Green Card

By Wendy Richards <wendy@lcfanfic.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: June 2001

Summary: Superman has just told Lois Lane that he's from another planet. Unfortunately for Clark, there is a government agency which is quite interested in that information… the INS!

As always, there are many people I want to thank for their help, in a variety of ways, in the completion of this story. Everyone who read and commented on Zoomway's Message Boards, or who sent me comments privately or on IRC: your encouragement, suggestions, nagging, agonised screams, begging for new posts and general enthusiasm are very, very much appreciated. Several people, over the couple of months I was writing this story, gave me excellent suggestions which I couldn't resist using: ShayneT, Sheila, Sherry, amac, Tank and others, your ideas were excellent and thank you for the inspiration. Elena, thank you so much for the wonderful suggestions for Italian meals, and for the tiramisu story, which was just perfect! Anne, Erin, Helene and Jenni, who nagged me to let them see sections in advance and then 'rewarded' me with lots of encouragement, ideas and support, you were a great help too. Many thanks to you! And to Laurie, my GE for the Archive, who had to edit this monster of a fic and did so in record time, you have my sincere gratitude too. :)

Even more important, I want to thank my beta-readers for their help with this story: Pam, Irene and Yvonne. As always, your assistance was invaluable. Each of you cheered and encouraged me throughout the writing of this (yet again!) very long story, you caught errors and inconsistencies, and each of you had some wonderful ideas which really helped to make this story better. Irene, I am especially indebted to you for several fantastic ideas, most of all the postscript to the story. Thank you!

All rights in recognisable characters in this story belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers; no breach of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction. Don't sue; I can't afford it! <g>

***

Clark Kent picked up a copy of the Daily Planet at the newsstand in front of the Planet building, smiling to himself at the headline. "I'm from another planet, and I'm here to help: Superman speaks exclusively."

At last, he knew where he was from, even if he didn't know the full story and might never know more than he knew now. And he'd been able to put people's minds at rest about Superman. After Jason Trask, it had occurred to him that other people might well be worried about this strange being with such amazing powers. He wanted them to know that he meant no harm; only good.

In the newsroom, Lois was still receiving the congratulations of her colleagues for capturing the exclusive. Enjoying the irony of the situation, Clark crossed to Lois and offered her his hand. "Nice one, partner! How'd you pull that one off?"

She looked him up and down briefly, in retaliation for the 'partner', he knew. "Oh, when you have the kind of experience I have, you'll understand that these things can be pulled off if you approach them the right way. Though you do need the talent to begin with," she added, her tone doubtful.

Clark laughed. "You never know, Lois — one of these days I might just surprise you," he taunted gently before moving to sit at his desk and begin the day's work.

Things quietened down soon after that, and an hour or so later Clark was busy writing an article on the controversial siting of a new parking lot on the east side of the city. But then his attention was caught by his alter ego's name being mentioned. Glancing up, he discovered that Lois's article was being discussed on the LNN mid-morning news round-up. Smiling slightly again, he resumed working.

The new anchor's next remark made his head shoot up again; incredulous, he listened to the report.

"…and, in a surprise twist following Superman's confirmation that he is indeed from another planet, the Department of Immigration and Naturalisation has just announced that it has obtained a warrant for Superman's detainment, on the grounds that, as an alien, he has no official permission to reside in the United States. Superman is requested to report to his nearest INS office as soon as possible so that his application for permanent residence in the US may be processed."

Clark stared at the TV screen, his jaw slack. This was a twist he certainly hadn't expected: that his new alter ego would have immigration problems! How far would the INS take this? Would they issue a warrant for Superman's arrest if he didn't comply? Would they actually begin deportation proceedings?

It seemed that the newscaster had already thought of this; the broadcast continued, "One of our team at the press conference, Linda Montoya, asked the INS's spokesperson whether the INS was actually contemplating deporting Superman. Linda, what was the response?"

"Well, Steve, the INS press officer was very cagey, which I have to say doesn't look good for Superman. He did comment that it appeared that Superman arrived in the US without any valid visitor's visa, and also that it appears that America does not have any reciprocal visa arrangements with Krypton. That makes him an illegal alien, the INS claims. And Superman does not appear to have any visible means of support, which the INS would usually regard as damaging to a claim for permanent residence. So, personally, I'm not sure I rate Superman's chances very highly."

"Linda, this seems ridiculous. Do you mean that the government might have Superman deported? After all the good he's done over the past week? I mean, he saved the lives of everyone on the Prometheus transport ship!"

"I know, Steve, but where there's rules there's bureaucracy, it seems. All I can say is that Superman better get himself a good lawyer, and fast!"

Clark slumped in his chair, feeling depressed. Today had begun so well for him; he'd really enjoyed reading Lois's article in the Planet. She'd done a great job of turning his not-very-informative interview into a good story, using the 'truth and justice' quote he'd said she could attribute to him to very good effect in order to portray him as a decent man who was dedicated to the cause of good. A true hero, she'd called him. Some of it had been a little embarrassing, he'd thought, but overall he'd been very pleased with the article. He'd even hoped that it might go some way towards assuring other potential Jason Trasks that he wasn't out to take over the Earth.

And now… now, Superman was being summoned to an interview with the INS and could be asked to leave the country.

It was no good telling himself that it was only Superman who was affected, and not Clark Kent. As Clark, he was in no danger; no-one apart from his parents knew that he was an alien, and they weren't about to tell anyone. As Clark he had all the correct documentation. As Superman, though, he had nothing.

He could, he supposed, pretend that Superman had a lair somewhere in the Arctic which was his place of residence, and that therefore there was no need for him to satisfy the US's immigration rules. But he wasn't sure that one would hold water. Superman spent too much time in the US, and in Metropolis in particular.

Clark sighed heavily, an anxious feeling growing in the pit of his stomach. He had no idea what he was going to do about this. But he'd call his parents later. Maybe they'd be able to come up with something.

***

"Are these people crazy? What are they talking about? They can't deport Superman. There'd be a national riot!"

Lois sprang out of her chair and began to pace the newsroom, gesticulating in disgust as the news broadcast continued. "I always knew the government employed idiots," she muttered scathingly.

Were they really considering deporting Superman? Superman, the best thing by far to happen to Metropolis in a long time?

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Perry hovering in the doorway of his office, and she hurried over. "Perry? Did you see that?!" she demanded incredulously.

"Yep," he grunted briefly.

"Well, I hope the Planet's going to run an editorial saying they're all crazy! They can't deport Superman! What is the government thinking? The Planet needs to take a lead on this, Perry — the government should be giving Superman honorary citizenship, not threatening to throw him out of the country, after all he's done — "

"Now, hold on here a moment," Perry interrupted. "Lois, I know as well as you do that Superman's done a lot of good for this city. But the Planet can't just rush into some campaign here. For all we know, the INS might have a point. Superman hasn't been here all that long — do we know what his real agenda is? And anyway, if we start short-cutting the proper immigration and citizenship procedures for Superman, does that mean we do the same for everyone with enough power or money to impress people?" As Lois tried to protest, Perry laid a hand on her arm. "Look, I'm not saying he should be deported. But what's wrong with him at least making the effort to talk to the INS?"

"So they can decide that he doesn't fit their neat little pigeonholes, and deny him the right to stay in America?" Lois threw at the editor. "I can't go along with that, and if that's going to be the Planet editorial line I refuse to support it."

Not waiting for Perry's response, she stalked back to her desk, already beginning to plan a campaign for Superman which she could run without the resources and backing of the Planet. As she reached her desk, Clark Kent caught her gaze; unlike the other Planet staffers, he wasn't still caught in discussion of the INS's announcement. Instead, he was staring intently at his computer screen, busily clicking the mouse every few seconds.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

Kent's head turned sharply, revealing a startled expression. "Oh… ah… I was just… checking the INS's website. To see what Superman would have to do to apply for US citizenship."

"Oh! Uh… that's good. Good idea, Clark. Umm… let me know what you find out," she said, awkwardly. Irritating though he frequently was, Kent did seem to have some occasional good ideas, and this one would be useful in several ways. After all, if she was going to campaign for Superman to be allowed to stay in the country, she needed to know what she was up against.

***

Relieved that Lois had accepted his excuse, Clark continued reading the INS website. So far, he hadn't learned anything to reassure him one bit. It didn't help that the standard term used for a non-US national was 'alien'; he'd been aware of this meaning of the word, but he couldn't help flinching every time he came across phrases such as 'the illegal alien' or 'expedited removal of the alien.'

So far as he could tell, Superman satisfied none of the eligibility criteria for permanent resident status. He was neither the offspring, the sibling or the spouse of a US citizen. Clark Kent was, of course, the son of US citizens, but Clark Kent was an American citizen.

He had wondered whether Superman could apply for a green card based on employment, but that seemed something of a long shot. He wasn't actually employed by anyone to do what he did; no-one had actually asked him to become a Super-hero, and certainly no-one was paying him for it. Not that he wanted payment, but…

Clark could almost visualise the conversation with immigration officials…

"So, Mr Superman, you say that your occupation is 'Super-hero'. Are you arguing that this qualifies you as an alien with extraordinary ability?"

"Well… um, yes, I mean, I don't *think* there's anyone else who can do the things I can — "

"Sure. So, do you have any proof of the extraordinary ability you're claiming? We require evidence of certification, prizes awarded, national and international recognition, and so on. You *have* read form EB-1?"

"I can read it now, if you give me a copy…"

"But we should tell you that 'Super-hero' does not appear anywhere in our list of preferred or even recognised occupations, Mr Superman. So we should perhaps caution you that your application is unlikely to succeed. Do you have a sponsoring employer?"

"No…"

"And you've already been resident in the United States for at least two weeks? Where's your Arrival-Departure Record card? That would have been given to you at your entry point into the country."

"Uh… I can fly under my own power, you see, so I don't need to use airports," Superman protested.

"So you entered the country illegally, and intended to remain here illegally. I'm afraid that the United States Government cannot consider any application for permanent residence status from you, Mr Superman. We're going to have to place you under arrest…"

Arrest?

Clark shook himself mentally. He was going crazy. There was no way that anyone was going to try to arrest Superman. But the fact remained that the INS intended to inquire into Superman's status, and — short of confessing to his true identity — he couldn't see any way of getting Superman's position legitimised.

Though even confessing to the INS that Superman was really Clark Kent wouldn't solve his problems. Not only would it lay himself open to the kind of thing he'd been avoiding all his life — being treated as a specimen to be examined — but it would then put Clark Kent's citizenship in doubt, and his parents could be charged with harbouring an illegal alien.

No, he needed to find another way around this. Clark checked his watch; just past noon. If he left now, people would just assume that he was taking a lunch- break.

Less than five minutes later, he was airborne and on his way to Smallville.

***

Just what was Kent up to? It almost seemed as if every time she wanted him for something, he'd disappeared. She needed to ask him what he'd found out from the INS website, but his desk was empty. Someone had seen him grab his jacket and head for the elevator ten minutes ago, which suggested he'd left the building.

Growling to herself, Lois cast a glance at Kent's computer. It was still displaying the INS website; on impulse, she sat at his desk and began reading.

Half an hour later, she sat back and reassessed the situation. It looked very much as if Superman would have no case at all to be granted US citizenship, or even temporary residence, under existing rules. He wouldn't even qualify for exceptional leave to remain. There was only one way through which Superman could legitimately apply for citizenship, and she was sure that he'd see that option as a desperate measure, and not one he'd be willing to contemplate.

However, she couldn't see why no-one was demanding that he be awarded honorary citizenship — after all, he'd not only saved the lives of dozens of Americans already, but he'd also saved the space colonisation programme. For that alone, he more than deserved to be made a US citizen.

Perhaps it was time to call one or both of the New Troy senators; maybe the Mayor of Metropolis should be on her call list as well. And if President Garner remembered the support the Daily Planet had given him during his election campaign — even before he'd been chosen as his party's candidate — she might get to speak to him too, or his Chief of Staff. If she could show that there was enough support for Superman, something could be done.

So she needed to start generating public support for a campaign to give Superman honorary citizenship. It would be much easier if Perry had been sensible and allowed the Planet to lead such a campaign, but for some reason her boss had chosen this precise moment to break a habit of a lifetime and actually *support* bureaucracy and officialdom. Just what had got into her editor, Lois had no idea; Perry White had never been a man for sitting on the fence, as he'd seemed to be doing during their conversation. But she planned to do everything she could to try to change his mind. Superman deserved all the support he could get.

And, in case Perry had somehow forgotten, Lois intended to remind him of just how much the Planet owed to Superman. The man had already saved the lives of two of the newspaper's reporters — in her case, twice — and thanks to Lois's exclusive interview last night, and the fact that the Planet had been the one to break the story of Superman's existence in the first place, sales were well up.

The Planet owed Superman a lot, and it was time they began to repay that debt.

***

"Well, what do you guys think I should do about it? Just ignore them? Or show up and let them interview me?"

For the last half-hour, Clark had been pacing about the kitchen of his parents' house in Smallville as they talked about the INS announcement and he filled them in on what he'd found out so far. He was feeling a little happier because of his parents' instant support and sympathy for his predicament, but was conscious that they still needed to work out what he needed to do.

"Well, what are your options?" Jonathan asked slowly. "If Superman turns up, and tells them that he wants to apply for permanent residence or US citizenship, what then? I mean, surely the government wants Superman here?"

"I would have thought so, Dad, but this announcement kind of threw me. And there's been nothing since. I half-expected the President, or Congress, or *someone* to say that Superman was going to be offered honorary citizenship, so he didn't have to respond to the INS after all. But that hasn't happened. I don't know — maybe the President is too caught up in trying to get his budget past Congress to take an interest in this. Or maybe he wouldn't be interested anyway. And that tells me that the INS isn't going to make any exceptions for Superman."

"And, from what you say, Superman doesn't qualify under any of the criteria," Martha added. "Wait a minute… couldn't you claim asylum? Tell them you're a refugee from Krypton?"

For a moment, Clark thought his mother might be on to something. But then he remembered having skimmed the section on asylum seeking on the INS's website. Shaking his head, he explained, "It seems that in order to claim asylum you have to be from a country which the US has declared is a country with political refugees. Or humanitarian refugees, I guess. Anyway, I don't think Krypton counts — not only do I not know where it is or whether it still even exists or why I was sent here from there, but no-one's ever heard of it!"

"That shouldn't make you any less a refugee," Martha insisted. "Should it? I mean, for all we know you could have been sent here because there was a civil war or something on Krypton, or maybe your family was being persecuted… who knows?"

"Who knows indeed," Clark echoed. "But the problem is that I can't prove any of that. And since I don't know if it's true, I'm not even sure I could argue it convincingly."

"So it looks like there's no legal way for Superman to stay in America," his father summed up.

"No. Which is why I don't know what to do," Clark confessed.

Jonathan frowned. "What happens if you don't turn up?"

"I don't know. But I guess, if they're following procedure, they'll issue a warrant for Superman's arrest and instigate deportation proceedings," Clark answered, sounding depressed.

Jonathan shrugged, puzzled. "But where would they expect you to go? I mean, we know you're from Krypton, but how are they going to get you there?"

Clark shrugged. "If it even still exists — which I have absolutely no idea about. But I doubt they'd consider that their problem. As long as I'm no longer on US soil, who cares?"

But Martha frowned at that. "This is silly, Clark. How could they deport Superman?"

"I don't think they could, but that's not the point," Clark said glumly. "Think about it — suddenly Superman's breaking the law, an illegal alien in every sense of the word. How could I go on helping people under those circumstances?"

"Sounds like you need a lobbying campaign on your behalf," Martha suggested. "Would the Daily Planet help? Or how about going to see someone influential, as Superman — I don't know, the mayor, or Lex Luthor even?"

Clark shuddered at the thought of having to ask Lex Luthor for anything. "Mom, I guess I didn't tell you two that I think Luthor was behind those 'tests' a week ago. I think he'd be glad to see Superman run out of town — and, frankly, I wouldn't want to be beholden to Luthor for anything."

He paced around the kitchen again. "Sure, I could go and see the mayor, or even go to Washington, but how do I know that would do any good? I don't get the hint that anyone actually wants Superman to stay." He grimaced. "I even overheard Perry White telling Lois that Superman didn't deserve special treatment."

His parents gave him sympathetic looks. "That's a pity," Jonathan drawled slowly. "I thought Perry White was a decent guy."

"He is," Clark agreed. "Which is why he said it, I think. Superman hasn't really been around long enough to prove his loyalty, I guess, and I think Perry's attitude is, why should rules be broken for him and not anyone else? Look at that recent scandal in England when a newspaper alleged that a government minister pulled strings to get a couple of wealthy friends British passports!"

"But could you continue to be Superman if you pretended that he lived somewhere else?" Martha asked.

"I thought of that. But it's too obvious that Superman's base is Metropolis — he responds to lots of local incidents there, and I've only once gone outside Metropolis to help at a major emergency," Clark answered, aware that he'd got his pronouns mixed up. It wasn't easy to talk about himself as two separate people.

"Well, I guess you might just have to sit tight and see what happens next," Jonathan counselled. "But it would be a real pity if you had to give up Superman just because some bureaucrats were more interested in the paperwork than the good you can do."

***

That evening at home, Lois began to draft a letter to send to a number of Metropolis's most influential citizens asking for their support for Superman. In the background, LNN was on, but she wasn't particularly paying attention, until a mention of the INS made her look up from her work.

"…and the latest news on the Superman-as-illegal-alien story is that the INS has just announced that it is applying for a warrant for the Super-hero's arrest," the newscaster announced. "In a statement fifteen minutes ago, the INS said that since Superman has not presented himself for interview, or made any attempt to get in contact, either himself or via a representative, the INS now has no option but to begin deportation proceedings."

Lois stared at the TV screen in disbelief. Despite her earlier concern, she'd never really believed that the INS would go so far as to deport Superman — or would be allowed to go that far. And yet it was actually happening. Once they had the warrant — which wouldn't take long, it seemed — Superman would be under threat of arrest and forcible deportation. That meant that any time he turned up to rescue someone or helped at an emergency, any officer of the state present would be under an obligation to arrest him.

But why was the INS doing this at all? Okay, according to the letter of the law Superman was indeed an illegal alien, and Lois supposed that if anyone else other than Superman had been involved she'd be supporting the INS wholeheartedly. But the fact remained that this was Superman and, illegal entrant or not, he had already saved dozens of lives — American citizens' lives. And he'd also saved the space colonisation programme. So why try to get rid of him? Why was the INS targeting him?

It would have made perfect sense if they'd just turned a blind eye. After all, there was no general outcry regarding Superman's presence in the US; if anything, he'd been welcomed with open arms. There would have been considerable support, not only for ignoring the illegality of his status, but also for awarding him honorary citizenship. Lois strongly suspected that there was something going on behind the scenes here.

There had to be a hidden agenda here. This reeked of someone with some degree of leverage over Immigration and Naturalisation, someone who had a reason to want Superman out of the way. Not that she had any idea who it could be, but that had never stopped Lois Lane getting her man — or woman — before now. She could — she *would* — check out that possibility. But that would take too long, as would her plan of getting public support to help Superman.

The campaign she'd been carefully planning would be useless. Superman needed something which would help him *now*, not in a couple of days when she'd managed to get enough people on her side.

He needed an urgent solution, otherwise he'd be persona non grata and could find himself ostracised — unless the INS got mobbed instead. And so far there seemed little chance of that. To Lois's amazement, very few people seemed to share her horror at the thought of Superman being treated as an illegal alien. So much for the national outcry she'd anticipated.

Oh, there was a small protest group camped outside the INS's Metropolis office waving placards demanding that the government leave Superman alone. But that seemed to be the extent of it, and LNN certainly hadn't given them any real publicity; their presence seemed to be mentioned as a mere afterthought, commented on in a tone of voice which suggested that it was to be expected that these crazies would come crawling out of the woodwork at times like this. Lois had itched to get down there and join them, and thus force the Planet to cover it, but she'd realised quickly that more direct action was needed.

No, this situation called for more desperate measures. Taking a deep breath, she crossed the room to one of the big casement windows, flung it open, and yelled, "Help, Superman!"

Within seconds, the sound of rushing wind became audible, and shortly afterwards Superman was hovering outside her window. He gave her a puzzled look. "Ms Lane? Are you in some kind of trouble?"

"No, but you are," she told him. "I wanted to talk to you about this INS thing. Will you come in?"

Superman frowned. "Talk to me…? You mean you want an interview?" He sounded irritated.

"No!" Lois insisted immediately; then she thought better of her denial. "Well… I mean, if you'd like to give one, I'm sure it could only help you. But that's not why I wanted to talk to you. Have you heard about the latest statement from the INS?"

Superman sighed, then climbed in through her window. "There's been another since this morning? I've been out — there was a fire across town…"

Lois eyed him sympathetically. "They've applied for a warrant for your arrest, and they want to start deportation proceedings," she answered, pulling a disgusted face.

Superman appeared to falter at the mention of 'deportation'. Blinking, he looked away. "Thanks for warning me, Ms Lane," he said abruptly, and turned back to the window.

"Superman, wait!" Lois called immediately. "I had some ideas… I wondered if you wanted some help…?"

"Help?" He turned around slowly. "Ms Lane — "

"Please, Superman, call me Lois," she interrupted him. "You make me sound like my mother!"

And she most *definitely* did not feel like anyone's mother! Watching him surreptitiously as he approached, she allowed her gaze to trail briefly over the rippling muscles and lean physique encased in the *very* tight Spandex. Not for too long, in case he noticed… but she could never think of this man in any kind of a *blood* relationship! The only relationship she wanted with Superman was one which entailed close contact, lots of touching — and kissing — and whispered words of love and desire. She could imagine them flying through the air together, limbs entwined, hands and lips clasped…

She shook herself quickly; daydreaming about Superman was a wonderful pastime, but not one for which she had any time right now!

Looking at him just in time to see him smile slightly at her words, she heard him say, "Lois, then. I appreciate your concern, but I'm not sure how you could help."

Oh, her name sounded very sexy on his lips… "Well, I was planning a campaign," she explained, pushing her fantasies aside. "I was going to write to every influential person I know, in this state and beyond, to put pressure on the government to grant you honorary citizenship. I think it would have worked, too."

"Would have?" Superman queried.

"The INS escalated things a lot faster than I was expecting," Lois explained. "I needed several days to get momentum going on a campaign. I don't think we have time for that now."

Superman nodded, his expression despondent. "Lois, I appreciate what you tried to do. Thank you. Now, I'd better — "

She interrupted him again. "You know, it occurred to me that this could be deliberate — someone could be putting pressure on the INS because they want to get rid of you. Do you know someone who might have that kind of power, and who might dislike you enough to want you out of the way?"

This time Superman grimaced wryly. "Lois, I could imagine that most of the criminals in the country might want me out of the way. And, yes, some of them might well have that kind of influence. But if you're asking me whether I can think of anyone specific… well, I think the answer's no."

"You think? You mean you're not sure?" Lois returned instantly. "Who?"

But Superman shook his head. "I really can't say, Lois. I could be making a wild guess, simply because the person I'm thinking of has made it clear to me that he considers me a nuisance — and he's powerful enough to have plenty of officials and politicians in his pay if he wants. But he's also too careful to risk owing anyone favours, or letting too many people know what he's up to. So I doubt it could be him."

"I suppose it could just as easily be some crazy senator who only associates aliens with invasions," Lois muttered sarcastically. "Trask can't be the only conspiracy theorist around."

Superman nodded. "Possibly. Anyway, I'd better get going — "

"What are you going to do? Have you a plan?" Lois asked quickly, before he could leave.

He grimaced, sighing. "No. This… isn't something I expected, and I haven't been able to decide what to do yet. I did think about going to be interviewed, but the overall tone of the INS's announcements seemed pretty hostile — I wasn't sure what kind of reception I'd get."

"Not good, is my guess." Lois sighed too, pulling a face. "I really don't understand why they're being allowed to do this, Superman! After all the good you've done here, all the lives you saved, the way you saved the Space Programme — how could the government just stand by and let those darned paper-chasers in the INS order you out of the country like some undesirable!" Gritting her teeth before she could really lose her temper, she stared unseeingly down at her feet.

"Lois." She felt a hand on her arm then, and looked up to see Superman standing close to her, looking resigned. "Lois, I can understand it. I did 'out' myself as an alien, after all, remember? You wrote the story yourself."

"Yes, but what does that matter? You being from another planet, I mean?" Lois objected. "The whole point is, you do so much good, and for them to treat you like this — it's an insult!"

"Maybe, from one perspective," Superman argued quietly. "But from another — Lois, the rules are pretty clear, and I violated them. I'm an alien, and I'm obviously living in the United States illegally. And when so many people are deported or refused entry every week, it's not surprising that they had to investigate the country's most famous — or infamous — illegal, is it?"

"Don't tell me you feel sorry for them!" Lois exclaimed, staring at the Super- hero.

He shook his head. "Of course not. But they are just doing their jobs. All of which… leaves me with a problem, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it." He paused, and sighed again. "I… um, this *is* off the record, isn't it?" he asked quickly, giving her a piercing stare.

"If you want it to be, sure," Lois assured him. "I wanted to talk to you as a friend, not as a reporter. Although, you know, I think in PR terms it might do you good to issue some sort of a statement — you know, to make it clear that you don't consider yourself above the law and that you are taking the INS's request seriously. Not that *I* think you should take it seriously, but I know how it'll look if you don't."

Superman seemed to consider that for a moment or two, then nodded. "You may be right. Let me think about it." He paced a little in the confined space of Lois's living-room, his cape billowing behind him; she began to feel some concern for her ornaments, but — unusually for such a large man — he seemed to be able to control his movements to the inch. Then, turning back to her, he added, "I had this idea of building a lair — an igloo, maybe — somewhere north of Alaska, in the Arctic Circle, and declaring that my home. That way, any time I was in Metropolis I'd only be visiting. Though I guess even then I'd still have to have a visitor's visa…"

That was crazy! She couldn't let him do that! "Superman, that would never work! Okay, I know you're fast, but would you actually hear people calling for help from that far away?" The other disadvantage, she knew, was that if he based himself thousands of miles away, why should he choose to favour Metropolis with his presence? Other cities would be closer to the Arctic — even other countries. What if Canada or Greenland or the Nordic countries made him a better offer? Then she'd never see him again.

That thought depressed her profoundly.

But he was shaking his head. "You're right, I couldn't. The only way I could make that work would be by pretending to live up there — and then the INS people would ask the same question as you just did. How could I get to Metropolis so quickly every time…" He trailed off, running one hand through his slicked-back hair, and Lois noticed, for an instant, an uncertain look in his eyes before he turned away.

That gave her the courage to make her own suggestion. "Superman, I've given this a lot of thought, and there is another way around it, you know."

His head turned, and he gave her a hopeful look. "What other way?"

She inhaled deeply. "Superman, if you marry a US citizen, then you could stay. Okay, the INS would have to be satisfied that it's not just a marriage of convenience, and they make you wait two years to get your green card, but long before then we would have got some momentum on a proper campaign to make you an honorary US citizen, so we wouldn't have to stay married if you didn't want to…" She trailed off, conscious that he'd been staring at her in disbelief ever since she'd mentioned marriage.

Slowly, he repeated, "If I marry a US citizen… Lois, am I imagining this, or did you just propose to me?" His expression was unreadable; distant and possibly even unfriendly.

"Just a paper marriage, Superman, to satisfy Immigration and Naturalisation!" Lois insisted quickly. Of course she'd love a real marriage with Superman… or, at least, the idea had its appeal. But she knew very well that he didn't want the same. Why should he?

He remained silent for quite some time, walking over to the window and staring out into the dark night. At least he wasn't rejecting the suggestion outright, Lois thought; unless, of course, he was simply searching for the words to let her down gently.

Finally, he turned to face her, his expression solemn. "Lois, I want you to know that I really appreciate it that you're willing to do that for me. But I can't marry you. There are all sorts of reasons why it would be crazy, you have to know that."

"Name one." She regarded him coolly; Lois was not going to let him see that she was hurt by his rejection of her offer.

"Your safety, for one!" he exclaimed, as if that should have been obvious. "Lois, now that people know what I can do, there are a lot of criminals out there who'd love to find a way of stopping me or controlling me. One of them tried only a week ago — I'm sure you noticed I wasn't around for a couple of days, because the Daily Planet commented on it. Someone was setting up a series of potentially fatal 'accidents' to test my speed and my strength and my determination. People's lives were being put at risk, and I couldn't let that continue."

He paused, inhaled deeply, then continued. "Lois, if I married you to help me apply for US citizenship, it'd have to be public knowledge. There's no way it would work otherwise. And that would mean that every criminal, every psychopath, every mass murderer in Metropolis would know that the best way to get to Superman is to get his wife. I'm invulnerable, Lois, but you're not — do you really think I could put you in that kind of danger?"

Superman's face was taut, his emotions obvious this time: fear for her, anger at those people who would use her, and others, to get to him, and frustration from his attempt to convince her that her proposal was dangerous.

Yes, when she looked at it that way, marriage to Superman could put her in danger.

And yet it was the only way he could legally stay in the country.

"Superman, you can protect me," she pointed out. "Can't you?"

He looked incredulous at that. "Every minute of every day, Lois? And are you telling me you'd be happy to have a permanent bodyguard? Anyway," he added, "it wouldn't work. All it would take would be one criminal who tried to make me choose between saving you and preventing him doing whatever it was he wanted. How could I make that kind of choice?"

That did make sense, Lois acknowledged. And at the moment no-one seemed to try to get that kind of leverage over Superman, because he didn't appear to be close to anyone.

Before she could say anything, he added, "I've already had to rescue you from that madman Trask, who tried to use you to get to me. If you were more publicly associated with me — no matter what your motives — you'd be in far worse danger every single day!"

"Clark too," Lois pointed out, then noticed with surprise a strange expression on Superman's face. It was quickly hidden, though, and he nodded.

"Look, Lois, I do appreciate your concern. But I'm going to have to handle this myself," he said firmly.

"How?"

He shook his head. "I'm not sure yet. But I guess I'll have to pay the INS a visit."

He was turning to leave, but Lois remembered something. "Superman, we discussed whether you wanted to issue a statement, remember? I think it could help your case — well, at least in the public eye."

After a moment, he nodded. "Okay. You'll see it's printed in the Planet? Or were you thinking that I should call some sort of a press conference?" It was clear that the latter didn't appeal.

Lois considered for a moment. Of course an exclusive in the Planet would please Perry and enhance her reputation still further. On the other hand, Superman needed to get this statement out as soon as possible, and it wasn't even certain that she could get something into the Planet's morning edition.

She made a swift decision, putting aside any thought of Perry's wrath. "We'll draft a statement now, and I'll release it to the usual media outlets — if we do it in the form of an interview with me, and I fax it from the Planet, people will know it's genuine. And if I keep some stuff back for the Planet, that stops Perry — my editor — tearing me apart for giving away a big news story."

Superman agreed, and they spent the next twenty minutes working on the statement. He surprised her by being more media-savvy than she would have expected, and she also quickly realised that his Super abilities weren't merely physical: the man was also highly intelligent and very knowledgeable.

If only he hadn't been so against her idea…

Still, she thought, as he got up to go, even if he had accepted her proposal it was hardly as if it would have been a real marriage anyway. He might respect her, and possibly even like her, but it was clear that he wasn't attracted to her.

"Lois." His deep voice interrupted her thoughts. "Thank you for your help tonight — and for your very generous suggestion. I do appreciate it, very much."

She shook her head. "You're welcome, Superman. I told you, I don't want to see you ordered to leave the country. And… I meant it. If you change your mind, the offer's still open. And… and I wouldn't expect anything, you know?" she added awkwardly.

He seemed bemused. "Anything…?"

"Oh…" She knew she was blushing. "Well… um, well, I guess you probably know I like you… a lot. But I didn't offer to marry you because of that. I did it because America needs you, Superman. And… if you did change your mind, I wouldn't expect you to act like a husband or anything, except when we needed to convince the INS. I'm not expecting a relationship here, I guess I'm trying to say." She ducked her head as she spoke, hoping to avoid letting him see how this discussion was embarrassing her. Of course she *wanted* a relationship with him — hadn't she just been fantasising about precisely that only a few minutes ago? But if promising him otherwise would reassure him…

"Lois." This time his voice was soft, and he waited before continuing. She looked up after a few moments when he said nothing further and saw him watching her, his expression wry. "I admire you very much, Lois. I… think we could be friends, except that I've told you why I can't afford to be associated with anyone. I'm not turning down your proposal because I don't like you."

"Yes, I understand," she assured him, trying not to blush again. "But I mean it — if you change your mind, the offer's still open."

Superman nodded. "I appreciate that. But my reasons still stand." He turned away and walked to her window, and she followed him. Just before he stepped through, he turned; raising one hand, he touched her face lightly with two fingers. "Goodnight, Lois. And thank you."

Before she could react, he was gone, the fluttering curtain the only physical sign that he'd been there.

***

Lois Lane had asked him to marry her… and he'd *turned her down*?!

Was he crazy? Clark asked himself as he flew back to his own apartment. He'd been crazy about Lois since the day he'd met her, a bare three weeks earlier. He'd tried to get her to go out on a date with him, but she'd had a prior engagement… with Lex Luthor.

Next to the third richest man in the world, Clark Kent didn't exactly get noticed.

He laughed hollowly at the thought of what Lois's reaction would be if she knew she'd just offered to marry Clark Kent; then laughed for real at the improbability of such a scenario ever happening.

Still grinning, he landed on his balcony and strolled through to his apartment, shedding the Spandex on the way; a few seconds later, Clark Kent was sprawled on the couch watching TV.

***

Superman's statement was quickly picked up by the twenty-four hour news media, and it caused something of a stir. LNN initially simply reported it without comment, but once the news round-up had finished the channel moved into a studio debate. Present were a representative of the INS, a member of the public who had been rescued by Superman, and LNN's senior news editor.

It should have been an interesting debate. But, very quickly, it became clear that LNN's agenda was to portray Superman as somehow believing himself above the law.

Even the man whose life Superman had saved, while praising the Super-hero, argued that his good works didn't automatically give Superman the right to be treated as an American citizen when he clearly wasn't. The law was the law, no matter whose situation was under discussion. After all, America didn't get to be the world's greatest democracy by giving any of its citizens favourable treatment; and likewise, out of all the thousands of people who sought US citizenship every year, no-one could be singled out for special treatment beyond that allowed for by the rules. That was what rules were for, wasn't it? To make sure democracy survived.

The news editor took this argument further, suggesting that Superman's statement actually showed a degree of arrogance, in suggesting that the Super-hero could set his own agenda in the matter of his illegal presence in the country rather than obeying the rule of law. That had Lois yelling at the screen in angry frustration. Arrogance? What arrogance? She'd helped to draft that statement herself, and it contained *nothing* which could be seen as arrogant.

Why would LNN want to push an anti-Superman agenda? Lois wondered. What had the Man of Steel done to upset anyone at that channel? Or… did it go beyond the news editors and the executive producer? She stared at her TV set as it occurred to her to wonder whether Lex Luthor might for some reason prefer to see Superman banished.

That, though, didn't make sense either. Lex Luthor was an upstanding, respected businessman; if anything, someone in his position would admire Superman for what he did. No; this incident, if anything, only showed that LNN was operationally very independent from its owners. Which had to be a good thing for journalism, even if Lois couldn't say she admired the results.

However, none of this was helping Superman; if anything, things were about to get worse for him.

***

Clark, while not at all surprised at the editorial line being taken by LNN given its owner's resentment of his Super-hero alter ego, realised very quickly that public opinion was being directed against Superman, possibly even as part of a deliberate campaign, whether associated with the INS move against him or not. It was possible that Luthor had just, in a typical opportunist move, rushed to seize the high ground. That made things even more difficult than he'd thought, and he acknowledged that he now had to find a solution as a matter of urgency.

Maybe the simplest thing would be to retire Superman. He'd almost done that before, but Lois's thought-provoking remarks had reminded him that his alter ego gave hope to the world, and as such was needed. The world needed a Superman, she'd told him.

The world needed Superman. But did Clark Kent need him?

Clark had been grappling with that question ever since Superman had made his first appearance. Oh, sure, Superman gave him a way of helping which, for Clark, was completely safe. As long as he could maintain the secret of his dual identity, then Clark Kent could have a normal life. Simple.

But he hadn't anticipated the extent to which Superman would take over Clark Kent.

It wasn't just that — until this immigration thing had changed the news agenda — Superman had become some sort of national hero, the name on everyone's lips and the poster in everyone's window. Everywhere he looked, there was Superman. Everywhere he went, people talked about Superman. He himself had started to talk about himself in the third person. But, in addition to all this fuss, he was actually having to create a personality to go along with the Spandex suit.

There was that interview he'd felt compelled to give to Lois, in part as an apology for the fact that she'd almost been killed because of him, and in part to try to reassure people about his intentions. There was the fact that he'd had to pay a visit to Lex Luthor to impress upon that megalomaniac the dangers of underestimating Superman. And, in all that, the need to ensure that Superman neither looked, sounded, nor behaved like Clark Kent.

Who was he? Clark or Superman? Clark was beginning to feel as if he didn't know any more. And that made him wonder whether the fact that the INS had begun deportation proceedings might be a good opportunity for Superman simply to disappear, as mysteriously as he'd arrived.

Maybe. That would certainly solve the problem.

He could give a press conference as Superman, announce his intention to leave the US, and… just fly off.

The idea had appeal, Clark considered as he made himself coffee before getting ready for work. Definite appeal —

Then his Super-hearing kicked in. Two express trains had collided as both had attempted to move onto the same line into the city centre. It was rush-hour, and both trains were full. Both had derailed, and there was a risk of fire. And heavy traffic on the surrounding roads meant that the emergency services wouldn't be able to respond as quickly as they'd prefer.

So much for retiring Superman. In under a second, Clark was on his way, the sonic boom in his wake the only signal of his departure.

***

Still fuming over the fact that *Clark Kent* had managed to come into the newsroom with the scoop on Superman's presence at the site of the train crash, Lois answered her phone with rather less than her usual politeness.

"Yes?"

"Lois?" The voice sounded familiar, but strangely husky, as if the speaker was in some way trying to disguise his voice.

"Yes… um, yes, it's Lois Lane. To whom am I speaking?"

"It's me… Superman," the speaker announced.

Lois felt her heart flutter, but she immediately damped it down. How did she know it really was Superman? It could be anyone. It could be someone from the newsroom, playing a practical joke. Come to think of it… She glanced around, noticing that several of her colleagues, including Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, weren't at their desks.

"Who?" she asked coolly.

"Lois, it *is* me," her caller insisted, still quietly but more firmly this time. "I don't blame you for wondering… Anyway, I wanted to talk to you. About what you suggested last night."

That *had* to be Superman, Lois thought. No-one else could possibly know about that…

"Yes, Superman? Do you… um, have you changed your mind? Or," she added quickly, realising that she probably sounded very forward, "do you have another idea you wanted to discuss? I'm sorry the statement didn't help," she tacked on, wondering whether he blamed her for that.

"That's not your fault," he answered quickly. "I should have known it wouldn't be enough. And, yes, I want to discuss your… proposal. Can we meet?"

"Umm… yeah," Lois stammered. "Where? I guess you don't want to come to the Planet — do you want to meet me at my apartment?"

"It would be easier," he agreed. "How long will it take you to get there?"

"Fifteen minutes," she estimated.

"I'll be there."

***

Clark hovered outside Lois's apartment window, wondering for the hundredth time whether he was doing the right thing. This was a crazy idea. He'd said exactly that the previous evening when Lois had suggested it. There were so many reasons why it was impossible.

And yet, it looked very much as if the only way Superman could continue to exist was if he found a way to comply with Immigration and Naturalisation regulations… and marrying Lois seemed to be the only way he could do that.

His momentary impulse to get rid of Superman altogether had vanished the instant he'd had to go to help at the train crash site. It had become apparent to him very quickly that, without his assistance, many people would have died. Diesel leaks had quickly started a couple of fires, and since the fire service hadn't arrived by that point, only his swift intervention in dousing the flames with his freezing Super-breath had prevented one of the overturned carriages — from which people were still struggling to escape — from becoming an inferno.

Superman was needed, all right. He couldn't possibly reconcile with his conscience any decision to 'retire' his alter ego.

But once things at the accident site had calmed down a little, Clark had wondered what might have happened had INS officials realised that their target would have rushed to help. Could they have turned up with police officers and their arrest warrant? Not that they could have prevented him flying off, but that wasn't the issue. He didn't want to give rise to a situation in which Superman resisted arrest or became a fugitive. And yet, for as long as he allowed this to continue without finding a solution, Superman risked arrest any time he turned up to help in an emergency.

He couldn't allow that to happen, either.

So the only solution, given the INS's apparent determination to pursue the question of Superman's alien status, was to accept Lois's offer. He wasn't at all happy about it, for a number of reasons. Most important of these was Lois's own safety; being publicly associated with Superman in this respect was going to put her at considerable risk, and they needed to discuss how they would handle that. Second, there was the danger that, because he would need to spend a lot of time at Lois's apartment because of the need to maintain the fiction of a happily-married couple, Lois might actually figure out that Superman was really Clark Kent. He knew only too well that Lois was a very clever, intuitive person. So far, the only thing which had prevented her doing too much digging about Superman was the fact that she was over-awed and a little infatuated. Once familiarity helped her overcome that, he wasn't sure how long he could prevent her from seeing the resemblance between her 'husband' and her colleague.

Besides that, even if he did manage to maintain his disguise, he would be living even more of a double life than he was at present. Thus far, as Superman all he did was fly in to an emergency, help out, maybe give a brief interview to the assembled press, and then disappear again. Last night's conversation with Lois had been difficult, in as much as he'd had to maintain the Superman persona for longer, and he'd consciously had to make the effort to sound and look different from Clark Kent. Spending more time with Lois, as he would have to in order to convince the INS and the media that their marriage was genuine, he would be forced to create a personality for Superman which was different to his personality as Clark Kent.

And it would have to be convincing; after all, Lois would be spending her days working with Clark — and if they continued to work together on assignments as they'd done so far, he would be spending a *lot* of time with her — and some of her evenings with Superman. He would have to become a very talented actor indeed if he was going to keep her in the belief that Superman was a different person.

As he waited for Lois to arrive, it crossed Clark's mind that one way around that difficulty would be to tell her the truth: that Superman was actually Clark Kent. That would make much of this a lot easier: no having to keep up an act around Lois, no worrying whether she would recognise him, or that he would make a fatal slip, such as commenting as Superman on something he should only have known as Clark or vice versa. The trouble with that course of action, though, he reminded himself, was that his relationship with Lois — as Clark — wasn't all that good. She barely tolerated him most of the time, even though he suspected that he'd managed to earn her grudging respect after the trick he'd played on her to get his revenge. They'd also worked together effectively to investigate Jason Trask, even though the man had got away.

So Lois no longer treated him as a useless greenhorn she had to babysit; but she still seemed to consider him something of a nuisance. She was also behaving rather oddly around him: keeping her distance and being quite formal in her manner when they had to speak about anything. Since that had only started after they'd been thrown out of Trask's plane, Clark suspected that she was trying to ensure that he didn't make the mistake of taking their kiss — the memory of which still made him sweat — in any way seriously.

All that meant that he had absolutely no idea how Lois would be likely to react if he did tell her the truth. Would she be as willing to help Clark Kent as Superman? That wasn't at all clear. He suspected that, apart from her mere toleration of Clark, she'd be likely to be angry with him for deceiving her — regardless of the fact that he'd had absolutely no reason to tell her the truth. There were all sorts of good reasons why he had to maintain the Superman disguise, and — until now — not a single reason why he should make an exception for Lois.

His father's warnings, which he'd grown up with and was reminded of every time he went home now, had always made him cautious about his true nature. Who knew what might happen if his secret got out? Not just that Clark Kent was Superman, but everything that entailed. It wasn't just that he himself was from another planet, or that some government body might want to run experiments on him. The knowledge that Clark Kent was Superman could get his parents killed. So that was one of the most important reasons for keeping silent about who and what he was.

But, okay, this was different. He was marrying Lois so that Superman could stay legally in the country. She was doing him one heck of a favour, and she wasn't exactly getting a lot in return. So — apart from the fact that it would make things easier for him — didn't he owe her the truth, in a way?

Or did he? And what if she did react badly to the news that she'd agreed to marry the hick from Nowheresville she had so little time for?

And anyway, how could he be sure that he could trust her to keep his secret? Even if he persuaded her not to expose him — which would be difficult, given that she'd almost be guaranteed awards for that story — could she be relied upon not to give him away in any of hundreds of ways? What if she made a slip while they were being investigated by the INS? What if she said something at work, and someone overheard? Could she remember to separate the two parts of his personality at all times?

He didn't know Lois well enough to guarantee that she could be trusted. No, he had to maintain the fiction with her as well as with everyone else. But, just for a moment, he allowed himself to indulge in a wistful dream in which he told her everything and she accepted him as Clark, and she insisted that they should still marry so that Superman could stay. And perhaps, given time, the marriage of convenience could become something else…

The sound of her window opening then roused him from his thoughts, and he moved forward to step into her apartment.

"You wanted to talk to me, Superman?" Lois said immediately. "You hinted that… you'd changed your mind about my suggestion…?"

"Well, I want to discuss it some more," he said quickly; he wasn't ready to commit to anything just yet. "I'm still very concerned about the danger to you if you did marry me, and I want you to be sure you know what you're getting yourself into."

"I know," she insisted immediately. "Superman, I've been looking after myself for years now. And I was getting myself out of tight spots long before you came along. Not that I'm not grateful to you or anything, but I can take care of myself, you know. And…" She began pacing, a sure sign that Lois's quick intelligence was in overdrive. "I think that being known as your wife could protect me — after all, how many criminals are going to take the risk of ticking off Superman?"

"Unless they're using you to get to me," Clark pointed out.

"Sure, but how many will take that risk?" Lois objected. "You're fast. You see just about everything. You're Super-strong. And you're invulnerable — nothing can stop you! So why risk making you mad?"

"If someone wants to control my actions, then making me mad will be the least of their worries," he answered bluntly.

"Yeah, but I don't see why anyone wouldn't do for that," Lois argued. "Sure, if you're married then your wife would be an obvious target. But how would you react if someone kidnapped — oh, I don't know, half-a-dozen people off the street and threatened to kill them unless you did what he wanted. Would you behave any differently if the threat was to people you didn't know, instead of to me?"

Clark sighed. "Possibly not. But the difference is that bad guys don't necessarily know that."

"No? Wasn't too difficult for me to figure out." Lois actually smirked at him.

Well, if nothing else, Clark thought, all this was certainly changing Lois's attitude towards Superman. The coy glances and the hero-worship had all disappeared. That was good… at least, he hoped it was good. He hoped that this new attitude didn't also mean that she would start viewing Superman with the same questioning approach she took to just about everything else. If she did, his secret could soon be history.

Time to return the conversation to its proper track. "Lois, I'm just worried about what could happen to you if we do this."

"I know that," she told him. "And I'm just worried about what could happen to you if we don't. I heard about what you did this morning. This city needs you, you have to know that." She paused, then added, giving him a curious look, "I hope Clark told you the same thing?"

"Clark?" He eyed her warily.

"Yeah. He talked to you this morning. At least — " Now she was looking puzzled. "He got in late to work because he'd been at the crash scene, and he had an interview with you."

Oh, that. Clark sighed silently, relieved. "Yeah, that's right. And… uh, yeah, he told me that I had to stick around."

"So we don't have any choice," Lois announced determinedly. "So, where do you think we should go to get married? It has to be somewhere with no waiting period, which means no blood tests either."

She was taking their marriage for granted now, Clark realised. And she was right; it was the only solution. He was still very unhappy about the idea of putting her at risk, but that was something they would just have to deal with. And, much as he disliked the idea, Superman would probably have to move in with her, to some extent. Of course, they'd have to make the appearance of living together, for the INS; but if Lois's safety was in question, the more obvious signs of Superman's presence in her apartment the better.

And he noticed something else, too: she was assuming that he would fly them wherever they needed to go for the marriage ceremony. Of course he would, but it amused him to notice Lois's casual appropriation of his abilities. Smiling, he answered her question. "I know it's the first port of call for quick marriages, but I'd really prefer not to go to Las Vegas."

She grimaced. "Tacky! I'm sure we can find somewhere else."

"Any ideas?" he asked her; finding out where to get a quickie marriage had never been top of his priority list.

"Well…" Lois moved over to the small desk set against one wall. "I did have to research this once, for an article in the weekend supplement. There's a website which should help us…"

Half an hour later, they had discovered that they could get married in Sacramento, California, without a waiting period. They could even complete the licence application online, though Lois decided it would be better to complete it, print it off, and bring it with them; emailing it could enable someone to tip off the media. Some form of photo-ID was required, however, to obtain a licence.

"That does it, then — we can't do it," Clark muttered. "I don't have ID."

"Nothing?" Lois seemed very taken aback.

Well, he had plenty as Clark Kent. But nothing at all as Superman. "Nothing."

Lois looked him up and down, which made him feel distinctly uncomfortable. "Well, it's not as if anyone could *doubt* who you are…" she drawled. "And all you have to do is float a few inches off the floor to prove it, right?"

Embarrassed, Clark looked away. It was at times like these that he really wished his mom hadn't made the Suit quite so *clinging*. "Ummm… well, the form does say photo-ID is necessary, Lois. I can't see them making an exception for me — not when it's the law."

Lois shrugged at that. "Okay, we'll get you one."

"How?" He stared at her.

But she simply grinned at him and walked across to her telephone. Before dialling, she turned and winked. "I know guys who know guys…"

Clark groaned. Forgery, on top of intent to deceive the INS; if they failed to get away with this, he was in *big* trouble!

***

An hour later, Lois had called the Planet to say she'd be gone for a couple of hours and was ready to leave for Sacramento. Superman had left shortly after she'd arranged the ID, saying that he had things to do and would be back. Now, she sat waiting for him, wondering whether she was out of her mind.

She was about to fly to the other side of the country to marry a man she barely knew, had a crush on, and who had made it clear, by his actions as well as his words, that this would be a marriage in name only. If he felt anything for her, it was respect and a degree of liking. Superman was not going to fall in love with her — anyway, she thought, how could she know whether Superman *could* fall in love with, or even be attracted to, an Earth woman? He was Kryptonian, after all, and she knew nothing about his own people's mating rituals.

Okay, this wasn't going to be a permanent arrangement. But they could have to stay married for a couple of years, if they couldn't sort out his residency status before then. Was she actually going to be able to cope with being Superman's wife for that length of time? With being, as far as the public and the media was concerned, the woman with whom Superman was intimate, and yet behind closed doors being merely a friend who was doing him a favour?

And would he have to move in with her? That was something they hadn't discussed. They had to make it appear as if they were living together as husband and wife, and so Superman would have to have some possessions in her apartment — but what kind of possessions? Clothes? What did he wear when he was off-duty? Lois asked herself wildly, having visions of him wandering about her apartment in matching pyjamas and dressing-gown in royal blue with a red 'S' logo. Did the Suit come off? And…

…and what did he look like underneath the Suit?!

They should have discussed the practicalities, she admitted, once again pushing her fantasies aside. But there wouldn't really be time for that, since she'd already called the registrar's office in Sacramento and made an appointment for their interview. They would have to go straight there once Superman got back.

And then there was the question of announcing their marriage, and how they'd deal with the press. Being a reporter herself, some of that would be straightforward for Lois: the Planet would get the exclusive, which would take some of the other media organisations off her back briefly. But she imagined that her apartment building would most likely get doorstepped, and that she could have TV cameras following her wherever she went for a few days. She would be big news, which would be a very different experience for someone more used to *writing* the news than starring in it.

"Second thoughts, Lois?"

She'd been so absorbed in her thoughts that she'd completely failed to hear the rush of wind which normally heralded Superman's arrival, Lois realised as she looked across at him, standing tall and remote by her window. He was watching her, his own expression unreadable. At once, she understood why. He was giving her a chance to back out if she wanted, and he clearly didn't want to try to influence her in any way by his own behaviour.

But that made her remember why they were doing this in the first place. If Superman didn't marry her, he'd be deported and branded a criminal. They had to get married.

So she smiled and shook her head. "Not at all. I'm ready to go, if you are?"

He shook his head. "I have to know that you're absolutely sure about this. If you're having doubts, Lois, I won't let you go through with it."

That was the wrong thing for him to say, Lois thought. If he'd known her better, he would have realised that telling her he wouldn't let her do something was like showing a red rag to a bull. She raised a challenging eyebrow at him. "You're not *letting* me do anything, Superman. I offered. That's all there is to it."

He was silent for several moments, then nodded. "Okay."

As he moved towards her to pick her up, she found a rush of courage and asked a question which had been bugging her for days. "What's your name? You never told me, and I guess if we're going to be married, even if it is just for convenience… well, it would be nice to know…"

Superman frowned, looking taken aback. "My *name*…?"

"Well, I called you Superman," Lois reminded him. "You must have a real name? Okay, I can understand if you don't want it known, but can't you tell *me*?"

"My Kryptonian name, you mean?" He looked embarrassed, awkward, Lois thought. "I… actually don't know. I mean, I'm sure I have one, but I don't remember anything about Krypton at all."

Lois stared at him in dismay. Had he lost his memory somehow on the way to Earth? The poor man! He clearly knew nothing at all about himself, except that he had these amazing powers. It was no wonder he'd looked stunned that first day, when he'd saved the Prometheus transport vessel. The poor guy was probably still traumatised!

But his expression altered then. "Lois, if you're ready, I think we should get going."

Nodding, she allowed herself to be picked up, looping her arms around his neck and relaxing against his chest as she prepared for the flight to Sacramento. Being held close to him sent thrilling sensations through her entire body, and she had to resist the urge to caress that broad chest. Would being married to Superman — however temporary and fake an arrangement — mean that she'd get more opportunities to be with him like this? Lois certainly hoped so. She wanted to derive some benefit from the arrangement!

***

Landing outside the county clerk's office in Sacramento, Clark hurried Lois inside; he didn't want them to be the focus of curious stares before they'd even obtained their licence. Actually, he wasn't even sure that they would be granted a licence at all; while Lois had managed to get him some photo-ID, he felt sure that even the description of his status as 'alien and Super-hero' wouldn't prevent any official from deciding that it was fake.

The woman at the reception desk stammered a greeting, clearly amazed to see Superman. Clark felt several pairs of eyes follow them as they walked towards the marriage unit, where they needed to hand over their completed licence application form and wait for their interview. He felt like turning around and asking them if they wanted him to pose for photographs. Problem was, they wouldn't hear the sarcasm — and if they did, it wouldn't do Superman's reputation any good. Right now, when Superman was in danger of being deported and when only marriage to Lois would save him, was not the time to make himself more enemies.

But why couldn't people understand that he didn't *want* to be considered public property? It wasn't as if he was a rock singer or movie star, seeking to be in the public eye and courting publicity as a result. All he wanted was to be able to help people. And all he wanted in return was to be left alone.

<Come on, Clark, don't be so naive!> he told himself cynically. <You're a reporter, for heaven's sake! You know how it works. And if you weren't Superman, you'd be out there with the rest of the pack hunting him down. Your motives might be different, but your behaviour would be the same, and don't try to kid yourself it wouldn't>

He felt a hand slide gently into his palm then, and glanced down to see Lois's hand holding his. Turning to her in surprise, he heard her murmur, "You looked nervous. And anyway, I thought this might look more convincing."

She was right. He folded his fingers around her hand and grasped it lightly.

Bending towards her then, he said softly, "Remind me again why we're making this a public thing? I noticed we could have applied for a confidential licence, which wouldn't be available for inspection… the press wouldn't have to find out…"

She gave him a long-suffering smile. "Think about it, Superman! The reason we're getting married is so the INS will leave you alone. They've gone public about wanting you deported and issuing a warrant, so if they back off they're going to have to give a reason why. We can't avoid our marriage being public knowledge!"

He nodded. "You're right. I just needed you to tell me again," he admitted ruefully.

"That's okay. But anyway, a confidential licence is only available to couples who can show they've been living together as husband and wife for two years or more — god knows why, but that's the rule. And there's no way we can claim that about you and me!"

"True," Clark agreed, and was rewarded with a reassuring squeeze of her hand.

When they walked into the office of the marriage unit, two more heads turned to stare at them. "Uhhh… Can I help you, Superman?" a stunned-looking woman asked after a moment.

"We're here to get a marriage licence," Lois replied quickly, for which Clark was pleased. Now that they were here, he had no idea whether she was still nervous, but she certainly wasn't showing any sign of it. "We have an appointment," she added more firmly.

The woman checked a list on her desk, then raised her head again to stare at Superman. "Uhhh… I don't have you listed anywhere here, Superman," she told him.

"Oh, the appointment will be under my name," Lois again answered before Clark could comment. "That's Lane. L-A-N-E. Ms."

"Oh, you're here all right, Ms Lane. But your… ah, *fiance* is listed as Mr Man," the woman told her, sounding very puzzled.

Lois grinned. "That's him," she agreed, gesturing towards Clark, who was feeling even more like an exhibit at a fair. "Super-Man."

Deciding that it was time he said something, Clark asked firmly, "Where do we hand in our licence application?"

"I'll take that." The other occupant of the room got up and came across to them, holding out her hand for the form. "It's my job to check that you've completed it correctly, before the clerk interviews you."

They followed her to her desk and sat down as she read through the application form. To Clark's relief, she didn't seem to find any problem areas; she made several approving noises and ticked off sections of the form as she read. Then her gaze shifted to a different section of the form, and she read aloud, "Groom's personal data."

He closed his eyes briefly and waited.

"Groom's first name," she read aloud. "Super."

"Uhh… that's me," Clark agreed.

"No middle name. Groom's last name… Man." Now she raised her gaze from the sheet of paper to stare at him.

"Well, it's the only name I have," Clark protested. He knew he sounded feeble, but there was nothing he could do about it.

"Date of birth. Hmmm. 'In Earth chronology, probably 1966. But I can't be certain.' Can't you be more specific than that?" she demanded.

Well, he could, Clark thought, but that would entail revealing that he'd been on Earth since he was a baby, and that wasn't information he was prepared to reveal to anyone. "That's the best I can do," he replied.

She sighed. "Okay. Well, you're obviously an adult, so I suppose we can live with that. Well…" She frowned then, and stared at him again, clearly puzzled. "Is there a state called Krypton?"

"No, actually, it's a planet," Clark explained. "That's where I was born. Uh… I'm afraid the form didn't seem to have an option for aliens."

"Oh… you're an extra-terrestrial, of course," she answered, as if that explained everything. "Okay… no previous marriages. Occupation: Super-hero." She paused, then looked across at her colleague. "Joan, do we have a Standard Industrial Classification number for Super-Hero?"

"I don't think so, Alice," the other woman replied doubtfully.

"Hmmm. We'll put you in with emergency service workers, I think," Alice decided. "As for Business Type, I see you left that blank."

"I wasn't sure what to put," Clark explained. "I mean, Life-saving and Emergency Rescue isn't exactly a business type."

Alice scribbled something. Then she glanced up again. "You've written Unknown next to your father's name."

"That's right," Clark agreed.

"But you've also written Unknown next to your mother's name!" She gave him a very perplexed look.

"I don't know anything about my parents, except that they are — or were — on Krypton," Clark explained. "I have no memories of my home planet at all. If I ever did know anything about my birth parents, I've forgotten it."

Alice frowned again; then, suddenly, she smiled. "I know! We'll put you down as a foundling."

Clark stifled a startled exclamation; after all, they couldn't know the truth. He became aware of Lois, who was sitting next to him, as she began to fidget and behave anxiously, and he quickly grabbed for her hand. This wasn't going too badly so far. The only questions remaining related to his address, and they'd agreed that he should list Lois's apartment.

"I need to check your ID." The woman's statement took Clark by surprise, and he held his breath as he handed over the ID card which Lois had obtained for him. She, of course, would have no difficulty; her driver's licence was perfectly acceptable and would get barely a glance from the apparently efficient Alice.

She studied his ID card carefully, then glanced across at him, then back at the card, then at another document on her desk, and then stared at the card again, shaking her head. "Well, I guess this is an acceptable photo-ID," she told him at last. "But I've sure never come across the Association of Super-heroes and Crime-Busters before!"

"He's the founding member," Lois retorted immediately, and Clark gripped the sides of his chair to stop himself forcibly preventing her from saying another word.

***

Well, they'd got through the initial stage easily enough, Lois thought as she and Superman were ushered into the county clerk's office for their interview. Of course, it would have helped if Superman had been a little more quick-thinking on occasion; it was obvious that he wouldn't have been able to manage without her help!

She wouldn't have imagined that he could be so nervous, but it had been clear to her the whole way through that initial interview that he'd been terrified that the assistant wouldn't accept his answers and would refuse to allow them to go any further. Surely he'd realised that all he had to do was give Alice the trademark Superman smile and she'd have done anything he asked?

Obviously not, she thought wryly as she pushed the door closed behind them.

The clerk looked equally bemused to see Superman walk into his office, but he recovered quickly and directed them to take a seat. He glanced down at a list on his desk, then said, puzzled, "I have a Ms Lane and a Mr… Man scheduled for an appointment."

"Yes, that's Superman," Lois explained again. "I didn't want to say exactly who he is because I didn't want this to become a media circus before it has to. Is there a problem?" she finished curtly, hoping that the man would drop his idiotic quibbling and get on with the interview.

"No, of course not." He held out his hand for the licence application, then scanned it quickly. "Okay, this looks as if it's in order, though your application is a little… well, unorthodox. Superman, I understand that your immigration status is at present under examination?"

Before Superman could answer, Lois interjected, "Does this have anything to do with our getting a marriage licence?"

"Strictly speaking, no," the clerk agreed. "But I am under a legal obligation not to condone any illegal arrangements."

"I don't believe that I am doing anything illegal in wanting to marry Ms Lane," Superman replied immediately.

"Probably not. But you are, I hope, aware that the Immigration and Naturalisation Service won't simply look at your marriage certificate and immediately grant you leave to remain in the US?"

"Of course." Superman's response was abrupt this time. "Are you suggesting that the only reason I'm marrying Ms Lane is to obtain US citizenship?"

Clever question, Lois thought. He wasn't telling any lies or making false claims, but he was throwing the argument back at the clerk — and the reason for their marriage wasn't any of the clerk's business as long as they complied with the legal requirements.

"That's not my concern," the clerk acknowledged. "That's between the two of you and the INS."

The question of their motivation for marriage having been disposed of, the remainder of the interview progressed without a hitch, and they were issued with a marriage licence. Back in the outer office, Alice then offered to fit them into the registrar's schedule there and then.

Less than fifteen minutes later, they were legally married.

Lois emerged from the registrar's office, Superman walking beside her and clutching their marriage certificate, and she immediately fell back against the wall, staring down at the simple gold band on her finger, as the realisation sank in. She was married — and married to Superman, at that! The entire process had taken less than an hour from the time of their arrival in Sacramento. It was still only midday in Metropolis — and she was a married woman.

She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Lois? Are you okay?" Superman's voice sounded concerned.

Shrugging off the trepidation she was feeling about whether she'd done the right thing, Lois made herself smile at him. "Sure. I was just letting it all sink in — you know, us being married."

"It's a lot to take in, I know," he agreed. "But, Lois, I promise I'll make this as easy for you as I can. I'll try not to get in your way, though I guess I'm going to have to spend some time at your apartment and make it look as if we live there together. And I'll do my best to make it clear that no-one better even think of trying to get at me through you."

"Of course we'll have to make it look as if we live together," Lois agreed. "That doesn't bother me — leave as much stuff as you want at my apartment. I'll give you a key too, though I guess you don't really need one…" She trailed off as she realised again that they really hadn't discussed the practical implications at all.

Superman sighed, then gestured towards the exit. "Maybe we should get back to Metropolis and then talk about what we do next?"

Nodding, Lois grasped his offered hand and husband and wife left the building together.

***

On the return journey, Clark decided that he should really talk to the INS sooner rather than later, and Lois asked him to drop her off at the Planet building. He did so, guiltily conscious that he had also been absent from the newsroom for some time now. He also knew that he and Lois needed to talk rather urgently about how they should behave as a 'married couple', but they agreed to meet at her apartment as soon as she finished work. He trusted her to handle the media aspect: as he'd told her on the way back, he'd prefer that they issue a news release, or give the Daily Planet an exclusive, than have some journalist discover their marriage and splash it as a front-page scandal story.

He also said, in response to her question, that he didn't want them to do a press conference. To Lois, he explained it as simply not wanting to turn this into any more of a media circus than it had to be, as well as thinking it would probably be a good idea to avoid too many awkward questions in a live situation. Privately, Clark was still very dubious about his ability to maintain the Superman persona over a prolonged period; add to that the stress of a press conference situation, and he doubted that his secret would remain secret for very long.

His other worry was still whether he would in fact be able to pull off being Superman in situations where he wasn't simply flying in and out again. If he had to spend more time with Lois, could he maintain the facade? There had been a couple of moments in the county clerk's office when he'd thought he was in danger of letting the facade slip. Thankfully, Lois didn't appear to have noticed anything.

Less than five minutes later, Superman walked through the door of the Metropolis INS office. A flustered receptionist instantly sprang to her feet and greeted him, asking if he was there to see the local manager.

"If that's the appropriate person, yes," Clark answered, and was then immediately shown through to an open-plan office beyond the reception area, and from there into a smaller room, empty apart from a small table and four chairs. He was directed to one and asked to wait.

Two minutes later, a man and a woman entered; both greeted him courteously but briskly and introduced themselves as immigration officers. The man — who made great play of the fact that he was a *senior* immigration officer — was tall and stocky, and he stared at Clark as if he was examining him through a microscope; the effect was to make Clark feel as if he should almost apologise for sullying the room.

"So, I take it you've come here voluntarily in order to turn yourself in, Superman?" the man asked, his tone almost sneering. His female partner, a thin woman in her forties, winced, and smiled apologetically at Clark.

"Actually, no," Clark answered, directing his response to the woman. "Ms Roberts, I don't believe that I have any reason to turn myself in. I apologise for not responding to your office's request for an interview before now; being from another planet, I wasn't aware of the US's position on extra-terrestrials as opposed to non-nationals. But I believe I satisfy at least one criterion to qualify for permission to remain in the US, and possibly for citizenship in due course."

"Oh?" Ms Roberts frowned. "And that criterion would be?"

"I'm married to a US citizen."

The man, who'd introduced himself as 'West', leaned forward across the table in what could almost be seen as a threatening manner. "You *married* a human? An American?" He sounded appalled by the prospect. "I very much doubt whether this is either legal or advisable — "

"It's perfectly legal," Clark interrupted. "I have the marriage certificate here." He laid the document on the table, very careful not to let go of it.

West gazed intently at the certificate, as if memorising it. "I see it's dated today. *Very* convenient!"

Clark shrugged. He hated lying; on the other hand, being completely honest would get Superman into deep trouble, and would defeat the object of the arrangement. Any marriage entered into for the sole purpose of gaining a green card wouldn't qualify, and could even land Lois in trouble with the law. And yet that was exactly why they'd got married. The knowledge that Superman was deliberately lying here was causing Clark considerable agonies of conscience, but he knew he'd had no other choice.

"Today was the earliest we could fit it in," he answered casually. "My wife and I are both busy people."

Ms Roberts coughed lightly, and Clark turned to look enquiringly at her.

"Umm, Superman, well, of course this does change things somewhat. If this certificate is valid, and it looks valid to me, our office will naturally withdraw the arrest and deportation warrant. But you do understand that our investigations do not end merely because you are married to an American citizen?"

"Of course I understand," Clark answered smoothly. "My wife and I will be happy to fulfil any requirements you may have of us — I'm assuming that you will need to interview us both?"

"Yes, of course. We usually wish to speak to the couple on two or three occasions, until the INS is satisfied one way or another about the bona fides of any marriage in such circumstances," Ms Roberts explained.

"And there may be more than usual in *these* circumstances," Mr West added, in a low growl. His sceptical expression made clear to Clark that he would see it as his duty to prove the marriage a fraud. "In *this* case, you may expect that we will use the power given to us by law to visit your home — either by appointment or unannounced."

That statement, effectively a declaration of open warfare, came as no surprise to Clark. Ms Roberts seemed more taken aback; she glanced, alarmed, at her partner, then turned back to Clark, giving him a weak smile. "Ah… anyway, Superman, once the INS is satisfied about the status of this marriage, the next step is either that you will be awarded permanent residence status — conditional, of course — or that we may seek an order to deport. Which outcome we choose depends on our findings, of course!"

"Yes, I understand," Clark told her, deliberately not including her partner in his smile. Mr West clearly intended to set out to find obstacles to granting him resident status, and there was probably little Clark could do, in the way of mounting a charm offensive, for example, which would persuade him otherwise. "I also understand that if I'm granted permanent residence status that will be conditional until Lois and I have been married for two years."

"Ah, yes, your wife," Mr West barked suddenly. "Why did she not come with you today?"

"She had to go back to work," Clark answered smoothly. "She's a journalist — I expect you've probably heard of her. She works at the Daily Planet."

"Well, I do most certainly look forward to meeting Ms Lane — or should that be Mrs Superman?" West drawled. "It will be fascinating to see what kind of woman could actually contemplate *marrying* an extra-terrestrial!"

"Philip!" hissed Ms Roberts, who then turned to give Clark a rather sickly smile. "We do have some forms we'll need you to complete. When we've processed them, we will be in touch to arrange interviews and home visits. Philip, maybe you could go and get the forms for Superman?" she asked timidly.

"No, why don't *you* get them," Philip West retorted aggressively, in a tone which made Clark want to lecture him on courtesy towards co-workers. "I have a few more questions to ask Superman here."

Ms Roberts scurried out of the interview room, and Philip West then glared directly at Clark. "I'm giving you fair warning. You might be able to hoodwink my *partner* with your smiles and your Super-powers and your practised charm. But none of that works on me. I don't believe that this 'marriage' is any more real than Ronald McDonald. Actually, I don't know how any normal, self- respecting woman could bring herself to marry an alien, but that's another matter. I know this marriage of yours is phoney, and I'm going to prove it."

Clark simply smiled; it wasn't worth arguing with the man, although his casual hostility, apparently based on no more than Superman's being from another planet, was not only offensive: it was hurtful.

As the door opened to re-admit Ms Roberts, West continued, "Tell me something. Is this marriage even going to be consummated? *Can* you have sex with an Earth- woman, Superman? And don't try to tell me that's none of my business!"

Clark ignored Ms Roberts' shocked exclamation and instead stared straight at Philip West, giving the man his most intimidating Superman look. "As I understand it, it wouldn't be a real marriage otherwise. So what do *you* think?"

"I know what I think, Superman," West drawled. "I just need to prove it."

"Ah, Superman, here's the forms," Ms Roberts interrupted, placing several documents on the table. "Would you like us to give you some time to fill them in?"

"No need," Clark assured her, reaching for the pen provided. In under a minute he pushed the completed forms across to her. "There you go."

Ms Roberts blinked. "Thank you!" she squeaked, as Philip West grabbed the forms from her and scanned them.

"That's all for now, Superman," he said, standing up. "We'll be in contact with you." And Clark shouldn't think that this would be easy, was the clear unspoken message in the sneering glance West gave Clark as he swept out of the room.

Deducing that he was free to go, Clark thanked Ms Roberts and left the room. As he returned to the reception area, though, he noticed a throng of people outside, blocking the door. Some carried placards proclaiming, "Deport the alien!", and those people seemed to be carrying on a bitter argument with others whose placards read, "Make Superman a citizen NOW!!!".

Groaning silently, Clark glanced at the receptionist, wondering whether she would tell him if there was another way out. But her expression told him that she was the one who'd alerted people to his presence here. He couldn't tell whether there were any reporters among the crowd, but it would probably be a good idea to watch what he said anyway.

He pushed the door open, and at once several people rushed towards him. Before he could extricate himself, one woman, in her forties with bleached-blonde hair, flung herself against him and screamed, "Superman! Marry me and you can become a US citizen!"

He gripped her by the upper arms and held her away from him, but before he could say anything another woman, thirty-ish and plump, grabbed his arm. "I'll marry you, Superman! You can fly us to Vegas and the INS will have to leave you alone!"

The obvious retort was to announce that he was already married, but Clark didn't want to do that until he could find out what Lois was doing with the story. He grimaced, muttered something indistinguishable, then shot vertically upwards leaving the crowds yelling in his wake.

***

"Lois! Where in the Sam Hill have you been?" Perry demanded as soon as Lois emerged from the elevator. "And where's Kent?"

