple of years. Gone were the days when they'd face each other stonily over the breakfast things, as they had when Lois had become editor of the Planet and they had disagreed on just about everything. These days they talked things through, and almost never went to sleep before settling any arguments they'd had during the day. Okay, they'd been through a bit of a sticky patch lately, but even that had been settled through talking, not silence.

"Talk to me, Lois," he muttered under his breath.


He twisted around on his chair to find her standing at the doorway into the lounge. "Oh, nothing. Just thinking out loud."

"I think the coast is clear. You can come back out here if you want."


In fact, as he followed Lois back into the lounge, Clark2 and Lois2 were just coming down the stairs, hand in hand.

"Sorry we took so long," said Clark2. "I had a lot of making up to do with Lois."

Clark considered replying, "Yes, we heard," but Lois got in before him.

"Is that what you call it here? Over in our universe, we call it something else," she said sardonically.

Clark2 frowned. "Sorry?"

"Oh, nothing," she replied airily. "So, I guess it worked," she said, indicating their intertwined hands. "Your making out — sorry, making up, I mean."

This time, Clark2 blushed, and Clark dug Lois surreptitiously in the ribs to tell her to shut up.

"Yes, he made up to me very nicely," answered Lois2 with a sweet smile. "Didn't you, sweetheart?" she added, giving Clark2 a quick peck on the cheek. Reddening even more, he smiled back at her, and for an instant, Clark caught a glimpse of the chemistry between the two. Embarrassed though he obviously was by Lois's none-too-subtle digs, and his own girlfriend's reply, Clark2 still showed in his eyes and body language just how strongly he was bound to the woman beside him.

Which was very good news, Clark thought, and made the mystery of whatever his wife and Clark2 had shared in the kitchen even more perplexing.

"We've made a decision," said Clark2. "We'd decided to stay here tonight, and then we'll return to Metropolis tomorrow morning. You're more than welcome to come with us, of course — although, as you know, Clark, there's not a whole lot of room in my apartment for two couples."

"I'm sure we could squeeze them in, Clark," said Lois2. "Your sofa converts into a double bed, doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does," replied Clark2. "But I'm just trying to point out all the pros and cons, Lois."

Or trying to put them off coming, wondered Clark as the four settled themselves into seats around the lounge. Clark2 hadn't given any indication that he felt any more welcoming toward them than when they'd first stepped through the front door, other than thawing his manner a little. Telepathically, too, he was still shutting Clark out; Clark couldn't even sense the other man's emotions, as he'd been able to do off and on the last time they'd been together.

"We've had couples to stay in your apartment, haven't we, Clark?" said Lois, interrupting his thoughts.

He nodded. "Yes, my parents stayed there a couple of times before we moved to Hyperion."

"Okay, it's settled, then," said Lois2 with an air of finality. "You're coming with us — I mean, if you want to," she added as an afterthought.

Clark smiled. "For a moment there, you sounded just like Lois. This Lois," he said, putting an arm around Lois's shoulders and squeezing her affectionately. "We'd love to come, wouldn't we, honey?"

"Sure. I'd love to see how the place has changed since Perry became mayor."

"Oh, it's changed a lot," said Clark2, nodding. "He's still got a lot of work to do, but he's already made a big difference. There's just one problem, though."

"What's that?" asked Clark, now positive that Clark2 was finding reasons to leave them behind.

"Well, how do we explain the fact that there's a couple living with us who look exactly like us?"

"Ah." Fair point.

"And don't forget I don't have your anonymity — especially not right now. There'll be reporters doorstepping the place all day long."

Clark frowned. "Well, I guess as long as we're careful when and how we go in and out of the apartment-"

"You know, we could be useful to you," interrupted Lois, leaning forward.

"How so?" asked Clark2.

"We could take your place," she said. "Say you get tired of answering their questions — well, we could take over for a spell and pretend to be you."

Clark looked at his wife in surprise. She was seriously suggested that they — that Superman — should lie like that to the press and the general public? "Honey, I'm not sure that-"

"Maybe they could help with trapping Lex," said Lois2 suddenly.

"Huh?" said Clark2. "We could use the fact that they look just like us to trick him," she replied eagerly.

"Trick him into what?" asked Clark2, echoing Clark's thoughts.

"Trick him into admitting he tried to murder us, of course!" she said. "Wake up, Clark!"

Clark2 gave his girlfriend a challenging look. "How?"

Clark nodded. If he knew Lois…well, Lois2, she was improvising wildly, and didn't have a clue how to make her idea work.

Beside him, Lois shifted impatiently. "She hasn't worked out the fine details yet, have you, Lois?"

Lois2 jutted her chin out haughtily. "Exactly. The plan just needs a little fine tuning. Thank you, Lois."

Clark2 rolled his eyes. "Fine tuning, my sweet-"

"Chumpy," interrupted Clark quickly. "Your sweet chumpy."

"My sweet…?"

"It's one of Lois's words," he explained. "Look, it sounds like Lois could be on to something, but there's other ways we can help you with Lex Luthor. You could say we're experts on beating the guy."

"Yes, we've done it twice," agreed Lois.

"Twice?" said Lois2. "You mean you failed the first time?"

"Well, he kind of failed himself," replied Lois. "He jumped off the top of his own building, and everyone thought he was dead — no doubt he thought so too. Except he wasn't."

"Doesn't anyone die properly in your universe?" said Lois2 sardonically.

Clark laughed. "Most people do. Lex Luthor was the exception, not the rule. But I mean it — we learnt a heck of a lot about the guy and the way he operates while we were trying to put him behind bars. Maybe we could give you a few pointers; tell you his weak spots, and so on."

"Well, frankly, I'll take anything I can lay my hands on if it'll help nail the bastard," said Lois2 vehemently.

Clark blinked at her strong language and the depth of emotion which went along with it. He also noticed how Clark2's arm slid protectively around her shoulders and squeezed slightly. Of course, Lois had said something about this Lois having spent some time as Lex Luthor's girlfriend, and there was that devastating confession of her supposed prostitution. He began to wonder just how badly she had been treated during her time with Luthor.

Lois had obviously noticed, too. "We'll be glad to help any way we can, Lois," she said softly.

Lois2 nodded. "Okay. Thank you."

"Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to phone my editor and try to explain to him what's going on and why we're not at work today," said Clark2, standing up. He grimaced. "Wish me luck."

"I'm sure Jeff will understand," replied Clark. "He seemed like a pretty reasonable guy."

"We'll see." He shrugged, and disappeared into the hall to make his phone call.


While Clark2 was out of the room, Clark raised the subject of names.

"We've kind of established a tradition, you see," he explained to Lois2. "When your Clark is visiting our universe, we call him Clark2, and when I'm visiting this universe, he calls me CK."

Lois2 nodded. "Makes sense. So what do I call you?" she said to Lois. "Ummm…"

"Lo-Lo?" suggested CK with an impish smile.

"Ha. Very funny," replied Lois. "No, you can call me Loisette. If you must. No, actually, I don't think I could stand that for more than five minutes…Clark, what should she call me?"

"You want the cute answer, the jokey answer, or the polite answer?" he said.

She appeared to consider. "Let me see…I'll take the polite answer, please."

He shook his head. "No sense of adventure. Okay, how about Lois3?"

"What happened to Lois2?" enquired Lois2.

"Well, I'd already started to think of you as Lois2 — you know? Clark2, Lois2? So I might get confused between my Loises if I have to start calling my wife Lois2. Besides, sometimes it feels like there's three of her in the room," he said with a wink.

Lois gave him a shove. "Hey! This is supposed to be the polite answer."

"How about just Elle?" suggested Lois2.

"L?" repeated Lois. "Don't I rate more than one letter? At least Clark…I mean, CK, gets two."

"Think of it as Elle, as in E-L-L-E," explained Lois2.

Lois frowned. "I don't know — it's awfully close to Ellen."

"Your mother?" asked Lois2.

"Yeah," replied Lois with a downturned mouth.

"Mine too. Did yours drink herself into an early grave too?" asked Lois2 heavily.

Lois didn't answer immediately, and CK knew why — he'd felt the same jolt; the same need to readjust his assessment of this woman. How old had Lois2 been when her mother had died, and how heavily involved had she been forced to become in the secretive and desperate habits of an alcoholic? Lois would be able to relate to the latter, but it sounded as though Lois2 had suffered far worse. More and more, they were building up a picture of a woman with a tough, difficult life behind her.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Lois said eventually. "That must have been hard to cope with."

Lois2 shrugged. "You do what you have to. It wasn't exactly a picnic, but I didn't have a choice so I just got on with it — got on with life. From your look, I guess your mother is still alive?"

"Yes, actually she's doing okay. She'll always be an alcoholic, of course, but she hasn't had a relapse for a couple of years now." Lois sighed. "And I guess on that basis, I shouldn't object to being named for her; she's pulled herself out of a pretty low patch in her life, and that takes guts."

"So we're calling you L from now on?" asked CK.

"Looks like it," replied L.

"Pleased to meet you, L," said Lois.

"You too, Lois."



Lex Luthor flicked a speck of dust off his jacket lapel and settled back easily into his black leather chair, fixing a pleasant smile onto his face.

"Come," he said to the intercom on his desk, enjoying the double entendre of the single word when directed at his personal assistant.

The heavy, walnut office door sighed open, and in minced a slim, dark-skinned woman with big hair, legs which went all the way up to her armpits, and clothes which accentuated every curve of her body. She was accompanied by a rather more voluptuous woman, with generous tresses of blonde hair, pouting lips, and clad in a completely unseasonal black and white fur coat.

"Ms Church to see you, Mr Luthor," announced the dark skinned woman.

He stood up and extended a hand to the fur-coated woman. "Delighted to meet you."

"And you, Mr Luthor," she replied in a sultry voice, taking his hand briefly between her long-nailed, cool fingers. "I've heard such a lot about you."

"Nothing good, I hope," he said with a self-deprecating smile.

"Oh, all of it bad," she said coyly. "Very bad."

"Excellent. Please; take a seat," he replied. "Can I offer you a drink? Tea, perhaps?"

"I'd prefer a double scotch and soda," she said, settling herself elegantly in his visitor's chair. She crossed one slender leg over the other, successfully revealing a generous sliver of thigh in the process.

"Mrs Cox?" he said, raising his eyes to his personal assistant. "If you would be so kind?"

"Of course," replied Mrs Cox with a half smile.

Lex waited until the drinks arrived, and his secretary had left, before commencing business.

"You have the money?" he asked.

Ms Church raised an eyebrow. "My, Mr Luthor — you don't waste time on social niceties, do you? Yes, I have the money." She patted her handbag. "Do you have the blueprints?"

"But of course."

"Then it looks like we have a deal." She held out a hand. "Give."

He shook his head, tutting. "Ms Church, have you no finesse? I believe at the very least, both of us should examine the other's merchandise before completing the transaction." He drew out a black velvet cloth and laid it on one side of the desk. Then he picked up a scroll of papers from beside his chair and placed them on the other side. "These are a sample of the quantum disruptor blueprints for your perusal. If you would be so kind as to produce the diamonds?"

"Sure." She pulled out a small drawstring purse and emptied the contents onto the velvet cloth. "That's half."

Lex's eyes gleamed as he gazed at the sparkling cluster of jewels before him. This was so much more fun than mere banknotes, he reflected.

He retrieved a jeweller's glass from a drawer, screwed it into his eye, and took a closer look at the diamonds. They looked gratifyingly large through the glass. He knew very little about verifying the quality of the gems, but it was all part of the game to pretend that he did. Later he would have a real expert check them over.

He sat up straight again, and watched Ms Church poring over the blueprints. No doubt she was just as clueless about them as he was about the diamonds.

"Everything in order?" he enquired.

She glanced up. "I notice the firing mechanism doesn't incorporate the usual anti-lock device. Why is that?"

Damn woman. He smiled confidently, while wondering what the hell she was talking about, and whether she was merely bluffing. "Because it doesn't need one. I believe if you look closely you'll see why." She frowned and peered down at the designs again. "I see," she said, nodding. "Very clever."

Time to move her on before she asked any more incomprehensible questions. "So we have a deal?"

"If you're satisfied with the diamonds."

"I am."

"Then it looks like the Church organisation is moving into the manufacturing business," she said. "Soon, every two- bit criminal will be able to own their very own anti- Superman weapon."

"Ah, such entrepreneurial spirit," sighed Luthor. "It's what made America great."



Clark replaced the receiver and slumped back against the wall. Things could possibly be worse, although he couldn't think quite how. Jeff, his editor, had been furious as soon as he had realised who was phoning, wanting to know where the hell his senior reporter had disappeared to for most of the day. Normally, Clark knew he wouldn't have been so angry; they had a fairly free arrangement whereby Clark was able to come and go as he pleased, in order to fit in his Superman work. The proviso with that arrangement, however, was that he always kept Jeff informed, and maintained a responsible attitude towards the needs of a major daily newspaper.

Jeff didn't deem Lois and Clark's latest actions responsible. What the hell were they thinking — throwing out a public accusation of attempted murder at one of the city's leading businessmen, and then promptly disappearing for almost a whole day? Jeff had been forewarned of the accusation, of course, but he had expected them at the Planet the following day, not in the middle of the country communing with nature, or whatever it was they were up to out there. The fact that Clark had already given him a story to print for this day's edition was neither here nor there; the Planet needed follow-up stories, sidebars, and background material.

So Clark had tried to explain what had happened after the TV show. He described losing Lois in the confusion after the transmission, then finding her backstage, being mauled by Luthor. He described the ensuing confrontation, and Luthor's final ignominious retreat. He was sure he hadn't expressed himself very well. He had tried to remain unemotional by leaving out the uglier parts of the fight, but he worried that in doing so, he had failed to convey just how badly the incident had affected Lois and himself.

But by the end of his story, Jeff had at least stopped shouting down the phone at him. The editor still couldn't understand why it had taken Clark so long to contact him, though, and that was even harder to explain. Clark fumbled his way through a concocted tale of unexpected visitors and misunderstandings, all the time knowing that Jeff probably wasn't believing a word of it. However, something he said must have struck a chord, because Jeff finally conceded in a gruff voice that Clark hadn't let his editor down before, so this time he was being given generous leeway — which wouldn't be forthcoming a second time, Jeff had added sharply.

Thus mollified, Jeff then proceeded to bring Clark up-to- date with developments following the TV show. Predictably, the media were making the most of the dramatic accusation, and carrying front page stories of the TV interview. After all, it wasn't every day that a man many were tipping as hot favourite for Metropolis Businessman of the Year was accused of attempted murder.

The accusee, Luthor, was reportedly taking it in his stride, offering urbane, calm quotes to interviewers, with even a note of sympathy directed in Clark's direction. Apparently Clark was a young man who had obviously taken on far more than he could cope with, and the strain was showing. Perhaps a spell of counselling at one of the city's excellent psychiatric clinics would help.

"Clark, basically he's one short step away from suggesting they lock you up in a psychiatric ward," said Jeff. His voice grew agitated again. "This is precisely why you should be here right now — you've left the field wide open for him, and he's walking all over you!"

"I know, Jeff," replied Clark. "I didn't plan it to happen like this, you know."

"Yes, but…oh, I guess I've already said my piece on this. It's just frustrating the hell out of me, Clark."

"I know, and I'm sorry."

He was saying that a lot today. And Jeff went on to tell him that many of the newspaper pundits were venting their frustration at being unable to contact Luthor's accusers by criticising them roundly. It smacked of cowardice to tell tales and then run away, they were saying, and placed serious doubt on Superman's credibility as a figure of honour and justice. Some were even comparing this latest disappearance with his previous one, when he had abandoned a serious freeway pile-up in mid-rescue.

That hurt.

It hurt because Clark still felt guilty about it, and it hurt because they were conveniently forgetting the reason for his sudden departure. Sympathy, it seemed, did not sell newspapers.

<You know that>

Yes, he was a journalist himself, but it was different when he was the target, and besides, his brand of journalism was different to the brand currently being visited on himself and Lois.

So, it seemed certain that they would not receive a kind welcome when they returned to Metropolis tomorrow. Maybe it would be good to have a couple of allies with them, in the persons of CK and Lois.

He closed his eyes briefly in pain.


Why had he kissed her?

He kept coming back to that single question. Sighing deeply, he relived the moment again. She had been trying to draw him out of himself, asking if he was okay, and showing sympathy about his parents, but he had been suspicious and annoyed at the time. Her probing questions had seemed intrusive and unnecessary. He'd found himself wanting to lash out, and as he stood next to her at the sink, some crazy, devil-may-care attitude had welled up from within. The next thing he knew, he had been kissing her.

He'd never kissed like that before. He'd been aggressive and selfish, pressing his lips hard against hers and not caring what response he received in return. In fact, he hadn't wanted a response. All he'd wanted was to shock, and to test his own reactions to her body; to the forbidden fruit he'd been tempted by all those months ago.

Poor Lois. How could he have done that to her? She certainly didn't deserve it, and one look at her face had told her how deeply he'd hurt her. No wonder she'd pushed him away, and spoken to him with cold fury in her voice.

He wanted her friendship and respect back, but he had little hope of earning it now.

And that desire to lash out was disturbing. He couldn't afford feelings like that when he had such power within him for destruction. He'd spent a lifetime dampening down his emotions just so he could avoid hurting people with his strength. To have given in, and done so with Lois of all people, was unforgivable.

He'd nearly given in last night.

Bile rose in his throat when he remembered the seething, uncontrollable rage which had nearly turned him into a murderer. His hand around Luthor's neck, ready to squeeze the last few dregs of life from Lois's tormentor; the bloated, beet-red face struggling for air, yet still staring venomously out at him.

Lois; his Lois, had stopped him. Without her presence, he would have killed.

So instead, he had assaulted the other Lois?

<No! Please, no!>

He opened his eyes and stared blindly at the opposite wall.


He would not accept that as an explanation.



Lois glanced over as her boyfriend came back into the room. Judging by his tense expression and bunched up fists, Jeff had not been very happy with his missing reporter.

"Everything okay?" she asked, following him with her eyes as he came to join her on the sofa.


"I take it Jeff was none too pleased with us?"

"No, he wasn't."

"But you told him we'd be back tomorrow?"


His answers were so terse, and his manner so tense, that she began to wonder what Jeff could possibly have said to him. She tried another question. "And he was okay with that?"

"More or less."

"Anything else? Did he say how the press are handling it?"

His mouth twisted. "Badly." "Such as? Come on, Clark, what's got into you?"

He sighed, and some of the tension seemed to leave him at last. "Sorry." He looked over at CK and L. "Sorry, guys." He sighed again. "Well, in a nutshell, we're the bad guys, Luthor is the injured party, Superman is a fraud, and I've flipped my lid and should be locked up in a psychiatric hospital."

Lois raised her eyebrows. "That good, huh?"

"Sounds like Luthor's propaganda machine is working overtime," said the other Lois dryly.

"Yes," agreed Clark. "So tomorrow isn't going to be very pleasant, I'm afraid." He picked up Lois's hand and held it between his in a protective gesture, and she knew immediately what he was thinking. "This is the media circus we'd hoped wouldn't happen, honey. Are you still sure you want to go through with it?" he asked softly.

Because as Lex's ex-lover, and with her chequered past, she was the more vulnerable of the two — at least, that was how Clark saw things. "Yes, I'm sure," she told him. "Clark, we talked this through before the show, and we agreed then that we'd go through with it no matter what happened." She drew herself up with a deep breath. "They can say what they like about me. Besides, Lex isn't likely to bring up my past, because then he'd have to admit he'd been with…well, you know."

Been with a whore.

"Don't, Lois," Clark murmured.

She shook her head. "Don't treat me like porcelain, Clark. I don't break that easily."

He lifted her hand up and kissed her fingers softly. "I know. I just think you've been hurt enough."

CK cleared his throat, reminding her that they had company. "Sounds to me as though we could best spend the evening figuring out a plan of action for when you go back to Metropolis." "What's wrong with now?" asked Clark.

"Ah, we have something else to do before it gets too dark," CK said.

"We do?"

"Well, Lois and L do."

Clark's brow furrowed. "L?"

"That's my name from now on," explained L. "We had a naming ceremony while you were out — Clark is CK."

Clark nodded. "Okay, that makes sense. So what is it you and Lois have to do that's so urgent?"

"We have to go kryptonite hunting," announced Lois, enjoying the surprise and shock on Clark's face. A while ago, he'd told her that there was a substance which could hurt him, but he'd never told her its name, or where it came from. But while he'd been phoning Jeff, CK and L had told her a little more about it, and also about their recent discovery in Shuster's field.


"Cla-CK thinks there's some in Shuster's field," said L.

"Yeah, I felt it when we were walking around earlier," CK confirmed.

Clark frowned. "You're okay, though?"

CK nodded. "You could say I've developed a kind of radar for the stuff. I can sense it before I'm close enough for it to hurt me. But we thought you should make sure it's all collected up — before someone else does."

"But I've been down there loads of times, and I've never noticed any."

CK shrugged. "Maybe someone ploughed it recently."

"That's possible, I guess. I think it changed hands recently," said Clark. "So what are we going to use for lead shielding?" asked L. "I don't suppose you've got any lead piping handy?"

"Well, if I do, it'll be in one of the sheds," replied Clark.

"Let's take a look," suggested CK.

The two men disappeared in a blur, leaving Lois and L alone. "Think it's worth starting a conversation?" Lois asked her companion wryly.

L smiled sardonically. "We could start a countdown."

Lois glanced at her watch. "Five."






"Well, we found some…what's so funny?" asked Clark, while Lois giggled helplessly along with L.

"Oh, nothing, honey," she replied, stifling another giggle.

L forced a straight face. "You're just very…"

"Prompt?" suggested Lois.

L shook her head with a grin. "Predictable."

"Why are we predictable?" asked CK.

Lois looked at the two men standing in the middle of the room, one holding a length of lead piping, and both looking utterly bemused at their partner's merriment. "Oh, never mind — just hand over the pipe," she said with a grin.

CK held the pipe out to her and looked at Clark with a confused expression that had Lois creasing up with laughter again. "Any idea what we did?"

Clark shrugged. "Not a clue. Maybe it's some kind of hormonal thing."

"Ours or theirs?"

"Theirs, I think."

Lois peered down the lead pipe. "We need some kind of stopper."

"Here," said Clark, and squeezed one end until it had closed up. "There you go."

"What about a lid?"

"I think I saw something in the kitchen that would do," said L quickly and disappeared into the kitchen. After a moment, she stuck her head out the door. "Clark, can I borrow you and the pipe for a minute?"



L waited until Clark joined her in the kitchen.

"Over here," she said, standing as far away from the door as possible and pretending to rummage in one of the drawers.

"What have you got?" he asked, coming up behind her.

She whirled around. "Tell him!" she hissed.

"What?" he said, looking confused.

"While we're out — tell him what happened," she told him. He frowned. "I thought you didn't want me to tell him."

"Well, I changed my mind. He's already suspicious, and I can't stand it any longer. It's tearing him apart — he's probably out there right now wondering what we're up to."

His frown deepened. "But what about Lois?"

"That's your problem, not mine. I take it you didn't tell her when you were upstairs," she observed coldly.

At least he had the grace to look guilty, she thought. "The timing wasn't right," he muttered.

<Sounded to me like his timing was just fine!>

She snorted. "Well, you better find a way to tell her soon. She already feels like the outsider here, and she'll feel even worse if she senses there's something we all know that she doesn't."

"I know, but that's just it! I don't want her to be the last to know."

"Well, you should have thought of that before." She prodded him in the chest. "This is your mess, Clark. Fix it."

She walked past him to the door.

"Lois!" he hissed. "What about this?"

She glanced back to see him holding up the lead pipe. "You better fix that, too, she said flatly. "And it's L, not Lois."

Turning away from him, she raised her voice a little as she moved toward the door. "Okay, so I can't tell lead apart from aluminium. I guess you'll have to think of something else, Clark," she said, emerging into the living room again.

Her husband raised his eyebrows. "No luck?"

She pulled face. "You'd think after spending so long around you I'd be able to tell a lid made of lead from an aluminium one, but apparently not. Clark's trying something else."

"I think this will do," said Clark, walking in while fiddling with the top of the pipe. "I've made a plug out of a piece of the pipe itself."

He held it out for everyone to see. A round ball of lead sat in the top of the pipe. "It's not a very snug fit, but it should do."

"Great!" said Lois. "Looks like we're on, L. Lead me to the kryptonite."

L took the pipe from Clark, catching his eye and giving him a hard stare as she did so. "Play nice while we're out, guys."

"We'll try," he replied stonily.

"You too, CK," she added, and gave her husband a quick peck on the cheek. "Love you," she said, hating the guilty feeling that went along with her kiss — hating also the token effort it represented. A quick kiss wasn't enough to compensate for the blow he was about to receive from Clark.

"Love you too," he answered, and she knew the answer was automatic and carried an unspoken question.

She smiled. "See you soon."

He'd get the answer soon enough.


L led the way down the dirt track which led eventually to Shuster's field. It was late in the day, and the shadows were beginning to grow long. The countryside had taken on the honeyed glow of late afternoon sunshine, but it was still warm enough to stroll along without a sweater. The air was still but for the occasional bird and the distant sounds from the livestock in the surrounding fields. A perfect end to a not-so-perfect day.

"So, how did you two meet?" she asked, turning to her companion.

Lois glanced sideways at her. L thought she looked a little wary. "In a nightclub. I was a singer there."

Of course — Wanda Detroit. L realised that she was treading on sensitive ground by bringing up the recent past, and wondered if she should veer away onto another subject. On the other hand, she could probably help by sharing some of her own experiences.

"What was Clark doing in a nightclub?" she asked. "I didn't think he was the clubbing type."

"He was breaking up a fight." Lois smiled quickly. "I was furious with him."

"Oh? Why?"

"He ruined a perfectly good performance. He cleared the club in seconds, frightened away my audience, and I knew I wasn't going to get paid for the night. So I tore him off a strip — called him a boy scout, or something."

"How did he take that?"

Lois laughed. "How do you think? Politely, of course. Mind you, he was pretty tongue-tied, too, which just added to the boy scout image." She glanced at L. "I didn't find out 'til much later why he was so uptight."

L nodded. "He recognised you."

"Yeah, he knew who I was even if I didn't," she said with a trace of bitterness.

L absorbed that comment silently, and let the conversation die naturally for a while as they walked along. She didn't want to rush Lois into anything too quickly. She suspected that although Lois presented a hard exterior, she had a sensitive core; in fact that had already been shown by her flight upstairs earlier. The fact that she seemed to enjoy stirring up a little conflict made it harder to be sympathetic, but L was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt, having learnt a little more about her past. That was another thing — Lois kept dropping in small bombshells about herself, almost as if she was asking for help and understanding. L would have thought Clark supplied that; he certainly seemed to care for her a lot, and obviously wanted to protect her in the same way as L's husband did. But maybe recent events had put a strain on that relationship. Or maybe the bombshells were Lois's way of testing L and CK: would these potential friends give the correct reactions to the revelations she made?

"I had amnesia once," L said eventually.

Lois turned in surprise. "You did? That's weird — that we should both get it."

"Yes. But if you think that's weird, ask me who I thought I was."

Lois looked at her curiously. "Surely not…?"

L nodded. "A nightclub singer named Wanda Detroit. Crazy, or what?"

"That's amazing! Were you lost in the Congo, too?"

"No, but…" L stopped walking and faced her companion. "I nearly married Lex Luthor."

Lois's eyes grew round in shock. "You're kidding!"

L shook her head slowly. "Unfortunately, no. And I didn't even have amnesia at the time."

"Tell me what happened."

So L told the painful story of her near-marriage to Luthor. All about her infatuation with the most powerful man in Metropolis and her simultaneous rejection of the strongest, kindest man in Metropolis. She told of how Luthor had wooed her with glamour and excitement; showered presents and expensive toys on her, and how she had been taken in by it all. She noticed Lois nodding as she admitted all of this, and slowly realised they really did share a set of common experiences.

She started to open up some more, finding herself telling Lois things she hadn't told anyone else but Clark. Lois was surprisingly easy to talk to, and she seemed to have lost her brassy exterior as they walked along in the evening sunshine towards Shuster's field. She seemed more like L; quick-witted and intelligent.

L still skirted around parts of her story; most of the marriage ceremony was simply too painful to retell. She didn't enjoy reliving those long moments when she had first realised how utterly wrong everything about her impending marriage had been; how she had felt completely torn apart by confusing thoughts and emotions, and how Clark had entered her thoughts when she should have been thinking of her future husband. She still felt ashamed by the whole debacle, even after all this time.

"L?" Lois's voice brought her back to the present, and she realised she'd trailed off in mid-sentence.

She gave a quick smile. "Sorry. Miles away."

"It must have been horrible for you at the ceremony," said Lois.

L sighed. "Yeah. Everything came to a head — I figured out what a huge mistake I was making, and at the same time, Luthor's criminal activities finally caught up with him. The police broke into the ceremony, and then it was all over." L glanced at Lois. "That was when he threw himself off the building."

"At your wedding?" Lois was obviously appalled. She stopped walking for a moment and touched L's arm lightly. "That's terrible, L. You didn't see him…?"

"No." L shook her head. "Thank God." She shrugged. "Mind you, if I had watched, then at least maybe I'd have realised he wasn't really dead."

"True. I'm sorry you had to go through that, though."

They walked in silence for a while, and then Lois turned to L again. "I know we've only just met, but I already feel like I've known you for a lot longer."

L nodded. "Me too."

"So… do you mind if I ask a personal question about you and Lex?"

L considered. Normally, she would mind a great deal, but with Lois, it was different. Lois was the only other woman she knew who'd come close to experiencing the same things L had with Lex, and that meant that this wasn't someone intruding rudely into her private life, this was a fellow victim with whom she could share some of her worst experiences. Lois was also L in another universe; the twin sister she never had.

And, she reminded herself, this conversation had started as a means of helping Lois deal with the rough handling she'd obviously received from Lex — and perhaps others.

So this time, L would answer the personal questions.

"Fire away," she said.

But Lois hesitated. "Really personal," she emphasised, in a warning voice which left L in little doubt as to where she was going with her questions. Still, it would be embarrassing if she anticipated with the wrong answer, so she hedged.

"It's okay," she reassured.

Lois looked at her. "I just wondered…did you sleep with him?"

So she had been right. "No. We were never that intimate."

"Why not?"

Studying Lois's face, L could see how important an issue this was for her. Brash though she was, L didn't think she would have asked such a personal and private question if it didn't mean a great deal to her to hear the answers. Unfortunately, L thought that she probably wasn't getting the answers she wanted; this was where their common experience stopped.

"Well, it really wasn't a very physical relationship at all. We hardly even kissed." L pulled a face. "That should have told me something, shouldn't it?"

"I certainly would have wondered what he wanted out of the relationship."

"Whereas I was too busy being swept along by his fancy dinners and evenings at the opera to wonder why we never got beyond fraternal pecks on the cheek." L sighed. She really had been a complete idiot.

"So it wasn't because you didn't want to sleep with him?"

She shrugged. "Honestly, I hardly even gave it a thought. We had a two-sentence conversation about it once, I remember — we'd been kissing, and I asked if he'd mind waiting until we were married before crossing the intimacy threshold; it seemed the natural thing to do with Lex. He agreed, and that was that. Otherwise I kind of blocked out that part of being in a relationship."

"So you would have if you'd married him? Slept with him, I mean?"

"I guess so." She shuddered and hugged herself with her arms. "Actually, that really makes me feel sick. God, I might have even ended up having his child."

"But at the time he didn't repulse you like that?"

"No. Although I can't think why." She inhaled deeply and gazed around at the beautiful countryside to distract herself from the ugly memories. This setting was a strange place to be discussing such horrible things; they should be discussing art or literature, or the latest movies. Anything but Lex Luthor.

Her gaze came back to Lois, who was watching her intently. "Why do you ask, anyway?" she asked.

Lois's gaze slid away from her. "I just wondered…it doesn't matter."

L frowned. "Oh, come on, Lois — I've just told you my most intimate secrets. The least you can do is return the favour."

Lois glanced at her sideways. "It's not easy for me."

"You think that was easy for me?" she pointed out.

"I guess not." Lois paused. "I suppose I wanted to find out if there was someone else as dumb and…pathetic as me."

"Why pathetic?"

"Anyone who gives themselves to a sadistic, mean bastard like Lex Luthor has to be pathetic, don't they?" she answered bitterly.

"Not necessarily. And knowing Lex, maybe it was more a case of him taking than you giving."

Lois nodded silently.

"I take it he wasn't a very considerate lover, then?"

"Didn't know the meaning of the word," replied Lois sadly.

L remembered her empty experience with Claude. "If he was having a good time, then you must be too?"

"You got it."

Just how bad had it been, wondered L. The sick feeling returned; this could have been her recalling unpleasant memories of sex with Luthor. She could have been the one hating herself for letting him touch her and do horrid things to her…

And would her Luthor have been as bad as this one apparently had been? "Was he rough?" she asked gently.

"Sometimes. Mostly he was just selfish." Lois's voice was getting quieter and quieter every time she answered. L began to wonder with a sense of dread if there was something even worse she hadn't mentioned. "He didn't ever…you know, force you…?"

She didn't get a reply, but when she looked over, she noticed the other woman's eyes were moist with unshed tears.

"Oh, no, Lois," she exclaimed softly. "I'm so sorry. Was it really bad?"

Lois shook her head. "Not exactly…he didn't really force…not really…" she replied in a choked voice.

L heard the hurt in her stilted words. "Maybe we should talk about something else," she suggested.

"No, it's okay. I don't know what's the matter with me today — I'm not usually this teary." She took in a deep breath. "It's good to talk to another woman about all this."

"But Clark does know?" asked L immediately.

"Oh, yes, and he's been great — really great. He's really easy to talk to, and he's been very supportive."

L nodded. "But he's a man."

Lois smiled wanly. "Yes. A very empathic man, but also — and please don't tell him I told you this — a pretty inexperienced man. If you know what I mean."

L nodded again. Knowing her husband's virgin status when they had married, she knew exactly what Lois meant, although she was mildly surprised at the revelation. She'd always assumed this Clark had had more sexual partners than her own Clark.

"I used to pretend I had my period towards the end," said Lois. "Lex hated all that — I think he preferred to kid himself that all that messy women's stuff was something that happened to other people." She grimaced. "The funny thing was, he never figured out that if I was on the pill, then it wasn't very likely that I'd be so irregular." L snorted. "Not very smart."

"No. But he did get suspicious; frustrated, I guess. He made an appointment for me to see a gynaecologist."

"Did you go?"

"No, I left him instead." A quick grin lit up her face briefly. "But not before I aimed an extremely well-placed knee at him."

L laughed, enjoying the thought of Luthor suffering such an ignominious injury from a woman. "Good for you!"

"Yes. And I guess it could have been worse — he could have got me pregnant."

L nodded. "Then it really would have been difficult to leave him."

"But good old Lex took all the necessary precautions — put me on the pill, and always used protection just to be sure."

"You were lucky."


L stopped in front of the gate they had just reached. "Well, looks like we're here. Shall we see if we can find some of this kryptonite?"

Lois held up the pipe and gestured with her other hand. "Lead on."


CK shut the door behind L and glanced quickly at his watch. By the time the Loises returned it would be dinner time, but his host showed no sign of having even thought about food. When CK had been here previously, he would have had no problem at all in suggesting they get started on the cooking; they had been two guys living together on equal terms. Sometimes he had even needed to take the initiative, especially in the early days when Clark had been very shaky emotionally. Now, however, he felt much more like a guest in CK's house, and there was a new awkwardness between them which made it difficult to be as informal as he usually was.

He turned, and caught Clark staring at him strangely.

"Let's hope they find all the kryptonite," he said after a beat.

"Yes," replied Clark.

They walked back into the lounge and stood awkwardly amongst the furniture, neither wanting to sit, and neither wanting to catch the other's eye.

"What do you think we should do with it?" asked Clark.

CK ruffled the back of his hair. "Throw it into the sun would be my first choice. It's the only way to make sure it doesn't get into the wrong hands."

"That's what I thought — although a part of me is wondering if I might ever need some of it. Don't ask me what for, though."

CK sighed. "Well, I guess actually it did save my life once."

"Oh? How so?"

"Someone synthesised a virus which nearly killed me, and the only way to cure me was to use kryptonite. That made me so weak that the virus had nothing to thrive on, so it died and I recovered."

"Sounds dangerous. The kryptonite could have killed you instead."

"Yeah, it wasn't exactly pleasant. Anyway, the point is, you might want to keep back a small sample for emergencies. Make sure no-one knows where it is, though."

"You bet. I'll probably keep it here."

"That's a good idea."

The matter settled, CK found himself shifting restlessly around the room again, avoiding Clark's eye. This was ridiculous, he thought. He wanted to find out why Clark had shut him out telepathically, and he wanted to find out why Clark was so wary of him, yet he couldn't even have a conversation with the guy.

"Look, can we sit down?" said Clark at last. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Sure," replied CK, easing slowly down into one of the armchairs. "What is it you want to talk about?"

Clark seemed to hesitate, watching him tensely for a moment before replying. "Your wife."

Immediately, CK felt his hackles rise. "Lois…L? What about her?"

"You remember earlier, when we were in the kitchen together? I went to fetch some water, and she followed me?"

Oh, he remembered, all right! They'd been in there for ages. He nodded sharply. "Yes, I remember. So?"

Clark stared silently; nervously at him again. "CK, after everything that's happened, I'm really sorry about this," he said anxiously. "I don't know what got into me, honestly. I know I was mad at both of you, but you have to believe me when I say I would never do anything to hurt Lois…your wife, I mean. Not deliberately."

None of which made CK feel any better; in fact, he was becoming quietly angry with Clark and his prevarications. "What did you do accidentally, then?" he asked with heavy sarcasm, emphasising 'accidentally'.

"Not accidentally, exactly. Foolishly, definitely-"

"Just tell me, for heaven's sake!" interrupted CK, feeling more and more impatient with his babbling counterpart.

"I kissed her." It was blurted out, the stark words forming a sharp contrast to Clark's hedging babble. The words loomed large in the suddenly still air, and in that instant, one single emotion seared through CK's soul.


Everything he had felt that day when he came back from this universe rushed back; the insecurity, the anger, and the mistrust. He knew instinctively that this was no ordinary peck on the cheek, otherwise why would Clark bother mentioning it? And how had Lois responded? 'I kissed her' — not 'we kissed'. Did that mean it was one-sided, or did she kiss him back?

Of course she didn't.

Their relationship was as solid as a rock.

Wasn't it?

And what the hell did Clark think he was doing, kissing CK's wife?

"You kissed my wife," he said tonelessly, keeping a precarious lid on his temper. "I take it this wasn't a fraternal, welcome back sort of a kiss?"


Clark looked almost frantic with worry, but CK really didn't care; the man deserved to feel vulnerable and anxious.

"Tell me what sort of a kiss it was then," he said tersely.

Clark shook his head helplessly. "CK, if I knew that, you'd be the first to know. I just don't know what got into me."

"Oh, come on, Clark! Don't give me that rubbish — you must know what you were thinking when you kissed her."

Clark sighed. "Well, like I said, I was mad at you — both of you. Lois and I were already not exactly getting along, and then you two arrived and that just made things worse between us-" "Oh, so you kissed my wife because you were mad at her," interrupted CK sarcastically. "How exactly does that work? Please explain slowly, because I'm having a hard time following your logic here."

"It wasn't exactly a very friendly kiss," replied Clark in a small voice.

CK's temper leapt again. Now it was beginning to sound as if Clark had assaulted his wife, and that was a hundred times worse than anything else he had imagined. Of course, Lois was quite capable of defending herself, and had probably given as good as she got, but that wasn't the point. The point was that Clark, a man he thought he could trust, at least as far as leaving his wife alone with him, didn't seem to be worthy of even that level of trust.

"What did you do to her?" he demanded coldly.

"Nothing! Nothing — it was just a kiss, honestly! CK, I swear to you, it was no more than that. Just a stupid, spur-of-the-moment thing — I went a little crazy, and I kissed her. That's all."

"All," repeated CK angrily.

He saw Clark's staring eyes suddenly go wide in shock. "My God, CK, you don't honestly think I'd do anything like that? That's ridiculous — what sort of a monster do you think I am?"

CK regarded him coolly. "Frankly, Clark, at this point in time, I have absolutely no idea what you're capable of."

Clark leapt out of his chair. "That's outrageous! It's totally unfair, and it's a gross over-reaction to what I did. I can't believe you said that."

CK stood up and closed the distance between them. "Believe it," he said bluntly to Clark's face. "And get this too — stay away from my wife. Okay?"

He saw fire flare in the other man's eyes, but that only fuelled his own anger; what right did Clark have to feel anything other than remorse?

"You're losing it, CK," retorted Clark. "One lousy kiss and look at you — anyone would think you don't trust your wife."

CK clenched his fists tightly by his sides, feeling dangerously close to physical violence. Instead, he broke away, throwing back, "Wrong, Clark. It's you I don't trust."

He strode quickly into the kitchen before either of them said or did something they'd regret.


Lois trampled gamely through the long grass at the side of the field, a few paces behind L. She wasn't really a country person, and all this raw nature was a little unnerving. Her nose wrinkled as she caught a whiff of manure from the newly-ploughed field, and she batted distrustfully at the unidentified flying insects which buzzed past her from time to time. When not dealing with unruly wildlife, her eyes were glued to the ground, darting from the terrain just in front of her — cow pats and other hazards were a distinct possibility, she had decided — to further afield, looking for the tell-tale gleam of green L had instructed her to search for.

She paused for breath, and looked up at the trim figure of her companion just ahead of her. L had seemed so confident and poised when Lois had first met her; a woman in a secure marriage with a good job and a bright future ahead of her. Even now, thought Lois as she watched L scouring the ground intently, she looked happy and untroubled by life.

It had been a revelation, therefore, to discover that her life hadn't always been so easy. Her near-marriage to Lex, for example, had shocked Lois; having seen her with CK, it was unthinkable to imagine her with anyone other than the husband she so clearly adored. Yet this intelligent, secure woman had allowed herself to become so confused and wrapped up in superficial fripperies that she had nearly married a complete and utter bastard.

It made Lois feel a whole lot better about herself. From the sound of it, Lex had manipulated L just as he had done with Lois, and that made Lois think that perhaps she hadn't been quite the pathetic, weak, fool she had believed herself to be. If a woman like L couldn't withstand him, how could she, an insecure bundle of nerves from the jungles of the Congo?

She wished L had slept with him, though. Well, she didn't actually wish that on her worst enemy, but for a moment, Lois had thought she'd found someone else as desperate as she; someone else who needed love so badly they were willing to pretend it existed with a man like Lex. But even Lois hadn't been that desperate, it seemed. She'd pushed away the physical side of love, whereas Lois had embraced it like the prosti…

She heard Clark admonishing her in her head, and stifled the word.

She sighed; one day, maybe she'd find out the truth about that.

"Find anything?" she called.

L straightened up and turned to face Lois. "Nope. You?"

"No. I just hope I'm not missing anything — I've never seen this stuff before."

"You'll know it when you see it." L frowned. "Mind you, I've seen a couple of pieces where it's been buried in normal rock."

Lois regarded the vast stony surface of the ploughed field beside them. "Please don't tell me that every single one of those rocks is a potential lump of kryptonite."

L brushed through the long grass and came to stand beside her, looking out across the field. "I hope not."

"Well, how do we tell?"

"We take a couple of pieces back and get the guys to test them from a safe distance," L replied, bending down and picking up two of the stones.