Lois glanced across to the bullpen. "I've no idea, Chief. Haven't seen him since this morning," she said carelessly. "I've got a *big* story for you, though. It's probably too late to get it in the afternoon edition, I suppose, and the TV networks will have picked it up by this evening, but the Planet gets the exclusive behind-the-scenes story!"

Perry frowned. "What about? And where *have* you been?"

Lois slipped her arm through her boss's and steered him towards his office. "I've been getting married," she announced with a grin.

"Married?! Lois, what — ? Why didn't you say anything… ask for the day off…?" he began incredulously, then broke off as Lois deliberately closed his office door behind them and swung around to face him, her expression serious.

"Superman and I got married. In Sacramento," she explained, and waited for the explosion she knew would follow.

Perry sank into his chair, staring at Lois in disbelief. "Honey, do you have any idea what you're getting yourself into here?"

Her eyes narrowing, Lois asked in a dangerous tone, "What do you mean by that, Chief?"

"What…? Oh, I'm not talking about Superman," Perry hastened to explain, clearly interpreting from Lois's expression how she'd understood his question. "I mean the INS. You know they're not just going to accept this marriage at face value."

"Sure I know that," Lois answered impatiently. "We can deal with that. It's not a problem."

The editor was silent for several moments. Then he shrugged. "Well, it's your life, Lois. And I know Superman seemed to like you — you're the only reporter who's really had anything much to do with him since he got here — heck, you're the only person he seems to have spoken to, apart from when he was rescuing someone. Just be careful, honey, y'hear? We really don't know enough about him — we don't know anything about what he's really like."

Lois stiffened. "I know him, Perry. He's a good and decent man."

Perry shrugged lightly. "I know he seems that way, Lois. But all I'm saying is that we don't really know much more than that. That's why I wouldn't support you yesterday when you wanted the Planet to support a campaign to let him stay. We just can't know that he's really as benign as he seems yet. Now, don't get sassy, Lois," he added as she was about to interrupt. "I like the guy. I think he's probably as good as he seems. All I'm saying is that I've been around the block a few times. I've seen people you'd think were saints turn out to have hidden agendas. Now, maybe Superman really is on the up and up; I sure hope so. I just think you should be careful, is all."

"I hear you, Chief," Lois said softly. "And I will." Not that it was necessary, she thought. She knew Superman was exactly what he appeared to be. The man didn't have a devious bone in his body. In a different tone then, she added, "So what do you want to do about the story?"

Perry frowned. "Who else knows?"

"Superman's at the INS now, telling them he's married and getting the arrest warrant lifted. I guess it's possible they might issue a press release."

"Okay; we still have time to get something into the final print run of the afternoon edition," Perry said thoughtfully. "A short paragraph on the front page should do it. I take it the Planet will get an exclusive interview?"

"With me? Sure!" Lois agreed. "Don't you want me to write the story?"

"You're too close to it. No, I'll get someone else to interview you — and if your *husband* would agree to be interviewed as well, I would appreciate it."

"I'll ask him," Lois agreed non-committally, not at all sure that Superman would agree. "So what line is the Planet going to take on this marriage?"

"Line?" Perry queried, his tone deceptively innocent from what Lois could tell.

"Yes, line. As in, are you going to claim that this is a fake marriage only entered into for the purpose of getting Superman a visa?" she demanded.

"Well, is it?" Perry asked softly.

"You print anything like that and I'll quit," Lois threatened.

"Lois, I've told you that we'll run an interview with you and Superman. Now, you know how to handle an interview — and you better believe that a Planet journalist will give you an easier ride than a hack from the Star or someone on LNN, even if it won't be a PR spread. You *did* see that LNN studio discussion last night?" the editor added disgustedly.

"Yeah, I did. And I can guess the kind of questions we'd be asked over there. Which is why this is the only interview we'll be giving about this marriage."

"Fine," Perry accepted. "Once Kent gets back, send him to me. He can do it."

Clark Kent? Lois pulled a face almost automatically, but as she left the editor's office she decided that she wasn't unhappy with the idea. At least Clark was likely to treat the interview seriously, unlike Cat who would no doubt seize the opportunity to ask all kind of intrusive questions; questions Lois was doing her best to avoid asking *herself*. And Clark was unlikely to sneer, unlike Ralph.

Yeah, Clark would do. Lois went back to her desk and tried to concentrate on her other work, but her mind kept drifting back to the very brief marriage ceremony, the few moments when she'd exchanged wedding vows with the man of her dreams. Wedding vows which were no more than an expedient measure, to ensure that he wasn't deported. Wedding vows which would be unmade once he was granted permanent resident status.

She stared down at the shiny new band on her finger. They'd almost forgotten rings, until she'd mentioned it to Superman just before he'd left her to make the final arrangements. Just before they'd gone before the registrar, he'd produced one small box; he'd told her that he hadn't got himself a ring because it would be difficult to wear one all the time when he was helping at rescues. The ring almost seemed to glare accusingly at her, a symbol of something which wasn't as real as it should be.

Just what kind of marriage would this be? She had no idea; she and her *husband* hadn't even talked about the arrangements. He'd have to spend time with her; would he actually move in? How close would they get? Would she have a real opportunity to get to know the man behind the suit? Was it even possible that he might come to care about her… that the marriage might somehow become real, even if it wasn't starting out that way?

But that wasn't going to happen, she reminded herself firmly. The only reason he'd married her was to gain citizenship. And that was all there was to it.

"Lois?" A voice from beside her snapped her out of her introspection, and she turned her head to see Clark looking at her patiently.

"Clark! I… uh, I was thinking about something…"

"I could see that." He smiled lightly. "I'm sure it was something important, too. But Perry wants me to, uh…" He gestured at her hand, at the band she'd just been staring at herself. "He told me about you and Superman."

Lois regarded him suspiciously. "I suppose you're going to tell me I'm crazy too."

Clark shook his head as if the idea had never occurred to him. "That would be none of my business, Lois. All I want is the interview Perry asked me to get — is it okay if we do that now?"

Getting to her feet, Lois nodded. "Can we do it in the conference room? I know this is hardly going to stay a secret, but I'd feel more comfortable…"

"Sure. To be honest, so would I," Clark answered, and Lois shot a swift glance at him. Her new-ish colleague did seem to be acting a little awkward about this, and she wondered why. Interviewing people was part of his job as a reporter, and she'd seen him do it a few times now. He was even quite good at it. Unless, she thought, he felt awkward because she was a co-worker and he was reluctant in case it seemed intrusive? That was possible; one thing she'd learned about Clark Kent was that he seemed a pretty sensitive kind of guy.

In the conference room, she took a seat opposite Clark and watched as he flicked his notebook open; then he rubbed a finger along the bridge of his nose in what, to Lois, looked like a nervous gesture. Then he glanced briefly at her before saying abruptly, "So, you and Superman got married, right?"

"Well, you know that already," Lois told him impatiently, wondering whether she was going to have to babysit him through the interview.

Clark pulled a face. "I'm just wondering how you want to handle this, that's all. I mean, if you want to give me the spiel about how you two fell madly in love at first sight and today was the first chance you got to run off to California to get married, sure, just do that," he told her, his tone ironic. "I guess that's what you'd like me to write, anyway?"

"What is your problem with this, Kent?" Lois demanded irritably. "Is this because I warned you off me?"

"Oh please!" Clark snorted. "Lois, think about it. The timing is very convenient, let's say. Yesterday the INS announces they've issued a warrant for Superman's arrest, prior to obtaining a deportation order. And today you marry him! What do you expect people to assume, Lois?"

The fact that Clark was right made Lois even more irritable. "What are you going to write about this?"

"What do you want me to write, Lois?" he countered. "Look, I have to ask you these questions. Because if I don't, someone else will." Having made that unanswerable point, he continued, "I'll listen to whatever you want to tell me in order to counter that, and that way your rebuttal gets printed. Let's face it, isn't it easier to take the hostile questions from me than from Larry Myers on LNN?"

Lois pulled a face, remembering the previous evening's LNN debate. "I guess you're right." He was right; she knew that. The Planet's coverage of the marriage couldn't be pure Hello!-style: no-one would ever take the Planet seriously as a newspaper again if it printed something that bland and unquestioning. So Clark would have to make some attempt to question the veracity of the marriage. He'd have to demonstrate that he had asked her some awkward questions, and that she'd been convincing in her replies. He would have to mention the INS and Superman's status as an illegal alien. But he was also right in that it would be much easier dealing with these questions in the safety of her own newsroom than it would be in front of a potentially hostile audience in an LNN studio.

So she let Clark ask her all the awkward, embarrassing questions and she gave him answers which, she knew, wouldn't stand up to hostile questioning but which he would accept and write up, as he'd assured her. Yes, the marriage was very sudden. Yes, she certainly understood that some people might wonder at its coinciding with the INS's warrant for Superman's arrest, and there was some degree of truth in the speculation that they had married today because of that. But that was where the coincidence ended, because she and Superman had talked about marriage before today. They would have married anyway, but the INS's action simply made them move rather more quickly than they'd been planning to. Yes, she hadn't known him all that long, but relationships worked that way sometimes: love at first sight, if Clark wanted to put it that way.

Scribbling notes as she spoke, Clark intervened only to ask additional questions, for which Lois was grateful. He also seemed to be avoiding eye- contact with her, which made the process easier; she was finding it uncomfortable enough as it was. It seemed to her that he also wasn't finding the experience particularly easy. Finally, he rose, declaring that he had enough information; just before he left the room, though, he hesitated and regarded her with a watchful expression.

"Something else you wanted to ask, Clark?" Lois commented tartly.

He shook his head. "Just… well, I just wanted to say, be careful, Lois. I hope you know what you've got yourself into, that's all — I don't want you to be hurt."

Lois drew a sharp breath at his words. But before she could respond he had turned and left the room.

***

Clark hadn't wanted to do that interview; in fact, when Perry had instructed him to interview Lois, his first instinct had been to search for a reason — *any* reason — why he couldn't. But a moment's thought had made him realise that it was actually a good idea. For one, he really did need to know what kind of spin Lois was putting on her sudden marriage to Superman — and now, he had to admit that her idea of playing it as something which had been on the cards anyway and had simply been brought forward as a result of the INS's actions was an inspiration.

Second, he'd thought that he was more likely than some of their colleagues to treat Lois fairly over the whole thing. Of course he had to ask some awkward questions, but he was also well aware that some other Planet staffers would have put the same questions to Lois in a far less easy manner. She had just done him an enormous favour by marrying him to save him trouble with the law, and helping her out with handling the publicity was the least he could do in return.

However, he hadn't realised just how much the frequent glimpses he'd caught of her wedding ring would bother him. Well, not 'bother' precisely, but it certainly left him feeling unsettled. He was talking to the woman who was his *wife*, and she had no idea who she was with. But then, he reminded himself, she was married to *Superman*, not Clark. And there were too many reasons why he couldn't let her know any different.

With any luck, he would find a way to expedite the process of gaining citizenship for Superman, and she would be able to divorce him and get on with her life.

He *hoped* that he'd managed to hide from her any hint that he had any kind of personal involvement or interest in the situation. It hadn't been at all easy to pretend that this was just any other interview with someone who was no more than a work colleague. Nor had it been easy to pretend that he had nothing more than a professional interest in Lois's answers. He'd had to avoid looking at her throughout, otherwise he knew he would have given himself away, and he'd been only too glad when the interview had finally come to an end and he could escape from the conference room.

However, one memory nagged at him for some time after he'd written up the interview. She'd effectively told him that she'd fallen in love with Superman at first sight. Had she simply said that as part of the process of persuading people that the marriage was real, or…

…or did she mean it?

***

"You did *WHAT*?"

Clark paced once more around his parents' kitchen, wondering if he could possibly have explained himself any more clearly. He'd thought he'd laid things out pretty well, in fact, so his parents' confused and appalled responses — in unison, what was more — took him considerably aback.

"I got married, Mom, Dad. Well, Superman did. Lois offered, and… I couldn't see any other way out of the situation, so I… accepted."

"Clark, how could you put a virtual stranger in that kind of danger?" his father demanded. "And expose yourself to the possibility that she could find out your secret?"

At the same time, his mother said, her tone incredulous, "How on earth could you allow that poor woman to make that kind of sacrifice?"

"Mom!" Clark exclaimed indignantly. "What do you mean, 'sacrifice'? It's not as if I'm not… I mean, I'm not *that* horrible to live with, am I?" he added, appalled.

"That's not what I meant, Clark," Martha Kent explained patiently. "In order to help you, Lois has effectively removed herself from the dating or marriage scene for the next two years. And she's an attractive woman, Clark, and she's at the kind of age where most professional women these days are looking around for someone to settle down with. Now do you see what I mean?"

He did. Strangely, that aspect of Lois's situation hadn't occurred to him; all he'd seen was that the woman he desperately wanted to be *his* woman had become his, but not in the way he wanted.

"She offered, Mom," he said defensively.

"That's beside the point," Martha pointed out. "She thinks Superman is a real person. You've encouraged her to believe that by marrying her as Superman. What does she expect from this relationship?"

Indignant that his mother could believe he'd deliberately mislead Lois, Clark exclaimed, "Nothing at all! She made that completely clear. It was only so that Superman wouldn't be deported. We have to pretend to be properly married — I'm going to have to make it look as if Superman lives in her apartment, but since I can get there in seconds if I'm needed, I don't actually have to *be* there all that much."

"I hope you're right about that, Clark, because all this is going to complicate your relationship with Lois as *Clark*, you know," Martha said quietly, then turned away to pour more coffee.

Clark turned to his father. "Dad, don't you think I thought about Lois's safety? I turned her down at first precisely because of that. But then the INS escalated things and I didn't have much choice. Anyway, we've talked about it and I think I can take care of it."

"Just make sure you do, Clark," Jonathan Kent said heavily. "And if there's any way you can sort out this issue of Superman's citizenship sooner than the two- year period the INS will make you wait, do it. It'll be fairer on Lois that way — and also reduce the risk of her finding out that Superman is really you!"

Clark nodded, sighing.

***

Lois paced up and down her darkened living room. It was almost nine in the evening. She'd made her escape from the Planet not long after the afternoon edition had hit the streets, unwilling to be doorstepped either on her way out of work or at her apartment entrance, but she'd also hoped that her 'husband' would come to see her so that they could discuss their strategy.

More than four hours later, she was still waiting.

Surely he knew they needed to talk? She needed to know how he'd got on at the INS, apart from anything else. And they needed to work out their strategy. She'd expected that he'd come over just as soon as he could. Although he could have been helping at some emergency situation which hadn't been reported on the news, she thought wryly.

Their marriage certainly had been reported on the news; the Planet's short front-page item, together with a brief statement released in the late afternoon by the INS, had been the main item on all the evening news bulletins. She and Superman were the biggest story in town. A smaller item on some news bulletins referred to offers which had been made by several other countries to Superman: offering him a home, a salary and citizenship if he cared to move to France or Germany or Australia — or even Cuba! — to work as a Super-hero. She could only be grateful that they'd got married that afternoon, before Superman knew about those alternatives.

And, of course, the various representatives of the media were doing their best to get to the story — she'd barely closed the door of her apartment when the phone had started ringing. Most were hoping to find Superman in residence, of course, but plenty were happy to make do with the new Mrs Superman — or Mrs Man, as her marriage certificate suggested.

Lois had responded to the editor of LNN's night-time news magazine show by informing him that the exclusive story of her courtship and marriage with Superman would be in the following day's Planet. Then she'd unplugged the phone. She'd also had to unplug her fax, because five minutes later a fax had arrived from the Metropolis Star offering her a cash incentive in return for an interview. And then they'd tried her cellphone, which was also now switched off.

When her pager had gone off about an hour ago Lois had been furious, wondering which news organisation had managed to get hold of the pager number which should only have been in the possession of a few employees of the Daily Planet. However, the number displayed had been Perry White's; he'd simply wanted to assure himself that she was all right. He'd been surprised when she'd admitted that her new husband was not with her, but she'd brushed that off. The fewer people who had real reason to suspect that this marriage was not what it purported to be, the better.

And that included her family. Before leaving work, Lois had called both of her parents, and her sister — newly moved to California — to tell them the news. Her mother had almost had hysterics right there and then, and her father had reacted in an alarming manner, demanding to know whether Lois had taken leave of her senses and whether 'this alien' was even capable of understanding what marriage was all about. Lois had been tempted to retort that Superman probably had a better idea of what marriage should entail than Sam Lane.

Only Lucy had been excited by the news; although Lois was pretty sure that her sister was suspicious of their motives, Lucy had exclaimed that she hoped Superman would fly Lois out to see her very soon, because she *really* wanted to meet her new brother-in-law. Neither of her parents had expressed any interest in meeting Superman, Lois reflected now, but then, she wasn't altogether sure that she really wanted to have to introduce them to him.

All that mattered, as far as her family was concerned, was that they shouldn't make any attempts to discredit the marriage. As long as they didn't do that, Lois really didn't care what they thought about the situation.

A tap on the casement window startled Lois, and she snapped out of her musings and went over. It was Superman; once she opened the window, he stepped inside. Despite having been in his company for much of the morning, her stomach and heart were still doing flip-flops; she took several intakes of breath to try to calm herself.

"I… uh, I guess I'll have to give you a key to the apartment," she said, trying to hide her nervousness now that he was here and unsure how to broach the conversation which needed to be had.

"That would be kind," he acknowledged, "though I'll probably mostly use the window, if that's okay with you?"

"Oh! Uh… sure! Uh… would you like a drink or something?"

Superman inclined his head. "That would be nice. Coffee, if it's not too much trouble."

Lois was actually grateful to have something to do; standing in her living-room with a man she barely knew and yet was married to was an uncomfortable experience. All her normal poise seemed to have deserted her. A bare ten minutes ago she'd been silently cursing Superman for his inconsiderate behaviour in not coming to see her; now that he was here, she couldn't even tell him that she'd been waiting to talk to him. Apart from anything else, now that he was in front of her, large as life, she was sharply reminded of just how attractive he was, how close-fitting his Suit was, and just how the very sight of him affected her.

He followed her into the kitchen, leaning against the counter as she started to prepare coffee. "I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner. It's been kind of busy," he explained. "There was a gas explosion in a high-rise in the next state — people trapped, dangerous masonry — I thought I had to help out."

Well, that was probably why there'd been nothing on the news, Lois reflected silently, trying to focus on her task and not on the powerfully-muscled body inches from hers. Just catching sight of his chest rising and falling was too much of a distraction for her. Metropolis's media was notoriously parochial, she reminded herself, forcing herself to concentrate on his explanation for his tardiness; the next state might as well be on the other side of the world for all the notice most reporters and news organs took of it. She briefly considered asking him for an interview about the incident, then dismissed it: even in the Planet, such a story would be buried on about page twenty, below the fold and underneath a report on the city council's pest control committee.

"Oh, that's okay," she replied quickly, realising that her silence was causing him to give her a curious look. "Umm… did you see the reporters camped out outside?"

Superman nodded. "Yeah — I deliberately circled the building before coming to tap on your window. I figured it would be a good idea to be seen arriving."

So that the impression was given that he was living with her. Yes, that was sensible, she thought. Did that mean he didn't plan to leave? Or that he'd find a way to leave without being seen?

She wasn't quite sure how to ask him that, so instead she just nodded. "Okay. Ummm… I gave the Planet an exclusive interview, by the way — did the blushing bride stuff. I thought we needed to give our version of the story as much publicity as possible."

Superman nodded. "Good idea. Ah… did Clark Kent tell you that I ran into him later this afternoon? He asked me a couple of questions as well — I figured it would look even better if he had comments from the two of us. He told me what you'd said, so I just confirmed it, really."

That was good of Clark, Lois thought in surprise. He could have ambushed Superman, if he'd wanted; could have tried to see whether Superman gave different answers to the same questions. That would really have blown their story out of the water. But then, Clark had made it pretty clear that he knew what was really going on, and that he was prepared to help her make it look good.

"That's good, yeah," Lois told her husband. "But, you know, we need to discuss this stuff — we have to make sure we both say the same things if anyone else asks us."

"I know," Superman agreed. "I know we can trust Clark not to try to do us harm, but I wouldn't trust those guys camped outside your building."

That made Lois frown. Just how well did Superman know Clark Kent? But that wasn't important for now. She finished making the coffee and handed him a cup, stepping back to allow him to add milk and sugar, then led the way back into her sitting-room.

"Where do you want to start?" she asked him, having decided that it might be easier to let him take the lead.

"Well, I should tell you about the INS," he began, giving her a rueful look. "It wasn't as straightforward as I'd hoped."

"Well, we knew it wouldn't be," Lois answered with a shrug. "They were never going to accept this as legitimate right off the bat. So what do they want? I guess they need to interview me?"

"Yes, they'll be in touch to arrange for you to come in. But the senior investigator — a man called Philip West — said that they would come here, to your apartment, as well."

"Oh." She'd half-expected that, so it wasn't too much of a surprise.

"This guy, West, was pretty hostile, actually," Superman elaborated, and Lois gave him a quizzical look. He expanded, and she listened in amazement.

"That sounds somewhat over-zealous to me," she murmured. "Which ties in with all the rest of it — this whole thing is way over the top. There has to be more to this than meets the eye."

Superman gazed at her, frowning. "You mean someone has a hidden agenda here?"

"Could be. We know the military — or at least Trask, if he really is a maverick — regards you as a threat. Maybe this is another way of trying to get rid of you. Maybe someone's pulling strings at the INS — I wondered about that last night — and now it looks as if they have their own man on the inside too."

"It could be," Superman agreed, looking sombre. "Of course, if someone's really out to get me, as opposed to the INS just being particularly efficient, this is going to make our… arrangement even harder. We'll have to pull out all the stops to look convincing, Lois." He sighed. "I'm sorry to do this to you."

Just what would pulling out all the stops mean? she wondered, her heart doing bellyflops. Did he mean that he might actually move in? No, surely not. She just couldn't imagine Superman doing that, much though she wanted him to. Did it mean that they would be seen together publicly? That he might… might actually kiss her for the benefit of onlookers?

Swallowing as the thought of Superman kissing her made her mouth feel dry, she shook her head. "Don't apologise! I knew what I was getting into when I offered. Anyway, we'll just have to do everything we can to make it look like you live here. You'd better bring over some of your stuff… um, whatever kind of stuff you have, I guess," she finished awkwardly.

"I don't have much. Some spare suits, one or two other things, that's all," he said quietly.

"What do you sleep in?" Lois asked, then bit her lip as she realised just how intimate a question that was.

Superman looked away, obviously embarrassed, then muttered, "Not a lot. I guess it might be a good idea to get some sleepwear and leave it here, if you don't mind."

"If I don't mind?" Lois echoed, squashing down thoughts of what 'not a lot' might mean. "We're married! And we got married in order to convince the INS to let you stay here, remember? So that means that we do whatever's necessary to convince them. You need sleepwear, toothbrush, spare suits, a razor, some personal possessions — anything you can think of, and they need to be visible."

"I don't use a razor," Superman said, his tone almost abstracted. "As for personal possessions… well, I don't really have any. But I guess I can get some things," he added quickly as she gave him a curious look.

"That would be a good idea," she assured him, wondering inwardly just what sort of things he meant. "And we need to talk — I'm pretty sure I'm going to be asked all about you, so I need to be able to answer questions. As you do about me."

Lois thought Superman seemed to be uncomfortable at that, but he then drew a deep breath and gave her a determined smile. "Okay. But the problem is that there isn't a lot to tell about me. There's so much that I just don't know about myself."

That could be a problem, Lois thought. "Well, okay, maybe to begin with you could tell me why you don't use a razor?"

He smiled at that. "Heat vision. I use a mirror — reflect it off that and onto my face. I cut my hair the same way. An ordinary razor wouldn't work on me — in fact, I'd probably break it. Just like if you tried to cut my hair with a scissors, the scissors would break."

"I guess you're really strong, then," Lois mused admiringly.

"Very. You need to know how strong?"

"It couldn't hurt."

He shrugged. "I haven't yet encountered anything too heavy for me to lift. I can fly a disabled jumbo jet — and you saw me giving the Prometheus passenger transport a lift into space."

"Okay, so you can lift all known objects. You can see through things… is there anything you can't see through?" Lois asked curiously.

Superman gave her a wary look. "Do you need to know that?"

"Well, I might get asked, and it would look weird if I didn't know."

"I can't think what my ability to see through things has to do with my application to become a US citizen," Superman muttered; if Lois didn't think it was impossible, she'd have sworn Superman was sulking.

"It doesn't, of course," she said dismissively. "It's all about me proving that I know you as well as I should know the man I'm married to, if it's a real marriage."

He sighed. "Yeah, I suppose so. It's just that this is information I'd really prefer wasn't made public."

"And telling me is making it public?" Now Lois was annoyed; after all, she'd done Superman a rather huge favour, to say nothing of the way her own life was going to be disrupted for the next year at least, and he wasn't willing to trust her?

"No, but telling the INS would be," he explained. He paused, obviously thinking, then added, "Okay. Yes, there is one thing I can't see through. But even that's not information I want widely known — you can imagine what it might cause."

"Okay," Lois agreed, subdued. There was one thing he was unable to see through, and he was unwilling to tell her what it was. And yet he probably thought he'd demonstrated considerable trust by telling her even that much!

"There are things I should know about you, too," Superman said abruptly. "All the sort of things I don't know about myself — age, date and place of birth, where you went to school and college… everything like that."

He was changing the subject. Lois accepted it, but her heart sank. Even after all she'd done for him, he still wasn't willing to trust her. Resigned, she leaned forward and matter-of-factly gave him the answers to his various questions; he nodded, and she realised that he'd committed the answers to memory.

"I need to go now," he told her. "Don't worry, no-one will see me leave. And I'll come back in the morning, if you don't mind — I can bring some stuff with me then, and I'll fly you to the Planet."

"You'll fly me?" Lois echoed. "Why?" Not that she wasn't delighted at the prospect, but it surprised her.

"Do you really want to walk out of here past a crowd of reporters?" he asked dryly. "And you'll probably find the Planet will be staked out as well. If I fly you, you don't have to fight your way through all that. And your co-workers will see me giving you a ride in, and that should help to assure them that this could be a genuine marriage."

Even though it wasn't, Lois reflected silently. "I should give you that key," she said abruptly, getting up to find her spare key in the drawer of the dresser. Handing it to Superman, she bade him goodnight, almost glad to have reached the end of this strangely uncomfortable conversation with the man she was actually, unbelievably, married to.

He seemed to hesitate, then he bent his head and brushed his lips against her cheek, sending thrilling sensations shooting through her. "Goodnight, Lois. I'll see you in the morning."

A second later, he was gone, his departure so swift that she hadn't even seen him move.

***

Well, that hadn't gone too badly, Clark mused as he padded silently into his own apartment and prepared for bed. They'd made a start in working out what needed to be done to give the outward appearance of reality to this marriage. And he thought he'd managed to deal with Lois's disappointment that he wouldn't confide in her as much as she wanted.

He *couldn't*. Quite apart from whether it would be safe to tell her about the lead, he knew so little about his Kryptonian self. There were so many questions he simply didn't have the answer to. And it was definitely a bad idea to let Lois see that there was anything else to Superman other than the Kryptonian.

So they would proceed as they'd started. It was possible that their relationship could grow into a comfortable friendship; he certainly hoped so. The difficulty would be in ensuring that he never let his Super persona slip; if Lois discovered that her husband was actually Clark Kent, who knew how she would react?

But it would be okay. It *was* okay. And they could deal with the INS, as long as each of them was careful and remembered what they'd agreed.

Clark smiled as he closed his eyes for sleep. All was going to be well.

***

A noise in the living-room early the next morning startled Lois into getting out of bed, grabbing her dressing-gown and seizing a nearby table-lamp, and going to investigate. Wielding the lamp above her head, she rushed into the outer room… then stopped abruptly at the sight of Superman standing in the middle of the room.

He raised an eyebrow at her makeshift weapon before saying dryly, "If this is the 'Wife mad at husband because he stayed out late' scene, I should warn you that you're far more likely to get hurt than I am." An impish smile curved at his mouth as he finished speaking.

Embarrassed, Lois dropped the lamp on the couch. "I… heard something, and thought it might be an intruder…"

Superman frowned. "I suppose I am an intruder…"

"Of course you're not!" she insisted. "We are married, after all…"

"Yes." Again, he looked momentarily awkward. "Anyway, maybe I should have called first or something. I didn't mean to frighten you. But, you know, Lois, if I *had* been a burglar or something, that wasn't a very sensible thing to do." Now he was frowning at her in some displeasure.

"No?"

"Of course not! What if there was more than one? What if they had a gun? What if it was someone you got put away looking for revenge? You could get hurt charging out here like that!"

Annoyed now, and therefore forgetting her hero-worship in her fury, Lois glared at him. "So what am I supposed to do? Call the cops and hope they don't hear me speaking? Hope they don't get away with all my valuables because I'm too scared to chase them away?"

He sighed. "No. Call *me*!"

"Oh yeah? As if burglars or assassins wouldn't hear me yell 'Help, Superman!'," she retorted sarcastically. "Unless you can read minds or something!"

"No, I can't read minds," he said quietly. "But I'll get you something which you can use to call me. You might need me at other times too — like if the INS agents call unexpectedly. Let me sort something out."

That made sense, Lois thought, although she found, to her surprise, that she resented Superman's insistence that she should call him for help rather than dealing with any problems herself. "Okay, if you insist," she agreed, knowing that she sounded irritated.

"What?" he demanded impatiently.

Lois stared at Superman. For a moment there, he'd sounded just like… just like someone else she knew, but she couldn't place the mental image. Shaking herself mentally, she glared at him. "You're trying to run my life! Look, I've been taking care of myself since long before you landed on this planet, and I don't need a protector, okay?"

He blinked. Then, rolling his eyes, he said, "You're my wife, Lois! I think that gives me the right to protect you — especially when I have powers you don't have!"

"But this isn't — " Lois began, then bit her tongue. She'd been about to protest that this wasn't a real marriage, but that was exactly the kind of thinking they couldn't afford to indulge in. If they wanted to convince the INS, then they had to behave as if this *was* real.

She inhaled deeply, then grimaced at Superman. "Is this our first tiff?" she queried ironically.

He looked startled, then grinned. "I guess so. I'm sorry if I came across as heavy-handed, Lois. It just scares me to think of you getting hurt."

That made her catch her breath. Did he mean because she was somehow special to him — or would he feel that way about anyone? Or was he specifically concerned in case she got hurt because of her connection to him?

Did it matter why he said it? He *cared* about her. And that made her feel special. She stared at him, wide-eyed; he returned her gaze, something in his own expression making her think that maybe she'd been right the first time. He cared about *her*.

Unable to tear her gaze away, Lois began to take a step forward, closer to him, her hand beginning to stretch out towards him. She wasn't sure what she intended: to touch him, perhaps; maybe hoping that he would hold her, embrace her, give her some tangible physical demonstration that he cared for her…

But in the same instant, he broke their eye contact, stepped back and said crisply, "Anyway, I'm sorry for coming here so early. I thought it was probably better to get here early in case any reporters saw me arriving."

Disappointed, Lois shrugged. "That's okay. It's time I was getting up anyway."

He nodded. "Why don't you go and get ready? I'll get breakfast."

She retreated to the bedroom, mentally telling herself off for presuming that he might want more from her than the businesslike arrangement they'd discussed. Superman wasn't interested in her in that way. Oh, sure, he cared about her, but he cared about humanity too. He was from another planet, she reminded herself. How likely was it that Kryptonians would even be compatible with humans? He probably didn't even find her attractive.

Later, after a breakfast of fresh croissants flown in from France and some of the best Brazilian coffee Lois had ever tasted, it was time to leave for the Planet. While she was finishing her make-up, Superman tapped on her bedroom door to inform her that the apartment building was surrounded by reporters. That was exactly what they wanted.

A couple of minutes later, she was being cradled in his arms as he flew out of her window, carefully pausing so that she could pull it closed behind them. He flew around to the front of the building so that the assembled reporters could see them, then slowly climbed until they were flying over the rooftops and towards the Planet building.

"You think they got pictures?" she asked him.

He grinned. "I heard several dozen cameras clicking," he told her, his tone amused. "Didn't you see the light pollution from all those flashes?"

"Missed that completely," Lois answered. "I must have been dazzled by your amazing abilities."

He laughed at that. "That's okay; you can be dazzled around me any time. As long as you keep those famous Lois Lane wits about you when I'm not around!"

***

The Planet building was close now, and Clark could see another throng of reporters in front of the entrance. He had no intention of landing anywhere near them, though; he came lower, but stopped at the level of the large picture window on the newsroom floor. One sharp blast of his powerful breath and it opened, allowing him to fly through.

Gasps filled the newsroom as he came to land, setting Lois on her feet by her desk. It wasn't the first time he'd done that, of course, he remembered, thinking of the day he'd flown Lois back from the Prometheus transport vessel launch. But this time was different. This time, he was creating an impression of marital bliss.

As Lois found her balance, he lowered his gaze and smiled at her. The breathtaking smile he received in return almost robbed him of his composure.

"Thanks for the ride, honey," she purred softly, but in a tone which he knew would have carried at least to the closest bystanders.

"Any time," he murmured in response. He raised one had and caressed the side of her face; she slid one hand along his chest. He caught his breath; this, on top of the obvious signals Lois had given him in her apartment earlier, was too much to bear. Quickly, he dipped his head and brushed his lips against her forehead, then released her.

"I have to go," he said, struggling not to sound too abrupt. Before she could respond, he turned and flew out the window, dropping down in a nearby alley to change into Clark and head for work.

***

"You know, I thought you were kidding yesterday, Lois," Cat Grant drawled from behind her.

Lois tore her gaze away from the departing figure of her husband, now a mere speck on the horizon, and swung around to face her colleague. "Do I kid about things like that?"

Cat shrugged. "Well, I just couldn't imagine that hunk in Spandex dragging you off to the altar, out of all the women he could have had," she said disgustedly. "I mean, someone like him would want a *real* woman, not a robot married to her job who wouldn't know what passion was if it leapt up and bit her on the nose."

Lois wrinkled her nose in disgust and turned away. "I thought you were chasing Clark Kent," she tossed over her shoulder as she departed.

"Kent? Been there, done that, got the T-shirt," Cat drawled.

Lois pulled a face. She'd hoped Kent had at least some taste, and had suspected that he might have been telling the truth about the evening he'd spent at Cat's, but it seemed that she'd been wrong. Pushing him — and Cat — from her mind, she picked up the folded copy of that morning's Planet which was lying on her desk.

'Superman Married to US Citizen! INS warrant withdrawn', the twenty-four-point headline declared, above Clark Kent's byline.

It was a good story, she noted professionally. Clark had countered head-on the possible accusation that this was a marriage solely to deceive the INS, and reported that such speculation existed. He wrote that the Planet had put those questions to Superman's wife, and that she had insisted that the marriage had been under discussion before the INS's announcement that it had a warrant out for Superman. He also wrote that Lois Lane clearly cared about her husband, and that she insisted that it was no marriage of convenience.

"I also interviewed Superman about his sudden marriage," Clark's article went on. "Anyone speaking to the Man of Steel cannot help but be aware that his wife is very special to him. In fact, he asked the Daily Planet to carry a message for him. He wants to make it very clear that if any person or organisation thinks to seek to put pressure on him by threatening harm to his wife, such tactics will serve only to make him extremely angry. It was apparent that here is a man who will pull out all stops to ensure that no harm comes to his wife, but that plenty of harm would come to anyone who attempts to hurt her. Personally, I wouldn't want to get in Superman's way when he's as determined as he looked when I interviewed him."

Lois was impressed, not only at Clark's writing but at Superman's efforts to ensure that she was protected. He'd told her before they married that he would do his best to ensure that she didn't suffer as a result, and he was keeping his word. Suddenly she felt ashamed at her outburst that morning. He *was* only trying to look after her. He felt responsible for her now.

She'd simply have to educate him into understanding that she was an intelligent, competent adult, used to looking after herself.

***

The news agenda that day was still largely taken up with Superman's sudden marriage but, to Clark's relief, most of the coverage was positive. A couple of the morning talk shows had raised the question of whether the marriage was a ruse to fool the INS, but some callers had even argued that, if that was true, it didn't have to be a bad thing. "We need Superman," one man had pointed out. "So what if it's just a green card marriage? We owe it to him to let him stay. Look at all the good he's done!"

LNN's response was predictably different. Clark had managed to catch a news report the previous evening before heading over to Lois's apartment; the reporter had been extremely cynical about the marriage and had spent some time outlining the kind of tests the INS would probably use and the ways in which Superman's marriage might fail those tests. It didn't seem to have occurred to the producer that Superman might actually see the broadcast and think of ways to ensure that he managed to pass the tests, Clark thought in wry amusement as he busied himself with the day's news stories.

Though some of it was going to be difficult. Superman didn't have a joint bank account with Lois Lane; he didn't even have a sole bank account. It wouldn't be easy to persuade any bank to accept him, since he couldn't provide sufficient ID, an employer's reference or a guarantee of regular income. And as for a joint mortgage or rental agreement, that was hardly likely. He didn't want Lois to feel uncomfortable, as if he was taking over her life and that he'd have some sort of claim on her possessions when they parted. And, apart from that, what landlord would accept his name on a rental agreement? What security could he provide?

He sighed and got back to work.

A little later, the TV screens flickered into life again and the volume level increased, a sure sign that someone had identified a significant breaking news story. Clark saved his work and leaned back in his chair, hoping that this would be a big story which might divert the media's attention away from Superman and the INS. To his surprise, Lex Luthor's image filled the screen. The tycoon stood outside the LexCorp building, his hair gently ruffled by a light breeze, in front of a bank of microphones — all LNN, Clark noted cynically; Luthor clearly hadn't offered any other media organisation the opportunity to attend what was apparently an impromptu press conference.

Luthor held up a hand for silence — an unnecessary gesture from what Clark could see — and began to speak. "I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate our city's friend Superman on his marriage. And, of course, Ms Lane, whose work I admire greatly. May I wish both of them every happiness."

Barely hiding his disgust at what he was convinced was the man's hypocrisy, Clark clenched his hand around a pencil and continued to listen. "Like every other ordinary Metropolitan, I sincerely hope that this marriage is what the participants claim it is. It would indeed be a shameful thing if it was proven that Superman was attempting to deceive the INS and show disrespect for our great country's laws and procedures. However, I am sure that such a thing is far beneath the man — if I may call him that — who has done such good for our city over the past few weeks."

Luthor paused again, and Clark stared at the screen in silent incomprehension. What was the man up to? His own news organisation was doing its best to portray Superman as a dangerous interloper whose marriage was solely aimed at regularising his immigration status.

But Lex Luthor was speaking again, and Clark continued to listen. "I had actually arranged this conference this morning in order to announce that I was prepared to offer Superman legitimate employment — effectively retaining him on behalf of LexCorp, and of the city of Metropolis if the city council agreed, to carry on doing the good work which he has been doing, and to vouch for him with the INS as his employer. It seems that Superman himself has ensured that this course of action will no longer be necessary." Luthor paused, a regretful, almost disappointed expression on his face. "Therefore all that remains is for me to wish him and Ms Lane a long and happy marriage."

No questions were taken, and the screens went silent again shortly afterwards. Clark dragged his attention away from the bank of screens and back to his desk, only realising as he did so that the pencil in his hands was now reduced to shards of wood and lead. Just what was Luthor up to?

LNN's treatment of this issue had led Clark to wonder whether Luthor himself was somehow behind the INS's decision to take action against Superman. But this public act of benevolence — or at least, a declaration of benevolent intent — didn't fit with that theory.

Unless it was a calculated, sophisticated act of misdirection?

Clark glanced across at Lois — his wife — who was busily typing at her computer. On impulse, he got up and wandered across to her. "What did you think of that?" he enquired idly.

"Huh? Oh, Lex Luthor," she replied, sounding a little distracted. "That was pretty generous of him, wasn't it? At least someone else was willing to make an effort to keep Superman in Metropolis."

"Really?" Clark queried sceptically. "You don't think it's strange that Luthor's own news organisation is the most hostile when it comes to Superman and your marriage?"

Lois shrugged. "I guess that's a good sign — that LNN is pretty much independent of the views of its owner."

"You don't really believe that, do you, Lois?" Clark demanded, knowing that he sounded impatient but unable to prevent himself.

Now turning to face him, Lois looked irritated. "Why not? What else should I believe? Are you suggesting this wasn't genuine?"

It was Clark's turn to shrug. "I don't know, Lois. But I do have two questions. If Luthor is genuine about his intentions, why didn't he make this offer yesterday morning, when the INS issued the arrest warrant? That would have been the time to do it, wouldn't it? And why not make it now anyway? That way Superman wouldn't have to wait for full citizenship until you two had been married for two years." He paused, inhaling deeply. "I don't know, Lois — it just doesn't feel right to me."

She grimaced. "You may be right. *May* be, I said, remember. I'll think about it, anyway.

Clark returned to his own desk and spent a few moments wondering how he would have reacted if Lex Luthor had made that offer the previous day — not that he really believed that the head of LexCorp meant what he'd said for one minute. But if the offer had been made… a legitimate means for Superman of remaining in the US and obtaining a green card, which wouldn't involve Lois being put at risk or having to practise the enormous deceit he was now engaging in? Would he have accepted, despite his feelings about the man making the offer?

Could he — Superman — have allowed himself to be employed by Lex Luthor?

No, that was crazy, Clark recognised. He could never have done it. To imagine that Luthor wouldn't seek to control the man who'd declared himself the tycoon's arch-enemy was simply naive. And he could never allow himself — or Superman — to become Lex Luthor's puppet.

He would have had to decline the offer — and that would have damaged Superman's reputation still further in the public eye. How could he have explained turning down such a generous and apparently philanthropic, public-spirited offer?

Well, if Luthor was somehow behind all this, he'd just played a trump card, Clark acknowledged. That announcement had allowed Luthor to portray himself as a caring, decent man who had been willing to act in a very generous manner to ensure that Superman could stay and that Metropolis continued to enjoy Super assistance. Who would now believe that Luthor instead wanted to get rid of Superman?

Round one to Lex Luthor, beyond doubt, Clark thought grimly.

***

In the late afternoon Lois's phone rang. Her calls had been screened all day because of the media interest in her, so the fact that a call had got through to her suggested that it was important. Sighing, she lifted the receiver.

"Lois Lane."

"Ah, Ms Lane. Or should I say Mrs Superman?" an over-smooth male voice drawled.

"Who is this?" she snapped sharply.

"Didn't your new husband say we'd be calling?"

"It would help if you told me who you are." Lois glared at the phone on her desk.

"Oh, didn't I do that already? My apologies," he replied, too smoothly for her liking. "Philip West. I'm with the INS."

"Ah. Yes, my husband told me about you." The warmth of Lois's tone dropped several notches. "And you want to interview us, presumably?"

"Well, you in the first instance," West said. "Can you come down to the INS office this afternoon?"

"If you can promise me that the place won't be crawling with reporters," Lois answered coolly.

"Aren't *you* a reporter, Ms Lane?" he retorted.

"The Planet doesn't employ paparazzi," she informed him, before making arrangements for her appointment. As she replaced the receiver, she wished that Superman had been able to get her some kind of device for contacting him, as he'd promised; she could really use the opportunity to talk to him before this interview.

As she was tapping her pencil on the edge of her desk, a voice spoke from behind her. "Problems, Lois?"

"Oh! Clark, you have to stop sneaking up on people!" she accused. At his apologetic look, she continued, "Okay, okay. The INS just called — they want me to come in this afternoon for an interview."

"You and Superman?" he queried.

"No, just me," she answered, wondering whether she should be saying any of this to Kent.

"Ah." He was silent for a moment, then added, "You think they're trying to catch you and Superman out with inconsistent stories?"

"Wouldn't you?" she asked. "And, let's face it, Clark, no matter how well you know someone, there are always some things you don't know about them. You've watched Mr and Mrs, haven't you? You get couples who've been married for forty years and they still get things wrong about each other. And if someone *wants* to trip me up, it wouldn't be that hard to do."

Clark pulled over a chair and sat beside her. "Lois, calm down," he said reassuringly. "You'll be fine. I'm sure Superman trusts you to handle this."

"That's what's worrying me!" she retorted. More calmly, she added, "What if I say something wrong? What if something I say convinces them that this marriage isn't what it appears to be, and they arrest him? What if — " She broke off suddenly as she realised that, as far as Clark was aware, her relationship with Superman was a real marriage. She'd told him so only yesterday. And if he was given reason to believe anything different, he'd have to report it… wouldn't he?

She looked at him, eyes wide in horror. Immediately, he grabbed her hand and held it tightly. Speaking quickly, though in a low voice, he said insistently, "Lois, I would never use anything you told me as a friend to harm you in any way. I swear to you, whatever I think about what you've just said, it won't go any further."

Lois continued to stare at him. She barely knew Clark Kent; could she trust him? He hadn't repeated what she'd told him when they'd been tied up and left to die by Toni Baines, but this was different… this was big news.

But she knew she didn't have a lot of choice. "Okay. Thank you," she told him abruptly. "But I'm warning you…"

"You don't need to warn me," he interrupted her to say. "I don't need any threats to keep me in line over this, Lois." His voice was calm but firm. "I told you, as your *friend* you can trust me. And if you need someone you can talk to, any time, I'll be completely discreet." He got to his feet, pushing the chair back. "Now, I'm going to ask Perry to assign someone else to the follow-up to the Superman marriage story. Good luck with the INS — I'm sure you'll be fine. Just remember the things you've discussed with Superman. And I can't see any government agent getting the better of Lois Lane, in any case!"

He was probably right, Lois thought as he retreated. Perhaps Kent wasn't such a country dullard after all.

***

"So, Ms Lane, perhaps you'd like to tell me just how you came to meet Superman and how you two decided to get married."

Lois tilted her chin and gazed limpidly at Philip West. She'd only been in the room with him for less than five minutes, and already she'd decided that he was pretty much a sleazeball. In fact, on the scale of human evolution, she decided, he rated lower than Ralph. As such, she wasn't inclined to take him seriously at all, or give him any more of her time than was strictly necessary. But, on the other hand, this was for Superman. This nutcase, who should not be holding down any kind of responsible job let alone one which actually gave him power over people's lives, was in a position to decide whether or not Superman was granted permanent residence in the US.

So, unfortunately, Lois could not afford to antagonise the obnoxious Mr West.

"Well, I thought everyone knew the story of how I *met* Superman," she drawled, deliberately giving him a wide-eyed stare. "At the Prometheus shuttle launch. He stopped the bomb. And I fell for him, right there and then." She sighed heavily. "Love at first sight."

At that, a barely-disguised look of extreme irritation crossed West's face. His partner, Ms Roberts, gave him an alarmed look. West leaned across the table towards Lois. "He's an *alien*. You're an attractive woman. You'd have no problems getting a normal *human* to marry you. What on earth made you want an *alien*?"

This guy was seriously insane, Lois thought; listening to him, she was reminded of Jason Trask and the fact that he was still on the loose. There was another nutcase who thought the fact that Superman was from another planet was somehow dangerous to the Earth. What did these people think Superman was planning to do, for crying out loud?

"Let me get this straight," she said abruptly. "You think that there's a problem with my falling in love with Superman, simply because he wasn't born on this planet. Because he comes from Krypton. But tell me, exactly, apart from where he comes from, just what's wrong with him? Because what I see is a good and gentle and caring and a very special man, someone who will not look the other way when people are in trouble. He's saved more lives in the past three weeks than a paramedic or a police officer might do in their entire career. And he *cares* about people. It doesn't matter to him whether they're black or white or rich or poor or good or evil — they're all people to him, and he wants to make sure that they don't get hurt. So exactly what part of his character do you have a problem with?"

West glared at her. "It has nothing to do with his character, Ms Lane. What we're here to establish is whether your marriage to him fulfils the terms of the relevant statutory regulations, so that we can make a decision on whether he is entitled to permanent resident status on the basis of your marriage."

"Well, that's what I thought this was all about," Lois commented dryly. "But then you started with all this stuff about aliens. Now, either you're letting your little UFO obsession interfere with your work here, or you're trying to wind me up. I don't know which, but either way I don't think it's very professional, and I don't think the Daily Planet's readers will think it's very professional either. Do you?"

She got to her feet then, slinging the strap of her bag over her shoulder. "I think this interview is over. Ms Roberts, perhaps you could call me when you want to talk sensibly?"

Ms Roberts jumped to her feet as well, scurrying over to Lois with an expression on her face which reminded Lois of nothing so much as a frightened rabbit. "Ms Lane, I am so sorry," she began, sounding flustered. "I'm sure Mr West didn't mean to sound as hostile as you think he did. I can assure you that the INS's only interest here is in establishing the validity of your marriage…"

"Well, that was what I had hoped," Lois said briskly. "But my problem is that your partner doesn't appear to share your aims. So I think it might be best all round if you and your partner take some time out to decide what it is you really want to ask me about, and then talk to me again at a time when Mr West is happy to leave aside the question of my husband's planet of origin. Because I really don't feel that that's at all relevant here."

Before Ms Roberts, or the rabbit, as Lois was inclined to refer to her, could respond, Lois left the interview room.

***

Later that evening, in her apartment, she wondered whether she'd done the right thing. Okay, that West individual deserved everything he'd got, but she couldn't help wondering whether what she'd done would harm Superman's case. The guy was clearly on the lookout for any excuse to turn down Superman's application — Superman had told her as much himself.

Not that he'd have had much grounds to turn Superman down if Lex Luthor had made his offer of employment a day earlier, she realised thoughtfully. There wasn't a great deal the INS could have done had Superman had an employer willing to vouch for him, especially an employer with the power and reputation of Lex Luthor. That would probably have been a much better option for Superman.

<But then he wouldn't have married you> she reminded herself.

Would that really have made much difference? she asked herself cynically. She might be married to the man, but he was certainly taking her at her word as far as his behaviour was concerned. She'd told him he didn't need to worry that she would expect anything from him, and he was responding by not treating her in any way as his wife. Despite outward appearances such as the wedding ring she wore, their relationship hadn't changed in the little over twenty-four hours since she'd said 'I do'.

So Superman could have accepted Lex Luthor's offer and thereby obtained his citizenship by other, easier and faster, means.

But what if Clark was right? What if Lex had never intended to make the offer at all, and had only announced it this morning to make himself look good? But why would he do that? It didn't seem to make sense. On the other hand, it *did* seem odd that the offer hadn't been made the previous day, when Superman had been in imminent danger of arrest.

But that would suggest that Lex Luthor wasn't as philanthropic and well- intentioned as he seemed, wouldn't it? That in particular was a very difficult idea to get her head around: Luthor had been admired as much for his generosity and decency as for his wealth for many years. And yet how had that wealth been acquired? His official biography listed him as having been orphaned as a teenager, and declared him a self-made man. And he was a *billionaire*! He was the third-richest man in the world, and he was in his early forties at most.

Could all of that have been acquired entirely honestly? Even if there were no out-and-out criminal activities, was it possible that Luthor could have engaged in a certain amount of dubious business along the way? And, if so, perhaps he might not be especially keen on having someone with Superman's abilities taking an interest in his activities.

But this seemed pretty far-fetched. Superman spent his time saving lives and catching the perpetrators of violent crime. Why would anyone assume that he would take an interest in the 'victimless' issue of white-collar crime? Always assuming that Luthor had engaged in anything like that.

None of this really made sense. But one thing she'd learned about Kent in his first few days at the Planet was that it wasn't a good idea to under-estimate him. He was smarter than he'd first seemed, and he occasionally had some hunches which turned out to be accurate. So perhaps it would be sensible to be a little sceptical where Lex Luthor was concerned, in future.

It had been a difficult day, in all, and Philip West had only been the worst of several trials. She'd realised that she would become the target of media attention, and had been prepared for it; but the sheer scale of it had been frightening. She'd had to get Security to help her leave the Planet building to visit the INS; they'd refused to let her drive her own car, on the basis that it was known and could be followed. In the end, they'd got a cab company to send a cab to the Planet's parking garage without telling the company who the pick-up was. When she'd returned to the Planet later, the front of the building was still being staked out and she'd had to run for it from the cab, again with the assistance of Security. Returning to her apartment building later, she'd again had to run the gauntlet of the media. And her answering machine had been full of messages offering her money for the 'inside story' of her marriage to Superman, plus a few calls from creeps wanting a little more than a story.

Grimacing at the memory, she padded into the kitchen in search of comfort food. But before she could reach into the fridge for one of the extra-large Double Fudge Crunch bars she kept there, a now-familiar sound distracted her. She swung around to see her husband stepping into the living-room. He was carrying a bulky bag.

"Hi Lois — it's okay if I come in, isn't it?" he asked.

"Of course! You're going to have to spend a lot of time here, so you might as well treat this place as your second home," she told him.

He smiled. "Okay. I… uh, I didn't know whether you had any plans for tonight, but I brought some food — and a couple of videotapes. I thought it might be nice to have a quiet evening together."

Lois's eyes widened at this. "Uh… you rented videotapes?" she asked, then told herself off for such a stupid comment.

"Yeah… well, I don't have membership myself, but I ran into Clark Kent and he offered to help me out," Superman said, looking a little embarrassed.

"Clark?"

"Yes — he's sort of a friend of mine. Didn't I tell you?" her husband announced, taking Lois by surprise.

"Clark — a friend? But how…? I thought you barely knew anyone? You don't exactly talk to many people…"

Superman shrugged. "You know Clark interviewed me early on?" Lois nodded. She remembered that scoop; she'd been furious at the time, since she'd been searching practically every inch of Metropolis trying to find Superman and get an interview, and then Kent had strolled into the Planet with the interview which had been *her* story.

"Well, we sort of hit it off, I guess," Superman continued. "And… well, he does me a favour here and there when I need it. And I've given him a couple of interviews."

"Oh." For some reason, that information had taken the wind out of Lois's sails. Clark Kent, the farmboy geek from Nowheresville, was considered a friend by Superman?

But then she remembered that she'd come to the conclusion earlier that day that Clark was a pretty okay guy. And he'd told her that he was *her* friend too — and had made it clear that he would keep anything he'd guessed about her relationship with Superman to himself. And he hadn't told her that he was Superman's friend — which told her something about his ability to keep a secret.

"Uh… well, you know, we should invite him round some time," she said awkwardly. "For dinner or something."

To her surprise, Superman seemed uncomfortable at that suggestion. He shrugged a little and avoided her gaze, saying, "You know, I'm not so sure about that. We are supposed to be newlyweds, and maybe we shouldn't make it obvious that we want anyone else's company right at the moment. And anyway," he added, "I wouldn't want to put Clark or his family in any danger. It's bad enough that you could be at risk. If he was known to be a friend of mine…" He trailed off, and started to unpack his bag.

"Oh… I guess," Lois said doubtfully, but then her attention was caught by the items coming out of Superman's bag. There were some bamboo boxes from which delicious smells were emanating, and the videotapes. And there were also several items of clothing and toiletries. He was really aiming to give the impression that he'd moved in.

The bamboo containers looked kind of like the ones the Chinese takeout Clark had brought had come in; that was strange, Lois thought. She'd yet to find a Chinese takeout which supplied bamboo containers; most used foil cartons. But this had clearly come straight from China; the writing on the lids made that obvious. And there was no way that Clark could possibly have got his from the same place! No, he had to have found somewhere she didn't know — maybe some back-street place close to that awful hotel he'd stayed in when he'd first arrived in town. She was pretty sure that some of Metropolis's Chinese community lived in that part of the city.

It was just a weird coincidence, no more. Lois pushed the questions from her mind and turned to Superman. "You'll need to know where to put that stuff," she said awkwardly, beginning to gesture towards the bedroom. "In fact, I really need to show you around, so you know where everything is here."

He smiled. "No need." He turned around slowly in a 360-degree movement, then returned his gaze to her. "Okay, I think I can find everything now." At her puzzled expression, he grinned and gestured to his eyes. "X-ray vision and Super-speed."

"Oh. Uh…" A little disconcerted, she asked, "You want to eat now, or sort this stuff out first?"

"I'll put this stuff away. Don't worry about the food," he added with a grin. "I can heat that again in a second. You won't even notice the difference!"

This was going to take some getting used to, Lois thought as she picked up the clothes he'd brought and led the way into her bedroom. Then her attention was distracted by what she was holding. Cotton lycra sleep shorts, in bright blue… with an 'S' symbol across the front.

"Superman…?" she began in surprise; somehow, she hadn't quite expected that.

To her amazement, he blushed. "Um… yeah. I had to get something, and… well, I figured the INS agents — well, Philip West in particular — might expect something like that." She continued staring at him, almost without realising that she was doing it, and he added, "I… uh, didn't have anything to sleep in, so I had to buy some stuff. Don't worry, nobody saw me."

"Oh… did you get Clark to help you out again?" Lois asked, taken aback. Superman didn't have anything to sleep in? Did that mean he normally slept… nude?

The images which flashed through her mind at that made her blush, and she avoided his gaze, only too grateful that he couldn't read minds. Or at least, she didn't think he could…

"I'll… uh, just put these in the bathroom," she muttered, grabbing his toothbrush. "No shaving stuff?"

He shook his head. "Don't use it — I'll show you, later, if you want," he said mysteriously. "And… uh, Lois?"

"Yeah?" She turned back, standing in the bathroom doorway.

"I… uh, don't actually need to sleep. That's why I didn't have anything."

"Oh." Knowing she was blushing furiously, she swung around and shut herself in the bathroom. Behind her, in the bedroom, she heard soft laughter.

***

Much later, Clark slipped silently into his own apartment and went to bed. That evening, bringing movies and take-out over to Lois's place, had seemed like a good idea at the time, he mused; he'd noticed her awkwardness that morning, and the few moments during which she'd looked at him as if she'd expected more from him. They needed to spend time together, to get used to each other's company. It would do them no good at all if the INS came around to visit them and found them behaving like strangers.

But he hadn't anticipated that sitting next to her on her — very uncomfortable — sofa would be so difficult. He should have been concentrating on the film. And yet all he'd been aware of was the sound of Lois's soft breathing, the way her chest moved when she inhaled and exhaled, the subtle smell of her perfume, the way her hair swayed gently when she moved. He'd been sitting beside the woman he was more attracted to than anyone he'd ever met, the woman he was starting to believe he was in love with. And he had to keep his distance, because he wasn't with her as himself and he couldn't possibly come on to her as Superman.

And he'd had to remind himself, the whole time, that he was there as *Superman* and not Clark. From that point of view, he hadn't been able to relax during the entire evening, weighing every word, every action, to ensure that it didn't seem too Clark-like and that it was in character with his creation, Superman. The problem was that he'd envisaged Superman as someone who never really had any interaction with anyone; who simply flew in, helped, and flew out again. He'd never envisaged Superman having a personality!

His mother was right. This arrangement was really going to complicate his relationship with Lois — both as Clark and as Superman.

And Lois's interview with Philip West hadn't gone well either. He didn't blame her for walking out — quite the opposite, given the provocation. But her experience simply confirmed his original impression that West was going to make it as difficult as possible for Superman to gain a green card.

Getting into bed, Clark told himself that he would simply have to try harder to behave normally around Lois. Even if she did look at him sometimes as if she longed for him to swoop her into his arms and carry her off, Superman would have to remain friendly but aloof.

After all, she was married to a character who didn't really exist. He couldn't afford to add any substance to this relationship. It would be hard enough to end it when the time came, as it was.

***

The next few days passed without difficulty; Superman showed up on a couple of the mornings to fly Lois to work, ensuring that they were seen by reporters. He seemed to make a point of coming to her apartment each evening, and she was aware that he was letting himself be seen by the waiting reporters, the group of which seemed to be diminishing by the day. He rarely stayed long, however; a few minutes of polite conversation, perhaps a cup of coffee, and then he would vanish at Super-speed. That evening when they had, somewhat awkwardly, eaten and watched videotapes together almost seemed a distant, dream-like memory.

So much for her assumption that they would become close friends and perhaps even more.

But maybe that was her fault, she mused. Perhaps she was too awkward in his presence, and that made him nervous around her. Or maybe he was worried about invading her space, not wanting to be underfoot; perhaps she needed to let him know that he was welcome — more than welcome. Sure, their marriage was no more than a business arrangement, but why couldn't they enjoy each other's company at the same time?

As he'd promised, Superman had given her a device which, he said, would summon him at any time, as long as he was in the vicinity of New Troy. It was a watch which, he said, he'd got from a 'spy store' and had modified; it emitted a strong and very high-pitched noise when a certain button was pressed. The button was in a position where she could depress it without using her hand, supposing she was tied up.

"Just don't set it off accidentally, please!" he'd asked. "It's *very* high- pitched, and it's going to play havoc with my eardrums."

The watch was a little bulkier than her usual preference in such things, but she understood the need for some means of contacting Superman, so she'd agreed to wear it. Not that she was going to start pressing the button every time she ran into a spot of trouble; oh no. Lois Lane was more than capable of taking care of herself. But there could be times when she needed Superman in a hurry, and it would be useful to have a means of summoning him.

At work, the initial stunned excitement seemed to have worn off among her co- workers; intriguingly, when Superman had deposited her in the newsroom that morning, hardly anyone had looked up from their work. Even Cat hadn't felt the need to stroll up with some barbed comment or other. Her marriage hadn't even been a nine-day wonder, Lois thought with some satisfaction. This was a very good thing: if people ceased to regard it as weird and out of the ordinary, then there was a chance that public opinion would accept it as normal.

In fact, public opinion had been mixed. The day after the announcement of their marriage, a poll in the Metropolis Star had shown that 58% of Metropolitans believed that Superman had married Lois Lane only to obtain a green card. Lois had been impressed only by the fact that those answering 'don't know' was at a near-all-time low for Star polls of 12%. But three days later the sceptical percentage had slipped to 42%, with 49% of those polled disagreeing that the marriage had been entered into for immigration purposes. And a further poll showed 65% of Metropolis citizens believed that Superman should be allowed to stay legally, regardless of his marital status. Of course, the fact that Superman had saved the lives of several dozen children in a school fire a couple of days earlier no doubt hadn't hurt.

LNN was still pushing a cynical line, however; its own polling claimed to be showing that more than half of those surveyed believed the marriage to have been a cynical exercise in getting around US immigration laws and that Superman should have gone through the proper procedures in the same way as any other illegal alien. However, when challenged by the Planet to release details of the polling company used, the specific questions asked and the sampling techniques used, LNN had remained strangely quiet.

The media more generally had calmed down; reporters were no longer staking out her apartment or the Planet building, which was a relief. She'd changed her home phone number and gone unlisted, which had cut down on the number of curious, speculative and downright intrusive phone calls. The Planet was still having all her work phone calls screened, and after the first pornographic item had arrived in her mail, all her incoming post was being opened before being passed to her. Lois found these restrictions somewhat irksome, but she knew that it was better than the alternative.

Mail to her apartment was different, though: there she had to open it herself. Superman fan-mail had started arriving by the sackful; Superman had simply looked resigned when she'd told him and had taken it away — to where, she had no idea. But she was getting some mail she'd rather do without: intrusive letters asking about her sex-life and even a couple of green-penned letters calling her a betrayer of the human race for daring to get into bed with an alien. A few had praised what she'd done, however, and there had been similar letters sent to the Planet. But the unpleasant ones overshadowed the nice ones, however, and now she wasn't even opening anything unless it was either clearly a business letter or from someone she knew. Unless she recognised the handwriting or the return address, the letter got disposed of unopened.

She'd taken to doing her shopping at unusual times and in different places after her local Cost-Mart had sold a story to the Dirt Digger about what was on Superman's wife's shopping list. Even then, a photo appeared in the Metropolis Star of her dressed in sweatpants and a baggy jacket, hair tied back, coming out of a shop carrying a tub of Rocky Road ice-cream. The caption, 'Is Mrs Superman letting herself go already?!' had angered and hurt her. But she knew the media business, and she had every hope that her marriage would be one of the media's nine-day wonders. Very soon, they'd have another obsession and she and Superman would be yesterday's news.

Her family kept asking when they were going to be allowed to meet her new husband; so far she'd stalled them, but her mother in particular wasn't going to allow Lois to put her off for much longer. That was something she'd have to discuss with Superman soon; the INS would view sceptically a marriage in which the bride's family hadn't even met the groom. It wasn't as if her parents lived in another part of the world — and even if they did, she reminded herself, Superman could be there in minutes. There was no escaping the fact that she'd have to introduce him to her parents.

Within the confines of the Daily Planet, people seemed to have given up their attempts at humour; calling her 'Mrs Superman' had become old very fast. On the second day, Lois had booted up her computer only to find an 'S' symbol had been installed as her wallpaper, and that new email arrived in her inbox with a 'whoosh' sound. What was more, her screensaver had become a swirling cape, and all the icons on her desktop had been changed to display pictures of Superman. She'd rolled her eyes and glared across the room at Jimmy, then returned some — though not all — of her settings to their original state.

Clark Kent, though, had been surprisingly nice over the last few days, Lois thought as her gaze sought the newsroom newbie. Apart from the sensitive manner in which he'd handled the interview and his careful writing of the story, he'd been sympathetic and encouraging before her interview with the INS agents. And, true to his word, she'd heard gossip around the newsroom that he'd asked not to be involved in any further stories about Superman's marriage.

He'd also been quietly supportive while others were cracking jokes about Superman, asking none too discreetly about his prowess in bed and whether he looked *exactly* like a man under that Suit. On a couple of occasions, he'd caught her eye from across the room and given her a sympathetic smile, and only the previous day, after Ralph had been spectacularly crass, Clark had come across to her desk bearing coffee and a doughnut and laid them down without saying a word, before retreating to his own desk.

The farmboy wasn't such a pain in the butt after all, Lois was slowly concluding. In fact, he was a pretty nice guy. And he was also kind of cute… if you liked the type, she told herself. Nice eyes — shame about the glasses. And he certainly had broad shoulders. Good firm jawline. Pretty weird taste in ties, though. And some of his jokes were a little… tired. But other than that, he was okay. Well, all right, he was more than okay. In fact, he could turn out to be just the friend she needed. After all, she couldn't confide in Superman about how she was feeling about all this fake marriage stuff, could she?

***

At home that evening, Lois was looking through her freezer to see whether there was anything remotely inspiring for dinner when there was a sudden knock at the door. Following her usual habit, she looked through her spy-hole before opening it, and recognised the couple from the INS. Philip West and Somebody Roberts, she remembered, and she quickly depressed the call-button on her watch before admitting them.

"Ms Lane. I do hope we're not disturbing you?" Philip West said smoothly, inserting his expensively-shod foot into the doorway so that she couldn't close the door. She allowed her gaze to travel up and down, noting his long beige overcoat, his hands stuffed in the pockets, and the haircut which made him look like an army trainee.

"Well, I was about to start getting dinner, but since you're here you might as well come in," Lois said, a touch sardonically.

They followed her into the apartment, Ms Roberts standing a little awkwardly in the centre of the living-room in her smart but prim-looking navy suit while her partner, apparently quite unashamedly, began to wander around and examine the furnishings and ornaments.

"Ah… your husband isn't here?" Ms Roberts asked after several moments of silence; Lois deduced that she had become uncomfortable in the interim, although her partner clearly wasn't bothered by it.

"He's out… you know, probably helping someone somewhere," Lois answered airily. "You know, Super-hero saving the world, that kind of thing! You know, I bet if we turn on the TV we'll probably even see him!"

Philip West turned around and gazed directly at Lois; there was something in his stare which unnerved her. It was the gaze of a true fanatic. "I don't think that will be necessary, Ms Lane. Don't worry — we'll just take a look around. And anyway, we still need to interview you, if you remember, since you left so precipitously the last time."

<Yes, and you know why!> Lois thought in irritation, but decided that it wasn't worth mentioning it; it would only create a hostile environment for this interview, which wouldn't be a good idea. "Sure; ask me anything you want."

West strolled over to the kitchen area. "So how long have you lived here?"

"In this apartment? A little over two years."

"Buy or rent?"

"Rent."

"And… ah, whose name is on the rental agreement?"

"Mine, of course," Lois retorted. "You want to see it?"

"And what about your *husband*?" West asked, placing what Lois considered to be insulting emphasis on the final word.

"What about him? This is our apartment. But, since you know he's only been in Metropolis for a little over two weeks, you'll be able to figure out that he wasn't living with me when I first rented the place."

"And you didn't get his name added to the rental agreement?"

Lois shrugged. "I could. Just haven't got around to it. It's only been a few days, after all."

"But, of course, Superman isn't employed, is he?" West observed, his tone sardonic. "So he couldn't exactly pay his share of the rent, now could he?"

Lois raised an eyebrow in disdain. "Does that matter? Is there a clause somewhere in INS procedures which states that an applicant for citizenship via the marriage route must contribute to the household?" West didn't reply, so Lois continued, "Exactly. I thought not. Anyway, not that it's in any way relevant to your investigation, my husband does contribute to the household in a variety of ways."

It was West's turn to raise an eyebrow, and Lois explained. "Apart from doing his share of housework — and let me tell you, that Super-speed comes in *really* handy — he's always bringing back little surprises from around the world. Ever had croissants fresh from the patisserie? In *Paris*?" She smiled smugly. "I have."

As she said it, West's comment about Superman not having an income made her wonder exactly how he managed to pay for those little delicacies which he'd brought on several occasions now, including the take-out.

"Really?" West enquired smugly. "Hmmm… does he have an import licence for these 'little surprises,' I wonder? And what about import duties and other taxes? Genevieve, take a note of that. We should inform the US Customs Service."

Turning away from West, Lois pulled a face. Who did this guy think he was? Rodney Dangerfield?

"Oh, and there is another thing we wondered about, Ms Lane," West drawled. "We looked up your telephone account. The number is listed in your name only."

Lois sighed; this was really getting a little beyond a joke. "And you expected otherwise? Apart from the fact that we've only been married a matter of days, I really don't think it would be sensible for Superman to have his name on a phone account at all, listed or unlisted. Actually, we decided that I should go unlisted for that same reason. We can really do without crank calls."

West shrugged, but didn't comment. Instead, he gestured towards the door leading to Lois's bedroom. "Mind if we have a look around?"

They were going to anyway, whether Lois minded or not, she knew. Shrugging, she went over to open the door. "The bedroom," she informed them. "Bathroom's through there. Want me to show you anything else?"

Genevieve Roberts gave Lois an apologetic look as she followed her partner into the bedroom. "I understand that this seems like an intrusion, Ms Lane, but we do need to do it. Procedures, you understand."

Lois nodded, but didn't feel inclined to respond. Instead she watched Philip West as he prowled around the bedroom, inspecting drawers and closets and so on. He held up a pair of the dark blue shorts Superman had brought. "Your husband's, I presume?"

"Well, they certainly wouldn't fit me," she drawled.

"Where's the rest of his clothes?"

"His Suits are in the closet — you saw them a moment ago," she informed him.

"And that's all?" West sounded disbelieving.

Lois raised an eyebrow sarcastically. "Do *you* think anything else would fit under those Suits?" She had to stop herself from blushing at the very thought, but she was fairly sure that West should be embarrassed into directing his questions away from such a personal topic.

West put the sleep-shorts back in the drawer. "So tell me — which side of the bed does he sleep on?"

That was going too far. Stifling fury, Lois deliberately controlled her voice. "Actually, he floats. Did you know that? So he doesn't really need a *side* of the bed as such. And, you know, that can be a lot of fun, especially when he holds me in his arms up there," she added airily, unsure whether any of what she'd just said was feasible, but knowing for sure that West and his mousy partner were never going to get the chance to find out.

"Really." West's tone indicated that he wasn't very impressed, but Lois didn't care. His questions were getting far too intrusive; she almost expected him to examine the bed-sheets next.

Where was Superman? Hadn't he heard her signal?

Now West was pulling open the top drawer of the nightstand on the far side of the bed. She gaped at him as he withdrew a handful of little foil packets. *She* certainly hadn't put those in there!

Had Superman? If he had, then it was certainly some clever forethought on his part. But he hadn't even mentioned them to her!

He was probably embarrassed, she thought. After all, she certainly would have been. As it was, the presence of the condoms — loose, too, and not in a packet — gave the impression of an active sex life.

West dropped the condoms back in the drawer, then turned abruptly and went into the bathroom; Lois could hear him rummaging through the cabinets. Then he returned to the bedroom, looking smug. "No razor? Shaving equipment?"