Lois held out the lead pipe for her and she dropped them in, the pieces making a loud clunking noise when they hit the stopper at the bottom.

"I doubt that's it, though," continued L. "CK felt the effect as soon as he got within yards of the field, so I think it's more likely we're looking for a larger lump or two near the gate. Come on, let's try back there again."

Lois followed her companion back down to the corner of the field, more confident now that she was treading over familiar ground.

"OK — we're looking for large rocks, with or without obvious green bits. Right?" she said.


She scanned the ground slowly. "Like this?" she said, striding over to a football-sized rock half-buried in the grass.

"Yes, that would do," replied L absently, still scanning the ground.

Lois struggled with the rock, trying to turn it over to check for tell-tale slivers of green. Suddenly, it rolled away from her, to reveal a swarming mass of worms and ants and crawling things.

"Ugh!" she screamed, stepping quickly backwards. Her foot caught on something, and she lost her balance, flailing desperately in the air for a second before landing on her behind in the tall grass. Her hand scrapped painfully on a hard surface as she went down.

"Are you all right?" asked L, looking down at her.

She lifted her sore hand up gingerly and regarded the scraped palm, dotted with small stones and grains of earth. "More or less," she answered grumpily. "Why is the countryside so full of…things?" she demanded, imbuing the word with all the disgust she was feeling.

"I know exactly what you mean," agreed L sympathetically. "Remind me to tell you about the time CK and I got stranded on a desert island."

"Not as romantic as it sounds, huh?"

"More *things* than you could kill with a small nuclear device," L said dryly. She squatted down beside Lois. "Let's see that." Lois held out her hand for L to see; the heel of her palm was beginning to ooze tiny globules of blood in a couple of places. L winced. "Looks sore."

She took Lois's hand in her own and began to gently brush away the dirt. "We'd better get you back and get this cleaned up. You okay to stand?"

Lois nodded; nothing else hurt except her pride. She pushed up against L's helping hand and turned around to glare at the offending rock which had caused her to trip. Something caught her eye.

"Erm, L…?" she said tentatively.

"What? Are you…" Lois looked at her and then tracked her eyes over to the rock. "Oh."

They both pulled the grass and weeds away from the large, misshapen rock. Shards of glowing green crystal shone up at them from its base, twinkling brightly in the evening sun.

Lois steadied herself with a hand on L's arm; the mineral had an unhealthy, sickening glow to it which made her stomach lurch and her head spin momentarily.

L looked at her quickly. "Okay?"

"Yes," she replied. "It's just…you'll think I'm crazy, but it even *looks* evil."

L nodded. "I know. And I also know it isn't going to fit into your lead pipe," she added grimly.

Lois looked at the pipe she'd abandoned when she'd dislodged the other rock. "You're right. Do you think we could lift it between us?"

"You've only got one hand," observed L. "We could try rolling it, I guess."

She prodded it with her foot, then gave it a hefty shove which shifted it from its resting place and rolled it over about a foot. She glanced down at the flattened earth it had uncovered and pulled a face.

"Things," she said succinctly, and studiously avoided looking down again while she gave the rock a couple more shoves. Lois opened the gate for her, and a few more shoves later, they were back at the corner where L had told Lois that CK had first sensed the kryptonite.

L stooped, her hands on her hips and breathing heavily. "Are we crazy?" she panted.

"Probably, but I'm not ready to give up yet," replied Lois, and gave the rock an almighty kick which sent it several feet along the path.

L raised an eyebrow. "Wow."

"Just think of that rock as Lex Luthor's head…or another part of his anatomy," she added with a wink.

L grinned, walking beside her to catch up with the rock. "Works for me."

"My turn again," said Lois determinedly, and gave the rock a running kick to send it further on its way. She watched with satisfaction as it skittered across the ground. "Darn, but this is good therapy," she exclaimed. "Want a go?"

"Don't mind if I do," replied L graciously, and gave it a thwack with her shoe.

"Nice shot!" said Lois admiringly.

"Our sports writers are always banging on about motivation." L smiled. "I think I just found mine."


CK stormed blindly into the kitchen, fetching up at the sink with both hands gripping the edge of the draining board. He'd very nearly punched Clark. That last remark about him not trusting Lois had been the last straw; he had been so close to physical violence at that point that he hadn't even dared lay a finger on the man for fear of losing control completely.

He took a deep breath; several deep breaths. No-one, with the possible exception of Tempus, had brought him this close to striking another individual. There had been Nor, but that had been different; that had been a staged fight, not a cold-blooded confrontation in someone's living room, for heaven's sake.

What had made him so angry?

It wasn't the kiss. Oh, he wasn't exactly pleased to hear that Clark had kissed his wife, but he knew Lois would have rebuffed the man and told him exactly where to stuff his impudent kisses.

Well, mostly, he knew that. After past revelations of some kind of attraction between the two while he'd been stuck in that awful time-vortex, he couldn't help harbouring a small sliver of doubt that a kiss between them now meant more than just Clark being…Clark.

But he could have dealt with that; one conversation with Lois would have cleared the air, he was sure.

So it really wasn't the doubt which was making him so angry he was trembling. It was the thought that Clark had actually hurt Lois; that his 'not exactly friendly kiss' had been aggressive and barbaric and God-knew what else. How dare he do that to Lois?! What right had he to do that to her, when all she'd shown him was genuine care and consideration? Lois was never anything other than friendly and helpful towards the man; CK remembered how good she'd been with him when he'd stayed in their house for a few days. He could have been ignored; treated as an outsider, especially as CK himself had been unwell at the time, but she'd welcomed him into their home and treated him like one of the family. She'd even tried to help him talk about his problems.

And he returned all that with what — a brutal kiss? Angry words? Had he touched her? Grabbed her; mauled her?

CK closed his eyes and forced himself to calm down. This was Clark, not some sexual pervert — no matter what he might think of the man, he was sure Clark would never do anything like that.

But CK was still furious. And to cap it all, the man had had the gall to come over all indignant, as if CK had been the one in the wrong.

Clark was the one kissing other people's wives! Clark was the one betraying his own girlfriend.

And that was another thing — had he told her that the first thing he had done when he got his friend's wife alone was kiss her? Somehow, CK doubted it. In fact, he remembered what had happened soon after, and nearly crushed the draining board with his fists in disgust.

Minutes after kissing L, Clark had been upstairs making love with Lois.

How could he do that? How could he betray her, and then make love with her? Guilt? Or was it just sex to him?

CK couldn't believe that. There was a lot he didn't have in common with Clark, but unless his instincts were completely misleading him, he knew Clark felt the same about love and loving-making as he did himself. As he had once told his wife, every time they made love, he felt as if he were renewing his love for her; he was sure Clark was the same.

So if Clark was making real love with Lois, how did he square that with kissing someone else?

Because the kiss didn't mean anything to him.

Well, CK supposed that was good news of a kind, but he still couldn't forgive Clark for hurting his wife.


CK sighed. He'd known she'd been hiding something from him, by her strange behaviour since she'd emerged from the kitchen. Then, "Love you," she'd said with a quick kiss, just before she'd left with the other Lois. There had been regret in her voice, and he'd known for certain that there was something unspoken between them.

Would he have told her if the roles had been reversed? He wasn't sure; it was difficult to imagine a woman kissing him without his permission. There was Penny Barnes, he supposed; she had kissed him as Superman, and the next morning, he had told Lois.

<Only because she saw the lipstick on your suit>

This was true. And Penny Barnes didn't exactly represent much of a threat to their relationship. But what if she had, and what if he'd felt assaulted by her kiss? Or what if she'd been Mayson Drake, whom he'd liked, and Lois had definitely not liked?

Too many ifs. He simply couldn't think himself into that situation.

He sighed again. Lois and he would just have to talk it through together; not a conversation he'd be looking forward to, but that was how they worked things out these days. He was beginning to understand that marriage was something you worked at; you didn't just fall head-over- heels in love with someone and then live happily ever after. His parents had made it seem easy, but over the past few years they'd told him enough for him to realise that even they had needed to keep working at their relationship.

He glanced at his watch. Dinnertime was fast approaching, and they had no food. He began to check out all the cupboards, the fridge and the freezer to see if there was anything at all he could use to fashion into a meal for four. At least it would keep him occupied, and in the kitchen — away from Clark.


Clark was furious. He'd done the right thing — he'd told CK, one adult to another, that he'd kissed his wife in a moment of madness. He'd apologised, even. That should have been that.

Instead, CK had flown completely off the handle, accusing him of God-knew what with L and telling him to keep away from her. As if he'd want to go anywhere near her! He had Lois — why would he want to go after L?

And he deeply resented the lack of trust CK had just shown him. Hadn't he always been completely straight with the guy? He'd been completely up-front about the weird attraction he had felt towards L before he had met Lois, and he'd thought CK had understood him; had even been sympathetic. Nothing was meant by it; he'd just been confused and lonely.

And what about all the help he'd given CK when Tempus had been trying to make his secret identity public knowledge? Didn't that earn him any kind of trust? He'd been trusted enough to put his own life at risk and save CK's.

So just what did it take to earn CK's trust? Saintdom?

Apparently even L didn't have what it took — one stray kiss, which she didn't even participate in, and CK was immediately imagining all kinds of infidelities. Was their marriage really that insecure?

He pictured them, reunited, after CK had been rescued from the time vortex.


His mouth twisted — if ever there was a couple more inseparable, more completely committed to each other through thick and thin, it had to be L and CK. They enjoyed the kind of relationship he aspired to himself; he had to admit that much to himself. A single kiss wasn't going to break up something as strong as the bond they shared with each other.

So his comment about CK mistrusting L was unfounded. Well, of course, he'd known that really — it had been one of those heat-of-the-moment type remarks. As the guy had admitted himself, it was Clark he didn't trust, not his wife.

Clark threw himself down on the nearest sofa, angry with himself as well as with CK.

Because he wanted that trust. He valued that trust, because — damn him! — he respected CK.

He respected his values, his intelligence — which was a practical intelligence, as well as an intellectual sharpness — and his easy-going bravery. Clark found those things harder to attain than CK seemed to. Oh, he wasn't stupid, of course, and he often knew what the right thing to do was in any given situation — it was just that he found it tough sometimes to make himself actually do that right thing.

Like running away to the farm last night, instead of turning and facing the press pack after their confrontation with Luthor. He'd known, deep down, that it wasn't right to just drop everything and try to start afresh someplace new, but he'd still gone ahead and tried to make it work — even dragging Lois along with him.

It had taken Lois's tears to make him see how wrong he'd been.

He had to stop doing that.

He loved her — he was sure of that. They'd gone through a sticky patch a few days ago, when she'd accused him of playing at love; of merely using her to recreate the woman of his dreams, but they'd got over that. His love was deep and true, and he would always put her happiness before his own. He'd told her so, and he'd meant every word. Even after all they'd been through together, if she'd regained her memory and then rejected him, he would have been devastated, but he would have let her make that choice — if it was clear that she would have been happier that way.

So he needed to remember that, and put it into practice a bit more often than he seemed to have been doing lately.

And do the right thing.

He grimaced again. He'd thought he'd been doing the right thing in telling CK about the stupid kiss. L had even told him it was the right thing to do.

So why had it back-fired so badly? Because CK was needlessly sensitive, of course! Surely it wasn't that big a deal to have another man kiss your wife?

<you didn't kiss her, you assaulted her>

He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. Damn his conscience. It was right — he had virtually attacked her, and, quite rightly, she had automatically defended herself by lashing out at him. He'd upset her badly, and then he'd proceeded to upset his girlfriend, too. And, he supposed, CK as well — come to think of it, he'd admitted to CK that the kiss hadn't been exactly friendly. That probably wasn't a good thing for a husband to hear, especially when that husband was as protective towards his wife as CK was.

All in all, an excellent day's worth of relationship- wrecking, following a wonderful night during which he'd nearly murdered someone in cold blood.

<do the right thing>

Well, where did he start? He still felt mad at CK for being so aggressive towards him, so he didn't feel ready to start patching things up just yet. Lois didn't know what a fool he'd made of himself with L yet, but no doubt he'd have to tell her soon. That was probably the right thing to do. L — well, he'd already apologised copiously to her, so he wasn't sure what else to do to make things up to her. All he could do was show her by his words and actions that he respected her and meant her no harm.

He fiddled with the hair at the nape of his neck.

<do the right thing>


Metropolis was currently without his services and he'd been so wrapped up in today's events and his own problems that he hadn't heard a single cry for help or siren or bank alarm or any of the usual things he automatically picked up on.

Perhaps the right thing to do was to slip out right now and do a quick patrol around Metropolis. At least it might make him feel better about himself.

He glanced towards the kitchen door, behind which CK was undoubtedly fuming quietly to himself. There was no way Clark was going in there — but he needed to tell someone he was out, in case the two Loises came back before he returned.

He pursed his lips, annoyed with the inevitable solution.

<<I'm going out on patrol>>, he snapped tersely to CK, and shut down the connection before CK could answer.


"Okay, I think that's far enough."

L eyed the distance to the farmhouse from where she and Lois were standing and calculated that the kryptonite rock was as close to the house as they could risk.

"We're just going to leave it here?" asked Lois.

L shrugged. "Don't know what else we can do for now. We'll warn the guys not to come down this way until we can dispose of it."

"Which we do how? It's not exactly small, you know."

"We break it up into smaller pieces, put them into the lead pipe, and then Clark and CK can throw it into the sun." L waved a hand around carelessly. "Easy."

"Yeah, and I'm Arnold Schwarzenneger," answered Lois sardonically.

L fixed her with a look. "You have a better idea?"

Lois jutted her chin out defensively. "Not yet," she said. "I'm working on it."

L had recognised the gesture instantly; it was unnerving, seeing your own mannerisms reflected before your very eyes. How many more of her own gestures did Lois habitually use?

On the other hand, at least she could read the signals, she reflected wryly. She could almost have told Lois what she was going to say before she said it.

L covered her mouth with her hand and hid her smile with a pretend cough. "Well, while you're working on it, we should make sure we haven't got any kryptonite on our shoes. All that kicking may have dislodged the odd sliver."

She lifted her own feet up one by one and checked the soles, scuffing them on the longer grass at the side of the path for good measure. Lois hesitated for a second, and then copied her.

L glanced up at the house again. If a certain conversation had taken place in there — which it better had have done! — then she doubted the atmosphere was going to be very convivial when they returned. She certainly wasn't looking forward to that first look into her husband's eyes, or the first words they would exchange. And Lois would have to possess a very thick skin indeed not to notice that something was wrong.

So should L tell her now about the kiss?

No, that was Clark's responsibility. He had messed up; he had to sort the mess.

Except Lois was going to come off worst out of this, L argued with herself. Everyone else would know what was going on, and all Lois would know as the innocent bystander was that she, yet again, was out of the loop; not privy to information the other three held. Until Clark found the nerve to tell her, of course.

So maybe L should tell her.

But what if the conversation hadn't happened? Then Lois would know before CK. L considered that — did she mind? Not really, because she'd make darned certain that if Clark hadn't told CK so far, he did it straight away. Would it matter to CK himself? Again, probably not, for the same reason.

L frowned, trying to make the right choice. In less than an hour, she'd grown to know and understand Lois a lot better than she would have expected was possible. She'd discovered she liked her, despite her rough edges and, frankly, scary hair and dress-sense, and that meant she wanted to do the right thing for her.

"Something up?"

L turned back to her companion. "No, just thinking…how well do you know Clark? I mean, really know him?"

"Enough to know I love him," replied Lois with surprising candour. She smiled quickly. "Despite his many flaws."

Many flaws. L filed that one away for future reference, and pressed forward. "And do you think he loves you?"

"Yes," came the immediately reply.

She seemed so completely guileless and trusting when she said that, L thought — worryingly so. "Why?" she asked carefully.

Lois was obviously confused by her questions; she paused in her clean-up operation and frowned at L. "Why do you ask? What are you trying to say?"

L smiled with what she hoped was a reassuring expression. "Just humour me, okay? I'll tell you in a minute why."

Lois still looked hesitant, but shrugged and answered the question. "We had a long talk about it a few days ago," she said, as if that answered everything.

L raised her eyebrows, encouraging Lois to elaborate.

"I know we haven't known each other all that long," Lois continued a little defensively, "but the past couple of weeks or so have been really intense. We've been through a lot together — more than most people experience in a lifetime. I think we've pretty much ended up learning all the important stuff about each other — albeit in a fairly condensed space of time." She sighed. "I might not know whether he rolls his toothpaste up from the bottom or squeezes it out any old how — actually, I do know that, but that's not the point — or if he replaces the toilet roll when it runs out, but I do know what makes Clark Kent tick. I know his hopes and fears, his weaknesses and strengths, what makes him laugh and what makes him sad, what makes him angry — all the stuff that matters."

"So the long talk was about everything you've been through together?" L thought that Lois hadn't exactly answered her question yet; all she'd said was that she thought she knew Clark very well.

Lois shook her head. "No, not really. It was mostly about whether he loved me or not. I thought he probably didn't, you see — not really. Oh, I thought he liked me, and loved the idea of me, but he didn't seem to trust me the way a person in love should." Lois smiled then, a fond, recollecting smile. "I was wrong. He showed me just how much he trusted me that night, and told me something I'll never forget."

So was that the night Clark lost his virginity?

L slapped herself mentally for even thinking that; it wasn't fair to pry that far into his privacy. But she did wonder what this special thing was that he'd told Lois.

"Which was?" she prompted.

"He said my happiness was more important to him than his own. And I know from the way he said it that he meant every word," said Lois seriously.

So much for the virginity thing. Well, that sounded familiar, thought L. She knew that CK would say exactly the same thing; and the two certainly had a lot in common — they had a lot very definitely *not* in common with each other, but this was one characteristic she was willing to believe they shared. CK was sincere about it; Clark probably was, too.

Which made his stupid move in the kitchen all the more incredible.

He was a bundle of contradictions, this man. His insecurities led him to do crazy things, and L seriously wondered if he was going to be strong enough for Lois. She needed someone reliable and consistent to act as her foundation while she rediscovered her self-worth, not someone who was as unpredictable as she. Was this a match which would last?

Well, one thing appeared to be certain, at least.

She nodded. "That sounds like someone in love."

Lois smiled again dreamily. "Yeah. So what's this all about? Are you going to tell me there's some dark secret in his past he hasn't told me about yet?" she said flippantly. "I *do* know he comes from Krypton, you know."

L's heart sank while she forced a small smile in response to Lois's joke. She was beginning to hate this. It sounded like she was about to shatter some illusions, and she didn't like doing that to someone she liked, especially someone she already felt a certain kinship with. Still, Lois deserved to know, and it was better she was told now than later.

She sighed. "No, it's not that. But there is something you need to know."

Lois shook her head in bemusement. "What?"

L took a deep breath. "You remember just after we arrived, when I followed Clark out to the kitchen?"

"Yes, you wanted a glass of water."

"That's right. Something happened, though."

L paused, not wanting to rush her bad news. Lois raised her eyebrows silently in question, and L ploughed on. "Clark kissed me."

She'd expected…well, she wasn't sure what she'd expected, but it wasn't Lois just staring at her with a slightly perplexed expression. "So?" "It wasn't exactly a platonic kiss," L elaborated slowly.

Lois stared some more, her expression changing gradually from perplexed to annoyed. "Look, if you're trying to undermine our relationship somehow with this, you can forget it," she said hotly. "Clark told me all about his attraction for you, so don't think I don't know about you and him — I know everything there is to know. You can't scare me. And get this, L — he told me it wasn't real. I'm the one he loves, not you! So butt out, sister!"

L backed away slightly, completely wrong-footed by Lois's attack. She drew in a deep, slow breath. "I'm not trying to threaten you," she answered as calmly as she could. "I'm just trying to tell you something I think you ought to know about him."

"Oh, and you think he wouldn't tell me himself? I told you — we trust each other. Which is more than you and your husband seem to — I've seen you hanging on his arm, as if you're afraid he'll run away from you. Well, that's a shame, but it's not my problem. Maybe you've got the hots for Clark, but he sure hasn't got them for you!"

"I have not got the hots for your boyfriend!" L laughed ironically. "You have no idea how ridiculous that sounds."

"Oh? So why did you kiss him?" demanded Lois.

L pursed her lips, forcing back rising anger. "He kissed me. I sure as hell didn't kiss him. And, Lois — when I said it wasn't a platonic kiss, I didn't mean it was a loving kiss — it was an aggressive, angry kiss." L glared at Lois. "I nearly hit him, you know. I would have, if he hadn't caught my wrist and stopped me."

"What?! Now you're sounding ridiculous. Clark would never do that."

"Believe me, he did." L thrust a pointing finger out towards the house. "And right now, he's admitting all that to my husband. How do you think that makes me feel, Lois? Do you really think I'd make this up? Why do you think I'm telling you this now? I'll tell you why — so that you don't have to walk into that house and find out that you're the last person to know that your boyfriend virtually attacked me. That's why!" "Shut up!" Lois put her hands to her ears. "Shut up! I don't want to hear this!"

"I know you don't, but it's true, Lois."

"You know, it's a beautiful evening," said Lois loudly over L's words. "We're lucky it's so nice for the time of year. Usually, it gets cold in the evenings-"

"Lois, stop it," said L. This was horrible. Lois was behaving exactly as she would herself, and it was upsetting.

"-around this time of year, but we seem to be getting some unseasonally warm weather-," continued Lois at full volume.

"Stop over-reacting, Lois," said L sharply. "It's not that bad."

Lois stopped abruptly and rounded on her, her eyes full of hurt. "Yes it is! He's not supposed to be like that. He's supposed to be the good guy, not the one who…who kisses other people's wives. That was Lex, but now I have Clark, and he's the good guy. He's the one I got right." She sniffed. "Or at least, I thought I did."

"You did, Lois." L said. "Clark's a great guy. Look what he does for the world as Superman — for ordinary, everyday people just like you and me. He does that because he cares, Lois, not because he's got immense strength and amazing powers. And haven't you just finished telling me how sure you are that he loves you? How he puts your happiness before his own?"

"Yes, but then why did he kiss you? That hasn't made me very happy," she retorted sniffily.

"Actually, I don't think it made him very happy either," said L sardonically. "Not judging by the way he reacted when he realised what he'd just done. But to answer your question, I have no idea."

"But you said he was aggressive! Clark's not aggressive…well, not usually." L frowned. "Did you say something to him?"

"No! I was apologising for CK, as it happens. I thought Clark looked a little upset when CK talked about his parents, so I asked if he was okay. In return I got lunged at."

"Did he say anything?"

L hesitated. Lois had just told her that Clark had explained all about the attraction he felt towards L once, but L wasn't convinced Lois knew the whole story — or even had the correct version of the story.

She sighed. "He said he wanted to prove to himself that he really didn't feel anything for me now that he had you."

"Oh. Well, I suppose that's good…in a way. But he chose a pretty stupid way of doing it."


L watched her companion stare towards the house again, deep in thought. She seemed to have calmed down somewhat after her outburst, and now it looked as if she was trying to figure a few things out. L wondered what she was thinking; did she know what could have led Clark to behave the way he did?

"I'm sorry he did that to you," she said after a few moments.

L shrugged. "I'll live."

Just at that moment, a rush of air made them look upwards. Clark shot past in his suit, heading for the house.

"And he needs a good talking to," Lois added grimly.

"Don't be too harsh on him," L found herself saying, to her great surprise. "CK has probably already given him a pretty hard time."

"Oh, I'll be nice. *Very* nice."

Somehow, L thought that there would be a lot of barbs blended in with that niceness. ***

Clark was surprised to smell tantalising food aromas filtering through from the kitchen when he arrived back at the house. Balefully, he eyed the Chinese takeout he'd brought back from Metropolis, and dumped it on a coffee table. CK might have told him he was going to cook dinner.

Still, he felt good; better than he had all day, and he wasn't going to let anything spoil that. He hadn't done anything particularly spectacular, but he'd managed to stop a couple of petty car thieves, and helped a very distressed young woman home after she'd fainted at a bus stop. He'd offered to get her medical help, but she'd insisted it was nothing serious. He'd stayed with her for a few minutes and chatted, though, just to be sure, and when he left, he really felt that he'd done some good for a change.

He heard the door open, and then Lois — or was it L? — calling "We're back!"

His welcoming smile faded when he saw Lois's face. "I want to talk to you," she said grimly.

"What's the matter?" he asked, genuinely puzzled. Lois was about the only person he'd thought was still talking to him, at least since they'd patched things up in the bedroom.

Lois turned away from him to L. "'What's the matter,' he asks," she said sarcastically. "As if he didn't know."

"Lois, what are you talking about?" He ran his eyes up and down her, wondering what had happened while he'd been away. He noticed she was holding her right hand awkwardly. "What happened to your hand?" he asked.

"Nothing much," she said. "It's just a scratch."

He frowned. "Let's see." He reached out for her arm and she let him pull it gently towards him. The heel of her hand was scraped and spotted with blood, and pretty mucky. He winced in sympathy.

"I tripped up, that's all," she said.

Looking at the dried blood and raw scrapes, he felt oddly woozy for a moment. Funny — he wasn't usually squeamish.

"You'd better get it cleaned up," he said, shaking his head to clear it. "You don't want to get an infection."

"Clark, are you all right?" asked L sharply.

"Yes, I'm fine. It's Lois who's hurt." Although the woozy feeling wasn't getting much better.

"You don't look fine."

"Mmmm?" He peered myopically at her shifting figure, wondering why his hearing was fading in and out and his head felt as if it was swaying around independently from the rest of him.

"Lois, get away from him," came L's voice from down a very long tunnel. "Clark, sit down."

He was shoved backwards and downwards until he landed clumsily in a chair, where he sat in a daze, waiting for the swimming sensation in his head to clear. It didn't seem to take long, and when everything had stopped moving, he looked up to see L looming over him with a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, I…I think so. What happened?"

"You just got a mild dose of kryptonite poisoning — Lois must have a tiny sliver of it stuck in her hand." She patted his shoulder. "Just sit there for a few minutes. You'll be fine."

He looked past her to find Lois. "Where is she?"

"In the kitchen-"

"CK's in there," he interrupted urgently, pushing himself out of the chair.

L restrained him with both hands on his shoulders, pressing him back down into the seat. "I'm sure she made sure she didn't go anywhere near him," she reassured him. She glanced to the kitchen door. "But maybe I'll just make sure," she added. "Stay there."


L took a deep breath and plunged through the kitchen door. "Everyone okay in here?"

Her eyes went straight to her husband, lounging back on a kitchen chair at the table. His relaxed posture told her immediately that he was all right.

His head had turned at the sound of her voice, and inevitably, their gazes met.

She searched his eyes for clues. He was serious. His eyes had narrowed slightly when he first looked at her. Not a good sign.

"We're fine," said Lois from the sink. L flicked her gaze over to her, saw her holding her hand under the tap, and came back to her husband's face again. "CK was a bit alarmed when I yelled at him to stay away, but then he figured it out quicker than I could tell him, didn't you, CK?"

"Yes," he replied, still looking at L. She couldn't read him at all; he seemed to be in a very funny mood.

"Good," said L.

"Is Clark all right?" asked Lois from the sink.

"Yes, he was just worried about CK," L replied. CK's eyes flickered. "But I can see you're fine," she told him.

"Yes, I'm fine," he said.

He wasn't giving her anything at all; nothing to help her figure out what he was thinking or feeling. She couldn't bear it.

"Clark…" she whispered.

<Please do something — anything!>

He stood up then, and came towards her, walking around the end of the table, crossing the floor, his expression still unrelentingly serious. She followed him with his eyes as he got closer and closer, clueless as to what he was going to do next.

Then his arms came around her and gave her a small squeeze. "It's okay, honey," he murmured. "We're fine."

All the tension drained away from her in a wash of relief. She wrapped her arms around him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," she said.

"It's okay," he repeated. "We'll talk about it later."

"But we're all right?"


She stayed in the reassuring circle of his embrace for a while, relief still coming over her like waves in the sea. She hadn't realised how tense she'd been until the feeling had gone.

A sound from Lois made her break away from him reluctantly.

"Um…I think I got all the kryptonite off," she said from the sink.

"Let's see," replied L.

She checked Lois's hand, and, satisfied with the result, took her into the living room to test her on Clark.

"We've got to know sooner or later," she explained, "and there's no sense in both of them getting a dose."

Lois offered her hand gingerly out to Clark, who looked at it as if it were a poisoned chalice. Nevertheless, he took her wrist and peered down at it as before. "Anything?" asked Lois anxiously.

"No," replied Clark. "I feel fine. This, on the other hand, needs a band-aid, and we don't have any."

"CK can fetch some," said L. "I'll tell him."


CK stirred his improvised pasta sauce, made out of the various tins and dried ingredients he'd found in Clark's cupboards. It wasn't exactly one of his most sophisticated concoctions, but at least it was food, and it was hot.

A feminine arm snaked around his waist.

"Smells good," said L.

He gave her a rueful smile. "Not what you'd call haute cuisine, but it's the best I could do. I was just wondering if I should put on the pasta — is everyone ready to eat?"

"Well, I guess so, except Lois needs a plaster for her hand, and I said you'd go and fetch some for her."

He shrugged. "Sure — won't take me more than a couple of minutes. Clark's all right, though, isn't he?"

"He says he's fine, but I still think it's safer if you go."

"Okay." He was about to spin into the suit and launch himself upwards when he remembered something. "Oh!"


"Can you get some money from him? I don't think our cash will be legal tender here."

L raised her eyebrows and nodded slowly. "Good point. But why not ask him yourself?" He hesitated, then turned quickly to the pasta sauce pan and stirred it a bit. "I have to keep an eye on this." He snatched a quick glance over at her and saw her frowning at him disapprovingly. "It could catch on the bottom if I don't stir it," he added.

And he wasn't ready to talk to Clark yet.

He heard her leave and come back a minute later. "Here," she said, handing him two ten dollar bills and giving him a look he studiously ignored.

"Thanks." He abandoned the sauce and spun into his suit, ready to leave.

"Want me to keep stirring?" she asked sarcastically.

"Oh…yes. That would be good."

He rushed off before she could say anything, and was back five minutes later with the band-aids and some wine for their meal. He handed her the box and took over at the cooker. "Tell them dinner will be ready in around ten minutes."

"And will you be dining with us, or are you going to hide in here all evening?" she asked with a touch of acerbity.

He pulled a face. "Lois, I am not hiding. I'm cooking."

"Have you spoken to Clark since he told you about you know what?"

"No, but-"

"You're hiding," she said flatly, and turned to go back into the living room. "You have to talk to him sometime," she shot over her shoulder.

Yes, he did. Because although he'd calmed down a lot, he still wanted to know why Clark had felt the need to hurt his wife. That made him mad. And yes, he was avoiding Clark for the same reason — because he was angry with him.

Ten minutes later, he was decanting pasta and sauce into serving dishes and following L back through into the lounge, where she'd already set the table.

Lois was already sitting at the table, looking annoyed about something. Clark was just pulling up a chair. "I guess nobody wants the Chinese I brought back from Metropolis," he said off-handedly.

"You brought take-out?" asked CK in surprise, pausing in the act of placing the pasta sauce dish on the table. Why hadn't he said anything?

"Yes, but it's probably cold by now anyway," Clark replied dismissively. "You might have said you were going to cook," he added with a trace of belligerence.

<You didn't give me a chance!>

CK laid down the dish before answering, biting back the swift retort that was on his lips. "I'm sorry," he said slowly and deliberately. "It was getting late, and I didn't know you were planning on getting us anything."

"Well, you *are* our guests. I don't usually let my guests starve."

"Clark!" exclaimed Lois.


"You're being incredibly rude."

"Am I? I thought I was just explaining to CK here how well I usually take care of my guests."

"Stop it," she muttered angrily. "Just stop it."

CK began to wonder if he would have been better off lurking in the kitchen after all. Clark seemed hell-bent on annoying everyone he spoke to. Yes, it was a shame he'd brought back food that was going to be wasted, but it wasn't worth sulking over. Silently, CK began dishing up the pasta, starting with L's plate.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" burst out L irritatedly. "Let's get the blasted take-out and have that too."

She pushed her seat back, grabbed some cartons off a side table and brought them back to the dinner table. Ripping them open one by one, she dumped them unceremoniously in the middle of the table. "There. Now everyone's happy."

CK laid her full plate of pasta in front of her as she sat down again, and looked at Lois. "Can I have your plate, Lois?"

"Sure," she said, handing it up to him.

Clark began helping himself out of the opened take-out cartons.

CK finished Lois's plate and looked at Clark. "Do you want any pasta?"

"No, this is fine, thanks," replied Clark, digging vigorously into the rice with his fork.

It looked stone cold as far as CK could tell. He gave himself a portion of pasta and sat down to eat.

They ate in silence.

Lois cleared her throat. "Is there anything to drink?" she asked, fingering the stem of the empty glass to her right.

He pointed a finger at her. "Forgot the wine. Be right back."

He rushed into the kitchen, grabbed an opened bottle and brought it back to the table. "I hope you don't mind, Clark — I used some of your cash to buy a cheap bottle of red."

Clark shrugged. "Fine by me." But he put his hand over his glass when CK offered to pour some for him. "Red doesn't really go with Chinese," he said.

Lois laid down her fork deliberately. "Clark, can I have a word? In private?" "Sure."

She stood up. "Excuse us," she said to CK and L.

CK smiled up at her. "No problem."

He let out a long sigh when they'd disappeared into the kitchen together. "Is it just me," he said to L, "or is he being a complete jerk?"

"I think that's what Lois is about to tell him."


"Just what do you think you're doing?" Lois hissed in a furious whisper.

"Well, he's just so darned perfect," Clark hissed back. "Cooks a meal out of thin air, fetches your band-aids, remembers to buy wine — I bet he even made dessert."

Lois threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. "Clark, I can't believe I'm hearing this from you. I thought these people were your friends."

"They are."

"Well, you have a funny way of showing it. You've been rude, belligerent, and totally ungrateful towards them — in short, a total jerk, and with all the maturity of a five year-old. What's got into you?"

He shrugged. "He annoys me."

She wondered briefly if CK had always annoyed Clark; surely it can't have been like this every time they met, otherwise why were they friends? But she wasn't going to open that can of worms right now — he needed telling off, short and sharp. There was no excuse for bad behaviour.

"Well, find a way to deal with that and…and grow up, for heaven's sake! Let's have a mature discussion about this thing, instead of a scene out of kindergarten."

He glared at her for a moment, but she met his glare with an equally cold stare, until he turned away. "You don't understand," he muttered.

Remembering that he probably wasn't aware that she knew about the kiss, she held back from telling him she understood completely. "It doesn't matter whether I understand or not, you're still being rude," she said instead. "Does L annoy you?"

"No," he replied, as if that much was obvious.

"Then think how your bad behaviour is affecting her." She walked around him, grabbing his arm so that he couldn't turn away again. "Does she deserve to listen to you sulking over some stupid Chinese take-out?"

He pulled a face.

"I thought not. So are you going to behave?"

He stared at her for a second, and just when she thought he was about to pull away from her again, he suddenly laughed. "You sound just like my Mom."

She blinked, wrong-footed by his sudden switch into good humour. His Mom? "Well, good," she retorted quickly. "And what would she think of you right now?" she demanded, refusing to let go of her anger just yet.

He smiled fondly. "She'd give me a good telling off." He glanced around the kitchen. "Probably did it right here, once or twice."

"Sounds like she didn't do it often enough," observed Lois.

"No," he said, shaking his head ruefully, "she probably didn't." He sobered suddenly. "I guess she ran out of time."

No doubt this place reminded him a lot of his parents, but Lois still wasn't ready to cut him any slack because of that. She'd lost her mother too, after all.

But before she could make any comments, he began moving towards the door. "Come on, we'd better get back before the food gets cold. I promise I'll behave."


CK eyed Clark warily as he retook his place at the table.

"Apparently, I've been a total jerk with the maturity of a five year-old," Clark announced with surprising warmth. "I'm sorry, guys."

"Apology accepted," replied CK coolly.

"Likewise," added L.

Apparently L was less mad at Clark than CK would have expected; she gave him a small smile and a nod of encouragement. CK didn't think he deserved that from her yet — after all, she was supposed to be the injured party here, wasn't she?

Clark looked down at his plate and gave a big, theatrical sigh. "And can I please have some of that wonderful- smelling pasta, CK? This stuff is disgusting."

CK couldn't help smiling. "Sure. You want some wine, too?"

"Yes, please."

CK watched Clark take a sip of wine. Whatever Lois had said to him in the kitchen, it seemed to have done the trick. He looked far less surly and disgruntled, and he was even giving his girlfriend a small smile. CK couldn't remember seeing him so moody and unstable as he'd been the past few hours — since they'd arrived, really. Whatever had been going on in his life recently really must have upset his equilibrium.

But that was no excuse for rudeness and callousness. CK wanted more than a quick apology before he was going to trust this man again.

"How are you?" he asked politely. "I hear you got a dose of kryptonite earlier." "I'm fine, thanks. It just made me a little dizzy for a couple of minutes."

CK nodded, and turned his attention to twirling pasta around his fork. Someone else could make the next conversational gambit.

"This is very good, CK," said Lois.

"Thanks," he replied with a smile. "I didn't do much."

"Well, it's better than anything I could make," she said.

So she was as bad a cook as L? Was this possible?

He smiled again. "It's just a jar of sauce with a few extra herbs and a tin of tuna. I'm sure you could make that."

She shrugged. "Maybe. Clark's the one you should ask, though — he's experienced my cooking first-hand."

He glanced over at Clark and their eyes accidentally met over the table for a second. Clark shrugged slightly, and CK hastily snatched his gaze back down to his meal again, aware that Clark was doing the same thing. The quick glimpse suddenly reminded CK that he hadn't been able to get through to Clark earlier; now he realised why — Clark had been shutting their mind link down so that CK couldn't find out about the kiss in the kitchen. Understandable, perhaps, but hardly admirable.

<<Look, I'm really sorry, okay?>>

CK froze for a second, staring at his food. Had Clark guessed that he'd just been thinking about their telepathy, or had he somehow sensed it? Whatever — an apology still wasn't enough. It was a start, but that was all.

He raised his head slowly and looked at Clark again. This time their gazes met and held.

<<Apologies are easy>> he observed.

Clark's eyes narrowed. <<What do you want — blood?>> <<I want to know you'll treat my wife with the respect she deserves>>

<<It was a mistake. It won't happen again>>

<<How do I know that?>>

<<Beats me. Guess you'll just have to trust me>>

<<I'm having a hard time with that right now>>

Clark glared at him and bent his head back down to study his plate. CK felt a soft hand over his.

"Honey?" said L.

He turned to his wife. She was looking at him with a worried expression.

"Everything all right?" she asked.

He softened his features, realising that they'd frozen into a hostile frown. "Sorry, sweetheart — I was miles away. Did you say something?"

"No, I just wondered…never mind."

"Look," said a firm, annoyed Lois. "I can't stand this. Can we please all talk about what's bothering us, instead of playing this stupid game?"

It occurred to CK that she probably didn't know about his and Clark's ability to speak telepathically. L knew about it, of course, although she didn't always realise when they were actually 'talking'.

"What do you mean?" asked Clark in a surprised voice.

"And you, especially, can quit pretending," Lois snapped. "You may as well know now — I know what happened in the kitchen. So let's get this out in the open, can we? I'm tired of play-acting."


Clark stared at her. How did she know? He hadn't told her — he'd been intending to tell her after dinner, as soon as they could get a few minutes alone. L wouldn't have told her — she'd said earlier that he had to fix 'the mess', as she called it, himself. Which left CK. Lois and he had been in the kitchen together just before dinner.

<<You could have let me tell her myself!>> he shot at CK.


"Well, don't just stare at me, Clark," demanded Lois, interrupted the silent conversation. "Say something. Something like, 'I'm sorry, Lois', or 'I don't know what got into me, Lois'. Either of those would do for a start."

He looked around the table, seeing three pairs of accusing eyes trained on him, all watching him as if he was some kind of evil monster with two heads. CK had gone behind his back and told Lois. Lois looked like she wanted to throttle him. L seemed pleased he was getting attacked by the other two.

He snapped.

"You're right — I don't know what got into me!" he exploded. "I made a stupid mistake — a big one, I'll admit it — but it was a mistake. How many times do I have to say that? It was a mistake. A mistake! And you know what — I bet I'm not the only one in this room who's made mistakes. I'm sure everyone around this table has done something they regret."

His eyes settled on CK as the most likely culprit.

"That's probably true, Clark," said L from opposite, irritating him because he had wanted CK to answer. "But this isn't about our mistakes. It's about you attacking me for no other good reason than your own insecurities."

He tore his gaze away from CK and laughed. "Insecurities? When am I insecure?"

L sighed, shaking her head slowly. "All the time. Ever since I first met you, you've been a mass of insecurities and hang-ups." She sighed. "I thought you'd gotten over most of it when you left Lana and became Superman, but I was obviously wrong. You still can't accept who and what you are, Clark."

He couldn't believe she was saying this. Of course he could accept who he was — he'd spent his whole life dealing with it! And hadn't he become Superman because of what he was? "I don't have to listen to this," he muttered.

"That's right — you could turn away and pretend it's not happening. That's what you usually do, isn't it, Clark? Bury your head in the sand and stop listening."


"Yes, you do, Clark," interjected Lois. "You run away — like last night with Lex and the press, or you bottle things up — like you did after that bad rescue the other day. You don't confront things you don't like."

He glanced around the table again, incredulous that he was suddenly being picked on from all sides and analysed like a psychiatrist's play-thing. "What is this — group therapy? Or a lynch mob?"

"Don't, Clark," said Lois, and when he looked at her, she looked almost sad. Why did she look sad? "Stop being defensive and listen to what L is saying — she's making a lot of sense."

"Is she? I run away, do I? What about everything I did for you?" he demanded, deciding that he must have mistaken sadness for something else. "I knew who you were long before you did — did I give up when you told me to butt out? Did I give up when Luthor trapped us in that cellar? Do I run away when someone needs my help?"

"No, of course you don't, Clark," she replied calmly. "And I know how hard you fought to make me remember who I am. I love you for that. But there are certain things — personal things, usually, that you *do* avoid."

He crossed his arms angrily. "Okay, I'm here and I'm listening. What is it you want to tell me?"

He glared at Lois challengingly, but all she seemed able to do now that she'd given her free rein to say what she liked was stare back at him. He waited.

Into the silence came CK's dry voice. "How about you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about someone else for a change," he said.

"Shut up, Clark," said L, to Clark's surprise. "You're not helping."

"Lois!" protested CK.

"I mean it, honey." CK frowned at her, but remained silent. L turned to Lois. "Lois? What do you want to tell Clark?"

Lois glanced at her, then looked at him. "I want to tell you that I love you, Clark," she said, immediately taking him by surprise and deflating some of his anger. "You know that — we've been through too much together not to know each other's feelings inside out." She paused and took a deep breath. "And that's why I know L is right when she says you're insecure." He started to protest, but she laid her hand firmly over his, and somehow, he found himself falling quiet again. "It's okay, Clark. You're entitled to be insecure — life hasn't exactly been very kind to you, has it? But what you have to do now is recognise that and find ways to deal with it — ways that don't involve turning away, or internalising everything." She squeezed his hand. "You've got me now, Clark. Use me when things get tough."

As she'd spoken, his anger had drained away, until he was left with nothing but a strange lump in his throat. She seemed to see right through him; even understand things about him he didn't fully understand himself. "Lois…"

"I haven't finished," she said calmly. "This kiss — this thing you did to L in the kitchen — I need you to tell me why you did that. I think you know, really, but you're taking the easy way out at the moment and calling it a mistake. But now it's time to admit the truth to yourself, and to everyone else around this table. We all deserve to know, Clark."

Well, that was probably true, but he wasn't at all sure that he knew the answer to the question she was asking. He glanced down at her small hand covering his, and marvelled at the strength contained in such a small frame. She seemed to have more answers than he at the moment.

He looked up into her eyes. "Lois, I'm not sure I can tell you what you want to know."

She looked steadily back. "Yes, you can."

He took a deep breath. It looked like he was going to have to try — but if he was going to do this properly, he'd have to start at the beginning. "I nearly kissed L once before," he began, snatching a glance at a grim-looking CK. They'd had one horrible conversation about this a few months ago; he didn't enjoy raising the subject again with CK in the room. Nevertheless, he doggedly retold the story of CK's exile, and his own visit to their universe to try and help find him. He told of a late night, when he and L had been sitting together on the sofa, depressed and lonely, and how the late hour, and the strain of the day, had made him do something stupid. He'd always felt strangely drawn to L, even though he knew she was a married woman, and that night, he'd let his inhibitions run free. The result was a catastrophic near-kiss. They had jumped apart, and L had quite understandably put as much distance between herself and him as possible.

"It was my fault, too," added L quietly. He looked over and saw her holding onto her husband's hand. "I nearly kissed Clark. I was lonely and confused, missing CK and sitting close to someone who looked exactly like him — behaved a lot like him, too." She smiled faintly at him. "Even then, you had a lot in common with him. But something strange happened that night, and we've both paid for the consequences."

He nodded. CK's lack of surprise told him that she'd already discussed this with him, but it sounded as if it hadn't been a very easy discussion.

"But I told you then that I thought the feelings you had for me were really for your own Lois," she continued.

"Me?" asked Lois.

"Yes, you," said Clark.

"But you hadn't even met me — I must have still been in the jungle at that point," she protested.

"Yes, but remember, I told you about all of this. How I searched for you, even though I'd never met you?"

She looked thoughtful. "Oh, yes. It's all beginning to make sense…"

"Right," he said. "Anyway, I thought L was probably right at the time, and that's why I started to look for you — but it took me a long time." He paused. "A few things happened."

Like Mayson.

But he wasn't going to talk about Mayson's death. Lois already knew about her, and really, she was irrelevant to all of this.


He closed his eyes. <Sorry, Mayson>

"Clark?" A gentle squeeze on his hand made him open his eyes again. "You were saying?" she said.

"Yes. So — I found you." He smiled fondly at her. "That was the most wonderful moment in my entire life."

"What — when I yelled at you for ruining my show?" she asked with a smile.

"I've never been so beautifully yelled at. It was music to my ears," he said reverentially.

A corner of her mouth quirked upwards. "You might regret you ever said that."

"Too true," interjected CK suddenly, with a welcome spark of humour in his voice.

"Hey!" said L. "You're supposed to be keeping quiet."

Clark found CK looking at him. "See what I mean?" he said with an dead-pan face.

Clark nodded. "Think I do."

"Come on, Clark, let's get back to the subject," said Lois. "You haven't finished yet."

He sighed. "Okay. Well, I guess you know now that L and I have a…history. So now we come to this morning. We were having an argument, if you remember."

"Well, if you want to call it that. I was just trying to figure out why you'd dragged me out here," she said pointedly.

"I know. But I think you can safely say we weren't exactly getting along."

"Okay, I'll accept that."

"So I was trying to smooth things over-"

"No you were not! You were sulking."

"I was trying to think of ways to make things up to you."

"Ha! You call-"

"Guys!" interrupted L. "Let's not have a repeat of this morning, shall we? What's your point, Clark?"

He drew in a slow breath. "I wanted us to stop arguing. But then you and CK arrived, and made things even worse between us. Now I had to explain about alternate universes and visiting friends that looked exactly like me and Lois. Not exactly conducive to better relations. Do we agree on that?" he asked, turning to Lois.

"I guess so."

"So, our relationship was going through a rocky patch this morning. Next thing, I'm alone in the kitchen with you." He looked at L. "Lois and I aren't getting along, and there you are, the woman I was first attracted to, all those years ago. I…I just had to prove it to myself."

"What, Clark?"

Suddenly, it hit him with crushing certainty that they had been absolutely right. Insecurity had led him to hurt L this morning. Insecurity in his own ability to make the right choice; to sustain a relationship with the woman he loved. It was like a blow to the solar plexus.

But could he tell Lois to her face that he'd kissed L out of doubt — doubt that he'd chosen the right woman?

He took a gulp of wine.

"I needed to make sure I wasn't making a mistake — that my true feelings were really for L, not you," he said over the rim of the glass. "And you're right, L — insecurity made me do it. Insecurity in my own ability to make the right decision. I was also mad at you, and I knew it would shock you if I kissed you." He laid the wine glass carefully down and stared at it. "Everyone happy now?"

No-one answered.

"Okay, if you'll excuse me," he said, pushing his chair back slowly. "I need to freshen up. And just for the record, I'm not running away."


A few minutes later, he was back at the bottom of the stairs, steeling himself to walk back into the lounge. He'd been shakier in the bathroom than he really wanted to admit to himself, but it was time to pull himself together and face the others.

He really hoped the conversation had moved on since he left.

He took a deep breath and strode back into the lounge, towards the dinner table. All three seemed to be talking animatedly to each other, which was a relief. He was getting ready to slip quietly into his chair, when Lois noticed him approaching and gave him a warm smile which almost sent his emotions tumbling out of control again.

He gave her what he hoped was a broad smile in return; it felt a little wobbly but he didn't think she'd notice. But then she was coming out of her chair and wrapping herself around him in a big hug. He froze for a moment, surprised by her generosity. What had he done to deserve this?

"Just wanted to hold you," she murmured. "That's okay, isn't it?"

<Oh, Lois, you don't know just how okay it is…>

His tension melted away, and his arms went automatically around her soft body, joining her gratefully in the embrace he needed so much. Again, he reflected that she knew his needs better than he did himself.

"We're not mad at each other any more, are we?" she said.

"No," he whispered.

"Good." She released him slowly, letting her hand trail down his arm to clasp his hand. He liked that. She started back to the table, leading him by the hand. "Come on, we're discussing tactics."

"Tactics?" he asked, following her.

"Luthor-trapping tactics," explained CK. "L has a plan."

He sat down and smiled over at L. "Is it legal?" he asked with a wink.

She looked at him haughtily. "Mostly." ***

A couple of hundred miles away, in a luxurious bathroom, an elegant white porcelain bath set on discreet gold feet was filling up with steaming hot water and generous soft peaks of foaming bubbles. Leaning over the side of the bath to test the temperature of the water was a young blonde-haired man of no more than twenty-two. Satisfied with the result, he crossed to the adjacent bedroom.

"Your bath is ready, Ms Church."

Mindy rose from the bed, where she'd been lounging comfortably in her long white waffle-weave dressing gown. Carelessly, she let the gown fall away to display most of one leg as she moved, enjoying the furtive look from her…what should she call him? Manservant? Toy-boy? Officially, he was her personal trainer, so she supposed she should call him that.

She minced past him, giving him a sultry smile on the way. He followed her into the bathroom, and she stood at the side of the bath with her back to him.

"No peeking, now, pooky," she told him, as he helped her shed the gown. She stepped into the bubbles and sank down into the luxuriously deep bath.

She looked up at him with a mock stern expression. "I hope you didn't peek."

"No, Ma'am," he answered earnestly. "Will you be requiring anything else?"

She flicked her eyes up and down his youthful, well-toned body. "Later, pooky, later. Now go, and let me enjoy my bath in peace."

He nodded and left the bathroom. She sighed deeply and sank further into the all-enveloping warmth of the bath. All, in all, today had been very satisfactory.

Meeting Lex Luthor had been interesting. She'd heard a lot about him, but in person, he was much less intimidating than his reputation. He put on a smooth act, but really, he wasn't so sophisticated. Any fool could see that he knew nothing whatsoever about diamonds; that performance with the eye-glass had been pure male ego trying to show off. A true sophisticate would have no need for that.

He was also an old-fashioned man, with an old-fashioned perception of women. He was the type of man who would hold doors open and walk nearest to the street when accompanying a woman. Women were the weaker sex, and should be handled accordingly, according to Lex Luthor.

She could wrap him around her little finger, if she wanted to.

She smiled to herself, leisurely stretching one leg out of the water to admire her shapely calf and foot; she had a good figure, and she enjoyed using it. The diamonds had been a fair trade for the blueprints, but she knew that it wouldn't be too hard in future to swing things in her favour.

Weaker sex! If only they knew, these poor, testosterone- enslaved men.

In the meantime, a team of technicians was already hard at work, recreating the first production model of the weapon which would soon be the most desirable accessory for today's well-equipped criminal. This time tomorrow, she should have it in her hands.

Good night, Superman, she thought with a smile.


Lois felt the bedclothes get pushed carefully back by Clark as he stealthily eased himself out of bed. She remained quiet while he stood up, carefully restored the sheets to the top of the bed, and padded across the bedroom to the door. He didn't know she was awake, and after a short debate with herself, she decided to leave it so. Something told her he needed to be alone.

Not that she wasn't worried about him. He'd been restless and fretful since they'd retired to bed, exhausted after an emotional and demanding day. That was perhaps understandable, considering the battering he'd received at the dinner table from all three of them, but she'd hoped he'd managed to put all that behind him once they'd changed the subject and started planning Lex's downfall. Apparently, however, things were still preying on his mind.

She'd been told that, as a Kryptonian, he could manage on very little sleep, but she didn't entirely believe it. Physically, that might be true, but mentally, she thought Kryptonians probably needed as much 'down time' as anyone else.

She'd give him half an hour, and if he wasn't back by then, she'd go and find him.


L reached out from under the sheets and laid a hand on her husband's forearm. "Let it go, honey," she murmured.


"He's not as strong as you are; you just have to accept that. And he's done his best to apologise."

She didn't think he'd slept a wink since they went to bed. She'd drifted in and out, but every time she was awake, so was he.

She felt him turn his head towards her with a sigh. "It's not that, actually," he said.

"What is it, then?"

"Well, I haven't exactly cut him much slack. I think maybe I've been a bit hard on him."

With that, he pushed the bedclothes away and got out of bed.

"Where are you going?" she exclaimed quietly. "It's the middle of the night."

"I need to think, and I'm just keeping you awake here. Don't worry, I'll be back in time for breakfast." The bed dipped, and she felt him drop a kiss on her forehead. "Go back to sleep."

"I'll try," she replied.

When he'd gone, she rolled over and dragged his pillow down for a cuddle. It was warm and still smelt of him, and it appeared that it was the nearest she was going to get to her husband tonight.

They'd had a long talk after coming to bed, mostly about Clark's kiss and why she hadn't told CK herself about it. She'd welcomed the chance to work things out with her husband, and in time, they had explained each other's feelings enough so that there was no lingering animosity between them. She felt good about that; they seemed to have reached the stage in their marriage where everything was solvable as long as they kept talking to each other. Thankfully, they very rarely descended into abject silence, as they had done in the early days.

They'd also talked a bit about why they'd come here. It was CK who had pointed out that they seemed to have strayed from the point a little. The purpose of their visit had been, at least in part, to resolve any remaining feelings of anger and jealousy between himself and Clark, but so far, the opposite had been the case. He and Clark had argued, yelled at each other, sulked, and generally not patched up anything at all.

Lois had told him that was inevitable, given the circumstances. Clark had stretched the limits of their friendship to breaking point today, and it was a miracle they were still talking to each other at all. She admitted that she still felt slightly uneasy with him herself, despite the fact that she also felt a lot more forgiving towards him than she had this morning.

But her husband had obviously embarked on one of his obsessive bouts of self-doubt. It wasn't good enough for him that he and Clark were clearly well on the way to a more amicable relationship with each other; he thought he should have done a better job of handling the situation.

Well, there was a time for talking; for persuading him out of his obsession, and there was a time for silence; for letting him work things out in his own way. Tonight, he needed the latter. Just so long as he didn't come to any wrong-headed conclusions, she was content to leave him alone.

For now.


Clark reached down and fished the milk carton out of the fridge door, the light from inside spilling out into the darkened kitchen and highlighting his serious features.

He took the carton into the living room and sprawled out on the sofa, resting his feet on the coffee table in front of him. A swig from the carton sent a cool stream of milk down his throat and into the pit of his stomach. At least some things never changed, he reflected; there was nothing better than ice-cold milk straight from the carton, preferably late at night when there was no-one around to scold him and tell him to use a glass.

He'd discovered this immutable fact as a boy, right here in this farmhouse. Developing superpowers had often sent him downstairs in the dead of night, to struggle with the meaning of his strangeness. He'd sit here for ages, wondering why he was different and just where those differences would end. Would he wake up one day and discover he'd grown an extra head? Would he grow into a giant, or worse still, a monster?

Some things never change.

Here he was again, still trying to figure himself out. Thirty years of age, and he still didn't know who he was. Clark Kent, the reporter from Kansas, or Clark Kent, the superhero from Krypton?

Or Clark Kent, the man who'd just had too much of life.

L was right; he was insecure. On the whole, he thought he probably had the right to be, but he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do to cure himself. How did you get secure?

'Stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about other people,' CK had said.

That had really stung, especially coming from him. CK was usually so reasonable, that for him to say something that cutting meant that Clark really must be failing badly as a member of the human race.

Mostly human, he thought with an inner laugh at his own expense.

So, was that the way to go? Forget about himself and concentrate on everyone around about him? Let his own problems fade into the background, and that way, he'd start to feel secure?

But he'd tried that once before. He remembered a late night conversation, a hundred years ago in a different lifetime…


He eyed Mayson warily as she perched on the edge of his bed and lectured him.

"Another thing. What you did over the past few days was heroic, kind beyond belief, brave, and I'll always be in your debt for helping us catch Michael Shand. It was also incredibly stupid. You drove yourself to the brink of exhaustion, and you almost lost all sense of perspective in the process. You could have hurt yourself badly, and then you'd have been no use to anyone, let alone the people you strive so hard to protect. So you have to promise me you'll never do anything like that again."

"I-I'm not sure I can. When I see people in trouble, I have to help."

"Clark, you can't help all of the people all of the time. Even a superhero can only do so much."

"I guess…"

"And I don't want a boyfriend who's so exhausted he doesn't have any energy left for me," she added with a smile. "And I'm planning some very energetic activities for us both, believe me."

He remembered his elation at that point; marriage had even been mentioned.


He closed his eyes in pain. Ten minutes after that conversation, her car had been blown to pieces and he was on his hands and knees, trying to breathe life into her lifeless body.

He took another swig of comforting, ice-cold milk. It was a long time since he'd let himself remember that conversation, and it seemed that time hadn't dulled the pain.

"Lois would kill you if she caught you doing that."

Startled, he opened his eyes to find CK standing at the door to the lounge. "Probably, but fortunately, the kryptonite is at the end of the lane," he replied dryly. "What are you doing here?"

CK shrugged and came further into the room. "Could ask you the same thing."

Clark held up the milk carton. "I have an excuse. What's yours?"

The corners of his mouth turned down. "Stuff on my mind," he answered non-committally. "Any of that left?" he asked, indicating the milk.

Clark handed it to him and watched him take a long drink.

"Ahhh," he sighed. "Nothing like ice-cold milk straight from the carton."

"A-men," agreed CK.

He had a strong sense of deja-vu about this late-night encounter with CK. Maybe it was because of remembering Mayson — there had been that other night, here in this very room, when CK had held him while he blubbered like a baby over Mayson's death.

Another painful memory. An embarrassing one, too.

"You okay?"

He looked up to see CK frowning slightly at him. He shrugged. "Just remembering a few things I probably shouldn't."

CK sighed heavily and flopped down on a chair opposite him. "I'm lucky," he said philosophically. "I've never had to face the death of someone I loved — Mayson was somewhere in between a friend and an acquaintance when she died. I was upset, of course, because I cared about her, but I didn't love her. So I can only imagine what it must be like."

Clark stared at him, stunned at his friend's incredible perception. Surprise made him answer honestly. "It never goes away. You think you're over it, and you go for weeks, months, or even years without it hurting, and then something happens, and you're right back where you started."

CK nodded. "They're always part of you. The bit that needs fixing from time to time."

"Yeah. So you fix yourself, and off you go again — until the next time." He laughed softly at himself. "I guess I'm just in need of some emergency maintenance work."

CK leaned over the coffee table and handed back the milk carton. "You'll be needing this, then."

Clark smiled and took a couple of mouthfuls.

"How did you know?" he asked.

CK smiled apologetically and pointed a finger at the side of his head. "I wasn't exactly mind-reading, but I got a strong sense of what you were thinking about.

"Of course… Guess I have to be careful what I think from now on," said Clark ruefully.

CK shook his head with a laugh. "No way am I going to start eavesdropping on your thoughts. I've got enough going on inside here without having to deal with someone else's thoughts as well."

Clark laughed. "Likewise."

"So what else do you do aside from drinking milk when you need emergency repair treatment?"

Clark considered this. "Go flying, sometimes."

"Me too," agreed CK. "There's nothing like a flight over the oceans or across the Arctic to clear your mind."

He imagined himself soaring high over the Pacific, looking down on the vast expanse of restless ocean, and had to agree. He'd done it many times before, and he always felt fresh and cleansed afterwards; free of whatever troubles were plaguing him.

"Let's go, then," he said suddenly.

"What — now? Together?"

"Yes, come on," he said, standing up. "We can fly high so no-one sees us."

CK grinned. "Except maybe the military."

"Well, if we fly close enough, then hopefully all they'll see is a bigger dot than usual and think I've put on weight."

He spun into his suit, and waited for CK to do the same. With a laugh, CK stood and followed his example. "Let's go, then."

They took off, capes fluttering behind them, heading for the west coast and fresh, clean sea air.


The next morning, everyone was up early. There was still the kryptonite to deal with, and they needed to fly into Metropolis and Clark's apartment before there were too many people around to see them. In particular, they wanted to avoid any lingering press reporters who might still be hanging around the apartment.

The atmosphere was much lighter than the previous day. It seemed that a good night's sleep, or in some cases, a good night's flying, had helped everyone put things into a clearer perspective. A sensitive observer might have noticed a slight awkwardness between Clark and L, but otherwise everyone was a lot more at ease with each other. Besides, there was a new sense of purpose in the air, and they had lots to do.

Lois and L spent a strenuous half-hour breaking up the kryptonite rock, using some tools Clark had found for them in his father's old shed. Neither the rock or the kryptonite were particularly hard substances, but it still took both women all their strength to make small enough pieces to fit into the lead piping.

When they were finished, they took turns to clean off under the shower, while the two Clarks flew up high into the stratosphere and launched the piping into the sun. They did it together, and shared a satisfied grin when it flew out of their hands and hurtled at massive speed into space.

Then Clark locked up the house, and they all took off for Metropolis.


A couple of hours later, when Lois and Clark walked nervously down the ramp into the newsroom, there was a definite lull in the usual background hustle and hubbub. Lois caught several people snatching their eyes away as she scanned the area coolly. She tightened her grip on Clark's hand, and felt him squeeze back reassuringly. Turning to give him a quick grateful smile, she noticed one particularly rude man giving Clark a hostile glare, and decided enough was enough.

"Yes, we're back," she announced loudly. "Take a good look, why don't you? — stare all you like."

There was a moment's silence. A quiet, sarcastic voice said, "Welcome back, Lois."

She recognised the voice, and gave its owner a sickly sweet smile. "Why, thank you, Cat — it's good to be back. Come on, Clark, let's get back to writing the news and leave Cat to her fluff pieces."

She continued down the ramp with Clark, and breathed a silent sigh of relief as the conversation gradually returned to normal levels around them.

"Fluff pieces?" murmured Clark.

"She's never written a decent piece of journalism in her whole career," retorted Lois. "She wouldn't recognise an important news story if it was written in letters a mile high in the sky."

He smiled. "I take it you and she don't get along?"

She shook her head. "Never did before I left for the Congo; don't expect we will now I'm back. But let's forget her, Clark. We have more important things to do."

"Yes. You want to phone L and give her the number of LLI's ex-safety officer while I make a start on a follow-up story for Jeff?"

"Okay." She located the number, and dialled.

"Yes?" replied a non-committal voice.

"I've got that number for you. His name's Norman Peretti, and his number's 555-3970. He didn't work directly for Lex, but that doesn't matter — he'll still know what the company's standard safety procedures were for demolition work."

"Let's hope they included surveillance cameras," replied L.

"Yes. I'm willing to bet they did; we just have to hope we can get the tapes."

"We'll get on it right away. How was it over there?"

Lois glanced over at Clark, who had his head down over a pile of newspapers. "Frosty. Looks like we're not too popular right now."

"Well, hang on in there, Lois. You know you're right."

Lois smiled. "Thanks." Clark looked up from the newspapers with a grim expression. "I better go — it looks like Clark needs me."

She replaced the received and crossed to his desk. "What's up?"

Silently, he swivelled the pile of newspapers around for her to read.


She looked at him. "Well, that's almost true. 'Attempted murder' would have been more accurate, but this *is* the Star."

"Keep going," he said grimly.

She checked the next few papers.





"Clark, you knew this was coming," she remarked, examining his stern features. "Jeff did warn you."

"I know, but seeing it in black and white…well, it's not easy. That last one is the worst — people need to trust Superman, Lois. It's what he stands for."

"Well, we're going to show them that they can trust him." She picked up all the newspapers and dumped them ceremoniously in the trashcan. "Come on, let's get on with that story."


L replaced the receiver and handed her note of Norman Peretti's phone number to CK. "You're on."

He gave her an optimistic smile. "You're sure I sound exactly like Clark?"

"Even your Mom couldn't tell you apart," she confirmed.

He dialled the number. "Hello, Mr Peretti. This is Clark Kent."

He raised an amused eyebrow, leaving L wondering just what Peretti had said to him. "Thank you. I'll pass what you said onto Lois. Mr Peretti, you remember what you told us about LLI's poor safety procedures on building sites? Well, we wondered what they were like at demolition sites, such as the Cedar Villas apartment block."

He paused. "Yes, that's right — the building we were trapped in. Would there have been security cameras, for example?"

She held her breath, because this was important. There was a longer pause, and then he nodded, giving her the thumbs- up. "Okay, and would there have been tapes?"

He nodded again. "Do you know which security firm LLI would usually use…? Hold on…" He made an urgent writing motion in mid-air, and she quickly scrambled for the nearest pen and handed it to him. He wrote something at superspeed and handed it to her.

'Jack Holmes — Holmes Security — 555-2381'

"Thanks, Mr Peretti, you've been a great help." He replaced the receiver and beamed at her. "He says there would have been cameras inside and outside the building, to make sure no-one came onto the site just before demolition day. They would have been mostly for show, though, because that security company is basically a one-man operation, and Peretti says he knows for a fact that they never actually had anyone monitoring the cameras."

She nodded. "So anyone could have walked in or out of the building. Which explains why no-one raised the alarm when Lois and Clark were trapped in there by Lex." She grinned. "So all we have to do now is get the tapes."

"So long as Luthor didn't have the cameras switched off that night," he cautioned. "That's a big if, Lois."

"Well, if he's so lax about safety that he hires a firm that doesn't even bother to check the cameras, then he probably forgot all about them," she said dismissively. "Come on, hand me that phone — I want to have a word with Holmes Security."


Clark was so engrossed in his work, he jumped when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

"Sorry, Clark. I assumed you'd hear me coming."

He swivelled in his chair. "I'm not always switched on, if you know what you mean. Hi, Jeff."

His editor nodded. "My office in five, okay?"

"Sure. Do you want Lois, too?"

"No, just you."

Jeff walked away, leaving Clark with little idea of whether his editor was calling him into his office to yell at him, or whether he simply wanted to hand out work assignments. He'd definitely been mad yesterday when Clark had phoned him, but he'd calmed down by the end of their conversation.

He looked over at Lois, who was giving him a questioning look. He shrugged his shoulders helplessly in return.

"He wants to see me in his office," he called across the aisle. "Don't ask me why."


Jeff stood up behind his big oak desk when Clark opened the door. "Come in, Clark," he said.

Clark looked tired, he thought. In fact, since Jeff had assumed the temporary editorship at the Planet, the young reporter had never looked as vibrant and energetic as he had in the days when Jeff first knew him. Life just hadn't dealt Clark a fair hand, he reflected. Even his work as Superman seemed to have increased his burden, when Jeff would have thought that he could have gained a lot from helping people and saving lives. Maybe it was just that Jeff only noticed the bad times, when he would stare blindly at his screen for minutes at a time.

Still, today Jeff hoped he had news to lighten Clark's load a little. He saw that Clark had already noticed his visitor. "You know James, of course, Clark."

The Planet's owner, James Olsen, rose from the couch and shook hands with Clark, who was looking surprised and a little wary. "How are you, Clark?" asked Olsen.

"Fine, Mr Olsen. And you?" he replied politely.

"Stocks and shares are looking a bit peaky, but otherwise I'm fine," replied the owner with an urbane smile.

"Have a seat, Clark," said Jeff.

He watched Clark settle himself in his visitor's chair, while Olsen went back to the couch.

"Is this about yesterday?" asked Clark. "I know I should have been here-" Jeff held up a hand. "Relax, Clark. You and I will have a chat about that later. No, this is about…well, perhaps I should let James explain."

He looked over at his boss, who leaned forward and addressed Clark seriously. "The main reason I'm here, Clark, is to give you an update on Ralph Pinedo. I know you've had a lot of run-ins with him in the past, so I thought you'd appreciate being the first to know."

Jeff reflected that 'run-in' was a serious understatement. From what he'd heard, Ralph had pretty much conducted a single-minded program of employee harassment against Clark while Ralph had been editor of the Planet. Or maybe racial harassment might be more accurate, he decided, considering all of it was centred on Clark's non-human heritage.

"Know what?" asked Clark.

"That as of this Monday, Mr Pinedo is no longer an employee of The Daily Planet," replied Olsen. "His conduct at that management course we sent him on was no better than it was here, I'm sorry to say. A number of complaints were received of a very serious nature, and as a result, we had to let him go."

Jeff saw Clark relax visibly. He doubted that Clark had been much concerned about Pinedo's status with the paper lately; he'd had other things on his mind, but Jeff was still pleased to be able to give him some good news for a change.

"That's…good," said Clark tentatively.

Olsen laughed. "It's okay, Clark — you can be honest. The man was a complete waste of space and what you should really be saying is good riddance and may he rot in hell."

Clark smiled. "Thanks for taking the time out to tell me personally, Mr Olsen. I appreciate that."

"No problem. Now, as I'm here, I want to talk to you about this Lex Luthor business."

Clark immediately went tense again. "Mr Olsen, I'm sorry I wasn't here yesterday-"

Jeff thought he'd never seen someone so desperate to apologise for something. "Relax, son," he said. "James isn't going to chew you out for that — that's my job." At Clark's stricken look, he smiled. "Only kidding."

"Clark, you've directed a very serious accusation at Lex, and you're using up a lot of column inches in my newspaper on it," said Olsen. "I just need a single answer from you — yes or no. Is it true?"

The room became very still. Clark drew himself upright in his chair, and Jeff watched a subtle transformation unfold, from an anxious, tired reporter to a determined, powerful young man. He was impressed; even without the suit, Clark had unmistakably just become Superman.

"Yes." The single word was spoken with steel in his voice.

Olsen nodded curtly. "Good. You have the paper's full support on this, Clark. Don't disappoint me."

"Believe me, Mr Olsen, I won't."

Olsen stood up and shook Clark's hand again. "Always thought there was something fishy about Lex. He's just too good to be true, if you ask me."

"Well, I'm sure Clark here will get to truth, with Lois's help," said Jeff, standing with the other two.

"Ah, yes — I hear I have you to thank for getting one of our best reporters back, Clark," said Olsen. "Ms Lane was here before my time, but I've heard good things about her work."

Clark nodded. "She's the best."

"Well, make sure we don't misplace her again," he said with a laugh. "Are we paying her enough, Jeff?"

"Ah…I guess we could review that," replied Jeff, reflecting that it was probably just as well Olsen didn't know just how little they were paying Lois. He'd have to fix that.

Olsen turned to leave, but then seemed to remember something and paused at the door. "You haven't asked me who the new editor is, Clark."

Clark looked surprised. "Well, I didn't…I wasn't…"

Olsen grinned. "You tell him, Jeff."

Jeff beamed at Clark. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

He was delighted with the huge, happy grin which spread over his reporter's face. "That's great, Jeff! Congratulations!" Clark grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. "Does that mean you're bringing the family over from Gotham?"

"As soon as we can find a place to stay, yes." He smiled ruefully. "Julie's going to be crabby as hell for a while until she makes new friends, but the upside is I won't have to eat any more of her rock-hard cookies for a while."

Julie was his eldest daughter, who had been sending him awful jars of home-baked cookies since he'd taken over at the Planet. Clark frequently had the dubious pleasure of helping him eat them.

Clark grinned. "If I had a dentist, I'm sure he'd be very pleased to hear that."

Jeff laughed. "Well, mine certainly will be. Now, get out there and give me some headlines. We'll talk later about that other thing."

Because as sympathetic as he was towards Clark's situation, he was employed to run a newspaper, and that meant he needed staff he could rely on. Clark was as reliable as they came, on the whole; he just needed a gentle reminder of his responsibilities as a senior member of the reporting team.

Clark nodded, his happiness just a little deflated, and left the office.


L replaced the receiver. "Did you get all that?" she asked CK.

He appeared to consider. "Let's see — Holmes Security *do* keep tapes from their security cameras, but they don't keep them at the office. It takes at least 48 hours to get tapes back from their off-site storage facility, so LLI, as represented by Ms Lois Lane," he grinned at her, "will just have to darned well wait. Except he didn't say 'darned'."

No, he hadn't. Jack Holmes was a man of few, albeit choice, words. She nodded. "Sounds like we'll just have to get those tapes ourselves," she said with a wink.

"Shame he didn't give us an address for the place," said CK.

She shrugged. "We have a name — what more do we want?"

"Hayes Storage, wasn't it?" She nodded, and he pulled the phone towards himself. "My turn," he said with a grin.


Lois saw Clark emerge from Jeff's office, and was relieved and pleased to see that he looked happy. She'd half- thought Jeff had called him into the office to yell at him again for not turning up at work yesterday. That was the last thing he needed right now, after the tension of last night's dinner-table conversation. And if Clark was going to get a telling-off, she expected to be next in line — which she also needed like a hole in the head right now. So far, the day had started well, and she wanted it to stay that way.

When he saw her watching him, he diverted on his way to his desk to perch on edge of hers. "Good news," he said enthusiastically.


He grinned. "Jeff's decided to stay on as editor."

Now this *was* good news. "That's great! What happened to Ralph?"

"He was 'let go'," Clark replied, indicating quotes in mid- air.

She snorted. "Given the boot, you mean. Let's hope it takes him a very long time indeed to find another job."

He shook his head with an amused smile. "You're all heart."

"Well, he sounded like a complete slime-ball, if you ask me. You're well shot of him."

As they talked, Lois reflected that Clark really did seem more relaxed today. A little weary, perhaps, but generally more at ease with himself. Whatever he'd done or wherever he'd gone last night must have done him a lot of good.

She'd trundled downstairs last night after the half-hour she'd given herself, to find the place deserted. After ten minutes' sitting on the sofa spent wondering whether to go looking for him outside, she'd decided he could be anywhere, given his unique abilities, so she may as well return to bed and hope he'd return before morning. Some strange instinct had told her he would be all right.

For her own part, she was feeling the benefit of a good night's sleep. She felt calm after the storm of yesterday; the chance to air her feelings to both Clark — and especially L — about Lex had really helped, and she realised that, in fact, she'd hardly given him a thought after she and L had returned to the farmhouse. She'd been so concerned with Clark's idiotic behaviour in the kitchen with L that she'd forgotten her own problems. Plus, she really felt that she'd connected with L; here was a woman who understood what she'd been through with Lex.

Then there was the fact that they were back in the city, where she belonged — she wasn't a country person, at all. It was too quiet in the country, and there were too many…things. Unpredictable, creepy, crawly, flying things. Yes, it was comforting to know the country was there, for anyone crazy enough to like it, but it could stay where it was, as far as she was concerned. She would stay here, in the city.

Finally, it was great to know that L and CK were working back at Clark's apartment on the plan to catch Lex. They'd decided last night that L and CK would work on implicating him in the attempt on their lives, while she and Clark would dig into his business affairs at the Planet.

All in all, maybe things were starting to look up at last.


Clark returned to his desk, reflecting that Lois seemed a lot happier today. He was pretty sure he hadn't had much to do with that — quite the opposite, really — but it was great to see her returning to her old self again.

Personally, he felt buoyed up by Jeff's news. He'd already started the day feeling much more positive about everything than he had yesterday, and it really looked as though things were starting to get better for them at last.

Last night's flight with CK had undoubtedly helped. They hadn't said much, they'd just soared through the night sky together, flying side-by-side. It hadn't really mattered where they went, either — there had been a natural ebb and flow to their flight; sometimes CK taking the lead, and sometimes himself.

For a few wonderful hours, he'd felt completely free, with not a care in the world.

However, after a while, they'd found themselves nearing Yosemite National Park, and by mutual consent had made for Glacier Point. There was a full moon, and as they set down, the whole of the valley was laid out before them. They stood together, gazing silently out over the majestic slabs of vertical rock-face and thickly-forested landscape.

"Makes you realise what's important," remarked CK quietly.


"I mean, leading a double life can get pretty complicated, don't you think? But coming to a place like this makes you realise why you do it."

Clark nodded, still gazing out over the mountains. "Everything's simple out here."

They fell silent again, staring in quiet companionship out over the moonlit valley.

"I nearly killed a man yesterday," said Clark eventually.

He wasn't sure why he'd brought it up — he hadn't even been consciously thinking about it lately. But it felt right to raise it here, in this peaceful place, standing beside the one person who might just understand what he was going through.

He felt CK turn to look at him, and sensed the silent scrutiny, even though he couldn't bring himself to face his companion.


He nodded. "He was attacking Lois."

"So you had to stop him."

CK made it sound so logical; so inevitable. Except Clark had been neither.

"I lost it. Completely lost control. Once I had my hands round his neck-"

"You were strangling him?" interrupted CK sharply, and the surprised tone in his voice made all the guilt come flooding back. Yes, he'd been strangling Luthor; slowly squeezing the life out of a man with his bare hands.

A flash of a beet-red face with impassive eyes staring coldly at him seared through his memory.

He swallowed hard. "I think I only meant to scare him at first."

"So what happened to change that?"

Another flash of cold eyes and a set mouth.

"He didn't care. He didn't care that I was threatening him, because he knew I wouldn't go through with it."

CK paused. "So you snapped."


Blind fury. Vulnerable, soft flesh and fragile bones under his fingers, so easy to squeeze into oblivion with his immense strength. The impassive eyes that didn't care; dared him to prove them wrong. All his senses screaming kill, kill, kill…

He heard a sharp intake of breath beside him, and turned to find CK staring at him, white and visibly shaken.

"I'm sorry," Clark said in shock. "Did you overhear…?"


He turned back to face the valley in shame. "Then you know what a monster I've become."

"Not unless I'm that monster, too," said CK quietly. "Clark, I recognised those feelings — I've felt them myself." He paused. "That's why they shook me up."

Clark slowly began to remember another conversation they'd had a few months ago. "Lord Nor."

"Yes. I nearly killed him, and I went through the exact same feelings you did." He paused again, then took in a deep breath. "Why didn't you kill him?"

This was the part where Clark really began to feel sick inside. This was where his ethics and moral code came crashing down around his ears, and he was no better than Lex Luthor himself. The brutal truth was…

"Lois stopped me."

God help him; if Lois hadn't been there, he would be facing a long, dark tunnel of crushing guilt and devastation, with only a jail sentence and an effective end to his life in sight.

"Just like I got interrupted by the kryptonite gas."

Clark nodded, realising the similarity of their situations for the first time. "I suppose so." He stared silently at the scenery, absorbing that new information.

"How do you cope?" he asked eventually.

"I remember something a good friend of mine once told me. I'd just finished yelling at him that he couldn't possibly understand what it was like to want to kill someone that badly. He put it quite simply — he said the basic fact was: I didn't kill Lord Nor. I could have, but I didn't."

Clark remembered saying that, but it sounded trite now. It sounded too easy.

"Clark, you could let this eat away at you for the rest of your life," continued CK. "You'll still never know the answer. Accept that you didn't kill that day, and leave it at that."

He thought about that. Yes, he'd never know the answer, and yes, he didn't kill yesterday. What about tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that?

"We have these incredible powers…" he began.

"I know. Believe me, it terrifies me as much as it does you to think what would happen if we ever lost control of them. But we're both adults; we've gotten this far in life without losing control. I think it's safe to assume we never will."

Clark nodded slowly. It wasn't a certainty, but maybe nothing in life ever was.

He felt CK's hand touch his arm lightly. "Come on. Let's fly again."

CK nodded again, and followed his friend up into the night sky, to soar free once more.


Luthor swivelled impatiently in his plush leather office chair. Something was missing. He wasn't getting that sense of a job well done; of closure.

He'd sold the quantum disruptor designs to Ms Church, just as he'd planned, and by now the criminal fraternity of Metropolis should be well on the way to finishing the job he'd started a few days ago in that condemned building. Since that meant he was effectively using the whole lot of them to carry out his execution work for him, he'd expected a glowing sense of satisfaction.

Instead, he felt strangely impotent. All he had to do was sit back and wait to hear the unfortunate news of Superman's death, but it wasn't enough.

He gazed restlessly around his office, looking for the answer.

The Daily Planet logo, sitting amongst a sheaf of newspapers on his coffee table, caught his eye, and immediately, he had his answer.

Lois Lane.

He needed to get rid of her. Obviously, she had regained her memory, at least in part, and it was probably only a matter of time before she remembered the rest of it. While he could undoubtedly bluff his way out of most accusations she threw at him, it was an annoying scandal he could do without.

Plus, she had left him for another man, and Lex Luthor did not tolerate being cuckolded.

So she, and her boyfriend, would simply have to be dealt with. This time, he wouldn't fail.

And never mind that Mindy Church thought she was going to make a fortune selling mass-produced weapons based on the design he sold her. If Superman was already dead, why would anyone need her weapons?

He smiled. Now he was experiencing that glow of satisfaction he'd missed before.


"Lois? It's L."

"Hi! How's it going?"

"We think we've found the tape warehouse. CK's just left to check it out."

"That's great. So — looks like we might be in for a late one, tonight?" suggested Lois with a grin.

"I think a spot of nocturnal exploration might very well be on the cards. But that's not why I'm phoning."

"Oh? What's up?"

"Well, I've been thinking. Did you ever wonder why Lex treated you so badly?"

"Frequently," replied Lois grimly.

"Yes, but I mean, really wonder. In my experience, Lex wouldn't do the kinds of things he did to you just for the sake of it. That's not his style."

Lois raised her eyebrows. "You think he had a specific motive?"

"Yes. Now, you said you went out to the Congo to investigate gun-running, right?"

"Yes…but I never actually broke the story. It's all a little hazy still, but I think I was watching a deal when I got shot at. That's when I lost my memory."

"But what if your presence scared the dealers off? You'd have been responsible for messing everything up for whoever was organising it."

"True, but what's this got to do with Lex?"

L paused. "What if he was the organiser?"

"The guy in charge? That would be a huge co-incidence, wouldn't it?"

"It's a little loose, I grant you, but ask yourself this — what was Lex doing in Lagos, Nigeria, where he says he picked you up?"

Lois thought. "He never said. But Nigeria is just next door to the Congo, isn't it?" She grinned. "L, I think you might be on to something."

"It's worth a shot, anyway. See what you and Clark can dig up — if Lex was involved in illegal gun-running, then we've got him."

"By the short and curlies. Okay, we'll take a look. Have you two thought about dinner yet? We thought pizza."

"Sounds good to me — see you later."



CK hovered high over the warehouse, x-raying down into the building to check that it did, indeed, hold boxes of tapes. His viewing angle was too acute to actually read any of the labels on either the tapes or the boxes, but it looked like they'd got the right place.

He studied the layout of the warehouse, noting the exits and any security measures they would have to avoid. It occurred to him that, in effect, Superman was casing the joint — not a very honest occupation for an upholder of truth and justice. However, this wasn't the first time he'd used his powers like this, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. He shrugged mentally — he wasn't Superman here, he was CK. Also, the end, in this case, definitely justified the means.

The building appeared to be reasonably easy to break in to. Especially if two of the breaking-in party were super- powered.


"Mr Kent, what do you say to people who are claiming you're not up to the job of superhero any more?"

Clark gripped the receiver tightly and reminded himself to stay calm. This was the fifth phone call like this today.

"I have nothing to say," he replied evenly. "If you want to know more, read my story in tomorrow's Daily Planet."

"What about accusations that you should be locked up in a mental hospital?"

A swift retort jumped to his lips, but he stopped himself just in time. "I have nothing to say," he repeated, determined not to give anyone even the barest hint of a quotable quote. He knew only too well how easily a careless remark could be twisted by his colleagues in the media.

"Mr Kent, are you saying that the Daily Planet, the paper you yourself work for, is the only paper you'll tell your side of the story to? Isn't that a little undemocratic?"

Clark smiled at the pout in the interviewer's voice, and knew he'd won this round. "I have nothing to say," he said again. "Goodbye."

He replaced the receiver with a satisfied flourish.

"You okay?" called Lois from across the aisle.

He gave her a brief smile. "Yes, I think I'm getting the hang of this. They try to provoke me; I annoy them by not saying anything. He who lasts longest wins. Simple." "Well, just say the word if you want me to field any of your calls for you."

"Thanks. So — how are you doing with that?"

She'd explained L's call to him, and he'd immediately remembered his own suspicions very early on, when he'd started to look into Luthor's affairs. The man had grown a tiny construction company into a huge business. Mostly, he'd used his own finances, until the company was big enough to begin making acquisitions out of its own resources. Yet Luthor didn't appear to have inherited the kind of money that required, and Clark had never figured out how he could have obtained it legitimately. The gun- running theory therefore seemed very plausible to him.

Lois had set to work digging out her old files on the case.

"Come over here and I'll show you," she replied, and he crossed to stand behind her.

As she brought him up to speed on the old investigation, part of his mind was wondering uneasily how she was coping with this. Would it reopen old wounds; start her thinking about her missing memory again? Worse still, would it remind her that she still didn't know whether she'd ever been a prostitute or not? In his heart, he believed she never had — never could have, but he also understood that she needed to know for certain.

Her voice stumbled on her narrative, and immediately, he put his hand on her shoulder. "Lois? What is it?"

"Pete." Her hand came up to hold his on her shoulder. "He was a good guy, Clark — and a very good photographer. I wish I'd never dragged him out there."

She'd told him before that Pete had been shot dead by the arms dealers. Sighing heavily, he hunkered down beside her and took both her hands in his. "I'm sure he understood the risks just as much as you did, Lois."

"I know, but…"

"But nothing. Don't beat yourself up over something that wasn't your fault," he said gently. He paused, idly stroking his thumbs over her fingers and knuckles, wondering if he should say what was on his mind. Looking up into her face, he saw regret and sadness in her eyes, and decided.

"Lois, you know that what I said before still stands, don't you? We don't have to do this if you don't want to — we'll probably still have enough to get him with the security tape."