Now, this one she was confident about. "You *do* know that Superman's invulnerable, don't you? An ordinary razor would shatter if he tried to use it." She walked over to the bathroom door and indicated the mirror. "That's all the shaving equipment my husband needs."

At West's bewildered expression, she added, "Heat vision. Reflected in the mirror."

"That must be something to see!" Genevieve Roberts exclaimed, clearly awed.

Yes, it must, Lois reflected. Despite offering to show her, Superman still hadn't done so.

But she was distracted then by the sound of a whoosh coming from the outer room, and she pushed past West and his partner to go and investigate. To her relief, Superman was walking across the living-room towards her.

"Hi, honey!" he said cheerfully. "Sorry I'm late back, but I had to go and help…" He trailed off, bending to enfold her into his arms for a brief hug, brushing his lips across the edge of her mouth as he released her. At the same time, she felt him press briefly against her watch, and she realised that he was shutting off the signal. She felt a twinge of guilt; that must have caused him some discomfort as he got closer to her.

Her senses swam at the contact of their bodies, but then she caught sight of a fleeting grin as he drew away. What did that mean? Was it some sort of shared amusement at the game they were playing? A reminder that his affectionate gesture wasn't real? But then she realised that he was talking to her, and she pushed aside her thoughts about his embrace and her response to it. "We've got company, Lois? Oh," he added then. "Ms Roberts? And Mr West. I don't think I knew you were coming…?"

"Surprise visit, Superman. We usually find those are most effective," West drawled.

"Ah. Well, I hope Lois managed to answer your questions. I guess you were looking around too, just to make sure that I really do live here with Lois. Oh, and were you surprised that I have so few clothes?" he asked, laughing; Lois suddenly realised why he'd been so long in arriving. He'd clearly been hovering above the apartment building, watching and listening. "I promise you, that's really all I need! A couple of spare suits is all."

"Ms Lane has been most helpful," West replied quellingly; Lois glanced sharply at him and noticed that he was staring at Superman with an expression which she could only describe as hostile. She'd already guessed that Philip West wasn't Superman's biggest fan, but this seemed to go a little beyond that. It occurred to her that perhaps West saw it as his aim to ensure that Superman was not granted permanent residence.

"We still need to interview Ms Lane, as it happens," West added coolly.

Superman shrugged. "Sure. You go ahead, honey. I'll get dinner started, okay?"

Lois remembered not to show any surprise at that, although, as she led the two agents to the table, she couldn't help wishing wistfully that her life with Superman was really as he was now portraying it. As they sat down, she saw Superman clap his hand to his forehead and exclaim, "Honey, I'm sorry! I completely forgot I was supposed to pick up the groceries! I'll be back very soon, okay?" And before she could react, he'd hurried across to her, dropped a brief kiss on her startled lips, and vanished out the window.

She smiled brightly at the INS agents. "He's always doing that."

***

Clark returned in under ten minutes; he'd wanted to be quicker, because he really didn't like leaving Lois with those agents, especially Philip West. But his brief scan of her fridge and cupboards had revealed that she was completely out of any normal fresh food, so he really needed to do the shopping. He wondered what Lois usually ate for dinner: she had no fresh vegetables, none of the ingredients which he had in his kitchen cupboards as a matter of course. Other than milk, the only thing he'd seen in her fridge was a catering-sized box of Double Fudge Crunch bars.

He was glad of the opportunity to get away for a few minutes, despite feeling guilty about leaving her alone with the INS agents. He needed to clear his head, for one thing; hovering above her apartment trying to listen to the conversation had been difficult because of the high-pitched beeping coming from Lois's signal watch. By the time he'd finally flown into the apartment, he'd had what he strongly suspected was a headache.

He also didn't like the way Philip West looked at him, as if he was some distasteful specimen of something repulsive. West, he suspected, would like nothing better than to lock him up in some high-security laboratory and do unspeakable things to him; deportation would come a poor second to West's real wishes where Superman was concerned. Clark just hoped — with little expectation of his hopes being fulfilled — that West and Roberts would conclude their investigation quickly and give him and Lois an answer one way or the other. Even if that answer was a rejection of his application for citizenship.

Stealing that kiss before he'd left the apartment had been a risk; he'd felt that the agents might expect it and it would look odd if he left with no gesture of affection towards his new wife. On the other hand, Lois would *not* have been expecting it. Still, to his relief, she'd shown no obvious surprise; what worried him was that he'd been able to feel the beginnings of a response from her as he'd pulled back. Part of him had longed to prolong the kiss — after all, the more he saw of Lois, the more he wanted her; the more deeply he fell in love with her. But he couldn't risk his entire life as Clark by encouraging her as Superman.

She was still being interviewed when he flew back in; with a cheerful "Don't mind me," he unpacked the shopping and gathered together what he needed to prepare tagliatelle with vegetables and grilled strips of chicken. He was grateful again for his X-ray vision and Super-speed, as those enabled him to find his way around Lois's kitchen as if he was accustomed to working there. Chopping food at Super-speed was second nature to him, although, realising he was on show, he couldn't resist doing it in a rather more flashy style than normal. Lois, he thought, was deliberately avoiding watching him; it wouldn't do for her to be seen to be impressed by his actions, of course. Ms Roberts, on the other hand, had a slack-jawed expression on her face at one point when he glanced in her direction and caught her staring at him.

He noticed West giving him a couple of dirty looks as the two agents continued to talk to Lois, asking her about her career and her plans for the next couple of years. Trying to trap her into saying something which sounded like Superman wasn't part of her calculations, he thought. But Lois was cleverer than that, and he smiled inwardly in approval of her answers.

She stood up suddenly, giving the two agents a broad smile. "Well, it's been really… interesting talking to you both, but I think my husband has dinner ready, so we're going to have to finish this here." Before they could respond, she was showing them to the door.

"That was well done," he observed as she walked into the kitchen area after dismissing the agents.

She shrugged. "I'd had enough of them — especially West and his insinuations. He really doesn't like you, does he?"

Clark grimaced. "I did get that impression."

"Well, I think we convinced them that we do live here together," Lois said confidently.

Clark wasn't so confident himself, but he declined to comment. Instead he smiled and said, "Sorry for taking over your kitchen, but it seemed like a good strategy. Have you eaten?"

She shook her head. "Whatever that is, it smells great!"

"Pasta." He grinned. "Hungry?"

Clark saw Lois's surprise at that and realised that she'd expected him to make his excuses and leave. That made him think about his behaviour over the past few days. She was his wife, after all — well, Superman's wife, and regardless of the reason for their marriage she did have a right to expect that he should show her a degree of courtesy. Among other things, he certainly shouldn't give her the impression that he was avoiding her.

So he suggested that she should lay the table while he served the meal, and surprised her by producing a bottle of white wine from his grocery bag. As she said doubtfully that it wouldn't be cold, he grinned at her and blew on it with his Super-breath. "There you go — perfectly chilled!"

"This is great!" she exclaimed as they started eating. "Where did you learn to cook?"

Clark hesitated; the real answer was that his mother had taught him, and then he'd improved his skills during years of travelling and living alone. But he certainly couldn't tell Lois that! He gave a self-deprecating smile. "I guess I'm just a quick learner," he told her, then diverted her by pouring some wine.

Later, he cleaned up at Super-speed, thus gaining him another grateful, admiring smile, then came to join Lois in the living-room. "Is there anything we need to discuss about the INS?" he enquired. "I was… uh, floating above for some of the time, so I heard what you said to them."

Lois shook her head. "It seemed to go okay. It looked to me like West is trying to find reasons not to give you a green card, though. So that means we have to be pretty careful."

Clark nodded. "Yes, I've thought that since I first met him. But he has to prove his case, doesn't he? He can't just allege that our marriage is fraudulent and make us prove it isn't."

"They want to interview us both again." Lois gave him an enquiring look. "From what I can tell, that's normal. But we should try to anticipate the kind of things we'll be asked next time."

"Yes." Clark thought for a moment. "Like what we do to relax. I mean, at the moment we're supposed to be newly-weds, so it's hardly surprising if we don't go out much. But what do we do when we want to go out for the evening?"

"We'd cause a riot if we went to a restaurant or to the movies!" Lois giggled. "Can you imagine it?"

She was right, he knew. "Well, if I was taking you out to dinner, for example, I wouldn't take you somewhere in Metropolis. Paris, maybe, or Mexico City, or London or Milan or Canton — why eat Chinese or Italian here when we can have the real thing?" he suggested.

Lois was sitting up straight, regarding him with interest; he should have known that the prospect of flights all over the world would appeal to her. But then she spoke, and he realised that flying hadn't been what was on her mind. "That would work just perfectly!" she exclaimed. "If people who saw us in those places happened to call their local newspaper, say, there'd be reports and even photos of us together. That can only help, can't it?"

She was right, and in that moment he resolved to take Lois out somewhere a couple of times a week, if she was agreeable. Smiling warmly at her, he said, "So where would you like to go first?"

To his surprise, she blushed. "I really don't mind, Superman — anywhere you suggest would be wonderful."

"Milan, then. The day after tomorrow?"

She nodded, smiling at him with a light in her eyes which Clark realised was dangerous in this situation. His mother had warned him… she'd asked him what Lois expected from this relationship and, blithely, he'd assured her that Lois understood. A matter of convenience, no more.

But the way Lois was looking at him now left him in no doubt that she was hoping for more.

He'd probably encouraged her to think that he wouldn't be averse to more, either, because of the way he'd hugged her and then kissed her earlier. And yet he'd only done it for the sake of appearances. Didn't she realise that? Or did she just not want to accept it?

He'd thought that they could be friends within the confines of this strange, necessary marriage. But if Lois couldn't manage to overcome her Superman crush, that was going to be impossible. This was a difficult enough masquerade to pull off as it was, being Lois's husband by night and merely a co-worker by day and never giving her the faintest indication that the two men were one and the same. But add into the mix the way he felt every time he laid eyes on Lois… There was no way he could give into those feelings. It would destroy his relationship with her as Clark, and would make this marriage impossible to maintain.

Abruptly, he got to his feet. "It's time I was leaving, Lois. Thanks for your help again tonight. I'll see you soon."

She stood up as well, facing him. "You know you're welcome, Superman. And… thank you for dinner." She was smiling shyly at him. Unable to return her smile, worried that at any minute he might lose the very tight control he was keeping on his feelings, he turned away to walk to the window.

"Superman!" She had caught his arm, and her voice sounded agitated. He turned back, wondering whether he'd forgotten something important. She was looking at him with a determined expression which gave nothing away. He paused, waiting for her to explain.

Then she reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck and straining upwards; she was going to *kiss* him! As her lips drew closer to his, Clark's head was awhirl with conflicting emotions. He *wanted* to kiss her, needed to know again how it felt to have her lips seize his in a passionate, longing kiss. But it couldn't be like this, not as Superman… this was crazy…

He reached up, grabbed her hands, and pulled them from around his neck, then stepped backwards. "No, Lois," he told her firmly.

The wounded expression he glimpsed briefly on her face before she turned away told him how much he'd hurt her. But he'd had no alternative.

"Goodnight, Lois," he said, almost curtly, then almost threw himself out of her window.

***

She couldn't even watch him leave. Blinking back tears, Lois headed straight for her bedroom, halting on the threshold as the memory of that obnoxious Philip West going through her things assailed her. But she pushed that aside. West wasn't important.

*Why* had she just done that? Hadn't she *known* that he wouldn't let her kiss him? Superman had never encouraged any kind of intimacy from her, despite their situation.

And yet, earlier that evening when he'd arrived he'd brushed a soft kiss against her lips — well, almost on her lips — and he'd hugged her. But that had only been for show, she reminded herself. Because the INS agents would have been suspicious otherwise.

But he *had* kissed her cheek a few days earlier…

This was different, she pointed out to herself. She'd tried to kiss him in a romantic way, and he'd stopped her, putting her away from him. She simply had to face it; while she was falling deeper and deeper in love with Superman every day, he only saw her as a friend who was helping him out of a difficult situation.

For all she knew, he wasn't even capable of loving an Earth woman… although she could have sworn that once or twice she'd caught him looking at her with some emotion in his eyes which could only be described as longing. She must have imagined it, she told herself dejectedly. If he was interested, why would he have rejected her just now? She'd been offering herself to him on a plate, and he had to have recognised that.

He didn't want her. Wasn't attracted to her. Wasn't remotely in love with her. Those were the facts she had to accept. End of story.

Silently, she prepared for bed, unable to prevent her mind running over the details of the evening again as she did so. He'd cooked dinner for her, and it had been so wonderful sitting together, eating delicious pasta and drinking crisp, dry white wine.

*Italian* white wine — a Pinot Grigio, Lois remembered, and a label she'd never seen before. A label in *Italian*. And, she was pretty sure she remembered, fresh tagliatelle. Had he flown to Italy for the ingredients? With a man like Superman, anything was possible, she supposed.

Then she almost dropped her toothbrush, frowning as a thought struck her. How had he paid for his shopping? As Philip West had pointed out, Superman didn't earn any money — and if he did, Lois thought cynically, West would probably try to get him arrested for working illegally too. So where did he get his money from? Come to think of it, how had he managed to pay for the take-out and videos he'd brought a few evenings ago? And, most of all, her wedding ring? She looked down at the ring again; it clearly wasn't a hugely-expensive ring, but on the other hand she didn't think it had come from Zales.

So Superman did have access to money. But how?

With his powers, Lois thought, he could get it almost any way he wanted. Oh, he wouldn't rob a bank or anything like that, but what if he *did* work somewhere — oh, in some obscure South American country, maybe, and was paid in local currency which he later exchanged for any currency he wanted? Or perhaps he dug into gold-mines inaccessible by human technology and sold the results?

And that raised another question, one Lois knew that she'd been avoiding up until now. Just where did Superman go when he wasn't with her and he wasn't off somewhere saving someone?

As a reporter, she should have asked herself that question long ago. She should have asked it of Superman on any of the several occasions now when she'd had the opportunity. This was *news* — everything about Superman was still a major story. She owed it to her career and to the Daily Planet to ask the question.

As Superman's wife, she should have a right to the knowledge. But that, she recognised, was exactly why she wouldn't ask him that question. She might be married to him, but she knew very well, and had been reminded bluntly only a few minutes earlier, that this wasn't a real marriage. Superman clearly didn't think she had a right to know anything about him beyond the little he'd already shared with her. The memory of his reaction when she'd asked him whether there was anything he couldn't see through returned to taunt her. He had no intention of confiding in her. So if she made the mistake of asking him where he spent his free time, she'd only end up being hurt because he wouldn't tell her.

She sighed and resumed brushing her teeth. She had to learn to treat Superman in exactly the way he treated her: as, in a sense, business partners and no more. She couldn't allow herself to think of him as her husband in private, no matter that, publicly, she needed to give the impression of wedded bliss. Otherwise she was going to end up getting very badly hurt indeed.

***

He wished he could have avoided hurting Lois the previous evening. If there had been any other way around it… but no. She'd tried to kiss him, and he'd had to stop her. He simply couldn't allow her to expect anything more from Superman than he was currently giving her — and even if he'd managed to exert iron self- control and not responded to her kiss, that would still have suggested that it was okay for her to be affectionate towards him.

But the real reason was that he hadn't been sure that he could have exercised such self-control. And if he'd responded, then the whole nature of his relationship with Lois would have changed, and that would have caused no end of problems…

No, he'd done the right thing. But he'd hated seeing her upset. And even today she seemed more subdued than normal. She'd said very little in the morning conference, and when he'd brought her a coffee and doughnut afterwards she'd hardly glanced at him, despite her recent habit of actually thanking him when he did things like that.

He sighed as he emerged from the restroom. There was nothing he could have done, short of simply leaving as soon as the INS agents had left, but he didn't think that would have been a good idea either. It would have appeared extremely rude, for one thing. Apart from that, he *did* need to spend more time with Lois as Superman. They needed to be comfortable together as a couple, in order to pass whatever tests the INS wanted to put them through.

Which reminded him… maybe the way he'd behaved towards Lois while the INS agents were there had added to the problem. He'd hugged her and kissed her — all for show, of course, to make their relationship look real. He'd thought she understood that. It had never occurred to him at the time to think that she might believe otherwise. But what if she had thought that his affectionate, apparently loving behaviour indicated that Superman would welcome a closer relationship? What if her attempt to kiss him was taking up where she believed he'd left off?

That would be a problem. And, no doubt, he was insensitive as well as stupid for not seeing it before. His mother would half-kill him if she knew, he thought guiltily.

Quite apart from the need for Lois and Superman to spend more time together and behave naturally in public, he needed to take urgent measures to undo the harm he'd done. Maybe Superman should call to see Lois again later, to apologise, he thought ruefully. Not that flowers would do it in these circumstances, but he could tell her that he'd never meant her to take his actions seriously and that he was very sorry that he'd inadvertently hurt her.

Automatically seeking his own desk with his gaze, he was surprised to see Lois standing there. In fact, she was bending over his desk, apparently examining something. His monitor, no doubt; Lois Lane always had to be the best at everything, and no doubt she wanted to ensure that he didn't have some scoop she knew nothing about.

But no; she wasn't looking at his monitor. He lowered his glasses a fraction and took a closer look, which wasn't easy because he couldn't get a clear view. If his guess was right, she was looking at — picking up — his keys.

*His keys*!

He'd put the key Lois had given Superman onto his own keyring! And Lois was looking at his keys!

Was his secret about to be discovered?

And just how mad would Lois be to find out that she was actually married to Clark Kent?

Well, if she had figured it out he'd better get over there pretty darned quick and head off the Lane explosion before everyone in the newsroom heard it, he supposed. He hurried down the ramp and over to his desk. She looked up as he approached, and he held his breath for the storm which was no doubt about to unleash itself over his head.

"Clark…?" she began as he came closer.

"Yes, Lois?" he answered cautiously.

"I need to talk to you." Her voice sounded oddly brittle, and his heart sank. She knew, and she was either very hurt or very angry.

He took a deep breath. "Maybe we should go to the conference room."

"Yes, I guess that would be better," she answered quietly.

He sighed with relief as she led the way across the bullpen to the conference room; at least she wasn't going to expose him in front of the entire newsroom staff.

Once in the conference room, he closed the door and leaned against it. "So, Lois… what was it you wanted to talk about?" he said warily.

She sighed heavily. "Clark, I can trust you, can't I? If I told you something as a friend, you wouldn't go and write a story about it?"

He blinked. What was she saying? Surely it should be him asking her that? "Lois, of course!" he assured her hastily. "I told you — as your friend, I'll keep any secret you want me to."

She seemed to relax then, and fell into one of the chairs. Clark came to join her, still feeling confused: did she know about him or not? Had she noticed the key on his ring?

Then he noticed that she was playing with something, in what seemed like a sub- conscious activity because she couldn't keep her hands still. Whatever this was, she was very worked up. Then he looked properly, and saw what she was fiddling with.

His business-card holder. Which had been on his desk — next to his keys.

Was that what she'd been looking at — touching? Not his keys at all?

It looked as if, in her agitated state, she'd just grabbed something to fiddle with. She *hadn't* been examining his keys!

If so, his secret was safe. His entire body relaxed in relief; but then he looked back at Lois. She was upset about something, and she wanted his help. He had no idea what the problem was, but given everything he owed Lois — and the hurt he'd caused her — there was no way he would refuse her right now.

He reached out and gently took the card-holder from her nervous hands, retaining one hand in a firm grasp. "What's up, Lois? How can I help?"

She sighed, looking down at the table; then she raised her gaze to his. "Those INS agents came to my apartment last night."

Schooling himself to give no hint of anything other than concern, Clark returned her gaze. "Oh? Uh… how did it go? Did they upset you?"

She shrugged. "A little. I guess I should have expected that they'd look through my — *our* — things, but I wasn't prepared for how it would make me feel."

He squeezed her hand. "I can imagine. It sounds awful." He paused for a moment, then said carefully, "Was Superman there?"

"Not at first. He was… on a rescue somewhere, he said. Anyway, they didn't really want to talk to him, so after a while he just went into the kitchen and got dinner while they interviewed me."

"Was the interview an unpleasant experience?" Clark asked. "Is that why you want to talk about it?"

Lois shuddered. "No, not that — well, not directly. It's just that… well, one of the agents just creeps me out. He seems to have some sort of personal vendetta against Superman, and it seems to be based purely on the fact that he's an alien. I never told you how my first interview with them went, did I?" Clark shook his head. "I walked out," Lois continued. "He talked about how I'd married an *alien*, and made it clear that, in his opinion, no respectable human would even consider doing that. And the way he looked at me last night when they were in my bedroom… I could see he wanted to ask me about my *sex* life and whether I wasn't sickened doing *that* with an alien." She pulled a face. "His attitude made me feel pretty sick."

"I can understand that," Clark said softly, again squeezing her hand gently.

"Not that I answered him, of course. That's none of his darned business!"

"No, it's not," Clark agreed.

"It's as if Superman being from another planet makes him some sort of *freak*, Clark! How can he say that?"

Clark grimaced. "Quite easily, I guess. I mean, Superman *is* from another planet, and for anyone who's in any way prejudiced, that's not a good thing. I guess it's a little like people who still oppose inter-racial marriages." Lois's anger at West's attitude to him gave Clark some measure of comfort. But he still felt a leaden weight in his stomach at the thought of someone like the INS agent taking that kind of attitude to him simply because he was from another planet.

But Lois glared at him and snatched her hand away. "You mean *you* think it's weird, too? You think I'm crazy to marry an *alien*?" She sounded furious, and Clark immediately grabbed for her hand again in an instinctive gesture of rejection and reassurance.

"*No*, Lois! No, I would never think that. Superman may be an alien, but that hardly matters. He seems to be human in every way that counts, from what I can tell, and anyway, I would never condemn someone just because of a characteristic they can't help!" He paused, breathing heavily, then added, "Remember, I was just as annoyed at Trask as you were."

Lois nodded. "Yeah, I remember. And… Clark, Trask. That's why I wanted to talk to you. I… it occurred to me that maybe Trask's the one behind this?"

"Behind this?"

"Yeah. Well, someone has to be!" Lois insisted. "Why would the INS overnight decide it wanted to take an interest in Superman? And, obnoxious as Philip West is, I don't think he has the clout or intelligence to do this himself."

Clark stilled. Could this be Jason Trask? Lois was right: it *was* very strange that the INS had suddenly decided that Superman was illegal and needed to be dealt with. Although, he reminded himself before he got too carried away with Lois's conspiracy theories, the announcement had come right after Superman had outed himself as being an alien, so that wasn't too coincidental.

But even if the INS investigation wasn't part of some conspiracy, was it entirely a coincidence that he'd got landed with an agent who wouldn't be out of place as part of Bureau 39? Philip West was paranoia incarnate. Surely someone with views as extreme as his couldn't possibly hide them from his co-workers? And who in their right minds would put an agent in charge of a case who was likely to be prejudiced against the applicant from the start?

Which made him think of something else. What if he appealed? Claimed that one of the agents handling his case was overly prejudicial?

He leaned towards Lois. "What if Superman was to make a complaint? He could tell this West's superiors that the guy is openly prejudiced against him. You might get a different officer assigned to the case."

She was silent for several moments. Then, shaking her head, she replied, "I'm not sure that would help. It would only make him — us — look like troublemakers. And I think it would be far more effective if he complained afterwards, if they turn us down. That would show that we tried hard to make the best of it, even with a difficult and possibly prejudiced officer. But it's a good thought, Clark!" she added; Clark thought she sounded as if the notion that he might have a good idea had never occurred to her before.

"So in the meantime you just put up with West?" Clark asked; he was playing for time, because Lois's question about someone being behind all this was bugging him. Part of him wanted to leap on it as an explanation, but his rational side was warning him against what he was pretty sure could well be a flight of fantasy by Lois.

Lois shrugged. "I guess. But that isn't important, Clark! We need to find out who's behind this. If it could be Trask."

"We?" he queried, still stalling. It was a legitimate question, all the same, he thought; as much as he — Superman — wanted to know what Lois was thinking and what, if anything, they could do about it, he knew very well that this had nothing to do with their work at the Planet. Apart from anything else, he'd promised her that he — Clark — wouldn't report on any other stories about her marriage to Superman.

"Oh, well, if you're not going to help me…" she snapped, pulling her hand back and beginning to rise from her chair.

Clark instantly stood and placed his hand on her shoulder, pushing her back. "Lois, of course I'll help you. I guess I just need to know what you want. And if Trask is behind this, believe me when I say I want to see him get what he deserves as much as you do. I haven't forgotten that he pushed you out of a plane — he'd have killed you if…"

"If Superman hadn't heard me yelling. I know," Lois said, sitting again. "And he pushed you out too, don't forget," she added distractedly. "Okay. But this is just between us, okay? *If* there's anything worth reporting, then we share the byline. But I get a veto on what we write. Okay?" In her anxiety, she seemed on the verge of becoming frantic.

Well, naturally Clark didn't have any problem with that. But he was well aware that Lois would expect him to object, so he pursed his lips and looked dubious. Then, as she seemed prepared to argue, he smiled. "Sure. After all, the story isn't the most important thing here, is it?"

Looking surprised, as if she hadn't expected him to see it that way, she nodded. "No. Getting Superman's green card is. So… we need to find out who's pulling strings here. *Could* West have engineered the INS investigation on his own? I mean, if he was somehow associated with Trask?"

"Well, what's his position?" Clark asked. "Isn't he just an investigator?"

"Senior investigator," Lois clarified dryly. "But still… you're right, he's not senior enough to start this whole thing off. So maybe he's just one of Trask's contacts within the INS. After all, someone had to assign West to the case."

"So do we have any contacts in the INS who could find out what's going on for us?" Clark suggested.

"Maybe," Lois answered slowly. "I mean, I don't, but I know someone who used to work for them — not in Metropolis, but upstate." She slapped her forehead. "I can't believe I didn't think of talking to Maria before now!"

"Well, you said she used to work there. Can she still help us?"

Lois shrugged. "She only quit just over a year ago, and that was to go back to college to do a Masters, so I don't think she left on difficult terms or anything. I'll give her a call later."

That was fortunate, Clark thought. Then, thinking that he should make some gesture of concession to Lois's married state, he said, "Have you discussed any of this with Superman? What does he think?"

He was unprepared for the look of hurt which crossed Lois's face before she looked away. "Lois? What is it?" he asked quickly, cursing himself both for asking a question to which he *knew* the answer, and for his behaviour as Superman in shutting her out. She didn't deserve it; not after all she'd done to help.

He needed to do better. And he resolved that he'd make a start when he took her to Milan for dinner, as he'd promised her.

She shrugged. "Nothing." Then, as he gazed at her helplessly, wondering whether to pursue it, she grimaced and added, "Come on, Clark, you know the way things are between Superman and me. I know you weren't fooled by the official story."

Clark stilled at her words. He wasn't sure whether to be flattered that Lois was actually confiding even further in *him*, her unwanted new colleague, or alarmed that she was discussing private details about Superman with someone else. After all, she wasn't to know that he was the safest person that she could possibly choose to discuss Superman with.

After a moment, he said awkwardly, "Well, it's not really any of my business." But the instant flash of disappointment across her face, replaced very quickly by a shuttered expression and a studious refusal to meet his gaze, told him that she felt let down by his response. "I mean, unless you want to talk to me about it," he added quickly. Apart from anything else, he reminded himself, if she talked to him then she'd be less tempted to confide in anyone else — her family, or Perry, for instance.

And maybe there was another reason why he should talk to her about this. She clearly wasn't happy with the way he'd been handling this marriage business so far, and he knew with a guilty, sick feeling in his stomach that she was right not to be. He knew he'd hurt her by his rejection the previous evening, though he still felt he'd had little choice. Perhaps, if she told him about that, he could suggest to her that Superman's rebuff didn't mean that he wasn't fond of her; just that he didn't want to complicate their relationship. And he could also try to find out just what Lois expected from the relationship. Even though she'd made it clear when she'd proposed the marriage in the first place that she wasn't expecting anything, it was clear that she wanted *something* from her pretend husband. This would be a good opportunity to find out.

He stifled the twinge of guilt he felt at using the fact that Lois didn't know he was Superman to worm information out of her. It was unethical, and it was unfair to the woman he'd told, earlier, that she could consider him a friend she could trust. This was important. She'd been a good friend to him as Superman, and clearly he was being unfair to her in return. If there was a way in which he could make this pretend-marriage easier for her, without giving in to her obvious wish for him to make the relationship real, he wanted to know about it.

"You're right," he said softly. "I did guess. But you did a darned good job of defending it, you know. And the way you've avoided the media, instead of going on all the chat shows and gushing about what a wonderful marriage the two of you have, really reinforced the impression that it's real."

"It did?" She turned to him, looking very surprised. "I just couldn't bear it, Clark. And Superman didn't want it to become a media circus, so…"

"It's reverse psychology," Clark explained. "People are saying that if it had been a fake marriage, to fool the INS, you'd have been out there in front of the cameras as much as you could, convincing people that it's genuine. And yet you let it be known that you wanted privacy. That's being interpreted as a couple very much in love who just want to be alone. You know, even Perry's wondering whether he should offer you a few days off…" He trailed off, realising that Lois had stopped listening.

"A couple very much in love," she repeated bleakly. "If only that was true…" Then she seemed to realise what she'd said and stopped herself. "Oh, ignore me, Clark. I'm just feeling a bit sorry for myself, that's all." She began to get up, but he made a gesture to stop her.

"Lois, don't. Wait," he urged. "You wanted someone to talk to. Well, you can talk to me — and I guarantee that you can trust me. I will not repeat anything you tell me to anyone else." She hesitated, then nodded and resumed her seat. "Look," he said after a moment, "we can't really talk about this here. It's lunch-time. How about I treat you to one of those low-cal lemon chicken mayo bagels you like so much?"

He could see the temptation on her face, but after a moment she shook her head. "I can't, Clark."

"Why not?"

"Why not?" she echoed incredulously. "Haven't you noticed the sleazeballs in their dirty macs who still hang around in front of this place every day? Don't you know I still get followed to and from work, and even to the grocery store? Only this morning — " She broke off and swallowed roughly. "Only this morning, I stopped to buy some… some chocolate bars and some guy from the Dirt Digger ran up and shoved his tape recorder in my face and asked if Superman was a Super- stud in bed!" She shook her head. "I can't go anywhere without being seen, Clark, and if I even just went to the deli with you I'd be followed and they'd be eavesdropping on everything we talked about."

Clark stared at her in stunned silence. How could he not have realised that was happening to her? That she was a focus of media attention every bit as much as Superman was, but with a difference — she didn't have another identity to which she could revert to get away from it. Was he so oblivious to what was going on around him? — worse still, was he so uncaring about the woman who had married him to help him stay in the country?

He'd somehow assumed that she'd offered to marry him because of her crush on Superman; that, no matter how much she'd assured him she wouldn't expect anything from him, she secretly hoped it would bring them closer. As it would, in a way. But this was different. It wasn't hero-worship which was making Lois carry on with this, even if that had been her motivation at the start. She was making an enormous sacrifice for him. Not only was she giving up any possibility of dating or getting romantically involved with a man for the next couple of years, but she was giving up her *privacy*. She had virtually no private life left. Because of him. And he hadn't even realised it.

She was being an even greater, more loyal friend than he'd realised. And he'd blithely accepted it, unquestioning.

He suddenly felt incredibly selfish for never having thought to ask her whether everything was okay. Of course she wouldn't tell him. She was still somewhat in awe of Superman, as well as having a crush on him — it wouldn't occur to her that she should tell him that she was having trouble with the media still, let alone that she should expect him to do anything about it.

Well, he would do something about it. For now, though, Lois needed a friend, and he was going to help her escape this oppressive siege, even if it was only temporarily.

"We can get you out of here without them seeing," he said firmly. "Trust me?"

She nodded, looking taken aback and suddenly very unsure.

"Back in a minute." He got up and left the room.

***

Why had she just told Clark all that? Lois asked herself in amazement. It wasn't as if he was even a close friend! Oh, sure, he'd told her that she could consider him a friend and that nothing she told him would go any further, and oddly enough she believed him. But Lois Lane simply wasn't in the habit of confiding in people. The closest she ever came to confiding in anyone these days was with her sister, and that was usually only because Lucy refused to take no for an answer. And even those minor shared confidences had diminished since Lucy had moved out of her apartment and away.

But she couldn't tell Lucy about the true nature of her relationship with Superman. How could she begin to explain it? And Lucy would never keep it secret. She was just not capable of it; while she'd genuinely intend to respect Lois's confidence, somehow it would slip out when she least expected it. And gradually all of her family and friends would know that Superman's marriage to Lois Lane was not what it seemed. Or that it *was exactly* what it seemed, depending on one's perspective on the matter, Lois thought bleakly.

She was a little cheered at Clark's assurance that, in fact, people were coming around to believe that the marriage was genuine. That was certainly a surprise, though his explanation about reverse psychology was very persuasive.

But why had she confirmed to him that the marriage was a fraud? And how could she tell Superman that she'd done it?

On the other hand, she reminded herself quickly, Superman himself admitted that Clark was a friend. It was entirely possible that he wouldn't mind, that he might welcome a friend to talk to himself. Maybe he was already confiding in Clark.

She grimaced then as the image hit her of Clark being the secret confidant of both herself and Superman. Would Clark take his promise to her so seriously that he wouldn't tell Superman that he was also talking to Lois? And what if Superman was already confiding in him? Did that mean that Clark already knew about her hugely embarrassing — no, mortifying — attempt at kissing Superman the previous evening?

She hid her face in her hands, hoping that wasn't true.

Then the door re-opened and she saw Clark. He was carrying her purse and coat, and immediately handed them to her. "I've told Perry we're going out. He's arranging a diversion for your admirers out front," he added dryly.

"Diversion?"

Clark grinned then. "Yeah. He's sent someone down to ask Security — loudly — to call a cab for Ms Lane and to be on hand to make sure she gets into it safely. And to make sure that she gets to her appointment at Hair And Now safely."

"A *hair salon*?" Lois almost choked.

Clark grinned again. "Told you it was a diversion! And he's even got Claire from Admin ready to pretend to be you. You're going to get into the elevator with her, and you'll give her your coat. She'll throw it over her head and shoulders and run out, and the gutter-press will think she's you. *You*, in the meantime, will go on down to the parking garage, and I'll meet you there."

He really had it all worked out! Lois stared at Clark in admiration, then realised the flaw in his plan. "They all know my Jeep." She grimaced. "I guess I should swap it for a more anonymous-looking car — some sort of Ford, I suppose."

But Clark held up one hand, and she saw a key-fob dangling from his index finger. "Perry loaned me the Planet company car," he explained.

Five minutes later, Lois was crouched on the floor of the unremarkable sedan car which was owned by the Planet and used mainly for stake-outs, while Clark drove out of the parking garage and away from their workplace. He ignored her completely for the first few minutes, then slowed and called back to her, "You okay there?"

"Yeah," she said, laughing. "Clark, I never knew you had such a talent for intrigue!" He still hadn't told her where they were going, she realised, but she had no concerns whatsoever about their destination. He'd assured her, when they'd met up again in the parking garage, that she wouldn't be seen by any reporters, and she believed him.

"Oh, there's a lot you don't know about me!" he assured her, turning his attention back to driving.

A few minutes later, she felt the car halt and heard Clark apply the parking brake. Moments after, he opened the rear door to allow her to climb out. Then she realised that they were in front of his apartment building. "Your place?"

He shrugged. "I promised you no reporters. Well, present company excepted." He frowned. "Do you have a problem with being here? We could probably go to somewhere around the corner…"

"No, here's fine," Lois announced, and promptly slid her hand through Clark's arm. He seemed to still momentarily at her gesture, but then led the way up the steps to his apartment.

It was hardly surprising that Clark was taken aback, though, Lois thought as she walked with him. After all, barely a week ago she'd treated him as if he wasn't quite worth her notice; she'd been alternately patronising and dismissive of him. Yet here she was, relying on him as if he was a valued friend, and being openly affectionate with him.

And yet…

She couldn't explain it, but there was something about Clark which just seemed to draw her to him. Oh, not in a romantic sense — how could it? She was in love with Superman, after all! But there was something about him… Over the past few days, she'd come to recognise that there were qualities about Clark which were very rare these days. And chief among those qualities were very strong senses of loyalty, honour and decency. She could *trust* Clark Kent.

So she followed him into his apartment, noting how nice it looked now that he'd done it up and marvelling at the difference between the spacious, airy and bright loft-style appearance of it now, and the dingy, filthy way it had looked when she'd first seen it. He suggested that she make herself at home, but she accompanied him into the kitchen and watched him as he gathered together ingredients for lunch. *Fresh* ingredients. Bread which looked as if it had been baked that morning. Vegetables which weren't over a week old and shrivelled. Fresh herbs. A lettuce which was crisp and green.

The contrast with the contents of her own cupboards and refrigerator was, she knew, striking. She really needed to shop more sensibly. Even Superman had noticed that — she'd worked out that the reason he'd gone shopping had to be that he'd X-rayed her refrigerator and realised that she had nothing he could use to prepare dinner with.

Five minutes later, she was sitting with Clark at his small dining table, eating what was one of the best sandwiches she'd ever tasted. He poured coffee from a pot, passing one cup over to her. "Sorry it's not lemon chicken," he teased. "I could have gone to the deli down the road, but we don't really have much time."

"This is delicious!" she assured him. "Where did you learn to make sandwiches like this? Most men I've known would just hack off a lump of meat or cheese, stick it in a sub, and drown it in mustard or mayo. That's *if* they made it themselves in the first place!"

Clark smiled. "My mother's an excellent cook — and I'm an only child. She kind of saw it as her duty to make sure I could look after myself. Then I went away to college, and after that I travelled for a couple of years before I came to the Planet, so I got pretty self-sufficient."

It struck Lois that on two successive days she'd asked men she knew where they acquired their culinary skills. That was a bit weird; but it wasn't important. "Your mom did a great job," she told him, grinning and taking another bite of her sandwich.

This was *nice*, she realised after a while. Although it was only barely a week since her marriage to Superman, she hadn't been able to do anything normal apart from go to work in that time. Just sharing lunch with a co-worker and friend was such a treat. She just hoped that no-one had managed to track her to Clark's apartment; that really wouldn't go down well with the INS. After all, she was with another man — the fact that he worked with her wouldn't count, as far as they were concerned. She could just imagine Philip West pointing out that her partner was actually a pretty handsome guy, so wasn't she in the least attracted to him? After all, he wasn't an *alien*…

She grimaced inwardly and pushed that thought from her head. She wasn't going to spoil this by thinking about that nutcase, West. And sure, Clark *was* a good- looking guy… *very* attractive, she admitted to herself. Cat, of course, had noticed just how good-looking Clark was, and hadn't hesitated to make her move on him, Lois remembered with a cynical curl of her lip. It had been *embarrassing* hearing Cat boast of her conquest, both over the telephone and just the other day in the newsroom.

Although… now she thought about it, hadn't Clark denied that anything had happened? At the time, she'd dismissed his protests, claiming that she wasn't remotely interested. But what if he'd been telling the truth? Somehow, the man she was sharing lunch with just didn't seem the type to play Tarzan and Jane with Cat Grant.

Clark appeared to be a genuinely nice guy, the kind of guy she'd thought simply didn't exist any more. But that was irrelevant here. She was married to Superman, and thus out of the dating game for some considerable time to come. Which wasn't relevant here anyway, since she wasn't interested in dating Clark. No way. After all, he worked with her, and it would be just stupid to get involved with someone from work ever again.

As she swallowed the last bite, Clark poured some more coffee. "You ready to talk?" he enquired.

Talk…? oh yes, the reason she'd gone with Clark in the first place. Lois felt momentarily hesitant; after all, it would be disloyal to talk to Clark about Superman. And anyway, it was all her own fault; why should she have expected Superman to offer more than he'd promised?

But the concern in Clark's brown eyes made her change her mind again. "It's… oh, it's probably nothing really. I'm just… well, finding this all a little more difficult than I thought it would."

"Because of the media attention?" Clark asked.

She shook her head. "Not really. Oh, that's annoying, and I could do without it. But it would be easier to cope with if…"

"If?"

How could she say this without making herself sound like some stupid groupie? "Oh, I guess if Superman was a little… a little more, oh, I don't know, co- operative, maybe. A little friendlier." Though even that didn't express what she wanted to say, Lois thought, sighing.

"Friendlier?" Clark asked. "You mean he's stand-offish? Unapproachable?"

"Kind of, sometimes. A few nights he just came so that people could see him fly into the apartment, then he left at Super-speed pretty much immediately. Last night was nice — we had dinner, he stayed after and we talked… but then he went cool and distant again." She halted abruptly before she could mention her attempt at kissing him.

"So you wish he'd spend more time with you? Relax a bit around you?" Clark asked, and she felt herself relaxing with him still more. He understood what she meant, and that helped a lot.

"Yeah, that, mostly. And…" She needed to say it, to tell someone. "And I wish he wouldn't react like he'd been stung if I touch him!"

Clark frowned. "You mean he does that in front of other people?"

"Oh, no!" Lois corrected immediately. "He was great when the INS agents were there. But… well, we're *married*, and I know it's only for the INS, but still… well, does he *have* to act like I'm going to drag him off to bed if I so much as come within two feet of him?!" She stopped again and stared at Clark in horror, amazed that she'd actually told him that.

Clark seemed equally shocked. He was silent for several moments, then he asked, incredulously, "Does he really act like that?"

She nodded. "Well, it looks like it to me. I mean, okay, I… I do have kind of a crush on him," she admitted miserably. "But I know it's never going to go anywhere, and he doesn't feel anything like that for me, and anyway, he's from another planet so who knows whether he even finds Earth women attractive — "

"Come on, Lois, you don't know any of that stuff!" Clark exclaimed, interrupting her. "Look, I know he likes you, if it's any help."

"He *likes* me," she echoed dully. Was there a word which embodied a more lukewarm emotion?

"Yeah!" Clark repeated, with a degree of enthusiasm which Lois suspected was intended to make her feel better. It didn't really, but then she acknowledged that the fault was her own. She should never have hoped for more. Not commenting, she reached for her coffee-cup and drank.

"Lois, what were you expecting from this marriage?" Clark asked, his tone gentle. "I mean, you obviously knew at the outset that it wasn't going to be a real marriage, but what did you think it would be like?"

She shrugged awkwardly. "I don't know really. We didn't have a lot of time to think it through. I guess I knew he wouldn't be moving in, not that I know where he goes when he's not out doing Super things, but I sort of thought I'd see more of him than I do. I mean, I thought we'd get to know each other. Spend some time together… as friends, I mean. I thought he might actually decide that he trusts me — after all, I'm the one who's turned my life upside down and put myself at risk of an INS prosecution for him. Why would I do that if I'm someone who can't be trusted? Does he really think I'm going to run to the Planet and write up every little thing he tells me? He doesn't even seem to realise that I've put myself out of the running for Superman stories these days! — how can I write about my own husband without it looking like a conflict of interest?" She broke off, realising that she was getting more upset than she'd intended, then added quietly, "I guess this has been bugging me for a few days now. Sorry, Clark."

"Don't apologise, please!" he said instantly, his expression genuinely concerned. "Lois, you needed to talk about this. It's just… a real pity that you couldn't talk about it with Superman."

"I guess," she muttered. "It's not easy talking to him, though."

"You have to try," he insisted. "You never know. Give him another chance. I know it looks pretty bad for him, but maybe he never realised you felt this way. I guess that makes him pretty insensitive, but… well, men do have that reputation."

Men in general did, but Clark seemed to be the exception to that rule, Lois thought, surprised. Touched by his concern, she reached across the table and touched his hand. "Thank you, Clark. I don't know whether you're right or not, but it's really helped to talk to you about this."

"Any time," he assured her, then got to his feet. "I think it's time we got back to work."

***

After leaving Lois to make her own way up to the newsroom in the elevator, Clark stood at the bottom of the stairwell and cursed himself silently. How could he have been so grossly insensitive? Lois was right: she'd done so much for Superman. And what had Superman done for her in return?

Nothing.

He'd even been suspicious of her motives, wondering if she'd seen this marriage as a way of making herself indispensable to the Super-hero. Sure, she had a crush on Superman — she'd admitted that — but did that matter? She'd done a great job of hiding that and treating him as a friend whenever he visited her. Okay, she'd tried to kiss him last night, but would that really have been such a bad thing? He could easily have deflected it and allowed her to kiss his cheek instead. He could have hugged her, or given her some other affectionate gesture which showed her that he *did* care about her and appreciated what she was doing for him.

Instead, he'd let her believe that he didn't trust her and barely liked her.

It was time to do something about that — in fact, there were several things he needed to do, and one of those would be put in motion once he got back to his desk.

He paused, however, as he prepared to walk up the stairs. He needed to show Lois that Superman trusted her. What better way to do that than to entrust her with his secret, that Superman was really Clark Kent?

He'd trusted her enough to marry her so that he could work at gaining US citizenship for Superman. That was motivated entirely by his own self-interest — oh, and his desire to help others while having a normal life and protecting his parents. But Lois's hurt tirade in his apartment had pricked his conscience. What *was* she getting out of their arrangement? Nothing at all. And yet she'd given up her freedom, had to put up with a deeply offensive INS agent, was at the mercy of the media and anyone else who cared to act as if she was public property, and the marriage was even affecting her work.

Didn't he at least owe her the truth? She'd proven that she could be trusted. Lois Lane was an honourable woman, despite her attitude of 'anything goes, as long as you get the story'. She had a strong sense of loyalty, and once she'd given her word she wouldn't break it. He should tell her.

And yet how could he tell her now, after she'd confided in Clark about Superman's behaviour? Wouldn't she consider that an even greater betrayal of her trust?

Probably.

Undecided for the moment, he went up to the newsroom and spent some time writing, before printing out his document and walking to the men's room.

Bare seconds later, Superman flew into the newsroom.

***

Lois looked up in shock as she caught sight of a familiar shade of blue Spandex. It was her husband. He'd somehow materialised in the middle of the newsroom; in fact, in front of her desk.

He smiled at her. "Hi, honey. You don't mind me dropping in to see you, I hope?"

"I… uh, no!" she stammered.

He held out his hand to her, and she got to her feet. "I can't stay long. I just wanted to ask your editor a favour, but I couldn't come and go without seeing you."

It was an act, she told herself. Purely for the benefit of those watching; but the warm expression in his eyes made her long for it to be real. And she really wished he'd stop giving her such mixed signals; it wasn't doing her confused emotions any good at all. She was still hurt and embarrassed after his rejection the previous evening, as it was.

But she supposed he had little choice, in the circumstances of the newsroom; swallowing the lump which threatened to rise in her throat, she looked straight at him and smiled. "I should hope not!" she exclaimed, laughing and hoping she didn't sound too nervous. It was important that everyone in the newsroom believed that this marriage was as genuine as it was supposed to be.

He drew her closer to him, his hands resting lightly on her slim waist. "I shouldn't keep you from your work for too long," he said, his tone regretful. "So this will have to do for now…" Bending his head, he kissed her cheek lingeringly.

Startled, Lois put her hands on his shoulders to steady herself; he smiled and, without straightening, drew one of his hands up to press against her back, pulling her closer to him. His face rested against hers briefly, then he released her and stepped back.

"See you later, Lois," he murmured, then turned to head for Perry's office.

Lois groped for her chair so that she could sink into it. What had just happened here? Superman had just held her far more intimately than any way he'd done before. Okay, the kiss had been an apparently-innocent peck on the cheek, but his lips had lingered. And the way he'd looked at her… the expression in his deep brown eyes had been admiring, caring… She'd wished that they were alone, so that she could press her body even closer to his and pull his lips down to hers, to find out how it felt to be kissed properly by Superman. And it would be a totally blissful experience, she felt sure.

Could this all have been a pretence, for the benefit of her co-workers? If so, then he was a far better actor than she'd taken him for. And he was still giving her mixed signals. Total rejection last night; warm invitation now.

She shook her head. It was obviously all for show, just as last night's kiss had been. There was no point in imagining anything else. She'd just have to get used to it; after all, Superman hadn't asked her to fall in love with him.

His reason for being at the Planet sank in suddenly, and she wondered what his business was with Perry. But he exited the editor's office a few minutes later, gave her a warm smile, then disappeared through the window.

Lois was vaguely aware of Clark emerging from the men's room a few seconds later as Perry came out of his office.

"All right, listen up everyone. Superman just came in to ask me a favour, which I agreed to do because this is news. He intends to hold a press conference downtown in half an hour, and he asked me to send out his press release to the city's media. I've arranged for that to be done. This sounds like it could be big news — it's the first time he's formally spoken to the press. Now, who's going to cover it for the Planet?"

Lois tried to catch Perry's eye, but he shook his head. "Not you, Lois. You know you can't do it. Clark?"

"Uh… I can't, Chief. I have an appointment across town in twenty minutes," her colleague said regretfully. "I can't rearrange it."

Perry looked irritated, but delegated the task to another couple of reporters, then went back into his office. Lois followed him.

"Chief, do you have any idea what this is about?"

Perry looked up, surprised. "I would have asked you that question, except I'm trying to help you keep your private life separate from Planet business."

"He didn't mention it to me," Lois admitted, feeling shut out again.

Perry watched her for a moment, then suggested, "Maybe he's trying to do the same as I am, honey — that never occur to you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know that your being married to him puts you in a difficult position. Superman's still the biggest news story in town. And you're his wife, so you can't really hustle him to get exclusive interviews or anything else. I guess he doesn't want to put you in a position where you have to choose between your job and your husband. It's pretty decent of him, actually."

Surprised, Lois stared at her editor. "That's… an interesting way of looking at it, Perry. But I'm surprised that you're so understanding — I didn't think you liked Superman."

Perry's eyebrows shot up. "What on earth gave you that impression? Oh, you mean because I wouldn't throw the Planet behind a campaign to waive normal visa requirements for him? That had nothing to do with my personal opinion of him. As it happens, I think he's done a heck of a lot of good for Metropolis and I hope he does stay. I also liked him a lot when we talked just now. But that has nothing to do with what I think is right for the Planet to write about, Lois. And you should know that."

She did, but she'd still been disappointed at the time. "Okay, Chief. Better get back to work."

Lois went back to her desk, but was unable to concentrate on her article about a strange series of recent thefts. She kept wondering just what Superman's press conference was all about, and why he hadn't told her about it. Then she wondered whether Perry had been right: that he was protecting her, not putting her in a position where she could have a conflict of interest. And that led her to wonder about her husband's real feelings where she was concerned. Was Clark right? — did he perhaps care for her more than he revealed? Was he just unaware that she was feeling hurt and shut out? And what exactly had he meant by his behaviour in the newsroom just now? Had that really only been for the benefit of her colleagues? He'd acted as if he meant it…

She caught sight of Clark grabbing his jacket and heading for the elevator, and realised that he must be on his way to whatever his appointment was. That made her conscious of the passage of time, and she checked her watch. Superman's press conference was due to start any minute now. And she still hadn't the faintest idea of what it could be about.

A few minutes later, the TV screens flicked into life and the image of Superman filled the screen. He was standing at a hastily-erected podium with a couple of dozen microphones pointing at him, and Lois thought he looked distinctly uncomfortable.

He held up two hands, trying to silence the assembled reporters, all of whom were shouting questions at him. Into the sudden silence, he spoke hesitantly. "I… uh, I've called this press conference because there's something I… I need to say to you all." He halted, and visibly drew a deep breath. Now sounding more confident, he continued, "I am not happy about the way sections of the media have been harassing and pursuing my wife. I don't think it's either fair or reasonable to treat her like that. So I'm here today to ask you to leave her alone."

Lois stared at the screen, dumbfounded. She had no idea that Superman even knew what was happening to her, and the thought that he would do something as chivalrous as this just made her love him even more. He was a dear, sweet man, and she really didn't deserve him.

But he was so naive, too: did he really think that the media would leave her alone just because he asked them to?

But he was speaking again. "I know that I can't really expect you to do something like that purely for altruistic reasons, so I have a proposition for you."

That made Lois sit up; glancing briefly around, she could see that everyone else in the newsroom was also paying rapt attention to the TV screens.

"Here's the deal. You promise to leave Lois alone, and I'll give you all an interview, right here and now. Public questions, and a couple of minutes' private questioning each. But no interview unless all of you guarantee, on behalf of your news organisations, to stop following my wife around and bothering her."

He was smarter than he looked, Lois realised in admiration. But surely he realised that the first question on everyone's lips would be why he'd married her? And she'd come to appreciate very quickly that Superman wasn't someone who enjoyed lying.

"No holds barred? You'll answer all our questions?" someone demanded.

"Anything you want. With the exception of any questions about my marriage," Superman qualified. "That is my private business — mine and my wife's. We don't discuss it, because it isn't anyone else's business."

"But you know that everyone wants answers, Superman," someone shouted; Lois realised that it was Eduardo Friaz, for the Planet.

"They may well want them, Mr Friaz. But that doesn't mean they'll get them. I believe even celebrities are entitled to a private life? Lois never asked for any of this notoriety, and I don't intend to discuss anything to do with our relationship with the media. So, with that understood, do we have a deal?"

Superman stood back from the podium and waited, and the camera pulled back to pan over the crowd of reporters, all talking feverishly.

"Well, he's a lot smarter than I thought!" Perry drawled admiringly from close to Lois. "By insisting that they all agree to his conditions, he ensures that he'll get what he wants. There's no way any one of those guys wants to go back to their editor and say that they were responsible for missing out on a Superman interview." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then added, "Y'think I should call Friaz and tell him to agree?"

"I don't think you need to, Chief," Lois pointed out, indicating the TV screen. Eduardo appeared to be arguing vigorously with the other reporters, and by his gesticulating it was clear that he was pointing out the benefits of getting an interview. "Anyway, the Planet hasn't been harassing me, so he hardly has anything to lose by agreeing."

Their attention was drawn back to the TV screens then, as the assembled reporters had clearly given their agreement. Lois watched as a range of questions were shouted at Superman, mostly related to his origins and his intentions. He was just as evasive with them as he had been with her on the subject of his home planet, though he insisted that he really didn't remember anything beyond knowing that it was called Krypton and his instinctive feeling that it no longer existed.

No-one, Lois noticed, asked how long he had been on Earth, and she resolved to ask him that herself in the very near future, if she got the opportunity. After all, she reasoned, he was so much at ease here. It wasn't just a question of speaking the language and having an American accent — which sounded vaguely mid- west in origin to her, which was puzzling; it was the fact that he seemed so completely accustomed to the Earth way of life. He knew his way around a kitchen, for one thing. He showed no puzzlement at any Earth customs or rituals. In fact, he seemed as much at ease with everything as someone who'd been brought up on Earth. And Lois found it difficult to believe that such a degree of familiarity could have come from Super-speed reading of books or learning via computer. Unless Kryptonians had some kind of advanced form of programming for the brain?

Then her attention was called back to the TV as someone asked Superman, "So, do you have plans to have children? Can Kryptonians mate with Earth women?"

Lois stared, suddenly feeling as if the eyes of everyone in the newsroom were on her. But Superman answered crisply, "I think that's something which is part of my private relationship with my wife, don't you? I can promise you that if we did have children we would do our utmost to ensure that their privacy was protected as well, so consider that fair warning."

Children! Could she even have Superman's baby? Lois wondered. Would she even want to? Though of course that assumed that she would even get the chance; Superman appeared to be making it clear that he had no intention of consummating the marriage. But the thought of children made her pause. Would they take after Superman? Would they inherit powers like his?

And did Kryptonians even reproduce in the same way as Earth people?

For some reason, she found herself remembering an old TV programme, Mork and Mindy, in which Mork — the alien from outer space — was actually the one who became pregnant. And the 'baby' was even born as an elderly adult, who would become younger as the years went by.

But that was fantasy, she reminded herself. It was some crazy TV producer's idea of alien reproduction; that was entirely meaningless and there was no reason to assume that Superman would have anything in common with Mork.

But still…

If Kryptonians didn't do… it… the same way as humans, what did they do? What might he ask… her… to do? *Would* he ask her? It would definitely be a way to prove beyond any doubt that the marriage was real. What if it was some really weird, totally disgusting process… would she be willing to do it? Would he accept her answer, or would he — *could* he — try to persuade her, or brainwash her into doing it? What if he did whatever it was while she was asleep?

But then she shook her head. This was ridiculous. To start with, Superman would never treat her with such disrespect, she was sure. And anyway, he *looked* like a normal man. That Suit sure didn't hide a lot. And he seemed to have all the… parts… of a man. So the chances were pretty good that he used them in the same way as Earth men did.

*Had* he done that? Had sex? What kind of lover would he make? — and would she ever get a chance to find out?

Lois bit her lip and tried to force herself to concentrate on the press conference. This wasn't getting her anywhere. And it was a waste of her energy even thinking about it: Superman himself had made it clear that he wasn't interested in her in that way.

The general questioning session was over now, and she could see Superman talking quietly to one reporter while others awaited their opportunity. He looked reasonably relaxed, she thought, in marked contrast to the beginning of the press conference when he'd almost looked terrified. He seemed to be able to hold his own in front of the media in a very self-assured manner. Anyone would think that he'd had some training in media-handling, she mused.

And it was very good of him to do this for her. He had to have spoken with Clark to have realised how much the media attention and harassment was bothering her, and it was a tribute to how thoughtful he really was that he'd instantly gone and done something about it. He obviously just hadn't known before today what she'd been going through.

She would have to thank Clark when she saw him next, although she hoped that he hadn't told Superman everything she'd told him. That would be embarrassing.

"Well, you've got the big boy in blue very well trained, Lois! I'm impressed!"

Lois gritted her teeth as she swung around to face Cat Grant, who had sashayed up to her desk, smiling sarcastically. "You know I spend my days thinking of ways to impress you, Cat," she retorted sardonically, turning away.

"No, really, I'm impressed, Lois," Cat insisted. "Seriously. What does he see in you? There must be something — when he flew in here earlier, he didn't even notice me." She sounded put out at that, Lois thought.

"Maybe he prefers subtlety to in-your-face obviousness; did that ever occur to you?" Lois drawled dismissively. "Superman's a highly intelligent man, and I really can't see him sinking to the level of… of swinging from the chandeliers in your Turkish-boudoir of an apartment."

"So what does he do at your place?" Cat demanded. "Does he sit and watch documentaries on feminism with you? Do you read him your articles? Or — "

"Whatever we do, it's none of your business," Lois snapped. "And he's married to *me*, remember, so you're wasting your time flashing that endangered-species outfit of yours anywhere near him."

"Ooh, touchy!" Cat held her hands up, clearly pretending to quiver. ""Just be careful, Lois," she added more seriously. "Guys like him may not be the straying kind, but he's even more obsessed with his job than you are, I'd guess. There's more than one way to be abandoned by a guy, and I should know."

Her colleague walked off then, leaving Lois speechless but thoughtful.

***

"Clark!"

Lois's voice halted Clark on his way over to his desk, and he turned to see her beckoning him over.

"Something you want, Lois?" he enquired nonchalantly, realising that it was probably something to do with the press conference. Yet again, as he approached her, he felt a tiny frisson of fear that she might look straight at him and mention the man she was married to. But he reminded himself that she'd conspicuously failed to do so thus far, and so he was probably safe.

"Yeah." She smiled warmly at him, making his heart melt all over again. "I wanted to say thank you. You didn't have to do that. But I appreciate it."

Do *what*? Clark gaped at Lois, his first instinct being that she must have figured out his secret. She could only be referring to the press conference, so why would she be thanking *Clark* for that if she didn't know he was Superman?

But why was she being so calm and friendly, and even grateful? Why wasn't she dragging him into the conference room and yelling at him?

He had to say something, because she was now beginning to look at him curiously, and that was bound to draw other people's attention to them. "Ah… well, it seemed the least I could do," he hedged.

"Well, it was very sweet of you. I really didn't expect you to talk to Superman. Uh… I hope you didn't tell him *everything* I said to you?" Now she seemed a little anxious.

Relieved, he smiled warmly at her. "No — I told you that you could trust me, Lois. I just figured that… well, the fact that you were being followed around the place was kind of known. Perry knew about it, anyway. So I thought it would be okay to tell Superman about that."

She nodded, thanked him again, and then got back to work. Clark returned to his own desk, feeling distinctly uncomfortable about the fact that he'd just lied to Lois again. He hadn't *talked to* Superman, or *kept some information from* Superman — he *was* Superman.

Should he tell Lois the truth? There, he was stumped. He simply didn't know. On the one hand, he was pretty sure that he owed her his trust, given all that she had done and was still doing for him. On the other hand, he was so used to *not* telling anyone about himself, to protect his parents and to allow himself a normal life as Clark, that it was an instinctive reflex with him. The thought of telling anyone that Superman was really Clark Kent sent him into a state of near-panic.

And anyway, he mused as he began to catch up on work, wasn't it *Superman* who Lois was helping? Okay, she'd been friendlier to Clark lately, but how did he know that her behaviour wouldn't change — towards both of them — if she knew who her husband really was? Could he possibly be sure that she'd be as willing to help Clark as she had been to help Superman?

He couldn't. Unfair as it might be to Lois, he had to conclude that he didn't know whether or not she could be trusted in that respect. And so he had to keep his secret, for the time being.

And that, together with the decision he'd made after hearing what Lois had to say at lunchtime, meant that he would have to be even more on his guard than before. Because if she found out about Superman herself she was going to be furious.

***

The remains of a frozen pizza on the coffee-table in front of her, Lois reclined on her sofa, dressed in a sloppy sweatshirt and jogging pants, and flicked through the channels on TV. She knew better than to expect Superman tonight; he'd told her that he would take her to Milan for dinner tomorrow, so there was no need for him to visit this evening.

She did feel somewhat happier about things now. For the first time since their marriage had been announced, she hadn't been followed home from the Planet. And when she'd taken some rubbish downstairs before eating there had been no reporters hanging around. Only the previous day, there had been at least three lurking outside.

That had been really thoughtful of Clark, she mused again. He hadn't needed to do it; she'd really just been using him as a metaphorical shoulder to cry on, and she'd known that he was aware of that. She needed someone to talk to, and he was safe, as he'd told her. The fact that he'd thought to ask Superman to stop the media harassment was completely unexpected, and it made her realise again that, actually, Clark Kent was a pretty nice guy.

Maybe she should invite him over to dinner sometime, no matter what Superman said. Actually, she'd be interested to see how Superman interacted with someone he considered a friend. Was he more relaxed around Clark than he was with her?

A sudden fluttering sound made her look around. Superman was just stepping through her window.

"Uh… Superman! I wasn't… uh, expecting you…" she stammered awkwardly.

"Sorry; maybe I should have called first?" he apologised, sounding somewhat embarrassed. "Ah… well, you don't want company, so perhaps I should go." He was turning towards the window again, and she leapt to her feet.

"No, don't go! I just… well, wasn't expecting you." She glanced down at herself, wishing that she hadn't changed into scruffy sweats for a lazy evening at home. Even her hair was tied back loosely with a scrunchie.

He hesitated. "If you're sure?"

"Yes. Yes! I was just going to make some coffee…?"

"I'll make it," he offered. "It's the least I can do, after disturbing you. And… it's probably a good idea for me to get used to your kitchen. Just in case Mr West and his partner decide to make another surprise visit." As he spoke, he walked into the kitchen area.

"True," Lois agreed. Gesturing towards her bedroom then, she added, "I'll just… uh, go get cleaned up a little…"

He shot her a look of surprise. "Lois, please, don't feel you have to change your clothes on my account. You… ah, you look great just as you are, you know."

She blushed. "I do?" Superman thought she looked great?

"You do. Lois, you would look good if you were wearing a sack, you have to know that!"

"Oh!" More shocked — and flattered — than she could imagine, she simply stared at her husband. But what didn't make sense was why he was saying that. She'd almost come to the conclusion, last night, that Superman simply mustn't be attracted to Earth women. And yet he was telling her she was attractive? Good- looking? Beautiful, maybe? Unless it was, for him, like admiring a beautiful painting: he could appreciate the quality, perhaps, but it held no personal interest for him. That had to be it. Of course; only that could explain the apparent contradiction between his attitude last night and now.

He was blushing now, to her amazement. But then he grimaced slightly and came towards her. "I think I have a pretty good idea of what you're thinking. How can I find you attractive, and yet push you away as I did last night?"

He *did* find her attractive… Her eyes wide, she simply nodded.

He shook his head briefly. "It's not as simple as that, Lois. I know we're married, and in the eyes of the world this has to look like a real marriage. But I can't let it turn into one, no matter what I might want. As long as you're associated with me, you're potentially in danger. So I have to make sure that you can walk away from me as soon as I no longer need you to help me get US citizenship. That means I can't allow myself to want more from you than this."

"But… what if I want more?" she whispered.

For an instant, Lois thought she saw a flash of some indefinable emotion in Superman's face; then his expression changed and all she could see was sympathy. "Lois, trust me, you don't want that sort of relationship with me. Think about it — what can I offer you? I can never give you my undivided attention. I'm always going to be flying off somewhere to help people. Sure, you'd never have any problem in getting anywhere you want to be when I'm around, but that's not a lot of use when you need a husband *here*, *now*. I can't promise always to be there when you need me. And simply being with me puts you in danger."

"What if I said I could put up with all that?" she asked him wistfully.

But he shook his head. "I can't, Lois. I just… can't."

"So as soon as you get citizenship, we divorce?" she threw at him.

He winced. "Well, not immediately — that would look too suspicious. But as soon as we can do it without raising too many questions." He sighed then, and added, "I know that's not fair to you, especially as you might have met someone else you want to be with, but… I can't really see any other way around it."

He was probably right, Lois conceded, though it didn't stop her wishing he wasn't. And it did make her feel a little better to know that he'd rejected her, not because she repulsed him, but because he simply couldn't let himself be close to her.

She was about to say something else then, but became conscious that she no longer had his full attention. He was looking at something over her shoulder — the TV, she realised. Turning to look at it herself, she saw that it was a current affairs panel discussion on LNN. One of the guests was speaking — one of the US senators for New Troy, in fact. Lois recognised him from having interviewed him during his last re-election campaign. She'd never really taken to him.

Senator Wilson. That was his name.

Superman had brushed past her and was now standing close to the TV, watching. By the rigidity of his stance, Lois could tell that he was upset. She hurried to join him, and as she approached the Senator's voice became audible. "…the threat posed to the entire nation by this dangerous alien who is being harboured among us by a misguided newspaper reporter."

"Dangerous?" Lois hissed angrily. "How can he call you that? How can he *possibly*…"

His hand came up to her shoulder and he exerted gentle pressure; she subsided into silence.

The host was nodding. "And so what do you think should be done about this situation?"

"Well," Senator Wilson replied, "The INS is investigating, and I'm sure that they will do their usual very thorough job. I have been in contact with the director of the Metropolis bureau, and I asked him to ensure that in this particular case the investigation is expedited with all possible speed. After all, the extra-terrestrial is now living with this woman, and for all we know he could already have impregnated her. And who knows what consequences that may have for the safety of humankind?!"

Lois could barely believe what she was hearing. This man was an elected representative. He was a *senator*, for crying out loud! And he was coming out with this claptrap — and, what was more, the interviewer wasn't challenging him! But then, she noted, the host of the panel debate was the same man who'd chaired that panel discussion several days earlier, during which Superman's statement had been dismissed as patronising and arrogant.

Larry Myers. One of LNN's senior and most popular current affairs staff.

LNN again, she reasoned. Throughout the past few days, LNN had been acting as if it was somehow in the forefront of a 'Stop Superman' campaign. It had been LNN which tended to carry the more hostile stories, which had run those polls which had been most negative, and which continually appeared to argue that Superman was placing himself above the law. Initially she'd told herself that it had to be a coincidence, that LNN was just reporting the news in a reasonably objective manner. But now she was kicking herself for not having spotted the pattern sooner.

Clark had spotted it. Several days ago, in fact, and he'd tried to point it out to her, but she'd refused to listen. He'd also started her wondering about Lex Luthor's reputation and bona fides, but she'd allowed herself to ignore that. Maybe it was time to start asking some more questions.

She needed to talk to Clark about this, and the sooner the better.

Superman was looking at her, she noticed, and she gave him a sympathetic glance. "Lois, I'm sorry you're having to put up with this," he said in response, his voice heavy.

"What? You have nothing to apologise for!" she exclaimed, astonished. "This guy's a bigot through and through, and I'm only amazed that I never noticed it before. I *interviewed* him, for crying out loud! He hasn't a shred of evidence for what he's saying, and I can't believe they're giving him airtime to expound this stuff!"

"He has a point of view, and maybe some people think it's legitimate," Superman said quietly. "I'm just sorry that you have to listen to the stuff about you."

She shrugged. "He hasn't a clue about me, or about you. But I'm not the one he's saying shouldn't even be here in the first place." Gritting her teeth, she added, "I hope that if he ever finds himself in trouble, you *don't* answer his call for help!"

Superman grimaced. "I don't work like that, Lois. You know that — or I hope you do."

"I do." She sighed. "And I hope he does talk to the INS — Philip West should be able to put him straight on that 'reproduction' thing soon enough!" she added sardonically.

Superman did a double-take. "Huh?"

"The… uh, the condoms," she reminded him.

To her amazement, Superman actually blushed. "Oh, *those*," he muttered. "I'm sorry, Lois, I probably should have told you. I… uh, thought it would all add to the appearance that we're trying to present, so I got them and left them in the drawer. I hope it wasn't too much of a shock to you when he pulled them out, though I thought you handled it really well."

The image of Superman walking into a drugstore, cape flapping behind him, and going up to the assistant to ask for a box of Trojan — in Super-size — refused to leave Lois's mind. She deliberately pushed it aside and tried to resume the conversation.

"All the same, it's none… oh, what now?"

Senator Wilson had been replaced by someone who, Myers explained, had been in the train crash several days earlier and had been rescued by Superman. The middle-aged woman insisted that, while she was grateful to Superman for saving her life, that didn't alter her opinion on the subject. "If he's an illegal alien, he should be deported. Everyone knows he only got married to pull the wool over the INS's eyes. I mean, he's a space alien! Like something out of ET, or V, or who knows what! I dread to think of that poor woman he conned into marrying him — *what* is she going through? She needs help! He must have taken over her mind or something. Why would any sane person marry a… a *thing* from outer space?"

Appalled, Lois bit her lip to stop herself screaming abuse at the TV. Instead, she simply moved closer to Superman and placed one arm against Superman's back in an instinctive gesture of comfort. He stiffened momentarily and she was about to pull back, embarrassed, when his own arm came around her and he pulled her into a sideways, one-armed embrace.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"Why?" she exclaimed, frustrated, her comment directed at the events playing out on the TV screen and not at Superman. This woman owed her *life* to Superman, so why was she so hostile? This was more than just a belief that the rules shouldn't be bent; this was pure xenophobia.

She needed to talk to Clark.

"Superman, I hope you don't think I'm being rude, but I really want to discuss this with Clark. There's more going on here than meets the eye," she explained rapidly. "I'm going to go over to his place — you can come too, if you like; you might be able to help us."

But he released her and shook his head. "I can't, Lois. I have… I need to be somewhere else. I'll get going and leave you to it, okay?"

"Yeah… uh, where *do* you go?" she asked, finally giving in to the need to know. "I mean, you must live somewhere…?"

He hesitated, looking nervous, and Lois's heart sank. Did he still not trust her enough to tell her simple little things about himself? But then he nodded. "Yeah, I guess I do have somewhere… My fortress," he added abruptly. "The Fortress of Solitude. It's not anywhere near here."

Not anywhere near here… but that could mean somewhere else in the US, or anywhere in the world, Lois thought. It could be a remote Pacific island, or somewhere in the middle of the Arctic Circle, or an underground cave. He still wasn't telling her much.

But it wasn't the right time to tell him how excluded she felt by his refusal to trust her. Clark was right: she did need to talk to Superman about that, but not now. Although he wasn't showing it much, she was sure that he was pretty upset by what he'd just heard. And it was up to her — and Clark — to find out exactly what was behind it and expose these people for the bigots and xenophobes they were.

She stepped away from Superman. "Okay. I… I guess I'll see you tomorrow, yes?"

He looked blank momentarily, then added, "Sure. An evening out in Milan — though I should warn you that it'll be very late evening over there! But then, they eat dinner much later in Europe than we do here."

"Sounds wonderful!" she assured him. "I hope you speak Italian?"

"SŤ, certo. PerchŠ, tu no?" He grinned at her, any lingering pain from the hate- filled comments they'd just been listening to apparently forgotten.

Lois blinked. She didn't know any Italian beyond phrases like 'quattro stagioni' and 'fettuccine alle vongele', but it sounded to her as if Superman was fluent. She supposed that his Super-abilities must somehow give him an edge when it came to languages; after all, he spoke English like an American born and bred.

Of course, Clark had a gift for languages as well, she remembered, a propos of nothing; she recollected her shock the night he'd read a fortune cookie written in Chinese, and he'd also translated something from French for her a week or so earlier — a newspaper article she'd found on the Internet and hadn't been able to decipher. But then, Clark had travelled the world, so his ability with languages was probably acquired somewhat differently.

Though Superman's reference to American customs also sounded as if he was well assimilated to the American way of life. Again, she wondered just how he'd managed that so quickly.

Superman was about to leave, though, and there was something else she'd wanted to mention to him. "Oh, Superman, I forgot to thank you for what you did at that press conference today," she said quickly. "That was really kind of you."

He shook his head. "It's my fault you were in that position in the first place. It was the least I could do."

"Well, I do appreciate it," she insisted. "And it seems to be working so far — no press-pack tonight!"

"I noticed when I arrived," he commented. "Okay, Lois, goodnight. Don't stay up too late discussing all this with Clark, will you? And… thank you for what you're doing. I appreciate it, very much."

To her surprise, he took a step closer to her and brushed her hair lightly with his hand. She almost froze on the spot, her breath catching and her eyes widening at his voluntary closeness after his rejection of her the previous night. Then he lowered his head and dropped a whisper-light kiss on her forehead.

"Goodnight, Lois," he said, stepping back; moments later, the fluttering of the curtain was the only sign that he'd been there.

***

Thankfully, Clark heard no cries for help on his way home, so bare seconds after he'd left Lois's apartment he was walking through his own bedroom, just in time to pick up the ringing phone. He wasn't at all surprised to find that it was Lois, telling him that she was on her way over.

Telling him. Not asking if it was convenient. He suppressed a smile at that, and simply told her that if it was important, he supposed it would be okay.

By the time she arrived fifteen minutes later he'd changed into jeans and a black T-shirt, made coffee, and was sitting in front of the TV idly flipping through sports channels. He got to his feet lazily to go and answer the door in response to her knock, running his hand through his hair as he did so in an attempt to make his outside-work persona look even scruffier and informal than he already did. No chance of her connecting Clark Kent with Superman tonight, he told himself with a secret smile…

…and no small twinge of guilt.

It was getting harder and harder to maintain his disguise in front of her, and he was having to watch every little word and gesture, both as Clark and as Superman. He'd had to alter his behaviour as Superman, too, since she'd quite rightly told him that she found Superman's manner towards her unfriendly and cold. She had a right to expect better than that from him. But it had been so hard to come up with a reason why they couldn't allow their relationship to become more than platonic.

Regardless of that, he was glad that he'd found the opportunity to apologise. She'd been very careful not to show him — as Superman — just how hurt she'd been; she'd been far more honest in that respect with Clark. But he'd apologised, and he was pretty sure that she accepted his reasoning, even if she didn't entirely like it.

And she was asking more and more difficult questions, questions which, as his wife, she was entitled to ask and to receive answers to. Yet he couldn't answer them honestly without giving too much away. Even letting her think that he lived in his Fortress of Solitude — a tree-house — had been a prevarication, if not an outright lie.

Okay, he'd told himself earlier why it was still a bad idea to tell her the truth, but it was also true that Lois was really putting herself out to help him. She wasn't just suffering some minor inconvenience; her entire life had been disrupted. He was being very unfair indeed to her.

But now wasn't the time to tell her, even if he was going to. She was right: they needed to discuss this new development. The fact that one of the New Troy's senators had got in on the INS's act made it even more likely that, as Lois had suggested right from the start, someone was behind it. And the involvement of a politician made it less likely that Jason Trask was involved — or, at least, that he was the main mover in this situation. After all, Trask was still a fugitive from justice.

The question of Superman's real identity would have to wait for the time being. Now, he opened the door for Lois, inviting her in using a tone of voice which, while not in any way unfriendly or unwelcoming, hinted that she was disturbing his nice, quiet evening.

"So what's this all about?" he asked as he ushered her in. He was well aware of why she was here, of course, and was very grateful to her for taking the trouble to help, but he couldn't give her any idea that he knew more than he was letting on.

She stared at him impatiently. "Didn't you see the Larry Myers Show?"

"Oh, that," he muttered disgustedly. "Yeah, I saw some of it. I was doing something else at the time… And yeah, I saw that senator mouthing off about Superman. And you. Actually, he was pretty rude about you."

Lois shrugged. "That's no big deal; I can get him back for that another time. Like when he's up for re-election and is looking for endorsements. Though after tonight… well, he's just shown half of New Troy that he's a serious nutcase."

"I agree," Clark told her, pouring her a cup of coffee without waiting to ask if she wanted it. "The trouble is, he must think he has a constituency out there who wants to hear him say things like that. He wouldn't do it otherwise."

"No?" Lois looked disbelieving.

"The guy's a politician, Lois. And up to now, he's seemed like a pretty shrewd one, right?"

She took the coffee from him without comment. "Yeah, you're right. I mean, he's no Einstein, but he never seemed stupid before tonight."

"So, unless he's undergone a total frontal lobotomy, he's not stupid," Clark repeated. "Which means he's got an agenda here. And he thinks there's a constituency out there which wants Superman out of the way."

"But why?" Lois objected. "The polls have been going Superman's way. Okay, the INS is still doing its best to cause trouble, but there isn't some mass movement out there clamouring to get rid of Superman."

"Yeah, well, maybe this is part of a campaign to create that movement," Clark suggested thoughtfully. "Or at least to augment some small movement which already exists."

Lois stilled in the act of taking a sip of coffee. "You could be right. But, while I've never thought he was the greatest supporter of the anti-racist movement, he's never been openly hostile before tonight. So why is he involved with this?"

"Maybe he owes someone a favour," Clark suggested, pondering at the same time who that 'someone' could be. He had his suspicions, as he'd had several days earlier, but he couldn't help wondering whether he just wanted Lex Luthor to be involved in this because he didn't like the man. That was why he hadn't suggested Luthor as a possibility when he and Lois had talked in the conference room; at the time, other than Luthor's strange almost-offer to employ Superman and the fact that some negative coverage had appeared on LNN, there hadn't been a lot to go by.

"That could make sense, but who?" Lois answered, reflecting his own thoughts. "I wondered earlier if Trask was involved, remember? But he couldn't influence this!"

"No," Clark agreed. "He could still be involved somehow, but there's someone else. Has to be."

"I was thinking before I came over," Lois said slowly. "All of this negative propaganda has been on LNN. Nowhere else. And any other news organisations reporting negative stuff about Superman and the marriage all seem to pick it up from LNN. So… I wondered if someone's pulling strings behind the scenes at LNN itself?"

"I wondered about that too," Clark told her quietly. "So… any ideas?" He didn't want to be the one to mention Lex Luthor first, but he was very pleased — and relieved — that her thoughts seemed to be headed in that direction.

Lois regarded him thoughtfully for several moments. Then she said, "A few days ago you hinted that you didn't trust Lex Luthor. You suggested that his offer to employ Superman was all a front."

Clark nodded.

"And you think he's behind all this? Don't you?"

He shrugged helplessly. "It all makes sense, Lois. I don't know if Trask's involved or not, but only Luthor could have this much influence on LNN."

"And Senator Wilson?"

"I don't know. But we do know that Luthor's got no shortage of money, so bribery wouldn't be a problem. And I don't think he'd have a problem with engineering things so that Wilson owed him a favour, either."

"You really don't think much of Lex Luthor, do you, Clark?" Lois said wonderingly. It sounded like a question, and yet Clark knew it wasn't. But he still wanted to explain, as much as he could.

"It's not just that I don't like the guy, Lois," he told her. "But I don't think he's as clean-cut as he pretends to be. I — ah…" He halted, realising that Clark Kent had nothing he could offer Lois as evidence. "Maybe you should ask Superman what he thinks of Luthor," he said instead.

"Superman? You know what he thinks of him?"

"You should ask him yourself," Clark insisted.

"Okay. I'll call him now," Lois announced, her hand moving to the signal-button on her watch.

***

Clearly Superman and Lex Luthor had some kind of history, and Clark knew about it. Actually, the fact that Clark knew about it was the more painful fact for Lois. Sure, she'd had dinner with Lex once and he'd left her in no doubt that he was attracted to her; but he couldn't compare to Superman in her eyes. And it didn't require too much stretch of the imagination for her to accept that Lex might not be as much of a good guy as he claimed.

But Superman, her husband, had told Clark things he wouldn't tell her.

Oh, she knew that he didn't really see her as his wife; she'd already accepted that fact. She was the woman who'd done him a favour by agreeing to marry him to help him with the INS. Oh, he was grateful, and he certainly liked her — maybe even more than liked her, if what he'd said that evening was anything to go by. But he clearly didn't trust her.

She wasn't the person he confided in, when he needed to talk to someone. No; instead he went to see Clark.

What did they do? Drink beers on Clark's balcony and discuss the state of the world? Trade jokes and gossip together the way guys did when no women were around? Go somewhere and shoot hoops? — they could go anywhere in the world, if Superman didn't want to be seen with Clark.

Had Superman come here since he'd married Lois? Only that afternoon, she'd been wondering whether Clark was a confidant of Superman's as well as hers; well, she should have realised sooner that he was, of course. So did Superman come here and talk to Clark about how difficult it was trying to pretend to be married to Lois? And did Clark pat his shoulder and get him another beer and remind him that it would only be for two years, and then he could get a divorce?

Well, if these two were such great friends they could find out for themselves who was trying to get Superman deported, she thought miserably, her index finger moving towards the panic button on her watch. They didn't need her getting in the way…

"Lois!" Clark's urgent voice interrupted her, his hand gripping hers.

"What?" She glared at him belligerently.

"We don't need Superman. Leave the guy alone," he urged. "For all you know, he could be busy with something — helping someone."

"You said I should ask him about Luthor," she challenged him. And he *was* her husband, after all, she thought a little bitterly, even if Clark knew the truth about their marriage. Okay, Clark was clearly Superman's friend, and Superman obviously confided in Clark more than in his *wife*, but did Clark have to rub it in?

"Not now! Next time you see him!" he answered impatiently. "I thought you wanted to work out who's behind all this propaganda?"

"I do!" she insisted… then she stopped and stared at Clark. How did he know just *how* she was going to call Superman? She hadn't told him about the watch. And yet he'd grabbed her hand just in time to prevent her pressing the button.

Why was she even asking herself the question? she thought sardonically. Of course Clark knew how she could contact Superman. He probably had a similar watch, she decided, looking down at his wrist.

It was bare. All she could see was long, tanned, muscled forearm.

Her gaze travelled back up Clark's arm, to the sleeves of his T-shirt and across to his chest. His very large, muscular chest. Topped with well-developed pectorals, and rippling shoulder muscles and strong upper arms.

Clark's badly-fitting suits certainly hid a great body. But then, she already knew that, she reminded herself: she'd surprised him in nothing more than a towel a couple of weeks ago.

And anyway, she wasn't here to ogle her partner's pecs. They had to find out who was out to get Superman. She dragged her gaze away from Clark's impressive physique and reached for her cup instead, to take another sip of coffee.

"Okay," she said abruptly. "I'll ask him when I see him. So you think Lex Luthor wants to discredit Superman? Then why would he offer Superman a job so he could stay in town?!"

"That's the whole point, Lois. He didn't," Clark explained. "Remember, he didn't call his press conference until the day after w — you and Superman got married. And he didn't offer to employ Superman — he said that he no longer needed to make the offer."

"Okay. So it could be Lex. And he could be funding the senator. So who's pulling strings at the INS?"

Clark shrugged. "My money's on the senator."

"But there's Philip West… I called my friend, Clark, and she said that as far as she knows he's been there a while. So there's no sinister plot involving moving him into the area. Oh, and she says she never heard any talk about him being prejudiced in any way — the INS does occasionally get agents who are basically racist, but they usually show their true colours sooner or later and they're dealt with. West's never had that kind of reputation."

"So who assigned him to the case?" Clark was prowling around the kitchen, and the movements of his powerful body almost made Lois feel nervous. He was so large… well, she'd known he was tall, around six foot, but somehow his casual, and close-fitting, attire made him look stronger, bigger, more muscular than she'd realised.

In fact, if she met him in a dark alley…

But then he turned, and she caught his gaze. His expression was intent, given that he was concentrating on the matter at hand, but his eyes softened as he looked at her, and she saw the gentleness in his face. Clark would no more hurt her — or anyone — than Superman could fail to save someone in trouble.

Realising suddenly that Clark was waiting for her answer, she pulled her wayward thoughts together. "Well, I asked Maria that. She said that normally cases are assigned in rotation, but that it's possible for agents to ask for particular cases if they want and they're not already too busy on other cases."

"So West could have asked to be assigned to Superman?" Clark asked.

"I guess so," Lois answered. "I suppose that would make sense. But what's motivating him? That's what I can't understand. Is he being bribed by Luthor, or the senator, too? But his behaviour seems too… ingrained to be put on."

"No, he sounds as if he means it, all right," Clark said grimly. "Uh… I mean, from what you've said, and what Superman told me."

More confidences from Superman, Lois noted, grimacing. But there was no point in getting upset about it. She had no exclusive rights over Superman, she thought wistfully.

"What if he's really into this extra-terrestrial stuff?" she said slowly, thoughtfully. "I mean, some people are, aren't they? Trask was pretty exceptional, but there's a lot of conspiracy theorists around. The types who insist that there was a massive government cover-up over Roswell and Area 51? Maybe that's where his paranoia comes from."

"You mean he's acting on his own behalf and not connected with anyone?" Clark asked, sounding sceptical. "It'd be a pretty big coincidence."

"Not necessarily," Lois answered, still thinking aloud. "I mean, yeah, maybe he was into this long before Superman came along. And maybe someone's exploiting that. Feeding him more propaganda, maybe, and arranging for him to take Superman's case."

"I suppose I could try following him," Clark suggested. "Or find out more about him — what he does in his spare time, what organisations he's a member of. Jimmy can help out there. If I can find a link to something…"

"What do you mean, *you*?" Lois demanded indignantly. "*We'll* investigate him!"

But Clark shook his head. "Lois, you can't get involved in this! Not openly, anyway. Think about it!" he added impatiently as she shot him a warning look. "You're being *investigated* by West and his partner. How do you think it's going to look if you're found snooping into his private affairs? You could lose this application if they claim you're trying to subvert the proper process."

Gritting her teeth, Lois fumed silently. Clark was right, and she hated it. *No- one* told Lois Lane what was best for her. She made her own decisions, and she hated it when anyone else thought they could make them for her.

She took several deep breaths before allowing herself to respond. "I hate it when you're right!" she muttered at last.

That elicited a grin from Clark, which infuriated her even more at first. But then the infectious nature of his smile made her grin in return. Looking around, she grabbed a tea-towel and flung it at him; the sheer childishness of the gesture relieved some of her frustration.

But she frowned as Clark bent to retrieve the towel and put it away. She'd been angry with Clark for attempting to make decisions for her, and yet earlier that day when Superman had done effectively the same thing she'd thought it was so good of him. And, of course, only an hour earlier he'd informed her that *he* had decided how far their relationship could go — largely for her own protection and for what he perceived as her own good, he'd insisted — and she'd simply let him.

Why?

Because he was Superman.

But did that really justify her acceptance from him of standards of behaviour she refused to accept from anyone else?

That was something she needed to think about, Lois decided. He might be Superman, but at the same time he was still a man. And she was his wife. She deserved some consideration, and she needed to be treated by him as an equal, not some pathetic creature to be protected and shielded for her own good.

Regardless of the reason for their marriage, it was about time that she demanded a little more respect from him.

***

Later, Clark flew high overhead as Lois drove herself home. It was after midnight, and he needed to be sure that she got home safely. He also wanted to assure himself that the representatives of the media were fulfilling their promise to leave her alone. He'd already decided on his course of action should any reporter renege on the collective promise: he would simply send a message to the editor of every new organisation in Metropolis pointing out that he would withdraw his co-operation entirely if there was any further breach. No interviews at the scenes of emergencies; no photographs — and he could ensure that any stolen snaps never saw the light of day; nothing.

He was pretty sure that the media organisations would keep each other in line, if faced with a threat like that.

They'd spent over an hour more discussing the possibility that Lex Luthor could somehow be involved in trying to get rid of Superman. Lois was definitely more cynical about the head of LexCorp than she'd been a couple of weeks ago, and she was full of ideas for trying to prove his involvement.

Making progress on finding out who was behind the immigration issue wouldn't be easy, but they had several starting-points. Clark could talk to Philip West, and possibly Genevieve Roberts. Lois could ask her friend some more questions about INS procedure and West himself, if Maria was willing to make enquiries. That might give them some clues as to whether it was possible that West was being controlled from outside, or whether the problem within the INS did go higher up.

And they needed to find out exactly what strings Senator Wilson was pulling, and when he'd first started pulling them. And what exactly, if anything, his relationship with Lex Luthor was. That was something they could start on at work the next day: was Luthor by any chance a donor to Wilson's campaign fund? By the time Lois had left, she was itching to get started investigating Wilson.

Lois… Now there was something else he needed to think about, and the sooner the better. She'd almost found out about him. If she'd managed to hit the button on her watch, she could have found out. He wasn't sure whether he'd have been able to hide his reaction to the high-frequency beeping, and in any case Superman wouldn't have come flying in. And, although he could have explained that, it would have been compounding the lies he'd already told her, and he was getting fed up with lying to Lois.

She didn't deserve it. That was something he'd learned today, and he wouldn't forget in a hurry.

He'd had no idea how his treatment of her had made her feel. And that made him feel a complete idiot — no, more than an idiot. A selfish, thoughtless jerk.

He needed to treat her a lot better, as Superman. That had been why he'd gone to visit her that evening, even though it wasn't strictly necessary. He'd needed to apologise for his thoughtlessness, and at least show her that he thought of her as a friend. Though he hadn't anticipated that she'd ask him for more than that! Still, he thought she'd accepted his explanation.

All the same, he needed to do some serious thinking about Lois and their relationship — and soon.

***

She really needed to have a serious talk with Superman. It was about time that she stopped getting so starry-eyed and nervous around him that she grew tongue- tied and forgot whatever it was she needed to say to him. She was a grown woman, for heaven's sake — and a professional, award-winning reporter, at that! He was only a man, after all… a pretty extraordinary man, she thought admiringly as visions of Spandex-clad muscles and flashing white teeth danced around in her head briefly.

Forcing herself to focus, she wondered whether, if they hadn't been distracted by the TV debate, she might have been able to challenge him on his refusal to get involved with her in a proper relationship. He wouldn't commit because it would put her in more danger than she already was in, he'd claimed. But how much more danger could she be in? She was already known to be Superman's wife — and so far nothing dangerous had happened to her as a result.

Oh, he'd said that if there was nothing between them but friendship it would be easier to end things once he'd got his citizenship sorted out, and then she'd be safe once again. But really, his logic was completely flawed. If she was in danger now because she was his wife, then wouldn't she be equally at risk as his ex-wife? She couldn't imagine that anyone would assume that Superman would stop feeling responsible for her safety even if they were no longer married.

And as for his comment that she might want to be free to have a relationship with someone else, did he really have the faintest idea of what she wanted? She loved him! She wanted to be with *him* — and if she understood him correctly, he wanted to be with her too. He'd said that he couldn't allow himself to want more from her — didn't that mean that he would like there to be more to their relationship? Was he simply being too noble for his own — and her — good?

She didn't want anyone else.

At that thought, an image came into her mind of Clark Kent as he'd looked prowling around the kitchen of his apartment, but she pushed that aside. She wasn't interested in Clark. He was a nice guy, true, and she could envisage him being a great friend, but she was in love with Superman.

And since Superman was taking her out to dinner tomorrow night, she thought as she closed her eyes ready for sleep, there was the perfect opportunity to convince him to change his mind.

***

"…so, you see, it hasn't really been easy. Oh, easier in some ways than I thought, because I haven't really had to move in with Lois, but still, she seems to expect more than I've been giving her, and I'm not sure that she isn't right," Clark explained to his parents in a somewhat convoluted monologue.

"Good grief, Clark, of course she's right!" his mother exclaimed, sounding impatient. "What do you expect? You married the woman, after all! And I told you before just what she's giving up for you. Now you tell us about everything else she's having to put up with because of what she's done for you — she gets hounded by the media, and her career's suffering — "

"I didn't say that!" Clark protested. "I haven't done anything to affect her career!"

"Oh, Clark! You said yourself that she can't cover Superman stories because of the conflict of interest. Superman's still the biggest news story around, so what effect does that have on her career, hmmm? Just think about it!"

His mother was right. As usual. Though he'd already decided the previous day that he wasn't being fair to Lois, so why did she have to rub his nose in it? He'd come to Smallville looking for advice, not a lecture, and her criticism stung. "Look, Mom, Lois went into this with her eyes wide open. She's the one who proposed to me, remember? And I told her it wouldn't be easy. She wanted to do it."

"Yes, and now she's the one who's suffering, not you," Martha said tartly. "And you say that she's working hard to find out who's behind all this — so she's helping you even more than you originally envisaged?"

"That's true," Clark agreed, nodding. "Look, I know that. She's been terrific over the whole thing. And that's why… well, why I feel guilty about not telling her the truth. That Superman's me."

"Now, Clark, remember what we've always said," his father cautioned.

"I know!" he answered quickly, a little impatient now.

"Do you want to tell Lois?" his mother asked, looking concerned.

Clark sighed. "I don't know. I hate lying to her, considering all she's doing for me. But I don't know how she'd take it. Oh, I don't think she'd splash it on the front page of the Planet, Mom! Not now. She's keeping enough secrets for Superman as it is. But I don't know how it would change the way she feels about me. Superman… well, she thinks Superman's a real person. And I'm having to try *really* hard to make him a real person for her. And at the same time, I'm getting to know her better as Clark. And all that makes me hate deceiving her. It'd be so much easier working with her to find out who's behind all this if she knew the truth, too. But I just don't know whether telling her is the right thing to do."

And there was another thing… He was pretty sure that Lois was beginning to like him, as Clark, now. And that was *nice*. Even if he had no real hope that she'd ever see him as the life partner he wanted to be, he was becoming her friend. Would she still be his friend once she found out how he'd been deceiving her?

Or what if she could forgive him his deceit, and was actually pleased to be married to him, even as a marriage of convenience? Would she be able to remember that it was *Superman* she was supposed to be married to, and not Clark? What if she got too friendly or affectionate with Clark in public? Forgot that she was supposed to be treating him as a different person when they were around other people? The last thing he wanted was for the tabloids — or anyone — to accuse Lois of being unfaithful to Superman. That wouldn't help him with the INS at all.

"If you're not sure, Clark, then don't. Not yet, anyway," Martha suggested. "Maybe in a little while, when you're more certain about what you want."

"Martha, we don't know this woman — " Jonathan began, sounding distinctly unhappy.

"*Clark* knows her. And he trusts her. I think that's good enough for us," she said softly but firmly. "From what he's told us about Lois, she sounds like a loyal, trustworthy and very determined young woman. I think I'd like her — and if you do tell her, Clark, you bring her out here as soon as possible. I want to meet the woman who's my son's wife!"

"She's only married to Superman, Mom," Clark pointed out.

"Oh, details." Martha shrugged.

Clark smiled wryly, then got to his feet. He hadn't actually found any answers to the questions he'd come to Smallville with, but his parents were right: he had to decide that for himself. The one thing he was sure of was that they would support him, whatever he did. "Thanks for breakfast, you guys, and for listening. I better get back to Metropolis." Facing his father, he added, "Don't worry, Dad. Whatever other reservations I have about telling Lois the truth, I know she wouldn't do anything to endanger me or you."

"It's not us we're worried about, Clark," Jonathan said, getting to his feet as well. "You know that. We've always wanted what's best for you, and that includes making sure that you get to live the normal life you want, which you won't get to do if your secret gets out.

Clark nodded. "I know, and I appreciate what you guys do for me, you know that. And I trust Lois not to betray me. It's just… well, I guess there are some other things I have to think through before I decide what to do." Like whether he was prepared for Lois's reaction when he told her the truth, her complete horror, no doubt, at discovering that she was really married to the newsroom newbie. Now that was a conversation he wanted to have at a time and place of his own choosing — preferably, he thought wryly, on an uninhabited island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific…

***

Lois was already at work when Clark arrived in the newsroom; she was sitting with Jimmy staring intently at a computer screen, so he left them to it and went to his own desk. He had a couple of phone calls to make.

Half an hour later, he was interrupted by Lois waving her hand impatiently in front of his face. "Clark!"

Raising an eyebrow, he looked up at her. "What?"

"Jimmy and I have been investigating Philip West," she announced, perching herself on the corner of his desk, facing him.

"You have? Anything interesting?"

"Ever heard of Defenders of the Earth?"

Clark frowned. "No. Who are they? — some sort of underground militia?"

Lois shook her head. "Not exactly. From what we can tell, they're some weird fringe group — until a year or so ago, there were only half a dozen branches with maybe a hundred-plus members. Then they got on the internet, and now they have a newsgroup and an FTP site. Jimmy's been downloading stuff for me all morning."

Clark still wasn't sure what this was all about. "Why are you telling me this? Is there a story there? Have they issued a death-threat or something?"

Lois glared at him. "Earth to Clark! It's an anti-extra-terrestrial organisation! They not only believe in all this stuff about enemy aliens out there, they're preparing to defend the Earth when these aliens do invade!"

Trask. That was Clark's first thought. He had to be involved in something like this. "So how did you find these wackos? Is there a connection to Superman?" And what had any of this to do with West? Was it something Lois had stumbled on accidentally in the course of looking for something else?

Lois grinned triumphantly. "There might be," she conceded.

Clark closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Okay, are you going to tell me?"

She paused for effect, and he itched to shake the information out of her. "Philip West."

"West?!" Clark almost shouted the man's name. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. That's how we found these guys in the first place. I asked Jimmy to find out everything he could about West, no matter how bizarre. And one of his searches led to Defenders of the Earth".

Trying not to allow himself to get too excited, Clark asked, "And you're sure it's not another Philip West?"

"He's the editor of the organisation's magazine — we downloaded some copies from the FTP site. There's an email address, *and* a postal address. Same guy, Clark!"

"Yes!" Unable to contain his delight, Clark leaned forward and kissed Lois on the cheek. As he drew back, embarrassed at his action, he saw her flush and look a little awkward; then she gave him a shy smile.

"This means that we — uh, that Superman can prove that natural justice has been denied," Clark said, smiling broadly. "He can't possibly get a fair hearing from a guy who's on paper as believing that all extra-terrestrials are a danger to the planet."

"It's even better than that!" Lois told him. "Come and take a look at some of the stuff Jimmy has."

Clark scanned the printed-out newsletters quickly. The older ones just contained the usual rumours, scare-mongering and belligerent militarism. The more recent ones, however — and there were three dated since Superman's arrival in Metropolis — contained articles attacking Superman. The first argued that Superman had to be an alien, which made him a threat despite the good work he'd been doing. Regardless of his apparent bona fides, he had to be eliminated.

The second praised the efforts of a 'brave, loyal American' who had recognised his duty to his country and planet and had tried to kill the suspected alien. His efforts had been blocked at every turn by the authorities and by two reporters who had been completely taken in by the being calling itself Superman. All of these people were either collaborators or had been brainwashed. Jason Trask's efforts had sadly failed, but it was the duty of every patriotic American, the article concluded, to find alternative ways of getting rid of the alien threat.

"So this means West could be working on his own?" Clark suggested, looking up. "He could have decided to initiate the investigation in the hope of getting Superman deported." Although, he realised immediately, that didn't explain the LNN coverage — unless that was purely coincidental — or the strange behaviour of Senator Wilson, something about which he now had even more questions.

"Not according to Maria," Lois replied. "INS investigations don't progress as quickly as this one has. There's no way, in most cases, that there'd have been as many interviews this quickly. And West couldn't have organised that level of publicity himself. This came from a lot higher up. The other thing she said is that if there's an investigation into the status of someone important or famous, it has to be authorised at a pretty high level — maybe as high as Washington. They don't want bad publicity as a rule — or at least, they want to be able to manage it."

"So it could be just coincidence that West was assigned," Clark said slowly. "And even if you and Superman do appeal against him, you'd just get a different person, but the same result in the end." That was depressing; if this was a conspiracy at a higher level, or even worse, a deliberate policy by the US government to get rid of Superman, he didn't have a chance.

"I doubt we'd get anyone else as bigoted as West," Lois said thoughtfully. "There's a chance someone else might not be prejudiced right from the start. Look at this," she added, thrusting another print-out into Clark's hands. "This is the most recent newsletter — it went up three days ago."

Unsurprisingly, Superman's marriage was portrayed in the worst possible light. Lois was portrayed either as an alien collaborator, in which case she was a traitor and needed to be removed, or as a naive woman who'd allowed the alien to brainwash her. The hope was expressed that the INS would quickly declare the marriage to be a fraud, and that the alien would be removed from the US — and that no other nation would agree to allow him entry. Lois, the article argued, should be imprisoned for her part in the conspiracy.

"This is hate-propaganda!" Clark hissed in disgust. "Lois, these people… you could be in danger from them!"

She shrugged. "Maybe. Though I don't know if they're organised enough. Trask is, but he hasn't been seen since."

Clark wasn't convinced, and he resolved to keep an even closer watch on Lois than he was already doing. "So, you and Superman will appeal against West's involvement?"

"I'll have to talk to Superman, but I guess so."

"Nice work, Lois! And Jimmy too," Clark added, though Jimmy had been called away by Perry some minutes earlier. Then he grinned at her. "You're not the only one who's been busy this morning, though."

"Oh?"

He smiled broadly at her. "I just happen to have interviews set up with Larry Myers, Pete Adams — he's the Head of News Content at LNN — *and* Senator Wilson. Wilson today, the others tomorrow."

Lois stared at him. "You have? What did you tell them?"

"That I'm researching a story on the media response to Superman's marriage. And I'm talking to lots of media organisations about their editorial line on the subject. That's what I told LNN — oh, and I called the Metropolis Star too, with the same story, just in case anyone from LNN checks. As for Wilson, I told him I'm interested in talking to him for some background material which we'll use for the elections next year. He was happy to agree."

He was delighted to see that he'd managed to impress Lois. "That's great! Uh… does Perry know?"

"Yeah, I figured I should cover my back. I just told him it was for a story — and there's no reason why there can't be a story in this, after all."

"I suppose not," Lois agreed. "So what time are the interviews set up for? I'm coming with you."

But he shook his head. "Lois, you know you can't. It'd be a clear conflict of interest, and they'd throw you out!"

"Wilson isn't a conflict," she retorted immediately. "Not if it's just 'background'."

"Oh yeah? And I launch into questions about his anti-Superman diatribe while Superman's wife is sitting right next to me?" Clark rolled his eyes at her.

Lois shrugged. "So we keep that right until the end. Don't let him have any idea that it's our real agenda."

Clark stood, hands on hips, giving her a sceptical look; eventually, she spoke again. "Okay, so how about I stay quiet when you ask about his attitude to Superman and his involvement with the INS?"

He was still reluctant, but it was obvious that Lois wasn't going to take no for an answer. "Okay," he said at last, "but you have to promise me that you won't say a word, Lois. Not just don't ask a question, but no asides, no sceptical mutters, nothing. Okay?"

She glared at him, but nodded.

"All right then," Clark agreed. "You know, Superman rescued Senator Wilson's wife about ten days ago. That's kind of interesting."

"He did?" Lois's eyes grew wide. "What happened?"

"It was a bank robbery. The robbers were armed, and they had hostages — one of the hostages was Tania Wilson. They were pretty ruthless, and the police think they'd have killed if necessary to get what they wanted. Anyway, Superman was able to disarm them and free the hostages."

"So Senator Wilson's wife is alive thanks to Superman," Lois said, sounding thoughtful. "You know, Clark, Superman was at my — the apartment last night when Wilson was mouthing off on the Larry Myers Show, and he never mentioned it. And yet you know about it," she finished flatly.

Clark's heart sank; yet again, he'd managed to make Lois feel shut out of her husband's life, and made it clear that he, as Clark, knew things that she didn't. "I… uh, found her name in the news reports. Superman might not even have known that she was involved."

"Okay," Lois said, but she sounded unconvinced. "Do we know anything about Wilson's marriage? Is it happy? No rumours of affairs or anything like that? I mean, he *was* happy that Superman saved her, right?"

"I have no idea," Clark said, instinctively unhappy at the idea of speculating on the state of someone's marriage. But Lois was right; this was probably worth following up, if he was planning on mentioning Superman's rescue of Tania Wilson during the interview. "Okay, so how do we find out?"

Lois rolled her eyes at him and gave a long-suffering sigh. "You really do show your naive farmboy credentials sometimes, don't you, Clark? Just watch me, okay? Learn how the real reporters do it — and without having to use tabloid tactics, either!"

He grinned and pulled up a chair to her desk. They were making progress.

***

They were making progress, Lois thought as she entered some keywords into the Planet's search engine in an initial trawl for information about Tania and Barry Wilson. And if they actually managed to get the senator to reveal anything they'd be doing even better still. She couldn't wait until evening, when Superman was to come to take her to Milan; she had so much news for him. He was going to be delighted!

Clark moved closer to her so that he could see the screen, and she found herself becoming very aware of him next to her. She shifted in her seat, feeling uncomfortable with his closeness. This strange awareness she was experiencing when he was around was getting to be a problem — first last night, and now here, at work. This was *Clark*, her new colleague, Superman's friend who was helping her out here. *Her* friend. That was all. This weird awareness of him as a man wasn't helping the situation.

Of course, it hadn't helped that he'd kissed her several minutes ago. Oh, she knew it had been a sudden impulse, nothing more. He was excited, and he'd wanted to express that excitement somehow. And he'd been embarrassed afterwards when he'd realised what he'd done, she could see that from his expression and the way he pulled back so quickly. It was just as well that no-one had seen, she thought wryly; the last thing she wanted was rumours flying around that she was being unfaithful to Superman.

This was just *Clark*, she reminded herself once again. Just her colleague. And she had to concentrate on work. The searches weren't yielding anything helpful, though, and she couldn't help getting frustrated.

A hand on hers made her jump. "What?" she grunted impatiently.

"That's three times you've clicked on the same page," Clark pointed out, his tone amused.

"Well, I might have missed something the first two times," she countered argumentatively.

"What, Lois Lane miss something? Is that an admission that you *can* be wrong sometimes?" he teased.

She glared at him, but then made the mistake of looking at him and seeing the laughter in his gaze; reluctantly, she smiled. "Well, it's something you won't hear me say very often." Then, sighing, she added, "And you're about to see me *do* something now that I don't do very often. In fact, not at all if I can help it. So you better remember this occasion, Kent, because it's not going to happen again if I can help it."

"Oh?" Clark grinned again. "Am I going to enjoy this? Or be dumbfounded by your brilliance?"

"Oh, can it, Kent!" Lois muttered, and swiped at him with her hand. Raising her voice then, she called, "Cat!"

"You yelled, Lois?" Cat purred as she made her swaying way across the newsroom; Lois gritted her teeth as the older woman favoured Clark with a sultry smile.

Though that didn't really make sense, she realised immediately. Only a few days earlier, Cat had referred to Clark as someone she'd had her fill of and had dumped. So why would she be trying to flirt with him now if he was yesterday's news? But the answer to that one was simple. She hadn't been telling the truth. She'd been deliberately spreading rumours, in an attempt to stir up trouble. Lois was now convinced that her suspicion yesterday was correct: Clark had never slept with Cat.

She glanced sideways at Clark and saw that he had shifted his chair a little way back, away from Cat, who was bending towards him in such a way that he couldn't help but be aware of her… assets, and that he was looking uncomfortable. Whatever she'd assumed a week ago, Clark was definitely not interested in Cat.

"We need information, Cat." Lois's tone was abrupt; Cat's behaviour was irritating her.

"Oh, this is new — Lois Lane asking *me* for help," Cat drawled superciliously.

"Well, don't faint from the shock." Lois took a deep breath, then added, "What do you know about Senator Wilson's private life?"

"I thought gossip was beneath you, Lois," Cat retorted, tossing her hair back.

"This isn't gossip. It's background information we need for a story," Lois insisted, only barely keeping hold of her temper.

"Cat. Please," Clark said, giving what Lois thought was an unnecessarily appealing smile. "Can you just answer a couple of questions for us? We *would* appreciate it."

"What a novelty — someone who knows how to ask nicely!" The sneer was evident on Cat's face as she looked down at Lois.

"We need to know whether there are any rumours about the Wilson marriage," Lois said, ignoring Cat's attitude. "Either of them having an affair, or any suggestion that the marriage is just for political convenience — you know the kind of thing."

"Wilson." Cat snagged a chair from a nearby desk and sat down, her expression now serious. "There isn't a lot to say about him. He's pretty squeaky-clean, actually — one of the few who is, but then, his background is religious fundamentalist. His parents belonged to some obscure church — Christian, all right, but I couldn't tell you what it is without looking up one of his bios. His wife's a perfect political wife: doesn't work, does whatever he wants her to do, hangs on his arm when he's campaigning, whatever."

"So, squeaky-clean, then?" Lois asked, disappointed.

"From what I hear, yes," Cat answered. "Any particular reason? Anything I could try to find out about? I have some contacts… I could ask questions."

"Not on the personal side, I think," Clark interjected. "Unless… well, maybe his personal finances. Any hint of any trouble there? Even if not now, say not long ago?"

Cat frowned and looked thoughtful. "You know, that's interesting. Wilson was never exactly poor, but he wasn't flush with money either. And yet they bought a new house about a month ago — real nice place, too, in its own grounds, security cameras, the lot. And his wife's been driving an import — a Mercedes SLK convertible, top of the range."

Clark whistled. "They're not cheap."

"Cost more than I get paid in a year," Lois mused aloud.

She saw Clark give her a sudden, surprised glance. "More like two years," he muttered, then he bit his lip, as if realising. As if, Lois thought sardonically. He might be shaping up to be a competent reporter, but did he really think Perry would have hired him on the same salary as Lois Lane?

"So he's had a sudden influx of cash," Clark said firmly then, looking thoughtful. "And how come no-one's picked up on this, wondered where it came from?"

Cat shrugged. "I wondered about it, and if either of you ever read my column you'd have noticed that I ran a short item questioning the source of his sudden riches. We were sent a letter from Wilson's attorney pointing out that Wilson had got a legacy from an aunt who'd recently died, and politely told that if I or anyone else at the Planet repeated any of those, and I quote…" Cat made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, "*unfounded slurs on his client's good name and reputation*, the Planet would be hearing from them again with a view to legal action."

"Hmmm." Lois frowned. "And you checked? He really did have an aunt who died?"

Cat rolled her eyes. "You think I have nothing else to do all day? No, I did not check! Perry showed me the lawyer's letter and we drafted a retraction. That was it."

"Right, we're checking this," Lois announced, then yelled, "Jimmy!"

The young man hurried over, looking harassed. "You bellowed, Lois?"

"Yeah." Swiftly, Lois told him the details, adding, "Cat can fill you in on the rest. I need you to find out whether there really was a legacy, and how much for. Okay? And get me any information you can get hold of relating to his bank accounts, transactions, donations, big campaign fund donors, you name it. I want to know more about this guy's finances than his accountant before three-thirty this afternoon!"

"Jeez, Lois, you don't want much, do you?" Jimmy muttered, exasperated.

"You'll have more time to do it if you *get started*," Lois said pointedly.

"Thanks, Jimmy. We appreciate it," Clark put in, and Lois gave him an irritated glance. The best way to motivate someone like Jimmy was to keep him on his toes, not thank him before he'd produced any results; that was her belief and she was sticking to it.

Cat left then, and Lois noticed that Clark was looking preoccupied. "What is it?" she demanded; she needed his mind focused on the task at hand, not on whatever unimportant triviality he was brooding over.

"I was just thinking," he said, and was about to continue when she interrupted.

"Well, don't!"

He raised an eyebrow at her. "You sure about that, Lois? What if my 'thinking' actually results in something useful?"

"Like what?"

"Like me remembering something strange about Wilson's voting record lately." Clark looked triumphant, and Lois glared at him. She really hated it when she was wrong.

"What?"

"Couple of months ago. I know, I wasn't even in Metropolis at the time, but I noticed it when I was skimming through some articles about Wilson earlier. Remember the Construction Safety Bill?"

Lois had to think for a moment; then she nodded. "Yeah, I remember. Wasn't that the controversial one which half the construction companies in the country opposed?"

"Yeah. And the President made it clear that he saw it as vital and he had no intention of watering it down. He put a lot of pressure on Congress over that bill. And it got through, but not without a lot of amendments — "

"A couple of which weakened it to the point where it's almost meaningless," Lois added. "Yeah. The industry lobbied for those amendments, and found a couple of senators who were willing to take them on. But Wilson wasn't one of those, was he?"

"No. But this is the interesting thing, Lois. All along Wilson was fully behind the President on the bill. He was listed as one of a couple of dozen senators whose vote could be counted on. And then at the last minute he supported the wrecking amendments."

Lois shrugged. "Happens all the time. Come on, Clark, you know what politicians are like. They'd sell their mother to get re-elected. Not one of them even knows what a principle is, let alone — "

Clark cut across her. "I think this was different. Wilson's never put a foot wrong before, according to the article I read. That's why it was such a surprise."

"Depends what you mean by putting a foot wrong," Lois objected. "Okay, so he didn't support the President, but what's unusual about that? You know Garner doesn't always get his own way within his party — so what?"

Clark shrugged. "Wilson's always been a Garner loyalist."

That was true, Lois acknowledged. She wasn't up-to-date on the political beat, since it wasn't her area, but now that Clark had jogged her memory she realised that she *was* vaguely aware of Wilson's record. If he was suddenly voting against the President…

"Well, it could have been a special-interest issue for him," she suggested. "Maybe he was actually convinced by the construction companies that lobbied him."

"Maybe. Or maybe he was bought off," Clark answered.

"Oh, come on! As much as I'd like to believe that, we've no proof!"

Clark grinned at her, and she did a double-take. "What?"

"Shouldn't that be my line?"

"Huh?"

"I might not have been here very long, but I do know your reputation, Lois. You're normally the one who gets the wild hunches, aren't you? And other people point out that you've no proof?"

She shrugged. "True. But this time I'm not the one with the hunch."

"Fair enough," Clark agreed. "But you are the one who sent Jimmy off to investigate Wilson's finances. If there are payments which can't be traced to a legitimate source, then will you listen?"

Lois frowned again. Clark could well be right; she knew that. But her concern was finding out how and why Wilson was getting involved with the INS over Superman's citizenship; interesting though this might be, it wasn't getting her any further. Although, she supposed, if Clark was right and they found evidence, they could use it to make Wilson tell them the truth. And maybe there was even more to this than Clark was suggesting.

"Of course I'll listen!" she said impatiently. "Look, there's still the Superman issue. When you were looking Wilson up earlier, did you see any evidence of a previous interest in immigration? Or extra-terrestrials?"

"None whatsoever," Clark said with some satisfaction. "Lois, I — "

"Okay," she said, cutting across him. "So if we prove he could have taken bribes over the construction bill, then he could have accepted a bribe to lobby the INS too!"

Clark answered cautiously, but she could see the excitement in his eyes. He believed it, too. "Not so fast, Lois. We haven't proved anything yet. Yeah, I'm suspicious over the construction bill, but this…"

"Is another example," she interrupted. "So, unless we're assuming that he's taking money from at least two different people, he must be in hock to someone who's interested in both construction and…" She trailed off and stared into space as the answer occurred to her.

"Lois?"

"Lex Luthor," she said abstractedly. "It has to be. Luthor Construction and LNN. And you said he and Superman have some history. Luthor's trying to get Superman deported, and he's bribing his pet senator to make sure the INS does it. And he's using his own TV station to influence public opinion. Lex Luthor's actually corrupt, and we're going to prove it!"

***

Some things began to fall into place after that. Cat showed them the letter from Wilson's attorney, and commented that even that was a surprise since in the past Barry Wilson had been a pretty informal kind of guy; if he had a problem with something in the Planet, he usually called Perry or the columnist himself rather than going straight to his attorney.

Clark mentioned Lex Luthor and asked whether Cat knew how well they knew each other. She shrugged. "Any politician in New Troy's going to know Lex Luthor. If you mean socially…" She frowned. "I haven't heard of them being at too many of the same dinner parties, put it that way. But Wilson and his wife were at the White Orchid Ball the other week."

"So was half of Metropolis," Lois pointed out; Clark glanced at her, hoping that she wasn't going to get sarcastic again.

"Yeah, but… now you mention it, I do remember something," Cat said slowly. "Near the end of the evening… you know, when most people are drunk and staggering home with a spouse, not necessarily their own… I saw Lex Luthor and Barry Wilson together, in one of the anterooms. It looked to me like they could have been arguing." She shrugged. "I didn't think anything of it. Is it important?"

"It might be," Clark answered. "Thanks, Cat." One piece of evidence, however circumstantial, which tied Luthor to Wilson, he thought.

Later, Jimmy came over with several pages of printouts and a very long explanation. It seemed that Wilson had indeed received an inheritance, but that it was worth only around $50,000.

"That'd only just cover the Mercedes," Lois said, interrupting Jimmy with a note of triumph in her voice.

More money had come into the Wilsons' main bank account over the past several months, but finding the sources hadn't been altogether easy. It had come through three different savings accounts, one in Wilson's name and the other two held by his wife. And those amounts had come from different sources, all of which looked innocuous. A donation towards the Wilsons' home office, which had ended up in Barry Wilson's account. Proceeds from the sale of some shares in Tania Wilson's name. Fees from speeches Tania Wilson had made, paid into a specially-designated account.

"This isn't getting us anywhere," Lois muttered dispiritedly. "Looks like you were wrong, Clark."

"*I* was wrong?" Clark echoed. "You went along with the theory. You were the one who expanded it!"

"It was still — " Lois contradicted hotly, but was interrupted by Jimmy.

"Hey! Do you guys want the juicy bits or don't you?"

Clark grinned as Lois instantly ignored him and focused on Jimmy. "Well, what are you waiting for?!"

"Okay. Here it is. There was a donation, but it was actually only for $5,000. Yet the records at Wilson's end show it as $50,000. Tania Wilson did sell some shares, but there's no record of her buying them. I checked the Stock Exchange records — they were transferred to her name about three months ago, but I can't find out where they came from. And although she does make some money from speeches, I can't find any evidence that it's as much as is in that account."

"So they do have another source of income, and they're trying to hide it," Clark concluded, unable to resist giving Lois a triumphant grin.

She ignored him. "Any way of finding out where this money is coming from?"

"You got to be kidding, Lois!" Jimmy complained. "It was tough enough getting this much information!"

"Jimmy, we appreciate what you did," Clark interjected quickly. "You've been really helpful. But it would be great if you could get anything at all about where Wilson's getting this." He hesitated, then said, "We have a hunch that it might be Lex Luthor."

Jimmy's eyebrows shot up. "Luthor? You guys are serious?" Clark saw Lois glare at Jimmy, and the younger man continued hastily, "Uh… what am I talking about? Of course you guys are serious. Um… ah, Lex Luthor. Would that be from one of his company accounts, or a private account?"

"Jimmy! If we knew that, do you think we'd be asking you?" Lois demanded, sounding irritated.

Jimmy held up his hands as if to ward her off. "Okay, okay, Lois, don't bite my head off! I'd hate to, uh, have to call your husband for help." He winked at Clark before hurrying off.

Lois looked furious, and Clark was hard put to suppress a grin. "Come on, Lois, he's doing his best, you know that," he said softly.

She sighed, then gave him a depressed look. "I know, Clark. I just *wish* everyone would get over this obsession with me and Superman, though! It's just not funny, and it got old days ago."

"I know it did," Clark said sympathetically, feeling a twinge of guilt at this evidence of still more problems he was causing for Lois. He patted her shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Come on — we're seeing Wilson in half an hour and we haven't worked out our strategy yet."

***

This was so frustrating, Lois thought. They'd made so much progress, and yet they still weren't able to prove anything. Jimmy had tried, but hadn't been able to trace the source of any of the money. Okay, sure, they had clear evidence that West wasn't remotely objective when it came to Superman, but where did that get them if they chose to use it? West would be taken off the case and another agent assigned. But if, as they suspected, the INS was setting Superman up for failure, would it make any difference in the end?

She'd discussed that with Clark on the way over to interview Wilson; they were again leaning towards the possibility of not saying anything about West, on the basis that the information they had gave them clear grounds for appeal against a decision which went against Superman. They could argue that the case was so important, and the fact that no-one in the Metropolis INS office had spotted West's prejudices was so damning, that the case should be referred to a different office altogether — in fact, that it should be referred all the way up to Washington.

Lois was now very sure that this was the best course of action. Clark had been unsure at first, but the more they'd discussed it, the more he'd come around to her point of view. Now, all she had to do was tell Superman what they thought.

She really had no idea what he was likely to think. It was obvious that he was very frustrated by West's hostility, and he'd been angry at his behaviour towards her. But Superman was so very *moral*. He was likely to insist on doing whatever he thought was right, and what he thought was right might well involve bringing the evidence they had to the attention of the head of the Metropolis office without delay.

But, in doing so, she and Clark could lose any chance they had of getting to the bottom of what was really going on.

It was on the tip of her tongue, as they exited her Jeep, to ask Clark if he could come over to her apartment later. She was expecting Superman at around six, so if Clark was there then, they could talk to him together and explain their strategy. But she found herself reluctant to ask Clark, which was strange considering they'd been working so closely together on this all day. She'd developed considerable respect for Clark over those intensive few hours; she no longer even thought of him as a greenhorn.

But she really wasn't sure she wanted to involve him in her discussion with Superman.

Not that she had any idea why… After all, both men were her friends, and Clark was proving to be extremely helpful in figuring out what was going on with this immigration thing. And he was trustworthy; she knew without even thinking about it that she could trust him to keep what he knew about her marriage to himself.

So why didn't she want him to be there when Superman arrived?

It couldn't be… no. It couldn't be jealousy. No! After all, what could she be jealous of?

Try the fact that Clark already seemed to spend as much, if not more, time with Superman than she did, from things both of them had let slip, a little voice inside her pointed out. And Superman certainly confided in Clark more than he did in her. He would probably have *married* Clark in preference to her, were marriages between people of the same gender permitted in any US state. So some part of her just didn't want Clark to be a part of this too.

So she was jealous. Wasn't she?

She winced uncomfortably as she accompanied Clark to the door. Jealous? Of Clark's closeness to Superman? But she had to admit to herself that it was true. That was exactly what she was seeing.

And… She stole a guilty glance at Clark as they stood together at the door to Barry Wilson's home. She was also feeling guilty, because of this weird feeling of attraction that she had for Clark all of a sudden. She'd thought last night that it was all down to being tired or frustrated or something like that; and yet all day she'd had images come into her mind at the most inconvenient moments. Thoughts about what it would be like to be kissed *properly* by Clark, after that impulsive kiss on the cheek earlier. Pictures of the two of them together, lying on a bed and touching each other. And now, she was seized with a crazy desire just to reach out and take his hand, to feel him curl his strong fingers around hers.

She was *attracted* to Clark. But she was married to Superman, purely paper marriage or not.

There was no way that she could spend any time in the company of both men together; it would be far too uncomfortable.

"…sure you want to be with me?" Clark's voice cut across her thoughts then, and Lois blinked. Had he really said what she thought he had? Did he know how she was feeling where he was concerned? Oh, that was *embarrassing*!

She stared at him blankly, and he frowned. "Are you okay? You looked completely out of it there for a minute!"

"I'm fine, Clark." Her embarrassment made her sound more abrupt than she'd intended. "What were you saying?"

"I was just wondering whether you were sure you still wanted to come in with me. To see Wilson."

Oh… *that* was what he'd meant! Lois leaned back against the pillar in front of the door — the Wilsons had a preference for faux-classical architecture, it seemed — and sighed in silent relief before insisting that of course she wanted to be in on the interview.

They were admitted to the grand house moments later; Lois noted the ostentatious signs of wealth everywhere and grew even more suspicious of the senator as they were shown into the man's study. Wilson himself did a very obvious double-take when he realised that Clark wasn't alone. Staring rather pointedly at Lois, he said, "I understood that this was a one-to-one interview, Mr Kent."

"Ms Lane is my partner," Clark said firmly. "We work together on this sort of thing."

Partner? That was a word always guaranteed to raise Lois's hackles; she did *not* have 'partners'. One thing she'd insisted on, from the day Claude had seduced and betrayed her, was that she worked alone. If she needed help on any particular investigation, she would work with other reporters, but it was always firmly understood that she was in charge. There was never any hint of equality in the relationship in such circumstances.

And now Clark was claiming that they were partners. As it happened, she conceded, it was a pretty sensible tack to take. It would defuse Wilson's bluster over her presence and give her a legitimate reason to be there.

Why was the thought of Clark as a partner on a more permanent basis so appealing? Horrified at herself, Lois forced that thought out of her mind and moved forward to greet Senator Wilson.

The conversation ranged across a number of topics, from the most recent debates in the Senate and the likelihood of the budget going through Congress unamended, to next year's midterms and Wilson's own re-election chances. None of Wilson's answers was of any use to Lois and Clark at the moment, although Lois mused that it would certainly be helpful to have the interview on tape; some of Wilson's comment could definitely be used at another time.

She allowed Clark to take the lead in the interview, taking the opportunity to study him in action. He had an unusual approach, giving the appearance of being very open and friendly and almost naive, unlike her own very businesslike, direct attitude when interviewing. Clark's manner, she could see, was encouraging Wilson to talk more freely than he might otherwise have done. Yet there were a couple of points at which Clark could have really gone for the kill — where she would certainly have done it, and he didn't do so.

Working together, she thought, they would make a great interviewing team…

Then she realised that Clark was bringing the discussion to a more relevant topic, and she subtly began to focus more closely. "I think I remember seeing you at the White Orchid Ball a couple of weeks ago. Do you know Lex Luthor well?" Clark asked, in what seemed to be an idle remark.

"Who doesn't?" Wilson replied with an expansive shrug. "Of course, in my position, it's very important to remain on good terms with the important businessmen in New Troy." What about businesswomen? Lois wondered tartly, but remained silent. "Lex Luthor does a tremendous amount of good for this city, and it's always a pleasure to meet him. A very cultured, intelligent man — we could do with more like him in Congress."

"True, though on a senator's salary he could never keep up with his current standard of living," Clark responded, again sounding as if this was just an idle thought.

This was where his interview style came into its own, Lois mused; since he hadn't been at all tough during the interview, there was no reason for Wilson to look beyond the surface for any hidden meaning.

"I've thought for a while now that we don't pay our public representatives enough," Clark continued. "It's a shame that people have to be independently wealthy first before going into public service, which keeps 'ordinary people' shut out. If we want our politicians to concentrate on running the country and holding public authorities to account properly, we can't continue expecting them to survive on the kind of salaries they get at the moment, don't you think?"

Bravo, Clark! Lois thought admiringly as she surreptitiously watched Wilson. He shuffled in his seat momentarily — uncomfortable? Lois wondered — then said in a light tone which sounded false to her, "Oh, no-one goes into politics for the money! And anyway, it's not too bad. Certainly a lot better than your average nurse or teacher, and that's probably the kind of unfairness in income level that we should be more concerned about, isn't it?"

Clark smiled sympathetically. "Sure, absolutely! And I guess you're right — you're obviously not doing too badly. This is a great place you've got here! Must have cost a fortune!"

He did ingenuous so well, Lois reflected wryly. This would be a good lesson to her to be on her guard around Clark in future; this guy could lure the most cynical person into a trap if they weren't careful.

But Wilson simply smiled. "Thank you. My wife chose most of the furnishings and paintings — she has a real eye for that sort of thing. She's so good at it that Caroline Bailey asked her to help them redecorate the governor's mansion when they moved in."

Nice try, Clark, Lois thought regretfully. She leaned forward and smiled at the senator. "Oh, does your wife do interior design consultancy? I wondered how you're able to afford this beautiful house!"

But Wilson gave her an insincere smile in reply. "As we told the press at the time, I received a legacy a few months ago. Sadly, that's where the money came from."

"Senator Wilson, there is one more thing I wanted to ask you about," Clark said smoothly, changing the subject. "You were a guest on the Larry Myers show last night, and you announced that you were liaising with the INS over the processing of Superman's citizenship application. You also made your own views on that application very clear. Might I ask why you've chosen to take an interest in this?"

"Not with Superman's wife in the room," Wilson answered sharply.

"Ms Lane is a professional," Clark responded immediately, an edge to his voice for the first time since the interview had started. "She is also an award- winning journalist. I'm sure you'll appreciate that she is hardly likely to compromise her reputation by haranguing you in an interview situation. But, if it will make you feel more reassured, I'm sure that Ms Lane will be happy not to participate in this part of the interview."

Clever, Clark, Lois thought. Not giving any hint that the decision had already been taken, but suggesting it as if it was a concession to Wilson, and thus making it more difficult for the senator to refuse.

"I'm 'taking an interest', as you put it, Mr Kent, because this is an issue which directly affects my constituents. Superman came to this country illegally, and seems to have based himself in Metropolis. As one of New Troy's elected representatives, I wouldn't be doing my job if I wasn't showing some concern about the situation."

"But surveys are showing that the majority of people in Metropolis want Superman to be granted citizenship, and can't understand why the INS got involved in the first place," Clark pointed out.

"The INS has a statutory duty to get involved when there are questions of immigration law," Wilson pointed out patronisingly. "It's not as if it's a political decision, Mr Kent."

"But your involvement could be construed as political."

"And your paper's involvement could be construed as a conflict of interest," Wilson countered immediately. Lois sat on her hands and bit hard on her lip to prevent herself from retaliating; she was furious at the man's avoidance of the subject and his attempts to deflect criticism away from himself.

"I don't think so," Clark said instantly. "Have you seen Ms Lane's byline on any story related to Superman since they got married? Have you even seen the Planet take an editorial position on the question of Superman's citizenship? The Daily Planet has consistently maintained a neutral line on the issue."

That was true, and it was something over which Lois had become very agitated; now, though, she could see the advantage of the position Perry had adopted.

"So, Senator, I'm wondering why you're taking such an interest — and why your attitude appears to be so hostile. Last night you referred to Superman as 'the extra-terrestrial' and a 'dangerous alien'. That's not exactly a neutral position on the issue of Superman's citizenship, and the Planet's readers might well wonder just what form your talks with the INS are taking," Clark said pointedly.

"I was merely stating facts, Mr Kent," Wilson said bluntly. "Now, if you don't mind — "

"Facts?" Clark challenged, refusing to take the hint. "The facts, as I can see them, are that ever since Superman arrived in Metropolis he has done nothing other than save lives, help fight crime and protect property. He hasn't harmed anyone, nor has he given the faintest sign of wanting to harm anyone. And the vast majority of Metropolis citizens want him to carry on doing just what he's doing."

"Mr Kent," Wilson began patronisingly. "You're an intelligent man, I can see that. Surely you know that the public is easily duped, easily led. The vast majority of Germans, before the war, thought that Adolf Hitler was the best thing to happen to their country."

Lois felt her blood boil. This man, this *bigot*, was comparing Superman with Hitler? She couldn't stay silent any longer, and opened her mouth to speak. But suddenly Clark's hand squeezed her knee. She looked down and saw his surreptitious touch, and made herself swallow. He was right. She'd agreed not to talk, and it was obvious that the second she intervened in any way Wilson would throw them out.

"I think you're underestimating both the intelligence and the good sense of your electorate, Senator," Clark said calmly. "In fact, I'm extremely surprised to hear you express such views. I'd imagine that your comparison with Hitler wouldn't go down very well at all, were I to print it. But at the same time," he continued quickly before the senator could respond, "I'm particularly surprised that you're so vehemently opposed to Superman. After all, I believe he saved your wife's life recently."

Wilson flushed red, and visibly swallowed a couple of times. Then he said, "Yes, I believe that is the case. But that's beside the point! A criminal doesn't cease to be a criminal because he does one good act. Superman is an illegal alien and needs to be dealt with. He's also admitted to being from another planet, and who knows what that could mean for us on Earth? It's our duty as responsible citizens to pre-empt the threat and remove him from US soil as soon as possible."

"Always assuming that there is a threat," Clark said softly. "So, you're talking to the INS here in Metropolis? How long have you been involved in this case?"

"I'm not 'involved', as you put it," Wilson objected. "I have simply had a couple of conversations with the director, that's all. As I have conversations with many federal employees in the course of carrying out my duties. There is nothing sinister there at all, whatever you may think, nor am I abusing my position, as you appear to be insinuating, Mr Kent. And as for Ms Lane, whatever she may think, I have nothing personal against either her or her *husband* — " Wilson stressed the word as if the term was distasteful in the circumstances. "It's a matter of ensuring that the law is upheld."

"I'd suggest that the language you used last night implies that there is more to it than that," Clark observed firmly.

Wilson shrugged. "Sometimes you have to use strong language in order to get the point across. The medium dictates the presentation, as I'm sure *experienced* reporters would understand." He smiled; insincerely, Lois thought.

"If you say so," Clark replied, then he glanced at Lois. She nodded, agreeing with his unspoken suggestion that they'd got all the information they were going to get here.

"Thank you for your time," Clark said, standing up; then he and Lois were being escorted from the room.

***

"Brainless, moronic, smug, talentless *cretin*!" Lois exclaimed once they were safely outside the house again.

Clark smiled despite his own frustration and annoyance. "I take it you don't like him, then?" At her glare, he added, "Just teasing. Yeah, he's an idiot — makes me wonder how on earth he ever got elected!"

"He won't get re-elected if I have anything to do with it!" she muttered darkly.

"No, I shouldn't think so," Clark agreed. "Once we tell his constituents that he compared Superman to Hitler, I think his popularity points will take a pretty big tumble."

"That was just *unbelievable*, wasn't it?" Lois turned to stare at him.

"Completely. For a politician, it's incredible that he could be so indiscreet. Senators have had to resign for less." Clark shook his head, wondering what on earth had caused the man to forget all his instincts and make such a crass statement. He'd been very angry, of course, when the comparison was made; it had taken him all his self-control to show no reaction. But then, there were more ways than one of extracting some degree of retribution for the man's idiotic and offensive remarks.

"Looks like he was something of a xenophobe after all; he just hid it well," Lois said.

But that made Clark pause. "I'm not so sure," he said thoughtfully, now addressing something which had been bugging him since they'd left the room. "Were you watching him all the way through? For most of the interview he was relaxed, pretty calm, even when I know very well he was just feeding me lines. He only got stressed when we talked about his finances and Superman."

Lois shrugged. "Sure. They're the topics he didn't want to talk about."

"But he went on LNN to talk about Superman. He had to expect to be asked about it."

"Not with me in the room," Lois pointed out. "Remember, he was pretty rude about me too last night."

"Yeah, but…" Clark hesitated. There was something not quite right about the situation, and he wasn't entirely sure what it was. Then he remembered. "Did you notice how he referred to Superman, Lois?"

"Yeah. Adolf Hitler," she muttered angrily.

"No, apart from that. He never used any of the language he used on TV last night. I was the one who used that — listen to the tape and you'll see. He called him 'Superman' throughout."

"So?" Lois queried, although Clark could see that she was getting the point.

"So I'm wondering if last night's performance wasn't just that — a performance. That someone else put him up to."

"Someone like Lex Luthor, you mean," Lois said.

"Yeah."

"But how do we prove it? Wilson's given us *nothing* we can use!" she said, frustrated.

Before he could answer, she was looking at her watch and shaking her head. "Clark, I have to go. Superman's picking me up in less than an hour, and I have to get ready… Do you want me to drop you off somewhere?"

Slowly, he shook his head; he had an idea, and there was time to put it into effect before he had to go and meet Lois. "It's okay — you go ahead. And have a good time, okay?"

She blushed a little, which made him wince inwardly. "Thanks."

"And, hey, if you want I'll call you tomorrow when I've seen the LNN people. Give you a report." It would be Saturday, after all, and Lois had the day off while Clark was working.

"Sure! I'll be at home — why don't you just come round?" she suggested, beginning to walk away.

"If you like," he agreed, smiling and looking forward to the prospect of discussing his findings, if any, with her, and considering their next step.

She waved a casual goodbye and hurried to the Jeep, leaving Clark to stroll down the road and, once she was out of sight, behind some bushes. Seconds later, Superman hovered in the air above the senator's house. His hunch had paid off; the senator was on the phone to someone.

"…yes, they've gone. And yes, I sent them away with a flea in their ear!" He sounded irritated.

"No, they won't be back! I made it clear that there was no story. As far as they know, I'm acting on my own initiative about Superman… And *no*, they don't know about the money! *Or* my relationship with you…"

"No, you don't need to threaten me!" Looking down, Clark could see that the man was sweating heavily; as he watched, Wilson burrowed into a pocket for a handkerchief and began to mop his forehead. "Look, Luthor, I did all you asked. Every little bit of it, even though it's going to damage my career. Even though I stand to lose far more than you do if any of this gets out. Can't you leave me *alone* now?!"

Luthor.

Even though Clark had suspected Lex Luthor's involvement all along, it was still a shock to hear the man's name mentioned. Luthor was bribing — possibly even blackmailing — Senator Wilson.

Just wait until he told Lois!

Then he sobered, realising that of course he *couldn't* tell Lois. There was no way that he could explain knowing this — not without claiming that Superman had told him, and he suspected that she was already getting very suspicious about the number of things Superman apparently told him while not telling his wife. And even if Superman were to tell Lois about this directly, how could Superman explain having been there?

This was just getting far too complicated. His mother was right: he now knew exactly what he needed to do. He would tell Lois that he was Superman, and the sooner the better. Just as soon as he found the right opportunity.

***

Lois took one final anxious glance in the mirror before moving to the living- room to await her date. She just hoped that he wouldn't have any reason to look into her bedroom, where several discarded outfits lay on the bed. Dress or trousers? Casual or dressy? She'd changed her mind several times, wondering whether something too smart would send the wrong signals about her expectations, before finally deciding that it would be best to wear a dress. They were, after all, trying to create the image of Superman out with his wife for dinner, and in the circumstances, being newly married and all, Lois would naturally dress up.

Then there had been the choice of *which* dress to wear. She looked great in the burgundy dress she'd worn to a formal function last year, but then she realised that burgundy would clash horribly with Superman's cape. Just as the sapphire dress she'd bought at a sale in a designer outlet mall would clash with the rest of his uniform. In fact, there wasn't a colour in sight which *wouldn't* look horrible or unsightly next to his Suit.

There was white, of course, but apart from the fact that she didn't have a white dress, nor time to go and buy one, white tended to make her look washed out, unless she spent a lot of time on make-up. But just as she'd almost despaired of finding anything suitable, her hand had alighted on a dress which somehow had got pushed right to the back of the wardrobe.

A little black dress. Just perfect.

It was straight-cut; no flowing lines, no unnecessary flounces or beading or anything like that. Just a figure-hugging dress, high in the neck at front but with a little plunge behind; a skirt which demurely came to her knees and flattered her shapely legs. Stepping into it quickly, she'd studied her reflection in the full-length mirror and nodded, satisfied. It was perfect.

And now, having applied a discreet layer of make-up and brushed and styled her hair until it shone, she was nervously waiting for her date to arrive. Even though it wasn't a real date, and this was all for show, and she knew that Superman had made it very clear that their relationship would remain platonic and somewhat distant, she still had to suppress the butterflies dancing in her stomach.

She *knew* he was attracted to her. How could they go somewhere as romantic as Italy, share a meal together, and he not be affected by the experience?

But did she want him to?

That question came out of the blue, and made Lois catch her breath. What was she thinking? She loved Superman, and if he wanted to make their relationship real, all her dreams would come true.

But would they…? Suddenly she was remembering that incident in the newsroom, when Clark had kissed her in his exuberance at her discovery of Philip West's hobby. And she was remembering those few moments outside Senator Wilson's house, when all she'd been able to think of was Clark: how good-looking he was, how it might feel to be kissed by him, touched by him…

It was only because he was forbidden fruit, Lois told herself harshly. She was married to Superman, and regardless of the reason for their marriage, it meant that any other man was out of bounds for the moment. And anyway, she really didn't know Clark Kent anywhere near well enough to think of him as a potential boyfriend. Sure, he was a nice guy and he seemed to want to be her friend — and he had the potential to be a good friend too. But that didn't mean that he was necessarily the kind of reliable, honest and exciting man she wanted as a boyfriend.

Clark was a friend, and she needed to keep it that way.

A fluttering noise outside her window alerted her to Superman's arrival. Smoothing down her dress, she turned to greet him as he flew in. He smiled in greeting, then paused and blinked, looking almost stunned.

"You look… terrific," he said huskily, then drew a hand from behind his back and presented her with a single long-stemmed rose in deep pink.

Blushing, Lois thanked him. "I'll… uh, just find something to put it in."

She went into the kitchen and found a small vase and filled it with water, standing the rose in it and bringing the vase through to place it on her dresser.

"Ready to go?"

"Sure. Uh, Superman, there's a lot we need to talk about."

He nodded. "Yeah, I have some things I want to talk to you about too." He sounded serious, and she wondered what he had in mind. But he came towards her and scooped her up in his arms, then floated them out through the window.

Flying in Superman's arms at night was even more thrilling than doing so in the daytime. Although it was still light in Metropolis, once they were out over the ocean it began to get darker as they left the sun further and further behind them. The Atlantic was inky-black below them, the stars above shimmering brightly in the night sky to supply a faint light. Then, as they flew further east, Lois began to see the lights of land ahead.

"That's France over there, to your left," Superman murmured, his mouth close to her ear. "We're going to fly across northern Spain, over the Pyrenees, and then over to Italy."

"It's beautiful," she said wonderingly.

"Sure is. You're not cold, are you?" he asked then, sounding concerned. "I should have thought of that before…"

"No — amazingly, I'm perfectly comfortable," she assured him. "That's pretty incredible in the circumstances."

"I think it might be something to do with me," he explained. "I've noticed before that things I hold very close to me don't seem to get damaged, or cold, or anything like that when maybe they should. My Suit never seems to get damaged no matter what I do, though the end of my cape's got singed once or twice."

Yet more details about this extraordinary man, Lois thought, realising that no matter how secretive he had been about himself — was still being in many ways — she already knew enough about him to write a book. 'Superman: The Inside Story', she reflected silently, aware that any number of publishers would be willing to pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps more, for such a book. And yet she knew she would never do that. Just as her marriage to Superman had taken her out of the market for Superman scoops, it had also taught her the value of loyalty. She would never use the information she'd gained about this man for fame or personal gain, even if that was her only chance at a Pulitzer.

Although, of course, it wouldn't be her only chance. She was Lois Lane, after all, and nothing and no-one was going to stop her getting that prize; after all, she was an award-winning journalist — the youngest-ever winner of a Kerth. She was acknowledged as being excellent at her job. And, since excellence should be rewarded, it was surely only a matter of time before she was deservedly the winner of that prized Pulitzer.

***

Milan was a delightful surprise. Although it was after midnight here, the city was alive: people thronged the streets, chattering warmly and clearly enjoying themselves. It was Friday night, of course, so most people would have no need for early nights to prepare for work in the morning. But Lois was still surprised at the sheer number of people around, and at the fact that the streets seemed to be as much a gathering-point as the bars and restaurants.

"It's the way they do it in some parts of Europe," Superman explained as they walked. "Of course, the weather's warmer, especially in summer, so why sit inside in a dark and stuffy bar when you can be out in the fresh evening air?"

"Pollution's obviously not a problem, then," Lois murmured, looking around her.

"Oh, sure, in some parts of the city. But not in this district."

They were being stared at, of course, but Lois had expected that, and in fact it was the main reason for their presence in public as a couple. Still, it was very weird to be the subject of so many people's interest; it wasn't something she was used to, and she felt like a specimen under a microscope. Casting a glance at her companion, who appeared oblivious to the attention they were attracting, she wondered whether that was the way he felt any time he was out in public. Of course, he might simply be too busy saving lives to notice, most of the time. But what about when he went to buy groceries, as he'd done for her only a few days earlier? Or, even more embarrassing, condoms?

Which was an interesting point… how come Superman didn't get snapped doing his shopping? After all, she'd had to put up with that *embarrassing* picture of her buying ice-cream. So just how did he manage to escape notice? Did he fly in at Super-speed and leave his money on the counter or something? But that would be so weird, and surely someone would have noticed it and reported it before now. It was something the tabloids would certainly make a big deal of. So how did he do it?