She smiled a little. "You have a lot of faith in L and CK. But I'm fine, Clark, honestly. It's good to go through all this stuff again — and I'm hoping something here might jog my memory."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. But thank you for caring."

He reached up and kissed her lightly. "Comes with the territory." He glanced at the screen. "So, where were we?"

"I was telling you how I'd figured out the main dealer was right here in Metropolis."

"Oh, yes."


By the time they were ready to go home, they'd written a good, scathing riposte to Luthor's offer for psychiatric counselling for Clark, remarking in passing that the offer had probably caused serious offence to those in genuine need of counselling and help. They'd also set a few hares running regarding the source of Luthor's early wealth, when he had been building up his company. Nothing was said which wasn't true, but they posed a searching set of questions which no-one else appeared to have asked.

They'd also got some very promising information about Luthor's travel habits all those years ago. Working through a friend of Clark's old ball-playing companion, Chen Chow, it appeared that Luthor had made several flights on scheduled services to the Congo. They'd tried to get the accompanying visa records from the Congolese Embassy, but unsurprisingly, had received little co-operation. Clark had remarked that the chances were that Luthor hadn't even bothered with visas, but had just bribed his way through the officials at Brazzaville airport.

However, they were definitely beginning to close the net on Lex Luthor. It was time to go home, eat dinner, and then embark on a little nocturnal snooping.


Pitch-black night. A low, concrete building lurking in the middle of a deserted, dingy wasteland. Four dark figures huddled around a door.

Sounds of a murmured, though animated, conversation; something about hairstyles and the relative merits and demerits of colour-washes.



"Oh, for goodness sake, CK, there's no-one here! Is he always such a worry-wart, L?"

"'Fraid so."

"Mine too. You'd think they'd be used to it by now."

"Personally, I don't know why they don't just leave this to those of us with the nerve-"

"Will you two be quiet?!"

"Relax, Clark."

"How can I relax when you two are doing your best to wake up half the neighbourhood?"

"This isn't a neighbourhood, it's a warehouse." "There might be guards."

"CK said there weren't any guards."

Long pause.

"Well, maybe they just work nights."


"Clark, do you want to do this or not, because-"


"We're in."

Echoing footsteps on concrete.

"This place is big!"

"You any idea how she can tell it's big when it's pitch black in here?"

"Beats me, Clark."

"It feels big, okay?"

"Yes, Lois."


Sotto voce aside. "It *feels* big?"

Soft murmur. "I think it's called women's intuition."

"Oh. Right."

"Are you two going to stand there chatting all night or are you going to start looking for these tapes?"

<Sigh> "Yes, L." Silence.

Long silence.

"Well? What do you see?"


"We're looking."


"Any idea why they need silence to use their eyes?"

"Beats me, L."

"Better humour them, I guess."

"Yeah, men can't multitask like we can."


"Okay, I think I've found the boxes for Holmes Security."

"Great, Clark! Where?"

"Over there."

"Ha. Very funny — you know I can't see where you're pointing."

"Thought maybe you could 'feel' it, sweetest."

Pregnant pause.

"Just get the tapes, okay?"

"Yes, Ma'am!"


<soft thud>

"Got them."

"And don't ever call me Ma'am again."


Sotto voce aside. "Why did we bring them?"

"Beats me, Clark."



"And don't pretend you two felt that."

<high five>

"Nicely done, Lois."

<low five>

"You too, L."

Long pause.

Very long pause.

"How did they see to do that, CK?"

"Beats me, Clark."


Lex lay sprawled on his bed, idly watching his lover re- dress herself. She had a good body, he thought. Perhaps slightly too thin for his tastes, but he'd seen worse — and he was getting a very pleasing view of the best parts as she bent to step into her panties. It was so useful to have a secretary who was willing to provide additional services, he reflected with satisfaction. What an excellent find Mrs Cox had been.

The bedside phone rang, and he frowned slightly, annoyed by the untimely interruption of his viewing pleasure.

"Lex Luthor."

"If you want the tape, you'll have to pay for it," said a rough male voice.

He raised an eyebrow, mildly irritated by the uncouth demand. "I'm sorry, I think you must have the wrong number," he replied dismissively, although he didn't replace the receiver immediately.

"You *are* the Lex Luthor who's being accused of murder by that reporter from the Planet, aren't you?"

"Attempted murder," he corrected absently, his mind beginning to race ahead. What tape was this person referring to? Was this a bluff? How much money was at stake? "What if I am?"

"Then you'll be wanting the tape."

Lex shook his head. "I'm afraid I haven't a clue what you're talking about. Either explain yourself properly, or stop wasting my time."

"You see, I didn't figure it out right away. When your secretary phoned-"

"My secretary phoned you?" Lex looked over at her while he spoke. She paused in her dressing and frowned at him, mouthing 'who is it?' to him.

"Yeah, she phoned this morning, asking about the security cameras at Cedar Villas and if I could get her one of the tapes. I told her no way, lady, they're-"

"Who are you?" demanded Lex. Security cameras at Cedar Villas?

There was suddenly a strange buzzing sound in his head and his mouth was dry. Surely the demolition people hadn't actually followed proper safety procedures for once in their lives? Surely there hadn't actually been security cameras at Cedar Villas, filming the interior of the building?

The building in which he had trapped Kent and Lane, knowing it was due for demolition the following day?

That would be preposterous.

The rough voice spoke again. "Jack Holmes of Holmes Security. We do the security for your demolition sites. Now, I figure this — if your secretary wants that tape back so bad, then there must be something worth seeing on it." He cleared his throat. "So you're gonna have to pay."

Lex gripped the receiver violently. "Hold the line," he said, forcing his voice to remain calm.

Leaning over and depressing the privacy button on the phone, he looked over at Mrs Cox. "Did you phone a Jack Holmes of Holmes Security this morning?"

She stopped buttoning her blouse and looked at him with a puzzled expression. "No. Why would I? Admin deals with all that."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. What's the problem?"

Lex ignored the question while he thought furiously. He vaguely remembered the company name the man had mentioned, from a half-remembered conversation with his security chief. That meant that the caller was probably genuine. In turn, that meant that there probably was a tape from a security camera at Cedar Villas, which might well show him with LeFevre, shooting Clark Kent…

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

How could he have been so stupid? He'd planned it so meticulously, executed the plan so efficiently, yet he'd still made a mistake.

He needed to get that tape. Right now, before whoever had phoned Holmes this morning got hold of it.

He released the privacy button. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Mr Holmes, but I believe you'll find that the tape in question shows no more than the very empty interior of an unremarkable apartment block. I'm afraid your sordid little attempt at blackmail has failed. Goodbye."

He replaced the receiver and took a moment to control his rising temper. Someone, somewhere, was going to pay for this, and he had a good idea of who that would be. However, first things first.

"Mrs Cox, Holmes Security have some tapes which I wish to retrieve. See to it." She nodded briefly, and bent her head to finish buttoning her blouse. "Now," he said sharply.

She shot him a fiery glare, but he didn't care. He swung his legs off the bed and stood up. "I'll expect a report from you after I've had my shower." Slinging his dressing gown over his shoulders, he pushed into the en-suite bathroom.

Standing under the hot needles pounding down from the shower-head, he let his anger take its course.

That damned woman and her tiresome boyfriend! No doubt they had phoned the security firm this morning to ask about the tapes.

He slammed his hand against the wet tiles furiously.

And again.

And again and again, until his palm stung.

How could he have been so stupid?

He slammed the tiles again.


"Clark, we didn't need the whole box. We only needed the one video."

Clark glanced at CK with a long-suffering look before answering Lois. "Okay, you tell me which one is the right one," he invited, opening the top of the plastic crate and stepping back for Lois to see.

They were all standing around one end of the conference room table at the Daily Planet, having come here after the raid to make use of the video players and copying equipment.

Lois delved eagerly inside the box. L joined in, lifting out tapes and examining them all over.

"They're not labelled!" exclaimed Lois in disgust.

"Exactly," said Clark, stepping back and arranging the videos they'd dumped on the table into four piles. "Which is why we're here. There should be enough video players for all of us — CK and I can work faster than you two, but even watching on fast forward, we're still limited by the speed of the player."

He switched into superspeed to finish the sorting job, then stepped away again. "Pick a stack, find a player and get watching," he said with a grin.

CK grabbed one of the taller piles immediately. "I saw a video player out in the newsroom." There was a rush of air, and he was gone.

Clark took the other tall pile. "Jeff's got one in his office. You two may as well stay here," he added, nodding at the two video players at the other end of the room.

Lois nodded. "Okay. Yell if you find anything."

"Will do."


Lex wrapped a towel around his waist and padded back into the bedroom. The shower had cleared his mind and helped him to regain control over his emotions. He was calm once more.

As for the tape, it was an inconvenience, no more. Once it was in his hands, the problem would be solved, and he could concentrate on more important matters.

Such as killing Lois Lane.

He slipped into his silk nightclothes and wrapped his paisley dressing gown around himself again. Mrs Cox had evidently retreated to the lounge to make her phone calls, so he followed suit, intent on obtaining an update on her progress.

She was sitting at his bureau. "Well, Mrs Cox, what progress have we made?" he asked pleasantly.

She turned and gave him a slow smile. "Mr Holmes is receiving a visit from some people right now who want to know where he stores his tapes."

"Good. I take it that this means we will shortly be seeking an alternative supplier for our security cameras?"

Mrs Cox nodded. "I think Holmes Security is due to go into liquidation any day now."

She stood up and slinked towards him, swinging her hips slightly as she moved. He eyed her lithe, ebony body appreciatively. He had chosen his secretary well, he thought with a inner smile. She wrapped herself around him, lifting one leg up over his hip so that she was pressed tight up against him. "Did I do well, Lex?" she murmured in a deep, sexy voice. Her head nuzzled into his shoulder and he felt her teeth nip lightly at his skin.

He wasn't interested; all he wanted right now was the damned tape. He put his hands on her waist and pushed her away. "Not now," he said irritably.

He crossed to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large brandy. "I can expect the tape to be on my desk by morning, yes?"

"Easily, Lex."

He swirled the brandy around the large, balloon-shaped glass and bent to inhale the aroma deeply into his lungs. "Then you are dismissed. Jefferson will take you home."

His chauffeur — how good that phrase sounded! — was always on standby to take Lex or his acquaintances wherever was required. Lex enjoyed exploiting this new status symbol he'd recently acquired; it was yet more evidence of his growing stature and power base within Metropolis. Soon, he would be the most powerful and influential businessman in the city.

He just had to get rid of this tape, and then get rid of a couple of people…


"Hey, guys, I think I found it!"

Lois jumped at CK's voice. Staring at long, dull acres of video footage consisting of nothing but static building interiors had put her into a kind of concentrated trance. She'd almost forgotten where she was, or who she was with.

But this was exciting news. She leapt up from her seat, almost colliding with L as they made for Jeff's office.

"Let's see!" she demanded immediately.

CK was running the tape back, and while they waited, she caught Clark's eye. He looked terribly tense. She went to stand beside him and felt his hand curl firmly around her own.

"This could be it," he murmured.

She nodded, suddenly aware of her heart thumping in her chest. "Let's hope so."

She looked up into his eyes and saw a mixture hope and anxiety; just as she was feeling herself. On impulse, she bobbed up and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

He gave her a smile and squeezed her hand briefly in return. "Everything's going to be just fine," he said reassuringly.

"I know," she answered.

"Here we go," announced CK, and they turned their attention back to the video.

It was a somewhat grainy picture of the foyer area of the tower block they'd later been trapped in. From the angle of the shot, Lois guessed that the camera had been fixed somewhere above the entrance. She could see the elevator doors on one side, and on the other, she saw the small reception desk with a blank door to one side.

She hurried up to the screen and pointed with a finger. "Clark, isn't that the door he shoved us through?"

"Yes. The one that Dr Klein broke through with his motorcycle when he came to rescue us."

"He did what?!" exclaimed L.

"Oh, didn't we tell you?" said Clark. "He rammed it with the wheel."

"But that bike is his pride and joy!" said CK.

Clark nodded. "I know. I guess-"

"Clark," interrupted Lois. "We can talk about that later. Look."

Lex Luthor had entered the picture. It was only a back view, so as yet he wasn't clearly identifiable to anyone who didn't know it was him, but what made Lois feel sick was seeing herself in his arms. He had one of her hands twisted half-way up her back, and he was frog-marching her into the centre of the foyer. Behind him came a shorter figure carrying a large canvas bag.

"That's LeFevre," said Clark to CK and L.

As they watched, LeFevre retrieved a chair from behind the desk and placed it in the middle of the floor. Lois was forced down onto it, obviously resisting as hard as she could, and then tied down.

With a lurching stomach, Lois suddenly remembered what happened next and moved to stand in front of the screen. "We can fast-forward through all this," she said quickly. "Nothing much more happens until Clark arrives."

"But we need to see them set up the quantum disruptor," objected CK, frowning at the interruption.

"There's not much to see," she insisted. "They take it out of the bag — that's about all."

She looked pleadingly at Clark, hoping he would understand. He alone knew what Lex was capable of; how he had treated her when she had been Wanda Detroit. She didn't want the others to see that.

The moment seemed to last forever, but at last he nodded slightly, his expression grim. "Lois is right, CK — we don't need to see this. Why don't you give her the remote so she can fast-forward it for us?"

<<And please don't argue>>, he added silently.

To his credit, CK adjusted his attitude immediately. He smiled warmly at Lois and handed her the remote. "Sure. I guess I've seen L tied to a chair enough times in the past — haven't I, sweetest?"

L grunted. "If you say one thing about dangling over the jaws of death, you're history."

Lois took advantage of the good-natured banter to turn and quickly move the tape forward to the point where she could see Clark's cape appear at the front of the picture. She let it run on normally, and went to stand beside him, still clutching the remote. There probably weren't any more instances like the one she'd just avoided, but she wasn't taking any chances.

She felt him slide an arm around her shoulders and squeeze slightly. She leaned into him, grateful for his solid presence beside her.

It wasn't that Lex had done anything outrageous. All he'd done was lean down and kiss her fully and aggressively on the lips. He'd said something dirty and depraved to her as well, but that was all. No big deal.

Except it showed exactly how he used to use her; how he had treated her like a sexual play-thing to be switched on and off at his convenience. She had no desire to share that aspect of her relationship with anyone except Clark, even when the audience were friends who would probably be very kind and understanding. She had felt disgusted and deeply humiliated at the time; now she was ashamed.

She watched Clark stride into the foyer and immediately get struck in the chest by some sort of searingly bright bolt of light. Beside her, she felt him suck in a sharp breath. On the screen, he crumpled to the floor, clutching at his chest.

"Hold on," said L. "Can we see that again?"

Lois stopped the video, ran it back and let it run again. This time, she concentrated on the peripheries of the picture, as she suspected L was doing too. Sure enough, there was a clear view of LeFevre training the quantum disruptor at Clark as he strode into view, and then a beam of light emanated from its barrel.

Where was Lex?

She found him, a few paces away from herself, pointing a normal gun at her head.

"If that's not classed as being an accessory to attempted murder, I'm a banana," commented L dryly. They watched Lex stroll across to Clark, saw him turn and beckon to LeFevre to come closer, saw Clark push himself weakly up with his hands and say a few words, saw him try to trip Lex up with his feet.

"I thought maybe if I could make him fall near me, I could…I don't know, knock him out or something," explained Clark. "As it was…"

His voice trailed off as LeFevre, under Lex's apparent encouragement, fired the quantum disruptor at point blank range into Clark. Clark collapsed and was still.

Lois couldn't bear it any longer. She paused the tape and turned to press herself into Clark's body, holding him tightly and burying her head in his shoulder. "I thought you were dead," she mumbled.

"Hey," he murmured softly, and she felt him stroking her hair soothingly. "It's okay."

She nodded against his solid shoulder. "I know. I'm being very messy and irrational."

"No, you're not. It's not easy, watching this stuff and reliving it all again. I'm having a hard time too."

She already knew that; seeing his stricken, grim face when she'd been tied to the chair told her that. But it was good to hear him say it.

With a deep breath, she drew away from him to glance at L and CK. "Sorry about that."

CK shook his head. "Don't apologise. I can only imagine how hard this must be for both of you. Maybe we should call it a night and finish this tomorrow."

"No, the next bit is important, and I'd rather get it over with now, frankly." She took the tape off pause, and watched LeFevre release her from the chair and allow her to hurry to Clark's side, where she crouched with a hand on his shoulder, talking to him.

Then Lex was pointing a gun at her head again, and LeFevre was pointing another at Clark. She was helping Clark struggle to his feet, and with both guns trained on them, they lurched towards the door beside the desk. Lois opened it, and then Lex came up behind her and shoved a foot in the small of her back.

Lois heard a sharp intake of breath from both L and CK at that point.

"My God," murmured L in a horrified voice.

"The man's a complete monster," added CK.

Then she and Clark toppled forward into the darkness beyond, and Lex slammed the door behind them.

Lois stopped the tape.

"I think we've got him," she said.


The distant sound of a phone ringing gradually impinged on Lex's consciousness. He dragged himself reluctantly out of the deep slumber he'd been enjoying, and sleepily reached out a clumsy hand for the receiver.

"This had better be good," he snarled.

"Mr Luthor, there's a problem."

He recognised his secretary's voice instantly, and he also registered her use of the formal title. She was nervous.

"Just tell me," he snapped.

"Mr Luthor, the tapes have gone."

"Gone? Gone where?"

"Someone else must have been there before us, and taken them." He shot bolt upright in bed, his fury immediate and white- hot. "Then get them back!" he yelled.

There was silence at the other end of the phone.

"Are you listening, dammit?! Get them back!"


"Don't whimper, you stupid woman! Just get me those tapes!"

Silence again.

"Oh, for God's sake! I don't have time for this!"

He slammed the receiver down and flung himself out of bed. Seething rage and momentum took him storming into the lounge, where he paced up and down, cursing weak women, incompetent aides, greedy little extortioners like Jack Holmes, and most of all, a certain meddling, infuriating, ungrateful, unfaithful night-club singer turned reporter.

Oh, he knew who had those tapes. He knew exactly who had phoned Holmes, pretended to be his secretary, found out where the tapes were, and stolen them. He had yelled at Mrs Cox, but he'd known whose fault this really was.

Lois Lane.

And her irritating spandex-loving boyfriend, Clark Kent.

How he'd love to wring their necks; smash in their faces; make them die a messy but wholly appropriate death-

He stopped pacing suddenly.

A plan was already taking shape in his mind, and he marvelled at his own ability to think with such stunning clarity at times such as these. All that was needed was to bring forward some ideas he'd been saving for later…


Everyone was a little subdued after watching the video of Lois and Clark's night of hell. There was quiet jubilation that they'd at last acquired solid evidence against Luthor, but they were all tired after another long day, and it was difficult to summon up the energy to show how they really felt about their success.

They agreed that tomorrow they'd try and take the other half of their investigation a little further before going to the police. L had pointed out earlier that the more they could throw at Luthor, the more likely it was that some of it would stick.

Clark flew off on a last patrol around the city as soon as they arrived back at the apartment, leaving Lois half- heartedly offering her guests a cup of coffee before bed.

"No thanks, Lois," replied CK. "We're pretty beat — I think we'll just head on up to bed, won't we, honey?"

He was standing next to L, his arm loosely draped around her shoulders. Lois felt a small pang of something — envy, perhaps? — watching the couple together. They had the comfortable, easy familiarity borne of a long, stable relationship together. She and Clark didn't quite have that, yet. They were just starting out; hopefully along the same path.

L nodded. "We're upstairs, right?" she asked Lois.

"Yes, there's not much room up there, I'm afraid, but I think it'll be more private than sleeping down here on the sofa bed." She remembered a detail she'd forgotten earlier when she'd been making up their bed. "I'll just get you some towels."

"And you were going to lend me some clothes," reminded L. "Anything will do."

"Oh, yes!"

Lois retrieved a couple of towels from Clark's linen cupboard, and pulled out some clean clothes for L, deliberately picking some of her less flamboyant items. Something told her that L wouldn't like sequins.

"Here," she said, handing the pile to L. "They're a bit crumpled, but at least they're clean."


The couple hovered awkwardly for a moment, clearly feeling guilty about abandoning their hostess.

"Thanks for everything today," she blurted out suddenly, realising abruptly how much she'd appreciated their help. Without their ideas and advice, she and Clark would probably still have been floundering around for a way forward with Lex.

"That's okay," answered CK with a tired smile. "It's what we came here for.

"It's always good to help rid another world of Lex Luthor," added L.

Lois nodded. "Well, I — we, still really appreciate what you've done." She saw L suppress a yawn. "You look like you should be in bed," she said sympathetically. "You'd better climb those stairs while you still can."

"What about you?" asked CK, obviously still reluctant to leave her alone.

"Oh, I'll be fine — don't worry about me. I'm just going to wait up until Clark comes home."

"You're sure?" he asked. "L and I could wait with you."

"No, you go on up." She smiled. "Someone has to use the bathroom first."

L pushed forward decisively. "That would be me."

Lois smiled again, and flopped down on the sofa to wait for Clark. She heard CK jog up the spiral staircase to the tiny, makeshift bedroom, and then she spent the next ten minutes flashing quick smiles at them as they passed by on the way to the bathroom or upstairs.

Finally, they were gone, and she felt as if she had the place more or less to herself again.

She sighed heavily. An evil man who had taken away four years of her life was going to be brought to justice at last.

She should feel happy, elated even. She should be grinning from ear to ear, or dancing manically around the living room with glee. She should be eating double chocolate chip fudge nut brownie ice-cream with extra fudge sauce. And cream — lots and lots of cream.

Instead, she was numb.

Maybe she was just tired. Maybe she'd been wanting this so badly, that now she'd got what she'd wanted, it was an anti-climax.

Or maybe…maybe she'd seen someone tonight she'd hoped she'd never see again. Wanda Detroit, the woman she'd become for too many years of her life. Maybe she'd looked at her clothes while she was searching for things to lend L, and all she'd seen was Wanda Detroit's clothes. Maybe she'd remembered the last time she'd looked in the mirror, and the woman staring back at her had been the woman on that video. Flamboyant hair, gaudy colours, plunging necklines, sequins and spangles — all the trappings of the cheap nightclub singer Lex Luthor had owned.

The prostitute.

Her stomach clenched in revulsion. It was bad enough to know that she'd had sex with Lex, but to think of other men, men she didn't even know, pawing over her naked body, lying on top of her, kissing her, touching her…

She pressed her knuckles to her quivering lips, not wanting to make any sound which might disturb L and CK. If they thought she was upset, they might come down to check on her, and she really didn't want them to find her like this.

Mostly, she was able to put all this to the back of her mind and just get on with things. There was no point in wallowing in misery all the time; life had to be lived, and there was a lot to be grateful for — not least, Clark Kent.

But tonight…tonight she'd seen the whore again.

Oh, she told herself over and over that it wasn't possible; that Clark was right, and it was something she couldn't possibly have done. She even took small comfort in her own revulsion, reasoning that she wouldn't feel so sick and disgusted if she'd actually been capable of giving up her body to anyone who wanted to use it. She even believed Clark when he said that Lex had probably made it all up. Lex had wanted to control her, and making her believe she had a dirty, shameful past was a great way of doing just that.

But she needed to know. She needed to remember for herself, and know without a shadow of a doubt that she'd never been a prostitute.

She needed to know that she'd never again become the kind of woman who could let herself be used and manipulated by a man like Lex.

And she needed to get rid of Wanda Detroit — once and for all.


Clark soared through the night air, gazing down at the city with new eyes. Just two nights ago, he'd been flying over these same buildings, hating them and thinking how closed in and oppressive they were. He'd longed for open spaces and clear skies; ached for freedom and quiet anonymity.

Now he eyed them with warmth and familiarity; this was his home, a wonderful, multi-faceted city teeming with life and vibrancy. Yes, there were still reporters hounding him, and yes, half of Metropolis thought he belonged in a lunatic asylum, but after the raid on the warehouse tonight, he felt sure that it wouldn't be long before they realised how wrong they were. Lex Luthor would be the one being locked up, not Clark.

However, it would be foolish to be too optimistic. L had warned them that Luthor was an extremely hard man to trip up; that he had so much influence in Metropolis that he could pull lots of strings in order to avoid being caught. And they had learnt themselves — the hard way — that he was almost impossible to break. Trying to expose him on TV had been a stupid mistake, and one they certainly wouldn't make again.

So they would be cautious. Even though they had the tape, they would dig up as much as they could on his possible gun-running connections. They didn't have a lot of time; Clark was sure that news of the missing tape would somehow leak back to Luthor eventually, but the opportunity to double their chances of putting him behind bars was worth a few hours research tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, he needed to head home. Lois had been a little withdrawn on the way home from the Planet, and whilst he was sure that L and CK would look after her, he didn't want to leave her alone for too long.


She was hugging a mug of coffee when she heard the soft thud outside on the balcony. Anticipating Clark's arrival, she sat up straighter and turned to greet him with a quiet smile.

His shocked look unnerved her, even though she'd been expected it.

"Hi," she said shyly. "Do you like it?"

"It's…you've…" he fumbled, waving an arm vaguely in her general direction. "What happened?!"

"Shhh." She held her finger to her lips and pointed upwards with the other hand. "L and CK are in bed."

"Oh," he said more quietly. "I wondered where they were."

"So…what do you think?" she asked again. She desperately needed him to like it.

Once she'd cut the first lock of hair — ever so hesitantly — and then another, and another, she'd suddenly rushed into overdrive and had gone at her hair with a vengeance, ruthlessly chopping off all the curls until all she'd had left was a short head of hair cut in a slightly amateurish style, and a pile of dark clippings on the bathroom floor. Then she'd washed it, and used some gel to help blow-dry it into something a bit more sophisticated-looking. She hadn't tried consciously to copy L's style, but she was aware that there was a strong similarity.

So he had to like it, and like it because it was *her* style. Not L's, and not — most emphatically not — Wanda Detroit's.

She gave him another brittle smile. "At least I saved on hairdresser's bills."

She watched him come towards the sofa and sit down beside her. Then he lifted up his hand and stroked it gently over the crown of her head, exploring her new hair-style with his fingertips. She looked uncertainly up into his eyes, her nerve slipping. He wasn't smiling. Why wasn't he smiling?

But then he leant slowly forward, tipped his head on one side, and landed his soft lips directly onto her own. Ever so tenderly, he worked his lips over hers, and after a moment's hesitation, she responded in kind, letting herself relax into the kiss, feeling the uncertainty slide away as he left her in no doubt as to his opinion.

"I love it, Lois," he murmured. "Now I get to see even more of your beautiful face."

And with that, he slid his arms around her and hugged her close to his warm body.

Oh, how she'd needed to hear that! And how she had needed to be held in his arms like this. He made her feel safe and secure. He made her forget the horrible things, and made her feel whole again.

"I may need to go shopping at some point tomorrow," she told him in a slightly wobbly voice. "I just threw out most of my clothes."

He chuckled. "Just as well you're getting a raise, then."

"I'm getting a raise?" Jeff hadn't said anything to her.

"I forgot to tell you — I heard Mr Olsen tell Jeff he needed to pay you more money. Seems he thinks you're worth keeping."

"Well, of course I am," she replied, her voice steadying. "I'm the best."

He hugged her tighter and laughed. "That's my Lois."

Her lips starting quivering again. Her emotions were shot to pieces tonight, and she was tired; too tired to hold back the tears any longer. A small sob shook her, and she buried her head in his shoulder, trying to be quiet for their guests' sakes.

"Hey," he murmured ever so gently. "What's this?"

She shook her head slowly against his shoulder, not trusting herself to speak. Everything was so confusing. She didn't understand why she was crying, when he was being so nice towards her, and they'd had such a successful evening. She should be laughing, not crying.

"Oh, Lois…come here…" He lifted her into his lap and let her curl into his protective hug. "I knew something was wrong…I never should have left you."

"No," she said, finding her voice again. "I was fine — really. I don't know why I'm crying now, actually."

"I can think of lots of reasons why you're entitled to a good cry," he said sympathetically. "For one, that video really brought everything back, didn't it? I think we'd both managed to put it at the back of our minds these past few days, but there was no ignoring it tonight, was there? Not to mention Luthor being…well, being Luthor. And that was on top of all the digging around we did this morning into the Congo." He paused. "I wish there was a way I could stop all this hurting you so much." She felt him stroking her hair again, and fresh tears filled her eyes. "I'm sorry," she managed to squeak out, clinging onto his t-shirt.

"Shhh…there's nothing to be sorry about."

He was so kind…the tears overwhelmed her, and she sobbed quietly against him for a few minutes. She still couldn't really understand why she was so upset, but Clark seemed to understand what was wrong, and that gave her a lot of comfort. He made it all right to cry, even though she didn't know why she was doing it.

Slowly, the interval between her sobs grew longer. She wiped away the worst of the tears from her eyes with her fingers, and snuggled up against his chest, comforted by the steady rise and fall of his breathing.

"Better?" he asked, rubbing her back.

She nodded, feeling emotionally drained but a lot calmer. "Thank you." She fingered the damp patch on his t-shirt. "Good thing you're invulnerable."

"Oh, Lois…with you, I'm anything *but* invulnerable." She felt him kiss the top of her head, and slowly, she raised her head up to look at him. His eyes were meltingly soft and tender. He leant down and kissed her lips gently. "You get past all my defences, Lois."

"Clark…" Love welled up from within her — sometimes he said the most devastatingly simple, yet powerful, things to her. She reached up and kissed him, lingering a little longer this time. A different emotion was beginning to replace her sadness; one that meant comfort, love, and perhaps even a little reassurance. She deepened the kiss, feeling him respond in kind.

She needed him. But she had to know why she needed him. She had to show herself afresh that she was capable of more than empty sex. She had to show that her love-making wasn't the act of a prostitute pleasing her client, but the act of a woman in love.

She pulled away from his lips. "Take me to bed, Clark," she said in a small voice, stroking his cheek with her fingers. Without a word, he gathered her into his arms, stood effortlessly up, and carried her into the bedroom.


Marnie Mayhew peered across the dark street as she drove, checking numbers on doors. Clinton was a short street, and it didn't take her long to find the correct apartment block. She drew the van in to the side of the road, and switched off the engine.

A quick check up to the top of the building told her that the occupants were probably in; surprisingly, considering the late hour, a light was still burning in one of the rooms. She huddled down into the seat, pulling her overcoat more tightly around herself. There was still warmth in the van from the heater, but that would soon dissipate in the cold night air.

Stake-outs were a bore.

However, Mr Luthor paid reasonably well and it was pretty easy money.


CK turned over with a heavy sigh. "Don't they ever stop?" he murmured, as the rhythmic thumping began again. "How many times is that?"

"Four," answered L sleepily, snuggling into his arms.

"I mean, don't they need sleep? I know Clark doesn't, but surely Lois does."

"They're in love — they don't need sleep."

A muffled moan from Clark made CK grimace. "I'm not that noisy, am I?" he whispered.

"Oh, you can be pretty vocal at times, honey."

"But not when I know we've got company," he protested.

"I think it's kind of nice to know they don't feel inhibited, actually."

"That's not what you said yesterday," he said grumpily.

The thumping grew faster, and CK fought the temptation to bury his head in his pillow. When Lois groaned loudly, he gave in and pulled a pillow over his ears. "I'll say they don't feel inhibited," he said with feeling.

He felt L snuggle closer. "Well you know what they say — if you can't beat them, join them," she murmured sexily.

He froze. "No. Absolutely not."

"Awww, come on, Clark. We may as well have some fun while we're not getting any sleep."

"I am not making love with you while my alternate self and his girlfriend are at it less than twenty feet away from us. It's too… kinky."

"Kinky?" L laughed softly. "Honestly, Clark, you're so quaint and straight-laced sometimes."

"It's my Kansas farmer's son upbringing," he replied defensively. "Besides, they're not exactly a turn-on. More of a turn-off, actually."

"That can be remedied," she said with a saucy smile, snaking a hand downwards underneath the bedclothes.

He batted her away gently. "No! I am not doing this."

She pouted. "Okay. Guess I'll have to find a different way of dealing with this feeling I've got."

He lifted up his pillow cautiously and opened one eye to look at her sideways. "Feeling?"

"Yes, you know," she answered innocently. "Arousal."

He swallowed. "You're aroused?" "Oh, yeah. Big time," she nodded. "Want to see?" She started peeling the strap of her night-gown off her shoulder.

"No, I do not want to see!" He retreated back under his pillow. "Count sheep, or something," he suggested.

"Well, I'm not sure that'll do the trick, but I'll try."

She fell quiet, and they lay on their backs in the semi- darkness, while the male and female groans and moans from downstairs escalated in frequency and volume, and the thudding grew more frantic.

L moaned.

CK frowned underneath his pillow, not sure if he'd heard correctly.

She moaned again, adding a little gasp at the end.

He lifted up his pillow and turned his head towards her. "What are you doing?"

"Counting sheep." She moaned again.

"No you're not, you're moaning."

"Am I?"

"Yes. Three times, so far."

"Well, I'm sorry, but they're very sexually active sheep." She moaned again, this time arching her back and straining her chest upwards. The move forced him to notice that her night-gown shoulder strap had slipped down her arm, revealing a large quantity of inviting, smooth skin. "Oh, god, that ram," she moaned. "He's so big!"


"Well, he is."

He pulled the pillow back. "Concentrate on the female sheep." "I'll try, but he's very — oh!" He felt her arch off the bed again. "Oh, honey, he's making me so hot!"

He couldn't help laughing, but at the same time he was aware that his body was beginning to respond to her teasing.

"Oh, wow, honey! I'm not sure how much more of this I can take," she said, and moaned again, her body writhing provocatively under the sheets. A peek from under his pillow revealed a lot more than he was expecting to see…

He pulled the pillow back again and gritted his teeth against his growing desire. Try as he might, he couldn't get that alluring image of her out of his head. It went along with a vivid sense of the pleasure he could experience if he just let himself give in to temptation.

With that thought, there was no denying it any longer; he wanted her, and it was all her fault. She was a vixen at times, he decided.

She groaned.

It was too much. He surged out from under the pillow, and surrendered himself to the fiery passion she'd driven him to.




"We're not that noisy, are we?"

"Don't think so."

"Mind you, if that's what marriage does for your sex life, then I hereby hand in my resignation from the single men's club."

"Clark!" <thwack>

"Owww! That's twice you've hit me tonight." "And twice you pretended it actually hurt."


Long pause.

"Did you mean that, Clark?"


"The bit about marriage."




Very long kiss.

"Night, Lois."

"Night, Clark."


Marnie was thankful when the grey, pallid light of dawn crept over the tops of buildings and seeped down into the streets. She was stiff and cold after a mostly sleepless night, and hopeful that the morning would bring action and the justification for her long vigil.

She rummaged in the glove box for her radio, pulling out sweet wrappers, dirty polystyrene cups, and crisp packets to find what she wanted. She was momentarily distracted by a passable-looking peanut cookie which she wolfed down gratefully, not really caring how long it had been there. It wasn't mouldy, and that was good enough for her.

She found the radio and wiped away the worst of the crumbs from its buttons.

"Are you ready? Over," she said.

The radio squawked and then a rough male voice answered. "Yeah. Just tell us when and where."

She waited a few moments, then pressed the button frustratedly. "You're supposed to say 'over'. Over."

There was a noisy sigh from the radio. "Over," said a sarcastic voice.

She frowned at the radio. "What does that mean? Over."

"It means shut the f*** up until you want us to do something." The voice paused. "Over and out."

The radio burped and then was silent. Marnie glared at it, and then threw it in disgust onto the passenger seat. People just didn't know how to follow protocol these days.


L picked her way gingerly down the spiral staircase, hopeful that she'd correctly interpreted the sounds from below and that the bathroom was free. She was crossing the lounge when Clark emerged from the bedroom, clad only in his sleep shorts.

"Oh!" she said, slightly embarrassed by the amount of bare male flesh she could quite plainly see. "Sorry — you go first."

"No — after you." He gestured with an arm towards the bathroom, avoiding her gaze quite conspicuously.

"No, really," she insisted. "You'll only take a few seconds, so you may as well go before me."

"It's okay — I'll wait. Go on, L — you're my guest."

She shrugged awkwardly. "Well, okay, if you insist."

Ten minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom to see him leap up from the sofa he'd been waiting on. "L, can we talk?"

She couldn't help it; her eye ran up and down his largely naked body.

"Um…" he said, his cheeks reddening. "Maybe I should put some more clothes on first."

She nodded. "That would be-"

He became a flesh-coloured blur momentarily, and then he was standing in front of her again, wearing a knee-length towelling dressing-gown.

"-good," she finished, fighting the urge to giggle at his eagerness. She pulled her own, albeit borrowed, dressing- gown around herself and perched on the edge of a sofa.

He sat gingerly opposite her. "We haven't talked much, you and I, since…well, since that dinner at the farmhouse. I wondered whether you had noticed that too."

She sighed heavily. "Yes, Clark, I noticed it. What do you want me to do about it?"

"Nothing," he answered quickly, then seemed to reconsider. "I just wondered, though…maybe if we talked more, then this thing between us might get fixed more easily."

She shook her head slowly. "Clark, you can't just fix a thing like this. It takes time."

"I know. But I'm not sure how much time you and CK are here for, and I'd hate for us to part on these terms." He paused. "I want us to be friends, L."

"I do, too, Clark." That was certainly true — she hated this uncomfortable atmosphere which lingered between them.

"Then you'd agree we need to talk more?" he said hopefully.

She studied the carpet. He was making a lot of sense, she reflected — and sounding a heck of a lot like her husband in the process. Was it time to forgive Clark for his rash, insecure behaviour when he'd kissed her? She reflected that she'd already given her husband a brief lecture on forgiveness and understanding — so was it time to follow her own advice.


She came to a firm decision, and looked up to face him squarely. "You're right — it's time to put this right. But I don't think talking is the answer."

His face fell immediately. "But…"

She stood up. "Come here."

He got out of his chair and came hesitantly towards her "L…? I'm not sure…"

She took a deep breath as he came within range, and wrapped her arms securely around him in a warm hug. "This is the answer," she told him.

She felt him hesitate.

"It's time we broke down this stupid barrier between us," she said, rubbing his back. "Come on, put your arms around me before I feel like a complete idiot."

That made him chuckle softly. He returned her hug, saying, "L, you're amazing, you know that?"

"Yes, I think I'm pretty spectacular, myself." She squeezed him gently. "Now, are we done with fighting, or do I have to call Henderson and ask him to lend me a flak jacket for the duration?"

He chuckled again. "I think we're done."

"Good." She paused. "You can let me go now, Clark."

"Sorry!" he exclaimed, releasing her. "It's just the relief, you know…"

She smiled. "It's okay. I know you weren't trying to seduce me."

He returned her smile. "Thank you for trusting me."

She nodded, understanding the double meaning in his words. "Trust is what friendship is all about, isn't it?"

"Yes. I hope I can live up to that trust."

"I'm sure you can, Clark. Just remember to be proud of who you are, and the rest is easy."

He nodded, smiling again. "Did anyone tell you you sound just like your husband sometimes?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I resent that remark."


CK's cheery voice made her turn around. "See?" she said dryly over her shoulder to Clark. "I don't sound a bit like that. He's far too cheerful." She turned back. "Morning, sweetest."

CK slung a casual arm around her shoulders and gave her cheek a quick peck. "Did I miss something?"

She shrugged. "Nothing important. But you'd better get in that bathroom quick before Lois gets up."

"Okay." He left her and made his way towards the bathroom. "Morning, Clark," he said happily in passing.

L shook her head in disgust. "Far too cheerful."


Lois had woken up with a headache. The vice-like grip around her head had gradually made its presence felt as she became more aware of her surroundings, and now she was lying with her eyes closed, contemplating the idea of getting out of bed with very little enthusiasm.

She knew why she had a headache: too little sleep. It had already been very late when Clark had carried her into the bedroom, and she'd been exhausted after a long and demanding day. In those circumstances, the sensible choice would have been to settle down to sleep straight away.

But she hadn't been feeling sensible. She'd been feeling vulnerable.

So she and Clark had made love well into the early hours, and she had made sure raw passion obliterated all the other difficult and raw feelings swirling around her mind. Had she made love like a prostitute? No. Quite the opposite, really. Yes, she'd led most of the time, but she knew her passion had been very real. So real, in fact, that she'd insisted that they repeat their loving over and over until even Clark was exhausted.


A fond smile played around her lips despite the headache. He'd sort of proposed to her just before they fell asleep. Of course, it wasn't a real proposal — it was said as a joke, and in the hazy afterglow of their lovemaking, but still, she wondered if it was a clue to the way his subconscious was thinking.

Well, of course it was. Clark was a romantic. He also saw what L and CK had together, and no doubt longed for the same.

But marriage was complicated; too complicated to consider when her head was fuzzy and throbbing.

She opened her eyes reluctantly and set about hauling herself out of bed.

"Good timing," said a too-bright voice.

"Hmmmm?" she mumbled.

"I think CK's about to come out of the bathroom," Clark explained, pulling on a shirt and starting to button it up. "Oh." She stood up and made her way across the room.

"Lois!" Suddenly he was standing in front of her with his hands on her shoulders.


"Don't you think some clothes would be a good idea?" His eyes flicked down her body, and she realised belatedly that she didn't have anything on.

"Oops." Her robe was around somewhere, but she couldn't face looking for it. "Can I borrow one of your shirts?"

"Sure…here, have this one," he said after a moment, shedding the half-buttoned shirt. He held it up for her to slip her arms into, and then wrapped it around her front. He kissed her lightly on her forehead, then asked, "You all right? You seem a bit out of it."

She grimaced ruefully up at him. "Just a slight headache. I'm sure it'll pass once I've had something to drink."

A look of regret passed across his eyes. "I guess you didn't get much sleep last night."

"No, but it was worth it," she replied, wrapping her arms around his big, solid body and laying her throbbing head on his chest. "I needed that more than I needed sleep."

She felt him bring his arms up around her back. "It was pretty special for me, too," he said softly.

She indulged herself in his comforting hug for a few moments, then pulled away reluctantly when she heard the bathroom door open. "Sounds like my turn."

CK was nowhere to be seen when she padded across to the bathroom. L, on the other hand, was just stepping off the spiral staircase.

"Morning," said Lois automatically, and saw L blink and freeze for a second.

"Like the hair," L said after a moment's pause. "It suits you."

Lois reached up a hand to her hair, feeling its short length. She'd totally forgotten about her late-night hair- cut.

"Thank you," she replied. "I've never cut my own hair before — at least, I don't think I have. Does it look okay?" She trusted L to give her an honest answer more than she trusted either Clark or CK.

"It's fine," said L, nodding. "Turn around." Lois turned to let L inspect the back. "You might want to get a hairdresser to give it a bit more shape at the back, but basically it's fine."

"Good." She paused, eyeing her alter ego whom she now resembled so closely they could be twins. "I hope you don't think I'm just copying you," she said carefully.

L shook her head. "Never occurred to me."

"I just needed a change, you know? Couldn't stand all those messy curls any longer."

"Well, that style will certainly be easier to look after."


The conversation seemed to be at an end. Lois continued towards the bathroom, letting L make her way to the kitchen.

It didn't feel right, though. She hadn't been entirely honest with L about her motives, and somewhere deep inside, she really wanted to share those with L. L would understand, like no-one else could.

"I threw her clothes out, too," she blurted out, making L stop in mid-track.

"I'm sorry?" she asked with a quizzical look. "Wanda," Lois explained. "I threw her clothes out as well as getting rid of her hair."

"Ah," said L, her face clearing. "Now I understand. This is a fresh start."