Yet another of a long list of unanswerable questions, she acknowledged wryly. And they would remain unanswerable until she persuaded Superman to talk to her properly.

Lois noticed that Superman seemed to be walking with a sense of purpose, and that was confirmed a couple of minutes later when he stopped outside a trattoria and spoke to the waiter by the door in swift, fluent Italian. Immediately, they were shown to a table inside, in front of the window — where they could be seen from outside, Lois recognised. Obviously the restaurant's owner was taking advantage of the opportunity for free advertising.

Delicious smells were emanating from the kitchen, and judging by the food being consumed by other patrons, this was an excellent restaurant. The menu alone made Lois's mouth water, although she needed Superman's help to translate some of the items. She was certainly going to enjoy the meal.

But there was another disadvantage to their location, besides feeling as if she was in a goldfish bowl. There was no way that they were going to be able to talk about anything personal or confidential. Oh, she could update him on the progress she and Clark had made on their investigations into Philip West and Barry Wilson, and they could probably discuss whether it would be better to appeal against West's involvement now or later.

But she couldn't really discuss the issue which had been on her mind since the previous evening: the question of the way Superman treated her sometimes. She certainly didn't want to turn it into a fight, but she had no idea how he'd react when she told him that she felt excluded and unappreciated. He might take it very well, and be apologetic and at pains to make amends. He might, on the other hand, feel that she was being a nagging wife with no justification whatsoever, since he'd made her no promises at all in that regard. And there was no way that they could be seen to be fighting in public. Even having that conversation here, in public, would be dangerous: she couldn't assume that people around them couldn't speak English. And it was a pretty straight bet that someone would already have been on the phone to a local — or even a national — newspaper, and chances were that a nearby table would be occupied by a reporter soon enough.

That was what they wanted; but it did have its downside. The discussion she needed to have would simply have to wait.

***

The discussion he needed to have would simply have to wait. He couldn't tell Lois that he was Clark tonight, Clark realised with an inward grimace. They were just too public; there were too many people around, all of whom would be doing their best to eavesdrop on the conversation between Superman and his wife. Plus, if there was any chance that Lois might react badly, he couldn't take the risk of telling her here.

Maybe when they got back to her apartment, he thought.

So he concentrated on their present surroundings, translating the menu for Lois and recommending some dishes he thought she might like. Risotto, he explained, was the thing to eat in Milan.

"Not pasta?" she queried.

"Well, you can eat pasta if you like. But risotto is the local speciality. If you want pasta, you should have an antipasto — see, there, what we call starters. And then risotto as the next course — the primo."

"The *next* course?!" Lois exclaimed. "But then here, there's… what are those? Secondo?"

"The second course, what we call the main course or entrees. Though did you know that 'entree' actually means starter?" Clark said lightly, smiling at Lois.

"*How* much do Italians eat when they go out to dinner?" she asked, shaking her head.

"Well, this is why dinner is such a big event. You don't just grab a burger and run off to the movies or something. If you go out for a meal over here, it's an entire evening out." Clark glanced back at the menu. "If you like fish, I'd recommend the spigola — it's a speciality, bass boiled in an artichoke sauce, and we could have it with contorno."

"Contorno?"

He grinned. "Just vegetables. Not too much, so you'll have room for dessert if you want."

"If I want?" Lois rolled her eyes at him. "I've heard about some of these Italian desserts! I have no intention of missing out on that, even if I have to ask for a doggy-bag!"

Clark laughed, then added, "You know, if you don't want risotto you could have mezzelune di branzino con ragout di cape sante e gamberi."

Lois's jaw dropped. "Huh?"

He was enjoying this. Grinning, he translated. "It's ravioli with a bass filling served with a clam and crayfish ragout. And it's delicious!"

Lois considered for a moment, then said, "But we're having bass for the… what did you call it? Secondo?"

Clark nodded. "Well, maybe another time. I'm sure we can come back here, if you like." He then signalled to a waiter and gave their order in Italian, exchanging a couple of casual remarks at the same time, making it clear that he and his wife were just having an evening out. Lois had never been to Italy, he explained, and he wanted to show her this beautiful city.

Sipping some crisp white wine a few minutes later, he brought up the subject of the day's activities. "So, you said you had some things to talk to me about?"

To his surprise, Lois looked a little awkward for a moment, and he wondered whether she'd intended to discuss something else. But then she proceeded to tell him everything he already knew, about the outcome of the day's investigation. He listened, enjoying hearing Lois's interpretation of what had happened and the way she gave credit for some of the deductive reasoning to herself, not Clark. Amusing as that was, he was then very surprised and flattered at her compliments on his interviewing style with Wilson, and had to take a sip of his wine as a means of avoiding her gaze for a moment.

They were interrupted a couple of times by people asking for autographs; he smiled apologetically at her each time before being polite to the intruder. Clark kept expecting to see a photographer at any time; he was pretty sure that he'd heard the proprietor on the phone to a news organisation within a couple of seconds of their arrival.

Finally, interruptions, several camera flashes and the arrival of their risotto aside, Lois asked the main question he'd been waiting to hear. "What do you want to do? We could object to West — we have enough evidence to get him taken off the case. But…"

"But if we do, he gets replaced with someone else, who might be a little cleverer at hiding his real motivation," Clark said quietly. "And the INS will be alerted to the fact that we're suspicious, which could hinder you and Clark in your investigation, yes?"

"Yes, exactly!" Lois answered, looking relieved that he'd understood so quickly.

Just then, they were interrupted yet again; a short, balding man thrust a card towards Clark. It introduced the man as a senior news reporter at Milan's biggest daily paper, so Clark allowed the man to ask him a few questions; he translated a couple for Lois, and gave her answers in Italian. He explained, as he'd already told the waiter, that he was simply taking his wife out to dinner, as couples the world over did occasionally as a treat. He made some flattering remarks about Italian cuisine, as well as the museums and other tourist attractions, adding that he hoped at some point to take Lois to La Scala.

The reporter thanked him, then added profuse thanks and compliments directed at Lois, before expressing a wish that they enjoy their meal and leaving.

"Sorry about that," Clark said quietly. "Seemed a good chance to send the message we wanted to get across."

"Oh, perfect!" Lois agreed. "I just hope that paper puts the story out on the wire services — then the Metropolis media should have it before morning."

"Oh, I shouldn't think they'd miss an opportunity to cash in on a world exclusive!" Clark said dryly, then wondered whether he wasn't sounding a little too like himself. "At least, I assume that's how news organisations work?" he added quickly.

"You got that right!" She grinned at him. "Now, where were we? Oh yeah, we'd agreed to do nothing about the INS yet."

Clark nodded. "There is something else which bothers me," he added thoughtfully. "If there is a plot going a lot higher than West, and involving this senator and maybe even Lex Luthor, why would they put someone like West on the case? I mean, he's so obvious in his prejudices — they'd have to see that he could wreck the whole plan."

"True." Lois rested her chin on her hands and regarded him, deep in thought. "Unless they simply didn't know… but I find that hard to believe."

"It might not be so hard. I mean, had you ever heard of this Defenders of the Earth organisation before today? Chances are his employers haven't either. And you said the newsletters were available from an FTP site — how many people even know how FTP works? All most people know about the internet is that they can send and receive email. And even though web sites are beginning to catch on, they're not exactly common yet — and not that many people have Internet access. And how easy would it be to find one FTP site?"

"True," Lois agreed again. "It took Jimmy well over an hour to find it, and he knows lots of tricks — I think he's some kind of net junkie, actually."

"So the INS might not know about him. I think, in that case, it would be best to leave it for now — let West and Roberts continue with their investigation for the time being, and appeal later. Unless you and Clark get a breakthrough before then, in which case I suppose we need to appeal somewhere higher."

"In which case we go public with this whole thing and show how there's been a conspiracy to get you thrown out of the country!" Lois hissed indignantly. "Think about it, Superman — if we're right, there's a senator, a big businessman and someone influential in the INS up to their necks in this! This isn't something we just complain about privately."

"I suppose not," Clark agreed. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Lois shook her head. "Just leave it to Clark and me. You're great when it comes to saving lives and boosting space shuttles, Superman, but when it comes to investigating this is our job. It's what we're good at, remember."

"Oh, I do — I don't mean to suggest you're not," Clark said quickly. "But there may be things I can do that you can't — listen to things, maybe? I mean," he clarified, "you and Clark talked to that senator today. How do you know that he wasn't on the phone to whoever was giving him orders as soon as you left? I could check that out for you if I knew who you were seeing and when."

Lois looked struck by that idea. "You'd be willing to do that?"

"Sure. If what you suspect is true, these people are corrupting the system, and need to be exposed."

Lois then gave him all the details of the interviews he was conducting with the LNN staffers the following day. "Want me to contact Clark and tell him that you'll be hanging around afterwards?"

Clark smiled. "It's okay — I'll find a way of letting him know." Beneath the smile, he was feeling uncomfortable, however. He really did want to stop lying to Lois, stop this pretence that there were two different men. But, as he'd already recognised, this wasn't the place to do it.

Maybe later, when he brought her home. He just hoped she wouldn't take it too badly.

***

Superman was being very sensible about all this, Lois thought. And, which pleased her greatly, he appeared to respect her own judgement and professionalism. He seemed willing to take her advice and to allow her and Clark to carry on trying to get to the bottom of what was going on, rather than taking the opportunity to get West off his back immediately.

Something else surprised her about the discussion. Superman seemed very knowledgeable about computer and internet technology, for someone who, as far as she knew, spent his time flying around and saving people. Okay, she could accept that his learning curve was a lot shorter than normal people's, but when did he get the opportunity to become familiar with computers? Although he had told her about his Fortress of Solitude; who knew what he had there? He could have entire banks of computers and televisions and heaven only knew what else.

Some day, she was going to have to make him tell her more about himself. He had to know that he could trust her!

"Dessert?"

"Huh?" She started, looking across at her dinner companion then. "Oh! Sorry, I was just thinking…"

"Nothing serious, I hope?" His voice was lightly teasing.

"Uh… no, not really." She wasn't prepared to discuss the question of how little he was telling her about himself here. Not while they were still being watched, and whispered about, no doubt.

"Anyway, you said you wanted dessert. Anything you fancy?"

She studied the menu. "Torte cioccolata sounds perfect… oh, but there's tiramisu too, and I've never had real tiramisu!"

Superman smiled, amused. "I can certainly recommend it. Do you know the story of the origin of tiramisu?"

"No." She gave him a curious look. "I take it you do?"

He grinned at her. "You know the name means 'pick-me-up'? Well, legend has it that the dessert was invented by a brothel madam. She gave it to her girls after they'd finished their… ah, *duties*, in order to help them recover and, ah… get ready for their next client."

As Lois watched him, her eyes wide in amazement, Superman gave her what seemed like a very deliberate wink. "You're kidding!" she exclaimed.

"No kidding," he assured her. "That's the story."

Blushing, she looked down at the menu. "Uh… thanks for the explanation, Superman. Now, how do I choose between the chocolate cake and the tiramisu?!"

He smiled again. "Simple. We'll order one of each, and we'll share."

Delighted, she laughed softly. "I knew there was a reason why I like you!"

His gaze softened, and he smiled gently. "I… like you too, Lois. I -" His hand reached across the table towards her, but then stopped before he could touch her. "I'm sorry," he added quickly. "I was letting myself forget… We need to talk, Lois, *properly*, and we can't do that here."

Lois caught her breath; what could he mean? The way he was looking at her, the emotion in his voice, all suggested that he was ready to ignore what he'd said last night about not being able to pursue a relationship with her. But then he'd said 'I was letting myself forget…' — that didn't sound altogether positive.

But, as he'd said, now wasn't the time, so she turned the conversation back to their meal. "I'm looking forward to some real espresso, too."

His expression seemed to indicate gratitude. "Sure. You'll love it, I'm sure." With a subtle gesture, he signalled a waiter across.

The desserts were even better than Lois had anticipated; she fell silent and simply luxuriated in the rich flavours. After a while, she became aware that she was being watched, and looked up to find Superman regarding her with an amused expression.

"I'm glad you like it here," he said with a smile, in answer to her enquiring look. "You know, if we were really lovers, the ecstasy on your face right now would make me worry." He grinned, pretending to look alarmed as she swatted him.

Too soon, it was time to call for the bill; they were the last patrons left in the restaurant and, no matter how many times the owner assured them that they were most welcome, and offered them more espresso, it was clear that the staff wanted to go home. Seeing Superman signal for the bill to be brought to the table, Lois suddenly wondered how he was going to pay it. Again, the question of just where he got his money from crossed her mind; she'd never managed to ask him, and right now certainly wasn't the time.

What if he only had a little money to begin with, and he'd been spending what he had on her?

She bent to retrieve her purse and, awkwardly, she said, "I have my credit card, Superman — I can pay for this…"

But he instantly frowned at her. "Lois, I invited you out for dinner. That means *I* pay. Not you."

"But… well, you provided the transport to get here… that flight was amazing!"

"I'm glad you think so," he said, a touch forbiddingly. "But this is on me, Lois." His expression softened then as he looked quizzically at her. "What's the matter, Lois? Did you think I couldn't afford it or something?"

"Well…" She hesitated, not sure how to put her thoughts tactfully. "You don't actually get paid for what you do, so I wasn't sure how…"

"How I came to have any money?" He gave her a rueful grimace. "That's one of the many questions I haven't answered for you — and I'm sorry, Lois, but I can't answer it right now, either — not here."

Did that mean that he was going to answer it? she wondered, her heart leaping at the thought. Was he going to open up more to her? Show her that he trusted her?

The bill came then, and Superman produced several bank-notes from somewhere beneath his cape; one look at the design told her that they were foreign currency, so she presumed that they were lira. Handing the money over, with a gesture and phrase which clearly meant that the owner should keep the change, Superman got to his feet.

"Grazie molto, buona notte," he said, shaking the owner's hand warmly. A woman came running out from the kitchen, carrying a camera, and Lois and Superman had to pose for several pictures with the family who ran the restaurant. Finally, they were able to leave; this time, Superman didn't seem to want to walk around Milan, scooping Lois up into his arms as soon as they left.

"I'd love to take you down to Sorrento and fly low over the Bay of Naples," he said quietly as they took off. "But even in Metropolis time it's getting late, and we needed to talk… I'm sorry, the atmosphere just wasn't right for any really private conversation."

"We can talk at home," Lois assured him, settling back to enjoy the return flight.

And it was beautiful. This time, darkness covered both sides of the Atlantic, though as before the night was lightened by a panoply of stars, their reflections twinkling in the ocean below them. All too soon, the lights of the eastern coast of the US became visible, and Superman lost altitude as he flew them over Metropolis.

Setting Lois down in her living-room, he stepped back. "I think we both have things we want to talk about. Ah… do you want to go first?"

***

<Let me go first!> Clark was silently pleading, but he felt the effect of his parents' training kicking in and he had to offer Lois the opportunity.

"Please," she said immediately. "I… need to talk about our relationship, Superman. I don't mean about… well, whether we have a romantic relationship or not — you gave me your answer on that yesterday, and whatever I feel I have to respect your position." She faltered a couple of times during that short speech, and Clark ached for her. If only he hadn't got himself into this position… if only he'd known her better as Clark when all this started… If they'd been friends then, he could have told her who he was right from the start.

But would he have?

He was honest enough to admit that he wasn't really sure.

But what mattered here and now was that he was going to tell her *tonight*. If he was lucky, she would be in a receptive mood; after all, they'd just had a delicious meal, accompanied by crisp, fragrant wine, and Lois had finished off the evening with two of her favourite treats: dessert and rich coffee. So perhaps she was in a mellow mood, and would take his confession fairly well — at least giving him a chance to explain fully, he hoped.

So he smiled and said gently, "I know, and I am sorry about all that. The last thing I want to do to you is to hurt you or make you think I don't care about you."

"But that's just it!" Lois responded with a sigh. "I respect your position, I really do. But apart from that, there's just so much I don't know about you. Okay, I know the basics, and I can finesse my way through an INS interview. But I get the impression that I know hardly anything about you, really, and that that's the way you want it. You don't even answer simple questions, like where you live, or where you get your money from, or what you do when you're not out saving people… And you confide in Clark before you talk to me about things!"

Clark's heart sank. She was right about all this, but he'd hoped to get his confession in before she really started picking out the inconsistencies and loopholes in the information he'd given her so far. Now, when he did tell her the truth, it would look as if it was a reaction to her complaints, rather than something he'd planned on doing all along.

He inhaled deeply. It was past time that he told her. "Lois, there's some — "

His words were cut off by the shrill ring of the telephone.

Clark groaned, willing Lois to ignore it. But she gave him a frustrated, apologetic shrug and went to pick it up. She'd barely got out a greeting when he heard an indignant female voice on the other end of the line.

"Where have you been?? I've been calling you all evening, and all I got was that awful answering machine of yours! I can't think why you don't get that paper to give you a cell-phone, then I wouldn't have any trouble getting hold of you. Unless you don't want me to get hold of you, of course…"

"Mother!" Lois exclaimed at last; Clark almost took a step backwards at the sheer exasperation in her voice. "Of course I don't want to stop you getting hold of me! But if you've been calling all night, why didn't you leave a message? We've only just got back, but there are no messages on the machine."

"Why would I leave a message?" the impatient voice demanded. "It's *you* I want to talk to, not a machine! And anyway, you might have been screening your calls because you're avoiding me and then you wouldn't pick up when you knew it was me. I know you, Lois Lane, and I — "

"*Mother*!" Lois almost shouted this time, and Clark winced. "I was *not* screening calls, and I am not *avoiding* you!"

"No? Then why have I *still* not been introduced to that husband of yours?"

"Mother, I — " Lois began, only to be cut off by another tirade.

Clark sighed again; yet another complication he hadn't considered. Of *course* Lois's family wanted to meet him! And it hadn't even occurred to him. Grimacing, he attracted Lois's attention and mimed that they should talk, hoping that she'd take the hint that she should tell her mother she'd call her back.

"Mother, I'll call you back," Lois said firmly, and he winked at her. "No, Mother, I mean it. I *will* call you back — when? Oh, in about five minutes, I guess. No, I mean it! I'm just going to discuss this with Superman, and I'll get back to you straight away. Yes, I *promise*! And yes, you can call me back if I haven't phoned you within seven minutes, will that do?"

As Lois replaced the receiver, Clark quickly said, "I'm sorry, Lois. It should have occurred to me that your family would want — "

"No, it's not your fault," she interrupted, pulling a face. "It's mine — they've been bugging me about this for several days, but I've been putting it off. I… didn't really want to have to take you to meet them."

He supposed he could understand that. After all, it had to be difficult to lie to one's own parents, and if anyone was going to figure out that this marriage wasn't real, Lois's parents would. "I'm sure we'll be fine," he said, with more confidence than he felt. "We've done pretty good at convincing people so far, even in front of the INS agents!"

"Oh, I'm not worried about convincing them about our marriage!" Lois retorted instantly. "It's… oh, you have to meet my parents to understand. Let's say that we're not exactly a normal family."

Clark's mouth turned down at the corners. He wasn't exactly sure what Lois was implying by this, but it didn't sound as if she'd had a particularly happy upbringing. "It'll be fine," he repeated, then added, "When do you want to meet them?"

She shrugged. "I have the day off tomorrow. How about lunch?"

He shook his head quickly; he was meeting Larry Myers over lunch! "I can't, Lois — I'm kind of busy during the day tomorrow." Now, he realised, was not the moment to tell her exactly *why* he was busy. "How about we go over to their place for breakfast?"

She frowned, and he wondered why. He wasn't kept in the dark for long, though. "You really don't know a lot about me, Superman. In fact, we're lucky the INS hasn't started to interview you in depth about me yet!"

"Why?"

"My parents divorced when I was about fifteen," she said, in brittle tones. "And I don't really want to go into all the reasons why — let's just say that Daddy used the excuse of long hours at work to cover up his affairs with dozens of different women, and Mother used to pass out regularly on the couch with the vodka bottle beside her."

Clark felt his heart contract, and he ached for the teenage Lois, growing up in such a household. And in the same moment, he wondered just what effect those experiences would have had on her. How would her upbringing have affected her ability to trust… her ability to be hurt?

He hoped he hadn't already sinned too greatly; the last thing he wanted was to be responsible for yet another betrayal in her life.

"I'm so sorry, Lois," he said gently.

She shrugged. "It was a long time ago. They're more civilised now, most of the time. Mother's on the wagon, and although Daddy still has girlfriends, he's a bit more open about it, although he doesn't flaunt them anywhere near Mother. Though I still don't think she knows about the last one… she was younger than me," Lois finished bitterly.

"I get the feeling that you never really felt loved as a child," Clark said softly, hoping that he wasn't intruding.

She shrugged again. "Who knows what love is, even? Oh, Daddy was always anxious that I should get good grades; I suppose that's love, in a way."

"No, it's not!" Clark said, quietly but vehemently. "Being loved is always knowing that someone is there for you, who will care for you no matter what, who will always hold you and comfort you and try to take away the hurt, and teach you right from wrong, and… just always be there. That's what love means, for a child."

"Hey! You're pretty passionate about that!" Lois exclaimed softly; he could see the shimmer of tears in her eyes. "You don't have a child of your own, do you?"

He smiled and shook his head. "No. I just… well, that's the way my parents loved me." Even that was a confession too far at this stage; he'd only just remembered to phrase his statement in the past tense.

"Your parents?" She stared at him. "But you said you couldn't remember…?"

He shuffled awkwardly. "I remember some things. *My* parents — my birth parents — I don't remember them. They… died, I think. And I was sort of adopted — this wonderful couple took me in and brought me up as their own son, and they loved me every bit as much as if I had been theirs." He swallowed, then added huskily, "That's how I know how a child should be loved."

"They sound like very special people," Lois said, her voice equally husky. "I… wish I could have met them."

"Me too," he answered softly. And she would, too, if he ever managed to tell her his secret! It was looking very much as if he wouldn't be able to say anything at all tonight; not with having to make arrangements to meet her parents.

Which reminded him…

"Lois, your mother's going to call back any minute. Why don't you invite her and your father over to breakfast here? I can fly in some croissants or pastries or whatever you want."

She nodded. "Thanks, that would be good. And breakfast means they can't stay too long."

"I guess so," Clark agreed abstractedly. "And whenever you want to fly out to see your sister, let me know — I guess I should meet her too." He hesitated, then remembered the time again. "Uh… look, your mom's going to call you back now, so I think I'll get going. See you tomorrow at… uh, is eight too early?"

He didn't want to leave; he wanted to stay and tell Lois everything, tonight. He'd got himself all worked up to confess, but now it was apparent that tonight wasn't the right time. She was already upset as a result of her mother's phone call and insistence on meeting her husband, that was obvious. And he couldn't put her in the situation where she could be angry with him, and yet have to pretend to be deliriously in love for her parents' benefit.

His secret would have to wait until tomorrow evening.

***

There had been something Superman was going to tell her, too, Lois remembered when she awoke the following morning. Just before the phone had rung. But then he'd left without referring to it again.

In fact, he'd been hinting for quite a bit of the evening that there were things he wanted to tell her. When he'd figured out that she was puzzled as to where he got his money from, he'd told her that he couldn't tell her — not there and not then. So was that something else he'd planned to explain? Or was it all part of the same thing?

He'd also said, in that moment after they'd been teasing each other about dessert, that they needed to talk *properly*. And it had seemed as if the reason for the talk had something to do with his feelings for her — that he was attracted to her.

Just what had he been going to tell her? And why had he changed his mind?

Well, this time she wasn't going to let him get away with not answering her questions. If there wasn't enough time for them to have a proper conversation before her parents arrived, she would make sure that he understood that she wanted him to stay afterwards for as long as it would take.

She also wanted to ask him about his history with Lex Luthor. Clark had refused to say anything more about that, insisting that she needed to ask Superman herself. Well, she would; and she would ask him why he hadn't told her before. He'd told *Clark*, after all, hadn't he?

She showered and dressed hurriedly, conscious that it was getting close to the time Superman had told her he'd come over. Walking into the living-room shortly before eight, the sound of rushing wind told her that her husband had arrived.

He smiled warmly at her as he stepped over the windowsill, his arms laden with brown bags. "Hi, Lois. Did you sleep well?"

She smiled back, answering him in the positive, and followed him into the kitchen. "You said some pastries… what on earth have you got here?!"

He grinned. "A selection of pastries and croissants from a bakery I know in Paris, *and*…" He paused, clearly for effect, then produced something else from the bag. "Fresh-ground coffee. From a little caf‚ I know — I think you'll like it."

Lois took the coffee and began spooning some into her filter. "This is wonderful! Thank you!"

"And another thing," he added, sounding pleased. "I picked up a couple of papers too." So saying, he laid several newspapers on the counter; Lois flicked through the pile and saw the Metropolis Star, the Daily Planet, another local paper, a newspaper which was obviously Italian, and Le Monde, from France. The Italian paper had a large colour photograph of the two of them together at the restaurant; the same photo appeared on the inside page of Le Monde and the front cover of the Star. It was also on an inside page of the Planet. There was no story with the Planet picture, just a short blurb; the Star carried a couple of lines about Metropolis's newest celebrity couple out for a romantic dinner, adding that when one half of the couple is Superman, their favourite restaurant could be anywhere in the world.

Lois barely had time to appreciate how well their public demonstration had worked when there was a knock at the door. "One of my parents," she said, grimacing. "Wonder which one?"

"Both," Superman said immediately. She glanced at him, taken aback, then saw that he was staring at the door — no, *through* the door, she reminded herself. "A tall man and a woman of about your height, yes?"

"That's them. Oh well, here goes!"

As she opened the door, she was assailed by the overpowering fragrance of her mother's favourite cologne; Ellen Lane had never learned the value of moderation in anything, really, Lois mused silently. Before she'd had time to greet her parents or invite them in, she was being smothered in her mother's embrace.

"Lois! Darling!" Ellen exclaimed loudly. "You really are such a naughty girl — why didn't you bring that wonderful hunk of a husband over to meet your father and me long before now?"

<Oh, Mother, why do you have to put on an act all the time?> Lois groaned inwardly. "Come in, Mother, Daddy. Let me introduce you."

Superman had come out of the kitchen area and was crossing the living-room, his cape fluttering behind him. "Dr and Mrs Lane. It's a pleasure to meet you," he said, extending his hand.

Ellen rushed forward. "There's no need to be so formal, Superman! Please, call me Ellen. My, you're so handsome! Such a fine figure of a man!" she gushed, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "And that Suit!" she added, drawing back. "Doesn't it fit… well." Her mother couldn't keep her eyes off him, Lois noticed with an inward grimace. She was practically devouring him.

And Superman was embarrassed, that was obvious. He stepped backwards, a polite smile fixed to his face, and leaned past Ellen to offer his hand to Lois's father. "Dr Lane — pleased to meet you."

After a pause, Sam Lane offered his hand. "Superman."

Lois frowned. What was the matter with her father? He wasn't prejudiced, like Philip West, surely? Well, if he was, he'd be told to get out in no uncertain terms.

There was an awkward silence, which Lois broke after several moments by saying, in an over-bright tone, "Well, breakfast's almost ready — we're just waiting for the coffee. Come and sit down."

As her parents sat, Lois transferred the pastries from their wrappings to a couple of plates and brought them to the table. "Superman brought these straight from France this morning," she announced.

"That's great!" Ellen said loudly.

"Hmmm," her father muttered.

Lois ignored him. Superman joined her in the kitchen and raised an eyebrow discreetly at her. "Everything okay?" he murmured.

"They're my parents. Nothing's ever okay," she muttered in response, under cover of finding some cups.

"Let me," he said quickly, taking the cups and saucers down for her and carrying them over to the table before returning for cutlery. Then he insisted on taking the coffee from her to carry that through as well, and moments later all four of them were seated at the table.

"These are delicious, Superman!" Ellen enthused quickly.

"I'm glad you like them," Superman said with a smile.

"Have one, Daddy," Lois urged; reluctantly, it seemed, her father reached for a croissant.

"So, I know how long you two have known each other, but when did you decide to get married? And why did you just elope like that without even telling your *mother*, Lois? Surely you knew I'd want to be at my little girl's wedding!"

"Mother — " Lois began, but her father interrupted.

"Don't be so naive, Ellen! You know exactly why they did it. And I don't know why you're pretending that this is a real marriage, when we all know that it's not. Our 'little girl', as you call her, has gone and got herself into a green card marriage, more fool her." Sam Lane's tone was scathing. "I thought better of you, Lois. I thought you'd learned from the mistakes you made in the past."

"Dr Lane — " Superman protested, but again Sam interrupted him.

"And you, you're no better. You claim to be such a hero, out do-gooding all the time, and yet you took advantage of my daughter. You realised that she had a crush on you, and you made use of that in the worst possible way! I hope you realise that you're ruining her life?"

"Daddy!" Lois exclaimed furiously, jumping to her feet. "Stop it!"

"Dr Lane." Superman's tone could have frozen solid objects. "I care about Lois very much. I sincerely hope that our marriage is not 'taking advantage of her', and I assure you that we would never have got married in the first place if I hadn't been very sure that it was exactly what Lois wanted. And I don't think that this discussion is very constructive."

"Constructive?" Sam almost yelled. "I'll give you 'constructive', you…"

"Don't say it," Lois interrupted coldly. "I mean it. If you dare say what I think you're going to say, I will never, ever speak to you again. I'll forget I even have a father." Alien. That was the word she could almost hear on her father's lips, and she was not going to allow him to insult Superman like that in her apartment.

"Sam, Superman's your son-in-law!" Ellen added impatiently. "I don't see why you have to behave like this. He's Lois's choice, and I think she's made an excellent choice, even if I am still disappointed that she chose to leave us out of her wedding plans. And I don't believe this is a green card marriage. Just look at the two of them! Look at the way they were behaving in the kitchen — it was obvious that they wished they were alone so they could kiss each other!"

Her mother had clearly misinterpreted those few moments when they were whispering to each other, Lois realised, for once grateful for her mother's habit of misunderstanding things she heard or saw.

Sam was silent for several moments, though he was breathing heavily, clearly trying to calm down. Finally, he gave Lois a direct look. "Princess, you know I don't want to hurt you. But you have to realise that I'm only looking out for your interests. And if this… Kryptonian is taking advantage of you, I want to be able to protect you." His tone, somewhat conciliatory at the start, had turned harsh again by the end of this statement.

Almost shaking with anger, Lois got up and went to stand right beside Superman, trying to indicate by her body language her loyalty to him and not to her father. Superman seemed to understand; he immediately curled his arm warmly around her and drew her close. Then he stood up and wrapped both arms around her from behind, lowering his head to brush his lips lightly against her cheek.

"Are you okay?" he whispered. "Is there anything I could do? Talk to him on my own?"

She shook her head. "We're in this together."

Superman turned to her father, keeping one arm around Lois's shoulder. "I think Lois is more than capable of making her own decisions, Dr Lane. And if she needs protecting, I think that's my job now, don't you? Not that Lois would agree that she needs protecting in any case — she'd think it's insulting to her to suggest it, wouldn't you, honey?"

"You're right there," she said, struggling to keep her voice even. "And just in case I did need anyone to 'protect' me, Daddy, I can assure you that it's Superman I'd call. And right now I'm very tempted to ask him to 'protect' me from you by ensuring that you leave."

"Dr Lane," Superman added, "The last thing I want is to come between Lois and her family, I assure you. But Lois's happiness matters to me, and I don't like to see her upset — by anyone." He paused, visibly hugging Lois more tightly to himself. "And I'm sure you don't either," he added. "I can tell that you love her, and I know that's why you want to protect her. I don't want to be the cause of a rift between Lois and her family, Dr Lane, so for her sake I'd like us to try to get along."

He paused again, releasing Lois, and this time walked around the table to where Sam Lane sat, the latter's expression frozen. Offering his hand, Superman continued, "I can't promise never to hurt Lois — who could promise that they'll never ever hurt people they care about? — but I certainly promise to do my utmost to avoid causing her pain."

There was a pause, and Lois stood frozen to the spot as she wondered whether her father would remain true to type and stubbornly refuse to compromise. She saw her mother elbow him in the ribs, and her father's furious glare in Ellen's direction. Then, finally, Sam Lane stood and accepted Superman's hand.

"For my daughter's sake," he said stiffly.

Lois was unimpressed by that, although she was glad that her father had finally conceded. Why had he felt the need to play the protective father today, when he'd never shown any interest in the role previously? Where had he been, she asked herself bitterly, when she'd wanted him to come to school prize-givings to show how proud he was of her? Where had he been when she'd been having to bring her mother around from yet another drunken stupor and get her up to bed? And what had he been doing when she'd been let down by the other men in her life, first by Paul and later by Claude?

And now, now that she was married to the one decent man she'd ever met — well, with the possible exception of Clark Kent — why had her father decided to make a fuss?

Of course, what made this situation more difficult was that he was *right* — this was just a green card marriage. But if her father had been more of a father when she'd needed him, she wouldn't have had any qualms at all about telling him the truth. But not in these circumstances.

So she sat down again and offered everyone more coffee, sighing in silent relief as Sam Lane engaged Superman in conversation on the subject of his current research into cybernetics, and Ellen Lane tried to get a word in edgeways to find out the full extent of her son-in-law's abilities. Her mother was angling to be taken flying, Lois quickly realised, and the thought of her fifty- something mother being carried in Superman's arms in the same way he carried *her* almost made her choke with embarrassment.

By the time Ellen Lane was dropping none too subtle hints about Superman's muscle structure and was actually grabbing at his upper arm — to Superman's complete shock, it seemed, though he was making valiant efforts to remain polite, Lois decided that she'd had enough. She stood up and began to collect the crockery, and when neither of her parents moved she then pointedly offered to call her mother a taxi.

"I travelled with your father," Ellen said snippily. "He can drive me into town — I'm going shopping. Unless you want to come with me?"

"I have things to do," Lois said instantly, determining that she was going to be *very* busy for the rest of the day.

"But it's your day off!" Ellen announced. "Of course you have time."

"Yes, it's my day off, but I have things to do — things I can't do when I'm working," Lois explained patiently.

"If you're coming, Ellen, you have to come now. I can't wait around any longer," Sam said suddenly, grabbing his jacket and standing up.

Grateful to her father for the first time that day, Lois quickly escorted her parents to the door; they paused only to say goodbye to Superman — regretfully on Ellen's part but apparently with relief on Sam's — and then left.

Lois collapsed back against the closed door. "I'm sorry, Superman. You don't deserve to be exposed to any of that."

He stepped closer and began massaging her shoulder with one hand in a comforting gesture. "They're your parents. Of course they have a right to meet the man you're married to. I'm only sorry that who I am is causing problems for you."

But she shook her head. "My parents aren't normal, Superman. You saw how they behaved! What other woman would flirt with her son-in-law right in front of her daughter? And what father would be so appallingly rude?" She ran a hand agitatedly through her hair, glad she was leaning against the door; she felt sure that her legs wouldn't have held her up otherwise.

She turned to smile wryly at Superman, grateful for his concern and the warmth of his touch; he gave her a caring smile and continued to rub her shoulder and upper arm. "Don't be fooled by his claim to care about me," she said bitterly. "He doesn't. He was just putting on a show of being the concerned father, but as far as I can remember it's about the only time he ever did it. He was never there when I was growing up, and any time we did see him he was never interested in what we were doing. He only wanted to make sure that we measured up to the standards he expected of Lanes, nothing more. Then this morning, for the first time in my life, he plays the protective father — when that was the last thing I needed him to do!"

"It doesn't matter, Lois," Superman said gently. "Really. It doesn't. It's over now, and they've gone."

"Yeah," she whispered.

"Come here," he said kindly, and pulled her into his arms for a warm hug. He didn't hold her for long, just a few seconds, but all the same she felt so much better when he released her.

"Thanks," she said, meeting his gaze for a moment.

"Consider it part of the job description," he said lightly, lifting her left hand so that she could see the ring gleaming there.

Comforting one's spouse certainly fell under a husband's job description, Lois reflected silently as she gazed at her wedding ring for a few moments. The trouble was that so many other things fell under that job description, and most of them were things which this man who was her husband was simply unwilling to perform.

Which reminded her; she still wanted to talk to him, and he still hadn't told her what he'd wanted to talk about last night. There was simply too much that he wasn't telling her, and she needed him to understand that she needed more from him than he was giving her. "Superman…" she began.

But he was stepping back. "We need to talk, Lois. There's a lot…" He inhaled deeply, then added, "I have some things I need to tell you about. Important things. But I can't stay now. I… should already be somewhere else."

Lois searched Superman's face, looking for clues. Did he really need to be elsewhere, or was that just an excuse to avoiding talking to her? His expression was shuttered, and she couldn't tell. His regretful smile looked sincere, but she couldn't be sure.

Knowing she had no choice but to agree, she nodded. "Okay, Superman. Will I see you later?"

"You can count on it," he told her firmly, then turned and headed for the window.

***

If only he'd had time to stay and talk to Lois for half an hour, Clark thought ruefully as he flew rapidly to his own apartment. She was still upset by her parents' visit, and he would have liked to comfort her a little more. Not to mention the confession he still wanted to make; he was conscious of a strange sensation of time running out in relation to that.

Not that he could imagine why that would be the case. Lois wasn't on the verge of guessing or anything; if she'd been going to figure it out for herself, he thought she would have done it by now — perhaps on that evening, a couple of days earlier, when she'd gone straight from Superman's company in her apartment to being with him as Clark in his apartment. She'd been with both men in the space of about twenty minutes, and hadn't realised.

Although he shouldn't under-estimate Lois, he warned himself. She didn't have journalism awards because she was a pretty face. And the more she got to know Clark, the more she just might begin to notice similarities between her friend and her husband. She was already asking Superman some very awkward questions, and she was noticing that he wasn't answering them.

But that didn't matter, he assured himself as he dressed hurriedly in a suit and tie. He was going to tell Lois about Superman's real identity, and he would do it that evening.

***

Sighing deeply, Lois returned to the kitchen and washed the breakfast dishes; the mundane task gave her a few minutes to reflect on that very odd interlude with Superman just before he'd left. His kindness wasn't unusual, true; he was a genuinely kind and considerate man, once he understood people's expectations of him. She'd seen how gentle he was with some of the people he rescued, and she'd been convinced during their conversation a couple of nights ago that he did care about her. He'd also shown his concern for her again last night when she'd told him about her relationship with her parents.

But this was different — this could have been the behaviour of a real boyfriend or husband. The way he'd held her, massaging her shoulder gently in a caress which demonstrated that he was there for her, that he wanted to help, to ease the pain. The way he'd drawn her attention to her wedding ring, making clear that he considered what he'd just done to be part of his role as her husband. The only thing missing had been the loving kiss she could have expected from a real husband.

But then he'd left. But not before telling her that he knew they needed to talk, and that he'd make sure they did before long.

She wondered yet again what it was that he wanted to tell her. Answers to the various questions she'd thrown at him over the past few days and which he'd conspicuously failed to answer? He had suggested as much before leaving last night. But something told her that it was more than that. A strange sadness gripped her as she wondered whether he intended to tell her that he'd found some other means of resolving his citizenship status and that they didn't need to be married any longer.

Yet their marriage wasn't real in the first place, so why should that thought trouble her?

She grimaced, dried her hands and went over to her computer. It might be her day off, but there were still important things to do. Clark had said he'd write up the interview with Senator Wilson; the more general parts of it could indeed be saved for a later date, but she wanted the Planet to publish the part relating to Superman. In particular, she felt that the public had a right to know that Wilson had compared Superman to Hitler. So she began by emailing Clark to ask whether he'd made a start and making it clear that she wanted to see a draft as soon as possible.

Ten minutes later, her email software pinged. She clicked on the new mail from clarkkent@dailyplanet.com.

"Lois, it's your day off! Don't you ever take a break?

Okay, I know this is important, and I *will* get to it today. Don't forget I'm interviewing Myers and Adams as well. And, yes, I will come and tell you all about it later. Don't expect too much, though — these guys didn't get to where they are by giving too much away. And no, you *wouldn't* be able to get more out of them than I could — they wouldn't even talk to you in the circumstances!

See you later,

CK"

She smiled in genuine amusement. It was strange how quickly Clark had become someone she could consider a friend — and how well he seemed to know her, judging by his email. And if she was honest with herself, she knew him well too; she could have predicted what he'd say to her.

Experiencing a strange longing to grab her keys and head straight for the Planet, where she could work on the article with Clark, Lois made herself take a deep breath. She was *off-duty* for the day, for one thing. And spending too much time with Clark was dangerous.

Far better to stay here and use her connection to the Planet's online resources to do a search of all LNN coverage of Superman since the hero's arrival in Metropolis, and in particular any stories covering both Lex Luthor and Superman. The information could be useful, and the task would keep her occupied for a couple of hours.

Around lunchtime, just as Lois was contemplating driving into town for a sandwich at the deli close to the Planet — and if she was going there anyway, what was to stop her calling Clark and suggesting that he come and join her? — her telephone rang. Her mind still on lunch, she reached for it and gave her name abstractedly, only to hear a familiar and unwelcome voice in response.

"Ms Lane? This is Philip West, of the INS."

"Mr West." Her voice dropped several degrees in warmth. "What can I do for you?" Another interview, no doubt, she thought, resigned to the idea. She'd expected it, after all; Maria had told her that the process took months and involved several interviews.

"It's about the report and photograph in this morning's newspapers," West drawled coolly.

"What about it?" Lois frowned, initially wondering what he meant; then she realised that he had to be talking about her trip to Milan with Superman. There was nothing else, as far as she was aware, which could be of interest to the INS.

"You do realise that your *husband* is in breach of the conditions of his temporary residence permit?" West drawled triumphantly.

"What?" she exclaimed.

"He left the country without permission," West explained, as if to a child.

"You're kidding," Lois said flatly. "Are you telling me that Superman is barred from leaving the country?"

"If he wants to become an American citizen, yes, he is," West insisted. "Unless you're telling me that he's changed his mind and is withdrawing his application?"

"Of course not!" she retorted angrily. "What are you saying — that he has to get permission from you every time he needs to go and save someone?"

"Not as long as he's saving someone on American soil," West said, his tone sounding distasteful.

"Oh? So you're saying that if there's an earthquake in Chile, or flash-floods in China, Superman can't go and help?" Lois demanded, now extremely irritated at this example of crass, idiotic bureaucracy, and the particular individual who was enjoying exploiting it to the limit.

"Has he done anything like that since submitting his application?" West asked instantly.

"Would it matter if he had?"

"Of course! I've told you, he's already in breach of his current permit. I would be within my rights if I was to recommend his immediate deportation," West said curtly.

"And I would be within my rights if I was to write a front-page article for the Daily Planet with the headline 'INS Bureaucrat says Superman can only save American lives'," Lois retorted. "Do you really want to be publicly blamed for Superman's failure to help with an emergency on the other side of the world?"

West was silent for several moments, and Lois waited, exultant. Then he said, "We might be able to grant him permission to travel to emergencies, but he's going to have to come in and fill in some more forms. Among other things, I will need to determine what is an emergency and what isn't."

"Wait a minute!" Lois exclaimed. "*You* will decide what's an emergency and what isn't? Don't you think Superman should be the judge of that?"

"I won't even bother to answer that," West said sarcastically.

"Oh? Come on, then, let's see how well you do. Which of the following do you think counts as an emergency. An earthquake? A volcanic eruption? A train crash?"

"This is stupid," West said dismissively. "The INS does not make policy on the hoof like this. But, since you insist, I think it's pretty obvious that a train crash does not constitute an emergency such as would warrant us giving him permission to leave the country."

"You *are* kidding?" Lois drawled, disliking this man even more than before, if that were possible. "Have you any idea how many more lives can be saved if people can be got out of crumpled cars more quickly than the emergency services can do it? Or how much of a fire-risk there is at crash sites? But if you insist, I can certainly write an article for the Planet explaining your rule that train crashes don't count as emergencies for Superman. Oh, and by the way," she added, noticing that West hadn't once referred to Superman by that name during the conversation, "are you having problems using my husband's name?"

"I don't think I should be discussing this with you," West announced abruptly. "You can tell your husband that he needs to come in to the office to discuss his cavalier attitude to immigration rules. Oh, and whatever the definition of an 'emergency', Ms Lane, I hardly think it includes dinner for two in Milan, do you?"

"Probably not," Lois muttered.

"Do tell me — did either of you go through passport control? Do either of you hold visas for entry to Italy? And, by the way, I hope you didn't smuggle anything back into the country with you. And incidentally, I'm not at all sure I shouldn't report my concerns to the Secretary of Agriculture. After all, with this outbreak of hoof and mouth in Europe…"

"We'd hardly be at risk of coming into contact with it in the centre of Milan," Lois interrupted harshly.

"As long as that's the only place you went," West drawled. "How do I know that you didn't go for a romantic walk in the Peloponnese?" The sarcasm increased dramatically on 'romantic', and Lois had to bite her lip to stop herself from reacting.

"I think this conversation is over," she bit out. "I'll pass on your message to Superman."

Before West could say anything else, she replaced the receiver.

Five minutes later, she was still trying to calm down. What was most annoying was that West was *right* — Superman shouldn't have left the country without permission, and whatever about needing to do so in emergencies, they shouldn't have flown to Italy. She should have realised that.

They'd been very lucky, it seemed; West could probably have used their trip across the Atlantic as an excuse to reject Superman's application and have him deported. So much for waiting and playing by the rules, with a view to complaining about West once the process was over!

They would have to be a lot more careful from now on.

As she debated with herself whether it was worth calling Clark to tell him about this latest development, or whether it would be unfair to Superman to tell someone else first, the phone rang.

"Ms Lois Lane?" the faintly-accented voice on the other end asked.

"Yes, that's right," Lois answered warily.

"Ah. I am Signor Lorenzo Giorgio, and I am a senior attache at the Italian Consulate in Washington," her caller replied. "I wonder whether I could speak to Superman."

"I'm… afraid he's not here at the moment," Lois answered cautiously, wondering what the Italian consulate wanted. Not more bad news, she hoped.

"Ah. We have just had a call from a Mr West from your Immigration and Naturalisation Service, and so I wished to speak to Superman. But as you are his wife, and you were involved too, I suppose I could talk to you."

"Well, naturally I will tell Superman that you called as soon as I see him," Lois offered, breathing deeply as she tried to work out why on earth West had called the Italians. Trying to make trouble, no doubt, she concluded cynically.

"Mr West contacted my colleagues in the immigration section here," Signor Giorgio continued. "He wished to know whether my country objected to Superman's presence in Milano last night, since neither Superman nor yourself obtained visas to visit my country, nor presented yourself at passport control."

"Oh," Lois said weakly. Was she expected to apologise? Were the Italians going to prosecute them for illegal entry?

"We simply want to reassure Superman, and yourself, of course, Ms Lane, that you are welcome on Italian soil at any time. This message, I assure you, comes with the cordial good wishes of my prime minister, who asked me to say that he would be delighted to shake Superman's hand on the next occasion you visit our beautiful country."

Lois reached out and grasped the edge of the kitchen counter to steady herself; this was *not* what she had expected. And if her reading between the lines was in any way accurate, it sounded rather as if Philip West had been given a flea in his ear by the Italians.

"Well… thank you very much, Signor Giorgio," she managed to say at last. "That's extremely kind of you and of your government, and I know that Superman will be very grateful too."

"Not at all, Ms Lane. My government is a great admirer of Superman. He does an enormous amount of good, and he deserves to be appreciated. My countrymen and women also admire and respect him greatly. And my prime minister has also asked me to make it clear to Superman that he and his bella signora would be most welcome to make their home in Italy, should you and he decide that you have had enough of American hospitality."

Yes; that definitely suggested that West had been given a snub, Lois decided. And she'd just been told, very tactfully, that the Italians thoroughly disapproved of the INS investigation. A broad smile on her face, she repeated, "Thank you very much, Signor Giorgio. And my husband and I like Italy very much too. We hope to return some day very soon."

***

The interviews left Clark no further forward, as he'd suspected. Both Myers and Adams were highly experienced journalists, aware of every trap which a more unsuspecting person might have fallen into. As far as Larry Myers was concerned, the issue of Superman's status was a legitimate topic for debate. There were a lot of strong views on the issue, and the purpose of his show, he insisted, was for the airing of strong views. Controversy was what the viewers wanted.

Clark pointed out that the debate had been very one-sided, but Myers was adamant that was irrelevant. "My show's not about balance!" he said scathingly. "The whole purpose is to be polemical. And you know that as well as I do — since when is the primary purpose of any kind of journalism to give the public a 'balanced' view?" he demanded. "You don't do that in the Planet any more than I do on my TV show. The Planet has an editorial line on the issues of the day, and nobody complains about that. So why should I be criticised for any particular slant my show happens to take?"

"I know your show's not about balance," Clark replied patiently. "Although I'm not sure that I agree with you about balance in journalism in general. Our job is to inform the public, but it's not our job to make up people's minds for them." He didn't pursue that line, however, since he knew it would detract from his purpose in interviewing Myers. "I'm just wondering why you happened to take the particular angle you did. I'm sure you could have found as many people to argue equally vehemently that Superman should be allowed to stay — so I'm just wondering, on behalf of my newspaper, why your show didn't take that side of the argument."

"On behalf of your newspaper, or on behalf of your colleague Lois Lane?" Myers demanded cynically. "Oh, come on, Kent, you surely didn't expect me to forget the fact that she works with you? Or that she was the butt of some of the comments on the show? I guess she wasn't too pleased with the 'misguided' description, huh?"

"The Daily Planet is simply interested in the pattern of coverage," Clark insisted, before bringing the interview to a close. He had gained absolutely nothing, and might quite possibly have had the opposite effect of putting people in LNN on their guard; if he and Lois were right and Lex Luthor was involved in this somewhere, Luthor himself would be very quickly informed of the Planet's apparent interest in LNN's coverage of Superman.

Pete Adams was next, and Clark was grateful that this interview was immediately following his conversation with Myers. He headed straight for Adams' office, using his Super-hearing as he approached to find out whether Myers was reporting to the head of news content. He couldn't hear anything, which at least suggested that no telephone conversation was taking place; of course, he couldn't rule out Myers sending a report by email, but there hadn't been time for him to do that.

Adams was genial but unforthcoming. Smiling continually, he assured Clark that LNN had complete editorial freedom in respect of news content and delivery. And, further, the editors of individual debate and news magazine programmes had equal freedom; there was no such thing as an LNN 'line' on any major issue. Editors and hosts were charged with the responsibility of informing their audiences and stimulating debate; those shows whose brief was to be controversial did so by their choice of topics and by the skills of their hosts. Superman was, of course, a controversial topic at present, and LNN was very pleased to be leading the news agenda on that story by being the first with all the major stories and polling data.

Yes, the senator's comments in respect of the INS were surprising; but LNN was still delighted, from a ratings point of view, that he had chosen to make them on LNN rather than in the pages of a newspaper. Of course, his views would certainly have reached a wider audience that way, which was no doubt why he'd done it. That was said with a somewhat patronising smile.

No, LNN's owner did not take any operational interest in the station, beyond keeping an eye on profit statements. No, he couldn't remember the last time Mr Luthor had been in the building, though Adams was sure that Lex watched LNN as much as was possible for a man with his busy lifestyle.

Clark had introduced Lex Luthor into the conversation in an apparently careless, almost offhand manner, hoping that his true motives wouldn't be detected. But Adams' even wider smile made it obvious that he had seen through that ploy. Clark quickly changed the subject and ended the interview soon after, wondering at the same time whether it would be worth his while to try questioning some of the secretarial staff. They might well be less skilled in side-stepping difficult questions. At the same time, if he was right and Lex Luthor was involved in this too, Clark couldn't see Luthor being so careless as to allow anyone untrustworthy, or unessential to the plan, to know of his involvement.

It had worked the previous evening… once outside the LNN building he ducked around a corner and swooped upwards, changing into the Suit in mid-air. Hovering out of sight, he watched Pete Adams' office; the man was already dialling.

"Yes… yes, he's gone."

"What did he want?" This time the voice on the other end of the phone was clearly audible to Clark, and he recognised it instantly.

"What we thought. Whether there was any editorial interference. Whether LNN was taking a particular line on the Superman coverage."

"Ah. So I was right. I suspect that it's Ms Lane we have to thank for this, or perhaps her over-muscled husband. I can't somehow envisage a giblet like Kent coming up with this on his own."

<Oh yeah?> Clark thought, but concentrated on listening to the conversation.

"Well, he hid it well, if he is doing it on their instigation," Adams said.

"Oh, even an imbecile could manage not to give that away when he's not the one answering the questions!" Luthor replied impatiently. "Was my name mentioned?"

"Briefly. But I assured Kent that you had no role whatsoever in any editorial decisions."

"Excellent. I'll see that your bonus cheque is paid promptly." Luthor paused, then added, "By the way, don't overplay Wilson. He's good, but he lacks… conviction and may let us down at the wrong moment."

That sounded as if Luthor was definitely involved, Clark thought with grim satisfaction. So much for independent reporting! But then, he'd put nothing past Lex Luthor.

"Sure," Adams answered. "Oh, incidentally, Mr Luthor, I don't think your other suggestion's going to be possible."

"Why not?" Clark could almost feel the drop in temperature with that remark.

"Well, I think we've gone as far as we can without people starting to get suspicious. I really feel that if we had all newsreaders refer to Superman as 'the alien' or 'the Kryptonian', as you suggested, it would be too noticeable and it'd lead to the wrong kind of questions being asked. And I think we've gone as far as we can with adjusting our polling data and loading the questions."

Clark froze. He and Lois had been right about LNN manipulation; that had been evident from the start of the conversation. But he hadn't been prepared for the lengths to which Luthor was prepared to go. This was chilling; it was a complete distortion of the democratic process. It was a deliberate attempt to shape public opinion in a particular direction, in order to discredit Superman and get him thrown out of the country. And the only reason Clark could think of to explain Luthor's intervention was self-interest: Lex Luthor wanted rid of the one person he was unable to control or deceive in any way. He'd instantly recognised Superman as a threat; that had been apparent from the 'tests' Luthor had devised. And when they hadn't worked, Luthor had obviously decided to try a different approach.

He was furious; part of him wanted to fly straight to LexCorp and deal with Luthor himself immediately. But he knew that wouldn't be sensible; he had no evidence other than an overheard conversation — which would be his word against that of the man who'd been voted Citizen of the Year for the last three years. And he was already under investigation by a government agency. No, he had to wait until they had proper proof.

He needed to tell Lois about all this. But, of course, he couldn't do so as Clark… well, not yet. He reminded himself that he was going to see her as Superman a little later and they were going to talk. Properly. And he would tell her everything.

For now, though, he needed to go and see her as himself, and tell her what little he could about the interviews.

***

She hadn't got any further with her research, other than to note the trends in LNN's negative coverage of Superman. It wouldn't prove anything, but it was nice circumstantial evidence. No other news organisation had such a pattern of anti- Superman material, or such consistently hostile polling results. It would be useful, but they did need some hard evidence that LNN was deliberately pushing an anti-Superman line, so Lois hoped that Clark's interviews would have revealed something.

A knock on her door made her look up; she stretched and worked her shoulders to ease some aching muscles before going to admit her visitor, who she was sure would be Clark.

Instead, Genevieve Roberts stood in the hallway.

Lois groaned inwardly; did this mean that the INS was going to pursue the trip to Milan after all?

"Ms Roberts! Uhh… come in," she invited reluctantly. "I'm sorry, Superman isn't here right now," she added. "I can call him, if you need to speak to him." Her right hand moved surreptitiously towards the signal watch.

"Actually, Ms Lane, I think it would be easier if I just talked to you," Ms Roberts said, sounding very awkward and embarrassed. "I… well, I was hoping that your husband wouldn't be here."

Puzzled, Lois ushered Ms Roberts in. "Can I get you a coffee or something?"

"Yes, that would be kind." The woman followed Lois into the kitchen, still looking uncomfortable and playing with the strap of her handbag, which was unnerving Lois further. If there was a problem, she wished the woman would just come out with it!

After filling the coffee-machine, she took a deep breath and simply asked, "Did you need to interview me?"

"Oh, no! No, I…" The woman swallowed, looking even more like a frightened rabbit. "No, I should have said… I'm not here on official INS business, Ms Lane."

Lois paused abruptly in the act of getting milk from the fridge. "You're not?" So what business could Ms Genevieve Roberts, INS agent, have with her in that case?

Ms Roberts now looked as if she was about to take flight at any moment. Blinking rapidly, she backed away a little and stole a sideways glance at the door, as if calculating how long it would take her to get there if she made a run for it.

"Is there something I can do for you?" Lois asked, deliberately making her voice sound as non-threatening as possible.

Her visitor took a deep breath. "There is something I — feel I have to tell someone. And I can't think of anyone other than you to talk to."

Her reporter's instincts now on full alert, Lois gestured towards the table. "Come and sit down, then, and we'll talk," she invited. "Oh, and by the way, are you talking to me as a journalist or as a private citizen who just happens to be an INS client at the moment? It would just help me if I knew how you want me to treat whatever it is you want to tell me."

Genevieve Roberts moved towards the table. "If I say that I'm talking to you as a reporter, what protection do I have?"

"The Planet never reveals its sources, if that's what you're worried about," Lois assured her. "If you tell me something of importance, I'm going to want to verify it independently, of course, which will give us more proof than simply your word. And if we publish it and we have to mention a source, we won't name the source."

"What if I'm the only person who could have told you this?" Ms Roberts asked.

"In that case, we'll have to think of a way to keep you out of it."

A knock sounded at the door then, and Lois grimaced in annoyance. Now was not the time for visitors. Assuring Ms Roberts that she would be back, she went to establish the identity of her guest by looking through the spyhole. It was Clark. She debated for a moment whether to ask him to come back later, then instead turned back to her guest.

"My partner's just arrived," she said quickly; calling Clark her partner might be something of an exaggeration, but it would explain his appearance and might make Ms Roberts happier to talk in his presence. "Mind if I ask him to join us?"

"Who is he?"

"Clark Kent. You might have seen his byline in the Planet."

Ms Roberts nodded. "I like his work. He always seems to take great care to be fair in his reporting."

Unsure whether that was a subtle criticism of other Planet writers, possibly including herself, Lois ignored the comment. "So you're okay with Clark joining us?"

Ms Roberts nodded, so Lois hurried back to the door. As she opened it, Clark had his hand up, apparently about to knock again; she grabbed his hand and hauled him inside.

"Clark, this is Ms Roberts from the INS. She's here because she wants to talk about some concerns she has, and I've promised her the Planet's usual protection for its sources."

To his credit, Clark didn't show any surprise; instead, he greeted the woman in a friendly manner, accepted a cup of coffee and joined them at the table.

"So, what was it you want to talk about?" Lois invited.

Ms Roberts hesitated, then breathed deeply. "You've probably guessed that it's about the investigation into Superman's application for citizenship. Well, strictly speaking, it goes back further than that. It all starts with the announcement that the INS was going to be investigating Superman, with a view to deporting him as an illegal alien. There is… a lot that's been going on behind the scenes that I'm not happy with. It's completely unprofessional, and I can't stay quiet any longer," she finished with a gasp.

Barely able to restrain her delight at what was looking like a major lead, Lois reached under the table and seized Clark's hand; he returned the pressure briefly before smiling at Ms Roberts. "Would you like to tell us what happened, and what it is that you're unhappy with?"

"Well, first, I'm convinced that the decision to investigate Superman was a political one," Genevieve Roberts said, sounding more confident now that she'd finally begun to tell her story. "Okay, that's not too unusual, but this time I don't think the instruction came from the State Department or the White House or anywhere like that, which is what would be normal. I'm not sure who was behind it, but I have my suspicions…" She hesitated, then added, "I probably shouldn't tell you about anything which is just a suspicion, because I don't have any proof and it'll only be hearsay."

"That's true," Lois agreed, "but it might help us to know the direction of your thoughts — you see, Clark and I have been looking into this ourselves."

"Well, if you're sure," Genevieve agreed after a moment of gazing from one reporter to another. "My informed guess is that Senator Wilson is involved in this. I was pretty sure that the pressure was coming from someone in Congress, and then when Wilson made such a fool of himself on LNN the other night I was confident that I was right. Of course, after I saw that broadcast I remembered hearing that Wilson had called the head of the Metropolis department a few times over the past week."

"Wilson's our guess too," Clark interjected. "But we had no way of proving it. He's too slippery to give anything away. Oh, he admitted to us, as well as on LNN, that he was talking to the INS, but he insisted that it was all above board."

Genevieve shook her head. "Not the kind of pressure I've been hearing about. Right from the start, the agenda has been to get Superman thrown out of the country. When he came in and announced that he'd married a US citizen, a number of people were pretty shaken up — but then the instruction was given that the marriage was to be found not in compliance with immigration regulations."

"Where were these instructions coming from?" Clark asked. "Were they in writing? Was it made clear, or just hinted at?"

"I'm coming to that." Lois noted that all Ms Roberts' initial nervousness seemed to have dissipated, and she was now giving the appearance of an articulate and competent professional. This was clearly the real Genevieve Roberts; Lois guessed that being partnered with the domineering, unpleasant Philip West, not to mention being under pressure from her superiors, had dulled the woman's real abilities.

"Nothing was ever put in writing. And no clear instructions were ever given — I don't think anyone wanted anything which could be quoted. Instead, we were told to ensure that procedures were followed to the letter, so that there wouldn't be any grounds for appeal. We were told to be extremely diligent, and to treat this case as top priority — the decision was to be fast-tracked. I realise that none of that would sound strange out of context — but we were also told that where there were circumstances in which discretion could be applied, we were *not* to apply it."

Lois frowned, wondering just how that differed from normal INS practice; Ms Roberts explained, "There are times when we might give an applicant the benefit of the doubt. We were told not to do that in this case."

Lois's eyes widened. "Your partner, Mr West, called me this morning about Superman's and my visit to Milan last night." She saw Clark's surprise at this, but frowned quickly at him to urge him to remain silent. "He said that Superman was in breach of the conditions of his temporary residence permit, and that he could be deported immediately if the INS chose."

"That's true," Genevieve agreed. "Actually, Philip wanted to go straight to a deportation order this morning. I wouldn't let him, and I insisted that a warning should be issued first." She clearly noticed the surprise on the faces of her audience, for she continued, "Yes, I'm Philip's superior. I know it might not have looked like that, Ms Lane, but that's something else which isn't right about this case. I'm more senior than Philip, but my senior officer has been briefing Philip directly about this case."

"Why? Because West is more willing to be leaned on than you are?" Clark suggested.

Ms Roberts shrugged. "I suspect so. I do know that Philip's been saying that he has official permission to 'get Superman', as he put it."

"But you stopped him using our trip to Milan to get Superman deported," Lois pointed out.

"Yes, because it was a first breach of the rules and Superman came back, and it would be normal to warn someone that if it happens again their application will be rejected. If we didn't do that, Superman would probably succeed in an appeal."

Lois nodded, deliberately saying nothing about their plans for an appeal in any case. She was beginning to wonder why the INS agent had come to talk to her; so far, Ms Roberts hadn't said anything particularly startling.

"Anyway, what made me finally decide that things had gone too far was when my superior called me in earlier," the agent continued. "I was told that I had acted beyond my authority in instructing Philip not to use Superman's breach of the terms of his agreement as a reason to turn down his application immediately. And I have now been taken off the case. What's more, he put me on suspension."

"Suspension?" Clark exclaimed. "For doing your job? You said that you followed normal procedures!"

"I did. But someone wants Superman's application refused — and wants it very badly," Ms Roberts said flatly. "As I said, I think Senator Wilson is behind this, but I don't know what his motive is. Up until this last week, he's never taken any interest whatsoever in immigration issues. And I don't remember him being that interested in Superman either."

"No, he wasn't," Lois agreed. "We checked that out yesterday. So we think there has to be something — or some*one* else — behind his interest in this."

"Are you currently on suspension?" Clark asked. "I mean, can you go back to your office to pick up your things, or…"

"I was escorted off the premises an hour ago," Genevieve Roberts said. "But if you're asking me what I think you're asking, I'm still on very good terms with a lot of staff in that office. I wasn't that interested in finding out what was behind all this before — I was confident in my own ability to conduct a fair investigation. Now, there's a lot of questions I can ask, and I can make a lot of trouble if I want to."

Lois frowned slightly. "You sound like you're saying you want us to name you."

The agent paused, then took a deep breath. "Maybe. Let me find out some more first, okay? But this whole thing stinks, and I don't want to be associated with it when it all comes out."

Lois became aware of Clark's attention focused on her; she met his gaze and read a question there. Without a word being exchanged, she knew what he was asking, and she nodded, only afterwards wondering just how they'd managed to communicate so effectively.

"Ms Roberts," Clark began. "You must have noticed that your partner, Mr West, has something of a prejudice against Superman?"

She grimaced. "Yes, I noticed. And I had cause to reprimand him a couple of times for his behaviour — we are trained never to reveal our personal feelings to clients. The last time, I told him that if it happened again I would have to report him."

She should have reported him a lot sooner, Lois thought sardonically, then went on to continue the line of questioning started by Clark. "Clearly you weren't aware that Philip West is an active member of an anti-alien organisation which believes that, ideally, Superman should be killed?"

Ms Roberts looked shocked. "I had absolutely no idea — and I can assure you that, if I had, I would have had him off the case immediately!"

"Do you think your superiors know?" Clark asked.

She shook her head. "I doubt it very much. They want this case to go smoothly and give Superman no grounds for appeal. Something like this would destroy the INS's case if there was an appeal." She glanced at the two, then added, "I see you're already aware of that."

Lois glanced at Clark again and saw that he was giving her an amused raised eyebrow. It was so typical of bureaucrats that they should assume that members of the public were completely lacking in intelligence, she thought cynically. Why shouldn't INS clients be smart enough to figure out procedures and their rights for themselves?

"Well, this is all very interesting, Ms Roberts," Lois said smoothly. "My partner and I are very grateful to you for coming to tell us this, and I know that Superman will be too. We've been trying to get to the bottom of this ourselves, so anything else you can tell us about any improper methods being used to make sure the application fails will be really helpful."

Ms Roberts nodded, shook hands with both reporters, then allowed Lois to escort her to the door. Shutting the door behind the INS agent, Lois turned to Clark, seeing the exultation on her face mirrored in his expression.

"What a breakthrough!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah!" He came across to her, smiling broadly.

Lost in the emotion of the moment, she went into his embrace, welcoming his warm hug, hugging him back. Genevieve Roberts giving them inside information was more than they could have hoped for, and if the woman was really as disgruntled as she appeared to be, they might even get more evidence of foul play within the INS.

"We've almost nailed the INS!" Clark drew back a little, grinning broadly, though his arms were still around her.

"Yeah, looks like the worm finally turned! You'd never believe it if you'd seen that woman with Philip West — she looked like she'd never say boo to a goose!"

"Oh, it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for," Clark teased, and she grinned back at him.

Then she stilled; they were staring at each other, their gazes held, and things seemed to move in slow motion. Clark's head lowered towards hers, and she leaned up and towards him… and then their lips met.

It was like no other kiss Lois had ever experienced. The first contact of Clark's lips against hers set her tingling, and her stomach started to do flip- flops. She strained closer to him, parting her lips in mute invitation; he took her up on it, and his tongue slid tentatively inside her mouth, waiting for her to respond. His arms tightened around her as their mouths became intimately acquainted, and she reached up to run one hand feverishly through his hair…

…and then he broke the kiss, breathing heavily as he stepped backwards, looking appalled.

At the same moment, she realised just what she'd been doing, and remembered that she was married.

*Married*.

To Superman.

She'd been on the verge of being unfaithful to Superman — and with his best friend.

Never mind that her marriage to Superman wasn't real; she'd given her word, and promised to help him, and that was it as far as she was concerned. But she'd never imagined that she'd find herself falling for someone else — but then, how could she have known, then, just how special Clark Kent was?

"Clark, I — " she began.

"Lois, I'm sorry…" he started, breathing heavily.

"No, Clark, *I'm* sorry! I'm the one who's married! But… You know the deal with Superman. If you can wait… oh, I know that two years is a long time to wait for someone, but if — " she said, semi-coherently, but Clark interrupted her, his tone urgent.

"Lois, no! No, there's no need… Lois, there's something I have to tell — " He broke off suddenly and cursed under his breath. Then he inhaled deeply and said heavily, "I'm sorry. Lois, I can't tell you how sorry I am — but I have to go. Now. We'll… talk about this later," he muttered, and made a bolt for the door.

In disbelief, Lois watched him go.

***

<Why *now*?> Clark asked himself, agonised, as he ran up the stairs of Lois's apartment building at Super-speed and then propelled himself off the roof.

The emergency broadcast he'd heard wasn't one he could ignore. A huge gas explosion, and at one of the dorms at Metropolis University. It was late afternoon, so chances were that not many students would be in residence, but there was no guarantee of that. After all, he thought, it was coming up to mid- terms so people would be studying…

But if only it had come five minutes later! Or five minutes sooner — either way, he would not now be in the position of having run out on Lois at the worst possible moment. The kiss had been wonderful, blissful; until the moment when he'd realised just exactly what he was doing. Kissing Lois, the woman he was married to — platonically — as Superman.

He'd wanted to cringe from guilt when she'd started to ask him whether he could wait two years, until such time as she and Superman could get divorced.

That kiss was everything he'd imagined it could be, and more. She'd just melted in his arms, while at the same time returning his kisses passionately, fiercely, with longing. She'd been kissing *Clark*, what was more — Clark, not Superman. So much for his fears that she'd get too attached to his non-existent alter ego!

But he'd known that he couldn't let himself get close to her as Clark under the circumstances. He'd known that there were dangers inherent in allowing himself to become her confidant — but this wasn't one of the things he'd been worried about.

Feeling guilty about kissing his own wife was not an emotion Clark had ever imagined himself experiencing, but it was happening now.

But if the emergency broadcast hadn't happened, he would now be telling her the truth. That he was Superman, and that she hadn't therefore done anything wrong by kissing him.

And just how she would have reacted to that, he had no idea. But he didn't have time to think about it now; he was flying over the dorm and needed to concentrate on finding out what needed to be done. The scene was a mess; flames were leaping through the dorm, bits of the structure were scattered around the surrounding area, and students were milling about, some screaming, some silent, and some weeping on the shoulders of friends.

He scanned the interior of the building quickly, noting where people were still trapped and ascertaining those whose need was most urgent, then got to work.

***

What had she *done*?

She'd been unfaithful to Superman, and at the same time she'd obviously scared Clark away — or made him disgusted with her. One or the other had to be the reason he'd run out on her like that. After all, Superman was his friend. And he'd just had his friend's wife throw herself at him like some sort of -

She stopped herself before her thoughts could go any further. Thinking about herself like that wasn't going to help. Apart from anything else, it wasn't as if her marriage to Superman was real anyway. And Superman himself had, only the other day, mentioned the possibility that she might find that she wanted to be with someone else. At the time, of course, she'd denied that that could happen; she loved Superman and wanted to be with him.

But now… now, she'd realised just how special Clark was. And how attracted to him she was — and, unlike Superman, a relationship with Clark *was* possible.

Assuming that he wanted it too; and assuming that he was willing to wait until she and Superman could safely divorce.

Forcing herself to think past Clark's abrupt departure, Lois tried to remember his reaction to the kiss. It had been mutual, she was sure of it. He had kissed her with as much enthusiasm, with as much passion as she'd been kissing him. He *was* attracted to her. So his reaction had to have been as much driven by guilt as hers had — it couldn't have been because he didn't *want* to kiss her, but instead because he knew he shouldn't.

And so he'd run, instead of talking things through with her. And that was, she supposed, in keeping with what she knew of Clark. He might be in his late twenties, but in many ways he was a naive Kansas farmboy. He probably just didn't know what to say to her.

So it was up to her to sort this out, she supposed. Grabbing her jacket and keys, she headed for the door. Assuming that Clark had gone home, she'd go and find him at his apartment and *make* him talk to her.

This perfect plan was stalled, however, when Lois arrived at Clark's apartment to find no-one in.

Thwarted, she paced back and forth on the steps outside his apartment, determined not to leave now that she'd made the decision to talk to him. But hanging around outside his apartment might attract the wrong sort of notice — especially in this part of town. Sitting in her Jeep wouldn't be much better.

Then a thought occurred to her. Clark was from Kansas. And in the country people never bothered to lock doors, or if they did, they left keys where friends and neighbours could find them. So…?