Funny — she'd never thought of it like that. She'd been thinking of it as almost an exorcism; a ceremonial dumping of the appalling person she once was. L, on the other hand, made it sound much more positive by calling it a fresh start.

"I hadn't thought of it in that light, but I guess that's right," she said. "Today is the beginning of the rest of my life — the rest of Lois Lane's life."

L smiled. "Well, I wish you the very best of luck, Lois Lane. If the rest of your life mirrors mine in any way, it's a bumpy ride — but it's never dull."

Lois returned the smile. "I can handle just about anything except dull. Only thing is — I don't actually have any clothes to wear now that I've ditched Wanda."

"Sounds like an excellent excuse to go shopping," said L with a grin. "Maybe you and I could go out later today."

Lois nodded happily. "I'd like that." But then she thought of the day ahead, which entailed her and Clark spending the morning at the Planet researching Lex's gun- running connections, and then hopefully taking any evidence they found, together with the tape, to the police. Would there be any time for clothes-shopping? "Today's going to be pretty busy," she said reluctantly. "Maybe tomorrow would be better — if you're still here, of course."

L shrugged. "Fine — whatever you prefer. Although…would it help if I went out this morning to get you at least one basic outfit? I'm guessing you don't want to wear yesterday's clothes tomorrow as well as today…?"

"No, I do not!" She didn't even like them, especially the hot pink sparkly t-shirt. And L did have the time…she could trust L to get something normal, too… "Okay, if you're sure you don't mind, that would be great." "You want a skirt or pants?"

Lois grinned. "Surprise me. Either's fine."

"This is going to be fun," said L with a broad smile, leaving Lois wondering if she'd made the right decision. Did L have a secret passion for skin-tight leotards?


Mindy Church picked up the large, freshly-minted weapon and hefted it in her hands.

"My, isn't it *big*," she exclaimed in a soft purring voice. "I never realised it would be so…impressive." She inspected the gleaming metal object with undisguised pleasure, running her fingers over its surfaces with a sultry smile.

The lab-coated technician standing beside her shoved his thick-rimmed glasses up his nose in a nervous gesture. "It has to be big to accommodate the power supply, Ms Church. Even using micro-technology-"

"Spare me the techno-babble, pooky. I just want to touch it." She gave him a naughty look, laughing internally at his flustered expression. "Can you show me how to fire your *big* weapon, pooky?"

"Erm…" he leaned over gingerly and pointed with a finger. "That's the trigger."

"So I just *squeeze* here," she said, elongating the word to its fullest extent, "and it fires?"

She lifted the weapon up experimentally and aimed it in his general direction.

"Yes. Erm…Ms Church? There's no safety catch," he said nervously, eyeing the barrel of the weapon.

She smiled. "Then I'd better be careful I don't hurt myself, hadn't I? Is it fully powered up?"

"Y-yes." He started to back away from her with mild alarm on his face.

"Relax, pooky," she purred. "You don't think I'd use it on you, do you?"

He shook his head, relaxing slightly. "No." He laughed shakily. "No, of course not."

She cocked her head to one side, as if considering something. Conveniently, the gun-site then came into view, and she practised aiming at him through it. His nose seemed to make a particularly good target.

"On the other hand, I do need to test it," she mused conversationally. "And you've pretty much fulfilled your function here, haven't you? We can go into full production, now that you and your colleagues have perfected the manufacturing process."

Now he looked terrified. "Ms Church-"

She squeezed the trigger.

A very satisfying bolt of high-energy particles obliterated him from her sight momentarily, and then there was an empty space where he'd been standing.

She smiled. "Oh, look, pooky. It works!"


Clark glanced over the aisle from his desk at Lois. She was reading her screen intently, her chin propped up on one hand. From her lack of tension and focused expression, he guessed that she'd overcome her headache, for which he was relieved. He'd felt more than a little guilty to have been the cause of her lack of sleep and subsequent malaise, even though last night had been wonderful.

She must have felt his gaze on her, because she deflected her eyes momentarily from the screen and flashed him a quick smile before turning back to her reading.

Well, maybe not exactly the cause, he amended, but he could have been a bit more responsible and made sure she got a good night's sleep.

He turned back to his own screen shaking his head ruefully. Who was he kidding? She was irresistible. Every time they made love, it seemed to get better and better. He felt a glimmer of excitement just thinking about it.

He'd been a little indiscreet with the marriage thing, though. He'd managed to cover it up as a mild joke, but when she'd asked whether he'd really meant it, the temptation to say 'yes' outright had been very strong. As it was, he hadn't been able to resist saying 'probably', as a sort of hint to her about his true feelings.

But he was sure that it was premature to be discussing marriage, even if he knew that was what he wanted. Lois wouldn't want to be crowded or rushed; she'd barely recovered from regaining her memory, and they'd really only known each other for a few weeks. It been a very intense few weeks, too, so a cooling-off period was probably needed to let their emotions settle down a little.

He could be patient.



Lois turned back to her screen, glad that the headache had finally lifted. Maybe their breezy flight here had done the trick, she mused. Clark had lapsed into protective mode upon discovering her headache, and had insisted on flying her to work — to spare her the hassle of travelling through the morning rush-hour, he said. They'd launched upwards from his balcony at the back of the building, he cradling her in his arms as if she was some kind of precious ornament.

He'd flown her right into the Daily Planet building, through one of the windows, and straight to her desk. Considering he usually avoided mixing his two jobs together like the plague, that was pretty unusual.

Then he brought her coffee.

Then she told him off for being ridiculously over-attentive and sent him back to his desk. With a smile, of course.

She scrolled the screen she was reading down to the next page, but was distracted again. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his head jerk up suddenly.

"Something up?" she called.

He was already fiddling with his tie and rising out of his seat. "Fire at-" He froze for a moment, then plunked himself back down in his chair.

"What?" she asked, puzzled. "Aren't you going to go?"

"CK's dealing with it. He said to carry on with the gun- running research." He straightened his tie and settled back at his screen.

Lois frowned at him. "He said? When did he say?"

Clark glanced over at her. "When he…when I…" He waved his hand vaguely towards his head in a strange gesture which meant absolutely nothing to Lois.

She frowned at him some more, curious as to what on earth he was talking about.

He stopped waving and gave her an oddly guilty look. "I didn't mention the…the telepathy, did I?"

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. "The what?!!"

He zoomed out from behind his desk and perched on the side of hers. "CK and I. We can communicate telepathically," he said quietly. "It's not exactly mind-reading, but if he wants to 'say' something, I can usually 'hear' him. And vice versa."

She stared up at him in awe, her mind reeling. He was telepathic?! Wow! "Clark, that's incredible. How come you never mentioned it before?"

"Well, at the start, I didn't want to overwhelm you with too much. You'd only just learned about parallel universes, if you remember." He shrugged. "Then I guess I just forgot about it."

"You *forgot*? How can you forget something as big as this?" she said incredulously.

"Lois, when you do something every day, it just doesn't seem that big a deal."

"Every day? You mean you two have been 'talking' behind my back since day one? Does L know?" she demanded.

He had the grace to look guilty again. "Yes. But we don't 'talk' behind your back, or hers for that matter. Mostly we just use it for stuff like this — when we're too far apart to talk normally to each other."

"I see. And can you read anyone else's minds — like mine?" she demanded, suddenly jumping to some very nasty conclusions…

"No. Definitely not — it's just me and CK." He smiled ruefully. "I would have thought it's obvious I can't read your mind."

"Hmmm." She considered his guileless face. "You could have been running a double bluff."

"Lois. I cannot read your mind. Believe me, there's times when I wish I could, but it just doesn't work that way."

"Okay. I guess I believe you." She shook her head in amazement. "Clark, this is incredible. You're incredible — I feel like I've only just scratched the surface of who you are and what you can do. Is there any more?" He shook his head. "No, that's it. As far as I know, anyway."

"Well, it's enough." She grinned. "So — can you say 'hi' to him for me?"

He smiled, and then his eyes became unfocused and the smile faded while, she presumed, he 'talked' to CK. It was fascinating to watch.

He chuckled softly.

"What?" she demanded. "What did he say?"

"He said it was about time I told you."

"Too right! Ask him how the fire's going — and should we be covering it?"

He did his blank look again, and then focused back on her. "It's coming under control, and there's no-one in the warehouse. He can't see any evidence of foul play so far, so it's probably not worth us going over there." He grinned. "He also says you learn fast."

She shrugged. "I'm the best — what more can I say?"


L slung her purse over her shoulder, gave Clark's apartment one last glance, and crossed to the front door. Her husband was out helping the fire department, Lois and Clark were at the Planet investigating Luthor, and she was…going shopping.

Not exactly the excitement of her normal daytime occupation, but she'd promised Lois she'd find her a decent outfit to wear, and this seemed the ideal time to go. She'd left a note for CK in case he came back before she did.

In the elevator, she checked she'd got the money Clark had given her. She'd have preferred for this to be a present from herself and CK, but their own money wouldn't be legal tender in this universe, and none of their credit cards would work, so she'd had no option but to borrow. Moreover, Lois was still waiting for her new credit cards to come through, having only fairly recently re-established a bank account, so L hadn't even been able to borrow her card and forge her signature.

It would seem strange, paying out this much money in cash — but hopefully not so strange that the shop assistant would think she was some kind of crook.

Out on the street, she turned towards downtown, keeping an eye open for a yellowcab.


Marnie Mayhew jerked up straight in her seat and peered at the woman emerging from the apartment block. She was the same height and build as Lois Lane, she was wearing the kind of clothes Lois Lane wore, but the hair was different.

Marnie frowned. What to do?

Mr Luthor wouldn't thank her for kidnapping the wrong woman, but on the other hand, he *really* wouldn't thank her for missing the right one.

They could always dump her if she wasn't Lois Lane after all.

Marnie picked up the radio. "Target acquired. Over."

The radio squawked, then a rough male voice answered. "You mean you see her? Is she heading in our direction? Over."

"Yes. Half a block to go and she's all yours."


Clark looked across to Lois just as she did the same. It was mid-morning, and they'd been working solidly on the gun-running research since they'd arrived at the Planet, swapping bits of information as they unearthed them.

"Time for a coffee and a progress meeting?" he suggested.

She nodded. "You get the coffee, I'll bag the conference room."

Two minutes later, he was carrying two cups of steaming coffee into the room while Lois was shutting the door behind him. "So, what have we got?" he asked.

"We have a list of companies owned, either now or in the past, by Lex Luthor. We have another list of companies owned by those companies, and a third list of companies which own or owned the companies on the first list." Lois grinned. "With me so far?"

Clark nodded, setting the coffees down on the table and settling into a chair. "Just about hanging in there." He sipped his coffee. "Carry on."

"Well, we also have a partial list of the sorts of business all these companies conducted. I did a search, using a few relevant key words, and ended up with Maidstone and Murphy, a small company which traded in Dallas, and Blue Panda Inc, another smallish company which worked out of LA." She paused dramatically. "Guess what they both traded in."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "Guns?"

"Right. American hand-guns, to be precise. Now, that, on its own, is perfectly legitimate, of course. It looks like they sold the guns to a string of gun shops in Texas and California — but again, nothing wrong there."

"Who owned the gun shops? Or were they all owned by different people?"

"Looks like they were all unconnected businesses."


"And as you may or may not know, all gun sales have to be reported back to the original manufacturer, so it's difficult to see how he could have fiddled the system."

Clark nodded, feeling his way around the problem slowly. "Well, let's hypothesise," he began. "Luthor buys guns from a manufacturer right here in the US and sells them through gun shops. So far, everything is above board. But, if all this is a front for a gun-running operation in the Congo, then how about this: he buys, say, a hundred guns, sells fifty of them legitimately, and then smuggles the remaining fifty out of the country."

"That would work, but then how does he account for the missing fifty in his records?" Lois shrugged, answering her own question. "I guess he could just claim he sold them on anyway — he'd need another party to claim they'd received the guns-"

"His other dealership!" interrupted Clark excitedly.

"Huh?" said Lois with a frown.

Clark leapt out of his seat and started pacing around the room, his mind racing ahead as he developed the idea in his head. "OK, let's say Maidstone and Murphy buys one hundred guns. It sells fifty of them legitimately to local gun shops, and then it pretends to sell the remaining fifty to Blue Panda Inc. Both companies forge the necessary paperwork, and then all Blue Panda Inc has to do wait a while, then sell them back to Maidstone and Murphy. The fictitious guns just keep cycling from one company to the other — if he does it irregularly, varying the numbers, it would be pretty difficult to trace."

"And if anyone asks why he keeps transferring guns from one company to the other, he just says he's responding to fluctuating demand between the two shops. That's brilliant, Clark!"

"Yes, but how do we prove it?"

"Well, it's not really going to show up in the companies' respective annual reports — we need detailed weekly or monthly records of purchases and sales between the two companies." Lois paused, and Clark waited for her, watching her frown while she thought the problem through. "OK, I found out that Maidstone and Murphy went into receivership a couple of years ago, so I doubt we'll be able to get a hold of their records very easily. But Blue Panda Inc are still in business, so if we're lucky, they might have kept copies of their old stock transactions." "Sounds like they're due a visit from Superman," said Clark, standing up and fiddling with his tie.

"Superman and not Clark Kent?" asked Lois.

"I think they're more likely to co-operate with Superman," replied Clark ruefully. "I know it shouldn't make a difference, but I've noticed before that people respond differently to the suit."

Lois nodded. "Before you go, though, tell me what *you* found out."

Clark shrugged. "Well, I'm still waiting for confirmation, but so far, it looks as though Luthor made several flights over to Nigeria and the Congo during the time period we've been looking at. Seems he wasn't powerful enough in those days to delegate all the leg-work to a deputy."

"And that might just be his downfall," said Lois with obvious pleasure. "All your stuff is circumstantial, of course, but if we can get the evidence we need from Blue Panda, then it'll be enough to get the police interested, especially if we go straight to Sergeant Henderson."

"I told you before — he's an Inspector these days," corrected Clark mildly. "But yes, you're right." He walked to the door and turned. "This shouldn't take me very long — I'll be back by lunchtime."

"I'll do some more digging into those gun shops in the meantime," replied Lois.

He nodded his agreement, and strode towards the elevators.


Walking down the road towards downtown, L spotted a yellowcab turning into Clinton from a narrow side-street and hastily put her fingers together to blow a shrill whistle. She added a waving hand in order to attract the cabbie's attention. Her efforts were suitably rewarded when the cab did a swift, if danger-defying, U-turn in the middle of the road and swung up beside her at the kerb.

She dived inside and issued her usual terse instructions, combined with specific directions on the best route the cabbie should take to get her to her destination at minimum cost. In her experience, there was little point in trusting cab drivers to select the cheapest route. They didn't like being told, but that was tough.

The cabbie nodded silently and drew away. She settled back on the seat and watched the alternate Metropolis slide by with some interest.

The street layout was exactly the same as her own Metropolis, but the shops were not. Now and then there was a familiar landmark; usually a larger shop, but the small businesses were mostly entirely different.

The cabbie took a wrong turn.

She leaned forward and tapped on the glass. "This isn't the right way," she called.

He ignored her.

Annoyed, she tried to force the dividing glass open in order to inform the idiot that he was going the wrong way.

It wouldn't budge.

She banged on the glass again. "Hey!" she shouted. "You're going the wrong way!"

No response.

She craned forward to read his identity card, thinking that if she could yell his name, he might pay attention. "Ed Brown!" she shouted, banging on the glass as loud as she could. "Can't you hear me?" Her eyes flicked up to his mirror to see if she was getting any kind of reaction at all.

Her heart did a little thump, and she checked down at the photo on his identity card again.

Ed Brown was not driving the cab. "Hey!" she yelled, now alarmed and thumping vigorously on the glass. "Who are you and why are you driving Ed Brown's cab?"

The mystery cabbie ignored her.

She grabbed the door handle and yanked.


She lunged over to the other side and tried that.


"Hey!" she shouted. "Let me out!"

As she now expected, there was no response. She flopped back into her seat, annoyed but curiously intrigued.

It appeared that someone was kidnapping her — but they didn't know that she wasn't this universe's Lois Lane.


CK touched down gracefully on Clark's balcony and strolled inside, pleased with the work he'd done at the fire and ready to tell his wife all about it. As soon as he entered, though, he was aware that the apartment was too quiet, and after softly calling her name plus spending a few seconds listening for her heartbeat, it became obvious that she wasn't there.

He was puzzled for a moment until he remembered a brief conversation they'd had earlier. She had promised Lois she would buy a new outfit to replace the last of Lois's Wanda clothes; no doubt L had gone shopping shortly after he had left for the fire.

Sure enough, he soon found the note she'd left explaining where she was. He smiled at her thoughtfulness, and decided to take a quick shower to rid himself of the lingering stench of smoke and grime.

*** L's cab zoomed through a large warehouse door, screeched to a standstill, and a loud echoing thud from behind suggested that the door had been slammed shut behind them.

She relaxed back on the bench seat, content to let whoever was kidnapping her make the next move. There seemed little point in doing anything else, given that she was trapped inside the cab. Of course, she could have yelled for Superman, but a sixth sense had prevented her from doing so as soon as she had realised she was being kidnapped, and since then she'd made a conscious decision not to call him…yet. She needed to give her kidnappers the time and space necessary to show their hand before she brought things to a standstill by calling Clark or CK. Also, she'd already decided that she wouldn't tell her captors that they'd got the wrong person. All in all, there was a lot to be learned from this situation.

There was a loud double click, signalling the release of the door locks, and the cab door was opened.

She waited. They could come to her; she wasn't going to make this easy for them.

She heard a soft male sigh. "Come on out, Lois," said a very familiar voice. "There's no point in cowering inside there."

She raised an eyebrow — 'cowering?' She couldn't recall ever cowering in her life — although the sound of that voice admittedly sent chills down her spine.

"I can have you dragged out forcibly if you prefer," he added conversationally.

She considered whether that would make it easier for her to escape, but decided that the back of cab was too confined to fight effectively. Besides, she was curious to find out what the purpose of all this was. She slid along the seat and made as neat an exit from the cab as she could, straightening up and facing her captor squarely.

"Lex," she said dryly. "Couldn't you come up with anything more imaginative than an abandoned warehouse?" He shrugged lightly. "Sometimes the old ones are the best ones. How are you, my dear?" His expression hardened. "Still giving yourself every night to your pet alien?" he said coarsely.

She covered her shock with a laugh — the Lex Luthor she knew had never been so crude. Obviously this version hadn't yet perfected the fine art of appearing civilised whilst behaving completely amorally and cruelly. "That's none of your business, Lex."

The corners of his mouth tugged downwards. "Perhaps so. Why should I care what a cheap whore does with her body?"

She laughed again, amazed at his crude tactics. "Still trying to sell that old story, Lex? Didn't anyone tell you it's way past its sell-by date? At least try something new on me."

She took a couple of casual steps away from him, to show him she wasn't at all phased by his presence. Ignoring him, she began glancing around her surroundings, looking for possible escape routes.

She wasn't prepared for his sudden lunge forward and the powerful arm around her middle, jerking her body forcibly towards his own. His ugly face filled her vision and then his mouth was on hers, slobbering messily over her lips and pushing her head painfully backwards.

Her instincts kicked in immediately, and she promptly trod down hard on his instep then brought her knee up to connect with the vulnerable spot between his legs. He jacknifed away from her with an agonised shout and she turned to run.

A solid body collided with hers and wrapped its arms securely around her. She struggled hard against its grip, using all her strength and training to try and break free, but it appeared that this person was better educated than Lex in the art of restraint. She couldn't get enough leverage or purchase to use any of her usual moves, and eventually, she had to admit defeat and succumb to her new captor.

Lex was straightening slowly and painfully by the time she was able to refocus on him. "Bitch!" he said through gritted teeth.

L regarded him disdainfully. "Really, Lex, I'm very disappointed in you. You can't even defend yourself against a woman — all that fine living must have made you soft."

"Shut up!" he hissed.

"And where's that fine vocabulary and quick repartee? Is 'shut up' really the best you can manage?"

She watched him close his eyes momentarily, enjoying his obvious suffering and confusion at her strong words. She suspected that Lois was less able to defend herself against his crude attempts at mental torture, given her long and stressful history under his influence. L, on the other hand, relished the opportunity to give this second-rate Lex a taste of his own medicine.

When he opened his eyes again, they were resolute once more and his composure had returned. "Put her in the chair," he commanded of her captor.

The man, whom she had decided must be her cabbie, began to frog-march her across the warehouse floor towards a strange-looking arrangement a few feet away. A single wooden chair sat on a shallow plinth. Surrounding the chair were four metal pillars, one at each corner of an imaginary square. The square was roughly five feet distant from the chair. It looked as though the pillars were there to generate some sort of energy beam, and she noticed with horror that there were leather shackles hanging loose from the arms and legs of the chair.

Fear began to churn in her stomach for the first time. Was this to be some sort of elaborate killing mechanism? It was clear that Lex hated her counterpart, but did he hate her so much that a simple shot in the head was too clean a death for her?

And what if she called for Superman now? Was this a trap for him, also? She was in no doubt that Lex would prefer Superman dead — Lex had already tried to kill him once. So more than likely, there would be a quantum disruptor waiting to fire on Superman the moment he showed up.

She couldn't take that chance; she could risk her own safety, but she had no right to risk Clark's, and she had absolutely no desire to risk her husband's. With their own Lex, she might have been less cautious, but this Lex had revealed a streak of bloodlust on that security tape which had frightened her. It had been that second shot, when Clark had already been lying defenceless and wounded on floor, which had told her how careless with other people's life this man was.

So, she would just have to deal with this herself. She began to struggle frantically against the cabbie again.

He grunted, and then a wad of foul-smelling material was clapped over her nose and mouth. She fought harder and harder, at once realising the significance of his move. Breathing was difficult and she couldn't escape from the fumes invading her nose and throat, no matter how hard she struggled. Her vision became hazy and a threatening darkness crept in from the sides, ready to overwhelm her. She struggled, but her limbs were heavy and clumsy.

She cried out futilely in her mind to Clark, her husband, suddenly desperate that he should hear her before she lost consciousness. Maybe dealing with this on her own had been a bad idea after all.

Her last thought was that it was sadly ironic that Lex didn't even know he was about to kill the wrong woman.



CK turned his head, frowning. He could have sworn he'd heard her voice.

He glanced around Clark's living room, convincing himself that the room was empty.

Of course it was empty; his wife was out shopping.

But something didn't feel right. He replayed the last few seconds in his head, trying to recapture the sound he'd heard. <Clark!>

It had been a faint cry in his head — just as when he and Clark communicated telepathically, but much hazier and indistinct.

He shook his head. This was fanciful and more than a little crazy. Lois and he were very close, but she wasn't telepathic, and he'd never spoken to her before like this.

The jarring sound of the telephone broke the uneasy silence in the room. He crossed over, but hesitated with his hand over the receiver. Should he answer Clark's phone?

The phone rang again and he grabbed it. "Hello?" he questioned.

"Ah, good, Mr Kent. I'm so glad to have caught you at home," said a familiar-sounding voice.

"Who is this?" he asked firmly, not prepared to jump to hasty conclusions. He noted that the caller had recognised his voice, however, and had immediately assumed he was Clark.

"Why, it's Lex Luthor, Mr Kent — don't you recognise my voice?"

He gripped the receiver, feeling a lump of lead settle in his stomach. He'd thought he'd never hear this voice again, yet here it was, sounding just as smooth and insincere as it ever did. What was Luthor up to?

It had to be something to do with the security tape they'd taken from the warehouse. Had Luthor learned of its disappearance?

Thinking quickly, CK decided to pander to Luthor's error, and pretend to be Clark.

"I'm a journalist, Luthor," he replied scathingly. "I don't assume anything until it's corroborated."

"Indeed you are, Mr Kent. And I believe your occupation is in no small part responsible for our current predicament. You see, you have something which belongs to me and I'd like it back." The bad feeling in CK's stomach grew worse. "And what would that be?" he asked.

"The tape, man, the tape. Please don't insult either of our intelligences by pretending you don't know what I'm talking about."

CK's mouth twisted. "I told you, I don't assume anything, Luthor. Especially where you're concerned."

Luthor laughed. "I'll take that as a compliment, Kent. Now, the thing is, I have something of yours, too. I thought perhaps we could trade."

"I don't trade with criminals, Luthor," spat CK.

"Oh, really? Then I suppose poor Lois will just have to die. I take it that won't be a problem for you?"

CK almost crushed the receiver in his hand. He didn't know for certain which Lois Luthor was referring to, but given the disturbed feelings he'd been experiencing just before Luthor called, he had a sick feeling that Luthor was talking about his wife. And it made little difference that Luthor probably thought he had Clark's Lois.

"That would be a problem, as you put it," CK replied tightly. "Only the problem would be for you, not me."

"My, my, Kent! Are you threatening me? We all know what happened the last time you tried to threaten me," came the cajoling reply. "Or do you think you can actually break through that oh-so-high moral code of yours this time?"

"If you so much as lay a hand on Lois, my moral code will disappear so fast you won't know what's hit you," CK retorted flatly, fury making him tremble inside. He knew exactly what Luthor was doing; that mountain-top conversation he'd had with Clark a couple of nights ago had revealed just how close Clark had come to killing Lex before. Now Luthor was trying to taunt Clark with the memory of that incident. CK took that very personally.

"Well, there is a simple solution, Mr Kent. Hand over the tape, and no harm will come to Lois."

"How do I know you're telling the truth? How do I even know you have Lois?" demanded CK.

"Because I'm a man of my word, Kent," came the cynical reply. "Just like you."

"I wouldn't trust you as far as I could throw you, Luthor. You'll have to do better than that."

"Then it appears that we don't have a deal. Lois dies exactly one hour from now. I'll be at my office if you change your mind."

The line went dead.


Lois tapped her pen absently against her teeth while she waited for someone to answer her phone call. She really wasn't making much progress with the gun shops, and the task was starting to become tedious. As she'd told Clark in the conference room, none of them appeared to be anything other than what they seemed; legitimate businesses, owned by a disparate collection of proprietors and small chains. She hoped he'd come back-

A red and blue blur streaked across the newsroom and came to a thudding standstill in front of her.

"I need to talk to you," said a very agitated and tense- looking Superman.

"Sure, Clark, what is it?" she said, rising out of her chair.

"Not here," he said tersely and led the way swiftly into the conference room, shutting the door behind him. He turned to face her, his features taut with anxiety. "Luthor has Lois," he said.

Two shocks hit her simultaneously. One, that this was actually CK standing in front of her and not Clark, and two, that Luthor had mistakenly kidnapped his wife in place of herself.

"Oh, God, CK, I'm sorry," she blurted out. "It should have been me."

She also realised belatedly that he was so upset that he'd even forgotten to call his wife 'L' — and, that, as far as she could figure out, he hadn't even checked that Clark was nowhere to be seen before coming into the newsroom as Superman. Of course, in his own world, that wouldn't have mattered, since Superman and Clark were two separate people.

He shook his head impatiently. "Never mind that now — I need you to help me figure out what to do. Where's Clark?"

"In LA, interviewing a gun dealer. Do you want to get him back?"

"It's a long way…" he muttered, but closed his eyes, frowning heavily. She watched him strain to contact Clark, his fists clenching and unclenching by his sides. After a few moments of clearly gargantuan effort, he opened his eyes again, shaking his head. "It's too far," he said despairingly.

His demeanour was very different to Clark's when she'd watched him communicate with CK. "Maybe you're trying too hard," she suggested. "Just relax and let it happen naturally."

He looked sceptical, but took a deep breath and closed his eyes again. She saw a frown begin to develop on his forehead again and touched his arm lightly. "Relax, Clark," she said softly, deliberately using his real name instead of the temporary nickname they'd adopted for him.

The frown cleared, and after a few moments, he opened his eyes. "He's on his way."

"Here?" asked Lois, wondering how they were going to explain the presence of both Superman and Clark Kent.

"No, the apartment. Come on, I'll fly you there."

She hurried out of the conference room after him. A minute later they were in the air, flitting over the rooftops of Metropolis.

"Thank you, Lois," he murmured.

"No problem," she replied.

She tried to engage him in conversation during the flight, asking him what had happened, and when he'd last seen L, but he gave only brief answers. There was a steely determination in his body language she'd not seen in him before, and it seemed to go along with a more taciturn CK who was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to speak to her. That was fine; she understood what he was going through. In the end, she offered a few words of comfort and then fell silent herself, using the rest of the flight to organise her own thoughts on L's kidnapping.


"It's a trap," declared Lois emphatically. "Lex must know that the first thing we'd do would be to make copies of the tape, so there's no point in him asking for it back in return for L. How could he be sure he'd got all the copies from us?"

Clark looked from her to CK, who was pacing up and down the living room, arms crossed tightly in front of him while his red cape fluttered in his wake. CK was the picture of a man under great strain, thought Clark. He and Lois had been batting thoughts and arguments at each other since Clark had arrived, while he, Clark, was stuck in the middle as referee.

"OK, granted it's a trap, but what difference does that make?" replied CK agitatedly. "I still need to find her, and I'm not going to do that by discussing tactics here with you."

"I thought that's why you brought us here," said Lois. "To help you figure out what to do."

"To help me find her, not…not this!" He glanced at his watch. "We've got forty-six minutes left. I'm going to go out and do a patrol of the city; maybe I can hear her heartbeat." He strode over to the window, and Clark moved quickly to intercept him with a hand on his shoulder. "Wait, CK," he said firmly. "You know you'll never find her like that. Metropolis is too big."


<Wait, CK>

CK turned anxious eyes on him. <I have to find her, Clark>

<I know, but you'll find her quicker if we work together as a team>

<Time's running out>

<All the more reason to get smart and let us help you> Clark gripped CK's shoulder reassuringly. <Together, we're stronger>

Clark watched CK close his eyes and bow his head slightly. <That's what she'd say>

<I know>

He stood by his friend's side and waited patiently, sensing him dig down deep for extra reserves of strength. He knew CK would be all right if he just gave himself a couple of moments to refocus. Clark's role was simply to remind him of that and lend support.

CK sighed and turned away from the window. "You're right. Lois, I'm sorry — you were saying you think this is a trap?"

Clark was glad he'd been right. He'd always thought he was the weaker of the two of them in a crisis, but he'd never seen CK so agitated as he had been when Clark had arrived in the apartment. Perhaps CK was off-balance because he wasn't on his own territory. Well, CK was in his own universe, and he would do everything in his power to help his friend through this.

Lois was explaining her ideas. "OK, my guess is that Lex wants you to find L, so that he can spring the trap and kill you both." She paused. "Well, kill us, to be precise, but he doesn't know that. Anyway, for that reason, I think he's getting ready to give you a pretty big clue as to where she is — all you have to do is phone him and agree to the trade."

"Surely he doesn't think I'm that stupid?" said CK, frowning.

"Or me," added Clark ruefully. "Don't forget, he thought he was speaking to me, not you. But I agree — he'd know that we'd be suspicious."

"Doesn't matter," said Lois blithely. "From his point of view, whether you think it's a trap or not, whether you're suspicious or not, what choice do you have? If you want to find Lois, you have to contact him and agree to the trade. Then he gives you the clue, and he knows you'll try to find her instead of handing over the tape."

"Which is precisely what I'm going to do," said CK forcefully.

"With one important difference," said Lois. "Lex doesn't know you, or rather Clark, has a double."

Clark stared at CK, and found CK staring right back at him. "She's right, you know."

"She is, but I still don't see where that gets us."

They both turned back to Lois. "So?" said Clark, and heard CK say exactly the same thing at the same time.

Lois half-smiled back at them. "What it gets us is the upper hand. Here's what we do…"


Mindy stood in front of the full-length mirror and regarded Metropolis's most beautiful and voluptuous crime boss with pride and admiration. To think that the woman before her had once skulked in the shadows of her father's limelight. Then, she had done her father's bidding; kept in the background while the great and the not-so-good conducted their criminal business.

She smiled. These days she was centre-stage, dealing with no less than Lex Luthor and his associates.

She primped her generous platinum blond locks and smoothed her hands luxuriously down over her brand new leopard-skin coat. Real pelts were simply divine, she decided. So much more sensuous than fake fur.

And soon she would be able to afford a hundred such skins, when people started buying her quantum disruptor by the case-load. They'd be queuing around the block to buy a weapon which could bring down Superman.

Did Lex Luthor really understand the wealth he'd given away when he'd sold her the blueprints for the quantum disruptor?


Lex looked up from the glass of malt he'd been pouring himself, and caught sight of his image in the mirror over the bar. He paused to study the man before him, dressed in a custom-made Saville Row suit, classic white shirt and discreet tie, and was pleased with what he saw. Here was a man poised to take control of Metropolis, an influential leader of the community who exuded authority and power.

His power increased almost daily. Today, he was disposing of Lane and Kent, yet it felt as easy as swatting a fly. A few days earlier, he had made a fortune selling blueprints which had cost him virtually nothing to obtain. Tomorrow, he would see Mindy Church made to look a fool because no- one would want to buy her weapons. No Superman; no need for the quantum disruptor.

He allowed himself a small smile. He'd celebrate tonight with a girl or two from the agency.

The phone rang, and his smile broadened. Right on cue, Mr Kent.

"Lex Luthor," he said.

"All right, Luthor, where is she?" demanded a very terse- sounding Clark Kent. Lex raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry," he said in puzzled tones, "did I hear correctly? I should have thought your opening gambit would have been more along the lines of 'Mr Luthor, I accept the terms of your deal.'"

"Why else would I be phoning you, Luthor?" came back the angry reply. "I believe the line was 'don't insult our intelligences.'"

"My, we are sounding belligerent, Mr Kent. All right, I'll take your acceptance of my offer as a given. This is the deal: you bring the tape to me, and in return, I will tell you where to find Ms Lane. With your speed, you'll easily make it before the bomb detonates."

"So it's a bomb, is it? Isn't that a little dangerous — or don't you care how many other innocent people you hurt?"

"Oh, no-one else will get hurt, believe me. She's tucked away in a nice safe location out of harm's way."


"Come now, Kent — that would be telling, now wouldn't it? Let's just say she'll go out with a bang and leave it at that, shall we?" Luthor smiled at his own apposite choice of words. Little did Kent realise just how appropriate they were — yet, at any rate. He took a sip from his glass before continuing. "Now, do we have a deal?"

There was a dry laugh. "Just like that, Luthor? I'm supposed to trust you to keep to your end of the bargain when you've just kidnapped my w…woman?"

"Your woman? How very possessive you're getting, Kent. And yes, you'll just have to trust me, I'm afraid. Of course, with your strength, you could always threaten to kill me if I don't tell you where to find her, but we all know where that got us last time."

"How do I even know she's still alive?"

"You don't," replied Luthor bluntly. "On the other hand, I could give you proof that she was alive when I was with her earlier — would you like that? Here…" Luthor pressed the 'Play' button on a tape recorder beside his phone and held the receiver close to the speaker.

'Lex. Couldn't you come up with anything more imaginative than an abandoned warehouse?'

'Sometimes the old ones are the best ones. How are you, my dear? Still giving yourself every night to your pet alien?'

'That's none of your business, Lex.'

'Perhaps so. Why should I care what a cheap whore does with her body?'

Luthor stopped the recording and brought the receiver back up to his ear. "I could play you more, but she became inexplicably upset after that — almost incoherent."

He wasn't going to let Kent know what Lane had really done. His face darkened; he was still tender where she'd kicked him.

"You have a foul mouth, Luthor," said Kent angrily. "But it takes more than a few crude words to scare Lois — you can be certain of that."

Luthor shrugged. "Be that as it may — she seemed very upset to me. Of course, she wasn't so upset that she refused to kiss me, but then I suppose once a whore, always a whore. I'm sure you understand my meaning," he added off-handedly, enjoying his suddenly inspired embellishment. That should get Kent worried, he thought happily. "But we're wasting time — do we have a deal?"

There was a tense silence, following by a heavy sigh. "I'll bring you the tape."

The phone went abruptly dead. Luthor raised a surprised eyebrow, then replaced the receiver slowly. He looked into the mirror at his own image, raised his glass, and toasted himself silently. Kent was an intelligent fellow — Luthor felt sure he'd already be well on his way to figuring out where Lois was.

The quarry had taken the bait.


CK replaced the receiver, cold fury and shock making his head swim. He'd never before had to deal with this; with the sickening implications of Luthor's last words. Surely the man wouldn't do such a thing?

With his back still turned away from the other two, he decided he had to ask; he had to know one way or the other.

"Lois?" he said.

"Yes, CK?" she replied. "What is it?"

He took a deep breath, and posed the question he didn't want to ask and she wouldn't want to answer.

"Do you think Luthor is capable of rape?"

There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by empty silence.

The silence told him all he needed to know.

"I thought so," he said quietly, the sickening swimming sensation getting worse. Not Lois, he moaned to himself; not his beautiful, vibrant Lois, who had so much to live for and who had thought she would never have to spend another minute in Lex Luthor's presence. Not Lois, his fearless, brave wife. Not Lois…

"What did Lex say?" asked Lois from behind him.

He turned slowly and faced the two of them, both wearing expressions of concern and sympathy. "Nothing you want to hear," he said. "But he implied…" He trailed off, his throat closing up as the words refused to come.

Clark shook his head. "He's playing mind-games with you, CK. I wouldn't believe anything he says, implied or otherwise."

"You didn't hear him," objected CK. "He enjoyed telling me-"

"Of course he did," interrupted Clark. "That's what he does. He strings you along, dropping little hints here and there, trying to make you believe anything he wants you to. He gets a kick out of it, CK — ask Lois."

Lois nodded. "Clark's right. Just look at me — he did such a good job on me that I don't know what's true and what's not any more. He does it so he can control you."

"Don't let him win," said Clark forcefully. "Don't believe anything until you can verify it yourself."

CK sighed. "That doesn't make me feel much better. But I guess you're right — there's no point in jumping to conclusions." He shook his head in disgust. "That man is the crudest, most sadistic, most evil person it's ever been my misfortune to deal with."

"He's a vicious bastard," agreed Lois with feeling. "Nothing else describes him adequately. But tell us what you found out."

CK drew in a deep breath to calm himself down a bit. "She's in a warehouse, and I'd guess it's somewhere on the outskirts of the city. She's somehow wired up to a bomb, but he insisted no-one else would get hurt in the explosion. Also, he said she'd go out with a bang — any idea what that could mean?"

"Old munitions factory?" suggested Clark.

"Fireworks?" added Lois.

CK nodded. "That's what I thought." He looked at his watch anxiously. "Thirty-two minutes. We need a list of old factories, fast."

"Okay, I'll take Lois to the Planet and we'll search the databases there," said Clark. "Why don't you start flying around the outskirts and see if you can find anything? Then we can feed you possible sites as we find them."

CK nodded again with relief. "Okay. I'll feel better if I'm out there looking for her."

Clark was gathering Lois up in his arms. "I know — that's why I suggested it."

"Thanks, Clark. You're a good friend," said CK. His anxiety made him put more emotion into the words than he meant to, and he took off into the air before he made an even bigger fool of himself.

Clark's thoughts entered his head. <We'll find her, CK>

<We have to>


*I* have to, CK thought as he sped through the sky. I can't live without her.

It was a hackneyed phrase to express how he felt, but it was true. He simply couldn't face life without her — he could exist, but it wouldn't be living.

He thought back to the day when Wells had first called on them and tried to drag them into this thing. He remembered that he, CK, had been completely against getting involved in Wells' latest attempt to engineer fate. Just back from a messy rescue, he'd been tired and fed-up when Wells had made his proposal, and not feeling very charitable at all towards Clark. The last time he'd ventured into Clark's universe, an uncomfortable rift had developed between himself and L upon his return.

Perhaps he should have resisted Wells more strongly, and refused to come here with L. He should have left her at home — then at least she wouldn't be tied to a bomb somewhere, waiting for time to run out.

He broke off his thoughts to scan more carefully through the roofs of a sprawling complex of warehouses. He examined every building thoroughly before giving up and looking ahead again.

<Lois, where are you?> Of course, knowing his wife as well as he did, he realised that he couldn't have stopped her coming. Even if he'd refused to let her accompany him, she would have found a way to follow him. It was never wise to underestimate Lois Lane, he reflected with a shadow of a wry smile.

He'd listened to Luthor's short snippet of conversation with mixed feelings. He could hear the defiance in her voice, and that had been good, because it meant that her spirit was intact. As he had told Luthor, it took more than a few taunts to scare his indomitable wife.

But to hear her quite clearly at Luthor's mercy — even simply in the same room as the man — made CK's blood run cold. This was an evil, amoral person whom Lois was trapped with, who had already demonstrated he was capable of violent, inhuman acts. Worst of all, the constant sexual undertone of Luthor's taunts scared CK to the core. How far would the man go?

How far?


Quickly, CK shoved the word to the back of his mind again and covered it over with thoughts of search: of searching the docks, the industrial areas, and the tattered areas awaiting redevelopment.

<Lois, where are you?>

He couldn't stop his mind returning to the same subject, though.

Luthor's foul language had disgusted and angered him. Not because his wife would be particularly offended by it; she'd heard far worse in her many years as a reporter on the city beat. But it illustrated the utter contempt Luthor held her in. Okay, so Luthor thought he'd been talking to the other Lois, but that didn't make a difference; didn't stop CK feeling anger on behalf of both Loises. The man was an uncouth animal in respectable clothing. Added to his criminal activities, it made him unfit to live amongst the citizens of Metropolis, or any other civilised society, for that matter.

Society needed to be rid of Lex Luthor.


Lois watched Clark's fingers fly over the keyboard, almost so fast she couldn't see them. At one point, a wisp of smoke even rose from the keyboard, and he had to stop momentarily to cool the keyboard down with his breath. All the time he was typing, his eyes were glued to the screen, reading the rapidly-scrolling results tables he was pulling up with his search commands. She couldn't read any of it; all she could see was that the tables were gradually getting shorter and shorter as he refined his search.

Suddenly, he stopped.

"Okay, that's the best I can do," he said. "If she's not at any of those, I'll try again with a broader search."

Lois leaned over his shoulder and scanned the list of addresses. "Looks like a good start." She pointed at one with her finger. "Tell him to try there first."

It was an ex-fireworks factory on the edge of town. Clark nodded. "He's on his way," he replied, drumming a nervous tattoo on the desk with his fingers.

She placed her hand over his. "We'll find her, Clark," she told him with more calm than she was feeling herself.

He glanced up at her with a guilty expression. "I should be out there with him, helping to search."

She shook her head. "We all agreed we need you here. You just did that database search in a fraction of the time it would take me, and we might need you to do another one in a few minutes."

"I know, but-"

He stopped for a moment, and then his shoulders slumped. "She's not there. I've told him to try that one," he said, pointing at another fireworks factory.

"Okay." She studied the list again, trying to match her knowledge of Lex's affairs and his personality with the addresses in front of her. "I wonder…can you try matching these up to that list of Lex's businesses we were looking at earlier?"

"Sure." Clark's fingers started flying over the keyboard again. "I've saved the list in case we have to go back to it quickly," he commented as he worked.

Five seconds later, he finished, and one single address sat at the top of the screen. "Lois, you're a genius."

She smiled quickly and looked at the address. "Why that one?"

"It's owned by Lex Luthur Construction. At a guess, I'd say they use it for storing their demolition explosives in. CK's on his way there now — she wasn't at that other fireworks place."

"I bet she'll be there." Lois checked her watch. "We're still on schedule — that only took five minutes."

"Which means CK's got twenty-seven minutes to get her out of there."

Lois patted his hand. "Plenty of time if you're super- powered. Got the tape?"