She tested the door. It was locked. So she looked around for somewhere a key could be hidden — and her gaze alighted on a pot just beside the door. She surreptitiously lifted it… to reveal a key. Grinning broadly at her deductive skills, she unlocked the door and let herself in.

He definitely wasn't there. Heading straight for the kitchen, Lois opened the fridge and examined the contents. Lots of junk food, but also the healthy kind of ingredients she'd noticed when he'd invited her over for lunch. And some cans of soda — none of her favourite, but she supposed she'd make do with Coke for now, even if it wasn't diet. One can wouldn't kill her, even if it did taste weird compared to diet.

Clutching the Coke, Lois marched over to Clark's sofa and sat down to wait for him. She'd stay as long as it took, she told herself. This was important.

Half an hour later, Lois was reclining with her feet up on the sofa, reading a novel which she'd purloined from Clark's bookshelf. Since it didn't look as if her colleague was about to come home any time soon, she'd decided to make herself comfortable. If she had to spend the night on his couch, she'd do it.

It had occurred to her that Superman might come to her apartment to look for her; after all, they'd agreed that morning that they needed to talk, as soon as possible. He'd said he'd be back in the evening. Torn, she'd debated for several minutes whether to go home, but in the end she'd decided that Superman could wait. Much as she wanted to get a few things clear with him, and to find out what he'd wanted to tell her, settling things with Clark was more important. Apart from anything else, once she'd talked to Clark she'd know what to tell Superman, if anything, about her feelings for his friend.

The book wasn't holding her attention; she kept glancing up and over to the door just in case Clark was coming. Every little sound from the street had her alert for his arrival. It occurred to her to try calling his desk at the Planet, in case he'd gone back to write up his interview notes; but she dismissed that idea. She didn't want to talk to him on the phone, and she didn't want to give him time to think up a reason why he didn't want to talk to her in person. Better to wait here for him, she decided.

A noise from somewhere behind her caught her attention; she dropped the book and whirled around, searching for its source. Behind her, there was only the kitchen, though, and the arch leading into Clark's bedroom; there was no way that he could have got in there without her seeing him. Puzzled, she got to her feet.

At the same time, a figure emerged from the bedroom. Lois stopped and stared in shock…

In front of her, apparently not having noticed her, was Superman! He'd stripped off the top part of his costume, causing her stomach to do flip-flops, and he carried the blue fabric — and some red fabric, which had to be his cape — in one hand. With the other hand, he was rumpling his hair, which was another surprise for Lois; she'd never seen Superman with his hair any other way apart from slicked back.

What was Superman doing at Clark's apartment? And, what was more, why was he walking around as if he was very much at home there? Coming out of Clark's *bedroom*?

An involuntary gasp escaped her, and Superman swung around, seeing her for the first time. And when she saw his face in full rather than in profile, she realised that, with his hair ruffled, he looked very familiar. Too familiar, especially with the shocked expression he now wore. An expression very similar to the one he'd worn only a little under an hour ago… when he'd broken their kiss in her apartment.

"*Clark*?" Lois exclaimed in appalled disbelief.

***

Clark stared at Lois in appalled dismay. What was she *doing* in his apartment?

His secret was out. Not that he minded; after all, he'd been trying to tell her for the past twenty-four hours anyway. But he certainly hadn't wanted her to find out this way!

He sighed; he was tired, he stank of gas and fire, and all he wanted was to have a shower and change into some clean clothes. He'd only come into the kitchen to put the top part of his Suit into his washing machine. But instead he had to deal with a confused and no doubt angry Lois. Who, he reminded himself, had every right to be angry. She was married to a man who she'd just discovered didn't really exist.

But an angry Lois would mean a ranting, unstoppable force in a moment. The only reason she hadn't said anything more just yet was, he guessed, the fact that she was still stunned. He strode quickly over towards her.

"Lois, I'm sorry you had to find out about me this way," he said hurriedly, not giving her a chance to interrupt. "If you think back to earlier, and this morning, and yesterday, you'll realise that I've been trying to tell you this. I did say that I had something important to tell you, remember? Anyway," he added before she could respond, "I've just been dealing with a gas explosion over at MetU, so I'd *really* appreciate it if you could give me five minutes to shower and change, and then we can talk, okay?"

He was taking a chance asking Lois to wait, he knew; he could easily re-emerge to find that her temper had surged to boiling-point in his absence; or worse, that she'd left, and gone straight to the Planet to expose him. Although he was pretty sure that she wouldn't do that, at least.

"I'll be as quick as I can," he added, turning away and heading for his bedroom, trying not to think about what Lois might do. But as he paused in the bedroom to undo the fastenings on the lower part of his Suit, he heard a sound from behind him.

Lois stood in the archway, staring accusingly at him.

Gripping the zip-fastening of his leggings to hold them up, he gave her an indignant look. "Lois, do you mind giving me some privacy here?"

"Why should I?" she shot at him. "You've been jerking me around for *days* here, making the rules, deciding what I am and am not allowed to know about you, spinning me lines about how you didn't remember anything about yourself, about how you couldn't get involved with me because Superman can't get involved with anyone, *and* letting me get hounded by the media because of you, while you swan about as Clark Kent and don't get hassled by anyone! *And* you pretend to be my friend, all sympathetic and helpful and considerate, such a contrast to Superman barely noticing my existence even though I'm his wife, while all the time you *know* you're the one I'm upset with!"

Of course he couldn't deny the justice of what she was saying, but it wasn't as simple as that. "Lois, I know. You have every right to be angry. I swear to you, I never wanted you to find out like this!" He sighed and gestured towards the bathroom. "Please, let me shower and change? Then, I promise, you can yell at me all you want."

She suddenly appeared to realise that he was half-naked and that the bottom half of his Suit was about to come off. Blushing furiously, she turned and stalked off.

Glad of the couple of minutes' breathing space, Clark showered at human speed, deliberately giving himself time to prepare for the confrontation to come. Afterwards, he dressed in clean jeans and a T-shirt, combing his hair into its normal style. He didn't bother with his glasses; there didn't seem to be any point. Preparing to meet a furious Lois Lane, he took a deep breath and walked back out to the living-room.

Lois sat hunched up on the couch, her feet on the seat in front of her and her arms wrapped around her knees, her face buried on top of her arms. She looked desolate.

He approached cautiously, unsure of her mood. Was she as upset as she looked, or was she simply biding her time until she exploded in fury?

But she raised her head then, and he could see the streaks of tears on her cheeks before she turned away from him. His heart constricted.

He swiftly moved to sit beside her, his hand going to caress her shoulder. "Lois, I really am sorry. I never meant to hurt you, or make you feel that I was trying to control you, or anything like that. It all… it just happened so fast, and I didn't know what to do," he said guiltily.

She turned and glared at him through moist eyes. "Oh? And it never occurred to you, right at the start of this thing, when I offered to marry you to help you beat the INS, to tell me the truth? That 'Superman' was really Clark Kent? Or the other way around, whoever you really are!"

He sighed. "It did occur to me, Lois. I swear to you. But think about it! We hardly knew each other. And you barely tolerated me. Me — Clark. That's who I am, Lois. Superman's just… just a costume I put on so that I could help people and not get caught. I got fed up with moving on every few months as soon as people got suspicious. Anyway, if I'd told you that night, or even the next day when I accepted your proposal, that I was really Clark would you have still gone ahead with it? I doubt it!" He drew a shuddering breath, then added wryly, "Sorry. I didn't mean to get mad at you."

"You have no darned right to get mad at me!" she hissed at him. "Have you any idea what you've done to me this past week?"

"Believe it or not, yes," Clark said quietly. "I was just beginning to realise when you told me just how you felt — and I was kicking myself for not seeing it. I was ashamed of myself after that — that's why I decided to tell you the truth."

"What, after you made me think I was crazy, being attracted to two men at the same time?" she said sarcastically. "What were you trying to do? Did you think you could make me fall for you as Clark, so that I wouldn't be mad when you revealed all?"

"No!" he exclaimed. "Lois… I swear to you, it was nothing like that. I… oh, hell," he muttered, running his hands through his hair. "I know you're upset. I know you're angry. And you have every right to be! I just… don't know how I could have done anything different, except tell you myself. And I was *going* to!"

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes! Last night, when we went out, only that restaurant in Milan wasn't exactly the right place. And then when we got back to your place your mother called before we could talk properly. And then this morning I had to get to work. But, if you remember, I told you — several times — that I had something important to tell you. *This* was it!"

Lois shook her head. "That doesn't make it better. You lied to me! You deceived me — and you made me see you as two different people! I'm *married* to you… oh, god, I'm married to *you*!" She jerked away from him suddenly, sitting pale- faced and shocked in the corner of the sofa.

Something inside Clark shrivelled as the impact of her words hit home. It was as he'd feared all along: Lois would hate to know that she was married to Clark Kent, the hack from Nowheresville.

"You're not married to me. You're married to Superman," he said tautly. "But if you hate the thought so much, just divorce me. I'll take my chances with the INS."

***

"If I'm not married to you, I can hardly divorce you," Lois muttered, but it was a reflex action. Clark's words had struck a nerve inside her, reminding her of just why she had married Superman in the first place. Of *course* she wouldn't abandon him to the INS's not-so-tender mercies, especially not in the circumstances.

But he had deceived her. And lied to her. And made a fool of her. And, worst of all, he'd made her think *she* was the deceiver, for kissing someone else behind her husband's back.

And, because he'd deceived her, she now knew that he didn't trust her. Or hadn't trusted her, if she believed his claim that he'd been about to tell her the truth. He *hadn't trusted her* — despite everything she'd done for him! She'd offered to marry him — Superman, anyway — so that he could stay in the country. She'd lied for him, and put herself at risk of prosecution by the INS and probably by other government agencies. She'd taken the brunt of the media attention after their marriage, playing the role of the blissfully happy wife to a man she barely saw and knew little about. And she'd told no-one the truth of the situation — well, until she'd started to confide in Clark, and she'd only talked to him because she knew that he was Superman's friend and could be trusted.

She'd done all that for him — and he still claimed that he hadn't known her well enough to tell her the truth?

Clark hadn't responded to her muttered comment, and she glared at him. He was sitting at the far end of the couch, looking defensive. Seeming to feel her gaze, he turned to look at her; his mouth shifted into a half-hearted grimace.

"Lois, I *know* I should have told you — " he began.

"Yes, you should! You had to know that you could trust me not to tell anyone! Look at what I did for you over the past week!"

He nodded. "I know. But it's not that I was afraid that you'd tell someone, though you have to realise that it's not just me I'm protecting here anyway."

She gave him a quizzical look.

"My parents, Lois. They're my *adoptive* parents — they're just ordinary people, human, like you are. They took me in when they found me as a baby. If anyone found out who Superman really is, they'd be targets."

"Just like I could be as Superman's wife," Lois observed. "Okay, I understand that. But what risk am I to them?" How could she harm his parents? Could he possibly imagine that she would betray them to criminals or something like that?

"None, really," he agreed. "But that's not the reason I was scared to tell you. Like I said, we didn't exactly get along — whatever I might have thought of you, you made it clear that I wasn't top of your favourite people list. So if I'd told you a week ago that you'd actually proposed to Clark Kent… well, come on, how would you have reacted?"

"I don't know!" Lois exclaimed, frustrated. He was right: she *hadn't* been especially fond of Clark at that time. In fact, she'd regarded him with something not much above contempt a lot of the time, which made her feel ashamed now. She hadn't realised that she could be so shallow. The memory of how dismissive of Clark she'd been when she'd been working with the newspaper artist to put together a picture of Superman was mortifying. "But that's just it — you never even gave me the chance! And now… now, I'm just completely confused because I don't know what's Clark and what's Superman or how I'm supposed to treat you or *anything*! And I'm…" She broke off, breathing heavily, and gulped.

"You're what?" Clark's voice was tense.

"Furious! And… and *hurt*, Clark! Have you any idea what you've done to me?" She turned away; tears were pricking at her eyes, and she didn't want him to see. And that was something else; Lois Lane *never* cried. Not if she could help it. But finding out what Clark had done had made her cry.

"I know." In a low voice, he continued, "I know I've hurt you. Especially since you found out yourself, instead of me telling you. And I know it doesn't help to tell you that I never meant that to happen. I know that it looks like I've been keeping you at arm's length as Superman and getting close to you as Clark — all I can say is that it wasn't deliberate. I *do* care about you, and I am attracted to you — I couldn't hide it as Superman, and I know you know that. And I couldn't hide it as Clark either."

"You made me think I was some sort of… of slut!" Lois threw at him bitterly. "Carrying on with someone else behind my husband's back… And then you ran out on me, as if I'd disgusted you, too!"

"I never meant that to happen," he repeated. "And, Lois, I didn't run out on you deliberately! There was a gas explosion, I told you — I heard the broadcast, and I had to go! I had no choice! If I hadn't heard it, I'd have told you the truth then. I was trying to, you have to know that."

He had been about to tell her something, she remembered. It had been so awkward; they'd both been embarrassed by the kiss and getting carried away, and she'd been trying to explain that she'd be free in a couple of years' time. And Clark *had* been trying to say something, before he'd broken off and run out of her apartment.

He inhaled deeply as she turned to face him. "Lois, I meant it. If you don't want anything more to do with me — as Clark or as Superman, then I'll make it easy for you to get a divorce."

"No." Lois shook her head. "No matter how I feel about you, or how angry I am, I'm not going to let Philip West or Senator Wilson or whoever else is behind this win!"

He stilled. "Thank you, Lois. I appreciate it. So… you're willing to carry on the pretence a little longer?"

"Two years," she said with resignation, then sighed. "It'll take up to two years for you to get your permanent residence."

"I can't hold you to two years. Not when you feel like this about me," Clark said abruptly. He got to his feet and began to pace. "I'll have to find another way."

"Clark!" Now his behaviour was making her angry again. "Don't make things worse than you already have."

"Huh?" He glared at her, his attitude defensive. "I'm trying to make them *better*, by letting you off the hook!"

"No, you're not," she insisted. "You're shutting me out."

"How?"

"You're claiming that you can handle this alone. You're being childish, Clark! You can't deal with the fact that you screwed up, so you're pushing away the one person who can help you!"

"That's not fair!" he protested. "Lois, you're mad because I deceived you and I didn't trust you, and because I took advantage of you. You're right to be mad — have I said otherwise? And I'm *trying* to make amends the only way I know how — by letting you off the hook, so you don't have to have anything more to do with this situation."

"No, you're playing the martyr," Lois said flatly. "You need me here. And I said I don't want to let those bigots win, so I'm going to get Superman his permanent residence. *Then* I'll deal with what you did to me."

Clark was silent for several moments, his gaze averted from hers. Then he sighed heavily and came over to sit on the couch again. "If you're sure, Lois, I really could use your help. And…" He grimaced. "I know it's not enough, but I *am* sorry. Just tell me what to do to make it up to you, okay?"

"It's not as simple as that," she told him quietly. "I need some time, okay? I need to think all of this through and decide how I feel about it. And I can't deal with it while the INS is still on my back — and Superman's. So, for now, we just concentrate on getting this sorted out. Okay?"

It was the only way that she was going to be able to cope, for now. Her pride, and her sense of fairness, wouldn't allow her to withdraw from the commitment she'd made to Superman to help him gain permanent residency status. And everything she'd experienced since with the INS, as well as the plot she suspected existed to prevent Superman remaining in the US legally, appalled her. There was no way that she was going to let them get their own way.

But she couldn't continue to help 'Superman' as long as she was still confused and hurt by Clark's deception. The only way she could do what needed to be done was to push aside everything but the fact of this discovery. Aside from that, it was all too much to take on board right now. Her brain was just about managing to compute the fact that Superman was really Clark, though she was having to remind herself of that every few minutes. The masses of conflicting emotions she was experiencing as a result was something else entirely; she just didn't have either the time or the space to think through all of those.

Clark was Superman. She had been flown to Milan the night before by *Clark*. *Clark* had taken her to California and married her, and had flown into the Daily Planet building and kissed her in front of the staff. *Clark* had saved her life, several times now and most recently when Jason Trask had pushed her out of an aeroplane.

And *Superman* had smuggled her out of the Daily Planet building and given her lunch in his apartment, and had been such a patient and sympathetic listener… traitor, her bruised and wounded emotions insisted. She'd watched *Superman* interview Senator Wilson the day before, marvelling at his skills and realising just how much she'd under-estimated him.

He'd played the two roles in front of her, occasionally being with her as Clark within minutes of Superman being there. He'd deliberately deceived her, pretending to be two different men, intending that she should believe that Superman and Clark were not the same. And he'd encouraged her to confide in him as Clark about things which Superman had done to upset her… thus making Clark look kind and sympathetic, and enabling Superman to look good when he took action to remedy the deficiencies she'd pointed out. He hadn't played fair with her. He'd hurt her. And that would take some time to get over.

But time was a luxury she didn't have at the moment. So, for now, she had to ignore what he'd done, and concentrate on the INS and the plot to get rid of Superman.

Clark nodded resignedly in response to her bald statement. "If that's the way you want it, Lois."

***

It was something of a relief to know that he wasn't going to have to spend the next three hours defending his actions to a justifiably angry Lois, Clark thought. Instead, though, she would be allowing her feelings to simmer beneath the surface; for all he knew, by the time she finally decided she was ready to have it out with him, her anger could have turned her into a full-blown tornado.

"There are things we need to discuss," he agreed, attempting a more businesslike tone. "Apart from Ms Roberts' visit — there are things I haven't been able to tell you because you didn't know about… well, you know," he trailed off, uncertain how she would respond to this immediate reminder of his full identity.

But she simply nodded, then a moment later said, "Did you spy on Wilson after we talked to him yesterday?"

Taken aback by her astuteness, though he told himself he shouldn't have been surprised, Clark nodded. "Yeah. It seemed likely that, if he was reporting to someone else, he might make a phone call or something."

"And did he?" Now she was looking excited, her anger seemingly buried.

Clark smiled. "Yes."

Now she gave him a frustrated glare. "Well, come on! Give! Who did he talk to?"

"I'll give you one guess." Clark couldn't resist grinning triumphantly, despite the situation.

"Lex Luthor." It was a statement, not a question. "So what did you hear?"

"Enough to confirm that Wilson was acting under instructions from Luthor, and that Luthor is paying him."

"So we were right!" Lois exclaimed, delighted. Then she glared at him again. "You knew this yesterday."

"I know." He looked abashed, but then defended himself. "How could I tell you, Lois? There was no way Clark Kent could have found that out, and as far as you knew Superman was nowhere near Wilson's house yesterday." He sighed. "I was going to tell you about it as soon as I told you I was Superman."

"Okay." Her tone didn't give him any clues as to whether or not she accepted the explanation. "Tell me everything you heard."

"I will, but…" He glanced at his watch. "Have you eaten, Lois? This might take some time, if we're going to discuss what to do next too."

She shrugged. "Not yet. What do you want to do, get takeout?"

"Tell me what you'd like, and I'll get it," Clark offered, thinking that if he could impress her with his powers, she might become more amenable. "Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Greek — you name it. Even more exotic if you'd like."

"Oh, of course," she said, frowning suddenly. "Now I know where you got that Chinese food from the first night we worked late at the Planet!" She glared at him. "You must think I'm so stupid — you brought Chinese to my apartment, and it was in the same sort of bamboo containers, and I never guessed!"

Uh-oh, bad idea… He grimaced apologetically. "I'd forgotten about that first time. It never occurred to me that you might connect the two!"

"Well, I didn't." She looked thoroughly frustrated with herself. "I guess at least I have an answer to one question, anyway."

"What's that?"

"Just how you could afford all this stuff! I had no idea where you got your money from." She looked thoughtful then, and added curiously, "So how do you deal with currency when you get stuff overseas?"

"I travelled a lot before I came to Metropolis, so I have a lot of different countries' currencies left over," he explained. "And some countries — mostly outside Europe — accept the US dollar anyway, so I don't have much trouble. Anyway," he added, "what would you like?"

Lois hesitated. "You're not supposed to leave the country!" she told him. "I forgot I hadn't told you what West said."

Clark's eyes widened. "Oh, is that what Ms Roberts was talking about? I didn't get a chance to ask you."

He listened in silent disbelief as Lois related, first, the detail of Philip West's phone call, and second, the call from Signor Giorgio. "I don't believe it!" he exclaimed at last. "He wants to stop Superman helping in emergencies around the world?"

"Yes — until I pointed out how ludicrous it was. Even then he wanted to see you, like I said, to discuss what should count as an emergency and what shouldn't."

"You did a great job," Clark assured her. "I really appreciate it."

"Thanks." She shrugged. "You know, the Planet's readers would be appalled if they knew about this."

"I'd imagine so. Think we should write about it?" Clark was very tempted, but he was concerned about breaching yet more terms of Superman's temporary residence. He explained this to Lois, but she shook her head.

"I'd write it. Or you would — Clark Kent, I mean, and we'd make it clear that Superman had nothing to do with the story. I think we should start putting Superman's case to the public."

"Perry didn't want the Planet to take sides," Clark reminded her.

"There's a difference between taking sides and exposing lunacy!" Lois pointed out. "Like reporting that Wilson compared Superman — you — to Hitler. We're going to write about that too, right?"

"Right. Okay, I'll get takeout — and I won't go outside the US. What would you like?"

***

Clark brought a selection of sandwiches and salads, and they nibbled while exchanging information and discussing the way forward. Lois was appalled to discover that LNN, directed by Lex Luthor, had been controlling the results of its polls as well as giving a biased slant to its news and comment coverage of Superman.

"If only we could prove that!" she muttered angrily. Giving Clark a direct look then, she added, "I don't suppose we can use Superman's word as evidence?"

She was almost expecting the shake of his head which she got in response. "I can't have Superman being seen to spy on people. That wouldn't do a lot for his image."

Lois sat back and looked at Clark quizzically. "Do you often do that?"

"Do what?"

"Talk about Superman in the third person. I mean, he's you."

"It's complicated," Clark said with a wry look. "I mean, yes, I am Superman, but he's only a small part of me — the part that goes off and rescues people and so on. I've been Clark all my life. I've only been Superman for less than a month."

"So… Clark is who you are, Superman is what you can do?" Lois suggested.

"Something like that," he agreed. "But I've always been able to do the things I do as Superman — well, since I was about eighteen, anyway. The disguise came much later."

"Why?" Lois asked, curious. "Oh, I don't mean why the disguise — I think I can probably guess. You wouldn't want everyone to know that an ordinary guy like Clark Kent can do all these Super things, right?"

"Right."

"So how did you come up with the idea of Superman? I mean, it was a good idea — a great idea, even." She grinned at him suddenly. "It's the kind of idea I could have had."

Clark smiled back at her, one of those smiles which made her heart do flip- flops. "Actually, it was your idea."

"Huh?"

"Remember telling me one morning that I should bring a change of clothes to work?"

She did — they'd met outside the Planet building, in the midst of an incident with a worker trapped down a manhole. Clark's clothes had been rumpled and dirty, for some reason, but there had been something else, too…

"You saved him!" she exclaimed. "That man who was trapped!"

Clark nodded. "I used to do things like that all the time. In secret, at Super- speed, and hoping no-one would notice. But sooner or later someone always began to wonder, to ask questions, and I'd have to move on. But I didn't want to leave Metropolis, and then you said what you did about the change of clothes, and that made me think of a disguise. My mother made the Suit."

He'd told her that before… Her eyes widened and she stared at him. "On the Prometheus transport vessel… you told Amy Platt that your mother made the Suit for you! I can't believe that I didn't ask questions then!"

"Me neither, actually," Clark said, giving her a lop-sided smile. "Lois…" he added suddenly, earnestly. "I know I have a lot of explaining and apologising to do, but I swear, I never wanted to hurt you, or to make you think that I don't respect you."

She froze. Somehow, she'd succeeded in pushing the fact of Clark's deceit, Superman's betrayal, to the back of her mind, so that she didn't have to deal with the fact that yet another man she'd trusted and come to care for had shown himself completely unworthy. Shaking her head, she said tautly, "I don't want to hear it, Clark! I told you, I can't deal with this now."

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I won't mention it again."

Changing the subject abruptly, Lois said, "Okay, let's try writing some of this up for the Planet. We can show it to Perry tomorrow and see whether he'll run it in the Monday morning edition. He'll probably want to run it past the lawyers first, so the sooner we're ready to give it to him the better."

Clark got up and fetched his laptop; both reporters had laptops for personal use on loan from the Planet, so that they could write stories up if necessary without being present in the newsroom. Although Lois automatically assumed that she would be the one to write the story, Clark took up position in front of the keyboard.

"I can type faster, remember?" he pointed out mildly. "You dictate, I'll type."

It wasn't as straightforward as that, since Clark had his own ideas as to what they should write, and at times Lois had to acknowledge — privately — that they were better than her own. An hour or so later, they had a rough draft of an article which they'd take to Perry the next day; in the meantime, Clark said, he intended to see whether he could get any further proof for some of the things they were alleging.

The headline, which they hoped Perry would accept, read 'Who wants Superman out?' That was followed by an introductory paragraph asserting that several people were implicated. The article questioned Senator Wilson's involvement, arguing that he was going beyond what would be proper for an elected representative. Wilson's public comments were quoted, as was his comparison of Superman to Hitler.

'It does seem strange to us that someone of Wilson's track-record as an established and competent Senator should suddenly seek this kind of publicity', the draft continued. 'He doesn't seem to need it for re-election purposes; on the current polls, he should be a shoo-in. In any case, despite the varied polling results relating to Superman's citizenship application, it seems unlikely that some of the senator's comments would win him many friends. So why is he doing this? So far we have not been able to prove anything, but we suggest that it's possible that the senator is not acting on his own initiative.'

The article then went on to consider the behaviour of LNN, using the information which Lois had gathered earlier in the day. The channel's coverage of Superman was considered, and its overwhelmingly negative bias pointed out. 'It's also noticeable that every poll which LNN has commissioned on anything related to Superman over the past week or so has come up with a significantly higher proportion of anti-Superman responses than any poll conducted by any other organisation. And LNN, despite requests from a number of organisations, not just the Daily Planet, refuses to answer any questions about the survey methods.

'In an interview, the head of news content at LNN insisted that LNN was simply leading the debate in an entirely legitimate manner. It may, of course, be entirely coincidental that the owner of LNN, Mr Lex Luthor, is — according to Superman — not the Super-hero's biggest fan. So we challenge Mr Adams and LNN: if the apparent anti-Superman stance consistently being taken by your channel is entirely coincidental, show us the raw polling data and the questions being asked. And why not invite Superman to appear on the Larry Myers Show?'

"Perry's not going to like that bit," Lois remarked dryly as they read over the draft once again, pausing before they reached the final section which revealed Philip West's connection with Defenders of the Earth. They were holding back Genevieve Roberts' revelations until she was able to come up with more evidence. "We're virtually accusing LNN of fiddling their polling data and deliberately manipulating the content of news and comment programmes. The lawyers will hate it!"

"I know," Clark agreed. "I'll see whether I can come up with any evidence at all — I don't know, I don't want to bring Superman into this, but maybe if he talked to Adams…?"

Lois shook her head immediately. "You'd — he'd — " She broke off and shook her head. "Now you have me doing it! *Superman* shouldn't be seen to put pressure on anyone. But *we* could maybe do a bit of harmless breaking and entering."

Clark stared at her, his expression taken aback. "Since when is breaking and entering harmless?"

"We're not stealing anything!" she retorted. "Well, nothing which isn't evidence, anyway. Look," she added quickly, wanting to convince him, "supposing Pete Adams keeps records of his phone conversations? Or if not, then there has to be something, somewhere, relating to the polling data and the instructions the polling organisations were given. If they used outside organisations, given the polls were fiddled. We need to search his office."

"No, Lois!" Clark insisted, frowning.

Lois shrugged. "If you don't want to help, fine. I'm trying to help *you*, after all! But that's okay; I'll go alone."

"You are kidding?" Now he looked worried.

"Clark, I have been doing this kind of thing since long before you came to Metropolis! Don't try to tell me what I can and can't do!" Her voice was dangerous, and the look she gave Clark should have warned him off.

He stood up, looking torn; then his expression became resigned. "Okay, if you insist on going, I'm coming with you." She was about to protest that she didn't want a half-hearted companion who was going to make trouble every step of the way, but he forestalled her. "You never know, Lois," he added dryly, "You might actually find me useful. Can you read files at Super-speed? Can you check what's in a cabinet without even opening it?"

"Show-off," she muttered, then pulled on her coat. "You'll fly us there, okay?"

Clark stared at her. "Lois! Just because I can… Look, why can't we drive?"

"Why should we?" She rolled her eyes. "You can fly, and I don't want to have my car seen anywhere near LNN's headquarters. Therefore, we fly there."

"Oh, so you're happy enough to accept me being Superman when it suits you," Clark muttered.

"That is *not* fair!" she exclaimed angrily. "I have a lot of issues with you being Superman, Clark, but I am *trying* to put them aside for the moment because there are more important things we need to do. To help *you*, let me remind you! And most of my issues to do with Superman being you are to do with you deceiving me!"

Clark slumped against the wall, head bowed. "I know, and you're right," he said quietly. "It's just… I *did* intend to tell you! And it's not my fault that things didn't work out that way. Tell me — " He looked up suddenly. "Would you have been as mad if I had told you myself?"

Lois was faced with a direct stare from a very familiar pair of brown eyes; it was highly disconcerting, and made her aware of lots of things which she would have preferred to forget for now. Like just how attracted she had always been to Superman, and how attractive she'd come to find Clark, and how Clark's kiss had swept her away only a couple of short hours earlier…

She looked away. "I don't know. Maybe." If he had told her, at least it would have been some evidence that he *trusted* her! Although he'd insisted several times now that he had intended to tell her… but she knew only too well what was said about good intentions. The fact remained that he *hadn't* told her.

She felt a hand touch her shoulder lightly. "Come on — you wanted to check out Pete Adams' office, so let's get going," Clark said softly. Glancing up to look at him, she read resignation in his expression and understood that again he was accepting that she wasn't ready to talk about it.

He was indicating that she should follow him; she did so, but halted abruptly as she found herself on the threshold of his bedroom again. "What are you doing?" she demanded coolly.

He paused, sighed and turned to face her. "Lois, when I'm intending to fly as opposed to walking I leave by the balcony. That's this way."

"Oh. Well, I knew that," she said defensively. "But aren't you going to change?"

He shrugged. "If I was, it would take me less than a second. But I don't want Superman seen anywhere near the LNN building, for obvious reasons. So you're going to be flying with Clark, not Superman." He glanced down at himself, and Lois's gaze followed his, noting the black jeans and dark T-shirt. "I think I should be pretty much invisible in the sky, as long as I keep us away from street-lights."

Lois checked her own clothes; they looked dark enough, she thought. "Okay, let's go."

***

Flying with her 'husband', now that she knew he was really Clark Kent, was an uncomfortable experience. Not because she suddenly didn't like it any more, or because of any strong feelings of dislike towards Clark. No; it was uncomfortable precisely because her close proximity to Clark, held against his broad chest, made it very difficult for Lois to remember just how angry she was with him, just how hurt she was at his betrayal.

Instead, her hair brushing his chin as they flew, all she could think about was that a few hours earlier they'd been kissing. And that kiss had been unlike any other Lois had ever experienced. She'd been completely swept away by the raw passion his embrace had awakened in her, and by the feel of his hard, strong body against hers. For a few moments, it had felt as if she'd finally found a man she could allow herself to lo…

No.

Not that. Love was such a destructive emotion. It ripped people up, exposed their innermost feelings and left them raw and bleeding. It took advantage of weaknesses and exploited people's capacity to feel pain. She never wanted to experience that again.

<But you thought you were in love with Superman> a tiny voice protested.

That was different, Lois insisted to herself bleakly. Superman was different — at least, she'd thought he was different. Now, she could see that she'd put the Super-hero on a pedestal, according a panoply of virtues to him which no man could actually possess and remain human.

<He's not human anyway; he's Kryptonian!>

It made no difference what planet he was from, Lois argued with herself. He was a man, after all, and even before she'd discovered the truth she'd started to notice just how much Superman resembled an ordinary man in his outlook, behaviour and in all sorts of other ways. She'd already begun to lose her rose- coloured spectacles where Superman was concerned, seeing flaws in him which she'd never expected.

No, Superman hadn't been the perfect man she'd imagined him to be. And her feelings for him had already been undergoing a change; not that she'd suddenly grown indifferent, but she'd been seeing him in a different light, as someone with flaws, who didn't have all the answers and who needed her as much as she thought she'd needed him.

And then they'd had that wonderful, almost perfect dinner date in Milan. It was hard to believe that it had only been last night; a bare twenty-four hours earlier. She'd felt so close to Superman then, even though she'd become more and more conscious of all the things he wasn't telling her about himself. He'd been fantastic company: attentive, humorous, an intelligent conversationalist. In fact, the perfect date.

And now Superman, it turned out, was Clark.

Clark… the man she'd been experiencing a very inconvenient attraction to over the past few days. Clark, her colleague with whom she'd been discovering a very satisfying working relationship. Clark, her friend, whose sympathetic support had been a lifeline in the week since her marriage to Superman.

And all the time he'd *been* Superman. All the time, he'd known what she was going through, had known how she'd felt about Superman's behaviour, and he hadn't told her the truth. Instead, he'd encouraged her to confide in him! And she'd thought he was being so kind and helpful by working with her on investigating who was behind the INS's attack on Superman; and all along it was only self-interest.

And he'd kissed her… then run off, letting her think that she was a tramp, the worst kind of woman, who would casually cheat on her husband. No better than Cat Grant — in fact, probably worse, because for all of Cat's faults, Lois thought that the older woman practised serial monogamy as opposed to cheating on her boyfriends.

But yet it was very difficult to remember any of that stuff when she was being held so close to Clark…

She avoided looking at him, and just hoped that he didn't take too long to get them to their destination. Otherwise she'd start to find herself haunted by memories… of that kiss, of their date the night before, and of just how attractive she found him, in both his guises.

***

Clark hovered over the roof of the LNN building and looked expectantly at Lois. "Okay, we're here. What now?"

"What now?" She stared at him. "You're going to get us inside, of course!"

As much amused as taken aback, Clark asked, "So how would you have got inside if you were on your own?"

She glared at him. "You don't think I'm going to tell you all my secrets, do you?"

Especially since he hadn't told her his, Clark finished ruefully. "So, let me get this straight. You want me to use my powers to break us into Pete Adams' office, right?"

"Yes. And to look for incriminating evidence once we're inside," she retorted.

Rolling his eyes, Clark left Lois on the roof, first checking for security cameras, then flew downwards and located Adams' office. Getting in wouldn't be difficult, he realised; the windows were of an old-fashioned type and weren't sealed, unlike so many windows in modern buildings with air-conditioning. Checking that no-one was around in any of the adjoining offices, he gently prised the window open, taking care not to leave fingerprints, then went back to get Lois.

She started searching Adams' desk immediately; Clark watched her and after a moment or two asked, "Do you know what you're looking for?"

"Anything incriminating! And aren't you going to help?"

He sighed, and went to stand in front of the filing cabinet. Without opening it, he used his vision powers to scan through the documents contained in the first drawer, but found nothing relevant. At the back of the second drawer, however, he found something.

"Here, Lois, look at this," he murmured softly, using a handkerchief to pull the drawer open and remove the relevant file. "Instructions to the company which conducted those polls."

She came to stand beside him, almost pulling the documents from his hand. "…slant the questions in such a way… we need to achieve results indicating the unpopularity of the subject…" Breaking off, Lois stared at Clark. "This is dynamite!"

He nodded soberly. "Well, that sure explains all those negative polls!"

She looked stricken, and laid a hand on his arm. "You must have hated it, wondering whether it was really true."

"Yeah." Changing the subject — he didn't want to indulge in self-pity right now, not in someone else's office where they could be caught at any moment, nor when Lois was still angry with him for what he'd done — he added, "But we can't take these, great though it would be to use them."

Lois shook her head, looking as if she despaired of Clark. Reaching into her handbag, she produced a tiny camera and proceeded to photograph each document as Clark held them up for her. At the same time, he was listening carefully with his Super-hearing to check that there was no-one nearby; he knew that he could get himself and Lois out the window in about a second should the need arise, but they wouldn't have time to hide all traces of their presence. And he did *not* want anyone asking questions about how anyone managed to get into a tenth-floor office through the window!

Finished at last, Lois waved impatiently at Clark; he interpreted that as his signal to replace the papers in the cabinet. "Ready to go?" he asked her in a whisper.

"You *are* kidding?" she hissed back. "Okay, this stuff's great, but we haven't got *anything* to tie Luthor to any of this!"

"True," Clark conceded. "But is that likely? Someone like Luthor isn't going to be careless about leaving evidence where it can be found. He talked to Adams on the phone earlier today, and my guess is that there's nothing in writing."

"But maybe Adams kept notes, a diary, something like that," Lois insisted, and Clark nodded after a moment.

"You could be right. No, don't!" he muttered despairingly as Lois went straight over to Adams' desk and started rifling through papers. "We don't want to leave any sign that we were here," he insisted firmly, still keeping his voice low. "Stand back and let me look."

She waved her hand in an expansive 'Be my guest' gesture and stood back; Clark swept the desk with his X-ray vision, but found nothing. There was indeed a large desk-diary, but the entries were innocuous, simply detailing meetings.

"If there is anything, it's probably locked away," Clark said eventually. "And, okay, I could look through all the cabinets and drawers here, but it would take a while, and I don't think we should risk staying here any longer. *And* how could we explain getting hold of that, too? One leak might be understandable, but two?"

Lois shrugged, but her expression told Clark that she agreed with him, albeit reluctantly. "Okay, let's go," she said flatly, crossing the room to stand next to him.

Picking her up, he flew them both out of the window again, pausing to close it behind him, and taking care not to leave fingerprints anywhere.

***

"This means we can rewrite that section about LNN's polling," Lois announced as soon as Clark set her down inside his apartment. "Now we have proof that they fiddled the data."

"Yeah," Clark said thoughtfully. "But, you know, why not run it as it is, and then use what we have now in the evening edition? Let the morning talk shows discuss it, and let Adams call Perry to complain, or whatever. And then we can run this later, to prove we were right."

Lois's impatience to reveal LNN's behaviour battled with her knowledge that Clark's suggestion was no doubt a very sensible one. Eventually she nodded. "Yeah, that sounds better. But I just wish we had a way to pin Luthor to this!"

"Me too," Clark agreed. "But who knows? Maybe Adams will try to take Luthor down with him. After all, why should he take the blame?"

"I guess." Lois nodded. "And there's Wilson. Now there's someone who doesn't deserve to be in the Senate!"

"Yeah. But we can't prove what we know is going on there," Clark said, sounding resigned. "We know he's taking bribes from Luthor. But all we have is that conversation I overheard, and I really don't want to use that if I can help it. It wouldn't make Superman look good."

"Yeah, you said." Lois began to pace impatiently around Clark's living-room. "But we can't claim he's taking bribes without evidence. We'd never get it past Perry, let alone the lawyers."

"I know." Clark paused for several moments, then added, "Maybe you don't feel the same way, but to me it's not getting the scoop on Wilson which matters. I just want to see him proven guilty, and I don't really care whether it's the Daily Planet which gets the proof, or someone else."

Surprised, Lois said automatically, "You'd better not let Perry hear you say that!"

He gave her a lop-sided smile. "Oh, I know! But what if we went to the Senate ethics committee, and told them what we know and what we suspect?"

Lois gave a snort. "You expect them to actually do anything about it?!"

"Well, why not? He's breaking Senate rules, after all!"

"Yeah, but we don't have hard evidence. They could dismiss it as speculation and hearsay, and not even bother to investigate. Or they could call Wilson in for an interview, and he'd simply deny it — after all, there's just no evidence." She raised an eyebrow at him. "Unless you're prepared to testify in front of the ethics committee?"

"Me? Oh, you mean Superman."

Lois sighed. "You're doing it again. Either you're Superman or you're not, Clark!"

He raised an eyebrow at her. "I think you've had pretty conclusive proof that I am, haven't you, Lois?"

"*I* know that! I'm just wondering if you do! Doesn't it get confusing, talking about yourself as two separate people?"

Clark shook his head. "I have to do it. Think about it — if I wasn't careful, it would be too easy to make a mistake in the wrong place."

That made sense, Lois thought. "Okay. Anyway, would Superman testify?" she asked, carefully copying Clark's style of referring to his Super-hero alter ego.

He sighed again. "I really would prefer not to. You have to see how it would look if Superman was known to eavesdrop on apparently law-abiding people? Having the INS after him is bad enough. I don't want problems with the ACLU too!"

He was right, Lois accepted. They would just have to make do with their interview material and speculation on the senator, always assuming that the lawyers allowed them to print the speculation. She yawned suddenly, and realised how tired she was.

"You should go home. It's late," Clark said, sounding concerned. "Uh… I could fly you home, if you like?"

But she didn't want that. Flying to and from the LNN building with Clark had been difficult enough, in the circumstances, but flying home to her apartment, when he would almost certainly dress as Superman, would be too hard to cope with at the moment. She had a lot of thinking to do before she could come to terms with Superman's real identity, and until then it was going to be easier if she kept well away from Clark's alter ego. She had to deal with Clark — with the urgency of their investigation, that was unavoidable — but that was enough, for now.

***

Closing the door behind Lois, Clark turned on his heel and strode quickly into the bedroom; spinning into his Suit, he immediately walked out to the balcony and launched himself into the air.

"Damn, damn, damn, *damn*!" he muttered to himself, once he was high enough for no-one other than some passing birds to hear him. *How* could he have been so careless as to let her find out like that? How hadn't he known that she was in his apartment? He should have heard her heartbeat, if nothing else! Even more important, he should have checked out his apartment before flying in: anyone could have broken in and have been waiting for him! What if his landlord had been there, fixing something or other?

<Yeah, right> he thought cynically to himself; the thought of his bone-idle landlord getting up off his butt to do anything for any of his tenants was about as likely as Cat Grant becoming a nun. But still, he should have been more careful.

And because he hadn't been careful, Lois had found out for herself something which she had every right to expect that he would tell her. He'd owed it to her to tell her. And, even worse, he'd been going to tell her. He'd had it all planned; he would have come to her apartment as Superman, bearing some exotic kind of takeout, and laid it all on the line as honestly and gently as he could.

But he'd made stupid mistakes.

First, that kiss in her apartment… Wonderful, thrilling as it had been, it never should have happened. Not while she didn't know the truth. And instead of being able to tell her the truth there and then, he'd had to go. Which, as she'd only too bluntly told him, had left her thinking the very worst. That he despised her. That he thought she was a tramp, a slut, willing to cheat on her husband.

And then when she'd come to his apartment… He just realised that he'd never found out *why* she'd come to his apartment, but his best guess was that she'd wanted to confront him over the kiss. Well, that was fair enough. And it was a very Lois thing to do, that was for sure.

But she'd come to his apartment, let herself in — knowing Lois, she'd either picked the lock or found his spare key, he decided, mildly irritated at her casual invasion of his home territory — and then found out the truth about her husband and her friend in the worst possible way.

It was no wonder that she was deeply hurt. And he was sure that it would take her some time to get over it — if she ever did. After all, keeping the secret of his identity from friends and colleagues was one thing, but from the woman Superman was married to was quite another matter.

He'd better make the most of his memories of that kiss, Clark told himself bleakly as he hurtled through the sky. It was the only one he was ever likely to get from Lois. After this, he'd be lucky if she ever accepted him as a friend again.

He swallowed hard, then flew in the direction of Lois's apartment. At least he could check that she'd got home safely before he went home.

She was there, padding around the apartment in her nightshirt. A large lump gathered in his throat as he watched her, and he had to fight the urge to go and knock on her window. Only the fact that he knew she wouldn't let him in made him eventually turn around and go home.

***

It was one thing telling Clark that she needed to concentrate on getting the INS off Superman's back, and deal with his deceit later, Lois realised. It was another thing telling herself that at almost three o'clock in the morning when she'd been tossing and turning in bed for hours.

Clark was Superman. Or Superman was Clark. She wasn't really sure which way around it was, though she was sure that there *was* a difference.

Clark had told her that he was really Clark Kent, farmer's son and reporter. She'd rather glibly commented that Superman had to be what he could do, while Clark was who he was, but now that her discovery was truly sinking in it just didn't seem that simple. After all, Clark had the same powers as Superman. He could use them as himself — he'd shown that all too clearly when he'd taken her to the LNN offices. So surely he was really Superman?

And yet Superman wasn't a newspaper reporter. And he'd told her that she'd been the one to give him the idea to invent the character, and therefore Superman hadn't even existed before that — although all that meant, really, was that he'd only begun to use a disguise a few weeks ago. He'd always been able to do these weird things. So he'd always *been* Superman; he'd simply only recently separated out the two sides of himself, the normal man continuing to be Clark Kent and the man with extraordinary abilities going public and becoming a Super- hero.

So who was Clark Kent? The farmer's son he claimed to be? The ordinary guy? — no way, she answered herself immediately. There was nothing ordinary about Clark Kent!

But leaving aside the Super-powers, who was Clark Kent?

She'd thought he was a normal, decent, kind and considerate guy; almost the guy next door, but for his extraordinary good looks. Once she'd got over her initial suspicion of him, she'd come to like him — a lot.

And that was a major part of the problem. She *had* liked Clark — enough to consider him as a potential boyfriend. She'd imagined herself in love with Superman, and she'd most certainly been in lust with him. And now she'd discovered, with no warning, that the two men were one and the same.

Okay, she could accept that initially he'd had no reason to tell her. After all, she just worked with him; they weren't even friends. She'd hero-worshipped Superman and been welcoming to him, but she'd barely tolerated Clark. So why should he have told her at the start? There was no reason whatsoever why he should have.

But things had radically altered the minute she'd offered to marry Superman to enable him to get his green card. Because Clark had *married* her without telling her the truth. He'd taken the pretence that Superman was a different person, and stretched it to an extreme, making a complete fool of her in the process.

Clark had deceived her. Lied to her. Betrayed her trust. He'd encouraged her to confide in him about the way Superman was treating her, and he'd made himself look good in comparison by sympathising. And then he'd used what she'd told him to mend his ways a little as Superman, and thus made himself look good in that role as well.

He'd cheated. And that only reinforced what she'd told herself many times: all men betray, all men are untrustworthy.

He could have told her the truth at any time, but he'd chosen not to.

A small voice reminded her that Clark had actually said he'd intended to tell her, and she recognised that he — well, Superman, anyway — had said a few times that there was something important he wanted to discuss with her. But even still, that had only been in the last couple of days. They'd been married just over a week! So how could she accept that as proof of his good intentions?

She gave a shuddering sigh, then rolled over in bed once more.

But still she couldn't sleep. Images kept crowding into her mind, pictures of Clark and of Superman, the two become one. The proud, tall hero in his striking Suit. The humorous, gentle reporter bringing her coffee. The amazing man who took her flying. The thoughtful friend and good listener.

And then the images started to blur into one… *Clark* taking her flying, Superman the kind, understanding friend who sympathised with her on her father's behaviour. Clark being resolute, in a way she hadn't expected from him; Superman understanding the business of reporting and influencing the news without needing to have it explained to him.

She'd been attracted to Superman from the moment she'd seen him… and she'd been feeling something of the same attraction to Clark for the past few days. Hardly surprising, now that she knew. But by not telling her, Clark had left her to imagine all sorts of things about herself, and that, along with his deceit, was unforgivable.

She caught her breath with a start. Had she really meant to imply that she couldn't *forgive* Clark?

But maybe she couldn't.

And anyway, was there really any reason why she should?!

<You're married to him>

She was married to *Superman*, and if Clark was to be believed, Superman didn't really exist. Superman was a creation, a public facade for Clark to hide behind. It would be as if she was married to a character from a TV show — the character didn't exist beyond the few minutes he was on TV every day. So the marriage thing wasn't an argument for forgiving Clark.

They had to work together, true. And she also remembered, with a sense of loss, just how well they *did* work together. Only that same afternoon, she'd been thinking how good it would be to have Clark as a permanent partner.

If she refused to forgive him, she'd miss out on all the possibilities there. The sense of camaraderie, the team-work, the synergies which would come from blending their talents and abilities.

<But you can't have camaraderie with someone you loathe and despise!> she argued fiercely.

But that made her bite her lip. *Did* she really loathe Clark?

A second's reflection told her that she didn't. She hated what he'd done to her, but something within her just wouldn't let her hate *him*.

Not when she reminded herself of how he'd stood up to her father, and supported and comforted her, only that morning. She'd never had anyone do that for her before. Superman had made it clear that, for Lois's sake, he wanted her father to accept reality and stop criticising her. And, after her parents had left, he'd almost moved her to tears by his kindness. It had been almost like…

She stopped her thought before it reached its conclusion. Of *course* his behaviour had been like Clark's! And now, realising that, it was amazing that she hadn't seen the truth sooner.

It had been *Clark* who'd defended her against her father. And, now that she realised that, another thought struck her. It had been wonderful to see Superman do it, but at the back of her mind had been the thought that this wasn't permanent, that once Superman got his green card their marriage would be over. So he wouldn't be there in the future to stand up to Sam Lane for her, and help her overcome the inferiority complex her father had left her with.

But Clark could be.

If she forgave him, if they became friends… if they became more than friends…

*If*.

But there was something else; another question the events of the past few hours had left in her mind.

Exactly what did Clark want from her?

Did he just want protection for Superman? The protection marriage to her had given his creation against being deported? Okay, he'd told her that he'd take his chances with the INS without her, but he had seemed relieved when she'd said she would carry on the pretence. Did he just want to be sure that she'd keep the secret of Superman's real identity? Was he worried, now that she knew, that she would emblazon it on the front page of the Planet?

So would he try to be nice to her just to win her loyalty?

It would be something to hold on to, some comfort, if she thought that Clark cared about her — if he *loved* her — but he clearly didn't. He'd made that very clear all along. He had just been using her, she told herself. He'd never tried to tell her anything different.

<So what was that kiss all about, then?>

Lois sighed. She just didn't know. It had been a pretty spectacular kiss, and Clark had seemed as moved by it as she had. But what did it mean? Clark certainly hadn't referred to it again, although he'd looked suitably embarrassed when she'd pointed out what his running out on her immediately afterwards had looked like.

Had their kiss meant anything to him, or not?

Superman had told her that he found her attractive, she remembered. And once or twice she'd caught him looking at her in a way that made her wonder… But Clark was Kryptonian, after all, and she still didn't know what that meant in terms of compatibility with Earth women.

And anyway, for all she knew he could be as duplicitous as any Earth man, and pretend an attraction he didn't really feel in order to get something he wanted… or he might genuinely be attracted to her, and only want a one-night stand.

And neither option was at all appealing, as far as Lois was concerned. So she would be better off not giving him any indication — any *further* indication — that she was attracted to him.

***

Despite falling into a restless sleep a few hours before dawn, Lois still woke early. Lying in bed, her thoughts were still haunted by Clark, so in the end she decided to get up and do some work. While they'd made some progress the day before, it still wasn't enough for Lois. They had enough evidence — especially if Genevieve Roberts made good on her promise — to prove breach of procedures and probable corruption on the part of the Metropolis INS. They could also prove falsification of polling data, and thereby deliberate bias and manipulation, on the part of LNN. But what they lacked was any proof that this was part of a conspiracy.

There was nothing to link LNN's behaviour to the INS investigation. And even though Genevieve Roberts was prepared to go on record to say that the senior INS officer appeared to be taking instructions from outside the organisation — and they could link some of that to Senator Wilson's abuse of his office — they had nothing to link either to the one person they knew to be behind the whole thing: Lex Luthor.

Luthor was controlling Wilson and bribing him. Luthor was also giving direct orders to Pete Adams of LNN. They knew that for a fact, but had no proof.

So how could they get proof, in the absence of Clark testifying to what he'd overheard as Superman?

Wilson wasn't going to admit to anything, that was for sure. If he admitted to taking bribes, then his career would be over. He'd be forced to resign from the Senate, and no sensible employer would touch him. He was no more than middle- aged, and had too much to lose to confess, even if he was able to bring Luthor down with him.

Adams possibly had less to lose, although he likewise would be finished in his chosen career. On the other hand, they had evidence to prove Adams' involvement. Maybe, Lois thought, she and Clark should go to see Adams, show him what would appear in Monday afternoon's Planet, and offer him an opportunity to give his side. He might be induced to incriminate Lex Luthor.

On the other hand, Lois mused, if Luthor was as devious and as practised at corruption as he seemed, he no doubt had contingency plans. Someone like Adams would be told to shoulder all the blame for the criminal or corrupt acts. He would be provided with an expensive lawyer, who would do his or her best to ensure that Adams was treated as lightly as possible, and then once the sentence had been served, Adams would get a nice payoff as a reward for his silence. That was the way most of the big crime bosses behaved, which was how they managed to avoid being punished: the police and the DA's office couldn't get anyone to turn state's evidence against them.

So they shouldn't expect to get anywhere with Adams. On the other hand, that didn't mean that they shouldn't try; Lois made a mental note to discuss the possibility with Clark. She winced, however, at the thought, but had to admit that, regardless of her personal feelings about him, Clark's instincts were good and that he had to be involved in any decision.

So, Wilson… She sat and pondered whether there was any other way of getting to him.

Then she remembered the construction bill which Wilson had been expected to support, and her conviction that he'd been bribed to change his vote. A few minutes later, she had the home phone number of the secretary for the Metropolis local of the national construction industry labour union.

He was reluctant to speak to the press initially, and Lois reminded him fairly forcefully of the Planet's reputation as an even-handed paper. "We're not necessarily pro-union, but you can't say that we're pro-boss either, can you? And you know that almost all Planet journalists are union members, unlike the Star," she pointed out.

He acknowledged that. "Okay, I guess you'll give me a fair hearing. I just get tired of the media twisting my words, so you understand that I'm careful about who I speak to," he explained.

"We might be on the same side with this issue," Lois pointed out. "I want to talk about the construction bill that got voted down, and Barry Wilson's role in it."

"Oh?" She could hear the wary curiosity in his voice. "Any particular reason?"

"Well, we're doing a story on Wilson — it'll cover a number of things, and one thing we looked at is his voting record. And that bill seemed to stand out, because he's pretty much a solid Garner loyalist otherwise. And it's not as if he's been an open advocate of deregulation, either in construction or elsewhere."

"You're right there," the secretary agreed. "And it was a hell of a shock to us when he voted the way he did. You see, it was like this. The union was lobbying senators all over the country to support the bill — after all, it had taken long enough to get it into Congress in the first place, and we were desperate to see it pass. But we thought we were okay in New Troy, because Wilson told us early on that he'd been an advocate of stronger regulation for the industry for years. He was with us all the way, he said. But then a week before the vote, we were trying to send him some figures on the level of accidents, and he suddenly stopped taking our calls. We couldn't get past his secretary — she always had some excuse why he couldn't talk to us or see us. And then when the vote came, he went the other way."

"Did he tell you why?" Lois asked. "I mean, if he was so strongly on your side from the start, and then changed his vote, you must have been pretty keen to find out why."

"You bet we were," the union officer replied, and Lois could hear the suppressed fury in his voice. "When we *finally* got through to him, all he'd said was that he'd listened to the arguments on both sides and changed his mind. He spouted some crap about excessive costs on employers and then hung up. So all we could figure was that he'd been got at by the other side."

"Who do you think would have that kind of influence?" Lois asked carefully.

"Who doesn't?" Now the officer sounded cynical. "Oh, sure, there are lots of small outfits around who don't have much influence, though most of them belong to one trade association or another. But there are also a few very large companies around the country — and lots of them donate to re-election funds, so it'd be pretty easy to call in a favour if someone wanted to. But the weird thing is that before this Wilson always seemed to be above that kind of thing. I wouldn't call him the one honest politician, but you usually knew where you stood with him."

Choosing her words carefully — she didn't want to appear to be leading her interviewee — Lois asked, "What was Luthor Construction's position on the bill?"

A snort of sarcastic laughter came down the phone line. "What do you think? It was one of the most vigorous opponents! They don't seem to care if workers die on their construction sites, as long as it costs them less than implementing some real safety measures."

"And since Luthor Construction is based in New Troy, do you think its attitude might have had anything to do with Wilson's change of heart?"

There was a pause. Then the secretary said, sounding as if he was choosing his words carefully, "Let's just say that you're not the first person who's suggested that to me. But unless you count Wilson's sudden apparent acquisition of wealth, there's no evidence at all to support it."

"But do you think it's likely?" Lois persisted.

This time the voice was sardonic. "I couldn't possibly comment." He hesitated, as if thinking, then added, "I promise you, if we had any hard evidence we'd have done something about it. But we don't. Just some circumstantial stuff — the money, the fact that Wilson's secretary let slip that Luthor's been calling Wilson a lot. That's not enough. And my guess is that you don't have any evidence either, or you wouldn't be talking to me."

No, she didn't, Lois admitted. The conversation ended shortly afterwards; although she was no further forward in terms of finding proof, she had at least got a little more to use against Wilson. Perhaps if there was enough circumstantial evidence, either the paper would print it and he'd be forced into a position of defending himself, or they could take it to the Senate ethics committee and try to talk someone into listening to them.

She'd have to discuss it with Clark… She stopped herself as that thought crossed her mind; yet again, she was becoming more reliant on Clark's input. Too reliant.

She'd worked alone for several years, and there were very good reasons for that decision. Once before, she'd allowed someone else to know about a story she was working on, and he'd betrayed her: stolen the story and printed it under his own name. Clark had already shown that he couldn't be trusted. And in these circumstances he was the one who was allowed to write about Superman. She wasn't.

And yet that was exactly why she would have to carry on working with Clark, she realised soberly. She had no choice in the matter. Because she was 'Superman's' wife, she couldn't write the story herself. It had to be with Clark, and Clark's name would probably have to come first.

And yet the biggest irony of all was that Clark *was* Superman. He would be writing about himself, but only she knew about the conflict of interest involved. That was so unfair, and there was nothing at all she could do about it.

***

They had arranged to meet up at the Planet later that morning. Clark arrived in the newsroom feeling very apprehensive; part of him hoped that, having slept on it, Lois's mood might have changed and she might be more willing to forgive him. But his pessimistic side was sure that it was far too soon for her to be ready to accept him as himself and to forgive his deceit.

And as soon as he saw her he knew he'd been right. She was still angry, that was certain. She didn't say anything, but her mood was obvious from the expression in her dark eyes, the way she avoided looking directly at him as they talked, and her insistence on keeping strictly to the topic at hand. She was a long way from forgiving and forgetting.

He listened to the account of her conversation with the union official, and agreed that it made Wilson's behaviour over the bill even more suspicious. But he had to agree, also, that unless they got more hard evidence it was unlikely that they'd be able to print anything.

Perry arrived shortly afterwards, so they were able to show him their article, now amended to include the polling instructions they'd found in Pete Adams' office.

"Do I want to know how you got hold of this stuff?" the editor asked gruffly, one eyebrow raised. He was clearly impressed, though doing his usual pretence of trying not to show it.

"I shouldn't think so, Chief," Clark answered dryly.

"In that case, all I want to know is that you didn't leave any evidence that proves you were there," Perry answered flatly. "I'm not all that surprised that there's something deliberate behind all that anti-Superman stuff — it all looked too coincidental to me. But what about Wilson? There's got to be more here than you've written, otherwise you wouldn't have said that much. Sure, he's been somewhat indiscreet in his views, and it was pretty darned careless to compare Superman to Hitler — that's stupid, even for him! But you're hinting at something, and if you had any hard evidence you wouldn't just be hinting."

Lois quickly filled the editor in on their belief that Wilson was being bribed. "We think it's the same person who's behind LNN's manipulative presentation of news items about Superman."

"And that would be…?"

"We think Lex Luthor," Clark answered. "In fact, we're positive; we just can't prove it."

Perry took a sharp intake of breath, and Clark thought he was about to deny the possibility that Luthor could be involved. Instead, though, the editor frowned and said, "In that case, you both be *very* careful. Lex Luthor doesn't take kindly to people questioning his bona fides."

For the first time, Lois actually looked at Clark; he could tell from her expression that she was as surprised as he was. Perry clearly had no trouble believing that Luthor was corrupt.

"If you're after Wilson, though, you need to talk to someone who knows the man well," Perry continued smoothly. "Like a secretary."

"Chief, there's no way that a senator's secretary is going to talk to the press!" Lois objected.

"Sure," Perry agreed. "But what about an ex-secretary?" At their bemused looks, he added, "Wilson's former secretary is a woman called Linda Martinez. She quit a couple of months ago. It was kind of sudden — I mean, she'd worked for him since before he was first elected to the Senate. And she's a very loyal woman."

"You know her, Chief?" Clark asked.

Perry shrugged. "Seen her around, talked to her on the phone, that kind of thing. You know what it's like."

"And you think she has a story to tell?" Lois asked abruptly.

"Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that out of the blue she didn't work for him any more. And he had a new secretary — some slick PA who looks like she belongs in a chief executive's office. You know the type. And Linda was looking for a job."

"She was unemployed?" Clark was horrified. Had Wilson just sacked a woman who'd worked for him for years?

Perry shrugged. "I think she found something pretty quickly. I tell you, I'd have offered her a job here if she hadn't. She's a darned good secretary."

"Do you have a number for her, Chief?" That was typical of Lois, Clark thought: cut to the chase.

"She's listed," the editor answered briefly. "Look, I'll get the lawyers working on this. You see if you can get Linda to talk to you. And I want to know everything else you find out on this as soon as you know about it, okay?"

***

"You talk to her. You're good at smooth-talking people," Lois said curtly to Clark as soon as they found Linda Martinez's phone number. Clark flinched, and Lois immediately realised just how it had sounded: as a reminder of her reaction to his deceit. As it happened, she hadn't meant it that way at all. She'd been thinking of Clark's interview with Wilson. But if it made him realise how angry she still was with him, she wasn't sorry.

He nodded abruptly and took the phone; a few moments later she heard him introduce himself, very politely, as a reporter for the Daily Planet who was gathering information for a profile of Senator Wilson. It sounded initially as if Ms Martinez was reluctant to talk, but — not at all to Lois's surprise, and in fact to her envy — Clark managed to persuade Wilson's former secretary to meet them.

He replaced the receiver and turned to her. "She's expecting us. So, will we get a cab or go in your car?"

Lois was tempted to retort that he could fly them; his casual assumption that they would both go, and would travel together, irritated her. But she swallowed her annoyance and asked where Ms Martinez lived. Then she announced, "I'll drive. Shouldn't be any parking problems there."

The journey was accomplished almost in silence; Clark made one attempt at ordinary conversation, asking how Lois was, but she was not at all inclined to respond. How did he think she was? Did he imagine that nothing had changed? Had he any clue just how confused and hurt she was?

<Later> she reminded herself. <Once this is all out of the way…>

Linda Martinez was a well-dressed, reserved-looking Latino woman in her forties. She invited them in, but at the same time looked somewhat ill-at-ease.

"I'm too used to avoiding talking to reporters, you see," she explained. "That was part of the job, of course — the 'no comment', the denials… you get used to seeing reporters as the bad guys."

"Well, some of them can be, of course," Clark said with a smile. "I hope we're not. And I can promise you one thing, which is that nothing you say to us will be used without your permission. We'd like to use it, if you have something to say which helps us, and we'd like to be able to name you. But we won't do any of that unless you tell us we can."

Yet another way in which she would have handled an interview situation differently, Lois thought. She would have found out first what the woman knew, and then talked her into letting them print it and name her as a source. Clark had let Linda Martinez know up front that she could be quoted and named; that was probably going to be enough to get them thrown out, she thought cynically.

But the woman nodded slowly. "I guess I knew that's what you wanted," she said thoughtfully. "And at least you told me — unlike a reporter from the Star, not long after I qu — stopped working for the senator. Now *he* tried to trick me into saying things by telling me it would all be off the record. And I know reporters. Nothing's ever off the record."

Lois wanted to protest that this just wasn't true; all reporters did conduct off-the-record interviews occasionally, in which the information gleaned was simply for background information, or which might get alluded to in print in a very vague manner. But she supposed that, from Ms Martinez's viewpoint, the reporter who'd claimed to be speaking off the record had probably been lying.

And again she had to admit that Clark's strategy had worked. By being honest with Ms Martinez about his intentions, he'd gained her respect.

Clark glanced at Lois, then asked Ms Martinez a fairly innocuous question about working for Wilson, which the other woman answered hesitantly at first, but more confidently as she continued. Lois realised that his intention was to continue to reassure her, so she followed up his question with a couple of her own about Wilson's good track record in dealing with constituents' problems.

Then Clark flashed Ms Martinez a warm smile and asked, "Why did you stop working for the senator? I know the official explanation was that you wanted to devote more time to outside interests than the job allowed, but that sounds… well, forgive me, but it just sounds a little unbelievable."

Lois saw Ms Martinez tense momentarily before shrugging. "Yeah, I guess it does kind of sound like that old excuse, resigning to spend more time with your family, doesn't it?" A grimly determined expression crossed her face. "Well, I always told myself that if I was asked a straight question by someone I trusted, I'd tell the truth."

Lois caught her breath. This was sounding very promising!

Ms Martinez continued, "He tried to get me to sign a secrecy clause, you see. And I refused, because apart from anything else he'd always known before that he could rely on my discretion. He'd never had to ask me to keep a confidence. I was completely loyal and trustworthy. And then suddenly he was trying to bully me into signing this awful gagging contract! I refused on principle, and then he refused to give me severance pay."

"What did the secrecy clause refer to?" Clark asked; Lois sat back and left him to get on with it, because it was clear that Ms Martinez was willing to talk to him. "Was it general, relating to your employment with him?"

She shook her head. "It was to do with what I found out about him — and that's why I resigned." She took a deep breath, then added, "It really hurts me to say this, but I found out that he was taking payments he shouldn't have."

"Payments?" Clark prompted; again, Lois held her breath. Did Linda Martinez know the source of the payments?

"Oh, he tried to pretend that they were from an inheritance, from shares he owned and had sold, from some accounts in Tania's name…" She shrugged. "I knew it wasn't true. I was his personal secretary as well as his political secretary — I knew just about everything there was to know about his finances."

Clark gestured discreetly to Lois, and she took the hint. "Ms Martinez, we've been doing some digging of our own into Senator Wilson's finances, and we came to the conclusion that he'd acquired funds which couldn't be explained. But when we asked him about the source of his money in general terms, he insisted that it all came from legitimate sources." She outlined their discoveries, and the conversation with Wilson.

As she finished, Ms Martinez was already shaking her head. "That's just not true," she insisted. "I know that money wasn't his. And some of it came just as that construction bill was about to go through Congress, too. And I know he changed his vote without telling the construction union people."

"And you think the unexplained influx of cash explains his change of vote?" Lois asked.

"I'm very sure it does," Ms Martinez insisted. "I can't prove that, but I do know that he was receiving orders. He started getting some phone calls that I wasn't supposed to know about — suddenly he had a new phone line installed which went directly into his office at the house, when he was in Metropolis. And he got a cell-phone for when he was in Washington, even though he'd always said he couldn't stand the things. I was never given either number. I thought at first that the cellphone was for Tania, but then one evening when he was in Washington, I was working late catching up on some correspondence. The phone in his office rang, so I went to answer it. And when I told the caller that Senator Wilson was in Washington and offered to pass on a message, he said that I needn't bother, because he'd call the cellphone number. And as far as I know, that number wasn't common knowledge. Nor was the number of the office phone."

"So someone was phoning him secretly?" Lois suggested. At Ms Martinez's nod, Lois added, "I don't suppose you have any idea who that might have been?"

Linda Martinez shook her head. "I didn't recognise the voice. And I'm pretty good at voices — in that kind of job, you have to be. There are too many people in and around politics who get upset if they have to tell you who they are. But this guy? All I can tell you is that he sounded educated — Ivy League educated, I mean, and a little curt, like he wasn't used to dealing with underlings and didn't like it." She hesitated, then added, "It wasn't the voice of someone I'd ever spoken to, but I can't say that I'd never heard it before — it's possible that it could have been someone I'd heard on TV, maybe. There was something vaguely familiar about it, but he wasn't someone I'd met, or a politician it would have been my job to recognise."

<Darn!> Lois thought. They were so close to Luthor, but still not close enough.

"And you think the senator was taking instructions from this man?" Lois asked, giving up on her other line of enquiry.

"That was what I concluded," Linda Martinez said. "And when I challenged him with taking payments for favours, he refused to tell me anything about who the man was or what business he had with him. And I told the senator that — since I was his personal secretary — in that case I could only conclude that the man was blackmailing him or bribing him. And since he was suddenly awash with cash, that ruled out blackmail."

"How did he respond to that?" Clark asked.

"Oh, he denied it, of course. But I didn't believe it, and I told him so. And when I told him that I was resigning because I couldn't work for someone whose integrity I didn't believe in, he just tried to make me sign that clause. He didn't try to persuade me that I'd misunderstood, or offer any other explanation."

"So would you go on record as saying that you believed him to be taking bribes?" Lois asked.

"That would depend on what you're trying to do." Now Linda Martinez sounded very cagey. "Are you just out to wreck his career?"

Clark immediately shook his head. "Believe me, the Daily Planet does not like corrupt politicians. But we didn't come to see you just because we're out to destroy Wilson. We started investigating him because of something else entirely, and we stumbled on the financial side later." At the woman's look of enquiry, he continued, "Have you heard his pronouncements on the issue of Superman's immigration status?"

Linda Martinez nodded, her expression appalled. "I couldn't believe it when I heard what he'd said on Rick Myers. I quit working for him before Superman appeared, but I never saw him jump on any extra-terrestrial bandwagon. We used to get letters from anti-alien and conspiracy theorist groups all the time, and the instructions he gave me never changed: trash them. Don't even acknowledge them. And suddenly he was spouting all this nonsense about Superman! I hardly recognised him as the man I used to work for."

"Well, that was what started us investigating him," Clark said. "We couldn't understand why a senator was jumping on what was clearly an extremists' bandwagon. If he'd just said that he was concerned about a possible illegal immigrant, or a marriage which might possibly be fraudulent, and that he was in contact with the local INS, that would have been reasonable. But what he said wasn't, so we wanted to find out why."

"And did you?"

"Not to our satisfaction," Clark answered. "Actually, we came away from our interview with him agreeing with what you've said: he doesn't seem like an extremist or a conspiracy theorist. So that made us look for another explanation."

"The money," Linda Martinez said, clearly understanding the connection. "So you thought someone was paying him to act like that."

"That's our guess," Lois agreed.

"So… the same person, or someone different?" Linda Martinez wondered aloud.

"Our guess is the same person, but we have absolutely no proof," Clark explained.

"And I can't help you there," Linda Martinez agreed. "But you know that if you go public with the information you already have, plus what I've given you, together with an on-the-record statement from me, that'll be enough to spark an inquiry by the Ethics Committee? He could have to resign from Senate, and he might even go to prison."

"We know that's possible, yes," Clark answered soberly.

"I know he deserves it — for a public representative, taking bribes is about the worst thing you can do," Linda Martinez added quickly, thus depriving Lois of the necessity of saying the same thing. "I'm not concerned about that. But if I do go on the record, and you print this, I am pretty sure that Wilson won't take all the blame himself. He's a weak man underneath it all, and if naming the man who was bribing him will do him any good, he'll turn State's evidence."

"That's what we thought," Clark said. "Are you saying you're willing to go on the record?"

She took a deep breath, then nodded. Lois tightened her grip on her pen, and let out a long breath. The net around Lex Luthor was closing.

***

Lois had to have seen just how well they worked together, Clark thought as they drove back to the Planet. They read each other so easily; they seemed to be able to communicate without words, picking up signals from each other just as easily as if they had the power of telepathy. Just as they'd done in interviewing Genevieve Roberts the previous day, they'd worked as a perfect team with Linda Martinez.

Surely that would convince her that they needed to work together, at least? And if she could accept him as a partner, wouldn't she come to accept him as a friend again, eventually?

She was already showing that she appreciated the benefits of his powers. Last night was proof enough of that, though she'd also allowed him to edit and make additions to their story earlier, in the newsroom, standing close by to ensure that no-one else saw him typing at faster than human speed.

He stole a glance at her as she steered the Jeep; she was focused entirely on her task and seemed oblivious to his presence, but he knew that wasn't the case. As he watched her, he sensed her heart-rate increase, and he noticed her pulse beating faster. She was very aware of him, and of his scrutiny. He had no idea, though, whether it was that she was still angry with him, or because he disturbed her in some way.

And he was sure that he did disturb her, or at least that he had done. After all, she'd tried to persuade Superman to make their marriage more than platonic; and she'd kissed Clark very thoroughly the previous evening. She was attracted to him. Or at least, he reminded himself ruefully, she had been. Unless the discovery of his deceit had killed her feelings for him stone dead…

***

Lois was already writing up Linda Martinez's revelations in her head when she and Clark emerged from the elevator onto the newsroom floor. Then she stopped dead when she saw who was sitting beside her desk, apparently waiting for her.

Genevieve Roberts.

Without thinking, Lois caught at Clark's arm. "Look who's here!"

"I see," he murmured. "Looks like we'll be working late tonight." But Lois could hear the suppressed delight in Clark's voice, and she could understand it. If Genevieve Roberts was here, this could only mean one thing: that she had more to tell them about the INS, and that could only mean that Superman's position would be strengthened. Clark deserved to be pleased, she thought.

Ms Roberts got to her feet as they approached. "I was hoping that I would find you here," she said calmly. "I called you at your apartment, Ms Lane, but you were out."

"We had to come in to follow up some leads," Lois explained lightly. "Would you like to talk privately?" she asked, indicating the conference room.

"Yes, that would be helpful," the older woman agreed. "And I would appreciate it if you could call your husband too, Ms Lane. I would like him to hear what I have to say, too."

Lois shot Clark a brief, anxious look, wondering how he wanted to play this. She also found herself wondering just what she would have done if she hadn't made that startling discovery the previous evening. Would she have surreptitiously pressed the call-button on her watch, and then wondered why her partner suddenly seemed to have developed a headache?

Clark didn't return her glance; instead he looked at his watch and frowned regretfully. "I'm supposed to be meeting someone now," he said apologetically. "Lois, want me to give Superman a call for you on my way out? That way you can get started with Ms Roberts."

Well, that solved the problem, Lois supposed. Playing along, she nodded. "Thanks, Clark, that'd be good."

He hurried off as Lois escorted Ms Roberts into the conference room and offered to fetch coffee, which her visitor declined. She'd only just taken a seat and opened her notebook when she heard a whoosh. Seconds later, Superman strode into the room, cape swirling behind him.

"Clark said you wanted me?" he said enquiringly, then appeared to notice the INS agent for the first time. "Ms Roberts! Lois told me about your visit to our apartment yesterday — I want to thank you for coming to tell her what you did," he said warmly as he crossed the room to her, his hand held out in greeting.

Lois watched Clark interact with the INS agent, now amazed that she'd never caught on to his dual identity before being confronted with it. The imposing man in front of her was the man she'd married, certainly, but he was also the man who had been in her Jeep with her not ten minutes earlier. His facial expressions were all Clark; he might hold himself more erect and appear to gain a little height by doing so, but the broad shoulders and narrow waist were also obviously Clark. And his voice was the same; a little deeper, perhaps, but with the same inflections and accent.

No wonder she'd thought that Superman's accent sounded so Mid-Western!

It was like an illusionist's trick, she supposed, or one of those trompe l'oeil paintings; once you'd seen through the illusion, you couldn't be fooled again. Now that she knew that Superman was Clark, she couldn't look at him and see anyone other than Clark.

It was frustrating — no, downright *infuriating* — to realise how easily she'd been fooled, just how cleverly he'd played her and everyone else. But, she reminded herself, now wasn't the time to dwell on that.

For the first time, she found herself wondering just how she would have reacted to Superman if she'd recognised him as Clark the first time she'd seen him, on board the Prometheus transport vessel. Would she have hero-worshipped him in the same way? Would she have tried to track him down all over Metropolis? — well, probably not. But would she have been as disparaging about Clark?

And, most of all, would she have offered to marry him to get around the INS's ruling, knowing that he was really Clark?

For the first time, Lois acknowledged that Clark had been right in what he'd said to her in his defence. Her behaviour towards him had not made it easy for him to tell her the truth, even after they were married. The contrast between her contempt for him and her hero-worship of his alter ego had to have been too much for him even to contemplate confiding in her; how could he have taken that risk?

If they were alone, she would have said something to him. But they weren't alone, and she surfaced from her reflections to realise that Clark was looking expectantly at her. "I'm sorry, did you say something?" she asked, embarrassed. "I was thinking…"

He frowned at her, but his voice was calm. "I was just saying to Ms Roberts that we are very concerned about what's happened to her — aren't we, honey?"

"Oh — yes, of course," Lois agreed, shaking herself mentally and switching into reporter-mode. "And we're grateful that you've decided to trust us with what you know. Have you anything new to tell us?"

"Yes, I do," the agent said. "Quite a lot, as it happens."

She did indeed. Since the previous evening, Genevieve Roberts had been a very busy woman indeed. She'd talked to several of her colleagues, and had even asked one of them to obtain a couple of confidential memos. And now she was able to confirm some of the things she'd told them the previous day. It had been very clear to staff at the Metropolis office that Superman was to be refused citizenship, and a couple of people had confirmed Ms Roberts' guess that the instruction had come from outside the INS. Senator Wilson, she said, had been mentioned cautiously by a couple of people. No-one, she said, had known about Philip West's outside hobby, but he was well known to be an aggressive, highly suspicious agent and his refusal rate was higher than most of the other agents; this, it seemed, was why he'd been assigned to Superman's case. Ms Roberts told them that her speculation was that she'd been assigned as the second agent because she had more of a reputation for fairness while at the same time strict adherence to rules, and therefore the likelihood of grounds for appeal would be lessened.

"So you were the concession to fairness?" Lois queried.

"I think so. At least, my role was to give the appearance of fairness. But I think people assumed that Philip was forceful enough to over-rule me, despite being my junior." Ms Roberts looked very annoyed at that; it was evident that she was extremely indignant at the way she'd been treated.

And she was prepared to go on the record. "The way I see it," she told Lois and Superman, "my career in the INS is probably finished anyway. Certainly I'm finished in the Metropolis office, the way things stand right now. So I've got nothing to lose by going public with this stuff, and I can assure you that I want it to be known. This kind of behaviour is a disgrace to public service. The American people need to know that they can trust public officials to act fairly as well as upholding the law."

"I appreciate it very much," Clark said warmly. "I know you're doing this for excellent motives, and you're not looking for any reward, but I assure you that if you ever need my help you'll have it."

"That's very kind, Superman," Ms Roberts said, but she paused and beamed fatuously at him as she said it, her eyelashes fluttering wildly. Watching her, Lois was reminded of a middle-aged groupie staring at the object of her fantasies.

Ms Roberts was speaking again, and Lois tuned in to listen. "…but I'm a public official and that's all the reward I want: the knowledge that I'm doing my job fairly and to the best of my ability. I am not happy with the way the Metropolis office is being run, nor with the way procedures are being manipulated to ensure that personal prejudices are indulged. It doesn't matter to me whether you come from Mexico, Australia or Krypton; you have the right to have your application judged by standard criteria. And that wasn't happening."

The suspended INS agent left some time later, but as she got up to go she said thoughtfully, "Just a suggestion — it's none of my business now, but it's always a good idea for a married couple to at least pretend to spend a lot of time together." She winked subtly, then said that she'd see herself out.

Lois caught her breath and stared at Clark as the conference room door closed. "She guessed!"

Clark nodded. "And I guess she's right. We haven't done enough real togetherness." He sighed. "I guess we were never going to pull it off. I'll have to come up with another way — maybe just apply for citizenship through one of the other routes once we've dealt with Philip West's bias."

But Lois rejected that idea. "You can't! Look, whatever we might think, we did the marriage thing and we have to stick with it. How do you think it'd look if we dissolved the marriage and you applied for citizenship another way? It'd be obvious that the marriage was a fake! And we'd probably both get prosecuted for it!"

Clark sighed. "I guess you're right. Okay, if you can put up with it a while longer, I'll try to make it look better."

It would be hard, very difficult, Lois felt. After all, now that she knew that Superman was really Clark, she'd be aware that she was working with the same man who was pretending to be her husband, and she'd have to watch everything she said and did around Clark from now on. It made her wonder just how Clark managed to keep the two sides of his identity separate; that had to be quite a challenge.

But for now they had work to do. "Are you going to stay here as Superman, or should Clark come back so we can finish up?" she asked him.

He hesitated, then said, "There isn't very much rewriting to do, unless you want to run Linda Martinez's revelations tomorrow morning instead of in the evening edition like we discussed. I think Superman can wait for his wife while you do it — and then we can appear to go home together, for the benefit of the few people here." He gestured out towards the newsroom, where a handful of people were working on the morning edition.

Lois shrugged. "Fine."

***

It was very difficult watching Lois work and not being able to help her. Clark sat beside Lois's desk, reading over her shoulder as she typed and desperately longing to suggest changes and alternative wording, but he knew he couldn't. Superman wasn't supposed to know anything about journalism, and the last thing he wanted was for someone in the newsroom to notice any similarities to Clark Kent.

Of course he was pleased that the evidence was starting to fall into place; by tomorrow morning the INS investigation into Superman would be completely discredited because of what they knew about Philip West and now with Genevieve Roberts' statement, plus their exposure of the senator's behaviour. And by tomorrow evening their proof that LNN had been presenting fraudulent polls, and that Senator Wilson had taken bribes over the construction bill so might well have done likewise over this issue, would present an even clearer picture of the wrong which was being done to Superman. So at the very least the INS would have to start again in processing Superman's application for citizenship — probably even from another office, as the Metropolis branch was so compromised, and public opinion might have shifted further behind allowing him to stay. That was good news.

But none of that seemed important next to the big issue, which was Lois's reaction to knowing the truth about him. He'd hoped that she might have calmed down overnight; well, it was very clear that she hadn't. Other than essential conversation related to work, she hadn't spoken to him all day. And now, she was totally absorbed in her work, seeming barely conscious of his presence.

Was this the way it was going to be for the foreseeable future?

He'd hoped, as they'd returned to the Planet after interviewing Linda Martinez, that she might get over it in time as she realised that she needed him, Clark. But her behaviour since had shown no improvement in her attitude to him; if anything, she'd become even more distant.

Surely she had to have seen why he hadn't told her before? Okay, she'd been upset the previous evening, but she'd had every right. Surely on thinking things over she would have realised why he'd had to hide it from her? She was being unfair, he thought, especially since it had to be obvious that he'd been about to tell her anyway.

And her attitude to him now only confirmed his instinctive reluctance to tell her, anyway. He'd always guessed that she wouldn't be overjoyed to discover that Superman was really Clark Kent, and he'd been right.

But then, watching her as she paused to read through the text on her computer screen, he remembered their kiss. How wholeheartedly she'd participated. How she'd moulded her body to his as she'd wrapped her arms around his neck. The little whimpers she'd made as they'd explored each other's mouths. And what she'd said to him afterwards…

She'd started to ask him whether he could wait until she was free of Superman.

She'd wanted him — *Clark*!

So that meant that her feelings towards Clark had changed dramatically. And he'd known that — he'd been thinking about the fact that she was attracted to him in the car only an hour or so ago. Therefore he was being unfair to her in assuming that her reaction to him now was because she'd found out that Superman was the hack from Nowheresville.

Even still, he was getting very fed up with being ignored by her.

"Ready to go?" Her abrupt words cut into his thoughts. He got to his feet and indicated that she should precede him, and as they walked he deliberately put his arm around her waist. It was for the sake of appearances, and he was sure that she was aware of that. But from Clark's perspective, his gesture was also a reminder of his presence and of his refusal to be ignored.

In the Jeep, she filled him in on the changes she'd made to the article in order to reflect the information they'd got from Ms Roberts. Some speculation had now become verifiable facts, and it made for a much stronger piece. The article was now with Perry, and she'd also sent him a note explaining what they were holding back for the follow-up, mainly the proof that LNN was manipulating polling data and Ms Martinez's information about Senator Wilson.

As she parked outside her apartment, Lois turned to Clark. "You'd better come up with me. It looks like we haven't been doing a very good job of pretending, so the more people who see us together the better."

Clark nodded and walked into the building with her, noticing as he did so that she still seemed to be avoiding looking at him. Her heart-rate had also increased, which suggested either annoyance at his presence or nervousness; he was pretty sure that it wasn't the latter.

Once she'd closed the door of her apartment behind them, Lois turned as if to say something to him. Judging by her expression, she thought it was something important. But Clark just didn't want to listen to any more recriminations. He held up a hand to forestall her.

"Lois, I really don't want to hear any more," he said abruptly. "I know what you think of me already. I know I deceived you, and you can't believe me when I tell you that I was *going* to tell you the truth. And I know you don't know me well enough to know that I have never lied to you about anything else apart from Superman. I've already apologised several times for everything I did wrong. But I'm not going to apologise to you any more! I had my reasons — *have* my reasons — for keeping Superman's real identity secret, and I couldn't compromise that. Not even for you. Not until I was sure that it was the right thing to do. I need you to accept that, Lois. Oh, sure, you shouldn't have had to find out the way you did — but you did break into my apartment, after all!"

He paused, noticing as he did so that she was simply staring at him, apparently stunned. But he ignored that and resumed speaking. "Lois, I am grateful for what you've done, and that you're prepared to carry on with this pretence until it's no longer necessary. But I can't carry on like this, with you either ignoring me or wanting to yell at me. I made one mistake, Lois! I don't think that makes me the bad guy here. So… I guess I'm saying that I want you to figure out what you want. If you want to stay mad at me and carry a grudge, then I want to know so that I can arrange an annulment. Because the status quo isn't doing either of us any good."

Before she could respond, he turned and strode towards the window, flinging it open in one swift movement. "I'll see you at the Planet tomorrow, Lois," he added in more normal tones before taking off at a speed faster than the human eye could see.

***

Lois stared at the fluttering curtain, aghast. Just what had got into Clark?

His tone had been angry, hurtful; he'd made it clear that he resented her — *legitimate* — anger over his deceit. And he'd made some unkind accusations, too — he'd claimed that she was ignoring him and being unforgiving. That was just childish behaviour, and it was completely unfair of Clark to accuse her of that!

He'd never before spoken to her like that, either as Clark or as Superman.

And to think that she'd been about to admit to him that he'd been right! That she understood why he hadn't told her at first, and that she was prepared to accept his apology and explanation! That she wanted them to be friends again.

Well, now she was glad that she hadn't. She didn't think she'd done anything to deserve that outburst, and she would tell him so when she saw him in the morning. And if he wanted to divorce her and take his own chances, he was welcome to. She certainly wouldn't try to persuade him otherwise!

***

The following morning's Planet was a sell-out. Clark walked to work that morning, and everywhere he turned people were reading the front page, exclaiming over it, and debating its claims. The main headline — 'Who Wants Superman Out?' — was in very large bold type above a photograph of the Super-hero in action, rescuing people from a fire. A very clever choice by Perry White, Clark mused: the photo reminded people of just why so many people appreciated Superman.

And the comments he was overhearing as he walked were very reassuring. The INS came in for a lot of criticism, some of it very strong. Some people openly doubted that the INS hadn't known of Philip West's anti-alien activities, and argued that he had to have been assigned to Superman's case precisely because of his views.

So, Clark thought, if this was any true reflection of public opinion it just might be possible for him — for *Superman* — to obtain US citizenship on his own merits, rather than through marriage. Of course, that depended in part on whether the Metropolis INS was acting on its own initiative — well, with pressure from Lex Luthor, via Senator Wilson — or whether this was something which went all the way up to official channels in Washington. If it was just a little local difficulty, then perhaps the bad publicity the INS was getting could work in his favour…?

That would certainly ease his difficulties with Lois. He'd felt several twinges of guilt overnight for the harsh way he'd spoken to her, but he hadn't actually regretted the content of what he'd said. He wasn't prepared to be the bad guy indefinitely, and nor was he prepared to carry on this pretence with her while she was bearing a grudge. So if he could sort out a green card for Superman in another way, then Lois wouldn't need to have anything more to do with him other than as someone she worked with.

He could live with that. Of course, he'd wanted so much more from her, but it was perfectly clear that he wasn't going to get it. Whatever had caused her to kiss him like that — and it could very well have been just a momentary impulse which she now regretted, regardless of what she'd said immediately afterwards — she wasn't romantically interested in Clark Kent in any way. Never had been; never would be.

Of course, he was in love with her; but that was simply something he'd have to live with and hope he'd get over it in time.

His parents had been sympathetic when he'd flown out to the farm for an early breakfast. But he'd suspected that his mother privately thought he'd only had himself to blame for Lois's reaction, since he hadn't told her before she'd found herself in a position where his identity became obvious. And he certainly agreed with his mother there. He'd wanted to tell Lois himself, and he'd fully intended to do so. *That*, he took responsibility for.

But, as he'd told Lois in no uncertain terms the previous evening, he did not and would not apologise for wanting to protect his secret. If she couldn't cope with that, then it would be by far the best for them to divorce.

And, he suspected, Clark Kent might have to move on once again…

Suddenly the fact that Superman seemed to have won the publicity battle, and that they'd exposed the underhand behaviour of the INS, didn't seem such great achievements.

He sighed, and shifted pace to a brisk walk.

***

Their hard work had certainly paid off. Halfway through the morning, the Secretary of State gave a press conference in Washington, relayed live on the national networks, in which she announced that both the director of the Metropolis INS office and Philip West had been placed on suspension pending an investigation into the matters revealed by the Daily Planet. In the meantime, a temporary manager had been assigned to the Metropolis office, Genevieve Roberts' suspension had been revoked, and Superman's application for citizenship would be processed at the highest possible level, in Washington. The Secretary also apologised publicly to Superman and his wife for the way in which they'd been treated by Philip West, and for the way in which a public figure seemed to have been allowed to exert undue influence over the process.

When Lois heard the announcement about West and his boss being suspended, she instantly sought Clark with her gaze. He was delighted too, that was obvious, and they shared a triumphant smile. But at the statement that Superman's immigration case would be handled in Washington, Lois's smile faded. She had no doubt that Superman would be offered citizenship; it would be amazing if he was turned down now, after everything the Planet had exposed. And she suspected that Clark meant everything he'd said the previous evening. He would probably admit that their marriage wasn't real, and would apply for citizenship on his own merits.

And so her marriage to Superman would be over.

Not that it had ever been anything like a real marriage anyway — and not that Superman himself was even real. But even still, she felt an enormous sense of loss on contemplating the end of their relationship.

She and Clark could have been friends, *good* friends.

Who was she kidding? she asked herself as she returned to her seat and made the appearance of being engrossed in her work. They could have been more than friends, much more. She'd been on the verge of… of admitting just how attracted she was to Clark. She'd been attracted to *Clark* — even more than to Superman… so much for her dismissal of Clark as bland and uninteresting, only a couple of weeks ago. In so many ways, Clark as himself was far better-looking, more attractive, than in his guise as Superman.

And she'd been on the verge of telling him that… of maybe even considering him as a boyfriend.

And she'd thought that maybe he felt the same way… and then everything had changed in that instant when she'd discovered the truth.

Lois didn't think she'd over-reacted. She really didn't think that she'd been unfair to Clark at all. She'd been shocked, and, yes, hurt too. After all, she'd married Superman, and he hadn't told her the truth about himself. But she hadn't just walked out on him as he'd deserved. She'd made herself put her own feelings aside so that she could help Clark find out who was trying to stop Superman getting citizenship. She had *helped* him, despite her feelings of hurt and betrayal. And he'd repaid her by talking to her the way he had the night before. Today, too, he'd barely spoken to her.

It just went to show that she really hadn't known Clark as well as she'd thought. He wasn't that different from other men. Despite his Super-powers and his helper mentality, when it came to relationships he was as unreliable as all other men.

Just then she felt a light touch on her shoulder; she looked around, startled, to see Clark himself standing beside her, a mug in his hand. "Coffee," he explained, placing the cup on her desk. His expression seemed conciliatory — was he trying to indicate that he regretted the way he'd spoken to her last night? Was the coffee some sort of apology? She couldn't be sure.

He hesitated, then added, "I wanted to thank you. Without your help, none of that would have happened."

He was referring to the press conference, she realised. "Well, I offered to help, remember," she said, making her voice sound casually dismissive.

"Doesn't mean I shouldn't thank you," he told her quietly. "Lois…" He looked awkward, but continued anyway. "We need to talk," he said. "How about dinner tonight? I can fly us anywhere you want to go — how about San Francisco, New York, Boston… anywhere you like."

Despite her thoughts just a moment ago, she couldn't help being reminded of the Clark she'd come to know over the past week or so, the kind and supportive colleague and friend, the man she'd liked more than she'd ever imagined she could. Bringing her coffee wasn't fair, she thought sadly; it was only reminding her of the way she'd thought of Clark before Saturday night. He was probably right about them needing to talk, though, she acknowledged. There was some stuff to resolve, including the question of whether, or when, they would end their marriage.

She nodded. "Okay. Anywhere you want. Pick me up at six."

He hovered for a few seconds, as if he was about to say more, but in the end he nodded briefly and returned to his own desk.

But he hadn't left her thoughts. If only she wasn't so aware of him all the time! Even when she wasn't seeing him out of the corner of her eye, she knew where he was. She was aware of his every movement. And she wanted to be close to him, every bit as much as she'd wanted it on Saturday evening when they'd kissed.

She groaned inwardly and forced herself to concentrate on her work.

Shortly afterwards, Perry came over to Lois's desk and called for the newsroom staff's attention. "I want you all to hear this, so you know how to respond if you're asked," he said loudly. "I've just had Pete Adams of LNN on the phone, angrily denying what he called the 'accusations and insinuations' made by this morning's Daily Planet about his news organisation. He's refused our challenge to let us see their raw polling data, and he says that unless we issue a statement of apology immediately and print a front-page retraction in the evening edition, LNN will sue."

Several people tried to speak at once, and Lois noticed that a number of colleagues looked alarmed. She was intrigued to notice that Jimmy, on the other hand, was looking at her and grinning. She and Clark hadn't told Jimmy anything about what they'd got from Pete Adams' office, so it looked as if Jimmy was instinctively trusting that they wouldn't have written the story without being very sure of their facts. Or else, she reminded herself with a touch of cynicism, he'd decided that the lawyers wouldn't have passed it without being sure that they were pretty much suit-proof on this one.

Perry held up his hands for silence again. "I've told Adams that the Planet stands by its story," he announced. "And you all should have expected that! You know the Planet is always sure of its facts."

"But this morning's piece does look quite speculative," Eduardo Friaz objected, frowning. "I'm not doubting it — I'm sure Lane and Kent are right. I've been suspicious of those polls myself. But do we *have* evidence?"

"There is more information which we haven't yet printed," Perry conceded. "There will be a follow-up story in the evening edition, to this and to another of Lane and Kent's exclusives. So *if* you should happen to run into anyone from a rival news organisation during the day, don't answer any questions, just tell them that the Planet stands by its story and they should buy the evening edition, okay?"

Perry then swung round to fix his gaze on Lois. "And do you and Kent have those articles ready for the evening edition yet?" he demanded.

"Working on it, Chief. They're mostly written — Clark just needs to read over what I've done, and vice versa."

"Okay, well, I need them in the next half-hour for editing, remember, and to fax a copy through to the lawyers," he instructed, then strode off back to his office.

"You need to get busy, then," Lois said crisply to Clark, who, she'd noticed, was watching her.

He nodded briefly, turning back to his work. Less than ten minutes later, her email beeped; it was Clark, returning her piece to her. <Show-off> she thought, opening the attachment. She was still only half-way through his, and she'd always thought she was a pretty speedy proof-reader.

But then, she reminded herself tartly, she didn't have Super-powers.

Later that afternoon, the articles finished and duly sent off to Perry for editing, Lois was fielding calls from other news organisations desperate for follow-up quotes from that morning's story. Every caller was told by the newsroom switchboard operator to wait for the evening edition, but that still didn't stop them demanding to speak to either Lane or Kent; preferably Lane because she, after all, was Mrs Superman. Calls were also flooding in from the general public, and these were overwhelmingly in support of Superman, and praising the Planet for standing up for him.

They were also getting invitations to appear on talk shows, though surprisingly enough not from LNN, Lois mused sardonically. On Perry's instructions, all such invitations were turned down; it might be appropriate in a day or two, Perry thought, but not just yet. There were still revelations to come. And, Lois knew, doing anything which might look like publicity-seeking wouldn't be a very good idea right at the moment; not with Superman's immigration application about to be re-heard.

Dealing with a caller from yet another news organisation, Lois noticed Clark trying to catch her eye. His expression seemed odd… kind of anxious and hunted. Then she noticed the rather odd gestures he was making; some funny movement with his hand, which really didn't make a lot of sense. She frowned at him and gave him a questioning look. He sighed, then after taking a quick glance around he drew a swift, rough S-shape across his chest with one finger.

The penny dropped. Superman. Someone needed Superman.

Well, Clark wouldn't be missed if he disappeared for half an hour. She waved him away with her hand, miming 'Go!' at the same time. She would cover for him, just as she was well aware that he knew she would.

She might be angry and resentful still, after all — though that mostly related to Clark's unjustified anger last night, she thought — but Superman was still in a sense her responsibility, until their legal relationship was dissolved. Clark might have told her that he intended to end that relationship as soon as possible; that was his business. It didn't affect the way she would act towards his alter ego.

A couple of minutes later, the TV screens flickered into life and she found herself watching live pictures of her husband — and her partner — plucking the passengers of a downed aircraft out of the ocean and flying them swiftly to a cruise ship which was about a mile away and making its way to the crash location. Calmly efficient, as ever, she thought, and no doubt he was something akin to a god to those people whose lives he was saving.

There was no doubt at all that Superman should be granted US citizenship, Lois mused once again. She'd never had a second's doubt about that anyway, but this kind of incident reminded her of why Superman's presence was so important. Without Superman, what hope would those passengers have had? The ocean was freezing cold, they were miles from dry land, and the weather conditions were very poor. The small flotation devices the plane carried were grossly inadequate as a means of keeping people out of the water and alive for the hour or so it would take for any rescue vessels to get to them. The cruise ship might have been close, but its crew would need to scramble lifeboats and bring them closer than the ship itself would be able to come.

"He sure is something, isn't he?" a voice drawled softly next to her; Lois looked around to see Perry watching the screens.

"He is that," Lois agreed. No matter what her personal feelings were towards Clark, in either guise, what he was doing here was something magnificent, and she couldn't help admire both his motives and his sheer physical abilities. Not to mention his physical attributes… She'd been staring at his strong, muscular body on the screen for several seconds before she realised what she was doing and dragged her gaze away. She was angry with him, she reminded herself, and she had every right to be after the way he'd behaved. Now was *not* the time to sit here admiring him!

"I don't know how anyone in government can watch him in action at something like this and not recognise that this country needs him," the editor continued.

Lois stared at her boss. "That's exactly what I said to you when all this started! And you gave me crap about not taking sides!"

Perry smiled and shook his head. "Lois, you know this is why you're the reporter and I'm the editor. Of course I have my personal views, you know that! But the paper has to be careful about what side it takes. We couldn't go into print then arguing that rules should be broken for one person and upheld for thousands of others! Great Shades of Elvis, Lois! Can you imagine what we'd be called if I'd sanctioned that?"

Lois shrugged dismissively. "It would have been the right position to take."

"It might have been. But it might also have been the wrong position for the Planet to take. You know very well that, if this had been all above board, Superman might have had his status resolved very quickly, simply by walking into the INS office. It took him long enough to do it. But once he did, it started to become clear that there was more going on. And if you hadn't upped and married the guy, I'd have put you onto it then, you know that."

Lois was about to respond when her phone rang; Perry nodded and strolled off, leaving her to answer it. The voice on the other end of the phone took her very much by surprise.

"Mr West! What do you want with me?" she demanded, barely able to believe that Philip West of the INS was calling her, in the circumstances.

"I read your front-page story," the cool voice responded. "I expect you and your partner think you're very clever?"

"I don't think that's relevant," Lois said dismissively. "Now, if that's all you called for, I am busy. I don't really want to hear all about how I ruined your career, if that's what you wanted to say."

"Oh, not at all, Ms Lane," West replied casually. "Actually, I was getting a bit tired of working for the INS anyway. Dealing with wetbacks and idiot foreigners all day isn't exactly my idea of a challenging job. No, that's not why I called you."

Not really interested, Lois said, deliberately sounding bored, "No? Why, then?"

"I thought you might be interested in some information for a follow-up story," West drawled. "My erstwhile colleague has given you some stuff, I see, but even she doesn't know who was really behind all this. Even you don't think that idiot senator was working on his own. So… do you want to know?"

Lois frowned, torn between jumping at his offer and the need to be cautious. Why would West, a man whose career was in ruins and who might well face charges, want to give her any information?

The answer was obvious: to deflect attention away from himself. If he co- operated with an investigation, he might be less harshly treated.

Carefully, she said, "The Daily Planet doesn't pay for information."

"Oh, I know that. Did you seriously think I would want to be paid?" He sounded scornful. "Think about it, Ms Lane. I'm in deep trouble, I know that. So how can I make things easier for myself?"

She'd been right. "Okay, tell me whatever it is you know. I'll see that you get credit for it."

"Not over the phone!" He laughed derisively. "Oh, no — I want to see you face to face. Just so that I can remind myself that there's a woman out there who's so lost to all sense of human decency that she'd actually marry an alien."

"My marriage is none of your business any more!" Lois retorted, thinking that she was glad Clark wasn't around to overhear this. She might be mad at him, but that didn't mean she thought West's behaviour was any less obnoxious as a result.

"Okay, come to the Planet. I can see you any time before five-thirty," she told West.

But he laughed again. "Do you really think I'd come over there? People are looking for me, you know. You could say that I'm in hiding."

Lois's cautious instinct was suggesting that she end the conversation, telling West that she didn't need him. But caution was never her strong point, and anyway she badly wanted to get the evidence which would prove Luthor's involvement. So she picked up a pencil and said, "Okay, where can I find you?"

She listened as he gave her directions, scribbling them down roughly, then ended the call. Tearing off the sheet of paper, she hurried out of the newsroom. She'd have time to see West and get whatever information he had for her before she had to meet Clark at her apartment.

***

Clark returned to the Planet towards the end of the afternoon, a little tired but feeling exhilarated. Every single passenger on that plane had been saved. And he'd even managed to rescue the pilot and co-pilot, who'd been trapped in the sinking cockpit; they had some severe injuries, but nothing life- threatening.

He'd received effusive thanks from everyone at the scene, not that he'd looked for it. But what gave him particular cheer was the praise from the coastguard and US Navy officials who'd finally arrived just as he was flying the final lifeboat full of passengers up to the deck of the cruise ship. They'd commented that they'd never been able to understand why the INS investigation had been launched in the first place, because the country needed Superman.

Even though he now knew that the LNN polls had been rigged, it was still good to get that sort of reassurance from people he met.

Back at the Planet, there was no sign of Lois. Their articles for the evening edition had been finished some time earlier — in fact, the evening edition had already hit the streets, and staff were working on the next morning's edition — so perhaps she'd decided that she'd done enough work, he thought, especially considering everything she'd done over the weekend.

Although they had planned to work on at least one further follow-up for the morning edition, he recalled. There were no notes on his desk or hers, however, and no emails from her with proposals.

He shrugged. There was absolutely no reason why Lois had to be the one who made the decisions as to what to write. Deciding that the Secretary of State's announcement about the Metropolis INS required more than the brief comment which had been included in the afternoon edition, he commenced writing a longer analysis of the decision.

Half an hour later, his phone rang. "Is that Clark Kent?" the caller asked.

"Yes, it is," he acknowledged. "Can I help you?"

"I was looking for Lois Lane, actually," the male voice continued. "But she isn't answering her phone either at the Daily Planet or at home."

Clark frowned; he'd assumed that Lois was at home. The fact that the caller had her — unlisted — phone number suggested that this might not be strictly business. "Perhaps she's out somewhere," he suggested. "I think she left work early this afternoon. Can I help? I'm her partner."

"Yes, I was aware of that, Mr Kent," the man continued. "My name's Sinclair Barrett, and I am Chief of Staff at the White House. I was hoping to get in touch with Superman."

"Ah," Clark said slowly, wondering what the White House wanted. "I can pass on a message for you, if you like."

"You can contact him?"

"I'll be seeing him later," Clark said, evading the direct question. "What would you like me to tell him, Mr Barrett?"

"The President would like to see him, preferably tomorrow morning if that would be convenient."

His eyebrows shooting up, Clark quickly said, "I think that should be fine. Would you like me to get Superman to call and confirm?"

He quickly took down Sinclair Barrett's contact details, then ended the call, pondering the possible reasons why the President would want to see Superman. He could speculate as to several possible reasons. Still, he would find out tomorrow.

***

In the alley she'd been directed to, Lois parked the Jeep and got out, looking cautiously around her. No-one appeared to be in sight.

She walked a little distance away, still keeping alert for any signs of danger. If Philip West was indeed here, either he was keeping a very low profile, or this was a trap.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, she decided, and turned to walk back to the Jeep. Then she heard a noise behind her.

She whirled around, prepared to use her Tae Kwon Do if necessary. But a strong hand clamped an evil-smelling cloth against her mouth and, as she tried to lash out with feet and arms, she felt something sharp prick her arm.

The cloth contained chloroform… She tried to struggle, to drag the hand holding it in front of her nose and mouth away, but someone else was now holding her as well — she recognised Philip West as he grabbed at her arms.

But everything was going hazy, and her legs were giving way… as she slumped in her captors' arms, everything went black.

***

Clark left work at around five-thirty, feeling very satisfied with the results of their efforts. A short time ago, the Senate Ethics Committee had announced that, as a result of the disclosures in the Daily Planet, it was about to investigate the activities of Senator Wilson. The chair of the committee had indicated that they wanted to take evidence from Linda Martinez, and also from Lane and Kent of the Planet.

So, another minor victory, and Clark was pleased.

Now, he was hoping that good things did indeed come in threes. He'd had two very good pieces of news today, what with the INS and the Ethics Committee announcements; and that evening he was to take Lois out to dinner for a talk. If she showed herself willing to listen, and to accept his apology, then that would represent a major step forward.

He liked Lois a lot — well, he more than liked her, but that was another story. But he was pretty sure that she liked him a lot too. She'd certainly liked him in both his guises. If she could get past the fact that he'd deceived her — which he was more than willing to apologise again for — then there was some hope for their future friendship. And maybe more, if she allowed herself to remember just how good it had been when they'd kissed.

Half an hour later, having showered and shaved, he was hovering outside the window of Lois's apartment. He'd decided to come over as Superman, since he'd told her that he'd take her somewhere other than Metropolis; there seemed little point in avoiding the reality of his dual identity with her now. He couldn't see her in the living-room, he realised, but perhaps she was in the bedroom still getting ready.

The window was unlocked, so he opened it and floated in. She didn't come out to greet him; momentarily, he wondered whether she was deliberately making him wait. But even with her annoyance, that didn't seem like Lois. He called her name, just to let her know that he was there, but she didn't respond.

Perhaps she was in the bathroom and hadn't wanted to answer, he thought, so he sat down and prepared to wait. Several minutes later, however, there was still no sign of her, and nor were there any sounds from the bedroom. Reluctantly, he got to his feet and used his X-ray vision to scan the interior.

Lois wasn't there.

A second later, he'd determined that she was nowhere in the apartment.

Anger swept through him. Had she stood him up?

About to leave, he suddenly noticed a small white rectangle on the floor near her front door. Zooming in on it with his special vision, he saw that it was an envelope, and on it was written 'SUPERMAN'.

He took a sharp intake of breath and went to pick it up. Opening it, he found one sheet of paper inside, which he deliberately handled very carefully. The message was printed in neat block capitals:

SUPERMAN

WE HAVE YOUR WIFE. UNLESS YOU IMMEDIATELY ANNOUNCE YOUR DEPARTURE FROM THE USA WE WILL KILL HER. IF YOU TRY TO FIND HER, WE WILL KILL HER.

DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH

Clark's blood ran cold. His hand shook, and he whispered involuntarily, "Lois!"

How long had he stayed in her apartment, telling himself that she was avoiding him, before he'd even noticed that note? If she was dead already, it would be his fault; his carelessness and presumption in failing to investigate her absence sooner.

What had he done to her? He'd already hurt her by lying to her, making her feel used and betrayed. And now, thanks to him, her life was in danger.

She should never have met him.

Then he took a shuddering breath, forcing himself to regain control over his emotions. He was being stupid, he told himself. He was Superman. He'd find her, even if he had to comb the whole city, inch by inch. There was nowhere they could hide Lois that he couldn't find her.

He carefully tucked the note back in its envelope and flew out of Lois's window so fast the frame was still rattling several minutes after his departure.

***

Lois slowly returned to awareness, wondering vaguely why she couldn't move and was having trouble breathing. She was also lying on something very cold and uncomfortable.

And she was blindfolded — very thoroughly, too, since she couldn't see a thing or even work out whether it was dark or light.

She was in a very uncomfortable position, and she gradually realised why: her arms were tied tightly behind her back, and she was therefore lying on her side with one arm underneath her. As she tried to move, she discovered that her legs were tied at both knees and ankles. Wriggling and struggling to escape from the binds, she mused that someone was making very sure that she couldn't get away.

Or call for help! The reason she couldn't breathe properly was that something was stuffed in her mouth, and then something else was tied around her face, covering her mouth and also obscuring part of her nostrils.

<Okay. Calm down and think this through> she told herself.

The last clear memory she had was of waiting in that alley for Philip West, who'd been nowhere in sight. But then an image of something being thrust in her face emerged, and she realised that she'd been drugged. Probably more than once, she thought, remembering vaguely being stabbed with what felt like a needle.

So she was a prisoner, no doubt of West and his Defenders of the Earth friends. But she couldn't quite figure out what they intended doing with her. They had to realise that she'd know who'd abducted her; after all, West had made the call and she'd seen him in the alley. So did they actually intend to kill her? Or were they using her as bait for something?

But would they contemplate releasing her, if she was able to identify at least one of them?

Bait… If they were using her as bait, why and what for?

Bait for Superman, perhaps, she reasoned. But in that case, wouldn't they have made it easy for her to call for help? She had no way of calling to Clark, not with the very effective way they'd gagged her.

Which was a good sign, in some respects; it looked as if this wasn't a trap for Superman, whatever else her captors had in mind. So another possibility could be that she was being held as a means of persuading Superman to do something, or not do something, as the case may be. That seemed very likely, Lois thought.

But even if Superman did what they asked, there was no guarantee that they'd release her. And would he do what they asked? That had been his fear all along, before they'd married and when he'd explained to her why the marriage couldn't be a real one. Criminals might try to use her to force him to do certain things, he'd said. And he couldn't allow that to happen.

Well, it had happened. So would he completely ignore the fact that she'd been abducted?

The answer came immediately. Clark was not like that. Whatever else she thought of him, she realised that she had not a single doubt that he cared about her. Remembering that a couple of evenings earlier, she'd accused him in her mind of wanting nothing more from her than a casual affair, a one-night-stand, she knew suddenly that her reasoning there had been completely wrong. If all he'd wanted from her was her body, then he could have had that at any time in their 'marriage'. She'd practically offered herself to him on a plate!

No, in whichever guise he adopted, Clark cared about her. And, if he knew by now that she'd been abducted, she had no doubt at all that he'd be searching for her.

She struggled against her bonds once again, but they were tied too tightly for her to make any progress. All she achieved was painful wrists as her skin tore against the rough rope. But then the base of her thumb brushed against a hard object on her other arm.

Her watch! The signal watch Superman had given her!

Now if she could just manage to depress the button…

Fumbling around behind her back wasn't easy, especially with the punishingly- tight ropes hampering her movement. She felt the rough cord cut into her wrists several more times, and had to choke back a cry of pain at one point. But eventually she managed to turn one hand so that the bottom of her palm met the button. She felt it move and, exhausted, she fell back to the floor.

***

Clark had flown first to the nearest police precinct to give the note to the duty officer. Even though he fully intended to rescue Lois himself, he wanted her captors to be arrested, and so the police needed to have as much evidence as possible.

They'd wanted him to stay and make a statement; trying to hold back his frustration, he'd explained that finding Lois was his first priority. Even then, he had to promise to return later before the officer would agree to let him leave.

He'd just swooped up into the air again, ready to begin circling around the city from above, when a shrill beeping sound cut painfully through his head.

Lois's signal watch!

He emitted a huge sigh of relief. She was alive, and she was summoning him!

He put on a burst of speed and flew in the direction of the sound. The beeping took him over to the west of the city, a suburban area. Flying over the houses, he located the source of the beep as a small house in a low-income area.

Clark maintained his height as he X-rayed down into the house. Three men were within, sitting around a battered old table drinking beers, and he recognised one as Philip West. The other two were young, in their twenties, with hair cropped very short.

But he couldn't see Lois… Then he realised that the house had a basement. When he gazed through the floor to see the lower level, he saw her. She was lying on her side, trussed up like a chicken, blindfolded and gagged. And none too happy, he would guess.

About to swoop in and get her, he had a sudden thought. Instead, he looked around to find somewhere safe to land. Once he was on solid ground, he spun back into his civilian clothes and went over to the payphone he'd spotted from the air.

A couple of phone-calls later, he was ready.

***

Lois's wrists felt as if they were rubbed raw. Her mouth was dry, and she kept wanting to cough. She had no idea how much time had passed since she'd managed to press the signal button, but it felt like an eternity. And still no red and blue whirlwind had swept in to rescue her.

A scraping sound alerted her to a door being opened near her. Someone was coming in. At least she might manage to find out exactly what these people wanted with her, she thought grimly.

Footsteps sounded nearby, and Lois could tell that they were getting closer. She tensed, not knowing what to expect. Then the person spoke, in a low voice, from only a couple of feet away.

"Lois? It's me, Clark. I'm going to get you out of here."

The familiar voice made her relax; she sank back on the hard floor in relief. But why had he said *Clark*? Did he mean Superman? But surely if he was here as Superman, he'd have referred to himself as Superman, just in case anyone else was nearby?

Large, capable hands removed the blindfold. Lois blinked, and saw that her rescuer was indeed Clark, dressed smartly though not in clothes he'd wear to the newsroom: smart chinos and a dark shirt with button-down collar. She remembered then that they'd been supposed to be going out to dinner, to talk. They definitely needed to have that talk. She somehow had the impression, looking at the concern in his expression now, that they'd been at cross-purposes with one another since last night. She wondered whether he'd really meant what he'd said to her then and the way he'd said it, or whether he'd just reacted out of frustration and now regretted it.

He was wincing, and she felt him reach behind her. "I just need to turn this thing off," he murmured. "Sorry, but it's pretty loud."

She felt his hand touch her wrist, and then his expression cleared. "Okay, let's get this stuff off you," he said quietly, and he fumbled at the gag, pulling it away.

Lois took huge lungfuls of air, gasping as she was finally able to breathe clean air and as much of it as she wanted. She wanted to cough too, but Clark frowned and shook his head when she began. "There are three men upstairs, and I'd kind of prefer it if they didn't know I was here," he murmured. "Just give me a minute."

He slid his glasses down his nose and then seemed to rake her with his gaze from top to bottom. Then, seeming satisfied, he slipped an arm around her, bringing her to an upright sitting position and supporting her. "Come on, we'll have you outside in a couple of minutes."

"What were you doing?" she croaked.

"Just checking for damage," he explained briefly. "I needed to be sure you didn't have any broken bones or anything like that." He grimaced, then added, "Did they hurt you?"

She shook her head. "Just knocked me out very efficiently. Drugs, not violence," she added quickly, seeing his frown.

He turned his attention to the rope around her legs then, pulling and working at the knots. Lois was surprised that he didn't just rip the rope off, using his Super-powers, and she began to ask him why. He gave her a quick, reassuring smile and murmured, "I want it to look like Clark Kent rescued you, not Superman. It won't take me much longer, I promise."

She didn't understand the reasoning behind that, but now wasn't the time to question him. Instead, she tried to help him by raising her legs so that he could get at the knots, and within a minute her ankles were free. Clark gave them a quick rub; she wondered whether he was also using heat vision, since he gazed intently at them for several seconds and she felt a warming sensation as he massaged.

Then he quickly worked at the ropes binding her knees, and shortly afterwards they were free too. "Let me just get your hands free, then I'll help you up," Clark whispered quickly, sliding around to kneel behind her. Again, within a few seconds her hands were free.

She heard his breath hiss sharply. "You said they didn't hurt you!" he demanded in an angry undertone. "Your wrists are bleeding!"

"Was trying to get loose…" she explained; now that the initial adrenalin from being freed had worn off, her mouth was still dry, and the words were difficult to form.

"You should have waited for me!" he muttered; she couldn't decide whether his impatient tone represented annoyance at her, or at her captors because she'd been hurt.

"I couldn't get to the signal!" she hissed at him. "That happened when I was trying to reach it!"

"Okay, okay," he said, in a softer, apologetic tone. "I'd like to do something to stop the bleeding, but it'd mean using my powers and I can't do that if Clark, not Superman, is supposed to have rescued you. Can you stand?"

"I'll try…" She attempted to get to her feet, but ended up staggering and almost falling over. Her limbs were stiff and aching, and her legs refused to bear her weight. She clutched at Clark for support, but before she could try again he swung her up into his arms.

"It's okay — you should know I don't have a problem taking your weight!" he teased lightly. "Just hold onto me and I'll get you out of here."

She wrapped her arms around his neck as he carried her to the door. Despite the circumstances, she felt wry amusement at what was happening. Clark, who she'd thought of previously as a pretty average guy, was carrying her as if she weighed nothing at all. Of course, his being Superman did make a difference, but it was still a shock to the system to see Clark doing Super things.

"How did you get the door open?" she murmured close to his ear.

He smiled. "The police will say it can't have been locked in the first place. At least, that's what I'll say to them, and there's no evidence that it could have been forced." He flashed her a swift grin. "But then, they don't take into account what I can do."

Before opening the door, he said softly, "Once we're outside, just hang on and don't say a word. We're going to be moving pretty fast."

He was right; once outside the door, Clark seemed almost to fly up the basement steps and along the narrow passage to an outside door. Lois could hear voices very close by, and one was easily recognisable as that of Philip West. But then Clark had opened the exterior door and they were out, in a side alley. He didn't put her down, instead breaking into a run until they were in the main street.

Then she stared. Two police cars were parked nearby, and Alan, one of the Planet photographers stood waiting; he reached for his camera then and started taking pictures.

Clark lowered Lois to her feet, but kept a grip on her waist as a uniformed police sergeant approached. "They're still in there," he told the officer briefly. "Three of them, far as I know. I don't think they heard me. Oh, and you'd better send a couple of men around to the back door first."

The officer looked very surprised. "Are you Kent? My precinct got a call saying Lois Lane was being held here."

"That's me," Clark agreed. "I got a tip-off which, as you can see, was correct. I guess you must have been sure too, since you've got two cars."

"Inspector Henderson said we had to check it out. He said if you were Kent of the Planet, you wouldn't call in anything unless you were sure." The officer turned away and gave instructions to the other cops.

Lois stared at Clark. "I don't understand… why…?" Why had he waited, calling the police and a Planet photographer, instead of flying in as Superman and rescuing her?

His gaze was steady as he looked at her. "I had a good reason, but do you mind if we wait until this circus is over and done with before I tell you?"

She nodded. If Clark said he had a good reason, then, she realised, she believed him. Explanations could wait.

***

The next couple of hours passed by in a blur. Lois had to be taken to the hospital, much against her wishes since, as she insisted, she only had a few rope burns. But Clark and the police insisted, because she'd been drugged.

One blood test later, she was pronounced fit to leave but warned against driving in the next few hours. "That's not a problem," Clark instantly pronounced. "I can drive your Jeep, if you want to go get it."

"If it's still in one piece," she said pessimistically. "And we can't do it yet — the cops are hovering to get me to make that statement."

"Hey." Clark touched her arm lightly. "Let me deal with this, okay?" He paused, then added, "I know you're still mad at me, but you do trust me, don't you?"

Why should she? He hadn't trusted her!

But she pushed that instinctive reaction aside. It smacked of childish revenge, and it simply wasn't true. "I trust you, Clark. As for being mad at you…" She sighed suddenly. "The truth is, I wasn't any more, until you gave me that speech last night."

That shook him; he stared at her, shocked, for a moment, then he muttered, "Great timing, Kent!" and headed for the exit, gesturing for her to follow.

Outside, Lois listened in amused admiration as he told the waiting police that Lois was concerned about her car, which had some valuables in it, and that they would come straight to the precinct after going to retrieve it. He declined the offer of a ride, insisting that there was no need to waste police time, then he took Lois's arm and hustled her around the corner of the building.

"Where are you taking me?" she demanded. "Taxis are over there…"

"You really want to go by taxi?" he asked, an amused grin curving about his mouth.

"Huh?"

He stepped back and spun into the Suit. "Wouldn't you rather fly?"

She caught her breath, then walked boldly up and slid her arms around his neck. "Fly me to the moon, Superman," she teased.

He winked. "One day, maybe. If we can get you an oxygen mask, sure!"

Her car, amazingly, was untouched. She had locked it, not that locked doors would be any deterrent to a determined thief or joyrider, so she was very relieved to see it in one piece. Handing the keys over to Clark, who somehow without her notice had changed back into his civilian clothes, she climbed into the passenger seat and laid her head back.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked, his tone concerned.

She turned her head to look at him. "I'm fine, Clark! Don't fuss!"

He didn't respond, but the way his mouth tightened as he turned to start the ignition told her that he'd taken her remark as a rebuke. She reached out to touch his hand. It was time to cut through all the confusion and misunderstandings, not add to them. "Clark, we have to stop this."

"Stop what?" He sounded genuinely confused.

"Taking things each other says the wrong way. You misunderstood me just now — I was just… well, sort of teasing, I guess. I wasn't mad at you. And last night, when you accused me of ignoring you — I wasn't! If I was quiet, it was because I had a lot to think about. About you, yes. And… and if you hadn't interrupted me last night, we'd have had a very different conversation."

Watching his reaction to her words, Lois knew that she'd been correct in her surmise. He had regrets over what he'd said — and those regrets had just multiplied.

"Lois…" Her name escaped his lips as a long sigh. "I'm sorry. Yeah, I know I said I'd had enough of apologising, but I shouldn't have spoken to you like that last night, even if I did think I was in the right." He sighed again. "I said earlier that we need to talk. Are you still willing to talk, once all this is dealt with?"

"I think we better not put it off any longer," Lois said. "Look what's happened because I wouldn't deal with it immediately?"

Clark shrugged. "You didn't deal with it because of me. We were getting somewhere in the INS investigation, and believe me, I'm grateful that you were willing to carry on helping me."

He started the engine then. "We'd better get over to the precinct. And then, I guess we need to get to the Planet!"

"Yeah, why was Alan there?" Lois asked, curious.

Clark smiled as he steered the Jeep out of the alley. "All part of making it very clear that you were rescued by Clark Kent, not Superman. Remember I told you I was worried that people might try to manipulate Superman by using you?"

Oh, Lois remembered those conversations very well. The one in which Superman had initially rejected her offer to marry him, and the later one in which he'd rejected her advances. "Oh yeah, I remember," she told him dryly.

"Sorry," he said ruefully. "It was the best I could come up with, under the circumstances… anyway, it also happened to be true. I didn't want people using Superman's relationship with anyone to try to blackmail him. And that's exactly why you were kidnapped."

Lois listened in disbelief, which quickly turned to anger, as Clark related his discovery of the note and its contents. "They actually thought they could make you — Superman, I mean — leave the country?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know if they actually believed it. But anyway, once I found you — and believe me, I went off to search immediately, once I'd given the note to the police — I figured that if I could get you out of there as Clark then it would look pretty much apparent that Superman doesn't respond to blackmail."

"Won't it look as if Superman didn't care enough about his wife to do anything?" Lois asked, concerned, although she accepted the general logic of Clark's argument.

"I don't think so," Clark answered. "He went to the police, and the duty officer will certainly attest that Superman was agitated. But maybe Superman wanted the police to act, so that the perpetrators could be properly arrested and charged. And Clark Kent just happened to get a tip-off and managed to get inside…" He shrugged. "I'm sure, between us, we can write it so that it sounds reasonable."

"I guess so," Lois agreed. "That reminds me — was there any reaction to the evening edition?"

"Yeah, get this — the Senate Ethics Committee is investigating Wilson!"

"Yeah!" Lois whooped. "Looks like we've had one heck of a successful day!"

"Yeah, up until you got kidnapped," Clark pointed out darkly.

"Well, look what happened there! You rescued me, and now the police can charge West and his Defenders of the Earth friends with a federal offence. It's not all bad!"

She saw Clark grin. "I guess you're right, Lois. There must be a gap in my education somewhere, seeing that I'm unable to see the positive side in you being drugged and abducted, but now that you've enlightened me I'm sure I won't make that mistake again."

"That's the spirit, Clark. And don't worry, I'll keep reminding you."

"I just bet you will!" he retorted, smiling broadly. Lois smiled back at him, enjoying the fact that they seemed to have regained the camaraderie they'd achieved before her discovery of his real identity. Perhaps, once they'd finally managed to talk, they could find a way to become friends again.

<More than friends> her errant body objected, but she squashed down that thought. The fact that she was more attracted to Clark than she'd ever been to any man in her life was not relevant here. Apart from anything else, she had no idea whether he really felt the same. Oh, he *liked* her, and he did have some feelings of attraction towards her, but that didn't necessarily mean that he would want more.

Clark was speaking again, and she concentrated what he was saying. "There was something else. I don't know whether it had anything to do with what we wrote, but the Chief of Staff at the White House called. The President wants to see Superman tomorrow."

"Any idea why?"

Clark shrugged again. "None whatsoever."

Lois could think of a few reasons, but she kept her thoughts to herself. In any case, they'd arrived at the police station, which ruled out any further conversation for the time being.

After they'd both given statements and Lois had identified Philip West as one of the two men who'd abducted her, they were free to return to the Planet. There was little conversation en route this time, since Clark seemed to be deep in thought. He did flash her a smile when she glanced enquiringly at him, so she decided not to let his silence bother her.

In the newsroom, they found Perry waiting for them; he was genuinely concerned for Lois, but also insistent that they write up what they had as soon as possible so that it could be edited before the deadline for the first morning edition. Since the newsroom was fairly empty, Clark offered to type to Lois's dictation. She accepted gratefully as the rope-burns and cuts on her wrists were stinging, which would have made typing difficult.

As they agreed the final versions of the two stories — Lois's first-person version of her kidnap, and Clark's mixture of factual summary of events and his first-person account of rescuing Lois — she glanced at Clark again. He was scrolling through the text on the screen, making minor amendments here and there; he was completely focused on his work. Clark Kent, she acknowledged to herself yet again, was a darned good reporter. He was almost as good as she was. And given time he would be competing against her for Kerths — he might even beat her.

On the other hand, there was the fact that they seemed to complement each other so well. She'd noticed that a lot over the past few days. They had quite distinct styles, but those styles fitted well together. And they were both very focused when it came to their work. They were both intelligent, though again the way their minds worked complemented each other: she was the one who reached for the seemingly far-fetched solution and had sudden flashes of inspiration, while Clark was the analyser and deep thinker.

They worked very well together.

On impulse, Lois turned to Clark again. "When all this is over, what do you say we ask Perry to team us up? As partners?"

He paused his scrolling and turned to stare at her, his expression incredulous. "Really?" he asked, sounding completely amazed.

"Yes, really!" she exclaimed, laughing almost nervously at his reaction. "Don't you like the idea?"

"Lois, I love the idea," he told her, his voice low and his tone intense. "You are the best reporter I've ever met. Don't you know that I'm in awe of your talent? I would *love* to be your partner."

"You're pretty talented yourself," she told him, embarrassed. "So, we'll do it, then?"

Clark held his hand out to her. "To partners."

"Partners," she echoed, placing her hand in his.

***

It was looking as if he hadn't made a total mess of things after all, Clark thought as he finished scanning the articles for errors. He'd really misread Lois the previous evening — although he didn't altogether see how he could have been expected to know that her feelings had changed. Nevertheless, his angry response hadn't been appropriate in the circumstances.

They did still need to talk, but he was now fairly sure that it would be a positive conversation. If Lois was happy to ask him to be her partner, then it suggested that she was also willing to be his friend.

He sent the articles off to Perry, then glanced at Lois again. There were shadows under her eyes, which was hardly surprising. Leaning towards her, he murmured, "Mind participating in a bit of subterfuge?"

She looked puzzled for a moment, then grinned. That was one of the many things he really liked about Lois: she wasn't slow on the uptake. "Sure."

"Okay." He smiled, then got to his feet. "I'm glad you're okay, Lois," he said in a louder voice. "You take it easy tonight, you hear? Make that husband of yours look after you."

She smiled back at him. "I don't think that'll be a problem somehow." With a subtle wink, she added, "Goodnight, Clark."

"Night, Lois," he replied, then gave her a wave as he left the newsroom. Once in the stairwell, he ran upstairs, changed clothes, then flew back into the newsroom via the window.

Several heads turned to look at him as he entered, but he headed straight for Lois's desk. "Lois! Honey, are you okay?" he said, sounding concerned, as he approached.

She smiled up at him. "I'm fine. Honestly! Clark found me and got me out, and I've been checked over in the hospital."

He pulled her gently to her feet and hugged her warmly. "I'm really sorry I couldn't rescue you myself. And that I couldn't get here sooner. I couldn't get away… but that's no excuse."

"I know you were looking for me," she ad-libbed.

"Yeah, I was. I owe Clark one — is he here?"

"You just missed him," Lois said casually, though she gave him a grin which couldn't be seen by the other staff in the newsroom.

"I'll thank him next time I see him," Clark said, then changed the subject. "I thought I could give you a ride home."

"Well, my car's here."

"So? It'll be okay here for the night. Come fly with me."

"You know I can never resist you when you make me offers like that!" she told him, laughing, then moved into his arms.

He smiled warmly as he scooped her up, delighted to see how relaxed she was with him and how willing she was to conspire with him to keep his secret. She'd played along perfectly, even adding touches he wouldn't have thought of to keep the two identities of Clark and Superman separate. She seemed to be enjoying it too, he reflected, highly gratified. Perhaps there was hope for them yet?

One too-brief flight later, they were drifting in through Lois's apartment window. Clark lowered her to the ground, then said, "I *was* supposed to be taking you for dinner tonight so we could talk. It's too late to go out, but do you still want to talk?"

She gave him a sober look. "Oh, I want to talk. Look, why don't you go get us some takeout while I take a shower?"

Unhappy about the idea of leaving Lois when she was still recovering from her ordeal, Clark nevertheless acknowledged that she was unlikely to want him around while she showered. Before his mind could wander astray with thoughts of Lois standing underneath the jets of water, he forced himself to drag his gaze away from her, turn and head for the window. "Sure. Anything particular you'd like?"

She smiled wryly. "I'd love some of that delicious Chinese, but you'd better not go outside the US."

"Don't worry — I know where I can get something almost as nice," he promised, then almost ran out the window. He thought he could hear Lois's soft laughter behind him as he took off into the night sky.

***

Was she imagining things, or had Clark been checking her out just before he left?

Lois smiled and shook her head as she padded into the bathroom. Well, that certainly told her that he still found her attractive. But then, she hadn't doubted that. But was he interested in more? Because she certainly had no intention of opening herself up to hurt by a man who wasn't interested in anything more than a brief affair.

Not that there was any point in even thinking about that kind of relationship, certainly not just yet. They had a lot of stuff to resolve even before they could recapture the friendship they'd had up until Saturday night. Though maybe that wasn't going to be as difficult as she'd imagined, she reflected as she stepped into the shower. Clark had been very anxious to demonstrate his good intentions, and he'd already told her that he regretted his outburst of the previous evening.

If they were both willing to be reasonable, then clearing the air shouldn't be that hard a task.

As she emerged from her bedroom, towelling her hair, Clark stepped through the window bearing a bag from which delicious smells were emanating. She hurried to help, producing plates, and within minutes they were sitting digging into the dishes with chopsticks, Clark having changed back into his normal clothing.

As they ate, their conversation centred on the events of the day — the stories they'd been able to write, the reaction of the public and of the main players — but by apparently mutual silent consent they both avoided raising the reason why they were both there. It wasn't until they'd finished eating and Lois offered to make coffee that Clark forestalled her.

"I'll make it," he said. "And then we'll talk. You go and sit over there and wait for me."

He was back with two cups of coffee far more quickly than she could have imagined, and she guessed that once again she'd been treated to an example of one of the many things Clark could do. Handing her one cup, he took a seat opposite her and gave her an enquiring glance.

She returned his gaze. "Do you want to go first, or will I?"

He laughed ruefully. "Lois, the last time I asked you that question I let you go first, and it was a mistake. Do you mind if I go this time?"

She waved a hand in his direction, hoping that her nervousness, now that they were at this point, wasn't obvious. "Be my guest."

Clark took a deep breath and began. "Lois, there's a whole lot I want to say to you. And I want to ask you a favour first — hear me out, will you? I promise, you can say anything you want to me after I've finished. If you still want to chew me out, I'll let you. But, please, just let me say what I want to say first."

The earnest intent in his expression almost took Lois's breath away. She nodded. "I'll listen, Clark. Go on."

"Okay." He inhaled deeply again. "You asked if I didn't trust you enough to tell you the truth about myself, even though I — Superman — was married to you. And I guess that's partly true. But I want to start at the beginning. When the INS announced that it was investigating Superman's presence in the US, I admit I really didn't know what to do. But I checked all the options — I spent ages looking at their website for the criteria on which applications could be accepted. And I didn't find anything Superman could use — not without hoping that someone would stretch the rules a little. And since Superman had already apparently entered the country illegally, I didn't hold out much hope of that happening."

That certainly fitted: Lois remembered Clark telling her what he was doing that day.

"Then you called me that evening, and warned me that the situation was serious. You said you thought there might be something behind it, that someone might actually want me deported — and how right you were, Lois! And then you offered to marry me." Clark's remembered amazement at her proposal was visible in his expression, and Lois squirmed a little in embarrassment.

"I turned you down then for several reasons," he continued. "The first was that I was sure that I could find a way around the problem without having to do anything that drastic — drastic for you, as well as Superman. I mean, how could I let you marry someone who didn't really exist? And, yeah, another part of it was that I couldn't tell you the truth. I've kept my powers a secret all my life. It's second nature to me to hide what I can do. Even now you know, I still have to remind myself sometimes that it's safe to do things in front of you."

Lois interrupted him then. "You were right, Clark. What you said on Saturday, I mean. I know I said I'd let you have your say, but I need to tell you this. The way I treated you — Clark — there was no reason why you'd have even considered telling me the truth in the circumstances. Not then. I know that now."

He gave her a heart-stopping smile. "Thank you, Lois. It's easier to know that you understand that. And…" He hesitated suddenly, then said carefully, "If you want complete honesty — and I don't want to give you anything less — I have to tell you that another reason I wouldn't have accepted your offer is that I… wasn't altogether sure about your motives. I know you said you weren't expecting anything, but… Lois, I'd have had to be blind not to see how you reacted to Superman."

Lois bit her lip, knowing that what Clark was saying was completely true. She had thrown herself at Superman, both before and after they'd married. And even though she'd assured him that she wasn't looking for a real relationship with him, she knew that wasn't true. Even at the time she'd been hoping for more — and one reason she'd become upset with Superman was that he refused to offer her hope of more. Embarrassed, she looked away.

Then she felt Clark's hand touch hers, and she looked around to see him crouching on the floor beside her. "Lois, no. I didn't tell you that to embarrass or hurt you!"

"I know," she whispered. "But it's true, I wasn't completely honest about my motives."

He shook his head ruefully. "Lois, if I'd been completely honest about my motives every time I saw you as Superman, before that day…! You were dazzled, and it's hardly surprising — how many times had you met a guy who could fly before Superman appeared?"

"Not many good-looking ones, anyway," Lois said, laughing a little. It was clear that Clark didn't hold her initial hero-worship of his alter ego against her, and he was quite right: they needed to clear the air if they were to move on.

His hand was still pressed to the back of hers. Slowly, she turned her hand over so that they were palm to palm. After an instant's hesitation, Clark curled his fingers around hers, and she imitated his movement. He came to sit beside her on the love-seat, careful to keep a distance between them, but he didn't release her hand.

Okay," he continued. "Well, you remember the next day the INS announced deportation proceedings. I didn't have any other way out, so I came back to accept your proposal. And I know you'll want to know why I didn't tell you the truth then."

"You still had no reason to trust me," Lois said instantly. But then some of her hurt returned to her, and she turned an accusing gaze on him. "Clark, didn't it occur to you that if I'd offered to marry Superman, I was hardly likely to splash the secret of his identity all over the Daily Planet?"

"Maybe," he acknowledged. "But it wasn't just that, Lois. It's not that I thought you were completely untrustworthy — I *never* thought that, even when you and I were sniping at each other all day. Somehow, my instincts about you always told me that you were honourable and loyal. But I still didn't know how you'd react when you discovered that the shiny hero you'd married was actually Clark Kent, the geek from Kansas you barely tolerated. That's why I didn't think I could tell you, at first."

He took another deep breath, squeezing her hand as he did so. "And don't ask me how I thought I was going to keep up the pretence for two years. I didn't really think beyond the wedding — well, you have to agree, Lois, that neither of us had time to! I accepted your proposal, and within the hour we were off to California! So I didn't tell you. And if you want to be mad at me for that, I guess you're entitled."

"I think I can understand that," Lois acknowledged. "Like I told you earlier, I'd already decided yesterday that you were right about the way I'd treated you making it impossible for you to tell me the truth at first. What I can't understand is why you carried on pretending. I changed, didn't I? You had to have seen that," she finished, unhappy at how much like a plea her words sounded.

"You did. Either that, or I came to understand you better," Clark said immediately. "The problem was, at first I really didn't understand just how all this was affecting you. Call me stupid — or just call me an insensitive male if you like — but I guess I just thought that all we needed to do was be seen together a couple of times, or for me to be seen entering and leaving your apartment. It just didn't occur to me that you'd have to make all sorts of adjustments. And when you wanted some signs of affection from Superman, I just didn't know what to do." He exhaled sharply. "I hurt you that night. And I just hadn't a clue that I was doing it."

He had hurt her. Lois wondered if he had any idea of the sleepless night which had followed, of the long hours she'd spent alternately cursing her own stupidity and brooding over Superman's callous rejection of her advance. They were laying all cards on the table, so she nodded. "Yes. You hurt me. But," she added, unable to be anything other than honest now, "it was my own fault, really. I'd told you — Superman — that I expected nothing from him. So I shouldn't have pushed for more than I had."

Clark shook his head. "I should have anticipated it. I should at least have made sure you understood that when I'd kissed you earlier it was only to fool the INS agents."

Or she should have realised it herself, Lois acknowledged. Putting off this discussion with Clark had actually muted her anger, she admitted now. If they'd tried to talk about all this on Saturday night, the discussion would more than likely have ended with her storming out having told Clark she wanted nothing more to do with him. Delaying it had, instead of allowing her fury to simmer and increase, given her time to think things through, and she'd come to the conclusion that, while Clark's actions hadn't been right, he did have good reasons for what he'd done. His failure to tell her the truth about who she'd been married to was, while not completely excusable, at least understandable.

"Anyway, it was only after you'd actually had to tell me everything I was doing wrong that I realised what was happening," Clark continued. "I never saw it, not even when it was right under my nose — all the sacrifices you were making, the loss of your privacy, the damage to your career… and I just took it all for granted. That's when I realised that I needed to tell you the truth. That if I didn't tell you the truth about Superman, I would be being as disrespectful to you as I once thought you were to Clark Kent — or worse." He grimaced as he finished speaking.

"But you didn't tell me, Clark! We had lunch together, and all I could think of was how understanding you were… and all the time *you* were the person I was mad at! And you didn't even tell me that night, when I wanted to call Superman, to get him to tell me about Luthor — and that's a conversation we still haven't had, you know!"

"I know." Clark inclined his head. "I'll tell you everything there is to tell, later. I didn't tell you about Superman at lunchtime that day because I hadn't made up my mind yet. By the time you came over to my place later, I was just about ready to tell you, but remember, it's not only my secret to tell. I had to talk to my parents first, to find out if they were okay with me telling you. And I wasn't able to talk to them until Friday morning. I was going to tell you when we went out to dinner, but once we got to Milan I realised that we couldn't talk there. I was going to tell you as soon as we got back to your place, but — "

"But I wanted to talk first, and then my mother called," Lois finished. "Why didn't you tell me the next morning?"

"Your parents were due," Clark explained. "That wasn't the time for that kind of discussion. And once they left I had to get to work. I had it all planned to tell you on Saturday evening, but events ran away from me."

That was certainly true, Lois thought, remembering Genevieve Roberts' visit and their kiss. That stirring, passionate, sensual kiss… which neither of them had so much as mentioned since, apart from her reference to the fact Clark had made her feel as if she was being unfaithful to her husband.

"You got called away to an emergency," she remembered, deliberately also avoiding referring to their kiss.

"I did. And I was just about to tell you the truth! Then, once I'd finished at the university, I'd intended to go home, shower, put on a clean Suit and then come straight over here to tell you everything. I didn't anticipate that you'd be waiting for me!"

"So I stopped you telling me yourself," Lois commented. "Clark, I *did* believe that you meant to tell me. I knew that, even when I was accusing you of lying to me."

He shifted so that he was looking directly at her, his dark brown eyes gazing into hers and compelling her to look back at him. "I'm glad," he said softly, and his hand tightened around hers again. "I'd hate to think that by me not trusting you, I made you not trust me."

There was something about the way Clark was looking at her, something about the compelling strength of those beautiful eyes of his… Lois found herself swallowing and staring back at him. "I have… issues… with trust, Clark," she said at last, hesitantly, and waited for his response.

He simply watched her for several moments. Then he altered his grasp of her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. "I think I knew that. I guessed it, anyway," he said, his voice compassionate. "I mean, you told me about Claude, and I figured that it had to have affected you."

She stared down at their linked hands. Part of her was telling her that she should object to this strange intimacy, and yet another part of her wanted Clark to hold her and never let her go.

But he spoke again before she could resolve her confused feelings. "Lois, I need to know if you can forgive me for not telling you the truth. Can we move on? — can we be friends? I think we were before, weren't we?"

This was it, Lois knew. This was the defining moment; if she couldn't give Clark an unequivocal 'yes' now, then she would have lost him. She was pretty sure that he wouldn't ask again. And, since she knew he'd moved on so many times before coming to Metropolis, there was no guarantee that he wouldn't do so again now.

And one thing of which she was certain was that she didn't want Clark to walk out of her life.

But could she forgive him for deceiving her? For marrying her in one guise, never telling her that he had another identity? For using one identity to give himself advantages in the other? For confusing her totally about her feelings, making her believe that she was drawn to, attracted to, two men at the same time?

She stared down at her left hand, the one Clark wasn't holding. It bore the ring he had put there, as Superman, less than two weeks earlier. It still gleamed and sparkled, a symbol of a shiny new marriage which wasn't a marriage at all.

It was extraordinarily simple, her heart told her. Yes, Clark had done things which hurt her; but he'd never intended to hurt her. And anyway, what was more important here? Indulging her wounded pride and hurt feelings, or keeping Clark in her life?

And she'd already answered that question.

In a few short weeks, Clark had somehow managed to make himself vitally important to her. It wasn't just the coffee and doughnuts he brought her at work; nor was it the friendly banter they enjoyed. It wasn't even the fact that he was the first reporter she'd ever worked with whom she could respect. Nor was it the fact that she had never yet been bored in his company.

It was because he was rarely out of her thoughts — and not because of his alter ego, either. She'd found herself enjoying Clark's company far more than that of Superman, before she'd discovered that they were the same man. And it was because Clark — and Superman — had been invading her dreams for many nights now. She dreamed of what it would be like to be with Clark — as more than just a friend.

And she hadn't forgotten one second of how it had felt to be in his arms, being kissed by him.

Not that she was in any hurry for him to do that again, she told herself hastily. She wasn't looking for a romantic relationship, with Clark Kent or anyone else. Having him as a friend would be enough for her. It would be best if she could get the message across to him, as well, that an agreement that they could be friends didn't mean that she was inviting intimacy from him.

And yet, she reminded herself, they were holding hands — and she had instigated it.

She looked down at their joined hands again. Clark's hand felt so right holding hers. Just as his mouth had felt so right covering hers, and his body had felt so right pressed up against hers as they'd explored each other. She quivered inside at the memory.

Who was she kidding? She wanted Clark as more than a friend.