She had no idea why she was sounding so confident, she thought wryly. Maybe because the alternative — panicking wildly — would probably be even harder work. At least this way she could kid herself that everything really would work out — CK would rescue L, they'd catch Lex, and then they'd all go home and she and Clark would live happily ever after.

That part about catching Lex made her feel very good. At last, they were going to stop him and his corrupt businesses from doing any more harm to Metropolis and the people who lived there. It had taken long enough, she thought. From the day she first ran away from Lex, to that horrible night spent in a dank basement waiting to die, and finally to the disastrous TV show and everything that had happened afterwards — it seemed like a very long road they'd travelled to reach this point.

But at least the whole sorry affair had brought her and Clark together. She wouldn't go so far as to say everything had been worth it just for that, but she was certainly very grateful. No-one else could have done what Clark had done for her. She doubted that she would have recovered so far and so quickly from her memory loss and Lex's abuse without Clark's care and unswerving support.

He was holding up the video tape to show her when relief suddenly spread over his features. "He's found her," he announced.

All at once, he was coming out of his chair and wrapping his arms around her in a celebratory hug. She felt her face crack into a smile and happily nuzzled into his shoulder for a few moments, enjoying the mutual feeling of triumph.

"It's not over yet," she said briskly after a few seconds, drawing away from him. "He still has to get her out of there without detonating the bomb and springing whatever else Lex has set up for him."

"I know — but it's a start," said Clark, clearly refusing to be disheartened. "He's going inside the warehouse now, by the way."

"Tell him to be careful."

He smiled. "I already did. Come on, let's make that phone call we planned, and then we'd better get over to Luthor's office with the tape."

"Can't wait to see his face," said Lois.

"Me either."


CK stood just inside the door to the warehouse and carefully scanned the interior once more with his x-ray vision. He knew where Lois was; could even see her from where he stood, and all he wanted to do was speed straight over there to make sure she was all right and to reassure her. However, he knew he had to be cautious. If he rushed into this, he could kill her and possibly himself into the bargain.

Everything looked safe. There were no hidden laser beams, no heat sensors or movement sensors, and no suspicious blind spots which would indicate lead shielding hiding something dangerous beyond.

He sped over to Lois, making sure he stood directly in her line of vision. "Are you all right?" he asked quickly.

She was bound to a wooden chair, her arms and legs held in place by leather straps. There was a wide strip of tape over her mouth, which explained why she hadn't been calling for him.

She nodded, her eyes steady and bright as she communicated her silent relief at his arrival.

She looked pale, though. Unconsciously, he took a step closer to her, and she squeaked loudly, stopping him dead in his tracks. "It's okay, honey," he reassured her. "I won't come any closer."

He'd noted the weird pylons arranged in a square around her chair. The faint forcefield they were generating surrounded her on all sides, as well as overhead. Undoubtedly, breaking the forcefield would trigger something; either the bomb or another booby trap.

"I love you," he said suddenly, unsure why he needed to say it right now, but feeling better immediately. She nodded her agreement. "And I'm going to get you out of here," he added firmly.

<How's it going?>

It was Clark, wanting to know what was happening. CK gave him a quick progress report, and ascertained in return that Clark and Lois were almost at Luthor's office.

"Clark and Lois are dealing with Luthor," he told her, knowing she'd want to know why at least Clark wasn't with him. "We're going to stop him hurting anyone else, honey." She raised her eyebrows and squeaked at him.

"I'll tell you the rest later, once I've got you out of here." That drew another indignant squeak of protest, as only his wife with her insatiable thirst for information would, but he merely smiled encouragingly and began to look for ways to release her — he'd deal with the consequences later.

He scanned her chair, all around the immediate vicinity, and finally, under the chair. Unsurprisingly, that was where he found the bomb and the timer.

His heart almost stopped.

Luthor had lied — there was less than five minutes to go before the bomb exploded.


Clark barged aggressively through the oak-panelled doors and into Luthor's plush office, ignoring the protests from his secretary that he wait until she had announced him.

Luthor was sitting reading behind his large desk, and Clark had the satisfaction of seeing his head snap up in surprise as soon as he heard the noise and commotion at his door. He looked at Clark with naked shock for a long moment before speaking.

His secretary broke the silence first. "Mr Luthor, I'm sorry, but I couldn't stop him-"

"It's all right, Mrs Cox," said Luthor smoothly. "I've been expecting Mr Kent."

Liar! thought Clark.

"Leave us," Luthor told his secretary dismissively.

Clark, still staring steadily at Luthor, heard the door fall shut behind her as she slunk out of the room. Luthor stood up slowly and came around to lean casually on the front of his desk, his surprise now hidden away with a sardonic half-smile. "No blue tights, Mr Kent? I imagined you'd don the cape before rescuing the damsel in distress."

Clark gave him a hard look. "Today you deal with me, Luthor. You kidnapped *my* partner, not Superman's."

Luthor laughed. "Did anyone tell you that you have a serious identity problem? Perhaps all those newspapers are right, and you really do need to be locked up in the lunatic asylum. My offer to pay for your counselling sessions is still open, you know."

"That's very generous of you, Luthor, but I'd save your money if I were you. You'll need it to pay for your legal fees when I put you in court."

"Only court? Does this mean you've stopped threatening my life?"

Clark closed the gap swiftly between them and hauled Luthor upwards by grabbing his tie and yanking on it. "No," he gritted. "What I said still stands — you hurt Lois, and I'll make sure you burn in hell."

He dropped Luthor abruptly and stepped away. "Where are you holding her?" he demanded.

Luthor ran a finger around the inside of his collar to loosen it again and then pulled his jacket back down into place. "Tape-" He broke off to cough briefly, and then cleared his throat. "Tape first," he barked hoarsely.

Clark reached inside his coat pocket and produced the video tape. Luthor put a hand out to take it from him, but Clark held onto his end of the box. "Where?" he insisted.

Luthor shrugged. "I'm surprised you didn't work it out, actually. I told you I'd taken her to a safe place where the bomb she's wired to wouldn't hurt anyone else. I told you she'd go out with a bang. What more do you need? Or have those tights strangled the blood supply to your brain?"

"Just tell me where, Luthor," replied Clark heavily. "Actually, I'm beginning to wonder whether you kidnapped her at all. Maybe this is just some kind of elaborate set- up."

Luthor glanced at his watch quickly before answering. "Of course I kidnapped her, you idiot! Where else would I have obtained that recording you heard earlier?"

"You tell me," said Clark grimly.

"I recorded it just after we arrived at the warehouse where I'm holding her, you fool." Luthor shrugged again. "Of course, if you're happy to let her die…"

Clark saw him sneak a glance at a nearby wall-clock, and wondered why he was suddenly so time-obsessed. That was twice he'd checked the time in as many seconds. By Clark's calculations, there was still at least 20 minutes to go before Lois's bomb exploded, so surely it was too early for Luthor to be panicking that his plans were going wrong.


A voice in his head interrupted his thoughts. <He lied — the bomb goes off in five minutes>

CK's urgent interjection almost made Clark lose his cool completely. He covered up his shock by shoving the tape abruptly into Luthor's hands, sending the man momentarily off-balance. He turned away quickly.

<Can you get her out in time?> he replied.


<Do you need my help?>

<Too dangerous — stay there>

Clark swallowed and turned to face Luthor again. He couldn't afford to show how utterly furious he was with the man, but it was a huge struggle to remain relatively calm and continue their conversation as if nothing had happened. He could feel the same blind rage boiling inside that he'd felt that night at the television studios, when his temper had nearly caused him to strangle Luthor to death. He clenched his fists at his sides, willing the anger away. "Okay, Luthor," he said in as calm a voice as he could muster. "You've got the tape. Now you can tell me where you're holding Lois."

Luthor's eyes went up to the clock again. "She's-"

"Right here."

Lois strode in through the door and walked right up to Luthor. "Hello, Lex. Bet you weren't expecting to see me so soon."


CK tore his eyes away from the timer and met his wife's anxious gaze. He'd told Clark he could get her out, but he hadn't been telling the entire truth. He just hadn't want to risk Clark dropping everything and flying over here to help him; he couldn't bear to have Clark's death on his conscience. He had ideas, but he didn't know if any of them would work. And right now he knew he couldn't hide his desperation from L, so he just told her the facts as honestly as he could. "There's only five minutes left until the bomb explodes," he said simply.

Her eyes widened in shock and she immediately started squeaking at him, jerking her chin at him in a clear message to go. Clearly, she was as aware as he was that Luthor had probably set a trap for Superman as well as for her.

"No, honey. We can do this." Frantically, he searched around her chair and further afield, looking for the tell- tale signs of a trap. There had to be a quantum disruptor hidden away somewhere; he knew that much from conversations with Clark. Luthor wanted him dead, and without kryptonite, that was the only weapon at his disposal. And remembering how much the beam had hurt last time CK had been hit by one, and how weak it had made him, he knew that if he was struck now, the secondary blast from L's bomb would undoubtedly finish him off.

He couldn't afford for that to happen. L would have no chance without his protection.

So he needed inspiration, and he needed it fast. Unconsciously, his eyes went heavenwards in case there really was some higher being up there who could help him now-

-and found the weapon.

It was attached to the roof of the warehouse, surrounded by its own forcefield. And it was aimed directly at Lois's chair.

CK grimaced. If he broke the forcefield in an effort to disable the quantum disruptor, the bomb would undoubtedly detonate and Lois would be dead. If he broke the forcefield surrounding Lois, the bomb would again detonate and the quantum disruptor would fire, killing Lois if it struck her, and wounding him if it hit him. Either way, Lois would be dead, and there was a good chance he would be, too.

So he had to find a way of getting Lois out of that chair without disrupting her forcefield or the one around the quantum disruptor.

Lois was squeaking again, this time frantically indicating downwards with her eyes. He looked where she was looking, and saw only concrete floor.

"What, honey? What's there?" he asked urgently.

She started making weird noises. "Drrrrrrrr! Drrrrrrrrr!" she said in a low gutteral voice. "Drrrrrrrrrr!" She pointed downwards with her eyes again. "Drrrrrrrrrr!"

She hadn't gone suddenly crazy, but what was she trying to tell him? She sounded like…

"A drill!" he exclaimed.

<What?> Clark sounded confused, and CK immediately realised that in his excitement he must have yelled the words telepathically as well as verbally. He didn't waste any more time; he hugged his arms into his chest and began a fast spin, drilling a hole into the concrete.

<I'm drilling underneath the forcefield> he told Clark.

<Good thinking!>

<It was L's idea, not mine>


Clark turned his attention back to Lois's dramatic and very satisfying entry. Luthor was staring at her in complete shock.

"But…" he stammered. "What is this…what are you doing…?"

"What am I doing?" said Lois grimly. "I'm demonstrating to you that you made yet another mistake, Lex. As you can see, Clark already found me and rescued me before he came here." She smiled sardonically. "Can't you get anything right?"

"But the bomb…how did you…" Luthor swung around to face Clark again, his face murderous. "And you!" he demanded angrily. "How did you escape my tr-" He stopped himself before completing the word and simply glared at them, his eyes flaring furiously.

"Escape what, Luthor? I thought the bomb was for L-Lois," said Clark, wincing internally at his slight verbal stumble. He was struggling to do two things simultaneously, and it was getting hard. He needed to maintain the taunting conversation with Luthor, while at the same time, he was desperately trying to keep contact with CK, who was still giving him a running commentary on progress at the warehouse.

"You were supposed to die too!" spat Luthor. "Why are you here?"

Clark shrugged. "Just couldn't keep away, I guess. So, you had a trap set for me, too?"

"Yes, of course I did," snarled Luthor. "You don't think I was going to let you live a second time, did you?" <I'm going down pretty deep so that the forcefield posts don't get dislodged>

CK had interrupted Clark's train of thought again. It was important to monitor CK's progress, but it really wasn't making Clark's task with Luthor any easier. <Take care when you come up inside the field> he shot back quickly and then dragged his brain back to the conversation with Luthor.

"So basically, you tried to kill both me and Lois for a second time?" he prompted.

"Yes!" said Luthor impatiently, as if talking to a stupid child. "For some inexplicable reason, you didn't die when I trapped you in the Pacific Heights place, so I had you set up again. You're a thorn in my side, Kent — you and your interfering friend here. Together, you cause more damage than is credible for two such irritatingly honest and snivellingly ingratiating people." Luthor's eyes suddenly narrowed in suspicion. "But why are you asking all this? — you already know about the trap if you escaped from it."

Clark smiled, relieved that the tricky part of the conversation was over. "Henderson, I think it's time for you and your men to join the party," he said into thin air.

"You bastard!" raged Luthor, lunging at Clark with his fists flying. "You had a wire."

Clark caught his wrists firmly and held him nonchalantly at arms' length, while the office door opened and Henderson strolled in followed by a couple of his men. "Technology is such a wonderful thing, don't you agree, Luthor?" he drawled.


CK burst through the concrete floor of the warehouse, praying that the rubble from his exit wouldn't spread too far and cause the forcefield to break. He did a quick check once he was clear of the floor, and, satisfied that all was still intact, stepped swiftly up to L and broke the bindings around her wrists and ankles. <I'm inside the forcefield> he told Clark.


L peeled the gag from her mouth. "Nice drilling," she said with a grin and came up out of the chair into his arms.

Relief at being able to hold her at last made him slow. He didn't hear the high-pitched whine of the quantum disruptor powering up and firing until it was too late. He didn't realise that her chair had been holding down a pressure- sensitive trigger until it was too late. He didn't move until it was too late.


Clark was watching Henderson's men handcuff Luthor when a new idea occurred to him. Glancing at Lois, he saw that she was also watching the process with grim satisfaction, and decided that this was probably the best opportunity he had to settle something for her. They had an audience, which wasn't ideal, but if he was right, it would be well worth any temporary embarrassment it might cause her.

"Tell me something, Luthor," he said. "You obviously think Lois and I are honest and upright citizens — 'irritatingly honest and snivellingly ingratiating' was the phrase you used, I think. Wasn't it, Lois?"

Lois nodded. "I believe you're right, Clark."

Luthor sneered. "Honesty is a highly over-rated commodity, in my opinion."

"Perhaps," said Clark, looping his arm around Lois's shoulders. "But then why is it that you keep trying to persuade Lois here that she was less than that?" He squeezed her shoulders gently for reassurance.

"Oh, you mean that she was a whore?" replied Luthor nastily, and Clark winced as one or two of the men in the room snapped their heads around to stare.

"Yes," replied Clark tightly. Luthor shrugged. "It made good sport. The incisive reporter, Lois Lane, reduced to a dull, insecure dependant was a good game for a while. Look at her," he jeered. "Even now, she's not sure."


Lois's soft, pained protest tugged at Clark's heart, but he hugged her tightly again and whispered, "It's okay, honey." Fixing Luthor with another hard stare, he said, "So it was never true?"

Luthor laughed. "Lois Lane a prostitute? If only she had been! Sleeping with her was like sleeping with a dead fish."

One of the men holding Luthor punched him roughly on the arm. "Watch your mouth, Luthor!" He turned to Lois. "I'm sorry about that, Ms Lane. We'll take this scum out of your sight now."

Lois nodded silently, and Clark could feel her trembling under his arm. He pulled her into his body and wrapped both arms around her, holding her tightly. "I'm sorry, honey," he murmured into her hair. "I'm sorry I made you go through that."

He felt her shake her head. "No," she said. "It's okay. Thank you for asking him."

"I always knew it was a lie," he told her firmly.

"I wish I'd had your confidence," she murmured.


Suddenly something akin to pain hit him and he stumbled clumsily against Lois. He grabbed her shoulders for support, fighting to regain his balance.

"Clark? Clark, what is it?"

As quickly as it had struck, the sensation disappeared. He straightened and let go of her shoulders, standing shakily on his own again. "I'm not sure…" he answered faintly. "You went very pale…actually, you still don't look that good. Do you want to sit down?"

"No…" He replayed the sensations he'd just experienced, trying to understand what had happened. He remembered pain, except that it hadn't actually hurt anywhere, and he felt fine now. "For a moment, it felt like…" He stopped, unsure what direction his thoughts were taking. It had felt like a sensation he'd experienced once before, but that didn't make any sense. No-one here could have shot him…

"Like what, Clark?"

The note of anxiety in her voice broke through his wandering thoughts. He looked at her reassuringly. "I'm fine, Lois, honestly. I'm just not sure what happened. For a second, it felt like I'd just been shot with the quantum disruptor…"

His heart leapt as he suddenly made the connection.


<CK? Are you all right?>

No answer.

He tried again. <CK! Answer me if you're all right!>

"Clark, are you sure you don't want to sit down? You don't look too good."

He was barely aware of her interruption as he tried yet again. <Clark!>

There was no reply.

Now extremely worried, he brought his focus back to an anxious Lois, grabbing her shoulders urgently. "It's CK — I can't contact him and I think he's in trouble. Will you be all right here? I have to go."

"Of course," she replied immediately. "Just take care, okay?"

"I will." He planted a quick kiss on her forehead and left at a run, launching himself into the air as soon as he was clear of the building.


Clark ploughed through the skies as fast as he could, continually trying to contact CK. He was now positive that the pain he'd felt had been CK's, and that his friend was therefore hurt. It also meant that he could be dead by now, but Clark refused to dwell on that possibility.

He quickly reached the warehouse, and was aghast at what he saw spread out below him. The building was a smoking ruin; a tangle of rubble, half-collapsed walls and twisted steel girders.

<CK!!!> he yelled in anguish, arrowing down towards the edge of the mess.


L wasn't sure which way was up. She also wasn't entirely sure whether she was alive or not. Mostly she was just glad that their terrifying plunge back down through CK's self-made tunnel had come to an end.

She could hardly move. Her husband's arms were still wrapped tightly around her, holding his voluminous cape in place. He had flung it over her and pulled her head down into the protective cradle of his chest before diving back down into the ground in an effort to escape the bomb's explosion. She hadn't known where he'd found the strength to do it.

Her heart leapt suddenly — was he still alive?

The quantum disruptor had struck him somewhere; she didn't know where. He'd already been trying to move them out of range when it had fired, but nevertheless he had been hit. He'd gasped in pain and staggered, nearly making her lose her balance at the same time. For a split second, she had thought they would surely die immediately, but somehow he had recovered and taken them on their frightening, disorientating journey down into the bowels of the earth just as the bomb had exploded. The force from the explosion had sent them even faster into the earth, kicking them in the back and turning her world into roaring, crazy, terrifying chaos.

Now everything was quiet, and so was her husband. Too quiet.

She tried to talk, to ask him if he was all right, but only a dry croak emerged. She noticed for the first time that breathing was difficult. No doubt there wasn't much air down here.

'I love you, Clark,' she thought.

At least if they died, they'd die in each other's arms.


Clark's feet touched down at the edge of the tangled rubble and he immediately began x-raying it in a frantic effort to find L and CK. Desperate feelings of helplessness made him berate himself over and over again as he searched: he was too late; he'd made the wrong decision; he should have insisted on accompanying CK to this place; he should have come instead. That was the worst of all — this should have been him buried amongst the rubble. Luthor had wanted him and Lois to die in this place, not his dear friends L and CK.

But everywhere he looked, he found only inert concrete and steel. In a frenzy of worry, he called to CK once more, yelling at the top of his voice as well as with his mind.

Then he paused for a second and listened as hard as he could, searching for the tell-tale sign of heart-beats.

There was something…a faint whisper in his head…too indistinct to make out…

<CK? Is that you?>

It became stronger…took on shape and form…then…


It was CK; fuzzy and hesitant, but definitely his friend. He closed his eyes briefly in relief, and immediately heard the faint heart-beats he'd been straining to detect before.

Two heart-beats. Delighted, he replied to his friend. <Yes, it's me — where are you?>

<Underground, near…near the centre of the warehouse…think>

He dove straight there, forcing his way through the pile of rubble until he reached the warehouse floor. X-raying again, he found a deep tunnel which CK must have drilled.

<Hurry — Lois is with me and there's not much air>

CK's anxiety came through loud and clear; in his agitation, he'd forgotten his wife was named L in this universe. Clark worked as fast as he could, creating a much wider tunnel than CK had managed so that it was easy to bring them back out when he found them. As he drew closer to them, he slowed down, anxious not to hurt them with his rescue efforts. Very quickly, though, he had cleared a wide space around them and was cushioning their fall as their legs gave way and they crumpled to the ground.

He knelt beside them quickly, making sure both were breathing and x-raying them for broken bones and internal injuries.

"Lois…is Lois okay?" asked CK in a weak voice.

"She's absolutely fine, CK," reassured Clark, having completed her check first. Clark seemed to be in one piece too, he concluded a second later with relief.

In fact, L was already pushing herself up on a shaky arm and coughing painfully. "Never felt better," she said raspily. "Clark…?"

"I'm fine," CK replied, also struggling up onto one arm and coughing.

Clark regarded their grimy faces, tattered clothes, and generally battered appearance. "Well, I've seen both of you looking better," he remarked ruefully, and they both laughed briefly before breaking off into coughing fits again.

"Thanks for saving us," said CK when his fit had subsided. "I don't think we'd be alive if you hadn't gotten here so quickly."

Clark shrugged. "Maybe I shouldn't have let you do this alone in the first place."

"No," protested L, shaking her head. "You did absolutely the right thing. Just tell me — what happened with Luthor?"

"On his way to an interrogation cell." At least that was one piece of good news he could share.

"Good." L began struggling to her feet, and he steadied her with his hands around her shoulders. When she was up, she nodded her thanks to him, brushed her mussed-up hair wearily from her face and offered a hand to her husband. "Time to get up, partner."

CK smiled faintly and accepted her hand. Clark offered a hand, too, and together they pulled him up. As soon as he placed his weight on both feet, he winced suddenly and staggered slightly against Clark.

"What's the matter?" demanded L anxiously, while Clark found himself supporting CK with a hand under one elbow and his other arm around his friend's shoulders.

"I'm okay," said CK, straightening up again. "It's only my foot, and I'm sure that's only temporary."

Clark glanced down, and noticed for the first time that CK's left foot and lower leg were almost completely bare, save for a few scraps of blue material. The flesh underneath looked red and painful. He winced in sympathy. "That's where the quantum disruptor got you?"

CK nodded. "Yeah. That thing has a huge kick — it was enough to disrupt most of my powers, too. I barely had enough left to get us down here." He looked at L. "But I'm fine otherwise."

L stepped up close to her husband and brushed his hair tenderly back from his face, studying his eyes intently. "Well, you don't look fine to me," she pronounced softly after a moment, "and that foot looks swollen and sore. I think the sooner we get you home and off your feet the better."

Clark nodded again. "I agree — and you need to rest too, L."

"Who, me?" said L indignantly. "This was a picnic in the park, compared to some of the things I've been through."

Clark smiled. "I'm sure it was, but I'm also sure CK would feel better if he knew you were taking care of yourself."

L began a retort, but then stopped and put her hands on her hips. "You know, the sooner you two are split up, the better. You're learning all his bad habits."

"Such as?" asked Clark, still smiling.

"Trying to appeal to my good side. Trust me; it won't work — I don't have a good side." She grabbed his free arm and wrapped it around her waist. "Come on," she said briskly. "What are you waiting for? I bet Lois is frantic with worry back at the apartment."


Lois pushed open the door to Clark's apartment, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would be there but hoping to find herself proven wrong. She'd spent as little time as possible at the police station giving a statement to one of Henderson's men because she'd wanted to get back here for news of CK and L. However, it was clear as soon as she hurried down Clark's steps that the apartment was empty.

She glanced at her watch. Half-an-hour, roughly, since CK had left her at Luthor's office. Surely that was long enough to find them?

Nibbling unconsciously at a fingernail, her gaze settled on the phone. Maybe she should call Jeff and let him know what was going on. They hadn't told him a thing yet.

But no — what if CK needed to call her?

How about looking out the first aid kit in case they were hurt? At least that would be doing something useful.

No — Clark was invulnerable. Why would he own a first aid kit?

She perched on the edge of a sofa, picked up a magazine and flicked blindly through it. Any minute now, they'd walk through the door, safe and sound.

"None of my men heard what Luthor said, okay?" Henderson had spoken quietly to her just before she'd left the station. "They're all good guys and I trust them one hundred percent," he'd added gruffly.

She'd weakly smiled her thanks to him, knowing she could believe him but not able to voice her thoughts for fear of embarrassing herself. Even now a lump had suddenly formed in her throat, and the page she was staring at had gone all blurry. Everyone was being so very kind to her…

She sniffed and scraped the back of her hand across her eyes. There would be time for reflection later, she told herself roughly, quickly turning another page of the magazine. Right now there was CK and L to worry about.

A noise made her look up, and there they were. On the balcony, Clark had just landed and let go of Lois. He was still supporting CK, though — was he hurt?!

She rushed out to join them, the magazine dropping unheeded to the carpet.

"You know, this would be a lot easier if you'd just let me carry you," Clark was saying to CK.

CK was shaking his head. "This is fine. Just get me as far as the nearest sofa."

L rolled her eyes. "Men! Why can't you do things the easy way instead of putting on the big macho thing?"

"I am not being ma-"

"What happened?" demanded Lois. "Why is CK limping?"

"Because he doesn't want to look all weak and helpless in front of you and me," retorted L. "He could let Clark carry him inside, but no — he has to walk and make it worse than it already is."

"Because the quantum disruptor caught me on my leg," said CK, ignoring his wife's protests and doggedly limping across the balcony with Clark's support.

"I thought you said it was your foot," objected L.

"Foot, leg, ankle…it's all the same," said CK wearily.

"Oh, so you walk on your legs, do you?" said L sarcastically, obviously unaware of how ridiculous she sounded until it was too late.

"I think you'll find most people do, honey," said CK, wincing slightly as he and Clark manoeuvred themselves through the door into the living room.

L glared at his back. "You know what I meant." She turned to Lois. "You knew what I meant, didn't you?"

Lois took in L's bedraggled appearance, the lines of strain on her grimy face and the scratches on her arms and legs, and decided that now was not the time to get pedantic. Nodding and putting a hand lightly on L's arm, she replied robustly, "I knew exactly what you meant. You'd think he'd know where he was shot, wouldn't you?"

"Precisely. I mean, he must have felt it, and even I can tell that it didn't hit his leg. You can see it too — it's not so red as his foot, and it's not so swollen and puffy- looking, is it? You saw that, didn't you? Or am I the only one here observant enough to notice these things? Maybe I should call in a second opinion — oh, but wait a minute. We're in the alternate dimension where there is no second opinion," she said, her voice rising rapidly. "I don't suppose you know a Dr Klein, do you?" she finished wildly.

Lois blinked in surprise. "As a matter of fact, I do. He's Clark's doctor…sort of."

"Really?" Surprise made L pause in her frantic fussing. "He wasn't around last time I was here."

"Well, he is now. We're not a hundred per cent certain we can trust him, but his heart seems to be in the right place." Lois studied L's still-anxious face. "But I don't think we need him for this, do we?" she said, trying to inject some calm into the conversation. "CK's foot doesn't look that bad to me, and I'm willing to bet he'd rather not see a doctor."

L's mouth twisted. "You're right there. And yes, I don't suppose it's that bad," she said in a quieter voice. She ran her hand through her hair. "It's been a long day."

"I'm sure — and I'm very glad you're both back safe and sound, L. I'm only sorry you were the one to get kidnapped by Lex, and not me."

L laughed weakly. "Oh, I'm a veteran at getting kidnapped by Lex. I took it in my stride."

"Yeah," agreed Lois, keeping her opinion on that to herself. She paused. "He didn't…*do* anything, did he?" she asked carefully.

"Do anything?" repeated L with a frown. "What do you mean? He tied me up and tried to blow me to Krypton and back — is that what you mean?"

"No. I mean…did he *do* anything? To you…personally?"

L frowned again. "No…" Her eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "Oh, no! Nothing like that." She smirked. "He wouldn't have been capable of anything much anyway, after what I did to him."

Lois grinned. "Way to go, L! That's you and me both now. He'll be regretting he ever laid eyes on a Lois Lane."

L smiled. "We're a formidable breed."

Lois nodded, then hesitated before ploughing on. "Tell CK, will you? About Lex not doing anything, I mean."

She watched L's face slowly lose its smile. "He doesn't think…?"

"He's not sure. Lex said something to him, and he's been fretting ever since. He won't have said anything to you, but you know what he's like."

"I'll talk to him as soon as we're alone," said L. "Thanks for telling me."

Lois shrugged. "No problem. Come on, let's see what the guys are doing."

She linked arms with L, and together they walked back into the sitting room.


Luthor crossed one leg over the other in a leisurely gesture and flicked an imaginary mote of dust from his lapel. "How long do you intend to prolong this charade, Inspector?" he asked calmly, looking up slowly to gaze at the policeman across the table from him. It seemed that he'd been answering the same questions, couched in slightly different terms, for hours. This was undoubtedly the famous interrogation technique so beloved of police forces across the globe: try to trip the suspect up by making him contradict himself. Well, Luthor considered he'd passed this particular test with ease, and now he was getting bored.

The inspector shrugged. "For as long as it takes." He leant across to the tape recorder. "Interview suspended at…" he looked at his watch, "Eighteen forty-six hours." He thumbed the off-switch. "I've been waiting for this day for a very long time, Luthor," he said grimly. "And now it's here, I'm going to savour every minute of it."

Luthor raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like a very professional attitude, Inspector."

"Oh, believe me, I intend to conduct this investigation so professionally, you won't know what's hit you," drawled Inspector Henderson. "No fancy lawyer is going to run rings around the law on your behalf this time."

"Actually, I believe I already have grounds for assault by one of your men. My lawyer, Mr Bender, will be very interested to hear about the incident, I'm sure," said Luthor conversationally.

Henderson laughed. "Oh, come on, Luthor! My guy tapped you on the arm, no more." He shook his head. "Really, I expected better from you than that."

"Oh, I'm just warming up, Henderson. By the time I'm finished, you'll be pounding the beat again."

Henderson rubbed his hands together gleefully. "This is going to be such fun, Luthor," he said with a sardonic smile. "Shall we resume?"

Luthor extended his hand graciously. "Be my guest," he replied with grandiose largesse.

The policeman switched on the tape once more. "Interview recommenced at eighteen forty-nine hours," he said with a glance at his watch. "Tell me again about the security tape. Why were you so anxious to retrieve it from Mr Kent?"

Luthor sighed and explained once more how important it was for legal reasons to maintain complete security records of major demolition sites. It was going to be a long night.


L found CK sitting on the sofa, resting his head back on the cushions with his eyes closed. Her heart melted. He looked weary and drained, and she guessed he was hitting a particularly low spot now that the adrenaline, or whatever passed for it in his case, had washed out of his system. He'd taken his glasses off, which made him look even more vulnerable, and generally, he had the appearance of a person who'd used up all his reserve energy and more besides.

She glanced at Lois, who immediately took the hint. "I'll see where Clark is," she murmured softly and padded quietly out of the room.

"Mmmm?" mumbled CK, lifting his head slowly from the cushions and opening his eyes. "What did you say?" he asked, gazing blearily up at L.

She dropped down to her knees in front of him, wanting to take a closer look at his injured foot. "That was Lois, not me," she explained. "She's gone to find Clark."

"He's making us coffee, I think."

She put a hand under his heel and lifted his foot into her lap for further inspection. "This is looking better," she said. "The red blotches don't seem to go so far up your ankle as they did before." She touched his skin lightly with her fingertips, prodding ever so gently. "Still feels puffy, though. How does it feel to you?" she asked, looking up at him.

"It's throbbing a bit, but not as badly as it was."

"Maybe because you're not walking around on it any more," she suggested with a half-smile.

"Or maybe because of my amazing healing abilities," he countered with a wink. "How are you, anyway?"

"Me? I'm fine," she said dismissively.

He raised both eyebrows and gave her one of his silent, sceptical looks.

Reflecting that if she looked anything like he did, her white lie probably wasn't very convincing, she relented. "Okay, so maybe I'm a bit achy here and there."

"I thought so." He patted the seat beside him. "Come here."

She set his foot gently back down onto the carpet, not missing his soft wince as she did so. Clearly, he was in more pain than he was admitting. Well, she'd just have to make sure he took things easy for the rest of the day. She joined him on the sofa, and he immediately placed an arm around her shoulders and pulled her over into an intimate hug. "This was a close one, wasn't it?" he said softly.

"Yeah, but we coped," she said, snuggling up against his side. "Just like we always do."

He didn't say anything for a few moments, and it was nice just to be quiet and be aware of the comforting rise and fall of his chest for a few minutes.

"You didn't call me," he said eventually, without a trace of admonition in his voice.

"I was investigating," she replied equally calmly. "It's what I do."

He was silent again for a bit, then he said, "Okay."

She knew that no more would be said on the matter. These days, they didn't need to use much more than a few simple words to remind each other of their feelings. They had reached a comfortable understanding: she would remember his words and try to be more careful next time, and he would continue to try and give her the space she needed to do what she did best. There was no need for a longer discussion.

She felt him draw breath to speak again.

"Lois…did Luthor…did he…" He spoke hesitantly, fumbling over his words.

She reached up and placed a finger on his lips, looking directly into his anxious eyes. "It's okay, Clark," she told him gently. "Lex didn't lay a finger on me. Honestly."

His relief was palpable. He let out a deep sigh, and his whole body relaxed against her. "Thank God," he whispered. "I was so scared for you, Lois."

"Hey," she murmured, brushing the hair off his face with her fingers. "You know I can take care of myself."

"Yeah. But that man… Lois, he's worse than our Luthor — he's totally evil and completely amoral."

She'd seen that for herself; he lacked even the thin social veneer their own Luthor had possessed. It wasn't really surprising that Clark had been scared for her — she'd been pretty concerned herself. "I know. I hope they put him behind bars and throw away the key."

He nodded. "Me too."

She slid her hand around to the back of his head and pulled him down so she could kiss him. He responded immediately, parting his lips to let her indulge in a deep, slow kiss. She poured all her love into it, wanting to reassure him that nothing had changed between them despite recent events. He hadn't said anything, but she knew that he'd still be worried about her, even if he was assured that Lex hadn't touched her physically.

"Thank you for rescuing me," she mumbled around his lips.

She felt him smile. "It's what I do."

"Well, you do it very well."

"Oh, Lois…" He broke off their kiss and pulled her into a close hug instead, wrapping both his arms around her. "Let's hope we never have to deal with another Luthor."

She was surprised at how shaky his voice sounded. Maybe this universe was getting to him as much as it was her. "I'm okay, Clark. You don't need to worry about me. Really." Although she had to admit that she was feeling all the better for being held within the comforting solidness of his embrace.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of her own hand clasping his shoulder. "What you do need to worry about is the mess we're making of Clark's sofa," she said ruefully. "We're filthy."

He pulled away from her and held her at arm's length, studying her face. "You're right. I guess we should get cleaned up. You go first — it should help with those aches you mentioned."

She shook her head. If she left him here on his own, he'd be asleep by the time she came back. "No, you go first," she told him. "You're dirtier than I am." "Oh, really?" he said with mock indignation, then grinned. "Actually, I have a better idea."


"Why don't we shower together? That way you can stop me slipping on the soap suds."

His suggestion had merits, definitely. She could keep an eye on him, and the chance to run her hands over her husband's soap-slicked body was always an attractive one. A quick flush of anticipation made her look coyly up at him. "Why, Mr Kent — are you trying to take advantage of me?"

He grinned. "I most certainly am."

She climbed to her feet. "Then what are we waiting for?"


Clark glanced at Lois as she entered the kitchen area. "Is L okay?" he asked quietly, so as not be overheard by their guests.

She nodded, flopping down at the kitchen table. "Yeah. She's a bit shaken up, but she'll be fine. How's CK? He looked pretty whacked just now."

"I know just how he feels," he said, remembering how drained he'd felt when Luthor had shot him with the quantum disruptor. He shrugged. "But he'll be fine. He just needs to take it easy for a day or so." He flicked the switch on the coffee machine and joined her at the table.

To his surprise, she leaned sideways and kissed him on the cheek. "Well done, partner."

He smiled and reached for her hand. "Not that I mind, but what for?"

"For saving their lives, lunkhead," she said. "Without you, they'd be dead by now."

He considered that for a moment. He had lots of doubts in his mind as to whether he'd made the right choices earlier, when he'd allowed CK to go looking for L alone. Two supermen might have been able to work together to avoid the near-disaster L and CK had found themselves in the centre of.

But that aside…yes, he did feel pretty good about saving them. He felt better than he'd felt in a very long time. "I guess so," he said. "And you know something else?"


"I know now that I have to be Superman. Lois, I felt dead inside when we were at the farmhouse…when I tried to run away from everything…" He looked at her, needing to see her reaction to his admission. After all, they'd all been accusing him of doing just that for ages, but he'd denied it up until now. She nodded slightly and he felt her squeeze his hand. Encouraged, he pressed on. "Ever since we've been back, and working together to bring Luthor down, it's just felt…well, right. As if this is what I'm supposed to do. I've even enjoyed it."

She smiled at that. "Yes, L and CK are fun to work with."

He nodded. "I know what you're saying, but I don't think it's just because of them." He paused. "Actually, I'll rephrase that. I think it's all because of you, Lois. You've supported me through it all — you've trusted me and given me the benefit of the doubt when I didn't deserve it, had some great ideas, done some crazy things, and above all, you're just great fun to be with, Lois." He lifted up her hand and kissed her fingers. "I love you, Lois Lane."

"Oh, Clark," she said. "If only you knew just how much you've done for me. You've given me my life back. Especially after what you did at Lex's."

He kissed her fingers again. "I knew you wouldn't believe it unless you heard it straight from him. I'm just glad we can finally put all that behind us."

"Yeah." She said it in a very wobbly voice, and when he looked into her eyes, he saw that they were moist with tears.

"Oh, honey," he exclaimed, pulling her off her own chair and into his lap. "Come here."

She burrowed into his arms and he rocked her gently. "I don't know what's the matter with me these days," she said shakily. "All I seem to do is cry. One minute I'm fine, and the next I'm like this."

"It's only to be expected, after everything you've been through," he murmured.

"But I'm Lois Lane," she mumbled, as if that explained everything.

He smiled. "Yes, you are. You truly are Lois Lane."

And now that everything was nearly cleared up and it looked like they could start thinking about the rest of their lives, was it too soon for him to be thinking about marriage? He'd made that slip the other day after they'd made love, but her reaction had been pretty encouraging. Okay, so they'd made a joke of it, but at least she hadn't run screaming from the bedroom.

Reluctantly, though, he remembered he'd promised himself to be patient and give her time to get used to normal life again before proposing. The trouble was, he saw L and CK together every day, and he was jealous. He wanted a marriage like theirs, and the woman he wanted to marry was right under his nose, apparently quite open to the concept of marriage.

Waiting was becoming very, very difficult.


Standing under the warm, cleansing spray of water had never felt so good.

Slowly, she ran soapy hands over her husband's back. She wanted to explore every inch of him; to feel his living body beneath her skin and celebrate the fact that he was alive and able to share this shower with her. He was standing on one leg in front of her, holding on to a grab- rail for balance. His large frame meant that there wasn't much room in the shower cubicle for both of them, but she didn't mind at all.

She slid her hands down to his waist and then down his hips. There, she lingered, remembering past pleasures together. He murmured softly in the back of his throat, a hint that perhaps he was recalling those same pleasures. She dipped her head forward and kissed his wet back.

He tasted nice. The fresh, clean water was refreshing, too, and tempted, she extended out her tongue to lick him.

"Loissss," he breathed.

She smiled against the skin of his back. Pleased at his response, she squeezed his flesh lightly under her fingers and kissed him again, eliciting another appreciative murmur from him.

This was becoming a very indulgent shower, she reflected ruefully, but she didn't care. Their hosts would understand if they lingered a while in here, she was sure. Using the shower wall for support, she folded into a crouch and slid further down her husband's body with her hands, down the backs of his thighs, past the backs of his knees and onto his muscular calves, taking care not to handle his injured leg too roughly. Replenishing her hands with more soap, she slowly washed up and down his lower legs, taking the time to appreciate every nuance of his body. His calves became fascinating, sculpted shapes; his ankle bones became interesting, knobbly protrusions interrupting the sweep of his leg down to his foot.

She loved every inch of this body, and she was eternally grateful that she was still able to touch, hold, and feel the life within it. She'd said her goodbyes to him a couple of times today, so she was feeling incredibly fortunate to be reunited with him despite everything. And maybe it was because they weren't in their own universe, but her fears had seemed harder to bear here.

She straightened up again and slid both arms around his chest, resting her head on his back. She felt him cover her hands with one of his, and for a while they simply stood together under the cascading water, letting it wash away the remnants of their fears and uncertainty.

"I want to go home, Clark," she said eventually.

They'd done what they'd come here to do. Luthor was on his way to jail, Lois and Clark's relationship had settled down and seemed set to carry them forward into a long, secure future together, and any remaining differences between her husband and Clark had finally been settled. It was time for Mr Wells to make a reappearance and take them back to their own lives.

Clark turned in her arms to face her. "This has been really hard on you, hasn't it?" he murmured. "The thing with Clark back at the farmhouse, then all this with Luthor…it can't have been easy." He kissed her forehead. "I would never have brought you along if I'd known."

"Hey, I'm the one who brought you along, if you remember," she said. "You didn't want to come at all."

"Maybe, but still…" He sighed. "It *is* time to go home, isn't it?"

"Let's just hope Mr Wells is listening to this," she said.

He waggled an eyebrow. "Let's hope he's not watching, though," he said with a smile.

Lois rolled her eyes. "Amen to that. Especially since…" she reached downwards. "I thought so," she said with a sneaky grin. "I *really* hope he's not watching now."

Clark sucked in a breath. "Honey, I'm not sure that's a good idea."

She shrugged. "Why not? We can be inventive." She demonstrated.

He gasped and grabbed at her shoulder to steady himself. "Oh, honey, that's absolutely wonderful, but I'm afraid if you do it again, I'll fall on top of you."

"No, you won't." She demonstrated again.

His breath whooshed out of him, and he stooped forward, leaning even more heavily on her shoulder. She had to take a step back to maintain her own balance.

"Really, I'd love to do this, but it's not practical," he said.

She looked up into his face and saw the arousal in his eyes as he straightened up away from her. "Okay, you're right," she said. "We'll just have to take this upstairs." She reached out and turned off the shower.

"Lois, we can't!" he hissed in an appalled whisper. "They're waiting for us."

"So?" She stepped out of the shower and handed him a towel. "They did the same to us. Come on — it'll be fun."

Awkwardly, he tried to wrap the towel around his middle while balancing on one foot. "Fun?"

"Here," she said, and sorted out the towel for him. "Yes, fun." She looked down at the towel, which was gaping in a very immodest manner. "Lots of fun," she smirked.

He looked down at himself. "Lois! I can't walk past them like this," he objected.

She shrugged. "They'll just think the shower was too…well, you know." She wrapped a towel around herself and tugged at his hand. "Come on."


She ignored his protest and stepped out of the bathroom. "Um…we're just going upstairs to get changed!" she called out, and without looking around to see where Lois and Clark were, tip-toed quickly over to the spiral staircase, pulling her husband behind her.

It was a little tricky getting him up the stairs quickly, but his own embarrassment did wonders for his ability to cope with his injured foot.

Once upstairs, she let her towel drop to the floor and climbed onto the bed, propping herself up on one elbow. Her husband was standing at the end of the bed, looking at her with a perturbed expression. "We cannot do this," he whispered in a voice so low she could hardly hear him.

She patted the bed beside her. "Yes, we can." She dropped her playfulness for a moment and turned serious. "Please, Clark. I really want you."

His eyes flared briefly, and she knew she'd recaptured his interest. Slowly, he untied his towel and let it fall to the floor. Sliding her eyes up to his face, she pleaded silently to him until he came to her, mounting the bed and lying beside her, supporting himself on one arm the same as she was.

"This is crazy," he whispered.

"No, it's sexy," she murmured, and pushed him gently onto his back.

Several very pleasant minutes later, he straightened up to sink his lips over hers.

"That was one of your better ideas," he whispered in between kisses. "I really needed that."

She smiled against his lips. "What can I say?" she murmured. "I'm always right."

"I guess we should get on with what we came up here to do, though."

"I thought we just did," she said. "Unless, of course, you want to do it again," she added with a grin. "I'm ready."

He smiled. "I, unfortunately, am not. Come on, let's find some clothes."

She pouted. "Oh, all right." She lifted off him, climbed off the bed and led the search for some clean clothes. Two minutes later she glanced over at him to chivvy him up, only to find him sprawled back on the bed, eyes closed and chest rising and falling in the steady rhythm of sleep. Smiling indulgently, she pulled as much of the bedclothes as she could over him, and made her way downstairs.


"I never told you about the Blue Parrot interview, did I?"

At Clark's murmured question, Lois stirred from her comfortable position in his arms and drew away far enough to face him. She'd recovered from her crying fit a while ago, and they'd been simply kissing, cuddling, and holding each other quietly since then. "Did you get anything useful? I thought maybe CK interrupted you too soon."

"No, I'd just about finished when he called." He smiled. "Although they were a little surprised when Superman turned up demanding to see their old stock records."

"I bet they were! What did you tell them?"

He shrugged. "Not much — I figured less was more in this situation, and I think also my sudden appearance shocked them into giving me what I wanted without asking too many questions."

Lois smiled. "You mean you shamelessly exploited Superman's position as a figure of authority."

"Absolutely," he said, flashing her a self-satisfied grin. "If you've got it, flaunt it, I say." He waggled his glasses suggestively and fluttered his eyelashes at her.

She burst out laughing. "Oh, Clark! That's awful — take my advice and stick to the stern Superman look in future."

"Don't you like my eyes?" he said, looking wistful.

She punched his arm. "Stop it! Tell me what happened at Blue Parrot. Did they show you the records?"

He sobered slightly. "They showed me a drawer full of floppy disks and a computer that nearly had a heart-attack when I started using it at superspeed."


"And after it crashed on me twice, I finally found the right disk. Lois, we were right — there were lots of small stock transfers between Blue Parrot and Maidstone and Murphy. I didn't analyse everything, but from what I could see, the numbers weren't going to add up. I'm pretty sure Luthor was fiddling it so that every now and then, a few guns could be filtered off for sale on the black market."

"I knew it! And added to your information about Lex's frequent visits to the Congo and Nigeria-"

"Don't forget I haven't got confirmation of that yet," warned Clark.

"Yes, but you will," tossed back Lois confidently. "So what we need to do now is hand all of this over to Henderson. Now that he's got Lex for attempted murder, he'll be more than willing to push the rest of this investigation through."

Clark looked surprised. "You'd trust him with it? I'd have thought you'd want to see this one through to the end yourself."

He had a point. She would be completely devastated if Lex managed to walk away from all this, after everything that he'd done to her. She wanted him to suffer, and suffer for a very long time indeed — just as he'd made her suffer for too many lost years. The only way to guarantee that was to follow the investigation through to the bitter end, go to court, and see him hand-cuffed and led away to the cells.

But she was worn out. She already felt as if she'd been put through the wringer two or three times, her emotions were see-sawing up and down, and physically, she was weary and low on energy. Clark had asked her at the start as to whether she really wanted to lay herself open to the public scrutiny that any investigation into Lex's past misdemeanours would inevitably cause. She'd said yes at the time, but it was getting harder to stick to that as the days dragged by and still she was being forced to confront her old life with Lex. Wanda had been exorcised from her life, she'd got her old life back — thanks to Clark — and now she strongly felt the need to begin living the rest of that life instead of battling through a grinding diet of past remembrances.

The press storm was going to be bad enough without having to run the investigation which backed it at the same time.


His fingers brushed a stray strand of hair from her face, and she refocused on his gentle features, realising she hadn't answered his question. She sighed. "Usually, I would," she answered, smiling weakly. "You know me — tenacious as a piranha." She was pleased when he smiled at her choice of words. "But this time, I feel…I just feel…"

It was very hard to admit aloud that she was beaten. She slid an arm around his back and rested her head on his chest, grateful for his solid presence. A lump had again formed at the back of her throat as she tried to find the words, and once more, she wondered why she was turning into such an emotional wreck. Yes, she'd been through a lot, but that was all over now, wasn't it?

"I can't do it, Clark," she said finally in a small voice. "Isn't that pathetic?"

"Hey," he said softly, and she felt him lean down and kiss her hair. "That's okay. You know what I said before still stands — any time you want out, that's what we do."

His hand rubbed slowly up and down her back as he continued. "I'm glad we're handing it over. I'm tired of raking around in Luthor's muck, and it'll give us more time to be together. There's still a lot we don't know about each other, and I want to put that right — I don't even know the name of your favourite movie, for example."

"Neither do I," she replied. His hand stopped. "I thought you'd remembered pretty much everything, sweetest."

She nodded against his chest. "I have; I just never had one favourite. Depended what mood I was in."

He started stroking again. "I see — so if you were feeling angry, it was 'The Texas Chain-saw Massacre', and if you were sad, it was 'Love Story'?"

"Yuck to both," she said with a smile, "but you've got the general idea. What's yours?"

He paused. "That's easy."



She laughed. "I don't believe you."

"Hey, I identified with the little guy," he protested.

"Clark — trust me. You are nothing like ET. For a start, your English is better."

It was his turn to laugh. "Oh, thank you very much!"


That night, Clark lay on his back in the dark, waiting for Lois to join him in bed. Today had been an important turning point, he thought. Finally, they had Lex Luthor on the run, and after all the days — or was it weeks? — waging a frustrating war of words and fruitless investigation against the man, they could at last sit back and let someone else take the strain. Clark was confident that Bill Henderson would bring Luthor to book; he was a good man, and an excellent investigator to boot. It wouldn't be long before a lengthy court case would ensue.

That, in itself, was not a pleasant prospect to consider, given Lois and Clark's recent involvement with Luthor, but Clark would do everything in his power to shelter Lois from the worst of the media exposure. He would not allow her name to be dragged through the mire in the midst of Luthor's publicity machine. He, himself, had already been targetted by that particular enemy, and knew just how hurtful it could be. And Lois had a lot more to lose than he did.

But coming back to today, he reflected that another important change had occurred: he was at ease with himself. He wasn't able to put his finger on precisely when or why it had happened, but today, he'd discovered with unshakeable certainty that he had to continue helping people, chasing down criminals, fighting fires, defusing bombs, and all the other hundred and one things which added up to a superhero's life. Oh, he would never be a hero; would certainly never be a superhero — but he would do all the things which people expected their heros to do, and above all, he would be as utterly dependable and reliable as people needed their heros to be.

No more running away; no more ducking his responsibilities or shying away from difficult situations. He'd face them all squarely, and deal with them to the best of his abilities.

Why did he know these weren't empty promises to himself? He closed his eyes and probed inwards, to the core of his being.

After a moment, he found it. There was a solid foundation there which hadn't been there before. He could do anything, as long as he had that foundation.

The bed dipped beside him and a warm, soft body joined him under the covers.

"Long day, huh?" she murmured.

"One of the longest," he agreed. He rolled onto his side and dipped down to kiss her lips in the dark. "Did I tell you I love you today? I can't remember."

"I think you said it once or twice," she said with a smile in her voice. "Well, I'm saying it again." He kissed her once more. "I love you, Lois Lane."

"And I love you, Clark Kent."

Once upon a time, he'd thought he'd never hear those words…

He lowered his lips onto hers, but barely touching. He could feel her warm breath fanning gently into his mouth; could taste the minty toothpaste she'd used to clean her teeth.

She tasted delicious.

Gradually, he let his lips press more firmly against hers, savouring the feel of her softness against his; the feel of her moistness against his.

She felt delicious.

He deepened the kiss, pressing harder into her lips and moving with her and against her, enjoying the moist friction and the heat they generated together.

"Mmmm…" she murmured deep in her throat.

She sounded delicious.

He slid a hand across and caressed her body lovingly, kissing her as he caressed.

A small, cool hand covered his, stilling him.

He broke away from their kiss, mildly confused at her reaction.

"Do you mind if we don't, tonight?" she said.

"No, of course not, honey," he replied immediately. "It was just…well, you seemed…interested," he murmured, withdrawing his hand.

Her small hand grabbed his as he pulled it away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-" "Don't be sorry, sweetest. It's okay." He bent down and kissed her briefly. "Like you say, it's been a long day. We could both do with the sleep."

"Yes." She lifted his hand up and kissed his knuckles. "I'm so lucky I've got you, Clark."

"I'm the one who's lucky," he whispered.

She rolled over, turning away from him. "Night, Clark."

Again, he was mildly surprised; usually they snuggled up together, facing each other. He reached over and stroked her arm. "Night, Lois."

He lay facing her, pondering the darkness. He wasn't sure whether to be worried about her or not. A couple of times today, he'd seen her get really upset about almost nothing…well, not nothing exactly, but not enough to warrant the fast onset of tears he'd witnessed. He'd told himself that it was to be expected from a woman who'd been so badly treated for so long, and had only recently escaped from an incredibly cruel and repressive man.

But it seemed that she was getting worse, not better.

Sure, there had been tears when he'd first rescued her, and many tears since, as she had gradually told him the story of her miserable life for the past few years. It had been really tough, holding her and listening to her bare her wounded soul to him. Many times, he'd wanted to cry with her.

For a while, though, she'd been on the up; had even propped him up a couple of times when he'd needed it. She'd shown herself to be very tough and resourceful, as he'd expected she would be. So why was she suddenly so fragile again? Especially since she now knew for a certainty that she had never been a whore, contrary to Luthor's constant brainwashing while she'd been with him. He'd thought that resolving that last doubt would be the final step towards her recovery.

He recalled that a long time back, he'd considered and rejected taking her to see a counsellor. Had he made a mistake? Or was he over-reacting? She'd had a tough time — there were bound to be ups and downs. Not wanting to make love certainly wasn't important or significant of anything other than the need for a good night's sleep. Crying fits were better than bottling everything up inside.

He sighed quietly. At least she was here, in his bed and in his life. He was luckier than any man alive.


The following day Lois and Clark went into the Planet to begin writing up the Luthor story and explain to Jeff where they'd been for most of the previous day.

In the meantime, L and CK stayed at the apartment, waiting with increasing impatience for Wells's reappearance. Their work was done, and it was time to go home. Even CK's foot was almost healed.

He still walked with a slight limp, though, and coming down the spiral staircase gave him some difficulty. Oddly, walking up the stairs wasn't hard at all. Why was that? he asked himself as he climbed them for the third time that morning.

"You'll only make it worse," observed L dryly from her position on the sofa. "Come and sit down."

"I'm exercising it," he protested.

"No, you're not, you're straining it. Take a seat out onto the balcony and give it some sun if you want to make it heal quicker."

He glanced out the window. "Sun's not shining. Besides, I'm conducting a scientific experiment." He reached the top of the stairs and began descending, gingerly placing his sore foot onto a rung, transferring his weight onto his hands gripping the rail, then hurriedly bringing his good foot down to join the injured one and shifting his weight back to the good foot before the sore foot complained too much. Balance was difficult; that was the problem, he decided with a wince.

"It's because the spiral doesn't let you use the full width of the step under your sore foot," said L, as if it were obvious. "If you'd stop messing around for a minute and start thinking, you'd see that for yourself."

Darn. Why hadn't he thought of that?

He hobbled the rest of the way down, and joined her on the sofa. "I'm bored."

"So am I," said L. "Just where is that man when you need him?"

The phone beside CK rang.

CK raised his eyebrows at L. "Do you think he heard us?"

"Last time I looked, he wasn't omniscient." She leaned across him to grab at the phone, but he reached it first with a triumphant grin.

Smiling at her mock glare, he answered with his usual, "Clark Kent," into the receiver.

L stared at him and shook her head urgently, and he remembered too late that he wasn't actually Clark Kent in this universe.

"Found you at last," said a very familiar voice. "Do you know you're a very hard person to track down sometimes? No-one knew where you were. Anyway, I'm assuming you still want to go ahead with the tests, so I thought I'd drop around tonight and leave some sample bottles. Or you could come around to the Labs right now, if you like — it won't take more than a couple of minutes. Just remember that if you do it at home, you need to get the sample over to me as fast as you can. Of course, that won't be a problem for you, Superman." The voice paused momentarily. "It's Dr Klein, by the way," he added. "I'm calling about the fertility tests."

"Fertility tests?" CK saw L's eyebrows shoot up into her forehead as he gasped his reply.

"Yes. Don't you remember — you asked me to find out whether you're compatible for reproduction. With an Earthwoman, that is." "Oh, yes," said CK faintly, "I remember." His mind was racing ahead — Clark wanted to know if he could make Lois pregnant? He'd only just met her! Wasn't it a bit soon to be thinking about starting a family? And didn't he know that it was impossible anyway? Come to think of it, had CK told his friend about his and L's situation? Thinking back, he didn't seem to remember discussing it at all — which meant that Clark was in for some bad news.

Or good news, depending on the reason for his question to Dr Klein. Maybe Clark and Lois had had unprotected sex together and Clark was worried about the outcome.

And did Lois know about all this?

"So you need to give me a sample," Dr Klein was saying. "You do know what I mean by a sample?" he added, lowering his voice confidentially.

Oh, CK knew *all* about that! He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I know what you mean." He was sure Clark did, too.

"You'll come over now, then?" Dr Klein cleared his throat. "Sorry to press you, but this is going to make for some fascinating research. I've never done any cross-species reproductive work before, only within a single species. Monkeys were my speciality, you know."

This was supposed to inspire confidence? "Really? I never knew."

"I'll get the room ready for-"

"Dr Klein, wait!" CK interrupted quickly. This was *not* going to happen the way Klein wanted it to happen — CK and L had a lot of talking to do with Lois and Clark first. "I'm busy right now, and probably will be most of today. How about I come over tomorrow morning?"

"Oh," said Dr Klein, sounding disappointed. "I could come over there, if that helps?" he asked, brightening.

CK grimaced. "Sorry — we're going out in a minute," he said quickly, inventing wildly. "It'll have to be tomorrow. Nine-thirty okay for you?"

"All right. I'll look forward to it."

He'll what?! CK refrained from the usual 'me too' reply, sticking to the safer, "Goodbye," and replaced the receiver.

He looked at L. "We've got some delicate talking to do with Lois and Clark," he said.

She nodded slowly. "Sounds like it."


Packing up her computer ready to leave for the day, Lois reflected that either she or Clark really could do with acquiring a car. Being air-lifted home by Clark every night was all right, but one of these days he wouldn't be around, and she'd be stranded. Maybe they could buy it together, she thought. She certainly didn't want to be stuck relying on public transport. Working all day at the Planet was tiring enough as it was, without having to fight her way through Metropolis's crowded transit system every night.

It was funny how time made you forget the bad stuff and only remember the good: she certainly couldn't remember feeling this tired after a day's work when she'd been working at the Planet before the Congo incident. She could only remember the thrill of the chase; the challenge of meeting deadlines and finding the next story. There hadn't been time to feel tired.

But tonight she was looking forward to getting home and putting her feet up. She stretched in her chair to iron the kinks out of her back, and pondered the unwelcome thought that she was getting old.

"Good story, Lois."

She turned and smiled wanly at Jeff, glad that he appeared to be in pretty good humour again. Their editor had thrown a minor fit when they'd turned up for work that morning, expressing his annoyance at their unexplained disappearance the previous day. Clark had come off worst, especially when Jeff had reminded him sternly that they'd had a similar conversation just the other day. Clark, Jeff pointed out testily, had promised him during that conversation that he'd always let Jeff know if he was going to be absent for a long time. Just how short a memory did Clark have, Jeff had wanted to know.

As usual, though, Jeff hadn't managed to remain angry for very long. When they told him about Luthor's arrest, he changed tack and demanded to know why they were standing in the middle of his newsroom chatting when they should have been writing up the story.

Now the story was done, they'd worked up a few sidebars to enhance it, laid the groundwork for the follow-up, and it was time to go home.

"Thanks, Jeff," she replied. "We should be able to give you a pretty good follow-up story tomorrow, too."

He nodded. "I expect no less from you two. You're bad for my blood pressure at times, but you're fast turning into a pretty darn good reporting team." To her surprise, he perched on the side of her desk, his large, shabby frame looking awkwardly balanced on the sliver of wood he was using for support. "How are you, Lois? This has been a pretty rough ride for you, I'm guessing."

She was caught off-balance by his quick switch into personal matters. "All right, I suppose," she said. Then, thinking that didn't sound too convincing, especially considering he was her employer, she added more brightly, "Fine, actually."

"No after-effects from the amnesia?" he asked in quiet, confidential tones.

She shrugged. "No, everything's pretty much back where it belongs," she said ruefully. "I still have difficulty remembering who the Prime Minister of Australia is, but I think that's normal."

Jeff smiled. "Well, if you need any help — counselling, advice, or whatever — just say the word. You don't have to ask me; speak to Mary downstairs if you'd prefer. She's pretty easy to talk to. The point is, the Planet's ready to pitch in if you need it."

"Thanks, Jeff, I appreciate that." She stood up. "But I'm fine. And right now, my chauffeur awaits." She indicated Clark, who was standing at the elevators watching them.

"Is that chauffeur or pilot?" asked Jeff with a grin. "I assume you're travelling by air?"

"Yeah, but I think I'll get a car soon. This air-travel plays havoc with your hair, you know," she said with a wink.

"Actually, I don't know," replied Jeff, indicating his thinning hairline with an upward roll of his eyes. "And the day I believe Lois Lane is that worried about her hairdo is the day my own hair starts growing back."

She laughed. "See you tomorrow, Jeff."

She joined Clark at the elevators. "All set?" he asked.

"You bet. Lead me to a hot meal and a comfortable bed."

The elevator door chimed and the doors opened. Clark gave a short bow and gestured for her to enter. "All aboard for the Superman Express," he said politely. "Your flight will be departing shortly."

She walked past him, grabbing his tie on the way and dragging him into the elevator behind her. "Do you serve teas and coffees?"

"No, but I do offer frequent flyer specials," he said, tilting his head to one side and dropping a kiss onto her lips. He put a finger under her chin and tipped her head up slightly. "You look tired. Was Jeff giving you a hard time?"

"No, in fact he was telling me what a good story I wrote." He raised his eyebrows silently. "We wrote," she amended after a pause. "I'm fine," she insisted, wondering why everyone was suddenly asking her how she was. Did she look that bad?

"Good, because I thought we could challenge L & CK to a game of Scrabble tonight. I think they're getting pretty frustrated that Wells hasn't turned up yet." "Yes. I'll be sorry to see them go, but they've done everything they came here for, so there's no real reason for them to stay."

Clark shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe he'll arrive tonight."


CK shifted his Scrabble letters aimlessly around with one hand, while the other propped up his head at an increasingly wide tilt. There was nowhere left on the board for his combination of letters to go, and hadn't been since his last turn, and he was getting bored.

"Lois, just how long are you going to spend finding a home for that 'W'?" asked Clark belligerently, reflecting CK's own thoughts. "You know you're not going to win."

"I'm going for a personal best," retorted Lois. "And keep that x-ray vision to yourself."

Clark held up his hands in defence. "Hey, I never looked. I just made an educated guess."

"You could put 'we' there," said CK helpfully, pointing.

"That only gets me five."

Clark groaned. "At this stage of the game, you should be glad you can get anything at all."

CK exchanged glances with L. The evening was dragging on, and they still hadn't managed to broach the subject of Dr Klein's fertility tests. Somehow, they'd let first dinner, and then the game, distract them from their purpose, and now they were running out of time. He supposed it was because neither of them were particularly looking forward to broaching the subject. After all, this would probably be bad news for Clark, and possibly Lois, too. But they had to start talking soon.

L seemed to be thinking the same thing. "Look at it this way," she said brightly to Lois. "At least you get to go out first. That's kind of a win, isn't it?" Lois stared at the board glumly. "Okay, I get the message — you're getting bored." She sighed heavily. "Much as it pains me to do this…" She placed her letter where CK had indicated.

"At last!" exclaimed Clark, tipping his remaining letters out for all to see. "So, who's won?"

"Hold on…" said CK, adding up columns and scribbling down scores. "Who else but my sweet chumpy," he announced, grinning at L. "Congratulations, honey."

"I always said I had a better vocabulary than you," she said, looking pleased with herself.

CK laughed heartily and registered his protest by grabbing her around the waist and attempting to tickle her. She squealed in surprise and batted him away with her hands, giggling.

"Hey, what about us?" demanded Clark.

"Oh, you two just had lousy letters," L told him merrily, still resisting CK's attempts at tickling. "You didn't stand a chance." CK gave one last playful squeeze and let her go.

Clark caught CK's attention across the table. "That was very kind of you, letting L win like that," he said, his eyes twinkling.

CK winked. "Anything for a quiet life." He ducked away when L took a playful swipe at him. "Or perhaps not," he added ruefully.

"Anyone for more wine?" asked Lois. "There's another bottle in the kitchen."

CK looked swiftly at L, trying to signal that it was now or never. She took the hint immediately, standing and saying, "Great idea. I'll come with you."

CK watched them walk over to the kitchen, wishing for once that the apartment wasn't open plan. He didn't want Lois to overhear what he was going to say to Clark. Perhaps all four of them would talk about this later, but CK wanted Clark to have the chance to say whether he wanted that to happen or not.

He watched Clark pack away the Scrabble game for a few moments, holding the cotton drawstring bag open for him while he tipped the letters into it from the board. "I took a phone call for you today," he said casually.

"Oh? Who was that?"

"Dr Klein." CK cleared his throat. "He said he was calling about some tests."

"Tests? What tests would those be?" asked Clark, clearly not remembering the conversation he'd presumably had with Dr Klein to set things up.

CK glanced at the women in the kitchen before answering, making sure that they were deep in animated conversation. "Fertility tests," he said quietly.

Clark froze in the middle of placing the lid on the Scrabble box. "Oh," he said after a pause, and finished with the lid, pushing the box away slowly and carefully.

Then his head shot up. "Hang on — he told you? I knew I shouldn't have trusted-"

"He thought I was you," interrupted CK. "Sorry."

Clark stared at him, his expression showing stunned surprise and then sudden annoyance. "Sorry? You impersonate me without my permission, and all you can say is sorry?!"

"I know I shouldn't have — it just kind of happened by mistake. I answered the phone as myself — Lois and I were in the middle of something and I just didn't think — and before I knew it, Dr Klein was telling me all about why he was phoning. I really didn't want to intrude on your privacy, Clark, believe me."

"Well, it looks like you have." He stood up abruptly and stalked away towards the window. "God, this is embarrassing," he muttered.

CK pushed his chair back and rose slowly, wondering what to say next. He'd expected anger — that much was justified — but Clark seemed a lot more embarrassed than he'd anticipated. After everything they'd been through together, he'd thought they were pretty close friends; the kind of friends who could talk about intimate subjects openly.

Okay, maybe a tangential approach was needed here. He followed Clark to the window and stood beside him. "Why embarrassing? L and I did exactly the same thing, you know."

"Did you?" Clark turned to look at CK. "I never thought of that," he said in a surprised voice.

CK shrugged. "Well, we wanted kids, so we thought we'd better find out if it was even possible…with me being Kryptonian, I mean."

"And was it?" asked Clark immediately, and CK saw straightaway just how important this was to him; anxiety was written all over his face and affected his body language. His hands were tight fists by his sides.

CK sank down onto the window seat, hating what he would have to say, both because of Clark's obvious concern, and also because he still felt a tug of regret that he and L couldn't have kids.

"No," he said sadly. "It wasn't possible."

Clark quickly joined him on the seat. "Why?" he asked urgently.

"Because humans and Kryptonians aren't compatible for reproduction. Dr Klein tried everything he could, and L's father even carried out tests, but they both came to the same conclusion." CK sighed. "We just can't have children, and that's that."

"So it wasn't anything to do with the pregnancy hurting Lois, or anything like that?"

CK turned in surprise. "We never really thought about that. It's kind of academic anyway, since I can't make her pregnant in the first place."

And he'd regretted that. By marrying him, Lois had been denied the chance to experience the joys of motherhood. Oh, she might protest that she was useless with children anyway, but he suspected she'd have made a great mother. Her tears when he'd broken the bad news to her had made it clear to him that she'd at least wanted to give it a try.

However, he wasn't here to dwell on the past; he was here to help Clark. His friend was going through all this for the first time, and looking at him, CK saw a great deal of disappointment in his face.

"Look, I'm sorry you had to find out like this, Clark," he said. "I wish we'd had good news for you, but the fact is, two scientists independently came to the same conclusion. L and I had a hard time facing up to it, but in a way, I think our relationship is actually stronger because of it."

Clark nodded. "I can understand that." He leant his head back against the window and stared up at the ceiling. "I don't know what I feel. I mean, Lois and I haven't been going out together that long, and we haven't discussed marriage at all, so talking about kids is a bit premature, I guess. I went to Dr Klein initially because — don't laugh — I was scared that my…fluids…could make Lois sick."

"I'm not laughing," interjected CK quietly. He'd never had a similar concern, but he could completely understand why Clark might worry about it.

"Anyway, Dr Klein assured me there was no way they could, but I still wanted to know if I could make her pregnant and what the consequences would be if I did." He leant away from the window briefly and looked at CK. "She's on the Pill," he murmured, "so we're safe, but I wanted to know…just in case." He reddened. "For future reference, so to speak."

CK nodded. "You want to marry her and have children with her. I know."

Clark leant his head back on the window again. "Yeah. So that's why I arranged these tests with Klein." He sighed. "Except there's no point now."

CK reflected that maybe Clark didn't know how he felt, but it was pretty obvious to CK: he was deeply disappointed. He wanted to help Clark, but the truth was, there was no silver lining here. Although…

"I think you should go ahead anyway," he said. "Who knows — maybe we're not exactly the same, biologically. This is a different universe, and we already know that the two universes aren't exact duplicates of each other."

Clark rolled his eyes towards CK. "You think?"

"It's worth a try. He's expecting you tomorrow morning, by the way, at nine-thirty."

The corner of Clark's mouth twitched upwards. "Thanks for making the appointment on my behalf."

"He wanted to come by there and then and do it. I had to stall him somehow."

Clark laughed. "That sounds like Dr Klein."

"He sometimes forgets the social niceties," agreed CK. He paused, wondering how best to broach the next subject. A quick check on the kitchen told him that the two women were still talking, so at least it was safe to continue.

Direct was probably best, he thought. "Clark, does Lois know about any of this?"

Clark sobered quickly and looked at him seriously. "No. I thought I should get the facts straight before telling her anything."

CK winced internally. The exact same words could have come from his own mouth — a few years ago. He'd always thought it was better to figure things out for himself before worrying L unnecessarily, but he'd since learned the hard way that there was no bigger mistake he could make, especially with L. She hated being left out of the loop; hated being made to feel as if a decision had been made without her input. At the time, he didn't think he'd been making decisions without her, just gathering facts in order that they could make an informed decision together. She'd made him realise that the simple act of gathering the facts was a decision in itself; a step closer towards the final decision.

He faced Clark squarely. "Clark, trust me on this — the sooner you tell her what you're doing, the better. She's going to hate you for not sharing this with her-"

"But there's nothing to share yet," interrupted Clark with a frown.

CK shook his head. "You've made one of the most important decisions a couple can make together. You've decided to find out if you can have a baby — don't you think she'd like to know that? She's the one who'll be pregnant, not you. And how many couples can you think of who'd go to their doctor first before talking to their partner about their conception problems?"

Clark pulled a face. "Not many, I guess. But I didn't know whether there'd be problems or not — that's what I was trying to find out."

"We're alien, Clark," chided CK quietly. "You knew there was a good chance of problems arising."

Clark fell silent and stared at the carpet for a while. CK could tell that he knew he'd made a mistake, but something else was obviously still bothering him. He wondered whether a different form of communication might help his friend confide in him.

<<Why didn't you tell her, Clark?>>

He saw Clark's shoulder muscles tighten in response to his telepathic question, then slump in resignation.

<<Because I'd only just finished telling her something a whole lot more embarrassing>>

<<Oh?>> And suddenly CK knew. Of course — he'd been in the same position. <<You were a virgin, too?>>

Clark's head whipped around in shock. "You too?!"

CK nodded. "L was my first," he said with a fond smile.

"But I thought…I mean…you…you seemed…" Clark swallowed hard and went back to staring at the carpet.

<<How did you know you wouldn't hurt her?>>

<<Hurt her?!>> CK was completely puzzled by the question. How could he hurt Lois when he was making love with her?

<<You know…when you lose control.>>

CK nearly choked, he was so surprised. <<Well, I have to say that just never occurred to me>> he replied, trying not to let his feelings show. Privately, however, he was starting to realise that poor Clark really had got himself into a hopeless state over the whole question of sex. To CK, it was the most natural thing in the world, and any first-time nerves he might have had had been completely overshadowed by his love and desire for his wife. Of course, no man could have asked for a better first time partner than L — she'd made it so easy and pleasurable that it hadn't really felt like a first time at all.

However, for Clark, sex seemed to have been a minefield of anxieties and uncertainties. His alienness had seemingly preyed on his mind, to the point where…well, what, precisely? He'd obviously gotten over this notion that he could hurt Lois, so what was the problem?

<<Well, it did to me>> replied Clark. <<So I decided to do something about it>>

CK's mind went into overdrive — what could Clark possibly do to stop himself losing control while he was making love? And what would be the point? Where was the fun in that?

"You know, I can't believe I'm telling you all this," said Clark suddenly. "Seems to me you needed to tell someone," replied CK with a shrug. "May as well be me."

Clark half-smiled. "I think there's more to it than that. You're a good friend, CK."

"Don't start getting all sentimental on me," warned CK. "I'm just trying to put my own mistakes right here. So, what did you do?"

"I figured if I didn't have my powers -" Clark stopped abruptly and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. <<If I didn't have my powers, I couldn't hurt her. So I went to Dr Klein and asked him to do whatever he could to get rid of my powers temporarily>>

CK reeled with another shock. Take away his powers? That sounded almost obsessive to CK. It was in the same general area as people who suffered from dysmorphia, except there it was hatred of a body part which made them behave irrationally.

But Clark didn't hate his powers. He was just desperate to do whatever was necessary to lead a normal life with Lois, and CK could identify with that.

<<So what happened?>> he prompted.

<<Oh, Dr Klein refused, of course, and I realised I'd made a complete fool of myself. But the point is that I had all this out with Lois, which wasn't easy, as you can imagine>>

<<She'd be upset>>

<<Yeah, so I really, really didn't feel like telling her about the fertility tests straight after that>>

Clark straightened up and glanced at CK. "Now do you understand?"

"Yes. You'd just patched things up, and you didn't want to rock the boat again." He paused and ran his words back to himself. "Sorry about the mixed metaphors," he added ruefully.

Clark smiled quickly. "But you're right."

"Okay. But that was a while ago, wasn't it? You could tell her now, couldn't you?"

Clark squirmed. "You don't think she'll be mad? Like I said, it's a bit soon to be discussing having babies together."

"Oh, there's no doubt she'll be mad, but she'll be even madder when she finds out that you had the tests done without her knowledge — and I can guarantee you that she will find out. We're talking about Lois Lane here," he added.

"I guess you're right. Do you mind if I tell her about the results of your tests?"

CK shook his head. "No, but be careful how you tell her. I mean, do you know whether she wants kids or not?"

"No idea. We haven't discussed it."

"Well, it's time to get talking, Clark. Good luck."

"Thanks — and thanks for helping me with all this." He grinned. "I thought I was going to be mad at you when we started this conversation."

CK laughed. "Like I said, I was only doing this to save myself."

"And like I said — you're a good friend, CK."


Lois regarded her friend over the rim of her wine glass and reflected that L did a very good line in distracting banter when it suited her. Not to mention sleight-of-hand manoeuvring. So, instead of taking the bottle of wine back to the guys, L had opened it in the kitchen. That in turn had somehow led to them pouring a couple of glasses and settling down into good old girls-together chat.

Lois didn't mind a bit, but she knew that L had an ulterior motive. Oh, she'd seen the glances L and CK had exchanged while they'd been playing Scrabble; seen the subtle signals pass from one to the other. It was obvious that they were up to something, so when L had followed her into the kitchen, she'd played along, concluding that either L had wanted to talk to her in private, or that CK had wanted to talk to Clark in private. Well, since she and L hadn't discussed anything other than clothes, books, film stars and panty-hose, it had to have been Clark who was receiving the heart-to-heart treatment.

And she was itching to know what it was all about.

But she smiled. It was fun observing a master at work.

"What?" asked L. "What's funny?"

Her smile widened. "You. You're funny."

"How so?"

She indicated the men over in the lounge area, noticing that they'd both moved over to the window seat for some reason. "Do you think it's safe to go back yet?" L asked. "Have the guys had enough time to finish talking about whatever it is you wanted them to talk about?"

L looked completely wrong-footed for a moment, but then laughed. "Okay, you got me. Was I really that transparent?"

"Trust me, you were as see-through as Clark's glasses," replied Lois wryly.

She laughed again. "Come on, let's join them. I guess they've had long enough."

Lois followed L back into the lounge. CK stood up just as they reached the window seat and slung an arm around L. "So where's that wine you promised us?"

L kissed his cheek casually. "Oh, we drank it all, didn't we, Lois?" she said with a side-long glance at Lois. Lois nodded. "Every drop. Sorry."

CK raised his eyebrows. "Well, I guess that means you and I will just have to go out and fetch another, honey."

"My thoughts exactly," agreed L. "It's a fine clear night for a flight over Metropolis."

"We'll be back soon," said CK, and before Lois or Clark could say anything more, there was a blur of motion, and the two were gone.

Lois stared at Clark. "Do I get the feeling they want to leave us alone?"

He smiled. "Yeah." He patted the window seat next to him, inviting her to sit beside him. "There's something I need to tell you."


Lois joined him on the seat and wondered why he suddenly looked tense despite his smile. Was this bad news? "Don't tell me — you're an alien from outer space," she teased.

He smiled faintly. "How did you guess?" He shifted on the seat, looking even more ill at ease. "Actually, that's a good place to start. I *am* alien, and that means that certain things you might take for granted if I were human aren't necessarily the same."

Okay, so it was something he hadn't told her about being Kryptonian. CK must have known that, and persuaded him to tell her. It was obviously something very important to him, but she couldn't for the life of her imagine what it could be. Surely she knew everything there was to know by now? She smirked to herself — she'd certainly explored every inch of his body, and there definitely wasn't anything missing.

"Like what, Clark?" she asked gently. "I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about you."

"Well, yes, you do…there's just this one thing we haven't discussed." He reached out a hand and caressed the side of her face tenderly. "Lois, you've given me a lot of special things since I first met you, and I've never been so happy as I am now. You showed me how to love and how to be loved, when I thought I was going to be alone for the rest of my life."

He paused for a couple of seconds, then took a deep breath and started again. "One of the most special things you gave me was when you helped me to make love with you. That was amazing, Lois — I can't think of the words to describe just how amazing. And now, when we make love, it's the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced. I never knew…I mean, it's not just the physical side…you make me feel complete, like I wasn't a whole person until we were together."

She covered his hand with her own, touched by his words, yet confused. "I feel the same, sweetheart, but why are you telling me this now? Does whatever you want to tell me have something to do with our lovemaking?"

Random guesses flew through her head — he wanted to stop making love? He wanted to make love more often?

He wanted someone else???

She shoved that thought away quickly. Too scary.

"You remember the very first time we made love, and I wanted to use protection?" He rested their hands in his lap and she shifted closer to him to get more comfortable — and for reassurance. The direction he was steering the conversation in was almost as scary as her own thoughts, simply because she just couldn't imagine what he was going to say next. "You said not to worry, because you were on the Pill," he added.

She nodded. "That's right." Her conscience gave a minor twinge; she'd been meaning to renew her prescription for quite a few days, but just hadn't found the time. She didn't even have a doctor yet, of course, which didn't help. But she was sure all the chemicals took ages to wash out of your system if you'd been on the Pill for as long as she had, so it wasn't a big issue. Still, she should get it sorted soon…

"Did you ever stop to wonder about the consequences if we hadn't been using contraception?" he asked.

She frowned. Was this a trick question? And why was the answer so important? "Clark, what are you trying to say? And please tell me, because I'm starting to get scared."

He sighed heavily. "It's hard…okay, you'd think the natural result of not using any contraception would be pregnancy, wouldn't you?"

"Yes…maybe not right away, but eventually. If everything else was normal."

"Well, that's just it — I'm not normal, Lois. Not human." He twined his hands around hers for a moment, while she suppressed the urge to scream at him and demand he spit out whatever it was he wanted to tell her. He took a deep breath. "So what that means is that I'll probably never be able to make you pregnant."

He turned anguished eyes on her. "That's what CK and I were talking about earlier — he told me that he and L had tests done a while ago, and that their Dr Klein told them that humans and Kryptonians aren't compatible for reproduction."

She stared at him. She didn't know what she'd been expecting, but it hadn't been this. Babies? They were talking about babies?

She was stunned. Babies just hadn't been on her agenda; hadn't entered her consciousness until now, yet here he was, telling her that even if babies had been on her mind, she wouldn't be able to conceive. Not with Clark, anyway.

They'd only been together for a short while, for heaven's sake! They'd hardly discussed marriage, let alone kids. What was she supposed to think? Or feel?




The rest of her life.

Suddenly her bottom lip was quivering — damn these wayward emotions of hers!

"Clark, I don't know…I don't…" She couldn't speak without letting the tears spill out, and all of a sudden she needed to flee; get away from him before she started crying in earnest. She scrambled off the seat and rushed headlong for the bedroom, hiding herself as far away from him as she could manage.

"Lois!" she heard him call out. "Please don't run away."

She stuffed her fist in her mouth and tried to stifle her sobs.

"Please come back," he called, and she could hear the anxiety and hurt in his voice. No doubt she was making him feel even worse by sitting here and crying, but she couldn't help it. She'd had to get away. She wasn't ready to think about babies and children yet; she was still getting used to being herself again. How could she teach someone else how to grow up; how to live their life, when she was still figuring it out for herself?

Except she wasn't going to have babies anyway — at least, not with Clark. How the hell was she supposed to figure out how she felt about that?

And she hated herself for making him feel bad — she knew he was sensitive about being alien, and she'd just made it worse for him by running away when he least needed her to.

She buried her face in her hands and yelled silently at herself to stop crying. This wasn't a crying issue. She was being pathetic.


Clark sat numbly on the window seat, wondering if he could have handled this any worse than he clearly had. The sounds of Lois's soft crying broke the brittle silence of the apartment and tore at his heart, a constant reminder of how badly one person could hurt another. Yet he didn't know whether to go to her, or whether she wanted to be left alone.

He supposed sadly that she wouldn't have run away if she'd wanted to be with him. He'd hurt her so badly this time that she couldn't bear to stay beside him a moment longer.

But why was she so upset? He'd expected her to be upset when he told her about the tests, but he hadn't even reached that part yet. He was very sad that they couldn't have kids, but that was because he'd know for a long time that he wanted to marry her and have children with her. Lois had only given him the tiniest indication that she was interested in marriage, and they'd never discussed children at all — they hadn't been a couple for very long, after all.

So, why? Was he less of a man in her eyes if he couldn't make her pregnant? Did she have a fixed idea that kids were obligatory in any long-term relationship she entered into? They'd not talked about any of this, so he had no idea. None of it sounded like the Lois he knew and loved, but she had to have run away for a reason.

He stilled.

Did she think a child born out of mixed parentage was abhorrent?

She'd never shown any sign that she was disgusted by him being alien; quite the opposite, sometimes, but was the idea of a half-human, half-Kryptonian child more than even Lois could stomach?

He shook his head. He might be starting to realise just how many things they'd never talked about in depth, but this was something he was positive about. Lois wasn't racist. And anyway, the point was that such a child would never exist in any case, because of who he was.

He sighed. One thing was certain — he had to finish telling her everything, including tomorrow's tests. There was still a slim chance that he was different to CK.

He stood up and crossed to the bedroom. "Lois?" he said tentatively. She was sitting on the far side of the bed with her face in her hands, her back to him. "Can I talk to you?"

Her shoulders shrugged silently.

Taking that as a sign that she didn't object if he stayed, he sank cautiously down onto his side of the bed. "I'm sorry I upset you," he said.

She shrugged again.

"Is there anything I can get you?"

She shook her head. "No."

"Not even a chocolate fudge sundae?" he suggested. "With a cherry on top?"

She gave a tiny laugh. "No. Definitely not that."

"A double fudge crunch bar. I know you like those."

Again, she laughed a little. "No — not even that."

He stood up, went around to her side of the bed and sat beside her hunched-up form, careful not to crowd her by sitting too close. "I guess we did have a big dinner." She nodded.

He paused, listening to her steady breathing and pondering what to say next to keep their wobbly conversation going. At least she was talking to him. He was about to say something banal about the wine, when her hand reached out sideways towards him.

He took it firmly and squeezed. She seemed to have stopped crying, but he could sense that she was still teetering on the edge of tears. "I'm sorry…I'm sorry I'm being so stupid about this," she said shakily.

"It's okay — be as stupid as you like," he said softly. "I don't mind."

She half-sniffed, half-laughed. "Thanks."

"Just tell me what's upsetting you so much."

"Oh, Clark — I don't know. I don't know why I'm crying about this. It's not as if I'd even thought about having kids. Why should I be upset when you tell me we can't have any?"

He thought. "Maybe because we've never talked about it before? We've never even talked about marriage, let alone children."

"That's true, but it's not worth crying over. I don't even know if I want kids."

"Except I guess I've forced you into thinking about it."

She nodded. "That's true." She turned her head and looked at him. "Why? Why now, Clark?"

"Well…" For a moment, he considered evading the truth in order to avoid more upset for them both, but then he looked into her tear-stained face and knew that he owed her the complete story. He took a deep breath. "I'd arranged a while ago for Dr Klein to do some tests — tests to see if I was compatible with humans for reproduction. CK got to hear about them — he took a phone call that was meant for me by mistake. We talked, and when he found out that you didn't know about the tests, he said I should tell you. He said it wasn't fair for me to make such an important decision without talking to you first."

"He was right there!" she said. "Why didn't you tell me, Clark?"

He grimaced. "I thought it was better to get all the facts straight before I told you."

"But this affects both of us, if we're going to stay together," she replied in a soft, hurt voice. "You're busy finding out if I can have your babies, and you don't even tell me?"

He reflected sadly that he'd have almost preferred her to be yelling at him at this point. But she wasn't; she was quiet and sad, and that was a lot worse, because she was usually such a spirited, energetic person. Giving in to his urge to comfort her, he laid his arm lightly on her shoulders, and was relieved when she leant up against him and let him pull her closer.

"CK said much the same thing," he replied. "But I thought at the time I was doing the right thing. When I arranged these tests we already had an awful lot to cope with in our lives, and I didn't want to burden you with too much more."

She nodded. "I understand that. You always want to protect me, and that's partly why I love you, even if you do overdo it sometimes. But this is big, Clark. We hadn't even discussed marriage, yet you were already thinking about kids."