But she wasn't willing to indulge in a casual affair. And she had no idea just what he wanted from her, even though she was sure that he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Drawn to him she might be, but she hardly knew him. How could she be sure that he wouldn't abandon her once he'd taken what he wanted?

Far better to ignore these inconvenient yearnings and concentrate on being friends.

"Um, Lois…"

Clark's hesitant words broke through her introspection, and she realised that he was still waiting for her answer to his question. Impulsively, she squeezed his hand. "Sorry, Clark, I was thinking. It's okay. I do forgive you. I think I already had even before we had this talk, but I needed you to tell me what you've told me tonight. And… I'd like us to be friends, too."

The intensity of Clark's smile almost turned Lois into a puddle at his feet. "Thank you, Lois. You're the first person I've ever told everything about myself, and I'd really like to be your friend."

Lois shifted so that she was facing Clark, thinking aloud as she spoke. "You know, if Superman had said that to me before all this marriage stuff, I'd have felt incredibly honoured. But I wouldn't have really appreciated just what it meant to be trusted with his friendship. Now that I know the truth — just how special you are — I feel immensely privileged. And I'm proud that you've chosen me to be your friend."

Clark held up their joined hands, and gazed at them. "I'm not sure there was much choice about it. There's something about you that just called to me from the moment we met. There was never any question about who I wanted to be my friend, or to be the person I wanted to share my secret with. It was only a question of the time being right," he told her softly.

Lois reclined her head so that it lay on Clark's shoulder, and they sat together, neither speaking. It was a peaceful, companionable silence, just enjoying being together, Lois thought. His shoulder was just the right height and breadth for her to relax against, as well; she could get used to this.

Some time later, Clark shifted a little, not dislodging her but turning his head so that he was looking directly at her, his face very close to hers. "There's something else," he said abruptly. "I want to tell you, because I want you to know that I didn't lie to you about anything except what was necessary to protect my identity." He paused, then looked away. "When Superman told you that he was attracted to you, and that in different circumstances he would want to… well, I wasn't lying. I don't mean that I'm trying to make a move on you now, Lois — I just wanted you to know that I wasn't making things up the whole time I was letting you think Superman was someone else."

She'd already worked out that that was the case. But it was still good to be told. Of course, what that meant was exactly what she'd suspected: *Clark* was attracted to her, and he was admitting it. She was pretty sure that he realised exactly what he was saying, and she wondered whether he expected some sort of admission in return. But then she stole another look at his averted face, and decided that he didn't. He seemed embarrassed at his disclosure, and she guessed that he'd only made it to set the record straight.

To spare him further embarrassment, she didn't respond, but she hoped that by not moving away from him or taking his hand away he would understand that she wasn't troubled by what he'd said. But she was going to have to tell him, at some point, that she just wanted to be friends with him and no more.

And she was going to have to convince herself that all she wanted was to be his friend, she admitted silently…

She changed the subject, to spare both of them embarrassment. "I'm sorry for breaking into your apartment," she told him, feeling a little guilty that Clark had been doing all the apologising when she was well aware that she'd done things she wasn't proud of either. "I shouldn't have done that."

He gave her a wry smile. "Thanks. I was kind of upset about that. It's not that you're not welcome at my place — of course you are! And now that you know everything, I'll even give you a key if you want, so you won't have to search for my spare key again." He raised an eyebrow at her, clearly teasing. Then he sighed and added, "It's just that if you hadn't let yourself in without my knowledge, I'd have been able to tell you everything myself — like I wanted to."

Lois marvelled at this further evidence of Clark's trust in her. He was willing to give her free run of his home, his own private space. Knowing how protective she was of her own privacy, how rare it was that she actually allowed other people inside her apartment, she felt privileged again. Not commenting, she instead raised their interlinked hands slightly and smiled.

Again, they sat, not speaking, for several minutes.

"There's something else," Clark broke the silence by saying. "That kiss. It was a mistake, and I'm sorry."

Lois jerked upright and stared at him. That kiss — that fantastic, mind-blowing, stunning, overwhelming, wonderful kiss — was a *mistake*?

A red flush stole across Clark's face as he looked back at her, and Lois was taken aback. Superman was capable of blushing?

"I… ah, I didn't mean that the way it sounded," he amended. "It was a mistake, because it shouldn't have happened then. Not before you knew the truth about me. Like you said, by doing that I made you think that you were married to one man and playing around with another. And I never would have wanted to do that to you. So it was a mistake. It happened under false pretences."

He looked down at their linked hands again, then added, "I can't regret kissing you, Lois. It was… one of the most special experiences of my life. But I do regret the timing."

Her breath catching in her throat, Lois knew she had to be honest in return. "It… was pretty incredible, Clark. But…"

"But the timing was all wrong, and I shouldn't assume that, just because you enjoyed it too and because you've forgiven me for deceiving you, I can repeat the experiment any time I want." He gave her a faint smile. "Don't worry. I understand. And anyway, we've got too many complications in our relationship already without me trying to introduce more."

At her puzzled look, he added, "Remember, you're still married to Superman, and unless we get a very quick final decision from the INS you're going to have to stay married to him for quite a while yet."

"True," Lois acknowledged. "But now that I know who Superman really is, I think I can cope with that." She grinned at him, and he grinned back.

"Hey," she said then. "The late news is on now — want to see if there've been any developments?"

"Might as well," Clark agreed, getting up to turn on the TV. The news headlines were just starting on LNN, and the next item caught both reporters' attention. Pete Adams had submitted his resignation as head of news content.

A statement from the editorial board of LNN regretted the tactics of the Daily Planet in somehow getting hold of documents by means which could only be underhand. Such use of stolen documents, the statement ran, did not reflect well on the standards of journalism observed by the Planet. Nevertheless, Mr Adams' wrongdoing had been exposed, and he had immediately tendered his resignation. Since Mr Adams had been working alone, and out of some personal hostility to Superman, it was not necessary for LNN to take any further action.

"Working alone?!" Lois expostulated. "What a bare-faced lie!"

"I know," Clark agreed with a sigh. "But, you know, I'm not surprised. And I bet you anything you like that Luthor manages to escape blame for bribing Wilson too. A guy like that doesn't let anything stick to him — he's rich enough to be able to buy anyone off."

"I guess you're right." Lois sighed. "I just hoped we might have done enough to make someone finger him."

"Yeah." Clark sighed again. He removed his hand from hers. "Want more coffee? Then I should go."

***

In the kitchen, Clark was glad of the opportunity of a few moments alone; it was difficult to reflect while he was sitting so close to Lois and she was holding his hand.

Their conversation had gone far better than he'd hoped, especially considering that he'd so completely misread Lois the previous day. When she'd already been on the point of accepting his reasons for not telling her sooner, even if she wasn't happy about it, he'd added insult to injury by yelling at her and accusing her of bearing unjustified grudges.

Her reputation of Mad Dog Lane wasn't wholly deserved, it seemed.

Not that Clark had ever believed that Lois really deserved that nomenclature. She might be ruthless in pursuit of a story, and impatient with colleagues who didn't come up to her high standards of efficiency and professionalism, but he'd known right from the first week that she also possessed a strong loyal streak, and a sense of fairness and compassion. And that was no surprise to him. If Lois hadn't possessed those positive points, he was sure that he wouldn't have fallen in love with her so quickly, and so lastingly.

He was very sure about the latter. He loved Lois Lane, and it was not a temporary infatuation. It wasn't just lust, either; if that was the case, he wouldn't be quite so concerned over her general well-being. And he wouldn't be content to relax in her company as they worked together, watched TV together, whatever. Instead, he'd be pushing for more. Not that he didn't want more, but he didn't want to push for it — not when it would so clearly scare her off. And anyway, 'more' wasn't the only thing he wanted from her.

He was in love with Lois Lane. And so, however long it took, he was going to try to make her fall in love with him.

She was already attracted to him, of that he was sure. There were so many indications: her attitude to Superman and her attempt to make their marriage more than just a paper one, for a start. Then there was their kiss, a kiss which was permanently emblazoned on his memory, he was sure. Lois had not been an unwilling partner in that kiss, not at all. It had definitely been mutual, and she had been touching him, encouraging him, mutely pleading for more every bit as much as he had. And her reaction when he'd finally broken away hadn't been to say that it should never have happened; instead, she'd suggested that, if she'd been free, she would want to pursue a relationship with him.

Now, it was clear that the barriers were going up again; she might have been the one to join their hands properly, and she might have snuggled up to him with her head on his shoulder, but it was obvious that this didn't represent encouragement to him to move their relationship on. He'd seen the relief in her expression when he'd brought that subject out into the open and assured her that he had no intention of trying. And yet she'd also looked hurt when he'd said that the kiss had been a mistake, which told him that even if she wasn't ready for more she certainly didn't regret their kiss.

So, Lois was skittish about relationships.

He was sure that this conclusion was the correct one. And it wouldn't be too surprising. He'd already been apprised by several of the newsroom gossips — despite his efforts to shut them up — that another of Lois's nicknames was the Ice Maiden. No-one claimed that she was a virgin — well, several people seemed to know a version of the Claude story, though their version was somewhat different to that which Lois had told. But she had been described by a couple of people as frigid and a man-hater.

Those were two things Clark had absolutely no doubt were untrue. But the fact that people — however ill-intentioned — thought that about Lois clearly indicated that she had some sort of difficulty with relationships. And Clark was convinced that her hostility, revealed in her sharp put-down to him in their first week when he'd made his interest clear, and also in her disparaging references to men and love, masked a deep legacy of hurt.

Lois had been badly hurt by men she'd trusted, and she was unwilling to take the risk of being hurt again. That being the case, Clark would have to take things slowly, to prove to her that he would be the one man in her life who would not hurt her. It was entirely possible that she had trusted him not to hurt her, before, and that now she knew how he'd deceived her she'd decided that, after all, he couldn't be trusted. It definitely wasn't the time to tell her that he loved her. That, he was sure, would send her running, scared, in the opposite direction.

He could wait. For Lois Lane, he would wait as long as it took. And in any case, it was clear that they could do nothing for the moment. She was still officially married to Superman, and so any closer relationship with Clark Kent was out of the question. It would be too easy for either of them to say or do something indiscreet in public, and then the cat would be among the pigeons.

He would wait.

***

"Clark! You have to come and see this!"

Shaken out of his introspection by Lois's urgent shout, Clark quickly walked back into the living-room. Lois was gesturing wildly at the TV, and Clark turned to see Senator Wilson outside his house, facing banks of reporters.

"It's a press conference — dunno why Perry didn't call us, but I see he's sent Matthew," she explained.

"…a result, I am now announcing my resignation from the Senate," the senator was saying. "The Ethics Committee will certainly wish to continue its investigation, and I will co-operate fully in every respect. However, since I shall be informing the Ethics Committee that the Daily Planet's revelations are in most respects correct, it does not seem right that I should continue as an elected representative."

"But who was bribing him?" Lois yelled at the screen. Clark stood behind her, daring to place his hand on her shoulder. She didn't move away, so he assumed that she didn't mind the renewed contact.

"Who paid you the money to vote against the construction bill?" one of the reporters asked; Lois muttered a stifled "Yes!" in response.

"I cannot answer that question without the individual concerned giving me permission," the senator said stiffly. "I am hoping that he will make his own statement on the issue very soon."

"What about Superman? Why were you exerting pressure on the INS? Why did you compare Superman to Hitler?" That was Matt from the Planet. "Was someone paying you to do that, as well?"

Wilson shook his head in what looked to Clark like an over-exaggerated gesture. "No, that is an entirely separate issue, and the Daily Planet's insinuations here are completely inaccurate, as I hope you will convey to Mr Kent and Superman's wife. My views about the alien entity are entirely my own business, and I believe that I have as much right as any other citizen to express them. I will concede, as I will also tell the Ethics Committee, that I may have exerted undue influence on the INS, but the suggestion that someone else was persuading me to do so is outrageous and cannot be supported."

"Like hell it's outrageous!" Lois exclaimed. "We know Luthor was paying him."

"I know," Clark agreed. "But like I said, we're not going to be able to prove it. Luthor's too clever and too slippery to get caught on something like this."

"You think that some fall-guy is going to confess to bribing Wilson, don't you?" Lois suggested.

"Yeah, I do. And whoever it is will pay the penalty, and then when he gets out of prison he'll retire somewhere with a nice little pay-off."

"You're pretty cynical, Clark," Lois observed, sounding surprised. "When I first met you, I thought you were so incredibly naive!"

He grinned, a little ruefully given the circumstances. "Well, if my tendency to try to see good in everyone makes me naive… I just tend to think of that as being an optimist."

"You see good in Lex Luthor?" Lois enquired, with a sardonic lift of an eyebrow.

Clark thought for a long moment. "Well, he is a snappy dresser," he said with a lop-sided grin. Then he laughed shortly, without humour. "Luthor is probably the one person whose positive points I can't manage to see," he answered dryly. "And, yes, I know I still have to tell you about that. And I will. But not tonight," he added. "It's pretty late, and I really should get going. I need to fly a patrol of the city, apart from anything else."

"What time do you have to be in DC tomorrow?" Lois asked, getting up.

"Ten," Clark answered. "Don't worry, I'll tell you when I'm leaving, and you're the first person I'll talk to when I get back!"

"What do you think it's about?" she asked.

He gave her a crooked smile. "I really don't know. I mean, sure, I have some ideas, but I really don't want to speculate."

"You sound a little nervous," Lois said, sounding concerned.

"I guess I am, a little. I mean, the President of the United States has asked to see me! Even without wondering just what he wants with Superman, it's pretty awe-inspiring. I know I've met a couple of important people since becoming Superman, but this is on a different scale." He gave an embarrassed laugh. "Okay, you can tell me I'm being silly now."

"I wouldn't do that," Lois said immediately. "I know how I felt when I got to meet the President — not Garner, it was his predecessor. He was in Metropolis for a couple of meetings, and Perry set it up for me to interview him. And even though I'd prepared thoroughly and I knew exactly what I wanted to ask, I still had a crisis of confidence when I realised that I was actually in the same room as the most powerful man on Earth!

They laughed together, then Clark gestured towards the window again, reminding her that he needed to leave. She nodded and turned to walk over with him. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "You know, now that you know about me and you're happy with it… would you like to come to Smallville for dinner with my folks soon? My mom would love to meet you — she's wanted to ever since I told her about our marriage, even though she knows the truth about it. And I know she'd love a chance to talk to someone who knows everything about me."

He saw Lois hesitate, and wondered if he'd pushed too hard. But she smiled a little shyly and nodded. "Yeah, I think I'd like that. You haven't told me much about your parents, but I like the sound of what I've heard. And you've met my parents — believe me, *nothing* can be that bad!"

Clark grinned. "Yeah, that was quite an experience!"

He paused by the window and spun quickly into his Suit again. Lois came closer, and reached out her hand to touch his upper arm lightly. "Thanks again for rescuing me, Clark. And for being so honest about everything tonight — it did help."

He gave her a lop-sided smile. "Hey, how could I not rescue you? Especially as you'd never have been kidnapped in the first place if it hadn't been for me!" He covered her hand with his. "Thanks for being so understanding. I'm… very pleased that we've sorted everything out."

She was gazing up at him, her expression radiating liking and… something more. The scene was so like the night she'd tried to kiss him, and yet it couldn't have been more different. He returned her gaze, and his hand shifted, almost without his realising it, from her arm to cup her face.

She seemed to turn her face into his hand, and he sensed, rather than saw, her step closer to him. Impelled by something he couldn't even describe, he lowered his head and brushed his mouth across hers. At once, a sensation almost like electricity seemed to crackle between them, and he drew back momentarily. But she whimpered a faint protest, so he came back for another taste.

This time, her lips opened beneath his, and he took advantage of the greater access to nibble lightly at her lower lip before stroking it with his tongue. Her hands went to his chest, lying flat in a caress as she moved closer still to him, mutely encouraging him to deepen the kiss.

Then she pulled away suddenly, breathing heavily and avoiding his gaze.

"Lois?" He reached tentatively for her, trying to squash down his urgent desire to yank her straight back into his arms and tell her he loved her. Had he overstepped the mark? Frightened her off?

She raised her gaze again, and he saw a combination of longing and regret in her expression.

"That… shouldn't have happened," she said, but even her tone was regretful. "It was… good, but… Clark, I'm not ready for anything like that."

"I know," he said softly. "Maybe we both aren't."

"Just friends?" she asked; her eyes were pleading.

"Sure," he agreed. "But you won't stop me hoping…"

That made her smile. "I'm not sure I want you to stop hoping."

That gave him far more reason to hope than he'd dared dream of. He smiled, relieved, and reached out to stroke her hair lightly. "Sleep well, Lois."

***

After closing the window, Lois walked almost in a daze towards her bedroom. She touched her lips, bemused, as she went, wondering just how that had happened. Except that she knew how it had happened! How could she have gazed at Clark, touched him like that, only minutes after telling him that she just wanted to be friends?

She'd virtually been pleading with him to kiss her. Who could blame him for taking her up on the invitation? And the kiss had been good… better than good, she admitted.

But there was more to a relationship than kissing. And she wanted much more from any man she decided to get involved with than skill at lovemaking, even though Clark seemed to possess that in abundance. Yes, she was very attracted to him. Yes, if he'd scooped her up in his arms and floated them into her bedroom, she might not have had the willpower to stop him. But she didn't want that from Clark. Not now. Not yet.

Maybe not ever.

But maybe…

Maybe, just maybe, Clark was that one man she could trust — even though he'd lied to her. After all, she understood why he'd done it, and she accepted that, although he should have told her the truth sooner, he did want to, and he'd tried to. Maybe, by rejecting him as more than a friend, she was cutting herself off from something very special.

Lois had told herself on many occasions that she didn't believe in love. But, deep inside, she knew that wasn't true. She believed in love all right; that was why she sat in bed late at night sometimes crying over old romantic weepies, and why she had a secret stash of classic and contemporary romantic novels under her bed. A good Jane Austen, or better still, a Bronte, never ceased to hold her attention.

And, deep down, she still hoped to meet the one man who could sweep her off her feet and promise undying love. She'd thought that man had arrived when Superman appeared on the scene; it had taken marriage to Superman to show her that he wasn't exactly a perfect man on a pedestal. She'd had to undergo some readjustment, but during that dinner date and again the next morning she'd felt that she was beginning to know — and love — the real man.

But Superman was Clark… and therefore Clark was Superman.

And, she admitted slowly as she undressed, before she'd been so abruptly confronted with the truth she *had* been in danger of falling in love with Clark too. Then there had been that explosive kiss… and another tonight.

Falling in love with Clark wouldn't be difficult, she admitted. She was more than half-way in love with him already.

And she'd already taken one scary step, she remembered as she climbed into bed. Clark had told her that he wouldn't stop hoping for more.

And she'd told him that she wasn't sure she wanted him to.

So…

She closed her eyes and, smiling involuntarily, decided that what would be, would be.

***

Clark flew in low over Lafayette Park, pausing in mid-air to appreciate his first close-up view of the White House. It was an even more impressive edifice in reality, and he had to catch his breath in the realisation that he was about to enter the most important building in the country, and meet the man Americans regarded as the most important person in the world.

At school, he and his classmates had been shown a video about the White House, highlighting the principal features such as the Grand Entrance, the Vermeil Room, the State Dining Room and so on. If he had time, he would love to spend a couple of hours looking around, seeing the beautiful, historic building close up. But his appointment with the President was approaching, and he suspected that Lois might kill him if he didn't return to Metropolis immediately afterwards to tell her all about it.

He'd been told to report to the West Wing entrance, which meant the north-west appointment gate, so he dropped down to the ground along Pennsylvania Avenue. People walking by stopped and stared, and Clark wished that he could get over the feeling of self-consciousness he still experienced when he was in the public view in the Suit.

He was expected, and was quickly taken through the security check and escorted up to the West Wing, where he was greeted at the entrance by a senior aide. From there, he was taken — with White House staff stopping work and watching him as he passed — to Sinclair Barrett's office. The Chief of Staff greeted him efficiently, but not without some apparent curiosity. Clark asked why he'd been sent for, but was told that the President preferred to broach the subject himself.

So he waited.

At exactly five minutes past ten, a phone buzzed; Barrett then gestured to him. "The President is ready for you now."

A few more steps, and then Clark was walking into the Oval Office, his cape swishing behind him. President Garner strode across, hand outstretched.

"Superman! Thank you for coming to see us. And it's a pleasure to meet you! If I may, I would like to welcome you formally to the United States, on behalf of the US people."

"It's a pleasure and an honour to meet you, Mr President," Clark answered, accepting the president's hand.

"Please sit down. We haven't got very long, but it's very important, I think, that we have this conversation, Superman," the president said, his manner businesslike. "I want you to tell me what it is you do, and what you see your role as being."

So, at last, he was formally being taken to task by the US government for his activities, Clark thought. He'd wondered on and off since becoming Superman whether anyone in officialdom would have a problem with what he did, but other than the INS no-one had seemed to be in any way interested.

"I can do all sorts of things humans can't," Clark explained. "I'm very strong, and very fast, and I can see through things, as well as seeing and hearing things from long distances away. I'm also invulnerable, and I can fly. As to my role, well… insofar as I have a role, I want to help. Because I have all these abilities, I can go places and do things that humans can't. So I can go into a burning building and carry people out. I can hold up collapsed structures so that the emergency services can rescue people. And I can fly faster than a speeding bullet, which has come in useful once or twice," he finished dryly.

"So I guess I've sort of become a one-man emergency service. And I'm willing to help wherever and whenever I'm needed, if that's what people want."

"Well, I think the polls are showing that people very much approve of what you do, Superman," the president answered. "And I should add that I owe you a debt of thanks too. You stopped a plane from crashing a week ago; well, the First Lady's cousin was on that flight, and you probably saved her life."

"I'm just glad to be of help," Clark said, apparently casually, though he was still wondering just what all this was about. It seemed that it wasn't quite the inquisition he'd feared when the president had asked the initial question.

"Well, anyway," the president continued, "You'll be wondering why I wanted to see you. And it's not just so I can tell you what a magnificent job you're doing, though I will anyway. It's because of this darned INS scandal. I have to tell you, I'm pretty annoyed about it all."

"I… uh, it's all turned out to be quite a shock, Mr President," Clark managed to say, not wanting to give any indication of his real anger at his treatment.

"That's putting it mildly, Superman! Let's just say that it's just as well Barry Wilson decided to resign yesterday. He's saved us the trouble of having him booted out of the party."

"It's a shame. From what I can tell, he was a good representative once, but taking money for political favours is a shameful thing to do." Clark couldn't resist getting one dig at Wilson; even though he was more than convinced that all fault lay on Lex Luthor's side, the soon-to-be ex-senator hadn't had to accept Luthor's dirty money.

"It's more than a shame. It's a darned disgrace!" the president almost exclaimed. "But I'm getting away from the point here, Superman. The reason I wanted to speak to you is that I thought you've been put through enough by our system of government, and I wanted to tell you myself that you and your very talented wife won't need to suffer through another INS investigation."

Clark frowned, barely daring to hope that his immediate interpretation of the president's words was correct. "We won't?"

President Garner shook his head. "No."

***

"…And that's when he said it, Lois," Clark said, finishing his recap of events back at the Planet, still in his Superman guise and doing his best to ignore the curious stares of their colleagues. "It's all over — we've beaten the INS!"

"Beaten Lex Luthor, you mean," Lois muttered, but her shining eyes told her how pleased she was. "So you're safe?"

"Looks like it." Clark just couldn't stop grinning broadly as he watched Lois's obvious delight at his news.

Then his attention was caught by a voice he'd heard only a few minutes earlier, now on the newsroom TV screens, and he nudged Lois. She turned, then immediately yelled across the newsroom, "Hey! Somebody turn that up!"

The live news report showed President Garner standing in the White House press room, speaking apparently extempore to the cameras. He talked briefly about his disappointment in Senator Wilson, and about the regrettable loss of faith in a vital service such as the INS which must undoubtedly result from the recent disclosures.

"This is why," the president continued, "I have asked Sinclair Barrett, the White House Chief of Staff, to organise and supervise an investigation into how proper procedures were suborned so that individuals could pursue their own personal agendas with respect to a high-profile applicant. I also want a review of hiring procedures, so that no-one with such prejudiced views as Agent West can get past our checks and balances again."

The president paused, looking directly at the camera, allowing viewers to see his degree of anger at what had happened. Then he began speaking again.

"Then there is the question of Superman, who is the injured party in all of this. He might have entered the country illegally, and he might not have made any attempt to regularise his immigration status in his first couple of weeks here, but it must also be remembered that he is not from our planet and may not be familiar with our procedures. His omission may in the circumstances be considered excusable. His treatment at the hands of a US government agency is not."

The president paused to take a sip of water, then continued. "In any case, our immigration rules are in place for specific purposes. One of those purposes is to protect our citizens from abuse of our country's benefits and hospitality by those who would take unfair advantage of them, for example by committing criminal acts or by being a drain on our nation's resources. Superman, however, has conspicuously not committed any criminal offences — in fact, quite the opposite. In addition, there is no evidence that he has been taking advantage of taxpayers' generosity."

Another pause, during which Clark, even though he was well aware of what the president was about to say, held his breath until the president resumed speaking. "Since his arrival on our planet, in our country, Superman has used his incredible talents only for good. He has saved many lives, prevented countless disasters, and more generally given our people reason to believe once again that there is good in the world. Superman gives our nation hope, and he deserves our nation's gratitude."

Another dramatic pause, then the president concluded his speech. "Superman might not have been born a US citizen, but he is a US citizen in every way but birth. We should be proud to have him among us. I was very proud, just this morning, to shake his hand and welcome him to our country. And today this great nation shows its gratitude that Superman has chosen to make his home among us. I therefore decree, by Presidential order, that Superman is now an honorary US citizen, with all the rights of citizenship should he choose to exercise them. I am sure that Congress will be pleased to ratify this order in due course."

The newsroom staff started cheering and applauding loudly, trying to catch his eye and shouting, "Way to go, Superman!"

Lois murmured, "That'll add at least ten points to his personal rating!" but Clark could see that she was just as pleased as he was. Their gazes met, and suddenly they were hugging. She drew back a little and stared up at him, and simultaneously he lowered his head and kissed her.

It was just a brief kiss, but it was intense; Clark could feel sharp longings inside him at the taste of her lips. And he was sure that she felt something similar; her pulse had quickened and her temperature was rising.

But this was the newsroom, and even if he'd felt the time was right to take the kiss further, to persuade Lois that they could be more than friends, the place was utterly wrong. Reluctantly, he drew back, seeing a regret in her eyes similar, he thought, to that which he felt himself.

"Congratulations, Superman!" Jimmy yelled, coming over.

"Thank you, Jimmy," Clark answered, taking the young man's hand and realising that he'd just acquired the status of hero-worship in his colleague's eyes, simply by showing that he knew Jimmy's name.

Perry White approached and offered his congratulations as well, adding that if Superman wanted to go and celebrate his new status with his wife, Lois could have the rest of the day off.

"Are you kidding, Chief?" Lois exclaimed. "When there's all this to write up?"

"Oh, Clark can do that!" Perry said with a casual gesture. "You two kids should celebrate."

"It's okay, Mr White — I have things I need to do anyway," Clark said quickly, then took Lois's arm and drew her over towards the window.

"I'll be back in a minute as Clark," he said softly. "You're right, we have a lot to do. But, you know, this means we need to talk; tonight, maybe? I'm more grateful than I can tell you for what you've done for me, and for what you were willing to do, but we don't need to pretend any more. So we need to talk about organising the divorce, and how we can play it publicly."

***

Lois walked back to her desk as if an automaton. She'd known, of course, that her marriage to Superman would end as soon as he was no longer in any danger from the INS, but she hadn't expected it to happen so soon.

And, given the events of the past few days, she hadn't expected to feel so depressed about it.

It was crazy. Superman didn't even exist as a separate entity, and she didn't want to be married to Clark, so where was the problem?

And yet, she couldn't seem to drag herself out of this miserable state. It felt as if something important was ebbing away from her, something she should be trying to hold onto, but that she just couldn't find a way to keep.

It was crazy. She wasn't losing Superman! Now that she knew the truth, she was going to get to know Superman far better than she'd ever imagined. Clark was Superman, and he'd shown no reluctance at all to discuss anything about his real self with her. He'd already promised her that she could have one evening, very soon, in which he would answer any questions she had about him, and he'd teased her that very morning, when he'd brought her coffee, about her love of flying with him and promised to take her flying again very soon.

She believed that Clark meant his promises, and she had every reason to believe that they would be good friends.

So why did the thought of ending a marriage which had never really existed send her into such a state of misery?

***

Clark, on his return, noticed Lois's abstraction and withdrawn state, but thought better of enquiring into it. They were very new friends still, after all, and he didn't want to appear too pushy. Instead, he resolved to give her an enjoyable evening; now that Superman was a US citizen and would soon even have a passport to prove it, he could take Lois anywhere in the world she wanted to go.

In the meantime, they had a number of loose ends to tie up in respect of their various stories: Philip West, for example, was now under arrest and being charged with unlawful abduction among a range of other offences related to corruption, perversion of procedures and inciting xenophobia. Senator Wilson — he still held the title until his replacement was named, though there were rumours that the Governor of New Troy intended to make an announcement that very afternoon — now faced an inquiry into his finances and possible criminal charges related to the taking of bribes. And the identity of his briber was still unknown.

"Not that we, and several other people, don't know who it is," Lois muttered as they wrote that section of their article.

"I know, but you wait and see — there'll be a fall-guy," Clark argued; and later that afternoon he was proved right when a senior manager at Luthor Construction issued a press statement to 'confess' to paying Barry Wilson several large sums of money to influence his vote on the construction bill.

Luthor Construction responded immediately with a press statement regretting the actions of its employee, whose employment was terminated forthwith, and whom they would be pursuing for the return of company monies used improperly. The company's statement also indicated that Luthor Construction would co-operate fully with any ensuing police investigation, and that it sincerely regretted any distress caused to anyone as a result of its employee's unauthorised action.

"Unauthorised my foot!" Lois snorted as she finished reading the statement.

"Hell, Lois, I don't believe it any more than you do, but what choice have we got?" Perry said; he'd come over to join the two reporters as they worked at Clark's desk.

"Not a lot, Chief," Clark acknowledged, not taking any pleasure at all in the knowledge that he'd been correct in his surmise.

As Perry walked away, Lois commented, "So, you were right. We're not going to get Luthor over this."

"Nope." Clark inhaled sharply and made a couple of jottings, ideas for their final wrap-up story about Superman's status. He was far more upset at letting Luthor escape scot-free than he was allowing himself to show; knowing that the businessman was at the bottom of all the horrible stuff he'd had thrown at him over the past couple of weeks was making him extremely angry and bitter.

But bitterness wouldn't get him anywhere. Perhaps anger would, he thought, but only if it was very controlled anger. He couldn't afford to let his anger against Lex Luthor take over his instincts; Luthor would only use it against him in that case. It wasn't going to be easy to take Luthor down, but Clark fully intended that, one day, he would do it. Whether it was as Superman, or as Clark Kent of the Planet, was immaterial; he would prove Luthor to be the villain that he was.

"Promise me something, Clark." Lois's voice interrupted his thoughts.

"What?"

"Once we get Perry to team us up as permanent partners, we're going to go after Luthor. And we're not going to let it go until we prove that he's evil," she said, sounding angry but determined.

"Sounds good to me," Clark agreed.

"And you'll tell me all about what he did to Superman," she added.

"Of course. Tonight?"

At that mention, Lois's expression changed; now she looked withdrawn again, and Clark wondered just what he'd said. But after a moment, she nodded. "Yeah. Tonight."

***

Superman stood, looking strong and imposing, just inside her living-room. But he smiled at her as he said, "Where would you like to go tonight, Lois? Anywhere in the world — your choice."

But she shook her head. "You said we've a lot to talk about. Wouldn't it be easier just to stay at home — here, or at your place?"

Clark looked momentarily thoughtful, but then said, "We don't have to do like we did when we went to Milan, Lois. We had to be in the public eye. But we can go anywhere you like and when we get there I'll be Clark, not Superman."

Lois realised that she was using the discussion about where they would go as a means of avoiding, or at least delaying, the conversation which was to come. And that was simply ridiculous. They needed to discuss it. It would do neither of them any good to let things drag on unnecessarily. "Okay. So if you think we'll find anywhere to eat at British time, I'd like to go to Oxford."

"Oxford? England?" Clark seemed a little surprised.

"Yeah. The dreaming spires and all that. Some of my favourite writers went to Oxford."

"What, Tolkien, CS Lewis, and people like that?"

Surprised that he'd so quickly leapt to some of the names she was thinking of — yet another clue that they were on a similar wavelength in respect of so many things, Lois nodded. "Those, and others."

"I'll take you to Oxford another time, Lois," Clark added. "It'll be after eleven over there now, and it'll be dark. How about tonight I take you to an island in the Pacific? We can walk, and swim if you want, and talk in private."

That sounded good, Lois thought… too good — too *romantic* — a location to discuss the ending of a marriage. But then, she reminded herself, she'd already been telling herself that she was being far too sentimental about this. It wasn't a real marriage. And since the purpose behind it was no longer present, it made sense for them to dissolve it.

So she allowed Clark to scoop her up and fly out into the autumn evening with her. It was just about dusk, but this time Lois couldn't bring herself to be fascinated by the sight of the city lights below them; somehow, she just couldn't stop herself dwelling on a relationship which was coming to an end.

The journey south was, therefore, travelled in silence, only broken when Clark finally bent his head to say, "How about dinner in Cancun? Then we'll find somewhere private to talk."

Real Mexican food sounded good, Lois thought, so she agreed to the suggestion, and a few minutes later they were walking into a little cantina some way out of the tourist district. Clark always seemed to know just where to go to find the best places, she mused. And this was good; the decor was plain and the tables covered in cheap plastic cloths, but the food looked and smelled excellent.

Once their meal, a platter of tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas to share, had arrived, Clark — now dressed in black jeans and a sweater — said, "You wanted to know why Superman was suspicious of Lex Luthor."

So this was to be business. "Yes, what's that all about?"

She listened in appalled incredulity to the story of how Luthor had been testing Superman about three weeks ago, a bare week since the Super-hero had first been seen in Metropolis. "But people could have been killed!" she exclaimed at last, careful to keep her voice low.

"Yeah, I know," Clark agreed. "But I doubt that would have bothered Luthor. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if he was behind the Messenger sabotage either, and the murders of Samuel Platt, Commander Latterman and maybe even Antoinette Baines."

"What makes you think that?" Lois asked, surprised. "It's not that I don't believe you; it just seems kind of a long shot."

"Think about it — who stood to gain if the Prometheus project failed, Lois?" Clark answered her with another question. "Remember the White Orchid Ball?"

Oh, she remembered that all right; asking Clark to come as a last resort because none of her other male acquaintances were available and she couldn't quite face the thought of bringing Jimmy as her partner. And even then she hadn't been able to ask him properly — though he'd known exactly what she was up to, and he'd almost made her beg. She'd deserved it, though.

And then she'd been annoyed with him for interrupting her dance with Lex Luthor — although given the predatory way Luthor had been looking at her, it had probably been no bad thing. And despite his half-promises, Luthor had never followed through on that interview.

That was something she would have to pursue, she resolved. First thing tomorrow morning, she'd call Luthor's personal assistant again. After all, if Lane and Kent were going to investigate him, it made sense to interview him first.

"Yes, I remember," she told Clark. "Space Station Luthor. You're right; he did have a motive."

"Not that it'll be easy able to prove," Clark mused aloud. "You willing to try, Lois?"

"You bet! And is Superman willing to go public about the tests?"

Clark hesitated then. "I don't know. Luthor never actually admitted it. All he said, when I challenged him, was 'Let the games begin'. And that doesn't prove anything — the Planet's lawyers would never accept that as evidence."

"Then we'll just have to get him another way," Lois resolved.

***

Clark touched down lightly on the soft sand, sliding Lois to her feet a moment later. It was almost sunset on the little island in the Pacific, and the sky was a glorious mix of reds and golds and blues. Lois stood beside him, her hand still on his arm even though she no longer needed his support, clearly as rapt as he in the glory of the natural spectacle in front of them.

Finally, as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, he touched her arm. "Want to walk?"

She nodded. "Will my shoes be okay if I leave them here, do you think?"

"Should be fine. I'll leave mine as well." They removed their footwear and rolled up their trousers — "I can dry your feet in seconds if you want to paddle," Clark promised — and began to walk, side by side but not touching.

He could tell that Lois was troubled about something. She'd talked animatedly enough in the cantina, about Lex Luthor and how they were going to investigate him and make every effort to pin something on him which would stick. She'd told him about other investigations she'd been involved in, in which she'd managed to put criminals away.

But, as soon as they'd left the cantina and gone into a dark alley so that he could spin into his Super-suit again, she'd fallen silent.

He wished he had a clue as to what was bothering her. At least then he could try, somehow, to help. His only guess was that it must have to do with their relationship, or the marriage; they'd agreed that they needed to talk about it. But, since it was obvious that they had to arrange a divorce, and since he knew very well that Lois had no wish to be married to him — in whichever guise — he couldn't figure out why that should bother her in any way.

Before he could venture a question about her mental state, she spoke.

"Okay, so we need to talk about getting a divorce, right?"

Clark was taken aback by the bluntness of her attitude; her tone was harsh, and her stance quite definitely screamed 'let's get this over with'. But if she wanted it that way, who was he to argue with her?

"I've done some looking into things," he said slowly. "We have to get divorced in New Troy, because that's where we're both resident. And luckily New Troy has no-fault divorce, so we don't have to dream up some plausible reason for the court."

"You mean Superman doesn't have to accuse me of infidelity with Clark Kent, or something like that?" Lois retorted; Clark blinked and turned to stare at her. She was looking flushed, as if she'd only just realised the implication of what she'd said. Obviously her feelings about that kiss, before she'd known who he was, still preyed on her mind.

"No, nothing like that," he said quickly, ignoring his own response to her sarcastic suggestion. "Of course, we'll need a reason for public consumption, and I'm working on that. Don't worry, we'll discuss it before we issue any kind of statement! I'm trying to come up with something which won't look bad for either of us." He paused, then added, "In case you're wondering, I'd really prefer to file for a divorce — I know that technically we could file for an annulment, but I don't think it would look too good if it was publicly known that the marriage was never… uh, consummated." He avoided Lois's gaze as he finished.

"What, you don't want anyone to assume that Superman's incapable of — " Lois retorted, then stopped dead before she could finish her sentence.

"No! That's not it at all!" Clark defended himself. "Look, if we apply for an annulment, it's as good as telling everyone that the marriage was a fake all along, nothing more than a green card marriage. And, even though pretending otherwise is a lie and I hate lying as Superman, that's a truth I don't want to admit."

"Oh, okay." Lois's tone was colourless, which left Clark puzzled again. He couldn't make her out tonight; one minute she was behaving as if she couldn't wait for her marriage to Superman to be over, and she was sarcastic about Superman, and the next she seemed… upset at the thought of divorce.

Of course, her parents' marriage had ended in divorce; Clark wondered whether that had any effect on her reactions here. He had no way of knowing, but he was well aware that, if Lois thought he'd assumed anything about her motivation or feelings, she'd be furious. So he decided that it would be best to keep his thoughts about her parents to himself.

"There is one thing that bothers me," he said. "You're always going to be known as the woman Superman didn't want to stay married to, the one he divorced after only a couple of weeks of marriage." He looked at her then, his gaze troubled.

Lois shrugged, giving an appearance of unconcern, but Clark wasn't fooled. "You think it would look any better for me if we'd let the marriage run on for a couple of years? I'd still be Superman's reject," she suggested sardonically.

"Lois!" Clark glared at her. "Don't talk about yourself like that!"

"Why not?" She shrugged again. "It's what the tabloids will say."

"And we don't care what they say," Clark retorted. "I think the duration would make some difference — but I hope we can explain the divorce in a way that will stop some of the gossip."

"And of course Superman won't be marrying again, so there won't be any suggestion that I was being traded in for a newer model," Lois observed, and Clark could still detect a touch of sarcasm.

He ignored it, while still wondering what was bothering her. "No, that won't happen. And I promise you that if there's any suggestion at any time, Superman will make his feelings on the subject very clear."

But she stopped walking, turning to catch his arm. "That's not a good idea, Clark. I think it might be better if Superman takes the same attitude to the divorce as he did to the marriage — that it's private and he won't discuss it."

As much as Clark disliked the prospect of leaving Lois to the mercy of a possibly hostile — and certainly gossipy — media, he had to admit that she was right. "Okay. One initial press statement stating that he and you are getting divorced, with our agreed reason why, and that's it." He paused, then added, "When? I was thinking in about a couple of weeks."

"Sounds about right to me." Again, Lois's response was toneless, as if she was trying to present an attitude of 'couldn't care less', but wasn't succeeding. And suddenly, Clark was seized with the thought that it *did* matter to her. She really did hate the thought of being divorced by Superman, he realised.

Because her parents were divorced, and she didn't like the idea of following in their footsteps?

Or because… but no. She couldn't possibly want to stay married to Superman — especially when it wasn't a real marriage. The Lois he knew wasn't at all status-conscious; he couldn't see her simply wanting to be known as 'Mrs Superman'. In fact, he knew very well just how much that particular form of address irritated her. So she certainly couldn't want to stay in a fraudulent marriage to his alter ego for that reason.

Or did she want it to be a real marriage?

No, that was crazy. And anyway, she knew now that Superman was *him*, Clark, and she surely understood that it would be impossible to have a public relationship with the Super-hero while at the same time pretending that she and Clark were only friends. And he really didn't think, after their long discussion only the previous evening, that she wanted to separate out Superman from himself in her mind.

*And*, he reminded himself, she'd even told him that she didn't want him to give up hope that *they*, Lois and Clark, could be more than friends. Surely she understood that nothing like that could happen while she was publicly believed to be married to someone else? No, Lois knew that, he was sure.

So… why?

Some sort of nostalgia, or regret for the ending of a relationship which never really existed?

Or…

He caught his breath as another possibility occurred to him. What if her feelings for *him*, Clark, were more than she was letting on? After all, she had hinted, last night… and there had been that kiss, too. It wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility. And what if all the talk of divorce was making her feel as if their relationship was also coming to an end?

That was hard to believe, especially since he felt that he'd made his own feelings clear on the subject: that he wanted them to be friends; that he wanted more as well, if she was willing. But still… He supposed that the thought of divorce could seem upsetting, whether or not the relationship they were ending was genuine. It had a ring of finality which might not be welcome. And, since Lois had told him that she had trouble trusting people, maybe she thought, at the back of her mind, that she'd now outlived her usefulness for him?

He had no idea whether that was true or not. But there was only one way to test the hypothesis, or at least to show her it wasn't true…

Before he could think better of it, Clark reached out and captured Lois's hand, holding it firmly in his. "Okay. So we're agreed then," he said, continuing the conversation as if nothing strange had happened. Would she leave her hand in his?

She didn't pull away. Instead, after a few seconds her fingers curled around his. And he almost stopped breathing.

Okay, he thought when he'd recovered; that was a positive sign. Perhaps he needed to make it clear to her again that he definitely wanted them to remain friends… close friends. And maybe more. For now, though, he changed the subject completely, pointing out the very clear tropical night sky with its curtain of twinkling stars, commenting on the peacefulness of the atmosphere on the island and the beauty of a sky without big-city pollution getting in the way.

That made her defend Metropolis, of course, but in the course of the friendly argument she also seemed to relax more, to become the Lois he'd grown accustomed to in the couple of days before she'd found out his secret. And in the course of their friendly argument he managed to inform her that he intended to take her to several of his other favourite places in the world over the next few weeks; he hoped that would assure her that he very definitely considered her an important part of his life.

After a while, they came upon a piece of driftwood stuck by the edge of the ocean and, by mutual consent, they sat on it and dangled their feet in the water. After several minutes' silence, Clark said abruptly, "You know I'm an alien."

Why had he said that? He bit his lip, wondering what on earth had possessed him. He certainly hadn't intended to remind Lois of his origins, his differences. After all, he told himself sardonically, he was hoping to persuade her to accept him as a potential boyfriend. <Great move, Kent!> he castigated himself.

Lois raised an eyebrow at him. "I think I knew that, Clark," she said dryly. "What the heck have the past couple of weeks been about?"

"No, I mean *I'm* from another planet. *Me*. *Clark*," he clarified. "Not just Superman."

"Well, yeah, that figured," she said, laughing a little.

Clark hesitated, then decided to ask the question; if he didn't, after all, it would continue to bug him. "But doesn't it bother you? That I'm not human? That I'm from another planet?"

"Clark." Lois's voice was soft, but firm. "What if I was black? And I asked you if my skin colour bothered you? — if it made you not want to be my friend?"

"Lois!" He was appalled at the thought. "You have to know — "

"Yeah, I know it wouldn't matter a damn to you," she finished for him. "So why should this matter a damn to me?" she demanded. Then she reached out and caressed his face gently with her finger-tips. "You're *Clark*, and that's all that matters to me. You could be from Saturn or Pluto or Krypton or anywhere, and you'd still just be Clark. So forget all that offensive *crap* West and his xenophobic friends wrote! It's just not important."

Even as she spoke, Clark recognised that he had been letting some of the anti- alien stuff which had surfaced over the past week or so get to him. He'd tried to ignore it, and publicly he *had* ignored it. But some of it had hurt, more than he'd let on.

He brought up his hand to cover Lois's. "Thank you; I needed to hear that," he said huskily.

They sat in silence for several moments, then Lois said, "So, you Kryptonians are pretty much identical to humans, are you?"

Clark grinned. "Well, unless you count the powers."

"I think the powers make a difference, all right," Lois said with a grin. "I mean, I've never yet met an Earth guy who could boil water with his eyes. Now, I *burn* water, but that's kind of different."

"I guess it is. And, you know, I've never met a Kryptonian woman, but I doubt any of them could be as unique as you, Lois," he couldn't resist saying.

"Oh, they threw away the mould when they made me," she replied; her tone was light, but Clark could hear the self-criticism underneath it and he ached to hold her and tell her just how perfect she was in his eyes.

As he'd suspected just a few days earlier, Lois had never really felt the security of unconditional love. And that was why she was suspicious of everyone who claimed to care about her, who wanted to get close to her.

Instead of answering, he simply wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle hug.

And then it was time to fly her home.

Setting her down in her living-room not long after, Clark took a step backwards. "I had a good time tonight," he said softly. "I never realised before how wonderful it could be to take someone special — a friend, like you — to my favourite places. I'd like to do it again soon," he urged, both because he meant it and also to assure Lois yet again how much he wanted her to be a part of his life.

"I'd like that too," she admitted, blushing a little and ducking her head. Then she raised her gaze and gave him a challenging look. "You promised to take me to Oxford, don't forget!"

"And I will. Whenever we're both off for a couple of days at the same time next, okay? We can stay over, if you'd like. And I'll show you London as well if you want." He held her gaze with his, conveying again the silent message about her place in his life.

"That sounds great," she agreed. "Umm… Clark?"

"Yeah?"

"You're right about the divorce. We have to do it, and the sooner the better — it'd get too difficult to keep playing the game, now that I know who Superman really is. There'd be too much risk of someone misinterpreting something between us and assuming that I was playing around." She grimaced. "I guess I really don't like the idea of being the reject, the woman Superman abandoned after such a short time, but what else can we do?"

"Exactly," Clark agreed. "Believe me, Lois, I hate doing that to you too, and I'll try to come up with a statement which makes it clear that isn't the case. Of course, you could be the one doing the dumping, if you like!" he suggested suddenly. "I mean, if you want to suggest that Superman's unreliable, never home, neglectful, lousy in bed…" He grinned at her. "If that's what you'd prefer, I'll go along with it!"

Lois laughed, which pleased Clark; she'd clearly overcome her despondent mood of earlier. "No, you can't do that!" she exclaimed. "Superman's a hero! If I started saying anything like that, I'd get torn apart — they'd call me a crabby, demanding, nagging wife!"

"Okay, well, we'll work on it," he agreed, then noticed Lois struggling to conceal a yawn.

"It's time I went," he said, then he hesitated. He could just leave — maybe with a hug, or a kiss on her forehead, or a brush of his hand against her cheek; he knew that she wouldn't object to any of that.

Or he could take a chance and tell her how he really felt, in case she was still feeling insecure about her place in his life — and in case he'd been right in his guess earlier that she did have deeper feelings for him but was afraid to admit them.

He took a deep breath, then decided to go for it. "Lois, I know you told me last night that you have issues with trust," he began. "And I understand that. I know you need time, and I would never try to push for something you weren't ready for — if you ever will be. But while you're thinking about what you might want, there's something I want you to know."

"What?" She was looking wary now.

"I love you, Lois. I don't mean as a friend, though of course I love you in that way. I mean I love you in a forever, romantic, sexual way. I know you don't feel the same way about me, but I still wanted you to know that. And… if you decide you want to do something about that, I'll be here waiting."

And that was unconditional love, whether she believed it or not… Without waiting for a reply from her, he brushed her face very gently with his finger- tips, then turned to step out of the window into the night.

***

Lois stood at the windowsill for several minutes after she'd closed the window, completely stunned after Clark's parting declaration.

He *loved* her.

Clark Kent — Superman — was in love with her.

Well, that explained the way Superman had acted when she'd asked why he couldn't have a relationship with her, and when they'd gone to Milan for dinner! She'd *known* that his eyes were telling her more about his feelings than he was admitting, and now she had the proof.

And to have a man like Clark in love with her was incredible.

But she'd had men claim they loved her before. And they'd all betrayed her in one way or another. How could she possibly trust Clark not to do the same?

How could she not?

Sighing, she walked into her bedroom and sat down to remove her make-up. Images of Clark kept flooding her mind, though, and she couldn't concentrate on the mundane task. Clark *loved* her. And his kisses had the power to drive her insane…

But men were trouble…

She forced herself to focus, telling herself that she needed to be logical about this. What evidence was there that Clark would be reliable? What evidence did she have to suggest that he'd let her down?

He hadn't told her who he was, when he'd married her as Superman.

But he'd explained that, and she'd accepted his explanation. And she was very sure that he now trusted her completely with his secret. He'd shown her that over the last couple of days, telling her things about his origins and his powers that she knew he'd never told anyone else.

He had a tendency to think that he knew best, and to try to make decisions for her.

But then, he only did that when it was something he considered dangerous, and he was trying to protect her. Okay, she didn't want to be treated as something delicate and breakable, but she had to admit that it was very flattering, a charming aspect of Clark's behaviour up to a point. And anyway, he was no doubt more protective than most men because he was Superman. He was invulnerable, and he knew that she wasn't. He'd simply have to be re-educated to understand that she didn't need to be wrapped up in cotton wool.

And he ran off all the time… But that wasn't a flaw. He was running off to be Superman, and she could hardly complain about that! And, sure, being Clark's girlfriend, if she wanted that, would mean that she'd have to put up with being abandoned a lot, never sure that they could spend the whole day together when they were doing something special. It might be irritating, but how could she hold that against him when he was off saving lives? She could live with it, of course she could.

As for his good points, where should she start? He was kind, sympathetic, caring, an amusing companion, supportive, intelligent, knowledgeable, and many more good qualities besides. Plus, his kisses drove her wild…

He seemed incredibly intuitive at times. Like that evening; he'd somehow seemed to guess at her conflicted feelings over the divorce and, without ever saying anything, had done his best to reassure her that it didn't mean the end of their friendship. Instead, he'd told her, over and over, about places he wanted to take her and things he'd like them to do together, and had even said that he wanted to bring her to his special, private places… that had made her feel immensely privileged.

And, of course, there had been Saturday morning, when he'd defended her against her father. She'd been so touched by his support and understanding; no man she'd ever known before would have done that for her. Most men she'd introduced to her father were intimidated by him and allowed him to bully them. Not Clark. And she suspected that his behaviour would be the same whether or not he was in the Suit.

And yet, for all his quiet strength, he had insecurities too; that made Lois feel even more drawn towards him, she recognised. It made sense; if he was always supremely confident, completely sure of himself, she'd feel grossly inadequate next to him. She tried so hard to project an air of confidence in public, but in private she battled daily with her insecurities.

And so did Clark; his confession about his feelings about being alien had not only surprised her, it had touched something deep within her. Of course he was crazy to let it bother him, but she understood how these things tended to eat away inside. She hoped that her reassurance helped; she'd carry on reassuring him as much as he needed.

Clark was incredibly special, and she was honoured to be his friend.

But what was she going to do about his declaration of love?

It was very flattering, of course… No, it was far more than flattering, she admitted, remembering the thrill which had coursed through her at his words, and then his touch. She was very attracted to him, that was beyond doubt.

And… She cared about him. She wanted — no, *needed* to have him in her life. She needed to be a special part of his.

She'd been denying her feelings about Clark for long enough. She *did* want to be more than his friend.

But, of course, there was always the possibility that she was being carried away by sex. After all, Clark's kisses affected her in a way no other man's ever had. She'd always thought that kissing was over-rated… at least, until that first time she'd kissed Clark on board Trask's plane, as a ruse to distract the Bureau 39 agent. Pretend or not, that kiss had sent her senses reeling. And as for their first kiss in her apartment, she'd totally lost all sense of reason. Clark could have asked anything of her in that moment and she'd have willingly complied.

Which made her think of something else…

Clark had never tried to push his advantage with her. If he had, he'd certainly have succeeded given the way she'd reacted to him. But he hadn't. He'd ended their first kiss, clearly stricken with the guilty realisation that what they'd been doing was wrong. And when she'd broken their kiss last night, he hadn't tried to stop her.

He respected her enough to accept her decision. He hadn't tried to capitalise on his advantage and push for more. Unlike Claude; unlike her other boyfriends, who had always only had one objective in mind, Clark seemed anxious to respect her wishes. His goal seemed to be more long-term than a quick affair; how wrong she'd been when she'd accused him, in her thoughts, of just wanting to get her into bed.

He might have betrayed her trust once, but she reminded herself that she was already convinced that he wouldn't do it again. And he'd shown her, in so many other ways, that he could be trusted. And that he cared about her… no, *loved* her.

She'd long told herself that there wasn't a man born on this Earth who could be trusted.

But maybe she could trust the one who'd been born on Krypton…

***

Epilogue

"So, are you ready?"

Lois glanced nervously at Clark, who was in the Superman costume. "Ready as I'll ever be! How do you cope with being on the other side of the microphones?"

He pulled a face. "I don't! That's one thing I hate about being Superman. And if it was up to me I'd never do it. But the media don't give me a lot of choice sometimes."

She reached towards him and patted his chest. "You're pretty good at it. And anyway, once we get this over you shouldn't have to do it again for a while."

"Hope not." He covered her hand with his, and gave it a grateful squeeze.

This was it; the moment they'd been planning for ever since Clark had flown her to that Pacific island to discuss their divorce. They were about to announce the end of their marriage. And, although they'd planned every aspect of the announcement down to the last minute detail, Lois still felt nervous now they were on the verge of actually going ahead with it.

She knew that Clark was anxious as well, not merely about the announcement itself, but about the implications of what he was going to say. He'd told her a few days after their discussion that he was having second thoughts about his initial plan of simply saying that the marriage was ending and giving a reason of something on the lines of irreconcilable differences. After all, as he'd said, this was Superman who was about to get a divorce, and people seemed to hold Superman to higher standards than anyone else.

"'People' don't," Lois had observed with a teasing smile. "You do."

Clark had shrugged a little. "Superman's supposed to stand for truth and justice. So how can he lie, Lois? Though that's half of the problem," he'd added. "Superman's already lied, by marrying you under false pretences. And now we're just going to perpetuate the lie, by getting a divorce and coming up with a cover story for it."

"So what do you want to do?" Lois had asked. "Tell the truth? Say that the marriage was a fraud all along?"

He'd sighed. "I don't really want to do that — apart from anything else, you could face criminal charges if I did that! And that wouldn't be fair."

That had sobered Lois, but on the other hand she'd been able to see that Clark was genuinely distressed by the situation. Placing her hand on his arm and squeezing it gently, she'd said, "If you feel you need to tell the truth, then that's what you have to do. I'll take the consequences."

But he'd smiled then. "I couldn't let that happen!" he'd insisted, covering her hand with his own.

"But you're still not happy about lying," Lois had answered, seeing the truth of her words in his eyes.

"Not really, no." Clark had walked away from her, crossing the room and staring, apparently unseeingly, out of the window for several seconds. Then he'd turned back to Lois and given her a resigned smile. "I don't see that we have any other choice. Telling the truth is all very well, but it has consequences I'm not prepared to take. And carrying on with the lie… well, it gets you off the hook. But," he added slowly, "I think there are possibilities… maybe there's an explanation I could use which isn't exactly a lie, but isn't the whole truth either."

So they'd agreed to stick with the pretence that the marriage had been real, and Clark had come up with a form of words which he was happy with. And the conversation had reinforced in Lois's mind once more the nature of Clark's character. Honesty clearly meant a lot to him. Of course, he was holding Superman to very much higher standards than he would hold himself, that was apparent, but even his own standards were more than she'd come to expect from almost anyone else.

This was a man whose word she could trust; that was the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the incident.

Clark's prepared statement had surprised Lois, and had yet again reminded her of his words to her on leaving her apartment after their flight to the Pacific.

Not that she'd really needed reminding…

The knowledge that Clark was in love with her had been on her mind constantly. Even at work, engrossed in a story, she could look up and catch sight of Clark in her peripheral vision, or notice the cup of coffee he'd brought her earlier, and remember the feeling of warmth she'd felt at his declaration. The reassurance that someone loved her — *really* loved her, and wasn't just saying it in order to get something from her. Clark hadn't said 'I love you' to get her into bed, as Claude had. Nor had he said it to try to buy her loyalty in some way. All he wanted, all he was hoping for, was for her to love him back, some day.

And she did love him. She'd stopped kidding herself about that only a day or two after his declaration, and admitted that she'd been in love with him for some time. And she was sure that it wasn't just a case of transference: she'd had strong feelings for Clark long before she knew that Clark was Superman.

She hadn't told Clark yet; the right moment hadn't seemed to happen, and in any case she recognised that she was nervous about taking the initiative; even though she'd made up her mind that he was a man she *could* trust, actually opening her mouth to say those scary words seemed a step too far, at least for now.

But she had tried, in other ways, to let him see that she cared, that she wanted more from him than friendship. Even if the words seemed just too difficult to articulate, her actions should have shown him what she wanted to say. Warm smiles, many little touches when they were alone, lots of small gestures which should have been showing him how she felt. And she thought he understood; the warmth in his eyes when he covered her hand with his own, for example, suggested a degree of intimacy which she knew was more than would be expected from a friend.

He hadn't tried to push her in any way, though. He'd told her that he was prepared to wait until — *if* — she was ready, and he'd clearly meant that.

But now she was the one who was finding it difficult to wait…

Every evening they spent together, she longed for him to kiss her as he said goodnight. He never did; instead, he would draw one finger lightly down her cheek, or give her a gentle hug, or drop a casual but warm kiss on her forehead. And the expression in his eyes every time told her that he loved her.

She wondered if he'd been able to read the same expression in her gaze.

If he had, he hadn't done anything about it. But then, there was his promise, which she felt sure he was determined to keep. And anyway, there was the fact that she was still married to his alter ego, which meant that Lois Lane and Clark Kent couldn't be anything special to each other. There would have been too much risk of one of them behaving carelessly in public, she supposed. One slip was all it would have taken.

There had already been some subtle comment in the media about Superman's failure to rescue his wife when she'd been kidnapped, and about the fact that Lois's partner had been the hero of the hour. Lois had laughed it off at the Planet, commenting that Superman had been doing all he could for her without endangering her further, and that Clark had simply had a lucky break. But it wouldn't do to have any further talk about her and Clark, any suggestion that they were closer than would be demanded of two people who worked together.

So as far as anyone else was concerned, Lois Lane and Clark Kent were just two people who worked together — and who were now partners — and who got along well enough to hang out together at lunch sometimes; Clark had been careful to give Lois messages for Superman occasionally, speaking audibly for the benefit of the newsroom staff, thus giving the impression that he was as much a friend of Lois's husband as of Lois herself.

However, one very clear benefit of these couple of weeks during which their relationship hadn't progressed further was that their friendship had deepened. They talked to each other constantly, not just at work but in the evenings; whether or not they spent the evening together, one of them would always call the other last thing at night. Clark was always the first person Lois looked for when she arrived at work in the mornings, and he always seemed to have some little treat for her, though he was careful not to do anything which would be too remarkable by anyone else.

There was something else: Lois had confided in Clark about herself over the past couple of weeks far more than she'd ever done with anyone else in her life before. He hadn't pushed, but he'd shown himself willing to listen, and very understanding. And he'd reciprocated by telling her about himself, elaborating on the little she already knew of his origins; reading between the lines of his words helped her to understand more fully why it sometimes bothered him that he wasn't human. Philip West and his friends had certainly — unwittingly — played on one of Clark's few vulnerabilities there.

She'd felt, then, that she was being a good and valued friend to Clark, just as he was to her; she'd felt good inside at being able to give something back to him. Listening while he talked of things which bothered him wasn't all she'd been able to do to help him, though; she'd worked with him to get the Superman Foundation off the ground.

That had come about as a result of Clark's annoyance at the proliferation of Superman souvenirs everywhere. As Lois had pointed out, the fact that he hadn't so far trademarked the Superman name meant that anyone could do whatever they wanted. So they'd contacted a supportive lawyer, established the Foundation, and applied for tax-exempt status. The Foundation then took out the various legal protections required, then Clark had Superman's lawyer write to the various organisations which were producing dolls, T-shirts, comic strips and so on to inform them that they must obtain — and pay for — a licence in order to continue their activities, or else desist.

The Foundation had then been launched in a blaze of publicity, including an editorial in the Planet, and its aims of giving money to worthy community projects had been widely praised. The board members were deliberately drawn from a cross-section of people: Perry White to add gravitas, Lois as Superman's wife, and representatives of the homeless, unemployed and refugee communities in Metropolis were also present. Money was already coming in from donations, as well as from the sale of licences — all of which were individually approved by Superman. It had, however, stuck in both Lois's and Clark's craws that one of the first, and certainly the largest, donation had come from Lex Luthor.

Regardless, the Foundation was something in which both Lois and Clark took a great degree of pride, and they each had a lot of ideas for its future activities. In fact…

"We need to go." Clark's instruction interrupted Lois's thoughts, and she smiled a little nervously at him. "It'll be fine," he insisted. "Come on."

She slid her arms around his neck as he scooped her up, then they flew together out through her apartment window and towards the Daily Planet building. With Perry's permission, they'd arranged the press conference to take place in the open space in front of the Planet; Perry had been happy to agree because it was good publicity for the paper.

The area in front of the newspaper building was crammed with reporters, photographers and TV cameras; in fact, the place was so full of people that the police had actually closed the road to traffic and had cordoned off an area behind which the general public were crowded.

A low podium stood in front of banks of microphones, and Clark lowered Lois to her feet on the podium before floating down to join her. His hands grasped her shoulders lightly — checking that she had regained her balance, she imagined, or perhaps a final gesture of support before they began — before he turned to face their audience.

It was the beginning of the end.

***

Clark held up his hand, mutely appealing for silence from the throng of representatives of the fifth estate. They stared expectantly at the two of them, some yelling at him to "Kiss your wife, Superman!" or "Give her a hug!"

He ignored them.

When he eventually got the silence he'd called for, he gripped Lois's hand and moved into his prepared speech; nervously at first, but later with more confidence, he explained why he and Lois were there.

"You're probably wondering why we called this press conference. And why I've brought my wife with me, when I made it clear a week ago that I would not discuss my wife in any way in any public forum. Well, something's happened which means that I have to break that pledge, and my wife agrees with me that we should talk to you today."

Pausing, he glanced at Lois; she smiled encouragingly back at him.

"When we first married, there was — understandably — a great deal of speculation about the reasons for our marriage. I tell you now, honestly, that Lois Lane and I fell in love with each other at first sight. I was in love with her when I married her.

"However, in the beginning I never had any intention of doing anything about my feelings for Lois. Nor did I try to discover whether she returned them. It seemed sensible to keep my distance; after all, Lois is human and I am not. I had no reason to believe that any human woman would want to be with an extra- terrestrial, which is, after all, what I am." He paused, waiting for the assembled reporters to take that declaration on board.

"But then the INS announced its investigation, and — thanks, as we now know, to some external pressure and an over-zealous agent — progressed it extremely quickly, giving me no time to prepare a defence. And Lois, who'd become aware of my feelings for her, proposed to me… and so we decided to marry."

He squeezed Lois's hand again. "So, in a way, I did deceive the American people. It's very unlikely that Lois and I would have married without the threat that I would be deported. However, it is not true to say that ours is or was a marriage between two people who have no feelings for each other. As I've said, I care deeply for my wife. As she does for me. But things are no longer that straightforward."

"What? What do you mean?" someone yelled.

"Oh, you mean now the President's granted you citizenship you don't need a wife any longer," another reporter jibed unpleasantly. Robert Morris of the Dirt Digger, Clark noted with a complete lack of surprise.

"If you gentlemen will allow me to finish, I will be happy to explain what I mean," he said, in a tone which was as close to sarcastic as he would allow Superman's to get. After another moment's pause, he continued speaking.

"You will all remember an incident a couple of weeks ago in which my wife was kidnapped. The reason she was kidnapped was that the xenophobic group Defenders of the Earth was trying to blackmail me. Their demand was that I announce my immediate departure from this country, or else they would kill my wife." He paused deliberately for effect.

"Lois was rescued by her partner, Clark Kent, and I am very grateful to Mr Kent for that. My wife's kidnapping placed me in an extremely difficult position: I cannot be seen to respond to the demands of criminals, and yet how could I stand by while my wife was in danger? That is a choice no-one should be forced to make about someone they care for.

"You will understand the implication of that," he continued, making his tone heavier, more regretful. "In the interests of the safety of other people, I obviously cannot have a marriage. Nor can I even maintain close friendships. I could never be sure that such relationships would not be used against me. I cannot put people I care about in danger because of me. It seems that, since the criminal fraternity cannot control me in any other way, they will not hesitate to use innocent people as pawns."

He took a deep breath. "And so the reason Lois and I have called this press conference is to announce that we are filing for divorce. Not because we do not want to remain married, but because in the circumstances we *cannot* stay married. I wish Lois the very best, and I am deeply sorry for any hurt or danger she has been exposed to as a result of being my wife, however briefly."

As he finished speaking, there was a clamour of voices all shouting at them. But before Clark could announce that they weren't taking any questions, Lois stepped forward and tapped loudly on one of the microphones.

"I want to say something," she began, taking him by surprise. Clark noted with admiration that her voice was firm and steady.

"Like my husband said, we were in love with each other when we married. There is no doubt about that. If he was just an ordinary man, with no Super-powers, there would be no question that we would stay together. But he isn't. He's Superman."

As Lois paused momentarily, Clark glanced across at her again. This had definitely not been rehearsed, and he wondered exactly what she had in mind.

"Superman isn't just an ordinary guy. He has these amazing powers, and he uses them to do good. He's only been around a month, and already his life-saving count is well into the thousands. I bet you all know someone who wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for Superman. I personally wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for him — and even former senator Wilson's wife is in that category. But you can't have that kind of power without having a huge amount of responsibility alongside it, and that's exactly what Superman has. He has a responsibility to each and every one of us to use his powers for good, not for evil. And when I was kidnapped, he realised what it felt like to be torn between good and evil. And I swear to all of you here, if you don't already believe it, my husband is a good, righteous and decent man." Lois paused, and Clark felt her hand tighten around his.

"And this is why we've agreed to divorce," she continued, and now he could detect a catch in Lois's voice. "He belongs to the world, and I realised that it would be selfish of me to try to claim him as my own. He will always have a place in my heart, but love is a luxury he can't afford, and it's time I accepted that. I am but a mere human, after all, and must find an ordinary man to love…"

She broke off then, sounding near to tears, much to Clark's concern, and held up their joined hands so that the assembled representatives of the media could see them. Then, slowly and dramatically, she tugged her hand away from his and stepped away from him.

A hubbub arose again, everyone around clamouring for answers to questions, but Clark faced them down. "No questions!" he rapped out, then caught hold of Lois and scooped her up before drifting upwards. Once away from the crowds, he was able to increase his speed and take them well away from the Planet building.

He would have liked to take her to her apartment so that they could talk, but he knew that Perry was expecting them back to the newsroom — and in any case, while Lois had an excuse for her absence, he, Clark, did not. Instead, he brought them down to land close to the entrance to the parking garage, and led Lois down the ramp, deliberately holding her hand in what, to him, was a private undoing of her symbolic gesture in letting go of his hand when they'd been on the podium. Once inside, he checked to make sure no-one was around, then changed clothes.

Turning to Lois then, he asked, concerned, "Are you okay?"

She smiled, and he was reassured; this was Lois's genuine smile and not something forced. "I'm fine, Clark. Come on — couldn't you tell from the overacting out there that I was okay?"

"Overacting?" He raised an eyebrow at her; he'd have sworn that the catch in her voice was real.

"Well… mostly. A lot of it was true — I mean, you know that Superman will always have a place in my heart, don't you? And I do have to find myself an ordinary man instead of the Super-hero." She grinned at him, and he stilled, wondering what she meant.

He'd been determined, over the past couple of weeks, to make no more reference to his feelings for Lois. He'd told her how he felt, and made it clear that he wasn't going to put any pressure on her. And, of course, the public perception that she was married to Superman did complicate matters. But, while Lois hadn't actually *said* anything about her feelings for him, her behaviour had suggested, in so many ways, that she reciprocated his feelings. Even still, though, he worried about her readiness for a deeper relationship. She'd told him that she had issues with trust — and he hadn't exactly given her reason to trust him. Not at first, anyway.

So, did he stand a chance?

He didn't know, but she was obviously teasing him for some purpose. He returned her smile, then, and queried, "An ordinary man? Got anyone in mind?"

She winked at him, then reached out and trailed her index finger down his shirt- front. "Well, if I didn't know better, I'd say that you're an ordinary man, Clark Kent."

His breath catching, Clark said, "And… you know better?"

"I'd say that you're a pretty extraordinary man," she said softly. "I meant everything I said out there. You are a good and decent man, the best I've ever known." She was gazing up at him now, her eyes shining.

"Lois…" His voice was barely above a whisper, and her lips were so tempting. But there was one thing he had to know, first. He stepped back a little, and caught her hand in his, leading her towards the elevator; if he kept them moving, he could keep his mind on their conversation and not on kissing Lois.

"So, Ms Lane, I was wondering," he said, as lightly as he could manage. "Once your divorce comes through and you're free again, what would you say if I asked you for a date?"

She turned and gazed at him, wide-eyed. "But, Clark, didn't you tell me last week that you couldn't afford to commit yourself to anyone?"

He stared at her, appalled. "But… that was as Superman, not me…!"

Her laughter told him that she'd been exacting a little revenge for his previous insistence on a platonic relationship. "Hoist by my own petard," he murmured ironically. "Lois Lane, I love you. Will you go out with me?"

"Oh, Clark, shut up and kiss me…"

He was happy to oblige. And as they moved closer into each other's arms, he heard her murmur against his lips, "I love you too, Clark Kent…"

***

~ Postscript ~

Metropolis Star, 12 May 1995 — Cat's Corner

Superman's Ex swept off her feet again

Eyebrows raised across the media fraternity as Lois Lane, once married to Metropolis's own Super-hero, announced her engagement to Clark Kent who, although he's certainly good-looking, is pretty ordinary next to the exciting Man of Steel. Colleagues who thought that Lane would be carrying a torch for Superman indefinitely were taken by surprise by the announcement, and even more by Lane's expression, which was reminiscent of a cat who'd got the cream.

Perhaps there's more to Clark Kent than meets the eye — care to share, Lois?

Rumours that Superman would be giving Ms Lane away at their wedding appear to have been discounted — of course, he's already given her away, hasn't he? Unfortunately for those who love the taste of scandal, Superman himself has apparently claimed to be 'delighted' for his ex-wife and Clark Kent — who, readers may remember, is the man who rescued Ms Lane when she was kidnapped in an attempt to blackmail Superman. Perhaps both Lois and Superman should have realised the writing was on the wall at that point?

Okay, Lois, pax! Let's just say that you succeeded where the author of this column failed… and this author rarely fails. Looks like you found the ordinary man you said you were looking for — we hope he makes you happy. And don't forget to invite this writer to your wedding. It might not be as exciting as Lex Luthor's trial and conviction last year, but I promise not to shout out when the preacher asks for objections!

THE END