"Well, we were already sleeping together, and even though you're on the Pill, I just thought…well, I just thought we should know what could happen if…if it didn't work, or something. It wasn't just about whether I could make you pregnant or not, either; I wanted to know if a baby would be healthy or not, and if there could be any complications with the pregnancy."

He stroked her cheek with the back of his knuckles, and she turned to look up at him. "I was thinking of you, Lois," he murmured. "I didn't want you to be hurt if we happened to make a baby together."

She smiled a little. "That's kind of you, and completely typical. I know you meant it for the best, but I still wish you'd told me. Do I get a promise that you'll tell me next time you do something like this?"

He nodded. "I promise."

"So, what now? You said we probably can't have children — does that mean there's a chance that we can?"

He hesitated, surprised that she was still willing to pursue the subject. He answered carefully, "Lois, are you sure you want to talk about this? I mean, you were right when you said we hadn't even discussed marriage, let alone kids."

She sighed. "Well, you started this process; we may as well finish it. Do you need to get more tests done?"

He realised he hadn't finished explaining everything to her. "Actually, I haven't had any tests done yet. It was CK who told me we wouldn't be able to conceive — because he and L had already had similar tests done a while back when they wanted to have children."

"Oh, that's sad. I didn't realise."

"Yes, I think they took it quite hard, judging by CK's look when he told me. I think that deep down he still wants kids."

"And they're sure it's him and not Lois who's the problem?"

He'd never thought of that, but… "I don't think they bothered testing Lois, because their Dr Klein had already told them that Kryptonians and humans aren't compatible for reproduction."

"So is there any point in you going ahead with your tests if we already know the answer?"

He shrugged. "CK thinks so, in case we're not exact biological replicas of each other."

She nodded. "I guess it's a long shot, but it's worth a try." She paused. "It's going to be hard for them if we find out we can have kids and they can't."

"I know."


L padded across the carpet towards the bathroom, hugging herself against the slight early-morning chill in the air. She hoped that if they were stuck here much longer, Clark would turn the heating on; winter was approaching, and it was starting to get chilly in the mornings.

The bathroom was occupied when she got there, so she hovered a few paces from the door, rubbing her hands up and down her sides to keep warm. After a few moments, Lois emerged and she stepped forward.

"Morning," she said cordially. "Getting a little cool in the mornings, isn't it?" No harm in dropping a hint about the heating, she thought.

"Yes," replied Lois with a wan smile. Something in the tone of her voice made L take a closer look at her, and she was shocked to see that her friend didn't look well at all; her face was pasty and her hair hung in limp and lifeless strands.

"Are you all right?" she asked in concern.

Lois nodded, then suddenly clapped her hand to her mouth, turned, and bolted back into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her. L heard the distinct sounds of retching, and quickly drew back a few steps to give Lois some privacy.

She waited, wondering how long to give it before she either went in to help, or fetched Clark. She wasn't very good with sick people, she reflected with regret; her husband would know exactly what to do.

The door opened and Lois came out again, still looking very pale and shaky. L hurried forward and took her arm lightly. "Come and sit down — you don't look too steady." She steered her to one of the sofas and looked down at her. "Do you want me to get Clark?"

She shook her head slowly. "No, not yet. Just give me a minute."

L stood uncertainly in front of her friend, watching her take a few slow breaths to steady herself. She didn't look well, and she also looked distinctly unhappy. Yet she didn't want to see her boyfriend. In fact, after a couple of moments, her shoulders heaved and she gave a strangled sob.

L plunked herself down beside Lois. "What is it, Lois? What's the matter?"

Lois turned a sad face towards her and said the words L least expected to hear. "I think I'm pregnant."


The words were like a cold shower; there was a ring of conviction in Lois's voice that made L almost believe her for a second. Lois was pregnant with Clark's child.

An unexpected stab of jealousy twisted inside her before reason asserted itself. After last night's conversations, surely Lois knew that it was virtually impossible that she was pregnant?

"Why?" asked L gently. "Because you've been sick a couple of times? That could just be a stomach upset, or maybe we drank more wine than we realised last night."

"It's not just the sickness, it's lots of things," answered Lois in a trembling voice. "I just didn't put them together until this happened."

"Like what?"

"Well, you've probably noticed I've been getting pretty tired recently, and lately I can't seem to stop crying at the smallest provocation…" She sniffed miserably.

"But that's understandable, after everything you've been through, Lois," said L, doing her best to rationalise. "I'm not surprised your emotions are a little mixed up — actually, I'm impressed you've got it together as much as you have. I'm not sure I could have."

"That's what Clark said — about what I've been through. But…but what he doesn't know is that I ran out of Pills a while ago, and…" She sniffed again. "And I'm late." She wiped tears away from her eyes again. "L, I don't see what other conclusion there is to reach — I'm pregnant, and that's that."

She had a point. When you put it all together, it did look as though there was just one obvious cause of Lois's symptoms, yet L was having a hard time dealing with the idea. How was it possible? Clark was Kryptonian, and they already knew that humans and Kryptonians simply couldn't have children together.

What if the child were Luthor's?

The thought jumped out at her from nowhere, and made her blood run cold. She knew Lois had slept with Luthor, after all. But surely the timing was wrong — it must have been weeks since Lois last had sex with him. So that possibility was out, thank God!

But how was this possible?

"Okay, the first thing we do is get you a pregnancy testing kit," she said briskly. "Then you'll know for certain one way or the other."

Lois nodded glumly.

"Do you want me to send CK out for one, or will you ask Clark?"

She sighed. "I'll ask Clark. I guess he needs to know about this anyway."

She sounded terribly depressed, and again, L experienced a foreign twist of jealousy in her gut — if she'd been in Lois's place, she would have been overjoyed to discover she might be pregnant. It was an uncharitable attitude, she knew, but she couldn't stop herself feeling that life was treating her very unfairly today.

Shaking off the sour thoughts, she forced herself back into supportive-friend mode. She touched Lois's knee lightly. "Is it really such a bad thing if you are pregnant? I'm sure Clark will be thrilled."

She crossed her fingers behind her back as she said the words, not entirely sure if she was correct or not.

"I don't know, L. It's just so much to take in…it's too soon. I'm not ready to be a Mom, and after last night, I didn't think I was going to ever be one. But now…"

She sniffed sadly and scraped her hair away from her face. "I should go tell Clark," she said, standing up.

L stood with her. "If you need to talk some more, I'm here, okay?" She shrugged ruefully. "At least until that irritating little man shows up, anyway."

"Thanks, L." They hugged briefly. "You're a good friend."


CK finished the laborious task of remaking their bed and straightened up, stretching and yawning expansively. It was almost two days since he'd done anything much at superspeed, because he couldn't see the point of doing things quickly if the end result just meant more time sitting around without much to do, waiting for Wells to turn up. The result was that he was starting to feel sluggish and out of condition; he supposed this was how athletes felt if they didn't train for a few days.

If that darned man didn't arrive today, he'd start building his own time machine.

"I have news," said L, appearing at the top of the staircase.

He paused mid-stretch. "Don't tell me he's here at last?"

"No." She came over to the bed and tugged unceremoniously on his arm to make his sit beside her on the edge. "Lois thinks she's pregnant," she announced in a low voice.

"What?!" She hushed him with a finger to her lips, and he quickly modified his voice. "What?" he repeated in a whisper. "She can't be."

"That's what I thought, but then she told me certain things, and I have to say, I think she's probably right."

"But how?"

"Beats me. All I know is she's already been sick twice this morning, and I don't think it's food poisoning." "Why not?"

"Like I said, there are other things…" He gave her a frustrated look. "I can't tell you, Clark — she was really upset when she spoke to me, and I don't know how much she'd want you to know."

"Well, I know that she's on the Pill, for a start, so how does she explain that one?"

He didn't get an answer, but he got a very expressive look.

"She's not on the Pill?" he exclaimed in a whisper. "But why did she tell Clark-"

"She ran out," L murmured.


He gave up looking for objections and turned his attention to the shattering news instead. If Lois really was pregnant with Clark's baby, then this was incredible — for them. For him and L, it was…

Not fair.

He felt L reach for his hand. "I know — I felt the same," she said. "My first thought was why them and not us? Isn't that horrible?"

He sighed heavily. "I guess it's only to be expected, though. I think we have a right to feel a little cheated after all the heartache we went through trying to have kids of our own. Here we are, a couple who did everything we could to have children, and then along come Lois and Clark, and they get pregnant without even trying."

"And Lois doesn't even want to be pregnant. That hurts."

He squeezed her hand. "Yeah. But I guess we're leaping to conclusions here — we should wait until we know for certain before we start sticking pins into little effigies of them," he said.

She smiled. "You're right. She's going to ask Clark to get her a testing kit soon — and I think we should still encourage Clark to go through with his own tests, too. You never know — the results might throw up some answers for us as well."

He nodded. "I agree."


Lois scrubbed the tears from her cheeks and ran her fingers through her hair to try to give it some life. If she walked in on Clark looking like she'd been crying yet again, he'd start to think she did nothing but cry all day long, every day. Sometimes that was how it felt these days, she thought miserably. But if she were in his shoes, she'd be wondering what she'd got herself into; a girlfriend who was as insecure and unstable as she was a burden, not an equal partner.

She couldn't afford to repel him; least of all now.

Holding her head high, she crossed over to their bedroom where Clark was just pushing back the bed covers and swinging his legs out of bed. "Bathroom free yet?" he asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

"I-I think L may still be in there," she replied, amazed that her voice sounded so normal when her heart was pounding. "Clark, have you got a minute? There's something I need to tell you."

He stopped rubbing his eyes and looked at her quizzically. "You don't have to book time with me to tell me something," he said in an amused voice. "What is it — have L and CK asked if they can stay on indefinitely?"

"No." He was always doing that — making things easier with a little humour to lighten the moment. But she wasn't up to witty repostes today. She sank down beside him on the edge of the bed, her heart thumping even faster and her palms sticky with sweat. "This is going to sound crazy after everything we talked about last night, but…I think I'm pregnant, Clark."

He went very still. "But…"

He looked like he'd wanted to continue, but bit back whatever he was going to add to his instant and obvious denial.

The heavy weight of depression gnawed deeper into her heart. His reaction told her everything she needed to know. He wasn't thrilled, as L had suggested he might be; he wasn't even mildly happy. She studied his face, reading only shock and confusion there, and turned away quickly before he noticed her fresh tears.

"I guess you weren't planning on becoming a father quite so soon," she said, fighting to keep her voice steady.

"No! I mean, yes, I'd love to be a father…but how, Lois? I-I thought you were on the Pill…"

"I ran out," she said dully. He didn't sound like he'd love to be a father; he sounded like a man fighting tooth and nail to deny the idea. She bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling, insisting to herself that she mustn't cry. Bad enough that he was landed with an unexpected pregnancy to deal with — he didn't need a constantly weeping girlfriend as well.

"Oh! Why didn't you tell…" He stopped again, presumably because he realised the question was academic anyway — why did it matter why she hadn't told him? The fact was that she *had* run out, and that was why they were in this mess. She felt him shift on the bed, but she couldn't look at him. "But what they said last night…Lois, are you sure? All this talk of babies and pregnancy…maybe you're just imagining-"

"My period's late, I was sick twice this morning, I haven't been taking those damn pills for days, and I'm suffering from mood swings," she said harshly. "Does that sound like the product of an over-active imagination to you?"

She swung around angrily and faced him. "I'm sorry I've messed things up for you, but the fact is I'm pregnant and you may as well start getting used to the idea right now!"

Her chin started wobbling and there was a huge lump in her throat, but she swallowed and clamped down hard on the urge to cry.

He was staring wide-eyed at her. "You haven't messed things up, Lois! If you're really pregnant, then I'll be the happiest man alive."

"You don't sound like the happiest man alive," she retorted.

"You took me by surprise, that's all. Lois…" He slid an arm around her shoulders. "Run that by me again," he said gently. "You say you're late?"

She nodded miserably. "I'm usually pretty regular, but it's been three days. I thought I was just under stress — they say that can affect your cycle — but what with being sick this morning…" She paused. "I'm sorry about the pills, Clark, I really am. That was my responsibility, and I let you down."

"You didn't let me down, Lois," he said softly. "Protection is just as much my responsibility as yours, and besides, when have you had time over the last few days to get to a doctor? We've been kind of busy, what with the Luthor case and having visitors."

She sniffed. "I know. But I should have at least told you I'd run out. We could have started using condoms."

"Maybe, but who's to say that would have been one hundred per cent reliable either? It's a risk you take — you make love, and out of that love can come a baby."

"Risk." She pounced on the negative word.

"Sorry — bad choice of words. Maybe 'chance' is better." He squeezed her shoulders. "So you're pretty sure about this?"

"Yes. It all adds up, and actually, I'd be even more worried if I felt like this and I wasn't pregnant." She hugged herself up against him. "I'm sorry, Clark."

"Please don't say that, sweetheart. What you've just told me is the most wonderful news you could give me. It means they're wrong about me — wrong about us. It means we can have lots of babies — as many as we want."

"But the timing on this one's lousy," she challenged miserably.

"Okay, I admit we probably wouldn't have planned it this way, but does it really matter when we have a child together? Isn't it more important that we love each other and that we'll love our baby?" He squeezed her shoulders. "Everything else will sort itself out if we have that."

"You're not disappointed?" she asked quietly.

"How can I be disappointed? I'm holding the woman I love in my arms, and she's carrying our baby." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm so lucky to have you," he murmured.

The tremble was back in her bottom lip, and she bit on it again to hold back the tears threatening to spill out. This time they were tears of relief, though. His voice was so full of wonder and tenderness that he had to be speaking from the heart.

"You said you've been sick, though," he said softly. "Are you all right? Is there anything I can get you?"

"N-no, I'm okay now. I think it was the shock, as much as anything."


He stiffened against her momentarily, and she looked up at him, recognising his body language immediately. "Somebody needs help?"

He grimaced. "Bank alarm. But the police can handle it." But he still looked uncomfortable.

"Go," she said.

"No, they-"

She heard a soft knock, and twisting around, saw CK standing by the entrance. "Want me to get this one?" he enquired.

Clark immediately relaxed beside her. "Yes — thanks, CK."

"No problem."

He was gone in a blur of red and blue before Lois could add her own thanks. She turned back to Clark. "We should buy them a present after all they've done for us," she suggested.

"Good idea. Better get it quick, though, in case Wells turns up," he said with a smile.

She nodded. "Another thing…I know I said I was sure, but would you mind…I'd like to test myself, to be one hundred per cent sure."

"You'd like me to get a pregnancy test kit?"

She nodded again.

"I'll be right back."

There was another rush of air and a darker blur, and then she was alone. She stared idly at the carpet and at her bare feet, reflecting that in nine months' time, she might not even be able to see them over the swell of her pregnancy. It was a stupid, irrelevant thought, but suddenly it was the most devastating thing she'd had to face all morning. The floodgates burst open and the tears she'd been fighting rolled unheeded down her face.

She felt the bed dip after a bit, and quickly tried to stem the flood and tidy herself up for him.

"Hey, it's okay," said a gentle feminine voice, and she realised it was L, not Clark, sitting beside her. "Cry all you like." An arm rested itself on her shoulders, and, grateful beyond words for her friend's compassion, she surrendered herself helplessly to a tidal wave of sobs and tears.

*** By nine fifteen, the result was in. Lois was pregnant, and Clark was ecstatic.

He'd used the journey to and from the pharmacist to turn Lois's amazing news over in his mind, gradually getting accustomed to the idea that he was very probably going to be a father in nine month's time. It wasn't quite the life-plan he'd sketched out for himself; a little longer courting Lois, followed by a modest wedding and *then* a baby would have been ideal, but who said life was perfect?

Okay, so they'd have to make some adjustments in their lives — move house, for a start — and Lois was probably going to take some time to get used to the idea of being a mother, but he was sure they could cope. He'd meant what he'd said to her in the bedroom; as long as their love was strong, the rest would follow.

A little voice was scratching at the back of his mind, reminding him that they hadn't been together all that long, and who was he to suppose that Lois wanted to spend the rest of her life with him — even accounting for their child — but he was ignoring it for the time being.

Less easy to ignore was L. Outwardly, she was the model of support; happy, cheerful and particularly attentive towards Lois, who was clearly still a little shell-shocked following the shattering news. Inwardly, though, he knew L must be hurting. How much more cruel could things be for her and CK, who together had been trying for years to have children? He and Lois hadn't even tried to have kids, yet after only a few weeks together, they were expecting their first child. The result was a difficult balancing act — he was trying not to over-enthuse about the baby in front of L, while at the same time trying to reassure Lois that he was nothing else than completely delighted that she was carrying their child.

At least it was the weekend and they didn't have to rush off to work. He could give Lois the attention she needed, and they'd have plenty of time to talk through everything before having to go into work. On the other hand, he had an appointment with Dr Klein very soon, and although there didn't seem much point in keeping it for his and Lois's sakes, L had persuaded him to go through with it anyway. Better to have all the facts, she had said, but he suspected that she was hoping the tests would turn up answers to hers and CK's problem.

And where was CK, anyway? He'd left for the bank alarm ages ago, and surely even allowing for a delay talking to the police, he should have returned by now. L could probably do with her husband's support.

But he couldn't delay any longer. He leaned across and dumped his coffee mug on the table. "I'd better go — I don't want to keep Dr Klein waiting when he's working on his weekend for me."

L laughed. "I shouldn't feel too guilty — I don't think that man ever stops working except when he's riding his motorcycle."

He shrugged. "You're probably right, but still…" He picked up Lois's hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles. "You'll be all right without me? I shouldn't be too long."

"Clark, I'm pregnant, not sick," she said pointedly. Her voice was much stronger and held a welcome note of banter. She'd rallied around a lot since their talk in the bedroom and was much more like her old self. He suspected L had a great deal to do with that. "Just don't enjoy yourself too much."

He startled at her suggestive comment, and looked up to find a sly grin on her face. "Lois, trust me, I am *not* going to enjoy this."

Just the thought of an impersonal laboratory room with just him, a small container, and his own imagination left him cold and very definitely not…well, he'd find a way somehow.

"Don't listen to her, Clark," said L. "CK hated it just as much, but you'll be fine."

He smiled at her gratefully. "Thanks. I'll see you soon, and hopefully CK will be back before me."


In fact, it was half an hour later that the doorbell rang. Lois went to the door, and to her surprise, found CK in full Superman attire propping himself up on the wall with one hand.

"Not flying today?" she asked.

He gave a lop-sided smile. "Just reminding myself how the other half live." He brushed past her and walked down the steps, making a bee-line for one of the sofas.

Lois followed more slowly, mildly puzzled, but unable to put her finger on exactly why.

"How'd it go at the bank?" asked L as CK sat down beside her. "You were gone a long time."

Lois dropped down onto a chair before he answered, took another look at him and decided he looked decidedly frazzled.

"Could have been better, by the looks of it," she commented.

He nodded slowly. "You could say. I got shot at."

Lois couldn't see why that was so remarkable, and L immediately voiced her thoughts exactly, regarding him quizzically. "Honey, I know it's terrible that there are so many guns around these days, so this isn't really an appropriate thing to say, but…what's the big deal? You often get shot at."

He shook his head. "Not with a quantum disruptor."

"You're kidding!" exclaimed L. "You should have said — are you all right? Well, no, of course you're not all right, you just got shot." She started patting him gently all over his body. "Where did it hit you? Is it starting to bruise yet — maybe we should get you a cold compress before it starts to swell up. Or did someone already check you over at the bank — a paramedic, or-"

He caught her hands in his own. "Lois, I'm fine," he said calmly. "Just a bit winded."

Lois leaned forward, anxious at this new development: common criminals with quantum disruptors was very bad news indeed. "What happened?"

He sighed. "The equivalent of a sucker punch, I guess. I stood in the middle of the bank, told them to put the guns down and give themselves up, and the next thing I knew, I felt this almighty kick in my back and I was down on the ground, fighting to get my breath back. By the time I was up again, they'd gone." He grimaced sourly. "With the money."

"But how do you know it was a quantum disruptor?" pressed Lois worriedly.

"I know what it feels like." He gave a sardonic laugh. "I should do — I've been shot by one enough times."

Lois felt a stab of guilt; this was twice now that poor CK had taken a shot intended for Clark. She knew he didn't mean anything by his remark, but the situation still made her feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there wasn't much she could do in recompense, other than make sympathetic noises.

L was still studying her husband. "Are you really all right? Pretend I'm Dr Klein and Lois isn't here when you answer that question."

He smiled faintly. "Hi, Dr Klein. I see you've grown your hair back."

Lois reflected that CK was almost as good as Clark at avoidance behaviour when challenged about his health.

L gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I bet Dr Klein never does that," she said smugly. "Now answer the question."

"Really, honey, I'm fine. I'm just a bit shaken up, that's all — give me half an hour and I'll be fine."

"Powers?" she asked briskly.

"Coming back already." He examined her intently. "You're wearing black underwear today." L crossed her arms and shook her head. "You saw me put it on."

CK flicked his gaze over to Lois. "See what I have to put up with?"

She smiled. "No more than you deserve. Did the police catch the robbers?"

His face fell. "No. Not yet, anyway. And what I want to know is, where did these robbers get the quantum disruptor? I thought Luthor's were destroyed at the warehouse."

"I thought so, too," agreed Lois. "And we know that the person who designed and built Luthor's is dead, so who made this one?"

And were there any more out there? It was irrational, she knew, but suddenly Lois wanted Clark back home where she could see for herself that he was safe.


Mindy executed a neat quarter-turn of her luxuriant swivel chair and clicked on the new email icon on her computer. A swift scan of the two-sentence message brought a very satisfied smile to her face.

Her first sale, and already, the weapon was selling itself — those bank robbers would be crowing about their success for weeks. Imagine — ordinary criminals, armed with only one weapon, had been able to bring Superman to his knees! They'd be queuing out the door for her products soon.

She cocked her head to one side reflectively — just how soon would it be before she could buy her first private jet?


Lois checked her watch again. Forty-five minutes. He'd been gone three-quarters of an hour, and there was a criminal on the loose in Metropolis with a quantum disruptor. She told herself not to be silly; he was still at Star Labs, probably caught up in one of Dr Klein's long and incomprehensible lectures about the weight of the sun or something. There was absolutely no reason why anyone would know where Clark was; no reason why anyone would attack him on his way home.

She shifted restlessly in her seat. L and CK's conversation had drifted onto reminiscences. Apparently a couple of kids had gone after CK with a disruptor a few years ago, which sounded unlikely, but she'd tuned out some time ago and wasn't really following the discussion.


That was the only thing on her mind except Clark's whereabouts. She was pregnant with his baby. Their baby.

And now that she'd got over the initial shock, she was beginning to discover how she really felt about it. The truth was that she was scared. There hadn't been any time for her to prepare herself for this, and no matter how she rationalised it, she still kept coming back to the same thing.

She wasn't ready. She wasn't ready to be pregnant; wasn't ready to be a mother, and she wasn't even sure if she was ready for the life-time commitment Clark seemed to expect of her. She loved him — she was sure of that, but was love enough? It appeared to be enough for Clark, who obviously held to the romantic notion that love conquered all. But for her? She didn't know if she was strong enough to trust in love alone.

She needed time — time she now didn't have. Since recovering her memory, and with it, a little of her old life, she'd not had very much time alone to reflect quietly on herself and how she felt about herself. Clark had been a constant companion, from the first moment she'd remembered her real name to the present day.

Not that she minded that at all; in the early days, and throughout their fight with Lex, she'd needed him by her side. He'd given her strength and rock-solid support, no matter how bad things had got, or how badly she'd behaved toward him. Perhaps even more importantly, he'd shown that he also needed support from her. Lex had never needed her; she'd been an appendage, a piece of excess baggage who hung around and occasionally gave him five or ten minutes pleasure when he required it. Clark, by contrast, had needed her for the same reasons she'd needed him, and that had given her a vital sense of purpose; a feeling that she was much more than just a helpless dependant.

But where was the real Lois Lane in all this? Yes, she virtually had her old job back, and she'd started to sort out the nitty-gritty of life like passports and driving licences. She even looked like the old Lois Lane. But the old Lois Lane had lived alone, didn't have a boyfriend — especially one with whom she spent most of her waking hours as well as her sleeping ones, didn't rely on anyone else for anything, and led a very independent lifestyle.

Now, the opportunity to rediscover a little of that old Lois Lane had been snatched away from her. She was pregnant, and that meant the rest of her life was already mapped out for her. Lois Lane, the single, independent woman, had been replaced by Lois Lane, Clark Kent's partner and mother of his children.

So she was scared. She barely knew who she was, yet already she was being asked to change into a different person. Would she lose herself in the heady rush towards marriage and babies?

Where was the real Lois Lane?

Hands suddenly rested on her shoulders from behind, making her jump out of her skin.

"Sorry," said Clark. She felt him lean over the back of the sofa and kiss her neck. "I didn't mean to startle you — I thought you'd have heard me arrive."

"I was miles away," she said, pushing away her internal tussle for another time. "How'd it go with Dr Klein?"

L and CK paused in their conversation to greet him, and he returned a couple of "Hi"'s at the same time as he walked around the end of the sofa to sit beside her.

"Fine," he replied. "Although the bad news is I might have to go through it all again."

"Why?" she asked. She slid an arm around his back, comforted by his warm, solid presence. Obviously her worries about the quantum disruptor had been as silly as she'd told herself they were.

He shrugged. "Apparently that's quite common with fertility testing. One sample isn't usually enough — but I guess you already knew that, CK."

CK frowned, and L, sitting beside him, looked surprised. "No, actually," replied CK, "Dr Klein just used the one sample with me. Why would you need more than one?"

"Well, it seems the…potency…of the sample varies, depending on various factors — so if they get a negative or poor result, they generally run another test." He pulled a face at Lois. "Let's hope the first test works."

But Lois was watching at L, who looked completely stunned. "What is it, L?" she asked.

"I…well, I guess…honey, can you remember? Did Dr Klein and Daddy ever use more than that first sample?"

He turned slowly to gaze at her. "No, but…what if they had? Okay, maybe humans and Kryptonians are compatible for reproduction after all, but look at us — we've been married for over two years, and we still don't have any kids. Sweetheart, I'd be the first to jump at any opportunity there was for a second chance, but maybe we'd just be giving ourselves false hopes."

Lois noted their hands twine together for mutual support, and wished there was something she could do for them. Their sadness made her feel guilty for not reacting to her own pregnancy more positively — it was just so unfair that she was the one who was expecting a child, and not L. Fleeting, crazy ideas flicked through her head — maybe she should give her baby to L and CK for adoption, or maybe Clark could donate sperm for IVF treatment or something. But the first was unthinkable, and the second was so full of deep, emotional issues for all of them that she shied away from it too. Besides, maybe CK wasn't the problem anyway, if he was like Clark.

But if *he* wasn't, then…

"L," she began carefully. "Have you ever had any tests?"

L looked puzzled. "No, why should I? If we can't have kids because of a basic incompatibility, then why…?"

"Well, I just wondered — if CK is actually the same physiologically as Clark, then what's stopping you from having kids? Seems to me the obvious answer is that *we're* different — you and me."

"But there's nothing wrong with me," protested L.

"How do you know? Oh, I don't mean that you're sick," she added quickly, seeing a flicker of worry cross both L's and CK's faces. "Maybe there's a minor problem that's stopping you from getting pregnant. I don't know much about it, but it't worth you checking it out, don't you think?"

L looked at CK. "What do you think, honey? We never thought it could be me, did we?"

"I definitely think it's worth a try. But, Lois…" He paused, and Lois could see that he was searching for the correct words to express himself. She had a good idea of what he was thinking, too, but it wasn't right for her to speak for him. She felt Clark draw breath to say something, and gave him a quick squeeze around the shoulders to shut him up again. These were important moments for L and CK, and they deserved a little space.

"I don't think we should rush into this," he said eventually.

"But, Clark-" protested L immediately.

"I know — I was the one who was desperate for us to have kids in the first place. You'd think I'd want us to get tested today if it was possible. But we've moved on, honey; we've gotten used to being a family of two. I think we should give ourselves a little time to figure out if we want to change that before we rush into tests."

"I'm not getting any younger," pointed out L.

He smiled. "You're not over the hill yet, honey. And I'm not suggesting we take years to decide; just a few weeks."

"Okay, a few weeks I can cope with."

She glanced over to Lois and Clark, and Lois again felt a twist of guilt. It had been too easy for herself and Clark; they hadn't needed to go through weeks of discussion and argument followed by the inevitable anxiety of testing and waiting for results. All they'd had to do was sleep together a few times, and hey presto! — she was pregnant.

"We'll talk about this later," said L quietly to CK after her glance at Lois.

Lois wished the ground would open and swallow her up, until she felt Clark pick up her hand and kiss it. "Love you," he murmured. She looked at him gratefully and gave him a wan smile.

CK cleared his throat. "Lois, we're really grateful to you and Clark for making us realise there's still hope — aren't we, honey?"

L nodded. "Yes, we certainly are. Without you two, we'd never have thought of questioning Dr Klein's and Daddy's results. We thought that two scientists were enough to corroborate test results."

Lois regarded her friends, so obviously doing their best to stop her feeling guilty despite their own feelings, and realised that she was very lucky indeed to have met these two people. She remembered that she'd been annoyed and rather prickly when Clark had first introduced them to her; now she couldn't imagine ever feeling hostile towards them.

"Thank you," she replied. "I just hope things work out for you."

CK smiled at his wife. "Oh, they usually do in the end, don't they?"

"Yeah," said L. "We don't always get there by the most direct route, but then that's half the fun."

Lois started to laugh, but was interrupted by the doorbell. "I'll get it", she said, and made her way to the door, reflecting that she really did feel a whole lot better physically than she had done first thing this morning. Maybe the morning sickness was just going to be a one-off. Happily, she opened the door.

A short man in a pin-stripe suit and bowler hat beamed up at her. "Ms Lane, how nice to finally make your acquaintance. I'm H G Wells," he said, doffing his hat and then thrusting a hand towards her. "You may have heard of me."

She took his hand automatically, faintly surprised by his strong grip. Compensating for his small stature? she wondered absently, while at the same time processing the news that she was actually talking to a dead person.

Or time traveller.

Or was that writer?

"Yes," she said. "Come in."

She needn't have bothered inviting him in; he was already pushing past her and busily hurrying down the steps. Bemused, she shut the door behind him and reflected that he really was as irritating as people had claimed.

With that, reality suddenly clicked in.

"You're late!" she accused.

He turned back to her, surprise making his eyes go wide. "Really? I rather thought I might be a little early. Have you…um…found out yet, as it were?"

"Found out what?"

"Ah…that you're…you know…" He made a pantomime of indicating an expanding girth.

Outraged, she hurried down the steps and went right up to him. "You knew?!" she demanded. "Why didn't you warn us? And L and CK?"

He snatched his hat from his head and ran his fingers around the brim nervously. "Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," he said. "If you knew, you might not have…um…conceived, as it were, and then…well, everything could unravel and history — or rather, in your case, the future — would be in serious danger of rewriting itself." He made a strange tutting noise and shook his head. "I couldn't risk that."

She decided everyone was mistaken — he wasn't irritating, he was infuriating! She was about to tell him exactly what she thought of his precious attitude, when the other three came over to join them.

"You're late," said L pointedly.

"Yes, where on earth have you been?" asked CK. "We dealt with Luthor ages ago."

Wells's gaze swivelled around all four of them, looking increasingly uneasy. "I thought you'd all be pleased, actually."

"What — for making us hang around here indefinitely, wondering if you'd ever turn up?" said L sarcastically.

"Ah. Well, you should know by now that I always turn up-"

"At your own convenience," pointed out Clark mildly.

"Perhaps. But you should understand that I always have your best interests in mind."

Lois saw Clark, CK and L all roll their eyes heavenward simultaneously and take a deep breath. CK spoke first. "Perhaps we should quit while we're ahead here. How about you just take us home and we'll forget the rest?"

Wells brightened immediately. "Jolly good show! Um…perhaps you'd like a few minutes to say your goodbyes? I'll wait outside."

Without waiting for their reply, he turned and walked calmly to the front door, opened it, stepped outside and closed it again.

Lois looked at the other three. "Is he always like this?"

CK nodded. "I'm afraid so. I'm sure he means well, but his social skills are a little lacking."

"He's an interfering little busybody," said L sharply.

CK draped an arm around her shoulders. "At least he's here. And that means I guess it's time to say goodbye."


Clark caught CK's eye, suddenly feeling as though time had run out too quickly. They'd been waiting for this moment for ages, but now that it was here, there didn't seem to be long enough to say everything which needed to be said.

He held out his hand. "Thanks for everything," he said. "You've done so much for us, I don't know where to start."

CK's warm hand grasped his firmly. "Just seeing you and Lois together is all the thanks we need — and I hope we can come back sometime to meet the rest of the family," he added with a smile at Lois.

"So do I," he agreed with a nod. However…

<<Are you all right?>>

He couldn't put his finger on why he knew, but something told him CK wasn't entirely himself.

He felt the other man's surprise at his question, followed by grimness. <<The bank robbers had a quantum disruptor>>

"What?!" exclaimed Clark, realising too late that he'd spoken out loud. The two women stared at him as if he was crazy. He tapped the side of his head sheepishly. "Um…CK just told me about the quantum disruptor."

Lois glared at him with a smile playing around her lips. "Don't you know it's rude to whisper behind people's backs?"

"Makes you wonder what else they talk about," commented L, crossing her arms and fixing her husband with the same look as Lois's.

"Oh, all kinds of guy stuff," said Clark airily. "You wouldn't understand."

<<So are you all right?>> he asked again.

<<Getting there. My back's a bit sore and I'm feeling a bit weak, but I'll be fine in a few hours — you know what it's like>>

Simultaneously with his telepathic answer, CK said out loud with a nod, "Sports, mostly. We swap football metaphors."

L snorted. "I don't believe you! I bet you talk about brands of aftershave and how long skirts should be."

<<I sure do!>> answered Clark with feeling. <I bet you haven't told L about your back, though>>

<<It's no big deal>>

<<Except you told me>> He thought for a second. <<Turn around so you're facing away from me>>


<<Just do it>>

CK held up his hands in defence to his wife. "Okay, you got me. We're obsessed with skirt lengths," he said with a grin, and turned to Lois. "So, do I get a goodbye hug?"

Lois smiled warmly, opening her arms to embrace him. "Of course you do!"

Clark raised a questioning eyebrow at L.

"Oh, come here!" she said impatiently, and grabbed him for a warm hug. He turned so that he could get a clear view of CK's back, and aimed a broad band of heat vision at him. He saw his friend flex his muscles appreciatively.



<<Yeah, I was stiffening up a bit, but it feels a lot looser now>>

Clark released L and eyed CK. "Are we going to hug?"

CK laughed. "Oh, I think we undoubtedly are."

And with that, CK embraced him without hesitation. <<Congratulations on the baby, by the way>>


<<Just keep talking to Lois about it, okay? You two still have a lot to figure out, and I think she's going to need a lot of understanding over the next few months>>

<<I know, and I will>>

<<Take care, Clark>>

<<You too, CK>>


Lois looked at L. "Shall we?"

L merely smiled and wrapped her arms around Lois. "I can't say this telepathically, unlike some people around here," she said acerbically, "but take care, Lois. It's been a real pleasure to meet you, and I hope you continue to find the happiness you deserve."

"You, too, L," replied Lois. "You've helped me more than you could imagine. I'm not sure I could have gotten through the past few days without you — and CK."

They separated. "I think you'd have managed just fine," said L. "We just made things a bit easier, that's all."

"Well, you're welcome to come over and makes things easier any time you like," said Lois. "We'd love to see you again."

L shrugged ruefully. "One of these days we'll figure out a way to get over here without relying on that irritating little man."

Lois laughed. "I know exactly what you mean now! He *is* irritating."

"But we wouldn't have found out that there's a chance for us to have kids without him, so I guess he's not all bad."

"Good luck with that," said Lois. "I hope you get the right result, whatever that is."

"And good luck with the baby." L reached out and touched Lois's forearm. "We really are happy for you, Lois. I know we didn't do a very good job of showing it earlier, but CK and I are delighted to see you and Clark starting a family."

Lois shrugged. "It's not exactly how we'd have planned it…"

She must have let some of her nervousness show, because L pulled her back into her arms. "Hey, you'll be just fine," she murmured. "Just make sure you and Clark keep talking about it and the rest will follow." She patted Lois's back. "Keep those lines of communication open."

Lois felt the onset of tears approaching, so she merely nodded mutely. At least she knew why her emotions were so unruly, even if that didn't make them any easier to control. She separated from L and looked to Clark for support.

His eyes crinkled into a sympathetic smile and he draped his arm across her back in exactly the same easy manner she'd seen CK use on L. In fact, come to think of it, hadn't she felt jealous about that easy relationship, once upon a time?

Well, it appeared that she didn't need to feel jealous any more. She had her own easy relationship, and it was with the best, most loving man in the whole world. Slowly, she turned to him, tipped her face up to his, and as if they'd choreographed the move for weeks, he bent down to meet her and closed his lips over hers at exactly the right moment in time and space. Her tears banished, she reached up to curl her hand around the back of his neck and deepened the kiss, not caring one jot whether or not they had an audience.

Several moments later, someone cleared their throat. "I think we'd better leave, honey, before they forget we're here."

Lois swivelled in Clark's arms; somehow in the last few minutes they'd ended up encircled in each other's embrace. "Sorry. I had something important to say to him," she said with a happy smile.

"We could tell," said L. "Very communicative."

"Goodbye, you two," said CK. "Just keep doing what you just did and you'll be fine," he added with a grin.

"Oh, I think we can do that, can't we, honey?" replied Lois with a wink at Clark.

He nodded sagely. "I think I can just about cope with that."

They all laughed, and amid a few last 'goodbyes', L and CK opened the front door and joined H G Wells outside.

The last Lois saw of them before they shimmered and disappeared, they were in each other's arms, kissing as if they hadn't seen each other for weeks.

"I hope they get rid of Wells before they take that to its logical conclusion," remarked Lois.

"Lo-is!" He grabbed her around the waist. "But talking of logical conclusions…"


A few miles away, another Metropolis citizen was reflecting on logical conclusions. Or the lack of them.

A life spent carefully building up enough capital to finance a dream didn't seem to lead logically to a prison cell. It should have led to fame, fortune, and most importantly, power. However, prison was exactly where Lex Luthor found himself on this dull Saturday morning in November.

Where was that damn fool lawyer? Luthor had issued clear instructions that he was to use any and every means at his disposal, including Luthor's private funds, to get him released on bail. Yet here he was, sharing a sordid little room with a singularly disgusting scrap of humanity called Buck.

At least Buck spent most of his time unconscious. Intelligent conversation was not one of Buck's meagre talents.

Luthor heard one of the prison guards approaching, and sighed in quiet relief. At last his idiot lawyer had come through for him. He stood up, ready to make his exit with a few choice words for the guard.

"You got a visitor," barked the guard, unlocking the door.

"And about time, too," said Luthor smoothly.

However, confident expectation turned to abject surprise when a woman dressed in a very voluminous fur coat minced slowly past the guard and entered the cell.

"Hello, Lex," she purred. "I missed you."

"If he gives you any trouble, Miss, just shout," said the guard gruffly. "I'm just down the block."

"Thank you, Dwayne," she answered in a husky voice. "I'm sure you'd do a fine job of protecting me with your *big* gun. But Lex and I are old friends, aren't we, pooky?" she said with a sweet smile in Luthor's general direction.

Luthor reflected that one business deal did not 'old friends' make, but refrained from saying anything. Forgetting his disappointment at his errant lawyer, he found himself too intrigued by Mindy's arrival to correct her blatant exaggeration.

The guard grunted and locked the door behind him.

Luthor regarded his visitor in bemusement. "What brings you here, Ms Church? I hope you haven't come to complain about those blueprints I sold you," he said with a laugh. "I can assure you that they were completely genuine."

She smiled. "Oh, I know they were, Lex. In fact, I hear you used them to have another weapon constructed for yourself before you sold them to me."

He raised a cool eyebrow. "You heard about that?"

"Everyone's heard about it, Lex. Your attempt to kill Superman is the talk of Metropolis."

"Rumours, my dear Ms Church; all malicious rumours. Why would I want to kill Superman? He's the city's chief pest- control officer."

He followed her with his gaze as she slowly walked towards him. Her coat really was ridiculously large, unless of course she'd put on weight since he'd last seen her. Nevertheless, despite her bulk, she managed to ooze sexual allure from every pore. A man could lose himself in those clouds of blonde hair and generous lips, and feast on the twin peaks of her swelling bosom, not to mention the long legs which led to hidden pleasures beyond. She stopped just one inch in front of him and placed the flat of her hand on his chest. Her soft femininity and heady perfume aroused a twinge of interest within him, and he reflected absently that it must have been far too long since he'd been with a woman if he was getting interested in Mindy Church. Still, she was a woman, she was in his cell, and Buck was asleep…

"Because he stole your woman, Lex," replied Mindy, interrupting his wayward reflections. "You look like a man who doesn't take kindly to another man stealing his girlfriend away from him."

He shook his head. "Clark Kent didn't steal my girlfriend. She ran away-"

"And straight into his arms. I know what happened, Lex — I make it my business to know these things." She leant up against him and murmured very close to his ear. "So you tried to kill him, Lexy-baby. Naughty. Very naughty."

Despite his natural mistrust, he was mesmerised by her performance. He knew that she knew he'd been denied the company of women for some time, and as far as he could tell, the knowledge appeared to turn her on. And if she was turned on, so was he.

So he let her kiss the side of his face, while he breathed in the scent of her feminine body. He let her kiss him full on the lips and stab her tongue aggressively into his mouth; he even let himself respond in kind. His body began to anticipate where this might lead to, right here in his prison cell…

Abruptly, she pulled away from him and stepped back a couple of paces. "Do you have any idea what Superman's death would have done to my profits? Who would buy my products if the person they were designed to eliminate was already dead?"

She'd put him off balance and he didn't like that. He shrugged. "That's the cut-throat world of business, my dear. Didn't your father explain that to you?"

"Don't patronise me, Lex," she warned. "I don't like men who patronise me."

He laughed. "You're playing in the big league now, Ms Church. You win some; you lose some — that's how it works."

She didn't look too pleased to hear the cold facts of life. Obviously she'd stepped too soon into her Daddy's shoes, he concluded.

But to his surprise, she suddenly threw open the flaps of her fur coat and swung up a very new, very large quantum disruptor and aimed it at him. "And you just lost, pooky," she said in a hard voice, all traces of her sexy overtones banished.

He forced another laugh. "What's this? Field-testing?"

"You got it. You double-crossed me, Lex. I don't like men who double-cross me."

"Seems to me you don't like men, period," he replied. "Don't tell me you're planning on killing me? Just when we were getting to know each other so well."

She shrugged. "I prefer to keep my private life separate from my business affairs."

He sensed rapidly that she was entirely serious in her intentions, and a quick flash of alarm and regret passed through him. He wasn't ready to die yet. He had plans; he had a vast and powerful empire to build. He had people to corrupt and governments to topple. The fun had barely started.

Yet if he had to die, this was at least a novel ending. Gunned down by a blonde-haired bimbo with one of his own weapons. How ironic.

"Any last requests?" she asked.

He smiled; he had the perfect answer, and the perfect epitaph.

"Help, Superman?" he suggested sardonically.

A bright flash filled the prison cell with light, and Lex Luthor was no more.